Kurgan origins and expansion with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains

burials-ochre-steppe

The concept of ‘Kurgan peoples’ is a general idea whereby ‘kurgan builders’ are identified with Indo-European speakers. It is a consequence of the oversimplification of Gimbutas’ theory, and is still widespread among linguists, archaeologists, geneticists, and amateurs alike.

NOTE. On the already simplistic assumptions of Gimbutas regarding the so-called ‘kurgan’ burials, see e.g. Häusler’s early criticism.

However, as more ancient DNA studies appear, many ancient cultures once held as ‘kurganized’ are becoming more and more clearly disconnected from Proto-Indo-Europeans: So for example Varna, Cucuteni-Trypillia, Maykop, or Northern Iranian kurgan builders.

The first marked burials

In his chapter Aspects of Pontic Steppe Development (4550-3000 BC), Ukrainian researcher Yuri Rassamakin makes some interesting remarks.

NOTE. As you may know, Rassamakin supports a ‘Skelyan’ (macro-)culture encompassing every group from the North Pontic steppe and steppe-forest, where (therefore) Novodanilovka or Suvorovo would be just rich elites among Sredni Stog and related ‘commoners’. So he can hardly be described as interested in supporting Khvalynsk over Sredni Stog influence…

The first period of development (ca. 4550 – 4100/4000 BC) is marked as a period of emergence of the first burial symbols.

Gimbutas – like later her pupil Mallory -, Merpert, or Danilenko believed that the first mark of emerging kurgans were precisely the presence of constructions above burials, such as simple, small, stone henges, dolmens, cists, or cairns. Hence the traditional connection of ‘kurgans’ with Sredni Stog. This Sredni Stog connection is currently still a widespread belief, that is kept alive because it appears in many secondary sources (e.g. the much beloved as it is outdated and simplistic reference book Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture).

These first constructions described as from Sredni Stog were nevertheless found solely among Sredni Stog ‘elites’. That is, burials from Novodanlilovka-type cultural sites. So, following the initial assessments of this culture by Soviet archaeologists (like Telegin), for Gimbutas (1956) they were among ‘Sredni Stog’ burials, and for Merpert (1959) they might have been due to an “initial, genetic basis” originally from Khvalynsk, and thus (what was described as) Sredni Stog seemed to have been formed under “strong eastern influences”.

NOTE. From Rassamakin’s own account: Gimbutas’ model was later corrected, when in the mid-1980s Telegin judged that the cemeteries in fact represented an independent cultural type (Novodanilovka-type sites), developing over two stages (Telegin 1985a, 311-20; 1991). These were the same burials which Danilenko thought reflected a distinct pastoralist culture among the early Yamnaya tribes, which Gimbutas attributed to the first kurgan wave, and which Merpert, in part, ascribed to the first chronological period of the early Yamnaya culture-historical province.

megalithic-monuments
The classification of megalithic monuments of the Pantie steppe. (After Dovzhenko 1993, fig. 1 with changes by the author.)

These early constructions, however, are not found anywhere else in the North Pontic region except for those ‘Sredni Stog elites’:

  • Rooves made from separate slabs with cairns are known in the Dnieper and Volga regions: In the Khvalynsk I culture, 17% of burials were superimposed with stone cairns or had a single stone marker.
  • Cists with cairns are known from Severskii Donets and Azov areas.
  • A unique cromlech is described from the Dniester-Danube area (Suvorovo).
  • In the remaining cases, especially for the Volga area and pre-Caucasus steppe, there are some specific variants:
    1. Use of natural hills as a burial marker
    2. Presence of smalll earthen or wooden constructions.

If we accept that these constructions are the first rudimentary kurgans or proto-kurgans, and that kurgans were a mark of expanding Indo-European culture, let’s see who built them first and why:

The emergence of kurgans

emergence-kurganIn his book Рождение Кургана (2012), The Emergence of the Kurgan, Sergei Korenevskiy makes a thorough analysis of the first kurgan finds.

The Novodanilovka group (ca. 4500-4000 BC), coincident with the Trypillia B1 stage, is characterized by the presence of ochre (in great quantity) in burials, as seen in Khvalynsk, as well as stone constructions in burials.

NOTE. Similarly to Rassamakin, Korenevskiy believes in the unity of North Pontic cultures, and specifically of Novodanilovka chiefs among Sredni Stog commoners, and of all of them with Khvalynsk in a Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog cultural-historical region, because of their “chronological and regional coincidence” and similar pottery, in spite of differences in burial and symbolism. So, hardly an interested party in supporting the expansion of Khvalynsk to the west, either.

Obviously, for those of us who believe that symbolism and burials do mean something beyond similar pottery decoration, in the instances where Sredni Stog appears in his text, it should be read Novodanilovka (and Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog should be read Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) instead; because he is not referring to the older Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community of the beginning of the 5th millennium, but to a very distinct group of sites related to the Khvalynsk expansion with horse symbolism at the end of the 5th millenium.

For the early Eneolithic time and the existence of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community, on the problem under consideration, the main source [of knowledge for the first kurgans] may be the Nalchik and Khvalynsk burial grounds.

The kurgans themselves were not simple pits filled with earth. There was a belief that the funerary structure was the place where the buried moved to another world. Most likely, such a place could be considered to be a generic collective cemetery.

The second important point may be that the Eneolithic era was the time of development of a prestigious economy that created its values ​​in the form of different things. Among them were items requiring high skills or manufacturing techniques (different woolen tools, scepters, stone bracelets), as well as tools that occupy an important role in labor, war and industry (stone flat axes, arrowheads, knife-like plates and chips of flint). The decorations of the burial costume included certain iconic objects – bone plates from canine fang, pins, bone sticks with a hole- “zurki”).

Presented were a variety of beads from bone, stone, shell. Bead washers could be collected in whole garlands, thus acquiring a special value. Prestigious cult things, presumably, were copper jewelry: beads, rings, bracelets. They, like the shells, were products of the gift exchange and reflected the direct or indirect involvement of the owners.

kurgan-eneolithic-settlements
Map of the Eneolithic burial monuments of the Pontic – Ciscaucasian steppes (automatically translated from Russian):
1 – Csongrad, 2 – Decha Mureshului, 3 – Targovishte (Gonova Mogila), 4 – Kulvec, 5 – Devnya river, 6 – Kamenar, 7 – Kasimcha, 8 – Lungoch-Fundund, 9 – Falciu, 10 – Jurdjulesti, 11 – 12 – Suvorovo, 13 – Kaynary, 14 – Artsz, 15 – Koshary, 16 – Krivoy Rog, 17 – Zalina, 18 – Dereyevka, 19 – Igren 8, 20 – Chapley, 21 – Petro-Svistunovo, 22 – in Vinogradny, 23 in Zagorozhye, 24 in Novodanilovka, 25 in Blagoveshchenka, 26 in Kut, 27 in Lower Rogachik, 28 in Lyubimovka, 29 in Alekasandria, 30 in Yama, 31 in Olkhovatka, 32 in Aleksandrov, 33 in Lugansk Voroshilovgrad), 34 – Don, 35 – Mariupol, 36 – Liventsovka-1, 37 – Wet Chaltyr, 38 – Likhovsky, 39 – Mukhin II, 40 – Karataevo, 41 – Coysug, 42 – Krasnogorovka III, 43 – South, 44 – hut. Popova, 45 – Baturinskaya, 46 – Novotitarovskaya, 47 – Staronizhesteblyevskaya, 48 – Suvorovskaya, 49 – Cheerful Grove I and III, 50 – Kyzburun III, 51 – Nalchik, 52 – Upper Akbash, 53 – Galyugaevsky barrows, 54 – Coma – Ravo, 55 – Bamut, 56 – Arkhara, 57 – Kursavsky, 58 – Nikolsky, 59 – Kokberek, 60 – New School, 61 – Tube, 62 – Narym-Bay, 63 – Ak Zhounas, 64 – Shlyakhovsky, 65 – Political , 66 – Berezovka I and II, 67 – Even, 68 – Novotrivolnoe, 69 – Tarlyk, 70 – Engels-Anisovka, 71 – Khlopkovo hillfort, 72 – Khvalynsk I and II, 73 – Krivoluchye, 74 – Ivanovsky, 75 – Tunnel, 76 – Ipatovo , 77 – Aigursky, 78 – Tipki, 79 – Sharahalsun, 80 – Chograi, 81 – Overload, 82 – Novokorsunovskaya, 83 – Cardonik, 84 – Vladimirovskaya 85 – Pyatigorsk (Konstantinovsky plateau), 86 – Steblitsky, 87 – Jangr, 88 – Progress-2 The map was made on the basis of the publication I.V. Manzuri (Manzura, 2000. With. 244, fig. 1) with additions of the author

Khvalynsk and Nalchik first marked burials

[The Nalchik burials:] with respect to the reconstruction of social relations, data are few. In general, the funerary practice of this necropolis does not reflect the position of any fighting tools in the grave. (…)

Judging by the rare ornaments from the burials of the necropolis, the population that left it was implicated in the prestigious values of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community. A more detailed picture of the era of early Eneolithic reflects the data of the Khvalynsk-type burial ground.

northern-caucasus-group
Funerary monuments of the steppe Eneolithic Ciscaucasian group, the Don-Volga interfluve and the Nalchik burial ground against the background of the Eneolithic groups of South of Eastern Europe (automatically translated from Russian): 1 – Aigursky, 2 – Veselyaya Roshcha and s. Zhukovsky, 3 – Sharahalsun, 4 – Chograi, 5 – Galyugaevsky burial mounds, 6 – Komarovo, 7 – Grozny, 8 – Suvorovo, 9 – Upper Akbash, 10 – Kizburun III, 11 – Baturin, 12 – Staronizhnesteblyevskaya, 13 – Novotitarovskaya, 14 – Cardonik, 15 – Steblitsky, 16 – Vladimirovskaya, 17 – Tunnel, 18 – Progress-2, 19 – Ipatovo, 20 – Novokorsunovskaya, 21 – Bamut 22 – Kursavsky, 23 – Arkhara, 24 – Nikolsky, 25 – Jangr, 26 – Overload, 27 – Shlyakhovsky, 28 – Nalchik burial ground, 29 – Samashki, 30 – Pyatigorsk, Konstantinovsky plateau, 31 – Berezhnovka-I, 32 – Bykovo I – Ciscaucasian groups a, II – Volga-Manych group, III – Lower Don group, IV – Dono-Donetsk group, V – Podneprovskaya group, VI – Zavolzhskaya (Volga-Uriural) group (given in fragmentary form: Berezhnovka I, room 5, item 22, Bykovo 2 point 3)
caucasus-mountains-eneolithic
Map from Wang et al. (2018) [to be compared with the initial distribution of kurgans in the region]. The zoomed map shows the location of sites in the Caucasus. The size of the circle reflects number of individuals that produced genome-wide data. The dashed line illustrates a hypothetical geographic border between genetically distinct Steppe and Caucasus clusters.

(…) the Khvalynsk burial ground was characterized by a system of age groups and a forming social structure based on the hierarchy of estate groups. The social organization of Khvalynians can be characterized by the stage of evolution of a small-family variant of the development of a primitive society, in which the social status of a man and a woman became closer. The role of the married woman / mother was accentuated. Archaeological signs of this process can be considered joint burials of old people and children and as part of burials with same and mixed genders.

khvalynsk-burial-statistics
Statistics of the Khvalynsk burial ground. Примечание: ж. — женский, п. — подросток, р. — ребенок, м. — мужской, вз. — взрослый

In summary, one can arrive at the following conclusions. It is unlikely to be a mistake if we assume that the Khvalynsk burial ground was abandoned by a local community that lived on the basis of the tribal collective. Their economic activities were connected with hunting, fishing, homestead cattle breeding with an obvious acquaintance with the horse (it is not known if the object of hunting or domestication). In the mythology of the afterlife and the funerary traditions of the Khvalynians, the same egalitarianism of the forms of funerary buildings was dominant, but signs of the personification of graves began to appear, with marks in the rarest of cases with stones.

Unlike the Nalchik cemetery, in the Khvalynsk and Khlopkovsky burial grounds, new trends in assessments of the suitability of implements for funerary practice are clearly discernible. So, they expressed themselves in the appearance of rare graves with scepters, axes – buggers, stone adzes, harpoons and fishing hooks. Basically, all these symbols of the rite are associated with male burials. The least saturated with burial items with stone adzes, and they are represented in small forms. But the fact is important. Society began to pay attention to these categories of objects, linking their symbols with mythological ideas about the things of the afterlife and their functions in the “other dimension of reality” specifically as tools of war and symbols of military power or valor (axes with trunnions), spiritual power (scepters), as well as woodworking (adzes). In terms of “wealth”, these complexes were not particularly distinguished from other inventory sets.

The population that left the Khvalynsk burial ground had to do with the deficit of the era, which was copper products. The latter emphasized, apparently, the age status of some men from 40 to 60 years old and adult women. Another scarce raw material could be a sea shell (item 38) from the burial of a man aged 25-35 years.

As a result, it can be concluded that the complexes of funerary ritual of the Khvalynsk burial ground indicate the existence of ideas about a person at the time of his transition to another world, as a member of the collective of the clan (community) with the admitted individual prestige of things that emphasize his age or social status, but in the framework of the common egalitarian tradition of a collective necropolis. At this time, presumably, views were developing on the relationship of the things put in the grave with the “property” of the buried.

scepter-finds
Map of finds of scepters 1: 1 – Khvalynsky burial ground; 2 – Cotton hill fort and cemetery; 3 – Fitionion; 4 – Rezevo; 5 – Drama; 6 – Vinc de Jos; 7 – Ružinoas; 8 – Kayraklia; 9 – Selcuca; 10 – Suvorovo; 1 1 – Terekli Mekteb; 12 – Khlopkovsky burial ground; 13 – Kasimcha; 14 – Kokbek; 15 – Samara (Kuibyshev); 16 – Shlyakhovsky; 17 – Archa; 18 – Mogosesti; 19 – Vladikavkaz (Ordzhonikidze); 20 – Jungr; 21 – Harvesting; 22 – Maykop; 23 – Alexandria; 2: 1 – Valen; 2 – Yasenev Polyana; 3 – Birllesti; 4 – Harvesting; 5 – Rostov-on-Don; 6 – Berezovskaya HPP; 7 – Zhora de Souz, 8 – Fedeshen; 9 – Konstantinovsky settlement. Conditional signs. 1 – group 3, 2 – group 4, 3 – groups 1, 2, 4 – group 5, 5 – group 4, 6 – group 6

The aftermath of the kurgan expansion

The most important phenomenon in the Weltanschauung of the late Eneolithic population in the steppes of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia was the spread of the religious tradition, relatively new in comparison with the time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community, according to which the deceased began to go to another world in a position on his back, crocheted, in the company of ochre magic.

This position appears to be dominant in the materials of the Khvalynsk cemetery, and as a very significant – but not dominant – feature of the materials of the Nalchik cemetery. The posture on the back is crocheted, becoming typical for the Sredni Stog culture, as well as the bearers of the oldest Kurgan traditions in the Ciscaucasia and the Volga-Don region.

Our position on this issue is as follows. I can fully adhere to the opinion of B. Govedaritsa and I.V. Manzura that the transition of the population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community to the tradition of the burial crouched on their backs looks like the most important ideological innovation in the mythology of death among the local population of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia in relation to the earlier time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community.

variant-kurgan-burials-steppe
Chronology of Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures after Videiko (2004), with corresponding Khvalynsk / Nalchik / Novodanilovka / Pre-Maykop / Maykop kurgans.

In the funerary practice of this cultural education there is much in common with the traditions of the funerary practice of the Balkan-Danube region. At the same time, the posture pose on the back is spread more widely in the Neolithic and Eneolithic than only Western Europe. It was recorded in the necropolis of Kul-Tepe I in Azerbaijan (Abibulaev, 1982), the necropolis of Tepe Gissar in Iran (Schmidt, 1933, 1937), in burials 1, 2 in the settlement of Poylu II of Leleatepin culture in Azerbaijan (the Kura valley) (Museibli , 2010. P. 208). In other words, it is the same universal way of inhumation, like a pose on one side or a burial on the back, although not so widespread on a global scale.

From where and how such ritualism could appear in its specific carriers, it definitely cannot always be established. But let us pay attention to the fact that the peculiarity of the posture of the deceased population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community on the back is that the deceased was not simply placed on his back, he was often heavily sprinkled with ochre. The last detail of the ritual clearly has a prototype for the carriers of the Mariupol community of the Northern Black Sea Region. This suggests that such funerary practice of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community was formed on the spot, as an internal transformation of the ritual of a stretched-out body with a copious sprinkling of the bone with mineral red paint. The idea of ​​innovation was to set the feet on the ground, which caused the knees to rise.

burials-ochre
Map of burial monuments with ochre by regions in the Pontic – Ciscaucasian area (Govedariča, 2004). I – Carpathian group, II – Northwestern group, III – North Black Sea group, IV – Volga-Caspian group, V – North Caucasian group

The consequence for the Proto-Indo-European homeland

So, from now on, when someone says “the oldest known kurgans come from Sredni Stog”, you know what that means: first, these are not the oldest ‘kurgans’, but rather ‘proto-kurgans’ (after, all, some of the first radiocarbon dates of full fledged steppe kurgans come from the Repin culture, if we don’t take the rich Maykop variant into account); and second, they were not really from Sredni Stog, but from Khvalynsk-related cultures, because the first rudimentary kurgans can be clearly traced back to Khvalynsk, Novodanilovka, Northern-Caucasus, and Suvorovo sites.

The latest genetic research on Khvalynsk- and Yamna-related migrations should have been a party for all involved in a quest to know the truth about Proto-Indo-Europeans, as it is becoming clear that their language and culture expanded from the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is a short checklist of relevant facts:

✅ Khvalynsk formed from EHG + local steppe Neolithic groups: checked.

✅ Kurgan origins and expansion from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Expansion of horse domestication and horse symbolism from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Arrival of steppe ancestry in the Balkans with Suvorovo: checked.

✅ Patrilineal clans proven by Y-DNA bottlenecks in Khvalynsk and Yamna: checked.

✅ Homogeneous genetic admixture of expanding Yamna: checked.

✅ Admixture different from Yamna in coetaneous West and Central European, Corded Ware, Fennoscandian, Caucasus, and Indus Valley samples: checked.

✅ Expansion of Khvalynsk as Early Yamna and Afanasevo: checked.

✅ Expansion of Yamna Hungary as East Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Expansion of East Yamna (and admixture with CWC) in Sintashta/Potapovka: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Andronovo/Srubna: checked.

✅ Yamna in the Balkans and steppe ancestry in Mycenaeans (in contrast with Minoans): checked.

✅ Bell Beaker expansion over Europe and later resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East Europe: checked.

All this combined is giving a clear-cut image of how Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded. More importantly, it shows – as I have said many times already – that Proto-Indo-European was a real language, spoken by an evolving and expanding community (with radical language changes beautifully coupled with archaeological expansions). The implications of this are huge, if only because we can finally get rid of all naysayers in linguistics and archaeology, who wanted to speak about ‘constellations of languages’ and ‘pots not people’.

So why would some of those who describe themselves as interested in Prehistory not accept this as the most likely picture right now? I can just think of one tiny item of the checklist, among many that are left unchecked or have been unchecked due to the latest genetic research:

❌ ‘MY haplogroup’ was involved in the expansion of ‘MY people’: Unchecked.

It is not just that this isn’t checked. It was checked by many in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and some stupid magical meaning was attributed to it. But now it has been unchecked for most Europeans, and this has caused an absurd unrest among some of them, who are now joining those who already opposed mainstream theories (e.g. supporters of the Anatolian homeland, the Iran homeland, the Indus Valley homeland, etc.) with a common aim: to spread reactionary views against the mainstream theories.

If all samples from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker had been R1a-Z645; most European Neolithic samples had shown R1b-L23 subclades; and results from Sredni Stog, Corded Ware and part of the Indo-Iranian community were of haplogroup N1c-L392 (although eventually R1a-Z645 had expanded with Indo-Iranians)… Would these people doubt all those facts from the checklist? I don’t think so.

Related

Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin

Interesting excerpts about local Hungarian groups that had close contacts with Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, from the paper Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin: the occupants of a kurgan, by Gerling, Bánffy, Dani, Köhler, Kulcsár, Pike, Szeverényi & Heyd, Antiquity (2012) 86(334):1097-1111.

The most interesting of the local people is the occupant of grave 12, which is the earliest grave in the kurgan and the main statistical range of its radiocarbon date clearly predates the arrival of the western Yamnaya groups c. 3000 BC. This is also confirmed by the burial rite, which is not typical for the Yamnaya (Dani 2011: 29–33; Heyd in press), although some heterogeneity may apply in Yamnaya communities too. The migrant group, graves nos. 4, 7, 9 and 11, all occupy late stratigraphic positions in the mound, and have radiocarbon dates in the second quarter of the third millennium BC. It is also noteworthy that they are all adult or mature men. The contextual data, their physical distribution over the space of the whole kurgan, and the variety of burial practices, indicate several generations of burials. The cultural attributes of this group are summarised in Figure 5. Overall, their closest match lies in the Livezile group from the eastern and southern Apuseni Mountains, which is also the likely place of origin of the buried persons.

yamna-settlements-hungary
Cultural geography of the Carpathian Basin in the first half of the third millennium BC (in black: archaeological cultures and groups dating roughly to the first quarter; in red: those dating to the second quarter). Indicated also are regions and sites mentioned in the text.

The key question is, what cultural process could be responsible for attracting these men from their homeland to the Great Hungarian Plain, over several generations? Their sex and age uniformity indicate they are a social sub-set within a larger group, implying that only a portion of their society was on the move. Exogamy can probably be excluded, since one would expect more women than men to move in prehistoric times; not to mention the distance of more than 200km between the places of potential origin and burial.

One hypothesis would see these men involved in the exchange of goods, with long-term relations between the mountain and steppe communities. Normally living in, or next to, the Apuseni, these men would journey for weeks into the plain, returning to the same places and people over many decades. Ethnographic examples of such travels to exchange objects and ideas, and perhaps people, are numerous (e.g. Helms 1988). However, the child’s (grave 7a) local isotopic signature would remain unexplained, and one has to wonder for how many generations an exchange continues for four men to die near the Őrhalom.

A second hypothesis is essentially an economic model of transhumance, with livestock passing the winter and spring in the milder regions of the Great Hungarian Plain, and returning to higher pastures in the warmer months (Arnold & Greenfield 2006). Such systems can endure for centuries, provided the social relations underpinning them are stable. This has the advantage of accounting for relatively long periods of time spent away from home, as herdsmen guarded their animals, and perhaps some women and their children came too, which would account for the child’s presence, and the pottery relations of the Livezile group. Furthermore, regular visits to a region would increase the likelihood of Livezile transhumant herders becoming integrated locally. The second quarter of the third millennium BC was a period when Yamnaya ideology, and thus its internal coherence, might have already diminished. This would likely have resulted in a weakened grip by Yamnaya people on pastures and territory, consequently allowing Livezile herders, and potentially others, to step in and take over locally, perhaps first on a seasonal basis and then permanently.

On West Yamna settlers in Hungary

yamnaya-hungary-globular-amphora
Modified table from Wang et al. (2018) Supplementary materials (in bold, Yamna and related samples; in red, newly reported samples). “Supplementary Table 18. P values of rank=1 and admixture coefficients of modelling the Steppe ancestry populations as a two-way admixture of the Eneolithic_steppe and Globular_Amphora using 14 outgroups. Left populations: Steppe cluster, Eneolithic_steppe, Globular Amphora Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.”

By disclosing very interesting information on (yet unpublished) Yamna samples from Hungary, the latest preprint from the Reich Lab has rendered irrelevant – in a rather surprising turn of events – (what I expected would be) future discussions on West Yamna settlers potentially sharing a similar ancestry with Baltic Late Neolithic / Corded Ware settlers (see here for more details).

Interesting excerpts regarding the tight cluster formed by all Yamna samples:

Individuals from the North Caucasian steppe associated with the Yamnaya cultural formation (5300-4400 BP, 3300-2400 calBCE) appear genetically almost identical to previously reported Yamnaya individuals from Kalmykia20 immediately to the north, the middle Volga region19, 27, Ukraine and Hungary, and to other Bronze Age individuals from the Eurasian steppes who share the characteristic ‘steppe ancestry’ profile as a mixture of EHG and CHG/Iranian ancestry23, 28. These individuals form a tight cluster in PCA space (Figure 2) and can be shown formally to be a mixture by significantly negative admixture f3-statistics of the form f3(EHG, CHG; target) (Supplementary Fig. 3).

Using qpAdm with Globular Amphora as a proximate surrogate population (assuming that a related group was the source of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry), we estimated the contribution of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry into Yamnaya and other steppe groups. We find that Yamnaya individuals from the Volga region (Yamnaya Samara) have 13.2±2.7% and Yamnaya individuals in Hungary 17.1±4.1% Anatolian farmer-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Table 18)– statistically indistinguishable proportions.

yamna_bell_beaker
Yamna – Bell Beaker migration according to Heyd (2007, 2012)

Before this paper, we had the solidest anthropological models backed by Y-DNA against conflicting data from certain statistical tools applied to a few samples (which some used to contradict what was mainstream in Academia).

NOTE. I have discussed this extensively in this blog, and more than once. See for example my posts on R1a speaking IE (July 2017), on the Eneolithic Ukraine sample (September 2017), or on the “Yamnaya ancestral component” (November 2017).

Today, we have everything – including statistical tools – showing a genetically homogeneous, Late PIE-speaking late Khvalynsk/Yamna community expanding into its known branches, confirming what was described using traditional anthropological disciplines:

  • Late Khvalynsk expanding into Afanasevo ca. 3300-3000 BC with an archaic Late PIE dialect, which was attested much later as Tocharian;
  • East Yamna/Poltavka admixing with Uralic-speaking Abashevo migrants probably ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka and Potapovka;
  • and now also Yamna settlers: those in Hungary admixing (probably ca. 2800-2500 BC) with the local population to form North-West Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers; those from the Balkans forming other IE-speaking Balkan cultures, including the peoples that admixed in Greece, as seen in Mycenaeans.

If Volker Heyd is right with this and other papers – and he has been right until now in his predictions regarding Yamna, Bell Beaker, and Corded Ware cultures – , the change in ancestry will probably begin to be noticed in Yamna samples from Hungary and the Lower Danube during the second quarter of the 3rd millennium, a period defined by the addition of a more fashionable western Proto-Bell Beaker package to the fading traditional Yamna cultural package.

EDIT (19 MAY 2018): I corrected some sentences and added interesting information.

Related:

Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”

This is the first of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

pca-mathieson2018-yamna
Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

chalcolithic_late-yamna-catacomb
Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

See also:

Reactionary views on new Yamna and Bell Beaker data, and the newest IECWT model

You might expect some rambling about bad journalism here, but I don’t have time to read so much garbage to analyze them all. We have seen already what they did with the “blackness” or “whiteness” of the Cheddar Man: no paper published, just some informal data, but too much sensationalism already.

Some people who supported far-fetched theories on Indo-European migrations or common European haplogroups are today sharing some weeping and gnashing of teeth around forums and blogs – although, to be fair, neither Olalde et al. (2018) nor Mathieson et al. (2018) actually gave any surprising new data that you couldn’t infer before… People are nevertheless in the middle of the five stages of grief (for whatever expectations they had for new samples), and acceptance will surely take some time.

They will be confronted with two options:

  1. Keep fighting for what they believed, however wrong it turns out to be – after all, we still see all kinds of autochthonous continuists out there, no matter how much data there is against their views. People want to be supporters of a West European origin of R1b-M269 linked to Vasconic languages, fans of R1b-M269 continuity in Central Europe, Uralic speakers who believe in hidden N1c communities in Mesolithic or Neolithic Eastern Europe, fans of the OIT and Indian origins of R1a-M417…
  2. Just accept what seems now clear, change their model, and go on.
wiik-modified
Modified from Wiik for the current autochthonous continuity fans: Vasconic-Uralic distribution and Indo-European folk distribution

For me, the second option sounds quite simple, since whatever happens – markers of Indo-European migration being R1a or R1b, Corded Ware or Bell Beaker, or bothour group’s aim for the past 15 years or so is to support a North-West Indo-European proto-language, so any of the most reasonable anthropological models are a priori compatible with that. My model of Indo-European demic diffusion fits best the most recent proto-language guesstimates, though.

However, I understand that if I had been buying or selling dreams – and I mean literally buying or selling fantasies of whiteness and Europeanness (hidden behind an idealized concept of “Indo-European”, and ancestral components disguised as populations), beginning with the ‘R1a-M417/CWC’ and ‘Yamnaya ancestry’ craze of the 2015 papers – , and I realized data didn’t support that money exchange, I would be frustrated, too.

There is a funny mental process going on here for some of these people, as far as I could read today. Let me review some history of the Indo-European question here before getting to the point:

  1. Firstly linguists reconstructed (and are still doing it) Proto-Indo-European and other ancestral Indo-European proto-languages.
  2. Then archaeologists tried to identify certain ancestral cultures with these actual communities with help from linguistic guesstimates and dialectal classifications,
  3. using anthropological models of migration or cultural diffusion.
  4. Then genetic data came to support one of these alternative anthropological models, if possible.

Now some (amateur) geneticists are apparently disregarding what “Indo-European” means, and why Yamna was considered the best candidate for the expansion of Late Indo-European languages, and question the very sciences of Linguistics and Archaeology as unreliable, instead of questioning their own false assumptions and wrong interpretations from genetic papers.

Really? Genomics (especially ancestral components) now defines what an Indo-European population, culture, and language is? If that is not a fallacy of circular reasoning, I wonder what is.

The modified IECWT model

The surprise today came from the quick reaction of one member of the IECWT workgroup, Guus Kroonen, in his draft Comments to Olalde et al. 2018., The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic, transformation of northwest Europe, Nature.

Allentoft Corded Ware
The IECWT workgroup’s so-called “Steppe model” until today, as presented in Haak et al. (2015).

He and – I can only guess – the whole IECWT workgroup finally rejected their characteristic Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration model – which they defended as “The steppe model” of Indo-European migration in Haak et al. 2015. They now defend a proposal similar to Anthony (2007).

Fan fact: Anthony changed his mind recently to partially support what Heyd said in 2007. While I did not dislike Anthony’s new model, I consider it wrong.

The Danish group – unsurprisingly – sticks nevertheless to the hypothesis of some kind of autochthonous Germanic in Scandinavia being defined by Corded Ware migrants and haplogroup R1a, and being somehow special and older among Proto-Indo-European dialects because of its non-Indo-European substrate – although in fact Kroonen’s original linguistic paper didn’t imply so.

While this new change of the workgroup’s model brings it closer to Heyd (2007), and parallels in that sense the adaptation process of Anthony (but always one step behind), what they are proposing right now seems not anymore a modified Kurgan model, as I described it: it is essentially The Kurgan model of Marija Gimbutas (1963), with Bell Beakers spreading a language ancestral to Italo-Celtic, and Corded Ware spreading some kind of mythical Germano-Balto-Slavic

I find it odd that he would not cite Gimbutas, Heyd – as Anthony recently did – , or the most recent paper of Mallory on the language expanded with Bell Beakers, but just the workgroup’s papers and other old ones, to present this “new” theory.

However simple and (obviously) rapidly drafted it was, following the publications in Nature, it does not seem right: They were first, they were right, acknowledge them. Period.

It is interesting how the wrong interpretations of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ (you know, that bulletproof “Yamna R1a-R1b community” and Yamna->Corded Ware migration that never happened) is affecting everyone involved in Indo-European studies.

Related:

Globular Amphora not linked to Pontic steppe migrants – more data against Kristiansen’s Kurgan model of Indo-European expansion

eneolithic-steppe-cultures

New open access article, Genome diversity in the Neolithic Globular Amphorae culture and the spread of Indo-European languages, by Tassi et al. (2017).

Abstract:

It is unclear whether Indo-European languages in Europe spread from the Pontic steppes in the late Neolithic, or from Anatolia in the Early Neolithic. Under the former hypothesis, people of the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC) would be descended from Eastern ancestors, likely representing the Yamnaya culture. However, nuclear (six individuals typed for 597 573 SNPs) and mitochondrial (11 complete sequences) DNA from the GAC appear closer to those of earlier Neolithic groups than to the DNA of all other populations related to the Pontic steppe migration. Explicit comparisons of alternative demographic models via approximate Bayesian computation confirmed this pattern. These results are not in contrast to Late Neolithic gene flow from the Pontic steppes into Central Europe. However, they add nuance to this model, showing that the eastern affinities of the GAC in the archaeological record reflect cultural influences from other groups from the East, rather than the movement of people.

globular-amphora-pca-admixture
(a) Principal component analysis on genomic diversity in ancient and modern individuals. (b) K = 3,4 ADMIXTURE analysis based only on ancient variation. (a) Principal component analysis of 777 modern West Eurasian samples with 199 ancient samples. Only transversions considered in the PCA (to avoid confounding effects of post-mortem damage). We represented modern individuals as grey dots, and used coloured and labelled symbols to represent the ancient individuals. (b) Admixture plots at K = 3 and K = 4 of the analysis conducted only considering the ancient individuals. The full plot is shown in electronic supplementary material, figure S7. The ancient populations are sorted by a temporal scale from Pleistocene to Iron Age. The GAC samples of this study are displayed in the box on the right.

Excerpt, from the discussion:

In its classical formulation, the Kurgan hypothesis, i.e. a late Neolithic spread of proto-Indo-European languages from the Pontic steppes, regards the GAC people as largely descended from Late Neolithic ancestors from the East, most likely representing the Yamna culture; these populations then continued their Westward movement, giving rise to the later Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures. Gimbutas [23] suggested that the spread of Indo-European languages involved conflict, with eastern populations spreading their languages and customs to previously established European groups, which implies some degree of demographic change in the areas affected by the process. The genomic variation observed in GAC individuals from Kierzkowo, Poland, does not seem to agree with this view. Indeed, at the nuclear level, the GAC people show minor genetic affinities with the other populations related with the Kurgan Hypothesis, including the Yamna. On the contrary, they are similar to Early-Middle Neolithic populations, even geographically distant ones, from Iberia or Sweden. As already found for other Late Neolithic populations [18], in the GAC people’s genome there is a component related to those of much earlier hunting-gathering communities, probably a sign of admixture with them. At the nuclear level, there is a recognizable genealogical continuity from Yamna to Corded Ware. However, the view that the GAC people represented an intermediate phase in this large-scale migration finds no support in bi-dimensional representations of genome diversity (PCA and MDS), ADMIXTURE graphs, or in the set of estimated f3-statistics.

globular-amphora-hunter-gatherer-farmer-yamnaya
Scheme summarizing the five alternative models compared via ABC random forest. We generated by coalescent simulation mtDNA sequences under five models, differing as to the number of migration events considered. The coloured lines represent the ancient samples included in the analysis, namely Unetice (yellow line), Bell Beaker (purple line), Corded Ware (green line) and Globular Amphorae (red line) from Central Europe, Yamnaya (light blue line) and Srubnaya (brown line) from Eastern Europe. The arrows refer to the three waves of migration tested. Model NOMIG was the simplest one, in which the six populations did not have any genetic exchanges; models MIG1, MIG2 and MIG1, 2 differed from NOMIG in that they included the migration events number 1, 2 (from Eastern to Central Europe, respectively before and after the onset of the GAC), or both. Model MIG2, 3 represents a modification of MIG2 model also including a back migration from Central to Eastern Europe after the development of the Corded Ware culture.

Together with Globular Amphora culture samples from Mathieson et al. (2017), this suggests that Kristiansen’s Indo-European Corded Ware Theory is wrong, even in its latest revised models of 2017.

gimbutas-kurgan-indo-european
The background shading indicates the tree migratory waves proposed by Marija Gimbutas, and personally
checked by her in 1995. The symbols refer to the ancient populations considered in the ABC analysis

On the other hand, the article’s genetic finds have some interesting connections in terms of mtDNA phylogeography, but without a proper archaeological model it is difficult to explain them.

mtdna-yamnaya-gac-corded-ware-bell-beaker
Haplogroup frequencies were obtained for Early Neolithic (EN), Middle Neolithic (MN), Chalcolithic (CA), and Late Neolithic (LN). The color assigned to each haplogroup is represented on the lower right part of each plot. Haplogroup frequencies were plotted geographically using QGIS v2.14.

Text and images from the article under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Discovered first via Bernard Sécher’s blog.

See also:

The renewed ‘Kurgan model’ of Kristian Kristiansen and the Danish school: “The Indo-European Corded Ware Theory”

Allentoft Corded Ware

A popular science article on Indo-European migrations has appeared at Science News, entitled How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures, signed by Bruce Bower. While the article is well-balanced and introduces new readers to the current status quo of the controversy on Indo-European migrations – including the opposing theories led by Kristiansen/Anthony vs. Heyd – , it reverberates yet again the conclusions of the 2015 Nature articles on the subject, especially with its featured image.

I have argued many times why the recent ‘Yamnaya -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker’ migration model is wrong, mainly within my essay Indo-European demic diffusion model, but also in articles of this blog, most recently in the post Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future America’ hypothesis). It is known that Nature is a bit of a ‘tabloid’ in the publishing industry, and these 2015 articles offered simplistic conclusions based on a wrong assessment of archaeological and linguistic data, in search for groundbreaking conclusions.

An excerpt from Bower’s article:

Corded Ware culture emerged as a hybrid way of life that included crop cultivation, breeding of farm animals and some hunting and gathering, Kristiansen argues. Communal living structures and group graves of earlier European farmers were replaced by smaller structures suitable for families and single graves covered by earthen mounds. Yamnaya families had lived out of their wagons even before trekking to Europe. A shared emphasis on family life and burying the dead individually indicates that members of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures kept possessions among close relatives, in Kristiansen’s view.

“The Yamnaya and the Corded Ware culture were unified by a new idea of transmitting property between related individuals and families,” Kristiansen says.

Yamnaya migrants must have spoken a fledgling version of Indo-European languages that later spread across Europe and parts of Asia, Kristiansen’s group contends. Anthony, a longtime Kristiansen collaborator, agrees. Reconstructed vocabularies for people of the Corded Ware culture include words related to wagons, wheels and horse breeding that could have come only from the Yamnaya, Anthony says.

I have already talked about Kristiansen’s continuation of Gimbutas’ outdated ideas: we are seeing a renewed effort by some Scandinavian (mainly Danish) scholars to boost (and somehow capitalise) the revitalised concept of the “Kurgan people”, although now the fundamental issue has been more clearly shifted to the language spoken by Corded Ware migrants.

As far as I can tell, this renewed interest began two years ago, with the simultaneous publication of genetic studies by Haak et al. (2015), and Allentoft et al. (2015), and the misuse of the cursed concept of ‘Yamnaya ancestry‘ to derive far-fetched conclusions.

On the other hand, genetic research is not solely responsible for this: David Anthony – who was apparently consulted by Haak et al. (2015) for their paper, where he appears as co-author – has kept a low (or lower) profile, and only recently has he merely suggested potential links between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures in Lesser Poland, that might explain what (some geneticists have told him) appeared as a potential Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration in the first ancient samples studied.

Anthony’s migration model remains otherwise strongly based on Archaeology, offering a careful interpretation of potential contacts and migrations in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and only marginally offers some views on Linguistics (based on Ringe’s controversial ‘glottochronological model’ of 2006), to the extent that he is compelled to explain the potential adoption of Indo-European by Corded Ware culture (CWC) peoples as multiple cultural diffusion events, since no migration is observed from the steppe to CWC territories.

I think he is thus showing a great deal of restraint, not jumping on the bandwagon of this recent trend based on scarce genetic finds – and therefore losing also the opportunity to publish articles in journals of high impact factor….

This newly created Danish school, on the other hand, seems to be swimming with the tide. Kristiansen, known for his controversial ‘universal’ interpretations of European Prehistory – which are nevertheless more readable and interesting than most specialised literature on Archaeology, at least for us non-archaeologists – , has apparently seized the opportunity to give a strong impulse to his theories.

Not that there is nothing wrong with that, of course, but sometimes it might seem that a lot of papers (or even researchers) support something, when in fact there are only a few of them, working closely together

I see therefore three main “branches” of this support (two of them, Genetics and Linguistics, only recently giving some limited air to this dying hypothesis), with a closely related group of people involved in this model, and they are lending continuous support to each other, by repeating the same theory – and repeating the same misleading map images (like the one shown in the article) – , so that the circular reasoning they represent is concealed behind seemingly independent works.

The theory and its development

The main theory is officially rooted then in Kristiansen’s hypothesis, whose first article on the subject seems to be Prehistoric Migrations – the Case of the Single Grave and Corded Ware Cultures (1989), supporting the Kurgan model applied to the Corded Ware migrations. It was probably a kind of a breakthrough in Archaeology, bringing migration to mainstream Archaeology again (followed closely by Anthony), and he deserves merit for this.

After this proposal, there are mostly just his publications supporting this model. Nevertheless, Kristiansen’s model, I gather, did not involve the sudden Yamnaya -> Corded Ware migrations discussed in recent genetic articles, but long-lasting contacts between peoples and cultures from the North Pontic steppe, Trypillian, and Globular Amphora, that formed a new mixed one, the Corded Ware people and culture. Also, in Gimbutas’ original model of migration (1963), waves of Kurgan migrants are also described into Vučedol and Bell Beaker, which have been apparently forgotten in recent models*.
* The most recent model by Anthony describes such migrations into Early Bronze Age Balkan cultures – as do most archaeological publications today – , but he is unable to recognize migration waves from Yamna into the Corded Ware culture, and because of that describes mere potential routes (or modes) of cultural diffusion including language change.

kristiansen-corded-ware-kurgan
Proposal for the origin and spread of the Corded Ware/ Battle Axe cultural complex: 1) Distribution of CWC groups; 2) Yamna culture; 3) presumed area of origin; 4) presumed main directions of the primary distribution. Also numbered are other individual CW cultures. From Kristiansen (1989).

Then – skipping the years of simplistic phylogeography based on modern haplogroup distribution – we have to jump directly to Allentoft (of the Natural History Museum of Denmark) and cols. and their article on population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia (2015), with which Kristiansen collaborated, and which offers the first direct association of Corded Ware as the vector of expansion of Indo-European peoples and languages from Yamna. An interesting take on the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker question is represented by their very ‘kurgan-like’ Corded Ware-centric map:

allentoft-yamna-corded-ware
Detail of Fig. 1 from Allentoft et al. (2015): “Distribution of Early Bronze Age cultures Yamnaya, Corded Ware, and Afanasievo with arrows showing the Yamnaya expansions”.

And suddenly, we are now seeing more works that support the central thesis of the group – that Corded Ware must have brought Indo-European languages to Europe:

Recent publications by K-G Sjögren – from the same department as Kristiansen, at the University of Gothenburg – seem to imply that there was a direct connection Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker in central Europe.

Guus Kroonen‘s recent hypothesis of a potential (Proto-Semitic-like) Germanic substrate (2012) has been added recently to the cause, in supporting with Iversen (also from the University of Copenhagen) a link with the Battle Axe/Funnelbeaker culture interaction. However, in the archaeological-linguistic model it seems that Germanic must predominate over the rest of Indo-European languages in terms of age, representing the first wave of Indo-Europeanization in Europe (wat?!), whereas Balto-Slavic is much younger and unrelated…? But didn’t they share the same substrate (as did partially Greek) in Kroonen (2012)? I think Kroonen’s hypothesis might be better explained through an earlier contact in the North Pontic steppe

kroonen-iversen
Modified from Kristiansen et al. (2017). “Schematic representation of how different Indo-European branches have absorbed words (circles) from a lost Neolithic language or language group (dark fill) in the reconstructed European linguistic setting of the third millennium BC, possibly involving one or more hunter gatherer languages (light fill) (after Kroonen & Iversen 2017)”.

Wrap-up

This recently created Danish pressure group is not something bad per se. I don’t agree with their hypothesis (or rather evolving hypotheses, since they change with new genetic results and linguistic proposals, as is shown in Kristiansen et al. 2017), but I understand that the group continues a recent tradition:

Publications are always great to advance in knowledge, and if they bring some deal of publicity, and more publications (with the always craved impact factor), and maybe more investment in the departments (with more local jobs and prestige)… why not?

However, this model of workgroup research system is reminiscent of the Anatolian homeland group loosely created around Renfrew; the Palaeolithic Continuity workgroup around Cavalli-Sforza; or (more recently) the Celtic from the West group around Cunliffe and Koch. The difference between Kristiansen’s workgroup and supporters of all those other models, in my opinion, is that (at least for the moment) their collaboration is not obvious to many.

Therefore, to be fair with any outsider, I think this group should clearly state their end model: I propose the general term “Indo-European Corded Ware Theory” (IECWT) workgroup, because ‘Danish’ is too narrow, and ‘Scandinavian’ too broad to represent the whole group. But any name will do.

My opinion on the IECWT

As you can see, no single strong proof exists in support of the IECWT:

  • Not for a solid model of PIE expansion from Corded Ware, not even within the IECWT group, where there is no support (to date) for a Balto-Slavic expansion associated with the Corded Ware culture… Or any other dialect, for that matter;
  • Not for a Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker connection – that is, before the publication of Allentoft et al. (2015) and articles reverberating their conclusions;
  • Not for a unified Pre-Germanic community before the Dagger Period, and still less linked with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture from the steppe – that connection is found only in Anthony (2007), where he links it with a cultural diffusion into Usatovo, which seems too late for a linguistic expansion with Corded Ware peoples, with the current genetic data.

The wrong interpretation of scarce initial ancient samples has been another feeble stone put over the ruins of Gimbutas’ theory. While her simple theory of Kurgan invaders was certainly a breakthrough in her time – when speaking about migrating Indo-European peoples was taboo -, it has since been overcome by more detailed archaeological and linguistic accounts of what happened in east and central Europe during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.

However, a lot of people are willing to consume post-truth genetic-based citebait like crazy, in a time when Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. seem to shape the general knowledge, while dozens of new, carefully prepared papers on Archaeology and Linguistics related to Indo-European peoples get published weekly and don’t attract any attention, just because they do not support these simplistic claims, or precisely because they fully reject them.

An older connection of Germanic to Scandinavia – and thus an ancestral Indo-European cultural diffusion from north to south – seems to better fit the traditional idea of an autochthonous Germanic homeland in Scandinavia, instead of a bunch of southern Bell Beaker invaders bringing the language that could only later develop as a common Nordic language during the Bronze Age, in a genetically-diverse community…

One is left to wonder whether the support of Corded Ware + haplogroup R1a representing Pre-Germanic is also in line with the most natural human Kossinnian trends, whereby the older your paternal line and your ancestral language are connected to your historical territory, the better. The lack of researchers from Norway – where R1b subclades brought by Bell Beakers peak – in the workgroup is revealing.

Just as we are seeing strong popular pressure e.g. to support the Out of India Theory by Hindu nationalists, or some Slavic people supporting to recreate a ‘Northern IE group’ with a Germano-Balto-Slavic Corded Ware culture – and a renewed interest in skin, hair and eye colour by amateur geneticists – , it is only natural to expect similar autochtonous-first trends in certain regions of the Germanic-speaking community.

NOTE: I feel a bit like an anti-IECWT hooligan here, and once again fulfilling Godwin’s Law. Judging by previous reactions in this blog to criticism of the Out of India Theory, and to criticism of R1a as the vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, this post is likely to cause some people to feel bad.

It is not intended to be against these researchers individually, though. All of them have certainly contributed in great ways to their fields, indeed more than I have to any field: Kristiansen is well-known for his careful, global interpretations of European prehistory (and has been supporting his model for quite a long time). I do like Kroonen’s ideas of a Pre-Germanic substratum. And people involved in the group do so probably because they collaborate closely with each other, and because of the huge pressure to publish in journals of high impact factor, so to mix their disparate research within a common model seems only natural.

But their collaboration is boosting certain wrong ideas, and is giving way to certain misconceptions in Linguistics, and also sadly renewed past ethnocentric views of language in Northern Europe – that will be luckily demonstrated, again, wrong. After all, publications (like ideas in general) are subjected to criticism, as mine are. Researchers who publish know their work is subjected to criticism, and not only before publication, but also – and probably more so – after it. That a paper can be incorrect, biased, or even completely absurd, does not mean the person who wrote it is a fool. That’s the difference between criticising ideas and insulting. If criticism offends you, you shouldn’t be publishing. Period.

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Featured image: From Allentoft et al. (2015)“>Allentoft et al. (2015). See here for full caption.

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures

kurgan-expansion

An interesting article that I keep stumbling upon, The tumulus in European prehistory: covering the body, housing the soul, by Anthony Harding (2011):

Finally, in Kurgan IV she saw “continuous waves of expansion or raids[that] touched all of northern Europe, the Aegean area, and the east Mediterranean areas possibly as far south as Egypt”. This was the period of the Catacomb Graves, but also the Early Bronze Age rock-cut tombs of the Mediterranean, Vučedol, Bell Beakers in Hungary, the Single Grave culture of the Nordic region. The Kurgan Culture reached Ireland, she remarked in a paper of 1978 “as early as 3500 B.C.” – by which she presumably referred to megalithic mounds covering passage tombs.

(…)

According to Gimbutas, the “Kurgan people” are evidenced by single graves in deep shafts, often in wooden chests (coffins) or stone cists marked by low earth or stone barrows; the dead lay on their backs with legs contracted; they were buried with flint points or arrowheads, figurines depicting horses’ heads, boars tusk ornaments and animal tooth pendants. Human sacrifice was allegedly performed during the funeral ceremonies,and sometimes ritual graves of cattle and other animals were added. This is said to contrast with what Gimbutas called the culture of Old Europe (i.e. the earlier Neolithic of the Balkans), who “betray a concern for the deification of the dead and the construction of monumental works of architecture visible in mortuary houses,grave markings, tumuli, stone rings or stone stelae, and in the large quantity of weapons found in the graves”.

(…)

single-graves-kurgan
The varying burial traditions of the Early Bronze Age in Central and Eastern Europe (Häusler 1977, fig. 1). Circles: tumuli with the “mound edge principle”. Semicircles: tumuli. Stippling: cremation; other symbols represent inhumation graves, divided according to orientation and sex

Can we really associate the practice of mound-building with a specific people, and assume that the spread of the practice indicates the spread of the people? That is one of the “big questions” of European archaeology, and one which a number of papers in the volume address. My own position is that the practice of tumulus building seems so widespread in time and space that it seems hard to associate it with one particular ethnic group – though I can understand how, in the melting pot that was Early Europe, people could believe this to be the case. There are, however, major arguments against the idea, on archaeological grounds alone – which Häusler’s map indicates very clearly. Burial mode and grave form in Copper and Bronze Age Europe was far too variable for any such simplistic correlation. In any case, what are we to make of the appearance of tumuli in such far-flung places as Japan or North America, where tumuli are very common? It was always unlikely that the megalithic tombs of western Europe were to be associated with movements from the steppe 1000 or 2000 years earlier, and nothing that has happened since Gimbutas was writing has changed that situation

Research has corrected Gimbutas’ opinion on the time of spread of Indo-Europeans, on the role of the horse (see e.g. Anthony 2007) in their expansion, and the unrelatedness of the two main central European Chalcolithic archaeological packages: the Corded Ware package that expanded from the Balkans into north-eastern Europe, and the Yamna package (together with the proto-Beaker package) that evolved into the East Bell Beaker culture.

yamna-migration
Extent of migration of the “Yamna package“, from Heyd 2007

However, the shadow of the “Kurgan people” remains in the outdated body of innumerable writings. It was revived with the first attempts at disentangling Europe’s genetic past (based on the role of R1a in expanding Proto-Indo-European).

Particularly strong in that sense is the model set forth by Kristiansen, who was nevertheless aware since his first proposal of the differences between the ‘Kurgan people’ of the steppe and those of the Corded Ware culture, selecting thus an alternative framework of long-lasting human and economic interactions between the “Kurgan people”, the Globular Amphora and Baden cultures with an origin of the culture in the natural region formed between the Upper Dnieper and Vistula rivers.

This idea is continued today, and has been recently linked with the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis. Originally proposed by Kroonen and linked to the spread of Middle Eastern “R1b1b2” with agriculture, it is now (in Kristiansen et al. 2017 and more recently in Iversen and Kroonen 2017) linked with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture, thus proposing that Pre-Germanic is a branch separated some 6,000 years ago from other branches…

kurgans-corded-ware
Kristiansen’s (1989) schematic presentation of basic principles of burial positions in the Late Neolithic / EBA cultures in northern Eurasia, following to some extent Häusler (1983)

The linguistic proposal is obviously compatible with mainstream archaeological models – which suggest the introduction of Pre-Germanic in Scandinavia with Bell Beaker peoples -, but since the linguistic proposal alone would probably not make such a fuss without the accompanying genetics, I guess this is the right way to publicise it. I doubt linguists really care about genetics, and I really doubt amateur geneticists will read the linguistic proposal, but who cares.

Kristiansen’s traditional model is obviously in contrast with contemporaneous anthropological writings by Anthony, Heyd, or (Gimbutas’ pupil) Mallory, but is nevertheless becoming a resilient tradition in the interpretation of results in studies of human ancestry in Europe.

I doubt that Gimbutas, who was not very fond of tradition, would be proud of this kind of legacy, though…

Featured image: “European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to The Indo-Europeans: Archeological Problems, Gimbutas (1963). Observe the similarities of the western European expansion to the recently proposed expansion of R1b lineages with western Yamna and Bell Beaker.

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