The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


Differing modes of animal exploitation in North Pontic Eneolithic and Bronze Age Societies


Open access Differing modes of animal exploitation in North-Pontic Eneolithic and Bronze Age Societies, by Mileto, Kaiser, Rassamakin, Whelton & Evershed, STAR (2018). You can download the PDF.

Abstract (emphasis mine)

This paper presents new results of an interdisciplinary investigation of the diet and subsistence strategies of populations living in the North-Pontic region during the Eneolithic and the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3800 BC to the 2500 BC). New organic residue analyses of >200 sherds from five Eneolithic sites and two Early Bronze Age settlements are presented. The molecular and stable isotope results are discussed in relation to zooarchaeological evidence. Overall, the findings suggest that each community relied on either a hunting- or a husbandry-based subsistence strategy dependent upon the ecosystem in which they settled; horses and wild animals dominated subsistence in the forest-steppe communities in contrast to ruminant husbandry in the steppe.

Interesting excerpts:

During the last two years, new palaeogenetic evidence has been uncovered indicating migrations from the steppe to Central Europe involving a substantial number of people (Haak et al. 2015; Allentoft et al. 2015). This reinvigorated the controversial debate surrounding the homeland of Proto-Indo-European language. Several scholars have interpreted the new palaeogenetic data as supporting the hypothesis that the original speakers of PIE lived the western part of the Eurasian steppe (Kristiansen 2014 for a critical approach cf. Heyd 2016; Kaiser 2017).

The introduction of specialised animal husbandry and the emergence of mobile pastoralism, often assumed to be closely connected with that introduction, still thought to constitute one of the early and highly influential innovations that took part in the Eurasian steppe zone (Merpert 1974). Although there has been a tendency to consider the Eurasian steppe belt as a uniform ecosystem, it is indeed very diverse, stretching from Moldova and Ukraine in the west, to Mongolia in the east. The Ural Mountains can be considered as a natural border that divides this vast area into two very different ecosystems: the western Pontic region and the eastern Eurasia, each characterized by diverse soils, climatic zones, vegetation and faunal composition. The forest-steppe forms a transitional vegetation zone (ecotone according to Walter and Breckle 1977) between the steppe in the south and the forest in the north. This holds true for the region north of the Black Sea. Climatic features, vegetation and faunal composition change depending on the proximity to the Dnieper River, which is the main river that bisects the region, from north-west to south-east, and to the Black Sea, which is the southern border of the region.

The Dereivka and Molyukhov Bugor sites are located in the forest-steppe area of the modern Cherkassy Region. The Dereivka settlement was situated on a promontory of the River Omelnik, a tributary of the Dnieper River. It is the best-investigated North-Pontic settlement of the Eneolithic (Telegin 1986); nevertheless, many questions remain concerning the chronology, subsistence economy and the status of horse domestication, amongst the community who inhabited this settlement (Levine 1990; Rassamakin 1999; Mileto et al. 2017). The Molyukhov Bugor site was part of Dereivka culture (Rassamakin 1999) and was located on the Dnieper River, near the village of Novoselitsa, Chigirin District (Kotova 2003). Both of these forest-steppe sites were highly influenced by the neighbouring communities of the Tripolye culture, as suggested by several imported materials (Rassamakin 1999).

(…) the economic strategies of the communities lived in the steppe were similar and based on extensive pastoralism of ruminants and exploitation of secondary products confirming that from the Mid-Eneolithic onward (Mikhailovka I site, discussed in the previous section) the steppe people possessed a sophisticated knowledge of animal domestication. Furthermore, the lipid residue findings did not reveal significant changes in the type of animal products recovered from pots. The main transformation relates the faunal records that revealed an increasing percentage of cattle bones in the later sites (Figure 3), which might suggest a transition from a highly mobile pastoral economy to a more sedentary one, as cattle are usually more exploited by settled communities (Kuzmina 2003). However, this contradicts suggestions of an increasing nomadic pastoralist economy from the 3rd millennium BC onward (Anthony 2007). Since, the results presented herein cannot provide a definitive answer to the latter question, resolution will have to await future investigations.

Relative proportions (NISP%) of the different classes of animals inferred from faunal records in Dereivka (Telegin 1986); Molyukhov-Bugor, (Bibikova 1963; Zhuravlev and Markova 2000; Zhuravlev 2008), ; MikhailovkaI, II and III (Bibikova and Shevchenko 1962) and Generalka (Kaiser 2010; Tuboltsev 2006).


  1. There was a considerable variation of animal exploitation in the forest-steppe sites compared to the steppe sites, confirming the results of previous researches (Outram et al. 2012 ; Lillie, Budd, and Potekhina 2011).
  2. Despite the complications (i.e. peculiar soil and mixed archaeological layers), the zooarchaeological analyses are largely consistent with the lipid residue findings.
  3. The lipid residues revealed that ruminant dairy products were exploited by the communities of the steppe from the Mid-Eneolithic period (MikhailovkaI site). This suggests that these communities were pastoralists possessing a sophisticated knowledge of animal domestication. According to the zooarchaeological record for this site, animal husbandry became the primary subsistence strategy in the 4th millennium BC. At first, the livestock consisted mainly of sheep and goats, with a shift to cattle only detected with appearance of the Yamnaya culture (3100 BC onwards).
  4. The forest-steppe appears to have been populated by hunters-fishers as the two investigated sites (Molyukhov-Bugor and Dereivka) displayed a predominance of wild animals, fish and horse remains (Rassamakin 1999; Lillie, Budd, and Potekhina 2011).
  5. The Molyukhov-Bugor site revealed a higher percentage of cattle bones and lipid residues of ruminant origin, suggesting that dietary habits were more varied compared to Dereivka, further suggesting that specialised substance practices can exist between sites even within the same, or similar, region. The latter dietary difference can be explained by a possible greater influence of the Tripolye culture to the closer Molyukhov-Bugor community, a suggestion also supported by the greater number of Tripolye imports discovered in Molyukhov-Bugor in comparison to Dereivka.
  6. Significant exploitation of horses was confirmed in the region. The lipid residues revealed that the two Mid-Eneolithic forest-steppe communities exploited horses extensively. The steppe communities also exploited horses but to a much lesser degree.
  7. Finally, a curious enrichment in δ13C16:0 values toward heavier carbon isotope values (increasing C4 plants?) was detected, especially associated with the residues with a ruminant dairy fat origin. The latter might be related to a seasonal effect and/or to greater summer aridity (Evershed et al. 2008) and/or seasonal pastoralism (Rassamakin 1999).

In a recent conversation, I realized that I didn’t know of a model dividing potential communities in the Eneolithic North Pontic area. Rassamakin, as I already said, is one researcher to follow for steppe-related cultures and populations, especially from Ukraine (and the Dnieper-Dniester region), and thus for the potential origin of Corded Ware migrants.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (II): The unsolved nature of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, and the route of Proto-Anatolian expansion


This is part 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).

I already expressed my predictions for 2018. One of the most interesting questions among them is the identification of the early Anatolian offshoot, and this is – I believe – where Genomics has the most to say in Indo-European migrations.

Linguistics and Archaeology had already a mainstream account from Late PIE/Yamna onwards, and it has been proven right in Genomic investigation. There is, however, no consensus on Indo-Hittite.


Apart from the Anatolian homeland hypothesis and its westward migration (as referenced e.g. by Lazaridis et al. 2017), the other possibility including the most likely steppe homeland is that Proto-Anatolian spread through the Balkans, and must have separated from Khvalynsk and travelled first westward through the North Pontic region, and then southward to Ezero.

EDIT (10 MAR 2018): The Anatolian westward route within the steppe homeland model refers to the possibility that Proto-Anatolian spread south through the Caucasus, and then westward through Anatolia, as suggested e.g. originally by Marija Gimbutas for Maykop, as a link in the Caucasus.

We all know that this Khvalynsk -> Novodanilovka-Suvorovo -> Cernavoda -> Ezero -> Troy migration model proposed by Anthony shows no conspicuous chain in Archaeology, but obvious contacts (including Genomics) are seen among some of these neighbouring cultures in different times.

We know that remains of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture of chiefs emerged around 4400-4200 BC among ordinary local Sredni Stog settlements:

  • the Novodanilovka rich burials in the steppes, near the Dnieper,
  • and the Suvorovo group in the Danube delta, roughly coinciding with the massive abandonment of old tell settlements in the area.

One of the strongest cultural connections between Khvalynsk and Suvorovo Novodanilovka chiefs is the similar polished stone mace-heads shaped like horse heads found in both cultures, a typical steppe prestige object going back to the east Pontic-Caspian steppe beginning ca. 5000-4800 BC.

Its finding in the Danube valley may have signalled the expansion of horse riding, which is compatible with the finding of ancient domesticated horses in the region. Horses were not important in Old European cultures, and it seems that they weren’t in Sredni Stog or Kvitjana either.

Steppe and Danubian sites at the time: of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC. David W. Anthony (2007).

NOTE. Telegin, the main source of knowledge in Ukraine prehistoric cultures for Anthony, was eventually convinced that Surovovo-Novodanilovka was a separate culture. However, for Anthony (using Telegin’s first impressions), it may have been a wealthy elite among Sredni Stog peoples. Anthony considers Sredni Stog to have been also influenced by Khvalynsk, and thus potentially related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

Nevertheless, he obviously cannot link North Pontic Eneolithic cultures to Khvalynsk nor to horse riding – whilst he clearly assumes horse riding for Novodanilovka-Suvorovo chiefs – , and he does not link North Pontic cultures to later expansions of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from late Khvalynsk and Yamna, either.

The question here for Anthony (as with further Proto-Anatolian expansions described in his 2007 book), in my opinion, was to offer a plausible string of connections between Khvalynsk and Anatolia, and the simplest connection one can make among steppe cultures is a general, broad community between North Pontic and North Caspian cultures. That way, the knot tying Khvalynsk to the Danube seems stronger, whatever the origin of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

If, however, a direct genetic connection is made between Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs and Khvalynsk – as in its association with R1b-M269 and R1b-L23 lineages – , there will be little need to include Sredni Stog or any other intermediate culture in the equation.

We have already seen a movement of steppe ancestry into mainland Greece, and I would not be surprised if a parallel movement could be seen from Ezero to Troy (or a neighbouring North-West Anatolian region), so that the final migration of Common Anatolian had in fact been triggered by the massive steppe migrations during the Chalcolithic.

NOTE. Whereas we are certain to find R1b-L23 subclades in the direct Balkan migrations from Yamna, the link of steppe->Anatolia migrations may be a little trickier: even if we find out that the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion was associated with an expansion and reduction of haplogroup variability (to haplogroups R1b-M269 and R1b-L23), we don’t know yet if the ca. 1,500 years passed (and the different cultural and population changes occurred) between Proto-Anatolian and Common Anatolian migrations may have impacted the main haplogroup composition of both communities.

O&M 2018

A probably unsurprising – because of its previously known admixture and PCA – , but nevertheless disappointing finding came from the Y-SNP call of the haplogroup R1 found in Varna (R1b-V88, given first by Genetiker), leaving us with no new haplogroup data standing out for this period.

This sample’s lack of obvious genetic links with the steppe and early date didn’t deter me from believing it could show subclade M269, and thus a sign of incoming Suvorovo chiefs in the region. After all, R1b-P297 subclades seemed to have almost disappeared from the Balkans by that time, and we know that assessments based only on ancestral components and PCA clusters are not infallible – we are seeing that in many, many samples already.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo. Țerna S., Govedarica B. (2016)

NOTE. In fact, the first time I checked Mathieson et al. (2018) supplementary tables I thought that the ‘Ukraine_Eneolithic’ sample of R1b-L23 subclade was ‘it’: the first clear proof in ancient samples of incoming Suvorovo chiefs from Khvalynsk I was looking for…Until I realized its date, and that it was more likely a Late Yamna (or Catacomb) sample.

Steppe ancestry is found in the Varna and Smyadovo outliers, though, and these samples cluster closely to Ukraine Eneolithic samples (which are among Khvalynsk, Ukraine Neolithic, and Anatolia Neolithic clusters), so some population movement must have happened around or before that time in the region, and it is obvious that it happened from east to west.

It remains to be seen, therefore:

a) If the incoming Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs (most likely originally from Khvalynsk) dominating over North Pontic and Danube regions show – as I bet – R1b-M269, and possibly also early R1b-L23* subclades,

b) Or else they still show mixed lineages, reflecting an older admixed population of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – as the early Khvalynsk and Ukraine Eneolithic samples we have now.

NOTE. Even though my preferred model of migration is through the Balkans – due to the many east-west migrations seen from the steppe into Europe – , there is no general consensus here because of the lack of solid anthropological models, and there are cultural links found also between the steppe and Anatolia through the Caucasus, so the question remains open.


mtDNA haplogroup frequency analysis from Verteba Cave supports a strong cultural frontier between farmers and hunter-gatherers in the North Pontic steppe


New preprint paper at BioRxiv, led by a Japanese researcher, with analysis of mtDNA of Trypillians from Verteba Cave, Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from Verteba Cave, Ukraine: insights into the origins and expansions of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Cututeni-Tripolye Culture, by Wakabayashi et al. (2017).


Background: The Eneolithic (~5,500 yrBP) site of Verteba Cave in Western Ukraine contains the largest collection of human skeletal remains associated with the archaeological Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture. Their subsistence economy is based largely on agro-pastoralism and had some of the largest and most dense settlement sites during the Middle Neolithic in all of Europe. To help understand the evolutionary history of the Tripolye people, we performed mtDNA analyses on ancient human remains excavated from several chambers within the cave.

Results: Burials at Verteba Cave are largely commingled and secondary in nature. A total of 68 individual bone specimens were analyzed. Most of these specimens were found in association with well-defined Tripolye artifacts. We determined 28 mtDNA D-Loop (368 bp) sequences and defined 8 sequence types, belonging to haplogroups H, HV, W, K, and T. These results do not suggest continuity with local pre-Eneolithic peoples, but rather complete population replacement. We constructed maximum parsimonious networks from the data and generated population genetic statistics. Nucleotide diversity (π) is low among all sequence types and our network analysis indicates highly similar mtDNA sequence types for samples in chamber G3. Using different sample sizes due to the uncertainly in number of individuals (11, 28, or 15), we found Tajima’s D statistic to vary. When all sequence types are included (11 or 28), we do not find a trend for demographic expansion (negative but not significantly different from zero); however, when only samples from Site 7 (peak occupation) are included, we find a significantly negative value, indicative of demographic expansion.

Conclusions: Our results suggest individuals buried at Verteba Cave had overall low mtDNA diversity, most likely due to increased conflict among sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists to the East and North. Early Farmers tend to show demographic expansion. We find different signatures of demographic expansion for the Tripolye people that may be caused by existing population structure or the spatiotemporal nature of ancient data. Regardless, peoples of the Tripolye Culture are more closely related to early European farmers and lack genetic continuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or pre-Eneolithic groups in Ukraine.

Genetic finds keep supporting the long-lasting cultural and linguistic frontier that Anthony (2007) – among others – asserted existed in the North-West Pontic steppe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic, between western steppe cultures and farmers, while it disproves Kristiansen’s theories of Sredni Stog expansion in Kurgan waves with a mixture of GAC and Trypillia within the Corded Ware culture:

Previous ancient DNA studies showed that hunter-gatherers before 6,500 yrBP in Europe commonly had haplogroups U, U4, U5, and H, whereas hunter-gatherers after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had less frequency of haplogroup H than before. Haplogroups T and K appeared in hunter-gatherers only after 6,500 yrBP, indicating a degree of admixture in some places between farmers and hunter-gatherers. Farmers before and after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had haplogroups W, HV*, H, T, K, and these are also found in individuals buried at Verteba Cave. Therefore, our data point to a common ancestry with early European farmers. Our data also suggest population replacement. Mathieson et al. analyzed a number of Neolithic Ukrainian samples (petrous bone) from several sites in southern, northern, and western Ukraine, dating to ~8,500 – 6,000 yrBP, and found exclusively U (U4 and U5) mtDNA lineages. It should be noted that ‘Neolithic’ in this context does not mean the adoption of agriculture, but rather simply coinciding with a change in material culture. They also analyzed several Trypillian individuals from Verteba Cave (different samples from the those included in this study). Similar to our findings, they found a wider diversity of mtDNA lineages, including H, HV, and T2b. These data, combined with our results, appear to confirm almost complete population replacement by individuals associated with the Tripolye Culture during the Middle to Late Neolithic.

The findings also hint to potential contacts of Yamna with Usatovo as predicted by Anthony (2007), or alternatively (lacking precise dates) to contacts with Corded Ware migrants:

Trypillians were very much a distinct people who most likely displaced 1 local hunter-gatherers with little admixture. Haplogroup W was also observed in several specimens deriving from Site G3. Although we are unsure if all of these haplogroups come from a single or multiple individuals, this observation is interesting in that it is relatively rare and isolated among Neolithic samples. It has, however, been found in samples dating to the Bronze Age. In the study by Wilde et al. [35], they found haplogroup W present in two samples from the Early Bronze Age associated with the Yamnaya and Usatovo cultures. The Usatovo culture (~ 3500 – 2500 BC) was found in Romania, Moldova, and southern Ukraine. It was the conglomeration of Tripolye and North Pontic steppe cultures. Therefore, this individual could link the Trypillian peoples to the Usatovo peoples and perhaps to the greater Yamnaya steppe migrations during the Bronze Age that lead to the Corded Ware Culture.

On the other hand, an article written in terms of mtDNA haplogroup frequencies seems to offer too little proof of anything today. The lack of Y-DNA haplogroups and data on admixture makes their interpretations provisional, subject to change when these further data are published. Also, radiocarbon dating is only confident for individuals of one site (site 7), dated ca. 5,500 cal BP, while “other chambers in the cave are not as confidently dated”…

“Based on the 8 sequence types of the mtDNA D-loop, a maximum parsimonious phylogenetic network was constructed. Circles represent the sequence types, and the size of the circle is proportional to the number of samples. Numbers on the branches between the circles are nucleotide position numbers (+16,000) of the human mitochondrial genome sequence (rCRS). Information about the location (chamber within the cave) where the specimen was excavated is also provided. Areas 2 and 17 are part of Site 7, and these are defined as a separate chamber, although they are located in close proximity within Site 7. The other chambers, Site 20, G2, and G3, are independent and separate locations within the cave. ‘Undefined’ chamber describes an unknown location within the cave. Specimens from each chamber showed deviation for the sequence type distribution observed in the sample set. For example, specimens excavated from Site 7 had five unique sequence types, (I, II, III, IV, and VIII), while specimens excavated from chamber G 21 had mainly one sequence type (V)”. Made available by the authors under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

We had also seen signs of conflict between Trypillian and steppe cultures in a recent article, Violence at Verteba Cave, Ukraine: New Insights into the Late Neolithic Intergroup Conflict, by Madden et al. (2017):

Many researchers have pointed to the huge “megasites” and construction of fortifications as evidence of intergroup hostilities among the Late Neolithic Tripolye archaeological culture. However, to date, very few skeletal remains have been analyzed for the types of traumatic injury that serve as direct evidence for violent conflict. In this study, we examine trauma on human remains from the Tripolye site of Verteba Cave in western Ukraine. The remains of 36 individuals, including 25 crania, were buried in the gypsum cave as secondary interments. The frequency of cranial trauma is 30-44% among the 25 crania, six males, four females and one adult of indeterminate sex displayed cranial trauma. Of the 18 total fractures, 10 were significantly large and penetrating suggesting lethal force. Over half of the trauma is located on the posterior aspect of the crania, suggesting the victims were attacked from behind. Sixteen of the fractures observed were perimortem and two were antemortem. The distribution and characteristics of the fractures suggest that some of the Tripolye individuals buried at Verteba Cave were victims of a lethal surprise attack. Resources were limited due to population growth and migration, leading to conflict over resource access. It is hypothesized that during this time of change burial in this cave aided in development of identity and ownership of the local territory.


Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis

New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture

The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt

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