Neanderthal language revisited: speech old and shared with archaic humans

palaeolithic_neanderthal

Neanderthal language revisited: not only us, by Dediu and Levinson, Curr Opin Behav Sci (2018) 21:49–55.

Abstract:

Here we re-evaluate our 2013 paper on the antiquity of language (Dediu and Levinson, 2013) in the light of a surge of new information on human evolution in the last half million years. Although new genetic data suggest the existence of some cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans — fully expected after hundreds of thousands of years of partially separate evolution, overall our claims that Neanderthals were fully articulate beings and that language evolution was gradual are further substantiated by the wealth of new genetic, paleontological and archeological evidence briefly reviewed here.

neanderthal-language
The new data supports language and speech being old and shared with archaic humans. However, this does not rule out subtle and very interesting differences

Check out also the interesting open access article Drawings of Representational Images by Upper Paleolithic Humans and their Absence in Neanderthals Might Reflect Historical Differences in Hunting Wary Game, by Richard G. Coss.

Related:

The myth of mixed language, the concepts of culture core and package, and the invention of ‘Steppe folk’

neolithic-steppe

I recently read some papers which, albeit apparently unrelated, should be of interest for many today.

Mixed language

The myth of the mixed languages, by Kees Versteeg, in Advances in Maltese linguistics, ed. by Benjamin Saade and Mauro Tosco, 217-238. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2017 [uncorrected proofs]

This paper focuses on the usefulness of the label ‘mixed languages’ as an analytical tool. Section 1 sketches the emergence of the biological paradigm in linguistics and its effect on the contemporary debate about mixed languages. Sections 2 and 3 discuss two processes that have been held responsible for the emergence of mixed languages, code switching and extreme borrowing. Section 4 compares these two mechanisms with the categories of change in Thomason & Kaufman (1988), while Section 5 offers some conclusions about the status of mixed languages as a special category.

Although the paper is a must read for language contact and language change (code-switching, borrowing, shifting), a good summary may save you some time if you are not interested in linguistics:

Speakers may either shift to a new language while retaining traces of their old language, or they may stick to their original language while borrowing from another language with which they come in touch (…)

[Bakker] distinguishes two types of communities in which mixing is found: isolated mixed marriage communities with (asymmetrical) bilingualism; and nomadic communities that shift to a dominant language, but retain a substantial part of their lexicon as a private or secret register, closely connected with the community’s identity. The history of these communities provides us with plausible scenarios to explain the idiosyncrasies of the speech pattern of the speakers belonging to them.

In what way, then, does it help to put both categories under one label of mixed languages? I believe Backus (2003: 263) is right when he suggests that the question of whether a certain set of features constitutes a mixed language is perhaps not a very interesting one. The question should not be whether given certain features a language may be categorized as mixed, but what the linguistic effects of different kinds of contact (trade, work, conquest, mixed marriages, colonization, marginalization, etc.) are, and to what extent these effects correlate with the type of contact. At no point is it necessary to posit a category of mixed languages. In fact, the myth of the mixed languages may have been perpetuated because of the relative weirdness of the initial cases, notably that of Michif, which represent phenomena so unique that it is understandable that some scholars came to believe that they could only be explained by special mechanisms. The position taken here is that if we focus on the speakers’ behavior, the phenomena in question become much more understandable. The crucial point is that languages do not mix, people do.

Culture core and package

The article Isolation-by-distance, homophily, and “core” vs. “package” cultural evolution models in Neolithic Europe, by Shennana, Crema, and Kerig (2015):

Recently there has been growing interest in characterising population structure in cultural data in the context of ongoing debates about the potential of cultural group selection as an evolutionary process. Here we use archaeological data for this purpose, which brings in a temporal as well as spatial dimension. We analyse two distinct material cultures (pottery and personal ornaments) from Neolithic Europe, in order to: a) determine whether archaeologically defined “cultures” exhibit marked discontinuities in space and time, supporting the existence of a population structure, or merely isolation-by-distance; and b) investigate the extent to which cultures can be conceived as structuring “cores” or as multiple and historically independent “packages”. Our results support the existence of a robust population structure comparable to previous studies on human culture, and show how the two material cultures exhibit profound differences in their spatial and temporal structuring, signalling different evolutionary trajectories.

Our results suggest distinct evolutionary histories in the spatial and temporal variation of personal ornament and pottery, with different rates of innovation, patterns of descent, and dynamics of diffusion. Ornament data do show statistically significant values of ΦST using pottery-defined population structures, but the magnitude is extremely small, and partial Mantel tests suggest that much of this pattern is explained by isolation by distance. These results are in line with a model
of culture represented by independent “packages” of multiple coherent units rather than one characterised by a distinct and fairly isolated “core” surrounded by a “periphery” of elements prone to crosscultural transmission. The alternative hypothesis is that one element was part of the “core” tradition, whilst the other was peripheral. This scenario is however less likely given that both elements are generally regarded as expression of local lines of transmission and/or signalling.

The robust support for a population structure in the pottery data shows that some degree of homophily must have biased the transmission process, but this bias was confined within the single “package”, rather than affecting other aspects of the material culture. In other words similarity (or dissimilarity) of pottery style was not influencing the transmission process of personal ornaments and vice-versa. If this was the case, we should have observed a stronger agreement between in the spatio-temporal distribution of the two datasets, a pattern we failed to observe. Personal ornaments are often seen as group-identity markers, but the fact that our study appears to indicate a stronger role for isolation by distance in accounting for variation in ornaments suggests that this assumption may not be valid, or alternatively that these groups cross-cut the archaeological cultures traditionally recognised. Thus,while our study has provided strong evidence of population structure affecting patterns of cultural interaction, in this case at least the distinct patterns observed point to a modular, ‘package’ model. It has also shown that we can identify population structuring from the evidence of the archaeological record without continuing to attempt the fruitless task of correlating its patterns with past ethnolinguistic units.

pottery-ornament-neolithic-europe
Location of material culture (ornament and pottery) data of 361 Neolithic sites in central
Europe

A situation more interesting than Neolithic Europe for those following this blog will probably be the one on West Europe during the Bell Beaker expansion.

Regarding Iberia, I have already talked about the possibilities of “resurgence” after the arrival of Bell Beaker migrants, in this blog and in the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

About the British Isles, you can read e.g. the stepped and different cultural changes that happened after the arrival of East Bell Beakers in What was and what would never be: changing patterns of interaction and archaeological visibility across north-west Europe from 2,500 to 1,500 cal BC, by Wilkin, N., Vander Linden, M. 2015. In : Anderson-Whymark, H., Garrow, D., Sturt, F. (eds)Continental connections. Exploring cross -Channel relationships from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age. Oxford: Oxbow: 99-121.

britain-ireland-bell-beaker
The changing cultural geography of north-west Europe c. 3000-1500 BC. Solid line: architecture; dashed line: material culture;, dash-dot line: funerary practices

This logical description different cultural changes brings up a question obvious to many, and can be summed up by “does the arrival of (North-West Indo-European-speaking) East Bell Beakers mean the end of non-Indo-European cultures in Western and Northern Europe?” The answer is obviously – as in the rest of Europe – quite simply No. Many non-Indo-European groups must have survived the initial expansion of East Bell Beakers in many regions, as the pre-Roman situation (already quite simplified after the expansion of Celtic and Germanic) testifies.

“Resurgence” of local groups as seen in genomic data is the most direct connection with survival of previous non-IE cultures (and thus languages), but obviously not the only mechanism of language survival, since we can see founder effects – such as those seen in modern Basque speakers (mainly of R1b subclades), and in Ugro-Finnic speakers in north-east Europe (mainly of N subclades).

Steppe folk

I am recently stumbling more and more often upon the concept of ‘Steppe people‘ by amateur geneticists, whether in Anthrogenica, in blogs and blog comments, or even in research papers, where people used to talk about ‘Yamnaya people’ or ‘Yamnaya folk’. As I said, I expected this since I questioned the concept of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component‘, so I feel vindicated by this change.

However, whereas most will be using these names simply following the redeeming term “steppe admixture”, and thus refer to a Neolithic steppe population that shared a common admixture component (probably ca. 5000 BC), some will obviously go further and identify this component with Proto-Indo-European (like that, in general terms), since it is the logical sequence for those who consider the term “Indo-Europeans” as an umbrella for a certain ethnic proportion and a link with modern populations in stupid autochthonous continuity theories, where prehistoric language and culture are irrelevant.

NOTE. Evidently, those who supported quite strongly the fact that R1a-M417 subclades associated with Corded Ware migrants (i.e. mainly R1a-Z645) stemmed directly from Yamna migrants are shifting terminology to “steppe people” in light of recent data, so that they can support an older steppe community in the likely case that no R1a is found in Yamna, while keeping open the possibility to revert to a more direct support of the Yamna -> Corded Ware model in case just one R1a sample is found… So no anthropological model at all here, just a personal desire to be fullfilled in any possible way.

Those thinking naively about an imaginary ‘Steppe folk’, living in loosely connected steppe cultures, speaking a mixed ‘Steppe language’, may well keep inventing potentially popular peoples and languages based on admixture, such as West Hunter-Gatherer folk (Vasconic?), East Hunter-Gatherer folk (Uralic? – or maybe today they can invent a Siberian folk bringing Finno-Ugric after 500 BC), Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer folk (??), etc. So welcome back to the 1930s!… Or was it the 2000s?

wiik-modified
Image modified by me from Wiik’s original, for those of you nostalgic fans of autochthonous continuity theories: You can now again support a native Vasconic-Uralic-Indo-European “folk” distribution in Neolithic Europe.

Some people like to talk about how “Science” wins against Academia, especially when they try to defend this pseudo-subfield they are inventing and venerating on the go to characterize ancient populations, where new genomic methods are king, and the other fields involved are just noise they easily use or dismiss to support their own desires and preconceptions.

NOTE. I felt like many fans of Genomics are very well represented in this recent article at ArXiv: “23andMe confirms: I’m super white” — Analyzing Twitter Discourse On Genetic Testing

Too bad for them. The misuse of this new field might be popular today among certain amateur geneticists, but it will not stand the test of time, similar to how the initial hype around radiocarbon analysis (for Archaeology) or glottochronology (for Linguistics) eventually faded, and they became just another tool among traditional methods. In Science, time puts everything where it belongs.

Whether you like it or not, Indo-European (and Uralic) questions will be solved – as they have been for a long time now, there is nothing new under the sun – with Historical Linguistics first, then Prehistoric Archaeology, then Anthropology (models of migration, cultural diffusion, founder effects, etc.), and only then Genomics, which may (or may not) help solve certain controversial aspects, by supporting one or other anthropological model. Period.

See also:

Admixture of Srubna and Huns in Hungarian conquerors

hungarian-conqueror-migrations

New preprint at BioRxiv, Mitogenomic data indicate admixture components of Asian Hun and Srubnaya origin in the Hungarian Conquerors, by Neparáczki et al. (2018), at BioRxiv.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

It has been widely accepted that the Finno-Ugric Hungarian language, originated from proto Uralic people, was brought into the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarian Conquerors. From the middle of the 19th century this view prevailed against the deep-rooted Hungarian Hun tradition, maintained in folk memory as well as in Hungarian and foreign written medieval sources, which claimed that Hungarians were kinsfolk of the Huns. In order to shed light on the genetic origin of the Conquerors we sequenced 102 mitogenomes from early Conqueror cemeteries and compared them to sequences of all available databases. We applied novel population genetic algorithms, named Shared Haplogroup Distance and MITOMIX, to reveal past admixture of maternal lineages. Phylogenetic and population genetic analysis indicated that more than one third of the Conqueror maternal lineages were derived from Central-Inner Asia and their most probable ultimate sources were the Asian Huns. The rest of the lineages most likely originated from the Bronze Age Potapovka-Poltavka-Srubnaya cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, which area was part of the later European Hun empire. Our data give support to the Hungarian Hun tradition and provides indirect evidence for the genetic connection between Asian and European Huns. Available data imply that the Conquerors did not have a major contribution to the gene pool of the Carpathian Basin, raising doubts about the Conqueror origin of Hungarian language.

hungarian-conqueror-mtdna
“Comparison of major Hg distributions from modern and ancient populations. Asian main Hg-s are designated with brackets. Major Hg distribution of Conqueror samples from this study are very similar to that of other 91 Conquerors taken from previous studies [11,12]. Scythians and ancient Xiongnus show similar Hg composition to the bracketed Asian fraction of the Conqueror samples, but Hg B is present just in Xiongnus. Modern Hungarians have very small Asian components pointing at small contribution from the Conquerors. Of the 289 modern Hungarian mitogenomes 272 are published in [29]. Scythian Hg-s are from [48,49,55,59,71–74]. Xiongnu Hg-s are from [66–69].”

Just recently another article contributed to a similar idea. I already talked about the Bronze Age R1a-z93 sample with high steppe ancestry found in the Balkans, and its likely origin in an expansion of the Srubna or a related culture. No truce, therefore, for those looking for autochthonous continuity anywhere in Europe.

We are seeing how multiple migrations shaped the history of the Carpathian basin (and its complex genetic structure) – and of Europe in general -, often from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. That is clear from many different prehistorical and historical times, such as the expansions of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, Yamna, Srubna, Thraco-Cimmerians, Sarmatians, Scythians, Huns,…

About the linguistic interpretations based on genetics contained in the paper (Hungarian language as a legacy of Huns), well, you know my stance regarding the Yamnaya ancestral concept (and the wrong linguistic interpretations derived from it, which many sadly keep to this day), and genetics in general to solve language questions

This is yet another example of how (what some people would call) “scientific data” is useless without sound anthropological models.

Featured image, from the article: “Hypothetic origin and migration route of different components of the Hungarian Conquerors. Bluish line frames the Eurasian steppe zone, within which all presumptive ancestors of the Conquerors were found. Yellow area designates the Xiongnu Empire at its zenith from which area the East Eurasian lineages originated. Phylogeographical distribution of modern East Eurasian sequence matches (Fig. 1) well correspond to this territory, especially considering that Yakuts, Evenks and Evens lived more south in the past [108], and European Tatars also originated from this area. Regions where Asian and European Scythian remains were found are labeled green, pink is the presumptive range of the Srubnaya culture. Migrants of Xiongnu origin most likely incorporated descendants of these groups. The map was created using QGIS 2.18.4[109]”.

Article available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

Discovered via Razib Khan.

See also:

Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic (NOT Corded Ware/Battle Axe) identified as forming the Pre-Germanic community in Scandinavia

copper-age-late-bell-beaker

I wrote recently about the newly created Indo-European Corded Ware Theory group, which represents today the last dying effort to sustain the outdated model of the ‘Kurgan peoples’.

Archaeology and Linguistics (like Genetics) keeps slowly but relentlessly rejecting all the Kurgan model‘s foundations, safe for the steppe origin of Indo-European expansion.

The book Language and Prehistory of the Indo-European Peoples. A Cross-Disciplinary perspective. Eds. A. Hyllested, B.N. Whitehead, Th. Olander and B. Anette. Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European. Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, has been recently published (December 2017).

In it, Christopher Prescott contributes to the history of Indo-European migrations to Scandinavia and the formation of a common Nordic language, ancestral to Proto-Germanic.

A draft of his chapter is downloadable in Academia.edu: Dramatic beginnings of Norway’s history? Archaeology and Indo-Europeanization.

Here are some excerpts from the text:

Thus archaeology can deal with the question of Indo-Europeans through material culture, and archaeology can contribute to unraveling the events leading up to the fact that Indo-European languages were spread from the Indian Ocean to the northwestern European Arctic in pre- and proto-history. In 1995, Prescott and Walderhaug tentatively argued that a dramatic transformation took place in Norway around the Late Neolithic (2350 BCE), and that the swift nature of this transition was tied to the initial Indo-Europeanization of southern and coastal Norway, at least to Trøndelag and perhaps as far north as Troms. Although this interpretation cannot be “proven” in any positivist sense of the word (though aDNA and isotope studies have added a new layer of relevant data), in light of the last ten years of research and excavations, it is has become an increasingly reasonable hypothesis (e.g., Engedal 2002, Fari 2006, Håland and Håland 2000, Kristiansen 2004, Melheim 2006, Østmo 1996, also Kvalø 2007, Larsson 1997).

(…)

The Late Neolithic transformation gives rise to a cultural platform where most of southerly Norway is incorporated into the Nordic sphere. Interaction is no longer over borders, rather within a common cultural arena. Locally, the cultural institutions provide a base for the continued dynamic development through the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. On a larger geographic and historical scale, incorporation into this field of interaction opens even the most peripheral parts of southern Norway to the streams of culture and events that shape Europe’s Bronze Age history, for example those originating from within Unetice, Tumulus Culture, Urnfeld and Hallstatt.

(…)

Changes in Scandinavia Norway are linked to wider transformations in Europe. Culturally, both Corded Ware Battle Axe and the Bell Beaker are important referential easterly and westerly European cultural horizons. Both these horizons affect and transform Northern Europe, so developments in Norway are not isolated affairs. Needless to say, though often regarded as Indo-European, the processes leading to and the affect of these cultural horizons is discussed for other parts of Europe as well (Mallory 1989:243ff).

Though there are reasonable arguments to assign both Corded Ware groups and bell Beaker groups Indo-European affiliations, the Corded Ware/Battle Axe horizon did not transform large parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula, nor can this horizon be identifies as the source of the practices, forms and institutions that characterize the ensuing Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. The Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic, however, represents a source and beginning of these institution and practices, exhibits continuity to the following metal age periods and integrated most of Northern Europe’s Nordic region into a set of interaction fields. This happened around 2400 BCE, at the MNB to LN transition.

Though much is tentative and conjecture, multiple sources indicate that ideology, cosmology, myths social organization and probably language were Indo-European in the Bronze Age, and the development of the Bronze Age is rooted in the preceding Late Neolithic. Though the evidence also indicates that the initial Indo-European encounters, indeed “colliding worlds”, were probably experienced in the Middle Neolithic B, the archaeological record points to the time around transition to the Late Neolithic as the chronologically defining threshold for the entrenchment of an Indo-European platform throughout what would become the Nordic Bronze Age region in Norway. The Late Neolithic is therefore the most likely candidate for the introduction of the foundation for economic, social and ideological institutions, that is Giddens’ “deeply layered structure[s]”, that are fundamental to the development of the region’s identities, also ethnic, in the millennia to come.

early-bronze-age-europe
Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC, after the Bell Beaker invasion, the most likely time of formation of a common Nordic language, ancestor of Proto-Germanic.

Mind you, not that these actual archaeological and linguistic models will deter anyone from supporting ancestry-based tentative sketches of a fictional ‘kurgan people’ that became outdated almost 60 years ago now – especially if they fit certain desires of ancestral ethnolinguistic identification with modern populations…

Related:

Evolutionary forces in language change depend on selective pressure, but also on random chance

english-language-evolution

A new interesting paper from Nature: Detecting evolutionary forces in language change, by Newberry, Ahern, Clark, and Plotkin (2017). Discovered via Science Daily.

The following are excerpts of materials related to the publication (written by Katherine Unger Baillie), from The University of Pennsylvania:

Examining substantial collections of annotated texts dating from the 12th to the 21st centuries, the researchers found that certain linguistic changes were guided by pressures analogous to natural selection — social, cognitive and other factors — while others seem to have occurred purely by happenstance.

“Linguists usually assume that when a change occurs in a language, there must have been a directional force that caused it,” said Joshua Plotkin, professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and senior author on the paper. “Whereas we propose that languages can also change through random chance alone. An individual happens to hear one variant of a word as opposed to another and then is more likely to use it herself. Chance events like this can accumulate to produce substantial change over generations. Before we debate what psychological or social forces have caused a language to change, we must first ask whether there was any force at all.”

“One of the great early American linguists, Leonard Bloomfield, said that you can never see a language change, that the change is invisible,” said Robin Clark, a coauthor and professor of linguistics in Penn Arts and Sciences. “But now, because of the availability of these large corpora of texts, we can actually see it, in microscopic detail, and begin to understand the details of how change happened.”

One change is the regularization of past-tense verbs. Using the Corpus of Historical American English, comprised of more than 100,000 texts ranging from 1810 to 2009 that have been parsed and digitized — a database that includes more than 400 million words — the team searched for verbs where both regular and irregular past-tense forms were present, for example, “dived” and “dove” or “wed” and “wedded.”

“There is a vast literature and a lot of mythology on verb regularization and irregularization,” Clark said, “and a lot of people have claimed that the tendency is toward regularization. But what we found was quite different.”

Indeed, the analysis pointed to particular instances where it seems selective forces are driving irregularization. For example, while a swimmer 200 years ago might have “dived”, today we would say they “dove.” The shift towards using this irregular form coincided with the invention of cars and concomitant increase in use of the rhyming irregular verb “drive”/“drove.”

Despite finding selection acting on some verbs, “the vast majority of verbs we analyzed show no evidence of selection whatsoever,” Plotkin said.

The team recognized a pattern: random chance affects rare words more than common ones. When rarely-used verbs changed, that replacement was more likely to be due to chance. But when more common verbs switched forms, selection was more likely to be a factor driving the replacement.

Language-evolution-hero
The grammar of negating a sentence has changed from “Ic ne secge” (Beowulf, c. 900) to “Ic ne sege noht” (the Ormulum, c. 1100) to “I seye not” (Chaucer, c. 1400) to “I doe not say” (Shakespeare, c. 1600) before returning to the familiar “I don’t say” (Virginia Woolf, c. 1900). A team from Penn used massive digital libraries along with inference techniques from population genetics to quantify the forces responsible for language evolution, such as in Jespersen’s cycle of negation, depicted here. (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, license information below

The authors also observed a role of random chance in grammatical change. The periphrastic “do,” as used in, “Do they say?” or “They do not say,” did not exist 800 years ago. Back in the 1400s, these sentiments would have been expressed as, “Say they?” or “They say not.”

Using the Penn Parsed Corpora of Historical English, which includes 7 million syntactically parsed words from 1,220 British English texts, the researchers found that the use of the periphrastic “do” emerged in two stages, first in questions (“Don’t they say?”) around the 1500s, and then roughly 200 years later in imperative and declarative statements (“They don’t say.”).

old-medieval-modern-english
These manuscripts show changes from Old English (Beowulf) through Middle English (Trinity Homilies, Chaucer) to Early Modern English (Shakespeare’s First Folio). Penn researchers used large collections of digitized texts spanning the 12th to the 21st centuries to show that many language changes can be attributed to random chance alone. (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, license information below

While most linguists have assumed that such a distinctive grammatical feature must have been driven to dominance by some selective pressure, the Penn team’s analysis questions that assumption. They found that the first stage of the rising periphrastic “do” use is consistent with random chance. Only the second stage appears to have been driven by a selective pressure.

“It seems that, once ‘do’ was introduced in interrogative phrases, it randomly drifted to higher and higher frequency over time,” said Plotkin. “Then, once it became dominant in the question context, it was selected for in other contexts, the imperative and declarative, probably for reasons of grammatical consistency or cognitive ease.”

As the authors see it, it’s only natural that social-science fields like linguistics increasingly exchange knowledge and techniques with fields like statistics and biology.

“To an evolutionary biologist,” said Newberry, “it’s important that language is maintained through a process of copying language; people learn language by copying other people. That copying introduces minute variation, and those variants get propagated. Each change is an opportunity for a different copying rate, which is the basis for evolution as we know it.”

Featured image: copyrighted, modified from the Supplementary information of the article.

Image (c) Cherissa Dukelow, 2017, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
Image (c) Mitchell Newberry, 2017, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/, licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0 (see materials at University of Pennsylvania for further sources).

Related:

Human ancestry: how to work your own PCA, ADMIXTURE analyses for human evolutionary and genealogical studies

yamna-corded-ware-bell-beaker

I wrote two days ago in the post anouncing the revised version (October 2017) of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, about dumping the information I had on doing PCA and ADMIXTURE analyses as ‘drafts’, without reviewing them, in the new section of this website called Human Ancestry.

I had some time today to review them, and to correct gross mistakes in the texts, so that they might be more usable now

I began to work with free datasets to see if I could learn something more about results of recent Genetic research by working with the available free software. For the moment, I don’t see it necessary to continue working with samples myself, because there are many professionals in Bioinformatics doing an excellent job with their publications – much better than I could do -, and publishing results early (as pre-prints) and with free licenses, which allow us to reuse and modify their material. To work again with their samples seems most of the time like reinventing the wheel.

After all, my interpretation of Indo-European migrations does not depend on my own analysis of free datasets – or on genetic analysis, or on archaeological fieldwork, for that matter – but on the study of all anthropological questions involved. I am actually more interested in Linguistics, and – only marginally – in Archaeology, as is the field of Indo-European Studies in general.

I did find certain interesting aspects that I have commented in the model, though: especially by labelling all samples and reading about them carefully (usually in the supplementary notes of the published papers), you can observe certain patterns and derive some information that others might have missed. Such examples include the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt (see more on the Corded Ware migration), or the differences in the three samples from early Khvalynsk.

Now that most data published seem to keep supporting what I have suggested – regarding the more complex nature of the steppe component (so-called ‘yamnaya component‘), and also regarding the migration from Yamna to Bell Beaker, and a migration of a different population (and probably language) with Corded Ware – I don’t find it worthy to spend more of my quite limited time in these tasks.

However, if I need to work again with datasets, I will try to complete the drafts the best I can. Especially regarding F3 Statistics and qpGraph, which I didn’t even try. If you want to help improve the sections, you are welcome of course.

If I find time, I might be of help with your work. And even though modern genealogy does not interest me (for the moment), I guess it can also be relevant to obtain conclusions on more recent migrations, so if I can be of any help to any interesting work, I will do it too.

plot3d-yamna
Plot 3D of datasets Minoans and Mycenaeans + Scythians and Sarmatians, using the same colours as in the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

Related:

  • The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt
  • New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture
  • Human ancestry solves language questions? New admixture citebait

    human_ancestry

    A paper at Scientific Reports, Human ancestry correlates with language and reveals that race is not an objective genomic classifier, by Baker, Rotimi, and Shriner (2017).

    Abstract (emphasis mine):

    Genetic and archaeological studies have established a sub-Saharan African origin for anatomically modern humans with subsequent migrations out of Africa. Using the largest multi-locus data set known to date, we investigated genetic differentiation of early modern humans, human admixture and migration events, and relationships among ancestries and language groups. We compiled publicly available genome-wide genotype data on 5,966 individuals from 282 global samples, representing 30 primary language families. The best evidence supports 21 ancestries that delineate genetic structure of present-day human populations. Independent of self-identified ethno-linguistic labels, the vast majority (97.3%) of individuals have mixed ancestry, with evidence of multiple ancestries in 96.8% of samples and on all continents. The data indicate that continents, ethno-linguistic groups, races, ethnicities, and individuals all show substantial ancestral heterogeneity. We estimated correlation coefficients ranging from 0.522 to 0.962 between ancestries and language families or branches. Ancestry data support the grouping of Kwadi-Khoe, Kx’a, and Tuu languages, support the exclusion of Omotic languages from the Afroasiatic language family, and do not support the proposed Dené-Yeniseian language family as a genetically valid grouping. Ancestry data yield insight into a deeper past than linguistic data can, while linguistic data provide clarity to ancestry data.

    Regarding European ancestry:

    Southern European ancestry correlates with both Italic and Basque speakers (r = 0.764, p = 6.34 × 10−49). Northern European ancestry correlates with Germanic and Balto-Slavic branches of the Indo-European language family as well as Finno-Ugric and Mordvinic languages of the Uralic family (r = 0.672, p = 4.67 × 10−34). Italic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic are all branches of the Indo-European language family, while the correlation with languages of the Uralic family is consistent with an ancient migration event from Northern Asia into Northern Europe. Kalash ancestry is widely spread but is the majority ancestry only in the Kalash people (Table S3). The Kalasha language is classified within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

    Sure, admixture analysis came to save the day. Yet again. Now it’s not just Archaeology related to language anymore, it’s Linguistics; all modern languages and their classification, no less. Because why the hell not? Why would anyone study languages, history, archaeology, etc. when you can run certain algorithms on free datasets of modern populations to explain everything?

    What I am criticising here, as always, is not the study per se, its methods (PCA, the use of Admixture or any other tools), or its results, which might be quite interesting – even regarding the origin or position of certain languages (or more precisely their speakers) within their linguistic groups; it’s the many broad, unsupported, striking conclusions (read the article if you want to see more wishful thinking).

    This is obviously simplistic citebait – that benefits only journals and authors, and it is therefore tacitly encouraged -, but not knowledge, because it is not supported by any linguistic or archaeological data or expertise.

    Is anyone with a minimum knowledge of languages, or general anthropology, actually reviewing these articles?

    Related:

    Featured image: Ancestry analysis of the global data set, from the article.

    Neolithic and Bronze Age Basque-speaking Iberians resisted invaders from the steppe

    gaul-asterix

    Good clickbait, right? I have received reports about this new paper in Google Now the whole weekend, and their descriptions are getting worse each day.

    The original title of the article published in PLOS Genetics (already known by its preprint in BioRxiv) was The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia: Investigation of ancient substructure using imputation and haplotype-based methods, by Martiniano et al. (2017).

    Maybe the title was not attractive enough, so they sent the following summary, entitled “Bronze Age Iberia received fewer Steppe invaders than the rest of Europe” (also in Phys.org. From their article, the only short reference to the linguistic situation of Iberia (as a trial to sum up potential consequences of the genetic data obtained):

    Iberia is unusual in harbouring a surviving pre-Indo-European language, Euskera, and inscription evidence at the dawn of history suggests that pre-Indo-European speech prevailed over a majority of its eastern territory with Celtic-related language emerging in the west. Our results showing that predominantly Anatolian-derived ancestry in the Neolithic extended to the Atlantic edge strengthen the suggestion that Euskara is unlikely to be a Mesolithic remnant. Also our observed definite, but limited, Bronze Age influx resonates with the incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion on the peninsula, although there are subsequent genetic changes in Iberia and defining a horizon for language shift is not yet possible. This contrasts with northern Europe which both lacks evidence for earlier language strata and experienced a more profound Bronze Age migration.

    Judging from the article, more precise summaries of potential consequences would have been “Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian peoples derived from Neolithic farmers, not Mesolithic or Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers”, or “incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion of the Iberian Peninsula” – both aspects, by the way, are already known. That would have been quite unromantic, though.

    Their carefully selected title has been unsurprisingly distorted at least as “Ancient DNA Reveals Why the Iberian Peninsula Is So Unique“, and “Ancient Iberians resisted Steppe invasions better than the rest of Europe 6,000 years ago“.

    So I thought, what the hell, let’s go with the tide. Using the published dataset, I have also helped reconstruct the original phenotype of Bronze Age Iberians, and this is how our Iberian ancestors probably looked like:

    Typical Iberian village during the Steppe invasion, according to my phenotype study of Martiniano et al. (2017). Notice typical invaders to the right.

    And, by the way, they spoke Basque, the oldest language. Period.

    Now, for those new to the article, we already knew that there is less “steppe admixture” in Iberian samples from southern Portugal after the time of east Bell Beaker expansion.

    portugal-bronze-age-admixture
    (A) PCA estimated from the CHROMOPAINTER coancestry matrix of 67 ancient samples ranging from the Paleolithic to the Anglo-Saxon period. The samples belonging to each one of the 19 populations identified with fineSTRUCTURE are connected by a dashed line. Samples are placed geographically in 3 panels (with random jitter for visual purposes): (B) Hunter-gatherers; (C) Neolithic Farmers (including Ötzi) and (D) Copper Age to Anglo-Saxon samples. The Portuguese Bronze Age samples (D, labelled in red) formed a distinct population (Portuguese_BronzeAge), while the Middle and Late Neolithic samples from Portugal clustered with Spanish, Irish and Scandinavian Neolithic farmers, which are termed “Atlantic_Neolithic” (C, in green).

    However, there is also a clear a discontinuity in Neolithic Y-DNA haplogroups (to R1b-P312 haplogroups). That means obviously a male-driven invasion, from the North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beaker culture – which in turn did not have much “steppe admixture” compared to other north-eastern cultures, like the Corded Ware culture, probably unrelated to Indo-European languages.

    portugal-bronze-age-haplogroup
    Summary of the samples sequenced in the present study.

    As always, trying to equate steppe or Yamna admixture with invasion or language is plainly wrong. Doing it with few samples, and with the wrong assumptions of what “steppe admixture” means, well…

    Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian no doubt survived the Indo-European Bell Beaker migrations, but if Y-DNA lineages were replaced already by the Bronze Age in southern Portugal, there is little reason to support an increased “resistance” of Iberians to Bell Beaker invaders compared to other marginal regions of Europe (relative to the core Yamna expansion in eastern and central Europe).

    As you know, Aquitanian (the likely ancestor of Basque) and Iberian were just two of the many non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe at the dawn of historical records, so to speak about Iberia as radically different than Italy, Greece, Northern Britain, Scandinavia, or Eastern Europe, is reminiscent of the racism (or, more exactly, xenophobia) that is hidden behind romantic views certain people have of their genetic ancestry.

    Some groups formed by a majority of R1b-DF27 lineages, now prevalent in Iberia, spoke probably Iberian languages during the Iron Age in north and eastern Iberia, before their acculturation during the expansion of Celtic-speaking peoples, and later during the expansion of Rome, when most of them eventually spoke Latin. In Mediaeval times, these lineages probably expanded Romance languages southward during the Reconquista.

    Before speaking Iberian languages, R1b-DF27 lineages (or older R1b-P312) were probably Indo-European speakers who expanded with the Bell Beaker culture from the lower Danube – in turn created by the interaction of Yamna with Proto-Bell Beaker cultures, and adopted probably the native Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian languages (or possibly the ancestor of both) near the Pyrenees, either by acculturation, or because some elite invaders expanded successfully (their Y-DNA haplogroup) over the general population, for generations.

    Maybe some kind of genetic bottleneck happened, that expanded previously not widespread lineages, as with N1c subclades in Finland.

    There is nothing wrong with hypothetic models of ancient genetic prehistory: there are still too many potential scenarios for the expansion of haplogroup R1b-DF27 in Iberia. But, please, stop supporting romantic pictures of ethnolinguistic continuity for modern populations. It’s embarrassing.


    Featured image from Wikipedia, and Pinterest, with copyright from Albert Uderzo and publisher company Hachette.

    Images from the article, licensed CC-by-sa, as all articles from PLOS.

    The over-simplistic “Kossinnian Model”: homogeneous peoples speaking a common language within clearly delimited cultures

    proto-greek-mynian-ware

    There seems to be a growing trend to over-simplistic assumptions in archaeology and linguistics, led by amateur and professional geneticists alike, due to the recent (only partially deserved) popularity of Human Evolutionary Biology.

    These studies are offering ancient DNA samples, whose Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups and admixture analyses are showing some new valuable information on ancient cultures and peoples. However, their authors are constantly giving uninformed conclusions.

    I have read a good, simple description of the Kossinnian model in the book Balkan Dialogues (Routledge, 2017), which has been shared to be fully read online by co-editor Maria Ivanova.

    Chapter 3, The transitions between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Greece, and the “Indo-European problem”, by Jean-Paul Demoule, offers a clear account of the difficulties found in tracing the arrival of Proto-Greek speakers to Greece or the “Coming of the Greeks”. The identifications of cultural breaks most commonly supported by academics as potentially signaling the arrival of Proto-Greeks are cited, including the Early Helladic III period ca. 2300 BC (with the diffusion of Mynian ware), or the Middle Helladic period ca. 2000 BC. The problem of finding a clear cultural break before the emergence of Mycenaean Greece (which obviously spoke an early Greek dialect) has led some to adopt a “Palaeolithic autochthonous theory” (Giannopoulos 2012), which offers still more problems than it solves.

    Of interest is his reference to Kossinna in light of the recent popularity in resorting to DNA to answer all problems. It is mandatory for the field of Indo-European studies – regardless of what renown labs and journals of high impact factor are publishing – to avoid carrying on “in the steps of race based cranial measurement which enjoyed its floruit in the 19th century before fading into oblivion.”

    This is why, without denying the relationship between Indo-European languages, we need to question the validity of the overall model itself, which has shown itself to be over-simplistic in assuming the movement of permanent and long-lasting homogeneous “peoples”. More precisely, we have to criticize in details the “Kossinnian Model” underlying all those assumptions – “Kossinnian”, because of the German archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna (1858–1931), well known for the famous sentence: “Cultural provinces, which are clearly delimited on the basis of archaeology, correspond in every era to specific peoples or tribes” (“Scharf umgrenzte archäologische Kultur-provinzen decken sich zu allen Zeiten mit ganz bestimmten Völkern und Völkerstämmen”). Four basic assumptions arise from this central idea:

    1. Changes in languages are due to population movements, usually involving conquest, and every migration implies a linguistic change.
    2. Archaeological “cultures” are homogenous ethnic groups, with defined frontiers, based on the model of 19th- and 20th-century nation-states and equally on the model of biological entities that reproduce by parthenogenesis.
    3. There is coincidence between language and material culture.
    4. Finally, languages are also homogenous biological entities which are autonomous and clearly delimited, and which can reproduce by parthenogenesis or by scissiparity.

    Unfortunately, none of these points is self-evident and each can be countered by a number of historical examples (Demoule 2014: 553–592).

    While I agree with the first part of the first statement attributed to the “Kossinnian model”, i.e. that languages are usually the product of population movements (either involving conquest or not), the other statements are obviously and demonstrably false, and are frequently assumed in comments, blog posts, forums, and even research articles – particularly in those based on genetic studies -, and this trend seems to be increasing lately.

    Welcome back!

    I have been trying to minimize contact with my own blogs, due to the huge amount of projects that I had – online as well as offline -, and the time-wasting nature of the dozen blogs I installed back in 2006-2009. They were (like this one) little more than dialectic in nature, with no particular aim.

    Right now I am tired of developing new ideas without publicizing them. I think I have information on some fields where other people might be interested in, and projects whose development could be interesting to share.

    For the moment, I have changed the WordPress theme to allow for an easy reading with smartphones and tablets.

    Welcome back to all subscribers!