R1b-L23-rich Bell Beaker-derived Italic peoples from the West vs. Etruscans from the East


New paper (behind paywall) Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean, by Antonio et al. Science (2019).

The paper offers a lot of interesting data concerning the Roman Empire and more recent periods, but I will focus on Italic and Etruscan origins.

NOTE. I have updated prehistoric maps with Y-DNA and mtDNA data, and also the PCA of ancient Eurasian samples by period including the recently published samples, now with added sample names to find them easily by searching the PDFs.

Apennine homeland problem

The traditional question of Italic vs. Etruscan origins from a cultural-historical view* lies in the opposition of the traditional way of life during the Bronze Age as opposed to increasingly foreign influences in the Final Bronze Age, which eventually brought about a proto-urban period in the Apennine Peninsula.

* From a modern archaeological perspective, as well as from the (unrelated) nativist view, “continuity” of ancient cultures, languages, and peoples is generally assumed, so this question is a no-brainer. Seeing how population genomics has essentially supported the cultural-historical view, dismissing the concepts of unscathed genomic or linguistic continuity, we have to assume that different cultures potentially represent different languages, and that genetic shift coupled with radical cultural changes show a strong support for linguistic change, although the later Imperial Roman period is an example of how this is not necessarily the case.

Early Bronze Age cultures ca. 2200 – 1750 BC. See full maps.

A little background to the Italic vs. Etruscan homeland problem, from Forsythe (2006) (emphasis mine):

While the material culture of the Po Valley developed in response to influences from central Europe and the Aegean, peninsular Italy during the late Bronze Age lagged somewhat behind for the most part. Inhumation continued to be the funerary practice of this region. Although agriculture doubtless remained the mainstay of human subsistence, other evidence (the occupation of mountainous sites not conducive to farming, the remains of cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats, and ceramic vessels used for boiling milk and making cheese) indicates that pastoralism was also very widespread. This suggests that transhumance was already a well-established pattern of human existence. In fact, since the material culture of central and southern Italy was relatively uniform at this time, it has been conjectured that this so-called Apennine Culture of c. 1600–1100 B.C. owed its uniformity in part to the migratory pattern characteristic of ancient Italian stockbreeding.

During the first quarter of the twelfth century B.C. the Bronze-Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean came to an abrupt end. The royal palaces of Pylos, Tiryns, and Mycenae in mainland Greece were destroyed by violence, and the Hittite kingdom that had ruled over Asia Minor was likewise swept away. The causes and reasons for this major catastrophe have long been debated without much scholarly consensus (see Drews 1993, 33–96). Apart from the archaeological evidence indicating the violent destruction of many sites, the only ancient accounts relating to this phenomenon come from Egypt. The most important one is a text inscribed on the temple of Medinet Habu at Thebes, which accompanies carved scenes portraying the pharaoh’s military victory over a coalition of peoples who had attempted to enter the Nile Delta by land and sea.


Iron metallurgy did not reach Italy until the ninth century B.C., and even then it was two or more centuries before iron displaced bronze as the most commonly used metal. Thus, archaeologists date the beginning of the Iron Age in Italy to c. 900 B.C.; and although the Italian Bronze Age is generally assigned to the period c. 1800–1100 B.C. and is subdivided into early, middle, and late phases, the 200-year interval between the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age has been labeled the Final Bronze Age.

During this period the practice of cremation spread south of the Po Valley and is attested at numerous sites throughout the peninsula. Since this cultural tradition developed into the Villanovan Culture which prevailed in Etruria and much of the Po Valley c. 900–700 B.C., modern archaeologists have devised the term “Proto-Villanovan” to describe the cremating cultures of the Italian Final Bronze Age.

The fact that some of the earliest urnfield sites of peninsular Italy are located on the coast (e.g. Pianello in Romagna and Timmari in Apulia) is interpreted by some archaeologists as an indication that cremating people had come into Italy by sea, and that their migration was part of the larger upheaval which affected the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age (so Hencken 1968, 78–90). On the other hand, the same data can be explained in terms of indigenous coastal settlements adopting new cultural traits as the result of commercial interaction with foreigners. In any case, by the end of the Final Bronze Age inhumation had reemerged as the dominant funerary custom of southern Italy, but cremation continued to be an integral aspect of the Villanovan Culture of northern and much of central Italy.

Diffusion of the Villanovan culture (after M. Torelli, ed., Gli Etruschi, Milan, 2000, p. 45). Modified from The Etruscan World (2013), by Turfa.

There is a myriad of linguistic reasons why eastern foreign influences can be attributed to Indo-European (mainly Anatolian, including a hypothetic influence on Latino-Faliscan) or Tyrsenian – as well as many other less credible models – and there is ground in archaeology to support any of the linguistic models proposed, given the long-lasting complex interactions of Italy with other Mediterranean cultures.

NOTE. The lack of theoretical schemes including integral archaeological-linguistic cultural-historical models due to the radical reaction against the excesses of the early 20th century have paradoxically allowed anyone (from archaeologists or linguists to laymen) to posit infinite population movements often based on the simplest similarities in vase decoration, burial practices, or shared vocabulary.

However, recent studies in population genomics have simplified the picture of Bronze Age population movements, identifying radical changes related to population replacements as opposed to more subtle admixture events. As of today, (France Bell Beaker-like) Urnfield stands as the most likely vector of Celtic languages; NW Iberian Bell Beakers as the vector of Galaico-Lusitanian; NW Mediterranean Beakers as the most likely ancestors of Elymian; the Danish Late Neolithic as representative of expanding Proto-Germanic; or Central-East Bell Beakers of Proto-Balto-Slavic.

With this in mind, the most logical conclusion is to assume that Alpine Bell Beakers (close to the sampled Italian Beakers from Parma or from southern Germany) spread Italo-Venetic languages, which is deemed to have split in the early to mid-2nd millennium BC, with dialects found widespread from the Alps to Sicily by the early 1st millennium BC.

Therefore, the two main remaining models of Italian linguistic prehistory – with the information that we already had – were as follows, concerning Tyrsenian (the ancestor of Etruscan and Rhaetian):

  1. It is a remnant language of the Italian (or surrounding) Chalcolithic, which survived in some pockets isolated from the Bell Beaker influence;
  2. It was a foreign language that arrived and expanded at the same time as the turmoil that saw the emergence of the Sea Peoples.

NOTE. Read more on Italo-Venetic evolution and on the likely distribution of Old European and Tyrsenian in the Bronze Age.

Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands. Italo-Venetic languages surrounded with shadowed red border. I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, North Picene; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; IE5, Messapian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic; N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan; N3, Nuragic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.


A Proto-Villanovan female from Martinsicuro in the Abruzzo coast (ca. 890 BC), of mtDNA hg. U5a2b, is the earliest mainland sample available showing foreign (i.e. not exclusively Anatolia_N ± WHG) ancestry:

Martinsicuro is a coastal site located on the border of Le Marche and Abruzzo on central Italy’s Adriatic coast. It is a proto-Villanovan village, situated on a hill above the Tronto river, dating to the late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (…) finds from the site indicate an affinity with contemporaries in the Balkans, suggesting direct trade contacts and interaction across the Adriatic. In particular, the practice of decorating ceramics with bronze elements was shared between the Nin region in Croatia and Picene region of Italy, including Martinsicuro.

NOTE. These are just some of the models I have tried, most of them unsuccessfully. The standard errors that I get are too high, but I am not much interested in this sample that seems (based on its position in the PCA and the available qpAdm results) mostly unrelated to Italic and Etruscan ethnogenesis.

The sample clusters close to the Early Iron Age sample from Jazinka (ca. 780 BC), from the central Dalmatian onomastic region, on the east Adriatic coast opposite to Abruzzo, possibly related to the south-east Dalmatian (or Illyrian proper) onomastic region to the south. However, there is no clear boundary between hydrotoponymic regions for the Bronze Age, and it is quite close to the (possibly Venetic-related) Liburnian onomastic region to the north, so the accounts of Martinsicuro belonging to the Liburni in proto-historical times can probably be extrapolated to the Final Bronze Age.

NOTE. Based on feminine endings in -ona in the few available anthroponyms, Liburnian may have shared similarities with personal names of the Noricum province, which doesn’t seem to be related to the more recent (Celtic- or Germanic-related?) Noric language. On the other hand, anthroponyms are known to show the most recent hydrotoponymic layer of a region, so these personal names might be unrelated to the ancestral language behind place and river names.

Toponyms ending in -ona (after S. Čače 2007).


A Villanovan sample from the powerful Etruscan city-state of Veio in the Tyrrhenian coast (ca. 850 BC), to the north of Rome, shows a cluster similar to later Etruscans and some Latins. Veio features prominently in the emergence of the Etruscan society. From The Etruscan World (2013) by Turfa:

In the final phase of the Bronze Age (mid-twelfth to tenth century bc) the disposition of settlements appears to be better distributed, although they are no longer connected to the paths of the tratturi (drove roads for transhumance of flocks and herds) as they had been during the Middle Bronze Age. As evidence of the intensive exploitation of land and continuous population growth there are now known in Etruria at least 70 confirmed settlements, and several more sites with indications of at least temporary occupation. The typical town of this chronological phase generally occupies high ground or a tufa plateau of more than five hectares, isolated at the confluence of two watercourses. These small plateaus, naturally or artificially protected, are not completely built up: non-residential areas within the defenses were probably intended as collecting points for livestock or zones reserved for cultivation, land used only by certain groups, or areas designated for shelter in case of enemy attack.

Taken together, the data seem to indicate the presence of individuals or families at the head of different groups. And in the final phase of the Bronze Age, there must have begun the process that generated (at least two centuries later) a tribal society based on families and the increasingly widespread ownership of land.

In the ninth century bc the territory is divided instead into rather large districts, each belonging to a large village, divided internally into widely spaced groups of huts, and into a small number of isolated villages located in strategic positions, for which we can assume some form of dependence upon the larger settlements.

Schematic reconstruction of the birth of a proto-urban center (after P. Tamburini, II Museo
territoriale del Lago di Bolsena. Vol 1. Dalle origini alperiodo etrusco, Bolsena 2007). Modified from The Etruscan World (2013), by Turfa.

Compared to the preceding period, this type of aggregation is characterized by a higher concentration of the population. To the number of villages located mostly on inaccessible plateaus, with defensive priority assigned to the needs of agriculture, are added settlements over wide plains where the population was grouped into a single hilltop location. It is a sort of synoikistic process, so, for example, at Vulci people were gathered from the district of the Fiora and Albegna Rivers, while to Veii came the communities that inhabited the region from the Tiber River to Lake Bracciano, including the Faliscan and Capenate territories. The reference to Halesos, son of Saturn, the mythical founder of Falerii in the genealogy of Morrius the king of Veii (Servius, Commentary on Aeneid 8.285) may conceal this close relationship between Veii and the Ager Faliscus (the territory of the historical Faliscans).

The great movement of population that characterizes this period is unthinkable without political organizations that were able to impose their decisions on the individual village communities: the different groups, undoubtedly each consisting of nuclei linked by bonds of kinship, located within or outside the tufa plateaus that would be the future seats of the Etruscan city-states, have cultural links between them, also attested to by the analysis of craft production, such as to imply affiliation to the same political unit and enabling us to speak of such human concentrations as “proto-urban”.

Map of Etruria Padana. Left: From 9th to 8th century BC. Right: From 6th to 4th century BC. Dipartimento di Archeologia di Bologna. Modified from The Etruscan World (2013), by Turfa.

Italic vs. Etruscan origins

Four out of five sampled Latins show Yamnaya-derived R1b-L23 lineages, including three R1b-U152 subclades, and one hg. R1b-Z2103 (in line with the variability found among East Bell Beakers), while one from Ardea shows hg. T1a-L208. A likely Volscian (i.e. Osco-Umbrian-speaking) sample from Boville Ernica also shows hg. R1b-Z2118*, an ‘archaic’ subclade within the P312 tree. These R1b-L23 subclades are also found later during the Imperial period, although in lesser proportion compared to East Mediterranean ones.

Among Etruscans, the only male sampled shows hg. J2b-CTS6190* (formed ca. 1800 BC, TMRCA ca. 1100 BC), sharing parent haplogroup J2b-Y15058 (formed ca. 2400 BC, TMRCA ca. 1900 BC) with a Croatian MBA sample from Veliki Vanik (ca. 1580 calBCE), who also clusters close to the IA sample from Jazinka.

Given the position of Latins and Etruscans in the PCA and the likely similar admixture, it is not striking that differences are subtle. From Antonio et al. (2019):

Interestingly, although Iron Age individuals were sampled from both Etruscan (n=3) and Latin (n=6) contexts, we did not detect any significant differences between the two groups with f4 statistics in the form of f4(RMPR_Etruscan, RMPR_Latin; test population, Onge), suggesting shared origins or extensive genetic exchange between them.

On the other hand, there are 3 clear outliers among 11 Iron Age individuals, and all Iron Age samples taken together form a wide Etrurian cluster, so it seems natural to test them in groups divided geographically:

Results seem inconsistent, especially for Italic peoples, due to their wide cluster. It could be argued that the samples with ‘northern’ admixture – a Latin from Palestrina Colombella (of hg. R1b-Z56) and the Volscian sample – might represent better the Italic-speaking population before the proto-urban development of Latium, especially given the reported strong Etruscan influences among the Rutuli in Ardea, which might explain the common cluster with Etruscans and the outlier with reported ‘eastern’ admixture.

Languages of Central Italy at the beginning of Roman expansion. Image modified from original by Susana Freixeiro at Wikipedia.

It makes sense then to test for a group of Etruscans (adding the Villanovan sample) and another of Italic peoples, to distinguish between a hypothetic ancestral Italic ancestry from a Tyrrhenian one:

NOTE. Fine-tuning groups based on the position of samples in the PCA or the amount of this or that component, or – even worse – based on the good or bad fits relative to the tested populations risks breaking the rules of subgroup analysis, eventually obtaining completely useless results, so interpretations for the Italic cluster need to be taken with a pinch of salt (until more similar Italic samples are published). The lack of proper rules regarding what can and cannot be done with this combined archaeological – genomic research is already visible to some extent in genetic papers which use brute force qpAdm tests for all available sampled populations, instead of selecting those potentially ancestral to the studied groups.

Tabs are organized from ‘better’ to ‘worse’ fits. In this case, as a general guide to the spreadsheets, the first tabs (to the left) show better fits for Italic peoples, and as tabs progress to the right they show ‘better’ fits for Etruscans, until it reaches the ‘infeasible’ or otherwise bad models.

This is what can be inferred from the models:

1) Steppe ancestry: Italic peoples seem to show better fits for north-western Alpine sources, closest to Bell Beakers from France or South Germany; whereas Etruscans show a likely Transdanubian source, closest to late Bell Beakers from Hungary (excluding Steppe- and WHG-related outliers).

To see if Bell Beakers from the south-west could be related, I tried the same model as in Fernandes et al. (2019), selecting Iberian BBC samples with more Steppe ancestry – to simplify my task, I selected them according to their PCA position. In a second attempt, I tried adding those intermediate with Iberia_CA, and it shows decreasing p-values, suggesting that the most likely source is close to high Steppe-related Bell Beaker populations. In both cases, models seem worse than France or Germany Bell Beakers.

Since Celtic spread with France BBC-like Urnfield peoples, and Italic peoples appear to be also ancestrally connected to this ancestry, the most plausible explanation is that they share an origin close to the Danubian EBA culture, which would probably be easily detectable by selecting precise Bell Beaker groups from South Germany.

Hypothetic expansion of Celtic-speaking peoples during the La Tène period (source). Image used in Udolph (2009) because it reflects a homeland roughly coincident with the oldest Celtic hydrotoponymy.

2) Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry: different tests seem to show that fits for EEF-related ancestry get warmer the closer the source population selected is to North-West Anatolian farmers, in line with the apparent shift from the East Bell Beaker cluster toward the Anatolia Neolithic cluster in the PCA:

These analyses suggest that there was a renewed Anatolia_N-like contribution during the Bronze Age, older than these Iron Age populations, but later than the rebound of WHG ancestry found among Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic samples from Italy, Sicily, or Sardinia, reflected in their shift in the PCA towards the WHG cluster.

From a range of chronologically closer groups clustering near Anatolia_N, the source seems to be closest to Neolithic samples from the Peloponnese. The direct comparison of Greece_Peloponnese_N against Italy_CA in the analyses labelled “Strict” shows that the sampled Greece Late Neolithic individuals are closer to the source of Neolithic ancestry of Iron Age Etrurians than the Chalcolithic samples from Remedello, Etruria, or Sardinia.

NOTE. Most qpAdm analyses are done with a model similar to Ning et al. (2019), using Corded_Ware_Germany.SG as an outgroup instead of Italy_Villabruna, because I expected to test all models against Yamnaya, too, but in the end – due to the many potential models and my limited time – I only tested those with ‘better’ fits:

Using Yamnaya_Kalmykia as outgroup gives invariably ‘worse’ results, as expected from Bell Beaker-derived populations who are directly derived from Yamnaya, despite their potential admixture with local Corded Ware peoples through exogamy during their expansion in Central Europe. The differences between Italic and Etruscan peoples have to be looked for mainly in EEF-related contributions, not in Steppe-related populations.

Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Italian samples from Antonio et al. (2019) with the selected clusters of Italic vs. Etruscans, as well as Bell Beaker and Balkan BA and related clusters and outliers. Also marked are Peloponnese Late Neolithic (Greece_N), Minoans, Mycenaeans and Armenian BA samples. See image with better resolution.

Etruscans and Sea Peoples

The sister clade of the Etruscan branch, J2b-PH1602 (TMRCA ca. 1100 BC), seems to have spread in different directions based on its modern distribution, and their global parent clade J2b-Y15058 (TMRCA ca. 1900 BC) was previously found in Veliki Vanik. J2b-L283 appears related to Neolithic expansions through the Mediterranean, based on its higher diversity in Sardinia, although its precise origin is unclear.

Based on the modern haplogroup distribution and on the TMRCA, it can be assumed that a community spread with hg. J2b-Z38240 from somewhere close to the Balkans coinciding with the population movements of the Final Bronze Age. Whether this haplogroup’s Middle Bronze Age area, probably close to the Adriatic, was initially Indo-European-speaking or was related to a regional survival of Etruscan-speaking communities remains unclear.

Greece Late Neolithic is probably the closest available population (from those sampled to date) geographically and chronologically to the Bronze Age North-Western Anatolian region, where the Tyrsenian language family is hypothesized to have expanded from.

We only have a few Iron Age samples from Etruria, dating from a period of complex interaction in the Mediterranean – evidenced by the relatively high proportion of outliers – so it is impossible to discard the existence of some remnant Bronze Age population closer to the Adriatic – from either the Italian (Apulia?) or the Balkan coasts – expanding with the Proto-Villanovan culture and responsible for the Greece_LN-like ancestry seen among the sampled Final Bronze / Iron Age populations from central Italy.

On the other hand, taking into account the ancestry of available Italian, Sardinian and Sicilian Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age samples, the current genetic picture suggests an expansion of a different North-West Anatolia Neolithic-related population after the arrival of Bell Beakers from the north, hence probably through the Adriatic rather than through the Tyrrhenian coast, whether the common language group formed with Lemnian had a more distant origin in Bronze Age North-West Anatolian groups or in some isolated coastal community of the Adriatic.

NOTE. Admittedly, the ancestry of the Proto-Villanovan sample seems different from that of Etruscans, although a contribution of the most likely sources for Etruscans cannot be rejected for the Proto-Villanovan individual (see ‘reciprocal’ models of admixture here). In any case, I doubt that the main ancestry of the Proto-Villanovan from Abruzzo is directly related to the population that gave rise to Etruscans, and is more likely related to recent, intense bilateral exchanges in the Adriatic between (most likely) Indo-European-speaking populations.

The distribution of violin bow fibula from thirteenth century onward showing the movement of people between northern Italy, Illyria and the Aegean, Crete, and the parallel distribution of “foreign” darksurfaced handmade pottery (based on Kasuba 2008 : abb. 15; Lis 2009 ). Modified from Kristiansen (2018).

Northern Adriatic

This Adriatic connection could in turn be linked to wider population movements of the Final Bronze Age. Proto-Villanova represents the introduction of oriental influences coinciding with the demise of the local Terramare culture (see e.g. Cremaschi et al. 2016), whereas the Villanovan culture shows partial continuity with many Proto-Villanovan settlements where Etruscan-speaking communities later emerge. From Nicolis (2013):

Founded in the LBA, the village of Frattesina extended over around 20 hectares along the ‘Po di Adria’, a palaeochannel of the Po. It experienced its greatest development between the twelfth and eleventh centuries BC, when it had a dominant economic role thanks to an extraordinary range of artisan production (metalworking, working of bone and deer horn, glass) and major commercial influence due to trading with the Italian Peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean.

This is demonstrated by the presence of exotic objects and raw materials, such as Mycenaean pottery, amber, ivory, ostrich eggs, and glass paste. For the Mycenaean sherds found in settlements in the Verona valleys and the Po delta, analysis of pottery fabrics has shown that some of them very probably come from centres in Apulia where there were Aegean craftsmen and workers, whereas others would seem to have originated on the Greek mainland (Vagnetti 1996; Vagnetti 1998; Jones et al. 2002).

Reconstruction of Acqua Fredda archaeological site, Passo del Redebus, where a group of 9 smelting furnaces has been discovered dating back to the Late Bronze Age (8-9th century BC). Image modified from Trentino Cultura.

In this context a particular system of relations seems to link one specific Alpine region with the social and economic structure of the groups settling between the Adige and the Po and the eastern Mediterranean trading system. In eastern Trentino, at Acquafredda, metallurgical production on a proto-industrial scale has been demonstrated between the end of the LBA and the FBA (twelfth–eleventh centuries BC) (Cierny 2008) (Fig. 38.3). These products must have supplied markets stretching beyond the local area, linked to the Luco/Laugen culture typical of the central Alpine environment. According to Pearce and De Guio (1999), such extensive production must have been destined for the supply of metal to other markets, first of all to other centres on the Po plain, where transactions for materials of Mediterranean origin also took place.

The picture of the Final Bronze Age of these regions, which seems to be coherent with the development of the cultural setting of the Early Iron Age, shows that the birth of the proto-urban Villanovan centres of Bologna in Emilia and Verucchio in Romagna, at the beginning of the Iron Age, seems to follow a line of continuity starting with the role played by Frattesina in the Final Bronze Age (Bietti Sestieri 2008).

Reconstruction of pan-European communication network represented by the geographical spread of archaeological objects. The network nodes represent sites that have yielded an above-average number of relevant finds. The links are direct connections between neighbouring nodes. Modified from Suchowska-Ducke (2015).


The close similarities shared by Rhaetian with the oldest Etruscan inscriptions – but not with the language of later periods, when Etruscan expanded further north – together with increased ‘foreign’ contacts in the Final Bronze Age and the ‘foreign’ ancestry of Etruscans (relative to Italian Chalcolithic and to near-by Bell Beakers) support a language split close to the Adriatic, and not long before they started using the Euboean-related Old Italic alphabet. All this is compatible with an expansion associated with the Proto-Villanovan period, possibly starting along the Po and the Adige.

From Nicolis (2013):

In this geographical context the most important morphological features are the Alps and the alluvial plain of the River Po. Since Roman times the former have always been considered a geographical limit and thus a cultural barrier. In actual fact the Alps have never really represented a barrier, but instead have played an active role in mediating between the central European and Mediterranean cultures. Some of the valleys have been used since the Mesolithic as communication routes, to establish contacts and for the exchange of materials and people over considerable distances. The discovery of Ötzi the Iceman high in the Alps in 1991 demonstrated incontrovertibly that this environment was accessible to individuals and groups from the end of the fourth millennium BC.

From the Early Neolithic period the plain of the Po Valley provided favourable conditions for the population of the area by human groups from central and eastern Europe, who found the wide flat spaces and fertile soils an ideal environment for developing agricultural techniques and animal husbandry. Lake Garda represents a very important morphological feature, benefiting among other things from a Mediterranean-type microclimate, the influence of which can already be seen in the Middle Neolithic. Situated between the plain and the mountains, the hills have always offered an alternative terrain for demographic development, equally important for the exploitation of economic and environmental resources.

As documented for previous periods, in the late and final phases of the Bronze Age the northern Adriatic coast would also seem to represent an important geographical feature, above all in terms of possible long-distance trading contacts with the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean coasts. However, the geographical and morphological characteristics and the river network in this area were very different to the way they are today, and the preferred communications routes must always have been the rivers, particularly the Po and the Adige.

Map of inscriptions of Northern Italy. In green, Rhaetian inscriptions; in Pink, Etruscan inscriptions. Arrows show potential language movements through the Po and the Adige based on the relationship between both language. Image modified from Raetica.


Although it seems superfluous at this point, finding mostly Yamnaya-derived R1b-L23 lineages among speakers of another early North-West Indo-European dialect – and also the earliest to have split into its attested dialects – gives still more support to Yamnaya steppe herders as the vector of expansion of Late PIE, and their continuity up to the Iron Age also supports the strong patrilineal ties of Indo-Europeans.

This, in turn, further supports the nature of Afanasievo as the earliest separated branch from a Late Proto-Indo-European trunk, and of Khvalynsk as the Indo-Anatolian community, while a confirmation of R1b-L23 among early Greeks (speaking the earliest attested Graeco-Aryan dialect) will indirectly confirm East Yamnaya/Poltavka as the early Proto-Indo-Iranian community.

As it often happens with genetic sampling, due to many uncontrollable factors, there is a conspicuous lack of a proper regional and chronological transect of Bell Beaker and Bronze Age samples from Italy, which makes it impossible to determine the origin of each group’s ancestral components. Even though the sampled Italian Beakers don’t seem to be the best fit for Iron Age Italic-speaking peoples from Etruria, they still might have formed part of the migration waves that eventually developed the Apennine culture together with those of prevalent West-Central European Bell Beaker ancestry.

Similarly, the visible radical change from the increasingly WHG-shifted Italian farmers up to the sampled Chalcolithic individuals, including Parma Bell Beakers, to the Anatolia_N-shifted ancestry found in Iron Age Etruscans and Latins might be related to earlier population movements associated with Middle or Late Bronze Age contacts, and not necessarily to the radical social changes seen in the Final Bronze Age. The Etruscan subclade with a likely origin in the Balkans, on the other hand, suggests recent migrations from the Adriatic into Etruria.

Middle Bronze Age cultures of Italy and its surroundings ca. 1750-1250 BC. Potential source of the Greece_N-like admixture found widespread during the Iron Age. See full maps.

Until there is more data about these ancestry changes in Italy, the Balkans, and North-West Anatolia, I prefer to leave the Tyrsenian origins up in the air, so I deleted the Lemnian -> Etruscan arrow of the map of Late Bronze Age migrations, if only because an arrival through the Tyrrhenian Sea has become much less likely. An East -> West movement is still the most likely explanation for the common Tyrsenian language, culture, and ancestry, but the only Y-DNA haplogroup available seems to have an origin closer to the Adriatic.

The recent study of Sea Peoples showed – based on the previous hypothesis of the language and culture of the Philistines – that a minority of incoming elites must have imposed the language as their genetic ancestry (including haplogroups) became diluted among a majority of local peoples. Similarly, the original genetic pool of Tyrsenian speakers might have become diluted among different groups due to their more complex social organization, similar to what happened to Italic peoples during the Imperial period.

One of the most interesting aspects proven in the paper – and strongly suspected before it – is the reflection in population genomics of the change in the social system of the Italian Peninsula during the Roman expansion, and even before it during the Etruscan polity. In fact, it was not only Romans who spread and genetically influenced other European regions, but other regions – especially the more numerous Eastern Mediterranean populations – who became incorporated into a growing Etrurian community which nevertheless managed to spread its language.

In other words, Tyrsenian spread through central and northern Italy, and Latin throughout the whole Mediterranean area and mainland Europe, not (only) through population movements, but through acculturation, in a growing international system of more complex political organizations that can be inferred for most population and language expansions since the Early Iron Age. East Mediterranean populations, Scythians and other steppe peoples, East Germanic peoples, Vikings, or North-Eastern Europeans are other clear examples known to date.


North-West Indo-Europeans of Iberian Beaker descent and haplogroup R1b-P312


The recent data on ancient DNA from Iberia published by Olalde et al. (2019) was interesting for many different reasons, but I still have the impression that the authors – and consequently many readers – focused on not-so-relevant information about more recent population movements, or even highlighted the least interesting details related to historical events.

I have already written about the relevance of its findings for the Indo-European question in an initial assessment, then in a more detailed post about its consequences, then about the arrival of Celtic languages with hg. R1b-M167, and later in combination with the latest hydrotoponymic research.

This post is thus a summary of its findings with the help of natural neighbour interpolation maps of the reported Germany_Beaker and France_Beaker ancestry for individual samples. Even though maps are not necessary, visualizing geographically the available data facilitates a direct comprehension of the most relevant information. What I considered key points of the paper are highlighted in bold, and enumerated.

NOTE. To get “more natural” maps, extrapolation for the whole Iberian Peninsula is obtained by interpolation through the use of external data from the British Isles, Central Europe, and Africa. This is obviously not ideal, but – lacking data from the corners of the Iberian Peninsula – this method gives a homogeneous look to all maps. Only data in direct line between labelled samples in each map is truly interpolated for the Iberian Peninsula, while the rest would work e.g. for a wider (and more simplistic) map of European Bronze Age ancestry components.


Iberian Chalcolithic groups and expansion of the Proto-Beaker package. See full map.

The Proto-Beaker package may or may not have expanded into Central Europe with typical Iberia_Chalcolithic ancestry. A priori, it seems a rather cultural diffusion of traits stemming from west Iberia roughly ca. 2800 BC.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Chalcolithic samples. See full map.

The situation during the Chalcolithic is only relevant for the Indo-European question insofar as it shows a homogeneous Iberia_Chalcolithic-like ancestry with typical Y-chromosome (and mtDNA) haplogroups of the Iberian Neolithic dominating over the whole Peninsula until about 2500 BC. This might represent an original Basque-Iberian community.

Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Chalcolithic samples. See full map.

Bell Beaker period

Iberian Bell Beaker groups and potential routes of expansion. See full map.

The expansion of the Bell Beaker folk brought about a cultural and genetic change in all Europe, to the point where it has been rightfully considered by Mallory (2013) – the last one among many others before him – the vector of expansion of North-West Indo-European languages. Olalde et al. (2019) proved two main points in this regard, which were already hinted in Olalde et al. (2018):

(1) East Bell Beakers brought hg. R1b-L23 and Yamnaya ancestry to Iberia, ergo the Bell Beaker phenomenon was not a (mere) local development in Iberia, but involved the expansion of peoples tracing their ancestry to the Yamnaya culture who eventually replaced a great part of the local population.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Bell Beaker period (ca. 2600-2250 BC). See full map.

(2) Classical Bell Beakers have their closest source population in Germany Beakers, and they reject an origin close to Rhine Beakers (i.e. Beakers from the British Isles, the Netherlands, or northern France), ergo the Single Grave culture was not the origin of the Bell Beaker culture, either (see here).

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Bell Beaker samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Bell Beaker samples. See full map.

Early Bronze Age

Iberian Early Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

Interestingly, the European Early Bronze Age in Iberia is still a period of adjustments before reaching the final equilibrium. Unlike the situation in the British Isles, where Bell Beakers brought about a swift population replacement, Iberia shows – like the Nordic Late Neolithic period – centuries of genomic balancing between Indo-European- and non-Indo-European-speaking peoples, as could be suggested by hydrotoponymic research alone.

(3) Palaeo-Indo-European-speaking Old Europeans occupied first the whole Iberian Peninsula, before the potential expansion of one or more non-Indo-European-speaking groups, which confirms the known relative chronology of hydrotoponymic layers of Iberia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Early Bronze Age period (ca. 2250-1750 BC). See full map.

This balancing is seen in terms of Germany_Beaker vs. Iberia_Chalcolithic ancestry, but also in terms of Y-chromosome haplogroups, with the most interesting late developments happening in southern Iberia, around the territory where El Argar eventually emerged in radical opposition to the Bell Beaker culture.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Early Bronze Age samples. See full map.

(4) Bell Beakers and descendants expanded under male-driven migrations, proper of the Indo-European patrilineal tradition, seen in Yamnaya and even earlier in Khvalynsk:

We obtained lower proportions of ancestry related to Germany_Beaker on the X-chromosome than on the autosomes (Table S14), although the Z-score for the differences between the estimates is 2.64, likely due to the large standard error associated to the mixture proportions in the X-chromosome.


Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Early Bronze Age samples. See full map.

Regarding the PCA, Iberia Bronze Age samples occupy an intermediate cluster between Iberia Chalcolithic and Bell Beakers of steppe ancestry, with Yamnaya-rich samples from the north (Asturias, Burgos) representing the likely source Old European population whose languages survived well into the Roman Iron Age:

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked and labelled are Bronze Age groups and relevant samples. See full image.

Middle Bronze Age

Iberian Middle Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

During the Middle Bronze Age, the equilibrium reached earlier is reversed, with a (likely non-Indo-European-speaking) Argaric sphere of influence expanding to the west and north featuring Iberia Chalcolithic and lesser amount of Germany_Beaker ancestry, present now in the whole Peninsula, although in varying degrees.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Middle Bronze Age period (ca. 1750-1250 BC). See full map.

All Iberian groups were probably already under a bottleneck of R1b-DF27 lineages, although it is likely that specific subclades differed among regions:

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberia Middle Bronze Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberia Middle Bronze Age samples. See full map.

Late Bronze Age

Iberian Late Bronze Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

The Late Bronze Age represents the arrival of the Urnfield culture, which probably expanded with Celtic-speaking peoples. A Late Bronze Age transect before their genetic impact still shows a prevalent Germany_Beaker-like Steppe ancestry, probably peaking in north/west Iberia:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Late Bronze Age period (ca. 1250-750 BC). See full map.

(5) Galaico-Lusitanians were descendants of Iberian Beakers of Germany_Beaker ancestry and hg. R1b-M269. Autosomal data of samples I7688 and I7687, of the Final Bronze (end of the reported 1200-700 BC period for the samples), from Gruta do Medronhal (Arrifana, Coimbra, Portugal) confirms this.

In the 1940s, human bones, metallic artifacts (n=37) and non-human bones were discovered in the natural cave of Medronhal (Arrifana, Coimbra). All these findings are currently housed in the Department of Life Sciences of the University of Coimbra and are analyzed by a multidisciplinary team. The artifacts suggest a date at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, which is confirmed by radiocarbon date of a human fibula: 890–780 cal BCE (2650±40 BP, Beta–223996). This natural cave has several rooms and corridors with two entrances. No information is available about the context of the human remains. Nowadays these remains are housed mixed and correspond to a minimum number of 11 individuals, 5 adults and 6 non-adults.

In particular, sample I7687 shows hg. R1b-M269, with no available quality SNPs, positive or negative, under it (see full report). They represent thus another strong support of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers.

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Late Bronze Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Late Bronze Age samples. See full map.

NOTE. To understand how the region around Coimbra was (Proto-)Lusitanian – and not just Old European in general – until the expansion of the Turduli Oppidani, see any recent paper on Bronze Age expansion of warrior stelae, hydrotoponymy, anthroponymy, or theonymy (see e.g. about Spear-vocabulary).

Iron Age

Iberian Pre-Roman Iron Age groups and likely population and culture expansions. See full map.

In a complex period of multiple population movements and language replacements, the temporal transect in Olalde et al. (2019) offers nevertheless relevant clues for the Pre-Roman Iron Age:

(6) The expansion of Celtic languages was associated with the spread of France_Beaker-like ancestry, most likely already with the LBA Urnfield culture, since a Tartessian and a Pre-Iberian samples (both dated ca. 700-500 BC) already show this admixture, in regions which some centuries earlier did not show it. Similarly, a BA sample from Álava ca. 910–840 BC doesn’t show it, and later Celtiberian samples from the same area (ca. 4th c. BC and later) show it, depicting a likely north-east to west/south-west routes of expansion of Celts.

Natural neighbor interpolation of France_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Pre-Roman Iron Age period (ca. 750-250 BC). See full map.

(7) The distribution of Germany_Beaker ancestry peaked, by the Iron Age, among Old Europeans from west Iberia, including Galaico-Lusitanians and probably also Astures and Cantabri, in line with what was expected before genetic research:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Pre-Roman Iron Age period (ca. 750-250 BC). See full map.

A probably more precise picture of the Final Bronze – Early Iron Age transition is obtained by including the Final Bronze samples I2469 from El Sotillo, Álava (ca. 910-875 BC) as Celtic ancestry buffer to the west, and the sample I3315 from Menorca (ca. 904-861 BC), lacking more recent ones from intermediate regions:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Germany_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Final Bronze Age – Early Iron Age transition. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of France_Beaker ancestry in Iberia during the Final Bronze Age – Early Iron Age transition. See full map.

In terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups, the situation is difficult to evaluate without more samples and more reported subclades:

Map of Y-DNA haplogroups among Iberian Iron Age samples. See full map.
Map of mtDNA haplogroups among Iberian Iron Age samples. See full map.

In the PCA, Proto-Lusitanian samples occupy an intermediate cluster between Iberian Bronze Age and Bronze Age North (see above), including the Final Bronze sample from Álava, while Celtic-speaking peoples (including Pre-Iberians and Iberians of Celtic descent from north-east Iberia) show a similar position – albeit evidently unrelated – due to their more recent admixture between Iberian Bronze Age and Urnfield/Hallstatt from Central Europe:

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked and labelled are Iron Age groups and relevant samples. See full image.

(8) Iberian-speaking peoples in north-east Iberia represent a recent expansion of the language from the south, possibly accompanied by an increase in Iberia_Chalcolithic/Germany_Beaker admixture from east/south-east Iberia.

(9) Modern Basques represent a recent isolation + Y-DNA bottlenecks after the Roman Iron Age population movements, probably from Aquitanians migrating south of the Pyrenees, admixing with local peoples, and later becoming isolated during the Early Middle Ages and thereafter:

[Modern Basques] overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.

Assuming that France_Beaker ancestry is associated with the Urnfield culture (spreading with Celtic-speaking peoples), Vasconic speakers were possibly represented by some population – most likely from France – whose ancestry is close to Rhine Beakers (see here).

Alternatively, a Vasconic language could have survived in some France/Iberia_Chalcolithic-like population that got isolated north of the Pyrenees close to the Atlantic Façade during the Bronze Age, and who later admixed with Celtic-speaking peoples south of the Pyrenees, such as the Vascones, to the point where their true ancestry got diluted.

In any case, the clear Celtic Steppe-like admixture of modern Basques supports for the time being their recent arrival to Aquitaine before the proto-historical period, which is in line with hydrotoponymic research.


The most interesting aspects to discuss after the publication of Olalde et al. (2019) would have been thus the nature of controversial Palaeohispanic peoples for which there is not much linguistic data, such as:

  • the Astures and the Cantabri, usually considered Pre-Celtic Indo-European (see here);
  • the Vaccaei, usually considered Celtic;
  • the Vettones, traditionally viewed as sharing the same language as Lusitanians due to their apparent shared hydrotoponymic, anthroponymic, and/or theonymic layers, but today mostly viewed as having undergone Celticization and helped the westward expansion of Celtic languages (and archaeologically clearly divided from Old European hostile neighbours to the west by their characteristic verracos);
  • the Pellendones or the Carpetani, who were once considered Pre-Celtic Indo-Europeans, too;
  • the nature of Tartessian as Indo-European, or maybe even as “Celtic”, as defended by Koch;
  • or the potential remote connection of Basque and Iberian languages in a common trunk featuring Iberian/France_Chalcolithic ancestry (also including Palaeo-Sardo).
Pre-Roman Palaeohispanic peoples ca. 300 BC. See full map. Image modified from the version at Wikipedia, a good example of how to disseminate the wrong ideas about Palaeohispanic languages.

Despite these interesting questions still open for discussion, the paper remarked something already known for a long time: that modern Basques had steppe ancestry and Y-DNA proper of the Yamnaya 5,000 years ago, and that Bell Beakers had brought this steppe ancestry and R1b-P312 lineages to Iberia. This common Basque-centric interpretation of Iberian prehistory is the consequence of a 19th-century tradition of obsessively imagining Vasconic-speaking peoples in their medieval territories extrapolated to Cro-Magnons and Atapuerca (no, really), inhabiting undisturbed for millennia a large territory encompassing the whole Iberia and France, “reduced” or “broken” only with the arrival of Celts just before the Roman conquests. A recursive idea of “linguistic autochthony” and “genetic purity” of the peoples of Iberia that has never had any scientific basis.

Similarly, this paper offered the Nth proof already in population genomics that traditional nativist claims for the origin of the Bell Beaker folk in Western Europe were wrong, both southern (nativist Iberian origin) and northern European (nativist Lower Rhine origin). Both options could be easily rejected with phylogeography since 2015, they were then rejected in Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al (2017), then again with the update of many samples in Olalde et al. (2018) and Mathieson et al (2018), and it has most clearly been rejected recently with data from Wang et al. (2018) and its Yamnaya Hungary samples. Findings from Olalde et al. (2019) are just another nail to coffins that should have been well buried by now.

Even David Anthony didn’t have any doubt in his latest model (2017) about the Carpathian Basin origin of North-West Indo-Europeans (see here), and his latest update to the Proto-Indo-European homeland question (2019) shows that he is convinced now about R1b bottlenecks and proper Pre-Yamnaya ancestry stemming from a time well before the Bell Beaker expansion. This won’t be the last setback to supporters of zombie theories: like the hypotheses of an Anatolian, Armenian, or OIT origin of the PIE homeland, other mythical ideas are so entrenched in nationalist and/or nativist tradition that many supporters will no doubt prefer them to die hard, under the most numerous and shameful rejections of endlessly remade reactionary models.


European hydrotoponymy (II): Basques and Iberians after Lusitanians and “Ligurians”


The first layer in hydrotoponymy of Iberia is clearly Indo-European, in territories that were occupied by Indo-Europeans when Romans arrived, but also in most of those occupied by non-Indo-Europeans.

Among Indo-European peoples, the traditional paradigm – carried around in Wikipedia-like texts until our days – has been to classify their languages as “Pre-Celtic” despite the non-Celtic phonetics (especially the initial -p-), because the same toponyms appear in areas occupied by Celts (e.g. Parisii, Pictones, Pelendones, Palantia); or – even worse – just as “Celtic”, because of the famous -briga and related components. This was evidently not tenable at the end of the 20th century, and it is simply anachronistic today.

NOTE. Since Indo-Europeans and non-Indo-Europeans of Western Europe show strong Y-chromosome bottlenecks under R1b-P312 lineages, maps below show the evolution of cultural groups side by side with ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples instead. The map series on prehistorical migrations contains also Y-DNA and mtDNA maps.

Most excerpts below (emphasis mine) are translated from Spanish (see the original text here):

Top Left: Arrival of Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers and likely disruption of the Basque-Iberian community (ca 2500 BC on). Top Right: corresponding (unsupervised) ADMIXTURE map of ancient DNA samples. Arrival of Central European ancestry (“Steppe ancestry”, roughly represented by the blue color), with other components still prevalent, roughly including Anatolia Neolithic (brown), WHG (red), and sporadically Northern African (violet). Notice the high proportion of Central European ancestry in central and north-western Iberia. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: PCA of Bell Beaker and contemporaneous samples.


While the non-Celtic Indo-European nature of Lusitanian is certain, the nature of the “Pre-Celtic” language spoken by peoples such as Cantabri, Astures, Pellendones, Carpetani and Vettones is still being discussed, due to the scarcity of material to work with.


From Hacia una definición del lusitano, by Vallejo (2013):

It is certain that the delimitation of the geographical area set by Tovar is still valid, basically determined by the known direct documents, that is, the traditionally accepted inscriptions (the classic ones of Lamas de Moledo, Arroyo de la Luz and Cabeço das Fráguas), in addition to the new ones from Arroyo and the recent one from Arronches, see Fig. 1), to which some others could be added: the new bilingual inscription from Viseu necessarily compels us to consider it as indigenous, because it contains terms that belong to the core of the language and not only onomastics (I refer to the nexus igo and the nicknames deibabor and deibobor). By virtue of this new incorporation, we can also consider other texts as indigenous, although they do not include a common lexicon (see Fig. 1, inscriptions 7 to 22), in the expectation that many Lusitanian scribes were consciously mixing two linguistic registers (code switching), one to refer to the deities (for which they frequently used indigenous inflection) and another for anthroponyms (always with Latin inflection).

Left: Early Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA.

Firstly, it is striking that this geographical profile drawn by the texts correspond almost exactly to the distribution of large series of anthroponyms and theonyms.* Among the abundant names of people we can highlight those with a large number of repetitions whose appearance is circumscribed to our region of study (see Fig. 2). Some of them are truly frequent and lack parallels on the outside, such as the stem Tanc / Tang- (of Tanginus) with no less than 130 attestations, or Tonc- / Tong- (of Tongius or Tongetamus) with 70. Others show also sufficiently representative figures as Camalus and Maelo (with 46 repetitions each), Celtius (with 29), Caturo or Sunua (with 23), Camira (with 22), Doquirus (with 20), Louesius (with 18), Al(l)ucquius (with 17) or Malge(i)nus (with 16). According to these quantities, it appears that these are not casual occurrences of names, taking into account that chance tends to be reduced to a minimum in the study of the Iberian Peninsula, since we can easily handle the entire peninsular corpus. In turn, Reue, Bandue, Nauiae and Crougiae are the theonyms that best represent the Lusitanian-Galician area, coinciding fundamentally (Figure 3) with the picture that anthroponymy and texts had drawn, although with less examples.

Top left: Lusitanian (long and short) inscriptions; top right: Map of the distribution of statue-menhirs and south-western stelae, by Rodríguez-Corral (2014) [(1) stelae in Beira Alta and Tras-os-Montes (Portugal), and Orense (Galicia, Spain); (2) both in the same territory: northwestern statue-menhirs and southwestern stelae; (3) hybridization of both into the same material form (stela/stela-menhir from Pedra Alta)]; bottom left: Lusitanian teonymy; bottom right: Lusitanian anthroponymy.

* The other subdivision of the onomastics, toponymy, presents difficulty in the elaboration of series, by the few repetitions of segments, once the universal element -briga has been eliminated.

It is not only these groups of names and roots that help us define a large northwestern area, but, as I have had occasion to mention in other places, some onomastic data that share a similar distribution can also be added: the desinence -oi (with an assimilation in -oe / -ui) of theonymic dative singular, the ending -bo of dative plural, the presence of the noun-forming suffix -aiko-, in addition to other phonetic features such as the passage of e> ei in anthroponymy, the reduction ug> uo the step of w> b.

Genetic isolation in modern north-western Iberia (northern Portugal / southern Galicia) is greater than in other Iberian regions, forming different ancestral clusters splitting before others (including Basques). Image from Bycroft et al. (2018). See explanatory video by Carracedo.


From The concept of Onomastic Landscape: the case of the Astures, by Vallejo (2013):

(…) First of all, it seems that there is an independent onomastic area, which can be defined by a series of names and suffixes that are repeated there exclusively or predominantly. This area does not seem to correspond with what we know of the Lusitanian-Galician onomastics nor of the more coastal Asturian; it also differs from the Celtiberian area, with which it does not have features in common. In this way, and always in the conjectural terrain, we could find ourselves before an Indo-European non-Celtic language different from the Lusitanian language.

A peculiarity that will have to be investigated is the presence of an excessively wide border corridor, where the names of the southern Astures (Augustales) do not predominate, but neither those of the northern Astures (Transmontanos). Similarly, we will have to see the scope of the hypothesis that there might have been a language perhaps differentiated from that spoken in the Lusitanian, Galician or Celtiberian zones; the lower documentary richness of the Asturian zone of Transmontana makes it more difficult to guarantee that it is not the same linguistic area as the one we isolate among Asturian cities.

In any case, de Hoz, even taking into account the difficulty of an affirmation of this type, pointed out ambiguously that we could find ourselves in front of different languages. On the other hand, the absence of texts directly transmitted by this people leaves us without a definitive confirmation the argument that it is a linguistically differentiated region, but it does not invalidate it at all. These drawbacks require the suspension of the exact characterization of our area, awaiting advances in the field of epigraphy and methodology.



The following are mainly excerpts from Villar (2007, 2014):

Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental (2007). Buy the ebook online (or the printed version, if available).



The information provided by place-names and hydronyms on the one hand and anthroponyms on the other is of undoubted historical value in both cases, but of different specific significance. Anthroponyms reflect the present situation at the moment when living people were using them. It is an aspect very sensitive to social changes of all kinds, reaching its highest level of instability when there is language change.

(…) the Pre-Roman anthroponymic inventory of the Basque Country and Navarre indicates that prior to the arrival of Romans the language spoken was Indo-European (reflected in the names used) in the territories of Caristii, Varduli and Autrigones, while in Vasconic territory (especially in the current Navarre) most of the speakers chose Iberian names. In the territories of the current Basque Country, only a negligible statistical proportion chose Basque names, whereas in Navarre it was a minority of the population. That’s how things were towards the 3rd century BC.


Cities and rivers are not subject to the ephemeral life cycle of humans. Rivers have very long cycles that go far beyond the life time not only of individuals, but also of languages ​​and cultures. Cities are also generally very stable, although social circumstances occasionally cause one to be abandoned or destroyed, while new ones are created from time to time. That means that the names of rivers and cities are not subject to fashions or frequent change. Nor does a language change imply a renewal of the previous hydronymy and toponymy.

Speakers of the new languages ​​incorporated into a territory learn from the natives the hydronymic and toponymic system, producing what we call the “toponymic transmission”. (…) it requires a prolonged contact between the native population and the new occupants, which can only occur when the indigenous population is not annihilated quickly and radically.

Top Left: Middle Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Top Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: Bottom: PCA of Bronze Age groups.

The ancient onomastic data of the Basque Country and Navarre can be summarized as follows:

  • Ancient hydronymy, the longest lasting onomastic component, is not Basque, but Indo-European in its entirety.
  • The old toponymy, which follows it in durability, is also Indo-European in its entirety, except Poampaelo (now Pamplona) and Oiarso (now Oyarzun).
  • And in anthroponymy, which reflects the language used at the time when those names were in use, is also massively Indo-European, although there are between 10-15% anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology.

(…) the existing data show that, while in Roman times in Hispania there were only a couple of place-names in the Pyrenean border and a dozen anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology, in Aquitaine there was an abundant antroponymy of that etymology.

Left: Late Bronze Age cultures in Iberia (in red, likely Indo-European groups; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups). Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA.

This set of facts is most compatible with a hypothesis that postulated a late infiltration of this type of population from Aquitaine, which at the time of the Roman conquest had only reached to establish a bridgehead, consisting of a small population center in Navarre and Alto Aragón and nothing else, except some isolated individuals in the current provinces of Álava, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa. The almost complete absence of old place-names of Vasconic etymology would be explained in this way: Vasconic speakers, recently arrived and still in small numbers, would not have had the possibility of altering in depth the toponymic heritage prior to their arrival, which was Indo-European.

The idea of ​​a late Vasconization of a part of those territories, in the High Middle Ages or late Antiquity, is not new. Already in the 1920s M. Gómez Moreno said about the modern Basque provinces, with the district of Estella in Navarra, that “personal nomenclature allows comparisons of definitive value, probative that there lived people of the Cantabrian-Asturian race [who for Gómez Moreno were Indo-European], without the slightest trace of perceptible Basqueness”. For him, the first Indo-European people to penetrate the peninsula would have been Ligurian, which evolved into Cantabrians, Asturians, Venetians, Lusitanians, Tormogi, Vacaeans, Autrigones, Caristii and Varduli.

Top Left: Pre-Roman cultures in Iberia (in red/brown, Indo-European groups; in pink, Greek; in yellow, Phoenician; in green, likely non-Indo-European groups; Tartessian is disputed). Top Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Bottom: PCA of Iron Age groups.


If, as we said above, Basque speakers began to enter the Iberian Peninsula from the other side of the Pyrenees only from the Roman-Republican era, to intensify their presence in the following centuries we must assume that they were to the north of the Pyrenees already before those dates. And, indeed, the existence of this abundant Vasconic antroponymy shows that in the first centuries of our era – while Vasconic speakers in the Peninsula were very few in number, their population in Aquitaine was abundant.

In a provisional manner we can advance that [Aquitaine’s] hydronyms are also known in other places of Europe and easily compatible with Indo-European etymologies (Argantia, Aturis, Tarnes, Sigmanos); and among the place names there are also many that are compatible with non-Gallic Indo-European etymologies, or not necessarily Gallic (Curianum, Aquitania, Burdigala, Cadurci, Auscii, Eluii, Rutani, Cala- (gorris), Latusates, Cossion, Sicor, Oscidates, Vesuna, etc.).

In addition to those place names that we classify as generically Indo-European, there are not a few Celts (Lugdunum, Mediolanum, Noviomagos, Segodunon, Bituriges, Petrucorii, Pinpedunni), several Latins (Aquae Augustae, Convenae, ad Sextum, Augusta), and even some Celto-Latin hybrids (Augustonemeton, Augustoriton). On the other hand, there are hardly any names, neither serial nor not serial, that have a reasonable possibility of being explained by Vasconic etymology (Anderedon could be one of them).

Consequently, the onomastic question of Aquitaine is not compatible with the possibility that Vasconic is the “primordial element” there, either. On the contrary, it is compatible with the hypothesis that they arrived also late in Aquitaine, when hydro-toponymy was already established. They had to Vasconize all or part of the previous population, that turned to use to a large extent the Vasconic anthroponymy. But the previous toponymy remained and the Vasconization process was probably soon interrupted by Celticization first, and Romanization later.

Aquitani and neighbouring tribes around the Pyrenees, as described by the Romans (ca. 1st c. BC). The Basque language likely expanded south and west of the Pyrenees into Indo-European-speaking territories during the Roman period. The term ‘Vascones’ only became applied to Basque-speaking tribes in medieval times. Map modified from image by Sémhur at Wikipedia.

A prediction in genetics

This is how Francisco Villar and co-authors from the University of Salamanca saw what would happen with the genetic studies of modern Basques in 2007, based on the similarity with neighbouring Iberians and French, and the late intrusion of the language in its current territory:

Unfortunately, linguistics does not have the means to establish the moment of that arrival in terms of absolute chronology. In any case, this hypothesis is not incompatible with some peculiarities in the frequency of certain genes of the Basque-speaking population. Indeed, today we tend to attribute these peculiarities to the joint action of genetic drift and isolation; to which perhaps we could add a bottleneck in the Vasconic founding population that would one day settle in Aquitaine.

Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y sus parientes (2014). Buy the ebook online (Or printed version, if available).

Also Villar, in 2014:

In the hypothesis that I propose, future speakers of Basque would have settled initially in Aquitaine, where there would have been an inevitable genetic diffusion with pre-existing [first stage] populations. On the other hand, Basque speakers from Aquitaine would have started to arrive to the Basque Country and Navarre only from Roman times (only a couple of Vasconic toponyms, at least one of them of recent creation; scarce anthroponyms of Vasconic etymology). The part of those populations that mixed with the pre-existing Palaeo-Indo-Europeans (Indo-European names of rivers; general Indo-European toponymy) saw how the uniqueness of their haplogroups, if there was any, was diluted, making it difficult to distinguish from the general [Indo-European] background; being a minority, it could had been even lost as a result of adverse genetic drift.

Olalde et al. (2019) confirmed this hypothesis that modern Basques are quite similar to investigated Iron Age Indo-Europeans from Iberia (such as Celtiberians sampled from the Basque Country):

For the Iron Age, we document a consistent trend of increased ancestry related to Northern and Central European populations with respect to the preceding Bronze Age. The increase was 10 to 19% (95% confidence intervals given here and in the percentages that follow) in 15 individuals along the Mediterranean coast where non-Indo-European Iberian languages were spoken; 11 to 31% in two individuals at the Tartessian site of La Angorrilla in the southwest with uncertain language attribution; and 28 to 43% in three individuals at La Hoya in the north where Indo-European Celtiberian languages were likely spoken. This trend documents gene flow into Iberia during the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, possibly associated with the introduction of the Urnfield tradition.

Modern Basques show therefore, paradoxically, an ancestry similar to recent Iron Age Indo-European invaders (quite likely the ancestors of Celtiberians), which confirms the hypothesis of bottlenecks/founder effects followed by a very recent isolation of its population:

(…) the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe [] overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.

Left: Roman period in Iberia. Right: Unsupervised ADMIXTURE of ancient DNA samples. See full maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA. Notice increase of steppe ancestry in the north, associated with the (Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age) arrival of Central Europeans.


Regarding the Iberian language, the circumstances of analysis are less favorable. However, we can observe in the ancient toponymy of typically Iberian areas (the Spanish Levant and Catalonia) a considerable proportion of toponymy of Indo-European etymology, often identical to that which F. Villar (2000) has called “Southern-Iberian-Pyrenean”. In fact, its presence in the Levant is nothing else but a continuation from Catalonia to the South along the Mediterranean coast. Here are some examples: Caluba, Sorobis, Uduba, Lesuros, Urce / Urci, Turbula, Arsi / Arse, Asterum, Cartalias, Castellona, ​​Lassira, Lucentum, Saguntum, Trete, Calpe, Lacetani, Onusa, Palantia, Saetabis, Saetabicula, Sarna , Segestica, Sicana, Turia, Turicae, Turis.

Compatible with the Indo-European etymology can also be Blanda, Sebelacum, Sucro, Tader, Sigarra, Mastia, Contestania, Liria, Lauro, Indibilis, Herna, Edeta, Dertosa, Cesetania, Cossetani, Celeret, Bernaba, Biscargis, (…)

Finally, in other place names there are Indo-European components in hybrid toponymic syntagms, such as:

  1. orc- / urc-: Orceiabar, Urcarailur, Urceatin, Urcebas, Urcecere, Urcescer, Urceticer.
  2. Il-: Iltukoite, Iluro (3), Ilurci, Ilorci, Ilurcis, Ilucia, Iliturgi, Ilarcurris, Iluberitani, etc.


Examples like these show that in Catalonia and the Spanish Levant the Iberian language is not the deepest identifiable substrate language, but that it took root there when there was previously an Indo-European language that had created a considerable network of toponyms and hydronyms that we can recognize, and over which Iberians settled as a superstrate. The pre-existence of an Indo-European language in the historically Iberian area is further corroborated by the fact that its ancient hydronyms are all Indo-European, with the exception of a single river that has a name that is supposed to be Iberian: the Iberus (Ebro), of which obviously the country and its inhabitants took their name. No doubt ib- was an appellation for river, so that in the language that created that hydronym the Iber should have simply been “the river”. But we will see in the body of this work that ib- is in various places outside the Iberian Peninsula as an appellation for «river», which will force us to rethink its supposed Iberian affiliation. In fact, the Iberus had another name, Elaisos, whose etymology is compatible with Indo-European. As we know with certainty that after Iberians no other Indo-European peoples came to their territory before the Romans, the Indo-European creators of that hydronymy have had to be there before the Iberians. And its antiquity must be considerable because, as we have already said, the vast majority of its hydronyms (Alebus, Caluba, Lesuros, Palantia, Saetabis, Sigarra, Sucro, Tader, Turia and Uduba, Elaisos) belong to that anonymous Indo-European language that didn’t leave written texts or had historical continuity.

Inscriptions in Iberia ca. 2nd–1st c. BC. Purple squares show Celtiberian inscriptions, blue circles show Iberian inscriptions. Image modified from Hesperia – Banco de datos de lenguas paleohispánicas.

Villar (2014):

Not always that a language is settled in a territory is it able to eradicate the existing ones definitively. Even a political system as unitary and unifying as the Roman was not able to eradicate the Basque language. And nowadays in Latin America, despite the crushing cultural dominance of Spanish, despite the means for the schooling of a modern society, in spite of the media, a multitude of pre-Columbian languages ​​are spoken that coexist with the language of culture, the only one that is written in those countries. In those situations, which can be prolonged for quite a lot of time, there are individuals who only speak the language newly imposed, others who speak only the language that has resisted disappearing, and others who speak both, in a broad framework of bilingualism. My proposal is that something similar to that must have happened in the Iberian territory when the Romans arrived: A language of culture, Iberian, diversified into more or less distant local dialects, coexisted with several previous languages, equally differentiated from the dialectal point of view. This explains the irruption in the Iberian texts of non-Iberian anthroponyms and, above all, the existence there of a Palaeo-Indo-European hydro-toponymy that had remained in use not only because it was transmitted to Iberian speakers, but also because its native users were still present.