Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans from Yamnaya; Corded Ware from the forest steppe

eba-yamnaya-ancestry-hungary

I have recently written about the spread of Pre-Yamnaya or Yamnaya ancestry and Corded Ware-related ancestry throughout Eurasia, using exclusively analyses published by professional geneticists, and filling in the gaps and contradictory data with the most reasonable interpretations. I did so consciously, to avoid any suspicion that I was interspersing my own data or cherry picking results.

Now I’m finished recapitulating the known public data, and the only way forward is the assessment of these populations using the available datasets and free tools.

Understanding the complexities of qpAdm is fairly difficult without a proper genetic and statistical background, which I won’t pretend to have, so its tweaking to get strictly correct results would require an unending game of trial and error. I have sadly little time for this, even taking my tendency to procrastination into account… so I have used a simple model akin to those published before – in particular, the outgroup selection by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), who seem to be part of the only group interested in distinguishing Yamnaya-related from Corded Ware-related ancestry, probably the most relevant question discussed today in population genomics regarding the Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic homelands.

eneolithic-steppe-best-fits
Supplementary Table 13. P values of rank=2 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a three-way admixture of Eneolithic steppe Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Test, Eneolithic_steppe, Anatolian_Neolithic, WHG.
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

I have used for all analyses below a merged dataset including the curated one of the Reich Lab, the latest on Central and South Asia by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), on Iberia by Olalde et al. (2019), and on the East Baltic by Saag et al. (2019), as well as datasets including samples from Wang et al. (2019) and Lamnidis et al. (2018). I used (and intend to use) the same merged dataset in all cases, despite its huge size, to avoid adding one more uncontrolled variable to the analyses, so that all results obtained can be compared.

I try to prepare in advance a bunch of relevant files with left pops and right pops for each model:

  1. It seems a priori more reasonable to use geographically and chronologically closer proxy populations (say, Trypillia or GAC for Steppe-related peoples) than hypothetic combinations of ancestral ones (viz. Anatolian farmer, WHG, and EHG).
  2. This also means using subgroups closer to the most likely source population, such as (Don-Volga interfluve) Yamnaya_Kalmykia rather than (Middle Volga) Yamnaya_Samara for the western expansion of late Repin/early Yamnaya, or the early Germany_Corded_Ware.SG or Czech_Corded Ware for the group closest to the Proto-Corded Ware population (see below), likely neighbouring the Upper Vistula region.
  3. I usually test two source populations for different targets, which seems like a much more efficient way of using computer resources, whenever I know what I want to test, since I need my PC back for its normal use; whenever I don’t know exactly what to test, I use three-way admixture models and look for subsets to try and improve the results.

I have probably left out some more complex models by individualizing the most relevant groups, but for the time being this would have to do. Also, no other formal stats have been used in any case, which is an evident shortcoming, ruling out an interpretation drawn directly and only from the results below.

Full qpAdm results for each batch of samples are presented in a Google Spreadsheet, with each tab (bottom of the page) showing a different combination of sources, usually in order of formally ‘best’ (first to the left) to ‘worst’ (last to the right) fits, although the order is difficult to select in highly heterogeneous target groups, as will be readily visible.

maykop-trypillia-intrusion-steppes
Disintegration, migration, and imports of the Azov–Black Sea region. First migration event (solid arrows): Gordineşti–Maikop expansion (groups: I – Bursuchensk; II – Zhyvotylivka; III – Vovchans’k; IV – Crimean; V – Lower Don; VI – pre-Kuban). Second migration event (hollow arrows): Repin expansion. After Rassamakin (1999), Demchenko (2016).

Corded Ware origins

The latest publications on the Yampil barrow complex have not improved much our understanding of the complexity of Corded Ware origins from an archaeological point of view, involving multiple cultural (hence likely population) influences. This bit is from Ivanova et al., Baltic-Pontic Studies (2015) 20:1, and most hypotheses of the paper remain unanswered (except maybe for the relevance of the Złota group):

In the light of the above outline therefore one should argue that the ‘architecture of barrows’ associated in the ‘Yampil landscape’ of the Middle Dniester Area with the Eneolithic (specifically, mainly with the TC), precedes the development of a similar phenomenon that can be observed from 2900/2800 BC in the Upper Dniester Area and drainage basin of the Upper Vistula, associated with the CWC [Goslar et al. 2015; Włodarczak 2006; 2007; 2008; Jarosz, Włodarczak 2007]. The most consuming research question therefore is whether ritual customs making use of Eneolithic (Tripolye) ‘barrow architecture’ could have penetrated northwards along the Dniester route, where GAC communities functioned. One could also ask what role the rituals played among the autochthons [Kośko 2000; Włodarczak 2008; 2014: 335; Ivanova, Toshchev 2015b].

This issue has already been discussed with a resulting tentative systemic taxonomy in the studies of Włodarczak, arguing for the Złota culture (ZC) in the Vistula region as an illustration of one of the (Małopolska) reception centres of civilization inspirations from the oldest Pontic ‘barrow culture’ circle associated with the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age [Włodarczak 2008]. Notably, it is in the ZC that one can notice a set of cultural traits (catacomb grave construction, burial details, forms and decoration of vessels) analogous to those shared by the north-western Black Sea Coast groups of the forest-steppe Eneolithic (chiefly Zhyvotilovka-Volchansk) and the Late Tripolye circle (chiefly Usatovo-Gordinești-Horodiștea-Kasperovtsy).

gac-trypillia-usatovo-corded-ware
Globular Amphorae culture „exodus” to the Danube Delta: a – Globular Amphorae culture; b – GAC (1), Gorodsk (2), Vykhvatintsy (3) and Usatovo (4) groups of Trypillia culture; c – Coţofeni culture; d – northern border of the late phase of Baden culture;red arrows – direction of Globular Amphora culture expansion; blue arrow – direction of „reflux” of Globular Amphora culture (apud Włodarczak, 2008, with changes).

Taking into account that I6561 might be wrongly dated, we cannot include the Corded Ware-like sample of the end-5th millennium BC in the analysis of Corded Ware origins. That uncertainty in the chronology of the appearance of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Corded Ware peoples complicates the selection of any potential source population from the CHG cline.

Nevertheless, the lack of hg. R1a-M417 and sizeable Pre-Yamnaya-related ancestry in the sampled Pontic forest-steppe Eneolithic populations (represented exclusively by two samples from Dereivka ca. 3600-3400 BC) would leave open the interesting possibility that a similar ancestry got to the forest-steppe region between modern Poland and Ukraine during the known complex population movements of the Late Eneolithic.

It is known that Corded Ware-derived groups and Steppe Maykop show bad fits for Pre-Yamnaya/Yamnaya ancestry, and also that Steppe Maykop is a potential source of “Steppe-related ancestry” within the Eneolithic CHG mating network of the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes. Testing Corded Ware for recent Trypillia and Maykop influences, proper of Late Trypillia and Late Maykop groups in the North Pontic area (such as Zhyvotylivka–Vovchans’k and Gordineşti) side by side with potential Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya sources makes thus sense:

Now, the main obvious difference between Khvalynsk-Yamnaya and Corded Ware is the long-lasting, pervasive Y-chromosome bottlenecks under R1b lineages in the former, compared to the haplogroup variability and late bottleneck under R1a-M417 in the latter, which speaks in favour – on top of everything else – of a different community of sub-Neolithic hunter-gatherers including hg. R1a-M417 hijacking the expansion of Steppe_Maykop-related ancestry around the Volhynian-Podolian Upland.

Akin to how Yamnaya patrilineal descendants hijacked regional EEF (±CWC) ancestry components mainly through exogamy, dragging them into the different expanding Bell Beaker groups (see below), but kept their Indo-European languages, these hunter-gatherers that admixed with peoples of “Steppe ancestry” were the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages in Eastern Europe.

corded-ware-from-trypillia-maykop
PCA of ancient Eurasian samples. Marked likely Proto-Corded Ware samples and potential origin of its PCA cluster based on qpAdm results. See full PCA and more related files.

Baltic Corded Ware

One of the most interesting aspects of the results above is the surprising heterogeneity of the different regional groups, which is also reflected in the Y-DNA variability of early Corded Ware samples.

Seeing how Baltic CWC groups, especially the early Latvia_LN sample, show particularly bad fits with the models above, it seems necessary to test how this population might have come to be. My first impression in 2017 was that they could represent early Corded Ware groups admixed with Yamnaya settlers through their interactions along the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

However, I recently predicted that the most likely admixture leading to their ancestry and PCA cluster would involve a Corded Ware-like group and a group related to sub-Neolithic cultures of eastern Europe, whose best proxy to date are EHG-like Khvalynsk samples (i.e. excluding the outlier with Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, I0434):

corded-ware-pca-sub-neolithic-europe
Detail of the PCA of the Corded Ware expansion. See full PCA and more related files.

Late Corded Ware + Yamnaya vanguard

Relevant are also the mixtures of Corded Ware from Esperstedt, and particularly those of the sample I0104, which I have repeated many times in this blog I suspected to be influenced by vanguard Yamnaya settlers:

The infeasible models of CWC + Yamnaya_Kalmykia ± Hungary_Baden (see below for Bell Beakers) and the potential cluster formed with other samples from the Baltic suggest that it could represent a more complex set of mixtures with sub-Neolithic populations. On the other hand, its location in Germany, late date (ca. 2500 BC or later), and position in the PCA, together with the good fits obtained for Germany_Beaker as a source, suggest that the increase in Steppe-related ancestry + EEF makes it impossible for the model (as I set it) to directly include Yamnaya_Kalmykia, despite this excess Steppe-related ancestry actually coming from Yamnaya vanguard groups.

I think it is very likely that the future publication of EEF-admixed Yamnaya_Hungary samples (or maybe even Yamnaya vanguard samples) will improve the fits of this model.

These results confirm at least the need to distrust the common interpretation of mixtures including late Corded Ware samples from Esperstedt (giving rise to the “up to 75% Yamnaya ancestry of CWC” in the 2015 papers) as representative of the Corded Ware culture as a whole, and to keep always in mind that an admixture of European BA groups including Corded Ware Esperstedt as a source also includes East BBC-like ancestry, unless proven otherwise.

yamnaya-vanguard-corded-ware-chalcolithic-early
Yamnaya vanguard groups in Corded Ware territory before the expansion of Bell Beakers (ca. 2500 BC). See full map.

Bell Beaker expansion

A hotly (re)debated topic in the past 6 months or so, and for all the wrong reasons, is the origin of the Bell Beaker folk. Archaeology, linguistics, and different Y-chromosome bottlenecks clearly indicate that Bell Beakers were at the origin of the North-West Indo-European expansion in Europe, while the survival of Corded Ware-related groups in north-eastern Europe is clearly related to the expansion of Uralic languages.

NOTE. For the interesting case of Proto-Indo-Iranians expanding with Corded Ware-like ancestry, see more on the formation of Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka from East Uralic-speaking Abashevo and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka herders. See also more on R1a in Indo-Iranians and on the social complexity of Sintashta.

Nevertheless, every single discarded theory out there seems to keep coming back to life from time to time, and a new wave of interest in “Bell Beaker from the Single Grave culture” somehow got revived in the process, too, because this obsession – unlike the “Bell Beakers from Iberia Chalcolithic” – is apparently acceptable in certain circles, for some reason.

We know that Iberian Beakers, British Beakers, or Sicilian EBA – representing the most likely closest source population of speakers of Proto-Galaico-Lusitanian, Pre-Celtic Indo-European, and Proto-Elymian, respectively – have already been successfully tested for a direct origin among Western European Beakers in Olalde et al. (2018), Olalde et al. (2019), and Fernandes et al. (2019).

This success in ascertaining a closer Beaker source is probably due to the physical isolation of the specific groups (related to Germany_Beaker, Netherlands_Beaker, and NE_Mediterranean_Beaker samples, respectively) after their migration into regions dominated by peoples without Steppe-related ancestry. Furthermore, Celtic-speaking populations expanding with Urnfield south of the Pyrenees also show a good fit with a source close to France_Beaker.

So I decided to test sampled Bell Beaker populations, to see if it could shed light to the most likely source population of individual Beaker groups and the direction of migration within Central Europe, i.e. roughly eastwards or westwards. As it was to be expected for closely related populations (see the relevant discussion here), an attempt to offer a simplistic analysis of direction based on formal stats does not make any sense, because most of the alternative hypotheses cannot be rejected:

Not only because of the similar values obtained, but because it is absurd to take p-values as a measure of anything, especially when most of these conflicting groups with slightly ‘better’ or ‘worse’ p-values represent multiple different mixtures of the type (Yamnaya + EEF) + (Corded Ware + EEF ± Yamnaya), impossible to distinguish without selecting proper, direct ancestral populations…

A further example of how explosive the Bell Beaker expansion was into different territories, and of their extensive local admixture, is shown by the unsuccessful attempt by Olalde et al. (2018) to obtain an origin of the EEF source for all Beaker groups (excluding Iberian Beakers):

bell-beaker-local-population-iberia
Investigating the genetic makeup of Beaker-complex-associated individuals. Testing different populations as a source for the Neolithic ancestry component in Beaker-complex-associated individuals. The table shows P values (* indicates values > 0.05) for the fit of the model: ‘Steppe_EBA + Neolithic/Copper Age’ source population.
burials-yamnaya-hungary
Map of attested Yamnaya pit-grave burials in the Hungarian plains; superimposed in shades of blue are common areas covered by floods before the extensive controls imposed in the 19th century; in orange, cumulative thickness of sand, unfavourable loamy sand layer. Marked are settlements/findings of Boleráz (ca. 3500 BC on), Baden (until ca. 2800 BC), Kostolac (precise dates unknown), and Yamna kurgans (from ca. 3100/3000 BC on).

Now, there is a simpler way to understand what kind of Steppe-related ancestry is proper of Bell Beakers. I tested two simple models for some Beaker groups: Yamnaya + Hungary Baden vs. Corded Ware + GAC Poland. After all, the Bell Beaker folk should prefer a source more closely related to either Yamnaya Hungary or Central European Corded Ware:

Interestingly, models including Yamnaya + Baden show good fits for the most important groups related to North-West Indo-Europeans, including Bell Beakers from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland, representing the most likely closest source populations of speakers of Pre-Proto-Celtic, Pre-Proto-Germanic, Proto-Italo-Venetic, and Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic, respectively.

The admixed Yamnaya samples from Hungary that will hopefully be published soon by the Jena Lab will most likely further improve these fits, especially in combination with intermediate Chalcolithic populations of the Middle and Upper Danube and its tributaries, to a point where there will be an absolute chronological and geographical genomic trail from the fully Yamnaya-like Yamnaya settlers from Hungary to all North-West Indo-European-speaking groups of the Early Bronze Age.

The only difference between groups will be the gradual admixture events of their source Beaker group with local populations on their expansion paths, including peoples of mainly EEF, CWC+EEF, or CWC+EEF+Yamnaya related ancestry. There is ample evidence beyond ancestry models to support this, in particular continued Y-DNA bottlenecks under typical Yamnaya paternal lineages, mainly represented by R1b-L51 subclades.

east-bell-beaker-group-expansion
Distribution of the Bell Beaker East Group, with its regional provinces, as of c. 2400 cal BC (after Heyd et al. 2004, modified). See full maps.

European Early Bronze Age

European EBA groups that might show conflicting results due to multiple admixture events with Corded Ware-related populations are the Únětice culture and the Nordic Late Neolithic.

The results for Únětice groups seem to be in line with what is expected of a Central European EBA population derived from Bell Beakers admixed with surrounding poulations of East Bell Beaker and/or late (Epi-)Corded Ware descent.

Potential models of mixture for Nordic Late Neolithic samples – despite the bad fits due to the lack of direct ancestral CWC and BBC groups from Denmark – seem to be impossible to justify as derived exclusively from Single Grave or (even less) from Battle Axe peoples, supporting immigration waves of Bell Beakers from the south and further admixture events with local groups through maritime domination.

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked are Bronze Age clusters. See full PCAs.

Balkans Bronze Age

The potential origin of the typical Corded Ware Steppe-related ancestry in the social upheaval and population movements of the Dnieper-Dniester forest-steppe corridor during the 4th millennium BC raises the question: how much do Balkan Bronze Age groups owe their ancestry to a population different than the spread of Pre-Yamnaya-like Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains? Furthermore, which Bronze Age groups seem to be more likely derived exclusively from Pre-Yamnaya groups, and which are more likely to be derived from a mixture of Yamnaya and Pre-Yamnaya? Do the formal stats obtained correspond to the expected results for each group?

Since the expansion of hg. I2a-L699 (TMRCA ca. 5500 BC) need not be associated with Yamnaya, some of these values – together with the assessment of each individual archaeological culture – may question their origin in a Yamnaya-related expansion rather than in a Khvalynsk-related one.

NOTE. These are the last ones I was able to test yesterday, and I have not thought these models through, so feel free to propose other source and target groups. In particular, complex movements through the North Pontic area during the Late Eneolithic would suggest that there might have been different Steppe-ancestry-related vs. EEF-related interactions in the north-west and west Pontic area before and during the expansion of Yamnaya.

Mycenaeans

One of the key Indo-European populations that should be derived from Yamnaya to confirm the Steppe hypothesis, together with North-West Indo-Europeans, are Proto-Greeks, who will in turn improve our understanding of the preceding Palaeo-Balkan community. Unfortunately, we only have Mycenaean samples from the Aegean, with slight contributions of Steppe-related ancestry.

Still, analyses with potential source populations for this Steppe ancestry show that the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria is a good fit:

The comparison of all results makes it quite evident the why of the good fits from (Srubnaya-related) Bulgaria_MLBA I2163 or of Sintashta_MLBA relative to the only a priori reasonable Yamnaya and Catacomb sources: it is not about some hypothetical shared ancestor in Graeco-Aryan-speaking East Yamnaya– or even Catacomb-Poltavka-related groups, because all available Yamnaya-related peoples are almost indistinguishable from each other (at least with the sampling available today). These results reflect a sizeable contribution of similar EEF-related populations from around the Carpathians in both Steppe-related groups: Corded Ware and Yamnaya settlers from the Balkans.

mycenaeans-minyan-ware-greece-minoan
Cultural groups in and around the Balkans during the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

qpAdm magic

In hobby ancestry magic, as in magic in general, it is not about getting dubious results out of thin air: misdirection is the key. A magician needs to draw the audience attention to ‘remarkable’ ancestry percentages coupled with ‘great’ (?) p-values that purportedly “prove” what the audience expects to see, distracting everyone from the true interesting aspects, like statistical design, the data used (and its shortcomings), other opposing models, a comparison of values, a proper interpretation…you name it.

I reckon – based on the examples above – that the following problems lie at the core of bad uses of qpAdm:

  1. In the formal aspect, the poor understanding of what p-values and other formal stats obtained actually mean, and – more importantly – what they don’t mean. The simplistic trend to accept results of a few analyses at face value is necessarily wrong, in so far as there is often no proper reasoning of what is being assessed and how, and there is never a previous opinion about what could be expected if the alternative hypotheses were true.
  2. In the interpretation aspect, the poor judgement of accompanying any results with simplistic, superficial, irrelevant, and often plainly wrong archaeological or linguistic data selected a posteriori; the inclusion of some racial or sociopolitical overtones in the mixture to set a propitious mood in the target audience; and a sort of ritualistic theatrics with the main theme of ‘winning’, that is best completed with ad hominems.

If you get rid of all this, the most reasonable interpretation of the output of a model proposed and tested should be similar to Nick Patterson’s words in his explanation of qpWave and qpAdm use:

Here we see that, at least in this analysis there are reasonable models with CordedWareNeolithic is a mix of either WHG or LBKNeolithic and YamnayaEBA. (…) The point of this note is not to give a serious phylogenetic analysis but the results here certainly support a major Steppe contribution to the Corded Ware population, which is entirely concordant with the archaeology [?].

Very far, as you can see, from the childish “Eureka! I proved the source!”-kind of thinking common among hobbyists.

The Mycenaean case is an illustrative example: if the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria were not available, and if one were not careful when designing and assessing those mixture models, the interpretation would range from erroneous (viz. a Graeco-Aryan substrate, as I initially thought) to impossible (say, inventing migration waves of Sintashta or Srubnaya peoples into Crete). The models presented above show that a contribution of Yamnaya to Mycenaeans couldn’t be rejected, and this alone should have been enough to accept Yamnaya as the most likely source population of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Greeks, pending intermediate samples from the Balkans. In other words, one could actually find that ‘the best’ p-values for source populations of Mycenaeans is a combination of modern Poles + Turks, despite the impracticality of such a model…

I haven’t been able to reproduce results which supposedly showed that Corded Ware is more likely to be derived from (Pre-)Yamnaya than other source population, or that Corded Ware is better suited as the ancestral population of Bell Beakers. The analyses above show values in line with what has been published in recent scientific papers, and what should be expected based on linguistics and archaeology. So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s only through a careful selection of outgroups and samples tested, and of as few compared models as possible, that you could eventually get this kind of results and interpretation, if at all.

Whether that kind of special care for outgroups and samples is about (a) an acceptable fine-tuning of the analyses, (b) a simplistic selection dragged from the first papers published and applied indiscriminately to all models, or (c) cherry picking analyses until results fit the expected outcome, is a question that will become mostly irrelevant when future publications continue to support an origin of the expansion of ancient Indo-European languages in Khvalynsk- and Yamnaya-related migrations.

Feel free to suggest (reasonable) modifications to correct some of these models in the comments. Also, be sure to check out other values such as proportions, SD or SNPs of the different results that I might have not taken into account when assessing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fits.

Related

Volosovo hunter-gatherers started to disappear earlier than previously believed

volosovo-corded-ware

Recent paper (behind paywall) Marmot incisors and bear tooth pendants in Volosovo hunter-gatherer burials. New radiocarbon and stable isotope data from the Sakhtysh complex, Upper-Volga region, by Macānea, Nordqvist, and Kostyleva, J. Archaeol. Sci. (2019) 26:101908.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Sakhtysh micro-region is located in the Volga-Oka interfluve, along the headwaters of the Koyka River in the Ivanovo Region, central European Russia (Fig. 1). The area has evidence of human habitation from the Early Mesolithic to the Iron Age, and includes altogether 11 long-term and seasonal settlements (Sakhtysh I–II, IIa, III–IV, VII–XI, XIV) and four artefact scatters (sites V–VI, XII–XIII), in addition to which burials have been detected at five sites (I–II, IIa, VII, VIII) (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). The locations have been known since the 1930s and intensively studied since the 1960s under the leadership of D.A. Kraynov, M.G. Zhilin, E.L. Kostyleva, and A.V. Utkin.

Sakhtysh II and IIa are the most extensively studied sites of the complex, with ca. 1500m2 and around 800m2 excavated, respectively. The burial grounds at both sites are considered as fully investigated.

volosovo-sakhtysh-dates
AMS datings from the sites Sakhtysh II and IIa. Sampled contexts are given in parentheses (burial/hoard), “crust” indicates samples of charred organic
residues on pottery from cultural layer. For data, see Tables 1–2.

Sakhtysh chronology

The AMS dates do not support the previously proposed phasing of the Sakhtysh burials to early (4750–4375 BP/3600–3000 cal BCE), late (or developed; 4375–4000 BP/3000–2500 cal BCE), and final (4000–3750 BP/2500–2200 cal BCE): the early and late burials at Sakhtysh IIa do not stand out as two separate groups, and also the burials and hoards from Sakhtysh II, connected to the final phase, are temporally overlapping with these. Neither the use sequence, where the settlement and burial phases are non-overlapping and also complementary between the sites (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010, 2014), finds support in the present material.

The AMS datings indicate that the Volosovo people started to bury their dead at Sakhtysh IIa after 3700 cal BCE; dates earlier than this may be affected by FRE or suffer from mixed contexts and poor quality of dates. The present data questions the interpretation that the Sakhtysh IIa cemetery was used without interruptions between 4800 and 4080 BP (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010), i.e. for a millennium between 3550 and 2600 cal BCE. The AMS dates rather suggest a use period of some centuries only around the mid-4th millennium cal BCE, tentatively 3650–3400 cal BCE. This would also be more realistic considering the number of burials at the site.

volosovo-sakhtysh-sites
The core area of Volosovo culture (after Kraynov, 1987) and the sites of the Sakhtysh complex (after Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). Eurasian map base made with Natural Earth. Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

Volosovo chronology

The absolute dating of Volosovo culture was for a long time hampered by the small number of radiocarbon dates (see Kraynov, 1987). Today,>100 datings connected with it can be found in literature (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012; Mosin et al., 2014). Unfortunately, the available dates do not form solid grounds for dating the cultural phenomenon, as many of them have quality-related issues, large measurement errors, and ambiguous cultural or physical contexts. Consequently, particular datings may be connected to different cultural phases by different scholars. Finally, a large part of the newly-published datings are obtained through direct dating of potsherds (Kovaliukh and Skripkin, 2007; Zaitseva et al., 2009), and therefore, their cogency must be faced with reservation (see Van der Plicht et al., 2016; Dolbunova et al., 2017).

The datings connected with Volosovo cover a wide time range between ca. 5500 BP (4400 cal BCE) and ca. 3700 BP (2100 cal BCE). However, datings from secure contexts, with good quality (error ca. 50 years or below) and no probable FRE, place the beginning of Volosovo culture to the first half of the 4th millennium cal BCE, around 3700–3600 cal BCE. This is also supported by the roughly coeval terminal dates given for the preceding Lyalovo (Zaretskaya and Kostyleva, 2011) and Volga-Kama cultures (Lychagina, 2018), as well as the appearance of related neighbouring cultures, for example, in the Kama region (Nikitin, 2012; Lychagina, 2018), the southern forest steppe area (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2014), and north-western Russia and Finland (Nordqvist, 2018). Still, the dating of many of these cultural phases suffers from the same problems as of Volosovo.

A handful of contested datings place the end of Volosovo culture to the final centuries of the 3rd millennium cal BCE, or even later (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012). On the other hand, the new AMS dates indicate that Volosovo activities at Sakhtysh II and IIa ceased before or towards the early 3rd millennium cal BCE; if this reflects the general decline of Volosovo culture must be still confirmed by more dates from Sakhtysh and elsewhere. In this context, the general cultural development must be accounted for. To what extent – if at all – the Volosovo people were present after the arrival of the Corded Ware culture-related Fatyanovo-Balanovo populations? Based on the current, albeit scant and inconclusive radiocarbon data this took place from ca. 2700 cal BCE onwards (Krenke et al., 2013).

volosovo-fatyanovo-balanovo
Corded Ware and Comb Ware hunter-gatherer-related populations in north-eastern Europe from ca. 2600 BC. See full map.

Comments

One of the interesting genetic papers in the near future will be the one that finally includes samples from Corded Ware groups in the forest zone (i.e. Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo), which will most likely confirm that they are the origin of the known genetic profile of Central and East Uralic-speaking peoples, seeing how West Uralic peoples show genetic continuity in the East Baltic area, coinciding with the Battle Axe culture.

Uralicists have come a long way from the 1990s, when the picture of Uralic before Balto-Slavic in the Baltic was already evident, and Uralians were identified with Comb Ware peoples. The linguistic data and relative chronology are still valid, despite the now outdated interpretations of absolute archaeological chronology, as happens with interpretations of Krahe or Villar about Old European.

As an example, here are some relevant excerpts from Languages in the Prehistoric Baltic Sea Region, by Kallio (2003):

NOTE. Kallio’s contribution appeared in the book Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003), which I hold nostalgically close in my Indo-European library (now almost impossible to read fully). It is still one of my preferred books (from those made up of mostly unconnected chunks on European linguistic prehistory), because it contains Oettinger’s essential update of North-West Indo-European common vocabulary, which led us indirectly to our Modern Indo-European project from 2005 on.

In any case, the Uralic arrival in the region east of the Baltic Sea preceded the Indo-European one (…).

This theory that the ancestors of Finno-Saamic speakers arrived in the Baltic Sea region earlier than those of Balto-Slavic speakers is still rejected by some scholars (e.g. Napolskikh 1993: 41-44), who claim, for instance, that Finno-Saamic speakers would not have known salmons before they met Balts because the Finno-Saamic word for ‘salmon’ (i.e. *losi) is a borrowing from Baltic. Similarly, one could claim that English speakers would not have known salmons before they met Frenchmen because English salmon is a borrowing from French. In other words, Worter und Sachen are not necessarily borrowed hand in hand. Otherwise, it would not be so easy to explain how many Finnish names of body parts are borrowings from Baltic (e.g. hammas ‘tooth’, kaula ‘neck’, reisi ‘thigh’) and from Germanic (e.g. hartia ‘shoulder’, lantio ‘loin’, maha ‘stomach’).

A more probative argument is the fact that Balto-Slavic features in Finno-Saamic are mostly lexical ones (i.e. typical superstrate features), where Finno-Saamic features in Balto-Slavic are mostly non-lexical ones (i.e. typical substrate features). Note that there are more Balto-Slavic features in Finnic than in Saamic and more Finno-Saamic features in Baltic than in Slavic. This fact could be explained by presuming that Pre-Saamic was spoken north of the Corded Ware area and Pre-Slavic was spoken south of the Typical Pit-Comb Ware area, whereas Pre-Finnic and Pre-Baltic alone were spoken in the area, where both the Typical Pit-Comb Ware culture (ca. 4000-3600 BC) and the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC) were situated. This area was most probably bilingual, until Finnic and Baltic won in the north and in the south, respectively.

As is well-known, the idea of Uralic substrate features in Balto-Slavic is not new (cf. e.g. Pokorny 1936/1968: 181-185). As recent studies (e.g. Bednarczuk 1997) have shown, their density is the most remarkable in the four Balto-Slavic languages spoken in the earlier Pit-Comb Ware area (i.e. Latvian, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Russian). On the other hand, occasional Uralisms in the other Balto-Slavic languages spoken west of the Vistula and south of the Pripyat may rather be considered adstrate features spread from the northeast.

comb-ware-uralic
Our beliefs from the 2000s. A hypothetic Uralic Comb Ware distribution before the arrival of a hypothetic North-West Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware. “Generalized distribution of the Pit-Comb Ware cultural complex (Mallory & Adams 1997: 430, Carpelan 1999: 257) and the most probable homelands of Saamic, Finnic, Mordvin, Mari, and Permic.”

The idea of Indo-European superstrate features in Finnic is not new either (cf. e.g. Posti 1953). As Jorma Koivulehto (1983) has recently shown, the earliest Indo-European loanword stratum in the westernmost Uralic branches alone can be considered Northwest Indo-European and connected with the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC). Since this layer, there have been continuous contacts between Baltic and Finnic. According to Koivulehto (1990), the following stratum can be called Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic and dated to the Late Neolithic period (ca. 2300-1500 BC). Note that this Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic dating agrees with the established ones (cf. e.g. Shevelov 1964: 613-614, Kortlandt 1982: 181), when we remember the fact that archaeologists have also moved their datings back by centuries during the last decades.

Finally, there is also a Baltic loanword stratum which was not borrowed from the ancestral stage of Latvian, Lithuanian and/or Old Prussian but from some extinct Baltic language or dialect (Nieminen 1957). However, as these words still go back to the early Proto-Finnic stage, they can hardly be dated later than Bronze-Age ( ca. 1500-500 BC). Therefore, we may conclude that they were probably borrowed from a Baltic superstrate, which arrived in the Finnish Gulf area during the Corded Ware period and survived there until the Bronze Age, when it was no longer identical with other Baltic dialects. In any case, as later Baltic loanword strata concern southern Finnic languages alone, we may presume that this ‘North Baltic’superstrate had become extinct.

The traditional association of Uralic with Volosovo hunter-gatherers doesn’t make sense, since they neither miraculously survived for thousands of years nor mixed for hundreds of years with Corded Ware peoples, so we can now more confidently reject the recent assumption by Carpelan & Parpola that their language was adopted by incoming Fatyanovo, Balanovo and Abashevo groups, to develop into the known Uralic languages (more here). This includes one of the many models of the the Copenhagen group, who simplistically follow “Steppe ancestry” for Indo-Europeannes.

If one combines the known relative linguistic chronology with the North-West Indo-European hydrotoponymy layer, now more clearly identified as Old Europeans expanding with East Bell Beakers and derived Early Bronze Age groups, I think there is little space left for maneuvering out of the overwhelming evidence for a Uralic homeland in the forest-steppes, linked to the spread of late Sredni Stog/Corded Ware ancestry into north-eastern Europe and beyond the Urals.

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