The father tongue and mother tongue hypotheses in Indo-European populations

New paper (behind paywall) Reconciling the father tongue and mother tongue hypotheses in Indo-European populations, by Zhang et al. National Science Review (2018) nwy083.

Interesting excerpts:

Here, we reassessed the correlation between genetic and linguistic characteristics in 34 modern IE populations (Fig. 1a), for which all four types of datasets (lexicon, phonemes, Y-chromosomal composition, and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) composition) are available. We assembled compositions of the Y-chromosomal and mtDNA haplogroups or paragroups from the corresponding IE populations, which reflect paternal and maternal lines, respectively (…)

Neighbour-Nets were constructed to delineate the differences between 34 IE population groups clustering at the genetic and linguistic levels (Fig. 2). The reticulations within each net reflect conflicting signals against tree-like structures and support incompatible groupings [21]. These structures are likely produced by potential horizontal transmissions between populations or languages such as admixture, and potential parallel evolution in linguistics as well [22]. The Neighbour-Net for Y-chromosomes with substantial reticulations shows complicated relationships among IE populations (Fig. 2a), indicating a substantial historical population contact and admixture among the males. In contrast, the Neighbour-Net for mtDNA in Fig. 2b clearly illustrates an East-West geographic polarization, indicating two major IE populations in matrilineages: Indo-Iranian and European. (…)

Neighbour-Nets of 34 Indo-European populations calculated from the Euclidean distance matrices using (a) Y-chromosomal haplogroups and (b) mtDNA haplogroups; Neighbour-Nets of IE languages calculated from the Hamming distance matrices using (c) lexicon and (d) phonemes. The colours in the legend correspond to the language groups.

The language learning by local women could constitute the reason for unbalanced correlation of mtDNA to lexicon and phonemes. Due to the social prestige of male immigrants, their local spouses have to adopt the language of their husbands and pass it to future generations [6, 10, 15]. This process is second language acquisition and easily develops language fossilization [31]. The language fossilization is a linguistic mechanism that a learner of a second language tends to preserve some linguistic features of the first language, and develops a form of inter-language [31]. Under this circumstance, women can easily replace the lexicon from another [21], but attempt to retain local accents influenced by their native language [32]. In other words, women change to adopt the same word usage as their husbands in daily life but still speak using their own pronunciation. In mixed-language marriages with these male immigrants, women prefer to pass down their inter-languages to offspring [10, 33]. As a result, it yields the correlation between mtDNA and phonemes we observed. Hence, we courageously proposed a hypothetical scenario in Indo-European populations that lexical system of language dominated by their father, while the phonemic system of language determined by their mother.

I am not a fan of this kind of statistical studies for Comparative Grammar, and there are many pitfalls just by looking at this paper superficially: use of modern languages and modern haplogroup distributions, improper classification of phonemes – as is usual in glottochronological studies – , etc… Which render their results ipso facto unacceptable.

But just yesterday I was discussing where the Copenhagen group and their fans were going to end up when Yamna samples turn out not to be the origin of haplogroup R1a-Z645 expansion, and Anthony’s proposal of a patron-client relationship came up. Since the Danish workgroup is always one step behind, such a reactionary view seems like a reasonable assumption for the future.

This mother tongue vs. father tongue theory is another good possibility for what we are going to see, then, when they use e.g. the exogamy of eastern Corded Ware groups with Yamna to explain the adoption of the language. Maybe that’s what Kristiansen’s invented Yamna → Corded Ware arrows mean… Anything to prove that Corded Ware peoples were Indo-European speakers.


Polygyny as a potential reason for Y-DNA bottlenecks among agropastoralists


Open access Greater wealth inequality, less polygyny: rethinking the polygyny threshold model by Ross et al. Journal of the Royal Society Interface (2018).

Interesting excerpts, from the discussion (emphasis mine):

We use cross-cultural data and a new mutual mate choice model to propose a resolution to the polygyny paradox. Following Oh et al. [17], we extend the standard polygyny threshold model to a mutual mate choice model that accounts for both female supply to, and male demand for, polygynous matchings, in the light of the importance of, and inequality in, rival and non-rival forms of wealth. The empirical results presented in figures 5 and 6 demonstrate two phenomena that are jointly sufficient to generate a transition to more frequent monogamy among populations with a co-occurring transition to a more unequal, highly stratified, class-based social structure. In such populations, fewer men can cross the wealth threshold required to obtain a second wife, and those who do may be fabulously wealthy, but—because of diminishing marginal fitness returns to increasing number of marriages—do not acquire wives in full proportion to their capacity to support them with rival wealth. Together, these effects reduce the population-level fraction of wives in polygynous marriages.

Our model demonstrates that a low population-level frequency of polygyny will be an equilibrium outcome among fitness maximizing males and females in a society characterized by a large class of wealth-poor peasants and a small class of exceptionally wealthy elite. Our mutual mate choice model thus provides an empirically plausible resolution to the polygyny paradox and the transition to monogamy which co-occurred with the rise of highly unequal agricultural populations.

(a) Mean frequency of married women who are married polygynously by production system (+2 s.e.) using the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample [30]. Rates of polygyny are measured with variable ]872, per cent of wives with co-wives. (b) Rates of monogamy and polygyny by production system are measured with variable ]861, the standard polygamy code. Data on subsistence come from variable ]858, categorized subsistence. In general, agricultural populations show reduced rates of polygyny and increased rates of monogamy relative to other subsistence systems. See electronic supplementary material for more information. (c) Gini of wealth by production system in our sample.

The reasons for this decrease in marginal fitness returns are explained as either a) a potential missing of important rival forms of wealth in the statistical model, or b) one or more of the following reasons:

  • [A] male’s time and attention are rival inputs to his own fitness (…) A single rich man will have to defend his 10 wives from nine unmarried men on average.”As the wealth ratio grows even more skewed, this situation could become increasingly difficult to manage (e.g. requiring the use of eunochs to defend harems [74]).
  • A related possibility is that a growing number of unmarried men could socially censure wealthy polygynous males, imposing costs on them that reduce male demand for and/or female supply to polygynous marriage [23,24]. (…)
  • A third possibility is that sexually transmitted infection (STI) burden [22,75] could diminish returns to polygyny, if polygyny enhances infection rates [76,77]. (…)
  • Finally, impediments to cooperation or even outright conflict among co-wives can be greater as the number of wives increases. Interference competition among co-wives could impose significant fitness costs in settings where effective child rearing benefits from cooperation [79,80].(…)
between the Gini coefficient on completed rival wealth and per cent completed female polygyny.

I have previously argued against some reasons traditionally given to explain the replacement of native male populations after migrations (i.e. polygyny, slavery, targeted male extermination, etc.), because I believe that a gradual successful expansion of patrilineal clans over some generations based on wealth alone is enough to explain the obvious Y-DNA bottlenecks that happened in many different prehistoric and historic cultures (especially among steppe pastoralists, including Indo-Europeans).

I realize that I haven’t really used any study to support my opinion, though, and data from modern and ancient pastoralists from different regions seem to contradict it, so maybe ancient DNA can show that Indo-Europeans had often children with more than one woman at the same time. I don’t remember seeing that kind of information in supplementary materials to date. From memory I can think of maybe two or three examples of agnate siblings published, but I doubt the archaeological age estimation (based on simple observation of skeletal remains) combined with radiocarbon age (usually given with broad CI) could be enough to prove a similar age of conception. Maybe a case of many siblings clearly of the same age and from many different mothers in the same burial could be a strong proof of this…

I recently read that theoretical models are actually trusted by no one except for the researchers who propose them, and experimental data are trusted by everyone except for the researchers who worked with them. I cannot agree more. However, we lack information about this question (as far as I know), so we may have to rely on indirect estimations, like the kind of models presented in the paper (or the one proposed for Post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottlenecks).

The Late Proto-Indo-European word for bride comes from a root meaning ‘drive, lead’, hence literally ‘deportation’, so the bride was transferred from her father’s family to her husband’s house. Marriage was certainly an asymmetrical contract for its members, and the reconstructible word for ‘dowry’ further supports the weaker position of the wife in it. Also, ancient marriage could differ from a family agreement, because marriage by elopement, bride kidnapping or hostage was probably common (more or less socially regulated) for people belonging the same culture. Apart from this, I don’t know about reconstructed linguistic data pointing to polygyny, and I doubt archaeological data alone – without genetics – can help.


Male-biased expansions and migrations also observed in Northwestern Amazonia

Open access preprint Cultural Innovations influence patterns of genetic diversity in Northwestern Amazonia, by Arias et al., bioRxiv (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Human populations often exhibit contrasting patterns of genetic diversity in the mtDNA and the non-recombining portion of the Y-chromosome (NRY), which reflect sex-specific cultural behaviors and population histories. Here, we sequenced 2.3 Mb of the NRY from 284 individuals representing more than 30 Native-American groups from Northwestern Amazonia (NWA) and compared these data to previously generated mtDNA genomes from the same groups, to investigate the impact of cultural practices on genetic diversity and gain new insights about NWA population history. Relevant cultural practices in NWA include postmarital residential rules and linguistic-exogamy, a marital practice in which men are required to marry women speaking a different language. We identified 2,969 SNPs in the NRY sequences; only 925 SNPs were previously described. The NRY and mtDNA data showed that males and females experienced different demographic histories: the female effective population size has been larger than that of males through time, and both markers show an increase in lineage diversification beginning ~5,000 years ago, with a male-specific expansion occurring ~3,500 years ago. These dates are too recent to be associated with agriculture, therefore we propose that they reflect technological innovations and the expansion of regional trade networks documented in the archaeological evidence. Furthermore, our study provides evidence of the impact of postmarital residence rules and linguistic exogamy on genetic diversity patterns. Finally, we highlight the importance of analyzing high-resolution mtDNA and NRY sequences to reconstruct demographic history, since this can differ considerably between males and females.

MDS plots for mtDNA and NRY. Stress values (within parentheses) are indicated in percentages.

Looking more precisely at the different groups (even with the resampling approach), there are no significant differences between matrilocal and patrilocal groups. At best, as the study proposes, “this is just one of the factors at play in structuring the observed genetic variation”.

Interesting excerpts:

(…) we found evidence that the patterns of genetic differentiation depend on the geographical scale of the study. The magnitude of between-population differentiation in the NRY compared to the mtDNA is smaller when looking at the continental scale than in NWA (Figure 6). This is in agreement with the findings of Wilkins and Marlowe (2006), who showed that the excess of between-population differentiation for the NRY in comparison to the mtDNA decreases when comparing more geographically distant populations. Heyer et al. (2012) and Wilkins and Marlowe (2006) have proposed that at a local scale the patterns of genetic diversity reflect cultural practices over a relatively small number of generations, whereas at a larger geographic scale the genetic diversity reflects old migration and/or old common ancestry patterns(Heyer et al. 2012; Wilkins and Marlowe 2006).

BSPs for the mtDNA and NRY sequences from NWA. The dotted lines indicate the 95% HPD intervals. Ne was corrected for generation time according to (Fenner 2005), using 26 years for mtDNA and 31 years for NRY.

The BSP plots and the diversity statistics indicate that overall the Ne of males has been smaller than that of females. One tentative explanation for this difference is that it reflects larger differences in reproductive success among males than among females. Some support for this explanation comes from the shape of the phylogenies (Supplementary Figures 1 and 6), since differences in reproductive success and the cultural transmission of fertility lead to imbalance phylogenies (Blum et al. 2006; Heyer et al. 2015). We estimated a common index of tree imbalance (Colless index) and calculated whether the mtDNA and NRY trees were more unbalanced than 1000 simulated trees generated under a Yule process (Bortolussi et al. 2006) (i.e. a simple pure birth process that assumes that the birth rate of new lineages is the same along the tree). We found that the NRY tree is more unbalanced than predicted by the Yule model (p-value=0.001), whereas the mtDNA tree is not significantly different from trees generated by the Yule model (p-value=0.628). It has been suggested that highly mobile hunter-gatherer societies, such as those typical of most of human prehistory, were polygynous bands (Dupanloup et al. 2003); similarly, nomadic horticulturalist Amazonian societies exhibit strong differences in reproductive success due to the common practice of polygyny, especially among community chiefs, whose offspring also enjoy a high fertility (Neel 1970; 1980; Neel and Weiss 1975).

Furthermore, a more recent expansion can be observed in the BSP based on the NRY, but not in the mtDNA BSP (Figure 5), indicating an expansion specifically in the paternal line. The reasons behind this recent male-biased population expansion, which starts ~3.5 kya, are as yet unclear. However, similar male-biased expansions have been observed in other studies using high-resolution NRY sequences (Batini et al. 2017; Karmin et al. 2015).


Post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck explained by cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal clans

Open access study Cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal kin groups explain the post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck, by Zeng, Aw, and Feldman, Nature Communications (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

In human populations, changes in genetic variation are driven not only by genetic processes, but can also arise from cultural or social changes. An abrupt population bottleneck specific to human males has been inferred across several Old World (Africa, Europe, Asia) populations 5000–7000 BP. Here, bringing together anthropological theory, recent population genomic studies and mathematical models, we propose a sociocultural hypothesis, involving the formation of patrilineal kin groups and intergroup competition among these groups. Our analysis shows that this sociocultural hypothesis can explain the inference of a population bottleneck. We also show that our hypothesis is consistent with current findings from the archaeogenetics of Old World Eurasia, and is important for conceptions of cultural and social evolution in prehistory.

Relevant excerpts:

Tree of Y-chromosome genotypes from samples found among cultures with hunter-gatherer subsistence, and agropastoralist subsistence. The blue background represents hunter-gatherer subsistence while the green background represents agropastoralist subsistence. Letters in red circles match individuals from sites with their archaeological context. Note that R1b-P321 is synonymous with R1b-S116. Adapted from Figs. 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Kivisild67, with addition of information from Olalde et al.64. The vertical axis represents time; the position of branch points represent the ages of branch-defining mutations, with nomenclature and age from yfull (

Our hypothesis explains the bottleneck as a consequence of intergroup competition between patrilineal kin groups, which caused cultural hitchhiking between Y-chromosomes and cultural groups and reduction in Y-chromosomal diversity. Competition between demes can dramatically reduce genetic diversity within a population1, especially if the population is structured such that variation is greater between demes than within demes. Culturally transmitted kinship ideals and norms can cause homophilous sorting and limit interdemic gene flow, creating homogeneous demes that differ strongly from one another. Patrilineal corporate kin groups, with coresiding male group members descending from a common male ancestor, would produce such an effect on Y-chromosomes only, as patrilineal corporate kin groups generally coexist with female exogamy40, which would homogenize the mitochondrial gene pools of different groups41,42.

With intergroup competition between patrilineal corporate kin groups, two mechanisms would operate to reduce Y-chromosomal diversity. First, patrilineal corporate kin groups produce high levels of Y-chromosomal homogeneity within each social group due to common descent, as well as high levels of between-group variation. Second, the presence of such groups results in violent intergroup competition preferentially taking place between members of male descent groups, instead of between unrelated individuals. Casualties from intergroup competition then tend to cluster among related males, and group extinction is effectively the extinction of lineages.

There is evidence that other analogous situations involving gene-culture hitchhiking in culturally-defined social groups may have affected genetic diversity. Central Asian pastoralists, who are organized into patriclans, have high levels of intergroup competition and demonstrate ethnolinguistic and population-genetic turnover down into the historical period59. They also have a markedly lower diversity in Y-chromosomal lineages than nearby agriculturalists42,60. In fact, Central Asians are the only population whose male effective population size has not recovered from the post-Neolithic bottleneck; it remains disproportionately reduced, compared to female estimates using mtDNA4. Central Asians are also the only population to have star-shaped expansions of Y-chromosomes within the historical period, which may be due to competitive processes that led to the disproportionate political success of certain patrilineal clans60.

The simulation offers an interesting graphic. I had been thinking for some time about developing an interactive image with waves of expansion showing how only few haplogroups expand and thus their variability is reduced in successive migration waves, because a lot of people seemed not to be willing to accept this:

Schematic of the steps in the simulation, according to the order described in the algorithm. a (i) Patrilineal (PT) starting conditions, where cultural groups strictly determine haplogroup type. a (ii) The non-patrilineal (NPT) condition where they are perfectly uncorrelated. b The killing step, with a more (PT) and less (NPT) patrilineal starting condition. The number of deaths in each group is inversely related to group size. The blue cultural group goes extinct in both cases. This causes the haplogroup represented by the diamonds to go extinct in PT, but no haplogroup extinction occurs in NPT. c The mutation step, where a small number of individuals in the largest haplogroup change their haplogroup. d The regeneration step, where (i) is a replica of (b) PT (iii), and (d) (ii) shows how the original number of individuals before the killing step is restored by proportionally increasing the number of individuals in all cells. e Group fission step. Where an empty row occurs, the largest cultural group splits, and half the individuals form a new cultural group in the empty row. The step in which we remove cultural groups that are too small—between (c, d) (see Methods)—is not shown

You only have to imagine this process happening in many successive waves of expansion (external as well as internal to each culture) since the first Neolithic expansions in the steppe in the late-6th millennium BC, even before the formation of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog cultural-historical community, to understand what happened in the next thousands of years with evolving patrilineal clans and their distinct cultures.

The whole paper is an interesting read. It’s great to see sociology and genetics finally catch up and interact to develop more complex anthropological hypotheses.

The fact that this paper appears in mid-2018 and geneticists are beginning to discuss this only now when their statistical methods fail to explain the obvious (see David Reich’s recent interview) seems anachronistic, though, because all this was quite clear already in 2015 – at least for those who were looking for mainstream Yamna – Bell Beaker connections, instead of inventing new migration pathways to justify the results of certain statistical analyses

Anyway, better late than never.

Also, they use YFull estimates, which vindicates my use of them in the Indo-European demic diffusion model (2017). On the other hand, their use of these estimates right now in 2018 for R1a-M417 and R1b-M269 – when we know of a R1a-Z93 case much older than YFull’s estimated 5,000 YBP for this subclade, and possibly for R1b-L23, too, is the biggest pitfall in their temporal assessment, although the bottlenecks seen in Chalcolithic expansions seem to have indeed began during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the steppe.

So, say goodbye (if you haven’t already) to dat fantasy ‘steppe people’ of mixed R1a/R1b descent cooperating with the same mixed steppe language, all represented by the Yamnaya™ ancestral component, and say hello to distinct, competing ethnolinguistic steppe groups during the Neolithic.