The genetic makings of South Asia – IVC as Proto-Dravidian


Review (behind paywall) The genetic makings of South Asia, by Metspalu, Monda, and Chaubey, Current Opinion in Genetics & Development (2018) 53:128-133.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

(…) the spread of agriculture in Europe was a result of the demic diffusion of early Anatolian farmers, it was discovered that the spread of agriculture to South Asia was mediated by a genetically completely different farmer population in the Zagros mountains in contemporary Iran (IF). The ANI-ASI cline itself was interpreted as a mixture of three components genetically related to Iranian agriculturalists, Onge and Early and Middle Bronze Age Steppe populations (Steppe_EMBA).

The first ever autosomal aDNA from South Asia comes from Northern Pakistan (Swat Valley, early Iron Age). This study presented altogether 362 aDNA samples from the broad South and Central Asia and contributes substantially to our understanding of the evolutionary past of South and Central Asia. The study redefines the three genetic strata that form the basis of the Indian Cline. The Indus Periphery (IP) component is composed of (varying proportions of): first, IF, second, Ancient Ancestral South Asians (AASI), which represents an ancient branch of human genetic variation in Asia arising from a population split contemporaneous with the splits of East Asian, Onge and Australian Aboriginal ancestors and third, West_Siberian Hunter gatherers (WS_HG).

The authors argue that IP could have formed the genetic base of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). Upon the collapse of the IVC IP contributes to the formation of both ASI and ANI. ASI is formed as IP admixes further with AASI. ANI in turn forms when IP admixes with the incoming Middle and Late Bronze Age Steppe (Steppe_MLBA) component, (rather than the Steppe_EMBA groups suggested earlier)

A sketch of the peopling history of South Asia. Depicting the full complexity of available reconstructions is not attempted. Placing of population labels does not indicate precise geographic location or range of the population in question. Rather we aim to highlight the essentials of the recent advancements in the field. We divide the scenario into three time horizons: Panels (a) before 10 000 BCE (pre agriculture era.); (b) 10 000 BCE to 3000 BCE (agriculture era) and (c) 3000 BCE to prehistoric era/modern era. (iron age).

Dating of the arrival of the Austro-Asiatic speakers in South Asia-based on Y chromosome haplogroup O2a1-M95 expansion estimates yielded dates between 3000 and 2000 BCE [30]. However, admixture LD decay-based approach on genome-wide data suggests the admixture between South Asian and incoming Austro-Asiatic speakers occurred slightly later between 1800 and 0 BCE (Tätte et al. submitted). It is interesting that while the mtDNA variants of the Mundas are completely South Asian, the Y chromosome variation is dominated at >60% by haplogroup O2a which is phylogeographically nested in East Asian-specific paternal lineages.

In India, the speakers of Tibeto-Burman (TB) languages live in the Seven Sisters States in Northeast India and in the very north of the country. Genetically they show a clear East Asian origin and around 20% of subsequent admixture with South Asians within the last 1000 years.The genetic flavour of East Asia in TB is different from that in Munda speakers as the best surrogates for the East Asian admixing component are contemporary Han Chinese.

I found the simplistic migration maps especially interesting to illustrate ancient population movements. The emergence of EHG is supposed to involve a WHG:ANE cline, though, and this isn’t clear from the map. Also, there is new information on what may be at the origin of WHG and Anatolian hunter-gatherers.

From the recent Reich’s session on South Asia at ISBA 8:

– Tale of three clines, with clear indication that “Indus Periphery” samples drawn from an already-cosmopolitan and heterogeneous world of variable ASI & Iranian ancestry. (I know how some people like to pore over these pictures – so note red dots = just dummy data for illustration.)
– Some more certainty about primary window of steppe ancestry injection into S. Asia: 2000-1500 BC
Alexander M. Kim

Featured image: map of South Asian languages from


The origin of social complexity in the development of the Sintashta culture


Very interesting PhD thesis by Igor Chechushkov, Bronze Age human communities in the Southern Urals steppe: Sintashta-Petrovka social and subsistence organization (2018).


Why and how exactly social complexity develops through time from small-scale groups to the level of large and complex institutions is an essential social science question. Through studying the Late Bronze Age Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms of the southern Urals (cal. 2050–1750 BC), this research aims to contribute to an understanding of variation in the organization of local communities in chiefdoms. It set out to document a segment of the Sintashta-Petrovka population not previously recognized in the archaeological record and learn about how this segment of the population related to the rest of the society. The Sintashta-Petrovka development provides a comparative case study of a pastoral society divided into sedentary and mobile segments.

Subsurface testing on the peripheries of three Sintashta-Petrovka communities suggests that a group of mobile herders lived outside the walls of the nucleated villages on a seasonal basis. During the summer, this group moved away from the village to pasture livestock farther off in the valley, and during the winter returned to shelter adjacent to the settlement. This finding illuminates the functioning of the year-round settlements as centers of production during the summer so as to provide for herd maintenance and breeding and winter shelter against harsh environmental conditions.

The question of why individuals chose in this context to form mutually dependent relationships with other families and thus give up some of their independence can be answered with a combination of two necessities: to remain a community in a newly settled ecological niche and to protect animals from environmental risk and theft. Those who were skillful at managing communal construction of walled villages and protecting people from military threats became the most prominent members of the society. These people formed the core of the chiefdoms but were not able to accumulate much wealth and other possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children. However, this set of relationships did not last longer than 300 years. Once occupation of the region was well established the need for functions served by elites disappeared, and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into smaller unfortified villages.

Research area: map of the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological sites. Settlements: 101 – Stepnoye; 102 – Shibaeyvo 1; 103 – Chernorechye 3; 104 – Bakhta; 105 – Paris; 106 – Isiney; 107 – Kuisak; 108 – Ust’ye; 109 – Rodniki; 110 – Konoplyanka; 111 – Zhurumbay; 112 – Arkaim; 113 – Sintashta; 114 – Sintashta 2; 115 – Kamennyi Ambar; 116 – Alandskoye; 117 – Chekatay; 118 – Selek; 119 – Sarym- Sakly; 120 – Kamysty; 121 – Kizilskoye; 122 – Bersuat; 123 – Andreyevskoe; 124 – Ulak; 125 – Streletskoye; 126 – Zarechnoye 4; 127 – Kamennyi Brod. Cemeteries: 201 – Ozernoye 1; 202 – Krivoe Ozero; 203 – Stepnoye M; 204 – Kamennyi Ambar-5; 205 – Stepnoye 1; 206 – Tsarev Kurgan; 207 – Ubagan 2; 208 – Solntse 2; 209 – Bolshekaraganskyi; 210 – Aleksandrovsky 4; 211 – Sintashta; 212 – Solonchanka 1a; 213 – Knyazhenskyi; 214 – Bestamak; 215 – Ishkinovka 1; 216 – Ishkinovka 2; 217 – Novo–Kumakskyi; 218 – Zhaman–Kargala 1; 219 – Tanabergen 2; 220 – Novo-Petrovka; 221 – Semiozernoye 2; 222 – Khalvayi 3

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The quintessential archaeological evidence of Sintashta-Petrovka communities takes the form of highly nucleated and fortified settlements paired with easily-recognized kurgan (burial mound) cemeteries. This pattern spread across Northern Central Eurasia in a relatively short period of about 300 years (cal. 2050–1750 BC), and the period consists of two chronological phases (Hanks et al. 2007). The earlier Sintashta phase (cal. 2050–1850 BC) is distinguished from the later Petrovka phase (cal. 1850–1750 BC) by some differences in ceramic styles and some techniques of bronze metallurgy (Degtyareva et al. 2001; Vinogradov 2013). Bronze Age subsistence patterns apparently relied on a wide variety of resources, among which meat and milk production played a major role (…). The most outstanding graves are individual male burials accompanied by weaponry (projectile weapons and chariots), the insignia of power (stone mace heads), craft tools, and a specific set of sacrificed animals (horses, cows, and dogs). (…) there were at least two adults buried with chariots and one with sacrificed horses (Epimakhov 1996b). Chariots – the most famous and spectacular material component of Sintashta-Petrovka society – are known exclusively from burial contexts. Two-wheeled vehicles represent complex technology, incorporating some crucial innovations and the investment of substantial resources. Highly developed craft and military skills were required for their production and use. Burials with chariots probably represent military elites who used them (Anthony 2009; Chechushkov 2011; Frachetti 2012:17) and played especially important social roles in Sintashta-Petrovka societies. This pattern strongly suggests that military leadership extended into the realm of ideology and general social prestige (Earle 2011:32–33).

The following sequence of archaeological cultures – based on the sample of radiocarbon dates (Epimakhov 2007a; 2010a), – is adopted: (1) the Sintashta-Petrovka phase 1 dated to cal. 2050–1750 BC and (2) the Srubnaya-Alakul’ phase 2 dated to cal. 1750–1350 BC.

(…) control of craft might have provided a source of power for elites in the fortified settlements (Steponaitis 1991). Some bronze tools, such as chisels, adzes, and handsaws seem more abundantly represented at some fortified settlements than at others, raising the possibility of a stronger focus on different craft products and some degree of exchange and interdependence between fortified settlements. (…) Zdanovich (1995:35) estimates 2500 people within the walls at Arkaim. He bases his conclusion an average house size of 140 m2 and the idea that Arkaim households consisted of an extended family of several generations, similar to Iroquois longhouse inhabitants. He also suggests that the entire population did not live in the “town” all the time, but moved around. The fully permanent residents were shamans, warriors, and craftsmen, i.e., elites and attached specialists.

Summarizing, excavated households represent very strongly similar architectural patterns, similar levels of wealth and prestige, little productive differentiation, and no evidence of elites amassing wealth through control of craft or subsistence production or any other mechanism (Earle 1987). These observations sharply contradict the burial record, where strong social differentiation is visible. The description above recalls the Regional Classic period elites of the Alto Magdalena whose standard of living differed little if at all from anyone else’s. Their elaborate tombs and sculptures suggest supernatural powers and ritual roles were much more important bases of their social prominence than economic control or accumulation of wealth (Drennan 1995:96–97). On the other hand, craft activities (especially metal production) are highly obvious in the Sintashta-Petrovka settlements. Defensive functions could also have played some role for the entire population. This benefit might attract people in an unstable or wild environment to spend much of their time in or near such settlements (Earle 2011:32–33). Since the construction of ditches and outer walls, as well as dwellings with shared walls, requires planning and organization, purposeful collective effort must have been a key feature of Sintashta-Petrovka communities (Vinogradov 2013; Zdanovich 1995). Sintashta-Petrovka communities thus evidence substantial investment of effort in non-subsistence activities, potentially resulting in a subsistence deficit in an economy with a heavy emphasis on herding. Altogether, this makes it plausible to think of the known Sintashta-Petrovka communities as special places where elites for whom military activities were important resided, and where metal production and possibly other crafts were carried out. It remains unclear just how a subsistence economy relying heavily on herding was managed from these substantial sedentary communities. Moving herds around the landscape seasonally is generally thought to be a part of subsistence strategy in Inner Eurasia (Frachetti 2008; Bachura 2013). In this area migration to exploit seasonal pastures is the best strategy for maintaining a regular supply of food for livestock due to shortages of capital or of labor pool to produce, harvest, and store fodder (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980:17). The recent stable isotope studies support this notion showing high likelihood that during the Bronze Age livestock was raised locally (Kiseleva et al. 2017).

The above raises the possibility that the residential remains that have been excavated within the fortifications of Sintashta-Petrovka communities represent only a portion of the population (Hanks and Doonan 2009, Johnson and Hanks 2012). It could be (along with the general lines suggested by D. Zdanovich [1997]) that the archaeological remains of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the population, built the impressive fortifications and stoked the subsistence economy have gone largely undetected. In global comparative perspective, many societies with the features known for Sintashta-Petrovka organization consisted of elite central-place settlements and hinterland populations. In such a scenario, the “missing” portion of the Sintashta population would reside in smaller unfortified settlements scattered around in the vicinity of the fortified ones.


In terms of wealth and productive differentiation, the inside assemblage of Kamennyi Ambar demonstrates a higher degree of richness and diversity in its material assemblage, leading to the conclusion that the outside materials may represent a semi-mobile group of people who used significantly less durable materials and accumulated less possessions. As for the diversity within the inside artifact assemblage, some households at Kamennyi Ambar demonstrate more diverse artifact assemblages than others, as well as bigger sizes, that could be related to differences in productive activities and/or wealth differentiation between families. A focus on specific objects of ceramic production in House 1 suggests some degree of productive specialization, while the elite goods in House 5 clearly point out the presence of elite members of the society.

There are two possible social scenarios that explain the settlement situation during the Sintashta-Petrovka phase. The first scenario considers all three communities as simultaneous and the second scenario suggests seeing the three sites as the same community that moved around the landscape during the Late Bronze Age in order to keep the pasture grounds from degradation.

Since no remains of permanent structures were found and any people living outside the walls must have stayed in temporary shelters. If this was the case, then the outside part of the population consisted of a semi-mobile group of people who moved to live near the fortified settlement during the winter. The pattern of animal slaughtering supports this conclusion. Animal teeth found near Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka demonstrate a tendency for animal butchering during the fall, throughout the winter and spring, with less evidence of summer meat consumption. Moreover, since the Bronze Age subsistence strategy relied heavily on pastoralism, herds had to be grazed during the summer and kept safe during the winter. This strongly suggests that the part of the population responsible for management of animals spent their time in the summer pastures with the livestock. During the winter the animals had to be kept in the warm and safe environment of the walled settlements (as suggested by the highest level of phosphorus on the house floors) while the herders stayed in portable shelters in close to the walls.

(…) the outsiders used a less diverse set of tools, as well as less durable materials (for example, wooden instead of metal) in their everyday life and did not accumulate much in the way of archaeologically visible possessions. On the other hand, a few stone and lithic artifacts demonstrate that craft activities were carried out using cheap and abundant raw materials. The artefact assemblages also point out that the people inside accumulated wealth in the form of material belongings and luxury goods, especially, things like metal artifacts and symbolic or military-related stone artifacts, while people outside did not do that. However, the presence of semi-precious stones could signify some kind of wealth accumulation by the segment of population outside the walls. Since there are limits to our ability to assess social relationships from material remains, it is difficult to say if the people who lived outside the walls were oppressed or less respected. Their possible concentration on herding-related activities and livestock keeping might suggest less prestigious social status. The most prominent members of the society were, nonetheless, buried with the attributes of warriors or craft specialists, not those of shepherds, suggesting that those involved in livestock management had less social prestige.

Furthermore, Kuzmina (1994:72) cites linguistic studies demonstrating that the Sanskrit word for a permanent village earlier meant a circle of mobile wagon homes, situated together for defensive purposes for an overnight camp (Kuzmina 1994:72).

The likely population of semi-mobile herders represented some 30%–60% of the entire local community, while the other of 40%–70% were inhabitants of the walled settlement. The almost completely excavated kurgan cemetery of Kamennyi Ambar-5 (only two kurgans remain unstudied) yielded about 100 individuals, or about 2%–5% of the total of 4,896±1,960 individuals in four generations who lived at the nearby settlement for 100 years. In other words, no more than 10% of the population was entitled to be buried under the kurgan mound and this proportion can be taken as an estimate of those with elevated social status. Perhaps, these elites were kin, since analysis of the burial patterns suggests sex/age rather than wealth/prestige differentiation between buried individuals within this elite group (Epimakhov and Berseneva 2011; Ventresca Miller 2013). The remaining non-elite members of the permanently resident community, then, represented some 30%–60% of the complete local community, but did not show evidence of standards of living particularly lower than the elites eventually interred in the kurgan.

(…) The buried population in the Sintashta Cemetery is about 80 individuals or only about 2%–3% of the total estimated population. However, these few individuals were buried with extremely rich offerings, like complete chariots, decorations made of precious metals or sacrifices of six horses (equal to about 900 kg of meat), etc. With such a low proportion of the population assigned such high prestige, the Sintashta local community can easily be labeled a local chiefdom. In Pitman and Doonan’s view (2018) the social structure of the chifedom consisted of a chief and his kin at the highest level; warriors, religious specialists, and craftsmen in the middle; and the pastoral community at the bottom level.


In the Bronze Age, the people who comprised the majority of the permanent population were involved in craft activities, including extraction of copper ores, metallurgy, bone, leather, and woodwork. The most important and labor-intensive part of the economy, however, was haymaking. The evidence of hay found in the cultural layer near Kamennyi Ambar supports the idea that animals were fed during the winter. Nowadays, hay cutting is typically done in July-August, the period of most intensive grazing for animals. Thus, the part of the collective that remained in the settlement had to provide the labor force for haymaking.

In the wintertime, the herders returned to the settlements with the herds, and animals were kept inside the walls––a practice which is known archaeologically (Zakh 1995) and ethnographically (Shahack-Gross et al. 2004)––while herders stayed outside in their tents.

In sum, the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms demonstrate a three-part social order. In Kuzmina’s (1994) view, this is similar to the Varna system of ancient India, that consisted of priests (Sansk. Brahmanis), rulers and warriors (Sansk. Kshatriyas), free producers (Sansk. Vaishyas) and laborers and service providers (Sansk. Shudras). In the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom, the elite 2%–5% of the population would have consisted of priests and warriors; 48%–55% would have been dependent producers; and 50%–60% would have been herders of lower social rank.

The map of the Bronze Age sites in the Karagaily-Ayat Valley Sites of Phase 1: 101 – Konoplyanka; 102 – Zhurumbay; 103 – Kamennyi Ambar; 104 – Kamennyi Ambar-5 Sites of Phase 2: 201 – Konoplyanka 1; 202 – Varshavskoye-1; 203 – Zhurumbay-1; 204 – Varshavskoye-3; 205 – Varshavskoye-5; 206 – Varshavskoye-9; 207 – Kamennyi Ambar-8; 208 – Kamennyi Ambar; 209 – Elizavetpolskoye-3; 210 – Elizavetpolskoye-2; 211 – Karagayli-26; 212 – Elizavetpolskoye-7; 213 – Elizavetpolskoye- 9; 214 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (1); 215 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (2)


In the case of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms, the questions of why and how exactly social complexity developed through time and why individuals choose to integrate and give up their independence can be answered as some combination of two necessities: to persist as a larger community in the ecological niche of the newly settled region, and to protect herds from theft.

There is general agreement among researchers that the Sintashta phenomenon had no local roots and originated with a large-scale migration of pastoral communities from Eastern Europe to the marginal area of the Southern Urals. This process forced families to stay together and fueled the necessity in the walled villages for ensuring the reproduction of herds in the extreme climatic conditions of the southern Urals that are colder and dryer than the eastern Black Sea region from which the Sintashta populations are thought to have migrated (Kuzmina 1994, 2007; Anthony 2007; Vinogradov 2011, etc.). At the same time, the herds needed protection from animal and human predators. Probably, the risk of losing animals was a threat to survival that created tensions between neighboring communities, and the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who had populated the Urals before the arrival of Sintashta people could have hunted the domestic animals. Apparently, those who were talented in managing the construction of closely-packed villages surrounded by ditches and walls to protect people and livestock from threats from neighbors, and who otherwise served the community in the newly colonized zone became the most prominent members of society. Theses people formed the core of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom but were not able to accumulate much personal wealth in the form of material possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children (since up to 65% of the buried elite population consists of infants [Razhev and Epimakhov 2005). In this sense, the Sintashta-Petrovka elites were simmilar to their counterparts in the Alto Magdalena of Colombia (Drennan 1995; Gonzalez Fernandez 2007; Drennan and Peterson 2008).

However, this situation did not last longer than 300 years, since after the initial phase of colonization of the Southern Urals was over, the need for social services provided by an elite disappeared and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into the smaller unfortified villages of the Srubnaya-Alakul’ period.

As I have said many times already (see e.g. here) the outsider pastoralists, forming originally the vast majority of the population, were most likely Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of haplogroup R1b-Z2103, and their elite groups (whose inheritance system was based on kinship) probably incorporated gradually Uralic-speaking families of haplogroup R1a-Z93, whose relative importance increased gradually, and then eventually expanded massively with the migrations of Andronovo and Srubna, creating a second Y-chromosome bottleneck that favoured again Z93 subclades. The adaptation of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian to the Uralic pronunciation, and the adoption of PII vocabulary in neighbouring Proto-Finno-Ugric bear witness to this process.


Sintashta diet and economy based on domesticated animal products and wild resources


New paper (behind paywall) Bronze Age diet and economy: New stable isotope data from the Central Eurasian steppes (2100-1700 BC), by Hanks et al. J. Arch. Sci (2018) 97:14-25.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Previous research at KA-5 was carried out by A. V. Epimakhov in 1994–1995 and 2002–2003 and resulted in the excavation of three Sintashta culture barrows (kurgans) that produced 35 burial pits and a reported 100 skeletons (Epimakhov, 2002, 2005; Epimakhov et al., 2005; Razhev and Epimakhov, 2004). Seven AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains from the cemetery yielded a date range of 2040–1730 cal. BC (2 sigma), which placed the cemetery within the Sintashta phase of the regional Bronze Age (Hanks et al., 2007). Twelve recently obtained AMS radiocarbon dates, taken from short-lived wood and charcoal species recovered from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have provided a date range of 2050–1760 cal. BC (2 sigma). Importantly, these dates confirm the close chronological relationship between the settlement and cemetery for the Middle Bronze Age phase and discount the possibility of a freshwater reservoir effect influencing the earlier dating of the human remains from the Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery (Epimakhov and Krause, 2013).

Sintashta cemeteries frequently yield fewer than six barrow complexes and the number of skeletons recovered represents a fraction of the total population that would have inhabited the settlements (Judd et al., 2018; Johnson and Hanks, 2012). Scholars have suggested that only members of higher status were afforded interment in these cemeteries and that principles of social organization structured placement of individuals within central or peripheral grave pits (Fig. 2) (Koryakova and Epimakhov, 2007: 75–81). In comparison with other Sintashta cemeteries that have been excavated, KA-5 provides one of the largest skeletal inventories currently available for study.

Upper – plan of Kamennyi Ambar settlement and cemetery; Lower – plan views of Kurgan 2 and Kurgan 4 from KA-5 Cemetery (kurgan plans redrawn from Epimakhov, 2005: 10, 79).

The KA-5 (MBA), Bestamak (MBA) and Lisakovsk (LBA) datasets exhibited a wide range of δ13C and δ15N values for both humans and herbivores (Figs. 5 and 6 & Table 8). This diversity in isotopic signals may be evident for a variety of reasons. For example, the range of values may be associated with a broad spectrum of C3 and C4 plant diversity in the ancient site biome or herbivore grazing patterns that included more diverse environmental niche areas in the microregion around the sampled sites. Herders also may have chosen to graze animals in niche areas due to recognized territorial boundaries between settlements and concomitant patterns of mobility. Importantly, data from Bolshekaragansky represents humans with lower δ15N values that are more closely associated with δ15N values of the sampled domestic herbivores (Fig. 6). When the archaeological evidence from associated settlement sites is considered, Bolshekaragansky, Bestamak, Lisakovsk and KA-5 have been assumed to represent populations that shared similar forms of pastoral subsistence economies with significant dietary reliance upon domesticated herbivore meat and milk. Human diets have δ13C values closely related to those of local herbivores in terms of the slope of the trendline and range of values (Fig. 6). Comparatively, the cemetery of Bolshekaragansky (associated with the Arkaim settlement) reflects individuals with trend lines closer to those of cattle and caprines and may indicate a stronger reliance on subsistence products from these species with less use of wild riverine and terrestrial resources. The site of Čiča is significantly different with elevated human δ15N isotopic values and depleted δ13C values indicative of a subsistence regime more closely associated with the consumption of freshwater resources, such as fish. The stable isotopic data in this instance is strongly supported by zooarchaeological evidence recovered from the Čiča settlement and also is indicative of significant diachronic changes from the LBA phases through the Iron Age (Fig. 6).

Regional analysis and comparison of stable isotope results from humans (adults) and animals recovered from MBA and LBA cemeteries in the Southern Urals (Kamennyi Ambar 5 & Bolshekaragansky) northwestern Kazakhstan (Liskovsk & Bestamak) and southwestern Siberia (Čiča).


(…) The isotopic results from KA-5, and recent botanical and archaeological studies from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have not produced any evidence for the production or use of domesticated cereals. While this does not definitively answer the question as to whether Sintashta populations engaged in agriculture and/or utilized agricultural products, it does call into serious question the ubiquity of such practices across the region and correlates well with recent archaeological, bioarchaeological, and isotopic studies of human and animal remains from the Southwestern Urals region and Samara Basin (Anthony et al., 2016; Schulting and Richards, 2016). The results substantiate a broader spectrum subsistence diet that in addition to the use of domesticated animal products also incorporated wild flora, wild fauna and fish species. These findings further demonstrate the need to draw on multiple methods and datasets for the reconstruction of late prehistoric subsistence economies in the Eurasian steppes. When possible, this should include datasets from both settlements and associated cemeteries.

Variability in subsistence practices in the central steppes region has been highlighted by other scholars and appears to be strongly correlated with local environmental conditions and adaptations. More comprehensive isotopic studies of human, animal and fish remains are of fundamental importance to achieve more robust and empirically substantiated reconstructions of local biomes and to aid the refinement of regional and micro-regional economic subsistence models. This will allow for a fuller understanding of key diachronic shifts within dietary trends and highlight regional variation of such practices. Ultimately, this will more effectively index the diverse social and environmental variables that contributed to late prehistoric lifeways and the economic strategies employed by these early steppe communities.

Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

Interesting to remember now the recent article by Chechushkov et al. (2018) about the social stratificaton in Sintashta-Petrovka, and how it must have caused the long-lasting, peaceful admixture process that led to the known almost full replacement of R1b-L23 (mostly R1b-Z2103) by R1a-Z645 (mostly R1a-Z93) subclades in the North Caspian steppe, coinciding with the formation of the Proto-Indo-Iranian community and language (read my thoughts on this after Damgaard et al. 2018).

Here is another relevant excerpt from Chechushkov et al. (2018), translated from Russian:

The map of the settlement of Kamennyi Ambar with excavations, soil cores, and test pits. Legend: a — cuts of the sides of ravines; b — test pits of 2015—2017; c — test pits of 2004; d — soil-science samples with a cultural layer; e — soil-science samples without cultural layer; f — borders of archaeological sites (interpretation of the plan of magnetic anomalies); g — boundaries of excavated structures (1, 2, 4, 5, 7 — Sintashta-Petrovka culture; 3, 6 — Srubnaya-Alakul’ culture).

The analysis suggests that the Sintashta-Petrovka societies had a certain degree of social stratification, expressed both in selective funeral rituals and in the significant difference in lifestyle between the elite and the immediate producers of the product. The data obtained during the field study suggest that the elite lived within the fortifications, while a part of the population was outside their borders, on seasonal sites, and also in stationary non-fortified settlements. Probably, traces of winter settlements can be found near the walls, while the search for summer ones is a task of a separate study. From our point of view, the elite of the early complex societies of the Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppe originated as a response to environmental challenges that created risks for cattle farming. The need to adapt the team to the harsh and changing climatic conditions created a precedent in which the settled collectives of pastoralists – hunter-gatherers could afford the content and magnificent posthumous celebration of people and their families who were not engaged in the production or extraction of an immediate product. In turn, representatives of this social group directed their efforts to the adoption of socially significant decisions, the organization of collective labor in the construction of settlement-shelters and risked their lives, acting as military leaders and fighters.

Thus, in Bronze Age steppe societies, the formation, development and decline of social complexity are directly related to the intensity of pastoralism and the development of new territories, where collectives had to survive in part a new ecological niche. At the same time, some members of the collective took upon themselves the organization of the collective’s life, receiving in return a privileged status. As soon as the conditions of the environment and management changed, the need for such functions was virtually eliminated, as a result of which the privileged members of society dissolved into the general mass, having lost their lifetime status and the right to be allocated posthumously.

Also interesting for the MLBA haplogroup bottleneck in the region is the paper by Judd et al. (2017) about fast life history in Early Indo-Iranian territories.

On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

Regarding the special position of the Chicha-1 samples in the change of diet and economy during the Iron Age, it is by now well known that haplogroup N must have arrived quite late to North-East Europe, and possibly not linked with the expansion of Siberian ancestry – or linked only with some waves of Siberian ancestry in the region, but not all of them. See Lamnidis et al. (2018) for more on this.

Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup N among Fennic and Siberian (Samoyedic) peoples is not related: while the latter reflects probably the native (Palaeo-Siberian) population that acquired their Uralic branch during the MLBA expansions associated with Corded Ware groups, the former points to the expansion of Fennic peoples into Saamic territory (i.e. after the Fenno-Saamic split) as the most likely period of expansion of N1c1-L392 subclades (see known recent bottlenecks among Finns, and on Proto-Finnic dialectalization).

Probably related to these late incomers are the ancient DNA samples from the Sargat culture during the Iron Age, which show the arrival of N subclades in the region, replacing most – but not all – R1a lineages (see Pilipenko et al. (2017)). Regarding the site of Chicha-1, the following are relevant excerpts about the cultural situation that could have allowed for such stepped, diachronic admixture events in Northern Eurasia, from the paper Stages in the settlement history of Chicha-1: The Results of ceramic analysis, by Molodin et al. (2008):

The stratigraphic data allows us to make the following inference: originally, the settlement was inhabited by people bearing the Late Irmen culture. Later, the people of the Baraba trend of the Suzgun culture arrived at the site (Molodin, Chemyakina, 1984: 40–62). The Baraba-Suzgun pottery demonstrates features similar to what has been reported from the sites of the transitional Bronze to Iron Age culture in the pre-taiga and taiga zones in the Irtysh basin (Potemkina, Korochkova, Stefanov, 1995; Polevodov, 2003). The major morphological types are slightly and well-profiled pots with a short throat. (…)

Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

During the following stage of development of the site, the Chicha population increased with people who practiced cultures others than those noted in earlier collections. The ceramic materials from layer 5 provide data on possible relationships. In addition to migrants from northwestern regions practicing the Suzgun culture, there were people bearing the Krasnoozerka culture. Available data also suggests that people from the northern taiga region with the Atlym culture visited the site.

However, people from the west and southwest represent the greatest migration to the region under study. In all likelihood they moved from the northern forest-steppe zone of modern Kazakhstan and practiced the Berlik culture. The spatial distribution analysis of the Chicha-1 site suggests that the Berlik population was rather large. The Berlik people formed a single settlement with the indigenous Late Irmen people and apparently waged certain common economic activities, but preserved their own ethnic and cultural specificity (Molodin, Parzinger, 2006: 49–55). Judging by the data on the chronological sequence of deposited artifacts, migration took place roughly synchronously, hence Chicha-1 became a real cultural and economic center.

(…) In sum, the noted distribution of ceramics over the culture-bearing horizons suggests that beginning with layer 5, traditions of ceramic manufacture described above were practiced, hence the relevant population inhabited the site. Apparently, there were two predominant traditions: the local Late Irmen cultural tradition and the Berlik tradition, which was brought by the immigrants. The Late Irmen people mostly populated the citadel, while the Berlik immigrants inhabited the areas to the east and the north of the citadel.

The stratigraphic data also suggest that the Early Sargat ceramics emerged at the site likely as a part of the Late Irmen tradition (…) Early Sargat ceramics is apparently linked with the Late Irmen tradition. Artifacts associated with the Sargat culture proper have been found in several areas of Chicha-1 (e.g., in excavation area 16). However, the Sargat people appeared at the site after it had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants, and had eventually become completely desolated. This happened no earlier than the 6th cent. BC, possibly in the 5th cent. BC (in fact, the radiocarbon dates for that horizon are close to the turn of the Christian era).


BMAC: long term interaction between agricultural communities and steppe pastoralists in Central Asia


Interesting new paper Mixing metaphors: sedentary-mobile interactions and local-global connections in prehistoric Turkmenistan, by Rouse & Cerasetti, Antiquity (2018) 92:674-689.

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Murghab alluvial fan in southern Turkmenistan witnessed some of the earliest encounters between sedentary farmers and mobile pastoralists from different cultural spheres. During the late third and early second millennia BC, the Murghab was home to the Oxus civilisation and formed a central node in regional exchange networks (Possehl 2005; Kohl 2007). The Oxus civilisation (or the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) relied on intensive agriculture to support a hierarchical society and specialised craft production of metal and precious stone objects for prestige display and long-distance exchange (Sarianidi 1981; Hiebert 1994). By c. 1800 BC (the local Late Bronze Age), the internal coherence of the Oxus civilisation began to break down, along with the inter-regional exchange networks; the settlement structure of the Murghab shifted from a tiered system of urban centres, villages and hamlets, to a more dispersed pattern of smaller-scale agricultural settlements (Salvatori 2008). Contemporaneous evidence for small campsites (with a distinct ceramic tradition) suggests an influx of mobile pastoralists from the Central Eurasian Steppe and foothills (Cerasetti 1998; Masson 2002; Cattani et al. 2008). This striking combination of the sites and material cultures of both late Oxus farmers and ‘steppe’ pastoralists spans more than 500 years of Murghab prehistory (Salvatori 2008; Rouse & Cerasetti 2017).

The mixed farmer-pastoralist archaeological record of the Murghab has influenced competing interpretations of Later Bronze Age socio-political and economic relationships. Some scholars argue that the ‘collapse’ of the Oxus civilisation was at least partly due to the hostile incursions of nomads (Marushchenko 1956; Kuz’mina&Lyapin 1984; Vinogradova & Kuz’mina 1996). Others suggest that pastoralists took advantage of the Murghab’s crumbling power structure by moving into the area, but occupying only marginal, agriculturally unsuitable zones (P’yankova 1993), or merging with the late Oxus farming populations (Masson 2002). These models broadly follow ‘trade or raid’ paradigms of farmer-pastoralist interaction, whereby the perceived shortages of pastoralist communities force them to rely on agriculturalists for subsistence, material and cultural inputs (Kroeber 1947; Ferdinand 2003; Potts 2014). Such models may explain certain cases of Near Eastern pastoral economic specialisation, or historical contact scenarios between Eurasian steppe and agricultural communities on China’s northern frontier (Lattimore 1979; Barfield 2001; Alizadeh 2009; Khazanov 2009). Near Eastern and Eurasian interaction paradigms, however, fit increasingly poorly with the archaeological evidence for early farmer-pastoralist encounters in southern Central Asia.

We present data from four Murghab pastoralist campsites dating to the third to second millennia BC, restricting our discussion to the materials and practices employed by Oxus-period pastoralists to navigate shifting social, political and economic networks. Our aim is to highlight how variable strategies broadly identified under the rubric of ‘agropastoralism’ can be teased apart to recognise mechanisms of social boundary-making. Individually, these four sites present chronologically and locally distinct snapshots of farmer-pastoralist interactions across different realms of exchange (e.g. subsistence, technology and ideology); they provide examples of how pastoralists and farmers mutually participated in each other’s material and social norms. Together, these sites reveal how varied farmer-pastoralist engagement with technology and material culture did not lead inevitably to the assimilation of the two groups; rather, they worked consciously within existing systems of cultural practice to maintain distinct ‘farmer’ and ‘pastoralist’ identities, potentially over a 900-year period.

Region of Central Asia as discussed in this article. Areas traditionally identified with farming-dependent Oxus communities and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists are shown, acknowledging that in both areas mixed agropastoral practices have occurred in the past and present.


(…)First, the results indicate a cultural model of ‘being’ a pastoralist that was maintained actively over hundreds of years, in part by its material difference from that of local farmers. Second, the variability of materials, technologies and practices shared at these campsites suggests that no hegemonic power controlled trade relationships or regulated economic dependency between Oxus farmers and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists in the Murghab. Indeed, current data indicate that pastoralist occupation in the Murghab intensified during the waning of Oxus political centralisation, suggesting that the loosening of state-level structures provided the opportunity for intercultural interactions, rather than interactions being promoted or facilitated from the top. Finally, in the removal of broad-brush narratives that polarise ‘the steppe’ and ‘the sown’, and the integration of evidence suggesting that mobile pastoralists influenced the crop systems of farmers in southern Central Asia (Spengler et al. 2014b), these four sites allow us to recognise the means by which farmers and pastoralists re-shaped cultural institutions while reinforcing the meaningfulness of the associated social categories. Current work in the Murghab complements detailed studies of pastoralists in other Eurasian contexts (e.g. Frachetti 2008; Rogers 2012; Honeychurch 2015) in beginning to unravel simplistic notions of broad cross-cultural exchanges in Eurasian prehistory and the political entities traditionally seen as directing them.

The whole article is very interesting, and the four sites studied and their relevance for the said interactions are described in detail, and in chronological order. If you have the opportunity, read it.

I found it interesting that the article mentions the traditional scholarly opposition of agriculturalists vs. pastoralists (‘civilised/barbarian’, ‘state/tribe’ and ‘centre/periphery’) as an idea of Eurasian origin, and having deep ‘Western’ roots. Reading what many OIT (or anti-AIT, as they like to call themselves) supporters write, it seems to me as though they have entirely accepted and in fact are eager to promote this ‘Western’ narrative from the mid-20th century…

Steppe MLBA

This is what Narasimhan et al. (2018) had to say about the BMAC – Steppe pastoralists interaction:

We document a southward spread of genetic ancestry from the Eurasian Steppe, correlating with the archaeologically known expansion of pastoralist sites from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE). These Steppe communities mixed genetically with peoples of the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) whom they encountered in Turan (primarily descendants of earlier agriculturalists of Iran), but there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians. Instead, Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, and we show that they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers.

Narasimhan et al. (2018): “Modeling results.(A) Admixture events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading 538 to the formation of the modern Indian cloud shown geographically. Clines or 2-way mixtures of 539 ancestry are shown in rectangles, and clouds (3-way mixtures) are shown in ellipses.

(…) The absence in the BMAC cluster of the Steppe_EMBA ancestry that is ubiquitous in South Asia today—along with qpAdm analyses that rule out BMAC as a substantial source of ancestry in South Asia (Fig. 3A)—suggests that while the BMAC was affected by the same demographic forces that later impacted South Asia (the southward movement of Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe pastoralists described in the next section), it was also bypassed by members of these groups who hardly mixed with BMAC people and instead mixed with peoples further south. In fact, the data suggest that instead of the main BMAC population having a demographic impact on South Asia, there was a larger effect of gene flow in the reverse direction, as the main BMAC genetic cluster is slightly different from the preceding Turan populations in harboring ~5% of their ancestry from the AASI.

(…)between 2100-1700 BCE, we observe BMAC outliers from three sites with Steppe_EMBA ancestry in the admixed form typically carried by the later Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA). This documents a southward movement of Steppe ancestry through this region that only began to have a major impact around the turn of the 2nd millennium BCE.


Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in Middle and Late Bronze Age Kazakhstan


Open access Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in the northern Kazakh steppe informed by carbon and nitrogen isoscapes of contemporary floral biomes, by Miller et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Bronze age settlement, society, and subsistence in the northern Kazakh steppe

The Middle to Late Bronze Age (2200 to 1400 cal BCE) in the northern Kazakh steppe encompassed a major shift in settlement patterns from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more dispersed, mobile lifeways engaged in pastoral nomadism (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2002; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008). Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1700 cal BCE) settlements had large enclosures consisting of an earthen wall and ditch. Inside the enclosure, earthen domestic structures with shared walls (numbering from 30 to 60) housed an estimated 200 to 700 individuals (Gening et al. 1992; Grigor’yev 2002; Anthony 2007; Kohl 2007; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Hanks 2009; Batanina and Hanks 2013). MBA settlements were repeatedly occupied, evidenced by successive building phases that added structures and enlarged enclosures. Aggregated MBA sites are situated between 40 and 60 km apart, and landscapes between enclosed settlements may have been territories of particular settlements (Epimakhov 2002; Zdanovich and Batanina 2002; Merrony et al. 2009; Stobbe et al. 2016). While there is currently no archeological evidence for structures such as animal corrals or walls outside of MBA settlement enclosures, open areas within settlements may have been used to house livestock. Reconstructions of landscape use in the vicinity of MBA sites determined that pastures within 4 km of the site could have supported herd sizes large enough to sustain sedentary livestock herders (Stobbe et al. 2016). During the subsequent Late Bronze Age (1800 to 1400 cal BCE) settlements were more dispersed across the landscape and significantly smaller, consisting of fewer than 20 dwellings, further lacking enclosures and building phases (Kuz’mina 2007:36–8; Zakh and Ilyushina 2010). This shift in settlement size and distribution has been interpreted to indicate the emergence of nomadic pastoralism and the intensification of long-distance mobility (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2000; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008).

MBA communities engaged in pastoralism and supplemented their diets with wild plants and wild game (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). A variety of wild plants have been recovered during flotation, but so far, domesticated grains have not been recovered (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ng 2013; Hanks et al. 2018). Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bone collagen indicate that human dietary intake in the MBA focused on terrestrial animal protein, likely in the form of meat and milk, which was supplemented by locally available fish and wild plants (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). While the subsequent LBA has been interpreted as a shift to nomadic pastoralism, little data is available regarding landscape use or herd management strategies for this period. Paleodietary studies suggest that human diets during the LBA focused on pastoral products and were supplemented by wild plants, fish, and wild animals (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a, 2014b).

Location of the archeological sites of Bestamak (MBA), Kamennyi Ambar (MBA), Bolshekaragansky (MBA), and Lisakovsk (LBA)


A major shift in patterns of settlement occurred at the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition, from large semi-sedentary populations in enclosed settlements to smaller populations in open settlements dispersed across the landscape. Scholars have suggested that animal management strategies also changed at this time from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more mobile forms of pastoral nomadism. However, our findings suggest that livestock management practices did not shift in concert with social landscapes, demonstrating consistency in pastoral adaptations through time in the region. Similar isotopic patterning between livestock during the MBA and LBA across several sites in the CES indicates that there were no changes across time in pasture usage patterns. Among ancient livestock, differences in δ13C and δ15N values between horses and ruminants (cattle, sheep, goat) strongly suggest that livestock were grazed pastures either extensively or intensively, respectively. Horses grazed in open steppe areas or intermittently in areas with well-watered soils that lacked salinity, likely staying well outside of settlements. In contrast, cattle and sheep/goat grazed in pastures across multiple zones, both near the settlement and in non-local pastures that were grazed intensively. A wider range of δ13C and δ15N values among ruminants at Kamennyi Ambar (MBA) suggests that aggregated human populations may have had larger herds, some of which accessed non-local pastures outside of the easily accessible territories surrounding enclosed sites. Continued research on the isotopic composition of vegetation surrounding Bronze Age sites should clarify patterns of landscape use between MBA sites.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (III): The Balto-Slavic conundrum in Linguistics, Archaeology, and Genetics

This is part of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

The recent publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) has outdated the draft of this post a bit, and it has made it at the same time still more interesting.

While we wait for the publication of the dataset (and the actual Y-DNA haplogroups and precise subclades with the revision of the paper), and as we watch the wrath of Hindu nationalists vented against the West (as if the steppe was in Western Europe) and science itself, we have already seen confirmation from the Reich Lab of their new approach to Late Proto-Indo-European migrations.

Yamna/Steppe EMBA, previously identified as the direct source of “steppe” ancestry (AKA Yamnaya‘ ancestry) and Late Indo-European migrations in Asia – through Corded Ware, it is to be understood – has been officially changed. In the case of Indo-Iranian migrations it is the “Steppe MLBA cloud”, after a direct contribution to it of Yamna/Steppe EMBA, which expanded Indo-Iranian, as I predicted ancient DNA could support.

In Twitter, the main author responded the following when asked for this change regarding the origin of steppe ancestry in Asian migrants (emphasis mine):

Our reasons are:

  1. The Turan samples show no elevated steppe ancestry till 2000BC.
  2. MLBA is R1a
  3. Indus periphery doesn’t have steppe ancestry but Swat does, and EMBA doesn’t work both in terms of time or genetic ancestry to explain the difference.
Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. Yes, this map is the latest official view on migrations from the Reich Lab now. See the original full image here.

I am glad to see finally recognized that Y-DNA haplogroups and time have to be taken into account, and happy also to see an end to the by now obsolete ‘ADMIXTURE/PCA-only relevance’ in Human Ancestry. The timing of archaeological migrations, the cultural attribution of each sample, and the role of Y-DNA variability reduction and expansion have been finally recognized as equally important to assess potential migrations, as I requested.

This change was already in the making some months ago, when David Anthony – who has worked with the group for this paper and others before it – already changed his official view on Corded Ware – from his previous support of the 2015 model. His latest theory, which linked Yamna settlements in Hungary with a potential mixed society of migrants (of R1b-L23 and R1a-Z645 lineages) from West Yamna, is most likely wrong, too, but it was clearly a brave step forward in the right direction.

The only reasonable model now is that Yamna expanded Late Proto-Indo-European languages with steppe ancestry + R1b-L23 subclades.

You can either accept this change, or you can deny it and wait until one sample of R1a-Z645 appears in West Yamna or central Europe, or one sample of R1b-L23 appears in Corded Ware (as it is obvious it could happen), to keep spreading the wrong ideas still some more years, while the rest of the world goes on: Mallory, Anthony, and other archaeologists co-authoring the latest paper (probably part of the stronger partnership with academics that we were going to see), who had formally put forward complex, detailed theories, investing their time and name in them, have rejected their previous migration models to develop new ones based on the most recent findings. If they can do that, I am sure any amateur geneticist out there can, too.

Modified image, from Narasimhan et al. (2018). Anthony’s new model of a Yamna Hungary -> Corded Ware (Małopolska) migration arrow in red. Notice also how they keep the arrow from West Yamna to the north (in black), due probably to the Baltic Late Neolithic samples (see below).

The Balto-Slavic dialect and its homeland

An interesting question in Linguistics and Archaeology, now that Corded Ware cannot be identified as “Indo-Slavonic” or any other imaginary ancient group (like Indo-Slavo-Germanic), remains thus mostly unchanged since before the famous 2015 genetic papers:

  • Was Balto-Slavic a dialect of the expanding North-West Indo-European language, a Northern LPIE dialect, as we support, based on morphological and lexical isoglosses?
  • Or was it part of an Indo-Slavonic group in East Yamna, i.e. a Graeco-Aryan dialect, based mainly on the traditional Satem-Centum phonological division?

I am a strong supporter of Balto-Slavic being a member of a North-West Indo-European group. That’s probably because I educated myself first with the main Spanish books* on Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, and its authors kept repeating this consistent idea, but I have found no relevant data to reject it in the past 15 years.

* Today two of the three volumes are available in English, although they are from the early 1990s, hence a bit outdated. They also maintain certain peculiarities from Adrados’ own personal theories, such as multiple (coloured) laryngeals, 5 cases – with a common ancestral oblique case – for Middle PIE, etc. But it has lots of detailed discussions on the different aspects of the reconstruction. It is not an easy introductory manual to the field, though; for that you have already many famous short handbooks out there, like those of Fortson (N.American), Beekes (Leiden), or Meier-Brügger (Germany).

Fernando and I have always maintained that North-West Indo-European must have formed a very recent community, probably connected well into the early 2nd millennium BC for certain recent isoglosses to spread among its early dialects, based on our guesstimates*, and on our belief that it formed at some point not just a dialect continuum, but probably a common language, so we estimated that the expansion was associated with the pan-European influence of Únětice and close early Bronze Age European contacts.

NOTE. I know, you must be thinking “linguistic guesstimates? Bollocks, that’s not Science”. Right? Wrong. When you learn a dozen languages from different branches, half a dozen ancient ones, and then still study some reconstructed proto-languages from them, you begin to make your own assumptions about how the language changes you perceive could have developed according to your mental time frames. If you just learned a second language and some Latin in school, and try to make assumptions as to how language changes, or you believe you can judge it with this limited background, you have evidently the wrong idea of what a guesstimate is. I accept criticism to this concept from a scientist used only to statistical methods, since it comes from pure ignorance of what it means. And I accept alternative guesstimates from linguists whose language backgrounds may differ (and thus their perception of language change). However, I would not accept a glottochronological or otherwise (supposedly) statistical model instead (or a religious model, for that matter), so we have no alternatives to guesstimates for the moment.

In fact, guesstimates and dialectalization have paved the way to the steppe hypothesis, first with the kurgan hypothesis by Marija Gimbutas, then complemented further in the past 60 years by linguists and archaeologists into a detailed Khvalynsk -> Yamna -> Afanasevo/Bell Beaker/Sintashta-Andronovo expansion model, now confirmed with genomics. So either you trust us (or any other polyglot who deals with Indo-European matters, like Adrados, Lehmann, Beekes, Kloekhorst, Kortlandt, etc.), or you begin learning ancient languages and obtaining your own guesstimates, whichever way you prefer. The easy way of numbers + computer science does not exist yet, and is quite far from happening – until we can understand how our brains summarize and select important details involved in obtaining estimates – , no matter what you might be reading (even in Nature or Science) recently

Proto-Indo-European dialectal expansion according to Adrados (1998).

Data from the 2015 papers changed my understanding of the original NWIE-speaking community, and I have since shifted my preffered anthropological model (from a Northern dialect in Yamna spreading into a loose NWIE-speaking Corded Ware -> Únětice) to a quite close group formed by late Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, expanded as East Bell Beakers, and later continuing with close contacts through Central European EBA.

NOTE. As you can read, we initially rejected Gimbutas’ and Anthony’s (2007) notion of a Late PIE splitting suddenly into all known dialects (viz. Italo-Celtic with Vučedol/Bell Beaker), and looked thus for a common NWIE spread with Corded Ware migrants, with help from inferences of modern haplogroup distribution (as was common in the early 2000s). Language reconstruction was the foundation of that model, and it was right in its own way. It probably gave the wrong idea to geneticists and archaeologists, who quite easily accepted some results from the 2015 papers as supporting this model. But it also helped us develop a new model and predict what would happen in future papers, as demonstrated in O&M 2018. Any alternative linguistic and archaeological model could explain what is seen today in genomics, but our model of North-West Indo-European reconstruction is obviously at present the best fit for it.

Map of Chalcolithic migrations (A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, 2nd ed. 2008): Corded Ware as the vector of Indo-European languages.

Nevertheless, one of the most important Balticists and Slavicists alive, Frederik Kortlandt, posits that there was in fact an Indo-Slavonic group, so one has to take that possibility into account. Not that his ideas are flawless, of course: he defends the glottalic theory – which is still held today by just a handful of researchers – , and I strongly oppose his description of Balto-Slavic and Germanic oblique cases in *-m- (against other LPIE *-bh-) as an ancestral remnant related to Anatolian (an ending which few scholars would agree corresponds to what he claims), since that would probably represent an older split than warranted in our model. I believe genetics is proving that the dialectalization of Late PIE happened as Fernando López-Menchero and I described.

NOTE. The idea with these examples of how he has been wrong in LPIE and MPIE reconstruction is not to observe the common ad hominem arguments used by amateur geneticists to dismiss academic proposals (“he said that and was wrong, ergo he is wrong now”). It is to bring into attention that the argument from authority is important for the academic community insofar as it creates a common ground, i.e. especially when there are many relevant scholars agreeing on the same subject. But, indeed, any model can and should be challenged, and all authorities are capable of being wrong, and in fact they often are.

The most common explanation today for the dialectal development *-m- is an innovation (not an archaism), whether morphological (viz. Ita. and Gk. them. pl *-i) or phonological (as I defend); and the most commonly repeated model for the satemization trend (even for those supporting a three-dorsal theory for PIE) is areal contact, whether driven by a previous (most likely Uralic) substratum, or not. Hence, if Kortlandt’s main different phonological and morphological assessments of the parent language are flawed, and they are the basis for his dialectal scheme, it should be revised.

The ‘atomic bomb’ that Indo-Slavonic proponents launched, in my opinion, was Holzer’s Temematic (born roughly at the same time as the renewed Old European concept in North-West Indo-European model of Oettinger) – and indeed Kortlandt’s acceptance of it. It seems to me like the linguistic equivalent of the archaeological “patron-client relationship” proposed by Anthony for a cultural diffusion of Late PIE into different Corded Ware regions: almost impossible to be fully rejected, if the Indo-Slavonic superstrate is proposed for a relatively early time.

In my opinion, the shared morphological layer with North-West Indo-European is obviously older than Iranian influence on Slavic, and I think this is communis opinio today. But how could we disentangle the dialectalization of Balto-Slavic, if there is (as it seems) an ancestral substrate layer (most likely Uralic) common to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian? It seems a very difficult task.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC

The expansion of Balto-Slavic

In any case, there are two, and only two mainstream choices right now.

NOTE. Mainstream, as in representing trends current today among Indo-Europeanists, so that many programs around the world would explain these alternative models to their students, or they would easily appear in most handbooks. Not like the word “mainstream” you read in any comment out there by anyone who has never been interested in Indo-European studies, and uses any text from any author, written who knows how long ago, merely to justify their ethnic preconceptions coupled with certain genomic finds.

You can agree with:

A) The Spanish and German schools of thought, together with many American and British scholars, as well as archaeologists like Heyd, Mallory, or Prescott, and now Anthony, too: the language ancestral to Balto-Slavic, Germanic, and Italo-Celtic accompanied expanding West Yamna/East Bell Beakers into Europe, and then their speakers – like the rest of peoples everywhere in Europe – admixed later in the different regions.

B) Frederik Kortlandt and other Indo-Slavicists. The ‘original’ Balto-Slavic would have spread with Srubna (and likely Potapovka before it), as a product of the admixture of East Yamna’s Indo-Slavonic with incoming Corded Ware migrants (this would correspond to my description of Indo-Iranian). ‘True’ Balto-Slavic speakers would have then absorbed the Temematic-speaking migrants (equivalent to early Balto-Slavic migrants as described in the demic diffusion model) spreading from the west, most likely in the steppe. Later developments from the steppe would have then brought Baltic to the north, and Slavic to the west.

Therefore, in both cases the language spoken by early R1a-Z645 lineages in Únětice or Mierzanowice/Nitra EBA cultures would have been an eastern North-West Indo-European dialect associated with expanding Bell Beakers, and closely related to Germanic and Italo-Celtic. In the second case, the ancient samples we see genetically closer to modern West Slavs could thus be identified with those speaking the Temematic substrate absorbed later by Balto-Slavic, or maybe by Balts migrating northward, and Slavs spreading west- and southward.

NOTE. In any case, we know that R1a-Z645 subclades resurged in Central-East Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers, potentially showing an ancient link with the prevalent R1a subclades in the region today. We know that some ancient Central European populations cluster near modern West Slavs, but in other interesting regions (like the British Isles, Central Europe, Scandinavia, or Iberia) we also see close clusters, and nevertheless observe historically documented radical ethnolinguistic changes, as well as many different subsequent genetic inflows and founder effects, that have significantly altered the anthropological picture in these regions, so it could very well be that the lineages we find in ancient samples do not correspond to modern West Slavic lineages, or even similar ancient and modern lineages could show a radical cultural discontinuity (as is likely the case in this to-and-from-the-steppe migration scheme).

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC.

Since we are going to see signs of both – west and east admixture – in early Slavic communities near the steppe, and the distribution from South, West, and East Slavs will include a wide “cloud” connecting Central, East, and South-East Europe, as it is evident already from early Germanic samples, it may be interesting to shift our attention to the Tollense valley and Lusatian samples, and their predominant Y-DNA haplogroups. Once again, tracking male-driven migrations from Central Europe to the Baltic region and the steppe, and back again to much of Central and South Europe, will determine which groups expanded this eastern NWIE dialect initially and in later times.

Since Baltic and Slavic languages are attested quite late, genetics is likely to help us select among the different available models for Balto-Slavic, although (it is worth repeating it) these lineages may not be the same that later expanded each dialect.

NOTE. Bronze and Iron Age samples might begin to depict the true Balto-Slavic migration map. Apart from the strong differences in the satemization processes seen among Baltic, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian, from an archaeological point of view the geographic location of the earliest attested Baltic languages and the prehistoric developments of the region seem to me almost incompatible with a homeland in the steppe. Anyway, in the worst-case scenario – for those of us who work with Balto-Slavic to reconstruct North-West Indo-European – there is consensus that there must an eastern North-West Indo-European language (which some would call Temematic), whose common traits with Germanic and Italo-Celtic we use to reconstruct their parent language. The question remains thus mostly theoretical, of limited pragmatic use for the reconstruction.

The third way: Baltic Late Neolithic

I have referred to Kristiansen and his group‘s position regarding Corded Ware as Indo-European as flawed before. While their latest interpretation (and language identification) was wrong, Kristiansen’s original idea of long-lasting contacts in the Dnieper-Dniester region with the area occupied by late Trypillia developing a Proto-Corded Ware culture was probably right, as we are seeing now.

New data in Mittnik et al. 2018 show some interesting early Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region – Zvejnieki, Gyvakarai1 (R1a-Z645) and Plinkaigalis242 – , proving what I predicted: that elevated steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 subclades would be found in the Dnieper-Dniester region unrelated to the Yamna expansion, and, it seems, to migrants of the Corded Ware A-horizon.

Funnily enough, this shows that there were probably ancient interactions in the region, as originally asserted by Kristiansen, and probably following some of Victor Klochko‘s proposed exchange paths, but earlier than predicted by him.

Nevertheless, linguist Guus Kroonen (from Kristiansen’s workgroup) issued a quick response to O&M 2018 in yet another twist of his agricultural substrate theory, changing Corded Ware from the vector to a vector of expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European languages (thus following again strictly Gimbutas’ oudated model), which fails thus to tackle the main inconsistencies of their previous models, as shown now with the latest paper on South Asian migrations. As I said, they were always one step behind Anthony, and they still are.

Funny also how Anthony, too – like Kristiansen – , may have been right all along since 2007, in proposing that Corded Ware (the nuclear Corded Ware migrants) stemmed from the Dnieper-Dniester region roughly at the same time as Yamna migrants expanded west, and that they did not have any direct genetic connection (in terms of migrations) with each other.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

Both researchers, who collaborated with the latest genomic research, remade their models, and have to revise now their most recent proposals with the new data, influencing each new paper published with their pressure to be right in their previous models, and with new genomic data compelling them to change their theories under the pressure not to be too wrong again, in this strange vicious circle. Had they remained silent and committed to their archaeological theories, they could have been right all along, each one in their own way.

NOTE. BTW, in case you see ad hominem here too, I feel compelled to say that only thanks to their commitment to disentangle the truth about ancient migrations, and their readiness to collaborate with genetic research – unlike many others in their field – we know today what we know. If they have been wrong many times, it is because they have tried to connect the genetic dots as they were told. Only because of their readiness to explore their science further they should be praised by all. But, again, that does not mean that they cannot be wrong in their models…

Thanks to Anthony’s latest change of mind, we don’t have to hear the “cultural diffusion” argument anymore, and I consider this a great advance for the field.

NOTE. Not that there could not be prehistoric cultural diffusion events of language (i.e. not accompanied by genetic admixture), of course, but such theories, almost impossible to disprove, probably need much more than a simple “patron-client relationship” proposal and anthropometry to justify them, in a time when we will be able to see almost every meaningful personal exchange in Genomics…

Today – since the finding of Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4200 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog culture – it seems more likely than ever that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades was in fact associated with the spread of steppe admixture probably near the North Pontic forest-steppe region, most likely from the Dnieper-Dniester or Upper Dniester region.

The appearance of a ‘late’ Z93 subclade already at such an early date, with steppe admixture, makes it still more likely that the Proto-Corded Ware culture, from where Corded Ware migrants of R1a-Z645 lineages later spread, was probably associated with this wide region.

In a parallel but unrelated migration, as it is now clear, steppe admixture also expanded with Yamna settlers of R1b-L23 lineages into the North Pontic steppe – from the North Caspian steppe, where it had developed previously as the Khvalynsk and (likely) Repin cultures -, roughly at the same time as Proto-Corded Ware expanded to the north, ca. 3300-3000 BC, and then expanded to the west into the Balkans (contributing to the formation of Balkan EBA cultures, and to the East Bell Beaker group).

NOTE. A migration of Yamna settlers northward along the Prut dated ca. 3000 BC or later could have justified the appearance of steppe admixture in the Dnieper-Dniester region, as I proposed for the Zvejnieki sample, although dates from Baltic samples are likely too early for that. For this to be corroborated, migrants should be accompanied up to a certain region by R1b-L23 lineages, and this could mean in turn a revival of Anthony’s original model of cultural diffusion of 2007. The most likely scenario, however, as predicted by Heyd, given the early appearance of steppe admixture and R1a-Z93 subclades in the forest-steppe during the 5th millennium, is that the admixture happened much earlier than that, fully unrelated to Late PIE migrations.

Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations in Europe ca. 3100-2600 BC

The modern Baltic and Slavic conundrum

As for some people of Northern European ancestry previously supporting a bulletproof Yamna (R1a/R1b) -> Corded Ware migration that was obviously wrong; now supporting different Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware groups representing Indo-Slavonic (and Germanic??) in a model that is clearly wrong: how are these attempts different from Western Europeans supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1b-P312 lineages against all recent data, from Indians supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1a-M417 lineages no matter what, and from the more recent trend of autochthonous continuity theories for N1c lineages and Uralic in Eastern Europe?

Modern Germanic-speaking peoples can trace their common language to Nordic Iron Age Proto-Germanic, Celts to La Tène’s expansion of Proto-Celtic, and Romance speakers to the Roman expansion (and to an earlier Proto-Italic), all three dating approximately to the Iron Age. Proto-Slavic is dated much later than that, and probably Proto-Baltic too (or maybe earlier depending on the dialectal proposal), with Balto-Slavic being possibly coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic and Italo-Celtic, but probably slightly later than that. Also, the language ancestral to Slavic may be (like a theoretical Proto-Romance language) impossible to reconstruct with precision, due to multiple substrate (or superstrate?) influences on the wide territory where Proto-Slavic formed and expanded from, in close alliance with steppe communities of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds.

We know that proto-historic Germanic, Celtic, and Italic peoples spread from relatively small regions, and had almost nothing to do with historic groups speaking their daughter languages, let alone modern speakers. Baltic and Slavic are not different.

NOTE. We have read that Weltzin samples clustered closely to Central Europeans (especially Austrians), and at a certain distance from modern Poles. That’s the conclusion of Sell’s PhD thesis, and it may be right, if you take only modern samples for comparison. However, if you have read or thought that they represented some kind of “ancestral Germanic vs. Slavic” battle, please imagine Trump’s voice for my opinion: Wrroonng, wrroonng, wrroonng. They cluster closely with Bell Beaker migrants, Poland BA, and Únětice (in this order), which we now know thanks to the data from O&M 2018 and Mittnik et al. 2018. And we also know who they don’t cluster close too: Corded Ware and Trzciniec samples. Therefore, people from the region near the most likely homelands of Pre-Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic are – as expected – likely descendants from Bell Beaker migrants in Central Europe. The genetic relationship of those ancient samples to modern inhabitants of Central-East Europe? Not obvious – at all.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield and some ancient and modern samples.

We also know (and have known for a long time, well before these recent papers) that the oldest attested Indo-European languagesMycenaean, early Anatolian languages, and Indo-Aryan (through certain words in Mitanni inscriptions) – do not show continuity from the places where they were first attested to the Late and Middle Proto-Indo-European (steppe) homeland either. There should be no problem then in accepting that there is no linguistic, archaeological, or common sense reason to support that Balto-Slavic is older or shows more regional continuity than other IE languages from Europe.

NOTE. Oh yes, Balts saying “Baltic is the most similar language to PIE” I hear you thinking? Uh-huh, sure. And according to some Greeks (supported e.g. by the conclusions from Lazaridis et al. 2017) Mycenaeans were ‘autochthonous’, and Proto-Greek the most similar to PIE. For many Hindus, Vedic Sanskrit is in fact PIE), and the latest paper by Narasimhan et al. (2018) only reinforces this idea (don’t ask me why). Also, Caucasian scholar Gamkrelidze (with Ivanov) supported the origin of the language precisely in the Caucasus, with Armenian being thus the purest language. For Italians fans of Virgil and the Roman Empire, Latin (like Aeneas) comes from Anatolian linguistically and genetically, hence it must be the ‘oldest’ IE dialect alive… No, wait, Danish scholars Kroonen and Iversen quite recently asserted that Germanic is the oldest to branch off, then it should thus be nearest to PIE! I think you can see a pattern here…And don’t forget about the new Vasconic-Uralic hypotheses going on now, with Vasconic fans of R1b changing from Palaeolithic to Mesolithic, and now to European Neolithic and whatnot, or Uralic fans of N1c changing now from Mesolithic EHG to Siberia (for ancestry) or Central Asia (for N1c subclades), or whatever is necessary to believe in ‘continuity’ of their people following the newest genetic papers… Just pick whatever theory you want, call it “mainstream”, and that’s it.

So, if there is no reliable archaeological model connecting Bronze or Iron Age cultures to Eastern European cultures which are supposed to represent the Proto-Slavic and Proto-Baltic homelands…why on earth would any reasonable amateur (not to speak about scholars) dare propose any sort of genetic or linguistic continuity for thousands of years from PIE to early Slavs, a people whose first blurry appearance in historical records happened during the Middle Ages in rather turbulent and genetically admixed regions? It does not make any sense, and it had all odds against it. Blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence? Sure, and ABO group, brachycephaly, anthropometry… All very scientifish.

Diachronic map of migrations during Classical Antiquity in Europe 250 BC – 250 AD.
Where’s Proto-Slavic Wally?


Human ancestry can only help refine solid academic theories, it cannot create one. Every new pet theory used to satisfy modern cultural pre- and misconceptions has failed, and it will fail again, and again, and again…

To have an own anthropological model of prehistoric migration requires time and study. It is not enough to play with software and to misuse traditional academic disciplines just to ‘prove’ some completely irrelevant, meaningless, and false continuity.