Expansion of haplogroup G2a in Anatolia possibly associated with the Mature Aceramic period


Preprint Late Pleistocene human genome suggests a local origin for the first farmers of central Anatolia, by Feldman et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Anatolian hunter-gatherers experienced climatic changes during the last glaciation and inhabited a region that connects Europe to the Near East. However, interactions between Anatolia and Southeastern Europe in the later Upper Palaeolithic/Epipalaeolithic are so far not well documented archaeologically. Interestingly, a previous genomic study showed that present-day Near-Easterners share more alleles with European hunter-gatherers younger than 14,000 BP (‘Later European HG’) than with earlier ones (‘Earlier European HG’). With ancient genomic data available, we could directly compare the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (AHG and Natufian) with the European ones. As is the case for present-day Near-Easterners, the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers share more alleles with the Later European HG than with the Earlier European HG, shown by the significantly positive statistic D(Later European HG, Earlier European HG; AHG/Natufian, Mbuti). Among the Later European HG, recently reported Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from the Balkan peninsula, which geographically connects Anatolia and central Europe (‘Iron Gates HG’), are genetically closer to AHG when compared to all the other European hunter-gatherers, as shown in the significantly positive statistic D(Iron_Gates_HG, European hunter-gatherers; AHG, Mbuti/Altai). Iron Gates HG are followed by Epigravettian and Mesolithic individuals from Italy and France (Villabruna and Ranchot respectively) as the next two European hunter-gatherers genetically closest to AHG. Iron Gates HG have been suggested to be genetically intermediate between WHG and eastern European hunter-gatherers (EHG) with an additional unknown ancestral component.

Ancient genomes (marked with color-filled symbols) projected onto the principal components 5 computed from present-day west Eurasians (grey circles) (fig. S4). The geographic location of each ancient group is marked in (A). Ancient individuals newly reported in this study are additionally marked with a black dot inside the symbol

We find that Iron Gates HG can be modeled as a three-way mixture of Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers (25.8 ± 5.0 % AHG or 11.1 ± 2.2 % Natufian), WHG (62.9 ± 7.4 % or 78.0 ± 4.6 % respectively) and EHG (11.3 ± 3.3 % or 10.9 ± 3 % respectively). The affinity detected by the above D-statistic can be explained by gene flow from Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers into the ancestors of Iron Gates or by a gene flow from a population ancestral to Iron Gates into the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers as well as by a combination of both. To distinguish the direction of the gene flow, we examined the Basal Eurasian ancestry 5 component (α), which is prevalent in the Near East but undetectable in European hunter-gatherers. Following a published approach, we estimated α to be 24.8 ± 5.5 % in AHG and 38.5 ± 5.0 % in Natufians, consistent with previous estimates for the latter. Under the model of unidirectional gene flow from Anatolia to Europe, 6.4 % is expected for α of Iron Gates by calculating (% AHG in Iron Gates HG) × (α in AHG). However, Iron Gates can be modeled without any Basal Eurasian ancestry or with a non-significant proportion of 1.6 ± 2.8 %, suggesting that unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe alone is insufficient to explain the extra affinity between the Iron Gates HG and the Near-Eastern hunter-gatherers. Thus, it is plausible to assume that prior to 15,000 years ago there was either a bidirectional gene flow between populations ancestral to Southeastern Europeans of the early Holocene and Anatolians of the late glacial or a dispersal of Southeastern Europeans into the Near East. Presumably, this Southeastern European ancestral population later spread into central Europe during the post-last-glacial maximum (LGM) period, resulting in the observed late Pleistocene genetic affinity between the Near East and Europe.

Basal Eurasian ancestry proportions (α) as a marker for Near-Eastern gene flow. Mixture proportions inferred by qpAdm for AHG and the Iron Gates HG are schematically represented. The lower schematic shows the expected α in Iron Gates HG under 10 assumption of unidirectional gene flow, inferred from α in the AHG source population. The observed α for Iron Gates HG is considerably smaller than expected thus, the unidirectional gene flow from the Near East to Europe is not sufficient to explain the above affinity.

While ancestry is not always relevant to distinguish certain population movements (see here), especially – as in this case – when there are few samples (thus neither geographically nor chronologically representative) and no previous model to test, it seems that ancestry and Y-DNA show a great degree of continuity in Anatolia since the Palaeolithic until the Neolithic, at least in the sampled regions. C1a2 appears in Europe since ca. 40,000 years ago (viz. Kostenki, Goyet, Vestonice, etc., and later emerges again in the Balkans after the Anatolian Neolithic expansion, probably a resurge of European groups).

The potential transition of a G2a-dominated agricultural society – that is later prevalent in Anatolian and European farmers – may have therefore happened during the Aceramic III period (ca. 8000 BC), a process of haplogroup expansion probably continuing through the early part of the Pottery Neolithic, as the society based on kinship appeared (Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan 2011). There is still much to know about the spread of ceramic technology and southwestern Asia domesticate complex, though.


Without a proper geographical sampling, representative of previous and posterior populations, it is impossible to say. But the expansion of R1b-L754 through Anatolia to form part of the Villabruna cluster (and also the Iron Gates HG) seems perfectly possible with this data, although this paper does not help clarify the when or how. We have seen significant changes in ancestry happen within centuries with expanding populations admixing with locals. Palaeolithic sampling – like this one – shows few individuals scattered geographically over thousands of km and chronologically over thousands of years…


Migrations in the Levant region during the Chalcolithic, also marked by distinct Y-DNA


Open access Ancient DNA from Chalcolithic Israel reveals the role of population mixture in cultural transformation, by Harney et al. Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, reference numbers deleted for clarity):


The material culture of the Late Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant contrasts qualitatively with that of earlier and later periods in the same region. The Late Chalcolithic in the Levant is characterized by increases in the density of settlements, introduction of sanctuaries, utilization of ossuaries in secondary burials, and expansion of public ritual practices as well as an efflorescence of symbolic motifs sculpted and painted on artifacts made of pottery, basalt, copper, and ivory. The period’s impressive metal artifacts, which reflect the first known use of the “lost wax” technique for casting of copper, attest to the extraordinary technical skill of the people of this period.

The distinctive cultural characteristics of the Late Chalcolithic period in the Levant (often related to the Ghassulian culture, although this term is not in practice applied to the Galilee region where this study is based) have few stylistic links to the earlier or later material cultures of the region, which has led to extensive debate about the origins of the people who made this material culture. One hypothesis is that the Chalcolithic culture in the region was spread in part by immigrants from the north (i.e., northern Mesopotamia), based on similarities in artistic designs. Others have suggested that the local populations of the Levant were entirely responsible for developing this culture, and that any similarities to material cultures to the north are due to borrowing of ideas and not to movements of people.

Previous genome-wide ancient DNA studies from the Near East have revealed that at the time when agriculture developed, populations from Anatolia, Iran, and the Levant were approximately as genetically differentiated from each other as present-day Europeans and East Asians are today. By the Bronze Age, however, expansion of different Near Eastern agriculturalist populations — Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine — in all directions and admixture with each other substantially homogenized populations across the region, thereby contributing to the relatively low genetic differentiation that prevails today. Showed that the Levant Bronze Age population from the site of ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan (2490–2300 BCE) could be fit statistically as a mixture of around 56% ancestry from a group related to Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic agriculturalists (represented by ancient DNA from Motza, Israel and ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan; 8300–6700 BCE) and 44% related to populations of the Iranian Chalcolithic (Seh Gabi, Iran; 4680–3662 calBCE). Suggested that the Canaanite Levant Bronze Age population from the site of Sidon, Lebanon (~1700 BCE) could be modeled as a mixture of the same two groups albeit in different proportions (48% Levant Neolithic-related and 52% Iran Chalcolithic-related). However, the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites analyzed so far in the Levant are separated in time by more than three thousand years, making the study of samples that fill in this gap, such as those from Peqi’in, of critical importance.

This procedure produced genome-wide data from 22 ancient individuals from Peqi’in Cave (4500–3900 calBCE) (…)


We find that the individuals buried in Peqi’in Cave represent a relatively genetically homogenous population. This homogeneity is evident not only in the genome-wide analyses but also in the fact that most of the male individuals (nine out of ten) belong to the Y-chromosome haplogroup T, a lineage thought to have diversified in the Near East. This finding contrasts with both earlier (Neolithic and Epipaleolithic) Levantine populations, which were dominated by haplogroup E, and later Bronze Age individuals, all of whom belonged to haplogroup J.

Detailed sample background data for each of the 22 samples from which we successfully obtained ancient DNA. Additionally, background information for all samples from Peqi’in that were screened is included in Supplementary Data 1. *Indicates that Y-chromosome haplogroup call should be interpreted with caution, due to low coverage data.

Our finding that the Levant_ChL population can be well-modeled as a three-way admixture between Levant_N (57%), Anatolia_N (26%), and Iran_ChL (17%), while the Levant_BA_South can be modeled as a mixture of Levant_N (58%) and Iran_ChL (42%), but has little if any additional Anatolia_N-related ancestry, can only be explained by multiple episodes of population movement. The presence of Iran_ChL-related ancestry in both populations – but not in the earlier Levant_N – suggests a history of spread into the Levant of peoples related to Iranian agriculturalists, which must have occurred at least by the time of the Chalcolithic. The Anatolian_N component present in the Levant_ChL but not in the Levant_BA_South sample suggests that there was also a separate spread of Anatolian-related people into the region. The Levant_BA_South population may thus represent a remnant of a population that formed after an initial spread of Iran_ChL-related ancestry into the Levant that was not affected by the spread of an Anatolia_N-related population, or perhaps a reintroduction of a population without Anatolia_N-related ancestry to the region. We additionally find that the Levant_ChL population does not serve as a likely source of the Levantine-related ancestry in present-day East African populations.

These genetic results have striking correlates to material culture changes in the archaeological record. The archaeological finds at Peqi’in Cave share distinctive characteristics with other Chalcolithic sites, both to the north and south, including secondary burial in ossuaries with iconographic and geometric designs. It has been suggested that some Late Chalcolithic burial customs, artifacts and motifs may have had their origin in earlier Neolithic traditions in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. Some of the artistic expressions have been related to finds and ideas and to later religious concepts such as the gods Inanna and Dumuzi from these more northern regions. The knowledge and resources required to produce metallurgical artifacts in the Levant have also been hypothesized to come from the north.

Our finding of genetic discontinuity between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods also resonates with aspects of the archeological record marked by dramatic changes in settlement patterns, large-scale abandonment of sites, many fewer items with symbolic meaning, and shifts in burial practices, including the disappearance of secondary burial in ossuaries. This supports the view that profound cultural upheaval, leading to the extinction of populations, was associated with the collapse of the Chalcolithic culture in this region.

Genetic structure of analyzed individuals. a Principal component analysis of 984 present-day West Eurasians (shown in gray) with 306 ancient samples projected onto the first two principal component axes and labeled by culture. b ADMIXTURE analysis of 984 and 306 ancient samples with K = 11
ancestral components. Only ancient samples are shown


I think the most interesting aspect of this paper is – as usual – the expansion of peoples associated with a single Y-DNA haplogroup. Given that the expansion of Semitic languages in the Middle East – like that of Anatolian languages from the north – must have happened after ca. 3100 BC, coinciding with the collapse of the Uruk period, these Chalcolithic north Levant peoples are probably not related to the posterior Semitic expansion in the region. This can be said to be supported by their lack of relationship with posterior Levantine migrations into Africa. The replacement of haplogroup E before the arrival of haplogroup J suggests still more clearly that Natufians and their main haplogroup were not related to the Afroasiatic expansions.

Distribution of Semitic languages. From Wikipedia.

On the other hand, while their ancestry points to neighbouring regional origins, their haplogroup T1a1a (probably T1a1a1b2) may be closely related to that of other Semitic peoples to the south, as found in east Africa and Arabia. This may be due either to a northern migration of these Chalcolithic Levantine peoples from southern regions in the 5th millennium BC, or maybe to a posterior migration of Semitic peoples from the Levant to the south, coupled with the expansion of this haplogroup, but associated with a distinct population. As we know, ancestry can change within certain generations of intense admixture, while Y-DNA haplogroups are not commonly admixed in prehistoric population expansions.

Without more data from ancient DNA, it is difficult to say. Haplogroup T1a1 is found in Morocco (ca. 3780-3650 calBC), which could point to a recent expansion of a Berbero-Semitic branch; but also in a sample from Balkans Neolithic ca. 5800-5400 calBCE, which could suggest an Anatolian origin of the specific subclades encountered here. In any case, a potential origin of Proto-Semitic anywhere near this wide Near Eastern region ca. 4500-3500 BC cannot be discarded, knowing that their ancestors came probably from Africa.

Distribution of haplogroup T of Y-chromosome. From Wikipedia.

Interesting from this paper is also that we are yet to find a single prehistoric population expansion not associated with a reduction of variability and expansion of Y-DNA haplogroups. It seems that the supposedly mixed Yamna community remains the only (hypothetical) example in history where expanding patrilineal clans will not share Y-DNA haplogroup…


Expansion of domesticated goat echoes expansion of early farmers


New paper (behind paywall) Ancient goat genomes reveal mosaic domestication in the Fertile Crescent, by Daly et al. Science (2018) 361(6397):85-88.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Thus, our data favor a process of Near Eastern animal domestication that is dispersed in space and time, rather than radiating from a central core (3, 11). This resonates with archaeozoological evidence for disparate early management strategies from early Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine Neolithic sites (12, 13). Interestingly, our finding of divergent goat genomes within the Neolithic echoes genetic investigation of early farmers. Northwestern Anatolian and Iranian human Neolithic genomes are also divergent (14–16), which suggests the sharing of techniques rather than large-scale migrations of populations across Southwest Asia in the period of early domestication. Several crop plants also show evidence of parallel domestication processes in the region (17).

PCA affinity (Fig. 2), supported by qpGraph and outgroup f3 analyses, suggests that modern European goats derive from a source close to the western Neolithic; Far Eastern goats derive from early eastern Neolithic domesticates; and African goats have a contribution from the Levant, but in this case with considerable admixture from the other sources (figs. S11, S16, and S17 and tables S26 and 27). The latter may be in part a result of admixture that is discernible in the same analyses extended to ancient genomes within the Fertile Crescent after the Neolithic (figs. S18 and S19 and tables S20, S27, and S31) when the spread of metallurgy and other developments likely resulted in an expansion of inter-regional trade networks and livestock movement.

Maximumlikelihood phylogeny and geographical distributions of ancient mtDNA haplogroups. (A) A phylogeny placing ancient whole mtDNA sequences in the context of known haplogroups. Symbols denoting individuals are colored by clade membership; shape indicates archaeological period (see key). Unlabeled nodes are modern bezoar and outgroup sequence (Nubian ibex) added for reference.We define haplogroup T as the sister branch to the West Caucasian tur (9). (B and C) Geographical distributions of haplogroups show early highly structured diversity in the Neolithic period (B) followed by collapse of structure in succeeding periods (C).We delineate the tiled maps at 7250 to 6950 BP, a period >bracketing both our earliest Chalcolithic sequence (24, Mianroud) and latest Neolithic (6, Aşağı Pınar). Numbered archaeological sites also include Direkli Cave (8), Abu Ghosh (9), ‘Ain Ghazal (10), and Hovk-1 Cave (11) (table S1) (9).

Our results imply a domestication process carried out by humans in dispersed, divergent, but communicating communities across the Fertile Crescent who selected animals in early millennia, including for pigmentation, the most visible of domestic traits.


Kura-Araxes implicated in the transformation of regional trade in the Near East


Craft production at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement in Iranian Azerbaijan, by Alizadeh et al. J Anthropol Arch (2018) 51:127-143.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Kura-Araxes communities first emerged throughout the southern Caucasus in the mid-4th millennium BC (Sagona, 1984; Rothman, 2005; Kohl, 2009) or possibly earlier in Nakhchivan (Marro et al., 2014; Palumbi and Chataigner, 2014: 250; Marro et al., 2015; Palumbi and Chataigner, 2015). By the late 4th-early 3rd millennium BC, their characteristic material culture, particularly hand-made black burnished pottery, spread throughout much of Southwest Asia after 2900 BCE (Fig. 1). The widespread dissemination of this material culture, along with the small size of most sites, the ephemeral nature of their architectural remains in these smaller sites, and their presence in both fertile lowlands and seasonally-inhospitable highlands, have been used to portray Kura-Araxes communities as small, egalitarian communities of mobile pastoralists or sedentary agriculturalists; economically undifferentiated and socially non-hierarchical (Smith, 2005: 258; Frangipane and Palumbi, 2007; Kohl, 2007: 113; 2009: 250). Limited evidence for craft production and trade among Kura-Araxes communities has further strengthened the argument that Kura-Araxes economies were dominated by domestic and subsistence-related activities (Palumbi, 2008: 53). With some rare exceptions (Marro et al., 2010; Stöllner, 2014; Simonyan and Rothman, 2015), Kura-Araxes settlements lack any evidence of craft production, mining, or resource extraction.

Distribution of Kura-Araxes material culture in the Near East (modified from Wikimedia).

Kura-Araxes communities, however, are also implicated in the evolution and transformation of regional trade in the Near East. Cause and effect of the spread of Kura-Araxes material culture beyond the Caucasus “homeland” and the establishment of diaspora is hotly debated. Among proponents of emigration, the strongest arguments for movement out of the Caucasus include the presence of strong pull factors, notably productive activities like meat and wool production, viticulture, and metals and metallurgy (Rothman, 2003). Kura-Araxes populations primarily inhabited mountains and intermontane valleys of the highland zone surrounding Mesopotamia. Kura-Araxes communities had access to metals, precious and semi-precious stones, stones for tool making, wood, and animal products; resources that were abundant in the mountain zone, yet critical to the evolution of Mesopotamian societies. The frequent appearance of simple bronze and copper objects at temporary camps of Kura-Araxes herders suggests that mobile agropastoralists engaged in metallurgy and trade in metals, especially with societies of the Upper Euphrates (Frangipane et al., 2001; Hauptmann et al., 2002; Rothman, 2003; Connor and Sagona, 2007; Frangipane, 2014). Wool and textiles products from sheep herded by mountainous communities may have been major exports of the mountain zone to Mesopotamia (Anthony, 2007: 284; Nosch et al., 2013; Breniquet and Michel, 2014).

It is argued that by the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Surenhagen, 1986; Algaze, 1989, 2004, 2007), Uruk polities of southern Mesopotamia established colonies across northern Mesopotamia, southern Anatolia, and western Iran to better control regional trade. Although the nature of these colonies and local developments is still debated (Stein, 2002, 2014), co-occurrence of the sudden abandonment of these colonies and regional expansion of Kura-Araxes communities by the end of the 4th millennium BC has led some scholars to argue that Kura-Araxes communities were emergent competitors of Mesopotamia whose economic activities possibly contributed to the decline and eventual collapse of the Uruk system (Algaze, 2001: 76; Kohl, 2007: 97–98; Lamberg-Karlovsky, 2008: 10).

Major Kura-Araxes sites in the Caucasus region and location of Köhne Shahar (modified map from wikimedia.org).


The abundant evidence of craft specialization at Köhne Shahar clearly shows that Kura-Araxes communities were not all homogenous and undifferentiated. Excavations and a geophysical survey at Köhne Shahar demonstrate that multi-craft production activities were practiced at a community-level inside the citadel at the site, and that a large portion of the population may have engaged in this specialized, extrahousehold craft economy. The possible involvement of a political apparatus with a specialized craft economy at Köhne Shahar may have necessitated control over various aspects of production such as labor, commodities, resource procurement, exchange, and grain storage. As Adam Smith (Smith, 2015: 106) argues, all of these point to complex labor coordination at Köhne Shahar.

Although excavations exposed a limited area, the scale of craft production at Köhne Shahar and the scarcity of finished products may suggest that consumers of finished goods were not necessarily residents of Köhne Shahar, but instead occupied other areas on the landscape. Communication between these nodes of production and consumption necessitated a network of exchange and interaction. The miniature sumptuary container at Köhne Shahar points to possible interaction with regions of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, while the bitumen used to mend vessels points to interaction with northern Mesopotamia or the Zagros mountains in western Iran. It is possible that long-distance interaction brought Köhne Shahar chiefs into contact with other complex societies in the region, connecting them to a larger inter-regional exchange and trade network.

Archaeological and geophysical evidence for community-level production documents Köhne Shahar’s emergence as a regional economic center. The extent of Köhne Shahar’s regional engagements and ambitions, however, have yet to be fully understood. Köhne Shahar’s economic focus on production may have enabled its producers to contribute to regional transformations. When trade became a significant part of the economy of early complex societies in the Near East in the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Surenhagen, 1986; Algaze, 1989, 2004), Kura-Araxes communities like Köhne Shahar may have emerged as a primary center of specialized craft production in the late 4th/early 3rd millennium BC. Alternatively, Köhne Shahar’s economic success may have been due to its ability to satisfy regional demand (highlands of NW Iran, eastern Anatolia, or northern Mesopotamia) by filling a supply vacuum created following the collapse of Uruk colonies. Political and entrepreneurial ambitions of Köhne Shahar chiefs may have also provided the impetus for the selection of the site’s naturally defensible area and the construction of a large and defensive fortification wall; two barriers intended to safeguard the production machinery of the citadel from the onset of the site’s occupation in the late 4th millennium BC (Alizadeh et al., 2015).

I don’t have much to add to what I recently wrote about potential intrusive steppe admixture in the Caucasus.


Earliest evidence for equid riding in the ancient Near East is a donkey from the Early Bronze Age

Open access Earliest evidence for equid bit wear in the ancient Near East: The “ass” from Early Bronze Age Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, by Greenfield et al. PLOS One


Analysis of a sacrificed and interred domestic donkey from an Early Bronze Age (EB) IIIB (c. 2800–2600 BCE) domestic residential neighborhood at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, indicate the presence of bit wear on the Lower Premolar 2 (LPM2). This is the earliest evidence for the use of a bit among early domestic equids, and in particular donkeys, in the Near East. The mesial enamel surfaces on both the right and left LPM2 of the particular donkey in question are slightly worn in a fashion that suggests that a dental bit (metal, bone, wood, etc.) was used to control the animal. Given the secure chronological context of the burial (beneath the floor of an EB IIIB house), it is suggested that this animal provides the earliest evidence for the use of a bit on an early domestic equid from the Near East.

Interesting excerpts:

In contrast to what is known about the use of donkeys for transportation, relatively little is known about their use for riding during this early period [37]. Riding is possible, but fast riding is difficult without some kind of bridle with reins to grasp. Thus, the development of the bit becomes an essential part of the mechanism to control and ride an equid, whether horse, donkey or otherwise [38–41]. While some have tried to argue based on cave art for the presence of bridles (including cheek straps and potentially bits) on equids as far back as the Upper Palaeolithic [42, 43], this perspective has not been accepted [44, 45]. Instead, the weight of the evidence for bridles points toward the Eneolithic and Bronze Age of Kazakhstan and Russia, c. 3500 BCE for horses, not donkeys [38, 40, 46–50]. But, horses are not the earliest domestic equids to appear in the Near East. This role is reserved for the ass/donkey [20, 32, 51].

Photograph of donkey burial from the E5c Stratum of Area E at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath in Area E as it was being uncovered; facing north.

The earliest unambiguous evidence for bridles and bits in equids in the Near East appear only in the Middle Bronze Age [52, 62, 63], and horses become common only in cuneiform texts and the archaeological record after the turn of the second millennium BC [44]. For example, at the Middle Bronze Age site of Tel Haror, a metal bit was found associated with a donkey burial [63].

Beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, there is a variety of sources that demonstrate that asses were being ridden. In fact, they seem to be the preferred animal ridden for elites in the Early and Middle Bronze Age of Mesopotamia. The earliest clear association of asses being ridden by elites comes from the Old Babylonian period (MBA, 18th century BCE—the Kings of Mari, Syria) [64]. Similarly, by the beginning of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, various texts and iconographic images (e.g. the stela of Serabit el-Khadem) from Egypt and petroglyphs from southern Sinai unambiguously depict and/or describe elites riding asses [5, 65, 66]. The later biblical narrative depicts donkeys carrying the biblical Patriarchs (Abraham), various leaders (such as Saul before he became king), prophets, and judges of Israel [16, 67, 68].

Horses became the standard royal riding animal during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages as they became more prevalent. In later periods, donkeys became associated with humility and the lower classes, and leaders emanating from it (e.g. Jesus).

These finds suggest that bit use on donkeys was already present in the early to mid-3rd millennium BCE, long before the appearance of horses in the ancient Near East. Thus, the appearance of bit use in donkeys in the ancient Near East is not connected to appearance of the horse, contrary to previous suggestions (as already noted by [62]). As such, the impact of the domestic donkey on the cultures of this region and the evolution of early complex societies cannot be underestimated. As with plant and animal domestication, the use of donkeys created a surplus of human labor that allowed for the easy transport of people and goods across the entire Near East. These changes continue to permeate the economic, social, and political aspects of even modern life in many third world countries [3, 8, 9, 93, 94].

So, the first case of equid riding in the Near East, near two of the cradles of civilization (Sumeria and Egypt), is a donkey from the early third millennium BC. Not much in favour of horse domestication (and still less for horse riding) expanding from Norh Iran or the Southern Caucasus to the north.

We already know about domesticated animals in Eneolithic steppe cultures, and there is a clear connection between the appearance of horse riding in Khvalynsk in the early 5th millennium and the expansion of this culture, including Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs as Proto-Anatolians via the Balkans in the second half of the 5th millennium BC, and of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans with late Khvalynsk/Yamna in the late 4th millennium BC.

NOTE. The recent papers of the Copenhagen group made yet another controversial interpretation of genomic findings (see here): they support multiple simultaneous origins for horse-riding technique, in Khvalynsk and Botai, based on the lack of genetic connection between both human populations, with which I can’t agree. Based on the similar time of appearance and the geographic proximity, I think the most likely explanation is expansion of the technique from one to the other, probably – as supported by Anthony’s investigation – from Khvalynsk to neighbouring cultures.


Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations


Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations, by van de Loosdrecht et al. Science (2018).


North Africa is a key region for understanding human history, but the genetic history of its people is largely unknown. We present genomic data from seven 15,000-year-old modern humans from Morocco, attributed to the Iberomaurusian culture. We find a genetic affinity with early Holocene Near Easterners, best represented by Levantine Natufians, suggesting a pre-agricultural connection between Africa and the Near East. We do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into Late Pleistocene North Africans. The Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West and East Africans. Thus, we provide direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia in the Pleistocene.


We analyzed the genetic affinities of the Taforalt individ-uals by performing principal component analysis (PCA) and model-based clustering of worldwide data (Fig. 2). When pro-jected onto the top PCs of African and West Eurasian popu-lations, the Taforalt individuals form a distinct cluster in an intermediate position between present-day North Africans (e.g., Amazighes (Berbers), Mozabite and Saharawi) and East Africans (e.g., Afar, Oromo and Somali) (Fig. 2A). Consist-ently, we find that all males with sufficient nuclear DNA preservation carry Y haplogroup E1b1b1a1 (M-78; table S16). This haplogroup occurs most frequently in present-day North and East African populations (18). The closely related E1b1b1b (M-123) haplogroup has been reported for Epipaleolithic Natufians and Pre-Pottery Neolithic Levantines (“Levant_N”) (16). Unsupervised genetic clustering also suggests a connection of Taforalt to the Near East. The three major components that comprise the Taforalt genomes are maximized in early Holocene Levantines, East African hunter-gatherer Hadza from north-central Tanzania, and West Africans (K = 10; Fig. 2B). In contrast, present-day North Africans have smaller sub-Saharan African components with minimal Hadza-related contribution (Fig. 2B).

Taforalt harboring an ancestry that contains additional affinity with South, East and Central African outgroups. None of the present-day or ancient Holocene African groups serve as a good proxy for this unknown ancestry, because adding them as the third source is still insufficient to match the model to the Taforalt gene pool.

Mitochondrial consensus sequences of the Taforalt indi-viduals belong to the U6a (n = 6) and M1b (n = 1) haplogroups (15), which are mostly confined to present-day populations in North and East Africa (7). U6 and M1 have been proposed as markers for autochthonous Maghreb ancestry, which might have been originally introduced into this region by a back-to-Africa migration from West Asia (6, 7). The occurrence of both haplogroups in the Taforalt individuals proves their pre-Holocene presence in the Maghreb.
(…) the diversification of haplogroup U6a and M1 found for Taforalt is dated to ~24,000 yBP (fig. S23), which is close in time to the earliest known appearance of the Iberomaurusian in Northwest Africa (25,845-25,270 cal. yBP at Tamar Hat (26)).

A summary of the genetic profile of the Taforalt individuals. (A) The top two PCs calculated from present-day African, Near Eastern and South European individuals from 72 populations. The Taforalt individuals are projected thereon (red-colored circles). Selected present-day populations are marked by colored symbols. Labels for other populations (marked by small grey circles) are provided in fig. S8. (B) ADMIXTURE results of chosen African and Middle Eastern populations (K = 10). Ancient individuals are labeled in red color. Major ancestry components in Taforalt are maximized in early Holocene Levantines (green), West Africans (purple) and East African Hadza (brown). The ancestry component prevalent in pre-Neolithic Europeans (beige) is absent in Taforalt.

The relationships of the Iberomaurusian culture with the preceding MSA, including the local backed bladelet technologies in Northeast Africa, and the Epigravettian in southern Europe have been questioned (13). The genetic profile of Taforalt suggests substantial Natufian-related and sub-Saharan African-related ancestries (63.5% and 36.5%, respec-tively), but not additional ancestry from Epigravettian or other Upper Paleolithic European populations. Therefore, we provide genomic evidence for a Late Pleistocene connection between North Africa and the Near East, predating the Neolithic transition by at least four millennia, while rejecting a potential Epigravettian gene flow from southern Europe into northern Africa within the resolution of our data.

It seems that the Taforalt gene pool (ca. 13000-12000 BC) cannot be explained by a connection with Upper Palaeolithic Europeans, but a more archaic admixture, so the authors cannot prove a migration through the Strait of Gibraltar or Sicily.

Nevertheless, these results apparently suggest:

  • That there is no contact before ca. 12000 BC through the Strait of Gibraltar; therefore the Sicilian route I support for the migration of R1b-V88 lineages is still the most likely one.
  • That the North African connection with Natufians is quite old – for which we already had modern Y-DNA investigation – , and therefore unlikely to be related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

I am glad I had some more time this week to read at least some interesting parts of the published papers, because the information to process is becoming insanely huge…


Demographic research of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age Europe


I mentioned in the Indo-European demic diffusion model the need to assess absolute and relative population growth – as well as other demographic changes – to interpret genomic data from the different European regions studied.

One article I referred to was Demographic traces of technological innovation, social change and mobility: from 1 to 8 million Europeans (6000–2000 BCE), by Johannes Müller.

Excerpts (emphasis mine):

  • The neolithization of Northern and Northwestern Europe (probably with new forms of slash-and-burn agriculture; Feeser et al. 2012; Schier 2009) was also one of the causes for the population increase observed.
  • The introduction of the plough and developing technologies (e.g. the introduction of the wheel) (cf. Mischka 2011) might also be causes of rising population figures from ca. 3500–3000 BC.
  • The establishment of subcontinental value systems, such as the Corded Ware and Bell-Beaker phenomena (Czebreszuk/Szmyt 2003; Furholt 2004), in contrast to regional identities, might have triggered different reactions in different areas, leading to fluctuating population levels.
  • The introduction of Bronze Age ideologies, including bronze as a technology, triggered the spread of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies to vast areas of Europe (e.g. Earle/Kristiansen 2010).A major population increase is observed in both the areas already settled as well as in new areas of interest.
Absolute population values in Europe and the Near East from 6500–1500 BCE (interpolation line: spline).

In our population estimations for Central Europe and Scandinavia, population increases are associated with the periods from 5500–5000 BCE (LBK) and 3500–3000 BCE (middle and late Funnelbeaker Culture), but not for the period from 2500–2000 BCE (Bell Beaker). Consequently, this would possibly indicate forms of immigration for the first two periods and a form of interregional networking (e.g. through marriage) for the latter. But as also for the first cases on the supra-regional level (which our enquiries investigated), no other area with a significant population decrease could be observed, therefore “proof” for larger population displacement is not given. For such inquiries, studies on a more regional level are probably necessary. Nevertheless, for the Bell Beaker period I would like to exclude the possibility of large population influxes at least to Central Europe and South Scandinavia as the population values show no indication of such an event (cf. Fig. 10). In consequence, supra-regional networks or population-exchanges between smaller regions might be responsible for the isotope values.

One could interpret from the graphics, including known anthropological and genomic data, that:

  • The population growth corresponding to the Corded Ware expansion from ca. 3300 into Central Europe was seen initially with the introduction of new technology, but then stalled – probably with population replacement during the A-horizon of the Corded Ware culture.
  • The Yamna expansion into South-East Europe must have included some population replacement, i.e. influx into progressively deserted areas (such as that of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture), since it did not leave traces of population growth.
  • The impact of the expansion of East Bell Beakers from ca. 2500 BC is clear in South-East Europe, and especially in Western Europe – taking into account the whole population growth in Europe. In Central Europe and Scandinavia the overall impact of BB migration was more limited, which suggests some degree of population replacement.

Also important to interpret genomic data are the actual economic and social differences in the different periods and cultures – usually growing after the introduction of farming. A good example is the scarce data from Khvalynsk, where the sample of haplogroup R1b (most likely of subclade M269) shows – apart from a closer position in PCA to Yamna – a a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves. This man was therefore probably a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, which dominated in the following Yamna culture, which explains the clear expansion of this haplogroup’s subclades from this region.

Figures from Rebellion and Inequality in Archaeology (2017), by Johannes Müller

Other interesting papers on European demographics by Johannes Müller include:

Check out also works by Marko Porčić (such as Radiocarbon test for demographic events in written and oral history) or Stephen Shennan.

EDIT (17 Feb 2018): For how variation in the effective population size governs genetic diversity, see:

Featured image, from the main article: “The distribution of agrarian regions in Europe and the Near East in relation to the supra-regions as defined in this study: Near East (NE) about 2.400.000 km2; South East Europe (SEE) about 1.087500 km2; Central Europe and South Scandinavia (CE/SSc) about 1.613.000 km2. Europe includes 10.050.000 km2 (without Iceland)”.

See also:

Optimal Migration Routes of Initial Upper Palaeolithic Populations to Eurasia


Ecological Niche and Least-Cost Path Analyses to Estimate Optimal Migration Routes of Initial Upper Palaeolithic Populations to Eurasia, by Kondo et al. (2018), from The Middle and Upper Paleolithic Archeology of the Levant and Beyond, Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series. Chapter downloadable at Academia.edu.


This paper presents a computer-based method to estimate optimal migration routes of early human population groups by a combination of ecological niche analysis and least-cost path analysis. In the proposed method, niche probability is predicted by MaxEnt, an ecological niche model based on the maximum entropy theory. Location of known archaeological sites and environmental factors derived from palaeoterrain and palaeoclimate models, are input to the model to calculate the niche probability at each spatial pixel and weights of the environmental factors. The inverse of probability score is then used as an index of relative dispersal rate to accumulate the travel cost from a given origin. Based on this cumulative cost surface, least-cost paths from the origin to given destinations are visualised. This method was applied to the Initial Upper Palaeolithic population group (probably of modern humans) in Eurasia. The model identified three migration routes from the Levant to (1) Central Europe via Anatolia and Eastern Europe, (2) the Russian steppe via Caucasus Mountains, and (3) the Altai region via the southern coastal Iran and Afghanistan.

Cumulative cost to the southernmost IUP site (Wadi Aghir) using the inverse of the niche probability of the recovery experiment (corresponding to a warm/humid phase) as friction value

Check out also the chapter The Middle to Upper Paleolithic Transition in the Zagros: The Appearance and Evolution of the Baradostian, by Sonia Shidrang, from the same book. Also downloadable at Academia.edu.

Featured image from the chapter: “Niche probability for the IUP lithic industry predicted by MaxEnt using the palaeoclimate model from the recovery experiment (corresponding to a warm/humid phase).”

See also: