Ahead of the (Indo-European – Uralic) game: in theory and in numbers

yamnaya-expansion-bell-beaker

There is a good reason for hope, for those who look for a happy ending to the revolution of population genomics that is quickly turning into an involution led by beliefs and personal interests. This blog is apparently one of the the most read sites on Indo-European peoples, if not the most read one, and now on Uralic peoples, too.

I’ve been checking the analytics of our sites, and judging by the numbers of the English blog, Indo-European.eu (without the other languages) is quickly turning into the most visited one from Academia Prisca‘s sites on Indo-European languages, beyond Indo-European.info (and its parent sites in other languages), which host many popular files for download.

If we take into account file downloads (like images or PDFs), and not only what Google Analytics can record, Indo-European.eu has not more users than all other websites of Academia Prisca, but at this pace it will soon reach half the total visits, possibly before the end of 2019.

Overall, we have evolved from some 10,000 users/year in 2006 to ~300,000 active users/year and >1,000,000 page+file views/year in 2018 (impossible to say exactly without spending too much time on this task). Nothing out of the ordinary, I guess, and obviously numbers are not a quality index, but rather a hint at increasing popularity of the subject and of our work.

NOTE. The mean reading time is ~2:40 m, which I guess fits the length of most posts, and most visitors read a mean of ~2+ pages before leaving, with increasing reader fidelity over time.

indo-european-eu-analytics
Number of active users of indo-european.eu, according to Google Analytics since before the start of the new blog. Notice the peaks corresponding to the posts below (except the last one, corresponding to the publication of A Song of Sheep and Horses).

The most read posts of 2018, now that we can compare those from the last quarter, are as follows:

  1. – The series on the Corded Ware-Uralic theory, with a marked increase in readers, especially with the last three posts:
    1. Finno-Permic and the expansion of N-L392/Siberian ancestry,
    2. “Siberian ancestry” and Ugric-Samoyedic expansions, and
    3. Haplogroups R1a and N in Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic
  2. Haplogroup is not language, but R1b-L23 expansion was associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans
  3. The history of the simplistic ‘haplogroup R1a — Indo-European’ association
  4. On the origin of haplogroup R1b-L51 in late Repin / early Yamna settlers
  5. On the origin and spread of haplogroup R1a-Z645 from eastern Europe
  6. The Caucasus a genetic and cultural barrier; Yamna dominated by R1b-M269; Yamna settlers in Hungary cluster with Yamna
  7. Something is very wrong with models based on the so-called ‘Yamnaya admixture’ – and archaeologists are catching up (II)
  8. Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018): R1b-L23 dominates Bell Beaker and Yamna, R1a-M417 resurges in East-Central Europe during the Bronze Age
  9. Early Indo-Iranian formed mainly by R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z93, Corded Ware out of Late PIE-speaking migrations
  10. “Steppe ancestry” step by step: Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Repin, Yamna, Corded Ware

NOTE. Of course, the most recent posts are the most visited ones right now, but that’s because of the constant increase in the number of visitors.

I think it is obvious what the greatest interest of readers has been in the past two years. You can see the pattern by looking at the most popular posts of 2017, when the blog took off again:

  1. Germanic–Balto-Slavic and Satem (‘Indo-Slavonic’) dialect revisionism by amateur geneticists, or why R1a lineages *must* have spoken Proto-Indo-European
  2. The renewed ‘Kurgan model’ of Kristian Kristiansen and the Danish school: “The Indo-European Corded Ware Theory”
  3. The new “Indo-European Corded Ware Theory” of David Anthony
  4. Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis
  5. The Aryan migration debate, the Out of India models, and the modern “indigenous Indo-Aryan” sectarianism

The most likely reason for the radical increase in this blog’s readership is very simple, then: people want to know what is really happening with the research on ancestral Indo-Europeans and Uralians, and other blogs and forums are not keeping up with that demand, being content with repeating the same ideas again and again (R1a-CWC-IE, R1b-BBC-Vasconic, and N-Comb Ware-Uralic), despite the growing contradictions. As you can imagine, once you have seen the Yamna -> Bell Beaker migration model of North-West Indo-European, with Corded Ware obviously representing Uralic, you can’t unsee it.

The online bullying, personal attacks, and similar childish attempts to silence those who want to talk about this theory elsewhere (while fringe theories like R1a/CHG-OIT, R1b-Vasconic, or the Anatolian/Armenian-CHG hypotheses, to name just a few, are openly discussed) has had, as could be expected, the opposite effect to what was intended. I guess you can say this blog and our projects have profited from the first relevant Streisand effect of population genomics, big time.

If this trend continues this year (and other bloggers’ or forum users’ faith in miracles is not likely to change), I suppose that after the Yamna Hungary samples are published (with the expected results) this blog is going to be the most read in 2020 by a great margin… I can only infer that this tension is also helping raise the interest in (and politicization of) the question, hence probably the overall number of active users and their participation in other blogs and forums is going to increase everywhere in 2019, too, as this debate becomes more and more heated.

So, what I infer from the most popular posts and the numbers is that people want criticism and controversy, and if you want blood you’ve got it. Here it is, my latest addition to the successful series criticizing the “Corded Ware/R1a–Indo-European” pet theories, a post I wrote two-three months ago, slightly updated with the newest comedy, and a sure success for 2019 (already added to the static pages of the menu):

The “Indo-European Corded Ware theory” doesn’t hold water

This is how I feel when I see spikes in visits with more and more returning users linked to my controversial posts 😉

Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!

“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”

indo-iranian-sintashta-uralic-migrations

Open access structured abstract for The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia from Damgaard et al. Science (2018) 360(6396):eaar7711.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Eurasian steppes reach from the Ukraine in Europe to Mongolia and China. Over the past 5000 years, these flat grasslands were thought to be the route for the ebb and flow of migrant humans, their horses, and their languages. de Barros Damgaard et al. probed whole-genome sequences from the remains of 74 individuals found across this region. Although there is evidence for migration into Europe from the steppes, the details of human movements are complex and involve independent acquisitions of horse cultures. Furthermore, it appears that the Indo-European Hittite language derived from Anatolia, not the steppes. The steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia. Genetic evidence indicates an independent history involving western Eurasian admixture into ancient South Asian peoples.

INTRODUCTION
According to the commonly accepted “steppe hypothesis,” the initial spread of Indo-European (IE) languages into both Europe and Asia took place with migrations of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is believed to have been enabled by horse domestication, which revolutionized transport and warfare. Although in Europe there is much support for the steppe hypothesis, the impact of Early Bronze Age Western steppe pastoralists in Asia, including Anatolia and South Asia, remains less well understood, with limited archaeological evidence for their presence. Furthermore, the earliest secure evidence of horse husbandry comes from the Botai culture of Central Asia, whereas direct evidence for Yamnaya equestrianism remains elusive.

RATIONALE
We investigated the genetic impact of Early Bronze Age migrations into Asia and interpret our findings in relation to the steppe hypothesis and early spread of IE languages. We generated whole-genome shotgun sequence data (~1 to 25 X average coverage) for 74 ancient individuals from Inner Asia and Anatolia, as well as 41 high-coverage present-day genomes from 17 Central Asian ethnicities.

damgaard-south-asia
Model-based admixture proportions for selected ancient and present-day individuals, assuming K = 6, shown with their corresponding geographical locations. Ancient groups are represented by larger admixture plots, with those sequenced in the present work surrounded by black borders and others used for providing context with blue borders. Present-day South Asian groups are represented by smaller admixture plots with dark red borders.

RESULTS
We show that the population at Botai associated with the earliest evidence for horse husbandry derived from an ancient hunter-gatherer ancestry previously seen in the Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta (MA1) and was deeply diverged from the Western steppe pastoralists. They form part of a previously undescribed west-to-east cline of Holocene prehistoric steppe genetic ancestry in which Botai, Central Asians, and Baikal groups can be modeled with different amounts of Eastern hunter-gatherer (EHG) and Ancient East Asian genetic ancestry represented by Baikal_EN.

In Anatolia, Bronze Age samples, including from Hittite speaking settlements associated with the first written evidence of IE languages, show genetic continuity with preceding Anatolian Copper Age (CA) samples and have substantial Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG)–related ancestry but no evidence of direct steppe admixture.

In South Asia, we identified at least two distinct waves of admixture from the west, the first occurring from a source related to the Copper Age Namazga farming culture from the southern edge of the steppe, who exhibit both the Iranian and the EHG components found in many contemporary Pakistani and Indian groups from across the subcontinent. The second came from Late Bronze Age steppe sources, with a genetic impact that is more localized in the north and west.

CONCLUSION
Our findings reveal that the early spread of Yamnaya Bronze Age pastoralists had limited genetic impact in Anatolia as well as Central and South Asia. As such, the Asian story of Early Bronze Age expansions differs from that of Europe. Intriguingly, we find that direct descendants of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Central Asia, now extinct as a separate lineage, survived well into the Bronze Age. These groups likely engaged in early horse domestication as a prey-route transition from hunting to herding, as otherwise seen for reindeer. Our findings further suggest that West Eurasian ancestry entered South Asia before and after, rather than during, the initial expansion of western steppe pastoralists, with the later event consistent with a Late Bronze Age entry of IE languages into South Asia. Finally, the lack of steppe ancestry in samples from Anatolia indicates that the spread of the earliest branch of IE languages into that region was not associated with a major population migration from the steppe.

I think the wording of the abstract is weird, but consequent with their samples and results, so probably just clickbait / citebait for Indian journalists and social networks, or maybe a new attempt to ‘show respect for the sensibilities of Indians’ related to the artificially magnified “AIT vs. OIT” controversy, that is only present in India.

However, everything is possible, since it is brought to you by the same Danish group who proposed the Yamnaya ancestral component™, the CHG = Indo-European (and simultaneously EHG in Maykop = Anatolian??), and now also the CWC/R1a = Indo-European & Volosovo = Uralic

Here is the reaction of Narasimhan: Narasimhan has deleted the Tweet, it basically questioned the sentence that steppe people did not penetrate South Asia.

Related

Rakhigarhi samples from the Indus Valley Civilisation will support the conclusions of Narasimhan et al. (2018)

indus-valley-harappan-rakhigarhi-steppe

New article on The Caravan, Indus Valley People Did Not Have Genetic Contribution From The Steppes: Head Of Ancient DNA Lab Testing Rakhigarhi Samples, by Hartosh Singh Val.

Niraj Rai, head of the DNA Laboratory where the samples from the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana are being analysed, has this to say:

It will show that there is no steppe contribution to the Indus Valley DNA.

The Indus Valley people were indigenous, but in the sense that their DNA had contributions from near eastern Iranian farmers mixed with the Indian hunter-gatherer DNA, that is still reflected in the DNA of the people of the Andaman islands.

The Rakhigarhi study provides direct evidence for the claims of a paper published in preprint on bioRxiv in March 2018, which outlines a comprehensive model for the settlement of different populations within the subcontinent.

Rai had earlier told Open magazine that the male:

Y chromosome R1a genetic marker is missing in the Rakhigarhi sample.

Commenting on other hypotheses:

any model of migration of Indo-Europeans from South Asia simply cannot fit the data that is now available.

The paper based on the examination of the Rakhigarhi samples will soon be published on bioRxiv.

EDIT: Added related Tweet of the report’s author:

Related:

The Indus Valley Civilisation in genetics – the Harappan Rakhigarhi project

indus-valley-harappan-rakhigarhi

Razib Khan reports on his new website about an article by Tony Joseph, Who built the Indus Valley civilisation?, itself referring to the potential upcoming results of a genetic analysis project involving Rakhigarhi, the biggest Harappan site.

The possible scenarios based on potential sample results in terms of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups seem to be generally well described, and I would bet – like Khan – for some kind of an East-West Eurasian connection. This is all pure speculation, though, and after all we only have to wait one month and see.

map-indus-valley
Detailed map of Indus Valley Civilization settlements. Key: ville actuelle – modern cities; site indusien – Indus Valley Civilization site; site majeur – major site (from Wikipedia, by Michel Danino)

Out of the potential models laid out by Joseph something struck me as plainly wrong. From the section about R1a and Vedic Aryans (emphasis mine):

In the ancient DNA from Rakhigarhi, scientists identify R1a, one of the hundreds of Y-DNA haplogroups (or male lineages that are passed on from fathers to sons). They also identify H2b — one of the hundreds of mt-DNA haplogroups (or female lineages that are passed on from mothers to daughters) — that has often been found in proximity to R1a.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that this would be the research finding, but if it is, it would cause a global convulsion in the fields of population genetics, history and linguistics. It would also cause great cheer among the advocates of the theory that says that the Indus Valley civilisation was Vedic Aryan.

(…)

And it goes on to postulate reasons why such a big fuss will be created about the potential finding of haplogroup R1a, and its implications for the Out-of-India Theory. A global convulsion, no less.

But, since when do genetic findings cause revolutions in Linguistics? Or even in Archaeology?

When I thought the identification of R1a – Indo-European could never reach a lower level of unscientific nonsense, based on circular reasoning, here it is, a worse example.

Not only are there people waiting desperately to see just one sample of an R1a subclade in Yamna to oversimplistically identify (yet again) Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion; there are also people waiting to find just one sample in India or Central Asia to destroy the current models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European.

I guess this childish game is more or less based on the same premises that made some people believe that the concept of the ‘Yamnaya component’ destroyed traditional archaeological models.

R1a-thegeneticatlas
Modern haplogroup R1a distribution from The Genetic Atlas (PD), the kind of simplistic maps that generated the current misconceptions (or how to sow the wind among populations with an inferiority complex).

It seems that all new methods involving admixture analysis, PCA, and other statistical tools to study Human Ancestry are still irrelevant for most, and indeed that Archaeology and even Linguistics are at the service of the simplistic identification of ancient languages with modern haplogroup distributions.

We are reliving the 1990s in Genetics, and the 1930s in Archaeology and Linguistics all over again. This must be great news for companies that offer genetic analyses… I wonder if it is also good for Science, though.

The funny thing is, the same people responsible for the survival of these misconceptions, i.e. R1a – Indo-European fanboys, who constantly fan the flames of absurd genetic-genealogical and ethnolinguistic identification, are often the first to criticize models compatible with the Out-of-India Theory.

I really hope some R1a subclade is found among the samples, so that stupidity can reach the lowest possible level in discussions among amateur geneticists obsessed with haplogroup R1a’s role in the expansion of Indo-European speakers. Maybe then will the rest of us be able to overcome this renewed moronic supremacist trends hidden behind supposedly objective migration models.

For those interested in actual Indo-European migration models, the finding of early R1a subclades in central Asia (or India) – like the potential finding of R1a subclades in Yamnadoes change neither Archaeology nor Linguistics on the Indo-European question.

Genomics is merely helping these disciplines evolve, by supporting certain archaeological models of migration over others, but no revolution has been seen yet, and none is expected.

Each new genetic paper helps support the strongest archaeological models of steppe origins for Proto-Indo-European, and a Late Indo-European expansion compatible with current Linguistic reconstructions.

Featured image: From Wikipedia, Indus Valley Civilization, Mature Phase (2600-1900 BCE), by Jane McIntosh.

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