This page allows historical linguists to compare and scrutinize proposed prehistoric lexical borrowings from the perspective of Proto-Indo-European. The first entries are all (135 in total) extracted from my master’s thesis “Foreign elements in the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary” (Bjørn 2017). Comments are encouraged at the bottom of each entry. New entries will be added, also on request.
Take this not as the conclusion, but an invitation to join the conversation.
So, we welcome the invitation, and hope that this new project thrives.
Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of plague, is a bacterium associated with wild rodents and their fleas. Historically it was responsible for three pandemics: the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century AD, which persisted until the 8th century [ 1 ]; the renowned Black Death of the 14th century [ 2, 3 ], with recurrent outbreaks until the 18th century [ 4 ]; and the most recent 19th century pandemic, in which Y. pestis spread worldwide [ 5 ] and became endemic in several regions [ 6 ]. The discovery of molecular signatures of Y. pestis in prehistoric Eurasian individuals and two genomes from Southern Siberia suggest that Y. pestis caused some form of disease in humans prior to the first historically documented pandemic [ 7 ]. Here, we present six new European Y. pestis genomes spanning the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age (LNBA; 4,800 to 3,700 calibrated years before present). This time period is characterized by major transformative cultural and social changes that led to cross-European networks of contact and exchange [ 8, 9 ]. We show that all known LNBA strains form a single putatively extinct clade in the Y. pestis phylogeny. Interpreting our data within the context of recent ancient human genomic evidence that suggests an increase in human mobility during the LNBA, we propose a possible scenario for the early spread of Y. pestis: the pathogen may have entered Europe from Central Eurasia following an expansion of people from the steppe, persisted within Europe until the mid-Bronze Age, and moved back toward Central Eurasia in parallel with human populations.
It seems that, notwithstanding the simplistic (white) arrows of steppe ancestry expansion shown in their map (see below), the actual expansion of Yersinia pestis might have in fact accompanied Yamna migrants from the Pontic-Caspian steppe into Early Bronze Age cultures from the Balkans, including Bell Beaker migrants, as the phylogenetic analysis and dates suggest – and as the potential arrows of the plague expansion in the map (in green) show.
Instead of warring nature, close ties, and mobility of Corded Ware peoples (reasons I used to justify the rapid spread of the disease among CWC groups), I guess it was rather the higher population density of SE Europecompared to the regions north of the loess belt, as well as the greater admixture of Yamna migrants with native SE European populations, the factors which might have helped expand the disease.
Nevertheless, lacking more data, it is unclear if the disease expanded with both steppe groups.
The recording is available as audio (see above) or video (see below) with captions and multiple subtitles. The captions in North-West Indo-European show acute accents over accented vowels, while stressed syllables are underlined:
I think such a recording was necessary for comparison with the most commonly reconstructed pronunciation, as taught usually in courses. And I am not referring to those professors still using only stress – instead of pitch – accent to pronounce PIE, but to those that, using pitch accent, do place stress over the same syllable.
Apart from some controversial decisions regarding the Proto-Indo-Hittite reconstruction – see our explanation of our version, or e.g. Kortlandt’s reconstruction of the Fable (PDF) for more details – , his recitation does not seem to contrast enough pitch and stress accent, to the extent that pitch and stress seem to be always on the same syllable. He specialises in Proto-Indo-European phonology, so maybe it is a voluntary selection.
Firstly, as an introduction – in case you don’t know anything about this question -, a pitch accent is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, based on the reconstructed accent of Old Indian, Greek, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic – hence also valid for North-West Indo-European, even though Italo-Celtic lost it completely.
If you have listened to any tonal language*, words have also stress accent, and not necessarily on the same syllable – but usually on the heaviest one. In fact, I don’t know of an accent pattern with pitch+stress on the same syllable (but for certain reconstructed intermediate labile stages of a languages), and I guess it is so redundant that it would always lose one of them.
*pitch-accent systems are also tonal systems, after all, since they involve at least two tones: an acute or rising one, and usually a falling one after it.
You can listen to a sample of the Homeric recitation by Stephen Daitz, with restored Ancient Greek pronunciation, where he contrasts pitch and stress beautifully:
To see what I mean with the lack of contrast in Byrd’s pronunciation, just compare the restored pronunciation with these samples, of restored Koine Greek, from the Biblical Language Center. I think you can hear pitch accent pronounced, but always stressing the same syllable. After a while, it gets quite monotone (no pun intended); for me, at least*.
Pitch accent in my pronunciation is not as noticeable as that of Stephen Daitz, and still less than that of Stefan Hagel. But it is not intended to.
I wanted to combine tone and stress as naturally as possible, as it is found in modern languages, like Chinese, or like South Slavic, Baltic, or Scandinavian languages. I believe PIE phonology cannot be too different from modern natural examples.
Many Modern Greek scholars complain about the artificiality of the restored pronunciation. I’ve heard particularly harsh criticism against Stefan Hagel’s pronunciation: many scholars do not recognise the ancestral language in the restored pronunciation.
While such critics may seem like snob reactionaries, and I really appreciate an exaggerated poetic style for epic poems (I have spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours listening to Stephen Daitz), I don’t think this is the way Ancient Greek was usually spoken. Listening to Hagel’s pronunciation in the Ancient Greek Assimil, there is a huge contrast between readers who don’t use the restored pronunciation in the recordings (offering thus a decaffeinated Ancient Greek), and Hagel’s reading (or, almost, singing).
In my interpretation of the fable I have tried to follow these ideas, and maybe in the end the pitch accent is not as acute as it should be (a fifth higher). On the other hand, it seemed more natural to me this way.
Also, in the final version of my reading, there are many words where it is not clear – not even to me – if there is more than one syllable with pitch or stress accent. This is especially so after after my first change of voice to make a more acute ‘sheep voice’, and then worsens with my graver ‘horse voice’. I really thought recording this was going to be easier!
If you have any comments or suggestions on the pronunciation, they are all welcome.
UPDATE (November 2, 2017): Frederik Kortlandt comments our paper – “When comparing PIE with other tonal languages, the best candidate is Japanese, which means that the “stress” falls on the last High syllable of a word form or sequence of connected word forms.”
After my first version, findings in Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017) supported some of my predictions. Now after my third, their new data also supports another prediction. Because the model is based on solid linguistic and archaeological models. Here is an excerpt from the Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd ed. (pp. 55-56):
At the end of the Trypillian culture, herding/hunting trends intensified, and the agricultural system collapsed, with people moving to the steppe zone, as confirmed by the presence of numerous graves to the south (Rassamakin 1999). At the same time, the Trypillian world absorbed a foreign tradition related to materials of settlement sites of the Dnieper steppes – such as the late Sredni Stog culture –, like cord impressions and burial rites similar to the later Corded Ware culture, marking also the transformation of decors and changes in their interpretation (Palaguta 2007).
The similarity in burial rituals between Yamna and Corded Ware made Gimbutas define a common “Kurgan people”, whose relationship has also been long supported by Kristiansen (Kristiansen 1989; Kristiansen et al. 2017). An equivalence of both burial rites has been, however, rejected (Häusler 1963, 1978, 1983), and it is generally agreed that the Yamna culture did not expand to the north of the Tisza River.
The importance of horse exploitation in Deriivka, in the forest-steppe zone of the north Pontic region along the Dnieper region, during the Middle Eneolithic period (probably ca. 3700-3530 BC), suggests that horses played a significant role in the life of this Sredni Stog community (Anthony and Brown 2003). In its late period (ca. 4000-3500 BC), this culture had adopted corded ware pottery, and stone battle-axes.
However, this [sic] western steppe peoples were mainly hunters (Rassamakin 1999), and the ‘herding skill’ essential for wild horse domestication seems absent (Kuzmina 2003). All this has been confirmed with zooarchaeological evidence and new molecular and stable isotope results, suggesting an absence of horse domestication in territories of the late Sredni Stog culture in the north Pontic steppe (Mileto et al. 2017), before the advent of migrants from the Indo-European-speaking Repin culture.
The new sample described in Mathieson et al. (2017), dated ca. 4200 BC (but within a wide range, 5000-3500 BC) is from a site classified as of late Sredni Stog (although potentially from Post-Mariupol / Kvitjana), a culture of hunters who probably did not breed domesticated horses (even after the period of conquest and dominance of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, from Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk, who had domesticated horses), and – more importantly – is of R1a-M417 lineage, shows high so-called “Yamna component” in ADMIXTURE, and clusters among Corded Ware samples in PCA approximately a thousand years before this culture’s expansion. Information from the supplementary material:
An Eneolithic cemetery of the Sredny Stog II culture was excavated by D. Telegin in 1955-1957 near the village of Alexandria, Kupyansk district, Kharkov region on the left bank of the river Oskol. A total of 33 individuals were recovered. Based on craniometric analysis (I.Potekhina 1999) it was suggested that the Eneolithic inhabitants of Alexandria were not homogeneous and resulted from admixture of local Neolithic hunter-gatherers and early farmers, possibly Trypillian groups. We report genetic data from one individual: I6561
Another individual from Eneolithic Ukraine (of R1b1 xM269 lineage) clusters quite closely with Neolithic samples from the Baltic, which points to the strong connection between both – southern and northern – regions of east-central Europe before the period of great Chalcolithic expansions, and the potential origin of the spread of R1b (xM269) lineages with the Corded Ware culture.
It will be fun to see the mess that certain researchers have made (and will still make in the near future) of their findings coupled with the concept of “Yamna component”, when trying to describe the “proxy ancestral populations” of European Copper Age and Bronze Age cultures… Difficult times ahead for many, after the collapse of the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker genetic model laid out since Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015).
[EDIT 27 September 2017] Not directly related, but here is today’s interesting discussion on Twitter surrounding the ancestral populations of the “Yamnaya component”, for illustration of the discussions to come when this ancestry is divided into different, more precise, older (Neolithic) steppe components, and these in turn shown to contribute to different European and Asian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age cultures:
Rough attempt to understand genetic history of Europe and W. Eurasia. It's tough to get your head around. Comments welcome. pic.twitter.com/lutXFKmluk
Given the variance found in the three samples from Eneolithic Ukraine (comparable to the variance found in east Bell Beaker samples), we may now be getting closer to the precise territory and culture where the Corded Ware culture might have formed, which cannot be much further from the Dnieper-Dniester region before the Yamna expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC, judging from the elevated steppe component.
It seems, because of the proximity of both cultures and the similar dates of their migrations, that the westward expansion of the Yamna culture may have indeed provided an important push (among some strong ‘pull’ forces) for peoples of the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.
So Genetics reinforces the solidest models of Archaeology and Linguistics? Professional academics being mostly right in their careful research, and amateur geneticists playing with software being wrong? Who would have thought… More and more papers help thus shut up naysayers who state (again and again) that new algorithms are here to revolutionise these academic fields.
The expansion of peoples is known to be associated with the spread of a certain admixture component + the expansion and reduction in variability of a haplogroup (i.e. few male lineages are usually more successful during the expansion): Neolithic farmers from the Middle East expanding with haplogroup G2a; Natufian component (Levant hunter-gatherers or later, Neolithic farmers) and haplogroup E southward into Africa; CHG component expansion with haplogroup J; WHG expansion into east Europe with haplogroup R1b; etc.
There were (at least) two main expansion processes involving Proto-Indo-European: one causing the branching off of the language ancestral to Anatolian, and another during the spread of Late Indo-European dialects. Based on this, and on known archaeological models, I have predicted since the first version of the demic diffusion model:
Based on haplogroups found until then in Yamna (R1b-M269), Corded Ware (R1a-M417, especially Z645), and Bell Beaker (R1b-L151):
that mainly R1b-L23 (especially L51) lineages and more steppe admixture would be found in east Bell Beaker – confirmed some two months after my publication by Olalde et al. (2017);
and that mainly R1a-M417 (especially Z645) subclades will be found in Corded Ware samples.
Based on the finding of “Yamna component” in the Corded Ware culture: that this admixture must have come from somewhere else. I pointed out to eastern Europe, including the forest and forest-steppe zone especially in the natural continuum of the Dniester-Dnieper region. Especially after Mathieson et al. (2017), in my second and third versions of the model, I have more specifically suggested a southern origin in the region, nearer to where the CHG ancestry must have come from (the Caucasus and cultures formed in contact with it), according to mainstream archaeological data, i.e. cultures of the North Pontic steppe / steppe-forest. But of course, until more samples are available, more CHG ancestry in other cultures of the Forest Zone cannot be discarded.
For the vast majority of academics, more samples (regionally proportioned) are needed only from early Corded Ware, as we have from Bell Beaker: if they are (as expected) mostly R1a-M417, then everything is clear, and it will finally mean the end for the tiring, now almost ‘traditional’ association R1a – Proto-Indo-European. Some more samples from the potential homeland of the third Corded Ware horizon, most likely Ukraine (Podolia and Volynia regions), nearer to the time of the Corded Ware expansion, would also be great, to locate the actual ancestral population of Corded Ware migrants – recognisable by the main presence of haplogroup R1a-Z645 (formed ca. 3500 BC), and elevated “Yamna component” before the arrival of the Yamna culture…
If, however, early Corded Ware samples of R1b-L23 subclades are found in certain quantity, especially old samples from east-central Europe (excluding Yamna migrants along the Prut), the tricky question of Late Indo-European cultural diffusion will remain: Did Corded Ware peoples adopt a Late Indo-European language from clans of R1b-L23 lineages? That is what Kristiansen and Anthony have been betting for, a cultural diffusion, caused by:
A long-lasting contact, according to Kristiansen (1989,…,2017). He defends that Sredni Stog adopted the language – but obviously not the same culture – from the east, but that it is a genetic and cultural mix from Globular Amphora, Trypillia, and steppe cultures. This has been Kristiansen’s model for almost 30 years, and it follows Marija Gimbutas’ outdated theory of the “Kurgan people”.
A rapid change according to Anthony (2007). He associates the adoption of Pre-Germanic with the domination of Yamna chiefs over Usatovo people, and the adoption of Balto-Slavic by the people from (Corded Ware) Middle Dnieper group because of the technical superiority of neighbouring Yamna herders.
Linguistics, with the growing support of a North-West Indo-European group, points clearly to a European expansion of a community speaking the ancestral language of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic. Archaeology, too, showed migration from Yamna only to south-eastern Europe (correcting Gimbutas’ Kurgan model) and later with east Bell Beaker mainly into central, western, and northern Europe.
Even Kristiansen admits that only after the arrival of Bell Beaker in Scandinavia was a linguistic community (i.e. Germanic) formed – although he places the center of gravity in Úněticean influence, and (yet again) a cultural diffusion event into the Danish Dagger period.
Because of more and more data contrasting with old theories, some have elected to develop weak, indemonstrable links, to keep supporting e.g. Gimbutas’ concept of “Kurgan people” in Archaeology, and a sudden, early expansion of all PIE dialects at once in Linguistics. It seems that, after so much fuss about the (misleading) ‘Yamna component’ concept – and so many far-fetched assumptions by amateur geneticists -, the Corded Ware connection will once again hinge on weak, indemonstrable cultural diffusion theories, be it ‘Kurgan peoples’ (including now, of course, Eneolithic cultures of Ukraine) or any culture from eastern Europe that will reveal some close samples to Corded Ware migrants, in terms of PCA, ADMIXTURE, or haplogroup.
So once we find mainly R1a-Z645 in more Corded Ware samples (and this haplogroup and more “Yamna component” in non-Yamna cultures of Eneolithic Ukraine, and potentially Poland or Belarus) we all may finally expect a peaceful acceptance of reality, at least in Genetics? Nope. No siree. Nein. Not then, not ever.
Why? Because some people want their paternal lineage to have lived in their historical region, and spoken their historical language, since time immemorial. It won’t matter if Archaeology, Linguistics, Genetics, etc. don’t support their claims: if they need to use some aspects of admixture, or haplogroups (or a combination of them) from carefully selected samples instead of looking at the whole picture; if they have to support that Indo-Europeans came from a culture different than Yamna, in- or outside of the steppe or forest-steppe, be it the Balkans, Anatolia, Armenia, or the Moon; if their proto-language should then come directly from Indo-Hittite, or from a Germano-Slavonic, or Indo-Slavonic, or Indo-Germanic group, or whatever invented dialectal branch necessary to fit their model, or if they have to support the ‘constellation analogy’ of Clackson, or thousands of years of development for each branch; etc. They will support whatever is necessary.
And this adaptation, obviously, has no end. It’s stupid, I know. But that’s how we are, how we think. We have seen that these sad trends continue no matter what, for decades, and not only regarding Indo-European. Some common examples include:
Indo-Aryan-speaking Indians defending an autochthonous origin of R1a and Indo-European; as well as the ‘opposite’ autochtonous continuity theory of Dravidian-speaking Indians (based on ASI ancestry, haplogroup R2, mtDNA haplogroup M, or whatever is at hand).
Western Europeans defending an autochthonous origin of the R1b haplogroup, with a Palaeolithic or Mesolithic origin, including the language, viz. the recent Indo-European from the Atlantic façade theories (in the Celtic from the West series, by Koch and Cunliffe); the now fading Palaeolithic Continuity Theory; and many other forgotten Eurocentric proposals; as well as the more recent informal hints of a central European/Balkan homeland based on the Villabruna cluster and south-eastern Mesolithic finds, which is at risk of being related to a Balkan origin of Proto-Indo-European…
There is also the ‘opposite’ theory of the autochthonous origin of the Basques, including Proto-Iberians and potentially other peoples like Paleo-Sardinians, based on the previously popular Vasconic-Uralic hypothesis (and an ancient Europe divided into R1b and N1c1 haplogroups), which is still widely believed in certain regions.
Nordic speakers supporting the autochthonous nature of Germanic and haplogroup I1 to Scandinavia.
Armenian speakers delighted to see a proposal of Indo-European homeland in the Armenian highlands, be it supported by glottalic consonants, CHG ancestrty, R1b (xM269) or J lineages…
Greek speakers now willing to support continuity of haplogroup J as a ‘native’ Greek lineage, of people speaking Proto-Greek (and in earlier times PIE), because of two Minoan, and one Mycenaean samples found in Lazaridis et al. (2017).
Even Turks linking Yamna with the expansion of Turkic languages. That one is fun to read, almost like a parody for the rest – substituting “Indo-European” for “Turkic”.
For years, a lot of people – me included (at least since 2005) – believed, because of modern maps of R1a distribution, that R1a and Corded Ware are the vector of Indo-European languages. For those of us who don’t have any personal or national tie with this haplogroup, this notion has been easy to change with new data. For others, it obviously isn’t, and it won’t be.
For all these people, a sample, result, or conclusion from any paper, just dubiously in favour, means everything, but a thousand against mean nothing, or can be reinterpreted to support their fantasies.
The Kossinnian “autochthonous continuity” crap permeates this relatively new subfield of Human Evolutionary Genetics, as it permeated Indo-European studies (first Linguistics, then Archaeology) in its infancy. It seems to be a generalised human trend, no doubt related to some absurd inferiority complex, mixed with historical romanticism, a certain degree of chauvinism, and (falling in the eternal Godwin’s Law of our field) some outdated, childish notion of ‘supremacy’ linked with the expansion of the own language and people.
Such simplistic and popular models are also lucrative, judging by the boom in demand for DNA analysis, which companies embellish with modern fortune tellers (or fortune tellers themselves sell for a price), promising to ascertain your ‘ancestry proportions’ using automated algorithms, so that you don’t have to get lost in complex genetic data and prehistoric accounts, which can’t help you define your “ethnicity”…
Some just don’t want to realize that the spread of prehistoric languages (like Late Indo-European dialects) was a complex, non-uniform, stepped process, devoid of modern romantic concepts, which in genetic terms necessarily included later founder effects and cultural diffusions, so that no one can trace their haplogroup, lineage, family, region, or country to any single culture, language, or ethnic group. The same, by the way, can be said of peoples and countries in historic times.
As I said before, we shall expect supporters of the Kurgan model (and thus the expansion of R1a-Z645 with Yamna) to wait for just one sample of R1a-M417 in Yamna and/or Bell Beaker (which will eventually be found), and just one sample of R1b-M269 in Corded Ware (which will also eventually be found), to blow the horn of victory in this naïve competition against time, general knowledge, and (essentially) themselves.
A sad consequence of how we are is that, because of the obvious influence of these stupid modern ethnolinguistic agendas, because we are not all rowing in the same direction, genetic results and conclusions are still perceived as far-fetched and labile, and thus most archaeologists and linguists prefer not to include genetic results in their investigation. And those who dare to do so, are badly counselled by those who go with the tide, so that their papers become almost instantly outdated.
The origins of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean cultures have puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. We have assembled genome-wide data from 19 ancient individuals, including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia. Here we show that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus3 and Iran. However, the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.
Regarding admixture analyses, it is explicitly or implicitly (according to the press release) stated that:
There is continuity between Mycenaeans and living people, so that the major components of the Greeks’ ancestry was in place already in the Bronze Age, after the migration of the earliest farmers from Anatolia.
Anatolians may have been the source of “eastern” Caucasian ancestry in Mycenaeans, and maybe of early Indo-European languages (i.e. earlier than Proto-Greek) in the region.
The “northern” steppe population (speaking a Late Indo-European dialect, then) had arrived only in mainland Greece, with a 13-18% admixture, by the time studied.
Samples before the Final Neolithic (ca. 4100 BC) do not possess either type of ancestry, suggesting that the admixture detected occurred during the fourth to second millennium BC.
Admixture from Levantine or African influence (i.e. Egyptian or Phoenician colonists) cannot be supported with admixture.
All in all, there is some new interesting information, and among them the possibility of obtaining ancient DNA from arid regions, which is promising for future developments in the field.
EDIT (20/8/2017): The article received widespread media attention, and two blog posts were linked to by the main author in his Twitter account: Who are you calling Mycenaean?, and On genetics and the Aegean Bronze Age. Apart from the obviously wrong reductio ad Hitlerum that pops up in any discussion on Indo-Europeans or genetics (even I do it regarding fans of admixture analysis), I don’t know why these created so much fuss (and hate) among geneticists. There seems to be a war brewing between Archaeology and Genetics.
It is written in a fresh, dynamic style, and contains general introductory knowledge to Genetics, Archaeology, and their relation to language, and is written in a time of great change (2015) for the disciplines involved.
The book is informed, it shows a balanced exercise between responsible science journalism and entertaining content, and it is at times nuanced, going beyond the limits of popular science books. It is not written for scholars, although you might learn – as I did – interesting details about researchers and institutions of the anthropological disciplines involved. It contains, for example, interviews with known academics, which she uses to share details about their personalities and careers, which give – in my opinion – a much needed context to some of their publications.
Since I am clearly biased against some of the findings and research papers which are nevertheless considered mainstream in the field (like the identification of haplogroup R1a with the Proto-Indo-European expansion, or the concept of steppe admixture), I asked my wife (who knew almost nothing about genetics, or Indo-European studies) to read it and write a summary, if she liked it. She did. So much, that I have convinced her to read The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (2007), by David Anthony.
Here is her summary of the book, translated from Spanish:
The book is divided in three main parts: The Hunters, The Farmers, and The Indo-Europeans, and each has in turn chapters which introduce and break down information in an entertaining way, mixing them with recounts of her interactions and personal genealogical quest.
Part one, The Hunters, offers intriguing accounts about the direct role music had in the development of the first civilizations, the first mtDNA analyses of dogs (Savolainen), and the discovery of the author’s Saami roots. Explanations about the first DNA studies and their value for archaeological studies are clear and comprehensible for any non-specialized reader. Interviews help give a close view of investigations, like that of Frederic Plassard’s in Les Combarelles cave.
Part two, The Farmers, begins with her travel to Cyprus, and arouses the interest of the reader with her description of the circular houses, her notes on the Basque language, the new papers and theories related to DNA analyses, the theory of the decision of cats to live with humans, the first beers, and the houses built over graves. Karin Bojs analyses the subgroup H1g1 of her grandmother Hilda, and how it belonged to the first migratory wave into Central Europe. This interest in her grandmother’s origins lead her to a conference in Pilsen about the first farmers in Europe, where she knows firsthand of the results of studies by János Jakucs, and studies of nuclear DNA. Later on she interviews Guido Brandt and Joachim Burguer, with whom she talks about haplogroups U, H, and J.
The chapter on Ötzi and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Bolzano) introduces the reader to the first prehistoric individual whose DNA was analysed, belonging to haplogroup G2a4, but also revealing other information on the Iceman, such as his lactose intolerance.
Part three, dealing with the origin of Indo-Europeans, begins with the difficulties that researchers have in locating the origin of horse domestication (which probably happened in western Kazakhstan, in the Russian steppe between the rivers Volga and Don). She mentions studies by David Anthony and on the Yamna culture, and its likely role in the diffusion of Proto-Indo-European. In an interview with Mallory in Belfast, she recalls the potential interest of far-right extremists in genetic studies (and early links of the Journal of Indo-European Studies to certain ideology), as well as controversial statements of Gimbutas, and her potentially biased vision as a refugee from communist Europe. During the interview, Mallory had a copy of the latest genetic paper sent to Nature Magazine by Haak et al., not yet published, for review, but he didn’t share it.
Then haplogroups R1a and R1b are introduced as the most common in Europe. She visits the Halle State Museum of Prehistory (where the Nebra sky disk is exhibited), and later Krakow, where she interviews Slawomir Kadrow, dealing with the potential creation of the Corded Ware culture from a mix of Funnelbeaker and Globular Amphorae cultures. New studies of ancient DNA samples, published in the meantime, are showing that admixture analyses between Yamna and Corded Ware correlate in about 75%.
In the following chapters there is a broad review of all studies published to date, as well as individuals studied in different parts of Europe, stressing the importance of ships for the expansion of R1b lineages (Hjortspring boat).
The concluding chapter is dedicated to vikings, and is used to demystify them as aggressive warmongers, sketching their relevance as founders of the Russian state.
To sum up, it is a highly documented book, written in a clear style, and is capable of awakening the reader’s interest in genetic and anthropological research. The author enthusiastically looks for new publications and information from researchers, but is at the same time critic with them, showing often her own personal reactions to new discoveries, all of which offers a complex personal dynamic often shared by the reader, engaged with her first-person account the full length of the book.
Mayte Batalla (July 2017)
DISCLAIMER: The author sent me a copy of the book (a translation into Spanish), so there is a potential conflict of interest in this review. She didn’t ask for a review, though, and it was my wife who did it.