Proto-Tocharians: From Afanasievo to the Tarim Basin through the Tian Shan


A reader commented recently that there is little information about Indo-Europeans from Central and East Asia in this blog. Regardless of the scarce archaeological data compared to European prehistory, I think it is premature to write anything detailed about population movements of Indo-Iranians in Asia, especially now that we are awaiting the updates of Narasimhan et al (2018).

Furthermore, there was little hope that Tocharians would be different than neighbouring Andronovo-like populations (see a recent post on my predicted varied admixture of Common Tocharians), so the history of both unrelated Late PIE languages would have had to be explained by the admixture of Afanasievo-related groups with peoples of Andronovo descent and their acculturation.

However, data reported recently by Ning, Wang et al. Current Biology (2019) confirmed that peoples of mainly Afanasievo ancestry – as opposed to those of Corded Ware-related ancestry expanding with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon – spread the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European from the Altai into the Tian Shan area, surviving essentially unadmixed into the Early Iron Age.

This genetic continuity of Tocharians will no doubt help us disentangle a great part the ethnolinguistic history of speakers of the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European, from Pre-Proto-Tocharians of Afanasievo to Common Tocharians of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age eastern Tian Shan.

NOTE. Tocharian’s isolation from the rest of Late PIE dialects and its early and intense language contacts have always been the key to support an early migration and physical separation of the group, hence the traditional association with Afanasievo, a late Repin/early Yamna offshoot. Even with the current incomplete archaeological and genetic picture, there is no other option left for the expansion of Tocharian.

It is not possible to use the currently available ancestry data to map the evolution of Afanasievo ancestry, lacking a proper geographical and temporal transect of Central and East Asian groups. In spite of this, Ning, Wang, et al. (2019) is a huge leap forward, discarding some archaeological models, and leaving only a few potential routes by which Tocharians may have spread southward from the Altai.

NOTE. I have updated the maps of prehistoric cultures accordingly, with colours – as always – reflecting the language/ancestry evolution of the different groups, even though the archaeological data of some groups of Xinjiang remains scarce, so their ethnolinguistic attribution – and the colours picked for them – remain tentative.

A rough timeline of related archaeological sites from North Eurasia. Image modified from Yang (2019).


The recent book Ancient China and its Eurasian Neighbors. Artifacts, Identity and Death in the Frontier, 3000–700 BCE, by Linduff, Sun, Cao, and Liu, Cambridge University Press (2017) offers an interesting summary of the introduction of metalworking into western China.

Here are some relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Although [the Xinjiang] route is not uniformly agreed upon (Shelach-Lavi 2009: 134–46), this western transmission has been thought to have passed through eastern Kazakhstan, especially as it is manifest in Semireiche, with Yamnaya, Afanasievo (copper) and Andronovo (tin bronze) peoples (Mei 2000: Fig. 3). From Xinjiang this knowledge has been thought to have traveled through the Gansu Corridor via the Qijia peoples (Bagley 1999) and then into territories controlled by dynastic China. The dating of this process is still a problem, as the sites and their contents in Xinjiang are consistently later than those in Gansu, suggesting that the point of contact was in Gansu and that the knowledge then spread from there westward.

1. Eneolithic Altai

Afanasievo expansion ca. 3300-2600 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

The Afanasievo sites, as they are identified in Mongolia, for instance, make up an Eneolithic culture analogous to that of southern Siberia (3100/2500–2000 BCE) in the Upper Yenissei Valley that is characterized by copper tools and an economy reliant on horse, sheep and cattle breeding as well as hunting. (…) The Afanasievo is best known through study of its burials, which typically include groups of round barrows (kurgans), each up to 12 m in diameter with a stone kerb and covering a central pit grave containing multiple inhumations. In their Siberian context, burial pottery types and styles have suggested contacts with the slightly earlier Kelteminar culture of the Aral and Caspian Sea area.

The Afanasievo culture monuments, located in the northern Altai and in the Minusinsk Basin (the western Sayan), have been seen as analogous evidence for cross-Eurasian exchange. These complexes contain small collections of metal, and many of the items are made of brass, although golden, silver and iron ornaments were also identified. A mere one-fourth of these objects are tools and ornaments, while the rest consist of unshaped remains and semi-manufactured objects. Its metallurgical tradition has recently been dated by Chernykh to as early as 3100 to 2700 BCE (1992),making it more compatible chronologically with the early brass-using sites in Shaanxi mentioned above. Kovalev and Erdenebaatar have excavated barrows in Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia, that have been carbon-dated to the first half of the third millennium BCE and associated by ceramic types and styles and burial patterns with the Afanasievo (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: 357–58). These mounded kurgans were covered with stone and housed rectangular, wooden-faced tombs that included Afanasievo-type bronze awls, plates and small “leaf-shaped” knife blades (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 6 and 7).

They also excavated sites belonging to the more recently identified Chemurchek archaeological culture, located in the foothills of the Mongolian Altai (Kovalev 2014, 2015) (Fig. 2.6). These sites are carbon-dated to the same period as the Afanasievo burials or to c. 3100/2500–1800 BCE (six barrows in Khovd aimag and four in Bayan-Ulgo aimag). In the rectangular stone kerbed Chemurchek slab burials (Ulaaanhus sum, Bayan-ul’gi aimag and so forth), bronze items included awls; and at Khovd aimag, Bulgan sum, in addition to stone sculptures, three lead and one bronze ring were excavated (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 2 and 3; Fig. 2.6). Although we will not know if they were produced locally until much further investigation is undertaken, these discoveries do document knowledge of various uses and types of metal objects in western and south central Mongolia. The types of metal items thus far recovered are simple tools (awls) and rings (ornamental?) not unlike those associated with Andronovo archaeological cultures as well.

This is a complex circumstance where archaeological evidence is not complete, but raises very important questions about transmission of metallurgical knowledge to and from areas in present-day China. In the 1970s some Afanasievo mounds were excavated in Central Mongolia by a Soviet–Mongolian expedition led by V. V. Volkov and E. A. Novgorodova (Novgorodova 1989: 81–85). Unfortunately, these mounds did not yield metal objects, only ceramics, but they show that the Afanasievo culture with the Eneolithic metallurgical tradition of manufacturing pure copper items had already moved east at least far as central Mongolia. In 2004, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar investigated a large Afanasievo mound, Kulala ula, in the extreme northwest of Mongolia, near the Russian border (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). There they found a copper knife and awl (Fig. 2.5). There are five C14 dates on wood, coal and human bones from this mound, which belong to the period 2890–2570 BCE. This shows that the Afanasievo culture were carriers of technology and produced artifacts in the first half of the third millennium BCE and that they also moved south along the foothills of the Mongolian Altai. Afanasievo culture in Altai and the Minusinsk basin is dated by C14 to 3600–2500 BCE (Svyatko et al. 2009; Polyakov 2010). In the north of Xinjiang in the Altai district, several typical egg-shaped vessels and two censers of Afanasievo types were found. Some of these have been obtained from the stone boxes (chambers of megalithic graves of the Chemurchek culture) (Kovalev 2011). Thus, the Afanasievo tradition of pure copper metallurgy must have spread to the northern foothills of the Tienshan Mountains no later than the mid-third millennium BCE. The links with Afanasievo and local cultures adjacent to and south of the mountains into present-day China can now be assumed.

Afanasievo – Chemurchek evolution ca. 2600-2200 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

2. Bronze Age Altai

Kovalev and Erdenebaatar (2014a) and later Tishkin, Grushin, Kovalev and Munkhbayar (2015) in Western Mongolia conducted large-scale excavations of megalithic barrows of the Chemurchek culture (dated about 2600–1800 BCE). This peculiar culture appeared in Dzungaria and the Mongolian Altai in the second quarter of the third millennium BCE and for some time existed together with the late Afanasievo culture, as evidenced by the findings of Afanasievo ceramics in Chemurchek graves, in the stone boxes. Unfortunately, in China we do not yet know of any metal object related,without doubt, to the Chemurchek culture. Kovalev, Erdenebaatar, Tishkin and Grushin found several leaden ear rings and one ring of tin bronze in three excavated Chemurchek stone boxes (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a; Tishkin et al. 2015). Such lead rings are typical for Elunino culture,which occupied the entire West Altai after 2400–2300 BCE (Tishkin et al. 2015). This culture had developed a tradition of bronze metallurgy with various dopants, primarily tin. Thus, the tradition of bronze metallurgy as early as this time could have penetrated the Mongolian Altai far to the south. In addition, in the Hadat ovoo Chemurchek stone box, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar discovered stone vessels refurbished with the help of copper “patches,” indicating the presence there of metallurgical production (Fig. 2.7) (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a). In one of the secondary

Chemurchek graves unearthed by Kovalev and Erdenebaatar in Bayan-Ulgi (2400–2220 BCE), a bronze awl was found (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). Kovalev and Erdenebaatar also discovered a new culture in the territory of Mongolia (Map 2.3), one that begins immediately after Chemurchek – Munkh-Khairkhan culture (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009, 2014b). To date, about 17 mounds of this culture have been excavated in Khovd, Zavkhan, Khovsgol, Bulgan aimag of Mongolia. This culture dates from about 1800 to 1500 BCE, that is, contemporary with the Andronovo culture. Therefore, the Andronovo culture does not extend far into the territory of Mongolia. Three knives without dedicated handles or stems and five awls have been found in the Munkh-Khairkhan culture mounds (Fig. 2.8). All these products are made of tin bronze. (…) Additionally, eight Late Bronze Age burials (c. 1400–1100 BCE) were unearthed in the Bulgan sum of Khovd aimag and belong to another previously unknown culture called Baitag. And in the Gobi Altai, a new group of “Tevsh” sites dating to the Late Bronze Age were defined in Bayankhongor and South Gobi aimags (Miyamoto and Obata 2016: 42–50). From these Tevsh and Baitag sites, we see the expansion of burial goods to include beads of semiprecious stones (carnelian), bronze beads, buttons and rings and even the famous elaborate golden hair ornaments (Tevsh uul;Bogd sum;Uverkhanagia aimag) from the Baitag barrows (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Fig. 5; Miyamoto and Obata 2016).

2.1. Chemurchek

About the Chemurchek culture, from A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4):

The major characteristics of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I include:

  1. Burials with two orientations of approximately 20° or 345°.
  2. Rectangular enclosures built using large stone slabs. The size of the enclosure varies from a maximum of 28 x 30 m.*to a minimum of 10.5 x 4.4 m. (Figure 8, Table 2).
  3. *The stone enclosure located near Hayinar is the largest one at approximately 30 x 40 m. based on pacing of the site during a visit by the authors in 2008.

  4. Almost life-sized anthropomorphic stone stelae erected along one side of the stone enclosures (Lin Yun 2008).
  5. Single enclosures tend to contain one or more than one burial, all or some with stone cist coffins.
  6. The cist coffin is usually constructed using five large stone slabs, four for the sides and one on top, leaving bare earth at the base (Zhang Yuzhong 2007). Sometimes the insides of the slabs have simple painted designs (Zhang Yuzhong 2005).
  7. Primary and secondary burials occur in the same grave.
  8. Some decapitated bodies (up to 20) may be associated with the main burial in one cist.
  9. Bodies are commonly placed on the back or side with the legs drawn up.
  10. Grave goods include stone and bronze arrowheads, handmade gray or brown round-bottomed ovoid jars, and small numbers of flat-bottomed jars (Fig. 7).
  11. Clay lamps appear to occur together with roundbottomed jars.
  12. Complex incised decoration on ceramics is common but some vessels are undecorated.
  13. The stone vessels are distinctive for the high quality of manufacture.
  14. Stone moulds indicate relatively sophisticated metallurgical expertise.
  15. Artefacts made from pure copper occur.
  16. Sheep knucklebones (astragali) imply a tradition (as in historical and modern times) of keeping knucklebones for ritual or other purposes. They also indicate the herding of domestic sheep as part of the subsistence economy.
Chemurchek culture ca. 2200-1750 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Chemurchek dating

Available evidence suggests that the date range for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I should fall from the later third into the early second millennium BC. There are several reasons to suggest that the time span is around the early second millennium BC. Lin Yun (2008) (…) maintains that the bronze artefacts found in Phase I show a greater sophistication in the level of copper alloy technology than that of the pure copper artefacts common to the Afanasievo tradition. On this basis it might be suggested that the Afanasievo could be considered to be Chalcolithic with a time span across much of the third millennium BC ( Gorsdorf et al. 2004: 86, Fig. 1). Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, however, should more properly be considered as Bronze Age.

Lin Yun also used the bronze arrowhead from burial Ml 7 to narrow down the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Two arrowheads were found in this burial, one of them leaf shaped with a single barb on the back (Fig. 7:4). A similar arrowhead, together with its casting mould, has been found at the Huoshaogou site of Siba tradition (Li Shuicheng 2005, Sun Shuyun and Han Rufen 1997), in Gansu province, northwest China, dated around 2000-1800 BC (Li Shuicheng and Shui Tao 2000) . This supports a date in the early second millennium BC for the Qiemu’erqieke arrowhead. The painted, round-bottomed jar from the Tianshanbeilu cemetery Qia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008: Fig. 7, bottom left) has been considered as a hybrid between the Upper Yellow River Bronze Age cultures of Siba in northwest China and the steppe tradition of Qiemu’erqieke in west Siberia (Li Shuicheng 1999). If this assumption is correct, the date of Tianshanbeilu, around 2000 BC, can be used as a reference for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I (Jia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008, Lin Yun 2008, Li Shuicheng 1999). Stone arrowheads found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I also imply that the date is likely to fall within the earlier part of the Bronze Age as no such stone arrowheads have yet been found elsewhere in sites of the Bronze Age in Xinlang dated after the beginning of the second millennium BC.*
*For example Chawuhu and Xiaohe cemeteries (Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology 1999, 2003).

Pottery of Afanasevo and East European traits from the Chemurchek complex. Image modified from Kovalev (2017).

(…) Pottery “oil burners” (goblet-like ceramic vessels, possibly lamps) have been found in three traditions: Afanasievo (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:21), Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke. It is believed that this oil-burner found in Siberia and the Altai is a heritage from the Yamnaya and Catacomb
cultures (Sulimirski 1970: 225, 425; Shishlina 2008:46) in the Caspian steppe further to the west, but does not seem to exist in known Andronovo cultures.
The oil-burner tends to disappear after around 2300 BC during the mid-Okunevo period. It is, however, possible that the tradition continues longer in the Qiemu’erqieke sites.

The construction of the stone enclosures also reveals a close connection between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the mid and late Okunevo tradition (Sokolova 2007). Slab built stone enclosures emerged in both the Okunevo and Afanasievo traditions (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23, Kovalev 2008, Sokolova 2007, Anthony 2007:310, Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007). In the early Afanasievo the enclosure is circular with no cist coffin (Anthony 2007:310, Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:20), but in the early stage of the Okunevo square stone enclosures with a single cist burial are dominant. Square or rectangular stone enclosures are a marked feature of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, suggesting temporal relationships between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the Okunevo. In Okunevo chronological group II, possibly with influence from the Anfanasievo, circular stone enclosures appeared in combination with rectangular enclosures within individual cemeteries, referred to by Sokolova (2007: table 2) as hybrid examples. By Okunevo chronological group III, rectangular stone slab enclosures with multi-burials emerged again. This is the dominant form in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Okunevo burial traditions changed again to single cist burials in the late stage around chronological group V ( Sokol ova 2007). A specific mortuary rite of decapitated burials exists in both the Qiemu’erqieke and Okunevo traditions (Sokolova 2007, Chen Kwang-tzuu and Hiebert 1995), as does the occasional occurrence of painted designs on the interior of the slabs forming the cists ( e.g., Khavrin 1997: 70, fig. 4; 77: tab. IV.5). Based on these comparisons, the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I may well parallel that of the Okunevo from at least chronological group II around 2400 BC (Gorsdorf et al. 2004: fig. 1).

Khuh Udzuuriin I-1 elite barrow (ca. 2470-2190 BC). Modified from Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

In addition to the pottery making tradition, the anthropomorphic stone stelae may also have earlier antecedents. In the Okunevo assemblage there are anthropomorphic stelae that are longer, thinner and more abstract than those of Qiemu’erqieke. There is no indication of such stelae in the Afanasievo tradition (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23). However, further to the west, anthropomorphic stone stelae are associated with the Kemi-Oba and Yamnya cultures around the third millennium BC (Telegin and Mallory 1994; Figure 13). Some major characteristics of these stelae such as the icons on the front face of the stelae (Telegin and Mallory 1994:8-9) also appear on stelae found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Recalling the oil burners that may have been inherited from the Yamnya culture and which are found in the Afansievo, Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, it migh t be possible to speculate that Qiemu’erqieke Phase I has its origins even earlier than the first half of the third millennium BC. This idea has also been suggested by Kovalev ( 1999).

Despite the affinities with the Okunevo cultural tradition, Qiemu’erqieke Phase I appears to be a discrete regional variant. The ceramic assemblage shows traits unique to this cluster of sites, while the anthropomorphic stelae are also distinctive markers of this tradition.

Khuh Udzuur anthropomorphic stone stela, oriented toward the south – south-east. Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

3. Bronze Age Xinjiang

I recently reported on this blog the description of Xiaohe and Gumugou cemeteries from interesting Master’s thesis Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, by Yunyun Yang, Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History (2019).

It also offered a full summary of findings from prehistoric sites of Xinjiang related to the arrival of a cultural package from the Altai region, ultimately connected to Afanasievo. Relevant excerpts include the following (emphasis mine):

In Bronze Age Xinjiang, burials were diverse but also show some common features between different geographic sections. The main three mountains, including Kunlun Mountains, Tian Shan (mountains) and Altai Mountains, enclose the Tarim Basin, and the Dzungaria Basin, but leave the eastern part of the Tarim Basin and the south-eastern part of the Dzungaria Basin open (with easy access to the surroundings). The Hami Basin is located at the transitional area, connecting the two basins. Burials are mainly spread along the edge of the mountain ranges.

An assumption of the spreading/expansion routes stone burial construct.

3.1. The Lop Nur region

In the Lop Nur region, the Xiaohe cemetery (2000-1450 BCE) and the Gumugou cemetery (1900-1800 BCE) had many common features shared, and so is the Keliyahe northern cemetery:

  • Cemeteries were located in sandy areas;
  • Rectangular/boat-shaped wooden coffins with monuments of wooden planks or poles;
  • Coffins had no bottoms;
  • The dead were placed lying straight on the back;
  • The dead were commonly buried in single graves.

The Gumugou cemetery contained six special sun-radiating-spokes burial pattern in addition to the normal burials, which were similar to the wooden coffin graves of the Xiaohe cemetery.

NOTE. For more on Xiaohe and Gumugou, see the recent post on Proto-Tocharians. See other papers on the Andronovo horizon for other Early to Middle Bronze Age cultural groups less clearly associated with the Xiaohe horizon, like Hazandu, Xintala, or the Chust culture.

From Shuicheng (2006):

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority. The composition of alloy did not show significant change over time. Some colleagues pointed out that the Nulasai 奴拉赛 site at Nileke 尼勒克 County in the Yili 伊犁 River basin of Xinjiang was the pioneer in the use of “sulphuric ore–ice copper–copper”technology. It is also the only early smelting site in Euro-Asia that arsenic ore was added to deliberately produce an alloy

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Middle Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.2. The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland

From Yang (2019):

The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area is located at the eastern part of Tian Shan. The area is divided in a northern basin and a southern basin by the east-west stretch of the Tian Shan. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the main type of burials were earth-pit graves in the early Bronze Age, and burials of stone-pit with barrows became more common in the late Bronze Age. The Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery is a representative of the earth-pit graves. The features of the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery (2000-1500 bce) here were:

  • Rectangular earth pit graves;
  • The dead were often in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Commonly a single dead in one grave.
The Balikun grassland today (source).

The Hami-Wubu cemetery (earlier than 1000 bce) and the Yanbulake cemetery (1200-600 bce) are representatives of another common earth-pit graves. Common features here were:

  • Rectangular earth pits, with two storeys and/or roofed with wooden boards;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

Later there appeared more stone-pit graves in this area, and the features can be summarized as:

  • Round burial mounds, commonly constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Burial mounds with a sunken top or a normal (dome) top;
  • The diameter of the burial mounds varied between 3 and 25.4 m (but not necessarily limited in this scope);
  • Circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Rectangular stone pits, constructed by earth, or stones, or a mix of earth and stones;
  • Rectangular stone pits contained wooden coffins (represented by the Yiwu Baiqi’er cemetery).
Some representatives of stone burials in the Hami Basin – the Balikun Grassland in the Iron Age (Adapted from: Xinjiang 2011, 29-41). Image modified from Yang (2019).

In the Hami Basin, the Bronze Age cemeteries show common burial features like earth pits and hocker position of the dead. With similar pottery styles in the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery to those in the Machang and Siba cultures (Xinjiang 2011: 17), it suggests possible cultural influence or people’s migrating from the Hexi Corridor in the east.

In the Balikun Grassland, burials in an earlier time contained mostly earth-pit graves but also a small number of stone-pit graves. The pebbles were imbedded in the floors and the walls of the graves in a rectangular shape, e.g. the Balikun-Nanwan cemetery (1600-1000 bce). In a later time, there appeared huge burial mounds with a sunken top, and with the diameters of the burial mounds varying from 3 to 25.4 m, e.g. the Balikun-Dongheigou cemetery and the Balikun-Heigouliang cemetery. The Yiwu-Bai’erqi and the Yiwu-Kuola cemeteries contained either round stone burial mounds or circular stone kerbs on the ground surface. Considering the three burial elements including burial mounds, stone pits and circular kerbs, the later period cemeteries in the Balikun Grassland were actually similar to cemeteries from the southern edge of the Altai Mountain area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Nanwan 南湾 cemetery site at Kuisu 奎苏 Town, Balikun 巴里坤 (1600–1100 BC) also yielded an assemblage of early bronzes. The style of its early phase artifacts is similar to that of the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. Some sorts of cultural connection should have existed between the two.

The dates of Yanbulake 焉不拉克 Culture (1300–700 BC) are comparatively late. Its metallurgy was a continuation of the western China tradition. Artifact types include a variety of utilitarian tools, weapons and apparels.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.3. The Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan

From Yang (2019):

Turpan Basin is located at the western part of the Hami Basin, and lies at the southern edge of the eastern Tian Shan. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representative of the Bronze Age cemeteries is the Yanghai Nr.1 cemetery. The features here were:

  • Elliptic earth pit graves, commonly covered by round logs on the top;
  • Some graves contained burial beds made of round logs or reeds;
  • The dead were mainly placed lying straight on the back;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

In Iron Age, the stone burials became dominant, but the stone burials varied in different regions of the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. Graves containing burial mounds, stone pit, and circular stone kerbs are represented by the Shanshan-Ertanggou cemetery, the Tuokexun-Alagou cemetery, the Urumqi-Chaiwobu cemetery and the Urumqi-Yizihu-Sayi cemetery, etc. The stone funeral construction features here are similar to those contemporary cemeteries in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area.

3.4. The southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan

In the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representatives of the late Bronze Age cemeteries are the Hejing-Chawuhu Nr.4 cemetery (around 1000-500 bce), the Hejing-Xiaoshankou cemetery, the Baicheng-cemetery, etc. The main burial features of the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age cemeteries (see Fig.12) here were:

  • Burial mounds, constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Stone pit graves in a bell-shape or a rectangular shape;
  • Stone pit graves constructed by imbedding pebbles or stone slabs in walls and floors;
  • The dead were often placed lying on their back with bent legs;
  • The dead were commonly reburied a second time with multiple burials.

From the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age in this area, the burial traditions tended to be in a more varied way. In the stone burials with stone kerbs, there is a mixture of stone pit and earth pit graves. The burial features of the Iron Age cemeteries in this section were similar to those contemporary both in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Chawuhu 察吾呼 Culture (1100–500 BC) distributes on the foothills between the middle section of the Tianshan Mountain Ranges and Tarim River. Its bronze assemblage comprises a variety of weapons, utilitarian tools and small apparels. They show no apparent temporal change in form and type through the four cultural phases. In addition, bronzes bear the Chawuhu characteristics were found in Hejing 和静, Baicheng 拜城 and Luntai 轮台 (Bügür). Yet, sites distributed along the Tarim River, such as Heshuo 和硕, Kuga 库车and Aksu 阿克苏, yielded remains of a bronze culture different from that of Chawuhu. Bronzes recovered include double-eared socketed axe, arrowheads, awls, knives, needles and bracelets. Their absolute dates have been estimated to be earlier than that of Chawuhu.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Early Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps

3.5. The Pamir Plateau

From Yang (2019):

A typical Bronze Age cemetery from the Pamir Plateau area is the Tashenku’ergan-Xiabandi cemetery (around 1000-500 bce). The burial features here were:

  • Mainly inhumations, but also a few cremations;
  • Burial mounds, constructed of stones;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side.

The adoption of burial customs from the east supports the migration of Afanasievo-related peoples from the Tian Shan up to the Pamir Plateau, strongly influencing the findings of the Xiabandi cemetery, which has been dated from an early Bronze Age phase (ca. 1500-300 BC) to a late date up to ca. 600 BC.

While it is today unclear how far the Afanasievo admixture reached into the western Xinjiang, it seems that the Pamir Plateau remained culturally connected to neighbouring Andronovo-related cultures in pottery and metallurgical innovations, hence their language probably belonged – during most part of the Bronze and Iron Ages – to the Indo-Iranian branch, even though specific dialects might have changed with each new attested group.

In particular, it is possible that the early Andronovo groups related to the Xiaohe Horizon spoke Indo-Aryan or West Iranian dialects, while Saka-related groups replaced them – or an intermediate Tocharian-speaking group – with East Iranian dialects. A close interaction with West Iranian would justify the known ancient borrowings of Tocharian, although they could also be explained by contacts with Chust-related groups farther west. For more on this, see Ged Carling’s work on the different layers of Iranian loans.

Xinjiang BA/IA Summary

From Yang (2019):

In the early Bronze Age, there are distinct regional differences in the burial customs in and surrounding the Tarim Basin. At the southern edge of the Altai Mountains area, the burial customs included stone burial mounds, stone pit graves, circular or rectangular stone kerbs and stone human sculptures; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed in a hocker position lying on one side. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Lop Nur region, the burial customs included wooden coffins buried in sand; the dead were placed lying straight on the back.

But from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, there was a common shift in burial customs from earth pit graves to stone burials in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. The main features of the stone burials include stone burial mounds, circular or rectangular stone kerbs, and the stone pit graves in the cemeteries. Similar stone burial customs commonly appeared at the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area and the Pamir Plateau area in Iron Age. The burial features in most areas are in a mixture of both the earth pit graves and stone pit graves, especially in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.


From Shuicheng (2006):

Historians of metallurgy conducted metallographic analyses on a sample of 234 metal specimens recovered from 16 localities in eastern Xinjiang. They concluded that the metallurgic industry in eastern Xinjiang could be roughly partitioned into three developmental phases. The early phase is represented by the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. The majority of the metal assemblage was tin-bronzes; however, copper and arsenic-bronzes maintained considerable proportions. The middle phase is represented by the burials at Yanbulake. During this phase, tin-bronze still maintained the majority; the proportion of arsenic-bronze increased, and some of them were high arsenic-bronzes. The late phase is represented by the burials at Heigouliang 黑沟梁. The composition of lead increased in the bronze alloy in the expense of arsenic. In addition, this phase witnessed the appearance of high tin-bronze that composed up to 16% of tin and the appearance of brass, that is, an alloy of copper and zinc. The bronze alloy consistently contained significant amount of impurities regardless of temporal difference. Casting and forging technologies coexisted throughout the three phases. The early bronzes (2000–500 BC) of eastern Xinjiang, in general, contained arsenic; however, the composition of arsenic was usually under 8%, but a few artifacts contained more than 20% arsenic. In all, arsenic had long been used in the alloy-forming of the early bronzes in eastern Xinjiang. Consequently, arsenic-bronzes were widely found in the prehistoric archaeology of the region. The artifact types, chemical compositions and manufacture techniques of the bronze assemblage of the burials of the North Tianshan Route are similar to those of Siba Culture, indicating that eastern Xinjiang had played a significant role in the East-West interactions.

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic-bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Tocharians in population genomics

Prehistoric population movements between the Altai and the Tian Shan are difficult to pinpoint, not the least because of the division of these territories among three different countries and their archaeological teams, only recently (more) open to the international scholarship.

The available schematic archaeological picture, where migrations could only be roughly inferred, has been recently updated to a great extent by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), whose genetic analysis of the samples is as thorough as anyone could have asked for, with a level of detail which matches the complex genetic picture of the region by the Iron Age.

As a summary, here is what they described about the samples from Shirenzigou (ca 400-200 BC), corresponding to the Iron Age populations of the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, and closely related to the preceding Yanbulake Culture:

As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

Biplot of f3-outgroup tests illustrating the Kostenki14 and Anatolia_N like ancestries in Shirenzigou individuals. Most Shirenzigou individuals were on a cline with Yamnaya and European hunter-gatherer groups, lacking the European farmer ancestry as compared to the Steppe_MLBA populations such as Andronovo, Srubnaya and Sintashta [S1-S5]. Horizontal and vertical bars represent ± 3 standard errors, corresponding to form of outgroup f3 tests on the x axis and y axis respectively.

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_ Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases.

Table S2. P values in modelling a two-way (P=rank 1) admixture in Shirenzigou samples using each of the four populations (Bustan_BA, Sappali_Tepe_BA, Andronovo.SG, Srubnaya) together with Han Chinese as two sources [S6], Related to Figure 2. We used the following set of outgroups populations: Dinka, Ust_Ishim, Kostenki14, Onge, Papuan, Australian, Iran_N, EHG, LBK_EN.


In the PCA, ADMIXTURE, outgroup f3 statistics [see Figure S4], as well as f4 statistics (Table S3), we observed the Shirenzigou individuals were closer to the present day Tungusic and Mongolic-speaking populations in northern Asia than to the populations in central and southern China, suggesting the northern populations might contribute more to the Shirenzigou individuals. Based on this, we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/ Hezhen-related ancestry

It is unclear whether the Chemurchek population will show a sizeable local contribution from neighbouring groups. The fact that Okunevo shows 20% Yamnaya-related ancestry strongly supports the nature of neighbouring stone-grave-building peoples of the Altai and the northern Tian Shan as mostly Afanasievo-like, and the apparent lack of contributions of Srubna/Andronovo-like ancestry in the early Hami-Balikun stone burial builders also speaks for radical population replacement events reaching the areas south of Tian Shan, at least initially.

While ancestry cannot settle linguistic questions, it seems that nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands retained an ancestry close to Andronovo, whereas nomads of the Hami Basin-Balikun grasslands and related populations of Xinjiang remained closely related to Afanasievo. This doesn’t preclude that the ancestors of the Yuezhi became acculturated under the influence of peoples from eastern Xinjiang, but all data combined suggest an isolation of both populations – relative to other groups and to each other – and it is therefore more likely that they spoke Indo-Iranian-related languages rather than a language of the Tocharian branch.


In an interesting twist of events, despite the initially reported hg. R1b and Q, Tocharians from Shirenzigou actually show a haplogroup diversity comparable to that attested in other late Iron Age populations: a similar diversity is seen, for example, among Germanic, Baltic, and Balto-Finnic peoples of the Baltic region; among East Germanic or Scythians of the north Pontic region; or among Mediterranean peoples sampled to date. Iron Age peoples show thus a complex sociopolitical setting that overcame the previous patrilineal homogeneity of Bronze Age expansions.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya. Modified from the paper to include labels of modern populations and a dotted lines with the cline formed by Shirenzigou, from (Yamnaya-like) Afanasievo to Central and East Asian-like populations. In red circles, samples with best fit for Andronovo-like ancestry. In green circles, samples with Han-related admixture.

M15-2 (with Han-related ancestry) is of the rare haplogroup Q1a-M120, while the samples with highest Steppe_MLBA-related ancestry are of hg. R1b-PH155, which points to their recent origin among Yuezhi, or to Hun-related populations showing an admixture related to the proto-historic nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands.

The expansion of Chemurchek-related peoples was probably associated more with hg. Q1a (dubious if it’s a Pre-ISOGG 2017 nomenclature, hence possibly Q1b), a haplogroup that might be found in Khvalynsk as a “significant minority” according to Anthony (2019), and it might also be attested in sampled individuals from Afanasievo in its late phase. This might be, therefore, a case similar to the early expansion of Indo-Europeans with R1b-V1636 lineages through the Volga – North Caucasus region, and of the later expansion with I2a-L699 lineages into the Balkans.

Haplogroup Q1a2-M25 is found in individual X3, whose Steppe ancestry is likely a combination of Afanasievo plus Andronovo-like ancestry heavily admixed with Hezhen/Ulchi-like populations, in line with the expected recent contacts with the neighbouring Xiongnu, Yuezhi, and other population movements affecting eastern Xinjiang.

Sample M4, which packs the most Afanasievo-like ancestry, is of hg. R1a-Z645, which – like sample M8R1 of hg. O – is most likely related to haplogroup resurgence events of local populations, which left the predominant Afanasievo-like admixture brought by builders of stone burials essentially intact, evidenced by the almost 100% of R1a found in the Xiaohe cemetery – and in most of the early Andronovo horizon – and among expanding Kangju and Wusun, as well as by the prevalence of hg. O among sampled East Asian populations.

A question that will only be answered with more samples is how and when the prevalent R1b-L23 and Q1b lineages among Afanasievo-related peoples began to be replaced to reach the high variability seen in Shirenzigou. Given the pastoralist nature of peoples around Tian Shan, the succeeding expansions of Proto-Tocharians, and the late isolation of different Common Tocharian groups, it is more than likely that this variability represents a late and local phenomenon within Xinjiang itself.

Peoples of Xinjiang during Antiquity. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.


Tocharians are one of the main pillars that confirm the Late Proto-Indo-European homeland of the R1b-rich populations of the Don-Volga region. There is already:

Just like the East Bell Beaker expansion from Yamnaya Hungary has confirmed that Corded Ware peoples did not partake in spreading Indo-European languages (spreading Uralic languages instead), data on the expansion of Tocharian speakers from Afanasievo to the Tian Shan was always there; population genomics is merely helping to connect the dots.

In summary, genetic research is supporting the expected linguistic expansions of the Neolithic and Bronze Age step by step, slowly but surely.


Iron Age Tocharians of Yamnaya ancestry from Afanasevo show hg. R1b-M269 and Q1a1

New open access Ancient Genomes Reveal Yamnaya-Related Ancestry and a Potential Source of Indo-European Speakers in Iron Age Tianshan, by Ning et al. Current Biology (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, changes for clarity):

Here, we report the first genome-wide data of 10 ancient individuals from northeastern Xinjiang. They are dated to around 2,200 years ago and were found at the Iron Age Shirenzigou site. We find them to be already genetically admixed between Eastern and Western Eurasians. We also find that the majority of the East Eurasian ancestry in the Shirenzigou individuals is related to northeastern Asian populations, while the West Eurasian ancestry is best presented by ∼20% to 80% Yamnaya-like ancestry. Our data thus suggest a Western Eurasian steppe origin for at least part of the ancient Xinjiang population. Our findings furthermore support a Yamnaya-related origin for the now extinct Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, in southern Xinjiang.


The dominant mtDNA lineages of the Shirenzigou people are commonly found in modern and ancient West Eurasian populations, such as U4, U5, and H, while they also have East Eurasian-specific haplogroups A, D4, and G3, preliminarily documenting admixed ancestry from eastern and western Eurasia.

The admixture profile is also shown on the paternal Y chromosome side that 4 out of 6 males in Shirenzigou (Figure S2) belong to the West Eurasian-specific haplogroup R1b (n = 2) and East Eurasian-specific haplogroup Q1a (n = 2), the former is predominant in ancient Yamnaya and nearly 100% in Afanasievo, different from the Middle and Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA) such as Andronovo, [Potapovka], Srubnaya, and Sintashta whose Y chromosomal haplogroup is mainly R1a.



We first carried out principal component analysis (PCA) to assess the genetic affinities of the ancient individuals qualitatively by projecting them onto present-day Eurasian variation (Figure 2). We observed a distinct separation between East and West Eurasians. Our ancient Shirenzigou samples and present-day populations from Central Asia and northwestern China form a genetic cline from East to West in the first PC. The distribution of Shirenzigou samples on the cline is relatively scattered with two major clusters, one being closer to modern-day Uygurs and Kazakhs and the other being closer to recently published ancient Saka and Huns from the Tianshan in Kazakhstan (…).

We applied a formal admixture test using f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Shirenzigou; X, Y) where X and Y are worldwide populations that might be the genetic sources for the Shirenzigou individuals. We observed the most significant signals of admixture in the Shirenzigou samples when using Yamnaya_Samara or Srubnaya as the West Eurasian source and some Northern Asians or Koreans as the East Eurasian source (Table S1). We also plotted the outgroup f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Mbuti; X, Anatolia_Neolithic) and f3 (Mbuti; X, Kostenki14) to visualize the allele sharing between population X and Anatolian farmers. As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya.

Genetic Composition of Iron Age Shirenzigou Individuals

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases. The Yamnaya_Samara or Afanasievo-related ancestry ranges from ∼20% to 80% in different Shirenzigou individuals, consistent with the scattered distribution on the East-West cline in the PCA


(…) we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/Hezhen-related ancestry.

One important question remains, though: how and when did these Proto-Tocharian speakers migrate from the Afanasevo culture in the Altai into the Tarim Basin? The traditional answer, now more likely than ever, is through the Chemurchek culture. See e.g. A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4).

Also, given the apparent lack of (extra farmer ancestry that characterizes) Corded Ware ancestry, if the results were already suspicious before, how likely are now the published R1a(xZ93) and/or radiocarbon dates of the Xiaohe mummies from Li et al. (2010, 2015)? Because, after all, one should have expected in such a late date a generalized admixture with neighbouring Srubna/Andronovo-like populations.


How the genocidal Yamnaya men loved to switch cultures


After some really interesting fantasy full of arrows, it seems Kristiansen & friends are coming back to their most original idea from 2015, now in New Scientist’s recent clickbait Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA (2019):

Teams led by David Reich at Harvard Medical School and Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark announced, independently, that occupants of Corded Ware graves in Germany could trace about three-quarters of their genetic ancestry to the Yamnaya. It seemed that Corded Ware people weren’t simply copying the Yamnaya; to a large degree they actually were Yamnayan in origin.

If you think you have seen that movie, it’s because you have. They are at it again, Corded Ware from Yamna, and more “steppe ancestry” = “more Indo-European. It seems we haven’t learnt anything about “Steppe ancestry” since 2015. But there’s more:

Genocidal peoples who “switch cultures”

Burial practices shifted dramatically, a warrior class appeared, and there seems to have been a sharp upsurge in lethal violence. “I’ve become increasingly convinced there must have been a kind of genocide,” says Kristian Kristiansen at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The collaboration revealed that the origin and initial spread of Bell Beaker culture had little to do – at least genetically – with the expansion of the Yamnaya or Corded Ware people into central Europe. “It started in It is in that region that the earliest Bell Beaker objects – including arrowheads, copper daggers and distinctive Bell-shaped pots – have been found, in archaeological sites carbon-dated to 4700 years ago. Then, Bell Beaker culture began to spread east, although the people more or less stayed put. By about 4600 years ago, it reached the most westerly Corded Ware people around where the Netherlands now lies. For reasons still unclear, the Corded Ware people fully embraced it. “They simply take on part of the Bell Beaker package and become Beaker people,” says Kristiansen.

The fact that the genetic analysis showed the Britons then all-but disappeared within a couple of generations might be significant. It suggests the capacity for violence that emerged when the Yamnaya lived on the Eurasia steppe remained even as these people moved into Europe, switched identity from Yamnaya to Corded Ware, and then switched again from Corded Ware to Bell Beaker.

Notice what Kristiansen did there? Yamnaya men “switched identities” into Corded Ware, then “switched identities” into Bell Beakers…So, the most aggresive peoples who have ever existed, exterminating all other Europeans, were actually not so violent when embracing wholly different cultures whose main connection is that they built kurgans (yes, Gimbutas lives on).

NOTE. By the way, just so we are clear, only Indo-Europeans are “genocidal”. Not like Neolithic farmers, or Palaeolithic or Mesolithic populations, or more recent Bronze Age or Iron Age peoples, who also replaced Y-DNA from many regions…


In fact, there is much stronger evidence that these Yamnaya Beakers were ruthless. By about 4500 years ago, they had pushed westwards into the Iberian Peninsula, where the Bell Beaker culture originated a few centuries earlier. Within a few generations, about 40 per cent of the DNA of people in the region could be traced back to the incoming Yamnaya Beakers, according to research by a large team including Reich that was published this month. More strikingly, the ancient DNA analysis reveals that essentially all the men have Y chromosomes characteristic of the Yamnaya, suggesting only Yamnaya men had children.

“The collision of these two populations was not a friendly one, not an equal one, but one where the males from outside were displacing local males and did so almost completely,” Reich told New Scientist Live in September. This supports Kristiansen’s view of the Yamnaya and their descendants as an almost unimaginably violent people. Indeed, he is about to publish a paper in which he argues that they were responsible for the genocide of Neolithic Europe’s men. “It’s the only way to explain that no male Neolithic lines survived,” he says.

So these unimaginably violent Yamnaya men had children exclusively with their Y chromosomes…but not Dutch Single Grave peoples. These great great steppe-like northerners switched culture, cephalic index…and Y-chromosome from R1a (and others) to R1b-L151 to expand Italo-Celtic From The West™.

It’s hilarious how (exactly like their latest funny episode of PIE from south of the Caucasus) this new visionary idea copied by Copenhagen from amateur friends (or was it the other way around?) had been already rejected before this article came out, in Olalde et al. (2019), and that “Corded Ware=Indo-European” fans have become a parody of themselves.

What’s not to love about 2019 with all this back-and-forth hopping between old and new pet theories?

NOTE. I would complain (again) that the obsessive idea of the Danes is that Denmark CWC is (surprise!) the Pre-Germanic community, so it has nothing to do with “steppe ancestry = Indo-European” (or even with “Corded Ware = Indo-European”, for that matter), but then again you have Koch still arguing for Celtic from the West, Kortlandt still arguing for Balto-Slavic from the east, and – no doubt worst of all – “R1a=IE / R1b=Vasconic / N1c=Uralic” ethnonationalists arguing for whatever is necessary right now, in spite of genetic research.

So prepare for the next episode in the nativist and haplogroup fetishist comedy, now with western and eastern Europeans hand in hand: Samara -> Khvalynsk -> Yamnaya -> Bell Beaker spoke Vasconic-Tyrsenian, because R1b. Wait for it…

Vanguard Yamnaya groups

On a serious note, interesting comment by Heyd in the article:

A striking example of this distinction is a discovery made near the town of Valencina de la Concepción in southern Spain. Archaeologists working there found a Yamnaya-like kurgan, below which was the body of a man buried with a dagger and Yamnaya-like sandals, and decorated with red pigment just as Yamnaya dead were. But the burial is 4875 years old and genetic information suggests Yamnaya-related people didn’t reach that far west until perhaps 4500 years ago. “Genetically, I’m pretty sure this burial has nothing to do with the Yamnaya or the Corded Ware,” says Heyd. “But culturally – identity-wise – there is an aspect that can be clearly linked with them.” It would appear that the ideology, lifestyle and death rituals of the Yamnaya could sometimes run far ahead of the migrants.

NOTE. I have been trying to find which kurgan is this, reviewing this text on the archaeological site, but didn’t find anything beyond occasional ochre and votive sandals, which are usual. Does some reader know which one is it?

Yamna expansion and succeeding East Bell Beaker expansion, without color on Bell Beaker territories. Notice vanguard Yamna groups in blue where East Bell Beakers later emerge. See original image with Bell Beaker territories.

Notice how, if you add all those vanguard Yamna findings of Central and Western Europe, including this one from southern Spain, you begin to get a good idea of the territories occupied by East Bell Beakers expanding later. More or less like vanguard Abashevo and Sintashta finds in the Zeravshan valley heralded the steppe-related Srubna-Andronovo expansions in Turan…

It doesn’t seem like Proto-Beaker and Yamna just “crossed paths” at some precise time around the Lower Danube, and Yamna men “switched cultures”. It seems that many Yamna vanguard groups, probably still in long-distance contact with Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin, were already settled in different European regions in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, before the explosive expansion of East Bell Beakers ca. 2500 BC. As Heyd says, there are potentially many Yamna settlements along the Middle and Lower Danube and tributaries not yet found, connecting the Carpathian Basin to Western and Northern Europe.

These vanguard groups would have more easily transformed their weakened eastern Yamna connections with the fashionable Proto-Beaker package expanding from the west (and surrounding all of these loosely connected settlements), just like the Yamna materials from Seville probably represent a close cultural contact of Chalcolithic Iberia with a Yamna settlement (the closest known site with Yamna traits is near Alsace, where high Yamna ancestry is probably going to be found in a Bell Beaker R1b-L151 individual).

This does not mean that there wasn’t a secondary full-scale migration from the Carpathian Basin and nearby settlements, just like Corded Ware shows a secondary (A-horizon?) migration to the east with R1a-Z645. It just means that there was a complex picture of contacts between Yamna and European Chalcolithic groups before the expansion of Bell Beakers. Doesn’t seem genocidal enough for a popular movie, tho.


The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


About Scepters, Horses, and War: on Khvalynsk migrants in the Caucasus and the Danube


dergachev-scepters-khavlynsk-horsesAbout two months ago I stumbled upon a gem in archaeological studies related to Proto-Indo-Europeans, the book О скипетрах, о лошадях, о войне: этюды в защиту миграционной концепции М.Гимбутас (On sceptres, on horses, on war: Studies in defence of M. Gimbutas’ migration concepts), 2007, by V. A. Dergachev, from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Moldavian Republic.

Dergachev’s work dedicates 488 pages to a very specific Final Neolithic-Eneolithic period in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the most relevant parts of the book concern the nature and expansion of horses and horse domestication, horse-head scepters, and other horse-related symbology – arguably the most relevant cultural signs associated with Proto-Indo-European speakers in this period.

I haven’t had enough time to read the whole book, but I have read with interest certain important chapters.

About Scepters

Typological classification

The genetic and chronological relationship of horse-head pommel-scepters is classified with incredible detail, to the extent that one could divide subregions among those cultures using them.

Scheme of regional distribution – chronological – typological development of the carved horse-head stone scepters.

Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):

  1. The [horse-head pommel-]scepters arose originally in the depth of the Khvalynsk culture. Following the now well-known finds, they are definitely related to those of the Middle Volga group.
  2. horse-head-pommel-scepters-distribution
    General scheme of genetic and chronological development of carved scepters by visual assessment of morphological details.
  3. In their next modifications, these scepters continued to evolve and develop into the area of the Khvalynsk culture in its latest stages, and possibly later.
  4. Simultaneously, with the same modifications, these scepters “are introduced” into common usage in the Novodanilovka culture, which in its spread by one wing was in contact and interspersed immediately with the area of Khvalynsk remains; and on the other hand, far in the south – in the Pre-Kuban and Ciscaucasian regions – within the range of the Domaikopska culture; and in the west – in the Carpathian – Post-Kuban – with the areas of early agricultural cultures Cucuteni A – Trypillia B1, Gumelnița-Karanovo VI.
  5. The simultaneous presence in the areas of the Ciscaucasian, Carpatho-Danubian, and especially Novodinilovka cultures, whose carriers continue the Khvalynian traditions of making stone scepters, and the scepters themselves (in their non-functional implication in the local cultural environment), all definitely allow us to view these findings as imported Novodanilovka objects.
Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic. See a full version with notes here.

Cultural relevance of scepters

The text goes on to make an international comparison of scepters and their relevance as a cultural phenomenon, with its strong symbolic functions as divine object, its use in times of peace, in times of war, and in a system of ritual power.

Restoration of V. A. Dergachev: a) model for restoration – Paleolithic and Neolithic wands; b) the expected appearance of the Eneolithic scepter on the handle with a coupling (according to Dergachev 2007).
Especially interesting is the section dedicated to Agamemnon’s scepter in the Iliad, one of the oldest Indo-European epics. Here is an excerpt from Illiad II.100-110 (see here the Greek version) with the scepter’s human and divine genealogy:

Then among them lord Agamemnon uprose, bearing in his hands the sceptre which Hephaestus had wrought with toil. Hephaestus gave it to king Zeus, son of Cronos, and Zeus gave it to the messenger Argeïphontes; and Hermes, the lord, gave it to Pelops, driver of horses, and Pelops in turn gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the host; and Atreus at his death left it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes again left it to Agamemnon to bear, that so he might be lord of many isles and of all Argos.

About the horse

His studies on horse remains show an interesting, detailed quantitative and statistical approach to the importance and (cultural and chronological) origin of horses (and likely horse domestication) in each culture.

Although the part on horse remains is probably a bit outdated today, after many recent studies of Eneolithic steppe sites (see here one example), it still shows the relative distribution of horse bone remains among different steppe cultures, which is probably similar to what could be reported today:

Territorial distribution of horse remains in the Middle Eneolithic period. Absolute and relative numbers.

Even more interesting is the relationship of the distribution of horse remains with archaeological complexes and horse-related symbols. Some excerpts from the conclusions of this section:

  1. Accounting and analysis of archeo-zoological and archaeological data proper for a horse for a vast area from the Tisza and the Middle Danube to the Caucasus and the Urals (which includes the main cultures of the western agricultural, Caucasian, and Eastern European cultural zones) clearly points to the eastern cultural zone as a zone of the originally the most important social significance of a horse as the only possible zone of the earliest domestication, horseback riding and all-round use of a horse. In relation to the eastern, the western land – the ancient Carpatho-Danubian or the Caucasian cultural zones – are secondary and subordinate to the first on the phenomenon under consideration.
  2. horse-symbols
    Horse-shaped hanger-amulets made of bone.
  3. The first quantitative leap in the manifestation of the remnants of a horse, marking itself and the first qualitative changes in the social status of this animal, is due mainly to the Middle Volga culture of the developed Neolithic of the Middle Volga region (in part, the Southwest Urals), which, accordingly, determine the cultural context, time and geographic region – or, the initial, single and main epicenter of the process of taming and domestication of a horse.
  4. On the one hand, the subsequent substantial increase in the number of horse remnants, and, on the other, the wide inclusion of the horse in cults, rituals, funerary rituals (horse pendants, ornamented metacarpus, horse bones, sacrificial altars) in the Samara culture of the Early Eneolithic of the same region definitely indicates the continuing increase in the social significance of this species of animal, which was most likely expressed in the final design of a specialized horse breeding culture and, accordingly, in a wide range of applications using a horse for riding. At the same time, we can observe the beginning of the transfer of the already domesticated horse from the original historical and geographic epicenter to other cultures of the eastern cultural zone and, in part, the cultures closest to the periphery of this zone, into the western agricultural zone (Bolgrad-Aldeni P, Pre-CuCuteni-Trypillya A) .
  5. expansion-horse-steppe
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of percentage of horse remains. (Depicted are arrows from Middle Volga and Samara culture to the rest)
  6. Middle Eneolithic – early stages. One of the leading places in the remnants of the horse is in the Middle Volga region, the Khvalynsk culture. Genetically related to the Samara, the Khvalynsk I culture preserves the traditions of the ritual, cultural meaning, the treatment of the image of a horse in funerals (altars, horse bones, funerary rituals). But, At the same time, it is in this precise culture that the image of the horse, included in the social symbolism (horse-head pommel-scepter), for the first time it acquires a special, maximum social significance. That is why the appearance and subsequent widespread distribution of the social symbols in Novodanilovka-type objects can definitely be considered as another qualitative leap in the social significance of a horse – its use for military purposes for close and distant expeditions. And such an interpretation is fully confirmed from the analysis of Novodanilovka-type objects, which is the subject of discussion.
  7. Judging by the osteological data and the typological evolution of the horse-head scepters, the Khvalynian culture and remains of the Novodanilovka type are already associated with the relatively widespread and intensive findings of domesticated horses in various areas of the eastern cultural zone (semi-desert regions of the Lower Volga and the Caspian region – Khvalynsk culture, forest-steppe and steppe from the Volga to the Dnieper – Sredni Stog, Repin cultures), and the western – agricultural (Gumelnitsa, Cucuteni A-Tripolye Bl), and the Caucasus (Pre-Maykop) zones, where, however, the horse played a very modest role.
  8. samara-khvalynsk-horses
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of zooarchaeological and ritual data on horses. (Shadowed are from top to bottom the Middle Volga, Samara, Khvalynsk, and Novodanilovka; in bold, other percentages of unrelated cultures: e.g. to the left of Khvalynsk and Novodanilovka, Sredni Stog with 29.65% overall horse bone remains, but 0% of horse symbolism)
  9. From the functional point of view, according to the sum of the data, there is no reason to doubt that in the eastern zone the horse is already present in the Late Neolithic period. Since its domestication and the emergence of a specialized horse breeding, it has been also widely used for meat, milk and dairy products (including the traditional hippace tradition of the later Scythians), and since the beginning of the early Eneolithic for transport and for riding purposes. Another thing is the horse as a means of war, a means of distant travel and expansion. The beginning of the use of a horse for these purposes, in the opinion of the author, is determined by the appearance of social symbolism in the form of horse-head scepters, and is most fully reflected in the memories of the Khvalynsk culture and, in particular, the Novodanilovka type. Concerning western or Caucasian cultural zones related to Khvalynsk, the horse is thought to have been linked to the eastern region, used mainly for riding, as a means of transport and for communication, which, however, does not exclude its use for meat.

These are the main conclusions-interpretations, suggesting the analysis and archaeological and other sources containing information about the horse. And as for our pommel-scepters, then, as can be seen from these sources, the main thing is that the culture of the Middle Volga region, according to all the data, definitely accumulates in itself the longest traditions associated with the gradual increase of social significance of the horse. And if so, this circumstance motivates the possibility or necessity of appearing in the environment of the bearers of this culture of unique signs-symbols that carry within themselves or reflect the image of this animal as an extremely significant social reality. The revealed and characterized quality, as a matter of fact, fill or open by themselves the hypothetical elements we have previously identified, the meanings of that particularity, folded in the social sign-symbol, in our case – the horse-head-shaped scepter.

Archaeological sites with objects (signs-symbols) related to horses. Horse-head scepters included in other maps are excluded from this one (notice the conspicuous absence of such objects in Sredni Stog and neighbouring North Pontic regions).

The relevance of Dergachev’s work

As you certainly know by now if you are a usual reader of this blog, there were two other seminal publications that same year correcting and expanding Gimbutas’ model:

Each one of these works taken independently (especially the books) may give a different version of Proto-Indo-European migrations; Anthony and Dergachev are heirs of Gimbutas’ simplistic kurgan-based model, and of other previous, now rejected ideas, and they reflect them whenever they don’t deal with first-hand investigation (and even sometimes when interpreting their own data). Taken together – and especially in combination with recent genetic studies – , though, they describe a clearer, solider model of how Proto-Indo-Europeans developed and expanded.

Distribution of horse-head scepters, according to Dergachev, Sorokin (1986).

Anthony’s publication overshadowed the importance of Dergachev’s work for the English-speaking world – and by extension for the rest of us. However, V. A. Dergachev’s updated study of his previous work on steppe cultures shows the right, thorough, and diligent way of describing the expansion of early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains with the horse and horse symbolism into the Caucasus and the Lower Danube (like the seminal work of Harrison & Heyd 2007 described the expansion of Yamna settlers with East Bell Beakers, culturally opposed to Corded Ware and to the Proto-Beakers). On the other hand, Anthony’s broad-brush, superficial description of thousands of years of potential Indo-European-speaking peoples gave a migration picture that – although generally right (like radiocarbon-based Iberian origin of the Bell Beaker culture was right) – was bound to be wrong in some essential details, as we are seeing in archaeology and genetics.

NOTE. As I have said before, Anthony’s interpretations of Sredni Stog culture representing a sort of ‘peasants’ under the rule of Novodanilovka chiefs was based on old theories of Telegin, who changed his mind – as did the rest of the Russian school well before the publication of Dergachev’s book, considering both as distinct cultural phenomena. Anthony selected the old interpretation, not to follow a Gimbutas / Kristiansen model of Sredni Stog being Indo-European and expanding with GAC into Corded Ware (because, for him, Corded Ware peoples were originally non-Indo-European speakers): he seems to have done it to prove that Proto-Anatolian traveled indeed through the North Pontic area, i.e. to avoid the regional ‘gap’ in the maps, if you like. Then with the expansion of Repin over the area, Sredni Stog peoples would have been absorbed. With genetic investigation, as we know, and with this kind of detailed archaeological studies, the traditional preference for “large and early” IE territories – proper of the mid-20th century – are no longer necessary.

Anthony (2007): “Steppe and Danubian sites at the time of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC.”

Steppe Eneolithic

We already had in 2016 a Samara hunter-gatherer sample dated ca. 5600 BC, representative of EHG ancestry, of haplogroup R1b1a. We also had three early Khvalynsk samples from Samara Eneolithic dated ca. 4600 BC, with a drift towards (what we believe now is) a population from the Caucasus, showing haplogroups Q1a, R1a1(xM198), and R1b1a, the last one described in its paper as from a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves (of R1b-L23 lineages), and therefore likely a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, while the R1a1 sample showed scarce decoration, and does not belong to the M417 lineage expanded later in Sredni Stog or Corded Ware.

In 2017 we knew of the Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, from Alexandria, of a precise subclade (L657) of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4000 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog (or maybe Kvitjana) culture. This sample alone makes it quite likely that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades happened earlier than expected, and that it was associated with movements along forest-steppe cultures, most likely along the Upper Dniester or Dnieper-Dniester corridor up to the Forest Zone.

We have now confirmation that Khvalynsk samples from the Yekaterinovka Cape settlement ca. 4250-4000 BC were reported by a genetic lab (to the archaeological team responsible) as being of R1b-L23 subclades, although the precise clades (reported as P312 and U106) are possibly not accurate.

NOTE. Curiously enough, and quite revealing for the close relationship of scepters to the ritual source of power for Khvalynsk chieftains (political and/or religious leaders), the scepter found in the elite burial 45 of the Ekaterinovka cape (a riverine settlement) shows a unique zoomorphic carving, possibly resembling a toothed fish or reptile, rather than the most common horse-related motifs of the time.

Zoomorphic carved stone scepter of the Ekaterinovka Cape burial 45: photos (left) and schematic depiction (right).

With Wang et al. (2018), a real game-changer in the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog (and also in the Yamna/Bell Beaker – Corded Ware) opposition, we also know that two Steppe Eneolithic samples from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont, dated ca. 4300-4100 BC, show haplogroup R1b1. Although its direct connection to the expansion of early Khvalynsk with horse-related symbolism is not clear from the archaeological information shared (none), this is what the paper has to say about them:

The two distinct clusters are already visible in the oldest individuals of our temporal transect, dated to the Eneolithic period (~6300-6100 yBP/4300-4100 calBCE). Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonjuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbor Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherer related ancestry (EHG and CHG, respectively), are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khalynsk II and the Samara region19, 27. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG/Iranian-like ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills.

In contrast, the oldest individuals from the northern mountain flank itself, which are three first degree-related individuals from the Unakozovskaya cave associated with the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic culture (analysis label ‘Eneolithic Caucasus’) show mixed ancestry mostly derived from sources related to the Anatolian Neolithic (orange) and CHG/Iran Neolithic (green) in the ADMIXTURE plot (Fig. 2C). While similar ancestry profiles have been reported for Anatolian and Armenian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals20, 23, this result suggests the presence of the mixed Anatolian/Iranian/CHG related ancestry north of the Great Caucasus Range as early as ~6500 years ago.

On the specific burials, we have e.g. the recent open access paper New cases of trepanations from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC in Southern Russia in the context of previous research: Possible evidence for a ritually motivated tradition of cranial surgery?, by Gresky et al. J Am Phys Anthropol (2016):

During the late 5th millennium BC, cultural groups of the Eneolithic occupied the northern circumpontic area and the areas between the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga. For the first time, individual inhumations were placed below low burial mounds (Rassamakin, 2011). During the 4th millennium BC, the area split into two cultural spheres. In the northern steppe area communities continued with the burial practice of crouched inhumations below low mounds, with this culturally transforming into the early Pit Grave culture. In contrast, in the Caucasian foothill zone and the neighbouring steppe, the Majkop-Novosvobodnaya culture emerged (Kohl and Trifonov, 2014). Similarly, during the 3rd millennium BC, two cultural spheres influenced the area: The North Caucasian Culture dominated the Caucasian foothills for the next five centuries, while in the steppe area between the Lower Don and the Caucasus, regional groups of the Catacomb Culture existed side-by-side.

Burials of the Eneolithic epoch (late 5th millennium BC)

The oldest group of individuals with trepanations are found in the North Caucasian variant of the late circumpontic Eneolithic and date to the last third of the 5th millennium BC (Korenevsky, 2012). Burials of this epoch are inhumations in shallow pits, chiefly without burial goods, but covered with large quantities of red ochre. Of special interest is a collective burial of seven individuals from VP 1/12, who were interred together in a secondary burial ritual. The sites of Tuzluki, Mukhin, Voinuchka, Progress, and Sengileevskii all belong to this period.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Without the datasets to test different models, you can only imagine what is happening with the processed, secondary data we have. The position of Eneolithic Steppe cluster in the PCA (probably Khvalynsk-related peoples already influenced by the absorbed, previous Caucasus population), as well as other potential Caucasus groups intermediate between Steppe Maykop and Caucasus Maykop (as suggested by other ancient and modern Caucasus samples), may indicate that Yamna is between Khvalynsk and such intermediate Caucasus populations (as the source of the additional CHG-related ancestry) and – as the paper itself states – that it also received additional EEF contribution, probably from the western cultures absorbed during these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations (or later during Khvalynsk/Repin migrations).

Also interpreted in light of these early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations of horse riding chieftains (and their close contacts with the Caucasus), you can clearly see where the similar CHG-like contribution to Ukraine Eneolithic and other North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (which later contributed to Proto-Corded Ware peoples) must have come from. The simplistically reported proportions of EHG:CHG:EEF ancestry might be similar in many of these groups, but the precise origin and evolution of such ancestral components is certainly not the same: statistical methods will eventually show this, when (and if) we have many more samples, but for the moment Y-DNA is the most obvious indicator of such differences.

There was no steppe people speaking a steppe language AKA immutable Proto-Indo-European: the glottochronological models spanning thousands of years are not valid for the steppe, just as they are not valid for an Anatolian homeland, nor for a Caucasus homeland. The actual cultural-historical early Sredni Stog – Khvalynsk community, formed earlier than ca. 5000 BC, is a thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk with the horse, and some two thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk-Repin/Early Yamna migrants (see here for the latest genetic research).

What lies between the formation of that early Eneolithic cultural-historical community, and what we see in archaeology and genetics in Middle and Late Eneolithic steppe cultures, is the radical differentiation of western (Ukraine Eneolithic, mainly forest-steppe) and eastern (Samara and Khvalynsk/Repin, mainly steppe) cultures and peoples, i.e. precisely the period of differentiation of an eastern, Proto-Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk community (that expanded with the horse and horse-related symbols) from a western, probably Early Proto-Uralic speaking community of the North Pontic forest-steppe cultural area.

NOTE. I am not against a Neolithic ‘steppe’ language. But this steppe language was spoken before and/or during the first Neolithisation wave, and should be associated with Indo-Uralic. If there was no Indo-Uralic language, then some communities would have developed Early Proto-Indo-European and Early Proto-Uralic side by side, in close contact to allow for dozens of loanwords or wanderwords to be dated to this period (where, simplistically, PIH *H corresponds to EPU *k, with some exceptions).

Map of a) steppe – forest-steppe border during the Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian region and b) the border today, showing a more limited steppe zone in the North Pontic area (reason for the specific ways of expansion of horse-related cultures and horse-related nomadic pastoralism during the Eneolithic).

The convergence that we see in PCA and Admixture of Yamna and the earliest Baltic LN / Corded Ware ‘outlier’ samples (if not directly related exogamy of some Baltic LN/CWC groups with Yamna migrants, e.g. those along the Prut), must be traced back to the period of genetic drift that began precisely with these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansions, also closely associated with populations of the Caucasus, thus bringing North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (probably behind Proto-Corded Ware peoples) nearer to Khvalynsk, and both by extension to Yamna.

We have seen this problem arise in Bell Beaker samples expanding all over Europe, turning from a fully Yamnaya-like population to something else entirely in different regions, from more EEF-like to more CWC-like, sharing one common trait: Y-DNA. We are seeing the same happen with Balkan groups and Mycenaeans, with Old Hittites, and with steppe MLBA from Andronovo peoples expanding over Central and South Asia, and we know that patrilineal clans and thus Y-chromosome bottlenecks were common after Neolithisation, especially with nomadic pastoralist steppe clans (and probably also with many previous population expansions).

Steppe Eneolithic peoples were thus no different to other previous and posterior expanding groups, and ancestry is going to be similar for people living in neighbouring regions, so Y-DNA will remain the essential tool to distinguish different peoples (see here a summary of Proto-Indo-Europeans expanding R1b-L23).

We are nevertheless still seeing “R1b zombies” (a quite appropriate name I read on Anthrogenica) still arguing for a Western European origin of R1b-L23 based on EEF-like ancestry and few steppe-related contribution found in Iberian Bell Beakers (read what David Reich has to say on this question); and “OIT zombies” still arguing for IVC representing Proto-Indo-European, based on Iran_N ancestry and the minimal steppe ancestry-related impact on certain ancient Asian cultures, now partly helped by “Caucasus homeland zombies” with the new PIE=CHG model; apart from many other pet theory zombies rising occasionally from their graves here and there. Let’s hope that this virus of the undead theories does not spread too strongly to the R1a-Indo-European association, when the official data on Khvalynsk, West Yamna, and Yamna Hungary come out and show that they were dominated by R1b-L23 lineages.

Because we need to explore in detail the continuation of Khvalynsk-related (potential Proto-Anatolian) cultures in the Lower Danube and the Balkans, e.g. from Cernavoda I to Cernavoda III, then maybe to Ezero, and then to Troy; as well as the specific areas of Late Indo-European expansions associated with Early Yamna settlers turning into Bell Beakers, Balkan EBA, and Steppe MLBA-associated cultures. There is a lot of work to do on proper definition of Bronze Age cultures and their potential dialects, as well as convergence and divergence trends, and not only of Indo-European, but also of Uralic-speaking communities derived from Corded Ware cultures.

If we let the narratives of the 2000s in Genetics (in combination with the 1960s in Archaeology) dominate the conversation, then a lot of time will be absurdly lost until reality imposes itself. And it will.

EDIT (2 JUL 2018): Some sentences corrected, and some information added to the original post.


No large-scale steppe migration into Anatolia; early Yamna migrations and MLBA brought LPIE dialects in Asia


Another, simultaneous paper with the Eurasian samples from Nature, The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia, by de Barros Damgaard et al., Science (2018).

A lot of interesting data, I will try to analyse its main implications, if only superficially, in sections.

Anatolian samples

Anatolia_EBA from Ovaören, and Anatolia_MLBA (this including Assyrian and Old Hittite samples), all from Kalehöyük, show almost no change in Y-DNA lineages (three samples J2a, one G2a), and therefore an origin of these people in common with CHG and Iranian Neolithic populations is likely. No EHG ancestry is found. And PCA cluster is just somehow closer to Europe, but not to EHG populations.

NOTE. Hittite is attested only in the late first half of the 2nd millennium, although the authors cite (in the linguistic supplement) potential evidence from the palatial archives of the ancient city of Ebla in Syria to argue that Indo-European languages may have been already spoken in the region in the late 3rd millennium BCE.

Regarding the Assyrian samples (one J2a) from Ovaören:

Layer V of GT-137 was the richest in terms of architectural finds and dates to the Early Bronze Age II. In this layer, 2 different structures and a well were uncovered. The well was filled with stones, pottery, and human skeletons (Figs. S2 and S3). In total, skeletons belonging to 22 individuals, including adults, young adults, and children, must belong to the disturbed Early Bronze Age II graves adjacent to the well (103). Pottery and stones found below the skeletons demonstrate that the water well was consciously filled and closed. The fill consists of dumped stones, sherds and skeletons, and the closing stones demonstrate that the water well was consciously filled and cancelled.

Regarding the site most likely associated with the emergence of Old Hittite (two samples J2a1, one G2a2b1), this is what we know:

The Middle Bronze Age at Kaman-Kalehöyük represented by stratum IIIc yields material remains (seals and ceramics) contemporary with the international trade system managed by expatriate Assyrian merchants evidenced at the nearby site of Kültepe/Kanesh. It is therefore also referred to as belonging to the “Assyrian Colony Period” (98). The stratum has revealed three burned architectural units, and it has been suggested that the seemingly site-wide conflagration might be connected to a destruction event linked with the emergence of the Old Hittite state (99). (…) Omura (100) suggests that the rooms could belong to a public building, and that it might even be a small trade center based on the types of artifacts recovered. Omura (100) has concluded that the evidence from the first complex indicates a battle between 2 groups took place at the site. It is possible that a group died inside the buildings, mostly perishing in the fire, while another group died in the courtyard.

NOTE. For more on the Old Hittite period, you can read this for example.

Regarding PCA:

The PCA (Fig. 2B) indicates that all the Anatolian genome sequences from the Early Bronze Age ( -2200 BCE) and Late Bronze Age (-1600 BCE) cluster with a previously sequenced Copper Age ( -3900- 3700 BCE) individual from Northwestern Anatolia and lie between Anatolian Neolithic (Anatolia_ N) samples and CHG samples but not between Anatolia_N and EHG samples.

(…) we are not able to reject a two-population qpAdm model in which these groups derive -60% of their ancestry from Anatolian farmers and -40% from CHG-related ancestry (p-value = 0.5). This signal is not driven by Neolithic Iranian ancestry.

Principal Component Analysis estimated with ancient and modern Eurasians.

NOTE. Anatolian Iron Age samples, from the Hellenistic period, which was obviously greatly influenced by different, later Indo-European migrations, does show a change in PCA.

Regarding CHG ancestry:

Ancient DNA findings suggest extensive population contact between the Caucasus and the steppe during the Copper Age (-5000-3000 BCE) (1, 2, 42). Particularly, the first identified presence of Caucasian genomic ancestry in steppe populations is through the Khvalynsk burials (2, 47) and that of steppe ancestry in the Caucasus is through Armenian Copper Age individuals (42). These admixture processes likely gave rise to the ancestry that later became typical of the Yamnaya pastoralists (7), whose IE language may have evolved under the influence of a Caucasian language, possibly ‘from the Maykop culture (50, 55). This scenario is consistent with both the “Copper Age steppe” (4) and the “Caucasian” models for the origin of the Proto-Anatolian language (56).

The CHG specific ancestry and the absence of EHG-related ancestry in Bronze Age Anatolia would be in accordance with intense cultural interactions between populations in the Caucasus and Anatolia observed during the late 5th millennium BCE that seem to come to an end in the first half of the 4th millennium BCE with the village-based egalitarian Kura-Araxes society (59, 60), thus preceding the emergence and dispersal of Proto-Anatolian.

Our results indicate that the early spread of IE languages into Anatolia was not associated with any large-scale steppe-related migration, as previously suggested (61). Additionally, and in agreement with the later historical record of the region (62), we find no correlation between genetic ancestry and exclusive ethnic or political identities among the populations of Bronze Age Central Anatolia, as has previously been hypothesized ( 63).

The Anatolian question

There is no steppe ancestry or R1b-M269 lineages near early historic Hittites. Yet.

Nevertheless, we already know about potentially similar cases:

So there seems to be thus no theoretical problem in accepting:

  • That neither steppe ancestry nor R1b-M269 subclades, already diminished in Bulgaria in the mid-5th millennium, did reach Anatolia, but only those Common Anatolian-speaking Aegean groups over whose ancestors Proto-Anatolians (marked by incoming EHG ancestry) would have previously dominated in the Balkans.
  • That steppe ancestry and R1b-M269 subclades did in fact arrive in the Aegean, but EHG was further diluted among the CHG-related population by the time of the historic Anatolian-speaking peoples in central Anatolia. Or, the most likely option, that their trace have not been yet found. Probably the western Luwian peoples, near Troy, were genetically closer to Common Anatolians.

Both of these scenarios are interesting, in that they show potential links between Pre-Greek peoples of Hellas (related to Anatolians) and the Pelasgian substrate of early Greek dialects, since they show a similar recent CHG-related wave from the East.

What we can assert right now is that Proto-Anatolian must have separated quite early for this kind of data to show up. This should mean an end to the Late PIE origin of Anatolian, if there was some lost soul from the mid-20th century still rooting for this.

As I said in my review of Lazaridis’ latest preprint, we will have to wait for the appropriate potential routes of expansion of Proto-Anatolian to be investigated. As he answered, the lack of EHG poses a problem for steppe expansion into Anatolia, but there is still no better alternative model proposed.

Model-based clustering analysis of present-day and ancient individuals assuming K = 6 ancestral components. The main ancestry components at K = 6 correlate well with CHG (turquoise), a major component of Iran_N, Namazga_CA and South Asian dines; EHG (pale blue), a component of the steppe dine and present in South Asia; East Asia (yellow ochre), the other component of the steppe d ine also in Tibeto-Burman South Asian populations; South Indian (pink), a core component of South Asian populations; Anatolian_N (purple), an important component of Anatolian Bronze Age and Steppe_MLBA; Onge (dark pink) forms its own component.

This is what the authors have to say:

Our findings are thus consistent with historical models of cultural hybridity and “Middle Ground” in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual but genetically homogeneous Bronze Age Anatolia (68, 69). Current linguistic estimations converge on dating the Proto-Anatolian split from residual PIE to the late 5th or early 4th millennia BCE (58, 70) and place the breakup of Anatolian IE inside Turkey prior to the mid-3rd millennium (53, 71,72).

We cannot at this point reject a scenario in which the introduction of the Anatolian IE languages into Anatolia was coupled with the CHG-derived admixture prior to 3700 BCE, but note that this is contrary to the standard view that PIE arose in the steppe north of the Caucasus (4) and that CHG ancestry is also associated with several non-IE-speaking groups, historical and current. Indeed, our data are also consistent with the first speakers of Anatolian IE coming to the region by way of commercial contacts and small-scale movement during the Bronze Age. Among comparative linguists, a Balkan route for the introduction of Anatolian IE is generally considered more likely than a passage through the Caucasus, due, for example, to greater Anatolian IE presence and language diversity in the west (73). Further discussion of these options is given in the archaeological and linguistic supplementary discussions (48, 49).

If you are asking yourselves why the Danish school (of Allentoft, Kristiansen, and Kroonen, co-authors of this paper) was not so fast to explain the findings the same way the proposed their infamous Indo-European – steppe ancestry association (i.e. ancestry = language, ergo CHG = PIE in this case), and resorted to mainstream anthropological models instead to explain the incongruence, I can think of two main reasons:

The possibility of having an early PIE around the Caucasus, potentially closely related not only to Uralic to the north, but also to Caucasian languages, Sumerian, Afroasiatic, Elamo-Dravidian, etc. could be a good reason for those excited with these few samples to begin dealing with macro-language proposals, such as Eurasiatic and Nostratic. If demonstrated to be true, a Northern Iranian origin of Middle PIE would also help relieve a little bit the pressure that some are feeling about the potentially male-driven Indo-European continuity (even if not “autochthonous”) associated with the expansion of R1b-L23 subclades.

On the other hand, I am a firm supporter of solid anthropological models of migration, and of “late and small” language expansions, usually accompanied by demic diffusion, which has been demonstrated to be linked with haplogroup expansion and reduction in variability.

Therefore, for the moment, even if it is weak – as weak as it always was (but still stronger than Gimbutas’ Maykop route) – the Balkan route seems like the best fit for all the data combined.

In fact, we already have steppe ancestry moving into the Lower Danube and Bulgaria in the mid-5th millennium. Let’s not forget that.

Yamna expansion to the East

Interesting data from an early East Yamna offshoot at Karagash, ca. 3018-2887 BC, of R1b-Z2106 lineage, which shows some ancestry, lineage, and cultural continuity in Sholpan, ca. 2620-2468 BC, in Kazakhstan.

This sample might be part of another descendant group from the migration waves that reached Afanasevo, and can thus be related to other early Asian R1b-L23 samples found in Narasimhan et al. (2018).

On the formation of Yamna and its CHG contribution, from the supplementary material:

  1. An admixture event, where Yamnaya is formed from a CHG population related to KK1 [=Kotias, dated ca. 7800 BC] and an ANE population related to Sidelkino and Botai. We inferred 54% of the Yamnaya ancestry to come from CHG and the remaining 46% to come from ANE.
  2. A split event, where the CHG component of Yamnaya splits from KK1. The model inferred this time at 27 kya (though we note the larger models in Sections S2.12.4 and S2.12.5 inferred a more recent split time [see below graphic]).
  3. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Sidelkino. This was inferred at about about 11 kya.
  4. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Botai. We inferred this to occur 17 kya. Note that this is above the Sidelkino split time, so our model infers Yamnaya to be more closely related to the EHG Sidelkino, as expected.
  5. An ancestral split event between the CHG and ANE ancestral populations. This was inferred to occur around 40 kya.
A 10-leaf model based on combining the models in Fig. S16 and Fig. S19 and re-estimating the model parameters.

On the expansion of domestication

CHG is not found in Botai, no gene flow from Yamna is found in its samples, and they are more related to East Asians, while Yamna is related to West Eurasians:

The lack of evidence of admixture between Botai horse herders and western steppe pastoralists is consistent with these latter migrating through the central steppe but not settling until they reached the Altai to the east (4). More significantly, this lack of admixture suggests that horses were domesticated by hunter-gatherers not previously familiar with farming, as were the cases for dogs (38) and reindeer (39). Domestication of the horse thus may best parallel that of the reindeer, a food animal that can be milked and ridden, which has been proposed to be domesticated by hunters via the “prey path” (40); indeed anthropologists note similarities in cosmological beliefs between hunters and reindeer herders (41). In contrast, most animal domestications were achieved by settled agriculturalists (5).

NOTE. I am not sure, but they seem to hint that there were separate events of horse domestication and horse-riding technique by the Botai and Yamna populations due to their lack of genetic contribution from the latter to the former. I guess they did not take into account farming spreading to the steppe without genetic contribution beyond the Dnieper… In fact, the superiority in horse-riding shown by the expanding Yamna peoples – as they state – should also serve to suggest from where the original technique expanded.

Indo-Iranian migrations

On the expansion of Yamna, and the different expansion of Steppe MLBA (with Indo-Iranian speakers) into Asia, further supporting Narasimhan et al. (2018), they have this to say:

However, direct influence of Yamnaya or related cultures of that period is not visible in the archaeological record, except perhaps for a single burial mound in Sarazm in present-day Tajikistan of contested age (44, 45). Additionally, linguistic reconstruction of proto-culture coupled with the archaeological chronology evidences a Late (-2300-1200 BCE) rather than Early Bronze Age (-3000-2500 BCE) arrival of the Indo-Iranian languages into South Asia (16, 45, 46). Thus, debate persists as to how and when Western Eurasian genetic signatures and IE languages reached South Asia.

Samples from the Namazga region (current Turkmenistan) from the Iron Age show an obvious influence from steppe MLBA (ca. 2300-1200 BC), and not steppe EBA (i.e. Yamna), population, in contrast with samples from the Chalcolithic (ca. 3300 BC), which don’t show this influence. This helps distinguish prior contacts with Iran Neolithic from the actual steppe population that expanded Indo-Iranian into Asia.

Very interesting therefore the Namazga CA sample (ca. 855 BC), of R1a-Z93 subclade, showing the sign of immigrant Indo-Aryans in the region. For more on this we will need an evaluation in common with the corrected data from Narasimhan et al. (2018), and all, including de Barros (Nature 2018), in combination with statistical methods to ascertain differences between early Indo-Aryans and Iranians.

A summary of the four qpAdm models fitted for South Asian populations. For each modern South Asian population. we fit different models with qpAdm to explain their ancestry composition using ancient groups and present the f irst model that we could not reject in the following priority order: 1. Namazga_CA + Onge, 2. Namazga_CA + Onge + Late Bronze Age Steppe, 3. Namazga_CA + Onge + Xiongnu_lA (East Asian proxy). and 4. Turkmenistan_lA + Xiongnu_lA. Xiongnu_lA were used here to represent East Asian ancestry. We observe that while South Asian Dravidian speakers can be modeled as a mixture of Onge and Namazga_CA. an additional source related to Late Bronze Age steppe groups is required for IE speakers. In Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic speakers. an East Asian rather than a Steppe_MLBA source is required.

Siberian peoples and N1c lineages

We have already seen how the paper on Eurasian steppe samples tries to assign Uralic to Neolithic peoples east of the Urals. The association with Okunevo is unlikely, since most are of haplogroup Q1a2, but they seem to suggest (combining both papers) that they accompanied N lineages from Siberian hunter-gatherers (present e.g. in Botai or Shamanka II, during the Early Neolithic), and formed part of (or suffered from) different demic diffusion waves:

These serial changes in the Baikal populations are reflected in Y-chromosome lineages (Fig. SA; figs. S24 to S27, and tables S13 and SI4). MAI carries the R haplogroup, whereas the majority of Baikal_EN males belong to N lineages, which were widely distributed across Northern Eurasia (29), and the Baikal_LNBA males all carry Q haplogroups, as do most of the Okunevo_EMBA as well as some present-day Central Asians and Siberians.

NOTE. Also interesting to see no R1a in Baikal hunter-gatherers after ca. 3500 BC, and a prevalence of N lineages as supported in a previous paper on the Kitoi culture, which some had questioned in the past.

In fact, the only N1c1 sample comes from Ust’Ida Late Neolithic, 180km to the north of Lake Baikal, apparently before the expansion of Q1a2a lineages during the EBA period. While this sample may be related to those expanded later in Finno-Ugric territory (although it may only be related to those expanded much later with Yakuts), other samples are not clearly from those found widely distributed among North-East Europeans only after the Iron Age, or – as in the case of Shamanka II (N1c2), they are clearly not of the same haplogroup.

Geographical location of ancient samples belonging to major clade N of the Y-chromosome.


It is great to see the paper and the supplementary material deal with Y-DNA haplogroups and their relevance for migrations with such detail. Especially because this paper comes from the same Copenhagen-based research group that originally associated ancestry with language, creating thus today’s mess based on steppe ancestry.

Regarding Y-DNA data, once again almost 100% of samples from late Khvalynsk/Yamna and derived cultures (like Afanasevo and Bell Beaker) are R1b-L23, no single R1a-M417 lineage found, and few expected by now, if any, within Late Proto-Indo-European territory.

While they claim to take Y-DNA into account to assess migrations – as they do for example with Asian cultures – , their previous model of a Yamna “R1a-R1b community” remains oddly unchanged, and they even insist on it in the supplementary materials, as they do in their parallel Nature paper.

They have also expressly mitigated the use of ancestral components to assess populations, citing the ancestral and modern association of CHG ancestry with different ethnolinguistic groups in the Middle East, to dismiss any rushed conclusions on the origin of Anatolian, and consequently of Middle PIE. And they did so evidently because it did not fit the anthropological data that is mainstream today (supporting a Balkan route), which is the right thing to do.

However, they have apparently not stopped to reconsider the links of CWC and steppe ancestry to ancestral and modern Uralic peoples – although they expressly mention the strong connection with modern Karelians in the supplementary material.

Also, after Narasimhan et al. (2018), there is a clear genetic continuity with East Yamna (in ancestry as in R1b-L23 subclades), so their interpretations about Indo-Iranian in this paper and especially de Barros (Nature 2018) – regarding the Abashevo -> Sintashta/Srunba/Andronovo connection – come, again, too late.


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

The official papers Olalde et al. (Nature 2018) and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018) have appeared. They are based on the 2017 preprints at BioRxiv The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe and The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe respectively, but with a sizeable number of new samples.

Papers are behind a paywall, but here are the authors’ shareable links to read the papers and supplementary materials: Olalde et al. (2018), Mathieson et al. (2018).

NOTE: The corresponding datasets have been added to the Reich Lab website. Remember you can use my drafts on DIY Human Ancestry analysis (viz. Plink/Eigensoft, PCA, or ADMIXTURE) to investigate the data further in your own computer.

Image modified by me, from Olalde et al (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the late CWC outlier sample from Esperstedt, showing how early East Bell Beaker samples are the closest to Yamna samples.

I don’t have time to analyze the samples in detail right now, but in short they seem to convey the same information as before: in Olalde et al. (2018) the pattern of Y-DNA haplogroup and steppe ancestry distribution is overwhelming, with an all-R1b-L23 Bell Beaker people accompanying steppe ancestry into western Europe.

EDIT: In Mathieson et al. (2018), a sample classified as of Ukraine_Eneolithic from Dereivka ca. 2890-2696 BC is of R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 subclade, so Western Yamna during the migrations also of R1b-L23 subclades, in contrast with the previous R1a lineages in Ukraine. In Olalde et al. (2018), it is clearly stated that of the four BB individuals with higher steppe ancestry, the two with higher coverage could be classified as of R1b-S116/P312 subclades.

This is compatible with the expansion of Indo-European-speaking Yamna migrants (also mainly of R1b-L23 subclades) into the East Bell Beaker group, as described with detail in Archaeology (and with the population movement we are seeing having been predicted) first by Volker Heyd in 2007.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC. Adapted from Harrison and Heyd (2007), Heyd (2007)

Also, the resurge of R1a-Z645 subclades in Czech and Polish lands (from previous Corded Ware migrants) accompanying other lineages indigenous to the region – seems to have happened only after the Bell Beaker expansion into these territories, during the Bronze Age, probably leading to the formation of the Balto-Slavic community, as I predicted based on previous papers. The fact that a sample of R1b-U106 subclade pops up in this territory is interesting from the point of view of a shared substrate with Germanic, as is the earlier BB sample of R1b-Z2103 for its connection with Graeco-Aryan dialects.

All this suggests that a North-West Indo-European dialect – ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic -, supported in Linguistics by most modern Indo-European schools of thought, expanded roughly along the Danube, and later to northern, eastern, and western Europe with the Bell Beaker expansion, as supported in Anthropology by Mallory (in Celtic from the West 2, 2013), and by Prescott for the development of a Nordic or Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia since 1995.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

Maybe more importantly, the fact that only Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka (and later Andronovo) cultures were clearly associated with R1a-Z645 subclades, and rather late – after mixing with early Chalcolithic North Caspian steppe groups (mainly East Yamna and Poltavka herders of R1b-L23 subclades) – gives support to the theory that Corded Ware (and probably the earlier Sredni Stog) groups did not speak or spread Indo-European languages with their migration, but most likely Uralic – as seen in recent papers on the much later arrival of haplogroup N1c – (compatible with the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis), adopting Indo-Iranian by way of cultural diffusion or founder effect events.

As Sheldon Cooper would say,

Under normal circumstances I’d say I told you so. But, as I have told you so with such vehemence and frequency already the phrase has lost all meaning. Therefore, I will be replacing it with the phrase, I informed you thusly

I informed you thusly:

“How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures”

I recently wrote about a good informal summary of genomic research in 2017 for geneticists.

I found a more professional review article, How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures, by Bruce Bower, appeared in Science News (25th Nov. 2017).

NOTE: I know, I know, the Pontic-Caspian steppe is in East Europe, not Asia, but what can you do about people’s misconceptions regarding European geography? After all, the division is a conventional one, there are not many landmarks to divide Eurasia…

It refers to Kristiansen’s model, which we already know supports the expansion of IE languages with the Corded Ware culture, and a later Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration. This is followed by many geneticists today as “The steppe model”.

Corded Ware culture emerged as a hybrid way of life that included crop cultivation, breeding of farm animals and some hunting and gathering, Kristiansen argues. Communal living structures and group graves of earlier European farmers were replaced by smaller structures suitable for families and single graves covered by earthen mounds. Yamnaya families had lived out of their wagons even before trekking to Europe. A shared emphasis on family life and burying the dead individually indicates that members of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures kept possessions among close relatives, in Kristiansen’s view.

“The Yamnaya and the Corded Ware culture were unified by a new idea of transmitting property between related individuals and families,” Kristiansen says.

Yamnaya migrants must have spoken a fledgling version of Indo-European languages that later spread across Europe and parts of Asia, Kristiansen’s group contends. Anthony, a longtime Kristiansen collaborator, agrees. Reconstructed vocabularies for people of the Corded Ware culture include words related to wagons, wheels and horse breeding that could have come only from the Yamnaya, Anthony says.

As Indo-European languages spread, the Yamnaya’s genetic impact in Europe remained substantial, even after the disappearance of Corded Ware culture around 4,400 years ago, Reich’s team reported online May 9 at About 50 percent of the ancestry of individuals from a later Bronze Age culture, dubbed the Bell Beaker culture for its pottery vessels shaped like an inverted bell, derived from Yamnaya stock. Such pottery spread across much of Europe starting nearly 4,770 years ago and disappeared by 3,800 years ago. Migrations of either people or ideas may have accounted for that dispersal.

NOTE. Anthony, as we know, has already changed his mind with the most recent data.

The author juxtaposes other opinions, to somehow balance the article:

Like many of his colleagues, archaeologist Volker Heyd of the University of Bristol in England was jolted by the 2015 reports of a close genetic link between Asian herders and a Bronze Age culture considered native to Europe. But, Heyd says, the story of ancient Yamnaya migrations is more complex than the rapid-change scenario sketched out by Kristiansen and Anthony.

No evidence exists that Yamnaya people rapidly developed practices typical of the Corded Ware culture in one part of Europe, Heyd argues in the April Antiquity. Cultural shifts in Europe around 5,000 years ago must have emerged from an extended series of small-scale dealings with Yamnaya and other pastoralists, which was then capped off by a large influx of steppe wagon travelers, he says.

For instance, individual graves and other signs of contact with the Yamnaya people and even earlier Asian pastoralists appear in Europe 1,000 to 2,000 years before DNA-transforming migrations occurred. Consider that the Yamnaya account for 5 percent of the ancestry of Ötzi the Iceman, who lived in southeastern Europe roughly 300 years before the Yamnaya’s big move (SN: 5/27/17, p. 13). Little is known about those earlier encounters.

Efforts to decipher ties between Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture are complicated by the fact that DNA is available from just a few people from each group, says Heyd, who is currently excavating Yamnaya graves in Hungary. Ancient DNA samples analyzed in the 2015 papers come from only a handful of Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture sites in a few parts of Europe and Russia.

Heyd suspects that Yamnaya travelers had even earlier contacts, perhaps by 5,400 years ago, with central and eastern Europeans known for making globe-shaped pots with small handles. Individuals from that culture, excavated at two sites in Poland and Ukraine, possess no Yamnaya genes, a team affiliated with Reich’s lab reported online May 9 at But Heyd thinks mating between members of that European culture and Yamnaya migrants may have occurred a bit farther east, where cross-cultural contacts probably occurred at the boundary of European forests and Asian grasslands.

Other genetic clues point to a long history of Asian pastoralists crossing into parts of Europe. Small amounts of DNA from steppe herders, possibly the Yamnaya, appeared in three hunter-gatherer skeletons from southeastern Europe dating to as early as around 6,500 years ago.

It is always interesting to see how reports gradually evolve, including more and more doubts about the ‘Yamnaya component’, and how it may be correctly interpreted. Slow but steady wins the race.

Check out the full article.

Featured image: from the article, based on the 2015 papers and Kristiansen’s model.

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