The arrival of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Eastern Europe, and the east-west diffusion of pottery through North Eurasia


Henny Piezonka recently uploaded an old chapter, Die frühe Keramik Eurasiens: Aktuelle Forschungsfragen und methodische Ansätze, in Multidisciplinary approach to archaeology: Recent achievements and prospects. Proceedings of the International Symposium “Multidisciplinary approach to archaeology: Recent achievements and prospects”, June 22-26, 2015, Novosibirsk, Eds. V. I. Molodin, S. Hansen.

Abstract (in German):

Die älteste bisher bekannte Gefäßkeramik der Welt wurde in Südostchina von spätglazialen Jäger-Sammlern wahrscheinlich schon um 18.000 cal BC hergestellt. In den folgenden Jahrtausenden verbreitete sich die neue Technik bei Wildbeutergemeinschaften in der russischen Amur-Region, in Japan, Korea und Transbaikalien bekannt, bevor sie im frühen und mittleren Holozän das Uralgebiet und Ost- und Nordeuropa erreichte. Entgegen verbreiteter Forschungsmeinungen zur Keramikgeschichte, die frühe Gefaßkeramik als Bestandteil des „neolithischen Bündes” der frühen Bauernkulturen sehen, stellt die eurasische Jäger-Sammler-Keramiktradition eine Innovation dar, die sich offenbar völlig unabhängig von anderen neolithischen Kulturerscheinungen wie Ackerbau, Viehzucht und sesshafre Lebensweise entwickelt hat Im vorliegenden Beitrag wird die chronologische Abfolge des ersten Auftretens von Tongefäßen in nordeurasischen Jäger-Sammler-Gemeinschaften anahnd von 14C-Datierungen Pazifik bis ins Baltikum nachvollzogen. Gleichzeitig werden vielversprechende methodische Ansätze vorgestellet, die derzeit ein Rolle bei der Erforschung dieses viel diskutierten Themas spielen.

Sites named in the text with earlier ceramic pottery in Eurasia up to the Urals.

If you have followed the updates to the Indo-European demic diffusion model, my proposal of a potential late arrival of haplogroup R1a-M417 during the Mesolithic did not change by the potential earlier arrival of EHG ancestry and haplogroup R1a in the North Pontic steppe, after the findings in Mathieson et al. (2017).

That is so because of the anthropological models of migration – or, lacking them, archaeological models of cultural expansion – that we have to date.

If I had followed a simplistic autochthonous continuity view, I would have thought that R1a-M417 was autochthonous to Eastern Europe, because an older subclade is found in the North Pontic steppe during the Mesolithic, akin to how some people want to believe that R1b-M269 shows autochthonous continuity in or around Central Europe, because of the Villabruna sample and later R1b-L23 subclades found there.

However, it is difficult to assert today that the population movement involving a community of mostly haplogroup R1a-M417 happened from west to east:

  1. If you follow Piezonka’s work, who did her Ph.D. dissertation in Eastern European Mesolithic (you can buy a more readable version), and has dedicated a great amount of time and effort to the research of cultural connections between Eastern Europe and Eurasia during the Mesolithic;
  2. taking into account the potential migration waves behind the increase in EHG ancestry in Eastern Europe in these periods, and this ancestral component’s speculative connection with ANE ancestry;
  3. and if we accept the TMRCA of R1a-M417 based on modern samples, dated ca. 6500 BC, and the appearance of the first samples at a similar time in Eastern Europe and in Baikalic cultures.

NOTE. More and more findings of Eastern Europe are showing how the sample of haplogroup N1c found in Eastern Europe and dated ca. 2500 BC is probably wrong, either in its haplogroup or in the radiocarbon date: after all, the lab has published just one study. The study of Baikalic samples, on the other hand, seems to have been corroborated by a more recent study.

Another interesting sample is that of Afontova Gora, whose community may have actually been mostly of haplogroup R1a (based on its position in PCA and relation to ANE ancestry), and thus the regional distribution of this haplogroup could have been quite large in North Eurasia during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition, although this is highly speculative, like the connection WHG:ANE for EHG.

Early radiocarbon-dated complexes with pottery in different regions of North Eurasia

It is obvious that we cannot know what happened during these millennia without more samples, and indeed I don’t see anything a priori wrong with having an origin of R1a-M417 (and thus some sort of continuity) in Eastern Europe during the Mesolithic and Neolithic; just as I don’t see any problem with the continuity of other European haplogroups. Or with their discontinuity, mind you. That would not change the Proto-Indo-European homeland, or the complexity of language and ethnicity in Eastern Europe in the millennia following the expansion of Late Indo-European.

It just amazes me again and again how otherwise serious and capable people are often blinded by the desire to have their direct paternal line (some ancestors among an infinite number of them, probably representing for them genetically much less than other ancestral lines) stem from the own region and have the same ethnolinguistic affiliation since time immemorial, instead of betting for sounder migration models supported by anthropological data…


Corded Ware culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region linked to immigrant potters


Article behind paywall Tracing grog and pots to reveal neolithic Corded Ware Culture contacts in the Baltic Sea region (SEM-EDS, PIXE) by Larsson et al., J. Archaeol. Sci. (2018) 91:77-91.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Neolithic Corded Ware Culture (CWC) complex spread across the Baltic Sea region ca. 2900/2800–2300/2000 BCE. Whether this cultural adaptation was driven by migration or diffusion remains widely debated. To gather evidence for contact and movement in the CWC material culture, grog-tempered CWC pots from 24 archaeological sites in southern Baltoscandia (Estonia and the southern regions of Finland and Sweden) were sampled for geochemical and micro-structural analyses. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM-EDS) and particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) were used for geochemical discrimination of the ceramic fabrics to identify regional CWC pottery-manufacturing traditions and ceramic exchange. Major and minor element concentrations in the ceramic body matrices of 163 individual vessels and grog temper (crushed pottery) present in the ceramic fabrics were measured by SEM-EDS. Furthermore, the high-sensitivity PIXE technique was applied for group confirmation. The combined pot and grog matrix data reveal eight geochemical clusters. At least five geochemical groups appeared to be associated with specific find locations and regional manufacturing traditions. The results indicated complex inter-site and cross-Baltic Sea pottery exchange patterns, which became more defined through the grog data, i.e., the previous generations of pots. The CWC pottery exhibited high technological standards at these latitudes, which, together with the identified exchange patterns and the existing evidence of mobility based on human remains elsewhere in the CWC complex, is indicative of the relocation of skilled potters, possibly through exogamy. An analytical protocol for the geochemical discrimination of grog-tempered pottery, and its challenges and possibilities, is presented.

Meolithic Corded Ware Culture sites studied in the Baltic Sea region

We are seeing a growing complexity for the definition of the Corded Ware culture in anthropological models that help us understand genomic data, including its precise origins and expansion, and indeed for the question of the expansion of ancient Uralic languages in the region.


Recent archaeological finds near Indo-European and Uralic homelands


The latest publication of Documenta Praehistorica, vol. 44 (2017) is a delight for anyone interested in Indo-European and Uralic studies, whether from a linguistic, archaeological, anthropological, or genetic point of view. Articles are freely downloadable from the website.

The following is a selection of articles I deem more interesting, but almost all are.

On the Corded Ware culture

Do 14C dates always turn into an absolute chronology? The case of the Middle Neolithic in western Lesser Poland, by Marek Novak:

In the late 5th, 4th, and early 3rd millennia BC, different archaeological units are visible in western Lesser Poland. According to traditional views, local branches of the late Lengyel-Polgár complex, the Funnel Beaker culture, and the Baden phenomena overlap chronologically in great measure. The results of investigations done with new radiocarbon dating show that in some cases a discrete mode and linearity of cultural transformation is recommended. The study demonstrates that extreme approaches in which we either approve only those dates which fit with our concepts or accept with no reservation all dates as such are incorrect.

Territory of western Lesser Poland and the main archaeological units in the late 5th, 4th and early 3rd millennia BC: 1 borders of the area discussed in the paper; 2 sites of the Lublin-Volhynian culture; 3 the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 4 the Funnel Beaker culture (a dense settlement typical of ‘loess’ upland; b more dispersed settlement typical of foothills, alluvial plains/basins and ‘jurassic zones; c highly dispersed settlement typical mainly of mountainous zone); 5 sites with the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials; 6 the Baden culture, 7 the Beaker/Baden assemblages; 8 Corded Ware culture (a relatively dense settlement typical mainly of ‘loess’ upland; b highly dispersed settlement typical of other ecological zones).

This article brings new data against David Anthony’s new IECWT model, suggesting later dates for the Corded Ware Culture group of Lesser Poland, and thus an earlier origin of their nomadic herders in the steppe, forest-steppe or forest zone to the east and south-east.

On the Pontic-Caspian steppe and forest-steppe

First isotope analysis and new radiocarbon dating of Trypillia (Tripolye) farmers from Verteba Cave, Bilche Zolote, Ukraine, by Lillie et al.:

This paper presents an analysis of human and animal remains from Verteba cave, near Bilche Zolote, western Ukraine. This study was prompted by a paucity of direct dates on this material and the need to contextualise these remains in relation both to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Ukraine, and their specific place within the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture sequence. The new absolute dating places the remains studied here in Trypillia stages BII/CI at c. 3900–3500 cal BC, with one individual now redated to the Early Scythian period. As such, these finds are even more exceptional than previously assumed, being some of the earliest discovered for this culture. The isotope analyses indicate that these individuals are local to the region, with the dietary stable isotopes indicating a C3 terrestrial diet for the Trypillia-period humans analysed. The Scythian period individual has δ13C ratios indicative of either c. 50% marine, or alternatively C4 plant inputs into the diet, despite δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr ratios that are comparable to the other individuals studied.

Map showing the extent of the Trypillia culture of Ukraine and
neighbouring countries, key sites and the location of Verteba Cave ©WAERC
University of Hull.

New data on one of the cultures that was very likely a close neighbour of Corded Ware peoples.

Chronology of Neolithic sites in the forest-steppe area of the Don River, by Smolyaninov, Skorobogatov, and Surkov:

The first ceramic complexes appeared in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Eastern Europe at the end of the 7th–5th millennium BC. They existed until the first half of the 5th millennium BC in the Don River basin. All these first ceramic traditions had common features and also local particularities. Regional cultures, distinguished nowadays on the basis of these local particularities, include the Karamyshevskaya and Middle Don cultures, as well pottery of a new type found at sites on the Middle Don River (Cherkasskaya 3 and Cherkasskaya 5 sites).

Radiocarbon chronology of Neolithic in the Lower Don and North-eastern Azov Sea, by Tsybryi et al.:

So far, four different cultural-chronological groups of sites have been identified in the North-eastern Azov Sea and Lower Don River areas, including sites of the Rakushechny Yar culture, Matveev Kurgan culture, Donets culture, and sites of the Caspian-Ciscaucasian region. An analysis of all known dates, as well as the contexts and stratigraphies of the sites, allowed us to form a new perspective of the chronology of southern Russia, to revise the chronology of this region, and change the concept of unreliability of dates for this area.

On the Forest Zone

The past in the past in the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers: an example from a settlement and cemetery site in northern Latvia, by Lars Olof Georg Larsson:

During excavations of burials at Zvejnieki in northern Latvia, it transpired that the grave fill included occupation material brought to the grave. It contained tools of a type that could not be contemporaneous with the grave. This is confirmed by the dating of bone tools and other bone finds in the fill. The fill was taken from an older settlement site a short distance away. The fill also included skeletal parts of humans whose graves had been destroyed with the digging of the grave for a double burial. This provides an interesting view of the mortuary practice of hunter-gatherers and an insight into the use of the past in the past.

The Zvejnieki site with the location of the burial ground, the settlements,
the farmhouse on the site and the gravel pit.

I keep expecting that more information is given regarding the important sample labelled “Late Neolithic/Corded Ware Culture” from Zvejnieki ca. 2880 BC. It seems too early for the Corded Ware culture in the region, clusters too close to steppe samples, and the information on it from genetic papers is so scarce… My ad hoc explanation of these data – as a product of recent exogamy from Eastern Yamna -, while possibly enough to explain one sample, is not satisfying without further data, so we need to have more samples from the region to have a clearer picture of what happened there and when. Another possibility is a new classification of the sample, compatible with later migration events (a later date of the sample would explain a lot). Anyway, this article won’t reveal anything about this matter, but is interesting for other, earlier samples from the cemetery.

Other articles on the Forest Zone include:

Other articles include studies on Neolithic sites, potentially relevant for Indo-European migrations, such as Anatolia, Greece, southern or south-eastern sites in Europe. Check it out!