Corded Ware—Uralic (II): Finno-Permic and the expansion of N-L392/Siberian ancestry


This is the second of four posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification:

I read from time to time that “we have not sampled Uralic speakers yet”, and “we are waiting to see when Uralic-speaking peoples are sampled”. Are we, though?

Proto-language homelands are based on linguistic data, such as guesstimates for dialectal evolution, loanwords and phonetic changes for language contacts, toponymy for ancient territories, etc. depending on the available information. The trace is then followed back, using available archaeological data, from the known historic speakers and territory to the appropriate potential prehistoric cultures. Only then can genetic analyses help us clarify the precise prehistoric population movements that better fit the models.

The traditional family tree of the Uralic branches. Kallio (2014)

The linguistic homeland

We thought – using linguistic guesstimates and fitting prehistoric cultures and their expansion – that Yamna was the Late Proto-Indo-European culture, so when Yamna was sampled, we had Late Proto-Indo-Europeans sampled. Simple deduction.

We thought that north-eastern Europe was a Uralic-speaking area during the Neolithic:

  • For those supporting a western continuity (and assuming CWC was Indo-European), the language was present at least since the Comb Ware culture, potentially since the Mesolithic.
  • For those supporting a late introduction into Finland, Uralic expanded the latest with Abashevo-related movements after its incorporation of Volosovo and related hunter-gatherers.

The expansion to the east must have happened through progressive infiltrations with Seima-Turbino / Andronovo-related expansions.

Some datings for the traditional proto-stages from Uralic to Finnic. Kallio (2014).

Finding the linguistic homeland going backwards can be described today as follows:

I. Proto-Fennic homeland

Based on the number of Baltic loanwords, not attested in the more eastern Uralic branches (and reaching only partially Mordvinic), the following can be said about western Finno-Permic languages (Junttila 2014):

The Volga-Kama Basin lies still too far east to be included in a list of possible contact locations. Instead, we could look for the contact area somewhere between Estonia in the west and the surroundings of Moscow in the east, a zone with evidence of Uralic settlement in the north and Baltic on the south side.

The only linguistically well-grounded version of the Stone Age continuation theory was presented by Mikko Korhonen in 1976. Its validity, however, became heavily threatened when Koivulehto 1983a-b proved the existence of a Late Proto-Indo-European or Pre-Baltic loanword layer in Saami, Finnic, and Mordvinic. Since this layer must precede the Baltic one and it was presumably acquired in the Baltic Sea region, Koivulehto posited it on the horizon of the Battle Axe period. This forces a later dating for the Baltic–Finnic contacts.

Today the Battle Axe culture is dated at 3200 to 3000 BC, a period far too remote to correspond linguistically with Proto-Baltic (Kallio 1998a).

Since the Baltic contacts began at a very initial phase of Proto-Finnic, the language must have been relatively uniform at that time. Hence, if we consider that the layer of Baltic loanwords may have spread over the Gulf of Finland at that time, we could also insist that the whole of the Proto-Finnic language did so.

Prehistoric Balts as the southern neighbours of Proto-Finnic speakers. 1 = The approximated area of Proto-Uralic. 2 = The approximated area of Finnic during the Iron Age. 3 = The area of ancient Baltic hydronyms. 4 = The area of Baltic languages in about 1200 AD. 5 = The problem: When did Uralic expand westwards and when did it meet Baltic? Junntila (2012).

II. Proto-Finno-Saamic homeland

The evidence of continued Palaeo-Germanic loanwords (from Pre- to Proto-Germanic stages) is certainly the most important data to locate the Finno-Saamic homeland, and from there backwards into the true Uralic homeland. Following Kallio (2017):

(…) the loanword evidence furthermore suggests that the ancestors of Finnic and Saamic had at least phonologically remained very close to Proto-Uralic as late as the Bronze Age (ca. 1700–500 BC). In particular, certain loanwords, whose Baltic and Germanic sources point to the first millennium BC, after all go back to the Finno-Saamic proto-stage, which is phonologically almost identical to the Uralic proto-stage (see especially the table in Sammallahti 1998: 198–202). This being the case, Dahl’s wave model could perhaps have some use in Uralic linguistics, too.

The presence of Pre-Germanic loanwords points rather to the centuries around the turn of the 2nd – 1st millennium BC or earlier. Proto-Germanic words must have been borrowed before the end of Germanic influence in the eastern Baltic at the beginning of the Iron Age, which sets a clear terminus ante quem ca. 800 BC.

The arrival of Bell Beaker peoples in Scandinavia ca. 2350 BC, heralding the formation of the Dagger Period, as well as the development of Pre-Germanic in common with Finnic-like populations point to the late 3rd / early 2nd millennium BC as the first time of close interaction through the Baltic region.

III. Proto-Uralic homeland

(…) the earliest Indo-European loanwords in the Uralic languages (…) show that Proto-Uralic cannot have been spoken much earlier than Proto-Indo-European dated about 3500 BC (Koivulehto 2001: 235, 257). As the same loanword evidence naturally also shows that the Uralic and Indo-European homelands were not located far from one another, the Uralic homeland can most likely be located in the Middle and Upper Volga region, right north of the Indo-European homeland*. From the beginning of the Subneolithic period about 5900 BC onwards, this region was an important innovation centre, from where several cultural waves spread to the Finnish Gulf area, such as the Sperrings Ware wave about 4900 BC, the Combed Ware wave about 3900 BC, and the Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC (Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 78–90).

The mainstream position is nowadays trying to hold together the traditional views of Corded Ware as Indo-European, and a Uralic Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age.

The following is an example of how this “Volosovo/Forest Zone hunter-gatherer theory” of Uralic origins looks like, as a ‘mixture’ of cultures and languages that benefits from the lack of genetic data for certain regions and periods (taken from Parpola 2018):

The extent of Typical Comb Ware (TCW), Asbestos- and Organic-tempered Wares (AOW) and Volosovo and Garino-Bor cultures; areas with deposits of native copper in Karelia and copperbearing sandstone in Volga-Kama-area are marked dark gray (after Zhuravlev 1977; Krajnov 1987; Nagovitsyn 1987; Chernykh 1992; Carpelan 1999; Zhul´nikov 1999). From Nordqvist et al. (2012).

The Corded Ware (or Battle Axe) culture intruded into the Eastern Baltic and coastal Finland already around 3100 BCE. The continuity hypothesis maintains that the early Proto-Finnic speakers of the coastal regions, who had come to Finland in the 4th millennium BCE with the Comb-Pitted Ware, coexisted with the Corded Ware newcomers, gradually adopting their pastoral culture and with it a number of NW-IE loanwords, but assimilating the immigrants linguistically.

The fusion of the Corded Ware and the local Comb-Pitted Ware culture resulted into the formation of the Kiukais culture (c. 2300–1500) of southwestern Finland, which around 2300 received some cultural impulses from Estonia, manifested in the appearance of the Western Textile Ceramic (which is different from the more easterly Textile Ceramic or Netted Ware, and which is first attested in Estonia c. 2700 BCE, cf. Kriiska & Tvauri 2007: 88), and supposed to have been accompanied by an influx of loanwords coming from Proto-Baltic. At the same time, the Kiukais culture is supposed to have spread the custom of burying chiefs in stone cairns to Estonia.

The coming of the Corded Ware people and their assimilation created a cultural and supposedly also a linguistic split in Finland, which the continuity hypothesis has interpreted to mean dividing Proto-Saami-Finnic unity into its two branches. Baltic Finnic, or simply Finnic, would have emerged in the coastal regions of Finland and in the northern East Baltic, while preforms of Saami would have been spoken in the inland parts of Finland.

The Nordic Bronze Age culture, correlated above with early Proto-Germanic, exerted a strong influence upon coastal Finland and Estonia 1600–700 BCE. Due to this, the Kiukais culture was transformed into the culture of Paimio ceramics (c. 1600–700 BCE), later continued by Morby ceramics (c. 700 BCE – 200 CE). The assumption is that clear cultural continuity was accompanied by linguistic continuity. Having assimilated the language of the Germanic traders and relatively few settlers of the Bronze Age, the language of coastal Finland is assumed to have reached the stage of Proto-Finnish at the beginning of the Christian era. In Estonia, the Paimio ceramics have a close counterpart in the contemporaneous Asva ceramics.

Eastern homelands?

I will not comment on Siberian or Central Asian homeland proposals, because they are obviously not mainstream, still less today when we know that Uralic was certainly in contact with Proto-Indo-European, and then with Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian, as supported even by the Copenhagen group in Damgaard et al. (2018).

This is what Kallio (2017) has to say about the agendas behind such proposals:

Interestingly, the only Uralicists who generally reject the Central Russian homeland are the Russian ones who prefer the Siberian homeland instead. Some Russians even advocate that the Central Russian homeland is only due to Finnish nationalism or, as one of them put it a bit more tactfully, “the political and ideological situation in Finland in the first decades of the 20th century” (Napolskikh 1995: 4).

Still, some Finns (and especially those who also belong to the “school who wants it large and wants it early”) simultaneously advocate that exactly the same Central Russian homeland is due to Finnlandisierung (Wiik 2001: 466).

Hence, for those of you willing to learn about fringe theories not related to North-Eastern Europe, you also have then the large and early version of the Uralic homeland, with Wiik’s Palaeolithic continuity of Uralic peoples spread over all of eastern and central Europe (hence EHG and R1a included):

Palaeolithic boat peoples and Finno-Ugric. Source

These fringe Finnish theories look a lot like the Corded Ware expansion… Better not go the Russian or Finnish nationalist ways? Agreed then, let’s discuss only rational proposals based on current data.

The archaeological homeland

For a detailed account of the Corded Ware expansion with Battle Axe, Fatyanovo-Balanovo, and Abashevo groups into the area, you can read my recent post on the origin of R1a-Z645.

1. Textile ceramics

During the 2nd millennium BC, textile impressions appear in pottery as a feature across a wide region, from the Baltic area through the Volga to the Urals, in communities that evolve from late Corded Ware groups without much external influence.

While it has been held that this style represents a north-west expansion from the Volga region (with the “Netted Ware” expansion), there are actually at least two original textile styles, one (earlier) in the Gulf of Finland, common in the Kiukainen pottery, which evolves into the Textile ware culture proper, and another which seems to have an origin in the Middle Volga region to the south-east.

The Netted ware culture is the one that apparently expands into inner Finland – a region not densely occupied by Corded Ware groups until then. There are, however, no clear boundaries between groups of both styles; textile impressions can be easily copied without much interaction or population movement; and the oldest textile ornamentation appeared on the Gulf of Finland. Hence the tradition of naming all as groups of Textile ceramics.

Maximum distribution of Textile ceramics during the Bronze Age (ca. 2000-800 BC). Asbestos-tempered ware lies to the north (and is also continued in western Fennoscandia).

The fact that different adjacent groups from the Gulf of Finland and Forest Zone share similar patterns making it very difficult to differentiate between ‘Netted Ware’ or ‘Textile Ware’ groups points to:

  • close cultural connections that are maintained through the Gulf of Finland and the Forest Zone after the evolution of late Corded Ware groups; and
  • no gross population movements in the original Battle Axe / Fatyanovo regions, except for the expansion of Netted Ware to inner Finland, Karelia, and the east, where the scattered Battle Axe finds and worsening climatic conditions suggest most CWC settlements disappeared at the end of the 3rd millennium BC and recovered only later.

NOTE. This lack of population movement – or at least significant replacement by external, non-CWC groups – is confirmed in genetic investigation by continuity of CWC-related lineages (see below).

The technology present in Textile ceramics is in clear contrast to local traditions of sub-Neolithic Lovozero and Pasvik cultures of asbestos-tempered pottery to the north and east, which point to a different tradition of knowledge and learning network – showing partial continuity with previous asbestos ware, since these territories host the main sources of asbestos. We have to assume that these cultures of northern and eastern Fennoscandia represent Palaeo-European (eventually also Palaeo-Siberian) groups clearly differentiated from the south.

The Chirkovo culture (ca. 1800-700 BC) forms on the middle Volga – at roughly the same time as Netted Ware formed to the west – from the fusion of Abashevo and Balanovo elites on Volosovo territory, and is also related (like Abashevo) to materials of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

Bronze Age ethnolinguistic groups

In the Gulf of Finland, Kiukainen evolves into the Paimio ceramics (in Finland) — Asva Ware (in Estonia) culture, which lasts from ca. 1600 to ca. 700 BC, probably representing an evolving Finno-Saamic community, while the Netted Ware from inner Finland (the Sarsa and Tomitsa groups) and the groups from the Forest Zone possibly represent a Volga-Finnic community.

NOTE. Nevertheless, the boundaries between Textile ceramic groups are far from clear, and inner Finland Netted Ware groups seem to follow a history different from Netted Ware groups from the Middle and Upper Volga, hence they could possibly be identified as an evolving Pre-Saamic community.

Based on language contacts, with Early Baltic – Early Finnic contacts starting during the Iron Age (ca. 500 BC onwards), this is a potential picture of the situation at the end of this period, when Germanic influence on the coast starts to fade, and Lusatian culture influence is stronger:

The linguistic situation in Lapland and the northern Baltic Sea Area in the Early Iron Age prior to the expansion of Saami languages; the locations of the language groups are schematic. The black line indicates the distribution of Saami languages in the 19th century, and the gray line their approximate maximal distribution before the expansion of Finnic. Aikio (2012)

The whole Finno-Permic community remains thus in close contact, allowing for the complicated picture that Kallio mentions as potentially showing Dahl’s wave model for Uralic languages.

Genetic data shows a uniform picture of these communities, with exclusively CWC-derived ancestry and haplogroups. So in Mittnik et al. (2018) all Baltic samples show R1a-Z645 subclades, while the recent session on Estonian populations in ISBA 8 (see programme in PDF) clearly states that:

[Of the 24 Bronze Age samples from stone-cist graves] all 18 Bronze Age males belong to R1a.

Regarding non-Uralic substrates found in Saami, supposedly absorbed during the expansion to the north (and thus representing languages spoken in northern Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age) this is what Aikio (2012) has to say:

The Saami substrate in the Finnish dialects thus reveals that also Lakeland Saami languages had a large number of vocabulary items of obscure origin. Most likely many of these words were substrate in Lakeland Saami, too, and ultimately derive from languages spoken in the region before Saami. In some cases the loan origin of these words is obvious due to their secondary Proto-Saami vowel combinations such as *ā–ë in *kāvë ‘bend; small bay’ and *šāpšë ‘whitefish’. This substrate can be called ‘Palaeo-Lakelandic’, in contrast to the ‘Palaeo-Laplandic’ substrate that is prominent in the lexicon of Lapland Saami. As the Lakeland Saami languages became extinct and only fragments of their lexicon can be reconstructed via elements preserved in Finnish place-names and dialectal vocabulary, we are not in a position to actually study the features of this Palaeo-Lakelandic substrate. Its existence, however, appears evident from the material above.

If we wanted to speculate further, based on the data we have now, it is very likely that two opposing groups will be found in the region:

A) The central Finnish group, in this hypothesis the Palaeo-Lakelandic group, made up of the descendants of the Mesolithic pioneers of the Komsa and Suomusjärvi cultures, and thus mainly Baltic HG / Scandinavian HG ancestry and haplogroups I / R1b(xM269) (see more on Scandinavian HG).

Frequency map of the so-called ‘Siberian’ component. From Tambets et al. (2018).

B) Lapland and Kola were probably also inhabited by similar Mesolithic populations, until it was eventually assimilated by expanding Siberian groups (of Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages) from the east – entering the region likely through the Kola peninsula – , forming the Palaeo-Laplandic group, which was in turn later replaced by expanding Proto-Saamic groups.

Siberian ancestry appears first in Fennoscandia at Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov ca. 1520 BC, with haplogroup N1c-L392 (2 samples, BOO002 and BOO004), and with Siberian ancestry. This is their likely movement in north-eastern Europe, from Lamnidis et al (2018):

The large Siberian component in the Bolshoy individuals from the Kola Peninsula provides the earliest direct genetic evidence for an eastern migration into this region. Such contact is well documented in archaeology, with the introduction of asbestos-mixed Lovozero ceramics during the second millenium BC, and the spread of even-based arrowheads in Lapland from 1,900 BCE. Additionally, the nearest counterparts of Vardøy ceramics, appearing in the area around 1,600-1,300 BCE, can be found on the Taymyr peninsula, much further to the east. Finally, the Imiyakhtakhskaya culture from Yakutia spread to the Kola Peninsula during the same period.

PCA plot of 113 Modern Eurasian populations, with individuals from this study projected on the principal components. Uralic speakers are highlighted in light purple. Image modified from Lamnidis et al. (2018)

Obviously, these groups of asbestos-tempered ware are not connected to the Uralic expansion. From the same paper:

The fact that the Siberian genetic component is consistently shared among Uralic-speaking populations, with the exceptions of Hungarians and the non-Uralic speaking Russians, would make it tempting to equate this component with the spread of Uralic languages in the area. However, such a model may be overly simplistic. First, the presence of the Siberian component on the Kola Peninsula at ca. 4000 yBP predates most linguistic estimates of the spread of Uralic languages to the area. Second, as shown in our analyses, the admixture patterns found in historic and modern Uralic speakers are complex and in fact inconsistent with a single admixture event. Therefore, even if the Siberian genetic component partly spread alongside Uralic languages, it likely presented only an addition to populations carrying this component from earlier.

2. The Early Iron Age

The Ananino culture appears in the Vyatka-Kama area, famed for its metallurgy, with traditions similar to the North Pontic area, by this time developing Pre-Sauromatian traditions. It expanded to the north in the first half of the first millennium BC, remaining in contact with the steppes, as shown by the ‘Scythian’ nature of its material culture.

NOTE. The Ananino culture can be later followed through its zoomorphic styles into Iron Age Pjanoborskoi and Gljadenovskoi cultures, later to Ural-Siberian Middle Age cultures – Itkuska, Ust’-Poluiska, Kulaiska cultures –, which in turn can be related as prototypes of medieval Permian styles.

Territory of (early and maximum) Ananino material culture. Vasilyev (2002).

At the same time as the Ananino culture begins to expand ca. 1000 BC, the Netted Ware tradition from the middle Oka expanded eastwards into the Oka-Vyatka interfluve of the middle Volga region, until then occupied by the Chirkovo culture. Eventually the Akozino or Akhmylovo group (ca. 800-300 BC) emerged from the area, showing a strong cultural influence from the Ananino culture, by that time already expanding into the Cis-Urals region.

The Akozino culture remains nevertheless linked to the western Forest Zone traditions, with long-ranging influences from as far as the Lusatian culture in Poland (in metallurgical techniques), which at this point is also closely related with cultures from Scandinavia (read more on genetics of the Tollense Valley).

Mälar celts and molds for casting (a) and the main distribution area (в) of Mälar-type celts of the Mälar type in the Volga-Kama region (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 92) and Scandinavia (according to Baudou 1960: Karte 10); Ananino celts and molds for casting (б) and the main distribution area (г) of the distribution of the celts of the Ananino type in the Volga-Kama area (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 9); dagger of Ananino type (д).Map from (Yushkova 2010)

Different materials from Akozino reach Fennoscandia late, at the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Early Iron Age, precisely when the influence of the Nordic Bronze Age culture on the Gulf of Finland was declining.

This is a period when Textile ceramic cultures in north-eastern Europe evolve into well-armed chiefdom-based groups, with each chiefdom including thousands or tens of thousands, with the main settlements being hill forts, and those in Fennoscandia starting ca. 1000-400 BC.

Mälar-type celts and Ananino-type celts appear simultaneously in Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone, with higher concentrations in south-eastern Sweden (Mälaren) and the Volga-Kama region, supporting the existence of a revived international trade network.

Distribution of the Akozino-Mälar axes according to Sergej V. Kuz’minykh (1996: 8, Abb. 2).

The Paimio—Asva Ware culture evolves (ca. 700-200 BC) into the Morby (in Finland) — Ilmandu syle (in Estonia, Latvia, and Mälaren) culture. The old Paimio—Asva tradition continues side by side with the new one, showing a clear technical continuity with it, but with ornamentation compared to the Early Iron Age cultures of the Upper Volga area. This new south-eastern influence is seen especially in:

  • Akozino-Mälar axes (ca. 800-500 BC): introduced into the Baltic area in so great numbers – especially south-western Finland, the Åland islands, and the Mälaren area of eastern Sweden – that it is believed to be accompanied by a movement of warrior-traders of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture, following the waterways that Vikings used more than a thousand years later. Rather than imports, they represent a copy made with local iron sources.
  • Tarand graves (ca. 500 BC – AD 400): these ‘mortuary houses’ appear in the coastal areas of northern and western Estonia and the islands, at the same time as similar graves in south-western Finland, eastern Sweden, northern Latvia and Courland. Similar burials are found in Akozino-Akhmylovo, with grave goods also from the upper and middle Volga region, while grave goods show continuity with Textile ware.

The use of asbestos increases in mainland Finnish wares with Kjelmøy Ware (ca. 700 BC – AD 300), which replaced the Lovozero Ware; and in the east in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (ca. 700-500 BC – AD 200), where they replaced the previous Sarsa-Tomitsa ceramics.

The Gorodets culture appears during the Scythian period in the forest-steppe zone north and west of the Volga, shows fortified settlements, and there are documented incursions of Gorodets iron makers into the Samara valley, evidenced by deposits of their typical pottery and a bloom or iron in the region.

Iron Age ethnolinguistic groups

According to (Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007):

It is commonly accepted by archaeology, ethnography, and linguistics that the ancestors of the Permian peoples (the Udmurts, Komi-Permians, and Komi-Zyryans) left the sites of Ananyino cultural intercommunity.

NOTE. For more information on the Late Metal Ages and Early Medieval situation of Finno-Ugric languages, see e.g. South-eastern contact area of Finnic languages in the light of onomastics (Rahkonen 2013).

Yakhr-, -khra, yedr-, -dra and yer-/yar, -er(o), -or(o) names of lakes in Central and North Russia and the possible boundary of the proto-language words *jäkra/ä and *järka/ä. Rahkonen (2011)

Certain innovations shared between Proto-Fennic (identified with the Gulf of Finland) and Proto-Mordvinic (from the Gorodets culture) point to their close contact before the Proto-Fennic expansion, and thus to the identification of Gorodets as Proto-Mordvinic, hence Akozino as Volgaic (Parpola 2018):

  • the noun paradigms and the form and function of individual cases,
  • the geminate *mm (foreign to Proto-Uralic before the development of Fennic under Germanic influence) and other non-Uralic consonant clusters.
  • the change of numeral *luka ‘ten’ with *kümmen.
  • The presence of loanwords of non-Uralic origin, related to farming and trees, potentially Palaeo-European in nature (hence possibly from Siberian influence in north-eastern Europe).
Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Purple area show likely zones of predominant Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages. Blue areas likely zones of predominant CWC ancestry and R1a-Z645 lineages. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of haplogroup N1c-L392 for centuries (Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia), found eventually in tarand graves. Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Fennic and (partially displaced) Saamic. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The introduction of a strongly hierarchical chiefdom system can quickly change the pre-existing social order and lead to a major genetic shift within generations, without a radical change in languages, as shown in Sintashta-Potapovka compared to the preceding Poltavka society (read more about Sintashta).

Fortified settlements in the region represented in part visiting warrior-traders settled through matrimonial relationships with local chiefs, eager to get access to coveted goods and become members of a distribution network that could guarantee them even military assistance. Such a system is also seen synchronously in other cultures of the region, like the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures (Parpola 2013).

The most likely situation is that N1c subclades were incorporated from the Circum-Artic region during the Anonino (Permic) expansion to the north, later emerged during the formation of the Akozino group (Volgaic, under Anonino influence), and these subclades in turn infiltrated among the warrior traders that spread all over Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (mainly among Fennic, Saamic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic peoples), during the age of hill forts, creating alliances partially based on exogamy strategies (Parpola 2013).

Over the course of these events, no language change is necessary in any of the cultures involved, since the centre of gravity is on the expanding culture incorporating new lineages:

  • first on the Middle Volga, when Ananino expands to the north, incorporatinig N1c lineages from the Circum-Artic region.
  • then with the expansion of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture into Ananino territory, admixing with part of its population;
  • then on the Baltic region, when materials are imported from Akozino into Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (and vice versa), with local cultures being infiltrated by foreign (Akozino) warrior-traders and their materials;
  • and later with the different population movements that led eventually to a greater or lesser relevance of N1c in modern Finno-Permic populations.

To argue that this infiltration and later expansion of lineages changed the language in one culture in one of these events seems unlikely. To use this argument of “opposite movement of ethnic and language change” for different successive events, and only on selected regions and cultures (and not those where the greatest genetic and cultural impact is seen, like e.g. Sweden for Akozino materials) is illogical.

NOTE. Notice how I write here about “infiltration” and “lineages”, not “migration” or “populations”. To understand that, see below the next section on autosomal studies to compare Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval and Modern Estonians, and see how little the population of Estonia (homeland of Proto-Fennic and partially of Proto-Finno-Saamic) has changed since the Corded Ware migrations, suggesting genetic continuity and thus mostly close inter-regional and intra-regional contacts in the Forest Zone, hence a very limited impact of the absorbed N1c lineages (originally at some point incorporated from the Circum-Artic region). You can also check on the most recent assessment of R1a vs. N1c in modern Uralic populations.

Iron Age and later populations

From the session on Estonian samples on ISBA 8, by Tambets et al.:

[Of the 13 samples from the Iron Age tarand-graves] We found that the Iron Age individuals do in fact carry chrY hg N3 (…) Furthermore, based on their autosomal data, all of the studied individuals appear closer to hunter-gatherers and modern Estonians than Estonian CWC individuals do.

EDIT (16 OCT) A recent abstract with Saag as main author (Tambets second) cites 3 out of 5 sampled Iron Age individuals as having haplogroup N3.

EDIT (28 OCT): Notice also the appearance of N1a1a1a1a1a1a1-L1025 in Lithuania (ca. 300 AD), from Damgaard (Nature 2018); the N1c sample of the Krivichi Pskov Long Barrows culture (ca. 8th-10th c. AD), and N1a1a1a1a1a1a7-Y4341 among late Vikings from Sigtuna (ca. 10th-12th c. AD) in Krzewinska (2018).

PCA of Estonian samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval times. Tambets et al. (2018, upcoming).

Looking at the plot, the genetic inflow marking the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age looks like an obvious expansion of nearby peoples with CWC-related ancestry, i.e. likely from the south-east, near the Middle Volga, where influence of steppe peoples is greater (hence likely Akozino) into a Proto-Fennic population already admixed (since the arrival of Corded Ware groups) with Comb Ware-like populations.

All of these groups were probably R1a-Z645 (likely R1a-Z283) since the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, with an introduction of some N1c lineages precisely during this Iron Age period. This infiltration of N1c-L392 with Akozino is obviously not directly related to Siberian cultures, given what we know about the autosomal description of Estonian samples.

Rather, N1c-L392 lineages were likely part of the incoming (Volgaic) Akozino warrior-traders, who settled among developing chiefdoms based on hill fort settlements of cultures all over the Baltic area, and began to appear thus in some of the new tarand graves associated with the Iron Age in north-eastern Europe.f

A good way to look at this is to realize that no new cluster appears compared to the data we already have from Baltic LN and BA samples from Mittnik et al. (2018), so the Estonian BA and IA clusters must be located (in a proper PCA) in the cline from Pit-Comb Ware culture through Baltic BA to Corded Ware groups:

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting three time periods in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). Population labels of modern West Eurasians are given in Supplementary Fig. 7 and a zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples is provided in Supplementary Fig. 8. b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)

This genetic continuity from Corded Ware (the most likely Proto-Uralic homeland) to the Proto-Fennic and Proto-Saamic communities in the Gulf of Finland correlates very well with the known conservatism of Finno-Saamic phonology, quite similar to Finno-Ugric, and both to Proto-Uralic (Kallio 2017): The most isolated region after the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, the Gulf of Finland, shielded against migrations for almost 1,500 years, is then the most conservative – until the arrival of Akozino influence.

NOTE. This has its parallel in the phonetic conservatism of Celtic or Italic compared to Finno-Ugric-influenced Germanic, Balto-Slavic, or Indo-Iranian.

Only later would certain regions (like Finland or Lappland) suffer Y-DNA bottlenecks and further admixture events associated with population displacements and expansions, such as the spread of Fennic peoples from their Estonian homeland (evidenced by the earlier separation of South Estonian) to the north and east:

The Finnic family tree. Kallio (2014).

The initial Proto-Fennic expansion was probably coupled with the expansion of Proto-Saami to the north, with the Kjelmøy Ware absorbing the Siberian population of Lovozero Ware, and potentially in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (Carpelan and Parpola 2017).

This Proto-Saami population expansion from the mainland to the north, admixing with Lovozero-related peoples, is clearly reflected in the late Iron Age Saamic samples from Levänluhta (ca. 400-800 AD), as a shift (of 2 out of 3 samples) to Siberian-like ancestry from their original CWC_Baltic-like situation (see PCA from Lamnidis et al. 2018 above).

Also, Volgaic and Permic populations from inner Finland and the Forest Zone to the Cis-Urals and Circum-Artic regions probably incorporate Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages during these and later population movements, while the westernmost populations – Estonian, Mordvinic – remain less admixed (see PCA from Tambets et al. 2018 below).

We also have data of N1c-L392 in Nordic territory in the Middle Ages, proving its likely strong presence in the Mälaren area since the Iron Age, with the arrival of Akozino warrior traders. Similarly, it is found among Balto-Slavic groups along the eastern Baltic area. Obviously, no language change is seen in Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian territory, and none is expected in Estonian or Finnish territory, either.

Therefore, no “N1c-L392 + Siberian ancestry” can be seen expanding Finno-Ugric dialects, but rather different infiltrations and population movements with limited effects on ancestry and Y-DNA composition, depending on the specific period and region.

Selection of the PCA, with the group of Estonians, Mordovians, and Hungarians selected. See Tambets et al. (2018) for more information.

An issue never resolved

Because N1c-L392 subclades & Siberian ancestry, which appear in different proportions and with different origins among some modern Uralic peoples, do not appear in cultures supposed to host Uralic-speaking populations until the Iron Age, people keep looking into any direction to find the ‘true’ homeland of those ‘Uralic N1c peoples’? Kind of a full circular reasoning, anyone? The same is valid for R1a & steppe ancestry being followed for ‘Indo-Europeans’, or R1b-P312 & Neolithic farmer ancestry being traced for ‘Basques’, because of their distribution in modern populations.

I understand the caution of many pointing to the need to wait and see how samples after 2000 BC are like, in every single period, from the middle and upper Volga, Kama, southern Finland, and the Forest Zone between Fennoscandia and the steppe. It’s like waiting to see how people from Western Yamna and the Carpathian Basin after 3000 BC look like, to fill in what is lacking between East Yamna and Bell Beakers, and then between them and every single Late PIE dialect.

But the answer for Yamna-Bell Beaker-Poltavka peoples during the Late PIE expansion is always going to be “R1b-L23, but with R1a-Z645 nearby” (we already have a pretty good idea about that); and the answer for the Forest Zone and northern Cis- and Trans-Urals area – during the time when Uralic languages are known to have already been spoken there – is always going to be “R1a-Z645, but with haplogroup N nearby”, as is already clear from the data on the eastern Baltic region.

So, without a previously proposed model as to where those amateurs expressing concern about ‘not having enough data’ expect to find those ‘Uralic peoples’, all this waiting for the right data looks more like a waiting for N1c and Siberian ancestry to pop up somewhere in the historic Uralic-speaking area, to be able to say “There! A Uralic-speaking male!”. Not a very reasonable framework to deal with prehistoric peoples and their languages, I should think.

But, for those who want to do that, let me break the news to you already:

First N1c – Finno-Ugric person arrives in Estonia to teach Finno-Saamic to Balto-Slavic peoples.

And here it is, an appropriate fantasy description of the ethnolinguistic groups from the region. You are welcome:

  • During the Bronze Age, late Corded Ware groups evolve as the western Textile ware Fennic Balto-Slavic group in the Gulf of Finland; the Netted Ware Saamic Balto-Slavic group of inner Finland; the south Netted Ware / Akozino Volgaic Balto-Slavic groups of the Middle Volga; and the Anonino Permic Balto-Slavic group in the north-eastern Forest Zone; all developing still in close contact with each other, allowing for common traits to permeate dialects.
  • These Balto-Slavic groups would then incorporate west of the Urals during and after the Iron Age (ca. 800-500 BC first, and also later during their expansion to the north) limited ancestry and lineages from eastern European hunter-gatherer groups of Palaeo-European Fennic and Palaeo-Siberian Volgaic and Permic languages from the Circum-Artic region, but they adopted nevertheless the language of the newcomers in every single infiltration of N1c lineages and/or admixture with Siberian ancestry. Oh and don’t forget the Saamic peoples from central Sweden, of course, the famous N1c-L392 ‘Rurikid’ lineages expanding Saamic to the north and replacing Proto-Germanic…

The current model for those obsessed with modern Y-DNA is, therefore, that expanding Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures from north-eastern Europe adopted the languages of certain lineages originally from sub-Neolithic (Scandinavian and Siberian) hunter-gatherer populations of the Circum-Artic region; lineages that these cultures incorporated unevenly during their expansions. Hmmmm… Sounds like an inverse Western movie, where expanding Americans end up speaking Apache, and the eastern coast speaks Spanish until Italian migrants arrive and make everyone speak English… or something. A logic, no-nonsense approach to ethnolinguistic identification.

I kid you not, this is the kind of models we are going to see very soon. In 2018 and 2019, with ancient DNA able to confirm or reject archaeological hypotheses based on linguistic data, people will keep instead creating new pet theories to support preconceived ideas based on the Y-DNA prevalent among modern populations. That is, information available in the 2000s.

So what’s (so much published) ancient DNA useful for, exactly?

[Next post on the subject: Corded Ware—Uralic (III): Seima-Turbino and the Ugric and Samoyedic expansion]


Kortlandt: West Indo-Europeans along the Danube, Germanic and Balto-Slavic share a Corded Ware substrate


New paper (behind paywall) The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages, by Frederik Kortlandt, JIES (2018) 46(1 & 2):219-231.


When considering the way the Indo-Europeans took to the west, it is important to realize that mountains, forests and marshlands were prohibitive impediments. Moreover, people need fresh water, all the more so when traveling with horses. The natural way from the Russian steppe to the west is therefore along the northern bank of the river Danube. This leads to the hypothesis that the western Indo-Europeans represent successive waves of migration along the Danube and its tributaries. The Celts evidently followed the Danube all the way to southern Germany. The ancestors of the Italic tribes, including the Veneti, may have followed the river Sava towards northern Italy. The ancestors of Germanic speakers apparently moved into Moravia and Bohemia and followed the Elbe into Saxony. A part of the Veneti may have followed them into Moravia and moved along the Oder through the Moravian Gate into Silesia. The hypothetical speakers of Temematic probably moved through Slovakia along the river Orava into western Galicia. The ancestors of speakers of Balkan languages crossed the lower Danube and moved to the south. This scenario is in agreement with the generally accepted view of the earliest relations between these branches of Indo-European.

The western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, which came about when their speakers moved westwards north and south of the Pripet marshes. These events are older than the westward movement of the Slavs which brought them into contact with Temematic speakers. One may conjecture that the Venedi occupied the Oder basin and then expanded eastwards over the larger part of present-day Poland before the western Balts came down the river Niemen and moved onwards to the lower Vistula. We may then identify the Venedic expansion with the spread of the Corded Ware horizon and the westward migration of the Balts and the Slavs with their integration into the larger cultural complex. The theory that the Venedi separated from the Veneti in the upper Sava region and moved through Moravia and Silesia to the Baltic Sea explains the “im Namenmaterial auffällige Übereinstimmung zwischen dem Baltikum und den Gebieten um den Nordteil der Adria” (Udolph 1981: 61). The Balts probably moved in two stages because the differences between West and East Baltic are considerable.

Instead of reinterpreting his views in light of the recent genetic finds, Kortlandt tries to mix in this paper his own old theories (see his paper Baltic, Slavic, Germanic) with the recent interpretations of genetic papers, using also dubious secondary sources – e.g. Iversen and Kroonen (2017) or Klejn (2017) [see here, and here] – which, in my opinion, creates a potentially dangerous circular reasoning.

For example, even though he criticizes the general stance of recent genetic papers with regard to Proto-Indo-European dialectalization and expansion as too early, and he supports the Danube expansion route, he nevertheless follows their interpretations in accepting that Corded Ware was Indo-European (following the newest model proposed by Anthony):

The [Yamnaya] penetrated central and northern Europe from the lower Danube through the Carpathian basin, not from the east. The Carpathian basis was evidently the cradle of the Corded Ware cultures, where the descendants of the Yamnaya mixed with the local early farmers before proceeding to the north. The development has a clear parallel in the Middle Ages, when the Hungarians mixed with the local Slavic populations in the same territory (cf. Kushniarevich & al. 2015).

He still follows his good old Indo-Slavonic group in the east, but at the same time maintains Kallio’s view that there were no early Uralic loanwords in Balto-Slavic, and also Kallio’s (and the general) view that there were close contacts with PIE and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian…

NOTE. The latest paper on Eurasian migrations by Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018), which shows mainly Proto-Iranians dominating over East Europe after the Early Bronze Age, have left still fewer space for a Proto-Balto-Slavic group emerging from the east.

Also, he asserts the following, which is a rather weird interpretation of events:

It appears that the Corded Ware horizon spread to southern Scandinavia (cf. Iversen & Kroonen 2017) but not to the Baltic region during the Neolithic.

“However, we also find indications of genetic impact from exogenous populations during the Neolithic, most likely from northern Eurasia and the Pontic Steppe. These influences are distinct from the Anatolian-farmer-related gene flow found in Central Europe during this period.”

It follows that the Indo-Europeans did not reach the Baltic region before the Late Neolithic. The influx of non-local people from northern Eurasia may be identified with the expansion of the Finno-Ugrians, who came into contact with the Indo-Europeans as a result of the eastward expansion of the latter in the fourth millennium. This was long before the split between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.

In the Late Neolithic there was “a further population movement into the regions surrounding the Baltic Sea” that was “accompanied by the first evidence of extensive animal husbandry in the Eastern Baltic”, which “suggests import of the new economy by an incoming steppe-like population independent of the agricultural societies that were already established to the south and west of the Baltic Sea.” (Mittnik & al. 2018). These may have been the ancestors of Balto-Slavic speakers. At a later stage, the Corded Ware horizon spread eastward, giving rise to farming ancestry in Eastern Baltic individuals and to a female gene-flow from the Eastern Baltic into Central Europe (ibidem).

Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

He is a strong Indo-Uralic supporter, and supports a parallel Indo-European – Uralic development in Eastern Europe, and (as you can read) he misunderstands the description of population movements in the Baltic region, and thus misplaces Finno-Ugric speakers as Eurasian migrants arriving in the Baltic from the east during the Late Neolithic, before the Corded Ware expansion, which is not what the cited papers implied.

NOTE. Such an identification of westward Neolithic migrations with Uralic speakers is furthermore to be rejected following the most recent paper on Fennoscandian samples.

He had previously asserted that the substrate common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic is Indo-European with non-Indo-European substrate influence, so I guess that Corded Ware influencing as a substrate both Germanic and Balto-Slavic is the best way he could put everything together, if one assumes the widespread interpretations of genetic papers:

Thus, I think that the western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, (…)

NOTE. It is very likely that this paper was sent in late 2017. That’s the main problem with traditional publications including the most recent genetic investigation: by the time something gets eventually published, the text is already outdated.

I obviously share his opinion on precedence of disciplines in Indo-European studies:

The methodological point to be emphasized here is that the linguistic evidence takes precedence over archaeological and genetic data, which give no information about the languages spoken and can only support the linguistic evidence. The relative chronology of developments must be established on the basis of the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The location of a reconstructed language can only be established on the basis of lexical and onomastic material. On the other hand, archaeological or genetic data may supply the corresponding absolute chronology. It is therefore incorrect to attribute cultural influences in southern Scandinavia and the Baltic region in the third millennium to Germanic or Baltic speakers because these languages did not yet exist. While the Italo-Celtic branch may have separated from its Indo-European neighbors in the first half of the third millennium, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-Iranian can be dated to the second millennium and Proto-Germanic to the end of the first millennium BC (cf. Kortlandt 2010: 173f., 197f., 249f.). The Indo-Europeans who moved to southern Scandinavia as part of the Corded Ware horizon were not the ancestors of Germanic speakers, who lived farther to the south, but belonged to an unknown branch that was eventually replaced by Germanic.

I hope we can see more and more anthropological papers like this, using traditional linguistics coupled with archaeology and the most recent genetic investigations.

EDIT (4 JUL 2018): Some errors corrected.


Pre-Germanic born out of a Proto-Finnic substrate in Scandinavia


A commenter, Old Europe, drew my attention to the Uralic (Finnic-Saamic) substrate in Germanic proposed by Schrijver in Chapter V. Origins of Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages, Routledge (2014).

I wanted to share here some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

NOTE. I have avoided many detailed linguistic discussions. You should read the whole chapter to check them out.

The origins of the Germanic subfamily of Indo-European cannot be understood without acknowledging its interactions with a language group that has been its long-time neighbour: the Finnic subgroup of the Uralic language family. Indo-European and Uralic are linked to one another in two ways: they are probably related to one another in deep time — how deep is impossible to say3 — and Indo-European has been a constant source from which words were borrowed into Uralic languages, from the fourth millennium BC up to the present day.4 The section of the Uralic family that has always remained in close proximity to the Indo-European dialects which eventually turned into Germanic is Finnic. I use the term Finnic with a slightly idiosyncratic meaning : it covers the Finno-Saamic protolanguage and both of its children, Saami and Balto-Finnic.(…)

Schrijver (2014). The Finnic family tree (simplified)

Linguistically, the relationship between Indo-European and Uralic has always been asymmetrical. While hundreds of loanwords flowed into Uralic languages from Indo-European languages such as Germanic, Balto-Slavic, Iranian, and Proto-Indo-European itself, hardly any Uralic loanwords have entered the Indo-European languages (apart from a few relatively late dialectal loans into e.g. Russian and the Scandinavian languages). This strongly suggests that Uralic speakers have always been more receptive to ideas coming from Indo-European–speaking areas than the other way around. This inequality probably began when farming and the entire way of life that accompanies it reached Uralic-speaking territory via Indo-European–speaking territory, so that Uralic speakers, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers of the mixed and evergreen forest zone of northeastern Europe and gradually switched to an existence as sedentary farmers, were more likely to pick up ideas and the words that go with them from Indo-European than from anywhere else.

Farming requires a different mind-set from a hunter-gatherer existence. Farmers are generally sedentary, model the landscape, and have an agricultural calendar to determine their actions. Hunter-gatherers of the northern forest zone are generally nomadic, and rather than themselves modelling the natural environment they are modelled by it: their calendar depends on when and where a particular natural resource is available.(…)

All of this is no doubt a simplification of the thousands of years of associations between speakers of Uralic and speakers of Indo-European, but the loanword evidence strongly suggests that by and large relations between the two groups were highly unequal. The single direction in which loanwords flowed, and the mass of loanwords involved, can be compared with the relation between Latin and the vernacular languages in the Roman Empire, almost all of which disappeared in favour of Latin. It is therefore certain that groups of Uralic speakers switched to Indo-European. The question is whether we can trace those groups and, more particularly, whether Finnic speakers switching to Indo-European were involved in creating the Indo-European dialect we now know as Germanic.

Convergence of Finnic and Germanic

What both have in common is that the sound structures of Finnic and Germanic, which started from very different beginnings, apparently came to resemble one another significantly. If that is what we observe, we must conclude that both languages converged as a result of contact.

During the approximately five to six millennia that separate Proto-Uralic from Modern Finnish, there was only one episode during which the consonantal system underwent a dramatic overhaul. This episode separates the Finno-Saamic protolanguage, which is phonologically extremely conservative, from the Balto-Finnic protolanguage, which is very innovative.


By the time Finno-Saamic developed into Balto-Finnic, the consonant system was very different:


In Balto-Finnic, the entire palatal series has been lost, apart from j, and the contrast between dentals and alveolars has disappeared: out of three different s-sounds only one remains. The fricatives ð and γ have been lost, and so has the velar nasal ŋ. The only increase has been in the number of long (geminate) consonants by the appearance of ss, mm, nn, and ll. The loss of separate alveolar and palatal series and the disappearance of ŋ could be conceived as convergences towards Proto-Germanic, which lacked such consonants. This is not obvious for the loss of the voiced fricatives γ, ð, which Proto-Germanic did possess. However, this way of comparing Balto-Finnic and Germanic is flawed in an important respect: what we are doing is assessing convergence by comparing the dynamic development from Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the static system of Proto-Germanic, as if Proto-Germanic is not itself the result of a set of changes to the ancestral Pre-Germanic consonantal system. If we wish to find out whether there was convergence and which language converged on which, what we should do, therefore, is to compare the dynamic development of Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the dynamic development of Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic, because only that procedure will allow us to state whether Balto-Finnic moved towards Proto-Germanic, or Proto-Germanic moved towards Balto-Finnic, or both moved towards a third language. The Pre-Germanic consonantal system can be reconstructed as follows: 7


The slashes in the second and third rows indicate the uncertainty about the Proto-Indo-European nature of the sounds involved. (…)

What resulted was the following Proto-Germanic consonant system:


We are now in a better position to answer the question whether Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic have converged. Three striking developments affected both languages:

  • Both languages lost the palatalized series of consonants (apart from j), which in both languages became non-palatalized.
  • Both languages developed an extensive set of long (geminate) consonants; Pre-Germanic had none, while Finno-Saamic already had a few.
  • Both languages developed an h.

These similarities between the languages are considerable.

The idea that perhaps both languages moved towards a lost third language, whose speakers may have been assimilated to both Balto-Finnic and Germanic, provides a fuller explanation but suffers from the drawback that it shifts the full burden of the explanation to a mysterious ‘language X’ that is called upon only in order to explain the developments in Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic. That comes dangerously close to circular reasoning.

Verner’s Law in Pre-Germanic

As we have seen in the preceding section, Verner’s law is a sound change that affected originally voiceless consonants, so *p , t , k , kj , kw, s of the Pre-Germanic system. These normally became the Proto-Germanic voiceless fricatives *f, θ, h, h, hw, s, respectively. But if *p, t, k etc. were preceded by an originally unstressed syllable, Verner’s law intervened and they were turned into voiced consonants. Those voiced consonants merged with the series *bh, dh, gh of the Pre-Germanic system and therefore subsequently underwent all changes that the latter did, turning out as *b/v , *d/ð , g/γ in the Proto-Germanic system (that is, v, ð, γ after a vowel and b, d, g in all other environments in the word). When *s was affected by Verner’s Law, a new phoneme *z arose. In a diagram:


While it is very common in the history of European languages for stress to influence the development of vowels, it only very rarely affected consonants in this part of the world. Verner’s law is a striking exception. It resembles a development which, on a much larger scale, affected Finno-Saamic: consonant gradation.(…)

In all Finno-Saamic languages, rhythmic gradation has become phonemic and fossilized. The connection between rhythmic gradation and Verner’s law is relatively straightforward: both processes involve changing a voiceless consonant after an unstressed syllable. (…)

We can therefore repeat for Proto-Uralic the argument that persuaded us earlier that gradation in Saami and Balto-Finnic must go back to the common Finno-Saamic protolanguage: the similarity of the gradation rules in Nganasan to those in Finno-Saamic is so specific and so detailed, and the phenomenon of gradation so rare in the languages of the world, that gradation must be reconstructed for the Uralic protolanguage.

Verner’s law turns all voiceless obstruents (Pre-Germanic *p, t, k, kj, kw, s) into voiced obstruents (ultimately Proto-Germanic *b/v , d/ð, g/γ, g/γ, gw, z) after a Pre-Germanic unstressed syllable. Rhythmic gradation turns all voiceless obstruents after an unstressed syllable into weak-grade consonants, which means that *p, t, k, s become Finnic *b/v , d/ð , g/γ, z. This is striking. Given the geographical proximity of Balto-Finnic and Germanic and given the rare occurrence of stress-related consonant changes in European languages, it would be unreasonable to think that Verner’s law and rhythmic gradation have nothing to do with one another.

It is very hard to accept, however, that gradation is the result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic. First of all, Verner’s law, which might account for rhythmic gradation, in no way accounts for syllabic gradation in Finnic. And, second, gradation can be shown to be an inherited feature of Finnic which goes all the way back to Proto-Uralic. Once one acknowledges that Verner’s law and gradation are causally linked and that gradation cannot be explained as a result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic, there remains only one possibility: Verner’s law is a copy of Finnic rhythmic gradation into Germanic. That means that we have finally managed to find what we were looking for all along: a Finnic sound feature in Germanic that betrays that Finnic speakers shifted to Germanic and spoke Germanic with a Finnic accent. The consequence of this idea is dramatic: since Verner’s law affected all of Germanic, all of Germanic has a Finnic accent.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

On the basis of this evidence for Finnic speakers shifting to Germanic, it is possible to ascribe other, less specifically Finnic traits in Germanic to the same source. The most obvious trait is the fixation of the main stress on the initial syllable of the word. Initial stress is inherited in Finno-Saamic but was adopted in Germanic only after the operation of Verner’s law, quite probably under Finnic influence. The consonantal changes described in section V.3.1 can be attributed to Finnic with less confidence. The best case can be made for the development of geminate (double) consonants in Germanic, which did not inherit any of them, while Finno-Saamic inherited *pp, tt, kk, cc and took their presence as a cue to develop other geminates such as *nn and *ll . Possibly geminates developed so easily in Proto-Germanic because Finnic speakers (who switched to Germanic) were familiar with them. Other consonantal changes, such as the loss of the palatalized series in both Germanic and Balto-Finnic and the elimination of the different s- and c-phonemes, might have occurred for the same reason: if Balto-Finnic had undergone them earlier than Germanic, which we do not know, they could have constituted part of the Balto-Finnic accent in Germanic. An alternative take on those changes starts from the observation that they all constitute simplifications of an older, richer system of consonants. While simplifications can be and often are caused by language shift if the new speakers lacked certain phonemes in their original language, simplifications do not require an explanation by shift: languages are capable of simplifying a complex system all by themselves. Yet the similarities between the simplifications in Germanic and in Balto-Finnic are so obvious that one would not want to ascribe their co-occurrence to accidental circumstances.

Grimm’s Law in Proto-Germanic (speculative)

Voiceless lenis pronunciation of b, d, g is typical of the majority of German and Scandinavian dialects, so may well have been inherited from Proto-Germanic. Voiceless lenis is also the pronunciation that has been assumed to underlie the weak grades of Finno-Saamic single *p, t, k. If Proto-Germanic *b, d, g were indeed voiceless lenis, the single most striking result of the Germanic consonant shift is that it eliminated the phonological difference between voiced and voiceless consonants that Germanic had inherited from Proto-Indo-European (…) Since neither Finno-Saamic nor Balto-Finnic possessed a phonological difference between voiced and voiceless obstruents, its loss in Proto-Germanic can be regarded as yet another example of a Finnic feature in Germanic.


It is clear that this account of the first Germanic consonant shift as yet another example of Finnic influence is to some degree speculative. The point I am making is not that the Germanic consonant shift must be explained on the basis of Finnic influence, like Verner’s law and word-initial stress, only that it can be explained in this way, just like other features of the Germanic sound system discussed earlier, such as the loss of palatalized consonants and the rise of geminates.

A consequence of this account of the origins of the Proto-Germanic consonantal system is that the transition from Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic was entirely directed by Finnic. Or, to put it in less subtle words: Indo-European consonants became Germanic consonants when they were pronounced by Finnic speakers.

Post-Bell-Beaker Europe, after ca. 2200 BC.

The vocalic system, on the other hand, presented less difficulties for both, Indo-European and Uralic speakers, since it was quite similar.

Schrijver goes on to postulate certain asymmetric differences in loans, especially with regard to Proto-Germanic, Balto-Finnic, Proto-Saamic, Proto-Baltic, and later contacts, including a potential non-Uralic, non-IE substrate language to justify some of these, which may in turn be connected with Kroonen’s agricultural substrate hypothesis of Proto-Germanic, and thus also with the other surviving Scandinavian Neolithic cultures before the eventual simplification of the cultural landscape during the Bronze Age.

Conclusion on the origin of Germanic

The Finnic-Germanic contact situation has turned out to be of a canonical type. To Finnic speakers, people who spoke prehistoric Germanic and its ancestor, Pre-Germanic, must have been role models. Why they were remains unclear. In the best traditions of Uralic–Indo-European contacts, Finnic speakers adopted masses of loanwords from (Pre-)Germanic. Some Finnic speakers even went a crucial step further and became bilingual: they spoke Pre-Germanic according to the possibilities offered by the Finnic sound system, which meant they spoke with a strong accent. The accent expressed itself as radical changes in the Pre-Germanic consonantal system and no changes in the Pre-Germanic vowel system. This speech variety became very successful and turned an Indo-European dialect into what we now know as Germanic. Bilingual speakers became monolingual speakers of Germanic.

What we do not know is for how long Finnic-Germanic bilingualism persisted. It is possible that it lasted for some time because both partners grew more alike even with respect to features whose origin we cannot assign to either of them (loss of palatalized consonants): this suggests, perhaps, that both languages became more similar because generally they were housed in the same brain. What we can say with more confidence is that the bilingual situation ultimately favoured Germanic over Finnic: loanwords continued to flow in one direction only, from Germanic to Finnic, hence it is clear that Germanic speakers remained role models.

This is as far as the linguistic evidence can take us for the moment.

Based on archaeology and genetics, I think we can say that the close North-West Indo-European – Proto-Finnic interaction in Scandinavia lasted for hundreds of years, during the time when a unifying Nordic culture and language developed from Bell Beaker maritime elites dominating over Corded Ware groups.

As we know, Uralic languages were in close contact with Middle PIE, and also later with Proto-Indo-Iranian. This Pre-Germanic development in Scandinavia is therefore another hint at the identification of a rather early Proto-Finnic spoken in the Baltic area – potentially then by Battle Axe groups – , and thus the general identification of Uralic expansion with the different Corded Ware groups.

NOTE. The ‘common’ loss of certain palatals, which Schrijver interprets as a change of Pre-Germanic from the inherited Proto-Indo-European, may in fact not be such – in the opinion of bitectalists, including us, and especially taking the North-West Indo-European reconstruction and the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis into account – , so this effect would be a rather unidirectional shift from Finnic to Germanic. On the other hand, certain palatalization trends which some have described for Germanic could in fact be explained precisely by this bidirectional influence.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (III): The Balto-Slavic conundrum in Linguistics, Archaeology, and Genetics

This is part of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

The recent publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) has outdated the draft of this post a bit, and it has made it at the same time still more interesting.

While we wait for the publication of the dataset (and the actual Y-DNA haplogroups and precise subclades with the revision of the paper), and as we watch the wrath of Hindu nationalists vented against the West (as if the steppe was in Western Europe) and science itself, we have already seen confirmation from the Reich Lab of their new approach to Late Proto-Indo-European migrations.

Yamna/Steppe EMBA, previously identified as the direct source of “steppe” ancestry (AKA Yamnaya‘ ancestry) and Late Indo-European migrations in Asia – through Corded Ware, it is to be understood – has been officially changed. In the case of Indo-Iranian migrations it is the “Steppe MLBA cloud”, after a direct contribution to it of Yamna/Steppe EMBA, which expanded Indo-Iranian, as I predicted ancient DNA could support.

In Twitter, the main author responded the following when asked for this change regarding the origin of steppe ancestry in Asian migrants (emphasis mine):

Our reasons are:

  1. The Turan samples show no elevated steppe ancestry till 2000BC.
  2. MLBA is R1a
  3. Indus periphery doesn’t have steppe ancestry but Swat does, and EMBA doesn’t work both in terms of time or genetic ancestry to explain the difference.
Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. Yes, this map is the latest official view on migrations from the Reich Lab now. See the original full image here.

I am glad to see finally recognized that Y-DNA haplogroups and time have to be taken into account, and happy also to see an end to the by now obsolete ‘ADMIXTURE/PCA-only relevance’ in Human Ancestry. The timing of archaeological migrations, the cultural attribution of each sample, and the role of Y-DNA variability reduction and expansion have been finally recognized as equally important to assess potential migrations, as I requested.

This change was already in the making some months ago, when David Anthony – who has worked with the group for this paper and others before it – already changed his official view on Corded Ware – from his previous support of the 2015 model. His latest theory, which linked Yamna settlements in Hungary with a potential mixed society of migrants (of R1b-L23 and R1a-Z645 lineages) from West Yamna, is most likely wrong, too, but it was clearly a brave step forward in the right direction.

The only reasonable model now is that Yamna expanded Late Proto-Indo-European languages with steppe ancestry + R1b-L23 subclades.

You can either accept this change, or you can deny it and wait until one sample of R1a-Z645 appears in West Yamna or central Europe, or one sample of R1b-L23 appears in Corded Ware (as it is obvious it could happen), to keep spreading the wrong ideas still some more years, while the rest of the world goes on: Mallory, Anthony, and other archaeologists co-authoring the latest paper (probably part of the stronger partnership with academics that we were going to see), who had formally put forward complex, detailed theories, investing their time and name in them, have rejected their previous migration models to develop new ones based on the most recent findings. If they can do that, I am sure any amateur geneticist out there can, too.

Modified image, from Narasimhan et al. (2018). Anthony’s new model of a Yamna Hungary -> Corded Ware (Małopolska) migration arrow in red. Notice also how they keep the arrow from West Yamna to the north (in black), due probably to the Baltic Late Neolithic samples (see below).

The Balto-Slavic dialect and its homeland

An interesting question in Linguistics and Archaeology, now that Corded Ware cannot be identified as “Indo-Slavonic” or any other imaginary ancient group (like Indo-Slavo-Germanic), remains thus mostly unchanged since before the famous 2015 genetic papers:

  • Was Balto-Slavic a dialect of the expanding North-West Indo-European language, a Northern LPIE dialect, as we support, based on morphological and lexical isoglosses?
  • Or was it part of an Indo-Slavonic group in East Yamna, i.e. a Graeco-Aryan dialect, based mainly on the traditional Satem-Centum phonological division?

I am a strong supporter of Balto-Slavic being a member of a North-West Indo-European group. That’s probably because I educated myself first with the main Spanish books* on Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, and its authors kept repeating this consistent idea, but I have found no relevant data to reject it in the past 15 years.

* Today two of the three volumes are available in English, although they are from the early 1990s, hence a bit outdated. They also maintain certain peculiarities from Adrados’ own personal theories, such as multiple (coloured) laryngeals, 5 cases – with a common ancestral oblique case – for Middle PIE, etc. But it has lots of detailed discussions on the different aspects of the reconstruction. It is not an easy introductory manual to the field, though; for that you have already many famous short handbooks out there, like those of Fortson (N.American), Beekes (Leiden), or Meier-Brügger (Germany).

Fernando and I have always maintained that North-West Indo-European must have formed a very recent community, probably connected well into the early 2nd millennium BC for certain recent isoglosses to spread among its early dialects, based on our guesstimates*, and on our belief that it formed at some point not just a dialect continuum, but probably a common language, so we estimated that the expansion was associated with the pan-European influence of Únětice and close early Bronze Age European contacts.

NOTE. I know, you must be thinking “linguistic guesstimates? Bollocks, that’s not Science”. Right? Wrong. When you learn a dozen languages from different branches, half a dozen ancient ones, and then still study some reconstructed proto-languages from them, you begin to make your own assumptions about how the language changes you perceive could have developed according to your mental time frames. If you just learned a second language and some Latin in school, and try to make assumptions as to how language changes, or you believe you can judge it with this limited background, you have evidently the wrong idea of what a guesstimate is. I accept criticism to this concept from a scientist used only to statistical methods, since it comes from pure ignorance of what it means. And I accept alternative guesstimates from linguists whose language backgrounds may differ (and thus their perception of language change). However, I would not accept a glottochronological or otherwise (supposedly) statistical model instead (or a religious model, for that matter), so we have no alternatives to guesstimates for the moment.

In fact, guesstimates and dialectalization have paved the way to the steppe hypothesis, first with the kurgan hypothesis by Marija Gimbutas, then complemented further in the past 60 years by linguists and archaeologists into a detailed Khvalynsk -> Yamna -> Afanasevo/Bell Beaker/Sintashta-Andronovo expansion model, now confirmed with genomics. So either you trust us (or any other polyglot who deals with Indo-European matters, like Adrados, Lehmann, Beekes, Kloekhorst, Kortlandt, etc.), or you begin learning ancient languages and obtaining your own guesstimates, whichever way you prefer. The easy way of numbers + computer science does not exist yet, and is quite far from happening – until we can understand how our brains summarize and select important details involved in obtaining estimates – , no matter what you might be reading (even in Nature or Science) recently

Proto-Indo-European dialectal expansion according to Adrados (1998).

Data from the 2015 papers changed my understanding of the original NWIE-speaking community, and I have since shifted my preffered anthropological model (from a Northern dialect in Yamna spreading into a loose NWIE-speaking Corded Ware -> Únětice) to a quite close group formed by late Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, expanded as East Bell Beakers, and later continuing with close contacts through Central European EBA.

NOTE. As you can read, we initially rejected Gimbutas’ and Anthony’s (2007) notion of a Late PIE splitting suddenly into all known dialects (viz. Italo-Celtic with Vučedol/Bell Beaker), and looked thus for a common NWIE spread with Corded Ware migrants, with help from inferences of modern haplogroup distribution (as was common in the early 2000s). Language reconstruction was the foundation of that model, and it was right in its own way. It probably gave the wrong idea to geneticists and archaeologists, who quite easily accepted some results from the 2015 papers as supporting this model. But it also helped us develop a new model and predict what would happen in future papers, as demonstrated in O&M 2018. Any alternative linguistic and archaeological model could explain what is seen today in genomics, but our model of North-West Indo-European reconstruction is obviously at present the best fit for it.

Map of Chalcolithic migrations (A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, 2nd ed. 2008): Corded Ware as the vector of Indo-European languages.

Nevertheless, one of the most important Balticists and Slavicists alive, Frederik Kortlandt, posits that there was in fact an Indo-Slavonic group, so one has to take that possibility into account. Not that his ideas are flawless, of course: he defends the glottalic theory – which is still held today by just a handful of researchers – , and I strongly oppose his description of Balto-Slavic and Germanic oblique cases in *-m- (against other LPIE *-bh-) as an ancestral remnant related to Anatolian (an ending which few scholars would agree corresponds to what he claims), since that would probably represent an older split than warranted in our model. I believe genetics is proving that the dialectalization of Late PIE happened as Fernando López-Menchero and I described.

NOTE. The idea with these examples of how he has been wrong in LPIE and MPIE reconstruction is not to observe the common ad hominem arguments used by amateur geneticists to dismiss academic proposals (“he said that and was wrong, ergo he is wrong now”). It is to bring into attention that the argument from authority is important for the academic community insofar as it creates a common ground, i.e. especially when there are many relevant scholars agreeing on the same subject. But, indeed, any model can and should be challenged, and all authorities are capable of being wrong, and in fact they often are.

The most common explanation today for the dialectal development *-m- is an innovation (not an archaism), whether morphological (viz. Ita. and Gk. them. pl *-i) or phonological (as I defend); and the most commonly repeated model for the satemization trend (even for those supporting a three-dorsal theory for PIE) is areal contact, whether driven by a previous (most likely Uralic) substratum, or not. Hence, if Kortlandt’s main different phonological and morphological assessments of the parent language are flawed, and they are the basis for his dialectal scheme, it should be revised.

The ‘atomic bomb’ that Indo-Slavonic proponents launched, in my opinion, was Holzer’s Temematic (born roughly at the same time as the renewed Old European concept in North-West Indo-European model of Oettinger) – and indeed Kortlandt’s acceptance of it. It seems to me like the linguistic equivalent of the archaeological “patron-client relationship” proposed by Anthony for a cultural diffusion of Late PIE into different Corded Ware regions: almost impossible to be fully rejected, if the Indo-Slavonic superstrate is proposed for a relatively early time.

In my opinion, the shared morphological layer with North-West Indo-European is obviously older than Iranian influence on Slavic, and I think this is communis opinio today. But how could we disentangle the dialectalization of Balto-Slavic, if there is (as it seems) an ancestral substrate layer (most likely Uralic) common to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian? It seems a very difficult task.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC

The expansion of Balto-Slavic

In any case, there are two, and only two mainstream choices right now.

NOTE. Mainstream, as in representing trends current today among Indo-Europeanists, so that many programs around the world would explain these alternative models to their students, or they would easily appear in most handbooks. Not like the word “mainstream” you read in any comment out there by anyone who has never been interested in Indo-European studies, and uses any text from any author, written who knows how long ago, merely to justify their ethnic preconceptions coupled with certain genomic finds.

You can agree with:

A) The Spanish and German schools of thought, together with many American and British scholars, as well as archaeologists like Heyd, Mallory, or Prescott, and now Anthony, too: the language ancestral to Balto-Slavic, Germanic, and Italo-Celtic accompanied expanding West Yamna/East Bell Beakers into Europe, and then their speakers – like the rest of peoples everywhere in Europe – admixed later in the different regions.

B) Frederik Kortlandt and other Indo-Slavicists. The ‘original’ Balto-Slavic would have spread with Srubna (and likely Potapovka before it), as a product of the admixture of East Yamna’s Indo-Slavonic with incoming Corded Ware migrants (this would correspond to my description of Indo-Iranian). ‘True’ Balto-Slavic speakers would have then absorbed the Temematic-speaking migrants (equivalent to early Balto-Slavic migrants as described in the demic diffusion model) spreading from the west, most likely in the steppe. Later developments from the steppe would have then brought Baltic to the north, and Slavic to the west.

Therefore, in both cases the language spoken by early R1a-Z645 lineages in Únětice or Mierzanowice/Nitra EBA cultures would have been an eastern North-West Indo-European dialect associated with expanding Bell Beakers, and closely related to Germanic and Italo-Celtic. In the second case, the ancient samples we see genetically closer to modern West Slavs could thus be identified with those speaking the Temematic substrate absorbed later by Balto-Slavic, or maybe by Balts migrating northward, and Slavs spreading west- and southward.

NOTE. In any case, we know that R1a-Z645 subclades resurged in Central-East Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers, potentially showing an ancient link with the prevalent R1a subclades in the region today. We know that some ancient Central European populations cluster near modern West Slavs, but in other interesting regions (like the British Isles, Central Europe, Scandinavia, or Iberia) we also see close clusters, and nevertheless observe historically documented radical ethnolinguistic changes, as well as many different subsequent genetic inflows and founder effects, that have significantly altered the anthropological picture in these regions, so it could very well be that the lineages we find in ancient samples do not correspond to modern West Slavic lineages, or even similar ancient and modern lineages could show a radical cultural discontinuity (as is likely the case in this to-and-from-the-steppe migration scheme).

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC.

Since we are going to see signs of both – west and east admixture – in early Slavic communities near the steppe, and the distribution from South, West, and East Slavs will include a wide “cloud” connecting Central, East, and South-East Europe, as it is evident already from early Germanic samples, it may be interesting to shift our attention to the Tollense valley and Lusatian samples, and their predominant Y-DNA haplogroups. Once again, tracking male-driven migrations from Central Europe to the Baltic region and the steppe, and back again to much of Central and South Europe, will determine which groups expanded this eastern NWIE dialect initially and in later times.

Since Baltic and Slavic languages are attested quite late, genetics is likely to help us select among the different available models for Balto-Slavic, although (it is worth repeating it) these lineages may not be the same that later expanded each dialect.

NOTE. Bronze and Iron Age samples might begin to depict the true Balto-Slavic migration map. Apart from the strong differences in the satemization processes seen among Baltic, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian, from an archaeological point of view the geographic location of the earliest attested Baltic languages and the prehistoric developments of the region seem to me almost incompatible with a homeland in the steppe. Anyway, in the worst-case scenario – for those of us who work with Balto-Slavic to reconstruct North-West Indo-European – there is consensus that there must an eastern North-West Indo-European language (which some would call Temematic), whose common traits with Germanic and Italo-Celtic we use to reconstruct their parent language. The question remains thus mostly theoretical, of limited pragmatic use for the reconstruction.

The third way: Baltic Late Neolithic

I have referred to Kristiansen and his group‘s position regarding Corded Ware as Indo-European as flawed before. While their latest interpretation (and language identification) was wrong, Kristiansen’s original idea of long-lasting contacts in the Dnieper-Dniester region with the area occupied by late Trypillia developing a Proto-Corded Ware culture was probably right, as we are seeing now.

New data in Mittnik et al. 2018 show some interesting early Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region – Zvejnieki, Gyvakarai1 (R1a-Z645) and Plinkaigalis242 – , proving what I predicted: that elevated steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 subclades would be found in the Dnieper-Dniester region unrelated to the Yamna expansion, and, it seems, to migrants of the Corded Ware A-horizon.

Funnily enough, this shows that there were probably ancient interactions in the region, as originally asserted by Kristiansen, and probably following some of Victor Klochko‘s proposed exchange paths, but earlier than predicted by him.

Nevertheless, linguist Guus Kroonen (from Kristiansen’s workgroup) issued a quick response to O&M 2018 in yet another twist of his agricultural substrate theory, changing Corded Ware from the vector to a vector of expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European languages (thus following again strictly Gimbutas’ oudated model), which fails thus to tackle the main inconsistencies of their previous models, as shown now with the latest paper on South Asian migrations. As I said, they were always one step behind Anthony, and they still are.

Funny also how Anthony, too – like Kristiansen – , may have been right all along since 2007, in proposing that Corded Ware (the nuclear Corded Ware migrants) stemmed from the Dnieper-Dniester region roughly at the same time as Yamna migrants expanded west, and that they did not have any direct genetic connection (in terms of migrations) with each other.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

Both researchers, who collaborated with the latest genomic research, remade their models, and have to revise now their most recent proposals with the new data, influencing each new paper published with their pressure to be right in their previous models, and with new genomic data compelling them to change their theories under the pressure not to be too wrong again, in this strange vicious circle. Had they remained silent and committed to their archaeological theories, they could have been right all along, each one in their own way.

NOTE. BTW, in case you see ad hominem here too, I feel compelled to say that only thanks to their commitment to disentangle the truth about ancient migrations, and their readiness to collaborate with genetic research – unlike many others in their field – we know today what we know. If they have been wrong many times, it is because they have tried to connect the genetic dots as they were told. Only because of their readiness to explore their science further they should be praised by all. But, again, that does not mean that they cannot be wrong in their models…

Thanks to Anthony’s latest change of mind, we don’t have to hear the “cultural diffusion” argument anymore, and I consider this a great advance for the field.

NOTE. Not that there could not be prehistoric cultural diffusion events of language (i.e. not accompanied by genetic admixture), of course, but such theories, almost impossible to disprove, probably need much more than a simple “patron-client relationship” proposal and anthropometry to justify them, in a time when we will be able to see almost every meaningful personal exchange in Genomics…

Today – since the finding of Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4200 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog culture – it seems more likely than ever that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades was in fact associated with the spread of steppe admixture probably near the North Pontic forest-steppe region, most likely from the Dnieper-Dniester or Upper Dniester region.

The appearance of a ‘late’ Z93 subclade already at such an early date, with steppe admixture, makes it still more likely that the Proto-Corded Ware culture, from where Corded Ware migrants of R1a-Z645 lineages later spread, was probably associated with this wide region.

In a parallel but unrelated migration, as it is now clear, steppe admixture also expanded with Yamna settlers of R1b-L23 lineages into the North Pontic steppe – from the North Caspian steppe, where it had developed previously as the Khvalynsk and (likely) Repin cultures -, roughly at the same time as Proto-Corded Ware expanded to the north, ca. 3300-3000 BC, and then expanded to the west into the Balkans (contributing to the formation of Balkan EBA cultures, and to the East Bell Beaker group).

NOTE. A migration of Yamna settlers northward along the Prut dated ca. 3000 BC or later could have justified the appearance of steppe admixture in the Dnieper-Dniester region, as I proposed for the Zvejnieki sample, although dates from Baltic samples are likely too early for that. For this to be corroborated, migrants should be accompanied up to a certain region by R1b-L23 lineages, and this could mean in turn a revival of Anthony’s original model of cultural diffusion of 2007. The most likely scenario, however, as predicted by Heyd, given the early appearance of steppe admixture and R1a-Z93 subclades in the forest-steppe during the 5th millennium, is that the admixture happened much earlier than that, fully unrelated to Late PIE migrations.

Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations in Europe ca. 3100-2600 BC

The modern Baltic and Slavic conundrum

As for some people of Northern European ancestry previously supporting a bulletproof Yamna (R1a/R1b) -> Corded Ware migration that was obviously wrong; now supporting different Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware groups representing Indo-Slavonic (and Germanic??) in a model that is clearly wrong: how are these attempts different from Western Europeans supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1b-P312 lineages against all recent data, from Indians supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1a-M417 lineages no matter what, and from the more recent trend of autochthonous continuity theories for N1c lineages and Uralic in Eastern Europe?

Modern Germanic-speaking peoples can trace their common language to Nordic Iron Age Proto-Germanic, Celts to La Tène’s expansion of Proto-Celtic, and Romance speakers to the Roman expansion (and to an earlier Proto-Italic), all three dating approximately to the Iron Age. Proto-Slavic is dated much later than that, and probably Proto-Baltic too (or maybe earlier depending on the dialectal proposal), with Balto-Slavic being possibly coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic and Italo-Celtic, but probably slightly later than that. Also, the language ancestral to Slavic may be (like a theoretical Proto-Romance language) impossible to reconstruct with precision, due to multiple substrate (or superstrate?) influences on the wide territory where Proto-Slavic formed and expanded from, in close alliance with steppe communities of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds.

We know that proto-historic Germanic, Celtic, and Italic peoples spread from relatively small regions, and had almost nothing to do with historic groups speaking their daughter languages, let alone modern speakers. Baltic and Slavic are not different.

NOTE. We have read that Weltzin samples clustered closely to Central Europeans (especially Austrians), and at a certain distance from modern Poles. That’s the conclusion of Sell’s PhD thesis, and it may be right, if you take only modern samples for comparison. However, if you have read or thought that they represented some kind of “ancestral Germanic vs. Slavic” battle, please imagine Trump’s voice for my opinion: Wrroonng, wrroonng, wrroonng. They cluster closely with Bell Beaker migrants, Poland BA, and Únětice (in this order), which we now know thanks to the data from O&M 2018 and Mittnik et al. 2018. And we also know who they don’t cluster close too: Corded Ware and Trzciniec samples. Therefore, people from the region near the most likely homelands of Pre-Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic are – as expected – likely descendants from Bell Beaker migrants in Central Europe. The genetic relationship of those ancient samples to modern inhabitants of Central-East Europe? Not obvious – at all.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield and some ancient and modern samples.

We also know (and have known for a long time, well before these recent papers) that the oldest attested Indo-European languagesMycenaean, early Anatolian languages, and Indo-Aryan (through certain words in Mitanni inscriptions) – do not show continuity from the places where they were first attested to the Late and Middle Proto-Indo-European (steppe) homeland either. There should be no problem then in accepting that there is no linguistic, archaeological, or common sense reason to support that Balto-Slavic is older or shows more regional continuity than other IE languages from Europe.

NOTE. Oh yes, Balts saying “Baltic is the most similar language to PIE” I hear you thinking? Uh-huh, sure. And according to some Greeks (supported e.g. by the conclusions from Lazaridis et al. 2017) Mycenaeans were ‘autochthonous’, and Proto-Greek the most similar to PIE. For many Hindus, Vedic Sanskrit is in fact PIE), and the latest paper by Narasimhan et al. (2018) only reinforces this idea (don’t ask me why). Also, Caucasian scholar Gamkrelidze (with Ivanov) supported the origin of the language precisely in the Caucasus, with Armenian being thus the purest language. For Italians fans of Virgil and the Roman Empire, Latin (like Aeneas) comes from Anatolian linguistically and genetically, hence it must be the ‘oldest’ IE dialect alive… No, wait, Danish scholars Kroonen and Iversen quite recently asserted that Germanic is the oldest to branch off, then it should thus be nearest to PIE! I think you can see a pattern here…And don’t forget about the new Vasconic-Uralic hypotheses going on now, with Vasconic fans of R1b changing from Palaeolithic to Mesolithic, and now to European Neolithic and whatnot, or Uralic fans of N1c changing now from Mesolithic EHG to Siberia (for ancestry) or Central Asia (for N1c subclades), or whatever is necessary to believe in ‘continuity’ of their people following the newest genetic papers… Just pick whatever theory you want, call it “mainstream”, and that’s it.

So, if there is no reliable archaeological model connecting Bronze or Iron Age cultures to Eastern European cultures which are supposed to represent the Proto-Slavic and Proto-Baltic homelands…why on earth would any reasonable amateur (not to speak about scholars) dare propose any sort of genetic or linguistic continuity for thousands of years from PIE to early Slavs, a people whose first blurry appearance in historical records happened during the Middle Ages in rather turbulent and genetically admixed regions? It does not make any sense, and it had all odds against it. Blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence? Sure, and ABO group, brachycephaly, anthropometry… All very scientifish.

Diachronic map of migrations during Classical Antiquity in Europe 250 BC – 250 AD.
Where’s Proto-Slavic Wally?


Human ancestry can only help refine solid academic theories, it cannot create one. Every new pet theory used to satisfy modern cultural pre- and misconceptions has failed, and it will fail again, and again, and again…

To have an own anthropological model of prehistoric migration requires time and study. It is not enough to play with software and to misuse traditional academic disciplines just to ‘prove’ some completely irrelevant, meaningless, and false continuity.


The renewed ‘Kurgan model’ of Kristian Kristiansen and the Danish school: “The Indo-European Corded Ware Theory”

Allentoft Corded Ware

A popular science article on Indo-European migrations has appeared at Science News, entitled How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures, signed by Bruce Bower. While the article is well-balanced and introduces new readers to the current status quo of the controversy on Indo-European migrations – including the opposing theories led by Kristiansen/Anthony vs. Heyd – , it reverberates yet again the conclusions of the 2015 Nature articles on the subject, especially with its featured image.

I have argued many times why the recent ‘Yamnaya -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker’ migration model is wrong, mainly within my essay Indo-European demic diffusion model, but also in articles of this blog, most recently in the post Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future America’ hypothesis). It is known that Nature is a bit of a ‘tabloid’ in the publishing industry, and these 2015 articles offered simplistic conclusions based on a wrong assessment of archaeological and linguistic data, in search for groundbreaking conclusions.

An excerpt from Bower’s article:

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.

I have already talked about Kristiansen’s continuation of Gimbutas’ outdated ideas: we are seeing a renewed effort by some Scandinavian (mainly Danish) scholars to boost (and somehow capitalise) the revitalised concept of the “Kurgan people”, although now the fundamental issue has been more clearly shifted to the language spoken by Corded Ware migrants.

As far as I can tell, this renewed interest began two years ago, with the simultaneous publication of genetic studies by Haak et al. (2015), and Allentoft et al. (2015), and the misuse of the cursed concept of ‘Yamnaya ancestry‘ to derive far-fetched conclusions.

On the other hand, genetic research is not solely responsible for this: David Anthony – who was apparently consulted by Haak et al. (2015) for their paper, where he appears as co-author – has kept a low (or lower) profile, and only recently has he merely suggested potential links between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures in Lesser Poland, that might explain what (some geneticists have told him) appeared as a potential Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration in the first ancient samples studied.

Anthony’s migration model remains otherwise strongly based on Archaeology, offering a careful interpretation of potential contacts and migrations in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and only marginally offers some views on Linguistics (based on Ringe’s controversial ‘glottochronological model’ of 2006), to the extent that he is compelled to explain the potential adoption of Indo-European by Corded Ware culture (CWC) peoples as multiple cultural diffusion events, since no migration is observed from the steppe to CWC territories.

I think he is thus showing a great deal of restraint, not jumping on the bandwagon of this recent trend based on scarce genetic finds – and therefore losing also the opportunity to publish articles in journals of high impact factor….

This newly created Danish school, on the other hand, seems to be swimming with the tide. Kristiansen, known for his controversial ‘universal’ interpretations of European Prehistory – which are nevertheless more readable and interesting than most specialised literature on Archaeology, at least for us non-archaeologists – , has apparently seized the opportunity to give a strong impulse to his theories.

Not that there is nothing wrong with that, of course, but sometimes it might seem that a lot of papers (or even researchers) support something, when in fact there are only a few of them, working closely together

I see therefore three main “branches” of this support (two of them, Genetics and Linguistics, only recently giving some limited air to this dying hypothesis), with a closely related group of people involved in this model, and they are lending continuous support to each other, by repeating the same theory – and repeating the same misleading map images (like the one shown in the article) – , so that the circular reasoning they represent is concealed behind seemingly independent works.

The theory and its development

The main theory is officially rooted then in Kristiansen’s hypothesis, whose first article on the subject seems to be Prehistoric Migrations – the Case of the Single Grave and Corded Ware Cultures (1989), supporting the Kurgan model applied to the Corded Ware migrations. It was probably a kind of a breakthrough in Archaeology, bringing migration to mainstream Archaeology again (followed closely by Anthony), and he deserves merit for this.

After this proposal, there are mostly just his publications supporting this model. Nevertheless, Kristiansen’s model, I gather, did not involve the sudden Yamnaya -> Corded Ware migrations discussed in recent genetic articles, but long-lasting contacts between peoples and cultures from the North Pontic steppe, Trypillian, and Globular Amphora, that formed a new mixed one, the Corded Ware people and culture. Also, in Gimbutas’ original model of migration (1963), waves of Kurgan migrants are also described into Vučedol and Bell Beaker, which have been apparently forgotten in recent models*.
* The most recent model by Anthony describes such migrations into Early Bronze Age Balkan cultures – as do most archaeological publications today – , but he is unable to recognize migration waves from Yamna into the Corded Ware culture, and because of that describes mere potential routes (or modes) of cultural diffusion including language change.

Proposal for the origin and spread of the Corded Ware/ Battle Axe cultural complex: 1) Distribution of CWC groups; 2) Yamna culture; 3) presumed area of origin; 4) presumed main directions of the primary distribution. Also numbered are other individual CW cultures. From Kristiansen (1989).

Then – skipping the years of simplistic phylogeography based on modern haplogroup distribution – we have to jump directly to Allentoft (of the Natural History Museum of Denmark) and cols. and their article on population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia (2015), with which Kristiansen collaborated, and which offers the first direct association of Corded Ware as the vector of expansion of Indo-European peoples and languages from Yamna. An interesting take on the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker question is represented by their very ‘kurgan-like’ Corded Ware-centric map:

Detail of Fig. 1 from Allentoft et al. (2015): “Distribution of Early Bronze Age cultures Yamnaya, Corded Ware, and Afanasievo with arrows showing the Yamnaya expansions”.

And suddenly, we are now seeing more works that support the central thesis of the group – that Corded Ware must have brought Indo-European languages to Europe:

Recent publications by K-G Sjögren – from the same department as Kristiansen, at the University of Gothenburg – seem to imply that there was a direct connection Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker in central Europe.

Guus Kroonen‘s recent hypothesis of a potential (Proto-Semitic-like) Germanic substrate (2012) has been added recently to the cause, in supporting with Iversen (also from the University of Copenhaguen) a link with the Battle Axe/Funnelbeaker culture interaction. However, in the archaeological-linguistic model it seems that Germanic must predominate over the rest of Indo-European languages in terms of age, representing the first wave of Indo-Europeanization in Europe (wat?!), whereas Balto-Slavic is much younger and unrelated…? But didn’t they share the same substrate (as did partially Greek) in Kroonen (2012)? I think Kroonen’s hypothesis might be better explained through an earlier contact in the North Pontic steppe

Modified from Kristiansen et al. (2017). “Schematic representation of how different Indo-European branches have absorbed words (circles) from a lost Neolithic language or language group (dark fill) in the reconstructed European linguistic setting of the third millennium BC, possibly involving one or more hunter gatherer languages (light fill) (after Kroonen & Iversen 2017)”.


This recently created Danish pressure group is not something bad per se. I don’t agree with their hypothesis (or rather evolving hypotheses, since they change with new genetic results and linguistic proposals, as is shown in Kristiansen et al. 2017), but I understand that the group continues a recent tradition:

Publications are always great to advance in knowledge, and if they bring some deal of publicity, and more publications (with the always craved impact factor), and maybe more investment in the departments (with more local jobs and prestige)… why not?

However, this model of workgroup research system is reminiscent of the Anatolian homeland group loosely created around Renfrew; the Palaeolithic Continuity workgroup around Cavalli-Sforza; or (more recently) the Celtic from the West group around Cunliffe and Koch. The difference between Kristiansen’s workgroup and supporters of all those other models, in my opinion, is that (at least for the moment) their collaboration is not obvious to many.

Therefore, to be fair with any outsider, I think this group should clearly state their end model: I propose the general term “Indo-European Corded Ware Theory” (IECWT) workgroup, because ‘Danish’ is too narrow, and ‘Scandinavian’ too broad to represent the whole group. But any name will do.

My opinion on the IECWT

As you can see, no single strong proof exists in support of the IECWT:

  • Not for a solid model of PIE expansion from Corded Ware, not even within the IECWT group, where there is no support (to date) for a Balto-Slavic expansion associated with the Corded Ware culture… Or any other dialect, for that matter;
  • Not for a Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker connection – that is, before the publication of Allentoft et al. (2015) and articles reverberating their conclusions;
  • Not for a unified Pre-Germanic community before the Dagger Period, and still less linked with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture from the steppe – that connection is found only in Anthony (2007), where he links it with a cultural diffusion into Usatovo, which seems too late for a linguistic expansion with Corded Ware peoples, with the current genetic data.

The wrong interpretation of scarce initial ancient samples has been another feeble stone put over the ruins of Gimbutas’ theory. While her simple theory of Kurgan invaders was certainly a breakthrough in her time – when speaking about migrating Indo-European peoples was taboo -, it has since been overcome by more detailed archaeological and linguistic accounts of what happened in east and central Europe during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.

However, a lot of people are willing to consume post-truth genetic-based citebait like crazy, in a time when Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. seem to shape the general knowledge, while dozens of new, carefully prepared papers on Archaeology and Linguistics related to Indo-European peoples get published weekly and don’t attract any attention, just because they do not support these simplistic claims, or precisely because they fully reject them.

An older connection of Germanic to Scandinavia – and thus an ancestral Indo-European cultural diffusion from north to south – seems to better fit the traditional idea of an autochthonous Germanic homeland in Scandinavia, instead of a bunch of southern Bell Beaker invaders bringing the language that could only later develop as a common Nordic language during the Bronze Age, in a genetically-diverse community…

One is left to wonder whether the support of Corded Ware + haplogroup R1a representing Pre-Germanic is also in line with the most natural human Kossinnian trends, whereby the older your paternal line and your ancestral language are connected to your historical territory, the better. The lack of researchers from Norway – where R1b subclades brought by Bell Beakers peak – in the workgroup is revealing.

Just as we are seeing strong popular pressure e.g. to support the Out of India Theory by Hindu nationalists, or some Slavic people supporting to recreate a ‘Northern IE group’ with a Germano-Balto-Slavic Corded Ware culture – and a renewed interest in skin, hair and eye colour by amateur geneticists – , it is only natural to expect similar autochtonous-first trends in certain regions of the Germanic-speaking community.

NOTE: I feel a bit like an anti-IECWT hooligan here, and once again fulfilling Godwin’s Law. Judging by previous reactions in this blog to criticism of the Out of India Theory, and to criticism of R1a as the vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, this post is likely to cause some people to feel bad.

It is not intended to be against these researchers individually, though. All of them have certainly contributed in great ways to their fields, indeed more than I have to any field: Kristiansen is well-known for his careful, global interpretations of European prehistory (and has been supporting his model for quite a long time). I do like Kroonen’s ideas of a Pre-Germanic substratum. And people involved in the group do so probably because they collaborate closely with each other, and because of the huge pressure to publish in journals of high impact factor, so to mix their disparate research within a common model seems only natural.

But their collaboration is boosting certain wrong ideas, and is giving way to certain misconceptions in Linguistics, and also sadly renewed past ethnocentric views of language in Northern Europe – that will be luckily demonstrated, again, wrong. After all, publications (like ideas in general) are subjected to criticism, as mine are. Researchers who publish know their work is subjected to criticism, and not only before publication, but also – and probably more so – after it. That a paper can be incorrect, biased, or even completely absurd, does not mean the person who wrote it is a fool. That’s the difference between criticising ideas and insulting. If criticism offends you, you shouldn’t be publishing. Period.


Featured image: From Allentoft et al. (2015)“>Allentoft et al. (2015). See here for full caption.