The Lusatian culture, the most likely vector of Balto-Slavic expansions


New archaeological paper (behind paywall) New evidence on the southeast Baltic Late Bronze Age agrarian intensification and the earliest AMS dates of Lens culinaris and Vicia faba, by Minkevičius et al. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Arrival of farming in the south-east Baltic

The current state of research reveals no firm evidence of crop cultivation in the region before the LBA (Piličiauskas et al. 2017b; Grikpėdis and Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Current archaeobotanical data firmly suggest the adoption of farming during the EBA to LBA transition. (…) By comparison, in other parts of N Europe subsistence economy of CWC groups was characterized by strong emphasis on animal husbandry, however crop cultivation was also used (Kirleis 2019; Vanhanen et al. 2019). CWC sites from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany reveal evidence of the cultivation of H. vulgare var. nudum, T. dicoccum, Linum usitatissimum (flax) (Oudemans and Kubiak-Martens 2014; Beckerman 2015; Kubiak- Martens et al. 2015).

It is (…) striking that earliest evidence of farming in the SE Baltic only appears in the deposits dating over 4,000 years later.

The environmental conditions of the SE Baltic presented a significant barrier and numerous genetic adaptations were required before farming could successfully spread into the region (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Adaptations through seasonality changes usually play a major role in adapting to new environments (Sherratt 1980). These include establishing genetic controls on seasonality, especially flowering times and length of growing season (Fuller and Lucas 2017). Therefore, it could be argued that farming was only firmly established in the region around the LBA after several crop species, primarily barley, became adapted to the local environment and the risk of crop failure was reduced (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). The transition to farming was further aided by the climate warming which started around 750 cal bc (Gaigalas 2004; Sillasoo et al. 2009). In such a case the fragmented evidence from earlier periods is a likely illustration of the early attempts that have failed.

Map of sites mentioned in the text: 1 Duba and Palesa Lakes, 2 Šventoji, 3 Šarnelė, 4 Iru, 5 Kvietiniai, 6 Kreiči, 7 Turlojiškė, 8 Narkūnai, 9 Luokesa 1, 10 Mūkakalns, 11 Kivutkalns, 12 Asva, 13 Kukuliškiai

Social change

The LBA agrarian intensification of the SE Baltic was most likely not an isolated case but rather a part of broader social, economic and technological developments sweeping across northern Europe.

Evidence from sites across the Baltic Sea shows that the end of the EBA (ca. 1200 bc onward, after Gustafsson 1998) was marked by intensification of agriculture and changes in landscape management. This coincides with the agricultural developments observed on the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea and provides a context for the eventual arrival of farming, followed shortly by the rapid agrarian intensification of the region. Looking just south from the study region, we see that data from northern Poland reveal a sharp increase in both scale and intensity of agricultural activities during the EBA to LBA transition. Pollen records show significant environmental changes starting around 1400/1300 bc (Wacnik 2005, 2009; Wacnik et al. 2012). These were mostly a result of development of a production economy based on plant cultivation and animal raising. Even more significant changes during this period are visible in southern Scandinavia. Pollen records from S Sweden present evidence for an opening up of the forested landscape and the creation of extensive grasslands (Berglund 1991; Gustafsson 1998). Major changes are also apparent in archaeobotanical assemblages.

In general, during the end of the EBA northern Europe underwent a massive transformation of the farming system moving towards a more intensified agriculture aimed at surplus production. However, this should not be regarded as an isolated occurrence, but rather as a radical change of the whole society which took place throughout Europe (Gustafsson 1998). Intensification of contacts across northern Europe have integrated previously isolated regions into a wider network (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005; Wehlin 2013; Earle et al. 2015). It is therefore likely that farming spread into the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea alongside other innovations including malleable technologies and developments of social structure.

Late Bronze Age cultures in the Baltic. See full map.

The presence and scale of intensifying connections is well illustrated by SE Baltic archaeological material.

Firstly, the appearance of stone ship graves has served as a basis for locating the Nordic communication zones. Construction of such graves was limited to the coastal regions of Kurzeme, Saaremaa Island and the Northern Estonian coast near Tallinn and Kaliningrad (Graudonis 1967; Okulicz 1976; Lang 2007) and is generally regarded as a foreign burial custom which was common in Gotland and along the Scandinavian coast. This is also supported by the Staldzene and Tehumardi hoards (Vasks and Vijups 2004; Sperling 2013), which contained artefacts typical of Nordic culture.

Secondly, studies of early metallurgy and its products, both imported and created in the SE Baltic, have concluded that metal consumption in the LBA had more than doubled compared to the EBA (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999). The SE Baltic region lacks any metal artefact types exclusive to the region and metal objects are dominated by artefact types originating from Nordic and Lusatian cultures (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999; Lang 2007; Čivilytė 2014). This indicates that even after metal crafting reached the region, the technology remained exclusively of foreign origin. Rarely identifiable negatives of clay casting moulds were also made for artefacts of Nordic influence, such as Mälar type axes or Härnevi type pins (Čivilytė 2014; Sperling 2014).

Lastly, emerging social diversification was accompanied by the establishment of the first identifiable settlement pattern. Settlement locations were strategically chosen alongside economically significant routes, primarily on the coast and near the Daugava River. Hilltop areas were prioritized over the lowlands, and excavations on these sites have often revealed several stages of enclosure construction (Graudonis 1989). This has also been explained as a reflection of intensifying communication networks between Nordic and Lusatian cultures, and the indigenous communities of the SE Baltic.


One of the aspects of my description of Balto-Slavic I am least convinced about is my acceptance of Kortlandt’s dialectal classification into Proto-East Baltic, Proto-West Baltic, and Proto-Slavic, due to its strong reliance on his own controversial theory of late laryngeal loss.

Kortlandt’s position regarding Balto-Slavic is that it is in fact simply ‘Proto-Baltic’, a language that would stem thus from an Indo-Baltic branch, which would be originally represented by Corded Ware, and which would have split suddenly in its three dialects without any common development between branches, including some intermediate hypothetic “Centum” Temematic substrate that would explain everything his model can’t…

As more genetic and archaeological data on northern Europe appears, his ideas about Balto-Slavic are becoming even less credible, fully at odds with his predicted population and cultural movements, in particular because of the evident shaping of Indo-European-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Bell Beaker culture from the Yamnaya of the Carpathian Basin, and of the shaping of Uralic-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.

Middle Bronze Age cultures close to the Baltic ca. 1750-1250 BC. See full map.

The site of Turlojiškė in southern Lithuania (ca. 908-485 BC) – which Mittnik et al. (2018) classified as “Bronze Age, Trzciniec culture?” – can be more reasonably considered a settlement of incoming intensive agrarian communities under the influence of the Lusatian culture, like the Narkūnai hilltop settlement in eastern Lithuania (ca. 800–550 BC), or the enclosed hilltop settlement of Kukuliškiai in western Lithuania (ca. 887-506 BC), just 300 m east of the Baltic Sea, also referred to in the paper.

While the dates of sampled individuals include a huge span (ca. 2100-600 BC), those with confirmed radiocarbon dates are more precisely dated to the LBA-EIA transition. More specifically, the first clearly western influence is seen in the early outlier Turlojiškė1932 (ca. 1230-920 BC), while later samples and samples from Kivutkalns, in Latvia, show major genetic continuity with indigenous populations, compatible with the new chiefdom-based systems of the Baltic and the known lack of massive migrations to the region.

Contacts with western groups of the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures intensified – based on existing archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence – in the LBA, especially from ca. 1100/1000 BC on, and Baltic languages seem to have thus little to do with the disappearing Trzciniec culture, and more with the incoming Lusatian influence.

Both facts – more simple dialectalization scheme, and more recent Indo-European expansion to the east – support the spread of Proto-Baltic into the south-east Baltic area precisely around this time, and is also compatible with an internal separation from Proto-Slavic during the expansion of the Lusatian culture.

Top Left:Likely Baltic, Slavic, and Balto-Finnic-speaking territories (asynchronous), overlaid over Late Bronze Age cultures. Balto-Slavic in green: West(-East?) Baltic (B1), unattested early Baltic (B2), and Slavic (S). Late Balto-Finnic (F) in cyan. In red, Tollense and Turlojiškė sampling. Dashed black line: Balto-Slavic/West Uralic hydrotoponymy border until ca. 1000 AD. Top right: PCA of groups from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Marked are Iwno/Pre-Trzciniec of Gustorzyn (see below), Late Trzciniec/Iron Age samples from Turlojiškė, and in dashed line approximate extent of Tollense cluster; Y-DNA haplogroups during the Late Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Early Iron Age (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

Even though comparative grammar is traditionally known to be wary of resorting to language contamination or language contact, the truth is that – very much like population genomics – trying to draw a ‘pure’ phylogenetic tree for Balto-Slavic has never worked very well, and the most likely culprit is the Slavic expansion to the south-east into territories which underwent different and complex genetic and linguistic influences for centuries (see here and here).

The close interaction of Nordic BA and Lusatian cultures (and their cultural predominance over) indigenous eastern Baltic peoples from ca. 1100 BC fits (part of) the known intense lexical borrowings of Balto-Finnic from Palaeo-Germanic and from early Proto-Baltic, as well as (part of) the known Germanic–Balto-Slavic contacts, whereas the evident Balto-Finnic-like substrate of Balto-Slavic, and especially of Baltic, must stem from the acculturation of those indigenous East Baltic peoples.

The relative chronology of hydrotoponymy in the East Baltic shows that essentially all ancestral layers to the north of the Daugava must have been Uralic, while roughly south of the Daugava they seem to be mostly Indo-European. The question remains, though, when did this Indo-European layer start?

Despite the many centuries that could separate the attestation of southern place- and river-names from northern ones, Old European is also defined by linguistic traits, which would imply that the same language inferred from Western and Southern European hydrotoponymy is that found in the Baltic, hence all from North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beakers and derived Early European Bronze Age groups.

Interestingly, though, it is well-known that some modern Baltic toponyms can’t be easily distinguished from the Old European layers – unlike those of Iberia or the British Isles, which show some attested language change in the proto-historical and historical period – which may imply both (a) continuity of Baltic languages since the EBA, but also that (b) the Baltic naming system is a confounding factor in assessing the ancestral expansion of Old European. The latter is becoming more and more likely with each new linguistic, archaeological, and genetic paper.

Hydronyms in up-. One among many examples of scarcely attested appellatives that appear inflated in the Baltic due to modern use.

To sum up, a survival of a hypothetical late Trzciniec language in Lithuania or as part of the expanding Lusatian community is not the most economic explanation for what is seen in genetics and archaeology. On the other hand, the cluster formed by the Tollense samples (a site corresponding to the Nordic Bronze Age), the Turlojiškė outlier, and the early Slavs from Bohemia all depict an eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic languages from Central Europe, at the same time as Celtic expanded to the west with the Urnfield culture.

NOTE. Another, more complicated question, though, is if this expanding Proto-Baltic language accompanying agriculture represents the extinct
early Proto-Baltic dialect from which Balto-Finnic borrowed words, hence Proto-Baltic proper expanded later, or if this early Baltic branch could have been part of the Trzciniec expansion. Again, the answer in archaeological and genetic terms seems to be the former. For a more detailed discussion of this and more, see European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic.

As I said recently, the slight increase in Corded Ware-like ancestry among Iron Age Estonians, if it were statistically relevant and representative of an incoming population – and not just the product of “usual” admixture with immediate neighbours – need not be from south-eastern Corded Ware groups, because the Akozino-Malär cultural exchange seems to have happened as an interaction in both directions, and not just as an eastward migration imagined by Carpelan and Parpola.

Archaeology and genetics could actually suggest then (at least in part) an admixture with displaced indigenous West Uralic-speaking peoples from the south-west, to the south of the Daugava River, at the same time as the Indo-European – Uralic language frontier must have shifted to its traditional location, precisely during the LBA / EIA transition around 1000 BC.

NOTE. For more on this, see the supplementary materials of Saag et al. (2019).

Distribution of fortified settlements (filled circles) and other hilltop sites (empty circles) of the Late Bronze Age and Pre-Roman Iron Ages in the East Baltic region. Tentative area of most intensive contacts between Baltic and Balto-Finnic communities marked with a dashed line. Image modified from (Lang 2016).

The tight relationship of the three communities also accounts for the homogeneous distribution of expanding haplogroup N1c-VL29 (possibly associated with Akozino warrior-traders) in the whole Baltic Sea area, such as those appearing in the Estonian Iron Age samples, which have no clearly defined route(s) of expansion.

It is even possible that they emerged first in the south, linked to marriage alliances of Akozino chieftains with Baltic- and Germanic-speaking chiefdoms around the Baltic Sea (see N1c in Germanic Iron Age), because the expansion of (some) N1c lineages with Gulf of Finland Finnic to the north was more clearly associated with their known bottleneck ca. 2,000 years ago.


European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic


In his recent paper on Late Proto-Indo-European migrations, when citing Udolph to support his model, Frederik Kortlandt failed to mention that the Old European hydrotoponymy in northern Central-East Europe evolved into Baltic and Slavic layers, and both take part in some Northern European (i.e. Germanic – Balto-Slavic) commonalities.


From Expansion slavischer Stämme aus namenkundlicher und bodenkundlicher sicht, by Udolph, Onomastica (2016), translated into English (emphasis mine):

NOTE. An archived version is available here. The DOI references for Onomastica do not work.

(…) there is a clear center of Slavic names in the area north of the Carpathians. Among them are root words of the Slavic languages such as reka / rzeka, potok u. a. m.

Even more important than this mapping is the question of how the dispersion of ancient Slavic names happened. What is meant by ancient Slavic names? I elaborated on this in this journal years ago (Udolph, 1997):

(1)Ancient suffixes that are no longer productive today.

This clearly includes Slavic *-(j)ava as in Vir-ava, Vod-ava, Il-ava, Glin-iawa, Breg-ava, Ljut-ava, Mor-ava, Orl-java among others. It has clear links to the ancient common Indo-European language (Lupawa, Morava-March-Moravia, Orava, Widawa). They have a center north of the Carpathians.


(2) Unproductive appellatives (water words), which have disappeared from the language, are certain witnesses of ancient Slavic settlements. A nice example of this is Ukr. bahno, Pol. bagno ‘swamp, bog, morass’ etc. The word has long been missing in South Slavic, although it appears in South Slavic names, but only in very specific areas (see Udolph, 1979, pp. 324-336).

(3) Names that go back to different sound shifts. [Examples:]

  • (…) the Slavic clan around Old Sorbian brna ‘feces, earth’, Bulgarian OCS brьnije ‘feces, loam’, OCS brъna ‘feces’, Slovenian brn, ‘river mud’, etc. is solved with the inclusion of onomastic materials (Udolph, 1979, p. 499-514). (…) Toponymic mapping shows important details.
  • bryn-slavic
    Karte 4. brъn < *brŭn und bryn- < *brūn- in slavischen Namen
  • (…)We also have an ablauting *krŭn-:*krūn- in front of us. Map 5 shows the distribution of both variants in Slavic names.
  • The next case is quite similar. It concerns Russ. appellative grjaz’ ‘dirt, feces, mud’, (…) for which an Old Slavic form *gręz exists. Slavic also knows the ablauting variant *grǫz.

    These maps (see Map 6, p. 222) show that a homeland of Slavic tribes can only be inferred north of the Carpathians.

    (4) Place-names formed by Slavic suffixes of Pre-Slavic nature, i.e. derived from Old European hydronyms.

    (a) The largest river in Poland, the Wisła, German Vistula, bears a clearly Pre-Slavic name, no matter how one explains it (Babik, 2001, pp. 311-315; Bijak, 2013, p. 34, Udolph, 1990 , Pp. 303-311).

    (b) With the same suffix are formed Sanok, place on the southwest of Przemyśl; Sanoka, a no longer known waters name, 1448 as fluvium Szanoka, near the place Sanoka and with a diminutive suffix -ok- a tributary of the Sanok, which is called Sanoczek (for details see Udolph, 1990, pp. 264-270; Rymut / Majtan, 1998, p. 222). The San also has a single-language name, but that does not change anything about the right etymology. The suffix variant -očь also includes Liwocz and Liwoczka, river names near Cracow; also a mountain range of the Beskydy is mentioned at Długosz as Lywocz.

    According to the opinion of the “Słownik prasłowiański” (Sławski (red.), 1974, p. 92), the suffix -ok- represents a Proto-Slavic archaism. It appears, for example, in sъvědokъ, snubokъ, vidokъ, edok, igrok, inok among others, but its antiquity also shows, among other things, that it started at archaic athematic tribes.

    Mapping of older and younger East Slavic place-names and translation into settlement evolution.

    Slavonic Urheimat

    If we apply this to the loess distribution in western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland, it is very noticeable that the center of the Old Slavic place names lies in the area where loess dispersal is gradually “frayed out”, i.e. for example, in the area west of Kiev between Krakow in the west and Winnycja and Moldavia in the east. In short, the distribution of good soils coincides with ancient Slavic names. If that is correct, we can expect a homeland in the Pre-Carpathian region, or better, a core landscape of Slavic settlement.

    The existence of Pre-Slavic Indo-European place names and water names whose structure indicates that they originated from an Indo-European basis, but then also developed Slavic peculiarities, can now – as stated above – only be understood to mean that the language group that we call today Slavic emerged in a century-long process from an Indo-European dialectal area.

    Loess areas between Poland and Ukraine. Image from Jary et al. (2018).

    From a genetic point of view, the scarce data published to date show a clear shift of central-east populations from more Corded Ware-like groups in the EBA towards more BBC-derived ancestry in the common era, to the point where ancient DNA samples from East Germany, Poland and Lithuania evolve from clustering between Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic peoples to clustering close to Bell Beaker-derived groups, such as West Germanic peoples, Tollense samples, etc. (see below)

    Furthermore, sampled Early Slavs show bottlenecks under “Dinaric” I2a-L621 and central-eastern E1b-V13, which – in combination with the known phylogeography of Únětice and Urnfield – is compatible with its late expansion from a central-east European Slavonic homeland, such as the Pomeranian culture, in turn likely derived from Lusatian culture groups.

    This doesn’t preclude a more immediate expansion of Common Slavic in Antiquity closer to the northern Carpathians, which is also supported by the available Early Slavic sampling, apart from samples from the Avar and Hungarian polities.

    Likely Baltic (yellow-green) and Slavic (orange) groups ca. 500 AD on, with Finnic (cyan) and Mordvinic (blue) groups roughly divided through hydrotoponymy line ca. 1000 AD Top Left: Late Iron Age cultures. Top right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Germanic migrations (Bottom left) and during the Middle Ages (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

    Proto-Baltic / Proto-Slavic

    Northern European hydronymy

    From Alteuropäische Hydronymie und urslavische Gewässernamen, by Udolph, Onomastica (1997), translated into English (emphasis mine):

    NOTE. An HTML version is available at Jurgen Udolph’s personal site.

    Because of the already striking similarities as the well-known “-m-case”, the number-words for ‘1000’, ’11’ and ’12’ and so on, J. Grimm had already assumed a close relationship between Germanic and Baltic and Slavic. (…)

    In my own search, I approached this trinity from the nomenclature side. In doing so, I noticed some name groups that can speak for a certain common context:

    1.* bhelgh-, *bholgh-.

    Map 10, p. 64, shows that a root * bhelgh- occurs in the name material of a region from which later Germanic, Baltic and Slavic originated. The Balkans play no role in this.


    2. *dhelbh-, *dholbh-, *dhl̥bh-

    The proof of the three ablauting * dhelbh, * dholbh, * dhl̥bh- within a limited area shows the close relationship that this root has with the Indo-European basis. Again it is significant in which area the names meet (…)


    3. An Indo-European root extension *per-s- with the meaning ‘spray, splash, dust, drop’ is detectable in several languages (…). From a Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarity cannot therefore be spoken from the toponymic point of view. The picture changes, however, if one includes the derived water names.

    4. The root extension *pel-t-, *pol-t-, *pl̥-t- of a tribe widely spread in the Indo-European languages around *pel-, pol- ‘pour, flow, etc.’, whose reflexes are found Armenian through Baltic and Slavic to the Celtic area, is found in the Baltic toponymy, cf. Latv. palts, palte ‘puddle, pool’.

    The dynamics of stylistic changes of the form of the “Trzciniec pot” in the lowland regions of Central Europe, and spreading routes of the Trzciniec package in Central Europe. A good proxy for contacts through the Northern European Plain during the Early Bronze Age. Modified from Czebreszuk (1998).

    Early Balto-Finnic

    In order to properly delimit (geographically and chonologically) the Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic expansions, it is necessary to understand where the late Balto-Finnic homeland was located during the Bronze Age. The following are excerpts from the comprehensive hydrotoponymic study by Pauli Rahkonen (2013):

    In any case, Finnic probably had its origin somewhere around the Gulf of Finland. Names of large and central rivers such as Vuoksi (< Finnic vuo ‘stream’) and Neva (< Finnic neva ‘marsh, river’) must be very old and might represent Proto-Finnic hydronyms. In the southern coastal area of Finland, the names Kymi and Nietoo < *Niet|oja (id. later Porvoonjoki) may also be of Finnic origin and derive from, respectively, kymi ‘stream’ (see SSA I s.v. *kymi; see however SPK s.v. Kemijärvi; Rahkonen 2013: 24) and nieto(s) ‘heap of snow’ (SSA II s.v. nietos), in hydronyms probably ‘high (snowy?) banks of a river’. Mustion|joki is clearly a Finnish name < *must|oja ‘black river’. The river name Vantaa remains somewhat obscure, although Nissilä (see SPK s.v. Vantaanjoki) has derived it from the Finnic word vana ‘water route’. In western Finland the names of large rivers, such as Aura and Eura, are supposedly of Germanic origin (Koivulehto 1987).

    In Estonia the names of many of the most important rivers might be of Finnic origin: e.g. Ema|jõgi Est. ema ‘mother’ [Tartu district] (?? cf. the Lake Piiga|ndi < Est. piiga ‘maiden’), Pärnu [Pärnu district] < Est. pärn ‘linden’, Valge|jõgi [Loksa district] < Est. valge ‘white’, Must|jõgi [Võru district] < Est. must ‘black’. It is possible that Emajogi and especially Piigandi are the result of later folk etymologizing of a name with some unknown origin. However, as a naming motif there exist in Finland numerous toponyms with the stems Finnic *emä (e.g. 3 Emäjoki), *neit(V)- ‘maiden’ (e.g. Neitijärvi, Neittävänjoki, Neittävänjärvi) and Saami stems that can be derived from Proto Saami *nejte̮ ‘id’ (GT2000; NA).

    The historical southern boundary of Finnic hydronyms, excluding hydronyms produced by the Karelian refugees of the 17th century.

    These seemingly very old names of relatively large rivers in southern Finland, modern Leningrad oblast and Estonia support the hypothesis that Proto-Finnic was spoken for a long time on both sides of the Gulf of Finland and it thus basically corresponds to the hypothesis of Terho Itkonen (see below). In the Novgorod, Tver or Vologda oblasts of Russia, Finnic names for large rivers cannot be found (Rahkonen 2011: 229). For this reason, it is likely that the Late Proto-Finnic homeland was the area around the Gulf of Finland.

    Beyond the southeastern boundary of the modern or historically known Finnic-speaking area, there exists a toponymic layer belonging to the supposedly non-Finnic Novgorodian Čudes (see Rahkonen 2011). In theory it is possible that Proto-Finnic and Proto-Čudian separated from each other at an early stage or it is even possible that Proto-Čudian was identical with Proto-Finnic. However, this cannot be proven, because there is not enough material available describing what Novgorodian Čudic was like exactly.

    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 (2013)

    A summary of the data is then:

    • The Daugava River and the Gulf of Livonia formed the most stable south-western Balto-Finnic border (up until ca. 1000 AD): the Daugava shows a likely Indo-European etymology, while some of its tributaries are best explained as derived from Uralic.
    • The first layer of “Early Baltic” loans in Early Balto-Finnic are of a non-attested Baltic dialect closest to Proto-Balto-Slavic (read more about this early layer).
    • The latest samples of the Trzciniec culture (or derived Iron Age group) from its easternmost group in Turlojiškė (ca. 1000-800 BC?) show a western shift towards Bell Beaker, although they show a majority of hg. R1a-Z280; while the earliest sample from Gustorzyn (ca. 1900 BC), likely from Trzciniec/Iwno, from the westernmost area of the culture, shows a Corded Ware-like ancestry (and hg. R1a-Z280, likely S24902+) among a BA sampling from Poland clearly derived from Bell Beaker groups.

    One can therefore infer that the expansion of the Trzciniec culture – as the earliest expansion of central-west European peoples into the Baltic after the Bell Beaker period – represented either the whole disintegrating Balto-Slavic community, or at least an Early Baltic-speaking community expanding from the West Baltic area to the east.

    The similarity of Early Slavs and the Trzciniec outlier with the Czech BA cluster, formed by samples from Bohemia (ca. 2200–1700 BC), and the varied haplogroups found among Early Slavs – reminiscent of the variability of the Unetice/Urnfield sampling – may help tentatively connect the early Proto-Slavic homeland more strongly with a Proto-Lusatian community immediately to the south-west of the Iwno/Proto-Trzciniec core.

    Top Left:Likely Baltic, Slavic, and Balto-Finnic-speaking territories (asynchronous), overlaid over Late Bronze Age cultures. Balto-Slavic in green: West(-East?) Baltic (B1), unattested early Baltic (B2), and Slavic (S). Late Balto-Finnic (F) in cyan. In red, Tollense and Turlojiškė sampling. Dashed black line: Balto-Slavic/West Uralic hydrotoponymy border until ca. 1000 AD. Top right: PCA of groups from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Marked are Iwno/Pre-Trzciniec of Gustorzyn (see below), Late Trzciniec/Iron Age samples from Turlojiškė, and in dashed line approximate extent of Tollense cluster; Y-DNA haplogroups during the Late Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Early Iron Age (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

    Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland

    Disconnected western border: Germanic

    The common Balto-Slavic – Germanic community must necessarily be traced back to the West Baltic. From Udolph’s Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem, de Gruyter (1994), translated from German (emphasis mine):

    My work [Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem] has shown how strong the Germanic toponymy is related to the East, less to Slavic, much more to Baltic. It confirms the recent thesis by W.P. Schmid on the special relationship Germanic and Baltic, according to which “the formation of the typical Germanic linguistic characteristics…must have taken place in the neighborhood of Baltic“.

    If one starts from a Germanic core area whose eastern boundary is to be set on the middle Elbe between the Erzgebirge and Altmark, there are little more than 400 km. to the undoubtedly Baltic settlement area east of the Vistula. Stretching the Baltic area westwards over the Vistula (as far as the much-cited Persante), the distance is reduced to less than 300 km. Assuming further that Indo-European tribes between the developing Germanic and the Baltic groups represent the connection between the two language groups, so can one understand well the special relationship proposed by W.P. Schmid between Germanic and Baltic. In an earlier period shared Slavic evidently the same similarities (Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarities).

    Top: Palaeo-Germanic (G2, blue area), Proto-Balto-Slavic/Pre-Baltic (PBSL, green area) and Early Proto-Balto-Finnic (PBF, cyan area) homelands superimposed over Early Bronze Age cultures. Persante hydronym and Gustorzyn ancient DNA sample location marked. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Early Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Middle Bronze Age (Bottom right). Notice a mix of R1b-L151 samples from the west and the process of integration of R1a-Z645 lineages from the the north-east. See full maps and PCAs.

    Substrate and immediate eastern border: Early Balto-Finnic

    While Balto-Finnic shows a late Balto-Slavic adstrate, Balto-Slavic has a Balto-Finnic(-like) substrate, also found later in Baltic and Slavic, which implies that Balto-Slavic (and later Baltic and Slavic) replaced the language of peoples who spoke Balto-Finnic(-like) languages, influencing at the same time the language of neighbouring peoples, who still spoke Balto-Finnic (or were directly connected to the Balto-Finnic community).

    For more on this relative chronology in Balto-Slavic – Balto-Finnic contacts, see e.g. the recent posts on Kallio (2003), Olander (2019), or a summary of this substrate.

    While Rahkonen (2013) entertains Parpola’s theory of a West-Uralic-speaking Netted Ware area (ca. 1900-500 BC), due to the Uralic-like hydrotoponymy of its territory, he also supports Itkonen’s idea of the ancient presence of almost exclusively Balto-Finnic place and river names in the Eastern Baltic and the Gulf of Finland since at least the Corded Ware period, due to the lack of Indo-European layers there:

    NOTE. This idea was also recently repeated by Kallio (2015), who can’t find a non-Uralic layer of hydrotoponymy in Balto-Finnic-speaking areas.

    It should be observed that the territory between the historical Finnic and Mordvin-speaking areas matches quite well with the area of the so-called Textile Ceramics [circa 1900–800 BC] (cf. Parpola 2012: 288). The culture of Textile Ceramics could function as a bridge between these two extreme points. Languages that were spoken later in this vast territory between Finland–Estonia and Mordovia seem to derive from Western Uralic (WU) as well. I have called those languages Meryan-Muroma, Eastern and Western Čudian and an unknown “x” language spoken in inland Finland, Karelia and the Lake Region of the Russian North (Rahkonen 2011; 241; 2012a: 19–27; 2013: 5– 43). This might mean that the territory of the Early Textile Ceramics reflects to some extent the area of late Western Uralic.

    The archaeologically problematic area is Estonia, Livonia and Coastal Finland – the area traditionally assumed to have been populated by the late Proto-Finns. The Textile Ceramics culture was absent there. It is very difficult to believe that the Textile Ware population in inland Finland migrated or was even the main factor bringing the Pre- or Early Proto-Finnic language to Estonia or Livonia. There are no archaeological or toponymic signs of it. Therefore, I am forced to believe that Textile Ceramics did not bring Uralic-speaking people to those regions. This makes it possible, but not absolutely proven, to assume that some type of Uralic language was spoken in the region of the Gulf of Finland already before Textile Ceramics spread to the northwest (circa 1900 BC).

    Top Left: Corded Ware culture expansion. Top right: PCA of Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic groups. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Corded Ware expansion (Bottom left) and during the subsequent Bell Beaker expansion (Bottom right). Notice the rapid population replacement of typical Corded Ware R1a-Z645 lineages by expanding Bell Beakers of hg. R1b-L23 in central-east Europe, while they show continuity in the described ancestral Fennoscandian West-Uralic-speaking territory. See full maps and PCAs.

    The Corded Ware population in Finland is thought to have been NW Indo-European by many scholars (e.g. Koivulehto 2006: 154–155; Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 84). At least, it is probable that the Corded Ware culture was brought to Finland by waves of migration, because the representatives of the former Late Comb Ceramics partially lived at the same time side by side with the Corded Ware population. However, it is possible that the immigrants were a population that spoke Proto-Uralic, who had adopted the Corded Ware culture from their Indo-European neighbors, possibly from the population of the Fatjanovo culture, e.g. in the Valdai region. This was suggested by Terho Itkonen (1997: 251) as well. In that case the population of the Typical and Late Comb Ceramics may have spoken some Paleo European language (see Saarikivi 2004a). In the Early Bronze Age, the Baltic Pre-Finnic language that I have suggested must have been very close to late WU and therefore no substantial linguistic differences existed between the Baltic Pre-Finns and the population of Textile Ceramics in inland Finland. I admit that this model is difficult to prove, but I have presented it primarily in order to offer new models of thinking.16 At least, there is no archaeological or linguistic reason against this idea.

    This dubitative attribution of Proto-Uralic to the expansion of Corded Ware groups in eastern Europe, which is what hydrotoponymic data suggests in combination with archaeology, has to be understood as a consequence of how striking Rahkonen finds the results of his research, despite Itkonen’s previous proposal, in the context of an overwhelming majority of Indo-Europeanists who, until very recently, simplistically associated Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion.


    Even Kortlandt accepts at this point the identification of expanding East Bell Beakers from the Carpathian Basin as those who left the Alteuropäische layer reaching up to the Baltic. However, he identified Udolph’s data solely with West Indo-European, forgetting to mention the commonly agreed upon western Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland, most likely because it contradicts two of his main tenets:

    1. that Balto-Slavic split from a hypothetical Indo-Slavonic (i.e. Satem) group expanding from the east; and
    2. that laryngeals can be reconstructed for Balto-Slavic – unlike for North-West Indo-European.
    Indo-European hydrotoponymy in Europe and the Middle East (scarce Central Asian data). Baltic data compensated, statistical method RBF: intermediate regions devoid of Indo-European toponyms are inferred to have them; it compensates thus e.g. for the scarce Indo-European hydrotoponyms in Poland by assuming ‘soft’ continuity from West Germany to the Baltic.

    A hypothetic “Pre-Indo-Slavonic” laryngeal Indo-European layer reaching Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone with Corded Ware is fully at odds with all known data:

    • in comparative grammar, since the one feature that characterizes Graeco-Aryan is precisely its set of innovations relative to Northern Indo-European, which presupposes a longer contact (and further laryngeal loss) once Tocharian and North-West Indo-European had separated – hence probably represented by Palaeo-BalkanCatacomb-Poltavka contacts once Afanasevo and Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin / East Bell Beakers had become isolated;
    • in hydrotoponymy, because of the prehistoric linguistic areas that can be inferred from (1) the distribution of Old European hydrotoponymy; (2) Udolph’s work on Germanic and the likely non-Indo-European substrate in Scandinavia and land contacts with Balto-Finnic; (3) from the Northern European traits in the Northern European Plain; or (4) from the decreasing proportion of Indo-European place and river names from central Europe towards the east and north.
    • NOTE. An alternative explanation of Old European/Balto-Slavic layers, e.g. by a ‘Centum’ Temematic – even if one obviates the general academic rejection to Holzer’s proposal – couldn’t account for the absolute lack of an ancestral layer of Indo-European hydrotoponymy in North-Eastern Europe (i.e. the longest-lasting Corded Ware territory), in sharp contrast with Western Europe, South-Eastern Europe, and South Asia. All of that contradicts an Eastern Indo-European community, even without a need to recall that the oldest hydrotoponymic layers common to Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone are of Uralic nature.

    • in archaeology, because cultural expansions of the Eastern European Early Bronze Age province since the Bell Beaker period (viz. Mierzanowice, Trzciniec, Lusatian, Pomeranian, West Baltic Culture of Cairns) suggest once and again west-east movements, most (if not all) of which – based on the presence of Indo-European speakers during the common era – were likely associated with Indo-European-speaking communities replacing or displacing previous ones.
    • in palaeogenomics, because of the late and different association of Corded Ware ancestry and haplogroups among Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian communities, in turn corresponding to the different satemization processes found in both dialects, which may have actually been related to the Uralic substrate that is found in both (read more on Uralic influences on Balto-Slavic and on Indo-Iranian).

    On the other hand, a careful combination of Uralic and Indo-European comparative grammar, hydrotoponymic data, and population genomics fits perfectly well Itkonen’s and Rahkonen’s association of Corded Ware in Eastern Europe with Uralic languages, as well as the traditional mainstream view of Uralic before Indo-European in Fennoscandia and in the Forest Zone, as I explained in a recent post about genetic continuity in the East Baltic area.

    Population genomics is not the main reason to reject the Indo-European Corded Ware theory – or any other prehistoric ethnolinguistic identification, for that matter. It can’t be. This new field offers just the occasional confirmation of a well-founded theory or, alternatively, another nail in the coffin of fringe theories that were actually never that likely, but seemed impossible to fully dismiss on purely theoretical grounds.

    The problem with Corded Ware was that we couldn’t see how unlikely its association with Indo-European languages was until we had ancient DNA to corroborate archaeological models, because few (if any) Indo-Europeanists really cared about the linguistic prehistory of eastern and northern Europe, or about Uralic languages in general (contrary to the general trend among Uralicists to be well-versed in Indo-European studies). Now they will.


    Balto-Slavic accentual mobility: an innovation in contact with Balto-Finnic


    Some very specific prosodic innovations affected the Balto-Slavic linguistic community, probably at a time when it already showed internal dialectal differences. Whether those innovations were related to archaic remnants stemming from the parent Proto-Indo-European language, and whether that disintegrating community included different dialects, remains an object of active debate.

    “Archaic” Balto-Slavic?

    The main question about Balto-Slavic is whether this concept represents a single community, or it was rather a continuum formed by two (Baltic and Slavic) or possibly three (East Baltic, West Baltic, Slavic) neighbouring communities, speaking closely related Northern European dialects, which just happened to evolve very close to each other, i.e. in cultures that were closer to each other than they were to Germanic or Balto-Finnic.

    In my opinion, their similarities warrant the reconstruction of a single original central-east European community since the dissolution of Bell Beakers, speaking a North-West Indo-European dialect, and most internal differences between Baltic and Slavic may be explained as innovations. The precise identification of a Proto-Balto-Slavic community remains elusive, although the Unetice-Iwno-Mierzanowice triangle remains the best bet, with Trzciniec showing what seems like an Early Slavic-like population reaching up to the East Baltic.

    Bell Beaker expansion in eastern Europe and around the Baltic.

    The reconstruction of a common Balto-Slavic proto-language is known to range from difficult to impossible, depending on who you ask, not the least because of the differences that are discussed in this post, and which have been the own battlefield created by Balticists and Slavicists for decades. The old tenet that Balto-Slavic had inherited some traits directly from PIE is – in contrast with e.g. the Italo-Celtic concept – surprisingly vivid still today.

    Take, for example, these internal differences and supposedly archaic traits:

    • The ruKi rule, where Baltic shows mostly *is, *us, and Slavic shows *, *; or the different output of Satemization in Baltic compared to Slavic (and both compared to Indo-Iranian). Nevertheless, the Satemization trends in Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian are usually explained together and taken as a sign of a traditional three-velar system for PIE.
      • If you consider Satemization as a late trend in Balto-Slavic, affecting each dialect in a different way, and thus Balto-Slavic phonetic evolution clearly distinct from the Indo-Iranian trend, rejecting trictectalism, this problem is solved. This would also solve the impossible Indo-Slavonic problem, and the paradox of Balto-Slavic sharing a genetic phylum with Germanic and Italo-Celtic.
      • If you, however, conflate these differences and North-West Indo-European features with an ad hoc explanation of a hypothetic Centum dialect called Temematic, which intends to solve their (in Holzer’s words) unlösbaren inconsistencies, you essentially add a whole new inconsistency without solving their previous ones. For a full rebuttal of Holzer‘s Temematic etymologies, see Matasović (2014).
    • Kortlandt’s reconstruction of a PIE 3rd singular *-e (Baltic from *-et, Slavic from *-eti) and 3rd plural *-o, which would have been replaced independently in other Indo-European dialects (by *-eti, *-onti), is reminiscent of his own reconstruction of laryngeals almost up to the attestation of all Indo-European dialects, including Baltic. If you consider these traits an innovation, this artificially created problem is immediately solved.
    • Genitive plural Pre-Baltic *-ōm vs. Pre-Slavic *-ŏm is another commonly cited example. However, I would place this difference among other similar differences found within other related IE dialects, hence a common phonetic innovation (see e.g. below for the classicist view of unstable obliques).
    • Kortlandt’s reconstruction of oblique cases in *-m-, shared with Germanic, as stemming from a common Middle PIE *-mus (based essentially on Old Lithuanian *-mus and on a non-existent equivalent Anatolian formation), hence different from those in *-bʰ-. While you can argue for infinite more reasonable alternatives, the most often cited one is the ins.-dat. pl. *-bʰ- as a common NWIE innovation based on ins. sg. *bʰi-, while forms in *-m- (including ins. sg.) as a Northern European phonetic innovation. The simplest, most elegant explanation I’ve read to date (I think by Rémy Viredaz) is the similar bilabial change of Giacobo/Giacomo in Italian…

    As you can see, some Balto-Slavicists could have written whole books about how their object of study holds the key to solve problems on common Proto-Indo-European paradigms, some of which wouldn’t need solving if they hadn’t been started by Balto-Slavicists themselves…

    While all of these “archaic” traits are easily dismissed without further ado (except for some understandable damaged pride among academics), there is one especially pervasive idea among those willing to find the white whale of laryngeal remnants in Indo-European languages (see here for other examples of dubious laryngeal remains).

    The prophecy before the battle, Józef Ryszkiewicz, 1890. Or, how to conjure laryngeal remnants in Balto-Slavic.

    Accentual development in contact

    Whichever position one prefers, the general argument is that the Balto-Slavic accentual system is non-trivial for the classification of both dialects into a common branch. However, that would only be completely true if it were a common innovation, but not so much if it were a natural laryngeal evolution.

    In fact, the broken tone preserving a PIE laryngeal, as proposed by Kortlandt – continuing Meillet’s idea of synchronous PIE-PBS developments – was always very difficult to accept. Even the rising pronunciation is not original, and represents a shift of the accent on the initial syllable in Latvian…

    In my opinion, the derivation of a modern phenomenon from a PIE laryngeal must always raise a red flag (see below on archaisms vs. innovations in IE languages). As you can see from my take of the fable in Balto-Slavic, which uses Kortlandt’s reconstruction, I preferred not to take into account the reconstructed accents. The fable remains thus a model of what could have been a common Proto-Balto-Slavic, unlike other reconstructions, which are much less tentative.

    NOTE. You could argue that accents may be reconstructed in spite of the wrong theory behind them, but this is not true; at least not of all reconstructed accents, some of which require further assumptions. Think about it this way: I wouldn’t take into account a reconstruction of Germanic accent which used Danish glottalized tone for a hypothetical Proto-Germanic laryngeal, even if most accents seemed correct at first sight. The truth is, I didn’t want to dedicate time to go through each reconstructed word and its explanation, so it was easier to delete them all, even though that’s not an actual solution, either. You will find the same doubts in the description of Balto-Slavic evolution in my old Modern Indo-European grammar. The introduction to IE dialects was partially copied from Wikipedia (which, in the case of Balto-Slavic, essentially summarized data from Kortlandt), but in the grammar I just tried to keep the basics, and not very successfully, because you need a comprehensive and coherent description of a language’s evolution. That’s how messed up the question was, and how it still is, even though 15 years of research have passed…

    Despite the idea of an “archaic Balto-Slavic”, especially prevalent among older researchers, the current trend is to consider Balto-Slavic prosodic changes as a natural innovation, even among those who would artificially reconstruct laryngeal remnants up to late Balto-Slavic stages.

    NOTE. You can read more about the Proto-Indo-European laryngeal loss and vocalism. While the presence of certain laryngeals up to Late PIE is certain, the loss in many environments is also generally agreed upon. This is especially true of a hypothetical Indo-Slavonic branch, like that supported by Kortlandt: even those supporting multiple laryngeal loss events must admit that Indo-Iranian showed no laryngeals before its disintegration, whether they put this loss as an internal Proto-Indo-Iranian evolution, or they place it earlier. Tocharian attests to an evolution similar to the rest of Late PIE dialects (hence to a quite early laryngeal loss trend), and Balkan dialects (supposedly splitting before Indo-Slavonic) also lost laryngeals in a similar way, except for initial ones, which show vocalic output instead of full loss.

    So, where does a laryngeal loss fit in this “Indo-Slavonic” scheme, exactly? Before the Tocharian split? Before the Balkan split? After the Balkan split but before the full loss in Indo-Iranian? And where exactly does this group belong regarding Corded Ware, and where does Germanic? No idea (but you can read Kortlandt try fitting his model with Gimbutas’ “Kurgan peoples”). Because one thing is to reconstruct Proto-Greek, or Proto-Celtic, or Proto-Italic forms without laryngeals and to put them in relation with a purely theoretical three-laryngeal PIE, and a different one is to reconstruct laryngeals (including in environments which were already lost in Tocharian) up to Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic, which seems more than just a bit of a stretch…

    Indo-European dialectal relationships, from Mallory and Adams (2006).

    Thomas Olander offered a summary of the current positions regarding the Balto-Slavic accentual system recently in Indo-European heritage in the Balto-Slavic accentuation system (2013), which also contains a summary of his Mobility Law, to explain this phenomenon as a common Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic innovation.

    Andersen, an advocate of different Baltic and Slavic dialects developing in contact with Satem dialects, suggested in The Satem Languages of the Indo-European Northwest. First Contacts? (2009), partially based on Olander’s initial proposal, that Baltic and Slavic accentual mobility arose as a result of contact with languages with fixed word-initial ictus: the accent was lost in the word-final mora in pre-Proto-Baltic and, independently, in pre-Proto-Slavic. Hence, the central innovation, the accent loss

    technically is not a shared Slavic and Baltic innovation. On the contrary. It shows that the speakers of the Pre-Slavic and Pre-Baltic dialects formed bilingual communities with speakers of contact dialects that were of the same prosodic type, viz. had fixed initial ictus but no free accent.

    In the meantime, Olander (2019) has found out about more real-world examples of this same phenomenon:

    Prosodic features are known to be susceptible to contact influence (Salmons 1992:1 and passim). While it does not directly influence the evaluation of the Mobility Law as a non-trivial innovation, it is interesting that most of the alleged parallels are indeed considered to be contact-induced changes due to influence from languages with an ictus on the word-initial syllable (Andersen 2009: 11-14; Rinkevičius 2013): Balto-Fennic in the case of the Karelian and (perhaps through Latvian as an intermediary) Žemaitian dialects, and Hungarian in the case of the Slavonian dialects (for Karelian see Jakobson 1938/2002: 239; Veenker 1967: 74; Thomason & Kaufman 1988: 122, 241; Salmons 1992: 41- 42; for Žemaitian see Zinkevičius 1966: 45- 46; for Slavonian see Ivić 1958: 287).

    I am not aware of any hypotheses on a contact-induced origin for Greek prosodic innovations, but it is at least worth noting that there is agreement on significant substrate influence on Greek. While we may speculate that these substrate language(s) had word-initial ictus like Balto-Fennic and Hungarian, we do not have any actual information about the prosodic system(s) (thus even Beekes 2014: 9, who in other respects provides a fairly detailed picture of the substrate).

    The parallels from other speech varieties show that an accent loss of the type suggested for a pre-stage of Baltic and Slavic is a type of prosodic change that has occurred several times in different various systems. In the context of the present paper this means that the sound law itself cannot be classified as a non-trivial innovation; it may have taken place in already differentiated dialects or languages. Also, the parallels suggest that a loss of the accent may be the result of influence from languages with fixed word-initial ictus.

    In this time when even linguists agree that substrate/contact languages have to be related to specific ethnolinguistic groups (see here for Germanic), the fact that Olander stops short of naming this substrate behind Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic as being Late Uralic in general, or Balto-Finnic in particular, is surprising.

    NOTE. Not the least because Olander is part of the Homeland Timeline map project of the Copenhagen group (their website is not working right now), and they placed Volosovo as Uralians expanding with Netted Ware in contact with the Baltic during the Bronze Age…So what’s to doubt about Balto-Slavic – Balto-Finnic contacts, exactly? Maybe if Balto-Finnic was the substrate language behind Balto-Slavic (as it was in Germanic), it would mean that Uralic languages were previously spoken in territories that became later Germanic- and Balto-Slavic-speaking?

    Still image from the Copenhagen Timeline Map (accessed one year ago), showing in green Volosovo hunter-gatherers who, according to the map, later expand to the north-east with Netted Ware…

    Archaism vs. Innovation

    If we tried to describe these trends of explaining peculiar traits in recent Indo-European dialects as archaism vs. innovation from a purely theoretical point of view, we could roughly distinguish two different positions (with infinite variants, of course) among academics – just like we could find people more inclined to leftist or rightist trends when speaking about economy. When it comes to linguistics, which is the least messed-up field where one can describe Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, I think we can find two alternative basic tenets:

    • One idea would hold that the oldest attested dialects – and those with an older guesstimated proto-language – are the gold standard as to what the original situation may have been, and about what could be described as an archaism. For example, Ancient Greek and Mycenaean or Vedic Sanskrit for old dialects; Tocharian, or Italic dialects for those with quite old guesstimates, each for different reasons; and Anatolian for both, old dialect and attested early.
    • NOTE. Nevertheless, the phonology of Anatolian inscriptions is often difficult to ascertain, and its ancient dialectal nature stemming from a Middle PIE stage may still be disputed by some. The archaic nature of Tocharian seems to be maybe less generally accepted than that of Anatolian, but I would say there is general consensus on the matter today.

    • The other general idea would support that the most isolated dialects are those which may hold the key to the oldest Indo-European traits, somehow hidden from external influences and areal contacts, and thus from generalized innovative trends that have affected the best known ancient dialects. In that sense, languages like Slavic, Baltic, Albanian, or Armenian – as well as some Balkan fragmentary dialects – are quite common aims of study to reveal exceptional PIE traits.

    I think the education system in Southern Europe and South Asia is that of formal classicists. In eastern Europe, I’d reckon the education system – especially in regions that were never connected to the Graeco-Roman tradition – favours linguistics as a study of the own and related proto-languages. For northern Europe, I would say it’s 50/50, especially in Scandinavia, depending on whether classicists or linguists dominate over the departments of Indo-European. For example, while Germany or Austria would maybe lean more toward the classics, Copenhagen’s obsession with Germanic as the most archaic IE branch is well known…

    A 17th-century birch bark manuscript of Pāṇini’s grammar treatise from Kashmir. Image from Wikipedia.

    Both positions, when blindly accepted, are bound to fail at some point or another:

    • If you take Classical Sanskrit, Classical Greek, or Classical Latin as an example of Proto-Indo-European, you are bound to make radical mistakes when reconstructing the parent language, more so if you disregard the oldest attested layers of the languages. An interesting view of the so-called Adradists at the Complutense University of Madrid – apart from their famous 9-laryngeal reconstruction – is that Middle PIE had only 5 cases, with a general (unstable) oblique one in Late PIE that later evolved into the attested 5 to 8 cases in the different dialects. That is, in my opinion, a fairly typical classicist error, which would be easily addressed by taking into account the oldest stages, like those attested in Mycenaean and in Old Latin, instead of focusing on classical grammar. The 8-case system is, in fact, one of the few true Balto-Slavic archaisms, supported by external comparanda.
    • On the other hand, if you take Albanian, Armenian, Baltic or Slavic, or even phonetically dubious data like those from some Anatolian inscriptions, you can eventually argue for anything. And I really mean anything; you are leaving the logic door wide open for any crazy-ass opinion about Proto-Indo-European based on traits found in modern languages: From how many velars evolved (if at all, because you may find all of them in Luwian, or still living in Albanian or in Armenian…) and their nature as ejective consonants in Late PIE (based on Armenian or Germanic); to how many laryngeals and when these laryngeals disappeared (if they actually did disappear, because some may even find them in Modern Lithuanian, in Armenian, or in Danish…); etc. Once you believe your own romantic view of some modern language(s) retaining traits from five thousand years ago, there is no stopping that; not for you, but not for anyone else, either.

    NOTE. One of the funniest consequences of this type of ‘worldview’, where one assumes that – the own interpretations of – modern dialects are as reliable (or even more so than) ancient ones, and that Indo-European dialects somehow split at the same time from the parent language (so there was one common “full laryngeal” language, and then all attested dialects evolved from it) are some of the theories that you can easily find posted on Facebook’s group on Proto-Indo-European. Let’s just say, for the sake of simplicity, that you can compare English ‘sunrise’ with Spanish ‘sonrisa’ “smile” all you want, and assert that both reveal a common origin in PIE *sup- hence from the Sun and the smile going “up” or something, but any explanation as to how you reached that conclusion doesn’t make for the why this comparison shouldn’t have even started at all. Now replace English and Spanish with Armenian, Slavic, and/or Albanian, invent some new IE sound law, throw one or two laryngeals in the mix, and somehow this might get a pass among certain linguists…

    The Celebration of Svetovid on Rügen, Alphonse Mucha, The Slav Epic. Image from Wikipedia. Were Early Slavs some among a selected few romantic peoples to keep the “true” Indo-European language and traditions? Of course not.

    While no one can deny the value of different Indo-European branches for the reconstruction of the parent language, no matter how recently they were attested, the only reasonable solution whenever a difficult case arises is to trust ancient dialects more than recent ones. Using data from fringe theories based on recent dialects to build a Proto-Indo-European paradigm, especially when there is contradictory data from ancient IE dialects, is flawed for two reasons:

    1. Languages attested later – especially after periods of population movements and contacts – would show, in general, a greater degree of change. Preferring Old Slavic or Classical Armenian to reconstruct Indo-European over ancient dialects like Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, or ancient Italic dialects is, in a way, like taking Byzantine Greek, Pali, or Old French as models, respectively.
    2. Classical languages are indeed modified due to the action of grammarians, but once standardized these “languages behind a state” (or religion) are less prone to change, due to the transmission of oral (and written) literature, education, commerce, etc. Languages left to unorganized tribes are less constrained in their evolution, and their internal (substrate) and external (contact) influences are greater and (what’s worse) unknown.

    Baltic and Slavic, like Albanian or Armenian, are dialects attested very recently, which may have undergone complex internal and external influences we may never fully understand. Confronted with controversial or inexplicable traits compared to ancient branches like Greek, Indo-Iranian, or Italo-Celtic (especially if they fit with other Indo-European dialects), the conservative solution that will be right most of the time (and I mean 99.9999% of cases) is to assume they represent an innovation over Late PIE.

    The fact that some researchers still use these recent dialects as a blank canvas instead, in order to propose unending new ideas about how to reconstruct IE proto-languages, or even older common PIE stages, is shocking. Not “R1a/Steppe” vs. “N1c/Siberian” haplogroup+ancestry bullshit-level shocking, but still unacceptable in a serious academic environment.

    The only reason why Balto-Slavicists have failed so many times in this “unsolvable” question that seems to be Proto-Balto-Slavic reconstruction, apart from the known differences between Baltic and Slavic, is precisely the fixation of many with their object of study as a model for other IE languages (and thus for PIE), instead of taking the rest as a model for the reconstruction of Balto-Slavic (or of Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic).

    Repeating ad nauseam the popular concept of Balto-Slavic (or Baltic and Slavic) being among the most archaic IE dialects, or the slowest evolving IE dialects, and cheap nationalist slogans of the sort, does not help this aim, and just reading or hearing that should make anyone cringe instantly. Not less than reading or hearing about Sanskrit being essentially equal to PIE, or spoken in the Indus Valley 10,000 years ago. Because we are not living in the 19th century, mind you.


    “Dinaric I2a” and the expansion of Common Slavs from East-Central Europe


    A recently published abstract for an upcoming chapter about Early Slavs shows the generalized view among modern researchers that Common Slavs did not spread explosively from the east, an idea proper of 19th-century Romantic views about ancestral tribes of pure peoples showing continuity since time immemorial.

    Migrations and language shifts as components of the Slavic spread, by Lindstedt and Salmela, In: Language contact and the early Slavs, Eds. Tomáš Klír, Vít Boček, Universitätsverlag Winter (2019):

    The rapid spread of the Proto-Slavic language in the second half of the first millennium CE was long explained by the migration of its speakers out of their small primary habitat in all directions. Starting from the 1980s, alternative theories have been proposed that present language shift as the main scenario of the Slavic spread, emphasizing the presumed role of Slavic as the lingua franca of the Avar Khaganate. Both the migration and the language shift scenarios in their extreme forms suffer from factual and chronological inaccuracy. On the basis of some key facts about human population genetics (the relatively recent common ancestry of the East European populations), palaeoclimatology (the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 CE), and historical epidemiology (the Justinianic Plague), we propose a scenario that includes a primary rapid demographic spread of the Slavs followed by population mixing and language shifts to and from Slavic in different regions of Europe. There was no single reason for the Slavic spread that would apply to all of the area that became Slavic-speaking. The northern West Slavic area, the East Slavic area, and the Avar sphere and South-Eastern Europe exhibit different kinds of spread: mainly migration to a sparsely populated area in the northwest, migration and language shift in the east, and a more complicated scenario in the southeast. The remarkable homogeneity of Slavic up to the jer shift was not attributable to a lingua-franca function in a great area, as is often surmised. It was a founder effect: Proto-Slavic was originally a small Baltic dialect with little internal variation, and it took time for the individual Slavic languages to develop in different directions.

    While I would need to read the whole chapter, in principle it seems easier to agree with this summary than with Curta’s (sort of diffuse) Danubian origin of Common Slavic, based on the likely origin of the Balto-Slavic expansion with the Trzciniec and/or Lusatian culture, close to the Baltic.

    A multi-ethnic Chernyakhov culture

    In a sneak peek to the expected Järve et al. (2019) paper in review, there are three Chernyakhov samples (ca. calAD 350-550) with different ancestry probably corresponding to the different regions where they stem from (see image below), which supports the idea that Iron Age eastern Europe was a true melting pot where the eventual language of the different cultures depended on many different factors:

    Map of the samples from Järve et al. (2019).

    From the paper:

    The Chernyakhiv culture was likely an ethnically heterogeneous mix based on Goths (Germanic tribes) but also including Sarmatians, Alans, Slavs, late Scythians and Dacians – the entire ancient population of the northern coast of the Black Sea.

    Contacts with neighbouring regions were active, and the Chernyakhiv culture is associated with a number of historical events that took place in Europe at that time. In particular, during the Scythian or Gothic wars of the 230s and 270s, barbarians living in the territory of the Chernyakhiv culture (Goths, Ferules, Carps, Bastarns, etc.) carried out regular raids across the Danube Limes of the Roman Empire. However, from the end of the 3rd century the relations of the barbarians with the Roman Empire gained a certain stability. From the reign of Constantine I the Goths, who were part of the Chernyakhiv culture, became federates (military allies) of the Empire.

    The Goths also interacted with the inhabitants of the East European forest zone. The Roman historian Jordanes described the military campaigns of the Gothic king Ermanaric against northern peoples (the ancestors of Vends, Slavs, etc., and the inhabitants of the northern Volga region).

    NOTE. As it has become traditional in writings about eastern Europe, ‘Slavs’ are assumed – for no particular reason – to be part of the ‘northern peoples of the forest’ since who knows when exactly, and thus appear mentioned in this very text simultaneously as part of Chernyakhov, but also part of peoples to the north of Chernyakhov warring against them…

    Proportions of Eastern Hunter-Gatherer (EHG, blue), Natufian (red) and Altaian (green) ancestries in Scythian/Sarmatian groups and groups pre- and postdating them inferred using the a) qpAdm and b) ChromoPainter/NNLS method. c–e Correlation of qpAdm and CP/NNLS proportions for the three putative sources evaluated. Steppe populations predating the Scythians: Yamnaya_Ukraine [26], Yamnaya_Kalmykia [15], Ukr_BA (this study). Scythians and Sarmatians: Nomad_IA [15], Scythian_East and Sarmatian_SU [3], Hungarian Scythian, Sarmatian, Central Saka, Tian Shan Saka and Tagar [1], Scy_Ukr, ScySar_SU and Scy_Kaz (this study). Population postdating the Scythians: Chern (this study). See also Table S3.

    Genetic variation

    (…) the Chernyakhiv samples overlapped with modern Europeans, representing the most ‘western’ range of variation among the groups of this study.

    After the end of the Scythian period in the western Eurasian Steppe, the Chernyakhiv culture samples have higher Near Eastern affinity compared to the Scythians preceding them, agreeing with the Gothic component in the multi-ethnic mix of the Chernyakhiv culture.

    The higher proportion Near Eastern and (according to CP/NNLS) lower proportion of eastern ancestry in the Chernyakhiv culture samples were mirrored by f4 analyses where Chern showed lower affinity to Han (Z score –3.097) and EHG (Z score –3.643) than Ukrainian Scythian and Bronze Age samples, respectively, as well as higher Near Eastern (Levant_N and Anatolia_N) affinity than Ukrainian Scythians (Z scores 4.696 and 3.933, respectively). It is plausible to assume that this excess Near Eastern ancestry in Chern is related to European populations whose Near Eastern proportion has exceeded that in the steppe populations since the Neolithic expansion of early farmers. While the Chernyakhiv culture was likely ethnically heterogeneous, the three samples in our Chern group appear to represent its Gothic component.

    PCA obtained by projecting the ancient samples of this study together with published Scythian/Sarmatian and related samples onto a plot based on 537,802 autosomal SNPs in 1,422 modern Eurasians. To improve readability, the modern populations have been plotted as population medians (after outlier removal). Image modified from the paper, including Sredni Stog, Corded Ware/Uralic (with Srubna outliers) and Chernyakhov clusters.Notice the two new Late Yamna and Catacomb samples from Ukraine clustering with other published samples, despite being from the same region as Sredni Stog individuals.

    Early Slavs of hg. I2-L621

    A post in Anthrogenica shows some subclades of the varied haplogroups that are expected from medieval Poland:

    KO_55, Kowalewko (100-300 AD), I1a3a1a1-Y6626
    KO_45, Kowalewko (100-300 AD), I2a2a1b2a-L801
    KO_22, Kowalewko (100-300 AD), G2a2b-L30
    KO_57, Kowalewko (100-300 AD), G2a2b-L30

    ME_7, Markowice (1000-1200 AD), I1a2a2a5-Y5384
    NA_13, Niemcza, (900-1000 AD), I2a1b2-L621
    NA_18, Niemcza, (900-1000 AD), J2a1a-L26

    Just because of these samples among Early Slavs, and looking again more carefully at the modern distribution of I2a-L621 subclades, I think now I was wrong in assuming that I2a-L621 in early Hungarian Conquerors would mean they would appear around the Urals as a lineage integrated in Eastern Corded Ware groups. It seems rather a haplogroup with an origin in Central Europe. Whether it was part of a Baltic community that expanded south, or was incorporated during the expansions to the south is unclear. Like hg. E-V13, it doesn’t seem to have been incorporated precisely along the Danube, but closer to the north-east Carpathians.

    Especially interesting is the finding of I2a-L621 among Early Slavs from Silesia, a zone of close interaction among early West Slavs. From Curta (2019):

    On Common Slavs

    In Poland, settlement discontinuity was postulated, to make room for the new, Prague culture introduced gradually from the southeast (from neighboring Ukraine). However, there is increasing evidence of 6th-century settlements in Lower Silesia (western Poland and the lands along the Middle Oder) that have nothing to do with the Prague culture. Nor is it clear how and when did the Prague culture spread over the entire territory of Poland.

    On Great Moravia

    Svatopluk’s remarkably strong position was immediately recognized by Pope John VIII, who ordered the immediate release of Methodius from his monastic prison in order to place him in 873 under Svatopluk’s protection. One year later (874), Louis the German himself was forced to recognize Svatopluk’s independence through the peace of Forchheim. By that time, the power of Svatopluk had extended into the upper Vistula Basin, over Bohemia, the lands between the Saale and the Elbe rivers, as well as the northern and northeastern parts of the Carpathian Basin.* The Czech prince Bořivoj, a member of the Přemyslid family which would unify and rule Bohemia in the following century, is believed to have been baptized in 874 by Methodius in Moravia together with his wife Ludmila (St. Wenceslas’s grandmother).

    *Brather, Archäologie, p. 71. The expansion into the region of the Upper Vistula (Little Poland) results from one of St. Methodius’ prophecies, for which see the Life of Methodius 11, p. 72; Poleski, “Contacts between the Great Moravian empire and the tribes”; Poleski, “Contacts between the tribes in the basins.” Despite an early recognition of the Moravian influences on the material culture in 9th-century southern Poland and Silesia (e.g., Dostál, “Das Vordringen”), the question of Svatopluk’s expansion has triggered in the 1990s a fierce debate among Polish archaeologists. See Wachowski, “Problem”; Abłamowicz, “Górny Śląsk”; Wachowski, “Północny zasięg ekspansji”; Szydłowski, “Czy ślad”; Jaworski, “Elemente.”

    On Piast Poland

    Mieszko agreed to marry Oda, the daughter of the margrave of the North March, for his first wife had died in 977. The marriage signaled a change in the relations with the Empire, for Mieszko sent troops to help Otto II against the Slavic rebels of 983. He also attacked Bohemia and incorporated Silesia and Lesser Poland into the Piast realm, which prompted Bohemians to ally themselves with the Slavic rebels against whom Emperor Otto was now fighting. By 980, therefore, Mieszko was part of a broader configuration of power, and his political stature was recognized in Scandinavia as well. His daughter, Swietoslawa married first Erik Segersäll of Sweden (ca. 970–ca. 995) and then Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark (986–1014).26 In the early 990s, together with his wife and children, Mieszko offered his state (called “civitas Schinesghe,” the state of Gniezno) to the pope as a fief, as attested by a unique document known as Dagome iudex and preserved in a late 11th-century summary. The document describes the inner boundaries of the state and peripheral provinces, as if Gniezno were a civitas (city) in Italy, with its surrounding territory. Regional centers, however, did indeed come into being shortly before AD 1000 in Lesser Poland (Cracow, Sandomierz), Pomerania (Gdańsk), and Silesia (Wrocław). Such regional centers came to be distinguished from other strongholds by virtue of the presence within their walls of some of the earliest churches built in stone. Mieszko got his own, probably missionary bishop.

    In light of this recent find, which complements the Early Slav of the High Middle Ages from Sunghir (ca. AD 1100-1200), probably from the Vladimir-Suzdalian Rus’, we can assume now less speculatively that I2a-CTS10228 most likely expanded with Common Slavs, because alternative explanations for its emergence in the Carpathian Basin, among Early West Slavs, and among Early East Slavs within this short period of time requires too many unacceptable assumptions.

    Modern distribution of “Dinaric” I2a. Modified from Balanovsky et al. (2008)

    Hungarian Conquerors

    Knowing that R1a-Z280 was an Eastern Corded Ware lineage, found from Baltic Finns to Finno-Ugric populations of the Trans-Urals, we can probably assign expanding Magyars to at least R1a-Z280, R1a-Z93, and N1c-L392 (xB197) lineages.

    From Curta (2019):

    Earlier Latin sources, especially those of the first half of the 10th century, refer to Magyars as Huns or Avars. They most likely called themselves Magyars, a word indicating that the language they spoke was not Turkic, but Finno-Ugrian, related to a number of languages spoken in Western Siberia and the southern Ural region. The modern word—Hungarian—derives from the Slavic word for those people, U(n)gri, which is another indication of Ugric roots. This has encouraged the search for the origin of the Hungarian people in the lands to the east from the Ural Mountains, in western Siberia, where the Hungarian language is believed to have emerged between 1000 and 500 BC.

    In looking for the Magyar primordial homeland, they draw comparisons with the assemblages found in Hungary that have been dated to the 10th century and attributed to the Magyars. Some of those comparisons had extraordinary results. For example, the excavation of the burial mound cemetery recently discovered near Lake Uelgi, in the Cheliabinsk region of Russia, has produced rosette-shaped harness mounts and silver objects ornamented with palmette and floral designs arranged in reticulated patterns, which are very similar to those of Hungary. But Uelgi is not dated to prehistory, and many finds from that site coincided in time with those found in burial assemblages in Hungary. In other words, although there can be no doubt about the relations between Uelgi and the sites in Hungary attributed to the first generations of Magyars, those relations indicate a migration directly from the Trans-Ural lands, and not gradually, with several other stops in the forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eastern Europe. In the lands west of the Ural Mountains, the Magyars are now associated with the Kushnarenkovo (6th to 8th century) and Karaiakupovo (8th to 10th century) cultures, and with such burial sites as Sterlitamak (near Ufa, Bashkortostan) and Bol’shie Tigany (near Chistopol, Tatarstan).14 However, the same problem with chronology makes it difficult to draw the model of a migration from the lands along the Middle Volga. Many parallels for the so typically Magyar sabretache plates found in Hungary are from that region. They have traditionally been dated to the 9th century, but more recent studies point to the coincidence in time between specimens found in Eastern Europe and those from Hungary.

    Adding J2a and I1a samples to the Early Slavic stock, based on medieval samples from Poland – with G2a and E-V13 lineages probably shared with Goths from Wielbark/Chernyakhov, or becoming acculturated in the Carpathian Basin – one is left to wonder which of these lineages actually took part in Common Slavic migrations/acculturation events, whenever and wherever those actually happened.

    I have tentatively re-assigned lineages of Hungarian conquerors according to their likely origins in a simplistic way – similar to how the paper classifies them – , now (I think) less speculatively, assuming that Early Slavs likely formed eventually part of them:

    Image modified from the paper, with drawn red square around lineages of likely East Slavic origin, and blue squares around R1a-Z93, R1a-Z283, N1a-Z1936, and N1a-M2004 samples, of likely Ugric origin Y-Hg-s determined from 46 males grouped according to sample age, cemetery and Hg. Hg designations are given according to ISOGG Tree 2019. Grey shading designate distinguished individuals with rich grave goods, color shadings denote geographic origin of Hg-s according to Fig. 1. For samples K3/1 and K3/3 the innermost Hg defining marker U106* was not covered, but had been determined previously.

    NOTE. The ancestral origin of lineages is meaningless for an ethnolinguistic identification. The only reasonable assumption is that all the individuals sampled formed part of the Magyar polity, shared Magyar culture, and likely spoke Hungarian, unless there is a clear reason to deny this: which I guess should include at least a clearly ‘foreign’ ancestry (showing a distant cluster compared to the group formed by all other samples), ‘foreign’ isotopic data (showing that he was born and/or raised outside of the Carpathian Basin), and particularly ‘foreign’ cultural assemblage of the burial, if one really wants to risk assuming that the individual didn’t speak Hungarian as his mother tongue.

    “Dinaric” or Slavic I2a?

    I don’t like the use of “Dinaric I2a”, because it is reminiscent of the use of “Iberian R1b-DF27”, or “Germanic R1b-U106”, when ancient DNA has shown that this terminology is most often wrong, and turns out to be misleading. As misleading as “Slavic R1a”. Recently, a Spanish reader wrote me emails wondering how could I possibly say that R1b-DF27 came from Central Europe, because modern distribution maps (see below) made it evident that the haplogroup expanded from Iberia…

    Contour maps of the derived allele frequencies of the SNPs analyzed in Solé-Morata et al. (2017).

    The obvious answer is, these maps show modern distributions, not ancient ones. In the case of R1b-DF27, different Iberian lineages are not even related to the same expansion. At least R1b-M167/SRY2627 lineages seem to have expanded from Central Europe into Iberia much more recently than other DF27 subclades associated with Bell Beakers. What’s more, if R1b-M167/SRY2627 appear densest in north-east Spain it is not because of the impact of Celts or Iberians before the arrival of Romans, but because of the impact of medieval expansions during the Reconquista from northern kingdoms expanding south in the Middle Ages:

    Genetic differentiation and the footprints of historical migrations in the Iberian Peninsula. Image modified from Bycroft et al. (2018).

    Similarly, the term “Dinaric I2a”, based on the higher density in the Western Balkans, is misleading because it is probably the result of later bottlenecks. Just like the density of different R1a subclades among Modern Slavs is most likely the result of acculturation of different groups, especially to the east and north-east, where language shift is known to have happened in historical times, with the cradle of Russians in particular being a Finno-Volgaic hotspot, later expanding with hg. R1a-Z280 and N1c-L392 lineages.

    Now, one may think that maybe Slavs expanded with ALL of these different lineages. Since we are talking about late Iron Age / medieval expansions, there might be confederations of different peoples expanding with a single lingua franca… But no, not really. Not likely in linguistics, not likely in archaeology, and apparently not in population genomics, either.

    How many ancient peoples from the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages expanded with so many different lineages? We see bottlenecks in expansions even in recent times: say, in Visigoths under E-V13 (probably recently incorporated during their migrations); in Moors (mostly Berbers) with E-M81 and J; in medieval Iberians under different DF27 bottlenecks during the Reconquista (including huge bottlenecks among Basques); similarly, huge bottlenecks are found in Finnic expansions under N1c…How likely is it that Proto-Slavs (and Common Slavs) expanded with all those attested lineages to date among Early Slavs (E-V13, I2a-L621, R1a-M458, I1, J2a) AND also with other R1a subclades prevalent today, but almost absent in sampled Early Slavs?

    To sum up, I am not so sure anymore about the possibility of simplistically assigning R1a-M458 to expanding Common Slavs. R1a-M458 may well have been the prevalent R1a subclade in Central Europe among early Balto-Slavic – and possibly also neighbouring Northern Indo-European-speaking – peoples (let’s see what subclades Tollense and Unetice samples bring), but it is more and more likely that most of the density we see in modern R1a-M458 distribution maps is actually the effect of medieval bottlenecks of West Slavs, similar to the case of Iberia.

    Modern distribution of R1a-M458, after Underhill et al. (2015).


    Common Slavs from the Lower Danube, expanding with haplogroup E1b-V13?


    Florin Curta has published online his draft for Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages (500-1300), Brill’s Companions to European History, Vol. 10 (2019), apparently due to appear in June.

    Some interesting excerpts, relevant for the latest papers (emphasis mine):

    The Archaeology of the Early Slavs

    (…) One of the most egregious problems with the current model of the Slavic migration is that it is not at all clear where it started. There is in fact no agreement as to the exact location of the primitive homeland of the Slavs, if there ever was one. The idea of tracing the origin of the Slavs to the Zarubyntsi culture dated between the 3rd century BC and the first century AD is that a gap of about 200 years separates it from the Kiev culture (dated between the 3rd and the 4th century AD), which is also attributed to the Slavs. Furthermore, another century separates the Kiev culture from the earliest assemblages attributed to the Prague culture. It remains unclear as to where the (prehistoric) Slavs went after the first century, and whence they could return, two centuries later, to the same region from which their ancestors had left. The obvious cultural discontinuity in the region of the presumed homeland raises serious doubts about any attempts to write the history of the Slavic migration on such a basis. There is simply no evidence of the material remains of the Zarubyntsi, Kiev, or even Prague culture in the southern and southwestern direction of the presumed migration of the Slavs towards the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire.

    Moreover, the material culture revealed by excavations of 6th- to 7th-century settlements and, occasionally, cremation cemeteries in northwestern Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia is radically different from that in the lands north of the Danube river, which according to the early Byzantine sources were inhabited at that time by Sclavenes: no settlement layout with a central, open area; no wheel-made pottery or pottery thrown on a tournette; no clay rolls inside clay ovens; few, if any clay pans; no early Byzantine coins, buckles, or remains of amphorae; no fibulae with bent stem, and few, if any bow fibulae. Conversely, those regions have produced elements of material culture that have no parallels in the lands north of the river Danube: oval, trough-like settlement features (which are believed to be remains of above-ground, log-houses); exclusively handmade pottery of specific forms; very large settlements, with over 300 houses; fortified sites that functioned as religious or communal centers; and burials under barrows. With no written sources to inform about the names and identities of the populations living in the 6th and 7th centuries in East Central and Eastern Europe, those contrasting material culture profiles could hardly be interpreted as ethnic commonality. In other words, there is no serious basis for attributing to the Sclavenes (or, at least, to those whom early Byzantine authors called so) any of the many sites excavated in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia.

    Common Slavic expanding with Prague-Korchak from the east…or was it from the west?


    There is of course evidence of migrations in the 6th and 7th centuries, but not in the directions assumed by historians. For example, there are clear signs of settlement discontinuity in northern Germany and in northwestern Poland. German archaeologists believe that the bearers of the Prague culture who reached northern Germany came from the south (from Bohemia and Moravia), and not from the east (from neighboring Poland or the lands farther to the east). At any rate, no archaeological assemblage attributed to the Slavs either in northern Germany or in northern Poland may be dated earlier than ca. 700. In Poland, settlement discontinuity was postulated, to make room for the new, Prague culture introduced gradually from the southeast (from neighboring Ukraine). However, there is increasing evidence of 6th-century settlements in Lower Silesia (western Poland and the lands along the Middle Oder) that have nothing to do with the Prague culture. Nor is it clear how and when did the Prague culture spread over the entire territory of Poland. No site of any of the three archaeological cultures in Eastern Europe that have been attributed to the Slavs (Kolochin, Pen’kivka, and Prague/Korchak) has so far been dated earlier than the sites in the Lower Danube region where the 6th century sources located the Sclavenes. Neither the Kolochin, nor the Pen’kivka cultures expanded westwards into East Central or Southeastern Europe; on the contrary, they were themselves superseded in the late 7th or 8th century by other archaeological cultures originating in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is an increasing body of archaeological evidence pointing to very strong cultural influences from the Lower and Middle Danube to the Middle Dnieper region during the 7th century—the opposite of the alleged direction of Slavic migration.

    When did the Slavs appear in those regions of East Central and Eastern Europe where they are mentioned in later sources? A resistant stereotype of the current scholarship on the early Slavs is that “Slavs are Slavonic-speakers; Slavonic-speakers are Slavs.”* If so, when did people in East Central and Eastern Europe become “Slavonic speakers”? There is in fact no evidence that the Sclavenes mentioned by the 6th-century authors spoke Slavic (or what linguists now call Common Slavic). Nor can the moment be established (with any precision), at which Slavic was adopted or introduced in any given region of East Central and Eastern Europe.** To explain the spread of Slavic across those regions, some have recently proposed the model of a koiné, others that of a lingua franca. The latter was most likely used within the Avar polity during the last century of its existence (ca. 700 to ca. 800).

    *Ziółkowski, “When did the Slavs originate?” p. 211. On the basis of the meaning of the Old Church Slavonic word ięzyk (“language,” but also “people” or “nation”), Darden, “Who were the Sclaveni?” p. 138 argues that the meaning of the name the Slavs gave to themselves was closely associated with the language they spoke.

    **Uncertainty in this respect dominates even in recent studies of contacts between Slavic and Romance languages (particularly Romanian), even though such contacts are presumed to have been established quite early (Paliga, “When could be dated ‘the earliest Slavic borrowings’?”; Boček, Studie). Recent studies of the linguistic interactions between speakers of Germanic and speakers of Slavic languages suggest that the adoption of place names of Slavic origin was directly linked to the social context of language contact between the 9th and the 13th centuries (Klír, “Sociální kontext”).


    During the 6th century, the area between the Danube and the Tisza in what is today Hungary, was only sparsely inhabited, and probably a “no man’s land” between the Lombard and Gepid territories. It is only after ca. 600 that this area was densely inhabited, as indicated by a number of new cemeteries that came into being along the Tisza and north of present-day Kecskemét. There can therefore be no doubt about the migration of the Avars into the Carpathian Basin, even though it was probably not a single event and did not involve only one group of population, or even a cohesive ethnic group.

    The number of graves with weapons and of burials with horses is particularly large in cemeteries excavated in southwestern Slovakia and in neighboring, eastern Austria. This was a region of special status on the border of the qaganate, perhaps a “militarized frontier.” From that region, the Avar mores and fashions spread farther to the west and to the north, into those areas of East Central Europe in which, for reasons that are still not clear, Avar symbols of social rank were particularly popular, as demonstrated by numerous finds of belt fittings. Emulating the success of the Avar elites sometimes involved borrowing other elements of social representation, such as the preferential deposition of weapons and ornamented belts. For example, in the early 8th century, a few males were buried in Carinthia (southern Austria) with richly decorated belts imitating those in fashion in the land of the Avars, but also with Frankish weapons and spurs. Much like in the Avar-age cemeteries in Slovakia and Hungary, the graves of those socially prominent men are often surrounded by many burials without any grave goods whatsoever.

    Territory of the early Avar Qaganate and the location of the investigated sites in the Carpathian Basin in Csáky et al. (2019).


    Carantania was a northern neighbor of the Lombard duchy of Friuli, which was inhabited by Slavs. According to Paul the Deacon, who was writing in the late 780s, those Slavs called their country Carantanum, by means of a corruption of the name of ancient Carnuntum (a former Roman legionary camp on the Danube, between Vienna and Bratislava). Carantanians were regarded as Slavs by the author of a report known as the Conversion of the Bavarians and Carantanians, and written in ca. 870 in order to defend the position of the archbishop of Salzburg against the claims of Methodius, the bishop of Pannonia.94 According to this text, a duke named Boruth was ruling over Carantania when he was attacked by Avars in ca. 740. He called for the military assistance of his Bavarian neighbors. The Bavarian duke Odilo (737–748) obliged, defeated the Avars, but in the process also subdued the Carantanians to his authority. Once Bavarian overlordship was established in Carantania, Odilo took with him as hostages Boruth’s son Cacatius and his nephew Chietmar (Hotimir). Both were baptized in Bavaria. During the 743 war between Odilo and Charles Martel’s two sons, Carloman and Pepin (the Mayors of the Palace in Austrasia and Neustria, respectively), Carantanian troops fought on the Bavarian side. The Bavarian domination cleared the field for missions of conversion to Christianity sent by Virgil, the new bishop of Salzburg (746–784). Many missionaries were of Bavarian origin, but some were Irish monks.


    Several Late Avar cemeteries dated to the last quarter of the 8th century are known from the lands north of the middle course of the river Danube, in what is today southern Slovakia and the valley of the Lower Morava [see image below]. By contrast, only two cemeteries have so far been found in Moravia (the eastern part of the present-day Czech Republic), along the middle and upper course of the Morava and along its tributary, the Dyje. In both Dolní Dunajovice and Hevlín, the latest graves may be dated by means of strap ends and belt mounts with human figures to the very end of the Late Avar period. (…)

    The archaeological evidence pertaining to burial assemblages dated to the early 9th century is completely different. Shortly before or after 800, all traces of cremation—with or without barrows—disappear from the valley of the Morava river and southwestern Slovakia, two regions in which cremation had been the preferred burial rite during the previous centuries. This dramatic cultural change has often been interpreted as a direct influence of both Avar and Frankish burial rites, but it coincides in time with the adoption of Christianity by local elites. In spite of conversion, however, the representation of status through furnished burial continued well into the 9th century. Unlike Avar-age sites in Hungary and the surrounding regions, many men were buried in 9th-century Moravia together with their spurs, in addition to such weapons as battle axes, “winged” lance heads, or swords with high-quality steel blades of Frankish production.

    Relevant Moravian sites mentioned in Curta’s new book.

    When the Magyars inflicted a crushing defeat on the Bavarians at Bratislava (July 4, 907), the fate of Moravia was sealed as well. Moravia and the Moravians disappear from the radar of the written sources, and historians and archaeologists alike believe that the polity collapsed as a result of the Magyar raids.


    (…) although there can be no doubt about the relations between Uelgi and the sites in Hungary attributed to the first generations of Magyars, those relations indicate a migration directly from the Trans-Ural lands, and not gradually, with several other stops in the forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eastern Europe. In the lands west of the Ural Mountains, the Magyars are now associated with the Kushnarenkovo (6th to 8th century) and Karaiakupovo (8th to 10th century) cultures, and with such burial sites as Sterlitamak (near Ufa, Bashkortostan) and Bol’shie Tigany (near Chistopol, Tatarstan).* However, the same problem with chronology makes it difficult to draw the model of a migration from the lands along the Middle Volga. Many parallels for the so typically Magyar sabretache plates found in Hungary are from that region. They have traditionally been dated to the 9th century, but more recent studies point to the coincidence in time between specimens found in Eastern Europe and those from Hungary.

    * Ivanov, Drevnie ugry-mad’iary; Ivanov and Ivanova, “Uralo-sibirskie istoki”; Boldog et al., “From the ancient homelands,” p. 3; Ivanov, “Similarities.” Ivanov, “Similarities,” p. 562 points out that the migration out of the lands along of the Middle Volga is implied by the disappearance of both cultures (Kushnarenkovo and Karaiakupovo) in the mid-9th century. For the Kushnarenkovo culture, see Kazakov, “Kushnarenkovskie pamiatniki.” For the Karaiakupovo culture, see Mogil’nikov, “K probleme.”

    Given that the Magyars are first mentioned in relation to events taking place in the Lower Danube area in the 830s, the Magyar sojourn in Etelköz must have been no longer than 60 years or so—a generation. (…)

    A detail of the Arrival of the Hungarians, Árpád Feszty’s and his assistants’ vast (1800 m2) cyclorama, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, now displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park in Hungary. This specific detail is probably based on the account on The Annals of Fulda, which narrates under the year 894 that the Hungarians crossed the Danube into Pannonia where they “killed men and old women outright and carried off the young women alone with them like cattle to satisfy their lusts and reduced the whole” province “to desert”.

    It has become obvious by now that one’s impression of the Magyars as “Easterners” and “steppe-like” was (and still is) primarily based on grave finds, while the settlement material is considerably more aligned with what is otherwise known from other contemporary settlement sites in Central and Southeastern Europe. The dominant feature on the 10th- and 11th-century settlements in Hungary is the sunken-floored building of rectangular plan, with a stone oven in a corner. Similarly, the pottery resulting from the excavation of settlement sites is very similar to that known from many other such sites in Eastern Europe. Moreover, while clear changes taking place in burial customs between ca. 900 and ca. 1100 are visible in the archaeological record from cemeteries, there are no substantial differences between 10th- and the 11th-century settlements in Hungary. (…)

    As a matter of fact, the increasing quantity of paleobotanical and zooarchaeological data from 10th-century settlements strongly suggests that the economy of the first generations of Magyars in Hungary was anything but nomadic. To call those Magyars “half-nomad” is not only wrong, but also misleading, as it implies that they were half-way toward civilization, with social changes taking place that must have had material culture correlates otherwise visible in the burial customs.


    The origin of “Slavs” (i.e. that of “Slavonic” as a language, whatever the ancestral Proto-Slavic ethnic make-up was) is almost as complicated as the origin of Albanians, Basques, Balts, or Finns. Their entry into history is very recent, with few reliable sources available until well into the Middle Ages. If you add our ignorance of their origin with the desire of every single researcher or amateur out there to connect them to the own region (or, still worse, to all the regions where they were historically attested), we are bound to find contradictory data and a constantly biased selection of information.

    Furthermore, it is extremely complicated to connect any recent population to its ancestral (linguistic) one through haplogroups prevalent today, and just absurd to connect them through ancestral components. This, which was already suspected for many populations, has been confirmed recently for Basques in Olalde et al. (2019) and will be confirmed soon for Finns with a study of the Proto-Fennic populations in the Gulf of Finland.

    NOTE. Yes, the “my parents look like Corded Ware in this PCA” had no sense. Ever. Why adult people would constantly engage in that kind of false 5,000-year-old connections instead of learning history – or their own family history – escapes all comprehension. But if something is certain about human nature, is that we will still see nativism and ancestry/haplogroup fetishism for any modern region or modern haplogroups and their historically attested ethnolinguistic groups.

    Genetic structure of modern Balto-Slavic populations within a European context according to the three genetic systems. Image from Kushniarevich et al. (2015)

    As you can see from my maps and writings, I prefer neat and simple concepts: in linguistics, in archaeology, and in population movements. Hence my aversion to this kind of infinite proto-historical accounts (and interpretations of them) necessary to ascertain the origins of recent peoples (Slavs in this case), and my usual preference for:

    • Clear dialectal classifications, whether or not they can be as clear cut as I describe them. The only thing that sets Slavic apart from other recent languages is its connection with Baltic, luckily for both. Even though this connection is disputed by some linguists, and the question is always far from being resolved, a homeland of Proto-Balto-Slavic would almost necessarily need to be set to the north of the Carpathian Mountains in the Bronze Age (or at least close to them).
    • NOTE. A dismissal of a connection with Baltic would leave Slavic a still more complicated orphan, and its dialectal classification within Late PIE more dubious. Its union with Balto-Slavic locates it close to Germanic, and thus as a Bronze Age North-West Indo-European dialect close to northern Germany. So bear with me in accepting this connection, or enter the linguistic hell of arguing for Indo-Slavonic of R1a-Z93 mixed with Temematic….

    • A priori “pots = people” assumption, which may lead to important errors, but fewer than the usual “pots != people” of modern archaeologists. The traditional identification of the Common Slavic expansion with the Prague-Korchak culture – however undefined this culture may be – has clear advantages: it may be connected (although admittedly with many archaeological holes) with western cultures expanding east during the Bronze Age, and then west again after the Iron Age, and thus potentially also with Baltic.
    • A simplistic “haplogroup expansion = ethnolinguistic expansion”, which is quite useful for prehistoric migrations, but enters into evident contradictions as we approach the Iron Age. Common Slavs may be speculatively (for all we know) associated with an expansion of recent R1a-M458 lineages – among other haplogroups – from the east, and possibly Balto-Slavic as an earlier expansion of older subclades from the west, as I proposed in A Clash of Chiefs.
    Modern distribution of R1a-M458, after Underhill et al. (2015).

    NOTE. The connection of most R1a-Z280 lineages is more obviously done with ancient Finno-Ugric peoples, as it is clear now (see here and here).

    Slavs appeared first in the Danube?

    No matter what my personal preference is, one can’t ignore the growing evidence, and it seems that Florin Curta‘s long-lasting view of a Danubian origin of expansion for Common Slavic, including its condition as a lingua franca of late Avars, won’t be easy to reject any time soon:

    1) Theories concerning Chernyakhov as a Slavic homeland will apparently need to be fully rejected, due to the Germanic-like ancestry that will be reported in the study by Järve et al. (2019).

    EDIT (3 MAY 2019). From their poster Shift in the genetic landscape of the western Eurasian Steppe not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths) (download PDF):

    (…) the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture (~2,100–1,700 cal BP) does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

    PCA of novel and published ancient samples from Scythian/Sarmatian and related groups on the background of modern samples presented as population medians. Δ – ref. 1, ○ – ref. 2, □ – ref. 3, ◊ – this study. Embedded are the locations of some of the samples. Notice the wide cluster formed by the three samples, from Hungarian Scythians in the west to steppe-like peoples in the east.

    2) Therefore, unless Przeworsk shows the traditionally described mixture of populations in terms of ancestry and/or haplogroups, it will also be a sign of East Germanic peoples expanding south (and potentially displacing the ancestors of Slavs in either direction, east or south).

    It would seem we are stuck in a Danubian vs. Kievan homeland for Common Slavs, then:

    3) About the homeland in the Kiev culture, two early Avar females from Szólád have been commented to cluster “among Modern Slavic populations” based on some data in Amorim et al. (2018).

    Rather than supporting an origin of Slavs in common with modern Russians, Poles, and Ukranians as observed in the PCA, though, the admixture of AV1 and AV2 (ca. AD 540-640) paradoxically supports an admixture of Modern Slavs of Eastern Europe in common with early Avar peoples (an Altaic-speaking population) and other steppe groups with an origin in East Asia… So this admixture would actually support a western origin of the Common Slavs with which East Asian Avars may have admixed, and whose descendants are necessarily sampled at later times.

    Procrustes transformed PCA of medieval ancient samples against POPRES imputed SNP dataset. AV1 and Av2 samples have been circled in red. Color coding of medieval samples is same as in Figs 1 and 2. Two letter and three codes for POPRES samples: AL=Albania, AT=Austria, BA=Bosnia-Herzegovina, BE=Belgium, BG=Bulgaria, CH=Switzerland, CY=Cyprus, CZ=Czech Republic, DE=Germany, DK=Denmark, ES=Spain, FI=Finland, FR=France, GB=United Kingdom, GR, Greece, HR=Croatia, HU=Hungary, IE=Ireland, IT=Italy, KS=Kosovo, LV=Latvia, MK=Macedonia, NO=Norway, NL=Netherlands, PL=Poland, PT=Portugal, RO=Romania, SM=Serbia and Montenegro, RU=Russia, Sct=Scotland, SE=Sweden, SI=Slovenia, SK=Slovakia, TR=Turkey, UA=Ukraine.

    4) Favouring Curta’s Danubian origin (or even an origin near Bohemia) at the moment are thus:

    • The “western” cluster of Early Slavs from Brandýsek, Bohemia (ca. AD 600-900).
    • Two likely Slavic individuals from Usedom, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (AD 1200) show hg. R1a-M458 and E1b-M215 (Freder 2010).
    • An early West Slav individual from Hrádek nad Nisou in Northern Bohemia (ca. AD 1330) also shows E1b-M215 (Vanek et al. 2015).
    • One sample from Székkutas-Kápolnadülő (SzK/239) among middle or late Avars (ca. AD 650-710), a supposed Slavonic-speaking polity, of hg. E1b-V13.
    • Two samples from Karosc (K1/13, and K2/6) among Hungarian conquerors (ca. AD 895-950), likely both of hg. E1b-V13, probably connected to the alliance with Moravian elites.
    • Possibly a West Slavic sample from Poland in the High Middle Ages (see below).

    A later Hungarian sample (II/53) from the Royal Basilica, where King Béla was interred, of hg. E1b1, supports the importance of this haplogroup among elite conquerors, although its original relation to the other buried individuals is unknown.

    NOTE. You can see all ancient samples of haplogroup E to date on this Map of ancient E samples, with care to identify the proper subclades related to south-eastern Europe. About the ancestral origin of the haplogroup in Europe, you may read Potential extra Iberomaurusian-related gene flow into European farmers, by Chad Rohlfsen.

    Even assuming that the R1a sample reported from the late Avar period is of a subclade typically associated with Slavs (I know, circular reasoning here), which is not warranted, we would have already 6 E1b1b vs. 1-2 R1a-M458 in populations that can be actually assumed to represent early Slavonic speakers (unlike many earlier cultures potentially associated with them), clearly earlier than other Slavic-speaking populations that will be sampled in eastern Europe. It is more and more likely that Early Slavs are going to strengthen Curta’s view, and this may somehow complicate the link of Proto-Slavic with eastern European BA cultures like Trzciniec or Lusatian.

    NOTE. I am still expecting a clear expansion associated with Prague-Korchak, though, including a connection with bottlenecks based on R1a-M458 in the Middle Ages, whether the expansion is eventually shown to be from the west (i.e. Bohemia -> Prague -> Korchak), or from the east (i.e. Kiev -> Korchack -> Prague), and whether or not this cultural community was later replaced by other ‘true’ Slavonic-speaking cultures through acculturation or population movements.

    Common theories on Slavic origins.. After “The Early Slavs. Culture and Society in Early Medieval Europe” by P. M. Barford, Cornell University Press (2001). Image by Hxseek at Wikipedia.

    5) Back to Przeworsk and the “north of the Carpathians” homeland (i.e. between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester), but compatible with Curta’s view: Even if Common Slavic is eventually evidenced to be driven by small migrations north and south of the Danube during the Roman Iron Age, before turning into a mostly “R1a-rich” migration or acculturation to the north in Bohemia and then east (which is what this early E1b-V13 connection suggests), this does not dismiss the traditional idea that Late Bronze Age – Iron Age central-eastern Europe was the Proto-Slavic homeland, i.e. likely the Pomeranian culture disturbed by the East Germanic migrations first (in Przeworsk), and the migrations of steppe nomads later (around the Danube).

    Even without taking into account the connection with Baltic, the relevance of haplogroup E1b-V13 among Early Slavs may well be a sign of an ancestral population from the northern or eastern Carpathian region, supported by the finding of this haplogroup among the westernmost Scythians. The expansion of some modern E1b-CTS1273 lineages may link Slavic ancestrally with the Lusatian culture, which is an eastern (very specific) Urnfield culture group, stemming from central-east Europe.

    An important paper in this respect is the upcoming Zenczak et al., where another hg. E1b1 will be added to the list above: such a sample is expected from Poland (from Kowalewko, Maslomecz, Legowo or Niemcza), either from the Roman Iron Age or Early Middle Ages, close to an early population of likely Scandinavian origin (eight I1 samples), apart from other varied haplogroups, with little relevance of R1a. Whether this E-V13 sample is an Iron Age one (justifying the bottleneck under E-V13 to the south) or, maybe more likely, a late one from the Middle Ages (maybe supporting a connection of the Gothic/Slavic E1b bottleneck with southern Chernyakhov or further west along the Danube) is unclear.

    The finding of south-eastern European ancestry and lineages in both, Early Slavs and East Germanic tribes* suggests therefore a Slavonic homeland near (or within) the Przeworsk culture, close to the Albanoid one, as proposed based on topohydronymy. This may point to a complex process of acculturation of different eastern European populations which formed alliances, as was common during the Iron Age and later periods, and which cannot be interpreted as a clear picture of their languages’ original homeland and ancestral peoples (in the case of East Germanic tribes, apparently originally expanding from Scandinavia under strong I1 bottlenecks).

    * Iberian samples of the Visigothic period in Spain show up to 25% E1b-V13 samples, with a mixture of haplogroups including local and foreign lineages, as well as some more E1b-V13 samples later during the Muslim period. Out of the two E1b samples from Longobards in Amorim et al. (2018), only SZ18 from Szólád (ca. AD 412-604) is within E1b-V13, in a very specific early branch (SNP M35.2), further locating the expansion of hg. E1b-V13 near the Danube. Samples of haplogroup J (maybe J2a) or G2a among Germanic tribes (and possibly in Poland’s Roman Iron Age / Early Middle Ages) are impossible to compare with early Hungarian ones without precise subclades.

    East Slavic expansion in topo-hydronymy. Image from (Udolph 1997, 2016).

    I already interpreted the earlier Slavic samples we had as a sign of a Carpathian origin and very recent bottlenecks under R1a lineages among Modern Slavs:

    The finding of haplogroup E1b1b-M215 in two independent early West Slavic individuals further supports that the current distribution of R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineages in Slavic populations is the product of recent bottlenecks. The lack of a precise subclade within the E1b1b-M215 tree precludes a proper interpretation of a potential origin, but they are probably under European E1b1b1a1b1-L618 subclade E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 (formed ca. 6100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC), possibly under the mutation CTS1273 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2000 BC), in common with other ancient populations around the Carpathians (see below §viii.11. Thracians and Albanians). This gross geographic origin would support the studies of the Common Slavic homeland based on toponymy (Figure 66), which place it roughly between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester, north of the Carpathians (Udolph 1997, 2016).

    EDIT (8 APR 2019): Another interesting data is the haplogroup distribution among Modern Slavs and neighbouring peoples (see Wikipedia). For example, the bottleneck seen in Modern Albanians, under Z5017 subclade, also points to an origin of the expansion of E1b-V13 subclades among multiethnic groups around the Lower Danube coinciding with the Roman Iron Age, given the estimates for the arrival of Proto-Albanian close to the Latin and Greek linguistic frontier.

    Remarkable is also its distribution among Rusyns, East Slavs from the Carpathians not associated with the Kievan Rus’, isolated thus quite soon from East Slavic expansions to the east. They were reported to show ca. 35% hg. E1b-V13 globally in FTDNA, with a frequency similar to or higher than R1a, in common with South Slavic peoples*, reflecting thus a situation similar to the source of East Slavs before further R1a-based bottlenecks (and/or acculturation events) to the east:

    * Although probably due in part to founder effects and biased familial sampling, this should be assumed to be common to all FTDNA sampling, anyway.

    Map showing the full geographic extent of the Rusyn people in Central Europe, prior to World War I (Carpatho Rusyn Society).

    Repeating what should be already evident: in complex organizations and/or demographically dense populations (more common since the Iron Age), we can’t expect language change to happen in the same way as during the known Neolithic or Chalcolithic population replacements, be it in Finland, Hungary, Iberia, or Poland. For example, no matter whether Romans (2nd c. BC) brought some R1b-U152 and other Mediterranean lineages to Iberia; Germanic peoples entering Hispania (AD 5th c.) were of typically Germanic lineages or not; Muslims who spoke mainly Berber (AD 8th c.) and were mainly of hg. E1b-M81 (and J?) brought North African ancestry; etc. the language or languages of Iberia changed (or not) with the political landscape: neither with radical population replacements (or full population continuity), nor with the dominant haplogroups’ ancestral language.

    Y-chromosome haplogroups are, in those cases, useful for ascertaining a more recent origin of the population. Like the finding of certain R1a-Z645, I2a-L621 & N-L392 lineages among Hungarians shows a recent origin near the Trans-Urals forest-steppes, or the finding of I1, R1b-U106 & E1b-V13 among Visigoths shows a recent origin near the Danube, the finding of Early Slavs (ca. AD 6th-7th c.) originally with small elite groups of hg. R1a-M458 & E1b-V13 from the Lower/Middle Danube – if strengthened with more Early Slavic samples, with Slavonic partially expanding as a lingua franca in some regions – is not necessarily representative of the Proto-Slavic community, just as it is clearly not representative of the later expansion of Slavic dialects. It would be representative, though, of the same processes of acculturation repeated all over Eurasia at least since the Iron Age, where no genetic continuity can be found with ancestral languages.


    Genetic landscape and past admixture of modern Slovenians


    Open access Genetic Landscape of Slovenians: Past Admixture and Natural Selection Pattern, by Maisano Delser et al. Front. Genet. (2018).

    Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


    Overall, 96 samples ranging from Slovenian littoral to Lower Styria were genotyped for 713,599 markers using the OmniExpress 24-V1 BeadChips (Figure 1), genetic data were obtained from Esko et al. (2013). After removing related individuals, 92 samples were left. The Slovenian dataset has been subsequently merged with the Human Origin dataset (Lazaridis et al., 2016) for a total of 2163 individuals.

    Y chromosome

    First, Y chromosome genetic diversity was assessed. A total of 52 Y chromosomes were analyzed for 195 SNPs. The majority of individuals (25, 48.1%) belong to the haplogroup R1a1a1a (R-M417) while the second major haplogroup is represented by R1b (R-M343) including 15 individuals (28.8%). Twelve samples are assigned to haplogroup I (I M170): five and two samples belong to haplogroup I2a (I L460) and I1 (I M253), respectively, while the remaining five samples did not have enough information to be further assigned.

    PCA of Slovenian samples with European populations (Slovenian_HO_EU dataset). For details regarding the populations included, see Supplementary Table 1.


    Considering the unbalanced sample size of the Slovenian population compared to the other populations included in the dataset, a subset of 20 Slovenian individuals randomly sampled was used.

    All Slovenian samples group together with Hungarians, Czechs, and some Croatians (“Central-Eastern European” cluster) as also suggested by the PCA. All Basque individuals with few French and Spanish cluster together (“Basque” cluster) while a “Northern-European” cluster is made of the majority of French, English, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Orcadians. Five populations contributed to the “Eastern-European” cluster including Belarusians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Mordovians, and Russians. Western and South Europe is split into two cluster: the first (“Western European” cluster) includes all Spanish individuals, few French, and some Italians (North Italy) while the second (“Southern-European” cluster) groups Sicilians, Greeks, some Croatians, Romanians, and some Italians (North Italy).

    Admixture Pattern and Migration

    Modified image, from the paper (Central-East Europeans marked). Unsupervised admixture analysis of Slovenians. Results for K = 5 are showed as it represents the lowest cross-validation error. Slovenian samples show an admixture pattern similar to the neighboring populations such as Croatians and Hungarians. The major ancestral components are: the blue one which is shared with Lithuanians and Russians, followed by the dark green one that is mostly present in Greek samples and the light blue which characterizes Orcadians and English. For population acronyms see Supplementary Table 1.

    All Slovenian individuals share common pattern of genetic ancestry, as revealed by ADMIXTURE analysis. The three major ancestry components are the North East and North West European ones (light blue and dark blue, respectively, Figure 3), followed by a South European one (dark green, Figure 3). Contribution from the Sardinians and Basque are present in negligible amount. The admixture pattern of Slovenians mimics the one suggested by the neighboring Eastern European populations, but it is different from the pattern suggested by North Italian populations even though they are geographically close.

    Using ALDER, the most significant admixture event was obtained with Russians and Sardinians as source populations and it happened 135 ± 9.31 generations ago (Z-score = 11.54). (…) When tested for multiple admixture events (MALDER), we obtained evidence for one admixture event 165.391 ± 17.1918 generations ago corresponding to ∼2620 BCE (CI: 3101–2139) considering a generation time of 28 years (Figure 4), with Kalmyk and Sardinians as sources.

    We then modeled the Slovenian population as target of admixture of ancient individuals from Haak et al. (2015) while computing the f3(Ancient 1, Ancient 2, Slovenian) statistic. The most significant signal was obtained with Yamnaya and HungaryGamba_EN (Z-score = -10.66), followed by MA1 with LBK_EN (Z-score -9.7) and Yamnaya with Stuttgart (Z-score = -8.6) used as possible source populations (Supplementary Figure 5).

    We found a significant signal of admixture by using both pairs as ancient sources. Specifically, for the pair Yamnaya and Hungary_EN the admixture event is dated at 134.38 ± 23.69 generations ago (Z-score = 5.26, p-value of 1.5e-07) while for Yamnaya and LBK_EN at 153.65 ± 22.19 generations ago (Z-score = 6.92, p-value 4.4e-12). Outgroup f3 with Yamnaya put Slovenian population close to Hungarians, Czechs, and English, indicating a similar shared drift between these population with the Steppe populations (Supplementary Figure 6).

    Admixture events identified with ALDER and MALDER. The gray dots represent significant admixture events detected with ALDER using Slovenians as target, the solid line represents the single admixture event detected using MALDER, dashed lines represent the confidence interval. Only the significant results after multiple testing correction are plotted. For ALDER results see Supplementary Table 5.

    Not that any of this would come as a surprise, but:

    • R1a-M458 and some R1a-Z280 (xR1a-Z92) lineages (found among Slovenes) were associated with the Slavic expansion, likely with the Prague-Korchak culture, originally stemming probably from peoples of the Lusatian culture. Other R1a-Z280 lineages remained associated with Uralic peoples, and some became Slavicized only recently.
    • PCA keeps supporting the common cluster of certain West, South, and East Slavs in a “Central-Eastern European” cluster, distinct from the “North-Eastern European” cluster formed by modern Finno-Ugrians, as well as ancient Finno-Ugrians of north-eastern Europe who were only recently Slavicized.
    • Admixture supports the same ancient ‘western’ (a core West+South+East Slavic) cluster, and the admixture event with Yamna + Hungary_EN is logically a proxy for Yamna Hungary being at the core of ancestral Central-East population movements related to Bell Beakers in the mid- to late 3rd millennium.

    The theory that East Slavs are at the core of the Slavic expansion makes no sense, in terms of archaeology (see Florin Curta’s dismissal of those recent eastern ‘Slavic’ finds, his commentary on 19th century Pan-Slavic crap, or his book on Slavic migrations), in terms of ancient DNA (the earliest Slavs sampled cluster with modern West Slavs, distant from the steppe cluster, unlike Finno-Ugrians), or in terms of modern DNA.

    I don’t know where exactly this impulse for the theory of Russia being the cradle of Slavs comes from today (although there are some obvious political trends to revive 19th c. ideas), but it was always clear for everyone, including Russians, that East Slavs had migrated to the east and north and assimilated indigenous Finno-Ugrians, apart from Turkic-, Iranian-, and Caucasian-speaking peoples to the east. Genetics is only confirming what was clear from other disciplines long ago.


    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.


    Hungarian mitogenomes similar to East and West Slavs, but genetic substratum predates their historic contacts


    Whole mitochondrial genome diversity in two Hungarian populations, Malyarchuk et al. Mol Genet Genomics (2018).


    Complete mitochondrial genomics is an effective tool for studying the demographic history of human populations, but there is still a deficit of mitogenomic data in European populations. In this paper, we present results of study of variability of 80 complete mitochondrial genomes in two Hungarian populations from eastern part of Hungary (Szeged and Debrecen areas). The genetic diversity of Hungarian mitogenomes is remarkably high, reaching 99.9% in a combined sample. According to the analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA), European populations showed a low, but statistically significant level of between-population differentiation (Fst = 0.61%, p = 0), and two Hungarian populations demonstrate lack of between-population differences. Phylogeographic analysis allowed us to identify 71 different mtDNA sub-clades in Hungarians, sixteen of which are novel. Analysis of ancestry-informative mtDNA sub-clades revealed a complex genetic structure associated with the genetic impact of populations from different parts of Eurasia, though the contribution from European populations is the most pronounced. At least 8% of ancestry-informative haplotypes found in Hungarians demonstrate similarity with East and West Slavic populations (sub-clades H1c23a, H2a1c1, J2b1a6, T2b25a1, U4a2e, K1c1j, and I1a1c), while the influence of Siberian populations is not so noticeable (sub-clades A12a, C4a1a, and probably U4b1a4).

    Interesting excerpt:

    Our analysis of ancestry-informative mtDNA sub-clades revealed a complex genetic structure associated with the genetic impact of populations from different parts of Europe. At least 8% of ancestry-informative haplotypes found in Hungarians demonstrate similarity with East (Russians and Ukrainians) and West (Poles and Slovaks) Slavic populations (sub-clades H1c23a, H2a1c1, J2b1a6, T2b25a1, U4a2e, K1c1j, and I1a1c). This observation is consistent with the results of mtDNA studies of medieval populations living in the Hungarian-Slavic contact zone of the Carpathian Basin in the 9th–12th centuries AD (Csákyová et al. 2016). Taken together, these data confirm earlier historical and archaeological reports on mixed populations of medieval Slavs and Magyars, based on the research into cemeteries discovered in Central Europe (Csősz et al. 2016; Csákyová et al. 2016). On the other hand, we cannot confirm the Hungarian-Slavic contacts using molecular dating of the identified mtDNA sub-clades, since their age exceeds the estimated time of the contact period and varies from 1.3 kya (for K1c1j) to 5.2 kya (for T2b25a1) (Figure S1). One of an issue may be sample size problem, because some haplotypes may be missed in the sampling, and this can lead to an overestimate of the age of the mtDNA sub-clade (Richards et al. 2000).

    Figure S1. MDS plot based on Fst values calculated from complete mtDNA sequences for population samples from Europe. Stress value = 0.00078

    However, it is known that the evolutionary ages of most mtDNA lineages specific to Eastern and Central Europeans correspond to approximately 4 kya (from 2.3 to 5.9 kya) (Malyarchuk et al. 2008, 2017; Mielnik-Sikorska et al. 2013; Översti et al. 2017), thus coinciding with the time of the Bronze Age expansion of Eastern Europeans in accordance with the Kurgan model established by archaeologists and paleogeneticists (Gimbutas 1971; Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015). Thus, similar haplotypes among Hungarians and Slavs and other European ethnic groups can be a reflection of the common genetic substratum which predates the formation of the most modern European populations. Therefore, mtDNA sub-clades H5a1m, T2a1c, and W3a1d1 (with the ages varying from 2.6 to 3.9 kya, based on complete mtDNA mutation rate), which are shared by Hungarians and Finno-Ugric peoples, such as Estonians and Finns, may testify these pan-European relationships (Figure S1). Another example is the sub-clade J2b1a6, which unites the mtDNA haplotypes of the ancient and modern population of Eastern and Central Europe from the Iron Age to the present (Figure S1).