Mixed haplogroups R1a, R1b, I, in collective burials of early Medieval Bavarians


New paper (behind paywall) Family graves? The genetics of collective burials in early medieval southern Germany on trial, by Rott. Päffgen, Haas-Gebhard, Peters, & Harbecka, J Arch Sci (2018) 92: 103–115.


Simultaneous collective burials appear quite regularly in early medieval linear cemeteries. Despite their relatively regular occurrence, they are seen as extraordinary as the interred individuals’ right to be buried in a single grave was ignored for certain reasons. Here, we present a study examining the possible familial relationship of early medieval individuals buried in this way by using aDNA analysis of mitochondrial HVR-I, Y-STRs, and autosomal miniSTRs. We can show that biological relatedness may have been an additional reason for breaking the usual burial custom besides a common cause of death, such as the Plague, which is a precondition for a simultaneous burial. Finally, with our sample set, we also see that signs of interaction between individuals such as holding hands which are often interpreted by archeologists as signs of biological or social relatedness, do not always reflect true genetic kin relationships.

Most of the burials studied are from the mid-6th and early 7th century, and all are from collective burials:

Of the simultaneous burials nine graves are proven or potential (due to contemporaneity) Plague burials (Feldman et al., 2016; Harbeck et al., 2013) and one grave is attributed to interpersonal violence against the background of the early medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008). The remaining simultaneous and the two successive burials did not reveal hints on their individuals’ cause of death.

The distribution of lineages includes R1b, R1a, and I (one family each) in Altenerding-Klettham, and T, R1b, and R1a (two families) in Aschheim-Bajuwarenring.

Map of Upper Bavaria showing the location of the sites investigated. Both Aschheim and Altenerding are located north-east of the Bavarian capital Munich (black star). The two sites are approximately 20 km apart from each other. The map is based on maps taken from here and here (Wikimedia Commons).

There were, for example:

A father and son R1a in a “warrior grave”:

Showing traces of perimortal sharp traumata (AE 888), both men seem to have died in succession of a physical conflict (Sage, 1984). It must remain open, whether this conflict was executed as a blood vengeance in connection with the medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008; Steuer, 2008) or any other kind of interpersonal violence. Attacks and interpersonal violence are also often believed to be a precondition for individuals being buried together.

It has been assumed that burials of several men with weaponry, so-called “warrior graves”, are burials which reflect the early medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008; Steuer, 2008) in the very sophisticated but implausible assumption, that women and children might have been spared in those conflicts. While feuds were actually struggles between familiae, friends and servants of a particular family could be also involved, which would explain the deposition of nonrelated individuals in such burials.

Two children, half-siblings, one of haplogroup R1b, in a shared coffin.

A non-genetic family of an elderly man of haplogroup I and a child being protected:

The early medieval concept of familia not only comprised the (biological) nuclear family and individuals certainly entered a family clan by marriage. This leaves room for any possible social (i.e. non-genetic) relation that may have allowed these two individuals to be buried in a common grave.

It is tempting for me to hail the mixed genetic pool among late Germanic tribes found in recent genetic studies, as I have done for Proto-Balto-Slavic territory and Iberia.

It is indeed possible that the mostly R1b-L11 and I1 subclades seen in late medieval West Germanic-speaking populations (and in modern West Germanic speakers) are in fact the result of later internal migratory flows and founder effects.

However, Bavarians – like the recently studied Lombards (with a predominance of R1b and I lineages), and especially Goths (apparently showing ‘eastern’ ancestry) – occupied territories of mixed ‘Barbarian’ populations after the invasion of the Huns and their allies, and settled near Slavs and Avars.

EDIT (18 MAR 2018). We should add here for this southern Germanic territory the Merovingian burials (ca. 7th c.) from Ergolding, with 3 samples of haplogroup R1b, and 2 samples of G2a, published by Vanek, Saskova, & Koch (2009).

Earlier, expanding Proto-Germanic tribes may not show this variable admixture and haplogroups we are seeing right now, though.


North Pontic steppe Eneolithic cultures, and an alternative Indo-Slavonic model


I am not a fan of continuity theories – that much should be clear for anyone reading this blog. However, most of such proposals’ supremacist (or rather fear-of-inferiority) overtones don’t mean they have to be wrong. It just means that most of them, most of the time, most likely are.

While reading Tommenable’s comments, I thought about a potential alternative model, where one could a priori accept an identification of North Pontic cultures as ‘Indo-Slavonic’, which seems to be the Eastern European R1a continuist trend right now.

NOTE. To accept this model, one should first (not a posteriori) accept an Indo-Slavonic linguistic group on theoretical grounds, of course, and take the steppe ancestral component (and not archaeological data) as the most meaningful aspect to consider for language expansion and exchange (which we know is not the most intelligent approach to cultural or language change).

Thinking about how Genomics could challenge what mainstream Linguistics and Archaeology accepts, the only situation I can think of (using simplistic phylogeography) regarding late Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog contacts (until ca. 3300 BC) is:

  1. That the community of R1b-L51 lineages was in fact an isolated group , and not a western one – i.e. to the east within the Volga-Ural groups, or maybe to the south within the North Caucasian groups .
  2. That the R1b-Z2103 community was a huge one dominating over much of the steppe, from the Dnieper area to the Volga-Ural region (where we know they were).
  3. That R1a-M417 subclades (and especially subclade R1a-Z645) with steppe ancestry, as found in Corded Ware migrants,were only found in the North Pontic area (i.e. in Sredni Stog) during the fourth millennium (until at least 3300 BC, when Yamna substitutes it), and did not form other communities in the forest-steppe or Forest Zone (from where Corded Ware eventually expanded), as it is quite likely.
  4. That both the R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z645 communities shared obvious genetic connections (whatever they were) around the Dnieper, that could justify a common, shared language.
Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations in eastern Europe ca. 4000-3100 BC

Only then, if a widespread Graeco-Aryan-speaking community happened to be spread from west to east in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with close contacts with North Pontic cultures, and having an isolated Northern Late PIE community somewhere different than West Yamna, it could leave for me a reasonable doubt of a cultural connection (maybe “Indo-Slavonic” in nature) of the North Pontic steppe. But then we would probably be stuck – yet again – with some sort of cultural diffusion event, impossible to demonstrate.

Since it is known (in Linguistics, and also in Y-DNA lineages, due to the early expansion of Z2103 subclades) that Graeco-Aryan groups separated early, this model would not be impossible.

Also a priori in favour of that model would be the early expansion of a (Northern IE-speaking) Pre-Tocharian population to the east. On the other hand, from an archaeological point of view, the group reaching Afanasevo seems to have expanded from Repin, just like the community expanding Yamna to the west of the Dnieper.

I really doubt there can be any serious discussion though, apart from amateur geneticists with a personal interest on this, because:

  • Graeco-Aryan is a Late PIE dialect, and Late PIE guesstimates are more recent than that.
  • Dialectal separation within a Late Proto-Indo-European language must have happened late, gradually, and in close contact, allowing for common innovations to spread through dialectal groups.
  • It does not make sense in terms of prehistoric cultures, since there is no direct connection or migration among steppe cultures but for the Novodanilovka and the Yamna expansions.
  • Indo-Slavonic is only supported by a handful of linguists, and not in the way or timing described in this model.

NOTE. You can read Kortlandt’s works in Academia.edu (also on his personal website) if you are really interested in knowing more about an Indo-Slavonic proposal, from an expert Balticist and Slavicist. However, if your intent is to demonstrate some ancient ethnic link of “your” people (whatever that means) to mythical Proto-Indo-Europeans, you would not need actual knowledge or sound theories to do that, so you can skip that part. Also, Kortlandt would probably support a later model of Indo-Slavonic expansion in the steppe, related to East Yamna, and later Sintashta, Srubna, etc…

Migration Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker as claimed by articles published in Nature (2015). From materials of the UAB.

If you think about it, if most modern Slavs were mainly of R1b-L23 lineages instead of R1a-Z645 (a replacement which, as it is clear know, is the consequence of a simple resurge of previous lineages in East-Central Europe, coupled with a later gradual replacement through founder effects, so no big migration history here), and Finnic speakers were mainly of R1a-Z645 lineages (whose replacement by N1c lineages seems also the consequence of quite late consecutive founder effects), I doubt we would be having this reticence to accept sound anthropological models.

So, we are speculating here for the sake of an unnecessary, naïve compromise…Just hoping to find some common ground to move on, now that the picture is clearer for everyone.

NOTE. The change of narratives where certain languages must have accompanied R1a-Z645 and N1c lineages, but in alternative ways not previously described, is obviously unjustified, if linguistic and archaeological data tell a different story. As unjustified as it is to change Yamna for “Neolithic Steppe” as homeland of Late Indo-European, to fit it with the steppe ancestry concept

See also:

Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”


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

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

See also:

Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018): R1b-L23 dominates Bell Beaker and Yamna, R1a-M417 resurges in East-Central Europe during the Bronze Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Sheldon Cooper would say,

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

I informed you thusly:

First Hungarian ruling dynasty, the Árpáds, of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a


Open access article DNA profiling of Hungarian King Béla III and other skeletal remains originating from the Royal Basilica of Székesfehérvár, Olasz, J., Seidenberg, V., Hummel, S. et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).


A few decades after the collapse of the Avar Khaganate (c. 822 AD), Hungarian invaders conquered the Carpathian Basin (c. 862–895 AD). The first Hungarian ruling dynasty, the Árpáds played an important role in European history during the Middle Ages. King Béla III (1172–1196) was one of the most significant rulers of the dynasty. He also consolidated Hungarian dominance over the Northern Balkans. The provostry church of the Virgin Mary (commonly known as the Royal Basilica of Székesfehérvár) played a prominent role as a coronation church and burial place of medieval Hungarian kings. The basilica’s building and graves had been destroyed over the centuries. The only royal graves that remained intact were those of King Béla III and his first spouse, Anna of Antioch. These graves were discovered in 1848. We defined the autosomal STR (short tandem repeat) fingerprints of the royal couple and eight additional individuals (two females and six males) found in the Royal Basilica. These results revealed no evidence of first-degree relationship between any of the investigated individuals. Y-chromosomal STR profiles were also established for all the male skeletons. Based upon the Y-chromosomal data, one male skeleton showed an obvious patrilineal relationship to King Béla III. A database search uncovered an existing Y-chromosomal haplotype, which had a single-repeat difference compared to that of King Béla. It was discovered in a person living in an area close to Hungary. This current male line is probably related paternally to the Árpád Dynasty. The control region of the mitochondrial DNA was determined in the royal couple and in the remains of the inferred relative. The mitochondrial results excluded sibling relationship between the King and the patrilineal relative. In summary, we successfully defined a Y-chromosomal profile of King Béla III, which can serve as a reference for the identification of further remains and disputed living descendants of the Árpád Dynasty. Among the examined skeletons, we discovered an Árpád member, whose exact affiliation, however, has not yet been established.

The Árpad Dynasty

The Árpád Dynasty (c. 850–1301 AD) played an important role in European history during the Middle Ages (Hóman 1940-1943). The first Great Prince Álmos organised the monarchic state in the northern region of the Black Sea c. 850. A few decades after the collapse of the Avar Khaganate (c. 822 AD), Álmos and his son Árpád conquered the Carpathian Basin (c. 862–895 AD) (Szőke 2014). During the conquest, Hungarian invaders, together with Turkic-speaking Kabars assimilated the Avars and Slavonic groups (Szádeczky-Kardoss 1990). Thus, most of the population in the Carpathian Basin originated from the Hun-Turkic cultural community of the Eurasian Steppe and was accompanied by Slavonic and German-speaking groups (László 1996). The origin of Hungarians is still controversial, and this paper cannot cover this complex subject. The Hungarian Great Principality represented the Eurasian steppe empires in Central Europe from c. 862 until 1000. Saint Stephen I, the last Great Prince (997–1000) and first King (1000–1038) of Hungary re-organised this early Hungarian state as a Christian kingdom. Saint Stephen received the royal crown from the Pope and joined the post-Roman Christian political system and cultural commonwealth of Latin Europe (Pohl 2003; Szabados 2011). Hungary remained an independent state between the German and Byzantine empires (Makk 1989). King Béla III (1172–1196) was one of the most significant rulers of the dynasty. He was the second son of King Géza II (1141–1162) and Queen Euphrosyne, the daughter of Mstislav I (1125–1132), the Great Prince of Kiev. Through the mediation of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, Béla married Anna of Châtillon from Antioch (1150–1184), the half-sister of the Emperor’s wife in 1170. After Manuel’s death, King Béla consolidated Hungarian dominance over the Northern Balkans.

The provostry church of the Virgin Mary (commonly known as the Royal Basilica of Székesfehérvár) was built by Saint Stephen I at the beginning of the eleventh century. The basilica played a prominent role as a church of coronation and as the main burial place of Hungarian kings in the Middle Ages. Fifteen kings, several queens, princes and princesses and clerical and secular dignitaries were buried there over five centuries (Engel 1987)

The five graves excavated by János Érdy. Drawn by János Varsányi (1848). Originally published by Érdy (1853). I: remains of Béla III; II: remains of Anna of Antioch; III: a male skeleton whose identity with II/52 is questioned; IV: the skeleton of an expectant female, only foetal bones remained; V: a crushed skeleton, it has not been preserved.


There were three R1a and two R1b statistically predicted Y haplogroups among the male skeletons (Table 3). These are the most frequent and second most frequent haplogroups (25.6 and 18.1% respectively) in the present Hungarian population (Völgyi et al. 2009). King Béla III was inferred to belong to haplogroup R1a. The R1a Y haplogroup relates paternally to more than 10% of men in a wide geographic area from South Asia to Central Eastern Europe and South Siberia (Underhill et al. 2010). It is the most frequent haplogroup in various populations speaking Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Dravidian, Turkic and Finno-Ugric languages (Underhill et al. 2010).

Kinship analysis

The autosomal STR results contradicted the paternity between King Béla III and II/52. The mitochondrial sequence results excluded siblingship, too. Apart from that, we also tested the hypothesis for siblingship versus non-relationship based on the autosomal STR results using “Familias 3”. The LR (likelihood ratio) for the alternative hypothesis was found to be 7.67, which was inconclusive. Testing the hypothesis for a grandfather-grandson (or uncle-nephew) relationship versus non-relationship resulted in an LR of 5.44, which corresponds to a probability of 84.46% (assuming a prior probability of 50%). This result is indecisive for the hypothesis.

The Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, by Fz22 at Wikipedia.

So, the first Hungarian dynasty, which one can safely say were one of the ruling clans among Hungarian conquerors, a group of Ugric speakers that invaded the Carpathian basin from the steppe in the 9th c. (stemming originally from North-Eastern Europe) were of R1a lineages.

Who could have thought, right?


R1b-V88 migration through Southern Italy into Green Sahara corridor, and the Afroasiatic connection

Open access article The peopling of the last Green Sahara revealed by high-coverage resequencing of trans-Saharan patrilineages, by D’Atanasio, Trombetta, Bonito, et al., Genome Biology (2018) 19:20.


Little is known about the peopling of the Sahara during the Holocene climatic optimum, when the desert was replaced by a fertile environment.

In order to investigate the role of the last Green Sahara in the peopling of Africa, we deep-sequence the whole non-repetitive portion of the Y chromosome in 104 males selected as representative of haplogroups which are currently found to the north and to the south of the Sahara. We identify 5,966 mutations, from which we extract 142 informative markers then genotyped in about 8,000 subjects from 145 African, Eurasian and African American populations. We find that the coalescence age of the trans-Saharan haplogroups dates back to the last Green Sahara, while most northern African or sub-Saharan clades expanded locally in the subsequent arid phase.

Our findings suggest that the Green Sahara promoted human movements and demographic expansions, possibly linked to the adoption of pastoralism. Comparing our results with previously reported genome-wide data, we also find evidence for a sex-biased sub-Saharan contribution to northern Africans, suggesting that historical events such as the trans-Saharan slave trade mainly contributed to the mtDNA and autosomal gene pool, whereas the northern African paternal gene pool was mainly shaped by more ancient events.

Maximum parsimony Y chromosome tree and dating of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups. a Phylogenetic relations among the 150 samples analysed here. Each haplogroup is labelled in a different colour. The four Y sequences from ancient samples are marked by the dagger symbol. b Phylogenetic tree of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups, aligned to the timeline (at the bottom). At the tip of each lineage, the ethno-geographic affiliation of the corresponding sample is represented by a circle, coloured according to the legend (bottom left). The last Green Sahara period is highlighted by a green belt in the background

Also, interesting excerpts:

The fertile environment established in the Green Sahara probably promoted demographic expansions and rapid dispersals of the human groups, as suggested by the great homogeneity in the material culture of the early Holocene Saharan populations [62]. Our data for all the four trans-Saharan haplogroups are consistent with this scenario, since we found several multifurcated topologies, which can be considered as phylogenetic footprints of demographic expansions. The multifurcated structure of the E-M2 is suggestive of a first demographic expansion, which occurred about 10.5 kya, at the beginning of the last Green Sahara (Fig. 2; Additional file 2: Figure S4). After this initial expansion, we found that most of the trans-Saharan lineages within A3-M13, E-M2 and R-V88 radiated in a narrow time interval at 8–7 kya, suggestive of population expansions that may have occurred in the same time (Fig. 2; Additional file 2: Figures S3, S4 and S6). Interestingly, during roughly the same period, the Saharan populations adopted pastoralism, probably as an adaptive strategy against a short arid period [1, 62, 63]. So, the exploitation of pastoralism resources and the reestablishment of wetter conditions could have triggered the simultaneous population expansions observed here. R-V88 also shows signals of a further and more recent (~ 5.5 kya) Saharan demographic expansion which involved the R-V1589 internal clade. We observed similar demographic patterns in all the other haplogroups in about the same period and in different geographic areas (A3-M13/V3, E-M2/V3862 and E-M78/V32 in the Horn of Africa, E-M2/M191 in the central Sahel/central Africa), in line with the hypothesis that the start of the desertification may have caused massive economic, demographic and social changes [1].

Finally, the onset of the arid conditions at the end of the last African humid period was more abrupt in the eastern Sahara compared to the central Sahara, where an extensive hydrogeological network buffered the climatic changes, which were not complete before ~ 4 kya [6, 62, 64]. Consistent with these local climatic differences, we observed slight differences among the four trans-Saharan haplogroups. Indeed, we found that the contact between northern and sub-Saharan Africa went on until ~ 4.5 kya in the central Sahara, where we mainly found the internal lineages of E-M2 and R-V88 (Additional file 2: Figures S4 and S6). In the eastern Sahara, we found a sharper and more ancient (> 5 kya) differentiation between the people from northern Africa (and, more generally, from the Mediterranean area) and the groups from the eastern sub-Saharan regions (mainly from the Horn of Africa), as testified by the distribution and the coalescence ages of the A3-M13 and E-M78 lineages (Additional file 2: Figures S3 and S5).

Time estimates and frequency maps of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups and major sub-clades. a Time estimates of the four trans-Saharan clades and their main internal lineages. To the left of the timeline, the time windows of the main climatic/historical African events are reported in different colours (legend in the upper left). b Frequency maps of the main trans-Saharan clades and sub-clades. For each map, the relative frequencies (percentages) are reported to the right

R-V88 has been observed at high frequencies in the central Sahel (northern Cameroon, northern Nigeria, Chad and Niger) and it has also been reported at low frequencies in northwestern Africa [37]. Outside the African continent, two rare R-V88 sub-lineages (R-M18 and R-V35) have been observed in Near East and southern Europe (particularly in Sardinia)[30, 37, 38, 39]. Because of its ethno-geographic distribution in the central Sahel, R-V88 has been linked to the spread of the Chadic branch of the Afroasiatic linguistic family [37, 40].

(…) the R-V88 lineages date back to 7.85 kya and its main internal branch (branch 233) forms a “star-like” topology (“Star-like” index = 0.55), suggestive of a demographic expansion. More specifically, 18 out of the 21 sequenced chromosomes belong to branch 233, which includes eight sister clades, five of which are represented by a single subject. The coalescence age of this sub-branch dates back to 5.73 kya, during the last Green Sahara period. Interestingly, the subjects included in the “star-like” structure come from northern Africa or central Sahel, tracing a trans-Saharan axis. It is worth noting that even the three lineages outside the main multifurcation (branches 230, 231 and 232) are sister lineages without any nested sub-structure. The peculiar topology of the R-V88 sequenced samples suggests that the diffusion of this haplogroup was quite rapid and possibly triggered by the Saharan favourable climate (Fig. 2b).

One of the theories I proposed in the Indo-European demic diffusion model since the first edition – based mainly on phylogeography – is that R1b-V88 lineages had probably crossed the Mediterranean through southern Italy into a Green Sahara region, and distributed from there throuh important green corridors, humid areas between megalakes. Even though this new study – like the rest of them – is based solely on modern samples, and as such is quite prone to error in assessing ancient distributions – as we have seen in Europe -, it seems that a southern Italian route (probably through Sicily) for R1b-V88 and a late expansion through Green Sahara is more and more likely.

If we accept that the migration of R1b-V88 lineages is the last great expansion through a Green Sahara, then this expansion is a potential candidate for the initial Afroasiatic expansion – whereas older haplogroup expansions would represent languages different than Afroasiatic, and more recent haplogroup expansions would represent subsequent expansions of Afroasiatic dialects, like Semitic, Hamitic, Cushitic, or Chadic – as I explained in an older post.

In absolutely shameless speculative terms, then – as is today common in Genetic studies, by the way, so let’s all have some fun here – instead of some sort of R1b/Eurasiatic continuity in Europe, as some autochthonous continuists would like, this could mean that there would be an old Afroasiatic – R1b connection. That would imply:

NOTE. Regarding the contribution of CHG ancestry in the Pontic-Caspian steppe cultures, it is usually explained as caused by exogamy, or by absorption of a previous population (as in the Indo-Iranian case), although a contribution of communities of mainly J subclades to the formation of Neolithic steppe cultures cannot be ruled out. As for some autochthonous continuists’ belief in some sort of mythical mixed steppe people with mixed haplogroups and mixed language, well…

Simple Nostratic tree by Bomhard (2008)

The Pre-Indo-European linguistic situation, before the formation of Neolithic steppe cultures, seems like pure speculation, because a) language macro-families (with the exception of Afroasiatic) are highly speculative, b) sound anthropological models are lacking for them, and c) migrations inferred from haplogroup distributions of modern populations are often incorrect:

  • Haplogroup R could then be argued to be the source of Nostratic, and earlier subclades the source of Starostin’s Borean, given the distribution of its subclades in Asia and the timing of their migrations.
  • But of course one could also argue that, given the comparatively late population expansions that Genomics is showing, supporting Western European linguistic schools – where Russian Nostraticists tend to date languages further back in timeR1b (and not R) expansion could be the marker of Nostratic languages, due to its most likely southern path (and their old subclades found in Iran and the Caucasus), which would be more in line with the wet dreams of Europeans proposing R1b autochthonous continuity theories. I like this option far less because of that, but it cannot be ruled out.

If you have read this blog before, you know I profoundly dislike lexicostatistical and glottochronological methods, and I don’t like mass comparisons either. Whereas these methods pretend to apply mathematics to big (raw) data where there is almost no knowledge of what one is doing, comparative grammar applies complex reasoning where there is a lot of partially processed data.

But, it is always fun to ask “what if they were right?” and follow from there…

See also:

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


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

Abstract (in German):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

Meolithic Corded Ware Culture sites studied in the Baltic Sea region

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


The myth of mixed language, the concepts of culture core and package, and the invention of ‘Steppe folk’


I recently read some papers which, albeit apparently unrelated, should be of interest for many today.

Mixed language

The myth of the mixed languages, by Kees Versteeg, in Advances in Maltese linguistics, ed. by Benjamin Saade and Mauro Tosco, 217-238. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2017 [uncorrected proofs]

This paper focuses on the usefulness of the label ‘mixed languages’ as an analytical tool. Section 1 sketches the emergence of the biological paradigm in linguistics and its effect on the contemporary debate about mixed languages. Sections 2 and 3 discuss two processes that have been held responsible for the emergence of mixed languages, code switching and extreme borrowing. Section 4 compares these two mechanisms with the categories of change in Thomason & Kaufman (1988), while Section 5 offers some conclusions about the status of mixed languages as a special category.

Although the paper is a must read for language contact and language change (code-switching, borrowing, shifting), a good summary may save you some time if you are not interested in linguistics:

Speakers may either shift to a new language while retaining traces of their old language, or they may stick to their original language while borrowing from another language with which they come in touch (…)

[Bakker] distinguishes two types of communities in which mixing is found: isolated mixed marriage communities with (asymmetrical) bilingualism; and nomadic communities that shift to a dominant language, but retain a substantial part of their lexicon as a private or secret register, closely connected with the community’s identity. The history of these communities provides us with plausible scenarios to explain the idiosyncrasies of the speech pattern of the speakers belonging to them.

In what way, then, does it help to put both categories under one label of mixed languages? I believe Backus (2003: 263) is right when he suggests that the question of whether a certain set of features constitutes a mixed language is perhaps not a very interesting one. The question should not be whether given certain features a language may be categorized as mixed, but what the linguistic effects of different kinds of contact (trade, work, conquest, mixed marriages, colonization, marginalization, etc.) are, and to what extent these effects correlate with the type of contact. At no point is it necessary to posit a category of mixed languages. In fact, the myth of the mixed languages may have been perpetuated because of the relative weirdness of the initial cases, notably that of Michif, which represent phenomena so unique that it is understandable that some scholars came to believe that they could only be explained by special mechanisms. The position taken here is that if we focus on the speakers’ behavior, the phenomena in question become much more understandable. The crucial point is that languages do not mix, people do.

Culture core and package

The article Isolation-by-distance, homophily, and “core” vs. “package” cultural evolution models in Neolithic Europe, by Shennana, Crema, and Kerig (2015):

Recently there has been growing interest in characterising population structure in cultural data in the context of ongoing debates about the potential of cultural group selection as an evolutionary process. Here we use archaeological data for this purpose, which brings in a temporal as well as spatial dimension. We analyse two distinct material cultures (pottery and personal ornaments) from Neolithic Europe, in order to: a) determine whether archaeologically defined “cultures” exhibit marked discontinuities in space and time, supporting the existence of a population structure, or merely isolation-by-distance; and b) investigate the extent to which cultures can be conceived as structuring “cores” or as multiple and historically independent “packages”. Our results support the existence of a robust population structure comparable to previous studies on human culture, and show how the two material cultures exhibit profound differences in their spatial and temporal structuring, signalling different evolutionary trajectories.

Our results suggest distinct evolutionary histories in the spatial and temporal variation of personal ornament and pottery, with different rates of innovation, patterns of descent, and dynamics of diffusion. Ornament data do show statistically significant values of ΦST using pottery-defined population structures, but the magnitude is extremely small, and partial Mantel tests suggest that much of this pattern is explained by isolation by distance. These results are in line with a model
of culture represented by independent “packages” of multiple coherent units rather than one characterised by a distinct and fairly isolated “core” surrounded by a “periphery” of elements prone to crosscultural transmission. The alternative hypothesis is that one element was part of the “core” tradition, whilst the other was peripheral. This scenario is however less likely given that both elements are generally regarded as expression of local lines of transmission and/or signalling.

The robust support for a population structure in the pottery data shows that some degree of homophily must have biased the transmission process, but this bias was confined within the single “package”, rather than affecting other aspects of the material culture. In other words similarity (or dissimilarity) of pottery style was not influencing the transmission process of personal ornaments and vice-versa. If this was the case, we should have observed a stronger agreement between in the spatio-temporal distribution of the two datasets, a pattern we failed to observe. Personal ornaments are often seen as group-identity markers, but the fact that our study appears to indicate a stronger role for isolation by distance in accounting for variation in ornaments suggests that this assumption may not be valid, or alternatively that these groups cross-cut the archaeological cultures traditionally recognised. Thus,while our study has provided strong evidence of population structure affecting patterns of cultural interaction, in this case at least the distinct patterns observed point to a modular, ‘package’ model. It has also shown that we can identify population structuring from the evidence of the archaeological record without continuing to attempt the fruitless task of correlating its patterns with past ethnolinguistic units.

Location of material culture (ornament and pottery) data of 361 Neolithic sites in central

A situation more interesting than Neolithic Europe for those following this blog will probably be the one on West Europe during the Bell Beaker expansion.

Regarding Iberia, I have already talked about the possibilities of “resurgence” after the arrival of Bell Beaker migrants, in this blog and in the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

About the British Isles, you can read e.g. the stepped and different cultural changes that happened after the arrival of East Bell Beakers in What was and what would never be: changing patterns of interaction and archaeological visibility across north-west Europe from 2,500 to 1,500 cal BC, by Wilkin, N., Vander Linden, M. 2015. In : Anderson-Whymark, H., Garrow, D., Sturt, F. (eds)Continental connections. Exploring cross -Channel relationships from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age. Oxford: Oxbow: 99-121.

The changing cultural geography of north-west Europe c. 3000-1500 BC. Solid line: architecture; dashed line: material culture;, dash-dot line: funerary practices

This logical description different cultural changes brings up a question obvious to many, and can be summed up by “does the arrival of (North-West Indo-European-speaking) East Bell Beakers mean the end of non-Indo-European cultures in Western and Northern Europe?” The answer is obviously – as in the rest of Europe – quite simply No. Many non-Indo-European groups must have survived the initial expansion of East Bell Beakers in many regions, as the pre-Roman situation (already quite simplified after the expansion of Celtic and Germanic) testifies.

“Resurgence” of local groups as seen in genomic data is the most direct connection with survival of previous non-IE cultures (and thus languages), but obviously not the only mechanism of language survival, since we can see founder effects – such as those seen in modern Basque speakers (mainly of R1b subclades), and in Ugro-Finnic speakers in north-east Europe (mainly of N subclades).

Steppe folk

I am recently stumbling more and more often upon the concept of ‘Steppe people‘ by amateur geneticists, whether in Anthrogenica, in blogs and blog comments, or even in research papers, where people used to talk about ‘Yamnaya people’ or ‘Yamnaya folk’. As I said, I expected this since I questioned the concept of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component‘, so I feel vindicated by this change.

However, whereas most will be using these names simply following the redeeming term “steppe admixture”, and thus refer to a Neolithic steppe population that shared a common admixture component (probably ca. 5000 BC), some will obviously go further and identify this component with Proto-Indo-European (like that, in general terms), since it is the logical sequence for those who consider the term “Indo-Europeans” as an umbrella for a certain ethnic proportion and a link with modern populations in stupid autochthonous continuity theories, where prehistoric language and culture are irrelevant.

NOTE. Evidently, those who supported quite strongly the fact that R1a-M417 subclades associated with Corded Ware migrants (i.e. mainly R1a-Z645) stemmed directly from Yamna migrants are shifting terminology to “steppe people” in light of recent data, so that they can support an older steppe community in the likely case that no R1a is found in Yamna, while keeping open the possibility to revert to a more direct support of the Yamna -> Corded Ware model in case just one R1a sample is found… So no anthropological model at all here, just a personal desire to be fullfilled in any possible way.

Those thinking naively about an imaginary ‘Steppe folk’, living in loosely connected steppe cultures, speaking a mixed ‘Steppe language’, may well keep inventing potentially popular peoples and languages based on admixture, such as West Hunter-Gatherer folk (Vasconic?), East Hunter-Gatherer folk (Uralic? – or maybe today they can invent a Siberian folk bringing Finno-Ugric after 500 BC), Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer folk (??), etc. So welcome back to the 1930s!… Or was it the 2000s?

Image modified by me from Wiik’s original, for those of you nostalgic fans of autochthonous continuity theories: You can now again support a native Vasconic-Uralic-Indo-European “folk” distribution in Neolithic Europe.

Some people like to talk about how “Science” wins against Academia, especially when they try to defend this pseudo-subfield they are inventing and venerating on the go to characterize ancient populations, where new genomic methods are king, and the other fields involved are just noise they easily use or dismiss to support their own desires and preconceptions.

NOTE. I felt like many fans of Genomics are very well represented in this recent article at ArXiv: “23andMe confirms: I’m super white” — Analyzing Twitter Discourse On Genetic Testing

Too bad for them. The misuse of this new field might be popular today among certain amateur geneticists, but it will not stand the test of time, similar to how the initial hype around radiocarbon analysis (for Archaeology) or glottochronology (for Linguistics) eventually faded, and they became just another tool among traditional methods. In Science, time puts everything where it belongs.

Whether you like it or not, Indo-European (and Uralic) questions will be solved – as they have been for a long time now, there is nothing new under the sun – with Historical Linguistics first, then Prehistoric Archaeology, then Anthropology (models of migration, cultural diffusion, founder effects, etc.), and only then Genomics, which may (or may not) help solve certain controversial aspects, by supporting one or other anthropological model. Period.

See also:

Genetic prehistory of the Baltic Sea region and Y-DNA: Corded Ware and R1a-Z645, Bronze Age and N1c


Open Access The genetic prehistory of the Baltic Sea region, by Mittnik et al., Nature Communications 9: 442 (2018), based on preprint The Genetic History of Northern Europe, at BioRxirv.

As you can see, it follows my predictions in terms of haplogroups, and sadly the same trend to substitute ‘Yamna’ for ‘steppe’ while keeping linguistic interpretations unchanged…

Important excerpts for the Indo-European question (emphasis mine):

Mesolithic to Neolithic

In the archaeological understanding, the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic in the Eastern Baltic region does not coincide with a large-scale population turnover and a stark shift in economy as seen in Central and Southern Europe. Rather, it is signified by a change in networks of contacts and the use of pottery, among other material, cultural and economic changes. Our results suggest continued admixture between groups in the south of the Eastern Baltic region, who are more closely related to WHG, and northern or eastern groups, more closely related to EHG. Neolithic social networks from the Eastern Baltic to the River Volga could also explain similarities of the hunter-gatherer pottery styles, although morphologically analogous ceramics might also have developed independently due to similar functionality. The genetic evidence for a change in networks and possibly even a large-scale population movement is most pronounced in the Middle Neolithic in individuals attributed to the CCC. The distribution of this culture overlaps in the north with the Narva culture and extends further north to Finland and Karelia. Its spread in the Eastern Baltic is linked with a significant change in imported raw materials, artefacts, and the appearance of village-like settlements15.

Neolithic to Chalcolithic

We see a further population movement into the regions surrounding the Baltic Sea with the CWC in the Late Neolithic that was accompanied by the first evidence of extensive animal husbandry in the Eastern Baltic. The presence of ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe among Baltic CWC individuals without the genetic component from north-western Anatolian Neolithic farmers must be due to a direct migration of steppe pastoralists that did not pick up this ancestry in Central Europe. It 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. The presence of direct contacts to the steppe could lend support to a linguistic model that sees an early branching of Balto-Slavic from a Proto-Indo-European language, for which the west Eurasian steppe was proposed as a homeland. However, as farmer ancestry is found in later Eastern Baltic individuals, it is likely that considerable individual mobility and a network of contact throughout the range of the CWC facilitated its spread eastward, possibly through exogamous marriage practices. Conversely, the appearance of mitochondrial haplogroup U4 in the Central European Late Neolithic after millennia of absence could indicate female gene-flow from the Eastern Baltic, where this haplogroup was present at high frequency.

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting Late Neolithic in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)
Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic PCA.

So, we see that no farmer ancestry is found in the Baltic (unlike in Western Yamna), that PCA of Late Neolithic is closer to Corded Ware samples from Europe (or to earlier samples from the region) and not to Yamna, as suggested at first by the Zvejnieki individual.

There obviously was exogamy – which may in fact justify the findings in PCA close to Yamna (like the Zvejnieki sample), although researchers obviate that.

Also, as expected, no R1b-M269 in the Baltic (during the Corded Ware period), most are R1a with the majority showing subclade R1a-Z645 (and others poor SNP coverage), which support the reduction in haplogroup diversity to this very subclade during the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, as I predicted it would happen.

Bronze Age

Local foraging societies were, however, not completely replaced and contributed a substantial proportion to the ancestry of Eastern Baltic individuals of the latest LN and Bronze Age. This ‘resurgence’ of hunter-gatherer ancestry in the local population through admixture between foraging and farming groups recalls the same phenomenon observed in the European Middle Neolithic and is responsible for the unique genetic signature of modern-day Eastern Baltic populations.

We suggest that the Siberian and East Asian related ancestry in Estonia, and Y-haplogroup N in north-eastern Europe, where it is widespread today, arrived there after the Bronze Age, ca. 500 calBCE, as we detect neither in our Bronze Age samples from Lithuania and Latvia. As Uralic speaking populations of the Volga-Ural region show high frequencies of haplogroup N, a connection was proposed with the spread of Uralic language speakers from the east that contributed to the male gene pool of Eastern Baltic populations and left linguistic descendants in the Finno-Ugric languages Finnish and Estonian. A potential future direction of research is the identification of the proximate population that contributed to the arrival of this eastern ancestry into Northern Europe.

I predicted that haplogroup N arrived probably to the region west of the Urals with the Sejma-Turbino phenomenon, and that it expanded quite late, probably through founder effects. A late arrival to the region leaves obviously (safe for these researchers and others working with old ideas) only the Corded Ware culture (represented by steppe admixture and mainly haplogroup R1a-Z645) as the vector of expansion of Uralic languages, which show obviously a dialectalization process and regional expansion much older than 500 BC…

It is funny to see how people keep trying to identify R1a with ‘Yamnaya’, now ‘steppe’, but always Indo-European (an ethnolinguistic term, mind you) supposedly because of the ‘Yamnaya’ (now ‘steppe’) admixture, but the only ‘mark’ of Uralic languages for the same researchers in the same paper using this very concept is nevertheless, paradoxically, haplogroup N, with an assumption explicitly based on prevalence in modern populations

This admixture vs. haplogroup question for language and culture identification in genetic papers is really gettting messed up with new data, now in a contortionist-like way…

Images and text: Content of the paper is licensed under CC-by 4.0.

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