New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture


Just one day after publishing the draft of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd version, Mathieson et al. (2017) have updated some information in a new version of their article, including a new interesting sample from late Sredni Stog. It gives support to what I predicted, regarding the potential origin of the third Corded Ware horizon.

After my first version, findings in Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017) supported some of my predictions. Now after my third, their new data also supports another prediction. Because the model is based on solid linguistic and archaeological models. Here is an excerpt from the Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd ed. (pp. 55-56):

At the end of the Trypillian culture, herding/hunting trends intensified, and the agricultural system collapsed, with people moving to the steppe zone, as confirmed by the presence of numerous graves to the south (Rassamakin 1999). At the same time, the Trypillian world absorbed a foreign tradition related to materials of settlement sites of the Dnieper steppes – such as the late Sredni Stog culture –, like cord impressions and burial rites similar to the later Corded Ware culture, marking also the transformation of decors and changes in their interpretation (Palaguta 2007).

The similarity in burial rituals between Yamna and Corded Ware made Gimbutas define a common “Kurgan people”, whose relationship has also been long supported by Kristiansen (Kristiansen 1989; Kristiansen et al. 2017). An equivalence of both burial rites has been, however, rejected (Häusler 1963, 1978, 1983), and it is generally agreed that the Yamna culture did not expand to the north of the Tisza River.

The importance of horse exploitation in Deriivka, in the forest-steppe zone of the north Pontic region along the Dnieper region, during the Middle Eneolithic period (probably ca. 3700-3530 BC), suggests that horses played a significant role in the life of this Sredni Stog community (Anthony and Brown 2003). In its late period (ca. 4000-3500 BC), this culture had adopted corded ware pottery, and stone battle-axes.

However, this [sic] western steppe peoples were mainly hunters (Rassamakin 1999), and the ‘herding skill’ essential for wild horse domestication seems absent (Kuzmina 2003). All this has been confirmed with zooarchaeological evidence and new molecular and stable isotope results, suggesting an absence of horse domestication in territories of the late Sredni Stog culture in the north Pontic steppe (Mileto et al. 2017), before the advent of migrants from the Indo-European-speaking Repin culture.

The new sample described in Mathieson et al. (2017), dated ca. 4200 BC (but within a wide range, 5000-3500 BC) is from a site classified as of late Sredni Stog (although potentially from Post-Mariupol / Kvitjana), a culture of hunters who probably did not breed domesticated horses (even after the period of conquest and dominance of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, from Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk, who had domesticated horses), and – more importantly – is of R1a-M417 lineage, shows high so-called “Yamna component” in ADMIXTURE, and clusters among Corded Ware samples in PCA approximately a thousand years before this culture’s expansion. Information from the supplementary material:

An Eneolithic cemetery of the Sredny Stog II culture was excavated by D. Telegin in 1955-1957 near the village of Alexandria, Kupyansk district, Kharkov region on the left bank of the river Oskol. A total of 33 individuals were recovered. Based on craniometric analysis (I.Potekhina 1999) it was suggested that the Eneolithic inhabitants of Alexandria were not homogeneous and resulted from admixture of local Neolithic hunter-gatherers and early farmers, possibly Trypillian groups. We report genetic data from one individual: I6561

PCA, Admixture of Ukraine Eneolithic and other samples from Mathieson et al. (2017)

Another individual from Eneolithic Ukraine (of R1b1 xM269 lineage) clusters quite closely with Neolithic samples from the Baltic, which points to the strong connection between both – southern and northern – regions of east-central Europe before the period of great Chalcolithic expansions, and the potential origin of the spread of R1b (xM269) lineages with the Corded Ware culture.

The so-called ‘Yamna component’ – an infamous name which, as expected, is turning out to be very wrong – has been found quite elevated in this sample, previous and completely unrelated to the Yamna culture and its expansion, and similar to the (later) Corded Ware samples. In fact, we are seeing that Corded Ware samples are actually clustering closely with east-central Europe (excluding the CWC outlier), and not with Yamna and other Indo-European-speaking steppe cultures.

‘Yamna component’ (in yellow) in the North-West Pontic Steppe and the Balkans, including Eneolithic Ukraine samples

It will be fun to see the mess that certain researchers have made (and will still make in the near future) of their findings coupled with the concept of “Yamna component”, when trying to describe the “proxy ancestral populations” of European Copper Age and Bronze Age cultures… Difficult times ahead for many, after the collapse of the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker genetic model laid out since Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015).

[EDIT 27 September 2017] Not directly related, but here is today’s interesting discussion on Twitter surrounding the ancestral populations of the “Yamnaya component”, for illustration of the discussions to come when this ancestry is divided into different, more precise, older (Neolithic) steppe components, and these in turn shown to contribute to different European and Asian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age cultures:

Given the variance found in the three samples from Eneolithic Ukraine (comparable to the variance found in east Bell Beaker samples), we may now be getting closer to the precise territory and culture where the Corded Ware culture might have formed, which cannot be much further from the Dnieper-Dniester region before the Yamna expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC, judging from the elevated steppe component.

It seems, because of the proximity of both cultures and the similar dates of their migrations, that the westward expansion of the Yamna culture may have indeed provided an important push (among some strong ‘pull’ forces) for peoples of the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.

Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations in the Caucasus ca. 4000-3100 BC

It keeps being demonstrated that archaeologists like Anthony, Heyd, Mallory, etc. were right where others tried to interpret admixture based on few samples and their own imagination, without any knowledge (or interest) whatsoever about Archaeology or Linguistics.

So Genetics reinforces the solidest models of Archaeology and Linguistics? Professional academics being mostly right in their careful research, and amateur geneticists playing with software being wrong? Who would have thought… More and more papers help thus shut up naysayers who state (again and again) that new algorithms are here to revolutionise these academic fields.

As Heyd predicted more than 10 years ago, and as many pointed out in terms of linguistic influence (like Mallory or Prescott) the transformation of Yamna settlers into the east Bell Beaker culture, and this culture‘s spread into western and northern Europe, must be noticed in genetic investigation.

The expansion of peoples is known to be associated with the spread of a certain admixture component + the expansion and reduction in variability of a haplogroup (i.e. few male lineages are usually more successful during the expansion): Neolithic farmers from the Middle East expanding with haplogroup G2a; Natufian component (Levant hunter-gatherers or later, Neolithic farmers) and haplogroup E southward into Africa; CHG component expansion with haplogroup J; WHG expansion into east Europe with haplogroup R1b; etc.

There were (at least) two main expansion processes involving Proto-Indo-European: one causing the branching off of the language ancestral to Anatolian, and another during the spread of Late Indo-European dialects. Based on this, and on known archaeological models, I have predicted since the first version of the demic diffusion model:

  • Based on haplogroups found until then in Yamna (R1b-M269), Corded Ware (R1a-M417, especially Z645), and Bell Beaker (R1b-L151):
    • that mainly R1b-L23 (especially L51) lineages and more steppe admixture would be found in east Bell Beaker – confirmed some two months after my publication by Olalde et al. (2017);
    • and that mainly R1a-M417 (especially Z645) subclades will be found in Corded Ware samples.
  • Based on the finding of “Yamna component” in the Corded Ware culture: that this admixture must have come from somewhere else. I pointed out to eastern Europe, including the forest and forest-steppe zone especially in the natural continuum of the Dniester-Dnieper region. Especially after Mathieson et al. (2017), in my second and third versions of the model, I have more specifically suggested a southern origin in the region, nearer to where the CHG ancestry must have come from (the Caucasus and cultures formed in contact with it), according to mainstream archaeological data, i.e. cultures of the North Pontic steppe / steppe-forest. But of course, until more samples are available, more CHG ancestry in other cultures of the Forest Zone cannot be discarded.

For the vast majority of academics, more samples (regionally proportioned) are needed only from early Corded Ware, as we have from Bell Beaker: if they are (as expected) mostly R1a-M417, then everything is clear, and it will finally mean the end for the tiring, now almost ‘traditional’ association R1a – Proto-Indo-European. Some more samples from the potential homeland of the third Corded Ware horizon, most likely Ukraine (Podolia and Volynia regions), nearer to the time of the Corded Ware expansion, would also be great, to locate the actual ancestral population of Corded Ware migrants – recognisable by the main presence of haplogroup R1a-Z645 (formed ca. 3500 BC), and elevated “Yamna component” before the arrival of the Yamna culture…

If, however, early Corded Ware samples of R1b-L23 subclades are found in certain quantity, especially old samples from east-central Europe (excluding Yamna migrants along the Prut), the tricky question of Late Indo-European cultural diffusion will remain: Did Corded Ware peoples adopt a Late Indo-European language from clans of R1b-L23 lineages? That is what Kristiansen and Anthony have been betting for, a cultural diffusion, caused by:

  • A long-lasting contact, according to Kristiansen (1989,…,2017). He defends that Sredni Stog adopted the language – but obviously not the same culture – from the east, but that it is a genetic and cultural mix from Globular Amphora, Trypillia, and steppe cultures. This has been Kristiansen’s model for almost 30 years, and it follows Marija Gimbutas’ outdated theory of the “Kurgan people”.
  • A rapid change according to Anthony (2007). He associates the adoption of Pre-Germanic with the domination of Yamna chiefs over Usatovo people, and the adoption of Balto-Slavic by the people from (Corded Ware) Middle Dnieper group because of the technical superiority of neighbouring Yamna herders.

Linguistics, with the growing support of a North-West Indo-European group, points clearly to a European expansion of a community speaking the ancestral language of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic. Archaeology, too, showed migration from Yamna only to south-eastern Europe (correcting Gimbutas’ Kurgan model) and later with east Bell Beaker mainly into central, western, and northern Europe.

Even Kristiansen admits that only after the arrival of Bell Beaker in Scandinavia was a linguistic community (i.e. Germanic) formed – although he places the center of gravity in Úněticean influence, and (yet again) a cultural diffusion event into the Danish Dagger period.

Because of more and more data contrasting with old theories, some have elected to develop weak, indemonstrable links, to keep supporting e.g. Gimbutas’ concept of “Kurgan people” in Archaeology, and a sudden, early expansion of all PIE dialects at once in Linguistics. It seems that, after so much fuss about the (misleading) ‘Yamna component’ concept – and so many far-fetched assumptions by amateur geneticists -, the Corded Ware connection will once again hinge on weak, indemonstrable cultural diffusion theories, be it ‘Kurgan peoples’ (including now, of course, Eneolithic cultures of Ukraine) or any culture from eastern Europe that will reveal some close samples to Corded Ware migrants, in terms of PCA, ADMIXTURE, or haplogroup.

So once we find mainly R1a-Z645 in more Corded Ware samples (and this haplogroup and more “Yamna component” in non-Yamna cultures of Eneolithic Ukraine, and potentially Poland or Belarus) we all may finally expect a peaceful acceptance of reality, at least in Genetics? Nope. No siree. Nein. Not then, not ever.

Why? Because some people want their paternal lineage to have lived in their historical region, and spoken their historical language, since time immemorial. It won’t matter if Archaeology, Linguistics, Genetics, etc. don’t support their claims: if they need to use some aspects of admixture, or haplogroups (or a combination of them) from carefully selected samples instead of looking at the whole picture; if they have to support that Indo-Europeans came from a culture different than Yamna, in- or outside of the steppe or forest-steppe, be it the Balkans, Anatolia, Armenia, or the Moon; if their proto-language should then come directly from Indo-Hittite, or from a Germano-Slavonic, or Indo-Slavonic, or Indo-Germanic group, or whatever invented dialectal branch necessary to fit their model, or if they have to support the ‘constellation analogy’ of Clackson, or thousands of years of development for each branch; etc. They will support whatever is necessary.

And this adaptation, obviously, has no end. It’s stupid, I know. But that’s how we are, how we think. We have seen that these sad trends continue no matter what, for decades, and not only regarding Indo-European. Some common examples include:

  • Indo-Aryan-speaking Indians defending an autochthonous origin of R1a and Indo-European; as well as the ‘opposite’ autochtonous continuity theory of Dravidian-speaking Indians (based on ASI ancestry, haplogroup R2, mtDNA haplogroup M, or whatever is at hand).
  • Western Europeans defending an autochthonous origin of the R1b haplogroup, with a Palaeolithic or Mesolithic origin, including the language, viz. the recent Indo-European from the Atlantic façade theories (in the Celtic from the West series, by Koch and Cunliffe); the now fading Palaeolithic Continuity Theory; and many other forgotten Eurocentric proposals; as well as the more recent informal hints of a central European/Balkan homeland based on the Villabruna cluster and south-eastern Mesolithic finds, which is at risk of being related to a Balkan origin of Proto-Indo-European
    • There is also the ‘opposite’ theory of the autochthonous origin of the Basques, including Proto-Iberians and potentially other peoples like Paleo-Sardinians, based on the previously popular Vasconic-Uralic hypothesis (and an ancient Europe divided into R1b and N1c1 haplogroups), which is still widely believed in certain regions.
  • Finno-Ugric speakers of N1c1 lineage defending an autochtonous origin of the lineage and language in eastern Europe.
  • Nordic speakers supporting the autochthonous nature of Germanic and haplogroup I1 to Scandinavia.
  • Armenian speakers delighted to see a proposal of Indo-European homeland in the Armenian highlands, be it supported by glottalic consonants, CHG ancestrty, R1b (xM269) or J lineages…
  • Greek speakers now willing to support continuity of haplogroup J as a ‘native’ Greek lineage, of people speaking Proto-Greek (and in earlier times PIE), because of two Minoan, and one Mycenaean samples found in Lazaridis et al. (2017).
  • Even Turks linking Yamna with the expansion of Turkic languages. That one is fun to read, almost like a parody for the rest – substituting “Indo-European” for “Turkic”.
  • For years, a lot of people – me included (at least since 2005) – believed, because of modern maps of R1a distribution, that R1a and Corded Ware are the vector of Indo-European languages. For those of us who don’t have any personal or national tie with this haplogroup, this notion has been easy to change with new data. For others, it obviously isn’t, and it won’t be.
Modern R1a distribution in Eurasia (Wikipedia, 2008). The typical, simplistic map we relied on in the 2000s to derive wrong conclusions based on Genetics, conclusions which are sadly still alive and kicking…

For all these people, a sample, result, or conclusion from any paper, just dubiously in favour, means everything, but a thousand against mean nothing, or can be reinterpreted to support their fantasies.

The Kossinian autochthonous continuity” crap permeates this relatively new subfield of Human Evolutionary Genetics, as it permeated Indo-European studies (first Linguistics, then Archaeology) in its infancy. It seems to be a generalised human trend, no doubt related to some absurd inferiority complex, mixed with historical romanticism, a certain degree of chauvinism, and (falling in the eternal Godwin’s Law of our field) some outdated, childish notion of ‘supremacy’ linked with the expansion of the own language and people.

Such simplistic and popular models are also lucrative, judging by the boom in demand for DNA analysis, which companies embellish with modern fortune tellers (or fortune tellers themselves sell for a price), promising to ascertain your ‘ancestry proportions’ using automated algorithms, so that you don’t have to get lost in complex genetic data and prehistoric accounts, which can’t help you define your “ethnicity”…

Some just don’t want to realize that the spread of prehistoric languages (like Late Indo-European dialects) was a complex, non-uniform, stepped process, devoid of modern romantic concepts, which in genetic terms necessarily included later founder effects and cultural diffusions, so that no one can trace their haplogroup, lineage, family, region, or country to any single culture, language, or ethnic group. The same, by the way, can be said of peoples and countries in historic times.

As I said before, we shall expect supporters of the Kurgan model (and thus the expansion of R1a-Z645 with Yamna) to wait for just one sample of R1a-M417 in Yamna and/or Bell Beaker (which will eventually be found), and just one sample of R1b-M269 in Corded Ware (which will also eventually be found), to blow the horn of victory in this naïve competition against time, general knowledge, and (essentially) themselves.

A sad consequence of how we are is that, because of the obvious influence of these stupid modern ethnolinguistic agendas, because we are not all rowing in the same direction, genetic results and conclusions are still perceived as far-fetched and labile, and thus most archaeologists and linguists prefer not to include genetic results in their investigation. And those who dare to do so, are badly counselled by those who go with the tide, so that their papers become almost instantly outdated.


Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd edition


I have just uploaded the working draft of the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Unlike the previous two versions, which were published as essays (fully developed papers), this new version adds more information on human admixture, and probably needs important corrections before a definitive edition can be published.

The third version is available right now on ResearchGate and I will post the PDF at Academia Prisca, as soon as possible:

Map overlaid by PCA including Yamna, Corded Ware, Bell Beaker, and other samples

Feel free to comment on the paper here, or (preferably) in our forum.

A working version (needing some corrections) divided by sections, illustrated with up-to-date, high resolution maps, can be found (as always) at the official collaborative Wiki website

Something is very wrong with models based on the so-called ‘steppe admixture’ – and archaeologists are catching up


Russian archaeologist Leo Klejn has published an article Discussion: Are the Origins of Indo-European Languages Explained by the Migration of the Yamnaya Culture to the West?, which includes the criticism received from Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, and David Reich (mainly on the genetic aspect), and from Kristian Kristiansen, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Morten Allentoft, Martin Sikora, and Eske Willerslev (mainly on the archaeological aspect).

I will not post details of Klejn’s model of North-South Proto-Indo-European expansion – which is explained in the article, and relies on the north-south cline of ‘steppe admixture’ in the modern European population -, since it is based on marginal anthropological methods and theories, including glottochronological dates, and archaeological theories from the Russian school (mainly Zalyzniak), which are obviously not mainstream in the field of Indo-European Studies, and (paradoxically) on the modern distribution of ‘steppe admixture’…

The most interesting aspects of the article are the reactions to the criticism, some of which can be used from the point of view of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, too. It is sad, however, that they didn’t choose to answer earlier to Heyd’s criticism (or to Heyd’s model, which is essentially also that of Mallory and Anthony), instead of just waiting for proponents of the least interesting models to react…

The answer by Haak et al.:

Klejn mischaracterizes our paper as claiming that practitioners of the Corded Ware culture spoke a language ancestral to all European Indo-European languages, including Greek and Celtic. This is incorrect: we never claim that the ancestor of Greek is the language spoken by people of the Corded Ware culture. In fact, we explicitly state that the expansion of steppe ancestry might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages in Europe. Klejn asserts that ‘a source in the north’ is a better candidate for the new ancestry manifested in the Corded Ware than the Yamnaya. While it is indeed the case that the present-day people with the greatest affinity to the Corded Ware are distributed in north-eastern Europe, a major part of the new ancestry of the Corded Ware derives from a population most closely related to Armenians (Haak et al., 2015) and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (Jones et al., 2015). This ancestry has not been detected in any European huntergatherers analysed to date (Lazaridis et al., 2014; Skoglund et al., 2014; Haak et al., 2015; Fu et al., 2016), but made up some fifty per cent of the ancestry of the Yamnaya. The fact that the Corded Ware traced some of its ancestry to the southern Caucasus makes a source in the north less parsimonious.

In our study, we did not speculate about the date of Proto-Indo-European and the locations of its speakers, as these questions are unresolved by our data, although we do think the genetic data impose constraints on what occurred. We are enthusiastic about the potential of genetics to contribute to a resolution of this longstanding issue, but this is likely to require DNA from multiple, as yet unsampled, ancient populations.

Klejn response to that:

Allegedly, I had accused the authors of tracing all Indo-European languages back to Yamnaya, whereas they did not trace all of them but only a portion! Well, I shall not reproach the authors for their ambiguous language: it remains the case that (beginning with the title of the first article) their qualifications are lost and their readers have understood them as presenting the solution to the whole question of the origins of Indo-European languages.

(…) they had in view not the Proto-Indo-European before the separation of the Hittites, but the language that was left after the separation. Yet, this was still the language ancestral to all the remaining Indo-European languages, and the followers of Sturtevan and Kluckhorst call only this language Proto-Indo-European (while they call the initial one Indo-Hittite). The majority of linguists (specialists in Indo-European languages) is now inclined to this view. True, the breakup of this younger language is several hundred years more recent (nearly a thousand years later according to some glottochronologies) than the separation of Anatolian languages, but it is still around a thousand years earlier than the birth of cultures derived from Yamnaya.
More than that, I analysed in my criticism both possibilities — the case for all Indo-European languages spreading from Yamnaya and the case for only some of them spreading from Yamnaya. In the latter case, it is argued that only the languages of the steppes, the Aryan (Indo- Iranian) are descended from Yamnaya, not the languages of northern Europe. Together with many scholars, I am in agreement with the last possibility. But, then, what sense can the proposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the Baltic region have? It would bring the Indo-Iranian proto-language to that region! Yet, there are no traces of this language on the coasts of the Baltic!

My main concern is that, to my mind, one should not directly apply conclusions from genetics to events in the development of language because there is no direct and inevitable dependence between events in the life of languages, culture, and physical structure (both anthropological and genetic). They can coincide, but often they all follow divergent paths. In each case the supposed coincidence should be proved separately.

The authors’ third objection concerns the increase of the genetic similarity of European population with that of the Yamnaya culture. This increases in the north of Europe and is weak in the south, in the places adjacent to the Yamnaya area, i.e. in Hungary. This gradient is clearly expressed in the modern population, but was present already in the Bronze Age, and hence cannot be explained by shifts that occurred in the Early Iron Age and in medieval times. However, the supposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the west and north should imply a gradient in just the opposite direction!

Regarding the arguments of Kristiansen and colleagues:

[They argue that] in two early burials of the Corded Ware culture (one in Germany, the other in Poland) some single attributes of Yamnaya origin have been found.

(…) if this is the full extent of Yamnaya infiltration into central Europe—two burials (one for each country) from several thousands (and from several hundreds of early burials)—then it hardly amounts to large-scale migration.

Quite recently we have witnessed the success of a group of geneticists from Stanford University and elsewhere (Poznik et al., 2016). They succeeded in revealing varieties of Y-chromosome connected with demographic expansions in the Bronze Age. Such expansion can give rise to migration. Among the variants connected with this expansion is R1b, and this haplogroup is typical for the Yamnaya culture. But what bad luck! This haplogroup connected with expansion is indicated by the clade L11, while the Yamnaya burials are associated with a different clade, Z2103, that is not marked by expansion. It is now time to think about how else the remarkable results reached by both teams of experienced and bright geneticists may be interpreted.

Regarding the work of Heyd,

(…) with regard to the barrow burials of the third millennium BC in the basin of the Danube, although they have been assigned to the Yamnaya culture, I would consider them as also belonging to
another, separate culture, perhaps a mixed culture: its burial custom is typical of the Yamnaya, but its pottery is absolutely not Yamnaya, but local Balkan with imports of distinctive corded beakers (Schnurbecher). I would not be surprised if
Y-chromosome haplogroups of this population were somewhat similar to those of the Yamnaya, while mitochondrial groups were indigenous. As yet, geneticists deal with great blocks of populations and prefer to match them to very large and generalized cultural blocks, while archaeology now analyses more concrete and smaller cultures, each of which had its own fate.

Iosif Lazaridis shares more thoughts on the discussion in his Twitter account:

As we mentioned in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015), the Yamnaya are the best proximate source for the new ancestry that first appears with the Corded Ware in central Europe, as it has the right mix of both ANE (related to Native Americans, MA1, and EHG), but also Armenian/Caucasus/Iran-like southern component of ancestry. The Yamnaya is a westward expansive culture that bears exactly the two new ancestral components (EHG + Caucasus/Iran/Armenian-like).
As for the Y-chromosome, it was already noted in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015) that the Yamnaya from Samara had Y-chromosomes which belonged to R-M269 but did not belong to the clade common in Western Europe (p. 46 of supplement). Also, not a single R1a in Yamnaya unlike Corded Ware (R1a-dominated). But Yamnaya samples = elite burials from eastern part of the Yamnaya range. Both R1a/R1b found in Eneolithic Samara and EHG, so in conclusion Yamnaya expansion still the best proximate source for the post-3,000 BCE population change in central Europe. And since 2015 steppe expansion detected elsewhere (Cassidy et al. 16, Martiniano et al. 17, Mittnik et al. 17, Mathieson et al. 17, Lazaridis et al. 2016 (South Asia) and …?…

I love the smell of new wording in the morning… viz. Yamnaya best proximate source for Corded Ware, Corded Ware might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages, Corded Ware representing Aryan languages (probably Klejn misinterprets what the authors mean, i.e. some kind of Indo-Slavonic or Germano-Balto-Slavic group)…

We shall expect more and more ambiguous rewording and more adjustments of previous conclusions as new papers and new criticisms appear.


Featured image from the article: Distribution of the ‘Yamnaya’ genetic component in the populations of Europe (data taken from Haak et al., 2015). The intensity of the colour corresponds to the contribution of this component in various modern populations

Another hint at the role of Corded Ware peoples in spreading Uralic languages into north-eastern Europe, found in mtDNA analysis of the Finnish population


Open article at Scientific Reports (Nature): Identification and analysis of mtDNA genomes attributed to Finns reveal long-stagnant demographic trends obscured in the total diversity, by Översti et al. (2017).

Of special interest is its depiction of Finland’s past as including the expansion of Corded Ware population of mtDNA U5b1b2 (and probably Y-DNA R1a-M417 subclades), most likely Uralic speakers of the Forest Zone, to the north of the Yamna culture (where Late Proto-Indo-European was spoken).

A later expansion of other subclades – particularly Y-DNA N1c -, was probably associated with the later western expansion of the Eurasian Seima-Turbino phenomenon, and its current prevalence in Finnish Y-DNA haplogroups might have been the consequence of the population decline ca. 1500 BC, and later Iron Age population bottleneck (with the population peak ca. 500 AD) described in the article.

That would more naturally explain the ‘cultural diffusion’ of Finnic languages into invading eastern N1c lineages, a diffusion which would have been in fact a long-term, quite gradual replacement of previously prevalent Y-DNA R1a subclades in the region, as supported by the prevalent “steppe” component in genome-wide ancestry of Finns.

Therefore, there were probably no sudden, strong population (and thus cultural) changes associated with the arrival of N1c lineages, like the ones seen with R1a (Corded Ware / Uralic) and R1b (Yamna / Proto-Indo-European) expansions in Europe.

How the Saami fit into this scheme is not yet obvious, though.


In Europe, modern mitochondrial diversity is relatively homogeneous and suggests an ubiquitous rapid population growth since the Neolithic revolution. Similar patterns also have been observed in mitochondrial control region data in Finland, which contrasts with the distinctive autosomal and Y-chromosomal diversity among Finns. A different picture emerges from the 843 whole mitochondrial genomes from modern Finns analyzed here. Up to one third of the subhaplogroups can be considered as Finn-characteristic, i.e. rather common in Finland but virtually absent or rare elsewhere in Europe. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses suggest that most of these attributed Finnish lineages date back to around 3,000–5,000 years, coinciding with the arrival of Corded Ware culture and agriculture into Finland. Bayesian estimation of past effective population sizes reveals two differing demographic histories: 1) the ‘local’ Finnish mtDNA haplotypes yielding small and dwindling size estimates for most of the past; and 2) the ‘immigrant’ haplotypes showing growth typical of most European populations. The results based on the local diversity are more in line with that known about Finns from other studies, e.g., Y-chromosome analyses and archaeology findings. The mitochondrial gene pool thus may contain signals of local population history that cannot be readily deduced from the total diversity.

From its results:

In general, there appears to be two loose and largely overlapping clusters among the Finn-characteristic haplogroups: the first between 1,000–2,000 ybp and the second around 3,300–5,500 ybp. The age of the older cluster coincides temporally with the arrival of the Corded-Ware culture and, notably, the spread of agriculture in Finland. The arrival and spread of agriculture, temporally corresponding with the age estimates for most of the haplogroups characteristic of Finns, might be a sign of population size increase enabled by the new mode of subsistence, resulting in reduced drift and accumulation of genetic diversity in the population.


Another insight in the past population sizes in Finland is based on radiocarbon-dated archaeological findings in different time periods. These analyses suggest two prehistoric population peaks in Finland, the Stone Age peak (c. 5,500 ybp) and the Metal Age peak (~1,500 ybp). Both of these peaks were followed by a population decline, which appears to have reached its ebb around 3,500 ybp. These developments are not distinguishable in the BSPs. However, these ages correspond well to the two haplogroup age clusters described above. The presumably less severe Iron Age population bottleneck seen in the archaeological data, 1,500–1,300 ybp, temporally coincides with the population size reduction visible for the Finn-characteristic subhaplogroups.


Discovered via Eurogenes.

My European Family: The First 54,000 years, by Karin Bojs


I have recently read the book My European Family: The First 54,000 years (2015), by Karin Bojs, a known Swedish scientific journalist, former science editor of the Dagens Nyheter.

My European Family: The First 54,000 Years
It is written in a fresh, dynamic style, and contains general introductory knowledge to Genetics, Archaeology, and their relation to language, and is written in a time of great change (2015) for the disciplines involved.

The book is informed, it shows a balanced exercise between responsible science journalism and entertaining content, and it is at times nuanced, going beyond the limits of popular science books. It is not written for scholars, although you might learn – as I did – interesting details about researchers and institutions of the anthropological disciplines involved. It contains, for example, interviews with known academics, which she uses to share details about their personalities and careers, which give – in my opinion – a much needed context to some of their publications.

Since I am clearly biased against some of the findings and research papers which are nevertheless considered mainstream in the field (like the identification of haplogroup R1a with the Proto-Indo-European expansion, or the concept of steppe admixture), I asked my wife (who knew almost nothing about genetics, or Indo-European studies) to read it and write a summary, if she liked it. She did. So much, that I have convinced her to read The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (2007), by David Anthony.

Here is her summary of the book, translated from Spanish:

The book is divided in three main parts: The Hunters, The Farmers, and The Indo-Europeans, and each has in turn chapters which introduce and break down information in an entertaining way, mixing them with recounts of her interactions and personal genealogical quest.

Part one, The Hunters, offers intriguing accounts about the direct role music had in the development of the first civilizations, the first mtDNA analyses of dogs (Savolainen), and the discovery of the author’s Saami roots. Explanations about the first DNA studies and their value for archaeological studies are clear and comprehensible for any non-specialized reader. Interviews help give a close view of investigations, like that of Frederic Plassard’s in Les Combarelles cave.

Part two, The Farmers, begins with her travel to Cyprus, and arouses the interest of the reader with her description of the circular houses, her notes on the Basque language, the new papers and theories related to DNA analyses, the theory of the decision of cats to live with humans, the first beers, and the houses built over graves. Karin Bojs analyses the subgroup H1g1 of her grandmother Hilda, and how it belonged to the first migratory wave into Central Europe. This interest in her grandmother’s origins lead her to a conference in Pilsen about the first farmers in Europe, where she knows firsthand of the results of studies by János Jakucs, and studies of nuclear DNA. Later on she interviews Guido Brandt and Joachim Burguer, with whom she talks about haplogroups U, H, and J.

The chapter on Ötzi and the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Bolzano) introduces the reader to the first prehistoric individual whose DNA was analysed, belonging to haplogroup G2a4, but also revealing other information on the Iceman, such as his lactose intolerance.

Part three, dealing with the origin of Indo-Europeans, begins with the difficulties that researchers have in locating the origin of horse domestication (which probably happened in western Kazakhstan, in the Russian steppe between the rivers Volga and Don). She mentions studies by David Anthony and on the Yamna culture, and its likely role in the diffusion of Proto-Indo-European. In an interview with Mallory in Belfast, she recalls the potential interest of far-right extremists in genetic studies (and early links of the Journal of Indo-European Studies to certain ideology), as well as controversial statements of Gimbutas, and her potentially biased vision as a refugee from communist Europe. During the interview, Mallory had a copy of the latest genetic paper sent to Nature Magazine by Haak et al., not yet published, for review, but he didn’t share it.

Then haplogroups R1a and R1b are introduced as the most common in Europe. She visits the Halle State Museum of Prehistory (where the Nebra sky disk is exhibited), and later Krakow, where she interviews Slawomir Kadrow, dealing with the potential creation of the Corded Ware culture from a mix of Funnelbeaker and Globular Amphorae cultures. New studies of ancient DNA samples, published in the meantime, are showing that admixture analyses between Yamna and Corded Ware correlate in about 75%.

In the following chapters there is a broad review of all studies published to date, as well as individuals studied in different parts of Europe, stressing the importance of ships for the expansion of R1b lineages (Hjortspring boat).

The concluding chapter is dedicated to vikings, and is used to demystify them as aggressive warmongers, sketching their relevance as founders of the Russian state.

To sum up, it is a highly documented book, written in a clear style, and is capable of awakening the reader’s interest in genetic and anthropological research. The author enthusiastically looks for new publications and information from researchers, but is at the same time critic with them, showing often her own personal reactions to new discoveries, all of which offers a complex personal dynamic often shared by the reader, engaged with her first-person account the full length of the book.

Mayte Batalla (July 2017)

DISCLAIMER: The author sent me a copy of the book (a translation into Spanish), so there is a potential conflict of interest in this review. She didn’t ask for a review, though, and it was my wife who did it.

Preprint paper: Estimating genetic kin relationships in prehistoric populations, by Monroy Kuhn, Jakobsson, and Günther


A new preprint paper appeared some days ago in BioRxiv, Estimating genetic kin relationships in prehistoric populations, by researchers of the Uppsala University Jose Manuel Monroy Kuhn, Mattias Jakobsson, and Torsten Günther. Jakobsson and Günther. You might remember the last two from their work Ancient X chromosomes reveal contrasting sex bias in Neolithic and Bronze Age Eurasian migrations, whose results were said not to be replicable by Lazaridis and Reich (PNAS), something they denied pointing to the limitations of the current aDNA data (PNAS).

They propose a new, more conservative method to infer close relationships (in contrast with available methods, suitable for modern samples). They have implemented the method as a software program, called READ, which should work better with degraded samples (typical of ancient DNA) by reducing false positives – and having therefore more false negatives. Abstract:

Archaeogenomic research has proven to be a valuable tool to trace migrations of historic and prehistoric individuals and groups, whereas relationships within a group or burial site have not been investigated to a large extent. Knowing the genetic kinship of historic and prehistoric individuals would give important insights into social structures of ancient and historic cultures. Most archaeogenetic research concerning kinship has been restricted to uniparental markers, while studies using genome-wide information were mainly focused on comparisons between populations. Applications which infer the degree of relationship based on modern-day DNA information typically require diploid genotype data. Low concentration of endogenous DNA, fragmentation and other post-mortem damage to ancient DNA (aDNA) makes the application of such tools unfeasible for most archaeological samples. To infer family relationships for degraded samples, we developed the software READ (Relationship Estimation from Ancient DNA). We show that our heuristic approach can successfully infer up to second degree relationships with as little as 0.1x shotgun coverage per genome for pairs of individuals. We uncover previously unknown relationships among prehistoric individuals by applying READ to published aDNA data from several human remains excavated from different cultural contexts. In particular, we find a group of five closely related males from the same Corded Ware culture site in modern-day Germany, suggesting patrilocality, which highlights the possibility to uncover social structures of ancient populations by applying READ to genome-wide aDNA data.

The software READ applied to the 230 ancient European DNA data from Mathieson et al. (2015) was studied, with certain interesting results. For starters, this paper already supports the idea that the five German Corded Ware samples from Esperstedt were all related, thus further supporting to a certain extent the culture’s patrilocality and female exogamy practices:

Of particular interest was a group of five males from Esperstedt in Germany who were associated with the Corded Ware culture {a culture that arose after large scale migrations of males from the east. Around 50 Corded Ware burials, six of them stone cists, were excavated near Esperstedt in the context of road constructions in 2005. Characteristic Corded Ware pottery was found in the graves and all male individuals had been buried on their right hand site. Interestingly, the central individual of the group of related individuals (I1541) was buried in a stone cist approximately 700 meters from the graves of the other four individuals which were all close to each other. The close relationship of this group of only male individuals from the same location suggest patrilocality and female exogamy, a pattern which has also been found from Strontium isotopes at another Corded Ware site just 30 kilometers from Esperstedt and suggested for the Corded Ware culture in general. This represents just one example of how the genetic analysis of relationships can be used to uncover and understand social structures in ancient populations.

It is to be expected that improvement in such methods can help more accurately define certain samples, by inferring their precise subclades. For example, in the case of those relatives from Esperstedt – classified variously as R(xR1b), R1a, or R1a1 – one would be able to classify those related patrilineally to the most precise subclade: in this case, that of the sample I0104 (ca.2473-2348 BC), of subclade R1a1a1-M417.

However, errors are dependent on the quality of the ancient DNA recovered:

READ does not explicitly model aDNA damage and it only considers one allele at heterozygous sites. This implies that a careful curation of the data is required to avoid errors due to low coverage, short sequence fragments, deamination damage, sequencing errors and potential contamination. We recommend a number of well established filtering steps when working with low coverage aDNA data