The expansion of Indo-Europeans in Y-chromosome haplogroups


I have compiled for two years now the reported Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups of ancient DNA samples published, including also SNPs from analysis of the BAM files by hobbyists.

Y-DNA timeline

Here is a video with a timeline of the evolution of Indo-European speakers, according to what is known today about reconstructed languages, prehistoric cultures and ancient DNA:


NOTE. The video is best viewed in HD 1080p (1920×1080) with a display that allows for this or greater video quality, and a screen big enough to see haplogroup symbols, i.e. tablet or greater. The YouTube link is here. The Facebook link is here.

Based on the results of the past 5 years or so, which have been confirming this combined picture every single time, I doubt there will be much need to change it in any radical way, as only minor details remain to be clarified.

GIS maps

I wanted to publish a GIS tool of my own for everyone to have an updated reference of all data I use for my books.

The most complex GIS tools consume too many resources when used online in a client-server model, so I have to keep that to myself, but there are some ways to publish low quality outputs.

The files below include the possibility to zoom some levels to be able to see more samples, and also to check each one for more information on their ID, attributed culture and label, archaeological site, source paper, subclade (and people responsible for SNP inferences if any), etc.

Some usage notes:

  • Files are large (ca. 20 Mb), so they still take some time to load.
  • For the meaning of symbols and colors (for Y-DNA haplogroups), if there is any doubt, check the video above.
  • Pop-ups with sample information will work on desktop browsers by clicking on them, apparently not on smartphone and related tactile OS. I have changed the settings to show pop-ups on hover, so that it now works (to some extent) on tactile OS.
  • The search tool can look for specific samples according to their official ID, and works by highlighting the symbol of the selected individual (turning it into a bright blue dot), and leading the layer view to the location, but it seems to work best only with some browser and OS settings – in other browsers, you need to zoom out to see where the dot is located. The specific sample with its information could paradoxically disappear in search mode, so you might need to reload and look again for the same site that was highlighted.
  • Latitude and longitude values have been randomly modified to avoid samples overcrowding specific sites, so they are not the original ones.

Y-DNA GIS tool

There are three versions:

  1. Labels with more specific subclades (including negative SNPs), using YTree for R1b samples (whenever it conflicts with YFull).
  2. Labels with YFull nomenclature.
  3. Simbols without labels (more symbols visible per layer).


mtDNA GIS tool

There are two versions:

  1. Symbols with labels.
  2. Symbols without labels.

NOTE. Because there are too many samples at the starting view, depending on the file you should zoom some levels to start seeing symbols.


Static Maps

The following maps offer a timeline of Y-DNA and mtDNA evolution, divided into static periods corresponding to the Prehistoric Atlas.

Y-DNA + culture maps

The following files use the YTree or otherwise more comprehensive nomenclature than YFull. Symbols have a similar value as those from the GIS tools.

  1. Anatomically Modern Humans (PDF)
  2. Upper Palaeolithic (PDF)
  3. Epipalaeolithic (PDF)
  4. Early Mesolithic (PDF)
  5. Late Mesolithic (PDF)
  6. Neolithic and hunter-gatherer pottery (PDF)
  7. Early Eneolithic (PDF)
  8. Late Eneolithic (PDF)
  9. Early Chalcolithic (PDF)
  10. Late Chalcolithic (PDF)
  11. Early Bronze Age (PDF)
  12. Middle Bronze Age (PDF)
  13. Late Bronze Age (PDF)
  14. Early Iron Age (PDF)
  15. Late Iron Age (PDF)
  16. Antiquity (PDF)
  17. Middle Ages (PDF)

mtDNA + culture maps

Colours have been assigned randomly to each macro-haplogroup.

  1. Anatomically Modern Humans (PDF)
  2. Upper Palaeolithic (PDF)
  3. Epipalaeolithic (PDF)
  4. Early Mesolithic (PDF)
  5. Late Mesolithic (PDF)
  6. Neolithic and hunter-gatherer pottery (PDF)
  7. Early Eneolithic (PDF)
  8. Late Eneolithic (PDF)
  9. Early Chalcolithic (PDF)
  10. Late Chalcolithic (PDF)
  11. Early Bronze Age (PDF)
  12. Middle Bronze Age (PDF)
  13. Late Bronze Age (PDF)
  14. Early Iron Age (PDF)
  15. Late Iron Age (PDF)
  16. Antiquity (PDF)
  17. Middle Ages (PDF)

See also

“Steppe ancestry” step by step (2019): Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age Eurasia


The recent update on the Indo-Anatolian homeland in the Middle Volga region and its evolution as the Indo-Tocharian homeland in the Don–Volga area as described in Anthony (2019) has, at last, a strong scientific foundation, as it relies on previous linguistic and archaeological theories, now coupled with ancient phylogeography and genomic ancestry.

There are still some inconsistencies in the interpretation of the so-called “Steppe ancestry”, though, despite the one and a half years that have passed since we first had access to the closest Pontic–Caspian steppe source populations. Even my post “Steppe ancestry” step by step from a year ago is already outdated.


The population selection process for models shown below included (1) plausibility of potential influences in the particular geographic and archaeological context; (2) looking for their clusters or particular samples in the PCA; and (3) testing with qpAdm for potential source populations that might have been involved in their development.

The results and graphics posted are therefore intended to simplistically show potential admixture events between populations potentially close to the actual sources of the target samples, whenever such mating networks could be supported by archaeology.

NOTE. This is an informal post and I am not a geneticist, so I am turning this flexibility to my advantage. If any reader is – for some strange reason – looking for a strict hypothesis testing, for the use of a full set of formal stats (as used e.g. in Ning et al. 2019 for Proto-Tocharians), and correctly redacted and peer-reviewed text, this is not the right place to find them.

An example pedigree (a) of a focal individual sampled in the modern day, placed in its geographic context to make the spatial pedigree (b). Dashed lines denote matings, and solid lines denote parentage, with red hues for the maternal ancestors and blue hues for the paternal ancestors. In the spatial pedigree, each plane represents a sampled region in a discrete (nonoverlapping) generation, and each dot shows the birth location of an individual. The pedigree of the focal individual is highlighted back through time and across space. Image modified from Bradburd and Ralph (2019).

Despite the natural impulse to draw straight mixture trajectories (see e.g. Wang et al. 2019), simply adding or subtracting samples used for a PCA shows how the plot is affected by different variables (see e.g. what happens by including more South Asian samples to the PCA below), hence the need to draw curved arrows – not necessarily representing a sizable drift; at least not in recent prehistoric admixture events for which we have a reasonable chronological transect.

Representation of mixture events between European prehistoric peoples in the PCA. Image modified from David Reich‘s Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018).

Ethnolinguistic identification is a risky business that brings back memories of an evil use of cultural history and its consequences (at least in Western Europe, where this tradition was discontinued after WWII), but it seems necessary for those of us who want to find some confirmation of proposed dialectal schemes and language contacts.

Eneolithic Steppe vs. Steppe Maykop

First things first: I tested Bronze Age Eurasian peoples for the only two true steppe populations sampled to date, as potential sources of their “Steppe ancestry” – conventionally described as an EHG:CHG admixture, similar to that found in the first sampled Yamnaya individuals. I used the rightpops of Wang et al. (2018), but with a catch: since authors used WHG as a leftpop and Villabruna as a rightpop, and I find that a little inconsequential*, I preferred the strategy in Ning et al. (2019), contrasting as outgroup Eneolithic_Steppe (ca. 4300 BC) vs. Steppe_Maykop (ca. 3500 BC) when testing for WHG as a source population.

*WHG usually includes samples from a ‘western’ cluster (Loschbour and La Braña) and an ‘eastern’ cluster (Villabruna and Koros), see Lipson et al. (2017). Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to include the same (or a very similar) population as a source AND an outgroup.

NOTE. For all other qpAdm analyses below, where WHG was not used as leftpop, I have used Villabruna as rightpop following Wang et al. (2019).

Map of samples and sites mentioned in Wang et al. (2019), modified from the original to include labels of Eneolithic_Steppe and Steppe_Maykop samples. See PCA and ADMIXTURE grahpic for the identification of specific samples.

Results are not much different from what has been reported. In general, Yamnaya and related groups such as Bell Beakers and Steppe-related Chalcolithic/Bronze Age populations show good fits for Eneolithic_Steppe as their closest source for Steppe ancestry, and bad fits for Steppe_Maykop, whereas Corded Ware groups show the opposite, supporting their known differences.

This trend seems to be tempered in some groups, though, most likely due the influence of Samara_LN-like admixture in Circum-Baltic Late Neolithic and Eastern Corded Ware groups, and the influence of Anatolia_N/EEF-like admixture in Balkan and late European CWC or BBC groups. In fact, the more EEF-related ancestry in a populatoin, the less reliable these generic models (and even specific ones) seem to become when distinguishing the Steppe-related source.

NOTE. For more on this, see the discussion on Circum-Baltic Corded Ware peoples, and the discussion on Mycenaeans and their potential source populations.

These are just broad strokes of what might have happened around the Pontic–Caspian steppes before and during the Early Bronze Age expansions. The most relevant quest right now for Indo-European studies is to ascertain the chain of admixture events that led to the development and expansion of Indo-Uralic and its offshoots, Indo-European and Uralic.

Eastern European Mesolithic with the expansion of Post-Swiderian cultures. See full map.

A history of Steppe ancestry

This post is divided in (more or less accurate) chronological developments as follows:

  1. Hunter-gatherer pottery and the steppes
  2. Khvalynsk and Sredni Stog
  3. Post-Stog and Proto-Corded Ware
  4. Yamnaya and Afanasievo

1. Hunter-gatherer pottery and the steppes

I laid out in the ASOSAH book series the general idea – based on attempts to reconstruct the linguistic ancestor of Indo-Uralic – that Eurasiatic speakers might have expanded with the North-Eastern Techno-Complex that spread through north-eastern Europe during the warm period represented by the transition of the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic.

If one were to trust the traditional migrationist view, a post-Swiderian population expanded from central-eastern Europe (potentially related originally to Epi-Gravettian peoples, represented by WHG ancestry) into north-eastern Europe, and then further east into the Trans-Urals, to then reappear in eastern Europe as a back-migration represented by the spread of hunter-gatherer pottery.

The marked shift from WHG-like towards EHG-related ancestry from Baltic Mesolithic (ca. 30%) to Combed Ware cultures (ca. 65%-100%) supports this continuous westward expansion, that is possibly best represented in the currently available sampling by the ‘south-eastern’ shift (CHG:ANE-related) of the hunter-gatherer from Lebyazhinka IV (5600 BC) relative to the older one from Sidelkino (9300 BC), both from the Samara region in the Middle Volga:

Mesolithic-Neolithic transition ca. 7000-6000 BC, with hunter-gatherer pottery groups spreading westwards. See full map.

From Anthony (2019):

Along the banks of the lower Volga many excavated hunting-fishing camp sites are dated 6200-4500 BC. They could be the source of CHG ancestry in the steppes. At about 6200 BC, when these camps were first established at Kair-Shak III and Varfolomievka, they hunted primarily saiga antelope around Dzhangar, south of the lower Volga, and almost exclusively onagers in the drier desert-steppes at Kair-Shak, north of the lower Volga. Farther north at the lower/middle Volga ecotone, at sites such as Varfolomievka and Oroshaemoe hunter-fishers who made pottery similar to that at Kair-Shak hunted onagers and saiga antelope in the desert-steppe, horses in the steppe, and aurochs in the riverine forests. Finally, in the Volga steppes north of Saratov and near Samara, hunter-fishers who made a different kind of pottery (Samara type) and hunted wild horses and red deer definitely were EHG. A Samara hunter-gatherer of this era buried at Lebyazhinka IV, dated 5600-5500 BC, was one of the first named examples of the EHG genetic type (Haak et al. 2015). This individual, like others from the same region, had no or very little CHG ancestry. The CHG mating network had not yet reached Samara by 5500 BC.

Given the lack of a proper geographical and chronological transect of ancient DNA from eastern European groups, and the discontinuous appearance of both R1b-M73 and R1b-M269 lineages on both sides of the Urals within the WHG:ANE cline, where EHG appears to have formed, it is impossible at this point to assert anything with enough degree of certainty. For simplicity purposes, though, I risked to equate the expansion of R1b-M73 in West Siberia as potentially associated with Micro-Altaic, and the expansion of hg. R1b-M269 with the spread of Indo-Uralic on both sides of the Urals.

NOTE. For incrementally speculative associations of languages with prehistoric cultures and their potential link to ancestry ± haplogroup expansions, you can check sections on Early Indo-Europeans and Uralians, Indo-Uralians, Altaic peoples, Eurasians, or Nostratians. I explained why I made these simplistic choices here.

While this identification of the Indo-Uralic expansion with hg. R1b is more or less straightforward for the Cis-Urals, given the available ancient DNA samples, it will be very difficult (if at all possible) to trace the migration of these originally R1b-M269-rich populations into Trans-Uralian groups that could eventually be linked to Yukaghir speakers. The sheer number of potential admixture events and bottlenecks in Siberian forest, taiga, and tundra regions since the Mesolithic until Yukaghirs were first attested is guaranteed to give more than one headache in upcoming years…

Spread of hunter-gatherer pottery in eastern Europe ca. 6000-5000 BC. See full map.

The slight increase in WHG-related ancestry in Ukraine Neolithic groups relative to Mesolithic ones questions the arrival of this eastern influence in the north Pontic area, or at least its relevance in genomic terms, although the cluster formed is similar to the previous one and to Combed Ware groups – despite the Central European and Baltic influences in the north Pontic region – with some samples showing 0% change relative to Mesolithic groups.

Structure and change in hunter-gatherer-related populations, from Mathieson et al. (2018). Inferred ancestry proportions for populations modelled as a mixture of WHG, EHG and CHG. Dashed lines show populations from the same geographic region. Percentages indicate proportion of WHG + EHG ancestry. Standard errors range from 1.5 to 8.3%.

NOTE. For more on Indo-Uralic and its reconstruction from a linguistic point of view, check out its dedicated section on ASOSAH, or the recently published (behind paywall) The Precursors of Proto-Indo-European, edited by Kloekhorst and Pronk, Brill (2019). Authors of specific chapters have posted their contributions to, where they can be downloaded for free.

2. Khvalynsk and Sredni Stog

The cluster formed by the three available samples of the Khvalynsk culture (early 5th millennium BC) might be described, as expected from its position in the PCA, as a mixture of EHG-like populations of the Middle Volga with CHG-like ancestry close to that represented by samples from Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, in the North Caucasus Piedmont (ca. 4300 BC):

This variable CHG-like admixture shown in the wide cluster formed by the available Khvalynsk-related samples support the interpretation of a recently created CHG mating network in Anthony (2019):

After 5000 BC domesticated animals appeared in these same sites in the lower Volga, and in new ones, and in grave sacrifices at Khvalynsk and Ekaterinovka. CHG genes and domesticated animals flowed north up the Volga, and EHG genes flowed south into the North Caucasus steppes, and the two components became admixed. After approximately 4500 BC the Khvalynsk archaeological culture united the lower and middle Volga archaeological sites into one variable archaeological culture that kept domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle (and possibly horses). In my estimation, Khvalynsk might represent the oldest phase of PIE.

Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Neolithic clusters with the hypothesized gene flows related to (1) the formation and (2) expansion of Khvalynsk and the (3) emergence of late Sredni Stog. See full image.

The richest copper assemblage found in all Khvalynsk burials belongs to an individual of hg. R1b-V1636 and intermediate Samara_HG:Eneolithic_Steppe ancestry, while full Eneolithic_Steppe-like admixture in the Middle Volga is represented by the commoner of Khvalynsk II, of hg. Q1. The finding of hg. R1b-V1636 in the North Caucasus Piedmont – and R1b-P297 in the Samara region (probably including Yekaterinovka) begs the question of the origin of hg. R1b-V1636 in the Khvalynsk community. Based on its absence in ancient samples from the forest zone, it is tempting to assign it to steppe hunter-gatherers down the Lower Volga and possibly to the east of it, who infiltrated the Samara region precisely during these population movements described by Anthony (2019).

Suvorovo-related samples from the Balkans, including the Varna and Smyadovo outliers of Steppe ancestry, are closely related to the Khvalynsk expansion:

Similarly, the ancestry of late Sredni Stog samples from Dereivka seem to be directly related to the expansion of Mariupol-like individuals over populations of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka-like admixture, as suggested by the resurgence of typical Ukraine Neolithic haplogroups, the shift in the PCA, and the models of Eneolithic_Steppe vs. Steppe_Maykop above:

#EDIT (11 Nov 2019): In fact, the position of the unpublished Greece_Neolithic outlier that appeared in the Wang et al. (2018) preprint (see full PCA and ADMIXTURE) show that the expanding Suvorovo chiefs from the Balkans formed a tight cluster close to the two published outliers with Steppe ancestry from Bulgaria.

The Ukraine_Neolithic outlier, possibly a Novodanilovka-related sample suggests, based on its position in the PCA close to the late Trypillian outlier of Steppe-related ancestry, that Ukraine_Eneolithic samples from Dereivka are a mixture of Ukraine_Neolithic and a Novodanilovka-like community similar to Suvorovo.

The Trypillian_Eneolithic-like admixture found among Proto-Corded Ware peoples (see below) would then feature potentially a small Steppe_Eneolithic-like component already present in the north Pontic area, too.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here.

Furthermore, whereas Anthony (2019) mentions a long-lasting predominance of hg. R1b in elite graves of the Eneolithic Volga basin, not a single sample of hg. R1a is mentioned supporting the community formed by the Alexandria individual, supposedly belonging to late Sredni Stog groups, but with a Corded Ware-like genetic profile (suggesting yet again that it is possibly a wrongly dated sample).

NOTE. A lack of first-hand information rather than an absence of R1a-M417 samples in the north Pontic forest-steppes would not be surprising, since Anthony is involved in the archaeology of the Middle Volga, but not in that of the north Pontic area.

Khvalynsk expansion through the Pontic–Caspian steppes in the early 5th millennium BC. See full map.

3. Post-Stog and Proto-Corded Ware

The origin of the Pre-Corded Ware ancestry is still a mystery, because of the heterogeneity of the sampled groups to date, and because the only ancestral sample that had a compatible genetic profile – I6561 from Alexandria – shows some details that make its radiocarbon date rather unlikely.

The most likely explanation for the closest source population of Corded Ware groups, found in the three core samples of Steppe_Maykop and in Trypillian Eneolithic samples from the first half of the 4th millennium BC, is still that a population of north Pontic forest-steppe hunter-gatherers hijacked this kind of ancestry, that was foreign to the north Pontic region before the Late Eneolithic period, later expanding east and west through the Podolian–Volhynian upland, due to the complex population movements of the Late Eneolithic.

NOTE. The idea of Trypillia influencing the formation of the Steppe_MLBA ancestry proper of Uralic peoples has been around for quite some time already, since the publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) (see here or here).

Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Corded Ware groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, with hypothesized gene flows related to the (1) formation and (2) initial expansion of Pre-Corded Ware ancestry, as well as (3) later regional admixture events. See full image.

The specifics of how the Proto-Corded Ware community emerged remain unclear at this point, despite the simplistic description by Rassamakin (1999) of the Late Eneolithic north Pontic population movements as a two-stage migration of 1) late Trypillian groups (Usatovo) west → east, and (2) Late Maykop–Novosvobodnaya east → west. So, for example, Manzura (2016) on the Zhivotilovka “cultural-historical horizon” (emphasis mine):

Indeed, the very complex combination of different cultural traits in the burial sites of the Zhivotilovka type is able to generate certain problems in the search for the origins of this phenomenon. The only really consistent attribute is the burial rite in contracted position on the left or right side. Yu. Rassamakin is correct in asserting that this position of the deceased can be considered as new in the North Pontic region (Rassamakin 1999, 97). However, this opinion can be accepted only partially for the territory between Dniester and Lower Don. This position is well known in the Usatovo culture in the Northwest Pontic region, although skeletons on the right side are evidenced there only in double burials, whereas single burials contain the deceased only in a contracted position on the left side. On the other hand, the southern and western orientation of the deceased, which is one of the main burial traits of the Zhivotilovka type, is not characteristic of the Usatovo culture. Nevertheless, it is possible to suppose that at least part of the Usatovo population could have played a part in the formation of the cultural type under consideration here. One aspect of this cultural tradition, for instance, could be represented by skeletons on the left side and oriented in north-eastern and eastern directions.

Especially close ties can be traced between the Zhivotilovka and Maykop-Novosvobodnaya traditions, as exemplified by similar burial customs and various grave goods. It is beyond any doubt that the Maykop-Novosvobodnaya population was actively involved in the spread of the main Zhivotilovka cultural traits. The influence of North Caucasian traditions can be well observed, at least as far as the Dnieper Basin, but farther west influence is not manifested pronouncedly. The role of cultural units situated between the Dniester and Don rivers in the process of emergence of the Zhivotilovka type looks somewhat vague. Now, it can be quite confidently asserted that at the end of the 4th millennium BC this territory was settled by migrants from the North Caucasus and Carpathian-Dniester region. This event in theory had to stimulate cultural transformations in the Azov-Black Sea steppes and, thus, bearers of local cultural traditions perhaps could have participated in forming the culture under consideration. In any event, the Zhivotilovka type can be regarded as a complex phenomenon that emerged within the regime of intensive cultural dialogue and that it absorbed totally diff erent cultural traditions. The spread of the Zhivotilovka graves across the Pontic steppes from the Carpathians to the Lower Don or even to the Kuban Basin clearly signalizes a rapid dissolution of former cultural borders and the beginning of active movements of people, things and ideas over vast territories.


What were the factors or reasons that could have provoked this event? In the beginning of the second half of the 4th millennium BC two advanced cultural centers emerged in the south of Eastern Europe. These were the Maykop-Novosvobodnaya and Usatovo cultures, which in spite of their separation by great distances were structurally very alike. This is expressed in similar monumental burial architecture, complex burial rites, even the composition of grave goods, developed bronze metallurgy, high standards of material culture, etc. Both cultures in a completely formed state exemplify prosperous societies with a high level of economic and social organization, which can correspond to the type of ranked or early complex societies. Normally, the social elite in such polities tends to rigidly control basic domains social, economic and spiritual life using different mechanisms, even open compulsion (Earle 1987, 294-297). To some extent similar social entities can be found at this moment in the forest-steppe zone of the Carpathian-Dniester region, as reflected by the well organized settlement of Brânzeni III and the Vykhatitsy cemetery (Маркевич 1981; Дергачев 1978). In spite of their complex character, such societies represent rather friable structures, which could rapidly disintegrate due to unfavourable inner or external factors.

The societies in question emerged and existed during a time of favourable natural climatic conditions, which is considered to be a transitional period from the Atlantic to the Subboreal period, lasting approximately from 3600 to 3300 cal BC, or a climatic optimum for the steppe zone (Иванова и др. 2011, 108; Спиридонова, Алешинская 1999, 30-31). These conditions to a large degree could guarantee a stable exploitation of basic resources and support existing social hierarchies. However, after 3300 cal BC significant climatic changes occurred, accompanied by an increasing aridization and fall in temperature. This event is usually termed the “Piora oscillation” or “Rapid Climatic Event”, and is regarded as having been of global character (Magny, Haas 2004). These rapid changes could have seriously disturbed existing economic and social relations and finally provoked a similar rapid disintegration of complex social structures. In this case the sites of the Zhivotilovka type could represent mere fragments of former prosperous societies, which under conditions of the absence of centralized social control and stable cultural borders tried to recombine social and economic ties. However, the population possessed the necessary social experience and important technological resources, such as developed stock-breeding based on the breeding of small cattle and wheeled transport, so they were ready for opening new territories in their search for a better life.

Disintegration, migration, and imports of the Azov–Black Sea region. First migration event (solid arrows): Gordineşti–Maikop expansion (groups: I – Bursuchensk; II – Zhyvotylivka; III – Vovchans’k; IV – Crimean; V – Lower Don; VI – pre-Kuban). Second migration event (hollow arrows): Repin expansion. After Rassamakin (1999), Demchenko (2016).

For more on chronology and the potentially larger, longer-lasting Zhivotilovka–Volchansk–Gordineşti cultural horizon and its expansion through the Podolian–Volhynian upland, read e.g. on the Yampil Complex in the latest volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies (2017):

In the forest-steppe zone of the North-West Pontic area, important data concerning the chronological position of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group have been produced by the exploration of the Bursuceni kurgan, which is still awaiting full publication [Yarovoy 1978; cf. also Demcenko 2016; Manzura 2016]. Burials linked with the mentioned group were stratigraphically the eldest in the kurgan, and pre-dated a burial in the extended position and [Yamnaya culture] graves. Two of these burials (features 20 and 21) produced radiocarbon dates falling around 3350-3100 BC [Petrenko, Kovaliukh 2003: 108, Tab. 7]. Similar absolute age determinations were obtained for Podolia kurgans at Prydnistryanske [Goslar et al. 2015]. These dates, falling within the Late Eneolithic, mark the currently oldest horizon of kurgan burials in the forest-steppe zone of the North-West Pontic area. The Podolia graves linked with other, older traditions of the steppe Eneolithic seem to represent a slightly later horizon dated to the transition between the Late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age.

The presence on the left bank of the Dniester River of kurgans associated with the Eneolithic tradition, which at the same time reveals connections with the Gordineşti-Kasperovce-Horodiştea complex, raises questions about the western range of the new trend in funerary rituals, and its potential connection with the expansion of the late Trypilia culture to the West Podolia and West Volhynia Regions. The data potentially suggesting the attribution of kurgans from the upper Dniester basin to this period is patchy and difficult to verify [e.g. Liczkowce – see Sulimirski 1968: 173]. In this context, the discovery of vessels in the Gordineşti style in a kurgan at Zawisznia near Sokal is inspiring [Antoniewicz 1925].

Burials representing funerary traditions of Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group in Podolie kurgans: 1 – Porohy, grave 3A/7, 2 – Kuzmin, grave 2/2 [after Klochko et al. 2015b, Bubulich, Khakhey 2001]

Another interesting aspect of potential source populations, in combination with those above for Eneolithic_Steppe vs. Steppe_Maykop, are groups with worse fits for Steppe_Maykop_core, which include Potapovka and Srubnaya, as reported by Wang et al. (2018), but also Sintastha_MLBA (although not Andronovo). This is compatible with the long-term admixture of Abashevo chiefs dominating over a majority of Poltavka-like herders in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes during the formation of the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community, also visible in the typical Yamnaya lineages and Yamnaya-like ancestry still appearing in the region centuries after the change in power structures had occurred.

NOTE. If you feel tempted to test for mixtures of Khvalynsk_EN, Eneolithic_Steppe, Yamnaya, etc. as a source population for Corded Ware, go for it, but it’s almost certain to give similar ‘good’ fits – whatever the model – in some Corded Ware groups and not in others. It is still unclear, as far as I know, how to formally distinguish a mixture of Corded Ware-related from a Yamnaya-related source in the same model, and the results obtained with a combination of Steppe_Maykop-related + Eneolithic_Steppe-related sources will probably artificially select either one or the other source, as it probably happened in Ning et al. (2019) with Proto-Tocharian samples (see qpAdm values) that most likely had a contribution of both, based on their known intense interactions in the Tarim Basin.

Expansion of north Pontic cultures and related groups during the Late Eneolithic. See full map.

#EDIT (22 NOV 2019): New preprint Gene-flow from steppe individuals into Cucuteni-Trypillia associated populations indicates long-standing contacts and gradual admixture, by Immel et al. bioRxiv (2019), on Gordinești samples from Moldova ca. 3500-3100 BC. Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

A principal component analysis of the four Moldova females together with previously published data sets of ancient Eurasians showed that Gordinești, Pocrovca 1 and Pocrovca 3 grouped with later dating Bell Beakers from Germany and Hungary close to the four CTC males from Verteba, while Pocrovca 2 fell into the LBK cluster next to Neolithic farmers from Anatolia and Starčevo individual.

When looking at various proxies for steppe-related ancestry (Yamnaya Samara, Ukraine Mesolithic, Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG), Eastern hunter gatherer (EHG)), we did not observe any significant difference in genetic influx from either Yamnaya Samara, EHG or Ukraine Mesolithic. However, relative to CHG, we detected a substantial shift towards Yamnaya Samara steppe-related ancestry. Consequently, Yamnaya Samara, Ukraine Mesolithic and EHG appear to be equally suitable proxies for steppe-related ancestry in the Moldovan CTC individuals.

We did not obtain feasible models when running qpAdm on the X-chromosome in order to test for male-biased admixture from hunter-gatherers or individuals with steppe-related ancestry.

It is not surprising that Gordinești, Pocrovca 1 and Pocrovca 3 showed genetic affinities with later dating Bronze Age or Bell Beaker individuals. The common link among them is the considerable steppe-related ancestry, which each group likely received independently from different parental populations.

Principal component analysis of the CTC individuals from Moldova (Gordinești, Pocrovca 1, Pocrovca 2, Pocrovca 3) in red and the CTC individuals from Verteba Cave (I1926, I2110, I2111, I3151) in blue together with 23 selected ancient populations/individuals projected onto a basemap of 58 modern-day West Eurasian populations (not shown). HG=hunter-gatherer, LBK=Linearbandkeramik, PU=Proto-Unetice, TRB=Trichterbecher (Funnel Beaker Culture, FBC). PC1 is shown on the x-axis and PC2 on the y-axis.

4. Yamnaya and Afanasievo

I don’t think it makes much sense to test for GAC (or Iberia_CA, for that matter) as Wang et al. (2019) did, given the implausibility of them taking part in the formation of late Repin during the mid-4th millennium BC around the Don-Volga interfluve (represented by its offshoots Yamnaya and Afanasievo), whether these or other EEF-related populations show ‘better’ fits or not. Therefore, I only tested for more or less straightforward potential source populations:

Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Yamnaya groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, with hypothesized gene flows related to its (1) formation and (2) expansion. Also included is the inferred position of the admixed sample Yamnaya_Hungary_EBA1. See full image.

Quite unexpectedly – for me, at least – it appears that Afanasievo and Yamnaya invariably prefer Khvalynsk_EN as the closest source rather than a combination including Eneolithic_Steppe directly. In other words, late Repin shows largely genetic continuity with the Steppe ancestry already shown by the three sampled individuals from the Khvalynsk II cemetery, in line with the known strong bottlenecks of Khvalynsk-related groups under R1b lineages, visible also later in Afanasievo and Yamnaya and derived Indo-European-speaking groups under R1b-L23 subclades.

NOTE. This explains better the reported bad fits of models using directly Eneolithic_Steppe instead of Khvalynsk_EN for Afanasievo and Yamnaya Kalmykia, as is readily evident from the results above, instead of a rejection of an additional contribution to an Eneolithic_Steppe-like population, as I interpreted it, based on Anthony (2019).

Map of major sites of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group (A) and Repin culture (B), by Rassamakin (see 1994 and 2013). (A) 1 – Primorskoye; 2 – Vasilevka; 3 – Aleksandrovka; 4 – Boguslav; 5 – Pavlograd; 6 – Zhivotilovka; 7 – Podgorodnoye; 8 – Novomoskovsk; 9- Sokolovo; 10 – Dneprelstan; 11- Razumovka; 12 – Pologi; 13 – Vinogradnoye; 14 – Novo-Filipovka; 15 – Volchansk; 16 – Yuryevka; 17 – Davydovka; 18 – Novovorontsovka; 19 – Ust-Kamenka; 20 – Staroselye; 21- Velikaya Aleksandrovka; 22- Kovalevka; 23 – Tiraspol; 24 – Cura-Bykuluy; 25 – Roshkany; 26 – Tarakliya; 27 – Kazakliya; 28 – Bolgrad; 29 – Sarateny; 30 – Bursucheny; 31 – Novye Duruitory; 232 – Kosteshty. (B) 1 – Podgorovka; 2 – Aleksandria; 3 – Volonterovka; 4 – Zamozhnoye; 5 – Kremenevka; 6 – Ogorodnoye; 7 – Boguslav; 8 – Aleksandrovka; 9 – Verkhnaya Mayevka; 10 – Duma Skela; 11 – Zamozhnoye; 12 – Mikhailovka II.

This might suggest that the Steppe ancestry visible in samples from Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, sharing the same cluster with the Khvalynsk II cemetery commoner of hg. Q1, most likely represents North Caspian or Black Sea–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherer ancestry that increased as Khvalynsk settlers expanded to the south-west towards the Greater Caucasus, probably through female exogamy. That would mean that Steppe_Maykop potentially represents the ‘original’ ancestry of steppe hunter-gatherers of the North Caucasus steppes, which is also weakly supported by the available similar admixture of the Lola culture. The chronology, geographical location and admixture of both clusters seemed to indicate the opposite.

Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Additional ‘eastern’ AG-Siberian gene flow in Steppe Maykop relative to Eneolithic Steppe. From Wang et al. (2019).

Due to the limitations of the currently available sampling and statistical tools, and barring the dubious Alexandria outlier, it is unclear how much of the late Trypillian-related admixture of late Repin (as reflected in Yamnaya and Afanasievo) corresponds to late Trypillian, Post-Stog, or Proto-Corded Ware groups from the north Pontic area. A mutual exchange suggestive of a common mating network (also supported by the mixed results obtained when including Khvalynsk_EN as source for early Corded Ware groups) seem to be the strongest proof to date of the Late Proto-Indo-European – Uralic contacts reflected in the period when post-laryngeal vocabulary was borrowed (with some samples predating the merged laryngeal loss), before the period of intense borrowing from Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian.

Between-group differences of Yamnaya samples are caused – like those between Corded Ware groups – by the admixture of a rapidly expanding society through exogamy with regional populations, evidenced by the inconstant affinities of western or southern outliers for previous local populations of the west Pontic or Caucasus area. This explanation for the gradual increase in local admixture is also supported by the strong, long-term patrilineal system and female exogamy practiced among expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Groups of the Yamnaya culture and its western expansion after ca. 3100 BC, and Corded Ware after ca. 2900 BC See full map.

Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans

This Eneolithic_Steppe ancestry is also found among Bell Beaker groups (see above). More specifically, all Bell Beaker groups prefer a source closest to a combination of Yamnaya from the Don and Baden LCA individuals from Hungary, rather than with Corded Ware and GAC, despite the quite likely admixture of western Yamnaya settlers with (1) south-eastern European (west Pontic, Balkan) Chalcolithic populations during their expansion through the Lower Danube and with (2) late Corded Ware groups (already admixed with GAC-like populations) during their expansion as East Bell Beakers:

Similarly, Mycenaeans show good fits for a source close to the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria:

Detail of the PCA of Eurasian samples, including Bell Beaker and Balkan EBA groups and related clusters, as well as outliers, including ancestral Yamnaya samples from Hungary (position inferred) and Bulgaria. Also marked are Minoans, Mycenaeans and Armenian BA samples. See full image.

You can read more on Yamnaya-related admixture of Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans, and on Afanasievo-related admixture of Iron Age Proto-Tocharians.


The use of the concept of “Yamnaya ancestry”, then “Steppe ancestry” (and now even “Yamnaya Steppe ancestry“?) has already permeated the ongoing research of all labs working with human population genomics. Somehow, the conventional use of Yamnaya_Samara samples opposed to a combination of other ancient samples – alternatively selected among WHG, EHG, CHG/Iran_N, Anatolia_N, or ANE – has spread and is now unquestionably accepted as one of the “three quite distinct” ancestral groups that admixed to form the ancestry of modern Europeans, which is a rather odd, simplistic and anachronistic description of prehistory…

It has now become evident that authors involved with the Proto-Indo-European homeland question – and the tightly intertwined one of the Proto-Uralic homeland – are going to dedicate a great part of the discussion of many future papers to correct or outright reject the conclusions of previous publications, instead of simply going forward with new data.

The most striking argument to mistrust the current use of “Steppe ancestry” (as an alternative name for Yamnaya_Samara, and not as ancestry proper of steppe hunter-gatherers) is not the apparent difference in direct Eneolithic sources of Steppe ancestry for Corded Ware and Yamnaya-related peoples – closer to the available samples classified as Steppe_Maykop and Eneolithic_Steppe, respectively – or their different evolution under marked Y-DNA bottlenecks.

It is not even the lack of information about the distant origin of these Pontic–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, with their shared ancestral component potentially separated during the warmer Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition, when the steppes were settled, without necessarily sharing any meaningful recent history before the formation of the Proto-Indo-Uralic community.

NOTE. I have raised this question multiple times since 2017 (see e.g. here or here).

The most striking paradox about simplistically misinterpreting “Steppe ancestry” as representative of Indo-European expansions is that those sub-Neolithic Pontic–Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers that had this ancestry in the 6th millennium BC were probably non-Indo-European-speaking communities, most likely related to the North(West) Caucasian language family, based on the substrate of Indo-Anatolian that sets it apart from Uralic within the Indo-Uralic trunk, and on later contacts of Indo-Tocharian with North-West Caucasian and Kartvelian, the former probably represented by Maykop and its contact with the Repin and early Yamnaya cultures.

NOTE. For more on this, see Allan Bomhard’s recent paper on the Caucasian substrate hypothesis and its ongoing supplement Additional Proto-Indo-European/Northwest Caucasian Lexical Parallels.

“Spatiotemporal kriging of YAM steppe ancestry during the Holocene, using 5000 spatial grid points. The colors represent the predicted ancestry proportion at each point in the grid.” Image with evolution from ca. 2800 BC until the present day, modified from Racimo et al. (2019). The Copenhagen group considers the expansion of this component as representative of expanding Indo-Europeans…

This kind of error happens because we all – hence also authors, peer reviewers, and especially journal editors – love far-fetched conclusions and sensational titles, forgetting what a paper actually shows and – always more importantly in scientific reports – what it doesn’t show. This is particularly true when more than one field is involved and when extraordinary claims involve aspects foreign to the journal’s (and usually the own authors’) main interests. One would have thought that the glottochronological fiasco published in Science in 2012 (open access in PMC) should have taught an important lesson to everyone involved. It didn’t, because apparently no one has felt the responsibility or the shame to retract that paper yet, even in the age of population genomics.

If anything, the excesses of mathematical linguistics – using computational methods to try and reconstruct phylogenetic trees – have perpetuated a form of misunderstood Scientism which blindly relies on a simple promise made by authors in the Materials and Method section (rarely if ever kept beyond it) to use statistics rather than resorting to the harder, well-informed, comprehensive reasoning that is needed in the comparative method. After all, why should anyone invest hundreds of hours (or simply show an interest in) learning about historical linguistics, about ancient Indo-European or Uralic languages, carefully argumenting and discussing each and every detail of the reconstruction, when one can simply rely on the own guts to decide what is Science and what isn’t? When one can trust a promise that formulas have been used?

The conservative, null hypothesis when studying prehistoric Eurasian samples related to evolving cultures was universally understood as no migration, or “pots not people” (as most western archaeologists chose to believe until recently), whereas the alternative one should have been that there were in fact migration events, some of them potentially related to the expansion of Eurasian languages ancestral to the historically attested ones. Beyond this migrationist view there were obviously dozens of thorough theories concerning potential linguistic expansions associated with specific prehistoric cultures, and a myriad of less developed alternatives, all of which deserved to be evaluated after the null hypothesis had been rejected.

Despite the shortcomings of the 2015 papers and their lack of testing or discussion of different language expansion models, the spread of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” – an admixture especially prevalent (after the demise of the Yamnaya) among the most likely ancient Uralic-speaking groups as well as among modern Uralic speakers and recently acculturated groups from Eastern Europe – has been nevertheless invariably concluded by each lab to support the theories of their leading archaeologist, often combined with pre-aDNA theories of geneticists based on modern haplogroup distributions. This is as evident a case of confirmation bias, circular reasoning, and jumping to conclusions as it gets.

Why many researchers of other labs have chosen to follow such conclusions instead of challenging or simply ignoring them is difficult to understand.


Proto-Tocharians: From Afanasievo to the Tarim Basin through the Tian Shan


A reader commented recently that there is little information about Indo-Europeans from Central and East Asia in this blog. Regardless of the scarce archaeological data compared to European prehistory, I think it is premature to write anything detailed about population movements of Indo-Iranians in Asia, especially now that we are awaiting the updates of Narasimhan et al (2018).

Furthermore, there was little hope that Tocharians would be different than neighbouring Andronovo-like populations (see a recent post on my predicted varied admixture of Common Tocharians), so the history of both unrelated Late PIE languages would have had to be explained by the admixture of Afanasievo-related groups with peoples of Andronovo descent and their acculturation.

However, data reported recently by Ning, Wang et al. Current Biology (2019) confirmed that peoples of mainly Afanasievo ancestry – as opposed to those of Corded Ware-related ancestry expanding with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon – spread the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European from the Altai into the Tian Shan area, surviving essentially unadmixed into the Early Iron Age.

This genetic continuity of Tocharians will no doubt help us disentangle a great part the ethnolinguistic history of speakers of the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European, from Pre-Proto-Tocharians of Afanasievo to Common Tocharians of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age eastern Tian Shan.

NOTE. Tocharian’s isolation from the rest of Late PIE dialects and its early and intense language contacts have always been the key to support an early migration and physical separation of the group, hence the traditional association with Afanasievo, a late Repin/early Yamna offshoot. Even with the current incomplete archaeological and genetic picture, there is no other option left for the expansion of Tocharian.

It is not possible to use the currently available ancestry data to map the evolution of Afanasievo ancestry, lacking a proper geographical and temporal transect of Central and East Asian groups. In spite of this, Ning, Wang, et al. (2019) is a huge leap forward, discarding some archaeological models, and leaving only a few potential routes by which Tocharians may have spread southward from the Altai.

NOTE. I have updated the maps of prehistoric cultures accordingly, with colours – as always – reflecting the language/ancestry evolution of the different groups, even though the archaeological data of some groups of Xinjiang remains scarce, so their ethnolinguistic attribution – and the colours picked for them – remain tentative.

A rough timeline of related archaeological sites from North Eurasia. Image modified from Yang (2019).


The recent book Ancient China and its Eurasian Neighbors. Artifacts, Identity and Death in the Frontier, 3000–700 BCE, by Linduff, Sun, Cao, and Liu, Cambridge University Press (2017) offers an interesting summary of the introduction of metalworking into western China.

Here are some relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Although [the Xinjiang] route is not uniformly agreed upon (Shelach-Lavi 2009: 134–46), this western transmission has been thought to have passed through eastern Kazakhstan, especially as it is manifest in Semireiche, with Yamnaya, Afanasievo (copper) and Andronovo (tin bronze) peoples (Mei 2000: Fig. 3). From Xinjiang this knowledge has been thought to have traveled through the Gansu Corridor via the Qijia peoples (Bagley 1999) and then into territories controlled by dynastic China. The dating of this process is still a problem, as the sites and their contents in Xinjiang are consistently later than those in Gansu, suggesting that the point of contact was in Gansu and that the knowledge then spread from there westward.

1. Eneolithic Altai

Afanasievo expansion ca. 3300-2600 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

The Afanasievo sites, as they are identified in Mongolia, for instance, make up an Eneolithic culture analogous to that of southern Siberia (3100/2500–2000 BCE) in the Upper Yenissei Valley that is characterized by copper tools and an economy reliant on horse, sheep and cattle breeding as well as hunting. (…) The Afanasievo is best known through study of its burials, which typically include groups of round barrows (kurgans), each up to 12 m in diameter with a stone kerb and covering a central pit grave containing multiple inhumations. In their Siberian context, burial pottery types and styles have suggested contacts with the slightly earlier Kelteminar culture of the Aral and Caspian Sea area.

The Afanasievo culture monuments, located in the northern Altai and in the Minusinsk Basin (the western Sayan), have been seen as analogous evidence for cross-Eurasian exchange. These complexes contain small collections of metal, and many of the items are made of brass, although golden, silver and iron ornaments were also identified. A mere one-fourth of these objects are tools and ornaments, while the rest consist of unshaped remains and semi-manufactured objects. Its metallurgical tradition has recently been dated by Chernykh to as early as 3100 to 2700 BCE (1992),making it more compatible chronologically with the early brass-using sites in Shaanxi mentioned above. Kovalev and Erdenebaatar have excavated barrows in Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia, that have been carbon-dated to the first half of the third millennium BCE and associated by ceramic types and styles and burial patterns with the Afanasievo (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: 357–58). These mounded kurgans were covered with stone and housed rectangular, wooden-faced tombs that included Afanasievo-type bronze awls, plates and small “leaf-shaped” knife blades (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 6 and 7).

They also excavated sites belonging to the more recently identified Chemurchek archaeological culture, located in the foothills of the Mongolian Altai (Kovalev 2014, 2015) (Fig. 2.6). These sites are carbon-dated to the same period as the Afanasievo burials or to c. 3100/2500–1800 BCE (six barrows in Khovd aimag and four in Bayan-Ulgo aimag). In the rectangular stone kerbed Chemurchek slab burials (Ulaaanhus sum, Bayan-ul’gi aimag and so forth), bronze items included awls; and at Khovd aimag, Bulgan sum, in addition to stone sculptures, three lead and one bronze ring were excavated (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 2 and 3; Fig. 2.6). Although we will not know if they were produced locally until much further investigation is undertaken, these discoveries do document knowledge of various uses and types of metal objects in western and south central Mongolia. The types of metal items thus far recovered are simple tools (awls) and rings (ornamental?) not unlike those associated with Andronovo archaeological cultures as well.

This is a complex circumstance where archaeological evidence is not complete, but raises very important questions about transmission of metallurgical knowledge to and from areas in present-day China. In the 1970s some Afanasievo mounds were excavated in Central Mongolia by a Soviet–Mongolian expedition led by V. V. Volkov and E. A. Novgorodova (Novgorodova 1989: 81–85). Unfortunately, these mounds did not yield metal objects, only ceramics, but they show that the Afanasievo culture with the Eneolithic metallurgical tradition of manufacturing pure copper items had already moved east at least far as central Mongolia. In 2004, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar investigated a large Afanasievo mound, Kulala ula, in the extreme northwest of Mongolia, near the Russian border (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). There they found a copper knife and awl (Fig. 2.5). There are five C14 dates on wood, coal and human bones from this mound, which belong to the period 2890–2570 BCE. This shows that the Afanasievo culture were carriers of technology and produced artifacts in the first half of the third millennium BCE and that they also moved south along the foothills of the Mongolian Altai. Afanasievo culture in Altai and the Minusinsk basin is dated by C14 to 3600–2500 BCE (Svyatko et al. 2009; Polyakov 2010). In the north of Xinjiang in the Altai district, several typical egg-shaped vessels and two censers of Afanasievo types were found. Some of these have been obtained from the stone boxes (chambers of megalithic graves of the Chemurchek culture) (Kovalev 2011). Thus, the Afanasievo tradition of pure copper metallurgy must have spread to the northern foothills of the Tienshan Mountains no later than the mid-third millennium BCE. The links with Afanasievo and local cultures adjacent to and south of the mountains into present-day China can now be assumed.

Afanasievo – Chemurchek evolution ca. 2600-2200 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

2. Bronze Age Altai

Kovalev and Erdenebaatar (2014a) and later Tishkin, Grushin, Kovalev and Munkhbayar (2015) in Western Mongolia conducted large-scale excavations of megalithic barrows of the Chemurchek culture (dated about 2600–1800 BCE). This peculiar culture appeared in Dzungaria and the Mongolian Altai in the second quarter of the third millennium BCE and for some time existed together with the late Afanasievo culture, as evidenced by the findings of Afanasievo ceramics in Chemurchek graves, in the stone boxes. Unfortunately, in China we do not yet know of any metal object related,without doubt, to the Chemurchek culture. Kovalev, Erdenebaatar, Tishkin and Grushin found several leaden ear rings and one ring of tin bronze in three excavated Chemurchek stone boxes (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a; Tishkin et al. 2015). Such lead rings are typical for Elunino culture,which occupied the entire West Altai after 2400–2300 BCE (Tishkin et al. 2015). This culture had developed a tradition of bronze metallurgy with various dopants, primarily tin. Thus, the tradition of bronze metallurgy as early as this time could have penetrated the Mongolian Altai far to the south. In addition, in the Hadat ovoo Chemurchek stone box, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar discovered stone vessels refurbished with the help of copper “patches,” indicating the presence there of metallurgical production (Fig. 2.7) (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a). In one of the secondary

Chemurchek graves unearthed by Kovalev and Erdenebaatar in Bayan-Ulgi (2400–2220 BCE), a bronze awl was found (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). Kovalev and Erdenebaatar also discovered a new culture in the territory of Mongolia (Map 2.3), one that begins immediately after Chemurchek – Munkh-Khairkhan culture (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009, 2014b). To date, about 17 mounds of this culture have been excavated in Khovd, Zavkhan, Khovsgol, Bulgan aimag of Mongolia. This culture dates from about 1800 to 1500 BCE, that is, contemporary with the Andronovo culture. Therefore, the Andronovo culture does not extend far into the territory of Mongolia. Three knives without dedicated handles or stems and five awls have been found in the Munkh-Khairkhan culture mounds (Fig. 2.8). All these products are made of tin bronze. (…) Additionally, eight Late Bronze Age burials (c. 1400–1100 BCE) were unearthed in the Bulgan sum of Khovd aimag and belong to another previously unknown culture called Baitag. And in the Gobi Altai, a new group of “Tevsh” sites dating to the Late Bronze Age were defined in Bayankhongor and South Gobi aimags (Miyamoto and Obata 2016: 42–50). From these Tevsh and Baitag sites, we see the expansion of burial goods to include beads of semiprecious stones (carnelian), bronze beads, buttons and rings and even the famous elaborate golden hair ornaments (Tevsh uul;Bogd sum;Uverkhanagia aimag) from the Baitag barrows (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Fig. 5; Miyamoto and Obata 2016).

2.1. Chemurchek

About the Chemurchek culture, from A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4):

The major characteristics of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I include:

  1. Burials with two orientations of approximately 20° or 345°.
  2. Rectangular enclosures built using large stone slabs. The size of the enclosure varies from a maximum of 28 x 30 m.*to a minimum of 10.5 x 4.4 m. (Figure 8, Table 2).
  3. *The stone enclosure located near Hayinar is the largest one at approximately 30 x 40 m. based on pacing of the site during a visit by the authors in 2008.

  4. Almost life-sized anthropomorphic stone stelae erected along one side of the stone enclosures (Lin Yun 2008).
  5. Single enclosures tend to contain one or more than one burial, all or some with stone cist coffins.
  6. The cist coffin is usually constructed using five large stone slabs, four for the sides and one on top, leaving bare earth at the base (Zhang Yuzhong 2007). Sometimes the insides of the slabs have simple painted designs (Zhang Yuzhong 2005).
  7. Primary and secondary burials occur in the same grave.
  8. Some decapitated bodies (up to 20) may be associated with the main burial in one cist.
  9. Bodies are commonly placed on the back or side with the legs drawn up.
  10. Grave goods include stone and bronze arrowheads, handmade gray or brown round-bottomed ovoid jars, and small numbers of flat-bottomed jars (Fig. 7).
  11. Clay lamps appear to occur together with roundbottomed jars.
  12. Complex incised decoration on ceramics is common but some vessels are undecorated.
  13. The stone vessels are distinctive for the high quality of manufacture.
  14. Stone moulds indicate relatively sophisticated metallurgical expertise.
  15. Artefacts made from pure copper occur.
  16. Sheep knucklebones (astragali) imply a tradition (as in historical and modern times) of keeping knucklebones for ritual or other purposes. They also indicate the herding of domestic sheep as part of the subsistence economy.
Chemurchek culture ca. 2200-1750 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Chemurchek dating

Available evidence suggests that the date range for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I should fall from the later third into the early second millennium BC. There are several reasons to suggest that the time span is around the early second millennium BC. Lin Yun (2008) (…) maintains that the bronze artefacts found in Phase I show a greater sophistication in the level of copper alloy technology than that of the pure copper artefacts common to the Afanasievo tradition. On this basis it might be suggested that the Afanasievo could be considered to be Chalcolithic with a time span across much of the third millennium BC ( Gorsdorf et al. 2004: 86, Fig. 1). Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, however, should more properly be considered as Bronze Age.

Lin Yun also used the bronze arrowhead from burial Ml 7 to narrow down the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Two arrowheads were found in this burial, one of them leaf shaped with a single barb on the back (Fig. 7:4). A similar arrowhead, together with its casting mould, has been found at the Huoshaogou site of Siba tradition (Li Shuicheng 2005, Sun Shuyun and Han Rufen 1997), in Gansu province, northwest China, dated around 2000-1800 BC (Li Shuicheng and Shui Tao 2000) . This supports a date in the early second millennium BC for the Qiemu’erqieke arrowhead. The painted, round-bottomed jar from the Tianshanbeilu cemetery Qia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008: Fig. 7, bottom left) has been considered as a hybrid between the Upper Yellow River Bronze Age cultures of Siba in northwest China and the steppe tradition of Qiemu’erqieke in west Siberia (Li Shuicheng 1999). If this assumption is correct, the date of Tianshanbeilu, around 2000 BC, can be used as a reference for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I (Jia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008, Lin Yun 2008, Li Shuicheng 1999). Stone arrowheads found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I also imply that the date is likely to fall within the earlier part of the Bronze Age as no such stone arrowheads have yet been found elsewhere in sites of the Bronze Age in Xinlang dated after the beginning of the second millennium BC.*
*For example Chawuhu and Xiaohe cemeteries (Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology 1999, 2003).

Pottery of Afanasevo and East European traits from the Chemurchek complex. Image modified from Kovalev (2017).

(…) Pottery “oil burners” (goblet-like ceramic vessels, possibly lamps) have been found in three traditions: Afanasievo (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:21), Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke. It is believed that this oil-burner found in Siberia and the Altai is a heritage from the Yamnaya and Catacomb
cultures (Sulimirski 1970: 225, 425; Shishlina 2008:46) in the Caspian steppe further to the west, but does not seem to exist in known Andronovo cultures.
The oil-burner tends to disappear after around 2300 BC during the mid-Okunevo period. It is, however, possible that the tradition continues longer in the Qiemu’erqieke sites.

The construction of the stone enclosures also reveals a close connection between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the mid and late Okunevo tradition (Sokolova 2007). Slab built stone enclosures emerged in both the Okunevo and Afanasievo traditions (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23, Kovalev 2008, Sokolova 2007, Anthony 2007:310, Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007). In the early Afanasievo the enclosure is circular with no cist coffin (Anthony 2007:310, Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:20), but in the early stage of the Okunevo square stone enclosures with a single cist burial are dominant. Square or rectangular stone enclosures are a marked feature of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, suggesting temporal relationships between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the Okunevo. In Okunevo chronological group II, possibly with influence from the Anfanasievo, circular stone enclosures appeared in combination with rectangular enclosures within individual cemeteries, referred to by Sokolova (2007: table 2) as hybrid examples. By Okunevo chronological group III, rectangular stone slab enclosures with multi-burials emerged again. This is the dominant form in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Okunevo burial traditions changed again to single cist burials in the late stage around chronological group V ( Sokol ova 2007). A specific mortuary rite of decapitated burials exists in both the Qiemu’erqieke and Okunevo traditions (Sokolova 2007, Chen Kwang-tzuu and Hiebert 1995), as does the occasional occurrence of painted designs on the interior of the slabs forming the cists ( e.g., Khavrin 1997: 70, fig. 4; 77: tab. IV.5). Based on these comparisons, the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I may well parallel that of the Okunevo from at least chronological group II around 2400 BC (Gorsdorf et al. 2004: fig. 1).

Khuh Udzuuriin I-1 elite barrow (ca. 2470-2190 BC). Modified from Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

In addition to the pottery making tradition, the anthropomorphic stone stelae may also have earlier antecedents. In the Okunevo assemblage there are anthropomorphic stelae that are longer, thinner and more abstract than those of Qiemu’erqieke. There is no indication of such stelae in the Afanasievo tradition (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23). However, further to the west, anthropomorphic stone stelae are associated with the Kemi-Oba and Yamnya cultures around the third millennium BC (Telegin and Mallory 1994; Figure 13). Some major characteristics of these stelae such as the icons on the front face of the stelae (Telegin and Mallory 1994:8-9) also appear on stelae found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Recalling the oil burners that may have been inherited from the Yamnya culture and which are found in the Afansievo, Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, it migh t be possible to speculate that Qiemu’erqieke Phase I has its origins even earlier than the first half of the third millennium BC. This idea has also been suggested by Kovalev ( 1999).

Despite the affinities with the Okunevo cultural tradition, Qiemu’erqieke Phase I appears to be a discrete regional variant. The ceramic assemblage shows traits unique to this cluster of sites, while the anthropomorphic stelae are also distinctive markers of this tradition.

Khuh Udzuur anthropomorphic stone stela, oriented toward the south – south-east. Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

3. Bronze Age Xinjiang

I recently reported on this blog the description of Xiaohe and Gumugou cemeteries from interesting Master’s thesis Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, by Yunyun Yang, Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History (2019).

It also offered a full summary of findings from prehistoric sites of Xinjiang related to the arrival of a cultural package from the Altai region, ultimately connected to Afanasievo. Relevant excerpts include the following (emphasis mine):

In Bronze Age Xinjiang, burials were diverse but also show some common features between different geographic sections. The main three mountains, including Kunlun Mountains, Tian Shan (mountains) and Altai Mountains, enclose the Tarim Basin, and the Dzungaria Basin, but leave the eastern part of the Tarim Basin and the south-eastern part of the Dzungaria Basin open (with easy access to the surroundings). The Hami Basin is located at the transitional area, connecting the two basins. Burials are mainly spread along the edge of the mountain ranges.

An assumption of the spreading/expansion routes stone burial construct.

3.1. The Lop Nur region

In the Lop Nur region, the Xiaohe cemetery (2000-1450 BCE) and the Gumugou cemetery (1900-1800 BCE) had many common features shared, and so is the Keliyahe northern cemetery:

  • Cemeteries were located in sandy areas;
  • Rectangular/boat-shaped wooden coffins with monuments of wooden planks or poles;
  • Coffins had no bottoms;
  • The dead were placed lying straight on the back;
  • The dead were commonly buried in single graves.

The Gumugou cemetery contained six special sun-radiating-spokes burial pattern in addition to the normal burials, which were similar to the wooden coffin graves of the Xiaohe cemetery.

NOTE. For more on Xiaohe and Gumugou, see the recent post on Proto-Tocharians. See other papers on the Andronovo horizon for other Early to Middle Bronze Age cultural groups less clearly associated with the Xiaohe horizon, like Hazandu, Xintala, or the Chust culture.

From Shuicheng (2006):

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority. The composition of alloy did not show significant change over time. Some colleagues pointed out that the Nulasai 奴拉赛 site at Nileke 尼勒克 County in the Yili 伊犁 River basin of Xinjiang was the pioneer in the use of “sulphuric ore–ice copper–copper”technology. It is also the only early smelting site in Euro-Asia that arsenic ore was added to deliberately produce an alloy

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Middle Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.2. The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland

From Yang (2019):

The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area is located at the eastern part of Tian Shan. The area is divided in a northern basin and a southern basin by the east-west stretch of the Tian Shan. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the main type of burials were earth-pit graves in the early Bronze Age, and burials of stone-pit with barrows became more common in the late Bronze Age. The Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery is a representative of the earth-pit graves. The features of the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery (2000-1500 bce) here were:

  • Rectangular earth pit graves;
  • The dead were often in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Commonly a single dead in one grave.
The Balikun grassland today (source).

The Hami-Wubu cemetery (earlier than 1000 bce) and the Yanbulake cemetery (1200-600 bce) are representatives of another common earth-pit graves. Common features here were:

  • Rectangular earth pits, with two storeys and/or roofed with wooden boards;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

Later there appeared more stone-pit graves in this area, and the features can be summarized as:

  • Round burial mounds, commonly constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Burial mounds with a sunken top or a normal (dome) top;
  • The diameter of the burial mounds varied between 3 and 25.4 m (but not necessarily limited in this scope);
  • Circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Rectangular stone pits, constructed by earth, or stones, or a mix of earth and stones;
  • Rectangular stone pits contained wooden coffins (represented by the Yiwu Baiqi’er cemetery).
Some representatives of stone burials in the Hami Basin – the Balikun Grassland in the Iron Age (Adapted from: Xinjiang 2011, 29-41). Image modified from Yang (2019).

In the Hami Basin, the Bronze Age cemeteries show common burial features like earth pits and hocker position of the dead. With similar pottery styles in the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery to those in the Machang and Siba cultures (Xinjiang 2011: 17), it suggests possible cultural influence or people’s migrating from the Hexi Corridor in the east.

In the Balikun Grassland, burials in an earlier time contained mostly earth-pit graves but also a small number of stone-pit graves. The pebbles were imbedded in the floors and the walls of the graves in a rectangular shape, e.g. the Balikun-Nanwan cemetery (1600-1000 bce). In a later time, there appeared huge burial mounds with a sunken top, and with the diameters of the burial mounds varying from 3 to 25.4 m, e.g. the Balikun-Dongheigou cemetery and the Balikun-Heigouliang cemetery. The Yiwu-Bai’erqi and the Yiwu-Kuola cemeteries contained either round stone burial mounds or circular stone kerbs on the ground surface. Considering the three burial elements including burial mounds, stone pits and circular kerbs, the later period cemeteries in the Balikun Grassland were actually similar to cemeteries from the southern edge of the Altai Mountain area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Nanwan 南湾 cemetery site at Kuisu 奎苏 Town, Balikun 巴里坤 (1600–1100 BC) also yielded an assemblage of early bronzes. The style of its early phase artifacts is similar to that of the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. Some sorts of cultural connection should have existed between the two.

The dates of Yanbulake 焉不拉克 Culture (1300–700 BC) are comparatively late. Its metallurgy was a continuation of the western China tradition. Artifact types include a variety of utilitarian tools, weapons and apparels.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.3. The Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan

From Yang (2019):

Turpan Basin is located at the western part of the Hami Basin, and lies at the southern edge of the eastern Tian Shan. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representative of the Bronze Age cemeteries is the Yanghai Nr.1 cemetery. The features here were:

  • Elliptic earth pit graves, commonly covered by round logs on the top;
  • Some graves contained burial beds made of round logs or reeds;
  • The dead were mainly placed lying straight on the back;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

In Iron Age, the stone burials became dominant, but the stone burials varied in different regions of the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. Graves containing burial mounds, stone pit, and circular stone kerbs are represented by the Shanshan-Ertanggou cemetery, the Tuokexun-Alagou cemetery, the Urumqi-Chaiwobu cemetery and the Urumqi-Yizihu-Sayi cemetery, etc. The stone funeral construction features here are similar to those contemporary cemeteries in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area.

3.4. The southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan

In the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representatives of the late Bronze Age cemeteries are the Hejing-Chawuhu Nr.4 cemetery (around 1000-500 bce), the Hejing-Xiaoshankou cemetery, the Baicheng-cemetery, etc. The main burial features of the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age cemeteries (see Fig.12) here were:

  • Burial mounds, constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Stone pit graves in a bell-shape or a rectangular shape;
  • Stone pit graves constructed by imbedding pebbles or stone slabs in walls and floors;
  • The dead were often placed lying on their back with bent legs;
  • The dead were commonly reburied a second time with multiple burials.

From the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age in this area, the burial traditions tended to be in a more varied way. In the stone burials with stone kerbs, there is a mixture of stone pit and earth pit graves. The burial features of the Iron Age cemeteries in this section were similar to those contemporary both in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Chawuhu 察吾呼 Culture (1100–500 BC) distributes on the foothills between the middle section of the Tianshan Mountain Ranges and Tarim River. Its bronze assemblage comprises a variety of weapons, utilitarian tools and small apparels. They show no apparent temporal change in form and type through the four cultural phases. In addition, bronzes bear the Chawuhu characteristics were found in Hejing 和静, Baicheng 拜城 and Luntai 轮台 (Bügür). Yet, sites distributed along the Tarim River, such as Heshuo 和硕, Kuga 库车and Aksu 阿克苏, yielded remains of a bronze culture different from that of Chawuhu. Bronzes recovered include double-eared socketed axe, arrowheads, awls, knives, needles and bracelets. Their absolute dates have been estimated to be earlier than that of Chawuhu.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Early Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps

3.5. The Pamir Plateau

From Yang (2019):

A typical Bronze Age cemetery from the Pamir Plateau area is the Tashenku’ergan-Xiabandi cemetery (around 1000-500 bce). The burial features here were:

  • Mainly inhumations, but also a few cremations;
  • Burial mounds, constructed of stones;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side.

The adoption of burial customs from the east supports the migration of Afanasievo-related peoples from the Tian Shan up to the Pamir Plateau, strongly influencing the findings of the Xiabandi cemetery, which has been dated from an early Bronze Age phase (ca. 1500-300 BC) to a late date up to ca. 600 BC.

While it is today unclear how far the Afanasievo admixture reached into the western Xinjiang, it seems that the Pamir Plateau remained culturally connected to neighbouring Andronovo-related cultures in pottery and metallurgical innovations, hence their language probably belonged – during most part of the Bronze and Iron Ages – to the Indo-Iranian branch, even though specific dialects might have changed with each new attested group.

In particular, it is possible that the early Andronovo groups related to the Xiaohe Horizon spoke Indo-Aryan or West Iranian dialects, while Saka-related groups replaced them – or an intermediate Tocharian-speaking group – with East Iranian dialects. A close interaction with West Iranian would justify the known ancient borrowings of Tocharian, although they could also be explained by contacts with Chust-related groups farther west. For more on this, see Ged Carling’s work on the different layers of Iranian loans.

Xinjiang BA/IA Summary

From Yang (2019):

In the early Bronze Age, there are distinct regional differences in the burial customs in and surrounding the Tarim Basin. At the southern edge of the Altai Mountains area, the burial customs included stone burial mounds, stone pit graves, circular or rectangular stone kerbs and stone human sculptures; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed in a hocker position lying on one side. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Lop Nur region, the burial customs included wooden coffins buried in sand; the dead were placed lying straight on the back.

But from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, there was a common shift in burial customs from earth pit graves to stone burials in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. The main features of the stone burials include stone burial mounds, circular or rectangular stone kerbs, and the stone pit graves in the cemeteries. Similar stone burial customs commonly appeared at the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area and the Pamir Plateau area in Iron Age. The burial features in most areas are in a mixture of both the earth pit graves and stone pit graves, especially in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.


From Shuicheng (2006):

Historians of metallurgy conducted metallographic analyses on a sample of 234 metal specimens recovered from 16 localities in eastern Xinjiang. They concluded that the metallurgic industry in eastern Xinjiang could be roughly partitioned into three developmental phases. The early phase is represented by the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. The majority of the metal assemblage was tin-bronzes; however, copper and arsenic-bronzes maintained considerable proportions. The middle phase is represented by the burials at Yanbulake. During this phase, tin-bronze still maintained the majority; the proportion of arsenic-bronze increased, and some of them were high arsenic-bronzes. The late phase is represented by the burials at Heigouliang 黑沟梁. The composition of lead increased in the bronze alloy in the expense of arsenic. In addition, this phase witnessed the appearance of high tin-bronze that composed up to 16% of tin and the appearance of brass, that is, an alloy of copper and zinc. The bronze alloy consistently contained significant amount of impurities regardless of temporal difference. Casting and forging technologies coexisted throughout the three phases. The early bronzes (2000–500 BC) of eastern Xinjiang, in general, contained arsenic; however, the composition of arsenic was usually under 8%, but a few artifacts contained more than 20% arsenic. In all, arsenic had long been used in the alloy-forming of the early bronzes in eastern Xinjiang. Consequently, arsenic-bronzes were widely found in the prehistoric archaeology of the region. The artifact types, chemical compositions and manufacture techniques of the bronze assemblage of the burials of the North Tianshan Route are similar to those of Siba Culture, indicating that eastern Xinjiang had played a significant role in the East-West interactions.

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic-bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Tocharians in population genomics

Prehistoric population movements between the Altai and the Tian Shan are difficult to pinpoint, not the least because of the division of these territories among three different countries and their archaeological teams, only recently (more) open to the international scholarship.

The available schematic archaeological picture, where migrations could only be roughly inferred, has been recently updated to a great extent by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), whose genetic analysis of the samples is as thorough as anyone could have asked for, with a level of detail which matches the complex genetic picture of the region by the Iron Age.

As a summary, here is what they described about the samples from Shirenzigou (ca 400-200 BC), corresponding to the Iron Age populations of the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, and closely related to the preceding Yanbulake Culture:

As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

Biplot of f3-outgroup tests illustrating the Kostenki14 and Anatolia_N like ancestries in Shirenzigou individuals. Most Shirenzigou individuals were on a cline with Yamnaya and European hunter-gatherer groups, lacking the European farmer ancestry as compared to the Steppe_MLBA populations such as Andronovo, Srubnaya and Sintashta [S1-S5]. Horizontal and vertical bars represent ± 3 standard errors, corresponding to form of outgroup f3 tests on the x axis and y axis respectively.

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_ Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases.

Table S2. P values in modelling a two-way (P=rank 1) admixture in Shirenzigou samples using each of the four populations (Bustan_BA, Sappali_Tepe_BA, Andronovo.SG, Srubnaya) together with Han Chinese as two sources [S6], Related to Figure 2. We used the following set of outgroups populations: Dinka, Ust_Ishim, Kostenki14, Onge, Papuan, Australian, Iran_N, EHG, LBK_EN.


In the PCA, ADMIXTURE, outgroup f3 statistics [see Figure S4], as well as f4 statistics (Table S3), we observed the Shirenzigou individuals were closer to the present day Tungusic and Mongolic-speaking populations in northern Asia than to the populations in central and southern China, suggesting the northern populations might contribute more to the Shirenzigou individuals. Based on this, we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/ Hezhen-related ancestry

It is unclear whether the Chemurchek population will show a sizeable local contribution from neighbouring groups. The fact that Okunevo shows 20% Yamnaya-related ancestry strongly supports the nature of neighbouring stone-grave-building peoples of the Altai and the northern Tian Shan as mostly Afanasievo-like, and the apparent lack of contributions of Srubna/Andronovo-like ancestry in the early Hami-Balikun stone burial builders also speaks for radical population replacement events reaching the areas south of Tian Shan, at least initially.

While ancestry cannot settle linguistic questions, it seems that nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands retained an ancestry close to Andronovo, whereas nomads of the Hami Basin-Balikun grasslands and related populations of Xinjiang remained closely related to Afanasievo. This doesn’t preclude that the ancestors of the Yuezhi became acculturated under the influence of peoples from eastern Xinjiang, but all data combined suggest an isolation of both populations – relative to other groups and to each other – and it is therefore more likely that they spoke Indo-Iranian-related languages rather than a language of the Tocharian branch.


In an interesting twist of events, despite the initially reported hg. R1b and Q, Tocharians from Shirenzigou actually show a haplogroup diversity comparable to that attested in other late Iron Age populations: a similar diversity is seen, for example, among Germanic, Baltic, and Balto-Finnic peoples of the Baltic region; among East Germanic or Scythians of the north Pontic region; or among Mediterranean peoples sampled to date. Iron Age peoples show thus a complex sociopolitical setting that overcame the previous patrilineal homogeneity of Bronze Age expansions.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya. Modified from the paper to include labels of modern populations and a dotted lines with the cline formed by Shirenzigou, from (Yamnaya-like) Afanasievo to Central and East Asian-like populations. In red circles, samples with best fit for Andronovo-like ancestry. In green circles, samples with Han-related admixture.

M15-2 (with Han-related ancestry) is of the rare haplogroup Q1a-M120, while the samples with highest Steppe_MLBA-related ancestry are of hg. R1b-PH155, which points to their recent origin among Yuezhi, or to Hun-related populations showing an admixture related to the proto-historic nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands.

The expansion of Chemurchek-related peoples was probably associated more with hg. Q1a (dubious if it’s a Pre-ISOGG 2017 nomenclature, hence possibly Q1b), a haplogroup that might be found in Khvalynsk as a “significant minority” according to Anthony (2019), and it might also be attested in sampled individuals from Afanasievo in its late phase. This might be, therefore, a case similar to the early expansion of Indo-Europeans with R1b-V1636 lineages through the Volga – North Caucasus region, and of the later expansion with I2a-L699 lineages into the Balkans.

Haplogroup Q1a2-M25 is found in individual X3, whose Steppe ancestry is likely a combination of Afanasievo plus Andronovo-like ancestry heavily admixed with Hezhen/Ulchi-like populations, in line with the expected recent contacts with the neighbouring Xiongnu, Yuezhi, and other population movements affecting eastern Xinjiang.

Sample M4, which packs the most Afanasievo-like ancestry, is of hg. R1a-Z645, which – like sample M8R1 of hg. O – is most likely related to haplogroup resurgence events of local populations, which left the predominant Afanasievo-like admixture brought by builders of stone burials essentially intact, evidenced by the almost 100% of R1a found in the Xiaohe cemetery – and in most of the early Andronovo horizon – and among expanding Kangju and Wusun, as well as by the prevalence of hg. O among sampled East Asian populations.

A question that will only be answered with more samples is how and when the prevalent R1b-L23 and Q1b lineages among Afanasievo-related peoples began to be replaced to reach the high variability seen in Shirenzigou. Given the pastoralist nature of peoples around Tian Shan, the succeeding expansions of Proto-Tocharians, and the late isolation of different Common Tocharian groups, it is more than likely that this variability represents a late and local phenomenon within Xinjiang itself.

Peoples of Xinjiang during Antiquity. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.


Tocharians are one of the main pillars that confirm the Late Proto-Indo-European homeland of the R1b-rich populations of the Don-Volga region. There is already:

Just like the East Bell Beaker expansion from Yamnaya Hungary has confirmed that Corded Ware peoples did not partake in spreading Indo-European languages (spreading Uralic languages instead), data on the expansion of Tocharian speakers from Afanasievo to the Tian Shan was always there; population genomics is merely helping to connect the dots.

In summary, genetic research is supporting the expected linguistic expansions of the Neolithic and Bronze Age step by step, slowly but surely.


“Steppe ancestry” step by step: Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Repin, Yamna, Corded Ware


Wang et al. (2018) is obviously a game changer in many aspects. I have already written about the upcoming Yamna Hungary samples, about the new Steppe_Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic keystones, and about the upcoming Greece Neolithic samples with steppe ancestry.

An interesting aspect of the paper, hidden among so many relevant details, is a clearer picture of how the so-called Yamnaya or steppe ancestry evolved from Samara hunter-gatherers to Yamna nomadic pastoralists, and how this ancestry appeared among Proto-Corded Ware populations.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are in orange: equivalent Steppe_Maykop ADMIXTURE; in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups.”

Please note: arrows of “ancestry movement” in the following PCAs do not necessarily represent physical population movements, or even ethnolinguistic change. To avoid misinterpretations, I have depicted arrows with Y-DNA haplogroup migrations to represent the most likely true ethnolinguistic movements. Admixture graphics shown are from Wang et al. (2018), and also (the K12) from Mathieson et al. (2018).

1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk

The so-called steppe ancestry was born during the Khvalynsk expansion through the steppes, probably through exogamy of expanding elite clans (eventually all R1b-M269 lineages) originally of Samara_HG ancestry. The nearest group to the ANE-like ghost population with which Samara hunter-gatherers admixed is represented by the Steppe_Eneolithic / Steppe_Maykop cluster (from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont).

Steppe_Eneolithic samples, of R1b1 lineages, are probably expanded Khvalynsk peoples, showing thus a proximate ancestry of an Early Eneolithic ghost population of the Northern Caucasus. Steppe_Maykop samples represent a later replacement of this Steppe_Eneolithic population – and/or a similar population with further contribution of ANE-like ancestry – in the area some 1,000 years later.


This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:


NOTE. This admixture shows how different Steppe_Maykop is from Steppe_Eneolithic, but in the different supervised ADMIXTURE graphics below Maykop_Eneolithic is roughly equivalent to Eneolithic_Steppe (see orange arrow in ADMIXTURE graphic above). This is useful for a simplified analysis, but actual differences between Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Afanasevo, Yamna and Corded Ware are probably underestimated in the analyses below, and will become clearer in the future when more ancestral hunter-gatherer populations are added to the analysis.

2. Early Khvalynsk expansion

We have direct data of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-like populations thanks to Khvalynsk and Steppe_Eneolithic samples (although I’ve used the latter above to represent the ghost Caucasus population with which Samara_HG admixed).

We also have indirect data. First, there is the PCA with outliers:


Second, we have data from north Pontic Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see next section).

Third, there is the continuity of late Repin / Afanasevo with Steppe_Eneolithic (see below).

3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion

It is unclear if R1a-M459 subclades were continuously in the steppe and resurged after the Khvalynsk expansion, or (the most likely option) they came from the forested region of the Upper Dnieper area, possibly from previous expansions there with hunter-gatherer pottery.

Supporting the latter is the millennia-long continuity of R1b-V88 and I2a2 subclades in the north Pontic Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Eneolithic Sredni Stog culture, until ca. 4500 BC (and even later, during the second half).

Only at the end of the Early Eneolithic with the disappearance of Novodanilovka (and beginning of the steppe ‘hiatus’ of Rassamakin) is R1a to be found in Ukraine again (after disappearing from the record some 2,000 years earlier), related to complex population movements in the north Pontic area.

NOTE. In the PCA, a tentative position of Novodanilovka closer to Anatolia_Neolithic / Dzudzuana ancestry is selected, based on the apparent cline formed by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, and on the position and ancestry of Sredni Stog, Yamna, and Corded Ware later. A good alternative would be to place Novodanilovka still closer to the Balkan outliers (i.e. Suvorovo), and a source closer to EHG as the ancestry driven by the migration of R1a-M417.


The first sample with steppe ancestry appears only after 4250 BC in the forest-steppe, centuries after the samples with steppe ancestry from the Northern Caucasus and the Balkans, which points to exogamy of expanding R1a-M417 lineages with the remnants of the Novodanilovka population.


4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion

We don’t have direct data on early Repin settlers. But we do have a very close representative: Afanasevo, a population we know comes directly from the Repin/late Khvalynsk expansion ca. 3500/3300 BC (just before the emergence of Early Yamna), and which shows fully Steppe_Eneolithic-like ancestry.


Compared to this eastern Repin expansion that gave Afanasevo, the late Repin expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC that gave rise to the Yamna culture was one of colonization, evidenced by the admixture with north Pontic (Sredni Stog-like) populations, no doubt through exogamy:


This admixture is also found (in lesser proportion) in east Yamna groups, which supports the high mobility and exogamy practices among western and eastern Yamna clans, not only with locals:


5. Corded Ware

Corded Ware represents a quite homogeneous expansion of a late Sredni Stog population, compatible with the traditional location of Proto-Corded Ware peoples in the steppe-forest/forest zone of the Dnieper-Dniester region.


We don’t have a comparison with Ukraine_Eneolithic or Corded Ware samples in Wang et al. (2018), but we do have proximate sources for Abashevo, when compared to the Poltavka population (with which it admixed in the Volga-Ural steppes): Sintashta, Potapovka, Srubna (with further Abashevo contribution), and Andronovo:


The two CWC outliers from the Baltic show what I thought was an admixture with Yamna. However, given the previous mixture of Eneolithic_Steppe in north Pontic steppe-forest populations, this elevated “steppe ancestry” found in Baltic_LN (similar to west Yamna) seems rather an admixture of Baltic sub-Neolithic peoples with a north Pontic Eneolithic_Steppe-like population. Late Repin settlers also admixed with a similar population during its colonization of the north Pontic area, hence the Baltic_LN – west Yamna similarities.

NOTE. A direct admixture with west Yamna populations through exogamy by the ancestors of this Baltic population cannot be ruled out yet (without direct access to more samples), though, because of the contacts of Corded Ware with west Yamna settlers in the forest-steppe regions.


A similar case is found in the Yamna outlier from Mednikarovo south of the Danube. It would be absurd to think that Yamna from the Balkans comes from Corded Ware (or vice versa), just because the former is closer in the PCA to the latter than other Yamna samples. The same error is also found e.g. in the Corded Ware → Bell Beaker theory, because of their proximity in the PCA and their shared “steppe ancestry”. All those theories have been proven already wrong.

NOTE. A similar fallacy is found in potential Sintashta→Mycenaean connections, where we should distinguish statistically that result from an East/West Yamna + Balkans_BA admixture. In fact, genetic links of Mycenaeans with west Yamna settlers prove this (there are some related analyses in Anthrogenica, but the site is down at this moment). To try to relate these two populations (separated more than 1,000 years before Sintashta) is like comparing ancient populations to modern ones, without the intermediate samples to trace the real anthropological trail of what is found…Pure numbers and wishful thinking.


Yamna and Corded Ware show a similar “steppe ancestry” due to convergence. I have said so many times (see e.g. here). This was clear long ago, just by looking at the Y-chromosome bottlenecks that differentiate them – and Tomenable noticed this difference in ADMIXTURE from the supplementary materials in Mathieson et al. (2017), well before Wang et al. (2018).

This different stock stems from (1) completely different ancestral populations + (2) different, long-lasting Y-chromosome bottlenecks. Their similarities come from the two neighbouring cultures admixing with similar populations.

If all this does not mean anything, and each lab was going to support some pre-selected archaeological theories from the 1960s or the 1980s, coupled with outdated linguistic models no matter what – Anthony’s model + Ringe’s glottochronological tree of the early 2000s in the Reich Lab; and worse, Kristiansen’s CWC-IE + Germano-Slavonic models of the 1940s in the Copenhagen group – , I have to repeat my question again:

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

See also


Corded Ware—Uralic (I): Differences and similarities with Yamna


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

I was reading The Bronze Age Landscape in the Russian Steppes: The Samara Valley Project (2016), and I was really surprised to find the following excerpt by David W. Anthony:

The Samara Valley links the central steppes with the western steppes and is a north-south ecotone between the pastoral steppes to the south and the forest-steppe zone to the north [see figure below]. The economic contrast between pastoral steppe subsistence, with its associated social organizations, and forest-zone hunting and fishing economies probably explains the shifting but persistent linguistic border between forest-zone Uralic languages to the north (today largely displaced by Russian) and a sequence of steppe languages to the south, recently Turkic, before that Iranian, and before that probably an eastern dialect of Proto-Indo-European (Anthony 2007). The Samara Valley represents several kinds of borders, linguistic, cultural, and ecological, and it is centrally located in the Eurasian steppes, making it a critical place to examine the development of Eurasian steppe pastoralism.

Language map of the middle Volga-Ural region. After “Geographical Distribution of the Uralic Languages” by Finno-Ugrian Society, Helsinki, 1993.

Khokhlov (translated by Anthony) further insists on the racial and ethnic divide between both populations, Abashevo to the north, and Poltavka to the south, during the formation of the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka community that gave rise to Proto-Indo-Iranians:

Among all cranial series in the Volga-Ural region, the Potapovka population represents the clearest example of race mixing and probably ethnic mixing as well. The cultural advancements seen in this period might perhaps have been the result of the mixing of heterogeneous groups. Such a craniometric observation is to some extent consistent with the view of some archaeologists that the Sintashta monuments represent a combination of various cultures (principally Abashevo and Poltavka, but with other influences) and therefore do not correspond to the basic concept of an archaeological culture (Kuzmina 2003:76). Under this option, the Potapovka-Sintashta burial rite may be considered, first, a combination of traits to guarantee the afterlife of a selected part of a heterogeneous population. Second, it reflected a kind of social “caste” rather than a single population. In our view, the decisive element in shaping the ethnic structure of the Potapovka-Sintashta monuments was their extensive mobility over a fairly large geographic area. They obtained knowledge of various cultures from the populations with whom they interacted.

Late Middle Bronze Age cultures with the Proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka group (shaded). After Anthony (2007 Figure 15.5), from Anthony (2016).

Interesting is also this excerpt about the predominant population in the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka admixture (which supports what Chetan said recently, although this does not seemed backed by Y-DNA haplogroups found in the richest burials), coupled with the sign of incoming “Uraloid” peoples from the east, found in both Sintashta and eastern Abashevo:

The socially dominant anthropological component was Europeoid, possibly the descendants of Yamnaya. The association of craniofacial types with archaeological cultures in this period is difficult, primarily because of the small amount of published anthropological material of the cultures of steppe and forest belt (Balanbash, Vol’sko-Lbishche) and the eastern and southern steppes (Botai-Tersek). The crania associated with late MBA western Abashevo groups in the Don-Volga forest zone were different from eastern Abashevo in the Urals, where the expression of the Old Uraloid craniological complex was increased. Old Uraloid is found also on a single skull of Vol’sko-Lbishche culture (Tamar Utkul VII, Kurgan 4). Potentially related variants, including Mongoloid features, could be found among the Seima-Turbino tribes of the forest-steppe zone, who mixed with Sintashta and Abashevo. In the Sintashta Bulanova cemetery from the western Urals, some individuals were buried with implements of Seima-Turbino type (Khalyapin 2001; Khokhlov 2009; Khokhlov and Kitov 2009). Previously, similarities were noted between some individual skulls from Potapovka I and burials of the much older Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan (Khokhlov 2000a). Botai-Tersek is, in fact, a growing contender for the source of some “eastern” cranial features.

Facial reconstructions based on skulls from (a) Khvalynsk II Grave 24, a young adult male; (b) Poludin Grave 6, Yamnaya culture, a mature male (both by A. I. Nechvaloda); and (c) Luzanovsky cemetery, Srubnaya culture (by L. T. Yablonsky). In Khokhlov (2016).

The wave of peoples associated with “eastern” features can be seen in genetics in the Sintashta outliers from Narasimhan et al. (2018), and it probably will be eventually seen in Abashevo, too. These may be related to the Seima-Turbino international network – but most likely it is directly connected to Sintashta through the starting Andronovo and Seima-Turbino horizons, by admixing of prospective groups and small-scale back-migrations.

Corded Ware – Yamna similarities?

So, if peoples of north-eastern Europe have been assumed for a long time to be Uralic speakers, what is happening with the Corded Ware = IE obsession? Is it Gimbutas’ ghost possessing old archaeologists? Probably not.

It is about certain cultural similarities evident at first sight, which have been traditionally interpreted as a sign of cultural diffusion or migration. Not dissimilar to the many Bell Beaker models available, where each archaeologist is pushing certain differences, mixing what seemed reasonable, what still might seem reasonable, and what certainly isn’t anymore after the latest ancient DNA data.

“European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to Gimbutas (1963)

The initial models of Gimbutas, Kristiansen, or Anthony – which are known to many today – were enunciated in the infancy of archaeological studies in the regions, during and just after the fall of the USSR, and before many radiocarbon dates that we have today were published (with radiocarbon dating being still today in need of refinement), so it is only logical that gross mistakes were made.

We have similar gross mistakes related to the origins of Bell Beakers, and studying them was certainly easier than studying eastern data.

  • Gimbutas believed – based mainly on Kurgan-like burials – that Bell Beaker formed from a combination of Yamna settlers with the Vučedol culture, so she was not that far from the truth.
  • The expansion of Corded Ware from peoples of the North Pontic forest-steppe area, proposed by Gimbutas and later supported also by Kristiansen (1989) as the main Indo-European expansion – , is probably also right about the approximate origins of the culture. Only its ‘Indo-European’ nature is in question, given the differences with Khvalynsk and Yamna evolution.
  • Anthony only claimed that Yamna migrants settled in the Balkans and along the Danube into the Hungarian steppes. He never said that Corded Ware was a Yamna offshoot until after the first genetic papers of 2015 (read about his newest proposal). He initially claimed that only certain neighbouring Corded Ware groups “adopted” Indo-European (through cultural diffusion) because of ‘patron-client’ relationships, and was never preoccupied with the fate of Corded Ware and related cultures in the east European forest zone and Finland.

So none of them was really that far from the true picture; we might say a lot people are more way off the real picture today than the picture these three researchers helped create in the 1990s and 2000s. Genetics is just putting the last nail in the coffin of Corded Ware as a Yamna offshoot, instead of – as we believed in the 2000s – to Vučedol and Bell Beaker.

So let’s revise some of these traditional links between Corded Ware and Yamna with today’s data:


Even more than genetics – at least until we have an adequate regional and temporary sampling – , archaeological findings lead what we have to know about both cultures.

It is essential to remember that Corded Ware, starting ca. 3000/2900 BC in east-central Europe, has been proposed to be derived from Early Yamna, which appeared suddenly in the Pontic-Caspian steppes ca. 3300 BC (probably from the late Repin expansion), and expanded to the west ca. 3000.

Early Yamna is in turn identified as the expanding Late Proto-Indo-European community, which has been confirmed with the recent data on Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Sintashta-Potapovka and derived cultures.

The question at hand, therefore, is if Corded Ware can be considered an offshoot of the Late PIE community, and thus whether the CWC ethnolinguistic community – proven in genetics to be quite homogeneous – spoke a Late PIE dialect, or if – alternatively – it is derived from other neighbouring cultures of the North Pontic region.

NOTE. The interpretation of an Indo-Slavonic group represented by a previous branching off of the group is untenable with today’s data, since Indo-Slavonic – for those who support it – would itself be a branch of Graeco-Aryan, and Palaeo-Balkan languages expanded most likely with West Yamna (i.e. R1b-L23, mainly R1b-Z2103) to the south.

The convoluted alternative explanation would be that Corded Ware represents an earlier, Middle PIE branch (somehow carrying R1a??) which influences expanding Late PIE dialects; this has been recently supported by Kortlandt, although this simplistic picture also fails to explain the Uralic problem.

Kurgans: The Yamna tradition was inherited from late Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka proto-Kurgans. As for the CWC tradition, it is unclear if the tumuli were built as a tradition inherited from North and West Pontic cultures (in turn inherited or copied from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka), such as late Trypillia, late Kvityana, late Dereivka, late Sredni Stog; or if they were built because of the spread of the ‘Transformation of Europe’, set in motion by the Early Yamna expansion ca. 3300-3000 BC (as found in east-central European cultures like Coţofeni, Lizevile, Șoimuș, or the Adriatic Vučedol). My guess is that it inherits an older tradition than Yamna, with an origin in east-central Europe, because of the mound-building distribution in the North Pontic area before the Yamna expansion, but we may never really know.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the IVth millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Burial rite: Yamna features (with regional differences) single burials with body on its back, flexed upright knees, poor grave goods, common orientation east-west (heads to the west) inherited from Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. CWC tradition – partially connected to Złota and surrounding east-central European territories (in turn from the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion) – features single graves, body in fetal position, strict gender differentiation – men on the right, women on the left -, looking to the south, graves with standardized assemblages (objects representing affirmation of battle, hunting, and feasting). The burial rites clearly represent different ideologies.

Left: Pit-Grave burial types expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. Right: Pit-Grave burial types associated with the Yamna expansion and influence. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Corded decoration: Corded ware decoration appears in the Balkans during the 5th millennium, and represents a simple technique whereby a cord is twisted, or wrapped around a stick, and then pressed directly onto the fresh surface of a vessel leaving a characteristic decoration. It appears in many groups of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, but it was Globular Amphorae the culture which popularized the drinking vessels and their corded ornamentation. It appears thus in some regional groups of Yamna, but it becomes the standard pottery only in Corded Ware (especially with the A-horizon), which shows continuity with GAC pottery.

Origins of the first Corded Ware horizon (5th millennium BC) after the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. Corded Ware (circles) and horse-head scepters (rectangles) and other steppe elements (triangles). Image from Bulatović (2014).

Economy: Yamna expands from Repin (and Repin from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) as a nomadic or semi-nomadic purely pastoralist society (with occasional gathering of wild seeds), which naturally thrives in the grasslands of the Pontic-Caspian, lower Danube and Hungarian steppes. Corded Ware shows agropastoralism (as late Eneolithic forest-steppe and steppe groups of eastern Europe, such as late Trypillian, TRB, and GAC groups), inhabits territories north of the loess line, with heavy reliance of hunter-gathering depending on the specific region.

Cattle herding: Interestingly, both west Yamna and Corded Ware show more reliance on cattle herding than other pastoralist groups, which – contrasted with the previous Eneolithic herding traditions of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, where sheep-goats predominate – make them look alike. However, the cattle-herding economy of Yamna is essential for its development from late Repin and its expansion through the steppes (over western territories practising more hunter-gathering and sheep-goat herding economy), and it does not reach equally the Volga-Ural region, whose groups keep some of the old subsistence economy (read more about the late Repin expansion). Corded Ware, on the other hand, inherits its economic strategy from east European groups like TRB, GAC, and especially late Trypillian communities, showing a predominance of cattle herding within an agropastoral community in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Volhynia, Podolia, and surrounding forest-steppe and forest regions.

Scheme of interlinked socio-economic-ideological innovations forming the Yamnaya. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

Horse riding: Horse riding and horse transport is proven in Yamna (and succeeding Bell Beaker and Sintashta), assumed for late Repin (essential for cattle herding in the seas of grasslands that are the steppes, without nearby water sources), quite likely during the Khvalynsk expansion (read more here), and potentially also for Samara, where the predominant horse symbolism of early Khvalynsk starts. Corded Ware – like the north Pontic forest-steppe and forest areas during the Eneolithic – , on the other hand, does not show a strong reliance on horse riding. The high mobility and short-term settlements characteristic of Corded Ware, that are often associated with horse riding by association with Yamna, may or may not be correct, but there is no need for horses to explain their herding economy or their mobility, and the north-eastern European areas – the one which survived after Bell Beaker expansion – did certainly not rely on horses as an essential part of their economy.

NOTE: I cannot think of more supposed similarities right now. If you have more ideas, please share in the comments and I will add them here.

Genetic similarities

EHG: This is the clearest link between both communities. We thought it was related to the expansion of ANE-related ancestry to the west into WHG territory, but now it seems that it will be rather WHG expanding into ANE territory from the Pontic-Caspian region to the east (read more on recent Caucasus Neolithic, on , and on Caucasus HG).

NOTE. Given how much each paper changes what we know about the Palaeolithic, the origin and expansion of the (always developing) known ancestral components and specific subclades (see below) is not clear at all.

CHG: This is the key link between both cultures, which will delimit their interaction in terms of time and space. CHG is intermediate between EHG and Iran N (ca. 8000 BC). The ancestry is thus linked to the Caucasus south of the steppe before the emergence of North Pontic (western) and Don-Volga-Ural (eastern) communities during the Mesolithic. The real question is: when we have more samples from the steppe and the Caucasus during the Neolithic, how many CHG groups are we going to find? Will the new specific ancestral components (say CHG1, CHG2, CHG3, etc.) found in Yamna (from Khvalynsk, in the east) and Corded Ware (probably from the North Pontic forest-steppe) be the same? My guess is, most likely not, unless they are mediated by the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion (read more on CHG in the Caucasus).

Formation of Yamna and CHG contribution, in Damgaard et al. (Science 2018). A 10-leaf model based on combining the models in Fig. S16 and Fig. S19 and re-estimating the model parameters.

WHG/EEF: This is the obvious major difference – known today – in the formation of both communities in the steppe, and shows the different contacts that both groups had at least since the Eneolithic, i.e. since the expansion of Repin with its renewed Y-DNA bottleneck, and probably since before the early Khvalynsk expansion (read more on Yamna-Corded Ware differences contrasting with Yamna-Afanasevo, Yamna-Bell Beaker, and Yamna-Sintashta similarities).

NOTE 1. Some similarities between groups can be seen depending on the sampled region; e.g. Baltic groups show more similarities with southern Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, probably due to exogamy.

Tested qpGraph model in Tambets et al. (2018). The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. “Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel.”

NOTE 2. We have this information on the differences in “steppe ancestry” between Yamna and Corded Ware, compared to previous studies, because now we have more samples of neighbouring, roughly contemporaneous Eneolithic groups, to analyse the real admixture processes. This kind of fine scale studies is what is going to show more and more differences between Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware as more data pours in. The evolution of both communities in archaeology and in PCA (see below) is probably witness to those differences yet to be published.

R1: Even though some people try very hard to think in terms of “R1” vs. (Caucasus) J or G or any other upper clade, this is plainly wrong. It is possible, given what we know now, that Q1a2-M242 expanded ANE ancestry to the west ca. 13000 BC, while R1b-P279 expanded WHG ancestry to the east with the expansion of post-Swiderian cultures, creating EHG as a WHG:ANE cline. The role of R1a-M459 is unknown, but it might be related to any of these migrations, or others (plural) along northern Eurasia (read more on the expansion of R1b-P279, on Palaeolithic Q1a2, and on R1a-M417).

NOTE. I am inclined to believe in a speculative Mesolithic-Early Neolithic community involving Eurasiatic movements accross North Eurasia, and Indo-Uralic movements in its western part, with the last intense early Uralic-PIE contacts represented by the forming west (Mariupol culture) and east (Don-Volga-Ural cultures, including Samara) communities developing side by side. Before their known Eneolithic expansions, no large-scale Y-DNA bottleneck is going to be seen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with different (especially R1a and R1b subclades) mixed among them, as shown in North Pontic Neolithic, Samara HG, and Khvalynsk samples.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here.

Corded Ware and ‘steppe ancestry’

If we take a look at the evolution of Corded Ware cultures, the expansion of Bell Beakers – dominated over most previous European cultures from west to east Europe – influenced the development of the whole European Bronze Age, up to Mierzanowice and Trzciniec in the east.

The only relevant unscathed CWC-derived groups, after the expansion of Sintashta-Potapovka as the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Eurasian steppes, were those of the north-eastern European forest zone: between Belarus to the west, Finland to the north, the Urals to the east, and the forest-steppe region to the south. That is, precisely the region supposed to represent Uralic speakers during the Bronze Age.

This inconsistency of steppe ancestry and its relation with Uralic (and Balto-Slavic) peoples was observed shortly after the publication of the first famous 2015 papers by Paul Heggarty, of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (read more):

Haak et al. (2015) make much of the high Yamnaya ancestry scores for (only some!) Indo-European languages. What they do not mention is that those same results also include speakers of other languages among those with the highest of all scores for Yamnaya ancestry. Only these are languages of the Uralic family, not Indo-European at all; and their Yamnaya-ancestry signals are far higher than in many branches of Indo-European in (southern) Europe. Estonian ranks very high, while speakers of the very closely related Finnish are curiously not shown, and nor are the Saami. Hungarian is relevant less directly since this language arrived only c. 900 AD, but also high.


These data imply that Uralic-speakers too would have been part of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, which was thus not exclusively Indo-European in any case. And as well as the genetics, the geography, chronology and language contact evidence also all fit with a Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement including Uralic as well as Balto-Slavic.

Both papers fail to address properly the question of the Uralic languages. And this despite — or because? — the only Uralic speakers they report rank so high among modern populations with Yamnaya ancestry. Their linguistic ancestors also have a good claim to have been involved in the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures, and of course the other members of the Uralic family are scattered across European Russia up to the Urals.

NOTE. Although the author was trying to support the Anatolian hypothesis – proper of glottochronological studies often published from the Max Planck Institute – , the question remains equally valid: “if Proto-Indo-European expands with Corded Ware and steppe ancestry, what is happening with Uralic peoples?”

For my part, I claimed in my draft that ancestral components were not the only relevant data to take into account, and that Y-DNA haplogroups R1a and R1b (appearing separately in CWC and Yamna-Bell Beaker-Afanasevo), together with their calculated timeframes of formation – and therefore likely expansion – did not fit with the archaeological and linguistic description of the spread of Proto-Indo-European and its dialects.

In fact, it seemed that only one haplogroup (R1b-M269) was constantly and consistenly associated with the proposed routes of Late PIE dialectal expansions – like Anthony’s second (Afanasevo) and third (Lower Danube, Balkan) waves. What genetics shows fits seamlessly with Mallory’s association of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers (read here how archaeologists were right).

Map of the much beloved steppe (or “Yamnaya”) ancestry in modern populations, by Balanovsky. Modified from Klejn (2017).

More precise inconsistencies were observed after the publication of Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), by Volker Heyd in Kossinna’s smile (2017). Letting aside the many details enumerated (you can read a summary in my latest draft), this interesting excerpt is from the conclusion:

NOTE. An open access ealier draft version of the paper is offered for download by the author.

Simple solutions to complex problems are never the best choice, even when favoured by politicians and the media. Kossinna also offered a simple solution to a complex prehistoric problem, and failed therein. Prehistoric archaeology has been aware of this for a century, and has responded by becoming more differentiated and nuanced, working anthropologically, scientifically and across disciplines (cf. Müller 2013; Kristiansen 2014), and rejecting monocausal explanations. The two aDNA papers in Nature, powerful and promising as they are for our future understanding, also offer rather straightforward messages, heavily pulled by culture-history and the equation of people with culture. This admittedly is due partly to the restrictions of the medium that conveys them (and despite the often relevant additional detail given as supplementary information, which is unfortunately not always given full consideration).

While I have no doubt that both papers are essentially right, they do not reflect the complexity of the past. It is here that archaeology and archaeologists contributing to aDNA studies find their role; rather than simply handing over samples and advising on chronology, and instead of letting the geneticists determine the agenda and set the messages, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions and interactions. If accepted, this could be the beginning of a marriage made in heaven, with the blessing smile of Gustaf Kossinna, and no doubt Vere Gordon Childe, were they still alive, in a reconciliation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century approaches. For us as archaeologists, it could also be the starting point for the next level of a new archaeology.

Main distribution of Yamnaya kurgans in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of modern day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and its western branch in modern south-east European countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, with numbers of excavated kurgans and graves given. Picture: Volker Heyd (2018).

The question was made painfully clear with the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) & Mathieson et al. (2018), where the real route of Yamna expansion into Europe was now clearly set through the steppes into the Carpathian basin, later expanded as Bell Beakers.

This has been further confirmed in more recent papers, such as Narasimhan et al. (2018), Damgaard et al. (2018), or Wang et al. (2018), among others.

However, the discussion is still dominated by political agendas based on prevalent Y-DNA haplogroups in modern countries and ethnic groups.


On the origin of haplogroup R1b-L51 in late Repin / early Yamna settlers


A recent comment on the hypothetical Central European origin of PIE helped me remember that, when news appeared that R1b-L51 had been found in Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC, I began to think about alternative scenarios for the expansion of this haplogroup, with one of them including Central Europe.

Because, if YFull‘s (and Iain McDonald‘s) estimation of the split of R1b-L23 in L51 and Z2103 (ca. 4100 BC, TMRCA ca. 3700 BC) was wrong, by as much as the R1a-Z645 estimates proved wrong, and both subclades were older than expected, then maybe R1b-L51 was not part of the Yamna expansion, but rather part of an earlier expansion with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka into central Europe.

That is, R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 would have expanded wih Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrants, and they would have either disappeared among local populations, or settled and expanded with successful lineages in certain regions. I think this may give rise to two potential models.

A hidden group in the European east-central steppes?

Here is what Heyd (2011), for example, has to say about the effect of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion in the 4th millennium BC, with the first Kurgan wave that shuttered the social, economic, and cultural foundations of south-eastern Europe (before the expansion of west Yamna migrants in the region):

Proto-Anatolian migrations with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion, including ADMIXTURE data from Wang et al. (2018).

As the Boleraz and Baden tumuli cases in Serbia and Hungary demonstrate, there are earlier, 4th millennium cal. B.C. round tumuli in the Carpathian basin. There are also earlier north-Pontic steppe populations who infiltrated similar environments west of the Black Sea prior to the rise of the Yamnaya culture. This situation can be traced back to the 2nd half of the 5th millennium cal. B.C. to a group of distinct burials, zoomorphic maceheads, long flint blades, triangular flint points, etc., summarized under the term Suvurovo-Novodanilovka (Govedarica 2004; Rassamakin 2004; Anthony 2007; Heyd forthcoming 2011). They also erected round personalized tumuli, though smaller in size and height, above inhumations of single individuals. Suvorovo and Casimcea are the key examples in the lower Danube region of Romania. In northeast Bulgaria, the primary grave of Polska Kosovo (ochre-stained supine extended body position: information communicated by S. Alexandrov) can also be seen as such, as should the Targovishte-“Gonova mogila” primary grave 1 in the Thracian plain with a burial arranged in a supine position with flexed legs, southeast-northwest orientated, and strewed with ochre (Kanchev 1991 , p. 56- 57; Ivanova Gaydarska 2007). In addition to the many copper and shell beads, the 17.4cm long obsidian blade is exceptional, which links this grave to the Csongrád-“Kettoshalom” grave in the south Hungarian plain (Ecsedy 1979). It also yielded an obsidian blade ( 13.2cm long) and copper, shell and limestone beads.

The Southeast European distribution of graves of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka group and such unequipped ones mentioned in the text which can be attributed by burial custom and stratigraphic position in the barrow, plus zoomorphic and abstract animal head sceptres as well as specific maceheads with knobs as from Decea Maresului (mid-5th millennium until around 4000 BC). Heyd (2016).

However, no traces of a tumulus have been recorded above the Kettoshalom tomb. Conventionally, it is dated to the Bodrogkeresztur-period in east Hungary, shortly after 4000 cal. B.C., which would correspond very well with the suggested Cernavodă I (or its less known cultural equivalent in the Thracian plain) attribution for the “Gonova mogila” grave, a cultural background to which the Csongrád grave should have also belonged. Bodrogkeresztur and Cernavodă I periods are not the only examples of 4th millennium cal. B.C. tumuli and burials displaying this steppe connection. Indeed we can find this early steppe impact throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C. These include adscriptions to the Horodiștea II (Corlateni-Dealul Stadole, grave I: Burtanescu l 998, p. 37; Holbocai, grave 34: Coma 1998, p. 16); to Gordinești-Cernavodă 11 (Liești-Movila Arbănașu, grave 22: Brudiu 2000); to Gorodsk-Usatovo (Corlăteni Dealul Cetăţii, grave I: Comșa 1998, p. 17- 18, in Romania; Durankulak, grave 982: Vajsov 2002, in Bulgaria); and to Cernavodă III(Golyama Detelina, tum. 4: Leshtakov, Borisov 1995), and early (end of 4th millennium cal. B.C.) Ezero in Ovchartsi, primary grave (Kalchev 1994, p. 134-138) and Golyama Detelina, tum. 2 (Kanchev 1991) in Bulgaria. Also the Boleráz and Baden tumuli of Banjevac-Tolisavac and Mokrin in the south Carpathian basin account for this, since one should perhaps take into account primary grave 12 of the Sárrédtudavari-Orhalom tumulus in the Hungarian Alfold: a left-sided crouched juvenile ( 15- 17 y) individual in an oval, NW-SE orientated grave pit 14C dated to 3350-3100 cal. B.C. at 2 sigma (Dani, Ncpper 2006). Neither the burial custom (no ochre strewing or depositing a lump of ochre has been recorded), nor date account for its ascription to the Yamnaya!

All of these tumuli and burials demonstrate, though, that there is already a constant but perhaps low-level 4th millennium cal. B.C. steppe interaction, linking the regions of the north of the Black Sea with those of the west, and reaching deep into the Carpathian basin. This has to be acknowledged. even if these populations remain small, bounded to their steppe habitat with an economy adapted to this special environment, and are not always visible in the record. Indirect hints may help in seeing them, such as the frequent occurrence of horse bones, regarded as deriving from domesticated horses, in Hungarian Baden settlements (Bokonyi 1978; Benecke 1998), and in those of the south German Cham Culture (Matuschik 1999, p. 80-82) and the east German Bernburg Culture (Becker 1999; Benecke 1999). These occur, however, always in low numbers, perhaps not enough to maintain and regenerate a herd. Does this point us towards otherwise archaeologically hidden horsebreeders in the Carpathian basin, before the Yamnaya? In any case, I hope to make one case clear: these are by no means Yamnaya burials in the strict definition! Attribution to the Yamnaya in its strict definition applies.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). In Alin Frînculeasa, Bianca Preda, Volker Heyd, Pit-Graves, Yamnaya and Kurgans along the Lower Danube.

Also, about the expansion of Yamna settlers along the steppes:

However, it should have been made clear by the distribution map of the Western Yamnaya that they were confining themselves solely to their own, well-known, steppe habitat and therefore not occupying, or pushing away and expelling, the locally settled farming societies. Also, living solely in the steppes requires another lifestyle, and quite different economic and social bases, most likely very different to the established farming societies. Although surely regarded as incoming strangers, they may therefore not have been seen as direct competitors. This argument can be further enforced when remembering that the lowlands and the steppes in the southeast of Europe had already been populated throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C., as demonstrated above, by societies with a similar north-Pontic steppe origin and tradition, albeit in lower numbers. It is only for these groups that the Yamnaya may have become a threat, but their common origin and perhaps a similar economic/ social background with comparable lifestyles would surely have assisted to allow rapid assimilation. More important, though, is that farming societies in this region may therefore have been accustomed to dealing and interacting with different people and ethnic strangers for a long time. (…)

When assessing farming and steppe societies’ interaction from a general point of view, attitudes can diverge in three main directions:

  1. the violent one; with raids, fights, struggles, warfare, suppression and finally the superiority and exploitation of the one over the other;
  2. the peaceful one; with a continuous exchange of gifts, goods, work, information and genes in a balanced reciprocal system, leading eventually to the merging of the two societies and creation of a new identity;
  3. the neutral one; with the two societies ignoring each other for a long time.

What we see from trying to understand the record of the Yamnaya, based on their tumuli and burials, and the local and neighbouring contemporary societies, based on their settlements, hoards, and graves, is likely a mixture of all three scenarios, with the balance perhaps more towards exchange in a highly dynamic system with alterations over time. However, violence and raids cannot be ruled out; they would be difficult to see in the archaeological record; or only indirectly, such as the building of hill forts, particularly the defence-like chain of Vucedol hillforts along the south shore of the Danube on the Serbian/Croatian border zone (Tasic 1995a), and the retreat of people into them (Falkenstein 1998, p. 261-262), with other interpretations also possible. And finally, we are dealing here with very different local and neighbouring societies, as well as with more distant contemporary ones, looking, in reality, rather like a chequer board of societies and archaeological cultures (see Parzinger 1993 for the overview). These display different regional backgrounds and traditions leading to different social and settlement organizations, different economic bases and material cultures in the wide areas between Prut and Maritza rivers, and Black Sea and Tisza river. They surely found their individual way of responding to the incoming and settling Yamnaya people.

Yamnaya tumuli signalling the expansion of West Yamna from ca. 3100 BC (especially after ca. 2950 BC). Heyd (2011).

The best data we have about this potential non-Yamna origin of R1b-L51 – and thus in favour of its admixture in the Carpathian basin – lies in:

  1. The majority of R1a-Z2103 subclades found to date among Yamna samples.
  2. The presence of R1b-Z2103 in the Catacomb culture – in the Northern Caucasus and in Ukraine.
  3. The limited presence of (ancient and modern) R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and India, whose isolated finds are commonly (and simplistically) attributed to ‘late migrations’.
  4. The presence of R1b-L51 (xZ2103) in cultures related to the ‘Yamna package’, but supposedly not to Yamna settlers. So for example I7043, of haplogroup R1b-L151(xU106,xP312), ca. 2500-2200 BC from Szigetszentmiklós-Üdülősor, probably from the Bell Beaker (Csepel group), but maybe from the early Nagýrev culture.
  5. The expansion of its subclades apparently only from a single region, around the Carpathian basin, in contrast to R1b-Z2103.
  6. The already ‘diluted’ steppe admixture found in the earliest samples with respect to Yamna, which points to the appearance after the Yamna admixture with the local population.
  7. Ukrainian archaeologists (in contrast to their Russian colleagues) point to the relevance of North Pontic cultures like Kvitjana and Lower Mikhailovka in the development of Early Yamna in the west, and some eastern European researchers also believe in this similarity.
  8. If R1b-Z2103 and R1b-L51 had expanded with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka migrants to the west, and had admixed later as Hungary_LCA-LBA-like peoples with Yamna migrants during the long-term contacts with other ‘kurganized cultures’ ca. 2900-2500 BC in the Great Hungarian Plains, it could explain some peculiar linguistic traits of North-West Indo-European, and also why R1b-Z2103 appears in cultures associated with this earlier ‘steppe influence’ (i.e. not directly related to Yamna) such as Vučedol (with a R1b-Z2103 sample, see below). That could also explain the presence of R1b-L151(xP312, xU106) in similar Balkan cultures, possibly not directly related to Yamna.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Red circle in dashed line around Varna, Greece Neolithic, and (approximate position of) Smyadovo outliers, part of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka settlers.

A hidden group among north or west Pontic Eneolithic steppe cultures?

The expansion of Khvalynsk as Novodanilovka into the North Pontic area happened through the south across the steppe, near the coast, with the forest-steppe region working as a clear natural border for this culture of likely horse-riding chieftains, whose economy was probably based on some rudimentary form of mobile pastoralism.

Although archaeologists are divided as to the origin of each individual Middle Eneolithic group near the Black Sea after the end of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka period, it seems more or less clear that steppe cultures like Cernavodă, Lower Mikhailovka, or Kvitjana are closer (or “more archaic”) in their steppe features, which connects them to Volga–Ural and Northern Caucasus cultures, like Northern Caucasus, Repin or Khvalynsk.

On the other hand, forest-steppe cultures like Dereivka (including Alexandria) show innovative traits and contacts with para- or sub-Neolithic cultures to the north, like Comb-Pit Ware groups, apart from corded decoration influenced by Trypillian groups to the west, especially in their later (‘Proto-Corded Ware‘) stage after ca. 3500 BC.

If Ukrainian researchers like Rassamakin are right, Early Yamna expanded not only from Repin settlers, but also from local steppe cultures adopting Repin traits to develop an Early Yamna culture, similar to how eastern (Volga–Ural groups) seem to have synchronously adopted Early Yamna without massive affluence of Repin settlements.

Furthermore, local traits develop in southern groups, like anthropomorphic stelae (shared with Kemi-Oba, direct heir of Lower Mikhailovka), and rich burials featuring wagons. These traits are seen in west Yamna settlers.

Modified from Rassamakin (1999), adding red color to Repin expansion. The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug.

Problems of this model include:

  1. On the North Pontic area – in contrast to the Volga–Ural region – , there was a clear “colonization” wave of Repin settlers, also supported by Ukrainian researchers, based on the number of new settlements and burials, and on the progressive retreat of Dereivka, Kvitjana, as well as (more recent) Maykop- and Trypillia-related groups from the North Pontic area ca. 3350/3300 BC. It seems unlikely that these expansionist, semi-nomadic, cattle-breeding, patrilineally-related steppe clans that were driving all native populations out of their territories suddenly decided, at some point during their spread into the North Pontic area ca. 3300-3100 BC, to join forces with some foreign male lineages from the area, and then continue their expansion to the west…
  2. Similar to the fate of R1b-P297 subclades in the Baltic after the expansion of Corded Ware migrants, previous haplogropus of the North Pontic region – such as R1a, R1b-V88, and I2 subclades basically disappeared from the ancient DNA record after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka, and then after the expansion of Yamna, as is clear from Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker samples obtained to date. This, in combination with what we know about Y-chromosome bottlenecks in post-Neolithic expansions, leaves little space to think that a big enough territorial group with a majority of “native” haplogroups could survive later expansions (be it R1b-L51 or R1a-Z645).
  3. Supporting an expansion of the same male (and partly female) population, the Yamna admixture from east to west is quite homogeneous, with the only difference found in (non-significant) EEF-like proportion which becomes elevated in distant areas [apart from significant ‘southern’ contribution to certain outlier samples]. Based on the also homogeneous Y-DNA picture, the heterogeneity must come, in general, from the female exogamy practiced by expanding groups.
  4. There is a short period, spanning some centuries (approximately 3300-2700 BC), in which the North Pontic area – especially the forest-steppe territories to the west of the Dnieper, i.e. the Upper Dniester, Boh, and Prut-Siret areas – are a chaos of incoming and emigrating, expanding and shrinking groups of different cultures, such as late Trypillian groups, Maykop-related traits, TRB, GAC, (Proto-)Corded Ware, and Early Yamna settlements. No natural geographic frontier can be delimited between these groups, which probably interacted in different ways. Nevertheless, based on their cultural traits, admixture, and especially on their Y-DNA, it seems that they never incorporated foreign male lineages, beyond those they probably had during their initial expansion trends.
  5. The further expansionist waves of Early Yamna seen ca. 3100 BC, from the Danube Delta to the west, give an overall image of continuously expanding patrilineal clans of R1b-M269 subclades since the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migration, in different periodic steps, mostly from eastern Pontic-Caspian nuclei, usually overriding all encountered cultures and (especially male) populations, rather than showing long-term collaboration and interaction. Such interaction is seen only in exceptional cases, e.g. the long-term admixture between Abashevo and Poltavka, as seen in Proto-Indo-Iranian peoples and their language.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Arrows depicting Khvalynsk -> Yamna drift (blue), and hypothetic approximate Ukraine Eneolithic -> Yamna drift accompanying R1b-L51 (red).


We are living right now an exemplary ego-, (ethno-)nationalism-, and/or supremacy-deflating moment, for some individuals of eastern and northern European descent who believed that R1a or ‘steppe ancestry proportions’ meant something special. The same can be said about those who had interiorized some social or ethnolinguistic meaning for the origin of R1b in western Europe, N1c in north-eastern Europe, as well as Greeks, Iranians, Armenians, or Mediterranean peoples in general of ‘Near Eastern’ ancestry or haplogroups, or peoples of Near Eastern origin and/or language.

These people had linked their haplogroups or ancestry with some fantasy continuity of ‘their’ ancestral populations to ‘their’ territories or languages (or both), and all are being proven wrong.

Apart from teaching such people a lesson about what simplistic views are useful for – whether it is based on ABO or RH group, white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence, or on the own ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroup -, it teaches the rest of us what can happen in the near future among western Europeans. Because, until recently, most western Europeans were comfortably settled thinking that our ancestors were some remnant population from an older, Palaeolithic or Mesolithic population, who acquired Indo-European languages by way of cultural diffusion in different periods, including only minor migrations.

Judging by what we can see now among some individuals of Northern and Eastern European descent, the only thing that can worsen the air of superiority among western Europeans is when they realize (within a few years, when all these stupid battles to control the narrative fade) that not only are they the cultural ‘heirs’ of the Graeco-Roman tradition that began with the Roman Empire, but that most of them are the direct patrilineal descendants of Khvalynsk, Yamna, Bell Beaker, and European Bronze Age peoples, and thus direct descendants of Middle PIE, Late PIE, and NWIE speakers.

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

The finding of R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 among expanding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains, with pockets of R1b-L51 remaining in steppe-like societies of the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin, would have beautifully complemented what we know about the East Yamna admixture with R1a-Z93 subclades (Uralic speakers) ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian, and about the regional admixtures seen in the Balkans, e.g. in Proto-Greeks, with the prevalent J subclades of the region.

It would have meant an end to any modern culture or nation identifying themselves with the ‘true’ Late PIE and Yamna heirs, because these would be exclusively associated with the expansion of R1b-Z2103 subclades with late Repin, and later as the full-fledged Late PIE with Yamna settlers to south-east and central Europe, and to the southern Urals. The language would have had then obviously undergone different language changes in all these territories through long-lasting admixture with other populations. In that sense, it would have ended with the ideas of supremacy in western Europe before they even begin.

The most likely future

However limited the evidence, it seems that R1b-L51 expanded with Yamna, though, based on the estimates for the haplogroups involved, and on marginal hints at the variability of L23 subclades within Yamna and neighbouring populations. If R1b-L51 expanded with West Repin / Early Yamna settlers, this is why they have not yet been found among Yamna samples:

Simplified map of Repin expansions from ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • The subclade division of Yamna settlers needs not be 50:50 for L51:Z2103, either in time or in space. I think this is the simplistic view underlying many thoughts on this matter. Many different expanding patrilineal clans of L23 subclades may have been more or less successful in different areas, and non-Z2103 may have been on the minority, or more isolated relative to Z2103-clans among expanding peoples on the steppe, especially on the east. In fact, we usually talk in terms of “Z2103 vs. L51” as if
    1. these two were the only L23 subclades; and
    2. both had split and succeeded (expanding) synchronously;

    that is, as if there had not been multiple subclades of both haplogroups, and as if there had not been different expansion waves for hundreds of years stemming from different evolving nuclei, involving each time only limited (successful) clans. Many different subclades of haplogroups L23 (xZ2103, xL51), Z2103, and L51 must have been unsuccessful during the ca. 1,500 years of late Khvalynsk and late Repin-Early Yamna expansions in which they must have participated (for approximately 60-75 generations, based on a mean 20-25 years).

  • If we want to imagine a pocket of ‘hidden’ L51 for some region of the North Pontic or Carpathian region, the same can be imagined – and much more likely – for any unsampled territory of expanding late Repin/Early Yamna settlers from the Lower Don – Lower Volga region (probably already a mixed society of L51 and Z2103 subclades since their beginning, as the early Repin culture, ca. 3800 BC), with L51 clans being probably successful to the west.
  • The Repin culture expanded only in small, mobile settlements from the Lower Don – Lower Volga to the north, east, and south, starting ca. 3500/3400 BC, in the waves that eventually gave a rather early distant offshoot in the Altai region, i.e. Afanasevo. Starting ca. 3300 BC in the archaeological record, the majority of R1b-Z2103 subclades found to date in Afanasevo also supports either
    • a mixed Repin society, with Z2103-clans predominating among eastern settlers; or
    • a Repin society marked by haplogroup L51, and thus a cultural diffusion of late Repin/Early Yamna traits among neighbouring (Khvalynsk, Samara, etc.) groups of essentially the same (early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) genetic stock in the Volga–Ural region.

    Both options could justify a majority of Z2103 in the Lower Volga–Ural region, with the latter being supported by the scattered archaeological remains of late Repin in the region before the synchronous emergence of Early Yamna findings in the whole Pontic-Caspian steppe.

  • Most Z2103 from Yamna samples to date are from around 3100 BC (in average) onward, and from the right bank of the Lower Don to the east, particularly from the Lower Volga–Ural area (especially the Samara region), which – based on the center of expansion of late Repin settlers – may be depicting an artificially high Z2103-distribution of the whole Yamna community.
Repin expansion into the Volga–Ural region from ca. 3500/3400 BC. Map made by me based on maps and data from Morgunova (2014, 2016). Lopatino is marked with number 64.
  • Yamna sample I0443, R1b-L23 (Y410+, L51-), ca. 3300-2700 BCE from Lopatino II, points to an intermediate subclade between L23 and L51, near one of the supposed late Repin sites (based on kurgan burials with late Repin cultural traits) in the Samara region.
  • Other Balkan cultures potentially unrelated to the Yamna expansion also show Z2103 (and not only L51) subclades, like I3499 (ca. 2884-2666 calBC), of the Vučedol culture, from Beli Manastir-Popova zemlja, which points to the infiltration of Yamna peoples in other cultures. In any case, the appearance of R1b-L23 subclades in the region happens only after the Yamna expansion ca. 3100 BC, probably through intrusions into different neighbouring regions, if these Balkan cultures are not directly derived from Yamna settlements (which is probably the case of the Csepel Bell Beaker or early Nagýrev sample, see above).
  • The diversity of haplogroups found in or around the Carpathian Basin in Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age samples, including L151(xP312, xU106), P312, U106, Z2103, makes it the most likely sink of Yamna settlers, who spread thus with expanding family clans of different R1b-L23 subclades.
  • Even though some Yamna vanguard groups are known to have expanded up to Saxony-Anhalt before ca. 2700 BC, haplogroup Z2103 seems to be restricted to more eastern regions, which suggests that R1b-L51 was already successful among expanding West Yamna clans in Hungary, which gave rise only later to expanding East Bell Beakers (overwhelmingly of L151 subclades). The source of R1b-L51 and L151 expansion over Z2103 must lie therefore in the West Yamna period, and not in the Bell Beaker expansion.
Yamna migrants ca. 3300-2600. Most likely site of admixture with GAC circled in red.
  • The R1b-Z2103 found in Poltavka, Catacomb, and to the south point to a late migration displacing the western R1b-L51, only after the late Repin expansion. This is also seen in the steppe ancestry and R1b-Z2103 south of the Caucasus, in Hajji Firuz, which points to this route as a potential source of the supposed “Earliest Proto-Indo-Iranian” (the mariannu term) of the Near East. A similar replacement event happened some centuries later with expanding R1a-Z93 subclades from the east wiping out haplogroup R1b-Z2103 from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.
  • Many ancient samples from Khvalynsk, Northern Caucasus, Yamna, or later ones are reported simply as R1b-M269 or L23, without a clear subclade, so the simplistic ‘Yamna–Z2103’ picture is not real: if one takes into account that Z2103 might have been successful quite early in the eastern region, it is more likely to obtain a successful Y-SNP call of a Z2103 subclade in the Volga–Ural region than a xZ2103 one.
  • There are some modern samples of R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and Asia, whose common simplistic attribution to “late expansions” is usually not substantiated; and also ancient R1b-L51 samples might be confirmed soon for Asia.
  • ‘Western’ features described by archaeologists for West Yamna settlers, associated with Kemi Oba and southern Yamna groups in the North Pontic area – like rich burials with anthropomorphic stelae and wagons – are actually absent in burials from settlers beyond Bulgaria, which does not support their affiliation with these local steppe groups of the Black Sea. Also, a mix with local traditions is seen accross all Early Yamna groups of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and still genetics and common cultural traits point to their homogeneization under the same patrilineal clans expanding continuously for centuries. The maintenance of local traditions (as evidenced by East Bell Beakers in Iberia related to Iberian Proto-Beakers) is often not a useful argument in genetics, especially when the female population is not replaced.
Yamna settlers in the Great Pannonian Plain, showing only kurgans of Hungary ca. 2950-2500 BC. Yamna Hungary was one of the biggest West Yamna provinces. From Hórvath et al. (2013).


This is what we know, using linguistics, archaeology, and genetics:

  • Middle Proto-Indo-European expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka after ca. 4800 BC, with the first Suvorovo settlements dated ca. 4600 BC.
  • Archaic Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with late Repin (or Volga–Ural settlers related to Khvalynsk, influenced by the Repin expansion) into Afanasevo ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with Early Yamna settlers to the west into central Europe and the Balkans ca. 3100 BC; and also to the east (as Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian) into the southern Urals ca. 2600 BC.
  • North-West Indo-European expanded with Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beakers, from ca. 2500 BC.
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian expanded with Sintashta, Potapovka, and later Andronovo and Srubna from ca. 2100 BC.

It seems that the subclades from Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC were wrongly reported – like those of Narasimhan et al. (2018). However, even if they are real and YFull estimates have to be revised, and even if the split had happened before the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, the most likely origin of R1b-L51 among Bell Beakers will still be the expansion of late Repin / Early Yamna settlers, and that is what ancient DNA samples will most likely show, whatever the social or political consequences.

The only relevance of the finding of R1b-L51 in one place or another – especially if it is found to be a remnant of a Middle PIE expansion coupled with centuries of admixture and interaction in the Carpathian Basin – is the potential influence of an archaic PIE (or non-IE) layer on the development of North-West Indo-European in Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beaker. That is, more or less like the Uralic influence related to the appearance of R1a-Z93 among Proto-Indo-Iranians, of R1a-Z284 among Pre-Germanic peoples, and of R1a-Z282 among Balto-Slavic peoples.

I think there is little that ancient DNA samples from West Yamna could add to what we know in general terms of archaeology or linguistics at this point regarding Late PIE migrations, beyond many interesting details. I am sure that those who have not attributed some random 6,000-year-old paternal ancestor any magical (ethnic or nationalist) meaning are just having fun, enjoying more and more the precise data we have now on European prehistoric populations.

As for those who believe in magical consequences of genetic studies, I don’t think there is anything for them to this quest beyond the artificially created grand-daddy issues. And, funnily enough, those who played (and play) the ‘neutrality’ card to feel superior in front of others – the “I only care about the truth”-type of lie, while secretly longing for grandpa’s ethnolinguistic continuity – are suffering the hardest fall.


Sredni Stog, Proto-Corded Ware, and their “steppe admixture”


Once the haplogroups of the announced West Yamna and Yamna settlers in Hungary and Khvalynsk from Ekaterinovka appear, it is to be expected that there won’t be much discussion on the Y-DNA bottlenecks that affected Khvalynsk – Yamna migrations.

So let’s cut to the chase and see where Corded Ware peoples (mainly of R1a-Z645 subclades) got their so-called “steppe admixture” different from that of Yamna. Because, as you might have realized by now, Sredni Stog – and consequently Corded Ware – remains nowadays an undefined (archaeological) mess.

Rassamakin explains it quite well, in the chapter Eneolithic of the Black Sea Steppe; In Levine M., Rassamakin Yu., Kislenko A. and Tatarintseva N., 1999. Late Prehistoric Exploitation of the Eurasian Steppe. McDonald Institute Monographs, University of Cambridge.

NOTE. These are only certain relevant excerpts. The whole chapter is worth a thorough read, whatever position you hold regarding steppe expansions. In fact, he supports the Skelya cultural (macro-)group instead of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka vs. Sredni Stog, he does not believe in significant expansions from the east (but in local movements and a ‘general evolution’ of Pontic-Caspian steppe cultures to Early Yamna), and offers e.g. the presence of copper and trade from the west (and its poor presence in the east) as an example of the importance of the North Pontic area vis-à-vis Khvalynsk/Repin. Not an interested party in supporting Gimbutas or Anthony, then, if you fear that.

Cultural groups in the North Pontic area

Telegin divided the Sredny Stog culture into three local variants – the Dnepr Culture variant, the Oskol-Donets (Aleksandriya) Culture variant, and the Lower Don (Konstantinovka) Culture variant. He elaborated a periodization based on the evolution of decorative motifs in the pottery assemblages.

At first, the internal contradictions of the Sredny Stog culture were not accorded particular prominence, despite clear intimations of problems when, for example, sites like the settlement of Konstantinovka on the Lower Don, was identified as actually belonging to another, independent culture (Kiyashko 1974). The first real blow to the integrity of the Sredny Stog culture was dealt by Telegin himself, when he removed five Novodanilovka-type sites, and accorded them the status of an independent cultural phenomenon (Telegin 1985a). Until that point, sites of this type had were customarily considered to be within the framework of the late group of Sredny Stog cemeteries, despite having been for long regarded by some as representative of an earlier, independent cultural group (Movsha & Chebotarenko 1969; Zbenovich 1973, 74-5; Gimbutas, Merpert and Danilenko passim). Indeed, it was unclear why these cemeteries had initially been assigned to the Late, rather than the Early, Sredny Stog culture. Now these sites were mechanically stripped out of the one system, but their place in the new system was not clearly defined.

Rassamakin (1999) concept of cultural development of burial rituals in the North Pontic steppe.

Thus a paradox arose. Sites that had served to a considerable extent as the initial basis for the Sredny Stog culture, for the elaboration of its periodization and chronology, were now accepted as forming the core of an essentially different culture. Because of this, by the mid 1980s, both the Sredny Stog culture and the Eneolithic systematization as a whole were becoming rather amorphous. Essentially, the Sredny Stog culture was associated in the minds of many researchers solely with the settlement site at Dereivka, while they had only a confused and indistinct idea of the nature of early Sredny Stog sites. (…) Ultimately a situation developed where all attempts to view new evidence, new local groups, or even cultures through the prism of the Sredny Stog culture were futile, since researchers were unclear about of the essence of the culture itself, and often qualified themselves in footnotes with references to ‘preCorded Ware’ or ‘Corded Ware’ stages, or by relating their observations back directly to the specific sites of Sredny Stog II or Dereivka.

Thus, in the Middle Eneolithic, a number of independent cultures (Kvityana, Repin, Konstantinovka, and, to some degree, Dereivka, Cernavoda and Lower Mikhailovka) emerged in the region that had in the Early Eneolithic been occupied by the Skelya culture, either as lineal successors to this culture or under its influence. But the principal stimuli in this period were the Tripolye tribes, direct imports from whom reach the southern zone of the Dnepr left bank.

It is apparent that, for all their conceptual differences, if we remove Danilenko’s subdivisions, Telegin’s and Danilenko’s models are identical in terms of site periodization and sequence: first Kvityana, then Sredny Stog II, and finally Dereivka.

The North Pontic area in the Eneolithic (4000-3500 BC)

The Kvityana and Dereivka cultures in relation to other sites: 1) Molyukhov Bugor (settlement); 2) Dereivka (settlement); 3) Aleksandriya (settlement); 4) Minevsky Yar (settlement); 5) Khutor Repin (settlement).

Tripolye influence is seen most clearly in the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture and a new burial rite which spread as far as the Molochnaya. Changes are apparent in kurgan architecture; that is, in the construction of stone chambers, sanctuaries comprising upright elements, and ring-shaped ditches (Rassamakin 1990; 1993; 1994; Pleshivenko & Rassamakin 1994 ). Lower Mikhailovka sites in the northwestern Black Sea coast region are known by a whole series of different designations, one of which, as I have already noted above, is ‘the Bessarabian variant of the Cernavoda I culture’ (Manzura 1993).

The formation of the Kvityana culture should be considered both in the context of the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture, and in terms of the influence of the Sredny Stog II pottery assemblage. The first is manifested in the development of the kurgan ritual itself, with such structural elements as cromlechs, orthostats and stone cists. These are most apparent to the south, in the zone of contact with the Lower Mikhailovka culture. The second is apparent in the similarity between Kvityana pottery and Sredny Stog II pottery, notably in a number of shared compositional and technical elements, despite the fact that the shapes, techniques and style are all quite different.

As a whole, the Kvityana culture is notably conservative and archaic in appearance; this is manifest both in the preservation of a burial rite involving a supine position, and in the appearance of the pottery which, on the basis of the absence of corded or caterpillar track decoration, was until recently considered the earliest Sredny Stog ware.

(…) we still lack sufficient evidence to trace in detail the path by which the Kvityana culture spread from the Dnepr into the Dnestr-Danube region. The southern steppe route is excluded, but Kvityana sites are recorded on the Southern Bug, in the Dnestr region, and even along the forest-steppe boundary on the Prut Gudging by the numerous excavations of kurgans in this belt. This route in some respects repeats that along which the Skelya elite groups moved. Southward movement along the Southern Bug and its tributaries into the steppe zone is indicated only by isolated sites, the number of which is far smaller than in the Dnestr-Danube region, despite the intensive excavation of kurgans in this region. Evidence for Kvityana penetration into the northwestern Black Sea coast is provided by the appearance in Usatovo assemblages of typical Kvityana figural tubular bone beads, with diagnostic lateral notches on the sides (Malyukevich & Petrenko 1993).

Expansions of Kvityana and Trypillia cultures. Rassamakin (1999)

[The Dereivka] culture is currently only known only from settlement material, notably from sites in the Dnepr region (Dereivka and Molyukhov Bugor), but also from typologically distinctive pottery in the Eneolithic layer of the settlement of Aleksandriya on the Oskol. Dereivka culture pottery has also been recorded at a number of locations in the forest-steppe Dnepr region and the Seversky Donets, at Tetyanchino, Kamennye Pataki, and Minevsky Yar. The ceramic assemblage is well-defined and easily recognizable: vessels consistently display a weak profile and slightly elongated proportions, with high, straight mouths, evenly cut off at the rim, and conical bases (Fig. 3.23). The Dereivka culture occupies the southern part of the forest-steppe region and is bounded to the south by the Kvityana culture.

Telegin rightly noted that Dereivka and Kvityana pottery bore some resemblance to one another. Several fragments of the latter were found in the Dereivka assemblage, and provide evidence for the contemporaneous existence of the two cultures. The Molyukhov Bugor pottery assemblage stands out in terms of a prevalence of pottery with corded decoration, which only occurs in insignificant amounts at Dereivka and Aleksandriya. However, artefactual analysis has not produced any clear guidance for a chronological organization of these sites, as was postulated by Telegin.

Rassamakin’s (1999) periodization of the North Pontic cultures

Late Phase and Final Eneolithic (3500-3000 BC)

In the Dnestr region, southward pressure from Tripolye led to the formation of, firstly, Vykhvatinsk-type sites, and then, in the steppe zone, Usatovo-type sites, which had undoubtedly absorbed some features of the Lower Mikhailovka culture. In the Prut and Middle Dnestr regions, sites of the Gordineşti (Kasperovkao) types are formed (these correspond, in the Romanian Prut region and on the Siret, to sites of the Horodiştea-Erbiceni type, and on the Lower Danube to the Cernavoda III culture: Morintz & Roman 1968; Dinu 1980; 1987). Movsha considers that sites of this type (Kasperovkao in her terminology) also occur in the Southern Bug region.

Sofievka-type sites emerge in the forest-steppes of the Middle Dnepr. A number of researchers (Zbenovich, Dergachev, and Sorokin), taking account of the change in the Tripolye culture at stage C2, propose a special division, considering sites of this period alone as ‘Late Tripolye’. In their view (with which I agree), stage Cl in culture-historical terms still corresponds to ‘Middle Tripolye’.

(…) existing evidence allows us to put forward the following scheme (Fig. 3.49:2). To the east of the Usatovo sites, from the lower reaches of the Southern Bug to the Azov region, encroaching on the Crimean steppes, the Lower Mikhailovka culture remains intact. To the north, upstream along the Dnepr and its tributaries, the Kvityana culture survives in its initial core zone. Between the Southern Bug and the Dnepr, in the contact zone between the three cultures (Tripolye, Lower Mikhailovka and Kvityana) the Dnepr-Bug group of sites emerges, displaying mixed features (Nikolova & Rassamakin 1985; Rassamakin 1988) Tripolye influence on the Dereivka culture appears to increase, as manifested in the appearance of late cultural elements (corded decoration, plastic art, bowls). The fate of the Pivikha culture is unclear. On the Lower Don, the late phase of the Konstantinovka culture (corresponding to the settlements of Konstantinovka and Razdorskoe I: Level 7) continued.

The final stage

The final stage of this period is characterized by two waves of migration, which properly speaking conclude the development of the Eneolithic.(…)

The first migration is connected with the breakdown of that system of Late Tripolye forest-steppe sites of the Prut-Dnestr and Southern Bug regions, dealt with by Movsha within the framework of the Kasperovo local group (and termed Gordineşti by others such as Dergachev, Manzura, and Petrenko). Almost all researchers into the Tripolye culture note the widespread occurrence of diagnostic elements of this group in the south, in the zone of the Usatovo sites and, in the east and southeast, towards the Dnepr and its left bank (Movsha 1984; 1990; 1993; Subbotin & Petrenko 1986; Manzura 1990a). (…)

The migrational wave that left Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe-type burials in the steppe also linked up the forest-steppe Bug, Dnestr, and Prut regions with the Lower Don region, and, possibly with the North Caucasus, where the late stage of the Maikop culture (the Novosvobodnaya sites) continued. The identical rites of the Maikop culture and Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe sites makes it difficult to establish the direction of migration, or which was the active side in the process. A number of researchers have given precedence to the Maikop culture. But the spread of the Tripolye assemblage unambiguously indicates the active involvement of the Tripolye tribes.

The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug

The second migration, at the very end of the Eneolithic, is connected with the spread of the Repin culture (in its second phase) from the Middle Don. Sinyuk defined three main directions: north, to the Upper Don; southwest, into the Dnepr region; and south, to the Lower Don and the Lower Volga. Trifonov considers this broad expansion of the Repin culture to be colonization (Trifonov 1996). The Repin culture level at Razdorskoe I (Razdorskoe I: Level 8) overlies the Konstantinovka levels (Levels 6 and 7), signalling that the Konstantinovka culture had apparently ceased to exist (Kiyashko 1994, 80). It seems that the expansion of the Repin culture is also associated with a reduction in the territorial extent of the Kvityana and Dereivka cultures. Repin burial assemblages, settlements and temporary camps appear in the Seversky Donets basin and in the Eastern Azov region (at Trekhizbenka, Kapitanovo, Aleksandriya, and Razdolnoe). The same complexes are also widely distributed towards the Dnepr (Marina 1992). The most striking western manifestation of Repin elements is seen in the upper horizon of the middle level of the Mikhailovka settlement (Lagodovska et al. 1962, 39-46).

Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware

We already know that Ukraine Eneolithic samples showed steppe ancestry and had apparently began a process of convergence coinciding with (or after) the first Khvalynsk-related migrations. It is unclear what had happened before (i.e. how much “CHG ancestry” was absorbed by Ukraine Neolithic groups in their transition to the Eneolithic before ca. 4500 BC), although in principle we can assume that all Caucasus-related admixture received by North Pontic cultures ca. 4500-4000 BC was mediated by westward movements from Khvalynsk-related peoples.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Contacts with (and later absorption of) Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-related migrants, as well as heir cultures, like those in the steppe adjacent to the Black Sea coast, and also direct contacts with Caucasus-related populations through Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe can justify a greater contribution of CHG ancestry ca. 4000-3500 BC. Close contacts with Cucuteni-Trypillia (through Mikhailovka and maybe Kvityana, possibly with WHG and CHG admixture related to Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) and GAC peoples to the north are the obvious source of further similarities with Yamna. Distinct similarities, that is, if we take into account the different sources and timing of such ancestral components, and Y-chromosome bottlenecks…

Therefore, after a process of convergence ca. 4500-4000 BC, and potentially more contacts with late Eneolithic North Pontic steppe cultures ca. 4000-3500 BC, Proto-Corded Ware peoples must have finally spread from the northernmost (forest-steppe) areas previously occupied by Dereivka, Pivikha, or Sofievka groups from ca. 3300 BC onwards – a date roughly coincident with the expansion of late Khvalynsk/Repin to the west developing the Early Yamna culture, with which it likely entered in contact (hence potentially a source for further admixture convergence ca. 3500-3000 BC).

Only later happened the great migration ca. 3000-2800 BC of Classical Corded Ware culture migrants, at the same time as Early Yamna migrants expanded to the west, and some groups also to the north along the Prut (possibly directly connected to the admixture found in the two Baltic LN/CWC ‘outliers’).

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

We didn’t know much about Sredni Stog or Corded Ware, and we still don’t. I can’t see the future, and I don’t have access to information from Reich-Jena or Copenhagen groups, and never have. But I just don’t see the need to explain Corded Ware as derived from (coeval) Early Yamna, and I haven’t since the 2015 papers. It was not the best explanation for the data that was published, and the more information we receive, the less sense this theory makes.

However, I guess we will see some groups still resorting to the good old Yamnaya ancestral component™ = Indo-European no matter what, consciously ignoring that a proportion of ancestral components (some combination of EHG:CHG:WHG in this case) means nothing without a proper explanation of their precise temporal and regional origin, and how they connect with Yamna; just like the CHG ancestry = Indo-European trend we are living right now does not make any sense.

Publishing only selected results after trying every possible combination of samples with bioinformatic tools does not help strengthen this connection, either.


About Scepters, Horses, and War: on Khvalynsk migrants in the Caucasus and the Danube


dergachev-scepters-khavlynsk-horsesAbout two months ago I stumbled upon a gem in archaeological studies related to Proto-Indo-Europeans, the book О скипетрах, о лошадях, о войне: этюды в защиту миграционной концепции М.Гимбутас (On sceptres, on horses, on war: Studies in defence of M. Gimbutas’ migration concepts), 2007, by V. A. Dergachev, from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Moldavian Republic.

Dergachev’s work dedicates 488 pages to a very specific Final Neolithic-Eneolithic period in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the most relevant parts of the book concern the nature and expansion of horses and horse domestication, horse-head scepters, and other horse-related symbology – arguably the most relevant cultural signs associated with Proto-Indo-European speakers in this period.

I haven’t had enough time to read the whole book, but I have read with interest certain important chapters.

About Scepters

Typological classification

The genetic and chronological relationship of horse-head pommel-scepters is classified with incredible detail, to the extent that one could divide subregions among those cultures using them.

Scheme of regional distribution – chronological – typological development of the carved horse-head stone scepters.

Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):

  1. The [horse-head pommel-]scepters arose originally in the depth of the Khvalynsk culture. Following the now well-known finds, they are definitely related to those of the Middle Volga group.
  2. horse-head-pommel-scepters-distribution
    General scheme of genetic and chronological development of carved scepters by visual assessment of morphological details.
  3. In their next modifications, these scepters continued to evolve and develop into the area of the Khvalynsk culture in its latest stages, and possibly later.
  4. Simultaneously, with the same modifications, these scepters “are introduced” into common usage in the Novodanilovka culture, which in its spread by one wing was in contact and interspersed immediately with the area of Khvalynsk remains; and on the other hand, far in the south – in the Pre-Kuban and Ciscaucasian regions – within the range of the Domaikopska culture; and in the west – in the Carpathian – Post-Kuban – with the areas of early agricultural cultures Cucuteni A – Trypillia B1, Gumelnița-Karanovo VI.
  5. The simultaneous presence in the areas of the Ciscaucasian, Carpatho-Danubian, and especially Novodinilovka cultures, whose carriers continue the Khvalynian traditions of making stone scepters, and the scepters themselves (in their non-functional implication in the local cultural environment), all definitely allow us to view these findings as imported Novodanilovka objects.
Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic. See a full version with notes here.

Cultural relevance of scepters

The text goes on to make an international comparison of scepters and their relevance as a cultural phenomenon, with its strong symbolic functions as divine object, its use in times of peace, in times of war, and in a system of ritual power.

Restoration of V. A. Dergachev: a) model for restoration – Paleolithic and Neolithic wands; b) the expected appearance of the Eneolithic scepter on the handle with a coupling (according to Dergachev 2007).
Especially interesting is the section dedicated to Agamemnon’s scepter in the Iliad, one of the oldest Indo-European epics. Here is an excerpt from Illiad II.100-110 (see here the Greek version) with the scepter’s human and divine genealogy:

Then among them lord Agamemnon uprose, bearing in his hands the sceptre which Hephaestus had wrought with toil. Hephaestus gave it to king Zeus, son of Cronos, and Zeus gave it to the messenger Argeïphontes; and Hermes, the lord, gave it to Pelops, driver of horses, and Pelops in turn gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the host; and Atreus at his death left it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes again left it to Agamemnon to bear, that so he might be lord of many isles and of all Argos.

About the horse

His studies on horse remains show an interesting, detailed quantitative and statistical approach to the importance and (cultural and chronological) origin of horses (and likely horse domestication) in each culture.

Although the part on horse remains is probably a bit outdated today, after many recent studies of Eneolithic steppe sites (see here one example), it still shows the relative distribution of horse bone remains among different steppe cultures, which is probably similar to what could be reported today:

Territorial distribution of horse remains in the Middle Eneolithic period. Absolute and relative numbers.

Even more interesting is the relationship of the distribution of horse remains with archaeological complexes and horse-related symbols. Some excerpts from the conclusions of this section:

  1. Accounting and analysis of archeo-zoological and archaeological data proper for a horse for a vast area from the Tisza and the Middle Danube to the Caucasus and the Urals (which includes the main cultures of the western agricultural, Caucasian, and Eastern European cultural zones) clearly points to the eastern cultural zone as a zone of the originally the most important social significance of a horse as the only possible zone of the earliest domestication, horseback riding and all-round use of a horse. In relation to the eastern, the western land – the ancient Carpatho-Danubian or the Caucasian cultural zones – are secondary and subordinate to the first on the phenomenon under consideration.
  2. horse-symbols
    Horse-shaped hanger-amulets made of bone.
  3. The first quantitative leap in the manifestation of the remnants of a horse, marking itself and the first qualitative changes in the social status of this animal, is due mainly to the Middle Volga culture of the developed Neolithic of the Middle Volga region (in part, the Southwest Urals), which, accordingly, determine the cultural context, time and geographic region – or, the initial, single and main epicenter of the process of taming and domestication of a horse.
  4. On the one hand, the subsequent substantial increase in the number of horse remnants, and, on the other, the wide inclusion of the horse in cults, rituals, funerary rituals (horse pendants, ornamented metacarpus, horse bones, sacrificial altars) in the Samara culture of the Early Eneolithic of the same region definitely indicates the continuing increase in the social significance of this species of animal, which was most likely expressed in the final design of a specialized horse breeding culture and, accordingly, in a wide range of applications using a horse for riding. At the same time, we can observe the beginning of the transfer of the already domesticated horse from the original historical and geographic epicenter to other cultures of the eastern cultural zone and, in part, the cultures closest to the periphery of this zone, into the western agricultural zone (Bolgrad-Aldeni P, Pre-CuCuteni-Trypillya A) .
  5. expansion-horse-steppe
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of percentage of horse remains. (Depicted are arrows from Middle Volga and Samara culture to the rest)
  6. Middle Eneolithic – early stages. One of the leading places in the remnants of the horse is in the Middle Volga region, the Khvalynsk culture. Genetically related to the Samara, the Khvalynsk I culture preserves the traditions of the ritual, cultural meaning, the treatment of the image of a horse in funerals (altars, horse bones, funerary rituals). But, At the same time, it is in this precise culture that the image of the horse, included in the social symbolism (horse-head pommel-scepter), for the first time it acquires a special, maximum social significance. That is why the appearance and subsequent widespread distribution of the social symbols in Novodanilovka-type objects can definitely be considered as another qualitative leap in the social significance of a horse – its use for military purposes for close and distant expeditions. And such an interpretation is fully confirmed from the analysis of Novodanilovka-type objects, which is the subject of discussion.
  7. Judging by the osteological data and the typological evolution of the horse-head scepters, the Khvalynian culture and remains of the Novodanilovka type are already associated with the relatively widespread and intensive findings of domesticated horses in various areas of the eastern cultural zone (semi-desert regions of the Lower Volga and the Caspian region – Khvalynsk culture, forest-steppe and steppe from the Volga to the Dnieper – Sredni Stog, Repin cultures), and the western – agricultural (Gumelnitsa, Cucuteni A-Tripolye Bl), and the Caucasus (Pre-Maykop) zones, where, however, the horse played a very modest role.
  8. samara-khvalynsk-horses
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of zooarchaeological and ritual data on horses. (Shadowed are from top to bottom the Middle Volga, Samara, Khvalynsk, and Novodanilovka; in bold, other percentages of unrelated cultures: e.g. to the left of Khvalynsk and Novodanilovka, Sredni Stog with 29.65% overall horse bone remains, but 0% of horse symbolism)
  9. From the functional point of view, according to the sum of the data, there is no reason to doubt that in the eastern zone the horse is already present in the Late Neolithic period. Since its domestication and the emergence of a specialized horse breeding, it has been also widely used for meat, milk and dairy products (including the traditional hippace tradition of the later Scythians), and since the beginning of the early Eneolithic for transport and for riding purposes. Another thing is the horse as a means of war, a means of distant travel and expansion. The beginning of the use of a horse for these purposes, in the opinion of the author, is determined by the appearance of social symbolism in the form of horse-head scepters, and is most fully reflected in the memories of the Khvalynsk culture and, in particular, the Novodanilovka type. Concerning western or Caucasian cultural zones related to Khvalynsk, the horse is thought to have been linked to the eastern region, used mainly for riding, as a means of transport and for communication, which, however, does not exclude its use for meat.

These are the main conclusions-interpretations, suggesting the analysis and archaeological and other sources containing information about the horse. And as for our pommel-scepters, then, as can be seen from these sources, the main thing is that the culture of the Middle Volga region, according to all the data, definitely accumulates in itself the longest traditions associated with the gradual increase of social significance of the horse. And if so, this circumstance motivates the possibility or necessity of appearing in the environment of the bearers of this culture of unique signs-symbols that carry within themselves or reflect the image of this animal as an extremely significant social reality. The revealed and characterized quality, as a matter of fact, fill or open by themselves the hypothetical elements we have previously identified, the meanings of that particularity, folded in the social sign-symbol, in our case – the horse-head-shaped scepter.

Archaeological sites with objects (signs-symbols) related to horses. Horse-head scepters included in other maps are excluded from this one (notice the conspicuous absence of such objects in Sredni Stog and neighbouring North Pontic regions).

The relevance of Dergachev’s work

As you certainly know by now if you are a usual reader of this blog, there were two other seminal publications that same year correcting and expanding Gimbutas’ model:

Each one of these works taken independently (especially the books) may give a different version of Proto-Indo-European migrations; Anthony and Dergachev are heirs of Gimbutas’ simplistic kurgan-based model, and of other previous, now rejected ideas, and they reflect them whenever they don’t deal with first-hand investigation (and even sometimes when interpreting their own data). Taken together – and especially in combination with recent genetic studies – , though, they describe a clearer, solider model of how Proto-Indo-Europeans developed and expanded.

Distribution of horse-head scepters, according to Dergachev, Sorokin (1986).

Anthony’s publication overshadowed the importance of Dergachev’s work for the English-speaking world – and by extension for the rest of us. However, V. A. Dergachev’s updated study of his previous work on steppe cultures shows the right, thorough, and diligent way of describing the expansion of early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains with the horse and horse symbolism into the Caucasus and the Lower Danube (like the seminal work of Harrison & Heyd 2007 described the expansion of Yamna settlers with East Bell Beakers, culturally opposed to Corded Ware and to the Proto-Beakers). On the other hand, Anthony’s broad-brush, superficial description of thousands of years of potential Indo-European-speaking peoples gave a migration picture that – although generally right (like radiocarbon-based Iberian origin of the Bell Beaker culture was right) – was bound to be wrong in some essential details, as we are seeing in archaeology and genetics.

NOTE. As I have said before, Anthony’s interpretations of Sredni Stog culture representing a sort of ‘peasants’ under the rule of Novodanilovka chiefs was based on old theories of Telegin, who changed his mind – as did the rest of the Russian school well before the publication of Dergachev’s book, considering both as distinct cultural phenomena. Anthony selected the old interpretation, not to follow a Gimbutas / Kristiansen model of Sredni Stog being Indo-European and expanding with GAC into Corded Ware (because, for him, Corded Ware peoples were originally non-Indo-European speakers): he seems to have done it to prove that Proto-Anatolian traveled indeed through the North Pontic area, i.e. to avoid the regional ‘gap’ in the maps, if you like. Then with the expansion of Repin over the area, Sredni Stog peoples would have been absorbed. With genetic investigation, as we know, and with this kind of detailed archaeological studies, the traditional preference for “large and early” IE territories – proper of the mid-20th century – are no longer necessary.

Anthony (2007): “Steppe and Danubian sites at the time of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC.”

Steppe Eneolithic

We already had in 2016 a Samara hunter-gatherer sample dated ca. 5600 BC, representative of EHG ancestry, of haplogroup R1b1a. We also had three early Khvalynsk samples from Samara Eneolithic dated ca. 4600 BC, with a drift towards (what we believe now is) a population from the Caucasus, showing haplogroups Q1a, R1a1(xM198), and R1b1a, the last one described in its paper as from a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves (of R1b-L23 lineages), and therefore likely a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, while the R1a1 sample showed scarce decoration, and does not belong to the M417 lineage expanded later in Sredni Stog or Corded Ware.

In 2017 we knew of the Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, from Alexandria, of a precise subclade (L657) of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4000 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog (or maybe Kvitjana) culture. This sample alone makes it quite likely that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades happened earlier than expected, and that it was associated with movements along forest-steppe cultures, most likely along the Upper Dniester or Dnieper-Dniester corridor up to the Forest Zone.

We have now confirmation that Khvalynsk samples from the Yekaterinovka Cape settlement ca. 4250-4000 BC were reported by a genetic lab (to the archaeological team responsible) as being of R1b-L23 subclades, although the precise clades (reported as P312 and U106) are possibly not accurate.

NOTE. Curiously enough, and quite revealing for the close relationship of scepters to the ritual source of power for Khvalynsk chieftains (political and/or religious leaders), the scepter found in the elite burial 45 of the Ekaterinovka cape (a riverine settlement) shows a unique zoomorphic carving, possibly resembling a toothed fish or reptile, rather than the most common horse-related motifs of the time.

Zoomorphic carved stone scepter of the Ekaterinovka Cape burial 45: photos (left) and schematic depiction (right).

With Wang et al. (2018), a real game-changer in the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog (and also in the Yamna/Bell Beaker – Corded Ware) opposition, we also know that two Steppe Eneolithic samples from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont, dated ca. 4300-4100 BC, show haplogroup R1b1. Although its direct connection to the expansion of early Khvalynsk with horse-related symbolism is not clear from the archaeological information shared (none), this is what the paper has to say about them:

The two distinct clusters are already visible in the oldest individuals of our temporal transect, dated to the Eneolithic period (~6300-6100 yBP/4300-4100 calBCE). Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonjuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbor Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherer related ancestry (EHG and CHG, respectively), are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khalynsk II and the Samara region19, 27. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG/Iranian-like ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills.

In contrast, the oldest individuals from the northern mountain flank itself, which are three first degree-related individuals from the Unakozovskaya cave associated with the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic culture (analysis label ‘Eneolithic Caucasus’) show mixed ancestry mostly derived from sources related to the Anatolian Neolithic (orange) and CHG/Iran Neolithic (green) in the ADMIXTURE plot (Fig. 2C). While similar ancestry profiles have been reported for Anatolian and Armenian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals20, 23, this result suggests the presence of the mixed Anatolian/Iranian/CHG related ancestry north of the Great Caucasus Range as early as ~6500 years ago.

On the specific burials, we have e.g. the recent open access paper New cases of trepanations from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC in Southern Russia in the context of previous research: Possible evidence for a ritually motivated tradition of cranial surgery?, by Gresky et al. J Am Phys Anthropol (2016):

During the late 5th millennium BC, cultural groups of the Eneolithic occupied the northern circumpontic area and the areas between the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga. For the first time, individual inhumations were placed below low burial mounds (Rassamakin, 2011). During the 4th millennium BC, the area split into two cultural spheres. In the northern steppe area communities continued with the burial practice of crouched inhumations below low mounds, with this culturally transforming into the early Pit Grave culture. In contrast, in the Caucasian foothill zone and the neighbouring steppe, the Majkop-Novosvobodnaya culture emerged (Kohl and Trifonov, 2014). Similarly, during the 3rd millennium BC, two cultural spheres influenced the area: The North Caucasian Culture dominated the Caucasian foothills for the next five centuries, while in the steppe area between the Lower Don and the Caucasus, regional groups of the Catacomb Culture existed side-by-side.

Burials of the Eneolithic epoch (late 5th millennium BC)

The oldest group of individuals with trepanations are found in the North Caucasian variant of the late circumpontic Eneolithic and date to the last third of the 5th millennium BC (Korenevsky, 2012). Burials of this epoch are inhumations in shallow pits, chiefly without burial goods, but covered with large quantities of red ochre. Of special interest is a collective burial of seven individuals from VP 1/12, who were interred together in a secondary burial ritual. The sites of Tuzluki, Mukhin, Voinuchka, Progress, and Sengileevskii all belong to this period.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Without the datasets to test different models, you can only imagine what is happening with the processed, secondary data we have. The position of Eneolithic Steppe cluster in the PCA (probably Khvalynsk-related peoples already influenced by the absorbed, previous Caucasus population), as well as other potential Caucasus groups intermediate between Steppe Maykop and Caucasus Maykop (as suggested by other ancient and modern Caucasus samples), may indicate that Yamna is between Khvalynsk and such intermediate Caucasus populations (as the source of the additional CHG-related ancestry) and – as the paper itself states – that it also received additional EEF contribution, probably from the western cultures absorbed during these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations (or later during Khvalynsk/Repin migrations).

Also interpreted in light of these early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations of horse riding chieftains (and their close contacts with the Caucasus), you can clearly see where the similar CHG-like contribution to Ukraine Eneolithic and other North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (which later contributed to Proto-Corded Ware peoples) must have come from. The simplistically reported proportions of EHG:CHG:EEF ancestry might be similar in many of these groups, but the precise origin and evolution of such ancestral components is certainly not the same: statistical methods will eventually show this, when (and if) we have many more samples, but for the moment Y-DNA is the most obvious indicator of such differences.

There was no steppe people speaking a steppe language AKA immutable Proto-Indo-European: the glottochronological models spanning thousands of years are not valid for the steppe, just as they are not valid for an Anatolian homeland, nor for a Caucasus homeland. The actual cultural-historical early Sredni Stog – Khvalynsk community, formed earlier than ca. 5000 BC, is a thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk with the horse, and some two thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk-Repin/Early Yamna migrants (see here for the latest genetic research).

What lies between the formation of that early Eneolithic cultural-historical community, and what we see in archaeology and genetics in Middle and Late Eneolithic steppe cultures, is the radical differentiation of western (Ukraine Eneolithic, mainly forest-steppe) and eastern (Samara and Khvalynsk/Repin, mainly steppe) cultures and peoples, i.e. precisely the period of differentiation of an eastern, Proto-Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk community (that expanded with the horse and horse-related symbols) from a western, probably Early Proto-Uralic speaking community of the North Pontic forest-steppe cultural area.

NOTE. I am not against a Neolithic ‘steppe’ language. But this steppe language was spoken before and/or during the first Neolithisation wave, and should be associated with Indo-Uralic. If there was no Indo-Uralic language, then some communities would have developed Early Proto-Indo-European and Early Proto-Uralic side by side, in close contact to allow for dozens of loanwords or wanderwords to be dated to this period (where, simplistically, PIH *H corresponds to EPU *k, with some exceptions).

Map of a) steppe – forest-steppe border during the Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian region and b) the border today, showing a more limited steppe zone in the North Pontic area (reason for the specific ways of expansion of horse-related cultures and horse-related nomadic pastoralism during the Eneolithic).

The convergence that we see in PCA and Admixture of Yamna and the earliest Baltic LN / Corded Ware ‘outlier’ samples (if not directly related exogamy of some Baltic LN/CWC groups with Yamna migrants, e.g. those along the Prut), must be traced back to the period of genetic drift that began precisely with these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansions, also closely associated with populations of the Caucasus, thus bringing North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (probably behind Proto-Corded Ware peoples) nearer to Khvalynsk, and both by extension to Yamna.

We have seen this problem arise in Bell Beaker samples expanding all over Europe, turning from a fully Yamnaya-like population to something else entirely in different regions, from more EEF-like to more CWC-like, sharing one common trait: Y-DNA. We are seeing the same happen with Balkan groups and Mycenaeans, with Old Hittites, and with steppe MLBA from Andronovo peoples expanding over Central and South Asia, and we know that patrilineal clans and thus Y-chromosome bottlenecks were common after Neolithisation, especially with nomadic pastoralist steppe clans (and probably also with many previous population expansions).

Steppe Eneolithic peoples were thus no different to other previous and posterior expanding groups, and ancestry is going to be similar for people living in neighbouring regions, so Y-DNA will remain the essential tool to distinguish different peoples (see here a summary of Proto-Indo-Europeans expanding R1b-L23).

We are nevertheless still seeing “R1b zombies” (a quite appropriate name I read on Anthrogenica) still arguing for a Western European origin of R1b-L23 based on EEF-like ancestry and few steppe-related contribution found in Iberian Bell Beakers (read what David Reich has to say on this question); and “OIT zombies” still arguing for IVC representing Proto-Indo-European, based on Iran_N ancestry and the minimal steppe ancestry-related impact on certain ancient Asian cultures, now partly helped by “Caucasus homeland zombies” with the new PIE=CHG model; apart from many other pet theory zombies rising occasionally from their graves here and there. Let’s hope that this virus of the undead theories does not spread too strongly to the R1a-Indo-European association, when the official data on Khvalynsk, West Yamna, and Yamna Hungary come out and show that they were dominated by R1b-L23 lineages.

Because we need to explore in detail the continuation of Khvalynsk-related (potential Proto-Anatolian) cultures in the Lower Danube and the Balkans, e.g. from Cernavoda I to Cernavoda III, then maybe to Ezero, and then to Troy; as well as the specific areas of Late Indo-European expansions associated with Early Yamna settlers turning into Bell Beakers, Balkan EBA, and Steppe MLBA-associated cultures. There is a lot of work to do on proper definition of Bronze Age cultures and their potential dialects, as well as convergence and divergence trends, and not only of Indo-European, but also of Uralic-speaking communities derived from Corded Ware cultures.

If we let the narratives of the 2000s in Genetics (in combination with the 1960s in Archaeology) dominate the conversation, then a lot of time will be absurdly lost until reality imposes itself. And it will.

EDIT (2 JUL 2018): Some sentences corrected, and some information added to the original post.