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.


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.


Genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia; Botai shows R1b-M73


Open access Characterizing the genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia, by Jeong et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The indigenous populations of inner Eurasia, a huge geographic region covering the central Eurasian steppe and the northern Eurasian taiga and tundra, harbor tremendous diversity in their genes, cultures and languages. In this study, we report novel genome-wide data for 763 individuals from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. We furthermore report genome-wide data of two Eneolithic individuals (~5,400 years before present) associated with the Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan. We find that inner Eurasian populations are structured into three distinct admixture clines stretching between various western and eastern Eurasian ancestries. This genetic separation is well mirrored by geography. The ancient Botai genomes suggest yet another layer of admixture in inner Eurasia that involves Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Europe, the Upper Paleolithic southern Siberians and East Asians. Admixture modeling of ancient and modern populations suggests an overwriting of this ancient structure in the Altai-Sayan region by migrations of western steppe herders, but partial retaining of this ancient North Eurasian-related cline further to the North. Finally, the genetic structure of Caucasus populations highlights a role of the Caucasus Mountains as a barrier to gene flow and suggests a post-Neolithic gene flow into North Caucasus populations from the steppe.

Interesting excerpts:

On North Eurasians

In a PCA of Eurasian individuals, we find that PC1 separates eastern and western Eurasian populations, PC2 splits eastern Eurasians along a north-south cline, and PC3 captures variation in western Eurasians with Caucasus and northeastern European populations at opposite ends (Figure 2A and Figures S1-S2). Inner Eurasians are scattered across PC1 in between, largely reflecting their geographic locations. Strikingly, inner Eurasian populations seem to be structured into three distinct west-east genetic clines running between different western and eastern Eurasian groups, instead of being evenly spaced in PC space. Individuals from northern Eurasia, speaking Uralic or Yeniseian languages, form a cline connecting northeast Europeans and the Uralic (Samoyedic) speaking Nganasans from northern Siberia (“forest-tundra” cline). Individuals from the Eurasian steppe, mostly speaking Turkic and Mongolic languages, are scattered along two clines below the forest-tundra cline. Both clines run into Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations in southern Siberia and Mongolia, and further into Tungusic-speaking populations in Manchuria and the Russian Far East in the East; however, they diverge in the west, oneheading to the Caucasus and the other heading to populations of the Volga-308 Ural area (the “southern steppe” and “steppe-forest” clines, respectively; Figure 2 and Figure S2).
The forest-tundra cline populations derive most of their eastern Eurasian ancestry from a component most enriched in Nganasans, while those on the steppe-forest and southern steppe clines have this component together with another component most enriched in populations from the Russian Far East, such as Ulchi and Nivkh. The southern steppe cline groups are distinct from the others in their western Eurasian ancestry profile, in the sense that they have a high proportion of a component most enriched in Mesolithic Caucasus hunter-gatherers (“CHG”) and Neolithic Iranians (“Iran_N”) and frequently harbor another component enriched in South Asians (Figure S4).

qpAdm-based admixture models for the forest-tundra cline populations. For populations to the east of the Urals (Enets, Selkups, Kets, and Mansi), EHG+Yamnaya+Nganasan provides a good fit, except for Mansi, for which adding WHG significantly increases the model fit. For the rest of the groups, WHG+LBK_EN+Yamnaya+Nganasan in general provides a good fit. 5 cM jackknifing standard errors are marked by the horizontal bar.

For the forest-tundra cline populations, for which currently no relevant Holocene ancient genomes are available, we took a more generalized approach of using proxies for contemporary Europeans: WHG, WSH (represented by “Yamnaya_Samara”), and early Neolithic European farmers (EEF; represented by “LBK_EN”; Table S2). Adding Nganasans as the fourth reference, we find that most Uralic-speaking populations in Europe (i.e. west of the Urals) and Russians are well modeled by this four-way admixture model (χ 2 p ≥ 0.05 for all but three groups; Figure 5 and Table S8). Nganasan-related ancestry substantially contributes to their gene pools and cannot be removed from the model without a significant decrease in model fit (4.7% to 29.1% contribution; χ 2 p ≤ 1.12×10-8; Table S8). The ratio of contributions from three European references varies from group to group, probably reflecting genetic exchange with neighboring non-Uralic groups. For example, Saami from northern Fennoscandia contain a higher WHG and lower WSH contribution (16.1% and 41.3%, respectively) than Udmurts or Besermyans from the Volga river region do (4.9-6.6% and 50.7-53.2%, respectively), while the three groups have similar amounts of Nganasan-related ancestry (25.5-29.1%).

The Caucasus Mountains form a barrier to gene flow

By applying EEMS to the Caucasus region, we identify a strong barrier to gene flow separating North and South Caucasus populations. This genetic barrier coincides with the Greater Caucasus mountain ridge even to small scale: a weaker barrier in the middle, overlapping with Ossetia, matches well with the region where the ridge also becomes narrow. We also observe weak barriers running in the north-south direction that separate northeastern populations from northwestern ones. Together with PCA, EEMS results suggest that the Caucasus Mountains have posed a strong barrier to human migration.

The Greater Caucasus mountain ridge as a barrier to 856 genetic exchange. Barriers (brown) and conduits (green) of gene flow around the Caucasus region are estimated by the EEMS program. Red diamonds show the location of vertices to which groups are assigned. A strong barrier to gene flow overlaps with the Greater Caucasus mountain ridge reflecting the genetic differentiation between populations of the north and south of the Caucasus. The barrier becomes considerably weaker in the middle where present-day Ossetians live.

On the Botai individuals

The Y-chromosome of the male Botai individual (TU45) belongs to the haplogroup R1b (Table 411 S6). However, it falls into neither a predominant European branch R1b-L5165 nor into a R1b-GG400 branch found in Yamnaya individuals. Thus, phylogenetically this Botai individual should belong to the R1b-M73 branch which is frequent in the Eurasian steppe (Figure S9). This branch was also found in Mesolithic samples from Latvia as well as in numerous modern southern Siberian and Central Asian groups.

The Botai genomes provide a critical snapshot of the genetic profile of pre-Bronze Age steppe populations. Our admixture modeling positions Botai primarily on an ancient genetic cline of the pre-Neolithic western Eurasian hunter-gatherers: stretching from the post-Ice Age western European hunter-gatherers (e.g. WHG) to EHG in Karelia and Samara to the Upper Paleolithic southern Siberians (e.g. AG3). Botai’s position on this cline, between EHG and AG3, fits well with their geographic location and suggests that ANE-related ancestry in the East did have a lingering genetic impact on Holocene Siberian and Central Asian populations at least till the time of Botai.
The most recent clear connection with the Botai ancestry can be found in the Middle Bronze Age Okunevo individuals (Figure S6C). In contrast, additional EHG-related ancestry is required to explain the forest-tundra populations to the east of the Urals (Figure 5 and Table S8). Their multi-way mixture model may in fact portrait a prehistoric two-way mixture of a WSH population and a hypothetical eastern Eurasian one that has an ANE-related contribution higher than that in Nganasans. Botai and Okunevo individuals prove the existence of such ANE ancestry-rich populations. Pre-Bronze Age genomes from Siberia will be critical for testing this hypothesis.

The first two PCs summarizing the genetic structure within 2,077 Eurasian individuals. The two PCs generally mirror geography. PC1 separates western and eastern Eurasian populations, with many inner Eurasians in the middle. PC2 separates eastern Eurasians along the north-south cline and also separates Europeans from West Asians. Ancient individuals (color-filled shapes), including two Botai individuals, are projected onto PCs calculated from present-day individuals.

So, to sum up:

  • Northern Eurasia forms a Uralic – Yeniseian cline from east to west, with contribution from Steppe, WHG, and Siberian ancestry. Siberian ancestry is represented by Palaeo-Siberian Nganasans, who adopted Samoyedic quite late. It was already known that the different waves of Siberian ancestry are too late and do not represent the spread of Uralic languages, so that leaves us with Steppe and WHG.
  • The Caucasus Mountains were a long-lasting prehistoric barrier to gene flow (as recently shown in Y-DNA, too).
  • The Botai sample (ca. 3632-3100 BC) represents thus the furthest east that R1b-P297 subclades had expanded (we did know that, and that they didn’t have close genetic links with Khvalynsk, so the haplogroup spread there probably much earlier). It expanded R1b-M269’s sister clade R1b-M73 (also found in the Baltic region), and the Botai are on the ‘eastern’ end of an ancient genetic cline stretching from WHG to EHG to Afontova Gora.

EDIT (23 MAY 2018) Both samples share mtDNA, and the male one shares Y-DNA, with those reported in Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018); although dates are slightly different (3371-3354 calBC for BOT 14), it is within the range given for this one; for the female, the dates are similar (3521-3377 calBC for BOT2016, 3517-3367 cal. BCE for this one). The lack of data on their origin may point to the fact that we only have different bone samples from the same two Botai individuals. So probably still 50% R1b-M73 (with the other 50% being N2* from BOT15)…

It seems therefore not only that R1b-M269 is bound to split from the parent haplogroup in or around the steppe or forest-steppe: the Mesolithic spread of haplogroup R1b in North Eurasia is wider and its relevance thus greater than previously thought.

We may need to rethink the role of haplogroup R1a in spreading EHG and Indo-Uralic from east to west…

Featured image, from the supplementary materials: Frequency distribution map of the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b-P343(xM269) identified in the Eneolithic Botai individual. All modern Eurasian samples with this haplogroup tested to date for the downstream markers fall into R1b-M73 branch, suggesting Botai sample be one of its earliest representatives.


Haplogroup R1b-L51 in Khvalynsk samples from the Samara region dated ca. 4250-4000 BC

A commenter in a previous post left a reference to an oral communication by Aleksander Khokhlov – shared in a Russian forum on genetics – , from the XIV Conference on Samaran Archaeology, 27-28th January 2018 (still publicized in the Samaran Archaeological Society).

NOTE. You may know Khokhlov as a palaeoanthropologist, part of the Samara Valley project, like David W. Anthony. See the project referenced here, or their recently published book.

Here is my translation of the reported summary (emphasis mine):

Khokhlov, A.A. Preliminary results of anthropological and genetic studies of materials of the Volga-Ural region of the Neolithic-Early Bronze Age by an international group of scientists.

In his report, A. A. Khokhlov introduced the scientific circle to the still unpublished data of the new Eneolithic burial ground Yekaterinovskiy Cape, which combines both the Mariupol and Khvalynsk features, and is dated to the fourth quarter of the V millennium BC. All samples analyzed had a Uraloid anthropological type, the chromosome of all samples belonged to haplogroup R1b1a2 (R-P312/S116), and to haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2b1a2. mtDNA to haplogroups U2, U4, U5. In the Khvalynsk burial grounds (first half of the IV millennium BC), the anthropological material differs in a greater variety. In addition to the Uraloid substratum, European wide-faced and southern European variants are recorded. To the samples are added haplogroup R1a1, O1a1, I2a2 to mtDNA T2a1b, H2a1.

Yekaterinovskiy burial of male, 20-25 years old, dated ca. 4400-4200 BC. Via Pikabu.

So, first of all:

  • This is a reported summary of an oral communication, and it was written in a forum by a user. Unlike many out there, though, this one uses his real name, apparently assisted to the conference, and is himself a Russian of self-reported haplogroup R1a1a, so probably no interest in reporting this if it’s not true. Errors contained may have been made by him, and may not have been found in the original communication, since he says he wrote it by hand.
  • Something is obviously off with the haplogroup nomenclature. There has recently been mixing of standards, with some papers reporting R1b1a2-M269 (which is supposed to be now ISOGG V88), and most using R1b1a1a2-M269. What I had never seen is both standards used at the same time, as in this report, so I guess it’s another error of transcription.
  • It is doubtful that we would be talking about that recent referenced subclade of U106, but it can’t be a surprise to finally find L51 subclades alongside Z2103 in Proto-Indo-European territory. Also, the summary must obviously refer to Q1a1, not O1a1, and probably to the first half of the V (and not IV) millennium BC.

NOTE. Since Khokhlov, like Anthony, is an anthropologist, and this is an archaeological conference, we could suppose – if the report is truthful to what he said or what could be read in the summary – that this is the best he can do to report genetic material that was not assessed by him, but by a specialized lab, because it is not his field. I think the relevant data is nevertheless useful until we have the official publication.

Archaeological remains studied come from a site near Yekaterinovka. You can read more about it in The Ekaterinovsky cape – A new Eneolithic burial ground in the forest-steppe volga region (2013).

From this report of archaeological works, we know there were 60 Early Eneolithic burials excavated in 2013, dating to the period between S’yezzhe and Khvalynsk. 15 more burials were excavated in 2017, and there are to date already around 93 reported burials, with ongoing excavations.

Assuming that what the report conveys is more or less correct in the basics, let’s derive some simple conclusions from the data:

  • The presence of some samples uniformly of R1b-L23 subclades that early will mean an end to the question of when this haplogroup dominated over the Khvalynsk population, and probably also when it appeared (rather early during this culture’s formation), since it would mean R1b-L23 subclades were widespread already by the end of the 5th millenium.
  • I can only guess that CHG ancestry will be found in these samples, based indirectly on what is reported in anthropological terms, and what appears later in Yamna and Afanasevo samples. This will contradict some recent comments suggesting an admixture driven by males from the south, and especially a Maykop -> Khvalynsk migration as a source of this component, placing the admixture at earlier times, and/or driven by exogamy. Therefore we can reject the formation of Middle PIE outside of Khvalynsk, and also the expansion of Proto-Anatolian from Maykop (unless Maykop itself is proposed as a steppe offshoot).
  • The presence of L51 lineages in certain clans side by side with others formed mainly by Z2103 in such a small region supports (as I proposed) the existence of early diverging LPIE communities – and therefore also the early splitting of a Northern and a Southern (i.e. Graeco-Aryan) dialect, each associated with certain regional groups – already by this time, which may help with the identification of later migrants that ended in Afanasevo (and thus confirm the dialectal origin of Pre-Tocharian). It goes without saying that all those ideas of R1b-L51 stemming from North Pontic cultures, the Balkans, Central or Western Europe – unrelated to Khvalynsk or Yamna – should be rejected.
  • Khvalynsk was probably dominated by R1b-L23 subclades already ca. 4250-4000 BC, which – combined with earlier, more diverse Eneolithic samples from the region (dated ca. 5000-4500 BC) – would support an expansion of these subclades just before this time, in the mid-5th millennium BC, as I proposed based on ancient samples and TMRCAs of modern haplogroups. It is now more likely then that I was right in linking the expansion of R1b-M269 and early R1b-L23 lineages as chiefs with the spread of horse riding from early Khvalynsk, and thus associated also with the split and migration of the Proto-Anatolian community, probably with expanding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.
  • These findings should finally put an end to the idea of a shared “R1a-R1b Proto-Indo-European community”, by rejecting its existence already during the early Khvalynsk period, and therefore also rejecting the idea of a North Pontic Indo-Slavonic proto-language as impossible, since it would need a split 2,000 years before the known Late PIE expansions associated with Yamna, and 3,000 years before the formation of the early Indo-Iranian community in Sintashta-Andronovo.

NOTE. While the presence of R1b-P312 and R1b-U106 subclades that early does not seem likely based on their estimated formation dates (in turn based on modern descendants), this is not the first time that such estimations have been proven wrong with ancient samples (viz. the “late” Z93 subclade from Eneolithic Ukraine sample I6561). Also, we already have one sample labelled U106 supposedly expanding with Indo-Iranians, and a sample of an early L51 subclade in Central Asia potentially linked to Afanasevo migrants in the infamous tables of Narasimhan et al. (2018), which help support its early presence in the North Caspian area. Some of these younger subclades seem (based on TMRCAs and forming dates of modern haplogroups) more like a wrong ‘excessive-subclade-reporting fest’, probably due to the use of a certain software for inferences of Y-SNP calls from scarce material, but who knows.

EDIT (2 MAY 2018): A commenter in the forum cast doubts on the actual dates of the site, citing the reservoir effect in Khvalynsk which may show earlier radiocarbon dates than the actual ones. Since this is an international team well versed in archaeological remains of this region, and there have been already many samples and remains assessed before and after these dates, it is not very likely that they did not take such problems of radiocarbon dating into account when reporting the findings…

The publication of this and more data in a book is supposedly due for the summer, so let’s wait for the officially reported haplogroups, and for the corrected tables in Narasimhan et al. (2018), to draw the necessary detailed conclusions.

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EDIT (May 2017) The answer I received from the group to my questions regarding these samples can be read here.


Proto-Indo-European homeland south of the Caucasus?

User Camulogène Rix at Anthrogenica posted an interesting excerpt of Reich’s new book in a thread on ancient DNA studies in the news (emphasis mine):

Ancient DNA available from this time in Anatolia shows no evidence of steppe ancestry similar to that in the Yamnaya (although the evidence here is circumstantial as no ancient DNA from the Hittites themselves has yet been published). This suggests to me that the most likely location of the population that first spoke an Indo-European language was south of the Caucasus Mountains, perhaps in present-day Iran or Armenia, because ancient DNA from people who lived there matches what we would expect for a source population both for the Yamnaya and for ancient Anatolians. If this scenario is right the population sent one branch up into the steppe-mixing with steppe hunter-gatherers in a one-to-one ratio to become the Yamnaya as described earlier- and another to Anatolia to found the ancestors of people there who spoke languages such as Hittite.

The thread has since logically become a trolling hell, and it seems not to be working right for hours now.

Reich’s proposal based on ancestral components to explain the formation of a people and language is a continuation of their emphasis on ancestry to explain cultures and languages. It seems quite interesting to see this happen again, given their current trend to surreptitiously modify their previous ‘Yamnaya ancestry’ concept and Yamnaya millennia-long R1a-R1b community (that supposedly explains a Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration) to a more general ‘steppe people’ sharing a ‘steppe ancestry’ who spoke a ‘steppe language’.

Interesting arrows of dispersal of steppe ancestry, from Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker, from David Reich’s new book (yes, from 2018, number one bestseller in Amazon.com).

This new idea based on ancestral components suffers thus from the same essential methodological problems, which equate it – yet again – to pure speculation:

  1. It is a conclusion based on the genomic analysis of few individuals from distant regions and different periods, and – maybe more disturbingly – on the lack of steppe ancestry in the few samples at hand.
  2. Wait, what? Steppe ancestry? So they are trying to derive potential genetic connections among specific prehistoric cultures with a poorly depicted genetic sketch, based on previous flawed concepts (instead of on anthropological disciplines), which seems a rather long stretch for any scientist, whether they are content with seeing themselves as barbaric scientific conquerors of academic disciplines or not. In other words, statistics is also science (in fact, the main one to assert anything in almost any scientific field), and you cannot overcome essential errors (design, sampling, hypothesis testing) merely by using a priori correct statistical methods. Results obtained this way constitute a statistical fallacy.

  3. Even if the sampling and hypothesis testing were fine, to derive anthropological models from genomic investigation is completely wrong. Ancestral component ≠ population.
  4. To include not only potential migrations, but also languages spoken by these potential migrants? It’s sad that we have a need to repeat it, but if ancestral component ≠ population, how could ancestral component = language?

The Proto-Indo-European-speaking community

This is what we know about the formation of a Proto-Indo-European community (i.e. a community speaking a reconstructible Proto-Indo-European language) in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, which is based on linguistic reconstruction and guesstimates, tracing archaeological cultures backwards from cultures known to have spoken ancient (proto-)languages, and helping both disciplines with anthropological models (for which ancient genomics is only helping select certain details) of migration or – rarely – cultural diffusion:

NOTE. The following dates are obviously simplified. Read here a more detailed linguistic assessment based on phonology.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.
  • ca. 5000 BC. Early Proto-Indo-European (or Indo-Uralic) spoken probably during the formation and development of a loose Early Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog I cultural-historical community over the Pontic-Caspian steppe region, whose indigenous population probably had mainly Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry.
  • ca. 4500 BC. Khvalynsk probably speaking Middle Proto-Indo-European expands, most likely including Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs into the North Pontic steppe, and probably expanding R1b-M269 lineages for the first time.
  • ca. 4000 BC. Separated communities develop, including North Pontic cultures probably gradually dominated by R1a-Z645 (potentially speaking Proto-Uralic); and Khvalynsk (and Repin) cultures probably dominated by R1b-L23 lineages, most likely developing a Late Proto-Indo-European already separated from Proto-Anatolian.
  • ca. 3500 BC. A Proto-Corded Ware population dominated by R1a-Z645 expands to the north, and slightly later an early Yamna community develops from Late Khvalynsk and Repin, expanding to the west of the Don River, and to the east into Afanasevo. This is most likely the period of reduction of variability and expansion of subclades of R1a-Z645 and R1b-L23 that we expect to see with more samples.
  • ca. 3000 BC. Expansion of Corded Ware migrants in northern Europe, and Yamna migrants along the Danube and into the Balkans, with further reduction and expansion of certain subclades.
  • ca. 2500 BC. Expansion of Bell Beaker migrants dominated by R1b-L51 subclades in Europe, and late Corded Ware migrants in east Yamna expanding R1a-Z93 subclades.

All these events are compatible with language reconstruction in mainstream European schools since at least the 1980s, supported by traditional archaeological research of the past 20 years, and is being confirmed with Genomics.

For those willingly lost in a myriad of new dreams boosted by the shallow comment contained in David Reich’s paragraph on CHG ancestry, even he does not doubt that the origin of Late Proto-Indo-European lies in Yamna, to the north of the Caucasus, based on Anthony’s (2007) account:

Both images from the book, posted by Twitter user Jasper at https://twitter.com/jaspergregory.

NOTE: By the way, David Anthony, one of the main sources of information for Reich’s group, never considered Corded Ware to have received Yamna migrants, and althought he changed his model due to the conclusions of the 2015 papers, he has recently changed his model again to adapt it to the inconsistencies found in phylogeography.

CHG ancestry and PIE homeland south of the Caucasus

As for the potential origins of CHG ancestry in early Proto-Indo-European speakers, I already stated clearly my opinion quite recently. They may be attributed to:

Just to be clear, an expansion of Proto-Anatolian to the south, through the Caucasus, cannot be discarded today. It will remain a possibility until Maykop and more Balkan Chalcolithic and Anatolian-speaking samples are published.

However, an original Early Proto-Indo-European community south of the Caucasus seems to me highly unlikely, based on anthropological data, which should drive any conclusion. From what I could read, here are the rather simplistic arguments used:

  • Gimbutas and Maykop: Maykop was thought to be (in Gimbutas’ times) a rather late archaeological culture, directly connected to a Transcaucasian Copper Age culture ca. 2400-2300 BC. It has been demonstrated in recent years that this culture is substantially older, and even then language guesstimates for a Late PIE / Proto-Anatolian would not fit a migration to the north. While our ignorance may certainly be used to derive far-fetched conclusions about potential migrations from and to it, using Gimbutas (or any archaeological theory until the 1990s) today does not make any sense. Still less if we think that she favoured a steppe homeland.

NOTE. It seems that the Reich Lab may have already access to Maykop samples, so this suggested Proto-Indo-European – Maykop connection may have some real foundation. Regardless, we already know that intense contacts happened, so there will be no surprise (unless Y-DNA shows some sort of direct continuity from one to the other).

  • Gamkrelidze & Ivanov: they argued for an Armenian homeland (and are thus at the origin of yet another autochthonous continuity theory), but they did so to support their glottalic theory, i.e. merely to support what they saw as favouring their linguistic model (with Armenian being the most archaic dialect). The glottalic theory is supported today – as far as I know – mainly by Kortlandt, Jagodziński, or (Nostraticist) Bomhard, but even they most likely would not need to argue for an Armenian homeland. In fact, their support of a Graeco-Aryan group (also supported by Gamkrelidze & Ivanov) would be against this, at least in archaeological terms.
  • Colin Renfrew and the Anatolian homeland: This conceptual umbrella of language spreading with farming everywhere has changed so much and so many times in the past 20 years, with so many glottochronological and archaeological estimates circulating, that you can support anything by now using them. Mostly used today for abstract models of long-lasting language contacts, cultural diffusion, and constellation analogies. Anyway, he strives to keep up-to-date information to revise the model, that much is certain:
  • Glottochronology, phylogenetic trees, Swadesh list analysis, statistical estimates, psychics, pyramid power, and healing crystals: no, please, no.
Science Magazine
“A first line of evidence comes from linguistic analysis based on quantitative lexical data, which returned a tree compatible with the Anatolian hypothesis

In principle, unlike many other recent autochthonous continuity theories, I doubt there can be much racial-based opposition anywhere in the world to an origin of Proto-Indo-European in the Middle East, where the oldest civilizations appeared – apart, obviously, from modern Northeast and Northwest Caucasian, Kartvelian, or Semitic speakers, who may in turn have to revisit their autochthonous continuity theories radically…

Nevertheless, it is obvious that prehistoric (and many historic) migrations are signalled by the reduction in variability and expansion of certain Y-DNA haplogroups, and not just by ancestral components. That is generally accepted, although the reasons for this almost universal phenomenon are not always clear.

In fact, Proto-Anatolian and Common Anatolian speakers need not share any ancestral component, PCA cluster, or any other statistical parameter related to steppe populations, not even the same Y-DNA haplogroups, given that approximately three thousand years might have passed between their split from an Indo-Hittite community and the first attested Anatolian-speaking communities…We must carefully follow their tracks from Anatolia ca. 1500 BC to the steppe ca. 4500 BC, otherwise we risk creating another mess like the Corded Ware one.

In my opinion, the substantial contribution of EHG ancestry and R1a-M417 lineages to the Pontic-Caspian steppe (probably ca. 6500 BC) from Central or East Eurasia is the most recent sizeable genomic event in the region, and thus the best candidate for the community that expanded a language ancestral to Proto-Indo-European – whether you call it Pre-Proto-Indo-European, Pre-Indo-Uralic, or Eurasiatic, depending on your preferences.

An early (and substantial) contribution of CHG ancestry in Khvalynsk relative to North Pontic cultures, if it is found with new samples, may actually be a further proof of the Caucasian substrate of Proto-Indo-European proposed by Kortlandt (or Bomhard) as contributing to the differentiation of Middle PIE from Uralic. Genomics could thus help support, again, traditional disciplines in accepting or rejecting academic controversial theories.


In the case of an Early PIE (or Indo-Uralic) homeland, genomic data is scarce. But all traditional anthropological disciplines point to the Pontic-Caspian steppe, so we should stick to it, regardless of the informal suggestion written by a renown geneticist in one paragraph of a book conceived as an introduction to the field.

It seems we are not learning much from the hundreds of peer-reviewed, statistically (superficially, at least) sound genetic papers whose anthropological conclusions have been proven wrong by now. A lot of people should be spending their time learning about the complex, endless methods at hand in this kind of research – not just bioinformatics – , instead of fruitlessly speculating about wild unsubstantiated proposals.

As a final note, I would like to remind some in the discussion, who seem to dismiss the identification of CHG with Proto-Indo-European by supporting a “R1a-R1b” community for PIE, of their previous commitment to ancestral components in identifying peoples and languages, and thus their support to Reich’s (and his group’s) fundamental premises.

You cannot have it both ways. At least David Reich is being consistent.