The Pazyryk culture spoke a “Uralic-Altaic” language… because haplogroup N

Matrilineal and patrilineal genetic continuity of two iron age individuals from a Pazyryk culture burial, by Tikhonov, Gurkan, Peler, & Dyakonov, Int J Hum Genet (2019).

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Of particular interest to the current study are the archaeogenetic investigations associated with the exemplary mound 1 from the Ak-Alakha-1 site on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Republic (Polosmak 1994a; Pilipenko et al. 2015). This typical Pazyryk “frozen grave” was dated around 2268±39 years before present (Bln-4977) (Gersdorff and Parzinger 2000). Initial anthropological findings suggested an undisturbed dual inhumation comprising “a middle-aged European- type man” and “a young European-type woman”, both of whom presumably had a high social status among the Pazyryk elite (Polosmak 1994a). In contrast, recent archaeogenetic investigations revealed somewhat contradicting results since analyses at both the amelogenin gene and Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) loci clearly established that both Scythians were actually males and had paternal and maternal lineages that are typically associated with eastern Eurasians (Pilipenko et al. 2015). Through the use of mitochondrial, autosomal and Y-chromosomal DNA typing systems, it was possible to not only investigate the potential relationships between the two ancient Scythians but also to gather initial phylogenetic and phylogeographic information on their paternal and maternal lineages (Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Based on the Y-STR data available, the two Ak-Alakha-1 Scythians had an in silico haplogroup assignment of N, which first appeared in southeastern Asia and then expanded in southern Siberia (Rootsi et al. 2007; Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Current study aims to investigate the geographical distributions of the ancient and contemporary matches and close genetic variants of the maternal and paternal lineages observed in the two Scythians from the exemplary Ak-Alakha-1 kurgan.

Geographic distribution of the exact matches with the Scythian (PZ1) Y-STR (17-loci) and mtDNA (HVR1) haplotypes detailed in Tables 1a and 1b. Boundaries of the Altai Republic within the Russian Federation are shown with dashed lines, along with an approximate position of the Ak-Alakha-1 burial site, which is denoted with an ‘x’ on the map. Countries shaded in gray refer to those that have full 17-loci Y-STR and/or mtDNA HVR1 match(es) with the PZ1 haplotypes. Inset in the top and bottom left corners are the Altai and Uzbekistan maps, respectively, both scaled-up to allow better representation of the samples derived from these countries. There were no other exact matches from around parts of the globe that are not shown on the map, except for a single contemporary mtDNA haplotype from US, which presumably belonged to an ‘East Asian’ individual. Inset in the top right corner provides a scale for the number of haplotypes observed, but only up to three samples, which is valid for the entire map as well as the inset maps, irrespective of the differences in the scales of the actual map and inset maps themselves. For sample pools larger than three, the same linear scale provided on the inset in the top right corner still applies; please refer to Tables 1a and b for actual sample pool sizes. Samples are depicted on the entire map and the insets maps with circles and diamonds for the Y-STR and mtDNA haplotypes, respectively. Black and white coloring for samples depict whether the haplotype(s) are contemporary or ancient, respectively. Location of the PZ1 mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes are shown on top of each other.

In response to aggressive Xiongnu expansion into the Altai region around the 2nd century BCE, some members of the Pazyryk culture may have started moving up North, and eventually reached the Vilyuy River at the beginning of 1st century CE. Notably, there is clear population continuity between the Uralic people such as Khants, Mansis and Nganasans, Paleo-Siberian people such as Yukaghirs and Chuvantsi, and the Pazyryk people even when considering just the two mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes from the Ak-Alakha-1 mound 1 kurgan (Tables 1a, b, Table 2, Fig. 1). These concepts are also in agreement with the famous Yakut ethnographer Ksenofontov, who suggested that technologies associated with ferrous metallurgy were brought to the Vilyuy Valley at around 1st century CE by the first (proto)Turkic-speaking pioneers (Ksenofontov 1992). Yakut ethnogenesis per se possibly involved two major stages, the first being the proto-Turkic epoch through the arrival of Scytho-Siberian culture originating from Southern Siberia, such as that associated with the Pazyryk culture and the second being the proper Turkic epoch.

Nomadic peoples from the Central Asian steppes are East Iranian speakers whenever they are of haplogroup R1a, but “Uralic-Altaic” speakers whenever they are of haplogroup N. True story.

So they followed a haplogroup ca. 37,000 years old, in a sample dated some 2,300 years ago, whose precise subclade and ancient history is (yet) unknown, compared it to present-day populations, and the result is that they spoke “Uralic-Altaic” because haplogroup N and continuity. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the kind of reasoning you might be reading right now about Iberian Bell Beakers, about Bell Beakers, or even about Yamna and their relationship to a Vasconic-Caucasian language, based on haplogroup R1b in modern Basques. Another true story.

Anyway, based on the multi-ethnic federations created during this time, and on the ancestral components visible in the different groups (see a post on Karasuk by Chad Rohlfsen), the Pazyryk culture’s language is unknown, and it could be, as a matter of fact (apart from the obvious East Iranian connection):

We also know that haplogroup N and Siberian ancestry expanded into cultures of Northern Eurasia precisely with the creation of the new social paradigm of chiefdoms and alliances, roughly at the same time as Scythians expanded, with the first sample of haplogroup N in Hungary appearing with Cimmerians.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

While the study of modern populations is interesting, the problem I have with the paper is the reasoning of “language of ancient haplogroups based on modern populations”, and especially with the concept of “Uralic-Altaic”, and the highly hypothetic “Proto-Turkic” nomadic steppe pastoralists before “Hunnic Turkic” (which is itself questionable), before the “real Turkic” layer (being the authors apparently Turkic themselves), and the supposed “continuity” of Eastern Uralic and Turkic groups in Asia since the Out of Africa migration. The combination of all of this in the same text is just disturbing.

If you look at it from the bright side, at least these samples were not of haplogroup R1a-Z280, or we would be talking about great Slavonic Scythians showing continuity from Russia with love, as the paper threatened to do in its introduction…

If you are enjoying the comeback of this retro 2000s comedy in 2019 (based on the classic nativist “R1a=IE”, “R1b=Basque”, and “N=Uralic” combo) it’s because you – like me – are putting yourself in this guy’s shoes every time a new episode of funny self-destruction appears:



R1a-Z280 lineages in Srubna; and first Palaeo-Balkan R1b-Z2103?


Scythian samples from the North Pontic area are far more complex than what could be seen at first glance. From the new Y-SNP calls we have now thanks to the publications at Molgen (see the spreadsheet) and in Anthrogenica threads, I think this is the basis to work with:

NOTE. I understand that writing a paper requires a lot of work, and probably statistical methods are the main interest of authors, editors, and reviewers. But it is difficult to comprehend how any user of open source tools can instantly offer a more complex assessment of the samples’ Y-SNP calls than professionals working on these samples for months. I think that, by now, it should be clear to everyone that Y-DNA is often as important (sometimes even more) than statistical tools to infer certain population movements, since admixture can change within few generations of male-biased migrations, whereas haplogroups can’t…


Srubna-Andronovo samples are as homogeneous as they always were, dominated by R1a-Z645 subclades and CWC-related (steppe_MLBA) ancestry.

The appearance of one (possibly two) R-Z280 lineages in this mixed Srubna-Alakul region of the southern Urals and this early (1880-1690 BC, hence rather Pokrovka-Alakul) points to the admixture of R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z280 already in Abashevo, which also explains the wide distribution of both subclades in the forest zones of Central Asia.

If Abashevo is the cornerstone of the Indo-Iranian / Uralic community, as it seems, the genetic admixture would initially be quite similar, undergoing in the steppes a reduction to haplogroup R1a-Z93 (obviously not complete), at the same time as it expanded to the west with Pokrovka and Srubna, and to the east with Petrovka and Andronovo. To the north, similar reductions will probably be seen following the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

NOTE. Another R1a-Z280 has been found in the recent sample from Bronze Age Poland (see spreadsheet). As it appears right now in ancient and modern DNA, there seems to be a different distribution between subclades:

  • R1a-Z280 (formed ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2600 BC) appears mainly distributed today to the east, in the forest and steppe regions, with the most ‘successful’ expansions possibly related to the spread of Abashevo- and Battle Axe-related cultures (Indo-Iranian and Uralic alike).
  • R1a-M458 (formed ca. 2700, TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) appears mainly distributed to the north, from central Europe to the east – but not in the steppe in aDNA, with the most ‘successful’ expansions to the west.

M458 lineages seem thus to have expanded in the steppe in sizeable numbers only after the Iranian expansions (see a map of modern R1a distributions) i.e. possibly with the expansion of Slavs, which supports the model whereby cultures from central-east Europe (like Trzciniec and Lusatian), accompanied mainly by M458 lineages, were responsible for the expansion of Proto-Balto-Slavic (and later Proto-Slavic).

The finding of haplogroup R1a-Z93, among them one Z2123, is no surprise at this point after other similar Srubna samples. As I said, the early Srubna expansion is most likely responsible for the Szólád Bronze Age sample (ca. 2100-1700 BC), and for the Balkans BA sample (ca. 1750-1625 BC) from Merichleri, due to incursions along the central-east European steppe.

Map of decorated bone/antler bridle cheek-pieces and whip handle equivalents. They are often local translations that remained faithful to the originals (from data in Piggott, 1965; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005; David, 2007). Image from Vandkilde (2014).


Cimmerian samples from the west show signs of continuity with R1a-Z93 lineages. Nevertheless, the sample of haplogroup Q1a-Y558, together with the ‘Pre-Scythian’ sample of haplogroup N (of the Mezőcsát Culture) in Hungary ca. 980-830 BC, as well as their PCA, seem to depict an origin of these Pre-Scythian peoples in populations related to the eastern Central Asian steppes, too.

NOTE. I will write more on different movements (unrelated to Uralic expansions) from Central and East Asia to the west accompanied by Siberian ancestry and haplogroup N with the post of Ugric-Samoyedic expansions.


The Scythian of Z2123 lineage ca. 375-203 BC from the Volga (in Mathieson et al. 2015), together with the sample scy193 from Glinoe (probably also R1a-Z2123), without a date, as well as their common Steppe_MLBA cluster, suggest that Scythians, too, were at first probably quite homogeneous as is common among pastoralist nomads, and came thus from the Central Asian steppes.

The reduction in haplogroup variability among East Iranian peoples seems supported by the three new Late Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R1a-Z2124.

Approximate location of Glinoe and Glinoe Sad (with Starosilya to the south, in Ukrainian territory):

This initial expansion of Scythians does not mean that one can dismiss the western samples as non-Scythians, though, because ‘Scythian’ is a cultural attribution, based on materials. Confirming the diversity among western Scythians, a session at the recent ISBA 8:

Genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe broken not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths), by Järve et al.

The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

(…) Our results (…) support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

Detail of the slide with admixture of Scythian groups in Ukraine:


The findings of those 31 samples seem to support what Krzewińska et al. (2018) found in a tiny region of Moldavia-south-western Ukraine (Glinoi, Glinoi Sad, and Starosilya).

The question, then, is as follows: if Scythian dominance was “cultural rather than achieved through population replacement”…Where are the R1b-Z2103 from? One possibility, as I said in the previous post, is that they represent pockets of Iranian R1b lineages in the steppes descended from eastern Yamna, given that this haplogroup appears in modern populations from a wide region surrounding the steppes.

The other possibility, which is what some have proposed since the publication of the paper, is that they are related to Thracians, and thus to Palaeo-Balkan populations. About the previously published Thracian individuals in Sikora et al. (2014):

Geographic origin of ancient samples and ADMIXTURE results. (A) Map of Europe indicating the discovery sites for each of the ancient samples used in this study. (B) Ancestral population clusters inferred using ADMIXTURE on the HGDP dataset, for k = 6 ancestral clusters. The width of the bars of the ancient samples was increased to aid visualization.

For the Thracian individuals from Bulgaria, no clear pattern emerges. While P192-1 still shows the highest proportion of Sardinian ancestry, K8 more resembles the HG individuals, with a high fraction of Russian ancestry.

Despite their different geographic origins, both the Swedish farmer gok4 and the Thracian P192-1 closely resemble the Iceman in their relationship with Sardinians, making it unlikely that all three individuals were recent migrants from Sardinia. Furthermore, P192-1 is an Iron Age individual from well after the arrival of the first farmers in Southeastern Europe (more than 2,000 years after the Iceman and gok4), perhaps indicating genetic continuity with the early farmers in this region. The only non-HG individual not following this pattern is K8 from Bulgaria. Interestingly, this individual was excavated from an aristocratic inhumation burial containing rich grave goods, indicating a high social standing, as opposed to the other individual, who was found in a pit.


The following are excerpts from A Companion to Ancient Thrace (2015), by Valeva, Nankov, and Graninger (emphasis mine):

Thracian settlements from the 6th c. BC on:

(…) urban centers were established in northeastern Thrace, whose development was linked to the growth of road and communication networks along with related economic and distributive functions. The early establishment of markets/emporia along the Danube took place toward the middle of the first millennium BCE (Irimia 2006, 250–253; Stoyanov in press). The abundant data for intensive trade discovered at the Getic village in Satu Nou on the right bank of the Danube provides another example of an emporion that developed along the main artery of communication toward the interior of Thrace (Conovici 2000, 75–76).

Undoubtedly the most prominent manifestation of centralization processes and stratification in the settlement system of Thrace arrives with the emergence of political capitals – the leading urban centers of various Thracian political formations.

Image from Volf at Vol_Vlad LiveJournal.

Their relationships with Scythians and Greeks

The Scythian presence south of the Danube must be balanced with a Thracian presence north of the river. We have observed Getae there in Alexander’s day, settled and raising grain. For Strabo the coastlands from the Danube delta north as far as the river and Greek city of Tyras were the Desert of the Getae (7.3.14), notable for its poverty and tracklessness beyond the great river. He seems to suggest also that it was here that Lysimachus was taken alive by Dromichaetes, king of the Getae, whose famous homily on poverty and imperialism only makes sense on the steppe beyond the river (7.3.8; cf. Diod. 21.12; further on Getic possessions above the Danube, Paus. 1.9 with Delev 2000, 393, who seems rather too skeptical; on poverty, cf. Ballesteros Pastor 2003). This was the kind of discourse more familiarly found among Scythians, proud and blunt in the strength of their poverty. However, as Herodotus makes clear, simple pastoralism was not the whole story as one advanced round into Scythia. For he observes the agriculture practiced north and west of Olbia. These were the lands of the Alizones and the people he calls the Scythian Ploughmen, not least to distinguish them from the Royal Scythians east of Olbia, in whose outlook, he says, these agriculturalist Scythians were their inferiors, their slaves (Hdt. 4.20). The key point here is that, as we began to see with the Getan grain-fields of Alexander’s day, there was scope for Thracian agriculturalists to maintain their lifestyles if they moved north of the Danube, the steppe notwithstanding. It is true that it is movement in the other direction that tends to catch the eye, but there are indications in the literary tradition and, especially, in the archaeological record that there was also significant movement northward from Thrace across the Danube and the Desert of the Getae beyond it.

Greek literary sources were not much concerned with Thracian migration into Scythia, but we should observe the occasional indications of that process in very different texts and contexts. At the level of myth, it is to be remembered that Amazons were regularly considered to be of Thracian ethnicity from Archaic times onward and so are often depicted in Thracian dress in Greek art (Bothmer 1957; cf. Sparkes 1997): while they are most familiar on the south coast of the Black Sea, east of Sinope, they were also located on the north coast, especially east of the Don (the ancient Tanais). Herodotus reports an origin-story of the Sauromatians there, according to which this people had been created by the union of some Scythian warriors with Amazons captured on the south coast and then washed up on the coast of Scythia (4.110). While the story is unhistorical, it is not without importance. First, it reminds us that passage north from the Danube was not the only way that Thracians, Thracian influence, and Thracian culture might find their way into Scythia. There were many more and less circuitous routes, especially by sea, that could bring Thrace into Scythia. Secondly, the myth offered some ideological basis for the Sauromatian settlement in Thrace that Strabo records, for Sauromatians might claim a Thracian origin through their Amazon forebears. Finally, rather as we saw that Heracles could bring together some of the peoples of the region, we should also observe that Ares, whose earthly home was located in Thrace by a strong Greek and Roman tradition, seems also to have been a deity of special significance and special cult among the Scythians. So much was appropriate, especially from a Classical perspective, in associations between these two peoples, whose fame resided especially in their capacity for war.

Scythians: cultures and findings (ca. 7th-4th/3rd c. BC). Greek colonies marked with concentric circles.

This broad picture of cultural contact, interaction, and osmosis, beyond simple conflict, provides the context for a range of archaeological discoveries, which – if examined separately – may seem to offer no more than a scatter of peculiarities. Here we must acknowledge especially the pioneering work of Melyukova, who has done most to develop thinking on Thracian–Scythian interaction. As she pointed out, we have a good example of Thracian–Scythian osmosis as early as the mid-seventh century bce at Tsarev Brod in northeastern Bulgaria, where a warrior’s burial combines elements of Scythian and Thracian culture (Melyukova 1965). For, while the manner of his burial and many of the grave goods find parallels in Scythia and not Thrace, there are also goods which would be odd in a Scythian burial and more at home in a Thracian one of this period (notably a Hallstatt vessel, an iron knife, and a gold diadem). Also interesting in this regard are several stone figures found in the Dobrudja which resemble very closely figures of this kind (baby) known from Scythia (Melyukova 1965, 37–38). They range in date from perhaps the sixth to the third centuries bce, and presumably were used there – as in Scythia – to mark the burials of leading Scythians deposited in the area. Is this cultural osmosis? We should probably expect osmosis to occur in tandem with the movement of artefacts, so that only good contexts can really answer such questions from case to case. However, the broad pattern is indicated by a range of factors. Particularly notable in this regard is the observable development of a Thraco-Scythian form of what is more familiar as “Scythian animal style,” a term which – it must be understood – already embraces a range of types as we examine the different examples of the style across the great expanse from Siberia to the western Ukraine. As Melyukova observes, Thrace shows both items made in this style among Scythians and, more numerous and more interesting, a Thracian tendency to adapt that style to local tastes, with observable regional distinctions within Thrace itself. Among the Getae and Odrysians the adaptation seems to have been at its height from the later fifth century to the mid-third century (Melyukova 1965, 38; 1979).

The absence of local animal style in Bulgaria before the fifth century bce confirms that we have cultural influences and osmosis at work here, though that is not to say that Scythian tradition somehow dominated its Thracian counterpart, as has been claimed (pace Melyukova 1965, 39; contrast Kitov 1980 and 1984). Of particular interest here is the horse-gear (forehead-covers, cheek-pieces, bridle fittings, and so on) which is found extensively in Romania and Bulgaria as well as in Scythia, both in hoarded deposits and in burials. This exemplifies the development of a regional animal style, not least in silver and bronze, which problematizes the whole issue of the place(s) of its production. Accordingly, the regular designation as “Thracian” of horse-gear from the rich fourth century Scythian burial of Oguz in the Ukraine becomes at least awkward and questionable (further, Fialko 1995). And let us be clear that this is no minor matter, nor even part of a broader debate about the shared development of toreutics among Thracians and Scythians (e.g., Kitov 1980 and 1984). A finely equipped horse of fine quality was a strong statement and striking display of wealth and the power it implied

(…) while Thracian pottery appears at Olbia, Scythian pottery among Thracians is largely confined to the eastern limits of what should probably be regarded as Getic territory, namely the area close to the west of the Dniester, from the sixth century bce. Rather exceptional then is the Scythian pottery noted at Istros, which has been explained as a consequence of the Scythian pursuit of the withdrawing army of Darius and, possibly, a continued Scythian grip on the southern Danube in its aftermath (Melyukova 1965, 34). The archaeology seems to show us, therefore, that the elite Thracians and Scythians were more open to adaptation and acculturation than were their lesser brethren.

Paleo-Balkan languages in Eastern Europe between 5th and 1st century BC. From Wikipedia.


(…) we see distinct peoples and organizations, for example as Sitalces’ forces line up against the Scythians. Much more striking, however, against that general background, are the various ways in which the two peoples and their elites are seen to interact, connect, and share a cultural interface. We see also in Scyles’ story how the Greek cities on the coast of Thrace and Scythia played a significant role in the workings of relationships between the two peoples. It is not simply that these cities straddled the Danube, but also that they could collaborate – witness the honors for Autocles, ca. 300 bce (SEG 49.1051; Ochotnikov 2006) – and were implicated with the interactions of the much greater non-Greek powers around them. At the same time, we have seen the limited reality of familiar distinctions between settled Thracians and nomadic Scythians and the limited role of the Danube too in dividing Thrace and Scythia. The interactions of the two were not simply matters of dynastic politics and the occasional shared taste for artefacts like horse-gear, but were more profoundly rooted in the economic matrix across the region, so that “Scythian” nomadism might flourish in the Dobrudja and “Thracian-style” agriculture and settlement can be traced from Thrace across the Danube as far as Olbia. All of that offers scant justification for the Greek tendency to run together Thracians and Scythians as much the same phenomenon, not least as irrational, ferocious, and rather vulgar barbarians (e.g., Plato, Rep. 435b), because such notions were the result of ignorance and chauvinism. However, Herodotus did not share those faults to any degree, so that we may take his ready movement from Scythians to Thracians to be an indication of the importance of interaction between the two peoples whom he had encountered not only as slaves in the Aegean world, but as powerful forces in their own lands (e.g., Hdt. 4.74, where Thracian usage is suddenly brought into his account of Scythian hemp). Similarly, Thucydides, who quite without need breaks off his disquisition on the Odrysians to remark upon political disunity among the Scythians (Thuc. 2.97, a favorite theme: cf. Hdt. 4.81; Xen., Cyr. 1.1.4). As we have seen throughout this discussion, there were many reasons why Thracians might turn the thoughts of serious writers to Scythians and vice versa.

It seems, following Sikora et al. (2014), that Thracian ‘common’ populations would have more Anatolian Neolithic ancestry compared to more ‘steppe-like’ samples. But there were important differences even between the two nearby samples published from Bulgaria, which may account for the close interaction between Scythians and Thracians we see in Krzewińska et al. (2018), potentially reflected in the differences between the Central, Southern and the South-Central clusters (possibly related to different periods rather than peoples??).

If these R1b-Z2103 were descended from Thracian elites, this would be the first proof of Palaeo-Balkan populations showing mainly R1b-Z2103, as I expect. Their appearance together with haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (also found in Ukraine Neolithic and in the Yamna outlier from Bulgaria) seem to support this regional continuity, and thus a long-lasting cultural and ethnic border roughly around the Danube, similar to the one found in the northern Caucasus.

However, since these samples are some 2,500 years younger than the Yamna expansion to the south, and they are archaeologically Scythians, it is impossible to say. In any case, it would seem that the main expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages to the south of the Danube – and therefore those found among modern Greeks – was mediated by the Slavic expansions centuries later.

Modified image from Krzewińska et al. (2018), with added Y-DNA haplogroups to each defined Scythian cluster and Sarmatians. Principal component analysis (PCA) plot visualizing 35 Bronze Age and Iron Age individuals presented in this study and in published ancient individuals in relation to modern reference panel from the Human Origins data set. See image with population references.

On the Northern cluster there is a sample of haplogroup R1b-P312 which, given its position on the PCA (apparently even more ‘modern Celtic’-like than the Hallstatt_Bylany sample from Damgaard et al. 2018), it seems that it could be the product of the previous eastward Hallstatt expansion…although potentially also from a recent one?:

Especially important in the archaeology of this interior is the large settlement at Nemirov in the wooded steppe of the western Ukraine, where there has been considerable excavation. This settlement’s origins evidently owe nothing significant to Greek influence, though the early east Greek pottery there (from ca. 650 bce onward: Vakhtina 2007) and what seems to be a Greek graffito hint at its connections with the Greeks of the coast, especially at Olbia, which lay at the estuary of the River Bug on whose middle course the site was located (Braund 2008). The main interest of the site for the present discussion, however, is its demonstrable participation in the broader Hallstatt culture to its west and south (especially Smirnova 2001). Once we consider Nemirov and the forest steppe in connection with Olbia and the other locations across the forest steppe and coastal zone, together with the less obvious movements across the steppe itself, we have a large picture of multiple connectivities in which Thrace bulks large.

Early Iron Age cultures of the Carpathian basin ca. 7-6th century BC, including steppe-related groups. Ďurkovič et al. (2018).

While the above description of clear-cut R1a-Steppe and R1b-Balkans is attractive (and probably more reliable than admixture found in scattered samples of unclear dates), the true ancient genetic picture is more complicated than that:

  • There is nothing in the material culture of the published western Scythians to distinguish the supposed Thracian elites.
  • We have the sample I0575, an Early Sarmatian from the southern Urals (one of the few available) of haplogroup R1b-Z2106, which supports the presence of R1b-Z2103 lineages among Eastern Iranian-speaking peoples.
  • We also have DA30, a Sarmatian of I2b lineage from the central steppes in Kazakhstan (ca. 47 BC – 24 AD).
  • Other Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R remain undefined.
  • There is R1a-Z93 in a late Sarmatian-Hun sample, which complicates the picture of late pastoralist nomads further.

Therefore, the possibility of hidden pockets of Iranian peoples of R1b-Z2103 (maybe also R1b-P312) lineages remains the best explanation, and should not be discarded simply because of the prevalent haplogroups among modern populations, or because of the different clusters found, or else we risk an obvious circular reasoning: “this sample is not (autosomically or in prevalent haplogroups) like those we already had from the steppe, ergo it is not from this or that steppe culture.” Hopefully, the upcoming paper by Järve et al. will help develop a clearer genetic transect of Iranian populations from the steppes.

All in all, the diversity among western Scythians represents probably one of the earliest difficult cases of acculturation to be studied with ancient DNA (obviously not the only one), since Scythians combine unclear archaeological data with limited and conflicting proto-historical accounts (also difficult to contrast with the wide confidence intervals of radiocarbon dates) with different evolving clusters and haplogroups – especially in border regions with strong and continued interactions of cultures and peoples.

With emerging complex cases like these during the Iron Age, I am happy to see that at least earlier expansions show clearer Y-DNA bottlenecks, or else genetics would only add more data to argue about potential cultural diffusion events, instead of solving questions about proto-language expansions once and for all…


Early Iranian steppe nomadic pastoralists also show Y-DNA bottlenecks and R1b-L23

New paper (behind paywall) Ancient genomes suggest the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe as the source of western Iron Age nomads, by Krzewińska et al. Science (2018) 4(10):eaat4457.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, some links to images and tables deleted for clarity):

Late Bronze Age (LBA) Srubnaya-Alakulskaya individuals carried mtDNA haplogroups associated with Europeans or West Eurasians (17) including H, J1, K1, T2, U2, U4, and U5 (table S3). In contrast, the Iron Age nomads (Cimmerians, Scythians, and Sarmatians) additionally carried mtDNA haplogroups associated with Central Asia and the Far East (A, C, D, and M). The absence of East Asian mitochondrial lineages in the more eastern and older Srubnaya-Alakulskaya population suggests that the appearance of East Asian haplogroups in the steppe populations might be associated with the Iron Age nomads, starting with the Cimmerians.


#UPDATE (5 OCT 2018): Some Y-SNP calls have been published in a Molgen thread, with:

  • Srubna samples have possibly two R1a-Z280, three R1a-Z93.
  • Cimmerians may not have R1b: cim357 is reported as R1a.
  • Some Scythians have low coverage to the point where it is difficult to assign even a reliable haplogroup (they report hg I2 for scy301, or E for scy197, probably based on some shared SNPs?), but those which can be reliably assigned seem R1b-Z2103 [hence probably the use of question marks and asterisks in the table, and the assumption of the paper that all Scythians are R1b-L23]:
    • The most recent subclade is found in scy305: R1b-Z2103>Z2106 (Z2106+, Y12538/Z8131+)
    • scy304: R1b-Z2103 (M12149/Y4371/Z8128+).
    • scy009: R1b-P312>U152>L2 (P312+, U152?, L2+)?
  • Sarmatians are apparently all R1a-Z93 (including tem002 and tem003);
  • You can read here the Excel file with (some probably as speculative as the paper’s own) results.

    About the PCA

    1. Srubnaya-Alakulskaya individuals exhibited genetic affinity to northern and northeastern present-day Europeans, and these results were also consistent with outgroup f3 statistics.
    2. The Cimmerian individuals, representing the time period of transition from Bronze to Iron Age, were not homogeneous regarding their genetic similarities to present-day populations according to the PCA. F3 statistics confirmed the heterogeneity of these individuals in comparison with present-day populations
    3. The Scythians reported in this study, from the core Scythian territory in the North Pontic steppe, showed high intragroup diversity. In the PCA, they are positioned as four visually distinct groups compared to the gradient of present-day populations:
      1. A group of three individuals (scy009, scy010, and scy303) showed genetic affinity to north European populations (…).
      2. A group of four individuals (scy192, scy197, scy300, and scy305) showed genetic similarities to southern European populations (…).
      3. A group of three individuals (scy006, scy011, and scy193) located between the genetic variation of Mordovians and populations of the North Caucasus (…). In addition, one Srubnaya-Alakulskaya individual (kzb004), the most recent Cimmerian (cim357), and all Sarmatians fell within this cluster. In contrast to the Scythians, and despite being from opposite ends of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, the five Sarmatians grouped close together in this cluster.
      4. A group of three Scythians (scy301, scy304, and scy311) formed a discrete group between the SC and SE and had genetic affinities to present-day Bulgarian, Greek, Croatian, and Turkish populations (…).
      5. Finally, one individual from a Scythian cultural context (scy332) is positioned outside of the modern West Eurasian genetic variation (Fig. 1C) but shared genetic drift with East Asian populations.
    Radiocarbon ages and geographical locations of the ancient samples used in this study. Figure panels presented (Left) Bar plot visualizing approximate timeline of presented and previously published individuals. (Right) Principal component analysis (PCA) plot visualizing 35 Bronze Age and Iron Age individuals presented in this study and in published ancient individuals (table S5) in relation to modern reference panel from the Human Origins data set (41).


    The presence of an SA component (as well as finding of metals imported from Tien Shan Mountains in Muradym 8) could therefore reflect a connection to the complex networks of the nomadic transmigration patterns characteristic of seasonal steppe population movements. These movements, although dictated by the needs of the nomads and their animals, shaped the economic and social networks linking the outskirts of the steppe and facilitated the flow of goods between settled, semi-nomadic, and nomadic peoples. In contrast, all Cimmerians carried the Siberian genetic component. Both the PCA and f4 statistics supported their closer affinities to the Bronze Age western Siberian populations (including Karasuk) than to Srubnaya. It is noteworthy that the oldest of the Cimmerians studied here (cim357) carried almost equal proportions of Asian and West Eurasian components, resembling the Pazyryks, Aldy-Bel, and Iron Age individuals from Russia and Kazakhstan (12). The second oldest Cimmerian (cim358) was also the only one with both uniparental markers pointing toward East Asia. The Q1* Y chromosome sublineage of Q-M242 is widespread among Asians and Native Americans and is thought to have originated in the Altai Mountains (24)


    In contrast to the eastern steppe Scythians (Pazyryks and Aldy-Bel) that were closely related to Yamnaya, the western North Pontic Scythians were instead more closely related to individuals from Afanasievo and Andronovo groups. Some of the Scythians of the western Pontic-Caspian steppe lacked the SA and the East Eurasian components altogether and instead were more similar to a Montenegro Iron Age individual (3), possibly indicating assimilation of the earlier local groups by the Scythians.

    Toward the end of the Scythian period (fourth century CE), a possible direct influx from the southern Ural steppe zone took place, as indicated by scy332. However, it is possible that this individual might have originated in a different nomadic group despite being found in a Scythian cultural context.

    Genetic diversity and ancestral components of Srubnaya-Alakulskaya population.(here called “Srubnaya”): (Left) Mean f3 statistics for Srubnaya and other Bronze Age populations. Srubnaya group was color-coded the same as with PCA. (Right) Pairwise mismatch estimates for Bronze Age populations.


    I am surprised to find this new R1b-L23-based bottleneck in Eastern Iranian expansions so late, but admittedly – based on data from later times in the Pontic-Caspian steppe near the Caucasus – it was always a possibility. The fact that pockets of R1b-L23 lineages remained somehow ‘hidden’ in early Indo-Iranian communities was clear already since Narasimhan et al. (2018), as I predicted could happen, and is compatible with the limited archaeological data on Sintashta-Potapovka populations outside fortified settlements. I already said that Corded Ware was out of Indo-European migrations then, this further supports it.

    Even with all these data coming just from a north-west Pontic steppe region (west of the Dnieper), these ‘Cimmerians’ – or rather the ‘Proto-Scythian’ nomadic cultures appearing before ca. 800 BC in the Pontic-Caspian steppes – are shown to be probably formed by diverse peoples from Central Asia who brought about the first waves of Siberian ancestry (and Asian lineages) seen in the western steppes. You can read about a Cimmerian-related culture, Anonino, key for the evolution of Finno-Permic peoples.

    Also interesting about the Y-DNA bottleneck seen here is the rejection of the supposed continuous western expansions of R1a-Z645 subclades with steppe tribes since the Bronze Age, and thus a clearest link of the Hungarian Árpád dynasty (of R1a-Z2123 lineage) to either the early Srubna-related expansions or – much more likely – to the actual expansions of Hungarian tribes near the Urals in historic times.

    NOTE. I will add the information of this paper to the upcoming post on Ugric and Samoyedic expansions, and the late introduction of Siberian ancestry to these peoples.

    A few interesting lessons to be learned:

    • Remember the fantasy story about that supposed steppe nomadic pastoralist society sharing different Y-DNA lineages? You know, that Yamna culture expanding with R1b from Khvalynsk-Repin into the whole Pontic-Caspian steppes and beyond, developing R1b-dominated Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Poltavka, but suddenly appearing (in the middle of those expansions through the steppes) as a different culture, Corded Ware, to the north (in the east-central European forest zone) and dominated by R1a? Well, it hasn’t happened with any other steppe migration, so…maybe Proto-Indo-Europeans were that kind of especially friendly language-teaching neighbours?
    • Remember that ‘pure-R1a’ Indo-Slavonic society emerged from Sintashta ca. 2100 BC? (or even Graeco-Aryan??) Hmmmm… Another good fantasy story that didn’t happen; just like a central-east European Bronze Age Balto-Slavic R1a continuity didn’t happen, either. So, given that cultures from around Estonia are those showing the closest thing to R1a continuity in Europe until the Iron Age, I assume we have to get ready for the Gulf of Finland Balto-Slavic soon.
    • Remember that ‘pure-R1a’ expansion of Indo-Europeans based on the Tarim Basin samples? This paper means ipso facto an end to the Tarim Basin – Tocharian artificial controversy. The Pre-Tocharian expansion is represented by Afanasevo, and whether or not (Andronovo-related) groups of R1a-Z645 lineages replaced part or eventually all of its population before, during, or after the Tocharian expansion into the Tarim Basin, this does not change the origin of the language split and expansion from Yamna to Central Asia; just like this paper does not change the fact that these steppe groups were Proto-Iranian (Srubna) and Eastern Iranian (Scythian) speakers, regardless of their dominant haplogroup.
    • And, best of all, remember the Copenhagen group’s recent R1a-based “Indo-Germanic” dialect revival vs. the R1b-Tocharo-Italo-Celtic? Yep, they made that proposal, in 2018, based on the obvious Yamna—R1b-L23 association, and the desire to support Kristiansen’s model of Corded Ware – Indo-European expansion. Pepperidge Farm remembers. This new data on Early Iranians means another big NO to that imaginary R1a-based PIE society. But good try to go back to Gimbutas’ times, though.
    Olander’s (2018) tree of Indo-European languages. Presented at Languages and migrations in pre-historic Europe (7-12 Aug 2018)

    Do you smell that fresher air? It’s the Central and East European post-Communist populist and ethnonationalist bullshit (viz. pure blond R1a-based Pan-Nordicism / pro-Russian Pan-Slavism / Pan-Eurasianism, as well as Pan-Turanism and similar crap from the 19th century) going down the toilet with each new paper.

    #EDIT (5 OCT 2018): It seems I was too quick to rant about the consequences of the paper without taking into account the complexity of the data presented. Not the first time this impulsivity happens, I guess it depends on my mood and on the time I have to write a post on the specific work day…

    While the data on Srubna, Cimmerians, and Sarmatians shows clearer Y-DNA bottlenecks (of R1a-Z645 subclades) with the new data, the Scythian samples remain controversial, because of the many doubts about the haplogroups (although the most certain cases are R1b-Z2103), their actual date, and cultural attribution. However, I doubt they belong to other peoples, given the expansionist trends of steppe nomads before, during, and after Scythians (as shown in statistical analyses), so most likely they are Scythian or ‘Para-Scythian’ nomadic groups that probably came from the east, whether or not they incorporated Balkan populations. This is further supported by the remaining R1b-P312 and R1b-Z2103 populations in and around the modern Eurasian steppe region.

    Early Iron Age cultures of the Carpathian basin ca. 7-6th century BC, including steppe groups Basarabi and Scythians. Ďurkovič et al. (2018).

    You can find an interesting and detailed take on the data published (in Russian) at Vol-Vlad’s LiveJournal (you can read an automatic translation from Google). I think that post is maybe too detailed in debunking all information associated to the supposed Scythians – to the point where just a single sample seems to be an actual Scythian (?!) -, but is nevertheless interesting to read the potential pitfalls of the study.


    Scythians in Ukraine, Natufian and sub-Saharan ancestry in North Africa (ISBA 8, 21st Sep)


    Interesting information from ISBA 8 sesions today, as seen on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from the 19th and the 20th september).

    Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

    Scythian population genetics and settlement patterns

    Genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe broken not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths), by Järve et al.

    The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP1. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

    However, the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture between 2,100 and 1,700 cal BP does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape, with various analyses showing that Chernyakhov culture samples share more drift and derived alleles with Bronze/Iron Age and modern Europeans, while the Scythians position outside modern European variation. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

    Detail of the slide with admixture of Scythian groups in Ukraine:


    Interesting to read in combination with yesterday’s re-evaluation of Scythian mobility and settlement patterns in the west (showing adaptation to the different regional cultures), The Steppe was Sown – multi-isotopic research changes our understandings of Scythian diet and mobility, by Ventresca Miller et al.

    Nomadic pastoralists conventionally known as the Scythians occupied the Pontic steppe during the Iron Age, c. 700-200 BC, a period of unprecedented pan-regional interaction. Popular science accounts of the Scythians promote narratives of roving bands of nomadic warriors traversing the steppe from the Altai Mountains to the Black Sea coastline. The quantity and scale of mobility in the region is usually emphasized based on the wide distribution of material culture and the characterization of Iron Age subsistence economies in the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe as mobile pastoralism. Yet, there remains a lack of systematic, direct analysis of the mobility of individuals and their animals. Here, we present a multi-isotopic analysis of humans from Iron Age Scythian sites in Ukraine. Mobility and dietary intake were documented through strontium, carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel. Our results provide direct evidence for mobility among populations in the steppe and forest-steppe zones, demonstrating a range of localized mobility strategies. However, we found that very few individuals came from outside of the broader vicinity of each site, often staying within a 90 km radius. Dietary intake varied at the intrasite level and was based in agro-pastoralism.

    While terrestrial protein did form a portion of the diet for some individuals, there were also high levels of a 13C-enriched food source among many individuals, which has been interpreted as millet consumption. Individuals exhibiting 87Sr/86Sr ratios that fell outside the local range were more likely to have lower rates of millet consumption than those that fell within the local range. This suggests that individuals moving to the site later in life had different economic pursuits and consumed less millet. There is also strong evidence that children and infants moved at the pan-regional scale. Contrary to the popular narrative, the majority of Scythians engaged in localized mobility as part of agricultural lifeways while pan-regional movements included family groups.

    North-Africans show ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa

    Pleistocene North Africans show dual genetic ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa, by van de Loosdrecht et al.

    North Africa, connecting sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, is important for understanding human history. However, the genetic history of modern humans in this region is largely unknown before the introduction of agriculture. After the Last Glacial Maximum modern humans, associated with the Iberomaurusian culture, inhabited a wide area spanning from Morocco to Libya. The Iberomaurusian is part of the early Later Stone Age and characterized by a distinct microlithic bladelet technology, complex hunter-gathering and tooth evulsion.

    Here we present genomic data from seven individuals, directly dated to ~15,000-year-ago, from Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt in Morocco. Uni-parental marker analyses show mitochondrial haplogroup U6a for six individuals and M1b for one individual, and Y-chromosome haplogroup E-M78 (E1b1b1a1) for males. We find a strong genetic affinity of the Taforalt individuals with ancient Near Easterners, best represented by ~12,000 year old Levantine Natufians, that made the transition from complex hunter-gathering to more sedentary food production. This suggests that genetic connections between Africa and the Near East predate the introduction of agriculture in North Africa by several millennia. Notably, we do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into the ~15,000 year old North Africans as previously suggested based on archaeological similarities. Finally, the Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West Africans (Yoruba, Mende) and Africans from Tanzania (Hadza). In contrast, modern North Africans have a much smaller sub-Saharan African component with no apparent link to Hadza. Our results provide the earliest direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia.

    A detail of the cultures involved in these population movements:


    So, most likely, Natufian-related ancestry – as sub-Saharan ancestry – not related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

    NOTE. This now probably outdated already by the new preprint on Dzudzuana samples, from the Caucasus.

    Impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia

    Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia by Seguin-Orlando et al.

    Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

    Also interesting to read Balanovsky’s session, and a previous paper on the expansion of Yakuts.

    The Iron Age expansion of Southern Siberian groups and ancestry with Scythians


    Maternal genetic features of the Iron Age Tagar population from Southern Siberia (1st millennium BC), by Pilipenko et al. (2018).

    Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

    The positions of non-Tagar Iron Age groups in the MDS plot were correlated with their geographic position within the Eurasian steppe belt and with frequencies of Western and Eastern Eurasian mtDNA lineages in their gene pools. Series from chronological Tagar stages (similar to the overall Tagar series) were located within the genetic variability (in terms of mtDNA) of Scythian World nomadic groups (Figs 5 and 6; S4 and S6 Tables). Specifically, the Early Tagar series was more similar to western nomads (North Pontic Scythians), while the Middle Tagar was more similar to the Southern Siberian populations of the Scythian period. The Late Tagar group (Tes`culture) belonging to the Early Xiongnu period had the “western-most” location on the MDS plot with the maximal genetic difference from Xiongnu and other eastern nomadic groups (but see Discussion concerning the low sample size for the Tes`series).

    In a comparison of our Tagar series with modern populations in Eurasia, we detected similarity between the Tagar group and some modern Turkic-speaking populations (with the exception of the Indo-Iranian Tajik population) (Fig 7; S2 Table). Among the modern Turkic-speaking groups, populations from the western part of the Eurasian steppe belt, such as Bashkirs from the Volga-Ural region and Siberian Tatars from the West Siberian forest-steppe zone, were more similar to the Tagar group than modern Turkic-speaking populations of the Altay-Sayan mountain system (including the Khakassians from the Minusinsk basin) (Fig 7).

    Location of Tagar archaeological sites from which samples for this study were obtained. Burial grounds: 1—Novaya Chernaya-1; 2—Podgornoe Ozero, Barsuchiha-1, Barsuchiha-6, Barsuchiha-7; 3—Perevozinskiy; 4—Ulug-Kyuzyur, Kichik-Kyuzyur, Sovetskaya Khakassiya; 5—Tepsey-3, Tepsey-8, Tepsey-9; 6—Dolgiy Kurgan.

    Mitochondrial DNA diversity and genetic relationships of the Tagar population

    Our results are not inconsistent with the assumption of a probable role of gene flow due to the migration from Western Eurasia to the Minusinsk basin in the Bronze Age in the formation of the genetic composition of the Tagar population. Particularly, we detected many mtDNA lineages/clusters with probable West Eurasian origin that were dominant in modern populations of different parts of Europe, Caucasus, and the Near East (such as K and HV6) in our Tagar series based on a phylogeographic analysis.

    We detected relatively low genetic distances between our Tagar population and two Bronze Age populations from the Minusinsk basin—the Okunevo culture population (pre-Andronovo Bronze Age) and Andronovo culture population, followed by Afanasievo population from the Minusinsk Basin and Middle Bronze Age population from the Mongolian Altai Mountains (the region adjacent to the Minusinsk basin) (Figs 3 and 6; S3 and S5 Tables). Among West Eurasian part of our Tagar series we also observed haplogroups/sub-haplogroups and haplotypes shared with Early and Middle Bronze Age populations from Minusinsk Basin and western part of Eurasian steppe belt (Fig 4; S5 Table). Thus, our results suggested a potentially significant role of the genetic components, introduced by migrants from Western Eurasia during the Bronze Age, in the formation of the genetic composition of the Tagar population. It is necessary to note the relatively small size of available mtDNA samples from the Bronze Age populations of Minusinsk basin; accordingly, additional mtDNA data for these populations are required to further confirm our inference.

    Phylogenetic tree of mtDNA lineages from the Tagar population. Color coding of the Tagar stages: orange—the Early Tagar stage; blue—the Middle Tagar Stage; green—the Late Tagar stage. Color of haplogroup labels: yellow—for Western Eurasian haplogroups; red—for Eastern Eurasian haplogroups.

    Another substantial part of the mtDNA pool of the Tagar and other eastern populations of the Scythian World is typical of populations in Southern Siberia and adjacent regions of Central Asia (autochthonous Central Asian mtDNA clusters). Most of these components belong to the East Eurasian cluster of mtDNA haplogroups. Moreover, the role of each of these components in the formation of the genetic composition of subsequent (to the present) populations in South Siberia and Central Asia could be very different. In this regard, cluster C4a2a (and its subcluster C4a2a1), and haplogroup A8 are of particular interest.

    Genetic features of successive Tagar groups

    We compared successive Tagar groups (Early, Middle, and Late Tagar) with each other and with other Iron Age nomadic populations to evaluate changes in the mtDNA pool structure. Despite the genetic similarity between the Early and Middle Tagar series and Scythian World nomadic groups (Figs 5 and 6; S4 and S6 Tables), there were some peculiarities. For example, the Early Tagar series was more similar to North Pontic Classic Scythians, while the Middle Tagar samples were more similar to the Southern Siberian populations of the Scythian period (i.e., completely synchronous populations of regions neighboring the Minusinsk basin, such as the Pazyryk population from the Altay Mountains and Aldy-Bel population from Tuva).

    We observed differences in the mtDNA pool structure between the Early and the Middle chronological stages of the Tagar culture population, as evidenced by the change in the ratio of Western to Eastern Eurasian mtDNA components. The contribution of Eastern Eurasian lineages increased from about one-third (34.8%) in the Early Tagar group to almost one-half (45.8%) in the Middle Tagar group.

    Results of multidimensional scaling based on matrix of Slatkin population differentiation (FST) according to frequencies of mtDNA haplogroup in Tagar populations and modern populations of Eurasia. Populations: Tagar (red pentagon) (this study); Mongolian-speaking populations: Khamnigans (Buryat Republic, Russia) [43]; Barghuts (Inner Mongolia, China) [44]; Buryats (Buryat Republic, Southern Siberia, Russia) [43]; Mongols (Mongolia) [45]. Turkic-speaking populations: Tuvinians (Tuva Republic, Russia) [43]; Tofalars (Irkutsk region, Russia) [46]; Altai-Kizhi ((Altai Republic, Russia) [43, 47]; Telenghits (Altai Republic, Russia) [43,47]; Tubalars (Altai Republic) [48]; Shors (Kemerovo region, Russia) [43, 47]; Khakassians (Khakassian Rupublic, Russia) [43, 46]; Altaian Kazakhs (Altai Republic) [49]; Kazakhs (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan) [50, 51]; Kirghiz (Kyrgyzstan) [50, 51]; Uighurs (Kazakhstan and Xinjiang) [50, 52]; Siberian Tatars (Tyumen and Omsk regions, Russia) [53]; Tatars (Volga-Ural rigion, Russia) [54]; Bashkirs (Volga-Ural region, Russia) [55]; Uzbeks (Uzbekistan) [51, 56]; Turkmens (Turkmenistan) [51, 56]; Nogays [57]; Turkeys [58]; other populations: Evenks [43, 46]; Ulchi [59]; Koreans (South Korea) [43]; Han Chinese [60]; Zhuang (Guangxi, China) [61]; Tadjiks (Tadjikistan) [43, 51]; Iranians [60]; Russians [62].

    At the level of mtDNA haplogroups, we detected a decrease in the diversity of phylogenetic clusters during the transition from the Early Tagar to the Middle Tagar. This decline in diversity equally affected the West Eurasian and East Eurasian components of the Tagar mtDNA pool. It should be noted that this decrease can be partially explained by the smaller number of Middle Tagar than Early Tagar samples. Under a simple binomial approximation the mtDNA clusters, observed at frequencies of 6.3% and 11.7%, could be lost by chance in our Early (N = 46) and Middle (N = 24) Tagar samples, respectively. However, the simultaneous lack of several such clusters, with a total frequency in the gene pool of the Early group of 34.8%, is unlikely.

    The observed reduction in the genetic distance between the Middle Tagar population and other Scythian-like populations of Southern Siberia(Fig 5; S4 Table), in our opinion, is primarily associated with an increase in the role of East Eurasian mtDNA lineages in the gene pool (up to nearly half of the gene pool) and a substantial increase in the joint frequency of haplogroups C and D (from 8.7% in the Early Tagar series to 37.5% in the Middle Tagar series). These features are characteristic of many ancient and modern populations of Southern Siberia and adjacent regions of Central Asia, including the Pazyryk population of the Altai Mountains. We did not obtain strong evidence for an intensification of genetic contact between the population of the Minusinsk basin and the Altai Mountains in the Middle Tagar period compared with the Early Tagar period. Although, several archaeologists have found evidence for the intensification of contact at the level of material culture, namely, a cultural influence of the population of the Altai Mountains (represented by the Pazyryk population) on the population of the Minusinsk basin (the Saragash Tagar group) [6, 71, 72].

    Another important issue is the change in the genetic structure of the Tagar population during the transition from the Middle (Saragash) to the Late (Tes`) stage. The Late Tagar stage refers to the Xiongnu period. Many archaeologists suggest that the formation of the Tes`stage involved the direct cultural influence of the Xiongnu and/or related groups of nomads from more eastern regions of Central Asia [71, 73]. Some archaeologists have even suggested renaming the Tes`stage in the Tes`culture [71], emphasizing the role of new eastern cultural elements. If this influence also existed at the genetic level, then we would expect to observe new genetic elements in the Tes`gene pool, particularly those of East Eurasian origin.

    Siberian ancestry

    Just a reminder of the recent session in ISBA 8 on expanding Scythians (and also Mongolians and Turks) spreading Siberian ancestry, usually (wrongly) identified as “Uralic-Yeniseian” based on modern populations (similar to how steppe ancestry is wrongly identified as “Indo-European”), see the following graphic including the Tagar population:

    Very important observation with implication of population turnover is that pre-Turkic Inner Eurasian populations’ Siberian ancestry appears predominantly “Uralic-Yeniseian” in contrast to later dominance of “Tungusic-Mongolic” sort (which does sporadically occur earlier). Alexander M. Kim

    And also the poster by Alexander M. Kim et al. Yeniseian hypotheses in light of genome-wide ancient DNA from historical Siberia:

    The relevance of ancient DNA data to debates in historical linguistics is an emphatic strand in much recent work on the archaeogenetics of Eurasia, where the discussion has focused heavily on Indo-European (Haak et al. 2015; Narasimhan et al. 2018; de Barros Damgaard et al. 2018a,b). We present new genome-wide ancient DNA data from a historical Siberian individual in relation to Yeniseian, an isolated language “microfamily” (Vajda 2014) that nonetheless sits at the center of numerous controversial proposals in historical linguistics and cultural interaction. Yeniseian’s sole surviving representative is Ket, a critically endangered language fluently spoken by only a few dozen individuals near the Middle Yenisei River of Central Siberia.

    In strong contrast to the present-day picture, river names and argued substrate influences and loanwords in languages outside the current range of Yeniseian, as well as direct records from the Russian colonial period, indicate that speakers of extinct Yeniseian languages had a formerly much broader presence in the taiga of Central Siberia as well as further south in the mountainous Altai-Sayan region – and perhaps even further afield in Inner Asia (Vajda 2010; Gorbachov 2017; Blažek 2016). The consilience of these proposals with genetic data is not straightforward (Flegontov et al. 2015, 2017) and faces a major obstacle in the lack of genetic information from verifiable speakers of Yeniseian languages other than the Kets, who have had complex ongoing interactions with speakers of non-Yeniseian languages such as the Samoyedic Selkups. We attempt to remedy this with new historical Siberian aDNA data, orienting our search for common denominators and systematic difference in a broader landscape of concordance, discordance, and uncertainty at the interface of diachronic linguistics and genetics.


    Eurasian steppe dominated by Iranian peoples, Indo-Iranian expanded from East Yamna


    The expected study of Eurasian samples is out (behind paywall): 137 ancient human genomes from across the Eurasian steppes, by de Barros Damgaard et al. Nature (2018).

    Dicussion (emphasis mine):

    Our findings fit well with current insights from the historical linguistics of this region (Supplementary Information section 2). The steppes were probably largely Iranian-speaking in the first and second millennia bc. This is supported by the split of the Indo-Iranian linguistic branch into Iranian and Indian33, the distribution of the Iranian languages, and the preservation of Old Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34. The wide distribution of the Turkic languages from Northwest China, Mongolia and Siberia in the east to Turkey and Bulgaria in the west implies large-scale migrations out of the homeland in Mongolia since about 2,000 years ago35. The diversification within the Turkic languages suggests that several waves of migration occurred36 and, on the basis of the effect of local languages, gradual assimilation to local populations had previously been assumed37. The East Asian migration starting with the Xiongnu accords well with the hypothesis that early Turkic was the major language of Xiongnu groups38. Further migrations of East Asians westwards find a good linguistic correlate in the influence of Mongolian on Turkic and Iranian in the last millennium39. As such, the genomic history of the Eurasian steppes is the story of a gradual transition from Bronze Age pastoralists of West Eurasian ancestry towards mounted warriors of increased East Asian ancestry—a process that continued well into historical times.

    This paper will need a careful reading – better in combination with Narasimhan et al. (2018), when their tables are corrected – , to assess the actual ‘Iranian’ nature of the peoples studied. Their wide and long-term dominion over the steppe could also potentially explain some early samples from Hajji Firuz with steppe ancestry.

    Principal component analyses. The principal components 1 and 2 were plotted for the ancient data analysed with the present-day data (no projection bias) using 502 individuals at 242,406 autosomal SNP positions. Dimension 1 explains 3% of the variance and represents a gradient stretching from Europe to East Asia. Dimension 2 explains 0.6% of the variance, and is a gradient mainly represented by ancient DNA starting from a ‘basal-rich’ cluster of Natufian hunter-gatherers and ending with EHGs. BA, Bronze Age; EMBA, Early-to-Middle Bronze Age; SHG, Scandinavian hunter-gatherers.

    For the moment, at first sight, it seems that, in terms of Y-DNA lineages:

    • R1b-Z93 (especially Z2124 subclades) dominate the steppes in the studied periods.
    • R1b-P312 is found in Hallstatt ca. 810 BC, which is compatible with its role in the Celtic expansion.
    • R1b-U106 is found in a West Germanic chieftain in Poprad (Slovakia) ca. 400 AD, during the Migration Period, hence supporting once again the expansion of Germanic tribes especially with R1b-U106 lineages.
    • A new sample of N1c-L392 (L1025) lineage dated ca. 400 AD, now from Lithuania, points again to a quite late expansion of this lineage to the region, believed to have hosted Uralic speakers for more than 2,000 years before this.
    • A sample of haplogroup R1a-Z282 (Z92) dated ca. 1300 AD in the Golden Horde is probably not quite revealing, not even for the East Slavic expansion.
    • Also, interestingly, some R1b(xM269) lineages seem to be associated with Turkic expansions from the eastern steppe dated around 500 AD, which probably points to a wide Eurasian distribution of early R1b subclades in the Mesolithic.

    NOTE. I have referenced not just the reported subclades from the paper, but also (and mainly) further Y-SNP calls studied by Open Genomes. See the spreadsheet here.

    Interesting also to read in the supplementary materials the following, by Michaël Peyrot (emphasis mine):

    1. Early Indo-Europeans on the steppe: Tocharians and Indo-Iranians

    The Indo-European language family is spread over Eurasia and comprises such branches and languages as Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Sanskrit etc. The branches relevant for the Eurasian steppe are Indo-Aryan (= Indian) and Iranian, which together form the Indo-Iranian branch, and the extinct Tocharian branch. All Indo-European languages derive from a postulated protolanguage termed Proto-Indo-European. This language must have been spoken ca 4500–3500 BCE in the steppe of Eastern Europe21. The Tocharian languages were spoken in the Tarim Basin in present-day Northwest China, as shown by manuscripts from ca 500–1000 CE. The Indo-Aryan branch consists of Sanskrit and several languages of the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi. The Iranian branch is spread today from Kurdish in the west, through a.o. Persian and Pashto, to minority languages in western China, but was in the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE widespread also on the Eurasian steppe. Since despite their location Tocharian and Indo-Iranian show no closer relationship within Indo-European, the early Tocharians may have moved east before the Indo-Iranians. They are probably to be identified with the Afanasievo Culture of South Siberia (ca 2900 – 2500 BCE) and have possibly entered the Tarim Basin ca 2000 BCE103.

    The Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) towards the east. The rise of the Indo-Iranian language, of which no direct records exist, must be connected with the Abashevo / Sintashta Culture (ca 2100 – 1800 BCE) in the southern Urals and the subsequent rise and spread of Andronovo-related Culture (1700 – 1500 BCE). The most important linguistic evidence of the Indo-Iranian phase is formed by borrowings into Finno-Ugric languages104–106. Kuz’mina (2001) identifies the Finno-Ugrians with the Andronoid cultures in the pre-taiga zone east of the Urals107. Since some of the oldest words borrowed into Finno-Ugric are only found in Indo-Aryan, Indo-Aryan and Iranian apparently had already begun to diverge by the time of these contacts, and when both groups moved east, the Iranians followed the Indo-Aryans108. Being pushed by the expanding Iranians, the Indo-Aryans then moved south, one group surfacing in equestrian terminology of the Anatolian Mitanni kingdom, and the main group entering the Indian subcontinent from the northwest.

    Summary map. Depictions of the five main migratory events associated with the genomic history of the steppe pastoralists from 3000 bc to the present. a, Depiction of Early Bronze Age migrations related to the expansion of Yamnaya and Afanasievo culture. b, Depiction of Late Bronze Age migrations related to the Sintashta and Andronovo horizons. c, Depiction of Iron Age migrations and sources of admixture. d, Depiction of Hun-period migrations and sources of admixture. e, Depiction of Medieval migrations across the steppes.

    2. Andronovo Culture: Early Steppe Iranian

    Initially, the Andronovo Culture may have encompassed speakers of Iranian as well as Indo-Aryan, but its large expansion over the Eurasian steppe is most probably to be interpreted as the spread of Iranians. Unfortunately, there is no direct linguistic evidence to prove to what extent the steppe was indeed Iranian speaking in the 2nd millennium BCE. An important piece of indirect evidence is formed by an archaic stratum of Iranian loanwords in Tocharian34,109. Since Tocharian was spoken beyond the eastern end of the steppe, this suggests that speakers of Iranian spread at least that far. In the west of the Tarim Basin the Iranian languages Khotanese and Tumshuqese were spoken. However, the Tocharian B word etswe ‘mule’, borrowed from Iranian *atswa- ‘horse’, cannot derive from these languages, since Khotanese has aśśa- ‘horse’ with śś instead of tsw. The archaic Iranian stratum in Tocharian is therefore rather to be connected with the presence of Andronovo people to the north and possibly to the east of the Tarim Basin from the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE onwards110.

    Since Kristiansen and Allentoft sign the paper (and Peyrot is a colleague of Kroonen), it seems that they needed to expressly respond to the growing criticism about their recent Indo-European – Corded Ware Theory. That’s nice.

    They are obviously trying to reject the Corded Ware – Uralic links that are on the rise lately among Uralicists, now that Comb Ware is not a suitable candidate for the expansion of the language family.

    IECWT-proponents are apparently not prepared to let it go quietly, and instead of challenging the traditional Neolithic Uralic homeland in Eastern Europe with a recent paper on the subject, they selected an older one which partially fit, from Kuz’mina (2001), now shifting the Uralic homeland to the east of the Urals (when Kuz’mina asserts it was south of the Urals).

    Different authors comment later in this same paper about East Uralic languages spreading quite late, so even their text is not consistent among collaborating authors.

    Also interesting is the need to resort to the questionable argument of early Indo-Aryan loans – which may have evidently been Indo-Iranian instead, since there is no way to prove a difference between both stages in early Uralic borrowings from ca. 4,500-3,500 years ago…

    EDIT (10/5/2018) The linguistic supplement of the Science paper deals with different Proto-Indo-Iranian stages in Uralic loans, so on the linguistic side at least this influence is clear to all involved.

    A rejection of such proposals of a late, eastern homeland can be found in many recent writings of Finnic scholars; see e.g. my references to Parpola (2017), Kallio (2017), or Nordqvist (2018).

    NOTE. I don’t mind repeating it again: Uralic is one possibility (the most likely one) for the substrate language that Corded Ware migrants spread, but it could have been e.g. another Middle PIE dialect, similar to Proto-Anatolian (after the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs). I expressly stated this in the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis, since the first edition. What was clear since 2015, and should be clear to anyone now, is that Corded Ware did not spread Late PIE languages to Europe, and that some east CWC groups only spread languages to Asia after admixing with East Yamna. If they did not spread Uralic, then it was a language or group of languages phonetically similar, which has not survived to this day.

    Their description of Yamna migrations is already outdated after Olalde et al. & Mathieson et al. (2018), and Narasimhan et al. (2018), so they will need to update their model (yet again) for future papers. As I said before, Anthony seems to be one step behind the current genetic data, and the IECWT seems to be one step behind Anthony in their interpretations.

    At least we won’t have the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> BBC nonsense anymore, and they expressly stated that LPIE is to be associated with Yamna, and in particular the “Indo-Iranian branch is an extension of the Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (ca 3000–2400 BCE) to the East” (which will evidently show an East Yamna / Poltavka society of R1b-L23 subclades), so that earlier Eneolithic cultures have to be excluded, and Balto-Slavic identification with East Europe is also out of the way.