Sintashta diet and economy based on domesticated animal products and wild resources


New paper (behind paywall) Bronze Age diet and economy: New stable isotope data from the Central Eurasian steppes (2100-1700 BC), by Hanks et al. J. Arch. Sci (2018) 97:14-25.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Previous research at KA-5 was carried out by A. V. Epimakhov in 1994–1995 and 2002–2003 and resulted in the excavation of three Sintashta culture barrows (kurgans) that produced 35 burial pits and a reported 100 skeletons (Epimakhov, 2002, 2005; Epimakhov et al., 2005; Razhev and Epimakhov, 2004). Seven AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains from the cemetery yielded a date range of 2040–1730 cal. BC (2 sigma), which placed the cemetery within the Sintashta phase of the regional Bronze Age (Hanks et al., 2007). Twelve recently obtained AMS radiocarbon dates, taken from short-lived wood and charcoal species recovered from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have provided a date range of 2050–1760 cal. BC (2 sigma). Importantly, these dates confirm the close chronological relationship between the settlement and cemetery for the Middle Bronze Age phase and discount the possibility of a freshwater reservoir effect influencing the earlier dating of the human remains from the Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery (Epimakhov and Krause, 2013).

Sintashta cemeteries frequently yield fewer than six barrow complexes and the number of skeletons recovered represents a fraction of the total population that would have inhabited the settlements (Judd et al., 2018; Johnson and Hanks, 2012). Scholars have suggested that only members of higher status were afforded interment in these cemeteries and that principles of social organization structured placement of individuals within central or peripheral grave pits (Fig. 2) (Koryakova and Epimakhov, 2007: 75–81). In comparison with other Sintashta cemeteries that have been excavated, KA-5 provides one of the largest skeletal inventories currently available for study.

Upper – plan of Kamennyi Ambar settlement and cemetery; Lower – plan views of Kurgan 2 and Kurgan 4 from KA-5 Cemetery (kurgan plans redrawn from Epimakhov, 2005: 10, 79).

The KA-5 (MBA), Bestamak (MBA) and Lisakovsk (LBA) datasets exhibited a wide range of δ13C and δ15N values for both humans and herbivores (Figs. 5 and 6 & Table 8). This diversity in isotopic signals may be evident for a variety of reasons. For example, the range of values may be associated with a broad spectrum of C3 and C4 plant diversity in the ancient site biome or herbivore grazing patterns that included more diverse environmental niche areas in the microregion around the sampled sites. Herders also may have chosen to graze animals in niche areas due to recognized territorial boundaries between settlements and concomitant patterns of mobility. Importantly, data from Bolshekaragansky represents humans with lower δ15N values that are more closely associated with δ15N values of the sampled domestic herbivores (Fig. 6). When the archaeological evidence from associated settlement sites is considered, Bolshekaragansky, Bestamak, Lisakovsk and KA-5 have been assumed to represent populations that shared similar forms of pastoral subsistence economies with significant dietary reliance upon domesticated herbivore meat and milk. Human diets have δ13C values closely related to those of local herbivores in terms of the slope of the trendline and range of values (Fig. 6). Comparatively, the cemetery of Bolshekaragansky (associated with the Arkaim settlement) reflects individuals with trend lines closer to those of cattle and caprines and may indicate a stronger reliance on subsistence products from these species with less use of wild riverine and terrestrial resources. The site of Čiča is significantly different with elevated human δ15N isotopic values and depleted δ13C values indicative of a subsistence regime more closely associated with the consumption of freshwater resources, such as fish. The stable isotopic data in this instance is strongly supported by zooarchaeological evidence recovered from the Čiča settlement and also is indicative of significant diachronic changes from the LBA phases through the Iron Age (Fig. 6).

Regional analysis and comparison of stable isotope results from humans (adults) and animals recovered from MBA and LBA cemeteries in the Southern Urals (Kamennyi Ambar 5 & Bolshekaragansky) northwestern Kazakhstan (Liskovsk & Bestamak) and southwestern Siberia (Čiča).


(…) The isotopic results from KA-5, and recent botanical and archaeological studies from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have not produced any evidence for the production or use of domesticated cereals. While this does not definitively answer the question as to whether Sintashta populations engaged in agriculture and/or utilized agricultural products, it does call into serious question the ubiquity of such practices across the region and correlates well with recent archaeological, bioarchaeological, and isotopic studies of human and animal remains from the Southwestern Urals region and Samara Basin (Anthony et al., 2016; Schulting and Richards, 2016). The results substantiate a broader spectrum subsistence diet that in addition to the use of domesticated animal products also incorporated wild flora, wild fauna and fish species. These findings further demonstrate the need to draw on multiple methods and datasets for the reconstruction of late prehistoric subsistence economies in the Eurasian steppes. When possible, this should include datasets from both settlements and associated cemeteries.

Variability in subsistence practices in the central steppes region has been highlighted by other scholars and appears to be strongly correlated with local environmental conditions and adaptations. More comprehensive isotopic studies of human, animal and fish remains are of fundamental importance to achieve more robust and empirically substantiated reconstructions of local biomes and to aid the refinement of regional and micro-regional economic subsistence models. This will allow for a fuller understanding of key diachronic shifts within dietary trends and highlight regional variation of such practices. Ultimately, this will more effectively index the diverse social and environmental variables that contributed to late prehistoric lifeways and the economic strategies employed by these early steppe communities.

Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

Interesting to remember now the recent article by Chechushkov et al. (2018) about the social stratificaton in Sintashta-Petrovka, and how it must have caused the long-lasting, peaceful admixture process that led to the known almost full replacement of R1b-L23 (mostly R1b-Z2103) by R1a-Z645 (mostly R1a-Z93) subclades in the North Caspian steppe, coinciding with the formation of the Proto-Indo-Iranian community and language (read my thoughts on this after Damgaard et al. 2018).

Here is another relevant excerpt from Chechushkov et al. (2018), translated from Russian:

The map of the settlement of Kamennyi Ambar with excavations, soil cores, and test pits. Legend: a — cuts of the sides of ravines; b — test pits of 2015—2017; c — test pits of 2004; d — soil-science samples with a cultural layer; e — soil-science samples without cultural layer; f — borders of archaeological sites (interpretation of the plan of magnetic anomalies); g — boundaries of excavated structures (1, 2, 4, 5, 7 — Sintashta-Petrovka culture; 3, 6 — Srubnaya-Alakul’ culture).

The analysis suggests that the Sintashta-Petrovka societies had a certain degree of social stratification, expressed both in selective funeral rituals and in the significant difference in lifestyle between the elite and the immediate producers of the product. The data obtained during the field study suggest that the elite lived within the fortifications, while a part of the population was outside their borders, on seasonal sites, and also in stationary non-fortified settlements. Probably, traces of winter settlements can be found near the walls, while the search for summer ones is a task of a separate study. From our point of view, the elite of the early complex societies of the Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppe originated as a response to environmental challenges that created risks for cattle farming. The need to adapt the team to the harsh and changing climatic conditions created a precedent in which the settled collectives of pastoralists – hunter-gatherers could afford the content and magnificent posthumous celebration of people and their families who were not engaged in the production or extraction of an immediate product. In turn, representatives of this social group directed their efforts to the adoption of socially significant decisions, the organization of collective labor in the construction of settlement-shelters and risked their lives, acting as military leaders and fighters.

Thus, in Bronze Age steppe societies, the formation, development and decline of social complexity are directly related to the intensity of pastoralism and the development of new territories, where collectives had to survive in part a new ecological niche. At the same time, some members of the collective took upon themselves the organization of the collective’s life, receiving in return a privileged status. As soon as the conditions of the environment and management changed, the need for such functions was virtually eliminated, as a result of which the privileged members of society dissolved into the general mass, having lost their lifetime status and the right to be allocated posthumously.

Also interesting for the MLBA haplogroup bottleneck in the region is the paper by Judd et al. (2017) about fast life history in Early Indo-Iranian territories.

On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

Regarding the special position of the Chicha-1 samples in the change of diet and economy during the Iron Age, it is by now well known that haplogroup N must have arrived quite late to North-East Europe, and possibly not linked with the expansion of Siberian ancestry – or linked only with some waves of Siberian ancestry in the region, but not all of them. See Lamnidis et al. (2018) for more on this.

Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup N among Fennic and Siberian (Samoyedic) peoples is not related: while the latter reflects probably the native (Palaeo-Siberian) population that acquired their Uralic branch during the MLBA expansions associated with Corded Ware groups, the former points to the expansion of Fennic peoples into Saamic territory (i.e. after the Fenno-Saamic split) as the most likely period of expansion of N1c1-L392 subclades (see known recent bottlenecks among Finns, and on Proto-Finnic dialectalization).

Probably related to these late incomers are the ancient DNA samples from the Sargat culture during the Iron Age, which show the arrival of N subclades in the region, replacing most – but not all – R1a lineages (see Pilipenko et al. (2017)). Regarding the site of Chicha-1, the following are relevant excerpts about the cultural situation that could have allowed for such stepped, diachronic admixture events in Northern Eurasia, from the paper Stages in the settlement history of Chicha-1: The Results of ceramic analysis, by Molodin et al. (2008):

The stratigraphic data allows us to make the following inference: originally, the settlement was inhabited by people bearing the Late Irmen culture. Later, the people of the Baraba trend of the Suzgun culture arrived at the site (Molodin, Chemyakina, 1984: 40–62). The Baraba-Suzgun pottery demonstrates features similar to what has been reported from the sites of the transitional Bronze to Iron Age culture in the pre-taiga and taiga zones in the Irtysh basin (Potemkina, Korochkova, Stefanov, 1995; Polevodov, 2003). The major morphological types are slightly and well-profiled pots with a short throat. (…)

Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

During the following stage of development of the site, the Chicha population increased with people who practiced cultures others than those noted in earlier collections. The ceramic materials from layer 5 provide data on possible relationships. In addition to migrants from northwestern regions practicing the Suzgun culture, there were people bearing the Krasnoozerka culture. Available data also suggests that people from the northern taiga region with the Atlym culture visited the site.

However, people from the west and southwest represent the greatest migration to the region under study. In all likelihood they moved from the northern forest-steppe zone of modern Kazakhstan and practiced the Berlik culture. The spatial distribution analysis of the Chicha-1 site suggests that the Berlik population was rather large. The Berlik people formed a single settlement with the indigenous Late Irmen people and apparently waged certain common economic activities, but preserved their own ethnic and cultural specificity (Molodin, Parzinger, 2006: 49–55). Judging by the data on the chronological sequence of deposited artifacts, migration took place roughly synchronously, hence Chicha-1 became a real cultural and economic center.

(…) In sum, the noted distribution of ceramics over the culture-bearing horizons suggests that beginning with layer 5, traditions of ceramic manufacture described above were practiced, hence the relevant population inhabited the site. Apparently, there were two predominant traditions: the local Late Irmen cultural tradition and the Berlik tradition, which was brought by the immigrants. The Late Irmen people mostly populated the citadel, while the Berlik immigrants inhabited the areas to the east and the north of the citadel.

The stratigraphic data also suggest that the Early Sargat ceramics emerged at the site likely as a part of the Late Irmen tradition (…) Early Sargat ceramics is apparently linked with the Late Irmen tradition. Artifacts associated with the Sargat culture proper have been found in several areas of Chicha-1 (e.g., in excavation area 16). However, the Sargat people appeared at the site after it had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants, and had eventually become completely desolated. This happened no earlier than the 6th cent. BC, possibly in the 5th cent. BC (in fact, the radiocarbon dates for that horizon are close to the turn of the Christian era).


BMAC: long term interaction between agricultural communities and steppe pastoralists in Central Asia


Interesting new paper Mixing metaphors: sedentary-mobile interactions and local-global connections in prehistoric Turkmenistan, by Rouse & Cerasetti, Antiquity (2018) 92:674-689.

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Murghab alluvial fan in southern Turkmenistan witnessed some of the earliest encounters between sedentary farmers and mobile pastoralists from different cultural spheres. During the late third and early second millennia BC, the Murghab was home to the Oxus civilisation and formed a central node in regional exchange networks (Possehl 2005; Kohl 2007). The Oxus civilisation (or the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex) relied on intensive agriculture to support a hierarchical society and specialised craft production of metal and precious stone objects for prestige display and long-distance exchange (Sarianidi 1981; Hiebert 1994). By c. 1800 BC (the local Late Bronze Age), the internal coherence of the Oxus civilisation began to break down, along with the inter-regional exchange networks; the settlement structure of the Murghab shifted from a tiered system of urban centres, villages and hamlets, to a more dispersed pattern of smaller-scale agricultural settlements (Salvatori 2008). Contemporaneous evidence for small campsites (with a distinct ceramic tradition) suggests an influx of mobile pastoralists from the Central Eurasian Steppe and foothills (Cerasetti 1998; Masson 2002; Cattani et al. 2008). This striking combination of the sites and material cultures of both late Oxus farmers and ‘steppe’ pastoralists spans more than 500 years of Murghab prehistory (Salvatori 2008; Rouse & Cerasetti 2017).

The mixed farmer-pastoralist archaeological record of the Murghab has influenced competing interpretations of Later Bronze Age socio-political and economic relationships. Some scholars argue that the ‘collapse’ of the Oxus civilisation was at least partly due to the hostile incursions of nomads (Marushchenko 1956; Kuz’mina&Lyapin 1984; Vinogradova & Kuz’mina 1996). Others suggest that pastoralists took advantage of the Murghab’s crumbling power structure by moving into the area, but occupying only marginal, agriculturally unsuitable zones (P’yankova 1993), or merging with the late Oxus farming populations (Masson 2002). These models broadly follow ‘trade or raid’ paradigms of farmer-pastoralist interaction, whereby the perceived shortages of pastoralist communities force them to rely on agriculturalists for subsistence, material and cultural inputs (Kroeber 1947; Ferdinand 2003; Potts 2014). Such models may explain certain cases of Near Eastern pastoral economic specialisation, or historical contact scenarios between Eurasian steppe and agricultural communities on China’s northern frontier (Lattimore 1979; Barfield 2001; Alizadeh 2009; Khazanov 2009). Near Eastern and Eurasian interaction paradigms, however, fit increasingly poorly with the archaeological evidence for early farmer-pastoralist encounters in southern Central Asia.

We present data from four Murghab pastoralist campsites dating to the third to second millennia BC, restricting our discussion to the materials and practices employed by Oxus-period pastoralists to navigate shifting social, political and economic networks. Our aim is to highlight how variable strategies broadly identified under the rubric of ‘agropastoralism’ can be teased apart to recognise mechanisms of social boundary-making. Individually, these four sites present chronologically and locally distinct snapshots of farmer-pastoralist interactions across different realms of exchange (e.g. subsistence, technology and ideology); they provide examples of how pastoralists and farmers mutually participated in each other’s material and social norms. Together, these sites reveal how varied farmer-pastoralist engagement with technology and material culture did not lead inevitably to the assimilation of the two groups; rather, they worked consciously within existing systems of cultural practice to maintain distinct ‘farmer’ and ‘pastoralist’ identities, potentially over a 900-year period.

Region of Central Asia as discussed in this article. Areas traditionally identified with farming-dependent Oxus communities and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists are shown, acknowledging that in both areas mixed agropastoral practices have occurred in the past and present.


(…)First, the results indicate a cultural model of ‘being’ a pastoralist that was maintained actively over hundreds of years, in part by its material difference from that of local farmers. Second, the variability of materials, technologies and practices shared at these campsites suggests that no hegemonic power controlled trade relationships or regulated economic dependency between Oxus farmers and non-Oxus mobile pastoralists in the Murghab. Indeed, current data indicate that pastoralist occupation in the Murghab intensified during the waning of Oxus political centralisation, suggesting that the loosening of state-level structures provided the opportunity for intercultural interactions, rather than interactions being promoted or facilitated from the top. Finally, in the removal of broad-brush narratives that polarise ‘the steppe’ and ‘the sown’, and the integration of evidence suggesting that mobile pastoralists influenced the crop systems of farmers in southern Central Asia (Spengler et al. 2014b), these four sites allow us to recognise the means by which farmers and pastoralists re-shaped cultural institutions while reinforcing the meaningfulness of the associated social categories. Current work in the Murghab complements detailed studies of pastoralists in other Eurasian contexts (e.g. Frachetti 2008; Rogers 2012; Honeychurch 2015) in beginning to unravel simplistic notions of broad cross-cultural exchanges in Eurasian prehistory and the political entities traditionally seen as directing them.

The whole article is very interesting, and the four sites studied and their relevance for the said interactions are described in detail, and in chronological order. If you have the opportunity, read it.

I found it interesting that the article mentions the traditional scholarly opposition of agriculturalists vs. pastoralists (‘civilised/barbarian’, ‘state/tribe’ and ‘centre/periphery’) as an idea of Eurasian origin, and having deep ‘Western’ roots. Reading what many OIT (or anti-AIT, as they like to call themselves) supporters write, it seems to me as though they have entirely accepted and in fact are eager to promote this ‘Western’ narrative from the mid-20th century…

Steppe MLBA

This is what Narasimhan et al. (2018) had to say about the BMAC – Steppe pastoralists interaction:

We document a southward spread of genetic ancestry from the Eurasian Steppe, correlating with the archaeologically known expansion of pastoralist sites from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE). These Steppe communities mixed genetically with peoples of the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) whom they encountered in Turan (primarily descendants of earlier agriculturalists of Iran), but there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians. Instead, Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, and we show that they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers.

Narasimhan et al. (2018): “Modeling results.(A) Admixture events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading 538 to the formation of the modern Indian cloud shown geographically. Clines or 2-way mixtures of 539 ancestry are shown in rectangles, and clouds (3-way mixtures) are shown in ellipses.

(…) The absence in the BMAC cluster of the Steppe_EMBA ancestry that is ubiquitous in South Asia today—along with qpAdm analyses that rule out BMAC as a substantial source of ancestry in South Asia (Fig. 3A)—suggests that while the BMAC was affected by the same demographic forces that later impacted South Asia (the southward movement of Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe pastoralists described in the next section), it was also bypassed by members of these groups who hardly mixed with BMAC people and instead mixed with peoples further south. In fact, the data suggest that instead of the main BMAC population having a demographic impact on South Asia, there was a larger effect of gene flow in the reverse direction, as the main BMAC genetic cluster is slightly different from the preceding Turan populations in harboring ~5% of their ancestry from the AASI.

(…)between 2100-1700 BCE, we observe BMAC outliers from three sites with Steppe_EMBA ancestry in the admixed form typically carried by the later Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA). This documents a southward movement of Steppe ancestry through this region that only began to have a major impact around the turn of the 2nd millennium BCE.


Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in Middle and Late Bronze Age Kazakhstan


Open access Pasture usage by ancient pastoralists in the northern Kazakh steppe informed by carbon and nitrogen isoscapes of contemporary floral biomes, by Miller et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Bronze age settlement, society, and subsistence in the northern Kazakh steppe

The Middle to Late Bronze Age (2200 to 1400 cal BCE) in the northern Kazakh steppe encompassed a major shift in settlement patterns from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more dispersed, mobile lifeways engaged in pastoral nomadism (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2002; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008). Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1700 cal BCE) settlements had large enclosures consisting of an earthen wall and ditch. Inside the enclosure, earthen domestic structures with shared walls (numbering from 30 to 60) housed an estimated 200 to 700 individuals (Gening et al. 1992; Grigor’yev 2002; Anthony 2007; Kohl 2007; Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007; Hanks 2009; Batanina and Hanks 2013). MBA settlements were repeatedly occupied, evidenced by successive building phases that added structures and enlarged enclosures. Aggregated MBA sites are situated between 40 and 60 km apart, and landscapes between enclosed settlements may have been territories of particular settlements (Epimakhov 2002; Zdanovich and Batanina 2002; Merrony et al. 2009; Stobbe et al. 2016). While there is currently no archeological evidence for structures such as animal corrals or walls outside of MBA settlement enclosures, open areas within settlements may have been used to house livestock. Reconstructions of landscape use in the vicinity of MBA sites determined that pastures within 4 km of the site could have supported herd sizes large enough to sustain sedentary livestock herders (Stobbe et al. 2016). During the subsequent Late Bronze Age (1800 to 1400 cal BCE) settlements were more dispersed across the landscape and significantly smaller, consisting of fewer than 20 dwellings, further lacking enclosures and building phases (Kuz’mina 2007:36–8; Zakh and Ilyushina 2010). This shift in settlement size and distribution has been interpreted to indicate the emergence of nomadic pastoralism and the intensification of long-distance mobility (Tkacheva 1999; Grigory’ev 2000; Kuz’mina 2007; Tkacheva and Tkachev 2008).

MBA communities engaged in pastoralism and supplemented their diets with wild plants and wild game (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). A variety of wild plants have been recovered during flotation, but so far, domesticated grains have not been recovered (Krause and Koryakova 2013; Ng 2013; Hanks et al. 2018). Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bone collagen indicate that human dietary intake in the MBA focused on terrestrial animal protein, likely in the form of meat and milk, which was supplemented by locally available fish and wild plants (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a; Hanks et al. 2018). While the subsequent LBA has been interpreted as a shift to nomadic pastoralism, little data is available regarding landscape use or herd management strategies for this period. Paleodietary studies suggest that human diets during the LBA focused on pastoral products and were supplemented by wild plants, fish, and wild animals (Ventresca Miller et al. 2014a, 2014b).

Location of the archeological sites of Bestamak (MBA), Kamennyi Ambar (MBA), Bolshekaragansky (MBA), and Lisakovsk (LBA)


A major shift in patterns of settlement occurred at the Middle to Late Bronze Age transition, from large semi-sedentary populations in enclosed settlements to smaller populations in open settlements dispersed across the landscape. Scholars have suggested that animal management strategies also changed at this time from semi-sedentary pastoralism to more mobile forms of pastoral nomadism. However, our findings suggest that livestock management practices did not shift in concert with social landscapes, demonstrating consistency in pastoral adaptations through time in the region. Similar isotopic patterning between livestock during the MBA and LBA across several sites in the CES indicates that there were no changes across time in pasture usage patterns. Among ancient livestock, differences in δ13C and δ15N values between horses and ruminants (cattle, sheep, goat) strongly suggest that livestock were grazed pastures either extensively or intensively, respectively. Horses grazed in open steppe areas or intermittently in areas with well-watered soils that lacked salinity, likely staying well outside of settlements. In contrast, cattle and sheep/goat grazed in pastures across multiple zones, both near the settlement and in non-local pastures that were grazed intensively. A wider range of δ13C and δ15N values among ruminants at Kamennyi Ambar (MBA) suggests that aggregated human populations may have had larger herds, some of which accessed non-local pastures outside of the easily accessible territories surrounding enclosed sites. Continued research on the isotopic composition of vegetation surrounding Bronze Age sites should clarify patterns of landscape use between MBA sites.


Shared ancestry of ancient Eurasian hepatitis B virus diversity linked to Bronze Age steppe


Ancient hepatitis B viruses from the Bronze Age to the Medieval period, by Mühlemann et al., Science (2018) 557:418–423.

NOTE. You can read the PDF at Dalia Pokutta’s account.

Abstract (emphasis):

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major cause of human hepatitis. There is considerable uncertainty about the timescale of its evolution and its association with humans. Here we present 12 full or partial ancient HBV genomes that are between approximately 0.8 and 4.5 thousand years old. The ancient sequences group either within or in a sister relationship with extant human or other ape HBV clades. Generally, the genome properties follow those of modern HBV. The root of the HBV tree is projected to between 8.6 and 20.9 thousand years ago, and we estimate a substitution rate of 8.04 × 10−6–1.51 × 10−5 nucleotide substitutions per site per year. In several cases, the geographical locations of the ancient genotypes do not match present-day distributions. Genotypes that today are typical of Africa and Asia, and a subgenotype from India, are shown to have an early Eurasian presence. The geographical and temporal patterns that we observe in ancient and modern HBV genotypes are compatible with well-documented human migrations during the Bronze and Iron Ages1,2. We provide evidence for the creation of HBV genotype A via recombination, and for a long-term association of modern HBV genotypes with humans, including the discovery of a human genotype that is now extinct. These data expose a complexity of HBV evolution that is not evident when considering modern sequences alone.

Geographical distribution of analysed samples and modern genotypes. a (featured image), Distribution of modern human HBV genotypes. Genotypes relevant to this Letter are shown in colour. Coloured shapes indicate the locations of the HBV-positive samples included for further analysis. b (above this text), Locations of analysed Bronze Age samples are shown as circles and Iron Age and later samples are shown as triangles. Coloured markers indicate HBV-positive samples. Ancient genotype A samples are found in regions in which genotype D predominates today, and HBV-DA27 is of subgenotype D5 which today is found almost exclusively in India.

Interesting excerpts:

We find genotype A in south-western Russia by 4.3 ka (in samples RISE386 and RISE387) in individuals belonging to the Sintashta culture, and in a Hungarian sample (DA195) from the Scythian culture. The western Scythians are related to the Bronze Age cultures of western steppe populations2 and their shared ancestry suggests that the modern genotype A may descend from this ancient Eurasian diversity and not, as previously hypothesized, from African ancestors29,30. This is also consistent with the phylogeny (Fig. 2), as well as the fact that the three oldest ancient genotype A sequences (HBV-DA195, HBV-RISE386 and HBV-RISE387) lack the six-nucleotide insertion found in the youngest (HBV-DA119) and in all modern genotype A sequences. The ancestors of subgenotypes A1 and A3 could have been carried into Africa subsequently, via migration from western Eurasia31.

The ancient HBV genotype D sequences were all found in Central Asia. HBV-DA27, found in Kazakhstan and dated to 1.6 ka, falls basal to the modern subgenotype D5 sequences that today are found in the Paharia tribe from eastern India32. DA27 and the Paharia people in India are linked by their East Asian ancestry2,33.

Dated maximum clade credibility tree of HBV. A log-normal relaxed clock and coalescent exponential population prior were used. Grey horizontal bars indicate the 95% HPD interval of the age of the node. Larger numbers on the nodes indicate the median age and 95% HPD interval of the age (in parentheses) under a strict clock and Bayesian skyline tree prior. Clades of genotypes C (except clade C4), E, F, G and H are collapsed and shown as dots. The figure includes a possible tenth genotype, J, based on a single human isolate. Taxon names for ancient samples indicate era (BA, Bronze Age; IA, Iron Age or later), sample name, sample age in years, ISO 3166 three-letter abbreviation of country of sequence origin, and region of sequence origin. Taxon names for modern samples indicate human genotype or subgenotype or host species if non-human, GenBank accession number, sample age in years, ISO 3166 three-letter abbreviation of country of sequence origin, and region of sequence origin.

(…)Despite the age of the samples and the imperfect diagnostic test, our dataset contained a high proportion of HBV-positive individuals. The actual ancient prevalence during the Bronze Age and thereafter might have been higher, reaching or exceeding the prevalence typically found in contemporary indigenous populations5. This clearly establishes the potential of HBV as powerful proxy tool for research into human spread and interactions. The data from ancient genomes reveal aspects of complexity in HBV evolution that are not apparent when only modern sequences are considered. They show the existence of ancient HBV genotypes in locations incongruent with their present-day distribution, contradicting previously suggested geographical or temporal origins of genotypes or sub-genotypes; evidence for the creation of genotype A via recombination and the emergence of the genotype outside Africa; at least one now-extinct human genotype; ancient genotype-level localized diversity; and demonstrate that the viral substitution rate obtained from modern heterochronously sampled sequences is probably misleading. Together, these findings suggest that the difficulty in formulating a coherent theory for the origin and spread of HBV may be due to genetic evidence of an earlier evolutionary scenario being overwritten by relatively recent alterations, as has previously been suggested in the context of recombination24

See also:

Consequences of Damgaard et al. 2018 (II): The late Khvalynsk migration waves with R1b-L23 lineages


This post should probably read “Consequences of Narasimhan et al. (2018),” too, since there seems to be enough data and materials published by the Copenhagen group in Nature and Science to make a proper interpretation of the data that will appear in their corrected tables.

The finding of late Khvalynsk/early Yamna migrations, identified with early LPIE migrants almost exclusively of R1b-L23 subclades is probably one of the most interesting findings in the recent papers regarding the Indo-European question.

Although there are still few samples to derive fully-fledged theories, they begin to depict a clearer idea of waves that shaped the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European migrants in Eurasia during the 4th millennium BC, i.e. well before the expansion of North-West Indo-European, Palaeo-Balkan, and Indo-Iranian languages.

Late Khvalynsk expansions and archaic Late PIE

Like Anatolian, Tocharian has been described as having a more archaic nature than the rest of Late PIE. However, Pre-Tocharian belongs to the Late PIE trunk, clearly distinguishable phonetically and morphologically from Anatolian.

It is especially remarkable that – even though it expanded into Asia – it has more in common with North-West Indo-European, hence its classification (together with NWIE) as part of a Northern group, unrelated to Graeco-Aryan.

The linguistic supplement by Kroonen et al. accepts that peoples from the Afanasevo culture (ca. 3000-2500 BC) are the most likely ancestors of Tocharians.

NOTE. For those equating the Tarim Mummies (of R1a-Z93 lineages) with Tocharians, you have this assertion from the linguistic supplement, which I support:

An intermediate stage has been sought in the oldest so-called Tarim Mummies, which date to ca. 1800 BCE (Mallory and Mair 2000; Wáng 1999). However, also the language(s) spoken by the people(s) who buried the Tarim Mummies remain unknown, and any connection between them and the Afanasievo culture on the one hand or the historical speakers of Tocharian on the other has yet to be demonstrated (cf. also Mallory 2015; Peyrot 2017).

New samples of late Khvalynsk origin

These are are the recent samples that could, with more or less certainty, correspond to migration waves from late Khvalynsk (or early Yamna), from oldest to most recent:

  • The Namazga III samples from the Late Eneolithic period (in Turkmenistan), dated ca. 3360-3000 BC (one of haplogroup J), potentially showing the first wave of EHG-related steppe ancestry into South Asia. Not related to Indo-Iranian migrations.

NOTE. A proper evaluation with further samples from Narasimhan et al. (2018) is necessary, though, before we can assert a late Khvalynsk origin of this ancestry.

  • Afanasevo samples, dated ca. 3081-2450 BC, with all samples dated before ca. 2700 BC uniformly of R1b-Z2103 subclades, sharing a common genetic cluster with Yamna, showing together the most likely genomic picture of late Khvalynsk peoples.

NOTE 1. Anthony (2007) put this expansion from Repin ca. 3300-3000 BC, while his most recent review (2015) of his own work put its completion ca. 3000-2800. While the migration into Afanasevo may have lasted some time, the wave of migrants (based on the most recent radiocarbon dates) must be set at least before ca. 3100 BC from Khvalynsk.

NOTE 2. I proposed that we could find R1b-L51 in Afanasevo, presupposing the development of R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 lineages with separating clans, and thus with dialectal divisions. While finding this is still possible within Khvalynsk regions, it seems we will have a division of these lineages already ca. 4250-4000 BC, which would require a closer follow-up of the different inner late Khvalynsk groups and their samples. For the moment, we don’t have a clear connection through lineages between North-West Indo-European groups and Tocharian.

Early Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 3300-2800, according to Anthony (2015).
  • Subsequent and similar migration waves are probably to be suggested from the new sample of Karagash, beyond the Urals (attributed to the Yamna culture, hence maintaining cultural contacts after the migration waves), of R1b-Z2103 subclade, ca. 3018-2887 BC, potentially connected then to the event that caused the expansion of Yamna migrants westward into the Carpathians at the same time. Not related to Indo-Iranian migrations.
  • The isolated Darra-e Kur sample, without cultural adscription, ca. 2655 BC, of R1b-L151 lineage. Not related to Indo-Iranian migrations.
  • The Hajji Firuz samples: I4243 dated ca. 2326 BC, female, with a clear inflow of steppe ancestry; and I2327 (probably to be dated to the late 3rd millennium BC or after that), of R1b-Z2103 lineage. Not related to Indo-Iranian migrations.

NOTE. A new radiocarbon dating of I2327 is expected, to correct the currently available date of 5900-5000 BC. Since it clusters nearer to Chalcolithic samples from the site than I4243 (from the same archaeological site), it is possible that both are part of similar groups receiving admixture around this period, or maybe I2327 is from a later period, coinciding with the Iron Age sample F38 from Iran (Broushaki et al. 2016), with which it closely clusters. Also, the finding of EHG-related ancestry in Maykop samples dated ca. 3700-3000 BC (maybe with R1b-L23 subclades) offers another potential source of migrants for this Iranian group.

NOTE. Samples from Narasimhan et al. (2018) still need to be published in corrected tables, which may change the actual subclades shown here.

These late Khvalynsk / early Yamna migration waves into Asia are quite early compared to the Indo-Iranian migrations, whose ancestors can only be first identified with Volga-Ural groups of Yamna/Poltavka (ca. 3000-2400 BC), with its fully formed language expanding only with MLBA waves ca. 2300-1200 BC, after mixing with incoming Abashevo migrants.

While the authors apparently forget to reference the previous linguistic theories whereby Tocharian is more archaic than the rest of Late PIE dialects, they refer to the ca. 1,000-year gap between Pre-Tocharian and Proto-Indo-Iranian migrations, and thus their obvious difference:

The fact that Tocharian is so different from the Indo-Iranian languages can only be explained by assuming an extensive period of linguistic separation.

Potential linguistic substrates in the Middle East

A few words about relevant substrate language proposals.

Euphratic language

What Gordon Whittaker proposes is a North-West Indo-European-related substratum in Sumerian language and texts ca. 3500 BC, which may explain some non-Sumerian, non-Semitic word forms. It is just one of many theories concerning this substratum.

Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC

This is a summary of his findings from his latest writing on the subject (a chapter of a book on Indo-European phonetics, from the series Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European):

In Sumerian and Akkadian vocabulary, the cuneiform writing system, and the names of deities and places in Southern Mesopotamia a body of lexical material has been preserved that strongly suggests influence emanating from a superstrate of Indo-European origin. his Indo-European language, which has been given the name Euphratic, is, at present, attested only indirectly through the filters of Sumerian and Akkadian. The attestations consist of words and names recorded from the mid-4th millennium BC (Late Uruk period) onwards in texts and lexical lists. In addition, basic signs that originally had a recognizable pictorial structure in proto-cuneiform preserve (at least from the early 3rd millennium on) a number of phonetic values with no known motivation in Sumerian lexemes related semantically to the items depicted. This suggests that such values are relics from the original logographic values for the items depicted and, thus, that they were inherited from a language intimately associated with the development of writing in Mesopotamia. Since specialists working on proto-cuneiform, most notably Robert K. Englund of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, see little or no evidence for the presence of Sumerian in the corpus of archaic tablets, the proposed Indo-European language provides a potential solution to this problem. It has been argued that this language, Euphratic, had a profound influence on Sumerian, not unlike that exerted by Sumerian and Akkadian on each other, and that the writing system was the primary vehicle of this influence. he phonological sketch drawn up here is an attempt to chart the salient characteristics of this influence, by comparing reconstructed Indo-European lexemes with similarly patterned ones in Sumerian (and, to a lesser extent, in Akkadian).

His original model, based on phonetic values in basic proto-cuneiform signs, is quite imaginative and a very interesting read, if you have the time. His account hosts most of his papers on the subject.

We could speculate about the potential expansion of this substrate language with the commercial contacts between Uruk and Maykop (as I did), now probably more strongly supported because of the EHG found in Maykop samples.

NOTE. We could also put it in relation with the Anatolian language of Mari, but this would require a new reassessment of its North-West Indo-European nature.

Nevertheless, this theory is far from being mainstream, anywhere. At least today.

NOTE. The proposal remains still hypothetic, because of the flaws in the Indo-European parallels – similar to Koch’s proposal of Indo-European in Tartessian inscriptions. A comprehensive critic approach to the theory is found in Sylvie Vanséveren’s A “new” ancient Indo-European language? On assumed linguistic contacts between Sumerian and Indo-European “Euphratic”, in JIES (2008) 36:3&4.

Gutian language

References to Gutian are popping up related to the Hajji Firuz samples of the mid-3rd millennium.

The hypothesis was put forward by Henning (1978) in purely archaeological terms.

This is the relevant excerpt from the book:

(…) Comparativists have asserted that, in spite of its late appearance, Tokharian is a relatively archaic form of Indo-European.3 This claim implies that the speakers of this group separated from their Indo-European brethren at a comparatively early date. They should accordingly have set out on their migrations rather early, and should have appeared within the Babylonian sphere of influence also rather early. Earlier, at any rate, than the Indo-Iranians, who spoke a highly developed (therefore probably later) form of Indo-European. Moreover, as some of the Indo-Iranians after their division into Iranians and Indo-Aryans4 appeared in Mesopotamia about 1500 B.C., we should expect the Proto-Tokharians about 2000 B.C. or even earlier.

If, armed with these assumptions as our working hypothesis, we look through the pages of history, we find one nation – one nation only – that perfectly fulfills all three conditions, which, therefore, entitles us to recognize it as the “Proto-Tokharians”. Tis name was Guti; the intial is also spelled with q (a voiceless back velar or pharyngeal), but the spelling with g is the original one. The closing -i is part of the name, for the Akkadian case-endings are added to it, nom. Gutium etc. Guti (or Gutium, as some scholars prefer) was valid for the nation, considered as an entity, but also for the territory it occupied.

The text goes on to follow the invasion of Babylonia by the Guti, and further eastward expansions supposedly connected with these, to form the attested Tocharians.

The referenced text by Thorkild Jakobsen offers the interesting linguistic data:

Among the Gutian rulers is one Elulumesh, whose name is evidently Akkadian Elulum slightly “Gutianized” by the Gutian case(?) ending -eš.40 This Gutian ruler Elulum is obviously the same man whom we find participating in the scramble for power after the death of Shar-kali-sharrii; his name appears there in Sumerian form without mimation as Elulu.

The Gutian dynasty, from ca. 22nd c. BC appears as follows:


I don’t think we could derive a potential relation to any specific Indo-European branch from this simple suffix repeated in Gutian rulers, though.

The hypothesis of the Tocharian-like nature of the Guti (apart from the obvious error of considering them as the ancestors of Tocharians) remains not contrasted in new works since. It was cited e.g. by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995) to advance their Armenian homeland, and by Mallory and Adams in their Encyclopedia (1997).

It lies therefore in the obscurity of undeveloped archaeological-linguistic hypotheses, and its connection with the attested R1b-Z2103 samples from Iran is not (yet) warranted.


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.


David Reich on social inequality and Yamna expansion with few Y-DNA subclades

Interesting article from David Reich that I had missed, at Nautilus, Social Inequality Leaves a Genetic Mark.

It explores one of the main issues we are observing with ancient DNA, the greater reduction in Y-DNA lineages relative to mtDNA lineages, and its most likely explanation (which I discussed recently).

Excerpts interesting for the Indo-European question (emphasis mine):

Gimbutas’s reconstruction has been criticized as fantastical by her critics, and any attempt to paint a vivid picture of what a human culture was like before the period of written texts needs to be viewed with caution. Nevertheless, ancient DNA data has provided evidence that the Yamnaya were indeed a society in which power was concentrated among a small number of elite males. The Y chromosomes that the Yamnaya carried were nearly all of a few types, which shows that a limited number of males must have been extraordinarily successful in spreading their genes. In contrast, in their mitochondrial DNA, the Yamnaya had more diverse sequences.9 The descendants of the Yamnaya or their close relatives spread their Y chromosomes into Europe and India, and the demographic impact of this expansion was profound, as the Y-chromosome types they carried were absent in Europe and India before the Bronze Age but are predominant in both places today.13

This Yamnaya expansion also cannot have been entirely friendly, as is clear from the fact that the proportion of Y chromosomes of steppe origin in both western Europe14 and in India15 today is much larger than the proportion of the rest of the genome. This preponderance of male ancestry coming from the steppe implies that male descendants of the Yamnaya with political or social power were more successful at competing for local mates than men from the local groups. The most striking example I know is from Iberia in far southwestern Europe, where Yamnaya-derived ancestry arrived suddenly at the onset of the Bronze Age between 4,500 and 4,000 years ago. Daniel Bradley’s laboratory and my laboratory independently produced ancient DNA from individuals of this period.14 We find that in the first Iberians with Yamnaya-derived ancestry, the proportion of Yamnaya ancestry across the whole genome is almost never more than around 15 percent. However, around 90 percent of males who carry Yamnaya ancestry have a Y-chromosome type of steppe origin that was absent in Iberia prior to that time. It is clear that there were extraordinary hierarchies and imbalances in power at work in the Yamnaya expansions.

David Reich clearly doesn’t give a damn about how other people might react to his commentaries. That’s nice.

In any case, if anyone was still in denial, R1b-M269 expanded with Yamna (through the Bell Beaker expansion) into Iberia, hence yes, 90% of modern Basque male lineages have an origin in the steppe, like the R1b-DF27 sample recently found, and their common ancestor spoke Late Proto-Indo-European.

Findings like these, which should be taken as normal developments of research, are apparently still a trauma for many – like R1a-fans from India realizing most of their paternal ancestors came from the steppe, or its fans from Northern Europe understanding that their paternal ancestors probably spoke Uralic or a related language; or N1c-fans seeing how their paternal ancestors probably didn’t speak Uralic. It seems life isn’t fair to stupid simplistic ethnolinguistic ideas

Let’s see which Y-DNA haplogroups we find in West Yamna, to verify the latest migration model of Late PIE speakers of the Reich Lab (featured image).

Check out also the BBC News coverage of David Reich and Nick Patterson, the two most influential researchers of the moment in Human Ancestry: How ancient DNA is transforming our view of the past.


Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-Z2103 in Proto-Indo-Iranians?


We already know that the Sintashta -> Andronovo migrants will probably be dominated by Y-DNA R1a-Z93 lineages. However, I doubt it will be the only Y-DNA haplogroup found.

I said in my predictions for this year that there could not be much new genetic data to ascertain how Pre-Indo-Iranian survived the invasion, gradual replacement and founder effects that happened in terms of male haplogroups after the arrival of late Corded Ware migrants, and that we should probably have to rely on anthropological explanations for language continuity despite genetic replacement, as in the Basque case.

Nevertheless, since we have very few samples, I think we could still see a clear genetic contribution from Yamna to Corded Ware immigrants in the North Caspian region (from Abashevo, in turn a mix of Fatyanovo/Balanovo and Catacomb/Poltavka cultures) in terms of:

  • Ancestral components and PCA in new Sintashta-Petrovka, Andronovo, and/or later samples – similar the ‘steppe’ drift seen in Potapovka relative to Sintashta samples, both formed by incoming Corded Ware migrants – ; and
  • R1b-L23 subclades, either appearing scattered during the Sintashta melting pot (of Abashevo/R1a-Z645 and East Yamna-Poltavka/R1b-Z2103 peoples), or resurging after this period, as we have seen in Pre-Balto-Slavic territory.

This contribution could better explain the obvious language continuity in the region, beautifully complementing the complex anthropological model we have now of archaeological continuity of Sintashta and Potapovka with the previous Poltavka, seen in a similar material and symbolic culture that survived the arrival of newcomers.

A lot of people seem to be looking like crazy since O&M 2018 for some sort of connection between Corded Ware and Yamna migrants in Eastern and Central Europe (wheter in SNP calls of samples published, or among almost forgotten academic papers), either to support the ideas of the 2015 papers – for those who relied on their conclusions and built (even if only mentally) far-fetched migration models around it – , or just because of some sort of absurd continuity theory involving modern R1a-Z645 subclades:

NOTE. The situation we have seen with the hundreds of samples from O&M 2018, and with the recent additional Eastern European samples, depict an unexpected absolutely clear-cut distinction in Y-DNA haplogroups between Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker: I really can’t see how the situation could be more obvious for everyone, so I doubt any further samples will make certain people change their minds. Their hope is, I guess, that just one sample may give some more oxygen to infinite pet theories, as we are still surprisingly seeing even with reactionary R1b autochthonous continuists in Western Europe…

However, looking into the most likely future for the field, what we should be expecting right now is continuity of Yamna ancestry and lineages in early Proto-Indo-Iranian territory. Since we only have a few samples from Sintashta-Petrovka, Potapovka, and Andronovo, I think there might be a sizeable number of R1b-Z2103 subclades in the territory inhabited by those who – no doubt – spread the language into Central Asia.

Modern Y-DNA haplogroup R1b distribution, by Maulucioni at Wikipedia

While full population replacement by R1a-Z93 lineages in the North Caspian region ca. 2000 BC is not impossible, I don’t think it is very likely, since we already know that there are R1b-Z2103 lineages widely distributed in Indo-Iranian-speaking territory, and Z93 is now known to be an older subclade than YFull’s mean formation date suggested (due to the Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561 sample‘s SNP call), so what we can infer now that actually happened in Sintashta -> Andronovo is not exactly the spread of haplogroup Z93 during its formation, but rather a regional reduction in its variability coupled with the expansion of some of its subclades.

The main question, after the South Asia paper is finally published, will then be:

  1. Given that Yamna peoples were an elite group of patrilineally-related families mainly of R1b-L23 subclades:
  2. Accepting that PCA, ADMIXTURE, and other statistical methods are not relevant (alone) for ethnolinguistic identification: e.g. Yamna ‘outliers’ and East Bell Beaker migrants of R1b-L23 lineages without steppe ancestry; N1c1a1a-L392 lineages and Siberian ancestry unrelated to Uralic speakers; R1a-Z645 and steppe ancestry in North-East Europe related to Uralic-speaking cultures
  3. If we find now, as I expect, genetic continuity of east Yamna in Sintashta -> Andronovo (relative to other late Corded Ware peoples), probably including haplogroup R1b-Z2103 mixed with R1a-Z93 before its further reduction of subclades (e.g. to L657) and expansion during its subsequent spread southward…

Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC

Why exactly do we need Corded Ware to explain migrations of Late Indo-European speakers?

In other words: if we had the data we have today in 2015, would we have a need for Corded Ware to explain Indo-European migrations from the steppe? Are some people so blinded by their will to (appear to) be right in their past interpretations that they can’t just let go?

NOTE. On a side note, wouldn’t it be nice for this paper to publish some other R1b-L23 (x2103) sample – maybe even R1b-L51 – in Yamna, Andronovo, or Afanasevo territory, to end both autochthonous continuity theories (of North-Eastern and Western Europe) at the same time?

I really hope someone in David Reich’s team understands this matter, or else they will still identify Corded Ware as the (now probably ‘a’ instead) vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, and some of us will still have fun for another 2 or 3 years with such conclusions, until someone in the lab realizes that ancestry ≠ population ≠ ethnic identification ≠ language.

NOTE. It seems rather dull to read how people are discussing in the Twitterverse conventional constructs like ‘human race‘ as found in Reich’s op-ed in The New York Times, as if such grandiose semantic discussions had any practical meaning, when basic anthropological questions actually relevant for Genomics, like the essential ancestral component ≠ people tenet seem not to be of interest for anyone in the field….

Since our Indo-European demic difusion model (and its consequences for our reconstruction of North-West Indo-European) and this blog are becoming more and more popular each day – judging by the constant growth in visits in the past 6 months or so – , I guess the simplemindedness and predictability of certain geneticists is benefitting traditional anthropology directly, driving more and more amateur geneticists to look for sound academic models to answer the growing inconsistencies of genetic research.

NOTE. I am not saying the rejection of Corded Ware as spreading Indo-European is definitive. Maybe more samples within some years will depict a clear ancient expansion of Early or Middle Proto-Indo-Europeans from Khvalynsk to the forest-steppe and forest zone, and later with certain Corded Ware migrants into Central Europe, over whose territory a Late Indo-European dialect from Bell Beakers became the superstrate, as some have proposed in the past – e.g. to explain Krahe’s Old European hydronymy. I really doubt you could demonstrate such an old ethnolinguistic identification with a clear, unbroken archaeological trail, though, and we know now that this old hydronymy is probably of Late Indo-European nature (possibly even more recent).

What I am saying is: with the data we have now, it does not make any sense to keep the anthropological models invented by geneticists ex nihilo in 2015, and the hundred different alternative Late Indo-European migration models that arebornwitheachnewpaper.

These Yamna -> Corded Ware migration models didn’t have any sense for me since early 2016, but now after O&M 2017, and especially O&M 2018, I don’t think any geneticist with a little knowledge in Linguistics or Archaeology (if they are decent about their quest for truth in describing ancient European migrations) would buy them, if not for some sort of created ‘tradition’. So let’s ditch Corded Ware as Late Indo-European-speaking, let’s accept that late Corded Ware migrants should most likely be identified as early Uralic speakers, and then future data will tell if we are – again – wrong.

Please, don’t let Genomics become another pseudoscience based solely on Bioinformatics like glottochronology: let anthropologists (preferably mainstream archaeologists, but also the true Indo-Europeanists, linguists) help you interpret your raw data. Don’t deceive yourselves thinking that you have read enough about the Indo-European question, or that you know enough Indo-Europeanists (say what?) to derive your own conclusions.

Use the South Asia paper to begin expressly retracting the Corded Ware mess.

Please pretty please with sugar on top?


For commenters: this post concerns an anthropological question, and deals with the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European speakers from Yamna, and the controversy surrounding the role of Corded Ware migrants that a handful of academics propose spread from it, based on a renewed model of Gimbutas’ outdated Kurgan theory and on the so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry.

It happens so that the discussion has turned lately mainly to ancient Y-DNA haplogroups, because they help confirm previous mainstream anthropological models of cultural diffusion and migration. It is obviously not reasonable to judge prehistoric ethnolinguistic migrations from ca. 5,000 years ago based on historical nation-states and ethnic or religious concepts invented since the Middle Ages, coupled with “your” people’s main modern (or your own) paternal lineage.

EDIT (27 MAR 2018): Minor corrections and post made shorter.

The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt


While writing the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, I noticed that one Corded Ware sample (labelled I0104) clusters quite closely with steppe samples (i.e. Yamna, Afanasevo, and Potapovka). The other Corded Ware samples cluster, as expected, closely with east-central European samples, which include related cultures such as the Swedish Battle Axe, and later Sintashta, or Potapovka (cultures that are from the steppe proper, but are derived from Corded Ware).

I also noticed after publishing the draft that I had used the wording “Corded Ware outlier” at least once. I certainly had that term in mind when developing the third version, but I did not intend to write it down formally. Nevertheless, I think it is the right name to use.

PCA of dataset including Minoans and Mycenaeans, and Scythians and Sarmatians. The graphic has been arranged so that ancestries and samples are located in geographically friendly axes similar to north-south (Y), east-west(X). Symbols are used, in a simplified manner, in accordance with symbols for Y-DNA haplogroups used in the maps. Labels have been used for simplification of important components. Areas are drawn surrounding Yamna, Poltavka, Afanasevo, Corded Ware (including samples from Estonia, Battle Axe, and Poltavka outlier), and succeeding Sintashta and Potapovka cultures, as well as Bell Beaker. Corded Ware sample I0104, from Esperstedt, has also been labelled.

Outlier in Statistics, as you can infer from the name, is a sample (more precisely an observation) that lies distant to others. It is a slippery concept in Human Evolutionary Biology, because it has no clear definition, and it is thus dependent on a certain degree of subjective evaluation. It seems to be mainly based on a combination of PCA and ADMIXTURE analyses, but should obviously be dependent on the number of samples available for a certain culture, and the regional distribution of the samples available.

We have thus certain clear cases, like the Poltavka outlier, of R1a-M417 lineage, clustering close to Corded Ware (and Sintashta, and Potapovka) samples, but far from other R1b-L23 samples from Poltavka or Yamna cultures, from neighbouring regions in the steppe.

We have also less clear observations, like Balkan Chalcolithic samples, which may or may not have been part of different cultural groups (say, related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, or not), which may justify their differences in ancestral components in ADMIXTURE, and in their position in PCA.

And we have a Yamna sample from western Ukraine, which – unlike the other two available samples – clusters “to the south” of east Yamna samples. Taking into account the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, clustering closely with south-eastern European samples, could you really call this an outlier? Two outliers out of four western Yamna samples? Well, maybe. If you take east and west Yamna from the steppe as a whole, and exclude the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, of course you can. Whether that classification is useful, or actually hinders a proper interpretation of western Yamna samples, and of the “Yamna component” seen in them, is a different story…

PCA for European samples of Mathieson et al. (2017)

But what then about the Corded Ware male from Esperstedt, labelled I0104, dated ca. 2430 BC, which clusters among contemporaneous steppe (Poltavka) samples, and has the greatest proportion of ‘Yamna component’ in ADMIXTURE? After all, it is different in both respects from any other Corded Ware individual – including the oldest samples available, from Latvia (ca. 2885 BC) and Tiefbrunn (ca. 2755 BC).

This sample is one of the direct links between the steppe and Corded Ware in late times, and has been the main reason for the confusion a lot of people seem to have about the “Yamna component” in Corded Ware, with some supporting a direct migration from one into the other, and a few even daring to say that “Corded Ware is indistinguishable from Yamna”(!?).

His family members – all males of haplogroup R1a-M417 (like I0104 and most males from the Corded Ware culture) -, few generations later, show a decreased Yamna component, which clearly indicates that this individual’s admixture came directly from the steppe, and most likely from one or multiple female ancestors. That is compatible with the nomadic nature of the Corded Ware culture (and its known exogamy practices), which connected central Europe with the steppes, up to the North Caspian region.

If labelling other samples as outliers may be interesting to improve the conclusions one can obtain from genetic research, labelling this sample is, in my opinion, essential, to avoid certain strong misconceptions about the origin of the Corded Ware culture.