The current state of research reveals no firm evidence of crop cultivation in the region before the LBA (Piličiauskas et al. 2017b; Grikpėdis and Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Current archaeobotanical data firmly suggest the adoption of farming during the EBA to LBA transition. (…) By comparison, in other parts of N Europe subsistence economy of CWC groups was characterized by strong emphasis on animal husbandry, however crop cultivation was also used (Kirleis 2019; Vanhanen et al. 2019). CWC sites from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany reveal evidence of the cultivation of H. vulgare var. nudum, T. dicoccum, Linum usitatissimum (flax) (Oudemans and Kubiak-Martens 2014; Beckerman 2015; Kubiak- Martens et al. 2015).
It is (…) striking that earliest evidence of farming in the SE Baltic only appears in the deposits dating over 4,000 years later.
The environmental conditions of the SE Baltic presented a significant barrier and numerous genetic adaptations were required before farming could successfully spread into the region (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Adaptations through seasonality changes usually play a major role in adapting to new environments (Sherratt 1980). These include establishing genetic controls on seasonality, especially flowering times and length of growing season (Fuller and Lucas 2017). Therefore, it could be argued that farming was only firmly established in the region around the LBA after several crop species, primarily barley, became adapted to the local environment and the risk of crop failure was reduced (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). The transition to farming was further aided by the climate warming which started around 750 cal bc (Gaigalas 2004; Sillasoo et al. 2009). In such a case the fragmented evidence from earlier periods is a likely illustration of the early attempts that have failed.
The LBA agrarian intensification of the SE Baltic was most likely not an isolated case but rather a part of broader social, economic and technological developments sweeping across northern Europe.
Evidence from sites across the Baltic Sea shows that the end of the EBA (ca. 1200 bc onward, after Gustafsson 1998) was marked by intensification of agriculture and changes in landscape management. This coincides with the agricultural developments observed on the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea and provides a context for the eventual arrival of farming, followed shortly by the rapid agrarian intensification of the region. Looking just south from the study region, we see that data from northern Poland reveal a sharp increase in both scale and intensity of agricultural activities during the EBA to LBA transition. Pollen records show significant environmental changes starting around 1400/1300 bc (Wacnik 2005, 2009; Wacnik et al. 2012). These were mostly a result of development of a production economy based on plant cultivation and animal raising. Even more significant changes during this period are visible in southern Scandinavia. Pollen records from S Sweden present evidence for an opening up of the forested landscape and the creation of extensive grasslands (Berglund 1991; Gustafsson 1998). Major changes are also apparent in archaeobotanical assemblages.
In general, during the end of the EBA northern Europe underwent a massive transformation of the farming system moving towards a more intensified agriculture aimed at surplus production. However, this should not be regarded as an isolated occurrence, but rather as a radical change of the whole society which took place throughout Europe (Gustafsson 1998). Intensification of contacts across northern Europe have integrated previously isolated regions into a wider network (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005; Wehlin 2013; Earle et al. 2015). It is therefore likely that farming spread into the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea alongside other innovations including malleable technologies and developments of social structure.
The presence and scale of intensifying connections is well illustrated by SE Baltic archaeological material.
Firstly, the appearance of stone ship graves has served as a basis for locating the Nordic communication zones. Construction of such graves was limited to the coastal regions of Kurzeme, Saaremaa Island and the Northern Estonian coast near Tallinn and Kaliningrad (Graudonis 1967; Okulicz 1976; Lang 2007) and is generally regarded as a foreign burial custom which was common in Gotland and along the Scandinavian coast. This is also supported by the Staldzene and Tehumardi hoards (Vasks and Vijups 2004; Sperling 2013), which contained artefacts typical of Nordic culture.
Secondly, studies of early metallurgy and its products, both imported and created in the SE Baltic, have concluded that metal consumption in the LBA had more than doubled compared to the EBA (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999). The SE Baltic region lacks any metal artefact types exclusive to the region and metal objects are dominated by artefact types originating from Nordic and Lusatian cultures (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999; Lang 2007; Čivilytė 2014). This indicates that even after metal crafting reached the region, the technology remained exclusively of foreign origin. Rarely identifiable negatives of clay casting moulds were also made for artefacts of Nordic influence, such as Mälar type axes or Härnevi type pins (Čivilytė 2014; Sperling 2014).
Lastly, emerging social diversification was accompanied by the establishment of the first identifiable settlement pattern. Settlement locations were strategically chosen alongside economically significant routes, primarily on the coast and near the Daugava River. Hilltop areas were prioritized over the lowlands, and excavations on these sites have often revealed several stages of enclosure construction (Graudonis 1989). This has also been explained as a reflection of intensifying communication networks between Nordic and Lusatian cultures, and the indigenous communities of the SE Baltic.
Kortlandt’s position regarding Balto-Slavic is that it is in fact simply ‘Proto-Baltic’, a language that would stem thus from an Indo-Baltic branch, which would be originally represented by Corded Ware, and which would have split suddenly in its three dialects without any common development between branches, including some intermediate hypothetic “Centum” Temematic substrate that would explain everything his model can’t…
The site of Turlojiškė in southern Lithuania (ca. 908-485 BC) – which Mittnik et al. (2018) classified as “Bronze Age, Trzciniec culture?” – can be more reasonably considered a settlement of incoming intensive agrarian communities under the influence of the Lusatian culture, like the Narkūnai hilltop settlement in eastern Lithuania (ca. 800–550 BC), or the enclosed hilltop settlement of Kukuliškiai in western Lithuania (ca. 887-506 BC), just 300 m east of the Baltic Sea, also referred to in the paper.
While the dates of sampled individuals include a huge span (ca. 2100-600 BC), those with confirmed radiocarbon dates are more precisely dated to the LBA-EIA transition. More specifically, the first clearly western influence is seen in the early outlier Turlojiškė1932 (ca. 1230-920 BC), while later samples and samples from Kivutkalns, in Latvia, show major genetic continuity with indigenous populations, compatible with the new chiefdom-based systems of the Baltic and the known lack of massive migrations to the region.
Contacts with western groups of the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures intensified – based on existing archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence – in the LBA, especially from ca. 1100/1000 BC on, and Baltic languages seem to have thus little to do with the disappearing Trzciniec culture, and more with the incoming Lusatian influence.
Both facts – more simple dialectalization scheme, and more recent Indo-European expansion to the east – support the spread of Proto-Baltic into the south-east Baltic area precisely around this time, and is also compatible with an internal separation from Proto-Slavic during the expansion of the Lusatian culture.
Even though comparative grammar is traditionally known to be wary of resorting to language contamination or language contact, the truth is that – very much like population genomics – trying to draw a ‘pure’ phylogenetic tree for Balto-Slavic has never worked very well, and the most likely culprit is the Slavic expansion to the south-east into territories which underwent different and complex genetic and linguistic influences for centuries (see here and here).
The relative chronology of hydrotoponymy in the East Baltic shows that essentially all ancestral layers to the north of the Daugava must have been Uralic, while roughly south of the Daugava they seem to be mostly Indo-European. The question remains, though, when did this Indo-European layer start?
Interestingly, though, it is well known that some modern Baltic toponyms can’t be easily distinguished from the Old European layers – unlike those of Iberia or the British Isles, which show some attested language change in the proto-historical and historical period – which may imply both (a) continuity of Baltic languages since the EBA, but also that (b) the Baltic naming system is a confounding factor in assessing the ancestral expansion of Old European. The latter is becoming more and more likely with each new linguistic, archaeological, and genetic paper.
In summary, a survival of a hypothetical late Trzciniec language in Lithuania or as part of the expanding Lusatian community is not the most economic explanation for what is seen in genetics and archaeology. On the other hand, the cluster formed by the Tollense samples (a site corresponding to the Nordic Bronze Age), the Turlojiškė outlier, and the early Slavs from Bohemia all depict an eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic languages from Central Europe, at the same time as Celtic expanded to the west with the Urnfield culture.
NOTE. Another, more complicated question, though, is if this expanding Proto-Baltic language accompanying agriculture represents the extinct
early Proto-Baltic dialect from which Balto-Finnic borrowed words, hence Proto-Baltic proper expanded later, or if this early Baltic branch could have been part of the Trzciniec expansion. Again, the answer in archaeological and genetic terms seems to be the former. For a more detailed discussion of this and more, see European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic.
As I said recently, the slight increase in Corded Ware-like ancestry among Iron Age Estonians, if it were statistically relevant and representative of an incoming population – and not just the product of “usual” admixture with immediate neighbours – need not be from south-eastern Corded Ware groups, because the Akozino-Malär cultural exchange seems to have happened as an interaction in both directions, and not just as an eastward migration imagined by Carpelan and Parpola.
Archaeology and genetics could actually suggest then (at least in part) an admixture with displaced indigenous West Uralic-speaking peoples from the south-west, to the south of the Daugava River, at the same time as the Indo-European – Uralic language frontier must have shifted to its traditional location, precisely during the LBA / EIA transition around 1000 BC.
The tight relationship of the three communities also accounts for the homogeneous distribution of expanding haplogroup N1c-VL29 (possibly associated with Akozino warrior-traders) in the whole Baltic Sea area, such as those appearing in the Estonian Iron Age samples, which have no clearly defined route(s) of expansion.
A recently published abstract for an upcoming chapter about Early Slavs shows the generalized view among modern researchers that Common Slavs did not spread explosively from the east, an idea proper of 19th-century Romantic views about ancestral tribes of pure peoples showing continuity since time immemorial.
The rapid spread of the Proto-Slavic language in the second half of the first millennium CE was long explained by the migration of its speakers out of their small primary habitat in all directions. Starting from the 1980s, alternative theories have been proposed that present language shift as the main scenario of the Slavic spread, emphasizing the presumed role of Slavic as the lingua franca of the Avar Khaganate. Both the migration and the language shift scenarios in their extreme forms suffer from factual and chronological inaccuracy. On the basis of some key facts about human population genetics (the relatively recent common ancestry of the East European populations), palaeoclimatology (the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 CE), and historical epidemiology (the Justinianic Plague), we propose a scenario that includes a primary rapid demographic spread of the Slavs followed by population mixing and language shifts to and from Slavic in different regions of Europe. There was no single reason for the Slavic spread that would apply to all of the area that became Slavic-speaking. The northern West Slavic area, the East Slavic area, and the Avar sphere and South-Eastern Europe exhibit different kinds of spread: mainly migration to a sparsely populated area in the northwest, migration and language shift in the east, and a more complicated scenario in the southeast. The remarkable homogeneity of Slavic up to the jer shift was not attributable to a lingua-franca function in a great area, as is often surmised. It was a founder effect: Proto-Slavic was originally a small Baltic dialect with little internal variation, and it took time for the individual Slavic languages to develop in different directions.
In a sneak peek to the expected Järve et al. (2019) paper in review, there are three Chernyakhov samples (ca. calAD 350-550) with different ancestry probably corresponding to the different regions where they stem from (see image below), which supports the idea that Iron Age eastern Europe was a true melting pot where the eventual language of the different cultures depended on many different factors:
From the paper:
The Chernyakhiv culture was likely an ethnically heterogeneous mix based on Goths (Germanic tribes) but also including Sarmatians, Alans, Slavs, late Scythians and Dacians – the entire ancient population of the northern coast of the Black Sea.
Contacts with neighbouring regions were active, and the Chernyakhiv culture is associated with a number of historical events that took place in Europe at that time. In particular, during the Scythian or Gothic wars of the 230s and 270s, barbarians living in the territory of the Chernyakhiv culture (Goths, Ferules, Carps, Bastarns, etc.) carried out regular raids across the Danube Limes of the Roman Empire. However, from the end of the 3rd century the relations of the barbarians with the Roman Empire gained a certain stability. From the reign of Constantine I the Goths, who were part of the Chernyakhiv culture, became federates (military allies) of the Empire.
The Goths also interacted with the inhabitants of the East European forest zone. The Roman historian Jordanes described the military campaigns of the Gothic king Ermanaric against northern peoples (the ancestors of Vends, Slavs, etc., and the inhabitants of the northern Volga region).
NOTE. As it has become traditional in writings about eastern Europe, ‘Slavs’ are assumed – for no particular reason – to be part of the ‘northern peoples of the forest’ since who knows when exactly, and thus appear mentioned in this very text simultaneously as part of Chernyakhov, but also part of peoples to the north of Chernyakhov warring against them…
(…) the Chernyakhiv samples overlapped with modern Europeans, representing the most ‘western’ range of variation among the groups of this study.
After the end of the Scythian period in the western Eurasian Steppe, the Chernyakhiv culture samples have higher Near Eastern affinity compared to the Scythians preceding them, agreeing with the Gothic component in the multi-ethnic mix of the Chernyakhiv culture.
The higher proportion Near Eastern and (according to CP/NNLS) lower proportion of eastern ancestry in the Chernyakhiv culture samples were mirrored by f4 analyses where Chern showed lower affinity to Han (Z score –3.097) and EHG (Z score –3.643) than Ukrainian Scythian and Bronze Age samples, respectively, as well as higher Near Eastern (Levant_N and Anatolia_N) affinity than Ukrainian Scythians (Z scores 4.696 and 3.933, respectively). It is plausible to assume that this excess Near Eastern ancestry in Chern is related to European populations whose Near Eastern proportion has exceeded that in the steppe populations since the Neolithic expansion of early farmers. While the Chernyakhiv culture was likely ethnically heterogeneous, the three samples in our Chern group appear to represent its Gothic component.
Just because of these samples among Early Slavs, and looking again more carefully at the modern distribution of I2a-L621 subclades, I think now I was wrong in assuming that I2a-L621 in early Hungarian Conquerors would mean they would appear around the Urals as a lineage integrated in Eastern Corded Ware groups. It seems rather a haplogroup with an origin in Central Europe. Whether it was part of a Baltic community that expanded south, or was incorporated during the expansions to the south is unclear. Like hg. E-V13, it doesn’t seem to have been incorporated precisely along the Danube, but closer to the north-east Carpathians.
Especially interesting is the finding of I2a-L621 among Early Slavs from Silesia, a zone of close interaction among early West Slavs. From Curta (2019):
On Common Slavs
In Poland, settlement discontinuity was postulated, to make room for the new, Prague culture introduced gradually from the southeast (from neighboring Ukraine). However, there is increasing evidence of 6th-century settlements in Lower Silesia (western Poland and the lands along the Middle Oder) that have nothing to do with the Prague culture. Nor is it clear how and when did the Prague culture spread over the entire territory of Poland.
On Great Moravia
Svatopluk’s remarkably strong position was immediately recognized by Pope John VIII, who ordered the immediate release of Methodius from his monastic prison in order to place him in 873 under Svatopluk’s protection. One year later (874), Louis the German himself was forced to recognize Svatopluk’s independence through the peace of Forchheim. By that time, the power of Svatopluk had extended into the upper Vistula Basin, over Bohemia, the lands between the Saale and the Elbe rivers, as well as the northern and northeastern parts of the Carpathian Basin.* The Czech prince Bořivoj, a member of the Přemyslid family which would unify and rule Bohemia in the following century, is believed to have been baptized in 874 by Methodius in Moravia together with his wife Ludmila (St. Wenceslas’s grandmother).
*Brather, Archäologie, p. 71. The expansion into the region of the Upper Vistula (Little Poland) results from one of St. Methodius’ prophecies, for which see the Life of Methodius 11, p. 72; Poleski, “Contacts between the Great Moravian empire and the tribes”; Poleski, “Contacts between the tribes in the basins.” Despite an early recognition of the Moravian influences on the material culture in 9th-century southern Poland and Silesia (e.g., Dostál, “Das Vordringen”), the question of Svatopluk’s expansion has triggered in the 1990s a fierce debate among Polish archaeologists. See Wachowski, “Problem”; Abłamowicz, “Górny Śląsk”; Wachowski, “Północny zasięg ekspansji”; Szydłowski, “Czy ślad”; Jaworski, “Elemente.”
On Piast Poland
Mieszko agreed to marry Oda, the daughter of the margrave of the North March, for his first wife had died in 977. The marriage signaled a change in the relations with the Empire, for Mieszko sent troops to help Otto II against the Slavic rebels of 983. He also attacked Bohemia and incorporated Silesia and Lesser Poland into the Piast realm, which prompted Bohemians to ally themselves with the Slavic rebels against whom Emperor Otto was now fighting. By 980, therefore, Mieszko was part of a broader configuration of power, and his political stature was recognized in Scandinavia as well. His daughter, Swietoslawa married first Erik Segersäll of Sweden (ca. 970–ca. 995) and then Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark (986–1014).26 In the early 990s, together with his wife and children, Mieszko offered his state (called “civitas Schinesghe,” the state of Gniezno) to the pope as a fief, as attested by a unique document known as Dagome iudex and preserved in a late 11th-century summary. The document describes the inner boundaries of the state and peripheral provinces, as if Gniezno were a civitas (city) in Italy, with its surrounding territory. Regional centers, however, did indeed come into being shortly before AD 1000 in Lesser Poland (Cracow, Sandomierz), Pomerania (Gdańsk), and Silesia (Wrocław). Such regional centers came to be distinguished from other strongholds by virtue of the presence within their walls of some of the earliest churches built in stone. Mieszko got his own, probably missionary bishop.
In light of this recent find, which complements the Early Slav of the High Middle Ages from Sunghir (ca. AD 1100-1200), probably from the Vladimir-Suzdalian Rus’, we can assume now less speculatively that I2a-CTS10228 most likely expanded with Common Slavs, because alternative explanations for its emergence in the Carpathian Basin, among Early West Slavs, and among Early East Slavs within this short period of time requires too many unacceptable assumptions.
Earlier Latin sources, especially those of the first half of the 10th century, refer to Magyars as Huns or Avars. They most likely called themselves Magyars, a word indicating that the language they spoke was not Turkic, but Finno-Ugrian, related to a number of languages spoken in Western Siberia and the southern Ural region. The modern word—Hungarian—derives from the Slavic word for those people, U(n)gri, which is another indication of Ugric roots. This has encouraged the search for the origin of the Hungarian people in the lands to the east from the Ural Mountains, in western Siberia, where the Hungarian language is believed to have emerged between 1000 and 500 BC.
In looking for the Magyar primordial homeland, they draw comparisons with the assemblages found in Hungary that have been dated to the 10th century and attributed to the Magyars. Some of those comparisons had extraordinary results. For example, the excavation of the burial mound cemetery recently discovered near Lake Uelgi, in the Cheliabinsk region of Russia, has produced rosette-shaped harness mounts and silver objects ornamented with palmette and floral designs arranged in reticulated patterns, which are very similar to those of Hungary. But Uelgi is not dated to prehistory, and many finds from that site coincided in time with those found in burial assemblages in Hungary. In other words, although there can be no doubt about the relations between Uelgi and the sites in Hungary attributed to the first generations of Magyars, those relations indicate a migration directly from the Trans-Ural lands, and not gradually, with several other stops in the forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eastern Europe. In the lands west of the Ural Mountains, the Magyars are now associated with the Kushnarenkovo (6th to 8th century) and Karaiakupovo (8th to 10th century) cultures, and with such burial sites as Sterlitamak (near Ufa, Bashkortostan) and Bol’shie Tigany (near Chistopol, Tatarstan).14 However, the same problem with chronology makes it difficult to draw the model of a migration from the lands along the Middle Volga. Many parallels for the so typically Magyar sabretache plates found in Hungary are from that region. They have traditionally been dated to the 9th century, but more recent studies point to the coincidence in time between specimens found in Eastern Europe and those from Hungary.
Adding J2a and I1a samples to the Early Slavic stock, based on medieval samples from Poland – with G2a and E-V13 lineages probably shared with Goths from Wielbark/Chernyakhov, or becoming acculturated in the Carpathian Basin – one is left to wonder which of these lineages actually took part in Common Slavic migrations/acculturation events, whenever and wherever those actually happened.
I have tentatively re-assigned lineages of Hungarian conquerors according to their likely origins in a simplistic way – similar to how the paper classifies them – , now (I think) less speculatively, assuming that Early Slavs likely formed eventually part of them:
NOTE. The ancestral origin of lineages is meaningless for an ethnolinguistic identification. The only reasonable assumption is that all the individuals sampled formed part of the Magyar polity, shared Magyar culture, and likely spoke Hungarian, unless there is a clear reason to deny this: which I guess should include at least a clearly ‘foreign’ ancestry (showing a distant cluster compared to the group formed by all other samples), ‘foreign’ isotopic data (showing that he was born and/or raised outside of the Carpathian Basin), and particularly ‘foreign’ cultural assemblage of the burial, if one really wants to risk assuming that the individual didn’t speak Hungarian as his mother tongue.
“Dinaric” or Slavic I2a?
I don’t like the use of “Dinaric I2a”, because it is reminiscent of the use of “Iberian R1b-DF27”, or “Germanic R1b-U106”, when ancient DNA has shown that this terminology is most often wrong, and turns out to be misleading. As misleading as “Slavic R1a”. Recently, a Spanish reader wrote me emails wondering how could I possibly say that R1b-DF27 came from Central Europe, because modern distribution maps (see below) made it evident that the haplogroup expanded from Iberia…
The obvious answer is, these maps show modern distributions, not ancient ones. In the case of R1b-DF27, different Iberian lineages are not even related to the same expansion. At least R1b-M167/SRY2627 lineages seem to have expanded from Central Europe into Iberia much more recently than other DF27 subclades associated with Bell Beakers. What’s more, if R1b-M167/SRY2627 appear densest in north-east Spain it is not because of the impact of Celts or Iberians before the arrival of Romans, but because of the impact of medieval expansions during the Reconquista from northern kingdoms expanding south in the Middle Ages:
Similarly, the term “Dinaric I2a”, based on the higher density in the Western Balkans, is misleading because it is probably the result of later bottlenecks. Just like the density of different R1a subclades among Modern Slavs is most likely the result of acculturation of different groups, especially to the east and north-east, where language shift is known to have happened in historical times, with the cradle of Russians in particular being a Finno-Volgaic hotspot, later expanding with hg. R1a-Z280 and N1c-L392 lineages.
Now, one may think that maybe Slavs expanded with ALL of these different lineages. Since we are talking about late Iron Age / medieval expansions, there might be confederations of different peoples expanding with a single lingua franca… But no, not really. Not likely in linguistics, not likely in archaeology, and apparently not in population genomics, either.
How many ancient peoples from the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages expanded with so many different lineages? We see bottlenecks in expansions even in recent times: say, in Visigoths under E-V13 (probably recently incorporated during their migrations); in Moors (mostly Berbers) with E-M81 and J; in medieval Iberians under different DF27 bottlenecks during the Reconquista (including huge bottlenecks among Basques); similarly, huge bottlenecks are found in Finnic expansions under N1c…How likely is it that Proto-Slavs (and Common Slavs) expanded with all those attested lineages to date among Early Slavs (E-V13, I2a-L621, R1a-M458, I1, J2a) AND also with other R1a subclades prevalent today, but almost absent in sampled Early Slavs?
To sum up, I am not so sure anymore about the possibility of simplistically assigning R1a-M458 to expanding Common Slavs. R1a-M458 may well have been the prevalent R1a subclade in Central Europe among early Balto-Slavic – and possibly also neighbouring Northern Indo-European-speaking – peoples (let’s see what subclades Tollense and Unetice samples bring), but it is more and more likely that most of the density we see in modern R1a-M458 distribution maps is actually the effect of medieval bottlenecks of West Slavs, similar to the case of Iberia.
Some interesting excerpts, relevant for the latest papers (emphasis mine):
The Archaeology of the Early Slavs
(…) One of the most egregious problems with the current model of the Slavic migration is that it is not at all clear where it started. There is in fact no agreement as to the exact location of the primitive homeland of the Slavs, if there ever was one. The idea of tracing the origin of the Slavs to the Zarubyntsi culture dated between the 3rd century BC and the first century AD is that a gap of about 200 years separates it from the Kiev culture (dated between the 3rd and the 4th century AD), which is also attributed to the Slavs. Furthermore, another century separates the Kiev culture from the earliest assemblages attributed to the Prague culture. It remains unclear as to where the (prehistoric) Slavs went after the first century, and whence they could return, two centuries later, to the same region from which their ancestors had left. The obvious cultural discontinuity in the region of the presumed homeland raises serious doubts about any attempts to write the history of the Slavic migration on such a basis. There is simply no evidence of the material remains of the Zarubyntsi, Kiev, or even Prague culture in the southern and southwestern direction of the presumed migration of the Slavs towards the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire.
Moreover, the material culture revealed by excavations of 6th- to 7th-century settlements and, occasionally, cremation cemeteries in northwestern Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia is radically different from that in the lands north of the Danube river, which according to the early Byzantine sources were inhabited at that time by Sclavenes: no settlement layout with a central, open area; no wheel-made pottery or pottery thrown on a tournette; no clay rolls inside clay ovens; few, if any clay pans; no early Byzantine coins, buckles, or remains of amphorae; no fibulae with bent stem, and few, if any bow fibulae. Conversely, those regions have produced elements of material culture that have no parallels in the lands north of the river Danube: oval, trough-like settlement features (which are believed to be remains of above-ground, log-houses); exclusively handmade pottery of specific forms; very large settlements, with over 300 houses; fortified sites that functioned as religious or communal centers; and burials under barrows. With no written sources to inform about the names and identities of the populations living in the 6th and 7th centuries in East Central and Eastern Europe, those contrasting material culture profiles could hardly be interpreted as ethnic commonality. In other words, there is no serious basis for attributing to the Sclavenes (or, at least, to those whom early Byzantine authors called so) any of the many sites excavated in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Moravia, and Bohemia.
There is of course evidence of migrations in the 6th and 7th centuries, but not in the directions assumed by historians. For example, there are clear signs of settlement discontinuity in northern Germany and in northwestern Poland. German archaeologists believe that the bearers of the Prague culture who reached northern Germany came from the south (from Bohemia and Moravia), and not from the east (from neighboring Poland or the lands farther to the east). At any rate, no archaeological assemblage attributed to the Slavs either in northern Germany or in northern Poland may be dated earlier than ca. 700. In Poland, settlement discontinuity was postulated, to make room for the new, Prague culture introduced gradually from the southeast (from neighboring Ukraine). However, there is increasing evidence of 6th-century settlements in Lower Silesia (western Poland and the lands along the Middle Oder) that have nothing to do with the Prague culture. Nor is it clear how and when did the Prague culture spread over the entire territory of Poland. No site of any of the three archaeological cultures in Eastern Europe that have been attributed to the Slavs (Kolochin, Pen’kivka, and Prague/Korchak) has so far been dated earlier than the sites in the Lower Danube region where the 6th century sources located the Sclavenes. Neither the Kolochin, nor the Pen’kivka cultures expanded westwards into East Central or Southeastern Europe; on the contrary, they were themselves superseded in the late 7th or 8th century by other archaeological cultures originating in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, there is an increasing body of archaeological evidence pointing to very strong cultural influences from the Lower and Middle Danube to the Middle Dnieper region during the 7th century—the opposite of the alleged direction of Slavic migration.
When did the Slavs appear in those regions of East Central and Eastern Europe where they are mentioned in later sources? A resistant stereotype of the current scholarship on the early Slavs is that “Slavs are Slavonic-speakers; Slavonic-speakers are Slavs.”* If so, when did people in East Central and Eastern Europe become “Slavonic speakers”? There is in fact no evidence that the Sclavenes mentioned by the 6th-century authors spoke Slavic (or what linguists now call Common Slavic). Nor can the moment be established (with any precision), at which Slavic was adopted or introduced in any given region of East Central and Eastern Europe.** To explain the spread of Slavic across those regions, some have recently proposed the model of a koiné, others that of a lingua franca. The latter was most likely used within the Avar polity during the last century of its existence (ca. 700 to ca. 800).
*Ziółkowski, “When did the Slavs originate?” p. 211. On the basis of the meaning of the Old Church Slavonic word ięzyk (“language,” but also “people” or “nation”), Darden, “Who were the Sclaveni?” p. 138 argues that the meaning of the name the Slavs gave to themselves was closely associated with the language they spoke.
**Uncertainty in this respect dominates even in recent studies of contacts between Slavic and Romance languages (particularly Romanian), even though such contacts are presumed to have been established quite early (Paliga, “When could be dated ‘the earliest Slavic borrowings’?”; Boček, Studie). Recent studies of the linguistic interactions between speakers of Germanic and speakers of Slavic languages suggest that the adoption of place names of Slavic origin was directly linked to the social context of language contact between the 9th and the 13th centuries (Klír, “Sociální kontext”).
During the 6th century, the area between the Danube and the Tisza in what is today Hungary, was only sparsely inhabited, and probably a “no man’s land” between the Lombard and Gepid territories. It is only after ca. 600 that this area was densely inhabited, as indicated by a number of new cemeteries that came into being along the Tisza and north of present-day Kecskemét. There can therefore be no doubt about the migration of the Avars into the Carpathian Basin, even though it was probably not a single event and did not involve only one group of population, or even a cohesive ethnic group.
The number of graves with weapons and of burials with horses is particularly large in cemeteries excavated in southwestern Slovakia and in neighboring, eastern Austria. This was a region of special status on the border of the qaganate, perhaps a “militarized frontier.” From that region, the Avar mores and fashions spread farther to the west and to the north, into those areas of East Central Europe in which, for reasons that are still not clear, Avar symbols of social rank were particularly popular, as demonstrated by numerous finds of belt fittings. Emulating the success of the Avar elites sometimes involved borrowing other elements of social representation, such as the preferential deposition of weapons and ornamented belts. For example, in the early 8th century, a few males were buried in Carinthia (southern Austria) with richly decorated belts imitating those in fashion in the land of the Avars, but also with Frankish weapons and spurs. Much like in the Avar-age cemeteries in Slovakia and Hungary, the graves of those socially prominent men are often surrounded by many burials without any grave goods whatsoever.
Carantania was a northern neighbor of the Lombard duchy of Friuli, which was inhabited by Slavs. According to Paul the Deacon, who was writing in the late 780s, those Slavs called their country Carantanum, by means of a corruption of the name of ancient Carnuntum (a former Roman legionary camp on the Danube, between Vienna and Bratislava). Carantanians were regarded as Slavs by the author of a report known as the Conversion of the Bavarians and Carantanians, and written in ca. 870 in order to defend the position of the archbishop of Salzburg against the claims of Methodius, the bishop of Pannonia.94 According to this text, a duke named Boruth was ruling over Carantania when he was attacked by Avars in ca. 740. He called for the military assistance of his Bavarian neighbors. The Bavarian duke Odilo (737–748) obliged, defeated the Avars, but in the process also subdued the Carantanians to his authority. Once Bavarian overlordship was established in Carantania, Odilo took with him as hostages Boruth’s son Cacatius and his nephew Chietmar (Hotimir). Both were baptized in Bavaria. During the 743 war between Odilo and Charles Martel’s two sons, Carloman and Pepin (the Mayors of the Palace in Austrasia and Neustria, respectively), Carantanian troops fought on the Bavarian side. The Bavarian domination cleared the field for missions of conversion to Christianity sent by Virgil, the new bishop of Salzburg (746–784). Many missionaries were of Bavarian origin, but some were Irish monks.
Several Late Avar cemeteries dated to the last quarter of the 8th century are known from the lands north of the middle course of the river Danube, in what is today southern Slovakia and the valley of the Lower Morava [see image below]. By contrast, only two cemeteries have so far been found in Moravia (the eastern part of the present-day Czech Republic), along the middle and upper course of the Morava and along its tributary, the Dyje. In both Dolní Dunajovice and Hevlín, the latest graves may be dated by means of strap ends and belt mounts with human figures to the very end of the Late Avar period. (…)
The archaeological evidence pertaining to burial assemblages dated to the early 9th century is completely different. Shortly before or after 800, all traces of cremation—with or without barrows—disappear from the valley of the Morava river and southwestern Slovakia, two regions in which cremation had been the preferred burial rite during the previous centuries. This dramatic cultural change has often been interpreted as a direct influence of both Avar and Frankish burial rites, but it coincides in time with the adoption of Christianity by local elites. In spite of conversion, however, the representation of status through furnished burial continued well into the 9th century. Unlike Avar-age sites in Hungary and the surrounding regions, many men were buried in 9th-century Moravia together with their spurs, in addition to such weapons as battle axes, “winged” lance heads, or swords with high-quality steel blades of Frankish production.
When the Magyars inflicted a crushing defeat on the Bavarians at Bratislava (July 4, 907), the fate of Moravia was sealed as well. Moravia and the Moravians disappear from the radar of the written sources, and historians and archaeologists alike believe that the polity collapsed as a result of the Magyar raids.
(…) although there can be no doubt about the relations between Uelgi and the sites in Hungary attributed to the first generations of Magyars, those relations indicate a migration directly from the Trans-Ural lands, and not gradually, with several other stops in the forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eastern Europe. In the lands west of the Ural Mountains, the Magyars are now associated with the Kushnarenkovo (6th to 8th century) and Karaiakupovo (8th to 10th century) cultures, and with such burial sites as Sterlitamak (near Ufa, Bashkortostan) and Bol’shie Tigany (near Chistopol, Tatarstan).* However, the same problem with chronology makes it difficult to draw the model of a migration from the lands along the Middle Volga. Many parallels for the so typically Magyar sabretache plates found in Hungary are from that region. They have traditionally been dated to the 9th century, but more recent studies point to the coincidence in time between specimens found in Eastern Europe and those from Hungary.
* Ivanov, Drevnie ugry-mad’iary; Ivanov and Ivanova, “Uralo-sibirskie istoki”; Boldog et al., “From the ancient homelands,” p. 3; Ivanov, “Similarities.” Ivanov, “Similarities,” p. 562 points out that the migration out of the lands along of the Middle Volga is implied by the disappearance of both cultures (Kushnarenkovo and Karaiakupovo) in the mid-9th century. For the Kushnarenkovo culture, see Kazakov, “Kushnarenkovskie pamiatniki.” For the Karaiakupovo culture, see Mogil’nikov, “K probleme.”
Given that the Magyars are first mentioned in relation to events taking place in the Lower Danube area in the 830s, the Magyar sojourn in Etelköz must have been no longer than 60 years or so—a generation. (…)
It has become obvious by now that one’s impression of the Magyars as “Easterners” and “steppe-like” was (and still is) primarily based on grave finds, while the settlement material is considerably more aligned with what is otherwise known from other contemporary settlement sites in Central and Southeastern Europe. The dominant feature on the 10th- and 11th-century settlements in Hungary is the sunken-floored building of rectangular plan, with a stone oven in a corner. Similarly, the pottery resulting from the excavation of settlement sites is very similar to that known from many other such sites in Eastern Europe. Moreover, while clear changes taking place in burial customs between ca. 900 and ca. 1100 are visible in the archaeological record from cemeteries, there are no substantial differences between 10th- and the 11th-century settlements in Hungary. (…)
As a matter of fact, the increasing quantity of paleobotanical and zooarchaeological data from 10th-century settlements strongly suggests that the economy of the first generations of Magyars in Hungary was anything but nomadic. To call those Magyars “half-nomad” is not only wrong, but also misleading, as it implies that they were half-way toward civilization, with social changes taking place that must have had material culture correlates otherwise visible in the burial customs.
The origin of “Slavs” (i.e. that of “Slavonic” as a language, whatever the ancestral Proto-Slavic ethnic make-up was) is almost as complicated as the origin of Albanians, Basques, Balts, or Finns. Their entry into history is very recent, with few reliable sources available until well into the Middle Ages. If you add our ignorance of their origin with the desire of every single researcher or amateur out there to connect them to the own region (or, still worse, to all the regions where they were historically attested), we are bound to find contradictory data and a constantly biased selection of information.
Furthermore, it is extremely complicated to connect any recent population to its ancestral (linguistic) one through haplogroups prevalent today, and just absurd to connect them through ancestral components. This, which was already suspected for many populations, has been confirmed recently for Basques in Olalde et al. (2019) and will be confirmed soon for Finns with a study of the Proto-Fennic populations in the Gulf of Finland.
NOTE. Yes, the “my parents look like Corded Ware in this PCA” had no sense. Ever. Why adult people would constantly engage in that kind of false 5,000-year-old connections instead of learning history – or their own family history – escapes all comprehension. But if something is certain about human nature, is that we will still see nativism and ancestry/haplogroup fetishism for any modern region or modern haplogroups and their historically attested ethnolinguistic groups.
As you can see from my maps and writings, I prefer neat and simple concepts: in linguistics, in archaeology, and in population movements. Hence my aversion to this kind of infinite proto-historical accounts (and interpretations of them) necessary to ascertain the origins of recent peoples (Slavs in this case), and my usual preference for:
Clear dialectal classifications, whether or not they can be as clear cut as I describe them. The only thing that sets Slavic apart from other recent languages is its connection with Baltic, luckily for both. Even though this connection is disputed by some linguists, and the question is always far from being resolved, a homeland of Proto-Balto-Slavic would almost necessarily need to be set to the north of the Carpathian Mountains in the Bronze Age (or at least close to them).
NOTE. A dismissal of a connection with Baltic would leave Slavic a still more complicated orphan, and its dialectal classification within Late PIE more dubious. Its union with Balto-Slavic locates it close to Germanic, and thus as a Bronze Age North-West Indo-European dialect close to northern Germany. So bear with me in accepting this connection, or enter the linguistic hell of arguing for Indo-Slavonic of R1a-Z93 mixed with Temematic….
A priori “pots = people” assumption, which may lead to important errors, but fewer than the usual “pots != people” of modern archaeologists. The traditional identification of the Common Slavic expansion with the Prague-Korchak culture – however undefined this culture may be – has clear advantages: it may be connected (although admittedly with many archaeological holes) with western cultures expanding east during the Bronze Age, and then west again after the Iron Age, and thus potentially also with Baltic.
A simplistic “haplogroup expansion = ethnolinguistic expansion”, which is quite useful for prehistoric migrations, but enters into evident contradictions as we approach the Iron Age. Common Slavs may be speculatively (for all we know) associated with an expansion of recent R1a-M458 lineages – among other haplogroups – from the east, and possibly Balto-Slavic as an earlier expansion of older subclades from the west, as I proposed in A Clash of Chiefs.
NOTE. The connection of most R1a-Z280 lineages is more obviously done with ancient Finno-Ugric peoples, as it is clear now (see here and here).
Slavs appeared first in the Danube?
No matter what my personal preference is, one can’t ignore the growing evidence, and it seems that Florin Curta‘s long-lasting view of a Danubian origin of expansion for Common Slavic, including its condition as a lingua franca of late Avars, won’t be easy to reject any time soon:
1) Theories concerning Chernyakhov as a Slavic homeland will apparently need to be fully rejected, due to the Germanic-like ancestry that will be reported in the study by Järve et al. (2019).
EDIT (3 MAY 2019). From their poster Shift in the genetic landscape of the western Eurasian Steppe not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths) (download PDF):
(…) the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture (~2,100–1,700 cal BP) does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.
2) Therefore, unless Przeworsk shows the traditionally described mixture of populations in terms of ancestry and/or haplogroups, it will also be a sign of East Germanic peoples expanding south (and potentially displacing the ancestors of Slavs in either direction, east or south).
It would seem we are stuck in a Danubian vs. Kievan homeland for Common Slavs, then:
3) About the homeland in the Kiev culture, two early Avar females from Szólád have been commented to cluster “among Modern Slavic populations” based on some data in Amorim et al. (2018).
Rather than supporting an origin of Slavs in common with modern Russians, Poles, and Ukranians as observed in the PCA, though, the admixture of AV1 and AV2 (ca. AD 540-640) paradoxically supports an admixture of Modern Slavs of Eastern Europe in common with early Avar peoples (an Altaic-speaking population) and other steppe groups with an origin in East Asia… So this admixture would actually support a western origin of the Common Slavs with which East Asian Avars may have admixed, and whose descendants are necessarily sampled at later times.
4) Favouring Curta’s Danubian origin (or even an origin near Bohemia) at the moment are thus:
The “western” cluster of Early Slavs from Brandýsek, Bohemia (ca. AD 600-900).
Two likely Slavic individuals from Usedom, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (AD 1200) show hg. R1a-M458 and E1b-M215 (Freder 2010).
An early West Slav individual from Hrádek nad Nisou in Northern Bohemia (ca. AD 1330) also shows E1b-M215 (Vanek et al. 2015).
One sample from Székkutas-Kápolnadülő (SzK/239) among middle or late Avars (ca. AD 650-710), a supposed Slavonic-speaking polity, of hg. E1b-V13.
Two samples from Karosc (K1/13, and K2/6) among Hungarian conquerors (ca. AD 895-950), likely both of hg. E1b-V13, probably connected to the alliance with Moravian elites.
Possibly a West Slavic sample from Poland in the High Middle Ages (see below).
A later Hungarian sample (II/53) from the Royal Basilica, where King Béla was interred, of hg. E1b1, supports the importance of this haplogroup among elite conquerors, although its original relation to the other buried individuals is unknown.
Even assuming that the R1a sample reported from the late Avar period is of a subclade typically associated with Slavs (I know, circular reasoning here), which is not warranted, we would have already 6 E1b1b vs. 1-2 R1a-M458 in populations that can be actually assumed to represent early Slavonic speakers (unlike many earlier cultures potentially associated with them), clearly earlier than other Slavic-speaking populations that will be sampled in eastern Europe. It is more and more likely that Early Slavs are going to strengthen Curta’s view, and this may somehow complicate the link of Proto-Slavic with eastern European BA cultures like Trzciniec or Lusatian.
NOTE. I am still expecting a clear expansion associated with Prague-Korchak, though, including a connection with bottlenecks based on R1a-M458 in the Middle Ages, whether the expansion is eventually shown to be from the west (i.e. Bohemia -> Prague -> Korchak), or from the east (i.e. Kiev -> Korchack -> Prague), and whether or not this cultural community was later replaced by other ‘true’ Slavonic-speaking cultures through acculturation or population movements.
5) Back to Przeworsk and the “north of the Carpathians” homeland (i.e. between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester), but compatible with Curta’s view: Even if Common Slavic is eventually evidenced to be driven by small migrations north and south of the Danube during the Roman Iron Age, before turning into a mostly “R1a-rich” migration or acculturation to the north in Bohemia and then east (which is what this early E1b-V13 connection suggests), this does not dismiss the traditional idea that Late Bronze Age – Iron Age central-eastern Europe was the Proto-Slavic homeland, i.e. likely the Pomeranian culture disturbed by the East Germanic migrations first (in Przeworsk), and the migrations of steppe nomads later (around the Danube).
Even without taking into account the connection with Baltic, the relevance of haplogroup E1b-V13 among Early Slavs may well be a sign of an ancestral population from the northern or eastern Carpathian region, supported by the finding of this haplogroup among the westernmost Scythians. The expansion of some modern E1b-CTS1273 lineages may link Slavic ancestrally with the Lusatian culture, which is an eastern (very specific) Urnfield culture group, stemming from central-east Europe.
An important paper in this respect is the upcoming Zenczak et al., where another hg. E1b1 will be added to the list above: such a sample is expected from Poland (from Kowalewko, Maslomecz, Legowo or Niemcza), either from the Roman Iron Age or Early Middle Ages, close to an early population of likely Scandinavian origin (eight I1 samples), apart from other varied haplogroups, with little relevance of R1a. Whether this E-V13 sample is an Iron Age one (justifying the bottleneck under E-V13 to the south) or, maybe more likely, a late one from the Middle Ages (maybe supporting a connection of the Gothic/Slavic E1b bottleneck with southern Chernyakhov or further west along the Danube) is unclear.
The finding of south-eastern European ancestry and lineages in both, Early Slavs and East Germanic tribes* suggests therefore a Slavonic homeland near (or within) the Przeworsk culture, close to the Albanoid one, as proposed based on topohydronymy. This may point to a complex process of acculturation of different eastern European populations which formed alliances, as was common during the Iron Age and later periods, and which cannot be interpreted as a clear picture of their languages’ original homeland and ancestral peoples (in the case of East Germanic tribes, apparently originally expanding from Scandinavia under strong I1 bottlenecks).
* Iberian samples of the Visigothic period in Spain show up to 25% E1b-V13 samples, with a mixture of haplogroups including local and foreign lineages, as well as some more E1b-V13 samples later during the Muslim period. Out of the two E1b samples from Longobards in Amorim et al. (2018), only SZ18 from Szólád (ca. AD 412-604) is within E1b-V13, in a very specific early branch (SNP M35.2), further locating the expansion of hg. E1b-V13 near the Danube. Samples of haplogroup J (maybe J2a) or G2a among Germanic tribes (and possibly in Poland’s Roman Iron Age / Early Middle Ages) are impossible to compare with early Hungarian ones without precise subclades.
I already interpreted the earlier Slavic samples we had as a sign of a Carpathian origin and very recent bottlenecks under R1a lineages among Modern Slavs:
The finding of haplogroup E1b1b-M215 in two independent early West Slavic individuals further supports that the current distribution of R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineages in Slavic populations is the product of recent bottlenecks. The lack of a precise subclade within the E1b1b-M215 tree precludes a proper interpretation of a potential origin, but they are probably under European E1b1b1a1b1-L618 subclade E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 (formed ca. 6100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC), possibly under the mutation CTS1273 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2000 BC), in common with other ancient populations around the Carpathians (see below §viii.11. Thracians and Albanians). This gross geographic origin would support the studies of the Common Slavic homeland based on toponymy (Figure 66), which place it roughly between the Upper Oder and the Upper Dniester, north of the Carpathians (Udolph 1997, 2016).
EDIT (8 APR 2019): Another interesting data is the haplogroup distribution among Modern Slavs and neighbouring peoples (see Wikipedia). For example, the bottleneck seen in Modern Albanians, under Z5017 subclade, also points to an origin of the expansion of E1b-V13 subclades among multiethnic groups around the Lower Danube coinciding with the Roman Iron Age, given the estimates for the arrival of Proto-Albanian close to the Latin and Greek linguistic frontier.
Remarkable is also its distribution among Rusyns, East Slavs from the Carpathians not associated with the Kievan Rus’, isolated thus quite soon from East Slavic expansions to the east. They were reported to show ca. 35% hg. E1b-V13 globally in FTDNA, with a frequency similar to or higher than R1a, in common with South Slavic peoples*, reflecting thus a situation similar to the source of East Slavs before further R1a-based bottlenecks (and/or acculturation events) to the east:
* Although probably due in part to founder effects and biased familial sampling, this should be assumed to be common to all FTDNA sampling, anyway.
Repeating what should be already evident: in complex organizations and/or demographically dense populations (more common since the Iron Age), we can’t expect language change to happen in the same way as during the known Neolithic or Chalcolithic population replacements, be it in Finland, Hungary, Iberia, or Poland. For example, no matter whether Romans (2nd c. BC) brought some R1b-U152 and other Mediterranean lineages to Iberia; Germanic peoples entering Hispania (AD 5th c.) were of typically Germanic lineages or not; Muslims who spoke mainly Berber (AD 8th c.) and were mainly of hg. E1b-M81 (and J?) brought North African ancestry; etc. the language or languages of Iberia changed (or not) with the political landscape: neither with radical population replacements (or full population continuity), nor with the dominant haplogroups’ ancestral language.
Y-chromosome haplogroups are, in those cases, useful for ascertaining a more recent origin of the population. Like the finding of certain R1a-Z645, I2a-L621 & N-L392 lineages among Hungarians shows a recent origin near the Trans-Urals forest-steppes, or the finding of I1, R1b-U106 & E1b-V13 among Visigoths shows a recent origin near the Danube, the finding of Early Slavs (ca. AD 6th-7th c.) originally with small elite groups of hg. R1a-M458 & E1b-V13 from the Lower/Middle Danube – if strengthened with more Early Slavic samples, with Slavonic partially expanding as a lingua franca in some regions – is not necessarily representative of the Proto-Slavic community, just as it is clearly not representative of the later expansion of Slavic dialects. It would be representative, though, of the same processes of acculturation repeated all over Eurasia at least since the Iron Age, where no genetic continuity can be found with ancestral languages.
I am not a fan of continuity theories – that much should be clear for anyone reading this blog. However, most of such proposals’ supremacist (or rather fear-of-inferiority) overtones don’t mean they have to be wrong. It just means that most of them, most of the time, most likely are.
While reading Tommenable’s comments, I thought about a potential alternative model, where one could a priori accept an identification of North Pontic cultures as ‘Indo-Slavonic’, which seems to be the Eastern European R1a continuist trend right now.
NOTE. To accept this model, one should first (not a posteriori) accept an Indo-Slavonic linguistic group on theoretical grounds, of course, and take the steppe ancestral component (and not archaeological data) as the most meaningful aspect to consider for language expansion and exchange (which we know is not the most intelligent approach to cultural or language change).
Thinking about how Genomics could challenge what mainstream Linguistics and Archaeology accepts, the only situation I can think of (using simplistic phylogeography) regarding late Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog contacts (until ca. 3300 BC) is:
That the community of R1b-L51 lineages was in fact an isolated group , and not a western one – i.e. to the east within the Volga-Ural groups, or maybe to the south within the North Caucasian groups .
That the R1b-Z2103 community was a huge one dominating over much of the steppe, from the Dnieper area to the Volga-Ural region (where we know they were).
That R1a-M417 subclades (and especially subclade R1a-Z645) with steppe ancestry, as found in Corded Ware migrants,were only found in the North Pontic area (i.e. in Sredni Stog) during the fourth millennium (until at least 3300 BC, when Yamna substitutes it), and did not form other communities in the forest-steppe or Forest Zone (from where Corded Ware eventually expanded), as it is quite likely.
That both the R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z645 communities shared obvious genetic connections (whatever they were) around the Dnieper, that could justify a common, shared language.
Only then, if a widespread Graeco-Aryan-speaking community happened to be spread from west to east in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with close contacts with North Pontic cultures, and having an isolated Northern Late PIE community somewhere different than West Yamna, it could leave for me a reasonable doubt of a cultural connection (maybe “Indo-Slavonic” in nature) of the North Pontic steppe. But then we would probably be stuck – yet again – with some sort of cultural diffusion event, impossible to demonstrate.
Since it is known (in Linguistics, and also in Y-DNA lineages, due to the early expansion of Z2103 subclades) that Graeco-Aryan groups separated early, this model would not be impossible.
Also a priori in favour of that model would be the early expansion of a (Northern IE-speaking) Pre-Tocharian population to the east. On the other hand, from an archaeological point of view, the group reaching Afanasevo seems to have expanded from Repin, just like the community expanding Yamna to the west of the Dnieper.
I really doubt there can be any serious discussion though, apart from amateur geneticists with a personal interest on this, because:
Dialectal separation within a Late Proto-Indo-European language must have happened late, gradually, and in close contact, allowing for common innovations to spread through dialectal groups.
It does not make sense in terms of prehistoric cultures, since there is no direct connection or migration among steppe cultures but for the Novodanilovka and the Yamna expansions.
Indo-Slavonic is only supported by a handful of linguists, and not in the way or timing described in this model.
NOTE. You can read Kortlandt’s works in Academia.edu (also on his personal website) if you are really interested in knowing more about an Indo-Slavonic proposal, from an expert Balticist and Slavicist. However, if your intent is to demonstrate some ancient ethnic link of “your” people (whatever that means) to mythical Proto-Indo-Europeans, you would not need actual knowledge or sound theories to do that, so you can skip that part. Also, Kortlandt would probably support a later model of Indo-Slavonic expansion in the steppe, related to East Yamna, and later Sintashta, Srubna, etc…
If you think about it, if most modern Slavs were mainly of R1b-L23 lineages instead of R1a-Z645 (a replacement which, as it is clear know, is the consequence of a simple resurge of previous lineages in East-Central Europe, coupled with a later gradual replacement through founder effects, so no big migration history here), and Finnic speakers were mainly of R1a-Z645 lineages (whose replacement by N1c lineages seems also the consequence of quite late consecutive founder effects), I doubt we would be having this reticence to accept sound anthropological models.
NOTE. The change of narratives where certain languages must have accompanied R1a-Z645 and N1c lineages, but in alternative ways not previously described, is obviously unjustified, if linguistic and archaeological data tell a different story. As unjustified as it is to change Yamna for “Neolithic Steppe” as homeland of Late Indo-European, to fit it with the steppe ancestry concept…