Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier


As you can imagine from my latest posts (on kurgan origins and on Sredni Stog), I am right now in the middle of a revision of the Corded Ware culture for my Indo-European demic diffusion model, to see if I can add something new to the draft. And, as you can see, even with ancient DNA on the table, the precise origin of the Corded Ware migrants – in spite of the imaginative efforts of the Copenhagen group to control the narrative – are still unknown.

Corded Ware origins

The main objects of study in Corded Ware origins are necessarily the region where the oldest Corded Ware vessels appeared, Lesser Poland, as well as the adjacent (traditionally considered Proto-Corded Ware regions) Volhynia, Podolia, and upper Dniester river basin. These are some relevant points, continuing where I left the Eneolithic steppe developments (following Szmyt 1999, Rassamakin 1999, Kadrow 2008, Furholt 2014):

Kadrow (2008). Cultural interactions around Carpathians at the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC: 1 – Globular Amphora culture; 2 – Sofievka group of Trypillia culture; 3 – Funnel Beaker culture; 4 – Baden culture; 5 – Kostolac culture; 6 – Coţofeni culture; 7 – Cernavoda II culture; 8 – Yamnaya culture and Usatovo group of Trypillia culture (apud Kadrow, 2001).
  • More frequent contacts were seen ca. 3500-3000 BC, with an interaction showing multidirectional migrations of larger human groups in the centuries around 3000 BC, involving a significant part of the population of central-east Europe.
  • The easternmost area of the Funnel Beaker culture had become more Baden-like with the expansion of the Baden culture in its western area ca. 3300-2900 BC (with findings up to 2600 BC), and these younger groups with Baden features moved increasingly into the western part of Volhynia.
  • The influence of the neighbouring Trypillian culture is seen in the eastern parts of Volhynia, from ca. 3000 BC, either from a younger phase CII (cf. Troyaniv, Koshilivtsy, Brînzeni, Zhvaniets, or Vychvatintsy) or later groups (cf. Gorodsk, Kasperivtsy, Sofievka, Horodiştea-Folteşti, Usatovo).
  • In the forest-steppe zone, herding and hunting activities intensified, while agricultural traditions were preserved, as shown by the Sofievka, Kasperivtsy, and Gorodsk groups. From the end of the 4th millennium BC mobile parts of the late Trypillian populations moved to the steppe zone, absorbing more and more steppe elements; among others, cord ornamentation (in Vykhvatintsy, Troyaniv, and Gorodsk groups), pottery forms (Vykhvatintsy, which served as prototype for the Thuringian Apmphorae, dispersed along the Dniester river, too), flat burials with bodies in contracted position on the left or right side (Vykhvatintsy, reminding of Polgár culture different male-female position, and later Corded Ware burials, and also Lower Mikhailovka, under a mound without stone constructions). At the end of the Trypillia culture, its agricultural system collapsed completely.
Globular Amphorae culture „exodus” to the Danube Delta: a – Globular Amphorae culture; b – GAC (1), Gorodsk (2), Vykhvatintsy (3) and Usatovo (4) groups of Trypillia culture; c – Coţofeni culture; d – northern border of the late phase of Baden culture;red arrows – direction of Globular Amphora culture expansion; blue arrow – direction of „reflux” of Globular Amphora culture (apud Włodarczak, 2008, with changes).
  • Slash and burn techniques of agriculture – especially those practiced by Trypillian and Funnel Beaker populations – must have intensified effects of natural growth of humidity (ca. 3400-2400), increasing fluvial activities in west Ukrainian river valleys, and increasing deforestation processes, which favoured pastoralism and nomadisation of the settlement system, and a consequent change of the social structure
  • At the same time, Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, while the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction and reached as far as Kiev in the north-east, contributing to the culture of the Sofievka group.
  • Globular Amphora communities migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, destroying the primary structures of the communities in the supposed cradle territories of the Corded Ware culture. These communities found refuge and conditions for further development in south-eastern margin zone of the Funnel Beaker culture territories, penetrating at first the upper parts of the loess uplands like typical Funnel Beaker sites, but on the margins of their range, and also on areas avoided by Funnel Beaker settlement agglomerations. They brought with them the so-called Thuringian amphora up to Lesser Poland, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in the Złota culture, which eventually gave rise to the A-Amphorae.
Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Tripolyan groups and Corded Ware Culture settlements (■) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

In the end, we are left with this information about the oldest CWC (Furholt 2014):

  • The earliest radiocarbon-dated groups associated with the Corded Ware culture come from new single graves from Jutland in Denmark and Northern Germany, ca. 2900 BC. This Early Single Grave culture is associated with the appearance of individual graves (some time after the decline of the megalithic constructions), composed of a small round barrow and a new gender-differentiated burial practice emphasising male individuals orientated west-east (with regional exceptions), combined with the internment with new local battle-axe types (A-Axe). However, there is no single type of burial or burial custom in Corded Ware:
    • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east – south-west, and south-north, contrary to the supposed rule male individuals are regularly deposited on their left and females on their right side.
    • In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterized by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows. In south Germany, west-east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.
    • In Kujawia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west-east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
Furholt (2014). Map of the Corded Ware regions of central Europe. The dark shading indicates those regions where Corded Ware burial rituals are present regularly
  • The oldest Corded Ware vessels (the A-Amphorae, which define the A-Horizon of the CWC) come probably from the Złota (or a related) group in Lesser Poland, where a mixed archaeological culture connecting Funnel Beaker, Baden, Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware appears ca. 2900-2600 BC. No cultural (typological) break is seen between earlier Globular Amphorae and the first Corded Ware Amphorae, but rather a continuum of traits and characteristics among the recovered vessels. This strengthens the connection of Corded Ware with Globular Amphorae peoples. The A-horizon expanded thus probably from Lesser Poland ca. 2800-2600, as seen in local contexts.
  • And of course we have a third way of defining Corded Ware individuals, which is the presence of herding, and thus a transition from hunter-gatherers to agropastoralists. This is how some Baltic Late Neolithic individuals with no archaeological data have been classified as members of the Corded Ware culture: Even though no cultural remains were extracted with the two ‘outlier’ individuals, their haplogroup and ancestry point to a direct origin in or around the steppe and forest-steppe region (yes, that risks circular reasoning).
Correspondence analysis of amphorae from the Złota-graveyards reveals that there is no typological break between Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware Amphorae, including ‘Strichbündelamphorae’ (after Furholt 2008)

Corded Ware peoples in genetics

So, no clear origin of Corded Ware migrants, a lot of data pointing to intense migrations and interaction among GAC, Trypillia and the western steppe population (remember Kristiansen’s ‘long-lasting GAC-CWC connection’, now ignored to favour their Yamnaya admixture™ concept), and also three ways of defining Corded Ware culture…

Maybe genetics can help:

Ukraine Neolithic cultures – mainly from Dereivka – show haplogroups R1b-V88, R1a1, and R1b-L754 (xP297, xM269), which is similar to the haplogroup distribution found in Ukraine Mesolithic, but apparently with an expanding group marked by haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (possibly I2a2a1b1b).

The first thing that stands out about Ukraine Eneolithic samples is that only two of them can be said to be really Ukraine Eneolithic (i.e. from “Sredni Stog”-related groups):

  • I5876 (Y-DNA R1a-Z93(Y3+), mtDNA U5a2a), from Alexandria, 4045-3974 calBCE (5215±20BP, PSUAMS-2832)
  • I4110 (mtDN AJ2b1), from Dereivka, 3634-3377 calBCE (4725±25 BP, UCIAMS-186349), J2b1

The other two samples are quite late, and in fact one of them is clearly too late (maybe from the Catacomb culture):

  • I5882 (mtDNA U5a2a), from Dereivka, 3264-2929 calBCE (4420±20BP, PSUAMS-2826)
  • I3499 (Y-DNA R1b-Z2103, mtDNA T2e), from Dereivka, 2890-2696 calBCE (4195±20BP, PSUAMS-2828)

Corded Ware samples from Mittnik et al. (2018) offer very wide radiocarbon dates, so it is unclear which of them may be the oldest one. Most of them cluster closely to the older Ukraine Eneolithic sample I5876, but also to later steppe_MLBA samples i.e. Sintashta, Potapovka, and especially Srubna and Andronovo). This points to a genetic continuity from Pre-Corded Ware to Classic and late Corded Ware peoples. Therefore, much like Khvalynsk-Yamna and apparently many other Neolithic cultures, these peoples did not really admix; at least not with the male population.

File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline).

Lucky for us, even though the culture remains undefined, haplogroup R1a-Z645 seems like a unifying trait, as I said long ago, so we only have to wait for more samples to trace their origin. Nevertheless, it is clear that Corded Ware may not have been as genetically homogeneous as Khvalynsk, Yamna and Yamna-related cultures, further supporting its archaeological complexity:

  • Jagodno1 and Jagodno2 (Silesia), dated ca. 2800 BC, show haplogroup G? and I/J? – compatible with an origin of CWC in common with Trypillia (which shows 3 samples of haplogroup G2a2b2a, and one E) and Ukraine Neolithic (showing the expansion of I2a2a1b1 subclades).
  • I7272, from Brandýsek (Czech Republic), dated ca. 2900-2200 BC shows haplogroup I2a2a2 (compatible with an origin in Ukraine Neolithic peoples – this haplogroup is also found in Yamna Kalmykia and in the Yamna Bulgaria outlier, i.e. late western samples from the Early Yamna culture).

NOTE. This precise subclade is only present to date in Chalcolithic samples from Iberia, which points (possibly like the Esperstedt family) to local Central European haplogroups integrated in a mixed Proto-Corded Ware population. The upper subclade I2a2a is found in Neolithic samples from Iberia, the British Isles, Hungary (Koros EN, ALPc), and also south-east European Mesolithic and Neolithic samples.

  • RISE1, from Oblaczkowo (Greater Poland), ca. 2865-2578 BC, shows haplogroup R1b1.
  • The Esperstedt family samples have been analysed as R1a-M417 (xZ645), although the supposed ‘xZ645’ has not been confirmed – not even in the risky new Y-calls from Wang et al. (2018) supplementary materials.
Network analysis based on the quantitative occurrence of Corded Ware pottery forms, pottery ornamentation styles, tools,
weapons and ornaments as stated in Table 1, based on the catalogues given in Table 2, line thickness representing similarity

Maybe this heterogeneity is a problem of better defining the culture, but from what we can see the oldest CWC regions and the unifying ‘Corded Ware province’ – formed after ca. 2700 BC by Jutland and Northern Germany, the Netherlands, Saale, Bohemia, Austria and the Upper Danube regions – are for the moment not the most genetically homogeneous groups.

Homogeneity comes later – which we may tentatively identify with the expansion of the A-horizon from the northern Dnieper-Dniester and Lesser Poland area – , as seen around the Baltic (like the Battle Axe culture) with R1a-Z283 subclades, and around Sintashta (i.e. probably Abashevo – Balanovo) with R1a-Z93 subclades, which is compatible with the late spread of different Z645 groups (and potentially a unifying language) .


Kurgan origins and expansion with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains


The concept of ‘Kurgan peoples’ is a general idea whereby ‘kurgan builders’ are identified with Indo-European speakers. It is a consequence of the oversimplification of Gimbutas’ theory, and is still widespread among linguists, archaeologists, geneticists, and amateurs alike.

NOTE. On the already simplistic assumptions of Gimbutas regarding the so-called ‘kurgan’ burials, see e.g. Häusler’s early criticism.

However, as more ancient DNA studies appear, many ancient cultures once held as ‘kurganized’ are becoming more and more clearly disconnected from Proto-Indo-Europeans: So for example Varna, Cucuteni-Trypillia, Maykop, or Northern Iranian kurgan builders.

The first marked burials

In his chapter Aspects of Pontic Steppe Development (4550-3000 BC), Ukrainian researcher Yuri Rassamakin makes some interesting remarks.

NOTE. As you may know, Rassamakin supports a ‘Skelyan’ (macro-)culture encompassing every group from the North Pontic steppe and steppe-forest, where (therefore) Novodanilovka or Suvorovo would be just rich elites among Sredni Stog and related ‘commoners’. So he can hardly be described as interested in supporting Khvalynsk over Sredni Stog influence…

The first period of development (ca. 4550 – 4100/4000 BC) is marked as a period of emergence of the first burial symbols.

Gimbutas – like later her pupil Mallory -, Merpert, or Danilenko believed that the first mark of emerging kurgans were precisely the presence of constructions above burials, such as simple, small, stone henges, dolmens, cists, or cairns. Hence the traditional connection of ‘kurgans’ with Sredni Stog. This Sredni Stog connection is currently still a widespread belief, that is kept alive because it appears in many secondary sources (e.g. the much beloved as it is outdated and simplistic reference book Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture).

These first constructions described as from Sredni Stog were nevertheless found solely among Sredni Stog ‘elites’. That is, burials from Novodanlilovka-type cultural sites. So, following the initial assessments of this culture by Soviet archaeologists (like Telegin), for Gimbutas (1956) they were among ‘Sredni Stog’ burials, and for Merpert (1959) they might have been due to an “initial, genetic basis” originally from Khvalynsk, and thus (what was described as) Sredni Stog seemed to have been formed under “strong eastern influences”.

NOTE. From Rassamakin’s own account: Gimbutas’ model was later corrected, when in the mid-1980s Telegin judged that the cemeteries in fact represented an independent cultural type (Novodanilovka-type sites), developing over two stages (Telegin 1985a, 311-20; 1991). These were the same burials which Danilenko thought reflected a distinct pastoralist culture among the early Yamnaya tribes, which Gimbutas attributed to the first kurgan wave, and which Merpert, in part, ascribed to the first chronological period of the early Yamnaya culture-historical province.

The classification of megalithic monuments of the Pantie steppe. (After Dovzhenko 1993, fig. 1 with changes by the author.)

These early constructions, however, are not found anywhere else in the North Pontic region except for those ‘Sredni Stog elites’:

  • Rooves made from separate slabs with cairns are known in the Dnieper and Volga regions: In the Khvalynsk I culture, 17% of burials were superimposed with stone cairns or had a single stone marker.
  • Cists with cairns are known from Severskii Donets and Azov areas.
  • A unique cromlech is described from the Dniester-Danube area (Suvorovo).
  • In the remaining cases, especially for the Volga area and pre-Caucasus steppe, there are some specific variants:
    1. Use of natural hills as a burial marker
    2. Presence of smalll earthen or wooden constructions.

If we accept that these constructions are the first rudimentary kurgans or proto-kurgans, and that kurgans were a mark of expanding Indo-European culture, let’s see who built them first and why:

The emergence of kurgans

emergence-kurganIn his book Рождение Кургана (2012), The Emergence of the Kurgan, Sergei Korenevskiy makes a thorough analysis of the first kurgan finds.

The Novodanilovka group (ca. 4500-4000 BC), coincident with the Trypillia B1 stage, is characterized by the presence of ochre (in great quantity) in burials, as seen in Khvalynsk, as well as stone constructions in burials.

NOTE. Similarly to Rassamakin, Korenevskiy believes in the unity of North Pontic cultures, and specifically of Novodanilovka chiefs among Sredni Stog commoners, and of all of them with Khvalynsk in a Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog cultural-historical region, because of their “chronological and regional coincidence” and similar pottery, in spite of differences in burial and symbolism. So, hardly an interested party in supporting the expansion of Khvalynsk to the west, either.

Obviously, for those of us who believe that symbolism and burials do mean something beyond similar pottery decoration, in the instances where Sredni Stog appears in his text, it should be read Novodanilovka (and Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog should be read Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) instead; because he is not referring to the older Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community of the beginning of the 5th millennium, but to a very distinct group of sites related to the Khvalynsk expansion with horse symbolism at the end of the 5th millenium.

For the early Eneolithic time and the existence of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community, on the problem under consideration, the main source [of knowledge for the first kurgans] may be the Nalchik and Khvalynsk burial grounds.

The kurgans themselves were not simple pits filled with earth. There was a belief that the funerary structure was the place where the buried moved to another world. Most likely, such a place could be considered to be a generic collective cemetery.

The second important point may be that the Eneolithic era was the time of development of a prestigious economy that created its values ​​in the form of different things. Among them were items requiring high skills or manufacturing techniques (different woolen tools, scepters, stone bracelets), as well as tools that occupy an important role in labor, war and industry (stone flat axes, arrowheads, knife-like plates and chips of flint). The decorations of the burial costume included certain iconic objects – bone plates from canine fang, pins, bone sticks with a hole- “zurki”).

Presented were a variety of beads from bone, stone, shell. Bead washers could be collected in whole garlands, thus acquiring a special value. Prestigious cult things, presumably, were copper jewelry: beads, rings, bracelets. They, like the shells, were products of the gift exchange and reflected the direct or indirect involvement of the owners.

Map of the Eneolithic burial monuments of the Pontic – Ciscaucasian steppes (automatically translated from Russian):
1 – Csongrad, 2 – Decha Mureshului, 3 – Targovishte (Gonova Mogila), 4 – Kulvec, 5 – Devnya river, 6 – Kamenar, 7 – Kasimcha, 8 – Lungoch-Fundund, 9 – Falciu, 10 – Jurdjulesti, 11 – 12 – Suvorovo, 13 – Kaynary, 14 – Artsz, 15 – Koshary, 16 – Krivoy Rog, 17 – Zalina, 18 – Dereyevka, 19 – Igren 8, 20 – Chapley, 21 – Petro-Svistunovo, 22 – in Vinogradny, 23 in Zagorozhye, 24 in Novodanilovka, 25 in Blagoveshchenka, 26 in Kut, 27 in Lower Rogachik, 28 in Lyubimovka, 29 in Alekasandria, 30 in Yama, 31 in Olkhovatka, 32 in Aleksandrov, 33 in Lugansk Voroshilovgrad), 34 – Don, 35 – Mariupol, 36 – Liventsovka-1, 37 – Wet Chaltyr, 38 – Likhovsky, 39 – Mukhin II, 40 – Karataevo, 41 – Coysug, 42 – Krasnogorovka III, 43 – South, 44 – hut. Popova, 45 – Baturinskaya, 46 – Novotitarovskaya, 47 – Staronizhesteblyevskaya, 48 – Suvorovskaya, 49 – Cheerful Grove I and III, 50 – Kyzburun III, 51 – Nalchik, 52 – Upper Akbash, 53 – Galyugaevsky barrows, 54 – Coma – Ravo, 55 – Bamut, 56 – Arkhara, 57 – Kursavsky, 58 – Nikolsky, 59 – Kokberek, 60 – New School, 61 – Tube, 62 – Narym-Bay, 63 – Ak Zhounas, 64 – Shlyakhovsky, 65 – Political , 66 – Berezovka I and II, 67 – Even, 68 – Novotrivolnoe, 69 – Tarlyk, 70 – Engels-Anisovka, 71 – Khlopkovo hillfort, 72 – Khvalynsk I and II, 73 – Krivoluchye, 74 – Ivanovsky, 75 – Tunnel, 76 – Ipatovo , 77 – Aigursky, 78 – Tipki, 79 – Sharahalsun, 80 – Chograi, 81 – Overload, 82 – Novokorsunovskaya, 83 – Cardonik, 84 – Vladimirovskaya 85 – Pyatigorsk (Konstantinovsky plateau), 86 – Steblitsky, 87 – Jangr, 88 – Progress-2 The map was made on the basis of the publication I.V. Manzuri (Manzura, 2000. With. 244, fig. 1) with additions of the author

Khvalynsk and Nalchik first marked burials

[The Nalchik burials:] with respect to the reconstruction of social relations, data are few. In general, the funerary practice of this necropolis does not reflect the position of any fighting tools in the grave. (…)

Judging by the rare ornaments from the burials of the necropolis, the population that left it was implicated in the prestigious values of the Khvalynsk-Sredni Stog community. A more detailed picture of the era of early Eneolithic reflects the data of the Khvalynsk-type burial ground.

Funerary monuments of the steppe Eneolithic Ciscaucasian group, the Don-Volga interfluve and the Nalchik burial ground against the background of the Eneolithic groups of South of Eastern Europe (automatically translated from Russian): 1 – Aigursky, 2 – Veselyaya Roshcha and s. Zhukovsky, 3 – Sharahalsun, 4 – Chograi, 5 – Galyugaevsky burial mounds, 6 – Komarovo, 7 – Grozny, 8 – Suvorovo, 9 – Upper Akbash, 10 – Kizburun III, 11 – Baturin, 12 – Staronizhnesteblyevskaya, 13 – Novotitarovskaya, 14 – Cardonik, 15 – Steblitsky, 16 – Vladimirovskaya, 17 – Tunnel, 18 – Progress-2, 19 – Ipatovo, 20 – Novokorsunovskaya, 21 – Bamut 22 – Kursavsky, 23 – Arkhara, 24 – Nikolsky, 25 – Jangr, 26 – Overload, 27 – Shlyakhovsky, 28 – Nalchik burial ground, 29 – Samashki, 30 – Pyatigorsk, Konstantinovsky plateau, 31 – Berezhnovka-I, 32 – Bykovo I – Ciscaucasian groups a, II – Volga-Manych group, III – Lower Don group, IV – Dono-Donetsk group, V – Podneprovskaya group, VI – Zavolzhskaya (Volga-Uriural) group (given in fragmentary form: Berezhnovka I, room 5, item 22, Bykovo 2 point 3)
Map from Wang et al. (2018) [to be compared with the initial distribution of kurgans in the region]. The zoomed map shows the location of sites in the Caucasus. The size of the circle reflects number of individuals that produced genome-wide data. The dashed line illustrates a hypothetical geographic border between genetically distinct Steppe and Caucasus clusters.

(…) the Khvalynsk burial ground was characterized by a system of age groups and a forming social structure based on the hierarchy of estate groups. The social organization of Khvalynians can be characterized by the stage of evolution of a small-family variant of the development of a primitive society, in which the social status of a man and a woman became closer. The role of the married woman / mother was accentuated. Archaeological signs of this process can be considered joint burials of old people and children and as part of burials with same and mixed genders.

Statistics of the Khvalynsk burial ground. Примечание: ж. — женский, п. — подросток, р. — ребенок, м. — мужской, вз. — взрослый

In summary, one can arrive at the following conclusions. It is unlikely to be a mistake if we assume that the Khvalynsk burial ground was abandoned by a local community that lived on the basis of the tribal collective. Their economic activities were connected with hunting, fishing, homestead cattle breeding with an obvious acquaintance with the horse (it is not known if the object of hunting or domestication). In the mythology of the afterlife and the funerary traditions of the Khvalynians, the same egalitarianism of the forms of funerary buildings was dominant, but signs of the personification of graves began to appear, with marks in the rarest of cases with stones.

Unlike the Nalchik cemetery, in the Khvalynsk and Khlopkovsky burial grounds, new trends in assessments of the suitability of implements for funerary practice are clearly discernible. So, they expressed themselves in the appearance of rare graves with scepters, axes – buggers, stone adzes, harpoons and fishing hooks. Basically, all these symbols of the rite are associated with male burials. The least saturated with burial items with stone adzes, and they are represented in small forms. But the fact is important. Society began to pay attention to these categories of objects, linking their symbols with mythological ideas about the things of the afterlife and their functions in the “other dimension of reality” specifically as tools of war and symbols of military power or valor (axes with trunnions), spiritual power (scepters), as well as woodworking (adzes). In terms of “wealth”, these complexes were not particularly distinguished from other inventory sets.

The population that left the Khvalynsk burial ground had to do with the deficit of the era, which was copper products. The latter emphasized, apparently, the age status of some men from 40 to 60 years old and adult women. Another scarce raw material could be a sea shell (item 38) from the burial of a man aged 25-35 years.

As a result, it can be concluded that the complexes of funerary ritual of the Khvalynsk burial ground indicate the existence of ideas about a person at the time of his transition to another world, as a member of the collective of the clan (community) with the admitted individual prestige of things that emphasize his age or social status, but in the framework of the common egalitarian tradition of a collective necropolis. At this time, presumably, views were developing on the relationship of the things put in the grave with the “property” of the buried.

Map of finds of scepters 1: 1 – Khvalynsky burial ground; 2 – Cotton hill fort and cemetery; 3 – Fitionion; 4 – Rezevo; 5 – Drama; 6 – Vinc de Jos; 7 – Ružinoas; 8 – Kayraklia; 9 – Selcuca; 10 – Suvorovo; 1 1 – Terekli Mekteb; 12 – Khlopkovsky burial ground; 13 – Kasimcha; 14 – Kokbek; 15 – Samara (Kuibyshev); 16 – Shlyakhovsky; 17 – Archa; 18 – Mogosesti; 19 – Vladikavkaz (Ordzhonikidze); 20 – Jungr; 21 – Harvesting; 22 – Maykop; 23 – Alexandria; 2: 1 – Valen; 2 – Yasenev Polyana; 3 – Birllesti; 4 – Harvesting; 5 – Rostov-on-Don; 6 – Berezovskaya HPP; 7 – Zhora de Souz, 8 – Fedeshen; 9 – Konstantinovsky settlement. Conditional signs. 1 – group 3, 2 – group 4, 3 – groups 1, 2, 4 – group 5, 5 – group 4, 6 – group 6

The aftermath of the kurgan expansion

The most important phenomenon in the Weltanschauung of the late Eneolithic population in the steppes of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia was the spread of the religious tradition, relatively new in comparison with the time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community, according to which the deceased began to go to another world in a position on his back, crocheted, in the company of ochre magic.

This position appears to be dominant in the materials of the Khvalynsk cemetery, and as a very significant – but not dominant – feature of the materials of the Nalchik cemetery. The posture on the back is crocheted, becoming typical for the Sredni Stog culture, as well as the bearers of the oldest Kurgan traditions in the Ciscaucasia and the Volga-Don region.

Our position on this issue is as follows. I can fully adhere to the opinion of B. Govedaritsa and I.V. Manzura that the transition of the population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community to the tradition of the burial crouched on their backs looks like the most important ideological innovation in the mythology of death among the local population of Eastern Europe and Ciscaucasia in relation to the earlier time of the Mariupol cultural and historical community.

Chronology of Cucuteni-Tripolye cultures after Videiko (2004), with corresponding Khvalynsk / Nalchik / Novodanilovka / Pre-Maykop / Maykop kurgans.

In the funerary practice of this cultural education there is much in common with the traditions of the funerary practice of the Balkan-Danube region. At the same time, the posture pose on the back is spread more widely in the Neolithic and Eneolithic than only Western Europe. It was recorded in the necropolis of Kul-Tepe I in Azerbaijan (Abibulaev, 1982), the necropolis of Tepe Gissar in Iran (Schmidt, 1933, 1937), in burials 1, 2 in the settlement of Poylu II of Leleatepin culture in Azerbaijan (the Kura valley) (Museibli , 2010. P. 208). In other words, it is the same universal way of inhumation, like a pose on one side or a burial on the back, although not so widespread on a global scale.

From where and how such ritualism could appear in its specific carriers, it definitely cannot always be established. But let us pay attention to the fact that the peculiarity of the posture of the deceased population of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community on the back is that the deceased was not simply placed on his back, he was often heavily sprinkled with ochre. The last detail of the ritual clearly has a prototype for the carriers of the Mariupol community of the Northern Black Sea Region. This suggests that such funerary practice of the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog community was formed on the spot, as an internal transformation of the ritual of a stretched-out body with a copious sprinkling of the bone with mineral red paint. The idea of ​​innovation was to set the feet on the ground, which caused the knees to rise.

Map of burial monuments with ochre by regions in the Pontic – Ciscaucasian area (Govedariča, 2004). I – Carpathian group, II – Northwestern group, III – North Black Sea group, IV – Volga-Caspian group, V – North Caucasian group

The consequence for the Proto-Indo-European homeland

So, from now on, when someone says “the oldest known kurgans come from Sredni Stog”, you know what that means: first, these are not the oldest ‘kurgans’, but rather ‘proto-kurgans’ (after, all, some of the first radiocarbon dates of full fledged steppe kurgans come from the Repin culture, if we don’t take the rich Maykop variant into account); and second, they were not really from Sredni Stog, but from Khvalynsk-related cultures, because the first rudimentary kurgans can be clearly traced back to Khvalynsk, Novodanilovka, Northern-Caucasus, and Suvorovo sites.

The latest genetic research on Khvalynsk- and Yamna-related migrations should have been a party for all involved in a quest to know the truth about Proto-Indo-Europeans, as it is becoming clear that their language and culture expanded from the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is a short checklist of relevant facts:

✅ Khvalynsk formed from EHG + local steppe Neolithic groups: checked.

✅ Kurgan origins and expansion from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Expansion of horse domestication and horse symbolism from Khvalynsk: checked.

✅ Arrival of steppe ancestry in the Balkans with Suvorovo: checked.

✅ Patrilineal clans proven by Y-DNA bottlenecks in Khvalynsk and Yamna: checked.

✅ Homogeneous genetic admixture of expanding Yamna: checked.

✅ Admixture different from Yamna in coetaneous West and Central European, Corded Ware, Fennoscandian, Caucasus, and Indus Valley samples: checked.

✅ Expansion of Khvalynsk as Early Yamna and Afanasevo: checked.

✅ Expansion of Yamna Hungary as East Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Bell Beakers: checked.

✅ Expansion of East Yamna (and admixture with CWC) in Sintashta/Potapovka: checked.

✅ Y-DNA bottlenecks of expanding Andronovo/Srubna: checked.

✅ Yamna in the Balkans and steppe ancestry in Mycenaeans (in contrast with Minoans): checked.

✅ Bell Beaker expansion over Europe and later resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East Europe: checked.

All this combined is giving a clear-cut image of how Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded. More importantly, it shows – as I have said many times already – that Proto-Indo-European was a real language, spoken by an evolving and expanding community (with radical language changes beautifully coupled with archaeological expansions). The implications of this are huge, if only because we can finally get rid of all naysayers in linguistics and archaeology, who wanted to speak about ‘constellations of languages’ and ‘pots not people’.

So why would some of those who describe themselves as interested in Prehistory not accept this as the most likely picture right now? I can just think of one tiny item of the checklist, among many that are left unchecked or have been unchecked due to the latest genetic research:

❌ ‘MY haplogroup’ was involved in the expansion of ‘MY people’: Unchecked.

It is not just that this isn’t checked. It was checked by many in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and some stupid magical meaning was attributed to it. But now it has been unchecked for most Europeans, and this has caused an absurd unrest among some of them, who are now joining those who already opposed mainstream theories (e.g. supporters of the Anatolian homeland, the Iran homeland, the Indus Valley homeland, etc.) with a common aim: to spread reactionary views against the mainstream theories.

If all samples from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker had been R1a-Z645; most European Neolithic samples had shown R1b-L23 subclades; and results from Sredni Stog, Corded Ware and part of the Indo-Iranian community were of haplogroup N1c-L392 (although eventually R1a-Z645 had expanded with Indo-Iranians)… Would these people doubt all those facts from the checklist? I don’t think so.


Domestication spread probably via the North Pontic steppe to Khvalynsk… but not horse riding

Interesting paper Excavation at the Razdolnoe site on the Kalmius river in 2010, by N. Kotova, D. Anthony, D. Brown, S. Degermendzhy, P. Crabtree, In: Archaeology and Palaeoecology of the Ukrainian Steppe / IA NAS of Ukraine, Kyiv 2017.

Nothing new probably to those who have read Anthony (2007), but this new publication of his research on the North Pontic region seems to contradict recent papers which cast doubts on the presence of early forms of domestication in the North Pontic steppe, and would reject thus also the arrival of domestication to Khvalynsk from a southern route.

Interesting excerpts discussing recent research and results of this one (emphasis mine):

A brief comment about the fauna is required. A separate international archaeological project studied sites dated to the mid — 6th millennium BC in the Severskiy Donets basin (Starobelsk I, Novoselovka III) northeast of Razdolnoe, and found that they had hunting and gathering economies that made use of Unio shellfish, fish, and turtles, like the Neolithic occupation at Razdolnoe. But the Donets sites had no domesticated animal species. The author argued that the cultures of the Donets and lower Don basins in the 6th millennium BC probably had no domesticated animals, and that the domesticated sheep-goat bones identified at Semenovka, west of Razdolnoe, and dated to 5500 calBC, probably were mis-identified and actually came from wild saiga antelope (Motuzaite- Matuzeviciute 2012: 14). This suggestion was made on the basis of a single bone identified as sheep-goat at Semenovka by O.P. Zhuravlev (not N.S. Kotova as Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute wrote) and sent out for radiocarbon dating, that was re-examined by Cambridge University archaeozoologists.

Regardless of which identification is correct, a single bone is insufficient to cast doubt on sheep-goat bones identified at Sredni Stog 1, Sobachki, and other Neolithic sites in the Dnieper valley. Nevertheless, yet another international collaboration that studied the economy of Dereivka in the Dnieper valley argued that the economy of Eneolithic Dereivka site, which they dated to about 3500 calBC (ignoring 10 radiocarbon dates between 4200—3700 calBC), was still at an «initial phase of animal domestication» and that the Dereivka occupants of 3500 calBC were still largely dependent on hunting and fishing (Mileto et al. 2017: 67—68).

The dated Bos calf in the lower occupation level at Razdolnoe shows that domesticated animals were present in the Kalmius river valley in the Azov steppes in 5500 calBC, at a time when the cultures of the Donets valley were still hunters and gatherers just 200 km to the northeast of Razdolnoe. Sheep-goat and Bos bones were found in all Neolithic and Eneolithic levels at Razdolnoe. Because it was a small excavation, this evidence should not be over-interpreted. We cannot say how important domesticated animals were in the daily diet. But domesticated sheep-goat and cows had reached the Azov steppes by 5500 calBC. The appearance of cattle and sheep-goat as sacrificial animals in graves of the Khvalynsk Culture on the Volga by the early 5th millennium BC probably was a continuation of the spread of animal herding eastward from the Azov steppes.

Most likely route of expansion of horse domestication and horse riding (including Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs) from Khvalynsk into the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

Re-reading the papers on this subject – in which researchers seem to be fighting among each other for a radical interpretation of few animal bones – , I would suggest that the key concept they should be emphasizing is probably not the ‘presence’ vs. ‘absence’ of domestication in North Pontic steppe cultures in absolute terms.

Since there were clearly domesticated animals to the east and west of North Pontic cultures in the Neolithic, and thus the finding there of domesticated animals is more than likely, what is of great interest is the relative measure in which domesticated animals were relied upon by forest-steppe economies, compared to the use of available natural resources.

After all, many researchers currently agree that the North Pontic steppe and forest-steppe peoples formed communities of mainly hunter-fishers and gatherers, and findings of this paper do not seem to contradict this.

NOTE. In fact, there was a more recent paper I referenced which argues in such general terms with detail – probably written at the same time as this one -, by one of the authors they discuss, Mileto et al. (2018).

Also, as the paper states,

we want to emphasize that even a small excavation in the steppe zone, where only scanty number of the Neolithic and Eneolithic sites have been known yet, is very important and always gives very interesting materials.

Hence by confirming Anthony’s account of early domestication spreading eastwards during the Neolithic expansion, and without horses’ remains in any of the periods investigated (including Sredni Stog I-III), it also supports his hypothesis of horse riding emerging in Khvalynsk and expanding westward.

The Razdolnoe site lies near modern-day Donetsk, and its latest layer investigated (ca. 4300-4150 BC) represents thus the eastern variant of Sredni Stog III, being consequently the one more in contact with expanding early Khvalynsk.

Given the absence of horse remains in all layers, these results would also suggest that Novodanilovka and Suvorovo horse-riding chiefs (emerging ca. 4400-4200 BC to the west of this region) were indeed unrelated to the surrounding Sredni Stog population, and most likely migrants from the horse-riding Khvalynsk culture.

Featured image: Expansion of domestication in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, according to Anthony (2007).


Consequences of O&M 2018 (II): The unsolved nature of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, and the route of Proto-Anatolian expansion


This is part of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

I already expressed my predictions for 2018. One of the most interesting questions among them is the identification of the early Anatolian offshoot, and this is – I believe – where Genomics has the most to say in Indo-European migrations.

Linguistics and Archaeology had already a mainstream account from Late PIE/Yamna onwards, and it has been proven right in Genomic investigation. There is, however, no consensus on Indo-Hittite.


Apart from the Anatolian homeland hypothesis and its westward migration (as referenced e.g. by Lazaridis et al. 2017), the other possibility including the most likely steppe homeland is that Proto-Anatolian spread through the Balkans, and must have separated from Khvalynsk and travelled first westward through the North Pontic region, and then southward to Ezero.

EDIT (10 MAR 2018): The Anatolian westward route within the steppe homeland model refers to the possibility that Proto-Anatolian spread south through the Caucasus, and then westward through Anatolia, as suggested e.g. originally by Marija Gimbutas for Maykop, as a link in the Caucasus.

We all know that this Khvalynsk -> Novodanilovka-Suvorovo -> Cernavoda -> Ezero -> Troy migration model proposed by Anthony shows no conspicuous chain in Archaeology, but obvious contacts (including Genomics) are seen among some of these neighbouring cultures in different times.

We know that remains of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture of chiefs emerged around 4400-4200 BC among ordinary local Sredni Stog settlements:

  • the Novodanilovka rich burials in the steppes, near the Dnieper,
  • and the Suvorovo group in the Danube delta, roughly coinciding with the massive abandonment of old tell settlements in the area.

One of the strongest cultural connections between Khvalynsk and Suvorovo Novodanilovka chiefs is the similar polished stone mace-heads shaped like horse heads found in both cultures, a typical steppe prestige object going back to the east Pontic-Caspian steppe beginning ca. 5000-4800 BC.

Its finding in the Danube valley may have signalled the expansion of horse riding, which is compatible with the finding of ancient domesticated horses in the region. Horses were not important in Old European cultures, and it seems that they weren’t in Sredni Stog or Kvitjana either.

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

NOTE. Telegin, the main source of knowledge in Ukraine prehistoric cultures for Anthony, was eventually convinced that Surovovo-Novodanilovka was a separate culture. However, for Anthony (using Telegin’s first impressions), it may have been a wealthy elite among Sredni Stog peoples. Anthony considers Sredni Stog to have been also influenced by Khvalynsk, and thus potentially related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

Nevertheless, he obviously cannot link North Pontic Eneolithic cultures to Khvalynsk nor to horse riding – whilst he clearly assumes horse riding for Novodanilovka-Suvorovo chiefs – , and he does not link North Pontic cultures to later expansions of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from late Khvalynsk and Yamna, either.

The question here for Anthony (as with further Proto-Anatolian expansions described in his 2007 book), in my opinion, was to offer a plausible string of connections between Khvalynsk and Anatolia, and the simplest connection one can make among steppe cultures is a general, broad community between North Pontic and North Caspian cultures. That way, the knot tying Khvalynsk to the Danube seems stronger, whatever the origin of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

If, however, a direct genetic connection is made between Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs and Khvalynsk – as in its association with R1b-M269 and R1b-L23 lineages – , there will be little need to include Sredni Stog or any other intermediate culture in the equation.

We have already seen a movement of steppe ancestry into mainland Greece, and I would not be surprised if a parallel movement could be seen from Ezero to Troy (or a neighbouring North-West Anatolian region), so that the final migration of Common Anatolian had in fact been triggered by the massive steppe migrations during the Chalcolithic.

NOTE. Whereas we are certain to find R1b-L23 subclades in the direct Balkan migrations from Yamna, the link of steppe->Anatolia migrations may be a little trickier: even if we find out that the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion was associated with an expansion and reduction of haplogroup variability (to haplogroups R1b-M269 and R1b-L23), we don’t know yet if the ca. 1,500 years passed (and the different cultural and population changes occurred) between Proto-Anatolian and Common Anatolian migrations may have impacted the main haplogroup composition of both communities.

O&M 2018

A probably unsurprising – because of its previously known admixture and PCA – , but nevertheless disappointing finding came from the Y-SNP call of the haplogroup R1 found in Varna (R1b-V88, given first by Genetiker), leaving us with no new haplogroup data standing out for this period.

This sample’s lack of obvious genetic links with the steppe and early date didn’t deter me from believing it could show subclade M269, and thus a sign of incoming Suvorovo chiefs in the region. After all, R1b-P297 subclades seemed to have almost disappeared from the Balkans by that time, and we know that assessments based only on ancestral components and PCA clusters are not infallible – we are seeing that in many, many samples already.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo. Țerna S., Govedarica B. (2016)

NOTE. In fact, the first time I checked Mathieson et al. (2018) supplementary tables I thought that the ‘Ukraine_Eneolithic’ sample of R1b-L23 subclade was ‘it’: the first clear proof in ancient samples of incoming Suvorovo chiefs from Khvalynsk I was looking for…Until I realized its date, and that it was more likely a Late Yamna (or Catacomb) sample.

Steppe ancestry is found in the Varna and Smyadovo outliers, though, and these samples cluster closely to Ukraine Eneolithic samples (which are among Khvalynsk, Ukraine Neolithic, and Anatolia Neolithic clusters), so some population movement must have happened around or before that time in the region, and it is obvious that it happened from east to west.

It remains to be seen, therefore:

a) If the incoming Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs (most likely originally from Khvalynsk) dominating over North Pontic and Danube regions show – as I bet – R1b-M269, and possibly also early R1b-L23* subclades,

b) Or else they still show mixed lineages, reflecting an older admixed population of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – as the early Khvalynsk and Ukraine Eneolithic samples we have now.

NOTE. Even though my preferred model of migration is through the Balkans – due to the many east-west migrations seen from the steppe into Europe – , there is no general consensus here because of the lack of solid anthropological models, and there are cultural links found also between the steppe and Anatolia through the Caucasus, so the question remains open.


The Indo-European demic diffusion model, and the “R1b – Indo-European” association


Beginning with the new year, I wanted to commit myself to some predictions, as I did last year, even though they constantly change with new data.

I recently read Proto-Indo-European homelands – ancient genetic clues at last?, by Edward Pegler, which is a good summary of the current state of the art in the Indo-European question for many geneticists – and thus a great example of how well Genetics can influence Indo-European studies, and how badly it can be used to interpret actual cultural events – although more time is necessary for some to realize it. Notice for example the distribution of ‘Yamnaya’ in 3000 BC, all the way to Latvia (based on the initial findings of Mathieson et al. 2017), and the map of 2000 BC with ‘Corded Ware’, both suggesting communities linked by admixture and unrelated to actual cultures.

Some people – especially those interested in keeping a simplistic picture of Europe, either divided into admixture groups or simplistic R1b-Vasconic / R1a-Indo-European / N1c-Uralic (or any combination thereof) – want (others) to believe that I am linking ‘Indo-Europeans’ with haplogroup R1b. That is simply not true. In fact, my model dismisses such simplistic identifications of the reconstructible proto-languages with any modern peoples, admixtures, or haplogroups.

Simplistic Vasconic/R1b-Uralic/N1c distribution, and intruding Indo-European/R1a, according to Wiik.

The beauty of the model lies, therefore, precisely in that if you take any modern group speaking Indo-European languages, none can trace back their combination of language, admixture, and/or haplogroup to a common Indo-European-speaking people. All our ancestral lines have no doubt changed language families (and indeed cultures), they have admixed, and our European regions’ paternal lines have changed, so that any dreams of ‘purity’ or linguistic/cultural/regional continuity become absurd.

That conclusion, which should be obvious to all, has been denied for a long time in blogs and forums alike, and is behind the effort of many of those involved in amateur genetics.

Main linguistic aim

The main consequence of the model, as the title of the paper suggests, is that reconstructible Indo-European proto-languages expanded with people, i.e. with actual communities, which is what we can assert with the help of Genomics. From a personal (or ethnic, or political) point of view genomics is useless, but from an anthropological (and thus linguistic) point of view, genomics can be a very useful tool to decide between alternative models of language diffusion, which has given lots of headaches to those of us involved in Indo-European studies.

The demic diffusion theory for the three main stages of the proto-language expansion was originally, therefore, a dismissal of impossible-to-prove cultural diffusion models for the proto-language – e.g. the adoption of Late Proto-Indo-European by Corded Ware groups due to a patron-client relationship (as proposed by Anthony), or a long-lasting connection between cultures (as proposed by Kristiansen, and favoured by “constellation analogy” proponents like Clackson, who negated the existence of common proto-languages). It also means the acceptance of the easiest anthropological model for language change: migration and – consequently – replacement.

By the time of the famous 2015 papers, I had been dealing for some time with the idea that the shared features between Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic may have been due to a common substrate, and must have therefore had some reflection in genomic finds. The data on these papers, and the addition of a weak connection between Pre-Germanic and Balto-Slavic communities, together with their clearest genetic link – R1a-M417 subclades (especially European Z283) – made it still easier to propose a Corded Ware substrate, partially common to the three.

Allentoft Corded Ware
Allentoft et al. “Arrows indicate migrations — those from the Corded Ware reflect the evidence that people of this archaeological culture (or their relatives) were responsible for the spreading of Indo-European languages. All coloured boundaries are approximate.”

Before the famous 2015 papers (and even after them, if we followed their interpretation), we were left to wonder why the supposed vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, Corded Ware migrants – represented by R1a-Z645 subclades, and supposedly continued unchanged into modern populations in its ‘original’ ancestral territories, Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian – , were precisely the (phonetically) most divergent Indo-European languages – relative to the parent Late Indo-European proto-language.

My paper implied therefore the dismissal of an unlikely Indo-Slavonic group, as proposed by Kortlandt, and of a still less factible Germano-Slavonic, or Germano-Indo-Slavonic (?) group, as loosely implied by some in the past, and maybe supported in certain archaeological models (viz. Kristiansen or partially Anthony), and presently by some geneticists since their simplistic 2015 papers on “massive migrations from the steppe“, and amateur genetic fans with infinite pet theories, indeed.

A common Corded Ware substrate to Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian, and common also partially between Balto-Slavic and Germanic (as supported by Kortlandt, too, albeit with different linguistic connotations), would explain their common features. The Corded Ware culture (and Uralic, tentatively proposed by me as the group’s main language family) is a strong potential connection between them, further supported by phylogeography, too.

Other consequences

Interpretations in my paper help thus dismiss the simplistic Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration model implied with phylogeography in the 2000s, and revived again by geneticists and Kristiansen’s workgroup based on the famous 2015 papers, whereby – due to the “Yamnaya ancestral component” – the Yamna culture would have been composed of communities of R1a-M417 and R1b-M269 lineages which remained against all odds ‘related but separated’ for more than two thousand years, sharing a common unitary language (why? and how?), and which expanded from Yamna (mainly R1b-L23) into Corded Ware (mainly R1a-M417) and then into Bell Beaker (mainly R1b-L51), in imaginary migration waves whose traces Archaeology has not found, or Anthropology described, before.

While phylogeography (especially the distribution of ancient samples of certain R1b and R1a subclades) was the main genetic aspect I used in combination with Archaeology and Anthropology to challenge the reliability of the “Yamnaya ancestral component” in assessing migrations – and thus Kristiansen’s now-popular-again modified Kurgan model – , my main aim was to prove a recent expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European from the steppe, and a still more recent expansion of a common group of speakers of North-West Indo-European, the language ancestral to Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic (or ‘Temematic’, the NWIE substrate of Balto-Slavic, according to some linguists).

My arguments serve for this purpose, and modern distributions of haplogroups or admixture are fully irrelevant: I am ready to change my view at any time, regarding the role of any haplogroup, or ancestral component, archaeological data, or anthropological migration model, to the extent that it supports the soundest linguistic model.

Stages of Proto-Indo-European evolution. IU: Indo-Uralic; PU: Proto-Uralic; PAn: Pre-Anatolian; PToch: Pre-Tocharian; Fin-Ugr: Finno-Ugric. The period between Balkan IE and Proto-Greek could be divided in two periods: an older one, called Proto-Greek (close to the time when NWIE was spoken), probably including Macedonian, and spoken somewhere in the Balkans; and a more recent one, called Mello-Greek, coinciding with the classically reconstructed Proto-Greek, already spoken in the Greek peninsula (West 2007). Similarly, the period between Northern Indo-European and North-West Indo-European could be divided, after the split of Pre-Tocharian, into a North-West Indo-European proper, during the expansion of Yamna to the west, and an Old European period, coinciding with the formation and expansion of the East Bell Beaker group.

Gimbutas’ old theory of sudden and recent expansion served well to support a real community of Proto-Indo-European speakers, as did later the Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker theory that circulated in the 2000s based on modern phylogeography, and as did later partially Anthony’s updated steppe theory (2007). On the other hand, Kristiansen’s long-lasting connections among north-west Pontic steppe cultures and Globular Amphorae and Trypillian cultures, did not fit well with a close community expanding rapidly – although recent genetic data on Trypillia and Globular Amphorae might be compelling him to improve his migration theory.

So, if data turns out to be not as I expect now, I will reflect that in future versions of the paper. I have no problem saying I am wrong. I have been wrong many times before, and something I am certain is that I am wrong now in many details, and I am going to be in the future.

If, for example, R1b-L23(xZ2105) is demonstrated to come from Hungary and not the steppe (as supported by Balanovsky) or R1a-M417 samples are proved to have expanded with West Yamna settlers (as recently proposed by Anthony, see below the Balto-Slavic question), I would support the same model from a linguistic point of view, but modified to reflect these facts. Or if a direct migration link is found in Archaeology from Yamna to Corded Ware, and from Corded Ware to Bell Beaker (as proposed in the 2015 papers), I will revise that too (again, see the image below). Or, if – as Lazaridis et al. (2017) paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans suggested – the Anatolian hypothesis (that is, one of the multiple ones proposed) turns out to be somehow right, I will support it.

My map of Late Proto-Indo-European expansion (A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, 2006), following Gimbutas and Mallory.

Haplogroups are the least important aspect of the whole model, they are just another data that has to be taken into account for a throrough explanation of migrations. It has become essential today because of the apparent lack of vision on the part of geneticists, who failed to use them to adjust their findings of admixture with findings of haplogroup expansions, favouring thus a marginal theory of long-lasting steppe expansion instead of the mainstream anthropological models.

Since many of these alternative scenarios seem less and less likely with each new paper, it is probably more efficient to talk about which developments are most likely to challenge my model.

Main points

My main predictions – based mostly on language guesstimates, archaeological cultures, and anthropological models of migration -, even with the scarce genomic data we had, have been proven right until know with new samples from Mathieson et al. (2017) and Olalde et al. (2017), among other papers of this past year. These were my original assumptions:

(1) A Middle Proto-Indo-European expansion defined by the appearance of steppe ancestry + reduction in haplogroup diversity and expansion of (mainly) R1b-M269 and R1b-L23 lineages;

(2) A Late Proto-Indo-European expansion defined by steppe ancestry + reduction in haplogroup diversity and expansion of (mainly) R1b-L23 subclades; and

(3) A North-West Indo-European expansion defined by steppe ancestry + reduction in haplogroup diversity and expansion of (mainly) R1b-L51 subclades.

The expansion of Corded Ware peoples, associated with steppe ancestry + reduction in haplogroup diversity and expansion of (mainly) R1a-Z645 subclades, represents thus a different migration, which is compatible with the different nature of the Corded Ware culture, unrelated to Yamna and without migration waves from one to the other (although there were certainly contacts in neighbouring regions).

As you can see, neither of the 3+1 expansion models imply that no other haplogroup can be found in the culture or regions involved (others have in fact been found, and still the models remain valid): these migrations imply a reduction of haplogroup diversity, and the expansion of certain subclades as is common in population expansions throughout history. While we all accept this general idea, some people have difficulties accepting just those cases not compatible with their dreams of autochthonous continuity.

Nevertheless, there are still voids in genetic investigation.

Controversial aspects

In my humble opinion, these are potential conflict periods and the most likely areas of change for the future of the theory:

1. When and how did R1b-M269 lineages become “chiefs” in the steppe?

Based on scarce data from Khvalynsk, it seems that during the Neolithic there were many haplogroups in the North Pontic and North Caspian steppes. A reduction to R1b-M269 subclades must have happened either just before or (as I support) during (the migrations that caused) the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion among Sredni Stog, probably coinciding also with the expansion (or one of the expansions) of CHG ancestry (and thus the appearance of ‘Steppe component’ in the steppe). My theory was based initially on Anthony’s account and TMRCA of haplogroups of modern populations (both ca. 4200-4000 BC), but recent samples of the Balkans (R1b-M269 and steppe ancestry) seem to trace the population expansion some centuries back.

If my assessment is correct, then modern populations of haplogroup R1b-M269* and R1b-L23* in the Balkans probably reflect that ancient expansion, and samples related to Proto-Anatolian cultures in the Balkans will most likely be of R1b-M269 subclades and R1b-L23*. After admixture in the Balkans, posterior migrations of Anatolian languages into Anatolia might be associated with a different admixture component and haplogroups, we don’t have enough data yet.

If the haplogroup reduction and expansion in Khvalynsk happened later than the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, then we might find the expansion of Pre- or Proto-Anatolian associated with many different haplogroups, such as R1b (xM269), R1a, I, J, or G2, and more or less associated with steppe ancestry in the Balkans.

Another reason for finding such variety of haplogroups in ancient samples from the Balkans would be that this Khvalynsk group of “chiefs” traversed – and mixed with – the Sredni Stog population. Nevertheless, if we suppose homogeneity in haplogroups in Khvalynsk during the expansion, a high proportion of different haplogroups explained by admixture with the local population of Sredni Stog would challenge the whole “chief domination” explanation by Anthony, and we would have to return to the “different culture” theory by Rassamakin and potentially an older migration from Khvalynsk. In any case, both researchers show clear links of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka phenomenon to Khvalynsk, and a differentiation with the surrounding Sredni Stog culture.

A less likely model would support the identification of the whole Eneolithic Pontic-Caspian steppe as a loose Indo-Hittite-speaking community, which would be in my opinion too big a territory and too loose a cultural bond to justify such a long-lasting close linguistic connection. This will probably be the refuge of certain people looking desperately for R1a-IE connections. However, the nature of the western steppe will remain distinct from Late Proto-Indo-European, which must have developed in the Yamna culture, so autochthonous continuity is not on the table anymore, in any case…

Coexistence of the Varna-Gumelniţa culture and the Suvorovo phase of the sceptre-bearer communities. 1 — Fălciu; 2 — Fundeni-Lungoţi; 3 — Novoselskaja; 4 — Suvorovo; 5 — Casimcea; 6 — Kjulevča; 7 — Reka Devnja; 8 — Drama; 9 — Gonova mogila; 10 — Reževo; 11 — geographically separate Decea variant of the sceptre bearer group (after Govedarica, Manzura 2011: Abb. 5, adapted).

2. How did R1a-M417 (and especially R1a-Z645) haplogroups came to dominate over the Corded Ware cultures?

If I am right (again, based on TMRCA of modern populations), then it is precisely at the time of the potential expansion of Proto-Corded Ware from the Dnieper-Dniester forest, forest-steppe, and steppe regions, ca 3300-3000. Furholt’s recent radiocarbon analysis and suggestions of a Lesser Poland origin of the third or A-horizon, on which disparate archaeologists such as Anthony or Klejn rely now, seem to suggest also that Corded Ware was a cultural complex rather than a compact culture reflecting a migration of peoples – similar thus to the Bell Beaker complex.

This cultural complex interpretation of Corded Ware contrasts with the quite homogeneous late samples we have, suggesting clear migration waves in northern Europe, at least at some point in time, so Genomics will be a great tool to ascertain when and from where approximately did Corded Ware peoples expand. Right now, it seems that Eneolithic Ukraine populations are the closest to its origin, so the traditional interpretation of its regional origin by Kristiansen or Anthony remains valid.

3. How was Indo-Iranian adopted by Corded Ware invaders?

This is rather an anthropological question. We need reasonable models of founder effect/cultural diffusion necessary for that to happen – similar to the ones necessary to explain the arrival of N1c subclades into north-east Europe, or the arrival of R1b subclades in Basque/Iberian-speaking regions in south-west Europe. My description of potential events in the eastern steppe – based partially on Anthony – is merely a short sketch. Genomic data is unlikely to offer more than it does today (replacement of haplogroups, and gradually of some steppe component, by late Corded Ware groups in the steppe), but let’s see what new samples can contribute.

As for what some Indians – and other people willing to confront them – are looking for, regarding R1a-M417 and/or Indo-European origins in India, I don’t see the point, we already know a) that the origin of the expansion is in the steppe and b) that Hindu nationalist biggots will not accept results from research that oppose their views. I don’t expect huge surprises there, just more fruitless discussions (fomented by those who live from trolling or conspiracies)…

4. Yamna settlers from Hungary

Anthony’s new theory – and the nature of Balto-Slavic – hinges on the presence of R1a-M417 subclades (associated with later Corded Ware samples) in Yamna settlers of Hungary, potentially originally from the North Pontic area, where the oldest sample has been found.

My ‘modified’ version of Anthony’s new model (the only I deem just remotely factible) includes the expansion of a Proto-Corded Ware from Lesser Poland, but (given the overwhelming R1b found in East Bell Beaker), with R1a-M417 being associated with the region. How to explain this language change with objective data? Well, we have Bell Beaker expanding to these areas at a later time, so we would need to find R1b-L23 settlers in Lesser Poland, and then a resurge of R1a-M417 haplogroup. If not, resorting yet again to cultural diffusion Yamna “patrons” to Corded Ware “clients” of Lesser Poland would bring us to square one, now with the ‘steppe ancestry’ controversy included…

Since some Eastern Europeans are (for no obvious reason whatsoever) putting their hopes on that IE-R1a-CWC association, let’s hope some samples of R1a-M417 in Yamna or Hungary give them a break, so that they can begin accepting something closer to mainstream anthropological models. We could then work from there a Yamna-> Bell Beaker / North-West Indo-European association truce, and from there keep accepting that no single haplogroup from Yamna settlers is linked with modern languages, cultures or ethnic groups.

localization of Central-European funerary monuments with elements of the Pit Grave culture (after Bátora 2006);

5. How and when was Balto-Slavic associated with haplogroup R1a?

If we accept the Southern or Graeco-Aryan nature of Balto-Slavic with influence from an absorbed North-West Indo-European dialect, “Temematic” (as Kortlandt does), then Indo-Slavonic adopted in the steppe from Potapovka by Sintashta and Poltavka populations divided ca. 2000 BC into Indo-Iranian (migrating to the east with Andronovo), and Balto-Slavic (migrating westward with the Srubna culture). History from there is not straightforward, and it should follow Srubna, Thraco-Cimmerian, or other late expansions from cultures of the steppe.

On the other hand, if it is a Northern dialect related closely to Germanic and Italo-Celtic (in a North-West Indo-European group), then its origin has to be found in the initial expansion of East Bell Beakers, and its development into either the Únětice culture (of Balkan and thus potentially “Southern IE” influence), or the Mierzanowice-Nitra culture (of Corded Ware and thus potentially Uralic influence), or maybe from both, given the intermediate substrate found in Germanic and Balto-Slavic.

It is my opinion that the association of Balto-Slavic with haplogroup R1a is quite early after the East Bell Beaker expansion, probably initially with the subclade typically associated with West Slavic, R1a-M458. I have not much data to support this (apart from the most common linguistic model), just modern haplogroup distribution maps and common TMRCA, and highly hypothetical archaeological-anthropological models. Genetics will hopefully bring more data.

Let’s see also what information on ancient haplogroups we can obtain from the Tollense valley (already showing a close cluster with modern West Slavic populations) and steppe regions.

6. How did Germanic, Celtic, and Italic expand?

Germanic is probably the most interesting one. Following the expansion of R1b-L51 subclades (especially R1b-U106) and steppe ancestry (a confounding factor, with the previous expansion of R1a-Z284 subclades) in Scandinavia is going to be fascinating. Anthropological models already point to a linguistic and archaeological expansion of Pre-Germanic with Bell Beaker peoples.

The expansion of Celtic seems to be associated with chiefdoms, untraceable today in terms of haplogroups, and it seems thus different from previous expansions. New studies might tell how that happened, if it was actually in successive ways, as proposed, or maybe we don’t have enough data yet to reach conclusions.

We don’t know either how Italic expanded into the Italian Peninsula, or whether Latin expanded with peoples from Italy, if at all, or it was mostly a cultural diffusion event, as it seems.

Regarding Etruscan, while I think it is a controversy initiated based on fantastic accounts, and ignited with few finds of Middle Eastern ancestry (that seem logical from the point of view of regional contacts), it will be important for Italian linguists and archaeologists, also to accept the most likely scenario.

As for Palaeo-Hispanic languages, while steppe ancestry is found quite reduced in R1b-L51 subclades (after so many different expansions and admixture events since the departure from the steppe), their distribution from the Chalcolithic onwards and the resurgence of native haplogroups may serve to ascertain which Pre-Roman tribes were associated with the oldest regions where these subclades dominated. For that aim, a closer look at the developments in Aquitania and other pre-Roman Vasconic- and Iberian-speaking regions may shed some light on how founder effects might develop to leave the native language intact (in a case similar to the adoption of Indo-Iranian by post-Corded Ware Sinthastha and Potapovka in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe).

NOTE: Although mostly unrelated, linguistic questions may also be somehow altered with a change of migration models. For example, our current Corded Ware Substrate Hypothesis – strongly contested by Kortlandt and others – implies that Uralic was potentially the language spoken by Eneolithic Ukraine / Proto-Corded Ware peoples, therefore early Uralic languages were spoken by Corded Ware peoples, as a substrate for Germanic and Balto-Slavic, and Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian. If an Indo-Hittite branch different from Late PIE is accepted for Eneolithic Ukraine (thus suggesting a millennia-long cultural-historical community in the steppe), then the model still stands (e.g. Ger. and BSl. *-mos/-mus, as stated by Kortlandt, would correspond to the oldest morphological IE layer). As you can read in the different versions of our model, the different possibilities for the common substrate are stated, and the most likely one selected. But the most likely a priori option sometimes turns out to be wrong…

NOTE 2: You can comment whatever you want here, but I opened a specific thread in our forum if you want serious comments on the model to stuck and be further discussed.

Featured images: from the book Interactions, changes and meanings. Essays in honour of Igor Manzura on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Țerna S., Govedarica B. (eds.). 2016. Kishinev: Stratum Plus.

See also: