Differing modes of animal exploitation in North Pontic Eneolithic and Bronze Age Societies


Open access Differing modes of animal exploitation in North-Pontic Eneolithic and Bronze Age Societies, by Mileto, Kaiser, Rassamakin, Whelton & Evershed, STAR (2018). You can download the PDF.

Abstract (emphasis mine)

This paper presents new results of an interdisciplinary investigation of the diet and subsistence strategies of populations living in the North-Pontic region during the Eneolithic and the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3800 BC to the 2500 BC). New organic residue analyses of >200 sherds from five Eneolithic sites and two Early Bronze Age settlements are presented. The molecular and stable isotope results are discussed in relation to zooarchaeological evidence. Overall, the findings suggest that each community relied on either a hunting- or a husbandry-based subsistence strategy dependent upon the ecosystem in which they settled; horses and wild animals dominated subsistence in the forest-steppe communities in contrast to ruminant husbandry in the steppe.

Interesting excerpts:

During the last two years, new palaeogenetic evidence has been uncovered indicating migrations from the steppe to Central Europe involving a substantial number of people (Haak et al. 2015; Allentoft et al. 2015). This reinvigorated the controversial debate surrounding the homeland of Proto-Indo-European language. Several scholars have interpreted the new palaeogenetic data as supporting the hypothesis that the original speakers of PIE lived the western part of the Eurasian steppe (Kristiansen 2014 for a critical approach cf. Heyd 2016; Kaiser 2017).

The introduction of specialised animal husbandry and the emergence of mobile pastoralism, often assumed to be closely connected with that introduction, still thought to constitute one of the early and highly influential innovations that took part in the Eurasian steppe zone (Merpert 1974). Although there has been a tendency to consider the Eurasian steppe belt as a uniform ecosystem, it is indeed very diverse, stretching from Moldova and Ukraine in the west, to Mongolia in the east. The Ural Mountains can be considered as a natural border that divides this vast area into two very different ecosystems: the western Pontic region and the eastern Eurasia, each characterized by diverse soils, climatic zones, vegetation and faunal composition. The forest-steppe forms a transitional vegetation zone (ecotone according to Walter and Breckle 1977) between the steppe in the south and the forest in the north. This holds true for the region north of the Black Sea. Climatic features, vegetation and faunal composition change depending on the proximity to the Dnieper River, which is the main river that bisects the region, from north-west to south-east, and to the Black Sea, which is the southern border of the region.

The Dereivka and Molyukhov Bugor sites are located in the forest-steppe area of the modern Cherkassy Region. The Dereivka settlement was situated on a promontory of the River Omelnik, a tributary of the Dnieper River. It is the best-investigated North-Pontic settlement of the Eneolithic (Telegin 1986); nevertheless, many questions remain concerning the chronology, subsistence economy and the status of horse domestication, amongst the community who inhabited this settlement (Levine 1990; Rassamakin 1999; Mileto et al. 2017). The Molyukhov Bugor site was part of Dereivka culture (Rassamakin 1999) and was located on the Dnieper River, near the village of Novoselitsa, Chigirin District (Kotova 2003). Both of these forest-steppe sites were highly influenced by the neighbouring communities of the Tripolye culture, as suggested by several imported materials (Rassamakin 1999).

(…) the economic strategies of the communities lived in the steppe were similar and based on extensive pastoralism of ruminants and exploitation of secondary products confirming that from the Mid-Eneolithic onward (Mikhailovka I site, discussed in the previous section) the steppe people possessed a sophisticated knowledge of animal domestication. Furthermore, the lipid residue findings did not reveal significant changes in the type of animal products recovered from pots. The main transformation relates the faunal records that revealed an increasing percentage of cattle bones in the later sites (Figure 3), which might suggest a transition from a highly mobile pastoral economy to a more sedentary one, as cattle are usually more exploited by settled communities (Kuzmina 2003). However, this contradicts suggestions of an increasing nomadic pastoralist economy from the 3rd millennium BC onward (Anthony 2007). Since, the results presented herein cannot provide a definitive answer to the latter question, resolution will have to await future investigations.

Relative proportions (NISP%) of the different classes of animals inferred from faunal records in Dereivka (Telegin 1986); Molyukhov-Bugor, (Bibikova 1963; Zhuravlev and Markova 2000; Zhuravlev 2008), ; MikhailovkaI, II and III (Bibikova and Shevchenko 1962) and Generalka (Kaiser 2010; Tuboltsev 2006).


  1. There was a considerable variation of animal exploitation in the forest-steppe sites compared to the steppe sites, confirming the results of previous researches (Outram et al. 2012 ; Lillie, Budd, and Potekhina 2011).
  2. Despite the complications (i.e. peculiar soil and mixed archaeological layers), the zooarchaeological analyses are largely consistent with the lipid residue findings.
  3. The lipid residues revealed that ruminant dairy products were exploited by the communities of the steppe from the Mid-Eneolithic period (MikhailovkaI site). This suggests that these communities were pastoralists possessing a sophisticated knowledge of animal domestication. According to the zooarchaeological record for this site, animal husbandry became the primary subsistence strategy in the 4th millennium BC. At first, the livestock consisted mainly of sheep and goats, with a shift to cattle only detected with appearance of the Yamnaya culture (3100 BC onwards).
  4. The forest-steppe appears to have been populated by hunters-fishers as the two investigated sites (Molyukhov-Bugor and Dereivka) displayed a predominance of wild animals, fish and horse remains (Rassamakin 1999; Lillie, Budd, and Potekhina 2011).
  5. The Molyukhov-Bugor site revealed a higher percentage of cattle bones and lipid residues of ruminant origin, suggesting that dietary habits were more varied compared to Dereivka, further suggesting that specialised substance practices can exist between sites even within the same, or similar, region. The latter dietary difference can be explained by a possible greater influence of the Tripolye culture to the closer Molyukhov-Bugor community, a suggestion also supported by the greater number of Tripolye imports discovered in Molyukhov-Bugor in comparison to Dereivka.
  6. Significant exploitation of horses was confirmed in the region. The lipid residues revealed that the two Mid-Eneolithic forest-steppe communities exploited horses extensively. The steppe communities also exploited horses but to a much lesser degree.
  7. Finally, a curious enrichment in δ13C16:0 values toward heavier carbon isotope values (increasing C4 plants?) was detected, especially associated with the residues with a ruminant dairy fat origin. The latter might be related to a seasonal effect and/or to greater summer aridity (Evershed et al. 2008) and/or seasonal pastoralism (Rassamakin 1999).

In a recent conversation, I realized that I didn’t know of a model dividing potential communities in the Eneolithic North Pontic area. Rassamakin, as I already said, is one researcher to follow for steppe-related cultures and populations, especially from Ukraine (and the Dnieper-Dniester region), and thus for the potential origin of Corded Ware migrants.


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.


North Pontic steppe Eneolithic cultures, and an alternative Indo-Slavonic model

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:

  1. 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 .
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations in eastern Europe ca. 4000-3100 BC

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:

  • Graeco-Aryan is a Late PIE dialect, and Late PIE guesstimates are more recent than that.
  • 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…

Migration Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker as claimed by articles published in Nature (2015). From materials of the UAB.

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.

So, we are speculating here for the sake of an unnecessary, naïve compromise…Just hoping to find some common ground to move on, now that the picture is clearer for everyone.

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

See also:

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:

Eneolithic Ukraine cultures of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper


As I said before, Yuri Rassamakin is one archaeologist to follow closely for those interested in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Ukraine (ca. 5000-3300 BC), including Sredni Stog, and their potential connection with the Corded Ware culture, as well as the later expansion of Yamna into the region (and Yamna settlers into south-eastern Europe).

His recent studies include important sites (for Archaeology and recently also for Genomics) such us Dereivka and Alexandria, part of the North Pontic steppe and southern steppe-forest zone, on the Left Bank of the Dnieper river. According to him, many of these sites seem to form part of a common and distinct cultural group.

1) Ohren and Alexandria Burial Grounds of Chalcolithic Period: Problems of Dating and Cultural Inheritance (in Ukrainian), Археологія (2017, Nº 4)

English abstract (sic):

The author discusses the issues of chronology of the known burial grounds. In this article, first of all, the location of a series of burials at Ihren 8 cemetery is revised and the earlier proposed point of view of the author himself is refined. An important moment for that was a revision of a paired bi-ritual burial 7-8 from the excavations in 1932 with the Trypillian painted cup of the second half of the Trypillia B/2. The author presents the arguments for the assumption that the two burials were made not at the same time. As a whole, singled out are the Early Chalcolithic burials with the peculiar for them position on a back with bended knees, accompanied by flint products, first of all tools made on long blades. The second later group is represented by two supine burials which date is determined by a Trypillian cup. Concerning Oleksandriia burial ground, the author confirms his earlier expressed position on the Early Chalcolithic age of the burials with long flint blades, presenting additional arguments, one of which is a publication of a new radiocarbon date for one of the burials. Based on the author’s terminology, graves of the both burial grounds are considered within the borders of the so called Skelianska culture existence, while in Ihren burial ground several burials could be made in the period of so called «hiatus» when there were the Stohivska group sites in the Dnipro River region.

Карта розповсюдження ґрунтових могильників: 1 — Ігрень 8; 2 — О. Виноградний; 3 — Дереївка ІІ; 4 — Молюхів Бугор; 5 — Госпітальний Холм; 6 — Олександрія

2) The Burial of the Early Eneolithic in Luhansk Region (in Ukrainian), by Y. Rassamakin and E. Chernih, Археологія (2017 Nº 2):

English abstract (sic):

A new burial complex is publishing by authors. This burial complex finds analogies among the Early Eneolithic burials of the Siversky Donets basin according to the rite and inventory (long flint blade). In addition, a set of specific flint products (long blades, triangular «spear heads» and flat adzes) finds analogies at the Aleksandriia settlement, where Skelia-type ceramics are represented. Therefore, there is a reason to combine in the same cultural and chronological context the relevant materials of the Aleksandriia settlement and the Early Eneolithic burials, and consider their as a part of the phenomenon that one of the authors conventionally calls Skelia culture.

Карта розповсюдження поховань доби раннього енеоліту в басейні Сіверського Дінця та прилеглих територій: 1 — Олександрія (могильник); 2 — Яма (Сіверськ), могильник; 3 — Ольховатка; 4 — Орловське; 5 — Олександрівськ (могильник); 6 — Ворошиловград; 7 — Луганськ 2010; 8 — Ребриківка ІІ ІІ (РФ); 9 — Донецьк (номери на карті у відповідності до табл. 1)

It remains to bee seen how this new data is interpreted with more complex anthropological models, of potential cultural-historical groups that might have shaped posterior migrations.


Differences in ADMIXTURE between Khvalynsk/Yamna and Sredni Stog/Corded Ware


Looking for differences among steppe cultures in Genomics is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

It means, after all, looking for differences among closely related cultures, such as between South-Western and North-Western Anatolian Neolithic cultures, or among Old European cultures (such as Vinča or Cucuteni–Trypillia), or between Iberian cultures after the arrival of steppe-related populations.

These differences between closely related regions, in all these cases and especially among steppe cultures, even when they are supported by Archaeology and anthropological models of migration (and compatible with linguistic models), are expected to be minimal.

Fortunately, we have phylogeography, which helps us point in the right direction when assessing potential migrations using genomic data.

User Tomenable recently pointed out a curious finding on Anthrogenica, from data available in Mathieson et al (2017): in ADMIXTURE results with K=12, a different ancestral component (in light green in the paper, see below) is traceable from the North Caspian steppe since the Neolithic. This is also partially distinguishable on K=10 and K=11, although not so clearly differentiating among later cultures.

NOTE: Read more on the controversy regarding the ideal number of ancestral populations, the absurd use of ADMIXTURE to solve language questions, and the meaning of cross-validation (CV) values

Unsupervised ADMIXTURE plot from k=10 to 12, on a dataset consisting of 1099 present-day individuals and 476 ancient individuals. We show newly reported ancient individuals and some previously published individuals for comparison.

Explanations for this finding might include, as the user points out, a greater contribution of CHG ancestry in the eastern steppe cultures (Khvalynsk/Yamna) compared to the North Pontic steppe (Sredni Stog/Corded Ware), which is probably one of the main genomic differences among both cultures, as I pointed out in the Indo-European demic diffusion model (see accounts on the origins of Khvalynsk and Sredni Stog populations and on contacts between Yamna and the Caucasus, and see below also my sketch of Eurasian genomic history).

Interesting is also the appearance of similar ancestral components later in Vučedol – which probably received admixture from Yamna settlers (see admixture components in West Yamna samples and in the Yamna settler from Bulgaria) – , and later still in the Balkans.

On the other hand, previous ancestral components in outliers from the Balkans seem to be more similar to Sredni Stog samples, giving still more strength to the hypothesis that this common (“steppe”) component expanded westward within the Pontic-Caspian steppe with the spread of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

Problems with this interpretation include:

1) The scarce samples available, the different cultures included, and the CV values of the K populations selected in ADMIXTURE.

2) The lack of data for comparison with Bell Beaker peoples (from Olalde et al. 2017).

3) The sample classified as Latvia_LN/CWC has this component. I have already said before that, given the differences with all other Corded Ware samples, this quite early sample might be an outlier, with Khvalynsk/Yamna population connected directly to the ancestors of this individual, possibly through exogamy (as it is clear from my sketch below). Whether or not this is an outlier among CWC populations in the Baltic, only future samples can tell.

4) Three later individuals from Corded Ware in Germany have the component, in a minimal amount. I would bet – judging by their position in the graphic – that this might be explained through the Esperstedt family. These individuals might have in turn got the contribution directly from the oldest member, who shows what seems (in PCA) like a recent admixture from contemporary steppe cultures (such as the Catacomb culture).

NOTE: See my graphics with interesting members of the Espersted family marked: ADMIXTURE and PCA (outlier).

Tentative sketch modelling the genetic history of Europe and West Eurasia from ancient populations up to the Neolithic, according to results in recent genetic papers and archaeological models of known migrations.

Again, needle in a haystack… And confirmation bias by me, indeed.

But interesting nonetheless.

EDIT (4 JAN 2017): A reader points out that the interpretation of Unsupervised ADMIXTURE should work backwards (i.e. different contributions into different modern populations), and not based solely on ancestral populations, which seems probably right. So again, confirmation bias (and potentially wrong direction fallacy) by me…


Archaeological origins of Early Proto-Indo-European in the Baltic during the Mesolithic


New article by Leonid Zaliznyak, Mesolithic origins of the first Indo-European cultures in Europe according to the archaeological data (also available in Russian).

The article refers to the common Meso-Neolithic basis of Ukrainian ancient Indo-European cultures (Mariupol, Serednii Stih) and Central Europe (Funnel Beaker and Globular Amphorae cultures) of the fourth millennium BC. Archaeological materials show that the common cultural and genetic substrate of the earliest Indo-Europeans in Europe was forming from the sixth to the fourth millennia BC due to migration of the Western Baltic Mesolithic population to the east through Poland and Polissia to the Dnipro River middle region and further to the Siverskyi Donets River.

I already spoke about the view of the Russian school, and its interpretation of the origin of Proto-Indo-European (and potentially Indo-Uralic) in North-Eastern European Mesolithic. While the genetic interpretation seemed quite off in Klejn’s last article discussing Genetics, Zaliznyak improves the archaeological model to some extent.

This model is partially compatible with the expansion of R1b lineages and the Villabruna cluster with migrating peoples of post-Swiderian cultures into eastern Europe. However – as seems to be often the case with linguists of post-Soviet countries (maybe because of the greater influence of Nostraticists there) – proto-language dates are pushed further back in time than is warranted by usual guesstimates, and thus the model is way off as it approaches the Neolithic, and especially beyond that time.

As you can see, a Post-Swiderian expansion of (a language ancestral to) Proto-Indo-European (e.g. Pre-Indo-Uralic) is compatible with the Indo-European demic diffusion model. On the other hand, it is very difficult to assert anything about that period in terms of language change or evolution, because of scarce and obscured archaeological finds, and because of different admixture waves found in east Europe (in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, forest-steppe, and Forest Zone) during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic – and even during the Mesolithic-Neolithic – transition.

It is therefore impossible today to ascertain if it was a community of western (R1b) or eastern (R1a) Eurasian lineages who spread Pre-Indo-Uralic; or which combination of WHG:ANE (if any) might have yielded EHG ancestry (and thus how a Pre-Indo-Uralic language might have developed from the influence of west and east Eurasian communities); or how later waves of ANE and CHG ancestry found in steppe populations (during the Neolithic) might have brought cultural change to the communities, or even if they accompanied the more recent R1a-M417 subclades (or haplogroup Q) found in the region…

Spreading of Post-Swiderian and Post-Krasnosillian sites in Mesolithic of Eastern Europe in the 8th millennia BC. See the article for an explanation of all details.

This Russian (or post-Soviet, or East European) school of thought, which is mainly based on their traditional archaeological models, tries to use new genetic data to obtain plausible archaeological-linguistic models of Indo-European expansion. Nevertheless, this improved model is likely to cause some quick dismissals and be made fun of by certain amateur geneticists.

It is curious, though, that some people are quick to judge archaeologists trying to fit new data to their traditional models – which seems like the right way of obtaining sound models for prehistoric human migrations -, but are on the other hand extremely confident about any new model based solely on genetics and their personal desires: very strong confirmation (and rejection) bias at play, indeed.

For example, how could Sredni Stog be Late Indo-European-speaking, if the best candidate for a Late Indo-European-speaking community (the Yamna culture) is almost fully unrelated? For some, simply because of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’.

In spite of many naysayers – amateur geneticists who hate archaeological models not fitting their dreams – , it seems that otherwise extremely disparate Indo-European schools of thought (like the German, American, and Spanish schools, the British, and even Leiden, the French, and to some extent the East European school) are converging in Linguistics, while in Archaeology Heyd’s model of Yamna migration (independent of the Corded Ware culture) is being accepted as mainstream with help from aDNA analysis – now also partially by Anthony, at last.

Only researchers of a single workgroup (very popular today, it seems) – tend to diverge from the general unifying trend, following mostly their interpretations of new genetic papers in a funny vicious circle, that is creating a growing bubble of misinformation with no substantive basis (apart from the controversial existence of a Kurgan people).

Let’s see how this ends up, if new genetic algorithms can truly revolutionise Archaeology and Linguistics, or if academic models will keep proving right over misinterpretations from recent genetic papers…

Featured image, from the article, “The settling of the early Indo-Europeans in the period from the 4th to the 2nd millennia BC”.


The concept of “Outlier” in Human Ancestry (II): Early Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, West Yamna, Iron Age Bulgaria, Potapovka, Andronovo…


I already wrote about the concept of outlier in Human Ancestry, so I am not going to repeat myself. This is just an update of “outliers” in recent studies, and their potential origins (here I will repeat some of the examples):

Early Khvalynsk: the three samples from the Samara region have quite different positions in PCA, from nearest to EHG (of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a) to nearest to ANE ancestry (of Y-DNA haplogroup Q). This could represent the initial consequences of the second wave of ANE ancestry – as found later in Yamna samples from a neighbouring region -, possibly brought then by Eurasian migrants related to haplogroup Q.
With only 3 samples, this is obviously just a tentative explanation of the finds. The samples can only be reasonably said to show an unstable time for the region in terms of admixture (i.e. probably migration), judging by the data on PCA.

Ukraine Eneolithic samples offer a curious example of how the concept of outlier can change radically: from the third version (May 30th) of the preprint paper of Mathieson et al. (2017), when the Ukraine Eneolithic sample with steppe ancestry (and clustering with central European samples) was the ‘outlier’, to the fourth version (September 19th), when two samples with steppe ancestry clustering close to Corded Ware samples were now the ‘normal’ ones (i.e. those representing Ukraine Eneolithic population), and the outlier was the one clustering closely with Ukraine Mesolithic samples…

PCA and Admixture for south-eastern Europe. Image modified from Mathieson et al. (2017) – Third revision (May 30th), used in the 2nd edition of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

This is one of the funny consequences of the wrong interpretation of the ‘yamnaya component’, that made geneticists believe at first that, out of two samples (!), the ‘outlier’ was the one with ‘yamnaya’ ancestry, because this component would have been brought by an eastern immigrant from early Khvalynsk…

This example offers yet another reason why precise anthropological context is necessary to offer the right interpretation of results. Within the Indo-European demic diffusion model – based mainly on Archaeology and Linguistics – , the sample with steppe ancestry was the most logical find in the region for a potential origin of the Corded Ware culture, and it was interpreted as such, well before the publication of the fourth version of Mathieson et al. (2017).

PCA of South-East European and other European samples. Image modified from Mathieson et al. (2017) – Fourth revision (September 19th), used in the 3rd edition of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

West Yamna (to insist on the same question, the ‘yamnaya’ component): we have only four western Yamna samples, two of them showing Anatolian Neolithic ancestry (one of them, from Ukraine, with a strong ‘southern’ drift). On the other hand, Corded Ware migrants do not show this. So we could infer that their migrations were not coetaneous: whereas peoples of Corded Ware culture expanded ca. 3300 BC to the north – in the natural corridor to the Baltic that has been proposed for this culture in Archaeology for decades (and that is well represented by Ukraine Eneolithic samples) -, peoples of Yamna culture expanded to the west, replacing the Ukraine Eneolithic population (i.e. probably those of ‘Proto-Corded Ware culture’), and eventually mixing with Balkan populations of Anatolian Neolithic ancestry.

Potapovka, Andronovo, and Srubna: while Potapovka clusters closely to the steppe, and Andronovo (like Sintashta) clusters closely to Corded Ware (i.e. Ukraine Neolithic / Central-East European), both have certain ‘outliers’ in PCA: the former has one individual clustering closely to Corded Ware, and the latter to the steppe. Both ‘outliers’ fit well with the interpretation of the recent mixture of Corded Ware peoples with steppe populations, and they offer a different image for the evolution of populations of Potapovka and Sintashta-Petrovka, potentially influencing their language. The position of Srubna samples, nearer to Sintashta and Andronovo (but occupying the same territory as the previous Potapovka) offers the image of a late westward conquest from Corded Ware-related populations.

Diachronic map of migrations ca. 2250-1750 BC

Iron Age Bulgaria: a sample of haplogroup R1a-z93, with more ‘yamnaya’ ancestry than any other previous sample from the Balkans. For some, it might mean continuity from an older time. However – as with the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt before it – it is more likely a recent migrant from the steppe. The most likely origin of this individual is therefore people from the steppe, i.e. either the Srubna culture or a related group. Its relatively close cluster in PCA to certain recent Slavic populations can be interpreted in light of the multiple back and forth migrations in the region: of steppe populations to the west (Srubna, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians,…), and of Slavic-speaking populations:

Diachronic map of Bronze Age migrations ca. 1750-1250 BC.

Well-defined outliers are, therefore, essential to understand a recent history of admixture. On the other hand, the very concept of “outlier” can be a dangerous tool – when the lack of enough samples makes their classification as as such unjustified -, leading to the wrong interpretations.


mtDNA haplogroup frequency analysis from Verteba Cave supports a strong cultural frontier between farmers and hunter-gatherers in the North Pontic steppe


New preprint paper at BioRxiv, led by a Japanese researcher, with analysis of mtDNA of Trypillians from Verteba Cave, Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from Verteba Cave, Ukraine: insights into the origins and expansions of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Cututeni-Tripolye Culture, by Wakabayashi et al. (2017).


Background: The Eneolithic (~5,500 yrBP) site of Verteba Cave in Western Ukraine contains the largest collection of human skeletal remains associated with the archaeological Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture. Their subsistence economy is based largely on agro-pastoralism and had some of the largest and most dense settlement sites during the Middle Neolithic in all of Europe. To help understand the evolutionary history of the Tripolye people, we performed mtDNA analyses on ancient human remains excavated from several chambers within the cave.

Results: Burials at Verteba Cave are largely commingled and secondary in nature. A total of 68 individual bone specimens were analyzed. Most of these specimens were found in association with well-defined Tripolye artifacts. We determined 28 mtDNA D-Loop (368 bp) sequences and defined 8 sequence types, belonging to haplogroups H, HV, W, K, and T. These results do not suggest continuity with local pre-Eneolithic peoples, but rather complete population replacement. We constructed maximum parsimonious networks from the data and generated population genetic statistics. Nucleotide diversity (π) is low among all sequence types and our network analysis indicates highly similar mtDNA sequence types for samples in chamber G3. Using different sample sizes due to the uncertainly in number of individuals (11, 28, or 15), we found Tajima’s D statistic to vary. When all sequence types are included (11 or 28), we do not find a trend for demographic expansion (negative but not significantly different from zero); however, when only samples from Site 7 (peak occupation) are included, we find a significantly negative value, indicative of demographic expansion.

Conclusions: Our results suggest individuals buried at Verteba Cave had overall low mtDNA diversity, most likely due to increased conflict among sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists to the East and North. Early Farmers tend to show demographic expansion. We find different signatures of demographic expansion for the Tripolye people that may be caused by existing population structure or the spatiotemporal nature of ancient data. Regardless, peoples of the Tripolye Culture are more closely related to early European farmers and lack genetic continuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or pre-Eneolithic groups in Ukraine.

Genetic finds keep supporting the long-lasting cultural and linguistic frontier that Anthony (2007) – among others – asserted existed in the North-West Pontic steppe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic, between western steppe cultures and farmers, while it disproves Kristiansen’s theories of Sredni Stog expansion in Kurgan waves with a mixture of GAC and Trypillia within the Corded Ware culture:

Previous ancient DNA studies showed that hunter-gatherers before 6,500 yrBP in Europe commonly had haplogroups U, U4, U5, and H, whereas hunter-gatherers after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had less frequency of haplogroup H than before. Haplogroups T and K appeared in hunter-gatherers only after 6,500 yrBP, indicating a degree of admixture in some places between farmers and hunter-gatherers. Farmers before and after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had haplogroups W, HV*, H, T, K, and these are also found in individuals buried at Verteba Cave. Therefore, our data point to a common ancestry with early European farmers. Our data also suggest population replacement. Mathieson et al. analyzed a number of Neolithic Ukrainian samples (petrous bone) from several sites in southern, northern, and western Ukraine, dating to ~8,500 – 6,000 yrBP, and found exclusively U (U4 and U5) mtDNA lineages. It should be noted that ‘Neolithic’ in this context does not mean the adoption of agriculture, but rather simply coinciding with a change in material culture. They also analyzed several Trypillian individuals from Verteba Cave (different samples from the those included in this study). Similar to our findings, they found a wider diversity of mtDNA lineages, including H, HV, and T2b. These data, combined with our results, appear to confirm almost complete population replacement by individuals associated with the Tripolye Culture during the Middle to Late Neolithic.

The findings also hint to potential contacts of Yamna with Usatovo as predicted by Anthony (2007), or alternatively (lacking precise dates) to contacts with Corded Ware migrants:

Trypillians were very much a distinct people who most likely displaced 1 local hunter-gatherers with little admixture. Haplogroup W was also observed in several specimens deriving from Site G3. Although we are unsure if all of these haplogroups come from a single or multiple individuals, this observation is interesting in that it is relatively rare and isolated among Neolithic samples. It has, however, been found in samples dating to the Bronze Age. In the study by Wilde et al. [35], they found haplogroup W present in two samples from the Early Bronze Age associated with the Yamnaya and Usatovo cultures. The Usatovo culture (~ 3500 – 2500 BC) was found in Romania, Moldova, and southern Ukraine. It was the conglomeration of Tripolye and North Pontic steppe cultures. Therefore, this individual could link the Trypillian peoples to the Usatovo peoples and perhaps to the greater Yamnaya steppe migrations during the Bronze Age that lead to the Corded Ware Culture.

On the other hand, an article written in terms of mtDNA haplogroup frequencies seems to offer too little proof of anything today. The lack of Y-DNA haplogroups and data on admixture makes their interpretations provisional, subject to change when these further data are published. Also, radiocarbon dating is only confident for individuals of one site (site 7), dated ca. 5,500 cal BP, while “other chambers in the cave are not as confidently dated”…

“Based on the 8 sequence types of the mtDNA D-loop, a maximum parsimonious phylogenetic network was constructed. Circles represent the sequence types, and the size of the circle is proportional to the number of samples. Numbers on the branches between the circles are nucleotide position numbers (+16,000) of the human mitochondrial genome sequence (rCRS). Information about the location (chamber within the cave) where the specimen was excavated is also provided. Areas 2 and 17 are part of Site 7, and these are defined as a separate chamber, although they are located in close proximity within Site 7. The other chambers, Site 20, G2, and G3, are independent and separate locations within the cave. ‘Undefined’ chamber describes an unknown location within the cave. Specimens from each chamber showed deviation for the sequence type distribution observed in the sample set. For example, specimens excavated from Site 7 had five unique sequence types, (I, II, III, IV, and VIII), while specimens excavated from chamber G 21 had mainly one sequence type (V)”. Made available by the authors under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

We had also seen signs of conflict between Trypillian and steppe cultures in a recent article, Violence at Verteba Cave, Ukraine: New Insights into the Late Neolithic Intergroup Conflict, by Madden et al. (2017):

Many researchers have pointed to the huge “megasites” and construction of fortifications as evidence of intergroup hostilities among the Late Neolithic Tripolye archaeological culture. However, to date, very few skeletal remains have been analyzed for the types of traumatic injury that serve as direct evidence for violent conflict. In this study, we examine trauma on human remains from the Tripolye site of Verteba Cave in western Ukraine. The remains of 36 individuals, including 25 crania, were buried in the gypsum cave as secondary interments. The frequency of cranial trauma is 30-44% among the 25 crania, six males, four females and one adult of indeterminate sex displayed cranial trauma. Of the 18 total fractures, 10 were significantly large and penetrating suggesting lethal force. Over half of the trauma is located on the posterior aspect of the crania, suggesting the victims were attacked from behind. Sixteen of the fractures observed were perimortem and two were antemortem. The distribution and characteristics of the fractures suggest that some of the Tripolye individuals buried at Verteba Cave were victims of a lethal surprise attack. Resources were limited due to population growth and migration, leading to conflict over resource access. It is hypothesized that during this time of change burial in this cave aided in development of identity and ownership of the local territory.


Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis

New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture

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

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures

Indo-European demic diffusion model, 3rd Ed. – Revised October 2017


I have just uploaded a new working draft of the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

In this new version I have added more information published recently, I have updated the maps – especially the one on Palaeolithic migrations -, I have added information on Sredni Stog and its potential role in developing the Corded Ware culture and most likely language, and I have corrected certain parts that have become obsolete, especially after the latest version (19 Sept. 2017) of Mathieson et al. (2017).

It can be read or downloaded at:

Included is my first sketch of the genetic history of Europe, as I interpret it in light of Genetic research (especially from outputs of qpGraph published to date), but also Archaeology (and, to some extent, Linguistics).

Tentative sketch modelling the genetic history of Europe and West Eurasia from ancient populations up to the Bronze Age, according to results in recent Genetic papers and archaeological models of known migrations.

I have also taken this opportunity to upload some drafts I had been preparing in September while working on the Third Edition, that I have sadly not been able to complete as I would have wanted to. The drafts are posted in the section Human Ancestry. I post them as they are, in the hope that they can help others.