Yamnaya replaced Europeans, but admixed heavily as they spread to Asia


Recent papers The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. Science (2019) and An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers, by Shinde et al. Cell (2019).

NOTE. For direct access to Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), visit this link courtesy of the first author and the Reich Lab.

I am currently not on holidays anymore, and the information in the paper is huge, with many complex issues raised by the new samples and analyses rather than solved, so I will stick to the Indo-European question, especially to some details that have changed since the publication of the preprint. For a summary of its previous findings, see the book series A Song of Sheep and Horses, in particular the sections from A Clash of Chiefs where I discuss languages and regions related to Central and South Asia.

I have updated the maps of the Preshistory Atlas, and included the most recently reported mtDNA and Y-DNA subclades. I will try to update the Eurasian PCA and related graphics, too.

NOTE. Many subclades from this paper have been reported by Kolgeh (download), Pribislav and Principe at Anthrogenica on this thread. I have checked some out for comparison, but even if it contradicted their analyses mine would be the wrong ones. I will upload my spreadsheets and link to them from this page whenever I find the time.

Ancestry clines (1) before and (2) after the advent of farming. Colour modified from the original to emphasize the CHG cline: notice the apparent relevance of forest-steppe groups in the formation of this CHG mating network from which Pre-Yamnaya peoples emerged.


I think the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) paper is well-balanced, and unexpectedly centered – as it should – on the spread of Yamnaya-related ancestry (now Western_Steppe_EMBA) as the marker of Proto-Indo-European migrations, which stretched ca. 3000 BC “from Hungary in the west to the Altai mountains in the east”, spreading later Indo-European dialects after admixing with local groups, from the Atlantic to South Asia.

I. Afanasievo

I.1. East or West PIE?

I expected Afanasievo to show (1) R1b-L23(xZ2103, xL51) and (2) R1b-L51 lineages, apart from (3) the known R1b-Z2103 ones, pointing thus to an ancestral PIE community before the typical Yamnaya bottlenecks, and with R1b-L51 supporting a connection with North-West Indo-European. The presence of some samples of hg. Q pointed in this direction, too.

However, Afanasievo samples show overwhelmingly R1b-Z2103 subclades (all except for those with low coverage), all apparently under R1b-Z2108 (formed ca. 3500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC), like most samples from East Yamnaya.

This necessarily shifts the split and spread of R1b-L23 lineages to Khvalynsk/early Repin-related expansions, in line with what TMRCA suggested, and what advances by Anthony (2019) and Khokhlov (2018) on future samples from the Reich Lab suggest.

Given the almost indistinguishable ancestry between Afanasievo and Early Yamnaya, there seems to be as of yet little potential information to support in population genomics that Pre-Tocharians were more closely related to North-West Indo-Europeans than to Graeco-Aryans, as it is proposed in linguistics based on the few shared traits between them, and the lack of innovations proper of the Graeco-Aryan community.

NOTE. A new issue of Wekʷos contains an abstract from a relevant paper by Blažek on vocabulary for ‘word’, including the common NWIE *wrdʰo-/wordʰo-, but also a new (for me, at least) Northern Indo-European one: *rēki-/*rēkoi̯-, shared by Slavic and Tocharian.

The fact that bottlenecks happened around the time of the late Repin expansion suggests that we might be able to see different clans based on the predominant lineages developing around the Don-Volga area in the 4th millennium BC. The finding of Pre-R1b-L51 in Lopatino (see below), and of a Catacomb sample of hg. R1b-Z2103(Z2105-) in the North Caucasus steppe near Novoaleksandrovskij also support a star-like phylogeny of R1b-L23 stemming from the Don-Volga area.

NOTE. Interestingly, a dismissal of a common trunk between Tocharian and North-West Indo-European would mean that shared similarities between such disparate groups could be traced back to a Common Late PIE trunk, and not to a shared (western) Repin community. For an example of such a ‘pure’ East-West dialectal division, see the diagram of Adams & Mallory (2007) at the end of the post. It would thus mean a fatal blow to Kortlandt’s Indo-Slavonic group among other hypothetical groupings (remade versions of the ancient Centum-Satem division), as well as to certain assumptions about laryngeal survival or tritectalism that usually accompany them. Still, I don’t think this is the case, so the question will remain a linguistic one, and maybe some similarities will be found with enough number of samples that differentiate Northern Indo-Europeans from the East Yamna/Catacomb-Poltavka-Balkan_EBA group.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Afanasievo samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.2. Expansion or resurgence of hg. Q1b?

Haplogroup Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) seems to be the main lineage that expanded with Afanasievo, or resurged in their territory. It’s difficult to tell, because the three available samples are family, and belong to a later period.

NOTE. I have finally put some order to the chaos of Q1a vs. Q1b subclades in my spreadsheet and in the maps. The change of ISOGG 2016 to 2017 has caused that many samples reported as of Q1 subclades from papers prepared during the 2017-2018 period, and which did not provide specific SNP calls, were impossible to define with certainty. By checking some of them I could determine the specific standard used.

In favour of the presence of this haplogroup in the Pre-Yamnaya community are:

  • The statement by Anthony (2019) that Q1a [hence maybe Q1b in the new ISOGG nomenclature] represented a significant minority among an R1b-rich community.
  • The sample found in a Sintastha WSHG outlier (see below), of hg. Q1b-Y6798, and the sample from Lola, of hg. Q1b-L717, are thus from other lineage(s) separated thousands of years from the Afanasievo subclade, but might be related to the Khvalynsk expansion, like R1b-V1636 and R1b-M269 are.

These are the data that suggest multiple resurgence events in Afanasievo, rather than expanding Q1b lineages with late Repin:

  • Overwhelming presence of R1b in early Yamnaya and Afanasievo samples; one Q1(xQ1b) sample reported in Khvalynsk.
  • The three Q1b samples appear only later, although wide CI for radiocarbon dates, different sites, and indistinguishable ancestry may preclude a proper interpretation of the only available family.
    • Nevertheless, ancestry seems unimportant in the case of Afanasievo, since the same ancestry is found up to the Iron Age in a community of varied haplogroups.
  • Another sample of hg. Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) is found in Aigyrzhal_BA (ca. 2120 BC), with Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry; however, this clade formed and expanded ca. 14000 BC.
  • The whole Altai – Baikal area seems to be a Q1b-L54 hotspot, although admittedly many subclades separated very early from each other, so they might be found throughout North Eurasia during the Neolithic.
  • One Afanasievo sample is reported as of hg. C in Shin (2017), and the same haplogroup is reported by Hollard (2014) for the only available sample of early Chemurchek to date, from Kulala ula, North Altai (ca. 2400 BC).
Y-chromosome haplogroups of late Afanasievo – early Chemurchek samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.3. Agricultural substrate

Evidence of continuous contacts of Central_Steppe_MLBA populations with BMAC from ca. 2100 BC on – visible in the appearance of Steppe ancestry among BMAC samples and BMAC ancestry among Steppe pastoralists – supports the close interaction between Indo-Iranian pastoralists and BMAC agriculturalists as the origin of the Asian agricultural substrate found in Proto-Indo-Iranian, hence likely related to the language of the Oxus Civilization.

Similar to the European agricultural substrate adopted by West Yamnaya settlers (both NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan speakers), Tocharian shows a few substrate terms in common with Indo-Iranian, which can be explained by contacts in different dialectal stages through phonetic reconstruction alone.

The recent Hermes et al. (2019) supports the early integration of pastoralism and millet cultivation in Central Asia (ca. 2700 BC or earlier), with the spread of agriculture to the north – through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor – being thus unrelated to the Indo-Iranian expansions, which might support independent loans.

However, compared to the huge number of parallel shared loans between NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan languages in the European substratum, Indo-Iranians seem to have been the first borrowers of vocabulary from Asian agriculturalists, while Proto-Tocharian shows just one certain related word, with phonetic similarities that warrant an adoption from late Indo-Iranian dialects.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Sintashta, Central Asia, and neighbouring groups in the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

The finding of hg. (pre-)R1b-PH155 in a BMAC sample from Dzharkutan (to the west of Xinjiang) together with hg. R1b in a sample from Central Mongolia previously reported by Shin (2017) support the widespread presence of this lineage to the east and west of Xinjiang, which means it might have become incorporated to Indo-Iranian migrants into the Xiaohe horizon, to the Afanasievo-Chemurchek-derived groups, or the later from the former. In other words, the Island Biogeography Theory with its explanation of founder effects might be, after all, applicable to the whole Xinjiang area, not only during the Chemurchek – Tianshan-Beilu – Xiaohe interaction.

Of course, there is no need for too complicated models of haplogroup resurgence events in Central and South Asia, seeing how the total amount of hg. R1a-L657 (today prevalent among Indo-Aryan speakers from South Asia) among ancient Western/Central_Steppe_MLBA-related samples amounts to a total of 0, and that many different lineages survived in the region. Similar cases of haplogroup resurgence and Y-DNA bottleneck events are also found in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, and in North-Eastern Europe. From the paper:

[It] could reflect stronger ecological or cultural barriers to the spread of people in South Asia than in Europe, allowing the previously established groups more time to adapt and mix with incoming groups. A second difference is the smaller proportion of Steppe pastoralist– related ancestry in South Asia compared with Europe, its later arrival by ~500 to 1000 years, and a lower (albeit still significant) male sex bias in the admixture (…).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from the Srubna-Andronovo and Andronovo-related horizon, Xiaohe, late BMAC, and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

II. R1b-Beakers replaced R1a-CWC peoples

II.1. R1a-M417-rich Corded Ware

Newly reported Corded Ware samples from Radovesice show hg. R1a-M417, at least some of them xZ645, ‘archaic’ lineages shared with the early Bergrheinfeld sample (ca. 2650 BC) and with the coeval Esperstedt family, hence supporting that it eventually became the typical Western Corded Ware lineage(s), probably dominating over the so-called A-horizon and the Single Grave culture in particular. On the other hand, R1a-Z645 was typical of bottlenecks among expanding Eastern Corded Ware groups.

Interestingly, it is supported once again that known bottlenecks under hg. R1a-M417 happened during the Corded Ware expansion, evidenced also by the remarkable high variability of male lineages among early Corded Ware samples. Similarly, these Corded Ware samples from Bohemia form part of the typical ‘Central European’ cluster in the PCA, which excludes once again not only the ‘official’ Espersted outlier I1540, but also the known outlier with Yamnaya ancestry.

NOTE. The fact that Esperstedt is closely related geographically and in terms of ancestry to later Únětice samples further complicates the assumption that Únětice is a mixture of Bell Beakers and Corded Ware, being rather an admixture of incoming Bell Beakers with post-Yamnaya vanguard settlers who admixed with Corded Ware (see more on the expansion of Yamnaya ancestry). In other words, Únětice is rather an admixture of Yamnaya+EEF with Yamnaya+(CWC+EEF).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from Catacomb, Poltavka, Balkan EBA, and Bell Beaker, as well as neighbouring groups. See full maps.

On Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561

If the bottlenecks are as straightforward as they appear, with a star-like phylogeny of R1a-M417 starting with the Pre-Corded Ware expansion, then what is happening with the Alexandria sample, so precisely radiocarbon dated to ca. 4045-3974 BC? The reported hg. R1a-M417 was fully compatible, while R1a-Z645 could be compatible with its date, but the few positive SNPs I got in my analysis point indeed to a potential subclade of R1a-Z94, and I trust more experienced hobbyists in this ‘art’ of ascertaining the SNPs of ancient samples, and they report hg. R1a-Z93 (Z95+, Y26+, Y2-).

Seeing how Y-DNA bottlenecks worked in Yamnaya-Afanasievo and in Corded Ware and related groups, and if this sample really is so deep within R1a-Z93 in a region that should be more strongly affected by the known Neolithic Y-chromosome bottlenecks and forest-steppe ecotone, someone from the lab responsible for this sample should check its date once again, before more people keep chasing their tails with an individual that (based on its derived SNPs’ TMRCA) might actually be dated to the Bronze Age, where it could make much more sense in terms of ancestry and position in the PCA.

EDIT (14 SEP 2019): … and with the fact that he is the first individual to show the genetic adaptation for lactase persistence (I3910-T), which is only found later among Bell Beakers, and much later in Sintashta and related Steppe_MLBA peoples (see comments below).

This is also evidenced by the other Ukraine_Eneolithic (likely a late Yamnaya) sample of hg. R1b-Z2103 from Dereivka (ca. 2800 BC) and who – despite being in a similar territory 1,000 years later – shows a wholly diluted Yamnaya ancestry under typically European HG ancestry, even more so than other late Sredni Stog samples from Dereivka of ca. 3600-3400 BC, suggesting a decrease in Steppe ancestry rather than an increase – which is supposedly what should be expected based on the ancestry from Alexandria…

Like the reported Chalcolithic individual of Hajji Firuz who showed an apparently incompatible subclade and Yamnaya ancestry at least some 1,000 years before it should, and turned out to be from the Iron Age (see below), this may be another case of wrong radiocarbon dating.

NOTE. It would be interesting, if this turns out to be another Hajji Firuz-like error, to check how well different ancestry models worked in whose hands exactly, and if anyone actually pointed out that this sample was derived, and not ancestral, to many different samples that were used in combination with it. It would also be a great control to check if those still supporting a Sredni Stog origin for PIE would shift their preference even more to the north or west, depending on where the first “true” R1a-M417 samples popped up. Such a finding now could be thus a great tool to discover whether haplogroup-based bias plays a role in ancestry magic as related to the Indo-European question, i.e. if it really is about “pure statistics”, or there is something else to it…

II.1. R1b-L51-rich Bell Beakers

The overwhelming majority of R1b-L51 lineages in Radovesice during the Bell Beaker period, just after the sampled Corded Ware individuals from the same site, further strengthen the hypothesis of an almost full replacement of R1a-M417 lineages from Central Europe up to southern Scandinavia after the arrival of Bell Beakers.

Yet another R1b-L151* sample has popped up in Central Europe, in the individual classified as Bilina_BA (ca. 2200-800 BC), which clusters with Bell Beakers from Bohemia, with the outlier from Turlojiškė, and with Early Slavs, suggesting once again that a group of central-east European Beakers represented the Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic community before their spread and admixture events to the east.

The available ancient distribution of R1b-L51*, R1b-L52* or R1b-L151* is getting thus closer to the most likely origin of R1b-L51 in the expansion of East Bell Beakers, who trace their paternal ancestors to Yamnaya settlers from the Carpathian Basin:

NOTE. Some of these are from other sources, and some are samples I have checked in a hurry, so I may have missed some derived SNPs. If you send me a corrected SNP call to dismiss one of these, or more ‘archaic’ samples, I’ll correct the map accordingly. See also maps of modern distributionof R1b-M269 subclades.

Distribution of ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 subclades in ancient samples, overlaid over a map of Yamnaya and Bell Beaker migrations. In blue, Yamnaya Pre-L51 from Lopatino (not shown) and R1b-L52* from BBC Augsburg. In violet, R1b-L51 (xP312,xU106) from BBC Prague and Poland. In maroon, hg. R1b-L151* from BBC Hungary, BA Bohemia, and (not shown) a potential sample from BBC at Mondelange, which is certainly xU106, maybe xP312. Interestingly, the earliest sample of hg. R1b-U106 (a lineage more proper of northern Europe) has been found in a Bell Beaker from Radovesice (ca. 2350 BC), between two of these ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 samples; and a sample possibly of hg. R1b-ZZ11+ (ancestral to DF27 and U152) was found in a Bell Beaker from Quedlinburg, Germany (ca. 2290 BC), to the north-west of Bohemia. The oldest R1b-U152 are logically from Central Europe, too.

III. Proto-Indo-Iranian

Before the emergence of Proto-Indo-Iranian, it seems that Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka groups were subjected to pressure from Central_Steppe_EMBA-related peoples coming from the (south-?)east, such as those found sampled from Mereke_BA. Their ‘kurgan’ culture was dated correctly to approximately the same date as Poltavka materials, but their ancestry and hg. N2(pre-N2a) – also found in a previous sample from Botai – point to their intrusive nature, and thus to difficulties in the Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community to keep control over the previous East Yamnaya territory in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes.

We know that the region does not show genetic continuity with a previous period (or was not under this ‘eastern’ pressure) because of an Eastern Yamnaya sample from the same site (ca. 3100 BC) showing typical Yamnaya ancestry. Before Yamnaya, it is likely that Pre-Yamnaya ancestry formed through admixture of EHG-like Khvalynsk with a North Caspian steppe population similar to the Steppe_Eneolithic samples from the North Caucasus Piedmont (see Anthony 2019), so we can also rule out some intermittent presence of a Botai/Kelteminar-like population in the region during the Khvalynsk period.

It is very likely, then, that this competition for the same territory – coupled with the known harsher climate of the late 3rd millennium BC – led Poltavka herders to their known joint venture with Abashevo chiefs in the formation of the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community of fortified settlements. Supporting these intense contacts of Poltavka herders with Central Asian populations, late ‘outliers’ from the Volga-Ural region show admixture with typical Central_Steppe_MLBA populations: one in Potapovka (ca. 2220 BC), of hg. R1b-Z2103; and four in the Sintashta_MLBA_o1 cluster (ca. 2050-1650 BC), with two samples of hg. R1b-L23 (one R1b-Z2109), one Q1b-L56(xL53), one Q1b-Y6798.

Outlier analysis reveals ancient contacts between sites. We plot the average of principal component 1 (x axis) and principal component 2 (y axis) for the West Eurasian and All Eurasian PCA plots (…). In the Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe, we observe, in addition to the Western_Steppe_MLBA and Central_Steppe_MLBA clusters (indistinguishable in this projection), outliers admixed with other ancestries. The BMAC-related admixture in Kazakhstan documents northward gene flow onto the Steppe and confirms the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor as a conduit for movement of people.

Similar to how the Sintashta_MLBA_o2 cluster shows an admixture with central steppe populations and hg. R1a-Z645, the WSHG ancestry in those outliers from the o1 cluster of typically (or potentially) Yamnaya lineages show that Poltavka-like herders survived well after centuries of Abashevo-Poltavka coexistence and admixture events, supporting the formation of a Proto-Indo-Iranian community from the local language as pronounced by the incomers, who dominated as elites over the fortified settlements.

The Proto-Indo-Iranian community likely formed thus in situ in the Don-Volga-Ural region, from the admixture of locals of Yamnaya ancestry with incomers of Corded Ware ancestry – represented by the ca. 67% Yamnaya-like ancestry and ca. 33% ancestry from the European cline. Their community formed thus ca. 1,000 years later than the expansion of Late PIE ca. 3500 BC, and expanded (some 500 years after that) a full-fledged Proto-Indo-Iranian language with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon, further admixing with ca. 9% of Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry in their migration through Central Asia, as reported in the paper.

IV. Armenian

The sample from Hajji Firuz, of hg. R1b-Z2103 (xPF331), has been – as expected – re-dated to the Iron Age (ca. 1193-1019 BC), hence it may offer – together with the samples from the Levant and their Aegean-like ancestry rapidly diluted among local populations – yet another proof of how the Late Bronze Age upheaval in Europe was the cause of the Armenian migration to the Armenoid homeland, where they thrived under the strong influence from Hurro-Urartian.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of the Middle East and neighbouring groups during the Late Bronze Age / Iron Age. See full maps.

Indus Valley Civilization and Dravidian

A surprise came from the analysis reported by Shinde et al. (2019) of an Iran_N-related IVC ancestry which may have split earlier than 10000 BC from a source common to Iran hunter-gatherers of the Belt Cave.

For the controversial Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis of the Muscovite school, this difference in ancestry between both groups (IVC and Iran Neolithic) seems to be a death blow, if population genomics was even needed for that. Nevertheless, I guess that a full rejection of a recent connection will come down to more recent and subtle population movements in the area.

EDIT (12 SEP): Apparently, Iosif Lazaridis is not so sure about this deep splitting of ‘lineages’ as shown in the paper, so we may be talking about different contributions of AME+ANE/ENA, which means the Elamo-Dravidian game is afoot; at least in genomics:

I shared the idea that the Indus Valley Civilization was linked to the Proto-Dravidian community, so I’m inclined to support this statement by Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2019), even if based only on modern samples and a few ancient ones:

The strong correlation between ASI ancestry and present-day Dravidian languages suggests that the ASI, which we have shown formed as groups with ancestry typical of the Indus Periphery Cline moved south and east after the decline of the IVC to mix with groups with more AASI ancestry, most likely spoke an early Dravidian language.

Natural neighbour interpolation of qpAdm results – Maximum A Posteriori Estimate from the Hierarchical Model (estimates used in the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. 2019 figures) for Central_Steppe_MLBA-related (left), Indus_Periphery_West-related (center) and Andamanese_Hunter-Gatherer-related ancestry (right) among sampled modern Indian populations. In blue, peoples of IE language; in red, Dravidian; in pink, Tibeto-Burman; in black, unclassified. See full image.

I am wary of this sort of simplistic correlation with modern speakers, because we have seen what happened with the wrong assumptions about modern Balto-Slavic and Finno-Ugric speakers and their genetic profile (see e.g. here or here). In fact, I just can’t differentiate as well as those with deep knowledge in South Asian history the social stratification of the different tribal groups – with their endogamous rules under the varna and jati systems – in the ancestry maps of modern India. The pattern of ancestry and language distribution combined with the findings of ancient populations seem in principle straightforward, though.


The message to take home from Shinde et al. (2019) is that genomic data is fully at odds with the Anatolian homeland hypothesis – including the latest model by Heggarty (2014)* – whose relevance is still overvalued today, probably due in part to the shift of OIT proponents to more reasonable Out-of-Iran models, apparently more fashionable as a vector of Indo-Aryan languages than Eurasian steppe pastoralists?
*The authors listed this model erroneously as Heggarty (2019).

The paper seems to play with the occasional reference to Corded Ware as a vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, even after accepting the role of Yamnaya as the most evident population expanding Late PIE to western Europe – and the different ancestry that spread with Indo-Iranian to South Asia 1,000 years later. However, the most cringe-worthy aspect is the sole citation of the debunked, pseudoscientific glottochronological method used by Ringe, Warnow, and Taylor (2002) to support the so-called “steppe homeland”, a paper and dialectal scheme which keeps being referenced in papers of the Reich Lab, probably as a consequence of its use in Anthony (2007).

On the other hand, these are the equivalent simplistic comments in Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019):

The Steppe ancestry in South Asia has the same profile as that in Bronze Age Eastern Europe, tracking a movement of people that affected both regions and that likely spread the unique features shared between Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages. (…), which despite their vast geographic separation share the “satem” innovation and “ruki” sound laws.

Indo-European dialectal relationships, from Mallory and Adams (2006).

The only academic closely related to linguistics from the list of authors, as far as I know, is James P. Mallory, who has supported a North-West Indo-European dialect (including Balto-Slavic) for a long time – recently associating its expansion with Bell Beakers – opposed thus to a Graeco-Aryan group which shared certain innovations, “Satemization” not being one of them. Not that anyone needs to be a linguist to dismiss any similarities between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian beyond this phonetic trend, mind you.

Even Anthony (2019) supports now R1b-rich Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya communities from the Don-Volga region expanding Middle and Late Proto-Indo-European dialects.

So how does the underlying Corded Ware ancestry of eastern Europe (where Pre-Balto-Slavs eventually spread to from Bell Beaker-derived groups) and of the highly admixed (“cosmopolitan”, according to the authors) Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka in the east relate to the similar-but-different phonetic trends of two unrelated IE dialects?

If only there was a language substrate that could (as Shinde et al. put it) “elegantly” explain this similar phonetic evolution, solving at the same time the question of the expansion of Uralic languages and their strong linguistic contacts with steppe peoples. Say, Eneolithic populations of mainly hunter-fisher-gatherers from the North Pontic forest-steppes with a stronger connection to metalworking


Proto-Tocharians: From Afanasievo to the Tarim Basin through the Tian Shan


A reader commented recently that there is little information about Indo-Europeans from Central and East Asia in this blog. Regardless of the scarce archaeological data compared to European prehistory, I think it is premature to write anything detailed about population movements of Indo-Iranians in Asia, especially now that we are awaiting the updates of Narasimhan et al (2018).

Furthermore, there was little hope that Tocharians would be different than neighbouring Andronovo-like populations (see a recent post on my predicted varied admixture of Common Tocharians), so the history of both unrelated Late PIE languages would have had to be explained by the admixture of Afanasievo-related groups with peoples of Andronovo descent and their acculturation.

However, data reported recently by Ning, Wang et al. Current Biology (2019) confirmed that peoples of mainly Afanasievo ancestry – as opposed to those of Corded Ware-related ancestry expanding with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon – spread the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European from the Altai into the Tian Shan area, surviving essentially unadmixed into the Early Iron Age.

This genetic continuity of Tocharians will no doubt help us disentangle a great part the ethnolinguistic history of speakers of the Tocharian branch of Proto-Indo-European, from Pre-Proto-Tocharians of Afanasievo to Common Tocharians of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age eastern Tian Shan.

NOTE. Tocharian’s isolation from the rest of Late PIE dialects and its early and intense language contacts have always been the key to support an early migration and physical separation of the group, hence the traditional association with Afanasievo, a late Repin/early Yamna offshoot. Even with the current incomplete archaeological and genetic picture, there is no other option left for the expansion of Tocharian.

It is not possible to use the currently available ancestry data to map the evolution of Afanasievo ancestry, lacking a proper geographical and temporal transect of Central and East Asian groups. In spite of this, Ning, Wang, et al. (2019) is a huge leap forward, discarding some archaeological models, and leaving only a few potential routes by which Tocharians may have spread southward from the Altai.

NOTE. I have updated the maps of prehistoric cultures accordingly, with colours – as always – reflecting the language/ancestry evolution of the different groups, even though the archaeological data of some groups of Xinjiang remains scarce, so their ethnolinguistic attribution – and the colours picked for them – remain tentative.

A rough timeline of related archaeological sites from North Eurasia. Image modified from Yang (2019).


The recent book Ancient China and its Eurasian Neighbors. Artifacts, Identity and Death in the Frontier, 3000–700 BCE, by Linduff, Sun, Cao, and Liu, Cambridge University Press (2017) offers an interesting summary of the introduction of metalworking into western China.

Here are some relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Although [the Xinjiang] route is not uniformly agreed upon (Shelach-Lavi 2009: 134–46), this western transmission has been thought to have passed through eastern Kazakhstan, especially as it is manifest in Semireiche, with Yamnaya, Afanasievo (copper) and Andronovo (tin bronze) peoples (Mei 2000: Fig. 3). From Xinjiang this knowledge has been thought to have traveled through the Gansu Corridor via the Qijia peoples (Bagley 1999) and then into territories controlled by dynastic China. The dating of this process is still a problem, as the sites and their contents in Xinjiang are consistently later than those in Gansu, suggesting that the point of contact was in Gansu and that the knowledge then spread from there westward.

1. Eneolithic Altai

Afanasievo expansion ca. 3300-2600 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

The Afanasievo sites, as they are identified in Mongolia, for instance, make up an Eneolithic culture analogous to that of southern Siberia (3100/2500–2000 BCE) in the Upper Yenissei Valley that is characterized by copper tools and an economy reliant on horse, sheep and cattle breeding as well as hunting. (…) The Afanasievo is best known through study of its burials, which typically include groups of round barrows (kurgans), each up to 12 m in diameter with a stone kerb and covering a central pit grave containing multiple inhumations. In their Siberian context, burial pottery types and styles have suggested contacts with the slightly earlier Kelteminar culture of the Aral and Caspian Sea area.

The Afanasievo culture monuments, located in the northern Altai and in the Minusinsk Basin (the western Sayan), have been seen as analogous evidence for cross-Eurasian exchange. These complexes contain small collections of metal, and many of the items are made of brass, although golden, silver and iron ornaments were also identified. A mere one-fourth of these objects are tools and ornaments, while the rest consist of unshaped remains and semi-manufactured objects. Its metallurgical tradition has recently been dated by Chernykh to as early as 3100 to 2700 BCE (1992),making it more compatible chronologically with the early brass-using sites in Shaanxi mentioned above. Kovalev and Erdenebaatar have excavated barrows in Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia, that have been carbon-dated to the first half of the third millennium BCE and associated by ceramic types and styles and burial patterns with the Afanasievo (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: 357–58). These mounded kurgans were covered with stone and housed rectangular, wooden-faced tombs that included Afanasievo-type bronze awls, plates and small “leaf-shaped” knife blades (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 6 and 7).

They also excavated sites belonging to the more recently identified Chemurchek archaeological culture, located in the foothills of the Mongolian Altai (Kovalev 2014, 2015) (Fig. 2.6). These sites are carbon-dated to the same period as the Afanasievo burials or to c. 3100/2500–1800 BCE (six barrows in Khovd aimag and four in Bayan-Ulgo aimag). In the rectangular stone kerbed Chemurchek slab burials (Ulaaanhus sum, Bayan-ul’gi aimag and so forth), bronze items included awls; and at Khovd aimag, Bulgan sum, in addition to stone sculptures, three lead and one bronze ring were excavated (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Figs. 2 and 3; Fig. 2.6). Although we will not know if they were produced locally until much further investigation is undertaken, these discoveries do document knowledge of various uses and types of metal objects in western and south central Mongolia. The types of metal items thus far recovered are simple tools (awls) and rings (ornamental?) not unlike those associated with Andronovo archaeological cultures as well.

This is a complex circumstance where archaeological evidence is not complete, but raises very important questions about transmission of metallurgical knowledge to and from areas in present-day China. In the 1970s some Afanasievo mounds were excavated in Central Mongolia by a Soviet–Mongolian expedition led by V. V. Volkov and E. A. Novgorodova (Novgorodova 1989: 81–85). Unfortunately, these mounds did not yield metal objects, only ceramics, but they show that the Afanasievo culture with the Eneolithic metallurgical tradition of manufacturing pure copper items had already moved east at least far as central Mongolia. In 2004, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar investigated a large Afanasievo mound, Kulala ula, in the extreme northwest of Mongolia, near the Russian border (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). There they found a copper knife and awl (Fig. 2.5). There are five C14 dates on wood, coal and human bones from this mound, which belong to the period 2890–2570 BCE. This shows that the Afanasievo culture were carriers of technology and produced artifacts in the first half of the third millennium BCE and that they also moved south along the foothills of the Mongolian Altai. Afanasievo culture in Altai and the Minusinsk basin is dated by C14 to 3600–2500 BCE (Svyatko et al. 2009; Polyakov 2010). In the north of Xinjiang in the Altai district, several typical egg-shaped vessels and two censers of Afanasievo types were found. Some of these have been obtained from the stone boxes (chambers of megalithic graves of the Chemurchek culture) (Kovalev 2011). Thus, the Afanasievo tradition of pure copper metallurgy must have spread to the northern foothills of the Tienshan Mountains no later than the mid-third millennium BCE. The links with Afanasievo and local cultures adjacent to and south of the mountains into present-day China can now be assumed.

Afanasievo – Chemurchek evolution ca. 2600-2200 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

2. Bronze Age Altai

Kovalev and Erdenebaatar (2014a) and later Tishkin, Grushin, Kovalev and Munkhbayar (2015) in Western Mongolia conducted large-scale excavations of megalithic barrows of the Chemurchek culture (dated about 2600–1800 BCE). This peculiar culture appeared in Dzungaria and the Mongolian Altai in the second quarter of the third millennium BCE and for some time existed together with the late Afanasievo culture, as evidenced by the findings of Afanasievo ceramics in Chemurchek graves, in the stone boxes. Unfortunately, in China we do not yet know of any metal object related,without doubt, to the Chemurchek culture. Kovalev, Erdenebaatar, Tishkin and Grushin found several leaden ear rings and one ring of tin bronze in three excavated Chemurchek stone boxes (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a; Tishkin et al. 2015). Such lead rings are typical for Elunino culture,which occupied the entire West Altai after 2400–2300 BCE (Tishkin et al. 2015). This culture had developed a tradition of bronze metallurgy with various dopants, primarily tin. Thus, the tradition of bronze metallurgy as early as this time could have penetrated the Mongolian Altai far to the south. In addition, in the Hadat ovoo Chemurchek stone box, Kovalev and Erdenebaatar discovered stone vessels refurbished with the help of copper “patches,” indicating the presence there of metallurgical production (Fig. 2.7) (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2014a). In one of the secondary

Chemurchek graves unearthed by Kovalev and Erdenebaatar in Bayan-Ulgi (2400–2220 BCE), a bronze awl was found (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009). Kovalev and Erdenebaatar also discovered a new culture in the territory of Mongolia (Map 2.3), one that begins immediately after Chemurchek – Munkh-Khairkhan culture (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009, 2014b). To date, about 17 mounds of this culture have been excavated in Khovd, Zavkhan, Khovsgol, Bulgan aimag of Mongolia. This culture dates from about 1800 to 1500 BCE, that is, contemporary with the Andronovo culture. Therefore, the Andronovo culture does not extend far into the territory of Mongolia. Three knives without dedicated handles or stems and five awls have been found in the Munkh-Khairkhan culture mounds (Fig. 2.8). All these products are made of tin bronze. (…) Additionally, eight Late Bronze Age burials (c. 1400–1100 BCE) were unearthed in the Bulgan sum of Khovd aimag and belong to another previously unknown culture called Baitag. And in the Gobi Altai, a new group of “Tevsh” sites dating to the Late Bronze Age were defined in Bayankhongor and South Gobi aimags (Miyamoto and Obata 2016: 42–50). From these Tevsh and Baitag sites, we see the expansion of burial goods to include beads of semiprecious stones (carnelian), bronze beads, buttons and rings and even the famous elaborate golden hair ornaments (Tevsh uul;Bogd sum;Uverkhanagia aimag) from the Baitag barrows (Kovalev and Erdenebaatar 2009: Fig. 5; Miyamoto and Obata 2016).

2.1. Chemurchek

About the Chemurchek culture, from A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4):

The major characteristics of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I include:

  1. Burials with two orientations of approximately 20° or 345°.
  2. Rectangular enclosures built using large stone slabs. The size of the enclosure varies from a maximum of 28 x 30 m.*to a minimum of 10.5 x 4.4 m. (Figure 8, Table 2).
  3. *The stone enclosure located near Hayinar is the largest one at approximately 30 x 40 m. based on pacing of the site during a visit by the authors in 2008.

  4. Almost life-sized anthropomorphic stone stelae erected along one side of the stone enclosures (Lin Yun 2008).
  5. Single enclosures tend to contain one or more than one burial, all or some with stone cist coffins.
  6. The cist coffin is usually constructed using five large stone slabs, four for the sides and one on top, leaving bare earth at the base (Zhang Yuzhong 2007). Sometimes the insides of the slabs have simple painted designs (Zhang Yuzhong 2005).
  7. Primary and secondary burials occur in the same grave.
  8. Some decapitated bodies (up to 20) may be associated with the main burial in one cist.
  9. Bodies are commonly placed on the back or side with the legs drawn up.
  10. Grave goods include stone and bronze arrowheads, handmade gray or brown round-bottomed ovoid jars, and small numbers of flat-bottomed jars (Fig. 7).
  11. Clay lamps appear to occur together with roundbottomed jars.
  12. Complex incised decoration on ceramics is common but some vessels are undecorated.
  13. The stone vessels are distinctive for the high quality of manufacture.
  14. Stone moulds indicate relatively sophisticated metallurgical expertise.
  15. Artefacts made from pure copper occur.
  16. Sheep knucklebones (astragali) imply a tradition (as in historical and modern times) of keeping knucklebones for ritual or other purposes. They also indicate the herding of domestic sheep as part of the subsistence economy.
Chemurchek culture ca. 2200-1750 BC. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Chemurchek dating

Available evidence suggests that the date range for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I should fall from the later third into the early second millennium BC. There are several reasons to suggest that the time span is around the early second millennium BC. Lin Yun (2008) (…) maintains that the bronze artefacts found in Phase I show a greater sophistication in the level of copper alloy technology than that of the pure copper artefacts common to the Afanasievo tradition. On this basis it might be suggested that the Afanasievo could be considered to be Chalcolithic with a time span across much of the third millennium BC ( Gorsdorf et al. 2004: 86, Fig. 1). Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, however, should more properly be considered as Bronze Age.

Lin Yun also used the bronze arrowhead from burial Ml 7 to narrow down the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Two arrowheads were found in this burial, one of them leaf shaped with a single barb on the back (Fig. 7:4). A similar arrowhead, together with its casting mould, has been found at the Huoshaogou site of Siba tradition (Li Shuicheng 2005, Sun Shuyun and Han Rufen 1997), in Gansu province, northwest China, dated around 2000-1800 BC (Li Shuicheng and Shui Tao 2000) . This supports a date in the early second millennium BC for the Qiemu’erqieke arrowhead. The painted, round-bottomed jar from the Tianshanbeilu cemetery Qia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008: Fig. 7, bottom left) has been considered as a hybrid between the Upper Yellow River Bronze Age cultures of Siba in northwest China and the steppe tradition of Qiemu’erqieke in west Siberia (Li Shuicheng 1999). If this assumption is correct, the date of Tianshanbeilu, around 2000 BC, can be used as a reference for Qiemu’erqieke Phase I (Jia Weiming, Betts and Wu Xinhua 2008, Lin Yun 2008, Li Shuicheng 1999). Stone arrowheads found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I also imply that the date is likely to fall within the earlier part of the Bronze Age as no such stone arrowheads have yet been found elsewhere in sites of the Bronze Age in Xinlang dated after the beginning of the second millennium BC.*
*For example Chawuhu and Xiaohe cemeteries (Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology 1999, 2003).

Pottery of Afanasevo and East European traits from the Chemurchek complex. Image modified from Kovalev (2017).

(…) Pottery “oil burners” (goblet-like ceramic vessels, possibly lamps) have been found in three traditions: Afanasievo (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:21), Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke. It is believed that this oil-burner found in Siberia and the Altai is a heritage from the Yamnaya and Catacomb
cultures (Sulimirski 1970: 225, 425; Shishlina 2008:46) in the Caspian steppe further to the west, but does not seem to exist in known Andronovo cultures.
The oil-burner tends to disappear after around 2300 BC during the mid-Okunevo period. It is, however, possible that the tradition continues longer in the Qiemu’erqieke sites.

The construction of the stone enclosures also reveals a close connection between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the mid and late Okunevo tradition (Sokolova 2007). Slab built stone enclosures emerged in both the Okunevo and Afanasievo traditions (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23, Kovalev 2008, Sokolova 2007, Anthony 2007:310, Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007). In the early Afanasievo the enclosure is circular with no cist coffin (Anthony 2007:310, Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:20), but in the early stage of the Okunevo square stone enclosures with a single cist burial are dominant. Square or rectangular stone enclosures are a marked feature of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, suggesting temporal relationships between Qiemu’erqieke Phase I and the Okunevo. In Okunevo chronological group II, possibly with influence from the Anfanasievo, circular stone enclosures appeared in combination with rectangular enclosures within individual cemeteries, referred to by Sokolova (2007: table 2) as hybrid examples. By Okunevo chronological group III, rectangular stone slab enclosures with multi-burials emerged again. This is the dominant form in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Okunevo burial traditions changed again to single cist burials in the late stage around chronological group V ( Sokol ova 2007). A specific mortuary rite of decapitated burials exists in both the Qiemu’erqieke and Okunevo traditions (Sokolova 2007, Chen Kwang-tzuu and Hiebert 1995), as does the occasional occurrence of painted designs on the interior of the slabs forming the cists ( e.g., Khavrin 1997: 70, fig. 4; 77: tab. IV.5). Based on these comparisons, the date of Qiemu’erqieke Phase I may well parallel that of the Okunevo from at least chronological group II around 2400 BC (Gorsdorf et al. 2004: fig. 1).

Khuh Udzuuriin I-1 elite barrow (ca. 2470-2190 BC). Modified from Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

In addition to the pottery making tradition, the anthropomorphic stone stelae may also have earlier antecedents. In the Okunevo assemblage there are anthropomorphic stelae that are longer, thinner and more abstract than those of Qiemu’erqieke. There is no indication of such stelae in the Afanasievo tradition (Gryaznov and Krizhevskaya 1986:15-23). However, further to the west, anthropomorphic stone stelae are associated with the Kemi-Oba and Yamnya cultures around the third millennium BC (Telegin and Mallory 1994; Figure 13). Some major characteristics of these stelae such as the icons on the front face of the stelae (Telegin and Mallory 1994:8-9) also appear on stelae found in Qiemu’erqieke Phase I. Recalling the oil burners that may have been inherited from the Yamnya culture and which are found in the Afansievo, Okunevo and Qiemu’erqieke Phase I, it migh t be possible to speculate that Qiemu’erqieke Phase I has its origins even earlier than the first half of the third millennium BC. This idea has also been suggested by Kovalev ( 1999).

Despite the affinities with the Okunevo cultural tradition, Qiemu’erqieke Phase I appears to be a discrete regional variant. The ceramic assemblage shows traits unique to this cluster of sites, while the anthropomorphic stelae are also distinctive markers of this tradition.

Khuh Udzuur anthropomorphic stone stela, oriented toward the south – south-east. Image modified from Kovalev (2014).

3. Bronze Age Xinjiang

I recently reported on this blog the description of Xiaohe and Gumugou cemeteries from interesting Master’s thesis Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, by Yunyun Yang, Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History (2019).

It also offered a full summary of findings from prehistoric sites of Xinjiang related to the arrival of a cultural package from the Altai region, ultimately connected to Afanasievo. Relevant excerpts include the following (emphasis mine):

In Bronze Age Xinjiang, burials were diverse but also show some common features between different geographic sections. The main three mountains, including Kunlun Mountains, Tian Shan (mountains) and Altai Mountains, enclose the Tarim Basin, and the Dzungaria Basin, but leave the eastern part of the Tarim Basin and the south-eastern part of the Dzungaria Basin open (with easy access to the surroundings). The Hami Basin is located at the transitional area, connecting the two basins. Burials are mainly spread along the edge of the mountain ranges.

An assumption of the spreading/expansion routes stone burial construct.

3.1. The Lop Nur region

In the Lop Nur region, the Xiaohe cemetery (2000-1450 BCE) and the Gumugou cemetery (1900-1800 BCE) had many common features shared, and so is the Keliyahe northern cemetery:

  • Cemeteries were located in sandy areas;
  • Rectangular/boat-shaped wooden coffins with monuments of wooden planks or poles;
  • Coffins had no bottoms;
  • The dead were placed lying straight on the back;
  • The dead were commonly buried in single graves.

The Gumugou cemetery contained six special sun-radiating-spokes burial pattern in addition to the normal burials, which were similar to the wooden coffin graves of the Xiaohe cemetery.

NOTE. For more on Xiaohe and Gumugou, see the recent post on Proto-Tocharians. See other papers on the Andronovo horizon for other Early to Middle Bronze Age cultural groups less clearly associated with the Xiaohe horizon, like Hazandu, Xintala, or the Chust culture.

From Shuicheng (2006):

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority. The composition of alloy did not show significant change over time. Some colleagues pointed out that the Nulasai 奴拉赛 site at Nileke 尼勒克 County in the Yili 伊犁 River basin of Xinjiang was the pioneer in the use of “sulphuric ore–ice copper–copper”technology. It is also the only early smelting site in Euro-Asia that arsenic ore was added to deliberately produce an alloy

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Middle Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.2. The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland

From Yang (2019):

The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area is located at the eastern part of Tian Shan. The area is divided in a northern basin and a southern basin by the east-west stretch of the Tian Shan. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the main type of burials were earth-pit graves in the early Bronze Age, and burials of stone-pit with barrows became more common in the late Bronze Age. The Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery is a representative of the earth-pit graves. The features of the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery (2000-1500 bce) here were:

  • Rectangular earth pit graves;
  • The dead were often in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Commonly a single dead in one grave.
The Balikun grassland today (source).

The Hami-Wubu cemetery (earlier than 1000 bce) and the Yanbulake cemetery (1200-600 bce) are representatives of another common earth-pit graves. Common features here were:

  • Rectangular earth pits, with two storeys and/or roofed with wooden boards;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

Later there appeared more stone-pit graves in this area, and the features can be summarized as:

  • Round burial mounds, commonly constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Burial mounds with a sunken top or a normal (dome) top;
  • The diameter of the burial mounds varied between 3 and 25.4 m (but not necessarily limited in this scope);
  • Circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Rectangular stone pits, constructed by earth, or stones, or a mix of earth and stones;
  • Rectangular stone pits contained wooden coffins (represented by the Yiwu Baiqi’er cemetery).
Some representatives of stone burials in the Hami Basin – the Balikun Grassland in the Iron Age (Adapted from: Xinjiang 2011, 29-41). Image modified from Yang (2019).

In the Hami Basin, the Bronze Age cemeteries show common burial features like earth pits and hocker position of the dead. With similar pottery styles in the Hami-Tianshan-Beilu cemetery to those in the Machang and Siba cultures (Xinjiang 2011: 17), it suggests possible cultural influence or people’s migrating from the Hexi Corridor in the east.

In the Balikun Grassland, burials in an earlier time contained mostly earth-pit graves but also a small number of stone-pit graves. The pebbles were imbedded in the floors and the walls of the graves in a rectangular shape, e.g. the Balikun-Nanwan cemetery (1600-1000 bce). In a later time, there appeared huge burial mounds with a sunken top, and with the diameters of the burial mounds varying from 3 to 25.4 m, e.g. the Balikun-Dongheigou cemetery and the Balikun-Heigouliang cemetery. The Yiwu-Bai’erqi and the Yiwu-Kuola cemeteries contained either round stone burial mounds or circular stone kerbs on the ground surface. Considering the three burial elements including burial mounds, stone pits and circular kerbs, the later period cemeteries in the Balikun Grassland were actually similar to cemeteries from the southern edge of the Altai Mountain area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Nanwan 南湾 cemetery site at Kuisu 奎苏 Town, Balikun 巴里坤 (1600–1100 BC) also yielded an assemblage of early bronzes. The style of its early phase artifacts is similar to that of the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. Some sorts of cultural connection should have existed between the two.

The dates of Yanbulake 焉不拉克 Culture (1300–700 BC) are comparatively late. Its metallurgy was a continuation of the western China tradition. Artifact types include a variety of utilitarian tools, weapons and apparels.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Bronze Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

3.3. The Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan

From Yang (2019):

Turpan Basin is located at the western part of the Hami Basin, and lies at the southern edge of the eastern Tian Shan. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representative of the Bronze Age cemeteries is the Yanghai Nr.1 cemetery. The features here were:

  • Elliptic earth pit graves, commonly covered by round logs on the top;
  • Some graves contained burial beds made of round logs or reeds;
  • The dead were mainly placed lying straight on the back;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave.

In Iron Age, the stone burials became dominant, but the stone burials varied in different regions of the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. Graves containing burial mounds, stone pit, and circular stone kerbs are represented by the Shanshan-Ertanggou cemetery, the Tuokexun-Alagou cemetery, the Urumqi-Chaiwobu cemetery and the Urumqi-Yizihu-Sayi cemetery, etc. The stone funeral construction features here are similar to those contemporary cemeteries in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area.

3.4. The southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan

In the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area, the main representatives of the late Bronze Age cemeteries are the Hejing-Chawuhu Nr.4 cemetery (around 1000-500 bce), the Hejing-Xiaoshankou cemetery, the Baicheng-cemetery, etc. The main burial features of the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age cemeteries (see Fig.12) here were:

  • Burial mounds, constructed by stones or a mix of stones and earth;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Stone pit graves in a bell-shape or a rectangular shape;
  • Stone pit graves constructed by imbedding pebbles or stone slabs in walls and floors;
  • The dead were often placed lying on their back with bent legs;
  • The dead were commonly reburied a second time with multiple burials.

From the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age in this area, the burial traditions tended to be in a more varied way. In the stone burials with stone kerbs, there is a mixture of stone pit and earth pit graves. The burial features of the Iron Age cemeteries in this section were similar to those contemporary both in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.

From Shuicheng (2006):

The Chawuhu 察吾呼 Culture (1100–500 BC) distributes on the foothills between the middle section of the Tianshan Mountain Ranges and Tarim River. Its bronze assemblage comprises a variety of weapons, utilitarian tools and small apparels. They show no apparent temporal change in form and type through the four cultural phases. In addition, bronzes bear the Chawuhu characteristics were found in Hejing 和静, Baicheng 拜城 and Luntai 轮台 (Bügür). Yet, sites distributed along the Tarim River, such as Heshuo 和硕, Kuga 库车and Aksu 阿克苏, yielded remains of a bronze culture different from that of Chawuhu. Bronzes recovered include double-eared socketed axe, arrowheads, awls, knives, needles and bracelets. Their absolute dates have been estimated to be earlier than that of Chawuhu.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Early Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps

3.5. The Pamir Plateau

From Yang (2019):

A typical Bronze Age cemetery from the Pamir Plateau area is the Tashenku’ergan-Xiabandi cemetery (around 1000-500 bce). The burial features here were:

  • Mainly inhumations, but also a few cremations;
  • Burial mounds, constructed of stones;
  • Irregular circular or rectangular stone kerbs;
  • Mostly a single dead in one grave;
  • The dead was placed in a hocker position lying on one side.

The adoption of burial customs from the east supports the migration of Afanasievo-related peoples from the Tian Shan up to the Pamir Plateau, strongly influencing the findings of the Xiabandi cemetery, which has been dated from an early Bronze Age phase (ca. 1500-300 BC) to a late date up to ca. 600 BC.

While it is today unclear how far the Afanasievo admixture reached into the western Xinjiang, it seems that the Pamir Plateau remained culturally connected to neighbouring Andronovo-related cultures in pottery and metallurgical innovations, hence their language probably belonged – during most part of the Bronze and Iron Ages – to the Indo-Iranian branch, even though specific dialects might have changed with each new attested group.

In particular, it is possible that the early Andronovo groups related to the Xiaohe Horizon spoke Indo-Aryan or West Iranian dialects, while Saka-related groups replaced them – or an intermediate Tocharian-speaking group – with East Iranian dialects. A close interaction with West Iranian would justify the known ancient borrowings of Tocharian, although they could also be explained by contacts with Chust-related groups farther west. For more on this, see Ged Carling’s work on the different layers of Iranian loans.

Xinjiang BA/IA Summary

From Yang (2019):

In the early Bronze Age, there are distinct regional differences in the burial customs in and surrounding the Tarim Basin. At the southern edge of the Altai Mountains area, the burial customs included stone burial mounds, stone pit graves, circular or rectangular stone kerbs and stone human sculptures; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed in a hocker position lying on one side. In the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area, the burial customs included earth pit graves; the dead were placed lying straight on the back. In the Lop Nur region, the burial customs included wooden coffins buried in sand; the dead were placed lying straight on the back.

But from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, there was a common shift in burial customs from earth pit graves to stone burials in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and in the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area. The main features of the stone burials include stone burial mounds, circular or rectangular stone kerbs, and the stone pit graves in the cemeteries. Similar stone burial customs commonly appeared at the southern edge of the western and middle part of Tian Shan area and the Pamir Plateau area in Iron Age. The burial features in most areas are in a mixture of both the earth pit graves and stone pit graves, especially in the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area and the Turpan Basin-the middle part of Tian Shan area.


From Shuicheng (2006):

Historians of metallurgy conducted metallographic analyses on a sample of 234 metal specimens recovered from 16 localities in eastern Xinjiang. They concluded that the metallurgic industry in eastern Xinjiang could be roughly partitioned into three developmental phases. The early phase is represented by the burials distributed in the North Tianshan Route. The majority of the metal assemblage was tin-bronzes; however, copper and arsenic-bronzes maintained considerable proportions. The middle phase is represented by the burials at Yanbulake. During this phase, tin-bronze still maintained the majority; the proportion of arsenic-bronze increased, and some of them were high arsenic-bronzes. The late phase is represented by the burials at Heigouliang 黑沟梁. The composition of lead increased in the bronze alloy in the expense of arsenic. In addition, this phase witnessed the appearance of high tin-bronze that composed up to 16% of tin and the appearance of brass, that is, an alloy of copper and zinc. The bronze alloy consistently contained significant amount of impurities regardless of temporal difference. Casting and forging technologies coexisted throughout the three phases. The early bronzes (2000–500 BC) of eastern Xinjiang, in general, contained arsenic; however, the composition of arsenic was usually under 8%, but a few artifacts contained more than 20% arsenic. In all, arsenic had long been used in the alloy-forming of the early bronzes in eastern Xinjiang. Consequently, arsenic-bronzes were widely found in the prehistoric archaeology of the region. The artifact types, chemical compositions and manufacture techniques of the bronze assemblage of the burials of the North Tianshan Route are similar to those of Siba Culture, indicating that eastern Xinjiang had played a significant role in the East-West interactions.

An assemblage of early bronzes had been recovered from northwestern Xinjiang and the periphery of Dzungaria 准噶尔 Basin. It comprises a variety of utilitarian tools and weapons, and a small number of apparels. These artifacts bear the stamps of Andronovo Culture in form, artifact type and decorative pattern. The metallographic analysis on selected artifacts indicates that they comprise mainly of tin-bronzes that contain 2–10% of tin. Moreover, the chemical compositions of these artifacts are similar to that of the Andronovo Culture. Latter date (first half of the 1st millennium BC) artifacts of the assemblage include a small number of arsenic-bronzes. In all, during the period between the mid-2nd and mid-1st millennium BC, copper and bronze artifacts coexisted in this region, albeit tin-bronze comprised the majority.

Prehistoric cultures of Xinjiang during the Late Iron Age. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.

Tocharians in population genomics

Prehistoric population movements between the Altai and the Tian Shan are difficult to pinpoint, not the least because of the division of these territories among three different countries and their archaeological teams, only recently (more) open to the international scholarship.

The available schematic archaeological picture, where migrations could only be roughly inferred, has been recently updated to a great extent by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), whose genetic analysis of the samples is as thorough as anyone could have asked for, with a level of detail which matches the complex genetic picture of the region by the Iron Age.

As a summary, here is what they described about the samples from Shirenzigou (ca 400-200 BC), corresponding to the Iron Age populations of the Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland area, and closely related to the preceding Yanbulake Culture:

As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

Biplot of f3-outgroup tests illustrating the Kostenki14 and Anatolia_N like ancestries in Shirenzigou individuals. Most Shirenzigou individuals were on a cline with Yamnaya and European hunter-gatherer groups, lacking the European farmer ancestry as compared to the Steppe_MLBA populations such as Andronovo, Srubnaya and Sintashta [S1-S5]. Horizontal and vertical bars represent ± 3 standard errors, corresponding to form of outgroup f3 tests on the x axis and y axis respectively.

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_ Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases.

Table S2. P values in modelling a two-way (P=rank 1) admixture in Shirenzigou samples using each of the four populations (Bustan_BA, Sappali_Tepe_BA, Andronovo.SG, Srubnaya) together with Han Chinese as two sources [S6], Related to Figure 2. We used the following set of outgroups populations: Dinka, Ust_Ishim, Kostenki14, Onge, Papuan, Australian, Iran_N, EHG, LBK_EN.


In the PCA, ADMIXTURE, outgroup f3 statistics [see Figure S4], as well as f4 statistics (Table S3), we observed the Shirenzigou individuals were closer to the present day Tungusic and Mongolic-speaking populations in northern Asia than to the populations in central and southern China, suggesting the northern populations might contribute more to the Shirenzigou individuals. Based on this, we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/ Hezhen-related ancestry

It is unclear whether the Chemurchek population will show a sizeable local contribution from neighbouring groups. The fact that Okunevo shows 20% Yamnaya-related ancestry strongly supports the nature of neighbouring stone-grave-building peoples of the Altai and the northern Tian Shan as mostly Afanasievo-like, and the apparent lack of contributions of Srubna/Andronovo-like ancestry in the early Hami-Balikun stone burial builders also speaks for radical population replacement events reaching the areas south of Tian Shan, at least initially.

While ancestry cannot settle linguistic questions, it seems that nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands retained an ancestry close to Andronovo, whereas nomads of the Hami Basin-Balikun grasslands and related populations of Xinjiang remained closely related to Afanasievo. This doesn’t preclude that the ancestors of the Yuezhi became acculturated under the influence of peoples from eastern Xinjiang, but all data combined suggest an isolation of both populations – relative to other groups and to each other – and it is therefore more likely that they spoke Indo-Iranian-related languages rather than a language of the Tocharian branch.


In an interesting twist of events, despite the initially reported hg. R1b and Q, Tocharians from Shirenzigou actually show a haplogroup diversity comparable to that attested in other late Iron Age populations: a similar diversity is seen, for example, among Germanic, Baltic, and Balto-Finnic peoples of the Baltic region; among East Germanic or Scythians of the north Pontic region; or among Mediterranean peoples sampled to date. Iron Age peoples show thus a complex sociopolitical setting that overcame the previous patrilineal homogeneity of Bronze Age expansions.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya. Modified from the paper to include labels of modern populations and a dotted lines with the cline formed by Shirenzigou, from (Yamnaya-like) Afanasievo to Central and East Asian-like populations. In red circles, samples with best fit for Andronovo-like ancestry. In green circles, samples with Han-related admixture.

M15-2 (with Han-related ancestry) is of the rare haplogroup Q1a-M120, while the samples with highest Steppe_MLBA-related ancestry are of hg. R1b-PH155, which points to their recent origin among Yuezhi, or to Hun-related populations showing an admixture related to the proto-historic nomads of the Gansu and Qinghai grasslands.

The expansion of Chemurchek-related peoples was probably associated more with hg. Q1a (dubious if it’s a Pre-ISOGG 2017 nomenclature, hence possibly Q1b), a haplogroup that might be found in Khvalynsk as a “significant minority” according to Anthony (2019), and it might also be attested in sampled individuals from Afanasievo in its late phase. This might be, therefore, a case similar to the early expansion of Indo-Europeans with R1b-V1636 lineages through the Volga – North Caucasus region, and of the later expansion with I2a-L699 lineages into the Balkans.

Haplogroup Q1a2-M25 is found in individual X3, whose Steppe ancestry is likely a combination of Afanasievo plus Andronovo-like ancestry heavily admixed with Hezhen/Ulchi-like populations, in line with the expected recent contacts with the neighbouring Xiongnu, Yuezhi, and other population movements affecting eastern Xinjiang.

Sample M4, which packs the most Afanasievo-like ancestry, is of hg. R1a-Z645, which – like sample M8R1 of hg. O – is most likely related to haplogroup resurgence events of local populations, which left the predominant Afanasievo-like admixture brought by builders of stone burials essentially intact, evidenced by the almost 100% of R1a found in the Xiaohe cemetery – and in most of the early Andronovo horizon – and among expanding Kangju and Wusun, as well as by the prevalence of hg. O among sampled East Asian populations.

A question that will only be answered with more samples is how and when the prevalent R1b-L23 and Q1b lineages among Afanasievo-related peoples began to be replaced to reach the high variability seen in Shirenzigou. Given the pastoralist nature of peoples around Tian Shan, the succeeding expansions of Proto-Tocharians, and the late isolation of different Common Tocharian groups, it is more than likely that this variability represents a late and local phenomenon within Xinjiang itself.

Peoples of Xinjiang during Antiquity. See full culture and ancient DNA maps.


Tocharians are one of the main pillars that confirm the Late Proto-Indo-European homeland of the R1b-rich populations of the Don-Volga region. There is already:

Just like the East Bell Beaker expansion from Yamnaya Hungary has confirmed that Corded Ware peoples did not partake in spreading Indo-European languages (spreading Uralic languages instead), data on the expansion of Tocharian speakers from Afanasievo to the Tian Shan was always there; population genomics is merely helping to connect the dots.

In summary, genetic research is supporting the expected linguistic expansions of the Neolithic and Bronze Age step by step, slowly but surely.


Iron Age Tocharians of Yamnaya ancestry from Afanasevo show hg. R1b-M269 and Q1a1

New open access Ancient Genomes Reveal Yamnaya-Related Ancestry and a Potential Source of Indo-European Speakers in Iron Age Tianshan, by Ning et al. Current Biology (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, changes for clarity):

Here, we report the first genome-wide data of 10 ancient individuals from northeastern Xinjiang. They are dated to around 2,200 years ago and were found at the Iron Age Shirenzigou site. We find them to be already genetically admixed between Eastern and Western Eurasians. We also find that the majority of the East Eurasian ancestry in the Shirenzigou individuals is related to northeastern Asian populations, while the West Eurasian ancestry is best presented by ∼20% to 80% Yamnaya-like ancestry. Our data thus suggest a Western Eurasian steppe origin for at least part of the ancient Xinjiang population. Our findings furthermore support a Yamnaya-related origin for the now extinct Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, in southern Xinjiang.


The dominant mtDNA lineages of the Shirenzigou people are commonly found in modern and ancient West Eurasian populations, such as U4, U5, and H, while they also have East Eurasian-specific haplogroups A, D4, and G3, preliminarily documenting admixed ancestry from eastern and western Eurasia.

The admixture profile is also shown on the paternal Y chromosome side that 4 out of 6 males in Shirenzigou (Figure S2) belong to the West Eurasian-specific haplogroup R1b (n = 2) and East Eurasian-specific haplogroup Q1a (n = 2), the former is predominant in ancient Yamnaya and nearly 100% in Afanasievo, different from the Middle and Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA) such as Andronovo, [Potapovka], Srubnaya, and Sintashta whose Y chromosomal haplogroup is mainly R1a.



We first carried out principal component analysis (PCA) to assess the genetic affinities of the ancient individuals qualitatively by projecting them onto present-day Eurasian variation (Figure 2). We observed a distinct separation between East and West Eurasians. Our ancient Shirenzigou samples and present-day populations from Central Asia and northwestern China form a genetic cline from East to West in the first PC. The distribution of Shirenzigou samples on the cline is relatively scattered with two major clusters, one being closer to modern-day Uygurs and Kazakhs and the other being closer to recently published ancient Saka and Huns from the Tianshan in Kazakhstan (…).

We applied a formal admixture test using f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Shirenzigou; X, Y) where X and Y are worldwide populations that might be the genetic sources for the Shirenzigou individuals. We observed the most significant signals of admixture in the Shirenzigou samples when using Yamnaya_Samara or Srubnaya as the West Eurasian source and some Northern Asians or Koreans as the East Eurasian source (Table S1). We also plotted the outgroup f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Mbuti; X, Anatolia_Neolithic) and f3 (Mbuti; X, Kostenki14) to visualize the allele sharing between population X and Anatolian farmers. As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya.

Genetic Composition of Iron Age Shirenzigou Individuals

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases. The Yamnaya_Samara or Afanasievo-related ancestry ranges from ∼20% to 80% in different Shirenzigou individuals, consistent with the scattered distribution on the East-West cline in the PCA


(…) we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/Hezhen-related ancestry.

One important question remains, though: how and when did these Proto-Tocharian speakers migrate from the Afanasevo culture in the Altai into the Tarim Basin? The traditional answer, now more likely than ever, is through the Chemurchek culture. See e.g. A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4).

Also, given the apparent lack of (extra farmer ancestry that characterizes) Corded Ware ancestry, if the results were already suspicious before, how likely are now the published R1a(xZ93) and/or radiocarbon dates of the Xiaohe mummies from Li et al. (2010, 2015)? Because, after all, one should have expected in such a late date a generalized admixture with neighbouring Srubna/Andronovo-like populations.


Uralic speakers formed clines of Corded Ware ancestry with WHG:ANE populations


The preprint by Jeong et al. (2018) has been published: The genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia Nature Ecol. Evol. (2019).

Interesting excerpts, referring mainly to Uralic peoples (emphasis mine):

A model-based clustering analysis using ADMIXTURE shows a similar pattern (Fig. 2b and Supplementary Fig. 3). Overall, the proportions of ancestry components associated with Eastern or Western Eurasians are well correlated with longitude in inner Eurasians (Fig. 3). Notable outliers include known historical migrants such as Kalmyks, Nogais and Dungans. The Uralic- and Yeniseian-speaking populations, as well as Russians from multiple locations, derive most of their Eastern Eurasian ancestry from a component most enriched in Nganasans, while Turkic/Mongolic speakers have this component together with another component most enriched in populations from the Russian Far East, such as Ulchi and Nivkh (Supplementary Fig. 3). Turkic/Mongolic speakers comprising the bottom-most cline have a distinct Western Eurasian ancestry profile: they have a high proportion of a component most enriched in Mesolithic Caucasus hunter-gatherers and Neolithic Iranians and frequently harbour another component enriched in present-day South Asians (Supplementary Fig. 4). Based on the PCA and ADMIXTURE results, we heuristically assigned inner Eurasians to three clines: the ‘forest-tundra’ cline includes Russians and all Uralic and Yeniseian speakers; the ‘steppe-forest’ cline includes Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations from the Volga and Altai–Sayan regions and Southern Siberia; and the ‘southern steppe’ cline includes the rest of the populations.

The first two PCs summarizing the genetic structure within 2,077 Eurasian individuals. The two PCs generally mirror geography. PC1 separates western and eastern Eurasian populations, with many inner Eurasians in the middle. PC2 separates eastern Eurasians along the northsouth cline and also separates Europeans from West Asians. Ancient individuals (color-filled shapes), including two Botai individuals, are projected onto PCs calculated from present-day individuals.

For the forest-tundra populations, the Nganasan + Srubnaya model is adequate only for the two Volga region populations, Udmurts and Besermyans (Fig. 5 and Supplementary Table 8).

For the other populations west of the Urals, six from the northeastern corner of Europe are modelled with additional Mesolithic Western European hunter-gatherer (WHG) contribution (8.2–11.4%; Supplementary Table 8), while the rest need both WHG and early Neolithic European farmers (LBK_EN; Supplementary Table 2). Nganasan-related ancestry substantially contributes to their gene pools and cannot be removed from the model without a significant decrease in the model fit (4.1–29.0% contribution; χ2 P ≤ 1.68 × 10−5; Supplementary Table 8).

Supplementary Table 8. QpAdm-based admixture modeling of the forest-tundra cline populations. For the 13 populations west of the Urals, we present a four-way admixture model, Nganasan+Srubnaya+WHG+LBK_EN, or its minimal adequate subset. Modified from the article, to include colors for cultures, and underlined best models for Corded Ware ancestry among Uralians.

NOTE. It doesn’t seem like Hungarians can be easily modelled with Nganasan ancestry, though…

For the 4 populations east of the Urals (Enets, Selkups, Kets and Mansi), for which the above models are not adequate, Nganasan + Srubnaya + AG3 provides a good fit (χ2 P ≥ 0.018; Fig. 5 and Supplementary Table 8). Using early Bronze Age populations from the Baikal Lake region (‘Baikal_EBA’; Supplementary Table 2) as a reference instead of Nganasan, the two-way model of Baikal_EBA + Srubnaya provides a reasonable fit (χ2 P ≥ 0.016; Supplementary Table 8) and the three-way model of Baikal_EBA + Srubnaya + AG3 is adequate but with negative AG3 contribution for Enets and Mansi (χ2 P ≥ 0.460; Supplementary Table 8).

Supplementary Table 8. QpAdm-based admixture modeling of the forest-tundra cline populations. For the four populations east of the Urals, we present three admixture models: Baikal_EBA+Srubnaya, Baikal_EBA+Srubnaya+AG3 and Nganasan+Srubnaya+AG3. For each model, we present qpAdm p-value, admixture coefficient estimates and associated 5 cM jackknife standard errors (estimate ± SE). Modified from the article, to include colors for cultures, and underlined best models for Corded Ware ancestry among Uralians.

Bronze/Iron Age populations from Southern Siberia also show a similar ancestry composition with high ANE affinity (Supplementary Table 9). The additional ANE contribution beyond the Nganasan + Srubnaya model suggests a legacy from ANE-ancestry-rich clines before the Late Bronze Age.

Supplementary Table 9. QpAdm-based admixture modeling of Bronze and Iron Age populations of southern Siberia. For ancieint individuals associated with Karasuk and Tagar cultures, Nganasan+Srubnaya model is insufficient. For all five groups, adding AG3 as the third ancestry or substituting Nganasan with Baikal_EBA with higher ANE affinity provides an adequate model. For each model, we present qpAdm p-value, admixture coefficient estimates and associated 5 cM jackknife standard errors (estimate ± SE). Models with p-value ≥ 0.05 are highlighted in bold face. Modified from the article, to include colors for cultures, and underlined best models for Corded Ware ancestry among Uralians.

Lara M. Cassidy comments the results of the study in A steppe in the right direction (you can read it here):

Even among the earliest available inner Eurasian genomes, east–west connectivity is evident. These, too, form a longitudinal cline, characterized by the easterly increase of a distinct ancestry, labelled Ancient North Eurasian (ANE), lowest in western European hunter-gatherers (WHG) and highest in Palaeolithic Siberians from the Baikal region. Flow-through from this ANE cline is seen in steppe populations until at least the Bronze Age, including the world’s earliest known horse herders — the Botai. However, this is eroded over time by migration from west and east, following agricultural adoption on the continental peripheries (Fig. 1b,c).

Strikingly, Jeong et al. model the modern upper steppe cline as a simple two-way mixture between western Late Bronze Age herders and Northeast Asians (Fig. 1c), with no detectable residue from the older ANE cline. They propose modern steppe peoples were established mainly through migrations post-dating the Bronze Age, a sequence for which has been recently outlined using ancient genomes. In contrast, they confirm a substantial ANE legacy in modern Siberians of the northernmost cline, a pattern mirrored in excesses of WHG ancestry west of the Urals (Fig. 1b). This marks the inhospitable biome as a reservoir for older lineages, an indication that longstanding barriers to latitudinal movement may indeed be at work, reducing the penetrance of gene flows further south along the steppe.

The genomic formation of inner Eurasians. b–d, Depiction of the three main clines of ancestry identified among Inner Eurasians. Sources of admixture for each cline are represented using proxy ancient populations, both sampled and hypothesised, based on the study’s modelling results. The major eastern and western ancestries used to model each cline are shown in bold; the peripheral admixtures that gave rise to these are also shown. Additional contributions to subsections of each cline are marked with dashed lines. b, The northernmost cline, illustrating the legacy of WHG and ANE-related populations. c,d, The upper (c) and lower (d) steppe clines are shown, both of which have substantial eastern contributions related to modern Tungusic speakers. The authors propose these populations are themselves the result of an admixture between groups related to the Nganasan, whose ancestors potentially occupied a wider range, and hunter-gatherers (HGs) from the Amur River Basin. While the upper steppe cline in c can be described as a mixture between this eastern ancestry and western steppe herders, the current model for the southern steppe cline as shown in d is not adequate and is likely confounded by interactions with diverse bordering ancestries. Credit: Ecoregions 2017, Resolve https://ecoregions2017.appspot.com/

Given the findings as reported in the paper, I think it should be much easier to describe different subclines in the “northernmost cline” than in the much more recent “Turkic/Mongolic cline”, which is nevertheless subdivided in this paper in two clines. As an example, there are at least two obvious clines with “Nganasan-related meta-populations” among Uralians, which converge in a common Steppe MLBA (i.e. Corded Ware) ancestry – one with Palaeo-Laplandic peoples, and another one with different Palaeo-Siberian populations:

PCA of ancient and modern Eurasian samples. Ancient Palaeo-Laplandic, Palaeosiberian, and Altai clines drawn, with modern populations labelled. See a version with higher resolution.

The inclusion of certain Eurasian groups (or lack thereof) in the PCA doesn’t help to distinguish these subclines visually, and I guess the tiny “Naganasan-related” ancestral components found in some western populations (e.g. the famous ~5% among Estonians) probably don’t lend themselves easily to further subdivisions. Notice, nevertheless, the different components of the Eastern Eurasian source populations among Finno-Ugrians:

Characterization of the Western and Eastern Eurasian source ancestries in inner Eurasian populations. [Modified from the paper, includes only Uralic populations]. a, Admixture f3 values are compared for different Eastern Eurasian (Mixe, Nganasan and Ulchi; green) and Western Eurasian references (Srubnaya and Chalcolithic Iranians (Iran_ChL); red). For each target group, darker shades mark more negative f3 values. b, Weights of donor populations in two sources characterizing the main admixture signal (date 1 and PC1) in the GLOBETROTTER analysis. We merged 167 donor populations into 12 groups (top right). Target populations were split into five groups (from top to bottom): Aleuts; the forest-tundra cline populations; the steppe-forest cline populations; the southern steppe cline populations; and ‘others’.

Also remarkable is the lack of comparison of Uralic populations with other neighbouring ones, since the described Uralic-like ancestry of Russians was already known, and is most likely due to the recent acculturation of Uralic-speaking peoples in the cradle of Russians, right before their eastward expansions.

Supplementary Fig. 4. ADMIXTURE results qualitatively support PCA-based grouping of inner Eurasians into three clines. (A) Most southern steppe cline populations derive a higher proportion of their total Western Eurasian ancestry from a source related to Caucasus, Iran and South Asian populations. (B) Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations tend to derive their Eastern Eurasian ancestry more from the Devil’s Gate related one than from Nganasan-related one, while the opposite is true for Uralic- and Yeiseian-speakers. To estimate overall western Eurasian ancestry proportion, we sum up four components in our ADMIXTURE results (K=14), which are the dominant components in Neolithic Anatolians (“Anatolia_N”), Mesolithic western European hunter-gatherers (“WHG”), early Holocene Caucasus hunter-gatherers (“CHG”) and Mala from southern India, respectively. The “West / South Asian ancestry” is a fraction of it, calculated by summing up the last two components. To estimate overall Eastern Eurasian ancestry proportion, we sum up six components, most prevalent in Surui, Chipewyan, Itelmen, Nganasan, Atayal and early Neolithic Russian Far East individuals (“Devil’s Gate”). Eurasians into three clines. (A) Most southern steppe cline populations derive a higher proportion of their total Western Eurasian ancestry from a source related to Caucasus, Iran and South Asian populations. (B) Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations tend to derive their Eastern Eurasian ancestry more from the Devil’s Gate related one than from Nganasan-related one, while the opposite is true for Uralic- and Yeiseian-speakers. To estimate overall western Eurasian ancestry proportion, we sum up four components in our ADMIXTURE results (K=14), which are the dominant components in Neolithic Anatolians (“Anatolia_N”), Mesolithic western European hunter-gatherers (“WHG”), early Holocene Caucasus hunter-gatherers (“CHG”) and Mala from southern India, respectively. The “West / South Asian ancestry” is a fraction of it, calculated by summing up the last two components. To estimate overall Eastern Eurasian ancestry proportion, we sum up six components, most prevalent in Surui, Chipewyan, Itelmen, Nganasan, Atayal and early Neolithic Russian Far East individuals (“Devil’s Gate”).

A comparison of Estonians and Finns with Balts, Scandinavians, and Eastern Europeans would have been more informative for the division of the different so-called “Nganasan-like meta-populations”, and to ascertain which one of these ancestral peoples along the ancient WHG:ANE cline could actually be connected (if at all) to the Cis-Urals.

Because, after all, based on linguistics and archaeology, geneticists are not supposed to be looking for populations from the North Asian Arctic region, for “Siberian ancestry”, or for haplogroup N1c – despite previous works by their peers – , but for the Bronze Age Volga-Kama region…


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Geographic origin of ancient samples and ADMIXTURE results. (A) Map of Europe indicating the discovery sites for each of the ancient samples used in this study. (B) Ancestral population clusters inferred using ADMIXTURE on the HGDP dataset, for k = 6 ancestral clusters. The width of the bars of the ancient samples was increased to aid visualization. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1004353.g001

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

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


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

Thracian settlements from the 6th c. BC on:

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

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

Image from Volf at Vol_Vlad LiveJournal.

Their relationships with Scythians and Greeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

    About the PCA

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    A few interesting lessons to be learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

    Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

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

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

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

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

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

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

    On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

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

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

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

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

    Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

    Late Khvalynsk expansions and archaic Late PIE

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

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

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

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

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

    New samples of late Khvalynsk origin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Potential linguistic substrates in the Middle East

    A few words about relevant substrate language proposals.

    Euphratic language

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

    Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gutian language

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

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

    This is the relevant excerpt from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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