The genetic and cultural barrier of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone


We know that the Caucasus Mountains formed a persistent prehistoric barrier to cultural and population movements. Nevertheless, an even more persistent frontier to population movements in Europe, especially since the Neolithic, is the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone.

Like the Caucasus, this barrier could certainly be crossed, and peoples and cultures could permeate in both directions, but there have been no massive migrations through it. The main connection between both regions (steppe vs. forest-steppe/forest zone) was probably through its eastern part, through the Samara region in the Middle Volga.

The chances of population expansions crossing this natural barrier anywhere else seem quite limited, with a much less porous crossing region in the west, through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

A Persistent ecological and cultural frontier

It is very difficult to think about any culture that transgressed this persistent ecological and cultural frontier: many prehistoric and historical steppe pastoralists did appear eventually in the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during their expansions (e.g. Yamna, Scythians, or Turks), as did forest groups who permeated to the south (e.g. Comb Ware, GAC, or Abashevo), but their respective hold in foreign biomes was mostly temporary, because their cultures had to adapt to the new ecological environment. Most if not all groups originally from a different ecological niche eventually disappeared, subjected to renewed demographic pressure from neighbouring steppe or forest populations…

The Samara region in the Middle Volga may be pointed out as the true prehistoric link between forests and steppes (see David Anthony’s remarks), something reflected in its nature as a prehistoric sink in genetics. This strong forest – forest-steppe – steppe connection was seen in the Eurasian technocomplex, during the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, in the expansion of Abashevo peoples to the steppes (in one of the most striking cases of population admixture in the area), with Scythians (visible in the intense contacts with Ananyino), and with Turks (Volga Turks).

Simplified map of the distribution of steppes and forest-steppes (Pontic and Pannonian) and xeric grasslands in Eastern Central Europe (with adjoining East European ranges) with their regionalisation as used in the review (Northern—Pannonic—Pontic). Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Before the emergence of pastoralism, the cultural contacts of the Pontic region (i.e. forest-steppes) with the Baltic were intense. In fact, the connection of the north Pontic area with the Baltic through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor and the Podolian-Volhynian region is essential to understand the spread of peoples of post-Maglemosian and post-Swiderian cultures (to the south), hunter-gatherer pottery (to the north), TRB (to the south), Late Trypillian groups (north), GAC (south), or Comb Ware (south) (see here for Eneolithic movements), and finally steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 with Corded Ware (north). After the complex interaction of TRB, Trypillia, GAC, and CWC during the expansion of late Repin, this traditional long-range connection is lost and only emerges sporadically, such as with the expansion of East Germanic tribes.

A barrier to steppe migrations into northern Europe

One may think that this barrier was more permeable, then, in the past. However, the frontier is between steppe and forest-steppe ecological niches, and this barrier evolved during prehistory due to climate changes. The problem is, before the drought that began ca. 4000 BC and increased until the Yamna expansion, the steppe territory in the north Pontic region was much smaller, merely a strip of coastal land, compared to its greater size ca. 3300 BC and later.

This – apart from the cultural and technological changes associated with nomadic pastoralism – justifies the traditional connection of the north Pontic forest-steppes to the north, broken precisely after the expansion of Khvalynsk, as the north Pontic area became gradually a steppe region. The strips of north Pontic and Azov steppes and Crimea seem to have had stronger connections to the Northern Caucasus and Northern Caspian steppes than with the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.

NOTE. We still don’t know the genetic nature of Mikhailovka or Ezero, steppe-related groups possibly derived from Novodanilovka and Suvorovo close to the Black Sea (which possibly include groups from the Pannonian plains), and how they compare to neighbouring typically forest-steppe cultures of the so-called late Sredni Stog groups, like Dereivka or partly Kvityana.

Typical migration routes through European steppes and forest-steppes. Red line represents the persistent cultural and genetic barrier, with the latest evolution in steppe region represented by the shift from dashed line to the north. Arrows show the most common population movements. Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Despite the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes neighbouring each other for ca. 2,000 km, peoples from forested and steppe areas had an obvious advantage in their own regions, most likely due to the specialization of their subsistence economy. While this is visible already in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the arrival of the Neolithic package in the Pontic-Caspian region incremented the difference between groups, by spreading specialized animal domestication. The appearance of nomadic pastoralism adapted to the steppe, eventually including the use of horses and carts, made the cultural barrier based on the economic know-how even stronger.

Even though groups could still adapt and permeate a different territory (from steppe to forest-steppe/forest and vice-versa), this required an important cultural change, to the extent that it is eventually complicated to distinguish these groups from neighbouring ones (like north-west Pontic Mesolithic or Neolithic groups and their interaction with the steppes, Trypillia-Usatovo, Scythians-Thracians, etc.). In fact, this steppe – forest-steppe barrier is also seen to the east of the Urals, with the distinct expansion of Andronovo and Seima-Turbino/Andronovo-like horizons, which seem to represent completely different ethnolinguistic groups.

As a result of this cultural and genetic barrier, like that formed by the Northern Caucasus:

1) No steppe pastoralist culture (which after the emergence of Khvalynsk means almost invariably horse-riding, chariot-using nomadic herders who could easily pasture their cows in the huge grasslands without direct access to water) has ever been successful in spreading to the north or north-west into northern Europe, until the Mongols. No forest culture has ever been successful in expanding to the steppes, either (except for the infiltration of Abashevo into Sintashta-Potapovka).

2) Corded Ware was not an exception: like hunter-gatherer pottery before it (and like previous population movements of TRB, late Trypillia, GAC, Comb Ware or Lublin-Volhynia settlers) their movements between the north Pontic area and central Europe happened through forest-steppe ecological niches due to their adaptation to them. There is no reason to support a direct connection of CWC with true steppe cultures.

3) The so-called “Steppe ancestry” permeated the steppe – forest-steppe ecotone for hundreds of years during the 5th and early 4th millennium BC, due to the complex interaction of different groups, and probably to the aridization trend that expanded steppe (and probably forest-steppe) to the north. Language, culture, and paternal lineages did not cross that frontier, though.

EDIT (4 FEB 2019): Wang et al. is out in Nature Communications. They deleted the Yamna Hungary samples and related analyses, but it’s interesting to see where exactly they think the trajectory of admixture of Yamna with European MN cultures fits best. This path could also be inferred long ago from the steppe connections shown by the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker evolution and by early Balkan samples:

Prehistoric individuals projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Dashed arrows indicate trajectories of admixture: EHG—CHG (petrol), Yamnaya—Central European MN (pink), Steppe—Caucasus (green), and Iran Neolithic—Anatolian Neolithic (brown). Modified from the original, a red circle has been added to the Yamna-Central European MN admixture.


ASoSaH Reread (II): Y-DNA haplogroups among Uralians (apart from R1a-M417)


This is mainly a reread of from Book Two: A Game of Clans of the series A Song of Sheep and Horses: chapters iii.5. Early Indo-Europeans and Uralians, iv.3. Early Uralians, v.6. Late Uralians and vi.3. Disintegrating Uralians.

“Sredni Stog”

While the true source of R1a-M417 – the main haplogroup eventually associated with Corded Ware, and thus Uralic speakers – is still not known with precision, due to the lack of R1a-M198 in ancient samples, we already know that the Pontic-Caspian steppes were probably not it.

We have many samples from the north Pontic area since the Mesolithic compared to the Volga-Ural territory, and there is a clear prevalence of I2a-M223 lineages in the forest-steppe area, mixed with R1b-V88 (possibly a back-migration from south-eastern Europe).

R1a-M459 (xR1a-M198) lineages appear from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic scattered from the Baltic to the Caucasus, from the Dniester to Samara, in a situation similar to haplogroups Q1a-M25 and R1b-L754, which supports the idea that R1a, Q1a, and R1b expanded with ANE ancestry, possibly in different waves since the Epipalaeolithic, and formed the known ANE:EHG:WHG cline.

Y-DNA samples from Khvalynsk and neighbouring cultures. See full version.

The first confirmed R1a-M417 sample comes from Alexandria, roughly coinciding with the so-called steppe hiatus. Its emergence in the area of the previous “early Sredni Stog” groups (see the mess of the traditional interpretation of the north Pontic groups as “Sredni Stog”) and its later expansion with Corded Ware supports Kristiansen’s interpretation that Corded Ware emerged from the Dnieper-Dniester corridor, although samples from the area up to ca. 4000 BC, including the few Middle Eneolithic samples available, show continuity of hg. I2a-M223 and typical Ukraine Neolithic ancestry.

NOTE. The further subclade R1a-Z93 (Y26) reported for the sample from Alexandria seems too early, given the confidence interval for its formation (ca. 3500-2500 BC); even R1a-Z645 could be too early. Like the attribution of the R1b-L754 from Khvalynsk to R1b-V1636 (after being previously classifed as of Pre-V88 and M73 subclade), it seems reasonable to take these SNP calls with a pinch of salt: especially because Yleaf (designed to look for the furthest subclade possible) does not confirm for them any subclade beyond R1a-M417 and R1b-L754, respectively.

The sudden appearance of “steppe ancestry” in the region, with the high variability shown by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, suggests that this is due to recent admixture of incoming foreign peoples (of Ukraine Neolithic / Comb Ware ancestry) with Novodanilovka settlers.

The most likely origin of this population, taking into account the most common population movements in the area since the Neolithic, is the infiltration of (mainly) hunter-gatherers from the forest areas. That would confirm the traditional interpretation of the origin of Uralic speakers in the forest zone, although the nature of Pontic-Caspian settlers as hunter-gatherers rather than herders make this identification today fully unnecessary (see here).

EDIT (3 FEB 2019): As for the most common guesstimates for Proto-Uralic, roughly coinciding with the expansion of this late Sredni Stog community (ca. 4000 BC), you can read the recent post by J. Pystynen in Freelance Reconstruction, Probing the roots of Samoyedic.

Late Sredni Stog admixture shows variability proper of recent admixture of forest-steppe peoples with steppe-like population. See full version here.

NOTE. Although my initial simplistic interpretation (of early 2017) of Comb Ware peoples – traditionally identified as Uralic speakers – potentially showing steppe ancestry was probably wrong, it seems that peoples from the forest zone – related to Comb Ware or neighbouring groups like Lublyn-Volhynia – reached forest-steppe areas to the south and eventually expanded steppe ancestry into east-central Europe through the Volhynian Upland to the Polish Upland, during the late Trypillian disintegration (see a full account of the complex interactions of the Final Eneolithic).

The most interesting aspect of ascertaining the origin of R1a-M417, given its prevalence among Uralic speakers, is to precisely locate the origin of contacts between Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic. Traditionally considered as the consequence of contacts between Middle and Upper Volga regions, the most recent archaeological research and data from ancient DNA samples has made it clear that it is Corded Ware the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages, hence these contacts of Indo-Europeans of the Volga-Ural region with Uralians have to be looked for in neighbours of the north Pontic area.

Sredni Stog – Repin contacts representing Uralic – Late Indo-European contacts were probably concentrated around the Don River.

My bet – rather obvious today – is that the Don River area is the source of the earliest borrowings of Late Uralic from Late Indo-European (i.e. post-Indo-Anatolian). The borrowing of the Late PIE word for ‘horse’ is particularly interesting in this regard. Later contacts (after the loss of the initial laryngeal) may be attributed to the traditionally depicted Corded Ware – Yamna contact zone in the Dnieper-Dniester area.

NOTE. While the finding of R1a-M417 populations neighbouring R1b-L23 in the Don-Volga interfluve would be great to confirm these contacts, I don’t know if the current pace of more and more published samples will continue. The information we have right now, in my opinion, suffices to support close contacts of neighbouring Indo-Europeans and Uralians in the Pontic-Caspian area during the Late Eneolithic.

Classical Corded Ware

After some complex movements of TRB, late Trypillia and GAC peoples, Corded Ware apparently emerged in central-east Europe, under the influence of different cultures and from a population that probably (at least partially) stemmed from the north Pontic forest-steppe area.

Single Grave and central Corded Ware groups – showing some of the earliest available dates (emerging likely ca. 3000/2900 BC) – are as varied in their haplogroups as it is expected from a sink (which does not in the least resemble the Volga-Ural population):

Interesting is the presence of R1b-L754 in Obłaczkowo, potentially of R1b-V88 subclade, as previously found in two Central European individuals from Blätterhole MN (ca. 3650 and 3200 BC), and in the Iron Gates and north Pontic areas.

Haplogroups I2a and G have also been reported in early samples, all potentially related to the supposed Corded Ware central-east European homeland, likely in southern Poland, a region naturally connected to the north Pontic forest-steppe area and to the expansion of Neolithic groups.

Y-DNA samples from early Corded Ware groups and neighbouring cultures. See full version.

The true bottlenecks under haplogroup R1a-Z645 seem to have happened only during the migration of Corded Ware to the east: to the north into the Battle Axe culture, mainly under R1a-Z282, and to the south into Middle Dnieper – Fatyanovo-Balanovo – Abashevo, probably eventually under R1a-Z93.

This separation is in line with their reported TMRCA, and supports the split of Finno-Permic from an eastern Uralic group (Ugric and Samoyedic), although still in contact through the Russian forest zone to allow for the spread of Indo-Iranian loans.

This bottleneck also supports in archaeology the expansion of a sort of unifying “Corded Ware A-horizon” spreading with people (disputed by Furholt), the disintegrating Uralians, and thus a source of further loanwords shared by all surviving Uralic languages.

Confirming this ‘concentrated’ Uralic expansion to the east is the presence of R1a-M417 (xR1a-Z645) lineages among early and late Single Grave groups in the west – which essentially disappeared after the Bell Beaker expansion – , as well as the presence of these subclades in modern Central and Western Europeans. Central European groups became thus integrated in post-Bell Beaker European EBA cultures, and their Uralic dialect likely disappeared without a trace.

NOTE. The fate of R1b-L51 lineages – linked to North-West Indo-Europeans undergoing a bottleneck in the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker migration to the west – is thus similar to haplogroup R1a-Z645 – linked to the expansion of Late Uralians to the east – , hence proving the traditional interpretation of the language expansions as male-driven migrations. These are two of the most interesting genetic data we have to date to confirm previous language expansions and dialectal classifications.

It will be also interesting to see if known GAC and Corded Ware I2a-Y6098 subclades formed eventually part of the ancient Uralic groups in the east, apart from lineages which will no doubt appear among asbestos ware groups and probably hunter-gatherers from north-eastern Europe (see the recent study by Tambets et al. 2018).

Corded Ware ancestry marked the expansion of Uralians

Sadly, some brilliant minds decided in 2015 that the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (now more appropriately called “steppe ancestry”) should be associated to ‘Indo-Europeans’. This is causing the development of various new pet theories on the go, as more and more data contradicts this interpretation.

There is a clear long-lasting cultural, populational, and natural barrier between Yamna and Corded Ware: they are derived from different ancestral populations, which show clearly different ancestry and ancestry evolution (although they did converge to some extent), as well as different Y-DNA bottlenecks; they show different cultures, including those of preceding and succeeding groups, and evolved in different ecological niches. The only true steppe pastoralists who managed to dominate over grasslands extending from the Upper Danube to the Altai were Yamna peoples and their cultural successors.

Corded Ware admixture proper of expanding late Sredni Stog-like populations from the forest-steppe. See full version here.

NOTE. You can also read two recent posts by FrankN in the blog aDNA era, with detailed information on the Pontic-Caspian cultures and the formation of “steppe ancestry” during the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic: How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 1: LGM to Early Holocene and How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 2: The Pottery Neolithic. Unlike your typical amateur blogger on genetics using few statistical comparisons coupled with ‘archaeolinguoracial mumbo jumbo’ to reach unscientific conclusions, these are obviously carefully redacted texts which deserve to be read.

I will not enter into the discussion of “steppe ancestry” and the mythical “Siberian ancestry” for this post, though. I will just repost the opinion of Volker Heyd – an archaeologist specialized in Yamna Hungary and Bell Beakers who is working with actual geneticists – on the early conclusions based on “steppe ancestry”:

[A]rchaeologist Volker Heyd at the University of Bristol, UK, disagreed, not with the conclusion that people moved west from the steppe, but with how their genetic signatures were conflated with complex cultural expressions. Corded Ware and Yamnaya burials are more different than they are similar, and there is evidence of cultural exchange, at least, between the Russian steppe and regions west that predate Yamnaya culture, he says. None of these facts negates the conclusions of the genetics papers, but they underscore the insufficiency of the articles in addressing the questions that archaeologists are interested in, he argued. “While I have no doubt they are basically right, it is the complexity of the past that is not reflected,” Heyd wrote, before issuing a call to arms. “Instead of letting geneticists determine the agenda and set the message, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions.


Dzudzuana, Sidelkino, and the Caucasus contribution to the Pontic-Caspian steppe


It has been known for a long time that the Caucasus must have hosted many (at least partially) isolated populations, probably helped by geographical boundaries, setting it apart from open Eurasian areas.

David Reich writes in his book the following about India:

The genetic data told a clear story. Around a third of Indian groups experienced population bottlenecks as strong or stronger than the ones that occurred among Finns or Ashkenazi Jews. We later confirmed this finding in an even larger dataset that we collected working with Thangaraj: genetic data from more than 250 jati groups spread throughout India (…)

Rather than an invention of colonialism as Dirks suggested, long-term endogamy as embodied in India today in the institution of caste has been overwhelmingly important for millennia. (…)

The Han Chinese are truly a large population. They have been mixing freely for thousands of years. In contrast, there are few if any Indian groups that are demographically very large, and the degree of genetic differentiation among Indian jati groups living side by side in the same village is typically two to three times higher than the genetic differentiation between northern and southern Europeans. The truth is that India is composed of a large number of small populations.

There is little doubt now, based on findings spanning thousands of years, that the Mesolithic and Neolithic Caucasus hosted various very small populations, even if the ancestral components may be reduced to the few known to date (such as ANE, EHG, AME*, ENA, CHG, and other “deep” ancestral components).

NOTE. I will call the ancestral component of Dzudzuana/Anatolian hunter-gatherers Ancient Middle Easterner (AME), to give a clear idea of its likely extension during the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and to avoid using the more simplistic Dzudzuana, unless it is useful to mention these specific local samples.

Image modified from Lazaridis et al. (2018), including Caucasus, Don-Volga-Ural, and North Pontic Mesolithic-Neolithic populations. “Ancient West Eurasian population structure. (a) Geographical distribution of key ancient West Eurasian populations. (b) Temporal distribution of key ancient West Eurasian populations (approximate date in ky BP). (c) PCA of key ancient West Eurasians, including additional populations (shown with grey shells), in the space of outgroup f4-statistics (Methods).”

Genetic labs have a strong fixation with ancestry. I guess the use of complex statistical methods gives professionals and laymen alike the feeling of dealing with “Science”, as opposed to academic fields where you have to interpret data. I think language reveals a lot about the way people think, and the fact that ancestral components are called ‘lineages’ – while not wrong per se – is a clear symptom of the lack of interest in the true lineages: Y-DNA haplogroups.

Y-DNA bottlenecks

It has become quite clear that male-biased migrations are often the ones which can be confidently followed for actual population movements and ethnolinguistic identification, at least until the Iron Age. The frequently used Palaeolithic clusters offer a clear example of why ancestry does not represent what some people believe: They merely give a basic idea of sizeable population replacements by distant peoples.

Both concepts are important: sizeable and distant peoples. For example, during the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe there was a sizeable population replacement of the Aurignacian Goyet cluster by the Gravettian Vestonice cluster (probably from populations of far eastern Russia) coupled with the arrival of haplogroup I, although during the thousands of years that this material culture lasted, the previously expanded C1a2 lineages did not disappear, and there were probably different resurgence and admixture events.

Haplogroup I certainly expanded with the Gravettian culture to Iberia, where the Goyet ancestry did not change much – probably because of male-driven migrations -, to the extent that during the Magdalenian expansions haplogroup I expanded with an ancestry closer to Goyet, in what is called a ‘resurge’ of the Goyet cluster – even though there is a clear replacement of male lines.

The Villabruna (WHG) cluster is another good example. It probably spread with haplogroup R1b-L754, which – based on the extra ‘East Asian’ affinity of some samples and on modern samples from the Middle East – came probably from the east through a southern route, and not too long before the expansion of WHG likely from around the Black Sea, although this is still unclear. The finding of haplogroup I in samples of mostly WHG ancestry could confuse people that do not care about timing, sub-structured populations, and gene flow.

Image from David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here. Having migrated out of Africa and the Near East, modern human pioneer populations spread throughout Eurasia (1). By at least thirty-nine thousand years ago, one group founded a lineage of European hunter-gatherers that persisted largely uninterrupted for more than twenty thousand years (2). Eventually, groups derived from an eastern branch of this founding population of European huntergatherers spread west (3), displaced previous groups, and were eventually themselves pushed out of northern Europe by the spread of glacial ice, shown at its maximum extent (top right). As the glaciers receded, western Europe was repeopled from the southwest (4) by a population that had managed to persist for tens of thousands of years and was related to an approximately thirty-five-thousand-year old individual from far western Europe. A later human migration, following the first strong warming period, had an even larger impact, with a spread from the southeast (5) that not only transformed the population of western Europe but also homogenized the populations of Europe and the Near East. At a single site—Goyet Caves in Belgium—ancient DNA from individuals spread over twenty thousand years reflects these transformations, with representatives from the Aurignacian, Gravettian, and Magdalenian periods.

NOTE. If you don’t understand why ‘clusters’ that span thousands of years don’t really matter for the many Palaeolithic population expansions that certainly happened among hunter-gatherers in Europe, just take a look at what happened with Bell Beakers expanding from Yamna into western Europe within 500 years.

If we don’t thread carefully when talking about population migrations, these terms are bound to confuse people. Just as the fixation on “steppe ancestry” – which marks the arrival in Chalcolithic Europe of peoples from the Pontic-Caspian region – has confused a lot of researchers to this day.

When I began to write about the Indo-European demic diffusion model, my concern was to find a single spot where a North-West Indo-European proto-language could have expanded from ca. 2000 BC (our most common guesstimate). Based on the 2015 papers, and in spite of their conclusions, I thought it had become clear that Corded Ware was not it, and it was rather Bell Beakers. I assumed that Uralic was spoken to the north (as was the traditional belief), and thus Corded Ware expanded from the forest zone, hence steppe ancestry would also be found there with other R1a lineages.

With the publication of Mathieson et al. (2017) and Olalde et al. (2017), I changed my mind, seeing how “steppe ancestry” did in fact appear quite late, hence it was likely to be the result of very specific population movements, probably directly from the Caucasus. Later, Mathieson published in a revision the sample from Alexandria of hg R1a-M417 (probably R1a-Z645, possibly Z93+), which further supported the idea that the migration of Corded Ware peoples started near the North Pontic forest-steppe (as I included in a the next revision).

The question remains the same I repeated recently, though: where do the extra Caucasus components (i.e. beyond EHG) of Eneolithic Ukraine/Corded Ware and Khvalynsk/Yamna come from?

Steppe ancestry: “EHG” + “CHG”?

About EHG ancestry

From Lazaridis et al. (2018):

Considering 2-way mixtures, we can model Karelia_HG as deriving 34 ± 2.8% of its ancestry from a Villabruna-related source, with the remainder mainly from ANE represented by the AfontovaGora3 (AG3) sample from Lake Baikal ~17kya.

AG3 was likely of haplogroup Q1a (as reported by YFull, see Genetiker), and probably the ANE ancestry found in Eastern Europe accompanied a Palaeolithic migration of Q1a2-M25 (formed ca. 22600 BC, TMRCA ca. 14300 BC).

NOTE. You can read more about the expansion of Q lineages during the Palaeolithic.

Combined with what we know about the Eneolithic Steppe and Caucasus populations – it is likely that ANE ancestry remained the most important component of some of the small ghost populations of the Caucasus until their emergence with the Lola culture.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here. To understand the drawn potential Caucasus Mesolithic cluster, see above the PCA from Lazaridis et al. (2018).

The first sample we have now attributed to the EHG cluster is Sidelkino, from the Samara region (ca. 9300 BC), mtDNA U5a2. In Damgaard et al. (Science 2018), Yamnaya could be modelled as a CHG population related to Kotias Klde (54%) and the remaining from ANE population related to Sidelkino (>46%), with the following split events:

  1. A split event, where the CHG component of Yamnaya splits from KK1. The model inferred this time at 27 kya (though we note the larger models in Sections S2.12.4 and S2.12.5 inferred a more recent split time).
  2. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Sidelkino. This was inferred at about about 11 kya.
  3. A split event, where the ANE component of Yamnaya splits from Botai. We inferred this to occur 17 kya. Note that this is above the Sidelkino split time, so our model infers Yamnaya to be more closely related to the EHG Sidelkino, as expected.
  4. An ancestral split event between the CHG and ANE ancestral populations. This was inferred to occur around 40 kya.

Other samples classified as of the EHG cluster:

  • Popovo2 (ca. 6250 BC) of hg J1, mtDNA U4d – Po2 and Po4 from the same site (ca. 6550 BC) show continuity of mtDNA.
  • Karelia_HG, from Juzhnii Oleni Ostrov (ca. 6300 BC): I0211/UzOO40 (ca. 6300 BC) of hg J1(xJ1a), mtDNA U4a; and I0061/UzOO74 of hg R1a1(xR1a1a), mtDNA C1
  • UzOO77 and UzOO76 from Juzhnii Oleni Ostrov (ca. 5250 BC) of mtDNA R1b.
  • Samara_HG from Lebyanzhinka (ca. 5600 BC) of hg R1b1a, mtDNA U5a1d.

From the analysis of Lazaridis et al. (2018), we have some details about their admixture:

Image modified from Lazaridis et al. (2018). Modeling present-day and ancient West-Eurasians. Mixture proportions computed with qpAdm (Supplementary Information section 4). The proportion of ‘Mbuti’ ancestry represents the total of ‘Deep’ ancestry from lineages that split prior to the split of Ust’Ishim, Tianyuan, and West Eurasians and can include both ‘Basal Eurasian’ and other (e.g., Sub-Saharan African) ancestry. (Left) ‘Conservative’ estimates. Each population 367 cannot be modeled with fewer admixture events than shown. (Right) ‘Speculative’ estimates. The highest number of sources (≤5) with admixture estimates within [0,1] are shown for each population. Some of the admixture proportions are not significantly different from 0 (Supplementary Information section 4).

About Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry

About the enigmatic Anatolia_Neolithic-related ancestry found in Pontic-Caspian steppe samples, this is what Wang et al. (2018) had to say:

We focused on model of mixture of proximal sources such as CHG and Anatolian Chalcolithic for all six groups of the Caucasus cluster (Eneolithic Caucasus, Maykop and Late Makyop, Maykop-Novosvobodnaya, Kura-Araxes, and Dolmen LBA), with admixture proportions on a genetic cline of 40-72% Anatolian Chalcolithic related and 28-60% CHG related (Supplementary Table 7). When we explored Romania_EN and Greece_Neolithic individuals as alternative southeast European sources (30-46% and 36-49%), the CHG proportions increased to 54-70% and 51-64%, respectively. We hypothesize that alternative models, replacing the Anatolian Chalcolithic individual with yet unsampled populations from eastern Anatolia, South Caucasus or northern Mesopotamia, would probably also provide a fit to the data from some of the tested Caucasus groups.


The first appearance of ‘Near Eastern farmer related ancestry’ in the steppe zone is evident in Steppe Maykop outliers. However, PCA results also suggest that Yamnaya and later groups of the West Eurasian steppe carry some farmer related ancestry as they are slightly shifted towards ‘European Neolithic groups’ in PC2 (Fig. 2D) compared to Eneolithic steppe. This is not the case for the preceding Eneolithic steppe individuals. The tilting cline is also confirmed by admixture f3-statistics, which provide statistically negative values for AG3 as one source and any Anatolian Neolithic related group as a second source

Modified image from Wang et al. (2018). In blue, Yamna-related populations. In red, Corded Ware-related populations, and two elevated Anatolia_Neolithic values in Yamna. Notice how only GAC-related admixture increases the Anatolian_N-related ancestry in the Yamna outlier from Ozero, and the late Yamna sample from Hungary, related to the homogeneous Yamna population. “Supplementary Table 14. P values of rank=3 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a four-way admixture of distal sources EHG, CHG, Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.Left populations: Steppe cluster, EHG, CHG, WHG, Anatolian_Neolithic. Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.”

Detailed exploration via D-statistics in the form of D(EHG, steppe group; X, Mbuti) and D(Samara_Eneolithic, steppe group; X, Mbuti) show significantly negative D values for most of the steppe groups when X is a member of the Caucasus cluster or one of the Levant/Anatolia farmer-related groups (Supplementary Figs. 5 and 6). In addition, we used f- and D-statistics to explore the shared ancestry with Anatolian Neolithic as well as the reciprocal relationship between Anatolian- and Iranian farmer-related ancestry for all groups of our two main clusters and relevant adjacent regions (Supplementary Fig. 4). Here, we observe an increase in farmer-related ancestry (both Anatolian and Iranian) in our Steppe cluster, ranging from Eneolithic steppe to later groups. In Middle/Late Bronze Age groups especially to the north and east we observe a further increase of Anatolian farmer related ancestry consistent with previous studies of the Poltavka, Andronovo, Srubnaya and Sintashta groups and reflecting a different process not especially related to events in the Caucasus.

(…) Surprisingly, we found that a minimum of four streams of ancestry is needed to explain all eleven steppe ancestry groups tested, including previously published ones (Fig. 2; Supplementary Table 12). Importantly, our results show a subtle contribution of both Anatolian farmer-related ancestry and WHG-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Tables 13 and 14), which was likely contributed through Middle and Late Neolithic farming groups from adjacent regions in the West. The discovery of a quite old AME ancestry has rendered this probably unnecessary, because this admixture from an Anatolian-like ghost population could be driven even by small populations from the Caucasus.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are: in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus 1128 cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups (see also Supplementary Tables 10, 14 and 20).”

NOTE. For a detailed account of the possibilities regarding this differential admixture in the North Pontic area in contrast to the Don-Volga-Ural region, you can read the posts Sredni Stog, Proto-Corded Ware, and their “steppe admixture”, and Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier.

While it is not yet fully clear, the increased Anatolian_Neolithic-like ancestry in Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see below) makes it unlikely that all such ancestry in Corded Ware groups comes from a GAC-related contribution. It is likely that at least part of it represents contributions from populations of the Caucasus, based on the mostly westward population movements in the steppe from ca. 4600 BC on, including the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, and especially the Kuban-Maykop expansion during the final Eneolithic into the North Pontic area.

NOTE. Since CHG-like groups from the Caucasus may have combinations of AME and ANE ancestry similar to Yamna (which may thus appear as ‘steppe ancestry’ in the North Pontic area), it is impossible to interpret with precision the following ADMIXTURE graphic:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018). Supervised ADMIXTURE analysis, modelling each ancient individual (one per row) as a mixture of population clusters constrained to contain northwestern-Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (yellow), EHG (pink) and WHG (green) populations. Dates in parentheses indicate approximate range of individuals in each population.

North-Eastern Technocomplex

The East Asian contribution to samples from the WHG samples (like Loschbour or La Braña), as specified in Fu et al. (2016), does not seem to be related to Baikal_EN, and appears possibly (in the ADMIXTURE analysis) integrated into he Villabruna component. I guess this implies that the shared alleles with East Asians are quite early, and potentially due to the expansion of R1b-L754 from the East.

It would be interesting to know the specific material culture Sidelkino belonged to – i.e. if it was related to the expansion of the North-Eastern Technocomplex – , and its Y-DNA. The Post-Swiderian expansion into eastern Europe, probably associated with the expansion of R1b-P297 lineages (including R1b-M73, found later in Botai and in Baltic HG) is supposed to have begun during the 11th millennium BC, but migrations to the Urals and beyond are probably concentrated in the 9th millennium, so this sample is possibly slightly early for R1b.

NOTE. User Rozenfeld at Anthrogenica posted this, which I think is interesting (in case anyone wants to try a Y-SNP call):

there is something strange with Sidelkino EHG: first, its archaeological context is not described in the supplementary. Second, its sex is not listed in the supplementary tables. Third, after looking for info about this sample, I found that: “Сиделькино-3. Для снятия вопроса о половой принадлежности индивида была проведена генетическая экспертиза, выявившая принадлежность останков мужчине.”(translation: Sidelkino-3. To resolve the question about sex of the remains, the genetic analysis was conducted, which showed that remains belonged to male), source:

So either they haven’t mentioned his Y-DNA in the paper for some reason, or there are more than one Sidelkino sample and the male one has not yet been published. The coverage of the Sidelkino sample from the paper is 2.9, more than enough to tell Y-DNA haplogroup.

The map of spreading of Post-Swiderian and Post-Krasnosillian sites in Mesolithic of Eastern Europe in the 8th millennia BC. From Zaliznyak (see here).

My speculative guess right now about specific population movements in far eastern Europe, based on the few data we have:

  • The expansion of the North-Eastern Technocomplex first around the 9th millennium BC, most likely expanded R1b-P279 ca. 11300 BC, judging by its TMRCA, with both R1b-M73 (TMRCA 5300) and R1b-M269 (TMRCA 4400 BC) info (with extra El Mirón ancestry) back, and thus Eurasiatic.
  • The expansion of haplogroup J1 to the north may have happened before or after the R1b-P279 expansion. Judging by the increase in AG3-related ancestry near Karelia compared to Baltic_HG, it is possible that it expanded just after R1b-P279 (hence possibly J1-Y6304? TMRCA 9700 BC). Its long-lasting presence in the Caucasus is supported by the Satsurblia (ca. 11300 BC) and the Dolmen BA (ca. 1300 BC) samples.
  • The expansion of R1a-M17 ca. 6600 BC is still likely to have happened from the east, based on the R1a-M17 samples found in Baikalic cultures slightly later (ca. 5300 BC). The presence of elevated Baikal_EN ancestry in Karelia HG and in Samara HG, and the finding of R1a-M417 samples in the Forest Zone after the Mesolithic suggests a connection with the expansion of Hunter-Gatherer pottery, from the Elshanka culture in the Samara region northward into the Forset Zone and westward into the North Pontic area.
  • The expansion of R1b-M73 ca. 5300 BC is likely to be associated with the emergence of a group east of the Urals (related to the later Botai culture, and potentially Pre-Yukaghir). Its presence in a Narva sample from Donkalnis (ca. 5200 BC) suggest either an early split and spread of both R1b-P297 lineages (M73 and M269) through Eastern Europe, or maybe a back-migration with hunter-gatherer pottery.
  • R1b-M269 spread successfully ca. 4400 BC (and R1b-L23 ca. 4100 BC, both based on TMRCA), and this successful expansion is probably to be associated with the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. We already know that Samara_HG ca. 5600 was R1b1a, so it is likely that R1b-M269 appeared (or ‘resurged’) in the Volga-Ural region shortly after the expansion of R1a-M17, whose expansion through the region may be inferred by the additional AG3 and Baikal_EN ancestry. Interesting from Samara_HG compared to the previous Sidelkino sample is the introduction of more El Mirón-related ancestry, typical of WHG populations (and thus proper of Baltic groups).

NOTE. The TMRCA dates are obviously gross approximations, because a) the actual rate of mutation is unknown and b) TMRCA estimates are based on the convergence of lineages that survived. The potential finding of R1a-Z645 (possibly Z93+) in Ukraine Eneolithic (ca. 4000 BC), and the potential finding of R1b-L23 in Khvalynsk ca. 4250 BC complicates things further, in terms of dates and origins of any subclade.

The question thus remains as it was long ago: did R1b-M269 lineages expand (‘return’) from the east, near the Urals, or directly from the north? Were they already near Samara at the same time as the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, and were not much affected by it? Or did they ‘resurge’ from populations admixed with Caucasus-related ancestry after the expansion of R1a-M17 with this pottery (since there are different stepped expansions from the Samara region)? We could even ask, did R1a-M17 really expand from the east, i.e. are the dates on Baikalic subclades from Moussa et al. (2016) reliable? Or did R1a-M17 expand from some pockets in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, taking over the expansion of HG pottery at some point?

Early Neolithic cultures in eastern and central Europe: 1–Yelshanian; 2–North Caspian; 3–Rakushechnyj Yar; 4–Surskian; 5–Dnieper-Donetsian; 6– Bug-Dniesterian; 7–Upper Volga; 8–Narvian; 9–Linear Pottery. White arrows: expansion of early farming; black arrows: spread of pottery-making traditions. From Dolukhanov et al. (2009).

Maglemose-related migrations

The most interesting aspect from the new paper (regarding Indo-Uralic migrations) is that Ancestral Middle Easterner ancestry will probably be a better proxy for the Anatolia_Neolithic component found in Ukraine Mesolithic to Eneolithic, and possibly also for some of the “more CHG-like” component found among Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, all likely derived from different admixture events with groups from the Caucasus.

NOTE. Even the supposed gene flow of Neolithic Iranian ancestry into the Caucasus can be put into question, since that means possibly a Dzudzuana-like population with greater “deep ancestry” proportion than the one found in CHG, which may still be found within the Caucasus.

If it was not clear already that following ‘steppe ancestry’ wherever it appears is a rather lame way of following Indo-European migrations, every single sample from the Caucasus and their admixture with Pontic-Caspian steppe populations will probably show that “steppe ancestry” is in fact formed by a variety of steppe-related ancestral components, impossible to follow coherently with a single population. Exactly what is happening already with the Siberian ancestry.

If the paper on the Dzudzuana samples has shown something, is that the expansion of an ANE-like population shook the entire Caucasus area up to the Zagros Mountains, creating this ANE – AME cline that are CHG and Iran_N, with further contributions of “deep ancestries” (probably from the south) complicating the picture further.

If this happens with few known samples, and we know of an ANE-like ghost population in the Caucasus (appearing later in the Lola culture), we can already guess that the often repeated “CHG component” found in Ukraine_Eneolithic and Khvalynsk will not be the same (except the part mediated by the Novodanilovka expansion).

This ANE-like expansion happened probably in the Late Upper Palaeolithic, and reached Northern Europe probably after the expansion of the Villabruna cluster (ca. 12000 BC), judging by the advance of AG3-like and ENA-like ancestry in later WHG samples.

The population movements during the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in the North Pontic area are quite complicated: the extra AME ancestry is probably connected to the admixture with populations from the Caucasus, while the close similarity of Ukraine populations with Scandinavian ones (with an increase in Villabruna ancestry from Mesolithic to Neolithic samples), probably reveal population movements related to the expansion of Maglemose-related groups.

Etno-cultural situation in Central and Eastern Europe in the Late Mesolithic — Early Neolithic (VI—V Mill. BC) (after Конча 2004: 201, карта 1; made after ideas by L. L. Zaliznyak). Legend: 1 — Maglemose circle in the VII Mill. BC (after Gr. Clark); 2—7 — Mesolithic cultures of the Post-Maglemose tradition, VI Mill. BC (after S. Kozłowsky, L. L. Zaliznyak): 2 — de Leyen-Wartena; 3 — Oldesloe — Godenaa; 4 — Chojnice — Peńki; 5 — Janisłavice; 6 — finds of Janisłavice artefacts outside of the main area; 7 — Donets culture; 8 — directions of the settling of Janisłavice people (after S. Kozłowsky and L. L. Zaliznyak); 9 — the south border of Mesolithic and Early Neolithic cultures of post-Swidrian and post-Arensburgian traditions; 10 — northern border of settlement of the Balkan-Danubian farmers; 11 — Bug- Dniester culture; 12 — Neolithic cultures emerged on the ethno-cultural basis of post-Maglemose: Э — Ertebölle-Ellerbeck, Н — Neman, Д — Dnieper-Donets, М — Mariupol (western variants). From Klein (2017).

These Maglemose-related groups were probably migrants from the north-west, originally from the Northern European Plains, who occupied the previous Swiderian territory, and then expanded into the North Pontic area. The overwhelming presence of I2a (likely all I2a2a1b1b) lineages in Ukraine Neolithic supports this migration.

The likely picture of Mesolithic-Neolithic migrations in the North Pontic area right now is then:

  1. Expansion of R1a-M459 from the east ca. 12000 BC – probably coupled with AG3 and also some Baikal_EN ancestry. First sample is I1819 from Vasilievka (ca. 8700 BC), another is from Dereivka ca. 6900 BC.
  2. Expansion of R1b-V88 from the Balkans in the west ca. 9700 BC, based on its TMRCA and also the Balkan hunter-gatherer population overwhemingly of this haplogroup from the 10th millennium until the Neolithic. First sample is I1734 from Vasilievka (ca. 7252 BC), which suggests that it replaced the male population there, based on their similar EHG-like adxmixture (and lack of sizeable WHG increase), and shared mtDNA U5b2, U5a2.
  3. Expansion of I2a-Y5606 probably ca. 6800 based on its TMRCA with Janislawice culture. Supporting this is the increase in WHG contribution to Neolithic samples, including the spread of U4 subclades compared to the previous period.
  4. Expansion of R1a-M17 starting probably ca. 6600 BC in the east (see above).

NOTE. The first sample of haplogroup I appears in the Mesolithic: I1763 (ca. 8100 BC) of haplogroup I2a1, probably related to an older Upper Palaeolithic expansion.

Distribution of archeological cultures in the North Pontic Region during the Mesolithic (7th – 6th millennium BCE). Dotted, dashed and solid lines with corresponding arrows indicate alternative models of the spread of the Grebenyky culture groups. (After Bryuako IV., Samojlova TL., Eds, Drevnie kul’tury Severo-­‐Zapadnogo Prichernomor’ya, Odessa: SMIL, 2013.) Nikitin – Ivanova 2017.


It is becoming more and more clear with each new paper that – unless the number of very ancient samples increases – the use of Y-chromosome haplogroups remains one of the most important tools for academics; this is especially so in the steppes, in light of the diversity found in populations from the Caucasus. A clear example comes from the Yamna – Corded Ware similarities:

After the publication of the 2015 papers, it was likely that Yamna expanded with haplogroup R1b-L23, but it has only become crystal clear that Yamna expanded through the steppes into Bell Beakers, now that we have data about the strict genetic homogeneity of the whole Yamna population from west to east (including Afanasevo), in contrast with contemporary Corded Ware peoples which expanded from a different forest-steppe population.

The presence of haplogroups Q and R1a-M459 (xM17) in Khvalynsk along with a R1b1a sample, which some interpreted as being akin to modern ‘mixed’ populations in the past, is likely to point instead to a period of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion with R1b-M269, where different small populations from the steppe were being integrated into the common Khvalynsk stock, but where differences are seen in material culture surrounding their burials, as supported by the finding of R1b1 in the Kuban area already in the first half of the 5th millennium. The case would be similar to the early ‘mixed’ Icelandic population.

Only after the emergence of the Samara culture (in the second half of the 6th millennium BC), with a sample of haplogroup R1b1a, starts then the obvious connection with Early Proto-Indo-Europeans; and only after the appearance of late Sredni Stog and haplogroup R1a-M417 (ca. 4000 BC) is its connection with Uralic also clear. In previous population movements, I think more haplogroups were involved in migrations of small groups, and only some communities among them were eventually successful, expanding to be dominant, creating ever growing cultures during their expansions.

Indeed, if you think in terms of Uralic and Indo-European just as converging languages, and forget their potential genetic connection, then the genetic + linguistic picture becomes simplified, and the upper frontier of the 6th millennium BC with a division North Pontic (Mariupol) vs. Volga-Ural (Samara) is enough. However, tracing their movements backwards – with cultural expansions from west to east (with the expansion of farming), and earlier east to west (with hunter-gatherer pottery), and still earlier west to east (with the north-eastern technocomplex), offers an interesting way to prove their potential connection to macrofamilies, at least in terms of population movements.

Modified image from Tambets et al. (2018) Proportions of ancestral components in studied European and Siberian populations and the tested qpGraph model. a The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel. The NeolL (Neolithic Levant) ancestry selected in this qpGraph is likely to correspond (at least in part) to a specific Dzudzuana-like component present in the CHG-like population that admixed in the North Pontic area.

I am quite convinced right now that it would be possible to connect the expansion of R1b-L754 subclades with a speculative Nostratic (given the R1b-V88 connection with Afroasiatic, and the obvious connection of R1b-L297 with Eurasiatic). Paradoxically, the connection of an Indo-Uralic community in the steppes (after the separation of Yukaghir) with any lineage expansion (R1a-M17, R1b-M269, or even Q, I or J1) seems somehow blurrier than one year ago, possibly just because there are too many open possibilities.

David Reich says about the admixture with Neanderthals, which he helped discover:

At the conclusion of the Neanderthal genome project, I am still amazed by the surprises we encountered. Having found the first evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, I continue to have nightmares that the finding is some kind of mistake. But the data are sternly consistent: the evidence for Neanderthal interbreeding turns out to be everywhere. As we continue to do genetic work, we keep encountering more and more patterns that reflect the extraordinary impact this interbreeding has had on the genomes of people living today.

I think this is a shared feeling among many of us who have made proposals about anything, to fear that we have made a gross, evident mistake, and constantly look for flaws. However, it seems to me that geneticists are more preoccupied with being wrong in their developed statistical methods, in the theoretical models they are creating, and not so much about errors in the true ancient ethnolinguistic picture human population genetics is (at least in theory) concerned about. Their publications are, after all, constantly associating genetic finds with cultures and (whenever possible) languages, so this aspect of their research should not be taken lightly.

Seeing how David Anthony or Razib Khan (among many others) have changed their previously preferred migration models as new data was published, and they continue to be respected in their own fields, I guess we can be confident that professionals with integrity are going to accept whatever new picture appears. While I don’t think that genetic finds can change what we can reconstruct with comparative grammar, I am also ready to revise guesstimates and routes of expansion of certain dialects if R1a-Z645 is shown to have accompanied Late Proto-Indo-Europeans during their expansion with Yamna, and later integrated somehow with Corded Ware.

However, taking into account the obsession of some with an ancestral, uninterrupted R1a—Indo-European association, and the lack of actual political repercussion of Neanderthal admixture, I think the most common nightmare that all genetic researchers should be worried about is to keep inflating this “Yamnaya ancestry”-based hornet’s nest, which has been constantly stirred up for the past two years, by rejecting it – or, rather, specifying it into its true complex nature.

This succession of corrections and redefinitions, coupled with the distinct Y-DNA bottleneck of each steppe population, will eventually lead to a completely different ethnolinguistic picture of the Pontic-Caspian region during the Eneolithic, which is likely to eventually piss off not only reasonable academics stubbornly attached to the CWC-IE idea, but also a part of those interested in daydreaming about their patrilineal ancestors.

Sometimes it’s better to just rip off the band-aid once and for all…

Featured image from The oldest pottery in hunter-gatherer communitiesand models of Neolithisation of Eastern Europe (2015), by Andrey Mazurkevich and Ekaterina Dolbunova.


Interesting is today’s post in Ancient DNA Era: Is Male-driven Genetic Replacement always meaning Language-shift?

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.


    Corded Ware—Uralic (I): Differences and similarities with Yamna


    This is the first of four posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification:

    I was reading The Bronze Age Landscape in the Russian Steppes: The Samara Valley Project (2016), and I was really surprised to find the following excerpt by David W. Anthony:

    The Samara Valley links the central steppes with the western steppes and is a north-south ecotone between the pastoral steppes to the south and the forest-steppe zone to the north [see figure below]. The economic contrast between pastoral steppe subsistence, with its associated social organizations, and forest-zone hunting and fishing economies probably explains the shifting but persistent linguistic border between forest-zone Uralic languages to the north (today largely displaced by Russian) and a sequence of steppe languages to the south, recently Turkic, before that Iranian, and before that probably an eastern dialect of Proto-Indo-European (Anthony 2007). The Samara Valley represents several kinds of borders, linguistic, cultural, and ecological, and it is centrally located in the Eurasian steppes, making it a critical place to examine the development of Eurasian steppe pastoralism.

    Language map of the middle Volga-Ural region. After “Geographical Distribution of the Uralic Languages” by Finno-Ugrian Society, Helsinki, 1993.

    Khokhlov (translated by Anthony) further insists on the racial and ethnic divide between both populations, Abashevo to the north, and Poltavka to the south, during the formation of the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka community that gave rise to Proto-Indo-Iranians:

    Among all cranial series in the Volga-Ural region, the Potapovka population represents the clearest example of race mixing and probably ethnic mixing as well. The cultural advancements seen in this period might perhaps have been the result of the mixing of heterogeneous groups. Such a craniometric observation is to some extent consistent with the view of some archaeologists that the Sintashta monuments represent a combination of various cultures (principally Abashevo and Poltavka, but with other influences) and therefore do not correspond to the basic concept of an archaeological culture (Kuzmina 2003:76). Under this option, the Potapovka-Sintashta burial rite may be considered, first, a combination of traits to guarantee the afterlife of a selected part of a heterogeneous population. Second, it reflected a kind of social “caste” rather than a single population. In our view, the decisive element in shaping the ethnic structure of the Potapovka-Sintashta monuments was their extensive mobility over a fairly large geographic area. They obtained knowledge of various cultures from the populations with whom they interacted.

    Late Middle Bronze Age cultures with the Proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka group (shaded). After Anthony (2007 Figure 15.5), from Anthony (2016).

    Interesting is also this excerpt about the predominant population in the Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka admixture (which supports what Chetan said recently, although this does not seemed backed by Y-DNA haplogroups found in the richest burials), coupled with the sign of incoming “Uraloid” peoples from the east, found in both Sintashta and eastern Abashevo:

    The socially dominant anthropological component was Europeoid, possibly the descendants of Yamnaya. The association of craniofacial types with archaeological cultures in this period is difficult, primarily because of the small amount of published anthropological material of the cultures of steppe and forest belt (Balanbash, Vol’sko-Lbishche) and the eastern and southern steppes (Botai-Tersek). The crania associated with late MBA western Abashevo groups in the Don-Volga forest zone were different from eastern Abashevo in the Urals, where the expression of the Old Uraloid craniological complex was increased. Old Uraloid is found also on a single skull of Vol’sko-Lbishche culture (Tamar Utkul VII, Kurgan 4). Potentially related variants, including Mongoloid features, could be found among the Seima-Turbino tribes of the forest-steppe zone, who mixed with Sintashta and Abashevo. In the Sintashta Bulanova cemetery from the western Urals, some individuals were buried with implements of Seima-Turbino type (Khalyapin 2001; Khokhlov 2009; Khokhlov and Kitov 2009). Previously, similarities were noted between some individual skulls from Potapovka I and burials of the much older Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan (Khokhlov 2000a). Botai-Tersek is, in fact, a growing contender for the source of some “eastern” cranial features.

    Facial reconstructions based on skulls from (a) Khvalynsk II Grave 24, a young adult male; (b) Poludin Grave 6, Yamnaya culture, a mature male (both by A. I. Nechvaloda); and (c) Luzanovsky cemetery, Srubnaya culture (by L. T. Yablonsky). In Khokhlov (2016).

    The wave of peoples associated with “eastern” features can be seen in genetics in the Sintashta outliers from Narasimhan et al. (2018), and it probably will be eventually seen in Abashevo, too. These may be related to the Seima-Turbino international network – but most likely it is directly connected to Sintashta through the starting Andronovo and Seima-Turbino horizons, by admixing of prospective groups and small-scale back-migrations.

    Corded Ware – Yamna similarities?

    So, if peoples of north-eastern Europe have been assumed for a long time to be Uralic speakers, what is happening with the Corded Ware = IE obsession? Is it Gimbutas’ ghost possessing old archaeologists? Probably not.

    It is about certain cultural similarities evident at first sight, which have been traditionally interpreted as a sign of cultural diffusion or migration. Not dissimilar to the many Bell Beaker models available, where each archaeologist is pushing certain differences, mixing what seemed reasonable, what still might seem reasonable, and what certainly isn’t anymore after the latest ancient DNA data.

    “European dialect” expansion of Proto-Indo-European according to Gimbutas (1963)

    The initial models of Gimbutas, Kristiansen, or Anthony – which are known to many today – were enunciated in the infancy of archaeological studies in the regions, during and just after the fall of the USSR, and before many radiocarbon dates that we have today were published (with radiocarbon dating being still today in need of refinement), so it is only logical that gross mistakes were made.

    We have similar gross mistakes related to the origins of Bell Beakers, and studying them was certainly easier than studying eastern data.

    • Gimbutas believed – based mainly on Kurgan-like burials – that Bell Beaker formed from a combination of Yamna settlers with the Vučedol culture, so she was not that far from the truth.
    • The expansion of Corded Ware from peoples of the North Pontic forest-steppe area, proposed by Gimbutas and later supported also by Kristiansen (1989) as the main Indo-European expansion – , is probably also right about the approximate origins of the culture. Only its ‘Indo-European’ nature is in question, given the differences with Khvalynsk and Yamna evolution.
    • Anthony only claimed that Yamna migrants settled in the Balkans and along the Danube into the Hungarian steppes. He never said that Corded Ware was a Yamna offshoot until after the first genetic papers of 2015 (read about his newest proposal). He initially claimed that only certain neighbouring Corded Ware groups “adopted” Indo-European (through cultural diffusion) because of ‘patron-client’ relationships, and was never preoccupied with the fate of Corded Ware and related cultures in the east European forest zone and Finland.

    So none of them was really that far from the true picture; we might say a lot people are more way off the real picture today than the picture these three researchers helped create in the 1990s and 2000s. Genetics is just putting the last nail in the coffin of Corded Ware as a Yamna offshoot, instead of – as we believed in the 2000s – to Vučedol and Bell Beaker.

    So let’s revise some of these traditional links between Corded Ware and Yamna with today’s data:


    Even more than genetics – at least until we have an adequate regional and temporary sampling – , archaeological findings lead what we have to know about both cultures.

    It is essential to remember that Corded Ware, starting ca. 3000/2900 BC in east-central Europe, has been proposed to be derived from Early Yamna, which appeared suddenly in the Pontic-Caspian steppes ca. 3300 BC (probably from the late Repin expansion), and expanded to the west ca. 3000.

    Early Yamna is in turn identified as the expanding Late Proto-Indo-European community, which has been confirmed with the recent data on Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Sintashta-Potapovka and derived cultures.

    The question at hand, therefore, is if Corded Ware can be considered an offshoot of the Late PIE community, and thus whether the CWC ethnolinguistic community – proven in genetics to be quite homogeneous – spoke a Late PIE dialect, or if – alternatively – it is derived from other neighbouring cultures of the North Pontic region.

    NOTE. The interpretation of an Indo-Slavonic group represented by a previous branching off of the group is untenable with today’s data, since Indo-Slavonic – for those who support it – would itself be a branch of Graeco-Aryan, and Palaeo-Balkan languages expanded most likely with West Yamna (i.e. R1b-L23, mainly R1b-Z2103) to the south.

    The convoluted alternative explanation would be that Corded Ware represents an earlier, Middle PIE branch (somehow carrying R1a??) which influences expanding Late PIE dialects; this has been recently supported by Kortlandt, although this simplistic picture also fails to explain the Uralic problem.

    Kurgans: The Yamna tradition was inherited from late Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka proto-Kurgans. As for the CWC tradition, it is unclear if the tumuli were built as a tradition inherited from North and West Pontic cultures (in turn inherited or copied from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka), such as late Trypillia, late Kvityana, late Dereivka, late Sredni Stog; or if they were built because of the spread of the ‘Transformation of Europe’, set in motion by the Early Yamna expansion ca. 3300-3000 BC (as found in east-central European cultures like Coţofeni, Lizevile, Șoimuș, or the Adriatic Vučedol). My guess is that it inherits an older tradition than Yamna, with an origin in east-central Europe, because of the mound-building distribution in the North Pontic area before the Yamna expansion, but we may never really know.

    Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the IVth millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

    Burial rite: Yamna features (with regional differences) single burials with body on its back, flexed upright knees, poor grave goods, common orientation east-west (heads to the west) inherited from Repin, in turn inherited from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. CWC tradition – partially connected to Złota and surrounding east-central European territories (in turn from the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion) – features single graves, body in fetal position, strict gender differentiation – men on the right, women on the left -, looking to the south, graves with standardized assemblages (objects representing affirmation of battle, hunting, and feasting). The burial rites clearly represent different ideologies.

    Left: Pit-Grave burial types expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka. Right: Pit-Grave burial types associated with the Yamna expansion and influence. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

    Corded decoration: Corded ware decoration appears in the Balkans during the 5th millennium, and represents a simple technique whereby a cord is twisted, or wrapped around a stick, and then pressed directly onto the fresh surface of a vessel leaving a characteristic decoration. It appears in many groups of the 5th and 4th millennium BC, but it was Globular Amphorae the culture which popularized the drinking vessels and their corded ornamentation. It appears thus in some regional groups of Yamna, but it becomes the standard pottery only in Corded Ware (especially with the A-horizon), which shows continuity with GAC pottery.

    Origins of the first Corded Ware horizon (5th millennium BC) after the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion. Corded Ware (circles) and horse-head scepters (rectangles) and other steppe elements (triangles). Image from Bulatović (2014).

    Economy: Yamna expands from Repin (and Repin from Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) as a nomadic or semi-nomadic purely pastoralist society (with occasional gathering of wild seeds), which naturally thrives in the grasslands of the Pontic-Caspian, lower Danube and Hungarian steppes. Corded Ware shows agropastoralism (as late Eneolithic forest-steppe and steppe groups of eastern Europe, such as late Trypillian, TRB, and GAC groups), inhabits territories north of the loess line, with heavy reliance of hunter-gathering depending on the specific region.

    Cattle herding: Interestingly, both west Yamna and Corded Ware show more reliance on cattle herding than other pastoralist groups, which – contrasted with the previous Eneolithic herding traditions of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, where sheep-goats predominate – make them look alike. However, the cattle-herding economy of Yamna is essential for its development from late Repin and its expansion through the steppes (over western territories practising more hunter-gathering and sheep-goat herding economy), and it does not reach equally the Volga-Ural region, whose groups keep some of the old subsistence economy (read more about the late Repin expansion). Corded Ware, on the other hand, inherits its economic strategy from east European groups like TRB, GAC, and especially late Trypillian communities, showing a predominance of cattle herding within an agropastoral community in the forest-steppe and forest zones of Volhynia, Podolia, and surrounding forest-steppe and forest regions.

    Scheme of interlinked socio-economic-ideological innovations forming the Yamnaya. Frînculeasa, Preda, and Heyd (2015)

    Horse riding: Horse riding and horse transport is proven in Yamna (and succeeding Bell Beaker and Sintashta), assumed for late Repin (essential for cattle herding in the seas of grasslands that are the steppes, without nearby water sources), quite likely during the Khvalynsk expansion (read more here), and potentially also for Samara, where the predominant horse symbolism of early Khvalynsk starts. Corded Ware – like the north Pontic forest-steppe and forest areas during the Eneolithic – , on the other hand, does not show a strong reliance on horse riding. The high mobility and short-term settlements characteristic of Corded Ware, that are often associated with horse riding by association with Yamna, may or may not be correct, but there is no need for horses to explain their herding economy or their mobility, and the north-eastern European areas – the one which survived after Bell Beaker expansion – did certainly not rely on horses as an essential part of their economy.

    NOTE: I cannot think of more supposed similarities right now. If you have more ideas, please share in the comments and I will add them here.

    Genetic similarities

    EHG: This is the clearest link between both communities. We thought it was related to the expansion of ANE-related ancestry to the west into WHG territory, but now it seems that it will be rather WHG expanding into ANE territory from the Pontic-Caspian region to the east (read more on recent Caucasus Neolithic, on , and on Caucasus HG).

    NOTE. Given how much each paper changes what we know about the Palaeolithic, the origin and expansion of the (always developing) known ancestral components and specific subclades (see below) is not clear at all.

    CHG: This is the key link between both cultures, which will delimit their interaction in terms of time and space. CHG is intermediate between EHG and Iran N (ca. 8000 BC). The ancestry is thus linked to the Caucasus south of the steppe before the emergence of North Pontic (western) and Don-Volga-Ural (eastern) communities during the Mesolithic. The real question is: when we have more samples from the steppe and the Caucasus during the Neolithic, how many CHG groups are we going to find? Will the new specific ancestral components (say CHG1, CHG2, CHG3, etc.) found in Yamna (from Khvalynsk, in the east) and Corded Ware (probably from the North Pontic forest-steppe) be the same? My guess is, most likely not, unless they are mediated by the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion (read more on CHG in the Caucasus).

    Formation of Yamna and CHG contribution, in Damgaard et al. (Science 2018). A 10-leaf model based on combining the models in Fig. S16 and Fig. S19 and re-estimating the model parameters.

    WHG/EEF: This is the obvious major difference – known today – in the formation of both communities in the steppe, and shows the different contacts that both groups had at least since the Eneolithic, i.e. since the expansion of Repin with its renewed Y-DNA bottleneck, and probably since before the early Khvalynsk expansion (read more on Yamna-Corded Ware differences contrasting with Yamna-Afanasevo, Yamna-Bell Beaker, and Yamna-Sintashta similarities).

    NOTE 1. Some similarities between groups can be seen depending on the sampled region; e.g. Baltic groups show more similarities with southern Pontic-Caspian steppe populations, probably due to exogamy.

    Tested qpGraph model in Tambets et al. (2018). The qpGraph model fitting the data for the tested populations. “Colour codes for the terminal nodes: pink—modern populations (‘Population X’ refers to test population) and yellow—ancient populations (aDNA samples and their pools). Nodes coloured other than pink or yellow are hypothetical intermediate populations. We putatively named nodes which we used as admixture sources using the main recipient among known populations. The colours of intermediate nodes on the qpGraph model match those on the admixture proportions panel.”

    NOTE 2. We have this information on the differences in “steppe ancestry” between Yamna and Corded Ware, compared to previous studies, because now we have more samples of neighbouring, roughly contemporaneous Eneolithic groups, to analyse the real admixture processes. This kind of fine scale studies is what is going to show more and more differences between Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware as more data pours in. The evolution of both communities in archaeology and in PCA (see below) is probably witness to those differences yet to be published.

    R1: Even though some people try very hard to think in terms of “R1” vs. (Caucasus) J or G or any other upper clade, this is plainly wrong. It is possible, given what we know now, that Q1a2-M242 expanded ANE ancestry to the west ca. 13000 BC, while R1b-P279 expanded WHG ancestry to the east with the expansion of post-Swiderian cultures, creating EHG as a WHG:ANE cline. The role of R1a-M459 is unknown, but it might be related to any of these migrations, or others (plural) along northern Eurasia (read more on the expansion of R1b-P279, on Palaeolithic Q1a2, and on R1a-M417).

    NOTE. I am inclined to believe in a speculative Mesolithic-Early Neolithic community involving Eurasiatic movements accross North Eurasia, and Indo-Uralic movements in its western part, with the last intense early Uralic-PIE contacts represented by the forming west (Mariupol culture) and east (Don-Volga-Ural cultures, including Samara) communities developing side by side. Before their known Eneolithic expansions, no large-scale Y-DNA bottleneck is going to be seen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with different (especially R1a and R1b subclades) mixed among them, as shown in North Pontic Neolithic, Samara HG, and Khvalynsk samples.

    Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are the Balkan samples referenced in this text An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here.

    Corded Ware and ‘steppe ancestry’

    If we take a look at the evolution of Corded Ware cultures, the expansion of Bell Beakers – dominated over most previous European cultures from west to east Europe – influenced the development of the whole European Bronze Age, up to Mierzanowice and Trzciniec in the east.

    The only relevant unscathed CWC-derived groups, after the expansion of Sintashta-Potapovka as the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Eurasian steppes, were those of the north-eastern European forest zone: between Belarus to the west, Finland to the north, the Urals to the east, and the forest-steppe region to the south. That is, precisely the region supposed to represent Uralic speakers during the Bronze Age.

    This inconsistency of steppe ancestry and its relation with Uralic (and Balto-Slavic) peoples was observed shortly after the publication of the first famous 2015 papers by Paul Heggarty, of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (read more):

    Haak et al. (2015) make much of the high Yamnaya ancestry scores for (only some!) Indo-European languages. What they do not mention is that those same results also include speakers of other languages among those with the highest of all scores for Yamnaya ancestry. Only these are languages of the Uralic family, not Indo-European at all; and their Yamnaya-ancestry signals are far higher than in many branches of Indo-European in (southern) Europe. Estonian ranks very high, while speakers of the very closely related Finnish are curiously not shown, and nor are the Saami. Hungarian is relevant less directly since this language arrived only c. 900 AD, but also high.


    These data imply that Uralic-speakers too would have been part of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, which was thus not exclusively Indo-European in any case. And as well as the genetics, the geography, chronology and language contact evidence also all fit with a Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement including Uralic as well as Balto-Slavic.

    Both papers fail to address properly the question of the Uralic languages. And this despite — or because? — the only Uralic speakers they report rank so high among modern populations with Yamnaya ancestry. Their linguistic ancestors also have a good claim to have been involved in the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures, and of course the other members of the Uralic family are scattered across European Russia up to the Urals.

    NOTE. Although the author was trying to support the Anatolian hypothesis – proper of glottochronological studies often published from the Max Planck Institute – , the question remains equally valid: “if Proto-Indo-European expands with Corded Ware and steppe ancestry, what is happening with Uralic peoples?”

    For my part, I claimed in my draft that ancestral components were not the only relevant data to take into account, and that Y-DNA haplogroups R1a and R1b (appearing separately in CWC and Yamna-Bell Beaker-Afanasevo), together with their calculated timeframes of formation – and therefore likely expansion – did not fit with the archaeological and linguistic description of the spread of Proto-Indo-European and its dialects.

    In fact, it seemed that only one haplogroup (R1b-M269) was constantly and consistenly associated with the proposed routes of Late PIE dialectal expansions – like Anthony’s second (Afanasevo) and third (Lower Danube, Balkan) waves. What genetics shows fits seamlessly with Mallory’s association of the North-West Indo-European expansion with Bell Beakers (read here how archaeologists were right).

    Map of the much beloved steppe (or “Yamnaya”) ancestry in modern populations, by Balanovsky. Modified from Klejn (2017).

    More precise inconsistencies were observed after the publication of Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), by Volker Heyd in Kossinna’s smile (2017). Letting aside the many details enumerated (you can read a summary in my latest draft), this interesting excerpt is from the conclusion:

    NOTE. An open access ealier draft version of the paper is offered for download by the author.

    Simple solutions to complex problems are never the best choice, even when favoured by politicians and the media. Kossinna also offered a simple solution to a complex prehistoric problem, and failed therein. Prehistoric archaeology has been aware of this for a century, and has responded by becoming more differentiated and nuanced, working anthropologically, scientifically and across disciplines (cf. Müller 2013; Kristiansen 2014), and rejecting monocausal explanations. The two aDNA papers in Nature, powerful and promising as they are for our future understanding, also offer rather straightforward messages, heavily pulled by culture-history and the equation of people with culture. This admittedly is due partly to the restrictions of the medium that conveys them (and despite the often relevant additional detail given as supplementary information, which is unfortunately not always given full consideration).

    While I have no doubt that both papers are essentially right, they do not reflect the complexity of the past. It is here that archaeology and archaeologists contributing to aDNA studies find their role; rather than simply handing over samples and advising on chronology, and instead of letting the geneticists determine the agenda and set the messages, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions and interactions. If accepted, this could be the beginning of a marriage made in heaven, with the blessing smile of Gustaf Kossinna, and no doubt Vere Gordon Childe, were they still alive, in a reconciliation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century approaches. For us as archaeologists, it could also be the starting point for the next level of a new archaeology.

    Main distribution of Yamnaya kurgans in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of modern day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and its western branch in modern south-east European countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, with numbers of excavated kurgans and graves given. Picture: Volker Heyd (2018).

    The question was made painfully clear with the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) & Mathieson et al. (2018), where the real route of Yamna expansion into Europe was now clearly set through the steppes into the Carpathian basin, later expanded as Bell Beakers.

    This has been further confirmed in more recent papers, such as Narasimhan et al. (2018), Damgaard et al. (2018), or Wang et al. (2018), among others.

    However, the discussion is still dominated by political agendas based on prevalent Y-DNA haplogroups in modern countries and ethnic groups.


    Origins of equine dentistry in Mongolia in the early first millennium BC

    New paper (behind paywall) Origins of equine dentistry, by Taylor et al. PNAS (2018).

    Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

    The practice of horse dentistry by contemporary nomadic peoples in Mongolia, coupled with the centrality of horse transport to Mongolian life, both now and in antiquity, raises the possibility that dental care played an important role in the development of nomadic life and domestic horse use in the past. To investigate, we conducted a detailed archaeozoological study of horse remains from tombs and ritual horse inhumations across the Mongolian Steppe, assessing evidence for anthropogenic dental modifications and comparing our findings with broader patterns in horse use and nomadic material culture.

    We conducted a detailed study of archaeological horse collections spanning the past 3,200 y, including those from the Late Bronze Age DSK complex (ca. 1200–700 BCE, n = 70), Early Iron Age Slab Burial culture (ca. 700–300 BCE, n = 4), Pazyryk culture (ca. 600–200 BCE, n = 2), Late Iron Age Xiongnu Empire (ca. 200 BCE–200 CE, n = 3), Early Middle Ages post-Xiongnu period (ca. 100–550 CE, n = 3), and Turkic Khaganate (ca. 600–800 CE, n = 3).

    A (top): Contemporary Mongolian herder engaged in horseback riding, using left-handed rein position causing asymmetric pressures to the horse’s skull. Photo by Orsoo Bayarsaikhan. B(center) contemporary Mongolian horse skulls, showing asymmetric and skewed thinning to the nasal bones caused by bridle pressure. C(bottom) Asymmetric deformation to the cranial bones of a Deer Stone-Khirigsuur horse (left), alongside an early Middle Ages horse with a similar feature (right). Modified from Taylor and Tuvshinjargal (2018).


    This Late Bronze Age dental modification counts among the earliest documented instances of equine veterinary care, and the oldest known evidence for horse dentistry. At first glance, the detailed historical record of early equine veterinary care in places such as China, Greece, Rome, and Syria, which spans the late second millennium BCE through the early centuries CE (11, 15, 16), might imply that equine dentistry emerged in the sedentary civilizations of the Old World. However, the earliest textual references describe only nonsurgical medicinal treatments and make few mentions of oral health (11). Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that human care of domestic animals was practiced by hunter-gatherers as far back as the Paleolithic (46), and that pastoralists may have occasionally practiced surgical procedures on domestic animals as early as the Neolithic in Europe (47). The evidence presented here indicates that horse dentistry was developed by nomadic pastoralists living on the steppes of Mongolia and northeast Asia during the Late Bronze Age, concurrent with the local adoption of the metal bit and many centuries before the first mention of dental practices in historical accounts from sedentary Old World civilizations.

    Our results reveal a fundamental link between equine dentistry and the emergence of horsemanship in the steppes of Eurasia. At the turn of the first millennium BCE, militarized, horse-mounted peoples reshaped the social and economic landscape of many areas of the Eurasian continent. Conflagrations with equestrian peoples, such as those between the Persian Empire and the Pontic “Scythians,” plagued alluvial civilizations from the Near East to India and China, while large-scale movements of people linked East and West in never-before-seen ways (48). The archaeological and historical records indicate that the earliest horseback riding was accomplished without stirrups or saddles, and probably using only bitless or organic-mouthpiece bridles (49, 50). The bronze snaffle bit, and the improved control it provided, was a key technological development that enabled the use of horseback riding for more stressful and difficult activities, such as long-distance transportation and warfare (32). We argue that these technological improvements in horse control were preceded and sustained by innovations in veterinary dentistry by nomadic peoples living in the continental interior. By increasing herd survival and mitigating behavioral and health issues caused by horse equipment, innovations in equine dentistry improved the reliability of horseback riding for ancient nomads, enabling horses to be used for nonpastoral activities like warfare, high-speed riding, and distance travel.

    Damage to the retained wolf tooth in a 4-5 year old mummified horse, dating to the 2-4th centuries CE from the site of Urd Ulaan-Uneet in western Mongolia


    Archaeozoological data from Mongolian horses indicate that the nomadic practice of equine dentistry dates back more than 3,000 y to the DSK complex, a Late Bronze Age culture associated with the first mounted horseback riding and mobile pastoralism in eastern Eurasia. Attempted removal of deciduous incisors through sawing of the exterior suggests experimentation with dental extraction, but not the removal of wolf teeth. The appearance of extracted first premolars in the first millennium BCE coincides with the arrival of metal bits in the archaeological record and oral trauma linked with metal bit use, suggesting that innovations in dental practice were an adaptation to the mechanical changes in horse equipment. These bronze and metal bits provided greater control over the horse, facilitating the development of military uses for the horse, but also introduced new dental problems with the first premolar. Our results indicate that, coincident with the earliest evidence for metal bit use, wolf tooth extraction was practiced in Mongolia by ca. 750 BCE and continued through the early Middle Ages. These results push back the earliest dates for equine dentistry by more than a millennium and suggest that nomadic peoples developed key innovations in veterinary care that enabled more sophisticated horse control, ultimately changing the structure of communication, exchange, and military power in ancient Eurasia.


    The end of the Kura-Araxes settlements: large-scale phenomenon but with varied causes


    Open access The End of the Kura-Araxes Culture as Seen from Nadir Tepesi in Iranian Azerbaijan, by Alizadeh, Maziar & Mohammadi, American Journal of Archaeology (2018) 122(3):463-477.

    Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

    The test trenches at Nadir Tepesi suggest that the Kura-Araxes occupation ended abruptly in the mid third millennium B.C.E. and that the site was then occupied or visited by a new group of people with new cultural traditions. Evidence for a significant destruction followed by the sharp discontinuity in the material culture could represent a violent termination of the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi. This possibility provides one hypothesis for the end of the Kura-Araxes culture elsewhere as well in the Mughan Steppe.

    It appears that there is no subsequent substantial built settlement until possibly the Late Iron Age in the region. Our intensive and extensive surveys on the Mughan Steppe did not provide evidence for settlements until long after the Kura-Araxes time. For whatever reason, settlements on the Mughan Steppe seem to have reappeared only in the Iron Age and remained sparse until the Sassanian period in late antiquity.45 Although some ceramics with parallels in the Middle and Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age were found at a few sites, they do not seem to represent settlements.

    Major Kura-Araxes sites in the Caucasus region and location of Nadir Tepesi (modified from Bourrichon/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0/GFDL).

    Indeed, except for the sites that may possibly contain burials, we do not know much about the Middle and Late Bronze Ages through the Iron Age in the Mughan Steppe. Similarly, archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus do not provide information on settlements in the Middle Bronze Age.46 From a broad perspective, the abrupt and possibly violent end to the Kura-Araxes occupation at Nadir Tepesi, together with the sudden disappearance of the Kura-Araxes settlements and the scarcity of post–Kura-Araxes sites in the Mughan Steppe,47 may indicate that these changes were part of a larger phenomenon. This evidence could suggest a major sociocultural and demographic transformation at a regional level, at least in the western Caspian littoral plain, in the middle of the third millennium B.C.E. Other archaeological investigations in the southern Caucasus portray a similar picture, that of newcomers with a significantly different lifestyle and means of subsistence possibly associated with a mobile economy. Except in some elements of the ceramic traditions, evidence of continuity of Kura-Araxes traditions and their coexistence with newcomers is scarce and uncertain.48

    On one hand, Puturidze argues that there is no evidence supporting the notion of a migration of people into the southern Caucasus.50 Rather, she associates all the changes in the post–Kura-Araxes period with influences from Near Eastern societies as a result of developing interactions by the end of the third millennium B.C.E. On the other hand, Kohl hypothesizes the possibility of a “push-pull process”51 in which new groups of people with wheeled carts and oxen-pulled wagons gradually moved from the steppes of the north into the southern Caucasus, and the Kura-Araxes communities subsequently moved farther south.52.

    Early Chalcolithic migrations (3100-2600 BC)

    Kohl also reminds us of the evidence of increased militarism from the Early to the Late Bronze Age that is reflected in more fortified sites, new weaponry, and an iconography of war as seen on the Karashamb Cup.53 The appearance of defensive mechanisms such as fortification walls, which can be seen at Köhne Shahar, a Kura-Araxes settlement near Chaldran in Iranian Azerbaijan, further emphasizes the increase of intergroup conflicts and militarism during the Early Bronze Age, before the Kura-Araxes culture came to an end.54 Kohl argues that, while the number of Kura-Araxes settlements decreased in the southern Caucasus, archaeological research indicates that the Kura-Araxes culture spread to western Iran in the Zagros region and to the Levant.55 In Kohl’s view, as new groups of people moved in, the Kura-Araxes communities abandoned the southern Caucasus and moved farther south, where some of them already resided. Although some scholars suggest the possible movement of new groups of people from the northern steppes to the southern Caucasus,56 others associate the cultures of the post–Kura-Araxes period, especially the Trialeti.

    We believe that the evidence supports a less uniform scenario. The Kura-Araxes culture may have disappeared in various ways; the transition to the post–Kura-Araxes time may not be explained by a single model. Different Kura-Araxes settlements may have ended differently. The evidence from Nadir Tepesi could support a violent end at that site, and it is possible that similar evidence will be found at other sites in the Mughan Steppe. At some sites, such as Köhne Tepesi in the Khoda Afarin Plain,58 the Kura-Araxes occupation also ended abruptly but without any sign of destruction. In other regions, there may be evidence supporting the coexistence of newcomers with Kura-Araxes communities for some period.59 The results from Gegharot60 in Armenia and recent excavations by one of the authors of this report at Köhne Shahar, do not support any of these models. At Köhne Shahar, the Kura-Araxes culture ended around the middle of the third millennium B.C.E.61 In the last phase of Kura-Araxes occupation at the site, six storage jars in one of the workshop units stood intact, five of them still carefully covered by stone slabs. The evidence from Köhne Shahar may point to a nonviolent end or a planned abandonment of the site.62

    Late Chalcolithic migrations (2600-2250 BC)

    The picture continues to be somehow blurred for what happened in the Caucasus and North Iran after the Late Indo-European expansions, due to contradictory information.

    With the analysis of the dataset from Narasimhan et al. (2018), it seemed that steppe peoples might have migrated into North Iran after the first Khvalynsk/Repin or Early Yamna expansions, because some samples from North Iran were reported to have steppe-related admixture.

    NOTE. As I already said, the Hajji Firuz sample of R1b-Z2103 subclade (of uncertain date) clusters closer to the Iron Age sample F38 from Iran (Broushaki et al. 2016), of the same subclade, which is quite likely related to Proto-Armenian speakers, so it is possible that both belong to the same, Late Bronze Age / Iron Age group of migrants.

    The other possibility, since it also clusters at a certain distance from the Hajji Firuz I4243 ‘outlier’, dated ca. 2326 BC (from the same archaeological site as other Chalcolithic samples, but being an intrusive Bronze Age burial), is that the Hajji Firuz sample is related to these hypothetical early migrations described here; or, that its date of I4243 is also not reliable…

    These initial reports, coupled with archaeological descriptions of potential migrants from the steppe ending the Kura-Araxes culture, may suggest that peoples of steppe origin (or peoples with steppe admixture from the Caucasus) occupied territories further to the south (see here for potential early migration waves).

    However, studies of samples from the Caucasus in Wang et al. (2018) have shown that no migrations related to EHG ancestry happened to the south, and that the minimal EHG/WHG contribution in Kura-Araxes individuals is probably part of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, and not from the steppe.

    In fact, further contribution from Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry was found intruding to the north during the Early Bronze Age, into Kura-Araxes and Maykop-Novosvobodnaya samples. In the Middle Bronze Age, some peoples from the North Caucasus show steppe ancestry (further to the south than the first steppe ancestry incursions of the North Caucasus piedmont), but most late Caucasus groups studied retain the ‘southern’ Armenian/Iran Chalcolithic profile.

    Early Bronze Age migrations (2600-2250 BC)

    All this casts doubts on the whole idea of intrusive steppe ancestry found in Iran Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (or, alternatively, on the proper dates of the Hajji Firuz ‘outliers’).

    Also, the archaeological discontinuity in the region until the Iron Age, and the close relationship of Armenian to Greek (relative to other Palaeo-Balkan languages, which seem to have expanded to the south-west with Yamna settlers), does not support these hypothetical early steppe migrants as the Proto-Armenian community; earlier migrations of LPIE speakers without known modern descendants are obviously possible, but no clear archaeological or linguistic link has been offered to date to support this.

    Until we have more samples with a clear archaeological and chronological context from Anatolia, Iran, and the Armenian Highlands during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and until they show clear steppe ancestry assessed in peer-reviewed papers (or at least thoroughly contrasted with other potential sources of such ancestry, and with solid statistical results), the question of intrusive steppe ancestry, and thus maybe LPIE-speakers (which may or may not be associated with Proto-Armenians) remains open.

    NOTE. The Armenian question remains open, not because genetics has precedence over linguistics, but because the linguistic classification and date of separation, in this case, is not clear, and may be quite old. The fact that Palaeo-Balkan and Pre-Indo-Iranian might have separated quite early within the Khvalynsk – Volga-Ural (Early Yamna) community adds to the difficulty in assessing migration routes, although I do believe that the close similarity of Armenian with Greek among Palaeo-Balkan languages do not warrant such an early separation, and the Middle to Late Bronze Age period in the Balkans and Anatolia offers a better route for this expansion.

    See also