Bell Beakers and Mycenaeans from Yamnaya; Corded Ware from the forest steppe


I have recently written about the spread of Pre-Yamnaya or Yamnaya ancestry and Corded Ware-related ancestry throughout Eurasia, using exclusively analyses published by professional geneticists, and filling in the gaps and contradictory data with the most reasonable interpretations. I did so consciously, to avoid any suspicion that I was interspersing my own data or cherry picking results.

Now I’m finished recapitulating the known public data, and the only way forward is the assessment of these populations using the available datasets and free tools.

Understanding the complexities of qpAdm is fairly difficult without a proper genetic and statistical background, which I won’t pretend to have, so its tweaking to get strictly correct results would require an unending game of trial and error. I have sadly little time for this, even taking my tendency to procrastination into account… so I have used a simple model akin to those published before – in particular, the outgroup selection by Ning, Wang et al. (2019), who seem to be part of the only group interested in distinguishing Yamnaya-related from Corded Ware-related ancestry, probably the most relevant question discussed today in population genomics regarding the Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic homelands.

Supplementary Table 13. P values of rank=2 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a three-way admixture of Eneolithic steppe Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Test, Eneolithic_steppe, Anatolian_Neolithic, WHG.
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.

I have used for all analyses below a merged dataset including the curated one of the Reich Lab, the latest on Central and South Asia by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), on Iberia by Olalde et al. (2019), and on the East Baltic by Saag et al. (2019), as well as datasets including samples from Wang et al. (2019) and Lamnidis et al. (2018). I used (and intend to use) the same merged dataset in all cases, despite its huge size, to avoid adding one more uncontrolled variable to the analyses, so that all results obtained can be compared.

I try to prepare in advance a bunch of relevant files with left pops and right pops for each model:

  1. It seems a priori more reasonable to use geographically and chronologically closer proxy populations (say, Trypillia or GAC for Steppe-related peoples) than hypothetic combinations of ancestral ones (viz. Anatolian farmer, WHG, and EHG).
  2. This also means using subgroups closer to the most likely source population, such as (Don-Volga interfluve) Yamnaya_Kalmykia rather than (Middle Volga) Yamnaya_Samara for the western expansion of late Repin/early Yamnaya, or the early Germany_Corded_Ware.SG or Czech_Corded Ware for the group closest to the Proto-Corded Ware population (see below), likely neighbouring the Upper Vistula region.
  3. I usually test two source populations for different targets, which seems like a much more efficient way of using computer resources, whenever I know what I want to test, since I need my PC back for its normal use; whenever I don’t know exactly what to test, I use three-way admixture models and look for subsets to try and improve the results.

I have probably left out some more complex models by individualizing the most relevant groups, but for the time being this would have to do. Also, no other formal stats have been used in any case, which is an evident shortcoming, ruling out an interpretation drawn directly and only from the results below.

Full qpAdm results for each batch of samples are presented in a Google Spreadsheet, with each tab (bottom of the page) showing a different combination of sources, usually in order of formally ‘best’ (first to the left) to ‘worst’ (last to the right) fits, although the order is difficult to select in highly heterogeneous target groups, as will be readily visible.

Disintegration, migration, and imports of the Azov–Black Sea region. First migration event (solid arrows): Gordineşti–Maikop expansion (groups: I – Bursuchensk; II – Zhyvotylivka; III – Vovchans’k; IV – Crimean; V – Lower Don; VI – pre-Kuban). Second migration event (hollow arrows): Repin expansion. After Rassamakin (1999), Demchenko (2016).

Corded Ware origins

The latest publications on the Yampil barrow complex have not improved much our understanding of the complexity of Corded Ware origins from an archaeological point of view, involving multiple cultural (hence likely population) influences. This bit is from Ivanova et al., Baltic-Pontic Studies (2015) 20:1, and most hypotheses of the paper remain unanswered (except maybe for the relevance of the Złota group):

In the light of the above outline therefore one should argue that the ‘architecture of barrows’ associated in the ‘Yampil landscape’ of the Middle Dniester Area with the Eneolithic (specifically, mainly with the TC), precedes the development of a similar phenomenon that can be observed from 2900/2800 BC in the Upper Dniester Area and drainage basin of the Upper Vistula, associated with the CWC [Goslar et al. 2015; Włodarczak 2006; 2007; 2008; Jarosz, Włodarczak 2007]. The most consuming research question therefore is whether ritual customs making use of Eneolithic (Tripolye) ‘barrow architecture’ could have penetrated northwards along the Dniester route, where GAC communities functioned. One could also ask what role the rituals played among the autochthons [Kośko 2000; Włodarczak 2008; 2014: 335; Ivanova, Toshchev 2015b].

This issue has already been discussed with a resulting tentative systemic taxonomy in the studies of Włodarczak, arguing for the Złota culture (ZC) in the Vistula region as an illustration of one of the (Małopolska) reception centres of civilization inspirations from the oldest Pontic ‘barrow culture’ circle associated with the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age [Włodarczak 2008]. Notably, it is in the ZC that one can notice a set of cultural traits (catacomb grave construction, burial details, forms and decoration of vessels) analogous to those shared by the north-western Black Sea Coast groups of the forest-steppe Eneolithic (chiefly Zhyvotilovka-Volchansk) and the Late Tripolye circle (chiefly Usatovo-Gordinești-Horodiștea-Kasperovtsy).

Globular Amphorae culture „exodus” to the Danube Delta: a – Globular Amphorae culture; b – GAC (1), Gorodsk (2), Vykhvatintsy (3) and Usatovo (4) groups of Trypillia culture; c – Coţofeni culture; d – northern border of the late phase of Baden culture;red arrows – direction of Globular Amphora culture expansion; blue arrow – direction of „reflux” of Globular Amphora culture (apud Włodarczak, 2008, with changes).

Taking into account that I6561 might be wrongly dated, we cannot include the Corded Ware-like sample of the end-5th millennium BC in the analysis of Corded Ware origins. That uncertainty in the chronology of the appearance of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Corded Ware peoples complicates the selection of any potential source population from the CHG cline.

Nevertheless, the lack of hg. R1a-M417 and sizeable Pre-Yamnaya-related ancestry in the sampled Pontic forest-steppe Eneolithic populations (represented exclusively by two samples from Dereivka ca. 3600-3400 BC) would leave open the interesting possibility that a similar ancestry got to the forest-steppe region between modern Poland and Ukraine during the known complex population movements of the Late Eneolithic.

It is known that Corded Ware-derived groups and Steppe Maykop show bad fits for Pre-Yamnaya/Yamnaya ancestry, and also that Steppe Maykop is a potential source of “Steppe-related ancestry” within the Eneolithic CHG mating network of the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes. Testing Corded Ware for recent Trypillia and Maykop influences, proper of Late Trypillia and Late Maykop groups in the North Pontic area (such as Zhyvotylivka–Vovchans’k and Gordineşti) side by side with potential Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya sources makes thus sense:

Now, the main obvious difference between Khvalynsk-Yamnaya and Corded Ware is the long-lasting, pervasive Y-chromosome bottlenecks under R1b lineages in the former, compared to the haplogroup variability and late bottleneck under R1a-M417 in the latter, which speaks in favour – on top of everything else – of a different community of sub-Neolithic hunter-gatherers including hg. R1a-M417 hijacking the expansion of Steppe_Maykop-related ancestry around the Volhynian-Podolian Upland.

Akin to how Yamnaya patrilineal descendants hijacked regional EEF (±CWC) ancestry components mainly through exogamy, dragging them into the different expanding Bell Beaker groups (see below), but kept their Indo-European languages, these hunter-gatherers that admixed with peoples of “Steppe ancestry” were the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages in Eastern Europe.

PCA of ancient Eurasian samples. Marked likely Proto-Corded Ware samples and potential origin of its PCA cluster based on qpAdm results. See full PCA and more related files.

Baltic Corded Ware

One of the most interesting aspects of the results above is the surprising heterogeneity of the different regional groups, which is also reflected in the Y-DNA variability of early Corded Ware samples.

Seeing how Baltic CWC groups, especially the early Latvia_LN sample, show particularly bad fits with the models above, it seems necessary to test how this population might have come to be. My first impression in 2017 was that they could represent early Corded Ware groups admixed with Yamnaya settlers through their interactions along the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

However, I recently predicted that the most likely admixture leading to their ancestry and PCA cluster would involve a Corded Ware-like group and a group related to sub-Neolithic cultures of eastern Europe, whose best proxy to date are EHG-like Khvalynsk samples (i.e. excluding the outlier with Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, I0434):

Detail of the PCA of the Corded Ware expansion. See full PCA and more related files.

Late Corded Ware + Yamnaya vanguard

Relevant are also the mixtures of Corded Ware from Esperstedt, and particularly those of the sample I0104, which I have repeated many times in this blog I suspected to be influenced by vanguard Yamnaya settlers:

The infeasible models of CWC + Yamnaya_Kalmykia ± Hungary_Baden (see below for Bell Beakers) and the potential cluster formed with other samples from the Baltic suggest that it could represent a more complex set of mixtures with sub-Neolithic populations. On the other hand, its location in Germany, late date (ca. 2500 BC or later), and position in the PCA, together with the good fits obtained for Germany_Beaker as a source, suggest that the increase in Steppe-related ancestry + EEF makes it impossible for the model (as I set it) to directly include Yamnaya_Kalmykia, despite this excess Steppe-related ancestry actually coming from Yamnaya vanguard groups.

I think it is very likely that the future publication of EEF-admixed Yamnaya_Hungary samples (or maybe even Yamnaya vanguard samples) will improve the fits of this model.

These results confirm at least the need to distrust the common interpretation of mixtures including late Corded Ware samples from Esperstedt (giving rise to the “up to 75% Yamnaya ancestry of CWC” in the 2015 papers) as representative of the Corded Ware culture as a whole, and to keep always in mind that an admixture of European BA groups including Corded Ware Esperstedt as a source also includes East BBC-like ancestry, unless proven otherwise.

Yamnaya vanguard groups in Corded Ware territory before the expansion of Bell Beakers (ca. 2500 BC). See full map.

Bell Beaker expansion

A hotly (re)debated topic in the past 6 months or so, and for all the wrong reasons, is the origin of the Bell Beaker folk. Archaeology, linguistics, and different Y-chromosome bottlenecks clearly indicate that Bell Beakers were at the origin of the North-West Indo-European expansion in Europe, while the survival of Corded Ware-related groups in north-eastern Europe is clearly related to the expansion of Uralic languages.

NOTE. For the interesting case of Proto-Indo-Iranians expanding with Corded Ware-like ancestry, see more on the formation of Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka from East Uralic-speaking Abashevo and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka herders. See also more on R1a in Indo-Iranians and on the social complexity of Sintashta.

Nevertheless, every single discarded theory out there seems to keep coming back to life from time to time, and a new wave of interest in “Bell Beaker from the Single Grave culture” somehow got revived in the process, too, because this obsession – unlike the “Bell Beakers from Iberia Chalcolithic” – is apparently acceptable in certain circles, for some reason.

We know that Iberian Beakers, British Beakers, or Sicilian EBA – representing the most likely closest source population of speakers of Proto-Galaico-Lusitanian, Pre-Celtic Indo-European, and Proto-Elymian, respectively – have already been successfully tested for a direct origin among Western European Beakers in Olalde et al. (2018), Olalde et al. (2019), and Fernandes et al. (2019).

This success in ascertaining a closer Beaker source is probably due to the physical isolation of the specific groups (related to Germany_Beaker, Netherlands_Beaker, and NE_Mediterranean_Beaker samples, respectively) after their migration into regions dominated by peoples without Steppe-related ancestry. Furthermore, Celtic-speaking populations expanding with Urnfield south of the Pyrenees also show a good fit with a source close to France_Beaker.

So I decided to test sampled Bell Beaker populations, to see if it could shed light to the most likely source population of individual Beaker groups and the direction of migration within Central Europe, i.e. roughly eastwards or westwards. As it was to be expected for closely related populations (see the relevant discussion here), an attempt to offer a simplistic analysis of direction based on formal stats does not make any sense, because most of the alternative hypotheses cannot be rejected:

Not only because of the similar values obtained, but because it is absurd to take p-values as a measure of anything, especially when most of these conflicting groups with slightly ‘better’ or ‘worse’ p-values represent multiple different mixtures of the type (Yamnaya + EEF) + (Corded Ware + EEF ± Yamnaya), impossible to distinguish without selecting proper, direct ancestral populations…

A further example of how explosive the Bell Beaker expansion was into different territories, and of their extensive local admixture, is shown by the unsuccessful attempt by Olalde et al. (2018) to obtain an origin of the EEF source for all Beaker groups (excluding Iberian Beakers):

Investigating the genetic makeup of Beaker-complex-associated individuals. Testing different populations as a source for the Neolithic ancestry component in Beaker-complex-associated individuals. The table shows P values (* indicates values > 0.05) for the fit of the model: ‘Steppe_EBA + Neolithic/Copper Age’ source population.
Map of attested Yamnaya pit-grave burials in the Hungarian plains; superimposed in shades of blue are common areas covered by floods before the extensive controls imposed in the 19th century; in orange, cumulative thickness of sand, unfavourable loamy sand layer. Marked are settlements/findings of Boleráz (ca. 3500 BC on), Baden (until ca. 2800 BC), Kostolac (precise dates unknown), and Yamna kurgans (from ca. 3100/3000 BC on).

Now, there is a simpler way to understand what kind of Steppe-related ancestry is proper of Bell Beakers. I tested two simple models for some Beaker groups: Yamnaya + Hungary Baden vs. Corded Ware + GAC Poland. After all, the Bell Beaker folk should prefer a source more closely related to either Yamnaya Hungary or Central European Corded Ware:

Interestingly, models including Yamnaya + Baden show good fits for the most important groups related to North-West Indo-Europeans, including Bell Beakers from Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland, representing the most likely closest source populations of speakers of Pre-Proto-Celtic, Pre-Proto-Germanic, Proto-Italo-Venetic, and Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic, respectively.

The admixed Yamnaya samples from Hungary that will hopefully be published soon by the Jena Lab will most likely further improve these fits, especially in combination with intermediate Chalcolithic populations of the Middle and Upper Danube and its tributaries, to a point where there will be an absolute chronological and geographical genomic trail from the fully Yamnaya-like Yamnaya settlers from Hungary to all North-West Indo-European-speaking groups of the Early Bronze Age.

The only difference between groups will be the gradual admixture events of their source Beaker group with local populations on their expansion paths, including peoples of mainly EEF, CWC+EEF, or CWC+EEF+Yamnaya related ancestry. There is ample evidence beyond ancestry models to support this, in particular continued Y-DNA bottlenecks under typical Yamnaya paternal lineages, mainly represented by R1b-L51 subclades.

Distribution of the Bell Beaker East Group, with its regional provinces, as of c. 2400 cal BC (after Heyd et al. 2004, modified). See full maps.

European Early Bronze Age

European EBA groups that might show conflicting results due to multiple admixture events with Corded Ware-related populations are the Únětice culture and the Nordic Late Neolithic.

The results for Únětice groups seem to be in line with what is expected of a Central European EBA population derived from Bell Beakers admixed with surrounding poulations of East Bell Beaker and/or late (Epi-)Corded Ware descent.

Potential models of mixture for Nordic Late Neolithic samples – despite the bad fits due to the lack of direct ancestral CWC and BBC groups from Denmark – seem to be impossible to justify as derived exclusively from Single Grave or (even less) from Battle Axe peoples, supporting immigration waves of Bell Beakers from the south and further admixture events with local groups through maritime domination.

PCA of ancient European samples. Marked are Bronze Age clusters. See full PCAs.

Balkans Bronze Age

The potential origin of the typical Corded Ware Steppe-related ancestry in the social upheaval and population movements of the Dnieper-Dniester forest-steppe corridor during the 4th millennium BC raises the question: how much do Balkan Bronze Age groups owe their ancestry to a population different than the spread of Pre-Yamnaya-like Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains? Furthermore, which Bronze Age groups seem to be more likely derived exclusively from Pre-Yamnaya groups, and which are more likely to be derived from a mixture of Yamnaya and Pre-Yamnaya? Do the formal stats obtained correspond to the expected results for each group?

Since the expansion of hg. I2a-L699 (TMRCA ca. 5500 BC) need not be associated with Yamnaya, some of these values – together with the assessment of each individual archaeological culture – may question their origin in a Yamnaya-related expansion rather than in a Khvalynsk-related one.

NOTE. These are the last ones I was able to test yesterday, and I have not thought these models through, so feel free to propose other source and target groups. In particular, complex movements through the North Pontic area during the Late Eneolithic would suggest that there might have been different Steppe-ancestry-related vs. EEF-related interactions in the north-west and west Pontic area before and during the expansion of Yamnaya.


One of the key Indo-European populations that should be derived from Yamnaya to confirm the Steppe hypothesis, together with North-West Indo-Europeans, are Proto-Greeks, who will in turn improve our understanding of the preceding Palaeo-Balkan community. Unfortunately, we only have Mycenaean samples from the Aegean, with slight contributions of Steppe-related ancestry.

Still, analyses with potential source populations for this Steppe ancestry show that the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria is a good fit:

The comparison of all results makes it quite evident the why of the good fits from (Srubnaya-related) Bulgaria_MLBA I2163 or of Sintashta_MLBA relative to the only a priori reasonable Yamnaya and Catacomb sources: it is not about some hypothetical shared ancestor in Graeco-Aryan-speaking East Yamnaya– or even Catacomb-Poltavka-related groups, because all available Yamnaya-related peoples are almost indistinguishable from each other (at least with the sampling available today). These results reflect a sizeable contribution of similar EEF-related populations from around the Carpathians in both Steppe-related groups: Corded Ware and Yamnaya settlers from the Balkans.

Cultural groups in and around the Balkans during the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

qpAdm magic

In hobby ancestry magic, as in magic in general, it is not about getting dubious results out of thin air: misdirection is the key. A magician needs to draw the audience attention to ‘remarkable’ ancestry percentages coupled with ‘great’ (?) p-values that purportedly “prove” what the audience expects to see, distracting everyone from the true interesting aspects, like statistical design, the data used (and its shortcomings), other opposing models, a comparison of values, a proper interpretation…you name it.

I reckon – based on the examples above – that the following problems lie at the core of bad uses of qpAdm:

  1. In the formal aspect, the poor understanding of what p-values and other formal stats obtained actually mean, and – more importantly – what they don’t mean. The simplistic trend to accept results of a few analyses at face value is necessarily wrong, in so far as there is often no proper reasoning of what is being assessed and how, and there is never a previous opinion about what could be expected if the alternative hypotheses were true.
  2. In the interpretation aspect, the poor judgement of accompanying any results with simplistic, superficial, irrelevant, and often plainly wrong archaeological or linguistic data selected a posteriori; the inclusion of some racial or sociopolitical overtones in the mixture to set a propitious mood in the target audience; and a sort of ritualistic theatrics with the main theme of ‘winning’, that is best completed with ad hominems.

If you get rid of all this, the most reasonable interpretation of the output of a model proposed and tested should be similar to Nick Patterson’s words in his explanation of qpWave and qpAdm use:

Here we see that, at least in this analysis there are reasonable models with CordedWareNeolithic is a mix of either WHG or LBKNeolithic and YamnayaEBA. (…) The point of this note is not to give a serious phylogenetic analysis but the results here certainly support a major Steppe contribution to the Corded Ware population, which is entirely concordant with the archaeology [?].

Very far, as you can see, from the childish “Eureka! I proved the source!”-kind of thinking common among hobbyists.

The Mycenaean case is an illustrative example: if the Yamnaya outlier from Bulgaria were not available, and if one were not careful when designing and assessing those mixture models, the interpretation would range from erroneous (viz. a Graeco-Aryan substrate, as I initially thought) to impossible (say, inventing migration waves of Sintashta or Srubnaya peoples into Crete). The models presented above show that a contribution of Yamnaya to Mycenaeans couldn’t be rejected, and this alone should have been enough to accept Yamnaya as the most likely source population of “Steppe ancestry” in Proto-Greeks, pending intermediate samples from the Balkans. In other words, one could actually find that ‘the best’ p-values for source populations of Mycenaeans is a combination of modern Poles + Turks, despite the impracticality of such a model…

I haven’t been able to reproduce results which supposedly showed that Corded Ware is more likely to be derived from (Pre-)Yamnaya than other source population, or that Corded Ware is better suited as the ancestral population of Bell Beakers. The analyses above show values in line with what has been published in recent scientific papers, and what should be expected based on linguistics and archaeology. So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s only through a careful selection of outgroups and samples tested, and of as few compared models as possible, that you could eventually get this kind of results and interpretation, if at all.

Whether that kind of special care for outgroups and samples is about (a) an acceptable fine-tuning of the analyses, (b) a simplistic selection dragged from the first papers published and applied indiscriminately to all models, or (c) cherry picking analyses until results fit the expected outcome, is a question that will become mostly irrelevant when future publications continue to support an origin of the expansion of ancient Indo-European languages in Khvalynsk- and Yamnaya-related migrations.

Feel free to suggest (reasonable) modifications to correct some of these models in the comments. Also, be sure to check out other values such as proportions, SD or SNPs of the different results that I might have not taken into account when assessing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fits.


Złota a GAC-CWC transitional group…but not the origin of Corded Ware peoples


Open access Unraveling ancestry, kinship, and violence in a Late Neolithic mass grave, by Schroeder et al. PNAS (2019).

Interesting excerpts of the paper and supplementary materials, about the Złota group variant of Globular Amphora (emphasis mine):

A special case is the so-called Złota group, which emerged around 2,900 BCE in the northern part of the Małopolska Upland and existed until 2,600-2,500 BCE. Originally defined as a separate archaeological “culture” (15), this group is mainly defined by the rather local introduction of a distinct form of burial in the area mentioned. Distinct Złota settlements have not yet been identified. Nonetheless, because of the character of its burial practices and material culture, which both retain many elements of the GAC and yet point forward to the Corded Ware tradition, and because of its geographical location, the Złota group has attracted significant archaeological attention (15, 16).

The Złota group buried their dead in a new, distinct type of funerary structure; so-called niche graves (also called catacomb graves). These structures featured an entrance shaft or pit and, below that, a more or less extensive niche, sometimes connected to the entrance area by a narrow corridor. Local limestone was used to seal off the entrance shaft and to pave the floor of the niche, on which the dead were usually placed along with grave goods. This specific and relatively sophisticated form of burial probably reflects contacts between the northern Małopolska Upland and the steppe and forest-steppe communities further to the east, who also buried their dead in a form of catacomb graves. Individual cases of the use of ochre and of deformation of skulls in Złota burials provide further indications of such a connection (15). At the same time, the Złota niche grave practice also retains central elements of the GAC funerary tradition, such as the frequent practice of multiple burials in one grave, often entailing redeposition and violation of the anatomical order of corpses, and thus differs from the catacomb grave customs found on the steppes which are strongly dominated by single graves. Nonetheless, at Złota group cemeteries single burial graves appear, and even in multiple burial graves the identity of each individual is increasingly emphasized, e.g. by careful deposition of the body and through the personal nature of grave goods (16).

Correspondence analysis of amphorae from the Złota-graveyards reveals that there is no typological break between Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware Amphorae, including ‘Strichbündelamphorae’ (after Furholt 2008)

Just like its burial practices, the material culture and grave goods of the Złota group combine elements of the GAC, such as amber ornaments and central parts of the ceramic inventory, with elements also found in the Corded Ware tradition, such as copper ornaments, stone shaft-hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and other stylistic features of the ceramic inventory. In particular, Złota group ceramic styles have been seen as a clear transitional phenomenon between classical GAC styles and the subsequent Corded Ware ceramics, probably playing a key role in the development of the typical cord decoration patterns that came to define the latter (17).

As briefly summarized above, the Złota group displays a distinct funerary tradition and combination of material culture traits, which give the clear impression of a cultural “transitional situation”. While the group also appears to have had long-distance contacts directed elsewhere (e.g. to Baden communities to the south), it is the combination of Globular Amphora traits, on the one hand, and traits found among late Yamnaya or Catacomb Grave groups to the east as well as the closely related Corded Ware groups that emerged around 2,800 BCE, on the other hand, that is such a striking feature of the Złota group and which makes it interesting when attempting to understand cultural and demographic dynamics in Central and Eastern Europe during the early 3rd millennium BCE.

Catacomb grave no. 2a/06 from Książnice, Złota culture (acc. to Wilk 2013). Image from Włodarczak (2017)

Książnice (site 2, grave 3ZC), Świętokrzyskie province. This burial, a so-called niche grave of the Złota type (with a vertical entrance shaft and perpendicularly situated niche), was excavated in 2006 and contained the remains of 8 individuals, osteologically identified as three adult females and five children, positioned on limestone pavement in the niche part of the grave. Radiocarbon dating of the human remains indicates that the grave dates to 2900-2630 BCE, 95.4% probability (Dataset S1). The grave had an oval entrance shaft with a diameter of 60 cm and depth of 130 cm; the depth of the niche reached to 170 cm (both measured from the modern surface), and it also contained a few animal bones, a few flint artefacts and four ceramic vessels typical of the Złota group. Książnice is located in the western part of the Małopolska Upland, which only has a few Złota group sites but a stronger presence of other, contemporary groups (including variants of the Baden culture).

Wilczyce (site 90, grave 10), Świętokrzyskie province. A rescue excavation in 2001 uncovered a niche grave of the Złota type, which had a round entrance shaft measuring 90 cm in diameter. The grave was some 60-65 cm deep below the modern surface and the bottom of the niche was paved with thin limestone plates, on which remains of three individuals had been placed; two adults, one female and one male, and one child. Four ceramic vessels of Złota group type were deposited in the niche along with the bodies. Wilczyce is located in the Sandomierz Upland, an area with substantial presence of both the Globular Amphora culture and Złota group, as well as the Corded Ware culture from 2800 BCE.

Genetic affinities of the Koszyce individuals and other GAC groups (here including Złota) analyzed in this study. (A) Principal component analysis of previously published and newly sequenced ancient individuals. Ancient genomes were projected onto modern reference populations, shown in gray. (B) Ancestry proportions based on supervised ADMIXTURE analysis (K = 3), specifying Western hunter-gatherers, Anatolian Neolithic farmers, and early Bronze Age steppe populations as ancestral source populations. LP, Late Paleolithic; M, Mesolithic; EN, Early Neolithic; MN, Middle Neolithic; LN, Late Neolithic; EBA, Early Bronze Age; PWC, Pitted Ware culture; TRB, Trichterbecherkultur/Funnelbeaker culture; LBK, Linearbandkeramik/Linear Pottery culture; GAC, Globular Amphora culture; Złota, Złota culture. Image modified to outline in red GAC and Złota groups.

To further investigate the ancestry of the Globular Amphora individuals, we performed a supervised ADMIXTURE (6) analysis, specifying typical western European hunter-gatherers (Loschbour), early Neolithic Anatolian farmers (Barcın), and early Bronze Age steppe populations (Yamnaya) as ancestral source populations (Fig. 2B). The results indicate that the Globular Amphora/Złota group individuals harbor ca. 30% western hunter-gatherer and 70% Neolithic farmer ancestry, but lack steppe ancestry. To formally test different admixture models and estimate mixture proportions, we then used qpAdm (7) and find that the Polish Globular Amphora/Złota group individuals can be modeled as a mix of western European hunter-gatherer (17%) and Anatolian Neolithic farmer (83%) ancestry (SI Appendix, Table S2), mirroring the results of previous studies.

Table S2. qpADM results. The ancestry of most Globular Amphora/Złota group individuals
can be modelled as a two-way mixture of Mesolithic western hunter-gatherers (WHG), and early Anatolian Neolithic farmers (Barcın). The five individuals from Książnice (Złota group) show evidence for additional gene flow, most likely from an eastern source.

The lack of a direct genetic connection of Corded Ware peoples with the Złota group despite their common “steppe-like traits” – shared with Yamna – reveals, once more, how the few “Yamna-like” traits of Corded Ware do not support a direct connection with Indo-Europeans, and are the result of the expansion of the so-called steppe package all over Europe, and particularly among cultures closely related to the Khvalynsk expansion, and later under the influence of expanding Yamna peoples.

The results from Książnice may support that early Corded Ware peoples were in close contact with GAC peoples in Lesser Poland during the complex period of GAC-Trypillia-CWC interactions, and especially close to the Złota group at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. Nevertheless, patrilineal clans of Złota apparently correspond to Globular Amphorae populations, with the only male sample available yet being within haplogroup I2a-L801, prevalent in GAC.

NOTE. The ADMIXTURE of Złota samples in common with GAC samples (and in contrast with the shared Sredni Stog – Corded Ware “steppe ancestry”) makes the possibility of R1a-M417 popping up in the Złota group from now on highly unlikely. If it happened, that would complicate further the available picture of unusually diverse patrilineal clans found among Uralic speakers expanding with early Corded Ware groups, in contrast with the strict patrilineal and patrilocal culture of Indo-Europeans as found in Repin, Yamna and Bell Beakers.

Once again the traditional links between groups hypothesized by archaeologists – like Gimbutas and Kristiansen in this case – are wrong, as is the still fashionable trend in descriptive archaeology, of supporting 1) wide cultural relationships in spite of clear-cut inter-cultural differences (and intra-cultural uniformity kept over long distances by genetically-related groups), 2) peaceful interactions among groups based on few common traits, and 3) regional population continuities despite cultural change. These generalized ideas made some propose a steppe language shared between Pontic-Caspian groups, most of which have been proven to be radically different in culture and genetics.

The background shading indicates the tree migratory waves proposed by Marija Gimbutas, and personally checked by her in 1995. Image from Tassi et al. (2017).

Furthermore, paternal lines show once again marked bottlenecks in expanding Neolithic cultures, supporting their relevance to follow the ethnolinguistic identity of different cultural groups. The steppe- or EHG-related ancestry (if it is in fact from early Corded Ware peoples) in Książnice was thus probably, as in the case of Trypillia, in the form of exogamy with females of neighbouring groups:

The presence of unrelated females and related males in the grave is interesting because it suggests that the community at Koszyce was organized along patrilineal lines of descent, adding to the mounting evidence that this was the dominant form of social organization among Late Neolithic communities in Central Europe. Usually, patrilineal forms of social organization go hand in hand with female exogamy (i.e., the practice of women marrying outside their social group). Indeed, several studies (11, 12) have shown that patrilocal residence patterns and female exogamy prevailed in several parts of Central Europe during the Late Neolithic. (…) the high diversity of mtDNA lineages, combined with the presence of only a single Y chromosome lineage, is certainly consistent with a patrilocal residence system.

Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Tripolyan groups and Corded Ware Culture settlements (■) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

Since ancient and modern Uralians show predominantly Corded Ware ancestry, and Proto-Uralic must have been in close contact with Proto-Indo-European for a very long time – given the different layers of influence that can be distinguished between them -, it follows as logical consequence that the North Pontic forest-steppes (immediately to the west of the PIE homeland in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes) is the most likely candidate for the expansion of Proto-Uralic, accompanying the spread of Sredni Stog ancestry and a bottleneck under R1a-M417 lineages.

The early TMRCAs in the 4th millennium BC for R1a-M417 and R1a-Z645 support this interpretation, like the R1a-M417 sample found in Sredni Stog. On the other hand, the resurgence of typical GAC-like ancestry in late Corded Ware groups, with GAC lineages showing late TMRCAs in the 3rd millennium BC, proves the disintegration of Corded Ware all over Europe (except in Textile Ceramics- and Abashevo-related groups) as the culture lost its cohesion and different local patrilineal clans used the opportunity to seize power – similar to how eventually I2a-L621 infiltrated eastern (Finno-Ugrian) groups.


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.


Spread of Y. pestis, earlier than previously thought, may have caused Neolithic decline


Open access Emergence and Spread of Basal Lineages of Yersinia pestis during the Neolithic Decline, by Rascovan et al. Cell (2018)

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, many Neolithic societies declined throughout western Eurasia due to a combination of factors that are still largely debated. Here, we report the discovery and genome reconstruction of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, in Neolithic farmers in Sweden, pre-dating and basal to all modern and ancient known strains of this pathogen. We investigated the history of this strain by combining phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses of the bacterial genome, detailed archaeological information, and genomic analyses from infected individuals and hundreds of ancient human samples across Eurasia. These analyses revealed that multiple and independent lineages of Y. pestis branched and expanded across Eurasia during the Neolithic decline, spreading most likely through early trade networks rather than massive human migrations. Our results are consistent with the existence of a prehistoric plague pandemic that likely contributed to the decay of Neolithic populations in Europe.

(A) Schematic representation of the trajectories and time periods (thousand years before present, kyr) of major known human migrations in Eurasia during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The observed geographic distribution and divergence times of Y. pestis strains from the Gok2 and Bronze Age clades cannot be explained by the timings and routes of these human movements.
(B) Geographic distribution of the use of animal traction and wheeled transport across Neolithic and Bronze Age populations in Eurasia, which broadly expanded during the period of 5,500 and 5,000 BP. The expansion of these technological innovations overlaps the predicted period for the expansion of the basal Y. pestis strains.
(C) Timeline indicating the proposed key historical events that contributed to the emergence and spread of plague during the Neolithic.

We have evolved in the interpretation of the plague from 1) a Corded Ware-driven disease, to 2) a steppe disease that was spread by Yamna and Corded Ware, and now 3) a (potentially) Trypillia-driven disease that spread to the west earlier than Yamna and Corded Ware, but probably also later east and west with both.

At least it still seems that the plague and its demographic consequences were a good reason for the expansion of Indo-Europeans and Uralians into Europe, as we thought…

Featured image, from the paper: “The predicted model of early dispersion of Y. pestis during Neolithic and Bronze Age was built by integrating phylogenetic information of Y. pestis strains from this period (Figure 1E), their divergence times (Figure 3), the geographic locations, carbon dating and genotypes of the individuals, and the archaeological record. The model suggests that early Y. pestis strains likely emerged and spread from mega-settlements in Eastern Europe (built by the Trypillia Culture) into Europe and the Eurasian steppe, most likely through human interaction networks. This was facilitated by wheeled and animal-powered transports, which are schematized in the map with red lines with arrows pointing in both senses. Our model builds upon a previous model (Andrades Valtuena et al., 2017) that proposed the spread of plague to be associated with large-scale human migrations (blue line).


A very “Yamnaya-like” East Bell Beaker from France, probably R1b-L151


Interesting report by Bernard Sécher on Anthrogenica, about the Ph.D. thesis of Samantha Brunel from Institut Jacques Monod, Paris, Paléogénomique des dynamiques des populations humaines sur le territoire Français entre 7000 et 2000 (2018).

NOTE. You can visit Bernard Sécher’s blog on genetic genealogy.

A summary from user Jool, who was there, translated into English by Sécher (slight changes to translation, and emphasis mine):

They have a good hundred samples from the North, Alsace and the Mediterranean coast, from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age.

There is no major surprise compared to the rest of Europe. On the PCA plot, the Mesolithic are with the WHG, the early Neolithics with the first farmers close to the Anatolians. Then there is a small resurgence of hunter-gatherers that moves the Middle Neolithics a little closer to the WHGs.

From the Bronze Age, they have 5 samples with autosomal DNA, all in Bell Beaker archaeological context, which are very spread on the PCA. A sample very high, close to the Yamnaya, a little above the Corded Ware, two samples right in the Central European Bell Beakers, a fairly low just above the Neolithic package, and one last full in the package. The most salient point was that the Y chromosomes of their 12 Bronze Age samples (all Bell Beakers) are all R1b, whereas there was no R1b in the Neolithic samples.

Finally they have samples of the Iron Age that are collected on the PCA plot close to the Bronze Age samples. They could not determine if there is continuity with the Bronze Age, or a partial replacement by a genetically close population.

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 interesting samples; In red, likely position of late Yamna Hungary / early East Bell Beakers 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 sample with likely high “steppe ancestry“, clustering closely to Yamna (more than Corded Ware samples) is then probably an early East Bell Beaker individual, probably from Alsace, or maybe close to the Rhine Delta in the north, rather than from the south, since we already have samples from southern France from Olalde et al. (2018) with high Neolithic ancestry, and samples from the Rhine with elevated steppe ancestry, but not that much.

This specific sample, if confirmed as one of those reported as R1b (then likely R1b-L151), as it seems from the wording of the summary, is key because it would finally link Yamna to East Bell Beaker through Yamna Hungary, all of them very “Yamnaya-like”, and therefore R1b-L151 (hence also R1b-L51) directly to the steppe, and not only to the Carpathian Basin (that is, until we have samples from late Repin or West Yamna…)

NOTE. The only alternative explanation for such elevated steppe ancestry would be an admixture between a ‘less Yamnaya-like’ East Bell Beaker + a Central European Corded Ware sample like the Esperstedt outlier + drift, but I don’t think that alternative is the best explanation of its position in the PCA closer to Yamna in any of the infinite parallel universes, so… Also, the sample from Esperstedt is clearly a late outlier likely influenced by Yamna vanguard settlers from Hungary, not the other way round…

Unexpectedly, then, fully Yamnaya-like individuals are found not only in Yamna Hungary ca. 3000-2500 BC, but also among expanding East Bell Beakers later than 2500 BC. This leaves us with unexplained, not-at-all-Yamnaya-like early Corded Ware samples from ca. 2900 BC on. An explanation based on admixture with locals seems unlikely, seeing how Corded Ware peoples continue a north Pontic cluster, being thus different from Yamna and their ancestors since the Neolithic; and how they remained that way for a long time, up to Sintashta, Srubna, Andronovo, and even later samples… A different, non-Indo-European community it is, then.

Image modified from Olalde et al. (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the Espersted Outlier with the approximate position of Yamna Hungary, probably the source of its admixture. Different Bell Beaker clines have been drawn, to represent approximate source of expansions from Central European sources into the different regions. In red, likely zone of Yamna Hungary and reported early East Bell Beaker individual from France.

Let’s wait and see the Ph.D. thesis, when it’s published, and keep observing in the meantime the absurd reactions of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression (stages of grief) among BBC/R1b=Vasconic and CWC/R1a=Indo-European fans, as if they had lost something (?). Maybe one of these reactions is actually the key to changing reality and going back to the 2000s, who knows…

Featured image: initial expansion of the East Bell Beaker Group, by Volker Heyd (2013).


The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


Corded Ware culture origins: The Final Frontier


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

Corded Ware origins

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

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

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

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

Corded Ware peoples in genetics

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

Maybe genetics can help:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sredni Stog, Proto-Corded Ware, and their “steppe admixture”


Once the haplogroups of the announced West Yamna and Yamna settlers in Hungary and Khvalynsk from Ekaterinovka appear, it is to be expected that there won’t be much discussion on the Y-DNA bottlenecks that affected Khvalynsk – Yamna migrations.

So let’s cut to the chase and see where Corded Ware peoples (mainly of R1a-Z645 subclades) got their so-called “steppe admixture” different from that of Yamna. Because, as you might have realized by now, Sredni Stog – and consequently Corded Ware – remains nowadays an undefined (archaeological) mess.

Rassamakin explains it quite well, in the chapter Eneolithic of the Black Sea Steppe; In Levine M., Rassamakin Yu., Kislenko A. and Tatarintseva N., 1999. Late Prehistoric Exploitation of the Eurasian Steppe. McDonald Institute Monographs, University of Cambridge.

NOTE. These are only certain relevant excerpts. The whole chapter is worth a thorough read, whatever position you hold regarding steppe expansions. In fact, he supports the Skelya cultural (macro-)group instead of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka vs. Sredni Stog, he does not believe in significant expansions from the east (but in local movements and a ‘general evolution’ of Pontic-Caspian steppe cultures to Early Yamna), and offers e.g. the presence of copper and trade from the west (and its poor presence in the east) as an example of the importance of the North Pontic area vis-à-vis Khvalynsk/Repin. Not an interested party in supporting Gimbutas or Anthony, then, if you fear that.

Cultural groups in the North Pontic area

Telegin divided the Sredny Stog culture into three local variants – the Dnepr Culture variant, the Oskol-Donets (Aleksandriya) Culture variant, and the Lower Don (Konstantinovka) Culture variant. He elaborated a periodization based on the evolution of decorative motifs in the pottery assemblages.

At first, the internal contradictions of the Sredny Stog culture were not accorded particular prominence, despite clear intimations of problems when, for example, sites like the settlement of Konstantinovka on the Lower Don, was identified as actually belonging to another, independent culture (Kiyashko 1974). The first real blow to the integrity of the Sredny Stog culture was dealt by Telegin himself, when he removed five Novodanilovka-type sites, and accorded them the status of an independent cultural phenomenon (Telegin 1985a). Until that point, sites of this type had were customarily considered to be within the framework of the late group of Sredny Stog cemeteries, despite having been for long regarded by some as representative of an earlier, independent cultural group (Movsha & Chebotarenko 1969; Zbenovich 1973, 74-5; Gimbutas, Merpert and Danilenko passim). Indeed, it was unclear why these cemeteries had initially been assigned to the Late, rather than the Early, Sredny Stog culture. Now these sites were mechanically stripped out of the one system, but their place in the new system was not clearly defined.

Rassamakin (1999) concept of cultural development of burial rituals in the North Pontic steppe.

Thus a paradox arose. Sites that had served to a considerable extent as the initial basis for the Sredny Stog culture, for the elaboration of its periodization and chronology, were now accepted as forming the core of an essentially different culture. Because of this, by the mid 1980s, both the Sredny Stog culture and the Eneolithic systematization as a whole were becoming rather amorphous. Essentially, the Sredny Stog culture was associated in the minds of many researchers solely with the settlement site at Dereivka, while they had only a confused and indistinct idea of the nature of early Sredny Stog sites. (…) Ultimately a situation developed where all attempts to view new evidence, new local groups, or even cultures through the prism of the Sredny Stog culture were futile, since researchers were unclear about of the essence of the culture itself, and often qualified themselves in footnotes with references to ‘preCorded Ware’ or ‘Corded Ware’ stages, or by relating their observations back directly to the specific sites of Sredny Stog II or Dereivka.

Thus, in the Middle Eneolithic, a number of independent cultures (Kvityana, Repin, Konstantinovka, and, to some degree, Dereivka, Cernavoda and Lower Mikhailovka) emerged in the region that had in the Early Eneolithic been occupied by the Skelya culture, either as lineal successors to this culture or under its influence. But the principal stimuli in this period were the Tripolye tribes, direct imports from whom reach the southern zone of the Dnepr left bank.

It is apparent that, for all their conceptual differences, if we remove Danilenko’s subdivisions, Telegin’s and Danilenko’s models are identical in terms of site periodization and sequence: first Kvityana, then Sredny Stog II, and finally Dereivka.

The North Pontic area in the Eneolithic (4000-3500 BC)

The Kvityana and Dereivka cultures in relation to other sites: 1) Molyukhov Bugor (settlement); 2) Dereivka (settlement); 3) Aleksandriya (settlement); 4) Minevsky Yar (settlement); 5) Khutor Repin (settlement).

Tripolye influence is seen most clearly in the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture and a new burial rite which spread as far as the Molochnaya. Changes are apparent in kurgan architecture; that is, in the construction of stone chambers, sanctuaries comprising upright elements, and ring-shaped ditches (Rassamakin 1990; 1993; 1994; Pleshivenko & Rassamakin 1994 ). Lower Mikhailovka sites in the northwestern Black Sea coast region are known by a whole series of different designations, one of which, as I have already noted above, is ‘the Bessarabian variant of the Cernavoda I culture’ (Manzura 1993).

The formation of the Kvityana culture should be considered both in the context of the development of the Lower Mikhailovka culture, and in terms of the influence of the Sredny Stog II pottery assemblage. The first is manifested in the development of the kurgan ritual itself, with such structural elements as cromlechs, orthostats and stone cists. These are most apparent to the south, in the zone of contact with the Lower Mikhailovka culture. The second is apparent in the similarity between Kvityana pottery and Sredny Stog II pottery, notably in a number of shared compositional and technical elements, despite the fact that the shapes, techniques and style are all quite different.

As a whole, the Kvityana culture is notably conservative and archaic in appearance; this is manifest both in the preservation of a burial rite involving a supine position, and in the appearance of the pottery which, on the basis of the absence of corded or caterpillar track decoration, was until recently considered the earliest Sredny Stog ware.

(…) we still lack sufficient evidence to trace in detail the path by which the Kvityana culture spread from the Dnepr into the Dnestr-Danube region. The southern steppe route is excluded, but Kvityana sites are recorded on the Southern Bug, in the Dnestr region, and even along the forest-steppe boundary on the Prut Gudging by the numerous excavations of kurgans in this belt. This route in some respects repeats that along which the Skelya elite groups moved. Southward movement along the Southern Bug and its tributaries into the steppe zone is indicated only by isolated sites, the number of which is far smaller than in the Dnestr-Danube region, despite the intensive excavation of kurgans in this region. Evidence for Kvityana penetration into the northwestern Black Sea coast is provided by the appearance in Usatovo assemblages of typical Kvityana figural tubular bone beads, with diagnostic lateral notches on the sides (Malyukevich & Petrenko 1993).

Expansions of Kvityana and Trypillia cultures. Rassamakin (1999)

[The Dereivka] culture is currently only known only from settlement material, notably from sites in the Dnepr region (Dereivka and Molyukhov Bugor), but also from typologically distinctive pottery in the Eneolithic layer of the settlement of Aleksandriya on the Oskol. Dereivka culture pottery has also been recorded at a number of locations in the forest-steppe Dnepr region and the Seversky Donets, at Tetyanchino, Kamennye Pataki, and Minevsky Yar. The ceramic assemblage is well-defined and easily recognizable: vessels consistently display a weak profile and slightly elongated proportions, with high, straight mouths, evenly cut off at the rim, and conical bases (Fig. 3.23). The Dereivka culture occupies the southern part of the forest-steppe region and is bounded to the south by the Kvityana culture.

Telegin rightly noted that Dereivka and Kvityana pottery bore some resemblance to one another. Several fragments of the latter were found in the Dereivka assemblage, and provide evidence for the contemporaneous existence of the two cultures. The Molyukhov Bugor pottery assemblage stands out in terms of a prevalence of pottery with corded decoration, which only occurs in insignificant amounts at Dereivka and Aleksandriya. However, artefactual analysis has not produced any clear guidance for a chronological organization of these sites, as was postulated by Telegin.

Rassamakin’s (1999) periodization of the North Pontic cultures

Late Phase and Final Eneolithic (3500-3000 BC)

In the Dnestr region, southward pressure from Tripolye led to the formation of, firstly, Vykhvatinsk-type sites, and then, in the steppe zone, Usatovo-type sites, which had undoubtedly absorbed some features of the Lower Mikhailovka culture. In the Prut and Middle Dnestr regions, sites of the Gordineşti (Kasperovkao) types are formed (these correspond, in the Romanian Prut region and on the Siret, to sites of the Horodiştea-Erbiceni type, and on the Lower Danube to the Cernavoda III culture: Morintz & Roman 1968; Dinu 1980; 1987). Movsha considers that sites of this type (Kasperovkao in her terminology) also occur in the Southern Bug region.

Sofievka-type sites emerge in the forest-steppes of the Middle Dnepr. A number of researchers (Zbenovich, Dergachev, and Sorokin), taking account of the change in the Tripolye culture at stage C2, propose a special division, considering sites of this period alone as ‘Late Tripolye’. In their view (with which I agree), stage Cl in culture-historical terms still corresponds to ‘Middle Tripolye’.

(…) existing evidence allows us to put forward the following scheme (Fig. 3.49:2). To the east of the Usatovo sites, from the lower reaches of the Southern Bug to the Azov region, encroaching on the Crimean steppes, the Lower Mikhailovka culture remains intact. To the north, upstream along the Dnepr and its tributaries, the Kvityana culture survives in its initial core zone. Between the Southern Bug and the Dnepr, in the contact zone between the three cultures (Tripolye, Lower Mikhailovka and Kvityana) the Dnepr-Bug group of sites emerges, displaying mixed features (Nikolova & Rassamakin 1985; Rassamakin 1988) Tripolye influence on the Dereivka culture appears to increase, as manifested in the appearance of late cultural elements (corded decoration, plastic art, bowls). The fate of the Pivikha culture is unclear. On the Lower Don, the late phase of the Konstantinovka culture (corresponding to the settlements of Konstantinovka and Razdorskoe I: Level 7) continued.

The final stage

The final stage of this period is characterized by two waves of migration, which properly speaking conclude the development of the Eneolithic.(…)

The first migration is connected with the breakdown of that system of Late Tripolye forest-steppe sites of the Prut-Dnestr and Southern Bug regions, dealt with by Movsha within the framework of the Kasperovo local group (and termed Gordineşti by others such as Dergachev, Manzura, and Petrenko). Almost all researchers into the Tripolye culture note the widespread occurrence of diagnostic elements of this group in the south, in the zone of the Usatovo sites and, in the east and southeast, towards the Dnepr and its left bank (Movsha 1984; 1990; 1993; Subbotin & Petrenko 1986; Manzura 1990a). (…)

The migrational wave that left Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe-type burials in the steppe also linked up the forest-steppe Bug, Dnestr, and Prut regions with the Lower Don region, and, possibly with the North Caucasus, where the late stage of the Maikop culture (the Novosvobodnaya sites) continued. The identical rites of the Maikop culture and Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe sites makes it difficult to establish the direction of migration, or which was the active side in the process. A number of researchers have given precedence to the Maikop culture. But the spread of the Tripolye assemblage unambiguously indicates the active involvement of the Tripolye tribes.

The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug

The second migration, at the very end of the Eneolithic, is connected with the spread of the Repin culture (in its second phase) from the Middle Don. Sinyuk defined three main directions: north, to the Upper Don; southwest, into the Dnepr region; and south, to the Lower Don and the Lower Volga. Trifonov considers this broad expansion of the Repin culture to be colonization (Trifonov 1996). The Repin culture level at Razdorskoe I (Razdorskoe I: Level 8) overlies the Konstantinovka levels (Levels 6 and 7), signalling that the Konstantinovka culture had apparently ceased to exist (Kiyashko 1994, 80). It seems that the expansion of the Repin culture is also associated with a reduction in the territorial extent of the Kvityana and Dereivka cultures. Repin burial assemblages, settlements and temporary camps appear in the Seversky Donets basin and in the Eastern Azov region (at Trekhizbenka, Kapitanovo, Aleksandriya, and Razdolnoe). The same complexes are also widely distributed towards the Dnepr (Marina 1992). The most striking western manifestation of Repin elements is seen in the upper horizon of the middle level of the Mikhailovka settlement (Lagodovska et al. 1962, 39-46).

Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware

We already know that Ukraine Eneolithic samples showed steppe ancestry and had apparently began a process of convergence coinciding with (or after) the first Khvalynsk-related migrations. It is unclear what had happened before (i.e. how much “CHG ancestry” was absorbed by Ukraine Neolithic groups in their transition to the Eneolithic before ca. 4500 BC), although in principle we can assume that all Caucasus-related admixture received by North Pontic cultures ca. 4500-4000 BC was mediated by westward movements from Khvalynsk-related peoples.

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. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Contacts with (and later absorption of) Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-related migrants, as well as heir cultures, like those in the steppe adjacent to the Black Sea coast, and also direct contacts with Caucasus-related populations through Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe can justify a greater contribution of CHG ancestry ca. 4000-3500 BC. Close contacts with Cucuteni-Trypillia (through Mikhailovka and maybe Kvityana, possibly with WHG and CHG admixture related to Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) and GAC peoples to the north are the obvious source of further similarities with Yamna. Distinct similarities, that is, if we take into account the different sources and timing of such ancestral components, and Y-chromosome bottlenecks…

Therefore, after a process of convergence ca. 4500-4000 BC, and potentially more contacts with late Eneolithic North Pontic steppe cultures ca. 4000-3500 BC, Proto-Corded Ware peoples must have finally spread from the northernmost (forest-steppe) areas previously occupied by Dereivka, Pivikha, or Sofievka groups from ca. 3300 BC onwards – a date roughly coincident with the expansion of late Khvalynsk/Repin to the west developing the Early Yamna culture, with which it likely entered in contact (hence potentially a source for further admixture convergence ca. 3500-3000 BC).

Only later happened the great migration ca. 3000-2800 BC of Classical Corded Ware culture migrants, at the same time as Early Yamna migrants expanded to the west, and some groups also to the north along the Prut (possibly directly connected to the admixture found in the two Baltic LN/CWC ‘outliers’).

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

We didn’t know much about Sredni Stog or Corded Ware, and we still don’t. I can’t see the future, and I don’t have access to information from Reich-Jena or Copenhagen groups, and never have. But I just don’t see the need to explain Corded Ware as derived from (coeval) Early Yamna, and I haven’t since the 2015 papers. It was not the best explanation for the data that was published, and the more information we receive, the less sense this theory makes.

However, I guess we will see some groups still resorting to the good old Yamnaya ancestral component™ = Indo-European no matter what, consciously ignoring that a proportion of ancestral components (some combination of EHG:CHG:WHG in this case) means nothing without a proper explanation of their precise temporal and regional origin, and how they connect with Yamna; just like the CHG ancestry = Indo-European trend we are living right now does not make any sense.

Publishing only selected results after trying every possible combination of samples with bioinformatic tools does not help strengthen this connection, either.