Magyar tribes brought R1a-Z645, I2a-L621, and N1a-L392(xB197) lineages to the Carpathian Basin

hungarian-conquerors-turks

The Nightmare Week of “N1c=Uralic” proponents continues, now with preprint Y-chromosome haplogroups from Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian period nomadic people of the Carpathian Basin, by Neparaczki et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Abstract:

Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian nomadic groups arrived into the Carpathian Basin from the Eurasian Steppes and significantly influenced its political and ethnical landscape. In order to shed light on the genetic affinity of above groups we have determined Y chromosomal haplogroups and autosomal loci, from 49 individuals, supposed to represent military leaders. Haplogroups from the Hun-age are consistent with Xiongnu ancestry of European Huns. Most of the Avar-age individuals carry east Eurasian Y haplogroups typical for modern north-eastern Siberian and Buryat populations and their autosomal loci indicate mostly unmixed Asian characteristics. In contrast the conquering Hungarians seem to be a recently assembled population incorporating pure European, Asian and admixed components. Their heterogeneous paternal and maternal lineages indicate similar phylogeographic origin of males and females, derived from Central-Inner Asian and European Pontic Steppe sources. Composition of conquering Hungarian paternal lineages is very similar to that of Baskhirs, supporting historical sources that report identity of the two groups.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

All N-Hg-s identified in the Avars and Conquerors belonged to N1a1a-M178. We have tested 7 subclades of M178; N1a1a2-B187, N1a1a1a2-B211, N1a1a1a1a3-B197, N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, N1a1a1a1a1a-VL29, N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 and the N1a1a1a1a2a1c1-L1034 subbranch of Z1936. The European subclades VL29 and Z1936 could be excluded in most cases, while the rest of the subclades are prevalent in Siberia 23 from where this Hg dispersed in a counter-clockwise migratory route to Europe (…). All the 5 other Avar samples belonged to N1a1a1a1a3-B197, which is most prevalent in Chukchi, Buryats, Eskimos, Koryaks and appears among Tuvans and Mongols with lower frequency.

haplogroup-n-pca
First two components of PCA from Hg N1a subbranch distribution in 51 populations including Avars and Conquerors. Colors indicate geographic regions. Three letter codes are given in Supplementary Table S5.

By contrast two Conquerors belonged to N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, the Y lineage of nearly all Yakut males, being also frequent in Evenks, Evens and occurring with lower frequency among Khantys, Mansis and Kazakhs.

Three Conqueror samples belonged to Hg N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 , the Finno-Permic N1a branch, being most frequent among northeastern European Saami, Finns, Karelians, as well as Komis, Volga Tatars and Bashkirs of the Volga-Ural region.Nevertheless this Hg is also present with lower frequency among Karanogays, Siberian Nenets, Khantys, Mansis, Dolgans, Nganasans, and Siberian Tatars.

The west Eurasian R1a1a1b1a2b-CTS1211 subclade of R1a is most frequent in Eastern Europe especially among Slavic people. This Hg was detected just in the Conqueror group (K2/18, K2/41 and K1/10). Though CTS1211 was not covered in K2/36 but it may also belong to this sub-branch of Z283.

Hg I2a1a2b-L621 was present in 5 Conqueror samples, and a 6th sample form Magyarhomorog (MH/9) most likely also belongs here, as MH/9 is a likely kin of MH/16 (see below). This Hg of European origin is most prominent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, especially among Slavic speaking groups. It might have been a major lineage of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and it was present in the Baden culture of the Chalcolithic Carpathian Basin.

hungarian-conquerors-y-dna
Image modified from the paper, with drawn red square around lineages of likely Ugric origin, and squares around R1a-Z93, R1a-Z283, N1a-Z1936, and N1a-M2004 samples. Y-Hg-s determined from 46 males grouped according to sample age, cemetery and Hg. Hg designations are given according to ISOGG Tree 2019. Grey shading designate distinguished individuals with rich grave goods, color shadings denote geographic origin of Hg-s according to Fig. 1. For samples K3/1 and K3/3 the innermost Hg defining marker U106* was not covered, but had been determined previously.

We identified potential relatives within Conqueror cemeteries but not between them. The uniform paternal lineages of the small Karos3 (19 graves) and Magyarhomorog (17 graves) cemeteries approve patrilinear organization of these communities. The identical I2a1a2b Hg-s of Magyarhomorog individuals appears to be frequent among high-ranking Conquerors, as the most distinguished graves in the Karos2 and 3 cemeteries also belong to this lineage. The Karos2 and Karos3 leaders were brothers with identical mitogenomes 11 and Y-chromosomal STR profiles (Fóthi unpublished). The Sárrétudvari commoner cemetery seems distinct from the others, containing other sorts of European Hg-s. Available Y-chromosomal and mtDNA data from this cemetery suggest that common people of the 10th century rather represented resident population than newcomers. The great diversity of Y Hg-s, mtDNA Hg-s, phenotypes and predicted biogeographic classifications of the Conquerors indicate that they were relatively recently associated from very diverse populations.

Surprising about the Hungarian conquerors – although in line with the historical accounts – is the varied patrilineal origin of clans, including Q1a, G2a2b, I1, E1b1b, R1b, J1, or J2 – some of which (depending on specific lineages) may have appeared earlier in the Carpathian Basin or south-eastern Europe.

However, out of the 27 conqueror elite samples, 17 are of haplogroups most likely related to Ugric populations beyond the Urals: R1a-Z645, I2-L621, and two specific N1a-L392 lineages (see below). In fact, there are three high-ranking conqueror elites of hg. I2-L621 (one of them termed a “leader”, brother to an unpublished leader of Karos3, and all of them possibly family), one of hg. R1a-Z280, one of hg. R1a-Z93 (which should be added to the Árpáds), and one of hg. N1a-Z1936, which gives a good idea of the ruling class among the elite Ugric settlers.

NOTE. The Q1a sample is also likely to be found in the mixed population of the West Siberian forest-steppes, since it was found in Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from eastern Europe to Lake Baikal, and in Bronze Age Siberian groups, although admittedly it may have formed part of an Avar Transtisza group, or even earlier Hunnic or Scythian groups along the steppes. Without precise subclades it’s impossible to know.

arrival-of-hungarians-arpad
The seven chieftains of the Hungarians, detail of Arrival of the Hungarians, from Árpád Feszty’s and his assistants’ vast (1800 m2) cyclorama, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, now displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park in Hungary. Image from Wikipedia.

I2a-L621

I2a-L621 (xS17250) or I2a1b2 in the old nomenclature, is found in 6 early conquerors (including one leader), on a par with R1a and N samples. This haplogroup is found widely distributed in ancient samples, due to its early split (formed ca. 9200 BC, TMRCA ca. 4500 BC) and expansion, probably with Neolithic populations. I can’t seem to find samples of this early haplogroup from the Carpathian Basin, as mentioned in the text, although it wouldn’t be strange, because it appears also in Neolithic Iberia, and in modern populations from western Europe.

Nevertheless, I2a-L621 samples seem to be concentrated mainly in Mesolithic-Neolithic cultures of Fennoscandia, and appeared also in Sikora et al. (2017) in a sample of the High Middle Ages from Sunghir (ca. AD 1100-1200), probably from the Vladimir-Suzdalian Rus’, in a region where clearly tribes of Volga Finns were being assimilated at the time. The reported SNP call by Genetiker is A16681 (see Yfull), deep within I2a-CTS10228. It is possibly also behind a modern Saami from Chalmny Varre (ca. AD 1800) of hg. I2a in Lamnidis et al. (2018).

Lacking precise subclades from Hungarian conquerors this is pure speculation, but modern samples may also point to I2a-CTS10228 (formed ca. 3100 BC, TMRCA ca. 1800 BC) as a Finno-Ugric lineage in common with R1a, which must have expanded to the Urals and beyond with eastern Corded Ware groups or (more likely) succeeding cultures. This is in line with the association of certain I2a lineages with modern Uralic peoples or populations from their historical regions in eastern Europe, and linked thus to the most likely homeland of Uralians in the eastern European forests:

uralic-groups-haplogroup-r1a
Additional file 6: Table S5. Y chromosome haplogroup frequencies in Eurasia. Modified by me: in bold haplogroup N1c and R1a from Uralic-speaking populations, with those in red showing where R1a is the major haplogroup. Observe that all Uralic subgroups – Finno-Permic, Ugric, and Samoyedic – have some populations with a majority of R1a, and also of I lineages. Data from Tambets et al. (2018).

R1a-Z645

Regarding the important question of the ethnic makeup of Ugric populations stemming from the Urals, the most interesting (and expected) data is the presence of R1a-Z645 lineages among high-ranking conquerors, in particular four R1a-Z280 subclades proper of Finno-Ugrians.

This proves that, in line with the old split and expansion of R1a-CTS1211 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2400 BC), and its finding in Bronze Age Fennoscandian samples, only some late R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages (see Z280 on YFull) may show a clear identification with early acculturated Uralic speakers, with the main early acculturated Balto-Slavic R1a haplogroup remaining R1a-M458.

I recently hypothesized this late connection of Slavs with very specific R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages based on analyses of modern populations (like Slovenians), because the connection of ancient Finno-Ugrians with modern Z92 samples was already evident:

(…) subclades of hg. R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 (xR1a1a1b1a2a-Z92) seem to have also been involved in early Slavic expansions, like R1a1a1b1a2b3a-CTS3402 (formed ca. 2200 BC, TMRCA ca. 2200 BC), found among modern West, South, and East Slavic populations and in Fennoscandia, prevalent e.g. among modern Slovenians which points to a northern origin of its expansion (Maisano Delser et al. 2018).

This finding also supports the expected shared R1a-Z280 lineages among ancient Finno-Ugric populations, as predicted from the study of modern Permic and Ugric peoples in Dudás et al. (2019).

r1a-z282-z280-z2125-distribution
Modified image, from Underhill et al. (2015). Spatial frequency distributions of Z282 (green) and Z93 (blue) affiliated haplogroups. Notice the distribution of R1a-Z280 (xZ92), i.e. R1a-M558, compared to the ancient Finno-Ugric distribution.

Furthermore, while we don’t have precise R1a-Z93 lineages to compare with the new Hunnic sample reported, we already know that some archaic R1a-Z2124 subclades stem from the forest-steppe areas of the Cis- and Trans-Urals, and the two newly reported R1a-Z93 Hungarian conqueror elites, like those of the Árpád dynasty, probably belong to them.

There is an obvious lack of continuity in specific paternal lineages among the Hunnic, the Avar, and the Conqueror periods, which makes any simplistic identification of all R1a-Z93 lineages as stemming from Avars, Huns, or the Iron Age Pontic-Caspian steppes clearly flawed. Comparing R1a-Z93 in Hungarian Conquerors with Huns is like comparing them with samples of the Srubna or earlier periods… Similarly, comparing the Hunnic R1b-U106 or the early Avar I1 to later Hungarian samples is not warranted without precise subclades, because they most likely correspond to different Germanic populations: Goths among Huns, then Longobards, then likely peoples descended from Franks and Irish Monks (the latter with R1b-P312).

N1a-L392

Second behind R1a subclades are, as expected, N1a-L392 (N1c in the old nomenclature).

Avars are dominated by a specific N1a-L392 subclade, N1a-B197, as we recently discovered in Csáky et al. (2019).

Hungarian conquerors show three N1a-Z1936 subclades, which is known to stem from the northern Ural region, including the Arctic (likely Palaeo-Laplandic peoples) and cross-stamped cultures of the northern Eurasian forests.

haplogroup_n3a4
Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a4 / N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, probably with the Samic (first) and Fennic (later) expansions into Paleo-Lakelandic and Palaeo-Laplandic territories.

On the other hand, the two N1a-M2118 lineages are more clearly associated with Palaeo-Siberian populations east of the Urals, but became incorporated into the Ugric stock in the Trans-Urals region probably in the same way as N1a-Z1936, by infiltration from (and acculturation of) hunter-gatherers of forest and taiga cultures.

NOTE. You can read more about the infiltration of N1a lineages in the recent post Corded Ware—Uralic (IV): Hg R1a and N in Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic expansions, and in the specific sections for each Uralic group in A Clash of Chiefs.

haplogroup-n1a-M2118
Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Sub-clades of hg N3a2, by Ilumäe et al. (2016).

Conclusion

The picture offered by the paper on Hungarian Conquerors, while in line with historical accounts of multi-ethnic tribes incorporating regional lineages, shows nevertheless patrilineal clans clearly associated with Uralic peoples, in a distribution which could have been easily inferred from ancient Trans-Uralian forest-steppe cultures and modern samples (even regarding I2a-L621).

In spite of this, there is a great deal of discussion in the paper about specific N1a subclades in Hungarian conquerors, while the presence of R1a-Z280 (among early Magyar elites!) is interpreted, as always, as recently acculturated Slavs. This is sadly coupled with the simplistic identification of I2a-L621 as of local origin around the Carpathians.

The introduction of the paper to the history of Hungarians is also weird, for example giving credibility to the mythic accounts of the Árpád dynasty’s origin in Attila, which is in line, I guess, with what the authors intended to support all along, i.e. the association of Magyars with Turks from the Eurasian steppes, which they are apparently willing to achieve by relating them to haplogroup R1a-Z93

The conclusion is thus written to appease modern nation-building myths more than anything else, like many other papers before it:

It is generally accepted that the Hungarian language was brought to the Carpathian Basin by the Conquerors. Uralic speaking populations are characterized by a high frequency of Y-Hg N, which have often been interpreted as a genetic signal of shared ancestry. Indeed, recently a distinct shared ancestry component of likely Siberian origin was identified at the genomic level in these populations, modern Hungarians being a puzzling exception36. The Conqueror elite had a significant proportion of N Hgs, 7% of them carrying N1a1a1a1a4-M2118 and 10% N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, both of which are present in Ugric speaking Khantys and Mansis. At the same time none of the examined Conquerors belonged to the L1034 subclade of Z1936, while all of the Khanty Z1936 lineages reported in 37 proved to be L1034 which has not been tested in the 23 study. Population genetic data rather position the Conqueror elite among Turkic groups, Bashkirs and Volga Tatars, in agreement with contemporary historical accounts which denominated the Conquerors as “Turks”. This does not exclude the possibility that the Hungarian language could also have been present in the obviously very heterogeneous, probably multiethnic Conqueror tribal alliance.

So, back to square one, and new circular reasoning: If ancient populations from north-eastern Europe believed to represent ancient Finno-Ugrians are of R1a-Z645 lineages, it’s because they were not Finno-Ugric speakers. If ancient and modern populations known to be of Finno-Ugric language show clear connections with R1a-Z645, it’s because they are “multi-ethnic”.

The only stable basis for discussion in genetic papers, apparently, is the own making of geneticists, with their traditional 2000s “R1a=Indo-European” and “N1c=Uralic”, coupled with national beliefs. It does not matter how many predictions based on that have been proven wrong, or how many predictions based on the Corded Ware = Uralic expansion have been proven right.

Related

The Pazyryk culture spoke a “Uralic-Altaic” language… because haplogroup N

Matrilineal and patrilineal genetic continuity of two iron age individuals from a Pazyryk culture burial, by Tikhonov, Gurkan, Peler, & Dyakonov, Int J Hum Genet (2019).

Relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Of particular interest to the current study are the archaeogenetic investigations associated with the exemplary mound 1 from the Ak-Alakha-1 site on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Republic (Polosmak 1994a; Pilipenko et al. 2015). This typical Pazyryk “frozen grave” was dated around 2268±39 years before present (Bln-4977) (Gersdorff and Parzinger 2000). Initial anthropological findings suggested an undisturbed dual inhumation comprising “a middle-aged European- type man” and “a young European-type woman”, both of whom presumably had a high social status among the Pazyryk elite (Polosmak 1994a). In contrast, recent archaeogenetic investigations revealed somewhat contradicting results since analyses at both the amelogenin gene and Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) loci clearly established that both Scythians were actually males and had paternal and maternal lineages that are typically associated with eastern Eurasians (Pilipenko et al. 2015). Through the use of mitochondrial, autosomal and Y-chromosomal DNA typing systems, it was possible to not only investigate the potential relationships between the two ancient Scythians but also to gather initial phylogenetic and phylogeographic information on their paternal and maternal lineages (Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Based on the Y-STR data available, the two Ak-Alakha-1 Scythians had an in silico haplogroup assignment of N, which first appeared in southeastern Asia and then expanded in southern Siberia (Rootsi et al. 2007; Pilipenko et al. 2015).

Current study aims to investigate the geographical distributions of the ancient and contemporary matches and close genetic variants of the maternal and paternal lineages observed in the two Scythians from the exemplary Ak-Alakha-1 kurgan.

tikhonov-scythian-modern
Geographic distribution of the exact matches with the Scythian (PZ1) Y-STR (17-loci) and mtDNA (HVR1) haplotypes detailed in Tables 1a and 1b. Boundaries of the Altai Republic within the Russian Federation are shown with dashed lines, along with an approximate position of the Ak-Alakha-1 burial site, which is denoted with an ‘x’ on the map. Countries shaded in gray refer to those that have full 17-loci Y-STR and/or mtDNA HVR1 match(es) with the PZ1 haplotypes. Inset in the top and bottom left corners are the Altai and Uzbekistan maps, respectively, both scaled-up to allow better representation of the samples derived from these countries. There were no other exact matches from around parts of the globe that are not shown on the map, except for a single contemporary mtDNA haplotype from US, which presumably belonged to an ‘East Asian’ individual. Inset in the top right corner provides a scale for the number of haplotypes observed, but only up to three samples, which is valid for the entire map as well as the inset maps, irrespective of the differences in the scales of the actual map and inset maps themselves. For sample pools larger than three, the same linear scale provided on the inset in the top right corner still applies; please refer to Tables 1a and b for actual sample pool sizes. Samples are depicted on the entire map and the insets maps with circles and diamonds for the Y-STR and mtDNA haplotypes, respectively. Black and white coloring for samples depict whether the haplotype(s) are contemporary or ancient, respectively. Location of the PZ1 mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes are shown on top of each other.

In response to aggressive Xiongnu expansion into the Altai region around the 2nd century BCE, some members of the Pazyryk culture may have started moving up North, and eventually reached the Vilyuy River at the beginning of 1st century CE. Notably, there is clear population continuity between the Uralic people such as Khants, Mansis and Nganasans, Paleo-Siberian people such as Yukaghirs and Chuvantsi, and the Pazyryk people even when considering just the two mtDNA and Y-STR haplotypes from the Ak-Alakha-1 mound 1 kurgan (Tables 1a, b, Table 2, Fig. 1). These concepts are also in agreement with the famous Yakut ethnographer Ksenofontov, who suggested that technologies associated with ferrous metallurgy were brought to the Vilyuy Valley at around 1st century CE by the first (proto)Turkic-speaking pioneers (Ksenofontov 1992). Yakut ethnogenesis per se possibly involved two major stages, the first being the proto-Turkic epoch through the arrival of Scytho-Siberian culture originating from Southern Siberia, such as that associated with the Pazyryk culture and the second being the proper Turkic epoch.

Nomadic peoples from the Central Asian steppes are East Iranian speakers whenever they are of haplogroup R1a, but “Uralic-Altaic” speakers whenever they are of haplogroup N. True story.

So they followed a haplogroup ca. 37,000 years old, in a sample dated some 2,300 years ago, whose precise subclade and ancient history is (yet) unknown, compared it to present-day populations, and the result is that they spoke “Uralic-Altaic” because haplogroup N and continuity. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s the kind of reasoning you might be reading right now about Iberian Bell Beakers, about Bell Beakers, or even about Yamna and their relationship to a Vasconic-Caucasian language, based on haplogroup R1b in modern Basques. Another true story.

Anyway, based on the multi-ethnic federations created during this time, and on the ancestral components visible in the different groups (see a post on Karasuk by Chad Rohlfsen), the Pazyryk culture’s language is unknown, and it could be, as a matter of fact (apart from the obvious East Iranian connection):

We also know that haplogroup N and Siberian ancestry expanded into cultures of Northern Eurasia precisely with the creation of the new social paradigm of chiefdoms and alliances, roughly at the same time as Scythians expanded, with the first sample of haplogroup N in Hungary appearing with Cimmerians.

finno-ugric-haplogroup-n
Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

While the study of modern populations is interesting, the problem I have with the paper is the reasoning of “language of ancient haplogroups based on modern populations”, and especially with the concept of “Uralic-Altaic”, and the highly hypothetic “Proto-Turkic” nomadic steppe pastoralists before “Hunnic Turkic” (which is itself questionable), before the “real Turkic” layer (being the authors apparently Turkic themselves), and the supposed “continuity” of Eastern Uralic and Turkic groups in Asia since the Out of Africa migration. The combination of all of this in the same text is just disturbing.

If you look at it from the bright side, at least these samples were not of haplogroup R1a-Z280, or we would be talking about great Slavonic Scythians showing continuity from Russia with love, as the paper threatened to do in its introduction…

If you are enjoying the comeback of this retro 2000s comedy in 2019 (based on the classic nativist “R1a=IE”, “R1b=Basque”, and “N=Uralic” combo) it’s because you – like me – are putting yourself in this guy’s shoes every time a new episode of funny self-destruction appears:

chosen-poorly

Related

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

steppe-forest-steppe-biomes

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).

steppe-forest-steppe-europe
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.

steppe-forest-steppe-migration-routes
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:

wang-yamna-connection
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.

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