European hydrotoponymy (VI): the British Isles and non-Indo-Europeans


The nature of the prehistoric languages of the British Isles is particularly difficult to address: because of the lack of ancient data from certain territories; because of the traditional interpretation of Old European names simply as “Celtic”; and because Vennemann’s re-labelling of the Old European hydrotoponymy as non-Indo-European has helped distract the focus away from the real non-Indo-European substrate on the islands.

Alteuropäisch and Celtic

An interesting summary of hydronymy in the British Isles was already offered long ago, in British and European River-Names, by Kitson, Transactions of the Philological Society (1996) 94(2):73-118. In it, he discusses, among others:

  • Non-serial hydronyms: Drua-/Drav-/Dru-, from drew- sometimes reshaped as derw-; ab-; ag-; al-; alb-; alm-; am-; antjā-; arg-; aw-; dan-; eis-; el-/ol-; er-/or-; kar(r)a-, ker-; nebh-; ned-; n(e)id-; sal-; wig-; weis-/wis-; ur-, wer-; etc.
  • Serial elements: -went-, -m(e)no-, -nt-o-, -n-; -nā-, -tā-; -st-, -r-; etc.

Probably non-Celtic suffixes are found e.g. in Tamesis, paralelled in the Spey Tuesis, and also in Tweed (<*Twesetā?); or -no-/-nā- is also particularly frequent in Scottish river-names, but not in English ones. Another interesting case is the reverse suffix relative order into -r-st- instead of -st-r-.

Most if not all of them can be explained as of Old European nature. I will leave aside the discussion of particular formations – most of which may be found repeated, complemented, and updated in more modern texts.

Hydronyms ub-, ob-. Another Western European river name.

Bell Beakers as Old Europeans

(…) Bell-beakers are in fact the only archaeological phenomenon of any period of prehistory with a comparably wide spread to that of river-names in the western half of Europe. The presumption must I think be that Beaker Folk were the vector of alteuropäisch river-names to most of western Europe. Rivers in the base Arg-, which we have seen there is cause to think was not already in use at the earliest stage of the river-naming system, and which therefore should be associated with such a vector if one existed, fit their distribution exceptionally well.

That they were a single-speech community can be asserted more confidently of the Beaker Folk than of most archaeologically identified groups for the very reasons that have caused archaeologists difficulty in interpreting them. As McEvedy (1967:28) put it, ‘the bell-beaker folk march convincingly in every prehistorian’s text, but they do so from Spain to Germany in some and from Germany to Spain in others, while lately there has been a tendency to make them go from Spain to Germany and back again (primary and reflux movements)’. One ‘firm datum seems to be that the British beaker folk came from the Rhine-Elbe region.’

This confirms what the long chronology now indicated for Common Indo-European would suggest anyway, and what to me, as remarked above, the rareness of non-Indo-European names in England suggests, that the old dissenting minority of Celticists were right to see the arrival in Britain of Indo-Europeans, as evinced in river-names whether or not in ethnic proto-Celts, as early as the third millennium. McEvedy’s map of Beaker Folk identifies them linguistically with Celto-Ligurians, but in that his admirably tidy mind was, typically, a degree too tidy. Considerations of phonology indicate that more than one linguistic group was involved.

It is normal in reconstructed Indo-European for groups of related words not all to have the same vowel in the root syllable. The commonest vowel gradation is between e, o, and zero; (…) Language-groups that level short a and o include Germanic and Baltic, Slavonic, Illyrian, Hittite and Indo-Iranian; but Celtic and Italic like Greek and Armenian preserve the original distinction. It follows that Celts speaking normal Celtic sounds cannot have been wholly responsible for bringing alteuropäisch river-names to any area. It would seem to follow, as Professor Nicolaisen has consistently urged, that in Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Italy, where the only historically known early Indo-Europeans were speakers of non-levelling languages, they were preceded by speakers of levelling languages not historically known. This hypothesis, pretty well required by the linguistic evidence, finds so good an archaeological correlate in the Beaker People that I think it would now be flying in the face of the evidence not to accept those as bearers of the river-names to these countries.

Bell Beaker Civilization (CAD O. Lemercier).

The funny note is the rejection of the steppe homeland by Kitson in favour of Central European Neolithic cultures, due in part to the ‘impossibility’ of proto-Finnic loans from East Indo-European, if Proto-Indo-European was spoken in the steppe. As I said recently, the lack of knowledge of Uralic languages and Indo-European – Uralic contacts has clearly conditioned the Urheimat question for both, Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic researchers.

On the other hand, the identification of Bell Beakers with Old Europeans was not something new. Already in the 1950s Hugh Hencken talked about this, and J.P. Mallory (who described Bell Beakers more exactly in 2013 as North-West Indo-Europeans) is sure that this idea had been used even before the 1950s.

The question is, though, to what extent the reasoning of those researchers was as detailed so as to consider it a modern approach to the question, because Krahe in the 1940s seems to offer the first reliable data to make that assumption. In any case, Gimbutas’ idea of Kurgan warriors imposing Indo-European languages everywhere, so over-represented in Encyclopedia-like texts since the end of the 1990s, was not the only, and probably never the main hypothesis among many Indo-Europeanists.

Celts part of Bell Beakers?

Regarding Koch and Cunliffe’s revival of the autochthonous Celts idea, one can find a similar traditional view among British researchers of the early and mid-20th century – and a proper rejection based on hydrotoponymy. It seems that many fringe theories in Indo-European studies, from Nordic or Baltic homelands to autochthonous Celts to the Europa Vasconica, can be traced back to revivalist waves of romantic views of the 19th c.:

What the late Professor C. F. C. Hawkes called in British archaeology ‘cumulative Celticity’, built up by successions of comparatively small tribal migrations, will then have operated on the linguistic side as well. That the predecessors of the Celts proper for so long had in most of Britain been people of similar Indo-European speech explains why there is not a significant survival of recognizably non-Indo-European river-names, and why the few serious candidates for non-Indo-European among recorded place-names all seem to be in Scotland. That the river-names kept their north European non-Celtic phonology will be because the Celts proper took them over as names, with denotative not fully lexical meaning. (…)

(…) I think non-Celtic Indo-European-speakers are likely to have been involved in fact, whether or not they are the whole story, both because that it is the hypothesis which makes best sense of the archaeological evidence (…)

(…) because it is widely accepted that placenames in the Low Countries imply the existence of at least one group of not historically attested Indo-European-speakers, not the same as the ones we are concerned with. So do names in Spain, another country where the only historically attested early Indo-Europeans were Celtic. Comparing Spanish alteuropäisch names with British ones gives a glimpse of the dialectal range that must have characterized the Beaker phenomenon. Either group shares one feature with historical Celtic that the other lacks. The Spanish names like Celtic proper mostly keep Inda-European o. There the diagnostic feature is initial p (Schmoll 1959:93, 78-80; Rodriguez 1980), lost from Celtic and the alteuropäisch of Britain.

Interesting is also the early reaction against Vennemann’s much publicized interpretation of Krahe’s Old European as ‘Vasconic’. This is a useful comment which is still applicable to the same non-existent ‘problem’ found by some Indo-Europeanists, depending on their ideas about Indo-European dialectalization:

It is again naughty of Vennemann (1994:244) to call his laryngealist explanation ‘the only kind of explanation that I know’. At least he does not quite go so far in his laryngealism as to posit a proto-Indo-European in which the vowel a never existed, as Kuiper does.

NOTE. It is difficult to understand why the work of so many Indo-Europeanists is usually not known, while Vennemann’s far-fetched theory has been endlessly repeated. I reckon it must be the same phenomenon of personal and professional contacts, involvement in editorial decisions, and simplification in mass media which makes Kristiansen and his theories frequently published and cited nowadays.



Based on these data, I entertained the idea of arguing for a Pre-Celtic Indo-European language in A Storm of Words, called Pre-Pritenic, with a tentative fable based on the data described below for the Insular Celtic substrate, but eventually deleted the whole text, because (unlike other tentative fables, like the Lusitanian or Venetic ones) it was pure speculation with not even fragmentary data to rely on. Here is a fragment of the discussion:

Among the main reasons adduced to reject the non-Celtic nature of Pritenic is Orkney, a region where Pictish carved stones have been found (indicator of a centralised Pictish power and identity). The name was attested first as Gk. Orkas / Orkádos (secondary source, from Pytheas of Massilia, ca. 322-285 BC, or possibly much later) and Lat. Orchades / Orcades (by Latin sources in the 1st century AD), and it was used to describe the northernmost promontory in Scotland, commonly identified as Dunnet Head in Caithness. It is supposed to derive its name from Cel. *φorko- ‘pig’, because speakers of Old Irish interpreted the name for the island later as Insi Orc ‘island of the pigs’. Therefore, Pritenic would have undergone the prototypical Common Celtic evolution of NWIE *p- → Ø- (see above).

This argument is flawed, in so far as it could have happened (with the interpretation of the name from a Celtic point of view) what happened later with Norwegian settlers, who reinterpreted the name according to Old Norse orkn ‘seal’, to identify it as ‘island of the seals’. In fact, texts published in the 19th and 20th century looked for an even closer etymology to the interpreter, who usually saw it as ‘island of the orcas’.

The region name orc- could be speculatively linked to NWIE *ork-i- ‘cut off, divide’, cf. Ita. *erk-i- (vowel analogically changed), Hitt. ārk- (<*hork-ei-), in Latin found with the meaning ‘divide (an inheritance)’, hence noun Lat. erctum ‘inheritance, inherited part’.

Maybe more interesting is a connection to *or-, as found in British rivers or streams Arrow, Oare Water (Som), Ayre , Armet Water, Arnot Burn, Ernan Water etc. for which cognates Skt. arvan(t)- ‘running, swift’, árṇa- ‘surging’, Gmc. *arnia- ‘lively, energetic’ have been proposed (Forster 1941; Nicolaisen 1976; Kitson 1996). Similar to these derivatives in -n-, -m-, one could argue for a denominative suffixation in *-ko-, not uncommon in Old European toponyms (Villar Liébana 2007), which could be interpreted originally as ‘(region) pertaining to the Or (river, stream)’. The a-vocalism of Old European does not need further explanation, being fairly common in the British Isles (Kitson 1996).

I tried to look for rivers and streams in Caithness that fit a potential border for an ancestral tribe, but after reading many (and I really mean too many) texts on Scotland’s hydronymy, which is a quite well-researched area, I didn’t like the idea of plunging into such a speculative task; not when I have this blog for that… I deleted the text from the book, seeing how it doesn’t really add anything of value and may have distracted from its real aim. If any reader wants to post potential candidates for this delimiting river ‘Or’ in Caithness, feel free to post that below.

Or- hydronyms, mapped by Villar (2007). He considered it a variant of ur-, uro-, and only included one certain occurrence from old river-names in southern England.

Weak (if any) support of a non-Celtic nature of the names might also be found in the late description of Ptolemy’s Geographia (originally ca. 150 AD), Tauroedoúnou tēs kai Orkádos kaloumenēs, translated in Latin as Tarved(r)um, quod et Orcas promontorium dicitur. The original name seems to be formed from *tau-r-, as is common in Indo-European *taur-o- (compare also river Taum), whereas the commonly used Latin translation seems to rely on a Celtic *tarw-o-.

Always Celtic?

As with other Pictish material, these questions are unlikely to be settled without unequivocal sources pointing to the original names and their meaning. The autochthonous trend is set lately by Guto Rhys, whose work is thorough and methodologically sound, although his reviews tend to dismiss all evidence of a non-Celtic (or even non-Brittonic) layer in Pictland as described in previous works, mostly because of the lack of direct sources or uncontroverted data:

Where a supposed divergence is found in certain names, a lack of proper reading or interpretation of materials (or lack of enough cases to generalize them), combined with similar names in other (neighbouring or distant) Celtic languages, is adduced.

However, the same arguments can indeed be used to reject his proposal of a Celtic nature of many names which cannot be simply explained with other clearly Celtic examples: namely, that all similarities are due to later influences, re-analysis and modifications of Old European terms according to Celtic phonemic (or etymological) patterns, or that the Brittonic nature of many names are due to convergence of the attested Pritenic naming conventions with neighbouring dialects.

In the end, the only conclusion is that there is a clear impasse in hydrotoponymic research in the British Isles, particularly in Scotland, with an impossibility of describing non-Celtic or non-Indo-European Pre-Pritenic layers, due in great part – in my opinion – to the trend among many British Celticists to consider Celtic as autochthonous to the Atlantic. This hinders the proper investigation of the question, just like the trend among Basque studies to consider the western Pyrenees as the eternal Vasconic homeland hinders a fair investigation of the actual Vasconic proto-history.

Probable maximum extent of Pictland is also highlighted in blue and overlain on the modern outline of northern Britain. Image from Noble, G., Goldberg, M., & Hamilton, D. (2018).

Non-Indo-Europeans in Northern Europe

Insular Celtic substrate

Matasović, a specialist in Celtic languages and author of the famous Eytmological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (IEED 2009), writes in The substratum in Insular Celtic (2009):

Syntactic evidence

The syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages (which used to be called Hamito-Semitic) were noted more than a century ago by Morris-Jones (1899), and subsequently discussed by a number of scholars. These parallels include the following.

  1. The VSO order, attested both in OIr. and in Brythonic from the earliest documents (…).
  2. The existence of special relative forms of the verb, (…).
  3. The existence of prepositions inflected for person (or prepositional pronouns), (…).
  4. Prepositional progressive verbal forms, (…).
  5. The existence of the opposition between the “absolute” and “conjunct” verbal forms. (…)

The aforementioned features of Old Irish and Insular Celtic syntax (and a few others) are all found in Afro-Asiatic languages, often in several branches of that family, but usually in Berber and Ancient Egyptian (see e.g. Isaac 2001, 2007a).

Orin Gensler, in his unpublished dissertation (1993) applied refined statistical methods showing that the syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic cannot be attributed to chance. The crucial point is that these parallels include features that are otherwise rare cross-linguistically, but co-occur precisely in those two groups of languages. This more or less amounts to a proof that there was some connection between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic at some stage in prehistory, but the exact nature of that connection is still open to speculation.

“Atlantic” typology

Insular Celtic also shares a number of areal isoglosses with languages of Western Africa, sometimes also with Basque, which shows that the Insular Celtic — Afroasiatic parallels should be viewed in light of the larger framework of prehistoric areal convergences in Western Europe and NW Africa.

The text goes on with typologically rare features found in West Europe and West Africa, such as the inter-dental fricative /þ/ (also in English, Icelandic, Castillian Spanish); initial consonant mutations/regular alterations of initial consonants caused by the grammatical category of the preceding word; the common order demonstrative-noun (within the NP) reversed; the vigesimal counting system; or use of demonstrative articles.

Lexical evidence

(…) only 38 words shared by Brythonic and Goidelic without any plausible IE etymology. These words belong to the semantic fields that are usually prone to borrowing, including words referring to animals (…), plants (…), and elements of the physical world (…). Note that cognates of these words may be unattested in Gaulish and Celtiberian because these languages are poorly attested, so that the actual number of exclusive loanwords from substratum language(s) in Insular Celtic is probably even lower. In my opinion it is not higher than 1% of the vocabulary. The large majority of substratum words in Irish and Welsh (and, generally, in Goidelic and Brythonic) is not shared by these two languages, which probably means that the sources were different substrates of, respectively, Ireland and Britain; (…)


The thesis that Insular Celtic languages were subject to strong influences from an unknown, presumably non-Indo-European substratum, hardly needs to be argued for. However, the available evidence is consistent with several different hypotheses regarding the areal and genetic affiliation of this substratum, or, more probably, substrata. The syntactic parallels between the Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages are probably not accidental, but they should not be taken to mean that the pre-Celtic substratum of Britain and Ireland belonged to the Afro-Asiatic stock. It is also possible that it was a language, or a group of languages (not necessarily related), that belonged to the same macro-area as the Afro-Asiatic languages of North Africa. The parallels between Insular Celtic, Basque, and the Atlantic languages of the Niger-Congo family, presented in the second part of this paper, are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a large linguistic macro-area, encompassing parts of NW Africa, as well as large parts of Western Europe, before the arrival of the speakers of Indo-European, including Celtic.

Map of tuk-, tok-, tuch-, tug- (with India). Interestingly, the language of the -tuk- represents a more recent layer in Iberia than the earlier Old European serial elements, pointing to a west-european expansion from the north, although it may have an Indo-European etymology.

Language of the geminates

Further evidence of the potential presence of non-Indo-European speakers at the arrival of Insular Celtic may be found in Schrijver’s Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2000), and his less enthusiastic revision More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2005). Both are referred and enough summarized by Matasović (2009).

Even more interesting than the discussion of potential non-Indo-Europeans still lingering in Ireland until well into the Common Era, is the discussion on his paper Lost Languages in Northern Europe (2001). Apart from other non-Indo-European borrowings in northern Europe, most of which must clearly be included within the European agricultural substrate, Schrijver tries to interpret the relative chronology of a substratum language of northern Europe, described by Kuiper (1995) as A2, and by Schrijver as “language of geminates“.

This substrate language is heavily present in Germanic (see e.g. Boutkan 1998), but also in Celtic and Balto-Slavic:

A highly characteristic feature of words deriving from this language is the variation of the final root consonant, which may be single or double, voiced or voiceless, and prenasalized. (…)

Incidentally, the language of geminates cannot be Uralic, as another of its characteristics is the frequent occurrence of word-initial *kn- and *kl-, and Uralic languages do not allow consonant clusters at the beginning of the word. On the other hand, and at the risk of explaining obscura per obscuriora, one might consider the possibility that the consonant gradation of Lappish and Baltic Finnic is somehow connected with the alternation of consonants at the end of the first syllable in the “language of geminates”.

The idea that the Northern European language of geminates could play an intermediary role in loan contacts between Northern and Western Indo-European on the one hand and Finno-Ugric on the other may also account for the fact that Finno-Ugric words could end up as far away as Celtic, which as far as we know was never in direct contact with a branch of Uralic.

Schrijver later changed his view about certain aspects of this substrate, from a “language of geminates” influencing Balto-Finnic which in turn influenced Germanic, to Pre-Balto-Finnic speakers being the substrate of Germanic, and both evolving at the same time in contact in Scandinavia. In fact, we know that Pre-Proto-Germanic evolved in southern Scandinavia, with a core in Jutland that shifted to the south, so the location must have been close to the North European Plain.

Also fitting this model is the substrate behind Balto-Slavic (spoken in the West Baltic), which must have also been (Para-)Balto-Finnic. However, the frequent word-initial *kn- and *kl- and the loanwords appearing in the Celtic homeland (also including Early Balto-Finnic) must place this Uralic(± non-Indo-European) language contact also well into Central European Corded Ware groups.

Similarly, one of the shared features between Finnic and Mordvinic is precisely the presence of certain geminated consonants. A revision of the data in combination with these facts should shift of evidence to a (Para-)Balto-Finnic-speaking Baltic area during the Early Bronze Age, certainly encompassing the Battle Axe culture.

Corded Ware groups. “Classical funerary practices” found regularly, in darker shades. Modified from Furholt (2014).

Afroasiatic-like substrate and Vasconic

The only archaeological culture that could fit most of these data, in the currently known relative chronological time frame, would be the Megalithic expansion in Western Europe, or potentially (maybe in addition to this early layer) the expansion of the Proto-Beaker package, which could have spread a Basque-Iberian language (see e.g. my take on Basque-Iberians).

Whether the language behind the Insular Celtic substrate (or, rather, some of its dialects) had true Afroasiatic syntactic features or it was just a language with features which happened to be similar to Afroasiatic is irrelevant. It’s impossible to reconstruct with confidence a Pre-Proto-Basque language with the currently available information.

Interestingly, it is possible to argue for an Afroasiatic branch surviving among hunter-gatherers adopting Neolithic traits in northern Europe. This has been proposed many times in the past, and one could argue in palaeogenomics for indirect supporting data, such as the expansion of WHG ancestry from south-east Europe (close to Anatolia, forming a cline with AME), and in particular of hg. R1b-V88 from the steppe – potentially associated with the Afroasiatic expansion into Africa from a Nostratic community.

NOTE. I will not resort here to typologically-based arguments similar to the “Hamito-Semit(id)ic” and “Vasconic-Uralic” Europe that were commonly in use in the 1990s, because they are in great part based on the mere re-labelling of Old European layers as “Vasconic” and flawed mass lexical/grammatical comparisons. For linguists favourable to this kind of reasoning, the theory set forth here is probably easier, though, as will be for those supporting a Neolithic expansion of Indo-European from the Mediterranean. This, however, has its own set of problems, as I have already discussed.

Distribution of megaliths in western, central, and northern Europe (after Muller 2006; graphic: Holger Dieterich).

Single Grave culture

The non-Indo-European substrate of Insular Celtic, in combination with the oldest hydrotoponymic layers – almost exclusively of Old European nature – of Britain and likely all of Ireland, can more easily be explained as a first layer of North-West Indo-European speakers heavily influenced by an Afroasiatic(-like) substrate reaching the British Isles, possibly with a slightly richer set of non-Indo-European loanwords at the time. Their language would have been later replaced by the closely related Celtic dialects imposed by elites in the Early Iron Age, which could have then easily absorbed this (mainly syntactic) substrate.

There is little space to argue for a hypothetic non-Indo-European expansion from another region, or for an in situ substrate, due to:

  1. the radical population replacement (and Y-chromosome bottleneck) in Britain and northern Ireland stemming from the Lower Rhine;
  2. the lack of meaningful population movements during the Bronze Age (at least from out of the islands);
  3. the final east-west movements of Celtic languages; and
  4. the presence of the same (mainly syntactic) substrate in both Goidelic and Brittonic; and
  5. the minimal non-Indo-European lexical borrowings and hydrotoponymy, different in each island;

Based on archaeological and palaeogenomic data, the only reasonable direct connection of north-western Bell Beakers and this substrate language would be then the Corded Ware groups from north-western Europe – i.e. the traditionally named Single Grave culture from northern Germany and Denmark, and the Protruding Foot Beaker culture from the Netherlands.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

1. Early Corded Ware wave

The earliest Corded Ware burials from northern Europe (ca. 2900-2800 BC) show important differences, so no strict funerary norms existed at first (Furholt 2014):

  • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east–south-west, and south–north; contrary to the supposed rule, male individuals are regularly deposite 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 Kuyavia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west–east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
Corded Ware and neighbouring groups. Top: cultural map. Bottom: varied Y-chromosome haplogroups from ancient DNA samples. See full maps.

In genetics, the area that would become the ‘core Corded Ware province’ only after ca. 2700 BC also shows a surprising variability in the oldest samples in terms of haplogroups (which may indicate a recent departure of migrants from a mixed homeland); in terms of admixture, at least one sample clusters close to EEF groups, while later ones from Esperstedt – of hg. R1a-M417 (possibly xZ645) – show a likely admixture with Yamna vanguard groups expanding from the Carpathian Basin.

On the contrary, the slightly later eastern expansions as Battle Axe and Abashevo show long-lasting genetic continuity and a marked bottleneck under R1a-Z645 subclades, as well as a clear cultural connection through the Fatyanovo culture. The role of local populations, particularly females, in preserving local customs in the Single Grave culture (see Bourgeois and Kroon 2017) is also quite relevant to the continuity of the regionl culture in spite of migrations.

2. Single Grave culture in Denmark

The Corded Ware culture in Denmark was particularly weak in its human impact compared to previous farmers (see e.g. Feeser et al. 2019), and also in its cultural traits, adopting Funnel Beaker culture traits up to a point where even the Copenhagen group describes cultural continuity, likely entailing an important substrate language impact (see e.g. Iversen and Kroonen 2017).

It’s not difficult to realize that this same argument used for Semitic-like terms in Germanic by Kroonen (2012) – e.g. words for ‘lentil’, ‘pea’, and ‘turnip’ – and supported by the Copenhagen group may be used to support the adoption of non-Uralic substrate in a Uralic-speaking Corded Ware area (as Schrijver does), which later influenced incoming Bell Beakers that developed into the Pre-Proto-Germanic speakers.

From Iversen (2016):

As it appears from the analysis above, the situation in East Denmark during the 3rd millennium BC is culturally rather complex. The continued use of megalithic entombments and the almost total rejection of the Single Grave burial custom show a strong affiliation with old Funnel Beaker traditions even after the end of the Funnel Beaker culture. (…) With an almost total lack of the two defining elements of the Single Grave culture – interments in single graves and the prominent position of stone battle axes – one can hardly talk about a Single Grave culture in East Denmark. What we see is rather the adoption of various Single Grave, Battle Axe and Pitted Ware cultural traits into a setting that was basically a continuation of Funnel Beaker norms and traditions (Iversen 2015).

Single Grave and Battle axe culture graves in Denmark and scania (dots). Grey colouring: Distribution of Jutland single Graves. Dark grey: Initial phase ca. 2850–2800 BC. Cross: Megalithic tombs with single Grave/Battle axe culture finds (Iversen 2013 fig. 3).

The reason why East Denmark so conservatively upheld the Funnel Beaker traditions must be found in the area’s old position as a ‘megalithic heartland’, which reaches back to the early 4th millennium BC when dolmens and passage graves were constructed in very large numbers. (…) The result was a cultural blend governed by old Funnel Beaker norms and the use of Pitted Ware, Single Grave and Battle Axe material culture. This situation continued until the beginning of the Late Neolithic (ca. 2350 BC) when cultural and social development took a new course and flint daggers and metal objects appeared/ re-appeared in South Scandinavia.

The radical change brought about in the Late Neolithic “Dagger Period” is commonly agreed to be associated with the arrival and expansion of the Pre-Proto-Germanic communtity (read more here).

3. Single Grave culture in the Netherlands

The Corded Ware culture in the Netherlands is particularly disconnected culturally from its eastern core areas, which is reflected in the likely survival of a non-Indo-European language around the Low Countries, in the so-called Nordwestblock area. From Kroon et al. (2019):

The connections between changes in ceramic production techniques and social changes (see Fig. 2) allow for the formulation of hypotheses about the technological impact of the scenarios that archaeologists have proposed for the introduction of the CWC. If migration (i.e. an influx of new communities that bring new material culture) causes the spread of the CWC, then CWC vessels should differ from the vessels of previous communities in all respects: resilient, group-related, and salient techniques. However, if the introduction of the CWC is the result of diffusion of stylistic traits and moving objects, both these imported objects (different raw materials and production sequences) and changes in salient techniques should be observed when comparing CWC vessels to VLC vessels. Network interactions should yield the same changes as diffusion, as the combined movement of people, objects and styles within existing networks leads to the introduction of CWC. However, network interactions should yield one additional characteristic. Given that new people are integrated into extant communities, the occurrence of vessels with different resilient techniques, but group-related techniques that are stable relative to previous communities, is to be expected.

Schematic representation of the hypothesised changes in ceramic technology for diffusion (above) and migration (below) scenarios for the spread of the CWC. Image from Kroon et al. (2019).

The over-arching transitional process in the Western coastal area of the Netherlands is local continuity with diffusion and network interaction traits. Interestingly, the supra-regional networks of the VLC communities in this region, as well as some of the defining technological practices within these networks, remain intact throughout the CWC transition.

In the absence of detailed genetic and isotopic data from Late Neolithic individuals from the western coastal areas of the Netherlands, direct conclusions on the relations between the migrations demonstrated by genetic analyses in other regions and the outcomes of this study remain speculative. However, if a similar shift in the late Neolithic gene pool from this area can be detected, this raises questions on the impact of such migrations on knowledge transmission and local traditions. If such a change cannot be attested, questions should be raised about the nature of the CWC in this particular area. Questions that will ultimately boil down to what we define as CWC.

In other words, the introduction of Corded Ware in the Netherlands, which we can assume were driven by migrations – evidenced by the arrival of “Steppe ancestry” (see below) – would need to be interpreted in light of the adoption of a different set of cultural traits in this region. Combining linguistic and archaeological data, there is strong evidence that the Corded Ware ideology and its internal coherence might have been broken in the westernmost territories, hence the likely survival of the local culture and language(s).

Further reasons for this independence from the Uralic homeland, supporting the advantages of a cultural and linguistic integration among regional groups, include:

  1. the gradual shift of the core Corded Ware territory to the east in the centuries leading to the mid-3rd millennium BC;
  2. the similar weakened grip in Jutland (see above);
  3. the development of an isolated “classical” package in western Europe disconnected from eastern groups; and
  4. the cultural and genetic impact of expanding vanguard Yamna settlers.
General distribution of SGC settlements in the Netherlands. A = the tidal area in the province of Noord-Holland; B = the coastal barriers and Older Dunes area; C = the central river district; D = the northern, central and southern Dutch Pleistocene areas. a = certain/probable settlement; b = possible settlement; c = wooden trackway. Legend Holocene: 1 = coastal barriers and dunes. 2 = marine clay. 3 = peat. 4 = river clay. 5 = river dunes. 6 = water. Image modified from Drenth, Brinkkemper, and Lauwerier (2006).

4. Old Europeans in Britain

This predominant non-Indo-European language would later be the substrate language of Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine and the British Isles.

Culturally, the same process as in the previous Single Grave culture period may have happened in the Low Countries, due to the culturally favorable situation there. This might be inferred from the continuity of Protruding Foot Beaker into All-Over Ornamented Beaker, most likely an imitation of the expanding Proto-Beaker package by locals of the Single Grave culture.

Arguably, though, the same situation should have happened in all other Proto-Beaker regions favourable to cultural change and witnessing admixture with locals, such as Iberia, and the social relevance of this imitation is far from being accepted by almost anyone except for archaeologists working around the Rhine… From Heise (2014):

While in 1955 the Maritime Beaker was considered to be intrusive, the 1976 work seemed to prove that in the Netherlands a continuous development from Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) to All-Over Ornamented (AOO) Beaker to Maritime Beaker occurred. Nevertheless, the authors stressed that it was not possible to identify ‘the’ origin of the ‘Bell Beaker Culture’ in the Lower Rhine Area since typical artefacts (wristguards, daggers) were not known to be associated with the early AOO and Maritime pottery. Furthermore they argued against the “misleading simplification” of a single point of origin (Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 2). However, this last observation was not appreciated or was simply ignored by large parts of the research community and the theory was subsequently applied as a universal solution in many parts of Europe.

Typological development of Beakers in the Netherlands (PFB: Protruding Foot Beakers; AOO: All Over Ornamented Beakers; BB: Bell Beakers) (after Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 4, fig. 1).

In fact, most archaeologists have unequivocally rejected a Single Grave – Classical Bell Beaker continuity, and Heyd’s model has been recently confirmed in paleogenomics, which shows an evident expansion of East Bell Beakers from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (see here). We may nevertheless still save the following assertion, as particularly relevant for the continuity of non-Indo-European languages among the Single Grave groups of the Lower Rhine:

Marc Vander Linden argued that the “local validity of the Dutch sequence cannot […] be questioned” (2012, 76).

Olalde et al. (2019) showed how British, Dutch, and French Beakers have excess “Steppe ancestry” relative to Central European Beakers from Germany, who are in turn closest to the origin of Old Europeans in Iberia (i.e. Galaico-Lusitanian, “Ligurian”), the Lower Danube (i.e. Celtic), Italy (i.e. Italic, Venetic, Messapic), Sicily, and even Denmark (i.e. Germanic). This excess “Steppe ancestry” probably implies admixture with local Single Grave populations of the Lower Rhine, which is further supported by the position of these Lower Rhine Beakers in the PCA (using British Beakers and Netherlands BA as proxies), clustering – among Bell Beakers – closest to Corded Ware samples.

PCA of ancient Eurasian samples, with Corded Ware clusters drawn. Rhine/British Bell Beakers partially overlapping them. See full PCAs.

Futhermore, the emergence of Bell Beakers in the British Isles represents a radical replacement, with a population turnover of ca. 90% of the local population, and Yamna lineages representing more than 90% of the haplogroups of individuals in Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, apart from an evident Y-chromosome bottleneck under hg. R1b-S461 (and its subclade R1b-L21), maintained during the whole Bronze Age. The scarce non-Indo-European hydrotoponymy attests to the lack of integration of local populations or their languages into the new society. All this suggests an initial swift and massive intrusion marking the linguistic evolution of the British Isles until the Iron Age.

The arrival of Insular Celtic in the British Isles will be likely defined by an increase in ancestry related to Central Europe (and probably haplogroups, too). Since the Afroasiatic-like substrate is unrelated to Common Celtic, the non-Indo-European substrate must be associated with preceding Bronze Age populations of western Europe, most likely with Bronze Age Britons, who are in turn derived from Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine admixed with Single Grave peoples. The latter, therefore, must have passed on their Afroasiatic-like language as the substrate of Lower Rhine Beakers.

5. Vasconic from the north

Another indirect proof to the survival of non-Indo-Europeans in northern Europe is offered by Basques. Vasconic speakers came originally from some place beyond Aquitaine, and very recently before the Roman conquests, because place- and river-names show an overwhelming Old European substratum to the north of the Pyrenees, and exclusively Old European to the south.

Their origin is potentially quite far away, since Modern Basques show a similar cluster to that found in Iron Age Celtiberians of the Basque country. This could essentially mean that Basques were peoples of north/central European ancestry (see below fitting models of origin populations), because they must have arrived to Aquitaine after the arrival of Celtiberians, and with a similar ancestry.

In words of Olalde et al. (2019):

(…) increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages. This is consistent with the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe but overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.


The Tollense Valley near Rügen in the West Baltic shows LBA people clustering with Modern Basques (see here). This is compatible with the arrival (or displacement) of Vasconic-speaking Northern/Central Europeans close to the Rhine, possibly originally from northern France, very likely close to the Atlantic area during the Final Bronze Age / Early Iron Age based on cultural interactions.

Population movements from central-northern Europe into western Europe. Top: Cultures of the Late Bronze Age. Bottom: PCA with Bronze Age samples and drawn clusters. Marked in red is the Tollense site (please note: the approximate Tollense cluster does not include outliers, among them those closer to Modern Basques). Also marked is the British Bell Beaker sample closest to CWC populations. See full maps and whole PCAs.

Pre-Steppe languages in Europe?

An alternative to Old Europeans of the British Isles would be to support some kind of non-Indo-European/Vasconic continuity in the Atlantic façade close to the English Channel and the North Sea, given the current lack of palaeogenomic data on Bell Beakers and later groups in the area, and the potential Vasconic nature of Megalithic/Proto-Beaker groups that might have survived there.

The main problems with this approach are the lack of such an Afroasiatic-like substrate in Gaulish, which should have shown the same substrate as Insular Celtic, and the impossibility of associating this Afroasiatic-like substrate with Vasconic, both potentially representing completely different languages. A counterargument would be that we don’t have that much information on Gaulish and its dialects – or on the syntax of Vasconic, for that matter – to reject this hypothesis straight away…

In any case, the survival of pockets of non-Indo-European, non-Uralic speakers in northern Europe, even after Steppe-related expansions, should not shock anyone:

If the survival of non-Indo-European-speaking groups happened despite the swift expansion and radical population replacement brought about by the Bell Beaker folk – so called traditionally because of its unitary culture suggesting a unitary language community -, and non-Uralic-speaking groups in areas dominated by Corded Ware peoples, it could certainly have happened, and even more so, with Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups at the western and northern edges of their expansions, due to the early loss of contact with their respective core cultural regions.


Even obscure components of place or river names, like those from northern Europe, the Nordwestblock area, and the British Isles, might be better explained as Old European exceptions than any other alternative, i.e. either as an Indo-European layer over a non-Indo-European one or vice versa, or both in different periods, before the eventual unifying Celtic, Roman, and (later) Germanic expansions.

All in all, one could say about substrates and hydrotoponymy in the British Isles, the Lower Rhine, and in northern Europe as a whole, that the potentially interesting non-Indo-European forms are precisely those which do not interest either scholarly ‘faction’:

  • those supporting a non-Indo-European Western Europe, because it doesn’t represent the whole substrate, and can’t be used to argue for a Europa Vasconica or Europa Afroasiatica;
  • those supporting a Palaeo-Indo-European Western Europe, because their limited presence concentrated in isolated pockets doesn’t deny the Indo-Europeanness of the Old European layer anywhere.

However, these are the details that should be studied and that could define what happened exactly after steppe-related migrations, e.g. in the Single Grave cultural area before and after North-West Indo-Europeans admixed with its population, and thus what happened in the British Isles, too.

Ignoring the (mostly useless) typological comparisons, my bet would be for an ancient Uralic layer heavily admixed with local non-Uralic peoples, especially intense in the Single Grave culture. This Proto-Uralic layer would be of a dialect or dialects (assuming succeeding CWC waves and later local expansions) different from the known Late Proto-Uralic – which expanded with eastern Corded Ware groups.

Describing the phonetic features of this layer could improve our knowledge of Early Proto-Uralic, as well as some specifics of the evolution of Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and potentially Celtic and Balto-Finnic.

This would be similar to the relevance of Aquitanian toponyms for Proto-Basque reconstruction, or of the alteuropäische substratum when it conflicts with the Proto-Indo-European dialectal reconstruction of some linguists (e.g. the laryngeal Pre-Indo-Slavonic of Kortlandt) which, like Kitson implies, should question the dialectal reconstruction of this minority of Indo-Europeanists, and not the Indo-European nature of the substratum.


Volosovo hunter-gatherers started to disappear earlier than previously believed


Recent paper (behind paywall) Marmot incisors and bear tooth pendants in Volosovo hunter-gatherer burials. New radiocarbon and stable isotope data from the Sakhtysh complex, Upper-Volga region, by Macānea, Nordqvist, and Kostyleva, J. Archaeol. Sci. (2019) 26:101908.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The Sakhtysh micro-region is located in the Volga-Oka interfluve, along the headwaters of the Koyka River in the Ivanovo Region, central European Russia (Fig. 1). The area has evidence of human habitation from the Early Mesolithic to the Iron Age, and includes altogether 11 long-term and seasonal settlements (Sakhtysh I–II, IIa, III–IV, VII–XI, XIV) and four artefact scatters (sites V–VI, XII–XIII), in addition to which burials have been detected at five sites (I–II, IIa, VII, VIII) (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). The locations have been known since the 1930s and intensively studied since the 1960s under the leadership of D.A. Kraynov, M.G. Zhilin, E.L. Kostyleva, and A.V. Utkin.

Sakhtysh II and IIa are the most extensively studied sites of the complex, with ca. 1500m2 and around 800m2 excavated, respectively. The burial grounds at both sites are considered as fully investigated.

AMS datings from the sites Sakhtysh II and IIa. Sampled contexts are given in parentheses (burial/hoard), “crust” indicates samples of charred organic
residues on pottery from cultural layer. For data, see Tables 1–2.

Sakhtysh chronology

The AMS dates do not support the previously proposed phasing of the Sakhtysh burials to early (4750–4375 BP/3600–3000 cal BCE), late (or developed; 4375–4000 BP/3000–2500 cal BCE), and final (4000–3750 BP/2500–2200 cal BCE): the early and late burials at Sakhtysh IIa do not stand out as two separate groups, and also the burials and hoards from Sakhtysh II, connected to the final phase, are temporally overlapping with these. Neither the use sequence, where the settlement and burial phases are non-overlapping and also complementary between the sites (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010, 2014), finds support in the present material.

The AMS datings indicate that the Volosovo people started to bury their dead at Sakhtysh IIa after 3700 cal BCE; dates earlier than this may be affected by FRE or suffer from mixed contexts and poor quality of dates. The present data questions the interpretation that the Sakhtysh IIa cemetery was used without interruptions between 4800 and 4080 BP (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010), i.e. for a millennium between 3550 and 2600 cal BCE. The AMS dates rather suggest a use period of some centuries only around the mid-4th millennium cal BCE, tentatively 3650–3400 cal BCE. This would also be more realistic considering the number of burials at the site.

The core area of Volosovo culture (after Kraynov, 1987) and the sites of the Sakhtysh complex (after Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010). Eurasian map base made with Natural Earth. Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

Volosovo chronology

The absolute dating of Volosovo culture was for a long time hampered by the small number of radiocarbon dates (see Kraynov, 1987). Today,>100 datings connected with it can be found in literature (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012; Mosin et al., 2014). Unfortunately, the available dates do not form solid grounds for dating the cultural phenomenon, as many of them have quality-related issues, large measurement errors, and ambiguous cultural or physical contexts. Consequently, particular datings may be connected to different cultural phases by different scholars. Finally, a large part of the newly-published datings are obtained through direct dating of potsherds (Kovaliukh and Skripkin, 2007; Zaitseva et al., 2009), and therefore, their cogency must be faced with reservation (see Van der Plicht et al., 2016; Dolbunova et al., 2017).

The datings connected with Volosovo cover a wide time range between ca. 5500 BP (4400 cal BCE) and ca. 3700 BP (2100 cal BCE). However, datings from secure contexts, with good quality (error ca. 50 years or below) and no probable FRE, place the beginning of Volosovo culture to the first half of the 4th millennium cal BCE, around 3700–3600 cal BCE. This is also supported by the roughly coeval terminal dates given for the preceding Lyalovo (Zaretskaya and Kostyleva, 2011) and Volga-Kama cultures (Lychagina, 2018), as well as the appearance of related neighbouring cultures, for example, in the Kama region (Nikitin, 2012; Lychagina, 2018), the southern forest steppe area (Korolev and Shalapinin, 2014), and north-western Russia and Finland (Nordqvist, 2018). Still, the dating of many of these cultural phases suffers from the same problems as of Volosovo.

A handful of contested datings place the end of Volosovo culture to the final centuries of the 3rd millennium cal BCE, or even later (Kostyleva and Utkin, 2010; Chernykh et al., 2011; Nikitin, 2012). On the other hand, the new AMS dates indicate that Volosovo activities at Sakhtysh II and IIa ceased before or towards the early 3rd millennium cal BCE; if this reflects the general decline of Volosovo culture must be still confirmed by more dates from Sakhtysh and elsewhere. In this context, the general cultural development must be accounted for. To what extent – if at all – the Volosovo people were present after the arrival of the Corded Ware culture-related Fatyanovo-Balanovo populations? Based on the current, albeit scant and inconclusive radiocarbon data this took place from ca. 2700 cal BCE onwards (Krenke et al., 2013).

Corded Ware and Comb Ware hunter-gatherer-related populations in north-eastern Europe from ca. 2600 BC. See full map.


One of the interesting genetic papers in the near future will be the one that finally includes samples from Corded Ware groups in the forest zone (i.e. Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo), which will most likely confirm that they are the origin of the known genetic profile of Central and East Uralic-speaking peoples, seeing how West Uralic peoples show genetic continuity in the East Baltic area, coinciding with the Battle Axe culture.

Uralicists have come a long way from the 1990s, when the picture of Uralic before Balto-Slavic in the Baltic was already evident, and Uralians were identified with Comb Ware peoples. The linguistic data and relative chronology are still valid, despite the now outdated interpretations of absolute archaeological chronology, as happens with interpretations of Krahe or Villar about Old European.

As an example, here are some relevant excerpts from Languages in the Prehistoric Baltic Sea Region, by Kallio (2003):

NOTE. Kallio’s contribution appeared in the book Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003), which I hold nostalgically close in my Indo-European library (now almost impossible to read fully). It is still one of my preferred books (from those made up of mostly unconnected chunks on European linguistic prehistory), because it contains Oettinger’s essential update of North-West Indo-European common vocabulary, which led us indirectly to our Modern Indo-European project from 2005 on.

In any case, the Uralic arrival in the region east of the Baltic Sea preceded the Indo-European one (…).

This theory that the ancestors of Finno-Saamic speakers arrived in the Baltic Sea region earlier than those of Balto-Slavic speakers is still rejected by some scholars (e.g. Napolskikh 1993: 41-44), who claim, for instance, that Finno-Saamic speakers would not have known salmons before they met Balts because the Finno-Saamic word for ‘salmon’ (i.e. *losi) is a borrowing from Baltic. Similarly, one could claim that English speakers would not have known salmons before they met Frenchmen because English salmon is a borrowing from French. In other words, Worter und Sachen are not necessarily borrowed hand in hand. Otherwise, it would not be so easy to explain how many Finnish names of body parts are borrowings from Baltic (e.g. hammas ‘tooth’, kaula ‘neck’, reisi ‘thigh’) and from Germanic (e.g. hartia ‘shoulder’, lantio ‘loin’, maha ‘stomach’).

A more probative argument is the fact that Balto-Slavic features in Finno-Saamic are mostly lexical ones (i.e. typical superstrate features), where Finno-Saamic features in Balto-Slavic are mostly non-lexical ones (i.e. typical substrate features). Note that there are more Balto-Slavic features in Finnic than in Saamic and more Finno-Saamic features in Baltic than in Slavic. This fact could be explained by presuming that Pre-Saamic was spoken north of the Corded Ware area and Pre-Slavic was spoken south of the Typical Pit-Comb Ware area, whereas Pre-Finnic and Pre-Baltic alone were spoken in the area, where both the Typical Pit-Comb Ware culture (ca. 4000-3600 BC) and the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC) were situated. This area was most probably bilingual, until Finnic and Baltic won in the north and in the south, respectively.

As is well-known, the idea of Uralic substrate features in Balto-Slavic is not new (cf. e.g. Pokorny 1936/1968: 181-185). As recent studies (e.g. Bednarczuk 1997) have shown, their density is the most remarkable in the four Balto-Slavic languages spoken in the earlier Pit-Comb Ware area (i.e. Latvian, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Russian). On the other hand, occasional Uralisms in the other Balto-Slavic languages spoken west of the Vistula and south of the Pripyat may rather be considered adstrate features spread from the northeast.

Our beliefs from the 2000s. A hypothetic Uralic Comb Ware distribution before the arrival of a hypothetic North-West Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware. “Generalized distribution of the Pit-Comb Ware cultural complex (Mallory & Adams 1997: 430, Carpelan 1999: 257) and the most probable homelands of Saamic, Finnic, Mordvin, Mari, and Permic.”

The idea of Indo-European superstrate features in Finnic is not new either (cf. e.g. Posti 1953). As Jorma Koivulehto (1983) has recently shown, the earliest Indo-European loanword stratum in the westernmost Uralic branches alone can be considered Northwest Indo-European and connected with the Corded Ware culture (ca. 3200-2300 BC). Since this layer, there have been continuous contacts between Baltic and Finnic. According to Koivulehto (1990), the following stratum can be called Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic and dated to the Late Neolithic period (ca. 2300-1500 BC). Note that this Proto-Balt(o-Slav)ic dating agrees with the established ones (cf. e.g. Shevelov 1964: 613-614, Kortlandt 1982: 181), when we remember the fact that archaeologists have also moved their datings back by centuries during the last decades.

Finally, there is also a Baltic loanword stratum which was not borrowed from the ancestral stage of Latvian, Lithuanian and/or Old Prussian but from some extinct Baltic language or dialect (Nieminen 1957). However, as these words still go back to the early Proto-Finnic stage, they can hardly be dated later than Bronze-Age ( ca. 1500-500 BC). Therefore, we may conclude that they were probably borrowed from a Baltic superstrate, which arrived in the Finnish Gulf area during the Corded Ware period and survived there until the Bronze Age, when it was no longer identical with other Baltic dialects. In any case, as later Baltic loanword strata concern southern Finnic languages alone, we may presume that this ‘North Baltic’superstrate had become extinct.

The traditional association of Uralic with Volosovo hunter-gatherers doesn’t make sense, since they neither miraculously survived for thousands of years nor mixed for hundreds of years with Corded Ware peoples, so we can now more confidently reject the recent assumption by Carpelan & Parpola that their language was adopted by incoming Fatyanovo, Balanovo and Abashevo groups, to develop into the known Uralic languages (more here). This includes one of the many models of the the Copenhagen group, who simplistically follow “Steppe ancestry” for Indo-Europeannes.

If one combines the known relative linguistic chronology with the North-West Indo-European hydrotoponymy layer, now more clearly identified as Old Europeans expanding with East Bell Beakers and derived Early Bronze Age groups, I think there is little space left for maneuvering out of the overwhelming evidence for a Uralic homeland in the forest-steppes, linked to the spread of late Sredni Stog/Corded Ware ancestry into north-eastern Europe and beyond the Urals.


Genetic continuity among Uralic-speaking cultures in north-eastern Europe


The recent study of Estonian Late Bronze Age/Iron Age samples has shown, as expected, large genetic continuity of Corded Ware populations in the East Baltic area, where West Uralic is known to have been spoken since at least the Early Bronze Age.

The most interesting news was that, unexpectedly for many, the impact of “Siberian ancestry” (whatever that actually means) was small, slow, and gradual, with slight increases found up to the Middle Ages, compatible with multiple contact events in north-eastern Europe. Haplogroup N became prevalent among Finnic populations only through late bottlenecks, as research of modern populations have long suggested, and as ancient DNA research hinted since at least 2015.

I risked to correlate the arrival of chiefs from the south-west with the infiltration of N1c-VL29 subclades during the transition to the Iron Age, coupled with that minimal “Siberian” ancestry (see e.g. here and here). Now we know that the penetration of this non-CW ancestry started, as predicted, in the Iron Age; that it was highly variable in the few samples where it appeared, with ca. 1-4%, while most Iron Age individuals show 0%; and that it was not especially linked to individuals of N1c-Vl29 lineages.

It is also basically confirmed, based on the (ancient and Modern Swedish) N1c-L550 subclades found among Iron Age Estonians, that N1c-VL29 lineages and the so-called “Siberian” ancestry will be found simultaneously around the Baltic coastal areas, and that different lineages must have suffered later founder effects among Finns, which suggests that these alliances through exogamy brought exactly as much language change in Sweden, Lithuania, or Poland, as they did in the East Baltic region…

On the other hand, the paper has also shown a potential movement of Corded Ware-derived peoples, if the change from LBA to IA samples is meaningful; in fact, even more Corded Ware-like than Baltic and Estonian BA populations. The exact origin of that movement is difficult to pinpoint, and it may not be related to the arrival of Akozino warrior-traders from the south-east, since theirs seems to be a minor impact proper of elites in a chiefdom system around the Baltic.

Distribution of fortified settlements (filled circles) and other hilltop sites (empty circles) of the Late Bronze Age and Pre-Roman Iron Ages in the East Baltic region. Tentative area of most intensive contacts between Baltic and Balto-Finnic communities marked with a dashed line. Image modified from (Lang 2016).

Also suggesting a potential movement is the ‘southern’ shift observed in the West and East Baltic areas, likely showing the arrival of Proto-East Baltic speakers (such as the Trzciniec outlier), as we have already discussed in this blog. The unexpected increase in Corded Ware-like ancestry in the Eastern Baltic, coupled with the expected large continuity of hg. R1a-Z283 in the homeland of Balto-Finnic expansions, gives even more support to the known complex system of exogamy along the Baltic coasts, and offers another potential reason for the rise of Baltic-speaking territories in the West Baltic: elite domination.

It is nevertheless important to understand that, even among the most “genetic continuous” regions like Estonia, not a single population in Europe is heir of some ancestral, immutable people. Not in terms of haplogroups, and not in terms of admixture. Balto-Finnic speakers, however continuous they might seem (e.g. in Southern Estonians) aren’t an exception.

After all, this blog was (re)born to fight the currently prevalent sheer stupidity surrounding the simplistic “R1a/steppe ancestry=Indo-European” association, so I wouldn’t like to see it replaced with some other stupid continuity or purity ideas within 10 to 20 years…

Late Uralic stems from East Corded Ware groups

With the currently available tools – linguistics, archaeology, and now genetics -, I don’t think there is any argument to date to question the direct connection of the Late Proto-Uralic expansion with all Eastern Corded Ware groups (i.e. Battle Axe, Fatyanovo-Balanovo, and Abashevo), and thus at least with the unifying A-horizon of Corded Ware and the bottlenecks under R1a-Z645.

NOTE. The only out-group among Corded Ware cultures is the Single Grave culture. It appears to be an early Corded Ware offshoot, reflected in their non-unitary cultural traits (distinct from later unifying waves), in their varied patrilineal clans, and in the short-lasting cultural effect in northern Europe before their complete demise under pressure of expanding Yamna/Bell Beaker peoples from the Danube. The culture’s minimal (if any) effects on succeeding peoples might be seen mostly in the (mainly phonetic) Uralic substrate found in Balto-Slavic – although this may also stem from a more eastern influence, close to the Baltic – and in the contacts of Celtic with Uralic. The huge time depth between this early hypothetic Uralic layer in northern Europe and the emergence of peoples inhabiting these territories in recorded history have no doubt been erroneously interpreted as a lack of Uralic presence in the area.

1) That connection was evident in the Yamna – CWC differences in archaeology, and especially later, with at least Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo representing the obvious replacement of the Volosovo culture before further expansions of CWC-related groups west and east of the Urals.

The mythical millennia-long continuity of Volosovo hunter-gatherers, including centuries among Corded Ware peoples, as expected lately by the Copenhagen group (and anyone who doesn’t want to question the 1960s association of Indo-European with CWC) must be rejected today in population genomics, as the recent studies of ancient and modern populations show, and as ancient DNA from the region will confirm.

2) In linguistics, the survival of Volosovo as The Uralic-speaking culture was also hardly believable. From Kallio (2015):

While we can say at least something about Uralic substrates in Northeastern Europe, non-Uralic substrates cannot at all easily be identified, because of multiple language shifts, viz. first from non-Uralic to Uralic and then from Uralic to Russian. Yet the Soviet Uralicist Boris Serebrennikov (1956, 1959) argued that there are some non-Uralic substrate toponyms in the Volga-Oka region, but his idea was never taken seriously in the west (cf. Sauvageot 1958), and it pretty soon also sank into oblivion in Russia, even though it can still occasionally pop up there in non-onomastic circles (cf. Napolskikh 1995: 18–19). However, not all the hypotheses on non-Uralic substrates in Northeastern Europe should be rejected (see e.g. Helimski 2001b).

Tentative map of the distribution of known languages in Eastern Europe during the Early Bronze Age. See full map.

Helimski (2001) argues for a non-Uralic topo-hydronomy in Northern Russia, whose population may have kept their languages up to the Common Era despite the Corded Ware expansion, which is in line with the survival of some non-Indo-European languages everywhere in Europe after the expansion of Yamna and its offshoots:

It should be borne in mind that these [Uralic] hydronyms reached us mainly through Northern Russian and, accordingly, with a tendency to phonetic-morphological adaptation and unification (for river names it is “natural” to be, like the word ‘river’ itself, feminine and to end in -a). Taking into account this circumstance, it may turn out to be non-useless for etymological identification of at least some of the hydronyms on the Finno-Ugric basis.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that some parts of this large geographical area were never (completely) Finno-Ugric. The population that created the most important part of the hydronymy of the Russian North could be finally pushed aside or assimilated only at the end of the 1st – beginning of the 2nd millennium AD, during the Russian colonization, retaining the memory of the White-Eyed Chude in its own memory.

NOTE. For more on this non-IE substrate in (especially West) Uralic, see e.g. Zhivlov (2015),

The same non-Uralic substrate is most likely behind most of the shared traits by Mordvinic and Balto-Finnic (see below).

3) In genetics, I don’t think the picture could get any clearer. I don’t know what “Steppe ancestry = Indo-European” proponents expected from 2019, if they expected anything at all (I haven’t seen any coherent model, proposal, or prediction for a long time now), but I doubt the recent results are compatible with any of their implied expectations.

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

Notice, from the PCA above, how this Baltic Late Neolithic group shows actually a shift from Sredni Stog (see PCA with Sredni Stog) towards typical Khvalynsk-Urals-related ancestry, i.e. populations from eastern European forested regions, derived from hunter-gatherer pottery groups, as I have proposed for a very long time, since the first time a Baltic LN “outlier” appeared. It’s amazing how some amateurs can find 0.1% of any Siberian outlier’s ancestry among Uralians 4,000 years later, but fail to see the direct connection here. The esoteric uses of qpAdm, I guess…

Especially noticeable is the extra WHG-like ancestry and corresponding shift, seen especially marked in late Polish CWC samples, but also in Baltic CWC and especially in one Sweden Battle Axe sample, all of them shifting apparently closer to Pitted Ware and SHG. While that may have been interpreted as an in situ admixture in Scandinavia before, the late Polish CWC samples show likely a resurgence of local populations, so we can assume that both shifts (to SHG- and EHG-like populations) of available CWC samples around the Baltic are clearly part of the WHG:EHG continuum that will be found in the eastern European sub-Neolithic cultures, from Narva to Volosovo.

This WHG-related ancestry is clearly predominant in groups with which Battle Axe peoples admixed, based on the shift towards Pitted Ware, which – I can only guess based on modern Volga Finns – is different from the shift we will see in Netted Ware, more towards the Khvalynsk-Urals cluster. This is in line with the expansion of Battle Axe eastward through coastal areas (West to East Baltic and Finland into Sweden), while Fatyanovo peoples probably emerged from a slightly different route, but also a northern one, if one is to follow archaological similarities and their chronology.

Detail of the PCA of European Bronze Age populations. See full PCA and more related files.

During the Iron Age, the only peoples that probably shifted strongly (based on modern populations) are West Baltic ones, getting closer to the available Late Trzciniec samples, and even closer to the Trzciniec outlier, i.e. away from the earlier Eastern Corded Ware cluster, and towards Central European groups like Czech EBA or Poland EBA, both of them clearly derived from Bell Beakers, but also admixed with (and thus shifted toward) CW-like populations.

If one looks carefully at the previous PCA on Bronze Age populations, and the next one on Iron Age clusters, it is evident that adding the Swedish LN outlier to East Baltic BA (both strongly related to Battle Axe populations) essentially gives us the continuity of East Baltic BA into the Iron Age. This cluster is continued also in two outliers from Sigtuna, a Viking town close to the Gulf of Finland, known to be an important trading site, 1,500 years later. Not much of a change around the Gulf of Finland, then:

Detail of the PCA of East and North European Iron Age populations. See full PCA and more related files.

Based on the two simplistic Uralic clines one might see described (among the many that certainly existed, from Corded Ware to different Eurasian populations), and just like BOO was for some months fashionable as “Samic”, some may be tempted to say that certain Sintashta or Srubna outliers close to the Urals mark the True Uralic™ peoples. Because, of course they do. Ghost haplogroup N and stuff. And Corded Ware never ever Uralic. Because Gimbutas, and my IE R1a grandfather.

NOTE. Funny thing here: there might be Corded Ware, Iranian, Slavic, Germanic, etc… outliers or out-groups, and they might form the widest genetic clusters ever seen, but they are all of one language, because archaeology and linguistics; however, one “outlier” (also, put your own definition of “outlier” here, let’s say 1% of whatever, and strontium isotope potentially from 100 km away) ca. 600 BC in the Baltic who (surprise!) happens to show hg. N, and he signals the first incoming True Uralic™ speaker from wherever… It won’t be the first or the last time some people resort to “the complexity of Uralic-speaking peoples” in ancestry, just to look for “hg. N = Uralic” like crazy. You only need common sense to understand that this is not how this works. Amateur genomics can’t get more embarrassing than the current “let’s look for ‘Siberian ancestry’ in every individual of haplogroup N” trend. Or maybe it can, and it will, but I can’t see it yet.

If one were to insist on looking for ‘foreign’ contributions among Iron Age Estonians, though, I think one should also check out first archaeology, and then the PC3 (or, more graphically, a 3D plot), to understand what might be happening with the many Uralic clines derived from Corded Ware, before starting to play around with bioinformatic tools to discover a teeny tiny 1% admixture of the wrong population, and rushing to build far-fetched narratives. Apparently, one of the different clines formed roughly between southern (steppe – forest-steppe) and northern (tundra-taiga) populations in Uralians is also seen in some Iron Age Estonian individuals – especially in some late samples from Ingria…This is not my main interest, so I will leave this here for others to keep wasting their time chasing the white whale of the 0.5% of True Uralic™ ancestry in ancient Baltic samples of hg. N.

Still images of the 3D plot of Eurasian samples. Typical PC1 vs. PC2 visualization to the left, and shift of the view to PC3 on the right image. See full PCA and more related files.

An exclusive Volga-Kama homeland for Disintegrating Uralic?

Since I don’t believe in macro-regions of largely continuous ethnolinguistic communities, as I have often said about Slavic (naively associated with prehistoric tribes of Eastern Europe) or Germanic (absurdly considered to be represented by Battle Axe), it is difficult for me to believe that Battle Axe-derived cultures remained of the same Finno-Samic dialects since the Corded Ware expansion…unless we live in Westeros, where everything happens “for thousands of years”.

I have to admit, then, that the now prevalent identification among Uralicists has become quite attractive:

  • Fatyanovo-Balanovo as Finno-Permic:
    • Fatyanovo/Netted Ware with West Uralic (also called Finno-Mordvinic).
    • Balanovo/Chirkovo-Kazan with Central Uralic (Mari-Permic).
  • Abashevo, into the Andronovo-like Horizon through the Seima-Turbino phenomenon, with East Uralic (also Ugro-Samoyedic).

Exactly like the identification of Yamna Hungary – Bell Beaker transition as the North-West Indo-European homeland, it gives us simplicity and small and late ethnolinguistic communities, away from the traditionally overused big and early language territories.

This late homeland would be supported, among others, by:

  • The presence of Indo-Iranian loanwords in Finno-Permic and Ugric (probably also in Samoyedic, either lost, or – much more likely – underresearched), compatible with the immediate contact between Abashevo – Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka and Fatyanovo-Balanovo.
  • The supposed expansion of Netted Ware from Fatyanovo to the north-west, which may be explained as the split and expansion of Balto-Finnic and Samic ca. 1900 BC.
  • A longer-lasting Finno-Permic (West+Central Uralic) community contrasting with the early separation of East Uralic.
  • The compatibility of this late expansion with the late expansion of Pre-Germanic from Denmark with the Dagger Period, and of Balto-Slavic with Trzciniec, which puts all three dialects reaching the Baltic Sea in the EBA.

NOTE. I meant to update the linguistic text to include the most recently favoured phylogenetic tree of Uralic languages after Häkkinen (2007, 2009, 2014), which has very quickly become the new normal among Uralicists, but I don’t think I will have enough time to review the necessary papers for that. I am rushing to publish a printed edition, so the text will wind up being a mixture of “traditional” (meaning, basically, pre-2010s) description of Uralic dialects but using modern divisions; say, “West Uralic” instead of “Finno-Samic”. By the way, I am still amazed that none of my reader-haters (or any online user discussing Uralic migrations, for that matter) have come up with the questions that the new division pose, and it supports my suspicion about the complete lack of interest in linguistics of most (a)DNA fans, except for the occasional use of old and free PDFs Googled to support new narratives invented expressly for some qpAdm results…

Textile ceramic styles and influence of Bronze Age cultures divided in clusters.

Problems with this Parpola-Carpelan’s (2012-2018) interpretation include:

  • The differentiation between Fennoscandian Textile Ceramics vs. Netted Ware, which is not warranted in archaeology. The assumption that Netted Ware expanded to the Baltic Sea (as Kallio does, following the traditional view) is thus weak, and it was probably a question of cultural contacts coupled with short-distance population movements/exchange in both directions (from the Baltic to the Volga and vice versa). In fact, the culture division relies on some fairly common and technically simple ornamentation patterns, widespread all over northern Europe, even before the Corded Ware expansion, and it is very difficult to separate certain neighboring Textile Ceramics from Netted Ware groups in southern Finland (i.e. Sarsa-Tomitsa groups).
  • The strict and radical direction described for the Netted Ware by Carpelan, as an eastward and northward expansion, within a very short time frame (ca. 1900-1800 BC), based on few radiocarbon dates, which seems to me like a very risky assumption. We know how this kind of descriptions of direction of culture expansion based on radiocarbon dates has turned out in much more complex “packages”, like the Bell Beaker culture… In fact, the earliest dates for Textile Ware are from the East Baltic, earlier than those of Netted Ware.
  • The assumption that Balto-Finnic traits shared with Mordvinic are a) late and b) meaningful for dialectalization of two closely related dialects, when it is clear that both dialects separated quite early. Phonologically Finnic is more conservative, morphologically less so, and the shared traits include a handful of non-Uralic substrate words which can’t be traced to a single common source, hence they were adopted when both languages had already separated… All in all, Finnic – Mordvinic correspondances are not even close to Italo-Celtic ones, which is clearly fully incompatible with a proposal of a Finnic separation from Mordvinic coinciding with the LBA-IA transition.

Especially problematic for Parpola’s model is the lack of genetic impact in Bronze Age or Iron Age Estonians, not reaching a significant level under any possible statistical threshold – which I am sure was quite disappointing for some of my readers -, but is in line with major archaeological continuity of groups the from region, only disturbed in cultural (and Y-chromosome) terms by the expansion of Akozino warrior-traders all over the Baltic Sea. Any proposed population movement will be very difficult to support in genetics, given the Corded Ware-derived populations that we will see in both regions, and the continued Baltic-Volga contacts since the Corded Ware expansion.

Problems with an interpretation of such a small impact in population genomics includes the similarly weak impacts and haplogroup infiltrations that can be seen among populations basically everywhere in Eurasia, during any given period, and much greater genetic impacts that are supposed to be (or that were certainly) followed by ethnolinguistic continuity.

Distribution of the Akozino-Mälar axes according to Sergej V. Kuz’minykh (1996: 8, Abb. 2).

The Battle Axe question

From Kallio (2015), about choosing a tentative homeland for Proto-Uralic:

(…) linguistically uniform Proto-Uralic would have been spoken in the Volga-Oka region until the mid-third millennium BC when the Proto-Uralic-speaking area would have expanded to the Volga-Kama region as well. By the end of the same millennium, this expansion would have led to the earliest dialectal splits within Uralic into Finno-Mordvin, Mari-Permic, and Ugro-Samoyed. The splitting up of these three soon followed during the early second millennium BC when the Uralic-speaking area finally stretched from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Altai mountains in the east. Indeed, no matter where Proto-Uralic was spoken, the branching into the nine well-attested subgroups (viz. Finnic, Saami, Mordvin, Mari, Permic, Hungarian, Mansi, Khanty, and Samoyed) must have taken less than a millennium, because their shared phonological and morphosyntactic isoglosses are rather limited (see Salminen 2002). The traditional view that all this branching would have taken several millennia violates everything linguistic typology teaches us about the rate of language change.

The basic problem of this identification of Fatyanovo-Balanovo as West-Central Uralic and Abashevo as East Uralic is the nature of the Battle Axe culture, including the Bronze Age East Baltic and Gulf of Finland area. Even if it is accepted that Fatyanovo-Balanovo represented all Western groups, Battle Axe must have represented West Uralic-like dialects.

The ethnolinguistic identification of Battle Axe depends ultimately on the nature of contacts of Fatyanovo/Netted Ware with Battle Axe/Textile Ceramics. If both groups were close and interacted profusely, as it seems, it doesn’t seem granted that we will be able to distinguish a close Para-West Uralic dialect of Scandinavia from the actual expanding Balto-Finnic and Samic dialects, if they were actually linked to the Netted Ware expansion. Also from Kallio (2015):

No doubt the most convincing substrate theory has recently been put forward by the Saami Uralicist Ante Aikio (2004), who has not only rehabilitated but also improved the old idea of a non-Uralic substrate in Saami. His study shows that there were still non-Uralic languages spoken in Northern Fennoscandia as recently as the first millennium AD. Most of all, they were not only genetically non-Uralic but also typologically non-Uralic-looking, bearing a closer resemblance to the so-called Palaeo-European substrates (for which see e.g. Schrijver 2001; Vennemann 2003).

In comparison, the case of Finnic is much more difficult. The fact that Proto-Uralic was not spoken in the East Baltic region means that this area must have originally been non-Uralic-speaking, but so far the evidence for a non-Uralic substrate in Finnic has consisted of appellatives and proper names with no etymology (cf. Ariste 1971; Saarikivi 2004a). Contrary to the proposed substrate words in Saami, those in Finnic show no structural non-Uralisms, as if they had indeed been borrowed from some genetically related or at least typologically similar languages, as I suggested above. Also none of them is more recent than the Middle Proto-Finnic stage, which makes them at least two millennia old. All this agrees with archaeological evidence discussed earlier that the Uralicization of the East Baltic region occurred during the Bronze Age (ca. 1900–500 BC).

The discussion of the paper continues with an unsuccessful attempt to find a hypothetical ancient Indo-European substrate that Kallio believes must be associated with the expansion of Corded Ware, in line with the traditional belief. For example, the often mentioned – almost folk etymology-like, unsurprisingly popular among amateurs – ‘Neva’ as derived from IE “young” is logically rejected…Unlike Parpola, Kallio’s view seems to be confident that Netted Ware (as Textile Ware) expanded into the East Baltic, on both sides of the Gulf of Finland, already during the Bronze Age.

As it has become apparent in population genomics, none of them was right, and Textile Ceramics will essentially show – like Netted Ware – a large genetic continuity of Corded Ware peoples in the whole north-eastern European forest zone – despite small regional population movements, obviously -, which necessarily implies that the whole Corded Ware culture – and not only Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo – were Uralic-speaking territories.

The similarities in terms of culture and Y-DNA bottlenecks between Battle Axe and Fatyanovo-Balanovo also imply that the linguistic differences between these groups were probably not many, and became strongly divided only after their territorial division. Continued contacts between Battle Axe- and Fatyanovo-derived groups can explain the proposed contacts (Finnic with Samic, Finnic with Mordvinic) after their linguistic-but-not-physical separation.

East European movement directions (arrows) of the representatives of the Central European Corded Ware Culture (according to I.I. Artemenko).

Battle Axe spoke “Para-Balto-Finnic”?

The Balto-Finnic-speaking nature of Battle Axe is thus supported by:

  • The lack of non-Uralic substrates in Balto-Finnic territory (Kallio 2015).
  • The early separation of Samic and Finnic from Mordvinic, and the virtual identity of Proto-West-Uralic and Proto-Uralic, which suggests that Proto-Uralic spread fast (Parpola 2012).
  • The scarce non-Uralic topo-hydronymy in the East Baltic and around the Gulf of Finland (Saarikivi 2004), comparable to that on the Upper Volga region.
  • The strong influence of a Balto-Finnic-like substrate on Pre-Germanic (or, in Kallio’s opinion, the same Scandinavian substrate influencing both Germanic and Balto-Finnic at the same time), and the continued influence of Balto-Finnic on Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic.
  • The continued influence of Corded Ware-derived groups in central-east Sweden in Finland and the East Baltic in terms of agricultural innovations appearing in the LBA, compatible with Schrijver’s proposal of intermediate Germanic-shifted Balto-Finnic groups and Balto-Finnic groups influenced by their pronunciation.
  • The intense Palaeo-Germanic and late Balto-Slavic / early Proto-Baltic superstrate on Balto-Finnic, which place all three dialects around the Baltic Sea since the Early Bronze Age.
  • The easy replacement of a hypothetic Para-Balto-Finnic dialect by incoming Proto-Balto-Finnic-speaking peoples (say, with textile ceramics), without much linguistic impact.

In fact, the continuous contacts of the East Baltic with the Volga, and especially the close interaction with Akozino warrior-traders just before the Tarand-grave period, could be the actual origin of the recent (if any) Finnic-Mordvinic connections that need to be traced back to the LBA-IA (maybe here the number ‘ten’), since most of them can be related to a Pit-Comb Ware culture substrate and earlier contacts through the forest zone, which Samic (due to its early split and presence to the north of the Gulf of Finland during the BA) does not share. In fact, some of them can be traced back to Balto-Finnic first

These are the most often mentioned, in order of descending relevance for a shared ancient community:

  • Noun paradigms and the form and function of individual cases.
  • The geminate *mm (foreign to Proto-Uralic before the development of Fennic under Germanic influence) and other non-Uralic consonant clusters.
  • The change of numeral *luka ‘ten’ with (non-Uralic) *kümmen.
  • The presence of loanwords of non-Uralic origin, related to farming and trees, potentially Palaeo-European in nature.

It’s not only a question of quantity. Are these shared Mordvinic – Balto-Finnic traits really more relevant than, say, those between Italo-Celtic, which are supposed to have formed a community for a very short period at the end of the 3rd millennium around the Alps? Are these traits even sufficient to propose a common early Mordvinic-Finnic group within West Uralic, rather than loose Mordvinic – Balto-Finnic contacts, i.e. contacts between East Baltic (Textile Ceramics) and Volga-Kama (Netted Ware)?

Based on the alternative (Kallio’s) view of continued contacts between Textile Ceramics groups, even without knowing anything about linguistics, you can guess that Parpola is spinning very thin when assuming that these changes suggest that Balto-Finnic may have expanded with Akozino warrior-traders, separating thus ca. 800 BC from Mordvinic…

Genetic findings now clearly help dismiss any meaningful population impact in the LBA-IA transition, although any linguist can obviously argue for linguistic change in spite of major genetic continuity. But then we are stuck in the pre-ancient DNA era, so what’s ancient DNA for.

Middle Bronze Age cultures of Eastern Europe.

Genetic continuity = language continuity?

In the end, it’s very difficult to say how much language continuity there is around Estonia since the arrival of Corded Ware peoples. Looking at Modern Estonians, they have been clearly influenced by recent contacts with Baltic- and Germanic-speaking peoples clustering to the south-west in the PCA. They seem to have also received contacts from north(-east)ern peoples, likely from Finland, evidenced by their shifts toward the modern Estonian cluster during and after the Middle Ages, with a slight increase in Siberian ancestry and N1c subclades associated with Lovozero Ware. How much language change did these contacts bring? Maybe an expansion of Gulf of Finland Finnic (Northern Estonian) over Inland Finnic (Southern Estonian) and Gulf of Riga Finnic (Livonian)? Difficult to know, exactly, but, in the traditional view of Balto-Finnic dialectal distribution among Uralicists like Kallio, possibly no change at all.

So, if the obvious changes in the Estonia_MA cluster relative to Estonia_IA cluster and Estonia_Modern relative to Estonia_MA do not represent radical language change…Why would Estonia_IA represent a change relative to Estonia_BA, when it is statistically basically the same? Or Estonia_BA relative to CWC_Baltic? Because of the infiltration of haplogroup N1c around the whole Baltic? Because of the occasional 1% “Siberian” ancestry in some non-locals of varied haplogroups across the whole Baltic area?

In spite of all this, the amount of special pleading we are seeing among openly Nordicist amateurs when discussing the Uralic homeland relative to the Indo-European question in genetics has become a matter of plain willful ignorance. Like the living corpses of the Anatolian homeland, the Armenian homeland, the OIT proponents, or the nativist Basque R1b association, the personal involvement in the revival of “R1a=Indo-European” and “N=Uralic” trends is just painful to watch.

[Next post in this line, if I manage to make time for it: “Genetic (dis)continuity in Central Europe“. Let’s see if early Balts and early Slavs, as well as Germanic peoples, show a cluster closer to Danubian EBA (viz. Maros), Hungary-Balkans BA, and Urnfield-related samples than their predecessors in their areas, i.e. away from East Corded Ware groups… If you want, you can enjoy for the moment the new PCAs I could get done and the tentative map of languages in the Early Bronze Age, that will probably give you the right idea about early Indo-European and Uralic population movements]

European Early Bronze Age: tentative language map based on linguistics, archaeology, and genetics. See full map.


Baltic Finns in the Bronze Age, of hg. R1a-Z283 and Corded Ware ancestry


Open access The Arrival of Siberian Ancestry Connecting the Eastern Baltic to Uralic Speakers further East, by Saag et al. Current Biology (2019).

Interesting excerpts:

In this study, we present new genomic data from Estonian Late Bronze Age stone-cist graves (1200–400 BC) (EstBA) and Pre-Roman Iron Age tarand cemeteries (800/500 BC–50 AD) (EstIA). The cultural background of stone-cist graves indicates strong connections both to the west and the east [20, 21]. The Iron Age (IA) tarands have been proposed to mirror “houses of the dead” found among Uralic peoples of the Volga-Kama region [22].

(…) The 33 individuals included 15 from EstBA, 6 from EstIA, 5 from Pre-Roman to Roman Iron Age Ingria (500 BC–450 AD) (IngIA), and 7 from Middle Age Estonia (1200–1600 AD) (EstMA) and yielded endogenous DNA ∼4%–88%, average genomic coverages ∼0.017–0.734×, and contamination estimates <4% (Table S1). We analyzed the data in the context of modern and other ancient individuals, including from Neolithic Estonia [13].

Archaeological Information, Genetic Sex, mtDNA and Y Chromosome Haplogroups, and Average Coverage of the Individuals of This Study. Modified from the paper to mark distinct Y-DNA haplogroups in the LBA and IA.

We identified chrY hgs for 30 male individuals (Tables 1 and S2; STAR Methods). All 16 successfully haplogrouped EstBA males belonged to hg R1a, showing no change from the CWC period, when this was also the only chrY lineage detected in the Eastern Baltic [11, 13, 30, 31]. Three EstIA and two IngIA individuals also belonged to hg R1a, but three EstIA males belonged to hg N3a, the earliest so far observed in the Eastern Baltic. Three EstMA individuals belonged to hg N3a, two to hg R1a, and one to hg J2b. ChrY lineages found in the Baltic Sea region before the CWC belong to hgs I, R1b, R1a5, and Q [10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 32]. Thus, it appears that these lineages were substantially replaced in the Eastern Baltic by hg R1a [10, 11, 12, 13], most likely through steppe migrations from the east [30, 31]. (…) Our results enable us to conclude that, although the expansion time for R1a1 and N3a3′5 in Eastern Europe is similar [25], hg N3a likely reached Estonia or at least became comparably frequent to modern Estonia [1] only during the BA-IA transition.

A clear shift toward West Eurasian hunter-gatherers is visible between European LN and BA (including Baltic CWC) and EstBA individuals, the latter clustering together with Latvian and Lithuanian BA individuals [11]. EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals project between BA individuals and modern Estonians, partially overlapping with both.

(…) EstBA individuals are clearly distinguishable from Estonian CWC individuals as the former have more of the blue component most frequent in WHGs and less of the brown and yellow components maximized in Caucasus hunter-gatherers and modern Khanty, respectively. The individuals of EstBA, EstIA, IngIA, EstMA, and modern Estonia are quite similar to each other on average, indicating that the relatively high proportion of WHG ancestry in modern Eastern Baltic populations compared to other present-day Europeans [15] traces back to the BA.

Detail of the PCA, modified from the paper to label populations. Estonian Bronze Age and Iron Age samples cluster close to Early Corded Ware from the Baltic.. Principal-component analysis results of modern West Eurasians with ancient individuals projected onto the first two components (PC1 and PC2). BA, Bronze Age; EF, early farmers; HG, hunter-gatherers; IA, Iron Age; IMA, Iron/Middle Ages; LN, Late Neolithic; LNBA, Late Neolithic/Bronze Age; MA, Middle Ages

When comparing Estonian CWC and EstBA using autosomal outgroup f3 and Patterson’s D statistics (Table S3), the latter is more similar to other Baltic BA populations, to Baltic IA and Middle Age (MA) populations, and also to populations similar to WHGs and Scandinavian hunter-gatherers (SHGs), but not to Estonian CCC (Figures 2A and S2A; Data S1). The increase in WHG or SHG ancestry could be connected to western influences seen in material culture [20, 21] and facilitated by a decline in local population after the CCC-CWC period [20]. A slight trend of bigger similarity of Estonian CWC to forest or steppe zone populations and of EstBA to European early farmer populations can also be seen.

(…) When comparing to modern populations, Estonian CWC is slightly more similar to Caucasus individuals but EstBA to Baltic populations and Finnic speakers (Figure 2B; Data S1). Outgroup f3 and D statistics do not reveal apparent differences when comparing EstBA to EstIA, EstIA to IngIA, and EstIA to EstMA (Data S1).

qpAdm results. Error bars indicate one SE. Central MN, Central European Middle Neolithic; EstBA, Estonian Bronze Age; EstIA, Estonian Iron Age; IngIA, Ingrian Iron Age; EstMA, Estonian Middle Ages; WHG, western hunter-gatherers.

These results highlight how uniparental and autosomal data can lead to different demographic inferences—the genetic change between CWC and BA not seen in uniparental lineages is clear in autosomal data and the appearance of chrY hg N in the IA is not matched by a clear shift in autosomal profiles.

EstBA individuals have no Nganasan-related ancestry and EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals on average have 2% or 4% (Figure 3; Data S1). The differentiation remains when using BA or IA Fennoscandian populations [26] instead of Nganasans (Data S1). Notably, the proportion of Nganasan-related ancestry varies between 0% and 12% among sampled EstIA, IngIA, and EstMA individuals (Data S1), which may suggest its relatively recent admixture into the target population. Moreover, two individuals from Kunda (0LS10 and V10) have the highest proportions of Nganasan ancestry among EstIA (6% and 8%), one of them has chrY hg N3a, and isotopic analysis suggests neither individual being born in Kunda [34].

About these two males from Tarand-graves, ‘foreign’ to Kunda:

0LS10: Male from tarand III (burial 9; TÜ 1325: L777), age 17–25 years [34]. He had a fragment of a sheep/goat bone and ceramics as grave goods. This burial has two radiocarbon dates: 2430 ± 35 BP (Poz-10801; 760–400 cal BC) and 2530 ± 41 BP (UBA-26114; 800–530 cal BC) [34]. According to the isotopic analysis, the person was not born in the vicinity of Kunda; his place of birth is still unknown (but south-western Finland and Sweden are excluded) [34]. Sampled tooth r P1.

V10: Male from tarand XI (burial 24; TÜ 1325: L1925), age 25–35 years [34], date 2484 ± 40 BP (UBA-26115; 790–430 cal BC) [34]. He had a few potsherds near the skull. Likewise, this person was not locally born [34]. Sampled tooth l P1.

Autosomal Analyses’ Results for Gyvakarai1 as the closest available Corded Ware source for Balto-Finnic populations.

The paper shows thus:

  • Major continuity of ancestry from Corded Ware to modern Estonians, with only slight changes in different periods. In fact, one of the best fits for the Late Bronze Age ancestry is Gyvakarai1, one of the Corded Ware “outliers” described as “closer to Yamna”, which I already said may be closer to Sredni Stog/EHG populations instead. Another interesting take is that the change from Bronze Age to Iron Age corresponds to an increase in Baltic Corded Ware-related ancestry, rather than being driven by Siberian ancestry.
  • pca-mittnik-gyvakarai
    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). From Mittnik et al. (2018).
  • A Volosovo-related migration of hg. N1c with Netted Ware into the area seems to be discarded, based on the full replacement of paternal lines and continuity of R1a-Z283. It is only during the Tarand-grave period when a system of chiefdoms (spread from Ananyino/Akozino) brings haplogroup N1c to the Gulf of Finland. During the Iron Age, the proportion of paternal lineages is still clearly in favour of R1a (50% in the coast, 100% in Ostrobothnia), which indicates a gradual replacement led by elites, likely because of the incorporation of Akozino warrior-traders spreading all over the Baltic, bringing the described shared Mordvinic traits in Fennic.
  • 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).
  • The arrival of Akozino warrior-traders (bringing N1c and R1a lineages) was probably linked to this minimal “Nganasan-like” ancestry of some samples in the transition to the Iron Age. This arrival is supported by samples 0LS10 (the earliest hg. N1c) and V10 (of hg. R1a), both dated to ca. 800-400 BC, with V10 showing the highest “Nganasan-like” ancestry with 4.8%, both of them neighbouring samples showing 0%. This variable admixture among local and foreign paternal lineages might support the described social system of family alliances with intermarriages. In fact, a medieval sample, 0LS03_1 (hg. R1a) also shows a recent “Nganasan-like” ancestry, which probably points to the integration of different Arctic-related ancestry components among Modern Estonians, in this case related to Finnish expansions and thus integration of Levänluhta-related ancestry, as per the supplementary data.
  • NOTE. Such minimal proportions of “Nganasan-like” ancestry evidence the process of admixture of Volga Finns in Akozino territory through their close interactions with Permians of Ananyino, who in turn acquired this Palaeo-Arctic admixture most likely during the expansion of the linguistic community to hunter-gatherer territories, to the north of the Cis-Urals. This process of stepped infiltration and expansion without language change is not dissimilar to the one seen among Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of hg. R1b, or Vasconic speakers of hg. I2a, although in the case of Baltic Finns of hg. R1a the process of infiltration and expansion of hg. N1c is much less dramatic, with no radical replacement anywhere before the huge bottlenecks observable in Finns.

  • The expansion of haplogroup N1c among Finnic populations, as we are going to see in samples from the Middle Ages such as Luistari, is the consequence of late founder effects after huge bottlenecks expected based on the analysis of modern populations. The expansion of N1c-VL29 is different in origin from that of N1c-Z1936 among Samic (later integrated into Finnish populations), most likely from the east and originally associated with Lovozero Ware.
Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a3 / N1a1a1a1a1a-CTS2929/VL29, probably initially with Akozino warrior-traders. Map from Ilumäe et al. (2016).

In spite of all this, the conclusion of the paper is (surprise!) that Siberian ancestry and hg. N heralded the arrival of Finnic to the Gulf of Finland in the Iron Age… However, this conclusion is supposedly* supported, not by their previous papers, but by a recent phylogenetic study by Honkola et al. (2013), which doesn’t actually argue for such a late ‘arrival’: it argues for the split of Balto-Finnic around 1500 BC.

NOTE. I say ‘supposedly’ because Kristiina Tambets, for example, has been following the link of Uralic with haplogroup N since the 2000s, so this is not some conclusion they just happened to misread from some random paper they Googled. In those initial assessments, she argued that the “ancient homeland” of the Tat C mutation suggested that Finno-Ugrians were in Fennoscandia before Indo-Europeans. Apparently, since haplogroup N appears later and from the east, it is now more important to follow this haplogroup than what is established in archaeology and linguistics.

Even in the referred paper, this split is considered an in situ development, since the phylogenetic study takes the information – among others – 1) from Parpola and Carpelan, who consider Netted Ware, a culture derived from Fatyanovo/Abashevo and Volosovo, as the culprit of the Finno-Ugric expansion; and 2) from Kallio (2006), who clearly states that Proto-Balto-Finnic (like Proto-Finno-Samic) was spoken around the Gulf of Finland during the Bronze Age. Both of them set the terminus ante quem of the language presence in the Baltic ca. 1900 BC.

Anyways, as a consequence of geneticists keeping these untenable pre-ancient DNA haplogroup-based arguments today, I expect to see this “Finnic” language expansion also described for the Western Baltic, Scandinavia or northern Europe, when this same proportion of hg. N1c and “Nganasan” ancestry is observed in Iron Age samples around the Baltic Sea. The nativist trends that this domination of “Finns” all over Northern Europe 2,500 years ago will create will be even more fun to read than the current ones…

EDIT (10 May 2019) How I see the reaction of many to ancient DNA, in keeping their old theories:


N1c-L392 associated with expanding Turkic lineages in Siberia


Second in popularity for the expansion of haplogroup N1a-L392 (ca. 4400 BC) is, apparently, the association with Turkic, and by extension with Micro-Altaic, after the Uralic link preferred in Europe; at least among certain eastern researchers.

New paper in a recently created journal, by the same main author of the group proposing that Scythians of hg. N1c were Turkic speakers: On the origins of the Sakhas’ paternal lineages: Reconciliation of population genetic / ancient DNA data, archaeological findings and historical narratives, by Tikhonov, Gurkan, Demirdov, and Beyoglu, Siberian Research (2019).

Interesting excerpts:

According to the views of a number of authoritative researchers, the Yakut ethnos was formed in the territory of Yakutia as a result of the mixing of people from the south and the autochthonous population [34].

These three major Sakha paternal lineages may have also arrived in Yakutia at different times and/ or from different places and/or with a difference in several generations instead, or perhaps Y-chromosomal STR mutations may have taken place in situ in Yakutia. Nevertheless, the immediate common ancestor(s) from the Asian Steppe of these three most prevalent Sakha Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes possibly lived during the prominence of the Turkic Khaganates, hence the near-perfect matches observed across a wide range of Eurasian geography, including as far as from Cyprus in the West to Liaoning, China in the East, then Middle Lena in the North and Afghanistan in the South (Table 3 and Figure 5). There may also be haplotypes closely-related to ‘the dominant Elley line’ among Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Tajiks, however, limitations in the loci coverage for the available dataset (only eight Y-chromosomal STR loci) precludes further conclusions on this matter [25].

17-loci median-joining network analysis of the original/dominant Elley, Unknown and Omogoy Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes with the YHRD matches from outside Yakutia populations.

According to the results presented here, very similar Y-STR haplotypes to that of the original Elley line were found in the west: Afghanistan and northern Cyprus, and in the east: Liaoning Province, China and Ulaanbaator, Northern Mongolia. In the case of the dominant Omogoy line, very closely matching haplotypes differing by a single mutational step were found in the city of Chifen of the Jirin Province, China. The widest range of similar haplotypes was found for the Yakut haplotype Unknown: In Mongolia, China and South Korea. For instance, haplotypes differing by a single step mutation were found in Northern Mongolia (Khalk, Darhad, Uryankhai populations), Ulaanbaator (Khalk) and in the province of Jirin, China (Han population).

14-loci median-joining network analysis for the original/dominant Elley (Ell), Unknown Clan
(Vil), Omogoy (Omo), Eurasian (Eur) and Xiongnu (Xuo) Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes and that for a representative ancient DNA sample (Ch0 or DSQ04) from the Upper Xiajiadian Culture
recovered from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China.

Notably, Tat-C-bearing Y-chromosomes were also observed in ancient DNA samples from the 2700-3000 years-old Upper Xiajiadian culture in Inner Mongolia, as well as those from the Serteya II site at the Upper Dvina region in Russia and the ‘Devichyi gory’ culture of long barrow burials at the Nevel’sky district of Pskovsky region in Russia. A 14-loci Y-chromosomal STR median-joining network of the most prevalent Sakha haplotypes and a Tat-C-bearing haplotype from one of the ancient DNA samples recovered from the Upper Xiajiadian culture in Inner Mongolia (DSQ04) revealed that the contemporary Sakha haplotype ‘Xuo’ (Table 2, Haplotype ID “Xuo”) classified as that of ‘the Xiongnu clan’ in our current study, was the closest to the ancient Xiongnu haplotype (Figure 6). TMRCA estimate for this 14-loci Y-chromosomal STR network was 4357 ± 1038 years or 2341 ± 1038 BCE, which correlated well with the Upper Xiajiadian culture that was dated to the Late Bronze Age (700-1000 BCE).

Geographical location of ancient samples belonging to major clade N of the Y-chromosome.

NOTE. Also interesting from the paper seems to be the proportion of E1b1b among admixed Russian populations, in a proportion similar to R1a or I2a(xI2a1).

It is tempting to associate the prevalent presence of N1c-L392 in ancient Siberian populations with the expansion of Altaic, by simplistically linking the findings (in chronological order) near Lake Baikal (Damgaard et al. 2018), Upper Xiajiadian (Cui et al. 2013), among Khövsgöl (Jeong et al. 2018), in Huns (Damgaard et al. 2018), and in Mongolic-speaking Avars (Csáky et al. 2019).

However, its finding among Palaeo-Laplandic peoples in the Kola peninsula ca. 1500 BC (Lamnidis et al. 2018) and among Palaeo-Siberian populations near the Yana River (Sikora et al. 2018) ca. AD 1200 should be enough to accept the hypothesis of ancestral waves of expansion of the haplogroup over northern Eurasia, with acculturation and further expansions in the different regions since the Iron Age (see more on its potential expansion waves).

Also, a simple look at the TMRCA and modern distribution was enough to hypothesize long ago the lack of connection of N1c-L392 with Altaic or Uralic peoples. From Ilumäe et al. (2016):

Previous research has shown that Y chromosomes of the Turkic-speaking Yakuts (Sakha) belong overwhelmingly to hg N3 (formerly N1c1). We found that nearly all of the more than 150 genotyped Yakut N3 Y chromosomes belong to the N3a2-M2118 clade, just as in the Turkic-speaking Dolgans and the linguistically distant Tungusic-speaking Evenks and Evens living in Yakutia (Table S2). Hence, the N3a2 patrilineage is a prime example of a male population of broad central Siberian ancestry that is not intrinsic to any linguistically defined group of people. Moreover, the deepest branch of hg N3a2 is represented by a Lebanese and a Chinese sample. This finding agrees with the sequence data from Hallast et al., where one Turkish Y chromosome was also assigned to the same sub-clade. Interestingly, N3a2 was also found in one Bhutan individual who represents a separate sub-lineage in the clade. These findings show that although N3a2 reflects a recent strong founder effect primarily in central Siberia (Yakutia, Sakha), the sub-clade has a much wider distribution area with incidental occurrences in the Near East and South Asia.

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

The most striking aspect of the phylogeography of hg N is the spread of the N3a3’6-CTS6967 lineages. Considering the three geographically most distant populations in our study—Chukchi, Buryats, and Lithuanians—it is remarkable to find that about half of the Y chromosome pool of each consists of hg N3 and that they share the same sub-clade N3a3’6. The fractionation of N3a3’6 into the four sub-clades that cover such an extraordinarily wide area occurred in the mid-Holocene, about 5.0 kya (95% CI = 4.4–5.7 kya). It is hard to pinpoint the precise region where the split of these lineages occurred. It could have happened somewhere in the middle of their geographic spread around the Urals or further east in West Siberia, where current regional diversity of hg N sub-lineages is the highest (Figure 1B). Yet, it is evident that the spread of the newly arisen sub-clades of N3a3’6 in opposing directions happened very quickly. Today, it unites the East Baltic, East Fennoscandia, Buryatia, Mongolia, and Chukotka-Kamchatka (Beringian) Eurasian regions, which are separated from each other by approximately 5,000–6,700 km by air. N3a3’6 has high frequencies in the patrilineal pools of populations belonging to the Altaic, Uralic, several Indo-European, and Chukotko-Kamchatkan language families. There is no generally agreed, time-resolved linguistic tree that unites these linguistic phyla. Yet, their split is almost certainly at least several millennia older than the rather recent expansion signal of the N3a3’6 sub-clade, suggesting that its spread had little to do with linguistic affinities of men carrying the N3a3’6 lineages.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a3 / N1a1a1a1a1a-CTS2929/VL29.

It was thus clear long ago that N1c-L392 lineages must have expanded explosively in the 5th millennium through Northern Eurasia, probably from a region to the north of Lake Baikal, and that this expansion – and succeeding ones through Northern Eurasia – may not be associated to any known language group until well into the common era.


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.

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.

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:



Aquitanians and Iberians of haplogroup R1b are exactly like Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of haplogroup R1a


The final paper on Indo-Iranian peoples, by Narasimhan and Patterson (see preprint), is soon to be published, according to the first author’s Twitter account.

One of the interesting details of the development of Bronze Age Iberian ethnolinguistic landscape was the making of Proto-Iberian and Proto-Basque communities, which we already knew were going to show R1b-P312 lineages, a haplogroup clearly associated during the Bell Beaker period with expanding North-West Indo-Europeans:

From the Bronze Age (~2200–900 BCE), we increase the available dataset from 7 to 60 individuals and show how ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (Steppe ancestry) appeared throughout Iberia in this period, albeit with less impact in the south. The earliest evidence is in 14 individuals dated to ~2500–2000 BCE who coexisted with local people without Steppe ancestry. These groups lived in close proximity and admixed to form the Bronze Age population after 2000 BCE with ~40% ancestry from incoming groups. Y-chromosome turnover was even more pronounced, as the lineages common in Copper Age Iberia (I2, G2, and H) were almost completely replaced by one lineage, R1b-M269.

Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Beaker/Bronze Age populations in Iberians from the Middle Neolithic to the Iron Age (table S15). Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The arrival of East Bell Beakers speaking Indo-European languages involved, nevertheless, the survival of the two non-IE communities isolated from each other – likely stemming from south-western France and south-eastern Iberia – thanks to a long-lasting process of migration and admixture. There are some common misconceptions about ancient languages in Iberia which may have caused some wrong interpretations of the data in the paper and elsewhere:

NOTE. A simple reading of Iberian prehistory would be enough to correct these. Two recent books on this subject are Villar’s Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y otros parientes and Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas.

Iberian languages were spoken at least in the Mediterranean and the south (ca. “1/3 of Iberia“) during the Bronze Age.

Nope, we only know the approximate location of Iberian culture and inscriptions from the Late Iron Age, and they occupy the south-eastern and eastern coastal areas, but before that it is unclear where they were spoken. In fact, it seems evident now that the arrival of Urnfield groups from the north marks the arrival of Celtic-speaking peoples, as we can infer from the increase in Central European admixture, while the expansion of anthropomorphic stelae from the north-west must have marked the expansion of Lusitanian.

Vasconic was spoken in both sides of the Pyrenees, as it was in the Middle Ages.

Wrong. One of the worst mistakes I am seeing in many comments since the paper was published, although admittedly the paper goes around this problem talking about “Modern Basques”. Vasconic toponyms appear south of the Pyrenees only after the Roman conquests, and tribes of the south-western Pyrenees and Cantabrian regions were likely Celtic-speaking peoples. Aquitanians (north of the western Pyrenees) are the only known ancient Vasconic-speaking population in proto-historic times, ergo the arrival of Bell Beakers in Iberia was most likely accompanied by Indo-European languages which were later replaced by Celtic expanding from Central Europe, and Iberian expanding from south-east Iberia, and only later with Latin and Vasconic.

Ligurian is non-Indo-European, and Lusitanian is Celtic-like, so Iberia must have been mostly non-Indo-European-speaking.

The fragmentary material available on Ligurian is enough to show that phonetically it is a NWIE dialect of non-Celtic, non-Italic nature, much like Lusitanian; that is, unless you follow laryngeals up to Celtic or Italic, in which case you can argue anything about this or any other IE language, as people who reconstruct laryngeals for Baltic in the common era do.

EDIT (19 Mar 2019): It was not clear enough from this paragraph, because Ligurian-like languages in NE Iberia is just a hypothesis based on the archaeological connection of the whole southern France Bell Beaker region. My aim was to repeat the idea that Old European hydro-toponymy is older in NE Iberia (as almost anywhere in Iberia) than Iberian toponymy, so the initial hypothesis is that:

  1. a Palaeo-European language (as Villar puts it) expanded into most regions of Iberia in ancient times (he considered at some point the Mesolithic, but that is obviously wrong, as we know now); then
  2. Celts expanded at least to the Ebro River Basin; then
  3. Iberians expanded to the north and replaced these in NE Iberia; and only then
  4. after the Roman invasion, around the start of the Common Era, appear Vasconic toponyms south of the Pyrenees.

Lusitanian obviously does not qualify as Celtic, lacking the most essential traits that define Celticness…Unless you define “(Para-)Celtic” as Pre-Proto-Celtic-like, or anything of the sort to support some Atlantic continuity, in which case you can also argue that Pre-Italic or Pre-Germanic are Celtic, because you would be essentially describing North-West Indo-European

If Basques have R1b, it’s because of a culture of “matrilocality” as opposed to the “patrilocality” of Indo-Europeans

So wrong it hurts my eyes every time I read this. Not only does matrilocality in a regional group have few known effects in genetics, but there are many well-documented cases of population replacement (with either ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroups, or both) without language replacement, without a need to resort to “matrilineality” or “matrilocality” or any other cultural difference in any of these cases.

In fact, it seems quite likely now that isolated ancient peoples north of the Pyrenees will show a gradual replacement of surviving I2a lineages by neighbouring R1b, while early Iberian R1b-DF27 lineages are associated with Lusitanians, and later incoming R1b-DF27 lineages (apart from other haplogroups) are most likely associated with incoming Celts, which must have remained in north-central and central-east European groups.

NOTE. Notice how R1a is fully absent from all known early Indo-European peoples to date, whether Iberian IE, British IE, Italic, or Greek. The absence of R1a in Iberia after the arrival of Celts is even more telling of the origin of expanding Celts in Central Europe.

I haven’t had enough time to add Iberian samples to my spreadsheet, and hence neither to the ASoSaH texts nor maps/PCAs (and I don’t plan to, because it’s more efficient for me to add both, Asian and Iberian samples, at the same time), but luckily Maciamo has summed it up on Eupedia. Or, graphically depicted in the paper for the southeast:

Y chromosome haplogroup composition of individuals from southeast Iberia during the past 2000 years. The general Iberian Bronze and Iron Age population is included for comparison. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Does this continued influx of Y-DNA haplogroups in Iberia with different cultures represent permanent changes in language? Are, therefore, modern Iberian languages derived from Lusitanian, Sorothaptic/Celtic, Greek, Phoenician, East or West Germanic, Hebrew, Berber, or Arabic languages? Obviously not. Same with Italy (see the recent preprint on modern Italians by Raveane et al. 2018), with France, with Germany, or with Greece.

If that happens in European regions with a known ancient history, why would the recent expansions and bottlenecks of R1b in modern Basques (or N1c around the Baltic, or R1a in Slavs) in the Middle Ages represent an ancestral language surviving into modern times?


If something is clear from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018), is that we know finally the timing of the introduction and expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages among Indo-Iranians.

We could already propose since 2015 that a slow admixture happened in the steppes, based on archaeological finds, due to settlement elites dominating over common peoples, coupled with the known Uralic linguistic traits of Indo-Iranian (and known Indo-Iranian influence on Finno-Ugric) – as I did in the first version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

The new huge sampling of Sintashta – combined with that of Catacomb, Poltavka, Potapovka, Andronovo, and Srubna – shows quite clearly how this long-term admixture process between Uralic peoples and Indo-Iranians happened between forest-steppe CWC (mainly Abashevo) and steppe groups. The situation is not different from that of Iberia ca. 2500-2000 BC; from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018):

We combined the newly reported data from Kamennyi Ambar 5 with previously reported data from the Sintashta 5 individuals (10). We observed a main cluster of Sintashta individuals that was similar to Srubnaya, Potapovka, and Andronovo in being well modeled as a mixture of Yamnaya-related and Anatolian Neolithic (European agriculturalist-related) ancestry.

Even with such few words referring to one of the most important data in the paper about what happened in the steppes, Wang et al. (2018) help us understand what really happened with this simplistic concept of “steppe ancestry” regarding Yamna vs. Corded Ware differences:

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

As with Iberia (or any prehistoric region), the details of how exactly this language change happened are not evident, but we only need a plausible explanation coupled with archaeology and linguistics. Poltavka, Potapovka, and Sintashta samples – like the few available Iberian ones ca. 2500-2000 BC – offer a good picture of the cohabitation of R1b-L23 (mainly Z2103) and R1a-Z645 (mainly Z93+): a glimpse at the likely presence of R1a-Z93 within settlements – which must have evolved as the dominant elites – in a society where the majority of the population was initially formed by nomad herders (probably most R1b-Z2103), who were usually buried outside of the main settlements.

Will the upcoming Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) deal with this problem of how R1a-M417 replaced R1b-M269, and how the so-called “Steppe_MLBA” (i.e. Corded Ware) ancestry admixed with “Steppe_EMBA” (i.e. Yamnaya) ancestry in the steppes, and which one of their languages survived in the region (that is, the same the Reich Lab has done with Iberia)? Not likely. The ‘genetic wars’ in Iberia deal with haplogroup R1b-P312, and how it was neither ‘native’ nor associated with Basques and non-Indo-European peoples in general. The ‘genetic wars’ in South Asia are concerned with the steppe origin of R1a, to prove that it is not a ‘native’ haplogroup to India, and thus neither are Indo-Aryan languages. To each region a politically correct account of genetic finds, with enough care not to fully dismiss national myths, it seems.

NOTE. Funnily enough, these ‘genetic wars’ are the making of geneticists since the 1990s and 2000s, so we are still in the midst of mostly internal wars caused by what they write. Just as genetic papers of the 2020s will most likely be a reaction to what they are writing right now about “steppe ancestry” and R1a. You won’t find much change to the linguistic reconstruction in this whole period, except for the most multicolored glottochronological proposals…

The first author of the paper has engaged, as far as I could see in Twitter, in dialogue with Hindu nationalists who try to dismiss the arrival of steppe ancestry and R1a into South Asia as inconclusive (to support the potential origin of Sanskrit millennia ago in the Indus Valley Civilization). How can geneticists deal with the real problem here (the original ethnolinguistic group expanding with Corded Ware), when they have to fend off anti-steppists from Europe and Asia? How can they do it, when they themselves are part of the same societies that demand a politically correct presentation of data?

This is how the data on the most likely Indo-Iranian-speaking region should be presented in an ideal world, where – as in the Iberia paper – geneticists would look closely to the Volga-Ural region to discover what happened with Proto-Indo-Iranians from their earliest to their latest stage, instead of constantly looking for sites close to the Indus Valley to demonstrate who knows what about modern Indian culture:

Tentative map of the Late PIE and Indo-Iranian community in the Volga-Ural steppes since the Eneolithic. Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Now try and tell Hindu nationalists that Sanskrit expanded from an Early Bronze Age steppe community of R1b-rich nomadic herders that spoke Pre-Indo-Iranian, which was dominated and eventually (genetically) mostly replaced by elite Uralic-speaking R1a peoples from the Russian forest, hence the known phonetic (and some morphological) traits that remained. Good luck with the Europhobic shitstorm ahead..


Iberian cultures, already with a majority of R1b lineages, show a clear northward expansion over previously Urnfield-like groups of north-east Iberia and Mediterranean France (which we now know probably represent the migration of Celts from central Europe). Similarly, Eastern Balts already under a majority of R1a lineages expanded likely into the Baltic region at the same time as the outlier from Turlojiškė (ca. 1075 BC), which represents the first obvious contacts of central-east Europe with the Baltic.

Iberia shows a more recent influx of central and eastern Mediterranean peoples, one of which eventually succeeded in imposing their language in Western Europe: Romans were possibly associated mainly with R1b-U152, apart from many other lineages. Proto-Slavs probably expanded later than Celts, too, connected to the disintegration of the Lusatian culture, and they were at some point associated with R1a-M458 and R1a-Z280(xZ92) lineages, apart from others already found in Early Slavs.

PCA of central-eastern European groups which may have formed the Balto-Slavic-speaking community derived from Bell Beaker, evident from the position ‘westwards’ of CWC in the PCA, and surrounding cultures. Left: Early Bronze Age. Right: Tollense Valley samples.

This parallel between Iberia and eastern Europe is no coincidence: as Europe entered the Bronze Age, chiefdom-based systems became common, and thus the connection of ancestry or haplogroups with ethnolinguistic groups became weaker.

What happened earlier (and who may represent the Pre-Balto-Slavic community) will be clearer when we have enough eastern European samples, but basically we will be able to depict this admixture of NWIE-speaking BBC-derived peoples with Uralic-speaking CWC-derived groups (since Uralic is known to have strongly influenced Balto-Slavic), similar to the admixture found in Indo-Iranians, more or less like this:

Tentative map of the North-West Indo-European and Balto-Slavic community in central-eastern Europe since the East Bell Beaker expansion. Proportion of ancestry derived from Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The Early Scythian period marked a still stronger chiefdom-based system which promoted the creation of alliances and federation-like groups, with an earlier representation of the system expanding from north-eastern Europe around the Baltic Sea, precisely during the spread of Akozino warrior-traders (in turn related to the Scythian influence in the forest-steppes), who are the most likely ancestors of most N1c-V29 lineages among modern Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Volga-Finnic peoples.

Modern haplogroup+language = ancient ones?

It is not difficult to realize, then, that the complex modern genetic picture in Eastern Europe and around the Urals, and also in South Asia (like that of the Aegean or Anatolia) is similar to the Iron Age / medieval Iberian one, and that following modern R1a as an Indo-European marker just because some modern Indo-European-speaking groups showed it was always a flawed methodology; as flawed as following R1b for ancient Vasconic groups, or N1c for ancient Uralic groups.

Why people would argue that haplogroups mean continuity (e.g. R1b with Basques, N1c with Finns, R1a with Slavs, etc.) may be understood, if one lives still in the 2000s. Just like why one would argue that Corded Ware is Indo-European, because of Gimbutas’ huge influence since the 1960s with her myth of “Kurgan peoples”. Not many denied these haplogroup associations, because there was no reason to do it, and those who did usually aligned with a defense of descriptive archaeology.

However, it is a growing paradox that some people interested in genetics today would now, after the Iberian paper, need to:

  • accept that ancient Iberians and probably Aquitanians (each from different regions, and probably from different “Basque-Iberian dialects” in the Chalcolithic, if both were actually related) show eventually expansions with R1b-L23, the haplogroup most obviously associated with expanding Indo-Europeans;
  • acknowledge that modern Iberians have many different lineages derived from prehistoric or historic peoples (Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Goths, Berbers, Arabs), which have undergone different bottlenecks, the last ones during the Reconquista, but none of their languages have survived;
  • realize that a similar picture is to be found everywhere in central and western Europe since the first proto-historic records, with language replacement in spite of genetic continuity, such as the British Isles (and R1b-L21 continuity) after the arrival of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, or Normans;
  • but, at the same time, continue blindly asserting that haplogroup R1a + “steppe ancestry” represent some kind of supernatural combination which must show continuity with their modern Indo-Iranian or Balto-Slavic language from time immemorial.
Replacement of R1b-L23 lineages during the Early Bronze Age in eastern Europe and in the Eurasian steppes: emergence of R1a in previous Yamnaya and Bell Beaker territories. Modified from EBA Y-DNA map.

Behave, pretty please

The ‘conservative’ message espoused by some geneticists and amateur genealogists here is basically as follows:

  • Let’s not rush to new theories that contradict the 2000s, lest some people get offended by granddaddy not being these pure whatever wherever as they believed, and let’s wait some 5, 10, or 20 years, as long as necessary – to see if some corner of the Yamna culture shows R1a, or some region in north-eastern Europe shows N1c, or some Atlantic Chalcolithic sample shows R1b – to challenge our preferred theories, if we actually need to challenge anything at all, because it hurts too much.
  • Just don’t let many of these genetic genealogists or academics of our time be unhappy, pretty please with sugar on top, and let them slowly adapt to reality with more and more pet theories to fit everything together (past theories + present data), so maybe when all of them are gone, within 50 or 70 years, society can smoothly begin to move on and propose something closer to reality, but always as politically correct as possible for the next generations.
  • For starters, let’s discuss now (yet again) that Bell Beakers may not have been Indo-European at all, despite showing (unlike Corded Ware) clearly Yamna male lineages and ancestry, because then Corded Ware and R1a could not have been Indo-European and that’s terrible, so maybe Bell Beakers are too brachycephalic to speak Indo-European or something, or they were stopped by the Fearsome Tisza River, or they are not pure Dutch Single Grave in The South hence not Indo-European, or whatever, and that’s why Iron Age Iberians or Etruscans show non-Indo-European languages. That’s not disrespectful to the history of certain peoples, of course not, but talking about the evident R1a-Uralic connection is, because this is The South, not The North, and respect works differently there.
  • Just don’t talk about how Slavs and Balts enter history more than 1,500 years later than Indo-European peoples in Western and Southern Europe, including Iberia, and assume a heroic continuity of Balts and Slavs as pure R1a ‘steppe-like’ peoples dominating over thousands of kms. in the Baltic, Fennoscandia, eastern Europe, and northern Asia for 5,000 years, with multiple Balto-Slavs-over-Balto-Slavs migrations, because these absolute units of Indo-European peoples were a trip and a half. They are the Asterix and Obelix of white Indo-European prehistory.
  • Perhaps in the meantime we can also invent some new glottochronological dialectal scheme that fits the expansion of Sredni Stog/Corded Ware with (Germano-?)Indo-Slavonic separated earlier than any other Late PIE dialect; and Finno-Volgaic later than any other Uralic dialect, in the Middle Ages, with N1c.
Genetic structure of the Balto-Slavic populations within a European context according to the three genetic systems, from Kushniarevich et al. (2015). Pure Balto-Slavs from…hmm…yeah this…ancient…region…or people…cluster…Whatever, very very steppe-like peoples, the True Indo-Europeans™, so close to Yamna…almost as close as Finno-Ugrians.

To sum up: Iberia, Italy, France, the British Isles, central Europe, the Balkans, the Aegean, or Anatolia, all these territories can have a complex history of periodic admixture and language replacement everywhere, but some peoples appearing later than all others in the historical record (viz. Basques or Slavs) apparently cannot, because that would be shameful for their national or ethnic myths, and these should be respected.

Ignorance of the own past as a blank canvas to be filled in with stupid ethnolinguistic continuity, turned into something valuable that should not be challenged. Ethnonationalist-like reasoning proper of the 19th century. How can our times be called ‘modern’ when this kind of magical thinking is still prevalent, even among supposedly well-educated people?


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


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

“Sredni Stog”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classical Corded Ware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corded Ware ancestry marked the expansion of Uralians

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

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

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

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

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

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