More Celts of hg. R1b, more Afanasievo ancestry, more maps


Interesting recent developments:

Celts and hg. R1b


Recent paper (behind paywall) Multi-scale archaeogenetic study of two French Iron Age communities: From internal social- to broad-scale population dynamics, by Fischer et al. J Archaeol Sci (2019).

In it, Fischer and colleagues update their previous data for the Y-DNA of Gauls from the Urville-Nacqueville necropolis, Normandy (ca. 300-100 BC), with 8 samples of hg. R, at least 5 of them R1b. They also report new data from the Gallic cemetery at Gurgy ‘Les Noisats’, Southern Paris Basin (ca. 120-80 BC), with 19 samples of hg. R, at least 13 of them R1b.

In both cases, it is likely that both communities belonged (each) to the same paternal lineages, hence the patrilocal residence rules and patrilineality described for Gallic groups, also supported by the different maternal gene pools.

The interesting data would be whether these individuals were of hg. R1b-L21, hence mainly local lineages later replaced or displaced to the west, or – a priori much more likely – of some R1b-U152 and/or R1b-DF27 subclades from Central Europe that became less and less prevalent as Celts expanded into more isolated regions south of the Pyrenees and into the British Isles. Such information is lacking in the paper, probably due to the poor coverage of the samples.

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during the Early Iron Age. See full map.

Other Celts

As for early Celts, we already have:

Celtiberians from the Basque Country (one of hg. I2a) and likely Celtic genetic influence in north-east Iberia (all R1b), where Iberian languages spread later, showing that Celts expanded from some place in Central Europe, probably already with the Urnfield culture (ca. 1300 BC on).

Two Hallstatt samples from Bylany, Bohemia (ca. 836-780 BC), by Damgaard et al. Nature (2018), one of them of hg. R1b-U152.

Photo and diagram of burial HÜ-I/8, Mitterkirchen, Oberösterreich, Leskovar 1998.

Another Hallstatt HaC/D1 sample from Mittelkirchen, Austria (ca. 850-650/600), by Kiesslich et al. (2012), with predicted hg. G2a (see Athey’s haplogroup prediction).

One sample of early La Tène culture A from Putzenfeld am Dürrnberg, Hallein, Austria (ca 450–380 BC), by Kiesslich et al. (2012), with predicted hg. R1b (see Athey’s haplogroup prediction).

NOTE. For potential unreliability of haplogroup prediction with Whit Atheys’ haplogroup predictor, see e.g. Zhang et al. (2017).

Photo and diagram of Burial 376, Putzenfeld, Dürrnberg bei Hallein, Moser 2007.

Three Britons from Hinxton, South Cambridgeshire (ca. 170 BC – AD 80) from Schiffels et al. (2016), two of them of local hg. R1b-S461.

Indirectly, data of Vikings by Margaryan et al. (2019) from the British Isles and beyond show hg. R1b associated with modern British-like ancestry, also linked to early “Picts”, hence likely associated with Britons even after the Anglo-Saxon settlement. Supporting both (1) my recent prediction of hg. R1b-M167 expanding with Celts and (2) the reason for its presence among modern Scandinavians, is the finding of the first ancient sample of this subclade (VK166) among the Vikings of St John’s College Oxford, associated with the ‘St Brice’s Day Massacre’ (see Margaryan et al. 2019 supplementary materials).

The R1b-M167 sample shows 23.5% British-like ancestry, hence autosomally closer to other local samples (and related to the likely Picts from Orkney) than to some of his deceased partners at the site. Other samples with sizeable British-like ancestry include VK177 (32.6%, hg. R1b-U152), VK173 (33.3%, hg. I2a1b1a), or VK150 (25.6%, hg. I2a1b1a), while typical Germanic subclades like I1 or R1b-U106 – which may be associated with Anglo-Saxons, too – tend to show less.

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during the Late Iron Age. See full map.

I remember some commenter asking recently what would happen to the theory of Proto-Indo-European-speaking R1b-rich Yamnaya culture if Celts expanded with hg. R1a, because there were only one hg. R1b and one (possibly) G2a from Hallstatt. As it turns out, they were mostly R1b. However, the increasingly frequent obsession of searching for specific haplogroups and ancestry during the Iron Age and the Middle Ages is weird, even as a desperate attempt, because:

  1. it is evident that the more recent the ancient DNA samples are, the more they are going to resemble modern populations of the same area, so ancient DNA would become essentially useless;
  2. cultures from the early Iron Age onward (and even earlier) were based on increasingly complex sociopolitical systems everywhere, which is reflected in haplogroup and ancestry variability, e.g. among Balts, East Germanic peoples, Slavs (of hg. E1b-V13, I2a-L621), or Tocharians.

In fact, even the finding of hg. R1b among Celts of central and western Europe during the Iron Age is rather unenlightening, because more specific subclades and information on ancestry changes are needed to reach any meaningful conclusion as to migration vs. acculturation waves of expanding Celtic languages, which spread into areas that were mostly Indo-European-speaking since the Bell Beaker expansion.

Afanasevo ancestry in Asia

Wang and colleagues continue to publish interesting analyses, now in the preprint Inland-coastal bifurcation of southern East Asians revealed by Hmong-Mien genomic history, by Xia et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpt (emphasis mine):

Although the Devil’s Cave ancestry is generally the predominant East Asian lineage in North Asia and adjacent areas, there is an intriguing discrepancy between the eastern [Korean, Japanese, Tungusic (except northernmost Oroqen), and Mongolic (except westernmost Kalmyk) speakers] and the western part [West Xiōngnú (~2,150 BP), Tiānshān Hun (~1,500 BP), Turkic-speaking Karakhanid (~1,000 BP) and Tuva, and Kalmyk]. Whereas the East Asian ancestry of populations in the western part has entirely belonged to the Devil’s Cave lineage till now, populations in the eastern part have received the genomic influence from an Amis-related lineage (17.4–52.1%) posterior to the presence of the Devil’s Cave population roughly in the same region (~7,600 BP)12. Analogically, archaeological record has documented the transmission of wet-rice cultivation from coastal China (Shāndōng and/or Liáoníng Peninsula) to Northeast Asia, notably the Korean Peninsula (Mumun pottery period, since ~3,500 BP) and the Japanese archipelago (Yayoi period, since ~2,900 BP)2. Especially for Japanese, the Austronesian-related linguistic influence in Japanese may indicate a potential contact between the Proto-Japonic speakers and population(s) affiliating to the coastal lineage. Thus, our results imply that a southern-East-Asian-related lineage could be arguably associated with the dispersal of wet-rice agriculture in Northeast Asia at least to some extent.

Spatial and temporal distribution of ancestries in East Asians. Reference populations and corresponding hypothesized ancestral populations: (1) Devil’s Cave (~7,600 BP), the northern East Asian lineage; (2) Amis, the southern East Asian lineage (= AHM + AAA + AAN); (3) Hòabìnhian (~7,900 BP), a lineage related to Andamanese and indigenous hunter-gatherer of MSEA; (4) Kolyma (~9,800 BP), “Ancient Palaeo-Siberians”; (5) Afanasievo (~4,800 BP), steppe ancestry; (6) Namazga (~5,200 BP), the lineage of Chalcolithic Central Asian. Here, we report the best-fitting results of qpAdm based on following criteria: (1) a feasible p-value (&mt; 0.05), (2) feasible proportions of all the ancestral components (mean &mt; 0 and standard error < mean), and (3) with the highest p-value if meeting previous conditions.

In this case, the study doesn’t compare Steppe_MLBA, though, so the findings of Afanasievo ancestry have to be taken with a pinch of salt. They are, however, compared to Namazga, so “Steppe ancestry” is there. Taking into account the limited amount of Yamnaya-like ancestry that could have reached the Tian Shan area with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon in the Iron Age (see here), and the amount of Yamnaya-like ancestry that appears in some of these populations, it seems unlikely that this amount of “Steppe ancestry” would emerge as based only on Steppe_MLBA, hence the most likely contacts of Turkic peoples with populations of both Afanasievo (first) and Corded Ware-derived ancestry (later) to the west of Lake Baikal.

(1) The simplification of ancestral components into A vs. B vs. C… (when many were already mixed), and (2) the simplistic selection of one OR the other in the preferred models (such as those published for Yamnaya or Corded Ware), both common strategies in population genomics pose evident problems when assessing the actual gene flow from some populations into others.

Also, it seems that when the “Steppe”-like contribution is small, both Yamnaya and Corded Ware ancestry will be good fits in admixed populations of Central Asia, due to the presence of peoples of EHG-like (viz. West Siberia HG) and/or CHG-like (viz. Namazga) ancestry in the area. Unless and until these problems are addressed, there is little that can be confidently said about the history of Yamnaya vs. Corded Ware admixture among Asian peoples.

Maps, maps, and more maps

As you have probably noticed if you follow this blog regularly, I have been experimenting with GIS software in the past month or so, trying to map haplogroups and ancestry components (see examples for Vikings, Corded Ware, and Yamnaya). My idea was to show the (pre)historical evolution of ancestry and haplogroups coupled with the atlas of prehistoric migrations, but I have to understand first what I can do with GIS statistical tools.

My latest exercise has been to map modern haplogroup distribution (now added to the main menu above) using data from the latest available reports. While there have been no great surprises – beyond the sometimes awful display of data by some papers – I think it is becoming clearer with each new publication how wrong it was for geneticists to target initially those populations considered “isolated” – hence subject to strong founder effects – to extrapolate language relationships. For example:

  • The mapping of R1b-M269, in particular basal subclades, corresponds nicely with the Indo-European expansions.
  • There is no clear relationship of R1b, not even R1b-DF27 (especially basal subclades), with Basques. There is no apparent relationship between the distribution of R1b-M269 and some mythical non-Indo-European “Old Europeans”, like Etruscans or Caucasian speakers, either.
  • Basal R1a-M417 shows an interesting distribution, as do maps of basal Z282 and Z93 subclades, despite the evident late bottlenecks and acculturation among Slavs.
  • The distribution of hg. N1a-VL29 (and other N1a-L392 subclades) is clearly dissociated from Uralic peoples, and their expansion in the whole Baltic Sea during the Iron Age doesn’t seem to be related to any specific linguistic expansion.
  • haplogroup-n1a-vl29
    Modern distribution of haplogroup N1a-VL29. See full map.
  • Even the most recent association in Post et al. (2019) with hg. N1a-Z1639 – due to the lack of relationship of Uralic with N1a-VL29 – seems like a stretch, seeing how it probably expanded from the Kola Peninsula and the East Urals, and neither the Lovozero Ware nor forest hunter-fishers of the Cis- and Trans-Urals regions were Uralic-speaking cultures.
  • The current prevalence of hg. R1b-M73 supports its likely expansion with Turkic-speaking peoples.
  • The distribution of haplogroup R1b-V88 in Africa doesn’t look like it was a mere founder effect in Chadic peoples – although they certainly underwent a bottleneck under it.
  • The distribution of R1a-M420 (xM198) and hg. R1b-M343 (possibly not fully depicted in the east) seem to be related to expansions close to the Caucasus, supporting once more their location in Eastern Europe / West Siberia during the Mesolithic.
  • The mapping of E1b-V13 and I-M170 (I haven’t yet divided it into subclades) are particularly relevant for the recent eastward expansion of early Slavic peoples.

All in all, modern haplogroup distribution might have been used to ascertain prehistoric language movements even in the 2000s. It was the obsession with (and the wrong assumptions about) the “purity” of certain populations – say, Basques or Finns – what caused many of the interpretation problems and circular reasoning we are still seeing today.

I have also updated maps of Y-chromosome haplogroups reported for ancient samples in Europe and/or West Eurasia for the Early Eneolithic, Early Chalcolithic, Late Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Late Iron Age, Antiquity, and Middle Ages.

Haplogroup inference

I have also tried Yleaf v.2 – which seems like an improvement over the infamous v.1 – to test some samples that hobbyists and/or geneticists have reported differently in the past. I have posted the results in this ancient DNA haplogroup page. It doesn’t mean that the inferences I obtain are the correct ones, but now you have yet another source to compare.

Not many surprises here, either:

  • M15-1 and M012, two Proto-Tocharians from Shirenzigou, are of hg. R1b-PH155, not R1b-M269.
  • I0124, the Samara HG, is of hg. R1b-P297, but uncertain for both R1b-M73 and R1b-M269.
  • I0122, the Khvalynsk chieftain, is of hg. R1b-V1636.
  • I2181, the Smyadovo outlier of poor coverage, is possibly of hg. R, and could be of hg. R1b-M269, but could also be even non-P.
  • I6561 from Alexandria is probably of hg. R1a-M417, likely R1a-Z645, maybe R1a-Z93, but can’t be known beyond that, which is more in line with the TMRCA of R1a subclades and the radiocarbon date of the sample.
  • I2181, the Yamnaya individual (supposedly Pre-R1b-L51) at Lopatino II is R1b-M269, negative for R1b-L51. Nothing beyond that.

You can ask me to try mapping more data or to test the haplogroup of more samples, provided you give me a proper link to the relevant data, they are interesting for the subject of this blog…and I have the time to do it.


European hydrotoponymy (V): Etruscans and Rhaetians after Italic peoples


There is overwhelming evidence that the oldest hydrotoponymic layer in Italy (and especially Etruria) is of Old European nature, which means that non-Indo-European-speaking (or, at least, non-Old-European-speaking) Etruscans came later to the Apennine Peninsula.

Furthermore, there is direct and indirect linguistic, archaeological, and palaeogenomic data supporting that the intrusive Tursānoi came from the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age, possibly through the Adriatic, and that their languages spread to Etruria and probably also to the eastern Alps.

Hydrotoponymic layer

The following are translated excerpts (emphasis mine) from Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental, by Villar et al. Universidad de Salamanca (2007):

Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental (2007). Buy the ebook online (or the printed version, if available).

‘(Indo-)Mediterranean’ substrate?

The name Indo-Mediterranean substrate was spread in Italy by the work of V. Pisani. Other Italian scholars continued this idea, such as W. Belardi, L. Heilmann, D. Silvestri, etc. In their hands, the nuclear area of ​​the Indo-Mediterranean substratum was established as follows: “il mondo culturale indomediterráneo trova i suoi più importanti centri di gravitazione (e, soltanto secondariamente, di espansione) nel Mediterràneo Orientale (Creta, Cipro, Asia Minore), nella ‘regione dei due fiumi’ (area di espansione subarea) e nella valle dell’Indo (civiltà de Harappa e Mohenjo Daro)”. From there they could have spread to other areas, such as the western Mediterranean. Even at one point there was talk of “a Mediterranean oasis in the Baltic”, whose main basis was the existence of numerous lexical elements, real or supposedly pre-Indo-European in the Baltic languages.

One of the paradoxes of the theory of the Mediterranean substrate is that the lexical or toponymic components that are attributed to it can rarely be explained etymologically from the surviving languages ​​of said supposed substrate; sometimes they are not even very compatible with what we know of the non-Indo-European languages ​​of the corresponding area. For example, neither Basque nor Iberian have an ancestral and autochthonous phoneme /p/, while that phoneme is frequent in substrate words (cf. among the few mentioned above *pal- and *lap-). In fact, for these three languages ​​other alternative origins have been imagined, so that they would not be representatives of the local substrate: Basque (North Africa, the Caucasus), Iberian (North Africa), Etruscan (Asia Minor). Thus, under such hypotheses the non-Indo-European languages ​​attested in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula would not be autochthonous, but as immigrant as the Indo-European languages.

Akʷa hydronyms. The majority of old serial elements are found in Italy, with 9, where they don’t appear as second element. Different to the southern areas, they are found in especially frequent compounds in the acha-Namen in Germany, and hyper-represented (as usual) in Lithuania, which shows strictly 8 ancient names.

Italy and Iberia

Let’s review data on Italy:

I. Serial tponyms and hydronyms of Italy:

  1. ub-: Caecubus, Egubium, Litubium, Marrubium, Olobia, Rutuba, Tardoba, Tardubius, Verubius, etc.
  2. uc-: Aluca, Arucia, Arugus, Ausucum, Ausugum, Motuca, Uccia.
  3. ur-: Orinos, Stura, Stura, Astura, Tibur, Caburrum, Calorem.
  4. urc-: Coturga, Orgus, Urcia, Urcinia, Urgo.
  5. bai-: Baebiani.
  6. tuc-: Tucianus (pagus).
  7. murc-: Murcia, Murgantia, Murgantia.
  8. *war: Varduli, Barduli.


II. Non-serial toponyms and hydronyms of Italy: Aesis, Aisis, Ana, Ania, Anios, Arsia, Astura, Ausa, Ausonia, Ausculum, Bardinisca vallis, Barduli, Basentius, Basta, Boron, Cabienses (Cabia), Caburrum, Cales, Cales, Casta Ballenis, Ceresium, Cerili, Corsica, Cortona, Curicum, Ispelum, Ispila, Isporos, Istonium, Istria, lacus, Latis, Latium, Laurentum, Laurentes, Luca, Lucania, Lucera, Maleventum, mare, Marrucini, Minio, Minius, Oscela, Osci, Ossa, Ostia, Paestum, Pisaurum, Pisaurus, Sabini, Sagis, Savo, Sila, Silarus, Silis, Soletum, etc.


Not few of the coincident place names between the southern Iberian and Italic material are rigorous cognates. We understand by such the names that not only coincide in the root or in the serial element, but in the whole root set plus suffixes, or – if it is a compound – in the two sets of roots plus suffixes. In addition to the ones that we are going to present below, there are others that we did not mention because the Iberian correlate was not found within the southern group, but in other geographical areas, as is the case, for example, with the Italian Mantua and the Spanish Mantua (Carpetania).

As can be seen, the parallels between the southern Iberian toponymic area and the Italic one are so wide and strict that the mere calculation of probabilities makes any attempt to attribute them to the mere chance of random homophony irrational. And the improbability of chance increases as coincidences are added in new places in Europe. What will not prevent, for sure, that some would resort to it as an explanation, in particular those who are reluctant to abandon the conception of the prehistory of the European continent that underlies their usual approaches, which suffer an irreparable strike when they are confronted with these data.

The second aspect, the compatibility of this material with Indo-European etymology, offers another significant correlation: the “southern” series that are also found in the Ibero-Pyrenean region and in Italy (and the rest of western Europe) are compatible with Indo-European etymologies; (…)

I will spare the reader of all proposed Indo-European etymologies, most of which are fairly evident. Those interested should buy one of the books, or both.



(…) in the whole of Italy there is a considerable collection of toponyms and hydronyms of “Southern Iberian” type, whose joint inventory we have contributed to above. From them we find in Etruria Ause, Veturris / Bituriza, Castola, Hasta, Cortona, Luca, Minio, Osa / Ossa, Pissai, Pistoria. The Hispanic and Italian correlates of those names are:


However, the inventory of ancient names and hydronyms of Etruria compatible without discussion with well-known Indo-European etymologies is much wider: Albina, Alma, Alsium, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Aventia, Marta, Pallia, Umbro, Vetulonium, Volsinii. Furthermore, the majority of Etrurian hydronyms have non-Latin Indo-European etymology: Albina, Alma, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Auser, Aventia, Marta, Minio, Osa, Ossa, Pallia, Umbro. And very few of the others (Clusinus, Cremera, Lingeus, Trasumenus, Vesidia) could claim an Etruscan etymology, if only one could do so.

In summary, the territory occupied by Etruscans presents a hydro-toponymic situation very similar to that of the rest of Italy and Western Europe: it exhibits a very deep toponymic stratum of Indo-European character to which most hydronyms attested in antiquity belong. As we know the history of Etruria from the end of the 1st millennium BC, and we know that no other Indo-European peoples mediated between the Etruscans and the Romanization of the territory, we must conclude that this ancient toponymy was there before the Etruscans arrived or emerged in that place. And, when the Etruscans settled there, they did not have the opportunity to put names of their language to the rivers in general, because they had already received them from a previous people and the Etruscans limited themselves to learning them, adapting them to their language, and transmitting them in turn to the Romans. When the latter Romanized Etruria, they limited themselves to incorporating those names and adapting them to Latin.



The ‘foreign’ Tyrsenians

Here is a recapitulation of the main reasons why Etruscans were recently intrusive to Italy, as they appeared in The Origin of the Etruscans, by Beekes (2003):

NOTE. You can read another version of the text in PDF, as the main paper from Biblioteca Orientalis LIX(3-4) 2002.

  1. The tradition as given by Herodotus and Dionysius of Halikarnassos.
  2. The story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians.
  3. The use of the term ‘Tyrsēnoi’ for both Etruscans and a people in north-western Asia Minor. Above we argued that the eastern Tyrsēnoi are the remnant of a population. This means that the Tyrsēnoi/Etruscans came from this area.
  4. The Lemnos inscription.
  5. To the testimony of Lemnos must now be added that Herodotus says that the people of Plakiê and Skylakê spoke the same language as the Etruscans.
  6. etruscan-homeland

  7. The kumdanlı inscription. (…) lake Egridir (of which the old name is unknown, unless it was just Limnai). This is just over the border of classical Lydia. The inscription dates from the second century ad and is given by Ramsay (i883); the same inscription is cited by Sundwall (i9i3, 22i). It mentions three people as Tyrsēnoi(67, 68, i02). Though very late, the inscription is of great interest, as it is the only time that we have inscriptional evidence for Tyrsēnoi in Asia Minor. (And nobody will argue that these were Etruscans from Italy.) (…)
  8. The suffix -ānos. The suffix -ānos in the name Tyrsēnoi (with ē from ā) points to the north-west of Asia Minor. It has long since been recognized that this suffix for ethnic names is at home in north-west Asia Minor; some think that it is of non-Greek origin; cf. Αβυδηνός , Ολυμπιηνός, Περγαμηνός, Σαρδηνός; (see Chantraine i933, 206; Schwyzer 490 (6); De Simone i993, 88ff.). This proves that the name Tyrsēnoi originated in the north-west of Asia Minor. (…)
  9. Loanwords. As to the language, Steinbauer (i999, 367) observes that Etruscan shows most connections (loanwords) with Lydian (…)
  10. Tarchon. The definite proof of the oriental origin of the Etruscans is that a ‘hero’ of great significance is Tarchon (Briquel i99i). He is clearly the Stormgod Tarhun(t)-, the highest god of the Luwians and Hittites.
  11. Nanas. This identification is strongly confirmed by the story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians who came from Greece under Nanas (Nanos), mentioned by Hellanikos. This name was long ago recognized as an Anatolian ‘Lallname’.
  12. The triumphus complex. In his study of the Roman triumphus Versnel has shown that (i970, 293): ‘the Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor, together with the god who formed the centre of it, a god whom the Greeks called Dionysos, the Etruscans Tinia (or by an Italic name Voltumna), a figure of the ‘dying and rising’ type, who was invoked by the cry *thriambe and who on New Year’s Day was represented by the king.’ And on p. 300: ‘The Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor and gave Rome two ceremonies: the ludi Romani as the festival of the New Year, the triumph as the festival of the victory. … Only along this way is it possible to explain the data: i. the Dionysiac call to epiphany triumpe, introduced via Etruria; 2. the identification of the Roman victorious general and of the magistrate leading the games with the god Iuppiter; 3. the typological and historic relation between the ludi Romani and the triumph.’
  13. The double axe. On a smaller issue Versnel concludes (p. 299): ‘When this bipennis [‘double axe’], property of ‘Zeus Bakchos’, carried as symbol of sacred power by Lydian kings, is encountered again as the symbol of the royal authority of the Etruscan kings, particularly of the supreme king of the federation of cities, this may be considered an important indication of the Asia Minor origin of the entire underlying ideology, and of the ceremony of investiture in which the bipennis played a part.’ These conclusions are of primary importance, as they concern a deeprooted complex of religious views that cannot have been taken over from elsewhere.
  14. The Kabeiroi. One might also recall the Latin word camillus, which means a young boy of noble birth who assists with ritual actions. (…) Probably more evidence can be found in the field of religion, such as the much discussed hepatoscopy. It seems quite probable to me that the lituus, the crosier used by the Roman priests, is Anatolian (see e.g. Wainwright i959, 2i0; cf. Haas i99i, Abb. 75, the Stormgod standing on an animal with his lituus over his shoulder).
  15. The Etruscan way of life. There was in antiquity much criticism on Etruscan customs, concerning cruelty, sexual behaviour, and the behaviour of women. (…) Dionysius concluded from the fact that they were so strange that they had always lived in Italy, whereas it is of course much more natural to explain it by assuming that they were strangers.
  16. No withdrawal area. We have seen above that Tuscany is not a ‘withdrawal area’, where an ancient people may hold out when the country is invaded. On the contrary, it is a desirable area which the Indo-European peoples, had they come later, would certainly have occupied. (But it went the other way: the Etruscans came long after the Indo-Europeans and settled there/conquered the country.)
  17. sea-peoples-expansion-tyrsenians
    The Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean c. 1200 BC. Map by Ian Mladjov.
  18. Archaeology. Many scholars would like to see archaeological evidence, but I think that it is quite possible that we shall never find any.
  19. The 1200 crisis. In 1200 the whole Mediterranean was in commotion; the Mycenaean and Hittite worlds, between which the TyrseOEnoi lived, disappeared. So the movement of the Etruscans fits very well in the general picture. That this was the setting of the migration of the Etruscans has been assumed by many earlier scholars.
  20. The ten saecula. As to the time, it has been argued that the Etruscans thought that their world would last ten saecula (Briquel i999, 58; Pfiffig i975, i59ff.). The way of counting provides several problems, however (…) If we accept it, we arrive at 968 bc. Now we do not know from when one started counting. This might have been a decisive victory over the Umbrians, or a kind of unification of the Etruscans, or the founding of an important city. It could well be that this was some 200 years after the arrival of the Etruscans, which would take us to 1168 bc. (…)
  21. The famine. Herodotus states that the reason for the departure of the Tyrsēnoi was a long famine. This has been identified as the famine about i200. (…)
  22. The sea-peoples. (…) The phenomenon as a whole stands, it seems; the problem is the details: which peoples took part in which movements? In our case, as the Lukka are mentioned (which were very probably the Lycians), the Tyrsēnoi may have been involved as well. So the question is whether the T(w)r(w)š, mentioned by Merneptah, were the Tyrsēnoi. We have no confirmation, but it seems quite possible.
  23. The journey. We know from the abundant finds of ceramics in the i3th century that the Mycenaeans knew the sea-route to Italy. (…)
  24. The Umbrians. Pliny (3, ii2) states that the Etruscans conquered 300 cities from the Umbrians (Trecenta eorum oppida Tusci debellasse reperiuntur.). This clearly refers to the ‘Landnahme’. This statement is confirmed by the river Umbro (mod. Ombrone), which flows in its full length in Etruscan territory. The river will have given its name to the people, or vice versa. Anyhow, the river will have flowed in Umbrian territory; so the Etruscans must have pushed the Umbrians out.
  25. The name Sergestus, of a prominent friend of Aeneas, seems identical with Lydian Srkastu- and Phrygian Surkastos (…) it is excluded that (Virgil) got it from Lydia or Phrygia, or Asa Minor in general. So he must have got it at home, from a source that was acqainted with Etruscan traditions. This means that the name was known to the Etruscans (or those who studied their traditions). Above I proposed that it lives on in Etr. Sekst-alu-.

You can read the full text (and its appendices) for further evidences adduced by Beekes, who considers the matter mostly settled.

Local Italic peoples

Another main reason for the intrusion of Tyrsenians among local groups is the ancient connection between Italic languages, which most likely formed an ancient Apennine dialect continuum:

  • the core Italic group with Latino-Faliscan and Palaeo-Sabellic – probably also including an Ausonian-Siculian branch – separated ca. 1500-1000 BC;
  • NOTE. Sicel is believed to have arrived in Sicily with Ausonian-Siculian speakers either around the 13th c. or in the middle of the 11th c. BC (or in both waves), from their ancient settlements in the mainland, driving prior inhabitants (Elymians) to the east of the island, which sets another clear terminus ante quem for the expansion of Italic languages in southern Italy.

  • and the possibly more distantly related North Picene and Venetic, connecting all roughly to an early to mid-2nd millennium BC language.

This continuum was probably broken (with language replacement and displacement events) with the 12th c. BC turmoil and the emergence of new social hierarchies. The adoption of older place and river names, as well as the lack of long-lasting influence on neighbouring languages, suggests that the predominance of the Etruscan language in its proto-historic territory was probably gradual and quite recent.

NOTE. For more on guesstimates, relative chronological expansions and potential archaeological identifications, see e.g. “Ausgliederung und Aufgliederung der italischen Sprachen”, by Helmut Rix In: Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003). Or, basically, any recent (linguistic) text on the distribution and attribution of ancient Apennine languages to the Ital(o-Venet)ic group.

Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands. Italo-Venetic languages surrounded with shadowed red border. I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, North Picene; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; IE5, Messapian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic; N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan; N3, Nuragic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.


The main criticism against this ethnolinguistic model of foreign Tyrsenians comes, surprisingly, from the lack of archaeological data to support this arrival. Or, rather, fitting anthropological interpretations of a culture of Asia Minor with similar hierarchical societies (?). From Review of R. S. P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans, by Mahoney, Etruscan Studies (2008):

A crucial part of Beekes’ argument, however, is that there is a significant cultural break in Etruria around 1200, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age or Proto-Villanovan period (p. 34, citing Briquel and Torelli). The introduction of cremation can be dated to around this period, and there is also evidence for a new hierarchical social organization (convenient summary in Barker and Rasmussen, p. 53-60). Beekes simply says that there is a change, and changes of this sort can come about when new people move in to an existing society, so therefore this change is consistent with his theory. That is correct as far as it goes, but what is missing is any consideration of how and why people coming in from Asia Minor would cause the particular changes that take place in Etruria. Can we argue that the society of the pre-migration Tyrsenians was hierarchical in the same way as those of the various Indo-European-speaking peoples in the region? Beekes simply says “what we still would like to have is material objects, or art traditions etc., from Etruria agreeing with their homeland” (p. 34). What we would really like to have is evidence for the organization of society in this alleged homeland.

Weird as this criticism is, here it is yet another example of the social change brought about under Eastern Mediterranean influences during the Final Bronze Age, from a recent paper (behind paywall) Mobile elites at Frattesina: flows of people in a Late Bronze Age ‘port of trade’ in northern Italy, by Cavazzuti et al. Antiquity (2019):


The collapse of the Terramare system c. 1150 BC was followed by a sudden and substantial depopulation of the central part of the Po Plain (Cardarelli 2009). At the beginning of the Final Bronze Age, the southern part of the Po Valley was almost abandoned. In contrast, in the northern part of the Po Valley, some villages survived (…) Concurrently, a new territorial system arose, pivoting around the socio-economic pole of Frattesina (Calzavara Capuis et al. 1984; Bietti Sestieri et al. 2015; Cupitò et al. 2015). Therefore, within the area of the wider Terramare ‘culture’, local responses to the crisis led to different outcomes, some of which were relatively successful and others catastrophic. Economic factors—both in terms of internal carrying capacity and degree of openness to external relations—probably played a key role in determining different responses to the tensions.

The communities of the Terramare, especially in the southern area, were probably not flexible enough to adapt their political structure and modes of production to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Moreover, the domino effect from the overall geo-political instability of the twelfth century BC, in a highly interconnected system such as the Mediterranean, was undoubtedly another factor (Cardarelli 2009). The lack of evidence in the southern Terramare area for connections with the Aegean and the Levant suggests a more ‘closed’ system located on the edge of the ‘globalised’ world of the Late Bronze Age. In contrast, there is well-documented evidence from the largest terramare on the northern side of the Po River for possible incipient institutionalised, well-connected elites—particularly at Fondo Paviani, which has yielded locally produced pottery in Levantine and Late Helladic IIIC Aegean-Mycenaean styles (Bettelli et al. 2015).

The display of austere equality that dominated the Middle and Late Bronze Age ‘urnfields’ (Salzani 2005; Cardarelli 2014) strongly limited funerary expressions of social differentiation. Internal inequalities nonetheless existed between different co-resident extended families and lineages comprising tens of individuals at most (e.g. at Casinalbo; Cardarelli et al. 2014: 722–28), and, above all, between large centres, such as the terramara at Fondo Paviani and dependent satellite settlements (Balista et al. 2005; Cupitò et al. 2015). It seems reasonable therefore to hypothesise that groups based at nodal sites in the system attracted more prestige goods from exotic places, along with individuals from distant areas, while small villages attracted people mainly from within a local radius (Cavazzuti et al. 2019a). Within this dynamic cultural context, the Final Bronze Age funerary evidence from Frattesina documents a more elaborate display of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of elites. At Le Narde (Frattesina’s cemetery), this privileged segment of society, probably with its own entourage, is clearly represented by a small number of burials with several indicators of prestige.

Distribution of the violin-bow fibulae with two temple knots in the different source categories. Map by Sabine Pabst (2018).


(…) the individual in burial Narde1-168 may have achieved the status of a ‘warrior-chief’, as symbolised by the presence of an Allerona-type sword (Bianco Peroni 1970). This was ritually broken and deposited in pieces inside the grave, along with a bronze pin, a pair of tweezers and other ornaments (Figure 8). (…) yielded a strontium isotope ratio (0.70983) that is incompatible with the local 0–20km baseline (Table 3), but fits within the 20–50km range. By contrast, the value obtained from the femoral cortical bone (0.70924) is consistent with the local range of Frattesina. This means that this individual moved to the site after early childhood—possibly during youth or early adulthood—and he probably spent the last years of his life there, at the apex of the community.

Marshall Sahlins (1981), in his famous article ‘The stranger-king: or Dumézil among the Fijians’, compares the dynamics of power in the Fiji Islands to the Indo-European tradition, arguing that human societies tend to locate power as originating from the outside (Sahlins 1981, 2008; see also Ling & Rowlands 2015). Sahlins focuses on origin myths across ancient polities in the Indo-European language area, which systematically feature a dichotomy between what the Romans called gravitas and celeritas. The former refers to the conservative, peaceful and productive character of an established native community, while celeritas represents the disruptive, transformative violence personified in the stranger king, who “erupts upon a pastoral scene of peaceful husbandry and political equality (or at least limited authority)” (Sahlins 1981: 112).

The grave goods and cremated bones of burial Narde1-168 (after Salzani 1989). Urn height is 0.26m, sword length is 0.46m.

The individual buried in grave Narde1-168 at Frattesina was probably neither a true ‘king’, nor a true ‘stranger’. Despite its uniqueness, his grave resembles those of the rest of the community and is included within a large collective—or at least not evidently exclusive—burial mound. ‘Warrior-chief’ perhaps would be a more appropriate definition for this individual. Moreover, his place of origin was not so distant as to define him as a ‘stranger’. Nonetheless, Sahlins’s archetype of the ‘stranger-king’ evokes the power of alterity; burial Narde1-168 perfectly embodies celeritas, which breaks with the gravitas of the former Terramare tradition and guided whatever survived the collapse towards a new social model. Since the discovery of Frattesina and its cemeteries, Italian scholars have debated the mechanisms underlying the origin and economic success of the settlement, and the degree of foreign (i.e. Cypriot and Levantine) involvement in this process as suggested by archaeological finds (Cupitò et al. 2015). The new isotopic data presented here demonstrate that even though some individuals may have come from the Levant—where the available 87Sr/86Sr baseline ranges from 0.7079–0.7086 (Sheridan & Gregoricka 2015; Gregoricka & Guise Sheridan 2016)—or were from other exotic places, they nonetheless represent a minority of the population and, in any case, not the upper elite. The latter appear quite mobile, although probably from within the broader hinterland radius.

Adriatic or western route?

One of the interesting questions, and probably non-trivial for the correct interpretation of ancestry in future ancient DNA samples, is from where exactly did Tyrsenians come from, and more importantly where exactly did the arrive, and when. I have the impression that a Tyrrhenian Sea route is more commonly depicted (as in my maps) due to the historical predominance of Etruscans in the west, but that archaeologists usually consider the Adriatic – and thus a spread from the Po River Valley and/or Pannonia – a more likely route for Tyrsenian speakers, and probably rightly so.

NOTE. The tentative (and highly speculative) classification of fragmentary Rhaetian as more archaic than Etruscan relative to Lemnian may give further support to this route.

Failing a precise time transect from a population geographically close to the origin of their expansion in central or northern Italy, we are bound to see the same misinterpretations of the data we have seen in the case of Sea Peoples of hg. R1b behind Philistines. Nevertheless, here are some interesting predictions of population movements by Pabst (2013) based particularly on the Stätzling-/Allerona-sword from Narde in Veneto, which have been confirmed for the moment with isotope analyses, showing that some peoples of Frattesina had previously lived in the eastern Mediterranean, and that local elites had a much closer origin:

Distribution of the various blade profiles of the Stätzling (l) and Casale (H) type of leaf blade sword: 1 White symbols: blade with rapier-like ribs. – 2 black symbols: flat rhombic blade profile.- 3 Large gray symbols: a blade with a narrow midrib and longitudinal grooves.- Small gray symbols: lenticular or indefinite blade profile. (Map S. Pabst).

An Ingot fragment from the hoard of Hočko Pohorje in Styria, Slovenia indicates that possibly also Pannonia was involved in the 12th century BC (or during stage Ha A1) in the East and Central Mediterranean copper trade. According to the chemical composition or the high iron content, it is particularly close to individual finds from Sardinia, Italy and Anatolia.

The people behind the Stätzling swords could have been the potentates of this supraregional trade in the Adriatic and Ionian seas. This is also to be expected from the presence of late Mycenaean populations on the upper Adriatic. This is indicated – in addition to individual Mycenaean ceramics imports – especially in the Aegean Stätzling sword from the fly cave of Škocjan in the hinterland of Trieste, in this exchange network of the 12th century BC. However, not only people from the late Mycenaean cultural area were involved in the process. For native elites are suspected behind the mostly locally manufactured Stätzling swords in Pannonia and Italy, according to the analysis of the grave find 227 of Narde; perhaps local organizers of the trade, as allies of the Mycenaean chiefs.


Palaeogenomics might help shed light upon the complex matter of the Tyrsenian emergence in Europe. Even though Rhaetian is a fragmentary language, it seems that it is related to Etruscan, and neither are remnant languages from the Bronze Age, but rather intrusive languages to Italy and Central Europe.

It is more than likely, then, that ancient DNA will show an increase in Aegean ancestry during the Late/Final Bronze Age in central and/or northern Italy, even if this change is found rapidly diluted within generations, as happened with the Aegean ancestry among Philistines, who – in spite of this dilution – also left their prolonged linguistic mark in the Levant.

This is the summary I made of an online report from oral communication A 12,000-year Genetic History of Rome and the Italian Peninsula, by Hannah Moots, the 6th February 2019, with 134 samples from Lazio and surrounding areas:

Bronze Age – Iron Age evolution of Italy Top Left: Early Bronze Age cultures. Bottom left: PCA of groups from the Bronze Age; marked in red are previous Italy Bell Beakers. Top Right: Early Iron Age cultures. Bottom right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age – Middle Ages; marked in red are the approximate location of described ancient Italian clusters, one including Etruscans, Osco-Umbrians, Picentes, etc., and the wider cluster of Romans (dates unknown). See full maps and PCAs.

While Bronze Age samples of west-central Italy show a clear homogenisation of the genetic pool, with a shift in the PCA towards central Europe (away from the previous CHG/Iran Neolithic influence), and thus close to the modern Sardinian cluster, the few investigated Iron Age samples from the Republican period (ca. 700–20 BC) show a widespread genetic cluster encompassing the modern Italian ones, overlapping North Italian (ca. 60%) or South Italian/Sicilian (ca. 40%) clusters. The arrival or increase of EHG-, Levant Neolithic-, or CHG/IN-related ancestry in samples from this period suggest influence from previous population movements during the LBA from the north or through the Mediterranean, respectively. The Imperial Period shows influence from CHG/IN-related ancestry, but only sporadically Levant Neolithic.

NOTE. For more on the referred northern and southern Italian clusters, see Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe, by Raveane et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from modern individuals. A) Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from 3,282 modern individuals assigned, through a CP/fS analysis, to European West Asian and Caucasian clusters.

The alternative view

Kristiansen is among those who offer an alternative view in the archaeological question, supporting the opposite direction of population movements: of Terramare migrants in Greece, a theory which is not to be lightly dismissed, in the complex setting of population movements across the Mediterranean during the Final Bronze Age.

As a weak linguistic support for such a movement, one can find the hypothesis of Eteo-Cretans as Osco-Umbrian speakers, based on de Ligt’s speculative interpretation of the Praisos inscription (Talanta 2008-2009).

It seems that, even if these views are also correct, the overwhelming evidence is for a foreign origin of Tyrsenians: