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


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

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

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

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

Cultural groups in the North Pontic area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expansions of Kvityana and Trypillia cultures. Rassamakin (1999)

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

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

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

Late Phase and Final Eneolithic (3500-3000 BC)

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

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

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

The final stage

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

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

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

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

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

Khvalynsk-Yamna and Sredni Stog-Corded Ware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Lower Danube during the Eneolithic, and the potential Proto-Anatolian community


Local cultural settings and transregional phenomena: on the impact of a funerary ritual in the Lower Danube in the 4th millennium BC, by Frinculeasa & Mirea, In: Buletinul Muzeului Judetean Teleorman, Seria Arheologie, 9, 2017, p. 75-116.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. In the area under discussion, around 4300-4200 BC – a chronological segment marking the evolutionary peak of ‘Old Europe’ (Anthony 2007: 225), represented by the Cucuteni A/ Tripolie BI, Aldeni-Bolgrad, Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultures – the first tumular burials appeared (Govedarica 2016: 85). However, flat burials, marked by the existence of some allogeneous elements in the local Eneolithic milieu, were also present. These finds have been linked to the presence (in terms of both trade and conflicts) of Suvorovo/Suvorovo-Novodanilovka communities (Anthony 2007: 251ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 46ff.; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016) or of some groups from the ‘western part of the Skelia culture’ (Anthony 2007: 251ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 46ff.; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016). (…) The zoomorphic sceptres and the four-knobbed stone mace heads found east of the Prut/the Lower Danube are also related to this topic (Govedarica 2004; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: abb. 5; Gogâltan 2013).

2. The next chronological segment intersects the ‘hiatus’ recorded between the end of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultural complex and the beginning of the Cernavoda I culture (Rassamakin 2011a: 85ff.; Govedarica and Manzura 2011: 51). We should also mention the existence of a small set of absolute dates ranging within the interval 4200/ 4150 – 3900/ 3850 BC that come from the sites of Sultana, Vităneşti, Pietrele, Bucşani, Ploieşti ‘Triaj’, Ovcarovo, Hotnica etc. (Reingruber 2015; Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016; Frînculeasa 2016; Bem and Haită 2016: 63; Krause et al. 2016). The examples of Sărăteni and Krasnoe15 and the abovementioned dates seem to fill out a part of this chronological segment. It is still difficult to say whether they reflect the presence of some communities that led to the disappearance of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI complex or are connected with an early Cernavoda I, or possibly late Suvorovo evolution. If we refer to the absolute dates obtained for samples taken from mammal bones found in Cernavoda I settlements, we notice that the appearance of this culture in the abovementioned chronological interval is not yet confirmed (Frînculeasa 2016, tab. 3).

3. The Cernavoda I discoveries (approximately 3850/3800 – 3550/3500 BC) are represented in the Lower Danube by settlements and flat graves (the presence of tumular burials should not be completely excluded, see Brăiliţa). In the Bugeac area, the Cernavoda I culture was until recently defined only by tumular burials (Manzura 1999). The presence at Orlovka of flat graves and of a settlement (with two habitation levels, in which the Cucuteni B painted pottery occurs in association with the unpainted pottery with crushed shells into the paste) (Govedarica and Manzura 2015; Manzura 2018) shows that we are dealing with the same cultural phenomenon both west and east of the Prut, beyond the so-called ‘Bessarabian version’. North of the Danube there are flat burials, with individuals in side-crouched position. Unlike the tumular graves (including the early ones), in the flat graves there are no ornaments, only (unpainted) pottery items, including at Orlovka cemetery.

Map of funerary finds with skeletons in extended position from the 4th millennium BC and
contemporaneous cultural areas.

Therefore, the presence of tumular graves east of the Prut, in the same chronological interval, may be related to phenomena located east of the Dniester. In fact, Y. Rassamakin associates these finds with the Lower Mikhailovka culture, which precedes here the ritual that is specific to Kvityana communities (Rassamakin 1994: 42, 44; 1999: 92). He establishes a chronological relation between a number of findings such as the plastic anthropomorphic representations from Cernavoda, Râmnicelu, Târpeşti, Folteşti and Satu Nou (Neagu et al. 1982) and Dereivka (Rassamakin 1994: 41; 1999: 90), which seems to point to a revival of contacts between the North Pontic area and the Lower Danube, contacts which had been interrupted with the dissolution of the Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI cultural complex (Reingruber and Rassamakin 2016).

4. At the middle of the 4th millennium BC (we do not exclude that it could reach the end of the chronological interval in which the Cernavoda I culture evolves), we can establish the occurrence (in secondary position) in tumuli – located in the Prut-Dniester interfluve – of graves with deceased laid in extended position. It is a period in which the Kvityana funeral traditions transcend their place of origin. The painted pottery culture provides evidence for, indirectly or directly through the presence of vessels in graves, including east of the Dniester (Rassamakin 2011b; 2013a), the contact and the chronological relationship. Placing the constructions with rings later towards the last third of the 4th millennium BC is supported by the Usatovo finds (Tripolie CII) which are posterior to the Cernavoda I ones (Govedarica and Manzura 2011). The relationship and direct chronological relation between the Kvityana and the (early) Usatovo is also supported by the discovery of Sadovoe (Maljukevich and Petrenko 1993: fig. 5/2). (…)

5. Another horizon with burials of individuals in supine position is stratigraphically recorded between Zhivotilovka and Yamnaya (the last third of the 4th millennium BC); however, a coexistence of both cultural/ funerary groups with specific ritual elements (side-crouched and supinely with knees folded and raised) is not excluded either. The absence of inventory and of ochre and the presence of oval-elongated pits are specific elements.

6. (…) The extended position disappeared in the Early Bronze Age/ 3rd millennium BC (Rassamakin 2013a: 116), but is to be found again in the Katacombnaya ritual (Frînculeasa et al. 2017a). Ascertaining the many discrepancies regarding the contexts and radiocarbon dates, we maintain our reservations on this matter as well. Therefore, the two samples do not represent a solid basis for a possible discussion

From the conclusions:

If the Kvityana evolution covers a significant part of the first half of the 4th millennium BC, and partially the second half, west of the Prut we are dealing with Cernavoda I and later Usatovo communities in the same chronological time frame. The relationship between this ritual/ Kvityana and the Cernavoda I culture, which is stratigraphically unclear, and the absence of items to prove direct contacts show a slight chronological gap in favour of the Cernavoda I culture and the side-crouched ritual, at least in the Prut-Dniester interfluve. This ritual continues to be present, crosses the evolution of Zhivotilovka communities and continues as far as the start of the Yamnaya. The extended position is a late occurrence within the tumular burials in the Lower Danube, but here it is also a rather discreet ritual, one that seems to be of secondary importance. The presence of this ritual (and the accurate interpretation of stratigraphic situations) is an additional element for establishing a better chronological and chorological relationship between the West Pontic area and realities located in the North Pontic steppe, amidst a phenomenon which seems to have rewritten history in other parameters, initially of the Lower Danube and then of Western Europe.

If someone was still relying on Gimbutas – and mostly anything before the 2000s, like “kurgans”, in general terms – to assess cultural developments, and particularly ethnolinguistic identifications, it is time to let it go. The situation in the North Pontic area reveals itself far more complex with each new assessment of recent findings and radiocarbon dates.

By now it is evident that the LPIE-speaking community, formed in the Khvalynsk/Repin -> Yamna period, became dominated by R1b-M269 subclades early during its formation and expansion, based on what we have already seen in the Afanasevo expansion to the east, in the Bell Beaker migrants to the west, and in the admixed lineages (with incoming Abashevo peoples) in the North Caspian steppe that formed the Early Indo-Iranian community. While we don’t have much data on the Balkan region, especially Yamna migrants leading to the Proto-Greek migration, it is quite likely to support this, too.

Therefore, earlier PIE stages are the most likely objects of controversy for the future. Just like proponents of the Anatolian and Armenian homeland theories have surreptitiously shifted their proposal of “farmers expanding LPIE languages” to “farmers expanding earlier PIE stages”, we will see many different accounts of how late Khvalynsk/Repin came to be, and especially of what new culture now represents Middle PIE, be it early Sredni Stog, Northern Iran, or the Lower Danube.

I am not a priori radically opposed to any of those territories as potential earlier ‘original’ (i.e. Early PIE) homelands, although none of them is a likely Middle PIE Urheimat. The fact that such renewed proposals seem to be mostly based on haplogroups or ancestral components mixed into newly formed pet theories, instead of sound linguistic and archaeological models of cultural continuity (following late Khvalynsk/Repin backwards to their most likely forming cultures) does not help their cause.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

I am certainly not opposed to a strong influence on the formation of a Middle PIE-speaking community (in terms of Y-DNA lineages and potentially language, since genomics cannot change our knowledge of prehistoric cultures) due to immigrants from the Caucasus. After all:

  1. There seems to be a Northern Caucasian (phonetic) substrate in Middle PIE compared to Uralic;
  2. There is an obvious genetic contribution to both North Pontic and North Caspian steppe communities (probably greater in the latter); and
  3. If you defend an Indo-Uralic community – e.g. in a Neolithic steppe cultural-historical community, as I would be inclined to support – , a sizeable migration from the south – whether driven by female exogamy, male migrants, or both – would explain that influence.

Nevertheless, even in this case of an obvious migration (e.g. by R1b-M269 lineages) from the Caucasus, we could be talking about a Caucasian group influencing the formation of a Middle PIE community, represented by Khvalynsk, i.e. not necessarily about a Maykop-Khvalynsk community.

That is, peoples from the Caucasus could have admixed with the (already diverse) North Caspian steppe community to form the Middle PIE-speaking peoples whose expansion developed both known dialectal splits:

  1. Proto-Anatolian, probably represented by Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, but possibly by Maykop; and
  2. Late PIE, undoubtedly represented by the community forming in late Khvalynsk/Repin -> Yamna.

The Lower Danube remains thus the most important region to investigate, looking for traces of a Proto-Anatolian migration out of the steppe. Today this route seems more likely than Gimbutas’ original idea of Maykop representing a steppe offshoot, since the culture and thus its contacts with the steppe are older than she expected, Anatolian is dated earlier than she could have known based on the works available then, and even the latest available language guesstimates and radiocarbon dates don’t fit quite right in light of the known cultural contacts.

Until some proof appears of a different origin than what archaeologists have described to date, we need more than a simple one-paragraph informal pet theory to change the mainstream model.

A) Given that data from Mesolithic and Eneolithic Pontic-Caspian steppe shows a mixed population in terms of haplogroups, and R1b-M269 lineages are still nowhere to be seen – in the three samples from the Samara region of the Khvalynsk culture -, I can still only guess that it is precisely the expansion of Middle PIE (Pre-Proto-Anatolian and Pre-LPIE) the event associated with the expansion of chiefs of R1b-M269 lineages, especially R1b-L23 subclades, and the general reduction in haplogroup variability, as is obviously seen later in Yamna.

B) If this haplogroup is found first in the Caucasus, and then in Maykop and Khvalynsk during and after their known contacts, though, instead of in Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, then the question may be settled as Reich recently proposed, and we may have to revise the language split (or, rather, the loss of contact between both MPIE dialects) to a slightly later date.

C) As a third, more complex alternative, if such haplogroup reduction actually happened slightly later – which is unlikely based on modern R1b-M269* and R1b-L23* haplogroup distribution – , say during the expansion of Khvalynsk and Repin as a Yamna community, then

C.1.) any lineage up to that point with steppe ancestry (including the R1b-V88 sample found in Varna, the same lineage apparently found in a likely early chief from Samara) could be the smoking gun of a potential Proto-Anatolian community spreading through the Balkans.

C.2) Alternatively, if it’s the Caucasus or Northern Iran the origin of Middle PIE formation, then any haplogroup or admixture from Maykop to Anatolia could represent Proto-Anatolians…

We just need more samples near the steppe in time and space to depict a clearer genetic image.

EDIT 28-29 APR 2018: Changes made to the text, including the possibility of a Maykop route.

Featured image: Distribution of burial sites of the Zhivotilovka type.


The Russian school and the Yamna cultural-historical community, with emphasis on the north-west Pontic region


I have already talked about the Russian school of thought and their position regarding a Mesolithic origin of Proto-Indo-European in Northern Europe (see below related posts).

Since their archaeologists (Ukrainian, Russian, and Kazakh) are the nearest to potential Indo-Uralic origins, I have also recommended to follow some renown researchers closely.

Recently Leo S. Klejn referred to the position of Svetlana Ivanova. I found a recent summary of her model for genetic finds in an article appeared in Генофонд.рф: Степное население в Центральной Европе эпохи ранней бронзы, или путешествие туда и обратно

Aspects I agree with

– There is a Yamna cultural-historical community (i.e. with a potential ethnolinguistic unity). Although many different inner groups can be distinguished (based on cultural, social, anthropological differences), one cannot divide the culture in distinct cultures.

EDIT (28 JAN 2018): You can read a more detailed report about the Yamna cultural-historical community, by Svetlana Ivanova (in Russian).

– There is an older Neolithic cultural-historical community of the Pontic-Caspian steppe (i.e. with a potential ethnolinguistic unity), marked in genetics by CHG ancestry in the region. It is impressive that they supported that before the Mathieson et al. third revision (september 2017) with their finding of “Yamnaya” component in Ukraine Eneolithic. Chapeau for archaeology, again.

Late Eneolithic North-West Pontic zone (after Brujako and Samojlova (eds.), 2013)

Aspects I am neutral about, but are potentially quite relevant for the future

Repin is a culture different from Yamna.

– The Budzhak culture is likely the heir of Repin, which is compatible with its expansion westward. According to Klejn and Anthony (Usatovo), this region was connected to (and might have influenced) the Corded Ware culture. Therefore – that is my contribution, not theirs – a hidden community of R1a-M417 subclades (that a lot of people are eager to find) might have stemmed from there.

EDIT (28 JAN 2018): Read papers about the Budzhak jars and asks, by Svetlana Ivanova (in Russian).

NOTE: In my opinion, as I have said before, the Budzhak/Usatovo-Corded Ware connection is too late to be meaningful for Genomic finds (taking into account the earliest Corded Ware samples, their steppe ancestry, and the TMRCA for R1a-M417 subclades) – it is after all a late group appeared during or after the Yamna expansion along the Danube ca. 3000 BC or later, as supported by most archaeologists today, see e.g. Rassamakin. The most likely model is that R1a-M417 subclades with steppe ancestry expanded from groups near Eneolithic Ukraine, whether from steppe, forest-steppe, or forest zone. Also, in my opinion (supporting Anthony’s original interpretation of Repin, as closely connected to Yamna) it is more likely that the (until now) ‘hidden’ western Yamna community hosting R1b-L51 subclades that later evolved into East Bell Beaker is in fact represented by Repin…

Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware cultures are related, because GAC is actually not a uniform culture, but a ‘complex’ (i.e., in the same sense that Bell Beaker was not a culture, but a complex, as genetics has shown), and CWC is also a complex of cultures, as supported by Furholt. If that is true, the sampling of certain peoples classified as from Globular Amphorae – which some have rushed to cite as the end of the GAC-CWC connection might not be the last word, and Kristiansen’s model of long-lasting GAC-CWC connection may still be open.

Yamna culture and its surroundings (after Brujako and Samojlova (eds.), 2013)

Aspects I disagree with

– There is no migration, but long-lasting contacts that show up in genetics, since the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. In my opinion, the expansion of admixture + haplogroup reduction and expansion depict clear migratory movements (although, obviously, without cultural identification no speculative ethnolinguistic grouping can be proposed). That much is obvious from Genomics, and if we are not going to accept the most basic findings as proof in favour of certain anthropological models, then Archaeology will not benefit at all from genetic studies.

– Because this is the Russian school of thought, when they talk about Proto-Indo-European they refer to a homeland dating to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, and therefore cultural-historical communities after that (and long-lasting contacts) refer to potential continuations of Proto-Indo-European. Following common language guesstimates, though, there is no reason to date the split of Anatolian from a common Indo-Hittite before ca- 4500 BC, since there is no reason to date a Late Proto-Indo-European beyond 4000-3000 BC, apart from controversial glottochronological studies…

A call for collaboration

Again, please, geneticists, archaeologists, and linguists: do collaborate. Merely by talking, the so-called ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ would have never been given that dreadful name, and maybe we could end this quest to find a Mesolithic homeland for a reconstructed language guesstimated to have been spoken millennia after that time (and maybe turn it into a quest for an older macro-language)…


mtDNA haplogroup frequency analysis from Verteba Cave supports a strong cultural frontier between farmers and hunter-gatherers in the North Pontic steppe


New preprint paper at BioRxiv, led by a Japanese researcher, with analysis of mtDNA of Trypillians from Verteba Cave, Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from Verteba Cave, Ukraine: insights into the origins and expansions of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Cututeni-Tripolye Culture, by Wakabayashi et al. (2017).


Background: The Eneolithic (~5,500 yrBP) site of Verteba Cave in Western Ukraine contains the largest collection of human skeletal remains associated with the archaeological Cucuteni-Tripolye Culture. Their subsistence economy is based largely on agro-pastoralism and had some of the largest and most dense settlement sites during the Middle Neolithic in all of Europe. To help understand the evolutionary history of the Tripolye people, we performed mtDNA analyses on ancient human remains excavated from several chambers within the cave.

Results: Burials at Verteba Cave are largely commingled and secondary in nature. A total of 68 individual bone specimens were analyzed. Most of these specimens were found in association with well-defined Tripolye artifacts. We determined 28 mtDNA D-Loop (368 bp) sequences and defined 8 sequence types, belonging to haplogroups H, HV, W, K, and T. These results do not suggest continuity with local pre-Eneolithic peoples, but rather complete population replacement. We constructed maximum parsimonious networks from the data and generated population genetic statistics. Nucleotide diversity (π) is low among all sequence types and our network analysis indicates highly similar mtDNA sequence types for samples in chamber G3. Using different sample sizes due to the uncertainly in number of individuals (11, 28, or 15), we found Tajima’s D statistic to vary. When all sequence types are included (11 or 28), we do not find a trend for demographic expansion (negative but not significantly different from zero); however, when only samples from Site 7 (peak occupation) are included, we find a significantly negative value, indicative of demographic expansion.

Conclusions: Our results suggest individuals buried at Verteba Cave had overall low mtDNA diversity, most likely due to increased conflict among sedentary farmers and nomadic pastoralists to the East and North. Early Farmers tend to show demographic expansion. We find different signatures of demographic expansion for the Tripolye people that may be caused by existing population structure or the spatiotemporal nature of ancient data. Regardless, peoples of the Tripolye Culture are more closely related to early European farmers and lack genetic continuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or pre-Eneolithic groups in Ukraine.

Genetic finds keep supporting the long-lasting cultural and linguistic frontier that Anthony (2007) – among others – asserted existed in the North-West Pontic steppe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic, between western steppe cultures and farmers, while it disproves Kristiansen’s theories of Sredni Stog expansion in Kurgan waves with a mixture of GAC and Trypillia within the Corded Ware culture:

Previous ancient DNA studies showed that hunter-gatherers before 6,500 yrBP in Europe commonly had haplogroups U, U4, U5, and H, whereas hunter-gatherers after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had less frequency of haplogroup H than before. Haplogroups T and K appeared in hunter-gatherers only after 6,500 yrBP, indicating a degree of admixture in some places between farmers and hunter-gatherers. Farmers before and after 6,500 yrBP in Europe had haplogroups W, HV*, H, T, K, and these are also found in individuals buried at Verteba Cave. Therefore, our data point to a common ancestry with early European farmers. Our data also suggest population replacement. Mathieson et al. analyzed a number of Neolithic Ukrainian samples (petrous bone) from several sites in southern, northern, and western Ukraine, dating to ~8,500 – 6,000 yrBP, and found exclusively U (U4 and U5) mtDNA lineages. It should be noted that ‘Neolithic’ in this context does not mean the adoption of agriculture, but rather simply coinciding with a change in material culture. They also analyzed several Trypillian individuals from Verteba Cave (different samples from the those included in this study). Similar to our findings, they found a wider diversity of mtDNA lineages, including H, HV, and T2b. These data, combined with our results, appear to confirm almost complete population replacement by individuals associated with the Tripolye Culture during the Middle to Late Neolithic.

The findings also hint to potential contacts of Yamna with Usatovo as predicted by Anthony (2007), or alternatively (lacking precise dates) to contacts with Corded Ware migrants:

Trypillians were very much a distinct people who most likely displaced 1 local hunter-gatherers with little admixture. Haplogroup W was also observed in several specimens deriving from Site G3. Although we are unsure if all of these haplogroups come from a single or multiple individuals, this observation is interesting in that it is relatively rare and isolated among Neolithic samples. It has, however, been found in samples dating to the Bronze Age. In the study by Wilde et al. [35], they found haplogroup W present in two samples from the Early Bronze Age associated with the Yamnaya and Usatovo cultures. The Usatovo culture (~ 3500 – 2500 BC) was found in Romania, Moldova, and southern Ukraine. It was the conglomeration of Tripolye and North Pontic steppe cultures. Therefore, this individual could link the Trypillian peoples to the Usatovo peoples and perhaps to the greater Yamnaya steppe migrations during the Bronze Age that lead to the Corded Ware Culture.

On the other hand, an article written in terms of mtDNA haplogroup frequencies seems to offer too little proof of anything today. The lack of Y-DNA haplogroups and data on admixture makes their interpretations provisional, subject to change when these further data are published. Also, radiocarbon dating is only confident for individuals of one site (site 7), dated ca. 5,500 cal BP, while “other chambers in the cave are not as confidently dated”…

“Based on the 8 sequence types of the mtDNA D-loop, a maximum parsimonious phylogenetic network was constructed. Circles represent the sequence types, and the size of the circle is proportional to the number of samples. Numbers on the branches between the circles are nucleotide position numbers (+16,000) of the human mitochondrial genome sequence (rCRS). Information about the location (chamber within the cave) where the specimen was excavated is also provided. Areas 2 and 17 are part of Site 7, and these are defined as a separate chamber, although they are located in close proximity within Site 7. The other chambers, Site 20, G2, and G3, are independent and separate locations within the cave. ‘Undefined’ chamber describes an unknown location within the cave. Specimens from each chamber showed deviation for the sequence type distribution observed in the sample set. For example, specimens excavated from Site 7 had five unique sequence types, (I, II, III, IV, and VIII), while specimens excavated from chamber G 21 had mainly one sequence type (V)”. Made available by the authors under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

We had also seen signs of conflict between Trypillian and steppe cultures in a recent article, Violence at Verteba Cave, Ukraine: New Insights into the Late Neolithic Intergroup Conflict, by Madden et al. (2017):

Many researchers have pointed to the huge “megasites” and construction of fortifications as evidence of intergroup hostilities among the Late Neolithic Tripolye archaeological culture. However, to date, very few skeletal remains have been analyzed for the types of traumatic injury that serve as direct evidence for violent conflict. In this study, we examine trauma on human remains from the Tripolye site of Verteba Cave in western Ukraine. The remains of 36 individuals, including 25 crania, were buried in the gypsum cave as secondary interments. The frequency of cranial trauma is 30-44% among the 25 crania, six males, four females and one adult of indeterminate sex displayed cranial trauma. Of the 18 total fractures, 10 were significantly large and penetrating suggesting lethal force. Over half of the trauma is located on the posterior aspect of the crania, suggesting the victims were attacked from behind. Sixteen of the fractures observed were perimortem and two were antemortem. The distribution and characteristics of the fractures suggest that some of the Tripolye individuals buried at Verteba Cave were victims of a lethal surprise attack. Resources were limited due to population growth and migration, leading to conflict over resource access. It is hypothesized that during this time of change burial in this cave aided in development of identity and ownership of the local territory.


Correlation does not mean causation: the damage of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’, and the ‘Future American’ hypothesis

New Ukraine Eneolithic sample from late Sredni Stog, near homeland of the Corded Ware culture

The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt

Marija Gimbutas and the expansion of the “Kurgan people” based on tumulus-building cultures