Intense but irregular NWIE and Indo-Iranian contacts show Uralic disintegrated in the West


Open access PhD thesis Indo-Iranian borrowings in Uralic: Critical overview of sound substitutions and distribution criterion, by Sampsa Holopainen, University of Helsinki (2019), under the supervision of Forsberg, Saarikivi, and Kallio.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The gap between Russian and Western scholarship

Many scholars in the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation also have researched this topic over the last five decades. Notably the eminent Eugene Helimski dealt with this topic in several articles: his 1992 article (republished in Helimski 2000) on the emergence of Uralic consonantal stems used Indo-Iranian and other Indo-European loans as key evidence, and it was one of the first serious attempts to stratify the loanwords, paying attention to the non-initial syllables as well. Helimski (1997b) discusses Indo-Iranian loanwords more generally, but it is especially notable for the introduction of the “Andronovo Aryan” idea: Helimski argues that some loanwords in Ob-Ugric and Permic are derived from an unattested, third branch of Indo-Iranian. Helimski’s idea has been supported by at least Mikhail Zhivlov in a 2013 article, but otherwise it has not received wide acceptance. Helimski was also known for his criticism (see especially Helimski 2001) of Jorma Koivulehto’s etymological work: although the main targets of Helimski’s criticism were Koivulehto’s writings on Proto-Indo-European and Germanic borrowings (which fitted poorly with Helimski’s ideas of the Nostratic roots of Proto-Uralic and his other theories on Uralic linguistic prehistory), also some of his Indo-Iranian ideas received unnecessarily sharp criticism in Helimski (2001).

Vladimir Napol’skikh is another important Russian scholar who has written on several occasions about Indo-Iranian–Uralic contacts. His 2014 article is notable for its criticism on Helimski’s Andronovo Aryan theory and his arguments in favour of Indo-Aryan loanwords. Napol’skikh also considered some of the traditional Indo-Iranian loanwords to be borrowings from Tocharian (see below) in some of his earlier works, an idea which has been criticized by Kallio (2004) and Widmer (2002) and which Napol’skikh himself has since dropped in later publications (2010, 2014), where many of these alleged Tocharian loans are again considered Indo-Iranian.

Some of the main characteristics of Russian research is that the earliest Indo-European loanwords are usually considered to represent an inheritance from the Nostratic proto-language (Helimski [2001]; Kassian, Zhivlov & Starostin [2015]), an idea which is not widely accepted by scholars of Uralic in the West. Although this often does not concern the Indo-Iranian loanwords at all, or it concerns only a part of them, the works of Jorma Koivulehto, who dealt with both earlier Indo-European and Indo-Iranian loans, receive so much criticism from the Russian scholars that his important ideas are often totally rejected or left unmentioned in Russian research.

This kind of rejection of central etymological research literature can be considered one of the most pressing problems in Uralic loanword studies, and it leaves a regrettable gap between Russian and Western European scholars in this perspective.




Among the Indo-Iranian loanwords in Uralic, one can easily mention examples that follow the classification of semantic change as described above. For widening or generalization, vasara ‘hammer’ is a good example: the Indo-Iranian original denotes ‘the weapon of the god Indra’ in Indic and ‘the weapon of the god Mithra’ in Avestan, whereas Finnish ‘hammer’ (and the Mordvin meaning ‘axe’) are more general meanings of tools. Fi huhta is a good example of narrowing: Iranian *tsuxta- means simply ‘burned’, whereas in Finnic huhta means specifically ‘a burned patch used in slash-and-burn agriculture’. Metonomy has taken place in Mordvin, where čuvto denotes simply ‘tree’; this probably developed through the meaning ‘wood burned for agriculture’. Khanty (South) wǟrəs denotes ‘horse’s mane’, but its Iranian original probably had a more general meaning of hair (cf. Avestan varəsa- ‘hair of human and animal, mostly hair of the head’).

An interesting example of degeneration is the etymology of Finnic orja ‘slave’, probably borrowed from the Indo-Iranian ethnonym *(H)ārya- ‘Aryan’ (for the original semantics of this word, see the entry *orja in Chapter 2). A similar development is seen in English slave which is etymologically connected to the ethnonym Slav.

Distribution as a criterion in the dating of loanwords

(…) some of the Indo-Iranian loans seem to have a wide distribution, but upon a closer look it becomes clear that they include phonological irregularities, which can only be explained by assuming that they are parallel loans. The ability to recognize parallel borrowings is extremely important in Uralic loanword studies, and it has been developed with success in the research of Germanic and Baltic loanwords (see Junttila 2015).

Interestingly, K. Häkkinen (1983: 207) argues that although words disappear from languages, the most basic words often remain stable and are maintained for longer periods. Although this is probably true, here the notion of “basicness” is something that is open to different interpretations. Many central concepts in culture and livelihoods are often described with prestige words that are borrowed, and these central words can be very easily replaced. In determining the age of the loanwords one has to always keep in mind that a reflex of a very early cultural borrowing from Indo-Iranian to Proto-Uralic/Proto- West Uralic etc. can easily have been lost in some daughter language, if a later prestige loan for the same concept has been borrowed from some later contact language (such as from some form of Germanic or Baltic into Finnic or from some Turkic language into Udmurt, Mari or Mordvin).

In Uralic linguistics the common loanword layers shared by some intermediary proto-language have often been seen as giving support to the reconstruction of these stages, but K. Häkkinen (100–108) considers this problematic. It should also be noted that the distribution of Indo-Iranian loanwords very rarely matches the assumed taxonomic divisions: there are some loanwords confined to the Finno-Permic, Finno-Volgaic or Ugric languages, but very few loanwords that would be Finno-Permic, Finno-Volgaic or Ugric in the way that the word is found in all the languages that belong to the branch.



There are only very few possible examples of a consonantal substitution of the word-initial laryngeal. It seems probable that the word-initial laryngeal, if it was retained, was not substituted in any way in Uralic. *karšV (> Fi karhu), an uncertain etymology, is the only possible example.

(…) Even if *k was a result of laryngeal hardening, the development would probably be earlier than Proto-Indo-Iranian, meaning that by the time the word was borrowed, the Indo-Iranian word simply had the stop *k that was regularly substituted by Uralic *k.

Evidence for Andronovo Aryan and Indo-Aryan loanwords?

None of the loanwords have to be considered as Andronovo Aryan or Proto-Indo-Aryan based on the criteria that were presented in the Introduction. The Uralic palatal affricate *ć or sibilant *ś can in all cases be explained from Proto-Indo-Iranian *ć, and there is no need to assume that it should reflect Andronovo Aryan *ć or PIA *ś. In the etymological material of this study, no further positive evidence was found for the distinction of PU *ś and *ć as substitutions of the Proto-Indo-Iranian affricates. This means that at least in word-initial position there probably was no difference between *ć and *ś, and even though we do not know what this sound was phonetically, it is safe to assume that Uralic words showing *ś reflect a sound substitution of Indo-Iranian *ć and *Ʒ́.

Regarding the distribution of the etymologies within Indo-Iranian, all the loanwords which cannot be from Iranian because of the lack of attested Iranian cognates have a more or less secure Proto-Indo-Iranian etymology, and nothing prevents us from assuming that these words reflect Proto-Indo-Iranian borrowings. It is also possible that some words with solid Proto-Indo-Iranian etymologies were present in Iranian but were lost before the first Old Iranian texts were composed.



List of Indo-European and Indo-Iranian Etymologies


*ertä ‘side’, *kekrä ‘wheel’, *kečrä ‘spindle’, *mekši ‘bee’, (*meti ‘honey’), *ońća ‘part’, (*orpa ‘orphan’), *peijas ‘feast’, *pejmä ‘milk’, Pre-P *pertä ‘wing’, *repä ‘fox’, *rećmä ‘rope’, *sejti ‘bridge’


*aćtara ‘whip’, *anti/onta, *ora ‘awl’, *orja ‘slave; south’, (*orpa ‘orphan’), *pośi ‘penis’, *śaŋka ‘handle’, Pre-Md *śaγa ‘goat’, *śarwi ‘horn’, *śaδa- ‘to rain’, śara- ‘shit’, *śi̮ta ‘hundred’, Pre-P *śVta ‘hundred’, *śasra ‘thousand’, *śišta ‘wax’, *śoma- ‘sad’, *waćara ‘hammer’, *woraći ‘boar’

Ambiguous early loans (can be either from PII or PI)

*ajša ‘shaft’, *asVra ‘lord’, *iha ‘yearning. passion’, *ihta ‘lust’, *jama ‘twin’, *jawi/jowa (> Mo juv) ‘awn’, *jawi (> PS *jäə̑) ‘flour’, *ji̮ni ‘way, path’, *juma ‘god’, *kana- ‘to dig’, *kara- ‘to dig’, *kata- ‘to graze’, *kertä- ‘to bind’, *ki̮ntaw ‘tree stump’, *kürtńV ‘iron’, PKh *kǟrtV ‘iron’, *kärtä ‘iron’, *martas ‘dead’, *ńātV- ‘to help’, *pakas ‘god’, *para ‘good’, Kh pĕnt ‘way’, PMs *pē̮ńtV ‘brother-in-law’, *pora ‘old’, *poči- ‘to boil’, Pre-P *porta ‘vessel’, *puntaksi ‘bottom’, Pre-Ma *pänti- ‘to bind’, PMa *pärća ‘ear of corn’, *pätäri- ‘to flee’, *saγi- ‘to get, obtain’, *sampas ‘pillar’, *saŋka ‘old’, *sara ‘lake’, *sasara ‘sister’, *säptä ‘seven’, *tajwas ‘sky’, *takra ‘piece of flesh’, *tarna ‘grass’, *tojwV ‘wish’, *toraksi ‘through’, *tora- ‘to fight’, *täjV ‘milk’, *täjinV ‘cow’, *täši, *uška ‘bull’, *wakša- (> PS *wåtå-) ‘to grow’, *wajna- ‘to see’, *wojna- ‘to see’, *wiša ‘venom’, *wi̮rna ‘wool’, *wärkä ‘kidney’, PS *wǝ̑rkǝ̑ ‘wolf’, *wirtV- ‘to hold, raise’, *äŋkärä ‘coal’

List of uncertain Indo-Iranian etymologies

PFi *aiwa (← Germanic ?), Ma *arša ‘mane’, PMs *ǟrV ‘fire’, *aštira ‘barren earth’, POug *ćakV ‘hammer’, *ćara- ‘brown; ? to dawn’, *ćero ‘hill-top’, *ćerti ‘group’, *itä- ‘to appear’, Pre-Fi *karšV ‘bear’, PMs *kīrV ‘iron’, *kota ‘chum’, Pre-Sa *kupa ‘pit’, PFi *kärsä ‘snout’, *maksa- ‘to pay’, PFi *mana-, PUg ? *mańći, Ma marij ‘Mari; man; husband’, *mē̮ja ‘wedding’, *mykkä ‘dumb’, PP *oč ‘corn’, *orpV ‘relative’, PFi *paksu ‘thick’, *peji- ‘to milk’, *pi̮ŋka ‘psychedelic mushroom’ POUg *porV ‘phratry’, Pre-Sa *poti ‘against’, Pre-Fi *šatas ‘germ’, *sentü- ‘to be born’, *šerä- ‘to wake up’, Ms šVšwǝŋ ‘hare’, PUg *śeŋkV ‘nail’, Pre-Sa *soma/sami ‘some’, PP *sur ‘beer’, PFi *süte- ‘to hit’ (< ? *sewči-), Hu szekér ‘wagon’, Kh ʌīkər ‘Narte’ PUg *taja- ‘secret’, Pre-Fi *terni ‘young’, *terwV ‘healthy’, ? *towkV ‘spring’, PWU *utarV ‘udder’ (← Germanic ?; Mari *waδar ← II), *waŋka ‘hook’, Mo E v́eŕges, M vərǵas ‘wolf’

Etymologies that were probably borrowed from another Indo-European source (PIE, PBSl, Germanic, Baltic)

*aisa ‘shaft’ ← Balto-Slavic, PFi *aiwa (← Germanic ?), *apV ‘help’ ← Germanic, *jewä ‘grain’ ← Balto-Slavic, Ma karaš etc. ‘honeycomb’ ← Baltic, (*meti ‘honey’ ← ? PIE,) Fi *ojas ‘shaft’ ← Slavic, *ola ← Baltic, *oŋki ← Germanic, *porćas ← Balto-Slavic, Pre-Sa *porta ‘vessel’ ← Germanic, *salV ‘salt’ (cannot be reconstructed for PU, various later parallel loans), *śi̮lkaw ← Balto-Slavic, *sammu- ← Germanic, *śuka ← Balto-Slavic, Mari *šŭžar ← Baltic/Balto-Slavic or Slavic, *tejniš ‘pregnant animal’ ← Baltic/Balto-Slavic, PWU *utarV ‘udder’ (? ← Germanic)

Early loans into differentiated branches

Proto-West Uralic

Only in Finnic:

*aćnas ‘voracious’, *iha ‘wish’, *ihta ‘lust’, PFi *isV ‘appetite’, *martas ‘dead’, *očra ‘barley’, *peijas ‘feast’, *pejmä ‘milk’, *pe̮rna ‘spleen’, *sampas ‘pillar’, *sooja ‘shelter’, *tajwas ‘sky’, *takra ‘piece of flesh’, *terwV ‘healthy’, *tojwV ‘wish’

All of these words, with the exception of *sooja ‘shelter’, were clearly borrowed into Early Proto-Finnic (Pre-Finnic) at the latest. Formally most of the loans could be from PII or PI.

Only in Saami:

*kata- ‘to graze’, *kertä- ‘to bind’, *pora ‘old’, *wojna- ‘to see’

All of the loans were acquired before the Saami vowel changes. Formally all could be either from Proto-Indo-Iranian or Proto-Iranian.

Only in Finnic and Saami:

*asma ‘voracious’, *jama ‘twin’, *kekrä ‘wheel’, *mača ‘insect’

*asma ‘voracious’, *jama ‘twin’, *kekrä ‘wheel’, *mača ‘insect’ Of these, *mača from Proto-Iranian and *jama is ambiguous. As the -sm- in asma does not point to Proto-Indo-Iranian *ć, this is probably an Iranian loan too. It is possible that these words were borrowed into Proto-West Uralic, as there is no general support for a Finno-Saamic proto-language today. As the cognates within Finnic and Saami are regular, there is no need to assume parallel borrowings. *kekrä has to be from Proto-Indo-Iranian.

NOTE. Based on the discussion of stages of borrowing from Indo-Iranian, and of the distribution of *kekrä among Uralic dialects in particular, Holopainen probably means Pre-Indo-Iranian for this example.

Only in Mordvin and/or Finnic and/or Saami (can point to a borrowing into Proto-West Uralic):

*ji̮ni ‘way’, *kečrä ‘spindle’, *rećmä ‘rope’, *śaŋka, *waćara ‘hammer’, *warsa ‘foal’, *wasa ‘calf’, *woraći ‘pig’

Based on phonological criteria, these loans do not form a chronologically coherent layer, but probably their modern distribution is accidental (their original distribution can have been wider). *kečrä ‘spindle’ and *rećmä ‘rope’ are from Pre-II, *śaŋka, *waćara and *woraći from PII, *warsa and *wasa from later Iranian (Alanic). *ji̮ni is ambiguous. Also the loans confined to Finnic and Saami mentioned above probably were borrowed into Proto-West Uralic, as it is a more convincing taxonomic entity than Proto-Finno-Saamic.


Only in Mordvin, Finnic and/or Saami and Mari

*juma ‘good’

This loan can be either from PII or PI. As it is obvious that these four branches do not form any taxonomical entity (Salminen 2002; J. Häkkinen 2009), it is only logical that there are no other loanwords with a “Finno-Volgaic” distribution.

Only in Mari:

*kVrtnV ‘metal’ (← PII, PI or later), Pre-Ma *pänti- ‘to bind’, PMa *pärća ‘ear of corn’, *si̮rńa ‘gold’ (← Old Iranian)

Only very few early Indo-Iranian loans can be found in Mari and in no other Uralic language. It is unclear what the reason for this is. It is, of course, possible that some uncertain loanwords like marij ‘man; Mari’ turn out to be correct after all, but even that does not make the number of loans in Mari very high. The situation has to be explained either with loss of vocabulary and replacement by later loans (from Turkic, and also perhaps from Permic) or with Mari’s location on the periphery at the time of the later contacts with the Iranian languages. Agyagási (2019: 254–258) argues that the current area where Mari is spoken was formed only relatively late, after the Mongol invasion in the High Middle Ages. If this is indeed correct, and Mari was spoken in more northern areas before that, it can be assumed that Pre-Mari had only sporadic contacts with the Iranian languages after it split off from Proto-Uralic.

Only in Permic (early loans; for later loans confined to Permic)

*a(č)wa ‘stallion’, PP *ju ‘awn’, *kertä ‘house’, *kärtä ‘metal’, *kada- ~ *gada- ‘to steal’, *karka ‘chicken’, *parśa ~ *barśa ‘mane’, *parta ‘knife’, *pertä ‘wing’, *poči- ‘to boil’, *porta ‘vessel’, *dura ‘long’, *domV ‘to tame’, PP *śumi̮s ‘band’, PP *šud‘luck’, *uška ‘bull’, *wi̮rna ‘wool’, *wirä ‘man, husband’, *äŋkärä ‘coal’

The number of loanwords in Permic is relatively high, and many of these can be considered to be Iranian loanwords. Technically many loans are ambiguous, but as some of the words were borrowed late due to historical reasons (‘iron’), and some were borrowed into a Pre-Permic which already had a phonological system that was different from Proto-Uralic (*šud- has d which cannot reflect PU *δ).

It is probable that the Permic languages were in continuous contact with the Indo-Iranian languages from the time they split from Proto-Uralic until the early mediaeval era.


Only in Khanty and Mansi (regular cases):

POUg *ēräɣ ‘song’, POUg *eträ ‘clear sky’, POug *mɔ̈ŋki ‘forest-spirit’, *ńātV- ‘to help’, *päčäɣ ‘reindeer’

The number of these etymologies is so low that it is very difficult to determine whether these words were borrowed into Proto-Ob-Ugric or some earlier proto-language, such as Proto-Ugric.

Only in Khanty and/or Mansi and/or Hungarian (regular cases):

*säptä ‘seven’ (Khanty + Hungarian regular), *sara ‘lake’

There are so few convincing loanwords with a “Ugric” distribution that they provide very little evidence. Either of these loans could be from Proto-Indo-Iranian or Proto-Iranian, if we assume that *s > *h was a common Iranian sound change. Both loans were acquired

Only in Samoyed:

*jäwi (> PS *jäə̑), PS *pulə̑ ~ *pi̮lə̑ ‘bridge’, *täjki ‘spear’, PS *wǝ̑rkə̑ ‘wolf’, Pre-S *täši (> PS *tät), *wakša- (> PS *wåtå) ‘to grow’

Of these, only *wåtå- has to be a very early loan because of *s > *t. *jäwi (> PS *jäə̑) and PS *wə̑rkə̑ were possibly acquired before the Proto-Samoyed vowel developments, making them probably early loanwords too. Formally all of them could be either from PII or PI. *pulə̑ ~ *pi̮lə̑ could have been borrowed into Proto-Samoyed (with Iranian *u corresponding to Samoyed *u), and because of the *l the word is probably from a relatively late, Middle Iranian language.

The following loanwords have a distribution with a cognate in both Samoyed and some other branch:

*śaδa- ‘to rain’, *tora- ‘to fight’ (also *itä-, which is more uncertain, belongs here)

Pan-Uralic loans

The following loanwords have a distribution with regular cognates with at least one Ugric branch and some other branch, which points to early borrowing. Although formally *kana- and *kara- are ambiguous, they are probably from Proto-Indo-Iranian because of their distribution. The rest of the loans are from Pre-II or PII.

*kana- ‘to dig’, *kara- ‘to dig’, *meti ‘honey’, *mekši ‘bee’, *orpV ‘orphan’, *ora ‘awl’, *peji- ‘to milk’, *pätäri- ‘to flee’, *śara- ‘shit’, *śoma- ‘sad’

The following loanwords are found in at least two non-adjacent branches of Uralic (the ones listed in the above categories are not counted). As there are no widely accepted criteria for a word to be considered “Uralic”, all of these could be considered loanwords into Proto-Uralic, in this case probably from Proto-Indo-Iranian or Pre-Indo-Iranian.

*ajša ‘shaft’, *anti/onta ‘grass’, *ertä ‘side’, *ki̮ntaw ‘tree stump’, *mertä ‘human’, *orja ‘slave’, *para ‘good’, *počaw ‘reindeer’, *puntaksi ‘bottom’, *saγi- ‘to get, obtain’, *repä ‘fox’, *si̮ŋka ‘old’, *sasara ‘sister’, *sejti ‘bridge’, *śišta ‘wax’, *tarna ‘grass’, *toraksi ‘through’, *wiša ‘venom’



Discussion about the distribution and its impact on Uralic taxonomy

(…) there are Proto-Iranian loanwords which were borrowed simultaneously into several early branches of Uralic, making it likely that Uralic had split into several branches by the time of these contacts.

Also the fact that many of the Proto-Indo-Iranian loanwords either show a restricted distribution (such as West Uralic *waćara, *woraći) or irregular correspondences (*asVra, *śasra, *śi̮ta) can point to the conclusion that Proto-Uralic was fragmenting by the time when contacts with Proto-Indo-Iranian took place.

The earlier, Pre-Indo-Iranian loanwords usually show a wider distribution and regular sound correspondences. Although the number of these earliest loans is quite small, based on their distribution and regular correspondences it can be assumed that the Pre-Indo-Iranian stage (after RUKI, *l > *r and the merger of velars and labiovelars but before the merger of non-high vowels) was concurrent with Proto-Uralic, with the changes leading to Proto-Indo-Iranian happening after the dispersal of Proto-Uralic.

The distribution of loanwords reinforces the old idea that Samoyed is a lexical outlier, as only few convincing Indo-Iranian etymologies for Proto-Uralic words (*saδa- ‘to rain’, *tora- ‘to fight’) have a convincing reflex in Samoyed. However, the fact that such etymologies exist means rather that the situation is due to lexical loss in Samoyed, and that the earliest contact occurred before Samoyed split off from Proto-Uralic.

There are very few loanwords that have a Ugric distribution (being found in at least one Ob-Ugric branch and Hungarian), and likewise rather few in Ob-Ugric. The few loans that have a distribution confined to Ugric were borrowed before the change *s > *θ took place. This means that the Ugric distribution does not mean much from the point of view of chronology or taxonomy, as the words were borrowed into a language that was still identical to Proto-Uralic. Even some loans borrowed into Khanty and Mansi have to be so early.

Impacts on dating and the location of the contact zones

Because of the very limited number of convincing etymologies found only in Finnic or Saami, it is probable that there were not (extensive) contacts with Pre-Finnic or Pre-Saami after the split of Proto-West Uralic.

The great number of loanwords of varying ages in Permic inevitably points to the conclusion that the pre-form of the Permic branch had been constantly spoken in an area that was adjacent to the Iranian languages. The different layers of loanwords in Permic clearly point to chronological differences in the donor languages, but it also seems that Permic was in contact with various forms of Iranian and not with different diachronic stages of the same language.

In general, the words that have been borrowed are typical cultural words, and the contacts between Indo-Iranian and Uralic seems to have been a typical contact situation in which a culturally less-advanced language group borrows various cultural terms from a more “advanced” group. The words in various loanword layers related to horse and cattle breeding show obvious cultural influence in the field of domesticated animals, and the borrowing of some names of grains points to agricultural influence from the Indo-Iranians on the speakers of Uralic.

Needless to say, many of the borrowings I listed in A Song of Sheep and Horses suffer from the same ailment attributed to Indo-Europeanists in general:

With slight exaggeration one can agree with the remark by Koivulehto (1999a: 209–210) that the Indo-Europeanists often use outdated sources or are simply uninterested in the topic. The problem is further complicated by the various and often obsolete views expressed in even relatively modern Uralicist works, such as those of Rédei (1986c; 1988) or Katz (2003); (…) Mallory & Adams (2006) adequately refer to the importance of the early loanwords, but they use mostly Rédei’s outdated reconstructions and stratigraphy in support of their theories.

I need to review all related texts with this thesis and the works recently published by Kümmel, as well as the recent book of the Leiden school on Indo-Uralic.

Also, does anyone know the (traditional?) why of the resistance to the Indo-Uralic concept among Uralicists? Maybe it’s a reaction against the Nostraticist and Siberian views of Uralic espoused by the Soviets?


Yamnaya replaced Europeans, but admixed heavily as they spread to Asia


Recent papers The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, by Narasimhan, Patterson et al. Science (2019) and An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers, by Shinde et al. Cell (2019).

NOTE. For direct access to Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019), visit this link courtesy of the first author and the Reich Lab.

I am currently not on holidays anymore, and the information in the paper is huge, with many complex issues raised by the new samples and analyses rather than solved, so I will stick to the Indo-European question, especially to some details that have changed since the publication of the preprint. For a summary of its previous findings, see the book series A Song of Sheep and Horses, in particular the sections from A Clash of Chiefs where I discuss languages and regions related to Central and South Asia.

I have updated the maps of the Preshistory Atlas, and included the most recently reported mtDNA and Y-DNA subclades. I will try to update the Eurasian PCA and related graphics, too.

NOTE. Many subclades from this paper have been reported by Kolgeh (download), Pribislav and Principe at Anthrogenica on this thread. I have checked some out for comparison, but even if it contradicted their analyses mine would be the wrong ones. I will upload my spreadsheets and link to them from this page whenever I find the time.

Ancestry clines (1) before and (2) after the advent of farming. Colour modified from the original to emphasize the CHG cline: notice the apparent relevance of forest-steppe groups in the formation of this CHG mating network from which Pre-Yamnaya peoples emerged.


I think the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) paper is well-balanced, and unexpectedly centered – as it should – on the spread of Yamnaya-related ancestry (now Western_Steppe_EMBA) as the marker of Proto-Indo-European migrations, which stretched ca. 3000 BC “from Hungary in the west to the Altai mountains in the east”, spreading later Indo-European dialects after admixing with local groups, from the Atlantic to South Asia.

I. Afanasievo

I.1. East or West PIE?

I expected Afanasievo to show (1) R1b-L23(xZ2103, xL51) and (2) R1b-L51 lineages, apart from (3) the known R1b-Z2103 ones, pointing thus to an ancestral PIE community before the typical Yamnaya bottlenecks, and with R1b-L51 supporting a connection with North-West Indo-European. The presence of some samples of hg. Q pointed in this direction, too.

However, Afanasievo samples show overwhelmingly R1b-Z2103 subclades (all except for those with low coverage), all apparently under R1b-Z2108 (formed ca. 3500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC), like most samples from East Yamnaya.

This necessarily shifts the split and spread of R1b-L23 lineages to Khvalynsk/early Repin-related expansions, in line with what TMRCA suggested, and what advances by Anthony (2019) and Khokhlov (2018) on future samples from the Reich Lab suggest.

Given the almost indistinguishable ancestry between Afanasievo and Early Yamnaya, there seems to be as of yet little potential information to support in population genomics that Pre-Tocharians were more closely related to North-West Indo-Europeans than to Graeco-Aryans, as it is proposed in linguistics based on the few shared traits between them, and the lack of innovations proper of the Graeco-Aryan community.

NOTE. A new issue of Wekʷos contains an abstract from a relevant paper by Blažek on vocabulary for ‘word’, including the common NWIE *wrdʰo-/wordʰo-, but also a new (for me, at least) Northern Indo-European one: *rēki-/*rēkoi̯-, shared by Slavic and Tocharian.

The fact that bottlenecks happened around the time of the late Repin expansion suggests that we might be able to see different clans based on the predominant lineages developing around the Don-Volga area in the 4th millennium BC. The finding of Pre-R1b-L51 in Lopatino (see below), and of a Catacomb sample of hg. R1b-Z2103(Z2105-) in the North Caucasus steppe near Novoaleksandrovskij also support a star-like phylogeny of R1b-L23 stemming from the Don-Volga area.

NOTE. Interestingly, a dismissal of a common trunk between Tocharian and North-West Indo-European would mean that shared similarities between such disparate groups could be traced back to a Common Late PIE trunk, and not to a shared (western) Repin community. For an example of such a ‘pure’ East-West dialectal division, see the diagram of Adams & Mallory (2007) at the end of the post. It would thus mean a fatal blow to Kortlandt’s Indo-Slavonic group among other hypothetical groupings (remade versions of the ancient Centum-Satem division), as well as to certain assumptions about laryngeal survival or tritectalism that usually accompany them. Still, I don’t think this is the case, so the question will remain a linguistic one, and maybe some similarities will be found with enough number of samples that differentiate Northern Indo-Europeans from the East Yamna/Catacomb-Poltavka-Balkan_EBA group.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Afanasievo samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.2. Expansion or resurgence of hg. Q1b?

Haplogroup Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) seems to be the main lineage that expanded with Afanasievo, or resurged in their territory. It’s difficult to tell, because the three available samples are family, and belong to a later period.

NOTE. I have finally put some order to the chaos of Q1a vs. Q1b subclades in my spreadsheet and in the maps. The change of ISOGG 2016 to 2017 has caused that many samples reported as of Q1 subclades from papers prepared during the 2017-2018 period, and which did not provide specific SNP calls, were impossible to define with certainty. By checking some of them I could determine the specific standard used.

In favour of the presence of this haplogroup in the Pre-Yamnaya community are:

  • The statement by Anthony (2019) that Q1a [hence maybe Q1b in the new ISOGG nomenclature] represented a significant minority among an R1b-rich community.
  • The sample found in a Sintastha WSHG outlier (see below), of hg. Q1b-Y6798, and the sample from Lola, of hg. Q1b-L717, are thus from other lineage(s) separated thousands of years from the Afanasievo subclade, but might be related to the Khvalynsk expansion, like R1b-V1636 and R1b-M269 are.

These are the data that suggest multiple resurgence events in Afanasievo, rather than expanding Q1b lineages with late Repin:

  • Overwhelming presence of R1b in early Yamnaya and Afanasievo samples; one Q1(xQ1b) sample reported in Khvalynsk.
  • The three Q1b samples appear only later, although wide CI for radiocarbon dates, different sites, and indistinguishable ancestry may preclude a proper interpretation of the only available family.
    • Nevertheless, ancestry seems unimportant in the case of Afanasievo, since the same ancestry is found up to the Iron Age in a community of varied haplogroups.
  • Another sample of hg. Q1b-Y6802(xY6798) is found in Aigyrzhal_BA (ca. 2120 BC), with Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry; however, this clade formed and expanded ca. 14000 BC.
  • The whole Altai – Baikal area seems to be a Q1b-L54 hotspot, although admittedly many subclades separated very early from each other, so they might be found throughout North Eurasia during the Neolithic.
  • One Afanasievo sample is reported as of hg. C in Shin (2017), and the same haplogroup is reported by Hollard (2014) for the only available sample of early Chemurchek to date, from Kulala ula, North Altai (ca. 2400 BC).
Y-chromosome haplogroups of late Afanasievo – early Chemurchek samples and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

I.3. Agricultural substrate

Evidence of continuous contacts of Central_Steppe_MLBA populations with BMAC from ca. 2100 BC on – visible in the appearance of Steppe ancestry among BMAC samples and BMAC ancestry among Steppe pastoralists – supports the close interaction between Indo-Iranian pastoralists and BMAC agriculturalists as the origin of the Asian agricultural substrate found in Proto-Indo-Iranian, hence likely related to the language of the Oxus Civilization.

Similar to the European agricultural substrate adopted by West Yamnaya settlers (both NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan speakers), Tocharian shows a few substrate terms in common with Indo-Iranian, which can be explained by contacts in different dialectal stages through phonetic reconstruction alone.

The recent Hermes et al. (2019) supports the early integration of pastoralism and millet cultivation in Central Asia (ca. 2700 BC or earlier), with the spread of agriculture to the north – through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor – being thus unrelated to the Indo-Iranian expansions, which might support independent loans.

However, compared to the huge number of parallel shared loans between NWIE and Palaeo-Balkan languages in the European substratum, Indo-Iranians seem to have been the first borrowers of vocabulary from Asian agriculturalists, while Proto-Tocharian shows just one certain related word, with phonetic similarities that warrant an adoption from late Indo-Iranian dialects.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of Sintashta, Central Asia, and neighbouring groups in the Early Bronze Age. See full maps.

The finding of hg. (pre-)R1b-PH155 in a BMAC sample from Dzharkutan (to the west of Xinjiang) together with hg. R1b in a sample from Central Mongolia previously reported by Shin (2017) support the widespread presence of this lineage to the east and west of Xinjiang, which means it might have become incorporated to Indo-Iranian migrants into the Xiaohe horizon, to the Afanasievo-Chemurchek-derived groups, or the later from the former. In other words, the Island Biogeography Theory with its explanation of founder effects might be, after all, applicable to the whole Xinjiang area, not only during the Chemurchek – Tianshan-Beilu – Xiaohe interaction.

Of course, there is no need for too complicated models of haplogroup resurgence events in Central and South Asia, seeing how the total amount of hg. R1a-L657 (today prevalent among Indo-Aryan speakers from South Asia) among ancient Western/Central_Steppe_MLBA-related samples amounts to a total of 0, and that many different lineages survived in the region. Similar cases of haplogroup resurgence and Y-DNA bottleneck events are also found in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, and in North-Eastern Europe. From the paper:

[It] could reflect stronger ecological or cultural barriers to the spread of people in South Asia than in Europe, allowing the previously established groups more time to adapt and mix with incoming groups. A second difference is the smaller proportion of Steppe pastoralist– related ancestry in South Asia compared with Europe, its later arrival by ~500 to 1000 years, and a lower (albeit still significant) male sex bias in the admixture (…).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from the Srubna-Andronovo and Andronovo-related horizon, Xiaohe, late BMAC, and neighbouring groups. See full maps.

II. R1b-Beakers replaced R1a-CWC peoples

II.1. R1a-M417-rich Corded Ware

Newly reported Corded Ware samples from Radovesice show hg. R1a-M417, at least some of them xZ645, ‘archaic’ lineages shared with the early Bergrheinfeld sample (ca. 2650 BC) and with the coeval Esperstedt family, hence supporting that it eventually became the typical Western Corded Ware lineage(s), probably dominating over the so-called A-horizon and the Single Grave culture in particular. On the other hand, R1a-Z645 was typical of bottlenecks among expanding Eastern Corded Ware groups.

Interestingly, it is supported once again that known bottlenecks under hg. R1a-M417 happened during the Corded Ware expansion, evidenced also by the remarkable high variability of male lineages among early Corded Ware samples. Similarly, these Corded Ware samples from Bohemia form part of the typical ‘Central European’ cluster in the PCA, which excludes once again not only the ‘official’ Espersted outlier I1540, but also the known outlier with Yamnaya ancestry.

NOTE. The fact that Esperstedt is closely related geographically and in terms of ancestry to later Únětice samples further complicates the assumption that Únětice is a mixture of Bell Beakers and Corded Ware, being rather an admixture of incoming Bell Beakers with post-Yamnaya vanguard settlers who admixed with Corded Ware (see more on the expansion of Yamnaya ancestry). In other words, Únětice is rather an admixture of Yamnaya+EEF with Yamnaya+(CWC+EEF).

Y-chromosome haplogroups of samples from Catacomb, Poltavka, Balkan EBA, and Bell Beaker, as well as neighbouring groups. See full maps.

On Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561

If the bottlenecks are as straightforward as they appear, with a star-like phylogeny of R1a-M417 starting with the Pre-Corded Ware expansion, then what is happening with the Alexandria sample, so precisely radiocarbon dated to ca. 4045-3974 BC? The reported hg. R1a-M417 was fully compatible, while R1a-Z645 could be compatible with its date, but the few positive SNPs I got in my analysis point indeed to a potential subclade of R1a-Z94, and I trust more experienced hobbyists in this ‘art’ of ascertaining the SNPs of ancient samples, and they report hg. R1a-Z93 (Z95+, Y26+, Y2-).

Seeing how Y-DNA bottlenecks worked in Yamnaya-Afanasievo and in Corded Ware and related groups, and if this sample really is so deep within R1a-Z93 in a region that should be more strongly affected by the known Neolithic Y-chromosome bottlenecks and forest-steppe ecotone, someone from the lab responsible for this sample should check its date once again, before more people keep chasing their tails with an individual that (based on its derived SNPs’ TMRCA) might actually be dated to the Bronze Age, where it could make much more sense in terms of ancestry and position in the PCA.

EDIT (14 SEP 2019): … and with the fact that he is the first individual to show the genetic adaptation for lactase persistence (I3910-T), which is only found later among Bell Beakers, and much later in Sintashta and related Steppe_MLBA peoples (see comments below).

This is also evidenced by the other Ukraine_Eneolithic (likely a late Yamnaya) sample of hg. R1b-Z2103 from Dereivka (ca. 2800 BC) and who – despite being in a similar territory 1,000 years later – shows a wholly diluted Yamnaya ancestry under typically European HG ancestry, even more so than other late Sredni Stog samples from Dereivka of ca. 3600-3400 BC, suggesting a decrease in Steppe ancestry rather than an increase – which is supposedly what should be expected based on the ancestry from Alexandria…

Like the reported Chalcolithic individual of Hajji Firuz who showed an apparently incompatible subclade and Yamnaya ancestry at least some 1,000 years before it should, and turned out to be from the Iron Age (see below), this may be another case of wrong radiocarbon dating.

NOTE. It would be interesting, if this turns out to be another Hajji Firuz-like error, to check how well different ancestry models worked in whose hands exactly, and if anyone actually pointed out that this sample was derived, and not ancestral, to many different samples that were used in combination with it. It would also be a great control to check if those still supporting a Sredni Stog origin for PIE would shift their preference even more to the north or west, depending on where the first “true” R1a-M417 samples popped up. Such a finding now could be thus a great tool to discover whether haplogroup-based bias plays a role in ancestry magic as related to the Indo-European question, i.e. if it really is about “pure statistics”, or there is something else to it…

II.1. R1b-L51-rich Bell Beakers

The overwhelming majority of R1b-L51 lineages in Radovesice during the Bell Beaker period, just after the sampled Corded Ware individuals from the same site, further strengthen the hypothesis of an almost full replacement of R1a-M417 lineages from Central Europe up to southern Scandinavia after the arrival of Bell Beakers.

Yet another R1b-L151* sample has popped up in Central Europe, in the individual classified as Bilina_BA (ca. 2200-800 BC), which clusters with Bell Beakers from Bohemia, with the outlier from Turlojiškė, and with Early Slavs, suggesting once again that a group of central-east European Beakers represented the Pre-Proto-Balto-Slavic community before their spread and admixture events to the east.

The available ancient distribution of R1b-L51*, R1b-L52* or R1b-L151* is getting thus closer to the most likely origin of R1b-L51 in the expansion of East Bell Beakers, who trace their paternal ancestors to Yamnaya settlers from the Carpathian Basin:

NOTE. Some of these are from other sources, and some are samples I have checked in a hurry, so I may have missed some derived SNPs. If you send me a corrected SNP call to dismiss one of these, or more ‘archaic’ samples, I’ll correct the map accordingly. See also maps of modern distributionof R1b-M269 subclades.

Distribution of ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 subclades in ancient samples, overlaid over a map of Yamnaya and Bell Beaker migrations. In blue, Yamnaya Pre-L51 from Lopatino (not shown) and R1b-L52* from BBC Augsburg. In violet, R1b-L51 (xP312,xU106) from BBC Prague and Poland. In maroon, hg. R1b-L151* from BBC Hungary, BA Bohemia, and (not shown) a potential sample from BBC at Mondelange, which is certainly xU106, maybe xP312. Interestingly, the earliest sample of hg. R1b-U106 (a lineage more proper of northern Europe) has been found in a Bell Beaker from Radovesice (ca. 2350 BC), between two of these ‘archaic’ R1b-L51 samples; and a sample possibly of hg. R1b-ZZ11+ (ancestral to DF27 and U152) was found in a Bell Beaker from Quedlinburg, Germany (ca. 2290 BC), to the north-west of Bohemia. The oldest R1b-U152 are logically from Central Europe, too.

III. Proto-Indo-Iranian

Before the emergence of Proto-Indo-Iranian, it seems that Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Poltavka groups were subjected to pressure from Central_Steppe_EMBA-related peoples coming from the (south-?)east, such as those found sampled from Mereke_BA. Their ‘kurgan’ culture was dated correctly to approximately the same date as Poltavka materials, but their ancestry and hg. N2(pre-N2a) – also found in a previous sample from Botai – point to their intrusive nature, and thus to difficulties in the Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community to keep control over the previous East Yamnaya territory in the Don-Volga-Ural steppes.

We know that the region does not show genetic continuity with a previous period (or was not under this ‘eastern’ pressure) because of an Eastern Yamnaya sample from the same site (ca. 3100 BC) showing typical Yamnaya ancestry. Before Yamnaya, it is likely that Pre-Yamnaya ancestry formed through admixture of EHG-like Khvalynsk with a North Caspian steppe population similar to the Steppe_Eneolithic samples from the North Caucasus Piedmont (see Anthony 2019), so we can also rule out some intermittent presence of a Botai/Kelteminar-like population in the region during the Khvalynsk period.

It is very likely, then, that this competition for the same territory – coupled with the known harsher climate of the late 3rd millennium BC – led Poltavka herders to their known joint venture with Abashevo chiefs in the formation of the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community of fortified settlements. Supporting these intense contacts of Poltavka herders with Central Asian populations, late ‘outliers’ from the Volga-Ural region show admixture with typical Central_Steppe_MLBA populations: one in Potapovka (ca. 2220 BC), of hg. R1b-Z2103; and four in the Sintashta_MLBA_o1 cluster (ca. 2050-1650 BC), with two samples of hg. R1b-L23 (one R1b-Z2109), one Q1b-L56(xL53), one Q1b-Y6798.

Outlier analysis reveals ancient contacts between sites. We plot the average of principal component 1 (x axis) and principal component 2 (y axis) for the West Eurasian and All Eurasian PCA plots (…). In the Middle to Late Bronze Age Steppe, we observe, in addition to the Western_Steppe_MLBA and Central_Steppe_MLBA clusters (indistinguishable in this projection), outliers admixed with other ancestries. The BMAC-related admixture in Kazakhstan documents northward gene flow onto the Steppe and confirms the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor as a conduit for movement of people.

Similar to how the Sintashta_MLBA_o2 cluster shows an admixture with central steppe populations and hg. R1a-Z645, the WSHG ancestry in those outliers from the o1 cluster of typically (or potentially) Yamnaya lineages show that Poltavka-like herders survived well after centuries of Abashevo-Poltavka coexistence and admixture events, supporting the formation of a Proto-Indo-Iranian community from the local language as pronounced by the incomers, who dominated as elites over the fortified settlements.

The Proto-Indo-Iranian community likely formed thus in situ in the Don-Volga-Ural region, from the admixture of locals of Yamnaya ancestry with incomers of Corded Ware ancestry – represented by the ca. 67% Yamnaya-like ancestry and ca. 33% ancestry from the European cline. Their community formed thus ca. 1,000 years later than the expansion of Late PIE ca. 3500 BC, and expanded (some 500 years after that) a full-fledged Proto-Indo-Iranian language with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon, further admixing with ca. 9% of Central_Steppe_EMBA (WSHG-related) ancestry in their migration through Central Asia, as reported in the paper.

IV. Armenian

The sample from Hajji Firuz, of hg. R1b-Z2103 (xPF331), has been – as expected – re-dated to the Iron Age (ca. 1193-1019 BC), hence it may offer – together with the samples from the Levant and their Aegean-like ancestry rapidly diluted among local populations – yet another proof of how the Late Bronze Age upheaval in Europe was the cause of the Armenian migration to the Armenoid homeland, where they thrived under the strong influence from Hurro-Urartian.

Y-chromosome haplogroups of the Middle East and neighbouring groups during the Late Bronze Age / Iron Age. See full maps.

Indus Valley Civilization and Dravidian

A surprise came from the analysis reported by Shinde et al. (2019) of an Iran_N-related IVC ancestry which may have split earlier than 10000 BC from a source common to Iran hunter-gatherers of the Belt Cave.

For the controversial Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis of the Muscovite school, this difference in ancestry between both groups (IVC and Iran Neolithic) seems to be a death blow, if population genomics was even needed for that. Nevertheless, I guess that a full rejection of a recent connection will come down to more recent and subtle population movements in the area.

EDIT (12 SEP): Apparently, Iosif Lazaridis is not so sure about this deep splitting of ‘lineages’ as shown in the paper, so we may be talking about different contributions of AME+ANE/ENA, which means the Elamo-Dravidian game is afoot; at least in genomics:

I shared the idea that the Indus Valley Civilization was linked to the Proto-Dravidian community, so I’m inclined to support this statement by Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2019), even if based only on modern samples and a few ancient ones:

The strong correlation between ASI ancestry and present-day Dravidian languages suggests that the ASI, which we have shown formed as groups with ancestry typical of the Indus Periphery Cline moved south and east after the decline of the IVC to mix with groups with more AASI ancestry, most likely spoke an early Dravidian language.

Natural neighbour interpolation of qpAdm results – Maximum A Posteriori Estimate from the Hierarchical Model (estimates used in the Narasimhan, Patterson et al. 2019 figures) for Central_Steppe_MLBA-related (left), Indus_Periphery_West-related (center) and Andamanese_Hunter-Gatherer-related ancestry (right) among sampled modern Indian populations. In blue, peoples of IE language; in red, Dravidian; in pink, Tibeto-Burman; in black, unclassified. See full image.

I am wary of this sort of simplistic correlation with modern speakers, because we have seen what happened with the wrong assumptions about modern Balto-Slavic and Finno-Ugric speakers and their genetic profile (see e.g. here or here). In fact, I just can’t differentiate as well as those with deep knowledge in South Asian history the social stratification of the different tribal groups – with their endogamous rules under the varna and jati systems – in the ancestry maps of modern India. The pattern of ancestry and language distribution combined with the findings of ancient populations seem in principle straightforward, though.


The message to take home from Shinde et al. (2019) is that genomic data is fully at odds with the Anatolian homeland hypothesis – including the latest model by Heggarty (2014)* – whose relevance is still overvalued today, probably due in part to the shift of OIT proponents to more reasonable Out-of-Iran models, apparently more fashionable as a vector of Indo-Aryan languages than Eurasian steppe pastoralists?
*The authors listed this model erroneously as Heggarty (2019).

The paper seems to play with the occasional reference to Corded Ware as a vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, even after accepting the role of Yamnaya as the most evident population expanding Late PIE to western Europe – and the different ancestry that spread with Indo-Iranian to South Asia 1,000 years later. However, the most cringe-worthy aspect is the sole citation of the debunked, pseudoscientific glottochronological method used by Ringe, Warnow, and Taylor (2002) to support the so-called “steppe homeland”, a paper and dialectal scheme which keeps being referenced in papers of the Reich Lab, probably as a consequence of its use in Anthony (2007).

On the other hand, these are the equivalent simplistic comments in Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019):

The Steppe ancestry in South Asia has the same profile as that in Bronze Age Eastern Europe, tracking a movement of people that affected both regions and that likely spread the unique features shared between Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages. (…), which despite their vast geographic separation share the “satem” innovation and “ruki” sound laws.

Indo-European dialectal relationships, from Mallory and Adams (2006).

The only academic closely related to linguistics from the list of authors, as far as I know, is James P. Mallory, who has supported a North-West Indo-European dialect (including Balto-Slavic) for a long time – recently associating its expansion with Bell Beakers – opposed thus to a Graeco-Aryan group which shared certain innovations, “Satemization” not being one of them. Not that anyone needs to be a linguist to dismiss any similarities between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian beyond this phonetic trend, mind you.

Even Anthony (2019) supports now R1b-rich Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya communities from the Don-Volga region expanding Middle and Late Proto-Indo-European dialects.

So how does the underlying Corded Ware ancestry of eastern Europe (where Pre-Balto-Slavs eventually spread to from Bell Beaker-derived groups) and of the highly admixed (“cosmopolitan”, according to the authors) Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka in the east relate to the similar-but-different phonetic trends of two unrelated IE dialects?

If only there was a language substrate that could (as Shinde et al. put it) “elegantly” explain this similar phonetic evolution, solving at the same time the question of the expansion of Uralic languages and their strong linguistic contacts with steppe peoples. Say, Eneolithic populations of mainly hunter-fisher-gatherers from the North Pontic forest-steppes with a stronger connection to metalworking


Yamnaya ancestry: mapping the Proto-Indo-European expansions


The latest papers from Ning et al. Cell (2019) and Anthony JIES (2019) have offered some interesting new data, supporting once more what could be inferred since 2015, and what was evident in population genomics since 2017: that Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded under R1b bottlenecks, and that the so-called “Steppe ancestry” referred to two different components, one – Yamnaya or Steppe_EMBA ancestry – expanding with Proto-Indo-Europeans, and the other one – Corded Ware or Steppe_MLBA ancestry – expanding with Uralic speakers.

The following maps are based on formal stats published in the papers and supplementary materials from 2015 until today, mainly on Wang et al. (2018 & 2019), Mathieson et al. (2018) and Olalde et al. (2018), and others like Lazaridis et al. (2016), Lazaridis et al. (2017), Mittnik et al. (2018), Lamnidis et al. (2018), Fernandes et al. (2018), Jeong et al. (2019), Olalde et al. (2019), etc.

NOTE. As in the Corded Ware ancestry maps, the selected reports in this case are centered on the prototypical Yamnaya ancestry vs. other simplified components, so everything else refers to simplistic ancestral components widespread across populations that do not necessarily share any recent connection, much less a language. In fact, most of the time they clearly didn’t. They can be interpreted as “EHG that is not part of the Yamnaya component”, or “CHG that is not part of the Yamnaya component”. They can’t be read as “expanding EHG people/language” or “expanding CHG people/language”, at least no more than maps of “Steppe ancestry” can be read as “expanding Steppe people/language”. Also, remember that I have left the default behaviour for color classification, so that the highest value (i.e. 1, or white colour) could mean anything from 10% to 100% depending on the specific ancestry and period; that’s what the legend is for… But, fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.


  1. Neolithic or the formation of Early Indo-European
  2. Eneolithic or the expansion of Middle Proto-Indo-European
  3. Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age or the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European
  4. European Early Bronze Age and MLBA or the expansion of Late PIE dialects

1. Neolithic

Anthony (2019) agrees with the most likely explanation of the CHG component found in Yamnaya, as derived from steppe hunter-fishers close to the lower Volga basin. The ultimate origin of this specific CHG-like component that eventually formed part of the Pre-Yamnaya ancestry is not clear, though:

The hunter-fisher camps that first appeared on the lower Volga around 6200 BC could represent the migration northward of un-admixed CHG hunter-fishers from the steppe parts of the southeastern Caucasus, a speculation that awaits confirmation from aDNA.

Natural neighbor interpolation of CHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

The typical EHG component that formed part eventually of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry came from the Middle Volga Basin, most likely close to the Samara region, as shown by the sampled Samara hunter-gatherer (ca. 5600-5500 BC):

After 5000 BC domesticated animals appeared in these same sites in the lower Volga, and in new ones, and in grave sacrifices at Khvalynsk and Ekaterinovka. CHG genes and domesticated animals flowed north up the Volga, and EHG genes flowed south into the North Caucasus steppes, and the two components became admixed.

Natural neighbor interpolation of EHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

To the west, in the Dnieper-Dniester area, WHG became the dominant ancestry after the Mesolithic, at the expense of EHG, revealing a likely mating network reaching to the north into the Baltic:

Like the Mesolithic and Neolithic populations here, the Eneolithic populations of Dnieper-Donets II type seem to have limited their mating network to the rich, strategic region they occupied, centered on the Rapids. The absence of CHG shows that they did not mate frequently if at all with the people of the Volga steppes (…)

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

North-West Anatolia Neolithic ancestry, proper of expanding Early European farmers, is found up to border of the Dniester, as Anthony (2007) had predicted.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

2. Eneolithic

From Anthony (2019):

After approximately 4500 BC the Khvalynsk archaeological culture united the lower and middle Volga archaeological sites into one variable archaeological culture that kept domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle (and possibly horses). In my estimation, Khvalynsk might represent the oldest phase of PIE.

(…) this middle Volga mating network extended down to the North Caucasian steppes, where at cemeteries such as Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, dated 4300 BC, the same Khvalynsk-type ancestry appeared, an admixture of CHG and EHG with no Anatolian Farmer ancestry, with steppe-derived Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b. These three individuals in the North Caucasus steppes had higher proportions of CHG, overlapping Yamnaya. Without any doubt, a CHG population that was not admixed with Anatolian Farmers mated with EHG populations in the Volga steppes and in the North Caucasus steppes before 4500 BC. We can refer to this admixture as pre-Yamnaya, because it makes the best currently known genetic ancestor for EHG/CHG R1b Yamnaya genomes.

From Wang et al (2019):

Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonyuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbour EHG and CHG related ancestry, are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khvalynsk II and the Samara region. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG-related ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills

Natural neighbor interpolation of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map. This map corresponds roughly to the map of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion, and in particular to the expansion of horse-head pommel-scepters (read more about Khvalynsk, and specifically about horse symbolism)

NOTE. Unpublished samples from Ekaterinovka have been previously reported as within the R1b-L23 tree. Interestingly, although the Varna outlier is a female, the Balkan outlier from Smyadovo shows two positive SNP calls for hg. R1b-M269. However, its poor coverage makes its most conservative haplogroup prediction R-M343.

The formation of this Pre-Yamnaya ancestry sets this Volga-Caucasus Khvalynsk community apart from the rest of the EHG-like population of eastern Europe.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Anthony (2019) seems to rely on ADMIXTURE graphics when he writes that the late Sredni Stog sample from Alexandria shows “80% Khvalynsk-type steppe ancestry (CHG&EHG)”. While this seems the most logical conclusion of what might have happened after the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion through the North Pontic steppes (see my post on “Steppe ancestry” step by step), formal stats have not confirmed that.

In fact, analyses published in Wang et al. (2019) rejected that Corded Ware groups are derived from this Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, a reality that had been already hinted in Narasimhan et al. (2018), when Steppe_EMBA showed a poor fit for expanding Srubna-Andronovo populations. Hence the need to consider the whole CHG component of the North Pontic area separately:

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map. You can read more about population movements in the late Sredni Stog and closer to the Proto-Corded Ware period.

NOTE. Fits for WHG + CHG + EHG in Neolithic and Eneolithic populations are taken in part from Mathieson et al. (2019) supplementary materials (download Excel here). Unfortunately, while data on the Ukraine_Eneolithic outlier from Alexandria abounds, I don’t have specific data on the so-called ‘outlier’ from Dereivka compared to the other two analyzed together, so these maps of CHG and EHG expansion are possibly showing a lesser distribution to the west than the real one ca. 4000-3500 BC.

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Anatolia Neolithic ancestry clearly spread to the east into the north Pontic area through a Middle Eneolithic mating network, most likely opened after the Khvalynsk expansion:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Regarding Y-chromosome haplogroups, Anthony (2019) insists on the evident association of Khvalynsk, Yamnaya, and the spread of Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya ancestry with the expansion of elite R1b-L754 (and some I2a2) individuals:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Early Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian steppes. See full map, and see culture, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA maps of the Early Eneolithic and Late Eneolithic.

3. Early Bronze Age

Data from Wang et al. (2019) show that Corded Ware-derived populations do not have good fits for Eneolithic_Steppe-like ancestry, no matter the model. In other words: Corded Ware populations show not only a higher contribution of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry (ca. 20-30% compared to the ca. 2-10% of Yamnaya); they show a different EHG + CHG combination compared to the Pre-Yamnaya one.

Supplementary Table 13. P values of rank=2 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a three-way admixture of Eneolithic steppe Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Test, Eneolithic_steppe, Anatolian_Neolithic, WHG.
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

Yamnaya Kalmykia and Afanasievo show the closest fits to the Eneolithic population of the North Caucasian steppes, rejecting thus sizeable contributions from Anatolia Neolithic and/or WHG, as shown by the SD values. Both probably show then a Pre-Yamnaya ancestry closest to the late Repin population.

Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional AF ancestry in Steppe groups and additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups. See tables above. Modified from Wang et al. (2019). Within a blue square, Yamnaya-related groups; within a cyan square, Corded Ware-related groups. Green background behind best p-values. In red circle, SD of AF/WHG ancestry contribution in Afanasevo and Yamnaya Kalmykia, with ranges that almost include 0%.

EBA maps include data from Wang et al. (2018) supplementary materials, specifically unpublished Yamnaya samples from Hungary that appeared in analysis of the preprint, but which were taken out of the definitive paper. Their location among Yamnaya settlers from Hungary is speculative, although most uncovered kurgans in Hungary are concentrated in the Tisza-Danube interfluve.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map. This map corresponds roughly with the known expansion of late Repin/Yamnaya settlers.

The Y-chromosome bottleneck of elite males from Proto-Indo-European clans under R1b-L754 and some I2a2 subclades, already visible in the Khvalynsk sampling, became even more noticeable in the subsequent expansion of late Repin/early Yamnaya elites under R1b-L23 and I2a-L699:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Yamnaya expansion. See full map and maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Chalcolithic and Yamnaya Hungary.

Maps of CHG, EHG, Anatolia Neolithic, and probably WHG show the expansion of these components among Corded Ware-related groups in North Eurasia, apart from other cultures close to the Caucasus:

NOTE. For maps with actual formal stats of Corded Ware ancestry from the Early Bronze Age to the modern times, you can read the post Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.

4. Middle to Late Bronze Age

The following maps show the most likely distribution of Yamnaya ancestry during the Bell Beaker-, Balkan-, and Sintashta-Potapovka-related expansions.

4.1. Bell Beakers

The amount of Yamnaya ancestry is probably overestimated among populations where Bell Beakers replaced Corded Ware. A map of Yamnaya ancestry among Bell Beakers gets trickier for the following reasons:

  • Expanding Repin peoples of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry must have had admixture through exogamy with late Sredni Stog/Proto-Corded Ware peoples during their expansion into the North Pontic area, and Sredni Stog in turn had probably some Pre-Yamnaya admixture, too (although they don’t appear in the simplistic formal stats above). This is supported by the increase of Anatolia farmer ancestry in more western Yamna samples.
  • Later, Yamnaya admixed through exogamy with Corded Ware-like populations in Central Europe during their expansion. Even samples from the Middle to Upper Danube and around the Lower Rhine will probably show increasing contributions of Steppe_MLBA, at the same time as they show an increasing proportion of EEF-related ancestry.
  • To complicate things further, the late Corded Ware Espersted family (from ca. 2500 BC or later) shows, in turn, what seems like a recent admixture with Yamnaya vanguard groups, with the sample of highest Yamnaya ancestry being the paternal uncle of other individuals (all of hg. R1a-M417), suggesting that there might have been many similar Central European mating networks from the mid-3rd millennium BC on, of (mainly) Yamnaya-like R1b elites displaying a small proportion of CW-like ancestry admixing through exogamy with Corded Ware-like peoples who already had some Yamnaya ancestry.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Yamnaya ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations (Esperstedt CWC site close to BK_DE, label is hidden by BK_DE_SAN). See full map. You can see how this map correlated with the map of Late Copper Age migrations and Yamanaya into Bell Beaker expansion.

NOTE. Terms like “exogamy”, “male-driven migration”, and “sex bias”, are not only based on the Y-chromosome bottlenecks visible in the different cultural expansions since the Palaeolithic. Despite the scarce sampling available in 2017 for analysis of “Steppe ancestry”-related populations, it appeared to show already a male sex bias in Goldberg et al. (2017), and it has been confirmed for Neolithic and Copper Age population movements in Mathieson et al. (2018) – see Supplementary Table 5. The analysis of male-biased expansion of “Steppe ancestry” in CWC Esperstedt and Bell Beaker Germany is, for the reasons stated above, not very useful to distinguish their mutual influence, though.

Based on data from Olalde et al. (2019), Bell Beakers from Germany are the closest sampled ones to expanding East Bell Beakers, and those close to the Rhine – i.e. French, Dutch, and British Beakers in particular – show a clear excess “Steppe ancestry” due to their exogamy with local Corded Ware groups:

Only one 2-way model fits the ancestry in Iberia_CA_Stp with P-value>0.05: Germany_Beaker + Iberia_CA. Finding a Bell Beaker-related group as a plausible source for the introduction of steppe ancestry into Iberia is consistent with the fact that some of the individuals in the Iberia_CA_Stp group were excavated in Bell Beaker associated contexts. Models with Iberia_CA and other Bell Beaker groups such as France_Beaker (P-value=7.31E-06), Netherlands_Beaker (P-value=1.03E-03) and England_Beaker (P-value=4.86E-02) failed, probably because they have slightly higher proportions of steppe ancestry than the true source population.


The exogamy with Corded Ware-like groups in the Lower Rhine Basin seems at this point undeniable, as is the origin of Bell Beakers around the Middle-Upper Danube Basin from Yamnaya Hungary.

To avoid this excess “Steppe ancestry” showing up in the maps, since Bell Beakers from Germany pack the most Yamnaya ancestry among East Bell Beakers outside Hungary (ca. 51.1% “Steppe ancestry”), I equated this maximum with BK_Scotland_Ach (which shows ca. 61.1% “Steppe ancestry”, highest among western Beakers), and applied a simple rule of three for “Steppe ancestry” in Dutch and British Beakers.

NOTE. Formal stats for “Steppe ancestry” in Bell Beaker groups are available in Olalde et al. (2018) supplementary materials (PDF). I didn’t apply this adjustment to Bk_FR groups because of the R1b Bell Beaker sample from the Champagne/Alsace region reported by Samantha Brunel that will pack more Yamnaya ancestry than any other sampled Beaker to date, hence probably driving the Yamnaya ancestry up in French samples.

The most likely outcome in the following years, when Yamnaya and Corded Ware ancestry are investigated separately, is that Yamnaya ancestry will be much lower the farther away from the Middle and Lower Danube region, similar to the case in Iberia, so the map above probably overestimates this component in most Beakers to the north of the Danube. Even the late Hungarian Beaker samples, who pack the highest Yamnaya ancestry (up to 75%) among Beakers, represent likely a back-migration of Moravian Beakers, and will probably show a contribution of Corded Ware ancestry due to the exogamy with local Moravian groups.

Despite this decreasing admixture as Bell Beakers spread westward, the explosive expansion of Yamnaya R1b male lineages (in words of David Reich) and the radical replacement of local ones – whether derived from Corded Ware or Neolithic groups – shows the true extent of the North-West Indo-European expansion in Europe:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Bell Beaker expansion. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Late Copper Age and of the Yamnaya-Bell Beaker transition.

4.2. Palaeo-Balkan

There is scarce data on Palaeo-Balkan movements yet, although it is known that:

  1. Yamnaya ancestry appears among Mycenaeans, with the Yamnaya Bulgaria sample being its best current ancestral fit;
  2. the emergence of steppe ancestry and R1b-M269 in the eastern Mediterranean was associated with Ancient Greeks;
  3. Thracians, Albanians, and Armenians also show R1b-M269 subclades and “Steppe ancestry”.

4.3. Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka

Interestingly, Potapovka is the only Corded Ware derived culture that shows good fits for Yamnaya ancestry, despite having replaced Poltavka in the region under the same Corded Ware-like (Abashevo) influence as Sintashta.

This proves that there was a period of admixture in the Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community between CWC-like Abashevo and Yamnaya-like Catacomb-Poltavka herders in the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community, probably more easily detectable in this group because of the specific temporal and geographic sampling available.

Supplementary Table 14. P values of rank=3 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a four-way admixture of distal sources EHG, CHG, Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Steppe cluster, EHG, CHG, WHG, Anatolian_Neolithic
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

Srubnaya ancestry shows a best fit with non-Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, i.e. with different CHG + EHG components – possibly because the more western Potapovka (ancestral to Proto-Srubnaya Pokrovka) also showed good fits for it. Srubnaya shows poor fits for Pre-Yamnaya ancestry probably because Corded Ware-like (Abashevo) genetic influence increased during its formation.

On the other hand, more eastern Corded Ware-derived groups like Sintashta and its more direct offshoot Andronovo show poor fits with this model, too, but their fits are still better than those including Pre-Yamnaya ancestry.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.

NOTE For maps with actual formal stats of Corded Ware ancestry from the Early Bronze Age to the modern times, you should read the post Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion instead.

The bottleneck of Proto-Indo-Iranians under R1a-Z93 was not yet complete by the time when the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community expanded with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the European Early Bronze Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Bronze Age.

4.4. Afanasevo

At the end of the Afanasevo culture, at least three samples show hg. Q1b (ca. 2900-2500 BC), which seemed to point to a resurgence of local lineages, despite continuity of the prototypical Pre-Yamnaya ancestry. On the other hand, Anthony (2019) makes this cryptic statement:

Yamnaya men were almost exclusively R1b, and pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic Volga-Caspian-Caucasus steppe men were principally R1b, with a significant Q1a minority.

Since the only available samples from the Khvalynsk community are R1b (x3), Q1a(x1), and R1a(x1), it seems strange that Anthony would talk about a “significant minority”, unless Q1a (potentially Q1b in the newer nomenclature) will pop up in some more individuals of those ca. 30 new to be published. Because he also mentions I2a2 as appearing in one elite burial, it seems Q1a (like R1a-M459) will not appear under elite kurgans, although it is still possible that hg. Q1a was involved in the expansion of Afanasevo to the east.

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Middle Bronze Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Middle Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age.

Okunevo, which replaced Afanasevo in the Altai region, shows a majority of hg. Q1b, but also some R1b-M269 samples proper of Afanasevo, suggesting partial genetic continuity.

NOTE. Other sampled Siberian populations clearly show a variety of Q subclades that likely expanded during the Palaeolithic, such as Baikal EBA samples from Ust’Ida and Shamanka with a majority of Q1b, and hg. Q reported from Elunino, Sagsai, Khövsgöl, and also among peoples of the Srubna-Andronovo horizon (the Krasnoyarsk MLBA outlier), and in Karasuk.

From Damgaard et al. Science (2018):

(…) in contrast to the lack of identifiable admixture from Yamnaya and Afanasievo in the CentralSteppe_EMBA, there is an admixture signal of 10 to 20% Yamnaya and Afanasievo in the Okunevo_EMBA samples, consistent with evidence of western steppe influence. This signal is not seen on the X chromosome (qpAdm P value for admixture on X 0.33 compared to 0.02 for autosomes), suggesting a male-derived admixture, also consistent with the fact that 1 of 10 Okunevo_EMBA males carries a R1b1a2a2 Y chromosome related to those found in western pastoralists. In contrast, there is no evidence of western steppe admixture among the more eastern Baikal region region Bronze Age (~2200 to 1800 BCE) samples.

This Yamnaya ancestry has been also recently found to be the best fit for the Iron Age population of Shirenzigou in Xinjiang – where Tocharian languages were attested centuries later – despite the haplogroup diversity acquired during their evolution, likely through an intermediate Chemurchek culture (see a recent discussion on the elusive Proto-Tocharians).

Haplogroup diversity seems to be common in Iron Age populations all over Eurasia, most likely due to the spread of different types of sociopolitical structures where alliances played a more relevant role in the expansion of peoples. A well-known example of this is the spread of Akozino warrior-traders in the whole Baltic region under a partial N1a-VL29-bottleneck associated with the emerging chiefdom-based systems under the influence of expanding steppe nomads.

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Early Iron Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Iron Age and Late Iron Age.

Surprisingly, then, Proto-Tocharians from Shirenzigou pack up to 74% Yamnaya ancestry, in spite of the 2,000 years that separate them from the demise of the Afanasevo culture. They show more Yamnaya ancestry than any other population by that time, being thus a sort of Late PIE fossils not only in their archaic dialect, but also in their genetic profile:


The recent intrusion of Corded Ware-like ancestry, as well as the variable admixture with Siberian and East Asian populations, both point to the known intense Old Iranian and Old/Middle Chinese contacts. The scarce Proto-Samoyedic and Proto-Turkic loans in Tocharian suggest a rather loose, probably more distant connection with East Uralic and Altaic peoples from the forest-steppe and steppe areas to the north (read more about external influences on Tocharian).

Interestingly, both R1b samples, MO12 and M15-2 – likely of Asian R1b-PH155 branch – show a best fit for Andronovo/Srubna + Hezhen/Ulchi ancestry, suggesting a likely connection with Iranians to the east of Xinjiang, who later expanded as the Wusun and Kangju. How they might have been related to Huns and Xiongnu individuals, who also show this haplogroup, is yet unknown, although Huns also show hg. R1a-Z93 (probably most R1a-Z2124) and Steppe_MLBA ancestry, earlier associated with expanding Iranian peoples of the Srubna-Andronovo horizon.

All in all, it seems that prehistoric movements explained through the lens of genetic research fit perfectly well the linguistic reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Uralic stems from East Corded Ware groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An exclusive Volga-Kama homeland for Disintegrating Uralic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle Axe question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle Axe spoke “Para-Balto-Finnic”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Bronze Age cultures of Eastern Europe.

Genetic continuity = language continuity?

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Interesting excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The paper shows thus:

  • Major continuity of ancestry from Corded Ware to modern Estonians, with only slight changes in different periods. In fact, one of the best fits for the Late Bronze Age ancestry is Gyvakarai1, one of the Corded Ware “outliers” described as “closer to Yamna”, which I already said may be closer to Sredni Stog/EHG populations instead. Another interesting take is that the change from Bronze Age to Iron Age corresponds to an increase in Baltic Corded Ware-related ancestry, rather than being driven by Siberian ancestry.
  • pca-mittnik-gyvakarai
    File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). From Mittnik et al. (2018).
  • A Volosovo-related migration of hg. N1c with Netted Ware into the area seems to be discarded, based on the full replacement of paternal lines and continuity of R1a-Z283. It is only during the Tarand-grave period when a system of chiefdoms (spread from Ananyino/Akozino) brings haplogroup N1c to the Gulf of Finland. During the Iron Age, the proportion of paternal lineages is still clearly in favour of R1a (50% in the coast, 100% in Ostrobothnia), which indicates a gradual replacement led by elites, likely because of the incorporation of Akozino warrior-traders spreading all over the Baltic, bringing the described shared Mordvinic traits in Fennic.
  • finno-ugric-haplogroup-n
    Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).
  • The arrival of Akozino warrior-traders (bringing N1c and R1a lineages) was probably linked to this minimal “Nganasan-like” ancestry of some samples in the transition to the Iron Age. This arrival is supported by samples 0LS10 (the earliest hg. N1c) and V10 (of hg. R1a), both dated to ca. 800-400 BC, with V10 showing the highest “Nganasan-like” ancestry with 4.8%, both of them neighbouring samples showing 0%. This variable admixture among local and foreign paternal lineages might support the described social system of family alliances with intermarriages. In fact, a medieval sample, 0LS03_1 (hg. R1a) also shows a recent “Nganasan-like” ancestry, which probably points to the integration of different Arctic-related ancestry components among Modern Estonians, in this case related to Finnish expansions and thus integration of Levänluhta-related ancestry, as per the supplementary data.
  • NOTE. Such minimal proportions of “Nganasan-like” ancestry evidence the process of admixture of Volga Finns in Akozino territory through their close interactions with Permians of Ananyino, who in turn acquired this Palaeo-Arctic admixture most likely during the expansion of the linguistic community to hunter-gatherer territories, to the north of the Cis-Urals. This process of stepped infiltration and expansion without language change is not dissimilar to the one seen among Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of hg. R1b, or Vasconic speakers of hg. I2a, although in the case of Baltic Finns of hg. R1a the process of infiltration and expansion of hg. N1c is much less dramatic, with no radical replacement anywhere before the huge bottlenecks observable in Finns.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yekaterinovsky Cape, a link between the Samara culture and early Khvalynsk


We already had conflicting information about the elite individual from the Yekaterinovsky Cape and the materials of his grave, which seemed quite old:

For the burial of 45 in the laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, a 14C date was obtained: PSUAMS-2880 (Sample ID 16068)> 30 kDa gelatin Russia. 12, Ekaterinovka Grave 45 14C age (BP) 6325 ± 25 δ 13C (‰) –23.6 δ15 N (‰) 14.5. The results of dating suggest chronological proximity with typologically close materials from Yasinovatsky and Nikolsky burial grounds (Telegini et al. 2001: 126). The date obtained also precedes the existing dates for the Khvalynsk culture (Morgunova 2009: 14–15), which, given the dominance of Mariupol traits of the burial rite and inventory, confirms its validity. However, the date obtained for human bones does not exclude the possibility of a “reservoir effect” when the age can increase three or more centuries (Shishlin et al. 2006: 135–140).

Now the same date is being confirmed by the latest study published on the site, by Korolev, Kochkina, and Stachenkov (2019) and it seems it is really going to be old. Abstract (in part the official one, in part newly translated for clarity):

For the first time, pottery of the Early Eneolithic burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape is published. Ceramics were predominantly located on the sacrificial sites in the form of compact clusters of fragments. As a rule, such clusters were located above the burials, sometimes over the burials, some were sprinkled with ocher. The authors have identified more than 70 vessels, some of which have been partially reconstructed. Ceramic was made with inclusion of the crushed shell into molding mass. The rims of vessels had the thickened «collar»; the bottoms had a rounded shape. The ornament was located on the rims and the upper part of the potteries. Fully decorated vessels are rare. The vessels are ornamented with prints of comb and rope stamps, with small pits. A particularity of ceramics ornamentation is presented by the imprints of soft stamps (leather?) or traces of leather form for the making of vessels. The ornamentation, made up of «walking comb» and incised lines, was used rarely as well as the belts of pits made decoration under «collar» of a rim. Some features of the ceramics decoration under study relate it with ceramics of the Khvalynsk culture. The ceramics of Ekaterinovsky Cape burial ground is attributed by the authors to the Samara culture. The ceramic complex under study has proximity to the ceramics from Syezzhe burial ground and the ceramics of the second phase of Samara culture. The chronological position is determined by the authors as a later period than the ceramics from the Syezzhe burial ground, and earlier than the chronological position of ceramics of the Ivanovka stage of the Samara culture and the Khvalynsk culture.

Ceramics from Ekaterinovsky Cape burial ground. 1–2, 4–5, 7–11 – ceramics from aggregations; 3, 6 – ceramics from the cultural layer.

More specifically:

Based on ceramic fragments from a large vessel from a cluster of sq.m. 14, the date received was: SPb-2251–5673 ± 120 BP. The second date was obtained in fragments from the aggregation [see picture above] from the cluster of sq.m. 45–46: SPb-2252–6372 ± 100 BP. The difference in dating indicates that the process of determining the chronology of the burial ground is far from complete, although we note that the earlier date almost coincided with the date obtained from the human bone from individual 45 (Korolev, Kochkina, Stashenkov, 2018, p. 300).

Therefore, the ceramics of the burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape possess an originality that determines the chronological position of the burial ground between the earliest materials of the burial type in Syezzhe and the Khvalynsk culture. Techno-typological features of dishes make it possible to attribute it to the Samara culture at the stage preceding the appearance of Ivanovska-Khvalynsk ceramics.

It seems that this site showed cultural influences from the upstream region near the Kama-Vyatka interfluve, too, according to Korolev, Kochkina, Stashenkov, and Khokhlov (2018):

In 2017, excavation of burial ground Ekaterinovsky Cape were continued, located in the area of the confl uence of the Bezenchuk River in the Volga River. During the new excavations, 14 burials were studied. The skeleton of the buried were in a position elongated on the back, less often – crooked on the back with knees bent at the knees. In one burial (No. 90), a special position of the skeleton was recorded. In the burial number 90 in the anatomical order, parts of the male skeleton. This gave grounds for the reconstruction of his original position in a semi-sitting position with the support of elbows on the bottom of the pit. Noteworthy inventory: on the pelvic bones on the left lay a bone spoon, near the right humerus, the pommel of a cruciform club was found. A conclusion is made about the high social status of the buried. The results of the analysis of the burial allow us to outline the closest circle of analogies in the materials of Khvalynsky I and Murzikhinsky burial grounds.

Important sites mentioned in both papers and in this text:

To sum up, it seems that the relative dates we have used until now have to be corrected: older Khvalynsk I Khvalynsk II individuals, supposedly dated ca. 5200-4000 BC (most likely after 4700 BC), and younger Yekaterinovsky individuals, supposedly of the fourth quarter of the 5th millennium (ca. 4250-4000 BC), are possibly to be considered, in fact, roughly reversed, if not chronologically, at least culturally speaking.

Interestingly, this gives a new perspective to the presence of a rare fish- or reptile-headed pommel-scepter, which would be natural in a variable period of expansion of the horse and horse-related symbolism, a cultural trait rooted in the Samara culture attested in Syezzhe before the unification of the symbol of power under the ubiquitous Khvalynsk-Suvorovo horse-headed scepters and related materials.

Ekaterinovsky Cape Burial Ground. Inventory of the burial no 90: 1, 2 – stone pommel of the mace; 3, 4 – bone article.

The Khvalynsk chieftain

If the reported lineages from Yekaterinovsky Cape are within the R1b-P297 tree, but without further clades, as Yleaf comparisons may suggest, there is not much change to what we have, and R1b-M269 could actually represent a part of the local population, but also incomers from the south (e.g. the north Caspian steppe hunter-gatherers like Kairshak), the east (with hunter-gatherer pottery), or the west near the Don River (in contact with Mariupol-related cultures, as the authors inferred initially from material culture).

Just like R1a-M417 became incorporated into the Sredni Stog groups after the Novodanilovka-Suvorovo expansion, probably as incoming hunter-gatherer pottery groups from the north admixing with peoples of “Steppe ancestry”, R1b-M269 lineages might have expanded explosively only during the Repin expansion, and maybe (like R1b-L51 later) they formed just a tiny part of the clans that dominated the steppe during the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka community.

On the other hand, the potential finding of various R1b-M269/L23 samples in Yekaterinovsky Cape (including an elite individual) would suggest now, as it was supported in the original report by Mathieson et al. (2015), that these ancient R1b lineages found in the Volga – Ural region are in fact most likely all R1b-M269 without enough coverage to obtain proper SNP calls, which would simplify the picture of Neolithic expansions (yet again). From the supplementary materials:

10122 / SVP35 (grave 12). Male (confirmed genetically), age 20-30, positioned on his back with raised knees, with 293 copper artifacts, mostly beads, amounting to 80% of the copper objects in the combined cemeteries of Khvalynsk I and II. Probably a high-status individual, his Y-chromosome haplotype, R1b1, also characterized the high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamnaya graves in this region, so he could be regarded as a founder of an elite group of patrilineally related families. His MtDNA haplotype H2a1 is unique in the Samara series.

Khvalynsk cemetery and grave gifts. Grave 90 contained copper beads and rings, a harpoon, flint blades, and a bird-bone tube. Both graves (90 and 91) were partly covered by Sacrificial Deposit 4 with the bones from a horse, a sheep, and a cow. Center: grave goods from the Khvalynsk cemetery-copper rings and bracelets, polished stone mace heads, polished stone bracelet, Cardium shell ornaments, boars tusk chest ornaments, flint blades, and bifiacial projectile points. Bottom: shell-tempered pottery from the Khvalynsk cemetery. After Agapov, Vasiliev, and Pestrikova 1990; and Ryndina 1998, Figure 31. Modified from Anthony (2007).

This remarkable Khvalynsk chieftain, whose rich assemblage may correspond to the period of domination of the culture all over the Pontic-Caspian steppes, has been consistently reported as of hg. R1b-L754 in all publications, including Wang et al. (2018/2019) tentative SNP calls in the supplementary materials (obtained with Yleaf, as the infamous Narasimhan et al. 2018 samples), but has been variously reported by amateurs as within the R1b-M73, R1b-V88, or (lately) R1b-V1636 trees, which makes it unlikely that quality of the sample is allowing for a proper SNP call.

The fact that Mathieson et al. (2015) considered it a member of the R1b-M269 clans appearing later in Yamna seems on point right now, especially if samples from Yekaterinovka are all within this tree. The relevance of R1b-L23 in the expansion of Repin and Yamna is reminiscent of the influence of successful clans among Yamna offshoots, such as Bell Beakers, and among Bell Beaker offshoots during the Bronze Age all over Europe.

Taking these younger expansions as example, it seems quite likely based on cultural links that (at least part of) the main clans of Khvalynsk were of R1b-M269 lineage, stemming from a R1b-dominated Samara culture, in line with the known succeeding expansions and the expected strictly patriarcal and patrilineal society of Proto-Indo-Europeans, which would have exacerbated the usual reduction in Y-chromosome haplogroup variability that happens during population expansions, and the aversion towards foreign groups while the culture lasted.

Cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes and surrounding areas during the Neolithic.

The finding of R1b-L23 in Yekaterinovka, associated with the Samara culture, before or during the Khvalynsk expansion, and close to the Khvalynsk site, would make this Khvalynsk chieftain most likely a member of the M269 tree (paradoxically, the only R1b-L754 branch amateurs have not yet reported for it). Similarly, the sample of a “Samara hunter-gatherer” of Lebyazhinka, of hg. R1b-P297, could also be under this tree, just like most R1b-M269 from Yamna are downstream from R1b-L23, and most reported R1b-M269 or R1b-L23 from Bell Beakers are under R1b-L151.

On the other hand, we know of the shortcomings of attributing a haplogroup expansion to the best known rulers, such as the famous lineages previously wrongly attributed to Niall of the Nine Hostages or Genghis Khan. The known presence of R1b-V1636 up to modern Greeks would be in line with an ancient steppe expansion that we know will show up during the Neolithic, although it could also be a sign of a more recent migration from the Caucasus. The presence of a sister clade of R1b-L23, R1b-PF7562, among modern Balkan populations, may also be attributed to a pre-Yamna steppe expansion.

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

On SNP calls

I reckon that even informal reports on SNP calls, like any other analyses, should be offered in full: not only with a personal or automatic estimation of the result, but with a detailed explanation of the good, dubious, and bad calls, alternatives to that SNP estimation, and a motivated reasoning of why one branch should be preferred over others. Downloading a sample and giving an instruction using a free software tool is never enough, as it became crystal clear recently for the hilariously biased and flawed qpAdm reports on Dutch Bell Beakers as the ‘missing link’ between Corded Ware and Bell Beakers…

Another example I can recall is the report of a R1a-Z93 subclade in the R1a-M417 sample ca. 4000 BC from Alexandria, which seems rather unlikely, seeing how this subclade must have split and expanded explosively with R1a-Z645 to the east with eastern Corded Ware groups, i.e. 1,000 years later, just like Z282 lineages expanded mainly to the north-east. But then again, as with the Khvalynsk chieftain, I have only seen indirect reports of that supposed SNP (including Y26+!), so we should just stick with its officially reported R1a-M417 lineage. This upstream haplogroup was, in fact, repeated with Yleaf’s tentative estimates in Wang et al. (2019) supplementary materials…

The combination of inexperienced, biased, or simply careless design, analyses, and reports, including SNP calls and qpAdm analyses (whether in forums or publications), however well-intentioned (or not) they might be, are hindering a proper analysis of data, adding to the difficulties we already have due to the scarcity of samples, their limited coverage, and the lack of proper context.

Some people like to repeat ad nauseam that archaeology and/or linguistics are ‘not science’ whenever they don’t fit their beliefs and myths based on haplogroup and/or ancestry. But it’s becoming harder and harder to rely on certain genetic data, too, and on their infinite changing interpretations, much more than it is to rely on linguistic and archaeological research, including data, assessments, and discussions that are open for anyone to review…if one is truly interested in them.

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


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

“Sredni Stog”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classical Corded Ware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corded Ware ancestry marked the expansion of Uralians

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Steppe ancestry” step by step: Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Repin, Yamna, Corded Ware


Wang et al. (2018) is obviously a game changer in many aspects. I have already written about the upcoming Yamna Hungary samples, about the new Steppe_Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic keystones, and about the upcoming Greece Neolithic samples with steppe ancestry.

An interesting aspect of the paper, hidden among so many relevant details, is a clearer picture of how the so-called Yamnaya or steppe ancestry evolved from Samara hunter-gatherers to Yamna nomadic pastoralists, and how this ancestry appeared among Proto-Corded Ware populations.

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

Please note: arrows of “ancestry movement” in the following PCAs do not necessarily represent physical population movements, or even ethnolinguistic change. To avoid misinterpretations, I have depicted arrows with Y-DNA haplogroup migrations to represent the most likely true ethnolinguistic movements. Admixture graphics shown are from Wang et al. (2018), and also (the K12) from Mathieson et al. (2018).

1. Samara to Early Khvalynsk

The so-called steppe ancestry was born during the Khvalynsk expansion through the steppes, probably through exogamy of expanding elite clans (eventually all R1b-M269 lineages) originally of Samara_HG ancestry. The nearest group to the ANE-like ghost population with which Samara hunter-gatherers admixed is represented by the Steppe_Eneolithic / Steppe_Maykop cluster (from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont).

Steppe_Eneolithic samples, of R1b1 lineages, are probably expanded Khvalynsk peoples, showing thus a proximate ancestry of an Early Eneolithic ghost population of the Northern Caucasus. Steppe_Maykop samples represent a later replacement of this Steppe_Eneolithic population – and/or a similar population with further contribution of ANE-like ancestry – in the area some 1,000 years later.


This is what Steppe_Maykop looks like, different from Steppe_Eneolithic:


NOTE. This admixture shows how different Steppe_Maykop is from Steppe_Eneolithic, but in the different supervised ADMIXTURE graphics below Maykop_Eneolithic is roughly equivalent to Eneolithic_Steppe (see orange arrow in ADMIXTURE graphic above). This is useful for a simplified analysis, but actual differences between Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, Afanasevo, Yamna and Corded Ware are probably underestimated in the analyses below, and will become clearer in the future when more ancestral hunter-gatherer populations are added to the analysis.

2. Early Khvalynsk expansion

We have direct data of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka-like populations thanks to Khvalynsk and Steppe_Eneolithic samples (although I’ve used the latter above to represent the ghost Caucasus population with which Samara_HG admixed).

We also have indirect data. First, there is the PCA with outliers:


Second, we have data from north Pontic Ukraine_Eneolithic samples (see next section).

Third, there is the continuity of late Repin / Afanasevo with Steppe_Eneolithic (see below).

3. Proto-Corded Ware expansion

It is unclear if R1a-M459 subclades were continuously in the steppe and resurged after the Khvalynsk expansion, or (the most likely option) they came from the forested region of the Upper Dnieper area, possibly from previous expansions there with hunter-gatherer pottery.

Supporting the latter is the millennia-long continuity of R1b-V88 and I2a2 subclades in the north Pontic Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Eneolithic Sredni Stog culture, until ca. 4500 BC (and even later, during the second half).

Only at the end of the Early Eneolithic with the disappearance of Novodanilovka (and beginning of the steppe ‘hiatus’ of Rassamakin) is R1a to be found in Ukraine again (after disappearing from the record some 2,000 years earlier), related to complex population movements in the north Pontic area.

NOTE. In the PCA, a tentative position of Novodanilovka closer to Anatolia_Neolithic / Dzudzuana ancestry is selected, based on the apparent cline formed by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, and on the position and ancestry of Sredni Stog, Yamna, and Corded Ware later. A good alternative would be to place Novodanilovka still closer to the Balkan outliers (i.e. Suvorovo), and a source closer to EHG as the ancestry driven by the migration of R1a-M417.


The first sample with steppe ancestry appears only after 4250 BC in the forest-steppe, centuries after the samples with steppe ancestry from the Northern Caucasus and the Balkans, which points to exogamy of expanding R1a-M417 lineages with the remnants of the Novodanilovka population.


4. Repin / Early Yamna expansion

We don’t have direct data on early Repin settlers. But we do have a very close representative: Afanasevo, a population we know comes directly from the Repin/late Khvalynsk expansion ca. 3500/3300 BC (just before the emergence of Early Yamna), and which shows fully Steppe_Eneolithic-like ancestry.


Compared to this eastern Repin expansion that gave Afanasevo, the late Repin expansion to the west ca. 3300 BC that gave rise to the Yamna culture was one of colonization, evidenced by the admixture with north Pontic (Sredni Stog-like) populations, no doubt through exogamy:


This admixture is also found (in lesser proportion) in east Yamna groups, which supports the high mobility and exogamy practices among western and eastern Yamna clans, not only with locals:


5. Corded Ware

Corded Ware represents a quite homogeneous expansion of a late Sredni Stog population, compatible with the traditional location of Proto-Corded Ware peoples in the steppe-forest/forest zone of the Dnieper-Dniester region.


We don’t have a comparison with Ukraine_Eneolithic or Corded Ware samples in Wang et al. (2018), but we do have proximate sources for Abashevo, when compared to the Poltavka population (with which it admixed in the Volga-Ural steppes): Sintashta, Potapovka, Srubna (with further Abashevo contribution), and Andronovo:


The two CWC outliers from the Baltic show what I thought was an admixture with Yamna. However, given the previous mixture of Eneolithic_Steppe in north Pontic steppe-forest populations, this elevated “steppe ancestry” found in Baltic_LN (similar to west Yamna) seems rather an admixture of Baltic sub-Neolithic peoples with a north Pontic Eneolithic_Steppe-like population. Late Repin settlers also admixed with a similar population during its colonization of the north Pontic area, hence the Baltic_LN – west Yamna similarities.

NOTE. A direct admixture with west Yamna populations through exogamy by the ancestors of this Baltic population cannot be ruled out yet (without direct access to more samples), though, because of the contacts of Corded Ware with west Yamna settlers in the forest-steppe regions.


A similar case is found in the Yamna outlier from Mednikarovo south of the Danube. It would be absurd to think that Yamna from the Balkans comes from Corded Ware (or vice versa), just because the former is closer in the PCA to the latter than other Yamna samples. The same error is also found e.g. in the Corded Ware → Bell Beaker theory, because of their proximity in the PCA and their shared “steppe ancestry”. All those theories have been proven already wrong.

NOTE. A similar fallacy is found in potential Sintashta→Mycenaean connections, where we should distinguish statistically that result from an East/West Yamna + Balkans_BA admixture. In fact, genetic links of Mycenaeans with west Yamna settlers prove this (there are some related analyses in Anthrogenica, but the site is down at this moment). To try to relate these two populations (separated more than 1,000 years before Sintashta) is like comparing ancient populations to modern ones, without the intermediate samples to trace the real anthropological trail of what is found…Pure numbers and wishful thinking.


Yamna and Corded Ware show a similar “steppe ancestry” due to convergence. I have said so many times (see e.g. here). This was clear long ago, just by looking at the Y-chromosome bottlenecks that differentiate them – and Tomenable noticed this difference in ADMIXTURE from the supplementary materials in Mathieson et al. (2017), well before Wang et al. (2018).

This different stock stems from (1) completely different ancestral populations + (2) different, long-lasting Y-chromosome bottlenecks. Their similarities come from the two neighbouring cultures admixing with similar populations.

If all this does not mean anything, and each lab was going to support some pre-selected archaeological theories from the 1960s or the 1980s, coupled with outdated linguistic models no matter what – Anthony’s model + Ringe’s glottochronological tree of the early 2000s in the Reich Lab; and worse, Kristiansen’s CWC-IE + Germano-Slavonic models of the 1940s in the Copenhagen group – , I have to repeat my question again:

What’s (so much published) ancient DNA useful for, exactly?

See also