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?


The Lusatian culture, the most likely vector of Balto-Slavic expansions


New archaeological paper (behind paywall) New evidence on the southeast Baltic Late Bronze Age agrarian intensification and the earliest AMS dates of Lens culinaris and Vicia faba, by Minkevičius et al. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Arrival of farming in the south-east Baltic

The current state of research reveals no firm evidence of crop cultivation in the region before the LBA (Piličiauskas et al. 2017b; Grikpėdis and Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Current archaeobotanical data firmly suggest the adoption of farming during the EBA to LBA transition. (…) By comparison, in other parts of N Europe subsistence economy of CWC groups was characterized by strong emphasis on animal husbandry, however crop cultivation was also used (Kirleis 2019; Vanhanen et al. 2019). CWC sites from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany reveal evidence of the cultivation of H. vulgare var. nudum, T. dicoccum, Linum usitatissimum (flax) (Oudemans and Kubiak-Martens 2014; Beckerman 2015; Kubiak- Martens et al. 2015).

It is (…) striking that earliest evidence of farming in the SE Baltic only appears in the deposits dating over 4,000 years later.

The environmental conditions of the SE Baltic presented a significant barrier and numerous genetic adaptations were required before farming could successfully spread into the region (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Adaptations through seasonality changes usually play a major role in adapting to new environments (Sherratt 1980). These include establishing genetic controls on seasonality, especially flowering times and length of growing season (Fuller and Lucas 2017). Therefore, it could be argued that farming was only firmly established in the region around the LBA after several crop species, primarily barley, became adapted to the local environment and the risk of crop failure was reduced (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). The transition to farming was further aided by the climate warming which started around 750 cal bc (Gaigalas 2004; Sillasoo et al. 2009). In such a case the fragmented evidence from earlier periods is a likely illustration of the early attempts that have failed.

Map of sites mentioned in the text: 1 Duba and Palesa Lakes, 2 Šventoji, 3 Šarnelė, 4 Iru, 5 Kvietiniai, 6 Kreiči, 7 Turlojiškė, 8 Narkūnai, 9 Luokesa 1, 10 Mūkakalns, 11 Kivutkalns, 12 Asva, 13 Kukuliškiai

Social change

The LBA agrarian intensification of the SE Baltic was most likely not an isolated case but rather a part of broader social, economic and technological developments sweeping across northern Europe.

Evidence from sites across the Baltic Sea shows that the end of the EBA (ca. 1200 bc onward, after Gustafsson 1998) was marked by intensification of agriculture and changes in landscape management. This coincides with the agricultural developments observed on the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea and provides a context for the eventual arrival of farming, followed shortly by the rapid agrarian intensification of the region. Looking just south from the study region, we see that data from northern Poland reveal a sharp increase in both scale and intensity of agricultural activities during the EBA to LBA transition. Pollen records show significant environmental changes starting around 1400/1300 bc (Wacnik 2005, 2009; Wacnik et al. 2012). These were mostly a result of development of a production economy based on plant cultivation and animal raising. Even more significant changes during this period are visible in southern Scandinavia. Pollen records from S Sweden present evidence for an opening up of the forested landscape and the creation of extensive grasslands (Berglund 1991; Gustafsson 1998). Major changes are also apparent in archaeobotanical assemblages.

In general, during the end of the EBA northern Europe underwent a massive transformation of the farming system moving towards a more intensified agriculture aimed at surplus production. However, this should not be regarded as an isolated occurrence, but rather as a radical change of the whole society which took place throughout Europe (Gustafsson 1998). Intensification of contacts across northern Europe have integrated previously isolated regions into a wider network (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005; Wehlin 2013; Earle et al. 2015). It is therefore likely that farming spread into the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea alongside other innovations including malleable technologies and developments of social structure.

Late Bronze Age cultures in the Baltic. See full map.

The presence and scale of intensifying connections is well illustrated by SE Baltic archaeological material.

Firstly, the appearance of stone ship graves has served as a basis for locating the Nordic communication zones. Construction of such graves was limited to the coastal regions of Kurzeme, Saaremaa Island and the Northern Estonian coast near Tallinn and Kaliningrad (Graudonis 1967; Okulicz 1976; Lang 2007) and is generally regarded as a foreign burial custom which was common in Gotland and along the Scandinavian coast. This is also supported by the Staldzene and Tehumardi hoards (Vasks and Vijups 2004; Sperling 2013), which contained artefacts typical of Nordic culture.

Secondly, studies of early metallurgy and its products, both imported and created in the SE Baltic, have concluded that metal consumption in the LBA had more than doubled compared to the EBA (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999). The SE Baltic region lacks any metal artefact types exclusive to the region and metal objects are dominated by artefact types originating from Nordic and Lusatian cultures (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999; Lang 2007; Čivilytė 2014). This indicates that even after metal crafting reached the region, the technology remained exclusively of foreign origin. Rarely identifiable negatives of clay casting moulds were also made for artefacts of Nordic influence, such as Mälar type axes or Härnevi type pins (Čivilytė 2014; Sperling 2014).

Lastly, emerging social diversification was accompanied by the establishment of the first identifiable settlement pattern. Settlement locations were strategically chosen alongside economically significant routes, primarily on the coast and near the Daugava River. Hilltop areas were prioritized over the lowlands, and excavations on these sites have often revealed several stages of enclosure construction (Graudonis 1989). This has also been explained as a reflection of intensifying communication networks between Nordic and Lusatian cultures, and the indigenous communities of the SE Baltic.


One of the aspects of my description of Balto-Slavic I am least convinced about is my acceptance of Kortlandt’s dialectal classification into Proto-East Baltic, Proto-West Baltic, and Proto-Slavic, due to its strong reliance on his own controversial theory of late laryngeal loss.

Kortlandt’s position regarding Balto-Slavic is that it is in fact simply ‘Proto-Baltic’, a language that would stem thus from an Indo-Baltic branch, which would be originally represented by Corded Ware, and which would have split suddenly in its three dialects without any common development between branches, including some intermediate hypothetic “Centum” Temematic substrate that would explain everything his model can’t…

As more genetic and archaeological data on northern Europe appears, his ideas about Balto-Slavic are becoming even less credible, fully at odds with his predicted population and cultural movements, in particular because of the evident shaping of Indo-European-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Bell Beaker culture from the Yamnaya of the Carpathian Basin, and of the shaping of Uralic-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.

Middle Bronze Age cultures close to the Baltic ca. 1750-1250 BC. See full map.

The site of Turlojiškė in southern Lithuania (ca. 908-485 BC) – which Mittnik et al. (2018) classified as “Bronze Age, Trzciniec culture?” – can be more reasonably considered a settlement of incoming intensive agrarian communities under the influence of the Lusatian culture, like the Narkūnai hilltop settlement in eastern Lithuania (ca. 800–550 BC), or the enclosed hilltop settlement of Kukuliškiai in western Lithuania (ca. 887-506 BC), just 300 m east of the Baltic Sea, also referred to in the paper.

While the dates of sampled individuals include a huge span (ca. 2100-600 BC), those with confirmed radiocarbon dates are more precisely dated to the LBA-EIA transition. More specifically, the first clearly western influence is seen in the early outlier Turlojiškė1932 (ca. 1230-920 BC), while later samples and samples from Kivutkalns, in Latvia, show major genetic continuity with indigenous populations, compatible with the new chiefdom-based systems of the Baltic and the known lack of massive migrations to the region.

Contacts with western groups of the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures intensified – based on existing archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence – in the LBA, especially from ca. 1100/1000 BC on, and Baltic languages seem to have thus little to do with the disappearing Trzciniec culture, and more with the incoming Lusatian influence.

Both facts – more simple dialectalization scheme, and more recent Indo-European expansion to the east – support the spread of Proto-Baltic into the south-east Baltic area precisely around this time, and is also compatible with an internal separation from Proto-Slavic during the expansion of the Lusatian culture.

Top Left:Likely Baltic, Slavic, and Balto-Finnic-speaking territories (asynchronous), overlaid over Late Bronze Age cultures. Balto-Slavic in green: West(-East?) Baltic (B1), unattested early Baltic (B2), and Slavic (S). Late Balto-Finnic (F) in cyan. In red, Tollense and Turlojiškė sampling. Dashed black line: Balto-Slavic/West Uralic hydrotoponymy border until ca. 1000 AD. Top right: PCA of groups from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Marked are Iwno/Pre-Trzciniec of Gustorzyn (see below), Late Trzciniec/Iron Age samples from Turlojiškė, and in dashed line approximate extent of Tollense cluster; Y-DNA haplogroups during the Late Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Early Iron Age (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

Even though comparative grammar is traditionally known to be wary of resorting to language contamination or language contact, the truth is that – very much like population genomics – trying to draw a ‘pure’ phylogenetic tree for Balto-Slavic has never worked very well, and the most likely culprit is the Slavic expansion to the south-east into territories which underwent different and complex genetic and linguistic influences for centuries (see here and here).

The close interaction of Nordic BA and Lusatian cultures (and their cultural predominance over) indigenous eastern Baltic peoples from ca. 1100 BC fits (part of) the known intense lexical borrowings of Balto-Finnic from Palaeo-Germanic and from early Proto-Baltic, as well as (part of) the known Germanic–Balto-Slavic contacts, whereas the evident Balto-Finnic-like substrate of Balto-Slavic, and especially of Baltic, must stem from the acculturation of those indigenous East Baltic peoples.

The relative chronology of hydrotoponymy in the East Baltic shows that essentially all ancestral layers to the north of the Daugava must have been Uralic, while roughly south of the Daugava they seem to be mostly Indo-European. The question remains, though, when did this Indo-European layer start?

Despite the many centuries that could separate the attestation of southern place- and river-names from northern ones, Old European is also defined by linguistic traits, which would imply that the same language inferred from Western and Southern European hydrotoponymy is that found in the Baltic, hence all from North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beakers and derived Early European Bronze Age groups.

Interestingly, though, it is well known that some modern Baltic toponyms can’t be easily distinguished from the Old European layers – unlike those of Iberia or the British Isles, which show some attested language change in the proto-historical and historical period – which may imply both (a) continuity of Baltic languages since the EBA, but also that (b) the Baltic naming system is a confounding factor in assessing the ancestral expansion of Old European. The latter is becoming more and more likely with each new linguistic, archaeological, and genetic paper.

Hydronyms in up-. One among many examples of scarcely attested appellatives that appear inflated in the Baltic due to modern use.

In summary, a survival of a hypothetical late Trzciniec language in Lithuania or as part of the expanding Lusatian community is not the most economic explanation for what is seen in genetics and archaeology. On the other hand, the cluster formed by the Tollense samples (a site corresponding to the Nordic Bronze Age), the Turlojiškė outlier, and the early Slavs from Bohemia all depict an eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic languages from Central Europe, at the same time as Celtic expanded to the west with the Urnfield culture.

NOTE. Another, more complicated question, though, is if this expanding Proto-Baltic language accompanying agriculture represents the extinct
early Proto-Baltic dialect from which Balto-Finnic borrowed words, hence Proto-Baltic proper expanded later, or if this early Baltic branch could have been part of the Trzciniec expansion. Again, the answer in archaeological and genetic terms seems to be the former. For a more detailed discussion of this and more, see European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic.

As I said recently, the slight increase in Corded Ware-like ancestry among Iron Age Estonians, if it were statistically relevant and representative of an incoming population – and not just the product of “usual” admixture with immediate neighbours – need not be from south-eastern Corded Ware groups, because the Akozino-Malär cultural exchange seems to have happened as an interaction in both directions, and not just as an eastward migration imagined by Carpelan and Parpola.

Archaeology and genetics could actually suggest then (at least in part) an admixture with displaced indigenous West Uralic-speaking peoples from the south-west, to the south of the Daugava River, at the same time as the Indo-European – Uralic language frontier must have shifted to its traditional location, precisely during the LBA / EIA transition around 1000 BC.

NOTE. For more on this, see the supplementary materials of Saag et al. (2019).

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).

The tight relationship of the three communities also accounts for the homogeneous distribution of expanding haplogroup N1c-VL29 (possibly associated with Akozino warrior-traders) in the whole Baltic Sea area, such as those appearing in the Estonian Iron Age samples, which have no clearly defined route(s) of expansion.

It is even possible that they emerged first in the south, linked to marriage alliances of Akozino chieftains with Baltic- and Germanic-speaking chiefdoms around the Baltic Sea (see N1c in Germanic Iron Age), because the expansion of (some) N1c lineages with Gulf of Finland Finnic to the north was more clearly associated with their known bottleneck ca. 2,000 years ago.


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.