Bronze Age cultures in the Tarim Basin and the elusive Proto-Tocharians


Master’s thesis Shifting Memories: Burial Practices and Cultural Interaction in Bronze Age China: A study of the Xiaohe-Gumugou cemeteries in the Tarim Basin, by Yunyun Yang, Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History (2019).

Summary excerpts, mainly from the conclusions (emphasis mine):

Both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou groups are suggested as possibly originating from southern Siberia or Central Asia and being related to Afanasievo and Andronovo people (Han 1986, 1994; Li et al. 2010, 2015). But a latest research suggest that the Xiaohe males are genetic distinct from the Afanasievo males, considering the paternal lineages (Hollard et al. 2018). From genetic evidence, it is suggested that southern Siberia and Central Asia were dominated by Europeans during the Bronze Age. Southern Siberia was predominant by Europeans since the Bronze Age as a result of eastward migration of Kurgan people (Keyser et al. 2009). Central Asia started to have an eastern Eurasian maternal lineage that coexisted with the previous western maternal lineage from around 700 BCE (Lalueza-Fox et al. 2004). Based on the research mentioned above, we can conclude as that the Xiaohe and the Gumugou people possibly came from the southern Siberia or Central Asia.

Origin of the Xiaohe horizon

There are two hypotheses about the origins of the Xiaohe horizon. The “steppe hypothesis” assumes that the early settlers (Gumugou people) of the Tarim Basin came from the Afanasievo culture in the Minusinsk Basin-Altai Mountains regions (Kuz’mina et al. 2008; Mallory et al. 2008). The “oasis hypothesis” argues that the early settlers were related to the spreading of the oasis-based agricultural groups from the Bactria and Margiana parts of the southern Central Asia area (Chen et al. 1995). Both hypotheses mainly relied on the use of some materials such as animal cattle, sheep/goats, camel hair, and plant wheat, whose origins were bound to western traditions. But these proofs cannot provide enough support to claim that the Xiaohe horizon cultures were from Afanasievo or BMAC cultures, except for telling there were possible cultural connections or interactions among them. What’s more, there were no horses or potteries in the Xiaohe horizon.

It is worth noting that Ephedra plant is commonly thought as a strong candidate of the Soma or Haoma sacred drink for the ancient Indians or Iranians. Soma is the name recorded in the Vedic Brahmanism religious literature Rigveda, Haoma in the Zoroastrianism Avesta, and indicates as a ritual drink from plant juice. The reason to address Ephedra plant to Soma-Haoma drink is mainly because of its ephedrine, which works on muscle strength, low blood pressure, (and asthma) to make people get rid of tiredness (Houben 2013). Furthermore, it is thought that Ephedra with anti-fatigue function gives gods or the dead immortality, longevity, and resurrection (Mahdihassan 1987). From a mobile consideration of Vedic Aryans perspective, it is thought Vedic Aryans made use of Ephedra, cannabis and poppy to produce Soma drink in Margiana, only Ephedra in Bactria and in Indian mountains area, but other substitutes in Indian plains (Shah 2014). From the Ephedra perspective, it is agreeable that the Xiaohe-Gumugou people were related to the Indo-Aryan peoples (Mallory et al. 1997; Wang 2017).

The distribution map of the sites in the Xiaohe cultural horizon.

Burial customs

Both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou groups maintained similar burial customs, but we can distinguish a developing process from the slight diverse ways of the Gumugou cemetery to the highly consistent and advanced technology in making coffins of the Xiaohe cemetery. In terms of the dressing, the dead wore a felt cap, a pair of leather boots, a bracelet twined on the right wrist, and was wrapped in a big felt mantle. The dead in the Xiaohe cemetery also wore a loin-cloth. Commonly, both cemeteries contained burials goods of Ephedra twigs, grains of wheat and millet, grass-made baskets, animal ears (such as calf ears), and livestock. Wooden coffins in the two cemeteries were constructed in a similar way, by assembling two side-planks, two end-boards, a lid consisting of a few short straight boards, and covered with livestock hide (mainly cattle hide in the Xiaohe cemetery and sheep/goats hide in the Gumugou cemetery).

Considering the similar and continuous burial behaviours in the two cemeteries, it can be assumed that both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies were stable and consistent. The Xiaohe cemetery had both the special clay-lid wooden coffins and the normal coffins in its early phase (burial layers 4th-5th), then turned to be stable and consistent with the normal coffins (burial layers 1st-3rd), and have developed better construction of the boat-shape coffins. The Gumugou cemetery contained two main burial patterns, type I; the sun-radiating-spokes burials and type II; the normal burials, which coexisted during the same time. Burials of type II were similar but not limited to strict rules. Burials in both the Xiaohe and the Gumugou cemetery were fairly heterogeneous, and the clay-lid wooden coffins in the Xiaohe cemetery and the sun-radiating-spokes burials in the Gumugou cemetery only took up in a small percentage of each cemetery. These special burial types could indicate special roles of the dead in their related societies. Either the dead had high social positions or possibly they actually had a different ancestry origin. It is argued here that the latter is something that is quite possible, considering the mixed populations in the two cemeteries.

The sun-radiating-spokes burials share some features with a similar type of grave, constructed of circular stone kerbs of the stone-pit graves. The sun-radiating-spokes burials might represent an adaption to the local desert environment, which had better access to wood rather than stones. Circular stone kerbs with stone-pit in centre were widely seen in Bronze Age Afanasievo and Andronovo burials, and also in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age burials along the Tian Shan. The present study suggests a high possibility that the six males buried in the sun-radiating-spokes graves came from the contemporary parallel Andronovo horizon, and kept some of their own ancestry memories in an adapted way.

An assumption of the spreading/expansion routes stone burial construct.


Although the Xiaohe and Gumugou societies were stable and consistent, it does not mean that the societies were isolated, and we can see strong indications of them being open to the outside. With time, the Xiaohe population were getting even more diverse origins, as newcomers kept joining the group from outside. However, the burial behaviours in the Xiaohe cemetery did not change as a consequence if these additions. This suggests that the newcomers inherited the local burial customs, and strongly indicates that they became part of the community and adopted the new social identity, possibly through marriage. As a result, the diverse populations can well explain the coexistence of different cultural elements in the burials, e.g. cattle, sheep/goats, camel hair (from Central Asia), grains of wheat (from the west) and millet (from the east), etc.

The Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies were similar, but the Xiaohe society developed to a more advanced level both in economy and in social structure. First, the oasis-based economic system of the Xiaohe and the Gumugou had similar husbandry, but later this was developed to different extent. Both societies mainly relied on livestock, and while the Xiaohe people favoured cattle, the Gumugou people favoured sheep/goats. The two societies also developed agriculture, which can be seen from the grains of wheat and millet. It has been shown that grains of wheat are bread wheat. The Xiaohe people also cooked porridge with millet and milk, and had dairy products.

From these evidences, we can assume that the Xiaohe people have developed a stronger economic level. Secondly, the Xiaohe society had more distinguished gender roles, resulting in different social roles for men and women in terms of work and religions. The female and male dead were buried in a distinguished way with loin-cloths and wooden monuments. Sexual identity on a social level refers to how people consider and expect different genders to act and behave under the social and cultural framework. In the Xiaohe society, men carried out hunting tasks (creatures like vultures, badgers, lizards, snakes); women were associated to the rebirth of lives. To synthesize, a possible relation between the Xiaohe and the Gumugou societies is that they represent two parallel groups who shared similar economic systems because of the similar environment, or that there is a chronological difference where the Gumugou people may have existed earlier. The absolute dating information from the two cemeteries is insufficient to rule out the second situation.

The area division of the Tarim Basin and its surroundings (The division is made based on the mountain ranges including Altai Mountains, Tian Shan, and Kunlun Mountains, and also the distribution of ancient cemeteries in the whole Xinjiang generally.)


To place the Xiaohe horizon in the larger context of the Bronze Age burials in its surroundings, the hypothesis presented in this study is that the Xiaohe-Gumugou people might possibly represent a parallel to the Andronovo groups, with an eastward migration, that developed their own societies and ethnicities in the Tarim Basin with some ancestral memories still preserved. Considering the location and the geographical features of Xinjiang, the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan left open access from the Eurasian Steppe to the Dzungarian Basin. The Hami Basin-the Balikun Grassland was the first intersection area to combine the possible western and eastern cultural influences. To pass by the Turpan Basin and enter into the Tarim Basin, there were two possible routes, one northern route along the southern edge of Tian Shan, and one southern route along the northern edge of Kunlun Mountains.

In the early Bronze Age, the burials in Xinjiang had some clear typical geographic features that distinguish them from their surroundings. But from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, the tradition with circular kerbs of stones with stone-pits burials expanded along the southern edge of the Tian Shan, which was a major shift of burial practice that possibly could be linked to the expansion of the Andronovo horizon or a general nomadic expansion.

Although there were no horses or wagons found in the Xiaohe burials, the wooden horse-hoof objects were an indication of horses, which did not exist in their daily lives anymore, but possibly were related to some settlers’ ancestral memories of their nomadic origins. However, it was more important for them to assimilate to the common social identities of their new group. After people died, it was preferred to be buried in the communal cemetery. Even if the dead bodies were lost, wooden substitutes will be used in graves to represent the dead, since they believed in afterlife and thought that the end of the death is rebirth.


While the results of Li et al. (2010, 2015) of Xiaohe mummies regarding Y-chromosome haplogroups – showing mostly R1a(xZ93) – and radiocarbon dates of the samples are yet to be confirmed, Proto-Tocharians are known to have had contacts with Samoyeds, early Indo-Iranians (in turn in contact with the BMAC language), then into Common Tocharian with ancient Iranians, and then Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages again (for more on this, see Ged Carling‘s publications).

The connection of the Tocharian branch with Afanasevo is essentially indisputable today, like that of Late Proto-Indo-European with late Repin/early Yamna, even more so than it was just 10 years ago, thanks to the most recent genetic investigation. The common genetic stock of Yamna and Afanasevo – as well as that of East Bell Beakers and Palaeo-Balkan peoples – fits perfectly earlier predictions based on the linguistic estimates of the separation and evolution of the diverse language communities, and the tentative attribution to Eurasian steppe-related cultures.

Tentative identification of language groups among Early Bronze Age cultures. Pre-/Proto-Tocharian is traditionally associated with Chemurchek. See full image.

The trail leading from Afanasevo to Common Tocharians, on the other hand, seems to be more tricky, not unlike many other Indo-European-speaking groups from Europe and Asia, whose precise evolution until their historical attestation is often unclear. Nevertheless, the eventual presence of diverse haplogroups among historical Tocharians – whether they coincide with ancient DNA recovered from BMAC, South India, Andronovo, or Bronze Age Tian Shan populations – will only be relevant to understand the genetic evolution of the speakers of Tocharian during its different stages.

If the genetic trail backwards from known Tocharians to (earlier) unknown Common Tocharians, and forwards from known Pre-Tocharians to (later) unknown Proto-Tocharians leads unequivocally to these populations from the Xiaohe cultural horizon, this paper shows one of the mechanisms through which peoples of the Andronovo cultural horizon (or, more precisely, male lines derived from it) may have become integrated into a Tocharian-speaking population, not dissimilar to what happened in the steppes between Uralic-speaking Abashevo and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Catacomb-Poltavka to form the Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka culture.

As we have discussed in this blog many times over, to solve this ethnolinguistic identification of prehistoric cultures one needs to investigate ancient DNA in combination with linguistic guesstimates and the Indo-European homeland problem from a wide anthropological perspective. People not understanding this simple concept are bound to end up in some comical Tocharo-Indo-Iranian grouping related to Corded Ware ancestry from Andronovo, similar to the Celto-Ibero-Basques of elevated CEU BA ancestry and hg. R1b-P312 to the south of the Pyrenees during the Iron Age from Olalde et al. (2019), and to the Balto-Finno-Slavs of hg. R1a-Z283 and elevated “Steppe ancestry” in the BA-IA East Baltic from Saag et al. (2019)


A study of genetic diversity of three isolated populations in Xinjiang using Y-SNP


New open access paper (in Chinese) A study of genetic diversity of three isolated populations in Xinjiang using Y-SNP, by liu et al. Acta Anthropologica Sinitica (2018)


The Keriyan, Lopnur and Dolan peoples are isolated populations with sparse numbers living in the western border desert of our country. By sequencing and typing the complete Y-chromosome of 179 individuals in these three isolated populations, all mutations and SNPs in the Y-chromosome and their corresponding haplotypes were obtained. Types and frequencies of each haplotype were analyzed to investigate genetic diversity and genetic structure in the three isolated populations. The results showed that 12 haplogroups were detected in the Keriyan with high frequencies of the J2a1b1 (25.64%), R1a1a1b2a (20.51%), R2a (17.95%) and R1a1a1b2a2 (15.38%) groups. Sixteen haplogroups were noted in the Lopnur with the following frequencies: J2a1 (43.75%), J2a2 (14.06%), R2 (9.38%) and L1c (7.81%). Forty haplogroups were found in the Dolan, noting the following frequencies: R1b1a1a1 (9.21%), R1a1a1b2a1a (7.89%), R1a1a1b2a2b (6.58%) and C3c1 (6.58%). These data show that these three isolated populations have a closer genetic relationship with the Uygur, Mongolian and Sala peoples. In particular, there are no significant differences in haplotype and frequency between the three isolated populations and Uygur (f=0.833, p=0.367). In addition, the genetic haplotypes and frequencies in the three isolated populations showed marked Eurasian mixing illustrating typical characteristics of Central Asian populations.

Figure 1. The populations distribution map. Left: Uluru. Center: Dali Yabuyi. Right: Kaerqu.

My knowledge of written Chinese is almost zero, so here are some excerpts with the help of Google Translate:

The source of 179 blood samples used in the study is shown in Figure 1. The Keriyan blood samples were collected from Dali Yabuyi Township, Yutian County (39 samples). The blood samples of the Lopnur people were collected from Kaerqu Township, Yuli County (64 cases); the blood samples of the Dolan people were collected from the town of Uluru, Awati County (76).

Columns one and two are the Keriyan haplotypes and frequencies, respectively; the third and fourth columns are the Lopnur haplotypes and frequencies; the last four columns are the Daolang haplotypes and frequencies.

The composition and frequency of the Keriyan people’s haplogroup are closest to those of the Uighurs, and both Principal Component Analysis and Phylogenetic Tree Analysis show that their kinship is recent. We initially infer that the Keriyan are local desert indigenous people. They have a connection with the source of the Uighurs. Chen et al. [42] studied the patriarchal and maternal genetic analysis of the Keriyan people and found that they are not descendants of the Tibetan ethnic group in the West. The Keriyan people are a mixed group of Eastern and Western Europeans, which may originate from the local Vil group. Duan Ranhui [43] and other studies have shown that the nucleotide variability and average nucleotide differences in the Keriyan population are between the reported Eastern and Western populations. The phylogenetic tree also shows that the populations in Central Asia are between the continental lineage of the eastern population and the European lineage of the western population, and the genetic distance between the Keriyan and the Uighurs is the closest, indicating that they have a close relationship.


Regarding the origin of the Lopnur people, Purzhevski judged that it was a mixture of Mongolians and Aryans according to the physical characteristics of the Lopnur people. In 1934, the Sino-Swiss delegation discovered the famous burials of the ancient tombs in the Peacock River. After research, they were the indigenous people before the Loulan period; the researcher Yang Lan, a researcher at the Institute of Cultural Relics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the Lopnur people were descendants of the ancient “Landan survivors”. However, the Loulan people speaking an Indo-European language, and the Lopnur people speaking Uyghur languages contradict this; the historical materials of the Western Regions, “The Geography of the Western Regions” and “The Western Regions of the Ming Dynasty” record the Uighurs who lived in Cao Cao in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Because of the occupation of the land by the Junggar nobles and their oppression, they fled. Some of them were forced to move to the Lop Nur area. There are many similar archaeological discoveries and historical records. We have no way to determine their accuracy, but they are at different times, and there is a great difference in what is heard in the same region. (…) The genetic characteristics of modern Lopnur people are the result of the long-term ethnic integration of Uyghurs, Mongols, and Europeans. This is also consistent with the similarity of the genetic structure of the Y chromosome of Lopnur in this study with the Uighurs and Mongolians. For example, the frequency of J haplogroup is as high as 59.37%, while J and its downstream sub-haplogroup are mainly distributed in western Europe, West Asia and Central Asia; the frequency of O, R haplogroup is close to that of Mongolians.

1) KA: Keriya, LB: Rob, DL: Daolang, HTW: Hetian Uygur, HTWZ: and Uygur, TLFW: Turpan Uighur, HZ: Hui, HSKZ: Kazakh, WZBKZ: Wuhuan Others, TJKZ: Tajik, KEKZZ: Kirgiz, TTEZ: Tatar, ELSZ: Russian XBZ: Xibo, MGZ: Mongolian, SLZ: Salar, XJH: Xinjiang Han, GSH: Gansu Han, GDH: Guangdong Han SCH: Sichuan Han. 2) Reference population data source literature 19-22. After the population names in the table have been marked, all the shorthands in the text are referred to in this table. 3) Because the degree of haplotypes of each reference population is different to each sub-group branch, the sub-group branches under the same haplogroup are merged when the population haplogroup data is aggregated, for example: for haplogroup G Some people are divided into G1a and G2a levels, others are assigned to G1, G2, and G3, while some people can only determine G this time. Therefore, each subgroup is merged into a single group G.

According to Ming History·Western Biography, the Mongolians originated from the Mobei Plateau and later ruled Asia and Eastern Europe. Mongolia was established, and large areas of southern Xinjiang and Central Asia were included. Later, due to the Mongolian king’s struggle for power, it fell into a long-term conflict. People of the land fled to avoid the war, and the uninhabited plain of the lower reaches of the Yarkant River naturally became a good place to live. People from all over the world gathered together and called themselves “Dura” and changed to “Dang Lang”. The long-term local Uyghur exchanges that entered the southern Mongolian monks and “Dura” were gradually assimilated [44]. According to the report, locals wore Mongolian clothes, especially women who still maintained a Mongolian face [45]. In 1976, the robes and waistbands found in the ancient time of the Daolang people in Awati County were very similar to those of the ancients. Dalang Muqam is an important part of Daolang culture. It is also a part of the Uyghur Twelve Muqam, and it retains the ancient Western culture, but it also contains a larger Mongolian culture and relics. The above historical records show that the Daolang people should appear in the Chagatai Khanate and be formed by the integration of Mongolian and Uighur ethnic groups. Through our research, we also found that the paternal haplotype of the Daolang people is contained in both Uygur and Mongolian, and the main haplogroups are the same, whereas the frequencies are different (see Table 3). The principal component analysis and the NJ analysis are also the same. It is very close to the Uyghur and the Mongolian people, which establishes new evidence for the “mixed theory” in molecular genetics.

Genetic relationship between the three isolated populations: the Uygur and the Mongolian is the closest, and the main haplogroup can more intuitively compare the source composition of the genetic structure of each population. Haplogroups C, D, and O are mainly distributed in Asia as the East Asian characteristic haplogroup; haplogroups G, J, and R are mainly distributed in continental Europe, and the high frequency distribution is in Europe and Central Asia.

If the nomenclature follows a recent ISOGG standard, it appears that:

The presence of exclusively R1a-Z93 subclades and the lack of R1b-M269 samples is compatible with the expansion of R1a-Z93 into the area with Proto-Tocharians, at the turn of the 3rd-2nd millennium BC, as suggested by the Xiaohe samples, supposedly R1a(xZ93).

Now that it is obvious from ancient DNA (as it was clear from linguistics) that Pre-Tocharians separated earlier than other Late PIE peoples, with the expansion of late Khvalynsk/Repin into the Altai, at the end of the 4th millennium, these prevalent R1a (probably Z93) samples may be showing a replacement of Pre-Tocharian Y-DNA with the Andronovo expansion already by 2000 BC.

Lacking proper assessment of ancient DNA from Proto-Tocharians, this potential early Y-DNA replacement is still speculative*. However, if that is the case, I wonder what the Copenhagen group will say when supporting this, but rejecting at the same time the more obvious Y-DNA replacement in East Yamna / Poltavka in the mid-3rd millennium with incoming Corded Ware-related peoples. I guess the invention of an Indo-Tocharian group may be near…

*NOTE. The presence of R1b-M269 among Proto-Tocharians, as well as the presence of R1b-M269 among Tarim Basin peoples in modern and ancient times is not yet fully discarded. The prevalence of R1a-Z93 may also be the sign of a more recent replacement by Iranian peoples, before the Mongolian and Turkic expansions that probably brought R1b(xM269).

Also, the presence of R1b (xM269) samples in east Asia strengthens the hypothesis of a back-migration of R1b-P297 subclades, from Northern Europe to the east, into the Lake Baikal area, during the Early Mesolithic, as found in the Botai samples and later also in Turkic populations – which are the most likely source of these subclades (and probably also of Q1a2 and N1c) in the region.


Yamna/Afanasevo elite males dominated by R1b-L23, Okunevo brings ancient Siberian/Asian population


Open access paper New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations, by Hollard et al., Am J Phys Anthropol. (2018) 00:1–11.

NOTE. This seems to be a peer-reviewed paper based on a more precise re-examination of the samples from Hollard’s PhD thesis, Peuplement du sud de la Sibérie et de l’Altaï à l’âge du Bronze : apport de la paléogénétique (2014).

Interesting excerpts:

Afanasevo and Yamna

The Afanasievo culture is the earliest known archaeological culture of southern Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk-Altai region during the Eneolithic era 3600/3300 BC to 2500 BC (Svyatko et al., 2009; Vadetskaya et al., 2014). Archeological data showed that the Afanasievo culture had strong affinities with the Yamnaya and pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic cultures in the West (Grushin et al., 2009). This suggests a Yamnaya migration into western Altai and into Afanasievo. Note that, in most current publications, “the Yamnaya culture” combines the so-called “classical Yamnaya culture” of the Early Bronze Age and archeological sites of the preceding Repin culture in the middle reaches of the Don and Volga rivers. In the present article we conventionally use the term Yamnaya in the same sense, in which case the beginning of the “Yamnaya culture” can be dated after the middle of the 4th millennium BC, when the Afanasievo culture appeared in the Altai.

Because of numerous traits attributed to early Indo-Europeans and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, members of the Afanasievo culture are believed to have been Indo-European speakers (Mallory and Mair, 2000). In a recent whole-genome sequencing study, Allentoft et al. (2015) concluded that Eastern Yamnaya individuals and Afanasievo individuals were genetically indistinguishable. Moreover, this study and one published concurrently by Haak et al. (2015) analyzed 11 Eastern Yamnaya males and showed that all of them belonged to the R1b1a1a (formerly R1b1a) (…)

Early Chalcolithic migrations ca. 3300-2600 BC.

Published works indicate that R1b was a predominant haplogroup from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age, notably in the Bell Beaker and Yamnaya cultures (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2012; Mathieson et al., 2015). Nearly 100% of the Afanasievo men we typed belonged to the R1b1a1a subhaplogroup and, for at least three of them, more precisely to the L23 (xM412) subclade. (…)

(…) our results therefore support the hypothesis of a genetic link between Afanasievo and Yamnaya. This also suggests that R1b was indeed dominant in the early Bronze Age Siberian steppe, at least in individuals that were buried in kurgans (possibly an elite part of the population). The geographical and temporal distribution of subhaplogroup R1b1a1a supports the hypothesis of population expansion from West to East in the Eurasian steppe during this period. It should however be noted that the Yamnaya burials from which the samples for DNA analysis were obtained (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Mathieson et al., 2015) were dated within the limits of the Afanasievo period. Ancestors of both East Yamnaya and Afanasievo populations must therefore be sought in the context of earlier Eneolithic cultures in Eastern Europe. Sufficient Y-chromosomal data from such Eneolithic populations is, unfortunately, not yet available.

Mitochondrial- (A) and Y- (B) haplogroup distribution in studied populations

Okunevo and paternal lineage shift in South Siberia

Results obtained in the current study, from more than a dozen Okunevo individuals belonging to the earliest stage of Okunevo culture, that is the Uibat period (2500–2200 BC) (Lazaretov, 1997), suggest a discontinuity in the genetic pool between Afanasievo and Okunevo cultures. Although Y-chromosomal data obtained for bearers of the Okunevo culture showed that one individual carried haplogroup R1b, most Okunevo Y-haplogroups are representative of an Asian component represented by paternal lineages Q and NO1.

Okunevo carrier of Y-haplogroup Q1b1a-L54, which also supports this hypothesis (L54 being a marker of the lineage from which M3, the main Ameridian lineage, arose). Okunevo people could therefore be a remnant paleo-Siberian population with possible Afanasievo input, as suggested by the presence of the R1b1a1a2a subhaplogroup in one individual.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

Replacement of Asian Indo-European elite lineages by R1a

Published genetic data from the late Bronze Age Andronovo culture from the Minusinsk Basin (Keyser et al., 2009), the Sintashta culture from Russia (Allentoft et al., 2015) and the Srubnaya culture from the region of Samara (Mathieson et al., 2015), show that males did not belong to Y-haplogroup R1b but mostly to R1a clades: there appears to have been a change in the dominant Y-chromosomal haplogroup between the early and the late Bronze Age in these regions. Moreover, as described in Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo and Sintashta peoples were closely related to each other but clearly distinct from both Yamnaya and Afanasievo. Although these results do not imply that Y-haplogroup R1b was entirely absent in these later populations, they could correspond to a replacement of the elite between these two main periods and therefore a difference in the haplogroups of the men that were preferentially buried.

Early Bronze Age migrations ca. 2250-1750 BC.

Afanasevo and the Tarim Basin

The discovery, in the Tarim Basin, of well-preserved mummies from the Bronze Age allows for the construction of two hypotheses regarding the peopling of the Xinjiang province at this period. The “steppe hypothesis,” argues for a link with nomadic steppe herders (Hemphill and Mallory, 2004), possibly represented in this case by Afanasievo populations and their descendants (Mallory and Mair, 2000). However, newly published cultural data from the burial grounds of Gumugou (Wang, 2014) and Xiaohe (Xinjiang, 2003, 2007) shows material culture and burial rites incompatible with the Afanasievo culture. The earliest 14C date for Tarim Basin burials would place them at the turn of the 2nd millenium BC (Wang, 2013), 500 years after the Afanasievo period.

Instead, early Gumugou and Xiaohe burial grounds were contemporary with the start of the Andronovo period. Likewise, the Bronze Age population of the Xinjiang at Gumugou/Qäwrighul is not phenotypically closest to Afanasievo but to the Andronovo (Fedorovo) group of northeastern Kazakhstan and western Altai (Kozintsev, 2009). Our investigations demonstrate that Y-chromosomal lineage composition is also compatible with the notion that the ancient Tarim population was genetically distinct from the Afanasievo population. The only Y-haplogroup found by Li et al. (2010) in the Bronze Age Tarim Basin population was Y-haplogroup R1a, which suggests a proximity of this population with Andronovo groups rather than Afanasievo groups.

I don’t think these finds are much of a surprise based on what we already know, or need much explanation…

I would add that, once again, we have more proof that the movement of Okunevo and related ancient Siberian migrants from Central or North Asia will not be able to explain the presence of Uralic languages spread over North-East Europe and Scandinavia already during the Bronze Age.

Also interesting is to read in more peer-reviewed papers the idea of Late Indo-European speakers clearly linked to the expansion of patrilineally-related elite males marked by haplogroup R1b-L23, most likely since Eneolithic Khvalynsk/Repin cultures.