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 Europe – 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.


Magyar tribes brought R1a-Z645, I2a-L621, and N1a-L392(xB197) lineages to the Carpathian Basin


The Nightmare Week of “N1c=Uralic” proponents continues, now with preprint Y-chromosome haplogroups from Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian period nomadic people of the Carpathian Basin, by Neparaczki et al. bioRxiv (2019).


Hun, Avar and conquering Hungarian nomadic groups arrived into the Carpathian Basin from the Eurasian Steppes and significantly influenced its political and ethnical landscape. In order to shed light on the genetic affinity of above groups we have determined Y chromosomal haplogroups and autosomal loci, from 49 individuals, supposed to represent military leaders. Haplogroups from the Hun-age are consistent with Xiongnu ancestry of European Huns. Most of the Avar-age individuals carry east Eurasian Y haplogroups typical for modern north-eastern Siberian and Buryat populations and their autosomal loci indicate mostly unmixed Asian characteristics. In contrast the conquering Hungarians seem to be a recently assembled population incorporating pure European, Asian and admixed components. Their heterogeneous paternal and maternal lineages indicate similar phylogeographic origin of males and females, derived from Central-Inner Asian and European Pontic Steppe sources. Composition of conquering Hungarian paternal lineages is very similar to that of Baskhirs, supporting historical sources that report identity of the two groups.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

All N-Hg-s identified in the Avars and Conquerors belonged to N1a1a-M178. We have tested 7 subclades of M178; N1a1a2-B187, N1a1a1a2-B211, N1a1a1a1a3-B197, N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, N1a1a1a1a1a-VL29, N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 and the N1a1a1a1a2a1c1-L1034 subbranch of Z1936. The European subclades VL29 and Z1936 could be excluded in most cases, while the rest of the subclades are prevalent in Siberia 23 from where this Hg dispersed in a counter-clockwise migratory route to Europe (…). All the 5 other Avar samples belonged to N1a1a1a1a3-B197, which is most prevalent in Chukchi, Buryats, Eskimos, Koryaks and appears among Tuvans and Mongols with lower frequency.

First two components of PCA from Hg N1a subbranch distribution in 51 populations including Avars and Conquerors. Colors indicate geographic regions. Three letter codes are given in Supplementary Table S5.

By contrast two Conquerors belonged to N1a1a1a1a4-M2118, the Y lineage of nearly all Yakut males, being also frequent in Evenks, Evens and occurring with lower frequency among Khantys, Mansis and Kazakhs.

Three Conqueror samples belonged to Hg N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936 , the Finno-Permic N1a branch, being most frequent among northeastern European Saami, Finns, Karelians, as well as Komis, Volga Tatars and Bashkirs of the Volga-Ural region.Nevertheless this Hg is also present with lower frequency among Karanogays, Siberian Nenets, Khantys, Mansis, Dolgans, Nganasans, and Siberian Tatars.

The west Eurasian R1a1a1b1a2b-CTS1211 subclade of R1a is most frequent in Eastern Europe especially among Slavic people. This Hg was detected just in the Conqueror group (K2/18, K2/41 and K1/10). Though CTS1211 was not covered in K2/36 but it may also belong to this sub-branch of Z283.

Hg I2a1a2b-L621 was present in 5 Conqueror samples, and a 6th sample form Magyarhomorog (MH/9) most likely also belongs here, as MH/9 is a likely kin of MH/16 (see below). This Hg of European origin is most prominent in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, especially among Slavic speaking groups. It might have been a major lineage of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and it was present in the Baden culture of the Chalcolithic Carpathian Basin.

Image modified from the paper, with drawn red square around lineages of likely Ugric origin, and squares around R1a-Z93, R1a-Z283, N1a-Z1936, and N1a-M2004 samples. Y-Hg-s determined from 46 males grouped according to sample age, cemetery and Hg. Hg designations are given according to ISOGG Tree 2019. Grey shading designate distinguished individuals with rich grave goods, color shadings denote geographic origin of Hg-s according to Fig. 1. For samples K3/1 and K3/3 the innermost Hg defining marker U106* was not covered, but had been determined previously.

We identified potential relatives within Conqueror cemeteries but not between them. The uniform paternal lineages of the small Karos3 (19 graves) and Magyarhomorog (17 graves) cemeteries approve patrilinear organization of these communities. The identical I2a1a2b Hg-s of Magyarhomorog individuals appears to be frequent among high-ranking Conquerors, as the most distinguished graves in the Karos2 and 3 cemeteries also belong to this lineage. The Karos2 and Karos3 leaders were brothers with identical mitogenomes 11 and Y-chromosomal STR profiles (Fóthi unpublished). The Sárrétudvari commoner cemetery seems distinct from the others, containing other sorts of European Hg-s. Available Y-chromosomal and mtDNA data from this cemetery suggest that common people of the 10th century rather represented resident population than newcomers. The great diversity of Y Hg-s, mtDNA Hg-s, phenotypes and predicted biogeographic classifications of the Conquerors indicate that they were relatively recently associated from very diverse populations.

Surprising about the Hungarian conquerors – although in line with the historical accounts – is the varied patrilineal origin of clans, including Q1a, G2a2b, I1, E1b1b, R1b, J1, or J2 – some of which (depending on specific lineages) may have appeared earlier in the Carpathian Basin or south-eastern Europe.

However, out of the 27 conqueror elite samples, 17 are of haplogroups most likely related to Ugric populations beyond the Urals: R1a-Z645, I2-L621, and two specific N1a-L392 lineages (see below). In fact, there are three high-ranking conqueror elites of hg. I2-L621 (one of them termed a “leader”, brother to an unpublished leader of Karos3, and all of them possibly family), one of hg. R1a-Z280, one of hg. R1a-Z93 (which should be added to the Árpáds), and one of hg. N1a-Z1936, which gives a good idea of the ruling class among the elite Ugric settlers.

NOTE. The Q1a sample is also likely to be found in the mixed population of the West Siberian forest-steppes, since it was found in Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from eastern Europe to Lake Baikal, and in Bronze Age Siberian groups, although admittedly it may have formed part of an Avar Transtisza group, or even earlier Hunnic or Scythian groups along the steppes. Without precise subclades it’s impossible to know.

The seven chieftains of the Hungarians, detail of Arrival of the Hungarians, from Árpád Feszty’s and his assistants’ vast (1800 m2) cyclorama, painted to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary, now displayed at the Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park in Hungary. Image from Wikipedia.


I2a-L621 (xS17250) or I2a1b2 in the old nomenclature, is found in 6 early conquerors (including one leader), on a par with R1a and N samples. This haplogroup is found widely distributed in ancient samples, due to its early split (formed ca. 9200 BC, TMRCA ca. 4500 BC) and expansion, probably with Neolithic populations. I can’t seem to find samples of this early haplogroup from the Carpathian Basin, as mentioned in the text, although it wouldn’t be strange, because it appears also in Neolithic Iberia, and in modern populations from western Europe.

Nevertheless, I2a-L621 samples seem to be concentrated mainly in Mesolithic-Neolithic cultures of Fennoscandia, and appeared also in Sikora et al. (2017) in a sample of the High Middle Ages from Sunghir (ca. AD 1100-1200), probably from the Vladimir-Suzdalian Rus’, in a region where clearly tribes of Volga Finns were being assimilated at the time. The reported SNP call by Genetiker is A16681 (see Yfull), deep within I2a-CTS10228. It is possibly also behind a modern Saami from Chalmny Varre (ca. AD 1800) of hg. I2a in Lamnidis et al. (2018).

Lacking precise subclades from Hungarian conquerors this is pure speculation, but modern samples may also point to I2a-CTS10228 (formed ca. 3100 BC, TMRCA ca. 1800 BC) as a Finno-Ugric lineage in common with R1a, which must have expanded to the Urals and beyond with eastern Corded Ware groups or (more likely) succeeding cultures. This is in line with the association of certain I2a lineages with modern Uralic peoples or populations from their historical regions in eastern Europe, and linked thus to the most likely homeland of Uralians in the eastern European forests:

Additional file 6: Table S5. Y chromosome haplogroup frequencies in Eurasia. Modified by me: in bold haplogroup N1c and R1a from Uralic-speaking populations, with those in red showing where R1a is the major haplogroup. Observe that all Uralic subgroups – Finno-Permic, Ugric, and Samoyedic – have some populations with a majority of R1a, and also of I lineages. Data from Tambets et al. (2018).


Regarding the important question of the ethnic makeup of Ugric populations stemming from the Urals, the most interesting (and expected) data is the presence of R1a-Z645 lineages among high-ranking conquerors, in particular four R1a-Z280 subclades proper of Finno-Ugrians.

This proves that, in line with the old split and expansion of R1a-CTS1211 (formed ca. 2600 BC, TMRCA ca. 2400 BC), and its finding in Bronze Age Fennoscandian samples, only some late R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages (see Z280 on YFull) may show a clear identification with early acculturated Uralic speakers, with the main early acculturated Balto-Slavic R1a haplogroup remaining R1a-M458.

I recently hypothesized this late connection of Slavs with very specific R1a-Z280 (xZ92) lineages based on analyses of modern populations (like Slovenians), because the connection of ancient Finno-Ugrians with modern Z92 samples was already evident:

(…) subclades of hg. R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 (xR1a1a1b1a2a-Z92) seem to have also been involved in early Slavic expansions, like R1a1a1b1a2b3a-CTS3402 (formed ca. 2200 BC, TMRCA ca. 2200 BC), found among modern West, South, and East Slavic populations and in Fennoscandia, prevalent e.g. among modern Slovenians which points to a northern origin of its expansion (Maisano Delser et al. 2018).

This finding also supports the expected shared R1a-Z280 lineages among ancient Finno-Ugric populations, as predicted from the study of modern Permic and Ugric peoples in Dudás et al. (2019).

Modified image, from Underhill et al. (2015). Spatial frequency distributions of Z282 (green) and Z93 (blue) affiliated haplogroups. Notice the distribution of R1a-Z280 (xZ92), i.e. R1a-M558, compared to the ancient Finno-Ugric distribution.

Furthermore, while we don’t have precise R1a-Z93 lineages to compare with the new Hunnic sample reported, we already know that some archaic R1a-Z2124 subclades stem from the forest-steppe areas of the Cis- and Trans-Urals, and the two newly reported R1a-Z93 Hungarian conqueror elites, like those of the Árpád dynasty, probably belong to them.

There is an obvious lack of continuity in specific paternal lineages among the Hunnic, the Avar, and the Conqueror periods, which makes any simplistic identification of all R1a-Z93 lineages as stemming from Avars, Huns, or the Iron Age Pontic-Caspian steppes clearly flawed. Comparing R1a-Z93 in Hungarian Conquerors with Huns is like comparing them with samples of the Srubna or earlier periods… Similarly, comparing the Hunnic R1b-U106 or the early Avar I1 to later Hungarian samples is not warranted without precise subclades, because they most likely correspond to different Germanic populations: Goths among Huns, then Longobards, then likely peoples descended from Franks and Irish Monks (the latter with R1b-P312).


Second behind R1a subclades are, as expected, N1a-L392 (N1c in the old nomenclature).

Avars are dominated by a specific N1a-L392 subclade, N1a-B197, as we recently discovered in Csáky et al. (2019).

Hungarian conquerors show three N1a-Z1936 subclades, which is known to stem from the northern Ural region, including the Arctic (likely Palaeo-Laplandic peoples) and cross-stamped cultures of the northern Eurasian forests.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Subclade N3a4 / N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, probably with the Samic (first) and Fennic (later) expansions into Paleo-Lakelandic and Palaeo-Laplandic territories.

On the other hand, the two N1a-M2118 lineages are more clearly associated with Palaeo-Siberian populations east of the Urals, but became incorporated into the Ugric stock in the Trans-Urals region probably in the same way as N1a-Z1936, by infiltration from (and acculturation of) hunter-gatherers of forest and taiga cultures.

NOTE. You can read more about the infiltration of N1a lineages in the recent post Corded Ware—Uralic (IV): Hg R1a and N in Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic expansions, and in the specific sections for each Uralic group in A Clash of Chiefs.

Frequency-Distribution Maps of Individual Sub-clades of hg N3a2, by Ilumäe et al. (2016).


The picture offered by the paper on Hungarian Conquerors, while in line with historical accounts of multi-ethnic tribes incorporating regional lineages, shows nevertheless patrilineal clans clearly associated with Uralic peoples, in a distribution which could have been easily inferred from ancient Trans-Uralian forest-steppe cultures and modern samples (even regarding I2a-L621).

In spite of this, there is a great deal of discussion in the paper about specific N1a subclades in Hungarian conquerors, while the presence of R1a-Z280 (among early Magyar elites!) is interpreted, as always, as recently acculturated Slavs. This is sadly coupled with the simplistic identification of I2a-L621 as of local origin around the Carpathians.

The introduction of the paper to the history of Hungarians is also weird, for example giving credibility to the mythic accounts of the Árpád dynasty’s origin in Attila, which is in line, I guess, with what the authors intended to support all along, i.e. the association of Magyars with Turks from the Eurasian steppes, which they are apparently willing to achieve by relating them to haplogroup R1a-Z93

The conclusion is thus written to appease modern nation-building myths more than anything else, like many other papers before it:

It is generally accepted that the Hungarian language was brought to the Carpathian Basin by the Conquerors. Uralic speaking populations are characterized by a high frequency of Y-Hg N, which have often been interpreted as a genetic signal of shared ancestry. Indeed, recently a distinct shared ancestry component of likely Siberian origin was identified at the genomic level in these populations, modern Hungarians being a puzzling exception36. The Conqueror elite had a significant proportion of N Hgs, 7% of them carrying N1a1a1a1a4-M2118 and 10% N1a1a1a1a2-Z1936, both of which are present in Ugric speaking Khantys and Mansis. At the same time none of the examined Conquerors belonged to the L1034 subclade of Z1936, while all of the Khanty Z1936 lineages reported in 37 proved to be L1034 which has not been tested in the 23 study. Population genetic data rather position the Conqueror elite among Turkic groups, Bashkirs and Volga Tatars, in agreement with contemporary historical accounts which denominated the Conquerors as “Turks”. This does not exclude the possibility that the Hungarian language could also have been present in the obviously very heterogeneous, probably multiethnic Conqueror tribal alliance.

So, back to square one, and new circular reasoning: If ancient populations from north-eastern Europe believed to represent ancient Finno-Ugrians are of R1a-Z645 lineages, it’s because they were not Finno-Ugric speakers. If ancient and modern populations known to be of Finno-Ugric language show clear connections with R1a-Z645, it’s because they are “multi-ethnic”.

The only stable basis for discussion in genetic papers, apparently, is the own making of geneticists, with their traditional 2000s “R1a=Indo-European” and “N1c=Uralic”, coupled with national beliefs. It does not matter how many predictions based on that have been proven wrong, or how many predictions based on the Corded Ware = Uralic expansion have been proven right.


R1a-Z280 and R1a-Z93 shared by ancient Finno-Ugric populations; N1c-Tat expanded with Micro-Altaic

Two important papers have appeared regarding the supposed link of Uralians with haplogroup N.

Avars of haplogroup N1c-Tat

Preprint Genetic insights into the social organisation of the Avar period elite in the 7th century AD Carpathian Basin, by Csáky et al. bioRxiv (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

After 568 AD the Avars settled in the Carpathian Basin and founded the Avar Qaganate that was an important power in Central Europe until the 9th century. Part of the Avar society was probably of Asian origin, however the localisation of their homeland is hampered by the scarcity of historical and archaeological data.

Here, we study mitogenome and Y chromosomal STR variability of twenty-six individuals, a number of them representing a well-characterised elite group buried at the centre of the Carpathian Basin more than a century after the Avar conquest.

The Y-STR analyses of 17 males give evidence on a surprisingly homogeneous Y chromosomal composition. Y chromosomal STR profiles of 14 males could be assigned to haplogroup N-Tat (also N1a1-M46). N-Tat haplotype I was found in four males from Kunpeszér with identical alleles on at least nine loci. The full Y-STR haplotype I, reconstructed from AC17 with 17 detected STRs, is rare in our days. Only nine matches were found among haplotypes in YHRD database, such as samples from the Ural Region, Northern Europe (Estonia, Finland), and Western Alaska (Yupiks). We performed Median Joining (MJ) network analysis using N-Tat haplotypes with ten shared STR loci (Fig. 3, Table S9). All modern N-Tat samples included in the network had derived allele of L708 as well. Haplotype I (Cluster 1 in Fig. 3) is shared by eight populations on the MJ network among the 24 identical haplotypes. Cluster 1 represents the founding lineage, as it is described in Siberian populations, because this haplotype is shared by the most populations and it is more diverse than Cluster 2.

Nine males share N-Tat haplotype II (on a minimum of eight detected alleles), all of them buried in the Danube-Tisza Interfluve. We found 30 direct matches of this N-Tat haplotype II in the YHRD database, using the complete 17 STR Y-filer profile of AC1, AC12, AC14, AC15, AC19 samples. Most hits came from Mongolia (seven Buryats and one Khalkh) and from Russia (six Yakuts), but identical haplotypes also occur in China (five in Xinjiang and four in Inner Mongolia provinces). On the MJ network, this haplotype II is represented by Cluster 2 and is composed of 45 samples (including 32 Buryats) from six populations (Fig. 3).

Median Joining network of 162 N-Tat Y-STR haplotypes Allelic information of ten Y-STR loci were used for the network. Only those Avar samples were included, which had results for these ten Y-STR loci. The founder haplotype I (Cluster 1) is shared by eight populations including three Mongolian, three Székely, three northern Mansi, two southern Mansi, two Hungarian, eight Khanty, one Finn and two Avar (AC17, AC26) chromosomes. Haplotype II (Cluster 2) includes 45 haplotypes from six populations studied: 32 Buryats, two Mongolians, one Székely, one Uzbek, one Uzbek Madjar, two northern Mansi and six Avars (AC1, AC12, AC14, AC15, AC19 and KSZ 37). Haplotype III (indicated by a red arrow) is AC8. Information on the modern reference samples is seen in Table S9.

A third N-Tat lineage (type III) was represented only once in the Avar dataset (AC8), and has no direct modern parallels from the YHRD database. This haplotype on the MJ network (see red arrow in Fig. 3) seems to be a descendent from other haplotype cluster that is shared by three populations (two Buryat from Mongolia, three Khanty and one Northern Mansi samples). This haplotype cluster also differs one molecular step (locus DYS393) from haplotype II. We classified the Avar samples to downstream subgroup N-F4205 within the N-Tat haplogroup, based on the results of ours and Ilumäe et al.18 and constructed a second network (Fig. S4). The N-F4205 network results support the assumption that the N-Tat Avar samples belong to N-F4205 subgroup (see SI chapter 1d for more details).

Based on our calculation, the age of accumulated STR variance (TMRCA) within N-Tat lineage for all samples is 7.0 kya (95% CI: 4.9 – 9.2 kya), considering the core haplotype (Cluster 1) to be the founding lineage. Y haplogroup N-Tat was not detected by large scale Eurasian ancient DNA studies but it occurs in late Bronze Age Inner Mongolia and late medieval Yakuts, among them N-Tat has still the highest frequency.

Two males (AC4 and AC7) from the Transtisza group belong to two different haplotypes of Y-haplogroup Q1. Both Q1a-F1096 and Q1b-M346 haplotypes have neither direct nor one step neighbour matches in the worldwide YHRD database. A network of the Q1b-M346 haplotype shows that this male had a probable Altaian or South Siberian paternal genetic origin.

EDIT (5 APR 2019): The paper offers an interesting late sample before the arrival of Hungarian conquerors, although we don’t know which precise lineage the sample belongs to:

One sample in our dataset (HC9) comes from this population, and both his mtDNA (T1a1b) and Y chromosome (R1a) support Eastern European connections. (…) Furthermore, we excluded sample HC9 from population-genetic statistical analyses because it belongs to a later period (end of 7th – early 9th centuries)

Apparently, then, results are consistent with what was already known from studies of modern populations:

According to Ilumäe et al. study, the frequency peak of N-F4205 (N3a5-F4205) chromosomes is close to the Transbaikal region of Southern Siberia and Mongolia, and we conclude that most Avar N-Tat chromosomes probably originated from a common source population of people living in this area, completely in line with the results of Ilumäe et al.

Geographic-Distribution Map of hg N3 from Ilumäe et al.

Finno-Ugrians share haplogroup R1a-Z280

Another paper, behind paywall, Genetic history of Bashkirian Mari and Southern Mansi ethnic groups in the Ural region, by Dudás et al. Molecular Genetics and Genomics (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Y‑chromosome diversity

The most frequent haplogroups of the Bashkirian Maris were N1b-P43 (42%), R1a-Z280 (16%), R1a-Z93 (16%), N1c-Tat (13%), and J2-M172 (7%). Furthermore, subgroup R1b-M343 accounted for 4% and I2a-P37 covered 2% of the lineages. None of the Mari N1c Y chromosomes belonged to the N1c subgroups investigated (L1034, VL29, Z1936).

In the case of the Southern Mansi males, the most frequent haplogroups were N1b-P43 (33%), N1c-L1034 (28%) and R1a-Z280 (19%). The frequencies of the remaining haplogroups were as follows: R1a-M458 (6%), I1-L22 (3%), I2a-P37 (3%), and R1b-P312 (3%). The haplotype and haplogroup diversities of the Bashkirian Mari group were 0.9929 and 0.7657, whereas these values for the Southern Mansi were 0.9984 and 0.7873, respectively. The results show that, in both populations, haplotypes are much more diverse than haplogroups.

Haplogroup frequencies of the Bashkirian Mari and the Southern Mansi ethnic groups in Ural region

Genetic structure

(..) the studied Bashkirian Mari and Southern Mansi population groups formed a compact cluster along with two Khanty, Northern Mansi, Mari, and Estonian populations based on close Fst-genetic distances (< 0.05), with nonsignificant p values (p > 0.05) except for the Estonian population. All of these populations belong to the Finno-Ugric language family. Interestingly, the other Mansi population studied by Pimenoff et al. (2008) (pop # 38) was located a great distance from the Southern Mansi group (0.268). In addition, the Bashkir population (pop # 6) did not show a close genetic affinity to the Bashkirian Mari group (0.194), even though it is the host population. However, the Russian population from the Eastern European region of Russia (pop # 49) showed a genetic distance of 0.055 with the Southern Mansi group. All Hungarian speaking populations (pops 13, 22, 23, 24, 50, and 51) showed close genetic affinities to each other and to the neighbouring populations, but not to the two studied populations.

Multidimensional scaling (MDS) plot constructed on Fstgenetic distances of Y haplogroup frequencies of 63 populations compared. The haplogroup frequency data used for population comparison together with references are seen in Online Resource 2 (ESM_2). Pairwise Fst-genetic distances and p values between 63 populations were calculated as shown in Online Resource 3 (ESM_3) Fig. 4 Multidimensional scaling (MDS) plot constructed on Rstgenetic distances of 10 STR-based Y haplotype frequencies of 21 populations compared. Image modified to include labels of modern populations.

Phylogenetic analysis

Median-joining networks were constructed for:

N-P43 (earlier N1b):

(…) TMRCA estimates for this haplogroup were made for all P43 samples (n = 157) 8.7 kya (95% CI 6.7–10.8 kya), for the N-P43 Asian.


(…) 75% of Buryats belonged to Haplotype 2, indicating that the Buryats studied by us is a young and isolated population (Bíró et al. 2015). Bashkirian Mari samples derive from Haplotype 2 via Haplotype 3 (see dark purple circles on the top of Fig. 6a). Haplotype 3 contained six males (2 Buryat, 1 Northern Mansi, and 3 Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. 2008). The biggest Bashkirian Mari haplotype node (3 Mari samples) was positioned three mutational steps away from Haplotype 1 and the remaining Mari samples can be derived from this haplotype. Southern Mansi haplotypes were scattered within the network except for two, which formed a smaller haplotype node with two Northern Mansi and two Khanty samples from Pimenoff et al. (2008).

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 153 N-Tat (a) and 26 N-L1034 (b) haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. For N-Tat network, we used data from Southern Mansi (n = 11), Bashkirian Mari (n = 6) samples with Hungarian (n = 12), Hungarian speaking Székely (n = 6), Northern Mansi (n = 14), Mongolian (n = 16), Buryat (n = 44), Finnish (n = 13), Uzbek Madjar (n = 2), Uzbek (n = 3), Khanty (n = 4) populations studied earlier by us (Fehér et al. 2015; Bíró et al. 2015) and Khanty (n = 18) and Mansi (n = 4) studied by Pimenoff et al. (2008)

R1a-Z280 haplotypes, shared by Maris, Mansis, and Hungarians, hence ancient Finno-Ugrians:

The founder R1a-Z280 haplotype was shared by four samples from four populations (1 Bashkirian Mari; 1 Southern Mansi; 1 Hungarian speaking Székely; and 1 Hungarian), as presented in Fig. 7 (Haplotype 1). Haplotype 2 included five males (3 Bashkirian Mari and 2 Hungarian), as it can be seen in Fig. 7. Haplotype 4 included two shared haplotypes (1 Bashkirian Mari and one Hungarian speaking Csángó). The remaining two Bashkirian Mari haplotypes differ from the founder haplotype (Haplotype 1) by two mutational steps via Hungarian or Hungarian and Bashkirian Mari shared haplotypes. Beside Haplotype 1, the remaining Southern Mansi haplotypes were shared with Hungarians (Haplotype 5 or turquoise blue and red-coloured circles above Haplotype 7) or with Hungarians and Hungarian speaking Székely group (Haplotypes 3, 5, and 6). Haplotype 7 included ten Hungarian speakers (Hungarian, Székely, and Csángó). One Hungarian and one Uzbek Khwarezm shared haplotype can be found in Fig. 7 as well (red and white-coloured circle). All the other haplotypes were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation within R1a-Z280 lineage for 93 samples is estimated to be 9.4 kya (95% CI 6.5–12.4 kya) considering Haplotype 1 (Fig. 7) to be the founder.

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 93 R1a-Z280 haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. We used haplotype data from Bashkirian Mari (n = 7), Southern Mansi (n = 7), Hungarian (n = 52), Hungarian speaking Székely (n = 11), Hungarian speaking Csángó (n = 10), Uzbek Ferghana (n = 2), Uzbek Tashkent (n = 1), Uzbek Khwarezm (n = 1) and Northern Mansi (n = 2) populations

R1a-Z93 as isolated lineages among Permic and Ugric populations:

Figure 8 depicts an MJ network of R1a-Z93* samples using 106 haplotypes from the 14 populations (Fig. 8). All of the Bashkirian Mari samples (7 haplotypes) formed a very isolated branch and differed from the one Hungarian haplotype (Fig. 8, see Haplotype 1) by seven mutational steps as well from two Uzbek Tashkent samples (see Haplotype 3). Another Hungarian sample shared two haplotypes of Uzbek Khwarezm samples in Haplotype 4. This haplotype can be derived from Haplotype 3 (Uzbek Tashkent). Haplotype 2 included one Hungarian and one Khakassian male. The remaining three Hungarian haplotypes are outliers in the network and are not shared by any sample. The other population samples included in the network either form independent clusters such as Altaians, Khakassians, Khanties, and Uzbek Madjars or were scattered in the network. The age of accumulated STR variation (TMRCA) within R1a-Z93* lineage for 106 samples is estimated as 11.6 kya (95% CI 9.3–14.0 kya) considering an Armenian haplotype (Fig. 8, “A”) to be the founder and the median haplotype.

Median-Joining Networks (MJ) of 106 R1a-Z93 haplotypes constructed. The circle sizes are proportional to the haplotype frequencies. The smallest area is equivalent to one individual. We used the next haplotype data: 7 Bashkirian Mari, 6 Khanty, 4 Uzbek Madjar, 5 Uzbek Ferghana, 9 Uzbek Tashkent, 7 Uzbek Khwarezm, 2 Mongolian, 2 Buryat, 6 Hungarian samples tested by us for this study or published earlier (Bíró et al. 2015) and populations (3 Armenian; 3 Afghan Tajik;
16 Altaian; 24 Khakassian; 12 Kyrgyz) from Underhill et al. (2015)


The results of modern populations for N (especially N1c) subclades show really wide clusters and ancient TMRCA, consistent with their known ancient and wide distribution in northern and eastern Eurasian groups, and thus with infiltration of different lineages with eastern nomads (and northern Arctic populations) coupled with later bottlenecks, as well as acculturation of groups.

EDIT (2 APR): Interesting is the specific subclade to which ancient Mongolic-speaking Avars belong (information from Yfull) N1c-F4205 (TMRCA ca. 500 BC), subclade of N1c-Y6058 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). This branch also gives the “European” branch N1c-CTS10760 (formed ca. 2800 BC, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), and is subclade of a branch of N1c-L392 (formed ca. 4400 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC). A northern expansion of N1c-L392 is probably represented by its branch N1c-Z1936 (formed ca. 2800, TMRCA ca. 2100 BC), the most likely candidate to appear in the Kola Peninsula in the Bronze Age as the Palaeo-Laplandic population (see here). Read more about potential routes of expansion of haplogroup N.

On the other hand, R1a-Z280 lineages form a tight cluster connecting Permic with Ugric groups, with R1a-Z93 showing early isolation (probably) between Cis-Urals and Trans-Urals regions. While both Corded Ware lineages in Finno-Ugrians are most likely related to the Abashevo expansion through Seima-Turbino and the Andronovo-like Horizon (and potentially later Eurasian expansions), a plausible hypothesis would be that Finno-Ugrians are related to an expansion of R1a-Z283 haplogroups (we already knew about the Finno-Permic connection), while the ancient connection between Permians and Hungarians with R1a-Z93 would correspond to this haplogroup’s potentially tighter link with an early Samoyedic split.

I don’t think that an explosive expansion of eastern Corded Ware groups of R1a-Z645 lineages will show a clear-cut division of haplogroups among Eastern Uralic groups, though, and culturally I doubt we will have such a clear image, either (similar to how the explosive expansion of Bell Beakers cannot be easily divided by regional/language group into R1b-L151 subclades before the known bottlenecks). Relevant in this regard are the known Z93 samples from the Árpád dynasty.

Nevertheless, this data may represent a slightly more recent wave of R1a-Z280 lineages linked to the expansion of Ugric into the Trans-Uralian region, after their split from Finno-Permic, still in close contact with Indo-Iranians in Poltavka and Sintashta-Potapovka, evident from the early and late Indo-Iranian borrowings, during a common period when Samoyedic had already separated.

Such a “Z283 over Z93” layer in the Trans-Urals (and Cis-Urals?) forest-steppes would be similar to the apparent replacement of Z284 by Z282 in the Eastern Baltic during the Bronze Age (possibly with the second or Estonian Battle Axe wave or, much more likely during later population movements). Such an early R1a-Z93 split could potentially be supported also by the separation into bottlenecks under “Northern” (R1a-Z283) Finno-Ugric-speaking Abashevo-related groups and “Southern” (R1a-Z93) acculturated Indo-Iranian-speaking Abashevo migrants developing Sintashta-Potapovka admixing with Poltavka R1b-Z2103 herders.

Modified image, from Underhill et al. (2015). Spatial frequency distributions of Z282 (green) and Z93 (blue) affiliated haplogroups.. Notice the potential Finno-Ugric-associated distribution of Z282 (especially R1a-M558, a Z280 subclade), the expansion of R1a-Z2123 subclades with Central Asian forest-steppe groups.


Let’s review some of the most common myths about Hungarians (and Finno-Ugrians in general) repeated ad nauseam, side by side with my assertions:

❌ N (especially N1c-Tat) in ancient and modern samples represent the True Uralic™ N1c peoples including Magyar tribes? Nope.

✅ Ancient N (especially N1c-Tat) lineages among Uralic populations expanded relatively recently, and differently in different regions (including eastern steppe nomads and northern arctic populations) not associated with a particular language or language group? Yep (read the series on Corded Ware = Uralic expansion).

❌ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z280 lineages represent the majority of the native population, poor Slavic ‘peasants’ from the Carpathian Basin, forcibly acculturated by a minority of bad bad Hungarian hordes? Nope.

✅ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z280 subclades represent Ugric lineages in common with ancient R1a-Z645 Finno-Ugric populations from north-eastern Europe and the Trans-Urals? Yep (see Avars and Ugrians).

❌ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z93 lineages represent acculturated Iranian/Turkic peoples from the steppes? Not likely.

✅ Modern Hungarian R1a-Z93 lineages represent a remnant of the expansion of Corded Ware to the east, potentially more clearly associated with Samoyedic? Much more likely.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

Sooo, the theory of a “diluted” Y-DNA in Modern Hungarians from originally fully N-dominated conquerors subjugating native R1a-Z280 Slavs from the Carpathian Basin is not backed up by genetic studies? The ethnic Iranian-Turkic R1a-Z93 federation in the steppes that ended up speaking Magyar is not real?? Who would’ve thunk.

Another true story whose rejection in genetics could not be predicted, like, not at all.

Totally unexpected, too, the drift of “R1a=IE” fans with the newest genetic findings towards a Molgen-like “Yamna/R1b = Vasconic-Caucasian”, “N1c = Uralic-Altaic”, and “R1a = the origin of the white world in Mother Russia”. So much for the supposed interest in “Steppe ancestry” and fancy statistics.


Aquitanians and Iberians of haplogroup R1b are exactly like Indo-Iranians and Balto-Slavs of haplogroup R1a


The final paper on Indo-Iranian peoples, by Narasimhan and Patterson (see preprint), is soon to be published, according to the first author’s Twitter account.

One of the interesting details of the development of Bronze Age Iberian ethnolinguistic landscape was the making of Proto-Iberian and Proto-Basque communities, which we already knew were going to show R1b-P312 lineages, a haplogroup clearly associated during the Bell Beaker period with expanding North-West Indo-Europeans:

From the Bronze Age (~2200–900 BCE), we increase the available dataset from 7 to 60 individuals and show how ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe (Steppe ancestry) appeared throughout Iberia in this period, albeit with less impact in the south. The earliest evidence is in 14 individuals dated to ~2500–2000 BCE who coexisted with local people without Steppe ancestry. These groups lived in close proximity and admixed to form the Bronze Age population after 2000 BCE with ~40% ancestry from incoming groups. Y-chromosome turnover was even more pronounced, as the lineages common in Copper Age Iberia (I2, G2, and H) were almost completely replaced by one lineage, R1b-M269.

Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Beaker/Bronze Age populations in Iberians from the Middle Neolithic to the Iron Age (table S15). Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The arrival of East Bell Beakers speaking Indo-European languages involved, nevertheless, the survival of the two non-IE communities isolated from each other – likely stemming from south-western France and south-eastern Iberia – thanks to a long-lasting process of migration and admixture. There are some common misconceptions about ancient languages in Iberia which may have caused some wrong interpretations of the data in the paper and elsewhere:

NOTE. A simple reading of Iberian prehistory would be enough to correct these. Two recent books on this subject are Villar’s Indoeuropeos, iberos, vascos y otros parientes and Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas.

Iberian languages were spoken at least in the Mediterranean and the south (ca. “1/3 of Iberia“) during the Bronze Age.

Nope, we only know the approximate location of Iberian culture and inscriptions from the Late Iron Age, and they occupy the south-eastern and eastern coastal areas, but before that it is unclear where they were spoken. In fact, it seems evident now that the arrival of Urnfield groups from the north marks the arrival of Celtic-speaking peoples, as we can infer from the increase in Central European admixture, while the expansion of anthropomorphic stelae from the north-west must have marked the expansion of Lusitanian.

Vasconic was spoken in both sides of the Pyrenees, as it was in the Middle Ages.

Wrong. One of the worst mistakes I am seeing in many comments since the paper was published, although admittedly the paper goes around this problem talking about “Modern Basques”. Vasconic toponyms appear south of the Pyrenees only after the Roman conquests, and tribes of the south-western Pyrenees and Cantabrian regions were likely Celtic-speaking peoples. Aquitanians (north of the western Pyrenees) are the only known ancient Vasconic-speaking population in proto-historic times, ergo the arrival of Bell Beakers in Iberia was most likely accompanied by Indo-European languages which were later replaced by Celtic expanding from Central Europe, and Iberian expanding from south-east Iberia, and only later with Latin and Vasconic.

Ligurian is non-Indo-European, and Lusitanian is Celtic-like, so Iberia must have been mostly non-Indo-European-speaking.

The fragmentary material available on Ligurian is enough to show that phonetically it is a NWIE dialect of non-Celtic, non-Italic nature, much like Lusitanian; that is, unless you follow laryngeals up to Celtic or Italic, in which case you can argue anything about this or any other IE language, as people who reconstruct laryngeals for Baltic in the common era do.

EDIT (19 Mar 2019): It was not clear enough from this paragraph, because Ligurian-like languages in NE Iberia is just a hypothesis based on the archaeological connection of the whole southern France Bell Beaker region. My aim was to repeat the idea that Old European topo-hydronymy is older in NE Iberia (as almost anywhere in Iberia) than Iberian toponymy, so the initial hypothesis is that:

  1. a Palaeo-European language (as Villar puts it) expanded into most regions of Iberia in ancient times (he considered at some point the Mesolithic, but that is obviously wrong, as we know now); then
  2. Celts expanded at least to the Ebro River Basin; then
  3. Iberians expanded to the north and replaced these in NE Iberia; and only then
  4. after the Roman invasion, around the start of the Common Era, appear Vasconic toponyms south of the Pyrenees.

Lusitanian obviously does not qualify as Celtic, lacking the most essential traits that define Celticness…Unless you define “(Para-)Celtic” as Pre-Proto-Celtic-like, or anything of the sort to support some Atlantic continuity, in which case you can also argue that Pre-Italic or Pre-Germanic are Celtic, because you would be essentially describing North-West Indo-European

If Basques have R1b, it’s because of a culture of “matrilocality” as opposed to the “patrilocality” of Indo-Europeans

So wrong it hurts my eyes every time I read this. Not only does matrilocality in a regional group have few known effects in genetics, but there are many well-documented cases of population replacement (with either ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroups, or both) without language replacement, without a need to resort to “matrilineality” or “matrilocality” or any other cultural difference in any of these cases.

In fact, it seems quite likely now that isolated ancient peoples north of the Pyrenees will show a gradual replacement of surviving I2a lineages by neighbouring R1b, while early Iberian R1b-DF27 lineages are associated with Lusitanians, and later incoming R1b-DF27 lineages (apart from other haplogroups) are most likely associated with incoming Celts, which must have remained in north-central and central-east European groups.

NOTE. Notice how R1a is fully absent from all known early Indo-European peoples to date, whether Iberian IE, British IE, Italic, or Greek. The absence of R1a in Iberia after the arrival of Celts is even more telling of the origin of expanding Celts in Central Europe.

I haven’t had enough time to add Iberian samples to my spreadsheet, and hence neither to the ASoSaH texts nor maps/PCAs (and I don’t plan to, because it’s more efficient for me to add both, Asian and Iberian samples, at the same time), but luckily Maciamo has summed it up on Eupedia. Or, graphically depicted in the paper for the southeast:

Y chromosome haplogroup composition of individuals from southeast Iberia during the past 2000 years. The general Iberian Bronze and Iron Age population is included for comparison. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Does this continued influx of Y-DNA haplogroups in Iberia with different cultures represent permanent changes in language? Are, therefore, modern Iberian languages derived from Lusitanian, Sorothaptic/Celtic, Greek, Phoenician, East or West Germanic, Hebrew, Berber, or Arabic languages? Obviously not. Same with Italy (see the recent preprint on modern Italians by Raveane et al. 2018), with France, with Germany, or with Greece.

If that happens in European regions with a known ancient history, why would the recent expansions and bottlenecks of R1b in modern Basques (or N1c around the Baltic, or R1a in Slavs) in the Middle Ages represent an ancestral language surviving into modern times?


If something is clear from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018), is that we know finally the timing of the introduction and expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages among Indo-Iranians.

We could already propose since 2015 that a slow admixture happened in the steppes, based on archaeological finds, due to settlement elites dominating over common peoples, coupled with the known Uralic linguistic traits of Indo-Iranian (and known Indo-Iranian influence on Finno-Ugric) – as I did in the first version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model.

The new huge sampling of Sintashta – combined with that of Catacomb, Poltavka, Potapovka, Andronovo, and Srubna – shows quite clearly how this long-term admixture process between Uralic peoples and Indo-Iranians happened between forest-steppe CWC (mainly Abashevo) and steppe groups. The situation is not different from that of Iberia ca. 2500-2000 BC; from Narasimhan, Patterson, et al. (2018):

We combined the newly reported data from Kamennyi Ambar 5 with previously reported data from the Sintashta 5 individuals (10). We observed a main cluster of Sintashta individuals that was similar to Srubnaya, Potapovka, and Andronovo in being well modeled as a mixture of Yamnaya-related and Anatolian Neolithic (European agriculturalist-related) ancestry.

Even with such few words referring to one of the most important data in the paper about what happened in the steppes, Wang et al. (2018) help us understand what really happened with this simplistic concept of “steppe ancestry” regarding Yamna vs. Corded Ware differences:

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Marked are: in red, approximate limit of Anatolia_Neolithic ancestry found in Yamna populations; in blue, Corded Ware-related groups. “Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus 1128 cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups (see also Supplementary Tables 10, 14 and 20).”

As with Iberia (or any prehistoric region), the details of how exactly this language change happened are not evident, but we only need a plausible explanation coupled with archaeology and linguistics. Poltavka, Potapovka, and Sintashta samples – like the few available Iberian ones ca. 2500-2000 BC – offer a good picture of the cohabitation of R1b-L23 (mainly Z2103) and R1a-Z645 (mainly Z93+): a glimpse at the likely presence of R1a-Z93 within settlements – which must have evolved as the dominant elites – in a society where the majority of the population was initially formed by nomad herders (probably most R1b-Z2103), who were usually buried outside of the main settlements.

Will the upcoming Narasimhan, Patterson et al. (2019) deal with this problem of how R1a-M417 replaced R1b-M269, and how the so-called “Steppe_MLBA” (i.e. Corded Ware) ancestry admixed with “Steppe_EMBA” (i.e. Yamnaya) ancestry in the steppes, and which one of their languages survived in the region (that is, the same the Reich Lab has done with Iberia)? Not likely. The ‘genetic wars’ in Iberia deal with haplogroup R1b-P312, and how it was neither ‘native’ nor associated with Basques and non-Indo-European peoples in general. The ‘genetic wars’ in South Asia are concerned with the steppe origin of R1a, to prove that it is not a ‘native’ haplogroup to India, and thus neither are Indo-Aryan languages. To each region a politically correct account of genetic finds, with enough care not to fully dismiss national myths, it seems.

NOTE. Funnily enough, these ‘genetic wars’ are the making of geneticists since the 1990s and 2000s, so we are still in the midst of mostly internal wars caused by what they write. Just as genetic papers of the 2020s will most likely be a reaction to what they are writing right now about “steppe ancestry” and R1a. You won’t find much change to the linguistic reconstruction in this whole period, except for the most multicolored glottochronological proposals…

The first author of the paper has engaged, as far as I could see in Twitter, in dialogue with Hindu nationalists who try to dismiss the arrival of steppe ancestry and R1a into South Asia as inconclusive (to support the potential origin of Sanskrit millennia ago in the Indus Valley Civilization). How can geneticists deal with the real problem here (the original ethnolinguistic group expanding with Corded Ware), when they have to fend off anti-steppists from Europe and Asia? How can they do it, when they themselves are part of the same societies that demand a politically correct presentation of data?

This is how the data on the most likely Indo-Iranian-speaking region should be presented in an ideal world, where – as in the Iberia paper – geneticists would look closely to the Volga-Ural region to discover what happened with Proto-Indo-Iranians from their earliest to their latest stage, instead of constantly looking for sites close to the Indus Valley to demonstrate who knows what about modern Indian culture:

Tentative map of the Late PIE and Indo-Iranian community in the Volga-Ural steppes since the Eneolithic. Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

Now try and tell Hindu nationalists that Sanskrit expanded from an Early Bronze Age steppe community of R1b-rich nomadic herders that spoke Pre-Indo-Iranian, which was dominated and eventually (genetically) mostly replaced by elite Uralic-speaking R1a peoples from the Russian forest, hence the known phonetic (and some morphological) traits that remained. Good luck with the Europhobic shitstorm ahead..


Iberian cultures, already with a majority of R1b lineages, show a clear northward expansion over previously Urnfield-like groups of north-east Iberia and Mediterranean France (which we now know probably represent the migration of Celts from central Europe). Similarly, Eastern Balts already under a majority of R1a lineages expanded likely into the Baltic region at the same time as the outlier from Turlojiškė (ca. 1075 BC), which represents the first obvious contacts of central-east Europe with the Baltic.

Iberia shows a more recent influx of central and eastern Mediterranean peoples, one of which eventually succeeded in imposing their language in Western Europe: Romans were possibly associated mainly with R1b-U152, apart from many other lineages. Proto-Slavs probably expanded later than Celts, too, connected to the disintegration of the Lusatian culture, and they were at some point associated with R1a-M458 and R1a-Z280(xZ92) lineages, apart from others already found in Early Slavs.

PCA of central-eastern European groups which may have formed the Balto-Slavic-speaking community derived from Bell Beaker, evident from the position ‘westwards’ of CWC in the PCA, and surrounding cultures. Left: Early Bronze Age. Right: Tollense Valley samples.

This parallel between Iberia and eastern Europe is no coincidence: as Europe entered the Bronze Age, chiefdom-based systems became common, and thus the connection of ancestry or haplogroups with ethnolinguistic groups became weaker.

What happened earlier (and who may represent the Pre-Balto-Slavic community) will be clearer when we have enough eastern European samples, but basically we will be able to depict this admixture of NWIE-speaking BBC-derived peoples with Uralic-speaking CWC-derived groups (since Uralic is known to have strongly influenced Balto-Slavic), similar to the admixture found in Indo-Iranians, more or less like this:

Tentative map of the North-West Indo-European and Balto-Slavic community in central-eastern Europe since the East Bell Beaker expansion. Proportion of ancestry derived from Corded Ware peoples. Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al. (2019).

The Early Scythian period marked a still stronger chiefdom-based system which promoted the creation of alliances and federation-like groups, with an earlier representation of the system expanding from north-eastern Europe around the Baltic Sea, precisely during the spread of Akozino warrior-traders (in turn related to the Scythian influence in the forest-steppes), who are the most likely ancestors of most N1c-V29 lineages among modern Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Volga-Finnic peoples.

Modern haplogroup+language = ancient ones?

It is not difficult to realize, then, that the complex modern genetic picture in Eastern Europe and around the Urals, and also in South Asia (like that of the Aegean or Anatolia) is similar to the Iron Age / medieval Iberian one, and that following modern R1a as an Indo-European marker just because some modern Indo-European-speaking groups showed it was always a flawed methodology; as flawed as following R1b for ancient Vasconic groups, or N1c for ancient Uralic groups.

Why people would argue that haplogroups mean continuity (e.g. R1b with Basques, N1c with Finns, R1a with Slavs, etc.) may be understood, if one lives still in the 2000s. Just like why one would argue that Corded Ware is Indo-European, because of Gimbutas’ huge influence since the 1960s with her myth of “Kurgan peoples”. Not many denied these haplogroup associations, because there was no reason to do it, and those who did usually aligned with a defense of descriptive archaeology.

However, it is a growing paradox that some people interested in genetics today would now, after the Iberian paper, need to:

  • accept that ancient Iberians and probably Aquitanians (each from different regions, and probably from different “Basque-Iberian dialects” in the Chalcolithic, if both were actually related) show eventually expansions with R1b-L23, the haplogroup most obviously associated with expanding Indo-Europeans;
  • acknowledge that modern Iberians have many different lineages derived from prehistoric or historic peoples (Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, Goths, Berbers, Arabs), which have undergone different bottlenecks, the last ones during the Reconquista, but none of their languages have survived;
  • realize that a similar picture is to be found everywhere in central and western Europe since the first proto-historic records, with language replacement in spite of genetic continuity, such as the British Isles (and R1b-L21 continuity) after the arrival of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, or Normans;
  • but, at the same time, continue blindly asserting that haplogroup R1a + “steppe ancestry” represent some kind of supernatural combination which must show continuity with their modern Indo-Iranian or Balto-Slavic language from time immemorial.
Replacement of R1b-L23 lineages during the Early Bronze Age in eastern Europe and in the Eurasian steppes: emergence of R1a in previous Yamnaya and Bell Beaker territories. Modified from EBA Y-DNA map.

Behave, pretty please

The ‘conservative’ message espoused by some geneticists and amateur genealogists here is basically as follows:

  • Let’s not rush to new theories that contradict the 2000s, lest some people get offended by granddaddy not being these pure whatever wherever as they believed, and let’s wait some 5, 10, or 20 years, as long as necessary – to see if some corner of the Yamna culture shows R1a, or some region in north-eastern Europe shows N1c, or some Atlantic Chalcolithic sample shows R1b – to challenge our preferred theories, if we actually need to challenge anything at all, because it hurts too much.
  • Just don’t let many of these genetic genealogists or academics of our time be unhappy, pretty please with sugar on top, and let them slowly adapt to reality with more and more pet theories to fit everything together (past theories + present data), so maybe when all of them are gone, within 50 or 70 years, society can smoothly begin to move on and propose something closer to reality, but always as politically correct as possible for the next generations.
  • For starters, let’s discuss now (yet again) that Bell Beakers may not have been Indo-European at all, despite showing (unlike Corded Ware) clearly Yamna male lineages and ancestry, because then Corded Ware and R1a could not have been Indo-European and that’s terrible, so maybe Bell Beakers are too brachycephalic to speak Indo-European or something, or they were stopped by the Fearsome Tisza River, or they are not pure Dutch Single Grave in The South hence not Indo-European, or whatever, and that’s why Iron Age Iberians or Etruscans show non-Indo-European languages. That’s not disrespectful to the history of certain peoples, of course not, but talking about the evident R1a-Uralic connection is, because this is The South, not The North, and respect works differently there.
  • Just don’t talk about how Slavs and Balts enter history more than 1,500 years later than Indo-European peoples in Western and Southern Europe, including Iberia, and assume a heroic continuity of Balts and Slavs as pure R1a ‘steppe-like’ peoples dominating over thousands of kms. in the Baltic, Fennoscandia, eastern Europe, and northern Asia for 5,000 years, with multiple Balto-Slavs-over-Balto-Slavs migrations, because these absolute units of Indo-European peoples were a trip and a half. They are the Asterix and Obelix of white Indo-European prehistory.
  • Perhaps in the meantime we can also invent some new glottochronological dialectal scheme that fits the expansion of Sredni Stog/Corded Ware with (Germano-?)Indo-Slavonic separated earlier than any other Late PIE dialect; and Finno-Volgaic later than any other Uralic dialect, in the Middle Ages, with N1c.
Genetic structure of the Balto-Slavic populations within a European context according to the three genetic systems, from Kushniarevich et al. (2015). Pure Balto-Slavs from…hmm…yeah this…ancient…region…or people…cluster…Whatever, very very steppe-like peoples, the True Indo-Europeans™, so close to Yamna…almost as close as Finno-Ugrians.

To sum up: Iberia, Italy, France, the British Isles, central Europe, the Balkans, the Aegean, or Anatolia, all these territories can have a complex history of periodic admixture and language replacement everywhere, but some peoples appearing later than all others in the historical record (viz. Basques or Slavs) apparently cannot, because that would be shameful for their national or ethnic myths, and these should be respected.

Ignorance of the own past as a blank canvas to be filled in with stupid ethnolinguistic continuity, turned into something valuable that should not be challenged. Ethnonationalist-like reasoning proper of the 19th century. How can our times be called ‘modern’ when this kind of magical thinking is still prevalent, even among supposedly well-educated people?


R1a-Z280 lineages in Srubna; and first Palaeo-Balkan R1b-Z2103?


Scythian samples from the North Pontic area are far more complex than what could be seen at first glance. From the new Y-SNP calls we have now thanks to the publications at Molgen (see the spreadsheet) and in Anthrogenica threads, I think this is the basis to work with:

NOTE. I understand that writing a paper requires a lot of work, and probably statistical methods are the main interest of authors, editors, and reviewers. But it is difficult to comprehend how any user of open source tools can instantly offer a more complex assessment of the samples’ Y-SNP calls than professionals working on these samples for months. I think that, by now, it should be clear to everyone that Y-DNA is often as important (sometimes even more) than statistical tools to infer certain population movements, since admixture can change within few generations of male-biased migrations, whereas haplogroups can’t…


Srubna-Andronovo samples are as homogeneous as they always were, dominated by R1a-Z645 subclades and CWC-related (steppe_MLBA) ancestry.

The appearance of one (possibly two) R-Z280 lineages in this mixed Srubna-Alakul region of the southern Urals and this early (1880-1690 BC, hence rather Pokrovka-Alakul) points to the admixture of R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z280 already in Abashevo, which also explains the wide distribution of both subclades in the forest zones of Central Asia.

If Abashevo is the cornerstone of the Indo-Iranian / Uralic community, as it seems, the genetic admixture would initially be quite similar, undergoing in the steppes a reduction to haplogroup R1a-Z93 (obviously not complete), at the same time as it expanded to the west with Pokrovka and Srubna, and to the east with Petrovka and Andronovo. To the north, similar reductions will probably be seen following the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

NOTE. Another R1a-Z280 has been found in the recent sample from Bronze Age Poland (see spreadsheet). As it appears right now in ancient and modern DNA, there seems to be a different distribution between subclades:

  • R1a-Z280 (formed ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2600 BC) appears mainly distributed today to the east, in the forest and steppe regions, with the most ‘successful’ expansions possibly related to the spread of Abashevo- and Battle Axe-related cultures (Indo-Iranian and Uralic alike).
  • R1a-M458 (formed ca. 2700, TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) appears mainly distributed to the north, from central Europe to the east – but not in the steppe in aDNA, with the most ‘successful’ expansions to the west.

M458 lineages seem thus to have expanded in the steppe in sizeable numbers only after the Iranian expansions (see a map of modern R1a distributions) i.e. possibly with the expansion of Slavs, which supports the model whereby cultures from central-east Europe (like Trzciniec and Lusatian), accompanied mainly by M458 lineages, were responsible for the expansion of Proto-Balto-Slavic (and later Proto-Slavic).

The finding of haplogroup R1a-Z93, among them one Z2123, is no surprise at this point after other similar Srubna samples. As I said, the early Srubna expansion is most likely responsible for the Szólád Bronze Age sample (ca. 2100-1700 BC), and for the Balkans BA sample (ca. 1750-1625 BC) from Merichleri, due to incursions along the central-east European steppe.

Map of decorated bone/antler bridle cheek-pieces and whip handle equivalents. They are often local translations that remained faithful to the originals (from data in Piggott, 1965; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005; David, 2007). Image from Vandkilde (2014).


Cimmerian samples from the west show signs of continuity with R1a-Z93 lineages. Nevertheless, the sample of haplogroup Q1a-Y558, together with the ‘Pre-Scythian’ sample of haplogroup N (of the Mezőcsát Culture) in Hungary ca. 980-830 BC, as well as their PCA, seem to depict an origin of these Pre-Scythian peoples in populations related to the eastern Central Asian steppes, too.

NOTE. I will write more on different movements (unrelated to Uralic expansions) from Central and East Asia to the west accompanied by Siberian ancestry and haplogroup N with the post of Ugric-Samoyedic expansions.


The Scythian of Z2123 lineage ca. 375-203 BC from the Volga (in Mathieson et al. 2015), together with the sample scy193 from Glinoe (probably also R1a-Z2123), without a date, as well as their common Steppe_MLBA cluster, suggest that Scythians, too, were at first probably quite homogeneous as is common among pastoralist nomads, and came thus from the Central Asian steppes.

The reduction in haplogroup variability among East Iranian peoples seems supported by the three new Late Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R1a-Z2124.

Approximate location of Glinoe and Glinoe Sad (with Starosilya to the south, in Ukrainian territory):

This initial expansion of Scythians does not mean that one can dismiss the western samples as non-Scythians, though, because ‘Scythian’ is a cultural attribution, based on materials. Confirming the diversity among western Scythians, a session at the recent ISBA 8:

Genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe broken not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths), by Järve et al.

The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

(…) Our results (…) support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

Detail of the slide with admixture of Scythian groups in Ukraine:


The findings of those 31 samples seem to support what Krzewińska et al. (2018) found in a tiny region of Moldavia-south-western Ukraine (Glinoi, Glinoi Sad, and Starosilya).

The question, then, is as follows: if Scythian dominance was “cultural rather than achieved through population replacement”…Where are the R1b-Z2103 from? One possibility, as I said in the previous post, is that they represent pockets of Iranian R1b lineages in the steppes descended from eastern Yamna, given that this haplogroup appears in modern populations from a wide region surrounding the steppes.

The other possibility, which is what some have proposed since the publication of the paper, is that they are related to Thracians, and thus to Palaeo-Balkan populations. About the previously published Thracian individuals in Sikora et al. (2014):

Geographic origin of ancient samples and ADMIXTURE results. (A) Map of Europe indicating the discovery sites for each of the ancient samples used in this study. (B) Ancestral population clusters inferred using ADMIXTURE on the HGDP dataset, for k = 6 ancestral clusters. The width of the bars of the ancient samples was increased to aid visualization.

For the Thracian individuals from Bulgaria, no clear pattern emerges. While P192-1 still shows the highest proportion of Sardinian ancestry, K8 more resembles the HG individuals, with a high fraction of Russian ancestry.

Despite their different geographic origins, both the Swedish farmer gok4 and the Thracian P192-1 closely resemble the Iceman in their relationship with Sardinians, making it unlikely that all three individuals were recent migrants from Sardinia. Furthermore, P192-1 is an Iron Age individual from well after the arrival of the first farmers in Southeastern Europe (more than 2,000 years after the Iceman and gok4), perhaps indicating genetic continuity with the early farmers in this region. The only non-HG individual not following this pattern is K8 from Bulgaria. Interestingly, this individual was excavated from an aristocratic inhumation burial containing rich grave goods, indicating a high social standing, as opposed to the other individual, who was found in a pit.


The following are excerpts from A Companion to Ancient Thrace (2015), by Valeva, Nankov, and Graninger (emphasis mine):

Thracian settlements from the 6th c. BC on:

(…) urban centers were established in northeastern Thrace, whose development was linked to the growth of road and communication networks along with related economic and distributive functions. The early establishment of markets/emporia along the Danube took place toward the middle of the first millennium BCE (Irimia 2006, 250–253; Stoyanov in press). The abundant data for intensive trade discovered at the Getic village in Satu Nou on the right bank of the Danube provides another example of an emporion that developed along the main artery of communication toward the interior of Thrace (Conovici 2000, 75–76).

Undoubtedly the most prominent manifestation of centralization processes and stratification in the settlement system of Thrace arrives with the emergence of political capitals – the leading urban centers of various Thracian political formations.

Image from Volf at Vol_Vlad LiveJournal.

Their relationships with Scythians and Greeks

The Scythian presence south of the Danube must be balanced with a Thracian presence north of the river. We have observed Getae there in Alexander’s day, settled and raising grain. For Strabo the coastlands from the Danube delta north as far as the river and Greek city of Tyras were the Desert of the Getae (7.3.14), notable for its poverty and tracklessness beyond the great river. He seems to suggest also that it was here that Lysimachus was taken alive by Dromichaetes, king of the Getae, whose famous homily on poverty and imperialism only makes sense on the steppe beyond the river (7.3.8; cf. Diod. 21.12; further on Getic possessions above the Danube, Paus. 1.9 with Delev 2000, 393, who seems rather too skeptical; on poverty, cf. Ballesteros Pastor 2003). This was the kind of discourse more familiarly found among Scythians, proud and blunt in the strength of their poverty. However, as Herodotus makes clear, simple pastoralism was not the whole story as one advanced round into Scythia. For he observes the agriculture practiced north and west of Olbia. These were the lands of the Alizones and the people he calls the Scythian Ploughmen, not least to distinguish them from the Royal Scythians east of Olbia, in whose outlook, he says, these agriculturalist Scythians were their inferiors, their slaves (Hdt. 4.20). The key point here is that, as we began to see with the Getan grain-fields of Alexander’s day, there was scope for Thracian agriculturalists to maintain their lifestyles if they moved north of the Danube, the steppe notwithstanding. It is true that it is movement in the other direction that tends to catch the eye, but there are indications in the literary tradition and, especially, in the archaeological record that there was also significant movement northward from Thrace across the Danube and the Desert of the Getae beyond it.

Greek literary sources were not much concerned with Thracian migration into Scythia, but we should observe the occasional indications of that process in very different texts and contexts. At the level of myth, it is to be remembered that Amazons were regularly considered to be of Thracian ethnicity from Archaic times onward and so are often depicted in Thracian dress in Greek art (Bothmer 1957; cf. Sparkes 1997): while they are most familiar on the south coast of the Black Sea, east of Sinope, they were also located on the north coast, especially east of the Don (the ancient Tanais). Herodotus reports an origin-story of the Sauromatians there, according to which this people had been created by the union of some Scythian warriors with Amazons captured on the south coast and then washed up on the coast of Scythia (4.110). While the story is unhistorical, it is not without importance. First, it reminds us that passage north from the Danube was not the only way that Thracians, Thracian influence, and Thracian culture might find their way into Scythia. There were many more and less circuitous routes, especially by sea, that could bring Thrace into Scythia. Secondly, the myth offered some ideological basis for the Sauromatian settlement in Thrace that Strabo records, for Sauromatians might claim a Thracian origin through their Amazon forebears. Finally, rather as we saw that Heracles could bring together some of the peoples of the region, we should also observe that Ares, whose earthly home was located in Thrace by a strong Greek and Roman tradition, seems also to have been a deity of special significance and special cult among the Scythians. So much was appropriate, especially from a Classical perspective, in associations between these two peoples, whose fame resided especially in their capacity for war.

Scythians: cultures and findings (ca. 7th-4th/3rd c. BC). Greek colonies marked with concentric circles.

This broad picture of cultural contact, interaction, and osmosis, beyond simple conflict, provides the context for a range of archaeological discoveries, which – if examined separately – may seem to offer no more than a scatter of peculiarities. Here we must acknowledge especially the pioneering work of Melyukova, who has done most to develop thinking on Thracian–Scythian interaction. As she pointed out, we have a good example of Thracian–Scythian osmosis as early as the mid-seventh century bce at Tsarev Brod in northeastern Bulgaria, where a warrior’s burial combines elements of Scythian and Thracian culture (Melyukova 1965). For, while the manner of his burial and many of the grave goods find parallels in Scythia and not Thrace, there are also goods which would be odd in a Scythian burial and more at home in a Thracian one of this period (notably a Hallstatt vessel, an iron knife, and a gold diadem). Also interesting in this regard are several stone figures found in the Dobrudja which resemble very closely figures of this kind (baby) known from Scythia (Melyukova 1965, 37–38). They range in date from perhaps the sixth to the third centuries bce, and presumably were used there – as in Scythia – to mark the burials of leading Scythians deposited in the area. Is this cultural osmosis? We should probably expect osmosis to occur in tandem with the movement of artefacts, so that only good contexts can really answer such questions from case to case. However, the broad pattern is indicated by a range of factors. Particularly notable in this regard is the observable development of a Thraco-Scythian form of what is more familiar as “Scythian animal style,” a term which – it must be understood – already embraces a range of types as we examine the different examples of the style across the great expanse from Siberia to the western Ukraine. As Melyukova observes, Thrace shows both items made in this style among Scythians and, more numerous and more interesting, a Thracian tendency to adapt that style to local tastes, with observable regional distinctions within Thrace itself. Among the Getae and Odrysians the adaptation seems to have been at its height from the later fifth century to the mid-third century (Melyukova 1965, 38; 1979).

The absence of local animal style in Bulgaria before the fifth century bce confirms that we have cultural influences and osmosis at work here, though that is not to say that Scythian tradition somehow dominated its Thracian counterpart, as has been claimed (pace Melyukova 1965, 39; contrast Kitov 1980 and 1984). Of particular interest here is the horse-gear (forehead-covers, cheek-pieces, bridle fittings, and so on) which is found extensively in Romania and Bulgaria as well as in Scythia, both in hoarded deposits and in burials. This exemplifies the development of a regional animal style, not least in silver and bronze, which problematizes the whole issue of the place(s) of its production. Accordingly, the regular designation as “Thracian” of horse-gear from the rich fourth century Scythian burial of Oguz in the Ukraine becomes at least awkward and questionable (further, Fialko 1995). And let us be clear that this is no minor matter, nor even part of a broader debate about the shared development of toreutics among Thracians and Scythians (e.g., Kitov 1980 and 1984). A finely equipped horse of fine quality was a strong statement and striking display of wealth and the power it implied

(…) while Thracian pottery appears at Olbia, Scythian pottery among Thracians is largely confined to the eastern limits of what should probably be regarded as Getic territory, namely the area close to the west of the Dniester, from the sixth century bce. Rather exceptional then is the Scythian pottery noted at Istros, which has been explained as a consequence of the Scythian pursuit of the withdrawing army of Darius and, possibly, a continued Scythian grip on the southern Danube in its aftermath (Melyukova 1965, 34). The archaeology seems to show us, therefore, that the elite Thracians and Scythians were more open to adaptation and acculturation than were their lesser brethren.

Paleo-Balkan languages in Eastern Europe between 5th and 1st century BC. From Wikipedia.


(…) we see distinct peoples and organizations, for example as Sitalces’ forces line up against the Scythians. Much more striking, however, against that general background, are the various ways in which the two peoples and their elites are seen to interact, connect, and share a cultural interface. We see also in Scyles’ story how the Greek cities on the coast of Thrace and Scythia played a significant role in the workings of relationships between the two peoples. It is not simply that these cities straddled the Danube, but also that they could collaborate – witness the honors for Autocles, ca. 300 bce (SEG 49.1051; Ochotnikov 2006) – and were implicated with the interactions of the much greater non-Greek powers around them. At the same time, we have seen the limited reality of familiar distinctions between settled Thracians and nomadic Scythians and the limited role of the Danube too in dividing Thrace and Scythia. The interactions of the two were not simply matters of dynastic politics and the occasional shared taste for artefacts like horse-gear, but were more profoundly rooted in the economic matrix across the region, so that “Scythian” nomadism might flourish in the Dobrudja and “Thracian-style” agriculture and settlement can be traced from Thrace across the Danube as far as Olbia. All of that offers scant justification for the Greek tendency to run together Thracians and Scythians as much the same phenomenon, not least as irrational, ferocious, and rather vulgar barbarians (e.g., Plato, Rep. 435b), because such notions were the result of ignorance and chauvinism. However, Herodotus did not share those faults to any degree, so that we may take his ready movement from Scythians to Thracians to be an indication of the importance of interaction between the two peoples whom he had encountered not only as slaves in the Aegean world, but as powerful forces in their own lands (e.g., Hdt. 4.74, where Thracian usage is suddenly brought into his account of Scythian hemp). Similarly, Thucydides, who quite without need breaks off his disquisition on the Odrysians to remark upon political disunity among the Scythians (Thuc. 2.97, a favorite theme: cf. Hdt. 4.81; Xen., Cyr. 1.1.4). As we have seen throughout this discussion, there were many reasons why Thracians might turn the thoughts of serious writers to Scythians and vice versa.

It seems, following Sikora et al. (2014), that Thracian ‘common’ populations would have more Anatolian Neolithic ancestry compared to more ‘steppe-like’ samples. But there were important differences even between the two nearby samples published from Bulgaria, which may account for the close interaction between Scythians and Thracians we see in Krzewińska et al. (2018), potentially reflected in the differences between the Central, Southern and the South-Central clusters (possibly related to different periods rather than peoples??).

If these R1b-Z2103 were descended from Thracian elites, this would be the first proof of Palaeo-Balkan populations showing mainly R1b-Z2103, as I expect. Their appearance together with haplogroup I2a2a1b1 (also found in Ukraine Neolithic and in the Yamna outlier from Bulgaria) seem to support this regional continuity, and thus a long-lasting cultural and ethnic border roughly around the Danube, similar to the one found in the northern Caucasus.

However, since these samples are some 2,500 years younger than the Yamna expansion to the south, and they are archaeologically Scythians, it is impossible to say. In any case, it would seem that the main expansion of R1a-Z645 lineages to the south of the Danube – and therefore those found among modern Greeks – was mediated by the Slavic expansions centuries later.

Modified image from Krzewińska et al. (2018), with added Y-DNA haplogroups to each defined Scythian cluster and Sarmatians. Principal component analysis (PCA) plot visualizing 35 Bronze Age and Iron Age individuals presented in this study and in published ancient individuals in relation to modern reference panel from the Human Origins data set. See image with population references.

On the Northern cluster there is a sample of haplogroup R1b-P312 which, given its position on the PCA (apparently even more ‘modern Celtic’-like than the Hallstatt_Bylany sample from Damgaard et al. 2018), it seems that it could be the product of the previous eastward Hallstatt expansion…although potentially also from a recent one?:

Especially important in the archaeology of this interior is the large settlement at Nemirov in the wooded steppe of the western Ukraine, where there has been considerable excavation. This settlement’s origins evidently owe nothing significant to Greek influence, though the early east Greek pottery there (from ca. 650 bce onward: Vakhtina 2007) and what seems to be a Greek graffito hint at its connections with the Greeks of the coast, especially at Olbia, which lay at the estuary of the River Bug on whose middle course the site was located (Braund 2008). The main interest of the site for the present discussion, however, is its demonstrable participation in the broader Hallstatt culture to its west and south (especially Smirnova 2001). Once we consider Nemirov and the forest steppe in connection with Olbia and the other locations across the forest steppe and coastal zone, together with the less obvious movements across the steppe itself, we have a large picture of multiple connectivities in which Thrace bulks large.

Early Iron Age cultures of the Carpathian basin ca. 7-6th century BC, including steppe-related groups. Ďurkovič et al. (2018).

While the above description of clear-cut R1a-Steppe and R1b-Balkans is attractive (and probably more reliable than admixture found in scattered samples of unclear dates), the true ancient genetic picture is more complicated than that:

  • There is nothing in the material culture of the published western Scythians to distinguish the supposed Thracian elites.
  • We have the sample I0575, an Early Sarmatian from the southern Urals (one of the few available) of haplogroup R1b-Z2106, which supports the presence of R1b-Z2103 lineages among Eastern Iranian-speaking peoples.
  • We also have DA30, a Sarmatian of I2b lineage from the central steppes in Kazakhstan (ca. 47 BC – 24 AD).
  • Other Sarmatian samples of haplogroup R remain undefined.
  • There is R1a-Z93 in a late Sarmatian-Hun sample, which complicates the picture of late pastoralist nomads further.

Therefore, the possibility of hidden pockets of Iranian peoples of R1b-Z2103 (maybe also R1b-P312) lineages remains the best explanation, and should not be discarded simply because of the prevalent haplogroups among modern populations, or because of the different clusters found, or else we risk an obvious circular reasoning: “this sample is not (autosomically or in prevalent haplogroups) like those we already had from the steppe, ergo it is not from this or that steppe culture.” Hopefully, the upcoming paper by Järve et al. will help develop a clearer genetic transect of Iranian populations from the steppes.

All in all, the diversity among western Scythians represents probably one of the earliest difficult cases of acculturation to be studied with ancient DNA (obviously not the only one), since Scythians combine unclear archaeological data with limited and conflicting proto-historical accounts (also difficult to contrast with the wide confidence intervals of radiocarbon dates) with different evolving clusters and haplogroups – especially in border regions with strong and continued interactions of cultures and peoples.

With emerging complex cases like these during the Iron Age, I am happy to see that at least earlier expansions show clearer Y-DNA bottlenecks, or else genetics would only add more data to argue about potential cultural diffusion events, instead of solving questions about proto-language expansions once and for all…