How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA ? Part 2 : The Pottery Neolithic


Introduction of pottery signifies massive cultural change. Beyond the introduction of a new technology, pottery provides additional possibilities for food storage and preparation (e.g. fish / vegetable soups, extracting animal lipids, brewing, pickling). Appearance of  larger, heavy vessels implies conversion to a more sedentary lifestyle. Such major cultural shift may have autochtonous origins, but more likely is external contact including immigration of specialists that master the sets of skills required to successfully produce ceramic, and prepare new kinds of food (beverages) in it.

This turns the focus towards the Neolithic that in Russian archeologic tradition is defined by the presence of pottery rather than agricultural / pastoralist activities –  a fascinating issue anyway, since the European Russian Neolithic is commonly (e.g. Gronenborn 2008) assumed to have supplied the earliest European pottery, slightly predating EEF (Sesklo, Argissa) [Of course, ceramic figurines were already present in Dolni Vestonice and various other UP sites, but they were about people, not pots (containers)]. Equally fascinating is that more-or-less contemporarily not just one, but three, maybe even four fairly different ceramic cultures appeared in European Russia.

This post will try to explore possible origins of each of these cultures, and the extent to which they may have participated in the emergence of the Steppe_EMBA genetics.

Combed Ceramics

The latest, but nevertheless quite early of the entrants is so-called Combed Ceramics. I personally find the name somewhat misleading, as combing the outer surface of pottery with twigs, feathers, moss or similar material in order to remove excess clay has been practiced by many potters also outside of what is known as “combed ware”, e.g. by the Sioni Culture. Alternative terms found in some papers are “netted” or “pseudo-corded” ware. Main stylistic characteristic is all-over ornamentation in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns that are either incised or imprinted, apparently emulating containers made of plant material (basketry, or woven/ knitted textiles).

This pottery appears around 5.8 ky BC in the forest zone between the Middle Ural in the East to near Moscow in the West. Karmanov e.a. 2014 suggest a W. Siberian, influence, as there are parallels with Middle Urals sites such as Koksharovsky, and eventually Barsova Gora on the Middle Ob (c.f. Shorin 2017) that have been AMS-dated to ca. 6.4 ky BC (Kuzmin 2014). The style is quite frequent across all of North East Asia, including Early Jomon and 14 ky BC Lower Amur pottery, where it may actually have originated. Trans-Baikal sites such as Krasnaya Gorka (pottery dated to 11 ky BC) may have served as bridge towards West Siberia and ultimately NE Europe. However, there remain various gaps to fill before such a path can be consdidered as archeologically confirmed. 

The Lower Volga Neolithic

Lower Volga pottery appeared even earlier. From ca. 6,5 ky BC it is found on the eastern bank of the Upper Volga in the Kairshak Culture, to by ca. 6,0 ky BC also cover the western bank (Jangar Culture), and around 5.8 ky BC spread northwards towards Volgograd and beyond (Orlovka culture). It is characterised by triangular and diagonal impressions/ incisions, sometimes alluded to as  “steppe decoration”. This label isn’t completely unjustified, considering that such patterns were also typical for Potapovka, Andronovo or Sintashta. However, a similar decoration, albeit painted instead of impressed/ incised, was common in LN Iran and North Mesopotamia, and the closest parallel to the Lower Volga is provided by Early Kelteminar incised pottery, so one might equally label it as “Circum-Caspian style”. [Considering that Catalhöyük Painted Ware, Archaic Fikirtepe in NW Anatolia, and Neolithic Palestine (Jericho etc.) used similar patterns, even “Circum-Caspian” may only imperfectly address the true geographic extent.] 

 Triangular and diagonal incisions are quite typical of Mesolithic carving, e.g. the 9.5 ky BC Shigir Idol from the Central Urals, or pre-9th mBC pebble engravings from Gobustan, AZ; Neolithic engravings in this style are a/o documented from the middle Dniepr, and the Anta do Olival da Pega dolmen (Évora, Portugal). Hence, the decoration style may well have been transfered from organic vessels (wood, Calabash) onto early pottery more than once.

As per Vybornov 2016 (emphasis is mine):

Kairshak early Neolithic types of site, commonly found in the northern Caspian area [..] existed from 6690 BC to 5980 BC (Tab. 1). At that time, blades and blade tools predominated in the stone industry. Geometric microliths – rhomboid and circular segments with a retouched convex edge – are well represented (Fig. 2). These artefacts are typical of the local Mesolithic industry (Vybornov et al. 2015). These testify to the local origin of pottery in this region. [..]
The climatic factors which influenced the transition from one period to another present a complicated
picture (Budja 2007). Extensive aridisation is thought to have occurred between 6400 and 6300 BC in the
southern part of the Low Volga basin (Bolikhovskaja 1990). This is also verified, according to the 14C dates, by the absence of inhabited settlements at this time. Thus, the beginning of Neolithisation and pottery making in the Lower Volga basin could not have been connected to natural factors. The situation changed after the aridisation ended (6200 BC). [..] Settlements became long-term; living conditions and the economic system changed, and so a great number of household objects, dwellings, artefacts and faunal and fish remains from that time can be found (Grechkina et al. 2014). We can suppose that the initial inhabitants of Kairshak-type sites in this region were more nomadic than the inhabitants of subsequent periods. With the exception of dogs (Vybornov et al. 2015), the faunal remains [..]  were all wild species.”

Dried-up bottom of the Aral Sea. Source: BMBF

Hmm – local origin of pottery… Mesolithic continuity is in general not a particularly convincing argument, as we all know from pre-aDNA debates about the Neolithisation of Europe. Moreover, the Lower Volga area was flooded during the post-LGM Khvalynian transgression, and only re-colonised some time after the Younger Dryas had lowered the Caspian Sea Level (Mangyshlak Regression).  The Caspian Sea’s salinity isn’t particular high (1.2%, one-third of ocean salinity). Still, it should have taken more than just a couple of years before the freshly exposed Lower Volga region turned from a salt pan into a reasonably attractive habitat for ungulates and their hunters, especially as dried-up inland water bodies inevitably mean arid micro-climate.

As such, it is out of question that the Lower Volga was colonised during the early Holocene. The only questions are when, and by whom. As concerns the latter,  Szymczak 2002 points out that the Lower Volga tools “are different in their character from the assemblages of Crimea and Black Sea regions, as well as from the southern Urals ones“, which essentially leaves us with the Daghestani Chokh culture from the SW, and the (so far poorly evidenced) Western Central Asian Mesolithic from the SE.  For the question at hand here, the issue is ultimately irrelevant as those Mesolithic HGs should anyway have been small in numbers.

Mudbrick architecture at Sarazm (Wikimedia)

Relevant, however, is who was behind the apparent re-colonisation and demographic expansion after 6,200 BC (the 8.2 ky event). The cultural sequence of Kairshak – Jangar – Orlovka proceded from SE to NW, which points towards a south-eastern origin of the colonists. Pottery indicates connections to Kelteminar that, however, is unlikely to be the direct origin of the migrants. Late 7th/ early 6th mBC early Kelteminar already posessed domesticated animals (cattle, ovocaprids, possibly camels, see Szymczak e.a. 2006), but these domesticates didn’t make it to the Lower Volga. Moreover, early Kelteminar was located in Zerafshan (around Samarkand) and Central Uzbekistan, quite afar from the Volga. A more likely and proximate source is the Neolithic of the Ustjurt Plateau (between the Caspian and Aral Seas), archeologically poorly described and so far lacking AMS dating, but according to Brunet 2005 sharing various communalities with Kelteminar, partly going back to  Epi-Paleolithic/ Mesolithic traditions that relate to the SW Siberian Yangielsk culture (see Part 1 for details). Connections between the Lower Volga and Central Asia are also discussed in Wechler 2001 (as summarised by A. Sumzun), and briefly mentionned by Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015.

Lepenski Vir (Wikimedia)

A final hint is provided by the colonists’ architecture: They used mudbricks, typical for SW and Central Asia and a.o. evidenced for Kel’teminar, but alien to Mesolithic Europe that, if building semi-permanent structures at all, used wattle-and-daub or thatched wooden constructions.

In summary, the Lower Volga Neolithic appears to be the north-western outpost of an East Caspian communication sphere, with which it shares lithic, pottery and building traditions. In the absence of any Neolithic aDNA  from the region in question, we may only speculate what that means genetically. However, as discussed in Part 1, the Central Asian lowlands already in the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic were a communication zone between W. Siberia and the S. Caspian, transferring ANE admix towards Iran_Hotu, and small but measurable CHG admix into Sidelkino, and they may well have continued to do so during the (pottery) Neolithic.

Rakushechny Yar on the Lower Don

Rakushechny Yar has been puzzling many archeologists. The site lies on an island in the lower Don, some 100 km from the Sea of Azov, in-between the mouths of the Manych river providing connection to the NW Caspian Sea via the Kuma-Manych Depression, and the Donets river connecting into East Ukraine. It is an island in more than just geographical sense – amidst an apparently “mosaic” cultural set-up (Tsybrij e.a. 2017), Rakushechny Yar has provided very early pottery, AMS-dated to around 7.000 BC, while nearby sites, including Razdorskaya II on the opposite north bank of the Don,  have staid aceramic until the first half of the 6th mBC. 

There is good reason to question the dating of Rakushechny Yar pottery – the Kiev laboratory responsible is known to regularly come out with earlier dates than other labs (e.g.  Poznan), and a plateau in the calibration curve doesn’t allow for much distinction within the period of 7,000 – 6,500 BC. Most importantly, AMS dates  derived from shells, shell-tempered pottery, or pottery foodcrusts stemming from aquatic food may be significantly influenced by aquatic reservoir effects. Such effects have recently been demonstrated for Erteboelle and Narva pottery, in both cases leading to revising the respective dating downwards by around 500 years. Rakushechny Yar is characterised by shell middens and substantial heaps of fish bones, strongly suggesting similar effects may be at work here as well. Analysis of pottery Neolithic sites in the Donets basin yielded “that mollusk samples are affected by a freshwater reservoir effect, resulting in an offset of the actual date, when compared to terrestrial samples of animal bone or charcoal, of up to 3000 yr. These results call into question all the existing 14C dating results from eastern Ukraine” (Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute 2015). As such, the AMS dates reported by Tsybrij e.a. 2017 for soil (pollen) samples from the lowest Rakushechny Yar layers, which range around 6.2 ky BC, are probably more representative of the actual emergence of pottery there. Still, such dates are very early for Europe as a whole, and predate the appearance of pottery on other sites surrounding the Sea of Azov by several centuries.

Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 characterize Rakushechny Yar pottery as follows: “Most of this pottery is undecorated, and decorated vessels comprise only 9% of the assemblage (..). Vessels covered with red and yellow ochre on the outer and/or inner surfaces are also present at the site. (..) The analyses (..) made in the State Hermitage Museum by L. Gavrilenko (..) lead us to believe that more than 10% of the whole ceramic assemblage was covered with red and/or yellow ochre (..). The decoration is very simple, consisting of horizontal and parallel lines of impressions (..) usually covering only the upper part of the vessel.”
They set forth: “The great variety of raw materials and clay pastes used for pottery shows the ability of potters to adapt to different types of materials which were available at different periods, which might be an indicator of developed skills and experience in pottery making (Mazurkevich et al. 2013). (..)  The range of similar technological operations typical of vessels of the lowest layers (e.g. surface smoothing and vessel treatment with a comb-like tool, modelling of symmetrical flat rims, predominance of the coil technique with N-junction, use of well-kneaded clay and additional pieces of clay for modelling, typical vessel forms) allow us to characterise this pottery assemblage as one made according to established cultural standards.” IOW: This was obviously not some home-grown practice that emerged from observing how wattle-and-daub or mudbricks reacted to fire – these potters absolutely represented the late 7th mBC state of the art. 

Elshan pottery from the Samara region

(Y)Elshan(skaya) pottery from the Samara area, especially the Sok river valley, has equally delivered very old AMS datings, up to 7 ky BC.  However, isotope analysis (Schulting/ Richards 2016) indicates a prevalence of aquatic food, so concerns about possible reservoir effects apply here as well. Consequently,  Vybornov e.a. 2017 date its onset to ca. 6.500 BC, whereby most of the credible AMS datings center around 6.2 ky BC.

Elshan ware displays many similarities to Rakushnechy Yar.  It is also sparsely decorated, decorations typically restrict to knobbed and/or pitted rims. As concerns technology,  Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 state: “Some types of Elshanskaya culture are similar to pottery from Rakushechny Yar (form 2), made with the ‘S’ technique with an admixture of grog (only in this case, crushed pottery was used). Also, the straight walls and roundish or pointed rims of the earliest stage of Elshanskaya culture are similar to forms 1 and 5 from Rakushechny Yar (Pl. 1).”  Against this background, Kulkova e.a. 2015 regard Elshan as “secondary centre” that developed under Rakushechny Yar influence.
OTOH, there are important differences: While Rakushechny Yar pottery was flat-based, Elshan ware had conical bases “although it might be supposed that flat bases would have been among the most ancient types” (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015). Most importantly, early Elshan ware included thin-walled pottery (3-4 mm thickness) unknown from Rakushechny Yar. As such, in addition to possible cultural relations between the Lower Don and the Samara area that are so far hardly explored archeologically, another stream into Elshan culture needs to be envisaged.

Possible origins of Rakushechny Yar and Elshan cultures

Lagoon cockle (Wikimedia)

There is an abundance of theories on the origin of the (pottery) Neolithisation of South Russia and Ukraine. Some of them, e.g. descent from Cardium / Impresso pottery and as such ultimately EEF Mediterranean “island-hopping” as proposed by Gaskevych 2011, can easily be discarded based on aDNA (see below). When mussels anyway make up for a good part of your diet, as evidenced by the manifold shell middens at Rakushechny Yar and other Pontic/ Caspian sites, it should’t require inspiration from outside to use them for stamping pottery. Moreover, assigning value to shells (shell imprints) isn’t specific to the Mediterranean, but well known around the world, and might actually go back to the Middle Paleolithic (OOA). Intriguing in this context, however, is that the Lagoon Cockle (Cerastoderma glaucum) that most likely accounts for a good part of the a/m shell middens and imprints appears to be a human introduction from the Sea of Azov into the Caspian Sea around 6,000 BC (Krijgsman e.a. 2018). Unless one wants to propose Early Neolithic aquaculture, the most likely explanation is boat portage across the Pontic-Caspian watershed via the Kuma-Manych depression.

At NW Anatolia, pottery making could have arrived just in time to account for Rakushechny Yar – Barcin and Mentese have both yielded AMS dates around or slightly before 6.2 ky BC (Seeher 2009).  However, the associated Fikirtepe pottery, characterised by triangular incisions, is a poor match that rather aligns with “Steppe” or “circum-Caspian” decoration as a/o known from the Lower Volga than with Rakushechny Yar. aDNA (see below) also speaks against intensive contact between NW Anatolia and the S. Pontic/ Sea of Azov.

Adapted from Gorelik e.a. 2014

Far more substantial is the claim brought forward by Gorelik e.a. 2014: “In the PPNB period, across the Caucasian shore of the Black and Azov seas, possibly also by sea, there were connections established between Zagros and Lower Don regions. The penetration of the new reproducing economy, possibly, together with its bearers, took part between 8500—7000 BC. (..) Together with ceramics, we suppose the provenience of domesticated animals (cattle, swine, sheep/goat) from the territory of Zagros and adjacent regions of Iran. The existence of close contacts between the population of Neolithic sites in Lower Don region and some areas from the Fertile Crescent are confirmed by analogies for such inventory, as clay balls, adzes/axes of soſt stone, specific “polishers”, medallions, bone pendants with snake ornamentation, stone vessels and geometrical microlites.
The paper is worth a look even for those not understanding Russian for its many distribution maps such as the one replicated here that deals with polished adzes/ axes. A recurrent theme is the connection of the Lower Don to Shanidar and Jarmo in Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, as the same authors discuss in a later publication (Gorelik e.a. 2016), the 7/6th mBC inhabitants of the Lower Don (and also of Southern Ukraine) weren’t yet holding domestic animals other than dogs (with the possible exception of ovocaprids that still require further analysis). Moreover, the cultural influence from the Zagros appeared far earlier than Rakushechny Yar pottery, and also affected aceramic sites such as Mateev Kurgan. Ultimately, the whole idea of the pre-pottery Zagros Neolithic supplying pottery, but not agriculture to the North Pontic looks counter-intuitive. Essentially,  Gorelik e.a. 2014 seem to describe a valid pattern of Mesolithic cultural interaction that, however, cannot explain the emergence of North Pontic pottery in a satisfactory manner.

Shulaveri-Shomu pottery displays manifold parallels to Rakushechny Yar: Use of organic temper, essentially undecorated, but regular presence of plastique decoration such as knobs on/ near the outer rim (around 1/3 at Arukhlo acc. to Chataigner e.a. 2014) , and also occasional painting with ochre. However, so far, Shulaveri-Shomu has only supplied AMS dates from 6,000 BC onwards, i.e. several centuries later than credible dates from Rakushechny Yar. Chokh in Dagestan, a possible Shulaveri-Shomu outpost, hasn’t yet been AMS-dated, but for the ceramic phase palynologic analysis points towards a damp climate that only evolved around 6,000 BC. Moreover, Chokh was fully Neolithic, including wheat and barley agriculture and animal husbandry, and is in this respect a poor match for Rakushechny Yar. Last but not least, Kamiltepe in Lower Karabagh has produced some pottery with knobbed rims (D’Anna in Lyonnet e.a. 2012), but that site equally only dates to the early 6th mBC, and its black-on-white painted triangular decorations are otherwise more reminiscent of Haji Firuz and Hassuna.

Available pollen analyses point to significant climatic deterioration in Caucasia during the 8.2 kya event. The quite dense Mesolithic archeological record of the (North) Caucasus thins out massively during the Neolithic, and a hiatus, most likely climate induced, is apparent at many sites: From Gubs Cave, e.g., one of the most important Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites, no Neolithic finds are known; occupation apparently only recommenced during the Chalcolithic (Leonova 2014). In Darkveti (W. Georgia, next to Dzudzuana), the late Mesolithic layer 5 is separated by one meter of sterile soil from the yet undated Neolithic layer 4 (Rostunov e.a. 2009). There also appears to be a hiatus between the Mesolithic and Neolithic layers of Chokh, Dagestan.

Quite instructive in this respect is Tsmi in N. Ossetia as described in Rostunov e.a. 2009 (in German). The site lies at the junction of two of the main connections through the Central Caucasus, namely the Ossetian Military Road to the Upper Rioni, the only connection into Colchis east of Abkhazia, and the Transcaucasian Highway that connects North and South Ossetia via the Roki pass/ tunnel. For its strategic location, Tsmi can provide us with a good idea of what was passing through the Central Caucasus, and what not.

The lowest level at Tsmi, AMS-dated to around 6.4 kya, has yielded Mesolithic artefacts such as large trapezoids with manifold Caucasian parallels, especially from the Terek basin. Seperated by 55 cm of sterile soil, two Neolithic levels, both AMS-dated to around 5.9-5.7 ky BC, followed, which displayed a quite different lithic inventory with a prevalence of microblades. Chalcolithic level 4, AMS-dated to ca. 3,6 ky BC, contained typical Kura-Araxes pottery (note, btw.,  the dating as one more indication of Kura-Araxes possibly having emerged earlier than commonly assumed).
In Neolithic level 3,  sherds of a pot, thick-walled and undecorated except for a knobbed rim, were found. While the decoration is reminiscent of Shulaveri-Shomu, according to the excavators Tsmi pottery is technologically quite different and might rather be related to the Neolithic layer of Chokh, Daghestan. Analogies to Rakushechny Yar are alluded to in a footnote but unfortunately not explored further. Nevertheless, the hiatus between the late Mesolithic and the Neolithic layers that falls into the late 7th mBC speaks against Rakushechny Yar originating from a migration through the Central Caucasus.

In Colchis, pottery seems to have appeared comparatively late, and then only in a narrow strip along the Black Sea Coast. The Anaseuli-1 site, AMS-dated to 5,746 – 5,595 cal BC, e.g., was still aceramic. Late Neolithic Colchian pottery is described as “undifferentiated red-baked jars with a button base [that] could be decorated with incised geometric ornaments and grooves on the rim” that bears “typological parallels of the pottery assemblages with the Early Chalcolithic of eastern Georgia (Sioni culture)”.(Chataigner e.a. 2014). Typical of the latter are “incisions and circular or comb impression decorations always applied on the rims” (Palumbi 2015), and such decoration pattern is set forth in Chalcolithic/ EBA Shengavit, commonly considered as Kura-Araxes type site.

In conclusion, Rakushechny Yar pottery might be considered as “typical Caucasian”, wasn’t it for the facts that it chronologically precedes Caucasian pottery, and the Caucasian uplands were apparently deserted during the period in question, i.e. the 8.2 ky event, and as such don’t qualify as migration route.

As concerns Elshan, Vybornov e.a. 2017 propose the south-eastern Caspian coast, including the Dzhebel (Djebel) cave, as origin. Djebel belongs to the same EP to Neolithic SE Caspian ensemble as Hotu and Kamarband (Belt) Caves. I was unable to figure out any details about Dzhebel pottery – the site is generally poorly described, sources listed are usually from the Soviet period and in Russian. However, Hotu and Belt Cave “soft ware”, generally thick-walled, lightly-fired and undecorated (except for one piece with incised decoration around the rim), seems to bear some similitarity to Elshan pottery and comes from layers that have delivered late 8th/ early 7th mBC C14-dates (Gregg/ Thornton 2012) – a long enough pottery-making tradition to possibly generate the extent of mastership seen in Rakushechny Yar and Elshan.
Moreover, nearby Sang-e-Chakhmag on the southern foothills of the Alborz Mts. has supplied similar “soft ware”, this time painted with red ochre, from a layer AMS-dated to the early 7th mBC. From ca. 6.3 ky BC onwards, Sang-e-Chakhmag produced thin-walled pottery that is generally believed to have been the prototype of  equally thin-walled Jeitun ware from the Kopet Dag foothills in South Turkmenistan (A. Tsuneki 2014).

As such, the SE Caspian fulfils the neccesary prerequisites to qualify as potential source of Rakushnechy Yar and Elshan ware: Long-enough pottery tradition to acquire mastership, and presence of all of undecorated, red ochre-painted,  rim-decorated and thin-walled wares before ca. 6.2 ky BC. Surely, that is no proof that Rakushechny Yar / Elshan actually originated there, and a detailed comparison yet to be undertaken by someone may well uncover various incompatibilites. However, unless one wants to turn to the Chinese Peiligang culture (a rather unlikely candidate IMO for various reasons), options really get scarce…

Gobustan Petroglyph Source: Wikimedia

Well, there is a final one, namely Gobustan some 30 km SW of Baku, an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its petroglyphs that partly date back to the Epi-Paleolithic. “The rockshelters of Kyaniza and Firuz have produced two layers of homogenous lithic material, (…) the upper level containing vessels with pointed bases evoking the Neolithic of the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Formozov, 1966; Rustamov and Muradova, 1972, 1978)” (Chataigner e.a. 2014). Fortunately, some post-Soviet, non-Russian language publications about Gobustan start to come in: Farajova 2017 reports about the Firuz rockshelter: “Numerous female figures, images of hunters, animals and boats are fixed. (..). Besides these, images of animals (aurochs, wild boars, onagers, gazelles, bezoar goats) were depicted on stone №19 (..) found in the Neolithic layer. (..) AMS dating of the cultural layers of the “Firuz 2” site allowed to understand the variability in the form and meaning of the petroglyphs of various periods. (..)  The last AMS dating provided the result: 7850 ± 30 BP, which led to suppose that Gobustan was the earliest center in which navigation emerged in the Caucasian region.

“Neolithic” here, in a context of depicting hunters, aurochs, gazelles, etc., obviously means pottery. If the cited AMS dating of 7850 ± 30 BP is to be understood as uncalibrated, CalPal converts it into ca. 6,700 cal BC. Appropriate time, appropriate cultural context (pottery-using HGs), and a pottery tradition apparently connected to the E. Caspian, i.e the area that Russian authors propose as Elshan origin – this sounds promising. Even more so as seaworthy boats would have enabled access to the Lower Don, via the Kuma-Manych depression/ rivers, and to the Middle Volga. Of course, I would still like to see some depictions, ideally also technological analyses of Gobustan pottery (and believe me, I searched for it, for no avail), but for the time being, I deem Gobustan as the most likely origin of Rakushechny Yar and Elshan.

Expansion, Contact and Admixture

Interestingly, while “West Siberian” Combed Ceramics seems to have expanded quickly across most of the forest zone between the Urals and Moscow, all of Lower Volga, Rakushechny Yar and Elshan ceramics initially remained restricted to relatively small core areas. For Kairshak ceramics from the eastern Lower Volga, it took around 500 years to also appear on the western bank of the Volga, and another 200 years to make it to the Volgograd area (Vybornov e.a. 2017). A similar time scale was required by Elshan pottery to expand from the Sok river further upwards the Volga towards the Oka basin (ibid.). For the Donets Neolithic (Starobelsk, Novoselovka), technologically and stylistically related to Rakushechny Yar and located less than 300 km north, AMS dates on sources that are unsuspicious of conveying reservoir effects (animal bones, charcoal) point to an onset during the 58th cBC  (Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute 2015), i.e. several centuries after credible Rakushechny Yar datings. This seems to indicate the “foreign” character of these early pottery makers – it obviously took surrounding Mesolithic populations quite some time to accept pottery and the changes in lifestyle associated with it.

This doesn’t mean early potters were immobile – quite to the opposite. Kairshak-type triangular decorations make occasional appearance already in lower Rakushechny Yar layers and in Middle Elshan, while the Algay site on the Lower Volga has delivered one sherd with grooved rim decoration, so both ceramic spheres seem to have been in contact.

Intriguing is the case of the Serteya culture in the Dnepr-Dvina-Lovat region around Vitebsk and Smolensk at the watershed between the Black and Baltic Seas. Its pottery has delivered AMS-dates as early as 7,500 BC that most likely require substantial downward correction for reservoir effects but should still fall into the second half of the 7th mBC, i.e. precede Balkans pottery. The region may be considered a major ceramical province, having supplied some 130 early Neolithic vessels from 22 sites. Typologically, it is divided into three phases, “a-1”, “a” and “b”: “Phase ‘a-1’ seems to be the oldest in this region, given the typological-technological analysis and 14C dates, and could have originated in the pottery of the Rakushechny Yar site. (..) The pottery of phase ‘a’ is similar to the early Neolithic pottery of the Northern Caspian region (..) The traditions with triangular impressions first found in materials of phase ‘a’ continued into phase ‘b’. It was probably during this time that the influence of this decoration of steppe cultures first spread in different directions along the basins of the Middle Volga, Middle Don, Upper Volga, Sursko-Moksha basin, Desna, Upper Dvina, Upper Dnepr and Valdai valley” (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015). Of course, the story doesn’t end here:  Phase “b” witnesses the arrival of comb-incised decorations in dense horizontal rows as typical of West Siberian and East European forest-zone pottery, and Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 (Plate 5) see that amalgamation of “steppe” and “combed” decorations set forth in the chronologically later Bug-Dniestr culture.

Another long-distance expansion may be indicated by the appearance of Rakushechny Yar-like pottery at Onega Lake (Mazurkevich / Dolbunova 2015 Plate 6, w/o further discussion except for assigning it to the late 7th-6th mBC). Early Upper Volga pottery, undecorated or just carrying notched/ grooved rims, and AMS-dated to ca. 6,000 BC (Hartz e.a. 2012)  seems to better align with Rakushechny Yar/ Elshan than “combed” traditions, and precedes attestations of the latter. Kulkova e.a. 2015 e.a. furthermore assign Valdai pottery (Dvina-Volga watershed) and the Berezovaya Slobodka site in the upper Northern Dvina basin east of Belozero, both dating to around 6,000 BC, to this tradition.

What seems to shine up here for the first time is the river-based East European trade network that is well known from Medieval Varangians (Kiev Rus) as described a/o in Carlsson/ Selin 2012. The quasi-simultaneous appearance of geographically disjunct but nevertheless closely related pottery traditions is strongly suggestive of a spread by boats, availability of which is attested by the Gobustans petroglyphs. “Southern” trade commodities seem to have included obsidian – Mt. Elbrus obsidian has a/o been found in early 6th mBC contexts on the Lower Volga (Rostunov e.a. 2009); the late 6th mBC Azov-Dniepr Culture has supplied four specimens of Armenian obsidian blades (Biagi e.a. 2014) as typical of Shulaveri-Shomu. No “Northern” commodities are archeologically attested, but one may speculate about fur, beeswax, maybe also amber. 

Expectably, the next step on the route was the Narva Culture (from ca. 5,100 BC) on the SE Baltic Sea.  Interestingly, Narva pottery displays quite a geographic differentiation, with NE Narva (N. Estonia) more alluding to Combed Ceramics, W. Narva (W. Latvia/ Estonian Isles) aligning with Elshan/ Rakushechny Yar, and the zone inbetween reflecting both influences plus some triangular, Lower Volga-like decorations (Kriiska e.a. 2017). The (West) Narva origin of Erteboelle pottery has been supposed for long. Gronenborn 2003 extended the connection even further to the south-west, to the HG Melsele Group in Belgian Flanders (ca. 5,000 BC) and some “atypical” pottery found in Alsatian LBK graves. Against this background, occurence of Elshan-typical pitted rims in Bischheim (SW German MN), Michelsberg, and Michelsberg/ Erteboelle-influenced cultures such as TRB-N, Baalberge and Wartberg is at a second look not as surprising as it might seem initially. [Intriguing, however, is that Wartberg, in addition to pitted rims, also has knobbed rim pottery otherwise best known from Shulaveri-Shomu]. Prevalence of such patterns also in the Bavarian MN/LN (Altheim, Cham, etc.) is still somewhat puzzling to me. Maybe we are dealing here with another, yet unrecognised EN expansion out of the SE Balticum. The relatively sudden appearance of pile-dwellings in SW Germany during the 4th mBC is so far unexplained. Origins are commonly sought for on the French/ W. Italian Mediterranean coast, but the Dniepr-Dvina interfluve has also early evidence of pile-dwellings.

Just for fun, I have also screened the “Göttinger Typentafeln” (Raetzel-Fabian 2002), a comprehensive catalogue of Neolithic pottery from Germany, for occurence of “Steppe decoration“, i.e. triangular incisions in Lower Volga/ Kelteminar (plus Sintashta/ Andronovo) tradition.  There is certainly no lack of such decoration, starting already with Youngest LBK, becoming predominant in SBK (Stroke-ornamented pottery) and Rössen, to be set a/o forth into Bernburg, GAC and Corded Ware. Some Russian authors (I unfortunately forgot to bookmark them) have used these parallels to postulate a pre-EEF migration from the Lower Volga into W. Ukraine and ultimately Bohemia (with further spread, via SBK, into Germany and beyond).  I personally feel that a lot of caution is advisable in this respect – “Steppe decoration” was a/o also present at Fikirtepe (Barcin), Pottery Neolithic Jericho, and Haji Firuz. It may well have been transferred at various points in time and space from Upper Paleolithic/ Mesolithic stone/ wood carving onto ceramics.

Ukranian Neolithic aDNA

We don’t have any aDNA yet from the Lower Don and the Lower Volga, as entrance points of pottery, and with it possibly some CHG ancestry. However, we may infere a bit from comparisons of Ukrainian Mesolithic and Neolithic aDNA. [In this context, I thank Alberto for having run various models based on G25 data, the most informative of which are displayed below.]

There are some caveats in this respect: As described  in Part 1, Southern Ukraine is likely to have experienced CHG inflow from Colchis during the Final Paleolithic (Kammenaya Balka) and the Mesolithic (Kukrek-Imereti Culture). Moreover, 9-8th mBC cultural connections to the N. Zagros as described by Gorelik e.a. 2014 (see above) might have brought in more easterly CHG ancestry. Therefore, a Mesolithic baseline is in order.  It shows the following:

  1. CHG was, in varying shares up to 6.6%, already present during the Mesolithic.
  2. Mesolithic Ukraine had quite some substructure, noteably co-existence of a more westerly strain pre-dominated by IronGates_HG plus some 5% Barcin (to be interpreted as approximating pre-Neolithic NW Anatolian HGs), best represented by UA_Mes:I1734 (yDNA R1b1a2), and a more easterly strain with strong AG3 component. Intriguingly, all samples except for UA_Mes:I5876 stem from the same location, Vasilevka in the Dniepr rapids region half-way between Dnipro and Zaporoshje, commonly associated to the Kukrek Culture.
  3. Inclusion of Sidelkino as a source significantly improves the fit, at the same time doing away with some of the CHG and Barcin components, suggesting that Sidelkino is a reasonably good approximation of an early Holocene population that not only shaped the Samara area, but much of Eastern Europe. The same effects, i.e. significantly better fits, and disappearance of spurious CHG traces, also occured when Sidelkino was introduced as a source into models for Baltic_HGs and SHG (not shown here).
  4. Even with Sidelkino, which contains some 3% CHG of presumably East Caspian provenance (see Part 1), as a source, Ukrainian Mesolithic samples contain up to 4% extra CHG.
  5. The samples are chronologically poorly resolved and may in addition require date corrections for reservoir effects. Still, the youngest of them, UA_Mes:I5876 that already falls close to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, seems to indicate some westward shift, as well as a slight uptake in CHG. The latter might speculatively be connected to the  N. Zagros connection described by Gorelik e.a. 2014. OTOH, as UA_Mes:I5876 falls into the same date range as early Rakushechny Yar (uncorrected for reservoir effects), it also may already incorporate some genetic influence from there. As long as reservoir effects have not been systematically analysed, we can’t be certain. For that reason, I have excluded I5876 from any further inclusion in modelling.

For the apparent substructure, I deemed it unwise to pool all Ukraine_Mesolithic samples, and asked instead Alberto to analyse each of them separately for their explanatory quality. Expectedly, “western” and Barcin-heavy I1734 fared poorly in this respect. The same applied to comparatively CHG-heavy I1733: Whether because of comprising the “wrong CHG”, i.e. from Colchis rather than further east, or being too CHG-loaded overall, it forced the models to drive up both IronGates_HG and Sidelkino in order to get the CHG profile right, resulting in very poor fits. The remaining two samples, I1763 and I1819, in spite of their apparent similarity, yielded very different results depending on the target, so I decided to have them both included in the model.

Apparently, there was quite some CHG influx during the Neolithic. Barcin and Levante_N only appear sporadically, signifying some contact but no decisive role of NW Anatolian and Balkans farmers in the spread of pottery. In interpreting the data, the “mosaic” nature of the cultures in question that becomes apparent from widely variating shares of EHG (Sidelkino) and Iron Gates HG needs to be considered. Clearly, at some point in time and space the diffusion of pottery disentangled from substantial demic change. While Narva pottery, e.g., reflects Rakushechny Yar traditions, early Narva samples still show genetic continuity with the preceding Mesolithic Kunda culture. However, note Jones e.a. 2017 reporting that their Latvia_MN2 (6,179–5,750 cal BP) sample ” is placed toward EHG in PCA space and has several components in ADMIXTURE analysis that are found in Native Americans, Siberians, and hunter-gatherer samples from the Caucasus.”

Against this background, let’s have a closer look at the individual Ukraine_Neolithic samples:

  • I1736, Vasiliveka 2 cemetery: The cemetary goes back to the Mesolithic Kukrek Culture, and hasn’t delivered any pottery, so technically it could still be regarded as Mesolithic. However, there is little genetic continuity with the Mesolithic, and around the sample’s date, the Neolithic Surska(ya) Culture emerges in the neighbourhood. Nadezhda 2009 explains its genesis as follows: “At the beginning of this arid period, around 6300 calBC, (..)  the Surskaya culture in the Middle Dnieper Region [appeared]. The migration of the Grebeniki population from the Azov Sea steppe area to the Dnieper valley, where the big river mitigated the dry conditions, resulted in their coexistence with local Kukrek inhabitants and the formation a new culture on the bases of their respective traditions. It was probably at that time that pottery with line and pit ornamentation [and] polished tools (..) were borrowed from the Rakushechny Yar culture. (..) It is possible that the Vasilievka 2 and Marievka cemeteries date to the first period of the Surskaya culture, too.
    With the sample falling into the initial contact phase, no major aDNA signal from Rakushechny Yar is yet to be epected. The Surska culture was involved in long-distance exchange, as documented by a Cappadocian obsidian blade found in Semenovka 1 further south (Biagi e.a. 2014), which might explain the rather homeopathic Barcin and Ganj Dareh components of the sample.
  • I1732/ I1738, Vovnigi 2 cemetery: The site lies just some 10km downstream from Vasilevka on the opposite (western) bank of the Dniepr. Its cultural assignment, or better, the overall cultural landscape of late 6th mBC SE Ukraine, is disputed: Some authors, e.g. Kotova, have proposed a separate Azov-Dniepr Culturebased on the common features of the burial rite (the latitudinal orientation of the deceased, the occurrence of burial pyre, the red ochre and specific funerary inventories)” (Dolukhanov e.a. 2009 p.104, see there also for a more in-depth discussion of competing approaches) as part of a wider ‘Mariupol cultural entity’. Others, e.g. Telegin, consider it as part of the Dniepr-Donets culture characterised by “comb-and-stroke” decoration, i.e. synthesis of  forest-zone horizontally, all-over ornamented “combed”, and Lower Volga triangular traditions as also present in the late phase of the Serteya Culture in the Dniepr-Dvina interfluve. The Jones e.a. 2017 Suppl. Materials follow the latter opinion. I don’t intend to take a position in this debate. Rather, I think it illustrates the long-range connectivity along the main waterways of the  East European plain that had emerged during the 6th mBC and blurred previously clear-cut cultural distinctions.
    Several sites, e.g. Semenovka 1 and Kammenaya Mogila 1, show settlement continuity between an earlier Surska and a subsequent Azov-Dniepr layer. As such, Vovigni may capture Surska substrate. This makes it impossible to assign its “fresh” 2-7% CHG to a specific source – it could reflect Rakushechny Yar influence on the Sursk Culture, but also a spread of Lower Volga triangular decorations into Eastern Ukraine (Dniepr-Donets Culture). There is even a third possibility: Lysa Gora, 2km NW of Vasilevka, has alongside Azov-Dniepr sherds yielded four obsidian blades from  Syunik in SE Armenia (Biagi e.a. 2014), a source otherwise so far only known to have supplied the Urmia Lake Basin, e.g. Chalcolithic (pre-Kura-Araxes) Pisdeli (Chataigner/ Gratuze 2013). Alberto has tested Haji Firuz as source, which wasn’t requested by any of the Ukranian Neolithic samples, so demic influence from the Urmia basin can be excluded, but an Armenian (Arashten-Shulaveri-Shomu) origin of the CHG admix could be considered. Otherwise, the samples show a decrease in WHG (IronGates) ancestry compared to preceding I1736, and for the younger I1732 also EHG (Sidelkino) admix, which in general corresponds to what might be expected under a “pottery from the (North-)East” scenario as archeologically suggested.
  • I3715/I5870, Vilnyanka cemetery: Another site from the Dniepr Rapids area, some 20 km downstream of Vovigni. The cultural assignment is uncertain – Kotova 2010 lists it as belonging to the Surska Culture, but according to the Supp. Materials of Mathieson e.a. 2017, it was in use for a long time, i.e. (at least) also during the Azov-Dniepr stage. aDNA-wise, it closely resembles Vovigni: Around 5% fresh CHG, and some eastern influence, in this case resembling AG3, appearing in the younger sample some time after 5500 BC.
  • Dereivka (various samples): This site, long wrongly assumed to have provided the earliest evidence of horse domestication, lies some 150 km further upstream the Dniepr. While described as Mariupol cemetery in Mathieson e.a. 2017, Dolukhanov e.a. 2009 state: “Dereivka cemetery which generally belongs to the Kiev-Cherkassy culture, includes the burials, which belong both to the Dniepr-Donets (longitudinal orientation) and Azov-Dnieprian (latitudinal) rites. The burials of the later stage of the same cemetery contain skeletons in the supine position having the longitudinal orientation. The burial inventory includes then pottery belonging to the second stage of the Kiev-Cherkassyan culture.” As per the Mathieson e.a. 2017 Supp. Materials: “According to craniometric analysis, the Dereivka I population consists of two components, one of which was similar to previous hunter-gatherers of the same region while another is more closely related to individuals from the northern forest zone.”
    Obviously a multi-cultural set-up (major trade location?), the diversity of which is reflected in the aDNA that splits into two groups – one (I3717, I3718) consisting of Ukraine_Mesolithic ancestry with strong WHG (Iron Gates) influence and a bit of CHG, the other one (I4114, I5875, I5890) showing EHG (Sidelkino) admixture of up to 16%. Overall lower CHG admixture may relate to location outside the area of the Surskaya/ Azov-Dniepr cultures. Interesting are small but above noise level additional components in invidual samples that geographically range from Levante_N and Barcin in the SW to Ganj Dareh, Sarazm and W. Siberia in the SE.  The fact that CHG, WestSiberia_N and for I3717 also Sarazm seem to form a “package” suggests joint arrival/ origin, possibly from the Lower Volga and ultimately the Kazakh Steppe (Sarazm is the closest approximation in time, space and material culture to Kelteminar for which aDNA is available).

The Cultural Sequence on the Middle Volga

The other early pottery region we have aDNA from is the Middle Volga around Samara. However, the I0124 (“Samara_HG”) sample postdates the Elshan Culture. So, before having a look at that sample, a brief sketch of the post-Elshan cultural sequence is in order.

As mentionned above, Lower Volga triangular decorations already make appearance in Middle Elshan. Vybornov e.a. 2017 describe the subsequent development as follows: “The series of dates for typologically later sites of the Elshanian culture fall into the interval of 6000–5700 cal BC. What is important is that the dates on the organics from pottery correspond with the dates on the charred crusts from the pottery of the same type, taking into account the error of measurement and reservoir effect (..). The Elshanian culture was replaced by the Srednevolzhskaya [Middle Volga] culture (Vybornov 2008.490) (Fig. 9). On the base of a large series of radiocarbon dates, the period of this culture’s development can be determined from 5500–4700 cal BC (Tab. 1.59–63). There is a good correlation between dates obtained on the organics from pottery and bones.” 

Middle Volga Culture pottery comes across as synthesis of Elshan pitted rims, Lower Volga triangular patterns and forest zone/ Transuralian horizontally combed decoration. Reszel 2011 constates in this respect: “A gradual disappearance of the Yelshanian tradition of the Mid-Volga Region (established also in the early stages of the Srednevolzhskaya Culture in these areas) is to be linked to the influx of the steppe patterns from the South (the second half of the 7th millennium BC the turn of 7th millennium BC), themselves responsible for the formation of the Srednevolzhskaya Culture with the stabbed-incised type of pottery, as well as the influx of the „forest” cultural component from the North, itself originating from the Neolithic Kamskaya Culture that subsequently became an important contribution to the origin of the Eneolithic Samara Culture Complex (the first half of the 6th millennium BC).

A similar process, albeit somewhat delayed and with less of triangular, “Steppe” elements, took place in the Volga-Oka Region. Here, Elshan may have lasted somewhat longer but around ca. 5,200 BC at latest was replaced by Lyalovo Culture Pit-Comb Ware that closely resembles Middle Volga pottery (Vybornov e.a. 2018). [Lyalovo Culture was quite stable and lasted into the early 4th mBC. Its pit-combed traditions set forth in the subsequent Volosovo culture. For a general overview on the spread of (pit-)combed traditions across NE Europe see Piezonka 2012.

More or less simultaneously (AMS dates from ca. 5,700 BC w/o correction for possible reservoir effects), the Samara Culture appeared. As per Morgunova 2015:

The first stage in the development of the Samara culture is represented by the burials at the village of Sjezheye. The burials exhibit certain rituals, as well as decorations made of shells and the fang of a wild boar, stone axes and other goods (Fig. 2.7–10) that are similar to those found in burials at Mariupol in Ukraine (Makarenko 1933).
Pottery from the Sjezheye burials at can be divided into two types. The first includes high vessels with a small flat bottom (Fig. 2.1–3). The rim-like collars are rather pronounced. (..) The surfaces were painted with ochre (Vasilyeva 1999; 2006). The pottery has complex motifs with meander patterns and zigzags, which were made with incisions and comb stamps.
The pottery of the second type differs from the former (..). Here, not all the vessels have collars and the necks are prominently made with the help of rows of deep pits and grooves; the bottoms are large and flat. The surfaces are covered with motifs made with comb stamps. These distinctive features point to the connection of the second group of pottery to the local Neolithic cultures and their active participation in the development of the Eneolithic Samara culture in the Volga-Ural area (Morgunova 1995; Vasilyeva 2006).
As to the ceramics of the first type, they are supposed to indicate that people of some outlandish culture had entered the areas near the Volga and the Urals. As bearers of different cultural traditions, as evidenced by the pottery excavated at Sjezheye burial ground, the outlandish group appeared to be in a vulnerable position because it was not numerous (Vasilyeva 2006). It had to be assimilated into the local environment by the group that produced the second type of pottery which is found at other sites in the Volga area, such as at the Lebjazhinka III settlement.
Where did the outlanders who prompted the Eneolithic period in the Volga-Urals region come from? Considering the complex motifs of the pottery in question, which have some prototypes in the AzovDnieper culture and at the early stage of the Tripolsky culture (Kotova 2006), they most probably arrived from the west, i.e. from the north Black Sea area. This is suggested by a certain similarity between the grave goods from burial grounds at Sjezheye and Mariupol (Vasilyev 1981). The presence of close contacts between the population of the Volga area and that of the north-western Black Sea region manifests itself in the similarity in burial practices (large burial grounds, the supine position of the dead, places for sacrifice) and decoration of burial clothing. This evidence testifies to regular links between these groups.”

I must confess – I have problems in following Morgunova. Aside from ochre painting, I can’t see any similarities between Lower Don / Azov-Dniepr pottery and her “outlandish” type 1 pottery. If there is anything connecting with previous Neolithic, i.e. Elshan pottery, it is pronounced rims and pointed bases as typical for her “outlandish” type 1, but missing from type 2. And overall, both her types 1 and 2 are mostly reminding me of forest zone early “combed” decoration, i.e. all-over ornamentation in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns.  Type 1 “meander patterns and zigzags” a/o occured  in Trans-Uralic Kosharovsky (190 km N of Yekaterinburg), and otherwise rather recall Lower Volga decoration. Influence from the Lower Volga becomes more obvious in the subsequent stages of the Samara Culture, namely the Ivanovka (mid 5th mBC, synchronised by Morgunova with Khvalynsk/ Sredni Stog) and  Turganik (early 4th mBC, synchronised with Repin/ early Yamnaya) phases, during which it expanded further south into the Orenburg Region.

All in all, the Samara Region during the second half of the 6th mBC seems to have been quite multicultural. It experienced influences from the Trans-Urals and the forest zone, the Lower Volga, and possibly also the Don-Dniepr area that substantially overformed and ultimately replaced the preceding Elshan culture, a fate possibly shared by its bearers. The place of the I0124 sample within this multicultural set-up, including the question to which extent this single sample is representative of the region’s overall genetic set-up during the late 6th mBC, is unclear. Haak e.a. 2015 have remained rather cryptic in this respect: “The individual we refer to as ‘Samara hunter-gatherer’ – I0124/SVP44 (5640-5555 calBCE, Beta-392490) is an adult male from grave 1 in a Neolithic-Eneolithic settlement [Lebyazhinka IV ] producing artifacts from the Elshanka, Samara, and Repin cultures.” Korolyov e.a. 2017 report the presence of four different styles of Eneolithic pottery at Lebyazhinka IV. Moreover, a recent analysis has uncovered a substantial reservoir effect in a contemporary (5605-5490 calBC) burial from neighbouring Lebyazhinka V, where a human bone was AMS-dated 730 C14 years older than marmot canines from the same burial (Shishlina e.a. 2018), strengthening suspicions that it might rather represent a Sredni Stog incursion or early Khvalynsk than Samara Culture proper.

For all my reservations against Morgunova’s assessment of pottery styles, her and other researchers’ remarks on the presence of Mariupol burial traditions in the Samara Culture deserve attention, so I have deemed it appropriate to include an Ukraine_Neolithic source, namely I3715 as the oldest of the Surskaya/Azov-Dniepr samples, into G25 modelling.

The output shows substantial population replacement since the Early Holocene not only in the Samara Region, but also as concerns the more or less contemporary, but still aceramic Karelian_HGs from Onega Lake. Sidelkino EHG only captures some 40%, in the case of Uz0077 even only 15%, of the 6th mBC samples’ ancestry. New entrants have both come from the Southwest (UA_Mes, UA_N) and from Siberia (AG3, WSib_N), whereby AG3 seems to represent the bearers of the “Combed” pottery tradition. The perceived similarity of EHG samples is obviously an artefact – all of them represent admixture of ANE-rich Siberian with WHG-rich Ukrainian sources, but the admixture happened at different points in time, and also between different source populations, as demonstrated by the absence of WSib_N admixture from Samara_HG, and of UA_N admixture from Karelian Uz0077.

Interesting for the question at hand here is the 2.4% CHG admixture in the Samara HG. This doesn’t measure his total CHG share, which in distal modelling with AG3 and Villabruna as further sources lies around 8%. Instead, it represents the CHG that wasn’t already present in Sidelkino (2.9%), and didnt arrive from also CHG-enriched Mesolithic/ Neolithic Ukraine, which leaves us with either Elshan or the Lower Volga as its likely origin.

Summary and Conclusion

The Pottery Neolithic of the East European plain NE of the Dniestr witnesses the more-or-less contemporary arrival of three different pottery traditions, none of which  is associated with agriculture:

  1. “Combed” Ceramics, all-over ornamented in narrowly-placed, horizontal patterns, which can be traced back to the Trans-Urals and West Siberia;
  2. “Steppe” pottery, characterised by triangular and diagonal incisions, which finds close parallels in the Central Asian Kelteminar culture and is on the Lower Volga associated with mudbrick architecture as typical of Neolithic Central and West Asia;
  3. Rakushechny Yar and Elshan ware, sparsely decorated except for knobbed or pitted rims, but partly ochre-painted, which seems to be based on South Caspian pottery technology and finds close, albeit chronologically later parallels in the East Caucasus.

The spread of “combed” ceramics apparently included a substantial demic element, as indicated by some 30% newly arrived Siberian ancestry in 6th mBC Middle Volga and Karelian samples, traces of which also make it to the Middle Dniepr and into the Narva Culture (but were not yet present in Mesolithic Kunda samples).

For lack of baseline samples from Kelteminar, NW Kazakhstan and the Lower Volga, the impact of the “Central Asian/ East Caspian” connection on and beyond the Lower Volga is difficult to assess, especially as the typical “Steppe” decoration resembles motives widely used in Mesolithic stone, wood and antler engraving and may independently at various points in time and space have been transferred from stone or wooden vessels onto pottery. I haven’t yet come across any description of Pottery Neolithic mudbrick buildings outside the Lower Volga region, however, which speaks against substantial demic expansion outside of that area.

The arrival of Lower Don pottery in the Dniepr Rapids area coincides with a measurable increase of CHG-related ancestry by around 5%. Fresh CHG ancestry that may either relate to the Elshan Culture or the Lower Don Neolithic also appears in the Samara Region. This suggests a substantial CHG element in the bearers of the a/m early Neolithic cultures – how substantial is difficult to say until aDNA becomes available from the cultural horizons in question. Far more substantial than the genetic was the cultural impact – aside from introducing pottery, bearers of Rakushechny Yar / Elshan ware opened up a network of long-distance communication along the major waterways that ultimately reached from the Erteboelle Culture in the NW to the East Caucasus. That network was most likely based on the use of watercrafts – seaworthy boats are evidenced from Gobustan petroglyphs dated to the early 8th mBC. A West Caspian communication zone is evidenced by finds of Armenian obsidian in the Dniepr Rapids area, and of Mt. Elbrus obsidian on the Lower Volga. Communication zones along both the Western and Eastern shores of the Caspian Sea imply that genetic exchange may have been bi-directional, i.e. also have carried WHG, EHG and/or West Siberian ancestry into Central Asia and East Caucasia.

However, the introduction of pottery only raised the CHG share in the East European Steppe from some 3% in Sidelkino and 4% in Mesolithic Ukraine to 8 and 9%, respectively. The bulk of CHG ancestry must have arrived later, i.e. with the introduction of agriculture or during the Chalcolithic. These periods will be explored in the next part of this series.

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55 thoughts on “How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA ? Part 2 : The Pottery Neolithic

  1. HI Frank, very interesting post. I agree with the ceramic influences discussion, a very astute reading of the current state of the art !

    Some other debate points to raise;

    * Vovnigi cannot be Mariupol (Telegin’s dates are overblown), but Azov-Dnieper culture.
    The Mariupol horizon relates to perceptible Balkan influences, imports and burial postures (from Haemangia, etc). Instead, Mariupol is from 5500BC, then early Sredni Stog begins from c. 4500 BC, then later S/S after 4000 BC.

    * I’d be guarded about claims of ”population replacement” when dealing with a sample size of n=1 for early EHG (Sidelkino), n=1 for later Samaran EHG and N=2 for boreal EHGs. Certainly, overall, I agree that c.f. Sidelkino, the so-called ”Samara HG” is ever-so slightly shifted toward basal/ CHG, & the boreal EHGs are slightly shifted toward Siberian. But the mtDNA predominance of U5a points to overall continuities, and at best we might be seeing movement of individuals to account for links between major hubs on the lower Volga and, say, Kelteminar. The rest was movement along river highways of very similar forager groups in eastern Europe, diffusing ceramic techniques.

    * As per above, it is difficult to prove a population replcaement in Ukraine b/w Meso & Nesolithic. It is certainly feasible, esp. given the transgression of I2a2 lineages, missing in the Mesolithic sample set (but n=3 males !) although the continuity is represented by the R1b individual
    Rather, a shift in networks orientations or underlying sub-structure (e.g. 2 of the Ukr Mesolithics plot close to the later Neolithics) could account for the slight WHG-shift we are noting (first noted by Mathieson 2018). Also, as you mention, there is a slight basal-shift in Ukr Neol.

    * Lastly, i see that CHG arrives earlier in Dnieper than Samara.
    T/f I think that, whatevet the ultimate source of CHG, it ”landed” in the Don region.

  2. Rob,

    When I speak of “eastern CHG”, I mean east of Colchis, not neccesarily east of the Caspian Sea. The Likhi mountains on the watershed between the Black and Caspian Seas, while not particular high in comparison to the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges, have for a long time acted as substantial cultural barrier, during the LGM of course also as physical barrier. If you re-read my Part I, a basic assumption is that proto-CHGs were during the LGM forced to retreat to two, separated refugia, namely Colchis in the West and the S. Caspian coast in the East. From the former refugium, Colchian HGs, i.e. Satsublia and Kotias, emerged, while the S. Caspian coast a/o played a strong role in recolonising the Zagros and forming Iran_N, with additional “basal” input possibly from the Persian Gulf. The second assumption in my Part I is that not all of these S. Caspian CHG received such basal input, but remained unaffected in some places that they re-colonised after the LGM, e.g. the Turkmene coast, the sphere of the Upper Paleolithic Trialetian, or Gobustan .

    Typically, cultural phenomena covered larger parts of the Kura-Araxes basin, i.e. transgressed the modern borders between East Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, often also reaching into Dagestan and Ossetia. This starts already with the Final Paleolithic Trialetian, and sets forth with complexes like Shulaveri-Shomu-Arashten, Leila Tepe/ Chaff-faced ware, or the Kura-Araxes culture.
    Colchis never participated in these cultures, but formed its own, distinct complexes, e.g. the Final Paleolithic Imeretian, or the MesoNeolithic Darkveti Culture. Some characteristics of the latter, e.g. much delayed and rather selective introduction of pottery and farming compared to Shulaveri-Shomu to its east I have described in my post above. Colchis also didn’t participate in the Kura-Araxes phenomenon, but maintained a distinct profile with much continuity to the preceding MesoNeolithic as concerns stone and bone tools, use of caves etc. Bronze Age Colchian lowland houses were built with wattle & daub, not with mudbrick as common in the Kura-Araxes basin and beyond.

    Post Kura-Araxes, i.e. in the MLBA, the separation continued with the split into the the Trialeti Culture in East Georgia and Armenia, and the Colchian Culture in West Georgia. For the latter, which covers the period of the Argonauts/ Golden Fleece, we can be pretty certain that it spoke Kartvelian (plus NW Caucasian?). The separation of the Svan language from Proto-Kartvelian is estimated to have occured around 2,000 BC, most likely in situ, i.e. Svaneti. The Svanetian archeological record starts in earnest with copper and gold mining during the late 3rd mBC, which pretty well aligns with the linguistic dating. The only road into Upper Svaneti is from Mingrelia along the Enguri river, which means that Proto-Svan miners should have arrived from there, and implies proto-Kartvelian being spoken on the Colchian coast during the late 3rd mBC.

    As to before – well, cultural separation may often go hand in hand with linguistic separation…

  3. I understand, however archaeological and genetic data do not seem to support the idea of a Colchian refuge: there is (at present) a settlement hiatus and genetic shifts.
    Dzudzuana-like groups might have instead survived elsewhere – Anatolia and northern Zagros, ? Parts of Turan; which then were affected by various basal-like admigrations, with in Anatolia < Iran.

  4. @Rob: Re-read Part I!
    The Colchian settlement hiatus only concerns sites above 500 m a.s.l., which was the the glaciation line during the LGM. The coast should have provided lots of opportunities for human survival – but for several reasons (isostatics, no connection to the World ocean before ca. 7,000 BC and consequently a similar fluctuation dynamic as the Caspian Sea) all respective sites may now lie 60-120 m below current Black Sea Level, to the extent they haven’t been washed away completely during the post-LGM Caspian Sea spillover.

    LGM settlement hiatus in the Central Anatolian Plain seems universally accepted, and the change from the pre- to the post-LGM population there is much more pronounced than in Colchis. See my comments under

    To my knowledge, none of the NC Zagros sites has so far provided evidence of AMH occupation during the LGM. The Zarzian culture is assumed to have commenced around 16 mBC (1960s C14 dating of bones from Palegawra, ), at a time when the first oak pollen re-appear in the local sediment records. Shanidar 2 has been dated to ca. 10,000 BC (Shanidar 1 is the Neandertal stratum). So, better forget the Northern Zagros….

    The SW Zagros looks reasonably fine and has been demonstrated as LGM refugium of wild almonds, together with the southern Kopet Dagh and the S. Caucasus (E. Armenia / Azerbaijan) – the latter is assumed to be the region where almonds were first domesticated.

    Some discussion on the SW Zagros during the Epi-Paleolithic (with a lithic assemblage very different from the Zarzian) is included in
    The author regards the EP there as seasonal hunting camps of Persian Gulf populations, which itself would have been the main refugium.

    As to Turan – the LGM was dry, dry, dry, and the Amu and Syr Darya most certainly didn’t make it to the Aral Sea. So, we should be looking at the foothills of the Kopet Dagh, Pamir and Hindukush with still some chance for precipitation and river flow. And, indeed the surrounds of the Pamir (Tajikistan, Fergana basin) seem to provide a quite good epi-paleolithic record. But IMO that is to remote to qualify as CHG refugium.

  5. @ Frank
    I agree that there might be sites submerged under water, however, the UP sites were inland and hunting terrestrial sources, as are the later EP sites, so it would require a rather rapid transformation in economies twice over. Whatever the case, it seems there was a migration into the Caucasus from somewhere south. at some point between 23 and 18 ky BP.
    Research on the Anatolian Paleolithic has been rather slow until recently, so the agreement lies in the need for more surveys. Anyhow, my point wasn’t that CHG came from Anatolia, but rather that (at least acc. to the paper) it retains more of the Dzudzuana-related ancestry, perhaps in places as you mentioned – Antalya, unless i’ve recalled incorrectly. Indeed, basing it on this one individual, it is interesting he is hg C1a – a rather ”Upper Paleolithic” character, suggesting that a main source for Basal-oid ancestry was indeed around the Gulf, transiting via Zagros and thence to the Caucasus & Anatolia. (?)

  6. A very detailed and informative post, Frank. Thanks for the effort to dig and compile all this information to put it together in a coherent way.

    Regarding Rob’s comment about the problems of reading too much into such a low number of samples, I’d say that it’s a fair comment and we obviously have to be cautious about the implications. However, I’ll add that most of the times the early samples we’ve been getting from pre-Chalcolithic periods turn out to be pretty good representatives of the populations at the place and time, so it’s likely that more samples will support rather than turn around the overall patterns described.

    The cases with signs of West_Siberia_N admixture should be the most robust ones, since West_Siberia_N havs ENA admixture that cannot be easily mistaken with any West Eurasian ancestry. The levels of CHG should be quite informative too, while other differences along the WHG-ANE cline might require more samples to be sure of the patterns.

    A post to bookmark to keep coming back to it as more samples become available to understand their context and possible implications.

    Looking forward to the 3rd part of the series.

  7. After thanking Frank for bringing the earlier archaeology of the area to attention (I should probably re-read it a couple of times) and without adding anything of particular value, I’ll repeat the really obvious and hope for earlier, more southern samples from Russia. Right now we have a huge gap, not unlike the important gap we had from the Kuban area in later times until the Wang et al. study came around, which I think illuminated some important if limited aspects. Per Frank’s discussion, there are various periods and areas, both round the Caspian (though judging by how some of the later Central Asian samples look like, a Caspian scenario might be less likely either way, unless really early?) and over the Caucasus, that have been argued to be the source of CHG on the southern steppe and I think we still have gaps about how the whole steppe cultural chalcolithic package really came about too, an area where further genetic data might help in the correlative sense.

  8. Egg:
    Not sure what you mean by “later Central Asian samples”. Aside from Iran_Hotu (discussed in Part I) we so far only have one more sample from the area in question, namely Sarmatian DA202, mtDNA U5a1 (Barroso e.a. 2018) – everything else (Botai etc.) is from thousand or more km further East. I fully agree to your wish-list, but would extend it to all of W. Kazakhstan, W. Turkmenistan (Chorasmia), and Uzbekistan.

    With a “really early Caspian Scenario”, do you mean something like the following?
    Toleubulak Grotto is located near the Egindybulak Villages in the Shelkar District of the Aktyube Region (..), on the southwestern end of the Mugodzhary Mountains. (..)
    The largest grotto with petroglyphs is the most interesting; its wide entrance opens to the south, its surface is 20m2 and it is up to 0.70m at the highest part near the entrance. Practically, the entire floor is occupied by petroglyphs. The drawings are deeply carved into the surfaces; some figures are additionally abraded. (..) The specificity of the panel is the absence of human or animal images and the prevalence of linear-geometrics and cupholes.

    According to its topography and repertoire, the Toleubulak Grotto has no analogies in Central Asia, but researchers find it comparable to the Kamennaya Mogila grottos in the Northern Near Azov Area. Its images are tentatively attributed to the first half of the Holocene, no later than the Neolithic.

  9. Frank, I had the Narasimhan et al. paper in mind and the South-Central Asian Eneolithic Iran_N/CHG-WSHG Turan samples there. Those seem like the closest proxies temporally and spatially to that kind of scenario we have so far, no? I assume more northerly regions there will be more WSHG, less Iran_N/CHG. Those don’t seem like a particularly good fit for steppe populations, though I can’t recall if they tried any models with them that worked well in the paper.

  10. This should be part of the 3rd part of these series (in progress), but since the new samples from the Eneolithic North Caucasus steppe seem to be out (added to Global 25) here’s a teaser of how they look like:

    Eneolithic steppe

  11. @Alberto

    Hahahaha. You’ve been vindicated for all the shit they’ve been talking on the other blog.

  12. @Vara

    Hahaha. Well, for that other blog I’m only grateful that Davidski is providing the samples in an easily accessible format. The rest are just opinions and anyone can have their own.

    In any case, what it seems to me from this preliminary look is that indeed the Colchian CHG samples that we have are not an excellent fit for the southern admixture in these samples (and Yamnaya). It’s probably a slightly more eastern population, intermediate between CHG (West Caucasus) and Sarazm_Eneolithic (Eastern Central Asia). So probably somewhere closer to the Caspian Sea (on either side). And in this context, I’d say that it vindicates this series that Frank is writing, more than anything else. I’m waiting for the third part already to see which possible places/cultures could be at the origin of it.

  13. @Alberto

    Oh, come on. You deserve to gloat a bit haha.

    What it looks to me is that, just like in recent history, there were many movements going in and out of the steppe from west, south and east. But ofc, this doesn’t seem to fit with the narrative of Dunedain rangers kidnapping all the Elven ladies from Lord Elrond.

    I can’t wait to see how this will be spun around but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be funny.

  14. Will there be a very simplified summary at the end of this series? It’s all a bit, well, complicated!

    To me, it looks like the source of CHG in e.g. Khvalynsk would be from the Zarzian culture moving up into the Steppe through Gobustan, but there’s also the related path taken by the Caspian from the Zarzian culture to Hissar (Northern Iran) to consider. Also, could there be said to be at least two waves: one to Khvalynsk, and another to Yamnaya?

    Interestingly, I found this about the Zarzian culture:

    “The presence of obsidian in the cave of Zarzi was for Mellaart enough evidence to suggest that Zarzian culture probably came from the north, perhaps from the Russian steppes behind the Caucasus”

    So perhaps tribes from the Steppe moved down through the Caucasus to the Northern Zagros to form the Zarzian culture, which would be the precursor to the pre-PIE Urheimat that Reich and Krause are going on about (also explaining things like R1b-V1636 in Kura-Araxes, very early (6th millennium BC) swastikas in the Samarra culture etc.). Then, through Leyla-Tepe, one branch moves North to form Yamnaya, and another branch becomes part of the Kura-Araxes expansion that would result in the Anatolian and hypothetical Gutian branches.

    Some further discussion from a few years back that I managed to find:

  15. Alberto, have you read the published version of wang et al and caucasus?
    You do remember the times I’ve spent in Eugoenes pushing for my SHulaverian Hypothesis in 2016 while Mathieson was peaking and sometimes comenting briefly there …
    Now on a reply to a reviewer the authores say this:

    “”Reply: This statement is based on the hypothesis put forward by Mathieson et al. 2018: “An alternative hypothesis is that the homeland of Proto-Indo-European languages was in the Caucasus or in Iran. In this scenario, westward population movement contributed to the dispersal of Anatolian languages, and northward movement and mixture with EHG was responsible for the formation of a ‘Late Proto-Indo European’-speaking population associated with the Yamnaya complex. Although this scenario gains plausibility from our results, it remains possible that Indo-European languages were spread through southeastern Europe into Anatolia without large-scale population movement or admixture.”


  16. And even though, like I have been telling you for long, they are “hidding” the neolithic Caucasus a reviewer caught them and called them out:

    “, but what you’re implying here is that Gorelik was wrong to specify a PPNB influence on the steppes (fine, I agree) and it really was an extension of the Georgian Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture going over the mountains (sites not yet found) that introduced domesticates to the steppes.”

    Sweet, sweet…

  17. For a guy that has been defending a route of shulaveri as originating in balkans (WGH) going via northern anatolia (EEF) into south caucasus (CHG) and later moving into steppe to be yamanya (EHG) this comments from reviewer sure os nice…

    Lines 442 and 606-608 : The abstract for this paper highlights this finding as one of the principal discoveries of the project. The Yamnaya population of the Pontic-Caspian steppes, whose Bronze Age migrations east into Asia and west into Europe laid the foundation for modern populations, is here described as having previously undetected Early European Farmer and Western Hunter Gatherer ancestry. Neither component had been recognized in the same samples when previously published. This is indeed a discovery, and I do not (cannot) debate the finding. I only want to note that this is both a discovery and a revision of results previously published in Nature by Haak et al 2015 Allentoft et al 2015 and Mathiesson et al. 2018. I think that the reader should be alerted more clearly to the potential for debate on this topic. I recognize that methods are moving quickly in this…

  18. Dude, shut up already – this isn’t a credit game, and besides, at this rate, people will just be annoyed if you end up being right. So be gracious (and don’t reply to this comment, no need to distract further)

  19. @Olympus Mons

    I’ve read just briefly the published version of Wang et al. and didn’t find any significant change with the preprint, so I won’t add anything to what I already wrote when the preprint came out. I’ll have to read that new file with replies to the reviewers comments, though.

    Personally I’m not a fan of the “hybrid” hypothesis where PIE would be south of the steppe and LPIE in the steppe. It seems a bit of an ad hoc solution to explain Anatolian languages. But the thing is that if PIE was already present and expanding south of the Caucasus, we don’t really need the steppe to explain the dispersal of IE languages. So what’s the point? That, and the lack of gene flow from the South Caucasus to the steppe at that point in time (the cultural influence is later – too late?). So that just leaves us with the possibility of an earlier entrance of CHG to the steppe introducing the first domesticates. But that should be the 6th mill. (North Caspian culture) which seems too early for LPIE .

    I’ll wait and see what Frank has to write about all of this in the upcoming final part of this series, also regarding Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture.

    Regarding the last comment, a different “hybrid” hypothesis could be PIE in the East Balkans, with LPIE in the steppe. Possible, though again, if we have PIE in the Balkans, do we need the steppe to explain Greek, Thracian, Illirian, Italic…? They would be better explained by the Balkans itself.

    So I don’t know. For me right now it’s either the steppe was PIE or it wasn’t IE until much later (when Scythians brought Indo-Iranian to it from SC Asia).

  20. @Jacob,
    Dude is your mother. And I don’t know you, therefore do me the distinct pleasure of not addressing me least of all if to tell me to shup up.
    Yes, follow your advise…

  21. Alberto, I think the bold part of one of the reviewers comments, is important…

    “Lines 442 and 606-608 : The abstract for this paper highlights this finding as one of the principal discoveries of the project. The Yamnaya population of the Pontic-Caspian steppes, whose Bronze Age migrations east into Asia and west into Europe laid the foundation for modern populations, is here described as having previously undetected Early European Farmer and Western Hunter Gatherer ancestry. Neither component had been recognized in the same samples when previously published . This is indeed a discovery, and I do not (cannot) debate the finding. I only want to note that this is both a discovery and a revision of results previously published in Nature by Haak et al 2015 Allentoft et al 2015 and Mathiesson et al. 2018. I think that the reader should be alerted more
    clearly to the potential for debate on this topic.

  22. “I’ll wait and see what Frank has to write about all of this in the upcoming final part of this series, also regarding Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture.”

    Alberto, did frank give you an expectation when it could come out?

  23. OM
    Not really following what you’re suggesting. The suggestion of Wang et al is that Yamnaya has EEF/ WHG. That doesn’t have anything to with Shuvaleri; but likely related to Sredni Stog admixture
    And please don’t clout this thread with AHs between you @ Jakob

  24. @Rob,
    I Don’t know that gentlemen…

    If you remember, one of the times (many) I got into a fight with Davidski at Eurogenes was because I defended that if Shulaveri had come from the Balkans via North Anatolia, should have some WHG and EEF. Picked up CHG in South Caucasus and moved to Steppe as per timings of Shulaverian Hypothesis. (see version for Dummies at
    He called me an idiot because at that point Yamnaya showed either… Now having wang et al saying this is recomforting.
    I know that you believe in the centrality of Balkans and I on the other hand believe that only after Boian->Gulmenita->Hamangia->Pre Cucuteni-> Cucuteni–Trypillia path (above link slide 4000BC) the Balkans have any play in the ethnogenesis of Europe or IE dispersion. If I kept running that path I would add next, after trypillia, Sredni Stog. Sure. They moved back and forth (see slide 4000bc and 3700bc) in the northern black sea region.

    Maybe Shulaveri will turn out to be nothing. But nothing they were 3 years ago… and now from Krause to Haak and even Reich and Patterson are, in one way or the othe, playing the Shulaveri card.

    I need to make noise! – because In a premonition back then I kept saying there would come a day when “they all knew all along” and its self-servicing to see Wang call it the Iain Peterson hypothesis, isn’t it? him above all?

  25. @OM

    Rob is right in pointing that out. Note that the reason why we now have certainty about that ANF+WHG admixture in Yamnaya is because we have the earlier samples from the North Caucasus piedmont that lack it. In other words, it’s only when this population moved to the Lower Don (?) when they got that admixture before expanding all the way to the Altai (Afanasievo).

    But let’s wait for those Meshoko samples and see what they show. They’ll be interesting and they’re the closest to S-S that we have for now.

  26. Alberto, I know.
    I don’t want to be argumentative and I truly think we are close to knowing the truth. So, not much point.

    However, and Rob must remember that, I always complained about the way people treated “time”. In this case, the Progress samples are 1000 years after the vanishing of the Shulaveri. So, the progress should have nothing to do with Shulaveri. These, the latter, were by them real far way. See my 4000BC slide ( and the previous ones.
    Like Sioni Culture is said to be a transition between S-S to Kura-araxes…yet oldest SIoni dates are over 500 years after Shulaveri were gone!
    For instance, we know that in Meshoko, the population that made the settlement was shortly after replace by another population that had very different pottery . where and when did that dislodged population moved to? Where would you see it next? And we know now that the ones that dislodged them were from South Caucasus but very, very different than Shulaveri.
    We need to start having samples from south Caucasus from the Neolithic (6th millennium BC) and Piedmont north Caucasus first half 5th millennium BC ….

  27. I notice many of the other genomes have been added to G25 too. The models nMonte throws up might change a bit with them but with the already released ones that Alberto used above that I played with a few weeks ago too, Yamna can be reasonably interpreted (distance of around 3 in nMonte, not fantastic but adequate) as a homogenization of the steppe, perhaps the result of the increased mobility the literature describes, with a bias towards the southeast/Caucasus steppe (lots of Progress-related). It doesn’t necessarily seem to need more HG-rich type of farmer ancestry than what’s found in Ukraine_Eneolithic either, especially if the farmer and eastern steppe rich R1a I6561 (which is also preferred over Ukraine_Eneolithic in general IIRC) is considered separately from that heterogeneous group, otherwise the model tends to pick some “GAC”-like ancestry as well (this could imply that the more Ukraine_N-rich eneolithic individuals, like I5882 and I5884, contributed less to the emerging horizon). Rob probably has a point about that “MN” type of admixture being Sredni Stog horizon related then.

    Still have some questions about the chronologically earlier samples and the CHG-related element of course, both in general which will be answered with more sampling, and in some of the modelling I’ve tried (this latter might be easily explanable but I’m still a bit curious) but might wait for a post dealing with the new genomes for that.

  28. @Egg

    Yes, I agree. I’m seeing the same thing. All that is needed to model Yamnaya was already in the steppe by 4000 BC. A 3-way model of Progress_Eneolithic, Khvalynsk_Eneolithic and Ukraine_Eneolithic:I6561 provides the best fit for most samples. The base is this Progress_Eneolithic population (since the other two already have admixture from it, and provide extra EHG -Khvalynsk- and Ukraine_N + MN_Europe -Ukraine_Eneolithic:I6561-). The question is how did this archaeologically “invisible” population took over the steppe first and then most of Northern and Western Europe.

    Frank is still at work with the 3rd part of this series, but I hope that it will be published soon enough and then with all the information provided we can have some good exchange here about this and other questions.

  29. It would be useful to have a map showing the locations of progress, Vonyuchka, steppe maypop, Khvalynsk samples.

    So what happens now to Davidski’s Caucasian farmer wives?

  30. @postneo

    I guess that the next part will have some map related to those Eneolithic samples, together with the discussion about them. In any case, most publications were the samples are first released have maps with their location, and there are also out there some people collecting them all into a map, for example:

    So what happens now to Davidski’s Caucasian farmer wives?

    Haha. Well, I guess we all know by now what happened to that idea, even himself who got very pissed off when he forced me (by reference) to explain him that the Wang et al. data meant that this Progress-Vonyuchka population was not a recent admixture, but old, maybe Mesolithic, and that it did away with the need for that awkward theory about the farmer’s wives, so he could finally drop it. But eventually he’s come to reason, so we can now let that theory rest in peace.

    Ultimately EHG turned out to be irrelevant to both the steppe and Europe. When these populations from the southern edge of the steppe (wherever they ultimately came from) took over the steppe (and later most of Northern and Western Europe), they did get some minor admixture from EHG, and a bit more from Ukraine_N (mtDNA also seems to support this). But even the most “eastern” population that moved into Europe (CWC) didn’t harbour much EHG admixture at all. And that got greatly diluted after the CWC came to an end.

  31. Great and patient accumulation and analysis !

    The takeaway for me is – there appears to have been a longstanding exchange & migration pathway from south of Caspian & Central Asia into the steppe, lower Volga and also towards western Siberia and a pathway from western Siberia into Eastern Europe.

    So what we observe in the Chalcolithic could merely be an intensification of this exchange & migration pathway with the use of Copper metallurgy and coming of techniques like Lost wax casting.

    This early exchange could also explain the presence of early clades of y-DNA R1a in modern Iran & South Asia as well as in early samples from the steppe and in Western Siberia.

    Though I would caution that presence of EHG admixture in Iran_Hotu may not be due of some actual migration from the steppe. It is just the case of Iran_Hotu being more ANE shifted relative to Iran_N just like CHG. Iran_N itself also has ANE affinity as the Dzudzuana paper clearly established. Therefore the EHG admixture in Iran_Hotu may be due to some very ancient shared ancestry with ANE and nothing recent.

  32. Thanks Alberto , I’ll look these up. Wang says there’s EEF and WHG in yamnaya. Where does that leave the model in Rreich and Vagheesh’s preprint where they model steppe mlba as yamnaya plus extra EEF/WHG?

  33. @ Postneo, Alberto: You’ll certainly get some maps in part III – though the one I am currently working at deals mostly with Ukraine. It might actually make sense to do another map on the N. Caucasian foothills, but I am uncertain whether I really should prepare it, since it would delay the apparently long awaited part III even more.

    As concerns EHG, its IMO an artefact. Instead, we are dealing with a number of intrusions from Siberia that, by admixing with WHG, create the impression of EHG being a somewhat homogenous population. However, they aren’t, as demonstrated by the Samara HG case in the main post.
    As I currently see it, we might be dealing with the following Siberian migrations:
    1. A first one shifting Dzudzuana to CHG – that one might already have been pre-LGM, and is as such potentially better approximated by MA1 than by AG3.
    2. The “pressure knapping” migration (see Part I), which left its traces on IranHotu, and of course created Sidelkino, the eastern shift in SHG, etc. Unsure whether that one was Final Paleolithic (pre-Younger Dryas) as concerns Central Asia/Hotu – in NE Europe it was certainly Mesolithic. AG3 seems to represent its source pretty well.
    3. The “Combed Ceramic” migration that (in Russian nomenclature) should be regarded as Neolithic. I am not quite sure whether WSibN is fully approximating it, possibly we need WSibN+AG3 (at a mixture rate yet unknown) to account for it.
    4. Whatever came in via the Central Asian Steppe and in particular shaped SteppeMaykop, but most likely already influenced Khvalynsk. That’s Eneolithic/CA.
    5. Finally, we have the northern entrance into Fennoscandia (YOO, yHG N etc.), most of which seems to date to the BA.

    I wouldn’t exactly call these streams “irrelevant”. To the opposite, they were highly relevant as concerns West Eurasian technological development (knapping technology, pottery) [ex oriente lux -enlightning comes from the East]. Linguistically, however, I feel they have more to do with Uralic than with PIE (albeit they may well help to understand PIE-Uralic connections).

    @Egg: Your assesment corresponds to the data provided to me by Alberto. Throwing some light on the genesis of these North Caucasian samples is on my “to do list” for Part III. Let me for the time being say that Anthony 2007 “The Horse…”, for all my criticism about him expressed elsewhere, is worthwhile a re-read in this respect.

  34. @postneo

    Wang says there’s EEF and WHG in yamnaya. Where does that leave the model in Rreich and Vagheesh’s preprint where they model steppe mlba as yamnaya plus extra EEF/WHG?

    I don’t think it changes much for Steppe_MLBA. If you would model it using Progress_Eneolithic instead of Yamnaya, they will just get a small extra amount of WHG and EEF (maybe 8% more). But I thin kit makes sense to model them with Yamnaya as a baseline, since the Progress_Eneolithic genotype didn’t really expand until they reached the Lower Don (or thereabouts) and got that extra EEF/WHG admixture. We know this because even Afanasievo has it, so they ultimately came from around the Don, rather than being an early direct migration east from a Progress-like population from the North Caspian.


    I guess you can always refer to already made maps from the publications, like this one from Wang et al:

    I see there that Steppe_Maykop (AY2001, AY2003, SA6001, SA6004…) are quite far away from the core areas of Maykop. Even the Steppe_Maykop_outliers (IV3002, SA6013), in spite of having obvious admixture from the farming communities of Maykop. So they were in close contact in spite of the geographical separation, it seems.

    As for EHG, I don’t disagree. My point was more that this Progress_Eneolithic population (wherever they came from – looking forward to your upcoming post), already had all (or most) of the EHG required for Yamnaya, CWC, BBC, etc… And it was formed at an early time (pre-5000 BC in all likelihood, but I’ll wait for what you have to say about it, and then for final data). So the foragers from the steppe and forest steppe from Russia (EHG) and Ukraine (Ukraine_N) from that time didn’t take part in the formation of the later steppe people/cultures. They were partly absorbed (genetically), but largely replaced.

    More or less as with WHG, who were being replaced by ANF (who themselves can be modelled as 50-70% WHG-related, the rest being BEu). So WHG proper (from within Europe) admixture should be measured in Neolithic (or modern) Europe above what ANF already had.

  35. @drake

    I wouldn’t be able to explain it in detail here since it’s all about maths. There can be different approaches depending on the data you’re dealing with. But I can show you the specific example, since it was quite a simple one.

    The concept there was based on the fact that modern SC Asian populations form a cline where the main difference is the amount of AASI. Their West Eurasian part seems to be quite homogeneous due to extensive admixture (even with the caste system in place, though most might have happened earlier maybe).

    So getting a population from one end of the cline (as close as possible to the main line that would define the cline, in this case the Kalash), and one at the other end (idem, in this case North Kannadi), you an calculate the distance and direction of the line that goes from the Kalash to North Kannadi en each dimension and multiply it by the required amount to get to the theoretical point where a population would be 100% AASI (here the number used is 2.2, but it would vary depending on the case. You can see the formula used by clicking on each value of the ASI_Ghost). This gives you the coordinates of that theoretical 100% AASI population:

  36. “Their West Eurasian part seems to be quite homogeneous due to extensive admixture (even with the caste system in place, though most might have happened earlier maybe).” — Some of the West Eurasian admixture could very well be recent(roughly around ~1800-2000 years ago) as Moorjani found in her 2013 paper in some of Gangetic plains groups. There are indian traditions about incoming foreign groups who ruled parts of north india and some eventually got absorbed.
    Anyways, thanks for the explanation.

  37. @Alberto “I don’t think it changes much for Steppe_MLBA”

    probably not, but noting steady diffusion of EEF/WHG from pre Yamnaya till well after into the MLBA. It’s a more realistic picture of migration. Not always happening in a single discrete package as the Reich team is saying.

  38. Two words… Prikaspiiskaya culture

    5500BCE.. from the “South”.. has sheep.. Who around the Caspian had an economy based on sheep? LOL New post coming soon..

  39. @Chad

    Exactly. I was even discussing with Frank about the best translation for that first word (he was using a more direct “Pre-Caspian”, I suggested “North Caspian” as less ambiguous once it’s not used by a Russian author in a Russian publication), LOL.

    So I’m guessing it will feature prominently in his upcoming post. If you’re working on that too it will be a great companion given that you’re working with Admixtools that we lack.

    Looking forward to both posts.

  40. Frank,
    Regarding Kelteminar, I am seeing the dates as cal BP, and not BCE. Is that correct? I was getting the impression domesticates show up at 6000 cal BP. Thanks!

  41. Frank,

    I am also leaning towards Jeitun, with sheep and goats solely, like the Prikaspiiskaya. Their pottery is a mix of vertical and horizontal lines.

  42. @All: I had a hard-disk crash, which has for the time being made it impossible to recover my old and receive fresh e-mails, including G25 scenarios provided by Alberto, and maps and other graphics in preparation for my Part III. In addition, my backup laptop that I had borrowed my son for playing party music has come back with a fractured screen. I am in the progress of getting operational again, but that may still take some time. So, Part III may still take some time, which is extremely unfortunate.

    @Chad: Yep: Ovocaprids only (or predominantly) is as much a feature of Jeitun as it is of Khvalynsk. And “Prikaspiiskaya culture” seems to be the link (it is certainly the origin of Khvalynsk-Yamnaya pastoralism). However, 5500 BC is IMO too early for Pre-Caspian, AMS dates rather point to somewhat after 5000 BC. Geographically, the link also still needs to be established. Kelteminar doesn`t work for preferring cows over ovocaprids.
    I`ll provide much more in this respect in my Part III, once I have solved my computer problems.

  43. Frank,

    Good luck getting started back up. I’m not sure 5000 BCE would work. There’s domestic sheep sign at Seraglovskaya at 6500-6600 BCE. The work you site on Kelteminar is well inland. Around the Caspian may only be suited for light grazing by sheep and goats. I’m looking for any links at the moment.

  44. Another issue is with the Caspian rising 8m between 6000-5500BCE is that there could be many important sites submerged.

  45. Chad:
    1. There seems to be quite a risk to mistake Saiga antelope bones for sheep. From all I have read so far, domesticated ovocaprids only appear on the Lower/ Middle Volga around 5000 BC. The Dniepr (Surskaya Culture) is a completely different issue, though – here, and possibly also on the Lower Don, domesticated animals appear as early as 6,000 BC.
    2. The post 8.2 kya event Caspian Sea level rise is certainly relevant, especially when considering how shallow the North Caspian basin is. Moreover, while during the 8.2 kya event, the Caspian Sea Level was lower than to date, how much lower is yet uncertain. It may well be that most of the N. Caspian was exposed at that time, and inhabitants were during the 6th/ early 5th mBC forced to search for higher ground…
    3. If you find anything relevant relating to the E. Caspian coast, pls. keep me informed. All I have found so far seems once again point towards the Djebel rockshelter in W. Turkmenistan. A very interesting issue in this respect are the Pre-Caspian / Khvalynsk so-called “fish-shaped” arrowheads that closely resemble Central Asian “leaf-shaped” or “laurel” arrowheads. [Had stored all the links – now they are gone].

  46. Chad,
    thx for the link, that was new to me.
    The Mesolithic stuff is quite interesting, and confirms my assessment of early interaction between the S. Caspian and the Trans-Urals (see Part I).
    As concerns the Neolithic, however, his dates are quite off, a/o for lack of calibration. The Mullino site, e.g., is now dated to around 5200 calBC ( , Tab. 1). Moreover, the ovocaprid bones reported from there have been questioned by various authors, especially Vybornov, but see also Anthony 2007.
    As concerns the Trans-Urals, the Surtandy Culture for which he reports finds of domesticated animals has now been established to somewhat post-date Khvalynsk ( , p.3).

    As concerns Caspian Sea Level fluctuations, dates have in the meantime also been revised. The old chronology was mostly based on C14-dates of shells, and required correction for reservoir effects. See my Part I for more credible sources that not only consider the Daghestan coast, but also the Kura and Volga deltas and the Iranian coast.

  47. @ Chad
    The Vybornov article suggests a possibility of domesticated cattle in the Precaspian culture site of Kurpezhe-Molla; dating to late 5000s BC. However it is possible that this was contamination from a later (Khvalynsk) layer. Incontrovertible evidence for domesticates only arrives with the Khvalynsk period (here dated from 4500->); and even then it could represent imports and gifts used in communal ceremonies by local chiefs. Actual local domesticate practice could be later still..

  48. I guess we’ll have a good chance to discuss all this in detail on Frank’s third part (@Frank, very unfortunate, indeed. I’ve sent again all the models, but I’m not sure if your mail is up and running yet) and Chad’s upcoming post. But to chime in regarding the dating of ovicaprids I’d refer to Vybornov’s latest (2018) paper:

    He proposes a sequential development of the Cis-Caspian (5200-4700 BC) and Khvalynsk cultures. The earliest directly carbon dated bone from a domestic sheep is from the site Oroshaemoe (4724–4557 calBC), but sheep/goat remains are found in other Cis-Caspian sites too.

    My understanding is that during the Khvalynian period is when we see the arrival of cattle and copper, I presume that both acquired through trade from the west. The sheep, on the other hand, arrived probably from the south since the type of sheep found in the steppe is a more robust one than the European type: the woolly sheep, with an origin in Iran (Ivanova, but would need to search for the specific reference).

  49. @Chad:
    I know that Vybornov paper. If you study it carefully, you’ll note that the Tenteksor sheep is around 6600 uncal BC, which calibrated reads 5640–5310 BC (Tab. 5).
    Moreover, check out, especially the section on the “Transcaspian urial (Ovis orientalis arkal): Ustjurt-Plateau (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, northern Iran) and western Kazakhstan.” From what I recall, Tenteksor is in W. Kazakhstan (some maps place it close to the Russian border, others half-way between the Volga and Ural rivers). So, that single find may well have been a hunting prey.

    @Alberto: I am working on a major recovery operation – not sure whether it will work. Until then, my E-Mail is still off.
    One thing you can do is uploading the key models (Khvalynsk, Caucasus Piedmont, “Sredny Stog”, Yamnaya) as graphics, similar to what I have done for this Part II. This will ensure I can readily access them for incorporation in the new post, and also saves me some time that I currently need for other things.

    Alternatively, since there are also a number of graphics and maps lost, I may do an intermediate text piece on the Eneolithic N. Caucasus, to which you can add your data as comment. I suppose that this is anyway more interesting for readers at the moment than discussing how sheep made it to the Volga, and the discussion at other blogs has so far been pretty ignorant of archeological context, e.g. the fact that two of the three Caucasus Piedmont samples had been ritualistically trepanated and were possibly shamans.

  50. @Frank

    Ok, I will upload them as graphics soon so you can access them there. Also Chad’s post on the subject is up, so you might want to check it too:

    In the meantime, Rob was ready to write a different post, so I told him to go ahead so we change the subject instead of getting here ahead of your upcoming post. It will also give you more time to get everything ready.


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