Of horses, camels and extinct lineages

After a rather long hiatus, and while we wait for the long anticipated final version of Narasimhan et al. (hopefully out very soon), here’s a quick post commenting on a few things that have been published lately.


Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series

Fages et al. 2019

A follow up to their previous paper, briefly commented on a previous post, that brings some new information about the history of domestic horses, though far from clarifying things it makes everything less clear opening new questions. Here is their graphical abstract:

And the key findings regarding early history of domestication:

  • Two now-extinct horse lineages lived in Iberia and Siberia some 5,000 years ago
  • Iberian and Siberian horses contributed limited ancestry to modern domesticates

These newly found extinct lineages of early domestic horses add to the Botai ones, which didn’t go extinct but apparently went feral and survive in the form of Przewalski horses, as found in an even earlier paper (Gaunitz et al. 2018).

So let’s start to look at this puzzle and try to put a few pieces together. We have a horse lineage in Siberia living up until 5000 years ago that didn’t contribute any significant ancestry to the main (and for a long time the only) domestic lineage. Then we have another lineage further west, in Kazakhstan, that was domesticated c. 3500 BC but that also didn’t contribute much to main domestic horses. And finally we have a lineage in Iberia that we domesticated somewhere in the late Chalcolithic, and while it seems to have been used for a while as an early domestic horse in Europe it also ultimately went extinct without contributing much to the main domestic lineage.

A closer look at the data from this latter Iberian lineage brings us some additional interesting information: There is a sample from 2600 BC (note that this predates the arrival of R1b/steppe people) belonging to this domestic lineage (native to Iberia). But then another Iberian samples from 1900 BC (note that his is 500 years after the arrival of R1b/steppe Bell Beaker folk) is still of the same kind. Furthermore, a sample from Hungary c. 2100 BC shows some 12% admixture from this Iberian lineage (the rest of its makeup being from main domestic horses and another unknown lineage).

What this suggests is something rather surprising: R1b/steppe Bel Beakers don’t seem to have carried horses with them to Western Europe. Otherwise those would have largely replaced the local Iberian ones. Instead, it seems that Bell Beaker horses were those who they found in Iberia and might have traded with them all the way to Hungary. Indeed, this comes to reinforce the scarce evidence for the use of domestic horses in EBA steppe related cultures. Not much evidence in the Corded Ware Culture (for example, domestic horses only arrived to the east Baltic in the Iron Age, in spite of the area being occupied by early CWC population).

So where did domestic horses come from? That’s the min question right now. Traditionally, the Pontic-Caspian steppe has been the main candidate for it. However, the previous paper from this same team, based on climatic simulations and found remains, seemed to discard that area as suitable for horses at the time of probable domestication. Now this new study adds to that hypothesis by providing no evidence of the people coming from that area to Europe in the early 3rd mill. bringing their own domestic horses. Unfortunately, this study had 2 or 3 samples that could represent the Pontic-Caspian steppe wild horses, but they all yielded a very low amount of endogenous DNA to be included in any autosomal analysis. So that question remains open.

The thing is that the first good evidence of clear and extensive use of domestic horses of the main lineage comes from Sintashta, c. 2000 BC. So where did those horses came from? It’s unlikely that they were local, given the proximity with the Botai Culture area (and in west Siberia), where we know that very divergent lineages existed. To me it seems that they could have arrived there from anywhere. And it might not be that relevat after all. The place where the main domestic lineage originated might be rather unimportant, given that for all we know this domestication seems to have occurred quite later than first thought (closer to 2500 BC than to the previously suggested 3500 BC), and it may have been the Sintashta people the first ones who found a real use for them, no matter where they got them from. Whatever the case, it seems that the history of domestic horses is also turning out to be quite different from what was previously thought. Hopefully the next paper before the year’s end will shed some light in all of this.


Whole-genome sequencing of 128 camels across Asia provides insights into origin and migration of domestic Bactrian camels

Lian Ming et al. 2019 (preprint)

This one is a modern DNA study dealing with the domestication fo the Bactrian camel. Though I’m not sold on their idea that Bactrian camels were domesticated 10.000 year ago, the rest of the hypothesis looks good (as far as modern DNA can be informative). An image and a few excerpts summarise it well.

The origin of domestic dromedaries was recently revealed by world-wide sequencing of modern and ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which suggested that they were at first domesticated in the southeast Arabian Peninsula [11]. However, the origin of domestic Bactrian camels is still a mystery. One intuitive possibility was the extant wild Bactrian camels were the progenitor of the domestic form, which were then dispersed from the Mongolian Plateau to west gradually [7, 12].


Another possible place of origin was Iran [1], where early skeletal remains of domestic Bactrain camels (around 2,500-3,000 BC) were discovered [14].


The wild Bactrian camels made also little contribution to the ancestry of domestic ones. Among the domestic Bactrian camels, those from Iran exhibited the largest genetic distance from others, and were the first population to separate in the phylogeny. Although evident admixture was observed between domestic Bactrian camels and dromedaries living around the Caspian Sea, the large genetic distance and basal position of Iranian Bactrian camels could not be explained by introgression alone. Taken together, our study favored the Iranian origin of domestic Bactrian camels, which were then immigrated eastward to Mongolia where the native wild Bactrian camels inhabited.


This scenario could well resolve the mystery why the wild and domestic Bactrian camels from the Mongolian Plateau have so large genetic distance.


Despite the insights gleaned from our data, it was important to note that the direct wild progenitor of domestic Bactrian camels were not found in Iran now, which may no longer exist.


In future work, sequencing of ancient genomes from camel fossils will add to the picture of their early domestication.

Not much to add, really. They looked with an extensive set of modern camel DNA at the two different scenarios proposed for domestication and concluded that their data favoured the Iranian one, in spite of wild camels no longer existing in Iran, contrary to Mongolia (where they exist but are very divergent from domestic ones, just like the horses).

We’ll wait for ancient DNA to either confirm or deny this.


The population history of northeastern Siberia since the Pleistocene

Sikora et al. 2019

I already commented quite extensively on the very interesting and well written paper when the preprint was out last year. Now it’s been finally published and hopefully the genomes will be made available (if they aren’t already). I was glad to see that the only problem I found with the preprint (their hypothesis about ANS surviving somewhere in Beringia and mixing with East Asian populations to form the Native American one, which seemed to me incompatible with the genetic data presented, due to Native Americans sharing more alleles with Malta and AfontovaGora3 than with the Yana samples) has been addressed in the final versions:

For both Ancient Palaeo-Siberians and Native Americans, ANS-related ancestry is more closely related to Mal’ta than to the Yana individuals (Extended Data Fig. 3f), which rejects the hypothesis that the Yana lineage contributed directly to later Ancient Palaeo-Siberians or Native American groups.

So unfortunately for them, these Yana population seems to have died out during the LGM, something not too surprising when such climatic event catches you in the Arctic.

232 thoughts on “Of horses, camels and extinct lineages

  1. @raj

    Yes, even further reason to think that the 10.000 y.a. domestication date is out of reality.

    Interesting article by Talageri, which is in line with the latest archaeological findings from Sanauli. I hope they keep digging the areas east of it, around Yamuna river t see if they find more about that culture.

    Anyway we’ll have time to discuss this fairly soon when the final version of Narasimhan et al. is out.

  2. There’s a new Paleolithic sample from Crimea:

    The origin of the Gravettians: genomic evidence from a 36,000-year-old Eastern European

    Bennett et al. (preprint)

    The sample in question is from about 36.000 y.a. and has (probably) Y DNA C and mtDNA N1b. Autosomally it seems closer to Kostenki12 and Sunghir3 samples from European Russia and then to Central European samples like Vestonice16 and Pavlov1.

    It’s not any more related to Villabruna than to Tianyuan, or to MA-1 than to Ust-Ishim. So these Paleo-European populations seem to have had very little, if any, role in the formation of later WHG and ANE. However, more western WHGs that have some small amount of Paleo-European admixture (more related to Goyet-Q116) do have a slightly higher share with this new sample too.

  3. There’s also an interesting paper with high coverage modern genomes that brings some insights into population structure:

    Insights into human genetic variation and population history from 929 diverse genomes

    Bergström et al. (preprint)

    The paper deals in quite detail about archaic admixture in AMH populations. The main finding I think is that Neanderthal introgression seems to be from a single Neanderthal population (with a very small number of admixture events needed, around 2-4) while Denisovan introgression is much more complex and from divergent Denisoan populations. Again it seems that preservation bias has lead us to think that Neanderthals were the main Eurasian population before AMH came in, while it may have been Denisovans who were the largest population (living in warmer areas of southern Eurasia). At least they reached the Altai where we have been able to find them.

    Unrelated to the above, there’s an interesting finding regarding the bias in traditionally used SNPs arrays when it comes to African populations:

    Some of the f4-statistics commonly used to study population history and admixture (13) even shift sign when using array SNPs compared to when using all discovered SNPs, thus incorrectly reversing the direction of the ancestry relationship one would infer from the same set of genomes (for example: f4(BantuKenya,San;Mandenka,Sardinian) is positive (Z=2.9) using all variants but negative (Z=-3.11) when using commonly employed array sites).

    Also they find again Eurasian admixture in Yoruba (at least when compared to Mbuti). Gene flow which seems to be bidirectional between Africa and Eurasia and which is most likely responsible for the so called “Basal Eurasian” admixture.

    There are many other things to read in the paper, which is quite technical and detailed.

  4. From archaeological news, it seems that excavations in Iraqi Kurdistan have resumed after a long hiatus because of the situation in the area.

    Archaeologists uncover ancient palace of the Mittani Empire in Kurdistan Region


    They also found there clay tablets with cuneiform writings, so that may bring new information too. Hopefully we can get ancient DNA from this area too in the near future.

  5. Great to see Bennett et. al. managed to sequence the UP sample from Crimea
    And whilst sympathetic to their proposal, it’s not completely convincing, as Early Gravettian sites are lacking in eastern Europe (apart from this one site in Crimea). In fact, Gravettian occupation occurs in the late phase, and arguably arrives from central Europe. Nor does the samples from B.K. seem to be particularly ”ancestral” to late Paleolithic groups

    The mystery of the so-called ”Villabruna” cluster is still out. I wonder if Dzudzuana genomes will help shed light, when theyre released

  6. @Rob

    Though looking at the current data the mystery is not too deep regarding the Villabruna cluster. With Dzudzuana being aroun 80% (? from memory) Villabruna-related, and like later Wet Asians being roughly a similar mix of Villabruna-related + Basal Eurasian (with some Iran-related admixture too), it’s not too hard to imagine that the Villabruna cluster had to be somewhere in or near Anatolia on the way to the Balkans.

    And since we’re about animals in this post, the paper you shared about the Bison seems to contain some interesting clues.

  7. Alberto
    Yes I realise what the data is pointing to; but the problem is the dearth of late paleolithic sites in the east Balkans. There are enough in the west Balkans , but they all point to Italy (quite literally) & Central Europe. So we’re missing a thread from Anatolia – Caucasus -> Balkans -> Europe for 20-14 kya . Pinarbasi AHG doesn’t seem to be the fit either
    Have you any ideas ?

  8. Archaeologically speaking I don’t have any specific idea. But with the extremely low population in Europe during the LGM it’s not too strange that even a very small and hardly visible migration (most likely predating the LGM) could be responsible for the post-LGM repopulation.

    Another factor could be the much lower levels of the Black Sea during the Paleolithic, which would make any movements around it impossible to detect.

    I guess that any post-LGM site from the Balkans or Italy must contain WHG remains. The question is where exactly where they during (or just before) the LGM.

  9. Hi Alberto, un saludo. There is a very interesting paper by Jaime Lira (Atapuerca project) on the mitochondrial DNA of the Lusitanian horses that shows the genetic continuity of this lineage in Iberia. The myths that have been built for years regarding the theory of Kurgan by Gimbutas will fall one after another. (Origin of R1b-L51 / P312 in the Yamnaya culture, expansion of metallurgy from Eastern Europe, linking R1b to the IE language) Regarding the issue of horses, domestication occurred in several places and in different historical moments, and of course in Iberia it has nothing to do with R1b or the Indo-Europeans.

    On the other hand, the case of Szigentzenmiklós is another one of the many arguments that we used to demonstrate the migration of Iberian BBs to Hungary (together with uniparental markers, autosomal DNA, and some unique cooper objects) where they were mixed with Yamnaya migrants and native neolithic people.

  10. Hi Gaska, bienvenido.

    Yes, it seems some mtDNA lineages from early Iberian domestic horses have survived until the present. Even some fraction of native admixture can be detected, I believe. A sample from the LBA/IA still had 10% native Iberian admixture, but it probably vanished soon after that down to modern levels.

    Many of the myths of the Kurgan Hypothesis by Gimbutas had already been dispelled. What can be new with this study is the much later and therefor better documented hypothesis by David Anthony regarding the importance of domestic horses in the steppe expansion (which he saw mostly as cultural, not so much demic) may be a myth too, which is more surprising if it gets confirmed.

    In any case, it doesn’t matter that much, since after all the steppe migrations happened with or without horses and had a big impact in north and western Europe. A different issue is the language they spoke, which is unknown and indeed could be ancestral to Basque and Iberian and not to Indo-European languages. That’s something we also have to wait for more data to really know, though.

    I personally don’t see much evidence of a migration out of Iberia to the rest of Europe. We’d need a good sampling of France and Italy before we could have any decent knowledge about such putative migration.

    Many questions are still open, so let’s not get ahead of the data and just swap one myth with another one. Here I do my best to keep objective information and not favour any special hypothesis. So I hope you’ll keep following this blog to have another point of view that frequently differs from other more adventurous ones.

  11. I think it’s good that you’re as impartial as you can be. Few people outside of Spain think that there was genetic exchange between Iberia and the rest of Europe with the expansion of BB culture especially after the first Olalde’s paper. I think there were Iberian migrations (in fact it has been shown with the appearance of Df27 in Sicily in BB sites with Ciempozuelos pottery) but I do not try to convince anyone and although it is true that it is necessary to wait for France and Italy, the truth is that we have enough evidence pointing in that direction. I don’t know if you have read the new book that has been published regarding the chalcolithic graves of Humanejos- In that site and in Szigentzenmiklós identical copper halberds of an archaic type with three-nailed rivets have been found-These halberds are unique throughout Europe (this is more of a coincidence do not you think?). If to this, you join the horse, that in spite of the few studied sites at least 11 mitochondrial haplogroups are identical in Hungary and in Iberia, and the autosomal composition of some Hungarian samples (there are some that are more Spanish than me), only we can conclude that the migrations took place

    Necesitamos gente independiente que tenga tiempo y pueda trabajar con las muestras de ADN antiguo para de esta manera formar nuestro propio criterio (sean cuales sean las conclusiones).

  12. @Gaska

    I can just say that both myself and the people who read and comment here try to keep a more astringent interpretation of the data and avoid creating theories that are not strongly supported by enough data.

    I can’t go much into details here (you’ll find information about those topics in older entries and their comments), but keep in mind that the halberd from an Humanejos burial is post-2500 BC and associated to a population that had just arrived to Iberia (for more on halberds check this paper).

    The DF27 from Sicily may well have arrived there from Iberia, but again it belonged to a population that was new in Iberia.

    An out of Iberia migration should refer to the population that lived in Iberia from the early Neolithic to ca. 2500 BCE, since that’s the population that we could call “Iberian” at that point in time. The people who arrived from 2500 BCE onwards were very different genetically speaking, and they were already all over northern and western Europe.

  13. It will be a pleasure to discuss all this with you. One of the important issues of Humanejos is that R1b-P312 and I2a share tombs and grave goods, there is no distinction between them and therefore the deposit is not only associated to a new population (according to your criteria) but also to the local chalcolithic population. The archaeologists who have studied the site doubt the theories of Iñigo Olalde (although he has written the chapter related to the genetic study of the analyzed skeletons) because they consider them very hasty (Spaniards may be more incredulous, more difficult to convince and need more evidence than the Anglo-Saxons need when we talk about our genetic origin)

    As you can understand I have doubts that R1b-P312 is a newcomer population to Iberia, because I believe that this haplogroup originated in the Franco-Cantabricanregion, that is, they were already at home. Both P312 and L51 are Western (understanding Germany as Western Europe)

    The BB culture did not speak IE (at least in Iberia where the genetic continuity between the chalcolithic and the Iron age has been sufficiently demonstrated), and its expansion towards the east, stopped the expansion of the steppe migrations (CWC). Surely you have read in many forums that the guardians of Kurganist orthodoxy are trying to hide P312 in the SGC, recovering the old and outdated Dutch model and have gone so far as to propose that the CWC gave birth to the BBC. At the moment we also know that this lineage is older in Iberia than in the Netherlands, then the criteria could be perfectly the opposite. The last trench of the Kurganists will also end up falling and we will start talking about the German and French Neolithic cultures as the solution to the origin of L51

    Regarding the dating of the tomb where the halberd was found is 2,388 BC, at the moment older than the tomb of Hungary where the other halberd was found. What was the direction of the migration? BB culture lasted 1000 years in Iberia (approx 2,750-1,750 BC), surely you can imagine the number of migrations and small population movements that occurred during a millennium (both directions), so I am convinced that the Iberian BBs migrated to other BB regions (Morocco , Balearics islands, Sicily, Liguria, French Mediterranean coast etc) and the Df27 – Z195 of Sicily are the genetic demonstration of what I have been defending for years.

    But you are right, we will comment on issues as they arise, and I hope you keep the debate going for a long time

    Un saludo

  14. @ Alberto

    I get the impression that the recent horse DNA study, as good as it was, did not settle the question. And also lets remember that the dominant domestic horse lineage might be a different, although related question, to expansion of steppe ancestry, PIEs & other linguistic groups, etc
    During the Eneolithic, horse bones dominated the faunal assemblage at Dereivka and lipid resideu analysis confirms they were eaten. There is of course also Botai; and generally, hroses roamed around northern Eurasia since the Paleolithic.
    So its probable that horses were domesticated in a few places, and how one particular lineages survives today might be a different ‘horse story to human expansions.
    So I think horse riders didnt come swarming in from the Volga steppe, but I think there is good circumstantial evidence for horse riding by the 3rd millenium. I think the rapidity of BB expansion does support that, albeit indirectly.

  15. Deliberately being simplistic and a bit “jumpy” on conclusions based on Alberto’s various inputs… BB had a steppe component acquired during the Bronze Age . At least a subset of them spoke photo Iberian. they acquired Iberian(Spanish) horses for greater mobility..

  16. @Rob

    Yes, I agree that the study didn’t settle the question (quite the contrary, it brought more questions to the table). I also agree that the expansion of the main domestic horse and steppe ancestry may not be related (and this is exactly one of the questions the study brought, since the main hypothesis before it was that it was intimately related).

    We do know now that horses were domesticated in several places, but only one specific type became important. The reason of this is probably not irrelevant (unlike the survival of just one male lineage after a bottleneck, which is something circumstantial). The most probable cause for the main domestic horse to have been the one that survived is because that’s the one that became useful enough. And that could be related to chariots.

    I guess we have circumstantial evidence for horse riding in the bronze age, but we don’t have evidence that whole populations were horse riders. Maybe a horse could be used by a small person as a means of fast transport for some specific tasks, but other than that I don’t think it was a relevant thing until the Scythians (I don’t think that the rapid expansion of Bell Beakers can be related to horses in any significant way, at least with the data we have up until now).

    On the other hand, chariots started to be used in conjunction with horses and other equids in the second half of the 3rd mill. And it’s this what seems to have been the first important use for real horses. The ones that were first domesticated and trained for this task seem to have been the ones that expanded and replaced all others.

    How this (if correct, since it’s still just something I’m speculating about based on the clues we’re getting) may have influenced human or linguistic expansions is a different question. The “coming of the Greeks” may (or may not) be related to it. The Celtic expansion could well be related to it, at least in some areas. I guess I’ll have to take a second look at Robert Drews latest book for more clues about it, though IIRC he referred more to horse riders than to charioteers.

  17. Alberto,
    Drews outline of the use of horse is well argued. A progression from use as meat then traction then trialing riding single then finally mounted equestiranism.

    Im not sure how it might link to later human groups. The genesis of Celtic cultures certainly appears to have had some eastern input, before they themselves expanded east & southeast. With Greeks, its often proposed on blogs but, I doubt we’ll see a Sintashta conquest (although I don;t know this for sure). Much more realistically, we can propose that individuals like the Z93 guy from MBA Thrace might have been involved in their trade. I think Drews idea of a conquest of Europe (from Sintasha for northern Europe & Trialeti-like groups for southern Parts) is a bit radical, however, the effects these contacts had within Europe, which enable certain individuals and groups to manifest power & forge alliances is probably worth looking at.

  18. Re: Horses An interesting fact I came across by accident is that in a late BB settlement pit in Vienna-Rennweg*, more than 80% of the 37.8 kg(!) determinable bone material was from horses, suggesting a horse breeding specialisation that is also considered for contemporary W. Hungary. The Vienna-Rennweg bone assemblage contrasts markedly with preceding Upper Austrian MN assemblages, e.g. from the Jenisovice Culture (post-Baden), where game still dominated over domesticates.

    https://www.academia.edu/11592570/Ostösterreich_im_Endneolithikum_Am_Ende_der_Welt (p.32)

    These finds suggest that horse breeding was introduced into Upper Austria/ W. Hungary by BB incoming from the West (i.e. down the Danube). Central European horse-breeding may as such well go back to Iberian rather than Steppe traditions. If so, Vienna’s famous Spanish Riding School would (unintentionally) have re-established an already ancient connection..

    * Vienna’s Rennweg is the old Roman Limes Road leading eastwards to Carnuntium (Hainburg) and ultimately Budapest. In the vicinity of the BB settlement pit lay the late Roman civilian suburb (vicus), on a terrace over the east bank of the Vienna river. As such, we are dealing here with a strategic location, not just some minor farming outpost.

  19. @ Frank
    “”These finds suggest that horse breeding was introduced into Upper Austria/ W. Hungary by BB incoming from the West (i.e. down the Danube). Central European horse-breeding may as such well go back to Iberian rather than Steppe traditions. ”

    I don’t think the evidence supports that contention (in its entirety), as per Alberto –

    “Furthermore, a sample from Hungary c. 2100 BC shows some 12% admixture from this Iberian lineage (the rest of its makeup being from main domestic horses and another unknown lineage”.

    The Iberian lineage only contributed 12% to the Hungarian horse

  20. Yes, the data available is still too scarce to draw any sort of definitive conclusions. I just think that if Bell Beakers (and/or CWC) brought domestic horses from the steppe it would be more evident by now, both archaeologically and with the few samples we have. The Hungarian horse from c. 2100 BC had something like 40% from the main domestic type, and the Iberian one from 1900 BC nothing at all. That’s quite a surprising twist in the story of horse domestication in itself, even if we don’t know further details yet. It will be interesting to see more horse DNA from BB sites around Europe.

    Interesting too that the old paper (Mashkour 2003) I mentioned in the previous post dedicated to horse domestication was not only right about Botai horses as mentioned there, but now also it seems about Bell Beaker horses being different from the steppe ones and more similar to wild horses from Iberia, southern France, Italy… Her final suggestion was to look for the origin of domestic horses in more southern locations rather than the steppe. Soon enough we should know if she was right about that too.

    @Rob, regarding Greeks I was certainly not suggesting any direct or even indirect connection with Sintashta. All the cultural influences are from the eastern Mediterranean and deeper into West Asia, including the weapons and chariots (the stelae from the shaft graves depict some chariots with four spokes, which according to David Anthony himself was an innovation from the Near east). I would guess that the chariots came together with the horses trained to pull them.

    In general, I’m very interested in a good sampling of Thrace during the second half of the 3rd. mill. and the possible expansion from there to nearby areas in Europe (Romania/W.Ukraine, Carpathian Basin, Greece and Adriatic/N.Italy).

  21. Continuing with animal aDNA:

    Ancient cattle genomics, origins, and rapid turnover in the Fertile Crescent

    Pereira Verdugo et al. (No free access)

    Genome-wide analysis of 67 ancient Near Eastern cattle, Bos taurus, remains reveals regional variation that has since been obscured by admixture in modern populations. Comparisons of genomes of early domestic cattle to their aurochs progenitors identify diverse origins with separate introgressions of wild stock. A later region-wide Bronze Age shift indicates rapid and widespread introgression of zebu, Bos indicus, from the Indus Valley. This process was likely stimulated at the onset of the current geological age, ~4.2 thousand years ago, by a widespread multicentury drought. In contrast to genome-wide admixture, mitochondrial DNA stasis supports that this introgression was male-driven, suggesting that selection of arid-adapted zebu bulls enhanced herd survival. This human-mediated migration of zebu-derived genetics has continued through millennia, altering tropical herding on each continent.

    The shift is visible in samples from the Levant, Iraq and Iran, where there are samples predating and postdating 4200 BC. Presumably in Georgia too, but there are only postdating samples. The ones from Central Asia have the shift too, but they postdate 4200 BC and we don’t know if they were different before that date or not.


  22. Alberto,

    Glad to see that you’ve already noted that cattle aDNA paper.

    There is something very interesting about the spread of the Zebu cattle in the Near East in the 2nd millennium BC – it is also the timeframe when the Mitannis and arguably the Hittites also show their presence or become prominent at any rate.

    More significantly Asian Elephants also appear in Syria in the Mitanni domain around the same time and go extinct around 800 BC.

    Co-incidence ?

    Also worth remembering the discovery of chariots dating to 2200-2000 BC in Sanauli. Might help putting things in context.

    As for Zebu in Central Asia and Eastern Iran, these regions are clearly very closely related to the Quetta pottery culture and the Nal Pottery culture of Early Harappan period that existed in Baluchistan. So Zebu should have been present in these 2 regions quite early (around 3000 BC or earlier)

  23. Hi Jaydeep,

    Yes, a very interesting paper this one, bringing some new data that we didn’t know about, and regarding such an important domesticate as cattle.

    It’s hard to know how this relates to the movement of humans, though. There could well be a connection with the Mitanni, who are supposed to be an elite and their DNA cannot be traced from modern populations. I hope that now that apparently excavations in the Mitanni area have resumed we can get aDNA that sheds some light into it.

    The Asian elephants in Syria may be a different case. Those are supposed to be native to Syria. Asian elephant ivory is found in Iberia since the beginning of the 3rd mill. It’s only during antiquity that the Indian elephant was widely imported to the Near East (though it could be the case that Syrian elephants could show admixture from Indian ones around the same time as cattle does, but we’d need ancient DNA of the elephants to know it).

    Back to cattle, I remember you mentioned before that the steppe cattle had Zebu admixture. Do you know the date of whichever samples show such admixture? If it’s before 2200-2000 BC. then that must have arrived via Central Asia (where it probably was present quite earlier, as you said).

  24. Alberto,

    Well, regarding the Syrian Elephant it is now the majority view of archaeologists working on near east Bronze Age that the Asian elephant in 2nd millennium BC Syria was imported, likely from the Indus civilization. Here are a couple of links :-

    1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00758914.2016.1198068


    Ofcourse these archaeologists are oblivious to the idea that these import of Asian Elephants from the Indus could have something to do with the Mitannis who were Indo-Iranian.

    About Zebu admixture in the steppe we do not have any specific timeframe but it has been speculated to derive from the Yamnaya period by a recent study


  25. @Jaydeep

    Thanks for the links. It’s a bit mysterious this thing about the Asian elephant. Those studies you mentioned are about the LBA/IA, and seem to ignore earlier presence of Ivory in the Near East.

    From Iberia there is ample and well studied evidence of elephant ivory since the late 4th mill. (this one of African provenance, which was the type found in the SW of Iberia) and early 3rd mill., which in the SE of Iberia is without a doubt from Asian elephant.



    However, there’s a problem to determine the route followed by this Asian elephant ivory (mostly imported as raw material and worked in the Iberian peninsula, though the know-how was probably learned from oriental sources too) because of the lack of studies in intermediate areas such as Sardinia or Italy or eastern Mediterranean. Not just lack of studies, but even lack of conclusive evidence of elephant ivory at all. One of the very few sites mentioned is Bir es-Sadafi, but there’s not much information available about it either:


    From the conclusions on the second link provided above:

    But where exactly did this Asian elephant ivory come from and how did it reach the West?

    The Asian elephant in the Early Holocene had a more widespread distribution than today, ranging from China throughout India and Mesopotamia and as far as Syria. However the available information in Levant and Mediterranean is insufficient to establish a direct connexion with the context from Valencina [Seville, Spain]. The problem is not only the exact source but also the routes and the mode of distribution of this material and their chronology. To date, almost no analysis on prehistoric ivory has been undertaken outside the Western Mediterranean to discriminate between Asian and African elephant ivory (there have only been attempts to differentiate between hippopotamus and elephant ivory in general). In addition, their occurrence in the far west of the Mediterranean in the 3rd millennium BC is, at present, a millennium before their occurrence in the central and eastern Mediterranean.

    In fact, in the Levant we do not hear about elephant hunts and elephant bones datable before ca. 2000 BC, and they are currently restricted to the ones from Çatal Hüyük and some fragments from the Early Bronze Age III in Ras Shamra and the most ivory comes from hippopotamus. This seems to coincide with the situation in Crete, [and] the Greek
    mainland. In Sicily, Sardinia and the Italian peninsula, the earliest known ivory objects are dated around the middle of the 2nd millennium BC.

    So, our analysis conducted on material from Valencina in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC only speaks about Asian elephant ivory. But, at present, we are unable to trace back a possible route throughout the Mediterranean. At the same time, with the available data, it is still not possible to distinguish between the different geographic origins among this type of prehistoric ivory. The question of the exact geographic origin of the ancient distribution of Asian elephants will have to be solved by future analysis, as could be systematically undertaken by carbon (13C/12C), nitrogen (15N/14N), oxygen (18O/16O) and strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) analysis on recent and archaeological ivory.

    Whatever the case, it’s clear that Asian elephant ivory could not have reached SE Iberia in the 1st half of the 3rd. mill. directly from India, avoiding everywhere in between.

    As for the Zebu admixture in steppe cattle, I didn’t find much evidence about it there. There’s this sentence there:

    Using whole-genome sequences of ancient human DNA, Jones et al. (2015) and Haak et al. (2015) suggested massive migration of Yamnaya steppe herders as a source of dispersion of Indo-European languages to both northern-central Europe and India. These herders might also have mediated gene flow between Indian zebu and Ukrainian steppe cattle.

    But no information about which Ukrainian steppe cattle they are referring to, since I couldn’t find any samples in their study. There is, however, zebu admixture in (modern) cattle from the Balkans and Italy. We’d need to know when that admixture arrived there too.

  26. Alberto,

    Thanks for your reply. It’s an interesting topic.

    About Elephants, yes I am aware of that early Asian elephant ivory on the SE Iberian coast, a most fascinating topic.

    It appears we Iberians and Indians have known each other since long

    On a more serious note, Yes it is clear that the Asian elephant ivory could not have come directly from South Asia. One way to explain it could be that the demand of ivory in Iberia was much greater than even in the Near East. I am pretty sure Asian ivory was in use in the Near East during the 3rd millennium BC, but on a smaller scale.

    But certainly the evidence of Asian elephant ivory in Iberia in the 3rd millennium BC is not a proof of the existence of the Syrian elephant during that period. The evidence shows the absence of elephant bones right through the Holocene in the Near East until it’s sudden appearance at the end of the 3rd millennium BC around Turkey/Syria. So clearly the Pleistocene Syrian Elephant had gone extinct by around 10 kya if not earlier and the late Bronze Age Elephant is not descended from it. The only place it could have come from was from South Asia.

    Here is an interesting article by Talageri on this topic that is very well written –


    About cows,

    The Balkan and Italian breed of cattle which show Indicine admixture are known as the Podolian breed descended directly from primitive steppe cattle. The steppe cattle which is very closely related and is also perhaps considered as Podolian is the Ukrainian Grey and perhaps other varieties of Grey steppe such as Hungarian Grey.

    Since these Podolian are considered to not have been admixed with other cattle ever since they were brought to the Balkans and Italy, this indicine admixture is considered to have rcvd by them in the steppe itself.

  27. @ Alberto

    ”However, there’s a problem to determine the route followed by this Asian elephant ivory (mostly imported as raw material and worked in the Iberian peninsula, though the know-how was probably learned from oriental sources too) ”

    Despite the continued critique by some archaeologists, aDNA can inform not only about large migrations, but also the the lack of such migration. In earlier decades, scholars had often proposed that the south Iberian Chalcolithic cultures were of East mediterranean or Aegean origin. Although this had already been doubted on the basis of chronology, we now know that they were a ‘native’ development from the local Middle Neolithic basis (well, its more complex than that, but we can say it was not mediated by a significantly extraneous import).

    So we can suppose that those citadels and exotica were trans-cultural diffusions mediated by key individuals, by ‘down the line” exchange, perhaps. With a large enough sample set, some foreigners will undoubtedly appear

  28. @Rob

    Yes, I agree. The early days of ancient DNA studies (and that’s only 4-5 years ago) probably scared off archaeologists with the over interpretation of that early data. But things have been maturing since then and now it’s clear that the Manichaean pots or people debate is a thing of the past.

    Ancient DNA has already uncovered as many presumed migrations that never happened as it has confirmed others that did, or found new ones no one predicted.

    It’s now obvious that only with a good amount of cooperation between different experts it will be possible to make good use of the new data and obtain the best results.

    I’m hoping that the long period between the Narasimhan et al. preprint and the final version will show this process of maturation given the ambitious nature of the study with its venturing into a new geographical territory, which showed that much help was needed from more experts in the field . Let’s see if this closer cooperation has happened in the process and we see a much improved paper when it finally comes out.

  29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960982219307717

    Here’s a new paper – it looks as though some type of Afanasevo offshoot did indeed survive into the Iron Age in north-eastern Xinjang, since two of the samples here are under M269, which I guess will turn out to be Z2103. The others have Q1a1. Autosomally they look much like Central Asian Turkic groups.

    Unfortunately there are no samples from the Tarim. So close and yet so far away, as is often the case with the sample selection.

  30. Marko, yes, I agree. It’s interesting to see those R1b (probably Z2103 as you say) survived further east after the arrival of the R1a-Z93 guys. We do know that Afanasievo moved further east to West Mongolia (the Chermuchek culture, which Alexei Kovalev sampled a few years back and found R1b-M269, which he thought confirmed his hypothesis that they were migrants from Atlantic France and Iberia).

    The relationship of the samples to the Tocharian language is a completely different story, though. I guess I have a hard time getting used to those kind of sentences like the on in the highlights of this study about linguistics in aDNA papers, which have unfortunately plagued them for years now. In any case, it might be an opportunity to talk more seriously about Tocharian too, if I get the time to post something this weekend.

  31. My guess would be that steppe pastoralists with large amounts of Yamnaya ancestry penetrated much deeper into the North Chinese plain, before they were finally ousted by the Altaic migrations and the final expansions of Sinic cultures. Wusun-Yuezhi tribal federations didn’t leave much of a legacy, so their ethno-linguistic affiliations will remain a mystery, though an Iranian element seems to have been present. What do we make of the North Asian Tungusic-Mongolian admixture in those pastoralist samples? I’m guessing the incursions from the Mongolian steppe were a recurrent phenomenon – this culture from the southern edge of the steppe looks as though it was already in the process of being replaced, if the Yamnaya descendants can be assumed to have been the original inhabitants of the region.

    The Tocharians were culturally very different, of course, being settled farmers and town-dwellers. It’s the same issue that we’ve already seen with the Gandhara grave samples, and the DNA scientists seem to be unable to state the problem succinctly even though Witzel and Mallory described the problem decades ago. I would just like to see a good comparative study between the people who lived south of the mountains and in the inner valleys and the pastoralists who lived to the north. Population movements and conquests would most likely have left conclusive evidence considering how farmer-pastoralist interactions unfolded in Europe.

  32. Apparently the R1b samples in this last paper are wrongly assigned to R1b-M269 clade and they may more likely be from a completely different R1b branch. Since the finding of R1b-M269 was the most interesting bit of information I don’t think I can add much more to what Davidski and commentators wrote at Eurogenes already. (And I should take the chance to mention that I’m really glad to see Eurogenes blog back on track lately. As the reference blog in these subjects it was important for it to stay a reference and leave an odd period behind).

  33. Thanks for the update, Alberto. Could they be under PH200 like the Hunnic samples from farther west?

  34. Marko, yes, apparently that’s where they are, under PH200. But the coverage may not be too high, so I don’t know if it’s 100% certain. Probably yes, given their genetic profile.

  35. It’s interesting in any case that the modern ‘Turkic’ autosomal cluster coalesced so early, though the linguistic affiliation of the Hunnic language is uncertain of course. The haplogroup founder effects on the steppe are peculiar, and it looks as though when one group became dominant in the steppe, they’d quickly expand over the entire Eurasian plain.

    I’d think that based on the rare Q1a haplogroups in those samples, the R1b too likely did not come from Yamnaya or Afanasevo, but from the Botai and Yenisei regions, no? Yamnaya admixture might have been mediated by Saka-Scythian females.

  36. Yes, that’s probably the case. And basically the end of the chances for connecting Afanasievo with the Tarim Basin at this point. It’s funny how papers in the last couple of years have been showing the opposite of what they claimed in such a consistent manner. And it’s just a few comments above that I expressed my hope for better cooperation in these papers to avoid the same mistakes. But alas…

    Still, the question of the Tocharian language is very intriguing. No matter where it came from, when we get samples of real Tocharian speakers we should see some relatively clear signs of genetic isolation that could explain its linguistic isolation (with the most notable exception of Indo-Iranian loanwords, as it shoud be expected due to trade). And the number of options of West Eurasian populations that could have brought Tocharian to that region prior to 2500 BC. are very limited. In fact, just two that I know of: Afanasievo (for which we have no evidence of any sort of connection with the Tarim Basin) and the nomadic people that traded between China and SC Asia, represented by one single sample (Dali_EBA, c. 2700 BC IIRC), which we know that must had been passing and settling in that area because there’s no other way o moving between China an SC Asia. And given that we have the “Oldest Directly Dated Remains of Sheep in China” from the mid 5th mill (and the DNA analysis confirms it’s the Near Eastern type of sheep), it seems that people were trading from very early on.

    This second option also solves to the linguistic problems associated with Afanasievo (namely, the IE names for cereals and pigs, both absent in the eastern part of the steppe until much later).

  37. I copy here some recent comments I made on Eurogenes in reply to a post by Nick Patterson:

    Nick: “Jim Mallory wrote a survey paper on the origins of Tocharian

    He is characteristically cautious but clearly leans towards an Afanasievo

    Just wanted to post about that paper, you beat me to it. IMO an absolute “must read”, as Mallory is one of the most pronounced experts when it comes to Xinjiang’s archeology, and he drew heavily on D. Adams linguistic expertise (Adams’ publications include a Tocharian etymological dictionary).

    I interprete his paper quite differently. In fact, he seems to retreat from the Afanasievo scenario he himself proposed in 2000.

    But step by step:

    1. Acc. to Mallory, medieval Tocharians either dressed like Indish monks or Sassanid warriors. It would be absolutely impossible to figure out if any early medieval person (mummie) from the Tarim Basin spoke Tocharian, Indo-Iranian, or whatever else (Chinese, Turkic, Bactrian Greek, etc.)

    2. The IA Tarim Basin shows a patchwork of cultures (essentially each oasis seems to have differed from the next one), with the “Tocharian” area being divided into a “painted pottery” (China-derived) and a “Grey ware” (Iran/ Turan-derived) zone. Among the manifold East Iranian (Saka) borrowings in Tocharian, three are culturally significant, namely “iron”, “canal”, and “clay brick”. This implies for Mallory the impossibility to archeologically distinguish IA Proto-Tocharians from East Iranians.

    3. The key to Tocharian in his opinion lies with the EBA Xiahoe culture (ca. 2000–1700 BCE) that encompassed a good part of the area from where Tocharian A-C has been attested, and provides the earliest evidence of Europoid mummies.

    4. Mallory then (re-)examines possible connections between Afanasievo and Xiahoe. He a/o constates a chronological gap: Afanasievo ended some 500 years before the onset of Xiahoe. If at all, Okunevo could be chronologically regarded as ancestral to Xiahoe, but that poses obvious aDNA problems (briefly glossed over by Mallory), and substantial archeological problems discussed by him in quite some detail, e.g. ceramicless Xiahoe burials vs. pottery-rich Andronovo and Okunevo ones, rectangular Okunevo “kurgan” enclosures vs. circular Xiahoe ones, etc.

    5. He concludes: “This paper has not only failed to provide a solution to the problem of Tocharian origins—it has even helped undermine the author’s earlier solution (Mallory and Mair 2000). (..) The Eurasian steppe model (Early Bronze Age) that sets the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic-Caspian region and identifies the ancestors of the Tocharians as members of the earliest eastward expansion of steppe pastoralists from the Urals eastwards to the Altai and Yenisei, i.e., the Afanasievo culture (Mallory and Mair 2000; Anthony 2007, 307–311) (..) satisfies those who regard Tocharian as a very early departed language, geographically peripheral to the other Indo-European branches, and eliminates the problem of dating contacts between Tocharians and Indo-Iranians to any period earlier than the entry of the Saka into the Tarim Basin. Among its major problems are: 1) it lacks any evidence of the suite of domestic cereals which the ancestors of the Tocharians should have known; 2) while there may be some Afanasievo artifacts associated with the Qiemu’erqieke culture in the Junghhar basin, these are really totally different cultures, so there is no evidence for an Afanasievo migration south through the Junghhar Basin towards the land of the historical Tocharians; 3) the archaeological case for contacts between the Afanasievo and later Okunevo cultures with the Early Bronze Age culture of the Tarim Basin (Xiaohe) is, other than burial posture, generally weak and circumstantial.

    6. He then cautiously argues for a “combined Steppe and Central Asian model that sets the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic-Caspian but argues that steppe populations intruding into the indigenous agricultural societies of Central Asia adopted many elements of material culture without undergoing language shift.” In this context, he explicitly mentions Gonur Depe and Saraszm IV, hinting at (but not explicitly expressing) the possibility that Xiahoe and ultimately Tocharian might have originated there. “No one seems certain precisely how one might link the European steppe, the Zervashan Valley of Tajikistan and the Minusinsk Basin together (mobile traders from the European steppe, a single interaction sphere of exchange relationships, Frachetti’s “Intermountain Corridor”?), but there is clearly evidence in both the Afanasievo and subsequent Okunevo periods for some form of mutual contact. As I indicated above, the reason for suggesting this model is that it places steppe populations in an area where cereal agriculture was well established, so it reduces both the spatial and temporal lacuna between their homes in the Pontic-Caspian region and their possible approach to the Tarim Basin. Unfortunately, the spatial and temporal lacuna with respect to domestic plants now appears not merely between the Urals and the Altai but even farther, between the Dnieper and the Altai (Mallory 2014). I do not know how we are going to be able to resolve these issues, but if we really want to trace the Tocharians to their origins we might paraphrase the immortal lines of ‘Deep Throat’ and “follow the cereals.

    P.S: My summary of Mallory 2015 above has failed to mention a main point: Mallory, based on Adams, argues that Tocharian posessed all PIE agricultural terms, including those related to cereal agriculture. [Of course, as PIE isn’t an ANF/Levantine Neolithic language, most of these terms wouldn’t have originated in PIE, but they had been acquired already at the PIE stage, i.e. prior to the splits of Anatolian and Tocharian]. Phonetics would rule out a later borrowing, e.g. from Iranic.

    If correct, this means that PIE must have been a cereal farming culture. And this, in turn, rules out non-cereal farming cultures like Yamnaya and Afanasievo as PIE origin (they nevertheless may have been vectors).

  38. @ Marko , Alberto, Frank

    It is very interesting in the possibility that these samples are R1b-PH155 and Q1a. Ancient Siberian ancestry and other sorts of structure must have hung around Asia, and perhaps played a role in later groupings.
    I think we’ve discussed before the lack of any solid link between Afansievo & Tocharians. It is interesting that not everything coming from the West was an unstoppable force, and local ‘Siberian” groups emerged on top, or better adapted, as seen by the ascendence of the Okunevo culture in the wake of Afansievo demise.

  39. @FrankN, Rob

    Yes, there are no teal links between Afanasievo and Tocharian. I guess that Tocharian is such a complication in the IE problem that no one has a good answer, so the Afanasievo migration to the east was just the only viable option for the steppe hypothesis to solve it.

    I’m not quite sure about what Mallory is arguing about that combined model, since he himself admits it fails to solve the linguistic problem. Even worse, we now have genetic data that shows that there were no Afanasievo-related populations in SC Asia during the 3rd mill.

    So we’re in a situation where there are only two physically possible solutions to the Tocharian problem, and one of them could not solve it even if there was some sort of evidence of a migration of Afanasievo related people to the Tarim basin (which there isn’t), while the other is equally speculative but does tick (in theory) all the boxes that the Afanasievo one doesn’t.

    Or is anyone able to suggest a 3rd option?

  40. @raj

    I’m guessing that when you say Indo-Iranians at 8000 BC you’re not referring to the language they spoke but to their geographical location? Though it’s strange to refer to people from NW Iran/South Caucasus as geographically Indo-Iranians (which should refer to a quite more south eastern location).

    Languages change even without interactions. With interactions, they change faster. That’s why we have chronological constraints when it comes to PIE (the most recent common ancestor of all know IE languages). In this respect, the Chalcolithic looks like the most likely timeframe for PIE.

  41. the paper says

    the AAF early farmers show a marginal excess affinity with early Holocene populations from Iran or Caucasus and with present-day south Asians

    thats basically roundabout way to avoid saying indo iranians

    language 8000 BC per indian terms would be an early prakrit we dont really know since only sanskrit got preserved

    normal language change logic does not apply to sanskrit since it is not a prakrit and specifically meant to not be a prakrit

  42. Alberto about this Iron Age paper, if you can share some light
    two questions:
    1) 20 to 80 % of the west eurasian component is Afanasievo
    But what about the overall percentage in other words how much is the west eur component of these samples

    2) The authors talk about the west eur component as being Yamnaya like and lacking the EEF component found in the contemporary/preceeding steppe MLBA ( andronovo and similar). Jaideep and others please note… They are pretty much taking into account the models of the recent Narsimhan-Reich preprint

  43. @Alberto
    “I’m hoping that the long period between the Narasimhan et al. preprint and the final version will show this process of maturation given the ambitious nature of the study with its venturing into a new geographical territory, which showed that much help was needed from more experts in the field .”

    You may have to keep such hopes in check. Besides Ning et al 2019’s study on ancient Dzungarians at Shirenzigou not being thorough, there’s FrankN (above) having to correct Patterson’s (and Ning 2019’s) misunderstanding or lack of awareness of Mallory’s more recent position on the missing archaeological ties between Afanasievo and the Tarim Basin, and its implications for the origin of Tocharian. Furthermore, the results of the Dzungaria genetic study, by current accounts, are even reason to reconsider Mallory’s more up to date position of an archaeological connection of Afanasievo to the Dzungar Basin, though Dzungar’s archaeological culture itself was already in all probability disconnected from the Tarim as per Mallory.

    However, now Narasiman has exceeded even Patterson’s enthusiasm to tie Afanasievo to Tocharian, despite ancient Dzungaria’s vanishing archaeological (and now possibly also genetic) relevance to that question. Patterson’s error was not aDNA/DNA related, but due to not being familiar with Mallory’s modified views. That feels more acceptable than Narasiman getting matters pertaining to genetics wrong, though. Fortunately, Open Genomes then stepped in to correct the mistake before twitter readers blindly assumed Narasiman’s correctness, https://twitter.com/vagheesh/status/1155865096226332673

    Vagheesh Narasimhan Jul 26: An extremely important paper to understand the spread of Indo-European. Iron Age genomes from Xinjiang show Yamnaya, and not Andronovo related ancestry, in line with the linguistic evidence of an early split of Tocharian in Late PIE.

    Vagheesh Narasimhan: The key I think is the presence of the R1b haplogroup of the same subtype as seen in the Afanasievo culture.
    8:38 AM – 29 Jul 2019

    Open Genomes: @vagheesh No, that’s not true. M15-1 is R-PH200, and M012 is R-PH155. A 3rd cent Tien Shan Hun ERS2374341 / DA81 is in R-PH200, and a 6th cent “Gepid” with an artificially deformed skull who is autosomally 20% East Asian is R-PH155. He’s also likely to be paternally a Hun.

    Open Genomes: @vagheesh R-PH155 was found among Huns, not in Afanasievo who were R-Z2103 like Yamnaya. Check the Y-DNA SNP calls for the 4 Shirenzigou males here: [referring to Ning (2019) Tian Shan Y-DNA SNPs]

    Open Genomes: @vagheesh The tMRCA of R-PH155 with the rest of R1b (including Afanasievo and Yamnayha R-Z2103) is 20,400 ybp, during the LGM. R-PH155 is equally related to the Balkan Hunter Gatherers and Nuraghic Sardinians in R-V88 as they are to Afanasievo R-Z2103.

    This study’s genetic results are almost opposite to its conclusions readily endorsed by Patterson and Narasiman, where instead of implicating Indo-European, it now appears related to Hunnic or some other Central Asian steppe nomadic group.

    That’s 2 prominent people already, Patterson and Narasiman, who were rather all too easily mislead into deriving wrong conclusions, apparently because they operated on the assumption that existing theories were already correct and that the Dzungaria genetic study merely confirmed those, without inspecting the actual results of the study. It is to be hoped they’ll pay more attention when it comes to their own studies and will keep their reading of archaeological and other relevant papers up to date also. I do worry what the purpose of any study is if researchers are just going to decide beforehand that their working theories must be correct and don’t bother checking the findings of any study that purportedly lives up to expectations as rigorously as those that seem to deviate in some way. How did Ning et al 2019 pass peer-review? Krause is even listed as a co-author.

    Peer-review was sleeping on this one, whereas they paid more attention with the Maykop paper where some reviewers pointed out that the actual results didn’t indicate CHG influencing the steppe so late as that study’s conclusions had made out. Although maybe this is confirmation of what Matt or someone else had observed: the steppe hypothesis gets an easier pass. Less rigour in the review process when conclusions are affirming and more rigour when conclusions appear to contravene it.

    I never thought there’d be an instance of widely varying conclusions between academics and enthusiasts, where I’d find enthusiasts’ genetic analyses more reliable than that of the published papers.

    Ning/Krause et al, their reviewers, Narasiman and Patterson have been a great let down. Researchers need to get their act together and get it right, readers shouldn’t be better-read and have to double-check everything.

    A more fascinating finding in my view concerning this Ning 2019 study is a comment over at anthrogenica or eurogenes which noted that the mtDNA of 3 ancient Dzungaria samples were present at decent frequencies in modern Tibetans. This may point to some level of genetic continuity in Dzungaria from at least 200 bc until the Qing era, when the Qing genocide of the Mongolian Tibetan-Buddhist Dzungarians was accompanied by their replacement with Turks in Dzungaria. Despite the original Dzungarians (a name derived from those Mongolian Buddhists’ ethnonym) having been largely ethnically cleansed, maybe it’s possible to reconstruct some part of the genetic profile of the original Tibetan-Buddhist Dzungarian inhabitants from a combination of such ancient Dzungarians as in Ning 2019 and modern Tibetans and also Mongolians.

  44. @ak2014b

    Yes, I try to stay positive and not be too critical with the papers that are published hoping that researchers are slowly getting their act together, but I’m afraid I have to agree with all what you wrote and I may have to follow your suggestion and keep my expectations really low for the time being.

    Regarding the Narasimhan et al. paper even David Reich after many months after the preprint was published gave a speech in which he said that by looking at the length of the chunks of steppe DNA in the samples from the Swat Valley they could pinpoint the arrival of steppe populations to South Asia to a window between 2000-1500 BC, seemingly know knowing that the length of those chunks of DNA can give you an estimate about the time when steppe populations started to mix with the ones south of the steppe, but no estimate about the place where it started to happen. And honestly, this is something that we should expect David Reich to know pretty well by now. Even more when they had samples from that time frame showing such admixing in Central Asia. (To understand the magnitude of the error, this is like looking at the Bell Beaker samples from Central Europe c. 2500 BC, and concluding that by the length of the chunks of steppe DNA in them they can pinpoint the arrival of steppe populations to Central Europe to around 4500-4000 BC (since that what the chunks should show given that we already have a sample from eastern Ukraine dating to 4000 BC which is around 70% steppe and 30% European farmer).

    If they can’t even get genetic details right, how are we going to expect anything serious when they venture into historical or, even worse, linguistic territory?

    Maybe if they had taken Mallory as a starting point instead of some other steppe proponents things would have gone a bit better. Mallory’s position about the Afanasievo-Tocharian connection is not so new, but more importantly his whole view of the IE problem is much more realistic. For example in this talk from March 2011 he goes from around min. 27 into the Tocharian problem, but I’ll quote here the way he ends up his speech:

    What I’ve seen so far after my entire career chasing Indo-Europeans is that our solutions look tissue thin, and our problems monumental. Thank you.

  45. @postneo

    I don’t have access to the samples from this paper yet, so there’s not much I can say about them. My guess is that they do have European Neolithic Farmer admixture via Scythian or related populations, but the paper just didn’t look carefully enough to find it.

  46. I had a brief interaction with Narasimhan around 6 months back where he equated afanasievo and tocharian. I challenged him to prove such a tenuous 4000 year link thru dna citing similar links (unrelated) btw botai and preswalski etc so …why not for humans? this weak linkage ad per Ning in their mind perhaps constitutes a smoking gun

  47. I just started catching up and I have to say that these papers that are fixated on proving outdated hypothesis are becoming really annoying.


    I wanted to reply to you on eurogenes but I knew no good discussion will come out of it. That blog devolved into whose allowed into the IE cool kids club now.

    I think you proposed an early migration of Tocharian from Iran to BMAC. Do you still believe in that scenario? It does look like like pre-grey ware BMAC is the best choice for Tocharian, atleast atm. However, whichever scenario we follow we get that Tocharians were in contact with Indo-Iranians since forever. How come the linguistic impact is minimum?

    Also, what’s with Mallory and his Kulturkugel complex? It’s nonesense.

  48. @ Vara

    ”Frank, I think you proposed an early migration of Tocharian from Iran to BMAC.”

    Off hand, I think it would be a surprising find to see BMAC-like people in the Tarim basin. But it’s not a region I’ve looked deeply into

    ”Also, what’s with Mallory and his Kulturkugel complex? ”

    We have to remember that Mallory was developing his theories some 2 decades ago, and offered a theory building on Gimbutas earlier model.
    Now, we have further evidence – archaeological, environmental, DNA, and how more samples in Narasinham’s paper & others in the future can help clarify. At present, there is evidence of steppe people arriving to the BMAC & Indus region. However they did necessarily not conquer the forts & ”cloak themselves in BMAC accoutrement’ (instead, the ”forts” seem to have been mostly abandoned). Yet they must have engaged in some form of interaction, power struggles & identity negotation. Also, some more detailed remarks on how it fits chronologically (and perhaps some direct aDNA evidence for it).

    NB, the ‘kulturkugel” model has recently been employed by Kristiansen in relation to explaning the relationship of CWC to BB- essentially arguing that a segment of CWC adopted BB cultural norms. However, I don’t find that particularly convincing.

  49. Regarding a migration of BMAC (or better to say a pre-BMAC, but from the same area), I think there’s no evidence for it and rather evidence against it. What we do have is a different population from the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor (IAMC, as described by Frachetti) that mediated between the populations of Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan (from whom they have domestic grains like barley, apart from genetic admixture) and China (from whom they have millet, and we have Near Eastern sheep in North Central China).

    In my opinion, this IAMC population and Afanasievo are the only West Eurasian populations that could possibly have acquired an IE language at an early enough state to become later Tocharian and that could have taken it to the Tarim Basin. There really seems to be no other option we know of.

    So what I was proposing above was a basic sanity check. Like:

    – Do we have direct or indirect evidence of their presence in the Tarim Basin?

    Afanasivo, direct: no. Indirect: no.
    IAMC, direct: no. Indirect: yes.

    – Do they fit the linguistic evidence from Tocharian?

    Afanasievo: chronologically, yes. Linguistically, no.
    IAMC: chronologically, yes. Linguistically, yes.

    I’m not saying that these IAMC people were the ancestors of Tocharians. I’m just trying to say that from the only two possibilities that we have there is one that looks clearly better than the other with the current evidence. More evidence may change this and other options may appear. But for now this is what we have.

    Then of course there’s the rest of the IE-related data to match it. The Afanasievo scenario requires an early form of IE to have been spoken in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, while the IAMC scenario requires it to have been spoken throughout north Iran. How those two options align with the rest of the data from Anatolia, Greece, SC Asia (on this latter one more in the next comment)… is something I where each one may have their own view.

  50. Alberto;
    There have been recent linguistics view points that Tocharian isn’t so diverged- but shifted due to its remoteness; with the only true “basal” lineage being Anatolian
    A problem with the IAMC scenario is that it’s population virtually disappeared; and it’s hard to link them with the rest of IE

  51. Regarding the Narasimhan et al. final version, I had some hopes as expressed above, mostly because of the long period since the preprint and because I know that several authors have received quality feedback in the meantime. However, after their latest comments I’m not hoping for any new model, really.

    Since they’re following the steppe hypothesis, they could have at least mentioned that the post-BMAC samples from around 1500 BC (presumed to be early Iranians) are not originally from the steppe, but a continuation of the previous populations without much (if any) steppe admixture.

    They could have referred to the Swat Valley Culture in the steppe hypothesis context, at least from a basic Wikipedia look up:

    Some traits of the Cemetery H culture have been associated with the Swat culture, which has been regarded as evidence of the Indo-Aryan movement toward the Indian subcontinent.[7] According to Parpola, the Cemetery H culture represents a first wave of Indo-Aryan migration from as early as 1900 BCE, which was followed by a migration to the Punjab c. 1700-1400 BCE.[8] According to Kochhar, the Swat IV co-founded the Harappan Cemetery H phase in Punjab (2000-1800 BCE), while the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans of Swat V later absorbed the Cemetery H people and gave rise to the Painted Grey Ware culture (to 1400 BCE).[9]

    They could have noted that while the samples from the Swat Valley do show some amount of steppe admixture, both the genetic and archaeological data makes it a bit extravagant to suggest that they would have spoken the language of the Sintashta/Andronovo people. But, more importantly, they could have mentioned that all the new radiocarbon dates from several different cemeteries show that the culture is from a significantly later period (the earlier one dating to around 1200-800 BC and the next one to around 500 BC – 1 AD), and therefor they could no be the founders of the early Vedic cultures from India as archaeologists had suggested.

    Nothing like that was in the preprint, and now I’m afraid that nothing will be in the final version either. But let’s wait and see.

  52. @Rob

    There have been recent linguistics view points that Tocharian isn’t so diverged- but shifted due to its remoteness; with the only true “basal” lineage being Anatolian

    Would this mean that Tocharian is descended from Indo-Iranian but very divergent due to its remote/isolated location and possible interactions with non-IE people from further east?

    That sounds really strange. Who has suggested this?

    A problem with the IAMC scenario is that it’s population virtually disappeared; and it’s hard to link them with the rest of IE

    Yes, they virtually disappeared from SC Asia leaving only some admixture in the later populations of the area (which is not surprising given they were probably a pretty small population to begin with), but we don’t know what happened in the Tarim basin. It’s only speculation at this point, but given that Afanasievo (the only other option that I can see) also disappeared from its original area and there’s nothing to link it to the Tarim basin (that, apart from the linguistic problems), the IAMC people are still a clearly preferable option unless we find a better one.

  53. @ Alberto

    ”Would this mean that Tocharian is descended from Indo-Iranian but very divergent due to its remote/isolated location and possible interactions with non-IE people from further east?

    That sounds really strange. Who has suggested this?”

    Lol, No. I think it probably relates to an earlier ‘Northeastern Indo-European”, which is analogous to the concept of North-Western IE, and linked to it. And this horizon might relate to later than, both, Afansievo, and Dali-EBA-like groups.

  54. I think southern lineages (J2, J1, G2, L, H, R2a) constitute more than a third of todays paternal haplogroups among Xinjang Uyghurs. What’s the explanation for this, assuming that groups with northern lineages dominated the steppe regions still in the Iron Age? That mix looks very ‘Pamirian’ to me.

  55. @Rob

    I still don’t know how would that be. Unless Sintashta spoke a language that was ancestral to both Indo-Iranian and Tocharian, with Indo-Iranian forming through contacts with BMAC and Tocharian through contacts with Siberian groups. A bit of a linguistic stretch given the mobility at that time already in the steppe. But who knows, till we don’t get aDNA from the Tarim Basin itself (from attested Tocharians as well as before an after) it’s difficult to say much.

  56. @Marko

    That’s true, but I’m not sure if modern DNA from the area can be very informative. And specially Y DNA, seeing how Kyrgyz are among the population with highest frequencies of R1a, for example. We could say that Turkic women were killing the Indo-Iranian females and taking the males, but I think we’d probably be wrong 🙂

  57. You’re right, present day distributions aren’t very informative of course. It’s just an iinteresting anomaly within the wider North-Central Asian context.

    Another noteworthy pecularity to me would be the Balochistan-Pamir connection with respect to elevated frequencies of L and G. Balochistan via the Bolan Pass of course would be another viable route into India, and it would be interesting to speculate about the role of Mehrgarh etc. .

  58. @Rob “A problem with the IAMC scenario is that it’s population virtually disappeared”

    What do you mean? Do you mean a discontinuity in cultural sequences? Or do you mean IAMC suddenly got depopulated? It seems a bit extreme. Whats the time frame? Can this be explained by poor archeological sampling?

  59. @Alberto

    That’s true, but I’m not sure if modern DNA from the area can be very informative. And specially Y DNA, seeing how Kyrgyz are among the population with highest frequencies of R1a, for example. We could say that Turkic women were killing the Indo-Iranian females and taking the males, but I think we’d probably be wrong

    I think the Kyrgyz-Uyghur comparison is not so appropriate since the genetic studies have demonstrated the vastly different Y-DNA haplogroup distribution patterns between the traditionally sedentary and traditionally nomadic populations of Central Asia. The traditionally nomadic populations (e.g., the Kyrgyz) are usually dominated by a single or a few young Y-DNA haplogroup subclades as a population or in their specific sub-tribes due to recent genetic founder effects resulting from their patrilineal and patrilocal tribal organization while the traditionally sedentary populations (e.g., Uyghurs) are a hodgepodge of many different Y-DNA haplogroups and subclades and show influence of recent founder effects to a much smaller extent and thus preserve the ancient Y-DNA variation of Central Asia better than the nomadic populations.

  60. @onurdincer84

    Yes, the example of the Kyrgyz is not the most equivalent one. It was just meant as a more general one about how informative can modern DNA be about the past. We don’t know if that diversity in Uyghurs represents the ancient population of the area. That is, if we exclude the more probable haplogroups of Turkic origin, would that tell us the haplogroups of the Tocharians? I don’t think we can have much confidence in it. It may well be that Tocharians were largely replaced by Turkic and Southern Central Asian populations who created the modern diversity. Without aDNA it’s all just guessing.

  61. @postneo

    Those populations that moved around the IAMC got largely replaced by the Andronovo and BMAC once the two established more intensive contacts. The area didn’t get depopulated, on the contrary it got larger populations into a previously scarcely populated area.

    We don’t know if that original IAMC population lived on in the Tarim basin or not. We don’t even know which Y DNA they carried, since we just have a female sample.

  62. I meant Pre-BMAC-Eastern Khorasan, but either way there were continuous contacts between Greater Bactria and the Tarim Basin till the Sassanid era.

    I share the same thoughts as Alberto regarding Narasimhan et al. The funny thing is the Sanauli chariot has painted spokes on it thus making even the latest Rigvedic books entirely independent of Sintashta.

    I just can’t understand how the narrative changes. When it’s a few steppe traders they manage to change the entire language of SC Asia without changing the culture or rituals but when they are actual conquerors they end up speaking Vasconic. Then again this is the field where Khvalynsk egalitarian fishermen are supposed to be the highly socially organized Indo-Europeans.

  63. One thing that makes a language shift effected by a minority unlikely in my mind is the near-absence of substrate influence in Rigveda Sanskrit as demonstrated by Witzel.

    The picture might be complicated further by the suggestive evidence of other Indo-European languages in the southern slopes of the Himalayas that might have predated Indo-Iranian, see the ongoing discussion about Proto-Bangani.

    Hopefully we’ll get some good samples soon so we may understand what happened in those places a little better.

  64. It’s interesting
    The same deduction is often brought forward for Europe- the so-called Alteuropische in Northern Europe, from the Don to London. Its often brought forward as an argument that IE must have arrived with CWC; BB
    Not to say that it didn’t; however it might instead suggest that preliterate societies can undergo significant linguistics shifts during certain periods.
    Hence I’m very cautious about claimed reconstructed world views based on river names and paleo lexis

  65. Yes, the substrates are quite problematic as extensively commented in a recent post dedicated to it, and the reconstructed PIE vocabulary may need a thorough clean up before we can make more accurate claims about the level of substrate in any region.

    However, the case of North India has two major advantages when compared to Northern Europe:

    – We have an excellent knowledge of the language that would have been spoken before the arrival of Indo-Iranian (that is, Dravidian), while in North Europe we just have some possible candidates at the periphery, surviving in small, isolated populations and without historical literature.

    – We have extensive literature written at the presumed time of arrival of I-Ir which supposedly describes the process of the fights between those two linguistic communities, so we don’t need to rely on modern river names and such low quality data.

    With that kind of data, completely missing in Northern Europe, it should be much easier to distinguish the Dravidian world in the Sanskrit literature. But such world seems to be completely missing there.

  66. With regard to Majkop, brought up by Vara, and has been getting even more attention lately because of the Y-DNA haplogroup J in Khvalynsk Eneolithic.
    Acc. to David Anthony’s paper, a fuller set of (? 20) individuals shows that Khvalynsk was mostly R1b, but also R1a, I2, Q1a & J. ; & he hypothesised that CHG moved from the southeast Caucasus region to the north Caspian region c. 6000 BC .

    There is now the question as to how Majkop impacted on the steppe & Europe in general. Many factors need to be considered, & I wont go into it here. But one dimension is some of the earliest types of socketed Axes & tanged Copper daggers & more broadly arsenical-copper metallurgy, which might in turn link to northern Iran. Whilst a few appear in Yamnaya graves (indeed, they were the ‘importers’ of it into Europe), in the BB period copper daggers become an engrained aspect of the ‘Beaker package’, buried in a manner similar to the steppe, with a individual male, but diminished (no Kurgan) & shifted / adapted. It is also interesting because (IIRC) such artefacts are missing in Steppe Majkop.

    In the Balkans, such technology also becomes prominent. However, it was used in a different way; and predominantly axes deposited, placed in hoards, sacrified, .. rituals encountered in Europe through to the Iron Age.

    So the effect was heterogeneous, and relates to a broader set of technological & ideological ideas spreading through Europe. Some skipped Steppe Majkop, were traded via Yamnaya to Balkans & utilised in a different way; whilst was a component of BB closer to the original form. I’m not yet clear what occurs for CWC.

  67. Yes, I think that the East Causasus is the best area for an origin of a CHG population. Gobustan was suggested by FrankN as the best source for early, low levels of CHG admixture in the steppe, but I’d go all the way to propose it as the main source (FrankN preferred a later introduction with agriculture for the bulk of it).

    I don’t see any linguistic implications in all of it, though (going back to Anthony’s paper commenting on Bomhard). More interesting would be Maykop (which I don’t think are direct descendants of Meshoko-Darkveti as Anthony states), but the intensive enough cultural contacts between it and the steppe are too late for PIE, since by then the Afanasievo and Corded Ware people would have split already from the early Yamnaya people.

    The mixing taking place in Ukraine during the 2nd half of the 5th mill. between farmers from the Balkans and the circum-Caspian steppe people looks more promising for that (genetically poorly documented so far, with only that sample from Eastern Ukraine c. 4000 BC).

    It’s a bit frustrating knowing that there are hundreds or even thousands of samples still not published that could help in understanding all of this. The delays also create the problem that then they are all released at the same time, but none could be done with the information provided by the others because they were not published, which makes it odd when sometimes a paper is just published and already outdated due to another one being published 2 days before.

  68. @all
    Been out of it for a while, but not without some new insights.

    Just a few bullet points:

    – Mallory is wrong about Tocharian dress. It is not (only) Sassanian, but the same dress that Kushans wore. Meanwhile, Persians never wore this type of clothing.

    – Indians are not a monolith group and this is almost everyone’s mistake. Many current assumptions about Indians including from Indians are blatantly incorrect, particulary concerning castes and religious beliefs. This bias infiltrated genetic science.

    – I guarantee, there is almost no chance that Harvard will resolve anything. The final conclusions will shatter European and Indian identity. I suspect it will take about 5-10 years (maybe more) at least for general academia to accept the facts that are at this point blatant to anyone without bias.

    The final conclusions in my opinion have the potential to disrupt geopolitical stability. For this reason alone, good luck in expecting a true model.

  69. @Atriðr

    I can see the potential for that in Europe, but I’m less familiar with the Indo-Iranian regions. Do you think there could have been some kind of post-Maurya population replacement in India?

  70. @Marko
    Yes. And multi-faceted.
    And in Europe too I believe much much more recently than the Beakers. I think it is better to think in terms of ethnogenesis than homogenous replacement, although the reasons for which are the same: culture-clash, then amalgamation.

  71. @Atrior Great to see you here again, I don’t quite get everything you’ve said but it seems like you and many of the posters here, and also at Eurogenes, have had more insight than some academics have had.They know where to look at least, or can reread Nichols.I hope this is the year, but judging by some recent papers, it might be a longer drawn-out affair.

  72. Just read your whole comment, I think Heggarty and Max Planck have been more thinking outside than Harvard.Heggarty put out something recently, haven’t had a chance to read it.I didn’t think about the geopolitical angle.

  73. @Rob

    The Maykop impact on the steppe is very interesting. In the Yamnaya groups there is some material impact but the lifestyle and ideology is entirely different. On the other hand, the Lower Mikhaylovka groups have adopted a cult of hearth (not entirely similar to Maykop’s) and maybe emulation in some groups, but is that enough for a language change?

    The language that Maykop spoke is a more interesting discussion. Did Steppe Maykop and Maykop all speak the same language? Maybe and maybe not. One thing has to be noted and that is it is very unlikely for Maykop to be ancestral to Anatolian. That horse stuff has nothing to do with Anatolian and most likely Anatolian split before any horse domestication. Based on that paper I linked we get 3 options: Late PIE, Greco-Aryan or Proto-Indo-Iranian. I think Novosbodnaya is the most likely ancestor to Indo-Iranian and can be supported with archaeology and genetics based on that late 4th millenium influence in Ariana. However, if we are to look for PIE it has to be a few centuries earlier to the southeast in the “Land of the Fathers”.


    I do agree that there is bias in both groups but wouldn’t the AIT also shatter the Indian identity?

  74. Both Europe and India can console each other then, seeing as PIE is in between them, if I’m reading the hints correctly.Misery loves company and all.

  75. @Al Bundy
    Thanks. Actually, I took a break largely to process what I was begin to notice.

    The safest angle I think at this stage is to just look at archaeological complexes and forget all discussions about language. And to forget talking about something like PIE. It might be more like many Protos fusing. Or just trim tree. But yeah I think Max Planck has the right approach. Wrong conclusions perhaps but resetting the clock and starting again.

    South Asia had 2 centuries of AIT exposure. It’s nothing shocking. And that’s a ripple compared to what I strongly suspect (quasi- certitude) has happened. Iran won’t be immune either although that area already went through tumult centuries ago.

  76. @ Vara
    Although I’m open to changing my mind, I think its difficult to link Majkop or related groups to I.E. as things stand. Its effect on Europe is too indirect. Even in south Europe, which has Majkop-like ancestry. Since an old post of mine on the Bronze Age, in the intervening period the consolidation of thoughts points me to Anatolians & Greeks arriving from / via the Balkans, although we have not much aDNA at present to confirm or deny this.
    Majkop probably does not definitively link with Iran, but more directly with the south Caucasus itself, as some form of native reaction in the post-Ubaid period. Yes, there are some links between Majkop as far as Afghanistan, but they are a few exotica. After 3000, or perhaps as late as 2500 BC, Majkop ends, is replaced by Catacombnaya for some time, before new Caucasian-like groups arrive in the northwest Caucasus.

  77. “Do you think there could have been some kind of post-Maurya population replacement in India?” —- India is a very diverse place but if you are talking about Gangetic plains area , there might be such a possibility as texts like yuga purana talk about how ‘demons’ roamed over the wastes of north india and how the emperors of the east and south turned the seas into blood with their countless wars and one Amrta,the Red clad (possibly a renegade sramana monk !) brought civilization to an end.

  78. there is a good chance we are going to label the entire period from bhirrana 7500 BC to the sarasvati river drying up 2000 BC as the vedic sarasvati civilization

    can expect a lot of cognitive dissonance but not in india

  79. @Rob

    Yes, my thought is that an alternative hybrid model to the one proposed by Krause and Heggarty would be the the PIE homeland in the Balkans and the steppe as a vector for some IE languages. This model is more plausible in itself (meaning that there was extensive contacts -including admixture- at the right place and time: Ukraine 4500-3500), and helps to solve some of the steppe problems without introducing any bigger one.

    The case of Greek is clearly easier to explain in such model, and depending on what the Italian aDNA shows, maybe Italic too. Anatolian would also be easier to explain (easier, not easy).

    However, this model would still need to rely on the steppe for the spread of Tocharian and Indo-Iranian (I suppose?). So it’d still have to overcome those problems of the steppe hypothesis, as well as the Bell Beaker/non-IE languages one.

    But no putative homeland is without its problems. I personally still lean towards Iran or surroundings (because of the Asian IE languages), with the Balkans as the vector for the spread of the European ones (not Maykop, but South Caucasus -broadly speaking- migration to the Balkans at the right time c.2500-2000 is highly probable given the archaeology and the Mycenaean samples and the spread of certain Y lineages like J2a).

  80. @Atriðr

    I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. I’m pretty sure that at least in Europe and America no one gives a damn about the PIE homeland. If you go around asking people in your surroundings, family or random people on the street where do they think that the PIE homeland was located 99.9% of them will hardly know what you’re talking about. I can’t say for sure about India, but I don’t expect a big difference.

    I know that many people in this blogosphere take this things very personally, as something that determines their identity and with political implications. But they are a tiny minority of the whole population.

    And then many of us are into this not for any interest in our own ancestry or because of any sort of identity problems, but strictly because we’re interested in history and fascinated by how aDNA has changed our knowledge about prehistory so far. But this is a highly specialised niche. Go around asking people what do they know about the Yamnaya or Maykop culture and you’ll see that no one has ever heard about such things.

    So I don’t think any of this matters (except for those few around these places who take it as something personal). For the rest of the society the news about the finding of the PIE homeland will be a line in some general newspaper that they will glance and skip to go into something more interesting (like the new iPhone or Galaxy release, or anything else).

  81. And now I finally read at Eurogenes what I was suspecting for a little while.

    @Davidski (if he ever gets to read this)

    Well, I for one, no longer have a PIE homeland theory.

    I’m just not satisfied with any of the explanations that I’ve seen. Some scenarios do look more plausible than others, but none are especially meaningful considering all of the data.

    I’m waiting for more data points and more tangible clues so I can figure it out for myself.

    Hats off for that and a great move for Eurogenes as a whole.

  82. @Rob

    We do see a few Maykop like individuals in SC Asia. Maykop influence can be seen during the formation of the Burnished Grey Ware phase of Hissar that later spread with the Mitanni.

    The IE influence doesn’t have to be a direct expansion of Maykop to Europe. I have a hunch that some KA groups were IE. I think Greek arrived to Thrace and surrounds from late 3rd mil South Caucasus in a scenario you’re familiar with.

    But as I’ve been saying for years no Out of Europe model can solve the Indo-Aryan problem.


    Good for Davidski, he finally caught up after banning half the people that have been predicted the data for years.

  83. @Alberto
    I’d argue that everybody cares about identity. Even the academics – which explains their bias and blunders. Wars, love, and history often revolve around identity. And genetic science (including the popularity of hometests) is advancing because of a deeply ingrained yearning to know it. Although I think you are right about current apathy.

    At a deeper level, as surprisingly expressed by Davidski, the best in us wants to know correct history.

    Question for you: how do you define the PIE people at this stage? What are their cultural traits?

  84. @Alberto Vara Davidski’s great, we all have our biases I guess, it would have been nice if as far as PIE goes he started moving with some data earlier. Who knows, maybe a PC steppe homeland is correct? I highly doubt it at this point, now after the confirmation bias has gone away it’s just a puzzle to be solved.He’s devoted a lot of time, as you have, to this stuff and gotten people interested in it who might not have been.

  85. @Al Bundy

    I don’t disagree. I think the dude is hilarious but you can’t deny that he tried silencing and banning people who disagreed with him even though they were years ahead of him. His company of cheerleaders is very interesting and hilarious.

    The PIE debate ripple effect is not a big deal for the west. I think things will change only for East Europe, Iran and India. East Europe for the Pan Slav identity, Iran will get a bunch of teenagers who will turn full on anti government and India because of religious importance.

    I think a lot of people have that weird mentality of “If my ancestor was great then I am great too” or something like that. Also, a lot of nerds with jock fantasies of IE people killing dudes and getting chicks lol.

  86. @ Vara Yea, there are those characters but without them it wouldn’t be as entertaining.If there was just dry talk about numbers it would get old fast.Overall he’s been lenient with comment moderation which is the right approach, he wants people excited and interested about it.

  87. @ Alberto ; Vara
    “with the Balkans as the vector for the spread of the European ones (not Maykop, but South Caucasus -broadly speaking- migration to the Balkans at the right time c.2500-2000 is highly probable given the archaeology and the Mycenaean samples and the spread of certain Y lineages like J2a).”
    “ I have a hunch that some KA groups were IE. I think Greek arrived to Thrace and surrounds from late 3rd mil South Caucasus in a scenario you’re familiar with.”

    Yes for Ex there’s clues for migrations coming from both north & east into Greece. It had been all rather difficult disentangle until recently. But it’s becoming slowly clearer chronologically. 3000-2500 brought traders from anatolia (and they brought with them Kura-Araxes enriched ancestry; who had in turn reached central anatolia c. 4000 BC. ) who imported a ‘Higher culture’.

    However; the Anatolian trade network which reached Thrace and eastern Greece collapsed c 2200 BC; and there is evidence of migration of people with a more simple / rural material culture. This was the final movement before the Mycenaeans finally emerge a few hundred years later. Some similarities in west-central Anatolia

    Given the overlapping ancestries; quite a lot of data will be needed to elaborate the genetic side

  88. @Atriðr

    Yes, identity (ethnic or national) is important for many people, but the PIE homeland c. 4500 BC is just too far back to have any relevance for it. The sort of problems between different groups have to do with much later events. For, say, Irish and English people, the discovery of IE languages (and therefor knowing that Celts and Anglo-Saxons were actually cousins) didn’t suddenly make them good friends. In Spain we have Catalonia wanting to be independent even though we speak closely related Romance languages (but language is still a big problem for them, apparently). Spaniards know that their languages come from Latin due to the Roman conquest (except Basque, of course) and that’s all they could care about, just like English people (or of British descent) know that their language is Germanic and arrived in the early middle ages. The location o the ancestors of Latin or Anglo-Saxon thousands of years earlier is something irrelevant, really.

    Maybe the Arkaim boys (some sort of Neo Nazi groups who travel to the Arkaim site to celebrate in the land of the holy Aryans, claiming that it was the land of Zoroaster -remember Nietzsche’s “Thus spoke Zarathustra”- and other silly things will be disappointed if Sintashta was not IE, but on the rest of the people it should have a lower impact than the discovery that Western Europe’s “native” (Mesolithic) population were dark skinned people who got largely replaced by light skinned ones coming from the Near East in the Neolithic. No one really cared when they heard about it in the news (and I bet most people don’t even know it at all).

    Anyway, let’s move on from politics and get back to history, which is what this is all about.

    Question for you: how do you define the PIE people at this stage? What are their cultural traits?

    That’s a question I can’t answer. Technically the only real IE culture as a whole is that of the PIE population whenever and wherever they lived. Since we don’t know that, we can’t say what was their culture. Once the language started to spread, new cultures and ethnic identities started to be part of the IE speaking world, but most of the information w have is from the late Bronze Age and specially the Iron Age, and I doubt any of these IE speaking people had much in common with the Chalcolithic PIEs. We hear about IE religion, but that’s also quite doubtful. Finding the PIE word *dyéws in different cultures to refer to some sky god is just a linguistic transfer. In Latin the word was Deus, and as such it’s been inherited by Romance languages and applied to “Our Father who art in heaven”, and thus being simply a translation of the Hebrew Yahweh. It’s still the god who lives in the sky, but totally unrelated to the PIE one.

    There’s no known IE culture, that’s just a myth. There are many cultures from many different times whose language happened to be IE.

    EDIT: this comment was meant for Atriðr, not Al Bundy

  89. @Rob

    Any new paper on that subject that deals with the Anatolian influence in Thrace and the demise your refer to? This is pretty much a work in progress (for what I know) so still many details are poorly known. Maybe some aDNA could help too…

  90. @Alberto”We have an excellent knowledge of the language that would have been spoken before the arrival of Indo-Iranian (that is, Dravidian”

    We don’t have such excellent evidence. We have Tamil Brahmi only from 400 – 300 BC far from the area of interest, but a great blank otherwise. At best you can say that modern dravidian and early Tamil support each other better, than the case in Spain where we have a fuzzy link between Iberian writing and modern Basque.

    On the replacement of IAMC people with Andronovo and BMAC. We can’t infer that with a single sample. IAMC populations could have contributed significantly to Andronovo.

  91. “Marko
    Yes. And multi-faceted.” —- @Atriðr, Being an indian, i would like to know what kind of post-maurya population replacement in north india you are hinting about . Gangetic plains regions had seen a lot of wars and sacks(possibly large scale genocide) since iron age but would like to know how these tie with the arrival of steppe folks . Does this have to do something with the Shakas ?

  92. Vara e.a.:

    My current thinking goes towards a multilayered model of IE development, i.e. one (para-)IE language being overformed by other, later ones. Think of Skythian influence on Slavic, Norman French on English, or Albanian as “rogue taxum” acc, to Jaeger 2016 (nobody really knows where to place it in the IE tree).

    More specifically:
    1. Pre-(pre-)PIE originating in the S. Caspian plus the Alborz foothills.

    2. Neolithic expansion into Central Asia – the Sang-el-Chakmak->Jeitun link looks archeologically rock-solid and has recently been confirmed by goat aDNA.
    How far that expansion went has yet remained unclear to me. Could have stopped in Zerafshan, but might also have gone all the way down to the Indus Valley.

    3. Pastoralist expansion out of Western Central Asia to the Steppe: The Pre-Caspian Culture, with a typical Central Asian profile (prevalence of goat/sheep, no pigs, plus that odd Samara Culture camel find from Lebashinska IV), and also Central Asian lithics. [I know – I owe you all still a full write-up as Part 3 of my “CHG-Steppe” series.]

    4. A second, Chalcolithic “out of Iran” migration into Central Asia, creating BMAC (apparent from the Naramsimhan preprint, yet poorly discussed ).

    5. Formation of Indo-Aryan in Sintashta – here the Proto-Uralic evidence on IIA loans looks pretty solid, and I find it very hard to imagine another place in time and space where/when IIA and Proto-Uralic could have interacted. The Sintashta->BMAC->India route then as usually proposed.

    Where/ when to place Tocharian in this sequence is difficult to say. It might already stem from the original Neolithic expansion into CA (#2, c.f. Mallory hinting on Saraszm), but equally result from the second, CA expansion (#4). In fact, the (in)famous “BMAC language” might have been Proto-Tocharian. In any case, intensive cultural contact along the Silk Road during the CA is well attested. You, Alberto, mentionned (wool) sheep, to which several cereals may be added. In the opposite direction travelled the domestic apple, that originated from the Tian Shan mountains, but according to genomic analyses latest by ca. 2500 BC cross-bred with with Caucasian wild apples that improved texture and durability.

    The issue with this “multi-layering” is that IIA, according to the evidence obtained from Uralic, is obviously a late, Sintashta-derived layer. So, we would expect to find some evidence of earlier, non-satem layers in Indic and Iranian. My understanding is there is some of that, especially in Dardic. Kashmiri hata “hundred”, e.g., is obviously not Satem, but Centum, as is Kashmiri hun “dog”. Similarly, Khowar kuy “where?”, kyobachen ” for what?” seem to have conserved non-satemised traces of PIE “kw”.
    Now, I don’t know enough about Indic and Iranian to state whether these are isolate cases, or there is more to it, but native speakers commenting here might be able to help out in this respect.

    I am also uncertain whether there has ever been a proper linguistic reconstruction of Proto-Indic (I remember not so long ago reading a bitter complaint on the lack of a proper Indic etymological dictionary). My Impression is that Vedic Sanskrit has always served as “quasi-Proto-Indic” (and Avestan as “quasi-Proto-Iranian”), which could mean that possible earlier IE strata have been regularly overlooked.

  93. steatite beads at parkhai 2 sumbar valley turkmenistan 3500 BC east of the caspian

    page 57 of

    that is actually the harvard preprint supplement no pics though

    on the other side in gangetic plains of india

    steatite beads at lahuradeva period 1a 6500 BC to 3000 BC


    it was a pretty big network


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