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Friday, October 2, 2015

Essential reading: Paleoecology, Subsistence, and 14C Chronology of the Eurasian Caspian Steppe

To help things run more smoothly in the comments, I urge everyone taking part in the debates here about the colonization of the Eurasian steppe and the Indo-European homeland question to read carefully the following three papers. They're all open access:

1) Paleoecology, Subsistence, and 14C Chronology of the Eurasian Caspian Steppe Bronze Age

2) The Steppe and the Caucasus During the Bronze Age Mutual Relationships and Mutual Enrichments

3) New Radiocarbon Dates and a Review of the Chronology of Prehistoric Populations from the Minusinsk Basin, Southern Siberia, Russia

In particular, please note the latest calibrated radiocarbon-based dates of the main archaeological cultures being discussed:

- Khvalynsk, Eneolithic, 4300–3800 cal BC

- Steppe Maikop, Early Bronze Age, 3800–3000 cal BC

- Yamnaya, Early Bronze Age, 3000–2450 cal BC

- Afanasievo, Early Bronze Age, 2900-2500 cal BC

- Early Catacomb, Early Bronze Age, 2600–2350 cal BC

Of course, Yamnaya are in large part of Eastern European hunter-gatherer (EHG) origin but with roughly 50% of Near Eastern-related ancestry from an unknown population (Haak et al. 2015). Paper #2 linked to above provides tentative isotopic evidence that the latter might be the Steppe Maikop people or their descendants (see paragraph 4 on page 58).

However, the Khvalynsk population from the Samara region harbors around 25% of the same or very similar Near Eastern-related ancestry (unpublished data courtesy of David Anthony). And, as per the dates above, Khvalynsk existed before Steppe Maikop.

Thus, although the increase of the Near Eastern-related ancestry on the steppe from the Khvalynsk to the Yamnaya periods can be tentatively attributed to Maikop influence, this cannot be the initial source of this type of ancestry on the steppe.

Moreover, dates older than 3,000 cal BC for Afanasievo appear to be spurious (see paper #3 above). If so, what this means is that Afanasievo is around the same age as Yamnaya, or perhaps a little younger, and thus the generally accepted hypothesis that Afanasievo derives from Yamnaya or pre-Yamnaya looks safe.

Now, it's especially important that everyone concerned is aware of the key climatic shifts on the steppe, because climatic changes are often invoked as likely causes of major population movements within and out of the steppe. So I'm re-posting here Table 1 from paper #1 (click to enlarge).

I'll update this post as new information comes in, which will hopefully be very soon. There are signals that something big is on the way from the Reich Lab pertaining to the Indo-European homeland debate (for instance, see here).

See also...

Near Eastern admixture in Yamnaya: a couple of graphs + some ideas


Rob said...

Great papers, Dave

Do you know when the Khvalynsk samples in process date from ?

This palaeo-ecological data certainly make sense, the maximal optimum c. 3000 BC corresponding with a peak settlement - indeed a filling in of the steppe. This increase settlement and at the same time supposed migration out of the steppe to populated 50% of Europe and Central Asia thus seem self-contradictory. BUT, the paper you cite poses different ecological reconstruction to Rassamakin, who sees the aridization to have begun earlier - 3000 BC, not 2500 BC.(The main directions of Development of the North Pontic Zone"). Although this might actually make sense given that the paper you cite covers the Caspain region, and Yuri talks about the Pontic region (?)

Further, the issue of dating remains problematic. In reality, we always have to take with caution the dating, especially some of the more nebulous Eneolithic / pre-yamnaya groups. In fact, there is still not full agreement as to how the pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic cultures are to be classified/ named. Some wholly do not even mentione Khvalynsk.
Eg table 2.1 pg 9

Davidski said...

I don't know the dates of the Khvalynsk samples, but they're bound to be from Anthony's Samara collection, so you can probably find some details about them online.

rozenfag said...

We should expect some papers from Reich and Willerslev by the Christmas. Balanovsky just posted some info about this in Russian: http://генофонд.рф/?page_id=4715 (Yes, even URL is in Russian):

"Но проведено и настоящее полное секвенирование, причем не с низким покрытием, как в «1000 геномов», а в среднем с 50-кратным покрытием для сотен геномов. Это исследования трех коллективов – Дэвида Райха в Гарварде, Эске Виллерслева в Дании и Майта Метспалу в Эстонии. На днях эти три статьи одновременно поданы в Nature. И не исключено, что к Рождеству популяционные генетики получат этот роскошный подарок – новые 1000 геномов, но уже секвенированные с хорошим покрытием, равномерно представляющие весь мир и уже тщательно проанализированные ведущими биоинформатиками. <...> В ближайшее время одна из статей будет размещена на, и одновременно ее разбор появится на нашем сайте генофонд.рф."


"The real full sequencing, and not with low coverage, as in the "1000 genomes", but on average 50-fold coverage for hundreds of genomes. These are the studies of three teams – David Reich at Harvard, Eske Willerslev in Denmark and Mait Matsalu in Estonia. The other day these three articles simultaneously submitted to Nature. And it is possible that by Christmas population genetics will receive this luxurious gift – a new 1000 genomes already sequenced but with good coverage, evenly representing the entire world and thoroughly analysed by leading bioinformaticians. <...> In the near future one of the articles will be posted on and at the same time its analysis will appear on our website."

Davidski said...

That's not bad, but he's talking about modern genomes.

The Reich paper is probably based on the Simons dataset.

rozenfag said...

I agree about Reich and Matsalu, but do you think Willerslev's paper will be entirely about modern genomes?

Davidski said...

I'm not sure. It sounds like the Copenhagen Lab has come up with a new way of sequencing ancient genomes, so maybe some of them will be ancient.

Nirjhar007 said...

I think its extremely difficult to postulate Afanasevo deriving from Yamnaya, yes Pre Yamnaya can be a possibility.
I think maykop should have R1a from Earlier stages and later it should have R1b dominance.

Davidski said...

There won't be any R1a in Maykop remains.

truth said...

I expect Afansievo to have both R1b and R1a, and Maikop to be R1b.

Tesmos said...

Maykop won't have R1b.

epoch1970 said...

And Maikop is in the right place to provide the North-west Caucasian substrate for PIE languages.

Average Joe said...

Tesmos: Why will Maykop not have any R1b?

Davidski said...

Maykop were migrants from the Near East and not Indo-Europeans.

epoch1970 said...

"Maykop were migrants from the Near East and not Indo-Europeans."

Is that the archeological consensus?

Davidski said...

Yes, it is.

epoch1970 said...

I mean the Near Eastern origin?

Arch Hades said...

So Khvalynsk is 75% EHG autosomally?

That will be great if there is no R1 in Maikop, I think that will clear things up a lot and make things simpler. Plus it would definitely add genetic support to the Steppe/Kurgan hypothesis.

Tesmos said...

Average Joe,

I would bet my money on G2 and possibly J2

epoch1970 said...

Not to start nagging but I recall that the "Uruk expansion theory" was just that: A theory which was entertained at a time. Archeologists are likely to entertain fashionable theories, as all kinds of speculation needs to be pondered.

But from what I recall there is not much evidence for or against migration into the Caucasus.

"Today, many archaeologists see Maikop in the context of the “Uruk expansion” However, as Munchaev admits, the exact mechanisms of contact remain elusive and accepted hypothesis of migration is not supported by actual evidence."

MfA said...

Check tihs out;


Rob said...

Wow that conference looks epic !

MfA said...

One of the abstracts I found interesting
Pre-Indo-European speech carrying a Neolithic signature emanating from the Aegean
Guus Kroonen, Institute for Nordic Studies and Linguistics, Copenhagen University,

When different Indo-European speaking groups settled Europe, they did not arrive
in terra nullius. Both from the perspective of the Anatolian hypothesis1,2,3 and the
Steppe hypothesis,4,5,6 the carriers of Indo-European speech likely encountered existing
populations that spoke dissimilar, unrelated languages. Relatively little is known
about the Pre-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Europe, as the IndoEuropeanization
of the continent caused a largely unrecorded, massive linguistic
extinction event. However, when the different Indo-European groups entered Europe,
they incorporated lexical material from Europe’s original languages into their
own vocabularies.7 By integrating these “natural samples” of Pre-Indo-European
speech, the original European linguistic and cultural landscape can partly be reconstructed
and matched against the Anatolia and the Steppe hypotheses. My results
reveal that Pre-Indo-European speech contains a clear Neolithic signature emanating
from the Aegean,8 and thus patterns with the prehistoric migration of Europe’s
first farming populations.9,10,11 These results also imply that Indo-European speech
came to Europe following a later migration wave, and therefore favor the Steppe
Hypothesis as a likely scenario for the spread of the Proto-Indo-Europeans.12

MfA said...

Close genetic relationship of Neolithic Anatolians to early European farmers
Iosif Lazaridis1,2, Songül Alpaslan3, Daniel Fernandes4, Mario Nowak4, Kendra
Sirak4, Nadin Rohland1,2, Swapan Mallick1,2,5, Kristin Stewardson1,5, Fokke Gerritsen6,
Nick Patterson2, Ron Pinhasi4,*, David Reich1,2,5,*

We study 1.2 million genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms on a sample of
26 Neolithic individuals (~6,300 years BCE) from northwestern Anatolia . Our analysis
reveals a homogeneous population that was genetically similar to early farmers
from Europe (FST=0.004±0.0003 and frequency of 60% of Y-chromosome haplogroup
We model Early Neolithic farmers from central Europe and Iberia as a
genetic mixture of ~90% Anatolians and ~10% European hunter-gatherers, suggesting
little influence by Mesolithic Europeans prior to the dispersal of European farmers
into the interior of the continent.
Neolithic Anatolians differ from all present-day
populations of western Asia, suggesting genetic changes have occurred in parts of
this region since the Neolithic period. We suggest that the language spoken by the
homogeneous Anatolian-European Neolithic farmers is unlikely to have been the
same as that spoken by the Yamnaya steppe pastoralists whose ancestry was derived
from eastern Europe and a different population from the Caucasus/Near East
[Haak et al. 2015], and discuss implications for alternative models of Indo-European

Rob said...

Also interesting:

Indo-Europeans and Archaeology: some questions

Jean-Paul Demoule, Institut Universitaire de France & Université de Paris I, Paris

Finding the movements of the original Indo-European people (“Urvolk”), requires
two conditions: 1) observation of a migratory movement from a given
region (the “Urheimat”), a movement then branching out to end up in the geographical
locations of the various historically documented peoples speaking IndoEuropean
languages; 2) proof that the populations living in the supposed region of
origin had “something” Indo-European about them. While the recent results of
aDNA analyses seem to show an East-West migratory movement in the 3rd millennium,
it would be premature to consider that all the conditions have initially been
met to identify this as the departure of the “Urvolk”. So much so that one can also
question the starting point, which takes the existence of a unique language that can
be entirely reconstructed (“Ursprache”) as the only model possible

Significant correlations? (Outline of a response to Demoule)

Colin Renfrew, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University,

In his Mais où sont passés les Indo-Européens? (Paris, Seuil, 2014) Jean-Paul
Demoule has offered the most full and well-documented treatment of the IndoEuropean
question currently available, concluding however that recent proposed
explanations and theories on Indo-European origins are deficient, and lack potential

Recent developments in archaeogenetics have certainly produced new data that
seem highly relevant. But the aDNA samples available do not often relate to those
who demonstrably spoke (or, more precisely, wrote) early Indo-European languages.
It will be suggested that, in order to meet the criticisms of Demoule, particular
attention should be given to those early cases where such a relationship can be indicated

Arch Hades said...

That's an interesting study by Guus Kroonen, but my guess is that Scandinavian pre IE languages were nothing like Aegean ones. Maybe this Aegean language was spoken by the EEFs? But surely around Scandinavia and the Baltic this Aegean language never managed to take hold. As far as I know, the non IE parts of Germanic and Balto Slavic languages are very different from Greek.

Karl_K said...


They spread of EEF peoples was "rapid" but still on a scale of thousands of years.

Their languages must have been from a common root, but without high mobility or writing systems, it must have been broken into hundreds of different languages by the time the Indo-Europeans arrived.

Rob said...

Karl K

Indeed ! In fact; I'd bet the neolithic languages were different even prior to arriving to Europe (having come from a wide region - SE Anatolia to the verge of Africa; and already segregated, self -sufficient and relatively sedentary communities)

so some claims that it was pan-Vasconic idiom are obviously baseless

Kurti said...

"However, the Khvalynsk population from the Samara region harbors around 25% of the same or very similar Near Eastern-related ancestry (unpublished data courtesy of David Anthony). And, as per the dates above, Khvalynsk existed before Steppe Maikop."

The Khvalynsk culture is late Neolithic and stretched in the South into North Caucasus. It would be strange to actually not find any farmer/herder related ancestry there. It probably came from a Maikop like ancestry

Kurti said...

Note Maiko LIKE, before someone comes up with the argment Maikop didn't exist yet.

Va_Highlander said...


That Svyatko, et al, paper is out-of-date, isn't? I think there was another round of C14 dates published for Afanasevo remains after 2009 that confirmed the older chronology. There is some suggestion of a possible reservoir effect, but no one seems to have put a number on it.


"the paper you cite poses different ecological reconstruction to Rassamakin, who sees the aridization to have begun earlier - 3000 BC, not 2500 BC."

I've seen that before, but it doesn't seem to agree with the known regressions and transgressions of the Caspian. Not sure what to make of it.


"Not to start nagging but I recall that the "Uruk expansion theory" was just that:"

It's been abandoned, I think, but it may be some years before the new data drives out the old, assuming it does so. Maykop is related to the Northern-Ubaid expansion, not Uruk. Metallurgy and fast-wheel pots are not native to the Caucasus. Someone brought that technology from the south.

Davidski said...


I tried the Abkhazians. They produce similar results to the Mingrelians, but not as regularly, possibly because they have more obvious East Asian admixture, which might be throwing off the results.

But yes, if we ever get any Eneolithic samples from Abkhazia I have a feeling they'll be perfect.

capra internetensis said...


I checked Google scholar and went through Radiocarbon but I couldn't find anything superseding those Afanasievo dates. Lots of stuff about reservoir effects though - sometimes ridiculously large (3000 years!) - usually on the order of 50-400 years though.

Rob said...


The most recent summary of radio-dates for Afansievo would be in Frahcetti's paper, wouldn't it ?

Va_Highlander said...

capra internetensis:

"I checked Google scholar and went through Radiocarbon but I couldn't find anything superseding those Afanasievo dates."

You are correct.


"The most recent summary of radio-dates for Afansievo would be in Frahcetti's paper, wouldn't it ?"

That's correct and seems I was in error. Frachetti cites Svyatko, et al, in his summary. Their dates fail to support Davidski's claim that Afanasevo was derived from Yamnaya, since Afanasevo precedes Yamnaya, according to the latest data.

Serves me right for assuming Davidski would not promote a paper casting doubt on his preferred narrative. My apologies to the man.