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Friday, December 1, 2017

Descendants of ancient European (fair?) maidens in Central Asia's highlands

Several South Central Asian populations have a reputation for producing individuals who look surprisingly European, even the lighter shade sort of European from Eastern and Northern Europe. This is especially true of the Pamiri Tajiks, and that's unlikely to be a coincidence, because these people probably do harbor a lot of ancient Eastern European ancestry.

My own estimates, using various ancestry modeling methods, suggest that Pamiri Tajiks derive ~50% of their genome-wide genetic ancestry from populations closely related to, and probably derived from, Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe of Eastern Europe, such as the Sredny Stog and Yamnaya peoples. Below is a simple Admixture graph using the mostly Yamnaya-derived Iron Age Sarmatians from Pokrovka, Russia, in far Eastern Europe, to illustrate the point. Note that Sarmatians were East Iranic-speakers, which is what Pamiri Tajiks are. The relevant graph file is available here.

But, some of you might retort, this is all just statistical smoke and mirrors, and what it really shows is that these so called Europeans came from Central Asia or even India.

Not so, because my models can't be twisted any which way, and they have strong support from uniparental marker data.

Many South Central Asian groups, and especially Indo-European-speakers, like the Tajiks, show moderate to high frequencies of two Y-chromosome haplogroups typical of Bronze Age Eastern Europeans: R1a-M417 and R1b-M269. This is old news to the regular visitors here and its implications are obvious, so if you still think that these haplogroups expanded from South Central Asia to Eastern Europe, rather than the other way around, then please update yourself (for some pointers, see here and here).

And now, courtesy of Peng et al. 2017, we also have a much better understanding of ancient European influence on the maternal gene pool of Pamiri groups (see here). The paper doesn't specifically cover the topic of European admixture in South Central Asia, but it nevertheless demonstrates it unequivocally.

Below are a couple of phylogenetic trees from the paper featuring a wide range of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences shared between Europeans and Central and South Asians; quite a few of these lineages are rooted in Eastern Europe, as shown by both modern-day and ancient DNA, so they strongly imply gene flow, and indeed considerable maternal gene flow, from Eastern Europe deep into Asia.

Worthy of note are the lineages belonging to such relatively young (likely post-Neolithic) haplogroups as U5a1a1, U5a1d2b, U5a2a1, and U5b2a1, all of which have already been found in ancient remains from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

I'm no longer wondering whether there were massive population movements from Eastern Europe to South Central Asia during the metal ages. It's a given that they happened, and I'm now looking forward to learning about the details from ancient DNA. For instance, what was the ratio of men to women amongst these migrants? And how fair were they exactly?

See also...

Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but...

Ancient herders from the Pontic-Caspian steppe crashed into India: no ifs or buts

R1a-rich ancient Siberians may have been as blond as today's Northern Europeans