search this blog

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Who were the people of the Nordic Bronze Age?

Ancient DNA has revealed that large scale migrations and population replacements have often accompanied major cultural changes in prehistoric Europe. But, for now, my opinion is that the formation of the archeologically ostentatious Nordic Bronze Age wasn't associated with any significant foreign gene flow into Scandinavia. I've tested this as best as I could with the few relevant ancient samples that are currently available.

For instance, below are among the most successful qpAdm mixture models that I was able find for various ancient Scandinavian groups dating back to the local Middle Neolithic (MN) period. The Nordic Bronze Age population is represented by three individuals labeled Nordic_BA. Unfortunately, the guy pictured above, from the famous Borum Eshøj barrow burial in what is now Denmark, didn't make the cut. For more details about my sampling and labeling strategies refer to the text file here.

CWC_CZE 0.822±0.059
POL_Globular_Amphora 0.178±0.059
chisq 14.478
tail prob 0.341086
Full output

CWC_Baltic_early 0.662±0.028
POL_Globular_Amphora 0.338±0.028
chisq 11.234
tail prob 0.591189
Full output

Nordic_MN_B 0.928±0.069
SWE_TRB 0.072±0.069
chisq 12.139
tail prob 0.516307
Full output

Nordic_LN 0.851±0.061
SWE_TRB 0.149±0.061
chisq 10.897
tail prob 0.619475
Full output

It's impossible to successfully model the ancestries of Nordic_MN_B and SWE_Battle_Axe simply with the populations that were living in Scandinavia before them. Therefore, it's likely that they were migrants or the recent descendants of migrants to Scandinavia. But there's nothing surprising about that, because they're archeologically associated with the Corded Ware culture (CWC), which has always been seen as intrusive to Scandinavia from the south and east.

Conversely, it's easy to produce statistically sound mixture models for both Nordic_LN and Nordic_BA exclusively with earlier Scandinavian populations. Indeed, based on the outgroups or right pops that I'm using, Nordic_LN is almost indistinguishable from Nordic_MN_B, and the same can be said of Nordic_BA in regards to Nordic_LN.

Of course, if I mixed and matched reference populations from across prehistoric Europe, I could probably come up with some spectacular statistical fits even without the need for any Scandinavians. Essentially that's because Nordic_LN and Nordic_BA are closely related to many earlier and contemporaneous peoples living all the way from the Atlantic facade to the Ural Mountains. My point, however, is that this isn't crucial, despite the dearth of ancient samples from Scandinavia.

This is how things look in a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of Northern European genetic variation based on my Global25 test. Strikingly, Nordic_MN_B, SWE_Battle_Axe, Nordic_LN and Nordic_BA more or less recapitulate the cluster made up of present-day Swedish samples. The relevant datasheet is available here.
Granted, two of the Nordic_BA samples sit just south of the Swedes, no doubt due to their slightly higher ratios of Neolithic farmer (SWE_TRB-related) ancestry, but this is also an area of the plot that many present-day Danes call home (not shown, because I don't have any suitable academic Danish samples to run).

I'll eat my hat if it turns out that Scandinavia experienced a major population shift (say, more than a collateral ~10%) during the LN and/or BA periods. And I'll post a clip of it online too.

See also...

The Trundholm sun chariot was found in a peat bog on the island of Zealand, Denmark, in 1902. It's thought to be an Indo-European religious artifact dating back to the Nordic Bronze Age; a representation of a horse pulling the sun and perhaps also the moon in a spoked wheel chariot. So one way or another it appears to be a reference to the Divine Twins mythos. Click on the image for more...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Fresh off the sledge

As things stand, the closest individual to a Proto-Uralic speaker in the ancient DNA record is arguably OLS10 from an Iron Age tarand grave in what is now Estonia. I say that because:

- isotopic data suggest that OLS10 wasn't born where he died, and considering his elevated Siberian ancestry relative to earlier and most contemporaneous Baltic ancients, he was very likely a migrant to the Baltic region from the east

- the tarand grave tradition appears to be specifically a Finnic (west Uralic) phenomenon that probably spread from the Volga-Oka region, which is just west of where most people place the Proto-Uralic homeland

- OLS10 belongs to Y-chromosome haplogroup N-L1026, a paternal marker that is especially closely associated with Uralic-speaking populations and probably only appeared in the East Baltic region during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age

You can find more background info about OLS10 and other relevant samples in Saag et al. 2019 (see here). This is where he sits in my Principal Component Analyses (PCA) focusing on fine scale Northern European genetic diversity. The relevant datasheets are available here and here, respectively.

Note that OLS10 doesn't cluster strongly with any ancient or modern populations. To investigate this in more detail I ran a series of two-way qpAdm analyses, testing tens of ancient individuals and populations as potential admixture sources. These two models stood out above the rest in terms of their statistical fits, chronology and overall plausibility.

Baltic_EST_BA 0.826±0.045
RUS_Sintashta_MLBA_o1 0.174±0.045

chisq 12.527
tail prob 0.564048
Full output

Baltic_EST_BA 0.683±0.102
RUS_Mezhovskaya 0.317±0.102

chisq 13.811
tail prob 0.463864
Full output

Please note that RUS_Sintashta_MLBA_o1 isn't representative of the Sintashta culture population as a whole. It's a group of the most extreme genetic outliers among the Sintashta samples, and they may or may not have been Uralic speakers (see here). Interestingly, the Mezhovskaya culture population is generally associated with the Ugric branch of the Uralic language family.

I was also able to closely replicate these results with the Global25/nMonte method; down to almost one per cent. However, the statistical fits (distances) are poor, probably because the reference populations aren't the real mixture sources. This is in line with the fact that their Y-haplogroups are Q1a, R1a and R1b, rather than any type of N.





I do realize that two Bronze Age samples from Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov, Kola Peninsula, belong to N-L1026, but adding them to my mixture models doesn't help. Little wonder, because the Kola Peninsula lies within the Arctic Circle, and I'm pretty sure that OLS10 and his N-L1026 came from somewhere just north of the mixture cline marked on the map below. Unfortunately, I can't test this directly yet due to the scarcity of ancient samples from this region.

See also...

It was always going to be this way

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

Uralic-specific genome-wide ancestry did make a signifcant impact in the East Baltic

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Uralic-specific genome-wide ancestry did make a signifcant impact in the East Baltic

I've started analyzing the ancient genotype data from the recent Saag et al. paper on the expansion of Uralic languages and associated spread of Siberian ancestry into the East Baltic region. The paper is freely available here and the data are here.

I really like the paper, but I don't agree with the authors' claim that the appearance of Y-chromosome haplogroup N in what is now Estonia and surrounds during the Iron Age is "not matched by a clear shift in autosomal profiles". In my opinion it certainly is, and, as one would expect, it's a shift towards a genetic profile typical of western Uralic speakers.

I'd say that the easiest way to find this signal is with a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) focusing on fine scale genetic substructures within Northern Europe, like the one below. The relevant datasheet is available here.

Note that the East Baltic Iron Age samples, all from burial sites in what is now Estonia, appear to be peeling away from their Bronze Age predecessors and overlapping strongly with present-day Estonians, who are Uralic speakers. Indeed, the PCA suggests to me that the formation of the greater part of the present-day Estonian gene pool took place in the East Baltic during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. That is, when Uralic languages are generally accepted to have arrived in the region from near the Ural Mountains in the east.

I was also able to closely replicate these outcomes with my Global25 data using the method described here. However, in this effort, present-day Estonians are clearly more western than the Estonian Iron Age samples (EST_IA), which might be due to the presence of low level Germanic ancestry in Estonia dating to the medieval period. The relevant datasheet is available here.

Interestingly, the Estonian Bronze Age samples (EST_BA) come from stone-cist graves which are widely hypothesized to have been introduced to the East Baltic from the Nordic Bronze Age civilization. I even recall reading a paper on the topic which claimed that the remains buried in such graves were those of Proto-Germanic-speaking Scandinavian migrants. Well, I haven't had a chance to study these samples in any great detail yet, but considering that in both of the PCA above they're overlapping strongly with Latvian Bronze Age samples (LVA_BA) and sitting far away from the nearest Scandinavians, I'd say they're probably of local stock from way back.

See also...

It was always going to be this way

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

Inferring the linguistic affinity of long dead and non-literate peoples: a multidisciplinary approach

Thursday, May 9, 2019

It was always going to be this way

The native peoples of the East Baltic - Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians - are genetically alike and their paternal gene pools are dominated by the same two Y-chromosome haplogroups: R1a and N3a.

Linguistically, however, Estonians are a world apart from Latvians and Lithuanians. That's because the Estonian language belongs to the Uralic language family, which has an obvious North Eurasian character. On the other hand, Latvian and Lithuanian are both classified as Indo-European languages, along with the vast majority of other European languages.

The Uralic and Indo-European language families may or may not descend from the same ancestral tongue, but even if they do, their relationship is very distant.

So how is it that Estonians came to speak a Uralic language? As far back as I can remember, the basic explanation accepted by most people was that Uralic speech arrived in what is now Estonia and neighboring Finland during the Bronze Age with migrants, or perhaps invaders, rich in N3a from somewhere around the Ural Mountains. Conversely, Latvians and Lithuanians were generally assumed to have retained the Indo-European speech of their R1a-rich forefathers from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, who colonized much of Eastern Europe north of the steppe during the Late Neolithic.

Ancient DNA has now uncannily corroborated these theories (for instance, see Mittnik et al. 2018 and, published today, Saag et al. 2019). All it took was a handful of samples from a few relevant sites. I think that's awesome; I love it when sensible, long-standing hypotheses are validated by cutting edge science.

I'll have a lot more to say about the spread of Uralic languages and Uralian genes to the East Baltic when I get my hands on the genotype data from the new Saag et al. paper. I also have a post coming soon about the Nordic Bronze Age. Stay tuned.

Update 10/05/2019: Uralic-specific genome-wide ancestry did make a signifcant impact in the East Baltic

See also...

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

Corded Ware people =/= Proto-Uralics (Tambets et al. 2018)

Inferring the linguistic affinity of long dead and non-literate peoples: a multidisciplinary approach

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The execution

Around 2,800 BCE, in what is now southern Poland, a family group of fifteen individuals associated with the Globular Amphora culture (GAC) were massacred. They were probably captured and executed, because each victim was killed with a blow to the head from the same type of weapon, possibly a stone axe, and lacked defensive wounds. The dead were mostly women and children. They were buried in a mass grave, but with great care and very likely by someone who knew them well.

This Late Neolithic mass grave is the focus of a new ancient DNA and archeological research paper at PNAS by Schroeder et al. (see here). The authors tentatively attribute the massacre to the Corded Ware culture (CWC) people, who were expanding rapidly at the time across much of Europe from their homeland on the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

The CWC people may or may not have been responsible; we'll never know for sure. The perpetrators could just as easily have been a competing GAC family group.

In any case, it's interesting to see that the GAC males belong to Y-chromosome haplogroup I2a-L801. This is today a rather uncommon subclade of I2, and almost exclusively found in Germanic-speaking populations, especially Scandinavians. To me this suggests that some Polish GAC males were incorporated into Indo-European-speaking CWC populations that ended up in Scandinavia, and their paternal lineages eventually became a part of the Proto-Germanic gene pool. Admittedly, though, that's just one of many possible scenarios.

See also...

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

Corded Ware people =/= Proto-Uralics (Tambets et al. 2018)

Inferring the linguistic affinity of long dead and non-literate peoples: a multidisciplinary approach

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Conan the Barbarian probably belonged to Y-haplogroup R1a

A fresh batch of Iron Age genomes from across the Eurasian steppe is about to be published along with a new paper at Current Biology. The manuscript, titled Shifts in the Genetic Landscape of the Western Eurasian Steppe Associated with the Beginning and End of the Scythian Dominance, is still under review but freely available here.

Most of the male ancients, including two Cimmerians from the North Pontic steppe, in what is now Ukraine, belong to Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a. Wasn't Conan the Barbarian supposed to be a Cimmerian? From the preprint, emphasis is mine:

The Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians have been described as a confederation of tribes of different origins, based on ancient DNA evidence [1-3]. It is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome sequences of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Steppe individuals including Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them, allowing us to set the Scythians in a temporal context (in the Western/Ponto-Caspian Steppe). We detect an increase of eastern (Altaian) affinity along with a decrease in Eastern Hunter-Gatherer (EHG) ancestry in the Early Iron Age Ponto- Caspian gene pool at the start of the Scythian dominance. On the other hand, samples of the Chernyakhiv culture postdating the Scythians in Ukraine have a significantly higher proportion of Near Eastern ancestry than other samples of this study. Our results agree with the Gothic source of the Chernyakhiv culture and support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance did involve a demic component.


Out of the 31 samples of this study, 16 are male, and with sufficient Y-chromosome coverage for haplogroup assignment (Table S2). R1a (43%) and I (27%) are the two most frequent Y- chromosome hgs in present-day Ukrainians [142]. R1a is also the predominant lineage among Cimmerians, Scy_Ukr and ScySar_SU in our data, and present among Scy_Kaz as well. Thus, although acknowledging our small sample size, the individuals sampled from archaeological context associated with Scythian identity do not appear to stand out from the context of other groups living in the region before and after them. One notable difference from the present is the absence of hg N, nowadays widespread in the Volga-Uralic region and West Siberia as well as among Mongols and Altaians [165-167]; however, this result is consistent with the absence of hg N among Bronze Age and Eneolithic males from the Steppe [168]. In context of their claimed Altaian homeland it is interesting to note that one Scy_Ukr and the single Sar_Cau sample belong to the Q1c-L332 lineage which is a sub-clade of hg Q1c-L330 that today has peak frequency of 68% in Western Mongolians [169] and occurs at 17% in South Altaians [170] while being very rare (<1%) in East European populations and absent elsewhere (

Järve et al., Shifts in the Genetic Landscape of the Western Eurasian Steppe Associated with the Beginning and End of the Scythian Dominance, Current Biology (preprint), Posted: 6 Mar 2019,

See also...

The mystery of the Sintashta people

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

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

Friday, May 3, 2019

Inferring the linguistic affinity of long dead and non-literate peoples: a multidisciplinary approach

Ancient DNA has treated us to many surprises in recent years. But it has also uncannily corroborated some well established hypotheses that were formulated decades ago from historical linguistics and archeological data. One such hypothesis is that the population associated with the Late Neolithic Corded Ware culture (CWC), and its myriad offshoots, spoke early Indo-European languages and spread them across much of Europe and into the Indian subcontinent.

Below is a series of figures in which I explain why the CWC and its likely close relative, the Sintashta culture, are widely regarded as early Indo-European-speaking cultures, even though their languages aren't attested. To view the images at their maximum size, right click on the thumbs and choose "open link in a new tab".

It's a damn shame that we still don't know where the modern domesticated horse lineage ultimately came from. I'm pretty sure that it came from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, but I was hoping this would be confirmed in the latest paper on horse genomics published today at Current Biology: Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series. Nope, the topic wasn't even covered, and no wonder, because the sampling strategy in the paper didn't allow it to be. What we desperately need are samples associated with such archeological cultures as Khvalynsk, Repin, Sredny Stog and Yamnaya. Maybe next time, eh?

See also...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Some myths die hard

Ancient DNA tells us that the Bronze Age wasn't kind to the indigenous populations of Central Asia. It seems to have wiped them out totally. Indeed, Central Asia might well be the only major world region in which native hunter-gatherers failed to make a perceptible impact on the genetics of any extant populations.

Before the Neolithic transition, much of Central Asia was home to hunter-gatherers closely related to those of nearby western Siberia. During the Neolithic, agriculturalists and pastoralists from the Near East gradually moved into the more arable parts of southern and eastern Central Asia, eventually giving rise to the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex, or BMAC, and other similar communities.

It's not clear what their relationship was like with the native hunter-gatherers in these areas. But they did mix with them in varying degrees. This is obvious because genome-wide genetic ancestry characteristic of the Botai people, who hunted and eventually domesticated horses on the Kazakh steppe during the 4th millennium BCE, and were probably the archetypal Central Asians for their time, is found at significant levels in a number of later samples from Central Asian farmer and pastoralist sites, such as Dali, Gonur Tepe and Sarazm.

Thus, even though the Neolithic transition did have a big impact on Central Asia, and clearly led to large scale population replacements in some parts of the region, this was just the beginning of these population shifts. Moreover, in some cases the expanding farmer and pastoralist populations seem to have acquired significant indigenous Central Asian ancestry and spread it with them.

The precise geographic extent of the relatively unique Botai-related ancestry in prehistoric Eurasia is still something of a mystery. But to give you a general picture of where it was found from around 6,000 BCE to 2,000 BCE, here's a map with info about samples with significant levels of this type of ancestry from a wide range of sites in space and time.

Going by this map, I'd say it's safe to infer that the Botai-related ancestry was a major feature of practically all forager populations living between the Caspian Sea and the Altai Mountains. It was also present in the Early Bronze Age (EBA) pastoralist population associated with the Steppe Maykop archeological culture of Eastern Europe, so it may have already been in Europe as early as 3,800 BCE, because that's when the Steppe Maykop culture first appeared.

It's an interesting question where the ancestors of the Steppe Maykop herders came from. I once simply assumed that they were closely related to the Maykop people who lived in the Caucasus Mountains. But it's now clear that the populations associated with these two similar cultures were starkly different, with the Maykop people being basically of Near Eastern origin and lacking any discernible Botai-like ancestry. My guess for now is that the Steppe Maykop herders were in large part the descendants of the Kelteminar culture population from just east of the Caspian Sea, but we'll see about that when more ancient DNA comes in.

The other great mystery is what eventually happened to the Steppe Maykop people. Around 3,000 BCE, their culture vanished from the archeological record and their particular genetic signature disappeared from the steppe ancient DNA record. Where did they go? Did they migrate back east?

I don't know, but at about that time other Eastern European steppe herders, those associated with the Yamnaya and Corded Ware archeological cultures, began to stir and migrate in big numbers in basically all directions, including into Steppe Maykop territory. Indeed, unlike the Steppe Maykop population, these groups weren't closely related to any contemporaneous or earlier Central Asians. But they ended up moving into Central Asia, and in a big way too.

Their impact all the way from the Ural Mountains to what are now China and India was profound. For instance, not only did they end up totally replacing the Botai people, but also their horses. For more details on this topic check out the Youtube clip here. I have a strong suspicion that the same sort of thing happened to the aforementioned Steppe Maykop people. In other words, they may have been forced out from the Eastern European steppe, and perhaps sought shelter in the Caucasus Mountains?

Admittedly, I'm not offering anything new here. I just wanted to emphasize a few key points, because I'm still seeing some confusion online about the population history of Central Asia, and especially how it relates to the population history of Europe, and also the Proto-Indo-European homeland question. Make no mistake, thanks to the ancient DNA already available from Central Asia, we can confidently infer the following:

- the chance that the ancient European populations associated with the Yamnaya, Corded Ware and other closely related archeological cultures formed as a result of migrations from Central Asia is zero

- the chance that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was located in Central Asia is zero

- the chance that present-day Europeans, by and large, derive from any ancient Central Asian populations is zero

See also...

Central Asia as the PIE urheimat? Forget it

The Steppe Maykop enigma

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

R1b-M269 in the Bronze Age Levant

The new Harvard genotype datasets that I blogged about recently include a couple of potentially very useful samples from the Levant dated to 1400-1100 BCE. Search for IDs I2062 and I1934 in the anno files here. They're both from an archeological paper about a Late Bronze Age (LBA) burial site in what is now Israel that was published back in 2017 (see here).

Surprisingly, individual I2062 is listed in the anno files as belonging to Y-haplogroup R1b1a1a2, which is also known as R1b-M269. The reason that this is a surprise to me is because R1b-M269 is closely associated with the Bronze Age expansions of pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe, and these expansions didn't impact the Levant in any direct or significant way.

The Y-haplogroup assignment may or may not be correct. Sometimes the Y-haplogroups in these sorts of datasheets are indeed wrong. Unfortunately, as far as I know, the BAM file for I2062 isn't available anywhere online, so I can't check whether he does really belong to R1b-M269. But, intriguingly, his autosomes do show a subtle signal of Yamnaya-related ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian steppe that is missing in earlier ancients from the Levant.

To characterize his genome-wide ancestry, I first ran a series of unsupervised and supervised analyses with the Global25/nMonte3 method (using this datasheet). For the sake of simplicity, I narrowed things down to the mixture models below based on three reference populations each. Levant_ISR_C is made up of Chalcolithic samples from Israel. The identities of the other reference sets should be obvious to most readers. If confused, feel free to ask for more details in the comments below.


[1] distance%=1.8905


[1] distance%=2.0856


[1] distance%=2.1738

To further confirm the reliability of my models, I tested them with the formal statistics-based qpAdm software. As far as I can tell, the output from qpAdm looks very solid across the board.

IRN_Seh_Gabi_C 0.193±0.052
Levant_ISR_C 0.710±0.038
Yamnaya_RUS_Samara 0.098±0.026

chisq 9.304
tail prob 0.67676
Full output

Kura-Araxes_ARM_Kaps 0.249±0.076
Levant_ISR_C 0.681±0.051
Yamnaya_RUS_Samara 0.071±0.035

chisq 11.101
tail prob 0.52032
Full output

Levant_ISR_C 0.661±0.042
Kura-Araxes_RUS_Velikent 0.339±0.042

chisq 7.979
tail prob 0.844942
Full output

Admittedly, even though I2062 can be modeled with Yamnaya-related admixture, he doesn't need to be. Indeed, his ratio of this type of ancestry varies significantly between the models, from around 10% to nothing. This appears to be dependent on the geography of the non-Levant and non-Yamnaya reference populations; the closer they are to the Pontic-Caspian steppe, the smaller the ratio of Yamnaya-related ancestry in I2062. I'd describe this as an artifact of the isolation-by-distance phenomenon, and it totally makese sense, but it prevents me from confirming beyond any doubt that I2062 does harbor genome-wide steppe ancestry. Unfortunately, individual I1934 doesn't offer enough data to be analyzed with the same methods.

Samples associated with the Kura-Araxes or Early Transcaucasian culture are particularly strong references for the eastern ancestry in I2062. This probably isn't a coincidence, and it might also explain his Y-haplogroup, because, at its maximum extent, the territory occupied by the Kura-Araxes culture stretched all the way from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to the southern Levant. The map below is from Wilkinson 2014.

By the way, what's the chance that I2062 is an awesome proxy for the earliest Jews? I reckon it's pretty good, considering that Samaritans from Israel are his closest present-day population in terms of genome-wide affinity. Who wants to test this theory with the Global25? If I see some good stuff in the comments I'll post it here in an update.

See also...

Downloadable genotypes of present-day and ancient DNA data

Early chariot riders of Transcaucasia came from...

R-V1636: Eneolithic steppe > Kura-Araxes?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Early chariot riders of Transcaucasia came from...

I'm finding it increasingly difficult nowadays to fully appreciate all of the ancient DNA samples that are accumulating in my dataset. But it's not entirely my fault.

Among the hundreds of ancient samples published last year there was a couple of Middle Bronze Age (MBA) individuals from what is now Armenia labeled "Lchashen Metsamor" (see here). I wasn't planning to do much with these samples because, even after reading the Nature paper that they came with a couple times over, I didn't have a clue what they were about. But after some digging around, I now know that their people, those associated with the Lchashen Metsamor archeological culture, were among the earliest in Transcaucasia, and indeed the Near East, to use the revolutionary spoked-wheel horse chariot. How awesome is that?

The invention of the spoked-wheel chariot is generally credited to the Middle Bronze Age Sintashta culture of the Trans-Ural steppe in Central Asia, and its rapid spread is often associated with the early expansions of Indo-European languages deep into Asia. On the other hand, some have argued that this type of chariot was first developed in the Near East, and directly derived from solid-wheeled wagons pulled by donkeys.

It's now obvious, thanks to ancient DNA, that the Sintashta people were by and large migrants to Central Asia from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and that they didn't harbor any recent ancestry from the Near East. So if chariot technology spread into the steppes from the Near East, then it did so without any accompanying gene flow, which is possible but not entirely convincing. This begs the question of whether the Lchashen Metsamor population was of Sintashta-related origin, because if it was, then this would corroborate the consensus that spoked-wheel chariots were introduced into Transcaucasia from the steppes to the north.

Below is a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of West Eurasian genetic variation. It does suggest that the Lchashen Metsamor pair (labeled Armenia_MBA_Lchashen), as well as most of the other currently available samples from what is now Armenia dating to the Middle to Late Bronze Age (MLBA), harbor some steppe ancestry. That's because they appear to form a cline between samples associated with the Sintashta and Kura-Araxes cultures. Of course, the Kura-Araxes culture was a major Early Bronze Age (EBA) archeological phenomenon centered on Transcaucasia and surrounds, so its population can be reasonably assumed to have formed the genetic base of most subsequent populations in the region. The relevant PCA datasheet is available here.

To investigate the possibility of Sintashta-related admixture in Lchashen Metsamor with formal methods, I ran a series of mixture models with the qpAdm software. Here are the three statistically most sound outcomes that I was able to come up with for Lchashen Metsamor:

CWC_Kuyavia 0.183±0.036
Kura-Araxes_Kaps 0.817±0.036
chisq 13.941
tail prob 0.378021
Full output

Balkans_BA_I2163 0.193±0.045
Kura-Araxes_Kaps 0.807±0.045

chisq 14.780
tail prob 0.321267
Full output

Kura-Araxes_Kaps 0.788±0.043
Sintashta_MLBA 0.212±0.043

chisq 14.871
tail prob 0.315451
Full output

I sorted the output by "tail prob", but the fact that Sintashta_MLBA is in third place isn't a problem because the stats in all of these models are basically identical. Indeed, CWC_Kuyavia (Corded Ware culture samples from present-day Kuyavia, North-Central Poland) and Balkans_BA_I2163 (a Bronze Age singleton from what is now Bulgaria) are both very similar and probably closely related to each other and to the Sintashta samples.

Interestingly, and, I'd say, importantly, ancients from the steppe that are closest to Lchashen Metsamor in both space and time, but not particularly closely related to the Sintashta people, don't work too well as a mixture source in such models.

Kubano-Tersk 0.184±0.046
Kura-Araxes_Kaps 0.816±0.046

chisq 22.179
tail prob 0.0526526
Full output

A couple of months ago I suggested that populations associated with the Early to Middle Bronze Age (EMBA) Catacomb culture were the vector for the spread of steppe ancestry into what is now Armenia during the MLBA (see here). After taking a closer look at the Lchashen Metsamor samples, I now think that the peoples of the Sintashta and related cultures were also important in this process. If so, they may have moved from the steppe into Transcaucasia both from the west via the Balkans and the east via Central Asia, and brought with them spoked-wheel chariots. I don't have a clue what language they spoke, but I'm guessing that it may have been something Indo-European.

See also...

The mystery of the Sintashta people

A potentially violent end to the Kura-Araxes Culture (Alizadeh et al. 2018)

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