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Monday, June 24, 2019

Genetic substructures and adaptations in Lithuanians (Urnikyte et al. 2019)

Over at Scientific Reports at this LINK. Apparently, the genotype data from this paper will be available at figshare in just over three months (see here). Among other things, the paper makes some interesting points about the relationship between the genetic ancestry of Lithuanians and their language:

When combining the new data we generated with external datasets, we confirmed that Lithuanians locate within the expected European context, even though they also present particular genetic distinctiveness when compared to neighbouring populations. In addition, the inclusion of ancient individuals from different periods across western Eurasia in the analysis allowed us to distinguish the genetic signature of three main prehistorical sources shaping the distinctiveness of present-day Lithuanians: pre-Neolithic HG groups, the Early to Middle Bronze Age Steppe pastoralists and Late Neolithic Bronze Age (LNBA) Europeans. Moreover, up to three HG populations can be inferred to contribute to the main genetic component identified the Lithuanians being the contribution of the WHG and the Scandinavian HG greater than that of the EHG. On the contrary, earlier European Neolithic movements from Levant/Anatolia known to contribute to genetically differentiated populations in Europe such as Sardinians or Basques are not especially predominant in Lithuania.

Partial genetic isolation of the Lithuanians is a possible explanation for the structure results observed. Until the late Middle Ages, the eastern Baltic region was one of the most isolated corners of Europe [27]. Moreover, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the eastern Baltic region was spared by the subsequent population movements of the Migration Period [26,28], which allowed the most archaic of all the living speaking Indo-European languages [1] to survive. Thus, Lithuanians could retain their cultural identity.

Urnikyte et al., Patterns of genetic structure and adaptive positive selection in the Lithuanian population from high-density SNP data, Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 9163 (2019), DOI:

See also...

Fresh off the sledge

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

It was always going to be this way

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Not Bell Beaker, not Corded Ware, but...the SGBR complex

I'd be very grateful if someone could explain to me what this new paper at the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society journal was actually about.


Furholt, Martin, Re-integrating Archaeology: A Contribution to aDNA Studies and the Migration Discourse on the 3rd Millennium BC in Europe, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, Published online: 10 June 2019, DOI:

See also...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Genetic continuity across the millennia in central Poland

Apparently, ancient DNA and anthropological research on the populations of what is now central Poland suggests strong genetic continuity in the region since the Neolithic or even Mesolithic. Science in Poland has a news feature about the soon to be published study (see here). Below are a few quotes from the article. Emphasis is mine:

How were the people in Poland changing over the centuries, from the early Middle Ages to the 19th century? Did the Slavs migrate to our territories, or are they indigenous? The 3D scanning project and digital access to skulls, skeletons and DNA from human remains from central Poland is expected to help answer these questions.


Research shows that the shape of the cerebral part of the skull has changed over the centuries - people in the early Middle Ages had more elongated heads. This interesting phenomenon has not been fully explained yet. "There are many theories on this subject, but it is not known whether this was a microevolutionary genetic change, or perhaps an environmentally conditioned one, associated with a reconstruction of the skull as a consequence of the chewing apparatus being relieved" - he adds.

Researchers are also trying to assess the level of diversity of the population living in the territory of present-day Poland during that period and whether migrants from other areas of Europe, for example from Scandinavia, appeared here. "There is the topic of participation of Scandinavian groups in the creation of the Polish State. Such groups indeed penetrated Poland, they could be hired warriors. But I think that, for example, we can probably put aside the hypothesis that Mieszko I was Scandinavian" - the researcher says.

The features, the variability of which anthropologists study, include the height of the body. We already know that, for example, people in the early Middle Ages in Poland were relatively tall, similar to Poles in the 1960s. Later there was a clear decline in body height, lasting until the 19th century.


There are already first conclusions from the research of the team from the Biobank Laboratory and the Department of Anthropology. The researchers believe that in the case of the population living in Kujawy there was a surprisingly strong genetic continuity, dating back to the time of the first farmers, 7.5 thousand years ago.

"It seems that we are dealing with an interesting genetic continuation in the population living in Kujawy from the early Middle Ages to the 19th century. The roots of these populations probably reach the Neolithic, perhaps even the Mesolithic" - the scientist suggests.

Source: 3D scans of skulls and a collection of ancient DNA will be available on the information platform

See also...

They came, they saw, and they mixed

Saturday, June 1, 2019

They came, they saw, and they mixed

Y-chromosome haplogroup N is strongly associated with Uralic-speaking populations. That's probably because it was a salient feature of the gene pool of the earliest Uralic speakers, and it went with them as they migrated across northern Eurasia. However, some of its younger subclades appear to have spread with the speakers of Indo-European and Turkic languages.

For instance, N-Y10931 seems to be a marker of the Rurikids, a Varangian dynasty that, according to most sources, ruled the Kievan Rus in what are now Russia and Ukraine. And the Kievan Rus was a lose medieval political federation in which Slavic, Finnic (west Uralic) and Germanic languages were probably spoken. The latest on the genetic genealogy of the Rurikids was presented a couple of days ago at the Centenary of Human Population Genetics conference in Moscow, and there's an abstract of the talk available here (download the PDF and scroll down to page 84).

I'm not aware of any Rurikids among the thousands of ancients in my dataset, or even of any samples belonging to N-Y10931. But I do have the genome of someone who belongs to N-Y4339, which, as per the abstract linked to above, is proximally ancestral to N-Y10931. Not only does this person come from Viking Age Scandinavia, but he was buried in a crouched position typical of Slavic funerary customs of the time.

The individual in question is vik_84001. His genome was published recently along with a paper on the population structure of the Swedish town of Sigtuna way back when it was a Viking stronghold (see here). This is where his Y-chromosome sequence, labeled ERS2540883, is positioned on the YFull Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree. Click on the image to go to YFull.

However, the result is likely to be compromised to some extent by missing data. If so, it's possible that vik_84001 does indeed belong to N-Y10931 and ought to be sitting near or even among that cluster of Russian samples (Rurik descendants?) at the bottom of the page.

In any case, vik_84001 seems to be the closest individual in the ancient DNA record to a Rurikid. The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) below is based on my Global25 test. It features 13 other Viking Age individuals from Sigtuna alongside vik_84001 (look for the black dots). Interestingly, despite his eastern Y-haplogroup, vik_84001 is one of the few Sigtuna ancients who clusters strongly with present-day Swedes.
But here's what happens when I model his ancestry proportions with the Global25/nMonte method using a wide range of reference populations from Northern and Eastern Europe. The Swedes in this model are the same as those in the PCA.



[1] "distance%=2.3778"

Yep, despite his position in the PCA, vik_84001 shows a strong signal of ancestry related to the present-day populations of northwestern Russia. I'm not sure what this means exactly, but it's certainly fascinating stuff. And, by the way, I usually wouldn't use so many similar reference populations in a single Global25/nMonte model because of the problem of "overfitting", but in some cases it's OK to do so if the nMonte algorithm has enough recent genetic drift to latch onto.

See also...

More on the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

Fresh off the sledge

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

It was always going to be this way

Conan the Barbarian probably belonged to Y-haplogroup R1a

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

North African ancestry in a British Bell Beaker?

A new thesis uploaded to the University of Huddersfield Repository suggests that there might be "Near Eastern/North African ancestry in a Bell Beaker individual from northeastern England" (see here).

If true, this wouldn't be a shocking outcome, but certainly an interesting one. Do any of the British Beakers in the Global25 datasheets show this type of ancestry?

See also...

A Bell Beaker superhighway

The Boscombe Bowmen

Migration of the Bell Beakers—but not from Iberia (Olalde et al. 2018)

Friday, May 24, 2019

More on the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

Genes don't speak languages, people do. Thus, associations between genetic markers and languages may often not be easy to discern, especially with time. This is the case when it comes to Y-chromosome haplogroup N and the Hungarian language.

I briefly discussed this problem not long ago in the context of new ancient DNA samples from medieval Hungary (see here). Today, a detailed paper on the topic by Post et al. was published at Scientific Reports (open access here). It brings together evidence from modern and ancient DNA, linguistics and archeology to argue that Hungarian was introduced into the Carpathian Basin during the Middle Ages by migrants from near the Ural Mountains rich in Y-haplogroup N3a4-B539. Below is the paper abstract, emphasis is mine:

Hungarians who live in Central Europe today are one of the westernmost Uralic speakers. Despite of the proposed Volga-Ural/West Siberian roots of the Hungarian language, the present-day Hungarian gene pool is highly similar to that of the surrounding Indo-European speaking populations. However, a limited portion of specific Y-chromosomal lineages from haplogroup N, sometimes associated with the spread of Uralic languages, link modern Hungarians with populations living close to the Ural Mountain range on the border of Europe and Asia. Here we investigate the paternal genetic connection between these spatially separated populations. We reconstruct the phylogeny of N3a4-Z1936 clade by using 33 high-coverage Y-chromosomal sequences and estimate the coalescent times of its sub-clades. We genotype close to 5000 samples from 46 Eurasian populations to show the presence of N3a4-B539 lineages among Hungarians and in the populations from Ural Mountain region, including Ob-Ugric-speakers from West Siberia who are geographically distant but linguistically closest to Hungarians. This sub-clade splits from its sister-branch N3a4-B535, frequent today among Northeast European Uralic speakers, 4000–5000 ya, which is in the time-frame of the proposed divergence of Ugric languages.

Post et al., Y-chromosomal connection between Hungarians and geographically distant populations of the Ural Mountain region and West Siberia, Scientific Reports 9, Article number: 7786 (2019), DOI:

See also...

Fresh off the sledge

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

It was always going to be this way

On the trail of the Proto-Uralic speakers (work in progress)

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

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