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Friday, September 17, 2021

Lizard Gorge


I was hiking through one of my favorite wilderness areas the other day. I call this place Lizard Gorge because it's full of monitor lizards that strut around like they own it.

Just a few minutes into my hike I noticed some birds going crazy atop a massive, hollow tree. They were calling loudly as if a predator was near, and, sure enough, when I peered into this tree I saw two monitors tearing apart the carcass of a large animal.

It was a gory but fascinating sight. Unfortunately, the stench made it difficult to bear, so I decided to move on.

As I backed away I was attacked by a swarm of insects. Initially, in my panic, I thought they were spiders, but on closer inspection they turned out to be gigantic ants.

I was bitten on the hand, arm and neck. It hurt like hell. The bite on the neck was especially painful. Were these ants venomous? Was I at risk of a dangerous allergic reaction? I didn't know, so I ran, seemingly for my life.

After a few minutes, however, the pain went away. I sat down beside a creek, looked all around for ants, and had a cool drink. Despite my ordeal, it was an awesome hike, and I managed to get some great pics. Enjoy!

See also...

Eagle country

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Yamnaya people drank horse milk (Wilkin et al. 2021)


Over at Nature at this LINK. I'm guessing the claim that Yamnaya pastoralists lived in Scandinavia is a huge typo. Obviously, the authors are referring to the people of the Corded Ware culture (CWC). From the paper:

During the Early Bronze Age, populations of the western Eurasian steppe expanded across an immense area of northern Eurasia. Combined archaeological and genetic evidence supports widespread Early Bronze Age population movements out of the Pontic–Caspian steppe that resulted in gene flow across vast distances, linking populations of Yamnaya pastoralists in Scandinavia with pastoral populations (known as the Afanasievo) far to the east in the Altai Mountains1,2 and Mongolia3. Although some models hold that this expansion was the outcome of a newly mobile pastoral economy characterized by horse traction, bulk wagon transport4,5,6 and regular dietary dependence on meat and milk5, hard evidence for these economic features has not been found. Here we draw on proteomic analysis of dental calculus from individuals from the western Eurasian steppe to demonstrate a major transition in dairying at the start of the Bronze Age. The rapid onset of ubiquitous dairying at a point in time when steppe populations are known to have begun dispersing offers critical insight into a key catalyst of steppe mobility. The identification of horse milk proteins also indicates horse domestication by the Early Bronze Age, which provides support for its role in steppe dispersals. Our results point to a potential epicentre for horse domestication in the Pontic–Caspian steppe by the third millennium bc, and offer strong support for the notion that the novel exploitation of secondary animal products was a key driver of the expansions of Eurasian steppe pastoralists by the Early Bronze Age.

Wilkin, S., Ventresca Miller, A., Fernandes, R. et al. Dairying enabled Early Bronze Age Yamnaya steppe expansions. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03798-4

See also...

On the origin of the Corded Ware people

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The genomic formation of modern Balkan peoples (Olalde et al. 2021 preprint)


Over at bioRxiv at this LINK. This preprint deals with some very complex issues, so I can't say much about it until I have a good look at the relevant genotype data. However, for now, my impression is that the authors have oversimplified the genetic origins of most Balkan peoples.

For instance, they model the present-day Greek population as a two way mixture between ancient Greeks from a Greek colony in Iberia and present-day Mordovians. The Mordovians are basically a proxy for the Slavs who moved into the Balkans during the Medieval period.

However, the problem is that, strictly speaking, this isn't a historically plausible model, because Mordovians are actually a Uralic-speaking group from the Volga region with significant Siberian ancestry. Needless to say, it's extremely unlikely that anyone like them had an appreciable impact on the present-day Greek gene pool.

So instead I'd like to see the authors try three-way and four-way models with ancients from Mycenae, Anatolia and some places (well to the west of the Volga River) likely to have been inhabited by early Slavs.

Feel free to let me know what you think about this preprint in the comments below. Here's the abstract:

The Roman Empire expanded through the Mediterranean shores and brought human mobility and cosmopolitanism across this inland sea to an unprecedented scale. However, if this was also common at the Empire frontiers remains undetermined. The Balkans and Danube River were of strategic importance for the Romans acting as an East-West connection and as a defense line against “barbarian” tribes. We generated genome-wide data from 70 ancient individuals from present-day Serbia dated to the first millennium CE; including Viminacium, capital of Moesia Superior province. Our analyses reveal large scale-movements from Anatolia during Imperial rule, similar to the pattern observed in Rome, and cases of individual mobility from as far as East Africa. Between ∼250-500 CE, we detect gene-flow from Central/Northern Europe harboring admixtures of Iron Age steppe groups. Tenth-century CE individuals harbored North-Eastern European-related ancestry likely associated to Slavic-speakers, which contributed >20% of the ancestry of today’s Balkan people.

Olalde et al., Cosmopolitanism at the Roman Danubian Frontier, Slavic Migrations, and the Genomic Formation of Modern Balkan Peoples, bioRxiv, posted August 31, 2021, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.30.458211

See also...

A Greek tragedy

Friday, August 27, 2021

R1a vs R1b in third millennium BCE central Europe (Papac et al. 2021)


R1a-M417 and R1b-L51 are by far the most important Y-chromosome haplogroups in Europe today. More precisely, R1a-M417 dominates in Eastern Europe, while R1b-L51 in Western Europe.

It's been obvious for a while now, at least to me, that both of these Y-haplogroups are closely associated with the men of the Late Neolithic Corded Ware culture (CWC). Indeed, in my mind they're the main genetic signals of its massive expansion, probably from a homeland somewhere north of the Black Sea in what is now Ukraine.

I'm still not exactly sure how the east/west dichotomy between R1a and R1b emerged in Europe, but, thanks to a new paper by Papac et al. at Science Advances, at least now I have a working hypothesis about that. Below is a quote from the said paper, emphasis is mine:

In addition to autosomal genetic changes through time, we observe a sharp reduction in Y-chromosomal diversity going from five different lineages in early CW to a dominant (single) lineage in late CW (Fig. 4A). We used forward simulations to explore the demographic scenarios that could account for the observed reduction in Y-chromosomal diversity. Performing 1 million simulations of a population with a starting frequency of R1a-M417(xZ645) centered around the observed starting frequency in Bohemia_CW_Early (3 of 11, 0.27), we assessed the plausibility of this lineage reaching the observed frequency in Bohemia_CW_Late (10 of 11, 0.91) in the time frame of 500 years under a model of a closed population and random mating (Materials and Methods). We reject the “neutral” hypothesis, i.e., that this change in frequency occurred by chance, given a wide range of plausible population sizes. Instead, our results suggest that R1a-M417(xZ645) was subject to a nonrandom increase in frequency, resulting in these males having 15.79% (4.12 to 44.42%) more surviving offspring per generation relative to males of other Y-haplogroups. We also find that this change in Y chromosome frequency is extreme compared to the changes in allele frequencies at fully covered autosomal 1240k sites within the same males, suggesting a process that disproportionately affected Y-chromosomal compared to autosomal genetic diversity, ruling out a population bottleneck as the likely cause. Our results suggest that the Y-lineage diversity in early CW males was supplanted by a nonrandom process [selection, social structure, or influx of nonlocal R1a-M417(xZ645) lineages] that drove the collapse in Y-chromosomal diversity. A simultaneous decline of Y-chromosomal diversity dating to the Neolithic has been observed across most extant Y-haplogroups (64), possibly due to increased conflict between male-mediated patrilines (65). We view that changes in social structure (e.g., an isolated mating network with strictly exclusive social norms) could be an alternative cause but would be difficult to distinguish in the underlying model parameters.

Right, so even though the CWC was clearly a community of closely related groups, there must have been some competition between its different clans. And since these clans were highly patriarchal and patrilineal, this competition probably led to different paternal lineages dominating different parts of the CWC horizon, with M417 becoming especially common in the east and L51 in the west.

Of course, the expansions of post-Corded Ware groups, such as the M417-rich Slavs in Eastern Europe and L51-rich Celts in Western Europe, were also instrumental in creating Europe's R1a/R1b dichotomy, but obviously these groups were in large part the heirs of the CWC.

By the way, most of the samples from Papac et al. are already in the Global25 datasheets linked here. Look for the labels listed here. Below is a plot made from the Global25 data courtesy of regular commentator Matt.
Citation: L. Papac, M. Ernée, M. Dobeš, M. Langová, A. B. Rohrlach, F. Aron, G. U. Neumann, M. A. Spyrou, N. Rohland, P. Velemínský, M. Kuna, H. Brzobohatá, B. Culleton, D. Daněček, A. Danielisová, M. Dobisíková, J. Hložek, D. J. Kennett, J. Klementová, M. Kostka, P. Krištuf, M. Kuchařík, J. K. Hlavová, P. Limburský, D. Malyková, L. Mattiello, M. Pecinovská, K. Petriščáková, E. Průchová, P. Stránská, L. Smejtek, J. Špaček, R. Šumberová, O. Švejcar, M. Trefný, M. Vávra, J. Kolář, V. Heyd, J. Krause, R. Pinhasi, D. Reich, S. Schiffels, W. Haak, Dynamic changes in genomic and social structures in third millennium BCE central Europe. Sci. Adv. 7, eabi6941 (2021).

See also...

On the origin of the Corded Ware people

Understanding the Eneolithic steppe

Conan the Barbarian probably belonged to Y-haplogroup R1a

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

On the origin of the Corded Ware people


There's been a lot of talk lately about the finding that the peoples associated with the Corded Ware and Yamnaya archeological cultures were close cousins (for instance, see here). As I've already pointed out, this is an interesting discovery, but, at this stage, it's difficult to know what it means exactly.

It might mean that the Yamnayans were the direct predecessors of the Corded Ware people. Or it might just mean that, at some point, the Corded Ware and Yamnaya populations swapped women regularly (that is, they practiced female exogamy with each other).

In any case, I feel that several important facts aren't being taken into account by most of the interested parties. These facts include, in no particular order:

- despite being closely related, the Corded Ware and Yamnaya peoples were highly adapted to very different ecological zones - temperate forests and arid steppes, respectively - and this is surely not something that happened within a few years and probably not even within a couple of generations

- both the Corded Ware and Yamnaya populations expanded widely and rapidly at around the same time, but never got in each others way, probably because they occupied very different ecological niches

- despite sharing the R1b Y-chromosome haplogroup, their paternal origins were quite different, with Corded Ware males rich in R1a-M417 and R1b-L51 and Yamnaya males rich in R1b-Z2103 and I2a-L699

I suppose it's possible that the Corded Ware people were overwhelmingly and directly derived from the Yamnaya population. But right now my view is that, even if they were, then the Yamnaya population that they came from was quite different from the classic, R1b-Z2103-rich Yamnaya that spread rapidly across the steppes.

Indeed, perhaps what we're dealing with here is a very early (proto?) Yamnaya gene pool located somewhere in the border zone between the forests and the steppes, that then split into two main sub-populations, with one of these groups heading north and the other south?

I do wonder what David Anthony would say if he was made aware of the above mentioned facts? Then again, perhaps he's already aware of them, and simply chose to ignore them when formulating his latest theory about the origin of the Corded Ware people?

See also...


Monday, June 28, 2021

The PIE homeland controversy: June 2021 status report


Archeologist David Anthony has made several appearances online recently to promote his theories about the origins of the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures and peoples.

In a clip on Youtube he reiterated his theory that the so called Iranian-related ancestry in the Yamnaya people actually came from what is now Iran, and, more precisely, that it was carried by hunter-gatherers who travelled relatively rapidly from the South Caspian region into the Volga Delta in what is now Russia.

It's still a complete mystery to me as to why a group of hunter-gatherers from the South Caspian would undertake such a migration, instead of, say, expanding their range gradually over thousands of years, first into the Caucasus and eventually into Eastern Europe.

But there's a more serious problem with Anthony's theory: it contradicts the currently available ancient DNA. That's because the so called Iranian-related ancestry in the Yamnaya people is most closely related to the Kotias and Satsurblia hunter-gatherers from what is now Georgia, and these hunter-gatherers form a separate clade from the earliest samples from what is now Iran. For instance, see here and here.

Also, in a podcast on Razib's blog, Anthony doubled down on his theory that Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a was closely associated with Yamnaya plebs who were excluded from Kurgan burials, and, as a result, their remains haven't yet been sampled.

At least this theory isn't yet contradicted by ancient DNA, but it's more complicated and less parsimonious than my theory, which posits that R1a, or rather R1a-M417, was simply a very rare lineage in the Yamnaya population, and that it only became a common and widespread marker thanks to the Corded Ware expansion (see here).

Intriguingly, my understanding is that there are several unpublished R1a samples from the Caspian and Volga steppes at Harvard's David Reich Lab that have been classified by its scientists as Yamnaya outliers. Of course, Anthony is collaborating on at least one major paper with this lab (see here).

Ergo, I strongly suspect that Anthony's theory is in part based on these Yamnaya outliers. However, I also believe that these samples are wrongly dated and probably represent Scythians and/or Sarmatians. I'll be able to look into that if they're ever published.

Speaking of the David Reich Lab, its leading scientists, David Reich and Nick Patterson, have also made appearances online recently, on Youtube and Razib's blog, respectively, to reveal that the Corded Ware and Yamnaya peoples aren't just very similar genetically, but in fact close cousins.

This is a very interesting finding. Apparently it's based on a relatively high level of Identity-by-Descent (IBD) segment sharing between Corded Ware and Yamnaya samples, but that's all I know. I'm guessing that the relevant paper is coming soon (that is, within the next five years).

However, the long-standing question that the readers of this blog want to see answered is not whether the Corded Ware and Yamnaya peoples are close cousins, but whether Yamnaya migrants founded the Corded Ware culture. The obvious way to prove that they did is to find at least one ancient population unambiguously classified as part of the Yamnaya horizon that is rich in the typically Corded Ware Y-haplogroups R1a-M417 and R1b-L151.

See also...

On the origin of the Corded Ware people

The PIE homeland controversy: January 2019 status report

The PIE homeland controversy: August 2019 status report

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Balto-Slavic drift


A few years ago I began using the term "Balto-Slavic genetic drift" to describe the fine-scale genetic signal that is shared by the speakers of Baltic and Slavic languages to the exclusion of Europeans without significant Balto-Slavic ancestry.

As a result, nowadays, many people online use the term "Balto-Slavic drift" when referring to this phenomenon.

The easiest way to prove that Balto-Slavic drift exists is to run a fine-scale Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of European genetic variation with a lot of Balto-Slavic samples in the mix. Indeed, my Global25 PCA analysis does a great job of illustrating the impact of Balto-Slavic drift on the population structure of Europe both in PCA plots and mixture models (for instance, see here).

It's also possible to tease out Balto-Slavic drift with formal statistics. I showed this indirectly in a recent blog post about Greek population structure (see here). In this post I'm going to demonstrate how to explicitly and formally test for Balto-Slavic drift both in ancient and present-day samples.

To do this we need to find stats that basically split Baltic and Slavic speakers from other Europeans, such as f4(Outgroup,Test;Bell_Beaker_NDL,Baltic_LVA_BA). In this f4-stat, Baltic_LVA_BA is the ancient reference population with an unusually high level of Balto-Slavic drift, while Bell_Beaker_NDL is a fairly similar population overall in terms of ancient ancestry components, but with practically zero Balto-Slavic drift.

Note that the statistics with the most significant Z scores (>3) involve populations that speak Baltic or Slavic languages, or their neighbors who plausibly harbor significant Baltic and/or Slavic ancestry. Among the ancient, mostly Scandinavian, populations (from Margaryan et al. 2020 and marked with the VK2020 prefix), significant Balto-Slavic drift only appears in the more easterly and/or later groups from the Viking Age (VA).


Unfortunately, one of the problems with this analysis is that Baltic_LVA_BA and Bell_Beaker_NDL aren't identical in terms of their ancient ancestry proportions. For one, the latter has significantly more Neolithic farmer ancestry. No wonder then, that Greeks, who are mostly of early farmer stock, don't show a significant Z score, despite probably packing a significant amount of Balto-Slavic ancestry dating to the Middle Ages.

In the near future, as more ancient samples become available, it might be possible to find better reference populations for the job and create more accurate, finer-scaled tests.

See also...

Uralian genes

That old chestnut: Northeast vs Northwest Euros

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Eagle country


I took this photo of an eagle yesterday while hiking up a steep, rocky mountain, and wanted to share it with everyone here. This bird was one of six massive eagles that were thermal surfing in the valleys below.
Right after I took the picture I stepped on a small but unusually sharp rock that was sticking out of the ground. Incredibly, it cut through the sole of my shoe like the proverbial hot knife through butter, but only grazed my foot.

Nevertheless, I was in a lot of pain and decided to call it a day. I made my way down the mountain initially by hopping on one leg, and then, after collapsing twice from exhaustion, by crawling on all fours.

Overall, despite almost losing a foot, it was an awesome experience and I'm planning to go back into the mountains soon.

See also...

Lizard Gorge

Friday, May 14, 2021

A Greek tragedy


I wasn't going to blog about the Clemente et al. "Aegean palatial civilizations" paper, because I think that it's a rather strange effort overall. But apparently a lot of people want to know my thoughts on the topic, so here goes.

If you download the relevant PDF file (here) and do a search for "Slav", you'll see that the word doesn't even appear in the bibliography. How is that possible, considering the massive impact that the Slavs had on the Balkans, including Greece, during the Middle Ages?

Indeed, here's a quote from page 12 of the PDF: "Present-day Greeks - who also carry Steppe-related ancestry - share ~90% of their ancestry with MBA northern Aegeans, suggesting continuity between the two time periods."

That's a very optimistic view. In fact, there's no evidence whatsoever in the paper that there's even 1% genetic continuity between present-day Greeks and any ancient Greek population, let alone the MBA northern Aegeans.

The genetic impact of Medieval Slavic migrations on most present-day Greek populations is easy to see. For instance, below are several linear models based on D-statistics of the form D(Outgroup,Test;Ancient1,Ancient2). You don't need a PhD in mathematics to understand them. The relevant data file is available here.

Note that most of the present-day Greek groups cluster together, and they also form fairly neat clines with the other Greeks, as well as Cypriots, other Balkan populations, including those speaking Slavic languages, and also the Slavic-speaking Ukrainians. On the other hand, they don't overlap with any of the ancient groups from Greece and surrounds, nor do they generally form obvious clines with them.

To me this suggests that most present-day Greeks harbor significant levels of Slavic ancestry and some sort of recent Cypriot-related ancestry, and in large part they're only coincidentally similar to ancient Aegeans, including those from the MBA (labeled Greece_Helladic_MBA in my graphs).

And let me assure you that no matter which ancient populations you run in such D-stats, you'll always see similar present-day Greek clusters and present-day Balkan clines.

Obviously, it's fair enough to assume that there's been some genetic continuity in the Aegean from the Iron Age, Bronze Age, and even the Copper Age and Neolithic era to the present-day. But the point I'm making is that no one has yet proved this, or even attempted to measure it properly.

See also...

Greek confirmation bias

Monday, April 26, 2021

Uralians of the Sargat horizon


Many years ago, well before the start of the ancient DNA revolution, someone made the very clever inference that the N-Tat Y-chromosome marker was closely associated with the expansion of Uralic languages.

Since then, N-Tat has been renamed several times over, to the point that I no longer know what it's called, but the aforementioned inference has turned into a very solid consensus backed up by a wide range of studies focusing on modern and ancient DNA.

Nowadays, Y-haplogroup N-L1026, a subclade of N-Tat, is seen as the main genetic signal of the Uralic expansions, along, of course, with Nganasan-related genome-wide genetic ancestry.

A recent paper at Science Advances by Gnecchi-Ruscone et al. featured the first ever genome-wide samples from the Sargat horizon, which is an Iron Age archeological formation in western Siberia normally associated with the Ugric branch of the Uralic language family. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, the authors failed to investigate this widely accepted connection.

If we go by the Y-haplogroup classifications in the paper, which may or may not be the smart thing to do, at least two of the Sargat horizon males belong to N-L1026, and one also to the more derived N-Z1936 subclade, which has been found in the remains of Hungarian Conquerers from Medieval Hungary. Of course, Hungarian is an Ugric language generally thought to have been introduced into the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarian Conquerers who originally came from western Siberia.

That's probably enough to corroborate the association between the Sargat horizon and the spread of Ugric/Uralic languages, but let's also take a quick look at the autosomal DNA of these Sargat individuals. Firstly, here's a Principal Component Analysis (PCA), based on Global25 data and produced with the Vahaduo G25 Views online tool. The results are self-explanatory.


Interestingly, I can't get a decent statistical fit when I try to reproduce the four-way qpWave/qpAdm model done by Gnecchi-Ruscone et al., probably mostly because my right pops or outgroups are different. This suggests to me that there's something important missing in their model.

Sargat_IA
MNG_Khovsgol_LBA 0.203±0.045
RUS_Ekven_IA 0.183±0.044
RUS_Sintashta_MLBA 0.545±0.014
TKM_Gonur1_BA 0.068±0.013
chisq 16.805
tail prob 0.0186971
Full output

So how about if I replace RUS_Ekven_IA with kra001, the oldest Nganasan-like individual in the ancient DNA record (see here), and MNG_Khovsgol_LBA with KAZ_Mereke_MBA, to add a more local stream of ancestry?

Sargat_IA
KAZ_Mereke_MBA 0.135±0.017
kra001 0.301±0.007
RUS_Sintashta_MLBA 0.499±0.023
TKM_Gonur1_BA 0.066±0.015
chisq 8.872
tail prob 0.262001
Full output

That's a better statistical fit and also, I'd say, a more realistic model, at least in terms of distal ancestry proportions. Note that Nganasan-related ancestry makes up 30% of the genome-wide genetic structure of the Sargat samples, which again corroborates the view that Uralic languages were spoken within the Sargat horizon.

Update 28/04/21: This is the best qpAdm model that I could find for Sargat_IA, at least in terms of the chisq and tail prob. It shows that the Sargat population was in large part very similar to that of KAZ_Pazyryk_IA.

Sargat_IA
KAZ_Mereke_MBA 0.032±0.016
KAZ_Pazyryk_IA 0.698±0.016
RUS_Sintashta_MLBA 0.236±0.021
TKM_Gonur1_BA 0.034±0.014

chisq 2.023
tail prob 0.958561
Full output

It's missing kra001, because KAZ_Pazyryk_IA packs enough kra001-related ancestry for the job.

KAZ_Pazyryk_IA
KAZ_Mereke_MBA 0.144±0.018
kra001 0.429±0.008
RUS_Sintashta_MLBA 0.378±0.026
TKM_Gonur1_BA 0.049±0.018

chisq 8.899
tail prob 0.259983
Full output

The fact that KAZ_Pazyryk_IA can be modeled with significant kra001-related ancestry isn't surprising, considering that its territory was located in Siberia. However, my model doesn't necessarily prove that the Sargat population was largely or even partly of Pazyryk origin. Indeed, N-L1026 hasn't yet appeared in any Pazyryk remains.

See also...

The Uralic cline with kra001 - no projection this time

First taste of Early Medieval DNA from the Ural region

Hungarian Conquerors were rich in Y-haplogroup N

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

It was always going to be this way

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N