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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

First taste of Early Medieval DNA from the Ural region (Csaky et al. 2020 preprint)

Over at bioRxiv at this LINK. From the preprint:

The ancient Hungarians originated from the Ural region of Russia, and migrated through the Middle-Volga region and the Eastern European steppe into the Carpathian Basin during the 9th century AD. Their Homeland was probably in the southern Trans-Ural region, where the Kushnarenkovo culture disseminated. In the Cis-Ural region Lomovatovo and Nevolino cultures are archaeologically related to ancient Hungarians. In this study we describe maternal and paternal lineages of 36 individuals from these regions and nine Hungarian Conquest period individuals from today's Hungary, as well as shallow shotgun genome data from the Trans-Uralic Uyelgi cemetery. We point out the genetic continuity between the three chronological horizons of Uyelgi cemetery, which was a burial place of a rather endogamous population. Using phylogenetic and population genetic analyses we demonstrate the genetic connection between Trans-, Cis-Ural and the Carpathian Basin on various levels. The analyses of this new Uralic dataset fill a gap of population genetic research of Eurasia, and reshape the conclusions previously drawn from 10-11th century ancient mitogenomes and Y-chromosomes from Hungary.


Majority of Uyelgi males belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup N, and according to combined STR, SNP and Network analyses they belong to the same subclade within N-M46 (also known as N-tat and N1a1-M46 in ISOGG 14.255). N-M46 nowadays is a geographically widely distributed paternal lineage from East of Siberia to Scandinavia 33 . One of its subclades is N-Z1936 (also known as N3a4 and N1a1a1a1a2 in ISOGG 14.255), which is prominent among Uralic speaking populations, probably originated from the Ural region as well and mainly distributed from the West of Ural Mountains to Scandinavia (Finland). Seven samples of Uyelgi site most probably belong to N-Y24365 (also known as N-B545 and N1a1a1a1a2a1c2 in ISOGG 14.255) under N-Z1936, a specific subclade that can be found almost exclusively in todays’ Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Hungary 17 (ISOGG, Yfull).

Csaky et al., Early Medieval Genetic Data from Ural Region Evaluated in the Light of Archaeological Evidence of Ancient Hungarians, bioRxiv, Posted July 13, 2020, doi:

See also...

Hungarian Conquerors were rich in Y-haplogroup N

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

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

Ancient DNA confirms the link between Y-haplogroup N and Uralic expansions

Monday, July 13, 2020

Don't believe everything you read in peer reviewed papers

Case in point, here's a quote from a recent paper at the Journal of Human Genetics (emphasis is mine):

The Mordovian and Csango samples have a moderate to slight orientation toward the Central-Asian and Siberian Turkic groups. This could suggest the more significant East Eurasian or Turkic ancestry of these populations, which should be further investigated. German samples are inhomogeneous, and some of the German samples also show this tendency, which can be the result of the recent 20th century Turkish immigration into Germany [42].

Nope, these German samples don't show anything even remotely resembling recent Turkish ancestry. The authors of the paper, Ádám, V., Bánfai, Z., Maász, A. et al., should've been able to figure this out, even with the standard analyses that they ran. Failing that, the peer reviewers at the Journal of Human Genetics should've noticed that the authors were confused.

Moreover, if the authors and peer reviewers actually bothered to take a closer look at metadata for these samples, which were sourced from the Estonian Biocentre, they'd see that they're not even from Germany. In fact, they represent self-reported ethnic Germans from Russia.

My own quick and dirty analysis of these individuals suggests that many of them harbor East Slavic and/or Volga Finnic ancestries. Indeed, only some of them can pass genetically for run of the mill Germans from Germany. The Principal Component Analysis (PCA) below is self-explanatory. It was plotted with the Vahaduo Custom PCA tools freely available here. The relevant PCA datasheet can be gotten here.

That's not to say, of course, that some Germans don't have recent Turkish ancestry, because an increasing number of Germans nowadays do, nor that people with German heritage in Russia shouldn't identify as Germans, because that's entirely their choice.

This blog post isn't about what it takes to be German, and this is not something that I ever want to discuss for obvious reasons. The point I'm making here is that the authors and peer reviewers of the said paper at the Journal of Human Genetics were sloppy and half-arsed in their approach. And, sadly, this isn't an isolated case in peer reviewed scientific literature dealing with human population genetics.

I feel that the Estonian Biocentre is also partly to blame for this cock up, due to its somewhat peculiar sampling and labelling strategies. For instance, its scientists rely solely on self-reported identity to establish the ethnic origins of their samples, and they apparently never remove genetic outliers from their datasets or even try to identify them.

Unfortunately, I fear that this relaxed approach will eventually lead to basic errors and even unusual conclusions in a number of so called peer reviewed papers.

I first raised this issue with the Estonian Biocentre about five years ago, when I noticed that some of the supposedly Polish individuals in its dataset were genetically more similar to various groups from northern Russia than to Poles from Poland. These individuals also showed significant Siberian ancestry, which was very unusual indeed. Where the hell did the Estonian Biocentre find Poles who resembled people from near the Arctic Circle, you might ask? Apparently in Estonia.

OK, I can imagine that sampling ethnic Poles from Estonia may have been easier for the Estonian Biocentre than sampling Poles from Poland. And Estonian Poles certainly make for interesting and useful data points. However, as you can see in the PCA below, some of these individuals (labeled Polish_Estonia by me) aren't representative of the native Polish population, and yet the Estonian Biocentre not only lumps them with their Poles from Poland, but even labels them with the word "Poland". The relevant PCA datasheet can be gotten here.

However, based on my communications with some of the scientists at the Estonian Biocentre, including head honcho Mait Mestpalu, it seems that nothing will ever change there in regards to this issue. Who knows, perhaps some day we'll see a paper based on Estonian Biocentre data in the Journal of Human Genetics claiming that Poles originated near the Arctic Circle? I wouldn't be shocked if that actually happened.


Ádám, V., Bánfai, Z., Maász, A. et al. Investigating the genetic characteristics of the Csangos, a traditionally Hungarian speaking ethnic group residing in Romania. J Hum Genet (2020).

See also...

Like three peas in a pod

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

On the exotic origins of the Hungarian Arpad Dynasty (Nagy et al. 2020)

Hungarians speak a Uralic and Finno-Ugric language. However, the founders of the Medieval Hungarian state, the Arpad Dynasty, probably had Irano-Turkic paternal origins. There's a very interesting new paper on this topic at the European Journal of Human Genetics (see here). From the paper, emphasis is mine:

The phylogenetic origins of the Hungarians who occupied the Carpathian basin has been much contested [40]. Based on linguistic arguments it was proposed that they represented a predominantly Finno-Ugric speaking population while the oral and written tradition of the Árpád dynasty suggests a relationship with the Huns. Based on the genetic analysis of two members of the Árpád Dynasty, it appears that they derived from a lineage (R-Z2125) that is currently predominantly present among ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tadjik, Turkmen, Uzbek, and Bashkir) speaking Iranian or Turkic languages. However, their closest kin, the Bashkirs live in close proximity with Finno-Ugric speaking populations with the N-B539 haplogroup. A recent study shows that this haplogroup is also found in modern Hungarians [41]. Intriguingly, the most recent separation of the N-B539 derived lineages found in Hungarians and Bashkirs is estimated to have occurred ~2000 years before present [42]. This would suggest that a group of people consisting of a Turkic (R-SUR51) component and a Finno-Ugric (N-B539) component left the Volga Ural region about 2000 years ago and started a migration that eventually culminated in settlement in the Carpathian Basin.


Nagy, P.L., Olasz, J., Neparáczki, E. et al. Determination of the phylogenetic origins of the Árpád Dynasty based on Y chromosome sequencing of Béla the Third. Eur J Hum Genet (2020).

See also...

Hungarian Conquerors were rich in Y-haplogroup N

On the association between Uralic expansions and Y-haplogroup N

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

Ancient DNA confirms the link between Y-haplogroup N and Uralic expansions

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fatyanovo males were rich in Y-haplogroup R1a-Z93 (Saag et al. 2020 preprint)

I'd say that thanks to this preprint we're now a lot closer to solving the mystery of the Sintashta people. Over at bioRxiv at this LINK. From the preprint:

Transition from the Stone to the Bronze Age in Central and Western Europe was a period of major population movements originating from the Ponto-Caspian Steppe. Here, we report new genome-wide sequence data from 28 individuals from the territory north of this source area - from the under-studied Western part of present-day Russia, including Stone Age hunter-gatherers (10,800-4,250 cal BC) and Bronze Age farmers from the Corded Ware complex called Fatyanovo Culture (2,900-2,050 cal BC). We show that Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry was present in Northwestern Russia already from around 10,000 BC. Furthermore, we see a clear change in ancestry with the arrival of farming - the Fatyanovo Culture individuals were genetically similar to other Corded Ware cultures, carrying a mixture of Steppe and European early farmer ancestry and thus likely originating from a fast migration towards the northeast from somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Ukraine, which is the closest area where these ancestries coexisted from around 3,000 BC.


Interestingly, in all individuals for which the chrY hg could be determined with more depth (n=6), it was R1a2-Z93 (Table 1, Supplementary Data 2), a lineage now spread in Central and South Asia, rather than the R1a1-Z283 lineage that is common in Europe [38,39].

Saag et al., Genetic ancestry changes in Stone to Bronze Age transition in the East European plain, BioRxiv, Posted July 03, 2020, doi:

See also...

Like three peas in a pod

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The precursor of the Trojans

Who remembers kum4 from Omrak et al. 2016? I'm pretty sure now that this individual packs a lot of ancestry from the Pontic-Caspian (PC) steppe.

If so, that's a big deal, because her Chalcolithic (or Late Neolithic?) burial was located at Kumtepe. That is, in the same part of Anatolia as the later settlement of Troy, which may have been founded by early Anatolian speakers from Eastern Europe (see here).

The qpAdm mixture models below, featuring kum4 and the likely older kum6, also from Kumtepe, are based on qpfstats output. qpfstats is a new program from the David Reich Lab specifically designed to help analyze low coverage ancients (see here). And kum4 is certainly that.

RUS_Progress_En 0.383±0.114
TUR_Barcin_N 0.617±0.114
chisq 7.868
tail prob 0.247957
Full output

IRN_Seh_Gabi_C 0.325±0.150
TUR_Barcin_N 0.675±0.150
chisq 14.736
tail prob 0.0224096
Full output

RUS_Progress_En 0.121±0.042
TUR_Barcin_N 0.879±0.042
chisq 21.790
tail prob 0.00132149
Full output

IRN_Seh_Gabi_C 0.283±0.059
TUR_Barcin_N 0.717±0.059
chisq 6.289
tail prob 0.391566
Full output

Indeed, kum4 and kum6 offer just ~10,000 and ~100,000 "valid SNPs", respectively (see here). However, if nothing else, the results are clearly not random.

For one, because they fit the expected pattern, with the likely older individual lacking ancestry from the PC steppe (her model with RUS_Progress_En shows a weak statistical fit). Moreover, the qpAdm mixture ratios align almost perfectly with the results in my Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of ancient West Eurasian genetic variation. Coincidence?

See also...

Perhaps a hint of things to come

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Major updates to ADMIXTOOLS

An important message from Nick Patterson:

Dear Eurogenes bloggers,

Many of you use ADMIXTOOLS and you might like to know that there is a new release on github [LINK] with some important enhancements.

From the README

*** NEW ***


Version 7.0 has numerous upgrades.

a) Two new executables --qpfstats qpfmv allow precomputation of f-statistic basis. This can greatly reduce computation costs.
b) qpAdm, qpWave, qpGraph support qpfstats output as input.
*** This is a much improved way of running with allsnps: YES. ***
c) A new experimental feature of qpGraph (halfscore: YES) allows comparison of 2 phylogenies + a (weak) goodness of fit score. Be careful if running with a large number of populations and consider reducing block size say blgsize: .005


Note that several of the new ideas implemented in version 7.0 were developed collaboratively with Robert Maier, who has implemented them along with the great majority of other ADMIXTOOLS functionality in R: See
Executables run fast, and it has features not available in this C version, such as interactive exploration of graph phylogenies.
A manuscript describing the algorithmic ideas and providing documentation of the methods is in preparation.

qpfstats is the most important new executable. This estimates f-statistics and covariance on a basis.

a) This can be passed into other programs of the package without having to reaccess the genotype files, greatly speeding the computations.
b) In allsnps: YES mode a new computation is carried out (explained in qpfs.pdf) that is much more logical when there is a lot of missing data. Sometimes standard errors are greatly reduced.
qpfstats can be used with up to 30 populations. Much beyond that the output files become large.

As usual there may be bugs...

Nick Patterson 6/27/2020

Update 29/06/2020: As pointed out above, qpfstats is the most important new executable. Indeed, Nick Patterson now recommendeds that qpAdm analyses run with the allsnps: YES flag should be based on qpfstats output.

Several of my recent blog posts featured qpAdm models run with the allsnps: YES flag, but they were based on genotype data because obviously I didn't know anything about qpfstats at the time.

So I went back and ran some of these models again, just to make sure that they were still relevant. Below are three examples which you can compare to the original analyses here, here and here, respectively.

RUS_Maykop_Novosvobodnaya 0.281±0.042
TUR_Arslantepe_LC 0.719±0.042
chisq 10.923
tail prob 0.449752
Full output

RUS_Vonyuchka_En 0.137±0.031
TUR_Buyukkaya_EC 0.863±0.031
chisq 15.074
tail prob 0.0889099
Full output

RUS_Progress_En 0.083±0.020
UKR_N 0.917±0.020
chisq 6.825
tail prob 0.65538
Full output

As far as I can tell, they're very similar to the original runs, which is a relief, because it means that the conclusions in my blog posts still make sense.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Armenian Highland population prehistory

A new preprint at bioRxiv claims that some sort of large-scale population movement resulted in the spread of Sardinian-like ancestry into both the Armenian Highland and East Africa during or just after the Middle-Late Bronze Age. See Hovhannisyan et al. here.

In all seriousness, my suggestion is that the authors should familiarize themselves with the scientific concept of the sanity check and then try again.

For what it's worth, here's a brief outline of the population history of the Armenian Highland based on what I've learned about the topic from ancient DNA in recent years:

- overall, the Neolithic populations of the Armenian Highland were surely very similar to the Caucasus_lowlands_LN samples from what is now Azerbaijan from the recent Skourtanioti et al. paper (see here)

- Chalcolithic era migrations from the Pontic-Caspian steppe and/or the North Caucasus introduced steppe ancestry to the Armenian Highland, bringing at least some of its populations closer genetically to those of Eastern Europe (a somewhat outdated but still useful blog post about this subject is found here)

- population expansions during the Early Bronze Age associated with the Kura-Araxes cultural phenomenon, which may have originated in what is now Armenia, resulted in a resurgence of indigenous Caucasus hunter-gatherer (CHG) ancestry across the Caucasus, as well as its spread to many other parts of West Asia (see here)

- another significant pulse of Eastern European admixture affected the Armenian Highland during the Middle-Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (see here)

- it's not yet completely clear what happened in the Armenian Highland during the Iron Age in terms of significant genetic shifts, due to the lack of ancient human samples from the region dating to this period, but it's still possible that the speakers of proto-Armenian arrived there from the Balkans at this time

- the present-day Armenian gene pool is the result of the processes described above, as well as later events, such as those associated with the Urartian and Ottoman Empires.

Indeed, it's probably not a coincidence that present-day Armenians cluster more or less between the prehistoric populations from the Armenian Highland and surrounds in the Principal Component Analysis (PCA) below.

To see a more detailed and interactive version of the plot, copy paste the data from the text file here into the relevant field at the Vahaduo Globabl25 PCA Views here.



See also...

Armenian confirmation bias

Perhaps a hint of things to come

Understanding the Eneolithic steppe

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Like three peas in a pod

One of the most interesting questions still waiting to be answered by ancient DNA is where exactly did the ancestors of the present-day European and South Asian bearers of Y-haplogroup R1a part their ways? Indeed, the answer to this question is likely to be informative about the place and time of the split between the Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian language families.

I was doing some reading today and discovered that the peoples associated with the Bronze Age Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Unetice archeological cultures shared strikingly similar metalwork, despite being separated by well over two thousand kilometers of forest and steppe. Apparently, this similarity is especially pronounced in the metalwork of the Unetice culture from what is now Slovakia (see Ancient Metallurgy in the USSR: The Early Metal Age, page 136).

S11953 is currently the only sample from Slovakia associated with the Unetice culture (Sirak et al. 2020). There are no Fatyanovo-Balanovo samples available yet. However, as far as I can tell, I0432 from Samara, Russia, should be a decent stand in (Mathieson et al. 2015).

Of course, both S11953 and I0432 belong to Y-haplogroup R1a. Moreover, S11953 belongs to a typically Balto-Slavic subclade of R1a, while I0432 belongs to a closely related subclade that is dominant nowadays among the Indo-Iranian speakers of Asia.

S11953 is younger than I0432, but this doesn't necessarily mean that his ancestors arrived in East Central Europe from deep in Russia during the Bronze Age. Indeed, the opposite is more likely to be true. That is, I0432 is probably the recent decedent of migrants from somewhere near the North Carpathians, because he shows elevated European Neolithic farmer ancestry compared to earlier ancients from the Samara region (see here).

Below is a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) showing how S11953 and I0432 compare to each other in the context of ancient West Eurasian genetic variation. Obviously, they're sitting in the same part of the plot, which suggests that they harbor very similar ratios of ancient genetic components and probably share relatively recent ancestry. The relevant PCA datasheet is available here.

I've also highlighted myself, Davidski, on the plot. That's because I share the same Balto-Slavic-specific subclade of R1a with S11953 and, in terms of overall ancestry, I'm similar to both S11953 and I0432. Moreover, I'm the speaker of Polish, which is a Balto-Slavic language. What are the chances that we're dealing here with a remarkable string of coincidences? Indeed, was the North Carpathian region perhaps the homeland of the language ancestral to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian?

However, please note that there's nothing unusual or remarkable about my ancestry. The vast majority of people of Central, Eastern and Northern European origin - that is, mostly the speakers of Balto-Slavic, Germanic and Celtic languages - would also land in this part of the plot.

See also...

On the doorstep of India

Y-haplogroup R1a and mental health

The mystery of the Sintashta people

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Abashevo axe did it (Mednikova et al. 2020)

Open access at the Journal of Imaging over at this LINK. From the paper, emphasis is mine:

A massive bronze battle axe from the Abashevo archaeological culture was studied using neutron tomography and manufacturing modeling from production molds. Detailed structural data were acquired to simulate and model possible injuries and wounds caused by this battle axe. We report the results of neutron tomography experiments on the bronze battle axe, as well as manufactured plastic and virtual models of the traumas obtained at different strike angles from this axe. The reconstructed 3D models of the battle axe, plastic imprint model, and real wound and trauma traces on the bones of the ancient peoples of the Abashevo archaeological culture were obtained. Skulls with traces of injuries originate from archaeological excavations of the Pepkino burial mound of the Abashevo culture in the Volga region. The reconstruction and identification of the injuries and type of weapon on the restored skulls were performed. The complementary use of 3D visualization methods allowed us to make some assumptions on the cause of death of the people of the Abashevo culture and possible intra-tribal conflict in this cultural society. The obtained structural and anthropological data can be used to develop new concepts and methods for the archaeology of conflict.


Human skeletal remains from excavations of the Pepkino burial mound bear many traumatic wounds on the skulls and postcranial bones (Figure 4). The primary hypothesis is that young men of the Abashevo culture fell at the hands of enemies, which were the representatives of another tribe or culture [14,16]. After their discovery in the XX century, the skulls of killed people of the Abashevo culture were restored using anthropological paste, including beeswax.


A simple explanation for obtaining such injuries is the conclusion that the victim stood face to face with their assaulter and tried to back away from the battle axe, but fell and received other lethal wounds. The superficial trauma by the battle axe as well as serious damage to a bone structure and deep cracks in the skull are visible in the upper part of the model.


The comparison of the real bronze axe with the model obtained from molds indicates their complete identity and the belonging of these axes from different archaeological sites of the Abashevo culture to the same cultural group. This conclusion may indicate intra-cultural conflict among the Abashevo people. As a final note, the presented results of quite diverse imaging methods indicate a new direction in the archaeology of conflicts and the applicability of 3D modeling methods to identify both weapons technologies and the specifics of the use of these weapons to injure humans.


Mednikova et al., The Reconstruction of a Bronze Battle Axe and Comparison of Inflicted Damage Injuries Using Neutron Tomography, Manufacturing Modeling, and X-ray Microtomography Data, J. Imaging 2020, 6(6), 45;

See also...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Maykop ancestry in Copper Age Arslantepe

At least four individuals from the Late Chalcolithic (LC) burial site of Arslantepe show ancestry typical of the population associated with the contemporaneous Maykop culture in the North Caucasus. They are ART018, ART020, ART027 and ART039 from the recent Skourtanioti et al. paper. I've labeled them TUR_Arslantepe_LC_Maykop in my qpAdm mixture model below:

RUS_Maykop_Novosvobodnaya 0.318±0.041
TUR_Arslantepe_LC 0.682±0.041
chisq 9.969
tail prob 0.533159
Full output

Considering the tight statistical fit, I think it's even possible that some of these people harbor direct ancestry from Maykop Novosvobodnaya. Here's a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) showing why my qpAdm model works so well. It was produced with the data in the text file here and the Vahaduo PCA tools here.

Moreover, one of the Arslantepe males, ART038, belongs to Y-haplogroup R1b-V1636 (R1b1a2). This is clearly a marker of paternal steppe ancestry, because it's been reported in two Eneolithic samples from the southernmost part of the Pontic-Caspian steppe near the North Caucasus foothills (see here). These individuals are dated to ~4,200 calBCE, so they lived about a thousand years earlier than ART038.

ART038 probably lacks steppe and Maykop-related ancestries on his autosomes. Nevertheless, my point about his Y-haplogroup stands, because autosomal admixture can be bred out and disappear completely within a couple hundred years, or about 6 to 8 generations.

Interestingly, Skourtanioti et al. argued against the possibility of significant steppe and Maykop-related ancestries in the Arslantepe LC samples. They also didn't see R1b-V1636 as an obvious signal of paternal steppe ancestry. I find this very puzzling indeed, because to me it seems way off the mark. From the paper:

However, R1b-V1636 and R1b-Z2103 lineages split long before (~17 kya) and therefore there is no direct evidence for an early incursion from the Pontic steppe during the main era of Arslantepe. Lineage L2-L595 found in ALA084 (Alalakh) has previously been reported in one individual from Chalcolithic Northern Iran (Narasimhan et al., 2019) and in three males from the Late Maykop phase in the North Caucasus (Wang et al., 2019). These three share ancestry from the common Anatolian/Iranian ancestry cline described here, which indicates a widespread distribution that also reached the southern margins of the steppe zone north of the Caucasus mountain range.

See also...

Perhaps a hint of things to come

An early Mitanni?

How relevant is Arslantepe to the PIE homeland debate?