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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Intriguingly, my understanding is that there are several unpublished R1a samples from the Caspian and Volga steppes at Harvard's David Reich Lab that have been classified by its scientists as Yamnaya outliers.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