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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Dear Harald #2

The ancIBD method paper from the David Reich Lab was just published in Nature (open access here). It's a very useful effort, but the authors are still somewhat confused about the origin of the Corded Ware culture (CWC) population. From the paper (emphasis is mine):

This direct evidence that most Corded Ware ancestry must have genealogical links to people associated with Yamnaya culture spanning on the order of at most a few hundred years is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the Steppe-like ancestry in the Corded Ware primarily reflects an origin in as-of-now unsampled cultures genetically similar to the Yamnaya but related to them only a millennium earlier.

This is basically a straw man argument, because it's easy to debunk. So why put it in the paper? Well, as far as I can see, to make the idea that the CWC is derived from Yamnaya look more plausible.

This idea, that the CWC is an offshoot of Yamnaya, seems to be the favorite explanation for the appearance of the CWC among the scientists at the David Reich Lab.

However, I'd say they're facing a major problem with that, because the CWC and Yamnaya populations have largely different paternal origins. That is, CWC males mostly belong to Y-haplogroups R1a-M417 and R1b-L51, while Yamnaya males almost exclusively belong to Y-haplogroup R1b-Z2103.

Indeed, as far as I know, there are no reliable instances of R1a-M417 or R1b-L51 in any published or yet to be published Yamnaya samples.

But it is possible to reconcile the Y-haplogroup data with the ancIBD results if we assume that the peoples associated with the Corded Ware, Yamnaya and also Afanasievo cultures expanded from a genetically more diverse ancestral gene pool, each taking a specific subset of the variation with them.

This gene pool would've existed somewhere in Eastern Europe, probably at the western end of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, at most a few hundred years before the appearance of the earliest CWC burials in what is now Poland.

Moreover, the split between the CWC and Yamnaya populations need not have been a clean one, with long-range contacts and largely female-mediated mixing maintained for generations, adding to the already close genealogical links between them.


Ringbauer, H., Huang, Y., Akbari, A. et al. Accurate detection of identity-by-descent segments in human ancient DNA. Nat Genet (2023).

See also...

On the origin of the Corded Ware people