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Monday, March 25, 2024

High-resolution stuff

I just emailed this to the authors of High-resolution genomic ancestry reveals mobility in early medieval Europe, a new preprint at bioRxiv [LINK].

I appreciate that Polish population history is not the main focus of your preprint, and also that you're constrained by the lack of relevant and suitably high quality ancient genomes from East-Central and Eastern Europe. However, I must say that your analysis of the Medieval Polish population and resulting conclusions about Polish population history don't reflect reality.

Your Poland_Middle_Ages genomic cluster is made up of just six samples that don't fully represent the genetic complexity of the core population of Medieval Poland.

As a result, you classified PCA0148 as one of the Poland_Middle_Ages outliers, even though this sample isn't an outlier when analyzed within the context of the full set of published Polish Medieval genomes.

Moreover, PCA0148 is very similar to several Polish Viking Age samples that show Scandinavian-specific genome-wide and Y-chromosome haplotypes, and probably likewise shows some Scandinavian-related ancestry.

This is important to note when attempting to recapitulate Polish population history, because it suggests that Scandinavian-related ancestry played a formative role in the shaping of the core Polish Medieval genetic cluster.

Thus, you might be correct when you claim that the six samples in your Poland_Middle_Ages cluster don't show any "detectable" Scandinavian-related ancestry, but this doesn't necessarily mean that this type of ancestry isn't a key part of the post-Iron Age Polish population history.

Below is a self-explanatory Principal Component Analysis (PCA) plot that illustrates my points. Interestingly, Figure 3c in your preprint shows very similar outcomes in regards to the post-Iron Age Polish population history. But the style and scale of your figure makes it difficult to spot the subtle but likely genuine Northwest European-related genetic shifts shown by PCA0148, the Viking context samples and present-day Poles relative to the Poland_Middle_Ages cluster.

However, I'm also skeptical that your Poland_Middle_Ages cluster doesn't carry any detectable or even significant Scandinavian-related ancestry. That's because I suspect that there might be some technical issues with your analysis that are masking this type of ancestry in the Polish samples.

Your top mixture model for the Poland_Middle_Ages cluster is, in all likelihood, an extreme statistical abstraction of reality, rather than a close reflection of it. That's because, due to a combination of historical, geographical and genetic factors, neither Italy.Imperial(I).SG nor Lithuania.IronRoman.SG are realistic formative source populations for the Medieval Polish gene pool.

One of the reasons why you ended up with such a surprising result is probably the lack of suitable samples from East-Central and Eastern Europe, especially those associated with plausibly the earliest Slavic-speaking populations.

It's also possible that basing your mixture model on formal statistics played a key part.

Formal statistics-based mixture models are known to be biased towards outcomes involving mixture sources from the extremes of mixture clines. If your analysis is affected by this problem, then this would help to explain why you characterized the Poland_Middle_Ages cluster as simply a two-way mixture between a Middle Eastern-related group from Imperial Rome and a Baltic population with a very high cut of European hunter-gatherer ancestry.

I do note that on page 6 of your manuscript you consider the possibility that the Southern European-related signal in the Poland_Middle_Ages cluster might only be very distantly related to Italy.Imperial(I).SG, and that it may even have spread across Poland with early Slavic speakers. This is a great point, and I think it should be emphasized and expanded upon, because I suspect that the problem runs deeper than this.

For instance, if the early Slavic ancestors of Poles carried substantially more Southern European-related ancestry than Lithuania.IronRoman.SG, and this ancestry was, say, more Balkan-related than Italian-related, then this might radically change your modeling of the Poland_Middle_Ages cluster. That's because these early Slavs would be positioned in a very different genetic space than Lithuania.IronRoman.SG, which could potentially require a significant signal of Scandinavian-related ancestry to get a robust mixture model.

Finally, it might be useful to consider Isolation-by-Distance as a partial vector for the Italy.Imperial(I).SG-related signal in Medieval Poland.

The full set of published Polish Medieval genomes includes a number of outliers with obvious ancestry from Western Europe and the Balkans. These people probably don't represent any large-scale migrations into Poland, but rather the movements of individuals and small groups. Over time, such small-scale mobility may have had a fairly significant impact on the genetic character of the Polish population.

Update 26/03/2024: I sent another email to Speidel et al., this time in regards to their analysis of present-day Hungarians.

Your preprint also claims that present-day Hungarians are genetically similar to Scythians, and that this is consistent with the arrival of Magyars, Avars and other eastern groups in this part of Europe.

However, present-day Hungarians are overwhelmingly derived from Slavic and German peasants from near Hungary. This is not a controversial claim on my part; it's backed up by historical sources and a wide range of genetic analyses.

Hungarians still show some minor ancestry from Hungarian Conquerors (early Magyars), but this signal only reliably shows up in large surveys of Y-chromosome samples.

The Scythians that you used to model the ancestry of present-day Hungarians are of local, Pannonian origin, and they don't show any eastern nomad ancestry. So they're either acculturated Scythians, or, more likely, wrongly classified as Scythians by archeologists.

And since these so-called Scythians lack eastern nomad ancestry, the similarity between them and present-day Hungarians is not a sign of the impact from Avars, Hungarian Conquerors and the like, but rather a lack of significant input from such groups in present-day Hungarians.


Speidel et al., High-resolution genomic ancestry reveals mobility in early medieval Europe, bioRxiv, Posted March 19, 2024, doi:

See also...

Wielbark Goths were overwhelmingly of Scandinavian origin