Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bell Beaker in Light of Yamna, Corded Ware (Allentoft & Haak & Szecsenyi-Nagy) [Part 2]

Where do Bell Beakers come from?  Has DNA brought us any closer?  This post follows [Part 1]

If I had to offer one small takeaway from two of these papers, it would be that Bell Beaker is not looking like the genetic offspring of Central European Corded Ware or Swedish Battle Axe.  (this by excluding one of two individuals (RISE98) designated as Battle Axe/Nordic LN.*)

While this is not surprising, there have been no individuals tested of the Single Grave Culture in the Northwest facade which is the last hurdle to prove or disprove a particular theory.   If the trend continues, the failure of CWC to be the Beaker-daddy is news enough because until recently it had been the most conservative and plausible view on Beaker origins.  That leaves the outer-space theory.
Other than that, there is still a long road ahead in understanding the genetic history of Europe.

Kingsmead Quarry Woman (Wessex Archaeology)

The first two papers were not focused on Bell Beaker and as such, the authors did not make any discussion about the Beaker identity.  They did connect a lot of dots between the Steppe, Indo-European language and the Corded Ware.  Their reasoning (David Anthony) was that Corded Ware had genetic components similar to Yamnayans, which suggested to them that the impetus for Corded Ware possibly came from the Steppe (after Gimbutas), which is where the Indo-European languages are thought by some to have developed.

Lolita Nikolova wrote a sharp reply criticizing David Anthony and the Haak authors for what she considers a poorly developed argument or 'pseudoscience' [see here].  Her complaint is that 1) the Haak authors implied that Corded Ware was somehow partly descended from the Steppe and 2) that associating language with a people who lived 5,000 years ago has no validity.

Regarding autosomal similarity, this is what the Haak authors wrote:
"We caution that the sampled Yamnaya individuals from Samara might not be directly ancestral to Corded Ware individuals from Germany. It is possible that a more western Yamnaya population, or an earlier (pre-Yamnaya) steppe population may have migrated into central Europe, and future work may uncover more missing links in the chain of transmission of steppe ancestry."
I agree with Nikolova's first point; the above statement is seeking a phantom population to be the sperm donor of a more distant population with a different material culture.  Just because Yamnaya and Corded Ware are within the same PCA hula-hoop doesn't mean that Corded Ware has any cultural or geographical roots in the steppe, nor does it mean that Yamnaya or a pocket population of the steppe is ancestral to everybody or anybody.  It's not clear that the sparsely populated, hillybilly Yamnayans are ancestral to much of anything just yet. 

What?  From ScienceNews

Nikolova is critical that DNA is being used to connect dots rather than looking closely at the material relationships.  Nothing illustrates this more than the deceiving map above (not picking on this one in particular).  What maps like this don't show is the directionality, span and space of each culture.  These two are not bros.

DNA has become the rational behind those seeking stepping-stone populations, now in the Balkans for the Bell Beaker folk.  Since one individual from the M6 motorway in the Vucedol period (first half of the third millennium) is R1b* some have found the "stepping stone".  Nevermind the material cultures are from another planet, "this must be our pre-Beaker, we can put the archaeology together

later". DNA is a very important tool, but doesn't prove anything by itself. The material facts are how we can conclusively determine that Australians are not descended from Americans. Try explaining that to some bug-eyed person five thousand years from now.

Since both the Yamnayans, Vucedol and Bell Beakers have been shown to be almost universally M269+ or supposed, that has caused a very natural question as to whether Bell Beaker somehow originates among Yamnaya or earlier, after all Bell Beaker is in many ways genetically and culturally alien to Western Europe. There are some similarities between these very distant cultures, but there is also a gulf of differences that is impossible to overcome in my opinion.

In any case, that'll be the next post [Part 3] sometime around Friday. I'll draw from the modern authors who have laid out the history's history on the archaeology of the Beakers and what the major theories were till now on the mysterious origins.

*In all likelihood RISE98 is one of the pioneering Westerners who made their way to Scandinavia and the Baltic in later times.  In a similar manner to another test subject, Kněževes grave 8, RISE98 may have been selected by the archaeologists because their curiosity was already piqued by some contradictions.  In may be the case that some cultural hybridization was occurring in the later Battle Axe populations in the Southwest, so I chose to separate.


  1. Very Scientific and Logical article! well done, the attitude that you are showing is rare as we are seeing mostly.
    BTW I have question for you: According to your understanding how old is PIE? or can it be at all dated confidently?.

    1. I'm hesitant to speculate on an age of PIE. More generally, I would say that PIE is the child language of two very different cultures. It's agglutinative father language heralded from the ceramic/pressure-flake/paternalistic/tumulus/semi-subterranean house cultures of Central Asia and beyond during the early Holocene. This language was possibly similar to Uracil-Altaic family.

      It's mother language was structurally similar to Porto-Kartvelian or Porto-Basque in an area between the Taurus Mountains and the Zargos Range. This population of Obsidian trading, goat/sheep/cow raising, copper using, barley and wheat farming peoples also contributed to the language and religion of PIE.

      Since the male component goes into the female, this happened in the Southern Pontic Caspian, possibly as early as the monogamous Tell Hassuna or as late as Tell Halaf. The expansion of these peoples in the late 5th, early 4th millennium is I think the beginning of their spread, with the North Pontic Caspian possibly being a secondary urheimat. PIE was at this time spoken only by one creolized ethnicity among a background of these native languages.

      The Steppe Hypothesis suffers from what I call "The Desert Island Gold Watch Dillema". People chucking spears at wildebeests don't start building airplanes because they see one fly over. The sophistication of the steppe is too sudden for it to have been native, in my opinion.

      The spread of this population emanated from the plains of Iraq and Western Iran in all directions, Western Pakistan, Southern Libya/Algeria and the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. So it is a population movement, but earlier from a different place and unrelated to the prior farmer migration into Europe.

  2. For me, despite the recent ancient genomes, the steppe remains a mystery. One thing that's been puzzling me in particular is that according to Russian and German archeologists, Yamnaya was pretty egalitarian and not at all warlike (Kaiser). Only with the beginning of Catacomb culture and the appearence of a distinct anthropological type (Kozinstev) what Katarzyna Ślusarska calls an 'Indo-European like caste system' enters the Yamnaya horizion. In early Catacomb culture it is possible to discern 3 ethnicities: (1) the Ingul ethnos, which was the upper class, (2) the rather marginal Eastern Catacomb ethnos, (3) the classic Yamnaya ethnos, which seems to have been a class of serfs (Klochko, Pustalov). In essence, while, according to mainstream theory, Yamnaya was colonizing most of Eurasia by elite dominance, they were reduced to a class of serfs in their steppe home. One might attribute this to the vacuum left by emigration, but it still seems rather odd that the 'Bronze Age Badasses', as one Kurgan adherent called them, were so easily subdued in the environment they were adapted to. So how does Catacomb fit into the Kurgan model of Indo-European expansion? And why isn't there strong evidence of social stratification in Yamnaya, when it's usually considered one of the most important features of Indo-Europeaness, at least among those who hold Gimbutasesque views?

    Another question is what do we actually have in the way of evidence regarding material culture for Yamnaya beingIndo-European? There seem to be anthropomorphic representations of axe wielding men on some of the Yamnaya grave stone slabs, which have been interpreted as representing the god of thunder. But photographic documentation of these depictions or the like are nowhere to be found. To me it seems quite far fetched to assume that these depiction indeed represent a deity, let alone an Indo-European deity. If there is nothing else about Yamnaya that's distinctly Indo-European, I think Nikoleva is quite right in emphasizing that a language should not be carelessly assigned to ancient populations without strong evidence.

  3. I agree with IP 123456.. and BB's own comments. At present, the conclusions of studies like Allentoft and Haak appear contrived. At best, they are premature, at worst, they are biased and skewed to conform to the preconcieved conclusions of their big brokers - Mr Anthony and Mr Kristiansen.
    The entire farcical narrative makes no sense. How can a bunch of low-density spear-chuckers conquer most of west Eurasia, with alleged admixture rates of 50% ? This is what these studies haven't addressed.
    Moreover, they sweep under the rug that there was quite obviously (1) first of all a large migration into the steppe and (2) the yamnaya population itself appears to have been replaced by the Catacomb period, as IP 123456. points out. .

  4. 123456 6431,
    //In early Catacomb culture it is possible to discern 3 ethnicities://
    This Catacomb according to some has some links to SW Turkmenistan.
    but can you give the links to those researches?.

  5. Unfortunately, Nirjhar, not all of the texts I was referring to are available in English. These are the findings of Kaiser where he emphasizes that social stratification made its first apperance in the steppes with the Catacomb culture, and that the aforementioned Ingul ethnos was the upper class:


    The following is a rather detailed analysis of weaponry and warfare in the three distinct Catacomb groups. It was found that the wider Catacomb culture was influenced by (1) the Central-European and Balkanic cultures and (2) by Anatolian and Middle Eastern cultures. Catacomb utilized techniques that were more sophisticated than those of Corded Ware and other cultures in the region, with the only parallels existing in the Middle East. Some of the weapons and wagons also show a distinct Middle Eastern connection. Even the stratified organization of warfare is supposed to be Middle Eastern in origin. It is also worthy of mention that the Ingul upper caste had a stronger Middle Eastern influence than either Yamnaya and Eastern Catacomb.


    One of my sources is this book, which describes the Catacomb culture in a little more detail, again taking into account the different ethnicities and 'castes'.


    I'm not sure whether Catacomb culture made any lasting impact on the succeding cultures at all, but the foreign influences make it interesting nonetheless. Some Russian researchers have indicated it as a likely source for a hypothesized Graeco-Iranian branch of Indo-European. There are some interesting parallels like the existence of death masks. And while physical anthropology is - for good reasons - a controversial subject, it is also interesting nonetheless that according to the results of Aleksandr Kozintsev published a few weeks ago, Early Catacomb culture marks the appearance of a generrally 'Mediterranean' (whether the source is West Asia, Europe, the Middle East or South Asia is probably impossible to determine this way) physical type which is quite different from the stocky and rather broad faced Yamnaya people.

  6. I have a few things to say.

    >There's no denying Corded Ware was mostly from the Steppe. Estimates are 60-100%. It ranges so much because we don't have older samples from Ukraine and Western Russia, which could be better Steppe proxies than the Yamnaya from the Eastern edge of Europe, and also because the older Corded Ware samples from Germany had more Steppe than the younger Corded Ware samples from Sweden and Estonia.

    >German/Czech Bell Beaker having R1b instead of R1a doesn't mean they didn't have Steppe-ancestry. Bell Beaker not being from Corded Ware paternally doesn't mean they weren't from the Steppe at all. Over 50% of most of the samples ancestry was from the Steppe.

    >The most basic and important parts of European genetic history have been discovered. Anyone who says this isn't the case, is disappointed that what they wanted to be true isn't. What do people need to be happy, some 200 more ancient genomes?

    >Associating R1b-L11 with West Europe is based on modern Y DNA over 4,000 years later. We have over 100 Mesolithic and Neolithic Y DNA samples from West Europe and all are xM269. With just one Mesolithic Russian we have pre-R1b1a1, a brother to M269. Yamnaya was almost 100% M269. There's plenty of room for Bell Beaker R1b to be from the East, like most of their ancestry was.

    >The R1b-U106 from Late Neolithic Sweden was not a wanderer. U106 correlates with Germanic languages today and is very popular. It doesn't come from a few wanderers. It's a serious lineage. It may be from the West, but was certainly in the East several hundred years before.

    1. How do you define the Steppe? If you mean the relatively narrow grasslands inhabited by Yamna folk, that's one thing, but all of the woodsmen cultures East of Central Europe are probably going to look like what was is considered 'steppe-like'.

      The Swedish man was likely more Beaker-like than Eastern-like and that could be because how the North Sea and Western Scandinavia was settled prior to the Nordic Bronze Age. So his deeper ancestry is not so much relevant, but that it may be an early indication of the two different groups of immigrants in the area.

    2. I guess Steppe isn't an accurate term to use.

  7. Another thing is:

    Yamnaya is more like an uncle than an ancestor. From India-Ireland we see clear signs of Steppe-ancestry. They have many many many many many many many descendants.

  8. "That leaves the outer-space theory." Actually a more parsimonious explanation is that a non-CW Southern branch of R1b headed West and got to Iberia with their metallurgical toolkit and the rest. The East-facing CMP package is a break from the Iberian tradition, as are the people in good part, and very likely IE language. All that remains is Iberian aDNA to close the case. No need for aliens or even North Africa really.