Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ancient DNA from Europe can give new clues about the Indo-European question

In a previous post about genetics, I reported the discovery of a European branch of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a (named R1a1a7) which is "virtually absent in Asia", showing as impossible a recent migration to South Asia. In that study by P.A. Underhill, there was the hypothesis that this genetic group expanded in Europe during the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, but it also noticed "a remarkable geographic concordance of the R1a1a7-M458 distribution with the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Corded Ware (CW) cultures of Europe that prospered from ca. 5.5-4.5 KYA BP" (cp. the map above). It is then cited the finding of the burial in Eulau, Germany, belonging to the Corded Ware cultural horizon, dated around 2600 BC, because it gave for the buried males the haplogroup R1a (see the article by W. Haak Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age). It is also interesting that the Corded Ware culture has been ascribed to Indo-Europeans by many scholars, probably for its area and since it is associated with wheeled vehicles, horses and metals:
"...Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic may possibly be traced back to the Corded Ware horizon of north, central and eastern Europe." (The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics) - J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, 2006, p.452, Oxford University Press)
Moreover, if we look at the variance of R1a1a7 (also in the map above), Poland appears as the place of origin, and the same is found for the CW culture: "Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. The earliest radiocarbon dates for Corded Ware come from Kujavia and Małopolska in central and southern Poland and point to the period around 3000 BC. Carbon-14 dating of the remaining central European regions shows that Corded Ware appeared after 2880 BC" (see here). Thus, a consistent picture seems to emerge from archaeology and genetics. However, the calculated age of R1a1a7 (before 8000 BC in Poland) suggested a connection with the Mesolithic or Linearbandkeramik periods.
But now we could have a counter evidence from another study, published in the November 2010 issue of PLoS Biology, Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities, by the same W. Haak of the study about Eulau. This has revealed the genetic identity of ancient individuals belonging to the Linearbandkeramik culture, including a previous work on this archaeological horizon and a new analysis of skeletons from Derenburg in Germany (Harzkreis); it is mainly based on mitochondrial DNA, but also on chromosome Y. The results tell us that most of this agricultural people had a Near Eastern origin (see maps).

In the map above, you can see the genetic distance of modern populations from the mitochondrial data from Derenburg. The nearest populations are evidently in present Iran and Kurdistan. As we know from an important study by Metspalu and Kivisild, Iranian mtDNA is very different from Indian or South Asian DNA; Western Iran, also for the Y-DNA, is very similar to other Near Eastern countries, and Northern Iran has a strong influx from Anatolia (see the article by Regueiro). The presence of R1a1a is stronger in Southern and Eastern Iran (see also the article by Wells, that observes: "the population of present-day Iran, speaking a major Indo-European language (Farsi), appears to have had little genetic influence from the M17-carrying Indo-Iranians").

About mitochondrial haplogroups it is said in the study:
We found nine modern-day population pools in which the percentage of these haplotypes is significantly higher than in other population pools (p>0.01, two-tailed z test; Figure 1; Table S4): (a) North and Central English, (b) Croatians and Slovenians, (c) Czechs and Slovaks, (d) Hungarians and Romanians, (e) Turkish, Kurds, and Armenians, (f) Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, and Cypriotes, (g) Caucasus (Ossetians and Georgians), (h) Southern Russians, and (i) Iranians. Three of these pools (b–d) originate near the proposed geographic center of the earliest LBK in Central Europe and presumably represent a genetic legacy from the Neolithic. However, the other matching population pools are from Near East regions (except [a] and [h]), which is consistent with this area representing the origin of the European Neolithic, an idea that is further supported by Iranians sharing the highest number of informative haplotypes with the LBK (7.2%; Table S4).
About Y DNA haplogroups:

The Y chromosome hgs obtained from the three Derenburg early Neolithic individuals are generally concordant with the mtDNA data (Table 1). Interestingly, we do not find the most common Y chromosome hgs in modern Europe (e.g., R1b, R1a, I, and E1b1), which parallels the low frequency of the very common modern European mtDNA hg H (now at 20%–50% across Western Eurasia) in the Neolithic samples. Also, while both Neolithic Y chromosome hgs G2a3 and F* are rather rare in modern-day Europe, they have slightly higher frequencies in populations of the Near East, and the highest frequency of hg G2a is seen in the Caucasus today. The few published ancient Y chromosome results from Central Europe come from late Neolithic sites and were exclusively hg R1a. While speculative, we suggest this supports the idea that R1a may have spread with late Neolithic cultures from the east.
So, we can suppose that R1a arrived with the Corded Ware culture, which was an important cultural change in Europe. After the Near Eastern population which had already colonized the Balkans, the Corded Ware people found in Eulau came from the East, bringing the new 'Indo-European' culture. Interestingly, the mitochondrial haplogroup of the mother in the family buried in Eulau was K1b, which "has uniquely been reported in two modern Shugnans of Tadzhikistan" (Dienekes' quotation). Wells reports 23% of R1a1a for Shugnans, and 68% for their neighbors Ishkashimis (living both in the upper Oxus valley). In this context, it is impressing to observe that in Tajikistan we also find striking parallels to the burial rituals followed by the Corded Ware culture, in the Vakhsh and Beshkent cultures: the bodies laid on their sides, hunched up, with arms bent at the elbow and legs at the knee, men on the right side, and women on the left side. In the Beshkent culture, the orientation is often east-west. Moreover, according to the anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, the skull type of the Corded Ware burials is very close to the present Irano-Afghan type.  
Shugnans and Ishkashimis speak both an Iranian language, and they live in the cradle of Iranian culture, mentioned in the Avesta. We can suppose that the Oxus valley was an ancient seat for the R1a1a people coming from South Asia, and that they spoke an Indo-European language. From Central Asia they should have moved to the Kurgan area in Ukraine, and from there to Central Europe. Another R1a1a people went eastward up to the Tarim Basin (see here) and another to the Andronovo area near Krasnoyarsk in Siberia (see here). But we know that they all had their ultimate origin in western South Asia, and their expansion in Eurasia seems to be dated particularly in the metal age, since all these cultures knew metals. As recognized by some scholars, calculated ages of R1a1a appear as too high, and the archaeological record can help us to correct them. According to this picture, we can see the Neolithic of the Indus-Sarasvatī basin and probably of the adjoining 'Iranian' regions as the source of the Indo-Europeans, who developed so many prehistoric and historical civilizations of Europe and Asia. 


  1. I'm sorry to ask a fundamental question, but as you know I am new to the topic.
    If I understand your view correctly, the IE-languages and language-speaking populations (identified through R1a1a) originated in Western South Asia and spread from there into South Asia and Europe. The origin of this group might have happened according to DNA-analysis around 7,000-8,000 years BC, but according to archaeological records after that. The archaeological records are those of the Harappan Civilization and of the Corded Ware one?

  2. The archaeological records are those of the Corded Ware horizon (2900-2350 BC:, which in the German site of Eulau have given skeletons with haplogroup R1a.

  3. There are questions which are needed to be answered before we truly start to believe the South Central Asia as the PIE/Arya homeland.
    1. Is there any archaeological record detecting expansions from SC Asia to the other parts of Eurasia?
    2. Vedic is already a Satem language how is it compatible with the view as we should expect a language from PIE homeland to be kentum?
    3. There are clear substratum influences in vedic both identified (eg. Dravidian) and unidentified(called 'Lost donors') why other I.E. languages dont show those influences?
    4.Silver, gold etc metals are well present in IVC/SSC from the earliest stages why then Rigved dont mention them?
    5. Rigved is chariot central why we dont find signs of chariots in IVC/SSC ?
    6. Is there any remains of Vedic sacrifice (yajna) altars found in IVC/SSC?
    To be continued...

    1. 1) Archeological parallels have been made between baluchistan( mehergarh) and eastern and syria

      2) there is no clear answer on this.

      3) these influences exist but are ignored and not studied. there are examples of south asian tribal lexicon in western europe. These are specifically non sanskritic.

      4) THis is new to me. I though that the vedas mention gold silver.

      5) Vedic chariots have never been found in India. by that token the vedic culture never truly existed in India till 300-400 BC or even later. The vedas primarily deal with seasonal rituals. In that context chariot wheels function as conceptual tools to describe celestial phenomenon. The vedas are a skewed source and not an exhaustive treatise on material culture.

      6) Vedic altar in ISVC/SSC? Apparently there are samples. Dont know if its conclusive. The concept of a sacred hearth is common in many world cultures including native north america for example.

  4. Interesting and often difficult questions, I try to reply:
    1) This is something to be investigated. I know of some similarities between the architecture of BMAC and the 'megaron' structure of Mycenean Greece. I think also the use of Swastika has migrated from Iranian areas to Greece. Near the Mitanni area, we have the Early West Iranian Grey Ware, which has been considered by Young as an evolution of the Gurgan Grey Ware, in Northeastern Iran. Moreover, in Mitanni we find the figures of the zebu and the peacock. The zebu was already in Central Asia, but peacock was an Indian bird. Interestingly, in the same area of Mitanni there is now the cult of an angel in the form of a peacock (Melek Ta'us) by Kurdish Yazidis.
    2) I think the most accepted theory is that PIE was not kentum, rather it had a particular palatal sound which evolved in kentum and śatam>satem, that's why in Sanskrit we have the palatal sibilant. Satemization still happened in Europe from Latin kentum: French, Spanish and Portuguese have become satem languages. So, apparently it's not possible to derive kentum from Sanskrit śatam, but we cannot exclude that before the evolution of śatam, we had a form more similar to Latin kentum in South Central Asia, like Bangani 'koto'. On the other hand, in a Kentum language like Greek we have also Satem forms like 'syn' for Latin 'cum' (Sanskrit 'sam').
    3) According to Witzel, most non-IE influences in Vedic are from Munda. The problem however is that we know only modern Munda, and Munda languages have many Aryan loans. I have not a deep knowledge of the question, but I find some so-called Dravidian loans do have some IE parallels: daṇḍa 'staff', is regarded as a Dravidian loan, but I would compare it with Greek 'dendron' 'tree', and connect the cerebralization with the disappeared 'r'. Anyway, I don't want to derive IE languages from Vedic Sanskrit, obviously the language spoken in regions of India where Mundas (lower Ganges) and Dravidians (Deccan) lived is not the language which was brought to Europe.
    4) well, gold (hiraṇya) is already present in the RV, and also 'ayas' (metal: probably copper or bronze). Sethna observed that silver is absent, but there is the adjective rajata 'silvery' for a horse. We know from the Shatapatha Br. that silver was considered as unsuitable as a gift for Brahmans, being the 'tears of Agni', then it is logical that it is not mentioned in the RV.
    5) In the IVC we don't have wooden remains, then we cannot expect to find chariots, but we do have terracotta vehicles and spoked wheels.
    At Daimabad we have, according to Dhavalikar, the best example of a bronze chariot in a Harappan level. Like Dhavalikar, I place the RV mainly in the Late Harappan period.
    6) Yes, we have the famous fire altars of Kalibangan, and also at Lothal and Banawali, where the fire altar has a typical Vedic form.

  5. Very fine and trustable answers:-) though in not distant future some more questions may also come;-) but before that please tell what is the oldest age for PIE and Vedic that you prefer?.
    Have a good time.

  6. About PIE, I think that it could be placed at least since 4500 BC, the start of the famous anthropological continuity in western South Asia, and of the use of metals there, but probably it developed already in the Neolithic. About Vedic language, its origins should be in the 3rd mill. BC, but I place the Rgveda mainly in the first half of the 2nd mill. BC, because I place king Sudas around 1900 BC, and the other Vedic works are probably later.

  7. I agree, there are some thoughts,
    1. 1900BC. it was the time when the climate drasticly changed which made central asian populations(north- west from saptasindh) forced to enter the subcontinent which fueled the battle of 10kings of the 7th book. Stepanov et al.s 1900b.c. assumption of R1a1's intrusion from central asia cognates with it, also the start of drying up of Sarasvati(Ghaggar-Hakra) of which from kyoto research team we now know was mainly nourished by rain water and ofcourse the demise start of the SSC/IVC.
    2. 1500b.c. Sarasvati weakens badly which forces SSC populations to move east to the Ganga-Yamuna basin.
    In BBCs The story of India presented by Michael Wood probably in between 1st or 2nd episode shows an Indian scientist showing in a UK Lab the Graph where Settlements moved from SSC basin to Ganga-yamuna in 1500b.c! Which i think made the start of 1500b.c ANI ASI admixture acceleration of Moorjani et al.! Probably with the Munda speaking population of lower Ganga basin.

  8. I agree about your interpretation of the reasons of the battle of the 10 kings (but we should also consider that the drying up of the Sarasvati forced also Sudas to find new lands). About R1a1, I think it's not possible that it arrived so late, because it is too spread and diversified in India, and I am convinced that it was strongly present among the Harappans. The case of the Mohannas, using Harappan ships and having a high percentage of R1a1 is probably significant... The 'invasions' or cultural influences from Central Asia touched only the Indus region, according to the archaeological record.
    Interesting the BBC programme, I will search for it! Yes, after 1500 BC the movement to Ganga-Yamuna Doab became stronger. If Munda are classified as ASI, it should be so.

  9. No by 1900b.c I didn't mean whole R1a1:-) but a wave of tribes mentioned in the riks from Southern Central Asia that contributed to diversify the clade though probably not in a big way at all. On Harappans having R1a1 that possibility will become a fact if the DNA of the 60+ skeletons from 2500b.c farmana graves gets revealed which i don't know when will happen:-(. till then we can only show dhairya(patience).

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    2. There was another question that i should have asked and feeling stupid to not including it-
      Why Indra is called the destroyer of cities in the rikved? AND do IVC/SSC had cities with forts?.
      stay well.

    3. Well, the epithet puraṃdara for Indra 'destroyer of strongholds (or towns)' can refer to military forts or to citadels. 'pur' according to the MW dictionary means 'a rampart, wall, stronghold, fortress, castle, city, town'. Harappan (IVC/SSC) cities had citadels, with walls, and also the city beyond the citadel normally had a wall. So, we can think that Indra, as a god of war, was destroyer of the forts of the Dasas and/or of the 'Harappan' citadels/townships of the Aryas, in the internal conflicts between Aryas. However, it is also possible that the epithet refers to destroying clouds, which are the 'purs' of the demons in the RV, to be destroyed by Indra, according to Grassmann's dictionary of the RV.

    4. ''it is also possible that the epithet refers to destroying clouds, which are the 'purs' of the demons in the RV, to be destroyed by Indra, according to Grassmann's dictionary of the RV.''
      Yes of course but in certain depictions like of when it is said that 'Indra gave the 100th pur to divodasa' the word is most likely to mean a settlement but more interestingly the meaning of the warrior gods name ''indra'' is not of a certain meaning is it? there are suggestions like-
      ''Vedic Indra corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta as the noun verethragna- corresponds to Vedic vrtrahan-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra. The word vrtra-/verethra- means "obstacle". Thus, vrtrahan-/verethragna- is the "smiter of resistance". Vritra as such does not appear in either the Avesta or in 9th-12th century books of Zoroastrian tradition. Since the name 'Indra' appears in Zoroastrian texts as that of a demon opposing Truth (Vd. 10.9; Dk. 9.3; Gbd. 27.6, 34.27) Zoroastrian tradition has separated both aspects of Indra.''
      but i think it can also be related to skt.''Indriya'' which means sense like ''pancha indriya'' the five senses.
      and there is another suggestion that it means 'rain' or 'drops of rain' where do you stand?.
      stay well.

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