Home > Archeology, DNA, Indo Europeans, Mesolithic > Why Yamnaya Didn’t Contribute to Corded Ware – On Circularity and Perpetuated Talks

Why Yamnaya Didn’t Contribute to Corded Ware – On Circularity and Perpetuated Talks

The ‘West Hunter’ anthropo-weblog of Cochran and Harpending apparently intends exciting reading ‘against the grain’ on intelligence, race and culture. Hence, I was aghast to recognize group thinking rather than truly independent innovation. I didn’t expect nourished ‘truths’ to skew their views and incite the exclamation of unsupported claims. This practice exactly induces the circularity of Kurganist views on the origin of Indo-European languages that center on Yamnaya horse riders from the Pontic-Caspian region, ie. Ukraine. Since apparently this hypothesis was hailed as the politically correct version of the Nazi pet hypothesis that instead centered on the archeological Corded Ware horizon between Rhine and Volga, proponents of many academic circles thrive on the notion that any argument against may be discounted as suspicious. But what’s the pressure worth to defend an alternative truth when this inspires to utter a statement as this: ‘Blond hair maps pretty well into Corded Ware territory, which suggests that it came in with the Yamnaya.’ (Cochran in ‘Faster than Fisher’, 22-11-2014)? Besides being unsupported by the current data, this fabrication of would-be facts is actually part of a larger circularity that totally depends on the same old gut feelings.

Brandt et al. (2013): associated mtDNA groupings expand and retreat in European history. Note that each grouping reflects a different pattern of transitions between archeological periods.

Brandt et al. (2013): associated mtDNA groupings expand and retreat in European prehistory. Note that each grouping reflects a different pattern of transitions between archeological periods.


Without the intention to harm their fundraising plea for a ‘tax-deductible contributions to their blog’, I’d bet they wouldn’t get a coin if the authors weren’t such a Kurganists. Corded Ware that got their blond hair from Yamnaya, certainly a bold statement and maybe even worse than it looks. I urged him please to read Mallory himself, since Yamnaya and Corded Ware really were two different cultures:

‘Lothar Kilian isolated twenty-three diagnostic features. He argued that the Corded Ware burials possessed a series of traits not found in the Pontic-Caspian – amphorae, cord-decorated beakers, battle-axes – which are the essential markers of the Corded Ware culture. In contrast, the steppe burials utilized egg-shaped pottery, hammer-head pins, ochre and a variety of burial postures unknown in the Corded Ware horizon. While there may be some generic similarities, Kilian concluded that the specific differences do not support an historical connection between the two regions.’ (Mallory, 1989)

The Gimbutas’ Kurgan hypothesis of a steppe homeland for Indo-European languages as being spread by Ukrainian horse riders (1956), has had a long succession of champions, that altogether didn’t change much to the main proposition. Despite claims that the prominent Indo-Europeanist Mallory settled the matter in favour of an Ukrainian origin in the ‘Yamnaya’ Pit-Grave culture, with a new focus on its Mesolithic predecessors such as the Sredny Stog culture, his contribution was mainly limited to a new, integrated approach. Comparing literary, linguistic and archaeological evidence, he defined criterions that didn’t perjudicate the Kurgan hypothesis as much as alternatives that were current in 1989. Actually, he was quite critical to arguments for either a common origin, or Corded Ware being derived from Pit Grave (i.e. Yamnaya), or even just Pit Grave expansion into Corded Ware territories. Already critical in his earlier works, his hopes for a clear answer became outright dreary writing Twenty-first century clouds over Indo-European homelands (Mallory, 2013), in which article he admits to serious agriculture-related deficiencies of the Pontic model:

[…]how can we describe the eastern archaeological cultures of the Don (Repin), Volga (Khvalynsk) or the entire Don-Ural region (Yamnaya) as Indo-European if they lacked arable agriculture?
[…]
If one accepts a transmission [of agriculture] to the steppelands, then Renfrew’s theory in so far as the Indo-Iranians and Tokharians are concerned is essentially the same as that of the Pontic-Caspian model and will share the same deficiencies of the steppe model
[…]
all theories must still explain why relatively advanced agrarian societies in greater Iran and India abandoned their own languages for those of later Neolithic or Bronze Age Indo-Iranian intruders.
(Mallory, 2013)

Despite all his sense of scientific criticism and the recognized deficiencies of the hypothesis, it can be agreed upon that Mallory never came up with a better hypothesis. Instead, he settled with the accomodation of as much ‘integrated evidence’ within the existing framework as possible. Using this method, contradictory evidence from one discipline may be overruled by the conjectures from another discipline. However, thus a hypothesis may be at risk to become unscientific if this method of an integrated approach would impede Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion. This means that, while per definition a hypothesis can never be proven, it still should be possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false! So far, the integrated approach of Kurganism failed to produce any convincing falsification criterion. Instead, it merely produced a closed system that became essentially immune against the spectrum of counter-evidence that now arises from a variety of scientific disciplines, even from archeology. Another pitfall of Kurganism is a certain insensitivity towards new evidence and insights. Mallory never dared, or he deemed it unnecessary, to review the Bell Beaker culture for Indo-Europeanness as e.g. Cunliffe did. He remained focused on the Indo European expansions into the historical world of Asia and the Mediterranean. Hence, the value of a steppe origin may only be appreciated by those that are willing to take the Indo-Europeanisation of Corded Ware, and the subsequent linguistic victories of their offspring in Central and Western Europe, for granted. Mallory’s ‘Origins of the Irish’ (2013) conformed to a late Indo-European (c.q. Celtic) arrival in Ireland (1000-100 BC?), what may be taken as his answer for the Indo-Europeanisation of Europe’s westernmost regions, where meager affirmative archeological evidence simply gives way to destiny. In other words, Mallory chose to see the Indo-Europeanisation of Western Europe most of all as a force majeure that just happened, compulsory and inescapable, through multiple channels over a longer period.
The question remained why Cochran was so certain about the Yamnaya background of the Corded Ware horizon, if archeology utterly failed to support such a claim. His answer was a one-liner.
‘The genetics is in: Corded Ware has mostly Yamnaya ancestry’
As far it goes this still isn’t anything more but an assumption. Sure, not even genetics are immune to circular reasoning and less in the hands of Kurganists. As a tool for the Integrated Approach it may bend at will to confirm the conjectures already extracted from other disciplines. But let’s stick to the facts. First it should be established that Yamnaya didn’t receive its genes from anywhere else, and second it should be established that Yamnaya genes were actually ancestral to Corded Ware.
Yamnaya certainly received central European input, as sampled individuals of the culture share a variety of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups that were already current in Early and Middle Neolithic cultures of Central Europe. Its cultural predecessors of the Sredny Stog culture still attested predominantly mtDNA U5a1 (flat graves MOB1 and MOB3 of the site Molyukhov Bugor), a Mesolithic haplogroup that was also current in Mesolithic northern Europe. Such ‘northern’ DNA may be explained by the early expansion of the preceding Dnieper-Donets culture to the south, as was proposed by Dmitry Telegin. He considered the Dnieper-Donets culture as another member of a broad group of Vistula-Dnieper sub-Neolithic cultures that also included the Narva, Valdai and Comb-pricked Ware cultures of Poland. But his definition for its northernmost expanse may be at odds with the NE European Pitted-Comb Ware culture, that – for being sub-Neolithic – may have been related but could remain a more conservative character for a longer period. Though Pitted-Comb Ware ‘also’ expanded south to NE Ukraine, it allegedly didn’t influence Yamnaya.

With cementaries arguably related to the Dnieper-Donets culture appearing on the middle Volga, such as Sezzhee, we might then argue for an expansion of this continuum from the Vistula to the Volga by the fifth millenium BC. This requires us to see the Dnieper-Donets culture as the dominant partner in the creation of the Pontic-Caspian steppe communities and its northwestern cousins as the primary substrate in the creation of the Globulae Amphora and Corded Ware cultures.
[…]
Although Telegin describes the Dnieper-Donets as a physical wedge driven from the north towards the steppe, he also indicates that it was assimilated by the Sredny Stog and Yamnaya cultures.
(Mallory, 1989)

The Dnieper-Donets population was ‘predominantly characterized as late Cro-Magnons with more massive and robust features than the gracile Mediterranean peoples of the Balkan Neolithic. With males averaging about 172 centimeters in height they are a fairly tall people within the context of Neolithic populations’ (Mallory, 1989). Likewise, the Sredny Stog people are described as proto-Europoids of medium to tall stature, more gracile than the Dnieper-Donets people but still quite robust when compared with their contempories in the Tripolye culture’ (Mallory, 1989).
Those that choose to attribute to Yamnaya an omnidirectional expansion and a local origin of this culture in Sredny Stog, should also be able to pinpoint some unique genetic traces of such an event. However, the mtDNA composition of Yamnaya is impossible to relate to a local development. The much overdue study of Wilde et al. (2014) on Eneolithic, Bronze Age, and modern Eastern European samples confirm that ‘the Eneolithic and Bronze Age sequences presented here are ~500–2,000 y younger than the early Neolithic and belong to lineages identified both in early farmers and late hunter–gatherers from central Europe’. Indeed, the sudden appearance of Yamnaya mtDNA T2 attested in this study was preceded by its occurrence in the Early and Middle Neolithic cultures of Central Europe. Likewise, the expansion of the mtDNA T1 they carried was already related to Late Neolithic developments. Brandt et al. (2013) demonstrated its advance already started in the Baalberge culture (Fig. S3) during the transition to the Middle Neolithic. Located around Saksen-Anhalt, it was ‘deeply linked to the emergence of the widespread Funnel Beaker culture complex (FBC) that arose about 4,100-2,650 cal BC in southern Scandinavia’ (Brandt et al., 2013). However, Baalberge must have inherited this haplogroup rather from Early and Middle Neolithic sources nearby. In Hungary (Szécsényi-Nagy et al., 2014) it was attested in the Starcevo culture (sample BAM17, 5,840-5,660 calBC) and in the subsequent Transdanubian Linear Pottery culture (sample BUD4).
Moreover, its unlikely Yamnaya derived these mtDNA components from the neighboring Tripolye culture (known also as the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture) that covered NE Romania, Moldovia and western Ukraine. Genetic evidence indicates that Tripolye must have a different Neolithic origin: ‘It has been suggested that the spread of Neolithic technologies in Ukraine could have proceeded along two possible routes, one from Central Europe, carried by the LBK complex around the northern slope of the Carpathians, and an earlier one from the south associated with the Bug-Dnistér culture’ (Nikitin et al., 2010). The closest haplogroup recovered from Tripolye-samples was mtDNA T4 (Nikitin et al., 2010), that was not attested in Neolithic populations west of the Carpathian Mountains, nor in Corded Ware, nor in Yamnaya.
Heterogeneity of the Neolithic dispersals also involved Neolithic Southern Europe, thus making the replenishment of Yamnaya mtDNA with the Neolithic component from overseas equally unlikely:

Palaeogenetic evidence supports a dual model of Neolithic spreading into Europe a Neolithic population from Southern Europe (Granollers, Catalonia and northeast Spain)
[…]
The putative endogenous sequences obtained do not match those found by Haak et al. (2005) in a sample from Central Europe. This raises new questions on the heterogeneity of the Neolithic dispersals and supports a totally different demographic model for southern Europe, compatible with a demic diffusion model. (Sampietro et al., 2007)

Hence, without an obvious Neolithic or other source nearby, there is no reason to assume Yamnaya was in turn the source of the mtDNA occurrences elsewhere, including the mtDNA T1 and T2 lineages they shared with Corded Ware. It must have been the reverse: the latter culture was simply closer to the apparent Central European transmission point. Sure, mitochondrial DNA only inherits through the female lineage and may not have been representative for its true ethnic origin, though even for an alleged expansive population of rapist horse riders and would-be forebears of the speakers of Indo-European languages, it doesn’t make sense they would have ‘stolen’ their wifes from far away Central Europe rather than from their immediate neighbors.
Indeed, departing from the hybrid nature of cultures affected by the Dnieper-Donets expansions, it may be deduced that previous cultures in the region may have been rich rather in the otherwise essentially eastern mtDNA C haplogroup since it was found in the Ukrainian sites Yasinovatka (in sample [Ya 45] dated 5471–5223 BC, and subclade C4a2 in sample [Ya 34] dated 5323–4941 BC) and Nikolskoye ([Ni 58]). In Holocene Europe this marker was found as far west as eastern Hungary, where mtDNA C5 was attested in the Neolithic Körös culture (~5500 BC, Guba et al., 2011), where direct contact between the Neolithic and indigenous hunter-gatherer communities have been suggested due to a marked genomic dichotomy of the local samples (Gamba et al., 2014). Der Serkissian (2011; 2014) found mtDNA C to be indigenous up north in Mesolithic Karelia (3 mtDNA C1f at Yuzhnyi Olenii Ostrov, ~7,500 yBP) and in the Bronze Age Kola Peninsula (5 mtDNA C* and 2 mtDNA C5 in Bolshoi Olenii Ostrov, ~3,500 yBP). These markers may have a long history in eastern Europe: although ‘[m]ost of the diversity of hg C is found today in indigenous populations of Asia and the Americas’, with only very few haplotypes found in Germans [14], Canarians [15], Icelanders [16–17] and Bashkirs [18]’, the tree topology of the 2014 study ‘suggests that the Eurasian C1 subclades, the East Asian C1a, the rare C1f branch from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov and the Icelandic C1e split early from the most recent common ancestor of the C1 clades and evolved independently’ (Der Sarkissian, 2014). Again, these genetic similarities can’t be equated nor attributed to the Pit–Comb Ware culture, whose influences were never attested in kurgan territory. Apparently, these markers were still residual in Ukraine about the time of the southward expansion of the Dnieper-Donets culture and the formation of Sredny Stog.
Sredny Stog is most likely one of the hybrid cultures that received input from the group of Vistula-Dnieper sub-Neolithic cultures. Physically intermediate between northern and mediterranean element and still lacking the common Neolithic component, however, any truly “autochthonous” mtDNA that once may have been current, remains unsampled. Its mtDNA U5a1 haplotypes were shared by Mesolothic cultures all over and thus lack any local distinctiveness. If simply brought in by Dnieper-Donets populations from the north, any local component may still emerge when more Sredny Stog remains are getting sampled. In Yamnaya, abundantly sampled by Wilde et al. (2014), no special local mtDNA signature had remained. Arguably, not all of Yamnaya haplogroups participated in the Indo European expansion either, so it has all appearance the course of events reveals a continued process of replacement by immigration.
Thus, now Yamnaya mtDNA doesn’t suffice to support Cochran’s claim Yamanaya ancestry in Corded Ware, what other genetic evidence there might be? Certainly there has been a lot of publicity on Y-DNA. The Genographic Project led by Spencer Wells was probably the first to link Y-DNA R1a to proto-Indo-Europeans and the archaeological Kurgan culture. However, the original pretext that Y-DNA haplogroup R1a was the Indo-European marker par excellence for an Ukrainian origin should now be considered obsolete. It requires a certain blindness to deny that North-Western European R1a split off before the great ‘Indo-European’ Asian Z93 – European Z282 divide. In Underhill et al. (2014) half of the presented R1a-M417* (previously considered SRY10831.2) haplotypes were found in the Northsea region, still a hotbed of L664. We don’t know the subclade of Eulau R1a (SRY10831.2 for now), but probably it was high up in the tree and not necessarily L664: at least for dys439=10 and dys385a=11 that are most typical also for most of the 10 presented R1a-M417* in Underhill’s table S3. This suggests the Eulau profile rather presents an ancestral pattern. Moreover, similar STR can be found in ALL OTHER MAJOR SUBCLADES of R1a-M417+, whose star like pattern can thus conveniently be explained as recent expansion.
Indeed, North-West European ‘Corded Ware’ blurs into more general Beaker cultures, going back to Swifterbant, and Funnel Beaker (TRB) whose western megaliths themselves were continuous also to certain local cultures that elsewhere would qualify as either Bell Beaker or Corded Ware, thus making the current ‘Corded Ware’ definition rather a quite arbitrary Central European affair.
Then, further east including Yamnaya territories, there is an enormous Indo-European R1a-hole: so far we only have Mal’ta (too old and different) while all Underhill’s “Iranian” M420* and SRY10831.2* where actually Azeris. Thus, unfortunately, it turns out that Y-DNA R1a, despite having had an interesting itinerary during its formation, never had an ancestral state in Ukraine on the eve of Indo-European expansion.
An Ukrainian origin of R1b-P312 can also be rejected. I suggest this subclade can be explained in Ukraine by the link that once existed between the Lower Mikhalayovka group, that preceded Yamnaya along the lower Dnieper, and Globular Amphora, that preceded Corded Ware in some places. The direction of cultural exchange has never been convincingly established on archeological grounds. Since the Globular Amphora culture has its roots in the Mid-Neolithic revival of pre-Neolithic European elements, not unlike Corded Ware that finally incorporated this culture, an origin in Central Europe could more likely. Some (eg. Sveshnikov, read Mallory 1989 p251) think the movement was into Ukraine and don’t even consider a steppe origin. What seems logical, since this culture had a clear agricultural tradition. If so, this could help explain why Ukrainian R1b is predominantly a subset of Central European R1b.
Or was Cochran’s compelling genetic evidence all about color? Yamnaya fantasies of blond, blue-eyed and probably white Indo-Europeans on horseback are hardly new and have inspired many good scientists to already rejected hypotheses. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out the first blond, blue eyed and white person was indeed an Ukrainian Yamnaya? This would have been an excellent falsification criterion for the Pontic model, if only it weren’t so obvious that real Kurganists wouldn’t bother to predict anything. It’s difficult to fight a hypothesis that happens to be so hopelessly unscientific. When a common founder mutation in an OCA2 inhibiting regulatory element was identified as the cause of blue eye color in humans, the investigators didn’t think twice to make their contribution to Kurgan circularity: ‘The mutations responsible for the blue eye color most likely originate from the neareast area or northwest part of the Black Sea region, where the great agriculture migration to the northern part of Europe took place in the Neolithic periods about 6–10,000 years ago (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994).’ (Eiberg et al., 2008). It must have been most embarrassing to learn that an ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherer from the Loschbour rock shelter in Luxembourg had a >50% probability of blue eyes (Lazaridis et al., 2013), while an approximately 7,000-year-old Mesolithic skeleton discovered at the La Braña-Arintero site in León, Spain, ‘carried the HERC2 rs12913832*C single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and the associated homozygous haplotype spanning the HERC2–OCA2 locus that is strongly associated with blue eye colour.’ (Olalde et l., 2014). Instead, the Wilde et al. study (2014) on Eastern Europe found ‘that positive selection on pigmentation variants associated with depigmented hair, skin, and eyes was still ongoing after the time period represented by our archaeological population, 6,500–4,000 y ago.’ Table S1 of their supplement reveals the outcome for Sredny Stog (MOB1) as rs12913832 A/A (ancestral HERC2, i.e. brown eyes), rs16891982 C/C (ancestral SLC45A2, i.e. dark skin, hair, and eye color), rs1042602 C/C (ancestral TYR, i.e. dark skin and eye color and possibly freckles). The same goes for most other Eneolithic (or Mesolithic) samples of the study. Only one Eneolithic sample in Moldavia (VIN1) was heterozygous for a derived polymorphism of SLC45A2 that was earlier associated with Neolithic populations. For the subsequent period 47 samples were tested for the HERC2 mutation, and only four were homozygous for the derived G/G allele for blue eyes. Two of them were Yamnaya’s (one from Kalinovka I near Samara in the Lower Volga region, and one from Mayaki near Odessa in southwest Ukraine) and two were from the subsequent Catacomb culture (both from Novozvanovka II, near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine). Five other samples were heterozygous (A/G), three of them Yamnaya’s and two from the Catacomb culture. The ‘blond’ TYR gene was attested in two samples from the Yamna culture, including one that was homozygous (A/A) – extracted from a site in Kalinovka I, Middle Volga, the other being from Riltsi, Bulgaria – and one from the Catacomb culture (Temrta V near Stavropol, Russia). However, much older (> 5,000 calBC) heterozygous samples were recently retrieved from three Neolithic samples in Hungary (NE2 at 5,060–5,290 calBC, NE3 at 5,010–5,210 calBC and NE5 at 4,990–5,210 calBC). However, using the 24 SNPs included in the Hirisplex system, the impact of this gene is very relative. Gamba et al. (2014) arrived at four out of nine Neolithic Hungarian individuals having lighter shades of hair color, the oldest being KO2 (5,570–5,710 calBC) while NE2 and NE3 had the usual black or dark brown. One of the samples had light brown of dark blond hair, but this was NE7 (4,360-4,490 calBC), not NE5 (Fig.3 and supplementary table 17).
Apparently Eastern Europe lagged behind in their selective processes towards depigmentation compared with Western and Central Europe or, more likely, they were on the receiving end of genetic exchange. Cochran wasn’t informed about the Neolithic blond genes in Hungary and thought its ‘absence’ in Mesolithic hunters, Neolithic farmers (!) and Sardinians today had left only one possible source. He meant Ukraine, but actually there always had been another possibility in the Eneolithic cultures that extended from Hungary up to NE Europe.
Never mind. Mitochondial DNA, Y-DNA and the genetics of skin, eye and hair color are all history. Never mind falsification criterions either. A new rumour is spreading like wildfire and Cochran urges me to listen as well as he does:

Since there is in fact genetic info out on Yamnaya samples, think again. In talks, in abstracts, out soon in print.
There is a genetic component, ANE, that did not exist in the mesolithic hunters of Europe (except to a minor degree in Scandinavia). It did not exist in the neolithic farmers of Europe, who are very much like modern Sardinians. But now it is a significant ancestry component for Northern Europe, and is found to some extent in most of southern Europe (except for parts of Sardinia). It’s also found, at a higher percentage, in Amerindians
The Yamnaya have it, and so does the people of the Corded Ware: earlier, it wasn’t there.

Apparently he refers here to an upcoming paper of Patterson et al., where Yamnaya is purportedly modelled as a 50-50 mix of a newly defined ‘Karelian’ hunter-gatherer component and modern Armenians. The ANE component of Armenians was not published by Lazaridis et al. (2013), though can be assumed to be high since the neighboring Chechen have 27%, and Lesgin have 28,8%. Up north the closest region, geographical and cultural, to Karelia being ‘reliably’ sampled was Estonia, where the ANE component reaches a regional maximum of 18,7%. Peak values in Russia, Finland and Mordovia were also mentioned. Yes, such a 50-50 mix would indeed indicate a much higher ANE component in Yamnaya than Western and Central Europe ever received from the east. It would also confirm the original affiliation of Yamnaya with Eneolithic cultures that originate in NE Europe, and especially the northern input received from the preceding Dnieper-Donets culture. However, it should be noted the purported expansion of such high ANE levels by Yamnaya’s is contradicted by moderate levels in Ukraine nowadays. Again, genetics still suggest the effects of gene flow rather into Ukraine.
The definition of an ANE (Ancient North Eurasians) component was introduced by Lazaridis et al. (2013) to quantify an apparent ancestral contribution as represented by the genome of an 24,000-year-old boy from Mal’ta in south-central Siberia (Raghavan et al., 2014) in modern populations. This genome was especially close to Amerindians (the Karitiana being the most important reference population) and related to prehistoric Europeans, but – surprisingly – not to East Asians. Now it seems that Bronze Age gene flow introduced a considerable portion of ANE alleles into Europe, what has recently been associated with demographic changes that brought about Indo-European languages in Europe. Hence, Europeans may now be described as a 3-way mix of ‘European’ components (EEF, WHG, and ANE), where EEF is actually a mixture of 80% WHG (the ancestral component derived of West-European Hunter-Gatherers) and 20% ‘basal European’ that is thought to be a Neolithic component that originated somewhere in the Near East. However, it was found that Finnish, Mordovians and Russians cannot be fit within this 3-way mix. They ‘share more alleles with Karitiana relative to other Europeans’ but it was suggested they must possess ‘a Siberian ancestral component not shared with other Europeans […] A possible explanation for this is distinct gene flow from Siberia’ (Lazaridis et al., 2013 sup). We should be careful though, to associate this component too lightly with Uralian immigration. Yet another pole of genetic diversity in northern Europe was found in the Uralic Komi, whose genetic influence (by gene flow) can still be measured in the Northern Russian Mezen district, Archangelsk, close to Karelia (Khrunin et al., 2013: figure 3).
Seven ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherers from Motala in Sweden, genotyped by Lazaridis et al. (2013), already attested ANE influences. The PCA displayed in their fig. 1B shows these influences don’t suffice to explain the much higher levels of ANE admixture nowadays. We don’t have so many samples for a dense grid to have the gene flow processes involved already chewed out, but the figure shows that the Finnish, Mordovians and Russian, whose common peculiarity was already mentioned above, are genetically still ‘close’ to Mal’ta Boy (MA1) and even indistinguishable from the Afontova Gora-2 sample (AG2, 17,000-14,000 cal BP), extracted much more to the east in Krasnoyarsk on the Yenisei River. The reliability of AG2 is contested, though apparently the Motala individuals cluster with ~5,000 year old hunter-gatherers from the Pitted Ware Culture (PWC) in Sweden. This culture was strongly influenced by the Comb Ceramic culture/Pit-Comb Ware of Finland and other parts of north-eastern Europe (~6,000 – 5,000 BC). At least this supplies sufficient indication that areal influences of the Pit–Comb Ware culture may be interpreted as genetic proximity of ANE and its likely abundance in NE Europe.
Moreover, the genetic affiliation in Neolithic Hungary with NE Europe, as mentioned above, may suggest ‘blondness’ was indeed associated with ANE at an early stage, albeit only here. Indeed, an extremely strong presence of blondness can still be perceived in NE Europe, even in the remote ‘Corded Ware’ places that nowadays are inhabited by Finnish populations. Linguistic research suggests that the populations of Finland and Estonia were indeed preceded by Indo Europeans:
‘An archaic (Northwest-)Indo-European language and a subsequently extinct Paleo-European language were likely spoken in what is now called Finland and Estonia, when the linguistic ancestors of the Finns and the Sami arrived in the eastern and northern Baltic Sea region from the Volga-Kama region probably at the beginning of the Bronze Age’ (Heikkilä, 2014).
Corded Ware in this region was represented by local varieties of the Battle Axe culture:

The Finnish Corded Ware pottery is often understood as being an Indo-European pottery style originating in the Baltic region.
[…]
Corded Ware pottery is the Finnish Battle Axe culture’s most common leading artefact.
[..]
In Estonia Battle Axe pottery is mixed with Comb and Pitted Ware pottery
(Bagenbolm, 1995 )

It is remarkable that for this region the general incorporation of Pit-Comb Ware cultures into the wider Corded Ware horizon has also been interpreted as a transition of related cultures that all derive from the NW European Funnel Beaker culture:

Mats P. Malmer’s interpretation is that the Pitted Ware culture developed from earlier foraging cultures (Ertebolle, Trindyx, Nostved and Fosna) (Malmer 1969, 100f). Today it is suggested that the Pitted Ware culture is possibly a specialised variation of the Funnel Beaker culture (Indrelid 1972, 10; Carlie 1986, 156ft), or alternatively, a regional variation inside the Funnel Beaker culture (Browall1991). (Bagenbolm, 1995)

Indo-European at an early stage, this region poses some problems to a Yamnaya- or even s Continental Corded Ware- related cultural origin all by itself:

As far as I know, no one has yet examined the Corded Ware pottery’s cord impressions. In the Nordic countries the only textile fabrics known from this period are made from lime and willow raffia. On the Continent both wool and flax have been identified (Bender Jorgensen 1992, 114ff). This may suggest a continuity between the Funnel Beaker pottery of Sweden, the Comb Ware pottery of Finland and the Battle Axe pottery in Sweden and Finland, based on the production techniques used for making the decoration tools (cords of willow or lime raffia). The hypothesis for a migrating Corded Ware culture requires a break in the continuity, pertaining to textile fabrics. One must otherwise ask why the Indo-European pastoral culture (Gimbutas 1991, 385 fig 10:32) refrained from working with wool fibres (which were known on the Continent) as soon as they arrived in Scandinavia and in Finland. (Bagenbolm, 1995 )

Thus, if Eastern Corded Ware was indeed the cultural consolidation of eastward expanding populations having a Funnel Beaker origin, that also inherited from Mesolthic populations that arguably were carriers of the ANE component and a potential source of blondness, the question arises how blondness and ANE could have expanded from a just moderately-expansive region! The previous Pit-Comb Ware cultures became wholly incorporated within the boundaries of the Corded Ware horizon, though the expansion process rather involved integration than one-sided domination. Genetic cohesion and gene flow within cultural boundaries are a common feature. Marriage patterns within the expanse of a single cultural horizon, as they often evolve, tend to homogenize genetic components within cultural boundaries. For Corded Ware this process must have been effective for over a thousand years. There is not any reason why Yamnaya genetics should still enter the Indo European equation. All the contrary: the cultural and genetic input of Yamnaya was as low in NE Europe as it was in the rest of the Corded Ware horizon. We might need some more pre-Yamnaya samples to expand on this. What we found thus far is a mixed Yamnaya population whose local forebears might as well be largely extinct, and that probably expanded only after being thoroughly Indo-Europeanized from elsewhere.
So mister Cochran and the likes, that only mean to perpetuate existing talks, when starting from a clean slate there is really nothing at all in Yamnaya territory to design a genetic homeland. Rapist horse riders are out of fashion nowadays anyway. Let’s find again something new!


  • Bagenbolm – Corded Ware Ceramics in Finland and Sweden, 1995, link
  • Brandt et al. – Ancient DNA Reveals Key Stages in the Formation of Central European Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity, 2013, link
  • Der Sarkissian et al. – Mitochondrial Genome Sequencing in Mesolithic North East Europe Unearths a New Sub-Clade within the Broadly Distributed Human Haplogroup C1, 2014, link
  • Eiberg et al. – Blue eye color in humans may be caused by a perfectly associated founder mutation in a regulatory element located within the HERC2 gene inhibiting OCA2 expression, 2008, link
  • Gamba et al. – Genome flux and stasis in a five millennium transect of European prehistory, 2014, link
  • Heikkilä – Bidrag till Fennoskandiens språkliga förhistoria i tid och rum, 2014, link
    Read also: Dienekes – Indo-Europeans preceded Finno-Ugrians in Finland and Estonia, August 17, 2014, link
  • Khrunin et al. – A Genome-Wide Analysis of Populations from European Russia Reveals a New Pole of Genetic Diversity in Northern Europe, 2013, link
  • Lazaridis et al. – Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, 2013, link
  • Lillie et al. – Prehistoric populations of Ukraine: Migration at the later Mesolithic to Neolithic transition, 2012, link
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  1. January 5, 2015 at 15:02

    Nice article, thanks! I got some of your ideas and I fully support your critique of Cochran’s pseudoscience. I do need an overall clarification, though: Where do you think Indo-European languages expanded from? What role does northwest Europe play in the process of the diversification of Indo-European languages? Is it the last area to be settled or a secret homeland?

  2. January 5, 2015 at 22:10

    I think it is funny that the Corded Ware horizon is still on all the lists of Indo-European populations, while at the same time it has been removed wholesale from all the official lists of potential homelands. Sure, Corded Ware ‘as is’ may be too ‘German’ in its definition and (hence?) couldn’t be extrapolated to India or the Balkans, but it may be mere post-war politics that still impedes a closer investigation. It inherited from preceding cultures that eg. in NW Europe glued together Corded Ware and Bell Beaker; and before that Funnel Beaker and Michelsberg-like cultures. Early Beaker influences radiated to Ukraine and oversea to Iberia and the eastern Mediterranean, and incorporated Pit-Comb cultures. Don’t you think this deserves attention? Instead all the effort is invested in pulling a dead Yamnaya horse. Possibly the Indo-European source was really a hotspot of trade and cultural exchange, as much as Indo-Europeanness still thrives on trade and cultural exchange. Still, if beakers were indeed their first cultural markers, then the ‘Mesolithic’ Swifterbant culture in NW Europe, that made the transition to pottery and agriculture all by itself, was the first member of this family.

  3. January 6, 2015 at 03:39

    I agree that we need to explore broader and in unlikely places. I’m open minded about Indo-European origins and have only excluded Anatolia as the homeland. My own research has led me to seriously question the centum-satem division as an artifact of the comparativist method and not even an areal grouping (http://kinshipstudies.org/2014/07/23/indo-european-labiovelars-a-new-look/). The Indo-Uralic hypothesis has a strong appeal to me and northwest Europe is a place where the split into PIE and PU could have easily happened. The glottalic theory of IE consonantism can’t be rejected, hence it’s possible that Germanic is one of the most archaic IE dialects from the point of view of the stop system. So, in a nutshell, if I may put words in your mouth, Indo-European is of Mesolithic Northwest European origin. Foragers discovering farming and cattle-breeding on their own. Intriguing!

  4. January 7, 2015 at 03:07

    Just realized: I meant NE Europe, not NW Europe. Will NE Europe work on your end?

  5. January 7, 2015 at 23:37

    Some similarities between NE Europe’s Early Comb Ware culture and the SE European agrarian painted pottery cultures, and now some genetic resemblances that have popped up in Neolithic Hungary, may indicate the existence of a deep indigenous and distinct Mesolithic component in Eastern Europe, that remains difficult to distinguish from Uralic. I am not sure how these relate to more eastern cultures like Volosovo, that apparently was a true forerunner of Uralic culture, though so far I deem such contacts and genetic identity contradictory to Indo European origins. However, Comb Ware merged with Corded Ware possibly to form the Indo European tribes along the Upper Volga and the Oka rivers, Fatyanovo and Balanovo that definitely must have spoken an ancient Iranian language. I suppose they received Uralian influences before they migrated to Asia, I already blogged on the Satem word for ‘one’ (Slavs Along the Frankish Border). In the current blog I hypothezise a genetic back flow from NE Europe into the Corded Ware territory of northern Europe, as such possibly responsible for the current distribution of ‘blond genes’.

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