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

December 29, 2014 5 comments

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
  • Mallory – Twenty-first century clouds over Indo-European homelands, 2013, link
  • Mallory – In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Language, Archeology and Myth, ISBN 0-500-27616-1, 1989
  • Newton – Ancient Mitochondrial DNA From Pre-historic Southeastern Europe: The Presence of East Eurasian Haplogroups Provides Evidence of Interactions with South Siberians Across the Central Asian Steppe Belt, 2011, link
  • Nikitin et al. – Comprehensive Site Chronology and Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Analysis from Verteba Cave – a Trypillian Culture Site of Eneolithic Ukraine, 2010, link
  • Olalde et al. – Derived immune and ancestral pigmentation alleles in a 7,000-year-old Mesolithic European, 2014, link
  • Raghavan et al. – The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic, 2014, link
  • Skoglund – Origins and Genetic Legacy of Neolithic Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers in Europe, 2012, link
  • Underhill et al. – The phylogenetic and geographic structure of Y-chromosome haplogroup R1a, 2014, link

Ötzi Tells It All: On Recent Evolution And Migration

August 26, 2012 1 comment

The discovery that artery diseases were not confined to modern times, but even affected people in the Neolithic, may come as a relief to those tired of social retaliation. Some people are simply more vulnerable to artery diseases than others, and this vulnerability turned out to be ancient rather than the exclusive result of modern abuse. This discovery was the outcome of painstaking investigation on ‘Ötzi’, the famous 3300 BC ‘Iceman’ that dry-freezed and mummified in the mountains of Tirol.

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that Ötzi carried a marker, or predisposition, for heart disease. And this is in spite of an active lifestyle and probably a healthy, balanced diet. Yet, clumps op calcium were found in the walls of his blood vessels, indicating artherial sclerosis. That is, his arteries looked like those of a forty something year old in the 21st century, not something we expected. This shows that these are not simply civilization diseases, due to bad diet and lack of excercise, but are genetically influenced conditions. (Thomas Tartaron, 2012)

The health state of Ötzi proves that artery diseases ocurred much earlier than previously thought to be possible for people living in conditions that supposedly approximated our natural state. This implies genetic protection against artery diseases is not the original condition. Health issues can’t always be ‘prevented’ by merciless excercises and diets beforehand, since apparently our shared genetic heritage is part of the blame. Built-in desire for sugars and fats leads to health in lean times but disease in times of plenty. However, the ‘invention’ of Neolithic food production, or the introduction of animal husbandry and crops, also supplied additions to ancient diets that may be regarded as the precursors of modern fatty food. Mere abundance must have caused evolutionary proven concepts to have turned against our contemporary genetic heritage. Instead, the current possibility of some to avoid artery diseases in the midst of plenty should be viewed upon as a potential example of modern adaptation.

Medical examination of Ötzi


A changed food pattern was only one of the Neolithic triggers for the rapid spread of genes that proved successful in the new environment. Some of these genes show recent allele modifications, such as those for Lactase Persistence (LP), that comes in several unrelated haplotypes that are each characterized by the presence of a strong selective sweep – the most common being defined by the T-13910 allele of the H98-haplotype. Actually, this particular LP haplotype supplies an impressive testimony of recent genetic change. While presently common in Europe and thought to be introduced in the Neolithic, LP was not reported on Ötzi. Indeed, in his time LP related selective processes must just have started since the very first traces of LP in Europe were dated only a little younger:

In this study, we have investigated lactase persistence of 26 out of 46 individuals from Late Neolithic through analysis of ancient South-West European DNA samples, obtained from two burials in the Basque Country originating from 5000 to 4500 YBP. This investigation revealed that these populations had an average frequency of lactase persistence of 27%, much lower than in the modern Basque population, which is compatible with the concept that Neolithic and post-Neolithic evolutionary pressures by cattle domestication and consumption of dairy products led to high lactase persistence in Southern European populations. (Plantinga et al., 2011)

Some other genes may have been around for much longer, only to receive their current advantage in a more ‘modern’ setting. One recent study suggests genetic differences of the (male-only) Y-chromosome may be of the latter category. Y-chromosomes are usually categorized into a system of haplogroups that each feature a characteristic signature of random markers, that thus convey deeper genetic differences:

Of nine haplogroups identified, two (R1b1b2 and I) accounted for roughly 90% of the Y chromosome variants among British men. Carriers of haplogroup I had about a 50% higher age-adjusted risk of coronary artery disease than did men with other Y chromosome lineages […]
The human Y chromosome is associated with risk of coronary artery disease in men of European ancestry, possibly through interactions of immunity and inflammation. (Charchar et al., 2012)

Already in 1974 Friedman and Rosenman concluded in their famous book Type A behavior and your health that men with Type A personality were at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease. Type A behavior is a stress-producing behavior, characterized by aggressiveness, perfectionism, unwillingness to relinquish control, and a sense of time urgency.

[…] men with Type A personalities were less well adapted to the pressures of the workplace than were their Type B collegues. (Barnett, 2002)

Anger and hostility is harmful to the heart, especially among men.


Environmental stress is always important for the interplay between selective forces and adaptation, and with Type A personalities this is not any different:

Specifically, Stoney and Engebretson and Siegman et al. have suggested that for men dominance and aggression interact to increase CHD risk, whereas aggression alone (especially indirect expression) is particularly toxic to women.
However, although the basis of Type A behavior can be found in personality and temperament, its expression is dependent on the unique context and environment of the individual. (Wrzesniewski et al., 2002)

The male-specific genetic component of Type A behavior should logically be found on the Y-chromosome, where cladistic genetic differences can be labeled easily using the ISOGG phylogeny of Y-chromosome haplogroups. Indeed, as could be expected from above favorable results on CHD for haplogroup R1b1b2, investigation on other haplogroup R-clade Y-chromosomes suggested a lower inclination to Type A behavior:

Studies show that personality dimensions such as aggression are influenced by genetic factors and that allelic variants located on the Y chromosome influence such behavior.
[…] comparisons allowed us to detect an association of the haplogroups R2 […] and R1a1 […] with lower self-reported aggression mean scores (Shoaib Shah et al, 2008)

Studies confirm that anger and aggression are significantly correlated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD):

The proportion of healthy population studies demonstrating a significant harmful effect of anger and hostility on CHD was 28.0% – Chida & Steptoe, 2009

In this context it may be relevant that two of Europe’s most controversal conquerors, Napoleon and Hitler, attested the same haplogroup E1b1b, rare in Western Europe. Napoleon’s clade could be refined to E-M34 or E1b1b1c1*, what in the current ISOGG phylogeny (2012) is equivalent to E1b1b1b2a1. Their abject disposition to dominance, nothing short of their abject glorification by some, may have had a Y-chromosome component, that in their specific cases may have been one of the culprits of their curious pathologies. Hitler once collapsed after a severe altercation in 1941, clutching his chest. Though no evidence of significant cardiovascular (or other) disease could be found, and normally attributed to Hitler’s hypochondriasis, this rather illustrates Type A personality as a cardiac risk all of its own.
Other deadly ailments are suspect of being related to Type A personalities, such as peptic ulcer. Stress has been demonstrated to cause the production of excess stomach acid, where the immune system is unable to clear subsequent infections of bacterial strains like H. pylori that thrive in an acidic environment. Much of Ötzi’s intestinal DNA belong not to him but to a bacterium associated with Lyme disease.

[…] all children and adolescents with Lyme disease and chronic abdominal pain had evidence of inflammation on biopsy in the stomach, duodenum, or colon. (Fried et al., 1996)

Hitler’s digestion problems prompted him to become a vegetarian. So far his stomach complaints, together with his fits of rage and purported cardiac lesion, have been unsuccessfully linked with syphilis. Full-blown peptic ulcer is thought to have run in the family of his Y-chromosome ‘relative’ Napoleon. Probably mistaken for cancer (the autopsy report of 1821 stated that Napoleon had a chronic stomach ulcer but died of a cancer of his stomach), the latter’s father and grandfather died of it too:

I believe that Napoleon had a chronic peptic ulcer and that gross haemorrhage from the ulcer and consequent circulatory collapse were the immediate cause of death.
[…]
This man, who had been full of burning energy and vitality found himself abruptly cut off from any outlet for his physical and mental powers. His health declined and he developed a chronic peptic ulcer of the stomach which perforated. (Murray, 1971)

Type A personality may have been the direct cause of Ötzi’s death in a quite different way. Reconstruction of Ötzi’s crime scene suggested he was murdered, probably by someone he knew. Preservation of red blood cells found in the right hand wound tissue and at the arrowhead entry wound on the Iceman’s back, and fibrin, an essential protein formed during the blood clotting process, strongly indicate his wounds were still fresh when he died. He couldn’t have run far from his assassins, and his costly copper axe would have been robbed if the murderer didn’t have a very good reason to not bring it back to his people as a trophee.
Would it be feasible to link differences in male behavior to genetic differences in the Y-chromosome? It has long been denied the Y-chromosome could be useful for anything else but basic male physiology. Like I already explained elsewhere on this blog, most hard-boiled practices to dismiss the Y-chromosome as junk DNA without any function doesn’t have any other base than ignorance, or lack of knowledge if this sounds any better. According to the comparative investigations of Hughes et al. evolutionary forces must have been at work on the Y-chromosome even after the split of chimps and humans. This year Hughes et al. came up with new evidence:

“The genes that are still on the human Y chromosome have been around for a long time, and that suggests they must actually be doing something useful,” said Jobling. Unfortunately, scientists don’t know what that is. “The Y chromosome has been neglected,” he said. (The Scientist, February 22, 2012)

From an evolutionary perspective, replacement of purported ‘genetic improvements’ is rarely straightforward and often prone to genetic drawbacks, coincidently inherent to the change. At the individual level of the human ‘organism’ type A personalities now appear to be ‘deleterious’ within the new, self-inflicted modern environment, and now tentatively associated with both identified Neolithic haplogroups (G2a and E1b) that were possibly subject to purifying selection, their decline may even be as old as the Neolithic itself. Indeed, systematic evidence of aggression is lacking in pre-Neolithic societies:

Recent finds in northern Syria […] suggest that violence flared as urban life first began to take hold between 4000 B.C.E. and 3200 B.C.E.
[…]
University of Cambridge archaeologists found three mass graves dating from about 3800 B.C.E. to 3600 B.C.E. at Tell Brak. The oldest and largest grave was at least 20 meters long and 4 meters wide, and included a jumbled pile of at least several hundred people—by far the earliest undisputed example of an event of mass violence. (Lawner, 2012)

Suddenly, due to cultural change, the aggressive expression of ancient genes thus turned catastrophic against survival.
If Type A personalities have a fully genetic cause, there must have been a time when their advantages outweighted the effect of possible deleterious circumstances. Now cultural conditions changed, one might wonder why their genes didn’t get extinct altogether. Or was selective Y-chromosome and mtDNA haplogroup decline over history rather an event-driven event? It is still possible that great turmoils in history were especially disadvantageous to the reproduction of certain personalties or metabolisms. What was the haplogroup of those especially prone to engage in wars and perish in ‘heroic’ acts? Their continued, almost disproportionate presence in the power-scene should make us wonder about the nature of Y-chromosome haplogroup survival. Deep human tragedy must have been involved in the process, but also personal successes and good, talented people that succumbed to the laws of nature.
Balanced selection on YDNA may have been an issue: Hitler, or Napoleon, or Stalin for that matter that like Ötzi was part of the G2a clade, could never have perpetrated their bloodshed if they weren’t facilitated by the contemporanous non-Hg E1b1b1 and non-G2a majorities of the powerful nations they usurped. Their rise to power had in common that it was hosted by nations that imported their dictators from genetic backwaters elsewhere, respectively Austria, Corsica and Georgia.
Balanced selection constitutes a useful mechanism to avoid irreversible genetic loss. Nature wasn’t always able to avoid the reduction of genetic variability during extreme circumstances, or ‘bottle necks,’ often considered a major cause of a species’ extinction. A certain optimal balance of ‘competing’ genetic modifications, for YDNA chromosomes each marked by defining haplogroup mutations, then guarantees the preservation of basal genetic variability. In this view, low frequencies of a certain haplogroup would represent equilibrium rather than imminent extinction. This may indeed be illustrated by individuals and lineages carrying Y-chromosomes E1b1b and G2a, that simply can’t be marginalized in European history in any way. For instance, the ‘Ötzi-type’ Y-chromosome of the executed French king Louis XVI, whose Y-chromosome represents the House of Bourbon and the ancient Capetian dynasty it’s a branch of, quite a notable lineage that has its earliest known ancestor in the Frankish count Robert of Hesbaye (770–807):

The uncommon mtDNA sequence retrieved can be attributed to a N1b haplotype, while the novel Y-chromosome haplotype belongs to haplogroup G2a. (Lalueza-Fox et al., 2011)

The purported ‘neutrality’ of the Y-chromosome as an unbiased migrational marker probably won’t stand further investigation on personality and coronary artery disease. Fatty and unhealthy diets that are commonly associated with the emergence of productive economy are likely to have triggered selective pressures beneficial to Y-chromosome Hg R, and deleterious to those carrying eg. marker Hg I. But it should be noted that culturally defined selective pressures are rarely universal. R1b-type Y-chromosomes attested for Egypt’s great 18th dynasty didn’t help R1b to become abundant anywhere in the Middle East. Bottom line is that Y-chromosomes marked by haplogroups G2a and E1b1b1, apparently became rare swiftly from one moment to the other – and all being rare is always very special, for better or worse. Culturally defined negative interaction (competition) that previously caused near extinction in a process of purifying selection, may thus also revert to positive interaction at any time. In other words, balanced selection may have provided favorable conditions for the survival of rare haplogroups that apparently prevailed in the past:

Y-chromosomal analyses permitted confirmation of the existence in Spain approximately 7,000 y ago of two haplogroups previously associated with the Neolithic transition: G2a and E1b1b1a1b. (Lacan et al. – 2011b)

Up to now the presence of most attested ancient Y-haplotypes in Europe tends to be explained by the Neolithic advance, and these G2a and E1b1b1a1b (E-V13, not particularly close related to Napoleon’s E-M34) samples of Avellaner Cave in Cogolls, Catalonia, Spain, are no exception. I am no longer convinced, and not just because this way only few current haplogroups remain for being attributed to pre-Neolithic populations:

Indeed, hg I is the only major lineage for which a Paleolithic origin is generally accepted, but it comprises only 18% of European Y chromosomes (Balaresque et al., 2010)

A growing body of evidence points at the importance of recent evolution, and rapid changes occurred in the human genome that can’t be explained by migration. In september John Hawks will present a conference paper at the meeting of the European Society of Human Evolution in Bordeaux, to reveal his own view on recent evolution, migration and Neandertal ancestry regarding the Tyrolean Iceman:

[Ötzi] has substantially greater sharing with Neandertals than any other recent person we have ever examined. (John Hawks, 2012-08-15)

It should be clear that Ötzi thus can’t be put away lightly as a representative of Neolithic immigrants in Europe at all! The context of this result was already defined years before by his party of investigators:

The processes leading to modernity involved the entire human species, and were based on the ethnogenic principle of communication and reticulation among populations. (Wolpoff et al., 2004)

At this point we might question the presumed homogeneity of pre-Neolithic DNA, or does Ötzi show us this is all a misconception? The short-lasting success of the attested Neolithic Y-chromosomes doesn’t make the preposition of pre-Neolithic homogeneity more viable. Mere gut feelings? Why not, this year it was found that intuitive logic isn’t necessarily a bad thing:

[…] despite the widespread bias and logical errors, people at least implicitly detect that their heuristic response conflicts with traditional normative considerations. I propose that this conflict sensitivity calls for the postulation of logical and probabilistic knowledge that is intuitive – and that is activated automatically when people engage in a reasoning task. (De Neys, 2012)

Simply put, intuitive logic allows humans to disagree with the limited array of available, or permitted, logical answers. Exploring new possibilities should be the next step. Now, what severe pre-Neolithic bottleneck, if any, could have caused the hypothetic reduction of Mesolithic and Paleolithic Y-chromosome survival and variability thus, that now all should group within a single Y-chromosome clade, marked by haplogroup I? The same applies to pre-Neolithic mtDNA, that turned out overwhelmingly of haplogroup U5. Autosomal DNA so far suggests Mesolithic populations predominantly survive in Northern Europe. Still, Ötzi didn’t have any of these ‘northern’ characteristics and neither was his DNA shifted to any eastern origin that would indicate descendency of Neolithic immigrants. Aren’t we really seeing true European ‘population substructure here? In which case we might also witness the contemporary ethnic expansion of northern Mesolithic populations.
Indeed, new insights suggest the Neolithic stage of human lifestyle was less ‘revolutionary’ than commonly assumed. A mosaic of ‘Neolithic’ achievements has been attested in pre-Neolithic societies all over the world, not all of which were accumulated by the first agriculturists, the most striking example being ceramics. While the Near Eastern origin of agriculture was characterized by an aceramic Neolithic stage, there were social contexts for ceramic figurative art in Europe since the Upper Palaeolithic:

A small number of Gravettian ceramics were discovered at Krems-Wachtberg in Austria. Krems-Wachtberg is widely accepted as culturally related to Pavlovian sites in Moravia […] 32,437-31,157 cal BP
[…]
Recent finds of 36 ceramic artifacts from the archaeological site of Vela Spila, Croatia, offer the first evidence of ceramic figurative art in late Upper Palaeolithic Europe, c. 17,500–15,000 years before present
[…]
Ceramic hearths found in late Aurignacian levels at Klisoura cave in Greece did not yield discernable ceramic “art,” but do suggest the emergence of a ceramic technology in the early Upper Palaeolithic. (Farbstein et al, 2012)

China was well ahead in the production of pottery long before the arrival of agriculture:

Here, we describe the dating of the early pottery from Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, China […] The radiocarbon ages of the archaeological contexts of the earliest sherds are 20,000 to 19,000 calendar years before the present, 2000 to 3000 years older than other pottery found in East Asia and elsewhere. The occupations in the cave demonstrate that pottery was produced by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Late Glacial Maximum. These vessels may have served as cooking devices. The early date shows that pottery was first made and used 10 millennia or more before the emergence of agriculture. (Xiaohong Wu et al., 2012)

In Greece and probably Albania and Macedonia, there are some indications towards an aceramic neolithic economy that developed independently from the near east, and a subsequent continuous development through Protosesklo into the typical painted ware cultures of the Balkanic neolithic. In the periphery of this cultural core the Presesklo represented a less sophisticated pottery tradition that may suggest the existence of an even older Balcanic Neolithic that still awaits discovery (Lichardus), and probably played a role in the development of the Mediterranean Cardial tradition. The immigration of Asiatic agriculturists is far from clear, notwithstanding the long-standing practice of framing Neolithic groups in existing narratives without overall examination of their archaeological context, frequency, usage and meaning.
A plausible explanation of the ‘otherness’ of the earliest Neolithic groups may lie in the concept of ethnicity. Commonly referred to as ‘Neolithic’, both Cardial and LBK may actually represent the arrival of a new, very visible ethnic element. The local, less visible Mesolithic element didn’t necessarily disappear, in which case these gradually accepted more Neolithic attributes. A complicated convergence process started, that ultimately may only be disentangled by genetic investigation. Ötzi is just a testimony of the genetic situation in the Late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, and despite his extreme occidental DNA shift ethnically he is often taken for granted as ‘Neolithic’. However, those advocating a limited variability of Mesolihic mtDNA typically ignored early reports of Chandler et al. (2005) on a clear abundance of the quite modern-European mtDNA haplogroup H samples in Portugal, for years the only Atlantic site successfully explored for paleogenetic remains. Only this year we can celebrate the investigation of Hervella et al. (2012), that confirmed H6 for hunter gatherers in La Chora, and more mtDNA H in La Pasiega, two Paleolithic sites in Cantabria, northern Spain. At least the Atlantic rim thus emerges as an undeniable source of modern mtDNA. Instead, the Pitted Ware Culture (PWC) in the coastal areas of Southern and Eastern Middle Sweden, representing a local hunter-gatherer complex whose pottery style and general subsistence patterns bear the greatest similarities with groups East of the Baltic Sea, attested haplogroups U4 and V (Skoglund et al., 2012).

In general, Neolithic frequencies of ‘modern’ mtDNA haplogroup H are a triffle too low for assuming straightforward Neolithic continuity, and more so in central Europe, where Neolithic mtDNA is outright inconsistent with modern European populations. The majority of the European populations have an overall haplogroup H frequency of 40%–50%, while the highest Neolithic mtDNA H readings were ‘Atlantic’: 37% in Grenollers, Catalonia (Sampietro et al. 2007). Whatever the momentum that boosted modern mtDNA, it must have been part of the Neolithic decline. However, there is more about the purported extinction of Mesolithic populations that defies logic. Two successive reduction processes or hypothetized bottlenecks, the first linked to a central European, pre-Neolithic population decline, and the second linked to a late-Neolithic population decline – that ‘thus’ affected ‘Neolithized’ native populations as well – should have made it quite difficult for rare contemporaneous pre-Neolithic haplogroups to survive. So, what could have brought two rare paleogenetic hg F*(xG,H,I,J,K) among the Neolithic population of Derenburg, against just one proven G2a3 sample? It couldn’t be excluded this F* isn’t actually extinct IJ*, and thus ancestral to the ‘European’ haplogroup I. However, it is hard to believe that Mesolithic F* jumped over to Neolithic populations, only to become extinct afterwards both in Mesolithic and Neolithic populations. Indeed, YDNA F* is nowadays nearly extinct in Europe, and though rare in the Near East recently most of its F* has been identified as northern Iranian IJ* (Grugni et al., 2012). This should illustrate the difficulties involved in identifying any migrational origin of Y-chromosome haplogroups. On the other hand, G2a haplogroups survived almost all over – albeit in quite modest quantities. With or without the proposed Mesolithic extinction scenarios, it would thus be much more feasible to associate just Hg F* with the YDNA of Neolithic immigrants!
Would this result imply that no pre-Neolithic YDNA can be attested at all in the LBK sites? Actually, the assumption that G2a is a Neolithic marker was based on very flimsy grounds. Recent investigation by Rootsi et al. (2012) didn’t reveal any subclade substructure remotely similar to the European substructure of haplogroup R1b1b2. One exception is G2a3-L497 that ‘essentially occur in Europe where they likely originated’. Afghanistan’s low frequencies of G2a3 are of the same order as haplogroup I2b, presumed Mesolithic in Europe (Haber et al. – 2012), hardly an argument for any specific Asiatic origin at all. Moreover, already 7000 years ago ‘Neolithic’ YDNA G2a was suffiently regionalized in Europe to allow comparative analyses of diverging STR haplotypes for Avellaner cave, Cogolls, and other ancient Neolithic sequences. The first observation is one of decline:

Analysis of shared haplotypes showed that the G2a haplotype found in ancient specimens is rare in current populations: its frequency is less than 0.3% (Lacan et al. – 2011b)

This indeed corresponds to the present rarity in Europe of the Avellaner haplogroup G2a, and E1b for that matter, though a lack of correlation of Avellaner haplotypes with neighboring regions in western Europe, including France (Table S3, Lacan et al. 2011b), is equally striking, and appears to be in contradiction with migrational patterns.
The Neolithic G2a samples of Treilles, France, were recently found to be ‘clearly differentiated’ from the main continental branches of this group. However, assertions towards the ‘predicated’ Neolithic dichotomy, derived from the two migrational routes of Neolithic immigrants, attributed respectiveliy to the continental LBK agriculturists on one hand, and the Mediterranean advance of Neolithic culture on the other hand, rather appear wishful thinking than based on facts.

[…] we analyzed DNA extracted from 53 individuals buried in Cave I of Treilles located in the Grands Causses region, at Saint-Jean-et-Saint-Paul, Aveyron, France […]. The Treilles cultural group is a well identified archeological complex of the late Stone Age period, preserved of any major late Neolithic population movements as suggested by the absence of the Bell–Beaker culture influence in the second part of the third millennium B.C.
[…]
22 male individuals were confirmed to belong to the Y-haplogroup previously inferred. As expected from YSTR data, all samples were found to belong to Y-haplogroup G2a except samples 577 and 596, which belong to haplogroup I2a.
[…]
The Treilles G2a haplotypes are located at the periphery of the network in a particular branch […] on a Mediterranean branch clearly differentiated from the Caucasian G2a, in which G2a is currently the most frequent in Europe, as high as approximately 30% (Lacan et al. – 2011a)

However tempting to assume a ‘confirmation’ of Neolithic scenarios, we have to be careful and remind the apparent demise of Neolithic DNA that is in utter conflict with traditional assertions that still try to establish Neolithic immigrants as a founding element of the European gene pool. The investigators of Ötzi the Iceman express their concern about rushing (again) to stale explanations for G2a beforehand:

His closest living relatives lived in and near the Alpine regions of Europe, but some are in places like Sardinia and Turkey and elsewhere, sharing similar mutations. Now, this may have to do with various migrations, but we really need to be cautious, because the genetic histories of these people were not particularly well known, so there are lots of potential explanations for why this spread can be very large. (Thomas Tartaron, 2012)

Strictly spoken, there is no imperative archeological argument that predicates a Near Eastern ‘Neolithic’ origin of paleogenetic G2a type Y-chromosomes at all. Even LBK may have been rooted in the Mesolithic of Southeast Europe.

[…] LBK emerged in present western Hungary in the course of culture contact between a ‘yet unknown’ population of hunter-gatherers, the more southern Starveco-Koros-Cris (SKC) groups and later early Vinca.
[…] the general scenario of a regional origin of the LBK is still acceptable to most Central European researchers.
[…] most continent-based archaeologists have never considered any notable population expansions across the Balkanic-Central European border. Also, recent ancient mtDNA evidence certainly does not contradict the hypothesis of an emergence of the LBK within a local population in Transdanubia and/or south-west Slovakia, and the expansion from these territories towards the west and north-east (Gronenborn, 2007)

Similar results were obtained for the mtDNA of prehistoric Treilles, where investigators remain largely ignorant of in situ (older) haplogroups:

Analysis of the FST genetic distances based on HVI variation showed that the Treilles specimens were genetically close to all current European populations.
[…]
The study of shared lineages showed furthermore that the Treilles maternal lineages are found in all present-day European populations with percentages as high as nearly 18% (Lacan et al. – 2011a)

The latter may be merely the result of Neolithic reality to retrieve much of the female contribution to local resources, thus debunking the hypothesis of considerable mtDNA immigration anyway:

LBK societies were “patrilocal,” meaning that males tended to stay put in one place while females moved in from other areas to mate with them. (Bentley et al., 2012)

The median joining network of Y-G2a haplotypes for current western European populations (Fig. S5, Lacan et al. – 2011a supplement) only very loosely reflects the traditional Neolithic split in Continental and Mediterranean immigrants: Late Neolithic YDNA of haplogroup G2a in Treilles correlates only partly with current Spanish haplotypes in comparison with North Western and North Central European G2a, while the other part of Spanish G2a has an even more ambiguous correlation with northern haplotypes. Central Mediterranean and South Eastern European haplotypes dominate the central topology of this network, as indeed could be expected for an eastern mediterranean origin of G2a, though from there on all points to a more complicated pattern of genetic exchange and regional variety than anticipated for in a Neolithic context by archeology. At least this doesn’t give the impression of Neolithic YDNA having remained very isolated in regional branches, after their purported advance over separated routes east to west while expanding from a common Neolithic source ‘somewhere east’.
The mere prehistoric omnipresence of G2a-type Y-chromosomes could pose another problem to the concept of a simple, two fold origin in the Neolithic wave of advance:

We generated genetic distance maps to visualize the similarity/distance of the LBK and Derenburg populations
[…] modern-day Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran demonstrated a clear genetic similarity with the LBK population (Haak et al., 2010)

Unlike R1b, there are no claims for an all-encompassing wave-of-advance substructure of European G2a, nor ready-made mathematic growth and decline scenarios off-the-shelf. Attempts to describe the advance of G2a in the northern branch of the Neolithic advance in terms of a gradual genetic distance as a function of distance, fail to reveal unambiguous subclade differentiation that could be attributed to the Neolithic advance. In a Neolithic scenario, such a lack of subclade substructure in Europe’s YDNA haplogroup G2a distribution may only be explained by massive and intense Neolithic replacement. However, this is not reflected by the latest FST diagrams for autosomal DNA (Keller, Skoglund – 2012), where all modern Western and Central European samples are still in the range between Ötzi and Scandinavian hunter gatherers rather than clustered around near eastern groupings: for modern samples the eastern tilt is almost negligible, while the modern autosomal spectrum tilted considerably to the north in southern and central Europe. Ötzi thus was far from being an immigrant from the east, and from a period that rather preceded considerable admixtures from northern Europe!
LBK skeletons of Derenburg proved to be G2a3 (downstream SNP S126, Haak et al. 2010), while Ötzi’s YDNA groups within haplogroup G2a2 (previously G2a4 in ISOGG 2011), being defined by SNP L91 (Keller et al. 2012, Supplementary Table S7).

We addressed this issue here by analysing the G2a4-defining L91 SNP in 7,797 chromosomes from 30 regions across Europe. Fig. 3d shows the spatial frequency distribution of G2a4 throughout Europe. The highest frequencies (25 and 9%) occur in southern Corsica and northern Sardinia, respectively, (Fig. 3e) while in mainland Europe the frequencies do not reach 1%. (Keller et al. – 2011)

Keller’s percentages doesn’t correct for the unequal distribution of G2a in current populations. Actually, substructure becomes less obvious in more detail. The Treilles G2a population appears to be genetically independent from Central European LBK G2a, though a closer relationship with some of NW European’s rare G2a, and even part of North-Central European G2a, can be discerned. Such overlap already happens in paleogenetic samples. Efforts to group close G2a relatives to Derenburg’s Neolithic LBK fossils in a geographically congruent ‘continental group’ may be corroborated by the Frankish YDNA of Robert of Hesbaye and his royal descendents, and probably also by one of the 7th century AD Frankish skeletons (244F) found in Ergolding, Bavaria. The other Ergolding skeleton, however, groups with Ötzi’s G2a2, that encompasses all men with a double DYS19:

We also observed that sample 244E had previously very rarely observed duplication in the locus DYS19 (alleles 14 and 15). As the same results of independent extractions and PCRs were obtained, we concluded that this finding might be related to the duplicated region of the Y chromosome that is highly homologous with the DYS19 flanking region. Balaresque reported that DYS19 duplications were mainly found in Y-haplogroups G and C3c and this finding is in a perfect accordance with the haplogroup predicted for sample 244E (G2a). (Vanek et al., 2009)

Indeed, early mediterranean contacts up north can’t be excluded and even may have preceded the arrival of LBK in the western Loess in the mysterious pottery culture of La Hoguette. Problematic remains the mere scale of how all main G2a subclades violate the purported Neolithic north-south diachtomy in Europe.

Most of Treilles shared the G2a Y-chromosome haplogroup with Ötzi the Iceman and much of LBK Derenburg: apparently G2a was quite ‘universal’ at the time. But, all replacement scenarios unwittingly presume an extremely high degree of pre-Neolithic Y-chromosome homogeneity in Europe, while actually the opposite may have happened: R1 (ie. R1b and R1a) that ultimately drove a multitude of prehistoric YDNA to (near) extinction. This also includes the ‘Sardinian’ haplogroup I2a1, defined by mutation M26, that was found in Neolithic Treilles next to G2a (two out of 22 samples: tableau 8, Lacan 2011), or ‘stand-alone’ as far north as Yermenonville, in Dolmen de la Pierre Fritte, Eure-et-Loir (two out of two samples: tableau 13, Lacan 2011): though generally considered pre-Neolithic, this haplogroup seems to have shared the post-Neolithic demise of YDNA G2a in an almost identical way.

The Avellaner Cave paleogenetic results came out just a few month since Busby et al. shook the genealogic world by asserting most dating assumptions (on Y-chromosomes haplogroup R1b) where erroneously based on unlimited mutational linearity. Haplogroup G2a Y-chromosomes never enjoyed the same popularity among investigators as R1b to produce the same dating shock, still G2a subclades previously considered closely related also attested much older than thought. The gradual shift of facts and scientific opinion towards an older history of some of the world’s main YDNA markers implies an increased role for selective processes, much of which happened the last few thousand years. For the time being it would be wise to be wary of any self-proclaimed expertise on Y-chromosome SNP dating. Ill-fated migrationist fora and blogs on the internet often found themselves obliged either to reconsider their doctrines and corresponding records of intimidation, or to shut down altogether as eg. dna-forums indeed did. Now easy replacement models are increasingly falsified, the current wide spread of Y-DNA haplogroups may rather be held for a long history of intense hybridization. This urges for the need to reconsider rather long-term continuity models, and the remapping of migrational processes to include much earlier distribution events.

The pattern of post-Neolithic extinction revealed by haplogroups G2a and E1b must have been a shared phenomenon all over Europe. Sampling bias may have been an issue, since the discrepancy of Neolithic YDNA in current populations regarding the Neolithic samples of Treilles, Avellaner Cave, and Ötzi, ie. in the Grands Causses region of southern France, Catalonia and the central Alpine region respectively, were all retrieved in regions where the apparent decline of G2a wasn’t as catastrophic as elsewhere. Northern Neolithic populations west of the Carpathian Basin suffered a more unambiguous decline from Derenburg (Germany) to the fertile Loess plains as far as Belgium, where G2a chromosomes currently hit a modest regional maximum as low as 3.8% of the male population (Brabant project). However, the archeologic invisibility of Mesolithic cultures in the neighborhood is increasingly regarded an important and inpredictable issue. Ethnic competition and migration appears to have been decisive in great European post-Neolithic hybridization processes. Important FST shifts towards a much more northern genetic component can be recognized when current populations in Central Europe/Northern Italy are compared to Ötzi’s. Naturally, mesolithic intervention could also be inferred from the demise of the attested ‘Neolithic’ YDNA haplogroups, especially in the regions once inhabited by populations of the northern Neolithic pole. Instead, Balaresque thought to recognize Late-Neolithic diffusion of northern (LBK) cultures in the massive replacement of YDNA towards haplogroup R1b, as far south as the mediterranean.

Principal component analysis (PCA) of the Iceman genome. Note the lack of any tendency to group with eastern or northern populations.


Ötzi may serve here as an excellent reference to find out to what extend and how fast the human mixing processes have been at work during the last 5,000 years. Regional differences must have been a few orders of magnitude higher than nowadays, now the genome of Ötzi emerges as an outlier to all filter settings of the Principal Component analyses of Keller et al. (2012), even beyond the vicinity of Sardinian samples, European outliers all by themselves. If the European average of Neanderthal admixture in excess to an unknown African average is 3.5 percent, Ötzi would have around 5.5 percent (Hawks). Genetic shifts since Ötzi are thus that genetic components currently found in the modern populations of Ötzi’s Central European origin location feature an enormous shift into the direction of northern Europe. Indeed, as an alternative to senseless assertions towards the extinction “without issue” of Ötzi type genome components, genetic admixture and recombination has all appearance to have caused the current populations of central Europe and even SW Europe and much of southern Europe to have shifted towards an intermediate position between northern Europe and Ötzi. The impact of such shifts to our current poor understanding of migration patterns may be illustrated by the almost contemporary TRB remains of Gokhem, Sweden, that Skoglund et al. (2012) depicted in several graphs (fig. 1A, 1C, supplements S6, S8, S9) to nowadays cluster together with, or close to current North Italians.

The Neolithic farmer sample (‘Gok4’) was excavated from a megalithic burial structure in Gokhem parish, Sweden, and has been directly 14C-dated to 4,921 ± 50 calibrated years BP (calBP), similar to the age (5,100-4,900 calBP) of the majority of other finds in the area (15). There were no indications from the burial context suggesting that Gok4 was different from other TRB individuals, and strontium isotope analyses indicate that Gok4 was born less than 100 km from the megalithic structure, similar to all other analyzed TRB individuals from the area (Skoglund et al., 2012)

Even though definitely ‘northern’, the three Neolithic hunter gatherers of Scandinavia appear largely outside the distribution of modern Europeans. The TRB megalithic Gokhem sample, however, appears between current populations in Central and Southern Europe. Because the south experienced a considerable genetic shift to the north since Ötzi, the origin of the almost contemporaneous Gokhem sample could be corrected for north of the Alps.


Indeed, current efforts to reconstruct past populations as combinations of present populations are falsified by the enormous genetic shifts revealed by Ötzi’s ancient genome. Skoglund’s three genomes of Scandinavian hunter gatherers show a similar, though much less pronounced shift to the north:

the three Neolithic hunter gatherers appeared largely outside the distribution of the modern sample, but in the vicinity of Finnish and northern European individuals (Fig. 1A). (Skoglund et al., 2012)

Even though Skoglund’s Scandinavian samples were neighbors, some are almost as different from each other as the most distant current European populations are nowadays. This was especially true for the Gokhem TRB sample, whose aDNA suggests a contemporary geographic origin in between the Alpine realm of Ötzi and Scandinavia. Currently, central and southern European populations are attested ‘intermediate’ between Ötzi and Skoglund’s Scandinavian hunter-gatherer samples, so based on current samples a purported central or even south European origin of the Gokhem TRB sample is bound to be deceiving. Thanks to Ötzi, this paradox may be interpreted as indicative to prehistoric diversity and the increased integration of European populations in more recent times. Assuming geographic population differences were indeed more pronounced 5,000 years ago, simple interpolation between Alpine Ötzi and Scandinavian hunter-gatherer samples would probably locate the origin of the TRB Gokham sample somewhere on the North European Plain. As expected, for this being also the archeological homeland of TRB. Even the ‘Neolithic’ mtDNA H of the TRB sample of Gokham, though ‘intrusive’ in Scandinavia, doesn’t attest a non-European origin based on this autosomal result! Instead, the mtDNA H attested for this Gokham sample may rather refine its origin further to the Atlantic side of continental TRB territory.
Is this the end of all hopes for a genetic confirmation of an overwhelming Neolithic ‘wave of advance’, that should have rushed through Europe as a wave front along a SE-NW axis? The full impact of the apparent global attenuation of prehistoric physical differences is beyond the scope of this article. However, a slight eastern tilt towards SE Europe of the Gokham sample as compared to Ötzi and native Scandinavian samples, indeed noted by Skoglund (2012), can also be recognized in the current populations of Northern and SW Europe. Even though Skoglund failed to pursue this trail further east as far as Turkey (that currently appears quite isolated from Europe on his graph), this eastern tilt, albeit weak and less certain of Neolithic origin, can’t be denied. However, comparing the shifts of modern European populations with ancient European samples and available data from the Near East, this eastern tilt hardly emerges as excessive, but rather fits within the framework of post-Neolithic long-range genetic integration. We are badly in need of paleogenetic samples from the Near East to appriciate the historic impact of west-east integration, and only inmutable eastern samples would be a valid indication of current speculations. Eastern paleogenetic samples shifted away from the European side would potentially quantify the influence of a western component in current eastern populations instead. Equally interesting would be a considerable shift of older samples in the Near East to the European side, though, for discovering a possible shared origin of certain modern anatomical changes from a source external both to Europe and the Near East. As for now, if anything, the overall genetic shift to be perceived in Europe appears to be dominated by the northern component.

More plausible than any Neolithic overkill of new “immigrant” eastern genes may have been a new way of life, sowing the seeds for the success of ‘other’ genes, whatever their history or where they came from. YDNA genes marked by the known R1 haplogroups may have been among them, in this view thus being subject to selective processes that should not be mistaken for a true pattern of Neolithic advance.

Our interpretation of the history of hg R1b1b2 now makes Europe a prime example of how expansion of a Y-chromosomal lineage tends to accompany technological and cultural change. (Balaresque et al., 2010)

The view of an uninterrupted Neolithic advance sweeping away all traces of previous populations hardly find support among archeologists anymore, and haplogroup R1 Y-chromosomes, including the poor interpretation of their clear West-East dichotomy, for R1b (M412) as much as R1a (Z93/Z283), remain too much of a mystery for any migrational conclusion. So far parsimony suggests an initially thin dispersal of Hg R over a wider area and a subsequent period of growth.

[…] more complex pre-Neolithic scenarios remain possible for the L23(xM412) components in Southeast Europe and elsewhere. (Myres et al. – 2010)

None has been found yet in danubian contexts, so any Neolithic involvement in the spread of ‘occidental’ R1b should be sought somewhere else: a new element caught halfway the wave of expanding Neolithic culture, or maybe another group of Neolithic migrant that remain unidentified. Ancient DNA analyses of human remains from the Late Neolithic Bell Beaker site of Kromsdorf, Germany, resulted in the oldest testimony of R1b Y-chromosomes. Also contemporaneous R1a showed up in the neighborhood (Eulau), what may be an indication of the importance of late-Neolithic unifying processes invoked by mesolithizing populations in the area.

Defining the genetic variation of human populations during the Late Neolithic (2,800–2,000 cal BC) is of particular interest, as this period is characterized by dramatic changes within the prehistoric cultural and social landscape of central Europe from a highly varied one to one dominated by two distinct, coexisting, agricultural groups—the Bell Beaker (Glockenbecher) and Corded Ware (Schnurkeramik) cultures (Lee et al., 2012)

If migrational at all, R1 may have spread initially in Paleolithic or Mesolithic rather than Neolithic events. I guess the most likely scenario that also involve the Neolithic should be congruent to the regression of ‘danubian’ Neolithic regions to ‘mesolithised’ Chasséen/Michelsberg cultures at the western frontiers of Neolithic LBK. The ultimate result being any distinct Neolithic ethnic component to be washed out by what could now tentatively be perceived as a distinct northern Mesolithic ethnicity.

Unfortunately, this issue of European descend and continuity appears haunted by political assertions and ideology. Those hammering on the Mesolithic hegemony of mtDNA U haplotypes, allegedly not representative to modern Europe, appear unwilling to consider the ethnic status of the Mesolithic samples. Even Mallory’s straw man of a Mesolithic broader homeland for Indo European languages implicily attributed a distinguished Mesolithic ethnicity to the plains of Northern and Eastern Europe. This concept leaves the pre-Neolithic ethnical status of the Atlantic rim, the Balkan, the Alps and the Mediterranean and possibly even Scandinavia and the Baltic area, unresolved. However, Mallory’s perception of such an enormous Mesolithic homeland is a sham, being exclusively designed to be shattered in favor of Kurganist views on violent macho horsemen from the east. Received as a ‘better’ alternative than older Eurocentrist views, already heavily abused by Nazi ideology, mainstream thought could finally move away from archeological evidence and content itself with a non-occidental Indo European origin skeleton, even though destined to remain without flesh for decades. Mesolithic Europe is still largely invisible to modern archeology and largely contemporaneous to early Neolithic societies. The shear size of such a broader Mesolithic homeland, that Mallory posited between the Volga and Rhine, apparently presented an argument sufficient to burn the straw man to ashes, but actually the main objection against a broader Mesolithic homeland was it didn’t supply a better migrational mechanism to expand to the southern ancient Indo European territories than his kurgan alternative did. At least the kurgan cultures of the east could already be attributed an origin delimited by comprehensive boundaries like those of the Sredny Stog culture in the Volga area. Strange enough Mallory took care to remain vague about the western limits of this Mesolithic empire, at least ancestral to TRB and Corded Ware cultures, and refused to decently consider an early ‘Atlantic’ penetration of Indo European languages, purportedly linked with the development of Western European (and mediterranean!) Bell Beaker cultures. Still, Dutch representatives of this culture were by then already linked with the Corded Ware complex by Lanting (1976), and this link has been confirmed for the earliest Iberian finds (Rojo-Guerra, 2006). Only now paleogenetic results are able to reveal Mesolithic penetration of an ethnic element well outside the hypothetised broader northern homelands:

[…] two exceptionally well-preserved 7,000-year-old Mesolithic individuals from La Braña-Arintero site in León (Northwestern Spain) revealed the time span and also the vast geographic area involved, could be enlarged now with these two new haplotypes from the Iberian Peninsula.
[…]
The mitochondria of both individuals are assigned to U5b2c1, a haplotype common among the small number of other previously studied Mesolithic individuals from Northern and Central Europe. This suggests a remarkable genetic uniformity and little phylogeographic structure over a large geographic area of the pre-Neolithic populations. (Sánchez-Quinto et al., 2012)

This ‘remarkable genetic uniformity’ has all appearance to have a northern origin:

[…] analyses of 1.34% and 0.53% of their nuclear genomes, containing about 50,000 and 20,000 ancestry informative SNPs, respectively, show that these two Mesolithic individuals are not related to current populations from either the Iberian Peninsula or Southern Europe.
[…]
when compared exclusively to European populations, La Braña 1 and 2 fall closer to Northern European populations such as CEU and Great Britons than Southern European groups such as Iberians or Tuscans (Sánchez-Quinto et al., 2012)

For sure, even Mallory should have considered Mesolithic expansion a viable, even essential condition for the Mesolithic hypothesis. Somehow the Mesolithic world of Europe emerges as a unity in the periphery of Central European Neolithic culture, and the current data suggests early agriculturalists harbored hunter-gatherer U-lineages (Lee et al., 2012). Now expansion of a distinctive northern Mesolithic culture can indeed be linked with mtDNA U5 haplogroups, the exclusive eastern origin of Indo European languages may even be questioned within the Mesolithic hypothesis:

Previous studies of ancient mtDNA have shown that U5 haplotypes were common among Mesolithic Europeans, especially in Central and Eastern parts of Europe. For instance, a high incidence of U5 haplotypes (about 65%) has been detected in hunter-gatherer individuals from various sites across central and Eastern Europe. U5b haplotypes have also been reportedly recovered from Mesolithic skeletons found in Aizpea in Navarra, Spain (dated to about 6,600 years before present) and Reuland-Loschbour in Luxembourg (dated to about 6,000 years BC), as well as from the skeleton known as “Cheddar Man” that was found in Gough’s Cave, England (Sánchez-Quinto et al., 2012)

Ötzi already had a bronze axe before northern admixtures took effect in Southern and Central Europe. Probably of Remedello manufacture, the haft betrays mesolithic influences.

The transition to Indo-European culture is nowadays often related to some profound post-Neolithic genetic changes. In Özi any idealized ‘Indo-European’ or ‘northern’ element remains elusive, not in the least because of his short stature, lack of dolichocephaly, his dark eyes and G2a Y-chromosomes, none of which were particularly associated with the modern myth of Indo European ‘riders’. Northern admixture in Southern and Central Europe appears to have taken effect only in the Bronze Age since these didn’t affect the genome of Ötzi at all, even though he already had a bronze axe in the Late Neolithic. Wear patterns suggested the axe was basically used for cutting wood. Mesolithic populations similar to La Braña may have coexisted all over Europe together with more conservative local Ötzi-like populations in a patchy distribution, what may offer an explanation why Ötzi – compared to all current European populations – didn’t show a northern shift in his genome ‘yet’. His genome was extremely ‘southern’, while some of his neighbors were probably not. Indeed, Ötzi’s bronze axe was a valuable commodity of Remedello manufacture, and fixed on the shaft with mesolithic technology. If any population expansion could be deduced on the popularity of a hafted tool, then Ötzi must have been just on the receiving end. Mesolithising tendencies had their effect over a wider region and were represented by a chain of neighboring late-Neolithic cultures, often associated with the local introduction of megalith monuments – unknown in the danubian Neolithic of western Europe (Mordant, 2000) – and other peculiarities like graves for dogs and hafted tools.

in the Middle Neolithic Chasséen and Michelsberg, as woodworking increases and diversifies, a real variety of hafted instruments appears (Legrand & Sidéra – 2007)

Chasséen influence can’t be denied to have penetrated deep into Cardial territory, including the Catalonian group of megalithism. The Grands Caussus region, where the Treilles culture flourished, was probably less affected due to isolation by dense forests. Traditionally seen as an extension of the Neolithic advance and loosely associated with earlier LBK influences spilling across the Rhine into the Paris Basin, it is nowadays often considered more appropriate to interpret Chasséen culture as a rather mesolithised culture that owe much of its characteristics to the acceptance of, or reversal to, or continuation of an ‘extended broad spectrum economy’ and the corresponding survival techniques of an older Mesolithic population.
Though of a later age, Ötzi’s copper axe derived from this same tradition. It was hafted and indeed, the shape suggested an origin in the Remedello culture of the Po plain, whose first phase dates 3400-2800 calBC. This culture was mentioned by Mallory as one of the three major Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age cultures of Italy that could be explained by intrusions, the two others being Rinaldone and Gaudo:

It has long been argued that these three cultures were the result of an invasion(s) of a warrior aristocracy which introduced metallurgy, a new burial rite, and new ceramics, as well as marked change in the earlier social system.
[…] Rinaldone graves offer typically Indo-European evidence such as horse remains and an abundance of copper objects including daggers, axes, awls and a halberd. To the north, in the Po Valley, was the Remedello culture with its large cementery where metal daggers, halberds, axes and awls accompanied burials. (Mallory, 1989)

Mallory could perceive some very long-distance parallels in these cultures, even Indian. While this should rather confirm the international nature of Europe’s ongoing mesolithisation processes, his real intention rather appears to look away from western Europe – ‘almost’ in the vein of Churchill’s proclamation that “History is written by the victors”, and dismissive of Continental views:

Research by British and American scholars on the transition of farming in Central Europe has resulted in a number of models which have been viewed with continuous scepticism in Central Europe. Contrary to the often generalised Anglo-American approaches, particularistic traditions, based methodologically and theoretically on culture history and environmental archeology, have continued, notably in the German-speaking countries but also in France. These have been substantiated by an ever increasing body of meticulously collected detailed data. (Gronenborn, 2007)

On a side note, Gronenborn’s quoting of Dutch research – bridging Bell Beaker and Corded ware and sustaining their shared background in Swifterbant culture – may suggest German archeology still depreciates the distinction between Germany and the Low Countries as much as the Anglo-American world. Now, French researchers perceive plenty of transalpine influences for all stages of peri- and cis-Alpine archeological horizons. Lagozza culture (Northern Italy, 3100-2200 cal.BC) and Cortaillod culture (Swiss, 3600-2600 cal.BC) are subgroups of Chasséen culture, and Remedello culture was another expression of transalpine contacts:

Engraved figures on a limestone rock wall have recently been identified in the French Alpine foothills (Chastel-Arnaud, Drôme, France).
[…]
Concerning the daggers, first comparisons recall the Remedello cuture, in North Italy, traces of which are exceptional in the French Alps.
[…]
Through this debate, the authors’ wish has been to consider the engraved rocks of Les Auberts as part of a profound dynamism established in time, which is for us a better theory than the hypothesis of copper prospectors arriving from Italy. (Morin et al. – 2005)

Migrational replacement scenarios experience a hard time ever since archaic hominin admixtures were detected on a regional level in modern humans. Our view of evolutionary forces acting on our genome has now utterly changed. The focus has shifted to admixture due to recurrent range expansions, followed by internal genetic processes:

[…] large levels of introgression expected after a range expansion with interbreeding argue against a complete replacement of the European Palaeolithic people by Neolithic populations expanding from the Middle East
[…]
Once population densities increase in the range core, selection can become stronger than drift: purifying and background selection can progressively operate. (Alves et al., 2012)

Likewise, Chandler’s 2005 article, covering Mesolithic as well as Neolithic populations, revealed the Neolithic genes as regional rather than immigrant. Only nowadays, with popular replacement scenarios failing ever more dramatically, even stale mainstream brainlocks are opening up to different scenarios:

One integrationist scenario is therefore migration by agriculturalists, but agriculturalists who carried largely “Mesolithic” genes from elsewhere in Europe.
[…]
DNA from the two populations differs, although neither carry the Near Eastern lineage implicated in carrying agriculture into Europe (Chandler, Sykes, and Zilhao 2005). This is consistent with Cardial immigration involving farmers of indigenous Mesolithic ancestry (cf. the “integrationist” model suggested above). Rowley-Conwy – 2011

Not all celebrated genetists share the renewed appreciation of Europe’s deep genetic testimony. Svante Paabo, whose technical skills are still wanted at all kinds of genetic investigation, already proved intellectually unable to recognize continuity before in his undue evaluation of genetic material DNA from Neanderthal remains. His extinction doctrines were abundantly quoted in the media until recently, but now his battle turned against their Mesolithic descendents. Even this year his party (Fu et al.) tried to resucitate Mesolithic extinction scenarios in favor of Neolithic expansion, typically focussing on the genetic structure of an isolated Baltic Mesolithic against the ‘Neolithic’ rest of Europe that also has mtDNA H in their mix. They sought to deny paleogenetic results that revealed mtDNA H as Mesolithic and wrongfully asserted a ‘complete absence in pre-Neolithic huntergatherers’, though one quote is interesting for those appreciating the period of post-Neolithic, Mesolithic resilience:

[…] H-type mtDNAs experienced a recent population expansion while U-type mtDNAs experienced a much older population expansion. (Fu et al. – 2012)

Meanwhile, more mitochondrial DNA groupings are getting detached from an exclusive Neolithic association:

[…] a substantial, perhaps predominant, signal from mitochondrial haplogroups J and T, previously thought to have spread primarily from the Near East into Europe with the Neolithic population, may in fact reflect dispersals during the Late Glacial period, ~19–12 thousand years (ka) ago. (Pala et al., 2012)

The same could be said of mtDNA K, also carried by Otzi:

haplogroups K and T have been observed in LBK groups across central Europe, Neolithic hunter-gatherers in Scandinavia, and at Granollers, Spain (c. 3,500 – 3,000 BC) […], suggesting that these maternal lineages were widespread and common across the European continent in the past and present (Lee et al., 2012)

Regarding YDNA, haplogroup E-V13 Y-chromosomes are now sufficiently substantiated by paleogenetic samples and the archeological record to discourage further speculation on fresh arrivals, as has been fashionable until very recently due to ridiculous low haplogroup dating. The Avellaner Cave haplogroup E-V13 Y-chromosome sample, having an archeological age of 7,000 year ago, completely shattered all previous designs that departed from much more recent dates. Cruciani, et al. (2007) were still serious about an ‘estimated coalescence age of about 4.5 ky for haplogroups E-V13 and J-M12 in Europe’ what would thus ‘exclude a demographic expansion associated with the introduction of agriculture from Anatolia and would place this event at the beginning of the Balkan Bronze Age, a period that saw strong demographic changes as clearly testified from archeological records.’
Instead, having a much more ancient date now attested by paleogenetic samples, E-V13 rather appears to have been washed away by those same post-Neolithic events. Since both E-V13 and J2b (J-M12) are nowadays predominantly found in the Balkans, the prospect of any important post-Neolithic Balkanic expansion is getting very precarious, however painful for those consistently bent on linking Y-chromosome evidence to historic Greek events. This view was definitely finished off by genetic results in Afghanistan:

The E1b1b1-M35 lineages in some Pakistani Pashtun were previously traced to a Greek origin brought by Alexander’s invasions. However, RM network of E1b1b1-M35 found that Afghanistan’s lineages are correlated with Middle Easterners and Iranians but not with populations from the Balkans. (Haber et al. – 2012)

However, all this doesn’t imply that E-V13 can now safely considered Neolithic. Nor Hg J2b for that matter, that at least in India was rather associated with pre-Neolithic culture:

HG J2b2-M241–related microsatellite variance is higher in Uttar Pradesh near the border of Nepal. It should be noted that numerous Mesolithic sites have been observed in this region (Sengupta et al. – 2006)

The attested severe underestimation of age for E-V13 may be just the tip of the iceberg: much older events are involved:

The subdivision of E-M78 in the six common major clades revealed a pronounced geographic structuring […]: Haplogroup E-V65 and the paragroups E-M78* and E-V12* were observed mainly in northern Africa, haplogroup E-V13 was found at high frequencies in Europe, and haplogroup E-V32 was observed at high frequencies only in eastern Africa. The only haplogroup showing a wide geographic distribution was E-V22, relatively common not only in northeastern and eastern Africa but also found in Europe and western Asia, up to southern Asia
[…]
Northeastern Africa thus seems to be the place from where E-M78 chromosomes started to disperse to other African regions and outside Africa. (Cruciani et al. – 2007)

Indeed, genetic and linguistic evidence of Sub-Saharan influences abound in Europe, and the ‘temporality’ of these influences shouldn’t be an issue:

[…] it is no surprise that all modern European groups, ranging all of the way from Scandinavia to eastern Europe and throughout the Mediterranean to the Middle East, show that they are closely related to each other. The surprise is that the Neolithic peoples of Europe and their Bronze Age successors are not closely related to the modern inhabitants, although the prehistoric modern ties are somewhat more apparent in southern Europe. It is a further surprise that the Epipalaeolithic Natufian of Israel from whom the Neolithic realm was assumed to arise has a clear link to Sub-Saharan Africa. (Brace et al. – 2005)

Neolithic sub-Saharan influence, one likely ultimate source for European haplogroup E YDNA, may have reached much further:

If the Late Pleistocene Natufian sample from Israel is the source from which that Neolithic spread was derived, then there was clearly a Sub-Saharan African element present of almost equal importance as the Late Prehistoric Eurasian element. At the same time, the failure of the Neolithic and Bronze Age samples in central and northern Europe to tie to the modern inhabitants supports the suggestion that, while a farming mode of subsistence was spread westward and also north to Crimea and east to Mongolia by actual movement of communities of farmers, the indigenous foragers in each of those areas ultimately absorbed both the agricultural subsistence strategy and also the people who had brought it. The interbreeding of the incoming Neolithic people with the in situ foragers diluted the Sub-Saharan traces that may have come with the Neolithic spread so that no discoverable element of that remained. (Brace et al. – 2005)

However, one might question whether this Sub-Saharan expansion didn’t have its roots in much earlier Upper Paleolithic events, as corraborated by the geographic subdivision of E-M78 that apparently was already in place much earlier than previously thought. The first indication of Sub-Saharan influences in the Mediterranean already appear in the Mid Upper Paleolithic ‘double burial’ of the Grotta dei Fanciulli (‘Grimaldi Cave’, Balzi Rossi (the Red Cliff) near Ventimiglia in Italy): ‘where dates are available these cluster between ~25,000 and 22,000 BP’ (Pettitt, 2010). Their purported ‘negroid’ physiology should be an interesting indication of increased cultural contacts already long before the onset of the Neolithic, and may even set a new upper limit to the regional presence of African populations, whose possible long-distance and early northeastern African origin may also be corroborated by the current geographic differentiation of E-M78 Y-chromosomes. Even paleolithic genetic homogeneity has all the appearance of a myth. Strange enough, the cultural impact of these pre-Neolithic arrivals can’t be clearly distinguished from native ‘Cro-Magnon’ practices already in place:

An adult male seems to have been buried in the Grotta dei Fanciulli, although no report of a grave cutting exists […]. This was found stratigraphically higher than the famous double burial. This contains an adolescent, probably male, and a female adult, who seem to have been places in the grave sequentially. The excavators noticed that the original grave had contained the adolescent laid carefully on his side, but that the distribution of perforated marine shells that formed part of the decoration of his head gear dispersed around the surrounding soil indicated that the grave had been subsequently opened and the female’s body placed within. The grave cutting seems to have been enlarged to provide for this addition, and the apparently forced position of the woman in head down and highly contracted supports this notion (Pettitt, 2010)

Thus, this example of African admixture definitely happened in the European context of cultural continuity. Moreover, not only did the grave fit within local Cro-Magnon customs, they fit within the Neanderthal traditions as well: rectangular grave cuttings are already known from Neanderthal contexts as early as 40-60 kya (La Chapelle) and possibly earlier, not unlike Africa where the practice was firmly established in the formal inhumation of infants by ~76,000 BP. Now the most vociferous opponents of Neanderthal continuity became obsolete, I am sure science will remember the many good scientists whose voices so far weren’t listened to as well as it should have been. Bad scientist will ultimately arrive to the conclusion that ‘we’ already knew all along, because fortunately good anthropologists and archeologists have always been amidst us, however scorned for the ‘gradual changes’ they had already noted long ago in European physiology since Cro-Magnon. These changes may now be safely attributed to long-term contact and evolution rather than progressive replacement:

[…] the constituency that I represent – thoroughly Darwinian in its outlook, is quite happy in seeing a European “classic” Neanderthal become transformed by gradual means into a modern European but yet has trouble seeing how the transformation of an African craniofacial pattern into a European one could take place within the same period of time. (Brace, 1996)

Ötzi’s tale about recent evolution, continuity and migration is a deduction of scientific results on his remains that cover archeology, genetics and pathology, though one more feature may be decisive in the evaluation of Neolithic change, that made modern Europeans so different from their pre-Neolithic ancestors. Among Ötzi’s fragile remains his moderately short, ‘mesocephalic’ skull is both a testimony of European (post) Neolithic transformation to modernity and another example of recent, albeit global, evolution. More to come!


Referenced:

  • Aliev et al. – Modern carriers of haplogroup E1b1b1c1 (M34) are the descendants of the ancient Levantines, 2010, link
  • Balaresque et al. – A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages, 2010, link
  • Barfield – LITHICS, CULTURE AND ETHNIC IDENTITY, 2005, link
  • Barnett – Gender, Social Roles, and Mental and Physical Health, 2002, link
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Old Germanic in La Tène, Another Perspective On Germanic Ethnogenesis and Runes

May 15, 2011 2 comments

If mysteries indeed exist by the virtue of mystification, then the runes may be one of the best examples. The theory of an origin based on the Greek or North Italic/Etruscan alphabets has merits, though – even when we choose to ignore the individual differences of each known alphabet – appears to be asynchronous with the most likely time of borrowing in the 1st century AD.
The debate on the origin of the runic script is still ongoing, possibly burdened by an ill-fated obsession for a “recent” (ie. Roman period) origin. Looijenga (1997): “No exactly fitting, all-covering matrix alphabet has been found yet”, and she admits the archaic Italic alphabets gradually fell into disuse during the last century BC or first century AD, when the official Roman alphabet became the standard. Early direct contacts of Germanic people in regions where those archaic Italic alphabets were still in use are considered unlikely, but “It may be, that Germanic soldiers learned an archaic specimen and introduced this to their homelands” (Looijenga 1997). Her theory boils down to a succession of events that includes the first century AD settlement of veterans from the Roman army in the region near Cologne, and a subsequent intermingling of Italic and local Germanic (“Ubii”) elements in their common cult of “matres and matronae”. Without questioning the origin of those otherwise unlikely similarities, it was suggested that Northern Italian immigrants hooked on to the Rhineland cults and supplied their lot of typical inscriptions as a first onset to the runic script. However, those “several letters, known from North Italic archaic alphabets” that were reported by Quak, 1996, as still in use in the Rhine area in the first century AD, may be better explained as archaic features – if the runic character of the earliest inscriptions wouldn’t be disputed at all: possible divergent evolution is already an issue in the interpretation of even the earliest (potential) runes.
Obviously, the main obstacle in finding an answer lies in the purported young age of the Germanic people and their origin somewhere far up north. However, if it could be shown that Germanic people actively participated in the historic and protohistoric events normally associated to the otherwise “Celtic” La Tène period, this restriction could be dealt with.

The La Tène culture developed in the "warrior fringe" northwest of Hallstatt.


Archeological evidence points at the destruction of Hallstatt chiefdoms by the growing power of their proto-La Tène northern neighbours of the Marne and Moselle “warrior fringe”. Much of this area emerged as “Belgic” in Roman times, without much of a clue whether or not this area was Celtic or Germanic. According to the Romans it was both. Modern investigation revealed a surprising lack of Celtic evidence in the Belgic heartlands, but of course this doesn’t mean automatically that “thus” the Belgic people – assumed this was indeed a valid ethnicity at all – must have been “Germanic”. Nordwestblock theorists made a case for a third option, neither Celtic nor Germanic, or maybe rather a language somewhere in between PIE and Germanic. Some traces of a language that didn’t evolve some of the most outstanding Germanic soundshifts may have been preserved in West Germanic irregularities with words like “path” next to “foot”, “key” (Dutch: kaag) next to “hedge” (Dutch: haag). This could tentatively suggest a process of gradual incorporation of pre-Germanic elements into the Germanic world, having a much longer history than generally considered. The convergence implied could have been completed already long before the Migration Period and stabilized even before the Roman conquest of Gaul, or may have remained an ongoing process well into the Migration Period.

Left: the older futhark. Right, top: Negau helmet; inscription; inscription according to Must; Below: impression of ancient greek alphabet variation


A key piece of evidence to the linguistic situation in Europe during La Tène is the possible Germanic inscription on the Negau B Helmet found in 1811 near Negova, Slovenia. A proper dating of the site is not possible anymore, but on stilistic grounds the helmet is clearly associated to Etruscan manufacture and hence can be dated between 450 – 350 BC. However, the inscription is commonly dated in the 3rd/2nd century BC. Interpretations vary, not in the least because of the ambiguous transcription of the letters. Most attempts didn’t even bother to decipher all of the signs, pursuing just whatever that could be presented as “Germanic” or “non-Germanic”, depending on the pretext – typically leaving the last three letters without transcription at all. Must proposed an alternative non-Germanic construct based on Raetic and Etruscan elements, leaving the ultimate part of the inscription as wildcards – what at least could be considered an improvement above blunt ignoring. A more recent transcription that covered all of the legible signs yielded an intriguing mixture of an almost Frankish epithet within an Italic message: HARIGASTIZ FEFAKIT (Made by Harigast). For the sake of clarity my focus will be restricted to this most complete transcription.
The interpretation depends on the willingness to accept an older, more diverse Germanic ethnicity than currently implied. The lack of linguistic evidence in general tends to foment a “null hypothesis” that all linguistic differences between Germanic subgroups must date as late as the very first unambiguous attestations, ie. only about 200 AD. There exists a certain reluctancy to think beyond the Migration Period, when Germanic tribes entered the full light of history in their onslaught to destroy the Roman empire. This reluctancy comes close to outright rejection regarding the etymology and cosmology of the “Harigastiz” inscription, whose acceptance would virtually contradict all pleads for a more recent monolithic Germanic ethnicity. The inscription just fails to make an equally good fit to all Germanic subdivisions. All the contrary, the problematic nature of some highly regionalized features implied by the text could explain the inclination among experts to be wary against an early dating, or a Germanic interpretation at all, that could possibly suggest an undue ancestral linguistic status. The division between West-, North- and East Germanic wasn’t even hypothetized for this date, and still the “-gast” element of the inscription, “ghost”, is the usual West Germanic word for “supernatural being,” etymologically connected to the idea of “to wound, tear, pull to pieces.” Even more remarkable is the close resemblance to the typical “continental” or even “Frankish” use of this name element (ghost, spirit, stranger) in the Merovingan period. This observations are in sheer contradiction to the monolithic Germanic ethnicity that is commonly assumed before the Migration Period. Not even a younger date, eg. up to just “pre-Roman”, would wash away all perceived regional anachronisms implied by the usual monolithic concepts about the Germanic world. On the other hand, very few written sources exist to make a sound evaluation to start with, bishop Ulfilas’s 4th century translation of the Bible into the Gothic language being a good exception – save for the fact that the scarcity of written sources makes it impossible to relate this text to any hypothetical single ancestral language of the Germanic branch. In view of new insights (explained later in this post) that involve rate of change, or the effects of regional convergence, it may be a wrong assumption altogether to think of a single Germanic parent language in any period of time.
De Vries identified the prefix “Hari-” as another epithet of Odin in his bellic incarnation. Another appealing “Frankish” association could be a tentative survival in German “Herr” or Dutch “Heer” (Lord), generally considered equally problematic and anachronistic in a pan-Germanic sense. Still De Vries already dared to link this epithet to a Germanic warrior tribe or sect in Central Europe mentioned by Plinius and especially Tacitus:
The Harii, besides being superior in strength to the tribes just enumerated, savage as they are, make the most of their natural ferocity by the help of art and opportunity. Their shields are black, their bodies dyed. They choose dark nights for battle, and, by the dread and gloomy aspect of their death-like host, strike terror into the foe, who can never confront their strange and almost infernal appearance. For in all battles it is the eye which is first vanquished.

Also the einherjar, the heroes that have died in battle and are brought to Valhalla by valkyries, are considered etymologically connected due to the -herjan element. Simek (2007): “one tends to interpret these obviously living armies of the dead as religiously motivated bands of warriors, who led to the formation of the concept of the einherjar as well as the Wild Hunt […]”. According to Lindow (2001) “many scholars think there may be a basis for the myth in an ancient Odin cult, which would be centered on young warriors who entered into an ecstatic relationship with Odin.” A Latin inscription found in Cologne dedicated to the goddess Hariasa, dated 186 AD, is held to be connected to an otherwise obscure Norse valkyre Herja, and thus ultimately directly to the Germanic version of the myth of the Wild Hunt, headed by Odin in his personification of the God of War. In the vein of Pliny’s division of the Germanic people the Harii would belong to the geographical extend of the “Elbe” or Central Germanic Hermiones, most commonly considered a religious denomination associated to Irmin or (Old Norse) Jormun, meaning “mighty, great” and mentioned several times in the Poetic Edda as another epithet of Odin. Old Germanic names like Harold and Walter may be rooted in the same tradition. In the Migration Period the Heruli seem to have inherited the cultic association of the Harii in Central Europe, rather emerging as a wolf cult – if any. This ethnicity could be etymologically related to the former as a dimunitive or frequentative, the -el suffix being productive about the time the Heruli appeared on the scene when Greek and Roman sources first mention them about 250 AD. Common West Germanic words like kruimel (Dutch), krümel, krumel (German) and English crumble remain as a testimony to the minimum age of this linguistic feature. However, no “Heruli” are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon, Frankish or Norse chronicles, so it is assumed they were known in the north and west by another name. According to Mees (2003) “Heruli” could be considered an ablaut variant of an ancient equivalent to “earl”, being rooted in the Anglo-Saxon eorlas (“brave man, warrior, leader, chief”) and Old Saxon erlos (“men”) and whose singular (erilaz) frequently occurs in the earliest Northern inscriptions. In later Old English “eorl” evolved into “nobleman,” the equivalent of the Old Norse cognate “jarl”. “Heruli”, like “eorlas”, thus may have been simply a title of honor, but its apparent connotation to the Migration period word “erilaz” on various Elder Futhark inscriptions, often interpreted as “magician” or “rune master”, may reveal a much deeper sense of relationship of the contemporary upper class to the god Odin – including his association with the art of writing as was already implied by the Harigast inscription.
The religious context of the runic script may be an important clue for understanding the origin of writing runes in the Germanic world. Runes were indeed especially tied to the Odin cult:

On the way back through the desolate heath, Odin came upon a leafless tree. Suddenly, his coat was caught in the branches of the tree. Odin hung between heaven and earth. In vain, he tried to free himself. Odin struggled with himself for the ultimate wisdom. Nine nights he hung on the windswept tree. His inner being gradually grew clearer and more luminous. Now he finally found the symbols of life’s noblest values. He bent down deeply from the tree. Groaning with extreme exertion, he took up the signs and cut them into the trunk with his sword (Rúnatal or Óðins Rune Song in the Poetic Edda in the Icelandic Konungsbók)

The earliest runes resemble scrambled messages similar to those attested in Graeco-Roman curse tablets, essentially private in the act of devine communication and hardly fit for developing a public tradition of writing in the runic script. Accordingly, the 4th century Gothic Alphabet created by Ulfilas (or Wulfila) for the purpose of translating the Christian Bible, is thought to have been intended to avoid the use of the older runic alphabet, as it was heavily connected with heathen beliefs and customs. Ulfilas didn’t avoid runic names for his letters, though, and while most of the letters were taken over directly from the Greek alphabet, a few were derived from runic letters to express some unique phonological features of Gothic. Possibly it was just the cryptic nature of the runic tradition that inhibited a mundane use. This detail may be important to discover the timespan and ultimate whereabouts of the runic script and its predecessors.
The first Germanic tribes entered the full light of history in their conflict with the Romans during the Cimbrian War (113-101 BC). The supposed Northsea origin of the participating tribes (Cimbri, Teutons, Ambrones) was a recurrent argument in favour of the original confinement of Germanic people in the northernmost parts of Europe, far away from the purported North Italian source of the runes. Still, it remains difficult to distinguish some of the traces left in the mythology that surrounds the La Tène expansions of protohistory, from a linguistic source akin to Germanic, and rule out Germanic participation in alliance with their Celtic neighbours. Belovesus, the legendary king associated with the earliest Gallic expansions into Italy, was an exponent of the Biturges, well south of the Belgic origin of La Tène between Marne and Moselle (and south of the Belgic Belovaci). His tribe was closely associated with the Druid center in the territory of the Carnute, a Celtic tribe that also travelled with him. His cousin Segovesos took a more northern route along the Alps. A mythological reference of two different ethnic components? The prefix Bel- is widespread in Celtic, but Sego- is ambiguous: this same IE forms have only been encountered in Germanic and Celtic vocabularies. Indeed, northern contigents of La Tène crossed Slovenia when they continued to the Balcans. The name of one of their leaders appears an indication that Belgae were still involved in La Tène expansions as late as 279, when a Bolgius led the invasion in Macedon and Illyria. It is tempting to imagine the different impact of northern and central Italic alphabets on the parties involved, except for the inconvenient circumstance that the Negau B helmet – like the obviously Celtic inscriptions of the Negau A helmet – attest a predominantly central Italic “Etruscan” influence. Strikingly, the development of some letters used at Negau B already diverged where runes rather tend to represent more archaic versions of the alphabet. However, what matters most in this scenario is that La Tène representatives already appear receptive to the use alphabetic scripts. This makes the transmission of writing, from any source that La Tène came in contact with (including North Italic and later Koine Greek), feasible from 400 BC onwards. This Negau helmet decorated with a purported religious “Germanic” inscription, apparently mixed with Italic and associated with finds having Celtic inscriptions, already appears indicative of a melting pot all by itself rather than the result of successive occupation.
The supposedly Germanic inscriptions of the Negau helmet were considered La Tène evidence of Germanic expansions before, especially since the helmet alone was dated to the 5th-4th century. Why presume (too) old fashioned helmets to the authors of the inscriptions? A quantum leap of some interpretors to the 2nd century for dating the actual inscription appears most of all a courtesy to Roman references pointing at a Germanic-Cimbrian presence in Noricum at 113 BC. Even benign dating of the inscription in the 3rd century would have required the helmet to be at least one century old at the moment when it inspired an occasional priest of an ambulant Germanic warrior tribe (!) to carve the text. The priest, according to this interpretation, would have been obliged to continue an older tradition of carving similar inscriptions in another language, and for this purpose he had to find an obsolete helmet without a scratch. How likely this would be?
Slovenia was the stage of La Tène expansions as late as 250 BC. Note the Gallic invasions in the Balcans were dated slightly earlier in 279 BC, while La Tène Celts already crossed the Alps about 400 BC to enter Italy. Names like Brennus are trivial indications that both invasions were indeed carried out by the same people, most probably still at the same stage of development. A later date of La Tène in Slovenia than elsewhere suggests a nucleus of local culture that survived the first onslaughts of the Celts in the Alpine region, that nevertheless must have come in close contact with Gallic culture almost inmediately after the supply of Etruscan helmets was interrupted. Possibly this implies favorable conditions for the survival of North Italic scripts. In this sense, an attractive possibility is that La Tène innovations arrived in Slovenia only after a detour in the south.
There are several North Italic scripts, and by location the North Etruscan script could be considered one of them. Other North Italic scripts are the alphabets of Lugano, the Rhaetic alphabets of Sanzeno, Sondrio (including Camunic) and Magrè, and the Venetic alphabet.
Looijenga rather forgets about Negau at all and comes to a completely different route of North Italian scripts into the Germanic hemisphere:

An archaic North Italic alphabet may have been the precursor of the runes. Borrowing this alphabet may have taken place in North Italy or Raetia, where e.g. the Chauci, Batavi and other Germani served as Cohortes Germanorum in Germanicus’ army in 15, 16 and 69 AD. But, theoretically, Germanic mercenaries may have learned to write anywhere during their tour of duty.
Veterans from the Roman army, for the greater part originating from the mountanous parts of Piemonte and Lombardy (e.g. North Italy) settled in the region near Cologne in the first century AD. Soon they became integrated in the local population. Ubian and Italic elements were intermingled in the common cult of matres and matronae (Derks 1996:104).The indigenous matres cult of the Rhineland knew no votive inscriptions; this custom of writing dedications was introduced by soldiers of Italic and Germanic origin (Derks 1996:75). Here we may find a clue as to how an archaic North Italic alphabet came to the Rhineland. In the first century AD, several letters, known from North Italic archaic alphabets, are still in use in the Rhine area. (Looijenga, 1997)

Strange enough Looijenga can’t decide between a single archaic precursor, or a North Italic mixture that all came together in the Roman army. Here ends all logic, since the Roman veterans in the Rhine area comprised many more nations that could have contributed to the development of a new script. It doesn’t make sense this privilege to contribute was selectively restricted to North Italian veterans, all provenient of such a wide variety of North Italian cultural areas – not even when this selectivity was dictated by the shared cult of matres and matronae. The other way round, why Germanic cohorts would shop around in northern Italy and make a mix rather than retrieving their inspiration from a single source? Needles to comment that Northern Italy wasn’t the only region within the Roman Empire where people had already developed their own peculiar version of the alphabet: where the skilled input of Egyptians, Etruscans or Paleohispanics go, to name just a few?
The presence of an Etruscan Chi (Psi-sign Ψ, derived from a Western Greek/Euboean script, pronounced /Kh/ or /g/) and, strikingly, the very rare Eastern Greek Xi (///) in the Negau B inscription make it very unlikely that Negau B is a “recent” precursor of the runic script. The latter may insinuate direct contacts with Koine Greek at the time of inscription, where the runic script employed the sign *gebo, rather a derivation of pre-Koine “Eastern” Greek “Chi” (Chi-sign X, pronounced /g/).
The origin of the runic *gebo is a problem all by itself. The shape resembles the Latin X, but phonetically the letter suggests another origin. The Latin X has a southern Etruscan precursor of an ultimate Western Greek origin, originally pronounced “Ks”. However, already in early Etruscan this was a sibilant and finally it disappeared altogether in this language, thus implying the intermediate Etruscan role in the development of the Latin X (and indeed of Latin in general, together with other Italic equivalents) must have been ancient and short-lived indeed. Equivalent X-shapes in Rhaetic most likely developed from Northern Etruscan T, pronounced /t/, though opinions may be divided here. Only the Messapic alphabet, much to the south, is agreed upon to have been derived differently and features the non-western Greek X pronounced /Kh/ up to the first century BC. This implies the enigmatic situation that any other forerunner of runic “Chi” (X, /g/) or *gebo than Attic Greek could be problematic. Moreover, even a Greek derivation would be problematic if it happened later than 300 BC, when the original pronunciation /Kh/, necessary to yield the runic sound /g/ of *gebo, disappeared altogether in Greek Koine. Even 3rd century La Tène expeditions as far as Greece are anachronistic for such an early stage of borrowing. The Negau B Ksi (///) might have been the hypothetic consequence of late Classical Eastern Greek or Koine contact during La Tène, but not the runic X. The Western Greek/Euboian Chi (X as /Ks/) disappeared from the Etruscan alphabet, but was continued in Latin as X, while the Western Greek/Euboian Psi (Ψ as /Kh/) never made it to the Latin alphabet. Why should a purported Germanic forerunner of the runic script have incorporated a new /k/ sound that derives from Greek Ksi (///), but keep the Psi-sign Ψ for sound /g/ of Etruscan/Euboean derivation where the runic script would rather plead for a simultaneous acceptance of a new proto-runic Chi (X /g/) from the same source?
Of the runic script, the Euboean/Etruscan(/Rhaetic) trident Psi-Ψ /Kh/ apparently developed further to /-z/ *algiz that has the same shape – a development that for sure postdates Negau B. Looijenga’s assertion this already happened in (Neo-)Etruscan is by no means widely acknowledged. A position dependent softening of Ψ towards /z/ may eventually have made the new loan X /Kh~g/ necessary, but the purported Rhaetic or other North Italic ancestral alphabets don’t give a clear insight for such a process. Anyway, the disappearance of X in early Etruscan and its re-appearance in the runic script with a different sound value and without clear North Italic logic to back this up is striking enough.
The runic re-introduction of the sign X *gebo is even less natural than it may appear. Apart from the above mentioned aspirates, where we might add an otherwise irrelevant Western Greek variety of Ksi that was shaped like the standerd Greek Phi, the Etruscan alphabet already offered three other ‘K’ sounds. Latin accepted those sounds as “C” (like “G” derived from greek Gamma), K (derived from Kappa, very rare in Latin) and Q (derived from Phoenician Koppa, only present in the earliest Greek alphabets). Of this originally Phoenician collection the runic script only could have hooked on to the Latin C, that – like R – indeed appears to be a Latin derivation. Looijenga’s assertion that also the 3rd century Latin derivation G of this C is “clearly the base” of rune *jera /j/, requires some imagination, but it would boost her claim that Latin indeed had a huge influence on the development of the runic script. The proposed subsequent development of *eiwaz as a bindrune melting this transformed Latin letter G (*jera /j/) and I (*isaz /i/) into half a swastika is ingenuous, but raises additional questions about what must have guided so much creativity in such a short time.
Her proposal that *gebo /G/ derives from Latin X /Ks/ seems predominantly guided by a lack of alternative viable scenarios rather than scribe imagination or options. The proposed development of P (*perþ- /p/) out of B (*berkanan /b/) by means of what even she calls “quite a creative variation”, appears inconceivable for ancient runographers who “knew how to spell” and still didn’t know about the considerable variety of existing P-shapes readily available in all the alphabets they allegedly came in contact with. Looijenga’s creative solution to this problem merely indicates how she rejects out of hand any formative stage of the runic script that involved the earliest versions of North Italic scripts, or contact with Greece as a source of inspiration.
Actually, the runic P is most similar to the late Classical Greek or Koine “square” version of Pi, that only about 400 BC was on it’s way te become more popular: Camunic was the only North Italic script whose P resembled this Greek version (coincidence? Shared origin?), but it barely survived until Roman times. Another example where the runic script may be more similar to late Classical Greek or Koine is *tiwaz /T/ that is like a “curved” Tau whereas the Italic versions are either angular or in the shape of a cross.
We may conclude that in the North Italic hemisphere Negau B could emerge as a close relative of the runic script’s forerunner, on the condition that forthcoming influences from late Classical Greek or Koine related to La Tène expeditions deep into Greece are taken into consideration, as well as subsequent Latin modifications at an early stage (eg. the C, the R, possibly the G), thus leaving lots of time for an independent development that allowed the runic script to diverge so much from any other European alphabet-based script we know of. A Germanic presence in Central Europe during La Tène would explain the Germanic runic script well enough, except for the mysterious reappearance of X /g/ in the runic sign *gebo.

Modern proto-writing, resembling runes on the walls of farms and churches in Westhoek, French Flanders.


None of the Greek aspirates Phi, Chi and Psi derive from the Phoenician alphabet, and their origin is disputed. Actually, this non-Phoenician background of some European signs may be a feature they have in common with many runes. Like the runic signs *gebo /g/ and *ingwaz /ng/, that are also reported as traditional decorations on the facade of buildings and houses, from French Flanders (eg. Westhoek) to Frisia. The decorations are part of a tradition of symbolism that is regionally deep ingrained. Not all of these symbols are runes, *oþala- /o/ and *dagaz /d/ being the only other ones used in this context. Remarkably, much of the area south of the Rhine was never associated with the tradition of writing runes, not unlike the Saxon areas in Britain (contrary to the Anglo-Frisian territories!). However, especially the tradition of the “Sun cross”, discerned as decoration of Frisian farmhouses, may be indicated as extremely long. Eventually the Sun cross stems from the early Neolithic, and appears in such diverse areas as Scotland, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau, and the Indus River valley. This strongly reminds to ancient symbol systems that cannot be classified as writing proper, but still have many characteristics strikingly similar to writing. Another ancient example of Neolithic proto-writing is the swastika (derived from Sanskrit su-, meaning “good”). These systems may be described as proto-writing. Typically, ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols were used to convey information and yet were probably devoid of direct linguistic content.
Some expressions of proto-writing made its way to modern symbology. In astrology the Sun cross sign still represents Earth, but the most common interpretation conforms to a “solar” connotation, having the four quadrants within representing the four seasonal cycles of the year. In the Cretan Linear A script the symbol first appeared as a syllabic sign, having phonetic value /Ka/. As such it was copied straight into the Mycenean Linear B script (ideogram B243). Once the symbol left behind the stage of proto-writing, it apparently received an additional “spoked wheel” connotation, as the symbol reappears in the same script as an element of various chariot-related ideograms. The line between proto-writing and linguistic symbol is often hard to draw, like when the spoked wheel symbol reappears again as a solar motif in Celtic mythology, presumably associated with Taranis, god of thunder. The spoked wheel also found multiple ways into the mentioned facade decorations. In upright “+” position on the facades of farms this sign indicates animal husbandry, while the sun cross in an inclinated “X” position came to indicate agriculturists. This latter tradition purportedly found an equivalent in the sign *gebo /g/ of the Elder Futhorc, the oldest runic alphabet: ie. the version representing the seasons. The spoked-wheel version may have found another runic equivalent in the Younger Futhorc as *hagal, a few centuries later when it replaces an older rather “alphabetic” H-shape of the same runic value – if it can’t be recognized as well in some peculiar Anglo-Frisian runes that won’t be discussed here, or in the revolutionary development of the /j/ sound (*jera) from an “artistic” approximation of the Latin G to a “spoked” star shape (according to Looijenga).

In the middleages almost all coins depicted a cross on one side. This penny of King Offa dates from c. 787 to 792 AD


Thus, next to the alphabetic tradition that ultimately originated in the Phoenician alphabet, proto-writing now emerges as a relevant candidate-source of inspiration to the runic writing system. This development may have been complicated by its intricate nature as a means to communicate with the supernatural.

Obviously a distinction was made between the mnemonical use of runenames, being a tool that enabled carvers to determine which sound a runic symbol had, and the meaning and use of symbolic runes, used as pars pro toto for some special purpose (Looijenga 1997, p.105)

In the hypothetical evolution of proto-writing towards the rune *gebo we can’t neglect intermediate stages to account for the symbolic decomposition of the Sun cross into “sun” and “cross”. One context where both symbols come together, or get separated, is “money”. Let’s investigate the feasibility of this scenario before recursing to the huge implications this would have for the location of the runic origin.
In the middleages almost all coins depicted a cross on one side, or when it didn’t the “cross” side was represented by the image of a king. The other side was “pila”, what still survives in english as “pile” (of money?), “wealth reckoned in terms of money”. Hence also expressions like croix ou pile (french); Kopf oder Schrift (german); cross or pile, heads or tails (english); kruis of munt (dutch). “Heads or tails” is a game with money, at which it is put to chance whether a coin shall fall with that side up which bears the cross, or the other called pile. The french expression “n’avoir ni croix ni pile”, “having cross nor pile” means to be broke.
In playing cards, Chinese decks used coins and different piles of coins as suits. When playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century the suits were very similar to those still used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese decks, that feature Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins. The shape of suit “diamonds” developed smoothly from the round “coin” shape, and the runic sign *ingwaz makes a perfect match with the diamond. Could this transformation have happened before?
Even nowadays the diamond shape is appreciated for its capacity to envelope other symbols, just like the Sun cross consists of the cross enveloped by a container symbol:

The red cross and the red crescent have been at the service of humanity for more than a century – affording protection to those affected by conflict and to those assisting them. In December 2005, an additional emblem – the red crystal – was created alongside the red cross and the red crescent. (International Commitee of the Red Cross, 2007)
–o–
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 […], 2006:
Article 2 – Distinctive emblems
1. This Protocol recognizes an additional distinctive emblem […]
2. This additional distinctive emblem, composed of a red frame in the shape of a
square on edge on a white ground, shall […]
Article 3 – Indicative use of the third Protocol emblem
1. [Those] which decide to use the third Protocol emblem may […] choose to incorporate within it […]:
a) a distinctive emblem recognized by the Geneva Conventions or a
combination of these emblems; or
b) another emblem […]

One peculiar detail about the *ingwaz rune was, naturally, its associated to the god Ingwaz, whose cult (according to Pliny the Elder, IV-28) was primarily located along the “Ingvaeonic” Northsea coast, still littered by eng- toponyms as far south as the Saxon Shore. His name was attested in several Germanic tribes, in mythical Germanic ancestors and also survived in larger regions like “England” and “Angria”. A connotation of the god Ingwaz (or Ingve in Norse cosmology) with wealth and money is hardly far fetched:

Frey took the kingdom after Njord, and was called drot by the Swedes, and they paid taxes to him.
[…]
Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour, so that his descendants have since been called Ynglinger. Frey fell into a sickness; […] his men […] raised a great mound, in which they placed a door with three holes in it. Now when Frey died they bore him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive; and they kept watch over him for three years. They brought all the taxes into the mound, and through the one hole they put in the gold, through the other the silver, and through the third the copper money that was paid. Peace and good seasons continued. (Ynglinga saga)

Still, the very name of this rune is enigmatic since the cult of Ingwaz was already in decline long before the Migration Period. Indeed, the rune was already pretty rare among the earliest runes and was utterly absent in the Younger Futharc. In it’s original square form it was only found in two futhark inscriptions, suggested to be made for the sole purpose of practice or instruction in Scandinavian carvings of the elder futhark: the Vadstena bracteate and the Kylver stone, a Swedish runestone which dates from about 400 AD. How come that *ingwaz was teached but never applied? According to Looijenga its presence is uncertain the Opedal inscription, the only other possible source, but: “In semantically intelligible texts, it always appears with a headstaff, representing a bindrune.
The name of Ingwaz hardly survived in Germanic cosmology, but may have found an unexpected equivalent in Irish lore, where the cult of namesake Oengus is known in more detail: Oengus Mac IND Óc, a god excelling in youth and beauty (Koch 2006, p553). The possibility of early contact between Celtic and Old Germanic cultures emerges.

[Oengus] was born as a result of a liaison between Bóand and Dagda that occurred when Dagda sent Nechtan away. To hide their infidelity, they asked Elcmar – possibly an alter ego for Nechtan and for Nuadu Argatlám (Nuadu of the solver hand), both of whom may reflect aspects of the god Nodons – to become Oengus’s foster-father. (Koch 2006, p218)

Nodons was a god of healing, though his association with seafaring suggests a different origin, maybe not unlike the Germanic Njord, father of Freyr/Ingwaz; but so does the loss of his arm, that like the Germanic god Tyr may even suggest a more bellic “Mars” origin. This association could be expanded with the notion that the Celtic god of healing Lanus – commonly considered equivalent to Belenos, was venerated in Trier as “god of war” Lenus Mars (Derks, 2009). This rather unexpected qualities of Mars, himself being part of the Roman Archaic Triad along with Jupiter and Quirinus, have the potency to shed light on ancient religious traditions and practices, and possibly make the link between widely different kinds of devine qualities, behaviour and personifications in all related Indo European religions of Celts, Germans, Romans and even Greeks through the use of Gaulish belenuntia, Spanish beleno, the hallucinogenic henbane, whose stems and leaves are covered in fine white hear and whose Latin name is Apollinaris (Koch 2006, p.195).
It is widely accepted that most mythological parallels in the cultures of ancient European people are ultimately due to a common origin, whether Indo-European and linguistic or otherwise. Association of the Oengus cult with the Welsh Mabon / Gallic Apollo Maponos (< mapos ~ young boy) also implies an etymological/genetic link with the Batavian cult of their Hercules Magusanus ("The young-old one"), part of which name appears to be closer to Old-Germanic (< Germanic *magadi- young person) than to truly continental P-Celtic. Others (Toorians, Schrijver – Koch p.1194) would rather call Magusanus a Germanized version of a Celtic tradition. This association also implies a possible genetic link between Maponos and Apollo. Now Apollo was the Greek god of healing "par excellence", at least before this devine task passed over to his son Asclepius. Indeed Apollo remained depicted as a handsome beardless young man, like Maponos, but this didn't apply to what is arguably the most well-known Celtic god of healing "par excellence", that is Belenos. While clearly depicted as a solar god, like Apollo, his image was invariably an old man having a beard. Moreover, rather in agreement with the ambiguous character of Magusanus, Oengus wasn't even specialized in healing:

Oengus has less power than savage medicinemen or gods in myths, who bring the the dead back to life, or than Demeter, who gave life to Dionysos after he was dismembered by the Titans. But the story is an almost unparalleled example of a god’s love for a mortal. (MacCulloch, p67)

Perhaps it would not be too far fetched to see this as quite a different parallel to Apollo as “the god of Good”, maybe even love. A quality that in Germanic cosmology is only paralleled by Baldr, whose dead caused much grief. In Norse mythology his own brother Höðr shot the mistletoe missile which was to slay the otherwise invulnerable Baldr, only because he was misled by the evil Loki that knew his only weakness.
Notwithstanding some pan-Celtic parallels, there is something about the story of Oengus that raises the suspiction of being a later addition to the Celtic cosmology. Not only that he was raised by foster-parents, but he also arrived late when Dagda had already shared out his land among his children: there was nothing left for Oengus until he could recover everything by trickery. However, the example of Apollo shows that a cult can be very old and still foreign to the native cosmology. This would be true as much for the Germanic cosmology that involves Freyr/Ingwaz, and if Baldr belongs to this same category it would be because notwithstanding his popularity he failed to gain the power he might have been entitled to. Apollo, Oengus, Freyr, Baldr: they all remained the young promise they ever were.
The La Tène horizon was previously interpreted as almost exclusively “Celtic”, but the evidence of a smooth exchange of cultural elements demands a re-assessment of the Germanic identity. Part of this exchange may have been ancestral: Magusanus indeed seems to unite the young and the old, the son and the father. The reference of this Germanic cult to Hercules, not Mars, was unique in Roman times, and this hardly derives from a Baldr/Oengus Apollo. This association finds a parallel in Oengus’ devine father Dagda.

The Dagda has two fabulous material attributes, a cauldron of plenty, and a club that can kill the living and raise the dead. The latter has led the comparisons of the Dagda with Heracles and the Gaulish figure Sucellos. The club is so huge that it has to be dragged on wheels. (Koch 2006, p.554)

It becomes untenable to maintain that Germanic beliefs are irreconcilable to Celtic culture and that “true” Germanic territories “thus” should have remained isolated from La Tène influences. All the contrary, most likely such influence was much more important to the Germanic ethnogenesis than traditionally thought. Moreover, even Tacitus already mentioned Germanic tribes in Central Europea that roamed beyond agreed “Celticized” Chatti-like tribes in Central Germany: the Hari and Naharvali being the most peculiar groupings. None of these tribes are easily derived from fresh northern arrivals and in view of their habitat and peculiarities the mutual cultural contact zone is likely to have been much bigger.
We don’t get a straight Classical account on Celtic influences on the Germanic ethnicity, but at least Ceasar was already aware of the profound influences that Germanic tribes had in northern Gallia. Nevertheless, his geographic distinction between Celts and Germani was still a mystery to Strabo:

[…] the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae […] (Strabo, 7.1.2)

Romans knew how to speak their own language, and “germanus” is a Latin word that means “brother”. Romance languages like Spanish still preserve this word (hermano). The Germanic people explicitly received their name to indicate their relationship with their neighbours on the western side of the Rhine, though by doing so Ceasar managed to set them apart from the Gallic lands he managed to conquered. Later, Tacitus expanded on this and set out to exaggerate their “wilder” qualities to accomodate his ideological motive to pinpoint a selective group of people with the noble qualities the Romans could learn from:

The tribes of the interior use the simpler and more ancient practice of the barter of commodities.
[…]
The border population, however, value gold and silver for their commercial utility, and are familiar with, and show preference for, some of our coins. (Tacitus)

This account of Tacitus evolved into the modern myth that all Germanic ancestors of modern Germanic people ancestors could be easily distinguished from their “Celtic” neighbours by their relative lack of culture, while this was only partially true.

Left: early Germanic coins spread from Chatti territory to the west. Right: the coins are usually typified by a triskelion at one side.


Archeological evidence shows NO monolithic Germanic world existed in Roman times. Part of it was heavily influenced by La Tène (including the use of coins) and another part was not. There was no such thing as a clear cultural division between Celtic and Germanic culture, what became especially clear regarding the Germanic and Belgic coins that start to circulate in the Low Countries about the end of the 2nd century BC. Coins in the shape of buttons rather than being flat(“Regenbogenschüsselchen”) apparently started to circulate in Chatti territory (German Hessen). The coins missed inscriptions, but were typically decorated by simple abstract symbols not unlike those of proto-writing. These included triskelions, still popular in Merovingian times, ie. possibly solar triangles that may be a variation of the older tetraskelion or swastia; and eg. circles on the flip side. It took one century to evolve from golden coins (type Mardorf) to copper coins (type Bochum). Virtually at the time of Ceasar’s conquest of Gallia the gravity of this coins shifted to the lower Rhine area, especially Batavian territory. However, another “hoard” was found in Echt – stylistic somewhere between “Mardorf” and “Bochem”, and establishes another link to Fraire in Belgae territory. Due to the mayhem about halfway the first century the burial of hoards and the attestation of coins of this age may be less than coincidental. However, the Hessen precedence of this tradition suggests the kind of acquaintance with cultural commodities like coins among early Germanic people that would render more fashionable concepts about backward Germanic tribes, exclusively “northern”, an obsolete generalization. Older coins of this tradition (300 BC) have been found in Bayern.
Even the nature of the Migration Period would have to be reconsidered now this expansion is attested also in association with archeological features already ingrained in the Germanic tribes of the contact zone, or emanated from Belgae territories in northern France, like the Grubenhaus:
The widespread distribution of sunken-featured buildings suggests varied and wide-ranging affinities and origins [like] in northern France, where they may derive from an indigenous, late Antique tradition, rather than representing an ‘intrusive’ Germanic element. Yet, although sunken-floored structures are known from the La Tene period in France, they did not appear in significant numbers until the Migration Period. The debate concerning their ethnic affinities is far from decided, although socio-economic developments seem more likely than Germanic expansionism to explain their appearance in northwest Gaul (H. Hamerow, 2002)

When in 1996 a gilt-silver scabbard mount with a runic inscription was found in Bergakker near Tiel in the Betuwe, well inside supposedly Romanized territory, the apparent knowledge of runic writing in this area came quite as a surprise.

At the same site a Roman altarstone was found […] The stone, from the second half of the second or first half of the third century AD, was dedicated to the indigenous (Batavian) goddess Hurstrga. The toponym ‘Bergakker’ suggests that the site is higher than its surroundings. […] The site may have functioned as a ritual centre during the Roman period. A parallel can be found at the temple site Empel (province Noord Brabant), which was dedicated to the Batavian god Hercules Magusanus.
[…]
The interesting thing of Empel was the occurrence of oaks, whereas elsewhere the area was dominated by a vegetation of willow. Together with the runic scabbard mount, a great number of metal objects were found, among which were many coins, fibulae, all sorts of bronze fragments and two objects that may be characteristic for cult-places, namely a small silver votive plate showing three matrones and a silver box for a stamp. (Looijenga, 1997)

The temple at Empel was in use since about 100 BC, when the difference between the strongly related Batavi and Eburones was still difficult to draw. Bergakker was dated 400 AD, when the Batavians were most probably already absorbed by early Frankish (or Salian) tribes. Never before runologists had considered the existence of a Frankish (Merovingan) runic tradition, though evidence from Charnay, Arlon, Amay, Chéhéry and maybe Kent indicated otherwise. Looijenga: “The Frankish king Chilperic (584) proposed the addition of four letters to the Roman alphabet, thus showing his knowledge of runes, since one of the four new letters, described: uui, was shaped after the runic w.” Gregory of Tours despised Chilperic, while his contemporary Venantius Fortunatus (6th century) defined the runic tradition as “foreign”: unfortunately both represented just the Gallo-Roman element of the Frankish empire.
The Merovingians, however, do not seem to have not developed an indigenous runic tradition, after they settled in former Gallia […] The real powers of those days apparently did not use runes, but the Roman script. (Looijenga)
We still don’t know how or from where the runic tradition arrived in the Germanic world, but the early association to West Germanic, a tradition of coins, triskelions that are another development of the Sun cross and also an otherwise rich tradition of proto-writing, paves the way for a rejection of Looijenga’s stance that runes are due to Roman period parallels between the cults of the matronae in North Italy and the cult of the matres in the Rhineland. Actually, local triple goddesses like Nehalennia represent a very old local tradition that could do very well without an external source of inspiration. Rather, a La Tène setting of the earliest contacts in the wider neigbourhood of Northern Italy could point to exactly the reverse: a thorough early influence of Celto-Germanic influences in Northern Italy tentatively related to an introduction of certain Old Germanic people into the runic art, much earlier than ever imagined.

This Mercury of Soissons represents the old Celto-Germanic tradition of an overall triune god, representing the unity of almost all masculine divine powers. This religious design must have facilitated the intense cultural interaction reflected in Celtic and Germanic cosmology.


Odin, being the Germanic prime god and the Mercury of Interpretatio Romano, was more than the god of poetry and runes. De Vries’ interpretation of Harigast implied the function of “war god” incorporated even in his oldest, pre-Migration Period being. Thus his multifunctional nature also implied the remarkable absence of a clear and separate equivalent of the Indo European god of war in Norse mythology, equivalent to eg. the Roman Mars or the Greek Ares. Correspondingly, Tyr or Tuwaz, that per Interpretatio Romano would be the true Germanic counterpart, actually makes a poor god of war and modern consensus regards Tuwaz rather as reminiscent of an older, higher god – ie. no god of war. The incorporation of a bellic function by the leading god Odin may be rooted in a much older tradition, the triune god – that unfortunately still failed to find it’s way into general assessments involving IE mythology. Snorri’s Gylfaginning reveals Odin as such: [Odin] called himself various other names on his visit to King Geirrod: “I call myself […] Third, […] High, [… and] Just-as-high”.
Parallels between Odin and Celtic Lugus have often been pointed out: both are intellectual gods, commanding magic and poetry. Both have ravens and a spear as their attributes. Like Odin, it is possible that Lugus was a triune god, comprising Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, the three chief deities mentioned by Lucan. The “threefold death” in Celtic human sacrifice may reflect the triplicity of this god. Likewise, Julius Caesar (de bello Gallico, 6.17.1) mentions Mercury as the chief god of Celtic religion, and indeed a stone carving of a three-faced god from Soissons was supplemented by the emblems ram and cock, considered the sacred attributes of Mercury. Again, a likely context of this apparent mutual diffusion of elements of Celtic ritual and Germanic culture is that of an early Celto-Germanic contact zone.
As shared La Tène migrations don’t necessarily imply regrouping of people and cultures in the source regions, the hypothetized early contact zone must have had its gravity in the expansion regions, that were predominantly located in central Europe. “Belgae” expansions of an Old Germanic nature could thus supply a potential answer to both the attestation of Frankish-like inscriptions in a 3rd century BC helmet in Slovenia, and strong indications into the direction of a special role for early Frankish-like tribes arriving in a new Celto-Germanic contact zone: also regarding the runic script whose development thus isn’t incompatible with much longer ‘Germanic’ history at all.

Indo-European languages have a long history in the neighborhood. At this stage it is important to be aware that at least the Celtic branch in the area, according to Cunliffe and Koch, was a product of Atlantic processes in the Later Bronze Age, ie. well after the Bell Beaker period that is commonly associated with early Indo-European presence. This as a caution against equating Bell Beaker to proto Celto-Italic and excluding more Germanic-like branches. Eg. according to toponym investigation, especially in Northern France, the glottal stop, an archaic IE feature, seems to have had a much wider distribution than warranted by the spread of IE languages actually associated with the glottal stop, that exclude the Celtic, Italic and Greek branches but include Germanic (Kortlandt, 1989).
As far can be deduced by this evidence, Northern France was rather inhabited originally by people whose language was reminiscent of Old Germanic than Celtic. However, since both Northern France and the Low Countries definitely belong to ancient Beaker territory, Roman accounts of Celtic presence in the north of Gallia, and possibly beyond, would find a logical explanation in an expansion of the Celtic influence towards the north that happened only after the Beaker period. This would be in agreement with Koch and Cunliffe, that date the origin of Celtic only in the Later Bronze Age. They make a case for maritime trade and contact of communities along the Atlantic facade to have culminated into a shared Celtic development, while the underpinning Bell Beaker period can’t be attributed anything else than an (important) contribution to a “Centum” dialectal continuum in western Europe, lasting well into the Bronze Age. For that matter, linguists identified an ancient Celtic north-south cline or continuum that apparently also extended to the Italic branch in the southeast, thus being older than the very division between Celtic and Italic. Eg. Portuguese Celtic features characteristics that apparently relate to Italic languages, while Peter Schrijver attributes the Celtic dialects north of the Alps to substratum rather than any other North European influence. In a Bronze Age proto Celto-Italic stage those mentioned Atlantic contacts could have made the difference in forging northern and southern dialects of the continuum together into one separate “Celtic” branch, diverging from “Italic”. Correspondingly, more to the north something similar could have happened within a “Northern Bronze Age” group of Germanic-like languages that not necessarily already featured all the known Germanic shifts.
The Celtic branch should not be considered the hierarchic offspring of a single standard language, once spoken by some kind of “true” original Celts. In general, the very concept of a single parent language for each Indo European branch is ever more controversial. Not even Latin (nor hypothetical “Vulgar Latin”) makes a perfect ancestor to the Romance languages, that rather originated from shared developments over at least half a millenium that predominantly postdate the Roman Era and even included Germanic influences. Contrary to what hypothetical assumptions into this direction may imply, there was NO single vulgar latin parent language within the Roman Empire. Vulgar latin is nothing more than a collection of texts that don’t follow the strict rules of classical latin. The relation of this collection with romance is still utterly incomplete, inconsistent and hypothetical. Its lack of unity starts in the Classical age, when the difference between literary usage and everyday speech in Rome was merely stylistic, not based on any difference between linguistic systems. Also much later, there is no indication that Latin had split up in two different languages, a spoken proto-romance vernacular next to a written language. Moreover, Vulgar Latin doesn’t even reveal a systematic tendency towards Romance, however deformed it may have been. There is nothing “Romance” about The Satyricon of Petronius, the only “vulgar latin” title of the only author mentioned by contemporaries to have used this kind of “incorrect Latin”. By then there was no trace of the Romance use of definite and indefinite articles. Without written evidence it is already hard to make the difference eg. with the Latin demonstrative, but this Romance feature certainly didn’t happen up to the very last century of the Roman Empire. Not even in case of doubt the position of the article/demonstrative was clear, so in Rumania the development could still be influenced by the Slavic substratum to put the article after the noun – thus suggesting a strong non-Roman convergence even here.
To expand on this example: neither the fate of the neuter follows a strict pattern in Romance that could be derived from a Vulgar Latin parent: neuter forms remain in a few of the Romance Languages, such as Italian (seen in the singular and plural of parts of the body, such as il braccio “the arm”, but le braccia “the arms”, taking the feminine plural definite article, but, at the same time, resembling a feminine singular noun). This is most apparent, in fact, in Romanian, where nouns classified as “neuter” resemble certain classes of masculine nouns in the singular and feminine in the plural. In French, the neuter forms were assigned to the feminine and masculine categories on quite different criteria. Even the case system can’t have been lost in the hypothetical Romance parent language since the plural of Romance north and west of the La Spezia-Rimini Line developed from the accusative case, while in romance south and east of the Line plural developed from the nominative case.
A less antagonized case than Romance against the dogma of a hypothetized single parent language was supplied by Garrett, in his rejection of the existence of proto-Greek as a parent language of Greek.

It is […] well established that there are linguistic changes found in all first millennium Greek dialects, including Arcado Cyprian, that are not found in Mycenaean. Before the decipherment of Linear B such changes were assumed to be Proto Greek, but now it is clear that they reflect areal diffusion across the Greek speaking area.
[…]if we allow that at least a few post-Proto-Greek changes must already have affected Mycenaean before its attestation (it is after all a Greek dialect), detailed analysis reduces the dossier of demonstrable and uniquely Proto Greek innovations in phonology and inflectional morphology to nearly zero.
[…] it hardly makes sense to reconstruct Proto Greek as such: a coherent IE dialect, spoken by some IE speech community, ancestral to all the later Greek dialects. It is just as likely that Greek was formed by the coalescence of dialects that originally formed part of a continuum with other NIE (Nuclear Indo European, R.) dialects, including some that went on to participate in the formation of other IE branches. With this in mind it is possible to see external links for some Greek dialect patterns. For example, the first-person plural endings -mes and -men are distributed such that -mes occurs in West Greek, across the Adriatic from Italic (with s in Latin -mus), while -men occurs elsewhere, across the Aegean from Anatolian (with n in Hittite -wen).
[…]
I suggested that Greek may be typical of IE subgroups, and that the reason we see the pattern clearly in Greek is that we have Mycenaean. For no other IE branch do we have comparable data — an Italic dialect of 1000 JK, or an Indo Iranian variety documented early in the second millennium. But the coherence of other IE branches can be doubted too. The question of Italic unity has been debated by linguists for at least 75 years. Even for Indo Iranian […]
I conclude section 2 by noting a pattern in need of an explanation […] Speaking in the broadest terms, early IE language spread was thus a two phase process […] in the second phase, late in the second millennium in some cases, changes that gave dialect areas their characteristic phonology and morphology swept across those areas. (Garrett, 2006)

Likewise, Koch does not suggest anything close to a specific “proto-Celtic” parent language, nor a limited point of origin for the Celtic branch. Instead, he holds the Celts to be the ultimate products of processes along the Atlantic coasts.
In this same vein, the Great Barbarian Conspiracy of 367, or the expulsion of Rome from Britain in a coordinated effort from Scottis in Ireland, Picts and Caledonians in Scotland next to Angles and Jutes, is exactly the kind of contact that would be key to a shared “Gaelic” development from Old Irish to Middle Irish, however radical the changes:

I have presented a relative chronology of 22 stages for the phonological developments which characterize the formation of Old Irish (1979). All of these developments are posterior to the Ogam inscriptions, which lack the characteristic features of the Old Irish language. If we use the term “Primitive Irish” for the period before the apocope (my stage 15) and the term “Archaic Irish” for the period between the apocope and the syncope (my stage 19), we may wonder about the applicability of the term “Irish” to the Ogam inscriptions; it may be more appropriate to speak of the variety of Insular Celtic spoken by the ancestors of the Irish. In any case, no reconstruction of Proto-Irish on the basis of Old Irish and later materials comes close to anything resembling the language of the Ogam inscriptions (Kortlandt, 1989)

Kortlandt interprets this rapid evolution as evidence for a younger age of Indo European. It is a pity it did not occur to him to relate this also to a much slower geographic evolution within the branches already in place.
Another example, albeit of another linguistic branch, would be the Frisian trade contacts that kept the Frisian hemisphere knit together with the Anglosaxons, what without doubt was key to a shared Anglo-Frisian linguistic development.
This shared development over this larger (already IE-ed and interrelated) area towards Celtic is “convergence”, made possible by a combination of shared origin and intensive contacts – that may or may not be largely confined to the Atlantic rim. This latter part is less clear at the moment, especially for what happened at the eastern “Hallstatt” borders. Similar processes towards convergence may have caused different linguistic configurations in the North sea region, or even within the La Tene “warrior fringe” between Marne and Moselle that is commonly regarded a key element to the historic La Tene identity. Such impulses deriving from the Celtic fringes thus also demand a new assessment.
How come it took so long for linguists to recognize this simple mechanism of convergence, still so important for understanding the origin of linguistic branches? Only nowadays the acceptance of the universal linguistic models of Chomsky and Greenbergis is in decline. This year investigators from Auckland and Nijmegen may have sealed their demise definitively with results that show languages evolve in their own idiosyncratic ways, and don’t have “simply” a natural tendency to “look the same”. There is no reason to suppose that grammatical structure and rules are governed by universal cognitive factors or “hardwired” by innate linguistic capacities. Instead of the cognitive explanations and universals supplied by Chomsky’s and Greenberg’s theories, cultural evolution is at play.

The central goal of linguistics is to describe the diversity of human languages and explain the constraints on that diversity. Generative linguists following Chomsky have claimed that linguistic diversity must be constrained by innate parameters that are set as a child learns a language […]contrary to the generative account of parameter setting, we show that the evolution of only a few word-order features of languages are strongly correlated[…]
cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure, with the current state of a linguistic system shaping and constraining future states (M. Dunn et al., 2011)

Actually, Chomsky underestimated the processes of convergence since true “linguistic evolution” is incompatible with the rather creationist-like view of guided internal causes towards change. Parallel evolution never occurs because of internal processes, only as a response to external impulses. Other stale “collectivity theories”, like those that deny convergence in mythology and symbolism, may be equally flawed.
Now what about Old Germanic? Convergence makes the hypothetized Nordwestblock language feasible as a kind of Old Germanic that didn’t participate yet in some “key” Germanic sound shifts – even though the onset of each may have been elsewhere, not unlike the High German consonant shift possibly in another Celto-Germanic contact zone. Common conservative features like the glottal stop tend to set assessments of “Belgic” and “proto-Germanic” apart from “Celtic”, and the mechanism of linguistic convergence virtually dissipates the need for a compulsory set of shared “Germanic” features for Belgae with their eastern brothers (L. germanum). Some common features may have been the result of more recent convergence, and regional features may be retentions of regional variability of a wider “Old Germanic” branch. Even English retains sufficient traces of a Nordwestblock vocabulary, whether of not partially “in situ” as a development among Belgae immigrants, to suggest at least West Germanic has a much longer history than the limited concept of a Migration Period ethnogenesis ever intended to permit.


Referenced:

  • Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill, Stephen C. Levinson & Russell D. Gray – Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals, 2011, link, naturenews
  • Kurt Braunmüller et al. – Convergence and divergence in language contact situations, 2009, link
  • Andrew Garrett – Convergence in the formation of Indo-European subgroups: Phylogeny and chronology, in Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages, ed. by Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew, 2006, pp. 139-151, link
  • J.H. Looijenga – Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700; Texts & Contents, 1997, link, or get version 2003
  • J.T. Koch – Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia, Volumes 1-5, 2006, link
  • Kortlandt – The Spread of the Indo-Europeans, 1989, link
  • Gustav Must – The Problem of the Inscription on Helmet B of Negau, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology Vol. 62, 1957, link
  • Frans Plank – From Early Germanic Towards Early English, Evidence for very early Germanic, link
  • Helena Hamerow – Early Medieval Settlements: The Archeaology of Rural Communities in North-West Europe, 400–900, 2002, link
  • Strabo, Geographica 7.1.2., try here
  • Julius Caesar – The Gallic Wars (D.B.G.), link
  • Tacitus – Germania, Translated with Introduction and Commentary by J.B. Rives, 1999, link
  • Gaius Petronius – The Satyricon, link
  • Pliny the Elder – The Natural History, Germania: Book IV-28, John Bostock and H. T. Riley (1855), link
  • Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga saga, ~1225, link
  • John Lindow – Norse mythology: a guide to the Gods, heroes, rituals, and beliefs, 2001. ISBN 0-19-515382-0
  • Rudolf Simek – Dictionary of Northern Mythology, 2007. ISBN 0-85991-513-1, link
  • Ross G. H. Shott – The Dark Arts of Immortality, 2004, link
  • Bernard Mees – “Runic erilaR.” NOWELE: North-Western European Language Evolution 42 (March 2003), 41–68.
  • John Arnott MacCulloch – Celtic Mythology (1918)), ISBN 0-486-43656-X, 2004
  • Simon James – Exploring The World Of The Celts, 1993, ISBN-13 978-0-500-27998-4
  • Ton Derks – Van toga tot terracotta: het veelkleurige palet van volwassenwordingsrituelen in het Romeinse Rijk, 2009, link

The European Mesolithisation of a Caucasian Neolithic, or the Origin of the Indo European Language family

December 28, 2010 7 comments

Without any doubt the transition from “Mesolithic” hunting and gathering to a “Neolithic” agricultural way of life was a demographic event of utmost importance, but to what extend? This year (2010) the debate is on again about the Neolithic advance in Europe. New paleogenetic results attested “Caucasian” patrilineal YDNA G2a3 and matrilineal mtDNA N1a in the Neolithic LBK culture north of the Alps, and more mtDNA N1a in Megalithic France. Along the male lineage this particular type of Neolithic YDNA survived with moderate frequencies until today, but the demise of the typical Neolithic matrilineal counterpart was almost complete. Even if we take into consideration an appreciable influence of post-Neolithic selective processes, we can’t ignore a certain sex-biased discrepancy in Neolithic survival rates. Possibly local “European” contributions to the gene-pool may be correlated to “Mesolithisation” processes essentially congruent to Zvelebil’s Neolithic Creolisation Hypothesis, supplying a potential candidate solution to the long standing issue of the Indo European origin.

Genetic distance maps presented by Haak et al. (2010) that show affinities between modern populations and Neolithic LBK samples. Peak values in the Caucasian region are notable and indicative of a Caucasian origin.

Apparently intrusive Neolithic cultures spread from the Near East to Europe along at least two fronts. Despite marked differences in their development and assimilation of local cultures, both groupings were subject to similar processes:

Archaeologically, two main cultural traditions, marked by two different potteries, can be distinguished in the Early Neolithic: the linear pottery culture (or LBK) that runs along the Danubian route and the impressed ware pottery (also called cardial) that spreads along the Mediterranean. This is not just a question on ceramic decoration. The diffusion of the new economy took two main routes after the colonizations of the Balkans that implied different necessities of adaptation of the agriculture and the farming to specific climatic and ecological conditions.(Sampietro et al.,2007)

The Cardial culture advanced west hopping islands and Mediterranean shores, while the Linearbandkeramik Culture (LBK) first developed along the Danube in the Balkans out of other Neolithic cultures before bursting into the North European Plain. The Neolithic stock at both Neolithic fronts could have been local in case Neolithisation was nothing but a cultural process, or otherwise – through a process of “demic diffusion” – closely related to the Anatolian or Levantine people whose ancestors “invented” this new way of life (Ex Oriente Lux!).
The genetic contribution of each of these groupings to the modern Europe population is still a matter of scientific debate. Purported Neolithic intruders must have come in close contact with native cultures wherever they passed, or otherwise acculturated Neolithic populations could have been continuous to at least some of these native cultures.

Two opposing scenarios have been invoked to account for the spread of agriculture in Europe. The demic diffusion (DD) model assumes that the Neolithic transition diffused in Europe from the Middle East by an important movement of population (Ammerman & Cavalli-Sforza 1984; pp. 78–80), without substantial contact with local Palaeolithic populations. On the contrary, the cultural diffusion (CD) model assumes that the Neolithic transition occurred mainly through the transmission of agricultural techniques (Zvelebil & Zvelebil 1988) without large movements of populations. (Currat et al.”, 2005)

Especially the Neolithic “Megalithic” cultures along the Atlantic, according to archeologists, are hard to identify with external Neolithic influences in the area:

The transition to the Neolithic in Atlantic Europe can be viewed as a relatively late phenomenon, with several interesting particularities. Among those, we point out the fundamentally indigenous character of the processes; the existence of a long availability phase, in which hunter-gatherer groups maintained contact with neighboring agriculturalists and probably were familiar with farming and animal husbandry without applying them in a systematic way; and the later development of megalithic monumental funerary architecture.(Pablo Arias,1999)

Cardial culture spread rapidly west along the Mediterranean and reached as far as Portugal about 5400 cal BC. Paleogenetic investigation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA, that inherit mother to daughter) revealed absence of ‘LEvantine’ mtDNA haplogroup J in those Neolithic population samples, suggesting that upon arrival the Neolithic farmers didn’t descend anymore from the Levant on the matrilineal side.

The Portuguese Neolithic sample, containing no J haplotypes in 23 samples, indicates that agriculture in Portugal was not brought directly by migrating farmers from the Near East. (Chandler et al., 2005)

At higher genetic resolution these investigated Portuguese Mesolithic and Neolithic groups still show genetic discontinuity, despite sharing mitochondrial mtDNA H, U* and U5, thus also implying important population shifts at the Neolithic transition. Possibly the Neolithic farmers draw from just a subset of local, or nearby Mesolithic mtDNA.

A discontinuity at the Neolithic transition is consistent with the Maritime Pioneer Colonisation model for the arrival of farming in Portugal (Zilhão 1993, Zilhão 2001). In this model, agricultural enclaves were formed by groups of leap-frogging sea-faring colonists who moved around the Mediterranean coast. The source population however is not Near Eastern, as demonstrated both by the absence of haplogroup J in the Portuguese Neolithic population and by the genetic distance observed between the Neolithic Portuguese and Near Eastern populations. More likely, a Mediterranean group which itself had adopted farming through exchange or only limited migration moved into the uninhabited parts of Portugal’s coastal regions to pursue an agricultural subsistence strategy.(Chandler et al., 2005)

Relative frequencies of Mesolithic and Neolithic mtDNA in Portugal, compared to current frequencies in various modern regions (Chandler et al., 2005)


Thus, in Portugal local Mesolithic influences appear to underpin the Neolithic transition on the matrilineal side. Not even subsequent continuity up to modern times poses any problem:

Haplogroup frequencies and genetic distances show that the ancient Portuguese populations studied here, both Mesolithic and Neolithic, are most closely related to the modern Basque and Galician populations of the Iberian Peninsula.(Chandler et al., 2005)

A subsequent investigation in Eastern Iberia confirmed a strong Neolithic continuity here with modern Europeans (“New” Iberian groups printed bold):

The site ‘Camí de Can Grau’ (Granollers, Barcelona, Spain) is a necropolis excavated in 1994, which comprised 23 tombs dated by C14 between 3500 and 3000cal years BC.
[…] 11 sequences were considered to be endogenous and included in the posterior population analysis.
[…] The general [mtDNA] haplogroup composition of the Neolithic sample is: H (36.4%); T2 (18.2%); J1c (18.2%); I1 (9.1%); U4 (9.1%); and W1 (9.1%)
[…]the general composition is not significantly different from that obtained from the current Iberian Peninsula dataset when random resamplings of 11 sequences are made (Sampietro et al.,2007)

Here Near Eastern haplotypes must have trickled in up to a degree of mixture that can already be considered “modern”. However, note this results are substantially younger than the Portuguese finds mentioned above. Whatever happened after the first Neolithic arrivals that changed this Western Mediterranean genetic composition, this must have happened mainly before “Camí de Can Grau”.

Unfortunately, the nature and demic impact of the Neolithic advance north of the Alps proved much more difficult to retrieve and the discussion remains inconclusive:

Archaeological cultures such as the Linear pottery culture (Linearbandkeramik or LBK) and [AVK, the Eastern Linear Pottery Culture] mark the onset of farming in temperate regions of Europe 7500 years ago. These early farming cultures originated in Hungary and Slovakia, and the LBK then spread rapidly as far as the Paris Basin and the Ukraine. The remarkable speed of the LBK expansion within a period of about 500 years, and the general uniformity of this archaeological unit across a territory of nearly a million square kilometers, might indicate that the spread was fueled to a considerable degree by a migration of people (Haak et al., 2005)

The ultimate origin of this Neolithic people was assumed to be Anatolia and recently Myres et al. (2010) published a quite credible reconstruction of their advance based on the genetic structure of the very prolific Eurasian YDNA marker Hg R1b1b2. However, other preliminary assessments led to conflicting results: […]with estimates of Neolithic input into the present population ranging from 20 to 100%. (Haak et al., 2005). A theoretical simulation study by Currat and Excoffier even suggested a minor contribution:

The proportion of Europeans who are descendant from the first farmers from the Levant decreases very quickly with distance from the Neolithic source, as the lineages of Neolithic origin are rapidly diluted along the axis of colonization. Under our simulation conditions, an average local Palaeolithic contribution larger than 0.375% will indeed be enough to prevent Neolithic lineages to diffuse over the whole Europe.
These results imply that, under our model of a progressive range expansion of Neolithic farmers with possible genetic exchange and competition with local Palaeolithic hunter–gatherers, it is very unlikely that the Palaeolithic contribution be globally smaller than 50%. (Currat et al., 2005

Haak et al. were the first to actually verify this. In 2005 they investigated paleogenetic mtDNA of Neolithic samples. From a total of 57 investigated human remains of the prehistoric LBK/AVK cultures, the mtDNA of only 24 individuals could be determined:

Eighteen of the sequences belonged to typical western Eurasian mtDNA branches; there were seven H or V sequences, five T sequences, four K sequences, one J sequence, and one U3 sequence. These 18 sequences are common and widespread in modern Europeans, Near Easterners, and Central Asians (Haak et al., 2005)

Those 18 samples were considered too generic to reveal either a native or a foreign origin. Some may be suggestive of a genetic link to the Near East, that however could well exceed the Neolithic timeframe. Therefore the investigation concentrated on the mtDNA types identified in the other six individuals:

The most striking result is that 6 of the 24 Neolithic skeletons are of the distinctive and rare N1a branch.(Haak et al., 2005)

It could be shown this N1a lineage was universal to both LBK and AVK, but quite rare in modern European populations. A tentative link of the AVK sample to the Central Asian type of N1a is ambiguous. All six LBK/AVK samples can be grouped as pertaining to the “European type” – that despite the name occurs slightly more often in the Near East. Initially this was considered hot evidence against a significant genetic input of Neolithic immigrants in Europe:

The results from the Neolithic sample show that other mtDNA lineages considerably diluted the mtDNA pool of these early Neolithic populations, so that the frequency of N1a in modern Europeans is 150 times lower than in our sample of the first Central European farmers. This is incompatible with the idea that modern Central Europeans—and by implication other Europeans beyond the LBK/AVK area—derive their maternal lineages purely from the earliest farmers of that region. (Haak et al., 2005)

However, this ambiguous picture of Neolithic discontinuity remained confined to Central Europe, as the findings of Haak et al. sharply contrasted with the situation in the Iberian Peninsula that attested a more gradual development towards modern values.

Subsequent investigations on the Y chromosome restored confidence again in an overwhelming Neolithic contribution, albeit along the male lineages. The method heavily depended on the specific Neolithic identity of the European version of YDNA marker Hg R1b, and didn’t consider any possible selective forces on genetic level, but the method was solid, based on the mathematical observation that frequencies of new mutations in an expanding population (congruent to the Neolithic advance) tend to show a wave pattern. Even more noticeable distribution and frequency effects, ie. Allele frequency clines (AFC), were already predicted if a new mutation could manage to surf on the expanding wave front:

The AFCs can be generated by a succession of founder effects along the axis of diffusion of an expansion wave (Barbujani et al. 1995; Fix 1997; Austerlitz et al. 2000).
[…]
Our simulations suggest that AFC from the Middle East to north western Europe can be generated equally well by the Neolithic expansion process that occurred 8000 to 3000 BC or by the expansion of the first modern human in Europe ~45000 to 30000 BP. (Currat et al., 2005)

An important milestone was the identification of Europe’s main Y-DNA marker, haplogroup R1b, as “recent” and Neolithic:

Haplogroup R1b frequency in Europe is clinal with increasing frequencies observed in Northwest Europe, a pattern that has been ascribed to the persistance of Palaeolithic Y chromosomes in Europe after a Neolithic demic diffusion from the Near East. Interestingly, attempts to date the Y-STR-based diversity of R1b-M269 chromosomes in populations from Europe and Turkey have yielded Holocene expansion times in both regions. These findings have led to the reappraisal that R1b-M269 in Europe is young and likely associated with a Neolithic demic expansion from the Near East through Anatolia. (Myres et al., 2005)

I dedicated my last blog entry to this latter investigation, and explained how the LBK culture is now credited for being the European intermediary of this Y-DNA haplogroup R1b, that their Anatolian connections then must have brought in from the east. However, the small time window between Neolithic pioneers and Mesolithic populations that may have entered Europe slightly earlier, combined with the success of closely related R1b clades and other Hg R haplogroups that are unrelated to LBK boundaries, suggested more complexity in the events before and after the Neolithic advance.

Thus, invoking the pronounced transformation of the pre-Neolithic European gene pool by intrusive pioneer farmers from the Near East must be viewed cautiously especially when such an argument is based on just a single incompletely resolved haplogroup. Although the transition to agriculture was a pivotal event in human history, the spread of specific haplogroups can occur in more than one migration event. (Myres et al., 2005)

The Neolithic reconstruction became badly in need of a much more benign paleogenetic verification on genetic level. Haak et al. extended their previous investigation of Neolithic DNA, and conceded to less extreme differences regarding the maternal mtDNA composition of LBK compared to current populations, even though their attributed DNA still appears to be pretty unique:

Most importantly, PC correlates of the second component showed that elevated or high frequencies of hgs T, N1a, K, and W were unique to LBK populations, making them appear different from both Europe and Near East. The considerable within-hg diversity of all four of these hgs (especially T and N1a; Table 1) suggests that this observation is unlikely to be an artifact of random genetic drift leading to elevated frequencies in small, isolated populations. (Haak et al., 2010)

However, the previous stance that LBK is genetically extinct has now been considerably nuanced, apparently even abandoned. Important post-Neolithic events are still suggested, but there is no further denial that paleogenetic LBK survived somehow in both European and Near Eastern populations:

[The LBK dataset was] grouping with Europeans because of a lack of mitochondrial African hgs (L and M1) and preHV, and elevated frequencies of hg V. In contrast, low frequencies of hg H and higher frequencies for HV, J, and U3 promoted Near Eastern resemblances. (Haak et al., 2010)

The widely divergent results of LBK samples compared to current populations possibly found a different explanation:

The pooled European and Near Eastern meta-populations are necessarily overgeneralizations, and there are likely to be subsets of Near Eastern populations that are more similar to the Neolithic population. Interestingly, both the PCA [i.e. based on mtDNA haplogroup frequencies] and the MDS plots [Multidimensional scaling plot of genetic distances based on haplogroup frequencies] identified Georgians, Ossetians, and Armenians as candidate populations (Figures 2 and S1). (Haak et al., 2010)

Still, extinction and survival of LBK related genes appear to have gone hand in hand. This is true for mitochondrial DNA, where the correlation of some unique haplotypes with modern populations still poses a problem, but that for now can’t be correlated to contemporary Mesolithic populations either:

The frequency of N1a was 13.6% for Derenburg samples (3/22) and 14.3% for all LBK samples published to date (6/42). Notably, N1a has not yet been observed in the neighboring hunter–gatherer populations of Central Europe before, during, or after the Early Neolithic nor in the early Neolithic Cardial Ware Culture from Spain. (Haak et al., 2010)

There is a vague indication those mitochondrial haplogroups indeed could derive from a subset of Near Eastern populations:

The only relatively close neighbor of haplotype 16319-16343 is found in Iraq (16129-16189-16319-16343), in agreement with the Near Eastern affinities of the informative LBK haplotypes. (Haak et al., 2010)

Recent investigation of Megalithic mtDNA suggests this haplogroup apparently arrived as far as western France, thus locally congruent with the expansion of post-LBK cultures as suggested by the wave front spread of YDNA R1b according to Myres et al. (2010). From an archeological point of view such evidence was always so difficult to discern:

To extend existing knowledge of the mitochondrial European Neolithic gene pool, we examined six samples of human skeletal material from a French megalithic long mound (c.4200 cal BC). We retrieved HVR-I sequences from three individuals and demonstrated that in the Neolithic period the mtDNA haplogroup N1a, previously only known in central Europe, was as widely distributed as western France. Alternative scenarios are discussed in seeking to explain this result, including Mesolithic ancestry, Neolithic demic diffusion, and long-distance matrimonial exchanges. In light of the limited Neolithic ancient DNA (aDNA) data currently available, we observe that all three scenarios appear equally consistent with paleogenetic and archaeological data. In consequence, we advocate caution in interpreting aDNA in the context of the Neolithic transition in Europe. Nevertheless, our results strengthen conclusions demonstrating genetic discontinuity between modern and ancient Europeans whether through migration, demographic or selection processes, or social practices. (Deguilloux et al., 2010)

Matrilineally, this particular component of LBK diluted in the European genepool, and not only there. Even the Near Eastern origin of N1a became tenuous because of low frequencies, but the virtual extintion of N1a would be even more difficult to explain if it were also firmly rooted in the European Mesolithic. Tentatively, its virtual extinction appears to post-date the Late Neolithic wave of advance, and the resulting discrepancies with modern European mtDNA suggests important post-Neolithic matrilineal population shifts, not unlike the processes already specifically associated with the 3rd millenium advance of Beaker cultures:

The distribution of Bell Beakers could thus reflect the movement of marriage partners. (Marc vander Linden, 2007)

The post-LBK decrease of Near Eastern mtDNA components in Europe could have been less dramatic for mtDNA T – if indeed this type could be confirmed at all as fully oriental rather than Central/East European additions.
New paleogenetic information that concerns patrilineal DNA (YDNA) tends to confirm this picture of post-Neolithic decline.

Y chromosome SNPs could be typed for only three out of the eight male individuals (37.5%; Table S2)
[…] individual deb34 was found to belong to hg G (M201)
[…] downstream SNP S126 (L30), placing it into G2a3.
[…] whereas individuals deb20 and deb38 both fall basally on the F branch (derived for M89 but ancestral for markers M201, M170, M304, and M9)
[…] to distinguish between F and H
[…] deb20 and deb38 were shown to be ancestral at M69 and hence basal F (M89), and remained in this position because we did not carry out further internal subtyping within the F clade. (Haak et al., 2010)

Like mtDNA N1a, those two LBK YDNA F* samples could have pertained either to a European grouping that is currently very rare, maybe even merely theoretical (cq. extinct hg IJ*), or otherwise to an equally rare Near Eastern grouping. The third sample, however, survived in appreciable frequencies over a wide Eurasian territory: ‘Caucasian’ Hg G2a3. Since a shared YDNA history with that other F* samples is irreconcilable with the latter’s virtual extinction, both at a hypothetic Anatolian source and at its Central European destination, this F* is most likely to a pre-Neolithic addition to the LBK gene-pool. In this sense the ‘asymmetric’ survival of YDNA Hg G2a3 compared to F* could possibly compare with the survival of mtDNA T2 compared to mtDNA N1a.
Equally noteworthy is the absence of more common modern YDNA:

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. (Haak et al., 2010)

Note the author doesn’t even dare to mention Hg J2, that before was the example ‘par excellence’ of Neolithic YDNA from Anatolia. Is it really? But for sure the absence of all these haplogroups in LBK can’t be taken for granted altogether, even though Corded Ware Y-DNA samples found in Eulau apparently indicated a rather Late Neolithic (post-LBK?) association for Hg R1a:

The few published ancient Y chromosome results from Central Europe come from late Neolithic sites and were exclusively hg R1a [31]. While speculative, we suggest this supports the idea that R1a may have spread with late Neolithic cultures from the east. (Haak et al., 2010)

No Late Neolithic arrivals from the east are known by archeology other than those already associated with European cultures cq. LBK, or at least comparable Balkanic cultures rooted in a Neolithic that is slightly older. How all these explicit and implicit claims of Near Eastern cq. Caucasian haplogroups, all having different occurrences and distributions throughout Europe and elsewhere, could ever be possibly accomodated within a single and progressive Neolithic wave of advance? Even the distribution of Hg G2a3 appears erratic compared to the tidy Wave of Advance model for Hg R1b1b2 claimed by Myres et al. (2010).

Let me explain briefly how these very different scenarios for the distribution of a wider array of Caucasian haplogroups from a single source are indeed possible, before I move on to transgress about the unlikelihood of ALL haplogroups being unequivocally Caucasian, and their possible sex-biased local “European” contribution.
Lots of ink have been spilled on expanding populations to describe the kind of founder effects that would reverse the normal, star-like expansion pattern, to the effect that the importance and behaviour of normal star-structured expansion patterns tends to be forgotten. The normal expansion pattern typically features an increased effective population at the front relative to the expanding population as a whole, what means that into the direction of an expanding wave front a growing portion of the population will be actually involved in reproduction, since better opportunities (especially of the unsettled younger population component) are the raison d’être to the expansion. The expansion is most profitable for those that effectively acquired new opportunities in the expansion areas. Even though founder effects are likely to occur at the front of the expanding population and are normally adverse to variance, ie. when the offspring of one founder tends to outbreed other lineages in the neighbourhood at the cost of diversity; their adverse impact on the overall variance is typically exaggerated when elsewhere this same lineage is less successful or remains absent altogether. Only a succession of founders recurring on the same lineage can make a difference, for instance when founder X1 is the ancestor of founder X2 at T=50 generations, that is the ancestor of founder X3 at T=100 generations and so on. This feature causes the anti-thesis of the star-pattern of an expanding population, ie. the Allele frequency cline (AFC).

Allele frequency clines (AFCs) can result from […] subsequent founder events during a range expansion (Klopfstein et al., 2006)

Klopfstein et al. are careful to explain that AFCs are a rare phenomenon, in population history rather to be expected in paleolithic low-population density scenarios than in Neolithic high-population density scenarios.

Our study further suggests that mutations having arisen during Paleolithic range expansions should show larger absolute frequency differences than those having occurred during a pure Neolithic expansion […]
Conversely, mutations that are found today at very low frequencies and nevertheless show a clinal pattern […] are much more likely to have been spread during the Neolithic than during the Paleolithic expansion. Finally, we would predict that new mutations being highly localized and at relatively low frequencies are more likely to have spread during the Neolithic expansion. (Klopfstein et al., 2006)

Contrary to popular opinion, the extinction (or low extant frequency) of a mutation does not imply the extinction of the whole expanding population, and neither in the AFC test cases. Actually, an expanding population can do very well without an AFC! Quantified in a straightforward way, for a hunting band of 60 individuals remaining on the narrow edge of the wave of advance and having an effective size of maximum 10:

Of the 64,000 simulations, ~18% were successful […] Altogether, the majority of mutations remained near the origin (~78%) whereas the remainder (~22%) traveled in the direction of the expansion, and on average their centroid can be found about midway between the place of origin of the mutation and the end of the expansion.
[…]
The stationary [centroids] have, on average, very few mutants; in the majority of simulations, the number of mutants remains below the level of polymorphism (Edmonds et al., 2003)

In the latter case an average lineage, here marked by a new mutation, doesn’t experience a strong founder effect at all and even tends to be phased out by neighbouring expanding lineages at the front “while the wave rolls on”. Thus, an expanding population doesn’t necessarily feature the AFC of any mutation at all, according to the mathematical investigations involved not even in the majority of cases.
In brief applied to the Neolithic wave of advance: the haplogroups that expanded together with LBK in Europe could result concurrently in vastly diverging expansion patterns, that may vary from a combination of star-like and AFC patterns applicable especially to Hg R1b1b2, to low frequency-long range haplogroups like Hg G2a3, and even to currently extinct haplogroups. The population shifts at the Neolithic transition seem to involve predominantly the arrival and subsequent diverging distributional processes of DNA that potentially derive from the Near East.

The low availability of maternal mtDNA in LBK territory that to a certain degree of confidence could be considered typical European, like mtDNA U5 or H, still suggests that European Neolithic populations experienced a considerable ingression of the local female element in a later period, not unlike the findings in Megalithic Europe. This would also imply that another population was still around. Paleogenetic samples strongly correlated eg. mtDNA U5 to the mesolithic cultures of the north of the Alps, while Mesolithic H appears to be a rather Atlantic phenomenon (west of LBK). Both distributions might have overlapped at the northwestern boundaries of LBK, even though so far it was impossible to retrieve reliable samples from the marshy soil to verify this. The continued expansion of male Neolithic DNA until modern times strongly contradicts the annihilation of Neolithic cultures by a new society of militant intruders, but the apparent extinction of matrilinear DNA supports the arrival of a new component on the scene that most likely was firmly rooted in Mesolithic Europe. In this process LBK mariage partners among the local Mesolithic population may already have preceded the shifts theorized by Marc vander Linden in Beaker times. These sex-biased genetic changes may coincide with a process that in modern archeology was forwarded as “Mesolithisation”.

Archeology traditionally presumed a Neolithic takeover in Europe of agriculturists from the Near East that took advantage of their high cultural level. They were supposed to have squeezed Mesolithic Europe into virtual extinction, without much attention to the possible effects of acculturation. Paleogenetic investigation tends to confirm the Neolithic victory at this “clash of cultures”, even though so far the results are far from unambiguous. At least the female Neolithic component obviously received a blow in more recent times, that could be due to Neolithic (LBK or post-LBK) or post-Neolithic marriage partners among the local Mesolithic population – conform the proposals of Marc vander Linden in 2007.
My previous article gave an overview on the current status of the discussion on the Neolithic advance as a wave that started in Anatolia and propagated with increasing R1b frequencies grosso modo to NW Europe. That article pointed at the possibility of a secondary Late-Neolithic expansion area in the neighborhood of the Paris Basin that could have been responsible for the spread of most of Western European R1b, represented by the especially numerous M420+ subclade. The LBK cultural complex was pivotal to this advance, and the investigation of Haak et al. (2010) suggests YDNA G2a3 could help in defining a specific Caucasian origin. “Caucasian” mtDNA N1a (similar to the “Central Asian” type N1a found in an AVK context) was also found at the Megalith site Prissé-la-Charrière dated 4200 BC, thus supporting the view of Myres et al. that the same LBK-related Neolithic wave of advance continued in the Late Neolithic:

We reproducibly retrieved partial HVR-I sequences (nps 16,165 to 16,390) from three human remains (Prisse´ 1, 2, and 4, Table 1), one adult and two children deposited during different stages of use of the burial chamber. Corresponding sequences could be unambiguously assigned to haplogroups X2, U5b, and N1a (Deguilloux et al., 2010)

In short, the traditional view on the Neolithic revolution could hardly be illustrated better than by this interpretation of a genetic wave of advance of Y-chromosome marker R1b that originated in a single male somewhere in Anatolia and then – Ex Oriente Lux – propagated with ever increasing frequencies until the darkest outposts of the western world where the sun goes down.
However, this doesn’t solve the marked differences with the distribution patterns of other Neolithic haplogroups, both YDNA like G2a3 and mtDNA. These inconsistencies may be much more than the mathematic phenomena as described above. Actually, modern archeology currently favours an important revision that challenges almost anything Neolithization traditionally stands for. The apparent genetic association with Neolithic culture in Europe is still to ambiguous to demonstrate the Neolithic advance to be exactly what modern archeology doesn’t support anymore: a deterministic transition referred to as Neolithization. This model regarded the introduction of domesticates as inevitable, the Neolithic way of life inescapable, the evolution and progress involved universal and its origin unique and singular.

The main proposition of this view is that the term and the concepts of the Neolithic inhibit clear thinking about what happened. Proponents consider the traditional dichotomy between huntergatherers and agriculturists already debunked as an artificial construct. Instead, the key development of the transition lies within the overall management of the natural environment, including specific methods like the systematic burning of forests all over the world. Features like the domstication of animals and growing crops are secundary to this evolving management of nature. A growing body of archeological evidence shows up to prove this. Eg. in Korea people already grew rice about 13000 BC, 6000 years later this same people also included millet and domesticated pigs (7000 BC). Domestication of pigs probably also happened in Germany in Rottenburg-Siebenlinden and Gottingen. Forest management in pre-Neolithic Northern Europe was directed at harvesting oaks and hazelnut. The list is long and includes many Neolithic features scattered all over the world in pre-Neolithic cultures: like pottery between 11800-8000 BC in the Jomonculture, Japan; in El Adam, Egypt at 9000 BC; Mesolithic La Hoguette pottery already existed before the arrival of LBK. And why the Neolithic Revolution in Europe would be associated to a unique package of “Neolithic” changes that may be rather ethnically defined? Its introduction was apparently associated with new ethnic elements and their culture, but this does not mean that the native population was “evangelized” into a new way of life of Neolithic copycats. Especially in Northern Europe parallel cultural developments can be discerned that apparently evolve from internal impulses. The Neolithic represented by cultures like LBK thus emerges as a shared development that was already initiated in the paleolithic all over the world:

European Paleolithic subsistence is assumed to have been largely based on animal protein and fat, whereas evidence for plant consumption is rare. We present evidence of starch grains from various wild plants on the surfaces of grinding tools at the sites of Bilancino II (Italy), Kostenki 16-Uglyanka (Russia), and Pavlov VI (Czech Republic). The samples originate from a variety of geographical and environmental contexts, ranging from northeastern Europe to the central Mediterranean, and dated to the Mid-Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian and Gorodtsovian). The three sites suggest that vegetal food processing, and possibly the production of flour, was a common practice, widespread across Europe from at least ~30,000 y ago. It is likely that high energy content plant foods were available and were used as components of the food economy of these mobile hunter-gatherers. (Revedin et al., 2010)

The earliest Neolithic was still far away from large scale exploitation and production, that developed only much later and under completely different circumstances. Rather this early Neolithic cultures were an expression of an imported ideology, meeting another completely different Mesolithic ideology. The imported ideology was rigid, restricted to certain soils and techniques and unable to get full profit out of local circumstances, while the Mesolithic ideology was flexible and diverse like expressed in Swifterbant culture:

Our knowledge of Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherer food strategies in the area suggests that they included the exploitation of a wide range of food sources to avoid dependence on a single food source. (Cappers et al., 2008)

The integration of Mesolithic exploitation strategies must have been critical to the survival of Neolithic immigrants. Indeed, Mesolithic interaction can already be discerned at the earliest stages of the Neolithic advent. The Neolithic culture of Starcevo (Serbia) may have inherited from similar Anatolian traditions as LBK, and has even been named as an important precursor to LBK. There is also a strong Mesolithic component. Bogdanovic (2009): “Mesolithic and Neolithic horizons in Lepenski Vir show that in both groups of inhabitants there are only slight differences in what they ate”. Some discussion remains about the anachronism of these Mesolithic influences, since according to the interpretation of Bogdanovic the site Lepenski Vir should be “attributed signs of a conservative variant of the Proto-Starcevo culture”:

At the time Lepenski Vir was discovered and the Proto-Starcevo culture promoted, there was an ideological change in interpreting Early Neolithic of the central Balkan. The Starcevo culture was ultimately shifted as secondary. (Bogdanovic, 2009)

However, elsewhere archeologists are rather inclined to conclude that Mesolithic influences altered the Neolithic ideology in a later phase. Eg. Christian Jeunesse makes a distinction between different LBK traditions, one of them flexible (tradition II) and the other one rigid (tradition I). Even though he is acquainted with the possible mixed Starcevo-related origin of LBK, he is rather inclined to consider the effect of regional Mesolithic influences. At a LBK site in Vaihingen, garbage pits were found with human remains that were more robust than usual. This was interpreted as reminiscent to native hunter-gatherer funeral traditions, being clearly distinct from typical LBK funeral traditions. However, dumping of the remains of subordinates, slaves or hostages couldn’t be excluded – in which case any Mesolithic integration probably wasn’t accomplished through the male lineage.
The final breakdown of LBK culture has often been associated with internal stress when agricultural traditions proved to be insufficient to compensate growth with further expansion and increase of productivity. LBK lacked the flexibility to take full advantage of local resources like their Mesolithic neighbours. The LBK society had a subsistence economy based on just a few products. Previous growth only complicated the internal problems until the whole system broke down, hence the collapse of food production and social structure. Nobody ever cited clear external causes to the LBK demise: the eventual introduction of new techniques may rather be related to renewed growth. However, the most striking innovation after the collapse of LBK is the return to a wide spectrum economy, where the people rediscovered natural resources that were already employed in the Mesolithic. Hence post-LBK growth may be attributed to the Mesolithic heritage: Mesolithisation.
The Swifterbant culture was one of LBK’s Mesolithic neighbours, that had kept their wide spectrum economy. Their flexibility to use different kinds of habitats and their resources (hunt, fishing, gathering, small scale foodproduction) proved a strong argument against any need of Neolithization, rather the contrary might be true: the Mesolithization of Neolithic societies. The same kind of flexibility developed in post-LBK cultures like Rössen and Michelsberg. According to this view Swifterbant culture, like other contemporaneous Northwestern European groups, continued to develop at their own pace towards a more pronounced management of the natural environment. These groups developed into Funnelbeaker, generally considered ancestral to the vast Corded Ware horizon that ultimately emerged as a society where – next to agriculture – hunting and fishing was the basis of subsistence, with an increasing reliance on the exploitation of marine resources. This transformation could happen without much external influences – paving the way to a whole new period of thoroughly “de-Neolithized” Beaker cultures, that could be considered fully “Mesolithized” if for a moment we would be willing to discount the new dynamism of trade and contact. From that moment on a new unity embraces the people of Europe – that often is referred to as Indo-European.

Bengtson grouped the North Caucasian languages together with Basque and Burushaski in a single Macro-Caucasian family, that apparently was also shared by the LBK culture.

At this point we deduced the development of a Neolithic core population under the influence of Mesolithic neighbouring populations into a new Indo-European entity, not unlike Zvelebil’s Neolithic creolisation hypothesis, first put forward in 1995. This archeological argument was predicted linguistically by Kortlandt when he argued thus, albeit having a completely different location of the Caucasian substrate in mind:

What we do have to take into account is the typological similarity of Proto-Indo-European to the North-West Caucasian languages. If this similarity can be attributed to areal factors, we may think of Indo-European as a branch of Uralo-Altaic which was transformed under the influence of a Caucasian substratum. (Kortlandt, 1989)

According to linguist Peter Schrijver the Neolithic substrate in NW Europe must have spoken a language that feature complex verbs, not unlike current NW Caucassian languages. The results of Haak’s investigation, both in YDNA and mtDNA, allow us now to fully identify the North-West Caucasian-like substrate as LBK, and the Mesolithic influences as the transformed superstratum that gave rise to Indo-European.
However, if this was the case the population shifts that accompanied this transformation can’t have been predominantly male-driven as has been always taken for granted. Instead, the changing composition of mtDNA combined with more or less static YDNA strongly suggests the transformation was rather in line with the exchange of marriage partners described by Marc Vander Linden.
Ultimately, to give this interpretation of the Neolithic Creolisation Hypothesis more substance, I would recommend reading about the progress made on the Basque issue. John D. Bengtson groups Basque, Caucasian and Burushaski together in a single Macro-Caucasian family, thus supplying evidence that a Neolithic precursor of Basque could fit the profile of a Caucasian-like substratum to Indo-European. Arnaud Etchamendy (2007) even defended his thesis that Basque vocabularity should make this language essentially another integrant of the Indo-European family of languages.


Referenced:

  • W. Haak et al. – Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities, 2010, link
  • B. Bramanti et al. – Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers, 2009, link; Supporting Online Material, link
  • W. Haak et al. – Ancient DNA from the First European Farmers in 7500-Year-Old Neolithic Sites, 2005, link
  • Joachim Burger et al. – Response to Comment on ‘‘Ancient DNA from the First European Farmers in 7500-Year-Old Neolithic Sites’’, 2006, link
  • Deguilloux et al. – News from the west: Ancient DNA from a French megalithic burial chamber, 2010, link or try here
  • Marc Vander Linden – What linked the Bell Beakers in third millennium BC Europe, 2007, link
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  • Hans Peeters, Willem-Jan Hogestijn, Theo Holleman – De Swifterbant Cultuur, een nieuwe kijk op de aanloop naar voedselproductie, 2004. ISBN 90 6825 279 8
  • L.P. Louwe Kooijmans – Trijntje van de Betuweroute. Jachtkampen uit de Steentijd te Hardinxveld-Giessendam, 1998, link
  • Dirk Raetzel-Fabian – Absolute Chronology and Cultural Development of the Neolithic Wartberg Culture in Germany, 2002, link
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  • Palaeohistoria 41/42 (1999-2000): Institute of Archaeology, Groningen. J.N.Lanting & Van der Plicht – De 14-Chronologie van de Nederlandse pre- en protohistorie, III: Neolithicum, link
  • The reseach programme ‘From Hardinxveld to Noordhoorn – From Forager to Farmer’, 2010, link
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  • Marek Zvelebil – Indo-European origins and the agricultural transition in Europe, 1995
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  • Revedin et al. – Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing, 2010, link
  • Christian Jeunesse – Pratiques funéraires et sociétés Danubiennes au Neolithique ancien, 1998, ISBN: 2 87772 150 7 pp.41-58
  • Milenko Bogdanovic – Particularism in the Proto-Starcevo Culture, 2009, link
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  • John D. Bengtson – Materials for a Comparative Grammar of the Dene-Caucasian (Sino-Caucasian) Languages, 2008, link
  • Arnaud Etchamendy – Thesis on the Baque language as an Indo-European language, 2007, link or try here.
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  • P. Schrijver – Keltisch en de buren – 9000 jaar taalcontact (Oratie), 2007, link.