Ancient DNA and the Indo-European Question

by Paul Heggarty, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig.

 

1. Towards the End-Game at Last?

An ‘ancient DNA revolution’ is now sweeping through genetics. Suddenly, ancient population migrations can be recovered far more clearly than before.  For linguists, this holds out the prospect of ‘closure’, at last, on the Indo-European question.  And that is quite some prospect, for agreement on the origins of Indo-European has eluded us ever since linguistic science began, when Sir William Jones first posed this very question in 1786.

Today’s issue of Nature (11th June 2015) publishes two major papers based on Bronze Age ancient DNA from the Eurasian Steppe — one of the two leading candidates for the original homeland of the Indo-European family.

  • Haak, W. et al. [David Reich’s group, Harvard] 2015. (online since 2015-03-01)
    Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe.
    Nature 522 (7555): p.207–211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14317

Both papers interpret their results as leaning towards the Steppe hypothesis, albeit rather tentatively and superficially in places. On closer inspection, indeed, all is by no means so clear cut. The new data actually turn out to be equally compatible, if not more so, with the Steppe as the immediate origin of just a few branches of Indo-European (notably Balto-Slavic and perhaps Tocharian). These Bronze Age movements would thus be only secondary to an original Neolithic expansion of the Indo-European family as a whole, with farming, out of the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent (i.e. the ‘Anatolian’ hypothesis). The ancient DNA data also reconfirm the spread of farming as the dominant shaper of the genetic make-up of Indo-European-speaking southern, Mediterranean Europe, with relatively little Steppe impact.

Now there is of course one big caveat to all of this:  languages do not always ‘go with genes’ in any case.  So at the end of this blog, Addendum 1 takes up just that issue.  Still, the claim in both Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015) to support the Steppe hypothesis is indeed founded specifically on their new genetic data, so it is on that basis that this blog will assess them.

2.  Asking the Wrong ‘Indo-European Question’

The mistaken impression that the results support the Steppe hypothesis comes from what seems to be a failure to grasp the scope and scale of the Indo-European question.  And from the an apparent assumption that if one can detect some population movements originating in the steppe, then that means they must support the steppe hypothesis, no?

Yes, Haak et al. (2015) report a strong case for a population movement in the Early Bronze Age (c. 4500 BP) by which people of the Yamnaya culture on the Steppe provided a major genetic input to the people of the Corded Ware culture of north-eastern Europe.

But the Indo-European question is not “Was there or was there not a Yamnaya > Corded Ware population movement?” Rather, the question is:  what explains the entire Indo-European family?  That means (see map below) Indo-European languages not just in northern and eastern Europe, but also right across southern and western Europe, ancient Anatolia, Armenia, much of the Middle East (Kurdish-speaking areas, Iran, Afghanistan), and most of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.  That far greater scale is ‘the Indo-European question’. And that is what the two main rival hypotheses — pastoralism out of the Steppe, or farming out of Anatolia — claim to answer:  where all of Indo-European comes from.

3. History of an Argument: Pastoralism or Farming?

One should not be under any illusions, then, about the scale of what needs to be explained. Indo-European is the linguistic lineage of far more of the world’s population and land area than any other (and has been since long before European expansionism). For a map of present-day distributions in Eurasia, one example is Steve Huffman’s here:  the full resolution version is at: www.worldgeodatasets.com/index.php/download_file/view/1553

untitled

For all three contexts of the where, when and why of first Indo-European expansion, the two main hypotheses propose radically different answers.

  • They place the homeland either on the Eurasian Steppe just north of the Black and Caspian Seas — or in the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent, through central-eastern Anatolia.
  • They set the time-depth when it first began to disperse and diverge at around either six millennia ago — or nine.
  • And their answer to the why ‘causation‘ question is either highly mobile horse-based pastoralism, or the ‘Neolithic Revolution’ and spread of farming.

The debate is a vast one, so I’m limiting this blog to the new ancient DNA data. The many other aspects of the where, when and why questions are covered in papers here, such as this one.

For doubters of the Steppe hypothesis, the whole problem has always been that it only ever seemed plausible to explain the languages of north-eastern Europe, and perhaps Tocharian. For the great majority of the family’s branches and distribution, however, Steppe pastoralism never convinced: across the early farming heartlands of the Mediterranean (i.e. Greek, Latin and its Italic sisters, Albanian, other extinct branches of Indo-European in the Balkans and western and central Anatolia); and south of the Caspian and Himalayas, in the Iranic and Indic branches.

Yes, the new genetic data do point to a Steppe role in north-eastern Europe, and perhaps Tocharian.  But that is not the real point, then.  Rather, to the extent that these papers discuss the other, main Indo-European-speaking regions at all, the data here seem only to reconfirm the impression that Steppe pastoralists had no great impact there.

4.  All Indo-European, or Just Some?  Primary Migrations, or Secondary ?

The new papers rather misleadingly talk of ‘the’ hypothesis of steppe origins, and ‘the’ Indo-European languages, as if referring by default to the entire family, and to what explains that family as a whole.  But they go on to refer mostly to regions that host but a small proportion of the sub-branches of Indo-European, which is all that their new data really bear on. This is also why their results actually fit also with a secondary sub-expansion (out of the Steppe) of just those few parts of Indo-European. This Bronze Age movement would have been a second stage, long after the primary stage in the Neolithic which had already seen the much wider expansion of most of the family, with farming, out of an original homeland in the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent (i.e. central-eastern Anatolia, hence the ‘Anatolian’ or ‘farming’ hypothesis).

The title of Haak et al. (2015) writes of the steppe as “a source for Indo-European languages in Europe” [emphasis added], and the abstract claims “These results provide support for the theory of a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo‐European languages of Europe.”  But this is not the established Steppe theory for Indo-European, which is instead that the steppe is the origin of all Indo-European languages, and not just of Europe, but everywhere else too:  Iran, India, (formerly) Anatolia, and so on.  So if the steppe is the source of only some of the Indo-European languages of Europe, then that contradicts the steppe hypothesis.  And it is compatible with the theory that Indo-European languages in the rest of Europe arrived there earlier, as in the farming hypothesis (version A2, see below).

Allentoft et al. (2015), likewise, make statements such as “Our genomic evidence for the spread of Yamnaya people from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to both northern Europe and Central Asia (Fig. 1) corresponds well with the hypothesized expansion of the Indo-European languages”, when it does not.  Northern Europe and Central Asia fit only with a subset of those languages, which is not the Steppe hypothesis. Their title is “Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia”, but it too only really addresses northern Eurasia.

Mediterranean Europe, and Asia south of the Black Sea, Caspian and Himalayas, are core areas of Indo-European speech, the large majority of the family, and crucial to answering the Indo-European question.  Neither paper does justice to these areas, and neither reports any significant new genetic data for them for the appropriate time-periods.  Their ancient DNA data from northern Eurasia are already revolutionary achievements; nobody imagines getting these results was easy. But until we have fuller geographical and chronological spans of genetic data, those from the north alone will not be able to answer the question of Indo-European origins, and it is unwise to imagine that they will.

5.  The Alternative:  Farming Hypothesis A2

These papers also do not look to the deeper origins of the pastoralism that eventually developed on the Steppe.

A Yamnaya > Corded Ware population movement is in fact entirely compatible with the farming hypothesis, as a later, secondary movement within the overall spread and intensification of food-production.  The main first phase saw farming (both crops and livestock) spreading originally out of the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent: westwards into Europe; and eastwards through the Middle East, to the Indus and eventually the Ganges. Colin Renfrew’s (1987) original ‘hypothesis A’ for Indo-European had both of these movements spreading the Indo-European family too, both eastwards and westwards.

But farming also spread out of Anatolia ‘northwards’ onto … the Steppe: see the map below from Balaresque et al (2010), their Figure 1A on the chronology of the spread of agriculture through Europe.

Balaresque et al 2010 - Figure 1A on Chronology of Spread of Agriculture through Europe

Or for another source, Bellwood’s (2005) Figure 4-1 on the spread of farming through Europe:

Bellwood 2005 - Figure 4-1 on Spread of Farming through Europe

Whether this spread to the Steppe was predominantly through the Balkans and/or Caucasus remains debated.  It may hint at a Caucasus route that the Balto-Slavic branch of Indo-European in northern and eastern Europe, overlapping heavily with the Corded Ware territories, shares certain linguistic characteristics with the ‘eastern’ Indo-European languages (Indo-Iranic), and not with the other branches of Indo-European in Europe.

Once on the steppe, farming eventually specialised there into pastoralism, in this highly suitable grasslands environment (although some crop-farming continued in more western regions).  Several millennia after the first spread of farming, this new and predominantly pastoralist ‘package’ on the Steppe made for an intensification of food production, most viable and ‘competitive’ in environments where farming was not yet especially productive, including temperate north-eastern Europe. It seems no surprise that pastoralists spread successfully there in the early Bronze Age, then.

But this Steppe pastoralism was in any case ultimately a development out of farming from Anatolia. That is, this Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement was indeed secondary within the overall spread of food production. And there is very little evidence in the new papers that this movement brought into Europe any branches of Indo-European other than Baltic, Slavic and perhaps Germanic, the only braches of Indo-European with high Steppe input. (The case of Germanic is more complex anyway:  the former Corded Ware regions whose populations today speak German were actually mostly Slavic and Baltic-speaking until Mediaeval times.)

6.  Conveniently Ignored: What about Uralic?

Haak et al. (2015) make much of the high Yamnaya ancestry scores for (only some!) Indo-European languages.  What they do not mention is that those same results also include speakers of other languages among those with the highest of all scores for Yamnaya ancestry.  Only these are languages of the Uralic family, not Indo-European at all; and their Yamnaya-ancestry signals are far higher than in many branches of Indo-European in (southern) Europe.  Estonian ranks very high, while speakers of the very closely related Finnish are curiously not shown, and nor are the Saami.  Hungarian is relevant less directly since this language arrived only c. 900 AD, but also high.

Haak et al 2015 - Figure 3 - Admixture Proportions in Modern DNA - With Linguistic and Historical Origins Added

These data imply that Uralic-speakers too would have been part of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, which was thus not exclusively Indo-European in any case. And as well as the genetics, the geography, chronology and language contact evidence also all fit with a Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement including Uralic as well as Balto-Slavic.

Both papers fail to address properly the question of the Uralic languages. And this despite — or because? — the only Uralic speakers they report rank so high among modern populations with Yamnaya ancestry. Their linguistic ancestors also have a good claim to have been involved in the Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures, and of course the other members of the Uralic family are scattered across European Russia up to the Urals.

7.  Yamnaya > Corded Ware:  How Big an Impact?

Haak et al. (2015) write of the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement in terms of a “massive” population migration and near-total replacement. Allentoft et al. (2015) row back considerably, however, on the scale and impact of this movement. They write instead explicitly of admixture with existing farming populations:

Populations in northern and central Europe were composed of a mixture of the earlier hunter-gatherer and Neolithic farmer groups, but received ‘Caucasian’ genetic input at the onset of the Bronze Age (Fig. 2). This coincides with the archaeologically well-defined expansion of the Yamnaya culture from the Pontic-Caspian steppe into Europe (Figs 1 and 2). This admixture event resulted in the formation of peoples of the Corded Ware …

… the resulting Corded Ware culture in Europe was the result of admixture with the local Neolithic people.

Allentoft et al. (2015) are also more insistent on the limited geographical scope of this impact, and that the Corded Ware samples do not stand in for the wider population of northern and eastern Europe.

… European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures such as Corded Ware, Bell Beakers, Unetice, and the Scandinavian cultures … display a cline of genetic affinity with Yamnaya, with highest levels in Corded Ware, lowest in Hungary, and central European Bell Beakers being intermediate

Indeed, although Haak et al.’s (2015) Figure 3 can seem to present strikingly high rates of Yamnaya ancestry in some parts of Europe, things look much less clear-cut in the alternative presentation in Allentoft et al.’s (2015), Figure 2: “Genetic structure of ancient Europe and the Pontic-Caspian steppe.”

Screenshot - 11_06_2015 , 11_46_46

Note also the relative scale of the main Neolithic (A) and minor Bronze Age (C) impacts recorded in Brandt et al.’s (2013) Figure 3: “Development of mtDNA components from the Late Mesolithic to present day”.

Brandt et al 2012 - Figure 3 - Development of mtDNA components from the Late Mesolithic to present day

8.  Europe: North vs. South

Above all, the Yamnaya > Corded Ware impact is much less widespread in Europe than Indo-European languages are. Much of southern Europe has spoken Indo-European languages from our earliest records (Latin and its ‘Italic’ relatives, Greek, Albanian and various other Indo-European languages of the Balkans, now extinct).

Some (low) proportions of apparent ‘Yamnaya’, ‘Corded Ware’ and north European ancestry do appear in present-day populations of southern Europe (Haak et al. 2015 Figure 3b). But such north to south population admixture is in any case expected from the historical period. The collapse of the Roman Empire and the migrations of the early mediaeval period were defined by major invasions and settlements of Slavic and Germanic-speaking populations into southern Europe. To clarify whether the ‘northern’ component already appears in southern European populations along with the Yamnaya > Corded Ware impact in the north, we need not modern samples but much fuller ancient DNA from Mediterranean Europe.  Especially illuminating would be samples from the period when this region (and Anatolia) are already documented as speaking Indo-European languages: Mycenaean Greek, Italic, and Anatolian Indo-European.

For now, these papers do not yet provide new ancient dna from the southern regions at the appropriate periods. Allentoft et al. (2015) do at least report these new data from northern Italy:

the Copper Age Remedello culture in Italy does not have the ‘Caucasian’ genetic component and is still clustering genetically with Neolithic farmers

Chronologically, Copper Age Remedello is borderline too early to be contemporary with the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, so it is not necessarily conclusive. Nonetheless, it does reinforce the chronological concerns that attend the Steppe hypothesis on this score…

9.  Chronology of Indo-European Divergence in Europe

Traditionally, the Steppe hypothesis has proposed a time-frame for Indo-European expansion of c. six millennia. For the Yamnaya > Corded Ware movement, however, Brandt et al. (2013) and Haak et al. (2015) give a date of just 4500 BP. But is a time-span of just 4500 years or so sufficient to allow for all the divergence between all European branches of Indo-European: Slavic vs. Baltic vs. Germanic vs. Celtic vs. Italic vs. Greek vs. Albanian, and so on?  That is, we are left with little more than two millennia to take us, for example, from the early Latin of the last few centuries bc back to Proto-Italic, then further back to Proto-Italo-Celtic (if one accepts that clade), and then back again to allow for a sufficiently deep split from other branches such as Greek. Early Latin and Greek texts document what were, already by 2500 years ago, sub-lineages far diverged from each other, into fully-fledged, mutually unintelligible languages. And even amongst Greek dialects, their own divergence within their single clade already takes us back to at least 3000 bp, on standard thinking. That leaves just 1500 years for divergence vis‑à‑vis all other branches of Indo-European in Europe. As an informal but informative yardstick, consider how similar modern Italian and Spanish remain, some 2200 years after Roman expansion to Iberia. From that perspective, an expansion at barely double that time-depth, 4500 bp, looks suspiciously shallow for the entire, far greater diversity of Indo-European within Europe.

10.  Asia: North vs. South, Tocharian and Indo-Iranic

Looking to Asia, meanwhile, Allentoft et al. (2015) point to the extinct Tocharian branch of Indo-European as the linguistic legacy of Afanisievo, as if that supports the Steppe hypothesis:

the existence of the Afanasievo culture near Altai around 3000 BC could also provide an explanation for the mysterious presence of one of the oldest Indo-European languages, Tocharian in the Tarim basin in China.

(Technically, it betrays some misconceptions to talk here of “one of the oldest Indo-European languages”. Languages have no age or date of birth: they are lineages constantly changing through time. Nor is attestation of Tocharian particularly old. To be correct, what this should say is that Tocharian’s sub-lineage is among the first to branch off from the rest of the family — at least on some analyses.)

In fact, in the Steppe hypothesis Afanasievo and other eastern Steppe cultures are supposed to be the linguistic ancestors of far more than just Tocharian: principally, of the main Iranic and Indic branches of Indo-European.  If Allentoft et al. (2015) suggestion of Tocharian is all that the eastern Steppe cultures left us, then it is bad news indeed for the Steppe hypothesis. (One of its main weaknesses has always been the lack of a convincing archaeological scenario by which Steppe speakers crossed southwards into Iran and India.)

It also does not work well to suggest that Tocharian and Indo-Iranic could both be descendants of the Steppe cultures, since Tocharian is a ‘loner’ branch with nothing particular in common with Indo-Iranic (not even the traditional kentum/satem criterion).  This, and Tocharian’s isolated, far-flung location in Xinjiang, has always implied an explanation in terms of a one-off, long-range, migration. If Tocharian is to be identified with Afanasievo, then on that count too, Afanasievo would seem an unlikely source of Indo-Iranic as well.

Moreover, far from leaving a great legacy that might include the huge Indo-Iranic branch of Indo-European, Allentoft et al. (2015) explicitly report that the genetic legacy of these Steppe cultures tended more to fade out (mirroring how Tocharian speech also died out?):

Andronovo was replaced by the Karasuk, Mezhovskaya, and Iron Age cultures which appear multiethnic and show gradual admixture with East Asians

11.  Summary: Which Hypothesis Do the Genetic Data Really Fit Best?

Naturally, Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015) have an interest in pushing the potential relevance of their results to the Indo-European question — and rightly so, since they bring revolutionary new data on some past population movements in Eurasia. Understandably, it can also seem attractive that their steppe DNA data may superficially appear to give a simple and powerful ‘result’.  Nonetheless, both papers misconstrue the true nature and scale of the Indo-European question.

The latest ancient DNA data are no real support for the Steppe hypothesis, in fact. The ancient population movements they detect fall far short of identifying the Steppe as the origin point of the main, primary expansion of all branches of the entire Indo-European family, which is what the Steppe hypothesis claims. The ancient DNA record, hugely impressive as it already is, for now remains too limited, in time and space, vis‑à‑vis the much broader scope of Indo-European as a whole.

On closer inspection, these papers’ findings are just as compatible, if not more so, with the steppe movements they uncover being part of a secondary phase of expansion, which may well have further spread a few branches of Indo-European (plus some Uralic) into north-eastern Europe, and perhaps Tocharian eastwards — but only after most of the rest of the family had spread earlier with farming.  The new data are highly coherent with the wider farming hypothesis, particularly its version A2.

12.  What Next to Answer the Question? Ancient DNA from the South?

The Indo-European question remains very much open, then — but perhaps not for many years more. Spectacular advances in ancient DNA data, as published in papers such as these, are enriching and revolutionising our understanding of prehistory at a bewildering pace. They are advancing us in great strides towards an eventual resolution of the Indo-European question.

But these latest papers have focused thus far on the Steppe itself, and northern parts of Eurasia.  To resolve the origins of humanity’s single most widely spoken language lineage, that is not yet enough. To that end, we still need more ancient DNA data, from a wider chronological span, and from much more of the Indo-European-speaking world, above all the ancient heartlands south of the Alps, Black Sea, Caspian and Himalayas.  It was “the Sanskrit, the Greek and the Latin” that first opened Sir William Jones’s eyes to the Indo-European question;  229 years on, linguists should await those new genetic data with bated breath.

 


Addendum 1.  Caveat: Languages Don’t Always Go with Genes

But hold on: can’t languages also spread ‘culturally’, through prestige, without migrations of people? In the modern world, a majority of human languages are already heading for extinction as their speakers shift en masse to other languages. But this is an abrupt reversal: a collapse and disappearance of the language diversity arisen over the preceding millennia. It is driven by the revolutionary changes of the Modern Era: the nation state, language standardisation, printing, mass literacy and transport, telecommunications and now globalisation. Those are no valid model for deep Indo-European prehistory, when human populations were just tiny fractions of today’s, and societies radically different in scale.

Even in fairly recent historical times, the ‘elite dominance’ model turns out to be a very poor predictor of language shift. Examples are nowhere more obvious than in historical steppe incursions upon farming Europe, India and China. Incoming, conquering steppe elites — e.g. the Bulgars, Mughals and Yuan Dynasty — far more often abandoned their own elite language, and switched to that of the existing local majority instead.

In publications as recent as Anthony & Ringe (2015: 210), however, prominent supporters explicitly reiterate that the Steppe hypothesis sees Indo-European spreading from the Steppes to Europe by …

language shift … [that] must have depended little if at all on demographic advantages, as no strong demographic advantage can be assigned to any particular region in Copper and Bronze Age Europe … most steppe-origin scenarios for the IE expansion begin with the shift of this large Old European population to IE languages. But steppe herders certainly held no demographic advantage over the Old European population”.

There is some irony, then, to see genetics papers now ostensibly supporting the Steppe hypothesis, but only out of a conviction that there was in fact a Yamnaya > Corded Ware demographic replacement.

Certainly, the generalised appeal to ancient, mass language shift, without demographic advantage, to explain the most dominant of all the world’s language families has always struck sceptics of the Steppe hypothesis as extremely implausible. The doubts will hardly be dispelled if its advocates now change their mind to claim that demographic advantage does after all explain Indo-European — or at least, it does in those regions that do show powerful genetic impact from the steppe, but everywhere else, any contrary genetic signal can be disregarded, and elite dominance conveniently still invoked instead?

The scenarios in which major language shifts may be more or less plausible, and how those may have changed through prehistory, is a big topic in itself, but covered here (pp. 599 & 614-623). In this blog, the focus is just on assessing Haak et al. (2015) and Allentoft et al. (2015). Their claim to support the Steppe hypothesis on the basis of genetic data is of course effectively premised on the basic assumption that so vast a linguistic impact as Indo-European, at so early a stage in prehistory, would indeed have involved major population expansions. So it is on that basis that this blog has proceeded.


Addendum 2:  What About the ‘Wheel’ Words?

While not to do with genetics, it is worth clarifying one of the main arguments made in favour of the Steppe hypothesis.  Its supporters often point to a set of superficially beguiling claims about what linguistics can supposedly do not just to reconstruct linguistic characteristics of ancient languages, but even to engage in “cultural reconstruction” (also known as “linguistic palaeontology”).

Among the words that linguists can ‘reconstruct’ back to the Proto-Indo‑European language, for example, are a very few that in various branches of Indo-European languages came to refer to various parts of wheeled vehicles, although the specific meanings are actually often inconsistent: wheel, chariot, (life-)cycle, and so on. Enthusiasts for the Steppe hypothesis have taken this to prove that the speakers the Proto-Indo‑European must have already had wheeled vehicles. And since those did not develop until after the first spread of farming, this would mean that Indo-European could not have spread so early as with farming.

Unfortunately, the logic does not work. Linguists could also ‘reconstruct’ the word mouse back to Proto-Germanic on the basis of its computing sense alone; not that Proto-Germanic speakers had computers. Nor did their houses and ships look much like ours. Nor did the Romans have battery chargers, although those words reconstruct back to the Proto-Romance language.

“Cultural reconstruction” is no hard science. It is open to a great deal of subjective interpretation and interminable arguments, and not probative at all. For while linguists can reconstruct sounds reliably, by near exceptionless ‘sound laws’, we have no equivalent ‘meaning laws’ to be able to reconstruct *exact* meanings, especially not where referents themselves are necessarily changing, in processes of domestication or technological development. The supposed ‘wheel’ words actually go back to more general words for turn, rotate and walk, formed into words that look literally like ‘turn-turn (thing)’, for example.

Here are some other linguists’ views on “cultural reconstruction” / “linguistic palaeontology”:

It looks as if ‘wheel’ was not in the proto-lexicon and the various words for it were created independently after the dispersal. (Coleman 1988: 450)

If Renfrew were able to convince … that the first farmers were the only possible bearers of Proto-Indo-European, then philologists could probably explain away all the shared vocabulary that has seemed to imply later phases of civilization. (Sims-Williams 1998: 510)

The whole doctrine of making cultural inferences from linguistic evidence, known as linguistic palaeontology, has rarely enjoyed particularly high repute. (Anttila 1989: 373)

In practice, however, there are major pitfalls … and the reliability of the approach is questioned by many linguists. (Trask 2000: 198)

“naiveté [that] seems to enjoy the status of high acumen”   (Pulgram 1958: 145-7)

For more on the pitfalls of linguistic palaeontology, see pages 607-610 of this paper.

 


References

Allentoft, M.E., Sikora, M., Sjögren, K.-G., Rasmussen, S., Rasmussen, M., Stenderup, J., Damgaard, P.B., Schroeder, H., Ahlström, T., Vinner, L., Malaspinas, A.-S., Margaryan, A., Higham, T., Chivall, D., Lynnerup, N., et al. 2015. Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia. Nature 522(7555): p.167–172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14507

Anthony, D.W., & Ringe, D. 2015. The Indo-European homeland from linguistic and archaeological perspectives. Annual Review of Linguistics 1(1): p.199–219. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-124812

Anttila, R. 1989. Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Brandt, G., Haak, W., Adler, C.J., Roth, C., Szécsényi-Nagy, A., Karimnia, S., Möller-Rieker, S., Meller, H., Ganslmeier, R., Friederich, S., Dresely, V., Nicklisch, N., Pickrell, J.K., Sirocko, F., Reich, D., et al. 2013. Ancient DNA reveals key stages in the formation of Central European mitochondrial genetic diversity. Science 342 (6155): p.257–261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1241844

Coleman, R. 1988. Review of Renfrew (1987): Archaeology and Language. Current Anthropology 29(3): p.449–453. www.jstor.org/stable/2743460

Haak, W., Lazaridis, I., Patterson, N., Rohland, N., Mallick, S., Llamas, B., Brandt, G., Nordenfelt, S., Harney, E., Stewardson, K., Fu, Q., Mittnik, A., Bánffy, E., Economou, C., Francken, M., et al. 2015. Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe. Nature 522 (7555): p.207–211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14317

Pulgram, E. 1958. The Tongues of Italy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Renfrew, C. 1987. Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins. London: Jonathan Cape.

Sims-Williams, P. 1998. Genetics, linguistics, and prehistory: thinking big and thinking straight. Antiquity 72 (277): p.505–527. http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/072/Ant0720505.htm

Trask, R.L. 2000. Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. London: Routledge.



 


36 thoughts on “Ancient DNA and the Indo-European Question

  1. Early on in his paper Heggarty states that “languages do not always ‘go with’ genes. If we study the model of the expansion of Latin, which having occurred during historical times is thoroughly well documented, we can begin to understand how a small population shift can submerge other languages without significantly altering the genetic make up of the already existing peoples on whom the newcomer’s language becomes their own. And, sometimes the newcomers do not impose, but acquire the language already there, such as the case of the Visigoth invasions in Spain , although this could also be attributed to their having been Romanized by the time entered Spain. The switch to Latin in Western Europe was also prompted by the advantage of having a ‘lingua franca’ by people who were formerly speakers of the various Celtic and Iberian, and Germanic, and in some areas — such as Romania, Slavic languages.

    The naïve assumption is to assume that Italian and Spanish, or Dutch and German, were once the same language and then diverged by slowly shifting apart over time. The reality is that language formation occurs in two stages: (1.) A given population learns a different language, either because it become advantageous, or because it is imposed upon them. Typically, they learn the words and the syntax of the new language, but continue to use the phonology of the submerged language, giving rise to many different dialects; and (2.) One of these dialects acquire political or economic preponderance, and then becomes the national norm, which is then acquired and adopted, or imposed back, over the local dialects.

    If we understand the principles at work that brought about the Romanization of a large part of Europe, and later repeated in the “New World”, we can begin to understand how a people’s language is so disconnected from their genetic makeup, and why the “expansion of IE” may not represent a expansion of caused by massive population migrations at all, but rather simply a linguistic expansion, resulting in the acquisition of a lingua franca, adopted and adapted by different people at different times, without necessarily shifting the genetic composition of the people who acquire the new language.

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  4. Language families: semites – very similar languages, similar physical image- looks like they spread without big admixtures.Indo-Europeans – no similar images(from Norway to India), images are well correlated to the geographic place, small language similarity. The conclusion: Indo-Europeans were the small admixture to the European population.

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  6. Finns and Mordovians are included in supplementary figures, so Uralic speakers have some additional representation although a (rather pointless) decision was made to not include these figures in the main paper since many of them are better fits than just the three-way Yamnaya-LBK-Loschbour fit. According to the figure with lowest resnorm (S9.27) Finns have the most Yamnaya ancestry among any population they modelled.

    You shouldn’t necessarily take it at face value since other methods give conflicting estimates. ADMIXTURE with fixed Yamnaya component suggests Finland actually has one of the lowest amounts of Yamnaya in Europe, which fits the fact that it was only partially touched by Corded Ware unlike Estonia.

    http://www.elisanet.fi/mauri_my/haak4yamnaya1.gif

    Mordovians and Russians also have more Yamnaya using this method, which fits considering Slavic expansion and their greater proximity to the steppes.

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  8. Vielen Dank Herr Heggarty, für einige Logik, endlich!

    Thank you, Mr. Heggart, for injecting some logic into the debate, finally.

    I would augment your comments in two ways, and hopefully it provides food for thought. (Would love to read your reply, in turn).

    #1, we don’t just need DNA from the southern range of the Indo-European cultures immediately before the historical period; we need ancient DNA from the extremes of western Europe during the same time frame as the Allentoft and Reich studies.

    As an aside, in the meantime, I put forth a theory here on how to “recreate” ancient Roman DNA by proxy:

    http://www.anthrogenica.com/showthread.php?4591-Reconstructing-Roman-DNA

    #2 Much of the debate seems to center on the oversimplified logic by many amateur genealogists that goes as follows: R1b is the majority of Y-DNA in Western Europe where Indo-European languages are spoken. (And coincidentally, a majority of the adherents to the theory, ahem). R1b was found in the Yamnaya. Therefore, R1b must mark the massive Indo-European expansion.

    Your theory of two expansions (which Cavalli Sforza and Renfrew also favored) is onto something, but I also suspect there might have been a second expansion out of Western Europe. How?

    Assume perhaps that there was already a population in Central Europe bearing the same NRY markers that are common today. Assume there was minor genetic influx from a lactose-tolerant population, of Yamnaya or whomever. Famines were a given in the ancient world. Assume a massive famine and a period of overpopulation. Within a few generations, the lactose-tolerant bearing the common Western European markers could have become the dominant lineages in most of Western Europe, and it could have little to do with the initial Indo-European expansion.

  9. I can’t wait for the new round of ancient DNA results from West, Central and South Asia. They’re on the way.

    They will show massive population replacements during the Bronze Age in many regions, especially South Central Asia, by groups derived from Eastern European Corded Ware.

    Indeed, it’s possible to model present-day Pashtuns with f4-stats as 60-70 Sintashta-derived (you know the R1a horse and chariot people from the south Ural steppe).

  10. ““Cultural reconstruction” is no hard science. It is open to a great deal of subjective interpretation and interminable arguments, and not probative at all. For while linguists can reconstruct sounds reliably, by near exceptionless ‘sound laws’, we have no equivalent ‘meaning laws’ to be able to reconstruct *exact* meanings, especially not where referents themselves are necessarily changing, in processes of domestication or technological development.”

    This statement is questionable on both formal and semantic grounds. Objective sound “laws” are derived from the analysis of cognate sets. Cognate sets are selected for analysis not on the basis of “sound laws” but on ultimately subjective or commonsense grounds of “similarity in sound and meaning.” If a cognate set is composed of different items, the sound “law” will be different. So, a researcher’s subjectivity is “baked” into objective sound laws from the very beginning. Re: meaning. Meanings tend to be more stable than forms. Take a look at PIE *k’mtom ‘100’: Slav suto, Lith simtas, Lat centum, Gk kata show multiple formal variabilities but in all those languages the forms in question mean one thing – ‘100’. Not ‘101’, ’99’ or ‘1000’, but ‘100’. That’s the hard fact. Consequently, phonetic regularities are doing a catch-up work with semantic identities, the latter being a pre-requisite for a correct cognate set composition and ultimately for a correct sound law formulation. Linguists need to attend to their proper craft much more closely and not be distracted by what geneticists are doing. Ancient DNA is in its infancy and, depending on what data you place emphasis on, genetic evidence can support a Bronze Age, an early Neolithic as well as a Paleolithic timeframe for Proto-Indo-European. All in all, the Steppe/Bronze Age one seems to be the easiest one to argue for at the moment.

  11. Reading J.P. Mallory’s “In Search of the Indo Europeans”, he makes the point that the Anatolian hypothesis’ time-frame is too long ago, that over 9-12kya languages would have diversified much more than what we see in IE languages today.

    You make the opposite point, that the Steppe Hypothesis’ timeframe seems to be too little time for so much language diversity to have developed.

    Besides the Spanish and Italian comparison, which seems to be one particularly good example for your point, one can think of other counter-examples, such as English’s evolution from Anglo Saxon over the last 1,000 years for instance. Is there any linguistic work about the speed of language diversification that supports either time frame generally? I would love to read such a work.

    Thanks,
    Hipster

    • The Italian and Spanish comparison pre supposes that these languages were once the same and then diverged. Since both of these languages developed within historical times, we know that the opposite is true. What should surprise us is how thoroughly the language of Latium became a lingua franca throughout Europe not by way of population expansion, but by way of military conquest, and how well the Semitic speaking Iberians leaned Latin to the extent that now Italian and Spanish are so similar.

      Perhaps this can be used as a model to understand the triumph of IE as an acquired language by all the not necessarily genetically related already existing populations.

  12. Es hat sich ein kleiner Fehler eingeschlichen: nicht Ht 15 sondern Ht35 ist der jüngere Zweig, der seine Vorväter in den Assyrern und Hethitern hat und in der Eisenzeit nach Europa einwandert. R1b-Ht35 wird durch Phönizier, Dorier, Herakliden und Punier verbreitet, u.a. gründet Chalkis die Kolonien in Calabria und Napoli und mit ihnen kommt Ht35 auch nach Iberien.
    G.Lucotte at al 2013, ht35 Y Chromosome Haplotype in Europe, International Journal of Anthropology V. 28

    • dear jud: shame that you wrote in German! im sure you gave lots of interesting data that I cannot follow!

      • Dear leonor: shame that you that you not understand the languages of your homeland – saxons. It is very convenient to blame others and you self speak only english. This is a blog of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Sachsen in East germany. Get well soon

        • It is glib, if not ironic, to talk of the language of the homeland in a post that is specifically about the vast migrations that make identifying a homeland, or the languages thereof, a question of indefinite depth. Why should we stop at Proto-West Germanic? Some of my ancestors spoke an insular Celtic language, while others spoke different West Germanic languages — the language of my homeland is thus last common ancestor of Italoceltic and PGmc, which sweeps in some other large swath of IE languages depending on what you think the branching structure is.

          The original article is in English, and English is generally used to maximize intelligibility in the international scientific community.

  13. great post. very informative. but, a minor technical note. you say:

    Indeed, although Haak et al.’s (2015) Figure 3 can seem to present strikingly high rates of Yamnaya ancestry in some parts of Europe, things look much less clear-cut in the alternative presentation in Allentoft et al.’s (2015),

    the two figures use different methodologies. the one allentoft uses is going to underestimate the differences because they don’t explicitly model yamnaya ancestry. so the difference you infer from the figures is one of method, not substance.

    second, the haak et al. paper point about “massive replacement” has to do with the fact that it looks like there was an initial phase of big genetic change in many locations of total rupture. after a period there was admixture, and the farmer and HG ancestry of yore comes back somewhat. why? haak et al. don’t know for sure, but they posit there may have been large areas where HG and farmers (or their mixed farmer descendants) were resident which they did not sample and which mixed back in.

    • “the two figures use different methodologies. the one allentoft uses is going to underestimate the differences because they don’t explicitly model yamnaya ancestry. so the difference you infer from the figures is one of method, not substance.”

      Yamnaya is a archaeological complex. The samples in the Allentoft paper are taken from archaeological sites that are classified as Yamnaya. Therefore, the Allentoft Yamnaya samples properly and fully represent Yamnaya.

      The method used on the Haak paper to try to synthesize a specific admixture autosomal profile for Yamnaya is flawed. Which is also why the Haak estimate of “massive replacement” is wrong.

      Amazing that the Haak paper got through review. You have to wonder about the reviewers that would permit such a contrived method to come with “massive replacement” of Corded Ware people by Yamnaya people.

      A close look at minor admixture component in the Allentoft paper makes this clear.

      Furthermore, the minor components shown in the admixture runs in the Allentoft paper Bell Beaker samples indicate that there is little contribution from Yamnaya, and little contribution from CWC, into Bell Beaker people.

  14. Your addendum 2 seems dismissive. For example, a reconstruction of PGmc mouse as computing input device would fail instantly, since that meaning is not attested in any daughter language prior to about forty-five years ago. The wheel-related words, as covered in Anthony & Ringe [2015] and more extensively in Anthony, “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language”, do in fact relate to wheels, not necessarily in their present form, but as far back as records exist. The reconstruction of them as wheel-related is convincing. The fact that there are multiple such words adds force to the cultural reconstruction.

    I confess I don’t understand your house and ship remark at all. If most or all the daughter languages have a descendant of *husan which carries a meaning close to “permanent living quarters” in its earliest attestations, how is the cultural reconstruction “The Proto-Germanics had permanent living quarters” doubtful?

      • The alternate hypothesis for the wheel words would appear to be repeated metaphoric extension in the daughter languages. (Let us assume that the reconstructions are valid; the base words existed in PIE and the daughter languages are operating on inherited words and the possibility of borrowing is remote.) Isn’t it more parsimonious to assume one set of metaphoric extensions in PIE rather than several parallel sets?

        Clackson is careful to say that he is presenting an alternate hypothesis rather than a disproof, and that is fair and good. Saying that the question is not closed yet is reasonable. But I don’t think it’s wide open.

        • Wheel vocabulary could have been used to describe something beside a wheel on a cart, and much earlier than the proposed dates for Proto-Indo-European languages.

          • Clackson’s paper is interesting, but a bit skewed because he doesn’t outline in detail what his alternative hypothesis is. His conclusion isn’t just that alternative explanations are available, but that this somehow makes explanation impossible and the question unanswerable.

            Part of this is tied up with fairly involved questions of methodology. Clackson uses the metaphor of a constellation for PIE – that our reconstructions give results that are maybe not all at the same time depth. While it’s true that there are things that can cause atemporal reconstructions (unrecognized parallel innovation, projection of a reconstruction based on sub-branches back to the full parent language, and anything involving internal or more inferential reconstruction), it’s equally true that the comparative method as such can potentially overcome these things. Reconstructions like the masc. nom. sg. thematic ending *-os are very secure (though parallel innovation means that it may be difficult in certain cases to be sure that a given word inflected thematically). The point is that some features may be reconstructed pretty securely for the last common ancestor (PIE strictly speaking), or for a lightly differentiated dialect continuum – the difference between these things is pretty much irrelevant for archaeology. The ‘wheel’ words are pretty securely reconstructible for this stage.

            Clackson does outline how some of the words might be secondary (though he shies away from taking on some of the more robust and immediately relevant terms, *kʷékʷlos and *(ʜ)rotós, directly). But he draws entirely the wrong conclusion from this. The fact that *wégʰ might originally have referred to blowing instead of driving is not based on any comparison at all, but inferential reconstruction based on a fossilized meaning. It may well be an old sense. But for the ‘newer’ sense of ‘drive’ to not have developed in PIE (or at least a sub-branch of PIE encompassing most of the non-Anatolian daughters) requires this precise secondary sense to have developed independently in at least five separate branches, scattered from one end of the Indo-European world to the other. This is perhaps possible, but far less likely/plausible than this secondary meaning being ‘schon grundsprachlich’ (as LIV has it).

            The same goes for all the other wheeled terminology. It is absolutely possible that all these meanings are secondary, but taken all together we’re being asked to believe that what looks like a coherent reconstructed set of lexemes developed independently by chance in various daughters. I don’t know that the accumulated improbability is so high as to be dismissed as _utterly_ absurd, but it’s definitely not on equal footing with the much more straightforward hypothesis that these senses are inherited from a common ancestor.

            The Ringe and Anthony paper addresses all these issues really very well.

  15. Das ist eine gute Zusammenfassung aber sie vergisst etwas: die
    Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherer from Karelia: R1a (xM198).
    Wir haben bereits eine R1a-Population in Europa, genauer gesagt in Osteuropa. Die muss also garnicht erst in der Bronze-Zeit ankommen, die ist schon da! Sie hat sich nur in der frühen Bronzezeit mit der zentraleuropäischen Population (TRB-Nachfolgegruppen) gemischt, die ja alle sehr schön Richtung Osten expandieren.
    Die mussten zwangsläufig auf die R1a-Population in Osteuropa treffen, die da als Kammkeramik ein geruhsames Leben führten und dann haben sie die Yamnaja Kultur hinweg gefegt und sind weiter in den Osten vorgedrungen. Der Weg stimmt also nur die Richtung ist genau umgekehrt.
    Als Beispiel sei hier die Fatjanovo-Balanovo Kultur an der Kama/Wolga genannt, die ein Mix der Nord TRB-Gruppe (Fatjanovo) mit einer uralischen Gruppe (Balanovo) darstellt und ihr die Bronzeschmiedekunst beibringt. Sie war auf der Suche nach Rohstoffen und erst jetzt beginnt an der Kama das Bronzezeitalter, wobei der Kontakt auch noch zur Abashenow-Kultur reicht.
    Auf der anderen Seite ist die R1b-Bronze-Population in Zentraleuropa ein R1b-ht35-Zweig zu dem auch der eine spätneolithische R1a in Iberien gehört, während die Kelten und Römer zum R1b-ht15 Zweig gehören.

    Dieser ht35 Zweig ist mit der Samara-Kultur verknüpft und erscheint in Europa mit dem Pferd und mit der Bronze. Aber die Verbreitung in Europa ist deutlich geringer als der ht15 Zweig. Es kam also nur eine kleine Population künftiger Bellbeaker nach Mitteleuropa und keine “Invasion”. Die hat sich hier auch prächtig entwickelt.
    Die IE Sprache ist aber nicht erst in der Yamnaja-Kultur entstanden, die früheste Form entstand bereits in der TRB Kultur die viel besser dafür geeignet ist und dann hatte man ja wenigstens 1000 Jahre Zeit sie in ganz Europa (einschliesslich Yamnaja) breitzutrampeln.
    Dieser ht35-Zweig sind nicht die Vorväter der Kelten und Römer, sondern der Okunevo – Bellbeaker – Sintasha (also der Bronzezeitkulturen) und später der Hunnen/Köktürken/Bulgaren – der gesamte Asena-Legenden-Club rumläuft.
    Ht 15 ist ein jüngerer Zweig, der seine Vorväter in den Assyrern und Hethitern hat.
    Assyrier – Luwier – Hethiter – Lydier – Phönizier – Herakliden-Seevölker – Villanova-Kultur – Etrusker und Noriker und in Iberien ist Tartessos der Vorgänger der Celtici, Celtoi und die griechischen Siedlungen die der Iberokelten in Nordostspanien.
    Auch die Ligurische Schrift ist – falls man sie als keltisch betrachtet – ist unmittelbarer Nachbar von Massilia.
    Mit anderen Worten Kelten und Römer sind keine bronzezeitlichen Europäer, sie stammen von der bronzezeitlichen Neohethitischen Staaten, der Levantine, Palestina, den Phönizierstädten und von den Puniern ab.
    Das zeigt sich auch an ihren Göttern, Bel (Hannibal) = Belenos, Lugal = Lugh, Ceronnus = Kerberos (Zerberus). Aber auch Städte z.b. Bilbilos, vom Stamm der Belos klingt doch gleich mal nach Biblis (Byblos) aber auch Bilbo (Bilbao).
    Sie brachten das Eisen nach Europa und schon deswegen waren sie den bronzezeitlichen Alteuropäern kampftechnisch total überlegen und konnten sich auch leicht an die Spitze der alteuropäischen Stämme stellen.

    Wer sagt denn das die Population in Hallstatt und Hallein Keltisch war?
    Ein antiker Historiker der die Kelten an den Quellen der Donau lokalisiert und den Begriff Germane noch garnicht kannte. Genetisch wurden auch überwiegend Fürstengräber untersucht. Warscheinlicher ist das die Population durch den Mix von Alteuropäern (Mehrheits-Bevölkerung) und Einwanderern (Oberschicht) entstand.
    Das Problem ist das man hier nicht zwischen R1b-Ht35 und R1b-ht15 unterscheidet.
    Der Name “Kelte” wurde ihnen von Römern aufgedrückt – unzwar nachdem Hannibal mit tausenden Menschen aus Iberien über die Alpen kam.

    217 BC rekrutierte Hannibal (der eine Frau des Ore-Landes heiratet) die Oren und machen sie zu Speerträger “Ger-mani”, die Suesse und Carpen werden auch engagiert, die Eponi werden später zu Batavern und auch Mago rekrutiert in Iberien und folgt mit seiner Armee voller “Magomannen” seinem Bruder Hannibal.
    Nachdem sie die ersten Schlachten schlugen, entließen sie mehrere Tausend iberische Soldaten und heuerten neue Soldaten bei den Insubrier an mit denen sie in Italien einfielen.
    Diese pensionierten Söldner wandern den Rhein hoch und mischen sich mit der lokalen Bevölkerung wo sie ihre Mythen von großen Schlachten erzählen. Sie haben Karthago nie gesehen und vom Untergang Karthagos wissen sie auch nichts. Ihr Superheld ritt einfach auf seinem Elefanen in den Sonnenuntergang.
    150 Jahre später bekämpft sie ein Römer namens Caesar der sie “über den Rhein ZURÜCK treibt” und die Belger treibt er über den Kanal nach England. Und Mago´s Männer treibt später Germanicus an die Theiss.
    Es ist erstaunlich wieviel walisische und irische Kelten belgische Wurzeln haben, wo doch die Belger gegenüber Caesar darauf bestanden Germanen zu sein. Ganz offensichtlich verstanden sie unter”Germane” was ganz anderes als der Römer. So ganz nebenbei auch das Eisen in England und Irland einführten.

    Das Kelten/Germanen-Problem ist also von den Römern “gemacht”. Und genauso katastrophal ist es mit Germanen/Slawen/Balten. Auch die Protoslawen sind so ein merkwürdiges Papierkonstrukt.

    • Es hat sich ein kleiner Fehler eingeschlichen: nicht Ht 15 sondern Ht35 ist der jüngere Zweig, der seine Vorväter in den Assyrern und Hethitern hat und in der Eisenzeit nach Europa einwandert. R1b-Ht35 wird durch Phönizier, Dorier, Herakliden und Punier verbreitet, u.a. gründet Chalkis die Kolonien in Calabria und Napoli und mit ihnen kommt Ht35 auch nach Iberien.
      G.Lucotte at al 2013, ht35 Y Chromosome Haplotype in Europe, International Journal of Anthropology V. 28

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