Who Built Stonehenge? Bell Beakers and Neolithic Burials

Seventeenth century depiction of Stonehenge from the Atlas van Loon

Stonehenge remains one of the world’s enduring mysteries. Who carved these enormous stones, moved them hundreds of miles, and erected them upon Salisbury plain–and why?

Archaeologists estimate that the first major construction began at Stonehenge around 3,100 BC, when workers dug a large, circular ditch around the site and piled up the resulting dirt in a round bank. But the interesting part of this phase of construction is the third circle inside the first two, consisting of 56 graves, atop which bluestones may have once stood. The bones of deer and oxen were also placed in the surrounding ditch.

Were these sacrifices, or was Stonehenge originally just a cemetery, perhaps for the community’s most important members?

The second stage in Stonehenge’s development, from about 3,000 BC to 2,600 BC, involved the building of wooden structures and further burials. Interestingly, Neolithic grooved ware pottery is associated with this stage.

Grooved ware pottery appears to have been developed way off in the remote, cold, wind-swept Orkney Islands at the tip of Scotland. I’ve written about the Orkneys before, because they also have significant Neolithic sites, including–most relevant to our conversation–the Ring of Brodgar:

The Ring of Brodgar… is a Neolithic henge and stone circle in Orkney, Scotland. Most henges do not contain stone circles; Brodgar is a striking exception, ranking with Avebury (and to a lesser extent Stonehenge) among the greatest of such sites.[1] … These are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain.[2] Unlike similar structures such as Avebury, there are no obvious stones inside the circle,[3] but since the interior of the circle has never been excavated by archaeologists, the possibility remains that wooden structures, for example, may have been present. The site has resisted attempts at scientific dating and the monument’s age remains uncertain. It is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.[4]

The idea that anyone built anything major way off in the Orkneys, which definitely did not support the kind of comfortable, sedentary population that the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, and Indus, is remarkable enough. That they built something comparable to Stonehenge and Avebury is incredible, and that a pottery style which appears to have begun in Orkney spread to Britain and Ireland almost defies belief. Surely Orkney lacked the population to man the kind of migrations necessary to impose their pots on others, but perhaps Orkney was some kind of Neolithic cultural leader, perhaps a sacred place people journeyed to from across the seas–or perhaps the people of Orkney traded their pots for products not found locally, their style became popular, and folks in different areas began making their own versions.

But Avebury, Stonehenge, and Brogdar weren’t the only Stone Circles:

The stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany were constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages.[2] It has been estimated that around 4,000 of these monuments were originally constructed in this part of north-western Europe during this period,[2] although only around 1,300 of them are recorded, the others having been destroyed.[3]

Around 2,600 BC, Stonehenge entered its 3rd building phase, involving the erection of some 80 large stones in two concentric circles (“Q” and “R”) near the center of the enclosure. These 2-ton stones were transported 150 miles from a quarry in the Preseli Hills, (modern-day Pembrokeshire in Wales.) According to Wikipedia:

This phase tentatively began as early as 2600 BC, although recent radiocarbon dates from samples retrieved from one of the sockets in 2008 during excavations by Darvill and Wainwright suggest a date of around 2400 to 2300 BC. The final report is yet to be published, but some interesting results follow from the partial excavation of Q Hole 13 where ‘associations with Beaker pottery’ were noted.[1]

The Q and R Holes not only represent the foundation cuts for the first central stone construction, but they also were to include several additional stone settings on the northeast. This modified group face the midsummer sunrise with a possible reciprocal stone aligned on the midwinter sunset. This is the first evidence for any unambiguous alignment at Stonehenge (the solstice axis). … the dates suggested from the 2008 excavation (above) implies the Q & R arrays were perhaps no earlier than 2,400 BC, presenting a challenge to the recently accepted Late Neolithic date for the construction of the iconic sarsen monument. …

Now this is really interesting. The original proliferation of these circles is associated with the neolithic Groved Ware Pottery people. They tended to build chambered tombs and to dig large circular ditches and banks accompanied by human burials. They may have marked these graves with large stones.

Reconstruction of a Beaker burial, (National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid)

Then a new kind of pottery shows up, the Beakers. The Bell Beaker pottery arrived in Britain around 2,500 BC, and around that time a new, significant phase in the construction of these sites begins. Large numbers of extremely heavy stones were brought in and the original north-eastern entrance was widened so that it matched the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. Additionally, a road appears to have been built Stonehenge and the River Avon between 2600 and 1700 BCE, perhaps a delivery route for supplies that had been floated down the river. The road is partially aligned with the summer solstice, and ends at another stone circle.

So where the Grooved Ware People perhaps had some kind of cult of the dead, or at least put a lot of effort into constructing fancy burial monuments for their dead, the Bell Beaker people appear to have been really interested in solar alignments.

According to BellBeakerBlogger, even Bell Beaker burials reflect this solar interest:

All burials exhibit similarities that are central to Beaker culture or Beaker-ized people. They are usually flexed, individual burials within a plot, cemetery or larger complex. Men and women face the rising Sun, which along with other information, indicates a religious belief with emphasis on a solar deity.

The sequence of events that occurred at Stonehenge also appears to have happened at Avebury:

The chronology of Avebury’s construction is unclear. It was not designed as a single monument, but is the result of various projects that were undertaken at different times during late prehistory.[19]Aubrey Burl suggests dates of 3000 BC for the central cove, 2900 BC for the inner stone circle, 2600 BC for the outer circle and henge, and around 2400 BC for the avenues.[1]

Avebury was one of a group of monumental sites that were established in this region during the Neolithic. Its monuments comprise the henge and associated long barrows, stone circles, avenues, and a causewayed enclosure. These monument types are not exclusive to the Avebury area. For example, Stonehenge features the same kinds of monuments, and in Dorset there is a henge on the edge of Dorchester and a causewayed enclosure at nearby Maiden Castle.[20]

Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson noted that the addition of the stones to the henge occurred at a similar date to the construction of Silbury Hill and the major building projects at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls. For this reason, he speculated that there may have been a “religious revival” at the time, which led to huge amounts of resources being expended on the construction of ceremonial monuments.[21]

Religious revival, or triumphant victory celebration?

Work continued at Stonehenge over the next two hundred years, from about 2,600 BC through 2,400 BC, during which the monument’s enormous, central stones were erected. These rocks weigh between 25 and 50 tons each. This was an enormous undertaking that must have required hundreds of people just to move each stone and lift it into place.

Bell beaker pots

“Pots, not people,” is one of archaeology’s most famous maxims, an exhortion to regard a change in material artifacts–say, new pots–as simply a result of local cultural change, trade, or diffusion, rather than the arrival of an entirely new people. The Pots not People reading of the transition from Neolithic Grooved Ware to Copper Age Bell Beakers is simply that people invented new pots (and the technology to work metals.)

In the case of the Corded Ware people, this turned out to be wrong–the Corded Ware People turned out to be the Yamnaya, AKA the Indo-Europeans, who boiled out of the Ukrainian steppe around 4,000 BC, and by 500 BC had conquered almost all of Europe, Iran, Turkey, India, etc. They contributed significantly to the modern European gene pool, especially in eastern Europe.

Arout 3,000 BC, the Bell Beaker culture, named for its distinctively bell-shaped pots, began appearing in Western Europe. The pots didn’t spread smoothly across the continent, but were concentrated along Atlantic and Mediterranean river valleys:

Radiocarbon dating seems to support that the earliest “Maritime” Bell Beaker design style is encountered in Iberia, specifically in the vibrant copper-using communities of the Tagus estuary in Portugal around 2800-2700 BC and spread from there to many parts of western Europe.[2][12]

The initial moves from the Tagus estuary were maritime. A southern move led to the Mediterranean where ‘enclaves’ were established in south-western Spain and southern France around the Golfe du Lion and into the Po valley in Italy, probably via ancient western Alpine trade routes used to distribute jadeite axes. A northern move incorporated the southern coast of Armorica. The enclave established in southern Brittany was linked closely to the riverine and landward route, via the Loire, and across the Gâtinais valley to the Seine valley, and thence to the lower Rhine. This was a long-established route reflected in early stone axe distributions and it was via this network that Maritime Bell Beakers first reached the Lower Rhine in about 2600 BC.[2][19]

Another pulse had brought Bell Beaker to Csepel Island in Hungary by about 2500 BC. … From the Carpathian Basin Bell Beaker spread down the Rhine and eastwards into what is now Germany and Poland. By this time the Rhine was on the western edge of the vast Corded Ware zone. … A review in 2014 revealed that single burial, communal burial and reuse of Neolithic burial sites are found throughout the Bell Beaker zone.[23]

… The earliest copper production in Ireland, identified at Ross Island in the period 2400-2200 BC, was associated with early Beaker pottery.[2][27] …The same technologies were used in the Tagus region and in the west and south of France.[2][28] The evidence is sufficient to support the suggestion that the initial spread of Maritime Bell Beakers along the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean, using sea routes that had long been in operation, was directly associated with the quest for copper and other rare raw materials.[2]

spread of bell beaker pottery

The Bell Beakers reached Britain around 2,500 BC.

Unfortunately, the Bell Beaker people didn’t leave any written records, so we don’t know what language they spoke. Were they Indo-Europeans? Moroccans? Did they conquer river valleys across Western Europe, or just tried exchange their pots for local goods along long-established trade routs?

And are they responsible for the menhirs found across western Europe?:

A menhir … is a large upright standing stone. Menhirs may be found solely as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Their size can vary considerably, but their shape is generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top. … they are most numerous in Western Europe; in particular in Ireland, Great Britain and Brittany. There are about 50,000 megaliths in these areas,[2] while there are 1,200 menhirs in northwest France alone.[3] Standing stones are usually difficult to date, but pottery, and/or pottery shards found underneath some in Atlantic Europe connects them with the Beaker people. They were constructed during many different periods across pre-history as part of a larger megalithic culture that flourished in Europe and beyond.

Almost nothing is known of the social organization or religious beliefs of the people who erected the menhirs. There is not even any trace of these people’s language; however we do know that they buried their dead and had the skills to grow cereal, farm and make pottery, stone tools and jewelry. Identifying their uses remains speculative. Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people, who inhabited Europe during the European late Neolithic and early Bronze Age — later third millennium BC, ca. 2800 – 1800 BC. However, recent research into the age of megaliths in Brittany strongly suggests a far older origin, perhaps back to six to seven thousand years ago.[6]

(Sound familiar?)

Of the Beaker Culture of Ireland, Wikipedia states, in classic archaeologist style:

The ‘bronze halberd’ (not to be confused with the medieval halberd) was a weapon in use in Ireland from around 2400-2000 BC[71] They are essentially broad blades that were mounted horizontally on a meter long handle, giving greater reach and impact than any known contemporary weapon (O’Flaherty 2007). They were subsequently widely adopted in other parts of Europe (Schuhmacher 2002), possibly showing a change in the technology of warfare.

Just a change in technology, definitely not evidence of people getting conquered.

On May 9, 2017, The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe was published on BioRxiv, finally providing some of the answers to our many questions:

We present new genome-wide ancient DNA data from 170 Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age Europeans, including 100 Beaker-associated individuals. In contrast to the Corded Ware Complex, which has previously been identified as arriving in central Europe following migration from the east, we observe limited genetic affinity between Iberian and central European Beaker Complex-associated individuals, and thus exclude migration as a significant mechanism of spread between these two regions.

In other words, the initial spread of Bell Beakers from Iberia to central Europe was primarily cultural–the people involved are not closely related.

However, human migration did have an important role in the further dissemination of the Beaker Complex, which we document most clearly in Britain using data from 80 newly reported individuals dating to 3900-1200 BCE. British Neolithic farmers were genetically similar to contemporary populations in continental Europe and in particular to Neolithic Iberians, suggesting that a portion of the farmer ancestry in Britain came from the Mediterranean rather than the Danubian route of farming expansion.

Stone-age Britons were genetically similar to stone-age Iberians.

Beginning with the Beaker period, and continuing through the Bronze Age, all British individuals harboured high proportions of Steppe ancestry and were genetically closely related to Beaker-associated individuals from the Lower Rhine area. We use these observations to show that the spread of the Beaker Complex to Britain was mediated by migration from the continent that replaced >90% of Britain’s Neolithic gene pool within a few hundred years, continuing the process that brought Steppe ancestry into central and northern Europe 400 years earlier.

In other words: Bell Beaker pots s originally diffused culturally to the Rhine, where they were adopted by people with Indo-European steppe ancestry. These steppe people then conquered Britain, killing 90% of the stone-age inhabitants.

The victors appear to have gone on a building spree, repurposing neolithic monuments and dedicating them to their own deities, much as the Christian Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque following the Islamic conquest of Constantinople.

On a probably related note:

Durrington Walls is the site of a large Neolithic settlement and later henge enclosure located in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It lies 2 miles (3.2 km) north-east of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, just north of Amesbury.

Between 2004 and 2006, excavations on the site by a team led by the University of Sheffield revealed seven houses. It has been suggested that the settlement may have originally had up to 1000 houses and perhaps 4,000 people, if the entire enclosed area was used. The period of settlement was probably short, between 15 and 45 years starting sometime between 2525 and 2470 BC.[3]

It may have been the largest village in northern Europe for a brief period.[4][5][6] At 500 metres (1,600 ft) in diameter, the henge is the largest in Britain and recent evidence suggests that it was a complementary monument to Stonehenge.[7]

Grooved ware pottery has been found in abundance at Durrington Walls. Why this sudden concentration of Neolithic pottery around the time of the Beaker invasion and rebuilding of Stonehenge? Were they captives brought to the area to work on the henge? Or a fortified refuge holding out against the invaders?

By the Iron Age, circa 1,600 BC, Stonehenge had largely fallen out of use, or at least new construction had halted. This was long before the arrival of the Celts in Britain, around 500 BC, so whether the Druids ever made use of Stonehenge as a sacred site or not, they certainly didn’t build it.


Additional sources:

Nature: Ancient-genome study finds Bronze Age ‘Beaker culture’ invaded Britain

Sarkboros: Bell Beakers and the North African Late Neolithic, on potential Bell Beaker origins in Morocco

Razib Khan: The coming of the Milesians: abstract of “The Bell Beaker Paper”

The Indigenous People of Europe

Do you know how long I've been waiting to use this?

The settlement in Cambridgeshire, which had been buried for 3,000 years, was discovered when the tops of crude protest signs were spotted above layers of mud.

Archaeologist Helen Archer said: “The signs, which include ‘Any old iron? NO THANKS,’ and ‘IRON? IR NO,’ a primitive attempt at wordplay, show that the residents were up in arms about climate-based migration patterns.

Note: The Daily Mash is a humor/satire site, similar to The Onion.

Anyway, on to the genetics!

From Haak et al, rearranged by me
From Haak et al, rearranged by me

Click for full size

Haak et al. made this graph, but I rearranged it so that the oldest samples are on the left and the newest ones are on the right. When multiple samples were about the same age, I ordered them from west to east (that is, from left to right as you look at a standard map. Unless you are in Australia.) I’ve added the dates (shown as ranges) that were in Haak’s paper. Note the asterisk under Karsdorf–those dates are still uncertain.

The first three genomes are from super old skeletons found out in, like, Russia. I don’t know why they look so crazy–maybe because the DNA is really old and so not very good, or maybe because they actually had a bunch of different DNA in them, or maybe because they’re ancestral to a bunch of different groups. I don’t know! Luckily, it doesn’t really matter for today’s post, so I’ll investigate them later.

Approximately 28,000 years later, we have the Blue People, also known as “Western European Hunter Gatherers,” or WHG. There were people in Europe in intervening 28,000 years; they just aren’t on the table, and I don’t know if anyone has successfully sequenced their genomes yet. (More research required.)

As you might guess, the WHG people hunted and gathered. They had stone tools, and were quite widespread, ranging from Spain (the La Brana1 site,) to Sweden to Samara, Russia (and probably beyond.)

And then some new guys showed up: Farmers.

Known as the Early Eurasian Farmers (EEF,) they first appear on our graph in Starcevo, Serbia, their DNA in orange. They came from the Middle East (the birthplace of agriculture,) bringing their wheat, permanent settlements, and livestock.

Why isn't it in English? Oh, well. We'll manage.
Neolithic cultures of Europe–Starcevo is i the lower right-hand corner.

These farmers quickly overran the hunter-gatherers throughout western Europe (though the northern extremes held out longer, most likely due to crops that originated in the Middle East taking a while to adapt to the harsh Scandinavian climate.)

300px-Neolithic_expansion.svg (source: Wikipedia)

The hunter gatherers disappeared (most likely slaughtered by the farmers, but perhaps merely overwhelmed numerically) but their DNA lives on in the descendants of those first farmers. Some groups may have combined willingly–others, as the spoils of war. Within the Farmers’ range, the only place the hunter-gatherers managed to live on appears to be a small island off the coast of Sweden (the second “Skoglund” sample.)

But to the east, out on the Eurasian steppes, the hunter-gatherers lived on. The steppes are known more for their rampaging hordes than their farmers, and this is exactly what they became.

The Yamnaya, as we now call them, are about half WHG and half some new population (I call them the Teal People.) As far as I know, no “pure” teal people have yet been found, but teal DNA is all over the place, from India to Spain.

Teal and blue DNA in India central Asia, and Siberia:


The Yamnaya are also known as the Proto-Indo-Europeans–the guys who spoke the language ancestral to all of today’s Indo-European languages. And like all conquering barbarian hordes, they expanded out of their homeland in present-day southern Russia (north of the Caucuses,) and conquered everything in their path.

Just eyeballing the graph, it looks like the resulting peoples are about half Yamnaya, and about half EEF. This tri-part inheritance is still seen in every European population (and some of their neighbors) today:


If we didn’t have the ancient DNA–or if we had less of it–it would be easy to think that the Blue component in modern Europeans had come directly from the ancient WHG population that lived in their particular area. Instead, much (if not most) of the modern “blue” component hails from the steppes of Russia–a remarkable comeback for the WHGs.

Oh, and the “indigenous” people of Europe? They’re all indigenous to the continent.

Some more helpful graphs, maps, and information:

From Haak et al.
From Haak et al.
From Haak et al.
From Haak et al.
From Haak et al.
From Haak et al.

On the Iceman, aka Otzi: found in the Alps on the Italian-Austrian border; Same age as Sweden, between 3359 and 3105 BCE. (Hailed from the vicinity of Feldthurns, Italy.)

Analysis of the mtDNA of Ötzi the Iceman, the frozen mummy from 3,300 BC found on the AustrianItalian border, has shown that Ötzi belongs to the K1 subclade. It cannot be categorized into any of the three modern branches of that subclade (K1a, K1b or K1c). The new subclade has provisionally been named K1ö for Ötzi.[14] Multiplex assay study was able to confirm that the Iceman’s mtDNA belongs to a new European mtDNA clade with a very limited distribution amongst modern data sets.[15]” (source)

Otzi ate grain but was lactose intolerant.

His Y DNA is haplogroup G, which is now rare in Europe:


Various estimated dates and locations have been proposed for the origin of Haplogroup G. The National Geographic Society places haplogroup G origins in the Middle East 30,000 years ago and presumes that people carrying the haplogroup took part in the spread of the Neolithic.[2] Two scholarly papers have also suggested an origin in the Middle East, while differing on the date. …

Haplogroup G2a(SNP P15+) has been identified in neolithic human remains in Europe dating between 5000-3000BC. Furthermore, the majority of all the male skeletons from the European Neolithic period have so far yielded Y-DNA belonging to this haplogroup. The oldest skeletons confirmed by ancient DNA testing as carrying haplogroup G2a were five found in the Avellaner cave burial site for farmers in northeastern Spain and were dated by radiocarbon dating to about 7000 years ago.[5] At the Neolithic cemetery of Derenburg Meerenstieg II, north central Germany, with burial artifacts belonging to the Linear Pottery culture, known in German as Linearbandkeramik (LBK). This skeleton could not be dated by radiocarbon dating, but other skeletons there were dated to between 5,100 and 6,100 years old. The most detailed SNP mutation identified was S126 (L30), which defines G2a3.[6] G2a was found also in 20 out of 22 samples of ancient Y-DNA from Treilles, the type-site of a Late Neolithic group of farmers in the South of France, dated to about 5000 years ago.[7] The fourth site also from the same period is the Ötztal of the Italian Alps where the mummified remains of Ötzi the Iceman were discovered. Preliminary word is that the Iceman belongs to haplogroup G2a2b [8] (earlier called G2a4).

Haplogroup G2a2b is a rare group today in Europe. (source)

Back on the Otzi page:

By autosomal DNA he is most closely related to southern Europeans, especially to the geographically isolated populations of the two Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica.[41][42]

… In October 2013, it was reported that 19 modern Tyrolean men were related to Ötzi. Scientists from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University had analysed the DNA of over 3,700 Tyrolean male blood donors and found 19 who shared a particular genetic mutation with the 5,300-year-old man, which led them to identify the link.[46]

Hungary Gamba CA= Copper age, 3,300 BC-2,700 AD

From an analysis of the Gamba site:

The Great Hungarian Plain was a crossroads of cultural transformations that have shaped European prehistory. Here we analyse a 5,000-year transect of human genomes, sampled from petrous bones giving consistently excellent endogenous DNA yields, from 13 Hungarian Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and Iron Age burials including two to high (~22 × ) and seven to ~1 × coverage, to investigate the impact of these on Europe’s genetic landscape. These data suggest genomic shifts with the advent of the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, with interleaved periods of genome stability. The earliest Neolithic context genome shows a European hunter-gatherer genetic signature and a restricted ancestral population size, suggesting direct contact between cultures after the arrival of the first farmers into Europe. The latest, Iron Age, sample reveals an eastern genomic influence concordant with introduced Steppe burial rites. We observe transition towards lighter pigmentation and surprisingly, no Neolithic presence of lactase persistence.

Stuttgart EN:

To investigate European population history around the time of the agricultural transition, we sequenced complete genomes from a ~7,500 year old early farmer from the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture from Stuttgart in Germany and an ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherer from the Loschbour rock shelter in Luxembourg. We also generated data from seven ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherers from Motala in Sweden. We compared these genomes and published ancient DNA to new data from 2,196 samples from 185 diverse populations to show that at least three ancestral groups contributed to present-day Europeans. The first are Ancient North Eurasians (ANE), who are more closely related to Upper Paleolithic Siberians than to any present-day population. The second are West European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG), related to the Loschbour individual, who contributed to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners. The third are Early European Farmers (EEF), related to the Stuttgart individual, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harbored WHG-related ancestry. We model the deep relationships of these populations and show that about ~44% of the ancestry of EEF derived from a basal Eurasian lineage that split prior to the separation of other non-Africans.(bold mine.)

Ancient_North_Eurasian_admixture European_hunter-gatherer_admixture Neolithic_farmer_admixture

Source for the maps.

Iosif Lazaridis et al's model of modern European genetic origins.
Iosif Lazaridis et al’s model of modern European genetic origins.
Also from Iosif Lazaridis et al.'s paper, " Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans"
Also from Iosif Lazaridis et al.’s paper, “Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans” h/t Dienekes:

 Analysis of ancient DNA can reveal historical events that are difficult to discern through study of present-day individuals. To investigate European population history around the time of the agricultural transition, we sequenced complete genomes from a ~7,500 year old early farmer from the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture from Stuttgart in Germany and an ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherer from the Loschbour rock shelter in Luxembourg. We also generated data from seven ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherers from Motala in Sweden. We compared these genomes and published ancient DNA to new data from 2,196 samples from 185 diverse populations to show that at least three ancestral groups contributed to present-day Europeans. The first are Ancient North Eurasians (ANE), who are more closely related to Upper Paleolithic Siberians than to any present-day population. The second are West European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG), related to the Loschbour individual, who contributed to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners. The third are Early European Farmers (EEF), related to the Stuttgart individual, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harbored WHG-related ancestry. We model the deep relationships of these populations and show that about ~44% of the ancestry of EEF derived from a basal Eurasian lineage that split prior to the separation of other non-Africans.

I'm sorry, I forgot where this came from
I’m sorry, I forgot where this came from.

See also:

Significant genetic differentiation between Poland and Germany follows present-day political borders, as revealed by Y-chromosome analysis, by Kayser M. et al:

To test for human population substructure and to investigate human population history we have analysed Y-chromosome diversity using seven microsatellites (Y-STRs) and ten binary markers (Y-SNPs) in samples from eight regionally distributed populations from Poland (n = 913) and 11 from Germany (n = 1,215). Based on data from both Y-chromosome marker systems, which we found to be highly correlated (r = 0.96), and using spatial analysis of the molecular variance (SAMOVA), we revealed statistically significant support for two groups of populations: (1) all Polish populations and (2) all German populations. … The same population differentiation was detected using Monmonier’s algorithm, with a resulting genetic border between Poland and Germany that closely resembles the course of the political border between both countries. The observed genetic differentiation was mainly, but not exclusively, due to the frequency distribution of two Y-SNP haplogroups and their associated Y-STR haplotypes: R1a1*, most frequent in Poland, and R1*(xR1a1), most frequent in Germany. We suggest here that the pronounced population differentiation between the two geographically neighbouring countries, Poland and Germany, is the consequence of very recent events in human population history, namely the forced human resettlement of many millions of Germans and Poles during and, especially, shortly after World War II.

And Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history by Schiffels et al., h/t Steve Sailer

British population history has been shaped by a series of immigrations, including the early Anglo-Saxon migrations after 400 CE. … Here, we present whole-genome sequences from 10 individuals excavated close to Cambridge in the East of England, ranging from the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon period. … we estimate that on average the contemporary East English population derives 38% of its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrations. … Using rarecoal we find that the Anglo-Saxon samples are closely related to modern Dutch and Danish populations, while the Iron Age samples share ancestors with multiple Northern European populations including Britain.

Genetic Map of Europe

source: Big Think: Genetic map of Europe
source: Big Think: Genetic map of Europe

Isn’t it beautiful?

Some thoughts:

Sardinia and the Basques: low Indo-European genetic component.

I’ve been saying for a while the Ashkenazim should be considered a European group. Genetically, they’re half-Italian, and they’ve been living in Europe for about 2,000 years.

Tuscany has, I think, a very high Neanderthal %? I’m not sure why different parts of Italy would be so far apart, but I can see why Italy might have problems with staying unified or forming national-scale institutions.

Finns and Hungarians are not divergent enough from other Europeans to consider their unique language situation indicative of major genetic differences.

World’s most famous Chuvash:

Vladimir Lenin

Chuvash are a “Turkic” people of Russia. (Turks are also a “Turkic” people, though ironically, they actually don’t have a lot of Turkic DNA.)

Hrm, I should do a post on the Turkic Peoples.

So why are people Rh-? (part 2)

Part 1 is here.

Unfortunately, Googling “Why are people Rh-?” leads you down one of those fevered rabbit holes full of crazy. See, “Rh” was originally named after the rhesus monkey because some early blood work discoveries were done with monkey blood instead of human blood, probably for obvious reasons related to monkeys being more common lab subjects than humans. Rh+/Rh- blood in humans doesn’t actually have anything to do with rhesus monkeys. But some people have interpreted the Rh+/Rh- distinction as meaning that some people have monkey blood and are therefore descended from monkeys, while other people don’t have monkey blood and therefore aren’t descended from monkeys. They think Rh- folks are descended from reptiles or gods or angels or ancient human breeding experiments or something else.

I’ve got news for you. You’re all descended from apes. Yes, even you.

Can someone explain what, exactly, motivates these fever dreams of alien god blood? “Crazy” seems an inadequate answer, because most of these people can type in complete sentences and even form coherent paragraphs, in contrast to, say, schizophrenics, who as far as I know have difficulty with such tasks. Is it just a side effect of being too dumb to tell the difference between “things scientists believe are reasonably plausible” and “a guy claiming that Rh- people are space aliens with extra vertebrae?” Or maybe a critical percent of them are just 15?

Anyway, back on topic, since it seems basically like Rh- people shouldn’t exist, why do they? There are three basic possibilities:

  1. Random chance.
  2. Founder effect in some populations
  3. Some beneficial effect to being Rh- or heterozygous

If random chance were the solution, we’d expect to find Rh- people distributed in roughly equal quantities throughout the world, or much of it. This is not what we find. Rather, according to Wikipedia, Rh- is most common among the Basque people (21-36% of Basques are Rh-); fairly common among other Europeans (16%); rare among African Americans, who have some European admixture, (7%); occurs occasionally in Siberians (% not given); shows up in about 1% of Native Americans; and is almost totally unknown in Africans and “Asians.” (Remember that this only counts people who are homozygous for the negative allele; due to heterozygosity, approximately 10% of Native Americans have the the negative allele. By contrast, only 1% of “Asians” have the allele.)

If you’ve read a lot of my posts, that list should match a pattern you already know; you can see part of it at the top of the screen, but Haak’s data includes more of the relevant Siberian and Native American groups:

Click for full size
From Haak et al.

Click to get a good look. Unfortunately, different people use different colors on their charts, so “blue” or “yellow” don’t necessarily mean the same things on different charts. Luckily for us, the “dark blue” seems to represent the same thing in both charts.

Dark blue is an ancient, ancestral, shall we say indigenous DNA group that’s found in ancient European skeletons from places like Sweden and Hungary, and is found in large chunks in all modern European populations (Gypsies probably excepted.) Dark blue is also found, in smaller amounts, in some north African populations, west Asian (including the Caucasus and northern Middle East but not really the bulk of the Middle East,) India, and Siberia (the relevant groups here are the Chuvash, Mansi, Even, Selkup, Aleut, Tlingit, Yukagir, Tubalar, Altaian, Dolgan, and Yakut). It’s found in tiny bits in Native American DNA, either because Native Americans brought it with them when they crossed the Bering Strait, or because of recent European admixture. (Or both.)

Interestingly, the Basque have very little of the “teal” (light green in the graph at the top of the blog,) simply because teal was brought in with the Indo-European invasion and Basque aren’t Indo-European. Teal is also very common in India (Indo-European and all that,) but Rh- isn’t common in India.

The “orange” DNA (light blue at the top of the blog) is found throughout the Middle East, where Rh- isn’t, and isn’t found much in Siberia, where Rh- is.

In other words, the Dark Blue people left DNA in approximately the right amounts in all of the relevant people, and the other color-groups in the chart didn’t.

In Africa and Asia, it seems likely to me that the Rh- people actually are the result of random chance. But among the folks with Blue People admixture, I suspect that we are looking at a Founder Effect–that is, when the original band of hunter gatherers who became the Blue People split off from the other tribes, they just happened, by random chance, to have a higher than average percentage of people with Rh- alleles than the rest of the human population.

This happens all the time; if you were to just pick ten random people off the street and test their DNA, you’d likely find that your random population has some genes that are far more common or rarer than in humanity as a whole.

But this does not explain the persistence of Rh-, much less its rather high frequency among the Basque.

First, I want to stop and make a PSA about the Basque:

The Basque are not super people who descended directly from the gods, aliens, Neanderthals, the first primeval man, or whatever. They’re just some guys who, like the Sardinians, didn’t get conquered by the Indo-Europeans, and so never picked up an Indo-European language and held onto a slightly different culture, though they’ve had a ton of cultural contact with the Spanish and French over the years and probably all speak Spanish and/or French these days.

Humans–by which I mean “anatomically modern humans” as they are called–have been around for approximately 200,000 years. About 100,000-70,000 years ago, humans left Africa and spread out across the rest of the world. (We picked up our Neanderthal admixture around this time, so pretty much all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA, and even the Africans probably have some Neanderthal DNA because it looks like some non-Africans later went back to Africa and intermarried with the people there, because humans have moved around a lot over the past 100,000 years.)

Indo-European, as a language family, didn’t get going until about 8,000 to 6,000 years ago. It didn’t reach France until about 3,000 years ago, and got to Spain even later.

In other words, the Basques are not the sole living descendents of the first peoples from 200,000 years ago, or Neanderthals from 40,000 years ago. They are among the few unconquered descendents of people who lived about 3,000 years ago. You know, about the time the Greeks and Romans were getting going, or maybe the Assyrian Empire. Not prehistory.

Back to our story.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research on why Rh- exists, but some folks have been pursuing the Toxoplasma Gondii angle. Basically, the idea is that if Sickle Cell Anemia exists because heterozygous sickle cell carriers are protected against malaria, even if folks who are homozygous for SSA die off.

Toxoplasma turns out to be one of the most common parasitic infections, infecting 30-50% of humans. I have yet to find what I consider a reliable-looking map of rates of T. gondii infection world-wide, but it infects about 22% of Americans over 12, and infection rates reach 95% in some places. (And 84% in France, probably due to bad hygiene and raw meat consumption.)

Even though T. gondii likes pretty much any warm-blooded host, they can only reproduce in cats/felids. So I wouldn’t expect any T. gondii in areas with no cats, like Australia before the Europeans got there.

One of the effects of T. gondii infection is slower reactions, so scientists have looked at whether people with Rh- blood or Rh+ blood have slower reactions with or without T. gondii infections.

The conclusions are kind of mixed, and I put this in the “needs more research” category due to some small Ns, but nevertheless, here’s what they found:

Among uninfected people in an ethnically homogenous population, Rh- males had faster reaction times than Rh+ males. However, when infected, the Rh-s become slower than the Rh+s (who showed very little change). But if we break the Rh+ group into homozygous Rh++ and heterozygous Rh+-s, we see something remarkable: the Rh++s have worse reaction times following infection, but the Rh+-s’ reactions times actually decreased!

The only problem with this theory is that T. gondii has probably historically been most closely associated with parts of the world with more cats, and Africa, the Middle East, and India historically had more cats than Europe, and certainly more than Siberia. If the idea is that being heterozygous is supposed to be protective against T. gondii, we’d expect to see more heterozygotes in areas with high rates of T. gondii, just as Sickle Cell Anemia is common in areas with malaria. We wouldn’t expect it in places like Siberia, where there are very few cats.

But perhaps the answer is more straightforward: Rh++ is protective against T. Gondii, but at the cost of lower reaction times. Rh– confers faster reaction times, but sucks against T. Gondii. Rh-s could therefore have an advantage over Rh++s and proliferate in areas with few cats, like Siberia.

But T gondii has had time to adapt to the older variant (Rh++;) Rh+- confuses it, thus offering protection against slower reaction times mostly by accident rather than positive selection for Rh+- people in areas with high levels of T. gondii.

Of course, this is all speculation; maybe folks in the Basque region have actually just had a lot of housecats and so contacted T. gondii more than other people, or maybe we’re just seeing an “Elderly Hispanic Woman Effect” due to the data being split into a lot of categories.

Things being as they are, I’d suggest studying the Basque and seeing if Basques with Rh- alleles have any traits that Basques with Rh+s don’t.

I really wish there were some more research on this subject! I guess we just don’t know yet.

ETA: I just realized something that, in retrospect, seems really obvious. If the French have an 85% T. Gondii infection rate, then the Basques–whose territory is partly in France and partly in Spain–may also have a very high infection rate. The French must have a ton of cats. Infection rates probably have more to do with the density of domesticated cats than of wild cats; the prevalence of Rh- and Rh+- alleles may have nothing to do with ancient cave people, but be a more recently selected adaptation. I don’t know when cats became common in Europe, but I’m guessing that plague-infested Medieval cities invited a fair number of cats. Hey, better T. Gondii than Yersina Pestis. If the Basques have somewhere near an 85% T. gondii infection rate, and have had it for a while–say, since the Middle Ages–their current high rates of Rh- blood may in fact be due to Rh+- folks being protected against the effects of infection.

I don’t know why I didn’t see that earlier.

Now I want to know whether people with T. Gondii are more likely to go on strike or start revolutions.

Genetic History of the Finno-Ugrics

Click for full size
From Haak et al.

I often run across people asserting that the Finno-Ugrics are “Mongols” or “Asian” or Chinese,”so today’s post is dedicated to the genetic history of the Finno-Urgrics.

The Finno-Ugrics (which includes the Udmurts but not the Uyghurs,) are people who speak Finno-Ugric languages such as the Khanty, Mansi, Hungarians, Maris, Mordvins, Sámi, Estonians, Karelians, Finns, Udmurts and Komis.[1]

Here’s a map:

Distribution of the Finno-Ugric languages
Distribution of the Finno-Ugric languages

Here are some pictures:

Charles Simonyi, Hungarian
Charles Simonyi, Hungarian
Presidents of the Norwegian Sami Parliament
3 Presidents of the Norwegian Sami Parliament
Erzaya women
Erzaya (Mordvin) women

Edit: I formerly had here pictures of Lennart Meri, President of Estonia, and Linus Torvalds, of Finland, but it turns out they’re actually ethnically Swedish. So I am substituting instead Finish figure skater Kiira Korpi and Estonian soldier Andres Nuiamae (killed in Iraq.) Hopefully they aren’t secretly Swedish.

Kiira Korpi, Finnish
Kiira Korpi, Finnish
Andres Nuiamae, Estonian
Andres Nuiamae, Estonian
Karelian women
Karelian women (Karelia is next door to Finland)
Janne Seurujärvi, Finnish Sami
Janne Seurujärvi, Finnish Sami
Udmurt people
Udmurt people
Khanty family
Khanty family
Mari man
Mari man
Komi People
Komi People
The two men on the right are from the Mansi.
The two men on the right are from the Mansi.


The Finno-Ugric languages are a subset of the Uralic Language family that excludes the Samoyedic languages.

Language is always a problematic base for claiming ethnic identity, because conquered people can easily learn a new language. African Americans today speak English, even though their ancestors weren’t Anglo-Saxons. Even the English aren’t majority Anglo-Saxon.

However, combining language, genetics, archaeology, and whatever historical records we have may result in a pretty trustworthy picture.

In this case, all of the Finno-Ugric people from within “Europe”–Finns, Estonians, Sami, Hungarians, etc.–all look very much like their neighbors. If you just randomly asked me to guess Torvalds or Meri’s ethnicity, the one thing I would not say is “Mongol.”

The groups that hail from Russia’s Siberia look more like other folks from Siberia.

Here are some genetic profiles (these are closeups of the graph at the top of the page):

DNA from various European peoples
DNA from various European peoples

With a few isolated exceptions (eg, the Basque,) almost all Europeans have a fairly similar genetic profile reflecting three main ancestral groups. The original “orange” and “blue” tribes have been identified via DNA sequencing of ancient European skeletons; at some point they seem to have merged. The “teal” component looks like it came in when a “blue” tribe migrated east and merged with a “teal” tribe, then came back and conquered the “orange-blue” tribes, resulting in blue-orange-teal tribes. (You can see the ancient skeleton sequences at the far left on the graph at the top of the page.)

A few groups don’t show this pattern–the Basques, for example, who don’t speak an Indo-European language, have very little teal. Based on this and other evidence, “Blue-Teal” tribe is therefore believed to be the original Indo-Europeans.

The Finns, Estonians, Mordovans, and Sami all have the blue, teal, and orange of other European groups and they also share a bit of red that is also found in the Russians. This group (including Russians) also seems to have a bit more blue than the other Europeans. The Sami in particular seem to have a fair amount of this red; they look rather similar to the Chuvash, a Russian ethnic group:

World's most famous Chumash
World’s most famous Chuvash

The Hungarians have a tiny bit of red if you look very closely, but this is not much at all; several other groups have similarly tiny smidgeons of red and no claims of Finno-Ugric ancestry. The Wikipedia page on Hungarians also states that, despite the well-documented Magyar invasion around 1100, modern Hungarians appear to be genetically continuous with pre-Magyar Hungarians. Perhaps there were never enough Magyars to have much of an impact besides imparting their language; or they just failed to reproduce and so gradually died out in their new land, leaving their language behind; or the red-DNA contained specific adaptations that help people survive in the arctic, and so have been selected against in warmer Hungary; or perhaps the Magyars themselves never had much of the red-DNA for whatever reasons.

By contrast, various tribes from central Eurasia (the Chuvash may perhaps be included) show quite mixed ancestries:

DNA from various steppe peoples
DNA from various Eurasian peoples

The Hazara are from Pakistan/Afghanistan; the Uygurs are primarily from the far western end of China; Turkmen and Uzbeks you’re probably familiar with; and the Evens are a Siberian people who live in far eastern Russia.

The Mansi are one of our Finno-Ugric people, with large sections of blue, red, and even a little teal. Based on the photos, I’m not surprised to see essentially a mix of Siberian and typically European DNA. The Wikipedia has this to say about their origins:

“The ancestors of Mansi people populated the areas west of the Urals.[3] Mansi findings have been unearthed in the vicinity of Perm.[3]

In the first millennium BC, they migrated to Western Siberia where they assimilated with the native inhabitants.[3] According to others they are originated from the south Ural steppe and moved into their current location about 500 AD.” (wikiepdia)

The Selkups are a Samoyed people–the Samoyed languages are cousins to the Finno-Ugric languages under the larger family of Uralic Languages.

It looks like the original Finno-Ugric speakers who settled in Finland, Lapland, Estonia, etc., looked like the Mansi or Selkups, this might explain the slightly higher quantities of blue in these groups.

The red DNA reaches its greatest dominance in the Nganasan, a Samoyedic people living in north central Siberia:

DNA from various Siberian Peoples.
DNA from various Siberian Peoples.

An old picture of the Nganasan:

Ngasani People
It’s cold there.

(The Yukagir are from further east in Siberia than the Nganasan (the olive-brown shade is shared with the Eskimo;) the Daur and Oroqen live in inner Mongolia, China; the Henzhen live in northern Manchuria/the region north of there along the Sea of Okhotsk; the Ulchis live just north of them. The Tubalar and Altaian people hail from the meeting point of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan; the Dolgans from north central Siberia; the Yakuts live to their east.)

The red/yellow combination is found throughout most of the “Asian” countries–Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, etc., but not in Cambodia or Thailand. You can see them on the big chart at the top. The two pure yellow groups, the Ami and Atayal, are indigenous people of Taiwan.

The Red, therefore, is found in large quantities in Siberia/polar peoples. In Asia it mixes with the yellow, with the ration of yellow/red increasing as you go south. Red finds its maximum in far northern Siberia, and yellow in Taiwan. I therefore speculate that the red started in Siberia and worked its way south, while the yellow started somewhere around southern China and moved outwards from there.

The Blue is found in all Europeans but is rare in the Middle East; it appears in small quantities in Central Asia, India, and Siberia. Small quantities could just be the result of thousands of years of people moving around ancient trade routes, but the relatively larger quantities in Siberia seem less likely to be the result of trade.

Teal appears to be found in all Indo-European and Middle Eastern regions; it is even more wide-spread than orange, which never made it to India.

Therefore I suspect that a band of blue and a band of red people merged to form the original Uralic people from which the Finno-Ugrics later split off. (The lack of red in Hungary could be due to the branch which eventually became the Magyars having split off before the red-blue merger, but they lack the extra blue found in Finns, so this seems unlikely. Plus, their language would be quite different from the other Finno-Ugric languages if they had, perhaps similar to the relationship between Anatolian and the other Indo European languages.) More likely, as the original Red/Blue people spread out across Siberia, mostly toward Europe, they were spread thinner and thinner, or mixed with and taught their languages to more and more new until they were only a small percent of the total population, leaving behind only a smidgen of their DNA in Finnland, Estonia, and Hungary.

Here is a map of the distribution of Haplogroup N, which appears to have emerged about 20,000 years ago:

Distribution haplogroup N
Distribution Haplogroup N

According to Wikipedia, Subtype N-P43 is estimated at 4,000 to 6,000 years old, frequently among the Samoyedic peoples, with a sub-clade common in Finno-Ugric and other Uralic speakers in Europe. Additionally,

“The subclade N-M178 … has higher average frequency in Northern Europe than in Siberia, reaching frequencies of approximately 60% among Finns and approximately 40% among Latvians, Lithuanians & 35% among Estonians (Derenko 2007 and Lappalainen 2008).

“Miroslava Derenko and her colleagues noted that there are two subclusters within this haplogroup, both present in Siberia and Northern Europe, with different histories. The one that they labelled N3a1 first expanded in south Siberia (approximately 10,000 years ago on their calculated by the Zhivotovsky method) and spread into Northern Europe where its age they calculated as around 8,000 years ago.”

Here’s a beautiful map showing the spread of Y Chromosome Haplogroups all over the world:

World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes
Isn’t it beautiful?

Since Haplogroup N is found on the Y chromosome, this probably implies armed invasion that resulted in many of the local men dying and the invaders marrying (or raping) the remaining women.

Note that this scenario does not depend on whether the Indo-Europeans or Finno-Ugrics arrived first; it merely describes their relative ratios in the population. We know they arrived after the Indo Europeans in Hungary, for example, but the Sami are considered the indigenous people of Finno-Scandia. Genetically, the Sami have some teal and orange, which the Red-Blue people basically lacked, so they have at least some Indo-European; just eyeballing the graph, it looks like the Sami are a little more than half Indo-European and a little less than half Red-Blue people.

Overall: the Finno-Ugrics living in Europe proper are genetically closest to other Europeans; their Siberian component is quite small. The Sami are the one exception, with a larger chunk of Siberian DNA, but they are still mostly European.

The Finno-Ugrics who live within the heart of Russian Siberia, however, appear to have quite a bit more Siberian DNA, some European, but not Indo-European DNA.


The Genghis Khans of Europe

They say that about 1 in 200 people alive today is descended from Genghis Khan (or one of his brothers, if he had any.) Obviously most of the Great Khan’s descendants are in Asia; what about the rest of the world?

from A Handful of Bronze Age Men Could have fathered two-thirds of Europeans
from A Handful of Bronze Age Men Could have fathered two-thirds of Europeans

From the article:

“Tracking [Y chromosome] mutations allows scientists to create a family tree of fathers and sons going back through time. … Two-thirds of modern European men are found on just three branches (called I1, R1a and R1b). Our results show that these branches each trace their paternal ancestry to a surprisingly recent individual (shown as red dots in Figure 1). By counting the number of mutations that have accumulated within each branch over the generations, we estimate that these three men lived at different times between 3,500 and 7,300 years ago.”

Female genetics–mitochondrial DNA–show no such feature. “… when looking at this maternal tree, there is no similar explosion. This indicates that whatever factors were responsible for this pattern were specific to men.”

This seems reasonably strong evidence that we aren’t just looking at something that could be explained away as founder/bottleneck effect, because I would expect such an effect to act equally on males and females. However, I don’t know if anyone has adequately addressed the question of patrilocality.

On a potentially related note, another study came up with this graph of Y chromosome diversity over time

From,  A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture
A recent bottleneck of Y chromosome diversity coincides with a global change in culture


Now if you ask me, these look like they’re describing the same phenomenon, but the dates are supposedly different.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I really really wish they’d made the Y Chromosome graph bigger and spread it out more so I can actually see what’s going on. According to the article summarizing the paper, the Siberian population did not suffer a decrease in Y chromosome diversity at this time, but I can’t tell it from looking at the graph.

2. Wow, look at the African Y chromosome diversity drop and then never fully recover. The Near East Y-diversity (the orange part) shoots up much higher than it was initially after the drop, as does the European. If the suspicion that farming was the cause of the drop is correct, then it looks like African Y chromosomes never quite recovered–consistent with the theory that African horticulture has traditionally been easy enough for women to do, leading to polygyny, leading to a few males dominating most of the women and the other males being excluded, etc. See, eg, West African Marriage and Child-Rearing Norms vs. African American Norms. (I’ve got another post on the subject, but it’s not going up for a few more weeks.)

3. What’s been happening to mtDNA diversity in the past few thousand years?


So was it agriculture? Or were did agriculture just make people sitting ducks for horse-born invaders? Or perhaps both?

Oops, Looks like it was People, not Pots

There’s an exciting new study on Bronze Age genetics that you’ve probably already heard about but I’m gonna post about anyway because stuff like this is kind of like our core competency around here.

Summary: Scientist people sequenced genomes (did fancy lab things with genetics) on 101 dead Europeans/Asians from a few thousand years ago, to try to figure out who they were and where they came from.

One of the big anthro/archeology debates over the past 70 years or so has been whether the different layers of cultural artifacts (eg, pots) represent things being traded while people stay put, or people invading and bringing their new stuff with them.

To put it in a modern context, if you saw a picture of people from Papua New Guinea taken in 1900, wearing traditional tribal clothes, and then saw a picture taken a few decades later of people from Papua New Guinea wearing Levi’s and T-shirts, you might wonder if the people of PNG had gotten some new clothes, or if some people wearing Levi’s had gone to PNG.

The archaeological assumption pre-1940 or so was generally that different layers of cultural artifacts represented actually different groups of people, who had probably invaded and slaughtered the previous group of people. For a variety of reasons that you can probably figure out on your own, this view fell into disrepute around the mid 1940s, and so was replaced with the peaceful assumption that new cultural artifacts probably spread primarily through trade, not warfare. This is expressed through the phrase, “Pots, not people,” meaning that the pots were moving around, not the people.

So now we can sequence ancient genomes and shit, so we can actually take a look at the people in ancient burials and try to figure out if people in Layer of Pots A are related to people in Layer of Pots B, or if they are a totally different group of people. This is like squinting at the photographs of Papua New Guineans and trying to figure out if the people wearing the clothes look like they come from the same group, but with lab tools and science.

From an archaeology/anthropology perspective, this is big stuff people have been debating about for over a century.

Conclusions: The Yamnaya are the Indo-Europeans (or proto-Indo-Europeans.) They started out around the Ukraine, then about 4,000 years ago, they spread out (cause they had horses and wagons and chariots and such with wheels,) toward the west and east. In Europe they became the Corded Ware Culture. The Corded Ware may have headed toward the Urals and became some of the ancestors of the Indo-Iranians, but that’s still fuzzy.

The Yamnaya had high (relatively) rates of lactose tolerance, so they probably helped spread that gene/the gene helped spread them. Blond hair and blue eyes are not Yamnaya traits–those came from elsewhere. They probably had pale skins, but so did most of the people already in Europe, so they didn’t change that.

I had already figured the Yamnaya were the PIEs (along with a bunch of other people paying even vague attention to the field,) but apparently my rough mental estimate of the time frame was off. 4,000 years ago is not that long–we have quite abundant records of life 2,000 years ago, so imagine what sorts of records or rumors those Greeks and Romans had about life 2,000 years before themselves.

There is much that we once naively took as fact, then skeptically decided was myth, then decided was fact again, like the existence of Troy. (Of course, there is also much that has turned out to be actually false. Like Herodotus’s dog-sized ants.) Perhaps some more of what seems mere myth in the Greek and Roman accounts will turn out to have some basis in history.

On the eastern end of the geographic range they surveyed, the steppe-folks out there were later replaced with a more Asian population that looks more closely related to the Native Americans (possibly descended from a population ancestral to both them and the Native Americans.)

I don’t know yet just how violent the invasion was–the existing European population was not wiped out, a la the Dorset. The groups mixed; modern Europeans (and many Asians) are a mixture of many population waves. But we do know now that these were people, not just their pots.