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Post Info TOPIC: Ancient DNA from Europe can give new clues about the Indo-European question


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

Saturday, 8 January 2011

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



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


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

About mitochondrial haplogroups it is said in the study:
We found nine modern-day population pools in which the percentage of these haplotypes is significantly higher than in other population pools (p>0.01, two-tailed z test; Figure 1Table S4): (a) North and Central English, (b) Croatians and Slovenians, (c) Czechs and Slovaks, (d) Hungarians and Romanians, (e) Turkish, Kurds, and Armenians, (f) Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians, and Cypriotes, (g) Caucasus (Ossetians and Georgians), (h) Southern Russians, and (i) Iranians. Three of these pools (b–d) originate near the proposed geographic center of the earliest LBK in Central Europe and presumably represent a genetic legacy from the Neolithic. However, the other matching population pools are from Near East regions (except [a] and [h]), which is consistent with this area representing the origin of the European Neolithic, an idea that is further supported by Iranians sharing the highest number of informative haplotypes with the LBK (7.2%; Table S4).
About Y DNA haplogroups:
The Y chromosome hgs obtained from the three Derenburg early Neolithic individuals are generally concordant with the mtDNA data (Table 1). Interestingly, we do not find the most common Y chromosome hgs in modern Europe (e.g., R1b, R1a, I, and E1b1), which parallels the low frequency of the very common modern European mtDNA hg H (now at 20%–50% across Western Eurasia) in the Neolithic samples. Also, while both Neolithic Y chromosome hgs G2a3 and F* are rather rare in modern-day Europe, they have slightly higher frequencies in populations of the Near East, and the highest frequency of hg G2a is seen in the Caucasus today. The few published ancient Y chromosome results from Central Europe come from late Neolithic sites and were exclusively hg R1a. While speculative, we suggest this supports the idea that R1a may have spread with late Neolithic cultures from the east.
So, we can suppose that R1a arrived with the Corded Ware culture, which was an important cultural change in Europe. After the Near Eastern population which had already colonized the Balkans, the Corded Ware people found in Eulau came from the East, bringing the new 'Indo-European' culture. Interestingly, the mitochondrial haplogroup of the mother in the family buried in Eulau was K1b, which "has uniquely been reported in two modern Shugnans of Tadzhikistan" (Dienekes' quotation). Wells reports 23% of R1a1a for Shugnans, and 68% for their neighbors Ishkashimis (living both in the upper Oxus valley). In this context, it is impressing to observe that in Tajikistan we also find striking parallels to the burial rituals followed by the Corded Ware culture, in the Vakhsh and Beshkent cultures: the bodies laid on their sides, hunched up, with arms bent at the elbow and legs at the knee, men on the right side, and women on the left side. In the Beshkent culture, the orientation is often east-west. Moreover, according to the anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, the skull type of the Corded Ware burials is very close to the present Irano-Afghan type.  
Shugnans and Ishkashimis speak both an Iranian language, and they live in the cradle of Iranian culture, mentioned in the Avesta. We can suppose that the Oxus valley was an ancient seat for the R1a1a people coming from South Asia, and that they spoke an Indo-European language. From Central Asia they should have moved to the Kurgan area in Ukraine, and from there to Central Europe. Another R1a1a people went eastward up to the Tarim Basin (see here) and another to the Andronovo area near Krasnoyarsk in Siberia (see here). But we know that they all had their ultimate origin in western South Asia, and their expansion in Eurasia seems to be dated particularly in the metal age, since all these cultures knew metals. As recognized by some scholars, calculated ages of R1a1a appear as too high, and the archaeological record can help us to correct them. According to this picture, we can see the Neolithic of the Indus-Sarasvatī basin and probably of the adjoining 'Iranian' regions as the source of the Indo-Europeans, who developed so many prehistoric and historical civilizations of Europe and Asia. 



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Friday, 4 June 2010

More on genetics: a possible proof of migration from India to Europe

I have found online the already cited article of the American geneticist P.A. Underhill (et alia) on the genetic group R1a at the site

The little map in red colour here presented shows the calculated age of the haplogroup R1a1a-M17 in different Eurasian regions. It appears clearly that the most ancient area comprehends Sind and Gujarat. In the article, it is said: “Analysis of associated STR diversity profiles revealed that among the R1a1a*(xM458) chromosomes the highest diversity is observed among populations of the Indus Valley yielding coalescent times above 14 KYA (thousands of years ago), whereas the R1a1a* diversity declines toward Europe where its maximum diversity and coalescent times of 11.2 KYA are observed in Poland, Slovakia and Crete.” Moreover: “Also noteworthy is the drop in R1a1a* diversity away from the Indus Valley toward central Asia (Kyrgyzstan 5.6 KYA) and the Altai region (8.1 KYA) that marks the eastern boundary of significant R1a1a* spread”.

So, on the basis of this calculations we arrive at the conclusion that a South Asian population spread first towards Europe and later towards Central Asia. Then, there is not an ancient migration from Europe to South Asia, or from Central Asia to South Asia, but the opposite.

If we want to connect R1a1a with the Indo-Europeans, and this is always tempting, because this haplogroup seems to be the only one which associates together with significant frequencies Indo-Aryans, Iranians, Anatolians, Greeks, Slavs, and Germanic peoples (less Romance and Celtic speakers), we should admit that the origin of Indo-Europeans is in South Asia, and not in Eastern Europe. Here, we find a mutation of the haplogroup, called R1a1a7:

“In Europe a large proportion of the R1a1a variation is represented by its presently identified subclade R1a1a7-M458 that is virtually absent in Asia. Its major frequency and relatively low diversity in Europe can be explained thus by a founder effect that according to our coalescent time estimation falls into the early Holocene period, 7.9±2.6 KYA. The highest regional date of 10.7±4.1 KYA among Polish R1a1a7 carriers falls into the period of recolonization of this region by Mesolithic (Swiderian and subsequent cultures) settlers. […] It should be noted, though, that the inevitably large error margins of our coalescent time estimates do not allow us to exclude its association with the establishment of the mainstream Neolithic cultures, including the Linearbandkeramik (LBK), that flourished ca. 7.5-6.5 KYA BP in the Middle Danube (Hungary) and was spread further along the Rhine, Elbe, Oder, Vistula river valleys and beyond the Carpathian Basin.” Then, the R1a1a people in Eastern Europe could be connected with the Neolithic revolution in this area.

The antiquity of this subclade and its absence in Asia shows also that there was no migration from Europe to Central Asia in recent times: “Although the R1a1a* frequency and diversity is highest among Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speakers, the subhaplogroup R1a1a7-M458 frequency peaks among Slavic and Finno-Ugric peoples. Although this distinction by geography is not directly informative about the internal divisions of these separate language families, it might bear some significance for assessing dispersal models that have been proposed to explain the spread of Indo-Aryan languages in South Asia as it would exclude any significant patrilineal gene flow from East Europe to Asia, at least since the mid-Holocene period.”

The mid-Holocene period is around 6000 years BP, that means that after 4000 BC we cannot suppose a migration from Europe to Central Asia and South Asia, and this refutes all the theories supposing that the Kurgan people of the Pontic region went to Afghanistan during the Bactria-Margiana civilization (III-II mill. BC) and then to India (II mill. BC).

On the other hand, the migration of R1a1a people from South Asia to Europe appears as much earlier than the supposed spread of Indo-European languages, before the Bronze Age, during the Mesolithic or Neolithic period. Then, if we connect R1a1a with the Indo-European speakers, we have to antedate this spread, and we have also to see much of the Neolithic Europe as already Indo-European, reversing Gimbutas’ theory of Old Europe but keeping the concept of a Paleolithic non-Indo-European presence, differently from the Continuity theory of Alinei and Costa. However, not all the R1a1a in Europe is R1a1a7, then maybe we cannot rule out later migrations of people with haplogroup R1a1a from Asia to Europe, bringing a new language: we have examples of migrations into Europe of Iranian peoples like Scythians, Sarmatians and Alans, and of the Indian Gypsies, also in historical times.



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Saturday, 9 January 2010

The contribution of recent genetic research to the reconstruction of Indian past and identity

A new genetic study, made by scientists based in India and the United States, has revealed that the Indian population descends from two main components: Ancestral South Indians, arrived in the subcontinent around 65000 years ago, and Ancestral North Indians, arrived around 45000 years ago. The northern component is akin to Central Asian, Middle Eastern and European populations, whereas the southern one appears originally very different from Ancestral North Indians ("is as distinct from ancestral north Indians and East Asians as they are from each other"), even if during the millennia it has widely mingled with their descendants, creating the present Indians.
The presumed Aryan invasion of the II millennium B.C. is eclipsed by these data, and the origin of castes is identified in endogamous usages emerged from local tribes, and not from foreign invasions:
Another finding is that the castes and tribes in the country are not systematically different. "(The study) supports the view that castes grew directly out of tribal-like organisations during the formation of Indian society," said Kumarasamy Thangaraj, another CCMB scientist. Singh said the castes grew directly out of tribal set-ups during the formation of Indian society.
Some historians had argued that caste in modern India was an invention of colonialism in the sense that it became more rigid under colonial rule, but the "results indicate that many current distinctions among groups are ancient and that strong endogamy (matrimony within one's own isolated group) must have shaped marriage patterns in India for thousands of years".

In an article on the Times of India ( we find some other interesting assertions made by Prof. Singh in a conference in Varanasi at the beginning of December:
Saying that Indian population was made up of many populations that have varied genetic compositions, he also added recent studies on DNA linkage indicated an invisible thread (trait) that bounded the Indian population comprising populations of other countries in the sub-continent including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, believed to have originated almost 33,000 years ago.
"The study is on to trace the ancestors of Ancestor North Indian (ANI) population, while the ancestors of Ancestor South Indian (ASI) population has been already traced," he said. "Ongee and Jarva species have been established to be the ancestors of ASI population while DNA matching has found resemblance of East African population with Kurumbha species in Kerala and Raghuvanshi of West Bengal," he added.
"We are looking for DNA from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir to trace the origin of ANI population and once that is established, we would be in a position to indicate the movement of ANI population towards European countries that would change the face of world history," he said.
Here you can read another popular article about the same research:

Here is the page of the scientific article with the abstract:

And here you can find freely available supplementary information:

Another recent study, by Sharma et al., published exactly one year ago on the Journal of Human Genetics (, is also concerned with the origin of castes and particularly of Brahmins. It says:
"The observation of R1a* in high frequency for the first time in the literature, as well as analyses using different phylogenetic methods, resolved the controversy of the origin of R1a1*, supporting its origin in the Indian subcontinent. Simultaneously, the presence of R1a1* in very high frequency in Brahmins, irrespective of linguistic and geographic affiliations, suggested it as the founder haplogroup for the population. The co-presence of this haplogroup in many of the tribal populations of India, its existence in high frequency in Saharia (present study) and Chenchu tribes, the high frequency of R1a* in Kashmiri Pandits (KPs—Brahmins) as well as Saharia (tribe) and associated phylogenetic ages supported the autochthonous origin and tribal links of Indian Brahmins, confronting the concepts of recent Central Asian introduction and rank-related Eurasian contribution of the Indian caste system."

That means that the traditional theory of the external origin of Indo-Aryans with their priests, the Brahmins, holders of the sacred Vedic language, is not supported by the genetic research. The haplogroup R1a1 (R1a1a in Underhill's classification, see, characterized by the mutation M17, has been associated to the Indo-Europeans, and an outdated theory placed its origin in Ukraine, that is in the Kurgan area, apparently supporting Gimbutas' theory. But in India not only we find this haplogroup exceptionally frequent in Brahmins (72.22 % in West Bengal Brahmins), but also quite frequent in tribals like Saharia (Munda speakers, 28.07%) and Chenchu (Dravidian speakers, 26.82%). The highest known variance of R1a1* among Kashmiri Pandits (0.52), is a sign that in this population it is older than in the other ones object of study.

In this image you can see the frequency of R1a1a (old R1a1) according to Underhill et al., showing the high concentration of this haplogroup in South Asia and in Eastern Europe, which appears as a second source of diffusion of this haplogroup, and possibly of the related Indo-European languages.


Here is the map (from the cited Sharma's study) of the diversity within the R1a1* haplogroup, clearly showing the maximum in Kashmir and Northern India, thus suggesting the origin of the haplogroup from this area. Here is possible to compare the data about the variance and connected age of the haplogroup in different populations:



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Sunday, 13 March 2016

Sumerian and Indo-European: a multifarious connection

In my first post on this topic, I focused on an exploration of the connections between Sumerian and Indo-European roots and words, neglecting the possible connections with other linguistic families except some citations of Akkadian or Kartvelian parallels.

But checking these other connections is important in order to ascertain if an apparent Sumerian/Indo-European parallel is not a loan or a specific relation, but only the appearance of two results of a root which is spread in a much wider area.
Sumerian, in its apparent isolation, has been compared with very different linguistic families. One is even Austric, which seems especially strong in grammatical morphology (see here).
A more lexical comparison has been made with Dravidian, by Boisson and Sathasivam (see here).
This comparison has also been widened to Afro-Asiatic (see here).
And finally to the so called 'Nostratic', involving all these families except Austric (see here).

Some Sumerian words that we have compared with Indo-European are traced also in other linguistic families, like tab 'to burn' or zalag 'to shine' in Austric, tag 'to touch' in Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian, kur 'mountain' in Austric and Afro-Asiatic, and so on.

This can suggest that both Sumerian and Indo-European belong to a broad (Southern) Asian linguistic area, and impose caution about direct connections. But if we discover that a parallel is found only between Sumerian and Indo-European, there are more probabilities that the direct connection is there.

Another point to be considered is the possibility that different Indo-European languages lent words to Sumerian, kentum and satem for instance, in different periods.

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