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Yamnaya nomads left a strong genetic mark on Europeans and Asians

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By Ann Gibbons

Republication from www.sciencemag

The Bronze Age came to Europe and Asia 5000 years ago, leaving a trail of metal tools, axes, and jewelry that stretches from Siberia to Scandinavia. But was this powerful new technology an idea that spread from the Middle East to European and Asian people, or was it brought in by foreigners? Two of the largest studies of ancient DNA from Bronze Age and Iron Age people have now found that outsiders deserve the credit: Nomadic herders from the steppes of today’s Russia and Ukraine brought their culture and, possibly, languages with them—and made a relatively recent and lasting imprint on the genetic makeup of Europeans and Asians.

In the studies, published online today in Nature, two rival teams of geneticists analyzed the DNA from 170 individuals who lived at key archaeological sites in Europe and Asia 5000 to 3000 years ago. Both teams found strong evidence that a wave of nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya from the Pontic-Caspian, a vast steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea and as far east as the Caspian Sea, swept into Europe sometime between 5000 and 4800 years ago; along the way, they may have brought with them Proto-Indo-European, the mysterious ancestral tongue from which all of today’s 400 Indo-European languages spring. These herders interbred with local farmers and created the Corded Ware culture of central Europe, named for the twisted cord imprint on its pottery. Their genes were passed down to northern and central Europeans living today, as one of the teams posted on a preprint server earlier this year and published today.

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Yamnaya nomadic herders may have swept into Bronze Age Europe, transforming the local people

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Republication from www.sciencemag.org

 

[map of Yamnaya culture from Wikimedia commons]

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Call it an ancient thousand man march. Early Bronze Age men from the vast grasslands of the Eurasian steppe swept into Europe on horseback about 5000 years ago—and may have left most women behind. This mostly male migration may have persisted for several generations, sending men into the arms of European women who interbred with them, and leaving a lasting impact on the genomes of living Europeans.

“It looks like males migrating in war, with horses and wagons,” says lead author and population geneticist Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden.

 

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Andronovo culture heavy charioteer warrior c. 1500 BC

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Image copyright: A.I. Solovyev

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This is another rare representation by the Russian archaeologist A.I. Solovyev, of a heavy charioteer warrior of the Indoeuropean Andronovo culture (2nd millennium BC) which flourished mainly in western Siberia and Kazakhstan, although the first archaeological evidence of this civilisation comes from a small area southwest of Krasnoyarsk. Its southern varieties were extended to modern Uzbekistan, Kirghizistan and Turkmenistan. Minusinsk Basin is specifically a region were the Andronovo culture evolved considerably.

The Andronovo culture, named after the homonymous modern village, was the cradle of the Proto-Indo-Iranian IE group which later was divided to the Indo-Aryan and the Iranian subgroup. The Proto-Indo-Aryans gradually invaded and settled in the larger part of the Indian subcontinent although some of their tribes moved to the west, to the Zagros Mountains and the Black Sea steppes. The Proto-Iranians were divided into two branches. The southern branch – archaeologically represented along with the Indo-Aryans by Neo-Andronovo varieties and the Srubnaya culture – gradually invaded and settled in the regions of modern Iran, Afghanistan, western Pakistan, Tajikistan and the Zagros Mountains area, becoming the ancestors of the Sogdians, Medes, Persians, Bactrians and many other ancient peoples. The northern Iranian branch – archaeologically represented by the Karasuk culture being a local variety of the Andronovo– became the ancestors of the numerous Saka, Scythian and Sarmatian tribes.

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Karasuk culture warrior (2nd half of 2nd millenn. BC)

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Image copyright: A.I. Solovyev

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This is a rather rare representation by A.I. Solovyev, of a warrior of the Indoeuropean Karasuk culture (c. 1500–700 BC) which flourished in South Siberia and Central Asia. Its core region was located in the Minusinsk Basin, on the Yenisey River and on the upper reaches of the Ob River. This culture was probably the cradle of the northern branch of the Proto-Iranians who became the ancestors of the Sakas, Scythians, Sarmatians, Dahae, Parni (Proto-Parthians), Alans and other nomad Iranian peoples.  Karasuk culture came from local varieties of the older Andronovo culture (2nd millennium BC) that was ancestral to the Proto-Indo-Iranian group.

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