Before the Indo-Europeans in Ukraine

It’s been ten years since I read The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. It’s a great book, but some of the material was very wrong. The author, David Anthony, helped provide samples which undercut his thesis that Indo-Europeanization in Europe was mostly a matter of elite cultural diffusion. Rather, it looks as if there was a massive migration from the steppes.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language was heavy on archaeology which I found hard to follow. The Cucuteni–Trypillia culture plays a major role in the narrative since it seems to have been a source of cultural influence on the Yamnaya steppe culture which eventually overran it. A new preprint seems to confirm that there was a genetic discontinuity. Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from Verteba Cave, Ukraine: insights into the origins and expansions of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Cututeni-Tripolye Culture

…Burials at Verteba Cave are largely commingled and secondary in nature. A total of 68 individual bone specimens were analyzed. Most of these specimens were found in association with well-defined Tripolye artifacts. We determined 28 mtDNA D-Loop (368 bp) sequences and defined 8 sequence types, belonging to haplogroups H, HV, W, K, and T. These results do not suggest continuity with local pre-Eneolithic peoples, but rather complete population replacement. We constructed maximum parsimonious networks from the data and generated population genetic statistics…We find different signatures of demographic expansion for the Tripolye people that may be caused by existing population structure or the spatiotemporal nature of ancient data. Regardless, peoples of the Tripolye Culture are more closely related to early European farmers and lack genetic continuity with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or pre-Eneolithic groups in Ukraine.

There is stuff in the preprint about population expansion. My personal opinion is that in most cases genetics doesn’t add much beyond what archaeology does for humans in reconstructing population history. Rather, these results in concern with others are strongly indicative of population turnover. Uniparental lineages are still useful, but only in the context of other data.

The great thing about genetics when it is so clear and striking is that it clears up confusions about relationships in the past that otherwise would be unclear. It’s like having a time machine. So we now know that early European farmers (EEF) were ancestors of this particular culture. Over the next decade or so we’ll get a really granular understanding of the ebb and flow of populations across prehistoric and historic Europe. This won’t abolish all controversy, but it will reduce the space of the unknown….

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