Late last fall, I reported that scientists had discovered a European ghost population. This group of people then referred to as the ANE, Ancient Northern Europeans, was a previously unknown population from the north that had mixed into the known European populations, the Hunter-Gatherers and the farmers from the Middle East, the Neolithic.
That discovery came as a result of the full genome sequencing of a few ancient specimens, including one from the Altai.
Recently, several papers have been published as a result of ongoing sequencing efforts of another 200 or so ancient specimens. As a result, scientists now believe that this ghost population has been identified as the Yamnaya and that they began a mass migration in different directions, including Europe, about 5,000 years ago. Along with their light skin and brown eyes, they brought along with them their gene(s) for lactose tolerance. So, if you have European heritage and are lactose tolerant, then maybe you can thank your Yamnaya ancestors.
For those of us who avidly follow these types of discoveries, this is not only amazing, it’s wonderful news. It helps to continue to explain how and why some haplogroups are found in the Native American population and in the Northern European population as well. For example, haplogroup Q is found in both places – not exact duplicates, but certainly close enough for us to know they were at one time related. It also explains how people from Germany, for example, are showing small percentages of Native American ancestry. Their common ancestors were indeed from central Asia, thousands of years ago, and we can still see vestiges of that population today in both groups of people.
So, if the Yamnaya people are the ghost people, the ANE, who are they?
The Yamna culture was primarily nomadic and was found in Russia in the Ural Region, the Pontic Steppe, dating to the 36th-23rd century BC. It is also known as the Pit Grave Culture, the Ochre Grave Culture and feeds into the Corded Ware Culture.
Characteristics for the culture are burials in kurgans (tumuli) in pit graves with the dead body placed in a supine position with bent knees. The bodies were covered in ochre. Multiple graves have been found in these kurgans, often as later insertions. The first known cart burial is also found in a kurgan grave. A kurgan often appears as a hill, example shown below, and have been found in locations throughout eastern and northern Europe..
Additionally, some scientists believe that the Yamna culture was responsible for the introduction of PIE, Proto-Indo-European-Language, the now defunct mother-tongue of European languages. Others think it’s way too soon to tell, and that suggestion is jumping the gun a bit.
Why might these recent discoveries be important to many genetic genealogists? Primarily, because Y haplogroup R has been identified in ancient Russian remains dating from 2700-3400 BCE. Haplogroup R and subgroups had not been found in the ancient European remains sequenced as of last fall. In addition, subgroups of mitochondrial haplogroups U, W, H, T and W have been identified as well.
Keep in mind that we are still dealing with less than 300 skeletal remains that have been fully sequenced. This trend may hold, or a new discovery may well cause the thought pattern to be “reconfigured” slightly or significantly. Regardless, it’s exciting to be part of the learning and discovery process.
Oh yes, and before I forget to mention it…it seems that your Neanderthal ancestors may not be as far back in your tree as you thought. They have now found 40,000 year old skeletal remains that suggest that person’s great-great-grandfather was in fact, full Neanderthal. That’s significantly later than previously thought, by 10,000 or 20,000 years, and in Europe, not the Near East…and who knows what is just waiting to be found. The new field of ancient DNA is literally bursting open as we watch.
I’ve accumulated several recent articles and some abstracts so that you can read about these interesting developments, in summary, and not have to do a lot of searching. Enjoy!
Modern Europe was formed by milk-drinking Russians: Mass migration brought new genetic makeup to continent 5,000 years ago
DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans
Science – Nomadic Herders Left a Strong Genetic Mark on Europeans and Asians
Nature – DNA Data Explosion Light Up the Bronze Age
From the European Nucleotide Archive. http://www.ebi.ac.uk/ena/data/view/PRJEB9021
Investigation of Bronze Age in Eurasia by sequencing from 101 ancient human remains. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native American
The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.
The findings echo those of a team that sequenced 69 ancient Europeans3. Both groups speculate that the Yamnaya migration was at least partly responsible for the spread of the Indo-European languages into Western Europe.
The report on the 69 ancient remains sequenced is below.
Steppe migration rekindles debate on language origin
The Harvard team collected DNA from 69 human remains dating back 8,000 years and cataloged the genetic variations at almost 400,000 different points. The Copenhagen team collected DNA from 101 skeletons dating back about 3,400 years and sequenced the entire genomes.
Population genetics of Bronze Age Eurasia
Dienekes Anthropology Blog
Forensic Science International: Genetics Received 2 January 2014; received in revised form 21 May 2014; accepted 25 May 2014. published online 04 June 2014.
The Altai Mountains have been a long term boundary zone between the Eurasian Steppe populations and South and East Asian populations. Mitochondrial DNA analyses revealed that the ancient Altaians studied carried both Western (H, U, T) and Eastern (A, C, D) Eurasian lineages. In the same way, the patrilineal gene pool revealed the presence of different haplogroups (Q1a2a1-L54, R1a1a1b2-Z93 and C), probably marking different origins for the male paternal lineages.
Dienekes Anthropology Blog
Includes mitochondrial haplogroups C, U2e, T, U5a, T1, A10.
Population Genetics copper and Bronze Age populations of Eastern Steppe, thesis by Sandra Wilde
http://ubm.opus.hbz-nrw.de/volltexte/2015/3975/ (in German)
Eurogenes blog discusses
Early European May Have Had Neanderthal Great-Great-Greandparent
40,000 year old Romanian skeleton with 5 – 11% Neanderthal, including large parts of some chromosomes – as close as a great-grandparent. Previously thought that interbreeding was in the Middle East and 10,000 or 20,000 years earlier.
How is this all happening?
The Scientist Magazine has a great overview in the June 1, 2015 edition, in “What’s Old is New Again.”
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