It looks as if the people that founded the Corded Ware culture, largely eliminating the previous LBK-like farmers, were the Yamnaya, themselves a mixed population, approximately half some kind of eastern hunter-gatherer and half some farming populations genetically similar to Armenians.

In which of those two populations did primitive Indo-European – the language – originate? I’m betting on the hunters. I suspect that they’re the ones that domesticated the horse: horses weren’t very common south of the Caucasus, and it doesn’t look as if they were domesticated there.

It’s not easy for farmers to conquer horsemen: easy the other way around.

The dominant Y-chromosome lineages among the Yamnaya (and later, most of Europe and India) originated in those hunters, not in a Middle Eastern population. It is hard to believe in a scenario in which the farmers conquered the hunters and then forced their women on them (Take my wife, please!).

Analyzing old myths and legends, various people smoking superior kinds of dope have argued that there was a ‘war of the functions” – formation wars – at the beginning of the Indo-Europeans, where a group of warriors and priest/magicians/judges conquered farmers. Two estates absorbed the third. Possibly referenced in those sobbin’ women, the Aesir-Vanir war, the Mahabharata, etc.

Moreover, something relevant happened earlier, before the Yamnaya made their big move. Somebody – pastoralists – smashed Old Europe in the Balkans a good deal earlier, and someone (maybe the same people) brought a very early branch of Indo-European into Anatolia ( Hittite, Luwian, Palaic, Carian, etc. ) Then there are the Indo-Aryan languages, and Tocharian: looking at those branches, and the genetics of early speakers, should resolve this problem. For example, if you find a  population of Indo-European speakers that has that eastern hunter-gatherer genetic signature, without the Armenian-like signature, probably the language originated in the hunters. Or vice versa.

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69 Responses to Origins

  1. Bultare says:

    I think these R1(+Q?) EHGs started migrating into the Middle East from both sides of the Caspian right after Europe was settled by the unmixed farmers. Some of them could have spoken pre-PIE which later returned to the “homeland” with new maternal genetics.
    Maybe the R1b-V88 Chadic guys used to speak a distantly related language a long time ago(the understudied Laal isolate being one possibility).

  2. Sean II says:

    “It is hard to believe in a scenario in which the [Armenian-like] farmers conquered the hunters and then forced their women on them (Take my wife, please!).”

    If those girls were anything like the Kardashians, you know…maybe.

  3. IC says:

    forced their women on them (Take my wife, please!).

    Forced their women on outside did happen in Ancient China. But it was in form of (take my daughter, this is offer you can not refuse). Mongol lord did that in China.

    • IC says:

      Köke Temür (王保保) was one of these example.

      Chinese emperor did similar things too with their daughters too, some time fake ones.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Thanks, this is interesting. It’s all the more remarkable since to my knowledge there has always been a shortage of women in China. Although at least in the case of Köke Temür it was the barbarian conquerors who did this to the Han Chinese, and not the other way around. Did Han Chinese also do that on people conquered by them or was it only used by barbarian conquerors on the Chinese?

      • IC says:

        Like I said:”Chinese emperor did similar things too with their daughters too, some time fake ones.”

        In Han and Tang dynasties, the newly surrendered barbarians were offered to become son-in-law in order to secure their loyalty. Happened numerous times. Since the result grand-children with mixed blood line, the barbarians ethnocentrism melt away with it.

        • reiner Tor says:

          Yes, that seems to be quite sensible.

        • IC says:

          To be son-in-law of emperor might sound great to average people. But the truth is like a punishment when the woman you married dominating over you. Cheating with other women might end up with losing your head. You can not a true man with this kind of wife. Also you get spy in your bedroom whose loyalty is your father in law and boss.

          Like Crown of thorns, looks great but hurt inside.

      • CaoMengDe says:

        Actually this is just standard Alliance building thru marriage stuff.

        Köke Temür is actually a special case.

        According to Yuan annals, Köke Temür’s father is Han. But Han has specific meaning during Yuan (Mongol) era, different from modern sense. Yuan regime divided people into 4 castes. 1st one is Mongol, 2nd is Semu (色目, literally meaning colored eyes) , 3rd is Han, which refers to ALL people in NORTH China who do not fall into categories 1 or 2, so Sinicized Khitan and Jurchen all falls into this category as well as native Chinese. The bottom of the hierarchy is Nangkiyas or Mangji which is Mongol pronunciation of Chinese words Nanren (Southerner) or Manzi (蛮子 Barbarian), this is all people previously under Southern Song. Southern Song resisted Mongol for 50 years, was last to be conquered, so its subject was rank last.

        Anyway, Köke Temür’s maternal uncle is Chaghan Temür, a famous warlord in the last days of Yuan empire. According to biography in the Yuan Annals, Chaghan Temür’s ancestor came from Beshbalik, joined Genghis’ army and came to North China. Beshbalik is the summer capital of Uyghur kingdom of KaraKhoja, which means Chaghan Temür’s ancestor is either Turkic Naiman or Uyghur. That makes Chaghan Temür’s family 2nd ranked Semu (色目, colored eyes) just beneath Mongol rulers.

        It seem’s Köke Temür’s dad married up because history makes no mention of his name in contrast to Chaghan Temür’s family. All Chaghan Temür’s children including Köke Temür can be found in Annals. Chaghan Temür adopted Köke Temür as his son, and Köke Temür inherited Chaghan Temür’s army after Chaghan’s death and became the last warlord stalwart of Yuan empire.

  4. AppSocRes says:

    There are many very early Indo-European root words, e.g., laks for salmon, that refer to flora and fauna and on this basis seem to restrict the likely area of origin for proto-IE. I believe that this line of linguistic argument concludes that proto IE originated somewhre in the area around the Caucasus Mountains. Of course, this does not neccessarily mean that later speakers of IE had their gentic roots in this area. Using constructed linguistic family trees to validate genetic descent of human populations is fraught with problems and probably not terribly useful.

    • What about use in the other direction, using genetic descent to validate constructed linguistic family trees?

      • AppSocRes says:

        I’d say that one faces exactly the same kind of problem. Genomic inheritance and linguistic inheritance are two separate and distinct things. For example, even if one found that two populations spoke distantly related languages and appeared to be descendants of a common ancestral population there is still no sure way of knowing that these facts are related. The original population may have split and adopted the languages of different peoples who shared a common linguistic ancestry. Widely separated Mestizo populations in Mexico speak distantly related Indian languages and share some European genes. This isn’t good evidence that there was an original ur-indian language in Europe.

        I’m not arguing that linguistic evidence cannot be used to buttress genetic evidence and vice versa. Rather I”m positing that genetic and linguistic commonalities are suggestive rather than conclusive and should used in conjunction with additional evidence, archaeological, anthropological, or historical, to make a solid argument.

        • In my experience, when the argument flows in the latter direction, even “suggestive” is considered too strong. “Oh, you can’t rely on that at all” is more common. Perhaps that is mostly among the historical linguists who take to getting into online arguments, and not representative of the whole.

          When I took historical linguistics back in the Late Middle Ages, before these newfangled steam-powered professors came on board, there wasn’t much genetic information to work with, so they could get away with that more.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            “Oh, you can’t rely on that at all” is more common. Perhaps that is mostly among the historical linguists who take to getting into online arguments, and not representative of the whole.”

            This usually happens when you mention that the DNA evidence seems to support some of the conclusions of Joseph Greenberg. Near-hysteria often ensues…

          • AppSocRes says:

            I don’t think we’re all that far apart here. It’s worth bringing all available evidence to the table. Where apparent contradictions occur if other evidence overwhelmingly supports one view over another the conclusion should be straightforward. Otherwise I’ll leave it to the experts to wrangle out the correct conclusion.

          • jtgw says:

            I suppose if you had a concrete proposal for how genetics could inform Indo-European historical linguistics, that would be a start. For instance, on linguistic evidence alone we know that the Anatolian languages split off first, followed by Tocharian, followed by Italo-Celtic. If genetic evidence somehow suggested different origins for Anatolian speakers, that unfortunately would not in any way gainsay the linguistic evidence; it would simply prove that the linguistic and genetic heritages of the Anatolians were distinct. However, the linguistic evidence does not make it clear when precisely Germanic split off, except that it must have been after Tocharian. If genetic evidence were very strong that Germanic speaking people form a separate and early branch, one could use that as supporting evidence for an early branching theory of Proto-Germanic. Is that the kind of thing you’re thinking of?

  5. Matt says:

    Re: old myths and legends, and the farmers were conquered by horsemen, if this happened, ignoring myth, there should be a transition in the archaeological record around about the time the Yamna Culture begins.

    It would go from a culture with lots of evidence of agriculture, a Middle Eastern farmer skeletal type, no horse bones, to one with horse bones, little agriculture, a more typically East European hunter gatherer skeletal form. We should see some actual farmers and then some actual conquering.

    If there’s no sign of this in the archaeological record, it probably never happened. Does Anthony, or any reputable source, show any archaeological evidence of this?

    As per JP Mallory, Yamna is supposed to come from the Khvalynsk culture on the middle Volga and the Sredny Stog culture of the middle Dneiper as per JP Mallory. These are the pre-Yamna Cultures on the same territory. Sredny Stog is supposed to be highly mobile and show assemblages of horse bones long before the time of the Yamna culture. Skeletal form of both these people is typically East European Mesolithic ( Where are the farmers? To be more specific, where in the Yamna horizon are the transitional agricultural societies with Near Eastern skeletal types to be conquered?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “It would go from a culture with lots of evidence of agriculture, a Middle Eastern farmer skeletal type, no horse bones, to one with horse bones, little agriculture, a more typically East European hunter gatherer skeletal form. We should see some actual farmers and then some actual conquering.”

      I don’t think you would necessarily if it wasn’t conquest in the usually imagined form but constant raiding by horsemen that led to the raided region gradually depopulating (similar to how the Med. coast depopulated due to Moorish sea raids).

      What you’d see in that case (imo) is settlements disappearing followed by nothing – as the conquered land became no man’s land or extra pasture for the raiders – while at the same time the ripple effects of the dispersal of the displaced population would radiate out from their original territory.

      I think you’d see the effect of the displacement outside the original territory like an over flowing bath.

      If so then if both R1a and R1b were originally on the steppe but with R1a more to the north and east of the steppe and R1b more to the south and west we might expect to see the regions to their south and west depopulating from the raiding and the R1b population becoming more like their southern neighbors in autosomal dna and mtdna followed later by migration of R1b populations south and west into the depopulated zones.

  6. Cpluskx says:

    The Rape of the Sabine Women and Yamnaya autosomal ancestry connection is amazing.

  7. Eugine_Nier says:

    Just because the hunters conquered the farmers, doesn’t mean they imposed their language on them. After all, the Germanic Franks conquered Roman Gaul, yet today the French speak a Romance and not a Germanic Language.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Yes but the Franks conquered Roman Gaul. What if the PIE or PPIE didn’t conquer & hold but raid & displace i.e. the “conquered” population moved away due to constant raiding and the PPIE moved into the depopulated land afterwards so there was no battle over language.

    • gcochran9 says:

      The Franks are a lot less than 50% of French ancestry. Nor, as far as I know, is there evidence for near-complete replacement by Frankish Y-chromosomes.

  8. spandrell says:

    There’s two models of language replacement: Hungary and Bulgaria. Bulgaria is more common; conquerors tend to be few. But if the hunters killed off all the farmer men, they most likely pulled off a Hungary.

    How accurate is to call them “hunters” though? Pure hunter-gatherers in Siberia surely couldn’t muster the manpower to conquer anything. If they had horses they most likely depended on horse meat more than hunting Siberian game; which is what made them numerous enough to go conquering farmers. So why not “early pastoralists”?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “How accurate is to call them “hunters” though?”

      I think “hunters” refers to which half of their ancestry the base language came from.

      • Ilya says:

        The question is: were they still hunters when they had the language (and hence the “Armenian-like” population was pastoralist) or were they already pastoralists by the time they took over other populations, including their Armenian-like component? If the latter, spandrell’s nomenclature makes much more sense.

        Calling them “hunters” if they were already pastoralists is like calling Ashkenazis “pastoralists” because Abraham and his family were.

        • Greying Wanderer says:


          When the Plains Indians (foot bison hunters) got the horse they used them to hunt bison (and raid more settled peoples).

          So maybe foot horse hunters first used horses to hunt more horses (and raid more settled peoples).

          “By the 19th century, Comanche and Kiowa men owned an average of 35 horses and mules each – and only six or seven were necessary for transport and war. The horses extracted a toll on the environment as well as requiring labor to care for the herd. Formerly egalitarian societies became more divided by wealth with a negative impact on the role of women. Rich men took several wives and captives (slaves) to manage their possessions, especially horses.”

          • Jim says:

            Neither the Comanche nor the Kiowa lived on the Plains prior to the inroduction of horses. The Comanche are a Shoshoni band who entered the Llano Estacado about 1700. The Kiowa came from the Taos Pueblos.

            The first Plains Indians to acquire horses were the Apaches who acquired them by trade/theft from Pueblo Indians after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

  9. j says:

    Western Hunters replaced farming Europeans, but why their relatives the Eastern Hunters (Tocharians?) failed with the farming Han and instead turned up as Uyghurs?

    • BB753 says:

      Population density? There´s safety in numbers.

    • Bob says:

      The Tarm Basin has a lot of desert and not as much fertile grassland.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      If wetlands and mountains are good defensive terrain for HGs then maybe the route into China from the Tarim – Wei river valley – was too swampy for the IE and their horses at the time?

    • Weach says:

      Like others have said, the Han didn’t live in current-day Xinjiang back then; that area was more than 2,000 miles from Chang’an, capital of the Han Dynasty at the time. (Farther than Moscow is from Rome, and a lot tougher to get there.) As for the Tocharians, the Xiongnu (possible ancestors of the Huns) eventually drove most of them out of the Tarim Basin and farther west and south. They were never in a position to conquer the Han Dynasty.

    • setstamov says:

      “their relatives the Eastern Hunters (Tocharians?) failed with the farming Han “. Did they? The earliest attestation of Tocharian language is from 3rd-8th century AD (you pick the date). Way too late for any EH ( I mean proto-indo-europeans) to exist – and certainly for an invasion on the single biggest imperial superpower of that time – I mean physical invasion. Now, for a spiritual invasion, they might have done it – I mean the buddhist monks which converted China to buddhism were tocharians.
      As for the Tarim people 2000 years BC – it is far from certain they were Tocharians. To me it feels like overstretch – 3000 years is a long time (look how many nations rose and fall for the last 3000 years in Europe…). Anyway, many linguists claim that there are borrowings from an unknown IE language in Chinese. – not sure if they are right; if the claim is grounded, where this borrowing came from, when, and…why? BTW, who was the Yellow Emperor, the so called founder of the chinese state? Where did he came from? How did he look?

  10. setstamov says:

    There did not have to be a “farming” population. The thing is, no one has done farming in the caspian steppe until 1920-es. It could have been another tribe of herders -middle eastern cattle herders that have migrated to the steppe. Moreover, somebody must have brought the cattle to Yamna steppe from the place where cattle was domesticated -which is, the Iranian plateau or from what is now Afghanistan. Sounds middle-eastern enough? Then horse herders could have met cattle herders. They would have merged their material culture -and tribal structure – and each would have its animal husbandry enriched with the herding species.of the other tribe. One nomadic tribe of herders meets and merges with another. Limitless open sea of grass. Both tribes are herding and know how to protect their stock. Both possess something of value for the other. In this scenario no farmers and no caucasian proxies would be needed. What would farmers do in the unprocessable, hostile, cold soil of caspian steppe 6000 years ago?(still no farming there).

    • Matt says:

      Taurine cattle were domesticated in the Near East, I think. Still, that’s an idea worth considering when there doesn’t seem much evidence of farmers coming into Caspian steppe from the southwest or forming a stable culture there, and would fit better with the apparent evidence that the intrusive neolithic population to Eastern Europe was both strongly differentiated from European Early Farmers, and has strong similarities to Kalash and Indians, minus local South Asian subcontinent genetic contributions.

      Of course, you still actually need fossils of these people though, as some evidence they existed.

      If we have cattle herders coming in from the southeast, around the direction of Iran and Afghanistan, well, they could then conquered by local hunter-gatherers, but… middle eastern nomadic cattle herders, sound like better candidates to domesticate the horse than people living the hunter gatherer life. Maybe the locals know a thing or two about the local wild domesticate horses and use whatever horse whispering knowledge they have to get in on the domestication action, maybe even become the prestige lineage in the hybrid culture.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “There did not have to be a “farming” population. The thing is, no one has done farming in the caspian steppe until 1920-es. It could have been another tribe of herders -middle eastern cattle herders that have migrated to the steppe.”

      Herders on foot being raided by herders with horses in regions unsuited for farming sounds quite plausible.

      Although they could have come from any direction where sheep/goats had been domesticated.

      If you look at the Silk Road trade routes and assume those are the paths of least resistance then any group that domesticated sheep or goats along there could have dispersed quite widely: as herders rather than farmers.

      Just speculating but if the fertile crescent was a big swamp before farmers drained it then most of those assumed paths of least resistance would be blocked and imagining how dispersal might flow in that circumstance hints at any Levantine first farmers dispersal being mostly maritime in which case the separate group of “near eastern” farmers hinted at by Reich might perhaps be recently central Asian herders as somewhere around Krygystan, Tajikistan etc would be equally well suited (purely going by the map) for travel to Iran, Near East, India and the Steppe.

      (This partly stems from reading that apples in western eurasia all come from a species native to the tien shan, south Kazakhstan which made me wonder about pre-farming farmers i.e. herders who planted apple trees wherever they settled. All speculatin’ though.)

      • dearieme says:

        “herders who planted apple trees wherever they settled”: how about herders who had their cattle or horses eat apples, with the obvious dung-related consequences.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          that would definitely be easier but it’s the potential direction of travel for one set of herders i found interesting:
          central asia -> iran -> near east -> middle east
          central asia -> iran -> steppe
          central asia -> iran ->india

  11. Greying Wanderer says:


    User error on my part.

    The main point though is if the introduction of the horse to Plains Indians who hunted Bison on foot led to them hunting Bison on horseback then if it was steppe people who hunted horses on foot who domesticated horses (or even if it wasn’t) the introduction of domesticated horses wouldn’t necessarily turn them into pastoralists but mounted hunters.

    To become pastoralists they’d need to rustle some sheep or cattle.

  12. Malicorne fan says:

    I’ve read a lot about this on West Hunter, Dienekes and Razib on Unz review. I might have missed something, but where does y-chromosome haplogroup I fit in all of this? I thought I was supposed to be indigenous European hunter-gatherer. After the demise of the theory posing the R1b group as Iberian emigrants, I thought the concensus was still that group I was Mesolithic or older, surviving in islands like Scandinavia or the Balkan mountains.

    The Northern European I is very common in those areas heavily influenced by Yamnaya or Yamnaya-like arrivals. It was also kind of common in the Ukraine, but that might be because of later immigration.

    Apologies if anyone already dealt with this.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      I think it’s still considered by most to be pre-neolithic, euro-centric hunter gatherer at the moment but who knows what the next paper may bring.

      • Malicorne fan says:

        But doesn’t it sort of “problematize” the idea of population replacement in Northern Europe? Elsewhere, please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Prof Cochran noted that in places like Italy there was y-chromosomal replacement, if not autosomal replacement by this Corded ware or Corded ware-like arrivals. If haplogroup I-M170, particularly the Northern subgroup of I-M253, were indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers then how do they fit in this?

        It seems like the scenario is Southern type farmers are overwhelmed by R1b and R1a invaders from the East, Group I-M253 hunter-gatherers sort of sit it out and later expand in Nordic Europe, marrying the daughters of the new population? The island-like distribution of group I-M170 certainly points to some sort of separation caused by intrusion, its reminiscent of what one sees in language families with members separated by later invaders. Yet haplotype I-M253, at least in Scandinavia, seems to be very successful for a group of hunter-gatherers with no apparent technological advantages up against an apparently aggresive, expanding and intrusive bunch like the Corded ware. If anybody has a claim to be a real-life analogue to Howard’s Cimmerians, perhaps it is this group.

        • Indiana Jack says:

          I have wondered how haplogroup I1 fits into this scenario as well. My understanding is that I-M253 is thought to have undergone a severe population bottleneck during the period that corresponds to the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. That is easy to explain if one accepts that the indigenous Europeans were killed by the newcomers, but then why is this haplogroup so common today?

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            @Indiana Jack

            Another explanation for the bottleneck would be if only a few of those HGs picked up pastoralism and the population expanded dramatically from those few. This would also explain the modern numbers.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          @Malicorne Fan

          “If haplogroup I-M170, particularly the Northern subgroup of I-M253, were indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers then how do they fit in this?”

          Personally I think when the farmers expanded into Europe the HGs retreated into the mountains and swamps and if things had stayed that way then the HGs would gradually have disappeared however the IE squishing the farmers led to the HG resurgence.

          • Matt says:

            Grey, the HG resurgence had already happened before the Corded Ware culture, they weren’t lurking in swamps.

            Malicorne, hap I2 had already become frequent in the Middle Neolithic Europeans before the Corded Ware Culture entered Europe (possibly the main lineage), then seems to be the main y dna lineage in the post-Corded Ware and post-Bell Beaker Central European Unetice Culture from the samples we have.

            Interactions seem to be complex (“further study is needed” to use a sarcastic Cochranism) and limited overall genetic impact by European hunter gatherers doesn’t seem to have stopped their y dna becoming major lineages among farmers. Same for the Middle Neolithic European types interactions with Corded Ware types.

            Mechanism might be conquering in either instance (e.g. the Unetice Culture have that I2 y-dna dominance and via mtdna studies a very Eastern European / Corded Ware signature of mtdna). Y-dna is simply a single locus and more likely to be subject to strange “lucky” dynamics of expansion when it becomes associated with some lineage of men with a founder who is able to set things up to perpetuate the success of his sons in the long term (e.g. Genghis Khan). This sort of “Get Lucky” / “Go big or go home” conqueror driven expansion might just be less likely in farmers.

  13. Philip Neal says:

    Concerning which Yamnaya ancestors spoke pre-Indo-European, one clue lies in the neglected work of Gordon Whittaker on loan words in Sumerian. Sumerian is an agglutinative language with morphemes of one syllable, and loan words are easily identified from their phonetic shape. Many of them are Akkadian and it is plausible that the Akkadians were in the area long before they rose to dominance. Whittaker claims to show that the residue are taken from an otherwise unknown non-laryngeal Indo-European language which he calls Euphratic. The dataset is small – a few hundred words including farming vocabulary but no wagons or horses – but Whittaker’s thesis, though far from proved, is worth taking seriously. His papers are on and I think that linguists will be impressed by the quality of his work.

    • Haurvatat says:

      Whittaker’s evidence is mostly technical terms likely to be ‘wandering words’.
      But, he does provide Vedic-Sumerian mythological parallels prbly better explained as a Harappan substrate acquired by Indic religion.

  14. Haurvatat says:

    Horses were almost definitely domesticated by a hunter-gatherer population, though surely under Neolithic herdsman influence. Since wild horse were wide ranging & mobile, unsettled groups of large game hunters (probably similar economically to the Patagonians/Fuegians, but focusing on steppe ponies and not guanaco) were better adapted to start taming the wild herds.

    Yuri Berezkin notices that the legacy of big game hunting is that high risk but status-conferring quarry, such as the tapir for the Maya, have mythological symbolism reflecting opposition and destructiveness. Berezkin observes widespread negativity towards the origins of horses in IE traditions, despite the high status of the animals themselves. (For example, the origin of Sleipnir as kin of Loki and his demonic offspring.) This Berezkin interprets as reflecting Pontic steppe ecology/economy in the time before the IE expansions, before horses became tame.

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