Another one bites the dust!

Iain Mathieson and the Reich-Patterson crew have a new paper out on natural selection over the past 8,000 years in Europe, much fortified by the availability of ancient DNA and knowledge of the ancestral mix.

The first point is that lactose tolerance is a fairly late development in Europe, not common (unseen in these samples) until almost the bronze age (first seen in a Bell Beaker skeleton).  In particular they don’t see it (not common) in the Yamnaya, which must mean that it wasn’t a driver of the Indo-European expansion: we were wrong.  I suspect it did exist in the early Indo-Europeans, since we see the same haplotype in India, but one guy wandering around can change the distribution of an adaptive allele. I also don’t understand how they got such a low estimate of its selective advantage (1.5%), but maybe I can winkle that out.

It looks as if there was selection for greater height among the Yamnaya – a possible parallel with Nilotics?

The strong light-skin allele, SLC24A5, does look to be mainly introduced by the early neolithic farmers, but there’s weirdness.  It’s not found in the western hunter-gatherers, but it is there in Scandinavian hunter-gatherers, where you also see the well-known EDAR 370A mutation. It’s even possible that it originated there – but it’s rare in Europeans today, although you see it in Finns a little.






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67 Responses to Another one bites the dust!

  1. Kam says:

    You are capable of admitting you were wrong. Not something you see often on the blogosphere….

  2. Yudi says:

    Perhaps, if your entire economy revolves around herding large animals, it is advantageous to be bigger (and presumably stronger), so as to be able to control them better.

    • Matt says:

      Height might be good for mobility, if you’re pastoralist and maybe you have horses, but you’re not that good with them yet, not like Turkics or Mongols would be a couple thousand years later.

      So you’re more similar in the environment’s demands on mobility to East African pastoralists, similarly effectively low on horses.

      This could be checked out with some genetic analysis that looks specifically at standing vs sitting height associations. If the data is there.

  3. Justin says:

    “We were wrong”. I stand in awe of your scientific fundamentalism, really impressive for you to say this about such a compelling hypothesis. Economists could learn a lot coughJohn Taylorcough coughall those stimulus hackscough.

    On the whiteness in Finns. I’ve noticed that Finns are white in a different way than Swedes. On top of having a tendency toward a more Elf-like, gracile appearance (with squinty Spock eyes, like me), Finns also show more pigmentation variation. I’ve known full-blooded Finns who are as dark as Sicilians.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Failed ideas you keep on the top shelf of the closet: if it turned that those Yamnaya were atypical I’d be happy to revive it. But probably that’s not the case.

      I will defend the idea as not obviously crazy, even if wrong.

      • Yudi says:

        Perhaps there is a way of salvaging the theory. If lactose tolerance arose in the Bell Beaker culture, and if BB was IE-speaking (or if it was quickly passed to IE-speakers near BB), then it would have quickly increased in IE-speaking Northern Europeans, giving them a fitness improvement and keeping them from being overrun by future invaders. In other words, lactose tolerance was not needed for the original IE expansion, but maybe it cemented their advantage, allowing them to persist into the present.

        When I discussed these things with a friend of mine, he pointed out that early-Holocene Europe was quite sparsely populated, making rapid and large-scale genetic change over a large area relatively easy for invading groups. As the continent became more densely populated, replacement got harder (Genghis Khan’s decision not to depopulate northern China ultimately came about because China’s dense population made leaving the natives alive an easier choice than killing them). Perhaps Europe passed some kind of threshold that made replacing the population very difficult to do, so that migrants after the IEs tended to blend into existing populations instead of wholly replacing them. Maybe lactose tolerance played a role in keeping northern Europe’s population relatively high until the moldboard plow appeared.

    • Fake Herzog says:

      What did John Taylor get wrong?

      • Justin says:

        Basically everything Scott Sumner has been harping on for 6 years. Deviations from the Taylor rule didnt cause the crisis, backward looking inflation rules are suboptimal, QE worked, Evans rule worked better. Interest rates are not a good indicator of much, by themselves.

  4. Farin says:

    I find it a bit worrisome how you guys talk about humans – as if we were dealing with the issue of animal species. Reminds me a bit of a certain era in Germany in the first half of the previous century.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I am under the weather, so would appreciate if various people give this pinhead the abuse he deserves, insofar as that can be done by purely verbal methods.

      • Farin says:

        “Pinhead” – is that a scientific term?

        Greg Cockroach – my physically blessed Übermensch – if the choice of words of an individual tells us more about the personality of the subject, then I slowly get a clue where to put you and your “work”.

        As a physically challenged person, you prove that Science can be the new “Hollywood of the ugly men”. Congratulations!

        You and the “various” freaky, socially-excluded followers that you can “virtually” rely on – some of them obviously perceive you as their idol and Führer – want to “abuse” me for highlighting the similarity of your “work” with Nazi-eugenics and Nazi racial theories? Another very revealing statement, proving your lack of personal and scientific integrity. I created a screenshot of your statement for further usage!

        It seems to me like this is the playground of the shunned, sociopathic loners, who at one point in their life – after they realized that they will never have an active social life, sexual relationships or their own family – decided to spend all their free time discussing nonsensical theories about the origins of mankind. To each his own I guess.

        Good luck “abusing” people Cockroach!

    • JayMan says:


      No, just whatever species you are.

    • teageegeepea says:

      Humans are a species of animal. That’s how scientists analyze them.

      Off-topic: I’m surprised Henry Harpending hasn’t posted here about his paper with Peter Frost highlighted at Marginal Revolution.

    • I find it worrisome that you do not accept that evolution applies to all species, including homo sapiens. Why not read more of the blog, before revealing your lack of understanding?

    • amac78 says:

      Farin, good point, but you are a bit late to the party. There’s this guy who discovered vernaization about 90 years ago.

      I don’t quite recall how that worked out. Do you?

    • Yudi says:

      Farin, let me guess: you view Creationists as benighted, unscientific yokels. How does it feel to be one of them?

    • Justin says:

      Humans are biological machines (animals). One way to better understand them (inherently interesting) is to work out the history of their source code using statistics. If this doesn’t align with your religious views, I suggest forming your hand into a fist, and seeing how far you can push it into your own rectum. This should keep you busy while we discuss the research.

    • John Hostetler says:

      Must mean Weimar – sheep for the fleecing.

    • Erik says:

      Hmm. My first guess would have been to Otto Bismarck, but he lived late 19th, not early 20th century. So I suppose Farin is comparing us to Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose “place in the sun” rhetoric and colonial ambitions did indeed treat people somewhat as animals who were means, rather than ends. He also greatly expanded the German navy, attempting to compete with Britain – so I’m going to speculate that Farin is a Brit himself and worried about the secret army of the night (see Donate button) turning out to be a secret navy of the night, or perhaps a horde of some kind of amphibious monstrosity.

      If I’ve guessed wrong, Farin, I invite you to explain yourself at greater length. And perhaps when you do that, hopefully your next comment will actually include content that isn’t merely whining about your badfeel on the internet, nor borderline-spammy derailment such as bringing up postindustrial naval history when the topic is lactose tolerance in the bronze age.

      Please take it as assumed that I would discourage you from other forms of shitposting too, but as I cannot predict them all in advance, I merely list explicitly the ones you’ve committed so far. However, I have no doubt Greg will ban you for other offenses too if you commit those, such as calling him a communist, racist, feminist, or other kinds of -ist. As we say at the soccer club: “Play the ball, not the man”; meaning, discuss the matters we are directed to by the blog authors, rather than discussing those or other people except insofar as they pertain to the abovementioned matters.

    • candid_observer says:

      Isn’t the corollary of Godwin’s law that the intelligence of a commenter is inversely proportional to the time it takes him to bring up a certain era in Germany in the first half of the previous century, approaching 0 if it’s his first comment on the thread?

    • melendwyr says:

      Humans are a type of animal, as even the ancients recognized. As such, all of the principles we use to understand animals apply to humans – although the principles we apply to humans don’t necessarily apply to animals.

      As for last century’s Germany – that country fell from being one of the high points of Western Civilization to being one of the worst bastions of pernicious, unscientific dogma. Care to guess which condition your comments would be best at home in?

    • Ian says:

      Just another Darwinist from the neck below. Oh, wait… we weren’t even talking about that nasty IQ thing…

  5. Matt says:

    Re: Yamnaya height, effect size is 0.6 over the sample average in age and sex standardised height sd. Height SD is 3inches, so 1.8 inches.

    CEU (euro americans from utah) is around 0.2 over the study average, so 1.2 inches over CEU. Estimate they’d be 5’11” in conditions where CEU is 5’10”, 5’6″ in nutritional conditions where CEU would be 5’5″. Middle Neolithic pre-yamnaya Germans would apparently be around 0.5 inches shorter than CEU, by the same measure. Maasai-like for a certain value of that.

    • gcochran9 says:

      We could also consider the actual averaged height of the Yamnaya, estimated from skeletons: about 5’9″. With some much taller: “The height of these four prehistoric inhabitants of Krasnodar was recorded as 2.1m (~6’11”) for the men and 1.97m (~6’6″) for the women.”

  6. Flinders Petrie says:

    Kumis it was then for the Yamnaya. Whatever the early Indo-Europeans were, being taller and drunker probably did not bode well for their victims.

  7. Matt says:

    Shame there’s no Hirisplex analysis on this one. The Yamnaya don’t look blonde from the SNPs an amateur picked out from them though.

  8. Cpluskx says:

    More questions than answers: What was the driver of the IE expansion? Why did Europeans select for such light features later? How come Eastern IE were quite light unlike Yamnaya?

    • Yudi says:

      Re: IE expansion, I’m gonna go with them domesticating the horse and probably inventing the wheel, at this point. The lactose tolerance business would have been a pretty sweet bonus, but if it’s not right, it’s not right.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “What was the driver of the IE expansion”

      a competitive advantage in axe mediated meritocracy

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        meant to have a question mark at the end

      • Justin says:

        Say they have the horse and chariots. Plus the cold-weather effect that hardened the Huns and Mongols so well. Still, how is it that they are almost never checked? No one figures out how to counter them for thousands of years? They must have been mean sons of bitches. As good an explanation as any now that we don’t have the horse milk story.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          My theory is they jumped straight from hunter to warrior elite i.e. they captured farmers / herders rather than became them. The advantage of that would be they could spend all their time practicing.

        • Matt says:

          Genetically, its tricky to know what impact the core Yamnaya made outside North Europe, and it may not have been that great when it appears there is little Eastern European Hunter Gatherer ancestry (which the Yam have in spades) outside Europe and Russia. Elite lineages perhaps but maybe not much else. Needs more adna work.

          Still, regardless of genetics, they probably innovated the warrior culture at an optimum time in a time when there were few other alternatives, and the practices, myths and language spread.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            I think there is an irony here in that an expanding culture with a narrow polygamous warrior elite taking lots of wives from the peoples they conquer may end up passing on their ydna but losing their adna – how much lost being proportional to the population density of the people they conquer and how far from the source.

          • Matt says:

            Although, Grey, if that happened and the homeland people still had more “moxie” than the conquered, you’d expect to see waves out of the urheimat keep on happening until its more or less the same outcome as if they didn’t intermix in the first place.

            But if the waves stop immediately, the homeland folks probably didn’t have a genetic advantage, or it was something which could get selected to the same level in the sons of the conquered pretty quickly.

  9. Greying Wanderer says:

    If SLC24A5 was in both the SHG and the first herders then doesn’t that make it less likely to be an adaptation to farmer diet and if so more likely to be a latitude or some other environmental adaptation.

    Which I think implies either
    1) the SHG and first herders both evolved it separately in similar environments
    2) there was some back route between the SHG region and the first herder region
    3) they both picked it up separately from two separate populations of the same species of mountain yeti.

    • the haplotype does not vary much in modern populations fwiw. very recent strong sweep. the little diversity there is suggests it arose between syria and pakistan.

    • Sean says:

      1) Lots of people live at that latitude as HG on meat and don’t have those or similar adaptations. And how can SLC24A5 be to compensate for deficiencies in neolithic food at latitude if SHG had it?

      2) At the end of the ice age the steppe tundra hunters of the European plain followed the herds of reindeer north to Scandinavia as the ice retreated.

      In view of 1, the most likely scenario is not the SLC24A5 of Scandinavian HG having originated in Scandinavia. So it probably got there from somewhere else, and 2 suggests that somewhere else was the European plain.

  10. Greying Wanderer says:

    “It looks as if there was selection for greater height among the Yamnaya”

    I was hoping the height was introgression. If it was selected for then one advantage of height is reach.

    • Matt says:

      One thing about Yamaha height, again, is that the Late Neolithic groups who replaced the Corded Ware in Germany (perhaps with some violence involved), Corded Ware, Bell Beaker, Unetice – they look the same height as modern CEU, genetically.

      Despite having ancestry modelled as predominantly from Yamnaya (75% in CW) and Middle Neolithic Germans scarcely shorter (by genetic analysis) than CEU. Suggests a degree of selection for modern heights in the late neolothic to early Bronze Age, or at least a cessation of greater height selection (unlike pigment selection which continues apace).

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        Secretly I’m still holding out for my preferred outcome which is giant blood getting diluted over time.

        • Matt says:

          Mysterious ancient giant humans in Central Asia could, I guess be possible – no doubt there are stranger ideas in the annals of cryptoanthropology.

          But diluted over time doesn’t seem to be what happened in the LNBA people, who were over half Yamnaya (Corded Ware 70%, Bell Beaker and Unetice 50%, other samples around 60%) yet genetically seem around 0.6 taller than the Middle Neolithic Germans, a far cry from the Yamnaya who seem to have about a 2 inch advantage over MNG. Either the Yamnaya height is not representative of those who mixed into Germany, or there’s some negative selection for height.

  11. Tore says:

    About the Scandinavians:

    Mikkel Sørensen, Tuija Rankama, Jarmo Kankaanpää, Kjel Knutsson, Helena Knutsson, Stine Melvold, Berit Valentin Eriksen og Håkon Glørstad: ”The First Eastern Migrations of People and Knowledge into Scandinavia: Evidence from Studies of Mesolithic Technology, 9th-8th Millennium BC,” Norwegian Archaeological Review, 16. april 2013.

    In this paper a team of Scandinavian researchers identifies and describes a Mesolithic technological concept, referred to as ‘the conical core pressure blade’ concept, and investigates how this concept spread into Fennoscandia and across Scandinavia. Using lithic technological, contextual archaeological and radiocarbon analyses, it is demonstrated that this blade concept arrived with ‘post-Swiderian’ hunter-gatherer groups from the Russian plain into northern Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic during the 9th millennium bc. From there it was spread by migrating people and/or as transmitted knowledge through culture contacts into interior central Sweden, Norway and down along the Norwegian coast. However it was also spread into southern Scandinavia, where it was formerly identified as the Maglemosian technogroup 3 (or the ‘Sværdborg phase’). In this paper it is argued that the identification and spread of the conical core pressure blade concept represents the first migration of people, technology and ideas into Scandinavia from the south-eastern Baltic region and the Russian plain.

    2 more:
    Tuija Rankama og Jarmo Kankaanpää: ”First evidence of eastern Preboreal pioneers in arctic Finland and Norway,” Quartär 58 (2011), 183-209. Kan lastes ned her.

    Jarmo Kankaanpää og Tuija Rankama: ”Post-Swiderian in the Barents Sea Region,” i S. A. Vaseliév og V. Ya Shumkin (red.): Mesolithic and Neolithic of Eastern Europe: Chronology and Culture Interaction (oversatt fra originaltittel på russisk), Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Material Culture/Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Etnography, St. Petersburg 2012.

  12. dearieme says:

    Finns ain’t what they used to be.

  13. j says:

    Why cant we pin down this Yamnaya person like a butterfly? He appears here and there, now raises horses then grows to seven feet tall, carries Neanderthal and other unnamed genes or it doesnt. Now they are saying that he took genes from fungus and bacteria. Yamnaya lacks fixed identity, it will become anything just for surviving. Not only the Yamnaya, everything alive. A new language is required to talk about lifeforms.

  14. setstamov says:

    D-r. Cochran, actually, you might be right about LT emerging in the IEs and being the engine of their dispersal. IF Yamnaya is not the birthplace of LT AND is not a bearer of the european physical phenotype, I do not see how could possibly Yamnaya be the home of PIE. I mean, how did blue eyes, blond hair and lactose tolerance arrived to Indo-Iranian tribes from South Asia, South West Asia, Andronovo, Tarim River states and even further south east if they did not rose in (nor even crossed) Yamnaya, but in Bell Beaker instead, and Yamnaya still be considered the starting point of the II migration south? Check with the map (it is based on Reich & Haak’s research) that represents contemporary distribution of the Bell Beaker alleles in Eurasia. It is not only the blue eyes and LT that somehow jumped from BB to south and central asia (think of scythians, tocharians, kalash, sarmatians and many more of the ancient Indo-Iranians. So, you were right about LT; And Reich’s team is wrong – It is not Yamnaya that is the homeland of the Indo-Europeans. It is Bell Beaker.
    Check with the map of BB heritage: – actually, the BB heritage in contemporary SW Asians makes better sence than their Yamnaya heritage – at least visually.

    It is so obvious. Does Reich’s team know that? I think they certainly do. Then why are they saying that it is Yamnaya? I think they do not want to get into an even bigger mess than they are into now. Besides, Yamnaya probably makes about one half of BB’s genome (via CW or else – say Bells are an earlier offshot of Yamnaya); Moreover, the langage perhaps comes from Yamnaya. But the Eurasian dispersal of IE tribes comes from BB.
    If Reich says that BB is the home of european phenotype and LT, its his way of saying that it is BB that is the home of PIE and not Yamnaya – last might still be the beginning of PIE, followed by an intermediary spot further west as a first step of the PIE migration – BB in Central Europe, which would then become the hotspot of all IE migrations that followed.
    Think about it.

    • Michael says:

      Wow. You are pretty not so smart.

      • setstamov says:

        Hey, what’s up, Miky, where you’ve been?
        It would be beneficiary for discussion if the blog owners install some sort of stupidity filter – a simple math test or few general comprehension questions would do – to reduce the most pronounced cases of profanity and the overall level of imbeciles popping up among the commenters – at least partially. Cheers.
        Now, I would be grateful if someone make even the slightest speculation how BB alleles ended en masse in Northern India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan Iran including those missing in Yamnaya as in the case of LT allele (and many others with pronounced phenotypic expression), without Yamnaya being an intermediary for this dispersal, since the alleles were not found there.
        BTW Unetice culture is simply a late stage of central european BB, or at least this is the consensus in mainstream archeology; The next phase of Unetice – the so called Villanova culture entered Italian peninsula, located just south of U and 3 centuries after its arrival on the Apennines settle in Lacio area in central Italy and founded a small village there. Later known as Rome among historians. Roman dna, anyone? So much skeletal material from both republican and imperial period and not a single attempt to establish the genetic origin – and genetic heritage -of the Romans? No way.

  15. BurplesonAFB says:

    You see a little of a lot of things in Finns.

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  17. Charles says:

    As for height, how about IGF1 ?

    The Yamnaya were still pastoralists, or at least herders right?

    While lactose persistence unlocks additional caloric content of “fresh” milk, most is consumed in fermented forms. – kiefer, curds etc

    Pastoralists are usually taller than their farmer neighbors -Nilotics in particular!

    • Matt says:

      I think the selective signals they mentioned were what they found – if there was a very large FST on IGF1, it would’ve been mentioned? Although this may well have contributed to the height prediction to some degree.

      Re: pastoralism v agriculture, that’s an interesting point, but seems some are, some aren’t. Bedouin aren’t any larger than other Arabs, supposedly. Mongols seem a little shorter perhaps than North Han Chinese. I’m not sure about comparing stature among pastoralists in Iran and China to agriculturalist neighbours.

      The really tall pastoralists seem to be on foot in East Africa, like the Maasai and Kikuyu. Even there, the Somali pastoralists don’t seem that large (more skinny).

      Although, if we are linking pastoralism in the Yamnaya with height, it’s strange that Yamnaya genetic heights cluster to a greater extent with the German Middle Neolithic populations than the German Middle Neolithics do with the Iberians – i.e. the “farmers” in Germany and Iberia are a little more different from one another in height than the German farmers were from Yamnaya –

      Extended data figure 6 from the paper

      And that’s true since the very start of the Early Neolithic in Germany and Iberia.

  18. Greying Wanderer says:


    “Although, Grey, if that happened and the homeland people still had more “moxie” than the conquered, you’d expect to see waves out of the urheimat keep on happening until its more or less the same outcome as if they didn’t intermix in the first place.”

    Maybe but take one stage at a time.

    If you have a pastoralist culture with a warrior elite who take over an adjacent culture and the warrior elite take a lot of wives from the conquered population and dilute their adna and then the offspring of this repeat the process on the next adjacent culture then hypothetically in a long trek from say Iran to India where this happened multiple times the end result could be a population that had 100% the original ydna but much less of the original adna.

    This is clearly possible.

    But as you say why wouldn’t the entire process – from steppe to destination – happen multiple times constantly adding more steppe adna?

    One possible explanation might be that the first expansion made mounted warrior elites the norm thus reducing the steppe culture’s big advantage (until periodic cavalry related technological shifts periodically brought it back again).

    • Matt says:

      These early guys, if they had horses, may not have fought from them, so it might be about the spread of using horses to support and more foot army and pursue, not necessarily mounted warriors. I know little about this though, not sure how important the horse vs Indo European culture is here.

      On reoccurance, in this instance when any advantage came back, it came back to other steppe peoples, who weren’t necessarily like the Yamnaya and to varying extents had replaced them on the Yamaha horizon (including Russia) and then may have been replaced again by modern peoples (expanding Slavs, etc).

  19. Greying Wanderer says:

    On the lactose tolerance thing. If the allele was only carried by a few individuals but expanded dramatically when it reached the Atlantic coast wouldn’t that a) potentially explain west euro homogeneity and b) couldn’t the selective advantage be roughly estimated if the frequency went from 1% to x% over y generations?

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