To a good approximation, Europeans are descended from three populations: mesolithic hunter-gatherers, Anatolian farmers ( EEF) and Yamnaya pastoralists.
When this story begins, about ten thousand years ago, Europe was occupied by hunter-gatherers – foragers with sophisticated flint tools ( microliths) bows, and dugout canoes. In terms of social organization and technology, they were like archaic Amerindians (before agriculture). Many Amerindians on the west coast were still like that when Europeans arrived. Those European hunter-gatherers were themselves the product of a recent expansion out of the Balkans about 14,000 years ago, as the glaciers retreated. They did not have the major alleles causing light skin in contemporary Europeans, so probably had somewhat dark skin – exactly how dark is uncertain because they may have had their own skin-lightening mutations. They had high frequencies of the mutation that is the main cause of blue eyes.
Next came the first farmers, who started colonizing Europe about 8800 years ago. They originated in northwest Anatolia, and gradually spread over Europe by two paths: along the northern coast of the Mediterranean, and up the Danube. Eventually (by 6,000 years ago) populations of this sort occupied almost all of Europe, from Greece up to Sweden and as far west as England and Ireland. The stone-age farmers in the northern path (which led to the LBK culture) grew emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, peas, and lentils. As they moved into the Balkans, they picked up broomcorn millet, not in the original Southwest Asian agricultural toolkit. They raised cattle, pigs, goats, and old-fashioned sheep (not yet wooly). They preferred to farm loess soils near rivers, and lived in long houses arranged in small villages.
The settlers in the southern path had a similar kind of agriculture – but with tetraploid wheats, and without broomcorn. Both hunters and farmers had stone tools, no metals (at first), no horses.
There appears to have been another, very early migration that brought a different flavor of farmer to the Peloponnese and Crete – groups with ancestry from the eastern of the Fertile Crescent (the Zagros mountains of Iran) that did not use pottery. This migration did not go past Greece.
Not counting the Peloponnese, all these farming populations had a common origin and probably spoke related languages. In fact there is some recent evidence for that. We do not have to rely solely on Don Ringe’s talent as an inverse weathervane.
This is similar to Renfrew’s model for the expansion of Indo-European, but there is good reason to believe that Indo-European languages were introduced later, from the steppes. Renfrew’s theory is a good explanation of expansion of the languages carried by these Anatolian farmers, of which Basque is probably the only language still extant. It was just published 5000 years too late.
The original expansion of these Anatolian-origin farmers did not entail much mixing with the local hunter-gatherers: they were about 90% Anatolian. And there was friction, judging from skull-collections and forts, some of which show evidence of being stormed and burned by bow-wielding enemies. But significant numbers of hunter-gatherers hung around (without much genetic mixing) for a long time, a couple of thousand years, and this eventually led to a higher level of hunter-gatherer ancestry. This may have something to do with a style of farming that only worked in a fairly small fraction of the landscape (loess soils), leaving a lot of room for foragers. Farming in general was less effective than you might think, particularly in northern Europe, because the more cold-tolerant grain crops, like rye and oats, hadn’t been domesticated yet.
The archaeology of these Neolithic shows no evidence of strong hierarchy – no obvious palaces or temples. They sometimes had conflicts with the remaining hunter-gatherers, and they occasionally massacred each other, for unknown reasons.
The modern population genetically closest to these early farmers is Sardinian, specifically people living in Ogliastra province, in the southeastern mountains. Look at Neolithic DNA from Germany, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, England, Ireland: they all are genetically close to Sardinians. Otzi, the Iceman found frozen in northern Italy, looks Sardinian. And the way Sardinians look is informative: they have light skin and dark hair. Almost none are blondes or redheads. Apparently a wave of early farmers settled the Sardinian highlands, which, over the next seven thousand years, no else has really wanted.
More generally, most of the ancestry of southern Europeans – Spain, Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean islands – goes back to these Anatolian farmers.
But there’s more to the story – the Aryans. Indo-Europeans.
The idea that a population moved off the steppe and made a major contribution to Europe’s culture and genetics was around a long time before people began studying ancient DNA. Mostly it was a product of linguistic analysis – just as the Romance languages such as French and Spanish and Italian are known to be descendants of Latin, almost all the languages of Europe ( and most of those in India and Iran) have deep similarities that suggest a common origin. For example, numbers:
English one two three four five six seven eight nine ten
Dutch een twee drie vier vijf zes zeven acht negen tien
German eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht neun zehn
Icelandic einn tveir þrír fjórir fimm sex sjö átta níu tíu
Latin u:nus duo tre:s quattuor quinque sex septem octo: novem decem
Welsh un dau tri pedwar pump chwech saith wyth naw deg
Tocharian A sas wu tre s’twar päñ säk spät okät ñu s’äk
Lithuanian víenas dù try~s keturì penkì sheshì septynì ashtuonì devynì de:shimt
Russian odín dva tri chety’re pyat’ shest’ sem’ vósem’ dévyat’ désyat’
Farsi yak do se chaha:r panj shesh haft hasht noh dah
Sanskrit éka dvá trí catúr páñca s.as. saptá as.tá náva dáça
Nesbergu ai tah tro keti pekki sews eff owok neh tek
Linguistic archaeology has elucidated some facts about that the original Indo-Europeans. They raised horses, cattle, sheep and goats, had dogs, and farmed ( but not much). They had the wheel, used copper but not iron. They were patriarchal and warlike. They seem to have had young warrior bands (koryos) that went on seasonal raids and were compared to wolf packs. This tradition involving raising a dog as a pet and then sacrificing it, which is just wrong.
Not long after the invention of the wheel and domestication of horses, the Yamnaya culture spread rapidly over the vast grasslands of Eurasia, from Hungary to the Altai. Archaeologists used to think that this process was driven by emulation, people picking up a new culture – but that culture was carried by the expansion of a people, just as agriculture had been in Europe.
Why was the idea of migration and population replacement so shocking?
We have genetic samples from the Yamnaya, and genetic analysis has shown that were the product of a nearly 50-50 mix between two populations: eastern hunter-gatherers from Russia, and a population that has affinities to the Iranian farmers at the eastern end of the fertile crescent. The closest existing population to that second ingredient of Yamnaya ancestry are
backwoods Georgians (Dzugashvili, not Carter) – Mingrelians. Lavrentiy Beria was Mingrelian, if that helps.
Georgian ( the language ) is a member of the Kartvelian language family, native to the Caucasus. There are hints, not so much that Kartvelian and Indo-European are sister groups, more that the two protolanguages interacted at an early date. Reich suspects that proto-Indo-European originated south of the Caucus in some Iranian population: I’d bet that it originated along the eastern hunter-gatherers half of its ancestry. For a number of reasons, but one is that Greenberg thought that there was a distant relationship between Indo-European and the Amerindian languages.
Another point: there was lots of early contact & influence between Indo-European and protp-Uralic. They may even be sisters. You don’t get that south of the Caucasus.
There may be hints about this fusion of pops that led to the early Indo-Europeans out of linguistic archaeology. A number of people have the impression that the Indo-Europeans were composed of three social classes: warriors, priest/magicians, and herder-cultivators. Several old stories and legends ( such as the account of the Canola of the Sabine women, the Aesir-Vanir war, and the Mahabharata suggest that those warriors and priests conquered and incorporated the herder/cultivators. Related fact: looks as if the great majority of male lineages came from the EHG side.
About those eastern hunter-gatherers. Nick Patterson found that there was a real, measurable, but mysterious genetic connection between northern Europeans and Amerindians. The only explanation that worked posited a population somewhere in Siberia that had contributed to both Amerindians and Indo-Europeans – a ‘ghost’ population, since at the time we had no direct evidence of its existence. Later an ancient skeleton from Siberia ( the Malta boy) turned out to have that predicted genetic pattern, so these Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) are still dead, but no longer ghosts. This fits Greenberg’s idea of a connection between Amerindian and Indo-European. There were also some physical anthropologists, years ago, that had suspected some connection existed.
Yet another point: many of the key ideas Reich has helped confirm are not at all new. Gordon Childe published The Aryans in 1926 [ 92 years ago !], which argued that Europe was the product of an early immigration of gracile Mediterranean farmers followed by an invasion of Indo-Europeans off the steppe. He didn’t get every single syllable right, but he was close. Prehistorians and anthropologists then thought that Indo-Europeans had invaded India and imposed their language ( correct) – they also thought that caste was a deep-seated thing. I mean, you could tell that castes had not intermarried significantly because they fucking looked different – believing anything else required some form of willed blindness.
Reich tries his best to be nice about it, but his [fully justified] contempt for archaeologists and anthropologists shines through. As their tools improved (C-14 dating, for example ) and their funding increased, they got steadily farther and farther from reality. You’d think they were secretly psychologists !
Childe is also an interesting example: a man of the Left, in fact a deep-fried Marxist, yet he was able to actually think in a useful way. Back then, leftists dreamt of making steel and shooting kulaks, rather than lavishing praise on incompetents, deviants, and ragheads.
We know that when the Yamnaya moved into the Corded Ware [ = Battle Axe !] territory, they largely replaced the pre-existing population. About 75% of the Corded Ware ancestry was Yamnaya, possibly more. The replacement seems to have been male-biased: that is, the local men mostly disappeared while some of the local women survived and were incorporated into the Yamnaya society.
What do you think – did the local boys decide to spend all their time reading manga? Or was it one of those “What is best in life?” situations?
There are interesting linguistic hints about this: it is beginning to seem that much of the agricultural vocabulary you see in Western Indo-European languages (Europe) is not shared with the Indo-Aryans because it isn’t really Indo-European – most was picked up from the previous inhabitants of Europe. And because those pre-Indo-Europeans spoke related languages (Vasconic family, see Theo Veneman) different branches of Indo-European picked up closely related words.
The Indo-European expansion resulted in tremendous amplification of certain Y-chromosome lineages: R1b in western Europe, and R1a in eastern Europe and India/Iran. Why? Something like what may have happened with the descendants of Genghis Khan, the Golden Family? Or Neil of the Nine Hostages? or could those Y-chromosome haplotypes have conferred some kind of fitness advantage, as happened in domesticated horses?
The details of Indo-European expansions and conquest of europe are still being worked out. The general trend is near-placement in Northern Europe, conquest and language imposition in Southern Europe (with a lot of change in Y-chromosome lineages) We know that 5,000 years ago, Great Britain and Ireland looked Sardinian: those are the folks that built Stonehenge. 4,000 years, they looked like the current inhabitants. Very little continuity with the previous tenants: In England, > 93% replacement. we also know that before the Bell Beaker populations arrived, agriculture apparently had already ceased for several centuries, except in out-of-the-way places like the Orkney Islands. Archaeologists guess ‘climate change’ – I’d guess devastating raids and piracy, not unlike the Viking raids in the Dark Ages.