Category Archives: Bronze Age

First ever bronze was smelt in the Balcans

It seems that West Asia is losing a bit of its relevance as the origin of nearly every development. Much as the first steel is now known to have been made in Central Africa several centuries before the Hittites (or not: see update below), the first bronze (“tin bronze” to be specific) seems now to have been made in the Balcanic peninsula, more than a thousand years before it was in Mesopotamia.
Miljana Radivojevíc et al. Tainted ores and the rise of tin bronzes in Eurasia, c. 6500 years ago. Antiquity 87 (2013). Freely accessibleLINK


The earliest tin bronze artefacts in Eurasia are generally believed to have appeared in the Near East in the early third millennium BC. Here we present tin bronze artefacts that occur far from the Near East, and in a significantly earlier period. Excavations at Plocnik, a Vinca culture site in Serbia, recovered a piece of tin bronze foil from an occupation layer dated to the mid fifth millennium BC. The discovery prompted a reassessment of 14 insufficiently contextualised early tin bronze artefacts from the Balkans. They too were found to derive from the smelting of copper-tin ores. These tin bronzes extend the record of bronze making by c. 1500 years, and challenge the conventional narrative of Eurasian metallurgical development.

The specific well-dated finding is from Plocnik, Southern Serbia, however as we can see in the map below, most 5th millenium bronze sites are from Bulgaria.

This highlights the likely central role in this earliest bronze metallurgy of the Karanovo-Gumelnita culture (very likely a full-fledged state older than dynastic Egypt), which spanned most of Bulgaria, as well as some nearby regions by the south and the north. However the neighbor cultures of Gradesnica-Krivodol (NW Bulgaria and nearby Romanian areas) and Vinca (Serbia) were also involved.
The highest quality alloys (stannite bronzes) belong to this core area of Thrace (Karanovo, Smjadovo and Bereketska Mogila), as well as Southern Serbian sites (Plocnic and Lazareva) while a second category, “high tin fahlore”, seems to concentrate along the Danube (Gomolava and Ruse). A “low tin fahlore” category is rarer and seems centered in the Gradesnica area.
For some reason, maybe the disruptive Indoeuropean invasions of the 4th millennium, this technology was apparently lost later on, only to be regained from a West Asian source (Troy) already in the 3rd millennium.
An interesting question is the source of tin, which was in many cases the mineral stannite. The authors suggests further research on isotopes but also consider ancient mines that could have been sources:

Stannite is present in the Bronze Age mines of Mushiston in Tajikistan (Weisgerber & Cierny 2002), Deh Hosein in Iran (Nezafati et al. 2006), the Bolkardăg mining district in Turkey (Yener & ̈Ozbal 1987), as well as in Iberia (Rovira & Montero 2003).

The West and Central Asian mines are often argued not to have been sizable enough to be a major source of tin in the Bronze Age proper but, considering that this is a very early and limited bout of advanced metallurgy, I guess that they are also possible sources.

Update (Jan 22): I must (partly) take back my initial comment on steel metallurgy being older in Niger than Turkey: while the discovery of Nigerien steel-making c. 1500 BCE stands, other recent findings in Turkey seem to push back steel metallurgy in Anatolia to c. 1800 BCE (instead of the c. 1300 BCE date accepted before). Thanks to Aeolius for making us aware of this important detail.

Note: thanks to the Stone Pages newsletter ArcheoNews for directing me to this most interesting study.


Ancient East Asian Y-DNA maps

I’m fusing here data from two different and complementary sources:
  • Hui Li et al. Y chromosomes of prehistoric people along the Yangtze River. Human Genetics 2007. → LINK (PDF) [doi:10.1007/s00439-007-0407-2]
  • A 2012 study integrally in Chinese (so integrally that I don’t even know who the authors are → LINK) but whose content was discussed in English (after synthetic translation) at Eurogenes blog. I deals with a variety of ancient Y-DNA from the Northern parts of P.R. China.

Update (Dec 25): much of the Northeastern aDNA is also discussed in an English language study (h/t Kristiina):

Yinqiu Cui et al. Y Chromosome analysis of prehistoric human populations in the West Liao River Valley, Northeast China. BMC 2013. Open access LINK [doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-216]

    Combining the data from both sources, I produced the following maps:

    Neolithic (before ~4000 BP):

    Metal Ages (after ~4000 BP):

    I find particularly interesting the first map because it outlines what seem to be three distinct ethnic (or at the very least genetic) regions in the Neolithic period:
    • A Central-South region dominated by O3
    • An Eastern area around modern Shanghai dominated by O1
    • A Northern region dominated by N
    Later on, in the Metal Ages, a colonization of the North/NE by these O3 peoples seems apparent, followed, probably at a later time, by a colonization of the West (Taojiazhai).
    We do not have so ancient data for the West but we can still see a diversity of lineages, notably Q (largely Q1, if not all), C (most likely C3, also in the NE) and N (also in the NE). While the arrival of O3 to this area was probably late, the arrival of R1a1a is quite old, however it is still almost certainly related to the first Indoeuropean migrations eastwards, which founded the Afanasevo culture in the area of Altai.
    I find also very interesting the presence, with local dominance often, of N (including an instance of N1c) and Q in the Northern parts of P.R. China, because these lineages are now rather uncommon but are still dominant in Northern Asia, Northeastern Europe and Native America. The fact that they were still so important in the Northern Chinese frontier in the Neolithic and even in the Metal Ages should tell us something about their respective histories and, in the case of N, origins as well.
    It is also notable that no D was detected anywhere. However the regions with greatest D frequencies like Tibet, Yunnan or Japan were not studied.

    Posted by on December 15, 2013 in aDNA, Bronze Age, China, East Asia, Iron Age, Neolithic, Y-DNA


    Basque and other European origins according to ancient mtDNA

    This is a (partly shortened) version of an article I wrote recently in Spanish language for Ama Ata.
    For reasons of the variegated methodology used by the various researchers this comparison across time and space has to be simplified. Still it is a valuable insight on the demographic changes produced in the Neolithic and later on in three European regions: Germany, Portugal and the Basque Country. 
    As you surely know already, the results of archaeogenetic sequencing in Central Europe have produced quite perplexing results: not just the Neolithic wave seems to have caused major changes but also this one was victim of similarly radical later changes in the demography. Visually:

    The first period when we see an mtDNA pool similar to the modern one is already in the Late Bronze Age. However we lack data for all the early and middle Bronze Age and the data of the late Chalcolithic already points to the components of this modern pool being present, albeit in a very fragmented form. If anything there was still excess of L(xR), i.e. N(xR). 
    This late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age knot of Central European demographic history is still to be solved. But something we can already say for sure: the Neolithic wave was of dramatic consequences in this region but itself was wiped out by later, still ill understood, secondary waves.
    This area is not so well documented, however the data we do have still provide a very interesting sequence of the demographic history of SW or West Iberia. Visually again:

    One of the problems here is, quite evidently, that sequencing only the HVS-I region is not at all enough to identify some very important haplogroups, particularly H. We can reasonably think however that most or even all of the R* sequences are actually H.
    We see some but not-so-radical changes with the arrival of Neolithic: some apparent decrease of U (halved) and L(xR), a +33% growth of H and first detection of HV0 (probably V). However these changes seem to have been partly countered by Chalcolithic, plausibly by means of blending between first farmers and more purely aboriginal populations. Overall I am very much tempted to think that the arrival of Neolithic to (South and Central) Portugal only caused mild demic changes. 
    This fact, together with the extremely high frequencies of haplogroup H and the key role played by SW Iberia in the formation of Dolmenic Megalithism, as well as their pivotal role in Bell Beaker, including the existence of a major civilization (Zambujal, VNSP), the first one ever in Atlantic Europe, makes this area highly suspect as a possible origin for the spread of mtDNA H in Western Europe to the frequencies that we find today (c. 40-50%).
    However we have only very limited archaeogenetic data from other Atlantic Megalithic regions and in general from Megalithic burials and it is at least possible that Armorica (Brittany, West France) or Denmark and the nearby Low Germany regions played important roles in this spread, which we see so dramatically exemplified in the German Bell Beaker sample. 
    When the finger points to the Moon, the fool looks at the finger. Portugal could be the Moon but it may just be the finger, so I will remain cautious at this stage of research. Whatever the case it does seem to me that Megalithism is a likely source of that excess H (Bell Beaker being just the finger here, almost for sure).
    I must add that there seem to be some important demic changes since Chalcolithic in Portugal. Tentatively I will attribute them to the intrusive SW Iberian “horizons” (proto-Tartessian?) and/or the Luso-Celtic invasions of the Iron Age. 
    Basque Country
    My main aim in all this compilation was, as in a sense in all my diving into prehistoric research for so many years now, to find an answer to the mystery of the origin of Basques and Basque language. 
    In the last few years we have been blessed with some important and revealing archaeogenetic research in this area, and therefore I could build also an informative graph for the Basque Country:

    Very synthetically, I think that we can see here, much as in Portugal, some not too radical changes with the Neolithic arrival, and then relative stability until present day. This is coherent with the Basque Country not having suffered effective Indoeuropean invasions, unlike Portugal.
    However I strongly feel the need to look at the fine detail in the Basque Neolithic transition, because it has some interesting question marks:

    Seen as that, it would seem like the Neolithic-induced demic change was more important in Navarre and less in the Western Basque Country. However the two Ebro basin sequences (both Fuente Hoz and Los Cascajos) are very high in U* and low in U5, which is so far the only U subclade sequenced in the Paleolithic of the Basque-Cantabrian area. At this point I do not really know how to interpret this fact nor even what kind of U sublineage is that one.
    What I do know is that, on one side, the Biscay-Gipuzkoan area seems to have been initially unaffected by Neolithic demic waves and that the Paternabidea sequence is very very similar to modern day Basque average (and even more in its own sub-region).
    It is very possible that the Basque periphery, notably the Ebro banks, suffered more intense demic changes than the core Basque areas of the piedmont. However, when compared with other European regions (very especially Central Europe) the Basque genetic pool seems quite stable since Neolithic times. 
    Is Basque language Neolithic?
    Even if genetics and language need not to be tightly related, of course, the question of the origin of Basque language and the proposed Vasconic language family, believed to have been spoken in much of Europe at some point in Prehistory, are indeed related to the genetic origin of the Basque people. 
    There are four main models for the origin of Basque and Vasconic:
    1. Magdalenian (Paleolithic) origin in the Franco-Cantabrian region some 17-15,000 years ago (incl. possible sub-waves like Tardenoisian/geometric Epipaleolithic).
    2. Neolithic origin.
    3. Megalithic origin.
    4. More or less recent (Iron Age?) arrival, defended by mostly by the fanatics of Indoeuropean continuity. 
    We can safely discard #4 only based on archaeology but the genetic aspect seems to add even more weight to this dismissal, after all it is Indoeuropean speaking peoples the ones which show obvious signs of demic change, sometimes very dramatic, not Basques.
    Personally, and with due caution, I would also cast doubt on #1, partly because the Vasconic substrate area seems to include strongly many parts of Italy like Sardinia, in principle unaffected by the Magdalenian expansion, and I would also include at least to some extent parts of the Balcans (for example the Ibar river in Kosovo). 
    So I am rather inclined for model #2, i.e. that Vasconic was the language family spoken by European Neolithic peoples with roots in Thessaly (pre-Sesklo→Mediterranean Neolithic, proto-Sesklo→Balcano-Danubian Neolithic). I cannot of course exclude a possible re-expansion of some of those languages within the Atlantic Megalithic phenomenon, which I would deem responsible of the expansion of much of mtDNA H up to modern frequencies, however I doubt this one is the source because it is difficult to explain the presence of Vasconic in many pockets in which Megalithism was at best very secondary or did not exist at all (for example most of the Ancient Iberian area, Sardinia, the Balcans, etc.)
    So my tentative proposal is that there was a root Vasconic spoken some 9000 years ago in Thessaly (Northern Greece), which split (as per archaeology) in two branches:
    • Southern or Western Vasconic (Impressed-Cardium Pottery and related cultures, including the Megalithic urheimat in Portugal). 
    • Northern or Eastern Vasconic (Red-White Painted Ware in the Balcans and later Linear Pottery in Central Europe).
    Basque, ancient Sardinian, Iberian and the hypothetical lingua franca associated to Megalithism would belong to Southern Vasconic. Danubian Neolithic peoples would have spoken Northern Vasconic instead but, as we can see, they were eventually all but wiped out by secondary arrivals from West and East. Even the very Balcanic core areas of Thessaly, Macedonia and Serbia also suffered an invasion early on by peoples with Beige-Black pottery (Vinca-Dimini) surely related to Tell Halaf. So the main survivor to the Metal Ages was Southern (Western) Vasconic, which was then wiped out (excepted Basque) by the Indoeuropean invasions of Celtic and Italic peoples. 
    We can still see fossils however. One of my favorite examples is the Latin particle bi- (as in bilateral, bilingual, etc.), which seems derived from Vasconic bi (two, at least in modern Basque) and unrelated to PIE *dwos. Also the English words kill and ill, which seem related to Basque verb hil(-du) (pronounced /hill/ or /ill/ and meaning to die or to kill, depending on how you conjugate it). Again both English terms do not have any apparent PIE origins, although they may derive from proto-Germanic. These are just examples, of course, there seems to be much more to be researched.
    Appendix: detail of the data and bibliography: LINK.

    Are ancient mtDNA sequences from Syria of Indian origin?

    Honestly, I have all kind of doubts but that’s what a new study claims on the basis of just a few hypervariable sequence markers:
    Henry W. Witas, mtDNA from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman Period Suggests a Genetic Link between the Indian Subcontinent and Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073682]
    The authors sequenced the HVS-I (and nothing else!) of the mtDNA of four individuals from Tell Ashara and Tell Ashaik sites of ancient Terqa and Kar-Assurnasirpal (Syria, Euphrates river). And then they proceded to establish a bit unlikely comparisons with East and South Asian M sublineages, of which only one is present today in the region.
    The sequences are (supp table 3, all numbers +16,000 and counting from the CRS, i.e. H2a1 underived, GenBank: NC_012920):
    • TQ28F112: 223-234
    • MK13G117: 223-234-311
    • TQ28F256: 223-234-270
    • MK11G107: 223-266-289
    The first two are attributed to M9, the third one to M61 (a quite rare haplogroup) and the last one to M4b (the only one to be found in West Asia nowadays, specifically in Arabia Peninsula).
    Now what do the markers actually say? All are highly variable sites and independently can be found in many lineages, however most typically:
    • 223 describes R, hence counting from the CRS, it should mean L(xR).
    • 311 describes L3, hence counting from the CRS it should mean L(xL3).

    So all four should be L(xR) and MK13G117 looks like L(xL3).
    Exceptions for 311 (consistent with the sequence above): L3b1a3, M4’65’67, M10, M29’Q, M31a1, M56, M57 and M74. However M9 does not make it because to begin with it needs a transition at the 362 site. 
    The authors got carried away by their own pre-conceptions and the marker 234, shared by three of the four sequences. However, while that marker is found in M9a, it also needs the 362 marker, which they both lack. So they are not M9 but something else. 

    More plausible candidates could be, at least for TQ28F112, M30d/e or M49.
    As for the rest, there are no modern sequences, at least via PhyloTree (but neither within the study’s own comparisons), that are good correlates. All we can say with certainty is that they are L3(xR), except in the case of MK13G117, which can only be described as  L(xR). 
    Maybe if they had tried sequencing the coding region, as in my understanding, they MUST (destroying or damaging valuable ancient bones to do this mediocre research is not anymore justified, if it ever was), they would have got useful and informative results. Now we just have again another frustrating set of nearly useless HVS-I sequences, which can only be ambiguous in the vast majority of cases.
    Ah, by the way, there’s no obvious correlation between these Metal Ages’ sites and ancient Sumerians, of course. Even if the lineages are South Asian by origin or affinity, which is possible but by no means demonstrated, they would at most suggest a relation between the Mid-Upper Euphrates and that area. The region was under intermittent Sumerian, Amorite, Babylonian, Kassite and Assyrian control but mostly is a distinct country within the greater Mesopotamian area.
    Notice that previous research (ref.) in the same area but from the Neolithic (PPNB) period has found (also HVS-I) large amounts of mtDNA K, some H and also some L3(xR).

    [Note: edited because some ethnographic assumptions I made initially seem to be quite wrong].


    Posted by on September 12, 2013 in aDNA, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Kurdistan, mtDNA, Syria, West Asia


    Ukraine’s Neolithic and Bronze Age ancient mtDNA

    A doctoral thesis on ancient Ukrainian mtDNA has recently become freely available (h/t Kristiina):
    Jeremy R. Newton, Ancient Mitochondrial DNA From Pre-historic Southeastern Europe: The Presence of East Eurasian Haplogroups Provides Evidence of Interactions with South Siberians Across the Central Asian Steppe Belt. Grand Valley State University (thesis), 2011. Freely availableLINK
    The key element of this study is table 1:

    Location of sites (fig. 3):

    Notice that the “Kurgan sites” (D1.8, L8 and L15) are not from the first Kurgan arrivals but rather from a late layer, surely Srubna culture, which is generally believed to be proto-Cimmerian.
    The most striking element probably is the presence of relatively high frequencies of mtDNA C since Neolithic times. However this is not inconsistent with previous findings (Desarkissian 2011) of mtDNA C (C1) among NE European Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers, surely precursors of modern Finnic peoples. It means that the Siberian element of East Asian affinity today best preserved among Uralic peoples, was present in Europe before Neolithic and that it had an impact (21%) even in presumably non-Uralic populations such as Epigravettian derived Dniepr-Don.
    This in turn may well explain the subtle Siberian affinity elements sometimes apparent in much of Northern and Central Europe, because these Eastern European peoples made in turn significant demic impacts in those areas, first with the Pitted Ware culture (clearly derived from Dniepr-Don: similar pottery and burial styles) that affected parts of the Southern Baltic, via Belarus, and later with the Kurgan waves of Indoeuropean-speaking invaders.
    Maybe a bit more intriguing is the coincidence of C4a lineages in all the three kurgans of SW Ukraine. It may be just a coincidence or a very specific ethnic provenance of the princesses of that sub-group but the thesis argues for these being direct descendants of the Neolithic C4a lineage found in Ya34. I must say I am skeptic but it is not totally impossible. If real, it would imply that all C4a3 and C4a6 haplogroups (at least) are of Eastern European coalescence, what I find a bit difficult to accept, to say the least – but who knows?
    An element in favor of such model is that neither of these C sublineages seems to be present in West Siberian ancient mtDNA, while no Oriental lineages altogether have been found in Central Asia before the Iron Age.
    See also:

    Posted by on September 12, 2013 in aDNA, Bronze Age, European origins, mtDNA, Neolithic, Ukraine


    Echoes from the past (August-28-2013)

    Oh, yeah, I admit it: I have been procrastinating a lot. Result: an extremely long “to do” list. Naturally, I can’t make up for all the past laziness, so here goes a synthesis of what would otherwise be left unattended, take your time, please. 
    Middle Paleolithic:
    Atapuerca holds “uninterrupted” sequence of European humans since 1.2 million years ago. Soon-to-be-published theory of continuity from H. erectus to Neanderthals in the Castilian site → Paleorama[es], EFE Futuro[es].
    More Neanderthal evidence for symbolism found in Fumane cave (Veneto, Italy): polished and ochre-painted shells (pictured) → PLoS ONE (open access), El neandertal tonto ¡qué timo![es].
    Upper Paleolithic:
    Epigravettian burial, dated to ~14,000 BP, found in Cuges-les-Pins (Provence). The Epigravettian (and not the more widespread Magdalenian) culture of this site indicates a direct link to Italy → INRAP[fr], La Provence[fr], Los Andes[es].
    Oldest modern human remain of Galicia found at Valdavara cave (Becerreá, Lugo province). The milk tooth is 17,000 years old, 7000 years older than any other such finding in the NW Iberian country → Pileta[es], IPHES[cat].
    Thousands of engravings, dated to c. 6000 years ago, found in Coahuila (Mexico) → RTVE[es].
    “World’s oldest calendar” found in Scotland → BBC.
    Female burial found at Poças de São Bento (Sado basin, Portugal) → Paleorama[es].
    First farmers were inbred (at least in Southern Jordan) → Science Magazine.
    Qatar Neolithic dig shows the peninsula was in contact with early Sumerian civilization (Eridu or Ubaid period, the first empire ever) → The Archaeology News Network.
    Manure was already used by Europe’s first farmers → Science.
    Haryana (India) town is oldest large IVC settlement → Business Standard.
    East China engravings show first Oriental writing (~5000 years’ old, just slightly younger aged as Sumerian cuneiform writing but much more recent than the controversial Tărtăria tablets of Bulgaria) → The Guardian, English People.
    North American natives caused lead pollution in Lake Michigan (oldest recorded) → PPV paper (ER&T)University of Pittsburg.
    Perdigões enclosure and collective burial was pilgrimage center. Antonio Valera (often so scholarly cryptic at his blog) loosens up when interviewed by a Portuguese publication, giving meaning to the archeology he’s working with → Super Interesante[por].
    Bronze Age:
    Cypriot harbor city dug: Hala Sultan Tekke, near modern Larnaka, had 25-50 Ha. and was active between the 16th and 12th centuries BCE → The Archaeology News Network.

    Also from Cyprus: large settlement dug out near Nicosia (Cyprus), dated to 2000-1500 BCE → The Archaeology News Network.
    Human evolution:
    Modern human shoulder much more efficient than chimpanzees’ at throwing… but also than H. erectus’ → BBC.
    Neanderthals did speak (of course) → Science Daily, open access paper (Frontiers in Psychology).

    Note: their unfounded insistence on most unlikely H. heidelbergensis shared origins of Neanderthals and us casts some doubt on elements of their reasoning however.

    Record ancient DNA: ~700,000 years’ old horse sequenced → Nature Communications (PPV).
    Experimental archaeology:
    How to carve your own stone tools and weapons out of modern materials: very interesting videos (in English) at Paleorama[es] (scroll down). 
    More tomorrow (nope my “to do” list is not at all finished with this entry).

    Ancient West Siberian mtDNA

    Kristiina called my attention recently to this open access article on the ancient mtDNA of a district of South-Western Siberia known as Baraba.
    V.I. Molodin et al., Human migrations in the southern region of the West Siberian Plain during the Bronze Age: Archaeological, palaeogenetic and anthropological data. Part of a wider book published by De Gruyter (2013). Open accessLINK
    Fig. 1 – click to expand
    Quite interestingly we see in the data that before 3000 BCE this part of Western Siberia (see locator map at the right) shows already signs of West-East admixture, much earlier than Central Asia did.
    This fact is consistent with the apparently old admixture detected among the Khanty in autosomal DNA and also with the Epipaleolithic presence of East Asian mtDNA (C1) in NE Europe and the putative Siberian origins of the Uralic family of languages and Y-DNA haplogroup N in NE Europe.

    Fig. 2 (left) | Chronological time scale of Bronze Age Cultures from the Baraba region
    Fig. 3 (main) | Phylogenetic tree of 92 mtDNA samples obtained from the seven Bronze Age cultural groups from the Baraba region. Color coding of the groups as in Figure 2

    The Ust-Tartas culture is part of the wider Combed Pottery culture, usually thought to be at the origins of Uralic peoples in NE Europe and Western Siberia, and shows an almost balanced apportion of Eastern lineages (C, Z, A, D) and Western ones (U5a, U4, U2e), suggesting that the process of admixture was by then already consolidated. 
    However the Odinovo cultural phase shows a change in this trend, with a clear hegemony of Eastern lineages (notably D) and almost vanishing of Western ones. Trend that continues in its broadest terms in the Early Krotovo phase. 
    Odinovo is part of the wider phenomenon known as Seima-Turbino, initiator of the Bronze Age in wide parts of Northern Asia and believed to be original of Altai. However the lineages do not correspond at all with the Altaian Bronze Age genetic pool, fully Western in affinity, excepted those from Mongolian Altai, which are all D. Hence the apparent demic replacement happening in this period must have been from the Mongolian part of Altai or some other region and not the core Altai area.
    The oriental affinity of Early Krotovo is instead caused by a more diverse array of lineages (less D more CZ and A), which is interpreted materially as reflecting migrations from Northern Kazakhstan (Petrovo culture). However, as mentioned before the known mtDNA pool of Central Asia in that period is completely of Western Affinity, so we must in principle discard Kazakhstan as the origin of the probable demic flows.
    Let me here mention that the authors insist on continuity through these three phases, however I see a very different picture in the same data, with Western lineages almost vanishing with Odinovo and Eastern ones clearly changing in frequency well beyond reasonable expectations on random fluctuations.
    It is only in Late Krotovo when Western lineages reappear in significant numbers, probably reflecting, now yes, migrational flows from the South. This trend is clearly reinforced in the Andronovo, Baraba Late Bronze and transition to Iron Age phases, suggesting growing influence from Andronovo culture (early Indo-Iranians).

    Ancient Minoan mtDNA

    Early Minoan jar
    (CC by Wolfgang Sauber)
    An ancient Minoan cave ossuary from Ayios Charalambos, Lasithi Plateau (around Mt. Ditke, Eastern Crete), dated to c. 2400-1700 BCE, has produced 37 valid mtDNA sequences (HVS-I).
    Jeffrey R. Hughey et al., A European population in Minoan Bronze Age Crete. Nature Communications 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1038/ncomms2871]


    The first advanced Bronze Age civilization of Europe was established by the Minoans about 5,000 years before present. Since Sir Arthur Evans exposed the Minoan civic centre of Knossos, archaeologists have speculated on the origin of the founders of the civilization. Evans proposed a North African origin; Cycladic, Balkan, Anatolian and Middle Eastern origins have also been proposed. Here we address the question of the origin of the Minoans by analysing mitochondrial DNA from Minoan osseous remains from a cave ossuary in the Lassithi plateau of Crete dated 4,400–3,700 years before present. Shared haplotypes, principal component and pairwise distance analyses refute the Evans North African hypothesis. Minoans show the strongest relationships with Neolithic and modern European populations and with the modern inhabitants of the Lassithi plateau. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis of an autochthonous development of the Minoan civilization by the descendants of the Neolithic settlers of the island.

    From the paper (emphasis mine):
    The majority of Minoans were classified in haplogroups H (43.2%), T (18.9%), K (16.2%) and I (8.1%). Haplogroups U5A, W, J2, U, X and J were each identified in a single individual

    Figure 2: Minoan mtDNA haplotypes in extant and ancient populations.
    (a) Minoan mtDNA HVS-1 haplotypes shared with the modern or ancient populations. (b) Frequency distribution of the 15 shared Minoan haplotypes among the various modern and ancient population groups.

    I find very interesting that of the six non-singleton shared HVS-I sequences, four match those of Central European Neolithic (ht 5, 11, 13 and 14, plus singleton ht 4). The total percentage of coincidences is smaller than with Southern Neolithic but this grouping only has two matches with Minoan common haplotypes (ht 11 and 14, plus singleton ht 4), not any striking match.
    Among modern populations the best fits seem to be the Balcans, Turkey and Middle East, both with five non-singleton matches out of six possible ones (ht 20 is only found in Turkey, click to expand if you don’t see it, while ht 8 is found in the Balcans and the Middle East). 
    So I would conclude that the Minoan sample fits well with a mix of Anatolian and Balcanic (or less likely Near Eastern) origin, after due founder effect, fitting also reasonably well with Danubian Neolithic and therefore with their likely (partial?) origins at the Balcanic Painted Ware Neolithic.
    The greater pseudo-affinity with other populations, based only on overall frequency, seems to be inflated by four haplotypes only: ht 14 (the omnipresent CRS), ht 11 (apparently a common K variant), ht 4 (a relatively common T variant but only present in a single Minoan individual) and ht 12 (H5, again present only in an isolated case in the Minoan sample).
    So let’s please be careful and try not to mix quantity (frequency) with quality (relevant haplotype matches). 
    The paper also includes a principal component analysis with a more detailed array of populations:

    One of the most intriguing facts here is the near-identity between Minoan and modern Lasithi Plateau populations. It would seem logical but Wikipedia describes an instance of ethnic cleansing and later repopulation by the Venetians (emphasis mine):

    The fertile soil of the plateau, due to alluvial run-off from melting snow, has attracted inhabitants since Neolithic times (6000 BC). Minoans and Dorians followed and the plateau has been continuously inhabited since then, except a period that started in 1293 and lasted for over two centuries during the Venetian occupation of Crete. During that time and due to frequent rebellions and strong resistance, villages were demolished, cultivation prohibited, and natives were forced to leave and forbidden to return under a penalty of death. A Venetian manuscript of the thirteenth century describes the troublesome plateau of Lasithi as spina nel cuore (di Venezia) – a thorn in the heart of Venice. Later, in the early 15th century, Venetian rulers allowed refugees from the Greek mainland (eastern Peloponnese) to settle in the plain and cultivate the land again.

    Is this totally wrong? A brutal error? Erudite vandalism? I cannot say (and would appreciate knowledgeable feedback).
    A clear issue is that the current inhabitants of the plateau have a distinctive genetic signature in their Y-DNA, quite different from that of other Cretans, with much higher frequencies of R1b and R1a and much much lower frequencies of the most common Cretan lineage: J2a1. However they also almost lack the main mainland Greek haplogroup E1b, what suggests that the recolonization from Peloponnese story is not correct either. 
    Interestingly Cretan R1b, so important in Lasithi Plateau (almost 50%), is also largely derived from Western Europe (although the other half could be Balcanic), maybe via Italy, and cannot be ancestral to it (almost all the Western variant belongs to a derived subclade common in Italy, Central Europe and France: U152).
    What is going on here then? I must admit that I do not really know.
    Other very close populations in the PCA graph are Serbians (green star) and Bronze Age Sardinians (green rhombus). Take it as you wish. Bronze Age Sardinians are also top in the pairwise comparison table (the closest modern populations being Portuguese, Germans and Corsicans, also Neolithic Scandinavians). However these statistical analyses (both the PCA and the pairwise table) may well hide flaws (like the above mentioned confusion between quantity and quality), so I’d take them with the proverbial pinch of salt, as the confidence of the findings depends on the details of the methodology, not necessarily the best ones.
    In any case, the general conclusions of the paper do not seem to be wrong: the Egyptian origin hypothesis is totally discarded and a Neolithic origin seems much more likely. However so many questions remain open…


    Echoes from the past (May 17 2013)

    Some interesting news I cannot dedicate much effort to:

    Human intelligence not really linked to frontal lobe.

    New research highlights that the human frontal lobe is not oversized in comparison with other animals. Instead the human intelligence seems to be distributed through all the brain, being the network what really matters → Science Daily

    Ref. Robert A. Barton and
    Chris Venditti. Human frontal lobes are not relatively large. PNAS, May 13, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1215723110

    Early hominin ear bones found together in South Africa.

    The three bones, dated to c. 1.9 Ma show intermediate features between modern humans and apes → PhysOrg.

    New hominin site in Hunan (China).

    The sediments of Fuyan cave, in which five human teeth (Homo erectus?) were found, along with plenty of animal ones, are dated to 141,700 (±12,100) years ago. → IVPP – Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    The five human teeth

    Neanderthal workshop found in Poland.

    In Pietrowice Wielkie (Silesia), which is at the end of a major natural corridor from the Danubian basin → PAP.

    Ancient Eastern Europeans ritually killed their pets to become warriors.

    In the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarkskoe (Volga region, Russia) more than 50 ritually pieced skulls of dogs have puzzled archaeologists, who have reached the conclusion, after researching Indoeuropean accounts from India, that the animals may have been killed in adulthood rituals: the boys who were to become warriors had to kill their most beloved pet in order to be accepted as such, and did so in a precise and macabre ritual → National Geographic.

    Ancient log boat found in Ireland.

    In the Boyne river, which was in the past a major artery of the island. Not yet dated: it could be from prehistoric times or the 18th century. → Irish Times.


    Bronze Age Sweden imported its copper

    Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog mentions this week several papers that dwell in the nature of the Nordic Bronze Age, specifically in Southern Sweden. It turns out that the copper used by the Nordic smiths was not local in almost all cases but imported from elsewhere in Europe (Sardinia, Iberia, Auvergne, Tyrol and British Islands) or even West Asia (Cyprus). This imported copper was exchanged by essentially amber, it seems, an export product of the Nordic area since the Chalcolithic. Nothing is said about the tin needed to make bronze but most likely it came from SW Britain and/or NW Iberia, as these were the two main producers of the strategic metal in old times.
    Of the three mentioned papers only one is freely accessible, and also quite interesting to read:
    Nils-Axel Mörner & Bob G. Lind, The Bronze Age in SE Sweden Evidence of Long-Distance Travel and Advanced Sun Cult. Journal of Geography and Geology 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.5539/jgg.v5n1p78]


    The Bronze Age of Scandinavia (1750-500 BC) is characterized by the sudden appearance of bronze objects in Scandinavia, the sudden mass appearance of amber in Mycenaean graves, and the beginning of bedrock carvings of huge ships. We take this to indicate that people from the east Mediterranean arrived to Sweden on big ships over the Atlantic, carrying bronze objects from the south, which they traded for amber occurring in SE Sweden in the Ravlunda-Vitemölla–Kivik area. Those visitors left strong cultural imprints as recorded by pictures and objects found in SE Sweden. This seems to indicate that the visits had grown to the establishment of a trading centre. The Bronze Age of Österlen (the SE part of Sweden) is also characterized by a strong Sun cult recorded by stone monuments built to record the annual motions of the Sun, and rock carvings that exhibit strict alignments to the annual motions of the Sun. Ales Stones, dated at about 800 BC, is a remarkable monument in the form of a 67 m long stone-ship. It records the four main solar turning points of the year, the 12 months of the year, each month covering 30 days, except for month 7 which had 35 days (making a full year of 365 days), and the time of the day at 16 points representing 1.5 hour. Ales Stones are built after the same basic geometry as Stonehenge in England.

    The other two are sold under mercantile schemes:
    Johan Ling et al., Moving metals or indigenous mining? Provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotopes and trace elements. Journal of Archaeological Science 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.040]
    I.B. Gubanov, Grave Circle B at Mycenae in the Context of Links Between the Eastern Mediterranean and Scandinavia in the Bronze Age. Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.aeae.2012.08.011]
    Ling’s paper is the one indicating that Swedish copper had exotic Atlantic and Mediterranean origins, while Gubanov’s highlights that amber from the Baltic is found in one Mycenaean grave (specifically Grave Circle B) and not in any known Minoan (Eteocretan) one. For him this means that bronze metallurgy and other associated elements like the quadruple spiral motif arrived with Mycenaean sailors in the Bronze Age. 
    Grave Circle B is actually older than the much more famous Grave Circle A (the pseudo “Agamenon’s Tomb”), although both belong to the Late Helladic I period (c. 1550-1500 BCE).

    (public domain, credit: myself)
    This chronology is interesting because it was roughly in those dates when SE Iberian El Argar civilization began its phase B, characterized by Greek influence in burials (pithoi). It is worth mentioning here that while these are the first findings of amber from Nordic Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean, such jewels were common in Iberia since c. 3000 BCE (beginnings of Chalcolithic period). 
    It would seem therefore clear that Iberia was a pivotal area in this purported Scandinavian-Greek exchange. The question is: did the early Greek sailors actually reached Scandinavia themselves or were they rather just receiving products by mediation of Iberian traders with a long tradition of Atlantic (and Mediterranean) navigation?
    It is probably a hard to answer question. But the studies point to some relevant cues, like the Swedish drawings of ships with rams and the presence of the (originally Mediterranean?) motif of the quadruple spiral, so similar to the Basque lauburu (four heads) icon (probably related to both the svastika and triskel). 

    Figure 3.B. the spiral ornament from Sweden and Greece

    This spiral icon is not Mycenaean in origin, having been found in Minoan Crete and Megalithic Malta (right), which are respectively older and a lot older than the Mycenaeans. The motif is not even exclusive of Europe, with very similar concepts found for example in the pottery of Western Mexico.
    So while the similitude is striking, this evidence is not conclusive on its own. 
    The Cypriot copper evidence alone is not enough evidence of Mycenaean
    presence in Scandinavia, very especially as Cyprus seems important, long
    before the Mycenaeans in the East-West Mediterranean connections.
    Cyprus used their own script (probably used for the native Eteocypriot
    language) up to the 4th century BCE and while Mycenaean presence in the
    island seems attested in the very late Bronze Age, the island was not a
    Mycenaean center at all but rather was under Hittite and Ugaritic
    influence instead.  
    So we are left with the claim of rammed ships being coincident with the Mycenaean period. However what I find searching around are dates of c. 1700 BCE (Norway), very early in the Mycenaean chronology and some two centuries older than the single amber finding in Mycenae. It could indeed be a Mycenaean influence but how conclusive is it?
    I have a vague memory of a Mycenaean ship (?) found years ago in the waters of Denmark or Germany, however I can’t find anything searching online. Does anyone know something more detailed on the matter? This would be key evidence but I cannot trust my memory alone. 
    So there seems to be some sort of interaction between the Eastern Mediterranean and Scandinavia but, as far as I can tell, specifically Mycenaean presence in the Far North is circumstantial rather than conclusive. 
    Besides the issue of purported trade with the Mediterranean, there are some other interesting elements in Mörner & Lind 2013, notably the description of the Ales Stones ship-shaped megalith (“sun ship”) as an astronomical calendar:

    Not sure how new this is but it is a very interesting thing to know, right?

    Update (May 17): Dispatches from Turtle Island has some interesting and realistic calculations on how long would take an ancient ship to sail from Greece to Sweden and back (c. 112 days, he estimates).