Category Archives: Central Asia

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).

Echoes from the past (May-9-2013)

I am getting updated with a rather long backlog, so I will speed things up placing here in nearly telegraphic style the informative snippets that require less work. This does not mean that they are less interesting, not at all, just that I have to adapt to that elusive quality of time…

Middle Paleolithic

Toba supervolcano only had short-term climate effectBBC.
Research on Lake Malawi’s sediments shows that the climate-change effect of the catastrophic eruption was limited. Droughts previously believed to be from that period have been revised to be from at least 10,000 years before, corresponding to the end of the Abbassia Pluvial rather than to Toba super-eruption.

Upper Paleolithic

Altai rock art and early astronomy from 16,000 BPSiberian Times, Daily Mail.
Sunduki (Khakassia), here there are what are surely the oldest rock art of Northern Asia, representing people hunting or interacting among them, which are from just centuries ago, however other petroglyphs are apparently much older like this horse:

Prof. Vitaly Larichev (Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences) has detected a whole astronomical structure implemented in the landscape.

He claims to have found ‘numerous ancient solar and lunar observatories around Sunduki’.

‘This square pattern of stones on the ground shows you the place’, he
told visiting author Kira Van Deusen. ‘I knew there would be an
orientation point, but we had to search through the grass for a long
time to find it.

‘Now look up to the top of that ridge. You see a place where there is
a crack between the rocks? If you were here on the summer solstice, you
would see the sun rise right there. Or you would if you were here 2,000
years so. Now the timing is slightly differen’.

High on one cliff wall is a rock engraving showing dragon heads in one direction, and snake heads in the other.

‘If the sun were shining, we could tell the time,’ he said. ‘In the
morning the shadow moves along the snake’s body from his head to his
tail, and in the afternoon it comes from the other direction along the

‘From the same observation point you can determine true north and south by sighting along the mountains’.


Vietnam: early cemetery dug in Thahn HoaAustralian National University.
Some 140 human remains of all ages have been unearthed at the site of Con Co Ngua, estimated to be 6-4000 years old. Cemeteries of this size and age were previously unknown in the region. The site has also revealed a dearth of artifacts. 
The people were buried in fetal position with meat cuts of buffalo or deer.


India: 4000 y.o. stone tools unearthed in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, Narmada river)India Today.
  • Some of them are decorated with aquatic animals.
  • 150×200 m. mound in Birjakhedi
  • Terracotta game pieces
  • Pottery (incl. jars, pots, dishes)
  • Stone and ivory beads
Bell Beaker rich lady’s burial unearthed in Berkshire (England)Wessex Archaeology.
The middle-aged woman wore a necklace of tubular golden beads, amber buttons on her clothes and a possible lignite bracelet. She was accompanied by a bell-shaped beaker of the “corded” type (oldest and roughest variant, of likely Central European inception).
The chemical signature of the gold beads is coherent with deposits from Southern Britain and SE Ireland. 

Giza pyramid construction’s logistics revealed Live Science.

Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?

Bertolt Brecht (A Worker reads History)

Now we know that at the very least the famed early pharaohs Khafra, Khufu and Menkaure, who ordered the massive pyramids of Giza to be built as their tombs did have some cooks in charge of feeding the many workers who actually built them, stone by stone. 
These workers were housed in a village some 400 meters south of the Sphinx, known as Heit el-Ghurab. In this place archaeologists have found a cemetery, a corral with apparent slaughter areas and piles of animal bones. Based on these, researchers estimate that more than 2,000 kilograms of meat were eaten every day during the construction of Menkaure’s pyramid, the last and smallest one of the three geometric mounds. 
The figures estimated for such a logistic operation border disbelief: 22,000 cows, 55,000 sheep and goats, 1200 km² of grazing land (roughly the size of Los Angeles or 5% of the Nile Delta), some 3500 herders (adding up to almost 20,000 people if we include their families). 
A curious detail is that most of the beef was destined to the building of the overseers, while the common workers were mostly fed sheep or goat instead. Another settlement to the East of apparently local farmers ate most of the pork. There were also temporary tent camps closer to the pyramids.

Iron Age

Late Indus Valley Civilization was overcome by violenceNational Geographic.

Harappa (CC by Shephali11011)
The Late Indus Valley Civilization (Cemetery H cultural layer, usually attributed to the Indoeuropean invasions) was, unlike in previous periods, quite violent, new evidence highlights. 
The evidence from the bones also highlights the arrival of many non-local men, who apparently married local women. But the most shocking element is the striking evidence of widespread violence:

The skull of a child between four and six years old was
cracked and crushed by blows from a club-like weapon. An adult woman was
beaten so badly—with extreme force, according to researchers—that her
skull caved in. A middle-aged man had a broken nose as well as damage
to his forehead inflicted by a sharp-edged, heavy implement.
Of the 18 skulls examined from this time period, nearly half showed serious injuries from violence …

Gaming pieces of Melton Mowbray (England)Science Daily.

Excavation of a hillfort at Burrough Hill revealed ancient gaming pieces, among other materials. 

Funerary chamber found near the original location of the Lady of Baza (Andalusia)Paleorama[es].

(CC by P.A. Salguero Quiles)
The tomb has an access gate and is estimated to be from the 5th or 4th centuries BCE (Iberian culture) and, unlike most burials of the time, the corpse was not incinerated. 
The finding highlights the need for further archaeological work in all the hill but the severe budgetary cuts threaten this development. 
Baza (Granada) hosts a dedicated archaeological museum inaugurated in 2011. 

Tocharian mummy buried with marijuana hoardPaleorama[es].

Some 800 grams of the psychedelic plant, including seeds, were found at the burial place of a Tocharian man, presumably a shaman, at Yanghai (Uyghuristan), belonging to the Gushi culture and dated to at least 2700 years ago. The plant belongs to a cultivated variety.
Some of the oldest cannabis evidence are also from that area (Pazyrk culture c. 2500 years ago) and also from Nepal (Mustang, similar dates). Later in Southern Central Asia it was used in combination with opium and ephedra, from where soon migrated to South Asia and many other parts of Eurasia.


New device radically reduces costs and time in DNA extractionScience Daily.
Researchers from the University of Washington and NanoFacture Inc. have developed a device, which looks like a kitchen appliance, able to extract DNA from tissues (like saliva or blood) in minutes at low cost and without using the toxic chemicals habitual in the field.
The prototype is designed for four samples but can be scaled for the lab standard of 96 samples at once.


Mitochondrial snapshots from an East-West encounter in Altai

Ukok Plateau landscape
(CC by Kobsev)
The Iron Age Pazyryk culture of Ukok Plateau (Altai Mountains, Central Asia) are generally considered to be related to Scythians or other Indoeuropean peoples of Western affinity. However the affiliation of Pazyryk peoples remains controversial. A new Catalan study may help to shed some light to the matter:
Mercedes González Ruiz et al., Tracing the Origin of the East-West Population Admixture in the Altai Region (Central Asia). PLoS ONE, 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048904]


A recent discovery of Iron Age burials (Pazyryk culture) in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia may shed light on the mode and tempo of the generation of the current genetic east-west population admixture in Central Asia. Studies on ancient mitochondrial DNA of this region suggest that the Altai Mountains played the role of a geographical barrier between West and East Eurasian lineages until the beginning of the Iron Age. After the 7th century BC, coinciding with Scythian expansion across the Eurasian steppes, a gradual influx of East Eurasian sequences in Western steppes is detected. However, the underlying events behind the genetic admixture in Altai during the Iron Age are still unresolved: 1) whether it was a result of migratory events (eastward firstly, westward secondly), or 2) whether it was a result of a local demographic expansion in a ‘contact zone’ between European and East Asian people. In the present work, we analyzed the mitochondrial DNA lineages in human remains from Bronze and Iron Age burials of Mongolian Altai. Here we present support to the hypothesis that the gene pool of Iron Age inhabitants of Mongolian Altai was similar to that of western Iron Age Altaians (Russia and Kazakhstan). Thus, this people not only shared the same culture (Pazyryk), but also shared the same genetic east-west population admixture. In turn, Pazyryks appear to have a similar gene pool that current Altaians. Our results further show that Iron Age Altaians displayed mitochondrial lineages already present around Altai region before the Iron Age. This would provide support for a demographic expansion of local people of Altai instead of westward or eastward migratory events, as the demographic event behind the high population genetic admixture and diversity in Central Asia.

Surely the most interesting finding of this study is that, unlike all other studies so far in the area, Bronze Age Pazyryk burials from Mongolia carried 100% (3/3) Eastern Asian haplogroups (all D). Only one sample from the same wider region and period had ever before produced some Eastern lineages but as minority (9%, Southern Siberia, Turbat 2005), all others producing instead 100% Western haplogroups.
Instead Iron Age burials produced a much more mixed picture (n=16):
  • Eastern haplogroups: 8 (50%)
    • A: 1
    • C: 2
    • D: 4
    • G2a: 1
  • Western haplogroups: 8 (50%)
    • HV6: 1
    • J: 1
    • K: 3
    • U5a1: 2
    • T1: 1
This process however does not just imply penetration of Western lineages in the Mongolian part of Altai but also, as can be inferred in other studies’ data, an extension of Oriental ones to the Western parts of Central Asia. The contrast between a well defined East-West genetic divide in the Bronze period and almost total blur in the Iron one instead is dramatically captured by these maps:

Figure 2. Spatial frequency distribution maps of East Eurasian lineages.
Pre-Iron Age period; B- Iron Age period. Frequency values and detailed
information for populations 1–8 are shown in table 3. 1- Mongolia
(Altai), 2- Gorny Altai, 3- West Kazakhstan, 4- Central Kazakhstan, 5-
South Kazakhstan, 6- East Kazakhstan, 7- SW Siberia, 8- Mongolia (Egyin
The authors conclude:

The Pazyryk groups analysed so far appear to be genetically homogeneous
and they did not present significant genetic differences to current
Altaians. These results suggest that roots of the current genetic
diversity and admixture of the Altai region in Central Asia could be
traced back to the Iron Age.


Posted by on November 10, 2012 in aDNA, Altai, Central Asia, East Asia, Mongolia, mtDNA


Y-DNA from Afghanistan

Hazaras (source)
Afghanistan was one of those potentially key crossroads with only indirect sampling, mostly via ethnic relatives from Pakistan. Therefore we must welcome with a great applause the following paper, which fills a gap in our knowledge (next Burma, please):


Afghanistan has held a strategic position throughout history. It has been inhabited since the Paleolithic and later became a crossroad for expanding civilizations and empires. Afghanistan’s location, history, and diverse ethnic groups present a unique opportunity to explore how nations and ethnic groups emerged, and how major cultural evolutions and technological developments in human history have influenced modern population structures. In this study we have analyzed, for the first time, the four major ethnic groups in present-day Afghanistan: Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek, using 52 binary markers and 19 short tandem repeats on the non-recombinant segment of the Y-chromosome. A total of 204 Afghan samples were investigated along with more than 8,500 samples from surrounding populations important to Afghanistan’s history through migrations and conquests, including Iranians, Greeks, Indians, Middle Easterners, East Europeans, and East Asians. Our results suggest that all current Afghans largely share a heritage derived from a common unstructured ancestral population that could have emerged during the Neolithic revolution and the formation of the first farming communities. Our results also indicate that inter-Afghan differentiation started during the Bronze Age, probably driven by the formation of the first civilizations in the region. Later migrations and invasions into the region have been assimilated differentially among the ethnic groups, increasing inter-population genetic differences, and giving the Afghans a unique genetic diversity in Central Asia.

Fig. 1 – PCA derived from Y-chromosomal haplogroup frequencies
In my understanding the really interesting stuff is in the supplemental table 4, which lists all the tested haplogroups for the Afghan samples.
Large and medium samples (n>10) simplified (only largest haplogroups):
  • Hazara (n=60): 20 C3 (33%), 10 J2a* (17%), 6 J2a5 (10%), 4 R1a1a (7%), 3 B (5%), 3 E1b1b1c1 (5%),
  • Tajik (n=56): 17 R1a1a (30%) 9 J2a (14%), 5 O (9%), 3 H1a (5%)
  • Pashtun (n=49): 25 R1a1a (51%), 9 Q (18%), 6 L1c (12%), 3 G2c(6%)
  • Uzbek (n=17): 7 C3 (41%), 3 R1a1a (18%), 2 R1b1a2 (12%)
  • Baluch (n=13): 8 L1a (61%), 2 R2a (15%)
Small and tiny samples (n<10):
  • Norestani (n=5): 3 R1a1a, 1 R2a, 1 J2a*
  • Arab (n=3): 2 L1a, 1 R2a
  • Turkmen (n=1): 1 R1a1a
Hazara Y-DNA oddities (B and M1)
The Hazara Country (source) is the center of Afghanistan
I must say that what stroke me the most were the three Y-DNA B Hazaras. This is a lineage almost unreported in Eurasia and much less in a population that shows no other signs of African admixture. 
Supplementary table 1 lists all haplotypes and the three Y-DNA B Hazaras (two from Bamiyan and one from Ghor) have some differences: they are not recent relatives by patrilineage. Whenever the African lineage arrived to the area, it had since then some time to evolve and diverge locally.
Are we before yet another puzzling Out-of-Africa remnant like the East Asian Y-DNA DE (mostly D)? Or is something more recently arrived? If so, how did it reach such high frequencies among the Hazara (and only them)?
The Hazara sample also includes an individual with Y-DNA M1, which is in principle a Melanesian lineage, i.e. another haplogroup which should not be there, but this one from the opposite corner of the Old World.
Dominant lineages
Otherwise it seems evident that Y-DNA R1a1a dominates among Indoeuropean speakers (Pashtun, Tajik and Noristani), C3 among the Uzbek and Hazara and L1a among the Baluch and “Arab” (who seem identical to the Baluch).
J2a (maybe a Neolithic layer) is also important among Tayik and Hazaras, while Q is very important among Pashtuns (Q is most basally diverse in West Asia, in case you do not know, even if it is most frequent among Native Americans).

Rock art from Uyghuristan may be older than 12,000 years

Just a quick heads up: Pileta de Prehistoria[es] echoes a TeleSur news report[es] on rock art from Northwest China (the region of Uyghur, they say), consisting mostly on hand impressions and also representations of nomadic lifestyle. The paintings are said to be older than 12,000 years ago.
I have no further info right now.
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 1, 2011 in Central Asia, East Asia, rock art


Y-DNA of Khazaks from Altay Republic

Not very clear which is the motivation behind or the peculiar interest of this paper but it should add to the data resources anyhow:
Matthew C. Dullik et al., Y-Chromosome Variation in Altaian Kazakhs Reveals a Common Paternal Gene Pool for Kazakhs and the Influence of Mongolian Expansions. PLoS ONE 2011. Open access.
The data adds to and is compared with previous research (several papers) on Kazakhs from Eastern Kazakhstan. Central and Western Kazakhstan remain pretty much unexplored.
There are some difference in the respective Y-DNA pools but they seem to originate in differential founder effects and not specially in admixture with Altays. Notably:
  • Altay Kazakhs are higher in C(xC3c) (24%) and lower in C3c (39%) than other Kazakhs.
  • They are also higher in O3 (26%)
  • They are also higher in G and J (9%) altogether
SW Altayan Kazakhs may be admixed patrilinearly with native Altayans, while SE Altayan Kazakhs do not show such affinity. This difference may be caused by sampling in a Christian Khazak community living side by side with Altayans and Russians.

Fig. 4 PCA (Y-DNA) of Central Asian and Mongol populations

It is interesting that while the genesis of the Kazakh nation lays historically in separation from Uzbeks, these two Turkic nations do not share almost any lineage.
The poor sampling of Kazahstan and even Kazakhs in China is admitted by the authors as a problem to properly understanding Kazakh genesis. As mentioned before most samples come from Eastern and SE Kazakhstan however most of the country remains unsampled.

Fig. 1  Kazakh populations sampled (5: this paper, * sample localities)
Population density in Central Asia (for reference)

Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Central Asia, population genetics, Siberia, Y-DNA