Category Archives: Iron Age

SW African Bantu matrilineages

Prolific researcher Chiara Barbieri has put online another interesting study on African genetics, this time about the Bantu populations of Southwestern and Central-Southern Africa (i.e. Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zambia).
Chiara Barbieri et al., Migration and interaction in a contact zone: mtDNA variation among Bantu-speakers in southern Africa. bioRXiv 2014. Freely accessible (pre-pub) → LINK


Bantu speech communities expanded over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa within the last 4000-5000 years, reaching different parts of southern Africa 1200-2000 years ago. The Bantu languages subdivide in several major branches, with languages belonging to the Eastern and Western Bantu branches spreading over large parts of Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa. There is still debate whether this linguistic divide is correlated with a genetic distinction between Eastern and Western Bantu speakers. During their expansion, Bantu speakers would have come into contact with diverse local populations, such as the Khoisan hunter-gatherers and pastoralists of southern Africa, with whom they may have intermarried. In this study, we analyze complete mtDNA genome sequences from over 900 Bantu-speaking individuals from Angola, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana to investigate the demographic processes at play during the last stages of the Bantu expansion. Our results show that most of these Bantu-speaking populations are genetically very homogenous, with no genetic division between speakers of Eastern and Western Bantu languages. Most of the mtDNA diversity in our dataset is due to different degrees of admixture with autochthonous populations. Only the pastoralist Himba and Herero stand out due to high frequencies of particular L3f and L3d lineages; the latter are also found in the neighboring Damara, who speak a Khoisan language and were foragers and small-stock herders. In contrast, the close cultural and linguistic relatives of the Herero and Himba, the Kuvale, are genetically similar to other Bantu-speakers. Nevertheless, as demonstrated by resampling tests, the genetic divergence of Herero, Himba, and Kuvale is compatible with a common shared ancestry with high levels of drift and differential female admixture with local pre-Bantu populations.

Figure 1: Map showing the rough geographical location of populations, 
colored by linguistic affiliation. Abbreviations of population labels are 
as specified in Table 1.

In spite of the Bantu-centric approach of the study, which also has its merits, my greatest interest is rather in the less typically Bantu lineages, which speak of admixture with several pre-Bantu populations.
In this sense I find the following highlights:

Fig. S2 (annotated in green by Maju): CA plots based on haplogroup frequencies. Left: all the dataset, right: excluding outliers.

L3d and L3f founder effect:
The Himba and Herero, as well as the non-Bantu pastoralists Damara make one distinctive cluster defined by the high frequencies of haplogroup L3d, as well as L3f (not present among the Damara but found among the Kuvale). As discussed in the paper, the Himba and Herero may be related to the Kuvale of SW Angola but they have notable differential levels (or directionality) of aboriginal admixture. 
As both L3d and L3f are present in West and East Africa alike, it is interesting to track the specific subhaplogroups implicated in this founder effect, something done in fig. 4. 
The main L3d sublineage is L3d3a1, whose haplotype network shows a largely Khoisan centrality (not Damara) although this node is shared also by some unspecified “other Bantu”. The Southern Africa specificity of L3d3a was already noticed in the past (see here). So it is very possible that we are before an aboriginal Southern African lineage, maybe arrived with the first Khoisan Neolithic (or whatever other ancient flow) rather than a Bantu-specific founder effect. 
The main L3f subhaplogroup is L3f1b4a, which seems more specifically Bantu, with a major branch concentrated among the Himba, Herero and Kuvale. This lineage is not found among the Damara in spite of the other strong affinity of this Khoisan population towards the Himba and Herero. L3f1b is found in Southern Africa, Kenya and Oman (per Bihar 2008), so we are probably before a distinctive East African element, not too likely to be genuinely Bantu but possibly just assimilated into Bantu ethnic identity. 
Even if both lineages converge in the Himba and Herero, they are almost certainly different inputs, one of Damara (herder Khoisan) origin and the other of Bantuized East African origin maybe.
L1b founder effect:
L1b is essentially a West African lineage concentrated in the Sahel area from Chad westwards (although L1b1a2 is from the Nile basin). A particularly high frequency population are the Fulani pastoralists, original from the Westernmost African plateaus, who ruled many kingdoms in West Africa between the collapse of the colonial rule by Morocco and the consolidation of the European conquest of the continent.
As this study does not dwell in sublineages, we cannot understand the most likely specific origins of it among several Southern African populations, specifically the pooled NE Zambians (13%) and the Fwe and Shanjo of SW Zambia (24-27%).
In any case it is a notorious founder effect, almost absent in other Bantus of the area (0-10%).
Typical L0d Khoisan admixture:
This element is concentrated in Botswana (~25%) and with highest frequencies in the SW Kgalagadi (53%). It is also important among the Kuvale of SW Angola (21%). Other Bantu populations in this dataset have frequencies under 10%, some even zero. The Damara have 13%.
We know from previous studies that it is also found at high frequencies among the Xosha of South Africa (L0d3).
While L3h appears marked in the graph, the lineage is in fact absent in all populations except at very low frequency among the Kuvale (2%), so it does not seem actually of any relevance. 
Less typical L0k around SW Zambia:
While L0k is generally considered an aboriginal Southern African lineage it has a much more northernly distribution than the more common and surely older L0d. Its area of greatest commonality seems to be SW Zambia (see here and here).
This study confirms this distribution:

Supplementary Figure S3[A]: Haplogroup frequencies of important haplogroups in the populations studied here. A: Haplogroups L0d and L0k.(…)

The size of the circles is proportional to the sample size.

High frequencies of L1c (Pygmy admixture marker) among Southern African Bantus:
An interesting element is the commonality of L1c, typical of Western Pygmies and some other populations from Gabon (possibly representative of the wider West-Central Africa jungle region, not too well studied otherwise), among almost all Bantu populations in this dataset. 
The exceptions are the Herero, Himba, Kgalagadi and Tswana (0%), as well as the NE Zambians (4%). All the rest have frequencies between 12% and 30%. Even the non-Bantu Damaras have 11% of it.
In my understanding this almost certainly implies a notable level of admixture with Western Pygmies of the Bantus from especially Angola and West Zambia. A phenomenon that may be widespread in Central-West Africa. 
It is notable however that at least many of the populations with the highest likely Khoisan admixture (in its various forms, discussed in the previous sections) have the lesser frequencies of L1c (Pygmy admixture). So to a great extent these two aboriginal influences in Bantu mtDNA seem mutually exclusive and were probably produced after settlement rather than “on the march”. 
This in turn arises some interesting questions about the ethnic geography of Africa before the Bantu expansion. 

Update: I just noticed that Ethiohelix has parsed the haplogroups’ frequency into a very helpful chartLINK.

See also:

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


    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


    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.


    SE Iberian pollution in the Metal Ages

    One of the earliest cases of overexploitation and pollution in Europe has been found in SE Iberia, a key center of Early Bronze in Western Europe (Argaric civilization). The sediments of a lake in Sierra Nevada (Andalusia), known as Laguna de Río Seco (pictured), have provided the evidence for important pollution c. 3900 years ago, just when the Bronze Age began in the region. This is attributed mostly not to industry but to increase in fires and deforestation.
    However, as we get into the Late Bronze (post-Argaric culture) and Iron age (Iberian culture), the evidence speaks of a type of pollution which can only be attributed to manufacture: lead. This kind of pollution reached a peak c. 2900 years ago (beginnings of Iron Age) and then again in the Roman era (as well as in the Industrial Age).
    It is worth mentioning that lead pollution has decreased in the last decades, caused no doubt by the environmental awareness of these times and derived normative, like banning lead from gasoline.
    Sources: SINC[es], Paleorama en Red[es].
    Ref. A. García Alix et al., Anthropogenic impact and lead pollution throughout the Holocene in Southern Iberia. Science of the Total Environment 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.01.081]


    Iberian script of Iruña-Veleia

    A new study of the Iberian script findings withing the (partly disputed but most likely very real) ostraka graffiti at Iruña-Veleia (Basque-Roman city of Antiquity on which I have written extensively in the past) is freely available online.
    Antonio Arnaiz-Villena & Diego Rey, Iberian-Tartessian scripts/graffiti in Iruna-Veleia (Basque Country, North Spain): findings in both Iberia and Canary Islands-Africa. International Journal of Modern Anthropology 2012. Freely accessibleLINK


    760 officially recognized scripts on ceramics from Iruña-Veleia excavated by the archaeology firm Lurmen S.L. (approximately between years 2002-2008)have been analyzed. A number of these ceramics contains scripts which may be assimilated to Iberian/Tartessian writings. This number may be underestimated since more studies need to be done in already available and new found ceramics. This is the second time that Iberian writing is found by us in an unexpected location together with the Iberian-Guanche inscriptions of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura (Canary Islands). On the other hand, naviform scripting, usually associated to Iberian rock or stone engraving may have also been found in Veleia. Strict separation, other than in time and space stratification, between Iberian and (South) Tartessian culture and script is doubted.

    Source: Ama Ata[es].