Category Archives: Ukraine

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


Mitochondrial DNA of some Slavic peoples

With emphasis on haplogroup H5 and H6.
Marta Mielnik-Sikorska et al., The History of Slavs Inferred from Complete Mitochondrial Genome Sequences. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054360]

Most interesting is maybe table 1 (right), which lists two Polish populations (Kashubia, at the Baltic coast, and Podhale: the Carpathian piedmont), Ukrainians and Czechs.
We can see here that the most common lineages among these Slavs are not different from other European populations, namely H*, H1, U5a, U5b and also the, arguably Neolithic, lineages J1 and T2. I find relevant in this sense that there is a significant amount of T(xT1,T2) among Kashubian Polish especially.
Another point of interest is the minor presence of North and Central Asian lineages A, C, D and G, for which the authors present an elaborate rationale:

… we were able to pinpoint some lineages which could possibly reflect the relatively recent contacts of Slavs with nomadic Altaic peoples (C4a1a, G2a, D5a2a1a1).

They also suggest that the L2a1l2a, found among the Polish, is of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. L1b1a8 found in Polish and Russians belongs to the wider L1b1a, recently argued to be European-specific.
Another point of notice may be the rare HV0(xV) found at significant frequencies among Ukranians (4.5%).
But the authors make a particular effort to discern within haplogroups H5 and H6, which they find of particular interest. H5 might be (with doubts) of Italian origin and they consider its coalescence age (on the dubious molecular clock estimate methods) as clearly pre-Neolithic.
Based on these speculative methods they argue that several Slavic-specific clades within H5 may be contemporary in origin with U4a2, common in Central and Eastern Europe. They consider both to be roughly from Early Neolithic times.

Figure 1. Complete mtDNA phylogenetic tree of haplogroup H5.
Green: Polish, Czech, Slovaks, Ukrainians and Russians
Red: German, Dutch and Austrians
Yellow: Italians and Spaniards
Blue: Irish, British, Danes and Finns
Magenta: Tunisia
→ Black: Levant
Grey: USA
White: unknown geography
If they are correct in their interpretation of the tempo of H5, the hypothesis of H sublineages migrating Northwards, from Southern to Central Europe, within Neolithic would seem to gain some support.
However H5 is less common in the Czech Republic and Austria than in Poland or Ukraine and the Neolithic colonization of Poland should have gone via the Czech Republic and, previously, Austria. Of course we cannot reject upfront a founder effect specific to Poland but what about Ukraine, which was almost totally oblivious to the Balcano-Danubian Neolithic phenomenon?
The other focus is H6, which is found almost only among Ukranian and Czechs of the four target populations. Generally speaking H6a and the most rare H6c are European, while H6b is Central and West Asian. In spite of its extreme rarity, the authors detected H6c in three individuals (one Czech, one Pole and one Slovak), all non-Slavic H6c are from Central-West or NW Europe (or from unknown locations). This seems to define H6c as a rare Northern-Central European haplogroup (excluding Eastern Europe apparently).

The remaining H6 samples sequenced in our study belong to different H6a subclusters being identified as singletons (H6a1a*) or as members of subclusters H6a1a4, H6a1a9 and H6a1b3. Subcluster H6a1a9 is novel, comprising of two haplotypes found in Russians and Ukrainians. Subcluster H6a1b3 is also interesting because it contains, except for European individuals of unknown origin, a founder haplotype of Czech origin and two Polish haplotypes.

Figure 2. Complete mtDNA phylogenetic tree of haplogroup H6 (legend as above).


A qualified opinion on the Eastern Gravettian

The always interesting Aggersbach’s Paleolithic Blog offers today an entry pondering the Eastern Gravettian and the so-called Willendorf-Kostenki complex. You probably want to read it in full but in any case I appreciate a pondered opinion on these matters, which may help us to understand better the overall process of the European Upper Paleolithic. 

Stone saws from Kostenki

My pick is:

In my view, the extremely rich archaeological record of the east
European plain clearly supports the two-stage concept of an eastern
Gravettian with occasional leaf point production, followed by a
Gravettian with (Micro)-Gravettes, backed microliths and shouldered
points (Mitoc Malu Galben in the Pruth valley; Molodova 5,
layers VIII and VII; Molodova 1, lower layer; Korman’ 4, layers VII and
VI; Voronovitsa 1, upper layer; and Babin I in the Dnester river basin, Khotylevo 2 in the Desna river basin).

Also mentioned, as the best approximation to a non-existing online paper in English about the Willendorf-Kostenki complex is an article at another fabulous and veteran site: Don’s Maps, from which I’m borrowing some illustrations to complement this entry.

Reconstructed Kostenki tent/home, one of those not built with mammoth bones

Ritual cannibalism among early Crimean Homo sapiens

Stratigraphic sequence of Buran Kaya III
New research about the earliest documented Homo sapiens of Crimea:
The paper deals mainly with the cave of Buran-Kaya III in the wider context of the Crimean transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic.
Importantly the remains of several anatomically modern humans were found, mostly skulls and mandibles, which showed signs of cannibalism. The fact that these remains were treated differently from saigas (an antelope, food) clearly indicates that we are before ritual cannibalism and not dietary one. These bones have produced dates of c. 32,000 BP (almost 36,000 years ago after calibration).
Besides the issue of ritual cannibalism, the site shows a peculiar sequence with a Micoquian layer placed between a Szeletian and an Aurignacian one. While Szeletian (similar to Chatelperronian) is considered an Upper Paleolithic industry, the Micoquian with its heavy hand axes is thought of as a Middle Paleolithic one, reason why archaeologists raise their eyebrows when finding it above (after) a Szeletian layer. 
However I must say here that both cultures would probably be attributed to Neanderthals by most experts, while this would not be the case with the Aurignacian which sits on top of them. 
After the Aurignacian layer we arrive to the Gravettian one, which is the context in which the remains of seemingly cannibalized Homo sapiens were found. This layer has also produced personal ornaments made of mammoth ivory. 
Overall Buran-Kaya III has produced some 23,000 artifacts.