DNA reveals the origins of modern Europeans

March 23, 2015 by Alan Cooper And Wolfgang Haak, The Conversation
Map depicting the two major hypotheses of the spread of Indo-European languages (white arrows) and geographic distribution of the archaeological cultures described in the text. Credit: Wolfgang Haak, Author provided

Europe is famously tesselated, with different cultural and language groups clustering in different regions. But how did they all get there? And how are they related?

One way of answering these questions comes from digging up relics of the past.Europe has a rich archaeological record, ranging from periods well before the famous metal ages (i.e. copper, bronze and iron) to the recent adventures of the Romans, Vandals, Huns and Vikings.

Distinctive types of pottery and cultural practices associated with burials and settlements have been used to group the ancient populations into individual "archaeological cultures". However, it hasn't been clear whether there is a genetic basis for these group boundaries or whether they're just cultural.

Another line of evidence to illuminate how various groups are related comes from their languages. There is the well known Indo-European language tree – ranging from Hindi to Russian to Spanish. But it's also quite unclear how the languages spread to their present regions.

Now we have another layer of information to help us reveal the history of European peoples: DNA sequencing.

Along with our colleagues, we have been using genome sequencing technology to analyse the vast array of ancient skeletons recovered from across Europe, ranging from the original hunter-gatherer inhabitants to the first farmers who appear around 8,000 years ago, and right up to the early Bronze Age 3,500 years ago.

The genetic results paint a fascinating picture, and were published in a recent series of papers in Nature and Science.

Third wave

What we have found is that, in addition to the original European hunter-gatherers and a heavy dose of Near Eastern farmers, we can now add a third major population: steppe pastoralists. These nomads appear to have "invaded" central Europe in a previously unknown wave during the early Bronze Age (about 4,500 years ago).

This event saw the introduction of two very significant new technologies to western Europe: and the wheel. It also reveals the mysterious source for the Indo-European languages.

Perhaps not so far from their ancestors as they seem. Credit: Ard Hesselink/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The genetic results have answered a number of contentious and long-standing questions in European history. The first big issue was whether the first farmers in Europe were hunter-gatherers who had learnt farming techniques from neighbours in southeast Europe, or did they instead come from the Near East, where farming was invented.

The genetic results are clear: farming was introduced widely across Europe in one or two rapid waves around 8,000 years ago by populations from the Near East -– effectively the very first skilled migrants.

At first the original hunter-gatherer populations appear to have retreated to the fringes of Europe: to Britain, Scandinavia and Finland. But the genetics show that within a few thousand years they had returned, and significant amounts of hunter-gatherer genomic DNA was mixed in with the farmers 7,000 to 5,000 years ago across many parts of Europe.

Wheeling across Europe

But there was still a major outstanding mystery. Apart from these two groups, the genomic signals clearly showed that a third -– previously unsuspected – large contribution had been made sometime before the Iron Age, around 2,000 years ago. But by whom?

We have finally been able to identify the mystery culprit, using a clever new system invented by our colleagues at Harvard University.

Instead of sequencing the entire genome from a very small number of well preserved skeletons, we analysed 400,000 small genetic markers right across the genome. This made it possible to rapidly survey large numbers of skeletons from all across Europe and Eurasia.

This process revealed the solution to the mystery. Our survey showed that skeletons of the Yamnaya culture from the Russian/Ukrainian grasslands north of the Black Sea, buried in large mounds known as kurgans, turned out to be the genetic source we were missing.

This group of pastoralists, with domestic horses and oxen-drawn wheeled carts, appear to be responsible for up to 75% of the genomic DNA seen in central European cultures 4,500 years ago, known as the Corded Ware Culture. This must have represented a major wave of people, along with all their cultural and technological baggage.

Speaking tongues

This discovery also answered another major archaeological conundrum: who or what was the source of the Indo-European language family, which is wide-spread across Eurasia and the world, and includes English, Spanish, French, Greek, Russian and Hindi?

Archaeologists had two major hypotheses: the language family came with either the invading Near East farming wave more than 8,000 years ago, or some form of steppe population sometime much later. Evidence in support of the first hypothesis was the large scale cultural turnover evident with farming.

The second hypothesis was supported by linguistic evidence of common words across Indo-European languages for things like wheeled vehicles and transport that would match the economy and toolkit of the steppe herders.

Our new genomic data finally provides a smoking gun – or a wheeled cart in this case – as the missing evidence of a major cultural contribution from the steppe in the early Bronze Age. While we can't definitively prove that the Yamnaya were the first to introduce Indo-European language to Europe, the size of the genetic input suggests that it brought at least major parts, if not the whole thing.

So for those of us with European heritage, the next time you see an oxen-drawn cart, or a domestic horse, think "that's my heritage", along with a good chunk of hunter-gatherer and a firm base of early farmer.

Explore further: Research challenges popular theory on origin of languages

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OdinsAcolyte
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2015
Beautifully done.
Earth Scientist
not rated yet Mar 23, 2015
As I realized some time back, it is a melange and likely both physically and in time and not so systematic as many think.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Mar 23, 2015
As I realized some time back, it is a melange and likely both physically and in time and not so systematic as many think.

Homogenization is rarely systematic...:-)
jwk
not rated yet Mar 23, 2015
Do you have any theories about how the Bell Beaker culture fits into this big picture?
antigoracle
3 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2015
Hmm.. Hindu, when did that become a language?
rocket77777
1 / 5 (2) Mar 23, 2015
After glacial maximum, most important feature of human is intelligence especially for elites(ruler,manager,inventor,etc). The most active genetic enhancer HARE5 is probably one of biggest important factor. It should be studied on haploggroup since mitocondrial probably only make tiny difference in high attitude such as tibet.
I would say this will prove my theory that Sumer was cradle of civilization and from there empire structure and religion spread. Sort of like Babylon except it was drought that caused Sumer to fail.

harrynaraine_singh
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2015
This is an intriguing possibility about human development. But, Hindu as a language?
Whydening Gyre
4 / 5 (8) Mar 23, 2015
"Hmm.. Hindu, when did that become a language?"

"This is an intriguing possibility about human development. But, Hindu as a language?"


The article did not say Hindu, it said Hindi, which IS a language. They showed that modern European languages are an off shoot of that by calling it Indo-European.... (a combination of Hindi with other languages of the more local region)

You guys were a little quick on the trigger with that one... Read s-l-o-w-e-r....
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2015
After glacial maximum, most important feature of human is intelligence especially for elites(ruler,manager,inventor,etc). The most active genetic enhancer HARE5 is probably one of biggest important factor. It should be studied on haploggroup since mitocondrial probably only make tiny difference in high attitude such as tibet.
I would say this will prove my theory that Sumer was cradle of civilization and from there empire structure and religion spread. Sort of like Babylon except it was drought that caused Sumer to fail.

I'd take your bet on that "cradle of civilization" thingy... I'd be more apt to put money on an Indo-centric cradle...
Just sayin'...
bierzoj
1 / 5 (8) Mar 23, 2015
Too easy.....the kurgan story ....nothing new....again anthropology renders itself to the "white" group....discarding the most obvious card....the southern european group....who had to go the shrtest distance, the warmest climate....but most anthropologist want to be vikings....pure unadulterated BS.....jejeje.....
In a cave in NW Spain (in the province of Leon) was found the oldest DNA in Europe....akin to northern europeans and all....understandable for the rest of europe was frozen.....people traveled north....not south....maybe later the met them kurgans....Anthropology is at best....a "wishful science"
biznezetc
1 / 5 (7) Mar 23, 2015
There is alot of discoveries on human DNA as it pertains to race, that will be rarely shared in the media. Leading anthropoligist revealing White-skinned people came into existence thousands of years ago as the Albino mutant offspring of black-skinned mothers and fathers in Africa. A sizable number of these Black parents produced, rejected and then cast out of the community their genetic defective albino offspring to live away from the normal black skin-pigmented population. There were colonies of albinos formed which eventually migrated northward to Europe, to escape the intensity of the equatorial sun of the Southern hemisphere. Do your own reasearch with the genetic analysis of Y-DNA haplogroup "R". As a white man dedicated to research, I find it sadly amazing what this article leaves out. 
NoDoubt
1 / 5 (12) Mar 23, 2015
All Europeans can be traced back to Japeth, son of Noah, after the flood. There are lots of secular geneologies which confirm that, and which also of course, confirms the Biblical Table of Nations from Genesis 10 and 11. The language part comes from the same understanding that God separated people by language at the Tower of Babel causing them to disperse. DNA proves all humans came from the original two parents (Adam and Eve), but subsequently were split into three distinct lines (Ham, Shem and Japeth) after the flood.
Whydening Gyre
4.6 / 5 (9) Mar 23, 2015
All Europeans can be traced back to Japeth, son of Noah, after the flood. There are lots of secular geneologies which confirm that, and which also of course, confirms the Biblical Table of Nations from Genesis 10 and 11. The language part comes from the same understanding that God separated people by language at the Tower of Babel causing them to disperse. DNA proves all humans came from the original two parents (Adam and Eve), but subsequently were split into three distinct lines (Ham, Shem and Japeth) after the flood.

Wow, no doubt...
Why do you even bother to frequent a site that doesn't agree with your perspective?
Are you 'witnessing" truth to us poor, uninformed, heathen "pagans"?
katesisco
1 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2015
Everybody is right.
Catastrophe by D Keys was informative of the replacement in European growth and direction by the importation of plague from the east coast of grain growing Africa. One minute S/W England had the lead and then "Poof" gone.
It is entirely possible that much the same happened regularly deeper in the past. The replaced group was fragmented but lingered in myth. Over and over. That would have left pockets of people too few to cope with an influx of new masses who cared not one whit for what was.
Sort of like what you see happening today but mediaized.
non-white majority
1 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2015
Today's Europeans are the result of all three of them mixing yet they are not any of those people before that. Translation: today's Europeans are not the true or even the first Europeans, thus there is no reason to be complaining about mass migration/immigration.

Plus, without people from the Middle East Europeans would have no writing, no metals, no wheel, no agriculture, no white skin, no "civilization", no anything. People were supposedly in Europe for over 40,000 years yet did nothing until all those inventions had to come from the Middle East.
oneredice
5 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2015
"Hmm.. Hindu, when did that become a language?"

"This is an intriguing possibility about human development. But, Hindu as a language?"


The article did not say Hindu, it said Hindi, which IS a language. They showed that modern European languages are an off shoot of that by calling it Indo-European.... (a combination of Hindi with other languages of the more local region)

You guys were a little quick on the trigger with that one... Read s-l-o-w-e-r....


Actually, in the section titled, " Speaking tongues" first paragraph, last line, reads "...hindu?", referring it as a language.
It's ok it happens, all you need to do is read a little s-m-a-r-t-e-r.
Stevepidge
3 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2015
"Hmm.. Hindu, when did that become a language?"

"This is an intriguing possibility about human development. But, Hindu as a language?"


The article did not say Hindu, it said Hindi, which IS a language. They showed that modern European languages are an off shoot of that by calling it Indo-European.... (a combination of Hindi with other languages of the more local region)

You guys were a little quick on the trigger with that one... Read s-l-o-w-e-r....


Actually, in the section titled, " Speaking tongues" first paragraph, last line, reads "...hindu?", referring it as a language.
It's ok it happens, all you need to do is read a little s-m-a-r-t-e-r.


yup H-I-N-D-U
Whydening Gyre
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 23, 2015

Actually, in the section titled, " Speaking tongues" first paragraph, last line, reads "...hindu?", referring it as a language.
It's ok it happens, all you need to do is read a little s-m-a-r-t-e-r.
yup H-I-N-D-U


Dang, you're right. Missed that one. Only caught the first one..
Dang Evelyn Woodhead sped-redding course...
Guess I'll have to read slower like the rest of you yahoos...:-)
pereubu2000
1 / 5 (5) Mar 23, 2015
"...the source of the Indo-European language family, which is wide-spread across Eurasia and the world, and includes English, Spanish, French, Greek, Russian and Hindu?" There it is. Nothing undercuts an article's authority like a seventh grade mistake, nor destroys a commentator's opinion like ill-observed and snarky comments. You need to think and look - no slow reading required.
Whydening Gyre
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 23, 2015
Snarky, indeed...
Notice how the two commentators in question didn't seem to catch the FIRST reference of "Hindi" enough to understand that the following "Hindu" was an obvious proofreading mistake?
Or they did and decided to look s-m-a-r-t by ignoring it...
Would you have even noticed if the comments section hadn't brought it to your attention?
And did you also notice that I was the one who admitted to my mistake?
rockyvnvmc
1 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2015
Of course all of the above is premised upon our 'modern' world, or the world as it has developed since the 'Great Flood' of antiquity.

If, as there is adequate evidence to assume, (see OOPAs) there were previous civilizations that were in existence in the antediluvian world, it all falls apart, as most certainly some of our current languages and culture must have originated with those few who survived it, or else we would not exist in this time and place.

There are suggestions that there were several such previous cataclysms, on our several billions of years old planet, that effectively snuffed out many of the life forms that were, then, in existence.
wallystuffit
not rated yet Mar 24, 2015
indo-european means the languages from certain roots span from Europe to india, but the origins of those root words is Turkey.
animah
5 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2015
indo-european means the languages from certain roots span from Europe to india, but the origins of those root words is Turkey.


That's not true. Indo-European means languages that trace their most ancient roots to Sanskrit. See for example:

http://en.wikiped...t_origin

You're thinking of turkic languages, which ultimately trace their ancestry to Mongolia and Persia.

http://en.wikiped...anguages

There are ancient English words that are used in Hindi to this day, such as mother and father (mataa and pitaa in Hindi via Latin mater and pater, from earlier Etruscan words).

And wonderfully, many more that trace back to these 6,000 year origins or more. For example, charpoy in Sanskrit meaning a plank (char) with feet (poy) i.e. a cart. So char -> chariot -> car and poy -> pedes -> pied in French -> pedestrian.
saach4you
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2015
These languages come from the spread of indo-europeans from the indus basin. Large waves of people migrated out of the indus valley and spread over what are termed 'migration spreadzones' and 'linguistic spreadzones' across the eurasian steppe. These agro pastoralist who left the indus valley formed a pastoralist society which did have intermittent farming techniques.

Search books and papers by Shrikant Talageri and Nicolas Kozanas which have shed light on the migration that occured from the indus basin. After the climatic changes of the indus valley and subsequent shifting of the rivers of that area the roots of the high culture were disconnected from the invaders sweeping into europe from the steppe.
littlelikeness
not rated yet Mar 25, 2015
Great article, I look forward to researching this a bit more now. I wonder where the Saami People fit into all of this, they are the Indigenous Original Europeans, first on the land.
DonGateley
not rated yet Mar 30, 2015
Wow! Another great thread for identifying those to ignore. Do the freaks get any notification or any count of the people ignoring them? They really should. Nothing will change their contrary behavior, the pathology is too deep, but I'd sure love them to know how important their "thought" isn't.
katesisco
not rated yet Mar 30, 2015
From Wiki http://en.wikiped...h_people

The study indicated that the Turkish genetic structure is unique, and admixture of Turkish people reflects the population migration patterns.[2] Among all sampled groups, the Adygei population from the Caucasus was closest to the Turkish samples.[2]

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