Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer ancestry and Indo-Hittite


Caucasus hunter-gatherer (CHG) ancestry is defined by a Late Palaeolithic individual from Satsurblia cave (ca. 11000 BC), and a Mesolithic individual from Kotias Klde cave, in western Georgia (ca. 6000 BC) – both of haplogroup J-M304 (Kotias and probably both from J2-M172).

Caucasus hunter-gatherers seem to have weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation, with the individual from Satsurblia showing also signs of recent consanguinity. That isolation has continued partially into the modern population of the southern Caucasus, in terms of ancestry, as well as Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups[Jones et al. 2015].

CHG ancestry was believed until recently to have contributed only late to the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with the formation of the Yamna culture, since Samara hunter-gatherers showed only EHG ancestry and no CHG ancestry, while Yamna samples had up to 43% of CHG ancestry[Jones et al. 2015][Lazaridis et al. 2016].

However, the so-called ‘Yamna ancestry’ has been found in individuals from the Balkans at Varna I (ca. 4630 BC), Smyadovo (ca. 4500 BC), and Trypillian culture (ca. 3780 BC), some 2,000-1,000 years before the main Chalcolithic expansion associated with Late Indo-European [Mathieson et al. 2017].


Modified from Mathieson et al (2017). Left: «Individuals projected onto axes defined by the principal components of 799 present-day West Eurasians (not shown in thisplot for clarity, but shown in Extended Data Figure 1). Projected points include selected published individuals (faded colored circles, labeled) and newly reported individuals (other symbols; outliers shown by additional black circles). Colored polygons indicate the individuals that had cluster memberships fixed at 100% for the supervised admixture analysis [on the right]». Right: «Supervised ADMIXTURE plot, modeling each ancient individual (one per row), as a mixture of populations represented by clusters containing Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (orange), EHG (red) and WHG (blue)». Dates indicate approximate range of individuals in each population[Mathieson et al. 2017]. Original image under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license.

This suggests a more likely gradual contribution from intermittent contacts with cultures from the Caucasus during the Mesolithic-Neolithic and Neolithic-Chalcolithic transitions, joint with the westward expansions (and probably inner west-east movements) of Middle Indo-European speakers in the Pontic-Caspian steppe and beyond its natural frontiers to the north.

This CHG ancestry might be involved in what is believed to be the Caucasian substratum of Indo-European[Bomhard 2017], potentially differentiating it from Uralic within a hypothetic ancient Indo-Uralic group[Kortlandt 2002], which could then be tentatively identified with the older EHG ancestry.

In any case, a conservative view will be observed in this paper, assuming Proto-Uralic to be the language of hunter-gatherers in the Forest Zone, north of the Pontic Caspian steppe, at the same time as Middle Indo-European was spoken in the steppes in the transition to the Neolithic[Parpola 2012].

mesolithic_Steppe.jpg Diachronic map of Mesolithic migrations ca. 6500-5000 BC [Anthony 2007][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln.

neolithic_steppe-1.jpg Diachronic map of Early Neolithic migrations ca. 5000-4000 BC near the Caucasus [Anthony 2007][Piezonka 2015][Czekaj-Zastawny, Kabaciński, and Terberger 2015].


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