Tocharian expansion


The Early Bronze Age Afanasevo culture (ca. 3500-2600) in the Altai-Sayan region has been found to be genetically indistinguishable from Yamna in admixture analyses using exclusively female samples [Allentoft et al. 2015].

Linguists have placed Proto-Tocharian together with the North-West Indo-European dialectal zone, but showing innovations compatible with an isolated development [Mallory and Adams 2007]. The findings of Anthony [Anthony 2007] regarding the early spread of a group from the Repin society into Afanasevo (ca. 3000-2800) supports the eastward expansion of a western Yamna group, and therefore the position of Tocharian as part of an early ‘Northern’ Indo-European split.

The sample of haplogroup R1b1a1a2a-L23 (xR1b1a1a2a2-Z2103, xR1b1a1a2a1-L51) at Lopatino II (ca. 3000 BC) in the Samara region [Haak et al. 2015] might be speculatively interpreted as a member of one of several clans different from those sharing R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 lineages in the Volga-Ural zone, a region that shows an overwhelming majority of R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 lineages in previous (late Khvalynsk) and posterior (Poltavka) cultures.

In the Copper Age, one sample of the Bolshemys culture (ca. 4th millennium BC) and three individuals from the succeeding Afanasevo culture (ca. 3000 BC) were found to belong to R1b1a1a2-M269 lineages, and three more to haplogroup R1b1-L278[1] [Holland 2014], which more clearly points to the expansion of male migrants from Yamna. A division between a Mongol Altai and a Siberian area of Indo-European influence was clearly seen in ancient DNA samples from a later period, where only one sample from the Okunev culture (ca. 2300-1800 BC) was of R1b1a1a2-M269 ancestry, with three samples of haplogroup N1a1-M46 (see Mesolithic languages) that suggest a change of the paternal line in the region [Holland 2014].

However, the main lineages found in Tarim Basin mummies of the Xiaohe necropolis (dated ca. 2000 BC), 11 out of 12 male remains, were of R1a1a1-M417 lineages [Li et al. 2010]. If these were actually ancestors of later Tocharian speakers, this would support a cultural assimilation of Pre-Tocharian into peoples of R1a1a1-M417 lineages, and also that the migration of the Pre-Tocharian language to the Tarim Basin was coincident with the Andronovo expansion, which “had transformed the steppes from a series of isolated cultural ponds to a corridor of communication” [Anthony 2007]. That change is clearly attested in aDNA samples from the final Bronze Age, where no sample of haplogroup R1b1a1a2-M269 is found, but haplogroup R1a1a1b2-Z93 is found in this area and others Eurasian sites distant from each other. This period marks also the appearance of Paleo-Siberian lineages in south Siberia[Holland 2014].

From all paternal lineages found in modern Uyghurs [Zhong et al. 2013], only that of R1b1a1a2-M269 lineages cannot be explained by earlier or later population expansions.

copper-age-early-2_afanasevo.jpg Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 3100-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2012][Heyd 2014].

copper-age-late-2-afanasevo.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2600-2250 BC[Heyd 2014][Anthony 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Prieto Martínez and Salanova 2015][Fokkens and Nicolis 2012].

early-bronze-age_afanasevo.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC[Anthony 2007][Krause 2013][Hanks, Epimakhov, and Renfrew 2015][Jaeger 2012][Kristiansen and Larsson 2005][Fokkens and Harding 2013][Meller et al. 2015].


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  1. These R1b1-L278 samples were most likely R1b1a1a2-M269, according to a phylogenetic network created by Holland (2014).