A more recent, revised and updated version of this paper has been published (2019)

Yamna migration

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Yamna settlements spread westward into the Danube valley and to the north up the Prut River, beginning ca. 3100 and continuing up to ca. 2800 BC. A real current of immigration is noticed ca. 2950 BC[Heyd 2007], later than the expansion of the Corded Ware horizon, with the earliest settlement appearing in Varna bay in Bulgaria. A large settlement appeared to the west in southwestern Romania divided by the Danube River (Tarnava-Rast group). Migrants pushed west, appearing west of the Iron Gates in Jabuke, but the largest number of migrants ended up in the central Carpathian basin. Another settlement appeared south of the Varna bay, in the Balkan uplands (Kovachevo-Troyanovo), within the Ezero culture[Anthony 2007].

A rapid decline in human activities peaked in Central Europe between 4000–3000 BC and recovered only after 3000 BC, accelerating after 2500 BC. This decline has been related to adaptation processes during climatic changes[Kolář et al. 2016][Gardner 2002] – which might have helped the expansion of Yamna settlers into scarcely populated areas –, and it recovered after 3000 BC with a more humid climate that favoured grassland productivity[Harrison and Heyd 2007], accelerating after 2500 BC, which is compatible with the expansion of the horse, the wheel, and pastoralist societies into these areas. Their migration seems not to have been a traumatic event. There might have been local conflicts and raids, but there are signs of interaction with contemporary societies, as well as exchange of ideas, innovations and material culture[Heyd 2007].

The massive Yamna migration in south-east Europe is said to have been well organized, either in loose family alliances (the most likely scenario) or in clans, in any case with a clear leadership and structure[Heyd 2007]. There were possibly more than one wave of migrations, with differences noted north and south of the Balkans, which could correspond to the different lineages expanded to the west and south. At least one migration wave seems to have come from the north Pontic region, due to the presence of wagons (or parts of wagons) and stelae – characteristic of the Kemi-Oba and neighbouring South Bug - Lower Don steppe –, in burial mound cemeteries of Yamna settlements[Kaiser and Winger 2015].

Large stone anthropomorphic stelae seem to have first appeared in the Mikhailovka I culture in the second half of the 4th millennium. Mikhailovka I areas were replaced by the Usatovo culture, but its culture continued in the Kemi-Oba culture of Crimea. Carved stone stelae appear to have expanded in frequency and elaboration in both territories, and in part of the north Pontic steppes, after about 3300 BC[Anthony 2007]. Strikingly similar stone stelae appeared later in the Caucasus, Troy, and also in Central and Western Europe, and with special frequency in the Swiss Alps and in the Provence. A maritime route for such cultural expansion has been proposed, which would justify e.g. its early presence in Troy[Anthony 2007].

chalcolithic_early_yamna_west.jpg Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2007][Heyd 2007].

Mainly associated with funerary customs in the Yamna horizon, the use of other carved anthropomorphic stones seem to herald the influence of the Yamna culture in Europe, just like the building of tumuli, the enhancement of gender distinctions, and the internationalisation of special objects made of rare materials as status indicators. This influence was seen in the Corded Ware/Single Grave culture in central and eastern Europe in the east, Vučedol in the western Balkans, Makó/Kosihý-Čaka/Somogyvár in the Carpathian Basin, and even the Bell Beaker culture in south-western Europe around 2700/2600 BC[Harrison and Heyd 2007]. Stone stelae and figurines might have also been used quite differently, or for different purposes, in certain local cultures[Robb 2009][Díaz-Guardamino 2014].

Radiocarbon dates from the north Pontic steppe show the late presence of steppe materials cultures in the Carpathian EBA (ca. 2500 BC), in the Makó-Kosihy-Čaka/Somogyvár-Vinkovci/Late Vučedol, and others like Schneckenberg-Glina III, Csepel, or Early Nagyrév. These cultures have been argued to form a cultural unity, and it is proposed that such influence may have come from Yamna settlements on the left bank of the Tisza River[Rassamakin and Nikolova 2008].


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 this plot 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.

Such wide-ranging European cultural influence was not accompanied by significant steppe migrations in the case of the Corded Ware and Proto-Beaker cultures[Harrison and Heyd 2007], and were mostly the result of a strong influence by the so-called Yamna package. In fact, while the west Beaker culture arriving in Sion (ca. 2500 BC) had stelae marking individual burials, it seems to be the destruction of these stelae the event that signals the arrival of east Bell Beakers ca. 2425 BC[Heyd 2007], probably associated with a later expansion of Yamna lineages into western Europe. This destruction shows the doctrinal conflict within the Bell Beaker ideology, with two groups (a south-western and an eastern one) in conflict, with another change in burials, to cists reflecting the new family-based structures, and with heads pointing to the rising sun in the east.

It seems that during the expansion of the western Beaker culture to the east, Yamna migrants reached southern Germany. The farther west that a Yamna burial has appeared is Bleckendorf in Saxony-Anhalt, dated ca. 2850-2500 BC[Harrison and Heyd 2007].

Individuals from Yamna in the north Pontic steppe have been sampled near Pokrov, at the Dnipropetrovsk region, two at Shevchenko (ca. 3000 BC) and one at Ozera (ca. 3005 BC), which show Yamna ancestry but the latter with a distinct contribution and a ‘southern’ drift in PCA[Mathieson et al. 2017]. ‘South-eastern’ admixture is found in a Yamna sample from Bulgaria at Mednikarovo (ca. 2955 BC).

Support for the western migrations from Yamna is found in the sample of haplogroup R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 from Beli Manastir, of the Vučedol culture, dated ca. 2775 BC[Mathieson et al. 2017], with an admixture similar to the sample at Mednikarovo. This eastern Yamna subclade also found later in a Bell Beaker individual from Hungary at Szigetszentmiklós ca. 2330 BC[Olalde et al. 2017]. Other early Bell Beaker samples and the modern distribution of basal R1b1a1a2a1-L51* in Central Europe all suggest a western migration of peoples from the Yamna culture – and mainly western R1b1a1a2a1-L51 lineages – along the Danube.

r1b-L51.jpg Modern distribution of haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1-L51*. Adapted from Richard Rocca (2012).


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