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Thread: Prehistoric Human Migrations

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    Prehistoric Human Migrations

    The sequencing of large numbers of genes, including many whole genomes, is something that has made possible a lot of interesting and important biological discoveries, including about ourselves. Most of the populated places of our planet were discovered to already be populated by their first literate visitors, and these people's ancestors must have gotten there long ago. Usually much longer ago than any of them remember in their oral lore.

    Turning from initial peopling, there is the question of how technological, stylistic, linguistic, and other cultural features spread. Did a new population come in and outbreed or push out or exterminate the previous population? Did some small but adventurous elite take over? Did people learn stuff from their neighbors without moving anywhere (cultural diffusion)?

    Around the turn of the 20th cy., archeologists and paleoanthropologists rather indiscriminately postulated migrations, while in the mid 20th cy., the opposite belief became common, something that may be called "immobilism". But genetic research has made it possible to test these hypotheses, research using not only present-day people's genes, but also genes from the remains of their predecessors.


    For Europe and India, there were three waves of migration. First a wave of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Then a wave of Neolithic farmers. Then a wave of horse-riding nomads from the steppe (grassland) belt of east Ukraine to central Asia. Then we get recorded history.

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    Genetic history of Europe

    The first wave of settlers of our species was the Cro-Magnon people, who arrived around 40,000 years ago. I say our species, because the Neanderthals had already been in Europe for some 100,000 years already. Closely related, but not quite present-day humanity.

    But around 30,000 - 20,000 years ago, the continental glaciers went farther south in the Last Glacial Maximum, forcing the Cro-Magnon people southward. When the glaciers retreated, they repopulated northern Europe, coming from the southeast.

    The second wave started around 11,500 years ago (11,500 BP or 9,500 BCE), when agriculture was invented in the Fertile Crescent Middle East. It enabled much larger population densities, and Neolithic farmers spread out from there, gradually intermixing with the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers that they ran into. They spread through Anatolia, reaching Greece around 6000 BCE, central Europe around 4500 BCE, and the British Isles around 3000 BCE.

    The third wave is not quite as obvious, but it is nevertheless well-supported by genetic evidence.

    New light shed on prehistoric human migration in Europe -- ScienceDaily
    A massive migration from the steppe brought Indo European languages to Europe | Max Planck Society
    Steppe migrant thugs pacified by Stone Age farming women -- ScienceDaily
    Talking Neolithic: Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on How Indo-European Was Implemented in Southern Scandinavia | American Journal of Archaeology

    Around 4500 - 3500 BCE in the steppe belt between eastern Ukraine and central Asia, some people domesticated horses and invented wagons. This enabled them to travel long distances, and they spread out over that belt. They had only limited agriculture, and their main wealth was in herds of horses and cattle and the like. These are rather easy to steal, so they became pugnacious and warlike, so they can defend their flocks. Though they were nomadic, they had a few permanent structures, their burial mounds or kurgans.

    It is very likely that they spoke early Indo-European dialects. The reconstructed ancestral vocabulary fits: words for dogs, horses, bovines, sheep, goats, and pigs, and also for wagons, wheels, axles, yokes, and various associated parts. There was even a word for transporting by vehicle. Not many words for crop plants can be reconstructed, and there are only a few words for metals. Not surprisingly, they lacked a word for writing -- there are several words for it in the descendant languages, all with different origins.

    Among their customs was war bands, groups of teenage boys and young men who would be sent off to fight other people. They would be called "black youths" or dogs or wolves, and Wolf Rites of Winter - Archaeology Magazine describes what is likely a cemetery of dogs and wolves that were sacrificed by some of these young men.

    These pesky young men became pioneers of the steppe people, spreading over northern and central Europe, and marrying local women as they went. This resulted in a big genetic contribution from the steppe people, but the local people made some contributions as well. Contributions like agriculture, complete with words for various crop plants.

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    Genetics and archaeogenetics of South Asia

    It is much like Europe. First, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers arrived, people much like those of the Andaman Islands. Then, Neolithic farmers went eastward from the Middle East through Iran and into south Asia. Then, steppe people went southward from central Asia, first arriving in what is now Pakistan and then spreading onward in the northern part of the subcontinent.

    Who was here first? A new study explains the origins of ancient Indians
    noting
    The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia | bioRxiv

    As with Europe, sequences of genes from long-ago people help us reconstruct what has happened. The authors of that research looked at some people from the Bactria-Margiana archeological complex north of Iran, and among all the people there, they found three with some Indian ancestry. Not quite the Indian subcontinent, but it was good enough.

    Looking at the genes of present-day people also has some interesting results, like some upper-caste people having more steppe ancestry than other people at where they live.


    India's written record is rather odd. The first writing in the Indian subcontinent was by the Harappans or the Indus Valley Civilization, in what is now Pakistan. Their writing has yet to be deciphered, and it may not even be true written language, but instead something like professional titles. But the Harappans were forgotten by later generations, including their descendants.

    The first writings remembered by later generations are the Vedas, big collections of hymns and ritual instructions and other such things that were composed around 1500 BCE - 500 BCE. The earlier ones, especially the Rigveda, describe a society of cattle herders whose main social organization was a king who does lots of religious rituals. A society much like what one would expect of the steppe people. The Vedas' language, Sanskrit, is one of the oldest recorded Indo-European languages, and discovery of it provoked the recognition of the Indo-European language family.

    The Vedas ended up becoming the oldest sacred books of Hinduism, though it must be noted that they contain Satanic Verses: descriptions of cow sacrifices.

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    Now for a word associated with Indo-Europeandom that has very unsavory associations. The composers of the Vedas called themselves Ârya, meaning "noble", a word which we have turned into "Aryan". But how did these associations get started?

    In the 19th cy., as the Indo-European language family became evident, it also was concluded that the early Indo-European languages were spread by conquest. There are, however, other ways that language can spread, like by trade or religion or cultural exports, but languages spread in such ways are mostly secondary languages. But what might the conquerors be called? The Vedas seemed to go back farther than most other IE documents, and some early Indo-Europeanists thought that Proto-Indo-European was much like Sanskrit. So "Aryan" would be a good name for these conquerors.

    But where did the original Indo-European speakers live? People have come up with numerous hypotheses, from northern Europe to eastern Europe to Anatolia to India, with northern Europe being popular among Germans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Nazis loved this idea, and that's why they called themselves Aryans.

    Yet some of their targets, the Roma, had come from northern India, giving them much better claim to the title "Aryan", and the steppe hypothesis places Indo-European origins among people that the Nazis considered untermenschen: "subhumans". When Nazi leaders discovered that most people in Norway were not very enthusiastic about Nazidom, they decided that Norwegians were contaminated with Finns and Lapps and such, and that only Vidkun Quisling and his few followers were Real Aryans. They also decided that the Japanese were Real Aryans, despite their obviously un-German appearance.


    The question of Indo-European origins has gotten involved with politics in India also. Some Indian nationalists reject the "Aryan invasion theory" of the origin of the Indic Indo-European languages, preferring an "Out of India" hypothesis. However, Sanskrit has linguistic features that make it an offshoot rather than an ancestor, features like collapsing vowels /e/, /o/, and /a/ into /a/. Also, horses are latecomers to India, arriving only after the Harappans went into decline. For my part, I don't see the "Aryan invasion hypothesis" as any more horrible than the "Anglo-Saxon invasion hypothesis" of how English got to England. Even the most patriotic Britons don't object to it.


    As to what cultural contributions the steppe people had made, those are rather limited. They had horses and wheeled vehicles and woolen clothing, some of them would memorize lots of stories and hymns and the like, and they likely had an ideology of three functions: priestly or sovereign, military, and ordinary productivity.

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    Of Indo-European ancestors, the Sredny Stog culture flourished around 4500 - 3500 BCE, notably at Dereivka. It was at the Dneiper River near the present-day city of Zaporizhia in eastern Ukraine. Dereivka had a lot of horse bones in it, though a horse with bit wear and cheek pieces turned out to be from 700 - 200 BCE.

    They were succeeded by the Yamna culture (Yamnaya, Pit Grave, 3300 - 2600 BCE), which spread into eastern Ukraine and eastward into south European Russia and Central Asia. Their stay-at-home successors were the Srubna culture (Timber Grave, 18th - 12th cys. BCE), and in historical times, the Scythians and Sarmatians.

    The eastern parts were succeeded by the Poltavka culture (2700 - 2100 BCE), and northeast of the Caspian Sea by the Sintashta culture (2100 - 1800 BCE). The Sintashta people had the earliest known chariots, light wagons with spoked wheels that were widely used for warfare for several centuries. They were likely speakers of an ancestor of the Indo-Iranian languages.

    Nomads from there not only went to India, but also to the Middle East, where they created the short-lived Mitanni kingdom in the northern Fertile Crescent. We know this become of linguistic evidence. Mitanni-Aryan: several personal and deity names mentioned in a treaty with the Hittites, and Kikkuli's horse-training treatise with Indic-looking words for 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 turns.

    Some of them even reached Canaan, with the Amarna letters referring to Canaanite leaders with names like Indaruta and Suwarduta.

    But unlike in India and Iran, these steppe people became assimilated and culturally absorbed, leaving behind only a little bit of linguistic evidence.

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    The first Indo-Europeanized North Europeans were the Corded Ware culture (2900 - 2350 BCE) -- I should have mentioned that name earlier. They got their name from pottery decorated with cords pressed into their clay before it was fired.

    As J.P. Mallory pointed out, that was the most culturally unified northern Europe had been at any time before or since. This despite the efforts of Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin in recent centuries.

    An offshoot of it was the Bell Beaker culture, which overran much of western Europe and some neighboring areas. Named after its distinctive pottery, it spread over 2750 - 2500 BCE, with its pottery going out of style over 2200 - 1800 BCE. In Britain, the Bell Beaker people replaced most of the previous population, a population of Neolithic farmers, while in Iberia, they were a conquering elite who assimilated the local population. Ancient Britons 'replaced' by newcomers - BBC News, The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwestern Europe | Nature The authors noted some other cases of population replacement, like the Linearbandkeramik or Linear Pottery Neolithic farmers of central Europe around 5500 BCE, and the Yamna people.

    The Beaker people were not the Celts. Instead, the Celts were descendants of the Hallstatt people of southern Germany and western Austria, people who started spreading outward at around 800 BCE. They overran most of western Europe, reaching the British Isles around 500 BCE. However, they did not make much genetic imprint: DNA study shows Celts are not a unique genetic group - BBC News, The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population. The Romans also did not make much genetic imprint over most of their realm. Instead, they assimilated most of their conquered peoples, with remarkable success. In the western half of their empire, most people ended up speaking Latin dialects that became the Romance languages, while in the eastern half, people continued speaking Greek and other local languages. The Byzantine Empire's people even considered themselves Romans, long after they stopped using Latin for official business and used Greek instead.

    After the Romans ended their rule of England, the Angles and Saxons and Jutes came in, and they contributed something like 1/4 of the genes of southwest Englanders. The later Danes and Vikings and Normans contributed relatively little, however. But the people of the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland, have about 25% Viking ancestry.

    I will conclude by satirizing a certain recent British xenophobe:

    1066 CE: Those Normans should go back to where they came from!
    800 CE: Those Danes should go back to where they came from!
    450 CE: Those Angles and Saxons and Jutes should go back to where they came from!
    43 CE: Those Romans should go back to where they came from!
    500 BCE: Those Celts should go back to where they came from!
    2500 BCE: Those Beaker people should go back to where they came from!
    4000 BCE: Those farmers should go back to where they came from!

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    The Germanic homeland was in southern Scandinavia: Denmark, southern Norway, and southern Sweden. It first had the Nordic Bronze Age, likely an offshoot of the Corded War culture, and then the Jastorf culture of 500 BCE - 1 CE. The Jastorf people gradually spread south from Denmark into what is now northern Germany, and over later centuries out from there over much of Europe. Some places became Germanized, likely due to assimilation at least in part, while in other places, it was the Germanic people who got assimilated. But in France, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy, these wayward Germanic people left behind some vocabulary, like words for "north", "east", "south" and "west".

    The Slavic homeland was in eastern Europe, somewhere around southern Poland, eastern Ukraine, and Belarus. Slavs started spreading outward around 500 CE. I've found Genetic Heritage of the Balto-Slavic Speaking Populations: A Synthesis of Autosomal, Mitochondrial and Y-Chromosomal Data -- it was largely assimilation by a conquering elite, as far as I can tell from the article.

    Urheimat (German: "original home") discusses the homelands of several language families.

    The Italic and Celtic Indo-European families are often grouped together as Italo-Celtic, and they likely had a Central European homeland. The Bell Beaker culture, then the Unetice culture (2300 - 1600 BCE), the Tumulus culture (1600 - 1200 BCE), and then the Urnfield culture (1300 - 750 BCE), from their custom of cremating their dead, putting those remains in urns, and then burying those urns in fields. The Celts emerged from them, but an offshoot moved to Italy, forming the Terramare culture (1700 - 1150 BCE) in northern Italy. Some Terramare people moved southward, and the most successful of them were the founders of Rome.


    Of recorded non-Indo-European languages in Europe, the only present-day survivor is Basque. From around 500 BCE were Etruscan, in Italy, and Lemnian, in the Aegean island of Lemnos. From around 1000 BCE is Eteocretan and Eteocypriot, known from very fragmentary inscriptions, and from 1500 BCE and earlier, Minoan. Etruscan and Lemnian are likely related, but beyond that, it is hard to discern any relationships. I've seen Basque and Etruscan connected to Hurrian-Urartian and the northern Caucasian languages, but most linguists remain skeptical.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Of recorded non-Indo-European languages in Western Europe, the only present-day survivor is Basque.
    FIFY. Eastern Europe has Finnish, Sami, Estonian, Hungarian, Samoyed, Chechen...

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    I concede about eastern Europe. However, Hungarian was brought from the Ural Mountains by some wayward tribe that settled down at where Hungary now is.

    Bantu expansion, Bantu expansion shows that habitat alters the route and pace of human dispersals | PNAS (on how early Bantu speakers preferred to spread into grasslands and avoid jungles)

    The ancestral Bantu speakers lived at the Nigeria-Cameroon border around 2000 - 3000 years ago, and they spread out first eastward, then southward, reaching South Africa as early as 300 CE. Though this expansion is generally accepted, it is only imperfectly correlated with archeological and genetic evidence.


    Another interesting one is Madagascar. The people there speak Malagasy, a language whose closest relatives are spoken near the Barito River in southern Borneo, about 7500 km / 4700 miles away. Along the coastlines of nearby continents is even farther. So the colonists would have gone by settlement after settlement after settlement looking for uninhabited land, before they came across Madagascar.


    Malagasy and its stay-at-home relative Ma'anyan are Austronesian languages, and they were spread in the same fashion. The most divergent Austronesian languages are spoken by people in Taiwan, and that's why that island is usually considered the Austronesian homeland. It was settled around 10,000 - 6000 BCE by colonists from the nearby mainland. From there, colonists went southward, reaching the Philippines in 3000 BCE, Indonesia in 2000 BCE, Madagascar in 300 CE, and Melanesia, Micronesia, and Fiji in 1000 BCE. From Fiji, Polynesian colonists continued onward into the central Pacific islands, reaching Easter Island / Rapa Nui in 300 CE, Hawaii in 400 CE, and New Zealand in 1280 CE.

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    Anything on the Australian Aborigines? They've been there for 60,000 years. Further complicating the matters, they had to reach that island by ocean-worthy boats, something that no other groups of people would accomplish for tens of thousands of years. Then, upon arriving there, they had to lose their nautical knowledge and live lives of utter simplicity. When the Aborigines were discovered by English sailors, they had no words for the concepts of "yesterday" or "tomorrow."

    I for one find that baffling.

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