Extensive genetic study reveals insights into migration patterns and language development

Main view of the Karashamb Necropolis from the Bronze Age. The study focuses on 26 Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age individuals from this site. Credit: Pavel Avetsiyan, Varduhi

Extensive paleogenetic study reveals insights into migration patterns, agricultural expansion, and language development from the Caucasus over western Asia and southern Europe from the early Copper Age until at the end of the Middle Ages.

In a trio of scientific papers, published simultaneously in the journal Science, the researchers report a massive genome-wide sequencing effort of 727 distinct ancient individuals with which it was possible to test archaeological, genetic and linguistic hypotheses of long time. They present a systematic picture of the interrelated histories of the peoples of the Southern Arc region, from the origins of agriculture to the late Middle Ages. The scientists include Ron Pinhasi from the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and Human Evolution and Archaeological Sciences (HEAS) at the University of Vienna and Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg from the University of Vienna and Harvard University, Iosif Lazaridis and David Reich of Harvard University, along with 202 co-authors.

In the first article, the international research team investigated the homeland and spread of Anatolian and Indo-European languages. The genetic results indicate that the homeland of the Indo-Anatolian language family was in Western Asia, with only secondary dispersals of non-Anatolian Indo-Europeans from the Eurasian steppe. In the first stage, around 7,000–5,000 years ago, people of Caucasian ancestry moved west into Anatolia and north into the steppe. Some of these people may have spoken ancestral forms of Anatolian and Indo-European languages.

All spoken Indo-European languages ​​(e.g., Greek, Armenian, and Sanskrit) can be traced back to the pastoralists of the Yamnaya steppe, with an ancestry of Caucasian hunter-gatherers and Eastern hunter-gatherers, who initiated a chain of migrations across Eurasia around 5,000 years ago. Their expansions south into the Balkans and Greece and east through the Caucasus into Armenia left a mark in the DNA of the Bronze Age peoples of the region.

As they expanded, the descendants of the Yamnaya herders mixed differently with the local populations. The emergence of Greek, Paleo-Balkan, and Albanian (Indo-European) languages ​​in Southeast Europe and the Armenian language in West Asia, formed by Indo-European speaking migrants from the steppe interacting with the local population, and can be traced through different forms of DNA evidence. In southeastern Europe, the Yamnaya impact was profound, and people of virtually full Yamnaya ancestry arrived just after the Yamnaya migrations began.

Areni 1 Cave Trench 1

Areni 1 Cave Trench 1, Chalcolithic period, late 5th millennium BC. The jars contained food offerings and three of them each had a secondary burial of a child who was included in the study and their genomes indicate the early appearance of Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry in West Asia . Credit: Boris Gasparian

Some of the most remarkable findings are in the central Southern Arc region of Anatolia, where large-scale data paints a rich picture of change – and lack of change – over time.

The results reveal that unlike the Balkans and the Caucasus, Anatolia has hardly been impacted by Yamnaya migrations. No connection with the steppe can be made for speakers of Anatolian languages ​​(e.g. Hittite, Luwian) due to the lack of Eastern hunter-gatherer ancestry in Anatolia, different from all other regions where Indo- Europeans were spoken.

In contrast to Anatolia’s surprising impermeability to steppe migrations, the southern Caucasus has been affected on several occasions, including before the Yamnaya migrations. “I did not expect to find that the Chalcolithic Areni 1 individuals, which were recovered 15 years ago in the excavations I co-directed, would draw gene flow ancestors from the north to parts of the south. of the Caucasus more than 1,000 years before the expansion of the Yamnaya, and that this northern influence would disappear in the region before reappearing a few millennia later.This shows that there is much more to discover thanks to new excavations and fieldwork in the eastern parts of West Asia,” says Ron Pinhasi.

“Anatolia was home to diverse populations from both local hunter-gatherers and eastern populations from the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Levant,” says Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg. “The people of the Marmara region and southeastern Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Aegean region all had variations of the same types of ancestry,” continues Alpaslan-Roodenberg.

The first agricultural societies and their interactions

The second article seeks to understand how the world’s first Neolithic populations formed around 12,000 years ago. “The genetic results support the scenario of a network of pan-regional contacts between early farming communities. They also provide new evidence that the Neolithic transition was a complex process that occurred not just in one central region, but across Anatolia and the Near East,” says Ron Pinhasi.

It provides the first ancient DNA data for pre-potter Neolithic farmers on the Tigris side of northern Mesopotamia – both in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq – a region key to the origins of farming. It also presents the first ancient DNA of the pre-pottery farmers of the island of Cyprus, which witnessed the first maritime expansion of the eastern Mediterranean farmers. In addition, it presents new data on early Neolithic farmers in northwestern Zagros, as well as the first data on Neolithic Armenia. By filling these gaps, the authors were able to study the genetic history of these societies for which archaeological research has documented complex economic and cultural interactions but has not been able to trace mating systems and interactions that do not leave traces. visible materials. The results reveal a mixture of pre-Neolithic sources related to hunter-gatherers from Anatolia, the Caucasus and the Levant. The study also shows that these early agricultural cultures formed a continuum of ancestry reflecting the geography of West Asia. Additionally, the results trace at least two migration pulses from the heartland of the Fertile Crescent to early Anatolian farmers.

The historical period

The third article shows how the polities of the ancient Mediterranean world retained contrasts in ancestry since the Bronze Age, but were linked by migration. The results reveal that the ancestry of people who lived around Rome during the Imperial period was nearly identical to that of Roman/Byzantine individuals from Anatolia in their mean and pattern of variation, while Italians before the Imperial period had a very different distribution. This indicates that the Roman Empire, both in its short-lived western part and in the longer-lived eastern part centered on Anatolia, had a diverse but similar population presumably drawn to a large extent from pre-imperial sources Anatolian.

“These results are truly surprising because in a scientific paper that I co-edited in 2019, on the genetic ancestry of individuals from ancient Rome, we found a cosmopolitan pattern that we thought was unique to Rome. We see now that other parts of the Roman Empire were as cosmopolitan as Rome itself,” explains Ron Pinhasi.


  1. “The Genetic History of the Southern Arc: A Bridge Between Western Asia and Europe” by Iosif Lazaridis, Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg, Ayse Acar, Aysen Açikkol, Anagnostis Agelarakis, Levon Aghikyan, Ugur Akyüz, Desislava Andreeva, Gojko Andrijaševic, Dragana Antonovic, Ian Armit, Alper Atmaca, Pavel Avetisyan, Ahmet Ihsan Aytek, Krum Bacvarov, Ruben Badalyan, Stefan Bakardzhiev, Jacqueline Balen, Lorenc Bejko, Rebecca Bernardos, Andreas Bertsatos, Hanifi Biber, Ahmet Bilir, Mario Bodružic, Michelle Bonogofsky, Clive Bonsall, Dušan Boric, Nikola Borovinic, Guillermo Bravo Morante, Katharina Buttinger, Kim Callan, Francesca Candilio, Mario Caric, Olivia Cheronet, Stefan Chohadzhiev, Maria-Eleni Chovalopoulou, Stella Chryssoulaki, Ion Ciobanu, Natalija Condic, Mihai Constantinescu, Emanuela Cristiani, Brendan J. Culleton, Elizabeth Curtis, Jack Davis, Tatiana I. Demcenco, Valentin Dergachev, Zafer Derin, Sylvia Deskaj, Seda Devejyan, Vojislav Djordjevic, Kellie Sara Duffett Carlson, L aurie R. Eccles, Nedko Elenski, Atilla Engin, Nihat Erdogan, Sabiha Erir-Pazarci, Daniel M. Fernandes, Matthew Ferry, Suzanne Freilich, Alin Frînculeasa, Michael L. Galaty, Beatriz Gamarra, Boris Gasparyan, Bisserka Gaydarska, Elif Genç, Timur Gültekin, Serkan Gündüz, Tamás Hajdu, Volker Heyd, Suren Hobosyan, Nelli Hovhannisyan, Iliya Iliev, Lora Iliev, Stanislav Iliev, Ilkay Ivgin, Ivor Jankovic, Lence Jovanova, Panagiotis Karkanas, Berna Kavaz-Kindigili, Esra Hilal Kaya, Denise Keating , Douglas J Kennett, Seda Deniz Kesici, Anahit Khudaverdyan, Krisztián Kiss, Sinan Kiliç, Paul Klostermann, Sinem Kostak Boca Negra Valdes, Saša Kovacevic, Marta Krenz-Niedbala, Maja Krznaric Škrivanko, Rovena Kurti, Pasko Kuzman, Ann Marie Lawson, Catalin Lazar, Krassimir Leshtakov, Thomas E. Levy, Ioannis Liritzis, Kirsi O. Lorentz, Sylwia Lukasik, Matthew Mah, Swapan Mallick, Kirsten Mandl, Kristine Martirosyan-Olshansky, Roger Matthews, Wendy Matthews, Kathleen McSweeney, Varduhi Melikyan, Adam Micc o, Megan Michel, Lidija Milašinovic, Alissa Mittnik, Janet M. Monge, Georgi Nekhrizov, Rebecca Nicholls, Alexey G. Nikitin, Vassil Nikolov, Mario Novak, Iñigo Olalde, Jonas Oppenheimer, Anna Osterholtz, Celal Özdemir, Kadir Toykan Özdogan, Nurettin Öztürk, Nikos Papadimitriou, Niki Papakonstantinou, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Lujana Paraman, Evgeny G. Paskary, Nick Patterson, Ilian Petrakiev, Levon Petrosyan, Vanya Petrova, Anna Philippa-Touchais, Ashot Piliposyan, Nada Pocuca Kuzman, Hrvoje Potrebica, Bianca Preda-Balanica , Zrinka Premužic, T. Douglas Price, Lijun Qiu, Siniša Radovic, Kamal Raeuf Aziz, Petra Rajic Šikanjic, Kamal Rasheed Raheem, Sergei Razumov, Amy Richardson, Jacob Roodenberg, Rudenc Ruka, Victoria Russeva, Mustafa Sahin, Aysegül Sarbak, Emre Savas , Constanze Schattke, Lynne Schepartz, Tayfun Selçuk, Ayla Sevim-Erol, Michel Shamoon-Pour, Henry M. Shephard, Athanasios Sideris, Angela Simalcsik, Hakob Simonyan, Vitalij Sinika, Kendra Sirak, Ghenadie Sirbu, Mario Šlaus, Andrei So ficaru, Bilal Sögüt, Arkadiusz Soltysiak, Çilem Sönmez-Sözer, Maria Stathi, Martin Steskal, Kristin Stewardson, Sharon Stocker, Fadime Suata-Alpaslan, Alexander Suvorov, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Tamás Szeniczey, Nikolai Telnov, Strahil Temov, Nadezhda Todorova, Ulsi Tota, Gilles Touchais, Sevi Triantaphyllou, Atila Türker, Marina Ugarkovic, Todor Valchev, Fanica Veljanovska, Zlatko Videvski, Cristian Virag, Anna Wagner, Sam Walsh, Piotr Wlodarczak, J. Noah Workman, Aram Yardumian, Evgenii Yarovoy, Alper Yener Yavuz, Hakan Yilmaz, Fatma Zalzala, Anna Zettl, Zhao Zhang, Rafet Çavusoglu, Nadin Rohland, Ron Pinhasi and David Reich, August 26, 2022, Science.
    DOI: 10.1126/science.abm4247
  2. “A Genetic Probe into the Ancient and Medieval History of Southern Europe and Western Asia” by David Reich, et al., August 25, 2022, Science.
    DOI: 10.1126/science.abq0755
  3. “Ancient Mesopotamian DNA Suggests Distinct Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic Migrations in Anatolia” by David Reich, et al., August 25, 2022, Science.
    DOI: 10.1126/science.abq0762

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