Son of Yamnaya.

In this 700+-comment thread, which seems to have become a dumping-ground for all DNA-related commentary, Dmitry Pruss said mildly but convincingly:

An ob gripe, I don’t think that it’s the best idea to discuss “everything DNA” in this, already oversize, thread…

So I’m hereby opening this as a continuation. If you have thoughts about genomic components and Denisovan signatures, this is the place for them!


  1. Trond Engen says

    I did recently link to a paper on Mongolia and the, eh, genetogenesis of the Xiongnu and the Mongolians in They Perished like Avars, where we have discussed much Post-Indo-European Steppe stuff. It didn’t attract any follow-up comments, so feel free to move it here.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Will we be seeing “Bride of Yamnaya” in due course?

  3. And possibly eventually Second Cousin Twice Removed of Yamnaya.

  4. Canonically, “Bride of Yamnaya” should have come first. Then “Son of Yamnaya”, then “Ghost of Yamnaya”, then “Yamnaya meets Dravidian”, then “House of Yamnaya”. The final(?) one should probably be a duo of comedians meet Yamnaya — I’d suggest “Nyland and Goropius”, but there is a surfeit of them to choose from.


  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Yamnaya in the KONGO. (Perhaps too controversial for these politically correct times …)

  6. Oh, the wind that blew through the whiskers on the flea in the hair on the tail of
    the dog of the daughter of the wife of the Dayak has just come to town….

  7. A new paper by Ioannidis et al., Native American gene flow into Polynesia predating Easter Island settlement is the most careful approach I have seen toward demonstrating early Polynesian-American contact using genetics. The paper finds an American genetic signature in Eastern Polynesian populations. What’s distinguishes this paper from earlier such studies is that it clearly separates the purported American signal from a European one; that it dates both plausibly; and that it clearly distinguishes different coastal American populations, and ties the source of the Polynesian signal specifically to a population in Colombia.

  8. Interesting!

  9. Trond Engen says

    Y: Ioannidis et al 2020

    We briefly discussed it here back in July. I still haven’t read the full text.

    Dmitry (in Mother of Yamnaya): (Huang et al 2020).

    I love it. This seems to take historical genetics to a whole new level, using the sheer power of numbers to shake out genetic commonalities that can be traced back to a common ancestor. The multi-ethno-linguistic matrixes are essentially the comparative method on genomes, but used to identify the oldest common elements rather than to reconstruct a complete ancestral genome.

  10. Trond Engen says

    A few seconds late to edit I meant to add a few random observations:

    They identify a “Northeast Asian Cluster”, which must be more or less identical with what Jeong et al dub ‘Ancient North Asians’ in the paper on the genetic history of Mongolia..

    They identify a gene flow from “European” into “Inland South Asian” (likely including the group speaking Proto-Sino-Tibetan) at ~5800 kA. I wonder where that came from.

    Note the predictive force. They posit a yet unsampled group in a specific location and with a specific genetic signature as the linguistic ancestors of Kra-Dai.

  11. Thanks, Trond. I somehow missed that discussion (and what followed it, which was very interesting, too.)

  12. Trond Engen says

    (This connects to several discussions. Most immediately me (July 29, 2020 at 7:25 am) in They perished like Avars:

    I got the Yu paper (thanks!) and just finishen reading it. Not much time to digest, but my takeout is that it’s a complementation to what we already knew about Eastern Siberia. On the ancient and basal level, it fills out the picture of the North Asian population that is ancestral to Non-Arctic Native Americans. Additionally it starts to untangle the movements and admixtures of the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age that eventually would lead to the formation of the ethnic and linguistic groups we know today. The plague is part of that. Intriguingly it’s found in two individuals without Steppe ancestry. They were from the same site, but one of them had migrated in his early childhood. The date and the strain of Yersinia pestis are practically identical to those of a Corded Ware individual from the Baltic. This fits well with the population crisis in Scandinavia before the arrival of the Bell Beakers.)

    A new Siberian archaeo-genetics paper from Dmitry on Facebook:

    Kılınç et al “Human population dynamics and Yersinia pestis in ancient northeast Asia” Sci. Adv. 2021; 7 : eabc4587.

    Their conclusions corroborate and expands on earlier studies:

    Northeast Asia, particularly the Baikal adjacent area and the entire Russian Far East, presents a complex demographic picture with hitherto unknown genetic shifts since the post-LGM. The Trans-Baikal area displays few genetic turnovers with an extended period of genetic continuity over a period of c.6000 years. This unique demographical pattern throughout the Holocene stands in sharp contrast to the recurrent gene flow events of Cis-Baikal and Yakutia. We document that the human group that was represented by Khaiyrgas-1 must have dispersed to Yakutia after the LGM. This group was genetically distinct from the first inhabitants of the Siberia who settled the area before the LGM. The genetic legacy of this group is visible among human groups in the area ~6000 years later. Our data fit well with Belkachi groups as having key position in the ancestry of Paleo-Inuits who launched the second wave of gene flow into the Americas c.5000 years ago. We also document the presence of the most northeastern occurrence of ancient Y. pestis in the less populated Yakutia region and in the highly connected Cis-Baikal area. The bacterium may well have had consequences in shaping human population dynamics in both regions, visible in the reduction in the effective population size and the genetic diversity levels ~4400 years ago. Consistent with the finding of the same bacterium in the Lake Baikal region during the Bronze Age ([Yu et al 2020]), this finding suggests that a plague pandemic in this part of northeast Asia could be a hypothesis worth exploring with more data. Our results demonstrate a complex demography in northeast Asia from the Late Upper Paleolithic up until the Medieval era in which Siberian populations expanded interacting with each other and with populations from distant geographical areas.

    Apart from that, the paper is unusually hard to digest, but the supplementary text is more readable. I guess they had to edit it down to the available number of pages. Anyway…

    Expanding on Yu et al this study makes it very likely that there was a regional plague pandemic at around the year 2500 BCE. In my view the region could well turn out to be the entire continent, but there’s not enough data to tell yet. A few centuries later the bacterium is found at the Kolyma river in the farthest end of Yakutia. I’d think that to spread in a sparsely populated region like that, this early incarnation of the plague must have been both a slow killer and independent of rats.

    Something close to the source population of Paleo-Eskimos (and hence also of Na-Dene?) is found with the sampling of two 7th millennium BP individuals from the region of Yakutsk in Yakutia, associated with the Belkachi culture and its immediate predecessor, the Syalakh culture. This is in line with earlier hypotheses based on material culture. The two seem to be close to a mid-9th millennium BP individual from east of Lake Baikal, also in line with hypotheses from material culture. All three are said to show genetic affinity with modern Chukotko-Kamchatkans — as is Saqqaq.

    Two 5th millenium BP individuals from the Lena Basin and three 4th millenium BP individuals from the Kolyma River further northeast form a distinct group, apparently descended from Syalakh/Belkachi with additional admixture from southeast. An interesting outlier was left unmentioned in the main text but shown on the maps and diagrams, where it’s intriguingly grouped with the Yakutian individuals. This is a mid-5th millenium BP individual from south of Krasnoyarsk who seems to fit perfectly within the contemporary population in the Lena Basin. Is this the first Yeniseian? This individual also shows evidence of a recent genetic bottleneck, in line with the plague hypothesis.

    The Syalakh/Belkachi cultures are also thought to be ancestral to the Bronze Age Ymyyakhtakh culture that spread almost explosively along the Arctic coast in the late 2nd millennium BCE. The Kolyma individuals are late enough that they could be part of this movement, but I can’t find anything on their cultural affinity.

  13. Trond Engen says

    I’m on record suggesting a Dene-Yeniseian homeland (providing there is such a thing as Dene-Yeniseian) on the Arctic Coast. I’ll note that a mobile riverine culture on the Lena could easily spill over into the Yenisei Basin via the Angara or Tunguska rivers (or vice versa). It’s the distance from there to Alaska that disturbs me. The ancestors of the Paleo-Eskimos (and/or Na-Dene) would have migrated from the Lena Basin long before those of the Syalakh-Belkachi descendants found on the Kolyma River. For the Yeniseian branch to have been brought from the Lena to the Yenisei in the 5th millennium BP, we’d have to suppose that the stay-behind groups on the Lena were Pre-Proto-Yeniseian for a long time, even as new East Asian groups moved into the area and were integrated in its genetic profile. If so, also the movers north should be (Para-)Pre-Proto-Yeniseians. Maybe these coastal Leniseians were yukagrified from the west.

  14. It is a mainstream view in Russia that Yukaghir languages came into region with the Bronze Age Ymyyakhtakh culture in late 2nd millennium BC.

    From Baikal region, but their original homeland was further west, closer to Urals.

  15. Trond Engen says

    Since this is the Great Eurasian Plague thread, I’ll link to

    Julian Susat et al: A 5,000-year-old hunter-gatherer already plagued by Yersinia pestis Cell Reports, 2021

    A 5,000-year-old Yersinia pestis genome (RV 2039) is reconstructed from a hunter-fisher-gatherer (5300–5050 cal BP) buried at Riņņukalns, Latvia. RV 2039 is the first in a series of ancient strains that evolved shortly after the split of Y. pestis from its antecessor Y. pseudotuberculosis ∼7,000 years ago. The genomic and phylogenetic characteristics of RV 2039 are consistent with the hypothesis that this very early Y. pestis form was most likely less transmissible and maybe even less virulent than later strains. Our data do not support the scenario of a prehistoric pneumonic plague pandemic, as suggested previously for the Neolithic decline. The geographical and temporal distribution of the few prehistoric Y. pestis cases reported so far is more in agreement with single zoonotic events.

    (Link from Dmitry, as usual)

    The oldest and most basal strain of Y, pestis yet has been discovered in a 5300-5050 cal. BP hunter-gatherer from northern Latvia. Needless to say, the last line of the summary is controversial. But since every instance of the plague is a zoonosis, the controverse is really about whether the plague is spreading as a pandemic among rodent parasites on human society. It’s when Y. pestis becomes pandemic (or endemic) among rodents, and the bacterium gains the ability to infect humans easily, that the zoonosis in humans becomes pandemic by extension.

    Here’s a thought-provoking paragraph from the discussion:

    Modern Y. pestis can be transmitted from animals (e.g., rodents) to humans (Demeure et al., 2019). It is possible that hunter-gatherers, who frequently killed rodents for food or personal decoration, contracted Y. pestis or its antecessor Y. pseudotuberculosis directly from animals. Interestingly, at the Riņņukalns site, beaver (Castor fiber) was the most frequently recorded species among the archaeozoological finds excavated by Sievers (Rütimeyer, 1877). Beavers are a common carrier of Y. pseudotuberculosis, which directly precedes our early Y. pestis strain (Gaydos et al., 2009). Despite this interesting observation, it remains unknown to what degree hunter-gatherers may have played a role in the zoonotic emergence, early evolution, or spread of Y. pestis.

    The question of how a rodent disease could trigger a human pandemic in a sparsely populated region of Eurasia is important, and I’m trying to get my head around it upthread. So maybe the authors are right and the first instances were isolated infections. Maybe, even, that the plague never was pandemic among hunter-gatherers. Still, I think hunter-gatherers with early Y. pestis are significant. As incrisingly deadly ad/or infectious strains of Yersinia spread among wild rodents, hunter-gatherers (beaver hunters?) could have adapted (by non-fatal exposure or genetic selection) before it infected the rats of the agriculturalists, and they would then be in a position to fill the void after the first plague.

  16. @Trond Engen: It seems to me that the terminology with early plague strains is bit tricky—being based, in part, on what appears to have been an erroneous assumption about how the modern plague strain developed (and thus where to place the dividing line between Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and Y. pestis). As I understand it, it is conventional to call all bacterial lineages with the pMT1 and pPCP1 plasmids Y. pestis. However, it is now known from very early genomes (and according to that Cell Reports paper, the Rinnukalns genetic data confirms this) that pMT1 was actually acquired without the gene for the key virulence factor ymt (Yersinia murine toxin). Only later was the gene for ymt, which makes it much easier for the bacteria to thrive inside the flea vectors, added to the plasmid—meaning that assimilation of the plasmid itself was not one of the primary enablers in the development pestis-level human infectivity. Nomenclature will presumably get even trickier if fossil genomes with only one of the pMT1 or pPCP1 plasmids are found (which has not, to my knowledge, been observed thus far).

  17. Trond Engen says

    @Brett: Thanks. I couldn’t have written that, but I agree.

  18. Dmitry Pruss on Facebook linked to these interesting papers:

    The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes:

    Our results reject the commonly held association between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe ~3,000 BCE driving the spread of Indo-European languages. This contrasts with the situation in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BCE Sintashta culture.

    Dairying enabled Early Bronze Age Yamnaya steppe expansions:

    Our results point to a potential epicentre for horse domestication in the Pontic–Caspian steppe by the third millennium bc, and offer strong support for the notion that the novel exploitation of secondary animal products was a key driver of the expansions of Eurasian steppe pastoralists by the Early Bronze Age.

  19. horse domestication … the novel exploitation of secondary animal products

    Is transport an “animal product” ? Or is primarily horse dung meant ?

  20. Aren’t dairy products the reference there — meat being the only use considered primary?

  21. Yes, if one bothers to click through, one finds (bolding added):

    Here we draw on proteomic analysis of dental calculus from individuals from the western Eurasian steppe to demonstrate a major transition in dairying at the start of the Bronze Age. The rapid onset of ubiquitous dairying at a point in time when steppe populations are known to have begun dispersing offers critical insight into a key catalyst of steppe mobility. The identification of horse milk proteins also indicates horse domestication by the Early Bronze Age, which provides support for its role in steppe dispersals.

    Of course, the reference to “dairying” in the title might have been a clue.

  22. Adding a reference to “Horsing around” in the title would have been yet another welcome clue.

  23. Perhaps “dairying” was misread as “draying”, a nonce synonym for “drayage” . . .

  24. It”s the same paper jack morava linked to in another thread recently. I haven’t had time to read it, but I immediately like it. And I don’t know if it rejects the horse hypothesis as much as nuances and complements it.

  25. @Trond Engen,

    I started trying to take this seriously when I saw

  26. David Marjanović says

    Open-access paper on how Japan was settled in three stages.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Five open-access papers and their abstracts:

    Ancient Mitochondrial Genomes Reveal Extensive Genetic Influence of the Steppe Pastoralists in Western Xinjiang

    The population prehistory of Xinjiang has been a hot topic among geneticists, linguists, and archaeologists. Current ancient DNA studies in Xinjiang exclusively suggest an admixture model for the populations in Xinjiang since the early Bronze Age. However, almost all of these studies focused on the northern and eastern parts of Xinjiang; the prehistoric demographic processes that occurred in western Xinjiang have been seldomly reported. By analyzing complete mitochondrial sequences from the Xiabandi (XBD) cemetery (3,500–3,300 BP), the up-to-date earliest cemetery excavated in western Xinjiang, we show that all the XBD mitochondrial sequences fall within two different West Eurasian mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) pools, indicating that the migrants into western Xinjiang from west Eurasians were a consequence of the early expansion of the middle and late Bronze Age steppe pastoralists (Steppe_MLBA), admixed with the indigenous populations from Central Asia. Our study provides genetic links for an early existence of the Indo-Iranian language in southwestern Xinjiang and suggests that the existence of Andronovo culture in western Xinjiang involved not only the dispersal of ideas but also population movement.

    Genomic Insight Into the Population Admixture History of Tungusic-Speaking Manchu People in Northeast China

    Manchu is the third-largest ethnic minority in China and has the largest population size among the Tungusic-speaking groups. However, the genetic origin and admixture history of the Manchu people are far from clear due to the sparse sampling and a limited number of markers genotyped. Here, we provided the first batch of genome-wide data of genotyping approximate 700,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 93 Manchu individuals collected from northeast China. We merged the newly generated data with data of publicly available modern and ancient East Asians to comprehensively characterize the genetic diversity and fine-scale population structure, as well as explore the genetic origin and admixture history of northern Chinese Manchus. We applied both descriptive methods of ADMIXTURE, fineSTRUCTURE, FST, TreeMix, identity by decedent (IBD), principal component analysis (PCA), and qualitative f-statistics (f3, f4, qpAdm, and qpWave). We found that Liaoning Manchus have a close genetic relationship and significant admixture signal with northern Han Chinese, which is in line with the cluster patterns in the haplotype-based results. Additionally, the qpAdm-based admixture models showed that modern Manchu people were formed as major ancestry related to Yellow River farmers and minor ancestry linked to ancient populations from Amur River Bain, or others. In summary, the northeastern Chinese Manchu people in Liaoning were an exception to the coherent genetic structure of Tungusic-speaking populations, probably due to the large-scale population migrations and genetic admixtures in the past few hundred years.

    Genomic Insight Into the Population Structure and Admixture History of Tai-Kadai-Speaking Sui People in Southwest China

    Sui people, which belong to the Tai-Kadai-speaking family, remain poorly characterized due to a lack of genome-wide data. To infer the fine-scale population genetic structure and putative genetic sources of the Sui people, we genotyped 498,655 genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using SNP arrays in 68 Sui individuals from seven indigenous populations in Guizhou province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in Southwest China and co-analyzed with available East Asians via a series of population genetic methods including principal component analysis (PCA), ADMIXTURE, pairwise Fst genetic distance, f-statistics, qpWave, and qpAdm. Our results revealed that Guangxi and Guizhou Sui people showed a strong genetic affinity with populations from southern China and Southeast Asia, especially Tai-Kadai- and Hmong-Mien-speaking populations as well as ancient Iron Age Taiwan Hanben, Gongguan individuals supporting the hypothesis that Sui people came from southern China originally. The indigenous Tai-Kadai-related ancestry (represented by Li), Northern East Asian-related ancestry, and Hmong-Mien-related lineage contributed to the formation processes of the Sui people. We identified the genetic substructure within Sui groups: Guizhou Sui people were relatively homogeneous and possessed similar genetic profiles with neighboring Tai-Kadai-related populations, such as Maonan. While Sui people in Yizhou and Huanjiang of Guangxi might receive unique, additional gene flow from Hmong-Mien-speaking populations and Northern East Asians, respectively, after the divergence within other Sui populations. Sui people could be modeled as the admixture of ancient Yellow River Basin farmer-related ancestry (36.2–54.7%) and ancient coastal Southeast Asian-related ancestry (45.3–63.8%). We also identified the potential positive selection signals related to the disease susceptibility in Sui people via integrated haplotype score (iHS) and number of segregating sites by length (nSL) scores. These genomic findings provided new insights into the demographic history of Tai-Kadai-speaking Sui people and their interaction with neighboring populations in Southern China.

    Peopling History of the Tibetan Plateau and Multiple Waves of Admixture of Tibetans Inferred From Both Ancient and Modern Genome-Wide Data

    Archeologically attested human occupation on the Tibetan Plateau (TP) can be traced back to 160 thousand years ago (kya) via the archaic Xiahe people and 30∼40 kya via the Nwya Devu anatomically modern human. However, the history of the Tibetan populations and their migration inferred from the ancient and modern DNA remains unclear. Here, we performed the first ancient and modern genomic meta-analysis among 3,017 Paleolithic to present-day Eastern Eurasian genomes (2,444 modern individuals from 183 populations and 573 ancient individuals). We identified a close genetic connection between the ancient-modern highland Tibetans and lowland island/coastal Neolithic Northern East Asians (NEA). This observed genetic affinity reflected the primary ancestry of high-altitude Tibeto-Burman speakers originated from the Neolithic farming populations in the Yellow River Basin. The identified pattern was consistent with the proposed common north-China origin hypothesis of the Sino-Tibetan languages and dispersal patterns of the northern millet farmers. We also observed the genetic differentiation between the highlanders and lowland NEAs. The former harbored more deeply diverged Hoabinhian/Onge-related ancestry and the latter possessed more Neolithic southern East Asian (SEA) or Siberian-related ancestry. Our reconstructed qpAdm and qpGraph models suggested the co-existence of Paleolithic and Neolithic ancestries in the Neolithic to modern East Asian highlanders. Additionally, we found that Tibetans from Ü-Tsang/Ando/Kham regions showed a strong population stratification consistent with their cultural background and geographic terrain. Ü-Tsang Tibetans possessed a stronger Chokhopani-affinity, Ando Tibetans had more Western Eurasian related ancestry and Kham Tibetans harbored greater Neolithic southern EA ancestry. Generally, ancient and modern genomes documented multiple waves of human migrations in the TP’s past. The first layer of local hunter-gatherers mixed with incoming millet farmers and arose the Chokhopani-associated Proto-Tibetan-Burman highlanders, which further respectively mixed with additional genetic contributors from the western Eurasian Steppe, Yellow River and Yangtze River and finally gave rise to the modern Ando, Ü-Tsang and Kham Tibetans.

    The Opportunities and Challenges of Integrating Population Histories Into Genetic Studies for Diverse Populations: A Motivating Example From Native Hawaiians

    There is a well-recognized need to include diverse populations in genetic studies, but several obstacles continue to be prohibitive, including (but are not limited to) the difficulty of recruiting individuals from diverse populations in large numbers and the lack of representation in available genomic references. These obstacles notwithstanding, studying multiple diverse populations would provide informative, population-specific insights. Using Native Hawaiians as an example of an understudied population with a unique evolutionary history, I will argue that by developing key genomic resources and integrating evolutionary thinking into genetic epidemiology, we will have the opportunity to efficiently advance our knowledge of the genetic risk factors, ameliorate health disparity, and improve healthcare in this underserved population.

  28. Thanks for those!

  29. David Marjanović says

    I haven’t had time to read them myself yet.

  30. Trond Engen says

    Thanks! Will read.

  31. Trond Engen says

    I’m frantically trying to get up to date with all these papers.

    The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes has showed up as open access in Nature.

    (Quoting a bit more)

    Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 BC. Other longstanding candidate regions for horse domestication, such as Iberia and Anatolia, have also recently been challenged. Thus, the genetic, geographic and temporal origins of modern domestic horses have remained unknown. Here we pinpoint the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, as the homeland of modern domestic horses. Furthermore, we map the population changes accompanying domestication from 273 ancient horse genomes. This reveals that modern domestic horses ultimately replaced almost all other local populations as they expanded rapidly across Eurasia from about 2000 BC, synchronously with equestrian material culture, including Sintashta spoke-wheeled chariots. We find that equestrianism involved strong selection for critical locomotor and behavioural adaptations at the GSDMC and ZFPM1 genes. Our results reject the commonly held association between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 BC driving the spread of Indo-European languages. This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BC Sintashta culture.


    This work resolves longstanding debates about the origins and spread of domestic horses. Whereas horses living in the Western Eurasia steppes in the late fourth and early third millennia BC were the ancestors of DOM2 horses, there is no evidence that they facilitated the expansion of the human genetic steppe ancestry into Europe as previously hypothesized. Instead of horse-mounted warfare, declining populations during the European late Neolithic may thus have opened up an opportunity for a westward expansion of steppe pastoralists. Yamnaya horses at Repin and Turganik carried more DOM2 genetic affinity than presumably wild horses from hunter-gatherer sites of the sixth millennium BC (NEO-NCAS, from approximately 5500–5200 BC), which may suggest early horse management and herding practices. Regardless, Yamnaya pastoralism did not spread horses far outside their native range, similar to the Botai horse domestication, which remained a localized practice within a sedentary settlement system. The globalization stage started later, when DOM2 horses dispersed outside their core region, first reaching Anatolia, the lower Danube, Bohemia and Central Asia by approximately 2200 to 2000 BC, then Western Europe and Mongolia soon afterwards, ultimately replacing all local populations by around 1500 to 1000 BC. This process first involved horseback riding, as spoke-wheeled chariots represent later technological innovations, emerging around 2000 to 1800 BC in the Trans-Ural Sintashta culture. The weaponry, warriors and fortified settlements associated with this culture may have arisen in response to increased aridity and competition for critical grazing lands, intensifying territoriality and hierarchy. This may have provided the basis for the conquests over the subsequent centuries that resulted in an almost complete human and horse genetic turnover in Central Asian steppes. The expansion to the Carpathian basin, and possibly Anatolia and the Levant, involved a different scenario in which specialized horse trainers and chariot builders spread with the horse trade and riding. In both cases, horses with reduced back pathologies and enhanced docility would have facilitated Bronze Age elite long-distance trade demands and become a highly valued commodity and status symbol, resulting in rapid diaspora. We, however, acknowledge substantial spatiotemporal variability and evidential bias towards elite activities, so we do not discount additional, harder to evidence, factors in equine dispersal.

    Our results also have important implications for mechanisms underpinning two major language dispersals. The expansion of the Indo-European language family from the Western Eurasia steppes has traditionally been associated with mounted pastoralism, with the CWC serving as a major stepping stone in Europe. However, while there is overwhelming lexical evidence for horse domestication, horse-drawn chariots and derived mythologies in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, the linguistic indications of horse-keeping practices at the deeper Proto-Indo-European level are in fact ambiguous (Supplementary Discussion) . The limited presence of horses in CWC assemblages and the local genetic makeup of CWC specimens reject scenarios in which horses were the primary driving force behind the initial spread of Indo-European languages in Europe. By contrast, DOM2 dispersal in Asia during the early-to-mid second millennium BC was concurrent with the spread of chariotry and Indo-Iranian languages, whose earliest speakers are linked to populations that directly preceded the Sintashta culture. We thus conclude that the new package of chariotry and improved breed of horses, including chestnut coat colouration documented both linguistically (Supplementary Discussion) and genetically (Extended Data Fig. 8), transformed Eurasian Bronze Age societies globally within a few centuries after about 2000 BC. The adoption of this new institution, whether for warfare, prestige or both, probably varied between decentralized chiefdoms in Europe and urbanized states in Western Asia. The results thus open up new research avenues into the historical developments of these different societal trajectories.

    That is, the rapid spread of Steppe ancestry in Europe wasn’t carried on horseback. It wasn’t even bringing horses along. Horses bred for riding and chariotry came a millennium later, and we may ask what upheavals that caused.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Oddly, the paper on the genetic history of the Tibetan plateau does not cite this one by a reshuffling of the same authors, published half a year earlier in the same journal.

  33. Trond: the contrast between the Indo-Iranian speaking zone and the European zone (=Indo-European minus Anatolian, Tocharian and Armenian) is reminiscent of another such contrast: whereas in Europe there is a layer of place-names that seems to go back to a nearly undifferentiated Indo-European (=Krahe’s “Old European”), nothing like this has been found in the Indo-Iranian zone.

    So, if I may speculate wildly here: perhaps in Europe the original bearers of Steppe ancestry (whatever the original cause(s) of their expansion across Europe may have been) were the first wave of Indo-European speakers and were the ones responsible for “Old European” place-names, with a later wave of Indo-Europeanization in Europe taking place as a result of the domestication of the horse (wholly replacing, partly replacing, or simply heavily influencing, the older Indo-European varieties? All possible. Would it be possible to associate the later Indo-Europeanizing wave with some linguistic innovation(s)/isogloss(es) within Europe? The RUKI-rule, perhaps?). Because in the Indo-Iranian zone the spread of Indo-European was due to the domestication of the horse, Indo-Iranian spread across an area which, unlike Europe, had not been previously Indo-Europeanized.

    Hm. Thinking out loud here…this scenario fits with the linguistic facts well for another reason: Indo-Iranian shows far more non-Indo-European influence (in vocabulary) than any of the European branches of Indo-European, which seems odd since we have much older records for Indo-Iranian than for European Indo-European (All other things being equal, we would expect that the languages attested earlier would show less outside influence).

    BUT…if Indo-Iranian did indeed spread at the expense of non-Indo-European languages, and (later, domestic horse-using) European Indo-European spread over a substrate of (earlier) Indo-European varieties (which may well have formed a dialect continuum, and been mutually intelligible with, the expanding varieties), well, that would explain the contrast, wouldn’t it?

    Okay, enough with the soliloquy, thoughts, anyone?

  34. I like it, but I await what better-informed folks will have to say.

  35. Two potentially important considerations are

    1) Male-dominated, Steppe ancestry-rich population turnovers in Europe didn’t end with the initial spread of Yamnaya across Dnieper and up the Danube. Rather, they just started. A replacement event every 200-300 years all the way to the end of the III millennium BCE. As documented recently e.g. in

    2) Military technologies spread somewhat independently of the main population moves. Take Sintashta. Their principal genetic ancestors were the Fatyanovo who didn’t have horses and didn’t live on the Steppe in the first place. They were grazing sheep and raising pigs on the riverside meadows of the forests. Fatyanovo did form an early offshoot East of Volga since they needed copper ores lacking in their core lands. It overlaps in time with Turganik and its proto-domestic horses, but Turganik is assigned to a very different Samara culture. Even though it’s geographically close to Sintashta which soon flourished. But Sintashta is known to have been something of a melting pot, with the DNA of some of Sintashta remains being quite dissimilar from its main population. So I believe that Sintashta got its horses from one of the Steppe populations which contributed less, genetically, to its population. A sort of a culturally important minority. The horse technology could have spread West in the same way, as a cultural import or a contribution of a minority group.

  36. David Marjanović says

    Leiden press release, pretty long and readable. I still haven’t read the real thing, but I’ll try to do that right away.

    in Europe there is a layer of place-names that seems to go back to a nearly undifferentiated Indo-European (=Krahe’s “Old European”)

    There may not actually be any evidence for this. Check out Piotr’s conference presentation “Against Old European: Why we need to be more specific” from 2012.

    More than one wave of IE language spread in western & central Europe (not to mention the Apennine and Balkan peninsulas with the whole Crotonian business, or the Italic loanwords in Proto-Slavic) are a given, e.g. because the Bell Beaker expansion was simply too early to be Proto-Celtic or anything like that. But those probably all came from within that region; e.g., there’s no reason, AFAIK, to assume the origin of Celtic was any farther east than Bavaria.

    1) Male-dominated, Steppe ancestry-rich population turnovers in Europe didn’t end with the initial spread of Yamnaya across Dnieper and up the Danube. Rather, they just started. A replacement event every 200-300 years all the way to the end of the III millennium BCE. As documented recently e.g. in

    That’s a fascinating open-access article! Abstract:

    Europe’s prehistory oversaw dynamic and complex interactions of diverse societies, hitherto unexplored at detailed regional scales. Studying 271 human genomes dated ~4900 to 1600 BCE from the European heartland, Bohemia, we reveal unprecedented genetic changes and social processes. Major migrations preceded the arrival of “steppe” ancestry, and at ~2800 BCE, three genetically and culturally differentiated groups coexisted. Corded Ware appeared by 2900 BCE, were initially genetically diverse, did not derive all steppe ancestry from known Yamnaya, and assimilated females of diverse backgrounds. Both Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups underwent dynamic changes, involving sharp reductions and complete replacements of Y-chromosomal diversity at ~2600 and ~2400 BCE, respectively, the latter accompanied by increased Neolithic-like ancestry. The Bronze Age saw new social organization emerge amid a ≥40% population turnover.

  37. Trond Engen says

    Fascinating it is. This opens so many doors it’s hard to know where to go. For now. Soon this fine-grained approach will be applied everywhere, and we’ll have migration history on a level I couldn’t imagine.

    Obviously, the whole process of indoeuropeanization just became very chaotic. I was surprised, but I realize I shouldn’t be. A culture established through full replacement of the male line won’t stop having male lines replaced just like that. The period from the late 4th to the early 2nd millennium BCE was one long migration era, and migrations went in all directions. Funnel Beaker and Global Amphora were intrusive to Bohemia from the north. Then came Corded Ware from the northeast, probably (but not necessarily) introducing Indo-European, Bell Beaker from the west, and then Únětice from the northeast again.

    So why did it calm down for a while in the Bronze Age? Or is the Bronze Age just as restless, and we just haven’t got the data yet?

  38. David Marjanović says

    The genomic origins of the Bronze Age Tarim Basin mummies in open access. Abstract:

    The identity of the earliest inhabitants of Xinjiang, in the heart of Inner Asia, and the languages that they spoke have long been debated and remain contentious. Here we present genomic data from 5 individuals dating to around 3000–2800 bc from the Dzungarian Basin and 13 individuals dating to around 2100–1700 BC from the Tarim Basin, representing the earliest yet discovered human remains from North and South Xinjiang, respectively. We find that the Early Bronze Age Dzungarian individuals exhibit a predominantly Afanasievo ancestry with an additional local contribution, and the Early–Middle Bronze Age Tarim individuals contain only a local ancestry. The Tarim individuals from the site of Xiaohe further exhibit strong evidence of milk proteins in their dental calculus, indicating a reliance on dairy pastoralism at the site since its founding. Our results do not support previous hypotheses for the origin of the Tarim mummies, who were argued to be Proto-Tocharian-speaking pastoralists descended from the Afanasievo or to have originated among the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex or Inner Asian Mountain Corridor cultures. Instead, although Tocharian may have been plausibly introduced to the Dzungarian Basin by Afanasievo migrants during the Early Bronze Age, we find that the earliest Tarim Basin cultures appear to have arisen from a genetically isolated local population that adopted neighbouring pastoralist and agriculturalist practices, which allowed them to settle and thrive along the shifting riverine oases of the Taklamakan Desert.

    Later on:

    In contrast to the EBA Dzungarian individuals, the EMBA individuals from the eastern Tarim sites of Xiaohe and Gumugou (Tarim_EMBA1) form a tight cluster close to pre-Bronze Age central steppe and Siberian individuals who share a high level of ancient North Eurasian (ANE) ancestry (for example, Botai_CA).


    Outgroup f3 statistics supports a tight genetic link between the Dzungarian and Tarim groups (Extended Data Fig. 2A). Nevertheless, both of the Dzungarian groups are significantly different from the Tarim groups, showing excess affinity with various western Eurasian populations and sharing fewer alleles with ANE-related groups (Extended Data Fig. 2b, c). To understand this mixed genetic profile, we used qpAdm to explore admixture models of the Dzungarian groups with Tarim_EMBA1 or a terminal Pleistocene individual (AG3) from the Siberian site of Afontova Gora, as a source (Supplementary Data 1D). AG3 is a distal representative of the ANE ancestry and shows a high affinity with Tarim_EMBA1. Although the Tarim_EMBA1 individuals lived a millennium later than the Dzungarian groups, they are more genetically distant from the Afanasievo than the Dzungarian groups, suggesting that they have a higher proportion of local autochthonous ancestry. Here we define autochthonous to signify a genetic profile that has been present in a region for millennia, rather than being associated with more recently arrived groups.


    The Tarim_EMBA1 and Tarim_EMBA2 groups, although geographically separated by over 600 km of desert, form a homogeneous population that had undergone a substantial population bottleneck, as suggested by their high genetic affinity without close kinship, as well as by the limited diversity in their uniparental haplogroups (Figs. 1 and 2, Extended Data Fig. 4, Extended Data Table 1, Supplementary Data 1B and Supplementary Text 4). Using qpAdm, we modelled the Tarim Basin individuals as a mixture of two ancient autochthonous Asian genetic groups: the ANE, represented by an Upper Palaeolithic individual from the Afontova Gora site in the upper Yenisei River region of Siberia (AG3) (about 72%), and ancient Northeast Asians, represented by Baikal_EBA (about 28%) (Supplementary Data 1E and Fig. 3a). Tarim_EMBA2 from Beifang can also be modelled as a mixture of Tarim_EMBA1 (about 89%) and Baikal_EBA (about 11%). For both Tarim groups, admixture models unanimously fail when using the Afanasievo or IAMC/BMAC groups as a western Eurasian source (Supplementary Data 1E), thus rejecting a western Eurasian genetic contribution from nearby groups with herding and/or farming economies. We estimate a deep formation date for the Tarim_EMBA1 genetic profile, consistent with an absence of western Eurasian EBA admixture, placing the origin of this gene pool at 183 generations before the sampled Tarim Basin individuals, or 9,157 ± 986 years ago when assuming an average generation time of 29 years (Fig. 3b). Considering these findings together, the genetic profile of the Tarim Basin individuals indicates that the earliest individuals of the Xiaohe horizon belong to an ancient and isolated autochthonous Asian gene pool. This autochthonous ANE-related gene pool is likely to have formed the genetic substratum of the pre-pastoralist ANE-related populations of Central Asia and southern Siberia (Fig. 3c, Extended Data Fig. 2 and Supplementary Text 5).


    Although the harsh environment of the Tarim Basin may have served as a strong barrier to gene flow into the region, it was not a barrier to the flow of ideas or technologies, as foreign innovations, such as dairy pastoralism and wheat and millet agriculture, came to form the basis of the Bronze Age Tarim economies. Woollen fabrics, horns and bones of cattle, sheep and goats, livestock manure, and milk and kefir-like dairy products have been recovered from the upper layers of the Xiaohe and Gumugou cemeteries, as have wheat and millet seeds and bundles of Ephedra twigs. Famously, many of the mummies dating to 1650–1450 bc were even buried with lumps of cheese. However, until now it has not been clear whether this pastoralist lifestyle also characterized the earliest layers at Xiaohe.

    Yup, they were already living off cow, sheep and goat milk products (despite not making any lactase). Ephedra = Mormon tea = soma/haoma as already used in the BMAC.

    The Tarim mummies’ so-called Western physical features are probably due to their connection to the Pleistocene ANE gene pool, and their extreme genetic isolation differs from the EBA Dzungarian, IAMC and Chemurchek populations, who experienced substantial genetic interactions with the nearby populations mirroring their cultural links, pointing towards a role of extreme environments as a barrier to human migration.

    In contrast to their marked genetic isolation, however, the populations of the Xiaohe horizon were culturally cosmopolitan, incorporating diverse economic elements and technologies with far-flung origins. They made cheese from ruminant milk using a kefir-like fermentation, perhaps learned from descendants of the Afanasievo, and they cultivated wheat, barley and millet, crops that were originally domesticated in the Near East and northern China and which were introduced into Xinjiang no earlier than 3500 BC, probably via their IAMC neighbours. [IAMC = Inner Asian Mountain Corridor, basically the Tian Shan.] They buried their dead with Ephedra twigs in a style reminiscent of the BMAC oasis cultures of Central Asia, and they also developed distinctive cultural elements not found among other cultures in Xinjiang or elsewhere, such as boat-shaped wooden coffins covered with cattle hides and marked by timber poles or oars, as well as an apparent preference for woven baskets over pottery. Considering these findings together, it appears that the tightknit population that founded the Xiaohe horizon were well aware of different technologies and cultures outside the Tarim Basin and that they developed their unique culture in response to the extreme challenges of the Taklamakan Desert and its lush and fertile riverine oases.

    This study illuminates in detail the origins of the Bronze Age human populations in the Dzungarian and Tarim basins of Xinjiang. Notably, our results support no hypothesis involving substantial human migration from steppe or mountain agropastoralists for the origin of the Bronze Age Tarim mummies, but rather we find that the Tarim mummies represent a culturally cosmopolitan but genetically isolated autochthonous population. This finding is consistent with earlier arguments that the IAMC served as a geographic corridor and vector for regional cultural interaction that connected disparate populations from the fourth to the second millennium BC. While the arrival and admixture of Afanasievo populations in the Dzungarian Basin of northern Xinjiang around 3000 BC may have plausibly introduced Indo-European languages to the region, the material culture and genetic profile of the Tarim mummies from around 2100 BC onwards call into question simplistic assumptions about the link between genetics, culture and language and leave unanswered the question of whether the Bronze Age Tarim populations spoke a form of proto-Tocharian. Future archaeological and palaeogenomic research on subsequent Tarim Basin populations—and most importantly, studies of the sites and periods where first millennium ad Tocharian texts have been recovered—are necessary to understand the later population history of the Tarim Basin. Finally, the palaeogenomic characterization of the Tarim mummies has unexpectedly revealed one of the few known Holocene-era genetic descendant populations of the once widespread Pleistocene ANE ancestry profile. The Tarim mummy genomes thus provide a critical reference point for genetically modelling Holocene-era populations and reconstructing the population history of Asia.

  39. Amazing stuff — early history is getting progressively rewritten.

  40. David Marjanović says

    We’ve very quickly come a long way from nos ancêtres les Gaulois (or, farther east, from pre-Celtic “Illyrians” who “died out” as my sister was still taught). I envy the generation of current kindergarten kids the prehistory chapters they’ll have in their history schoolbooks.

  41. As they will envy the kids in a few decades…

    Even with all the new data pouring in, I fear that there’s no sign yet of a coherent picture crystallizing. It seems like every new discovery scrambles the history afresh. I fear that we’re far off indeed from being able to codify much at the level of children’s schoolbooks.

  42. But that’s good! It’s better to have a complicated, unclear picture than a simple-minded fairy tale.

  43. Of course, but it’s nice to be at a point where we know that we at least have an approximation to what’s going on. It feels like we are not even to the “let’s start filling in the details” stage.

  44. If we taught kids in the kindergarten the real prehistory, I imagine it would look like this.

    Our great-great-great…..grandpa came from the east and raped our great-great-great…..grandma and thus our great and glorious nation was born.

    But not yet! Because another two centuries passed and our great-great-great…..grandpa came from the east and raped our great-great-great…..grandma and thus our great and glorious nation was born again.

    And so on for five thousand years.

    That’s what literally these papers amount to.

  45. David Eddyshaw says

    Alternatively, great-great-great .. grandma may just have preferred men with chariots to pedestrians.

  46. You are absolutely right.

    That’s exactly what would be written in the version for kindergarten kids.

  47. David Marjanović says

    Even with all the new data pouring in, I fear that there’s no sign yet of a coherent picture crystallizing. It seems like every new discovery scrambles the history afresh.

    The impression I’m getting is that we’ve been having a coherent picture for a few years now. Every new discovery complicates it considerably, but generally in ways that make more sense than the simplicity we had before.

  48. Ah, so this thread is where it is more appropriate to discuss these sorts of discoveries. I posted about the Tarim discovery in the Tocharian thread but it wasn’t really noticed there

    preferred men with chariots

    sometimes it’s the opposite disconnect between the conventionally accepted history narrative and what the genes say (the rape was always posited but something different must have happened in reality). Like one of the genes I spent decades with is BRCA1, a scourge of early-age breast and ovarian cancers. The Ashkenazi Jewish population has two common mutations in it, one with venerable, likely middle Eastern roots, another much younger in origin and shared in all peoples of Baltic / Eastern European origins, from Denmark to Greece. One can follow the history of the mutation by checking what else in its neighborhood is passed along from parent to child, and building a phylogenetic tree of these patterns. The root of the tree is buried in the post-Roman Great Migrations age somewhere in the Denmark / South Sweden area. The Ashkenazi sub-branch is relatively young, and grows from a larger Polish / Kresy branch, splitting off in the XVII century, give or take a century or two.

    It’s been known for over 15 years, and people immediately jumped to an interpretation: this genetic scourge must be a lasting legacy of the Chmielnicki rapes. Except the more recent studies show that the massive infusion of East Slavic DNA into the Ashkenazi Jewish population was female-mediated, and took place largely in the 1500s as small founder groups of the Ashkenazim moved to Mazovia and on to the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. Most parsimoniously, it’s the pioneering migrants taking local wives, in a pattern repeated by so many peoples in so many places and circumstances across the globe. Here goes the rape story…

  49. I imagine that in those days a Jewish man could marry a gentile woman without her ritualistically converting, and it would be overlooked, and a few generations later none would be the wiser.

  50. Dmitry Pruss says

    It is safer to assume that conversions did occur, but the process might have differed in some important details from today’s extremely high bar. The rabbinical authorities, including some even in Israel, already consider mitochondrial DNA tests when making halachaic decisions. Their favorite mtDNA haplotypes are the most common among the Ashkenazi Jews but are, ultimately of Western Mediterranean origins, rather than from the Middle East. So these “authentically Jewish” mtDNA lineages are undoubtedly of a female convert origin too, only from an earlier era. By extension, the additional Eastern Europe-specific mtDNA types ought to be considered convert too. Since they’ve been added to the population DNA more recently, they can’t be used to tell Jewish vs. gentile maternal lines apart, but it’s the only difference.

    Very few Ashkenazi maternal lines can be traced by DNA back to the Middle East. Only the paternal lines lead there with few exceptions.

  51. Could those W. Mediterranean lineages be Roman/Italian?

  52. embroidering on @Y:
    /hops on hobby horse/

    i don’t think it’s a matter of “overlooking” – i think it’s part of a very pervasive pattern!

    to my eye, data like this helps strengthen the argument that jewish communities that emerged in earlier periods did so in quite similar ways to the more recently-established ones that we know a great deal about (from the abuyadaya back to the beta israel). which is to say, primarily through non-institutional affiliation, in many cases with the presence of a small number of jewish people (mostly men) from other places, but not necessarily any (as with the abuyadaya). those communities have then had varying degrees of harmonization of some parts of their practice to neighboring or influential older communities, often in many waves over time.

    we know (from daniel boyarin’s research, among others) that the different gender systems and dynamics of gendered power in jewish communities made them desirable points of affiliation for women, in particular, in the period when rabbinic jewishness was emerging. that seems likely to have also been true in the later stages of the christianization of eastern europe (which came especially late to the baltic, of course) – though i’d guess that as in the red sea basin and elsewhere, the chance to at least partially opt out of the structuring conflicts between empires and actively proselytizing religions was a bigger factor.

    this process of ethnogenesis through affiliation is also, i’d say, the easiest way to explain why jewish communities not only look like their neighbors but generally* speak the same languages, or ones that have only recently diverged, with minimal substrates, and why linguistic and minhag/nusakh boundaries line up so precisely. if there were in fact an ancient-greek-style colonial process, you’d expect to see a patchwork of reappearing languages (or at least substrates) and minhogim based on where the founding populations came from. and we don’t, except in some exceptional cases – either communities that remained quite small (the sefardi community in madras; the baghdadi community that began in surat; &c) or were established through mass displacements or migrations (the sefardi diaspora; the yiddish emigration wave) rather than settlement by small core groups.

    * yiddish is the most confusing exception, though the 19thC evidence of 18thC communities speaking something slavic is suggestive about the date that it became the dominant jewish language in eastern europe. and, more importantly, we have very little evidence of what anyone but rabbis and other wealthy men who dealt with the state authorities spoke. and those guys were/are a highly endogamous elite class – one that does seem to have been established by migrants and is often explicitly contrasted with the majority of yiddish jews. the other exceptions (judezmo/ladino being the main one) all have pretty clear explanations.

  53. Could those W. Mediterranean lineages be Roman/Italian?

    Possibly. There is no 100% certain answer, because ancient DNA from the region isn’t sampled well enough, and because the Ashkenazi founder effects may have enriched some previously rare lineages just by chance, potentially reducing the odds of finding similar mtDNAs in the ancient samples.

    A classic paper tries to stay vague

    On the up-to-date trees combining literature and user-submitted DNAs, it looks like the roots of the lineages date back to Roman times, not later than II c., but without any ancient DNAs in the comparisons. One example:

  54. @rozele interesting, 1700s and 1800s Slavic usage evidence, can you please elaborate? We discussed 1600s about a year ago here, it sounds like a very exaggerated interpretation of a quote of a prescriptivist rabbi…

    There is talk about even earlier Canaanitic but it seems to be smoke without a fire too

  55. David Marjanović says

    Oh, yes, I overlooked the Tocharian thread.

    we know (from daniel boyarin’s research, among others) that the different gender systems and dynamics of gendered power in jewish communities made them desirable points of affiliation for women, in particular, in the period when rabbinic jewishness was emerging.

    Intriguing. Could you elaborate?

  56. rozele, I join Dmitry Pruss in asking for more details. How is that possible that low class Jews in Russian empire in 19th century have spoken Yiddish, but before that a Slavic language? This makes no sense to me, which is not the same as being wrong, of course.

  57. i’ll see how much i can post tonight, and get to anything that’s left later!

    first, @DM:

    all of this adapted from daniel boyarin [i had thought Border Lines was mainly what i’m remembering, but i looked at my copy and it seems to be something else – i’ll see if i can figure it out]…

    rabbinism emerges during the centuries on either side of christian year 0 – first as a countercurrent to temple-centered judean ritual practice, and then as its successor – through the emergence of the studyhouse/synagogue as an institution, the development of the texts that now get grouped as the talmud, and the decreasing power of the hereditary temple priesthood and monarchy. all of this largely* under roman hegemony, which is to say within a society whose gendered structures (which become christianized to form the core of the contemporary euro/colonial gender system) leave barely any space for women to have a public role, much less economic or institutional power.

    rabbinism develops a whole other gender system [this is boyarin’s Unheroic Conduct and Carnal Israel], which is equally binary and committed to privileging men, but very different in content. one of those differences is an openness to women’s active participation in economic and institutional life. if i remember right, this shows up in the early synagogue epigraphy, as well as being quite clear from the polemical writing by writers affiliated with both of the gradually disentangling christian and (rabbinist) jewish movements.

    during this same period, there’s a wave of affiliation with what we can start to see as jewishness, partly enabled by the way that rabbinism makes it exist as something other than “what judeaens do”. there’s enough of it that the rabbis make a ritual for it, and formally decide (though arguments last into the early modern period**) that by affiliating, a person becomes a descendent of abraham just like any other jew [this is s.j.d. cohen]. that wave is, to my eye, what makes something we can properly call jewishness out of the constellation of judean emigrant communities.

    it’s not much of a stretch to see these two processes as connected. if the question is “why become jewish?”, the answer has to be the things distinguishing jews from other segments of roman society. and one of the big ones is their gender system, and the greater space of possibility it offered women.

    that analysis is reinforced, i think, by the way that the same dynamic played into the expansion of early christianity through women’s affiliation [this i think is well-established]. i won’t even glance at the whole question of how to even distinguish that from the expansion of jewishness in the same period – the point is that they’re largely one and the same. the way paul and his successors combined attacks on women’s influence with an insistance on the non-jewishness of christianity shows quite clearly that they understood the two to be related.

    * i know less about what’s up in the persian imperial zone, the other main center of rabbinic jewishness’ emergence. i’m not gonna open that can of worms, except to say that i think it’s arguable that the rabbis’ ideological decision to present themselves as the heirs of the jerusalem temple put the emphasis on the roman sphere even as the mesopotamian rabbis became authoritiative beyond the persian empire.

    ** relevantly, once they exist, rhineland and then eastern european rabbis are very consistently on the ‘pro-convert’ side in their decisions, in contrast to iberian and north african rabbis.

  58. @DP, @DO:

    this is a whole kettle of worms, and nobody has any decent answers. what’s clear is that the conventional explanations for (as of the 19thC) both the presence in eastern europe of the world’s biggest jewish population and its use of a germanic language don’t hold up. there were no mass migrations to the east; weinreich’s rhineland hypothesis doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; western yiddish probably isn’t monogenetic (though the whole family of yiddishes probably is)*; and so on and so forth.

    and, even worse, the jewishness of the khazars is both historically unclear and probably irrelevant!

    but: the piece of the puzzle i was referring to is this:

    R. Isaac Ber Levinsohn (1901, 33–34 note 2; from Hebrew), who lived from 1788 to 1860, was also of the opinion that Russian Jews, in the first instance, spoke Russian:

    “and our elderly told us that the Jews, a number of generations before us, only spoke the language of this Russia in these districts [Volhynia, Podolia, Kiev, and the other districts], and that the Yiddish that we now speak had not been disseminated among all the Jews who lived in these districts, and they also told me, on behalf of […] (Czacki) […] that some hundreds of years ago, the Jews in these districts said their prayers in Polish and not in the holy language as they are used to do nowadays, and this as proof that their language was Polish or Russian”

    this is jits van straten in his tendentious The Origin of Ashkenazi Jewry, whose analysis i wouldn’t rely on, but who i’ve got no reason to distrust on his sources (he’s no paul wexler). levinsohn was an anti-yiddishist enlightener, so we probably have this tidbit thanks to his excitement about finding evidence of eastern european jews using something he could consider a “real language”. but there’s no reason for us to think (as van straten seems to) that the language his informants were talking about was what we’d call russian. if “this russian” is a decent translation of levinsohn’s hebrew, it seems much more likely to be referring to whatever the local slavic vernacular(s) were at the time than to any state language.

    but what we can glean is that at the edge of living mid-19thC memory, the jews of a core region of eastern europe were speaking something slavic rather than yiddish, and that some time before that they had also prayed in a slavic language*.

    this harmonizes pretty well with what alexander beider writes: “The Yiddish literature of Eastern Europe known to us dates from the 16th century only and comes from Poland. No Yiddish publication from the territories of modern Ukraine, Belarus, or Lithuania is known even for the 17th century.” [Contested Origins of Eastern European Jewry: Clues from History, Linguistics, and Onomastics – in Avotaynu 33:2, 2017]

    and even for poland, the yiddish material is quite sparse into the 17thC. one of the earliest eastern yiddish texts – and possibly the earliest printed one by well over a century!*** – is a 1613 refue / remedy book, seyfer derekh ets ha-khayim, that ewa geller says shows that its writer was a fluent polish speaker, while “taytsh, on the other hand, seems to have been an acquired language for the author”.

    i’ll leave it at that, with no pretense of being able to make it all make sense!

    * i’m trusting alexis manaster ramer on this, partly because he actually talks about methodology in ways that make sense.

    ** the time period here is uncertain; oral testimony of “some hundreds of years” could mean anything past living memory. and what exactly “said their prayers” refers to here is an interesting question. it could be anything from synagogue liturgy – which seems quite unlikely, though not impossible given how much everyone seems to agree that there weren’t many rabbis in eastern europe – to some or all of the many genres that were later mainly performed in yiddish.

    *** i’m not gonna go looking further, but geller’s article cites another refue-bukh from 1790 as the previous “first literary document of Eastern-Yiddish”.

  59. David Marjanović says

    Interesting indeed, thanks!

    western yiddish probably isn’t monogenetic (though the whole family of yiddishes probably is)

    I don’t get this part, though: how can the whole family be monogenetic when its parts aren’t?

  60. Interesting indeed, thanks!


    this is jits van straten in his tendentious The Origin of Ashkenazi Jewry

    I copyedited that book! (He thanks me nicely in the acks.) I too found it tendentious and wondered how much of it to take seriously, but he’s a great guy (and paid me promptly).

  61. PlasticPaddy says

    @rozele, dm, dp, do
    What I am missing here is what different authors mean by “said their prayers”, “spoke the language”, etc. These are multilingual communities with exogamy and transnational or even transcontinental networks involving both Jews and non-Jews. So a significant proportion of people might have been code-switching and what language they “spoke” or “said their prayers” in might depend on the individual and the context. So could Yiddish be a sort of lingua franca adopted over time and in parallel with the rise of nations in Europe?

  62. So could Yiddish be a sort of lingua franca adopted over time and in parallel with the rise of nations in Europe?

    That’s what it’s sounding like, and it’s an exciting idea (to me, anyway).

  63. Since Ashkenazi Jews are of West German origin (there can be no doubt about it), it means that they originally spoke some other West German dialect (not Yiddish).

    They lost it within few generations after migration to Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 15th century, switched presumably to some version of Old Ruthenian and then reacquired another West German dialect which became Yiddish sometime in 18th century.

    Or alternatively (and perhaps more plausibly) this is what happened to some groups of Lithuanian Jews, not all of them.

    So some isolated groups of Jews who lost Yiddish, spoke Ruthenian and even prayed in Slavic were later reintegrated back to the Yiddish-speaking majority.

    Anyway, sounds very interesting.

  64. January First-of-May says

    I sadly don’t recall the details – I’ve heard about it about two or three years ago – but supposedly one Eastern European… either language or highly divergent dialect… is attested from one word list (and/or a few sentences), written in a notebook found by a Soviet teenager in the 1970s, which was then reportedly thrown away by his mother, but fortunately some parts of the text had been copied.

    There’s a lot we don’t (and, often, can’t) really know about the linguistic landscape of Eastern Europe even as recently as the 19th century, never mind the 18th. So much just either didn’t happen to be written down, or was lost later.
    I guess in a lot of cases there’s always the hope for some accidental further discovery…

  65. @DM:

    quickly as i run to work:

    manaster ramer argues that all yiddishes do share a common origin, but that the major/earliest historical splitting is not between the varieties have been clustered (on reasonable linguistic grounds) as “western yiddish” and “eastern yiddish” – roughly west and east of the oder – but between varieties east and west of the elbe (or a line west of it). so the eastern dialects of “western yiddish” are more closely related to the dialects of “eastern yiddish” than they are to the western dialects of “western yiddish”.

    here’s the paper.

    this matters more than it may seem because the big cultural and community-identity division in central & eastern european jewry runs along the elbe, and very much not the oder. proverbially, minhag ashkenaz ends, and minhag poyln begins, at the Dammtor in hamburg. one of the big implicit arguments for the idea that eastern european jews can be considered a subset of german jewry – i.e. as “ashkenazim”, despite having a distinct minhag and nusakh from the rhineland-centered minhag ashkenaz – is the idea that even if yiddish isn’t a pure dialect continuum, its western branch includes a sizeable section of poyln along with ashkenaz. if manaster ramer’s right, that simply doesn’t hold up.

    and that speaks to SFReader’s proposals, too. pace SFReader, there’s metric tons of doubt about the rhenish hypothesis, and always has been. dovid katz, alexander beider, and others have pointed out the shakiness in the – very few – concrete arguments weinreich made to back up his assertions, and i don’t know that anyone has actually tried to make a well-grounded case for it since (as opposed to simply using uncle max’s name as an amulet). but ultimately, how much that matters depends on what we’re trying to explain. west-of-the-elbe yiddish – the yiddish of minhag ashkenaz – may indeed have a rhenish center point. but that doesn’t say much of anything meaningful about the history of east-of-the-elbe yiddish – the yiddish of minhag poyln – which is, after all, the only piece that’s confusing! west of the elbe, it makes sense for jewish communities to speak a germanic language; east of the elbe, not so much, since (again pace SFReader) there’s no evidence for mass migration east.

    (the question of when and why eastern european jews started to be talked about as a subset of german jews (as “ashkenazim”) is its own whole can of worms – all i’ll say here is that my bronx-born grandfather’s line on his jewish identity was “whaddya mean, ashkenazi? i’m a galitsianer!”)

  66. rozele, thanks for a detailed explanation and good for your grandfather to be a proud galitzaner (usually, not the most envied Jewish subsubidentity, but I remember in Munich the movie another proud galitzaner denouncing a “yekke potz”). Even if the gradient hypothesis (from Rhine eastward) is correct, there is no reason for religious and language boundaries to coincide.

  67. The spread of Yiddish among Central and Eastern European Jews does seem oddly similar to the nearly contemporaneous spread of Ladino (A.K.A Judeo-Spanish, A.K.A. Judezmo) among Jews of the Mediterranean world and the Balkans: and I do recall one monograph on a variety of Ladino which made a strong case that Ladino had spread, in hellenophone Europe, at the expense of whatever variety/varieties of Greek Jews of the region had originally spoken. The discussion upthread on Yiddish having possibly spread, among Jews, at the expense of Slavic in Russia and Poland reminded me of this, and more broadly makes me suspect that the dynamics of Ladino and Yiddish language spread may have more than a few points in common.

  68. Well, in case of the Greek Jews and the spread of Ladino, there’s a clear case of swamping — the number of Jews in present-day Greece and surrounding areas immediately prior to the 1492 expulsion was tiny compared to the the exiled newcomers.

    On the other hand, rozele says there was no large-scale eastward migration of Yiddish speakers.

  69. Trond Engen says

    Dmitry: Ah, so this thread is where it is more appropriate to discuss these sorts of discoveries. I posted about the Tarim discovery in the Tocharian thread but it wasn’t really noticed there

    I’ve very much noticed it, but I haven’t had time to dive into it. Will do.

    Since these were ANE people related to the Botai, here’s a speculation on Botai and Mongolia in what for a while was the horse thread. The rest of the discussion needs updating in light of the new dating of riding.

    (LanguageHat: Where everything is discussed but never under the right headline.)

  70. I think there are genetic studies which prove West German origin of all Ashkenazi Jews.

    It’s also perfectly compatible with idea of no mass migration eastwards – all millions of Eastern European Jews are descendants of a very small original founder population – numbering in low hundreds in 14th century.

    Kind of like Quebec, really.

    IIRC, all 9 or 10 million Franco-Canadians and Franco-Americans are descendants of about 800 young French women sent by king to Canada between 1663 and 1673.

  71. Lars Mathiesen says

    Headlines? What headlines?

  72. David Marjanović says

    I’ve read it all now. The paper is from 1997. Manaster Ramer made three claims:

    1) the most conspicuous division in Yiddish is not between “Western” and “Eastern” (of the Oder, very roughly), but between “Westerly” and “Easterly” (of the Elbe or even farther west); Western is therefore paraphyletic with respect to Eastern.
    2) There’s little evidence on whether Westerly Yiddish is monophyletic, though he prefers to think so for the moment and calls for further research.
    3) Yiddish as a whole is monophyletic, as shown by “a very large number” of mostly lexicosemantic innovations with regard to German and Hebrew/Aramaic, notably including both a few Romance and a few Slavic words.

    Much more recently, Beider has agreed with 1) (unfortunately, as Manaster Ramer pointed out in a recent paper, keeping the terms “Western” & “Eastern” and applying them to Westerly & Easterly), but not with 3) or the stronger form of 2): Easterly is not descended from Westerly but has a separate origin (and I think he also offers the possibility that Westerly itself might be polyphyletic, but I haven’t read his book), and the innovations found all across Yiddish must have spread between the mutually intelligible Yiddishes later. I think we have to assume that for the Slavic ones anyway. In particular, it seems to me that khotsh(e) “although” has a specifically Polish form, not Czech.

    On 3), Manaster Ramer presented what he called a small sample “for lack of space (indeed, it seems to call for a monographic treatment).” Has anyone made one? He himself seems not to have – I can’t find any on his very, very long page*. Of the three “in press” papers he promised, I can only find one, Yiddish origins: the Austro-Bavarian problem by him and Meyer Wolf (also from 1997). Not having read Beider’s book I don’t know what Beider says about any of the examples.

    But I can say a few things about both of Manaster Ramer’s papers anyway. 🙂

    In sections 3 and 4 of the first paper, Manaster Ramer talks about the megamerger of MHG ei, öu, ou** as /aː/, which has often been taken as the defining phonological feature of Western Yiddish. In section 4, he quotes Beranek (1961 apparently) as saying that it spread across Western Yiddish later, and that it became popular not only because it’s a simplification but also because it was present in “the language of” Frankfurt, the Sudetes and Austria. It’s not present in Austria. MHG ou is indeed /a/ (length is no longer phonemic), but ei is /a/ only in the east (e.g. Vienna) and along the western railway, and the (long unrounded) öu has merged not with the old ei, but with the new one, i.e. MHG î – as in Swiss and Alsatian Yiddish interestingly.

    “Beranek (1965:8, 10) reports scattered traces of relic forms with /eː/ for E4 [MHG ei] and similar traces of relicforms with /oː/ for O4 [MHG ou] in Yiddish dialects of the Rhineland, an area which in general, like all of Western Yiddish, has /a:/ in both cases.” Those are the Low and Central German outcomes.

    The report of [ç] in Swiss Yiddish is fascinating, because Swiss German lacks [ç] and even [x] entirely; it famously has all [χ] all the time, no allophony, like Eastern (or apparently all of Easterly) Yiddish.

    The report, in the same paragraph, of an actual separate /ç/ that does not depend on the preceding vowel in unspecified Westerly Yiddish varieties (“as is well known”; apparently up and down the Rhine) is downright mind-blowing.

    At the end of section 4 is the claim that there’s no “/ç/” in Bavarian. There isn’t, but Manaster Ramer doesn’t seem to use brackets anywhere in the section, and in footnote 13 he says more or less the same dialects “have no ich-Laut”; [ç] very much exists (in Bavarian other than Tyrolean, and in Swabian but not the rest of Alemannic) as the usual allophone (spectrum of allophones really).

    Near the end of section 5 there’s a paragraph on different reflexes of “2”. These could be complicated by the fact that German used to distinguish all three genders by different forms of that word – into the 17th or 18th century in written works (zween, zwo, zwei), and apparently still in a few dialects in Bavaria.

    Section 8 (iii) presents “a large set of additional characteristically Yiddish vocabulary whose etymologies and/or particular semantic, morphological, or phonological developments are specifically Yiddish”, starting with shmeykhlen “smile”. I wonder if that’s a mixture of schmeicheln “flatter” and śmiech- “smile”… Also, horkhen for “hear” isn’t as surprising as its membership in this list makes it seem. Bavarian generally has taken the contrast of sehen “see” (involuntarily) and schauen “look” (deliberately), consolidated it to the point that zusehen “watch” is considered a contradiction in terms and replaced by zuschauen, and extrapolated it to involuntary hören vs. deliberate horchen and zuhorchen. For shabeyse-nakht(s) I’m not sure what the unexpected innovation is supposed to be: “night” for “evening”? My grandma’s way of saying “in the evening” is literally “onto the night”.

    Footnote 40 talks about “the lengthening of vowels in certain stressed final syllables (i.e., usually monosyllables)” as a “possible Proto-Yiddish phonological development”. Guess what? All of High German has lengthened the vowels of monosyllabic words that end in less than two consonants.

    The other paper is off to an odd start: “the Austro-Bavarian dialects, which once covered not only Bavaria and Austria but also parts of the Czech lands and Hungary”? Hungary in the pre-1921 sense, yes, but barely since then.

    Section 2 repeats the gaffe about öu & ei.

    Section 4 teaches me about double diminutives in Bavarian. This is not sarcasm; if it’s in Schmeller’s grammar from 1821, it’s probably real and has merely been lost widely. It also looks like it explains a few things about the weird behavior of -/l̩/ and -/ɐl/ in my dialect (basically, words mostly take one or the other without rhyme or reason, and -/ɐl/ triggers phonological phenomena that only make phonetic sense for -/l̩/). – I didn’t know about the Westphalian island with ink for euch either, nor about 17th-century grammars of Yiddish (both mentioned in section 6), nor about the -s plurals in East Central German (section 8).

    Interesting that vowel length in Courland Yiddish was apparently lost very late (section 5), but not surprising: in Latvian, vowel length is srs bzns.

    The statement (still in section 5) that vowel length is not phonemic in Austro-Bavarian is accurate (except for a few South Bavarian dialects, where it remains phonemic when a consonant cluster follows – long consonants don’t count). But the description of the phonetic situation is really muddled, and not just because slashes are used instead of brackets throughout. The key to understanding is the fact that consonant length has been phonemic ever since Proto-Germanic at the very least, and that the affricates, even though they don’t participate in the inherited length contrast, are by default long in postvocalic position both by their historical origin (from long plosives) and by current phonetics.
    I’ll stick with the noggin example from the paper.
    It starts with More or Less Classical Latin cuppa [kʊpːa]. Either get that into Germanic very early (before Proto-Northwest Germanic; Varus could have done it), or wait for Early Romance to give it to early West Germanic***. Either way, once the Empire is over and the High German consonant shift dawns, it has become *[kʰopːʰ]. It shifts straightforwardly to *[kxopːf] (I’m omitting the tie bars for simplicity).
    Immediately thereafter, OHG passes a total ban on word-final long consonants. Affricates are treated as word-final as a unit, but the long part is the stop, not the fricative – so the stop is shortened. Result: *[kxopf] in the nominative singular.
    By whatever analogy, this word acquires an *-i plural with umlaut. Before OHG is even over, in the last third of the 11th century, the short rounded front vowels are already unrounded**** in Bavarian as I just learned, so, by the time MHG begins in the middle of the following century, the plural is *[kxepːfə].
    Then, the intervocalic three-way contrast of /d t tː/ – all voiceless, all unaspirated – breaks down in Central Bavarian just as MHG officially begins (and South Bavarian implements the “NHG diphthongization”). As a byproduct, all word-final postvocalic fortis consonants are shifted to their lenis counterparts if they have any. Affricates are again treated as word-final as a unit, but only the stop part is shifted, because the fricatives never participated in the fortis/lenis contrast.***** Result: *[kxob̥f] vs. unchanged *[kxepːfə].
    Toward the official end of MHG in the mid-14th century, apocope hits. (Or, perhaps more likely, a general loss of /ə/ in most environments.) At this point, the ban on word-final long consonants is lifted, and we get a phonemic contrast for word-final affricates: singular *[kxob̥f], plural *[kxepːf].******
    Finally, /kːx/ is deaffricated in Central Bavarian, and at some point the vowel lengthening of monosyllabic words ending in less than two consonant moras is introduced from Switzerland. /bf/ counts as one, /pːf/ as two or more, so the modern forms result: [koˑb̥f], [kepːf].
    And then Anatoly Liberman comes in, notices the vowel length but not the consonant length, and goes mad from the incomplete revelation, gibbering about “nominative lengthening” as an utterly eldritch morphological process. Apparently the same happened to Manaster Ramer & Wolf’s source, Жирмунский (1956), and maybe even to the mighty Kranzmayr. But I digress. 🙂

    In section 7, about “word”-final “devoicing” and its absence, it is stated that “Yiddish generalized the devoiced variant in many nouns ending in -nt”. The examples given, hunt & hant, don’t illustrate this, because they had nt in OHG before final fortition showed up in MHG, coming quite regulary from *-nd as the English cognates – hound, hand – show. Either the Central Bavarian postvocalic lenition process also operated after nasals (it did not after /r/; coda /l/ no longer existed), or Bavarian participated in the weird and never mentioned shift of nt, lt to nd, ld that happened in the ancestry of Standard German, which looks like straightforward voicing except there’s still no voice in Bavarian. So, to find out whether “Yiddish generalized the devoiced variant”, we need to find words that had nd in OHG, from *nþ. But Jugend “youth” and Tugend “virtue” have exactly the kinds of abstract meanings that I’d expect Yiddish to lexify from Hebrew… did it? – Anyway, I’m still not sure whether the MHG final fortition ever covered all of Bavarian. The forms cited from Kranzmayer (1956) as showing fortition clearly do so, but they’re equally clearly South Bavarian, and that group has a wide east-west spread…

    The conclusion of the second paper seems fully compatible with Beider’s scenario: Easterly Yiddish starting as a Bohemian koiné composed in about equal parts of Bavarian and East Central German, Westerly Yiddish without any direct Bavarian contribution.

    * So many puns and variations on Wörter und Sachen
    ** Those are the 19th-century normalizations anyway; öu is probably spelled ou throughout the manuscripts or nearly so, and must at some point have been entirely front & rounded, so öü would have been a better choice of normalization.
    *** Actually, that way I could explain why the word is masculine: after WGmc had lost the m. nom. sg. *-z, *-a was suddenly a masculine ending. There’s that famous comb with kaba on it that shows the *-a- did not drop out first.
    **** What a fascinating text (transcribed in full in the article). Check out megi, leski, wirdiglihen, modern Standard möge, lösche, würdig-. I think the long ones & diphthongs are all still rounded, though; they seem to be spelled uo, o, oi, iu and maybe u.
    ***** If you don’t like that hypothesis, I can offer others, but this seems the simplest.
    ****** This becomes a productive pattern, e.g. Tisch – Tische [tɪˑʃ] – [tɪʃː], Fisch – Fische [fɪˑʃ] – [fɪʃː] have a specially created short /ʃ/ from what was still a consonant cluster /sk/ in OHG. Schuh – Schuhe, both [ʃʊɐ̯xː] with long /xː/, must have joined this pattern before leaving it again; otherwise both forms would have had to keep their etymologically short /x/. Note that extra consonants don’t get in the way, e.g. Strumpf – Strümpfe [ʃtʀʊmb̥f] – [ʃtʀɪmpːf].

  73. thanks so much for that deep read, DM!

    i don’t have the chops to even start evaluating the (quite friendly) disagreements between beider and manaster ramer on the technical merits (having read most of beider’s book, and a lot of what manaster ramer’s put on on a gut level, i lean away from beider on purely aesthetic grounds: he seems to both want a clear and fairly unitary answer and to think he’s found one, which makes me doubly skeptical.

    leyzer burko’s review of beider’s book may be useful for folks who want to keep on going down this rabbithole; it mostly deals with the bohemian and east franconian parts of the argument (with some criticism of beider’s depiction of bohemian as a fairly unified dialect).

    o, and off the top of my head i don’t know a cognate for Tugend, but standard yiddish does take ‘youth’ from the germanic side: יוגנט / yugnt (i don’t know how old the word is in the language, though); the hebrew/aramaic-origin words in that semantic zone that come to mind are all more specific (בתולה / bsule ‘maiden, virgin’ and such).

  74. David Marjanović says

    Oh, that article! It featured prominently in this thread a few years ago. 🙂 I commented – and conclude that Standard German and Easterly Yiddish may very well continue different registers of late medieval Prague German that went in different directions (geographic and otherwise).

  75. That’s an interesting thread. Dmitry Pruss said:

    In places where Jews were in regular contact with a German-speaking majority, their Yiddish naturally picked up features of the local characteristic

    Not just German. Occasionally, Slavic as well? Alexander Beider explained that the phonetics of the Litvak Yiddish are lifted from Polish dialects of Mazovia (where the Jews were especially few in numbers when they moved, or were expelled to, Lithuania in the 1500s). Since the DNA tells us that the early founders disproportionately took local wives, then the hypothesis may be that the outsize influence of the Mazovian Polish may have been mediated by intermarriage…

  76. >Oh that thread…

    More proof that you guys have forgotten more than I’ll ever know about this stuff, despite my interest.

    It is funny how many threads reach the “Oh, yeah, we did discuss that” moment. I think largely a sign of the range and depth of what is said, rather than oncoming senility. The latter, or at least a senescent inability to remember as large a volume of data, may be an issue for me though.

  77. David Eddyshaw says

    All topics are discussed somewhere by LH. However, despite JC’s best efforts, some of the conclusions cannot now be retrieved in polynomial time, and are inaccessible to all currently known search methodologies. Nevertheless, we believe that they exist.

  78. Credo quia inaccessibile.

  79. We are all monkeys with typewriters here.

  80. Auto-correct vastly reduces the number of monkeys you have to put in front of keyboards to have a shot at producing Shakespeare.

  81. Dmitry Pruss says

    Kind of like Quebec, really.

    IIRC, all 9 or 10 million Franco-Canadians and Franco-Americans are descendants of about 800 young French women sent by king to Canada between 1663 and 1673.

    Yes, only more severe in terms of impact on genetic diversity. There are other parallels, like hereditary inequality of the reproductive success further reducing the effective bottleneck size (in Quebec it was linked to the size and location of the land holdings which critically affected reproductive success, while in Eastern Europe, it is also partly an economic-niche effect but also augmented by restrictions on who can marry / reside / have a business in town, and on the social class-selective military draft). Or like continuing migration of the clergy / the rabbis long after the initial migrant waves settled.

    Inland Finland is the Western world’s other example of severe historical founder effects.

    (Yes, I realized that we discussed Bohemia and Mazovia and the migrate-and-send-sons-further-afield modus operandi of the Litvak Jews before, but people already found it before I could even get to it)

    The specific problem with the Ashkenazi bottleneck effect is the historians’ tradition of ascribing it to the pogroms and community annihilation of the Middle Ages, crusades and plagues. It is a superficially plausible and kind of attractive hypothesis but it doesn’t survive the detailed testing. So the ethnogenesis of the Ashkenazim becomes somewhat less unique … also primarily driven by migrations in search of opportunity, like in so many other peoples, and less so by the persecution of a kind uniquely experienced by the Jews.

  82. One question I have – one of the points of Tim Snyder’s Bloodlands is that the systematic murder of Jews in the Holocaust happened in a particular region. And that in some ways, it was a consequence of the Holodomor, which had terrorized many of the same people, destabilized the same areas, drew its blood-price from the some of the same populations.

    And even prior to this, at least in the US, Jewish immigration was heavily weighted towards those who lived in Germany and Western Europe.

    So the Jewish populations of today may not reflect the Jewish populations of the 19th century very well. Would studies of the genetics of Ashkenazi Jews that didn’t attempt to oversample people whose heritage was in Eastern Europe be prone to overstate the bottleneck?

    Also, in another reference to ugly points of history, the Quebecois bottleneck is also overstated, since Franco-Canadian heritage includes native women not counted in that figure.

  83. Ryan: And even prior to this, at least in the US, Jewish immigration was heavily weighted towards those who lived in Germany and Western Europe.

    I don’t think so. My recollection of the genetic situation is that most American Jewish ancestry comes from central and eastern Europe. American Jewish culture is definitely more based on eastern practices than western. The very trop used for reading the Torah is different between American synagogues and those in western Europe today; American Jews use the eastern European version.

    Moreover, while the Ukraine in the 1930s and 1940s was certainly a horrific place in multiple ways, calling the Shoah a consequence of the Holodomor is pretty absurd. It makes no sense ideologically or geographically (Poland having been the center of the Nazi extermination campaign and the also the country that lost the largest number of Jews).

  84. Dmitry Pruss says

    at least in the US, Jewish immigration was heavily weighted towards those who lived in Germany and Western Europe

    Depends on what era you are taking about. Before the 1860s, it was generally true. After the Polish uprisings, immigration from Poland and Lithuania increased, Catholic but also Jewish. And starting from late 1880s, a rather conscious effort of the Czarist government to reduce their Jewish population by promoting emigration created a near-deluge of Russian Empire Jews.

    But the “Jews who lived in Germany and Western Europe” in mid-XIX century were to a great extent of Polish extraction, a consequence of the Partitions which made masses of Polish Jews subjects of Prussia and Austro-Hungary. The Prussian partitioned area of Poland generated particularly strong migration currents. And from the areas further East, Eastern Belorussia Jews moved to Belgium and the Netherlands and Courland Jews, to Germany, supplanting the local communities.

    It’s true that the Holocaust and migrations left us with virtually no original regional Ashkenazi populations to study. There remain nearly-endogamous cultural groups to this day, but there is a well-known gap of misunderstanding between geneticists on the one hand, and linguists, historians and anthropologists on the other, and so the geneticists to this day sample the Ashkenazim by the modern country of origin or by continent, rather than by a more granular cultural and dialectal afficilation. One possible exception is the South African Jewish community which still closely corresponds to the Kovno Governorate Litvaks of yore, due to an accident of steamer line cartel policies of the XIX-early XX centuries.

  85. Sorry, Brett. One lesson for me is never to make asides when talking about the Holocaust, or I’m certain to sound fatuous. To the point of offensiveness. “To some degree a consequence” wasn’t central to my point, nor was it what I really meant. Of course Hitler, the Nazi Party and the willingness of too many Germans and others to commit genocide take overwhelming responsibility for the Holocaust.

    I was trying to allude to Tim Snyder’s point in Bloodlands, if I remember the argument properly, that both the Holodomor and the Soviet invasion after the Stalin Ribbentrop pact destroyed social and governmental structures before the Nazi onslaught, which in other places would diminish the ability of the Nazis to achieve total control. That in the rest of conquered Europe, the genocide had to contend with, not so much sympathy for Jews, though in some places that helped at the margins, but punctiliousness about what Germans could do to Jewish citizens of countries that remained sovereign, even if only nominally. Jews and others in the Bloodlands had effectively become stateless, and he argues that had a significant effect on whether large numbers of people survived. That was what I was trying to say with “to some degree a consequence.” That the brutalization of the region by the Holodomor had some impact on how many people were killed later.

    Naturally, I can’t find my copy of Bloodlands right now, and I imagine someone here knows the book and/or the facts better, and can explain how I’m still mangling it. But perhaps this does a bit more justice to Snyder than I did previously.

    But my main point in mentioning the Holodomor wasn’t that it had any impact on the Holocaust, but simply that many Ukrainian Jews were victims of the famine even before the genocide, and that this compounded the focused effect of the Holocaust in destroying particular Jewish communities.

  86. Ryan, most Ukrainian Jews leaved in cities and towns, not in the villages. The Great break and the famine decimated mainly villages. Far it be from me to praise Soviet system, but I should note that in USSR a good number of Jews were evacuated during the war and many men fought Nazis, not just suffered from them (obviously, many suffered). It also worth remembering that the occupied territories were under the scorched earth warfare on all sides.

    I am not sure how much trust one should put into the Wikipedia figures, but if they are true, Western European Jews faired much less badly (numerically speaking) than Eastern European, independent of the country. This speaks mainly to a relative comparative restraint that Germans exercised in the West. USSR, in 1939 borders, did relatively less badly than other Eastern European countries, perhaps mostly because a lot of Jews lived on never to be occupied territories and some were evacuated.

  87. The USSR Jews who ended up in Nazi hands (either because they couldn’t flee, or because they couldn’t flee fast enough and were overrun by the German advance, or because they were taken prisoner), they fared much worse than Polish or Western Jews. The rule of thumb is, everyone in this misfortunate category was dead, typically in 1941. A few women survived by white-passing, a few able-bodied men joined the guerrilla partisans, but these options were for a tiny fraction of one percent. There were no concentration camps out East, just bullets in the nearby ditches or quarries. In contrast, the mass extermination in Poland and Western Europe gained steam only by 1943, and some people survived in the camp, in ghettos, and in deportation queues. A minority, but not an infinitesimally tiny minority like in the USSR. They were more survivors overall in the USSR because people were called up or evacuated in an organized fashion or just fled ahead of the German advance. Also because a part of the USSR was in the Romanian occupation zone, which was about as bad as Poland, meaning that a small percentage survived. Unlike under the German occupation to the North.

    Snyder’s Bloodlands tried to bring more light to the Nazi atrocities outside of the better-known concentration camps, and it’s a commendable goal in itself, but the actual goal of the book is broader. It is to expose both Hitler’s and Stalin’s crimes and to elevate the idea of their moral (immoral) equivalence. This, in itself, might be also a worthy goal, but it really comes out weird. It begins to look like a regurgitated Nazi propaganda point that Stalin’s / Kaganovich’s / “alleged Jewish-Comminist” crimes against Poland and Ukraine justified, or paved way to, the Holocaust. If the book juxtaposes both regimes’ crimes in such a way that in the eyes of the readers, it blames the victims, then it’s a really bad way to narrate the history.

  88. X, I didn’t see Bloodlands as lending itself to a theory of blaming the victims, and I’m sorry if my initial cursory statement gave the impression I was doing so.

    This article doesn’t give the impression that the famine left Ukrainian Jews untouched. Nearly 1,000 Jewish dead on the streets of Kyiv in one month, numbers of dead and starving in various stetls, more than 1000,000 Jews who had been encouraged to become (well, suppressed into becoming) agricultural workers and suffered the same fate as their neighbors. I

    “Your mother died from starvation… Her last wish was that you, our only son, say Kadish for her.”

    It’s hard to see how it could be otherwise, with most Jews living in small towns dependent on the produce of the nearby collectives whose output was being sent elsewhere.

    The scale of death was different in towns, more so in cities, but I suspect the idea that Jews didn’t die in large numbers in the famine is largely a product of the anti-Semitism some adopted as a way to try to make sense of the calamity that rained down on the peasantry.

  89. Jews who had been encouraged to become (well, suppressed into becoming) agricultural workers

    Jewish agricultural settlements in the Ukraine are not Soviet invention, but an old Tsarist project dating back to early 19th century.

    It is often described as a failure, it probably was if we consider that majority of Jews in Tsarist Russia remained town dwellers instead of becoming prosperous peasants as the Tsarist government wanted.

    But on the other hand – several hundred thousand Jewish farmers in the Ukraine at the eve of Revolution ought to count for something.

    PS. I particularly liked an interesting linguistic detail about this experiment. The Tsarist officials understood that the Jews had no knowledge of farming, so several German farming families were allocated to each Jewish agricultural settlement to teach Jews how to farm. As the bureaucrats noted, the Jews and Germans understand each other since they speak “the same language”.

  90. Kuznetsov supposedly wrote that the Holodomor made the population of Kyiv so inured to death and suffering, that it dulled their reaction to the Babi Yar massacre.

  91. LH – it seems like Google no longer indexes this site? Or perhaps does it too infrequently? “Recently commented posts” page was out of commission and I tried finding this discussion as

    but no such luck.

    @Ryan – Holodomor (as opposed to the more general famine and starvation in the USSR in the same timeframe) is specifically understood as genocide against the Ukrainian people by the enemies who are officially ethnically blank Soviet, but in the Nazi propaganda, there were no such ethnic ambiguity about the alleged masterminds of the genocide.

    Both Czarist and Stalinist Russia were of two minds about the Jewish agricultural activities. There were numerous rounds of eviction of the rural Jews, the earliest known to me was the mass eviction which uprooted my ancestors and killed many of their fellow Jews in the dead of the winter 1825 near Vitebsk; the biggest known was a part of the “Temporary Statute” of 1883 (which, despite its name, never expired until 1917) which made another relative of mine sell his apple orchard in Podolia, and, after a few destitute years, emigrate; and latest one, which also affected a branch of the Vitebsk area family, happened right before the Revolution, and affected the Jewish veterans of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 who were granted residency privileges after coming home, only to be stripped of the right to live in the villages 10 years later. In the USSR times, collective / communal farming was promoted, but the better-off Jewish farmers were literally run off the land.

    The agricultural colonies of Kherson and Tavria Governorates of Southern Ukraine (both Jewish and German) are probably the best known because after generations of misery, they achieved lasting success and their population grew in numbers and influence. But most Jewish villagers were not Kherson colonists (in Podolia and on the North-Eastern fringes of the Pale, a huge percentage of the Jews lived in the villages, and in Polesye, were colonists on the infertile government lands, although with a few exceptions, they didn’t till the land, but worked as blacksmiths, horse-dealers, fishermen, loggers, ash-burners, cart drivers, orchard-keepers etc., all of them being occupations where the head of the household could make living without much reliance on the women and children in the household … because in the traditional family, the women weren’t expected to work outside at all, and the boys needed to study long hours)

  92. LH – it seems like Google no longer indexes this site?

    No, it’s keeping up the good work. It’s true it doesn’t find this thread if you search on “beider,” but it’s the second hit for “Yamnaya.”

  93. all of them being occupations where the head of the household could make living without much reliance on the women and children in the household … because in the traditional family, the women weren’t expected to work outside at all, and the boys needed to study long hours

    How are these occupations less reliant on the family than farming? Surely some farming could be adapted to be a one-man job, albeit less productive?

  94. In general, the farther east they were, the more brutally the Nazis behaved. Some of the reasons for this seem to have been largely just contingent, but there was also a significant ideological component lying behind these geographical differences. Hitler proclaimed that the people in the East were Untermenschen. Slavs were worthy only of behind enslaved, but the more Asiatic groups even further east were considered even lower. In contrast, however much the Nazis may have despised the French and considered them decadent, they never denied that France had a distinguished and culturally meaningful history.

    Of course, no ethnic or religious group—except maybe the Romany (the most authentically Aryan group in Europe, actually!)—was considered as vile as the Jews, but the level of brutality of Nazi actions against the Jews in a particular region was often influenced by how brutal the Nazi regime was there more generally. The broader milieu affected the level of background barbarity to which the both local Jewish and non-Jewish populations were exposed. In largely democratic western Europe, where Jews were typically better integrated into the national culture and identity, the occupation regimes were generally less violent and more accepting of the existing local communities and power structures. There was at least a minimal degree of respect for the occupied peoples in places like France, Denmark, or the Netherlands and a concern that the non-Jewish populations of those countries would object more strongly to actions taken against their Jewish countrymen and countrywomen. In contrast, in the Soviet Union, the invading Germans viewed the existing people as fundamentally corrupt—politically, socially, and racially (with Jewish influence being perceived as practically omnipresent). So the Germans had few qualms about conducting mass executions in relatively public fashions, using Einsatzgruppen to machine gun the local Jews and other undesirables, rather than the more secretive death camp system that took over most of the killing in 1942.

  95. Dmitry Pruss says

    some farming could be adapted to be a one-man job, albeit less productive?

    Never been a subsistence farmer in Belarus myself, but I imagine that with the poorly fertile soils and colder, wetter climates, it’s already “less productive” and without literally throwing all people at work dawn to dusk when the weather allows making hay or harvesting, one risk certain death in winter. The government policies explicitly discouraged peasants’ children from attending schools because the boys’ labor was desperately required in the fields.

    Interestingly, Jewish farmers weren’t officially put in the specific sub-class of peasants, but instead, in the broadly equivalent subclass of “earth-tillers” (земледельцы rather than крестьяне), even though they didn’t plow the soil. The post-1883 “Temporary Statute” evictions paperwork is a golden trove of documentation on Jewish families and their economy, because the papers were filed with the police departments and ended up preserved much better than vital or tax records (everything related to persecution was so much better preserved in Russia!). So generally one can learn occupations of all families, both grandfathered under the statute and the evictees. Up in a very rural Nevel district, for example, nobody farmed. My relatives there, the Konsons, were village blacksmiths, burly light-haired people who picked equally strongly built brides, and who looked genuinely Slavic despite being, as the name suggests, real Kohanim. Some rural residents of Nevel held not-so-rural occupations, like cobblers or small traders, but most just occupied the genuinely rural but non-plowing economic niches. Another branch of rural Neveler relatives, the Neploks, were generally into anything about horses. Drove carts, traded horses. One police file investigated a Neplokh who improperly rented land from a Christian villager for a horse-pasture. Another police file investigated a suddenly-missing Neplokh who was never found, but was rumored to be on trial in the neighboring county for horse thievery. Not the classic “poor huddled masses” of the shtetls.

  96. Neplokh

    Not bad!

  97. Dmitry Pruss says

    Goodenough is a classic English surname

  98. Nekrasov of Neyelovo, Neurozhayka tozh follows a different approach.

  99. >Not the classic “poor huddled masses” of the shtetls.

    The following is an understanding I drew from The Golden Age Stetl, a New History of Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern.

    Stetls were chartered trading sites, literally belonging to nobility or the state, protected by law, by monopoly profit, and by networking effects. Traditionally, peasants couldn’t break into a business like horse-trading, practically or legally. One could decide to adopt a town-based occupation without making the whole family work because much of the competition was locked out.

    >For example, the 1740 agreement between a magnate and the Zaslav (Iziaslav) Jewish communal elders outlined the key functions of the Jews, who would organize five annual fairs during Eastern Orthodox and Catholic holidays such as Spas (Savior) and St. Martin in the old part of the town, and another four, also on Christian holidays such as St. Peter and St. Virgin Mary, in the new part of the town, and still three more brief fairs in the town’s central square.

    This was both a right and a privilege. The community had to fulfill the terms or lose out. And they paid taxes, unlike peasants. But no one else could conduct trade in the stetl, and typically, that meant no one else within easy travel. A peasant from a village around Zaslav basically had to buy his tack, his horseshoes and his liquor from the stetl, or newly, the “mestechko”.

    Petrovsky-Shtern goes on to say that the “marriage of convenience between Jews and magnates was in reality not an equal partnership and sometimes took the form of humiliation, exploitation and abuse.” I’ll bet.

    But the privilege, the exclusion of peasants from such trade and industry, is certainly the answer to why the occupations of townsmen could give a life of leisure.

    He argues that the system began to break down after partition, because the new Russian bureaucrats didn’t feel the same tenderness and obligation towards the szlachta landlords.

  100. Dmitry Pruss says

    Petrovsky-Shtern captures a snapshot of the shtetle history between the end of early period when the Jewish business was largely limited to financing and customs collection, and the dissolution of the Jewish communal self-rule. His title has the word “Golden Age” for a reason. Those towns (some on government land, but many on magnate-owned lands) with their cozy hereditary market stall arrangements were quite different from the hamlets of the “huddled masses” of Lady Liberty, separated in time by two or more generations. Many opportunities disappeared in the interim. First, Eastward migration stopped. Then, migration to the South-East reached near-saturation as well. Finally, migration to the smaller hamlets which didn’t have a shtetle status was permanently closed by the “Temporary Statute”, locking most of the community in the same old and increasingly overcrowded places. The end of community self-rule opened up all opportunities for competition. Other traditional lines of business were decimated with the end of Polish magnate landownership, and with the construction of the railroads which undermined the traditional commodity-transportation and export businesses. And finally the system of skilled-artisan guilds was abolished too. In the end, if something was still guaranteed for life, it was the economic and legal uncertainty.

  101. We discussed Petrovsky-Shtern’s book in 2014.

  102. In August of 2014, to be specific. And I remember where I was when I was reading the book, at my in-laws’ dacha, which we always visited in August at the time. It must have been 2014, obviously prompted by the mention here.

    >migration to the South-East reached near-saturation as well. Finally, migration to the smaller hamlets which didn’t have a shtetle status was permanently closed.

    Dmitry, sure. But saturation is such an interesting word. Another way of describing saturation is that the monopolies were so lucrative that they had so many kids that there simply weren’t enough towns for them in all of Slavdom! Increasingly, it was hard to find a spot that ensured the wife and kids didn’t have to work, as you point out.

    At the time, at least some of my ancestors were killing Native Americans to make way for their kids. Or moving into territories recently cleansed. I’m not pointing fingers in any way that doesn’t ultimately lead to Algren’s captain, whose “finger of guilt, pointed so sternly for so long across the query-room blotter, had grown bored with it all at last and turned, capriciously, to touch the fibers of the dark gray muscle behind the captain’s light gray eyes.”

    But the myth-making must be as jarring to folks descended from the peasantry as a cowboy movie for those of a different heritage or a different sensibility.

  103. Dmitry Pruss says

    I am not sure what my decidedly non-monopolistic but sometimes cutthroat businesslike ancestors did to draw a parallel with the killers of the Native Americans or maybe those who enslaved and raped the Africans. Actually I AM sure that there are all sorts of different degrees of descendant’s guilt but being a descendant of a severely persecuted & dehumanized minority goes a long way to alleviate guilty feeling of the sort. So I strongly suggest that you stop measuring your alleged ancestor myths against mine.

    But just to dispose of the idea of the old shtetle Jews being the same as hereditary monopoly merchants. Yes, the private towns’ community self-rule books repeatedly describe which family shall trade in what goods at which street. But it is a bias of ascertainment to conclude that this is what the community was doing. You see, the self-rule council (the Kahal) was an intermediary between the landowner and the taxpayers, and accordingly, it regulated the matters of commercial real estate. Because commerce meant taxes and real estate meant the town’s owner’s property. The Kahal also regulated public bathhouses and houses of worship, for exactly the same reason. It did not regulate any trade outside of the town owner’s properties, or employment of artisans and laborers. Most of the moneyed class’s income was from outside of the city street, typically in contract management (factorship), tax collection (otkup) and sales of agricultural commodities. One of my ancestral families, the Lapitskys, were among the richest merchants in such privately owned towns, Gorki & Romanovo, but their businesses weren’t shop fronts. It was the otkup collection & shipments of local and Ukrainian grain up the Dnieper, on horsecarts across the divide, and down Dvina to the export markets in Riga. The patriarch of the family boasted of riding a carriage with 8 horses because the town’s owner had 6. A whole group of top merchants was involved in such activities covering the wide area, and in no way restricted by the Kahal. Like in nearby Shklov a group of merchants specialized on importing diamonds and jewelry & wholesaling it in big cities. It wasn’t a local storefront business, and therefore it wasn’t regulated in any special way. Then a bit lower rung of the merchant class was actually running local retail through the Kahal-controlled storefronts. A lot more Jews, as you can find from the Census (Revision) records, were designated skilled artisans of the guilds (цеховые) – bakers and brewers, cobblers and tailors, coppersmiths and blacksmiths and so on. Lots and lots of them compared to the small merchant class. But most of the town’s Jews were even lower on the social scale and belonged to the “plain” townsfolk classes. Laborers and porters, house painters and glass installers, cart drivers and bath workers (and many peddlers and traders in this same category) (and most rabbis and melameds and spectors belonged to the plain townsmen category as well) … none of these occupations had guilds, but they far outnumbered both the guild members and the merchants even early in the XIX c. (Before 1795, the censuses are in Polish and therefore much harder for me to read, but I read plenty of pre-Napoleonic ones). For Gorki there is actually a 1770s Census surviving in a 1784 Polish copy and annotated in Russian, and from it, you can see that a private town wasn’t this imaginable neat formation of shopfronts even before the “Golden Age” book. It’s just the Kahal specifically regulated the storefronts and that’s why we know so much about them.

    But in most of the occupations, the employment opportunities didn’t grow as fast as the population, so the sons had to diversify into new opportunities or move to the frontier. Nothing an American wouldn’t understand, i suppose.

  104. Basically, the Jewish population of the “Pale of Settlement” was demographic equivalent of the Israeli Haredim today who are currently at about 12.6% of Israel’s population, but double every 16 years with probably the highest population growth rate in the world.

    This has to account for a lot of what happened there later.

    I wonder if anyone compared Ukraine-1919 with Rwanda-1994.

  105. Employment opportunities didn’t grow for peasants either. But they were locked out of competing for town jobs and barred from moving, at least on their own decision. They ate less and had fewer kids. The urban class in the region was, as you point out, communal. Though it was not literally hereditary, and people competed within the class, the communal aspect was enforced by law and social norms. While higher level businesses like shipment of agricultural surpluses were less regulated, the peasants still had to sell their surplus to the stetl. The export firms grew out of the strongest of the firms benefitting from protection in the stetl.

    I only made the post after repeated mentions of how oppressive it was to be in a shtetl. I do believe that. But not nearly so oppressive as to be in a village. That’s a truth that shouldn’t be erased.

    I make no comments about your direct ancestors as individuals. I mentioned my “ancestors” by way of saying there is oppression behind many stories. I was saying “people have done worse.” It seems strange to get anti-American insults precisely because I raised the fact that there are such horrors in American history. I also meant it broadly, my ancestors as a class. I know of no relative who fought on a frontier, nor even moved in very quickly afterwards. None of them lived anywhere that slavery was legal in the last 210 years, nor in areas where slavery was widespread in the last 280, where the trail goes dead. Arguably, they benefited indirectly from slavery elsewhere.

    The timeline of abolition across the US is not that different from the timeline of the emancipation of the serfs from Poland to the Russian empire.

    Those of my direct ancestors that weren’t European in the early 1700’s were all Pennsylvanians, to our knowledge. William Penn bought the land they moved into, and relations with natives were still good when they appear in the genealogies. Some moved into eastern Ohio two decades after the Battle of Fallen Timbers in western Ohio. That’s as close to a frontier as anyone ever got.

    Still, they benefitted indirectly from the later, pressured sale of Native lands in Pennsylvania, and from conquest elsewhere, just as others did from the conquest of Tatar and Muslim lands, as you seem to acknowledge. Opportunities South-east that were eventually saturated.

    As you know, the DNA stuff is littered with references to an inexplicable demographic miracle that needs some explanation. But it seems explicable.

    The stetl was an institution that oppressed the peasantry and advanced the townsmen, even as it served the interests of a higher class that routinely punched downward at the stetl, and was entangled with a lower, agricultural class that sometimes bit savagely upward. That doesn’t taint your ancestors any more than mine are tainted. Maybe less.

    I disagree pretty strongly that it “accounts for a lot of what happened later,” as was just posted above now that I’m about to post my comment. I don’t agree with the premise, much of it is at a remove of a century or more, and I find it an unfortunate way to refer to genocide.

    But the fact that later horrors occurred doesn’t make the truth of the stetl’s place in an oppressive society unspeakable. If anything, attempting to elide that history has fed the demon.

  106. Ryan, judging by the numbers there are about 45 million African Americans in the US and about 3.5 to 5 million Native Americans. This is very different from the situation in 1600. How can we explain this demographic miracle? Maybe African slaves and their descendents under the protection of European emigrants took all the opportunities for development from Native people? I hope no one would take this sort of argument seriously.

    Jews didn’t establish serfdom in Western Ukraine and there was plenty of oppression in Eastern Ukraine and in Great Russia where there were no Jews at all. Jews also didn’t decide that the extractive economy is the best way to organize life in Western Ukraine. And somehow people who denied Ukrainians the possibility of development are the Jews. This is completely and entirely absurd. In Eastern Ukraine and in Great Russia merchant classes were Ukrainian and Russian. Did it make oppression of the peasants any better?

  107. . Arguably, they benefited indirectly from slavery elsewhere.

    Well, I absolutely benefit from labour of people who sewed my clothes elsewhere. (but they are not angry at me, because they do not see me).

  108. Is it possible to discuss it without distributing guilt/blame/responsibility?
    “Saturation” is a neutral term.
    “Serfs were oppressed too” is a valid point.
    The claims made above are fine, but their moral interpretations…

  109. PlasticPaddy says

    It is hard to avoid tendentiousness in “X prepared the ground for Y” or “Group A was privileged in comparison with Group B” statements, because they lead to associations and linkages not justified by the facts. For example, “The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles prepared the ground for the rise of Fascism and associated authoritarian movements.” Some people could and did argue that the Versailles settlement inevitably led to, and provided justification for, various actions of Fascist agitators and governments. But I do not believe such an argument provides anything like a full explanation, only “window-dressing”. The other point is that inter-ethnic rivalry/conflict is not a dialectical process, leading to a synthesis😊. It is more like a fire that flares unpredictably, but never burns out.

  110. It seems strange to get anti-American insults precisely because I raised the fact that there are such horrors in American history.

    There were no anti-American insults that I could see; Dmitry Pruss said “I am not sure what my decidedly non-monopolistic but sometimes cutthroat businesslike ancestors did to draw a parallel with the killers of the Native Americans or maybe those who enslaved and raped the Africans,” and that was my reaction as well, even though I’m neither Jewish nor of Eastern European descent. It seems an unfortunate and unhelpful comparison.

  111. >And somehow people who denied Ukrainians the possibility of development are the Jews.

    I’m not trying to say that. I’m trying to make a smaller point, that a class or group that is deeded a legally protected, significant economic role denied to a much larger portion of that society is a privileged group. Not the most privileged group, nor the most responsible. I tried to make those points, but maybe not strongly enough. I did mention a number of times the ways the system bit back.

    I certainly don’t balk at saying, as D.O. asks me, that the merchant class beyond the Pale benefitted from the system that oppressed the serfs in the same way. No, that didn’t make the oppression of peasants any better.

    I don’t think any of those things undermine the point I was making, which I continue to think is fair, and gets lost sometimes. But again, it’s a small point, in a whole world of oppression and privilege. Perhaps to belabor it is to make it loom larger, when it really belongs against the backdrop of a thousand other groups and classes that have benefitted historically from systems of oppression, so I’ll drop it now.

  112. Dmitry Pruss says

    no anti-American insults

    Thanks LH , I was starting to get worried that I sounded offensive when I only wanted to sound perplexed.

    even though I’m neither Jewish nor of Eastern European descent.

    I suspect that most people of Western descent also have ancestors from the members of Medieval and post-Medieval trade corporations and guilds, which all regulated and restricted who can do business where and how, and typically passed it from farther to son. Sometimes this self organization of businessmen and artisans achieved wonders of economic and technology development , but perhaps just as often, the micromanaging regulation stifled innovation and caused monopoly stagnation… but that’s simply how they thought the economic activity must self organize. I imagine that they both took some lessons from, and simultaneously needed to counterbalance, the feudal power, and that’s how trade corporations became what they were. Out East, these forms might have lingered into obsolescence a bit longer, but there isn’t really anything narrowly specific to the shtetle in these types of business self-regulation. In fact some of their vestiges still linger today in the US, in commercial zoning and licensing and in a few officially sanctioned guilds like the electricians

  113. Yeah, and all that stuff is so complex and confusing that I tend to ignore it, even though I know I shouldn’t.

  114. >worried that I sounded offensive when I only wanted to sound perplexed.

    On first read, the passage about rapes of African Americans felt like “my ancestors were much better than yours” particularly since I doubt that my ancestors had much to do with any slaves. But that is not a fair assessment of what you wrote. And I imagine reading my earlier post felt the same way to you, though that was not really what I was saying.

    A somewhat different point – most of us experience privilege not the way Cortez and his men did, or the Tsar and his boyars, or Thomas Jefferson on his hilltop, but the way stetl residents and Pennsylvanians of the late 18th century did, or as drasvi mentions in his line about inexpensive clothing, mostly as indirect benefits that they/we may not have any useful way to unwind, in a setting in which other things press down on us, and the sacrifices we might make seem to sacrifice far more, individually, than the amount of collective redress they add up to.

  115. Dmitry Pruss says

    I tend to ignore it, even though I know I shouldn’t

    Not sure then if I should add more confusing historical details 🙂 but the basic concept should be simple, I believe. Pretty much all the guild rules date back to the X c. Magdeburg Rights. These town self rule principles gave the merchants and artisans control of their trades, regulating who can do what and how – including even when and how the junior guild members cam marry. The self regulation system included only Catholics. The cities and the Crown soon realized that regulation of the Jewish business was important too, but they couldn’t possibly invite the Jews into the Councils, so they built a parallel regulation system, where the Jews were the Royal chattel and negotiated their trade rules directly with the Crown. By XIV c. Poland, devastated by wars, started inviting Germans and the Jews to establish or rebuild towns, under the Magdeburg Law with the same royal-slaves Jewish addenda. Eventually the Polish crown abandoned its formal role of the legal slave-owner of the Jews, and the German migration slowed, so knock-off quasi-Magdeburg arrangements were put in place, with a similar town’s business community self rule but substituting Catholicism with Judaism.

  116. The Tsarist officials kept complaining that Jews exploit Ukrainian peasants by selling them alcohol so the peasants would then get drunk and ruin themselves.

    This was actually one of the justifications for the Pale of Settlement – if we abolish it, the Jews will come and start selling vodka to Great Russian peasants too and they will get even poorer than they are now.

    Of course, the small point that the Russian government itself essentially employed Jewish tavern keepers to sell vodka to peasants (and derived much of the fiscal revenue from tariffs on alcohol and state monopoly on production of hard spirits) was never mentioned.

  117. Dmitry Pruss says

    the small point that the Russian government itself essentially employed Jewish tavern keepers to sell vodka to peasants (and derived much of the fiscal revenue from tariffs on alcohol and state monopoly on production of hard spirits) was never mentioned.

    As I understand, Jewish tavern-keeping took an outsize importance only after the Partitions when the Czarist government outlawed Jewish arenda, a traditional line of business of middlemen in land leases and agricultural sales, because they worried that it may become a slippery slope to the Jewish land control. Suddenly destitute, many Jews with rural connections turned to rural tavern-keeping, a business which absolutely required some literacy and numbers skills, rare in the countryside, for commercial viability (because the tabs needed to stay open until after the harvest time if one hoped to sell any volume of booze worth doing business)

  118. I’m sure the factual points here are true. But to quibble about adjectives, is a word like destitute properly applied to those who can let others hold their tabs open till harvest time, and can send their kids (200 years ago) to school, rather than to those who can’t afford their summer purchases till after harvest, and can’t afford to let their children learn to read.

  119. Not sure what you’re trying to prove here. These people were better off than those people but worse off than other people. So?

  120. Ryan, I am not an expert on 18/19c Ukrainian agriculture, but a little that I understand is that there are two relatively short (few weeks) periods of sowing and harvest that required enormous physical effort and all available hands. Outside these two periods there was plenty of time for children to get elementary education if there was a will to do so. And obviously, schooling needn’t to be a full-time occupation and children could have keep up doing their chores. There simply wasn’t enough incentive for education because of the serfdom.

    Farmers/peasants in all societies need some system to smooth the consumption (and everyone else as well, but to a lesser degree). Including modern US. I know the banks are not the most popular of institutions, but honestly, do you think keeping farmers’ accounts in modern US is a form of exploitation? Alternative is keeping a stockpile of money under a mattress, which is inefficient now and wasn’t available in the olden days Ukraine because peasants didn’t own mattresses.

  121. People react more strongly than I did, with essentially a raised eyebrow, to inaccuracies that seem to unfairly condition sympathies, especially when they have a deep emotional attachment to the group being ignored.

    It was suggested above that Tim Snyder telling the truth about the deaths of millions of Ukrainians might be unfortunate, because it might get pulled into ugly propaganda. I don’t know what my old Slavic soccer team would make of reading this thread, where mentioning the Holodomor can be called problematic; and pointing out that stetl tavernkeepers were anything but destitute, and in fact had significant resources, unlike the peasants they sold to on credit, is a point not even worth making.

    I doubt it would improve their understanding and broaden their sympathies about the disasters of the 20th century in the way people seem to hope.

  122. Were debt peons who were also legally bound to the land they were on exploited by their various creditors, prime among whom was probably the noble landowner? I suspect it does depend to some degree on the tavernkeeper, the peasant, the estate owner, and other contingencies we can’t measure. But I suspect that it didn’t consistently work out as well for the serf as modern American bank-farmer relationships do. But that wasn’t even my point. To use your analogy, however exploitive modern banks may or may not be, would you call the banker destitute?

    And yet. Americans are in fact annually primed to feel sorry for Jimmy Stewart, the banker and prime vessel for our sympathy with the victims of the Depression. Gah! People.

  123. Perhaps you’re not aware of the “Jews complain too much, they’re well off, maybe too well off if you know what I mean” (with potential segue into running the world through banking) trope. Obviously that’s not what you’re saying, but you seem bizarrely unaware of the problematic nature of your stubborn attitude of “Jews had it pretty good.” It’s like people not seeing what might be wrong with focusing on the biology of race.

  124. Dmitry Pruss says

    I am not sure that further details about schooling, poverty, and suffering of various groups in the early XIX so-called “golden age of the shtetle” are of further interest here. It’s a kind of a niche knowledge, anyway. But if there a burning desire to discuss the actual historical details, rather than general (and generally misguided) attitudes, then please let me know.

  125. If you’d like to give more, I’ll read but refrain from further comments.

  126. Ryan, I don’t think Dmitry Pruss meant that tavern-keepers were destitute. It was an occupation some Jews assumed when other opportunities closed. Some Jews were “destitute” until they switched to doing something else like inn-keeping.

    I don’t think anyone thinks that the death of millions of Ukrainians is not worth remembering, but as anything under the sun, it might simply be irrelevant to some other awful things happening in the same place.

    Everyone who spent any time with the history of Russian Empire knows how completely screwed the system of serfdom was. Whatever minuscule advantage tavern keepers, itenerant merchants, and all sorts of tradesmen might have had while interacting with serfs is utterly irrelevant compared to the fact that people couldn’t improve their lot by simply changing what they were doing or just moving to a different place. Which many demonstrated quite clearly by simply running at the first opportunity they’ve got. It is a bog standard story of nationalism as a tool of the governing class to deflect the blame for maintaining and benefitting from an inefficient (and in the case of serfdom, deeply inhumane) system toward the ethnic minorities, foreigners etc. That makes me sound as some sort of Lenin, but the basic story is true, that’s what it is. The fact that nationalism is a more complicated thing than just a concoction of the governing classes doesn’t change the fact that it is used that way. I am not sure what a modern American example can be. How about blaming Chinese and Mexicans for stealing American jobs? This is about the same level of dishonesty and blame-shifting as blaming Jewish innkeepers and tradesmen for keeping Ukrainian peasants down.

    This sort of finger-pointing is really dangerous in Eastern Europe where everyone learned to blame everyone else for just about anything, but it is simply wrong and there is no need to bring it all here, where it is not dangerous, but just wrong.

  127. Well said.

  128. Jimmy Stewart, the banker

    Distinguo. Henry Potter, his antagonist, is a genuwine American bankster and robber baron of the old school; George Bailey is the founder of a savings-and-loan society chartered to take individual deposits and write house mortgages. It is mutualistic but profit-making, the stockholders being the depositors and mortgagees, and Bailey technically serves at their pleasure. It’s not clear whether Potter owns his bank outright (probably) or has minority investors. In any case, their roles are as different as chalk and cheese.

  129. David Marjanović says

    Genetic history of Croatia: almost pure Anatolian Farmers in the Neolithic, possibly completely unadmixed in some cases; Copper Age individuals indistinguishable from the Neolithic ones and others that look like Corded Ware lived just 60 km apart – notably the latter have the usual amount of Western Hunter-Gatherer ancestry, unlike the former; the one individual from Roman times is indistinguishable from the locals today. There’s also a lot of archeology and anthropology in the open-access paper.

  130. David Marjanović says

    Genetics of Greek-speaking Calabrians: basically, they’re the most isolated of the locals, with no sign of any immigration since the Copper Age. (Least amount of Yamnaya ancestry outside Sardinia.) Also in open access.

  131. Fascinating!

  132. Evidence for pre-Norse occupation of the Faroe Islands, supporting indirect evidence of an earlier population coming (slightly earlier) from the British Isles.

  133. Trond Engen says

    A lot of reading for the holidays. And then it’s the backlog.

    The potential of sedimentary DNA (or broader yet, sedimentary bio-chemistry) is huge and every time I blink the field has expanded in yet another direction. Archaeologists and biologists should be taking broad soil samples from wherever landscapes are destroyed by development and seal them off for later analysis.

  134. David Marjanović says

    That’s an amazing paper. It’s also in open access.

  135. Trond Engen says

    I’ve finally read the papers:

    David M. : Genetic history of Croatia: almost pure Anatolian Farmers in the Neolithic, possibly completely unadmixed in some cases; Copper Age individuals indistinguishable from the Neolithic ones and others that look like Corded Ware lived just 60 km apart – notably the latter have the usual amount of Western Hunter-Gatherer ancestry, unlike the former; the one individual from Roman times is indistinguishable from the locals today.

    Yes, Now I’m yearning for a wide study of the genetics of the Balkan Neolithic..Anatolian Farmers came in several waves and along different paths,

    David M.: Genetics of Greek-speaking Calabrians: basically, they’re the most isolated of the locals, with no sign of any immigration since the Copper Age. (Least amount of Yamnaya ancestry outside Sardinia.)

    Yes. They could be modeled as a mix of Sardinians and Aegaeans, if I understand it correctly. The authors do consider a continuous contact with the Aegaean/Eastern Mediterranean from way before the spread of the Greek language and until the Byzantne Era..

    Y: Evidence for pre-Norse occupation of the Faroe Islands, supporting indirect evidence of an earlier population coming (slightly earlier) from the British Isles.

    Great paper, timing the advent of husbandry to within a few years from 500 CE by detecting chemical signal of mammalian feces and ovine DNA in the sedimentary layers. Before reading I actually imagined they would have been able to use sedimentary DNA even more, e.g. for suggesting the origin of the livestock, but that’s just me expecting too much too fast. But we’ll get there.

    The site of Eyði is at the far end of the Faroes as seen from both Britain and Scandinavia, and the valley where the sediment samples were taken is situated inland from the main settlement on the coastal plain. It’s hardly among the earliest places to have been exploited by agriculture or the first place for free-roaming sheep to have transformed, Unless the first settlers of the islands were primarily exploiting the marine resources and agriculture was a way of broadening the economic base. But there’s no traditional arcaeological evidence of that. How far are we from detecting bio-chemical evidence of human slaughtering of marine mammals in marine sediments?

  136. David Marjanović says

    Open-access paper from October 2021: “The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes”


    Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare1. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling2,3,4 at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 BC3. Other longstanding candidate regions for horse domestication, such as Iberia5 and Anatolia6, have also recently been challenged. Thus, the genetic, geographic and temporal origins of modern domestic horses have remained unknown. Here we pinpoint the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, as the homeland of modern domestic horses. Furthermore, we map the population changes accompanying domestication from 273 ancient horse genomes. This reveals that modern domestic horses ultimately replaced almost all other local populations as they expanded rapidly across Eurasia from about 2000 BC, synchronously with equestrian material culture, including Sintashta spoke-wheeled chariots. We find that equestrianism involved strong selection for critical locomotor and behavioural adaptations at the GSDMC and ZFPM1 genes. Our results reject the commonly held association7 between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 BC8,9 driving the spread of Indo-European languages10. This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BC Sintashta culture11,12.


    Analyses of ancient human genomes have revealed a massive expansion from the Western Eurasia steppes into Central and Eastern Europe during the third millennium bc, associated with the Yamnaya culture8,9,11,12,21. This expansion contributed at least two thirds of steppe-related ancestry to populations of the Corded Ware complex (CWC) around 2900 to 2300 bc8. The role of horses in this expansion remained unclear, as oxen could have pulled Yamnaya heavy, solid-wheeled wagons7,22. The genetic profile of horses from CWC contexts, however, almost completely lacked the ancestry maximized in DOM2 and Yamnaya horses (TURG and Repin) (Figs. 1e, f, 2a, b) and showed no direct connection with the WE group, including both C-PONT and TURG, in OrientAGraph modelling (Fig. 3b, Extended Data Fig. 5).


    By around 2200–2000 BC, the typical DOM2 ancestry profile appeared outside the Western Eurasia steppes in Bohemia (Holubice), the lower Danube (Gordinesti II) and central Anatolia (Acemhöyük), spreading across Eurasia shortly afterwards, eventually replacing all pre-existing lineages (Fig 2c, Extended Data Fig. 3c). Eurasia became characterized by high genetic connectivity, supporting massive horse dispersal by the late third millennium and early second millennium bc. This process involved stallions and mares, indicated by autosomal and X-chromosomal variation (Extended Data Fig. 3d), and was sustained by explosive demographics apparent in both mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal variation (Extended Data Fig. 3e, f). Altogether, our genomic data uncover a high turnover of the horse population in which past breeders produced large stocks of DOM2 horses to supply increasing demands for horse-based mobility from around 2200 BC.

    Of note, the DOM2 genetic profile was ubiquitous among horses buried in Sintashta kurgans together with the earliest spoke-wheeled chariots around 2000–1800 BC7,9,23,24 (Extended Data Fig. 6). A typical DOM2 profile was also found in Central Anatolia (AC9016_Tur_m1900), concurrent with two-wheeled vehicle iconography from about 1900 BC25,26. However, the rise of such profiles in Holubice, Gordinesti II and Acemhöyük before the earliest evidence for chariots supports horseback riding fuelling the initial dispersal of DOM2 horses outside their core region, in line with Mesopotamian iconography during the late third and early second millennia BC27. Therefore, a combination of chariots and equestrianism is likely to have spread the DOM2 diaspora in a range of social contexts from urban states to dispersed decentralized societies28.

    Also of note:

    Finally, our analyses have solved the mysterious origins of the tarpan horse, which became extinct in the early 20th century. The tarpan horse came about following admixture between horses native to Europe (modelled as having 28.8–34.2% and 32.2–33.2% CWC ancestry in OrientAGraph19 and qpAdm17, respectively) and horses closely related to DOM2. This is consistent with LOCATOR20 predicting ancestors in western Ukraine (Fig 3c) and refutes previous hypotheses depicting tarpans as the wild ancestor or a feral version of DOM2, or a hybrid with Przewalski’s horses34.

    Early 20th century???

    Anyway, there’s ample Discussion and Supplementary Tables (pp. 38 & 39 of this PDF) about more language-related things, including language spread and language itself.

    No justification is given for the use of neighbor-joining, a method that (if used for phylogenetics) falls hard for almost every known source of error; the sheer size of the dataset would make all other methods hard to use, though.

  137. Trond Engen says

    Thanks. I’ve seen it and tried to get my head around the implications. Wouldn’t it be fun if Anatolian came to Anatolia around 2200 BCE, and the older intrusions into Europe were Non- or Para-IE?

  138. Early 20th century???

    The last captive tarpan died in Moscow Zoo in 1905.

  139. Lars Mathiesen says

    So maybe the CWC spoke a sister language to Sumerian (low odds, though). That whole thing about using IE vocab for horse things in Sumeria, does that fit with the timeframe? (If it’s in one of those appendices, I’ll just wait for Trune to report).

  140. David Marjanović says

    Ah yes, I must have managed to confused tarpans and auerochsen last night.

    Wouldn’t it be fun if Anatolian came to Anatolia around 2200 BCE

    We’ve discussed that Nature paper that showed lots of Anatolian names in southeastern Anatolia/northern Syria down to 2500 BCE.

    If it’s in one of those appendices

    Those, too, are openly accessible, and I linked to the PDF with the language-related stuff in it. There’s no mention of Sumerian, though, and no text, just tables of the distribution of various horse-related words across IE branches.

    The only one given for all of Anatolian, however, is Hieroglyphic Luwian a₂-su “horse”. Likewise for Tocharian. This fits their argument that the domestication of horses happened after Anatolian and Tocharian had moved off.

  141. I for one will be amused if it turns out that David Anthony’s synthesis was right in broad outlines and many details and went wrong only where and to the extent he relied on equine archaeology, which is his specialty. I did some looking around last night, before which I hadn’t realized the degree of skepticism for his theory of early domestication/riding, which this study reinforces.

    Maybe that’s natural – you’re only willing to advance risky ideas in the heart of your own investigation, relying more on consensus or at least a growing body of scholarship to fill in your understanding of the areas around your focus.


    I thought the relationships between Corded Ware, Sintashta and the IE arrival in Southwest and South Asia were fairly well understood, making it likely that Corded Ware spoke an IE language. Anything is possible, but eliminating Corded Ware from the IE tree would open a big gap between Indo-Iranian and the western families in need of explanation and connection, without any clear alternatives on a scale that could explain later IE dominance, wouldn’t it? Is there a body of scholarship pursuing the idea that Corded Ware was related to Sumerian, or non-IE?

    The study David linked to didn’t seem to challenge CW as IE. Though I thought the throw-away line they wrote — more or less “maybe the Steppe just took advantage of an independent Neolithic population decline…” — was idle speculation that should have been left out.

    Speak to what you’ve proven. I would have left it at “With little evidence of a strong equine presence in Corded Ware and clear evidence that an equine population explosion took place very late in the 3rd Millennium, our study casts doubt on the idea that the steppe expansion into northeast and north-central Europe in the early 3rd M. arrived on horseback.”

    On the other hand, I’m inclined to wonder whether CW did in fact utilize horses at a somewhat lower scale, building the knowledge and networks that would make this new, more manageable breed of horse so desirable and successful once the adaptations took place, were recognized and bred for. It sounds like it was a genetic package, and it would take some time to center all such adaptations into an otherwise genetically healthy line or set of lineages.

  142. ə de vivre says

    That whole thing about using IE vocab for horse things in Sumeria, does that fit with the timeframe? (If it’s in one of those appendices, I’ll just wait for Trune to report).

    I think it’s fairly uncontroversial that horses began to enter Mesopotamia from the north at the end of the third millennium via Hurrians who had come into direct contact with Indo-European speakers. The amount of IE-derived vocabulary that made it into Sumerian (usually via at least Hurrian and/or Akkadian) isn’t clear, and fits with the importation of vocabulary related to a novel technology. Rubio’s On the Alleged “Pre-Sumerian Substratum” remains probably the best summary of loan-words in Sumerian.

  143. David Marjanović says

    Is there a body of scholarship pursuing the idea that Corded Ware was related to Sumerian, or non-IE?


    The study David linked to didn’t seem to challenge CW as IE.

    No, it only means to drive another nail in the coffin of the idea that the IE-speakers who founded CW did so specifically by riding in and massacring people.

    Hurrians who had come into direct contact with Indo-European speakers

    Specifically speakers of pre-Indic. Do a tiny bit of internal reconstruction on Vedic, and you get that language (as far as can be told from a few cuneiform characters).

  144. >by riding in and massacring people

    Right. Now we know they raced to and from the massacres in their ox carts.

  145. David Marjanović says

    Rubio’s On the Alleged “Pre-Sumerian Substratum”

    Masterful use of “No comment is necessary here.” at the end of footnote 1.

    However, I find the treatment of Whittaker’s “Euphratic” too short and of course outdated, because Whittaker didn’t stop in 1998: see the discussion starting here, with a link to the 2012 book chapter which almost competely lacks mentions of internal reconstruction of Sumerian and mentions features of the cuneiform script that Rubio did not bring up at all. Much more on the script is here (from 2001, though).

    Of this paper (2004/5) I’ve only read the first footnote:

    In each of my previous articles I have sought to explain that the terms ‘Euphratean’ (for the culture and society) and ‘Euphratic’ (for the language) were chosen for convenience – that is, for lack of a better term – and do not reflect a theoretical unity or relationship with Landsberger’s 1944 ‘Proto-Euphratic’ substrate, nor an affiliation to Oppenheim’s 1964 ‘Euphrates Valley’ civilization. I referred in my first article (Whittaker 1998: 114) to “this Indo-European language, which I shall henceforth call Euphratic in deference to (but also in distinction from) Landsberger.” In my next paper (Whittaker 2001: 41 n. 9), I wrote: “Neither this term [Euphratic] nor its referent should be confused with the ‘Proto-Euphratic’ substrate proposed by Landsberger.” Despite such disclaimers, and despite personal exchanges with him on this matter in 2002, Rubio (most recently, 2005a: 323-324) persists in misrepresenting my position, alleging that “Whittaker attempts to identify the pre-Sumerian substratum (Landsberger’s “proto-Euphratic”) with an as yet unknown Indo-European language.” This strategy, which smacks of gross academic dishonesty, is embraced in order to criticize, as he has done before (Rubio 1999: 6), the “lack of coherence” of the substrate theory, although there clearly is no such unitary theory shared by Landsberger and others – nor any intrinsic reason why there should be one.

    and the other two footnotes, which scold Rubio some more.

    Also interesting: this undated work (youngest cited reference from 2008) on the “fire in water” complex in Sumerian and IE mythology.

    Nowhere mentioned in any of this is that the IE “wine” word has an IE-internal etymology, which bolsters Whittaker’s conclusions.

  146. >I’ve only read the first footnote.

    He gave his proposed language a name that had already been used for a different but similar proposal, and he’s upset people think they’re related? I don’t need to read anything else.

  147. I don’t have a very high opinion of Whittaker’s internal reconstruction of Pre-Sumerian. He has a knack for combining main-dialect and Emesal word forms in idiosyncratic ways that just so happen to evoke the IE form he has in mind. From Euphratic – A phonological sketch, he associates ‘kilim₂’ (reed bundle, rope) with *klh₂-m- (straw, reed) without mentioning that kilim₂ is usually read gilim₂ and that the Sumerian word for ‘reed’ is gi. He gives *dukud (sweet, good) as the Pre-Sumerian form that gave rise to EG dug and ES zeb, which would suggest a monosyllabic root, but he uses kuk(k)ud to somehow jam another syllable in there. Et ainsi de suite…

    I predict that our idea of what a good Sumerian root looks like will change significantly over the coming years. A lot of evidence is pilling up for syncope in verbal prefixes creating more complex syllable structures than just CVC, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find more complex forms in roots too.

  148. Man, I love having a Sumerianist gracing this hattery.

  149. Lars Mathiesen says

    This is my strategy: Ask a stupid question, and experts will fall out of the woodwork. Only works in the Hattery, though.

  150. David Marjanović says

    I predict that our idea of what a good Sumerian root looks like will change significantly over the coming years. A lot of evidence is pilling up for syncope in verbal prefixes creating more complex syllable structures than just CVC, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find more complex forms in roots too.

    That’s promising!

    I don’t need to read anything else.

    A lack of creativity is actually a very good sign in this case…

  151. David Marjanović says

    Evolutionary Trajectories of Complex Traits in European Populations of Modern Humans

    Humans have a great diversity in phenotypes, influenced by genetic, environmental, nutritional, cultural, and social factors. Understanding the historical trends of physiological traits can shed light on human physiology, as well as elucidate the factors that influence human diseases. Here we built genome-wide polygenic scores for heritable traits, including height, body mass index, lipoprotein concentrations, cardiovascular disease, and intelligence, using summary statistics of genome-wide association studies in Europeans. Subsequently, we applied these scores to the genomes of ancient European populations. Our results revealed that after the Neolithic, European populations experienced an increase in height and intelligence scores, decreased their skin pigmentation, while the risk for coronary artery disease increased through a genetic trajectory favoring low HDL concentrations. These results are a reflection of the continuous evolutionary processes in humans and highlight the impact that the Neolithic revolution had on our lifestyle and health.

    That’s the abstract. I haven’t read the paper yet.

  152. Whaaa…?

    Since when are “intelligence scores” a heritable trait, so uncontroversial that it can mentioned by unconcerned conjunction with other uncontroversial ones, such as height?

  153. Yeah, that whole abstract reeks of, well, something that makes me exceedingly dubious.

  154. Blech. They use HDL/LDL cholesterol as a proxy for intelligence, since some studies show that in individuals, some cognitive scores may, kind of, be correlated with their cholesterol scores for whatever unknown reasons (people who start taking statins also get better at crossword puzzles or whatever.) Generalizing from that to claiming that people 30,000 years ago were less intelligent because of some statistical trend of genetic markers is a travesty. It shows, at the minimum, that this paper was not subject to competent editorial evaluation.

  155. David Eddyshaw says

    These would have been intelligence scores recorded in flints. You can tell a lot from flint flakes. The paper is certainly flaky.

    The discussion does in fact hint (and not that obliquely, either) that Europeans are just, well, cleverer, because Europeans and cholesterol. (Presumably the observation that agriculture has not, in fact, ever been confined to Europe, would have spoilt the “logic” a bit.)

  156. David Marjanović says

    Me on February 21st…

    Hieroglyphic Luwian a₂-su “horse”

    That actually struck me as suspicious at the time. Apparently I was right: “horse” in HL is a₂-zu₂-, and while there is a word a₂-su, it means “stone”, “stone monument” and/or suchlike.

    (BTW, I think that paper’s main argument is half right, and a₂ was [ha].)

  157. David Eddyshaw says

    The Fat, yet Clever European thing reminds me something else I was reading lately:

  158. It never ceases to amaze me how many Scientifickal Studies are still dedicated to the proposition (however guilefully disguised) that Aryan Iz Best.

  159. David Marjanović says

    The real culprit for the “let’s just call everything ‘intelligence'” thing is this cited paper from 2018, to which I don’t currently have access.

    But this part of the new paper

    Interestingly, we also observe an increase in the genetic factors that lead to the development of coronary artery disease, which is related to a constant decrease in HDL cholesterol in European populations after the Neolithic revolution (Ali et al., 2012). If this adaptation causes disease, we could wonder why it might be evolutionarily advantageous to have lower HDL cholesterol concentrations. A reason for this could be related to cognitive functions since cholesterol is fundamental for the development and functioning of the brain.

    is just a blatant failure. Cholesterol is an important component of all cell membranes, and any brain contains a lot of cell membranes, so “cholesterol is fundamental for the development and functioning of the brain” in the same sense that, say, water is! It gives me the impression that the ten authors, two reviewers and one editor don’t know any biology above the molecular level…

    Some genetic polymorphisms in cholesterol-related pathways are connected to cognitive functions, while variations in the levels of HDL and LDL have been linked with alterations in intelligence, learning, and memory, although the full implications and the mechanisms are still far from being understood

    …so we’ll waffle about it for the fun of it.

    Since, some genetic polymorphisms in cholesterol-related pathways are connected to cognitive functions, in the last set of analyses, the evolution of genetic factors related to cognitive functions were estimated. Result obtained reveals that increased cognitive functions are an evolutionary advantage to adapt to the environment.

    No explanation, no citation, nothing.

    As for the changes in PRS for the cognitive traits we included in this study it is important to put these in perspective. The measure of educational attainment in years is largely a trait influenced by socioeconomic factors so the changes we observe only affect approximately 20% of the actual variation we observe in this trait as reported in the original GWAS by Okbay et al. (2016). For the fluid intelligence test performed in the UK-Biobank a similar heritability is estimated although the test itself only consists of 13 questions severely limiting the reliability of this specific test. The overall Intelligence reported by Savage et al. (2018) refers to a meta-analysis of various different tests that aim to capture overall intelligence and though the heritability is reported to be approximately 60% for intelligence this trait might be less accurate due to the heterogeneity of the tests included in the meta-analysis. Similarly, the measure of unipolar depression is also based on a meta-analysis by Nagel et al. (2018) that compromised various measures from the UK-Biobank the Genetics of Personality Consortium collected through the use of various questionnaires which means the reliability of this trait as measure of depression is hard to ascertain.

    In short, although we see an increase in PRS for cognitive functions over time this does not necessarily translate to an evolutionary pressure towards an increasing intelligence. What this means is that there is an increase in allelic frequencies for alleles that positively impact multiple different measures of cognition but only to a limited extent in relation with the heritability of these traits.”

    So the previous quote is completely useless, then.

    The closing quotation mark is in the original. I find that very interesting.

    From the technical point, data imputation was applied for handling missing data, which could limit the power of the study.

    …uuuuh… yes, it does.

    I should have mentioned the paper is in open access and has the names and affiliations of the editor and the two reviewers in the left sidebar.

  160. David Marjanović says

    It never ceases to amaze me how many Scientifickal Studies are still dedicated to the proposition (however guilefully disguised) that Aryan Iz Best.

    I don’t think that’s the case here. I think this is a lazy, unthinking paper: it takes a list of alleles that are “known to” correlate with anything, looks for them in sequenced ancient genomes of different ages, plots the frequencies over time and turns them into a Least Publishable Unit.

    Judging from the authors’ names, including at least one each of the two first and the two last and corresponding authors, few of them could have much interest in declaring any sort of “Aryans” The Best…

  161. has the names and affiliations of the editor and the two reviewers in the left sidebar

    “Or, you can just find them across the street at their usual seats at the bar. That’s where we got them in the first place.”

  162. David Marjanović says

    That’s how megajournals often work, except cyber.

  163. Trond Engen says

    Going back to the plague theme, there’s a new paper out locating the origin of the Black Death to modern day Kyrgyzstan:

    Spyrou, M.A., Musralina, L., Gnecchi Ruscone, G.A. et al. The source of the Black Death in fourteenth-century central Eurasia. Nature (2022).

    The origin of the medieval Black Death pandemic (AD 1346–1353) has been a topic of continuous investigation because of the pandemic’s extensive demographic impact and long-lasting consequences. Until now, the most debated archaeological evidence potentially associated with the pandemic’s initiation derives from cemeteries located near Lake Issyk-Kul of modern-day Kyrgyzstan. These sites are thought to have housed victims of a fourteenth-century epidemic as tombstone inscriptions directly dated to 1338–1339 state ‘pestilence’ as the cause of death for the buried individuals9. Here we report ancient DNA data from seven individuals exhumed from two of these cemeteries, Kara-Djigach and Burana. Our synthesis of archaeological, historical and ancient genomic data shows a clear involvement of the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis in this epidemic event. Two reconstructed ancient Y. pestis genomes represent a single strain and are identified as the most recent common ancestor of a major diversification commonly associated with the pandemic’s emergence, here dated to the first half of the fourteenth century. Comparisons with present-day diversity from Y. pestis reservoirs in the extended Tian Shan region support a local emergence of the recovered ancient strain. Through multiple lines of evidence, our data support an early fourteenth-century source of the second plague pandemic in central Eurasia.

  164. Two reconstructed ancient Y. pestis genomes represent …

    Yikes! Does this mean digging up ancient cemeteries is hazardous? Could they release more Yersinia pestis? To hitch a ride on passing fleas, to hitch a ride on passing rats.

    one of the largest infectious disease catastrophes in human history

    I think that should be in “recorded human history”(?) IIRC there’s been various ‘bottlenecks’ detected in human DNA that suggests there were several times when nearly the whole species was wiped out.

    Would the Covid-19 have had a similar effect if it weren’t for producing a vaccine so quickly? That is, if certain bloody-minded populations had had their way with resisting lockdowns/masks/etc?

  165. Lars Mathiesen says

    It took a while before the difference between “detectable traces of SaRS-II RNA” and “infectious amounts of complete virus particles” started to be reported, and in the scarier parts of the reporting I’m not sure they ever cared.

    (Or is that SArs? There is something funky going on with the capitalization in some institutions’ usage).

  166. David Marjanović says

    Does this mean digging up ancient cemeteries is hazardous?

    No, unless you have a mad scientist at hand who takes the reconstructed genomes from in silico [argh] to in vitro and then in vivo.

    Would the Covid-19 have had a similar effect if it weren’t for producing a vaccine so quickly?

    Unlikely, because it only ever killed a few % of infected people, as opposed to fully half.

    Or is that SArs?

    I’ve only ever seen SARS-CoV-II.

  167. Lars Mathiesen says

    Must have been the lowercase o from Co[rona]V[irus] echoing in the back of my brain, then.

    (SARS-CoV-II seems a bit redundant — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the one that’s a coronavirus. also the one that’s number 2. Or is it because MERS was also severe and acute and a coronavirus, so SARS-CoV-II is the second one that doesn’t happen to be called MERS? NGL, I thought the SA part was for Southeast Asian or something like that, as opposed to Middle Eastern)

  168. Good comic, but I find myself wondering when it first appeared, which led to the discovery that xkcd comics don’t appear to be dated, which is annoying. Or am I missing something?

  169. If you go to the archive, there’s a list of the comics by title; there it says to hover (I assume with the cursor) over the title to see the date. As I’m on my phone, I can’t test that.
    (It confirms my general view of mankind that an intelligent fellow like Randall Munroe nevertheless comes up with such a clunky solution for his web site.)

  170. Thanks, that works and it turns out the comic is 2020-3-2. But Jesus, what a crappy way of doing things.

  171. I have noted before that xkcd, unlike most comics, has a full transcript of each comic on the site. That means you can search for a given comic by name, text, date, or whatever; it’s all locatable in the metadata. That makes it really easy to find particular xkcd comics; most comic sites are much worse. (And that’s not even counting the wealth of additional information at

  172. January First-of-May says

    (And that’s not even counting the wealth of additional information at

    Indeed that’s the place I typically go to find out xkcd comic dates (most recently here).

    i don’t think I’ve ever seen SARS-CoV-II [sic] – in my experience it had always been SARS-CoV-2 (and AFAIK it got the name because it’s a very close relative of the original SARS-CoV; of course MERS could have gotten that too, but historically it didn’t, so the option was free).
    For a while I continued the mixed capitalization by spelling the disease name “CoViD-19”, but I can’t recall seeing anyone else doing that, and eventually I just switched to the more mainstream “Covid-19” and/or “the Covid”.

    (Unrelated fun fact: the official announcement of the disease was on December 31, 2019. I like to joke that it was a miracle to song writers that “Covid-19” rhymed with “quarantine”, and that if the announcement was a few hours later we would all have been talking about Covid-20 and that would have been far harder to rhyme.)

  173. @January First-of-May: I’m sure I agree that lyricists would have a hard time finding rhymes for “Covid-20.” In fact, I think there are plenty.

  174. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, there is plenty.

  175. Sunny. Funny.

  176. Yes, but it is hard to rhyme “covid-20” with “quarantine”.

  177. David Marjanović says


    Oh! Yes.

    it got the name because it’s a very close relative of the original SARS-CoV

    Also correct.

  178. A trio of papers by Iosif Lazaridis et al., in a new issue of Science:

    Ancient genomes and West Eurasian history (a non-technical critique, Open Access),

    The genetic history of the Southern Arc: A bridge between West Asia and Europe

    A genetic probe into the ancient and medieval history of Southern Europe and West Asia

    Ancient DNA from Mesopotamia suggests distinct Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic migrations into Anatolia

    A news item (in Dutch), with comments by IEist Alvin Kloekhorst:

    Kloekhorst laments the lack of linguists among the team, and proposes a different scenario to fit with the genetics, which doesn’t require an unreasonably old date (8000 ybp) for the Anatolian split.

  179. Kloekhorst laments the lack of linguists among the team

    As do I. When will they learn?

  180. >The naming of the Southern Arc conjures a map projection that centers on the western tip of Eurasia rather than the Anatolian peninsula

    There are many things to be said about the focus, assumptions and predilections of those studying ancient genomes. But this isn’t one of them.

    Generally, the Science article first linked really wants to press a prehistoric moral relevance without giving much thought to where it leads. All in all, I’m quite glad Lazaridis do not focus more attention on the fact that the incoming men established their genetic preponderance in large part by raping the local women, (which, after criticizing L and co. for sanitizing things, they describe with the euphemism of ‘sexual violence.’).

  181. 8000

    I am a bit confused, because Lazaridis mentioned 5000 BC and 7000-5000 bp.

  182. Trond Engen says

    Thanks, Y. I’ll read, but it’ll have to wait.

  183. David Marjanović says

    The genetic history of the Southern Arc: A bridge between West Asia and Europe

    That, too, is in open access, and I’ve started reading it.

    From the “Structured Abstract”: “The Yamnaya expansion also crossed the Caucasus, and by about 4000 years ago, Armenia had become an enclave of low but pervasive steppe ancestry in West Asia, where the patrilineal descendants of Yamnaya men, virtually extinct on the steppe, persisted.”

  184. David Marjanović says

    That, too, is in open access

    Nope! The reason the page is so long is that there are several types of abstract, including a figure, followed by all the 483 footnotes (references to the “paper” and the “supplementary information”).

    The supplementary information, i.e. the actual paper, is in open access, though.

    Likewise for the two related papers in the same issue, except they have only one abstract and fewer footnotes.

  185. Poulsen and Olander, Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic. A presentation (pdf) in which they make the case (not overwhelming, but reasonable) for subgrouping the above two together.

    (This is mostly linguistics. I wasn’t sure which would be the infinite IE linguistics thread.)

  186. David Marjanović says

    Interesting, and they do take genetics into account.

  187. I guess behind this is a largely Graeco-Aryan model of PIE morphology, so that the many morphological correspondences between Greek and Indo-Aryan count as retentions.
    If you don’t assume that, their neat model stops working.
    Other assumptions that are at least debated:
    1) Original split Dat. Pl. in -*m- vs. Instr. Pl. in -*bh-: this weakens a BSl – Germanic isogloss
    2) The *sye/o-future is not convincingly attested for Slavic (the only form usually adduced here, OCS participle byšǫšt-, has also been explained otherwise)
    3) They downplay the evidence from Luwian (and ignore the evidence from Albanian) that PIE had indeed three velar series (OTOH, the idea that satem is a subgroup and that kentum-satem is not a primeval split is pretty uncontroversial nowadays)
    I’m not saying they’re wrong, and this certainly is a serious proposal, just how good it is hangs on a lot of assumptions that are not common opinion.

  188. David Marjanović says

    1) Original split Dat. Pl. in -*m- vs. Instr. Pl. in -*bh-: this weakens a BSl – Germanic isogloss

    There are good reasons to think that the distribution of *-m- and *-bh- was originally phonological instead of morphological: *-bh- after *n, *-m- otherwise. This concerns not just the dat. pl. & inst. pl. suffixes, but derivational ones as well.

    Of course this still means that BSl and Germanic generalized the same allomorph in the dat./inst. pl. that the other branches lost. But I’d think that can be attributed to the well-known contact that also spread such things as the definite/indefinite distinction in adjective flexion (which is accomplished by completely different means in BSl and in Germanic) and the *-uj- > *-ij- shift (which is also shared with Celtic, and I forgot about Italic, but that’s in another paper by the same author as it happens).

    They downplay the evidence from Luwian (and ignore the evidence from Albanian) that PIE had indeed three velar series

    I think that’s actually irrelevant to their model of satemization – though I haven’t understood all the details of that model and hope they get around to publishing it soon.

    the idea that satem is a subgroup and that kentum-satem is not a primeval split is pretty uncontroversial nowadays

    The latter, yes; the former, no – that’s what they’re trying to establish.

  189. Of course this still means that BSl and Germanic generalized the same allomorph in the dat./inst. pl. that the other branches lost. But I’d think that can be attributed to the well-known contact that also spread such things as the definite/indefinite distinction in adjective flexion (which is accomplished by completely different means in BSl and in Germanic) and the *-uj- > *-ij- shift (which is also shared with Celtic, and I forgot about Italic, but that’s in another paper by the same author as it happens).
    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not claiming that Germanic and BSl form a clade. My view is rather that there were several overlapping areal groupings – the ones you mention, satemisation, spread of Graeco-Aryan morphology (which hit Slavic more fully than Baltic), etc. By downplaying the other isoglosses, the authors arrange the evidence to support their cladistic model to the detriment of such an areal-based model.
    Concerning the three-velar series, they make a bit of an effort in their presentation to knock it down, so I assume that it actually would pose a problem for them. But let’s see what they will say on this in the future.
    the former, no – that’s what they’re trying to establish
    I’ve seen assumed that satem is a subgroup so often in various papers and dsicussions that I maybe underestimate how controversial that still may be. Although if they take satemisation as diagnostic for a clade and not as an areal feature, than yes, that Needs to be proven.

  190. David Marjanović says

    By downplaying the other isoglosses, the authors arrange the evidence to support their cladistic model to the detriment of such an areal-based model.

    Their assumption is that there is a tree, and that it can be found by identifying and peeling back (“downplaying”) all the areal layers; so that’s what they try to do.

    After all, a precisely simultaneous split into 10 clades is simply improbable. Perhaps we’re ultimately unable to identify the tree, but we definitely won’t if we don’t try.

    Although if they take satemisation as diagnostic for a clade and not as an areal feature, than yes, that Needs to be proven.

    Exactly. They’re trying to show (or at least presenting that they’re trying to show in a forthcoming paper) that it’s a clade and not (just) an area.

  191. Their assumption is that there is a tree, and that it can be found by identifying and peeling back (“downplaying”) all the areal layers; so that’s what they try to do.
    I don’t mind if they try. I just think it’s wrong to fit everything in a cladistic straitjacket. As you probably have guessed from my remark, for me, B-Sl is a clade, part of which (Slavic) later became more similar to Graeco-Aryan under Iranian influence.
    I also seem to remember that RUKI doesn’t even apply to the same degree in all Indo-Iranian, and that there’s partial RUKI outside of it – something that would be no surprise in an areal model, but needs to be explained in a clade model.

  192. David Marjanović says

    As you probably have guessed from my remark, for me, B-Sl is a clade, part of which (Slavic) later became more similar to Graeco-Aryan under Iranian influence.

    Poulsen & Olander clearly agree.

    I also seem to remember that RUKI doesn’t even apply to the same degree in all Indo-Iranian

    Nuristani just has RIK, though that’s been explained as a later partial reversal.

    something that would be no surprise in an areal model, but needs to be explained in a clade model

    Areal influence is available as an explanation in both models, the difference being just that common inheritance is not available to a purely areal model, so that the latter hypothesis must explain all shared innovations as either coincidence or areal influence.

  193. Nuristani just has RIK

    … and the surviving Baltic data has RK, though loanword evidence in Finnic shows that this, too, probably used to be RUKI; the most often-cited example is Lithuanian liesas vs. Finnish laiha > *laiša for ‘lean, thin’. (Related to the important point that *š from RUKI would not have been phonemic in any of the branches before various other changes.)

  194. David Marjanović says

    Feeding right into a pet peeve of mine: sounds can be easier to reconstruct in phonetic detail than the phonemes they belonged to, because sound changes (and borrowing) work on sounds, not on phonemes.

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