June 21, 2010
There was a time, well before the Turkic population movements, when central Asia was speaking Indo-european languages. During antiquity, Indo-iranian languages were once spoken by populations from the east of Europe up to the Altai mountains of south Siberia (Scythians, Sakas and Sarmatians were such peoples) and down to south Asia.
Nevertheless, prior to this situation, another kind of Indo-european language was apparently present in Asia.
The first (supposedly) Indo-european migration eastwards (from its ancestral home of Ukraine and south Russia) we find tracks of, occured right before 3,500 BC and gave birth to the Afanasevo culture, whose extent was from Kazakhstan to south Siberia and Mongolia. It is likely that the population of the Afanasevo culture was speaking a language that was the ancestor of the Tocharian language (see the Xinjiang article for more details).
The ancient DNA and the archeology reveal hints of this ancient past. A 2004 study expose the nature of the bronze age population (in this study the samples are precisely from 1,300 BC to 400 AD) of Kazakhstan :
“Unravelling migrations in the steppe: mitochondrial DNA sequences from ancient central Asians” (Lalueza-fox et al, 2004 – source)
“The distribution of east and west Eurasian lineages through time in the region is concordant with the available archaeological information: prior to the (…) seventh century BC, all Kazakh samples belong to European lineages; while later an arrival of east Eurasian sequences that coexisted with the previous west Eurasian genetic substratum can be detected. The presence of an ancient genetic substratum of European origin in West Asia may be related to the discovery of ancient mummies with European features in Xinjiang and to the existence of an extinct Indo-European language, Tocharian”
“Most of the retrieved sequences (n = 21, 78%) belong to European (or west Eurasian) mtDNA haplogroups (HV, H, T, I, U and W haplogroups).”
“Haplogroups present in modern Kazakhs, such as B, F, C, Z, D, R, J and Y [Pastmists : almost all typically east-Asian], were not observed in the prehistoric Kazakhs [Pastmists : here, the earliest samples are from the bronze age]. By contrast, two haplogroups observed among the ancient samples, W and I, have not yet been found among modern Kazakhs. The results also indicate that there is an excess of west Eurasian haplogroups in comparison with those currently found (notably haplogroups H and U). However, this may be attributed to the overrepresentation of the earlier temporal period with only west Eurasian haplogroups. The observed absence of east Eurasian sequences prior to the eighth to seventh century BC suggests an earlier prehistoric expansion of peoples containing west Eurasian sequences into Asia, that probably went further east, into present-day China. This expansion may be related to the discovery of mummies that contain European features and west Eurasian mtDNA sequences in the Tarim basin, China, as well as the relict Indo-European Tocharian.”
South Siberia was also once populated mostly by Europoid populations, likely speaking the ancestor of the Tocharian language, in what is known as the Afanasevo culture, appearing as early as 3,500 BC roughly mirroring the supposed Indo-european population movements into the north of Europe at the same time (the similar dates of these population movements, both east and west, probably explain the resemblances between Tocharian, the easternmost Indo-european language, and the westernmost Indo-european languages, found in Europe - Indo-iranian language being likely spread by a later population movement spreading the satem innovation (see below) now overwhelmingly present in Asia but not in the tocharian language). Both these migrations have their origin in the north of the black sea, in the srednij stog and yamnaya cultures of Ukraine and south Russia, a relation hinted in archeology, even more clearly in Asia. In its easternmost known extent, the Afanasevo culture reached the west of Mongolia.
Tracks of these ancient (supposedly) Indo-european migrations can be found in archeology but also in the ancient DNA.
“Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people” (Keyser et al, 2009 – source)
“To help unravel some of the early Eurasian steppe migration movements, we determined the Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial haplotypes and haplogroups of 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk area dated from between the middle of the second millennium BC. to the fourth century AD. In order to go further in the search of the geographic origin and physical traits of these south Siberian specimens, we also typed phenotype-informative single nucleotide polymorphisms. Our autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA analyses reveal that whereas few specimens seem to be related matrilineally or patrilineally, nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. Our results also confirm that at the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominant European settlement, suggesting an eastward migration of Kurgan people across the Russo-Kazakh steppe. Finally, our data indicate that at the Bronze and Iron Age timeframe, south Siberians were blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people and that they might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin civilization [i.e. in Xinjiang, northwest China]. To the best of our knowledge, no equivalent molecular analysis has been undertaken so far. “
The study also reveals that during bronze age,90% ofthe mtDNA haplogroups (female lineages) – such as U2, U4, U5a1, T1, T3, T4, H5a, H6, HV, K and I – were west Eurasian/Europoid (and 67% during iron age).
Several of these mtDNA genetic signatures have an exact match in Europe (like for instance mtDNA haplogroup I4 and T1 who are frequently found in the north and north-east of Europe (in the case of T1, the Baltic area is apparently where its frequency is the highest; this very haplotype was also found in ancient DNA from the ancient remains of Kazakhstan (Lalueza-fox et al. 2004) and Xinjiang (Gao et al. 2008)), the U5a1 haplotype is found in north-west Europe, the specific U2e haplotype was found nowadays in an east European individual and in only one Uyghur, the K2b haplotype was found in only two individuals, two Europeans (one Austrian and one Hungarian) and the precise U4 haplotypes of the study were found mostly in the north, the east, the north-east and the south-east of Europe and in the Volga-Ural area as well (but also a few in the Altai region up to the Baikal area), etc…).
The fact that the male lineage, the haplogroup Y-DNA R1a1a, was associated almost exclusively with such west Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups in the female lineages, in the oldest analyzed period, clearly points to a migration from eastern Europe, especially considering archeology which support this view, as the Afanasevo culture had several similarities with the Yamna culture of the north of the black sea. It is also mentionned that at least 60% of the tested ancient individuals had light hair and blue or green eyes.
Interestingly, the oldest mummies from the Tarim basin of Xinjiang (north-western China), among the 2,000 BCE Xiaohe people, were also all R1a1a (and with a few mtDNA lineages having matches in modern Europe, as far as Iceland and Great Britain) (source).
“A western Eurasian male is found in 2000-year-old elite Xiongnu cemetery in Northeast Mongolia” (source)
“We analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y-chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (Y-SNP), and autosomal short tandem repeats (STR) of three skeletons found in a 2,000-year-old Xiongnu elite cemetery in Duurlig Nars of Northeast Mongolia.“
“The DNA analyses revealed that one subject was an ancient male skeleton with maternal U2e1 [pastmists: U2e is the European subgroup of U2, an ancient Eurasian mtDNA haplogroup (An haplogroup whose ultimate paleolithical origin is probably India). A more than 30,000 years old man found at Kostenki, south Russia, was found to be U2] and paternal R1a1 haplogroups. This is the first genetic evidence that a male of distinctive Indo-European lineages (R1a1) was present in the Xiongnu of Mongolia“
The human remains also reveal the change in the population of the Altai :
“According to paleoanthropological data, the Caucasoid (in respect of its morphological features) population predominated in the steppes of the Altai–Sayan region during the Neolithic [Pastmists : here, apparently at least starting with the Chalcolithic time], Bronze, and partly early Iron Ages [1–3]. At that time the Mongoloid component was observed only in few cases. However, beginning from the early Iron Age, the presence of this component has been increasing, and becoming prevalent in modern times. Thus, dynamics of the anthropological composition of the Altai–Sayan populations can be characterized by definitely directed replacement of the Caucasoid component by the Mongoloid one.” (excerpt from « Origin of Caucasoid-Specific Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Ethnic Groups of the Altai–Sayan Region » (Derenko et al. 2002) | source )
The study « Moleculargenetic analysis of Wanggu remains, inner Mongolia, China » (Yuqin Fu et al. 2006) [source] also reveals a “Caucasoid” input in the ancient Wanggu tribe :
“Recently, we discovered human remains of the Wanggu tribe in the Chengbozi cemetery in the Siziwang Banner of Inner Mongolia, China. […] Our results show that the genetic structure of the Wanggu tribe in the Jin-Yuan period is a complex matriline, containing admixture from both Asian and European populations.”
In 2004, the study “Different Matrilineal Contributions to Genetic Structure of Ethnic Groups in the Silk Road Region in China” (Yao et al, 2004) estimated the west eurasian input among the Mongolian maternal lineages to 14.3 % (source in PDF format).
It’s also interesting to note that a study on the Eurasian cattle revealed that the Mongolian cattle is partially derived from the European cattle (source : “Genetic diversity and structure in Bos Taurus and bos Indicus populations analyzed by SNP markers”), which reminds of similar conclusions found about the Japanese cattle (see the Xinjiang article for more details). In this context it is also interesting to mention that the Turkic öküz (meaning ox in English (same ancestral root), a word also akin to Sanskrit ukṣán) resembles Tocharian B okso.
Let’s add, to seal the case, a new study ( “Brief Communication: Two-Rooted Lower Canines—A European Trait and Sensitive Indicator of Admixture Across Eurasia”, Christine Lee and G. Richard Scott, American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2011), DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21585 | source ) showing a basically European-specific dental trait, absent in east Asia, but particularly present among Afanasevo, Scythian, Uyghur populations and even in the Ordos (*) region in northern China, as a marker of ancient bronze age (presumed Indo-european) migrations :
“The presence of the two-rooted canines in East Asia may provide some clue as to the eastward migration of new populations into China and Mongolia. The largest numbers of individuals with this trait are concentrated along the western and northern frontiers of China and Mongolia. Archaeological excavations support the large scale movement of people into this area during the Bronze age (ca. 2200 BCE–400 BCE). Burial artifacts and settlement patterns suggest cultural and technological ties to the Afanasevo culture in Siberia, which in turn is linked archaeologically, linguistically, and genetically with the Indo-European Tocharian populations that appear to have migrated to the Tarim Basin ca. 4,000 years ago (Ma and Sun, 1992; Ma and Wang, 1992; Mallory and Mair, 2000; Romgard, 2008; Keyser et al., 2009; Li et al., 2010).”
(*) This seems to be confirmed by archaeology (source): “According to Lebedynsky, the people represented in archaeological finds tend to display Europoïd features, and are thought to be of Scythian affinity. The weapons, found in tombs throughout the steppes of the Ordos, are very close to those of the Scythians, especially the Sakas.“
As for the main Indo-european group of the Indo-european language family in Asia, the Indo-iranians, their ancestors supposedly migrated from the north of the black sea probably becoming the proto-indo-iranians in the region going from Russia up to the north west of Kazakhstan roughly between 2,500 BC to 2,000 BC (explaining the presence of very early Indo-iranian loanwords in Finno-ugric languages (such as Finnish) and east Caucasian languages), spreading progressively up to south Siberia and south of central Asia leaving their tracks in an archaeological horizon named the Andronovo culture, supposedly giving ultimately birth to the Scythian/Saka population.
It must be noted that the oldest written tracks of Indo-iranian language are not found in south Asia but in northern Syria, in a kingdom named Mitanni, in inscriptions dated around 1,400 BC. All the kings of this realm had Indo-aryan throne names, even when they had Hurrian names before being crowned and their capital was named Waššukanni which derives from old Indic vasu-khani (literally “wealth mine”).
The Mitanni inscriptions are in Hurrian, a non-indo-european language (whose ultimate origin is thought to be either Caucasus or Armenia), but indo-iranian terms linked to horses and chariots (and Indo-Aryan divinities as well) are found in these texts.
Given the fact that the oldest found tracks of chariot and horse-riding are found near the south of the Urals (examples about early chariots : Sintashta site (also here) | Saratov site) and in the north of central Asia, it can be surmised that their use was spread by Indo-iranians in Anatolia, west Asia and south Asia.
The current location of Indo-aryan languages (India) and the bronze age tracks of it — Mitanni kingdom in north Syria, or also for instance the Indo-aryan name of a governor of Qiltu near Jerusalem, in Palestine, named suardata (apparently from Indo-aryan svàr-data: “gift from the sun” [svàr in Sanskrit, and its Indo-european cousins; a word having quite likely an etymological relation with the name of the Slavic deity Svarog (father of a solar deity) or for instance the Russian verb svarit’ (“to burn”, “to cook”)]) during roughly the same time (there are also possibly some tracks of borrowed Indo-aryan words in the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia — could spontaneously lead us to see the source of Indo-aryan languages in west Asia but as previously stated, many words from the Indo-iranian language family – sometimes from the proto-indo-iranian or at least at a very early stage of Indo-iranian – can be found in the Finno-ugric languages (languages such as Finnish, Estonian or Saami) and languages from the eastern Caucasus rather supports a different place of origin (the fact that these loanwords have been entering these Finno-ugric languages * at diverse stages of evolution of the Indo-iranian language confirm that the Finno-ugric populations have been in close contact with Indo-iranian-speaking populations for many centuries, and the fact that some of these loanwords seem to pertain to the proto-Indo-iranian stage supports the idea that these loanwords aren’t just a legacy of the Scythian and Sarmatian populations. It does support the theory of a homeland of the original Indo-iranians actually in the Russia **-northwest Kazakhstan region). Even in Ugric languages, some words are clearly closer to the Indo-aryan language family than to the Iranic one (e.g. Hungarian tehén (cow) is closer to Sanskrit dhenu- (see Punjabi dhen) than to Avestan dainu (Vedic Sanskrit (earliest known Indo-aryan language) and Avestan (earliest known Iranic language) were still quite close from each others (it is said that these two languages were definitely closer than Italian and Spanish are to each others)). Interestingly, Hungarian szekér (“chariot”) would be derived from an Indo-aryan *śaka-ra.)
* A few examples (among many others) of Indo-iranian roots in Finno-ugric languages that can be found in “The indo-aryan controversy” by Edwin Bryant and Laurie Patton:
Mordvin sazor (younger sister), Udmurt sazer (younger sister) — Sanskrit svasar (sister)
Komi sur, Udmurt sura (beer) — Sanskrit surā- (intoxicating drink)
Finnish and Ostya udar (udder) — Sanskrit udhar (udder)
Finnish marras (dead) — Sanskrit mṛtas (dead)
Finnish muru (crumb), Mansi mur, mor- (crumble) — Sanskrit mur (crumble), Saka murr (crumble), Ossetian mur- (crumb)
Hungarian tei (milk) — Hindi dhai (actually dahi), Kashmiri dai (soured milk)
Finnish sarvi (horn), Mordvin suro, Komi and Udmurt sur, Mari sur — Ossetian sarv, Avestan sru, srva (and sanskrit śṛṇga-)
Mansi mant (bucket) — Sanskrit mantha, manthana, Pali mantha
Finnish vasa, Ostya vasik, Mansi vasir, Hungarian üszo (bull) — Old Iranian vasa, Ossetian waes, Sanskrit vatsa (calf) (and Sanskrit vṛṣa (bull))
and so on.
** It should be mentionned that the Abashevo culture in Russia, is seen as a possible source for the proto-indo-iranian language and indeed the Abashevo culture was influential in the Sintashta site where are seen the oldest known expression of Indo-iranian-like rituals, according to many specialists.
“In 1370 BC a treaty between the king of Mitanni, Mattiwaza (old reading Kurtiwaza), and the Hittite king, Suppiluliumas, was concluded and there is an oath guaranteed by a series of gods including such Indo-aryan divinities as Indra, Mithra, Varuna and Nasatya. In the 14th century BC in the hittite city of Bogazkoy (pastmists: in this time named Hattusa) a trainer from the land of the Mitanni named Kikkuli composed a treatise on horse training where he employed numerous Indo-Aryan terms (Thieme 1960; Mayhofer 1966; 1974; Kemmenhuber 1968). The first time the Indo-aryans appeared in the Near East dates, however, from the 17th century BC when the Hurrians (non-Indo-European) came from north-east Anatolia and founded the Mitanni kingdom. It was dominated by Indo-Aryans who had brought chariots, blood-horses, and the skills of horse-training. The names of Mitanni kings known from documents of the Tel-Amarna [Tell el-amarna] archive in Egypt and from the cuneiform texts and seals of the Near East are Indo-Aryan. The Indo-Aryans formed elite charioteer squadrons (Yankoska 1979; 1981; 1987). Judging by the descriptions of their dress and weapons, which included a hood, a bow, and a quiver with shaft-hole arrows (Zaccani 1978), the Aryans had come to Mitanni from the steppes. None of those features were known in the near East but had analogues only in the steppes. This is an elite dominance migration pattern: The dominance is secured by the introduction of new chariot battle tactics. The dominant group was presumably small and soon assimilated.”
Seemingly confirming this theory, many of the words meaning “horse” throughout west Asia during antiquity seem derived from the satem form of the Indo-european root designating the horse (*ekwos), pointing again towards the Indo-iranians (speaking a satem Indo-european language in which horse was said “asva“) as the spreaders of mounted horses and chariotry in this region during bronze age (like for instance: Hurrian “essi“, Akkadian “sissu” and several others. Among them, quite revealing are the Hittite word “azu(wa)“, the Luwian assuwa and the Ugaritic “ssw” which are extremely close to the Indo-iranian word and seem to clearly be a loanword from this language family. The rise of the Hittites (an Indo-european Anatolian people (i.e. from modern day Turkey) whose language isn’t a satem language), that was posterior to the rise of the Mitanni (that were also their direct neighbors), owed much to an efficient use of chariotry.
The specialists generally consider satem a later innovation well after the proto-indo-european language which was centum-like. This conforts the idea that the horse was introduced and domesticated late in west Asia and the Near East, apparently disproving the theory that the Indo-european languages appeared in either Asia minor or the Middle-East, as the stem for “horse” was omnipresent in basically all the Indo-european languages and, as such, obviously already part of the proto-indo-european language from which almost all the known Indo-european languages are derived (with maybe the exception of the Anatolian languages that could be derived from an earlier stage) while the horse was basically absent until the last part of bronze age in most of west Asia (regions such as the middle or near-East and most of Asia minor).
In south Asia, the Gandhara graves culture of Swat Valley in northern Pakistan seems to represent the advance of these Indo-iranians in south Asia, also importing the horse in these lands.
Nowadays, the west Eurasian haplogroups are still found in the central Asian (and south Siberian, like the Altaians) populations even though they are mixed with numerous east Asian haplogroups.
This map from a september 2010 study, “In the heartland of Eurasia: the multilocus genetic landscape of Central Asian populations“ (Martinez-Cruz et al. 2010 ; European Journal of Human Genetics , (8 September 2010) | doi:10.1038/ejhg.2010.153), describe the origin of the populations having contributed to the Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan modern populations (also showing the differences within the different linguistic families, Turkic or Indo-iranian) :
Like in the east of Afghanistan and the north of Pakistan, Tajikistan, a region speaking an Indo-iranian language related to Persian, is known to harbor a certain number of Europoid individuals in its autochthonous population.
“In fact, it’s in the more eastern variants of the Andronovo civilization – notably in the Bishkent culture, in the south of Tajikistan – that a probable expression of indo-iranian rituals is visible in the archeological clues. In the Tulkhar cemetery, the sepultures of the males have a little rectangular hearths that quite remind of the altar-hearth (ahavaniya) of the first indo-aryan priests while the tombs of the females have got little circular hearths that evoke the garha-patya (always associated with women) in the indo-aryan home.
Even if a few points are still quite controversial, the fundamentally indo-iranian identity of the bronze age steppic cultures is seen as almost certain.”
From “In search of the Indo-europeans. Language, archeology and myth”, J. P. Mallory
May 12, 2010
Xinjiang is the north-western region of China, north of Tibet and at the same longitude than India. It is a very arid and desertic land.
This region, also called Chinese Turkestan, is mostly inhabited by the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking population. This region is turcophone since the 9th century AD, but Indo-european populations (i.e. the so-called “Tocharians” and Indo-iranian Sakas (leaving tracks of their language in Xinjiang (the Khotanese language)) have inhabited this place long before which explains that many words have still indo-european roots, in the local vocabulary.
This is the place of discovery of the Tarim Basin mummies whose some are about 4,000 years old. Many of them have Europoid phenotypes (and indeed, it is worthy of mention that some old Chinese texts described some populations of these general regions, like the Wusun, as redhead individuals with blue eyes, which is also in accordance with some Tarim basin frescoes that also show the Tocharians as individuals with light hair and eyes).
Evidences of west Eurasian/Europoid populations, deep in Asia, in an ancient past (at least as old as the chalcolithic time), have been established. These tracks cover central Asia, south Siberia and apparently as far as the Shandong region in north-east China (see further below in this page).
At the moment, it seems quite likely that the ancestor of the Tocharian language was spoken in the Afanasevo culture that appeared around 3,500 BCE and that spread from the center of Kazakhstan, south Siberia and up to the west of Mongolia and whose most of the skeletal remains are considered Europoid (it is said that they have the more resemblances with the populations of the Sredny Stog and Yamnaya cultures in Ukraine and Russia). This culture has many similarities with the Pontic steppes’ cultures of that time (the sepultures or the potteries, for instance (among several other things), are quite similar to the ones of the Yamnaya culture (also known as the pit grave culture)).
Interestingly, Mr. Han Kangxin from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences of Beijing examined 302 Tarim mummies skulls (Han Kangxin 1994; 1998) and concluded that the closest ancient populations were the populations from the Afanasevo culture and the Andronovo culture (surmised to be early Indo-iranian populations). The physical type of the Afanasevo and Andronovo cultures are also similar to the physical type of the Yamna (also known as Yamnaya or th Pit grave culture) culture and all are classified as Europoid.
The human remains of the Afanasevo and Andronovo cultures are indeed easily recognizable as Europoid :
“During this period [i. e. in the chalcolithic period] the Altay-Sayan Plateau was settled by Europeoids; the anthropological type of the population, which left behind relics of the Afanas’yevo and Andronovian cultures, need give rise to no doubt.”
“The Europeoid groups occupied the steppes of the Altay and Minusinskiy Kray, while the forest belt both in eastern and western Siberia continued to be extensively occupied by Mongoloid types. The boundary between them was by no means permanent. From the Altay-Sayan steppes the Europeoid groups seem to have moved fairly far east; the neolithic population west of Lake Baykal, in particular, shows a Europeoid admixture. In their turn, the Mongoloid elements penetrated into the steppe regions.”
“From then on the proportion of the various Mongoloid types among the population of southwest Siberia kept increasing. This was particularly the case during the Tashtyk period. At the end of the first and beginning of the second millennia A.D., in the Altay-Sayan Plateau, too, Mongoloid-type groups almost completely ousted the ancient Europeoid population.”
(M. G. Levin, “The Anthropological Types of Siberia,” in The Peoples of Siberia, ed. M. G. Levin and L. P. Potapov, The University of Chicago Press, 1964 – Page 99)
Or also :
According to paleoanthropological data, the Caucasoid (in respect of its morphological features) population predominated in the steppes of the Altai–Sayan region during the Neolithic [Pastmists : here, apparently at least starting with the Chalcolithic time], Bronze, and partly early Iron Ages [1–3]. At that time the Mongoloid component was observed only in few cases. However, beginning from the early Iron Age, the presence of this component has been increasing, and becoming prevalent in modern times. Thus, dynamics of the anthropological composition of the Altai–Sayan populations can be characterized by definitely directed replacement of the Caucasoid component by the Mongoloid one.” (excerpt from « Origin of Caucasoid-Specific Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Ethnic Groups of the Altai–Sayan Region » (Derenko et al. 2002) | source)
A recent study (“Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people“, Keyser et al., 2009 – (source)) determined that the bronze and iron age populations of south Siberia (formerly place of the Afanasevo culture and by then, being part of the Andronovo horizon) were largely Europoid (pretty revealing is the fact that during bronze age, the female lineages (mtDNA haplogroups) were 90% west Eurasians/Europoid) :
“To help unravel some of the early Eurasian steppe migration movements, we determined the Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial haplotypes and haplogroups of 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk area dated from between the middle of the second millennium BC. to the fourth century AD.
In order to go further in the search of the geographic origin and physical traits of these south Siberian specimens, we also typed phenotype-informative single nucleotide polymorphisms. Our autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA analyses reveal that whereas few specimens seem to be related matrilineally or patrilineally, nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. Our results also confirm that at the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominant European settlement, suggesting an eastward migration of Kurgan people across the Russo-Kazakh steppe. Finally, our data indicate that at the Bronze and Iron Age timeframe, south Siberians were blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people and that they might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin civilization [i.e. in Xinjiang, north-western China]. To the best of our knowledge, no equivalent molecular analysis has been undertaken so far.”
The study also shows that the matches in the databases, of the antique south Siberian mtDNA lineages and R1a1a haplotypes, in the modern populations, are mostly found in Europe (and of course also in south Siberia) confirming the origin deduced from both their physical type and archeology.
This is completely in accordance with the Kurgan hypothesis and allows an easy and satisfying explanation as to why the Tocharian language bears so much more similarities with the westernmost Indo-european languages (Germanic, Celtic, Latin and others (including Hittite)) rather than with the geographically much closer Indo-iranian languages.
A few examples of Tocharian words and some of their closest matches in the Indo-european languages :
Tocharian A laks (fish) : Danish laks (salmon), Latvian lasis *, etc…
Tocharian B yakwe (horse) : archaic Latin equ (-os) (pronounced roughly ekw (-os)), old Irish ech, etc…
Tocharian A áñme (soul) : Latin anim (-us) (soul), ancient Greek anem (-os) (breath), etc…
Tocharian A känt (100) : Latin cent (-um) (Latin “cent-“ is pronounced “kent”), Breton kant, etc…
Tocharian A árki (white) : Hittite harki (white; light-colored), Latin argent (-um) (silver), ancient Greek arg (-os), etc…
Tocharian A luks (to illuminate) : Latin lux (light), Russian luch (light ray), Danish lys (light), etc…
Tocharian A knán (to know) : ancient Greek gnosis, Latin cognosc (-ere), Russian znanie *, etc…
Tocharian A tkaṃ (earth) : Hittite tekam, ancient Greek khthốn, Sanskrit kṣam, etc…
Tocharian A wär (water) : Hittite watar, ancient Greek hydor, Umbrian utur, etc…
* In satem indo-european languages (like in Russian or Latvian in these examples), the indo-european “k” becomes a “s” and the “g” becomes a “z” (e.g. Latin cord- and ancient Greek kardi- but Russian serdtse (meaning all “heart” (also from the same root but in the Germanic languages family, the proto-indo-european initial “k” becomes a “h”)) and for instance Germanic gold and zolot (-o) in Russian or ancient Greek geront- (elder) and Ossetic zärond (old) or Hittite gima and Russian zima (both meaning “winter“))
** The proto-indo-european initial “p” becomes a “f” in Germanic languages (e.g. Latin pisc- (fish) and Danish fisk)
In the Kurgan hypothesis, the Indo-iranian languages are a later stage of the Indo-european language evolution that probably appeared between 2,500 BC and 2,200 BC (2,000 BC at most) in south Russia and north-west Kazakhstan, or possibly in the Abashevo culture of Russia (as hinted by tracks of a very old stage words of Indo-iranian in Finno-ugric languages and in east Caucasian languages). The Afanasevo culture appeared around 3,500 BC, roughly at the time the Globular amphora culture and the Corded ware culture appeared in the north of Europe between 3,500 BC-3,000 BC (and that we can think are the ancestral origin of language families such as Germanic and Celtic, and likely others), hence we can surmise that the resemblances between Tocharian and the western Indo-european languages are because they separated from their general common location of origin (supposed to be Ukraine/south Russia) roughly at the same time ((roughly?) the proto-indo-european stage).
Several DNA tests have been done on ancient mummies of the Tarim and many did have west Eurasian genetic signatures :
- An ancient Xinjiang mummy was found to be of the mtDNA haplogroup H (the most frequent European mtDNA haplogroup) : DNA analysis of ancient desiccated corpses from Xinjiang (Francalacci, P., 1995), Journal of Indoeuropean Studies, vol. 23 (1995), pp. 385–389.
- Several 2,000 years old Tarim mummies were found to be from the haplogroups mtDNA U3, H, I, T2 and T, which are west Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups : “Mitochondrial DNA analysis of ancient Sampula population in Xinjiang (Xie, C.Z., et al), Progress in Natural Science, vol. 17, no. 8 (Aug 2007), pp. 927-933(7)” and “Mitochondrial DNA analysis of human remains from the Yuansha site in Xinjiang (Gao, S. et al), Science in China Series C: Life Sciences, vol. 51 (2008), no. 3, pp. 205-213“.
- a 2010 study found out that the remains of all the males of the tested Xiaohe population (an ancient Bronze age population of Xinjiang) living around 2,000 BCE were R1a1a and while a large majority of the mtDNA haplogroups (female lineages) were east Asian, two of them were west Eurasian (mtDNA haplogroup K and H. For the latter, modern day individuals who matched this very genetical signature in the databases, were found, all in Europe (1 German, 1 Icelander, 1 Hungarian, 1 Portuguese, 1 Italian and 4 English)) : “Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age” (Chunxiang Li et al, 2010) (source | PDF ).
The east Asian mtDNA C4 haplogroup was also found which strengthen the idea that this population came from south Siberia (and thus were derived from the Afanasevo culture), since this haplogroup is found in a certain number there.
The R1a1a continuum in the antique south Siberia and the Xinjiang region (coupled with west eurasian/europoid female lineages) also obviously present north of the black sea (Pastmists : Haplogroup R1a1a was also present deep in Germany at least by 2,600 BCE (source) – and very probably centuries earlier), the similar Europoid morphological type from the Sredny stog/Yamnaya cultures, north of the black sea, to the pastoralist populations of the Afanasevo culture of south Siberia (and in the Xinjiang as well (Han kangxin 1994, 1998)), the clear relation between the cultures of the north of the black sea and the Afanasevo culture, clearly support the Kurgan theory. In this context, associate the ancestor of the Tocharian language to south Siberia is the logical thing to do. Given the nature of the Tocharian language (i.e. much closer to the Anatolian and the western Indo-european languages of Europe than to the Indo-iranian languages, yet geographically closer), we can assume that it left the Indo-european homeland roughly at the time of the proto-Indo-european language (more or less). The Afanasevo culture appearing at 3,500 BCE, we can thus approximately know the date of the proto-Indo-european language, which fits some of the common proto-Indo-european vocabulary allowing to favor an origin around the Chalcolithic.
The fact that Turkish öküz (ox) seems apparently directly related to (proto-?)Tocharian okso (an indo-european root found for instance in the Danish word okse, the Sanskrit word ukṣán or, of course, in the English word ox) rather than to an equivalent Indo-iranian word (later Indo-iranian presence in south Siberia seems a sure fact. The indo-iranian language family probably became prominent in this region when it switched from the ancient Afanasevo culture to the Andronovo horizon) and the fact that the Mongolian cattle is partly derived from west Eurasian cattle (source) definitely support this hypothesis as well.
Interestingly, the tracks of these ancient western migrations seems to go even as far as the Shandong region, in eastern China :
“Inconsistent with the geographical distribution,the 2,500-year-old Linzi population showed greater genetic similarityto present-day European populations than to present-day east Asian populations. The 2,000-year-old Linzi population had features that were intermediate between the present-day European/2,500-year-old Linzi populations and the present-day east Asian populations. These relationships suggest the occurrence of drastic spatiotemporal changes in the genetic structure of Chinese people during thepast 2,500 years.”
“The results suggest that there are definite differences in the genetic affinities between the ancient populations of Linzi in northern China and Egyin Gol in Mongolia. The Linzi material seems to bear a stronger affinity with Near Easterners and Europeans rather than with the present-day populations of northern China, although there is a definite component of East and/or Southeast Asians within Linzi as well (as evidenced by haplogrouping; see later discussion). We would suggest that rather than a “European-like population” in the ancient Linzi region, the Linzi material may be at least partially related to Indo-Iranians (a branch of Indo-Europeans, although more precisely just “Iranian” by this time period), who were, during that period or at least shortly before it, probably inhabiting areas across Central Eurasia. More precisely, the Linzi population was quite possibly related to the Karsuk or Saka (putative Iranian groups who fit temporally and spatially) or also more distantly to the Andronovo, Afanasievo, Scythians, Sarmatians, or even the Sogdians.
The Karsuk and Saka are the most likely, given their existence in the first millennium B.C. in the central and possibly eastern parts of Central Eurasia, although these ethonyms are a little ambiguous and precise connections are not really possible. However, Harmatta (1992) argued that early Iranian groups were spread across Central Eurasia from Eastern Europe to north China in the first millennium B.C., and Askarov (1992) pointed out the existence of cist kurgan burials (with “Europoid” remains bearing some “Mongoloid” admixture, they suggest) in northwestern Mongolia in the same millennium. Although speculative, this line of reasoning fits in with other lines of evidence from archeology and linguistics for the aforementioned changes in Chinese Bronze Age culture-the loan words in Old Chinese (Pulleyblank 1996; Kuzmina 1998; Beckwith 2002; Di Cosmo 2002) and possibly sites such as Zhukaigou and the Qijia culture (Linduff 1995)-as well as evidence of Iranians on the steppe and possibly the Altai region at that time.
The suggestion that actual European populations may have been in northern China at that time conflicts with general evidence of population movement on the steppe, which sees gradual movement of putative IndoIranians and Indo-Aryans throughout the steppe and associated areas in the second and first millennia B.C. around Central Eurasia from the Indo-Aryans in India, the western Iranians on the Iranian plateau, and the Scythians and Sarmatians (and related groups) on the south Russian steppe and Eastern Europe [Pastmists : we have seen earlier that it’s actually not contradictory at all]. There is some evidence of them being on the Mongolie steppe [see Askarov (1992)], as well as evidence of their inhabitance of Xinjiang (such as Khotan) and possibly the Altai region (also the Tokharians, although they were not Indo-Iranian).”
To these elements can be added the following words from the study “Unravelling migrations in the steppe: mitochondrial DNA sequences from ancient central Asians” (Lalueza-fox et al, 2004) [Link] :
“Analyses of present-day Han mtDNA sequences from different regions in China detect a very residual presence (less than 5%) of “European” haplotypes in a few regions.
These include Qinghai (east to Xinjiang and Tibet) and Yunnan [south of China], as well as some coastal regions.” (Yao et al. 2002).
Even a west Eurasian origin of acupuncture is now thinkable (*). The first really attested tracks of it are found in the “Huangdi Neijing” (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon) around 300 BC but tracks of this practice could have been found on Oetzi the ice man, a 5,300 years old mummy found at the border between Italy and Austria [Pastmists : On a side note, we now know that Ötzi was from the haplogroups Y-DNA G2a2b and mtDNA K1f ].
“The determination supports prior research that the tattoos were associated with acupuncture treatments for chronic ailments suffered by the iceman, whose frozen body was found remarkably well preserved in the Similaun Glacier of the Alps in 1991.
The cross-shaped tattoo on his knee, and another one on his left ankle, also lay over Chinese acupuncture “trigger points,” the researchers believe. Strengthening their argument is the fact that the soot-made markings are located on parts of the iceman’s body not typical for tattoo displays, diminishing the notion that they served a more ornamental, aesthetic function.
Prior research shows Oetzi did suffer from a variety of ailments that might have benefited from acupuncture. These included a bad back, degeneration of the hip, knee and ankle, and “severe abdominal disorders,” primarily caused by whip worm, an intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea.
Frank Bahr, president of the German Academy of Acupuncture, first made the tattoo-acupuncture connection on the iceman after studying a drawing of the tattoos and their placement on Oetzi’s body.
Bahr told Discovery News, “The most interesting thing about the whole iceman story is that even today I would treat a patient with about 90 percent of the same points as the tattoos on the iceman, if this patient were to have the same diseases.”
(*) Of course, caution is advised in such a situation, for beside East Asian haplogroups found among the Finno-ugric populations (in this case, Y-DNA haplogroup N1c and mtDNA haplogroups Z1 and D5), originally coming from north-east Siberia, a few (very rare) east Asian haplogroups can be found in Europe (for instance, some (rare) instances of the haplogroup mtDNA C5 are found in Poland, in Belarus or in Romania). Nevertheless, recent findings might hint that this flow was more important than once thought as several east Asian mtDNA haplotypes were found (mtDNA haplogroups such as N9a, C5, D1/G1a, M/R24) in neolithic human remains of Hungary (source) hinting to some east Asian input in ancient Europe, which imposes a very cautious approach, especially since Hungary is not too far from Tyrol, the location of discovery of Ötzi’s mummy (however, the dates of these Hungarian sepultures are now contested (see there and there)). A few instances of mtDNA C were apparently also recently found in neolithic and bronze age human remains from Ukraine (Nikitin et al, 2012).
Another surprising element discovered with very ancient mummies of the Tarim was a tartan (plaid) dated from 1,200 BC to 700 BC. This is generally associated with the Indo-european Celts (while probably a coincidence, the place of origin of the Celts is supposedly near Austria which is quite close from the place Otzi was found).
It is actually surmised that at least horse-riding, chariot and bronze might have been brought in China from the west (article about ancient north-west China’s early bronze : “China had bronze early on” (an article also apparently confirming the settlement of Tocharian populations a bit before 2,000 BC in the east of the Tarim basin and north-west Gansu, seemingly confirming that this partly west Eurasian population didn’t directly come from the west, but at this time, more likely arrived from the north (south Siberia) and thus was largely derived from the Afanasevo population (the apparent presence of ancestral forms of what seems to be some sort of ancient Altaic(?) stems (some sort of proto-Turkic and proto-Tungusic stems) in Tocharian languages might also confort this view (see “Turkic and Chinese loan words in Tocharian” by Starostin & Lubotsky)). The Tocharian vocabulary also seems to match their use of cereals (such as wheat which was also found in a basket burried with the “Loulan beauty” (a 1,800 BCE west-eurasian-looking mummy of the eastern Tarim basin)), already in use in their likely ancestral culture of Srednij stog in the Pontic steppes, and their use of sheep (Tocharian B a(u)w (“ewe”), cognate of English ewe, Luwian hawi, Latin ovis, Sanskrit avis, Lithuanian avis, etc… ) and horse (see below), both also among the most frequent domesticated animals in the Afanasevo culture)).
The name of the horse in Chinese (ma), Mongol (morin), Tungusic (murin) and Korean (mal ) – and maybe Japanese as well (uma) – have indeed a certain resemblance with an Indo-european root for “horse” (beside *ekw- (e.g. Latin equus, old Irish ech, Gaulish epos, Tocharian B yakwe, Tocharian A yuk (very likely at the origin of the Turkish word jük meaning “horse-load”), etc…)), *mark- (Irish marc/marcach, old Norse marr, English mare, etc…). Likewise, a few Chinese words shows a strong similarity with well-kown indo-european roots: such are honey (Chinese mi, pronounced *mjit or *mit in old Chinese can be linked to Tocharian B mit (having many cognates in the other Indo-european languages : i.e. english mead, sanskrit madhu, old church slavonic meda, lithuanian med(-us), ancient Greek methu, old Irish mid, etc…)), dog (two Chinese words, Quan or Kou, both very similar to Indo-european words for dog : Quan resembles the proto-Indo-european *Kwon- (not surprising if the oldest proto-tocharian stage was in (or very close to) the proto-indo-european stage) and Kou resembles the Tocharian word Ku), and a few others such as ox/bovine (chinese nyu / indo-european *gwou-), sheep/goat (yang from an older [g]riang that could be linked with Tokharien yriye (“lamb”)) or wheel (a dialectal Chinese word gulu from an ancient form *kolo that reminds of Slavic kolo and old Prussian (a now extinct ancient Baltic language) kelan) and maybe also a word for bronze (Chinese qiaotao / ancient Greek khalkos), but unproven.
Even though still highly hypothetical, it should be noted that some have conjectured that Huangdi, the Yellow emperor (‘yellow’ is a reference to the earth), a legendary civilizer sovereign in Chinese mythology (credited with many things including the invention of the principles of Chinese traditional medicine), master of thunder inhabiting an abode at the top of a Kunlun mountain (Mountains found in the south of Xinjiang and thought to be at the center of the world), was originally the Tocharian god of thunder. Other Chinese mythological figures, such as Yi the archer (Houyi), Xiwangmu and the three sovereigns (Fuxi, Nüwa (depictions of both are found in Xinjiang in the time it was still a Tocharian region, and in the mythology they were also linked to the Kunlun mountains in the south of Xinjiang) and Shennong) are also considered as possibly coming originally from the Tocharian traditions. («Influences tokhariennes sur la mythologie chinoise » [in French], Philadelphia, Sino-Platonic Papers, May 2004, 136. ; “Mythologie sino-européenne“, Philadelphia, Sino-Platonic Papers, July 2005, 154)
As a side note, it is also noticeable that the Ainu (an ancient autochtonous Japanese ethnic group) and some Japanese dialect words for “cattle” and “cow” are very similar to the Proto-indo-european root *peku- (e.g. latin pecus, sanskrit pasu, gothic faihu and still visible nowadays in English in “fee” and “pecuniary” (the latter from latin pecus)) : peko (Ainu) and beko (in some Japanese dialects) [source]. This observation is particularly interesting when we add to this the genetic tests on Japanese cattle that happened to reveal that a non-negligible part of it was partly of ancient European origin :
“Unlike Africa, half of Japanese cattle sequences are topologically intermingled with the European variants. This suggests an interchange of variants that may be ancient, perhaps a legacy of the first introduction of domesticates to East Asia” (source : “Mitochondrial DNA variation and evolution of Japanese black cattle (Bos taurus)” | study available here | here as a PDF).
Difficult to draw direct conclusions from these strange facts. Maybe should this be linked to the second major wave of migration to Japan (at the origin of the Yayoi culture) possibly coming from Jiangsu, the coastal Chinese region just south of the Shandong region around 300 BC (some new dates around 900-800 BC are considered possible), even though the ancestral population of this second wave migrating in Japan more likely came, via Korea, from south-east Siberia (The geographical configuration and the fact that the Japanese language might be part of a (still hypothetical) Altaic language family (including Turkic, Mongol, Tungusic and Korean languages) seems to make it more likely. It is interesting to note that DNA tests of the Udege people, a Tungusic people from south-east Siberia, revealed several typical west eurasian/europoid haplogroups (mtDNA haplogroups H, H5, three H11a, T2 and U2e) among the 28 samples [source], and it seems very unlikely to be linked to Russian colonization. This is not totally unique, anyway, since the Yakuts from north-eastern Siberia themselves have both male and female west Eurasian lineages (in a small quantity) that don’t seem to be linked with Russian colonization either (examples here (pdf) and here)).
From these data, we can suppose that some ancient (non satem) Indo-european pastoralists migration (likely originally rattached to the Afanasevo culture) have spread the concept of animal husbandry deep in Asia, transmitting their term for “cattle” to their direct neighbors during the process (in total accordance with the fact that, as mentionned earlier, the Mongolian cattle also have been shown to have an European input (that we can correlate with the fact that the Turkish word for ox (öküz) also seems to be derived from an ancient Indo-european word (The early Turkic population are strongly supposed to have appeared in south Siberia, close to the north of Mongolia (the earliest Turkic inscriptions are found in the north of Mongolia)) )).
In western China, in the Xinjiang region, the population, while east Asian, has sometimes European characteristics. Genetic testings have corroborated the presence of west Eurasian genes in the population (for instance, subclades of the Y-DNA haplogroups R1a, R1b and J2, genetic signatures frequetly found in Europe (and west Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups as well).
Roughly 56 % of the genetical signatures of the Uyghurs (the main ethnical group of the Xinjiang region) are not east-Asian (2009 scientifical article about this finding).
A 2004 study (Yao et al. 2004 : “Different Matrilineal Contributions to Genetic Structure of Ethnic Groups in the Silk Road Region in China” | PDF source) also previously reached similar conclusions :
“Although our samples were from the same geographic location, a decreasing tendency of the western Eurasian-specific haplogroup frequency was observed, with the highest frequency present in Uygur (42.6%) and Uzbek (41.4%), followed by Kazak (30.2%), Mongolian (14.3%), and Hui (6.7%).”
Some (non representative but still meaningful) phenotypes found in Xinjiang :