Evidence for mobility from Balkans to Anatolia ?

In ancient DNA papers to date, the emerging perception is that there is no evidence of movement from southeastern Europe to Anatolia. Instead, the main genetic shift Anatolia experienced between the Neolithic and Bronze Age was ‘eastward’, toward Caucasian Hunter-Gatherer (CHG) and Zagros Neolithic -related populations. This of course is correct at a macro-scale, and deserves to be further studied on its own right. However, it is also interesting as it pertains to the question of the Anatolian Indo-European languages such as Luwian and Hittite which are distributed across western Anatolia. As such, placing their origins in the East – where numerous non-IE languages are attested – is a priori problematic. Moreover, archaeological evidence points to several episodes where there might have been movements from the Balkans / west Pontic region into Anatolia. These include:

  • the Epipaleolithic: close analogies between the Antalya caves and Balkan Epigravettian has been suggested, as well as close similarities between Bullet cores noted in the Marmara region with those in the northwest Black Sea region
  • After the Neolithic migration from Anatolia to Europe, the tide of influences appear to have gone the other way, as Balkan Chalcolithic centres became prominent whilst many settlements were abandoned in Anatolia after ~ 55/5000 BC. Between 5000 and 4000 BC, prominent Balkan influences are noted as far as Cappadocia (a ‘Balkan-Anatolian Chalcolithic koine”), however these are not sweeping or monolithic but instead suggest the small communities remaining in western-central Anatlia were ‘open’ to contacts with and influenced by those in the Balkans and Aegean regions. Indeed, they were distant kin.
  • New excavations around Istanbul point to the presence of Yamnaya-like kurgans, with stallae and battle-axes in Troy, whilst the layout of the settlement at Dermicihoyuk has close affinities with that in Sintashta
  • But there is more to understand. Firstly, the settlement distribution within Anatolia as a whole appears to shift – whereas pre-5500 BC settlements are mostly situated around the Mediterranean littoral, by the Bronze Age, northern Anatolia comes to life. At a microregional scale, alluvial plains were abandoned, whilst highland sites became preferred. Thirdly, there is no doubt that influences from the Caucasus were prominent, however these must be understood as part of a bidirectional interaction sphere between north/northeastern Anatolia, the Caucasus and lowland sites such as Arslantepe which in certain periods were integrated within Mesopotamian social spheres.
  • By 3500 BC, the lull and shift in the Anatolian material record had ended, and now the region set in a period of demographic growth which culminated by the Bronze Age. Towns and Citadels emerged, from which local chiefs controlled the countryside and conducted far-reaching trade.

So why have ancient DNA studies so far failed to detect admixture from southeastern Europe ? First of all, the situation is extremely challenging, with even foremost Anatolian specialists remaining cautious in their reconstructions. Secondly, most genetics papers ignore archaeology and even uniparental markers, whilst their main focus is demonstrating complex statistical models. Thirdly, the way the genetics analyses were performed is sometimes problematic.

Some of these issues include:

1) Using Iron Gates Mesolithic (IG) as a proxy for southeastern Europe. When analysed, recent studies noted a negligible presence in Anatolian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age. These same studies also suggested that given that IG admixture is prolific in Europe, its absence in Anatolia excludes movement from Europe.

– However, this is a faulty assumption. Even within the Balkans, there is minimal IG related admixture (at least in most groups). E.g. in Vinca reaching a mere ~ 5% – needed for a passing qpAdm model but definitely small. For Anatolia, it would be virtually undectable. Coupled with the fact that over 95% of Balkan ancestry is deeply shared with Anatolian farmers, this makes analyses a challenging task.

– IG is in fact not the only type of hunter-gatherer ancestry present in the Balkans, there is EHG/ steppe related admixture, and even Baltic-affinity admixture (e.g. the ROU_C outlier sample from Gonzales-Fortes). These would need to be tested, but again their amounts would be small. Nuanced analyses using a ‘stepping stone’ model would need to be implemented.

2) Drawing an arbitrary line in the sand.
Pinarbasi, and by extension all ANFs, have Balkan related admixture a priori. This is corroborated by the presence of Y-hg I2c and C in Anatolia, and qpgraph typologies suggesting input from Iron Gates into Anatolian Epipaleolithic. Historically plausible in light of archaeological observations noted above.

3) The kurgans from around Istanbul and adjacent regions of Anatolia have not yet been analysed.

4) the CHG-ANF cline that papers speak of, is only an end-result. Publications to date have not rationalised genetic shifts within the context of aforementioned settlement and cultural changes between 5000 BC and 3000 BC. Whilst I can only briefly deal with analytics here, the CHG-shift is not simply a result of a unidirectional migration of CHG-rich people across Anatolia from a hypothetical ‘southern Arc homeland’.

Whilst a 2-way model for CHG + ANF might work for many Anatolian individuals, it does not work for all samples.

For example, Camilbel Tarlasi individuals require a 3-way admixture with extra Levant/Mesomotamian input, which makes sense given the Halaf-related impact c. 4000 BC


best coefficients: 0.248 0.137 0.615
std. errors: 0.019 0.073 0.087

T.P: 0.24

Similarly, as noted in Skourtianoti et al, 2-way models failed for Arslantepe, which also required additional Iran-related or Mesopotamian input.

Most interesting, however, is western Anatolian samples such as Isparta and Yassitepe.
When Vinca was used, the models passed (in the case of Yassitepe), or achieved the highest P-value (for Isparta).


best coefficients: 0.636 0.364
std. errors: 0.033 0.033

TP 0.45


best coefficients: 0.348 0.652
std. errors: 0.018 0.018

TP 6.03531e-05

For Yassitepe


best coefficients: 0.398 0.602 (!)
std. errors: 0.047 0.047

TP 0.13

This does not imply ‘mass migrations from the Balkans’ , it does however demonstrate the existence of active social and biological networks across the Balkan-Anatolian koine. As a sanity check, the I2a-L701 found in Yassitepe is that which is also found across the Balkans, Carpathian basin and western steppe. Curiously, this lineage is found across Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, and multiple genomic clusters, from hunter-gatherers, to steppe, to Balkan and Anatolian Farmers. Even more interestingly, this specific lineage is first attested in the northern Balkans and Carpatho-Dnieper region, and only later in more southern areas of the Balkans (but also as far as Central Asia and Late Bronze Age Swat valley). Hence, these represent ‘tracer dye’ in a longue duree link.

The findings briefly presented here are consistent with the known Copper Age influences of Balkan Centres which precipitated the Sredni Stog horizon, or Chernykh’s “Carpatho-Balkan Metallurgical Province”, or whatever we might wish to call it. It obviously extended to Anatolia too, but then the system ‘collapsed’ and a new, steppe-focussed one took over, the proverbial ‘nuclear IEs”, whilst Central Anatolia was increasingly included within the burgeoning Caucasian network.

This is not to suggest that PIE was introduced into Anatolia by Epipaleolithic movements arounds the western Black Sea, nor necessarily via the Balkan Chalcolithic. But this preliminary look does demonstrate that there was, beyond doubt, movement from southeast Europe into Anatolia on several occasions. Further work is required to elicit details.

Fig 1. My model of ”Anatolian Chalcolithic nodes & networks”. The mauve dashed line depicts the focus of ‘Early Anatolian Farmers’, the orange depicts the shift toward northern Anatolia during the Bronze Age. Also depicted traditional ‘Pottery provinces’ Troy-Yortan and Bithynian.

But what about the ‘Caucasian kurgans” ? Various Caucasian groups were drawn toward the Sredni Stog network, with Meshoko groups moving across the mountains to participate episodically with the burgeoning Sredni Stog network. Somewhat later, East Anatolian-Caucasian highland networks also extended toward the steppe, and these borrowed the idea of kurgan burials & elaborate display to communicate the status of local chiefs, such as at Majkop, Soyuq Bulaq, Arslantepe, Alacahoyuk. Indeed, between 4000 and 2200 BC, eastern Anatolia looked more illustrious than the west. However, in each of these cases, the phenomenon was short-lived. In the case of Arslantepe, internal struggles between Caucasian highland “haves’ and “have nots’ ended in a conflagration, whilst further north, the Kura-Araxes system was frankly invaded by the groups emanating from the western Catacomb/ Babino horizon (featuring R1b-Z2013 and I2c).

I will not get into details on the Steppe Eneolithic and its genesis. However, archaeology points to a gradual process of development and selective receptivity, whilst the ”expanding lineages” associated with the Yamnaya & Corded Ware horizons – R1a-M17, R1b-M269 and I2a-L701 existed in Europe since at least 10,000 BC, and probably much longer. The earliest and most important influences came from the Balkans, but this is often lost in Indo-European discourses which pitch an oppositional view between pastoralists and farmers, whilst geneticists have tended to fixate on ”CHG”. In reality, CHG relates to north Caucasian fisher-hunter-gatherers who were just another component in the dynamic socio-scape of the Ponto-Caspian region, and not an especially transformative one. Much more work needs to be devoted to this question. For now, we need to caution against collapsing the long, complex and multi-directional influences which impacted the steppe into one monolithic revolution.

Right populations used, + rotating refference strategy

right pops:

3 thoughts on “Evidence for mobility from Balkans to Anatolia ?

  1. Interesting history of East Asian vs West Asian in 700CE -800CE. The fight East pushed those not in the fight—West.? Mount Tai drew Iranian exiles, and have found trace of K1a or K1 aDNA even in Tarim Basin. I would assume and speculate West Asian isolated to be grouped? Diversity of religion and cultures has been found even in East Caspian area. More tribal West Asia? Thank you.

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