October 13, 2010

Danubian Neolithic ancient mtDNA N1a is (mostly) European by origin

This is a very important paper without doubt for two reasons:
  1. It further develops the phylogeny, distribution and molecular clock age estimates of mitochondrial haplogroup N1a, with possible side implications of its "niece" I, and N1 as a whole.
  2. It dismisses the idea that the N1a lineages found among Central European early Neolithic people (Western Linear Pottery culture, alias Danubian Neolithic) are, with some possible exceptions, of West Asian origin. Instead they appear as Eastern, Southern or local Central European lineages.


In 2005 an ancient mtDNA research by Haak et al. on Central European farmers found six individuals with the N1a haplogroup, a very rare clade nowadays in Europe but somewhat more common in West Asia, specially in Arabia Peninsula. Four (4/11) of the six N1a individuals belonged to the oversampled Elbe group of East Germany (a rather peripheral offshoot within Danubian Neolithic context), however another one was found in the Rhine area (1/10) and yet another one in Hungary (1/1), where it has also been detected in later periods (Middle Ages).

Another individual with a N1a lineage was recently found in a Megalithic burial in West France.

This appeared to favor the idea that Central European early farmers were at least partly of West Asian origin, specially when contrasted with diverse hunter-gatherer groups, where haplogroup U (U*, U5 and U4) was clearly dominant.


The current research has unveiled several subhaplogroups within N1a and traced their possible origins, which are in several parts of Europe. These includes four of the six Danubian N1a individuals from Haak 2005. The other two belong to still undefined N1a* which does indeed have greatest diversity in West Asia, specifically in Arabia Peninsula but is also somewhat common in Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Italy) as well as in the Eastern part of the continent.

The evidence from phylogeographic analysis of N1a lineages emphasizes that European farmer N1a lineages might have been originated from different sources- from eastern Europe (for N1a1a1), from Near East via southern Europe (for N1a1b and perhaps for N1a1a3), and from local central European source (for N1a1a2). It is thus clear that Neolithic farmers’ migration into central Europe did not occur in a uniform way; indeed these results indicate that the Neolithic transition process was more complex in central Europe and possibly the farmer N1a lineages were brought in through the ‘leapfrog’ colonization process.

Detail from fig.1: new phylogeny of N1a.

The authors say that we suppose that the farmer lineages-DEB3, FLO1, and HAL2 might be derived from local communities and that they would have adopted the farming culture indigenously.

They estimate that N1a coalesced some 19,600 to 23,500 years ago in West Asia. Its subclades N1a1 and N1a1a1 may have formed between 6,800 and 10,700 years ago, already in Europe, while N1a1a2 may have coalesced in a later date: 3,400-4,000 years ago, making it a good candidate for a Neolithic-specific expansion.

Notice that I do not endorse these age estimates or any other, just mentioning them for the record - however I did arrive once to a similar estimate for N1a: 25,000 years ago. N1 was detected in an individual of Gravettian culture at Paglicci Cave in Italy.

Related older posts from Leherensuge (my old blog):


  1. Yes, the dates for N1a are a bit young - there is no archeological evidence of any significant migrations into Europe between the LGM and the advent of agriculture - quite the opposite, actually.

    I mentioned before, given the ~500 years-long Danubian hiatus in the advance of central European agriculture, the most straightforward model for what haplogroups were present in the subsequent population expansion is those that were local, then: i.e., from SE Germany, Bohemia, Slovakia and Austria to Hungary and the NW Balkans. Probably a mixed group, but not necessarily an extremely diverse one. And with the subsequent enormous expansion, some haplogroups were simply luckier than others. However, at the fringes, sub-Alpine, western, northern, and north-eastern haplogroups survived and would later be able to come in - especially the sub-Alpine ones from their own agricultural expansion. This is why there is no surprise that there seems to be little continuity: early CEu data sample just one of several bubbles in space and time.

  2. Agree with nearly all. A lot of people should start realizing that Neolithic does not automatically mean migration nor (in West Eurasia or South Asia) necessarily a direct mass migration from West Asia.

    One clear thing is that, even where migration is most apparent, as in Central Europe, there were intermediate focus of expansion with their own personality. Thessaly was one, including one of the oldest potteries in this part of the world. And, while it did receive major inputs from West Asia somehow, we still have not found where is that Asian origin of the Thessaly Neolithic. And who says Thessaly, says all the Balkans.

    But the Balkans, excepting Romania, the Adriatic coast and the odd but reduced Lepenski Vir culture, seems to have been rather empty before Neolithic, what should have allowed easier colonization. Then comes that hiatus you mention in the Hungarian plains and Slovak piedmont where Danubian Neolithic is formed as both similar but also distinct from Balcanic Neolithic.

    Besides pre-LBK appears right where the farmers wave should have met the hunter-gatherers, per epi-Magdalenian distribution. Your call of a locally generated founder effect makes very good sense: it allows for a Danubian-specific colonization, which is not a mere generic continuation of Balcanic colonization but a more or less distinct regional group, probably specialized in colder climate etc.

    And this makes me consider also the origin of Cardium Pottery Neolithic in the West Balcans (East Adriatic coasts, penetrating into most of Bosnia too). In this case, the culture is even more different from Sesklo type Neolithic (though the ultimate origins seem to be also in the earliest Thessalian Neolithic - Otzaki). IMO it is also a distinct original population, even if somewhat related (though in this case it may be less important because colonization was localized and assimilation generalized, per the archaeological record).

    And one can extend the reasoning to Megalithism in the West too.


  3. One question I do not have clear is why do you suggest a "Sub-Alpine" refugium for hunter-gatherer haplogroups.

    Well, first of all Sub-Alpine is a very vague term, including SE and NE France, all North Italy, as well as the whole Southern German language area and also parts of Croatia and all Slovenia by the East.

    As far as I know the Alpine mountain areas were not really colonized with Neolithic (only gradually) and would have hosted at best a handful of marginal pastoralists and hunters who could never be any sort of demographic reservoir. In general the mountain areas are seen as "empty" from an archaeological viewpoint. It may be a bias but it also seems like the high montane areas were only exploited more in the Metal Ages than in Neolithic as such.

    The whole Northern and Southern subalpine areas were "colonized" with Neolithic from Central Europe: LBK in Austria, Bavaria and the old Duchy of Swabia, including Germanic Switzerland; and Cardial in North Italy from the area of Dalmatia-Bosnia probably. West of the Alps there was also Cardial/Epicardial though in this case I do not think "colonization" is the correct word.

    However notice that there was "Cardial" Neolithic in South Germany that overlapped Danubian. It's known as La Hoguette, and correlates conceptually with other non-Danubian minor Neolithic cultures in NW France and the Low Countries.

    In general, it'd seem that Cardial and later also Megalithic Neolithic had more room to incorporate (even massively so) native hunter-gatherers than Danubian Neolithic. South French Neolithic is in any case totally Native, except for two coastal locations near Nice. Italian one is less clearly native but also, specially in the South, and in Iberia the case for Paleolithic continuity in Cardial is strong except in the area of Valencia-Alicante and some other isolated "colonies".

    What I'm trying to argue, very diffusely, is for Western Epicardial senso lato, including Megalithism and local "Belgican" Neolithic cultures, as the real refugium, in which Danubian Neolithic would rather be a wedge but not at all the norm. However the term "subalpine" does not seem to fit too well, really.

  4. Yes, I did not express myself well. Basically what I meant was geographically: everything roughly south of the Alps' latitude, and west of the Balkans (i.e., including Italy, Iberia, and southern France).

    And of course you are right, the "tongue" of Danubian spreading west was surrounded by Cardial/ La Hoguette. It indeed looks like Danubian did not incorporate many native hunter-gatherers on its way, but IMO it also started from a population that largely was, originally (although perhaps quite sedentary, with a large amount of sustenance from fishing in the many local lakes).

    And in the same sense, it is not clear whether Cardium/La Hoguette did, either: again, they may have just started as largely local, native populations - each creating their own neolithic bubbles.

    BTW, and out of context, the first Alpine region settled after LGM seems to have been the Swiss region, from what I know.


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