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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I am Yamnaya

A study was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome by Lara M. Cassidya, Rui Martinianoa, Eileen M. Murphy, Matthew D. Teasdale, James Mallory, Barrie Hartwell and Daniel G. Bradleya (PNAS 2015 : 1518445113v1-201518445.) No, this has nothing to do with gaming, but it does relate to something I take a keen interest in [1] - genetics, genealogy and the history of human migrations as deduced through historical, linguistic, archaeological and genetic research. I am fascinated by the story of how humanity overtook the planet, and what we wrought - both good and bad - along the way.

This particular study caught my attention because it specifically relates to the Irish. My paternal lineage (Y chromosome) is Irish in origin, and I am always on the look out for information that may further explain my paternal origins. Specifically I come from the R-M222 SNP (Single nucleotide polymorphism, and in the latest test I had run the R-BY198 haplogroup exactly) line descended from the larger R-L21 branch. That puts me in the same lineage as King Brian Boru, which is fitting as my surname is Bryant which comes from that affiliation. However, those designations are a sort of short hand for the formal long designation of my paternal genetic heritage. That long designation tends to change over time as new SNPs are discovered, but last I looked it up the complete label was R1b1a2a1a1b4b. This is today's distribution of R1b, and below that R-L21 specifically.

The findings of this paper have a direct bearing on me in this long form haplogroup designation. But before I get into that, I need to summarize what the researchers discovered.

The researchers analyzed the DNA of four ancient skeletons found in Ireland. One was a woman discovered in Ballynahatty, Co. Down buried approximately 5000 years ago in a particularly old style megalithic tomb. The other three were men found on Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim buried about 1000 years later in early Bronze Age style tombs. In short, the woman comes from a completely different genetic background from the three men. And by this, I don't mean they come from different families or tribes. The come from completely different root human stock that originated in completely different parts of the world.

The woman's ancestry it what's routinely called farming culture. Somewhere between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago according, under the current understanding, agriculture was invented in the middle east. From there it spread to the rest of the world. By 3000 BC, farming had come to the island we know today as Ireland from people who had migrated up through the Iberian peninsula. These people had brown eyes and dark hair, and likely had darker skin than the Irish do today, and seemed to meld with the hunter-gatherer societies already on the island, converting them to farmers, rather than supplant them. Here is the neolithic world this woman lived in.

The three male skeletons have a completely different origin. Their ancestral DNA comes from the Pontic–Caspian steppe of Eurasia. More importantly, they were blue eyed, lactose tolerant, and probably fair skinned. Common culture has called these people Aryans, but scientifically they are known by the place they were first positively identified. They are the Yamnaya: a people who had domesticated the horse, and sheep, and probably cattle. They traveled in wagons, and had chariots. They drank milk, something no other humans we know of to that date could do - and not all humans to this day can do. They knew metallurgy. They are the origin of Europe's Indo-European languages. These three male skeletons' Y chromosome tells it all. They are all three R1b1a2a1 - just like me. That people's (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense as they were likely many, many different tribes) migrations are summed up in this map. 

Furthermore, this newly arrived group did not meld with the previous population as the farmers seem to have done. They kept the women, but they must have killed off the men. Those neolithic male genetic lines are no longer dominant in modern European populations to any extent, except in isolated areas like northern Norway and Sweden, though they are still dominant in the middle east from wince they originate. 

Now, as you can tell from all these maps, much of this information about the late neolithic and early bronze age migrations was already known. You may be asking yourself why this paper is important. It's importance lies in the verified ages of the burials. For the first time, this genetic evidence gives us the a time frame of when the Yamnaya migrations reached their furthest extent in Europe: between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. This may seem like a rather broad time frame, but it is infinitely better than no time frame at all.

In fact, it nicely coincides with other facts known to have occurred in that same time frame. For instance, the Hittite Empire arose on the Anatolian plateau during that time. The origins of Mycenaean Greece also come from that time. Both these peoples were documented by the master record keepers of the western Bronze Age: the Egyptians. The Hittites especially, with their horse drawn war chariots, made Egyptian life much more complicated than it had been before the establishment of the Hittite Empire.

But it was not the war chariot for which the Yamnaya people are most remembered. It is the fact they had domesticated sheep and possibly cattle. They were the first herders. When they moved into the middle east, this is how the Semitic peoples already living there designated the Yamnaya as being different from themselves. They even immortalized it in their second most ancient story.
Genesis 4 (KJV)
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13 And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
There you have it, highlight mine of course. The farmer/herder conflict in 15 verses. And from the genetic evidence in not only Ireland, but throughout Europe, we can surmise this conflict occurred many times and in many places. We now know it reached Ireland sometime in the 3rd millennium BCE, and it changed everything. And it eventually resulted in me. I am Yamnaya. [2]

[1] I have decided I will blog about more than just the games I play. I have other hobbies; other pursuits. I need to respect them as much as my gaming. If you like this new direction, please feel free to tell me so. If you don't, I'll still post about gaming at least once a week, so you'll still get something you like. Peace.

[2] This is my layman's interpretation of what I've read and know about my own genetic background. I am not an expert in genetics or the history of human migrations. If something I've said strikes you as incorrect, please share in the comments. However, I'd appreciate it if you don't call me an imbecile. We are all learning something everyday. ;-)

1 comment:

Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.

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