The sons of Japeth divide the world between them


Most “old hands” in the discipline of historical population genetics remember when grand narratives were constructed out of Y chromosomal haplogroup distributions. One of the most distinctive ones is that of haplogroup R1b, which exhibits very high frequencies in the west of Europe, as high as more than 80% among the Basques. Because the Basques are the only non-Indo-European population which exists today in Western Europe, it was presumed that they are more ancient than other groups. And, their high frequency of R1b (along with other peculiarities such as a high frequency of Rh-), was taken to indicate that they reflected the genetics of Europe’s aboriginal hunter-gatherers when farming arrived.

This turned out to be wrong in a lot of details. Genetically the Basques are quite like the European farmers from Anatolia who replaced the original hunter-gatherers. Less so than the Sardinians, as they have more hunter-gatherer ancestry. But instead of being the language of European hunter-gatherers, it seems plausible that the Basque language descends from that of the Cardial culture.

Distribution of R1a

So what about R1b? Well, it turns out that the particular branch of R1b that is very common in Europe is not found in the Neolithic farmer populations. Rather, its arrival in places like Britain and Iberia is associated with cultures with original origins in the Eurasian steppe. In the eastern half of Europe and in Central Asia and South Asia, R1a expanded in the period after 2000 BC.

New Scientist is now quoting David Reich has having asserted that this population turnover in Iberia occurred ~4,500 years ago. Reich, in particular, is emphasizing the disruption in the Y chromosomes. I don’t know if Reich’s group is coming out with new data, but we do have some evidence on this in Iberia from earlier publications.

This figure from Four millennia of Iberian biomolecular prehistory illustrate the impact of prehistoric migrations at the far end of Eurasia basically says it all. Around the transition between the Iberian Neolithic and the Bronze Age a new element came into the Iberian peninsula with affinities with populations to the north and east. The samples are not dense enough in terms of time to give a precise date, but this paper seems to suggest somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 years as the most likely interval. The Reich group probably has more samples and so can date it more precisely. Interestingly, ~4,500 years ago is exactly when R1b bearing males arrived, and there was massive genetic turnover, in the British Isles. Perhaps the correlation between these two regions being overrun at the same time is not coincidental?

Please remember that the post-steppe Corded Ware people had settled in Central Europe by 2900 BC. Time elapsed between this period, and the later expansion west and south. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if the arrival on the eastern steppe of people with ancestry from Europeans (that is, they had some ancestry from Neolithic Europeans) was also due to changes in Central Europe around 2500 BC.

With the demographic superstructure getting really into place for Europe, it’s really time that archaeologists, cultural evolutionists, and anthropologists, start to think about how these processes occurred.

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21 thoughts on “The sons of Japeth divide the world between them

  1. Just one other non-Indo-European group in Western Europe: the Maltese. They speak a Semitic language, although it is written in the Latin alphabet.

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  2. OK; as a South Indian with no biblical education, I will ask; who is Japeth? I am thinking of him as son of the drunk guy whose name i forget and father of original Anatolians, then it does not appear that his sons took over Iberia. Unless this is just a literal allusion, and not truly relevant to the R1B story. I do not get biblical stuff.

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  3. What is the theory for what advantage allowee the R1A-carrying steppe ppls to replace the ENF/WHG hybrid farmers, horses? Is there evidence for horse riding or chariotry in Spain ~2,500 BC?

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  4. It’s a literary allusion from the Bible. God sends a flood to wipe out the entire population of the world except for one old man, Noah, and his three sons and their wives. It follows that the entire population of the world now must be descended from those three sons. One of them was named Japeth, and he is traditionally supposed to be the ancestor of all living Europeans.

    When you hear that Europeans who are prejudiced against Jewish and Arabic people are called “anti-Semitic”, that comes from the same story, because one of the other sons was called Sem, and his supposed descendants are called the “Semites”.

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  5. You were right about the drunk guy, Noah, and Anatolia, it’s just that tradition extends it a bit (only three sons, and a lot of the world to cover).

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  6. Razib, I know you took the admixture bar chart graphic from another source, but have you or other workers in the field considered, when there are only three components in the 100% total, making a ternary diagram?

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  7. The steppe-Beaker (as opposed to the early pottery apparatus) expansion into Iberia is pretty clear by now but there are still obvious questions left, like what kind of imprint the early Beaker intrusion (genetic and linguistic) leaves in the long-run as compared to possible secondary expansions from Central Europe and what differences exist in Y-DNA and autosome between historical non-IE and IE Iberians (and neighbors). The Basques seem to represent something of the former and they have comparable levels of R1b after all. The lack of long-term Romanization compared to the rest of Iberia seems easier to explain.

    Also to answer Jim’s question, some aDNA papers have used ternary plots by now, e.g. Mathieson et al.’s exploration of Eastern European hunter-gatherers comes to mind as a recent example.

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Luca_Sineo/publication/323322817/figure/fig1/AS:614308237041689@1523473905365/Structure-and-change-in-hunter-gatherer-related-populations-Inferred-ancestry.png

    Vijay, as Jim mentioned “Japhetic” came to extend to Europe in general and it often was used to describe what we call “Indo-European” back in the 19th century.

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  8. Razib, I know you took the admixture bar chart graphic from another source, but have you or other workers in the field considered, when there are only three components in the 100% total, making a ternary diagram?

    reich lab loves tenary. just in supplements. but if i can get the raw data i’ll be fine with tenary. do you think it’s more illustrative?

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  9. How is possible that a population with a 80% R1b has only 15%-20% of Autosomal DNA of invaders?

    Y is a single nonrecombining locus. if you have strong social selection for males only from a particular lineage its autosomal signal can be diluted much faster than Y. think of it like natural selection on a locus.

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  10. With the bars, I struggle to read the story; who’s like who, who’s not like who, and who’s like others but with an interesting twist.

    It has to be admitted that ternary plots have a limited range of usefulness: wherever there are exactly three variables which make a fixed total, leading to two degrees of freedom. Add a fourth component, and it’s back to the bars again. In such a situation, it’s possible a parallel coordinates plot might be useful.

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  11. How is possible that a population with a 80% R1b has only 15%-20% of Autosomal DNA of invaders?

    Y is a single nonrecombining locus. if you have strong social selection for males only from a particular lineage its autosomal signal can be diluted much faster than Y. think of it like natural selection on a locus.

    https://twitter.com/gcochran99
    Complete male replacement in one generation would leave the population 50% invaders autosomally and 100% on the Y-chromosome.

    According to the article, actual stats were 40% invader autosomally and 100% of Y-chromosomes. Close.

    Today Basque and the rest of Iberian population only has 15%-20% of Autosomal DNA of invaders.

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  12. Two other non-Indo-European groups in Western Europe – the Finns and the Sami (formerly known as Lapps).

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  13. When did “whites” = Western Europe? This is an annoying trend that seems to be bleeding off from white nationalism.

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  14. I think many people think of “Western Europe” in political terms. Finland would fall in Western Europe because it’s never been under Communist rule, while Estonia, which is across the sea from Finland and speaks a similar language, would not be because it was part of the USSR. Malta on the other hand lies just below Italy, so its position as part of Western versus Eastern European would not be in dispute.

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  15. two points

    1) maltese, and the finno-ugric languages are not indigenous to europe (the genetics makes it clear finnic people arrived > 1500 BC…after european-europeans).

    2) my own view is to use the latin-vs-eastern rite division. which would include finland and estonia (catholic->lutheran). but historically estonia and finland were also part of the greater slavic east, though never slavic, and the earliest christians in finland were orthodox karelians. while norway faces west, sweden, and especially finland, have had an eastward focus since 900 AD. this is true economically, and in terms of cultural interaction.

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  16. There’s a big debate over whether Finns should be considered Scandinavians. Of the Finns I know, some say yes, others no. However, the reality is that in terms of language, Finns have much more in common with Estonians, who are not considered Scandinavians, than with Swedes, Norwegians or Danes.

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