Genetic evidence for the peopling of Eastern Central Asia during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

« previous post | next post »

Summary article on the genetics of the Tarim Basin and Dzungarian Basin and surrounding areas:

"Ancient Xinjiang mitogenomes reveal intense admixture with high genetic diversity"

Wenjun Wang, Manyu Ding, Jacob D. Gardner, Yongqiang Wang, Bo Miao, Wu Guo, Xinhua Wu, Qiurong Ruan, Jianjun Yu, Xingjun Hu, Bo Wang, Xiaohong Wu, Zihua Tang, Alipujiang Niyazi, Jie Zhang, Xien Chang, Yunpeng Tang, Meng Ren, Peng Cao, Feng Liu, Qingyan Dai, Xiaotian Feng, Ruowei Yang, Ming Zhang, Tianyi Wang, Wanjing Ping, Weihong Hou, Wenying Li, Jian Ma, Vikas Kumar, and Qiaomei Fu

Science Advances  31 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 14, eabd6690sss
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6690

"Xinjiang", a contentious political designation, may geographically be better situated by referring to it as "Eastern Central Asia" (ECA).

Because I have been primarily interested in the initial settling of the Bronze Age peoples and their languages, the quotations below focus on that aspect of the article, though the article as a whole takes into account the Iron Age and Historical Era as well.

From the "Introduction":

Archaeological studies of northern Xinjiang have revealed connections with the Afanasievo (~3300 to 2500 BCE) and Chemurchek (~2750 to 1900 BCE) cultures present in the Altai Mountains. BA [Bronze Age] cemeteries in western Xinjiang contain materials associated with mobile transportation and advanced metallurgy, which were likely derived from the Andronovo culture (~1700 to 1500 BCE) in the western Steppe and Tianshan region. There was a Central West Asian connection with Xinjiang in the BA through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC), which likely introduced agriculturally important crops, such as wheat and barley, and an East Asian connection through the Hexi Corridor, which introduced broomcorn millet in Xinjiang

From the "Discussion":

The BA around Xinjiang was predominantly represented by western Steppe–related ancestries, which included the EMBA Yamnaya/Afanasievo cultures. For instance, we find that the WSteppe_EMBA populations cluster with individuals from the Songshugou site in northern Xinjiang (NSSG_EMBA) in multiple haplogroups (U4, U5, H2, H6a, and W3). This is consistent with the Afanasievo-style relics at Songshugou (SSG) and the physical anthropology of an individual from this site (tomb M15) who shows European-like characteristics. We also find evidence for the influence of Chemurchek culture in BA Xinjiang, as suggested by the archaeological records of standing stone pillars with anthropomorphic figures around different cemeteries.

Xinjiang is associated with the extinct Indo-European Tocharian language, which was present from 500 to 900 CE in central Xinjiang based on ancient manuscripts. In general, archaeologists view this language as being associated with Afanasievo-related people in Xinjiang. Our results for the BA sites suggest a complex scenario whereby the Xiaohe site in the Tarim Basin has a deep ancestral connection with ancient Siberian populations, whereas other Xinjiang EMBA populations from the north and west show a more Steppe EMBA (Afanasievo) connection. Thus, probably, the Tocharian language came into Xinjiang with populations associated with Steppe-related ancestry, such as the Afanasievo.

Their findings are about what I would have expected on the basis of previous work.  I am glad that this more recent and comprehensive research supports the general drift of my understanding of the movements of people based on earlier studies in physical anthropology, genetics, archeological cultures, languages, and so forth.  Namely, the earliest inhabitation of northern ECA exhibits close association with cultures to the north and northwest, but as migrants moved southward, they began to display more Siberian and Northeast Asian characteristics, particularly in the matrilineal genetic structure.  As the region passes into the Iron Age and its more southern parts are settled, the population increasingly exhibits genetic admixture from surrounding parts of Central and Inner Asia.  With the coming of the Historical Era, there is greater affinity with East Asian lineages.


Selected readings

[h.t. Matt Marcucci]


  1. David Marjanović said,

    April 9, 2021 @ 2:12 pm

    This paper seems to answer a lot of long-standing questions! I'll have to read it ASAP.

    EMBA, BTW, means "Early and Middle Bronze Age".

  2. Scott P. said,

    April 10, 2021 @ 3:35 am

    I'm curious as to the logic behind the order of authors to this paper.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    April 10, 2021 @ 4:56 am

    Scott — Well, the paper says :

    Wenjun Wang¹,²,³,*, Manyu Ding²,³,⁴,*, Jacob D. Gardner²,⁴,*, Yongqiang Wang⁵,*, Bo Miao¹,²,³, Wu Guo⁶, Xinhua Wu⁶, Qiurong Ruan⁵, Jianjun Yu⁵, Xingjun Hu⁵, Bo Wang⁷, Xiaohong Wu⁸, Zihua Tang⁹, Alipujiang Niyazi⁵, Jie Zhang⁵, Xien Chang⁵, Yunpeng Tang¹⁰, Meng Ren¹⁰, Peng Cao², Feng Liu², Qingyan Dai², Xiaotian Feng², Ruowei Yang², Ming Zhang²,³,⁴, Tianyi Wang²,³,¹⁰, Wanjing Ping²,³, Weihong Hou²,³, Wenying Li⁵, Jian Ma¹⁰, Vikas Kumar²,³,† and Qiaomei Fu²,³,⁴,†

    ¹College of Life Sciences, Northwest University, Xi’an, China.
    ²Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
    ³Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
    ⁴University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
    ⁵Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Xinjiang, Urumqi, China.
    ⁶Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China.
    ⁷Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum, Urumqi, China.
    ⁸School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, Beijing, China.
    ⁹Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.
    ¹⁰School of Cultural Heritage, Northwest University, Xi’an, China.

    †Corresponding author. Email: (Q.F.); (V.K.)

    * These authors contributed equally to this work.

    Note that only the first four authors "contributed equally to this work".

  4. Scott P. said,

    April 10, 2021 @ 12:36 pm

    Note that only the first four authors "contributed equally to this work".

    Even so, the question still applies to both subsets.

  5. Jerry Packard said,

    April 10, 2021 @ 3:28 pm

    The findings of this article are not at odds with Chapter 2, 'Chinese Language Origins', in my soon-to-be-released book — now being indexed even as we speak — 'A Social View on the Chinese Language', Peter Lang Publishing.

RSS feed for comments on this post