Eurasian Yamna invasion possibly ‘wiped out’ the local men of the Iberian peninsula 4,500-years ago

A burial at the La Bastida dig in Murcia. Credit: ASME/UAB

Archaeological records have already proven how the Neolithic age and Early Bronze Age was known to have their fair share of human conflicts and massacres ranging from prehistoric Kenya to Germany. Well this time around, researchers at Harvard University have found evidence of a similar savage scenario that probably happened in the Iberian peninsula (comprising Spain and Portugal) around 4,500-years ago. According to a team of international scientists, the descendants of the advanced Yamna (or Yamnaya) culture reached the area and violently wiped out (or displaced) the local populace of males.

Now in terms of their origins, the Yamna (also known as Pit Grave) culture hailed from what is now modern-day Russia and Ukraine. These mostly nomadic people brought forth a plethora of advancements to Europe, including metalworking, horseback riding, and the application of wheels. Additionally, they also engaged in long-distance trading and were known to pack cannabis, thus making them the first known ‘drug-dealers’ in history who controlled a nexus across the Eurasian landmass.

Historians believe that the Yamna nomads, along with the neighboring Botai, made use of their equestrian skills to cover large distances on horseback. This mode of faster transportation facilitated the exchange of goods and commodities between the communities across Eurasia. At the same time, this unparalleled form of mobility (during the time period) also allowed them to infiltrate and even invade distant regions – as was possibly the case with the Iberian peninsula, circa 2500 BC.

Yamna Culture in Eurasia, circa 3200 BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons

To that end, the researchers have determined that the clash of cultures between the foraying descendants of Yamna (many of whom had spread across Europe) and the natives of Iberian peninsula was not at all a peaceful one. Consequently, the conflict resulted in what they have described as “a rapid and generalized genetic impact” – leading to the succeeding populations to have around “40 percent of their genetic information and 100 percent of their Y chromosomes from the migrants.”

Essentially, this means that, since Y chromosome is inherited from the father, the migrants established their supremacy and gained preferential access to the native womenfolk – thereby suggesting a severe depletion of the local menfolk, probably from the conflict. As for the potential reasons for this large-scale Y chromosome ‘replacement’, the researchers have speculated that the steppe Yamna people possibly had better technology, weapons, and most importantly – domesticated horses for greater mobility, thereby allowing them to establish their martial superiority in the region.  

Lastly, in terms of archaeology, the finds (from the time period) rather mirror this pattern of foreign intervention and subsequent hegemony in the Iberian peninsula. To that end, a detailed study analyzing the DNA of 153 individuals from across Spain and Portugal is expected to be published soon. Furthermore, a three-year-old project (headed by David Reich, a genetics professor at Harvard University) also shed light into how the Iberian peninsula was colonized by a first migration wave around 8,000-9,000-years ago and a second migration wave around 4,500-years ago – this time by a culture very different from the first one.

As a result, the archaeology reveals from the said period (circa 2500 BC) showed signs of a well-established social hierarchy that was in stark comparison to the seemingly egalitarian society of the previous Neolithic era. This translated to different burial patterns and prevalence of objects like weapons, adornments, and high-value artifacts. Reich had even suggested how the Indo-European language set of the peninsula (and the European continent) was possibly brought forth by the Yamna culture and their descendants, thus not only leading to genetic but also a cultural replacement of the older Neolithic populace.

Source: El Pais

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About the Author

Dattatreya Mandal
Dattatreya Mandal has a bachelor's degree in Architecture (and associated History of Architecture) and a fervent interest in History. Formerly, one of the co-owners of an online architectural digest, he is currently the founder/editor of Realmofhistory.com. The latter is envisaged as an online compendium that mirrors his enthusiasm for ancient history, military, mythology, and historical evolution of architecture.
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