T2A1A in Ancient DNA

Recently the kind admins at the U106 forum posted about a DNA data update from David Reich with updated Y haplogroups in it (2019 ISOGG groups). A quick glance at some of the .anno files shows 5 R-Z18 men who seem to be on the R-L257 branch and one R-DF95 man. The data contains both ancient and modern DNA and it turns out the R-DF95 man is the modern tester from Utah, which I think was the first R-DF95 person discovered. There is a lot of data there and others may find different results but in the easy finds…no DF95 ancient DNA. I’m always waiting for one of our brethren to show up in some Saxon village, Viking mass grave, or post-Norman dig site, but no luck this time.

T2A1A mitochondrial DNA though does appear several times along with some cultural notes, age dating, and latitude and longitude coordinates for the gravesites. I covered some of these in my previous post about my all mother, but several are new to me too.

I dug up an NCBI article that estimates that T2a1a first appears around 6000 years ago, so roughly 4000 BCE and moves into Europe during the neolithic from the near east (ncbi article). That makes 4k BCE the date to beat for ancient DNA samples. The samples in this data are about 1000 years away from that source, so we catch T2a1a while it is on its journey.

For reference here is “the near east”

Thanks Near East History Podcast: https://www.neareasternhistorypod.com/episodes/episode-1-before-the-beginning

I grabbed the locations and images with help from google maps and gps-coordinates.net. With images of locations, I tried to get as close as I could. Many of these gravesites are near modern-day towns and some are within a current city.

The Steppe Influence

Near Yelo Russia Roughly 3000-2900 BCE (Before Common Era aka BC).

It is hard to imagine these places, so I’ve tried to grab pictures from google maps that are near the areas of the burials. Here are a few pictures that were taken in or near Yelo in the Altai Republic in Russia.


There are two men and one woman in different digs (Elo 1 and Tyumechin 1) all listed as “Russia_Afanasievo”. Tomsk_1950 (sample I5269), Tomsk_1952 (sample I5271) and Tomsk_1959 (sample I5273). These were the oldest T2a1a people in the data set.

Wikipedia has a nice article on the Afanasievo culture, linking it to the Yamnaya or a proto-Yamnaya culture. The Yamnaya live large in the Y Haplogroup R world as movers and shakers in Europe. Here is a migration map for the Yamnaya that shows Afanasievo off to the east in orange around 3000 BCE (marked as -3000). The article talks about them being an early offshoot creating artifacts dated to around 3300 BCE.

The oldest T2a1a in the data set is from a far eastern arm of an early Yamnaya or proto Yamnaya migration, suggesting to me that they traveled with the Yamnaya. I want to point out the proximity of the Yamnaya central dot on the map to “the near east” just south of it.

By Joshua Jonathan – This file has been extracted from another file: Yamnaya Steppe Pastoralists.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97086608

The Afanasievo owned domesticated cattle, horses, sheep, and goats, used wheeled vehicles, and worked metal. Allentoft is cited as coming to the conclusion that the Afanasievo were genetically indistinguishable from the Yamnaya and later studies looking at Y and MT DNA concluded there was an initial migration from the pontic steppe.

I can never seem to remember where the pontic steppe is although it seems to be pretty important to my genetic journey. Here is a map of that (and again to the south of it “the near east”).

By Terpsichores – Own work Source :background : Natural Earth II (public domain) by Tom Patterson, US National Park Servicenational borders : File:NED worldmap 110m.svg by Gringerecoregion shape : File:Western palearctic biomes.svg by Terpsichores, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22346006

Near Remontnoye or Elista in Kalmykia Russa circa 2900 – 2100 BCE

These are RISE547 and RISE552 (both male) that I mentioned in “My All Mother“. They are listed as Yamnaya culture. Here is their burial pin followed by a map of the Yamna Culture (also called the pit grave culture) from Wikipedia.

Remontnoye/Elista Kalmykia Russia Yamnaya culture dig site
Yamna cultural boundaries in relationship to maykop to the south.
By Joostik – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24429966

For some context, these T2a1a people are in the Yamna heartland, 4000 km from their cousins near Yelo.

Estonia Near Ardu 2800 to 2500 BCE

Listed as Ardu1, male Corded Ware culture (CWC). Looking for some information on whether the T2a1a person was a local or migrated in I found this in an article from Current Biology: “The CWC individuals displayed a more diverse set of mitochondrial hgs, including H5a, T2a, and J1c, that first appeared in Europe during the Neolithic. ”

Remontnoye to Ardu is roughly 2100 km

Later in the article: “The Estonian CWC individuals on the other hand clustered closely together with a bulk of modern as well as LNBA (Late Neolithic/Bronze Age) populations from Europe, consistent with being associated with the migration of Yamnaya culture people from the Steppe region of the Eastern European Plain.

Interestingly, CWC people showed a higher affinity to Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer (CHG) DNA than to European Hunter-Gatherer DNA unlike earlier people in the area and people living there today.

These CWC people carried a “clear Steppe ancestry with some minor Anatolian contribution, most likely absorbed through female lineages during the population movements”.

They conclude that the genetic evidence shows that farming did not arrive through a slow migration of Anatolian farmers or through cultural exchange, but with a migration of Steppe people into Estonia (current biology article).

I take this to mean that T2a1a wasn’t resident in Estonia at the time It was carried there with the Yamnaya migration (along with farming and animal husbandry).

ardu1 map pin in northern estonia
Ardu1 map pin in Estonia
Ardu area forest with modern cabin
Ardu area with modern cabin

Amesbury Down, England 2500 – 1700 BCE

Listed as I2459 female (2500 to 2100 BCE) and I2460 female (2100 to 1700 BCE) from the Beaker Culture.

Almost 4000 km west from Remontnoye (using that as our rough center point in the data) are Amesbury Bell Beaker burials that appear to tell the story of a fairly dramatic bronze age replacement of neolithic people in Britain.

Amesbury Down pin on map southern England.
Amebury Down pin
Stonehenge at amesbury
Stonehenge at Amesbury.

This paper at ncbi contains the graves of I2459 and I2460 as part of its evidence and suggests a 90% replacement of the local population in Britain with people who have steppe ancestry and move in from the continent. Among the beaker burials, they see new MTDNA haplogroups that were present in beaker associated populations from continental Europe but not in Neolithic Britain, suggesting that both men and women were involved in this population replacement.

According to the tables other branches of T2 (T2b, T2c, T2f) existed in Neolithic Britain, but T2a1a seems to be limited to these bronze age samples. That makes some sense when you consider that T2a1a appears to be fairly young at 6000 years ago while T2a1b appears circa 13000 years ago, T2f roughly 17000 years ago.

As a side note, the authors also tracked alleles that are associated with reduced skin and eye pigmentation (rs16891982 in SLC45A2 and rs12913832 in HERC2/OCA2) and found a considerable increase in frequency in the beaker and bronze age remains. The arrival of migrants associated with Beaker culture altered the pigmentation of British populations. Lactose tolerance still was not popular at the time though.

That analysis lines up with isotope analysis of the Amesbury Archer that suggested a childhood in the alps before settling in Britain.

Near Norra Asum, Sweden roughly 1500 – 1300 BCE

Listed as RISE210 female, Nordic Bronze Age actual burial place is Ängamöllan. RISE210 is part of a dataset used to examine population genomics in bronze age Europe and draws some conclusions on Indo-European language groups and population movements. New Perspectives on the Bronze Age talks about RISE210 more specifically as a person in a gallery grave (along with several others) from the early bronze age. If I’m reading it correctly RISE210 has a very normal atDNA makeup for a European in the bronze age with Caspian-Steppe heritage owed to the Yamnaya but is likely not a local. She is also listed as a commoner based on burial style and a lack of grave goods. This shows that there was high mobility among different social classes. The paper suggests that the changes in the style of burials suggest that there was an intense exchange of people and goods from south Germany and West-Central Europe.

RISE210 near Norra Asum in southern Sweden.
RISE210 map pin
field near Norra Asum Sweden with some distant trees and large stones

The conclusion I draw from these finds is that T2a1a is kind of a latecomer in Europe and seems to be pushed around the continent riding the wave of Steppe influence both east and west, and as far north as Sweden over the course of centuries.

In this particular set of data, beyond this point, there is a big leap in time. Roughly 2000 years until we pick up a saxon grave.

In the Common Era

Oakington, South Cambridgeshire, England 400 to 600 CE (AD basically).

I0774 Early Medieval Saxon female. Listed in this article from Nature as O3 showing mixed heritage, likely Danish admixed with the local British.

The authors write: “For sample O3, which appeared to be of mixed ancestry in the allele sharing analysis, we find highest likelihood for merging with the Danish branch. However, in this sample there is also a notably higher likelihood to merge onto the same Northern European ancestral branch point as seen for the Iron Age samples. This is consistent with O3 being of recently mixed indigenous and Anglo-Saxon origin, although we can not rule out more complex scenarios involving prior mixed ancestry of this individual during the Romano-British period.”

“There is some differentiation amongst the Anglo-Saxon era samples with samples O1, O2, HS1 and HS3 having highest likelihood of merging onto the Dutch branch while O3 and HS2 have highest likelihoods of merging onto the Danish branch, although in some cases the difference in likelihood between these two possibilities is small.” 

“In the cemetery at Oakington, we see evidence even in the early Anglo-Saxon period for a genetically mixed but culturally Anglo-Saxon community, in contrast to claims for strong segregation between newcomers and indigenous peoples.”  (Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history)

Of interest in the article was an observation that all the graves (despite different ancestry) were very similar with the best grave goods associated with a native British person. Suggesting that the new immigrants were often poor.

Without O3’s parent’s genomes to look at, it would be hard to know if her T2a1a had hitched a ride from Denmark or if it was the local British variety that had been on the island for at least 2000 years. In the data, she is listed with “no relatives detected”.

map in for I0774
graves at saint andrews church in oakington England.
St. Andrews church in Oakington

Salme, Estonia 700 – 800 CE, just up the road from the Viking Burger

Listed as VK481 and VK511 both males assigned to early viking period.

salme viking map pin north west estonia

I’ve stolen this quote from a posting in groups.io. In the powerpoint, VK481 is listed as a warrior in the boat burial.

The men of Estland came down from the interior with a
great army, and there was a battle; but the army of the
country was so brave that the Swedes could not withstand
them, and King Yngvar fell, and his people fled. He was
buried close to the seashore under a mound in Estland;
and after this defeat the Swedes returned home.”
– From A saga of Noble King Yngvar who met his end while raiding in Estonia around 600.
Written in 1225. (Viking ships 1 and 2)

There is some conjecture that VK481 was half Estonian at Anthrogenica. That may be total speculation, but since T2a1a was 250km away in Ardu Estonia (see above) 3500 years earlier it would seem reasonable that VK481’s mother may have been from the Baltic or from Estonia.

Looking at supplemental material from Population Genetics of the Viking World VK481 in table 6 shows the most affinity (almost equally) for Swedish and Finnish populations, but VK511 also T2a1a did not. His affinity was twice as high for Sweden which would suggest to me that both parents were from Sweden. We know from RISE210 above that T2a1a was in Sweden around 2200 years before VK481 and VK511 were killed in Estonia.

VK511 must not have gained enough interest. Other than general listings I can’t find a lot of information on him other than he’s in the same vicinity and has the same MTDNA as VK481, although a different Y.

wood carving of a viking figure at salme estonia.
wood carving of a Viking figure
map showing proximity of viking burger to the dig site.
Viking Burger just south of the dig site

Near Over Randlev Denmark, 850 – 900 CE.

VK339 Danish Viking period female.

from Population Genetics of the Viking World: “The cemetery is located approximately 1 km south-east of the parish village Over Randlev and 3.8 km from the coast of Kattegat. Over 80% of those interred in the cemetery were women.” VK339 did not appear in the ancestry estimates portion of the supplementary material so I’m unsure what populations she was most like (My suspicion is that she would fall into the Danish group but that could be wrong).

Of interest, the paper did say they had some struggles telling the difference between Anglo Saxons from the Danish Viking population.

“Outside of Scandinavia, the genetic legacy of the Vikings is consistent, though limited. A small component is present in Poland (up to 5%) and the south of Europe. Within the British Isles, it is difficult to assess how much of the Danish-like ancestry is due to pre-existing Anglo-Saxon ancestry” In the media going along with the paper, they specify that Denmark was particularly hard to place because its best match was the UK population probably owing to Anglos Saxon heritage. They speculate that the Danish Viking contribution to England was around 6% while Norway was around 4%.

VK399 map pin near Dyngby Denmark


Near Igaliku Greenland, 890 to 1100 CE

Early Norse Eastern Settlement. VK187 female 890 to 1020 CE. VK6 female 900 to 1000 CE.

From Population Genetics of the Viking World:

“Viking individuals with Norwegian-like ancestry travelled to Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and the Isle of Man”. “In terms of genetic ancestry of the Greenlandic Norse, we find evidence of admixture between Scandinavians (mostly from Norway) and individuals from the British Isles, similar to the first settlers of Iceland, which supports the archaeological and historical links between the Greenlandic Norse and the Icelandic Vikings”.

“The farm site of E64 is located in Igaliku Kujalleq, a small side branch of Igaliku fjord in the Norse Eastern Settlement. 12 features have been recorded on the site among which are a small church belonging to the group landnam churches that were established from the late 10th century-around 1000. The church yard was excavated in 2007-08 led by Jette Arneborg. The excavated skeletons were radiocarbon dated within the period from late 10th century to about 1200. Sr isotope analysis indicates that several of the buried were immigrants from Iceland“.

In the ancestry estimate material, VK187 is roughly half “Norwegian like” Roughly a quarter “Southern European” and then an eighth British and an eighth Danish. Neighboring graves like VK1 came back over half Norwegian with a quarter British and VK186 came back about half British with the other half mainly Norway and about an 8th Southern European. Definitely a mixed group in the later abandoned settlement in Greenland.

VK187 near Igaliku Greenland map pin.
sparse but colorful houses by the water near Igaliku greenland.
homes near Igaliku

Comparing Modern and Ancient MTDNA

With the older samples, I’m not knowledgeable enough to extract the datasets in a meaningful way. In fact, I looked at the instructions and specialized extractor software, downloaded some things, and made an attempt then decided I wasn’t there yet. So all my information on graves, etc, came from already extracted metadata, where they kindly list things like MTDNA haplogroup and coordinates. I couldn’t really compare the data on the MTDNA outside of the haplogroup they were assigned.

The data I later grabbed from Viking studies already had things like MTDNA polymorphisms listed out. All the T2a1a samples had the exact same set of “found” polymorphisms.

Since I’m an MTDNA noob, I compared the Viking polymorphisms to my results at FTDNA.

Looking at the rCRS values, they were an exact match to me except that I have a few extra bits they just didn’t have results for. I have 16519C in the HVR1 and 309.1C and 315.1C from the HVR2 section that didn’t appear in the Viking DNA. I’m not sure if that is significant or not.

Without the actual data from the older T2a1a, I’m not sure if there are any noticeable differences between what could be tested in 3000 BCE T2a1a and my test results today and without full sequencing of the Viking results, I’m not sure how close they really are.

At Family Tree DNA, I do have very many people who are a genetic distance of 0 (so a perfect match across all the available testing regions in MTDNA) with a wide mix of Americans, speckled with people from France, Ireland and Sweden and Norway and probably a host of other places I’ve forgotten.

There are T2a1a people who have larger Genetic distances from me though, people who are not a perfect match. I imagine if we were to compare apples to apples and full sequencing was available (or even possible) across the board, that there would be a range of matching and mismatching with these ancient people as well. Then we might know that a Viking sample was best matched with a 3000 year old sample from Estonia or whether it best matched a 2000 year old sample from Sweden.

Wrapping Up My Tour

One take away from mulling through all these papers (not necessarily related to T2a1a) is that people are wonderfully complex and that the human story is the story of movement. In some instances, it looks like wholesale replacement of genomes in an area with genomes from some other area. In other instances we see the mixing of people who subscribe to the same cultural identity, seemingly without a genetic component. We have people in England buried at Stonehenge from the Alps and Vikings with Asian DNA and people like the Danes and UK samples so admixed that they’re difficult to tell apart. Mitochondrial DNA is part of that story.

To me, given the resources I found, T2a1a is relatively young for Haplogroup T. Other branches of T are twice as old or older and already dispersed around Europe in the Neolithic. From what I see in T2a1a samples as a layperson is a “newer” branch (if 6000 years old can be considered new) that moves into areas, maybe along with the steppe people, in the early several thousand years of its existence and then may just be resident in these areas at low levels beyond that. In the graphs of MTDNA samples from some of these papers, T as a whole is no slouch, although smaller than some it forms a fairly sizeable group. T2a1a seems to be a smaller sliver of that larger T pie piece. My guess would be that is because it is a fairly new resident in these areas due to its delayed start.

Again these are my thoughts and conjecture on what I see, not scientific facts. Y DNA is much more granular and I don’t think mitochondrial DNA is as granular as it could be right now. In the past, with Y DNA you would get R1b or R1a for ancient samples. Now they are getting well down into the branches of R1b. Although I’m not as versed in mito it seems like my testing is more precise and has more values in different areas for comparison that these ancient samples don’t have. That makes me think it’s possible that further MTDNA haplogroups might be defined in the future as other coding areas get included in the ongoing analysis of both modern and ancient humans.

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