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Thread: The curious case of the Deer Stone Khirigsuur Complex of Mongolia

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    The curious case of the Deer Stone Khirigsuur Complex of Mongolia

    Some of you might've seen me mention this topic before, I think it needs a bit more attention so I decided to make a thread about it. Note this is just speculation, but I'd like to hear the opinions of the knowledgeable wizards who frequent this site.

    In the article A dynamic 6,000-year genetic history of Eurasia’s Eastern Steppe
    we got a lot of new archaeogenetic information about the Eastern Eurasian steppe, and I think the DSKC were kind of overlooked by many, but they are a curious case.

    To give a quick rundown, the Deer Stone Khirigsuur complex (1300-750 bc) is an archaeological culture in bronze age western Mongolia of pastoralist people, presumably nomadic as no settlements have uncovered. These sites are known for two features, the beautiful deer stones as well as stone mounds, sometimes burials sometimes not. At these sites evidence for milking, as well as horse bones have been uncovered.

    Sounds kind of similar to a precursor of later Scythians right? Deer art and stones are a component of Scytho-Siberian cultures, as well as the nomadism, horses and mounds.

    In this lecture Dr. Bayarsaikhan Jamsranjav even links the demise of the DSKC to the eventual migration of Scytho-Siberians to the west. Now I am not going that far, but I do think they might have links to another fantastic steppe society, more on that later.

    So based on the models of Jeong et al, people of the DSKC are described as being a two way mixture of Baikal_EBA and Sintashta like populations. Baikal_EBA was the result of an ANE heavy migration into late Neolithic Mongolia and are basically 20% ANE like and 80% ANA. Note that in the Bronze age you did not really have 100% ANE populations anymore, so you're likely looking at a contribution from a population similar to the Okunev, which already had significant Ancient Northeast Asian ancestry.

    Sintashta, I don't have to explain I think.

    Not too surprising right? We know of Andronovo settlements that far east, and we have the Karasuk and Tagar cultures which settled in Southern Siberia that mixed with local populations in the relevant timeframe. This is likely why Scytho-Siberian samples later on nearly always have a sizeable east Asian genetic component. Let's get back to the DSKC however.

    An interesting feature about their uniparentals, is that most of their Y-dna is not linked to the Sintashta. The majority were of Q1a2 branches (like the Okunev), with some N1, and some R1a making cameos here and there. Their mtdna is mixed but I saw some U haplogroups in there. One of the R1a burials is described as "Large circular khirigsuur on steppe floor with 4 external mounds and 33 stone rings and animal bone offerings".

    So from my perspective, what I think was going on here was a cultural zone with Indo-Iranians on one end, and the native populations at the other. After lot's of exchange you essentially had Proto-Scythians on one end, Iranians with significant East Siberian admixture, and the DSKC people who were Siberians with significant Iranian admixture. The mixing was suggested to be quite recent, so what I think was that these cultures were patrilocal, and most (not all) of the unique ancestry was mediated via females.

    The DSKC seems to have been pushed to the west by the Slab Grave culture, as mentioned above, and after that period there is a bit of an archaeological gap until we reach the Xiongnu period. In Jeong et al. there is a Xiongnu cluster named Early_Xiongnu_West where quite a few samples seem quite similar to those earlier DSKC samples from a genetic point of view. A mixture of Sintashta/Andronovo, with a sizeable East Asian component. In addition you have samples who have extra West Eurasian ancestry from other sources, and I think it is likely that these are Central Asian steppe nomads. What I am thinking is that some of the DSKC descendants were involved in the formation of the Xiongnu empire.

    There are some other links between the DSKC and the Xiongnu, Deer art is a prevalent component of the Xiongnu materials. Some of the Xiongnu burials seem to be the same kind of stone mounds as well. Very superficial, but I think it is worth mentioning.

    From a linguistic perspective it seems ever increasingly accepted that there was a Yeniseian speaking component of the Xiongnu, as well as toponyms and hydronyms in Mongolia which suggest areas were inhabited by Yeniseian speakers.

    The Jié were a tribe that was part of the Xiongnu, who ended up ruling a dynasty during the Sixteen Kingdom of the Five Barbarian period. The Jié were described as having high noses, deep set eyes and bushy beards. They looked so distinct that the Chinese were able to genocide them and the other barbarians based on their features. And probably some Han Chinese with unfortunate faces as well. The Jié also have a single recorded phrase, which is best translated as a Yeniseian phrase. A Yeniseian speaking population mixed with West Eurasians could certainly be very distinctly western looking from the perspective of the Chinese.

    I think a Mongolian population which descends from a western WSHG migration with Q1a2 haplogroups seem to be a great candidate for being Yeniseian speakers. Maybe some of the haplogurus here could help me out, which Q haplogroup do the Kets have and is it close (or even downstream) to the ones we find in bronze age Mongolia? I also think that based on the Y-dna, the DSKC people were likely mostly speaking their native language, which I suspect was a form of Yeniseian.

    At the same time, another component of the Xiongnu were people genetically very similar to the Slab Grave culture. I wonder about their ethnolinguistic affiliations as well. In the paper, many the Uyghur samples are modeled as being part Sarmatian and part Slab Grave, but if this suggests actual affiliation to the Slab Grave peoples or just a relation to a relative of the Slab grave peoples I don't know. Perhaps they were Turkic or close related to the would-be Turkic speaking peoples? Maybe they were the Donghu, who were pushed eastwards by the Xiongnu confederacy?

    I am wondering if you guys are thinking the same, or if you have completely different views on the matter.

    Take a look at this beauty!

    deer-stones-66.jpg

    And here is a Xiongnu artefact from the Noin Ula site:

    85786c8871ab0952be71235440ee497e.jpg

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    It's an interesting topic and I thank you for highlighting this culture, which I don't recall being discussed to any great length previously on our platform.

    You've presented a lot of information that's interspersed with your personal assessment of what may be going on at sites like the DSKC - There's several topics for discussion, which I imagine is the reason why nobody's chimed in just yet (a lot to consider - Ergo paralysis via analysis).

    The model you present with DSKC seems probable, based on the presented info. An analogous event occurred over one millennia prior with the Okunevo culture (an outcome of Afanasievan pastoralists interacting with Taiga-Baikal HGF's).

    I'd think we'd need a lot more aDNA and robust modelling to infer the identity of these prehistoric groups. An argument could be made that one element of the DSKC spoke a nascent form of proto-Turkic (?pre-proto-Turkic) - Right place, right autosomal constitution (W. Eurasian-E. Eurasian hybrid pop that approximately matches what is observed in the Karakhanid, Kimak etc. Medieval samples), right time, right position within the Xiongnu confederacy's spread.

    It's an unfortunate reality that the material evidence in IA-Classical era EC Asia doesn't offer the sort of specificity that one may observe in places like Central Europe - The Eurasian steppe was a technological superhighway at that time and there's substantial overlap between some of these cultures, resulting in identity ambiguity (the Slab Grave culture is a good example of that).

    We probably do have enough aDNA to construct some preliminary models of inter-relationship between these populations that can be furnished with historical data. qpAdm, IBD analysis and uniparentals are our best bet.

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    I'm inclined to agree with the basic outlines of your assessment. I've been thinking along similar lines for some time now.

    I agree that an ANE heavy Paleosiberian descended population like DSKC is the most likely candidate for the ruling class of the Xiongnu confederation based on historical, genomic, and linguistic evidence. I also agree that the Slab Grave culture can be seen as a Proto- or Pre-Proto-Turkic speaking population, with a proto Mongolic speaking population further east, around the Khingan mountains.

    There have been some very limited results from Chinese studies of Xiongnu burial sites with tempting information that might support these scenarios. But we need more reliable aDNA analyses to settle the question. I believe that a substantial proportion of Turkic speaking peoples with Y hg Q are descended at least partially from Yeniseian and Iranic speakers who adopted Turkic languages after the fall of the Xiongnu confederation and the rise of the Gokturk confederation.

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    I think a Mongolian population which descends from a western WSHG migration with Q1a2 haplogroups seem to be a great candidate for being Yeniseian speakers. Maybe some of the haplogurus here could help me out, which Q haplogroup do the Kets have and is it close (or even downstream) to the ones we find in bronze age Mongolia?

    https://www.yfull.com/tree/Q-L330/ and in particular Q-YP1691. ARS001, ARS008 and ARS016 belong to L330.
    Unfortunately there still is no raw data from this paper.
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    Ibn Battuta about Asia Minor 1333CE

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    Quote Originally Posted by Afshar View Post
    I think a Mongolian population which descends from a western WSHG migration with Q1a2 haplogroups seem to be a great candidate for being Yeniseian speakers. Maybe some of the haplogurus here could help me out, which Q haplogroup do the Kets have and is it close (or even downstream) to the ones we find in bronze age Mongolia?

    https://www.yfull.com/tree/Q-L330/ and in particular Q-YP1691. ARS001, ARS008 and ARS016 belong to L330.
    Unfortunately there still is no raw data from this paper.
    Teşekkürler Afshar!!

    Interesting, 4 samples of the L330 subclades. It is good to remember however that the Ket have significant founder effects in regards to their Y-dna, and that the Ket are actually quite seperated from the the proposed Xiongnu Yeniseian languages (either Kottic or Pumpokol iirc), so you perhaps would've had a more varied amounts of Q1a2 in early Yeniseian populations. On the other hand, they likely were quite patrilineal and patriarchal back then as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CopperAxe View Post
    Teşekkürler Afshar!!

    Interesting, 4 samples of the L330 subclades. It is good to remember however that the Ket have significant founder effects in regards to their Y-dna, and that the Ket are actually quite seperated from the the proposed Xiongnu Yeniseian languages (either Kottic or Pumpokol iirc), so you perhaps would've had a more varied amounts of Q1a2 in early Yeniseian populations. On the other hand, they likely were quite patrilineal and patriarchal back then as well.
    The Yeniseian language to which language family can you classify it? , it does not belong to Turkic, Uralic or Mongolian languages, but I think there are mutual influences too, if someone is more familiar with it, I would be interested
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alain View Post
    The Yeniseian language to which language family can you classify it? , it does not belong to Turkic, Uralic or Mongolian languages, but I think there are mutual influences too, if someone is more familiar with it, I would be interested
    Yeniseian is clearly related to Na-Dene, it used to be the case that only the paradigmatic morphology proved this close relationship with there being almost no lexical cognates with regular sound correspondences, but this is increasingly untrue with new publications.

    Also, it has to be pointed out that present-day Kets are autosomally almost identical with Selkup with sharing of many uniparentals as well. How old this phenomenon is nobody knows.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Afshar View Post
    I think a Mongolian population which descends from a western WSHG migration with Q1a2 haplogroups seem to be a great candidate for being Yeniseian speakers. Maybe some of the haplogurus here could help me out, which Q haplogroup do the Kets have and is it close (or even downstream) to the ones we find in bronze age Mongolia?

    https://www.yfull.com/tree/Q-L330/ and in particular Q-YP1691. ARS001, ARS008 and ARS016 belong to L330.
    Unfortunately there still is no raw data from this paper.
    BAM files of these samples
    https://www.ebi.ac.uk/ena/browser/view/PRJEB31215

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryukendo View Post
    Yeniseian is clearly related to Na-Dene, it used to be the case that only the paradigmatic morphology proved this close relationship with there being almost no lexical cognates with regular sound correspondences, but this is increasingly untrue with new publications.

    Also, it has to be pointed out that present-day Kets are autosomally almost identical with Selkup with sharing of many uniparentals as well. How old this phenomenon is nobody knows.
    Regarding Kets and Selkups, perhaps something like this happened? Ancestral Kets way back in the days were more WSHG shifted than they are now, and in the taiga zones they lived next to the Ancestral Selkups, who were more Ngasanan-like/East Asian shifted than they are now. These two lived side by side and there was ancestry going both ways, with Kets being very patriarchal and patrilocal so their y-dna stayed largely the same, while their Nganasan like component increased due to exogamy.

    The Selkup were on the other side of this mixing and their WSHG then increased by mixing with the Yeniseian peoples. Perhaps they assimilated a greater amount and that's why you have a slight majority of Selkup with Q1a rather than N1, or perhaps they were less patrilocal than the Ket and were more accepting of foreign men marrying into their communities or something.

    Both groups retained their language, but their genetics became a lot closer. Perhaps this was recent (last 4 centuries) but maybe it had been going on for a lot longer.

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