[an error occurred while processing this directive]
On this page:

Origins of Modern Europeans

This page is about the origins of the peoples who are most predominant in modern Europe. They did not originate there.

Cautions: The available evidence (genetic, archeological and linguistic) is sketchy. We can not be sure we've interpreted it correctly.


We are talking here, about people with Y-DNA haplogroup R1b (mostly, R-M269) and mtDNA haplogroups H, HV, R, J and others.

Genetic Beginnings

Analyzing DNA from ancient specimens is tricky, complicated by chance of contamination with modern DNA as bones are handled and by degradation.

The Men

The R1b major haplogroup split off from its parent R1 as long as 18,00 years ago (18 kya). The split is believed to have happened in western Asia ("Middle East"). R1b is defined by the presence of the SNP mutation M343; R1b is also known as R-M343.

R1b has two present prominent geographic locations. The R-M269 variety is found in Europe and the R-V88 variety is found in Chad and surrounding regions.

Previous theories that R1b began in Europe as early as the Ice Age have been discredited by failure to find ancient specimens with this haplogroup in their extracted DNA. It is no longer a matter of the technology being too limited.

A subsequent mutation, to R-P25 (R1b1), is thought to have occurred in the Mesolithic Age. R1b1a (R-P297) is traced to near the Black Sea in the Neolithic. And, R-M269 (R1b1a2) -- now Europe's dominant haplogroup -- on the Pontic Steppes and the Copper Age (also known as the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic).

Evolution, as measured by genetic drift, hadn't stopped. Further genetic branching would occur.

The Women

The picture is murkier for the females, perhaps clouded by conquest. The mitochondrial DNA (inherited from mothers) includes at least three major haplogroups, H, HV, J and _.

H split from HV some 20 kya, as did HV. The parent of HV is R.

Ancient specimens seem to have multiple mtDNA haplogroups in the same site, although analytic problems may explain some of this.

Identifiable Milestones

The story of the people whose descendants became the most numerous in much of Europe has its best-known milestone in in an area of about 1500 square miles north of the Black and Adriatic Seas about 7,200 years ago (7.2 kya). There on the western part of the Pontic Steppes, lived a people we now call the Proto-Indo-Europeans; it’s unclear where they came from. Their language would father English, Greek, Latin, German, Baltic, Farsi, Pashto, Slavic and more than 400 other living languages, along with many now extinct.

Their lifestyles changed dramatically when they domesticated cattle, no longer chasing and hunting the beasts, but herding and caring for them. They remained nomadic, following the grass, but a meal was always near at hand. Tending the herds, they stepped into the Neolithic Age. (Later, they had copper tools and weapons.) They spoke a language, known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE) which fathered many of the world’s present languages, including English

Archeologists call them the Samara culture and know them mostly by the styles of burial and grave artifacts. The Samara dug shallow pits, sometimes covering the grave with stone cairns or earthen mounds,. They placed weapons such as flint and bone daggers. spear-points and arrowheads in the graves. Also included were carved bone figurines and pendants, some featuring horses or double oxen. Over the grave were shallow bowls containing heads and hooves of cattle, sheep and horses. Entire horses were buried too, perhaps as sacrifices.

Their successors in the area (the Yamnaya) buried the dead in shallow pits; still later kurgans put the dead under burial mounds.

The horse was important to this warrior society; horses were ridden and hauled wagons with solid wheels. Spoke wheels, for chariots in warfare, came later.

Pottery consisted mainly of egg-shaped beakers, supported in baskets or slings. It was decorated with incised or impressed wavy or zig-zag bands or lines radiating from the open mouth and suggesting the sun.

These changes – and perhaps the people themselves -- spread into the vast area ranging from southern Ukraine to Kazakhstan.

Pontic Steppe Migrations: 4000-1000 BC

By Dbachmann talk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=352915
In this diagram of migrations: The earliest time shown (4000 BCE) is the approximate beginning of the Neolith Age. The latest (1000 BCE) is the Bronze Age.
This map seems to show how adoption of new technologies (domestic animals, bronze,) enabled the people to expand into new areas.

From them, we seem to have inherited our custom of patrilineal respect. They sang songs of heroic poetry and worshipped many gods.

By 3,000 years ago, they’d given rise to the Hittites in Turkey and Syria, the Mycenean Greeks, the Corded Ware culture of western Europe, the Yamna culture of central Asia and the Afanasevo culture of southern Siberia. The Xinjiang mummies of western China may be among their easternmost descendants.

By 517 BC, a Greek geographer was writing about the Keltoi in Masilla (present-day Marseille)

Their Bequests to Us

Language. Art. Inventiveness. Sports?

From them, we seem to have inherited our custom of patrilineal respect. They sang songs of heroic poetry and worshipped many gods.