Spanish Chalcolithic mtDNA provides more evidence that Bell Beakers were non-IE


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Here is a new paper by Daniel Gómez-Sánchez and co-workers. They tested 19 mitochondrial sequences from the Burgos region in Castile and León, northern Spain, all dating from the late Copper Age (2050 to 2500 BCE).

The authors note the heterogeneity of mt-haplogroups compared to other Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites around Europe, mostly from Germany. Obviously mitochondrial diversity is so high in Europe and it is meaningless to try to find patterns from tiny sample sizes like that. Comparisons wouldn't be relevant with less than 500 samples for just one geographic area in one specific period ranging no more than a five centuries.

What I find more interesting to note here is the continuity of Neolithic lineages, even if proportions between haplogroups vary widely from one region to another due to the small sampling size. There were two great population shifts in European prehistory: the first one brought about by the diffusion of agriculture by Near Eastern farmers, and the second one caused by the Bronze Age invasions of Indo-European-speaking steppe people.

We have long debated on this forum (e.g. here and here) whether :

a) the first Indo-European R1b people were the Bell Beaker folks themselves, a hypothesis that a lot of people supported since Lee et al. 2012 announced that they identified two R1b individuals from a Bell Beaker site in eastern Germany dating from c. 2500 BCE.

b) or (as I suggested), the Bell Beaker culture was directly descended from the Neolithic (Megalithic) cultures of Western Europe, and was invaded and destroyed by the Indo-Europeans, who moved from Central Europe (2500 BCE) toward Atlantic Europe (2200 to 1800 BCE).

This new paper is interesting because the samples span exactly the Bell Beaker period in Spain and therefore provide valuable evidence on the matter. Not all regions of Iberia yielded Beaker pottery, but Castile and Leon was definitely a hotspot, and in fact the oldest (along with central Portugal) and the single largest Bell Beaker region in Iberia. This is lucky as it means that those samples should be highly representative of the original Bell Beaker folks.

Since no Y-DNA sample was tested, we have to rely on mtDNA as a proxy for the advance of steppe people. I have explained here which mt-haplogroups I believe are most strongly associated with the spread of the R1b and R1a branches of Bronze Age Indo-Europeans.

According to the map of this period I made 5 years ago, R1b should not yet have reached Iberia in the period 2500-2000 BCE. The Pyrenees acted a natural barrier that considerably slowed down the progression of R1b toward Iberia. R1b mostly likely spread very late during the Bronze Age in Iberia, between 1800 and 1200 BCE. So none of the mtDNA samples should be of steppe origin.


And this is exactly what we see. No haplogroup I, J1b1a, U2, U4, U5a1a or W. Unfortunately they didn't test the H and K subclades, so we can't know for sure for these. But the proportions are far more representative of a Neolithic population, with high percentages of H, K and X2, than of a Bronze Age steppe population, which would have comparatively much lower levels of these three haplogroups. The strong presence of T2b, U3 and X2 are all signs of a typical Neolithic European population. There isn't the slightest element that could hint that R1b was already presence in the region during the Bell Beaker period.

I mentioned this paper in another thread, but my view is that it provides evidence that the Bell Beaker folk were in fact an intrusive population in Iberia. The whole point of this paper is that these remains weren't Bell Beaker remains. As the paper says:

"To further investigate the transition between Late Neolithic to the Chalcolithic period, we have analyzed the mtDNA in a recently excavated population from El Mirador cave in Atapuerca, Spain. This site is contemporaneous to the Bell Beaker culture (BBC) but does not carry the diagnostic items of this culture that include the distinctive bell-shaped ceramics and weapons. In fact, the archaeological sites with Bell Beaker remains are very scarce in the Meseta Central of the Iberian Peninsula. It has been suggested [20] that the Bell Beaker culture represented a population movement from the Iberian Peninsula that could explain the genetic affinities between Central Europe’s Bell Beakers and present-day Iberians. Thus, the analysis of Iberian samples without the archaeological signature of the Bell Beaker culture such as El Mirador is of great interest to unravel the potential heterogeneity of the European Chalcolithic groups and its affinities with extant populations."
As I said in another thread, I think that this study of non Bell Beaker mtDNA in Iberia needs to be considered in the light of another recent archeological paper found here.

In the abstract of the archeological paper, it is stated "we conclude that in the Lower Estremadura (one of the most important regions in Europe for the discussion of the origin and diffusion of Beaker "phenomemon") the Beaker social formation with its own distinct cultural characteristics coexisted with local Chalcolithic cultures although never merged with them.'

There's a good discussion of the two papers at this site.

Autosomally they were probably Tuscan-like, like the guy analized from El Portalon **very close location and same period of time.
I think it is much more likely that Bell Beakers were a Y DNA R1b and mtDNA H people.

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