Cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal kin groups may have led to the post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck (Zeng et al. 2018)

A very interesting paper has just appeared at Nature Communications that potentially offers an explanation for the well documented explosions of certain Y-chromosome lineages in the Old World after the Neolithic, such as those that led to most European males today belonging to Y-haplogroups R1a and R1b (LINK). I might have more to say about this paper in the comments below after I’ve read it a couple of times. Emphasis is mine:

In human populations, changes in genetic variation are driven not only by genetic processes, but can also arise from cultural or social changes. An abrupt population bottleneck specific to human males has been inferred across several Old World (Africa, Europe, Asia) populations 5000–7000 BP. Here, bringing together anthropological theory, recent population genomic studies and mathematical models, we propose a sociocultural hypothesis, involving the formation of patrilineal kin groups and intergroup competition among these groups. Our analysis shows that this sociocultural hypothesis can explain the inference of a population bottleneck. We also show that our hypothesis is consistent with current findings from the archaeogenetics of Old World Eurasia, and is important for conceptions of cultural and social evolution in prehistory.

If the primary unit of sociopolitical competition is the patrilineal corporate kin group, deaths from intergroup competition, whether in feuds or open warfare, are not randomly distributed, but tend to cluster on the genealogical tree of males. In other words, cultural factors cause biases in the usually random process of transmission of Y-chromosomes, increasing the rate of loss of Y-chromosomal lineages and accelerating genetic drift. Extinction of whole patrilineal groups with common descent would translate to the loss of clades of Y-chromosomes. Furthermore, as success in intergroup competition is associated with group size, borne out empirically in wars [43] as ‘increasing returns at all scales’ [44], and as larger group size may even be associated with increased conflict initiation, borne out in data on feuds45, there may have been positive returns to lineage size. This would accelerate the loss of minor lineages and promote the spread of major ones, further increasing the speed of genetic drift.
In addition, the assimilation of women from groups that are disrupted or extirpated through intergroup competition into remaining groups is a common result of warfare in small-scale societies [46]. This, together with female exogamy, would tend to limit the impact of intergroup competition to Y-chromosomes.

Figure 6 shows a striking pattern of differences in shallowness of coalescence in samples from hunter-gatherer, farmer and pastoralist cultures. While hunter-gatherer Y-chromosomes from the same culture, and often the same sites, commonly divide into haplotypes that coalesce in multiple millennia, Y-chromosomes of samples from farmer and pastoralist cultures are more homogeneous and have more recent coalescences. The Bell Beaker culture has a high proportion of sampled males (81%) from a large geographical area (Iberia to Hungary) who belong to an identical Y-chromosomal haplogroup (R1b-S116), implying common descent from a kin group that existed quite recently. Some groups of males share even more recent descent, on the order of ten generations or fewer [64]. Such recent common descent may even be retained in cultural memory via oral genealogies, such as among descent groups in Northern and Western Africa, whose members can trace descent relationships up to three to four centuries before the generation currently living [40]. Likewise, from Germany to Estonia, the Y-chromosomes of all Corded Ware individuals sampled, except one, belong to a single clade within haplogroup R1a (R1a-M417) and appear to coalesce shortly before sample deposition.

Thus, groups of males in European post-Neolithic agropastoralist cultures appear to descend patrilineally from a comparatively smaller number of progenitors when compared to hunter gatherers, and this pattern is especially pronounced among pastoralists. Our hypothesis would predict that post-Neolithic societies, despite their larger population size, have difficulty retaining ancestral diversity of Y-chromosomes due to mechanisms that accelerate their genetic drift, which is certainly in accord with the data. The tendency of pastoralist cultures to show the lowest Y-chromosomal diversity and the shallowest coalescence would also be explained, as they may have experienced the social conditions that characterized cultures of the Central Asian steppes [42]. Indeed, the Corded Ware pastoralists may have been organized into segmentary lineages [65], an extremely common tribal system among pastoralist cultures, including those of historical Central Asia [66].

Citation…
Zeng et al., Cultural hitchhiking and competition between patrilineal kin groups explain the post-Neolithic Y-chromosome bottleneck, Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 2077 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04375-6
See also…
Late PIE ground zero now obvious; location of PIE homeland still uncertain, but…
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