My paternal ancestors’ European journey – from the Caspian Steppes to Celtiberia

In a previous post, I used an analysis of my Y chromosome DNA to trace the journey of my paternal ancestors from Y-chromosomal Adam, who lived in West Africa around 275,000 years ago (275 kya), to the founder of the R1b sub-haplogroup R-L23, who was born on the Caspian around 4,400 BC (6.4 kya). In this post, I continue my paternal ancestral journey to the most recently identified haplogroup founder: a Celtiberian living in what is now Portugal around 510 BCE. The sequence of Y SNPs defining my haplotree are shown in the following map. It summarizes this journey from R-L23 (4,400 BCE) to the most recent haplogroup founder (510 BCE), and continues on from the map published in the previous post.

There is an immense amount of recent research on European Bronze Age genetics and migrations and a very considerable unfinished debate on how to interpret the evidence. New evidence is being published almost weekly, as increasing numbers of ancient European remains are analysed and Y haplogroup identified. So this post will only aim to describe the big picture as best I can summarize it, and details and perhaps even some of the big picture will likely change in the future.

As described previously (tracing-my-paternal-ancestors-through-y-dna), mutations on the Y-chromosome identify a sequence of haplogrou, each founded by one of my paternal line male ancestors. The estimated dates for haplogroup founders shown on the map are mostly taken from the SNP Tracker [1] and are interpolated from the dates in the Y haplotree on The latter use the updated method of Adamov et al [2] to estimate ages, based on the average SNP mutation rate parts of the Y chromosome expected to be stable in the mutation rate. Note that there is relatively large uncertainty in age estimates and locations of Y haplogroups. For calculating approximate degree of great-grandfatherhood, I have assumed that my average paternal line generation length is 31 years prior to 1000 CE, and 32 years after that [3].


The R-L23 haplogroup founder was born on the Western Steppe (Pontic-Caspian Steppe) around 4,400 BC (6.4 kya) and was around my great*200th grandfather. The Pontic-Caspian Steppe is  a distinct geographic and archeological region extending from the Danube estuary to the Ural mountains to the east and North Caucasus to the south. The Neolithic and early Bronze Age cultures in Pontic-Caspian steppe has been called the Kurgan culture (4200-2200 BCE), due to the lasting practice of burying the dead under mounds (“kurgan”) among the succession of cultures in that region. Horses were first domesticated around 4600 BCE in the Caspian Steppe, perhaps somewhere around the Don or the lower Volga, and soon became a defining element of steppe culture [4].

A kurgan on the Caspian steppe

R1b-M269 people had been living and blending to some extent with the local R1a foragers and herders for over a millennium, perhaps even two or three. The close cultural contact and interactions between R1a and R1b people all over the Pontic-Caspian Steppe resulted in the creation of a common vernacular, a new lingua franca, which linguists have called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). The first clearly Proto-Indo-European cultures were the Khvalynsk (5200-4500 BCE) and Sredny Stog (4600-3900 BCE) cultures in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. The R-L23 founder lived right at the transition between the Khvalynsk (5200-4500 BCE) and Sredny Stog periods (4600-3900 BCE). Around 99% of Indo-European R1b descends from this L23 haplogroup [4].


My next haplogroup R-L51 founder lived on the steppe to the west of the Black Sea around 4,100 BCE and spoke early Proto-IndoEuropean (PIE). Over the following two thousand years as the steppe people migrated westward into Europe, regional dialects of PIE evolved into most of the ancient languages of Europe and today most of the native languages of Europe are descended from PIE. Linguists have been able to deduce this evolution from comparisons of grammar and vocabulary and have not only reconstructed the language tree of Europe, but have also reconstructed a version of PIE which it is possible to learn to speak (see website here for self-learning tools). Basque is the only surviving Pre-Indo_European language in Western Europe.


The Yamna period (3,500-2,500 BCE) is the most important one in the creation of Indo-European culture and society. The Yamnaya, largely descendants of R-L23, were nomadic herders in the late Copper Age to early Bronze Age and the next haplogroup founder, R-P310, lived in the early Yamna period around 3,400 BCE, and was likely part of the initial movement west from the steppe towards Hungary. From around 3,400 BCE to 3,200 BCE the Yamnaya expanded across the Pontic-Caspian steppe and into Romania and then the Danube valley.

Corded ware vessels

Contact between Yamna people and existing Neolithic inhabitants of Romania resulted inthe development of the Corded Ware Culture. This culture, also known as Battle-axe-culture, was an enormous Chalcolithic (Copper Age) and Early Bronze Age  archaeological grouping, flourishing ca. 3,200 – 1,800 BC. The Corded Ware culture receives its name from the characteristic pottery of the era; wet clay was decoratively incised with cordage, i.e., string. It was a natural northern and western expansion of the Yamna culture, reaching as far west as Germany and as far north as Sweden and Norway. The Corded Ware tribes expanded from the northern fringe of the Yamna culture where R1a lineages were prevalent over R1b ones [4].


The expansion of R1b people into Old Europe was slower, but proved inevitable. Around 3,000 BCE, at the time the Corded Ware was reaching Scandinavia, the Bronze Age R1b moved into the Pannonian Steppe of Romania, Hungary and Austria. There the next haplogroup founder, R-L151, lived around 3,000 BCE, likely in Austria.  During this period the Yamna invaders interbred with the indigenous Mesolithic and Neolithic populations. The new Proto-Indo-European R1b people would have lost most of their remaining Proto-Europoid or Mongolid features inherited from their Caspian origins (which were still clearly visible in numerous individuals from the Yamna period). Their light hair, eye and skin pigmentation, once interbred with the darker inhabitants of Old Europe, became more like that of modern Southern Europeans. In contrast, the northern Corded Ware predominantly R1a individuals would have retained their original lighter hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Northern Europe [4].


The R-L151 haplogroup gave rise to two major subgroups, R-P312 and P-U106 which appeared to spread from the Western and Eastern Rhine Valleys. Around 2,800 BCE, the founder of my ancestral haplogroup R-P312 was born in the western Rhine Valley in Germany [5]. He was approximately my great*152nd grandfather. During this period, agrarian towns had started to develop, and gold and copper had begun to be mined. The archeological and genetic evidence (distribution of R1b subclades) point at several consecutive waves towards eastern and central Germany between 2800 BCE and 2300 BCE.

At that time, Western Europe was largely occupied by the indigenous Bell Beaker culture (2900-1800 BCE) which had arisen in the late Neolithic/early Copper Age in the Iberian peninsula. During this period Bronze Age Steppe cultures spread from Germany in the opposite direction towards Iberia, France and Britain, progressively bringing R1b lineages into the Bell Beaker territory.

P312 is the monster brother of the L151 family. As of end 2020, the FTDNA database had 14,406 branches for L151 and 10,783 branches for P312. P312 contains 71% of the branches in the R1b Y-haplogroup in the FTDNA database (the blue/purple region of the R1b haplotree wheel below).

I belong to a subgroup of the haplogroup R-ZZ12_1, marked by the blue star. Credit for the P312 wheel. David Vance May 2020, R1b Project, FTDNA.

The spread of R-P312 people into Bell Beaker territory was closely associated with the spread of the Proto-Italo-Celtic language and the distribution of P-312 in Western Europe closely matches the distribution of Italo-Celtic languages (see Map below).

Map showing basal P-312 distribution in European Y-DNA.

The “Beaker folk” in the west of Europe expanded eastward as the R-P312 expanded westward and where the two cutures interacted, a new Bell Beaker people emerged around 2500 BCE, the All Over Corded (AOC) Bell Beakers.

AOC Bell Beakers carried R1b-P312 and Steppes autosomal DNA. Adapted from Lemercier [6] and Tiger Walsh [7].


My next Y haplogroup founder was born around 2,600 BCE somewhere in the interaction zone between the Bell Beaker people and the Corded Ware people. I’ve shown the location on the map as southern France. Possibly the R-ZZ11 founder was among AOC Bell Beakers heading back towards Iberia.

The expansion of the AOC Beaker culture coincided with population explosion during the 2000 year period from 4200 BCE to 100 BCE, with over 60% of European males descended from three Y-haplogroup founders (R1b-M269, R1a-M198 and I1-M253) [8]. The R1b lineage is particularly prevalent towards the Atlantic and is mostly R1b-M269>L23>L51. Mitochondrial haplogroups are primarily those of Neolithic farmers and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, showing that the R1b lineages were brought by primarily male incursions into Old Europe’s Neolithic populations. A lot of maternal lineages (mtDNA) also appear to be of Paleolithic origin (e.g. H1, H3, U5 or V) based on ancient DNA tests. My maternal haplogroup is U5, and my maternal ancestors tracked the retreat of the glaciers into Britain at the end of the last Ice Age (see previous post here).

Based on the X chromosome data obtained mainly from western Corded Ware-associated individuals, it was estimated that, for every female, around 4–15 males migrated from the steppe [9]. In the west of Europe, the expansion was mainly a male migration intermarrying with Neolithic women (at best, or raping them at worst).  The R1b Corded Ware population that expanded west were mainly various subclades of R-L51 for Y-DNA.

How is it possible that paternal lineages were almost completely replaced in Western Europe by R1a and R1b Y-haplogroups, while the Neolithic and Paleolithic maternal haplogroups remain very common.  An article on [10] discusses this in some detail. Key factors probably included the higher status of the horseborne Bronze Age warriors from the east, the superiority and the gender imbalance of mainly male invading armies, and that the women are more available to the winners than the losers, and a genetic disposition to produce more boys than girls. These factors would likely result in fairly rapid replacement of patrilineal lineages in a few generations. Particularly if the Bronze Age warriors of Europe were similar to those of the Old Testament in killing most of the men on the losing side, and raping their women. Celtic culture lasted for over 1000 years in Continental Europe before the Roman conquest putting an end to the priviledges of the chieftains and nobility. This is more than enough time for R1b lineages to reach 50 to 80% of the population.


The DF27 mutation on the Y-chromosome occurred around 2,300 BCE in the Pyrenees region or north-east Iberia. This man was approximately my great*142nd grandfather. According to recently published research, DF27 is found in frequencies of 40% in the general population of the Iberian Peninsula and in particular spikes at 70% among the Basques [11]. Overall in France it accounts for between 6–20% of the population but has a high level in the Pyrenees area and is thought to have originated there 4,300 years ago in north-eastern Prehistoric Iberia as the Neolithic made way for the Atlantic Bronze Age. Along with R-U152 and R-L21, the R-DF27 lineage is to a significant extent associated with Proto-Celtic, Celtic and later Celtiberian movements. The DF27 subgroups in particular correspond closely to the various pre-Roman kingdoms formed by the Celtiberians. North-east Iberia is the most likely place of origin of DF27 [11].

Distribution map of haplogroup R1b-DF27 in Europe

The age of R1b-DF27 is firmly grounded around 4000–4500 ya, which coincides with the population upheaval in W. Europe at the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. Before this period, R1b-M269 was rare in the ancient DNA record, and during it the current frequencies were rapidly reached-with almost total replacement of Neolithic Y-DNA by Bronze Age steppe Y-DNA (see figure below). Today, R1b dominates Spain and Portugal, reaching over 70% in parts of Spain and up to over 90% in Northern Portugal. R-DF27 constitutes much more than the half of the total R1b in the Iberian Peninsula.

Proportion of ancestry derived from central European Beaker/Bronze Age populations in Iberians from the Middle Neolithic to the Iron Age (table S15). Colors indicate the Y-chromosome haplogroup for each male. Red lines represent period of admixture. Modified from Olalde et al [12].

R-ZZ12_1 and R-Z225

In the next century around 2,200 BCE, there were two further mutations in the Y-DNA of my paternal ancestors, leading to sub-haplogroup R-ZZ12_1 and then R-Z225. In the next 200 years, there were another three mutations, the last dated to around 1,980 BCE (with a quite wide uncertainty range of plus or minus 38%). These are shown in the map extract below, along with my final Iron Age haplogroup founder (c. 510 BCE), discussed in the following section.

Iberia did not become a fully-fledged Bronze Age society until the 13th century BCE, when the Urnfield culture (1300-1200 BCE) expanded from Germany to Catalonia via southern France, then the ensuing Hallstatt culture (1200-750 BCE) spread throughout most of the peninsula (especially the western half). This period belongs to the wider Atlantic Bronze Age (1300-700 BCE), when Iberia was connected to the rest of Western Europe through a complex trade network. During this period, DF27 radiated more evenly around Iberia and ended up, following Atlantic trade routes, all the way to the British Isles, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

I have assumed that my haplogroup ancestors during the period from around 2,000 BCE to 1000 BCE lived in the central northern part of the Iberian Peninsula inhabited by the Celtiberians and other Celtic peoples. The map below shows the ethnology of the Celtic Iberian Peninsula during the period prior to the later Carthaginian and Roman conquests.

The Celtiberian language The Celtiberians, Gallaecians, Astures and other Celtic tribes of Iberia predominantly practiced cattle-herding with seasonal movement between summer and winter pastures, protected by a warrior elite centered in the hill-forts, locally termed castros, that controlled small grazing territories. These populations spoke a number of Celtic languages related to the other Celtic languages of Gaul and the British Isles as shown in the language tree below.

The Borritora Plaques discovered in Spain in 1970 contain the longest known inscriptions in the Celtiberian language, and are dated to the late 2nd century BCE. They are written using a form of the Iberian alphabet adapted for the Celtiberian language. The Iberian alphabet was in turn derived in part from the Greek and/or Phoenician alphabet, but was unusual in that it was partly alphabetic and partly syllabic, with symbols representing consonant and vowel together (eg. separate symbols for ga and ge, as with Japanese kana). This possibly unique writing system is called a “semi-syllabary”.

Celtiberian inscription of the Borritora I plaque, dated to the late 2nd century BCE.

My most recent Y-haplogroup ancestor

My most recent Y-haplogroup ancestor lived around 510 BCE and most likely in the Celtic region of the Iberian peninsular. There are only two Y-DNA samples for this haplogroup in the FTDNA, mine and another from someone whose oldest known paternal ancestor was from Portugal. Two is the minimum number of samples needed to confirm the existence of a new haplogroup, these two must share the same set of prior mutations defining earlier haplogroups in the haplotree. Otherwise, the two samples are just people who happen to have the same random mutation in the Y-DNA, but are in different Y-haplogroups.

The Castro de Elviña is a typical fortified settlement of the pre-Roman, Bronze Age Celtic culture of the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula.

One of the Celtoiberian helmets discovered in Aranda de Moncayo. Dated to between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC.

While there is a wide uncertainty range for the date of this haplogroup founder, I will assume that he did indeed live around 510 BCE, or around 2,530 years ago, making him my great*81st grandfather. This was in the Iberian Iron Age, which began around the late 8th century BCE during which Celtic culture expanded across Iberia. Starting around this period, Phoenician and Greek colonies established some cities on the eastern coast of Iberia and following the Punic Wars of the third century BCE when the Carthaginians briefly extended their control over the interior of Iberia, the Roman Empire began itsconquest of Iberia in around 200 BCE. In 195 BC, part of Celtiberia was conquered by the Romans, and by 72 BC the entire region had become part of the Roman province of Hispania Citerior. The subjugated Celtiberians waged a protracted struggle against the Roman conquerors, staging uprisings in 195–193, 181–179, 153–151, and 143–133. In 105 BC, Celtiberian warriors drove the Germanic Cimbri from Spain in the Cimbrian War (113–101 BC) and also played an important role in the Sertorian War (80–72 BC). The Romans completed the annexation of the whole Iberian peninsula in 19 BCE.

From Iberia to Britain and Ireland

My earliest known paternal ancestor is my great-great-great grandfather Samuel Murphy who was born around 1790 and lived in Armagh in Northern Ireland. The family tradition holds that the family is of Scottish origin and that either Samuel or his father was a migrant from Scotland to Northern Ireland. How did my paternal ancestors get from Iberia around 500 BCE to Scotland and/or Ireland 2000 years later?

The Irish people’s own legendary stories of their settlement of Ireland have them coming from the Basque regions of the Atlantic European coast, albeit at a much earlier time.  It is known that there were Atlantic trade routes connecting the British Isles to Iberia and the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. And in the Iron Age Roman period there was substantial trade between southern Britain and the Roman Empire, particularly for tin mined in Cornwall and Wales. Some have argued that there was a movement of Celtiberian people northwards along the Atlantic Coast to Britain and Ireland [13], but the evidence for this is at best speculative, and the genetic evidence relates mostly to the earlier movement of R1b Celtic people northwards from Europe into the Isles.

My paternal and maternal DNA analyses show that I have a substantial maternal heritage from Paleolithic Ice Age hunter-gatherers and a substantial paternal heritage from Bronze Age R1b invaders from the Caspian Steppe whose descendants Y-DNA came to dominate the Celtic tribes of the Bronze Age Iberian pensinsula. This is confirmed by a recent FTDNA analysis of my autosomal DNA which estimated that 50% is derived from pre-Ice-Age Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, 41% from Neolithic farmers, and 9% from Bronze Age steppe warriors.

My R1b Y-DNA heritage leading down to Celtiberian ancestry may explain my relatively olive skin complexion and black curly hair, which when I was a young man in Sydney on several occasions led migrants from Greece and other Mediterranean countries to assume I was from their country.

Another presentation of the R-L23 descendent tree. My Y-Haplogroup is marked by the blue star.


  1. Rob Spencer. SNP Tracker. [INTERNET]
  2. Adamov, Dmitry & Gurianov, Vladimir M. & Karzhavin, Sergey & Tagankin, Vladimir & Urasin, Vadim. (2015). Defining a New Rate Constant for Y-Chromosome SNPs based on Full Sequencing Data. Russian Journal of Genetic Genealogy. 7. 1920-2997.
  3. International Society of Genetic Genealogy (2015). Generation length. ISOGG Wiki
  4. Hay, Maciamo. Haplogroup R1b (Y-DNA). Genetics, Last updated January 2021.
  5. Myres NM, Rootsi S, Lin AA, Järve M, King RJ, Kutuev I, et al. (January 2011). “A major Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b Holocene era founder effect in Central and Western Europe”. European Journal of Human Genetics. 19 (1): 95–101. doi:1038/ejhg.2010.146
  6. Lemercier, Olivier. (2018). Think and Act. Local Data and Global Perspectives in Bell Beaker Archaeology. 10.12766/jna.2018S.5.
  7. Tiger Walsh. Bell Beakers meets Corded Ware in Central Europe. R1b All Subclades Project, FamilyTree DNA, December 2020.
  8. Batini, C., Hallast, P., Zadik, D. et al. Large-scale recent expansion of European patrilineages shown by population resequencing. Nat Commun 6, 7152 (2015).
  9. Juras, A., Chyleński, M., Ehler, E. et al. Mitochondrial genomes reveal an east to west cline of steppe ancestry in Corded Ware populations. Sci Rep 8, 11603 (2018).
  10. Maciamo Hay. How did R1b come to replace most of the older lineages in Western Europe?com Genetics, Last updated January 2021.
  11. Solé-Morata, N., Villaescusa, P., García-Fernández, C. et al. Analysis of the R1b-DF27 haplogroup shows that a large fraction of Iberian Y-chromosome lineages originated recently in situ. Sci Rep 7, 7341 (2017).
  12. Olalde I, Mallick S, Patterson N, et al. The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years. Science. 2019 Mar 15;363(6432):1230-1234. doi: 10.1126/science.aav4040. PMID: 30872528; PMCID: PMC6436108.
  13. McKeown, Marie. Blood of the Irish: What DNA Tells Us About the Ancestry of People in Ireland. Owlcation. Aug 19, 2018.


5 thoughts on “My paternal ancestors’ European journey – from the Caspian Steppes to Celtiberia

  1. Pingback: My paternal ancestors – from Adam via ice age Siberia to the steppes of Europe | Mountains and rivers

  2. One possibility for your ancestral migration from Iberia to Scotland is through a Spanish auxiliary soldier in the period of Roman occupation of Britain.
    In my own case (R-FGC23535) my ancestor likely came, as an auxiliary, from the Iberian Vardulli tribe (identified on the pre-300BC Iberia map), near Bilbao/Santander, who were recognised as supporting the Roman army; the last known recorded site of Vardullian auxiliaries in the English-Scottish Borders area is at 3rd Century Bremenium, about 10 km from and on a Roman road to Holystone, Northumberland, adjacent to the Kidland Forest. This is where my bloodline surname (Kidd) was adopted ca.650 AD. My best SNP matches are Picart from the southern Pyrenees and Murphy (likely Scotland MRCA), of the same haplogroup. I’m not sure if the Murphy listed (kit #B424205) in the DF27 project at FTDNA is the same lineage as your Samuel Murphy’s – apparently not?

  3. Derek, fascinating information. I had thought that one of my Iberian ancestors might have been involved in the Roman trade with Britain, but had not thought of possibility of a soldier. I quite like the idea of a Celtiberian warrior ending up as a Roman soldier in Britain. I’m not sure where you got Samuel Murphy from. My earliest known paternal ancestor is Samuel Mathers (b.June 1797 Magheralin, Down, Northern Ireland) who was married to Mary Murphy (b. circa 1775, d. 1882 in Scotland). So I certainly have Irish Murphy ancestors, but not in the paternal line.

  4. Thank you. We match exactly up to R-ZZ12_1 and then I go R-FGC78762. I see your next sub-haplogroup is R-Z225. So the similarities end there but the migration pattern to the United Kingdom is similar. Mine ended up in Cornwall. I was told it was likely because of the tin trade. I trace my earliest Lander ancestor to 1640 in Cornwall. Edward Lander but I have DNA matches to Lander’s in Ireland. I appreciate that you have done my genealogy to Adam and waded through all the DNA that I found quite a learning curve. At one point and kept Googling each sub-haplogroup until I found your amazing post, Again thank you.

    • Richard, I’m glad you found it interesting. I was a bit daunted by the complexity of the migrations into Europe and the new studies being published all the time. I hope I’ve got the big picture basically right, but no doubt some aspects will need revision in due course. I’m hoping that as more y-DNA samples are analysed, that we might learn a bit more about the migration paths into Britain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.