Dr. Alexey G. Nikitin
Professor of Biology
Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI 49460

Research interests
Phylogeography, human evolution, human migrations, molecular archeology

My primary research discipline is molecular archeology, which is the study of archeological material using scientific techniques to reconstruct the human past using fine-scale molecular resolution. Through the analyses of stable and radioactive isotope composition of material culture artifacts and human and animal remains, extraction and sequencing of ancient DNA, biochemical residue analysis of ancient pottery etc., scientists are able to peek into individual life histories of the people who lived on this planet before our time.

Our team has been using uniparental (mtDNA and Y chromosome) markers as well as whole-genome analysis to trace population affinities of human modern and prehistoric inhabitants of eastern and southeastern Europe. In addition, we have been refining radiocarbon measurements of ancient samples as well as studying the mobility and residence patterns by analyzing strontium and oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel and diet using isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.

The current focus of our investigation is on the prehistoric populations of the northern steppes of the Black Sea (called the North Pontic Region or NPR) and adjacent forest-steppe areas. This territory is of great interest to linguists, archeologists and cultural anthropologists because the NPR is the apparent source of distinct cultural and genetic determinants, the former including Indo-European languages and pastoralist economy, that displaced and replaced the Neolithic agricultural way of life throughout west Eurasia at the beginning of the Metal Ages. Our team has been investigating genetic lineages and isotopic signatures of the NPR inhabitants throughout the Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and early Iron Ages to uncover both local as well as continent-wide affinities to examine various models of human population dispersals that accompanied the shift from the Stone Age to the Metal Ages in Eurasia.


Selected recent publications (2009-current)

Mathieson I, Alpaslan Roodenberg S, Posth C, Szécsényi-Nagy A, Rohland N, Mallick S, Olade I, Broomandkhoshbacht N, Cheronet O, Fernandes D, Ferry M, Gamarra B, González Fortes G, Haak W, Harney E, Krause-Kyora B, Kucukkalipci I, Michel M, Mittnik A, Nägele K, Novak M, Oppenheimer J, Patterson N, Pfrengle S, Sirak K, Stewardson K, Vai S, Alexandrov S, Alt KW, Andreescu R, Antonovic D, Ash A, Atanassova N, Bacvarov K, Balázs Gusztáv M, Bocherens H, Bolus M, Boroneanc A, Boyadzhiev Y, Budnik A, Burmaz J, Chohadzhiev S, Conard NJ, Cottiaux R, Cuka M, Cupillard C, Drucker DG, Elenski N, Francken M, Galabova B, Ganetovski G, Gely B, Hajdu T, Handzhyiska V, Harvati K, Higham T, Iliev S, Jankovic I, Karavanic I, Kennett DJ, Komšo D, Kozak A, Labuda D, Lari M, Lazar C, Leppek M, Leshtakov K, Lo Vetro D, Los D, Lozanov I, Malina M., Martini F, McSweeney K, Meller H, Mendušic M, Mirea P, Moiseyev V, Petrova V, Price TD, Simalcsik A, Sineo L, Šlaus M, Slavchev V, Stanev P, Starovic A, Szeniczey T, Talamo S, Teschler-Nicola M, Thevenet C, Valchev I, Valentin F, Vasilyev S, Veljanovska F, Venelinova S, Veselovskaya E, Viola B, Virag C, Zaninovic J, Zäuner S, Stockhammer PW, Catalano G, Krauß R, Caramelli D, ZariFa G, Gaydarska B, Lillie M, Nikitin AG, Potekhina I, Papathanasiou A, Boric D, Bonsall C, Krause J, Pinhasi R, Reich D. The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe. Nature 554, doi:10.1038/nature25778.

Lillie MC, Budd CE, Potekhina I, Price TD, Sokhatsky MP, Nikitin AG. First isotope analysis and new radiocarbon dating of Trypillia (Tripolye) farmers from Verteba Cave, Bilche Zolote, Ukraine. Documenta Praehistorica, XLIV: 306-324. doi: 10.4312\dp.44.18.

Nikitin AG, Potekhina I, Rohland N, Mallick S, Reich D, Lillie M. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of Eneolithic Trypillians from Ukraine reveals Neolithic farming genetic roots. PLoS ONE 12(2):e0172952. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172952.

Juras A, Krzewinska M, Nikitin AG, Ehler E, Chylenski M, Aukasik S, Krenz-Niedbala, Sinika V, Piontek J, Ivanova S, Dabert M, Gotherstrom A. Diverse origin of mitochondrial lineages in Iron Age Black Sea Scythians. Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/srep43950.

Nikitin AG, Ivanova S, Kiosak D, Badgerow J, Pashnick, J. Subdivisions of haplogroups U and C encompass mitochondrial DNA lineages of Eneolithic-Early Bronze Age Kurgan populations of western North Pontic steppe. Journal of Human Genetics 62: 605-613. doi:10.1038/jhg.2017.12.

Lillie, MC, Potekhina, ID, Nikitin, AG, Sokhatsky, M. P. First evidence for interpersonal violence in Ukraine’s Trypillian farming culture: Individual 3 from Verteba Cave, Bilche Zolote, Ukraine. In: K. Gerdau-Radonic, K. McSweeney (Eds.), Trends in Biological Anthropology 1. Oxbow Books: Oxford, pp. 54-60.

Varzari A, Kharkov V, Nikitin AG, Raicu F, Simonova K, Stephan W, Weiss E, Stepanov V. (2013) Paleo-Balkan and Slavic contributions to the genetic pool of Moldavians: Insights from the Y chromosome. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53731. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053731.

Nikitin AG, Newton JR, Potekhina ID. Mitochondrial haplogroup C in ancient mitochondrial DNA from Ukraine extends the presence of East Eurasian genetic lineages in Neolithic Central and Eastern Europe. Journal of Human Genetics 57: 610-612. doi:10.1038/jhg.2012.69.

Lillie M, Potekhina I, Budd C, Nikitin AG. Prehistoric populations of Ukraine: Migration at the later Mesolithic to Neolithic transition. In: J. Burger, E. Kaiser und W. Schier (Eds.), Population dynamics in Pre- and Early History. New Approaches by using Stable Isotopes and Genetics. Berlin, pp. 79-94.

Nikitin AG. Bioarcheological analysis of Bronze Age human remains from the Podillya region of Ukraine. Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica 2(1): 31-36.

Nikitin AG, Sokhatsky MP, Kovaliukh MM, Videiko MY. Comprehensive site chronology and ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis from Verteba Cave -a Trypillian culture site of Eneolithic Ukraine. Interdisciplinaria Archaeologica 1(1-2): 9–18.

Nikitin AG, Kochkin IT, June CM, Willis CM, McBain I, Videiko MY. Mitochondrial DNA sequence variation in Boyko, Hutsul and Lemko populations of Carpathian highlands. Human Biology 81(1): 43-58.


Internet publications and unpublished resources

Ivanova SV, Nikitin AG, Kiosak DV. (2017) Steppe population in Central Europe in the Early Bronze Age, or the Journey There and Back (Степное население в Центральной Европе эпохи ранней бронзы, или Путешествие Туда и Обратно) (Internet publication in Russian, on Генофонд.РФ)

The questions of origin, development and transformation of archaeological cultures are often associated with the movement of groups of people to new territories. Special attention is paid by representatives of various sciences to the Yamnaya culture (YC), since it is with it that a number of researchers connect the migration of the ancestors of Indo-Europeans to Europe. Despite the fact that many archaeologists have abandoned the concept of H. Childe - M. Gimbutas about the Indo-European invasion of the "Kurgan cultures" to the west, nevertheless, there are adherents of N.Ya. Murpert viewpont on the development of YC in the Volga-Ural region and its subsequent distribution to other territories. Based on the comparison of genomic markers from the remains of representatives of the Volga-Ural YC and representatives of European populations from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age, Western archaeogenetics recently proposed a variant of the concept of mass migration of the representatives of this culture from the southern Ural steppes to Central Europe (Haak et al., 2015).
The analysis of archaeological data with the inclusion of the results of isotope analysis, allowed us to come to certain conclusions that are not consistent with this concept. On the one hand, out disagreement relates to the geographical aspect, which points to the fact that the alleged migration demonstrates a large-scale migration from one ecological area (the Eastern European steppe) to another - the forest zone. Such a drastic change in the economic paradigm is highly questionable. In addition, in our opinion, the main links are traced between the European cultures of the Eneolithic - the Early Bronze Age and the western wing of the Yamnaya Cultural-Historical Community (YCHC) - mainly with the Budjak (Bugeac) culture of the North-Western Black Sea region, and not with the Volga-Ural region material, from where the material for the genetic research of YC came from. Consequently, the territory from where the Yamnaya population could have advanced into the Balkan-Carpathian region and, probably, into Central Europe, should be considered the distribution area of the Budjak YC.
Artefacts are not always associated with population movements. It would seem that more specific answers can be given by anthropologists and geneticists, reconstructing the advancement to other territories of carriers of a certain anthropological type or genetic variations. But the findings are quite contradictory, to which attention has already been paid (Klein 2016, 2017, etc.). The geneticists' data on the connection of the eastern wing of the YC (Samara "Yamnniki") carriers with the groups of the Corded Ware culture (CWC) seemed to confirm the conclusions reached many years ago: it was the migration of the "Yamniki" to Central and Northern Europe that led to its Indo-Europeanization and gene pool change. But geneticists neglected to consider that the
YCHC territory was anything but homogeneous: it is the differences in material culture that contributed to the designation of individual local variants within YCHC.
From the point of view of genetics, the common genetic foundation between the populations of YC and CWC is an established fact. Since the articles that showed this connection (Allentoft et al., 2015, Haak et al., 2015, Mathieson et al., 2015), in the discussions of these results, geneticists and archaeologists have strengthened the idea that the cause of this connection is the origin of CWC cultures from YC. This idea developed in parallel with the main idea of mass migration of YC representatives to Europe (Haak et al., 2015). The problem is that from the archaeological point of view, neither this mass migration nor the origin of the CWC from the YC can be traced. Nevertheless, if we consider that a  large-scale migration in question did not take place, it is still necessary to explain the geneticists' observations of the similarity in the gene pool of the population of the CWC popultions of Europe to YC carriers.
According to genetic data, the general genetic element in the YC and CWC begins to appear in representatives of the Khvalynsk culture from the southern Urals (Samara) in the Eneolithic (Mathieson et al., 2015). Prior to its appearance, the genetic basis in the Ponto-Caspian steppe was the determinants based on the local Mesolithic, mostly similar to the Eastern Hunter Gathers (EHG) and the cultures that left the burial grounds of the Mariupol type (Ukraine Mesolithic, UM (Mathieson et al., 2018) ). At the beginning of the Eneolithic, a new genetic element appears in the Samara steppe and in the Dnieper Rapids. It is derived from the Iranian Neolithic farmers with an admixture of the northern Caucasus hunter-gatherer element (Caucasus Hunter Gatherer, CHG), but it is not always possible to separate one from another. At the same time, this element also appears in the south-western Black Sea region (the eneolithic necropolis of Varna I, 4600-4500 BC, and the necropolis of the Bronze Age in Mednikarovo, south- eastern Bulgaria, 3000-2900 BC (Mathieson et al., 2018). At the same time, the genetic element characterizing the Neolithic farmers of Anatolia and Europe is also present in the Mednikarovo and the Lower Dnieper (Ozera) Early Bronze Age (EBA) samples. The origin of the Irano-Caucasus element and the beginning (and localization) of its appearance in the Ponto-Caspian steppe remain unclear, but it is clear that this element was present throughout the entire Western steppe range from Samara to Varna, at least since the Eneolithic. The appearance of an Anatolian agricultural element in the EBA population of south-eastern Bulgaria and Ukraine also remains unclear.
Based on an in-depth archeological and genetic analysis, we propose that the genetic "invasion" of the Irano-Caucasus genetic element into Europe at the beginning of the Bronze Age, recently proposed by paleogenetisits on the basis of large-scale studies of ancient DNA (Allentoft et al., 2015, Haak et al., 2015), was not the result of a large-scale migration of representatives of YCHC from the Ponto-Caspian steppes to Central and Northern Europe, but the result of global population and cultural changes in Eurasia at the end of the Atlantic climatic optimum. We further suggest that before the steppe genetics appeared in Europe at the beginning of the Bronze Age, central European genetic determinants appeared in the steppe in the Eneolithic, and that the movement of the steppe genetic element to Europe was at least in part the second phase of the "pendulum" migration of European expatriates, returning to the historical area of habitation. We also come to the conclusion that the very concept of establishing YCHC as a separate culture is inappropriate, and that groups of nomadic tribes of the Ponto-Caspian steppe most likely existed as discrete communities in the Early Bronze Age, although united by a common ideology and a genetic relationship that included both the Irano-Caucasus (throughout the entire range), and European/ Anatolian agricultural (locally) genetic elements.


  Works of my late father, Professor Gennadi A. Nikitin in Theoretical Physics: A New Look at the Theory of Gravitation (click the picture)

  Contact: nikitin@gvsu.edu
© Alexey G. Nikitin, 2005-2018