Variations of R1b Ydna in Europe: Distribution and Origins

A.A.Foster. 13 March, 2005. 


Based on the  differences and diversity of the alleles of R1b's DYS390 locus, there is evidence that there are four regional variants of the R1b sub-haplogroup in Europe.    These are:

(i) Baltic-Russian. (ii) NorthSea-Baltic. (iii) Alpine-South German. (iv) Atlantic. 


In Central and Western Europe, north of its great mountain ranges - The Pyrenees, Alps, and others - the major rivers flow northwest and northwards to the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic. Only the Danube, which flows eastwards from the Northern Alpine regions to the Black sea, follows a different pattern.  Extrapolating from data available within the online "YHRD"  database (¹, see below)  suggested all variants of R1b in Europe, as pre-historic hunter-gatherers, entered Europe from the east, and migrated and expanded along rivers and  coastlines, and across the ridgeways of high ground, eventually to reach the Baltic, North Sea, Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines.


The mean frequency for DYS390=24 within the whole of the "YHRD" European database is about 59% of the R1b DYS390 population. In Iberia and France, and in the more remote areas of the British Isles, it averages almost 70% and reaches 80%. But in the Baltic regions the frequency is consistently low: it averages only 33% throughout the Baltic States, about  43% in the Netherlands, and 47%  in Baltic Germany. The lowest European percentage (29%) is to be found in Moscow, Russia. An even lower frequency, of 22%, can be found in  Asian Khazakstan. 


Complete R1b data from the "YHRD" database, indicated that, after an earlier existence in Asian Khazakstan, all European variants of R1b shared an existence in Russia ( in the region of Kazan, on the Volga river at about 55° North and 50° East), and that, later  they separated and expanded  into two major migrations ( a westward  migration to the Russian-Baltic region, and a south-western migration to the Black Sea area and then further, westwards, to the Alpine-South German region). Eventually, a North Sea-Baltic migration evolved from the  Russian-Baltic expansion; and  an Atlantic migration  evolved from the  Alpine-South German variant.


Baltic--Russian R1b:
Research showed that the greatest diversity of  R1b's DYS 390 locus is within the Russian-Baltic region. The data suggested that the Russian-Baltic variant migrated/expanded from the Kazan region of Russia westwards to Moscow, and then to the Baltic States of  Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia & Poland.

In this Baltic-Russian area, a sample of  159 haplotypes showed the R1b DYS390 percentages to be:


DYS 390=25.  28.9%;

DYS 390=24.  32.7%;

DYS 390=23.  32.1%;

DYS 390=22.    3.1%


Diversity:        68.6% (²)


North Sea-Baltic R1b:

Within the North Sea-Baltic area (Northern  Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and
Norway) a sample of 1,227 haplotypes showed the R1b DYS390 percentages to be:   


DYS 390=25... 10.1%.

DYS 390=24... 46.6%.

DYS 390=23... 38.1%.

DYS 390=22...   3.7%.


Diversity:        61.5% (²)


These percentages  were less diverse than in the Russian-Baltic area - supporting the likelihood of  an R1b migration/expansion from east to west along the Baltic coast.  The coastal parts of the North Sea-Baltic region had more R1b diversity than  in  Norway and in the (German) Elbe river cities, indicating a further migration - from "Greater Frisia"(³) northwards to Norway and southwards into the Saxon lands alongside the  Elbe.(4)   Ultimately, North Sea-Baltic R1bs invaded  England and other parts of British Isles during the period 450 to 1,000AD as part of the Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxon and Danish Viking invasion forces.


Alpine-South German R1b:
Analysis of the Yhrd data for this region indicates a migration/expansion path from Kiev (Ukraine - Russia), westwards along the River Danube (2,850 km), and north/westwards along the Rhine (1,320 km) to the North Sea. Politically, this whole region includes today's Ukraine,  Romania,  Hungary, Austria and Switzerland, Rhineland Germany, and Southern Holland. Except for the exception given below, a sample of 1,296 haplotypes revealed the R1b percentages for this region were uniform at:


DYS 390=25...   8.3%.

DYS 390=24... 57.9%.

DYS 390=23... 30.1%.

DYS 390=22...  2.6%.


Diversity:       55.7% (²)


With the Alpine-South German group, a small sub-sample of 122 haplotypes in the eastern Danube area, showed only 53% DYS390 =24, and 13% for DYS 390=25. This higher diversity supported the notion of a migration path of the Alpine-South German group from the east, and its heightened DYS390=25 in the eastern Danube area suggests that this variant may well have split  from the Russian-Baltic variant near to its source in central Russia.


Atlantic R1b:
This variant is found on the Atlantic coast, in Iberia, France and in the more remote parts of  Ireland and Scotland. In order to obtain more accurate data on the
 aboriginal/indigenous Scots/Irish, data was extracted from Capelli et al,
(5) for Pitlochry and Oban in the Scots Highlands, and from Castlereigh in Central Ireland.

In the Atlantic region, R1b's DYS=390  showed the least diversity.  A sample of 1,516 haplotypes showed its R1b's DYS390 percentages to be:


DYS 390=25... 10.4%.

DYS 390=24... 69.7%.

DYS 390=23... 17.8%.

DYS 390=22...   1.1%.


Diversity:        46.1% (²)


The origin of this sub-population is unclear, but its lack of DYS390 diversity makes it the "youngest" R1b in  Europe. Some data suggested that it may have  split from the Alpine-South German variant in the region of Albania, and  then subsequently expanded, westwards, along the Mediterranean coast to  Iberia.


The YHRD  R1b sub-populations were identified by carrying out a geographic search  based on the selection of DYS 392=13, within Europe.  A repeat geographical selection, selecting DYS392=13 and combining it, alternatively, with DYS390=25,24,23 & 22 revealed the frequencies of each of DYS390's alleles. After analysis, these were aggregated into the four variant groups. The frequencies of DYS390=26 and 21 were so low that they could be ignored as being statistically irrelevant to this study.

The age of R1b?  

If the allele DYS390=24 was the original modal value for all four R1b variants, then the Russian-Baltic group has been mutating either at least  twice-as-long or twice-as-fast as the Atlantic one. About 30% of the  Atlantic group's DYS390 does not have an allele of 24, while within the Russian-Baltic group this figure increases to 68%.  Perhaps the Russian-Baltic variant never did have the well-known Atlantic Modal Haplotype where DYS390=24. But in either case, the difference in allele frquencies highlights that the populations are not homogenous. Differing alleles at the same locus position can be measured to show how diverse is the locus, and such increased locus diversity is a sign of a population's increased age (since its foundation or since it was isolated with a reduced amount of genetic diversity).


A simple application of the different levels of diversity of the four variants to the known archaeology of the Atlantic countries suggests that the ages of the variants, since separation from an earlier, parent type,  may, approximately,  be as follows:

Atlantic group c.14-18,000 ybp;

Alpine-South German  c.18,000 - 22,000 ybp;

NorthSea-Baltic c. 21,000- 25,000 ybp, and

Russian-Baltic possibly c. 24,000 - 28,000 ybp.

More work needs to be done on this aspect, and on the question of where the variant R1bs may have existed during the Last Glacial Maximum.


*1*  The YHRD database can be found at  and it is maintained by the Institute of Legal Medicine, Charite' - University Medicine Berlin.

*2*  Diversity has been calculated  using Simpson's Index of Diversity, 1-D, expressed as a percentage where 100% represents complete diversity and 0% represents complete homogenity.  The maximum diversity of 4 alleles, comprising a total of 100% of those occurring at a locus, cannot exceed 75%. This would be achieved when all four alleles have the same frequency of occurrence, i.e 25%.

*3* "Greater Frisia" was coined by Dr Ken Nordtvedt, during 2004, to describe the North Sea coastal region of the Northern Netherlands and Southern Denmark, after he detected that the frequency of  the R1b combination DYS390=23 and DYS391=11, was unexpectedly high in this region.  See, Ken Nordtvedt's R1b Sub-Clade   at

*4* Data from Sweden  was excluded both Baltic groups. Some of its data accords with them, but other data suggests that Sweden and Polish Gdansk may have  received a later input of  Central European R1bs from Bohemia. These R1bs might have been intermingled with the later inruption of R1as  northwards across the Baltic.
*5*  Capelli et alA Y-Chromosome Census of the British Isles,   Current Biology, Elsevier Science Ltd. 2003