Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Is Bell Beaker Heritage Associated With COVID-19 Vulnerability?

Map of the Bell Beaker Phenomenon and neighbouring influenced ...

Map of the Bell Beaker Phenomenon 
and neighboring influenced territories from Turek (2016).

As I write this the number of deaths per million people, the most accurate measure available of how hard individual countries have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic are as set forth below.

One thing that sticks out is that all of the countries with the highest rates of death from COVID-19 per million people have significant levels of ancestry in their populations from people who were members of the Bell Beaker culture of Bronze Age Europe.

While it seems unlikely, that vulnerability to the disease would have such a remote cause, the Bell Beaker culture may have provided these countries with both a shared genetic heritage and a shared cultural heritage, either of which could in some way make these countries more vulnerable to COVID-19 than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

For example, the death rate from COVID-19 in Finland and Norway, is much lower than that of Denmark, even though all three countries have had similar policy responses to the outbreak (Sweden's elevated death rate can be attributed to its heretical "herd immunity" strategy).

One thing that distinguishes Denmark from Finland and Norway is the Denmark was historically included in the range of the broader Bell Beaker culture for a period of time in the Nordic Bronze Age, while Finland and Norway were not.

Belgium, Spain, Italy (especially Northern Italy that was more hard hit), the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Portugal all have very significant Bell Beaker heritage. The United States (especially in the hard hit Northeastern United States) and Canada likewise have populations derived in substantial part from these countries. Germany and Denmark, below them, were on the Bell Beaker culture fringe (and I predict, without having ever looked, that Germany's COVID cases are more common in the West than the East of the country, where a Bell Beaker presence was stronger).

UPDATE April 30, 2020 per a user comment:


Thus, all of the top sixteen countries have significant Bell Beaker ancestry and heritage, except Sweden (whose policy response has been heretical), and Montserrat (which is something of a statistical fluke having one death and a population of 5,900, but might very well have significant Bell Beaker ancestry in its population given that it is part of the British Commonwealth). 

But, of Iran and all other countries with lower death rates, only Austria and Hungary could conceivably have had any notable Bell Beaker connection at all, they are still near the top of the remaining countries, and the Bell Beaker culture impact there was not as dominant, as long lived, or as undisturbed by subsequent European history, as the more severely affected countries in Europe and North America.

Notably, any connection could not be so broad as to include all Indo-Europeans, as areas with heritages associated with the Indo-Iranian or Anatolian or Tocharian language families, or with the Corded Ware culture, have been much less affected.

As I said before, this conjecture is a long shot. But, could there have been some strong selective sweep in Bell Beaker history that left the rest of the world relatively unscathed that was beneficial for the Bell Beaker culture members at the time, but has subsequently left these populations especially vulnerable to COVID-19?

Or, is this a more remote and culturally based connection, associated with the fact that Western European countries and the places that they colonized via population replacement have, for a variety of reasons taken a path of common political and economic development, that has now, for some cultural reason left them especially vulnerable to the pandemic.


AlanL said...

I assume w're looking at the orange amoeba on the map not the red stars?

> I predict, without having ever looked, that Germany's COVID cases are more common in the West than the East of the country

South actually, but not that far off. Here are the (tested) cases per 100k population:

NeilB said...

There are two big holes in the data, you provide:
1. Some of the countries On your list are not yet at the peak of their outbreak, e.g. Iran
2. There are no comparisons with non-BB populations, e.g. Russia and China.
There is also the transparency issue. Some countries label a significant proportion of their deaths which are probably from Covid19 as deaths from other causes.
While we all feel sorrow for the victims and their families, I worry that any such analysis of why some countries have a higher death rate from the Corona virus will be confounded by patchy or dishonest reporting by governments. NeilB

andrew said...

@NeilB The list that I cut and pasted is from an overall list of every country in the world, but only captures the top of the list in deaths per million rank order. Every other country has fewer deaths (often by a lot). So, there is comparison with Russian and China. The reported deaths measure is imperfect, but the likely magnitude of relative error is not so great that it undermines the comparison. See China is 3.3 and Russia is 7.4. Even if they are only reporting 20% of actual COVID deaths the conclusions hold, and the New York Times has done an analysis of excess deaths that suggest that most places are reporting at least 66% of COVID deaths.

Ryan said...

Proximity to Alpine ski hills where this spread like wildfire during spring break seems like a better explanation.

Strandloper said...

I think you nailed it. It is obvios that certain populations are more easily effected by this disease.
Great work!

NeilB said...

Dear Andrew, you quote a figure of 3.3 deaths (per million?) for China. You make my point exactly. China's reporting is very sketchy to say the least. Several online news outlets which seem independent bring to light a less than transparent series of official announcements about the spread of the Covid19 virus. I'll give you a couple of examples:
1. Deutsche Welle (DW) at this link reports on New Covid19 outbreaks in northeastern China at this link:
It has a timeline of the Chinese reporting of the virus and worldwide spread. It has the following information. First death reported in China Jan 11th, by Jan 20th cases are reported in Thailand and Japan and China says it has had 3 deaths.
By Jan 23rd China had placed Wuhan (a city with 11 million residents!!) in lockdown and starts building an emergency hospital. On the 24th Jan China reports 26 deaths and 826 cases.
To me that response from China was a vast over-reaction. If the number of deaths figure were true.
I think they absolutely knew, that there were far more cases than they reported to the world.
A resident of Mudanjiang, in Heilongjiang province at the epicentre of the new outbreak in northeast, China named Huang said that although the city government shares updates regularly, most residents are skeptical about the government's transparency.
"While most residents rely on government data for information about the development of the pandemic, they don't really trust that the data is authentic. Some of us try to get information from other channels."
2. Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia also reported three new imported cases, last week (usnews at this link:
Whilst China says these cases are imported, it seems improbable.
Given that China revised the number of deaths in Wuhan upward by ca. 50% recently, I am deeply cautious about whether the outbreak is truly over in China and what their actual deathrate is.
I could go on to detail the deaths in Poland where the Peace party has severely under-reported deaths. A first hand-source from inside a Polish hospital told me that so many staff had caught the virus that only a skeleton staff were looking after Covid19 patients and some were therefore just left to die.
Still as an election is due, the government says the epidemic is past its peak and therefore lockdown restrictions will be partially lifted so people can vote! So some governments seem to be trying to cover up the extent of the outbreaks in their countries. NeilB

andrew said...

Possible LP gene and related Vitamin D deficiency issues?