The Lusatian culture, the most likely vector of Balto-Slavic expansions

New archaeological paper (behind paywall) New evidence on the southeast Baltic Late Bronze Age agrarian intensification and the earliest AMS dates of Lens culinaris and Vicia faba, by Minkevičius et al. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Arrival of farming in the south-east Baltic

The current state of research reveals no firm evidence of crop cultivation in the region before the LBA (Piličiauskas et al. 2017b; Grikpėdis and Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Current archaeobotanical data firmly suggest the adoption of farming during the EBA to LBA transition. (…) By comparison, in other parts of N Europe subsistence economy of CWC groups was characterized by strong emphasis on animal husbandry, however crop cultivation was also used (Kirleis 2019; Vanhanen et al. 2019). CWC sites from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany reveal evidence of the cultivation of H. vulgare var. nudum, T. dicoccum, Linum usitatissimum (flax) (Oudemans and Kubiak-Martens 2014; Beckerman 2015; Kubiak- Martens et al. 2015).

It is (…) striking that earliest evidence of farming in the SE Baltic only appears in the deposits dating over 4,000 years later.

The environmental conditions of the SE Baltic presented a significant barrier and numerous genetic adaptations were required before farming could successfully spread into the region (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). Adaptations through seasonality changes usually play a major role in adapting to new environments (Sherratt 1980). These include establishing genetic controls on seasonality, especially flowering times and length of growing season (Fuller and Lucas 2017). Therefore, it could be argued that farming was only firmly established in the region around the LBA after several crop species, primarily barley, became adapted to the local environment and the risk of crop failure was reduced (Motuzaitė-Matuzevičiūtė 2018). The transition to farming was further aided by the climate warming which started around 750 cal bc (Gaigalas 2004; Sillasoo et al. 2009). In such a case the fragmented evidence from earlier periods is a likely illustration of the early attempts that have failed.

Map of sites mentioned in the text: 1 Duba and Palesa Lakes, 2 Šventoji, 3 Šarnelė, 4 Iru, 5 Kvietiniai, 6 Kreiči, 7 Turlojiškė, 8 Narkūnai, 9 Luokesa 1, 10 Mūkakalns, 11 Kivutkalns, 12 Asva, 13 Kukuliškiai

Social change

The LBA agrarian intensification of the SE Baltic was most likely not an isolated case but rather a part of broader social, economic and technological developments sweeping across northern Europe.

Evidence from sites across the Baltic Sea shows that the end of the EBA (ca. 1200 bc onward, after Gustafsson 1998) was marked by intensification of agriculture and changes in landscape management. This coincides with the agricultural developments observed on the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea and provides a context for the eventual arrival of farming, followed shortly by the rapid agrarian intensification of the region. Looking just south from the study region, we see that data from northern Poland reveal a sharp increase in both scale and intensity of agricultural activities during the EBA to LBA transition. Pollen records show significant environmental changes starting around 1400/1300 bc (Wacnik 2005, 2009; Wacnik et al. 2012). These were mostly a result of development of a production economy based on plant cultivation and animal raising. Even more significant changes during this period are visible in southern Scandinavia. Pollen records from S Sweden present evidence for an opening up of the forested landscape and the creation of extensive grasslands (Berglund 1991; Gustafsson 1998). Major changes are also apparent in archaeobotanical assemblages.

In general, during the end of the EBA northern Europe underwent a massive transformation of the farming system moving towards a more intensified agriculture aimed at surplus production. However, this should not be regarded as an isolated occurrence, but rather as a radical change of the whole society which took place throughout Europe (Gustafsson 1998). Intensification of contacts across northern Europe have integrated previously isolated regions into a wider network (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005; Wehlin 2013; Earle et al. 2015). It is therefore likely that farming spread into the SE fringes of the Baltic Sea alongside other innovations including malleable technologies and developments of social structure.

Late Bronze Age cultures in the Baltic. See full map.

The presence and scale of intensifying connections is well illustrated by SE Baltic archaeological material.

Firstly, the appearance of stone ship graves has served as a basis for locating the Nordic communication zones. Construction of such graves was limited to the coastal regions of Kurzeme, Saaremaa Island and the Northern Estonian coast near Tallinn and Kaliningrad (Graudonis 1967; Okulicz 1976; Lang 2007) and is generally regarded as a foreign burial custom which was common in Gotland and along the Scandinavian coast. This is also supported by the Staldzene and Tehumardi hoards (Vasks and Vijups 2004; Sperling 2013), which contained artefacts typical of Nordic culture.

Secondly, studies of early metallurgy and its products, both imported and created in the SE Baltic, have concluded that metal consumption in the LBA had more than doubled compared to the EBA (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999). The SE Baltic region lacks any metal artefact types exclusive to the region and metal objects are dominated by artefact types originating from Nordic and Lusatian cultures (Sidrys and Luchtanas 1999; Lang 2007; Čivilytė 2014). This indicates that even after metal crafting reached the region, the technology remained exclusively of foreign origin. Rarely identifiable negatives of clay casting moulds were also made for artefacts of Nordic influence, such as Mälar type axes or Härnevi type pins (Čivilytė 2014; Sperling 2014).

Lastly, emerging social diversification was accompanied by the establishment of the first identifiable settlement pattern. Settlement locations were strategically chosen alongside economically significant routes, primarily on the coast and near the Daugava River. Hilltop areas were prioritized over the lowlands, and excavations on these sites have often revealed several stages of enclosure construction (Graudonis 1989). This has also been explained as a reflection of intensifying communication networks between Nordic and Lusatian cultures, and the indigenous communities of the SE Baltic.


One of the aspects of my description of Balto-Slavic I am least convinced about is my acceptance of Kortlandt’s dialectal classification into Proto-East Baltic, Proto-West Baltic, and Proto-Slavic, due to its strong reliance on his own controversial theory of late laryngeal loss.

Kortlandt’s position regarding Balto-Slavic is that it is in fact simply ‘Proto-Baltic’, a language that would stem thus from an Indo-Baltic branch, which would be originally represented by Corded Ware, and which would have split suddenly in its three dialects without any common development between branches, including some intermediate hypothetic “Centum” Temematic substrate that would explain everything his model can’t…

As more genetic and archaeological data on northern Europe appears, his ideas about Balto-Slavic are becoming even less credible, fully at odds with his predicted population and cultural movements, in particular because of the evident shaping of Indo-European-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Bell Beaker culture from the Yamnaya of the Carpathian Basin, and of the shaping of Uralic-speaking Europe through the expansion of the Corded Ware culture.

Middle Bronze Age cultures close to the Baltic ca. 1750-1250 BC. See full map.

The site of Turlojiškė in southern Lithuania (ca. 908-485 BC) – which Mittnik et al. (2018) classified as “Bronze Age, Trzciniec culture?” – can be more reasonably considered a settlement of incoming intensive agrarian communities under the influence of the Lusatian culture, like the Narkūnai hilltop settlement in eastern Lithuania (ca. 800–550 BC), or the enclosed hilltop settlement of Kukuliškiai in western Lithuania (ca. 887-506 BC), just 300 m east of the Baltic Sea, also referred to in the paper.

While the dates of sampled individuals include a huge span (ca. 2100-600 BC), those with confirmed radiocarbon dates are more precisely dated to the LBA-EIA transition. More specifically, the first clearly western influence is seen in the early outlier Turlojiškė1932 (ca. 1230-920 BC), while later samples and samples from Kivutkalns, in Latvia, show major genetic continuity with indigenous populations, compatible with the new chiefdom-based systems of the Baltic and the known lack of massive migrations to the region.

Contacts with western groups of the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures intensified – based on existing archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence – in the LBA, especially from ca. 1100/1000 BC on, and Baltic languages seem to have thus little to do with the disappearing Trzciniec culture, and more with the incoming Lusatian influence.

Both facts – more simple dialectalization scheme, and more recent Indo-European expansion to the east – support the spread of Proto-Baltic into the south-east Baltic area precisely around this time, and is also compatible with an internal separation from Proto-Slavic during the expansion of the Lusatian culture.

Top Left:Likely Baltic, Slavic, and Balto-Finnic-speaking territories (asynchronous), overlaid over Late Bronze Age cultures. Balto-Slavic in green: West(-East?) Baltic (B1), unattested early Baltic (B2), and Slavic (S). Late Balto-Finnic (F) in cyan. In red, Tollense and Turlojiškė sampling. Dashed black line: Balto-Slavic/West Uralic hydrotoponymy border until ca. 1000 AD. Top right: PCA of groups from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Marked are Iwno/Pre-Trzciniec of Gustorzyn (see below), Late Trzciniec/Iron Age samples from Turlojiškė, and in dashed line approximate extent of Tollense cluster; Y-DNA haplogroups during the Late Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Early Iron Age (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

Even though comparative grammar is traditionally known to be wary of resorting to language contamination or language contact, the truth is that – very much like population genomics – trying to draw a ‘pure’ phylogenetic tree for Balto-Slavic has never worked very well, and the most likely culprit is the Slavic expansion to the south-east into territories which underwent different and complex genetic and linguistic influences for centuries (see here and here).

The close interaction of Nordic BA and Lusatian cultures (and their cultural predominance over) indigenous eastern Baltic peoples from ca. 1100 BC fits (part of) the known intense lexical borrowings of Balto-Finnic from Palaeo-Germanic and from early Proto-Baltic, as well as (part of) the known Germanic–Balto-Slavic contacts, whereas the evident Balto-Finnic-like substrate of Balto-Slavic, and especially of Baltic, must stem from the acculturation of those indigenous East Baltic peoples.

The relative chronology of hydrotoponymy in the East Baltic shows that essentially all ancestral layers to the north of the Daugava must have been Uralic, while roughly south of the Daugava they seem to be mostly Indo-European. The question remains, though, when did this Indo-European layer start?

Despite the many centuries that could separate the attestation of southern place- and river-names from northern ones, Old European is also defined by linguistic traits, which would imply that the same language inferred from Western and Southern European hydrotoponymy is that found in the Baltic, hence all from North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beakers and derived Early European Bronze Age groups.

Interestingly, though, it is well known that some modern Baltic toponyms can’t be easily distinguished from the Old European layers – unlike those of Iberia or the British Isles, which show some attested language change in the proto-historical and historical period – which may imply both (a) continuity of Baltic languages since the EBA, but also that (b) the Baltic naming system is a confounding factor in assessing the ancestral expansion of Old European. The latter is becoming more and more likely with each new linguistic, archaeological, and genetic paper.

Hydronyms in up-. One among many examples of scarcely attested appellatives that appear inflated in the Baltic due to modern use.

In summary, a survival of a hypothetical late Trzciniec language in Lithuania or as part of the expanding Lusatian community is not the most economic explanation for what is seen in genetics and archaeology. On the other hand, the cluster formed by the Tollense samples (a site corresponding to the Nordic Bronze Age), the Turlojiškė outlier, and the early Slavs from Bohemia all depict an eastward expansion of Balto-Slavic languages from Central Europe, at the same time as Celtic expanded to the west with the Urnfield culture.

NOTE. Another, more complicated question, though, is if this expanding Proto-Baltic language accompanying agriculture represents the extinct
early Proto-Baltic dialect from which Balto-Finnic borrowed words, hence Proto-Baltic proper expanded later, or if this early Baltic branch could have been part of the Trzciniec expansion. Again, the answer in archaeological and genetic terms seems to be the former. For a more detailed discussion of this and more, see European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic.

As I said recently, the slight increase in Corded Ware-like ancestry among Iron Age Estonians, if it were statistically relevant and representative of an incoming population – and not just the product of “usual” admixture with immediate neighbours – need not be from south-eastern Corded Ware groups, because the Akozino-Malär cultural exchange seems to have happened as an interaction in both directions, and not just as an eastward migration imagined by Carpelan and Parpola.

Archaeology and genetics could actually suggest then (at least in part) an admixture with displaced indigenous West Uralic-speaking peoples from the south-west, to the south of the Daugava River, at the same time as the Indo-European – Uralic language frontier must have shifted to its traditional location, precisely during the LBA / EIA transition around 1000 BC.

NOTE. For more on this, see the supplementary materials of Saag et al. (2019).

Distribution of fortified settlements (filled circles) and other hilltop sites (empty circles) of the Late Bronze Age and Pre-Roman Iron Ages in the East Baltic region. Tentative area of most intensive contacts between Baltic and Balto-Finnic communities marked with a dashed line. Image modified from (Lang 2016).

The tight relationship of the three communities also accounts for the homogeneous distribution of expanding haplogroup N1c-VL29 (possibly associated with Akozino warrior-traders) in the whole Baltic Sea area, such as those appearing in the Estonian Iron Age samples, which have no clearly defined route(s) of expansion.

It is even possible that they emerged first in the south, linked to marriage alliances of Akozino chieftains with Baltic- and Germanic-speaking chiefdoms around the Baltic Sea (see N1c in Germanic Iron Age), because the expansion of (some) N1c lineages with Gulf of Finland Finnic to the north was more clearly associated with their known bottleneck ca. 2,000 years ago.


7 thoughts on “The Lusatian culture, the most likely vector of Balto-Slavic expansions

  1. By the way, the outlier Turlojiškė1932 is a male of hg. R1a, but can’t get more useful SNP calls beyond that (see here).

    Would be a more obvious migrant if it showed a change from the prevalent West Uralic R1a-Z280 lineages in the area, say e.g. R1a-M458 (such as CTS11962 subclade).

    However, given the potential multiple waves of expansion including R1a over R1a from west to east, it need not even show anything different than a very specific Balto-Slavic R1a-Z280 lineage…

  2. M458 was severely bottlenecked in the past; a major West Slavic clade, L260, has a two thousand year gap between formation and MRCA; CTS11962 has 1500 years between formation and MRCA. Most modern CTS11962 is of the L1029 subclade, and the children clades of L1029 all have formations around the first century BC, which is quite after the Lusatian culture, whose practice of cremation was carried on by the early Slavs, but which makes it difficult to of course test those remains. If those Baltic samples are M458, they’re likely to be dead-end clades with no modern descendants.

  3. Thanks for this interesting Topic, aDNA from LC would be a favourite desideratum of mine as well.

    I think we had this discussion before, the lack of Baltio-Slavic / Germanic morphological isoglosses, loanwords and genetic relationship imo could throw a monkey wrench into the theory.

    (i) The G/BS isogloss most commonly referred to is the distribution between m- and b-Suffix in dat/abl/instr pl. But as the Gothic -ba as adverbial signature or the oblique casus of OCSl ty “you” show this Suffix is no foreigner to these languages as vice-versa there a relict cases of -m- in Hittite, Tocharian and Celtic or take the fossilized casus illim, istim, olim in Latin. A lot thought has been put which is the earlier form, in any case both constitute no shared innovation but just a common choice from the PIE morphem apparatus

    (My personal theory is that m/b (both voiced bilabials) were allophones, maybe as as-/dissimilation to surrounding plosives and resonants. For another opaque and later-on unproductive class compare the r-n-heteroklitika which are reserved to the most common words that are most resilient against the force of systematization. A similar change is present in the suffix Goth. wald-ufni (power), fraist-ubni (temptation) vs. lauh-muni (lightning) or Lat. calumnia (oppression).)

    1. Also the similarities in the numeral system (word for thousand, in Baltic eleven, twelve) don’t look ancient and probably have their origin in trade contacts. Beyond that the general lack of Balto-Slavic loanwords in Germanic (as should be expected if they had had a Long-Standing common border) is striking (whereas Germanic has some loanwords from their southern Celtic neighbours).

      On the other Hand, statistically the Germanic lexicon exhibit quite a few similarities to the Balto-Slavic. The Temematic substrate you quoted imo fits the narrative just too good: Para-Balto-Slavic lexicon change without morphological change, some outcast R1a lines as L664 superseded by R1b-U106 and I1.

      Furthermore, the Germanic/Balto-Slavic branches seems to have seperated deep enough, allowing for enough gene drift that genetically the split is one of the most easily to distinguish in commercial testing (despite having quite similar source components), there is no evidence of close contacts up to Chernyachow that could have resulted in exchanging y-DNA haplogroups.

      For me the most straight-forward explanation is, that Germanic originated as a NW-IE dialect close to Italic and Celtic Eastern Yamna > (Eastern) BB > (Northern) Unetice > Northern Bronze Age / Elp circle.

  4. Your arrows between the Caspian depression and N Europe may have to be reversed.

    Today e may understand that the post-glacial re-population of Westrn Eurasia started from a clinatical Refugia – at the shores of the N Atlantic – where a few arctic humans and other arctic animals were able to survive the Younger Dryas Megafaunal Extinction Event, due to the mildening impact of theGulf-stream. During this period the annual median temperature dropped very rapidly with 10-15 degrees Celsius – all over the northern hemisphere – to stay low from12.930 to aprox. 11.900 (calibrated) C-14-years Before Present.

    From this hub of human culture the Atlantic facade, as well as the Baltic Ocean and the coasts of Fenno-Scandia were re-populated – between 11.900 (Oslo) and 11.200 yrs BP (North Cape/White Sea).

    During the very same period we find th first pioneers repopulating the northern shores of the Med and the Black Sea, utimately producing the pre/proto-hellenic cultures – such as the Minoan. Since modern genetics got the aDNA from this area it’s been commonly known that this re-population/cultivation/civilization had it’s origins in Europe.

    Consequently we may add that there’s a complete syncronicity between the mesolithic, neolithic and eneolithic phases of Europe. Samples of aDNA from these pioneering populations have proven them all to be dynastical – as y-dna I2 is found all over northern Europe, while y-dna G2 dominates Southern Europe, from Gualdaquivir to Tigris.

    Moreover we do know that their common ‘brother-line’ of y-dna J2 prduced a dynastical regime able to repopulate, cultivate and civilize Trans-Caucasia and the Indo-Iranian geography. (Much later during LBA the J2-dynasty,produced a western ‘outlier’ – as a group of Indo-Aryans equipped with WMD crossed the Suleiman mountains to violently invade and conquer the hellenic cultures of Mesopotami,,Anatolia and the Levant, Later also Egypt and the ports of Libya, Alger, Mauretania, Sicily and southern Italy – ultimately reducing/eradicating the old dynasty of the G2-tribes along this horizon. Finally thay even reached the old capitol of the western Meds at the mounth of Tiber, making themselves the new rulers of Rome.)

    One may note that the existing lines of y-dna GHIJ came from a common ancestor, identified as y-dna F. Whatever the hypos may be about “mutation-rates” within the y-dna there’s no way around the Younger Dryas Extinction Event as the source of them all. Which means there was one transitional “Noah” with y-dna F that survived the climnatical cataclysm – from which the pioneering branches of todays y-dna GHIJK were produced. Thus we may call them ‘brother-lines’ – all neatly distributed into the various regions of Western Eurasia.

    One may also note that this and the consequent populating of the green fields of western Eurasia started as just a millenuia later – in the maritime (occidental) part of Europe where the climate at all times have been warmer than the inland (oriental) parts of Europe and Asia. Moerover, today we know that the people that survived the worst cold-periods on record (25-18.000 and 13-12.000 yrs ago) shared their refugia with aur-ochses and wild horses, from which the domesticated cattles and horses all descends.

    One may also note that the oldest population of milk-drinkers are found, still today, in the very same area where the elk, the deer and the aurochs all survived ice-time – between the salty waters of the North Sea and the Western Baltics. The only area in the world where ALL inhabitants are able to digest raw milk as well as diaries is found between Scania, Pommeria and Friesland.

    Completly ignoring these facts as relevant to the origin of cattle-farnng and horse-breeding is nothing but lame, whatsoever. Actually, the reluctancy to ascribe NW Europe its due role in the re-population as well as re-cultivation and civilization-building throughout Western Eurasia is nothing but POLITICAL – where ‘old opinions and beliefs based on fictional narratives are still preferred over sound logic, and a consequent understanding based on confirmed facts.

    The NEW evidence from archaeology and aDNA actually confirm that there’s been a Continous Cultural Connection between the boat- and shipping-culture of NW Europe and their contemporary SW, NE and SE Europeans. Established during Mesolithic the routes along coasts and rivers would bring two new brother-dynasties to the fore – as the cattle-farming communities would grow both wide and large, as the lactose-persistens cultures utilizing domesticated cattles and horses to develop new and more dense populations across the greenning plains and fields of western Eurasia – as two new and independant dynasties of milk-drinkers – today identified as y-dna R1a and R1b.

    In the area where the oldest population of milk-drinkers exisist todat, described above, we find both R1a and R1b alike, together wth a derivate of y-dna I2 named I1. Considering the time and place of the bi-furication of R1 into R1a and R1b, one may note that the lush graslands occuring between Oder and Rhinen during the Early Holocene is the better proxy. The common economical culture of R1a and R1b (cattle-farimng) proves a common origin, while their small genetical and cultural difference can be indetified, a the R1a-dynasty spreads along the colder inlands and highlands of Eurasia while R1b preferred the milder plains of lowland Europe.

    Consequently cattle-faming reached Africa due to specific branches of R1b, while cattle-farming and horse-breeding reached Scotland as well as Siberia and Ceylon due to branches of R1a, specializing in the smaller but more sturdy and adaptable cattles. One may find a similar expansion of metalurgy, from western Europe to Asia and Africa as well as America. .
    With the present body of archaeological, cultural and genetical facts there’s no need for a “nostratic language” to vr have existed. Thus we better use Ockham to shave the nostratic weed out of the philological fields of academia – to avoid corrupting the very science of cultural history..

    Since there really is a clear-cut context between the early distribution of y-dna GHIJK and the spread of the Indo-European languages we don’t need R1a or R1b to explain any of it. other than that they both grew out of a culture that obviously were part of an Indo-European Language-family that already existed, due to a common, post-glacial origin and spread – as macro-dad F (‘Noah’) produced the ancestors of the present Caucasians, whose y-dna are known as both GHIJ as well as K-T.

    The connection to a common origin in the west could even explain why y-dna R1a and J2 are found within the same, 7.500 yrs old cementary in Onega – as well as in the later aDNA found between the Caspian depression and Southern India. This communication can only be explained by the great Volga river-system,, once Eurasias most important water-way.Connecting NW Europe directly to Central Asia since the Early Mesolithic, continously until the late Iron Age – when the new, roman rulers of the Baltic Ocean closed the trade-routes between Occidental and Oriental Europe – to finally end the oldest and most effective silk- and spice-route to Europe once and for all.,

    As a “great schism” between Rome and Constantinopel was played out – between 1050 and 1250 – all trade between the Baltic and Ladoga were effectively blocked by wars and violations – forcing the traders from China and India to adress Samarkand and the caravans to Damaskus as their only trade with Europe. This gave the Merchant of Venice a new and complete monopoly of the Asian trade. .

    The more we get to learn about the mesolithic, neolithic and eneolithic exchanges between NW Europe, India and China the more we get to understand that the cultural dispersal were Out of Europe just as much as it was In to Europe. The syncronicity between the various parts of Eurasia – from the first boat-builders, navigators and cattle-farmers through the ages of bronze, iron and steel – proves that the cultural and lingusitical traditions forming Eurasias various civilizations had a common epi-centre, based on the location of the refugia that brought the last group of Cro-Magnon-descendants through the end of ice-time, alive. To become the first Caucasians – who started multiplying intensively to repopulate all of Eurasia and N America – as soon as the climates of Eurasia and North America rapidly improved.

    Here’s yet another paper concerning the origin and spread of the PIE and the PU:cultures, respectively::


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.