The origins of the Tumulus culture: Proto-Lusatian and potential Proto-Balto-Slavic origins

Interesting chapter The birth of a new world. Barrows, warriors, and metallurgists, by Przemyslaw Makarowicz. In: Urbańczyk P. (Ed.) THE PAST SOCIETIES. Polish lands from the first evidence of human presence to the Early Middle Ages, Warszawa 2017, vol. 3, U. Bugaj (Ed.) (2000 – 500 BC), Warszawa, pp. 127-186.

Some interesting excerpts from the introduction (emphasis mine):

In the 17th century BC the northern reaches of the Únětice culture oecumene experienced a structural crisis and a settlement hiatus; no such interruption in development occurred in the southern or western regions, or further west in the circle of the Blechkreiskulturen (Innerhofer 2000; Müller 2012, 257f.). In light of the most recent research, the decline of Únětice structures in the north was associated with a growing social and ecological crisis that resulted e.g., in the well-documented regression in the development of the fortified settlement in Bruszczewo in Greater Poland/Wielkopolska, which occurred ca. 1650/1600 BC (Kneisel 2012; Kneisel 2013, 101f.; Müller 2012). The settlement structure in that region only stabilized after several decades, with the emergence of Tumulus culture (Schurbein 2009; Cwaliński 2012, 16). In some parts of Central Europe (e.g., Bohemia, Bavaria, Hesse, Thuringia) a relatively gradual and smooth transition in the form of bronze items and pottery was observed between the periods of BA2 and BB1, diagnostic for the Early and Middle Bronze Age respectively (Rittershofer 1984; Innerhofer 2000). The term ‘pre-Tumulus’ horizon (BA3) was introduced to denote the stage that followed the disappearance of Early Bronze Age cultural structures and preceded the formation of Tumulus culture at the foothills of the Alps (Innerhofer 2000, 241f.)

The processes behind the development of this new cultural phenomenon may become clearer if one considers the origins of the new ideology of warriorhood apparent in the most progressive formations of the late stages of the early Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin (Vandkilde 2007, 129; 2014; the beginnings of the Middle Bronze Age in Hungarian chronology; Hänsel 1968; Bóna 1992; Harding 2000, Fig. 1.3).This factor is particularly relevant in the case of the centralized communities of the Otomani-Füzesabony culture. Its members built impressive fortified settlements, knew advanced methods of bronze casting, and maintained a vast network of contacts that connected the north of Europe with the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean world (e.g., Bouzek 1985; Furmánek, Veliačik, Vladár 1991; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005; David 2007)
The composition of some spectacular hoards and the presence of military items in some of the graves associated with such communities may suggest that a new type of individualized elite (military aristocracy) emerged in this very culture (Kristiansen 1998, 376f.; 1999; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005). The attractive ideology would then have spread to the west and north-west and be adapted by the ‘post-Early-Bronze’, de-centralized and mobile communities (most likely based on kinship) of animal farmers inhabiting the upper Danube basin and the upper Rhine basin, as well as by the peoples of the Nordic regions (Vandkilde 2014, Fig. 5). This process went hand in hand with the dissemination of the custom of tumulus-building and the associated religious concepts, funerary practices, and territorial behaviour. The mechanism behind the adoption of this custom remains unknown. It may have been the result of imitating the barrows of Corded Ware culture, already present in the landscape of Central Europe – a similar process took place in the communities of the Trzciniec circle (Makarowicz 2009; 2010; 2011). It is also possible that the tumuli were based on the few existing Únětice barrows, though in this case the similarities are more apparent in the stone elements beneath the barrows’ mound. In both cases there was no direct contact between the earlier cultural formation and the emerging group.

Spatial range of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture (‘Vorlauzitzer Kultur’) after M. Gedl 1992, amended

The new lifestyle became a pan-European phenomenon, but involved a considerable degree of regional diversity that stemmed primarily from contact with local tradition (Bóna 1975; Gedl 1989; Jockenhövel, Kubach [eds.] 1994; David 2002; Jockenhövel 2013). But how did this model spread? It appears that analogies for this development may be found in the social processes and interactions that took place at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC and led to the emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon (Burgess 1986; Nicolis 2001 [ed.]; Czebreszuk 2001; 2004 [ed.]; Heyd 2013; Van der Linden 2013, further literature therein). The most important elements of the ‘Tumulus set of cultural patterns’ included: warriorhood (conveyed through the presence of individual weaponry as grave goods), characteristic types of territorial behaviour (methods of familiarizing space that largely relied on constructing tumuli – monumental graves with a unique external form and internal architecture that was singular, spectacular, and immensely symbolic), and a specific array of valuables made of bronze or, less frequently, of amber or glass (such items indicated the status, gender, and sometimes also the social role of the deceased with whom they were buried). Local cultural milieux transmitted and adapted a set of ideological, social, and political principles that gave the emerging formation coherence and a new ‘quality’. The symbolism of the stone barrow construction (rings, kerbs, cores, rays, etc.), the high value of bronze and amber, and the emergence of the custom of cremation suggests that ‘Tumulus’ communities had a large part to play in the dissemination of the solar cult during the Middle Bronze Age (cf. Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Czebreszuk 2011, 164-171).

The decline of the Central European early Bronze Age civilization and the birth of a new, pan-European formation was a complex process that lasted at least several decades. It may be surmised that the downfall of Únětice structures and the Otomani-Füzesabony-Gyulavarsánd complex in the Carpathian Basin was brought about primarily by internal structural crises, yet the reasons for the emergence of Tumulus culture lay in the attractive, almost ‘Dionysian’ ideology of warriorhood. Its solidification coincided with the decline of the ‘old’ Early Bronze Age elites that ruled over centralized structures that were territorial in character (fortified settlements with proto-urban characteristics) and were buried in magnificent, richly furnished graves covered with mounds (Fürstengräber). It was also concurrent with the emergence of active kinship-based and de-centralized groups led by the ‘new’ elite class of warriors (the beginnings of military aristocracy?). The significance of such groups continued to grow during the pivotal period – and the decline of the Únětice world and the final turbulent phase of the development of centres in the Carpathian Basin may well be thus described. The process was facilitated by the escalation of military conflicts that occurred in the Bronze Age (Harding 1999; 2007; Kristiansen 1999; Osgood, Monks, with Thoms 2000; Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Hårde 2006; Vandkilde 2011; 2014). War became an inherent part of social life, as indicated by the increasing presence of weaponry in male graves, rock carvings and steles depicting warriors and their equipment, as well as arrowheads and spearheads embedded in the bones (soft tissues) of the deceased, and plentiful evidence of injuries caused by melee weapons (e.g., Osgood 2006). New types of weaponry (swords, spears) started to be used in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, leading to more efficient methods of combat (e.g., Harding 2006; Thrane 2006). This must have resulted in the emergence of new types of units, combat styles, and military strategies. It may also be surmised that ‘Tumulus’ communities adopted a hitherto unknown, institutionalized model of warriorhood based on groups of men who dealt with warfare professionally (cf. Sarauw 2007, 66).

The origin of the Tumulus culture meant therefore a pan-European ideological socio-political and ideological change, that may be associated with the last true North-West Indo-European dialect continuum in Europe, as evidenced in Archaeology by long-distance cultural contacts, in Linguistics potentially by late layers of shared vocabulary, and in Ancient Genomics by the different origins of combatants studied from the the Tollense valley.

Settlement points of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture in the Prosna-Odra interfluve (‘close zone’) superimposed on a hypsometric map. By Jakub Niebieszczański

The origins of Tumulus culture in what is now Polish territory most likely resulted from a combination of different factors. In the hitherto prevailing narrative its arrival in the Odra-middle Vistula interfluve was associated with an invasion (aggressive migration) of the Tumulus peoples from enclaves in the middle Danube basin, the destruction of Únětice centres and the Nowa Cerekwia Group, and the subsequent conquest of the western territories inhabited by members of the Trzciniec culture (Gedl 1975, 81; 1989; 1992; Gediga 1978). There is, however, much evidence to suggest that the provenance of this cultural group is more complex.

Recent archaeological research and environmental analyses indicate that the decline of the Únětice culture in the northern reaches of its scope (e.g., the economic and settlement crisis of the Kościan agglomeration with its centre in Bruszczewo and the princely barrow graves in Łęki Małe) was mainly the result of excessive human activity and overly intense exploitation of natural resources (Kneisel 2012; 2013; Müller 2012). Palynological data from the period of1700-1500 BC collected in this part of the North European Plain indicates a decline of human activity. It coincides with the devolution of settlement centres (hamlets and necropolises) dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (depopulation?). The decline of Early Bronze Age settlements occurred between 1700 and 1600 BC, whereas the beginning of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture may be dated to 1600-1500 BC. A renewed increase in human activity, indicated e.g., by the ‘opening’ of the landscape, did not occur until ca. 1500-1400 BC, in the classic period of the development of ‘Tumulus’ cultural structures (Kneisel 2012, 221).

The whole paper is interesting from the point of view of the potential formation of a Proto-Balto-Slavic community in the Proto-Lusatian or Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture, before its expansion to the east.

After O&M 2018, the only plausible alternative to this model of Balto-Slavic homeland is that Proto-Lusatian represents a Temematic community instead, and an Indo-Slavonic community formed in East Yamna, whereby Balto-Slavic would have possibly expanded with Srubna, and only much later over Temematic territory, absorbing its language as a North-West Indo-European substratum.

See also:

Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-Z2103 in Proto-Indo-Iranians?


We already know that the Sintashta -> Andronovo migrants will probably be dominated by Y-DNA R1a-Z93 lineages. However, I doubt it will be the only Y-DNA haplogroup found.

I said in my predictions for this year that there could not be much new genetic data to ascertain how Pre-Indo-Iranian survived the invasion, gradual replacement and founder effects that happened in terms of male haplogroups after the arrival of late Corded Ware migrants, and that we should probably have to rely on anthropological explanations for language continuity despite genetic replacement, as in the Basque case.

Nevertheless, since we have very few samples, I think we could still see a clear genetic contribution from Yamna to Corded Ware immigrants in the North Caspian region (from Abashevo, in turn a mix of Fatyanovo/Balanovo and Catacomb/Poltavka cultures) in terms of:

  • Ancestral components and PCA in new Sintashta-Petrovka, Andronovo, and/or later samples – similar the ‘steppe’ drift seen in Potapovka relative to Sintashta samples, both formed by incoming Corded Ware migrants – ; and
  • R1b-L23 subclades, either appearing scattered during the Sintashta melting pot (of Abashevo/R1a-Z645 and East Yamna-Poltavka/R1b-Z2103 peoples), or resurging after this period, as we have seen in Pre-Balto-Slavic territory.

This contribution could better explain the obvious language continuity in the region, beautifully complementing the complex anthropological model we have now of archaeological continuity of Sintashta and Potapovka with the previous Poltavka, seen in a similar material and symbolic culture that survived the arrival of newcomers.

A lot of people seem to be looking like crazy since O&M 2018 for some sort of connection between Corded Ware and Yamna migrants in Eastern and Central Europe (wheter in SNP calls of samples published, or among almost forgotten academic papers), either to support the ideas of the 2015 papers – for those who relied on their conclusions and built (even if only mentally) far-fetched migration models around it – , or just because of some sort of absurd continuity theory involving modern R1a-Z645 subclades:

NOTE. The situation we have seen with the hundreds of samples from O&M 2018, and with the recent additional Eastern European samples, depict an unexpected absolutely clear-cut distinction in Y-DNA haplogroups between Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker: I really can’t see how the situation could be more obvious for everyone, so I doubt any further samples will make certain people change their minds. Their hope is, I guess, that just one sample may give some more oxygen to infinite pet theories, as we are still surprisingly seeing even with reactionary R1b autochthonous continuists in Western Europe…

However, looking into the most likely future for the field, what we should be expecting right now is continuity of Yamna ancestry and lineages in early Proto-Indo-Iranian territory. Since we only have a few samples from Sintashta-Petrovka, Potapovka, and Andronovo, I think there might be a sizeable number of R1b-Z2103 subclades in the territory inhabited by those who – no doubt – spread the language into Central Asia.

Modern Y-DNA haplogroup R1b distribution, by Maulucioni at Wikipedia

While full population replacement by R1a-Z93 lineages in the North Caspian region ca. 2000 BC is not impossible, I don’t think it is very likely, since we already know that there are R1b-Z2103 lineages widely distributed in Indo-Iranian-speaking territory, and Z93 is now known to be an older subclade than YFull’s mean formation date suggested (due to the Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561 sample‘s SNP call), so what we can infer now that actually happened in Sintashta -> Andronovo is not exactly the spread of haplogroup Z93 during its formation, but rather a regional reduction in its variability coupled with the expansion of some of its subclades.

The main question, after the South Asia paper is finally published, will then be:

  1. Given that Yamna peoples were an elite group of patrilineally-related families mainly of R1b-L23 subclades:
  2. Accepting that PCA, ADMIXTURE, and other statistical methods are not relevant (alone) for ethnolinguistic identification: e.g. Yamna ‘outliers’ and East Bell Beaker migrants of R1b-L23 lineages without steppe ancestry; N1c1a1a-L392 lineages and Siberian ancestry unrelated to Uralic speakers; R1a-Z645 and steppe ancestry in North-East Europe related to Uralic-speaking cultures
  3. If we find now, as I expect, genetic continuity of east Yamna in Sintashta -> Andronovo (relative to other late Corded Ware peoples), probably including haplogroup R1b-Z2103 mixed with R1a-Z93 before its further reduction of subclades (e.g. to L657) and expansion during its subsequent spread southward…

Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC

Why exactly do we need Corded Ware to explain migrations of Late Indo-European speakers?

In other words: if we had the data we have today in 2015, would we have a need for Corded Ware to explain Indo-European migrations from the steppe? Are some people so blinded by their will to (appear to) be right in their past interpretations that they can’t just let go?

NOTE. On a side note, wouldn’t it be nice for this paper to publish some other R1b-L23 (x2103) sample – maybe even R1b-L51 – in Yamna, Andronovo, or Afanasevo territory, to end both autochthonous continuity theories (of North-Eastern and Western Europe) at the same time?

I really hope someone in David Reich’s team understands this matter, or else they will still identify Corded Ware as the (now probably ‘a’ instead) vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, and some of us will still have fun for another 2 or 3 years with such conclusions, until someone in the lab realizes that ancestry ≠ population ≠ ethnic identification ≠ language.

NOTE. It seems rather dull to read how people are discussing in the Twitterverse conventional constructs like ‘human race‘ as found in Reich’s op-ed in The New York Times, as if such grandiose semantic discussions had any practical meaning, when basic anthropological questions actually relevant for Genomics, like the essential ancestral component ≠ people tenet seem not to be of interest for anyone in the field….

Since our Indo-European demic difusion model (and its consequences for our reconstruction of North-West Indo-European) and this blog are becoming more and more popular each day – judging by the constant growth in visits in the past 6 months or so – , I guess the simplemindedness and predictability of certain geneticists is benefitting traditional anthropology directly, driving more and more amateur geneticists to look for sound academic models to answer the growing inconsistencies of genetic research.

NOTE. I am not saying the rejection of Corded Ware as spreading Indo-European is definitive. Maybe more samples within some years will depict a clear ancient expansion of Early or Middle Proto-Indo-Europeans from Khvalynsk to the forest-steppe and forest zone, and later with certain Corded Ware migrants into Central Europe, over whose territory a Late Indo-European dialect from Bell Beakers became the superstrate, as some have proposed in the past – e.g. to explain Krahe’s Old European hydronymy. I really doubt you could demonstrate such an old ethnolinguistic identification with a clear, unbroken archaeological trail, though, and we know now that this old hydronymy is probably of Late Indo-European nature (possibly even more recent).

What I am saying is: with the data we have now, it does not make any sense to keep the anthropological models invented by geneticists ex nihilo in 2015, and the hundred different alternative Late Indo-European migration models that arebornwitheachnewpaper.

These Yamna -> Corded Ware migration models didn’t have any sense for me since early 2016, but now after O&M 2017, and especially O&M 2018, I don’t think any geneticist with a little knowledge in Linguistics or Archaeology (if they are decent about their quest for truth in describing ancient European migrations) would buy them, if not for some sort of created ‘tradition’. So let’s ditch Corded Ware as Late Indo-European-speaking, let’s accept that late Corded Ware migrants should most likely be identified as early Uralic speakers, and then future data will tell if we are – again – wrong.

Please, don’t let Genomics become another pseudoscience based solely on Bioinformatics like glottochronology: let anthropologists (preferably mainstream archaeologists, but also the true Indo-Europeanists, linguists) help you interpret your raw data. Don’t deceive yourselves thinking that you have read enough about the Indo-European question, or that you know enough Indo-Europeanists (say what?) to derive your own conclusions.

Use the South Asia paper to begin expressly retracting the Corded Ware mess.

Please pretty please with sugar on top?


For commenters: this post concerns an anthropological question, and deals with the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European speakers from Yamna, and the controversy surrounding the role of Corded Ware migrants that a handful of academics propose spread from it, based on a renewed model of Gimbutas’ outdated Kurgan theory and on the so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry.

It happens so that the discussion has turned lately mainly to ancient Y-DNA haplogroups, because they help confirm previous mainstream anthropological models of cultural diffusion and migration. It is obviously not reasonable to judge prehistoric ethnolinguistic migrations from ca. 5,000 years ago based on historical nation-states and ethnic or religious concepts invented since the Middle Ages, coupled with “your” people’s main modern (or your own) paternal lineage.

EDIT (27 MAR 2018): Minor corrections and post made shorter.

Admixture of Srubna and Huns in Hungarian conquerors


New preprint at BioRxiv, Mitogenomic data indicate admixture components of Asian Hun and Srubnaya origin in the Hungarian Conquerors, by Neparáczki et al. (2018), at BioRxiv.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

It has been widely accepted that the Finno-Ugric Hungarian language, originated from proto Uralic people, was brought into the Carpathian Basin by the Hungarian Conquerors. From the middle of the 19th century this view prevailed against the deep-rooted Hungarian Hun tradition, maintained in folk memory as well as in Hungarian and foreign written medieval sources, which claimed that Hungarians were kinsfolk of the Huns. In order to shed light on the genetic origin of the Conquerors we sequenced 102 mitogenomes from early Conqueror cemeteries and compared them to sequences of all available databases. We applied novel population genetic algorithms, named Shared Haplogroup Distance and MITOMIX, to reveal past admixture of maternal lineages. Phylogenetic and population genetic analysis indicated that more than one third of the Conqueror maternal lineages were derived from Central-Inner Asia and their most probable ultimate sources were the Asian Huns. The rest of the lineages most likely originated from the Bronze Age Potapovka-Poltavka-Srubnaya cultures of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, which area was part of the later European Hun empire. Our data give support to the Hungarian Hun tradition and provides indirect evidence for the genetic connection between Asian and European Huns. Available data imply that the Conquerors did not have a major contribution to the gene pool of the Carpathian Basin, raising doubts about the Conqueror origin of Hungarian language.

“Comparison of major Hg distributions from modern and ancient populations. Asian main Hg-s are designated with brackets. Major Hg distribution of Conqueror samples from this study are very similar to that of other 91 Conquerors taken from previous studies [11,12]. Scythians and ancient Xiongnus show similar Hg composition to the bracketed Asian fraction of the Conqueror samples, but Hg B is present just in Xiongnus. Modern Hungarians have very small Asian components pointing at small contribution from the Conquerors. Of the 289 modern Hungarian mitogenomes 272 are published in [29]. Scythian Hg-s are from [48,49,55,59,71–74]. Xiongnu Hg-s are from [66–69].”

Just recently another article contributed to a similar idea. I already talked about the Bronze Age R1a-z93 sample with high steppe ancestry found in the Balkans, and its likely origin in an expansion of the Srubna or a related culture. No truce, therefore, for those looking for autochthonous continuity anywhere in Europe.

We are seeing how multiple migrations shaped the history of the Carpathian basin (and its complex genetic structure) – and of Europe in general -, often from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. That is clear from many different prehistorical and historical times, such as the expansions of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, Yamna, Srubna, Thraco-Cimmerians, Sarmatians, Scythians, Huns,…

About the linguistic interpretations based on genetics contained in the paper (Hungarian language as a legacy of Huns), well, you know my stance regarding the Yamnaya ancestral concept (and the wrong linguistic interpretations derived from it, which many sadly keep to this day), and genetics in general to solve language questions

This is yet another example of how (what some people would call) “scientific data” is useless without sound anthropological models.

Featured image, from the article: “Hypothetic origin and migration route of different components of the Hungarian Conquerors. Bluish line frames the Eurasian steppe zone, within which all presumptive ancestors of the Conquerors were found. Yellow area designates the Xiongnu Empire at its zenith from which area the East Eurasian lineages originated. Phylogeographical distribution of modern East Eurasian sequence matches (Fig. 1) well correspond to this territory, especially considering that Yakuts, Evenks and Evens lived more south in the past [108], and European Tatars also originated from this area. Regions where Asian and European Scythian remains were found are labeled green, pink is the presumptive range of the Srubnaya culture. Migrants of Xiongnu origin most likely incorporated descendants of these groups. The map was created using QGIS 2.18.4[109]”.

Article available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

Discovered via Razib Khan.

See also:

The new “Indo-European Corded Ware Theory” of David Anthony


I recently wrote about the Indo-European Corded Ware Theory of Kristian Kristiansen and his workgroup, a sort of “Danish school”, whose aim is to prove a direct, long-lasting interaction between the North Pontic steppe and east European cultures during the Late Neolithic, which supposedly gave rise to a Late Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware culture. That is, a sort of renewed Kurgan model; or, more exactly, Kurgan models, since there is no single one preferred right now.

David Anthony had remained more or less in the background after the controversial assessment of the so-called Yamnaya ancestral component by recent genetic papers, which posited that there was a genetic flow in the Late Neolithic suggesting a migration model that could be hypothetically simplified to Yamna -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker.

With his previous publications, especially The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (and its revisions), Anthony had set up an impressive revised steppe theory that overcame some of the errors of Gimbutas’ Kurgan model.

Whereas Indo-European-speaking Corded Ware cultures (CWC) were still featured prominently in his model, the different languages supposedly spoken by these groups were explained through multiple cultural diffusion events, and actual migrations from Yamna peoples were only described into Early Bronze Age cultures of the Balkans, and into the Afanasevo culture.

More recently, he has offered (in collaboration with his wife, Dorcas R. Brown) a tentative original connection Yamna -> Corded Ware in the Lesser Poland region, in their paper Molecular archaeology and Indo-European linguistics: Impressions from new data. It seemed to be based merely on recent genetic finds, and on the fact that Corded Ware remains appear to be oldest in that region, according to radiocarbon analysis.

Now he seems to be more and more supportive of this hypothesis in his new essay, Archaeology and Language: Why Archaeologists Care About the Indo-European Problem, in European Archaeology as Anthropology: Essays in Memory of Bernard Wailes ed by P.J. Crabtree and P. Bogucki (2017).

The chapter is interesting to read, as always. Nevertheless, it commits to previous errors – driven by the wrong interpretation of recent genetic papers -, and deepens thus this untenable archaeological-linguistic model of migrations from the steppe, in a weird vicious circle of wrong feedback between archaeologists and geneticists that diregards what archaeologists have been saying in the last decade.

Instead of waiting for the current storm of genetic papers (and their misinformation) to pass, and see what remains, Anthony is now supporting a different model than the one that made him popular, risking the good name he has earned in Archaeology and in popular science texts – in spite of initial setbacks due to the prevailing criticisms of Indo-European migration models.

Some excerpts (emphasis mine):

Central and Eastern Europe ca. 3000–2500 BCE showing the early Yamnaya culture area 3300–2700 BCE and the Yamnaya migration up the Danube Valley with related/offshoot Makó and Vučedol sites; also the distribution of Corded Ware sites in northern Europe; and site areas sampled for aDNA in Haak et al. (2015). The oldest Corded Ware radiocarbon dates are from southern and central Poland. The Yamnaya cemeteries in the Danube Valley are after Heyd (2011), the shaded Globular Amphorae site area is after Harrison and Heyd (2007); the Corded Ware and Globular Amphorae sites in southern Poland are after Machnik (1999); and the blue dots were all Corded Ware sites with radiocarbon dates as of Furholt (2003).

A Yamnaya migration from the steppes up the Danube valley as far as Hungary was already accepted by many archaeologists (Fig. 2.2). Hundreds of Yamnaya-type kurgans and dozens of cemeteries have been recognized by archaeologists in the lower Danube valley, in Bulgaria and Romania; and in the middle Danube valley, in eastern Hungary, with radiocarbon dates that began about 3000–2800 BCE and extended to about 2700–2600 BCE (Ecsedy 1979; Sherratt 1986; Boyadziev 1995; Harrison and Heyd 2007; Heyd 2012; Frînculeasa et al. 2015). The migration stream that created these intrusive cemeteries now can be seen to have continued from eastern Hungary across the Carpathians into southern Poland, where the earliest material traits of the Corded Ware horizon appeared (Furholt 2003). Corded Ware sites appeared in Denmark by 2800–2700 BCE, probably within 100–200 years after the first Yamnaya migrants entered the lower Danube valley. This surprisingly rapid migration introduced genetic traits such as the R1a and R1b Y-chromosome haplogroups and a substantial element of ANE (Ancient North Eurasian) ancestry that remain characteristic of most northern and western Europeans today.


The oldest radiocarbon dates from Corded Ware sites occur in southern Poland (upper Vistula) and north-central Poland (Kujavia), and this was seen as the region where the early networking of amphorae styles from Globular Amphorae and axe types from Scandinavia began. The genetic evidence shows a somewhat different picture: the Corded Ware people were largely immigrants whose ancestors came from the steppes (probably immediately from eastern Hungary), but they quickly adopted local material traits in amphorae and axe types that obscured their foreign origins. Middle Neolithic northern European populations composed of admixed WHG/EEF survived but were largely excluded from Corded Ware cemeteries, and from marriage into the Corded Ware population. Even centuries after the initial migration the Corded Ware population at Esperstedt, dated 2500–2400 BCE, still exhibited 70–80% Yamnaya genes, although individual variations in the extent of local admixture were apparent. Intermarriage with the surviving local population was more frequent during the ensuing Bell Beaker period. However, the resurgence is more visible in mtDNA than in Y-DNA (Szécsényi-Nagy et al. 2015), suggesting that men of the older EEF heritage were disadvantaged more than women.


Settlements were more permanent before the Corded Ware migration, and remained so among the Globular Amphorae people, who continued to create more localized site-and-cemetery groups in the same landscape with the more mobile immigrants. Afterward, during the Bell Beaker period, when local genetic ancestry rebounded and the population became more admixed, settlements again were more permanent. The Corded Ware culture introduced both a large, steppe-derived population and an unusually mobile form of pastoral economy that was a regional economic anomaly, but nevertheless survived in varying forms for centuries before the regional economic pattern was re-established. A steppe language certainly accompanied this demographic and economic shift. As we have seen above, there are good independent reasons (loans with Uralic and South Caucasian) to think that PIE was spoken in the steppes. It is likely that the steppe language introduced between 3000–2500 BCE was a late (post-Anatolian) form of PIE and survived and evolved into the later northern IE languages.

So, to sum up the new developments of Anthony’s preferred model:

  1. Abandonment of the multiple cultural diffusion models from Yamna into Corded Ware, i.e. Pre-Germanic (in the Usatovo culture) and Pre-Balto-Slavic (in the Middle Dnieper culture).
  2. The only potential Yamna connection with Corded Ware in Archaeology must come from Yamna migrants in the Carpathian basin. Therefore, R1a must come from Hungarian settlements.
  3. Corded Ware cultures from Northern Europe, from roughly 2800 BC, must come from Yamna settlers of the Carpathian basin.
  4. Esperstedt is a great example of Yamnaya genes, and of the mobility (and lack of intermarriage) of Corded Ware peoples centuries, after their migration from Yamna settlers in Hungary.

My answers (obvious for anyone reading this blog, or my demic diffusion model):

  1. It is a pitty that cultural diffusion models are abandoned. They were the last hope to keep these IE-CWC/Kurgan hypotheses alive.
  2. The Carpathian Basin is obviously the only potential early connection between Corded Ware and Yamna. But no single R1a has been found in western migrants, and admixture (including ancestral components and PCA) from Early Yamna, West Yamna, Balkan EBA, and early Bell Beaker samples from Hungary make it very unlikely that such a connection existed.
  3. Corded Ware peoples formed and began their migration much earlier than Yamna settlers arrived in the Carpathian Basin. Compare e.g. the Late Neolithic sample from Latvia (dated ca. 2885 BC) with steppe ancestry attributed to Corded Ware, or the early appearance of east European cultures like Fatyanovo-Balanovo or Abashevo. Also, known Yamna migration routes don’t include these proposed population expansions.
  4. I have already written about the Esperstedt outlier, and why its definition as an outlier should have been clearly made to avoid this kind of misinterpretations…
Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration ca. 3000-2300 BC, according to Heyd (2007)

With each new genetic paper it is less and less likely that many individuals of Y-DNA haplogroup R1a, and especially R1a-Z645 (if any at all), will appear associated with Yamna, either in the Pontic-Caspian steppe or in western settlements (at least clearly belonging to Yamna, Balkan EBA, or Bell Beaker cultures), which will make the life of this new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model still shorter than could be a priori expected for any archaeological model.

Also, it seems that the Bell Beaker preprint paper by Olalde et al. (2017) will be published in Nature soon with more samples, so a swift rejection of this theory may be near. On the other hand, the first paper on this model by Anthony and Brown (like the first paper of Kristiansen and his workgroup) appeared just before Olalde et al. (2017) and Mathieson et al. (2017), and yet all samples against their pet theories have not deterred any of them to continue supporting them…

I would say it is a shame that some geneticists are misleading good archaeologists into so many different wrong models, but I guess it is only fair to blame authors for what they write, not whom or what they trusted to write…

I think there is much more to be said about the interaction among Neolithic cultures from the steppe (viz. Sredni Stog and Khvalynsk), than about the Yamna migration, and Anthony was in a better position to judge this. Right now, it seems that other researchers like Rassamakin or Ivanova are taking the lead in the research of Neolithic cultures from the steppe, while Heyd or Prescott are taking the lead in the explanation of Yamna -> Bell Beaker migrations and their connection with the expansion of Late Indo-European languages.

#EDIT (December 18 2017): Just to be clear, Anthony’s new Indo-European Corded Ware Theory model in Archaeology would be compatible with the development and expansion of a North-West Indo-European dialect of Late Indo-European in Linguistics (which is my main source of disagreement with other recent models). In fact, Anthony’s new model could explain the different nature of Balto-Slavic, being adopted by peoples of mainly R1a-Z645 subclades of Lesser Poland – from Yamna migrants of R1b-L23 subclades – , and later influencing Pre-Germanic brought by Bell Beakers to Scandinavia, so in that sense it could offer some light to certain controversial linguistic aspects. See Corded Ware Substrate Theory for more on Germanic and Balto-Slavic similarities based on a common, intermediate substrate.

What I am criticising with this post is that the model seems to rely heavily (in fact, almost solely) on what some geneticists (and especially amateurs, fanboys of specific haplogroups and/or admixture components) are selling about the ‘Yamnaya component’ (and thus the assumption of a common migration of peoples of R1a-Z645 and R1b-L23 subclades), something which is – to say the least – highly controversial today. Instead of departing from Archaeology (his field) to try and make sense of what others are saying, he seems to be abandoning his own migration models and adopting one compatible with genetic studies of 2015-2016 made by laymen in Indo-European studies, who based their conclusions on their own new methods, applied to a few scattered samples. These new IECWT proponents are thus in turn giving still more reasons for these geneticists to support wrong assumptions in future studies, by relying on any of these new potential archaeological scenarios. And so on and on it goes…