Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic (NOT Corded Ware/Battle Axe) identified as forming the Pre-Germanic community in Scandinavia


I wrote recently about the newly created Indo-European Corded Ware Theory group, which represents today the last dying effort to sustain the outdated model of the ‘Kurgan peoples’.

Archaeology and Linguistics (like Genetics) keeps slowly but relentlessly rejecting all the Kurgan model‘s foundations, safe for the steppe origin of Indo-European expansion.

The book Language and Prehistory of the Indo-European Peoples. A Cross-Disciplinary perspective. Eds. A. Hyllested, B.N. Whitehead, Th. Olander and B. Anette. Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European. Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, has been recently published (December 2017).

In it, Christopher Prescott contributes to the history of Indo-European migrations to Scandinavia and the formation of a common Nordic language, ancestral to Proto-Germanic.

A draft of his chapter is downloadable in Dramatic beginnings of Norway’s history? Archaeology and Indo-Europeanization.

Here are some excerpts from the text:

Thus archaeology can deal with the question of Indo-Europeans through material culture, and archaeology can contribute to unraveling the events leading up to the fact that Indo-European languages were spread from the Indian Ocean to the northwestern European Arctic in pre- and proto-history. In 1995, Prescott and Walderhaug tentatively argued that a dramatic transformation took place in Norway around the Late Neolithic (2350 BCE), and that the swift nature of this transition was tied to the initial Indo-Europeanization of southern and coastal Norway, at least to Trøndelag and perhaps as far north as Troms. Although this interpretation cannot be “proven” in any positivist sense of the word (though aDNA and isotope studies have added a new layer of relevant data), in light of the last ten years of research and excavations, it is has become an increasingly reasonable hypothesis (e.g., Engedal 2002, Fari 2006, Håland and Håland 2000, Kristiansen 2004, Melheim 2006, Østmo 1996, also Kvalø 2007, Larsson 1997).


The Late Neolithic transformation gives rise to a cultural platform where most of southerly Norway is incorporated into the Nordic sphere. Interaction is no longer over borders, rather within a common cultural arena. Locally, the cultural institutions provide a base for the continued dynamic development through the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. On a larger geographic and historical scale, incorporation into this field of interaction opens even the most peripheral parts of southern Norway to the streams of culture and events that shape Europe’s Bronze Age history, for example those originating from within Unetice, Tumulus Culture, Urnfeld and Hallstatt.


Changes in Scandinavia Norway are linked to wider transformations in Europe. Culturally, both Corded Ware Battle Axe and the Bell Beaker are important referential easterly and westerly European cultural horizons. Both these horizons affect and transform Northern Europe, so developments in Norway are not isolated affairs. Needless to say, though often regarded as Indo-European, the processes leading to and the affect of these cultural horizons is discussed for other parts of Europe as well (Mallory 1989:243ff).

Though there are reasonable arguments to assign both Corded Ware groups and bell Beaker groups Indo-European affiliations, the Corded Ware/Battle Axe horizon did not transform large parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula, nor can this horizon be identifies as the source of the practices, forms and institutions that characterize the ensuing Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. The Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic, however, represents a source and beginning of these institution and practices, exhibits continuity to the following metal age periods and integrated most of Northern Europe’s Nordic region into a set of interaction fields. This happened around 2400 BCE, at the MNB to LN transition.

Though much is tentative and conjecture, multiple sources indicate that ideology, cosmology, myths social organization and probably language were Indo-European in the Bronze Age, and the development of the Bronze Age is rooted in the preceding Late Neolithic. Though the evidence also indicates that the initial Indo-European encounters, indeed “colliding worlds”, were probably experienced in the Middle Neolithic B, the archaeological record points to the time around transition to the Late Neolithic as the chronologically defining threshold for the entrenchment of an Indo-European platform throughout what would become the Nordic Bronze Age region in Norway. The Late Neolithic is therefore the most likely candidate for the introduction of the foundation for economic, social and ideological institutions, that is Giddens’ “deeply layered structure[s]”, that are fundamental to the development of the region’s identities, also ethnic, in the millennia to come.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC, after the Bell Beaker invasion, the most likely time of formation of a common Nordic language, ancestor of Proto-Germanic.

Mind you, not that these actual archaeological and linguistic models will deter anyone from supporting ancestry-based tentative sketches of a fictional ‘kurgan people’ that became outdated almost 60 years ago now – especially if they fit certain desires of ancestral ethnolinguistic identification with modern populations…


The concept of “outlier” in studies of Human Ancestry, and the Corded Ware outlier from Esperstedt


While writing the third version of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, I noticed that one Corded Ware sample (labelled I0104) clusters quite closely with steppe samples (i.e. Yamna, Afanasevo, and Potapovka). The other Corded Ware samples cluster, as expected, closely with east-central European samples, which include related cultures such as the Swedish Battle Axe, and later Sintashta, or Potapovka (cultures that are from the steppe proper, but are derived from Corded Ware).

I also noticed after publishing the draft that I had used the wording “Corded Ware outlier” at least once. I certainly had that term in mind when developing the third version, but I did not intend to write it down formally. Nevertheless, I think it is the right name to use.

PCA of dataset including Minoans and Mycenaeans, and Scythians and Sarmatians. The graphic has been arranged so that ancestries and samples are located in geographically friendly axes similar to north-south (Y), east-west(X). Symbols are used, in a simplified manner, in accordance with symbols for Y-DNA haplogroups used in the maps. Labels have been used for simplification of important components. Areas are drawn surrounding Yamna, Poltavka, Afanasevo, Corded Ware (including samples from Estonia, Battle Axe, and Poltavka outlier), and succeeding Sintashta and Potapovka cultures, as well as Bell Beaker. Corded Ware sample I0104, from Esperstedt, has also been labelled.

Outlier in Statistics, as you can infer from the name, is a sample (more precisely an observation) that lies distant to others. It is a slippery concept in Human Evolutionary Biology, because it has no clear definition, and it is thus dependent on a certain degree of subjective evaluation. It seems to be mainly based on a combination of PCA and ADMIXTURE analyses, but should obviously be dependent on the number of samples available for a certain culture, and the regional distribution of the samples available.

We have thus certain clear cases, like the Poltavka outlier, of R1a-M417 lineage, clustering close to Corded Ware (and Sintashta, and Potapovka) samples, but far from other R1b-L23 samples from Poltavka or Yamna cultures, from neighbouring regions in the steppe.

We have also less clear observations, like Balkan Chalcolithic samples, which may or may not have been part of different cultural groups (say, related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, or not), which may justify their differences in ancestral components in ADMIXTURE, and in their position in PCA.

And we have a Yamna sample from western Ukraine, which – unlike the other two available samples – clusters “to the south” of east Yamna samples. Taking into account the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, clustering closely with south-eastern European samples, could you really call this an outlier? Two outliers out of four western Yamna samples? Well, maybe. If you take east and west Yamna from the steppe as a whole, and exclude the Yamna sample from Bulgaria, of course you can. Whether that classification is useful, or actually hinders a proper interpretation of western Yamna samples, and of the “Yamna component” seen in them, is a different story…

PCA for European samples of Mathieson et al. (2017)

But what then about the Corded Ware male from Esperstedt, labelled I0104, dated ca. 2430 BC, which clusters among contemporaneous steppe (Poltavka) samples, and has the greatest proportion of ‘Yamna component’ in ADMIXTURE? After all, it is different in both respects from any other Corded Ware individual – including the oldest samples available, from Latvia (ca. 2885 BC) and Tiefbrunn (ca. 2755 BC).

This sample is one of the direct links between the steppe and Corded Ware in late times, and has been the main reason for the confusion a lot of people seem to have about the “Yamna component” in Corded Ware, with some supporting a direct migration from one into the other, and a few even daring to say that “Corded Ware is indistinguishable from Yamna”(!?).

His family members – all males of haplogroup R1a-M417 (like I0104 and most males from the Corded Ware culture) -, few generations later, show a decreased Yamna component, which clearly indicates that this individual’s admixture came directly from the steppe, and most likely from one or multiple female ancestors. That is compatible with the nomadic nature of the Corded Ware culture (and its known exogamy practices), which connected central Europe with the steppes, up to the North Caspian region.

If labelling other samples as outliers may be interesting to improve the conclusions one can obtain from genetic research, labelling this sample is, in my opinion, essential, to avoid certain strong misconceptions about the origin of the Corded Ware culture.