Minimal Corded Ware culture impact in Scandinavia – Bell Beakers the unifying maritime elite


Chapter The Sea and Bronze Age Transformations, by Christopher Prescott, Anette Sand-Eriksen, and Knut Ivar Austvoll, In: Water and Power in Past Societies (2018), Emily Holt, Proceedings of the IEMA Postdoctoral Visiting Scholar Conference on Theories and Methods in Archaeology, Vol. 6.

NOTE. You can download the chapter draft at

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Along the western Norwegian coast, in the northwestern region of the Nordic Late Neolithic and Bronze Age (2350–500 BCE) there is cultural homogeneity but variable expressions of political hierarchy. Although new ideological institutions, technology (e.g., metallurgy and boat building), intensified agro‑pastoral farming, and maritime travel were introduced throughout the region as of 2350 BCE, concentrations of expressions of Bronze Age elites are intermittently found along the coast. Four regions—Lista, Jæren, Karmøy, and Sunnmøre—are examined in an exploration of the establishment and early role of maritime practices in this Nordic region. It is argued that the expressions of power and material wealth concentrated in these four regions is based on the control of bottlenecks, channels, portages, and harbors along important maritime routes of travel. As such, this article is a study of prehistoric travel, sources of power, and maritime landscapes in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Norway.

Interesting excerpts:

(…)The [Corded Ware culture (CWC)] in Norway (or Battle Axe Culture, 2750–2400/2350 BCE) is primarily represented in Eastern Norway, with a patchy settlement pattern along the Oslo fjord’s coast through the inland valleys to Trøndelag in Central Norway (Hinsch 1956). The CWC represents an enigmatic period in Norwegian prehistory (Hinsch 1956; Østmo 1988:227–231; Prescott and Walderhaug 1995; Shetelig 1936); however the data at the moment suggests the following patterns:

  • Migration: The CWC was the result of a small‑scale immigration, but did not trigger substantial change.
  • Eastern and limited impact: The CWC was primarily located in small settlement patches in eastern Norway.
  • Terrestrial: In terms of maritime practices, the CWC does not represent a significant break from older traditions, though it seems to have a more pronounced terrestrial bearing. It is conceivable that pastures and hunting grounds were a more important political‑economic resource than waterways.

The mid‑third millennium in Norway, around 2400 BCE, represents a significant reorientation. Bell Beaker Culture (BBC) settlements in western Denmark and Norway archaeologically mark the instigation of the Nordic LN, though much of the historical process leading from the Bell Beaker to the Late Neolithic, 2500 to 2350 BCE, remains unclear (Prescott 2012; Prescott and Melheim 2009; Prieto‑Martinez 2008:116; Sarauw 2007:66; Vandkilde 2001, 2005). Still, the outcome is the establishment of the Nordic region of interaction in the Baltic, Northern Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. The distribution of artifact materials such as Bell Beakers and flint daggers attests to the far‑flung network of regular exchange and communication. This general region of interaction was reproduced through the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

The Nordic region in the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. Sites and regions discussed in the text are marked (ater Prescott and Glørstad 2015:fig. 1).

The transition from the preceding Neolithic period hunter‑gatherer societies was rapid and represents a dramatic termination of hunter‑gatherer traditions. It has been argued that the transformation is tied to initial migrations of people to the western coast of Norway from BBC areas, possibly from northern Jutland (Prescott 2011; Prescott and Walderhaug 1995:273). Bifacial tanged‑and‑barbed points, often referred to as “Bell Beaker points,” probably represent an early, short phase of the BBC‑transition around 2400 BCE. In Norway these points have a predominantly western and coastal distribution (Østmo 2012:64), underscoring the maritime nature of the initial BBC‑expansion.

Distribution routes for LN1 flint daggers type 1 suggesting communication routes and networks. (Redrawn after fig. 9, Apel 2001:17).

(…) In response to the question about what attracted people from Bell Beaker groups to western Norway, responses have hypothesized hunting products, political power, pastures, and metals. Particularly the latter has been emphasized by Lene Melheim (2012, 2015:37ff).

A recent study by Melheim and Prescott (2016) integrated maritime exploration with metal prospecting to explain initial excursions of BBC‑people along the western coast and into the fjords. Building on the archaeological concept of traveling metal prospectors as an element in the expansion of the Bell Beaker phenomenon, in combination with anthropological perspectives on prospecting, the article explores how prospecting for metal would have adjusted to the landscapes of western Scandinavia. Generally speaking, prospecting seldom leads to successful metal production, and it is difficult to study archaeologically. However, it will often create links between the prospectors’ society and indigenous groups, opening new territories, and have a significant transformative impact—on both the external and indigenous actors and societies.

While the text echoes the traditional idea that Corded Ware spread Indo-European languages, Prescott (since Prescott and Walderhaug 1995) is a supporter of the formation of a Nordic community and a Nordic (i.e. Pre-Germanic) language with the arrival of Bell Beakers.

An identification of the Corded Ware language as of a previous Proto-Indo-European stage is possible, as I have previously said (although my preference is Uralic-related languages).

This CWC language would thus still form the common substrate to both Germanic and Balto-Slavic, both being North-West Indo-European dialects, which spread with Bell Beakers over previous Corded Ware territory.

NOTE. This pre-LPIE nature could be in turn related to Kortlandt’s controversial proposal of an ealier PIE dative *-mus shared by both branches. However, that would paradoxically be against Kortlandt’s own assumption that the substrate was in fact of a non-Indo-European nature

See also:

A multidisciplinary approach to Neolithic life reconstruction


Open access A Multidisciplinary Approach to Neolithic Life Reconstruction, by Goude et al. J Archaeol Method Th (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The expansion of Neolithic stable isotope studies in France now allows distinct regional population-scale food patterns to be linked to both local environment influences and specific economic choices. Carbon and nitrogen isotope values of more than 500 humans and of animal samples also permit hypotheses on sex-biased human provenance. To advance population scale research, we here present the first study that draws together carbon (C), nitrogen (N), sulphur (S) and strontium (Sr), dental calculus, aDNA, and palaeoparasitology analysis to infer intra-population patterns of diet and provenance in a Middle Neolithic population from Le Vigneau 2 (human = 40; fauna = 12; 4720–4350 cal. BC) from north-western France. The data of the different studies, such as palaeoparasitology to detect diet and hygiene, CNS isotopes and dental calculus analysis to examine dietary staples, Sr and S isotopes to discriminate non-locals, and aDNA to detect maternal (mtDNA) versus paternal lineages (Y chromosome), were compared to anthropological information of sex and age. Collagen isotope data suggest a similar diet for all individuals except for one child. The provenance isotopic studies suggest no clear differences between sexes, suggesting both males and females used the territory in a similar pattern and had access to foods from the same environments.

Radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from human teeth

Relevant excerpt:

With regard to aDNA analysis and the information this reveals on genetic provenance, Table 1 presents the mitochondrial haplogroups (SNPs typing) retrieved from the human remains. SNPs typing made it possible to assign one individual (LVH3, male < 60 years old) to maternal lineage K (or derivatives), and another individual (LVH12) to lineage H (or derivatives), whereas the low number of SNPs recovered for the last sample (LVH26) did not make it possible to assign any haplogroup. No Y chromosome SNP, as well as no reproducible result for HVR-I sequences, could be obtained for any Le Vigneau 2 individual. Unfortunately, major DNA degradation prevents precise identification of the maternal and paternal lineages, and these two mitochondrial haplogroups do not allow any assessment about female mobility. However, we can note that maternal lineages characterized in the Le Vigneau 2 site are quite common in Neolithic farmer groups and fit within the French Middle Neolithic variability (from 14 to 25.5% for haplogroup K and from 7.9 to 40.9% for haplogroup H; Beau et al. 2017), including farmers from the Paris Basin (35% of H and 18.33% of K for the Gurgy site; Rivollat et al. 2015).

On the potential origin of Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry in Eneolithic steppe cultures

An interesting open genomic question is the origin and spread of Caucasus hunter-gatherer (CHG) ancestry in steppe populations during the Eneolithic.

My broad theory regarding the appearance of this ancestral component is based on:

Two recently published papers ivestigating the Don Region may shed some light on this issue:

Plant food subsistence in the human diet of the Bronze Age Caspian and Low Don steppe pastoralists: archaeobotanical, isotope and 14C data, by Shishlina, Bobrov, Simakova, et al. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2018).

EDIT (16/3/2018): You can now read or download the paper at


The paper presents the result of analysis of charred food on the interior part of the vessels from the graves of the East Manych and West Manych Catacomb archaeological cultures (2500–2350 cal bc). The phytolith and pollen analyses identified pollen of wild steppe plants and phytoliths of domesticated gramineous plants determined as barley phytoliths. Direct 14С dating of one of the samples demonstrates that barley spikelets and stems were used in funeral rites by local steppe communities. However, there are no data suggesting that steppe inhabitants of the Lower Don Region were engaged in agriculture in the mid-3000 bc. Supposedly, barley could have reached the steppes through seasonal migrations of mobile pastoralists to the south, use of North Caucasus grasslands in the economic system of seasonal moves and exchange with local people. Nevertheless, presence of carbonized barley seeds in the occupation layers at North Caucasus settlements of 4000–3000 bc requires confirmation by direct 14С dating of such samples.

Location of sites. 1: Ulan IV; 2: Peschany IV and V; 3: Shakhaevskaya 1; 4: Zunda-Tolga 2; 5: Lesnoye; 6: Chidgom; 7: Meshoko; 8: Chishkho; 9: Svobodnoye

Dynamics of Chemical and Microbiological Soil Properties in the Desert–Steppe Zone of the Southeast Russian Plain during the Second Part of the Holocene (4000 BC–XIII century AC), Kashirskaya, Khomutova, Kuznetsova, et al. Arid Ecosyst (2018) 8(1):38-46.


The results of studies of the chemical and microbiological properties of the soils buried under the barrows of the Eneolithic, Bronze, and Middle Ages periods of the southeast of the Russian Plain are presented. It was shown that the climate of the region in the Eneolithic period (4200–4100 BC) and in the Middle Ages (700 years ago) was more humid in comparison to the present time. The third millennium BC was characterized by a gradual increase of the climate aridity. Its peak was at the end of the III millennium BC. The number and biomass of microbial cells was maximal in soils buried in periods of high atmospheric humidity (4200–4100 and 3000–2800 BC) and sharply decreased during the aridization period in the second half of the III millennium BC. In general, the variability of indicators of microbocenosis conditions of desert–steppe buried soils of all ages from the burial mounds correlated with the centuries-old dynamics of the climate.

Number of microbial cells in buried soils of different ages and modern background soil.

It is well known that access to more food – as in favorable crops and cattle feeding – may cause demographic explosions, and the second article – together with recent genomic data – may be yet another proof of that.

Until now, pastoralism seemed to be the main subsistence economy for most steppe groups. It seems that earlier Eneolithic contacts of certain steppe groups with settlements of the Northern Caucasus might have been not just to obtain prestige goods though, but – if proper radiocarbon dating confirms it – also implied essential goods, and maybe more stable seasonal exchange systems.

Such stable economic exchanges might have therefore included bidirectional exogamy practices, justifying the sizeable genomic contribution from the Caucasus.

At this point this is just another good theory to take into account.