Predictions about the genetic change from Single Grave to the Late Neolithic in Denmark


New open access paper Mapping human mobility during the third and second millennia BC in present-day Denmark by Frei et al. PLOS One (2019), from the Copenhagen group (including Allentoft, Sikora, and Kristiansen) of samples whose genomic profile will probably be published soon.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

We present results of the largest multidisciplinary human mobility investigation to date of skeletal remains from present-day Denmark encompassing the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Through a multi-analytical approach based on 88 individuals from 37 different archaeological localities in which we combine strontium isotope and radiocarbon analyses together with anthropological investigations, we explore whether there are significant changes in human mobility patterns during this period. Overall, our data suggest that mobility of people seems to have been continuous throughout the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. However, our data also indicate a clear shift in mobility patterns from around 1600 BC onwards, with a larger variation in the geographical origin of the migrants, and potentially including more distant regions. This shift occurred during a transition period at the beginning of the Nordic Bronze Age at a time when society flourished, expanded and experienced an unprecedented economic growth, suggesting that these aspects were closely related.

Map of present-day Denmark illustrating locations of the burial sites.
The dashed black line marks the maximum advance stage of the last glaciation (Weichselian). Drafted with public domain data from Natural Earth (

Strontium isotope analyses

The results of our strontium isotope analyses are presented in Table 2 and listed in chronological order according to the radiocarbon dates (in sites with multiple individuals we start with the oldest radiocarbon individual). The strontium isotope data set reveals a wide range of values from 87Sr/86Sr = 0.70871 (RISE 23, from the site of Debel) to 87Sr/86Sr = 0.71788 (RISE 20, from the site of Karlstrup). Despite the difficulties of establishing the baseline range some of the herein investigated individuals may be classified as non-locals. A few individuals have tooth enamel signatures that lie just above the upper baseline limit of 87Sr/86Sr = 0.711 and therefore, the classification of these humans as non-locals should be considered with caution. Nevertheless, the significant proportion of individuals with relatively radiogenic values suggest that about a quarter of the individuals studied herein seem to have originated from other places than from those they were buried, and hence implying a continuous degree of mobility during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.

Diagram plotting results of strontium isotope ratios versus calibrated radiocarbon dates of the individuals investigated. The grey band shows the “local” baseline.

Middle Neolithic

From the Single Grave Culture (SGC) which is closely related to the Corded Ware Complex in central and eastern Europe and dates from c. 2800 BC to 2200 BC, we analyzed seven of the at least ten individuals who were buried at the site of Gjerrild in eastern Jutland (Fig 1). Gjerrild is a key SGC site, as to date it has provided the most substantial skeletal material pertaining to this culture from present-day Denmark. However, it is not a typical SGC grave, but a megalithic chamber of the so-called “Bøstrup type”. The SGC pottery was decorated with cord or stamp impressions and the stone battle axes were a common feature of male equipment. Such shared traits in the Corded Ware Complex probably reflected shared occupational, social and religious characteristics. Apart from one individual who yielded a Bronze Age date, five individuals date within the period that spans from c. 2600 BC to 2200 BC, hence representing the middle and late SGC phases (Table 1 and S1 File). Of the seven individuals, three males, one female, two infants and one adult (only represented by a disarticulated mandible, and dated to the Bronze Age), all but one yielded strontium isotope signatures that fall within the local baseline range. Only the female (RISE 1283) has a more radiogenic strontium isotope signature of 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7127, which is similar to that of the male from Kyndeløse and might indicate non-local provenance. One of the individuals at Gjerrild, a mature-old adult male, who yielded a local signature (RISE 432) was accompanied by a D-type arrowhead and an amber bead which lay on his right side. He showed signs of inflammation on his lower legs, in particular on the left one. He had a healed trepanation (Fig 2). Another individual (RISE 73a, 1282), an adult male, was found with a type D arrowhead in the sternum (Fig 3).

Strontium isotope, 14C results and sex and age determinations from individuals from the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC from Denmark presented in chronological order. Modified from the paper, see full image.

Late Neolithic I

We sampled individuals from a total of twelve different sites that date to the Late Neolithic period (2300/2250-1700 BC).

One of these sites is Hellested on Zealand (Fig 1 and S1 File), with four flat graves containing five individuals, four young males and one mature adult female. We conducted strontium isotope analyses of enamel from all five individuals, and our results point to two individuals being characterized by local strontium isotope values. One of these individuals, the female, was buried with no grave goods (RISE 53, grave B) while the other, a young male, was buried with a fragmented bone pin (RISE 56, grave F). The other three male individuals (RISE 54, 55, 57) yielded similar strontium isotopic values that lie slightly above the local baseline range. All these individuals had been buried with early flint daggers (type I and II), and one of them (RISE 57, grave A) additionally had a ring-headed pin (Ringkopfnadel) [56]. On the basis of the presence of this ring-headed pin, Lomborg [56] suggested that these individuals had connections with the Únětice culture. Furthermore, three of them have radiocarbon dates that overlap (RISE 55, 56 and 57; Table 1).

Another Late Neolithic site is Juelsberg on the island of Funen (central Denmark, Fig 1 and S1 File) which is a gallery grave that contained at least 19 individuals. We conducted strontium isotope analyses of tooth enamel on 8 out of the 19 individuals and two of them, a male and female, yielded ratios that suggest a non-local origin (RISE 30 and 32). The grave goods comprise a (Lomborg) type I flint dagger but also some non-local type of artefacts. These consist of an early type of bone pin (type 7) mainly found in south-eastern Scandinavia, and a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead of the west-European Bell Beaker type suggesting western connections. The middle adult female (RISE 32) yielded an 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7121 and the mature to old adult male (RISE 30) yielded a 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7112. The different Sr isotope signatures of these individuals imply that they might have originated from different areas, albeit their radiocarbon dates are very similar.

The gallery grave of Marbjerg, Zealand (Fig 1), yielded 17 individuals (S1 File), and we conducted strontium isotope analyses of tooth enamel on 11 of them. The majority of the individuals were males, but females and children, too, were present. Anthropological investigations of the individuals from this site, males as well as females, indicate a relatively high life expectancy with respect to that typical for this period (S1 Table). Our radiocarbon dates revealed that this grave was in use for several hundred years from the Early Late Neolithic (2210–2030 cal BC, RISE 39) to the Late Neolithic /Early Nordic Bronze Age Period (1770–1620 cal BC, RISE 41). Despite the long-term use of this grave, 10 of the 11 individuals studied herein yielded a very narrow and overlapping range of strontium isotope values between 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7096–0.7101. Their values suggest not only that these individuals were local but that their food sources were derived from the same area over the course of several centuries. Only the tooth enamel sample of one individual, a middle to mature adult male (RISE 40), yielded a higher value of 87Sr/86Sr = 0.7117, which seems to suggest a non-local origin.

Predictions about these samples

Strontium isotope analyses only show potential movements during an individual’s lifetime, which is normally useless to assess relevant migrations if the sampling is not big enough (see more on investigating population movements). Still, if a sampling like this one shows many potentially non-local individuals from different parts of Denmark deviating from the baseline at a certain period, you can infer that something is happening within Denmark and in nearby regions.

Strontium isotope results of the 88 investigated individuals including Late Bronze Age individuals investigated previously. The grey band shows the “local” baseline.

Based on what we know now, I bet these are the most likely events in Denmark that marked the Nordic Late Neolithic with its Bell Beaker-related Dagger Period ca. 2400/2300 BC on:

  1. Sudden appearance of R1b-L23 lineages (probably R1b-U106 among them), originally from the Northern European Plain, ultimately from the Danube River Basin. R1a-M417 subclades, possibly prevalent in the previous period, disappear or appear rarely, to resurge later during the Bronze Age probably mostly as hg R1a-Z284, originally from the Battle Axe culture in Sweden, together with I1 – these resurgence events might be shifted to a later phase, though, and there might be some isolated R1a cases in the Danish LN, too.
  2. Shift of Middle Neolithic to Late Neolithic in the PCA away from the Corded Ware cluster and closer to the Bell Beaker cluster – whatever that means exactly for Danish SGC relative to Northern European Beakers, visible especially when enough samples are available.
  3. Evident sign of new incoming ancestry ultimately from Yamnaya-related populations, compared to earlier peoples of Corded Ware ancestry. Yes, even this far north, despite heavy admixture of Yamnaya-like Bell Beakers through exogamy with Corded Ware-like populations all the way to the north from the Danube Basin.

All this will support, once again, the expansion of Bell Beakers from Yamnaya settlers of Central-East Europe. That is probably what I will be reporting about the data as related to the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland of the Northern European Plain, unless there is some big surprise, for example that R1b-U106 expanded later from Northern Germany, more clearly associated with later Barbed Wire Beakers or even Únětice movements, although I find this very unlikely at this point.

The above predictions are more or less evident to everyone, despite the current mistrust in the Yamnaya – Bell Beaker expansion route of North-West Indo-European, due to the prevalent nativist and/or reactionary trends in hobby population genomics and among academics. My main prediction is therefore about human behaviour:

(1) Seeing how the Copenhagen group started to describe recently South Scandinavian genetic and linguistic prehistory, their conclusions are predictable. From the introduction of this paper:

The 3rd millennium BC stands out as a period of migrations in western Eurasia, as pastoral steppe populations settled in temperate Europe after 2800 BC e.g. [1, 2]. This was also a period of cultural and genetic admixture e.g. [3]. From 1600 BC onwards, southern Scandinavia became more closely linked to the existing European metal trade networks (…)

See what they did there? No mention of the radical change that the Dagger Period brought to Scandinavia, in cultural or genetic terms (see e.g. here or here). Strange how the only thing that Kristiansen has changed since the 1980s – and only after the 2015 genetic papers – is his previous emphasis on the Dagger Period as the most relevant unifying cultural and population movement in Scandinavia, responsible for the formation of a common Nordic language, which is suddenly given as little weight as possible in all his publications, to support some imaginary continuity with the Corded Ware culture (see e.g. here or here).

(2) Only a few males from the Single Grave period are described in this sampling, and they are quite close to the arrival of Bell Beakers, so if someone is looking for closure about the “R1b from Corded Ware”, I bet there won’t be any. As with conspiracy theories of native Vasconic R1b-L51 hidden somewhere in Western Europe even after Olalde et al. (2018) and Olalde et al. (2019), the mythic native Nordic R1b-U106 of Corded Ware will remain hidden in some unsampled Corded Ware group in the minds of many, despite being already found in Bell Beaker-derived European EBA cultures of Bohemia and possibly of Hungary, too (ca. 2500-2200 BC, see SNP calls), apart from the Late Neolithic sample from Lilla Beddinge in Scania (ca. 2275-2032 BC, see SNP calls)

I hope that I am wrong, and that some scholar in the Danish group is capable of reporting the data as it is, even if it contradicts the theories of its leading archaeologist, Kristian Kristiansen. The apparent downplay of the increase in non-local origins of individuals during the Late Neolithic I period as they appear in this paper, as well as their summary of foreign migrations into Denmark which mysteriously stop with the arrival of “Steppe ancestry” ca. 2800 BC, make me think that a change in their narrative is not very likely. The cons of working with academic divos, I guess…


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.


Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion


Now that it has become evident that Late Repin (i.e. Yamnaya/Afanasevo) ancestry was associated with the migration of R1b-L23-rich Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from the steppe in the second half of the the 4th millennium BC, there’s still the question of how R1a-rich Uralic speakers of Corded Ware ancestry expanded , and how they spread their languages throughout North Eurasia.

Modern North Eurasians

I have been collecting information from the supplementary data of the latest papers on modern and ancient North Eurasian peoples, including Jeong et al. (2019), Saag et al. (2019), Sikora et al. (2018), or Flegontov et al. (2019), and I have tried to add up their information on ancestral components and their modern and historical distributions.

Fortunately, the current obsession with simplifying ancestry components into three or four general, atemporal groups, and the common use of the same ones across labs, make it very simple to merge data and map them.

Corded Ware ancestry

There is no doubt about the prevalent ancestry among Uralic-speaking peoples. A map isn’t needed to realize that, because ancient and modern data – like those recently summarized in Jeong et al. (2019) – prove it. But maps sure help visualize their intricate relationship better:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map

Interestingly, the regions with higher Corded Ware-related ancestry are in great part coincident with (pre)historical Finno-Ugric-speaking territories:

Modern distribution of Uralic languages, with ancient territory (in the Common Era) labelled and delimited by a red line. For more information on the ancient territory see here.

Edit (29/7/2019): Here is the full Steppe_MLBA ancestry map, including Steppe_MLBA (vs. Indus Periphery vs. Onge) in modern South Asian populations from Narasimhan et al. (2018), apart from the ‘Srubnaya component’ in North Eurasian populations. ‘Dummy’ variables (with 0% ancestry) have been included to the south and east of the map to avoid weird interpolations of Steppe_MLBA into Africa and East Asia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Steppe MLBA-like ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Anatolia Neolithic ancestry

Also interesting are the patterns of non-CWC-related ancestry, in particular the apparent wedge created by expanding East Slavs, which seems to reflect the intrusion of central(-eastern) European ancestry into Finno-Permic territory.

NOTE. Read more on Balto-Slavic hydrotoponymy, on the cradle of Russians as a Finno-Permic hotspot, and about Pre-Slavic languages in North-West Russia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map

WHG ancestry

The cline(s) between WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, and Baikal HG are also simplified when some of them excluded, in this case EHG, represented thus in part by WHG, and in part by more eastern ancestries (see below).

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Arctic, Tundra or Forest-steppe?

Data on Nganasan-related vs. ANE vs. Baikal HG/Ulchi-related ancestry is difficult to map properly, because both ancestry components are usually reported as mutually exclusive, when they are in fact clearly related in an ancestral cline formed by different ancient North Eurasian populations from Siberia.

When it comes to ascertaining the origin of the multiple CWC-related clines among Uralic-speaking peoples, the question is thus how to properly distinguish the proportions of WHG-, EHG-, Nganasan-, ANE or BaikalHG-related ancestral components in North Eurasia, i.e. how did each dialectal group admix with regional groups which formed part of these clines east and west of the Urals.

The truth is, one ought to test specific ancient samples for each “Siberian” ancestry found in the different Uralic dialectal groups, but the simplistic “Siberian” label somehow gets a pass in many papers (see a recent example).

Below qpAdm results with best fits for Ulchi ancestry, Afontova Gora 3 ancestry, and Nganasan ancestry, but some populations show good fits for both and with similar proportions, so selecting one necessarily simplifies the distribution of both.

Ulchi ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

ANE ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Nganasan ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Iran Chalcolithic

A simplistic Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry is also seen in the Altaic cline(s) which (like Corded Ware ancestry) expanded from Central Asia into Europe – apart from its historical distribution south of the Caucasus:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Neolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Iran Chalcolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Other models

The first question I imagine some would like to know is: what about other models? Do they show the same results? Here is the simplistic combination of ancestry components published in Damgaard et al. (2018) for the same or similar populations:

NOTE. As you can see, their selection of EHG vs. WHG vs. Nganasan vs. Natufian vs. Clovis of is of little use, but corroborate the results from other papers, and show some interesting patterns in combination with those above.


Natural neighbor interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Natufian ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal hunter-gatherer ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Ancient North Eurasians

Once the modern situation is clear, relevant questions are, for example, whether EHG-, WHG-, ANE, Nganasan-, and/or Baikal HG-related meta-populations expanded or became integrated into Uralic-speaking territories.

When did these admixture/migration events happen?

How did the ancient distribution or expansion of Palaeo-Arctic, Baikalic, and/or Altaic peoples affect the current distribution of the so-called “Siberian” ancestry, and of hg. N1a, in each specific population?

NOTE. A little excursus is necessary, because the calculated repetition of a hypothetic opposition “N1a vs. R1a” doesn’t make this dichotomy real:

  1. There was not a single ethnolinguistic community represented by hg. R1a after the initial expansion of Eastern Corded Ware groups, or by hg. N1a-L392 after its initial expansion in Siberia:
  2. Different subclades became incorporated in different ways into Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, most of which without an ethnolinguistic change. For example, N1a subclades became incorporated into North Eurasian populations of different languages, reaching Uralic- and Indo-European-speaking territories of north-eastern Europe during the late Iron Age, at a time when their ancestral origin or language in Siberia was impossible to ascertain. Just like the mix found among Proto-Germanic peoples (R1b, R1a, and I1)* or among Slavic peoples (I2a, E1b, R1a)*, the mix of many Uralic groups showing specific percentages of R1a, N1a, or Q subclades* reflect more or less recent admixture or acculturation events with little impact on their languages.

*other typically northern and eastern European haplogroups are also represented in early Germanic (N1a, I2, E1b, J, G2), Slavic (I1, G2, J) and Finno-Permic (I1, R1b, J) peoples.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The problem with mapping the ancestry of the available sampling of ancient populations is that we lack proper temporal and regional transects. The maps that follow include cultures roughly divided into either “Bronze Age” or “Iron Age” groups, although the difference between samples may span up to 2,000 years.

NOTE. Rough estimates for more external groups (viz. Sweden Battle Axe/Gotland_A for the NW, Srubna from the North Pontic area for the SW, Arctic/Nganasan for the NE, and Baikal EBA/”Ulchi-like” for the SE) have been included to offer a wider interpolated area using data already known.

Bronze Age

Similar to modern populations, the selection of best fit “Siberian” ancestry between Baikal HG vs. Nganasan, both potentially ± ANE (AG3), is an oversimplification that needs to be addressed in future papers.

Corded Ware ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan-like ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal Hunter-Gatherer ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Afontova Gora 3 ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Afontova Gora 3 ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Iron Age

Corded Ware ancestry

Interestingly, the moderate expansion of Corded Ware-related ancestry from the south during the Iron Age may be related to the expansion of hg. N1a-VL29 into the chiefdom-based system of north-eastern Europe, including Ananyino/Akozino and later expanding Akozino warrior-traders around the Baltic Sea.

NOTE. The samples from Levänluhta are centuries older than those from Estonia (and Ingria), and those from Chalmny Varre are modern ones, so this region has to be read as a south-west to north-east distribution from the Iron Age to modern times.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG-like ancestry

The fact that this Baltic N1a-VL29 branch belongs in a group together with typically Avar N1a-B197 supports the Altaic origin of the parent group, which is possibly related to the expansion of Baikalic ancestry and Iron Age nomads:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

The dilution of Nganasan-like ancestry in an Arctic region featuring “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a-L392 at least since the Bronze Age supports the integration of hg. N1a-Z1934, sister clade of Ugric N1a-Z1936, into populations west and east of the Urals with the expansion of Uralic languages to the north into the Tundra region (see here).

The integration of N1a-Z1934 lineages into Finnic-speaking peoples after their migration to the north and east, and the displacement or acculturation of Saami from their ancestral homeland, coinciding with known genetic bottlenecks among Finns, is yet another proof of this evolution:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Similarly, WHG ancestry doesn’t seem to be related to important population movements throughout the Bronze Age, which excludes the multiple North Eurasian populations that will be found along the clines formed by WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, Baikal HG ancestry as forming part of the Uralic ethnogenesis, although they may be relevant to follow later regional movements of specific populations.

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.


It seems natural that people used to look at maps of haplogroup distribution from the 2000s, coupled with modern language distributions, and would try to interpret them in a certain way, reaching thus the wrong conclusions whose consequences are especially visible today when ancient DNA keeps contradicting them.

In hindsight, though, assuming that Balto-Slavs expanded with Corded Ware and hg. R1a, or that Uralians expanded with “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a, was as absurd as looking at maps of ancestry and haplogroup distribution of ancient and modern Native Americans, trying to divide them into “Germanic” or “Iberian”…

The evolution of each specific region and cultural group of North Eurasia is far from being clear. However, the general trend speaks clearly in favour of an ancient, Bronze Age distribution of North Eurasian ancestry and haplogroups that have decreased, diluted, or become incorporated into expanding Uralians of Corded Ware ancestry, occasionally spreading with inter-regional expansions of local groups.

Given the relatively recent push of Altaic and Indo-European languages into ancestral Uralic-speaking territories, only the ancient Corded Ware expansion remains compatible with the spread of Uralic languages into their historical distribution.


European hydrotoponymy (VI): the British Isles and non-Indo-Europeans


The nature of the prehistoric languages of the British Isles is particularly difficult to address: because of the lack of ancient data from certain territories; because of the traditional interpretation of Old European names simply as “Celtic”; and because Vennemann’s re-labelling of the Old European hydrotoponymy as non-Indo-European has helped distract the focus away from the real non-Indo-European substrate on the islands.

Alteuropäisch and Celtic

An interesting summary of hydronymy in the British Isles was already offered long ago, in British and European River-Names, by Kitson, Transactions of the Philological Society (1996) 94(2):73-118. In it, he discusses, among others:

  • Non-serial hydronyms: Drua-/Drav-/Dru-, from drew- sometimes reshaped as derw-; ab-; ag-; al-; alb-; alm-; am-; antjā-; arg-; aw-; dan-; eis-; el-/ol-; er-/or-; kar(r)a-, ker-; nebh-; ned-; n(e)id-; sal-; wig-; weis-/wis-; ur-, wer-; etc.
  • Serial elements: -went-, -m(e)no-, -nt-o-, -n-; -nā-, -tā-; -st-, -r-; etc.

Probably non-Celtic suffixes are found e.g. in Tamesis, paralelled in the Spey Tuesis, and also in Tweed (<*Twesetā?); or -no-/-nā- is also particularly frequent in Scottish river-names, but not in English ones. Another interesting case is the reverse suffix relative order into -r-st- instead of -st-r-.

Most if not all of them can be explained as of Old European nature. I will leave aside the discussion of particular formations – most of which may be found repeated, complemented, and updated in more modern texts.

Hydronyms ub-, ob-. Another Western European river name.

Bell Beakers as Old Europeans

(…) Bell-beakers are in fact the only archaeological phenomenon of any period of prehistory with a comparably wide spread to that of river-names in the western half of Europe. The presumption must I think be that Beaker Folk were the vector of alteuropäisch river-names to most of western Europe. Rivers in the base Arg-, which we have seen there is cause to think was not already in use at the earliest stage of the river-naming system, and which therefore should be associated with such a vector if one existed, fit their distribution exceptionally well.

That they were a single-speech community can be asserted more confidently of the Beaker Folk than of most archaeologically identified groups for the very reasons that have caused archaeologists difficulty in interpreting them. As McEvedy (1967:28) put it, ‘the bell-beaker folk march convincingly in every prehistorian’s text, but they do so from Spain to Germany in some and from Germany to Spain in others, while lately there has been a tendency to make them go from Spain to Germany and back again (primary and reflux movements)’. One ‘firm datum seems to be that the British beaker folk came from the Rhine-Elbe region.’

This confirms what the long chronology now indicated for Common Indo-European would suggest anyway, and what to me, as remarked above, the rareness of non-Indo-European names in England suggests, that the old dissenting minority of Celticists were right to see the arrival in Britain of Indo-Europeans, as evinced in river-names whether or not in ethnic proto-Celts, as early as the third millennium. McEvedy’s map of Beaker Folk identifies them linguistically with Celto-Ligurians, but in that his admirably tidy mind was, typically, a degree too tidy. Considerations of phonology indicate that more than one linguistic group was involved.

It is normal in reconstructed Indo-European for groups of related words not all to have the same vowel in the root syllable. The commonest vowel gradation is between e, o, and zero; (…) Language-groups that level short a and o include Germanic and Baltic, Slavonic, Illyrian, Hittite and Indo-Iranian; but Celtic and Italic like Greek and Armenian preserve the original distinction. It follows that Celts speaking normal Celtic sounds cannot have been wholly responsible for bringing alteuropäisch river-names to any area. It would seem to follow, as Professor Nicolaisen has consistently urged, that in Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Italy, where the only historically known early Indo-Europeans were speakers of non-levelling languages, they were preceded by speakers of levelling languages not historically known. This hypothesis, pretty well required by the linguistic evidence, finds so good an archaeological correlate in the Beaker People that I think it would now be flying in the face of the evidence not to accept those as bearers of the river-names to these countries.

Bell Beaker Civilization (CAD O. Lemercier).

The funny note is the rejection of the steppe homeland by Kitson in favour of Central European Neolithic cultures, due in part to the ‘impossibility’ of proto-Finnic loans from East Indo-European, if Proto-Indo-European was spoken in the steppe. As I said recently, the lack of knowledge of Uralic languages and Indo-European – Uralic contacts has clearly conditioned the Urheimat question for both, Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic researchers.

On the other hand, the identification of Bell Beakers with Old Europeans was not something new. Already in the 1950s Hugh Hencken talked about this, and J.P. Mallory (who described Bell Beakers more exactly in 2013 as North-West Indo-Europeans) is sure that this idea had been used even before the 1950s.

The question is, though, to what extent the reasoning of those researchers was as detailed so as to consider it a modern approach to the question, because Krahe in the 1940s seems to offer the first reliable data to make that assumption. In any case, Gimbutas’ idea of Kurgan warriors imposing Indo-European languages everywhere, so over-represented in Encyclopedia-like texts since the end of the 1990s, was not the only, and probably never the main hypothesis among many Indo-Europeanists.

Celts part of Bell Beakers?

Regarding Koch and Cunliffe’s revival of the autochthonous Celts idea, one can find a similar traditional view among British researchers of the early and mid-20th century – and a proper rejection based on hydrotoponymy. It seems that many fringe theories in Indo-European studies, from Nordic or Baltic homelands to autochthonous Celts to the Europa Vasconica, can be traced back to revivalist waves of romantic views of the 19th c.:

What the late Professor C. F. C. Hawkes called in British archaeology ‘cumulative Celticity’, built up by successions of comparatively small tribal migrations, will then have operated on the linguistic side as well. That the predecessors of the Celts proper for so long had in most of Britain been people of similar Indo-European speech explains why there is not a significant survival of recognizably non-Indo-European river-names, and why the few serious candidates for non-Indo-European among recorded place-names all seem to be in Scotland. That the river-names kept their north European non-Celtic phonology will be because the Celts proper took them over as names, with denotative not fully lexical meaning. (…)

(…) I think non-Celtic Indo-European-speakers are likely to have been involved in fact, whether or not they are the whole story, both because that it is the hypothesis which makes best sense of the archaeological evidence (…)

(…) because it is widely accepted that placenames in the Low Countries imply the existence of at least one group of not historically attested Indo-European-speakers, not the same as the ones we are concerned with. So do names in Spain, another country where the only historically attested early Indo-Europeans were Celtic. Comparing Spanish alteuropäisch names with British ones gives a glimpse of the dialectal range that must have characterized the Beaker phenomenon. Either group shares one feature with historical Celtic that the other lacks. The Spanish names like Celtic proper mostly keep Inda-European o. There the diagnostic feature is initial p (Schmoll 1959:93, 78-80; Rodriguez 1980), lost from Celtic and the alteuropäisch of Britain.

Interesting is also the early reaction against Vennemann’s much publicized interpretation of Krahe’s Old European as ‘Vasconic’. This is a useful comment which is still applicable to the same non-existent ‘problem’ found by some Indo-Europeanists, depending on their ideas about Indo-European dialectalization:

It is again naughty of Vennemann (1994:244) to call his laryngealist explanation ‘the only kind of explanation that I know’. At least he does not quite go so far in his laryngealism as to posit a proto-Indo-European in which the vowel a never existed, as Kuiper does.

NOTE. It is difficult to understand why the work of so many Indo-Europeanists is usually not known, while Vennemann’s far-fetched theory has been endlessly repeated. I reckon it must be the same phenomenon of personal and professional contacts, involvement in editorial decisions, and simplification in mass media which makes Kristiansen and his theories frequently published and cited nowadays.



Based on these data, I entertained the idea of arguing for a Pre-Celtic Indo-European language in A Storm of Words, called Pre-Pritenic, with a tentative fable based on the data described below for the Insular Celtic substrate, but eventually deleted the whole text, because (unlike other tentative fables, like the Lusitanian or Venetic ones) it was pure speculation with not even fragmentary data to rely on. Here is a fragment of the discussion:

Among the main reasons adduced to reject the non-Celtic nature of Pritenic is Orkney, a region where Pictish carved stones have been found (indicator of a centralised Pictish power and identity). The name was attested first as Gk. Orkas / Orkádos (secondary source, from Pytheas of Massilia, ca. 322-285 BC, or possibly much later) and Lat. Orchades / Orcades (by Latin sources in the 1st century AD), and it was used to describe the northernmost promontory in Scotland, commonly identified as Dunnet Head in Caithness. It is supposed to derive its name from Cel. *φorko- ‘pig’, because speakers of Old Irish interpreted the name for the island later as Insi Orc ‘island of the pigs’. Therefore, Pritenic would have undergone the prototypical Common Celtic evolution of NWIE *p- → Ø- (see above).

This argument is flawed, in so far as it could have happened (with the interpretation of the name from a Celtic point of view) what happened later with Norwegian settlers, who reinterpreted the name according to Old Norse orkn ‘seal’, to identify it as ‘island of the seals’. In fact, texts published in the 19th and 20th century looked for an even closer etymology to the interpreter, who usually saw it as ‘island of the orcas’.

The region name orc- could be speculatively linked to NWIE *ork-i- ‘cut off, divide’, cf. Ita. *erk-i- (vowel analogically changed), Hitt. ārk- (<*hork-ei-), in Latin found with the meaning ‘divide (an inheritance)’, hence noun Lat. erctum ‘inheritance, inherited part’.

Maybe more interesting is a connection to *or-, as found in British rivers or streams Arrow, Oare Water (Som), Ayre , Armet Water, Arnot Burn, Ernan Water etc. for which cognates Skt. arvan(t)- ‘running, swift’, árṇa- ‘surging’, Gmc. *arnia- ‘lively, energetic’ have been proposed (Forster 1941; Nicolaisen 1976; Kitson 1996). Similar to these derivatives in -n-, -m-, one could argue for a denominative suffixation in *-ko-, not uncommon in Old European toponyms (Villar Liébana 2007), which could be interpreted originally as ‘(region) pertaining to the Or (river, stream)’. The a-vocalism of Old European does not need further explanation, being fairly common in the British Isles (Kitson 1996).

I tried to look for rivers and streams in Caithness that fit a potential border for an ancestral tribe, but after reading many (and I really mean too many) texts on Scotland’s hydronymy, which is a quite well-researched area, I didn’t like the idea of plunging into such a speculative task; not when I have this blog for that… I deleted the text from the book, seeing how it doesn’t really add anything of value and may have distracted from its real aim. If any reader wants to post potential candidates for this delimiting river ‘Or’ in Caithness, feel free to post that below.

Or- hydronyms, mapped by Villar (2007). He considered it a variant of ur-, uro-, and only included one certain occurrence from old river-names in southern England.

Weak (if any) support of a non-Celtic nature of the names might also be found in the late description of Ptolemy’s Geographia (originally ca. 150 AD), Tauroedoúnou tēs kai Orkádos kaloumenēs, translated in Latin as Tarved(r)um, quod et Orcas promontorium dicitur. The original name seems to be formed from *tau-r-, as is common in Indo-European *taur-o- (compare also river Taum), whereas the commonly used Latin translation seems to rely on a Celtic *tarw-o-.

Always Celtic?

As with other Pictish material, these questions are unlikely to be settled without unequivocal sources pointing to the original names and their meaning. The autochthonous trend is set lately by Guto Rhys, whose work is thorough and methodologically sound, although his reviews tend to dismiss all evidence of a non-Celtic (or even non-Brittonic) layer in Pictland as described in previous works, mostly because of the lack of direct sources or uncontroverted data:

Where a supposed divergence is found in certain names, a lack of proper reading or interpretation of materials (or lack of enough cases to generalize them), combined with similar names in other (neighbouring or distant) Celtic languages, is adduced.

However, the same arguments can indeed be used to reject his proposal of a Celtic nature of many names which cannot be simply explained with other clearly Celtic examples: namely, that all similarities are due to later influences, re-analysis and modifications of Old European terms according to Celtic phonemic (or etymological) patterns, or that the Brittonic nature of many names are due to convergence of the attested Pritenic naming conventions with neighbouring dialects.

In the end, the only conclusion is that there is a clear impasse in hydrotoponymic research in the British Isles, particularly in Scotland, with an impossibility of describing non-Celtic or non-Indo-European Pre-Pritenic layers, due in great part – in my opinion – to the trend among many British Celticists to consider Celtic as autochthonous to the Atlantic. This hinders the proper investigation of the question, just like the trend among Basque studies to consider the western Pyrenees as the eternal Vasconic homeland hinders a fair investigation of the actual Vasconic proto-history.

Probable maximum extent of Pictland is also highlighted in blue and overlain on the modern outline of northern Britain. Image from Noble, G., Goldberg, M., & Hamilton, D. (2018).

Non-Indo-Europeans in Northern Europe

Insular Celtic substrate

Matasović, a specialist in Celtic languages and author of the famous Eytmological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (IEED 2009), writes in The substratum in Insular Celtic (2009):

Syntactic evidence

The syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages (which used to be called Hamito-Semitic) were noted more than a century ago by Morris-Jones (1899), and subsequently discussed by a number of scholars. These parallels include the following.

  1. The VSO order, attested both in OIr. and in Brythonic from the earliest documents (…).
  2. The existence of special relative forms of the verb, (…).
  3. The existence of prepositions inflected for person (or prepositional pronouns), (…).
  4. Prepositional progressive verbal forms, (…).
  5. The existence of the opposition between the “absolute” and “conjunct” verbal forms. (…)

The aforementioned features of Old Irish and Insular Celtic syntax (and a few others) are all found in Afro-Asiatic languages, often in several branches of that family, but usually in Berber and Ancient Egyptian (see e.g. Isaac 2001, 2007a).

Orin Gensler, in his unpublished dissertation (1993) applied refined statistical methods showing that the syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic cannot be attributed to chance. The crucial point is that these parallels include features that are otherwise rare cross-linguistically, but co-occur precisely in those two groups of languages. This more or less amounts to a proof that there was some connection between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic at some stage in prehistory, but the exact nature of that connection is still open to speculation.

“Atlantic” typology

Insular Celtic also shares a number of areal isoglosses with languages of Western Africa, sometimes also with Basque, which shows that the Insular Celtic — Afroasiatic parallels should be viewed in light of the larger framework of prehistoric areal convergences in Western Europe and NW Africa.

The text goes on with typologically rare features found in West Europe and West Africa, such as the inter-dental fricative /þ/ (also in English, Icelandic, Castillian Spanish); initial consonant mutations/regular alterations of initial consonants caused by the grammatical category of the preceding word; the common order demonstrative-noun (within the NP) reversed; the vigesimal counting system; or use of demonstrative articles.

Lexical evidence

(…) only 38 words shared by Brythonic and Goidelic without any plausible IE etymology. These words belong to the semantic fields that are usually prone to borrowing, including words referring to animals (…), plants (…), and elements of the physical world (…). Note that cognates of these words may be unattested in Gaulish and Celtiberian because these languages are poorly attested, so that the actual number of exclusive loanwords from substratum language(s) in Insular Celtic is probably even lower. In my opinion it is not higher than 1% of the vocabulary. The large majority of substratum words in Irish and Welsh (and, generally, in Goidelic and Brythonic) is not shared by these two languages, which probably means that the sources were different substrates of, respectively, Ireland and Britain; (…)


The thesis that Insular Celtic languages were subject to strong influences from an unknown, presumably non-Indo-European substratum, hardly needs to be argued for. However, the available evidence is consistent with several different hypotheses regarding the areal and genetic affiliation of this substratum, or, more probably, substrata. The syntactic parallels between the Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages are probably not accidental, but they should not be taken to mean that the pre-Celtic substratum of Britain and Ireland belonged to the Afro-Asiatic stock. It is also possible that it was a language, or a group of languages (not necessarily related), that belonged to the same macro-area as the Afro-Asiatic languages of North Africa. The parallels between Insular Celtic, Basque, and the Atlantic languages of the Niger-Congo family, presented in the second part of this paper, are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a large linguistic macro-area, encompassing parts of NW Africa, as well as large parts of Western Europe, before the arrival of the speakers of Indo-European, including Celtic.

Map of tuk-, tok-, tuch-, tug- (with India). Interestingly, the language of the -tuk- represents a more recent layer in Iberia than the earlier Old European serial elements, pointing to a west-european expansion from the north, although it may have an Indo-European etymology.

Language of the geminates

Further evidence of the potential presence of non-Indo-European speakers at the arrival of Insular Celtic may be found in Schrijver’s Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2000), and his less enthusiastic revision More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2005). Both are referred and enough summarized by Matasović (2009).

Even more interesting than the discussion of potential non-Indo-Europeans still lingering in Ireland until well into the Common Era, is the discussion on his paper Lost Languages in Northern Europe (2001). Apart from other non-Indo-European borrowings in northern Europe, most of which must clearly be included within the European agricultural substrate, Schrijver tries to interpret the relative chronology of a substratum language of northern Europe, described by Kuiper (1995) as A2, and by Schrijver as “language of geminates“.

This substrate language is heavily present in Germanic (see e.g. Boutkan 1998), but also in Celtic and Balto-Slavic:

A highly characteristic feature of words deriving from this language is the variation of the final root consonant, which may be single or double, voiced or voiceless, and prenasalized. (…)

Incidentally, the language of geminates cannot be Uralic, as another of its characteristics is the frequent occurrence of word-initial *kn- and *kl-, and Uralic languages do not allow consonant clusters at the beginning of the word. On the other hand, and at the risk of explaining obscura per obscuriora, one might consider the possibility that the consonant gradation of Lappish and Baltic Finnic is somehow connected with the alternation of consonants at the end of the first syllable in the “language of geminates”.

The idea that the Northern European language of geminates could play an intermediary role in loan contacts between Northern and Western Indo-European on the one hand and Finno-Ugric on the other may also account for the fact that Finno-Ugric words could end up as far away as Celtic, which as far as we know was never in direct contact with a branch of Uralic.

Schrijver later changed his view about certain aspects of this substrate, from a “language of geminates” influencing Balto-Finnic which in turn influenced Germanic, to Pre-Balto-Finnic speakers being the substrate of Germanic, and both evolving at the same time in contact in Scandinavia. In fact, we know that Pre-Proto-Germanic evolved in southern Scandinavia, with a core in Jutland that shifted to the south, so the location must have been close to the North European Plain.

Also fitting this model is the substrate behind Balto-Slavic (spoken in the West Baltic), which must have also been (Para-)Balto-Finnic. However, the frequent word-initial *kn- and *kl- and the loanwords appearing in the Celtic homeland (also including Early Balto-Finnic) must place this Uralic(± non-Indo-European) language contact also well into Central European Corded Ware groups.

Similarly, one of the shared features between Finnic and Mordvinic is precisely the presence of certain geminated consonants. A revision of the data in combination with these facts should shift of evidence to a (Para-)Balto-Finnic-speaking Baltic area during the Early Bronze Age, certainly encompassing the Battle Axe culture.

Corded Ware groups. “Classical funerary practices” found regularly, in darker shades. Modified from Furholt (2014).

Afroasiatic-like substrate and Vasconic

The only archaeological culture that could fit most of these data, in the currently known relative chronological time frame, would be the Megalithic expansion in Western Europe, or potentially (maybe in addition to this early layer) the expansion of the Proto-Beaker package, which could have spread a Basque-Iberian language (see e.g. my take on Basque-Iberians).

Whether the language behind the Insular Celtic substrate (or, rather, some of its dialects) had true Afroasiatic syntactic features or it was just a language with features which happened to be similar to Afroasiatic is irrelevant. It’s impossible to reconstruct with confidence a Pre-Proto-Basque language with the currently available information.

Interestingly, it is possible to argue for an Afroasiatic branch surviving among hunter-gatherers adopting Neolithic traits in northern Europe. This has been proposed many times in the past, and one could argue in palaeogenomics for indirect supporting data, such as the expansion of WHG ancestry from south-east Europe (close to Anatolia, forming a cline with AME), and in particular of hg. R1b-V88 from the steppe – potentially associated with the Afroasiatic expansion into Africa from a Nostratic community.

NOTE. I will not resort here to typologically-based arguments similar to the “Hamito-Semit(id)ic” and “Vasconic-Uralic” Europe that were commonly in use in the 1990s, because they are in great part based on the mere re-labelling of Old European layers as “Vasconic” and flawed mass lexical/grammatical comparisons. For linguists favourable to this kind of reasoning, the theory set forth here is probably easier, though, as will be for those supporting a Neolithic expansion of Indo-European from the Mediterranean. This, however, has its own set of problems, as I have already discussed.

Distribution of megaliths in western, central, and northern Europe (after Muller 2006; graphic: Holger Dieterich).

Single Grave culture

The non-Indo-European substrate of Insular Celtic, in combination with the oldest hydrotoponymic layers – almost exclusively of Old European nature – of Britain and likely all of Ireland, can more easily be explained as a first layer of North-West Indo-European speakers heavily influenced by an Afroasiatic(-like) substrate reaching the British Isles, possibly with a slightly richer set of non-Indo-European loanwords at the time. Their language would have been later replaced by the closely related Celtic dialects imposed by elites in the Early Iron Age, which could have then easily absorbed this (mainly syntactic) substrate.

There is little space to argue for a hypothetic non-Indo-European expansion from another region, or for an in situ substrate, due to:

  1. the radical population replacement (and Y-chromosome bottleneck) in Britain and northern Ireland stemming from the Lower Rhine;
  2. the lack of meaningful population movements during the Bronze Age (at least from out of the islands);
  3. the final east-west movements of Celtic languages;
  4. the presence of the same (mainly syntactic) substrate in both Goidelic and Brittonic; and
  5. the minimal non-Indo-European lexical borrowings and hydrotoponymy, different in each island;

Based on archaeological and palaeogenomic data, the only reasonable direct connection of north-western Bell Beakers and this substrate language would be then the Corded Ware groups from north-western Europe – i.e. the traditionally named Single Grave culture from northern Germany and Denmark, and the Protruding Foot Beaker culture from the Netherlands.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

1. Early Corded Ware wave

The earliest Corded Ware burials from northern Europe (ca. 2900-2800 BC) show important differences, so no strict funerary norms existed at first (Furholt 2014):

  • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east–south-west, and south–north; contrary to the supposed rule, male individuals are regularly deposite on their left and females on their right side
  • In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterized by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows.
  • In south Germany, west–east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.
  • In Kuyavia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west–east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
Corded Ware and neighbouring groups. Top: cultural map. Bottom: varied Y-chromosome haplogroups from ancient DNA samples. See full maps.

In genetics, the area that would become the ‘core Corded Ware province’ only after ca. 2700 BC also shows a surprising variability in the oldest samples in terms of haplogroups (which may indicate a recent departure of migrants from a mixed homeland); in terms of admixture, at least one sample clusters close to EEF groups, while later ones from Esperstedt – of hg. R1a-M417 (possibly xZ645) – show a likely admixture with Yamna vanguard groups expanding from the Carpathian Basin.

On the contrary, the slightly later eastern expansions as Battle Axe and Abashevo show long-lasting genetic continuity and a marked bottleneck under R1a-Z645 subclades, as well as a clear cultural connection through the Fatyanovo culture. The role of local populations, particularly females, in preserving local customs in the Single Grave culture (see Bourgeois and Kroon 2017) is also quite relevant to the continuity of the regionl culture in spite of migrations.

2. Single Grave culture in Denmark

The Corded Ware culture in Denmark was particularly weak in its human impact compared to previous farmers (see e.g. Feeser et al. 2019), and also in its cultural traits, adopting Funnel Beaker culture traits up to a point where even the Copenhagen group describes cultural continuity, likely entailing an important substrate language impact (see e.g. Iversen and Kroonen 2017).

It’s not difficult to realize that this same argument used for Semitic-like terms in Germanic by Kroonen (2012) – e.g. words for ‘lentil’, ‘pea’, and ‘turnip’ – and supported by the Copenhagen group may be used to support the adoption of non-Uralic substrate in a Uralic-speaking Corded Ware area (as Schrijver does), which later influenced incoming Bell Beakers that developed into the Pre-Proto-Germanic speakers.

From Iversen (2016):

As it appears from the analysis above, the situation in East Denmark during the 3rd millennium BC is culturally rather complex. The continued use of megalithic entombments and the almost total rejection of the Single Grave burial custom show a strong affiliation with old Funnel Beaker traditions even after the end of the Funnel Beaker culture. (…) With an almost total lack of the two defining elements of the Single Grave culture – interments in single graves and the prominent position of stone battle axes – one can hardly talk about a Single Grave culture in East Denmark. What we see is rather the adoption of various Single Grave, Battle Axe and Pitted Ware cultural traits into a setting that was basically a continuation of Funnel Beaker norms and traditions (Iversen 2015).

Single Grave and Battle axe culture graves in Denmark and scania (dots). Grey colouring: Distribution of Jutland single Graves. Dark grey: Initial phase ca. 2850–2800 BC. Cross: Megalithic tombs with single Grave/Battle axe culture finds (Iversen 2013 fig. 3).

The reason why East Denmark so conservatively upheld the Funnel Beaker traditions must be found in the area’s old position as a ‘megalithic heartland’, which reaches back to the early 4th millennium BC when dolmens and passage graves were constructed in very large numbers. (…) The result was a cultural blend governed by old Funnel Beaker norms and the use of Pitted Ware, Single Grave and Battle Axe material culture. This situation continued until the beginning of the Late Neolithic (ca. 2350 BC) when cultural and social development took a new course and flint daggers and metal objects appeared/ re-appeared in South Scandinavia.

The radical change brought about in the Late Neolithic “Dagger Period” is commonly agreed to be associated with the arrival and expansion of the Pre-Proto-Germanic communtity (read more here).

3. Single Grave culture in the Netherlands

The Corded Ware culture in the Netherlands is particularly disconnected culturally from its eastern core areas, which is reflected in the likely survival of a non-Indo-European language around the Low Countries, in the so-called Nordwestblock area. From Kroon et al. (2019):

The connections between changes in ceramic production techniques and social changes (see Fig. 2) allow for the formulation of hypotheses about the technological impact of the scenarios that archaeologists have proposed for the introduction of the CWC. If migration (i.e. an influx of new communities that bring new material culture) causes the spread of the CWC, then CWC vessels should differ from the vessels of previous communities in all respects: resilient, group-related, and salient techniques. However, if the introduction of the CWC is the result of diffusion of stylistic traits and moving objects, both these imported objects (different raw materials and production sequences) and changes in salient techniques should be observed when comparing CWC vessels to VLC vessels. Network interactions should yield the same changes as diffusion, as the combined movement of people, objects and styles within existing networks leads to the introduction of CWC. However, network interactions should yield one additional characteristic. Given that new people are integrated into extant communities, the occurrence of vessels with different resilient techniques, but group-related techniques that are stable relative to previous communities, is to be expected.

Schematic representation of the hypothesised changes in ceramic technology for diffusion (above) and migration (below) scenarios for the spread of the CWC. Image from Kroon et al. (2019).

The over-arching transitional process in the Western coastal area of the Netherlands is local continuity with diffusion and network interaction traits. Interestingly, the supra-regional networks of the VLC communities in this region, as well as some of the defining technological practices within these networks, remain intact throughout the CWC transition.

In the absence of detailed genetic and isotopic data from Late Neolithic individuals from the western coastal areas of the Netherlands, direct conclusions on the relations between the migrations demonstrated by genetic analyses in other regions and the outcomes of this study remain speculative. However, if a similar shift in the late Neolithic gene pool from this area can be detected, this raises questions on the impact of such migrations on knowledge transmission and local traditions. If such a change cannot be attested, questions should be raised about the nature of the CWC in this particular area. Questions that will ultimately boil down to what we define as CWC.

In other words, the introduction of Corded Ware in the Netherlands, which we can assume were driven by migrations – evidenced by the arrival of “Steppe ancestry” (see below) – would need to be interpreted in light of the adoption of a different set of cultural traits in this region. Combining linguistic and archaeological data, there is strong evidence that the Corded Ware ideology and its internal coherence might have been broken in the westernmost territories, hence the likely survival of the local culture and language(s).

Further reasons for this independence from the Uralic homeland, supporting the advantages of a cultural and linguistic integration among regional groups, include:

  1. the gradual shift of the core Corded Ware territory to the east in the centuries leading to the mid-3rd millennium BC;
  2. the similar weakened grip in Jutland (see above);
  3. the development of an isolated “classical” package in western Europe disconnected from eastern groups; and
  4. the cultural and genetic impact of expanding vanguard Yamna settlers.
General distribution of SGC settlements in the Netherlands. A = the tidal area in the province of Noord-Holland; B = the coastal barriers and Older Dunes area; C = the central river district; D = the northern, central and southern Dutch Pleistocene areas. a = certain/probable settlement; b = possible settlement; c = wooden trackway. Legend Holocene: 1 = coastal barriers and dunes. 2 = marine clay. 3 = peat. 4 = river clay. 5 = river dunes. 6 = water. Image modified from Drenth, Brinkkemper, and Lauwerier (2006).

4. Old Europeans in Britain

This predominant non-Indo-European language would later be the substrate language of Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine and the British Isles.

Culturally, the same process as in the previous Single Grave culture period may have happened in the Low Countries, due to the culturally favorable situation there. This might be inferred from the continuity of Protruding Foot Beaker into All-Over Ornamented Beaker, most likely an imitation of the expanding Proto-Beaker package by locals of the Single Grave culture.

Arguably, though, the same situation should have happened in all other Proto-Beaker regions favourable to cultural change and witnessing admixture with locals, such as Iberia, and the social relevance of this imitation is far from being accepted by almost anyone except for archaeologists working around the Rhine… From Heise (2014):

While in 1955 the Maritime Beaker was considered to be intrusive, the 1976 work seemed to prove that in the Netherlands a continuous development from Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) to All-Over Ornamented (AOO) Beaker to Maritime Beaker occurred. Nevertheless, the authors stressed that it was not possible to identify ‘the’ origin of the ‘Bell Beaker Culture’ in the Lower Rhine Area since typical artefacts (wristguards, daggers) were not known to be associated with the early AOO and Maritime pottery. Furthermore they argued against the “misleading simplification” of a single point of origin (Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 2). However, this last observation was not appreciated or was simply ignored by large parts of the research community and the theory was subsequently applied as a universal solution in many parts of Europe.

Typological development of Beakers in the Netherlands (PFB: Protruding Foot Beakers; AOO: All Over Ornamented Beakers; BB: Bell Beakers) (after Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 4, fig. 1).

In fact, most archaeologists have unequivocally rejected a Single Grave – Classical Bell Beaker continuity, and Heyd’s model has been recently confirmed in paleogenomics, which shows an evident expansion of East Bell Beakers from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (see here). We may nevertheless still save the following assertion, as particularly relevant for the continuity of non-Indo-European languages among the Single Grave groups of the Lower Rhine:

Marc Vander Linden argued that the “local validity of the Dutch sequence cannot […] be questioned” (2012, 76).

Olalde et al. (2019) showed how British, Dutch, and French Beakers have excess “Steppe ancestry” relative to Central European Beakers from Germany, who are in turn closest to the origin of Old Europeans in Iberia (i.e. Galaico-Lusitanian, “Ligurian”), the Lower Danube (i.e. Celtic), Italy (i.e. Italic, Venetic, Messapic), Sicily, and even Denmark (i.e. Germanic). This excess “Steppe ancestry” probably implies admixture with local Single Grave populations of the Lower Rhine, which is further supported by the position of these Lower Rhine Beakers in the PCA (using British Beakers and Netherlands BA as proxies), clustering – among Bell Beakers – closest to Corded Ware samples.

PCA of ancient Eurasian samples, with Corded Ware clusters drawn. Rhine/British Bell Beakers partially overlapping them. See full PCAs.

Futhermore, the emergence of Bell Beakers in the British Isles represents a radical replacement, with a population turnover of ca. 90% of the local population, and Yamna lineages representing more than 90% of the haplogroups of individuals in Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, apart from an evident Y-chromosome bottleneck under hg. R1b-S461 (and its subclade R1b-L21), maintained during the whole Bronze Age. The scarce non-Indo-European hydrotoponymy attests to the lack of integration of local populations or their languages into the new society. All this suggests an initial swift and massive intrusion marking the linguistic evolution of the British Isles until the Iron Age.

The arrival of Insular Celtic in the British Isles will be likely defined by an increase in ancestry related to Central Europe (and probably haplogroups, too). Since the Afroasiatic-like substrate is unrelated to Common Celtic, the non-Indo-European substrate must be associated with preceding Bronze Age populations of western Europe, most likely with Bronze Age Britons, who are in turn derived from Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine admixed with Single Grave peoples. The latter, therefore, must have passed on their Afroasiatic-like language as the substrate of Lower Rhine Beakers.

5. Vasconic from the north

Another indirect proof to the survival of non-Indo-Europeans in northern Europe is offered by Basques. Vasconic speakers came originally from some place beyond Aquitaine, and very recently before the Roman conquests, because place- and river-names show an overwhelming Old European substratum to the north of the Pyrenees, and exclusively Old European to the south.

Their origin is potentially quite far away, since Modern Basques show a similar cluster to that found in Iron Age Celtiberians of the Basque country. This could essentially mean that Basques were peoples of north/central European ancestry (see below fitting models of origin populations), because they must have arrived to Aquitaine after the arrival of Celtiberians, and with a similar ancestry.

In words of Olalde et al. (2019):

(…) increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages. This is consistent with the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe but overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.


The Tollense Valley near Rügen in the West Baltic shows LBA people clustering with Modern Basques (see here). This is compatible with the arrival (or displacement) of Vasconic-speaking Northern/Central Europeans close to the Rhine, possibly originally from northern France, very likely close to the Atlantic area during the Final Bronze Age / Early Iron Age based on cultural interactions.

Population movements from central-northern Europe into western Europe. Top: Cultures of the Late Bronze Age. Bottom: PCA with Bronze Age samples and drawn clusters. Marked in red is the Tollense site (please note: the approximate Tollense cluster does not include outliers, among them those closer to Modern Basques). Also marked is the British Bell Beaker sample closest to CWC populations. See full maps and whole PCAs.

Pre-Steppe languages in Europe?

An alternative to Old Europeans of the British Isles would be to support some kind of non-Indo-European/Vasconic continuity in the Atlantic façade close to the English Channel and the North Sea, given the current lack of palaeogenomic data on Bell Beakers and later groups in the area, and the potential Vasconic nature of Megalithic/Proto-Beaker groups that might have survived there.

The main problems with this approach are the lack of such an Afroasiatic-like substrate in Gaulish, which should have shown the same substrate as Insular Celtic, and the impossibility of associating this Afroasiatic-like substrate with Vasconic, both potentially representing completely different languages. A counterargument would be that we don’t have that much information on Gaulish and its dialects – or on the syntax of Vasconic, for that matter – to reject this hypothesis straight away…

In any case, the survival of pockets of non-Indo-European, non-Uralic speakers in northern Europe, even after Steppe-related expansions, should not shock anyone:

If the survival of non-Indo-European-speaking groups happened despite the swift expansion and radical population replacement brought about by the Bell Beaker folk – so called traditionally because of its unitary culture suggesting a unitary language community -, and non-Uralic-speaking groups in areas dominated by Corded Ware peoples, it could certainly have happened, and even more so, with Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups at the western and northern edges of their expansions, due to the early loss of contact with their respective core cultural regions.


Even obscure components of place or river names, like those from northern Europe, the Nordwestblock area, and the British Isles, might be better explained as Old European exceptions than any other alternative, i.e. either as an Indo-European layer over a non-Indo-European one or vice versa, or both in different periods, before the eventual unifying Celtic, Roman, and (later) Germanic expansions.

All in all, one could say about substrates and hydrotoponymy in the British Isles, the Lower Rhine, and in northern Europe as a whole, that the potentially interesting non-Indo-European forms are precisely those which do not interest either scholarly ‘faction’:

  • those supporting a non-Indo-European Western Europe, because it doesn’t represent the whole substrate, and can’t be used to argue for a Europa Vasconica or Europa Afroasiatica;
  • those supporting a Palaeo-Indo-European Western Europe, because their limited presence concentrated in isolated pockets doesn’t deny the Indo-Europeanness of the Old European layer anywhere.

However, these are the details that should be studied and that could define what happened exactly after steppe-related migrations, e.g. in the Single Grave cultural area before and after North-West Indo-Europeans admixed with its population, and thus what happened in the British Isles, too.

Ignoring the (mostly useless) typological comparisons, my bet would be for an ancient Uralic layer heavily admixed with local non-Uralic peoples, especially intense in the Single Grave culture. This Proto-Uralic layer would be of a dialect or dialects (assuming succeeding CWC waves and later local expansions) different from the known Late Proto-Uralic – which expanded with eastern Corded Ware groups.

Describing the phonetic features of this layer could improve our knowledge of Early Proto-Uralic, as well as some specifics of the evolution of Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and potentially Celtic and Balto-Finnic.

This would be similar to the relevance of Aquitanian toponyms for Proto-Basque reconstruction, or of the alteuropäische substratum when it conflicts with the Proto-Indo-European dialectal reconstruction of some linguists (e.g. the laryngeal Pre-Indo-Slavonic of Kortlandt) which, like Kitson implies, should question the dialectal reconstruction of this minority of Indo-Europeanists, and not the Indo-European nature of the substratum.


European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic


In his recent paper on Late Proto-Indo-European migrations, when citing Udolph to support his model, Frederik Kortlandt failed to mention that the Old European hydrotoponymy in northern Central-East Europe evolved into Baltic and Slavic layers, and both take part in some Northern European (i.e. Germanic – Balto-Slavic) commonalities.


From Expansion slavischer Stämme aus namenkundlicher und bodenkundlicher sicht, by Udolph, Onomastica (2016), translated into English (emphasis mine):

NOTE. An archived version is available here. The DOI references for Onomastica do not work.

(…) there is a clear center of Slavic names in the area north of the Carpathians. Among them are root words of the Slavic languages such as reka / rzeka, potok u. a. m.

Even more important than this mapping is the question of how the dispersion of ancient Slavic names happened. What is meant by ancient Slavic names? I elaborated on this in this journal years ago (Udolph, 1997):

(1)Ancient suffixes that are no longer productive today.

This clearly includes Slavic *-(j)ava as in Vir-ava, Vod-ava, Il-ava, Glin-iawa, Breg-ava, Ljut-ava, Mor-ava, Orl-java among others. It has clear links to the ancient common Indo-European language (Lupawa, Morava-March-Moravia, Orava, Widawa). They have a center north of the Carpathians.


(2) Unproductive appellatives (water words), which have disappeared from the language, are certain witnesses of ancient Slavic settlements. A nice example of this is Ukr. bahno, Pol. bagno ‘swamp, bog, morass’ etc. The word has long been missing in South Slavic, although it appears in South Slavic names, but only in very specific areas (see Udolph, 1979, pp. 324-336).

(3) Names that go back to different sound shifts. [Examples:]

  • (…) the Slavic clan around Old Sorbian brna ‘feces, earth’, Bulgarian OCS brьnije ‘feces, loam’, OCS brъna ‘feces’, Slovenian brn, ‘river mud’, etc. is solved with the inclusion of onomastic materials (Udolph, 1979, p. 499-514). (…) Toponymic mapping shows important details.
  • bryn-slavic
    Karte 4. brъn < *brŭn und bryn- < *brūn- in slavischen Namen
  • (…)We also have an ablauting *krŭn-:*krūn- in front of us. Map 5 shows the distribution of both variants in Slavic names.
  • The next case is quite similar. It concerns Russ. appellative grjaz’ ‘dirt, feces, mud’, (…) for which an Old Slavic form *gręz exists. Slavic also knows the ablauting variant *grǫz.

    These maps (see Map 6, p. 222) show that a homeland of Slavic tribes can only be inferred north of the Carpathians.

    (4) Place-names formed by Slavic suffixes of Pre-Slavic nature, i.e. derived from Old European hydronyms.

    (a) The largest river in Poland, the Wisła, German Vistula, bears a clearly Pre-Slavic name, no matter how one explains it (Babik, 2001, pp. 311-315; Bijak, 2013, p. 34, Udolph, 1990 , Pp. 303-311).

    (b) With the same suffix are formed Sanok, place on the southwest of Przemyśl; Sanoka, a no longer known waters name, 1448 as fluvium Szanoka, near the place Sanoka and with a diminutive suffix -ok- a tributary of the Sanok, which is called Sanoczek (for details see Udolph, 1990, pp. 264-270; Rymut / Majtan, 1998, p. 222). The San also has a single-language name, but that does not change anything about the right etymology. The suffix variant -očь also includes Liwocz and Liwoczka, river names near Cracow; also a mountain range of the Beskydy is mentioned at Długosz as Lywocz.

    According to the opinion of the “Słownik prasłowiański” (Sławski (red.), 1974, p. 92), the suffix -ok- represents a Proto-Slavic archaism. It appears, for example, in sъvědokъ, snubokъ, vidokъ, edok, igrok, inok among others, but its antiquity also shows, among other things, that it started at archaic athematic tribes.

    Mapping of older and younger East Slavic place-names and translation into settlement evolution.

    Slavonic Urheimat

    If we apply this to the loess distribution in western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland, it is very noticeable that the center of the Old Slavic place names lies in the area where loess dispersal is gradually “frayed out”, i.e. for example, in the area west of Kiev between Krakow in the west and Winnycja and Moldavia in the east. In short, the distribution of good soils coincides with ancient Slavic names. If that is correct, we can expect a homeland in the Pre-Carpathian region, or better, a core landscape of Slavic settlement.

    The existence of Pre-Slavic Indo-European place names and water names whose structure indicates that they originated from an Indo-European basis, but then also developed Slavic peculiarities, can now – as stated above – only be understood to mean that the language group that we call today Slavic emerged in a century-long process from an Indo-European dialectal area.

    Loess areas between Poland and Ukraine. Image from Jary et al. (2018).

    From a genetic point of view, the scarce data published to date show a clear shift of central-east populations from more Corded Ware-like groups in the EBA towards more BBC-derived ancestry in the common era, to the point where ancient DNA samples from East Germany, Poland and Lithuania evolve from clustering between Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic peoples to clustering close to Bell Beaker-derived groups, such as West Germanic peoples, Tollense samples, etc. (see below)

    Furthermore, sampled Early Slavs show bottlenecks under “Dinaric” I2a-L621 and central-eastern E1b-V13, which – in combination with the known phylogeography of Únětice and Urnfield – is compatible with its late expansion from a central-east European Slavonic homeland, such as the Pomeranian culture, in turn likely derived from Lusatian culture groups.

    This doesn’t preclude a more immediate expansion of Common Slavic in Antiquity closer to the northern Carpathians, which is also supported by the available Early Slavic sampling, apart from samples from the Avar and Hungarian polities.

    Likely Baltic (yellow-green) and Slavic (orange) groups ca. 500 AD on, with Finnic (cyan) and Mordvinic (blue) groups roughly divided through hydrotoponymy line ca. 1000 AD Top Left: Late Iron Age cultures. Top right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Germanic migrations (Bottom left) and during the Middle Ages (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

    Proto-Baltic / Proto-Slavic

    Northern European hydronymy

    From Alteuropäische Hydronymie und urslavische Gewässernamen, by Udolph, Onomastica (1997), translated into English (emphasis mine):

    NOTE. An HTML version is available at Jurgen Udolph’s personal site.

    Because of the already striking similarities as the well-known “-m-case”, the number-words for ‘1000’, ’11’ and ’12’ and so on, J. Grimm had already assumed a close relationship between Germanic and Baltic and Slavic. (…)

    In my own search, I approached this trinity from the nomenclature side. In doing so, I noticed some name groups that can speak for a certain common context:

    1.* bhelgh-, *bholgh-.

    Map 10, p. 64, shows that a root * bhelgh- occurs in the name material of a region from which later Germanic, Baltic and Slavic originated. The Balkans play no role in this.


    2. *dhelbh-, *dholbh-, *dhl̥bh-

    The proof of the three ablauting * dhelbh, * dholbh, * dhl̥bh- within a limited area shows the close relationship that this root has with the Indo-European basis. Again it is significant in which area the names meet (…)


    3. An Indo-European root extension *per-s- with the meaning ‘spray, splash, dust, drop’ is detectable in several languages (…). From a Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarity cannot therefore be spoken from the toponymic point of view. The picture changes, however, if one includes the derived water names.

    4. The root extension *pel-t-, *pol-t-, *pl̥-t- of a tribe widely spread in the Indo-European languages around *pel-, pol- ‘pour, flow, etc.’, whose reflexes are found Armenian through Baltic and Slavic to the Celtic area, is found in the Baltic toponymy, cf. Latv. palts, palte ‘puddle, pool’.

    The dynamics of stylistic changes of the form of the “Trzciniec pot” in the lowland regions of Central Europe, and spreading routes of the Trzciniec package in Central Europe. A good proxy for contacts through the Northern European Plain during the Early Bronze Age. Modified from Czebreszuk (1998).

    Early Balto-Finnic

    In order to properly delimit (geographically and chonologically) the Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic expansions, it is necessary to understand where the late Balto-Finnic homeland was located during the Bronze Age. The following are excerpts from the comprehensive hydrotoponymic study by Pauli Rahkonen (2013):

    In any case, Finnic probably had its origin somewhere around the Gulf of Finland. Names of large and central rivers such as Vuoksi (< Finnic vuo ‘stream’) and Neva (< Finnic neva ‘marsh, river’) must be very old and might represent Proto-Finnic hydronyms. In the southern coastal area of Finland, the names Kymi and Nietoo < *Niet|oja (id. later Porvoonjoki) may also be of Finnic origin and derive from, respectively, kymi ‘stream’ (see SSA I s.v. *kymi; see however SPK s.v. Kemijärvi; Rahkonen 2013: 24) and nieto(s) ‘heap of snow’ (SSA II s.v. nietos), in hydronyms probably ‘high (snowy?) banks of a river’. Mustion|joki is clearly a Finnish name < *must|oja ‘black river’. The river name Vantaa remains somewhat obscure, although Nissilä (see SPK s.v. Vantaanjoki) has derived it from the Finnic word vana ‘water route’. In western Finland the names of large rivers, such as Aura and Eura, are supposedly of Germanic origin (Koivulehto 1987).

    In Estonia the names of many of the most important rivers might be of Finnic origin: e.g. Ema|jõgi Est. ema ‘mother’ [Tartu district] (?? cf. the Lake Piiga|ndi < Est. piiga ‘maiden’), Pärnu [Pärnu district] < Est. pärn ‘linden’, Valge|jõgi [Loksa district] < Est. valge ‘white’, Must|jõgi [Võru district] < Est. must ‘black’. It is possible that Emajogi and especially Piigandi are the result of later folk etymologizing of a name with some unknown origin. However, as a naming motif there exist in Finland numerous toponyms with the stems Finnic *emä (e.g. 3 Emäjoki), *neit(V)- ‘maiden’ (e.g. Neitijärvi, Neittävänjoki, Neittävänjärvi) and Saami stems that can be derived from Proto Saami *nejte̮ ‘id’ (GT2000; NA).

    The historical southern boundary of Finnic hydronyms, excluding hydronyms produced by the Karelian refugees of the 17th century.

    These seemingly very old names of relatively large rivers in southern Finland, modern Leningrad oblast and Estonia support the hypothesis that Proto-Finnic was spoken for a long time on both sides of the Gulf of Finland and it thus basically corresponds to the hypothesis of Terho Itkonen (see below). In the Novgorod, Tver or Vologda oblasts of Russia, Finnic names for large rivers cannot be found (Rahkonen 2011: 229). For this reason, it is likely that the Late Proto-Finnic homeland was the area around the Gulf of Finland.

    Beyond the southeastern boundary of the modern or historically known Finnic-speaking area, there exists a toponymic layer belonging to the supposedly non-Finnic Novgorodian Čudes (see Rahkonen 2011). In theory it is possible that Proto-Finnic and Proto-Čudian separated from each other at an early stage or it is even possible that Proto-Čudian was identical with Proto-Finnic. However, this cannot be proven, because there is not enough material available describing what Novgorodian Čudic was like exactly.

    Yakhr-, -khra, yedr-, -dra and yer-/yar, -er(o), -or(o) names of lakes in Central and North Russia and the possible boundary of the proto-language words *jäkra/ä and *järka/ä. Rahkonen (2013)

    A summary of the data is then:

    • The Daugava River and the Gulf of Livonia formed the most stable south-western Balto-Finnic border (up until ca. 1000 AD): the Daugava shows a likely Indo-European etymology, while some of its tributaries are best explained as derived from Uralic.
    • The first layer of “Early Baltic” loans in Early Balto-Finnic are of a non-attested Baltic dialect closest to Proto-Balto-Slavic (read more about this early layer).
    • The latest samples of the Trzciniec culture (or derived Iron Age group) from its easternmost group in Turlojiškė (ca. 1000-800 BC?) show a western shift towards Bell Beaker, although they show a majority of hg. R1a-Z280; while the earliest sample from Gustorzyn (ca. 1900 BC), likely from Trzciniec/Iwno, from the westernmost area of the culture, shows a Corded Ware-like ancestry (and hg. R1a-Z280, likely S24902+) among a BA sampling from Poland clearly derived from Bell Beaker groups.

    One can therefore infer that the expansion of the Trzciniec culture – as the earliest expansion of central-west European peoples into the Baltic after the Bell Beaker period – represented either the whole disintegrating Balto-Slavic community, or at least an Early Baltic-speaking community expanding from the West Baltic area to the east.

    The similarity of Early Slavs and the Trzciniec outlier with the Czech BA cluster, formed by samples from Bohemia (ca. 2200–1700 BC), and the varied haplogroups found among Early Slavs – reminiscent of the variability of the Unetice/Urnfield sampling – may help tentatively connect the early Proto-Slavic homeland more strongly with a Proto-Lusatian community immediately to the south-west of the Iwno/Proto-Trzciniec core.

    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.

    Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland

    Disconnected western border: Germanic

    The common Balto-Slavic – Germanic community must necessarily be traced back to the West Baltic. From Udolph’s Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem, de Gruyter (1994), translated from German (emphasis mine):

    My work [Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem] has shown how strong the Germanic toponymy is related to the East, less to Slavic, much more to Baltic. It confirms the recent thesis by W.P. Schmid on the special relationship Germanic and Baltic, according to which “the formation of the typical Germanic linguistic characteristics…must have taken place in the neighborhood of Baltic“.

    If one starts from a Germanic core area whose eastern boundary is to be set on the middle Elbe between the Erzgebirge and Altmark, there are little more than 400 km. to the undoubtedly Baltic settlement area east of the Vistula. Stretching the Baltic area westwards over the Vistula (as far as the much-cited Persante), the distance is reduced to less than 300 km. Assuming further that Indo-European tribes between the developing Germanic and the Baltic groups represent the connection between the two language groups, so can one understand well the special relationship proposed by W.P. Schmid between Germanic and Baltic. In an earlier period shared Slavic evidently the same similarities (Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarities).

    Top: Palaeo-Germanic (G2, blue area), Proto-Balto-Slavic/Pre-Baltic (PBSL, green area) and Early Proto-Balto-Finnic (PBF, cyan area) homelands superimposed over Early Bronze Age cultures. Persante hydronym and Gustorzyn ancient DNA sample location marked. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Early Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Middle Bronze Age (Bottom right). Notice a mix of R1b-L151 samples from the west and the process of integration of R1a-Z645 lineages from the the north-east. See full maps and PCAs.

    Substrate and immediate eastern border: Early Balto-Finnic

    While Balto-Finnic shows a late Balto-Slavic adstrate, Balto-Slavic has a Balto-Finnic(-like) substrate, also found later in Baltic and Slavic, which implies that Balto-Slavic (and later Baltic and Slavic) replaced the language of peoples who spoke Balto-Finnic(-like) languages, influencing at the same time the language of neighbouring peoples, who still spoke Balto-Finnic (or were directly connected to the Balto-Finnic community).

    For more on this relative chronology in Balto-Slavic – Balto-Finnic contacts, see e.g. the recent posts on Kallio (2003), Olander (2019), or a summary of this substrate.

    While Rahkonen (2013) entertains Parpola’s theory of a West-Uralic-speaking Netted Ware area (ca. 1900-500 BC), due to the Uralic-like hydrotoponymy of its territory, he also supports Itkonen’s idea of the ancient presence of almost exclusively Balto-Finnic place and river names in the Eastern Baltic and the Gulf of Finland since at least the Corded Ware period, due to the lack of Indo-European layers there:

    NOTE. This idea was also recently repeated by Kallio (2015), who can’t find a non-Uralic layer of hydrotoponymy in Balto-Finnic-speaking areas.

    It should be observed that the territory between the historical Finnic and Mordvin-speaking areas matches quite well with the area of the so-called Textile Ceramics [circa 1900–800 BC] (cf. Parpola 2012: 288). The culture of Textile Ceramics could function as a bridge between these two extreme points. Languages that were spoken later in this vast territory between Finland–Estonia and Mordovia seem to derive from Western Uralic (WU) as well. I have called those languages Meryan-Muroma, Eastern and Western Čudian and an unknown “x” language spoken in inland Finland, Karelia and the Lake Region of the Russian North (Rahkonen 2011; 241; 2012a: 19–27; 2013: 5– 43). This might mean that the territory of the Early Textile Ceramics reflects to some extent the area of late Western Uralic.

    The archaeologically problematic area is Estonia, Livonia and Coastal Finland – the area traditionally assumed to have been populated by the late Proto-Finns. The Textile Ceramics culture was absent there. It is very difficult to believe that the Textile Ware population in inland Finland migrated or was even the main factor bringing the Pre- or Early Proto-Finnic language to Estonia or Livonia. There are no archaeological or toponymic signs of it. Therefore, I am forced to believe that Textile Ceramics did not bring Uralic-speaking people to those regions. This makes it possible, but not absolutely proven, to assume that some type of Uralic language was spoken in the region of the Gulf of Finland already before Textile Ceramics spread to the northwest (circa 1900 BC).

    Top Left: Corded Ware culture expansion. Top right: PCA of Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic groups. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Corded Ware expansion (Bottom left) and during the subsequent Bell Beaker expansion (Bottom right). Notice the rapid population replacement of typical Corded Ware R1a-Z645 lineages by expanding Bell Beakers of hg. R1b-L23 in central-east Europe, while they show continuity in the described ancestral Fennoscandian West-Uralic-speaking territory. See full maps and PCAs.

    The Corded Ware population in Finland is thought to have been NW Indo-European by many scholars (e.g. Koivulehto 2006: 154–155; Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 84). At least, it is probable that the Corded Ware culture was brought to Finland by waves of migration, because the representatives of the former Late Comb Ceramics partially lived at the same time side by side with the Corded Ware population. However, it is possible that the immigrants were a population that spoke Proto-Uralic, who had adopted the Corded Ware culture from their Indo-European neighbors, possibly from the population of the Fatjanovo culture, e.g. in the Valdai region. This was suggested by Terho Itkonen (1997: 251) as well. In that case the population of the Typical and Late Comb Ceramics may have spoken some Paleo European language (see Saarikivi 2004a). In the Early Bronze Age, the Baltic Pre-Finnic language that I have suggested must have been very close to late WU and therefore no substantial linguistic differences existed between the Baltic Pre-Finns and the population of Textile Ceramics in inland Finland. I admit that this model is difficult to prove, but I have presented it primarily in order to offer new models of thinking.16 At least, there is no archaeological or linguistic reason against this idea.

    This dubitative attribution of Proto-Uralic to the expansion of Corded Ware groups in eastern Europe, which is what hydrotoponymic data suggests in combination with archaeology, has to be understood as a consequence of how striking Rahkonen finds the results of his research, despite Itkonen’s previous proposal, in the context of an overwhelming majority of Indo-Europeanists who, until very recently, simplistically associated Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion.


    Even Kortlandt accepts at this point the identification of expanding East Bell Beakers from the Carpathian Basin as those who left the Alteuropäische layer reaching up to the Baltic. However, he identified Udolph’s data solely with West Indo-European, forgetting to mention the commonly agreed upon western Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland, most likely because it contradicts two of his main tenets:

    1. that Balto-Slavic split from a hypothetical Indo-Slavonic (i.e. Satem) group expanding from the east; and
    2. that laryngeals can be reconstructed for Balto-Slavic – unlike for North-West Indo-European.
    Indo-European hydrotoponymy in Europe and the Middle East (scarce Central Asian data). Baltic data compensated, statistical method RBF: intermediate regions devoid of Indo-European toponyms are inferred to have them; it compensates thus e.g. for the scarce Indo-European hydrotoponyms in Poland by assuming ‘soft’ continuity from West Germany to the Baltic.

    A hypothetic “Pre-Indo-Slavonic” laryngeal Indo-European layer reaching Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone with Corded Ware is fully at odds with all known data:

    • in comparative grammar, since the one feature that characterizes Graeco-Aryan is precisely its set of innovations relative to Northern Indo-European, which presupposes a longer contact (and further laryngeal loss) once Tocharian and North-West Indo-European had separated – hence probably represented by Palaeo-BalkanCatacomb-Poltavka contacts once Afanasevo and Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin / East Bell Beakers had become isolated;
    • in hydrotoponymy, because of the prehistoric linguistic areas that can be inferred from (1) the distribution of Old European hydrotoponymy; (2) Udolph’s work on Germanic and the likely non-Indo-European substrate in Scandinavia and land contacts with Balto-Finnic; (3) from the Northern European traits in the Northern European Plain; or (4) from the decreasing proportion of Indo-European place and river names from central Europe towards the east and north.
    • NOTE. An alternative explanation of Old European/Balto-Slavic layers, e.g. by a ‘Centum’ Temematic – even if one obviates the general academic rejection to Holzer’s proposal – couldn’t account for the absolute lack of an ancestral layer of Indo-European hydrotoponymy in North-Eastern Europe (i.e. the longest-lasting Corded Ware territory), in sharp contrast with Western Europe, South-Eastern Europe, and South Asia. All of that contradicts an Eastern Indo-European community, even without a need to recall that the oldest hydrotoponymic layers common to Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone are of Uralic nature.

    • in archaeology, because cultural expansions of the Eastern European Early Bronze Age province since the Bell Beaker period (viz. Mierzanowice, Trzciniec, Lusatian, Pomeranian, West Baltic Culture of Cairns) suggest once and again west-east movements, most (if not all) of which – based on the presence of Indo-European speakers during the common era – were likely associated with Indo-European-speaking communities replacing or displacing previous ones.
    • in palaeogenomics, because of the late and different association of Corded Ware ancestry and haplogroups among Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian communities, in turn corresponding to the different satemization processes found in both dialects, which may have actually been related to the Uralic substrate that is found in both (read more on Uralic influences on Balto-Slavic and on Indo-Iranian).

    On the other hand, a careful combination of Uralic and Indo-European comparative grammar, hydrotoponymic data, and population genomics fits perfectly well Itkonen’s and Rahkonen’s association of Corded Ware in Eastern Europe with Uralic languages, as well as the traditional mainstream view of Uralic before Indo-European in Fennoscandia and in the Forest Zone, as I explained in a recent post about genetic continuity in the East Baltic area.

    Population genomics is not the main reason to reject the Indo-European Corded Ware theory – or any other prehistoric ethnolinguistic identification, for that matter. It can’t be. This new field offers just the occasional confirmation of a well-founded theory or, alternatively, another nail in the coffin of fringe theories that were actually never that likely, but seemed impossible to fully dismiss on purely theoretical grounds.

    The problem with Corded Ware was that we couldn’t see how unlikely its association with Indo-European languages was until we had ancient DNA to corroborate archaeological models, because few (if any) Indo-Europeanists really cared about the linguistic prehistory of eastern and northern Europe, or about Uralic languages in general (contrary to the general trend among Uralicists to be well-versed in Indo-European studies). Now they will.


    European hydrotoponymy (III): from Old European to Palaeo-Germanic and the Nordwestblock


    The study of hydrotoponymy shows a prevalent initial Old European layer in central and northern Germany, too, similar to the case in Iberia, France, Italy, and the British Isles.

    The recent paper on Late Proto-Indo-European migrations by Frederik Kortlandt relies precisely on this ancestral layer as described by Jürgen Udolph to support a Danubian expansion of North-West Indo-European with East Bell Beakers, identified as the Alteuropäische (Old European) layer that was succeeded by Germanic in the North European Plain.

    The Proto-Germanic homeland

    The following are excerpts are translated from the German original (emphasis mine) in Udolph’s Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem, de Gruyter (1994):

    Buy the book at De Gruyter’s site or at Amazon.

    The following is a concise compilation of the investigation into nine points, which will be subsequently discussed: there are Brink (in the north brekk-), -by (on the Elbe), the name of the Elbe itself, germ, haugaz and blaiw, klint, malm / melm, the name of the Rhön, and the place name element -wedel.

    I want to briefly summarize the results:

    1. Brink has toponymically a clear focus in Germany between the Rhine and the Weser; in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark it is almost completely missing, the Scandinavian place name documents show an accumulation in eastern Sweden. The English Brink names can not be associated with the Scandinavian ones. The “real” Scandinavian variant brekka, brekke, however, also appear on the Shetland and Orkney Islands and in central England.

    2. The Central Elbian –by-place names have nothing to do with the Danish and Scandinavian -by-names.

    3. The name of the Elbe has been carried from south to north and has become an appellative in Scandinavia. This clearly proves that a south-north migration has taken place.

    4. The distribution of haugaz does not support a Nordic origin of the word. K. Bischoff in his thorough investigation never asked whether the reverse path from south to north would be possible. However, in comparison with the results of the study of other toponyms, this second option will be much more likely to be accepted. On the “problem of the gap” in the distribution (between Aller and northern Holstein) see page 910.


    5. Completely missing is the assumption of Nordic origin in the case of hlaiwaz. A look at Map 67 shows this clearly.

    6. Even in the case of klint, Denmark and Scandinavia are only marginally involved in the distribution of names. This contradicts the thesis that the English Klint names are of Nordic origin. On the other hand, Map 68 (Klit- / Klett-) shows how Nordic place names can have an influence on the British Isles.


    7. Even in the case of germ, melm (ablauting malm, mulm), everything speaks for a continental Germanic starting point: here are all ablaut stages in the appellative vocabulary and in the toponymy, which shows together with the name Melmer perhaps the most ancient -r-derivations, which are unknown to the Nordic area, while the Nordic names, in turn, have a distinct tendency to spread to eastern Sweden, towards the Baltic Sea.

    8. The name of the Rhön can only be interpreted with the aid of the Nord Germanic apellative hraun “boulder field, stony ground, lava field”. This does not mean that Nord Germanic peoples have given this name, but that the Common or Proto-Germanic peoples knew the appelative still. The Rhön owes its name to this language stage.

    9. The spread of the fronds names in Germany, classified by E. Schröder as “North Germanic invasion”, can be explained differently: more important than the often younger names north of the Elbe in Schleswig-Holstein (type Wedelboek) are the place names near Braunschweig, Büren (Westphalia), and in the Netherlands, in which case a south-north spread is more convincing than the assumption of a Nordic expansion.


    If you take the similar distribution maps 15 (wik), 31 (fenn), 36 (slk), 39 (büttel), 47 (live), 49 (quem), 50 (thing), 61 (brink) and 66 (haugaz) It can be seen from this (page 72, page 908) that there are parts of Germany which, to a lesser degree, are more heavily involved than others in Old Germanic place name formations: that applies to southern Thuringia, the Area between Werra and Fulda, the Magdeburger Börde and its western foothills to the Weser at the Porta Westfalica). On the other hand, the areas north of the Aller, Hanoverian Wendland and wide areas between the Lower Weser and the Lower Elbe (apart from the area around Osterholz-Scharmbeck as well as Kehdingen and Hadeln) are little and hardly affected.

    There is no question that the reasons for the different dispersion can not lie in the name itself, but have other causes. H. Kuhn has considered the natural conditions of the landscape with the fronds. Comparing the place name expansion outlined here with a bog map of Lower Saxony, as found in numerous publications (Map 73, page 910), solves the problems: even today’s bog distribution of Lower Saxony, diminished through cultivation and drainage (albeit still considerable), reflects the fact that the early colonization and naming of northern Germany has been shaped and, to a certain extent, controlled by settler-friendly and not-settler-friendly conditions.

    Distribution of bogs in Germany. Source: M. Sommer, Institut für Bodenlandschaftsforschung, ZALF, Müncheberg.

    On the location of the Germanic Urheimat

    According to the space briefly outlined by the present study, the Old Germanic settlement area in toponymic terms is roughly to be located between the Erzgebirge, Thüringerwald, Elbe, Aller and an open border in Westphalia, for the following reasons:

    • High proportion of old European names. This is a basic requirement, which of course is also fulfilled by other areas, but not by Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark and Scandinavia. (…)
    • Of particular importance was the discussion about relations with the north (the generally accepted ancient Germanic settlement area, section L, p. 830-917). I believe that the detailed study of the geographical names no longer allows one to assume a Scandinavian homeland of Germanic tribes. Too many arguments speak against it. It is much more likely to start with a northward migration (…).
    Bell Beaker expansion ca. 2600-2200 BC. Top Left: Tentative location of the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland (earliest stage), in the North European Plain between the Elbe and the the Aller (open border). Top right: PCA of the Bell Beaker period, with Netherlands EBA cluster (population west of the Germanic Urheimat) in red, and Battle Axe/Baltic CWC (population east and north of the Urheimat) in cyan. Bottom left: ADMIXTURE analysis of ancient DNA samples. Bottom right: Y-DNA haplogroup map. See full maps and PCAs.

    Western border: Nordwestblock

    Recently, W. Meid has once more dealt in detail with Kuhn’s thesis. After that, the most important criteria for the approach of this thesis are the following:

    1. -p- (and other shutter sounds) are partly not shifted in North German names;
    2. the existence of a -sí-suffix;
    3. -apa in river names;
    4. the suffix -andr-;
    5. certain words u. Name strains, e.g. Veneter, Belgian.
    6. Above-average relations of the northwestern block to Italic (Latin, Osco-Umbrian).

    W. Meid agrees with Kuhn’s theses, but with limitations: “These evidences seem to indicate that the NW-space did not belong to the original settlement area of ​​the Teutons, but that the Germanization of this area or larger parts of it did not take place until relatively late, namely – as Kuhn thinks – after the Germanic sound shift or during its last phase. According to Kuhn’s own words this “space… appears as a block that has long defied Germanization”.

    Udolph continues explaining why most of these non-Germanic examples are “optic illusions”, since he can explain most of them as from Old European to Old Germanic stages, which is mostly in agreement with the known features of Old European hydrotoponymy. For example, -apa- and -andra-names as Old European; -p- as before the Germanic sound shift; -st- and -s-formations as Northern European; -ithi- also unrelated to a hypothetic “Venetic” substrate.

    I think that the point to discuss should not be the similarity with Old European or the oldest reconstructible Proto-Germanic stage (i.e. the closest to North-West Indo-European), or the appearance of these traits also in neighbouring Germanic territory, but the proportion of “more archaic” features contrasting with the proper Germanic area, and thus differences in frequency with the Germanic core territories.

    Just as Udolph can’t accept the non-Indo-European nature of most cases, one can’t simply accept his preference for a Pre-Proto-Germanic nature either, for the same reason one can’t accept the relationship of Western European “Pre-Celtic” hydrotoponymy with Celtic peoples because of some shared appellatives whose Celtic nature is not proven.

    NOTE. If there is something missing from this huge book is certainly statistical analyses with GIS, which would make this case much easier to discuss in graphical and numerical terms. Let’s hope Udolph can update the data in the near future, because he is still (fortunately) active.

    In any case, the Nordwestblock remains a likely Old European hydrotoponymic area partially shared by Germanic, which doesn’t lie at the core of the spread of Old European place names and has a potential non-Indo-European substrate shared with Northern European groups. Combined with comparative grammar and with results of population genomics supporting the spread of East Bell Beakers of Yamna descent from the Carpathian Basin, this essentially renders interpretations of Old European expansion from Northern Europe devoid of support in linguistics.

    Palaeo-Germanic expansion

    To the north, the settlement movement depends on the location and spread of settlement-deficient areas, such as the moors northeast of Wolfsburg, north of Gifhorn, south of Fallingbostel, etc. As soon as this belt has been breached, the place name frequency in the eastern Lüneburg Heath indicates where more favorable settlement conditions are to be found: the Altmark in Saxony-Anhalt, the Jeetzel lowlands and especially the Ilmenau area near Uelzen, Bevensen and Lüneburg (it is difficult not to recall the name Jastorf here).

    If one combines these findings with the dispersion of ancient Germanic place names, one will find that above all the section of the river east from Hamburg to about Lauenburg was particularly favorable for crossing. The onomastic data speaks in favour of this aspect, e.g. the following names lying north and south of this area.


    1. Delvenau = Elbe-Lübeck Canal.

    2. Neetze north of Lüneburg (-d-/-t-change).

    3. Wipperau north of Lüneburg (-p-/-b- change).

    4. The dispersion of the -wik places (Bardowik), cf. Map 15, p. 106.

    5. The dissemination of the -r formations (Map 24, p. 191).

    6. The -ithi formations Geesthacht, Bleckede u.a. south of the Elbe, Eckede north of the stream (see Map 28, p.272).

    7. Fenn south of the Elbe in the north of Lüneburg (Map 31, p.315).

    8. The distribution of the Hor name (Harburg) and northeast of it in Holstein (Map 32, p.328).

    9. Germ, sik- with clear clusters southeast. and northeastern. from Hamburg (Map 36, p. 409).

    10. Also the -büttel names show a concentration east of Hamburg on the one hand and a second accumulation at the estuary of the Elbe (Brunsbüttel) (map 39, p.438).

    11. Gorleben and other places in Hann. Wendland south of the river (Map 47, p.503).

    12. Werber-names southeast from Hamburg and in eastern Holstein (Map 53, p.742).

    13. The scattering of brink names (Map 61, p. 843).

    The place name distributions also make it possible to track the settlement movement north of the Elbe. It has been repeatedly emphasized that Schleswig-Holstein has little share in old Germanic toponymy. One tries to explain this fact, which reaches into the realm of the Old European hydronyms, by saying that, according to archeology, “large parts of Schleswig-Holstein in the 5th to 7th centuries were sparsely populated”.

    Close contacts in Fennoscandia. The distribution of Scandinavian flint daggers (A) in the east and south Baltic region and possible trends of “down the line” trade (B). Good size and quality flint zone in the south-west Baltic region is hatched (C). According to: Wojciechowski 1976; Olausson 1983, fig. 1; Madsen 1993, 126; Libera 2001; Kriiska & Tvauri 2002, 86. Image modified from Piličiauskas (2010).

    If one summarizes these synoptically (Map 74, p.914) and also takes into account the not-included -leben-names (Map 47, p.503), then it is quite clear that Denmark by no means shares these types of names. The most important points are, in my opinion:

    1. North of today’s German-Danish border, the quantity of old place names drops rapidly and even tends towards zero. West Jutland in particular is rarely involved in the dispersion.
    2. Within Jutland there is a clear orientation to the east. The connection with southern Sweden is established via Funen and Zeeland.
    3. Disputed is in my opinion, whether the spread of toponymy followed a roughly direct line Fehmarn and Lolland/Falster. This is not to be excluded, but the maps of toponymy distribution do not give a clear indication in this direction.

    The synoptic map makes it clear that both western Schleswig-Holstein and western Jutland are not to be regarded as Old Germanic settlement areas. Rather, East Jutland and the Danish islands were reached by Germanic tribes.

    Bronze Age groups ca. 2200-1750 BC. Top Left: Tentative location of (1) the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland (earliest stage), in the North European Plain between the Elbe and the the Aller (open border), (2) the Pre-Proto-Germanic expansion area, coinciding with the Nordic Dagger Period, and (3) the Pre-Proto-Germanic-like Nord-West-Block. Top right: PCA of European Bronze Age groups. Bottom left: ADMIXTURE analysis of ancient DNA samples. Bottom right: Y-DNA haplogroup map. See full maps and PCAs.

    Absolute chronology and Balto-Finnic

    It is imprecise to estimate the age of settlement movements from toponymic research. I do not want to be involved in speculation, but I think that Klingberg’s estimate could have some arguments in its favor. In the approximate dating, however, it is important to include a fact that has already been briefly mentioned above and should be treated here in more detail: the fact of Germanic-Finnic relations.

    W.P. Schmid has emphatically pointed out the difficulty that arises when one considers the unfolding of Germanic too far from the Baltic Sea settlement areas. Among other things, it draws attention to the fact that a Germanic homeland that were postulated too far west could not explain how Germanic loanwords might appear in the Finnic names of Northern Russia. These will be mentioned with reference to M. Vasmer: Randale to Finn. ranta “beach”, Pel’doza and Nimpel’da to Finn. pelto, Justozero to Finn. juusto “cheese”, Tervozero to Finn. terva “tar” and Rovdina Gora to Finn. rauta “ore”.

    I think it is possible that the clear spread of Old and North Germanic toponyms, as described in the synoptic map 74 (p. 914) and in the already mentioned -ing, -lösa, -by, -sta(d) and -säter-maps (19, 46, 63-65), can offer some help: quite early the Germanic tribes reached the Swedish east coast. It is also clear that there have previously been contacts with Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes by sea. However, intensive German-Finnic relations can, in my opinion, have come about only through close contacts on the mainland.

    Pre-Indo-European substrate

    In my investigation, I have repeatedly come up with suggestions to explain a hard-to-interpret North Germanic name from a Pre-Germanic, possibly Non-Indo-European substrate. Most of these were views of H. Kuhn, which he also used to support his so-called “Nord-West block”.

    On one point H. Kuhn may have been right with an assumption of a Pre-Germanic substrate that did not provide the basis for further development in Germanic terms: he very clearly argued that Scandinavia too was Pre-Germanic, even Pre-Indo-European A substrate that stands out above all because of the lack of Lautverschiebung : “In the Nordic countries, we have to reckon with non-Germanic, non-Indo-European prehistoric names scarcely less than in the other Germanic languages”. In light of the results of the present work that makes a relatively late Germanization of Scandinavia very likely, this sentence should not be set aside in the future, but carefully examined on the basis of the material.

    Both data, the known long-lasting Palaeo-Germanic – Finno-Samic contacts, and the underresearched presence of non-Indo-European vocabulary in Scandinavia, are likely related to the presence of a West Uralic(-like) substrate in Scandinavia and most likely also in Northern Europe, based on the disputed non-Indo-European components shared through the North European Plain (see above), and on the scarce ancient Indo-European hydrotoponymy in central-east Europe to the north of the Carpathians.

    Population genomics

    Although there is yet scarce genetic data from northern European territories, the haplogroup distribution among sampled peoples from the Germanic migration period and during the Viking expansion suggests a prevalence of R1b-U106 in the North European Plain (also found in Barbed Wire Beakers), and thus a later integration of typically Neolithic (I1) and CWC-related (R1a) subclades to the Germanic-speaking community during the expansion into Southern Scandinavia.

    This is compatible with the described development of maritime elites by Bell Beakers, representing maritime mobility and trade, and an appealing ideology, similar to the prevalence of Athens over Sparta (Corded Ware in this analogy). It is also supported by the bottlenecks under R1b-U106 to the north of Schleswig-Holstein.

    NOTE. Nevertheless, other R1b-L151 may have been part of the Germanic-speaking communities, especially during its earliest stage, and also R1b-U106 (and other R1b-L161) subclades may appear all the way from the Carpathians to Northern Europe, including the Eastern European Early Bronze Age.

    Common Germanic expansions ca. 500 BC on. Top Left: Early Iron Age cultures. Top right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Germanic migrations (Bottom left) and during the Middle Ages (Bottom right). Notice a majority of R1b-U106 (practically absent from previous Bronze Age populations of Central Europe) among sampled Germanic tribes. See full maps and PCAs.


    This sudden population bust to the south and predominance of a Southern Scandinavian maritime society in the Nordic circle seems to be also supported by inferences from archaeological data, too. For example, from the recent Human impact and population dynamics in the Neolithic and Bronze Age: Multi-proxy evidence from north-western Central Europe, by Feeser et al. The Holocene (2019):

    The second boom between c. 3000 and 2900 cal. BC relates to increases in the palynological proxy and the binned all site SCDPD curve. From an archaeological point of view, this time reflects the transition from the Funnelbeaker to the Single Grave Culture. The emergence of this new cultural phenomenon is often regarded to have been associated with a shift in subsistence practices, that is, a shift from sedentary agricultural to mobile pastoral subsistence (Hinz, 2015; Hübner, 2005; Iversen, 2013; Sangmeister, 1972).

    Left: Map with pollen sites. Right: Bin sensitivity plots based on summed calibrated date probability distributions (SPD) using different degrees of binning on-site level (h = 0 no binning; h = 1000 high binning) and Kernel density plots (KDE) of available radiocarbon dates from the settlement context (settlement sites). Modified from the paper to include a red arrow showing Corded Ware bust and subsequent boom with the Dagger Period..

    (…) there is palynological evidence for increased importance of cereal cultivation during the Young Neolithic in comparison to the Early Neolithic (Feeser et al., 2012). This, however, does not rule out an increased importance of pastoralism, as grazing on grasslands and extensive cereal cultivation are difficult to distinguish and to disentangle in the palynological record. Generally however, human impact on the environment and population levels, respectively, did not reach Funnelbeaker times maxima values during this boom phase at the beginning of the Younger Neolithic. The similar short-term synchronous developments in both the pollen profiles during 2800–2300 cal. BC could point to large-scale, over-regional uniform development during the Younger Neolithic in our study area (cf. also Feeser et al., 2016).

    Between c. 2400 and 2300 cal. BC, the palynological proxy and the binned all site SCDPD curve show a similar distinct decrease (Figure 6), and we define a second bust phase accordingly. The soil erosion record, however, indicates elevated values at around this time but declines, although not very well defined, to a minimum at around 2200 cal. BC. Due to the generally low number of colluvial deposits recorded for the Younger Neolithic, this is not regarded to contradict our interpretation, as low sample sizes generally minimize the chances of identifying a robust pattern. A strong increase in all the three proxies between 2200 and 2100 cal. BC defines our third boom phase.

    Bronze Age evolution

    Candidate homelands for the succeeding (Palaeo-Germanic) stages of the language are shifted also in archaeology to the south, due to the economic influence of demographically stronger Nordic Bronze Age cultural groups of northern Germany over Southern Scandinavia.

    A good description of societal changes in the Palaeo-Germanic stages is offered by the recent paper Cultural change and population dynamics during the Bronze Age: Integrating archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence for Schleswig-Holstein, Northern Germany, by Kneisel et al. The Holocene (2019):

    Qualitative data from material culture and demography in Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Modified from the original to remark periods of likely demographic decrease (red square) and growth (blue square).

    At each beginning of a boom phase and each end of a bust phase, changes in the material culture could be observed.

    When the pressure on the landscape is at its lowest around 1500 BC and shortly before it rises again, the type of burial changes, hoards and bronzes increase, and monumental burial mounds are erected again. Vice versa, when the pressure on the landscape reaches its maximum value around 1250 BC, tools and hoard depositions decrease again and only the monumental burial and prestige goods are maintained. The ‘elite’ are continuing with their way of burial. The reduction in house surface area and the number of hoards takes place earlier, possibly because of material scarcity as could also be proven in Thy, northern Jutland (Bech and Rasmussen 2018).

    Again, the human impact decreases, and at its lowest point at the beginning of Period IV ca. 1100 BC, the monumental burial custom and the addition of prestige goods also end. The number of hoards and graves begins to rise again, and cooking pits appear. Exchange networks shift with the beginning of Period V, while axes increase again together with a slight decrease in the human impact curve. The appearance of certain artefacts or burial rites at the beginning of such a period of upheaval seems to suggest the role of a trigger. With this analysis, we have defined several likely indicators for social change in the less distinct phases and societal change in the strongly pronounced phases around 1500 BC and 1100 BC and the most important triggers for the Schleswig-Holstein Bronze Age.

    Distribution of burials with Valsømagle, Sögel and Wohlde blades with provenance known to parish. q = Valsømagle blades; s = Wohlde blades (small = one grave with a blade; medium = two graves with a blade); l = Sögel blades (small = one grave with a blade, medium = two graves with a blade, large = three graves with a blade). From Bergerbrant (2007).

    While population movements can’t be really understood without a proper genetic transect proving or disproving archaeological theories, it seems that the intermediate zone of the Nordic circle was subjected to at least two demographic busts and succeeding booms during the Middle and Late Bronze Age periods, which not only affected the hydrotoponymy of Schleswig-Holstein (see above), but probably served as dynamic changes in the linguistic evolution of Palaeo-Germanic-speaking communities up to the Common Germanic expansion.

    Read more on the Northern Early Bronze Age province.


    A Song of Sheep and Horses, revised edition, now available as printed books


    As I said 6 months ago, 2019 is a tough year to write a blog, because this was going to be a complex regional election year and therefore a time of political promises, hence tenure offers too. Now the preliminary offers have been made, elections have passed, but the timing has slightly shifted toward 2020. So I may have the time, but not really any benefit of dedicating too much effort to the blog, and a lot of potential benefit of dedicating any time to evaluable scientific work.

    On the other hand, I saw some potential benefit for publishing texts with ISBNs, hence the updates to the text and the preparation of these printed copies of the books, just in case. While Spain’s accreditation agency has some hard rules for becoming a tenured professor, especially for medical associates (whose years of professional experience are almost worthless compared to published peer-reviewed papers), it is quite flexible in assessing one’s merits.

    However, regional and/or autonomous entities are not, and need an official identifier and preferably printed versions to evaluate publications, such as an ISBN for books. I took thus some time about a month ago to update the texts and supplementary materials, to publish a printed copy of the books with Amazon. The first copies have arrived, and they look good.


    Corrections and Additions

    I have changed the names and order of the books, as I intended for the first publication – as some of you may have noticed when the linguistic book was referred to as the third volume in some parts. In the first concept I just wanted to emphasize that the linguistic work had priority over the rest. Now the whole series and the linguistic volume don’t share the same name, and I hope this added clarity is for the better, despite the linguistic volume being the third one.

    Uralic dialects
    I have changed the nomenclature for Uralic dialects, as I said recently. I haven’t really modified anything deeper than that, because – unlike adding new information from population genomics – this would require for me to do a thorough research of the most recent publications of Uralic comparative grammar, and I just can’t begin with that right now.

    Anyway, the use of terms like Finno-Ugric or Finno-Samic is as correct now for the reconstructed forms as it was before the change in nomenclature.


    The most interesting recent genetic data has come from Iberia and the Mediterranean. Lacking direct data from the Italian Peninsula (and thus from the emergence of the Etruscan and Rhaetian ethnolinguistic community), it is becoming clearer how some quite early waves of Indo-Europeans and non-Indo-Europeans expanded and shrank – at least in West Iberia, West Mediterranean, and France.

    Some of the main updates to the text have been made to the sections on Finno-Ugric populations, because some interesting new genetic data (especially Y-DNA) have been published in the past months. This is especially true for Baltic Finns and for Ugric populations.


    Consequently, and somehow unsurprisingly, the Balto-Slavic section has been affected by this; e.g. by the identification of Early Slavs likely with central-eastern populations dominated by (at least some subclades of) hg. I2a-L621 and E1b-V13.

    I have updated some cultural borders in the prehistoric maps, and the maps with Y-DNA and mtDNA. I have also added one new version of the Early Bronze age map, to better reflect the most likely location of Indo-European languages in the Early European Bronze Age.

    As those in software programming will understand, major changes in the files that are used for maps and graphics come with an increasing risk of additional errors, so I would not be surprised if some major ones would be found (I already spotted three of them). Feel free to communicate these errors in any way you see fit.

    European Early Bronze Age: tentative langage map based on linguistics, archaeology, and genetics.

    I have selected more conservative SNPs in certain controversial cases.

    I have also deleted most SNP-related footnotes and replaced them with the marking of each individual tentative SNP, leaving only those footnotes that give important specific information, because:

    • My way of referencing tentative SNP authors did not make it clear which samples were tentative, if there were more than one.
    • It was probably not necessary to see four names repeated 100 times over.
    • Often I don’t really know if the person I have listed as author of the SNP call is the true author – unless I saw the full SNP data posted directly – or just someone who reposted the results.
    • Sometimes there are more than one author of SNPs for a certain sample, but I might have added just one for all.
    More than 6000 ancient DNA samples compiled to date.

    For a centralized file to host the names of those responsible for the unofficial/tentative SNPs used in the text – and to correct them if necessary -, readers will be eventually able to use Phylogeographer‘s tool for ancient Y-DNA, for which they use (partly) the same data I compiled, adding Y-Full‘s nomenclature and references. You can see another map tool in ArcGIS.

    NOTE. As I say in the text, if the final working map tool does not deliver the names, I will publish another supplementary table to the text, listing all tentative SNPs with their respective author(s).

    If you are interested in ancient Y-DNA and you want to help develop comprehensive and precise maps of ancient Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups, you can contact Hunter Provyn at You can also find more about phylogeography projects at Iain McDonald’s website.

    I have also added more samples to both the “Asian” and the “European” PCAs, and to the ADMIXTURE analyses, too.

    I previously used certain samples prepared by amateurs from BAM files (like Botai, Okunevo, or Hittites), and the results were obviously less than satisfactory – hence my criticism of the lack of publication of prepared files by the most famous labs, especially the Copenhagen group.

    Fortunately for all of us, most published datasets are free, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I criticized genetic labs for not releasing all data, so now it is time for praise, at least for one of them: thank you to all responsible at the Reich Lab for this great merged dataset, which includes samples from other labs.

    NOTE. I would like to make my tiny contribution here, for beginners interested in working with these files, so I will update – whenever I have time – the “How To” sections of this blog for PCAs, PCA3d, and ADMIXTURE.

    Detail of the PCA of European Iron Age populations. See full versions.

    For unsupervised ADMIXTURE in the maps, a K=5 is selected based on the CV, giving a kind of visual WHG : NWAN : CHG/IN : EHG : ENA, but with Steppe ancestry “in between”. Higher K gave worse CV, which I guess depends on the many ancient and modern samples selected (and on the fact that many samples are repeated from different sources in my files, because I did not have time to filter them all individually).

    I found some interesting component shared by Central European populations in K=7 to K=9 (from CEU Bell Beakers to Denmark LN to Hungarian EBA to Iberia BA, in a sort of “CEU BBC ancestry” potentially related to North-West Indo-Europeans), but still, I prefer to go for a theoretically more correct visualization instead of cherry-picking the ‘best-looking’ results.

    Since I made fun of the search for “Siberian ancestry” in coloured components in Tambets et al. 2018, I have to be consistent and preferred to avoid doing the same here…

    In the first publication (in January) and subsequent minor revisions until March, I trusted analyses and ancestry estimates reported by amateurs in 2018, which I used for the text adding my own interpretations. Most of them have been refuted in papers from 2019, as you probably know if you have followed this blog (see very recent examples here, here, or here), compelling me to delete or change them again, and again, and again. I don’t have experience from previous years, although the current pattern must have been evidently repeated many times over, or else we would be still talking about such previous analyses as being confirmed today…

    I wanted to be one step ahead of peer-reviewed publications in the books, but I prefer now to go for something safe in the book series, rather than having one potentially interesting prediction – which may or may not be right – and ten huge mistakes that I would have helped to endlessly redistribute among my readers (online and now in print) based on some cherry-picked pairwise comparisons. This is especially true when predictions of “Steppe“- and/or “Siberian“-related ancestry have been published, which, for some reason, seem to go horribly wrong most of the time.

    I am sure whole books can be written about why and how this happened (and how this is going to keep happening), based on psychology and sociology, but the reasons are irrelevant, and that would be a futile effort; like writing books about glottochronology and its intermittent popularity due to misunderstood scientist trends. The most efficient way to deal with this problem is to avoid such information altogether, because – as you can see in the current revised text – they wouldn’t really add anything essential to the content of these books, anyway.

    Continue reading

    Official site of the book series:
    A Song of Sheep and Horses: eurafrasia nostratica, eurasia indouralica

    Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic shared vocabulary from Pitted Ware seal hunters


    I said I would write a post about topo-hydronymy in Europe and Iberia based on the most recent research, but it seems we can still enjoy some more discussions about the famous Vasconic Beakers, by people longing for days of yore. I don’t want to spoil that fun with actual linguistic data (which I already summarized) so let’s review in the meantime one of the main Uralic-Indo-European interaction zones: Scandinavia.

    Seal hunting

    One of the many eye-catching interpretations – and one of the few interesting ones – that could be found in the relatively recent article Talking Neolithic: Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on How Indo-European Was Implemented in Southern Scandinavia, by Iversen & Kroonen AJA (2017) was this:

    The borrowing of lexical items from hunter-gatherers into Germanic refers to the potential adoption of Proto-Germanic *selhaz “seal” (Old Norse selr, Old English seolh, Old High German selah) as well as Early Proto-Balto-Finnic *šülkeš “seal” (Finnish hylje, Estonian hüljes) from the marine-oriented Sub-Neolithic Pitted Ware culture.

    Modified from Kristiansen et al. (2017), with red circle around the hypothesized interaction of Germanic with hunter-gatherers. “Schematic representation of how different Indo-European branches have absorbed words (circles) from a lost Neolithic language or language group (dark fill) in the reconstructed European linguistic setting of the third millennium BC, possibly involving one or more hunter gatherer languages (light fill) (after Kroonen & Iversen 2017)”.

    This is what Kroonen thought about this word in his Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic (2006):

    Gmc. *selha– m. ‘seal’ – ON selr m. ‘id.’, Far. selur m. ‘id.’, OSw. siæl m. ‘id.’, Sw. själ c. ‘id.’, OE seolh m. ‘id.’, E seal, OS selah m. ‘id.’, EDu. seel, seel-hont m. ‘id.’, Du. zee-hond c. ‘id.’, OHG selah m. ‘id.’, MHG sele m. ‘id.’ (GM).

    A Germanic word with no certain IE etymology. The link with Lith. selė́ti ‘to crawl’ (Torp 1909: 436) is erroneous, as this verb corresponds to PGm. *stelan- (q.v.). The *h may nevertheless correspond to the PIE animal suffix *-ko-, for which see *elha{n)- ‘elk’ and *baruga- ‘boar’.

    Focusing on this substrate etymon, coupled with archaeology and ancient DNA, in the recent SAA 84th Annual Meeting (Abstracts in PDF):

    Kroonen, Guus (Leiden University) and Rune Iversen

    [196] The Linguistic Legacy of the Pitted Ware Culture

    The Scandinavian hunter-, fisher- and gatherer-based Pitted Ware culture is chronologically situated in the Neolithic. However, it challenges our traditional view on cultural and social evolution by representing a return to an otherwise abandoned hunter-gatherer lifestyle. In general, the Pitted Ware culture must be seen as an offshoot of the “Sub-Neolithic” societies inhabiting wide parts of northern and northeastern Europe in the fourth and third millennium B.C.E.

    Isotopic and aDNA studies have shown that people of the east Swedish Pitted Ware culture, both dietarily and genetically were distinct from the early farmers in this region, the Funnel Beaker culture. Isotopic data shows a marked predominance of seal in the diet, which has given the Pitted Ware people the nickname “Inuit of the Baltic”.

    As regards language, it is to be expected that people practicing a Pitted Ware lifestyle spoke a non-Indo-European language. In fact, there is some linguistic evidence that can support this claim. It is conceivable that both the Germanic and Finnish word for “seal” were ultimately borrowed from a language spoken in a Pitted Ware context. Once more, the linguistic evidence turns out to offer important information complementary to that of archaeology and archaeo-genetics.

    Stone Age Seal Hunters, by Måns Sjöberg.

    Apparently, the idea of non-IE substrate languages in contact with Germanic in Scandinavia is fashionable for the Copenhagen group, probably due to their particular interpretation of the recent genetic papers, hence the multiple Germanic-Fennic connections to be reviewed through this new prism. While the ulterior motive of this proposal may be to try and connect yet again Germanic with CWC Denmark, I would argue that the effect is actually the opposite.

    An early borrowing via Uralic

    The word has always been considered a more likely loan from one language to the other, and – because of the quite popular idea of Uralic native to Fennoscandia – it was often seen as a likely borrowing of Germanic from Balto-Finnic. In any possible case, the borrowing in either direction must be quite early, for obvious reasons:

    • If the borrowing had been via late Palaeo-Germanic, the ending in *-xa– would have been reflected in Balto-Finnic, hence an early Palaeo-Germanic to Pre-Balto-Finnic stage would be necessary.
    • If the borrowing had been via late Balto-Finnic, the initial sibilant would be already aspirated, being adopted as *-x– in Palaeo-Germanic, while the ending in *-k– would have remained as such if it was adopted after Grimm’s law ceased to be active.
    • Similarly, a borrowing from a common, non-Indo-European & non-Uralic source would require that it happened during the early stages of both proto-languages to have undergone their respective phonetic changes, and both borrowings chronologically close to each other, to assume a similar vocalism and consonantism of the ultimate source.
    The idea of seal-hunting Uralic substrate of Pitted Ware is not new. Image modified from The Uralic and Finno-Ugric Phonetic Substratum, by Kalevi Wiik, Linguistica Uralica (1997).

    Furthermore, regarding the most likely way of expansion of this loanword, due to the different vowels and sibilants present in Uralic but not in Indo-European:

    • A direct loan from Pre-Germanic **selkos – which shows a regular thematic declension – to Pre-Balto-Finnic *šülkeš doesn’t seem to be a reasonable assumption.
    • NOTE. A Germanic borrowing from alternative Gmc. genitive *silxis could only work in a Pre-Germanic to Pre-Balto-Finnic model, hence only if the Gmc. form can be reconstructed for an earlier stage. Even then, for the same reason stated above, the opposite could be more reasonably argued, i.e. that this form is the original one adopted in Germanic: Pre-PBF *šülkeš > Pre-Gmc. *silkis, reinterpreted as an -o- stem in its declension.

    • If we reconstruct an older Pre-Finno-Samic (i.e. with Finno-Permic-like vocalism) **šëlkëš, a borrowing into Pre-Germanic **selkos would work. Even though no Saami derivative exists to confirm such a possibility, this would be supported by the known common evolution of Finno-Samic dialects in close contact with Pre-Germanic.
    • Admittedly, even accepting the existence of a Finno-Samic stem, a potential substrate word could not be discarded. In fact, while **šëlkë- could perfectly be a Uralic root, the ending in *-š can’t be easily interpreted. Therefore, a third, non-Indo-European & non-Uralic source is a plausible explanation.

    NOTE. Arguably, Proto-Finno-Samic could have adopted Gmc. *kh or *x exceptionally as PFS *k. However, early Palaeo-Germanic borrowings in Finno-Samic show a consistent regular consonant change as described above. For more on this, see Finno-Samic borrowings.

    This likely Uralic first nature of the loanword is important for the discussion below.

    Pitted Ware culture

    Middle Neolithic A period. Distribution of Pyheensilta Ware, Funnel Beaker Culture in Sweden, and Pitted Ware Culture in northern Europe during the Middle Neolithic A period, c. 3300–2800 cal BC. Find locations with numbers demarcate sites where cereal grains have been found and later AMS radiocarbon dated. Figure was created by SV using QGIS 3.4. ( and Natural Earth data ( Image from Vanhanen et al. (2019).

    About the Pitted Ware culture, this is what the recent paper by Vanhanen et al. (2019), from the University of Finland (including Volker Heyd) had to say:

    The origins of the PWC are controversial. In one likely scenario, Comb Ceramic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers first interacted with FBC during the last centuries of the EN and became specialized maritime hunter-gatherers. The PWC pushed south and westwards during the Middle Neolithic (MN), c. 3300–2300 BC, along the northern Baltic shoreline and adjacent islands, eventually reaching as far west as Denmark and southern Norway. Around 2800 BC, after the FBC ceased to exist, the Corded Ware Culture (CWC) migrated into the PWC area. The end date for the PWC and CWC is approximately 2300 BC, when the material culture was replaced by the Late Neolithic (LN) culture<. Spanning nearly a millennium virtually unchanged, the PWC maintained a coherent society and a successful economic model. PWC people lived in marine-oriented settlements, commonly dwelled in huts and produced relatively large amounts of ceramic vessels. This speaks to the partly sedentary nature of their habitation, at least for their base camps. These specialist hunter-gatherers obtained the great majority of their subsistence from maritime sources, such as seal, fish, and sea birds. Considering the amount of bones, sealing was of paramount importance, causing these peoples to be labelled ‘hard-core sealers’ or even the ‘Inuit of the Baltic’.

    The Middle Neolithic Pitted Ware culture is dated ca. 3500–2300 BC, so we would be seeing here Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic peoples arriving near the Pitted Ware culture. That would leave us with one of both languages expanding with Corded Ware peoples, and the other with Bell Beakers. Since Battle Axe-derived cultures around the Gulf of Finland are associated with Balto-Finnic groups, and Bell Beakers arriving ca. 2400 started the Dagger Period, commonly associated with the Pre-Germanic community, I think the connection of each group with their language is self-evident.

    Middle Neolithic B period. Distribution of Corded Ware Culture and Pitted Ware Culture in northern Europe during the Middle Neolithic B period, c. 2800–2300 cal BC. Find locations with numbers demarcate sites where cereal grains have been found and later AMS radiocarbon dated. Figure was created by SV using QGIS 3.4. ( and Natural Earth data ( Modified from Vanhanen et al. (2019).

    NOTE. You can read some interesting information about prehistoric and recent seal hunting in the Baltic in the blog post “Själen” – Seal Hunting in the Northern Baltic Sea.

    Germanic-Fennic phonetic evolution

    The common Germanic – Balto-Finnic phonetic evolution, especially Verner’s law in Palaeo-Germanic and qualitative gradation in Proto-Balto-Finnic, has been variably interpreted as:

    • Uralic in Scandinavia influenced by Germanic (Verner’s law source of the gradation), by Koivulehto and Vennemann (1996).
    • Germanic over a Uralic substratum in Scandinavia, by Wiik (1997).
    • Both Germanic and Balto-Finnic influenced by a third language, an “extinct non-Uralic source” spoken in Fennoscandia before the arrival of Uralic and Indo-European, by Kallio (2001); maybe the same substrate proposed to have influenced the accent shift in Germanic similar to Uralic.
    • Balto-Finnic speakers adopting Pre-Germanic in Scandinavia, in contact with Balto-Finnic speakers retaining their language, by Schrijver in Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages (2014)– although first suggested by him in the 1990s.

    NOTE. There are other (some much older) proposals of a Uralic substrate in Scandinavia, but I think those above summarize the most common positions tenable today.

    If you add all linguistic, archaeological, and now genetic connections, it is really strange to keep arguing for so many surprisingly fitting common substrates and/or contact languages for both. Especially because the Pre-Germanic community – if originally from southern Scandinavia and not further south (see e.g. Kortlandt’s theory) – was marked by the Dagger Period, as accepted by most archaeologists (including Kristiansen), and we know that Bell Beakers – who triggered the Dagger period – might have arrived a little late to the Pitted Ware disintegration in most seal-hunting areas of southern Scandinavia.

    Density analysis based (Bell Beaker per km2) on the distribution of Bell Beaker per region (ca. 2700-2200 BC). Combination of different levels of b-spline interpolation. Exaltation of the values through square root usage. Modified from Michael Bilger (2018).

    In other words, how many common substrate languages can we propose for Germanic (and Balto-Finnic)? Just from Kroonen we have already the Semitic-like TRB, and the seal-hunting Pitted Ware culture. Apparently, the culprit of the common phonetic evolution must be some (other?) culture that both Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Finnic assimilated (or with which both were in contact) in Fennoscandia.

    NOTE. I believe no data supports the attribution of those Germanic borrowings to the TRB culture, especially if one assumes they belong to an Afroasiatic branch, as did Kroonen. His initial assumption about an expansion of R1b-M269 associated with the Neolithic from Anatolia, and thus with Afroasiatic, must today be rejected. Much more likely is the incorporation of most of these loanwords during the expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans from Yamna Hungary.

    How many “common” substrates from different regions and cultures is too much? Arguably, it’s not a question of quantity (because the overall probability remains the same), but a question of quality of arguments.

    In my opinion, both a) the marked seal-hunting subsistence economy of the Pitted Ware culture and b) the difficult reconstruction of a fitting ‘natural’ PIE or PU stem warrant this proposal of a third source, just like the European agricultural substrate of North-West Indo-European and Palaeo-Balkan languages, as well as the Asian agricultural substrate of Indo-Iranian are the most logical interpretation of words not found in other IE dialects. The only problem in this case is the lack of other Scandinavian substrate words to compare its typology against.

    Close contacts in Fennoscandia. The distribution of Scandinavian flint daggers (A) in the east and south Baltic region and possible trends of “down the line” trade (B). Good size and quality flint zone in the south-west Baltic region is hatched (C). According to: Wojciechowski 1976; Olausson 1983, fig. 1; Madsen 1993, 126; Libera 2001; Kriiska & Tvauri 2002, 86. Image modified from Piličiauskas (2010).

    Common Scandinavian substratum

    The theory of a Pitted Ware borrowing is therefore quite convincing from a cultural point of view, at the same time as it fits the linguistic data. However, one reason why I dislike the interpretation of a dual origin is that our knowledge of Uralic languages is fairly limited, whereas that of Indo-European branches and hence Proto-Indo-European is huge. To put it otherwise: if a common word appears in both, and it is most likely (culturally and linguistically) not Indo-European, it certainly means that it was borrowed in Germanic. What are the a priori chances of it coming directly from a third substrate language for both dialects, instead of coming directly from Pre-Balto-Finnic?

    From Schrijver (2014):

    What did happen, apparently, is that Finnic speakers had enough access to the way in which Germanic speakers pronounced Balto-Finnic in order to model their own pronunciation of Balto-Finnic on it. In other words, Balto-Finns conversed with bilingual speakers of Germanic and Balto-Finnic whose pronunciation of both was essentially Germanic. But access to the Germanic language itself was not sufficient to allow Balto-Finns to become bilingual themselves, either because social segregation prevented this or because contact with Germanic was severed before widespread bilingualism set in. This limited access to Germanic would allow us to understand why Balto-Finnic did not go the way of the vernacular languages that came in contact with Latin in the Roman Empire, where access to Latin was open to almost everybody and massive language shift in favour of Latin ensued.

    NOTE. For a more detailed discussion, you can read the whole chapter dedicated to this question. I summarized it in Pre-Germanic born out of a Proto-Finnic substrate in Scandinavia.

    On the other hand, about the ad hoc interpretation by Kallio (2001) of hypothetic third languages strongly influencing in the same way both the Palaeo-Germanic- and Balto-Finnic-speaking communities, Schrijver (2014) comments:

    The idea that perhaps both languages moved towards a lost third language, whose speakers may have been assimilated to both Balto-Finnic and Germanic, provides a fuller explanation but suffers from the drawback that it shifts the full burden of the explanation to a mysterious ‘language X’ that is called upon only in order to explain the developments in Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic. That comes dangerously close to circular reasoning.

    Early Bronze Age cultures of Northern Europe (roughly ca. 2200-1750). Dagger period representing the expansion of BBC-derived groups from southern Scandinavia.

    NOTE. The proposal of some kind of “SHG/EHG-based Fennoscandian substrate” seems funny to me, for two reasons: firstly, there is usually no talk about which culture spread that common language, how it survived, how it was in contact with both groups and until when, etc. (see below for possibilities); secondly, apparently the evident survival of West European EEF communities driven by at least two cultural groups – El Argar and the poorly known groups from the Atlantic façade north of the Pyrenees – is, for the same people proposing this simplistic SHG/EHG idea, somehow not fitting for the prehistory of Proto-Iberian and Proto-Aquitanian, respectively…

    The same argument that one could use against the direct borrowing of both dialects from Pitted Ware, but much more strongly, can be thus wielded against a common, centuries-long phonetic evolution of both Balto-Finnic and Germanic caused by close interactions with (and/or substrate influence of) some third language. Which unitary culture and when exactly could that have happened around the Baltic Sea?

    • Was it Pitted Ware the mysterious substrate language? Seems rather unlikely, due to the early demise of the Pitted Ware culture in contrast to the long-lasting common influence seen in both dialects.
    • Was it Pitted Ware in southern Scandinavia, but Comb Ware in the Gulf of Finland? Is there a direct genetic connection between both cultures? And how likely is a common phonology of an ancestral Comb Ware-like substrate language surviving separately in Finland and Sweden? Even accepting these assumptions, we would be stuck again in the Indo-European Beakers vs. Uralic Battle Axe model.
    • Was it a succession of cultures, from some Scandinavian culture that was replaced by some incoming ethnolinguistic group, then influencing the other? This non-IE, non-Uralic substrate would then need to be proposed, given the chronological and archaeological constraints, as an effect of Pitted Ware over Pre-Finno-Baltic spoken by Battle Axe peoples in Scandinavia, then replaced by Pre-Germanic peoples arriving later with Bell Beakers. A reverse direction and later chronology (say, Germanic replaced by Balto-Finnic from Netted Ware arriving from the Volga) wouldn’t work as well.
    • Was it Asbestos Ware as a late Comb Ware group influencing both? How likely is such a continued influence in Southern Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland? Even if we accepted this influence that miraculously didn’t affect Samic (most likely located between the Balto-Finnic-speaking Gulf of Finland and northern Fennoscandian Asbestos Ware groups), it would necessarily mean that Germanic and Balto-Finnic were spoken neighbouring exactly the same Asbestos Ware groups in Scandinavia. That is, essentially, that the BBC-derived Dagger Period represented Pre-Germanic, while Battle Axe-derived groups around the Gulf of Finland were Balto-Finnic.

    Mixing linguistics with archaeology (now complemented with genetics) also risks circular reasoning. But, how else can someone propose a third substrate language for a phonetic change, necessarily represented by Fennoscandian groups potentially separated by thousands of years? In this age of population genomics we can’t simply talk about theoretical models anymore: we must refer to Fennoscandian cultures and populations in a very specific time frame, as Kronen & Iversen do in their proposal. Not only is such a third unknown language usually a weak explanation for a common development of two unrelated languages; in this case it finds no support whatsoever.

    Seals and the Arctic

    Another interesting aspect about this Fennic-Germanic comparandum is its relevance to the Uralic homeland problem.

    Current distribution of Uralic languages. Nenets and Saami are among the best positioned to retain the ‘original’ Uralic seal-hunting vocabulary.

    Since the publication of Mittnik et al. (2018), Lamnidis et al. (2018), and Sikora et al. (2018), the new normal is apparently to consider Corded Ware Finland as Germanic-speaking, the Gulf of Finland as Balto-Slavic-speaking, while the Kola peninsula and whichever Palaeo-Arctic peoples preceded Nganasans and Nenets as ancient Uralians. Uh-huh, OK.

    But, if prehistoric Arctic peoples practiced specialized seal-hunting economies, and Uralians were one among such populations – supposedly one widespread from the Barents Sea to the Lapteve Sea…how come no common Uralic word for ‘seal’ exists? In other words, why would these True™ Uralic peoples expanding from the Arctic need to borrow a word for ‘seal’ from neighbouring populations in every single seal-hunting region they are attested?

    Historical distribution of grey seals, an important part of the diet around the Baltic Sea. Image modified from Wikimedia to include Skagerrak and Kattegat regions.

    About Saami, which some have recklessly proposed to be derived from Bronze Age N1c-L392 samples from the Kola Peninsula (against the good judgment of the authors of the paper), this is what we know from their word for ‘seal’, from Grünthal (2004):

    Ter Saami vīrre ‘seal; wolf’ displays two meanings that refer to clearly different animals. Neither of them is borrowed from the source language because the word descends from Russian zver’ ‘animal’ (T.I.Itkonen 1958: 756). Another word, Skolt Saami näúdd ‘seal, wolf’, has been similarly used in the two meanings. The evidence of North Saami návdi ‘wolf; creature, fur animal; beast’ (Sammallahti 1989: 305; Lagercrantz (1939: 518) presents the alternative meanings in the opposite order; E. Itkonen (1969: 148) lists the meanings ‘wildes Tier; Raubtier (bes. Wolf); Pelztier’) suggesting that ‘wolf’ is the primary sense and ‘seal’ is a metaphorical extension of it. More precisely, it is an example of a mythic metaphor (cf. Siikala 1992). According to the old folk belief, seal was a wolf and the Skolt Saamis preferred not to eat its meat (T.I.Itkonen 1958: 906). Before that the metonymic meaning ‘wolf’ rose from the less specified meanings, and originally návdi is a Scandinavian or Finnic loan word in Saamic, cf. Old Norse naut ‘vieh, rind’, Icelandic and Norwegian naut, Swedish nöt < Germanic *nauta ‘property’ (Hellquist 1980: 721, T.I.Itkonen 1958: 275, Lagercrantz 1939: 518, de Vries 1961: 406; E. Itkonen (1969: 148) considers Finnic, cf. Finnish nauta ‘bovine’ (< Germanic) as a possible alternative source for the Saamic word).

    NOTE. Possibly comparable, for the mythic metaphor proper of Scandinavian folk belief, are Germanic derivatives built as ‘seal-hound’ and/or ‘sea-hound’.

    Seals formed a great part of the diet for Palaeo-Arctic populations. Boundaries of regions used to predict sea ice, superimposed over the distributions of the five ringed seal subspecies. Image modified from Kelly et al. (2010).

    About Nenets (quite close to the Naganasans of pure “Siberian ancestry”), here is what Edward Vajda, an expert in Palaeo-Siberian languages, has to say:

    Nenets techniques for hunting the animals of the Arctic Ocean seem to have been borrowed from the first Arctic aborigines. Thus, the Nenets word for seal is nyak, the Eskimo word is nesak. Also, the Nenets word for a one-piece Arctic clothing is lu; the Korak word on the Kamchatka peninsula for clothing is l’ku. All of these groups may have borrowed the words from some original circumpolar aborigines. More probably, the first settlers of Arctic Europe were cousins of the present-day Eskimo, Chukchi and other residents of the far northeast region of Asia. Nenets folklore also speaks of the aborigines living in ice dugouts (igloos).

    On the other hand, Proto-Uralic shows a Chalcolithic steppe-like culture, with common words for metal and metalworking, for agriculture, and for domesticated animals, most likely including cattle. They were close to Indo-Europeans since at least before the Tocharian split, and probably earlier than that (even if one does not accept the Indo-Uralic phylum). And there were clearly strong contacts of Finno-Ugric with Indo-Iranian, and especially of Finno-Samic with Germanic.

    Uralic clines from Corded Ware groups to the east. A clear reason for the lack of common seal-hunting vocabulary. Modified from Tambets et al. (2018). Principal component analysis (PCA) and genetic distances of Uralic-speaking populations. a PCA (PC1 vs PC2) of the Uralic-speaking populations. You can see another PCA including ancient samples.

    Some among my readers may now be thinking about these totally believable proposals of prehistoric cultures around Lake Baikal representing the True™ Uralic homeland; because haplogroup N1c, and because some 0.5% more “Devil’s Gate Cave ancestry” in Estonians than in Lithuanians; despite the fact that 1) the so-called “Siberian ancestry” formed an ancestral cline with EHG in North Eurasia, that 2) N1c-L392 lineages seem to appear among many Asian peoples of different languages, and that 3) recent prehistoric N1c-L392 lines expanded clearly with Micro-Altaic languages.

    Like, who would have hunted seals in Lake Baikal, right? The problem is, seals represented one of their main game, essential for their subsistence economy. From Novokonova et al. (2015):

    One of the key reasons for the density of human settlement in the Baikal region compared to adjacent areas of Siberia is that the lake and its nearby rivers offer an abundance of aquatic food resources, including several endemic species, with perhaps the most well known being the Baikal seal. This freshwater seal is only found in Lake Baikal and portions of its tributaries. It shares lifecycle and behavioral patterns with other small northern ice-adapted seals, and is genetically and morphologically most closely related to the ringed seal (Pusa hispida). The nerpa can grow up to 1.8 m long and weigh as much as 130 kg, with the males tending to be slightly larger than the females.

    Zooarchaeological analyses of the 16,000 Baikal seal remains from this well-dated site clearly show that sealing began here at least 9000 calendar years ago. The use of these animals at Sagan-Zaba appears to have peaked in the Middle Holocene, when foragers used the site as a spring hunting and processing location for yearling and juvenile seals taken on the lake ice. After 4800 years ago, seal use declined at the site, while the relative importance of ungulate hunting and fishing increased. Pastoralists began occupying Sagan-Zaba at some point during the Late Holocene, and these groups too utilized the lake’s seals. Domesticated animals are increasingly common after about 2000 years ago, a pattern seen elsewhere in the region, but spring and some summer hunting of seals was still occurring. This use of seals by prehistoric herders mirrors patterns of seal use among the region’s historic and modern groups.

    Bronze Age movements in Fennoscandia

    Regarding the shrinkage and expansion of different farming economic strategies in Scandinavia since the Neolithic, with potential relevance for population movements and thus ethnolinguistic change – either from Balto-Finnic peoples migrating back from eastern Sweden, or Germanic peoples moving to eastern Finland – from Vanhanen et al. (2019):

    Cultivated plants at CWC sites in Finland were not discovered in the current investigation (Supplementary Results) or earlier studies. In Finland, the keeping of domestic animals is indicated by the evidence of dairy lipids and mineralized goat hairs. Charred remains and impressions of cultivated plants have been discovered at CWC sites in Estonia and east-central Sweden (Fig. 3: 12). In the eastern Baltic region, the earliest bones of domestic animals and a shift in subsistence occurred with the CWC. Whether CWC produced the cereals and other agricultural products found at PWC sites is difficult to estimate because only small amounts of plant remains have ever been discovered at CWC sites. The CWC seemingly reached east-central Sweden from regions further to the east, where there is evidence of animal husbandry, but only very few signs of plant cultivation.

    For the Late Neolithic (LN), cereal grains have been found north of Mälaren and along the Norrland coast. In mainland Finland, the first cereal grains occur during the LN or Bronze Age, c. 1900–1250 cal BC. The earliest bones of sheep/goat from mainland Finland are earlier, dating back to 2200–1950 cal BC. Finds of Scandinavian bronze artefacts indicate an influx from east-central Sweden, which might well be a source area for these agricultural innovations. A similar development is found in the eastern Baltic region, where the earliest directly radiocarbon-dated cereals originate from the Bronze Age, 1392–1123 cal BC (2 sigma). Thus, agriculture was evident during the Bronze Age in the eastern Baltic, but at least animal keeping and probably crop cultivation were present earlier during the CWC phase.

    It has been known for a while already that the only options left for the expansion of Finno-Saami into Fennoscandia are either Battle Axe (continued in Textile Ceramics) or Netted Ware (as proposed e.g. by Parpola), based, among other data, on language contacts, language estimates, cultural evolution, and population genomics. Data like this one on seal-hunting vocabulary also support the most likely option, which entails the identification of Corded Ware as the vector of expansion of Uralic languages.

    NOTE. Also interesting in this regard is the lack of Slavic words for ‘seal’ – borrowed, in Russian from Samic, and in other Slavic dialects from Russian, Latin, or other languages -, and the coinage of a new term in East Baltic. Rather odd for an “autochthonous” Proto-Baltic (supposedly in contact with Pitted Ware, Germanic, and Balto-Finnic, then), and for a Proto-Slavic stemming from the Baltic. Quite appropriate, though, for a Proto-East Baltic arriving in the Baltic with Trzciniec and for a Proto-Slavic community evolving further south.

    So, what new episode in this renewed 2000s R1b/R1a/N1c soap opera is it going to be, when eastern Fennoscandia shows Corded Ware-derived peoples of “steppe ancestry” (and mainly R1a-Z645 lineages) continue during the Bronze Age? Will the resurge and/or infiltration of I2 – maybe even N1c – lineages among Corded Ware-derived cultures of north-eastern Europe support or challenge this model, and why? Make your bet below.