Before steppe ancestry: Europe’s genetic diversity shaped mainly by local processes, with varied sources and proportions of hunter-gatherer ancestry

neolithic-mesolithic-europe

The definitive publication of a BioRxiv preprint article, in Nature: Parallel palaeogenomic transects reveal complex genetic history of early European farmers, by Lipson et al. (2017).

The dataset with all new samples is available at the Reich Lab’s website. You can try my drafts on how to do your own PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis with some of their new datasets.

Abstract:

Ancient DNA studies have established that Neolithic European populations were descended from Anatolian migrants who received a limited amount of admixture from resident hunter-gatherers. Many open questions remain, however, about the spatial and temporal dynamics of population interactions and admixture during the Neolithic period. Here we investigate the population dynamics of Neolithization across Europe using a high-resolution genome-wide ancient DNA dataset with a total of 180 samples, of which 130 are newly reported here, from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods of Hungary (6000–2900 BC, n = 100), Germany (5500–3000 BC, n = 42) and Spain (5500–2200 BC, n = 38). We find that genetic diversity was shaped predominantly by local processes, with varied sources and proportions of hunter-gatherer ancestry among the three regions and through time. Admixture between groups with different ancestry profiles was pervasive and resulted in observable population transformation across almost all cultural transitions. Our results shed new light on the ways in which gene flow reshaped European populations throughout the Neolithic period and demonstrate the potential of time-series-based sampling and modelling approaches to elucidate multiple dimensions of historical population interactions.

There were some interesting finds on a regional level, with some late survival of hunter-gatherer ancestry (and Y-DNA haplogroups) in certain specific sites, but nothing especially surprising. This survival of HG ancestry and lineages in Iberia and other regions may be used to revive (yet again) the controversy over the origin of non-Indo-European languages of Europe attested in historical times, such as the only (non-Uralic) one surviving to this day, the Basque language.

This study kept confirming the absence of Y-DNA R1b-M269 subclades in Central Europe before the arrival of Yamna migrants, though, which offers strong reasons to reject the Indo-European from the west hypothesis.

Here are first the PCA of samples included in this paper, and then the PCA of ancient Eurasians (Mathieson et al. 2017) and modern populations (Lazaridis et al. 2014) for comparison of similar clusters:

mesolithic-neolithic-PCA
First two principal components from the PCA. We computed the principal components (PCs) for a set of 782 present-day western Eurasian individuals genotyped on the Affymetrix Human Origins array (background grey points) and then projected ancient individuals onto these axes. A close-up omitting the present-day Bedouin population is shown. From Lipton et al. (2017(
pca-south-east-europe
PCA of South-East European and other European samples from Mathieson et al. (2017)
pca-ancient-modern-europe
Ancient and modern samples on Lazaridis et al. (2014)

Related:

Renewed German reparation demands by Poland mean also renewed territorial disputes

german-dialects

Maybe it is my impression, and this has been going on for a long time now, but in the past few months I have received many notifications from German newspapers about increasing demands by the Polish Government for war reparations (see today, five days ago, and see some editorials on the subject by the Berliner Zeitung and Die Welt).

This might seem a quick and easy way of obtaining money for the Polish administration; after all, Greece has been trying to do that since their economic crisis, not the least because of Germany’s strong support of austerity measures during it. The position of Greece, however, is different. There was no exchange between both nations after the war.

According to the Polish Government, before the fall of the Soviet Union Poland was a Soviet ‘puppet’ (their words, not mine), so the Two Plus Four Agreement – and indeed, it is to be understood, all previous treaties regarding reparations – are not legally binding.

However, if that is so, which demands did Germany relinquished to end with insurmountable WWII reparations? That is, which German demands can then be brought to the table again?

german-atlas
West Germany map of the 1960s showing Germany with their pre-1937 borders in many of their school atlases. On the map you can see the GDR in the Green / Yellow colours, Pomerania, Silesia and Eastern Prussian are noted as “At current time under Polish administration”, the same for Kaliningrad Oblast but as “Under Soviet administration”.

Just yesterday a Reddit user posted a typical German atlas from the 60s and 70s, including “Polish-administered lands”. In my experience, German language books tend to show German-speaking territory in what is now Poland without changes from the pre-war situation, even including (especially those up to the 90s) old administrative borders.

In 1970 at the Treaty of Warsaw the current borders were accepted by West Germany and Poland, and West Germany stopped printing their atlases this way. East Germany – also a Soviet ‘puppy’ then, according to the Polish Government – had already accepted the Oder-Niesse line in 1953 after Poland relinquished their demands for reparation in exchange for the eastern German lands.

[EDIT 25 September 2017] I stumbled upon one of the last ‘official’ atlases used in German schools, the Diercke Weltatlas of 1970 (via Reddit), and see also another map of 1969, all of which included the claimed borders. Eastern Poland, on the other hand, would retain modern borders according to these maps (see here and here).

[EDIT 21 October 2017] I found out that the Christian Democrats criticized this Ostpolitik and continued to campaign on what they referred to as late as 1980 as “the open German question”.

1980-CDU-Germany-map
CDU propaganda poster of 1980 titled “the open German question”, including a map of Germany with claimed historical territories

Until recently, only the NPD (Germany’s far-right party) had openly supported the idea of returning the eastern territories and the Sudetenland. And these demands are not to be taken lightly, since the party is mainly voted by neighbouring east Germans and populism is on the rise everywhere.

npd-karte-neu
Typical map of Germany, from the NPD website

Reparations for mass expulsions of Germans from Poland and the Sudetenland have been mostly repressed, in my experience, by German news outlets and officials alike. Abuse of the east German population is an unpopular subject within the Germans’ general desire to close wounds and go forward. Only rarely could you watch some documentary about the mass expulsions, killings, rape, and violence in general that was seen in post-war Germany (including pre-WWII territories).

Vertreibungsgebiet
Allied map used to determine the number of Germans that would have to be expelled from the eastern German territories using different border scenarios. Source: https://www.library.wisc.edu/

This is one of the questions that could be described as officially taboo. And probably for good reason. Like criticising the effects of the Multikulti movement (or the integration of the Turkish population) some twenty years ago, or today for example mentioning the foreign nationality of crime suspects to avoid inciting hate crimes.

However, judging from innumerable maps of German lands and WWII (and alternative history maps set after WWII) that appear in Reddit and DeviantArt, there are a lot of Germans who still regard with nostalgia the territories where their parents or grandparents lived.

In a time of European challenges like Brexit, rising populist parties, Balkanisation trends, and war against religious extremism, you have to understand what kind of new Pandora’s box you are ready to open. I hope Poles understand what their representatives are doing, and are ready for the consequences of repealing these treaties.

Featured image: Typical map of German dialects in the 1930s.

Königsberg (AKA Kaliningrad) under international law: Russian, German, Polish, Lithuanian, or simply Prussian?

The progress of the ‘star wars’ (AKA missile shield) affair, which Russia seemed willing to aggravate by talking about plans to station missiles in Kaliningrad, without any concerns whatsoever for the welfare of Kaliningraders and Europeans, should make the European Union reexamine its current policy under the Kaliningrad Strategy, of collaborating with Russia by facilitating the transit of goods and persons and helping its socio-economic development.

Instead of just hearing what Russians have to claim before the international community, the EU should ask the international community by which right keeps the Russian Federation hold on Königsberg territory, and should demand from Russia a date for devolution, no matter how hard Russian media propaganda tries to avoid the question:

Although disputes over the status of Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad have practically ceased, this should be regarded as a signal that all the parties concerned are aware of the serious repercussions that instability in that region could cause.

Geopolitical Stability has been by far the most repeated pro-Russian argument since the 90’s, also in official European Union forums (see Freedom to Kaliningrad thread); it is easily summed up into a “let’s maintain the statu quo to avoid destabilizing the region”. The murmuring of those plans to use Kaliningrad as missile base made by Russian military officials to the press, to escalate tensions in the missile shield affair, has shown how the Russian Federation respects the will of Europeans for stability in the region. Not to talk about Russia’s lack of respect for the lives of thousands of European citizens in this winter’s gas disputes, or its lack of respect for Estonian democratic decisions, or its support for the authoritarian Belarusian regime of Lukashenko

Other great arguments made by pro-Russians include “Nazi Germany”, “World War II” and “Mother Russia”, and are easily read elsewhere in Russian media and blogs when the Kaliningrad question is mentioned. Nevertheless, most Kaliningraders – whether ethnic Russians or not – show often an open mind about the return options. And even official Russian media like Russia Today recognize still in 2009 (only in English texts for outsiders) the Lithuanian claims to the territory and its return; East German rights are still taboo in Russian ‘free’ media, while Polish claims are probably too weak to be worth mentioning:

The region became an administrative unit of Russia [sic] in 1946 after the Potsdam conference and the partition of Germany. Although it solidified as an administrative entity, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the issue of reassimilating the Kaliningrad region into its historic entity of Lithuania arose.

According to a thorough study on the question (The Kaliningrad Challenge, 2003) Russia has been always concerned about the risk of separatism in Kaliningrad, which might be greater than expected if the European Report The EU and Kaliningrad (2002) is correct in assessing that Kaliningrad’s level of development is closer to Lithuania and Latvia than previously thought. In that sense, ethnic Russian Kaliningraders see Kaliningrad in the future as another Baltic Republic, either still somehow federated to Russia with great autonomy or fully independent. Moreover,

There are opinion polls – now more frequently held within blogs and forums – which show that Kaliningraders occasionally imagine their future not so much as a fourth Baltic Republic, but as part of a return to Germany

As it has been already argued on the situation of Königsberg/Kaliningrad region and the Northern Territories/Southern Kuril Islands under international law:

In a similar way, the Soviets also refused to discuss the final peace settlement in Europe after the Second World War. It is important to emphasize that neither the United States nor Britain agreed at Potsdam or anywhere else to the transfer of East Prussia or part of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union. Thus, although the Kaliningrad Region is currently administered by Russia, it is not a legal part of Russia.

Stalin was seeking a deal on East Prussia at the Tehran conference in 1943, drawing a line in red pencil on the map “to illustrate the fact that, if part of eastern Prussia, including the ports of Könisberg and Tilsit, were given to the Soviet Union, he would be prepared to accept the Curzon line […] as the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland.”

This line goes roughly along the current border between the Kaliningrad Region and Poland, but Stalin’s red line on the map went virtually through the cities of Königsberg and Insterburg (see the Map). Charles E. Bolen, the interpreter for the American delegation, says in his memoirs that during their discussion, Stalin and Churchill virtually agreed on the future borders of Poland, but the official American record of the conversation says that “although nothing was stated, it was apparent that the British were going to take this suggestion back to London to the Poles.”

On February 11, 1945, at the Crimea (Yalta) Conference, the Big Three agreed on the Curzon Line as the boundary between Poland and the USSR. However, the archival material clearly shows that there had not been any legally binding agreement made between the allies about the transfer of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union at any of the Second World War conferences. This is why Stalin attempted to secure his gains at the Potsdam conference in Berlin, which took place from July 17 to August 2, 1945.

After the end of the Second World War, the Kaliningrad question began by Stalin’s personal will of revenge against Germany:

Königsberg was neither appended outright to the Soviet Union nor was it to be considered part of the Soviet zone of occupation, which had been outlined earlier in the agreement.

[The Soviet Union] acted decisively to completely eradicate the German presence in Königsberg and replace it with Soviet presence. This began even before the end of hostilities with the Reich:

Königsberg was destroyed in the last weeks of the war when there was no real reason to assault it. When the soldiers of the Byelorussian front were dying in its streets in the first week of April, 1945, the rest of the Red Army was already besieging Berlin. Seven centuries of history went up in smoke in one week of shelling and bombing. By then, the decision to annihilate East Prussia and grant Königsberg to the Soviet Union had already been taken, so the reason for its destruction remains a mystery. Did Stalin take the decision in a fit of war revenge? Did he think that the setting of an ancient bourgeois city would hamper the development of the new Soviet city he wanted to build in its place? Or did he fear that, unless turned into a pile of ruins, Königsberg might not be conceded to him by the Allies after all? Pictures and models in the bunker-cum-museum where the capitulation of the city was signed are revealing. Most of the destruction was done after-wards, when the victors took to the task of building a new city on the ruins of the old…

While the destruction of the city’s infrastructure was underway, an equally brutal purge of its population through gang rapes and indiscriminate crimes was carried out:

The demography of that part of Lithuania Minor which is under direct Soviet administration, the “Oblast,” has changed in the most radical way in all its history. The original population of the area — German as well as Lithuanian — has disappeared completely. Many had fled before the Soviet armed forces invaded the area in 1945; those who remained — several hundred thousand — either perished from hunger or disease or were deported to Siberia; the others were expelled to Germany in 1949. They all — about 1,200,000 before World War II — were replaced by about 600,000 settlers from the northern and central parts of Russia. The administration and economy of the “Oblast” has been reorganized to conform with Soviet models and practices. It has been fortified to serve the strategic aims of the Soviet Union.

Modern Claims in Europe

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were 4 main alternatives for the future of Kaliningrad, following Raymond A. Smith’s article The Status of The Kaliningrad Oblast Under International Law (1992), which argues in favour of the Lithuanian claim, but which also addresses some historical and political questions:

From the historical [point of view] sovereignty over the territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast passed over the course of centuries from the the indigenous Old Prussian population, to the Teutonic Order, to the Kingdom of Poland, to the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and finally, perhaps, to the USSR/RSFSR. It is not surprising, then, to find that each of these entities (with the exception, of course, of the Teutonic Order) has a conceivable claim to this territory. This section examines the legal basis, or lack thereof, of the actual or potential claim of each entity, as well as the potential claim of the indigenous population.

  • The German Claim: Some Germans challenge the validity of both the Final Settlement and the original “dismemberment” of the German Reich.
    Their arguments are complex but can be reduced in essence to two claims:

    1. the Allies had no power to allow German territory to be annexed by other countries
    2. the West Germany and even the modern Federal Republic of Germany are not coextensive with the German Reich and are therefore not competent to speak for it in its entirety

    The first proposition is supported by numerous charges: that the guarantees of self-determination in the Atlantic Charter, the UN Charter, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties were ignored; that the Ancient Roman principle of ex injuria non oritur jus prohibits punishing Germany by unilateral confiscation of its territory; that the powers of the Allies as occupiers were strictly curtailed by the Hague Laws of War of 1907; that use of German lands as “compensation” to Poland for lands lost to the Soviet Union has no basis in international law; and many others.

  • The Russian Claim: As the historical overview recounted, the working premise of the Potsdam Conference was that the Soviets would receive the Oblast at the final peace conference. The Allies specifically committed themselves to supporting the Soviet claim in the Final Settlement, but when that settlement was finally signed in 1990, specific title was not transferred. Why the Final Settlement did not include a specific statement of transfer is unclear. The seemingly most probable reason is that the transfer of Kaliningrad to the Soviet Union is considered a fait accompli and that the legal niceties of including a specific mention of transfer were outweighed by potential political embarassment such a mention might have caused the Kohl government. Such a position assumes that the tranfer has already taken place, an assertion which rests on shaky ground.

    Similarly, the Act of Military Surrender specifically indicates that the occupation itself did not effect the annexation of Germany. Thus, although Germany surrendered unconditionally, none of its territories were automatically annexed to any other state. Such annexation would have to be made explicit in a legally binding document. Only “administration” was established by the Potsdam Agreement, however, and “administration” is definitely not the same as “annexation” under international law.

    Rather than present arguments based on international law, Stalin advanced the law of revenge. ‘The Russians had suffered so much and lost so much blood, they were anxious to have some small satisfaction to [sic] tens of millions of their inhabitants who had suffered in the war,” Stalin said at Potsdam.

    In the absence of ethnic and historical claims to shore up their questionable legal claim, then, the only argument which the Soviet Union can depend upon is the principle of prescriptive claim. This principle transfers title to land when a country has held it for a long period of time without protest by the land’s original owners or by the international community at large. No specific time frame is suggested for the acquisition of prescriptive claim. Grotius suggested 100 years, a figure which the Permanent Court of International Justice endorsed in 1933. The International Court of Justice, on the other hand, said that fifty years had been long enough for a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana to have legal effect.

  • The Polish Claim: Poland has no ethnic claim to the Oblast. Although the southern half of East Prussia was occupied mainly by Polish Masurians, they had almost no presence in the northern part.

    Poland’s historic claim is only marginally stronger. For some two centuries, Prussia was a fief of the Polish King, but during that period the area remained firmly under German control. In any case, title was decisively transferred by the Treaty of Wehlau in 1657. During World War II many Poles operated under the belief that all of East Prussia would become theirs, but they were never legally promised the territory in its entirety.

  • Lithuanian Claim: The claim of the Lithuanian state could rely upon both ethnic and historical grounds.
    1. The Lithuanians may argue that
      the first peoples to hold sovereignty over the region were ethnic Lithuanians and closely related Old Prussians, and
    2. the pre-1945 population outside the cities of the Oblast was largely of Lithuanian origin. If the status of the Oblast were to be altered in the future, then, the Lithuanian state could have a strong argument for assimilating this remainder of Lithuania Minor.

    The idea of unifying the Oblast with the rest of Lithuania has strong historical precedents. Lithuanian assemblies met in Chicago and New York in 1914, The Hague in 1916 and Berne in 1917 to demand an independent Lithuania including all of Lithuania Minor. An assembly in Vilnius in 1917 restated the problem to define the new Lithuania within its “ethnographic borders,” a concept endorsed by a later assembly in Voronezh the same year.
    Finally, on November 30, 1918, the National Council of Prussian Lithuania issued the Declaration of Tilsit:

    Taking into account that everything that exists has a right to continue existing and that we, Lithuanians who live here in Prussian Lithuania, are the majority of the population of this land, we demand, on the basis of Wilson’s right of national self-determination, that Lithuania Minor be joined to Lithuania Major

    The clearest catch here is that any annexation of the Oblast by Lithuania might hinge upon the democratic decision of an indigenous Lithuanian majority to authorize such an annexation. And, as we have seen, virtually none of the indigenous Lithuanian population remains in the Oblast, having fled or been killed or exiled after World War II. This raises the final claim to be discussed — that of the indigenous population.

  • The Claim of the Native Population: The right to national self-determination is one of the main cornerstones of the contemporary international legal order. Eight of Wilson’s Fourteen Points refer to such concerns. The Atlantic Charter’s third and fourth principles call for self-determination in matters of both boundaries and choice of government. The Charter of the United Nations calls for colonial powers to foster self-determination in “non-self governing territories”. That right might be interpreted as concerning:
    1. The Oblast’s postwar ethnic Russian settlers – as opposed to central Soviet or Russian authorities.
    2. the traditional population which was decimated or expelled en masse after World War II, which is defended on the grounds that forcible deportations of native populations is clearly in violation of international law – native Königsbergers expelled after World War II, then, have a right under international law to choose to return to their native land.

    On that question, there is the precedent of United Nations action regarding the settlement of Gibraltar:

    As in the case of the Oblast, the key issue was whether the rightful native population of the Rock should be considered to be the contemporary residents or an earlier population who had been compelled to depart in 1704. The British argued that over the centuries since 1704 a permanent and authentic population had been developed on the Rock, which now had the right to determine their own fate. The Spanish countered that the post-1704 population were “pseudo-Gibraltarians” and that the rightful rulers of Gibraltar Rock were the descendants of Spaniards who had resettled, for the most part, in the nearby city of San Roque.

    Under pressure from the United Nations to end its colonial occupation of Gibraltar and in an attempt to settle the status of the Rock once and for all, the British government conducted a plebiscite in 1967. The choices were stark — full political affiliation with either Great Britain or with Spain — and the result was unequivocal: 12,138 to 44 in favor of Great Britain. Nonetheless, the U.N. General Assembly once again condemned British occupation of Gibraltar, this time in the strongest language yet. It, in essence, declared the plebiscite null, accused the British of resisting decolonization, and called once again for immediate negotiations between Great Britain and Spain for a transfer of sovereignty.

    Whatever the merits of the Gibraltar case, the precedent for the Oblast is clear. If the rights of native populations can stretch back to 1704, then surely the postwar expellees from the Oblast would have an unambiguous right to return to their homeland and choose its political fate — be that choice in-dependence or association with another state. The current population of the Oblast would presumably have no say in the territory’s political future.

    The key difference between Gibraltar and the Oblast is that in the former case, there actually is a population in San Roque able and willing to resettle the Rock. No analagous “population-in-exile” exists in the case of the Oblast. Rather, much of the population of Königsberg was killed or died in exile. Those who were deported to Germany (and their descendants) in all likelihood now enjoy a standard of living which is, at least quantitatively, many times better than any which would be possible in the backward conditions of the Oblast. Further, most — although far from all — Germans seem to have accepted the loss of the prewar lands; the idea of reclaiming part of East Prussia would not necessarily resonate with much of the population. It seems extremely unlikely, then, that more than a handful of such native German Königsbergers would wish to uproot and resettle in the Oblast.

Even with German and Lithuanian strong claims about the Soviet colony of Königsberg opposing the legality of Stalin’s annexation, Russia did in the 90’s what it was used to in such cases when the Soviet Union was still a Great Power: they took the easy way, and annexed the territory to Russia, expecting the international community to accept it. Which is nice, because the EU as a Great Power will therefore be entitled to follow the same principle in the future…

In my personal opinion, the European Union faces today 3 alternatives, given Russia’s will to retain Stalin’s European exclave no matter how illegal or illegitimate it is from an international point of view:

  1. Support modern Kaliningraders in their demands of greater autonomy within the Russian Federation – and maybe a future separation from it -, which is the fairest position under modern international law, which demands non-belligerant positions (against Russia in this case) and respect for human rights – Russian settlers and their families. This is certainly the option of most Kaliningraders of Russian ethnicity, as well as most EU-politicians.
  2. Support Germany’s or Lithuania’s claims (or both), seeking to integrate Kaliningrad within the European Union, maybe as a sort of a Baltic territory co-administered by both Germany and Lithuania, financing the return of (families of) expellees to Königsberg, and the return of (willing) families of Russian settlers to Russia. This is the option preferred by many Germans and (I guess) most Lithuanians.
  3. Support the creation of a modern Baltic Prussian State (Prusa), which could help unite the Pro-Baltic (and Pro-European) attitude of Russian Kaliningraders, the will of native peoples and their families to return to East Prussia, as well as claims of EU member states to integrate Königsberg in Europe, by embracing Old Prussian history of the territory and its peoples. Modern organizations supporting the revival of the Old Prussian language would probably support its revitalization in Königsberg include the future Research Institute of Prussology and the Prussian language organization in Poland.

The third is my preferred option, not because I am some kind of language revival freak (what I possibly am, given that I also support Old Prussian language revival), but because what many (want to) regard simply as ethnic German and ethnic Lithuanian inhabitants of East Prussia in 1945 were in fact descendants of Old Prussians who had lost their language in favour of either German or Lithuanian languages, depending on the territories they dwelled when they ceased to speak Prussian. Given that historical, cultural and linguistic background of the Königsberg (or East Prussian) territory, the European Union should take action supporting the return of those expelled peoples and their families to their ancient territory, which they were forced to leave half a century ago.

There is therefore no need to support the adscription of East Prussia to modern countries or peoples, be it Russia, Germany, Poland or Lithuania. And the only alternative to modern peoples, cultures and states is to support a linguistic and cultural revival of a Prussian people and language that should have never disappeared.

Bronze Age “German Stonehenge” of Saxony-Anhalt unearthed, maybe related to Europe’s Indo-European speakers

Some years after the discovery of the Nebra Sky disc and observatory (dated ca. 1600 BC), near what was then called the “German Stonehenge” (see Deutsche Welle news), archaeologists from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have unearthed another similar structure, but this time probably related to the Indo-European settlers who still spoke Europe’s (or Northwestern) Proto-Indo-European, if the timeline and space have been correctly set by linguists and archaeologists.

Goseck Observatory While the Goseck observatory (reconstructed in the picture) was dated between 5000 and 4800 BC, this wooden construction – termed again “German Stonehenge” -, found not too far from the river Elbe in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, near the village of Pömmelte-Zackmünde, is supposed was used for worship between 2300 and 2100 BC, and was later covered by another “wooden pagan structure”. Which of those structures (if any) might be linked to the community of Europe’s Indo-European speakers, is yet unknown.

From the weekly Der Spiegel news, later copied by international news agencies worldwide:

Still, the scale of the site must have been impressive. Archaeologists have already discovered six rings of wooden pillars — the biggest of which has a diameter of 115 meters. In one of the structure’s outer areas there was also a circular ditch with a diameter of 90 meters. By analysing ceramic vessels found at the site, the researchers have worked out the place of worship dates back to the 23rd century before Christ and was used until the 21st century BC.

“We don’t know of any other structure like this on the European mainland from this time,” Spatzier said. It was, in fact, an exciting time in Europe: trade networks for ores, amber and salt were rapidly developing. Mankind’s knowledge was also growing by leaps and bounds, as not only goods but ideas were travelling across the continent. Around 2,500 years earlier at the very end of the Stone Age, Neolithic people had already constructed the nearby Goseck Circle — a wooden ring 70 meters across considered the oldest solar observatory in Europe. In the Bronze Age, some 500 years after the Pömmelte site was built, the famous Nebra sky disc was made. The circular bronze object likewise depicts the heavens.

First observed from an airplane in 1991, researchers are now trying to figure out how exactly the new site — dubbed by the media as the “German Stonehenge” — was used. They believe the place must have been a site for celebrations and ritual acts, as the earthen walls could not have offered defensive protection against attackers. Animal bones and vessels found at the site also point to it being a cult site. And human skeletal remains — not unlike findings at the original Stonehenge — have also been dug up. The researchers are especially intrigued by the graves of a child, aged between five and 10, who was buried in a fetus-like position, and that of a higher ranking dignitary.

On top of that, another wooden pagan structure, which probably came into use directly after the one being dug up, has been found nearby. So far, archaeologists have undertaken only a small exploratory excavation. “We might start a bigger excavation there next year,” Spatzier said — in the hopes of completely uncovering the mysteries of the German Stonehenge.

Every time such findings are made I whonder why a period of history so meaningful for the western world hasn’t yet served as scenario of an important historical novel, like Quo Vadis, or Pharaoh, or The Clan of the Cave Bear, or Aztec, etc. Any reader interested in beginning a historical fiction (blog) novel? I can help with the original language of characters 😉