Balto-Slavic accentual mobility: an innovation in contact with Balto-Finnic


Some very specific prosodic innovations affected the Balto-Slavic linguistic community, probably at a time when it already showed internal dialectal differences. Whether those innovations were related to archaic remnants stemming from the parent Proto-Indo-European language, and whether that disintegrating community included different dialects, remains an object of active debate.

“Archaic” Balto-Slavic?

The main question about Balto-Slavic is whether this concept represents a single community, or it was rather a continuum formed by two (Baltic and Slavic) or possibly three (East Baltic, West Baltic, Slavic) neighbouring communities, speaking closely related Northern European dialects, which just happened to evolve very close to each other, i.e. in cultures that were closer to each other than they were to Germanic or Balto-Finnic.

In my opinion, their similarities warrant the reconstruction of a single original central-east European community since the dissolution of Bell Beakers, speaking a North-West Indo-European dialect, and most internal differences between Baltic and Slavic may be explained as innovations. The precise identification of a Proto-Balto-Slavic community remains elusive, although the Unetice-Iwno-Mierzanowice triangle remains the best bet, with Trzciniec showing what seems like an Early Slavic-like population reaching up to the East Baltic.

Bell Beaker expansion in eastern Europe and around the Baltic.

The reconstruction of a common Balto-Slavic proto-language is known to range from difficult to impossible, depending on who you ask, not the least because of the differences that are discussed in this post, and which have been the own battlefield created by Balticists and Slavicists for decades. The old tenet that Balto-Slavic had inherited some traits directly from PIE is – in contrast with e.g. the Italo-Celtic concept – surprisingly vivid still today.

Take, for example, these internal differences and supposedly archaic traits:

  • The ruKi rule, where Baltic shows mostly *is, *us, and Slavic shows *, *; or the different output of Satemization in Baltic compared to Slavic (and both compared to Indo-Iranian). Nevertheless, the Satemization trends in Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian are usually explained together and taken as a sign of a traditional three-velar system for PIE.
    • If you consider Satemization as a late trend in Balto-Slavic, affecting each dialect in a different way, and thus Balto-Slavic phonetic evolution clearly distinct from the Indo-Iranian trend, rejecting trictectalism, this problem is solved. This would also solve the impossible Indo-Slavonic problem, and the paradox of Balto-Slavic sharing a genetic phylum with Germanic and Italo-Celtic.
    • If you, however, conflate these differences and North-West Indo-European features with an ad hoc explanation of a hypothetic Centum dialect called Temematic, which intends to solve their (in Holzer’s words) unlösbaren inconsistencies, you essentially add a whole new inconsistency without solving their previous ones. For a full rebuttal of Holzer‘s Temematic etymologies, see Matasović (2014).
  • Kortlandt’s reconstruction of a PIE 3rd singular *-e (Baltic from *-et, Slavic from *-eti) and 3rd plural *-o, which would have been replaced independently in other Indo-European dialects (by *-eti, *-onti), is reminiscent of his own reconstruction of laryngeals almost up to the attestation of all Indo-European dialects, including Baltic. If you consider these traits an innovation, this artificially created problem is immediately solved.
  • Genitive plural Pre-Baltic *-ōm vs. Pre-Slavic *-ŏm is another commonly cited example. However, I would place this difference among other similar differences found within other related IE dialects, hence a common phonetic innovation (see e.g. below for the classicist view of unstable obliques).
  • Kortlandt’s reconstruction of oblique cases in *-m-, shared with Germanic, as stemming from a common Middle PIE *-mus (based essentially on Old Lithuanian *-mus and on a non-existent equivalent Anatolian formation), hence different from those in *-bʰ-. While you can argue for infinite more reasonable alternatives, the most often cited one is the ins.-dat. pl. *-bʰ- as a common NWIE innovation based on ins. sg. *bʰi-, while forms in *-m- (including ins. sg.) as a Northern European phonetic innovation. The simplest, most elegant explanation I’ve read to date (I think by Rémy Viredaz) is the similar bilabial change of Giacobo/Giacomo in Italian…

As you can see, some Balto-Slavicists could have written whole books about how their object of study holds the key to solve problems on common Proto-Indo-European paradigms, some of which wouldn’t need solving if they hadn’t been started by Balto-Slavicists themselves…

While all of these “archaic” traits are easily dismissed without further ado (except for some understandable damaged pride among academics), there is one especially pervasive idea among those willing to find the white whale of laryngeal remnants in Indo-European languages (see here for other examples of dubious laryngeal remains).

The prophecy before the battle, Józef Ryszkiewicz, 1890. Or, how to conjure laryngeal remnants in Balto-Slavic.

Accentual development in contact

Whichever position one prefers, the general argument is that the Balto-Slavic accentual system is non-trivial for the classification of both dialects into a common branch. However, that would only be completely true if it were a common innovation, but not so much if it were a natural laryngeal evolution.

In fact, the broken tone preserving a PIE laryngeal, as proposed by Kortlandt – continuing Meillet’s idea of synchronous PIE-PBS developments – was always very difficult to accept. Even the rising pronunciation is not original, and represents a shift of the accent on the initial syllable in Latvian…

In my opinion, the derivation of a modern phenomenon from a PIE laryngeal must always raise a red flag (see below on archaisms vs. innovations in IE languages). As you can see from my take of the fable in Balto-Slavic, which uses Kortlandt’s reconstruction, I preferred not to take into account the reconstructed accents. The fable remains thus a model of what could have been a common Proto-Balto-Slavic, unlike other reconstructions, which are much less tentative.

NOTE. You could argue that accents may be reconstructed in spite of the wrong theory behind them, but this is not true; at least not of all reconstructed accents, some of which require further assumptions. Think about it this way: I wouldn’t take into account a reconstruction of Germanic accent which used Danish glottalized tone for a hypothetical Proto-Germanic laryngeal, even if most accents seemed correct at first sight. The truth is, I didn’t want to dedicate time to go through each reconstructed word and its explanation, so it was easier to delete them all, even though that’s not an actual solution, either. You will find the same doubts in the description of Balto-Slavic evolution in my old Modern Indo-European grammar. The introduction to IE dialects was partially copied from Wikipedia (which, in the case of Balto-Slavic, essentially summarized data from Kortlandt), but in the grammar I just tried to keep the basics, and not very successfully, because you need a comprehensive and coherent description of a language’s evolution. That’s how messed up the question was, and how it still is, even though 15 years of research have passed…

Despite the idea of an “archaic Balto-Slavic”, especially prevalent among older researchers, the current trend is to consider Balto-Slavic prosodic changes as a natural innovation, even among those who would artificially reconstruct laryngeal remnants up to late Balto-Slavic stages.

NOTE. You can read more about the Proto-Indo-European laryngeal loss and vocalism. While the presence of certain laryngeals up to Late PIE is certain, the loss in many environments is also generally agreed upon. This is especially true of a hypothetical Indo-Slavonic branch, like that supported by Kortlandt: even those supporting multiple laryngeal loss events must admit that Indo-Iranian showed no laryngeals before its disintegration, whether they put this loss as an internal Proto-Indo-Iranian evolution, or they place it earlier. Tocharian attests to an evolution similar to the rest of Late PIE dialects (hence to a quite early laryngeal loss trend), and Balkan dialects (supposedly splitting before Indo-Slavonic) also lost laryngeals in a similar way, except for initial ones, which show vocalic output instead of full loss.

So, where does a laryngeal loss fit in this “Indo-Slavonic” scheme, exactly? Before the Tocharian split? Before the Balkan split? After the Balkan split but before the full loss in Indo-Iranian? And where exactly does this group belong regarding Corded Ware, and where does Germanic? No idea (but you can read Kortlandt try fitting his model with Gimbutas’ “Kurgan peoples”). Because one thing is to reconstruct Proto-Greek, or Proto-Celtic, or Proto-Italic forms without laryngeals and to put them in relation with a purely theoretical three-laryngeal PIE, and a different one is to reconstruct laryngeals (including in environments which were already lost in Tocharian) up to Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic, which seems more than just a bit of a stretch…

Indo-European dialectal relationships, from Mallory and Adams (2006).

Thomas Olander offered a summary of the current positions regarding the Balto-Slavic accentual system recently in Indo-European heritage in the Balto-Slavic accentuation system (2013), which also contains a summary of his Mobility Law, to explain this phenomenon as a common Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic innovation.

Andersen, an advocate of different Baltic and Slavic dialects developing in contact with Satem dialects, suggested in The Satem Languages of the Indo-European Northwest. First Contacts? (2009), partially based on Olander’s initial proposal, that Baltic and Slavic accentual mobility arose as a result of contact with languages with fixed word-initial ictus: the accent was lost in the word-final mora in pre-Proto-Baltic and, independently, in pre-Proto-Slavic. Hence, the central innovation, the accent loss

technically is not a shared Slavic and Baltic innovation. On the contrary. It shows that the speakers of the Pre-Slavic and Pre-Baltic dialects formed bilingual communities with speakers of contact dialects that were of the same prosodic type, viz. had fixed initial ictus but no free accent.

In the meantime, Olander (2019) has found out about more real-world examples of this same phenomenon:

Prosodic features are known to be susceptible to contact influence (Salmons 1992:1 and passim). While it does not directly influence the evaluation of the Mobility Law as a non-trivial innovation, it is interesting that most of the alleged parallels are indeed considered to be contact-induced changes due to influence from languages with an ictus on the word-initial syllable (Andersen 2009: 11-14; Rinkevičius 2013): Balto-Fennic in the case of the Karelian and (perhaps through Latvian as an intermediary) Žemaitian dialects, and Hungarian in the case of the Slavonian dialects (for Karelian see Jakobson 1938/2002: 239; Veenker 1967: 74; Thomason & Kaufman 1988: 122, 241; Salmons 1992: 41- 42; for Žemaitian see Zinkevičius 1966: 45- 46; for Slavonian see Ivić 1958: 287).

I am not aware of any hypotheses on a contact-induced origin for Greek prosodic innovations, but it is at least worth noting that there is agreement on significant substrate influence on Greek. While we may speculate that these substrate language(s) had word-initial ictus like Balto-Fennic and Hungarian, we do not have any actual information about the prosodic system(s) (thus even Beekes 2014: 9, who in other respects provides a fairly detailed picture of the substrate).

The parallels from other speech varieties show that an accent loss of the type suggested for a pre-stage of Baltic and Slavic is a type of prosodic change that has occurred several times in different various systems. In the context of the present paper this means that the sound law itself cannot be classified as a non-trivial innovation; it may have taken place in already differentiated dialects or languages. Also, the parallels suggest that a loss of the accent may be the result of influence from languages with fixed word-initial ictus.

In this time when even linguists agree that substrate/contact languages have to be related to specific ethnolinguistic groups (see here for Germanic), the fact that Olander stops short of naming this substrate behind Pre-Baltic and Pre-Slavic as being Late Uralic in general, or Balto-Finnic in particular, is surprising.

NOTE. Not the least because Olander is part of the Homeland Timeline map project of the Copenhagen group (their website is not working right now), and they placed Volosovo as Uralians expanding with Netted Ware in contact with the Baltic during the Bronze Age…So what’s to doubt about Balto-Slavic – Balto-Finnic contacts, exactly? Maybe if Balto-Finnic was the substrate language behind Balto-Slavic (as it was in Germanic), it would mean that Uralic languages were previously spoken in territories that became later Germanic- and Balto-Slavic-speaking?

Still image from the Copenhagen Timeline Map (accessed one year ago), showing in green Volosovo hunter-gatherers who, according to the map, later expand to the north-east with Netted Ware…

Archaism vs. Innovation

If we tried to describe these trends of explaining peculiar traits in recent Indo-European dialects as archaism vs. innovation from a purely theoretical point of view, we could roughly distinguish two different positions (with infinite variants, of course) among academics – just like we could find people more inclined to leftist or rightist trends when speaking about economy. When it comes to linguistics, which is the least messed-up field where one can describe Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, I think we can find two alternative basic tenets:

  • One idea would hold that the oldest attested dialects – and those with an older guesstimated proto-language – are the gold standard as to what the original situation may have been, and about what could be described as an archaism. For example, Ancient Greek and Mycenaean or Vedic Sanskrit for old dialects; Tocharian, or Italic dialects for those with quite old guesstimates, each for different reasons; and Anatolian for both, old dialect and attested early.
  • NOTE. Nevertheless, the phonology of Anatolian inscriptions is often difficult to ascertain, and its ancient dialectal nature stemming from a Middle PIE stage may still be disputed by some. The archaic nature of Tocharian seems to be maybe less generally accepted than that of Anatolian, but I would say there is general consensus on the matter today.

  • The other general idea would support that the most isolated dialects are those which may hold the key to the oldest Indo-European traits, somehow hidden from external influences and areal contacts, and thus from generalized innovative trends that have affected the best known ancient dialects. In that sense, languages like Slavic, Baltic, Albanian, or Armenian – as well as some Balkan fragmentary dialects – are quite common aims of study to reveal exceptional PIE traits.

I think the education system in Southern Europe and South Asia is that of formal classicists. In eastern Europe, I’d reckon the education system – especially in regions that were never connected to the Graeco-Roman tradition – favours linguistics as a study of the own and related proto-languages. For northern Europe, I would say it’s 50/50, especially in Scandinavia, depending on whether classicists or linguists dominate over the departments of Indo-European. For example, while Germany or Austria would maybe lean more toward the classics, Copenhagen’s obsession with Germanic as the most archaic IE branch is well known…

A 17th-century birch bark manuscript of Pāṇini’s grammar treatise from Kashmir. Image from Wikipedia.

Both positions, when blindly accepted, are bound to fail at some point or another:

  • If you take Classical Sanskrit, Classical Greek, or Classical Latin as an example of Proto-Indo-European, you are bound to make radical mistakes when reconstructing the parent language, more so if you disregard the oldest attested layers of the languages. An interesting view of the so-called Adradists at the Complutense University of Madrid – apart from their famous 9-laryngeal reconstruction – is that Middle PIE had only 5 cases, with a general (unstable) oblique one in Late PIE that later evolved into the attested 5 to 8 cases in the different dialects. That is, in my opinion, a fairly typical classicist error, which would be easily addressed by taking into account the oldest stages, like those attested in Mycenaean and in Old Latin, instead of focusing on classical grammar. The 8-case system is, in fact, one of the few true Balto-Slavic archaisms, supported by external comparanda.
  • On the other hand, if you take Albanian, Armenian, Baltic or Slavic, or even phonetically dubious data like those from some Anatolian inscriptions, you can eventually argue for anything. And I really mean anything; you are leaving the logic door wide open for any crazy-ass opinion about Proto-Indo-European based on traits found in modern languages: From how many velars evolved (if at all, because you may find all of them in Luwian, or still living in Albanian or in Armenian…) and their nature as ejective consonants in Late PIE (based on Armenian or Germanic); to how many laryngeals and when these laryngeals disappeared (if they actually did disappear, because some may even find them in Modern Lithuanian, in Armenian, or in Danish…); etc. Once you believe your own romantic view of some modern language(s) retaining traits from five thousand years ago, there is no stopping that; not for you, but not for anyone else, either.

NOTE. One of the funniest consequences of this type of ‘worldview’, where one assumes that – the own interpretations of – modern dialects are as reliable (or even more so than) ancient ones, and that Indo-European dialects somehow split at the same time from the parent language (so there was one common “full laryngeal” language, and then all attested dialects evolved from it) are some of the theories that you can easily find posted on Facebook’s group on Proto-Indo-European. Let’s just say, for the sake of simplicity, that you can compare English ‘sunrise’ with Spanish ‘sonrisa’ “smile” all you want, and assert that both reveal a common origin in PIE *sup- hence from the Sun and the smile going “up” or something, but any explanation as to how you reached that conclusion doesn’t make for the why this comparison shouldn’t have even started at all. Now replace English and Spanish with Armenian, Slavic, and/or Albanian, invent some new IE sound law, throw one or two laryngeals in the mix, and somehow this might get a pass among certain linguists…

The Celebration of Svetovid on Rügen, Alphonse Mucha, The Slav Epic. Image from Wikipedia. Were Early Slavs some among a selected few romantic peoples to keep the “true” Indo-European language and traditions? Of course not.

While no one can deny the value of different Indo-European branches for the reconstruction of the parent language, no matter how recently they were attested, the only reasonable solution whenever a difficult case arises is to trust ancient dialects more than recent ones. Using data from fringe theories based on recent dialects to build a Proto-Indo-European paradigm, especially when there is contradictory data from ancient IE dialects, is flawed for two reasons:

  1. Languages attested later – especially after periods of population movements and contacts – would show, in general, a greater degree of change. Preferring Old Slavic or Classical Armenian to reconstruct Indo-European over ancient dialects like Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, or ancient Italic dialects is, in a way, like taking Byzantine Greek, Pali, or Old French as models, respectively.
  2. Classical languages are indeed modified due to the action of grammarians, but once standardized these “languages behind a state” (or religion) are less prone to change, due to the transmission of oral (and written) literature, education, commerce, etc. Languages left to unorganized tribes are less constrained in their evolution, and their internal (substrate) and external (contact) influences are greater and (what’s worse) unknown.

Baltic and Slavic, like Albanian or Armenian, are dialects attested very recently, which may have undergone complex internal and external influences we may never fully understand. Confronted with controversial or inexplicable traits compared to ancient branches like Greek, Indo-Iranian, or Italo-Celtic (especially if they fit with other Indo-European dialects), the conservative solution that will be right most of the time (and I mean 99.9999% of cases) is to assume they represent an innovation over Late PIE.

The fact that some researchers still use these recent dialects as a blank canvas instead, in order to propose unending new ideas about how to reconstruct IE proto-languages, or even older common PIE stages, is shocking. Not “R1a/Steppe” vs. “N1c/Siberian” haplogroup+ancestry bullshit-level shocking, but still unacceptable in a serious academic environment.

The only reason why Balto-Slavicists have failed so many times in this “unsolvable” question that seems to be Proto-Balto-Slavic reconstruction, apart from the known differences between Baltic and Slavic, is precisely the fixation of many with their object of study as a model for other IE languages (and thus for PIE), instead of taking the rest as a model for the reconstruction of Balto-Slavic (or of Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic).

Repeating ad nauseam the popular concept of Balto-Slavic (or Baltic and Slavic) being among the most archaic IE dialects, or the slowest evolving IE dialects, and cheap nationalist slogans of the sort, does not help this aim, and just reading or hearing that should make anyone cringe instantly. Not less than reading or hearing about Sanskrit being essentially equal to PIE, or spoken in the Indus Valley 10,000 years ago. Because we are not living in the 19th century, mind you.


When Bell Beakers mixed with Eneolithic Europeans: Pömmelte and the Europe-wide concept of sanctuary


Recent open access paper The ring sanctuary of Pömmelte, Germany: a monumental, multi-layered metaphor of the late third millennium BC, by Spatzier and Bertemes, Antiquity (2018) 92(363):655-673.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In recent decades, evidence has accumulated for comparable enclosures of later dates, including the Early Bronze Age Únětice Culture between 2200 and 1600 BC, and thus into the chronological and cultural context of the Nebra sky disc. Based on the analysis of one of these enclosure sites, recently excavated at Pömmelte on the flood plain of the Elbe River near Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt, and dating to the late third millennium BC

The main occupation began at 2321–2211 cal BC, with the stratigraphically earliest features containing exclusively Bell Beaker finds. Bell Beaker ceramics continue after 2204–2154 cal BC (boundary occupation I/II), although they were probably undecorated, but are now complemented by Únětice Culture (and other Early Bronze Age) types. At this time, with features common to both cultures predominate. Only contexts dating to the late main occupation phase (late phase II) and thereafter contained exclusively Únětice Culture finds. Evidently, the bearers of the Bell Beaker Culture were the original builders of the enclosure. During a second phase of use, Final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age cultures coexisted and intermingled. The material remains, however, should not be taken as evidence for successive groups of differing archaeological cultures, but as witnesses to a cultural transition from the Bell Beaker Culture to the Únětice Culture (Spatzier 2015). The main occupation ended 2086–2021 cal BC with the deconstruction of the enclosure; Bell Beaker finds are now absent. Finally, a few features (among them one shaft) and radiocarbon dates attest the sporadic re-use of the site in a phase of abandonment/re-use that ended 1636– 1488 cal BC.

Cultural sequence and chronological model of the Pömmelte enclosure’s occupation (dates in 1σ-precision) (designed by André Spatzier).

How the above-ground structures possibly influenced perception may reveal another layer of meaning that highlights social functions related to ritual. While zone I was disconnected from the surroundings by a ‘semi-translucent’ post-built border, zones II/III were separated from the outside world by a wooden wall (i.e. the palisade), and zone III probably separated individuals from the crowd gathered in zone II. Accessing the interior or centre therefore meant passing through transitional zones, to first be secluded and then segregated. Exiting the structure meant re-integration and re-connection. The experience possibly induced when entering and leaving the monument reflects the three stages of ‘rites of passage’ described by van Gennep (1909): separation, liminality and incorporation. The enclosure’s outer zone(s) represents the pre- and post-liminal phase; the central area, the liminal phase. Seclusion and liminality in the interior promoted a sense of togetherness, which can be linked to Turner’s “communitas” (1969: 132–33). We might therefore see monuments such as the Pömmelte enclosure as important communal structures for social regulation and the formation of identity.

Layers of meaning of the Pömmelte enclosure as deduced from the archaeological record (design by André Spatzier).

(…) The long-term stability of these connotations must be emphasised. As with the tradition of making depositions, these meanings were valid from the start of the occupation — c. 2300 BC — until at least the early period following the deconstruction event, c. 2050 BC. While the spatial organisation and the solar alignment of the main entrances were maintained throughout the main occupation, stone axes and ‘formal’ graves indicate the continuation of the spatial concepts described above until the twentieth to nineteenth centuries BC.

These layers of meaning mirror parallel concepts of space including, although not necessarily restricted to, the formation of group identities (see Hansen & Meyer 2013: 5). They can perhaps be better understood as a ‘cosmological geography’ manifested in the symbolism of superimposed levels of conceptual ideas related to space and to certain cardinal points (Figure 8). This idea is closely related to Eliade’s (1959: 29–36) understanding of “organized — hence comicized — territory”, that is territory consecrated to provide orientation within the homogeneity of the chaotic ‘outside world’, and the equivalence of spatial consecration and cosmogony. Put differently, the Pömmelte enclosure can be interpreted as a man-made metaphor and an icon of the cosmos, reflecting the Weltanschauung (a comprehensive conception of the world) of the people who built and used it. By bringing together Eliade and Rappaport’s ideas of meaningfulness in relation to religious experience (Rappaport 1999: 391–95), it may be argued that Pömmelte was a place intended to induce oneness with the cosmos. In combining multiple layers that symbolically represent different aspects of life (first-ordermeaning), the enclosure became an icon metaphorically representing the world (second-order-meaning). As this icon was the place to reaffirm life symbolism ritually, through their actions, people perhaps experienced a sense of rootedness in, or unity with, the cosmos (highest-order-meaning). Although we can only speculate about the perceptions of ancient people, such a theory aiming to describe general principles of religious experience can provide insight.


The circular enclosure of Pömmelte is the first Central European monumental complex of primarily sacred importance that has been excavated and studied in detail. It reveals aspects of society and belief during the transition from the Final Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, in the second half of the third millennium BC. Furthermore, it offers details of ritual behaviour and the way that people organised their landscape. A sacred interior was separated from the profane environment, and served as a venue for rites that secured the continuity of the social, spiritual and cosmic order. Ancestor worship formed another integral part of this: a mound-covered burial hut and a square-shaped ditch sanctuary (located, respectively, within and near the enclosure’s south-eastern sector; cf. Figure 2)—dating to 2880–2580 cal BC and attributed to the Corded Ware Culture (Spatzier 2017a: 235–44)—suggest that this site was deliberately chosen. With construction of the ring sanctuary, this place gained an immense expansion in meaning—comparable to Stonehenge. Through architectural transformation, both of these sites developed into sanctuaries with increasingly complex religious functions, including in relation to the cult of the dead. The cosmological and social functions, and the powerful symbolism of the Nebra sky disc and hoard (Meller 2010: 59–70), are reflected in Pömmelte’s monumental architecture.

All of these features—along with Pömmelte’s dating, function and complex ring structure—are well documented for British henge monuments (Harding 2003; Gibson 2005). The continuous use of circular enclosures in Central Europe from around 3000– 1500 BC remains to be confirmed, but strong evidence indicates usage spanning from the fifth to the first millennia BC (Spatzier 2017a: 273–96). From 2500 BC onwards, examples in Central Europe, Iberia and Bulgaria (Bertemes 2002; Escudero Carrillo et al. 2017) suggest a Europe-wide concept of sanctuary. This indicates that in extensive communication networks at the beginning of bronze metallurgy (Bertemes 2016), intellectual and religious contents circulated alongside raw materials. The henge monuments of the British Isles are generally considered to represent a uniquely British phenomenon, unrelated to Continental Europe; this position should now be reconsidered. The uniqueness of Stonehenge lies, strictly speaking, with its monumental megalithic architecture.

Model of the spatial organisation of the Pömmelte enclosure (designed by André Spatzier).

The Classical Bell Beaker heritage

No serious scholar can argue at this point against the male-biased East Bell Beaker migrations that expanded the European languages related to Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamna (see David Reich’s comments), and thus most likely North-West Indo-European – the ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic, apart from Pre-Celtic IE in the British Isles, Lusitano-Galician in Iberia, or Messapic in Italy (see here a full account).

With language, these migrants (several ten thousands) brought their particular Weltanschauung to all of Western, Central, and Northern Europe. Their admixture precisely in Hungary shows that they had close interactions with non-Indo-European peoples (genetically related to the Globular Amphorae culture), something that we knew from the dozens of non-Indo-European words reconstructed exclusively for North-West Indo-European, apart from the few reconstructed non-Indo-European words that NWIE shares with Palaeo-Balkan languages, which point to earlier loans from their ancestors, Yamna settlers migrating along the lower Danube.

It is not difficult to imagine that the initial East Bell Beaker group shared a newly developed common cosmological point of view that clashed with other neighbouring Yamna-related worldviews (e.g. in Balkan EBA cultures) after the cultural ties with Yamna were broken. Interesting in this respect is for example their developed (in mythology as in the new North-West Indo-European concept) *Perkwūnos, the weather god – probably remade (in language as in concept) from a Yamna minor god also behind Old Indian parjányas, the rain god – as one of the main gods from the new Pantheon, distinct from *Dyēus patēr, the almighty father sky god. In support of this, the word *meldh-n- ‘lightning’, behind the name of the mythological hammer of the weather god (cf. Old Norse Mjǫllnir or Latvian Milna), was also a newly coined North-West Indo-European term, although the myth of the hero slaying the dragon with the magical object is older.

The Hand of Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, from Wikipedia

Circular enclosures are known in Europe since the Neolithic. Also, the site selected for the Pömmelte enclosure had been used to bury Corded Ware individuals some centuries before its construction, and Corded Ware symbolism (stone axe vs. quern) is seen in the use given by Bell Beakers and later Únětice at this place. All this and other regional similarities between Bell Beakers and different local cultures (see here an example of Iberian Bell Beakers) points to syncretism of the different Bell Beaker groups with preceding cultures in the occupied regions. After all, their genealogical ancestors included also those of their maternal side, and not all encountered males disappeared, as is clearly seen in the resurge of previous paternal lineages in Central-East Europe and in Scandinavia. The admixture of Bell Beakers with previous groups (especially those of similar steppe-related ancestry from Corded Ware) needs more complex analyses to clarify potential early dialectal expansions (read what Iosif Lazaridis has to say).

The popular “big and early” expansions

These syncretic trends gave rise to distinct regional cultures, and eventually different local groups rose to power in the new cultural regions and ousted the old structures. Social norms, hierarchy, and pantheons were remade. Events like this must have been repeated again and again in Bronze and Iron Age Europe, and in many cases it was marked by a difference in the prevailing archaeological culture attested, and probably accompanied by certain population replacements that will be seen with more samples and studies of fine-scale population structure.

Some of these cultural changes, marked by evident haplogroup or admixture replacement, are defined as a ‘resurge’ of ancestry linked to previous populations, although that is obviously not equivalent to a resurge of a previous cultural group, because they usually represent just a successful local group of the same supraregional culture with a distinct admixture and/or haplogroup (see e.g. resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East European Bronze Age). Social, religious, or ethnic concepts may have changed in each of these episodes, along with the new prestige dialect.

NOTE. A recent open access paper on two newly studied Middle Bronze Age inhumations from Stonehenge give an interesting idea of potential differences in social identities, in ancestry and geographic origin (which characterize ethnicity) may have been marked by differences in burial ceremonies: Lives before and after Stonehenge: An osteobiographical study of four prehistoric burials recently excavated from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, by Mays et al. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018) 20:692-710.

This must have happened then many times during the hundreds (or thousands in some cases) of years until the first attestation of a precise ancient language and culture (read e.g. about one of the latest branches to be attested, Balto-Slavic). Ancient language contacts, like substrates or toponymy, can only rarely be detected after so many changes, so their absence (or the lack of proper studies on them) is usually not relevant – and certainly not an argument – in scholarly discussions. Their presence, on the other hand, is a proof of such contacts.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

We have dozens of papers supporting Uralic dialectal substrate influence on Pre-Germanic, Proto-Balto-Slavic, and Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian (and even Proto-Celtic), as well as superstrate influence of Palaeo-Germanic (i.e. from Pre- to Proto-Germanic) and Proto-Balto-Slavic into Proto-Finno-Saamic, much stronger than the Indo-Iranian adstrate influence on Finno-Ugric (see the relative importance of each influence) which locates all these languages and their evolution to the north and west of the steppe (with Proto-Permic already separated, in North-East Europe, as is Proto-Ugric further east near the Urals), probably around the Baltic and Scandinavia after the expansion of Bell Beakers. These connections have been known in linguistics for decades.

Apart from some early 20th century scholars, only a minority of Indo-Europeanists support nowadays an Indo-European (i.e. centum) substrate for Balto-Slavic, to keep alive an Indo-Slavonic group based on a hypothetical 19th century Satem group; so e.g. Holzer with his Temematic, and Kortlandt supporting him, also with some supposed Indo-European substrate with heavy non-Indo-European influence for Germanic and Balto-Slavic, that now (thanks mainly to the views of the Copenhagen group) have been linked to the Corded Ware culture, as it has become clear even to them that Bell Beakers expanded North-West Indo-European.

NOTE. The Temematic etymologies have been (all of them) fully dismissed e.g. in Matasović (2013). I have already explained why an Indo-Slavonic group from Sredni Stog is not tenable, and genetics (showing Late PIE only from Yamna expansions) is proving that, too.

For their part, only a minority among Uralicists, such as Kuz’mina, Parpola or Häkkinen, believe in an ‘eastern’ origin of Uralic languages, around the Southern Urals. Genomic finds – like their peers – are clearly not supporting their views. But even if we accept this hypothesis, there is little space beyond Abashevo and related East Corded Ware cultures after the recent papers on Corded Ware and Fennoscandian samples. And yet here we are:

The Copenhagen “Homeland” interactive map

Brought to you by the Copenhagen fantasy map series, Indo-Europeans after (no, really, after) the expansion of Yamna settlers in Hungary ca. 2700 BC: Yamna settlers have magically disappeared. Yamna-related Balkan EBA cultures and the hundreds of Yamna kurgans around the Lower Danube and in Hungary up to Saxony-Anhalt do not exist. Dat huge mythical Middle Dnieper territory lasting (unchanged) for a thousand years, in sooo close contact with Yamna territory (so beautifully ‘linked’ together that they must have been BFFs and admixed!). Uralic Mesolithic hunter-gatherers resisting IE invasions in Volosovo for 1,500 years like Asterix’ Gaulish village against the Romans. Tiny pockets of Bell Beakers will eventually emerge from (surprise!) Corded Ware territories beautifully scattered over Central and Northern Europe (unlike those eastern CWC mega-regions). And, of course, you can almost see Kroonen & Iversen’s Kurgan Pre-Germanic mixing already with their agricultural substrate TRB precisely in full-IE Denmark (quite appropriate for the Danish school). And sheep symbols representing wool finds, for no reason. A great map to mock for years to come, with each new genetic paper.

The new propaganda tool GIS timeline map of the Copenhagen group:

  • consciously ignores Yamna settlers along the Danube, in the Balkans, and in Hungary, and initial East Bell Beakers, i.e. the obvious origin and expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans, but in contrast magnifies (and expands in time) regions for Sredni Stog / Corded Ware cultures (which suggests that this is yet another absurd attempt to revive the theories of the Danish school…);
  • substitutes arrows for Kron-like colors (where danger red = Indo-European) with the same end result of many other late 20th century whole-Europe Kurgan maps, linking Sredni Stog and Corded Ware with Yamna, but obviating the precise origin of Corded Ware peoples (is it Sredni Stog, or is it that immutable Middle Dnieper group? is it West Yamna, or Yamna Hungary? is it wool, or is it wheels?);
  • relegates Uralic speakers to a tiny corner, a ‘Volosovo’ cultural region, thus near Khvalynsk/Yamna (but not too much), that miraculously survives surrounded by all-early-splitting, all-Northern Eneolithic Indo-Europeans, thus considering Uralic languages irrelevant not only to locate the PIE Urheimat, but also to locate their own homeland; also, cultures identified in color with Uralic speakers expand until the Iron Age with enough care not to even touch in the map one of the known R1a samples published to date (because, for some people, apparently R1a must be Indo-European); and of course N1c or Siberian ancestry are irrelevant, too;
  • and adds findings of wheels and wool probably in support of some new ideas based on yet another correlation = causation argument (that I cannot then properly criticize without access to its reasoning beyond cute SmartArt-like symbols) similar to their model – already becoming a classic example of wrong use of statistical methods – based on the infamously named Yamnaya ancestral component, which is obviously still used here, too.

The end result is thus similar to any other simplistic 1990s Gimbutas (or rather the recently radicalized IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware -> BBC version by the Danish workgroup) + 2000s R1a-map + 2010s Yamnaya ancestry; but, hard to believe, it is published in mid-2018. A lot of hours of senseless effort, because after its publication it becomes ipso facto outdated.

For comparison of Yamna and Bell Beaker expansions, here is a recent simplistic, static (and yet more accurate) pair of maps, from the Reich Lab:

Cultural maps from Eneolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Wang et al. (2018).

If the Copenhagen group keeps on pushing Gimbutas’ long ago outdated IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware theory as modified by Kristiansen, with their recently invented Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker model in genetics, at some point they are bound to clash with the Reich-Jena team, which seems to have less attachment to the classic Kurgan model and the wrong interpretations of the 2015 papers, and that would be something to behold. Because, as Cersei would say: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” And when you play the game of credibility, after so many, so wrong publications, well…

NOTE. I have been working on a similar GIS tool for quite some time, using my own maps and compiled genetic data, which I currently only use for my 2018 revision of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Maybe within some weeks or months I will be able to publish the maps properly, after the revised papers. It’s a pitty that so much work on GIS and analysis with genetic data and cultural regions has to be duplicated, but I intend to keep some decent neutrality in my revised cultural maps, and this seems impossible at this point with some workgroups who have put all their eggs in one broken basket…


Kortlandt: West Indo-Europeans along the Danube, Germanic and Balto-Slavic share a Corded Ware substrate


New paper (behind paywall) The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages, by Frederik Kortlandt, JIES (2018) 46(1 & 2):219-231.


When considering the way the Indo-Europeans took to the west, it is important to realize that mountains, forests and marshlands were prohibitive impediments. Moreover, people need fresh water, all the more so when traveling with horses. The natural way from the Russian steppe to the west is therefore along the northern bank of the river Danube. This leads to the hypothesis that the western Indo-Europeans represent successive waves of migration along the Danube and its tributaries. The Celts evidently followed the Danube all the way to southern Germany. The ancestors of the Italic tribes, including the Veneti, may have followed the river Sava towards northern Italy. The ancestors of Germanic speakers apparently moved into Moravia and Bohemia and followed the Elbe into Saxony. A part of the Veneti may have followed them into Moravia and moved along the Oder through the Moravian Gate into Silesia. The hypothetical speakers of Temematic probably moved through Slovakia along the river Orava into western Galicia. The ancestors of speakers of Balkan languages crossed the lower Danube and moved to the south. This scenario is in agreement with the generally accepted view of the earliest relations between these branches of Indo-European.

The western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, which came about when their speakers moved westwards north and south of the Pripet marshes. These events are older than the westward movement of the Slavs which brought them into contact with Temematic speakers. One may conjecture that the Venedi occupied the Oder basin and then expanded eastwards over the larger part of present-day Poland before the western Balts came down the river Niemen and moved onwards to the lower Vistula. We may then identify the Venedic expansion with the spread of the Corded Ware horizon and the westward migration of the Balts and the Slavs with their integration into the larger cultural complex. The theory that the Venedi separated from the Veneti in the upper Sava region and moved through Moravia and Silesia to the Baltic Sea explains the “im Namenmaterial auffällige Übereinstimmung zwischen dem Baltikum und den Gebieten um den Nordteil der Adria” (Udolph 1981: 61). The Balts probably moved in two stages because the differences between West and East Baltic are considerable.

Instead of reinterpreting his views in light of the recent genetic finds, Kortlandt tries to mix in this paper his own old theories (see his paper Baltic, Slavic, Germanic) with the recent interpretations of genetic papers, using also dubious secondary sources – e.g. Iversen and Kroonen (2017) or Klejn (2017) [see here, and here] – which, in my opinion, creates a potentially dangerous circular reasoning.

For example, even though he criticizes the general stance of recent genetic papers with regard to Proto-Indo-European dialectalization and expansion as too early, and he supports the Danube expansion route, he nevertheless follows their interpretations in accepting that Corded Ware was Indo-European (following the newest model proposed by Anthony):

The [Yamnaya] penetrated central and northern Europe from the lower Danube through the Carpathian basin, not from the east. The Carpathian basis was evidently the cradle of the Corded Ware cultures, where the descendants of the Yamnaya mixed with the local early farmers before proceeding to the north. The development has a clear parallel in the Middle Ages, when the Hungarians mixed with the local Slavic populations in the same territory (cf. Kushniarevich & al. 2015).

He still follows his good old Indo-Slavonic group in the east, but at the same time maintains Kallio’s view that there were no early Uralic loanwords in Balto-Slavic, and also Kallio’s (and the general) view that there were close contacts with PIE and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian…

NOTE. The latest paper on Eurasian migrations by Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018), which shows mainly Proto-Iranians dominating over East Europe after the Early Bronze Age, have left still fewer space for a Proto-Balto-Slavic group emerging from the east.

Also, he asserts the following, which is a rather weird interpretation of events:

It appears that the Corded Ware horizon spread to southern Scandinavia (cf. Iversen & Kroonen 2017) but not to the Baltic region during the Neolithic.

“However, we also find indications of genetic impact from exogenous populations during the Neolithic, most likely from northern Eurasia and the Pontic Steppe. These influences are distinct from the Anatolian-farmer-related gene flow found in Central Europe during this period.”

It follows that the Indo-Europeans did not reach the Baltic region before the Late Neolithic. The influx of non-local people from northern Eurasia may be identified with the expansion of the Finno-Ugrians, who came into contact with the Indo-Europeans as a result of the eastward expansion of the latter in the fourth millennium. This was long before the split between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.

In the Late Neolithic there was “a further population movement into the regions surrounding the Baltic Sea” that was “accompanied by the first evidence of extensive animal husbandry in the Eastern Baltic”, which “suggests import of the new economy by an incoming steppe-like population independent of the agricultural societies that were already established to the south and west of the Baltic Sea.” (Mittnik & al. 2018). These may have been the ancestors of Balto-Slavic speakers. At a later stage, the Corded Ware horizon spread eastward, giving rise to farming ancestry in Eastern Baltic individuals and to a female gene-flow from the Eastern Baltic into Central Europe (ibidem).

Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

He is a strong Indo-Uralic supporter, and supports a parallel Indo-European – Uralic development in Eastern Europe, and (as you can read) he misunderstands the description of population movements in the Baltic region, and thus misplaces Finno-Ugric speakers as Eurasian migrants arriving in the Baltic from the east during the Late Neolithic, before the Corded Ware expansion, which is not what the cited papers implied.

NOTE. Such an identification of westward Neolithic migrations with Uralic speakers is furthermore to be rejected following the most recent paper on Fennoscandian samples.

He had previously asserted that the substrate common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic is Indo-European with non-Indo-European substrate influence, so I guess that Corded Ware influencing as a substrate both Germanic and Balto-Slavic is the best way he could put everything together, if one assumes the widespread interpretations of genetic papers:

Thus, I think that the western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, (…)

NOTE. It is very likely that this paper was sent in late 2017. That’s the main problem with traditional publications including the most recent genetic investigation: by the time something gets eventually published, the text is already outdated.

I obviously share his opinion on precedence of disciplines in Indo-European studies:

The methodological point to be emphasized here is that the linguistic evidence takes precedence over archaeological and genetic data, which give no information about the languages spoken and can only support the linguistic evidence. The relative chronology of developments must be established on the basis of the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The location of a reconstructed language can only be established on the basis of lexical and onomastic material. On the other hand, archaeological or genetic data may supply the corresponding absolute chronology. It is therefore incorrect to attribute cultural influences in southern Scandinavia and the Baltic region in the third millennium to Germanic or Baltic speakers because these languages did not yet exist. While the Italo-Celtic branch may have separated from its Indo-European neighbors in the first half of the third millennium, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-Iranian can be dated to the second millennium and Proto-Germanic to the end of the first millennium BC (cf. Kortlandt 2010: 173f., 197f., 249f.). The Indo-Europeans who moved to southern Scandinavia as part of the Corded Ware horizon were not the ancestors of Germanic speakers, who lived farther to the south, but belonged to an unknown branch that was eventually replaced by Germanic.

I hope we can see more and more anthropological papers like this, using traditional linguistics coupled with archaeology and the most recent genetic investigations.

EDIT (4 JUL 2018): Some errors corrected.