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 An archived version is available here.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.