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


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

Seal hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kroonen, Guus (Leiden University) and Rune Iversen

[196] The Linguistic Legacy of the Pitted Ware Culture

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

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

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

Stone Age Seal Hunters, by Måns Sjöberg.

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

An early borrowing via Uralic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitted Ware culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germanic-Fennic phonetic evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Scandinavian substratum

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

From Schrijver (2014):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seals and the Arctic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bronze Age movements in Fennoscandia

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pre-Germanic born out of a Proto-Finnic substrate in Scandinavia


A commenter, Old Europe, drew my attention to the Uralic (Finnic-Saamic) substrate in Germanic proposed by Schrijver in Chapter V. Origins of Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages, Routledge (2014).

I wanted to share here some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

NOTE. I have avoided many detailed linguistic discussions. You should read the whole chapter to check them out.

The origins of the Germanic subfamily of Indo-European cannot be understood without acknowledging its interactions with a language group that has been its long-time neighbour: the Finnic subgroup of the Uralic language family. Indo-European and Uralic are linked to one another in two ways: they are probably related to one another in deep time — how deep is impossible to say3 — and Indo-European has been a constant source from which words were borrowed into Uralic languages, from the fourth millennium BC up to the present day.4 The section of the Uralic family that has always remained in close proximity to the Indo-European dialects which eventually turned into Germanic is Finnic. I use the term Finnic with a slightly idiosyncratic meaning : it covers the Finno-Saamic protolanguage and both of its children, Saami and Balto-Finnic.(…)

Schrijver (2014). The Finnic family tree (simplified)

Linguistically, the relationship between Indo-European and Uralic has always been asymmetrical. While hundreds of loanwords flowed into Uralic languages from Indo-European languages such as Germanic, Balto-Slavic, Iranian, and Proto-Indo-European itself, hardly any Uralic loanwords have entered the Indo-European languages (apart from a few relatively late dialectal loans into e.g. Russian and the Scandinavian languages). This strongly suggests that Uralic speakers have always been more receptive to ideas coming from Indo-European–speaking areas than the other way around. This inequality probably began when farming and the entire way of life that accompanies it reached Uralic-speaking territory via Indo-European–speaking territory, so that Uralic speakers, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers of the mixed and evergreen forest zone of northeastern Europe and gradually switched to an existence as sedentary farmers, were more likely to pick up ideas and the words that go with them from Indo-European than from anywhere else.

Farming requires a different mind-set from a hunter-gatherer existence. Farmers are generally sedentary, model the landscape, and have an agricultural calendar to determine their actions. Hunter-gatherers of the northern forest zone are generally nomadic, and rather than themselves modelling the natural environment they are modelled by it: their calendar depends on when and where a particular natural resource is available.(…)

All of this is no doubt a simplification of the thousands of years of associations between speakers of Uralic and speakers of Indo-European, but the loanword evidence strongly suggests that by and large relations between the two groups were highly unequal. The single direction in which loanwords flowed, and the mass of loanwords involved, can be compared with the relation between Latin and the vernacular languages in the Roman Empire, almost all of which disappeared in favour of Latin. It is therefore certain that groups of Uralic speakers switched to Indo-European. The question is whether we can trace those groups and, more particularly, whether Finnic speakers switching to Indo-European were involved in creating the Indo-European dialect we now know as Germanic.

Convergence of Finnic and Germanic

What both have in common is that the sound structures of Finnic and Germanic, which started from very different beginnings, apparently came to resemble one another significantly. If that is what we observe, we must conclude that both languages converged as a result of contact.

During the approximately five to six millennia that separate Proto-Uralic from Modern Finnish, there was only one episode during which the consonantal system underwent a dramatic overhaul. This episode separates the Finno-Saamic protolanguage, which is phonologically extremely conservative, from the Balto-Finnic protolanguage, which is very innovative.


By the time Finno-Saamic developed into Balto-Finnic, the consonant system was very different:


In Balto-Finnic, the entire palatal series has been lost, apart from j, and the contrast between dentals and alveolars has disappeared: out of three different s-sounds only one remains. The fricatives ð and γ have been lost, and so has the velar nasal ŋ. The only increase has been in the number of long (geminate) consonants by the appearance of ss, mm, nn, and ll. The loss of separate alveolar and palatal series and the disappearance of ŋ could be conceived as convergences towards Proto-Germanic, which lacked such consonants. This is not obvious for the loss of the voiced fricatives γ, ð, which Proto-Germanic did possess. However, this way of comparing Balto-Finnic and Germanic is flawed in an important respect: what we are doing is assessing convergence by comparing the dynamic development from Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the static system of Proto-Germanic, as if Proto-Germanic is not itself the result of a set of changes to the ancestral Pre-Germanic consonantal system. If we wish to find out whether there was convergence and which language converged on which, what we should do, therefore, is to compare the dynamic development of Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the dynamic development of Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic, because only that procedure will allow us to state whether Balto-Finnic moved towards Proto-Germanic, or Proto-Germanic moved towards Balto-Finnic, or both moved towards a third language. The Pre-Germanic consonantal system can be reconstructed as follows: 7


The slashes in the second and third rows indicate the uncertainty about the Proto-Indo-European nature of the sounds involved. (…)

What resulted was the following Proto-Germanic consonant system:


We are now in a better position to answer the question whether Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic have converged. Three striking developments affected both languages:

  • Both languages lost the palatalized series of consonants (apart from j), which in both languages became non-palatalized.
  • Both languages developed an extensive set of long (geminate) consonants; Pre-Germanic had none, while Finno-Saamic already had a few.
  • Both languages developed an h.

These similarities between the languages are considerable.

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

Verner’s Law in Pre-Germanic

As we have seen in the preceding section, Verner’s law is a sound change that affected originally voiceless consonants, so *p , t , k , kj , kw, s of the Pre-Germanic system. These normally became the Proto-Germanic voiceless fricatives *f, θ, h, h, hw, s, respectively. But if *p, t, k etc. were preceded by an originally unstressed syllable, Verner’s law intervened and they were turned into voiced consonants. Those voiced consonants merged with the series *bh, dh, gh of the Pre-Germanic system and therefore subsequently underwent all changes that the latter did, turning out as *b/v , *d/ð , g/γ in the Proto-Germanic system (that is, v, ð, γ after a vowel and b, d, g in all other environments in the word). When *s was affected by Verner’s Law, a new phoneme *z arose. In a diagram:


While it is very common in the history of European languages for stress to influence the development of vowels, it only very rarely affected consonants in this part of the world. Verner’s law is a striking exception. It resembles a development which, on a much larger scale, affected Finno-Saamic: consonant gradation.(…)

In all Finno-Saamic languages, rhythmic gradation has become phonemic and fossilized. The connection between rhythmic gradation and Verner’s law is relatively straightforward: both processes involve changing a voiceless consonant after an unstressed syllable. (…)

We can therefore repeat for Proto-Uralic the argument that persuaded us earlier that gradation in Saami and Balto-Finnic must go back to the common Finno-Saamic protolanguage: the similarity of the gradation rules in Nganasan to those in Finno-Saamic is so specific and so detailed, and the phenomenon of gradation so rare in the languages of the world, that gradation must be reconstructed for the Uralic protolanguage.

Verner’s law turns all voiceless obstruents (Pre-Germanic *p, t, k, kj, kw, s) into voiced obstruents (ultimately Proto-Germanic *b/v , d/ð, g/γ, g/γ, gw, z) after a Pre-Germanic unstressed syllable. Rhythmic gradation turns all voiceless obstruents after an unstressed syllable into weak-grade consonants, which means that *p, t, k, s become Finnic *b/v , d/ð , g/γ, z. This is striking. Given the geographical proximity of Balto-Finnic and Germanic and given the rare occurrence of stress-related consonant changes in European languages, it would be unreasonable to think that Verner’s law and rhythmic gradation have nothing to do with one another.

It is very hard to accept, however, that gradation is the result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic. First of all, Verner’s law, which might account for rhythmic gradation, in no way accounts for syllabic gradation in Finnic. And, second, gradation can be shown to be an inherited feature of Finnic which goes all the way back to Proto-Uralic. Once one acknowledges that Verner’s law and gradation are causally linked and that gradation cannot be explained as a result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic, there remains only one possibility: Verner’s law is a copy of Finnic rhythmic gradation into Germanic. That means that we have finally managed to find what we were looking for all along: a Finnic sound feature in Germanic that betrays that Finnic speakers shifted to Germanic and spoke Germanic with a Finnic accent. The consequence of this idea is dramatic: since Verner’s law affected all of Germanic, all of Germanic has a Finnic accent.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

On the basis of this evidence for Finnic speakers shifting to Germanic, it is possible to ascribe other, less specifically Finnic traits in Germanic to the same source. The most obvious trait is the fixation of the main stress on the initial syllable of the word. Initial stress is inherited in Finno-Saamic but was adopted in Germanic only after the operation of Verner’s law, quite probably under Finnic influence. The consonantal changes described in section V.3.1 can be attributed to Finnic with less confidence. The best case can be made for the development of geminate (double) consonants in Germanic, which did not inherit any of them, while Finno-Saamic inherited *pp, tt, kk, cc and took their presence as a cue to develop other geminates such as *nn and *ll . Possibly geminates developed so easily in Proto-Germanic because Finnic speakers (who switched to Germanic) were familiar with them. Other consonantal changes, such as the loss of the palatalized series in both Germanic and Balto-Finnic and the elimination of the different s- and c-phonemes, might have occurred for the same reason: if Balto-Finnic had undergone them earlier than Germanic, which we do not know, they could have constituted part of the Balto-Finnic accent in Germanic. An alternative take on those changes starts from the observation that they all constitute simplifications of an older, richer system of consonants. While simplifications can be and often are caused by language shift if the new speakers lacked certain phonemes in their original language, simplifications do not require an explanation by shift: languages are capable of simplifying a complex system all by themselves. Yet the similarities between the simplifications in Germanic and in Balto-Finnic are so obvious that one would not want to ascribe their co-occurrence to accidental circumstances.

Grimm’s Law in Proto-Germanic (speculative)

Voiceless lenis pronunciation of b, d, g is typical of the majority of German and Scandinavian dialects, so may well have been inherited from Proto-Germanic. Voiceless lenis is also the pronunciation that has been assumed to underlie the weak grades of Finno-Saamic single *p, t, k. If Proto-Germanic *b, d, g were indeed voiceless lenis, the single most striking result of the Germanic consonant shift is that it eliminated the phonological difference between voiced and voiceless consonants that Germanic had inherited from Proto-Indo-European (…) Since neither Finno-Saamic nor Balto-Finnic possessed a phonological difference between voiced and voiceless obstruents, its loss in Proto-Germanic can be regarded as yet another example of a Finnic feature in Germanic.


It is clear that this account of the first Germanic consonant shift as yet another example of Finnic influence is to some degree speculative. The point I am making is not that the Germanic consonant shift must be explained on the basis of Finnic influence, like Verner’s law and word-initial stress, only that it can be explained in this way, just like other features of the Germanic sound system discussed earlier, such as the loss of palatalized consonants and the rise of geminates.

A consequence of this account of the origins of the Proto-Germanic consonantal system is that the transition from Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic was entirely directed by Finnic. Or, to put it in less subtle words: Indo-European consonants became Germanic consonants when they were pronounced by Finnic speakers.

Post-Bell-Beaker Europe, after ca. 2200 BC.

The vocalic system, on the other hand, presented less difficulties for both, Indo-European and Uralic speakers, since it was quite similar.

Schrijver goes on to postulate certain asymmetric differences in loans, especially with regard to Proto-Germanic, Balto-Finnic, Proto-Saamic, Proto-Baltic, and later contacts, including a potential non-Uralic, non-IE substrate language to justify some of these, which may in turn be connected with Kroonen’s agricultural substrate hypothesis of Proto-Germanic, and thus also with the other surviving Scandinavian Neolithic cultures before the eventual simplification of the cultural landscape during the Bronze Age.

Conclusion on the origin of Germanic

The Finnic-Germanic contact situation has turned out to be of a canonical type. To Finnic speakers, people who spoke prehistoric Germanic and its ancestor, Pre-Germanic, must have been role models. Why they were remains unclear. In the best traditions of Uralic–Indo-European contacts, Finnic speakers adopted masses of loanwords from (Pre-)Germanic. Some Finnic speakers even went a crucial step further and became bilingual: they spoke Pre-Germanic according to the possibilities offered by the Finnic sound system, which meant they spoke with a strong accent. The accent expressed itself as radical changes in the Pre-Germanic consonantal system and no changes in the Pre-Germanic vowel system. This speech variety became very successful and turned an Indo-European dialect into what we now know as Germanic. Bilingual speakers became monolingual speakers of Germanic.

What we do not know is for how long Finnic-Germanic bilingualism persisted. It is possible that it lasted for some time because both partners grew more alike even with respect to features whose origin we cannot assign to either of them (loss of palatalized consonants): this suggests, perhaps, that both languages became more similar because generally they were housed in the same brain. What we can say with more confidence is that the bilingual situation ultimately favoured Germanic over Finnic: loanwords continued to flow in one direction only, from Germanic to Finnic, hence it is clear that Germanic speakers remained role models.

This is as far as the linguistic evidence can take us for the moment.

Based on archaeology and genetics, I think we can say that the close North-West Indo-European – Proto-Finnic interaction in Scandinavia lasted for hundreds of years, during the time when a unifying Nordic culture and language developed from Bell Beaker maritime elites dominating over Corded Ware groups.

As we know, Uralic languages were in close contact with Middle PIE, and also later with Proto-Indo-Iranian. This Pre-Germanic development in Scandinavia is therefore another hint at the identification of a rather early Proto-Finnic spoken in the Baltic area – potentially then by Battle Axe groups – , and thus the general identification of Uralic expansion with the different Corded Ware groups.

NOTE. The ‘common’ loss of certain palatals, which Schrijver interprets as a change of Pre-Germanic from the inherited Proto-Indo-European, may in fact not be such – in the opinion of bitectalists, including us, and especially taking the North-West Indo-European reconstruction and the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis into account – , so this effect would be a rather unidirectional shift from Finnic to Germanic. On the other hand, certain palatalization trends which some have described for Germanic could in fact be explained precisely by this bidirectional influence.


Domesticated horse population structure, selection, and mtDNA geographic patterns


Open access Detecting the Population Structure and Scanning for Signatures of Selection in Horses (Equus caballus) From Whole-Genome Sequencing Data, by Zhang et al, Evolutionary Bioinformatics (2018) 14:1–9.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Animal domestication gives rise to gradual changes at the genomic level through selection in populations. Selective sweeps have been traced in the genomes of many animal species, including humans, cattle, and dogs. However, little is known regarding positional candidate genes and genomic regions that exhibit signatures of selection in domestic horses. In addition, an understanding of the genetic processes underlying horse domestication, especially the origin of Chinese native populations, is still lacking. In our study, we generated whole genome sequences from 4 Chinese native horses and combined them with 48 publicly available full genome sequences, from which 15 341 213 high-quality unique single-nucleotide polymorphism variants were identified. Kazakh and Lichuan horses are 2 typical Asian native breeds that were formed in Kazakh or Northwest China and South China, respectively. We detected 1390 loss-of-function (LoF) variants in protein-coding genes, and gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis revealed that some LoF-affected genes were overrepresented in GO terms related to the immune response. Bayesian clustering, distance analysis, and principal component analysis demonstrated that the population structure of these breeds largely reflected weak geographic patterns. Kazakh and Lichuan horses were assigned to the same lineage with other Asian native breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the genetic origin of Chinese domestic horses. We applied the composite likelihood ratio method to scan for genomic regions showing signals of recent selection in the horse genome. A total of 1052 genomic windows of 10 kB, corresponding to 933 distinct core regions, significantly exceeded neutral simulations. The GO enrichment analysis revealed that the genes under selective sweeps were overrepresented with GO terms, including “negative regulation of canonical Wnt signaling pathway,” “muscle contraction,” and “axon guidance.” Frequent exercise training in domestic horses may have resulted in changes in the expression of genes related to metabolism, muscle structure, and the nervous system.

Bayesian clustering output for 5 K values from K = 2 to K = 8 in 45 domestic horses. Each individual is represented by a vertical line, which is partitioned into colored segments that represent the proportion of the inferred K clusters.

Interesting excerpts:

Admixture proportions were assessed without user-defined population information to infer the presence of distinct populations among the samples (Figure 2). At K = 3 or K = 4, Franches-Montagnes and Arabian forms one unique cluster; at K = 5, Jeju pony forms one unique cluster. For other breeds, comparatively strong population structure exists among breeds, and they can be assigned to 2 (or 3) alternate clusters from K = 3 to K = 5 including group A (Duelmener, Fjord, Icelandic, Kazakh, Lichuan, and Mongolian) and group B (Hanoverian, Morgan, Quarter, Sorraia, and Standardbred). For group A, geographically this was unexpected, where Nordic breeds (Norwegian Fjord, Icelandic, and Duelmener) clustered with Asian breeds including the Mongolian. Previous results of mitochondrial DNA have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, and the British Isles. The Mongol horses are believed to have been originally imported from Russia subsequently became the basis for the Norwegian Fjord horse.31 At K = 6, Sorraia forms one unique cluster. The Sorraia horse has no long history as a domestic breed but is considered to be of a nearly ancestral type in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.32 However, our result did not support Sorraia as an independent ancestral type based on result from K = 2 to K = 5, and the unique cluster in K = 6 may be explained by the small population size and recently inbreeding programs. Genetic admixture of Morgan reveals that these breeds are currently or traditionally continually crossed with other breeds from K = 2 to K = 8. The Morgan horse has been a largely closed breed for 200 years or more but there has been some unreported crossbreeding in recent times.33

Principal component analysis results of all 48 horses. The x-axis denotes the value of PC1, whereas the y-axis denotes the value of PC2. Each dot in the figure represents one individual.

Bayesian clustering and PCA demonstrated the relationships among the horse breeds with weak geographic patterns. The tight grouping within most native breeds and looser grouping of individuals in admixed breeds have been reported previously in modern horses using data from a 54K SNP chip.33,34 Cluster analysis reveals that Arabian or Franches-Montagnes forms one unique cluster with relatively low K value, which is consistent with former study using 50K SNP chip 33,34 Interestingly, Standardbred forms a unique cluster with relatively high K value in this study, different from previous study.33 To date, no footprints are available to describe how the earliest domestic horses spread into China in ancient times. Our study found that Kazakh and Lichuan were assigned to the same lineage as other native Asian breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the origin of Chinese domestic horses.4,5,35,36 The strong genetic relationship between Asian native breeds and European native breeds have made it more difficult to understand the population history of the horse across Eurasia. Low levels of population differentiation observed between breeds might be explained by historical admixture. Unlike the domestic pig in China,8  we suggest that in China, Northern/Southern distinct groups could not be used to genetically distinct native Chinese horse breeds. We consider that during domestication process of horse, gene flow continued among Chinese-domesticated horses.

Open access Some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have origins in East Asia revealed with further evidence of mitochondrial genomes and HVR-1 sequences, by Ma et al., PeerJ (2018).


There are large populations of indigenous horse (Equus caballus) in China and some other parts of East Asia. However, their matrilineal genetic diversity and origin remained poorly understood. Using a combination of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and hypervariable region (HVR-1) sequences, we aim to investigate the origin of matrilineal inheritance in these domestic horses.

To investigate patterns of matrilineal inheritance in domestic horses, we conducted a phylogenetic study using 31 de novo mtDNA genomes together with 317 others from the GenBank. In terms of the updated phylogeny, a total of 5,180 horse mitochondrial HVR-1 sequences were analyzed.

Eighteen haplogroups (Aw-Rw) were uncovered from the analysis of the whole mitochondrial genomes. Most of which have a divergence time before the earliest domestication of wild horses (about 5,800 years ago) and during the Upper Paleolithic (35–10 KYA). The distribution of some haplogroups shows geographic patterns. The Lw haplogroup contained a significantly higher proportion of European horses than the horses from other regions, while haplogroups Jw, Rw, and some maternal lineages of Cw, have a higher frequency in the horses from East Asia. The 5,180 sequences of horse mitochondrial HVR-1 form nine major haplogroups (A-I). We revealed a corresponding relationship between the haplotypes of HVR-1 and those of whole mitochondrial DNA sequences. The data of the HVR-1 sequences also suggests that Jw, Rw, and some haplotypes of Cw may have originated in East Asia while Lw probably formed in Europe.

Our study supports the hypothesis of the multiple origins of the maternal lineage of domestic horses and some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have originated from East Asia.

Median joining network constructed based on the 247- bp HVR-1 sequences. Circles are proportional to the number of horses represented and a scale indicator (for node sizes) was provided. The length of lines represents the number of variants that separate nodes (some manual adjustment was made for visually good). In the circles, the colors of solid pie slices indicate studied horse populations: Orange, European horses; Blue, horses of West Asia; Light Green, horses from East Asia; Grey, ancient horses; Purper, Przewalskii horses.

Geographic distributions of horse mtDNA haplogroups

The analysis of geographic distribution of the mitochondrial genome haplogroups showed that horse populations in Europe or East Asia included all haplogroups defined from the mtDNA genome sequences. The lineage Fw comprised entirely of Przewalskii horses. The two haplogroups Iw and Lw displayed frequency peaks in Europe (14.08% and 37.32%, respectively) and a decline to the east (9.33% and 8.00% in the West Asia, and 6.45% and 12.90% in East Asia, respectively), especially for Lw, which contained the largest number of European horses (Table 2). However, an opposite distribution pattern was observed for haplogroups Aw, Hw, Jw, and Rw, which were harbored by more horses from East Asia than those from other regions. The proportions of horses from East Asia for the four haplogroups were 38%, 88%, 62%, and 54%, respectively.

Schematic phylogeny of mtDNAs genome from modern horses. This tree includes 348 sequences
and was rooted at a donkey (E. asinus) mitochondrial genome (not displayed). The topology was inferred by a beast approach, whereas a time divergence scale (based on rate substitutions) is shown on the bottom (age estimates were indicated with thousand years (KY)). The percentages on each branch represent Bayesian posterior credibility and the alphabets on the right represent the names of haplogroups. Additional details concerning ages were given in Tables S3 and S6.


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


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

NOTE. You can download the chapter draft at

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

Interesting excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

Reproductive success among ancient Icelanders stratified by ancestry


New paper (behind paywall), Ancient genomes from Iceland reveal the making of a human population, by Ebenesersdóttir et al. Science (2018) 360(6392):1028-1032.

Abstract and relevant excerpts (emphasis mine):

Opportunities to directly study the founding of a human population and its subsequent evolutionary history are rare. Using genome sequence data from 27 ancient Icelanders, we demonstrate that they are a combination of Norse, Gaelic, and admixed individuals. We further show that these ancient Icelanders are markedly more similar to their source populations in Scandinavia and the British-Irish Isles than to contemporary Icelanders, who have been shaped by 1100 years of extensive genetic drift. Finally, we report evidence of unequal contributions from the ancient founders to the contemporary Icelandic gene pool. These results provide detailed insights into the making of a human population that has proven extraordinarily useful for the discovery of genotype-phenotype associations.

Shared drift of ancient and contemporary Icelanders. (A) Scatterplot of D-statistics reflecting Iceland-specific drift. To aid interpretation, we included values for ancient British-Irish Islanders and a subset of contemporary individuals (who were correspondingly removed from the reference populations).

We estimated the mean Norse ancestry of the settlement population (24 pre-Christians and one early Christian) as 0.566 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.431–0.702], with a nonsignificant difference betweenmales (0.579) and females (0.521). Applying the same ADMIXTURE analysis to each of the 916 contemporary Icelanders, we obtained a mean Norse ancestry of 0.704 (95% CI 0.699–0.709). Although not statistically significant (t test p = 0.058), this difference is suggestive. A similar difference ofNorse ancestry was observed with a frequency-based weighted least-squares admixture estimator (16), 0.625 [Mean squared error (MSE) = 0.083] versus 0.74 (MSE = 0.0037). Finally, the D-statistic test D(YRI, X; Gaelic, Norse) also revealed a greater affinity between Norse and contemporary Icelanders (0.0004, 95% CI 0.00008–0.00072) than between Norse and ancient Icelanders (−0.0002, 95% CI −0.00056–0.00015). This observation raises the possibility that reproductive success among the earliest Icelanders was stratified by ancestry, as genetic drift alone is unlikely to systematically alter ancestry at thousands of independent loci (fig. S10). We note that many settlers of Gaelic ancestry came to Iceland as slaves, whose survival and freedom to reproduce is likely to have been constrained (17). Some shift in ancestry must also be due to later immigration from Denmark, which maintained colonial control over Iceland from 1380 to 1944 (for example, in 1930 there were 745 Danes out of a total population of 108,629 in Iceland) (18).

Shared drift of ancient and contemporary Icelanders. (B) Estimated Norse,
Gaelic, and Icelandic ancestry for ancient Icelanders using ADMIXTURE
in supervised mode.

Five pre-Christian Icelanders (VDP-A5, DAVA9, NNM-A1, SVK-A1 and TGS-A1) fall just outside the space occupied by contemporary Norse in Fig. 3A. That these individuals show a stronger signal of drift shared with contemporary Icelanders is also apparent in the results of ADMIXTURE, run in supervised mode with three contemporary reference populations (Norse, Gaelic, and Icelandic) (Fig. 3B). The correlation between the proportion of Icelandic ancestry from this analysis and PC1 in Fig. 2A is |r| = 0.913.(…)

(…) as the five ancient Icelanders fall well within the cluster of contemporary Scandinavians (Fig. 3C), we conclude that they, or close relatives, likely contributed more to the contemporary Icelandic gene pool than the other pre-Christians. We note that this observation is consistent with the inference that settlers of Norse ancestry had greater reproductive success than those of Gaelic ancestry.

Haplogroup data, from the paper. Image modified by me, with those close to Gaelic and British/Irish samples (see above Scatterplot of D-statistics and ADMIXTURE data) marked in fluorescent: yellow closer to Gaelic, green less close.

Ancient Icelanders show a clear relation with the typically Norse Y-DNA distribution: I1 / R1a-Z284 / R1b-U106.

  • Among R1a, the picture is uniformly of R1a-Z284 (at least five of the seven reported).
  • There are six samples of I1, with great variation in subclades.
  • Among R1b-L51 subclades (ten samples), there are U106 (at least one sample), L21 (three samples), and another P312 (L238); see above the relationship with those clustering closely with Gaelic samples, marked in fluorescent, which is compatible with Gaelic settlers (predominantly of R1b-L21 lineages) coming to Iceland as slaves.

Probably not much of a surprise, coming from Norse speakers, but they are another relevant reference for comparison with samples of East Germanic tribes, when they appear.

Also, the first reported Klinefelter (XXY) in ancient DNA (sample ID is YGS-B2).


Mitogenomes show discontinuity in Gotland’s LN – EBA transition

New paper (behind paywall) The stone cist conundrum: A multidisciplinary approach to investigate Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age population demography on the island of Gotland, by Fraser et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. (2018) 20:324-337.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Unfortunately, due to poor preservation, mitochondrial haplotype calls were only obtained from the EBA individuals in this study. However, some interesting findings were observed. We find two adult local individuals with unique haplogroup lineages [H1a, H1e], and two juvenile individuals with haplogroup lineages [H2a and T1a] previously found exclusively in the CWC individuals analyzed here, all four dated to BA I showing that new lineages had already been established on Gotland at this time period. Another unique haplogroup lineage [K1b] is found in the child dated to BA III at Suderkvie, indicating continued migration to the island. Additionally, the two nonlocal individuals [LN II; ans010 and BA I; hgb010], were adding to the already existing haplogroup lineages [U5b and T2b, respectively] previously found in the PWC individuals analyzed here. The T2b lineage has also been found in the TRB individuals from the dolmen (Table S4).

Our ancestral contribution modeling for the maternal lineages showed that, among the models tested, the only models with a good fit were 55/45 CWC/TRB contribution (Fig. 6), or a 3-way mixture of 55% CWC, 40% TRB, and 5% PWC (Fig. S15). All other models had poor support, including the models with 100% contribution from either group present on Gotland in the preceding period. The PWC group had the weakest fit of all models which is quite surprising as the PWC was the only preceding group that was established on the island in the beginning of the LN period. Although separated temporally by more than 500 years, the individuals from the Hägur burial seems to have been well established in the Eksta area which previously was inhabited by PWC groups. However, the new haplogroup lineages [H1a and H2a] in the Hägur burial suggest some migration to Gotland in a period succeeding the PWC. Archaeologically, it is difficult to reconcile a 55/45 CWC/TRB contribution on Gotland as the temporal range of the TRB culture ends around c. 2700 cal BCE, and presently there is little archaeological evidence of assimilation of TRB and BAC/CWC on Gotland during the latter part of the MN period (e.g. Andersson, 2016). The apparent decline of human activity on the island post TRB, and also later postPWC is intriguing. As we do not see cultural assimilation of TRB and PWC on Gotland one can only speculate as to why TRB disapears from the archaeological record.

The introduction of new female lineages and the mtDNA haplogroup variation within these stone cist burials, together with an increase of nonlocal individuals, and a dietary shift, indicates that a demographic event has happened. The LN period shows traces of activity all over the island compared to the MN period with ten TRB, and eighteen PWC sites (e.g. Bägerfeldt, 1992; Luthander, 1988; Wallin, 2010; Österholm, 1989). This pattern seems to continue into the EBA as seen by the well-established local groups identified by their Sr-signals, as well as the monumental burials.

Fig. 1. Map indicating distribution of TRB-North group megalithic tombs (Blomqvist, 1989; Midgley, 2008; Sjögren, 2003; Tilley, 1999) and PWC areas (Larsson, 2009) modified from (Malmström et al., 2009). Swedish megalithic TRB burial sites included in the analyses: 1. Gökhem passage grave, Falköping, Västergötland, 2. Alvastra dolmen, Östergötland, 3. Mysinge passage grave, Resmo, Öland, 4. Ansarve dolmen, Tofta, Gotland, and 5. the Ostorf TRB burial ground, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. From another recent paper by Fraser et al. (2017)

From the conclusions:

We find a shift in population demography compared to the preceding cultural developments on the island recorded from the Neolithic TRB, and sub-Neolithic PWC groups. We find that these burials were used by local groups that were well established in the regions where the burials were situated. These individuals also displayed a different dietary pattern than that noted for the preceding TRB and PWC groups on the island. We also detect sporadic reuse of the MN TRB dolmen in the LN period by nonlocal individuals, who also shows deviating dietary patterns to the LN/EBA individuals in the stone cist burials.

We see an increase of new mitochondrial lineages in the EBA individuals, of which some also were noted in the CWC reference dataset used in this study. Our modeling for maternal ancestry suggests a 3-way model of 55% CWC, 40% TRB, and 5% PWC. Given the broad absence of archaeological evidence for the typical BAC/CWC burials, as well as no archaeological evidence of assimilation of TRB and PWC during the latter part of the MN period on Gotland, it seems probable that the major process of admixture did not occur on the island. Instead, the data indicates an admixture process that occurred elsewhere and prior to migrating to Gotland. Thus, our results suggest later migration to the island during the LN period by people with a new economy, as well as new burial customs. A likely scenario, taking all these factors into account, is a sizable migration of people, with a ~50/50 (maternal) ancestry in TRB and CWC associated groups, possibly admixing with much smaller local groups of PWC associated individuals on the island.

A. Gotland cultural timelines (Apel et al., 2018; Fraser et al., 2018). B: Approximate dates for the Scandinavian Early Neolithic to Early Bronze Age time
divisions; EN: onset of TRB, MN A: onset of PWC, MN B: onset of BAC, LN-EBA time division from Vankilde (1996).

A quite interesting study that supports the predicted greater mobility during the Nordic Early Bronze Age, compared to earlier periods.

Obviously, the use of previous CWC and TRB mtDNA samples (dated necessarily before 2300 BC) to assert that the picture found during the EBA (ca. 1700-1100 BC) is due to the admixture of both cultures is not tenable.

It was more likely a mixture of descendant populations in Scandinavia, after the arrival of the Bell Beaker elites (ca. 2400 BC) and their admixture with the local population, bringing maritime integration and unifying trends to Scandinavia.


The origins of the Tumulus culture: Proto-Lusatian and potential Proto-Balto-Slavic origins

Interesting chapter The birth of a new world. Barrows, warriors, and metallurgists, by Przemyslaw Makarowicz. In: Urbańczyk P. (Ed.) THE PAST SOCIETIES. Polish lands from the first evidence of human presence to the Early Middle Ages, Warszawa 2017, vol. 3, U. Bugaj (Ed.) (2000 – 500 BC), Warszawa, pp. 127-186.

Some interesting excerpts from the introduction (emphasis mine):

In the 17th century BC the northern reaches of the Únětice culture oecumene experienced a structural crisis and a settlement hiatus; no such interruption in development occurred in the southern or western regions, or further west in the circle of the Blechkreiskulturen (Innerhofer 2000; Müller 2012, 257f.). In light of the most recent research, the decline of Únětice structures in the north was associated with a growing social and ecological crisis that resulted e.g., in the well-documented regression in the development of the fortified settlement in Bruszczewo in Greater Poland/Wielkopolska, which occurred ca. 1650/1600 BC (Kneisel 2012; Kneisel 2013, 101f.; Müller 2012). The settlement structure in that region only stabilized after several decades, with the emergence of Tumulus culture (Schurbein 2009; Cwaliński 2012, 16). In some parts of Central Europe (e.g., Bohemia, Bavaria, Hesse, Thuringia) a relatively gradual and smooth transition in the form of bronze items and pottery was observed between the periods of BA2 and BB1, diagnostic for the Early and Middle Bronze Age respectively (Rittershofer 1984; Innerhofer 2000). The term ‘pre-Tumulus’ horizon (BA3) was introduced to denote the stage that followed the disappearance of Early Bronze Age cultural structures and preceded the formation of Tumulus culture at the foothills of the Alps (Innerhofer 2000, 241f.)

The processes behind the development of this new cultural phenomenon may become clearer if one considers the origins of the new ideology of warriorhood apparent in the most progressive formations of the late stages of the early Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin (Vandkilde 2007, 129; 2014; the beginnings of the Middle Bronze Age in Hungarian chronology; Hänsel 1968; Bóna 1992; Harding 2000, Fig. 1.3).This factor is particularly relevant in the case of the centralized communities of the Otomani-Füzesabony culture. Its members built impressive fortified settlements, knew advanced methods of bronze casting, and maintained a vast network of contacts that connected the north of Europe with the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean world (e.g., Bouzek 1985; Furmánek, Veliačik, Vladár 1991; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005; David 2007)
The composition of some spectacular hoards and the presence of military items in some of the graves associated with such communities may suggest that a new type of individualized elite (military aristocracy) emerged in this very culture (Kristiansen 1998, 376f.; 1999; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005). The attractive ideology would then have spread to the west and north-west and be adapted by the ‘post-Early-Bronze’, de-centralized and mobile communities (most likely based on kinship) of animal farmers inhabiting the upper Danube basin and the upper Rhine basin, as well as by the peoples of the Nordic regions (Vandkilde 2014, Fig. 5). This process went hand in hand with the dissemination of the custom of tumulus-building and the associated religious concepts, funerary practices, and territorial behaviour. The mechanism behind the adoption of this custom remains unknown. It may have been the result of imitating the barrows of Corded Ware culture, already present in the landscape of Central Europe – a similar process took place in the communities of the Trzciniec circle (Makarowicz 2009; 2010; 2011). It is also possible that the tumuli were based on the few existing Únětice barrows, though in this case the similarities are more apparent in the stone elements beneath the barrows’ mound. In both cases there was no direct contact between the earlier cultural formation and the emerging group.

Spatial range of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture (‘Vorlauzitzer Kultur’) after M. Gedl 1992, amended

The new lifestyle became a pan-European phenomenon, but involved a considerable degree of regional diversity that stemmed primarily from contact with local tradition (Bóna 1975; Gedl 1989; Jockenhövel, Kubach [eds.] 1994; David 2002; Jockenhövel 2013). But how did this model spread? It appears that analogies for this development may be found in the social processes and interactions that took place at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC and led to the emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon (Burgess 1986; Nicolis 2001 [ed.]; Czebreszuk 2001; 2004 [ed.]; Heyd 2013; Van der Linden 2013, further literature therein). The most important elements of the ‘Tumulus set of cultural patterns’ included: warriorhood (conveyed through the presence of individual weaponry as grave goods), characteristic types of territorial behaviour (methods of familiarizing space that largely relied on constructing tumuli – monumental graves with a unique external form and internal architecture that was singular, spectacular, and immensely symbolic), and a specific array of valuables made of bronze or, less frequently, of amber or glass (such items indicated the status, gender, and sometimes also the social role of the deceased with whom they were buried). Local cultural milieux transmitted and adapted a set of ideological, social, and political principles that gave the emerging formation coherence and a new ‘quality’. The symbolism of the stone barrow construction (rings, kerbs, cores, rays, etc.), the high value of bronze and amber, and the emergence of the custom of cremation suggests that ‘Tumulus’ communities had a large part to play in the dissemination of the solar cult during the Middle Bronze Age (cf. Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Czebreszuk 2011, 164-171).

The decline of the Central European early Bronze Age civilization and the birth of a new, pan-European formation was a complex process that lasted at least several decades. It may be surmised that the downfall of Únětice structures and the Otomani-Füzesabony-Gyulavarsánd complex in the Carpathian Basin was brought about primarily by internal structural crises, yet the reasons for the emergence of Tumulus culture lay in the attractive, almost ‘Dionysian’ ideology of warriorhood. Its solidification coincided with the decline of the ‘old’ Early Bronze Age elites that ruled over centralized structures that were territorial in character (fortified settlements with proto-urban characteristics) and were buried in magnificent, richly furnished graves covered with mounds (Fürstengräber). It was also concurrent with the emergence of active kinship-based and de-centralized groups led by the ‘new’ elite class of warriors (the beginnings of military aristocracy?). The significance of such groups continued to grow during the pivotal period – and the decline of the Únětice world and the final turbulent phase of the development of centres in the Carpathian Basin may well be thus described. The process was facilitated by the escalation of military conflicts that occurred in the Bronze Age (Harding 1999; 2007; Kristiansen 1999; Osgood, Monks, with Thoms 2000; Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Hårde 2006; Vandkilde 2011; 2014). War became an inherent part of social life, as indicated by the increasing presence of weaponry in male graves, rock carvings and steles depicting warriors and their equipment, as well as arrowheads and spearheads embedded in the bones (soft tissues) of the deceased, and plentiful evidence of injuries caused by melee weapons (e.g., Osgood 2006). New types of weaponry (swords, spears) started to be used in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, leading to more efficient methods of combat (e.g., Harding 2006; Thrane 2006). This must have resulted in the emergence of new types of units, combat styles, and military strategies. It may also be surmised that ‘Tumulus’ communities adopted a hitherto unknown, institutionalized model of warriorhood based on groups of men who dealt with warfare professionally (cf. Sarauw 2007, 66).

The origin of the Tumulus culture meant therefore a pan-European ideological socio-political and ideological change, that may be associated with the last true North-West Indo-European dialect continuum in Europe, as evidenced in Archaeology by long-distance cultural contacts, in Linguistics potentially by late layers of shared vocabulary, and in Ancient Genomics by the different origins of combatants studied from the the Tollense valley.

Settlement points of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture in the Prosna-Odra interfluve (‘close zone’) superimposed on a hypsometric map. By Jakub Niebieszczański

The origins of Tumulus culture in what is now Polish territory most likely resulted from a combination of different factors. In the hitherto prevailing narrative its arrival in the Odra-middle Vistula interfluve was associated with an invasion (aggressive migration) of the Tumulus peoples from enclaves in the middle Danube basin, the destruction of Únětice centres and the Nowa Cerekwia Group, and the subsequent conquest of the western territories inhabited by members of the Trzciniec culture (Gedl 1975, 81; 1989; 1992; Gediga 1978). There is, however, much evidence to suggest that the provenance of this cultural group is more complex.

Recent archaeological research and environmental analyses indicate that the decline of the Únětice culture in the northern reaches of its scope (e.g., the economic and settlement crisis of the Kościan agglomeration with its centre in Bruszczewo and the princely barrow graves in Łęki Małe) was mainly the result of excessive human activity and overly intense exploitation of natural resources (Kneisel 2012; 2013; Müller 2012). Palynological data from the period of1700-1500 BC collected in this part of the North European Plain indicates a decline of human activity. It coincides with the devolution of settlement centres (hamlets and necropolises) dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (depopulation?). The decline of Early Bronze Age settlements occurred between 1700 and 1600 BC, whereas the beginning of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture may be dated to 1600-1500 BC. A renewed increase in human activity, indicated e.g., by the ‘opening’ of the landscape, did not occur until ca. 1500-1400 BC, in the classic period of the development of ‘Tumulus’ cultural structures (Kneisel 2012, 221).

The whole paper is interesting from the point of view of the potential formation of a Proto-Balto-Slavic community in the Proto-Lusatian or Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture, before its expansion to the east.

After O&M 2018, the only plausible alternative to this model of Balto-Slavic homeland is that Proto-Lusatian represents a Temematic community instead, and an Indo-Slavonic community formed in East Yamna, whereby Balto-Slavic would have possibly expanded with Srubna, and only much later over Temematic territory, absorbing its language as a North-West Indo-European substratum.

See also:

The significance of the Tollense Valley in Bronze Age North-East Germany


An early Bronze Age causeway in the Tollense Valley, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – The starting point of a violent conflict 3300 years ago?, by Jantzen et al. (BERICHT RGK 95, 2014).

Excerpt (emphasis mine):

The causeway in the Tollense Valley, built of timber, stones, turf and sand, and documented over a length of more than 100 m, represents a unique finding from northern Germany. For the first time, part of a Bronze Age network of land routes could be made visible in the southern Baltic area.

Together with the other evidence, the archaeological remains suggest the construction of elaborate trackways and, in some cases, even bridges in the Bronze Age. The Tollense Valley causeway can probably be attributed to the wish or the necessity to be able to cross the Tollense Valley regardless of weather and seasonally differing water level conditions. Its location, situated at a narrow section of the Tollense Valley, offered a prime position for the construction of a permanent crossing of the floodplain on the eastern bank. It is quite possible that a bridge was also part of this.

The complex causeway construction that was likely used and maintained for centuries suggests a significance of the crossing beyond just local. In this context, finds from the valley relating to Bronze Age metal crafts are of interest: along with the scrap metal hoard mentioned above found in the immediate area of the crossing, attention is drawn to a hoard from Golchen comprising an unusual accumulation of tools, as well as to two tin rings found in the same archaeological layer as the Bronze Age skeletal remains. These finds could indicate that metal crafts were of particular significance in the Tollense Valley and its surrounding areas. The middle section of the Tollense Valley that is the focus of attention here could have derived special significance from its role as a crossroads.

The documented pathway, which may have been the starting point of the violent conflict described above, not only contributes to the understanding of the entire findings and the reconstruction of the events in the early 13th century BCE in the Tollense Valley; its context also sheds new light on the cross-regional infrastructure of North-East Germany in the (Early) Bronze Age. Unfortunately, there currently is little further information to integrate it into the broader network of supraregional communication and traffic routes.

The region around the famous barrow of Seddin in Brandenburg is a further example for the significance of river systems for regional power and the exchange of goods. Similarly, the River Tollense could have played a role in the flow of commodities; the causeway at the Kessin 12 site offers a possible connection of the south-north water transportation route via the Tollense River to the Baltic Sea with an east-west land route linking the River Oder estuary region and the Mecklenburg Lake District.

The Lake District was of great importance from the Early Bronze Age; here independent bronze production was established early on. Diversity analyses indicate a shift of regions of innovation during the transition from the 3rd to the 2nd millennium BCE, as the southern Baltic Sea region and the region east of the river Oder clearly also became more important. Early Bronze Age imports from south-east Europe highlight the significance of the region west of the Oder estuary. The Tollense Valley likely played a role in connecting these areas. Therefore, the violent events in the Tollense Valley could also be seen as a result of its strategic significance for the power structure of North-East Germany and the regions on the southern Baltic coast during the Early Bronze Age.

Model of the Tollense Valley with the position of pathway (R. Scholz, using a digital model of the valley made by ArcTron [©]).

See also: