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:

Ancient DNA samples from Mesolithic Scandinavia show east-west genetic gradient


New pre-print article at BioRxiv, Genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia reveal colonization routes and high-latitude adaptation, by Günther et al. (2017), from the Uppsala University (group led by Mattias Jakobsson).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Scandinavia was one of the last geographic areas in Europe to become habitable for humans after the last glaciation. However, the origin(s) of the first colonizers and their migration routes remain unclear. We sequenced the genomes, up to 57x coverage, of seven hunter-gatherers excavated across Scandinavia and dated to 9,500-6,000 years before present. Surprisingly, among the Scandinavian Mesolithic individuals, the genetic data display an east-west genetic gradient that opposes the pattern seen in other parts of Mesolithic Europe. This result suggests that Scandinavia was initially colonized following two different routes: one from the south, the other from the northeast. The latter followed the ice-free Norwegian north Atlantic coast, along which novel and advanced pressure-blade stone-tool techniques may have spread. These two groups met and mixed in Scandinavia, creating a genetically diverse population, which shows patterns of genetic adaptation to high latitude environments. These adaptations include high frequencies of low pigmentation variants and a gene-region associated with physical performance, which shows strong continuity into modern-day northern Europeans. Finally, we were able to compute a 3D facial reconstruction of a Mesolithic woman from her high-coverage genome, giving a glimpse into an individual’s physical appearance in the Mesolithic.

Interesting is the genetic similarity found with Baltic hunter-gatherers from Zvejnieki:

To investigate the postglacial colonization of Scandinavia, we explored four hypothetical migration routes (primarily based on natural geography) linked to WHGs and EHGs, respectively (Supplementary Information 11); a) a migration of WHGs from the south, b) a migration of EHGs from the east across the Baltic Sea, c) a migration of EHGs from the east and along the north-Atlantic coast, d) a migration of EHGs from the east and south of the Baltic Sea, and combinations of these four migration routes.
The SHGs from northern and western Scandinavia show a distinct and significantly stronger affinity to the EHGs compared to the central and eastern SHGs (Fig. 1). Conversely, the SHGs from eastern and central Scandinavia were genetically more similar to WHGs compared to the northern and western SHGs (Fig. 1). Using a model-based approach (15, 16), the EHG genetic component of northern and western SHGs was estimated to 55% on average (43-67%) and significantly different (Wilcoxon test, p=0.014) from the average 35% (22-44%) in eastern and south-central SHGs. This average is similar to eastern Baltic hunter-gatherers from Latvia (28) (average 33%, Fig. 1A, Supplementary Information 6). These patterns of genetic affinity within SHGs are in direct contrast to the expectation based on geographic proximity with EHGs and WHGs and do not correlate with age of the sample.
Combining these isotopic results with the patterns of genetic variation, we suggest an initial colonization from the south, likely by WHGs. A second migration of people who were related to the EHGs – that brought the new pressure blade technique to Scandinavia and that utilized the rich Atlantic coastal marine resources –entered from the northeast moving southwards along the ice-free Atlantic coast where they encountered WHG groups. The admixture between the two colonizing groups created the observed pattern of a substantial EHG component in the northern and the western SHGs, contrary to the higher levels of WHG genetic component in eastern and central SHGs (Fig. 1, Supplementary Information 11).

From the same article, three samples with reported Y-DNA, the three of haplogroup I2 (one more specifically I2a1b). Regarding mtDNA, four samples U5a1 (two of them U5a1d), two samples U4a1, one U4a2.

Featured image: potential migration routes, taken from the supplementary material.


Heyd, Mallory, and Prescott were right about Bell Beakers


Sometimes it is fun to read certain “old” papers. I have recently re-read some important papers that predicted what we are seeing now in aDNA analysis with surprising accuracy:

Harrison & Heyd (2007): “We predict that future stable isotope and ancientDNA analyses of Beaker skeletal material will support our view that immigration played an important role in the Europe-wide Bell Beaker phenomenon”. – Duh, obvious, right? Wrong. Read the whole paper. It was already becoming a classic in the study of the Bell Beaker culture before the latest research on Bell Beaker aDNA, and it will be still more important from now on. There are different models for the Bell Beaker origin and expansion, and this was only one of them: we had the Dutch model, the radiocarbon date-based attempts to locate Bell Beakers in Iberia or North Africa,… I tried to highlight the best sentences from Heyd’s article to include them in my article, and I just couldn’t stop highlighting almost everything. It is surprising that 10 years ago Volker Heyd was predicting so much from such a limited amount of material, and with conflicting reports coming from everywhere, from palaeogenetics to radiocarbon dating. Not that today their chronology of Le Petit – Chasseur is accepted by all, but their general Bell Beaker and Yamna model has been clearly established as the most likely one with support from aDNA.

– Mallory in Celtic from the West 2 (2013), as the last of many to propose Bell Beaker as the vector of spread of Late Indo-European languages, but the first to relate it to North-West Indo-European: “The spread of Indo-European languages from Alpine Europe may have begun with the Beaker culture, presuming here a non-Iberian Beaker homeland (Rhineland, Central European) for that part of the Beaker phenomenon that was associated with an Indo-European language. While it is possible that IE language(s) spread with the Beaker phenomenon, it is questionable that this was associated with Proto-Celtic rather than earlier forms of Late Indo-European, at least part of which might be subsumed under the heading NW Indo-European. This is because the time depth of the dispersal of the Beakers is so great and the earliest attested Celtic languages are so similar (…)”. You might think that it is related to the Atlantic Indo-European theory favoured by Cunnliffe and Koch in the book… Wrong, he specifically dismisses a Neolithic spread of Indo-European, and a Calcholithic spread of Celtic languages as too early. You might also think that to publish that in 2013 has no merit, given the data. Wrong again. Just look at the trend among renown archaeologists – like Anthony (with Haak) and Kristiansen (with Allentoft) – trying to hop on the bandwagon of Corded Ware-driven Indo-European dispersal based on the “steppe admixture” proportion of recent genetic papers, and you realize he is going against the grain here.

Prescott and Walderhaug 1995 (as referred to in Prescott 2012): “The Bell Beaker period is the most, perhaps the only, reasonable candidate for the spread and final entrenchment of a common Indo-European language throughout Scandinavia (and not just Corded Ware core areas of southern and eastern Scandinavia), and particularly Norway”. Duh again? Not so fast. While Bell Beaker had been proposed before as a vector of Indo-European languages in Europe, the association with Germanic was far more controversial. Only the unifying Dagger Period was more clearly established as of Pre-Germanic nature, but it could be interpreted as of Corded Ware, Úněticean, or even early Neolithic origin, or a mix of them. Bell Beaker groups were never good candidates, if only because of the desire by some researchers to offer a romanticized (either more unifying or ancient) picture of a Germanic Northern Scandinavian homeland, explained as a culturally and genetically homogeneous group.

Their papers seem to state the obvious now that the latest aDNA samples are proving them correct, but it was far from clear years ago: remember the native European Basque-R1b – Uralic-N1c harmony disrupted by invasive Eurasian Indo-European-speaking warriors carrying R1a lineages from Yamna to Corded Ware? Well that is still a thing for some. And even today the most popular interpretation of the spread of Indo-European-speakers in Europe is based on the defined “steppe ancestry” proportion found in Corded Ware individuals, and a supposedly Yamna community formed by R1b-R1a lineages, which is obviously reminiscent of the identification of R1a lineages with Proto-Indo-Europeans based on the initial analysis of haplogroups in modern populations.

It is sad to imagine how much we would have improved in our knowledge, had we read their work with interest when it was necessary, and not now that we have most of the aDNA clues. Still sadder is to see people rely on genetic studies alone to derive today what are likely the wrong conclusions. Again.

I will end with a mea culpa. I hadn’t read those works; but even if I had, I would have stayed with the simpler, R1a-Corded Ware model of Indo-European dispersion. That oversimplification will remain in the different editions of our Grammar of Modern Indo-European as a permanent reminder. Simpler seems always better, and Cavalli-Sforza had famously asserted that ancient population movements could be solved with the study of the structure of modern populations. I think he was right, that we can in fact ascertain ancient population movements by studying modern populations if we include anthropological disciplines, but it is such a complex task – and geneticists have not shown a good grasp in (or interest for) Anthropology -, that it is nowadays clearly wrong to rely on modern population samples to derive conclusions about ancient populations, and we are better off studying ancient DNA samples in their context.

We were Back-to-the-Future-wrong, overestimating our potential in some aspects – like the results of researching modern DNA -, and underestimating it in others – like the potential changes that ancient DNA investigation could bring for anthropological disciplines. Just as we are wrong today in trusting the potential of admixture analysis to be self-explanatory, without a need for wide anthropological investigation (or even able to revolutionize archaeological and linguistic theories).

I hope to keep a more critical view of publications – especially the most popular ones – from now on.

How ‘difficult’ (using Esperantist terms) is an inflected language like Proto-Indo-European for Europeans?

For native speakers of most modern Romance languages (apart from some reminiscence of the neuter case), Nordic (Germanic) languages, English, Dutch, or Bulgarian, it is usually considered “difficult” to learn an inflected language like Latin, German or Russian: cases are a priori felt as too strange, too “archaic”, too ‘foreign’ to the own system of expressing ideas. However, for a common German, Baltic, Slavic, Greek speaker, or for non-IE speakers of Basque or Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian), cases are the only way to express common concepts and ideas, and it was also the common way of expression for speakers of older versions of those very uninflected languages, like Old English, Old Norse or Classical Latin; and their speakers didn’t consider their languages “difficult” …

Therefore, to use different cases is the normal way to express concepts that non-inflected languages express in different ways – i.e. not “more easily”, but “differently”. That’s the point Esperantism has lost in its struggle to convince the world of its “easiness”. In fact, the idea that cases are difficult is so impregnated in Esperantism, that some did create “an old version” [probably deemed “more difficult”] of Esperanto called Arcaicam Esperantom, as a fiction of evolution from an older language…

Thus, among the European population (more than 700 million inhabitants), just around 200 million speak non-inflected languages, while the rest use at least 4 cases to express every possible concept. Within the current EU, more or less half of its speakers speak an inflected language – like German, Polish, Czech, Greek, Lithuanian, Slovenian, or non-IE Hungarian, Finnish, etc. – as their mother tongue.

For example, the literal sentence “I go to-the-house” [not exactly the common expression “I go home” which is expressed differently in each language] would be said in Spanish “voy a-la-casa”, or in French “je vais a-la-maison”, in Italian “vado a-la-casa”, etc. Therefore, in an “easy conlang” for Western European speakers, say in something called Esperanto, a sentence like “io vo a-lo-haus” is apparently “easy”, because the syntactical structure is similar to those non-inflected languages.

NOTE: In fact, there are other interesting concepts behind the use of the obligatory subject before the verb in languages like English or Esperanto, that appears usually in those languages that have reduced the verbal system; therefore, the subject is necessary only in those languages whose verbal inflection becomes too simple to express an idea that must still be expressed some way – more or less like different combinations of prepositions and articles are often needed to substitute the lost nominal inflection, as we discuss here. In those ‘less innovative’ languages that retain a rich verbal system, the subject appears for some reason, as e.g. in Spanish “yo voy a la casa”, which must be expressed differently in innovative languages, using different linguistic resources, like e.g. Eng. “I myself go to the house” (or maybe “it’s me who…“), or French “moi, je vais a la maison”. Is that obligatory subject and ‘simplified’ verbal system of Esperanto “easier”, and therefore “better”…? I guess not. It’s just an imitation of French or English that Mr. Zamenhoff deemed “better” for his creation to succeed, given the relevance of those languages (and its speakers’ acceptance) back in 1900…

On the other hand, in German it would be “Ich gehe nach-Haus-e”, in Latin, it is “vado ad-domu-m”; in Polish “idę do-dom-u” etc. The use of declensions, if compared to uninflected languages, is usually made of just a simple change of “preposition+article” -> “declension” – or, in the ‘worst’ case (as it is shown here), by a “preposition+article” -> “preposition+declension”.

To sum up, can some languages be considered “more difficult” than others? Yes, indeed. If seen from a European point of view, some linguistic features are not easy to learn: the Arab writing system, Chinese unending kanjis, Sino-Tibetan or Vietnamese tones, etc. can cause headaches to [adult] speakers willing to learn them… Also, from an English, French or Spanish point of view, learning a language like Esperanto might seem “better” because of its apparent and equivocal “easiness”… But, between (a) all Indo-European speakers learning a non-inflected language like English [or ‘easy’ Esperanto], or (b) all Indo-European speakers learning an inflected one like Proto-Indo-European?; I guess there is no language “easier” than other, and therefore the “better” option should come from other rational considerations, not just faith in the absurd ramblings of an illuminated Polish ophthalmologist.

Therefore, the question remains still the same: why on earth should any European willing to speak a common language select an invented one (from the thousand “super easy” ones available) than a natural one, like the ancestor of most of their mother tongues, Proto-Indo-European?