Viking Age town shows higher genetic diversity than Neolithic and Bronze Age


Open access Genomic and Strontium Isotope Variation Reveal Immigration Patterns in a Viking Age Town, by Krzewińska et al., Current Biology (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, some references deleted for clarity):

The town of Sigtuna in eastern central Sweden was one of the pioneer urban hubs in the vast and complex communicative network of the Viking world. The town that is thought to have been royally founded was planned and organized as a formal administrative center and was an important focal point for the establishment of Christianity [19]. The material culture in Sigtuna indicates that the town had intense international contacts and hosted several cemeteries with a Christian character. Some of them may have been used by kin-based groups or by people sharing the same sociocultural background. In order to explore the character and magnitude of mobility and migration in a late Viking Age town, we generated and analyzed genomic (n = 23) and strontium isotope (n = 31) data from individuals excavated in Sigtuna.


The mitochondrial genomes were sequenced at 1.5× to 367× coverage. Most of the individuals were assigned to haplogroups commonly found in current-day Europeans, such as H, J, and U [14, 26, 27]. All of these haplotypes are present in Scandinavia today.

The Y chromosome haplogroups were assigned in seven males. The Y haplogroups include I1a, I2a, N1a, G2a, and R1b. Two identified lineages (I2a and N1a) have not been found in modern-day Sweden or Norway [28, 29]. Haplogroups I and N are associated with eastern and central Europe, as well as Finno-Ugric groups [30]. Interestingly, I2a was previously identified in a middle Neolithic Swedish hunter-gatherer dating to ca. 3,000 years BCE [31].

In Sigtuna, the genetic diversity in the late Viking Age was greater than the genetic diversity in late Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures (Unetice and Yamnaya as examples) and modern East Asians; it was on par with Roman soldiers in England but lower than in modern-day European groups (GBR and FIN; Figure 2B). Within the town, the group excavated at church 1 has somewhat greater diversity than that at cemetery 1. Interestingly, the diversity at church 1 is nearly as high as that observed in Roman soldiers in England, which is remarkable, since the latter was considered to be an exceptionally heterogeneous group in contemporary Europe [39].

A PCA plot visualising all 23 individuals from Sigtuna used in ancient DNA analyses (m – males, f – females).

Different sex-related mobility patterns for Sigtuna inhabitants have been suggested based on material culture, especially ceramics. Building on design and clay analyses, some female potters in Sigtuna are thought to have grown up in Novgorod in Rus’ [40]. Moreover, historical sources mention female mobility in connection to marriage, especially among the elite from Rus’ and West Slavonic regions [41, 42]. Male mobility is also known from historical sources, often in connection to clergymen moving to the town [43].

Interestingly, we found a number of individuals from Sigtuna to be genetically similar to the modern-day human variation of eastern Europeans, and most harbor close genetic affinities to Lithuanians (Figure 2A). The strontium isotope ratios in 28 adult individuals with assigned biological sex and strontium values obtained from teeth (23 M1 and five M2) show that 70% of the females and 44% of the males from Sigtuna were non-locals (STAR Methods). The difference in migrant ratios between females and male mobility patterns was not statistically significant (Fisher’s exact test, p = 0.254 for 28 individuals and p = 0.376 for 16 individuals). Hence, no evidence of a sex-specific mobility pattern was found.

(…) As these social groups are not mirrored by our genetic or strontium data, this suggests that the inclusion in them was not based on kinship. Therefore, it appears as if socio-cultural factors, not biological bonds, governed where people were interred (i.e., the choice of cemetery).

Average pairwise genetic diversity measured in complete Sigtuna, St. Gertrud (church 1) and cemetery 1 (the Nunnan block) compared to both ancient and modern populations ranked by time period (Yamnaya, Unetice, and GBR-Roman, Roman Age individuals from Great Britain; GBR-AS, Anglo-Saxon individuals from Great Britain; GBR-IA, Iron Age individuals from Great Britain; JPT-Modern, presentday Japanese from Tokyo; FIN-Modern, present-day Finnish; GBR-Modern, present-day British; GIHModern, present-day Gujarati Indian from Houston, Texas). Error bars show ±2 SEs.

Interesting from this paper is the higher genetic (especially Y-DNA) diversity found in more recent periods (see e.g. here) compared to Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures, which is probably the reason behind some obviously wrong interpretations, e.g. regarding links between Yamna and Corded Ware populations.

The sample 84001, a “first-generation short-distance migrant” of haplogroup N1c-L392 (N1a in the new nomenclature) brings yet more proof of how:

  • Admixture changes completely within a certain number of generations. In this case, the N1c-L392 sample clusters within the genetic variation of modern Norwegians, near to the Skane Iron Age sample, and not with its eastern origin (likely many generations before).
  • This haplogroup appeared quite late in Fennoscandia but still managed to integrate and expand into different ethnolinguistic groups; in this case, this individual was probably a Viking of Nordic language, given its genetic admixture and its non-local (but neighbouring Scandinavian) strontium values.


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.


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:

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 preferred northwest passage to Scandinavia

Pontus Skoglund writes (and shares publicly) his perspective on early postglacial migrations of hunter-gatherers into Scandinavia, in Northwest Passage to Scandinavia (Nat. Ecol. Evol.): an initial migration from the south and a second coastal migration north of the Scandinavian ice sheet.

He sums up the recently published Open Access paper Population genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia: Investigating early postglacial migration routes and high-latitude adaptation, by Günther, Malmström , Svensson, Omrak, et al. PLoS Biol (2018) 16(1): e2003703, based on preprint at BioRxiv Genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia reveal colonization routes and high-latitude adaptation (2017).


Scandinavia was one of the last geographic areas in Europe to become habitable for humans after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). However, the routes and genetic composition of these postglacial migrants remain unclear. We sequenced the genomes, up to 57× coverage, of seven hunter-gatherers excavated across Scandinavia and dated from 9,500–6,000 years before present (BP). 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. Our results suggest two different early postglacial migrations into Scandinavia: initially from the south, and later, 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 potential 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.

The ice sheet distribution – which did not improve nuch for thousands of years – was clearly the greatest barrier for potential migrations in the region.

Baltischer Süßwassersee Vorläufer der Ostsee vor 12.000 Jahren, by Juschki and Koyos at Wikipedia

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:

mtDNA suggest original East Germanic population linked to Jutland Iron Age and Bell Beaker


Open Access article A mosaic genetic structure of the human population living in the South Baltic region during the Iron Age, by Stolarek et al., at Scientific Reports 8:2455 (2018).

About the site:

Kowalewko is a village in Wielkopolskie vojevodship, close to Poznan, in the middle reaches of the Samica Kierska river. Biritual Roman Age cemetery (site 12), dated from the mid-1st to the beginning of 3rd century AD, is located in the featureless arable fields at the South and West of the village

About the Wielbark culture:

Chronology spans almost all the Roman Iron Age, since ca. 20 AD to ca. 450 AD. The Wielbark culture is associated with the Goths and Gepids, who migrated from Scandinavia towards the Black Sea, and their successors, who, after several centuries, returned to the lands formerly occupied by their ancestors. Typical features of the culture include inhumation graves rich in goods of numerous ornaments frequently of noble metals, while no implements and weapons have been observed and iron objects very rarely. Less frequent cremations. Barrows recorded within cemeteries reflect emergence of elites. The Wielbark communities built stone constructions, including pebbled floors and circles. This culture is mainly known from cemeteries, as settlements, not fortified, are less recognized.

Location of Kowalewko and a scheme of the Kowalewko cemetery site 12, based on the Fig. 3 from the monograph by Tomasz Skorupka, Kowalewko 12. Biritual cemetery of a population of the Wielbark Culture (mid 1st to beginning of 3rd century AD), published in: Marek Chlodnicki [ed.], Archaeological rescue investigations along the gas transit pipeline, vol. II – Wielkopolska, part 3, Poznan 2001, generated using Corel Draw ver. 12.0, with the author permission. Sampled graves are marked with a red color. Europe and Poland maps were downloaded from Wikimedia Commons (, under the free licence, and modified with Corel Draw ver. 12.0.

Interesting excerpts with emphasis added (and some stylistic changes for abbreviations):

Analysis of genetic distances (see Fig. 2b) showed that both Jutland Iron Age (JIA) and Kowalewko (Kow-OVIA), are the closest to the Central Europe Metapopulation (CEM). However, it should be mentioned that many of the resulting genetic proximities did not reach statistical significance at the alpha level 0.05 (mainly due to the multiple comparisons), thus they should be interpreted with caution. Higher prevalence of the mtDNA haplogroup H in Kowalewko and Jutland Iron Age(its high level is also characteristic for the Bell Beaker Culture) than in the preceding Corded Ware Culture (CWC) and Unetic Culture (UC) supports the hypothesis assuming significant demographic changes in Central Europe after the LN/EBA period. This hypothesis is additionally strengthened by the results of AMOVA analysis indicating that there is some inconsistency between genetic distances and the chronology of the appearance of the studied populations in Central Europe, i.e., the older populations (BBC, CWC) contributed more to the genetic structure of CEM than the younger ones (UC).

Changes in the occurrence of mtDNA haplogroups U5a/U5b in Central Europe are also worth noting. At LN and EBA, the prevailing haplogroup was U5a for BBC/CWC/UC. Next, there was a dominance of U5b for the Kow-OVIA/JIA during IA and now U5a is again more popular (CEM). The first alteration in the U5a/U5b prevalence between the LN/EBA and the IA supports the hypothesis of demographic changes right after the LN, proposed by Brandt et al (2013). The second conversion indicated by our results suggests another crucial demographic event that should occur between the IA and present.

On the basis of the above observations, one may assume that in the IA, specific genetic substructures were formed in Central Europe. Because the demographic history of fossil populations often has a local character33,34, it is worth considering the range of the observed changes. These considerations should also take into account the hypothesis on the migrations that most likely occurred between the 3rd and 6th century AD. In this context, it seems necessary to compare Kow-OVIA and JIA with other populations from the IA, in particular those located east of Vistula, and with the populations that inhabited this region during the Middle Ages.

PCA2 vs. PCA3 on the haplogroup frequencies of ‘European Population Transect’ populations

Finally, we found that the genetic structures of female and male subpopulations of Kow-OVIA were significantly different. This fact cannot be explicitly determined based on the results of individual analyses; however, it is quite evident if one considers the whole set of data presented here including the Fisher test on haplogroup frequencies. The analyses of both mtDNA haplogroups and genetic distances indicated that women from Kowalewko were related closer to the EN/MN populations, and the men were closer to the CWC and UC. This observation may explain why the genetic relationships of Kow-OVIA with other ancient European populations were more complex and more difficult to define as it was in the case of JIA. In analyzing Kow-OVIA, we observed multiple overlapping effects of two subpopulations with different genetic affinities. One would speculate that the genetic profile of Kow-OVIA-F resulted from exogamy that was described for the CWC population. This is, however, not the case. We found that the genetic differences between women and men were maintained for the entire observation period, i.e., for 200 years (approximately 8 generations). Such a composition of the genetic structure of Kow-OVIA could exist only if at least one subgroup (Kow-OVIA-F or -M) was periodically exchanged. It would further mean that Kowalewko played some specific roles in that region. According to the recent archaeological studies, the colonization pattern in IA Greater Poland could be linked with the existence of a centralized organization system32. Kowalewko could have been one of the important elements of this system. For example, it could have functioned as a garrison for the population closely associated with the JIA, such that warriors stayed in the garrison for only a few years and were then replaced by others. Other scenarios are also possible; however, verification of any hypothesis requires more detailed studies.

All in all, we know that Wielbark probably represented the initial migration period of East Germanic tribes, traditionally believed to be from Northern Scandinavia, into territory later inhabited by Slavic tribes (and potentially earlier by a Balto-Slavic community).

Other than that, the results show some potential for a stable genomic situation in the Germanic homeland in terms of mtDNA, common after the Bell Beaker expansion, which probably brought Pre-Germanic to Scandinavia.

Nevertheless, only a comprehensive study of all Germanic regions from that period (whole genomic and Y-DNA) might shed light onto the real origin of East Germanic peoples, and thus their contended dialectal position, since we already know that certain modern Slavic and Germanic populations cluster closely to some Bronze Age communities of the same region, so differences during the Iron Age may be already quite subtle.

In my humble opinion, too many hypotheses in the paper for few interesting data – as is more and more usual in genetic papers. I guess journals expect that to get more attention, although serious reviewers should actually encourage the opposite, and only informal blogs like this one should come up with far-fetched theories, instead of rebutting them…


Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic (NOT Corded Ware/Battle Axe) identified as forming the Pre-Germanic community in Scandinavia


I wrote recently about the newly created Indo-European Corded Ware Theory group, which represents today the last dying effort to sustain the outdated model of the ‘Kurgan peoples’.

Archaeology and Linguistics (like Genetics) keeps slowly but relentlessly rejecting all the Kurgan model‘s foundations, safe for the steppe origin of Indo-European expansion.

The book Language and Prehistory of the Indo-European Peoples. A Cross-Disciplinary perspective. Eds. A. Hyllested, B.N. Whitehead, Th. Olander and B. Anette. Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European. Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, has been recently published (December 2017).

In it, Christopher Prescott contributes to the history of Indo-European migrations to Scandinavia and the formation of a common Nordic language, ancestral to Proto-Germanic.

A draft of his chapter is downloadable in Dramatic beginnings of Norway’s history? Archaeology and Indo-Europeanization.

Here are some excerpts from the text:

Thus archaeology can deal with the question of Indo-Europeans through material culture, and archaeology can contribute to unraveling the events leading up to the fact that Indo-European languages were spread from the Indian Ocean to the northwestern European Arctic in pre- and proto-history. In 1995, Prescott and Walderhaug tentatively argued that a dramatic transformation took place in Norway around the Late Neolithic (2350 BCE), and that the swift nature of this transition was tied to the initial Indo-Europeanization of southern and coastal Norway, at least to Trøndelag and perhaps as far north as Troms. Although this interpretation cannot be “proven” in any positivist sense of the word (though aDNA and isotope studies have added a new layer of relevant data), in light of the last ten years of research and excavations, it is has become an increasingly reasonable hypothesis (e.g., Engedal 2002, Fari 2006, Håland and Håland 2000, Kristiansen 2004, Melheim 2006, Østmo 1996, also Kvalø 2007, Larsson 1997).


The Late Neolithic transformation gives rise to a cultural platform where most of southerly Norway is incorporated into the Nordic sphere. Interaction is no longer over borders, rather within a common cultural arena. Locally, the cultural institutions provide a base for the continued dynamic development through the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. On a larger geographic and historical scale, incorporation into this field of interaction opens even the most peripheral parts of southern Norway to the streams of culture and events that shape Europe’s Bronze Age history, for example those originating from within Unetice, Tumulus Culture, Urnfeld and Hallstatt.


Changes in Scandinavia Norway are linked to wider transformations in Europe. Culturally, both Corded Ware Battle Axe and the Bell Beaker are important referential easterly and westerly European cultural horizons. Both these horizons affect and transform Northern Europe, so developments in Norway are not isolated affairs. Needless to say, though often regarded as Indo-European, the processes leading to and the affect of these cultural horizons is discussed for other parts of Europe as well (Mallory 1989:243ff).

Though there are reasonable arguments to assign both Corded Ware groups and bell Beaker groups Indo-European affiliations, the Corded Ware/Battle Axe horizon did not transform large parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula, nor can this horizon be identifies as the source of the practices, forms and institutions that characterize the ensuing Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. The Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic, however, represents a source and beginning of these institution and practices, exhibits continuity to the following metal age periods and integrated most of Northern Europe’s Nordic region into a set of interaction fields. This happened around 2400 BCE, at the MNB to LN transition.

Though much is tentative and conjecture, multiple sources indicate that ideology, cosmology, myths social organization and probably language were Indo-European in the Bronze Age, and the development of the Bronze Age is rooted in the preceding Late Neolithic. Though the evidence also indicates that the initial Indo-European encounters, indeed “colliding worlds”, were probably experienced in the Middle Neolithic B, the archaeological record points to the time around transition to the Late Neolithic as the chronologically defining threshold for the entrenchment of an Indo-European platform throughout what would become the Nordic Bronze Age region in Norway. The Late Neolithic is therefore the most likely candidate for the introduction of the foundation for economic, social and ideological institutions, that is Giddens’ “deeply layered structure[s]”, that are fundamental to the development of the region’s identities, also ethnic, in the millennia to come.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC, after the Bell Beaker invasion, the most likely time of formation of a common Nordic language, ancestor of Proto-Germanic.

Mind you, not that these actual archaeological and linguistic models will deter anyone from supporting ancestry-based tentative sketches of a fictional ‘kurgan people’ that became outdated almost 60 years ago now – especially if they fit certain desires of ancestral ethnolinguistic identification with modern populations…