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


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

Seal hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kroonen, Guus (Leiden University) and Rune Iversen

[196] The Linguistic Legacy of the Pitted Ware Culture

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

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

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

Stone Age Seal Hunters, by Måns Sjöberg.

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

An early borrowing via Uralic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitted Ware culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Germanic-Fennic phonetic evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Scandinavian substratum

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

From Schrijver (2014):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seals and the Arctic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bronze Age movements in Fennoscandia

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

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

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

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

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

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


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…