Corded Ware culture


The first horizon of Corded Ware culture appears in the Early Eneolithic Bubanj-Salcuţa-Krivodol cultural complex and other Old European cultures in the eastern Balkans only sporadically, possibly from influence of the Sredni Stog culture, at the end of the 5th millennium BC (ca. 4200 BC), in territories of autochthonous ceramic forms not associated with the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion. This pottery developed in a western Pontic territory where corded ornament seems correlated with sheep herding. The spread of this pottery is clearly (and almost exclusively) identified with the Coţofeni group in the 2nd Corded Ware horizon, as part of the cultures of the Lower Danube and northern Bulgaria in the 4th millennium and the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. These cultures are connected with movements of steppe-related Cernavodă I society in the Danube delta, to the north into Coţofeni, and south into Ezerovo[Bulatović 2014].

Samples from the Balkans at Varna I (ca. 4630 BC), and Smyadovo (ca. 4500 BC), before or possibly coincident with the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, and 1,500 years before the first Yamna migrations, already show steppe ancestry. While the sample from Varna clearly shows CHG component, the sample from Smyadovo does not[Mathieson et al. 2017], which is compatible with the diversity in ancestry found in the steppe at the time – although the low number of SNPs hinder a precise interpretation. Before that, more than 20 samples from the Ukraine Eneolithic at Deriivka and Volynia (ca. 5150 BC) showed mostly EHG ancestry, like Ukraine Mesolithic samples, but with a contribution from WHG ancestry, so the contribution of the steppe to both Ukraine Middle Neolithic and Old European samples must have happened later.

The Corded Ware culture territory expanded from the Coţofeni territory to the south during the Eneolithic period, except for the central Balkans, where new steppe elements are noticed during this period. The Usatovo culture, settled in the territory of the Trypillian culture, replaced the Coţofeni culture at the time of the expansion of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture into Central Europe.

There was a long-ranging connection between the north-west Pontic steppe area and the border of the Forest Zone up to the eastern Baltic area, centred on the Dniester-Bug limes (encompassing the Dniester, Dnieper, and Bug rivers). It also included the areas between the Vistula and the Dnieper (with the Lesser Poland area) – which topographically form a natural continuum. The origin of this expanding third horizon has been placed, as one of the best defined archaeological ideas in Archaeology, in this region between Lesser Poland and adjacent regions of Ukraine and Slovakia, confirmed by radiocarbon analysis to ca. 3000-2900 BC[Kristiansen 1989][Włodarczak 2008][Kristiansen et al. 2017][Anthony and Brown 2017][Kadrow 2008].

Different connecting routes to the north were used by Old European (and especially Trypillian culture) societies from the steppe, forest-steppe and Forest Zone, influencing the Funnelbeaker and Baltic cultures for millennia[Klochko and Kośko 2009][Szmyt 2013][Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2004][Kadrow and Zakościelna 1999]. This natural continuum in eastern Europe saw large scale economic and social changes, with Baden and Globular Amphorae Cultures playing a major role[Kristiansen 1989][Kristiansen et al. 2017].

The connection between pre-Caucasian (Maykop) and Late Trypillian cultures that had moved to the left bank of the Dnieper points not only to Caucasian imports, but to a likely Caucasian immigration in a series of small shifts or ‘shuttle’ movements, possibly with the aim of exchange, trade, spoils of war, borrowing of technological devices, etc. This migration is linked to the creation of “bridge” communities, like the Zhyvotylivska-Volchans’k cultural group, and the Late Trypillian Gordineşti group[Ivanova and Toschev 2015].

A sample identified as an Ukraine Eneolithic outlier from Deriivka (ca. 3500 BC), and a Trypillian outlier from the Verteba cave (ca. 3325 BC), show contributions from both CHG and Middle Eastern farmer ancestry[Mathieson et al. 2017]. The new farmer ancestry found further illustrates the complexity of human interaction in this western Pontic region between the main Neolithic (Middle PIE) and Chalcolithic (Late PIE) expansions.

eneolithic_forest.jpg Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC [Anthony 2007][Szmyt 2013][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln.

The roots of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture is to be found at the end of the 4th millennium in Podolia and Volynia, and scattered Corded Ware sites from these regions to the east of the Bug river show old and young stages of the culture[Kadrow 2008]. In this region, Funnelbeaker traits are not found, and the late Globular Amphora culture expansions to this region (after ca. 2950 BC) cannot account for its migrations.

In Lesser Poland, during the first 300 years of its existence, the Corded Ware culture developed among the settlements of the agrarian Baden and Globular Amphora cultures, without mixing[Włodarczak 2001], among a complex regional picture formed during the 4th millennium[Zastawny 2015][Wilk 2016].

Sampled individuals from Globular Amphora culture in Poland and Ukraine form a tight genetic cluster, showing genetic homogeneity kept over a large distance, with 25% WHG, which suggests a persistent frontier between east-central and eastern European groups. One sample from the Baden culture also clusters closely with previous and posterior Balkan samples from neighbouring regions[Mathieson et al. 2017].

At the end of the Trypillian culture, herding/hunting trends intensified, and the agricultural system collapsed, with people moving to the steppe zone, as confirmed by the presence of numerous graves to the south[Rassamakin 1999]. At the same time, the Trypillian world absorbed a foreign tradition related to materials of settlement sites of the Dnieper steppes – such as the late Sredni Stog culture –, like cord impressions and burial rites similar to the later Corded Ware culture, marking also the transformation of decors and changes in their interpretation[Palaguta 2007].

The similarity in burial rituals between Yamna and Corded Ware made Gimbutas define a common “Kurgan people”, whose relationship has also been long supported by Kristiansen[Kristiansen 1989][Kristiansen et al. 2017]. An equivalence of both burial rites has been, however, rejected[Häusler 1963][Häusler 1978][Häusler 1983], and it is generally agreed that the Yamna culture did not expand to the north of the Tisza River.

The importance of horse exploitation in Deriivka, in the forest-steppe zone of the north Pontic region along the Dnieper region, during the Middle Eneolithic period (probably ca. 3700-3530 BC), suggests that horses played a significant role in the life of this Sredni Stog community[Anthony and Brown 2003]. In its late period (ca. 4000-3500 BC), this culture had adopted corded ware pottery, and stone battle-axes.

However, these western steppe peoples were mainly hunters[Rassamakin 1999], and the ‘herding skill’ essential for wild horse domestication seems absent[Kuzmina 2003] even after the period of expeditions by horse-riding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs. All this has been confirmed with zooarchaeological evidence and new molecular and stable isotope results, suggesting an absence of horse domestication in territories of the late Sredni Stog culture in the north Pontic steppe[Mileto et al. 2017], before the advent of migrants from the Indo-European-speaking Yamna culture.

R1a1a1-M417 formation based on modern populations is dated ca. 6500 BC, with a TMRCA ca. 3500 BC, and published research pointing to a slightly earlier date ca. 3800 BC[Underhill et al. 2015], dates that are coincident with the aforementioned cultural and climatic changes.

A Sredni Stog sample of haplogroup R1a1a1-M417 (ca. 4200 BC) from Alexandria and another one of R1b1a-L754 (xP297, xM269) from Dereivka, dated ca. 3966 BC, have Anatolian Neolithic and CHG ancestry. The steppe component is especially interesting in the individual of R1a1a1-M417 lineage, which also clusters closer to ANE samples, being almost identical in both respects to later Corded Ware, Sintashta, and Andronovo samples.


Modified from Mathieson et al (2017). «Supervised ADMIXTURE plot, modeling each ancient individual (one per row), as a mixture of populations represented by clusters containing Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (orange), EHG (red) and WHG (blue)». Dates indicate approximate range of individuals in each population[Mathieson et al. 2017]. Original image under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license..


Modified from Mathieson et al (2017). «Individuals projected onto axes defined by the principal components of 799 present-day West Eurasians (not shown in thisplot for clarity, but shown in Extended Data Figure 1). Projected points include selected published individuals (faded colored circles, labeled) and newly reported individuals (other symbols; outliers shown by additional black circles). Colored polygons indicate the individuals that had cluster memberships fixed at 100% for the supervised admixture analysis [on the right]».

This sample points thus to the region from where the people of the third Corded Ware horizon may have expanded, along with R1a1a1-M417 lineages, almost 1,000 years later. An original migration of the Corded Ware culture from the north-west Pontic steppe and steppe-forest zone is therefore supported by these finds.


Tentative sketch modelling the genetic history of Europe and West Eurasia from ancient populations up to the Bronze Age, according to results in recent Genetic papers and archaeological models of known migrations.

Apart from these two samples, a third one from Dereivka, dated ca. 3456 BC– and thus closer to the time of expansion of Corded Ware peoples –classified as an ‘outlier’, clusters closely with Latvian samples and shows a similar WHG:EHG contribution, showing the strong connection between both regions during this time.

After ca. 3300 BC global climatic changes increased fluvial activities in river valleys and caused deforestation, intensified by human agents (due to agricultural needs), which favoured pastoralism and nomadisation of the settlement system, and a consequent change of the social structure[Kristiansen 1989][Kadrow 2008].

These changes were stabilised by a new ideology and new symbols imprinted in material culture, a new “picture of the world” of the emerging community, consisting of new and old local elements, into a new, original Corded Ware culture[Kadrow 2008][Habermas 2002]. By this time, the R1a1a1-M417 lineage was already expanding, judging from its TMRCA (ca. 3500 BC), so the new cultural unification came probably at a time of radical social change. Genetic investigation shows that cultural influences from neighbouring regions were probably absorbed by the population during its expansion.

No direct cultural connection has been found in this area with Yamna migrants[Bulatović 2014]. Only later, during the contemporaneous Corded Ware and Yamna migration waves were direct contacts possibly between Yamna and Corded Ware herders on the upper Dniester region[Anthony 2007][Gimbutas 1977].

The most recent direct connection of the north Pontic steppe to Central European areas came from Usatovo, which continued the previous Gordineşti group. Usatovo migrants seem to have penetrated in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC northward up the Dniester, South Bug and Dnieper valleys, as Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware cultures expanded to the east beginning ca. 2900 BC, forming the Middle Dnieper culture in the forest-steppe zone around Kiev ca. 2800-2600 BC[Anthony 2007].

Corded Ware culture research is usually discussed as a purely east-central European phenomenon. However, recently obtained dates suggest that the appearance of Corded Ware in central Russia (either of early Fatyanovo or maybe proto-stages) may had begun from 2700-2600 onwards, and earlier still in the Baltic[Lougas, Kriiska, and Maldre 2016].

Eastern influence is found in the southern Baltic and Estonia, connecting cultures previously identified as non-Corded Ware to the emergence of the new cultural expansion, with continuums proposed between late Comb Ware and Corded Ware pottery.

The communication between Forest Zone hunter-gatherers had old roots, and Corded Ware chronology needs further refinement, because Corded Ware was present in the northern Baltic Sea region since ca. 2800 BC[Nordqvist 2016]. This connection may explain the prevalence of R1a1a1-M417 subclades during the Corded Ware expansion.

copper-age-early_corded-ware.jpg Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2012][Heyd 2014].


  • [Anthony 2007] ^ 1 2 3 4 Anthony, D. 2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • [Anthony and Brown 2003] ^ Anthony, David W., and Dorcas R. Brown. 2003. Eneolithic horse rituals and riding in the steppes: new evidence. In Prehistoric Steppe Adaptation and the Horse, edited by M. A. Levine, C. Renfrew and K. V. Boyle. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
  • [Anthony and Brown 2017] ^ Anthony, D.W., and D. R. Brown. 2017. Molecular Archaeology and Indo-European linguistics: Impressions from new data. In Usque ad Radices: Indo-European Studies in Honour of Birgit Anette Olsen, edited by B. Simmelkjær, S. Hansen, A. Hyllested, A. R. Jørgensen, G. Kroonen, J. H. Larsson, B. N. Whitehead, T. Olander and T. M. Søborg. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.
  • [Bulatović 2014] ^ 1 2 Bulatović, Aleksandar. 2014. Corded Ware in the Central and Southern Balkans: A Consequence of Cultural Interaction or an Indication of Ethnic Change? JIES 42 (1 & 2).
  • [Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2004] ^ Czebreszuk, J., and M. Szmyt. 2004. Chronology of Central-European Influences within the Western Part of the Forest Zone during the 3rd Millenium BC. In Проблемы хронологии и этнокультурных взаимодействий в неолите Евразии, edited by V. I. Timofeev and G. I. Zayceva. Санкт-Петербург: ИИМК РАН.
  • [Gimbutas 1977] ^ Gimbutas, Marija. 1977. The first wave of eurasian pastoralists into copper age europe. JIES 5 (4):277-338.
  • [Habermas 2002] ^ Habermas, Jürgen. 2002. Habermas, Jürgen. Teoria działania komunikacyjnego 2. Warszawa.
  • [Häusler 1963] ^ Häusler, A. 1963. Die Gräber der älteren Ockergrabkultur zwischen Dnepr und Karpaten. Berlin.
  • [Häusler 1978] ^ Häusler, A. 1978. Migration oder autochtone Entwicklung. Bemerkungen zu einigen Einwendungen von L. S. Klejn in Vorstehenden Beitrag. Etn. Arch. Zeitschrift 19.
  • [Häusler 1983] ^ Der Ursprung der Schnurkeramik nach Aussage der Grab- und Bestattungssitten. Jahresschrift für mitteldeutsche Vorgeschichte 66:9-30.
  • [Harrison and Heyd 2007] ^ Harrison, Richard, and Volker Heyd. 2007. The Transformation of Europe in the Third Millennium BC: the example of ‘Le Petit-Chasseur I + III’ (Sion, Valais, Switzerland). Praehistorische Zeitschrift 82 (2).
  • [Heyd 2012] ^ Heyd, Volker. 2012. Yamnaya gropus and tumuli west of the Black Sea. Travaux de la Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée. Série recherches archéologiques 58 (1):535-555.
  • [Heyd 2014] ^ Heyd, Volker. 2014. Families, Prestige Goods, Warriors & Complex Societies: Beaker Groups of the 3rd Millennium cal BC Along the Upper & Middle Danube. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 73:327-379.
  • [Ivanova and Toschev 2015] ^ Ivanova, S.V., and G. N. Toschev. 2015. The Middle-Dniester Cultural Contact Area of Early Metal Age Societies. The Frontier of Pontic and Baltic Drainage Basins in the 4Th/3Rd-2Nd Millennium Bc. In Baltic-Pontic Studies.
  • [Kadrow and Zakościelna 1999] ^ Kadrow, S., and Anna Zakościelna. 1999. An outline of the evolution of Danubian cultures in Małopolska and western Urkraine. Baltic-Pontic Studies 9:187-255.
  • [Kadrow 2008] ^ 1 2 3 4 Kadrow, Sławomir. 2008. Settlements and subsistence strategies of the Corded Ware Culture at the beginning of the 3rd millenium BC in Southeastern Poland and in Western Ukraine. Paper read at Internationale Tagung Kiel 4.-6. November 2005, at Kiel.
  • [Klochko and Kośko 2009] ^ Klochko, V. I., and A. Kośko. 2009. The societies of Corded Ware cultures and those of Black Sea steppes (Yamnaya and Catacomb Grave cultures) in the route network between the Baltic and Black Seas. Baltic-Pontic-Studies 14:269-301.
  • [Kristiansen 1989] ^ 1 2 3 4 Kristiansen, Kristian. 1989. Prehistoric Migrations - the Case of the Single Grave and Corded Ware Cultures. Journal of Danish Archaeology 8 (1):211-225.
  • [Kristiansen et al. 2017] ^ 1 2 3 Kristiansen, Kristian, Morten E. Allentoft, Karin M. Frei, Rune Iversen, Niels N. Johannsen, Guus Kroonen, Łukasz Pospieszny, T. Douglas Price, Simon Rasmussen, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Martin Sikora, and Eske Willerslev. 2017. Re-theorising mobility and the formation of culture and language among the Corded Ware Culture in Europe. Antiquity 91 (356):334-347.
  • [Kuzmina 2003] ^ Kuzmina, E. E. 2003. Origins of pastoralism in the Eurasian steppes. In Prehistoric steppe adaptation and the horse, edited by M. A. Levine, C. Renfrew and K. V. Boyle. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
  • [Lougas, Kriiska, and Maldre 2016] ^ Lougas, Lembi, Aivar Kriiska, and Liina Maldre. 2016. New dates for the Late Neolithic Corded Ware Culture burials and early husbandry in the East Baltic region. Archaeofauna 16:21-31.
  • [Mathieson et al. 2017] ^ 1 2 3 4 Mathieson, Iain, Songül Alpaslan Roodenberg, Cosimo Posth, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Nadin Rohland, Swapan Mallick, Iñigo Olade, Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht, Olivia Cheronet, Daniel Fernandes, Matthew Ferry, Beatriz Gamarra, Gloria González Fortes, Wolfgang Haak, Eadaoin Harney, Ben Krause-Kyora, Isil Kucukkalipci, Megan Michel, Alissa Mittnik, Kathrin Nägele, Mario Novak, Jonas Oppenheimer, Nick Patterson, Saskia Pfrengle, Kendra Sirak, Kristin Stewardson, Stefania Vai, Stefan Alexandrov, Kurt W. Alt, Radian Andreescu, Dragana Antonović, Abigail Ash, Nadezhda Atanassova, Krum Bacvarov, Mende Balázs Gusztáv, Hervé Bocherens, Michael Bolus, Adina Boroneanţ, Yavor Boyadzhiev, Alicja Budnik, Josip Burmaz, Stefan Chohadzhiev, Nicholas J. Conard, Richard Cottiaux, Maja Čuka, Christophe Cupillard, Dorothée G. Drucker, Nedko Elenski, Michael Francken, Borislava Galabova, Georgi Ganetovski, Bernard Gely, Tamás Hajdu, Veneta Handzhyiska, Katerina Harvati, Thomas Higham, Stanislav Iliev, Ivor Janković, Ivor Karavanić, Douglas J. Kennett, Darko Komšo, Alexandra Kozak, Damian Labuda, Martina Lari, Catalin Lazar, Maleen Leppek, Krassimir Leshtakov, Domenico Lo Vetro, Dženi Los, Ivaylo Lozanov, Maria Malina, Fabio Martini, Kath McSweeney, Harald Meller, Marko Menđušić, Pavel Mirea, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, Vanya Petrova, T. Douglas Price, Angela Simalcsik, Luca Sineo, Mario Šlaus, Vladimir Slavchev, Petar Stanev, Andrej Starović, Tamás Szeniczey, Sahra Talamo, Maria Teschler-Nicola, Corinne Thevenet, Ivan Valchev, Frédérique Valentin, Sergey Vasilyev, Fanica Veljanovska, Svetlana Venelinova, Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Bence Viola, Cristian Virag, Joško Zaninović, Steve Zäuner, Philipp W. Stockhammer, Giulio Catalano, Raiko Krauß, David Caramelli, Gunita Zariņa, Bisserka Gaydarska, Malcolm Lillie, Alexey G. Nikitin, Inna Potekhina, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Dušan Borić, Clive Bonsall, Johannes Krause, Ron Pinhasi, and David Reich. 2017. The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe. bioRxiv.
  • [Mileto et al. 2017] ^ Mileto, Simona, Elke Kaiser, Yuri Rassamakin, and Richard P. Evershed. 2017. New insights into the subsistence economy of the Eneolithic Dereivka culture of the Ukrainian North-Pontic region through lipid residues analysis of pottery vessels. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 13:67-74.
  • [Nordqvist 2016] ^ Nordqvist, Kerkko. 2016. From separation to interaction: Corded Ware in the Eastern Gulf of Finland. Acta Archaeologica 87 (1):49-84.
  • [Palaguta 2007] ^ Palaguta, Ilia. 2007. Tripolye Culture during the Beginning of the Middle Period (BI): The relative chronology and local grouping of sites, British Archaeological Reports, International Series. Oxford: John and Erica Hedges.
  • [Piezonka 2015] ^ Piezonka, Henny. 2015. Older than the farmers' pots? Hunter-gatherer ceramics east of the Baltic Sea. In The Dąbki Site in Pomerania and the Neolithisation of the North European Lowlands (c. 5000-3000 calBC), edited by J. Kabaciński, S. Hatz, R. D. C. M. and T. Terberger. Rahden/Westf.: Marie Leidorf.
  • [Rassamakin 1999] ^ 1 2 Rassamakin, Y. 1999. The Eneolithic of the Black Sea Steppe: Dynamics of Cultural and Economic Development 4500-2300 BC. In Late prehistoric exploitation of the Eurasian steppe, edited by M. Levine, Y. Rassamakin, A. KIKislenko and N. Tatarintseva. Cambridge: McDonald Inst. Monogr.
  • [Szmyt 2013] ^ 1 2 Szmyt, Marzena. 2013. The circulation of People and Ideas in the Baltic and Pontic Areas during 3rd millennium BC.
  • [Wilk 2016] ^ Wilk, Stanisław. 2016. New data about chronology of the impact of the Hunyadihalom-Lažňany horizon on Younger Danubian cultures north of the Carpathian Mountains. Recherches Archéoloqiques 8:7–27.
  • [Włodarczak 2001] ^ Włodarczak, P. . 2001. The absolute chronology of the Corded Ware Culture in the south-eastern Poland. In Die absolute Chronologie in Mitteleuropa 3000-2000 v. Chr., edited by J. Czebreszuk and J. Müller. Poznań/Bamberg/Rahden.
  • [Włodarczak 2008] ^ Włodarczak, Piotr. 2008. Corded Ware and Baden Cultures. Outline of Chronological and Genetic Relations based on the Finds from Western Little Poland. In The Baden Complex and the Outside World. Proceedings of the 12th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Cracow 19-24th September 2006, edited by M. Furhold, M. Szmyt and A. Zastawny. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt.
  • [Zastawny 2015] ^ Zastawny, Albert. 2015. The Baden complex in Lesser Poland - Horizons of cultural influences. In The Baden culture around the Western Carpathians, edited by M. Nowak and A. Zastawny. Kraków: Krakowski Zespół do Badań Autostrad.