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), even before the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, and 1,500 years before the Yamna expansion, already show the so-called ‘Yamna component’[Mathieson et al. 2017]. 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 (see transition to Neolithic), so the contribution of CHG 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.

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].

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

Sampled individuals from Globular Amphora culture in Poland and Ukraine form a tight genetic cluster, showing genetic homogeneity 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 a similar region[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, Trypillian world absorbed a foreign tradition related to materials of settlement sites of 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.

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].

Samples from the Balkan Neolithic and outliers from west Ukraine and Trypillia that show Yamna ancestry (see CHG ancestry) cluster closely together, and close to later central European samples from Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures. However, they show less ‘east Yamna’ ancestry than some later Corded Ware samples, which suggests that the original expanding population from the third Corded Ware horizon was a different one, probably to the east of the Trypillian settlement sampled.

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, this western steppe peoples were mainly hunters[Rassamakin 1999], and the ‘herding skill’ essential for wild horse domestication seems absent[Kuzmina 2003]. 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 Repin culture.

There is an increased ‘Yamna component’ found later in samples from Yamna culture samples in Ukraine. A original migration of the Corded Ware culture the western steppe and steppe-forest zone is therefore likely, and may account for the later common Yamna component found between Yamna and Corded Ware individuals[Allentoft et al. 2015][Haak et al. 2015][Mathieson et al. 2015]. This increased Yamna component is not found in Yamna migrants from the Balkans, like those from Mednikarovo (ca. 2960 BC) and from the Vučedol culture (ca. 2745 BC).


Modified from Mathieson et al (2017). Left: «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]». Right: «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.

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 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].

chalcolithic_early_CWC.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].


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