Late Neolithic

In Scandinavia, farming communities had already abandoned their subsistence strategy for the development of transhumance[Jensen 2003]. With the latest phase of the Middle Neolithic (ca. 2800-2400), Corded Ware/Battle Axe groups and influence appear in Norway, but the extent of their influence is unclear, and seems constrained to some limited “islands” or groups in the east, probably interacting with late Funnel Beaker and hunter-gatherer groups[Prescott 2012].

A migration of Bell Beaker groups to Jutland during the mid-3rd millennium BC seems to have brought skills in mining and sailing, introducing mass production of flint daggers, as well as the first metal daggers (an imitation of copper and bronze prototypes). This Dagger Period of the late Nordic Neolithic also represents the introduction of a more ranked social organization, and a new ideology, with a farm institution (long houses and fields), and an economy based on agro-pastoralism, integrating the diverse previous cultural traditions into a single south Scandinavian cultural sphere[Kristiansen 2009].

A massive transfer of knowledge, institutions and practices – which must have been accompanied by a movement of peoples – happened ca. 2400-2350 BC in southern and south-western Norway – probably disembarking at or near the harbour discovered in Slettabø – and occupied environments similar to Jutland. Settlers reached as far north as Mjeltehaugen, possibly as ‘scouts’[Anthony 1990], maybe even as travelling metal prospectors, establishing a new elite on the north-western coast of Norway[Sand-Eriksen 2017].

The rapid adaptation of new practices to such hostile environments indicate the active participation of people with long traditions in the region. Such migratory movements “were probably related to the inherently expansive pastoral ideology, bolstered by a male warrior ideal, wanderlust, ideologically encouraged travelling/knowledge seeking, but also resource prospecting in a world rapidly embracing metallurgy and trade in exotica”[Prescott 2012].

The Bell Beaker period is the only reasonable candidate for the spread and final entrenchment of a common Indo-European language throughout Scandinavia (and not just Corded Ware core areas of southern and eastern Scandinavia), and particularly Norway[Prescott and Walderhaug 1995]. The Dagger Period integrated the diverse cultural traditions of the previous period into a single south Scandinavian cultural sphere, which suggests the formation of “a shared Nordic language based upon the frequent interaction that followed from the distribution of flint daggers”[Kristiansen 2009].

bronze_age_early_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC[Anthony 2007][Krause 2013][Hanks, Epimakhov, and Renfrew 2015][Jaeger 2012][Kristiansen and Larsson 2005][Fokkens and Harding 2013][Meller et al. 2015][Prescott 2012][Sand-Eriksen 2017].

Such a direct strong cultural connection thanks to communications through the strait of Skagerrak between northern Jutland and southern Norway, and the superior attractiveness of the Bell Beaker culture – apart from military expansiveness – provided the necessary unifying conditions and infrastructure for the expansion and linguistic unification of Scandinavia quickly during the following Late Neolithic and early Bronze Age period[Prescott 2012].

To a certain extent – taking the example mentioned by Prescott[Prescott 2012] –, the previous Corded Ware and the following Bell Beaker cultures could be compared with explorations of Sparta and Athens: Sparta and Corded Ware represent terrestrial brutal force, while Athens and Bell Beaker represent maritime mobility and trade, and an appealing ideology.

The best candidate for an original homeland of the Pre-Germanic dialect of North-West Indo-European migrating into Scandinavia is the Beaker culture of the Low Countries and Northern Lowland[Kristiansen 2009].

Cultural groups of these regions show a period of evolution starting ca. 1850 BC until their complete cultural change evident after ca. 1500 BC[Fokkens and Harding 2013], into the Elp culture (ca. 1800-800 BC). Samples of haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 are found quite late, in the Nordic Late Neolithic at Lilla Beddinge ca. 2150 BC[Allentoft et al. 2015], and in Oostwoud ca. 1881-1646 BC[Olalde et al. 2017], suggesting a connection of lineages between Jutland and the Low Countries. Modern population analysis supports this connection, showing that R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 distribution peaks today precisely around the Netherlands.

Haplogroup I1-M253

Haplogroup I1-M253 split from the common stem at approximately the same time as I2-M438. The first example is found in Neolithic Linear Pottery culture in Hungary[Szecsenyi-Nagy et al. 2015], which suggests its distribution in central Europe before the Corded Ware and Yamna expansions. The next sample found in aDNA records is from the Nordic Bronze Age in Angmollan, ca. 1400 BC[Allentoft et al. 2015] .

R1b1a1a2-M269 lineages are found in early (Sebber Skole[1], ca. 1410 BC) and late Nordic Bronze Age (Angmollan, ca. 670 BC), while haplogroup I1-M253 is found in Angmollan (ca. 1400 BC), and haplogroup I-M170 in Angmollan (ca. 1360 BC) and Abekas (ca. 1255 BC), suggesting a south-north cline in culture and population in Scandinavia during these times of ethnolinguistic change.

The modern population with I1-M253 lineages is centred in northern Scandinavia near Skagerrak strait and Kattegat sea area, and shows a TMRCA ca. 2600 BC. On the other hand, R1a1a1b1a3-Z284/S221 lineage (formed ca. 2700 BC, TMRCA ca. 2300 BC) – probably associated with the expansion of the Corded Ware cultures in Scandinavia – shows a distribution in modern Scandinavian populations located further to the north and west of that zone. It is difficult to ascertain whether I1-M253 lineages mixed with Bell Beaker lineages in Jutland or Norway before expanding into the rest of Scandinavia, or formed separated communities – maybe inhabiting Scandinavia even earlier than R1a1a1b1a3-Z284 lineages.

Bronze Age

During the Bronze Age, at least two social spheres can be described: one of agriculture and husbandry related to the inland; and one of maritime nature, forming a decentralized social organization led by warriors focused on seaborne transport, trade, and raids, related to the sea and the coastal rocks (as well as to rock art and burial cairns). Unlike in the previous Neolithic period, certain parts of the elite invested in the maritime forces of production and long-distance trade[Earle et al. 2015][Ling, Cornell, and Kristiansen 2017].

Southern Scandinavia, with its participation in the larger European network of bronze exchange, may have acted as the periphery of European Bronze Age societies in contact with the Late Indo-European-speaking world. A more complex distinction may be more precisely made on a regional scale between southern, central and northern Scandinavia, with centre-periphery relationships based on the dynamics of regional cycles of production and alliances. Centres of dominant chiefdoms predominate in southern Scandinavia in Early and Late Bronze Age, while in northern Scandinavia inner and coastal groups do not conform to the same culture and subsistence, having probably an indirect relationship based on reciprocal exchange and ideological dominance[Kristiansen 1987].

After an obscure period of internal development (regarding lineages and admixture), the situation in Northern Germany and Scandinavia before the Iron Age probably corresponded loosely to the present situation: R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 lineages occupied Jutland and the northern Scandinavian territory around the Skagerrak strait, while communities with I1-M253 lineages were confined to northern Scandinavia (given the quite late invasion of Jutland by Danes).

The irruption of Germanic peoples in central, east, and west Europe including the Roman Empire – the Barbarian Invasions from Classical sources, renamed the Migration Period since the Romantic era – suggests a R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106-dominated West Germanic area, and Viking migrations point to different clans belonging to R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106, I1-M253, and R1a1a1b1a3-Z284 lineages in the North Germanic area.

bronze_age_middle_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1750-1250 BC[Anthony 2007][Kristiansen 2016][Kristiansen 2014][Fokkens and Harding 2013][Wels-Weyrauch 2011][Przybyła 2009][Makarowicz 2009].

iron_age_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 750-250 BC[Thurston 2009][Cunliffe and Koch 2012].

antiquity_classical_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 250 BC – 250 AD.

antiquity_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 250-750 AD.

middle_age_Europe.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 750 – 1300 AD.

The modern distribution of R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 is roughly coincident with the expansion of West Germanic with the medieval Ostsiedlung, showing a west-east cline compatible with the Germanization of Slavs to the east of the Elbe. Although modern population samples are difficult to assess without genealogical information – due to the expulsion of Germans after World War II –, medieval samples from Podlažice (ca. 1180 AD) in Czech lands and Nicolaus Copernicus’ family origin from Koperniki near Nysa in Silesia before the 14th century[Bogdanowicz et al. 2009] seem to support the expansion of R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 lineages associated with German settlers of the Holy Roman Empire east of the Elbe.

The question of the dialectal nature of East Germanic remains a purely linguistic one, but I1-M253 and R1a1a1b1a3-Z284 lineages scattered throughout Europe seem to support the classical description of East Germanic tribes migrating from Scandinavia to the east of the Elbe, and thus its connection with the Nordic branch.

r1b-U106.jpg Modern distribution of haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106. Adapted from Myres et al.[Myres et al. 2011].


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  1. Additional information xP312, xA2150 from Vince Tilroe.