A more recent, revised and updated version of this paper has been published (2019)


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Tumulus Culture

It was only after 2000 BC that large-scale mining operations and production which required specialised metallurgical and organisational know-how began in a few centres, and they reached distant regions as far as Northern Scandinavia. And only from 1750/1700 BC began the actual Pan-European tradition of metal work until its consolidation ca. 1600 BC, with different regions in Europe producing their own products, most specially the cultures of the Carpathian basin[Kristiansen and Larsson 2005].

The contacts of Únětice with Carpathian territories are constant, e.g. in the Únětice-Nitra and Únětice-Hatva horizons, where settlement micro-regions and relationships are difficult to assess. Únětice elites controlled trade routes from the Baltic Sea shores to Aegean Sea artisans. Úněticean daggers are found all over Europe and in Anatolia, and the nature of weapons and metal work suggest a chronic state of warfare and the emergence of a warrior class until its demise by the Tumulus culture, born in the area previously occupied by Únětice groups in Southern Germany.

Central European groups from southern Germany would then in this context correspond to a community with a common West Indo-European language ancestral to Italic and Celtic[Kortlandt 2007][Eska 2010], whose continuous development and dialectal evolution is to be followed into the Tumulus culture (ca. 1600-1200 BC). The Tumulus culture was eminently a warrior society which expanded with new chiefdoms eastward into the Carpathian Basin (up to the river Tisza), and northward into Polish and central European and Únětice territories, with dispersed settlements centred on fortified structures .

In the subsequent period of crisis, it developed into bands of raiders and mercenaries, and took control of peasant societies, as happened in several regions during the Urnfield and La Tène periods, and similar to the society of mercenaries and warring city states in the Celtic period[Kristiansen 2000].

The European world ca. 1450-1100 BC has been compared to the Viking Age, with population pressure and lack of land for young sons with no inheritance leading to war-bands that engage in seasonal raiding, trading, and piracy. This was followed up by more massive colonising ventures and migrations, and a political economy based on a chiefdom form of society where free farmers were the dominant class, with commoners and slaves as dependent groups[Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2007].

Exogamous and endogamous strategies and variable distances of marriage exchanges to maintain alliances complicate this picture further in the Tumulus/Nordic traditions[Kristiansen 2000], which suggests that post-Únětice societies could especially benefit from the investigation of human ancestry.

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].

Urnfield culture

At the end of the Tumulus culture, ca. 1200 BC, a great battle seems to have happened in the Tollense valley in north-eastern Germany, at the confluence between Nordic, Tumulus, and Lusatian cultures. It is estimated that more than 4,000 warriors took part, based on the hundred and thirty bodies and five horses found in Tollense riverbank, and the likely hundreds more which remain unexcavated, accounting for one in five participants killed and left on the battlefield.

Body armour, shields, helmet, and corselet used may have needed training and specialised groups of warriors, with their organisation being a display of military force. According to Kristiansen[1], this battle is therefore unlike any other known conflict of this period north of the Alps – circumscribed to raids by small groups of young men –, and may have heralded a radical change in the north, from individual farmsteads and a low population density to heavily fortified settlements. This period is coincident with the time of the mythical battle of Troy, with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation, and with the raids of Sea People in Egypt and the collapse of the Hittites.

Chemical traces suggest that warriors came from far away, with only a few showing values typical of the northern European plain. While the majority of sampled individuals fall within the variation of contemporary northern central European samples (including Nordic Late Neolithic and Bronze Age and Únětice samples), there are some outliers closer to Neolithic LBK and modern Basques, suggesting that central and western European cultures were still at that time closely interconnected[Sell 2017], continuing thus the connections created during the Bell Beaker expansion a thousand years earlier. The genetic similarity of most samples to modern East German and western Slavic populations gives support to the origin of Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age north-central Europe, and more specifically in the Lusatian culture.

bronze_age_late_Europe_tollense.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC, including the Tollense battlefield[Butler, Arnoldussen, and Steegstra 2011/2012][Wels-Weyrauch 2011][Kristiansen 2000][Przybyła 2009], LDA-LSA.

The Urnfield culture (ca. 1300-750 BC) is associated with the rise of a new warrior elite, and the formation of new farming settlements and their urnfields. In some areas there is continuity from Tumulus to Urnfield culture, with narrowing and concentration of settlements along the river valleys, but there is also wide-ranging migrations. These migrations are similar to those seen later in the La Tène culture[Kristiansen 2000]. Urnfield migrations south of the Pyrenees may have brought the pre-Celtic Sorothaptic language believed to be behind certain toponyms and inscriptions around the Pyrenees[Coromines 1976].

Scarce samples from late Urnfield populations, all from a north-eastern territory in modern Saxony – near the Lusatian culture –, show a mixture of lineages, which suggest genetic continuity with older cultures: R1a1a1b1a-Z282 lineage was found in Halberstadt (ca. 1085 BC), and of the eight males studied from the Lichtenstein cave (ca. 1000 BC), five were of haplogroup I2a2b-L38, two of haplogroup R1a1-M459[2], and one of haplogroup R1b-M343[Schilz 2006].

Given the modern distribution of R1b1a1a2a1a2b-U152 lineages, its expansion is probably to be connected to the spread of the Urnfield culture and later offshoots Hallstatt and Villanovan cultures


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  1. Slaughter at the bridge: Uncovering a colossal Bronze Age battle, by Andrew Curry (2015). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaf9824
  2. Reported as Ri and Ri?