VI.3. Classical Corded Ware culture

VI.3.1. Genesis of the Corded Ware culture

The origin of the Classical Corded Ware culture has been traditionally placed near the Volhynia–Podolia region, related to findings of Lesser Poland, Kuyavia, and adjacent regions of Ukraine and Slovakia, probably ca. 3000/2900 BC, and quite likely directly influenced by the push of the Yamna explosive migration to the west, but (at least initially) neither related nor in contact with it (Kristiansen 1989; Anthony 2007; Włodarczak 2008; Kadrow 2008).

The westward expansion of the Yamna culture along the Danube River, south of the Carpathian Mountains and along the upper Tisza River, put this culture in close contact with other “kurgan” cultural systems, south and north of the Carpathians. The Lesser Poland region found itself thus in close contact with communities characterised by new principles of social organisation and a new funeral rite. Around 2800 BC, these changes became evident in different regions of Poland, with the most numerous examples being documented in south-eastern Poland and Kuyavia (Włodarczak 2017).

The new Corded Ware material culture has no straightforward analogies in the world of the Pontic–Caspian steppe communities, though. To the north of the Carpathians, including the first examples of Złota and early Corded Ware, no graves indicating their relationship with communities of the steppe zone have been found. On the contrary, the funerary rites always display a local, central European nature (Włodarczak 2017).

Nevertheless, individual elements typical of the steppe do appear, emphasising the individual, maintaining specific rules of orientation and sharing features like the flexed position of the corpse and the deposition of drinking vessels, weapons, and other specific types of objects as grave goods. The connection of the Corded Ware culture with Yamna or Bell Beaker and Balkan EBA groups occurs therefore through both the spread of a Yamna package, and the earlier spread of the so-called ‘steppe package’ (see §V.4. Steppe package).

The nature of economic activities of the different communities was variable depending on the environment, with coastal zones of the Baltic Sea, forests and lakeside zones showing an important role of hunting and fishing. However, while natural conditions determined the particular local adaptations, the overall economic structure remained usually dominated husbandry, including herds of bovine and sheep–goat. Even in zones with fertile soils, exploited agriculturally for hundreds or thousands of years prior to their arrival, there was a clear turn towards husbandry, which proved especially attractive to para-Neolithic communities of the not so fertile lands (Włodarczak 2017).

Animals were used for meat consumption, milk, wool, and also as pack animals. The importance of transportation is seen in the well-established roads at the time, and in the ease in travelling long distances. Palynological, zooarchaeological, and geological data, including some features of the material culture (like extensive circulation and short-term encampments along microregions, e.g. river beds) point to a mobile way of life associated with husbandry (Kadrow 2004). The mobility of Corded Ware settlers relied primarily on short-distance shifts, probably repeated multiple times, and was thus a continuation of a model from an earlier period of the Globular Amphora culture (Kośko and Szmyt 2004).

Regarding the impact of animal traction and the wagon, they are present in the archaeological record at least since 3400 BC, but they do not play any visible role in Corded Ware burial rituals, very much in contrast to the previous periods. Finds of horse bones are exceptional discoveries (Pospieszny 2015), unlike in the period before 3000 BC, and  no evidence is found for an increased relevance of horse domestication during or in connection with the Corded Ware culture There is thus no evidence for a widespread use of horseback riding (Włodarczak 2017).

The theories regarding the significant role of the horse in the economic, cultural, or even ethnic changes taking place in this culture are not confirmed Horse bones are not deposited in graves in any form, unlike commonly encountered bones of bovine, goats/sheep, and dog. Burials of horses would only appear later, during the Trzciniec culture (Włodarczak 2017). The economic importance of the domesticated horse was negligible, even lower significance than among Globular Amphora culture communities (Kośko and Szmyt 2004).

All this notwithstanding, the Corded Ware culture brings about a clear change in the structure of networks, a significant widening of scales, connecting formerly distant regions, with common practices and symbols widely exchanged and integrated into the local habits and discourses. This supra-regional network is the result of an increase in mobility, and probably an expansion of patrilineally-related clans (Włodarczak 2017).

VI.3.2. Single Grave

Some of the earliest radiocarbon-dated groups associated with the Corded Ware culture come from new single graves from Jutland in Denmark and Northern Germany, ca. 2900 BC. This Early Single Grave culture is associated with the appearance of individual graves (some time after the decline of megalithic constructions), composed of a small round barrow and a new gender-differentiated burial practice emphasising male individuals orientated west–east (with regional exceptions), combined with the internment with new local battle–axe types (Figure 33): A-Axe, boat-shaped battle–axes with an elongated rib on the upper surface (Furholt 2014).

Figure 33. Neolithic boat axe of the Single Grave culture, from Boberow. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A ‘Corded Ware package’, appearing ca. 2900 BC, and available at least partially on many burials, included artefacts such as objects for consumption of drinks (clay beakers or similar vessels) or equipment needed for battle or hunting (stone axe-hammer, flint knife, flint archery accessories such as bow or arrowheads), and less often ornaments made out of bone, copper and amber, as well as tools made of bone or flint (Figure 34). They are therefore an affirmation of battle, hunting and feasting, as well as libations (Włodarczak 2017). However, it is not until ca. 2700 BC when the pure A-Horizon of the Corded Ware group is seen in the region, unifying culturally the ‘core Corded Ware province’ formed by Jutland and Northern Germany, the Netherlands, Saale, Bohemia, Austria and the Upper Danube regions (Furholt 2014).

In central Europe, mounds had a diameter of 10–20 m and a height of 1.5–2.5 m, with an additional circular groove surrounding the centrally placed grave. The pit was often supplemented by a wooden structure, usually in the form of a box (in some cases by stone structures), and thanks to these additional structures the pit gained the form of a chamber with walls and a roof, “the house of the deceased”, where grave goods were also deposited (Włodarczak 2017).

Figure 34. The “Corded Ware package”, i.e. elements with a supra-regional distribution: 1. Battle–axe (Type A); 2. Corded beaker (type A); 3. ‘Strichbündelamphora’; 4. Single burials below barrows (15), Gender-specific deposition rules (10); 5. Amber ornament disc (all Hübner 2005); 6. Bone ornament disk; 7. Facetted battle–axe; 8. Herringbone-ornamented beaker; 9. Triangle-ornamented beaker (all Dresely 2004); 11. (flint) axe; 12. (flint) chisel; 13. flint blade (all Hü bner 2005); 14. Bowl (Dresely 2004); 16. Short-wave-moulded ‘Wellenleisten-’storage vessel (Strahm 1971); 17. Straight-walled vessel; 18. Amphora (both Matthias 1968); 19. Short-necked beaker (Włodarczak 2006). Image modified from Furholt (2014).

Single burials dominated, and the deceased were laid to rest in a foetal position on their side, with men usually on their right, women usually on their left, both looking to the south. The right to the single burial and to the ‘grave goods set’ (including vessels and weapons) was granted mostly to males (men, and sometimes children, believed to be an inheritance of warrior status), with females showing only some of the objects, and sometimes other more exotic ones, and being a majority among double and collective burials (Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2011).

All these burial traits distinguished the Corded Ware kurgans from previous GAC or Baden traditions: the spread of single burials, on the one hand, and the emergence of a complete set of new features, on the other, like the specifics of the grave structure, arrangement of the body of the deceased, and the type of grave goods, all of which point to a new ideology, partially based on local central-eastern European groups (see §V.5.2. LublinVolhynia).

Differences can still be seen in some of the older groups, though, so no strict funerary norms existed (Furholt 2014):

·         In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east–south-west, and south–north; contrary to the supposed rule, male individuals are regularly deposited on their left and females on their right side.

·         In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterised by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows. In south Germany, west–east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.

·         In Kuyavia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west–east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.

Interesting is the presence of copper-rich burial inventories (some of which are imported from Yamna or Yamna-related cultures), in contrast to neighbouring cultures in the same region (Heyd 2004): for example, central European CWC burials do not show signs of metalworker burials, while west Yamna and later Bell Beaker or Makó/Kosihý–Čaka show a higher specialisation in metallurgy (and still there are proportionally, in comparison with south-eastern Europe, not many metalworking sites).

On the other hand, graves of silex workers and silex commerce is everywhere to be seen associated with the expansion of the culture and its daggers (flint daggers had replaced the earlier, Eneolithic prestige copper daggers from ca. 3600 BC onwards), including west France (with Grand Pressigny type), north Italy (Monte Lessini) and to the north, west of the Rhein (with Bavarian Plattenhornstein type). This exchange network is also seen in the widespread findings of axes from Silesia, or amber from the Baltic region (Heyd 2004).

The presence of semi-products in burials (e.g. flint flakes for arrowhead production), used in activities related to flint acquisition and processing, suggests that this daily routine activity (and not those of metallurgy or blacksmithing) became accented in the Corded Ware culture’s funeral ritual (Heyd 2004).

All this points to the continuation in metal-poor central European Corded Ware groups ca. 2900–2500 BC, from an earlier tradition from copper-rich groups, such as those close to the north Pontic steppe (see §V.6. North Pontic area). There was, however, a traditional centre of metallurgy around the Podolia and Volhynia regions from ca. 4000 BC (possibly around a large deposit of virgin copper in Volhynia). This centre had potential connections to the Carpathian-Danube circle, based e.g. on the production of “willow–leaf ”-shaped jewellery and other types of jewellery, Bytyń-type flat axes with flanges (and later Stublo-type axes from the Vučedol tradition), etc. which eventually served the Corded Ware culture when it occupied the region (Klochko 2013).

The necessity of horizontal social mobility and exchange drove a change in settlement pattern in Central Europe, from a domination of villages to a domination of farmsteads and small hamlets, which took place at the latest around 2800 BC, reflecting a profound change of identity and ideology (Müller et al. 2009): from collective to individual; from the village community to the core family; from regional political organisation to the dispersed identity of far-distant social units (Harrison and Heyd 2007).

As an example, a typical CWC site at Wattendorf-Motzenstein could have at any given time a mean of 4 huts with ca. 20 inhabitants, with each household representing an independent economic unit. Investigation of the activities of the site shows that its inhabitants (Müller et al. 2009):

·         undertook intensive cereal and pulse cultivation with a household-orientated processing regime;

·         produced essential stone, bone, and ceramic tools in the household;

·         used a common area for cultivation, with each household needing ca. 1.5 ha of arable land, and the whole settlement around 9 ha to cover the population needs;

·         carried out stockbreeding of cattle, sheep, goat, pig, and horse, and practised hunting;

·         collected the necessary raw materials within a distance of less than 20 km;

·         occasionally took part in longer-distance expeditions for the acquirement of raw materials;

·         planned the settlement layout, with huts arranged along constructed pathways;

·         celebrated ritual activities centred on a pinnacle dolomite rock where millstones, broken sherds, and animal bones were deposited under the visual sign of a wooden post, and used miniature wheels and axes for ritual activities amongst everyday life, and within the household.

VI.3.3. East-Central Europe and Globular Amphora

The oldest Corded Ware vessels (the A-Amphorae, which define the “A-Horizon” or “pan-European horizon” of the CWC) come probably from the Złota (or a related) group in Lesser Poland, where a mixed archaeological culture connecting Funnel Beaker, Baden, Globular Amphora and Corded Ware appears ca. 2900–2800 BC. The origins of cord decorations are probably to be found in steppe cultures of the Dniester region, possibly in the Usatovo culture, although it may have appeared under pressure from the Coţofeni culture in the southern parts of the north Carpathian mountains (Furholt 2014).

No cultural (typological) break is seen between earlier Globular Amphorae and the first Corded Ware Amphorae, but rather a continuum of traits and characteristics among the recovered vessels (Figure 35). This strengthens the connection of Corded Ware with the Globular Amphora culture. The A-horizon expanded thus probably from Lesser Poland ca. 2800–2700 BC, as seen in the synchronous appearance in local contexts of Poland and neighbouring countries. Compared to the earlier periods, the range of forms used narrowed and was mostly limited to amphorae, beakers, and pots, with large storage vessels no longer used. A pot with a standardised, S-shaped profile, decorated with plastic bands (or various kinds of imprints) became the predominant vessel (Furholt 2014).

Figure 35. Examples of pottery of the Złota culture, showing similarities with Globular Amphorae and Baden cultures of east-central Europe. After Włodarczak (2008).

The first burial mounds associated with Corded Ware, and some of the known settlements of Lesser Poland and the lowland can also be dated to this period. The kurgan-related funeral ritual is associated with Złota cultural communities: single burial graves, along with the habit of interring the deceased in multiple burial graves, but emphasising their individual character by careful deposition of the body and personal nature of the grave goods (Włodarczak 2017).

Additionally, grave goods from Złota groups also display a transitional nature, with materials and stylistics belonging to an older system (e.g. amber products); and others correlated to the ‘new world’, such as flint products made of the raw materials typical of Lesser Poland’s CWC, copper ornaments, stone shaft–hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and characteristic forms of vessels like beakers and amphoras. Military goods, which would become prevalent in later periods, are present in a moderate number, compatible with their lesser importance (Włodarczak 2017). Interestingly, numerous amber products are found in graves associated with the Globular Amphora culture and Złota groups, but its importance diminished in barrows of the Corded Ware culture, only to increase again during the Bell Beaker period.

Catacomb graves, with an entrance pit and a more extensive niche, and a narrow corridor leading to a vault with interments and grave goods, are also found in this old period (ca. 2900–2800 BC) in three large burial grounds, Grodzisko I, Grodzisko II, and Nad Wawrem, in the vicinity of Sandomierz (Figure 36). Limestone lumbs were used for the construction of a barricade at the entrance of a catacomb, and for making a kind of lining on the floor where the deceased were then laid. There are individual cases of application of ochre and deformation of skulls. These graves were the standard form of burial in south-eastern Poland, and are known in greater number on the left bank of the Vistula River, as well as on the Lublin Upland and western part of Volhynia Upland, and loess uplands within the Subcarpathian zone. Their rich assemblages– including large group of features with metal items – distinguish these communities from others in Central Europe (Włodarczak 2017).

The Złota culture depicts thus the most likely transitional picture between local Late Eneolithic GAC groups and the emerging Final Eneolithic Corded Ware culture, with the development of an original funerary rite, unique material culture, and multi-directional, long-distance contacts: e.g. the import of amber from the north, vessels imported from Baden-related communities, catacomb graves probably connected with areas of eastern Europe (Włodarczak 2017).

Figure 36. Original drawing of burial no. 325 from cemetery “Grodzisko I” at Złota. 1920s. (archive of State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw). Modified from Włodarczak (2017).

One of the regions with most kurgan findings known is the uplands of south-eastern Poland, probably from an old phase of the culture ca. 2800–2600 BC. This region includes the western Lesser Poland loess uplands, the Carpathian foothills and adjacent Sandomierz Basin, as well as the western edge of the Volhynian Upland, Lublin Upland, and Roztocze. Kurgans were an expression of egalitarianism, but it did not apply to the entire group, only to a specific part; furthermore, kurgan burials of women are rare, and the rich assemblage of one of them suggests that only special women were honoured that way (Włodarczak 2017). In other regions of central Europe, like the territory formed by Central Germany, Moravia, or the Polish Lowlands, there is a small presence of kurgans, which may point to a permanently present but not commonly followed burial rite.

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 that had formed during the 4th millennium (Zastawny 2015; Wilk 2016).

Settlements show a tendency to smaller sites with short-term occupation, which does not constitute a radical change in the settlement model, but rather a continuation of a trend that began earlier during the late TRB and GAC periods in the Polish Lowlands (Włodarczak 2017). Corded Ware settlements in Lesser Poland show the following characteristics (Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2008):

·         They mark a turning point in the history of ancient settlement structures of the Polish Plain. The trend to minimal, mobile settlements (with smaller concentration of ceramics, and fewer elements making use of earthen constructions, such as pits, hearths or postholes) as points of expansion, also attested in GAC settlements (which show more variability in size and finds), acquires its maximum value in the CWC. Later during the BA would the number of settlements grow again.

·         It is supposed that in northern Poland more settlements (camps) existed. They were unstable, and only used for a short time, so they left few traces. It is difficult, therefore, to consider such territories as ‘scarcely’ settled.

·         CWC-camps were founded on unstructured (usually sand) soil, in exposed sites like river- and sea-coasts. They preferred settled sites, i.e. those already changed through anthropogenic activity.

·         Settlements and burials were located in the same zones, usually in the immediate neighbourhood. In some cases, it is difficult to differentiate settlement from burial fields, since both types of remains are mixed.

The main defining trait of the oldest CWC groups (in the Polish Plain and the Upper Vistula basin) are therefore small kinship groups marked by migrations, with relatively short breaks, building of small encampments of a temporary nature whose relicts are extremely difficult to identify. Enduring markers of such migrations were graves, at first isolated at a marked distance from one another, and which did not form cemetery complexes (Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2011). Intergroup links had to be strong, as evidenced by cooperative behaviours determined for different activities: construction of graves, long distance expeditions, exchange, exploitation of natural resources, military conflicts.

In the Kuyavian area, there were no stable spatial barriers separating settlements of the different societies coexisting during the Corded Ware expansion (TRB–Baden, GAC, CWC): the same territory was used by groups of completely different traditions. The long duration of that phenomenon shows the lasting awareness of a separate identity of individual societies grounded in their symbolic behaviour and kinship-based social organisation (Szmyt 2008).

Cohabitation of GAC and CWC is documented in the Polish Lowlands and in the upper Vistula basin (ca. 2800–2600/2500 BC), but in other regions such as Mittleelbe–Saale the emergence of CWC ca. 2800–2700 BC meant the end of the GAC in the area. Both GAC and CWC were supra-regional structures with certain mutual elements of material culture and social behaviour (ritual end economic). Differences included (Szmyt 2008):

·         Settlement: semi-settled existence with cemetery complexes playing a stabilising role for GAC; CWC did not possess a stable settlement network, and showed an economy based on mobility (or semi-nomadism) related to animal husbandry.

·         Ritual: most CWC burials are single or double, while GAC contains more multiple burials; both show mounds over graves, with GAC mounds being larger, and CWC mounds surrounded by a small ditch with a palisade.

·         Corded pottery: technology, morphology, and ornamentation, such as impressions of a ‘double’ cord in CWC.

·         Other objects (flint, stone, bone, tools, weapons) and their means of production.

Flint axes, however, point to mutual traits between the two cultures, although weaponry and tools deposited as grave assemblages include for GAC one flint axe (sometimes more), whereas for CWC it includes a stone axe–hammer, flint knife, and archery accessories (Szmyt 2008).

Social organisation (inferred from burials and materials): CWC shows a status of men as dominant, monopolising rites and social activity as ‘heads of family’, in relations between neighbouring families, and in decision-making councils at a higher level, i.e. (supra-)regional contacts with other bodies in other parts of the CWC population. The Corded Ware culture has been described as a ‘Big Man system’, with a warrior elite class (associated with symbolic prestige symbols), with age classes, and composed of family-bound lineages and clans (Strahm 2002). In this sense, the Corded Ware society was a continuation of societies born out of the “Transformation of Europe”.

Figure 37. Tumuli of Central Europe during the Corded Ware period. 1a – Farnstädt I; 1b,c – Farnstädt II; 2a – Allstedt, Mallerbacher Feld; 2b – Lißdorf (after Behrends). Modified from Korenevskiy (2012). Bottom image: scene reconstruction from the Jungsteinzeit Bilderreihe by Gerhard Beuthner (1930).

There was a double cultural-social principle of the individual’s identity in CWC: kinship (status gained at birth over small migratory kinship groups) and social identity gained through the individual’s life. Social organisation in GAC was based on bigger kinship groups (made of at least several families), with rituals giving significance to ‘sacred’ places as territorial markers for their peoples, with cyclical dispersal and concentration of relation groups, where ancestor graves (Figure 37) would have been extremely important for social stability (Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2011).

One interesting trait of CWC funerary rites is the importance of the dog, which is buried together with a human, sometimes in an entrance pit to a catacomb tomb, or even in a separate burial. This is distinct from the sacrificial burials of the previous GAC, and reflects probably the interment of a friend, or of an animal part of the ‘inventory’ of the deceased. Burials of dogs are also found sporadically in other CWC groups in Europe (Włodarczak 2017).

In terms of pottery, three areas of regional influences can be distinguished: in south-eastern Poland, beakers display characteristics of the Middle Dnieper culture’s forms; in western Pomorze, Great Poland, and Kuyavia, flower-pot-shaped beakers appear with the traits typical of Single Grave culture; in Śląsk, vessels typical of Lusatian, Czech, and Moravian Corded Ware culture are present. These groups may in turn be related to “archaic” manifestations, such as materials from the Złota culture from the Sandomierz Upland, the Rzucewo culture from Pomorze, or the pottery of the forest zone of Mazovia, Masuria, and Podlasia (Włodarczak 2017).

VI.3.4. Circum-Baltic Late Neolithic

The TRB culture is supposed to have reached the Upper Bug ca. 3850/3700 BC, and soon afterwards (ca. 3600/3500 BC) it appeared in the Buh–Dniester frontier, reaching the drainage of the Horyn River, and the Taiga region possibly from the Upper Pripyat. After 3200/3100 BC, TRB colonisers are substituted by GAC societies, with the main process taking place ca. 2950–2350 BC, and reaching as far as Smolensk (ca. 2500 BC). During this time, it seems that some communities returned back to the Vistula–Dnieper region (Klochko and Kośko 1998).

Among the so-called para- or sub-Neolithic traditions surviving into the 3rd millennium in the Forest Zone, the following are important for the development of the Corded Ware culture in the region:

The late stage of the Narva culture, part of the post-Narva phenomenon (dated ca. 4000/3750–3000/2750 BC) shows a highly diversified culture, with syncretic entities such as the Zedmar type, a synthesis of Nava (initially dominant) and Neman (eventually dominant). Other examples include the Šventoji and the Usvyaty cultures, the latter (ca. 3600–2600 BC) with TRB and GAC influences. In the opinion of many scholars, this phase is primarily marked by exogenous influences from the north (from the circle of PitComb Pottery groups) and from central Europe (Funnel Beaker culture, GAC, and CWC). The impact of central European groups is most clearly intelligible in the south-western portion of the culture’s range.

The late stage of the Neman culture (ca. 2800–1800 BC) is marked by its evident interaction with GAC and CWC settlers, especially in their area of contact, the drainage basin of the Neman and the Upper Pripyat. Earlier dates of the culture are recorded in Lesser Poland from the mid–4th millennium.

The late stage of the Prick-Comb Pottery culture is represented by the late stage of the Dnieper–Donets culture at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd millenniumexpanded from the forest-steppe region on the Dnieper area to the forest zone into part of Volhynia and Polesia (where the last remnants are found)and the Upper Dnieper culturepossibly a variety of the Dnieper–Donets culture, surviving up to 3500–2500 BC, with its decline paralleled by the expansion of the Middle Dnieper culture.

There is a particularly conspicuous presence of comb ware in the materials of the Late Neolithic Zhizhitska culture (ca. 2450–2200 BC) in the Upper Dvina drainage.

The colonising Neolithic waves are continued by the Circum-Baltic Corded Ware culture, closely related to the traditions of the Single Grave culture and similar traditions of the Northern European Lowlands. After ca. 2900 BC, certain cultural systems with ‘corded’ traitsgenetically related to the catchment area of the south-western Balticappear in the drainages of the Neman, Dvina, Upper Dnieper, and even the Volga. These communities are considered the vector of Neolithisation in the Forest Zone.

It is not clear how these ‘western’ influences affected the Yamna culture to the south, which is identifiable in the forest-steppe zone up to the Dnieper–Inhulets line. For example, in the Yampil Barrow complex between the Buh and Prut rivers, including part of the Podolia region, influences of cultures are seen in the kurgans and their graves, with Kvityana, late Trypillia (Gordinești or Zhyvotylovka-Volchans’k), GAC, early and middle Yamna, Corded Ware, and Catacomb traits succeeding each other (sometimes with obvious cultural influences between each other, in this period (Włodarczak 2017). Movements in the opposite direction, deep into Corded Ware territory, are also seen by groups of Comb-like decoration, reaching up to the Vistula and Oder (Klochko and Kośko 1998).

Burial customs of Corded Ware settlers in the eastern Baltic (from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and western Belarus) include single graves or small cemeteries for up to 10 individuals, but larger cemeteries are unknown. Interment in a flexed position is common, and grave goods consist of battle–axes, flint axes, and large bladed knives, bone pins and wild boar tusks, with pottery appearing rarely. The absence of barrows, common in Central European CWC and to the south near the Pontic–Caspian area, sets this group apart from others (Piličiauskas et al. 2018).

Organic residue analysis demonstrates that a range of ruminant products, including milk, was preferentially processed in the CWC beakers, representing a radical change with respect to previous sub-Neolithic cultures. Flint blades were probably used for processing meat (Piličiauskas et al. 2018). Corded Ware individuals represent thus a transition from a mainly hunter-gatherer economy to agropastoralists in the Circum-Baltic region, although usually maintaining a mixed economy with a significant role of hunting, fishing, and gathering.

The Pamariu (Rzucewo) culture developed on the south-eastern shorelines of the Baltic, from a basic substratum in the populations of the Narva and Neman cultures, unified after ca. 2800 BC under the TRB, GAC, and CWC cultures, from Gdańsk to the Courland Lagoon (Szmyt 2010). The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in the region has been described as a process of infiltration of small groups in the local culture medium, due to the scarce research areas available to date. Even taking into account the scarcity of findings, there are some similarities in Baltic graves with the grave-set in Lesser Poland, including battle axes, flint artefacts, or crouched position of the body. The most striking finding of this region is probably the presence of permanent settlements within the coastal zone, the relevance of fishing and hunting (especially of marine mammals) for the economy’s structure, and the acquisition of amber. There were both large, permanent settlements, situated in the upper zones of surrounding terrain, and short-term campsites located on floodplains (Włodarczak 2017)

One of the best studied sites is Suchacz, in East Prussia, where traces of 16 houses were discovered, consisting of post-frame buildings with sunken floors, typical of the Baltic coastal area (Figure 38). The location of other sites and the nature of dwellings (with occasional traces of structural repairs) point to permanent inhabitation. Permanent and short-term settlements alike were engaged in amber workshops, which continued a Final Eneolithic tradition. The only known large settlements among Corded Ware groups are found in the eastern Baltic, associated with the acquisition of amber. Domestic animals included mainly cattle and pigs, with goat–sheep being less represented than in other CWC groups. There is no confirmed agricultural activity (Włodarczak 2017).

Figure 38. House no. 13 from Suchacz and attempts at its reconstruction, according to Ehrlich (1935). Modified from Włodarczak (2017).

The earliest Corded Ware in Finland is dated to ca. 2900–2800 BC, but the scarce data on the earliest sites preclude a proper estimation of mechanisms through which this culture appeared. There is a clear interaction sphere between the areas surrounding the eastern Gulf of Finland, reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia, evidenced e.g. by the sharp-butted axes, derived from the Estonian Karlova axe (Nordqvist 2018).

VI.3.5. Contacts with Yamna

Proposed Yamna – Corded Ware cultural contacts are based on certain late ‘Yamna–Catacomb’ traits in the Baltic drainage basin, such as pit- and catacomb/niche-graves or ‘Pontic’ traits of funerary structures; production patterns typical of the Donets Basin and Caucasus centres of metallurgy and glass-making; and single finds of insignia-type forms, like Catacomb-type axes (or local imitations), or fluted maces. Other occasional finds include isolated ‘Pontic’ ritual, settlement, or funerary features (Klochko 2013).

In the Neolithic of the Vistula drainage, there are no prototypes (genetic inspirations) of ‘Yamna’ designs of grave chambers or single burials underneath barrows that appear in the early stages of CWC development. On the Lowlands, these are deep, straight-walled excavations 0.85–1.0 m deep, dated to 2850–2700 BC. On the Old Uplands of Lesser Polandwhere niche chambers dominatethere is a Yamna-like chamber from a feature located underneath a barrow at Koniusza I ca. 2500 BC (Włodarczak 2008). These and similar isolated structures are elements of an exogenous funerary tradition, genetically related to the Yamna culture, likely spread towards the Vistula following left-bank tributaries of the Dniester towards the Bug drainage (Klochko 2013).

Yamna peoples entered the forest-steppe zone to the north of their territory ca. 2700 BC, with their presence being confirmed ca. 2550/2500 BC in the right bank of the Middle Dnieper drainage, and it may be accepted that they did the same in the Dniester–Prut interfluve. Contacts with the GAC population is well documented in terms of GAC cultural remains in Yamna settlements, as well as the use of ochre in certain GAC graves of the area after 2700 BC. The appearance of Corded Ware groups in the region between the Upper Vistula and the Dniester, before 2700 BC, must have culminated with the eastern expansion of Corded Ware peoples that caused the emergence of the Middle Dnieper group, and the decline of the eastern GAC societies (Szmyt 2013).

In the Baltic drainage, ‘Yamna’ featuresleaving aside funerary patterns which are also common to the Złota cultureare thus catacomb cultures from Kraków–Sandomierz (ca. 2700/2600 BC) and Grzęda Sokalska (Roztocze, after ca. 2600 BC), the latter showing closer affinities with forms from Black Sea steppes, suggesting direct contacts of the Inhul group through the Buh drainage (Włodarczak 2008). This assumed route is also supported by the high share of Middle Dnieper culture patterns in the style of Grzęda Sokalska pottery, recorded on both the Bug and lower Vistula rivers.

vi.3. Disintegrating Uralians

The expansion of Proto-Corded Ware peoples was likely not related to the Złota group, given the common ancestry that sampled individuals show with other Globular Amphora samples. Nevertheless, the five individuals sampled from Książnice (ca. 2900–2630) show evidence of an additional gene flow, most likely from an eastern source, related to Steppe (ca. 10%) or EHG ancestry (ca. 8%), which supports contacts through exogamy of this group with Corded Ware, likely during the period of intense GAC–Trypillia–CWC interactions (Schroeder et al. 2019). The only reported paternal lineage from the Złota group is I2a1b1a2b1-L801 in an individual from Wilczyce, which supports the common genetic stock between GAC and Złota, different from Corded Ware peoples, and thus the spread of steppe features proper of the Yamna culture among neighbouring, non-Indo-European populations.

Corded Ware peoples have been described as deriving as much as 75% of their ancestry from a source close to Yamna samples from the Pontic–Caspian region (Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015; Mathieson et al. 2015). However, this shared Steppe ancestry is formed by different layers of admixture, which made both groups eventually converge genetically. The greatest similarity comes from the Steppe ancestry found in Eneolithic peoples from the forest zone (from which Proto-Corded Ware peoples likely derive), acquired through admixture with previous Novodanilovka settlers in the north Pontic forest-steppe region (see §iv.2. Indo-Anatolians).

Corded Ware samples published to date have additional EEF ancestry (between 30–50%) with similar values found in late Sredni Stog samples (Wang et al. 2019), as evidenced also in the continuity of both populations in their PCA cluster. In the VolgaUral area, EEF contribution was probably minimal during the Eneolithic (based on Afanasevo samples), while the ca. 15% found in Yamna was probably due to the admixture of late Repin / early Yamna settlers with late Sredni Stog and other north Pontic groups (see §vi.1. Disintegrating Indo-Europeans). A good fit for the ancestry found in early Corded Ware individuals is the Sredni Stog individual from Oleksandriia (ca. 80–90%)+ and additional ‘local’ sources of WHG or EEF ancestry. These differences of CWC individuals with Yamna are more clearly evidenced by the different Y-chromosome bottlenecks undergone in the Khvalynsk/Repin/Yamna communities, predominantly of hg. R1b1a1b-M269, and in the Sredni Stog/Corded Ware groups, with a majority of hg. R1a1a1-M417 lineages.

Among early individuals, one sample from Obłaczkowo (ca. 2700 BC) shows hg. R1b1-L754; samples from Brandúsek (ca. 2900–2200 BC) include two of hg. R1a1a1-M417, and one of hg. I2a1b1b-Y6098 (Olalde et al. 2018); and samples from Jagodno (ca. 2800 BC) show possibly hg. G and J/I (Gworys et al. 2013). Two individuals of the Single Grave culture from Tiefbrunn (ca. 2900–2600 BC) are of hg. R1a1a1-M417, and one from Bergrheinfeld (ca. 2650 BC) of hg. R1a1a1-M417, possibly xR1a1a1b-Z645 (Allentoft et al. 2015).

Individuals from of the Battle Axe group include Baltic Late Neolithic samples: two individuals from Ardu and one from Kursi, Estonia, of hg. R1a1a1b-Z645; one from Kunila (ca. 2450 BC) of hg. R1a1a1b1-Z283, and another from Ardu (ca. 2700 BC); one from Gyvakarai, Lithuania (ca. 2550 BC) of hg. R1a1a1b1a3-Y2395, i.e. pre-R1a1a1b1a3a-Z284  (Saag et al. 2017; Mittnik, Wang, et al. 2018). An individual from Kyndelöse, Denmark (ca. 2500 BC) shows hg. R1a1a1b1a3a-Z284+, and another from Viby, Sweden (ca. 2550 BC) also shows R1a1a1b-Z645 (Allentoft et al. 2015).

R1a1a1-M417 lineages, in particular R1a1a1b-Z645 (formed ca. 3500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3000 BC), most likely expanded with Corded Ware peoples, with an eastern subclade R1a1a1b2-Z93 (TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) probably expanding with Middle Dnieper and Abashevo, and a western subclade R1a1a1b1-Z283 (TMRCA ca. 2900 BC) expanding explosively with all other European groups (although Single Grave samples show a higher diversity), as evidenced by the similar times of split and TMRCA of R1a1a1b1a-Z282 subclades (TMRCA ca. 2900 BC): R1a1a1b1a-M458 (TMRCA ca. 2700 BC) probably to the west and north; R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 (TMRCA ca. 2600 BC) probably to the north and east, accompanying in part R1a1a1b2-Z93 subclades; and R1a1a1b1a3a-Z289/Z284 (TRMCA ca. 2700 BC) to the north, particularly among Battle Axe peoples.

The presence of a potential R1a1a1-M417 (xR1a1a1b-Z645) sample in Bergrheinfeld and later ones from Esperstedt (see §vii.1. Western and Eastern Uralians), all of Single Grave groups, coupled with the initial variability of subclades in early east-central European individuals, may suggest that the early expansion of the Single Grave culture did not undergo the Y-chromosome bottleneck through R1a1a1b-Z645 lineages common in Battle Axe or eastern groups. This is also supported by the prevalent presence of R1a1a1-M417 (xR1a1a1b-Z645) lineages among modern western Europeans, in spite of this subclade spreading from the steppes. Alternatively, these subclades may represent an early wave of Corded Ware groups, before the expansion of the unifying A-horizon, which would not have affected central and central-west Europe as intensely as the east.

The time of potential expansion of R1a1a1-M417 (formed ca. 6600 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC), approximately coinciding with the formation and TMRCA of R1a1a1b-Z645 lineages, in turn close to the expansion of mainly European R1a1a1b1a-Z282 subclades, and mainly eastern R1a1a1b2-Z93 subclades, also supports this division. In fact, the common TMRCA for R1a1a1b1-Z283 and R1a1a1b1a-Z282 suggests an expansion at nearly the same time as peoples of Corded Ware cultures are supposed to have migrated east- and westward, reaching the Middle Elbe–Saale region about 2750 BC. The common TMRCA of 2700 BC for modern Asian lineages gives support to a later successful expansion into Asia centred on the eastern part of the Pontic–Caspian steppes (see §viii.18.1. Late Indo-Iranians).

The estimated split of Proto-Uralic into Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic The linguistic estimates for a split of Proto-Uralic into Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic ca. 3000 BC, and of Finno-Ugric into Finno-Permic and Ugric ca. 2500 BC (Janhunen 2009; Kortlandt 2019) fit the known expansion of Proto-Corded Ware first from the north Pontic forest-steppe into east-central Europe (ca. 3000 BC), and then the expansion of Classical Corded Ware into the Baltic (ca. 2800 BC) and to the east into the Volga–Kama region (ca. 2700 BC) with continued contacts of Battle Axe with Abashevo through Fatyanovo reflected in the strong similarity of Finno-Ugric to Proto-Uralic (Kallio 2015).

Among Baltic Late Neolithic individuals, three early samples (ca. 3200–2600 BC) stand out because of their close cluster with the Yamna population: one from Zvejnieki in Latvia, and one from Plinkaigalis; with a slightly later one from Gyvakarai, of hg. R1a1a1b1a3-Y2395, who clusters in an intermediate position between the two outliers and other Corded Ware samples. These outliers are described as forming a clade with Yamna, due to their reduced NWAN ancestry (Mittnik, Wang, et al. 2018), although their EEF-related admixture is ca. 20% or higher (Mathieson et al. 2018). This reduction in NWAN and EEF ancestryand closer cluster with Yamnais probably also due to their additional EHG admixture (bringing them closer to Khvalynsk samples, far from the mainly WHG-driven EEF ancestry of Corded Ware), evidenced in the ‘northern’ shift of this samples on the PCA (Suppl. Graph. 8).

The wide cluster formed by the available West and East Baltic Bronze Age samples, as well as East Baltic and Finland Iron Age samples, which encompass Baltic CWC as intermediate with other Corded Ware samples, confirms the nature of their ancestry as stemming from the admixture of Sredni Stog/Early Corded Ware with WHG:EHG populations from sub-Neolithic populations from the Baltic, rather than through direct exogamy with Yamna groups (see below §viii.16. Saami and Baltic Finns).

An additional potential source of similarities of certain CWC groups with Yamna may stem from the shared female population of the north Pontic region, supported by the statistically significant association of mtDNA between (especially west) Yamna and Baltic Corded Ware samples, in contrast to other Corded Ware groups (Juras et al. 2018). The close traditional connection between the north Pontic area and the eastern Baltic through the Buh–Dnieper–Dniester corridor (Klochko and Kośko 2009), including the Volhynian–Podolian Upland and Polesian Lowland, could have facilitated exogamy with late Sredni Stog or closely related populations, which were also the source of gene flow into Yamna during the colonisation of the north Pontic area by expanding late Repin settlers. In particular, Zvejnieki shows mtDNA hg. U5a1b, associated previously with the north Pontic Neolithic and Maikop, and later with Corded Ware- and Yamna-derived groups (Mathieson et al. 2018; Olalde et al. 2018; Wang et al. 2019).

Exogamy has been argued to be an extended practice among Corded Ware peoples, with many adult women being of non-local origin, based on a recent work on diet and mobility (Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016), and mtDNA has been documented to be more varied among Corded Ware females than men (Lazaridis et al. 2014). The nature of these Baltic Late Neolithic samples as outliers among Corded Ware peoples is further supported by the close cluster formed between late Sredni Stog individuals and most Corded Ware groups sampled to date, including those of Germany, Polandwhere the culture is supposed to have emergedand the later samples from Sintashta, Potapovka, Andronovo, or Srubna, which suggest a similar genetic picture in the as yet unsampled Middle Dnieper, Fatyanovo–Balanovo and Abashevo cultures. Despite this homogeneity, two Corded Ware outliers from Single Grave and Battle Axe groups cluster closely to EEF and Comb Ware-like populations respectively, showing how admixture easily changes with exogamy.

Analysis of ancient samples has revealed that the plague was a prehistoric disease endemic to the Eurasian steppes, and a European pandemic may have been linked to the expansion of both Yamna and Corded Ware peoples, because they connected vast areas in east-central Europe in a relatively short period. One of the earliest known strains is found outside of the steppe in the Baltic, in the Northern European Plains, and in Croatia in the 3rd millennium BC (Rasmussen et al. 2015; Andrades Valtueña et al. 2017). Nevertheless, the early finding of a European strain linked to Neolithic populations suggests that an earlier epidemic was probably a source of radical population decline of agricultural groups of central Europe and southern Scandinavia (Müller and Diachenko 2019) before the steppe-associated expansions (see §v.6. Late Uralians).

This contemporary population reduction in Europe, coupled with an already smaller population density to the north of the loess beltcontrasting with the greater population size of south-eastern Europe (Müller and Diachenko 2019)—may have provided a disadvantage of central-eastern European lands, and a necessary ‘pull’ trend for the migration and expansion of Corded Ware (Anthony and Brown 2017). The spread along sparsely populated areas, as well as continuous contacts between clans facilitated by their mobile economy, may have allowed for the genetic homogeneity seen among Corded Ware peoples from west to east, in spite of the proposed generalised practice of exogamy.