The Danubian EBA complex, starting ca. 2200–2150 BC, comprises cultures from regions north of the Alps, along the upper and middle Danube corridor, from Switzerland to western Hungary, with most eastern groups having the Danube as a northern boundary. They showed continuity from the later phases (Begleitkeramik) of the East Bell Beaker group, most apparent in the jars/cups and bowls/plates and the changing details of pottery shapes and their decorations during their transitional stage. Multiple centres of gravity have led researchers to define regional groups: Singen and central Swiss, the Neckar group, Straubing, Linz, Unterwölbing, Leitha. Pitvaros/Maros, an exclave on the western bank of the Tisza river, possibly represents an early eastward migration at the beginning of the culture complex (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
They formed a supra-regional interconnection, showed mainly gender-differentiated burials with individual inhumations in oval to slightly rectangular grave–pits, orientated north–south with varying depths, with side-crouched rite, men laid on their left side and heads towards the north, women on the right and head towards the south, and both genders facing east, probably towards the rising sun. Based on the many cemeteries and thousands of graves found, it seems that the Danube corridor was a demographic centre in Europe. Big cemeteries evidence the continuity of their use, e.g. Franzhausen I and II with ca. 500 years or 17 generations and around 1000 graves (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
Danubian groups were distinguished by innovation and ideas: in their shared pottery and metal/bonework, metal processing technology, costume components, jewellery and personal adornments, weapons, and tools, apart from hoarding traditions. Sources for these innovations were drawn mainly from the south-east along the Danube river: pottery, weapons, jewellery, dress fittings, and the new dress code as a whole were drawn from the Carpathian Basin and the Balkans. From the south, the Alps (and northern Italy beyond) were a model for halberds and dress pins, particularly the most popular form ‘rudder-head’ and ‘roll-head’ pins (Ruderkopf- and Rollenkopfnadeln). Other striking similarities in jewellery, dress fittings, burial customs, and pottery may be due to shared late Bell Beaker heritage. (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
The Danube corridor became a hotspot for EBA Europe, connecting cultural norms and major copper ores, like those on the eastern Alps. Their settlements consisted of a few individual farmsteads featuring longhouses close to graveyards, which have an origin in Bell Beaker longhouses (like those known from Hungary, eastern France and the Netherlands). The basic village structure shows around five houses ca. 20–25 m long and 6-10 m wide, uniformly orientated (north–south), distributed over 2 ha, with postholes for their timber uprights. Later, the typical late European EBA fortified hilltop settlements and hoards with large quantities of metal appear, especially in the east (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
Their burial rites and funeral equipments are rooted in the East Bell Beaker group—unlike e.g. the Adlerberg or Rhône groups in the west, which are based on a western European Bell Beaker substrate—and their pottery distinguished the Danubian EBA complex especially from Únětice, Nagyrév, and Polada. Unlike Únětice, who deliberately broke with gender distinction, they preserved the specific and strict bipolar gender position of the deceased along a north–south axis, which suggests that fundamental aspects of religious beliefs and concepts of the afterlife remained the same as in Bell Beakers. On the other hand, there is a clear discontinuity with Bell Beaker cemeteries in Danubian EBA, a trait shared with Únětice and Mierzanowice/Nitra (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
Burial sites in Straubing and Unterwölbling, for example, had 30 to 70 graves, and lay close to settlements. Gender differentiation was strictly observed, and the way graves are fitted out shows a highly standardised composition. Women were orientated south–north, crouched, on their right side and facing east; men were orientated north–south, crouched, on their left side and also facing east. Bodies were placed in wooden coffins from hollowed-out tree trunks, linked with stones or stone slabs. Usual assemblages are richer furnishings than in neighbouring EBA cultures, with numerous objects made of sheet bronze (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
To the east, gender distinction is found up to the Wieselburg culture (also Gáta or Mosony culture), where bodies are buried in the crouched position, with women lying orientated south–west – north–east, on their right side and facing east, whereas men lie on their left side facing west. Graves are lined with stones, burials were made in tree–trunk coffins, and social status was accentuated by the provision of weapons, prestigious metal, glass, and amber objects, as well as by the number of pots (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The most typical shape of Unterwölbling is the long-necked jug-like cups, with frequent decorative moulding running through them. Wieselburg pottery shows more moulding and incised decoration, and typical handles in the shape of hourglasses on jugs and amphorae. The Drassburg group, which coexists with Wieselburg and partially follows it at the end of the EBA, represents the north-west part of the Pannonian complex of Encrusted Pottery (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The Pitvaros (Beba Veche/Óbéba–Pitvaros) culture was probably introduced by migrants from the south (northern Balkans), and spread to the lower Tisza Basin. It introduced the rite of gender-differentiated crouched inhumation with north–south orientation and rich goods to the area. Personal ornaments include objects made of copper or bronze, gold, tin, or faience (Marková and Ilon 2013).
The Maros (Periam/Perjámos-Szőreg, also Pécska, Mokrin or Maros/Mureş/Moriš) culture lived mostly on the same territory as the Pitvaros culture but it gave rise to its own settlements, suggesting a wave of migrants. Settlements were tells, with post-built houses with floor and hearth arranged in narrow lanes. Material culture evidences long-distance contacts, and burial rite consists of inhumations – with occasional cremation also found –, with bodies buried in crouched or sitting position (Marková and Ilon 2013). Social stratification with gender differences are especially marked in a late more standardised phase, with females on their right side and head towards the south, males on the left side with their head towards the north, both facing east towards the rising sun. Rich grave goods show women’s dress with bronze or copper head ornaments, bone and faience beads, plain torcs and spiral bracelets. Men show weapons like daggers and axes as status symbols, while pottery is common in all graves (Teržan and Karavanić 2013).
The Danubian continuity with Bell Beaker traditions extended to the social and economic system, based on extended families with a common practice of exogamy, patrilineality, and first-born privileges to forge alliances with peer neighbours and inherit possessions and claims. Only gradually becomes the society more vertically stratified and horizontally complex in its transition to the European Bronze Age, while mixed farming system continues, land use intensifies, and settlements and cemeteries become bigger. Graveyards were probably shared by many farmsteads or villages, or both (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
Most late Bell Beaker symbols of prestige, social status and power remain in place, and are still found in graves: copper tanged daggers (replaced with the triangular riveted dagger through technical innovations), conical V-perforated bone/antler buttons (shifting through technique and fashion to embossed copper tutuli), as well as arc-shaped bone or tusk pendants, copper awls, and metallic Noppenringe; sets of flint arrowheads and stone wrist-guards begin to lose their symbolic importance. The typical weaponry consisted eventually, in its most elaborated form, of the panoply of riveted triangular daggers, flanged axes, and halberds (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
They formed exchange networks with other EBA cultures of the end of the 3rd millennium: the Rhône and Adlerberg groups (based on western Bell Beaker traditions) in the southwest to northwest; the Únětice Culture with its regional groups in the north and north-east; the early Mierzanowice and Veselé/Nitra groups (based on Epi-Corded Ware groups) in the northeast; the Nagyrév group in the east; and the Polada group in the south across the Alps. Other Epi-Corded Ware groups, such as Pot-Beaker and Riesenbecher groups; and Epi-Bell Beaker groups, such as the Veluwe group, were found farther to the north (Bertemes and Heyd 2015).
Unlike cultures north of the Danube, which underwent more technological and social innovations, Bertemes and Heyd (2015) believe that eastern Bell Beaker groups might have established a well performing economical and religious network along the Danube before 2200 BC, which had thus no incentive for radical changes.
The Moravian Bell Beaker, with 1500 to 2000 sites, represents the greatest province of the East Bell Beaker group. Supraregional contacts of the group include the Moravian Corded Ware (a regional group of the Central European Corded Ware) and Makó/Kosihý–Čaka, as well as Somogyvár–Vinkovci and Early Nagyrév. Developments in common with the Moravian Corded Ware group pointed in the past to their parallel development into Proto-Únětice, but more recent assessments show that it was more precisely the CWC-related forerunners of the Makó/Kosihý–Čaka culture those who developed similar ewer shapes in parallel with Moravian Bell Beakers (Bertemes and Heyd 2002).
Similar to the Danubian Early Bronze Age, Proto-Únětice/Old Únětice is born ca. 2300/2200 BC as an intermediate phase between Bell Beaker and Early Bronze Age in the Moravian and Silesian region, and is the result of mainly early Bell Beaker culture plus few Corded Ware traditions plus innovations from the Carpathian basin. Distinct from Danubian EBA, however, is the relevance of Makó/Kosihý–Čaka (related to previous Corded Ware groups) in its foundation, which seems parallelled by the genesis of the Early Nagyrév culture, also influenced by early Bell Beaker in its origin (Bertemes and Heyd 2002).
Proto-Únětice shows developments in common with the South Danube region (Oggau-Wipfing horizon), and maintains close contacts with south German and Csepel late Bell Beakers, although it emerges as culturally disconnected from neighbouring Bell Beaker groups, a kind of cultural melting pot connecting different cultures and periods. This culture largely lacks metal, and a sudden expansion of Proto-Únětice is seen to the north-west into Bohemia and central Germany, and to the north in Silesia. Early pottery shows a limited range of shapes, including jugs, pots with horizontal handles, little amphorae, and bows of various shapes. These types evolve without much change into later stages of Únětice pottery, which tend to have perfectly smooth surfaces, often with a ‘metallic’ sheen, a preference shared with the Věteřov culture (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The main difference between north and south of the Danube in this period (ca. 2200 BC) is reflected in the burial customs, with northern groups showing innovations probably due to the incorporation of cultural traits from central European cultures. Funerary rites of the Lower Austrian Únětice group are more likely to bury connected people together—including sororities, ‘brothers-in-arms’, and especially women and children—which can be interpreted as having a more personal quality, emphasising family relationships and emotive connections. On the other hand, individuals south of the Danube are almost always awarded individual graves, and categorisation as man or woman is central to the ritual, with personal relations fading into the background (Rebay-Salisbury 2019), which is reminiscent of the Yamna and classical Bell Beaker ritual.
The later stage of the Early Bronze Age is marked by the oldest classical Únětice bronze objects appearing in northern and central Germany and in the Polish Plains, still with Carpathian traits. The classical phase of Únětice is characterised by its distinctive pottery forms, and by the increase in grave goods made of copper alloy unusual for its higher tin content. Metal objects showing the specific Únětice style begin to be manufactured using local ore deposits from the Harz Mountains of the eastern Alps, to the south-west of the culture’s region (Czebreszuk 2013).
A new core develops ca. 2000 BC, in the northern periphery of the classical Úněticean Cultural Circle (Northern European Lowlands, between the Elbe and the Oder rivers), which controls important trade routes and becomes the dominant cultural factor in a broadly understood central Europe, exerting a strong influence on the development of cultural groups of southern England (Wessex), southern Scandinavia (beginnings of the Nordic Circle), and in Iberia (including El Argar). Emulations or imports of Únětice daggers are found as far as Greece and Anatolia (Bertemes and Heyd 2002).
Figure 59. Layers of meaning of the Pömmelte enclosure as deduced from the archaeological record (design by André Spatzier). Image from Spatzier and Bertemes (2018).
The smooth transition seen from Bell Beakers (ca. 2300-2150) into Únětice (ca. 2200-2150 BC on) in the Pömmelte enclosure (Figure 59) is broken probably with this power shift (ca. 2050 BC), with the deconstruction of the enclosure and the definitive absence of Bell Beaker finds, although stone axes and ‘formal’ graves indicate the continuation of the spatial concepts until the 20th–19th c. BC. New features are added to it, with sporadic re-use until is abandonment probably ca. 1600-1500 BC. The overall structure of the enclosure, divided into three distinct layers divided by a semi-translucent post border (zone I) and a wooden wall (zones II-III) facilitated the experience of entering and leaving the monument as reflecting the three stages of ‘rites of passage’ (separation, liminality, and incorporation). This sanctuary reflected thus the Weltanschauung of the people who built and used it (Spatzier and Bertemes 2018).
This Northern Únětice group is characterised by the unequal distribution of the right to burial, granted mainly to members of the upper class, which suggests a greater social stratification in the north than in the south. They also show a daily use of amber objects, including large quantities of stunning disc-shaped artefacts and kurgans with many imported objects, gold, complex wood and stone constructions. To the south, amber products are represented by beads as part of composite necklaces, frequently with coiled copper–wire ornaments (Czebreszuk 2013).
The classical Únětice standard shows cemeteries on level ground, expanding the previous early EBA custom of Moravia, northern Bohemia and adjacent parts of Austria, contrasting with neighbouring groups which used preferently mounds, even though the arrangement of the pit suggests an effort to create an insulated space for the dead, with sides (and sometimes floor) walled with stones, and the use of wooden coffins. Chambers of tombs were hollow, covered with beams or stone slabs (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
Single burials are more common, although two, three or more bodies could be buried, either simultaneously or subsequently. The body was buried in clothing, placed lying on its right side in a crouched position, or supine and with legs turned sideways, orientated south–north irrespective of the gender. Grave assemblages included mainly pottery, but also personal ornaments, and sometimes weapons (daggers, axes, and axe–hammers); certain individuals showed prestige artefacts (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
Burial structures and grave goods reflect a strictly hierarchical society from as early as 2000 BC. At the top of the hierarchy are the ‘princely graves’ (such as those of Leubingen and Helmsdorf, or comparable tumuli at Łęki Małe), which feature bodies in a supine position, in contrast to the usual crouched burials. Standard assemblages include mainly gold jewellery (hair-rings, pins, a bracelet), but also, especially in later burials, some bronze or golden weapons(daggers, halberds as a pan-European weapon, axes). Social stratification explains the difference between princely graves and the generally modestly furnished flat graves common in Únětice, while their concentration around copper deposits and potential trade routes point to the origin of their power (Jockenhövel 2013).
A particularly high-level burial was found at Bornhöck, with a mound ca. 20 m in height and 90 m in diameter (ca. 65 m in the EBA, enlarged in later periods), with a 18m-diameter stone core (similar to princely graves) of boulders surrounding a tent-like chamber constructed of oak boards. Hoards in the surrounding region yielded 150 kg of bronze, and more than 1 kg of gold, dating to ca. 1950–1650 BC, which imply that this was a centre of power over several centuries, probably until ca. 1600–1550 BC. Its longevity and size suggest that this ruling class was at the top of the social pyramid, representing a kind of king among the elite. The lack of fortifications in the region further suggests the presence of a well-organised, professional army that could keep peace both internally and externally (Meller 2017).
Hoarded weapons near princely graves probably represented actual ‘soldiers’ and ‘military units’ garrisoned in what has been called a “men’s house”. The death of the prince would have then caused the groups of soldiers to deposit the weapons as a sacrifice in front of their ritual building. The number of each type of weapon may reflect systems of military order, whereby 30 axes or soldiers would have been led by a halberd-bearer; 60 soldiers would have been under the command of a dagger-bearer; and the largest combat unit of 120 soldiers would have been led by a double axe-bearer (Meller 2017).
Above-ground houses with upright posts predominate in settlements. The most striking feature of houses is their length, commonly around 20 m in length and 7 m in width, with the longest one found in Březno, Bohemia, measuring 32 m (Pleinerová 1992). Finds of mass deposits of human remains in pits is common at the edge of settlements, where manufacturing and storage areas were located. This custom continues into the Tumulus culture and the Urnfield period (Jockenhövel 2013).
The Únětice culture has been cited as a pan-European cultural phenomenon, whose influence covered large areas due to intensive exchange (Pokutta 2013), with Únětice pottery and bronze artefacts found from Ireland to Scandinavia, the Italian Peninsula, and the Balkans. 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 microregions 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. The downfall of the structures of the Únětice culture began probably prior to 1700 BC, and is associated with the culture-making role being taken over in Central Europe by the Füzesabony culture (of rather Aegean than Central European character); with the conditions allowing the emergence of the Tumulus circle from the Danubian region; and with the expansion of the Trzciniec culture into occupied Mierzanowice areas that gave way to its classic phase (Bertemes and Heyd 2002).
Before the eventual collapse of the Únětice culture (ca. 1600 BC), amber was contained within its territory and that of its trading partners in the Alpine region. After its internal system broke down, first amber disappeared from Bohemia, and appeared in the Mad’arovce–Věteřov cultural complex of the Carpathian Basin instead; at the same time, amber suddenly began to arrive in distant regions, including western Germany, Italy, or Mycenaean Greece. The development of the Nordic Bronze Age—largely reliant on unlimited supply of copper from the south via Central Europe—also occurred after the collapse of Únětice (Meller 2017).
At the end of the Únětice culture, during the transition to the Middle Bronze Age, fortifications or small hill forts emerge, showing strong connections to the Middle Danube area. This connection is also seen in the increase in the range of metalwork, with new artefacts such as knives, sickles, razors, tweezers, as well as ornamentation and production techniques (clay-core casting, recasting). The shape of these artefacts is clearly linked to the Middle Danube and the Carpathian basin (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The Nebra ‘Sky Disc’ (Figure 60) is traditionally associated with Únětice, given the use that had been given to it—and the many reworked objects—for generations before being interred, with grave materials found around the disc dated ca. 1600–1560 BC. Its location near Sögel–Wohlde materials suggest the (at least partial) replacement of the particular religious worldview represented by the disc with the arrival of Tumulus and Sögel–Wohlde cultures to the region. It depicts astral symbols (sun, moon, stars), a boat (?) and two ‘horizon arcs, being the oldest concrete representation of the heavens, and a kind of calendar – also presumed for later gold ‘hats’ during the MBA (Jockenhövel 2013).
Figure 60. The Nebra Ski disk, from Mittelberg. Image from Wikipedia.
At the end of the Únětice period, during the transition to the Middle Bronze Age, fortifications or small hill forts emerge, showing strong connections to the Middle Danube area. This connection is also seen in the increase in the range of metalwork, with new artefacts such as knives, sickles, razors, tweezers, as well as ornamentation and production techniques (clay-core casting, recasting). The shape of these artefacts is clearly linked to the Middle Danube and the Carpathian basin (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
Amber beads, characteristic of southern Únětice groups, become the main amber product in the Middle Bronze Age until the Hallstatt period, when they become especially widespread, further supporting the cultural shift from a northern lowland to a southern, Middle Danube centre of influence. Hoards of bronze objects become common throughout the Bronze Age probably due to the pan-European influence of the Tumulus culture (Czebreszuk 2013).
The appearance of the Tumulus culture (ca. 1600 BC) marks the beginning of the MBA in central Europe. The new burial rite features inhumations beneath large roundish-oval mounds, about 1–2 m high, most often made of heaped rocks. Kurgans were grouped together in cemeteries that range in size from fairly small to quite large, with up to dozens of burials. Rich graves accompany burial mounds, which are built of soil, sand, turf, stone, or a combination of these materials, and are often bound by a stone setting, a ring ditch, or rings of wooden posts in the lower Rhine and the Low Lands. Grave goods reveal only slight social ranking, and a largely egalitarian or homogenous society can be inferred (Jockenhövel 2013).
Single burials predominate initially, with each mound belonging to a small family group. The body is usually buried prone and orientated north–south or east–west, in graves often protected by stones or burial chambers with wooden fittings. Assemblages included weapons (dagger, sword) and ornaments (tools, gold spirals, less often razors, pins) for men, and rich dress decoration, ornaments, necklaces, and pairs of pins for women, with amber ornaments (spacer plates) being very popular, more than in Nordic Bronze Age graves. The central burial is eventually joined by additional burials, usually on higher levels in the mound, sometimes with flat graves between the mounds. Cremations begin and increase during the MBA (Jockenhövel 2013).
The Tumulus tradition is presented as 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. Innovations spread quickly during this time, including weapons—swords (from influences of the Danube region), spears (socketed spearheads), and small axes (flanged axes) —and tools—two-edged razors, tweezers, knives, and sickles. Horses become particularly significant as a transport animal, for wagons and battle chariots, evidenced by bridle or cheek-pieces made from antler and bone (Jockenhövel 2013). Regional groups are distinguished based on metal fittings worn on their clothing, with a basic difference seen e.g. between groups south of the Mittelgebirge and the Lüneburg groups to the north (with features of the Nordic Bronze Age), and the western groups in the lower Rhine, closer to the Low Lands.
Grave goods reveal only slight social ranking, and a largely egalitarian or homogenous society can be inferred. 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. This warring state is coupled with exogamous and endogamous strategies, and variable distances of marriage exchanges to maintain alliances, the so-called fremde Frauen phenomenon (Kristiansen 2000).
Settlements consisted probably of a few houses or just a single farmstead, with hill forts seen at the beginning and end of the period. The economy probably relied on regional transhumance, as well as mining of local copper (unproven) and salt production. This is therefore a time of settlement expansion into fertile lowlands and productive loess soils—characteristic of an agropastoralist society—together with defensive higher areas and hill sites. This expansion coincides with the wide settlement of the Alps and the beginning of a system similar to mountain pasture economy, as well as Alpine copper mining in the Inn Valley in Austria (Jockenhövel 2013).
Pottery is represented by small amphorae, with or without a foot, footed bowls, and small jugs. The Tumulus tradition shows preference for ornament, whether incised or plastic, in contrast to the smooth pottery typical of the Únětice period. The main ornament types are triangles, ladder-like bands, fig tree-like ornaments, and concentric or multiple circles. In the later period of the culture, the preference was again smooth surfaces and knobs (outlined with circular or horseshoe-shaped grooves), coexisting with various kinds of plastic protrusions (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
During the MBA, the north Alpine forelands show a tradition related to the Tumulus culture, visible in grave assemblages displaying pins with perforated shaft and spiral sheet ornaments. This influence on the region persists into the LBA, with a noticeable increase of bronze objects in hoards and graves, found also in northern Italy and the Ticino. The strongest affinities in south Alpine valleys is found at the end of the LBA, with the Canegrate group of the Po plain, and the subsequent Protogolasecca facies, with typical carinated, grooved, and smoothed black ware and the first bow fibulae (della Casa 2013).
In the south-east, the Maďarovce–Věteřov–Böheimkirchen cultural complex (Slovakia, Moravia, and Austria) shows an unbroken evolution from the Únětice culture. It features open settlements on level ground, frequent fortified settlements, and sporadic tells. A new range of ornament forms appears along with a new bronze implement (the sickle) and weapons (socketed spearheads and short swords). Casting technology with tin–bronze shows that the ores used were from the eastern Alps. Inhumation is the main funerary rite, with tumuli and cremation burials seen at the end. Towards the end of the period, the culture participated in long-distance exchange networks, with many findings belonging to North Pannonian and Ottomány cultures, evidence of its nature as a north–south intermediary in amber trade (from Lesser Poland to the Iron Gates), and an east–west trade network evidenced by Brotlaibidole (‘loaf-of-bread’ idols). The culture disappeared at the time of increasing exchange and mobility, replaced by the Urnfield culture (Marková and Ilon 2013).
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 (Heyd 2007; Kristiansen 2016).
At the end of this period, 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 (see §viii.8. Balto-Slavs). 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 (Jantzen et al. 2017).
According to Kristiansen (Curry 2016), 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.
The Urnfield culture (ca. 1300–750 BC) marks the beginning of the LBA, and shows the increasing acceptance of cremation, already present during the MBA, which is initially variable in its ritual burial. The gradual disappearance of burial mounds and inhumation represents probably a change in religious beliefs, based on social status and identity, burial rites, and a new range of symbols (water birds). The dead were burnt on a pyre, and remains of their bones and ashes were picked out, scattered in graves, or interred in clay pots (Jockenhövel 2013).
The earliest hill forts lie in the south-eastern Urnfield group. The Piliny culture represents the earliest Urnfield culture in central Europe, if we ignore earlier cremation burials from the Vatya and Hatvan cultures. The Piliny tradition survived the expansion of the Tumulus culture as a continuation into the EBA of the Ottomány and Hatvan cultures in the Pannonian Basin. There are open-land and high-altitude settlements surrounded by ditches and ramparts, with large settlement agglomerations forming in both upland and lowland sites, and serving apparently as administrative and economic centres. Notable are its swords of Riegsee-Ragály type with elaborated ornamented hilts and pommels, also appearing to the north in Lusatian areas (Marková and Ilon 2013).
The ritual becomes homogenised ca. 1100 BC (Hallstatt A2) with the urn burial in southern Germany. The urn is placed in the grave together with other clay vessels (Figure 61). Most graves are of adult men, described as chieftains, warrior elites equipped with swords (both flange-hilted and solid-hilted), spears, and armour (helmet, breastplate, greave, shield). The wealthiest ones contain larger weapons (swords and spearheads), bronze drinking vessels, wagon parts, or high-quality bronze and gold ornaments. Female graves show rich ornaments and dress fittings, and are generally less richly furnished. The size of the graves and urns reflect the age and sex differences. Hundreds of hoards show the continuity of this tradition from the Tumulus culture to the Urnfield culture (Jockenhövel 2013).
Figure 61. Typical burial of cremation urn, by José Manuel Benito Álvarez.
Urns contain not just burnt human bones, but also burnt animal bones. While personal ornaments passed through the fire of the pyre, tools—knives and razors—and other bronze goods were added to the bodily remains after cremation. The first metal vessels and armour (helmets, corslets, greaves) date from this period, suggesting a peak in the production and use of bronze objects. The sun-bird-boat (Sonnenvogelbark) identified on sword grips, greaves, diadems, belt-plates, and bronze vessels, is a prevalent religious motif that expands into the Nordic Bronze Age (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The emergence of the Urnfield culture is thus 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 on the fertile soils and along the river valleys, with proof of a very dense settlement and wide-ranging migrations. Above-ground post-built houses remain common during the MBA and LBA, orientated north–south, and in this period they are usually smaller, although sizes are variable (Jockenhövel 2013).
Settlements are larger, with villages of ca. 10–20 ha, but not very intensively occupied. Hearths appear outside the houses, probably shared by several families. Most settlements show no protection, although some evidence of fences suggests they were used to divide settlements in enclosed compounds. In the FBA, typical settlements took the form of independent farmsteads (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
The LBA shows therefore a great degree of standardisation following the cultural divisions of the MBA, with many metal forms (weapons and tools) distributed across large areas. The warrior now has a spear for throwing or thrusting at his side, with spear shafts made of ash, and arrows with specially shaped heads used as projectiles or for hunting. The new swords with leaf-shaped blades are used to cut or slash, while earlier blades were used as thrusting weapons (Jockenhövel 2013).
Pottery include biconical vessels, amphorae, storage vessels, mugs, jugs, bowls, cups, and beakers. Regional variations in shapes, typology and ornamentation of pottery allow for the division into local groups within the largely homogeneous Urnfield tradition (Jockenhövel 2013):
· Alpine groups to the south: north-eastern Bavarian, Lower Main–Swabian, north-western Transdanubian.
· Central or Bohemian groups: from west to east Rhenish-Swiss, Unstrut, Milavce, Knovíz, and Suciu de Sus.
· Lower Rhine groups to the west in close contact with the Low Countries: Lower Hessian, North Netherlands–Westphalian, North-West group in the Rhine Delta.
· Middle Danube groups to the east: Velatice–Baierdorf, Čaka, Gáva, Piliny, Kyjatice, and Makó cultures.
· The closely related Lusatian fringe group to the north-east is also distinguished by other features (see §VIII.8. Eastern EEBA province).
Typical of the LBA is thus the reappearance of heavily fortified settlements (which were common in the EBA in the Middle Danube culture), those in the east belonging mostly to the early and middle phase of the Urnfield period, and those in the west to the late phase, which may suggest the regions of increased external conflict during each period. Massive ramparts were constructed using a variety of techniques, depending on the terrain and the specific demands of the site, and were frequently accompanied by deep ditches. Fortified settlements were often divided into subareas according to their economic or social purpose, indicating a variety of functions and occasionally depicting a specialisation of the site, from power and interregional trade centres to ritual sites (Jiráň, Salaš, and Krenn-Leeb 2013).
In the Alpine region, settlements in exposed locations are often constructed close to sites of mineral extraction. The overall settlement structure reflects that they were tied to a system that provided for processing and transportation of raw materials, and for interregional exchange. At the end of the LBA, a particular form of settlement begins in southern Bavaria, with a single farmstead inside a rectangular system of palisades and ditches, the forerunners of the leader’s compound (Herrenhof), a popular Iron Age settlement form (Jockenhövel 2013).
At the end of the period, Pre-Scythian (Cimmerian) influences are seen in the east up to the Hungarian steppe belt, displacing Urnfield and Lusatian groups to the west and north. Changes are seen in inhumation graves, with remains of horse harness in bronze and iron, bone plates with typical ornamentation, and cattle and sheep bones. Increasing influence is felt in metal production, warfare, horse harness, animal breeding, religion, and long-distance trade. West of the Tisza, hoards of Románd type show this influence, before being eventually replaced by the eastern provinces of the Hallstatt culture (Marková and Ilon 2013).
From the early Urnfield culture expanded the Hallstatt culture (ca. 1200–450 BC). During the first period (ca. 1200–800 BC), there are several regional cultures under the Hallstatt sphere of influence, with differences appearing in funerary rite and settlement. Cremation is the dominant rite, with ashes and calcined bone, small vessels, and personal items placed into large biconical urns before burial in (occasionally vast) Urnfield cemeteries. Settlements included post-built structures within stockade and fortified compounds, with fortifications and wooden palisades increasingly used (Malin-Boyce 2004).
The true Hallstatt Iron Age (ca. 800–450 BC) is characterised as a period of extraordinary cultural flourishing everywhere in continental Celtic Europe, with elaborate burials including rich assemblages, often called chiefly or princely graves, and also hill fort settlements. Tombs and enclosed fortified hilltops signal the transformation of social organisation to a political economy that controlled the movement of luxury goods. Distribution of goods such as Massiliot amphorae that contained wine shows that western and eastern Hallstatt were included in the Mediterranean trading and gift exchange. The site of Halllstatt is positioned between the broadly defined eastern and western Hallstatt traditions, which shows influences from different neighbouring regions and their distribution networks, such as salt mining, Baltic amber, African ivory, Slovenian glass, Hungarian battle–axes, Venetian knives and brooches, and Etruscan drinking paraphernalia (Malin-Boyce 2004).
The Hallstatt culture represents a significant population growth continuing a Late Bronze Age trend, with networks of microregions or stable rural communities (composed of multiple villages) forming in many regions, particulary in the east. It continues in part the previous amber route from the Gdańsk area, although from the Moravian Gate it extended now to the eastern Alps and the Caput Adria, finishing in central Italy, which is supported by the synchronic finds of house–urns and face–urns in the Gdańsk area and in Italy (Czebreszuk 2013). European wagon graves – with a direct origin probably in the Carpathian basin – peak during the Hallstatt and La Tène periods (Boroffka 2013).
The later expansion of La Tène culture (ca. 480–15 BC) from certain core Hallstatt regions—valleys of Marne and Moselle and neighbouring Rhineland in the west, and a Moravian zone in the east—has been linked to the spread of Common Celtic languages, as described in classical sources. The transformation of late Hallstatt to La Tène is associated with changes in burial rite, from large tumuli to flat inhumation graves, although aspects of the tumulus burial tradition continued in parts of the Alpine and surrounding regions. This period is coincident with the Golasecca material culture in northern Italy, and with the appearance of the ‘early style’, of Etruscan influences, with the compass becoming a design tool for bronze vessels, ornamental metal disks, and even ceramic vessels (Malin-Boyce 2004).
Most elevated and fortified settlements were abandoned, and the apparent centres of power collapsed, at the same time as rich burials continued, showing a shift of power northward to the Hunsrück-Eifel region along the Moselle River. Settlements and burials become thus smaller than in the previous period, suggesting a more dispersed population and decentralised social and political power. The migration or expansion of Celtic peoples is usually associated with the depopulation ca. 400 BC of Marne, Champagne, Bohemia, and possibly Bavaria, signalled by a decrease in warrior graves and adult male burials in general, with less weapons in the remaining graves, and a different ceramic burial assemblage. During this period, less labour-intensive internment begins as the dominant rite, flat inhumation without grave markers (Malin-Boyce 2004).
Figure 62. Reconstruction of a late La Tène period (2nd/1st century BC) settlement in Havranok, Slovakia. Photo by Marek Novotnak.
Middle La Tène (ca. 280–125 BC) sees the appearance of oppida, proto-urban settlements signalling a consolidation of power and reorganisation of the social and economic structure of Celtic societies. Migration and expansion, disruption and settlement are all probably part of this period, with inhumation burials disappearing as cremation fully replacing it. Possibly, the impact of agglomerated settlements caused this shift to the disposal of the dead, which affected also the social and political elite. The Graeco-Italic ‘vegetal style’ (appearing ca. 320 BC), including stylised palmettes and lotus patterns becomes the main motif in bowls, helmets and scabbards. Late La Tène (ca. 125–15 BC) is linked to the rise of the Roman colonial expansion and its impact on neighbouring population. This period is characterised by the abandonment of the oppida in the west (ca. 80–40 BC), and later – coinciding with the Germanic expansions – in east-central Europe (Figure 62).
Clear patterns of patrilocality and female exogamy have been found in the Upper Danube, apart from a continuing kinship relation in the transition of the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age. There is evidence of continuing traditions from the Bell Beaker cultures to Early Bronze Age cultures in the region, with female mobility as a force for regional and supraregional communication and exchange (Knipper et al. 2017).
There is a variable contribution of Steppe ancestry in early Bell Beaker samples (ca. 2500–2000 BC), consistent with a period of constant migrations: Bavaria shows a decrease in Steppe ancestry (ca. 44%), including samples from the Lech Valley (ca. 52%), compared to previous Corded Ware groups (ca 65%) (Mittnik, Massy, et al. 2018); similarly, central European samples near the Rhine (ca. 51%) and from Esperstedt in Saxony-Anhalt (ca. 48%) show a decrease compared to previous samples from the area (ca. 71%), whereas in Bohemia Bell Beakers represent a slight increase (ca. 45%) over the previous late Corded Ware groups (ca. 40%), possibly due to the closeness of this territory with the East Bell Beaker homeland, and to the previous resurgence of Neolithic ancestry in the area (Olalde et al. 2018).
Almost 100% Y-DNA haplogroups among the approximately fifty reported (of more than a hundred samples from central Europe) belong to Yamna R1b1a1b1-L23 lineages, safe for one G2a2a1a2a1a-L166 subclade from Augsburg (ca. 2350 BC), representing an almost full replacement of male lines among buried individuals, although the later resurgence of Neolithic lineages in the area suggests the survival of groups absent from the archaeological record. Twenty-eight samples are of R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 lineages, among them R1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2 subclade is reported for twenty individuals from Bohemia and six from Bavaria. Apart from these, there is a sample of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312 (ZZ11+, DF27 equivalent) from Quedlinburg, and another possibly of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a1-U106 from Radovesice, supporting the initial variability of expanding groups before subsequent Y-chromosome bottlenecks.
Later samples from the Maros culture, from Szöreg (ca. 2100–1600 BC), show an ancestry in common with Carpathian Bell Beakers and cultures derived from an admixture with Yamna settlers. Interestingly, one sample clusters close to the available Early Celtic group formed by Celtiberians (likely of Urnfield origin) and Hallstatt samples, with the other two Maros samples appearing within the range of Hungarian EBA and later Roman samples, suggesting that the Danubian EBA represented at least part of the common population that spoke Italo-Celtic. One individual is of hg. G2a2a1a2a-Z6488, a haplogroup also found in a previous central European Bell Beaker, in the Vučedol Tell, and earlier in Ötzi the Iceman (Allentoft et al. 2015).
The pan-European nature of Únětice makes it the best candidate for a late community connecting a continuum of already separated dialects: Pre-Celtic near the lower Danube, Pre-Italic south of the Alps, Pre-Germanic to the north around Scandinavia, and Pre-Balto-Slavic to the east, probably represented in this period by either the North-Eastern EBA province or Mierzanowice-Nitra. Particularly strong may have been the connection between Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Slavic with the shift to a northern centre of gravity represented by the Classical Únětice stage, and the emergence of Trzciniec potentially allowing for the spread of certain innovations and vocabulary (Kortlandt 2016), although an earlier link through the Northern European Plains with the spread of R1b1a1b1a1a1-U106 lineages may offer a better explanation for the shared substrate (see §vii.1. Western and Eastern Uraliansand §viii.7. Germanic peoples).
Thought to have evolved from the admixture of Bell Beakers with late Corded Ware groups, Únětice shows similar Steppe ancestry in samples from Saxony-Anhalt (ca. 54%) and Bohemia (ca. 50%), consistent with a common origin in the south-east and some degree of demic diffusion to the north into early Bell Beaker groups and other indigenous groups derived from late Corded Ware. There is at least a partial resurge of hunter-gatherer ancestry in Únětice, although only a slightly lesser genetic affinity to Yamna than in Bell Beaker groups (Haak et al. 2015). A resurgence of the previous male lines is observed directly from one of the oldest individuals attributed to Proto-Únětice groups, one Łęki Małe (ca. 2300–2050 BC), of hg. R1a1a1-M417 (Allentoft et al. 2015); three from Czech Proto-Únětice or Old Únětice from Moravská Nová Ves (ca. 2300–1900 BC), two of hg. R1-M173, one of hg. G2a2a1a-PF3177; and among those of Únětice proper, of typical Neolithic I2-M438 and Yamna R1b1a1b1-L23 lineages:
Central European samples (ca. 2140–1940 BC) include one I2-M438 from Eulau, one I2a1b2-Y10705 and one I2a2-L596 from Esperstedt (Mathieson et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015); samples from Bohemia (ca. 2200–1700 BC) include one I2a1a-P37.2, and one I2a2a-S6635, apart from three of hg. R1-M173, one of them of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a1-U106 (subclade R1b1a1b1a1a1c1a-S497, formed ca. 2200 BC, TMRCA ca. 2200 BC), and another of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2-P312 (Olalde et al. 2018).
This resurgence of Neolithic I2-M438 and typical CWC R1a1a1-M417 haplogroups is probably related to the loss of internal coherence among Bell Beaker groups, suggested by the emergence of Proto-Únětice as an amalgam of Bell Beaker and local traditions. This interpretation is supported by similar resurgence events of local haplogroups, e.g. of I2-M438 in late Corded Ware groups from the central European areas, as the CWC grip weakened against the expansion of Yamna and Bell Beakers, and the centre of gravity shifted to the east (see §vii.1. Western and Eastern Uralians); as well as in late Bell Beaker groups from the Carpathian Basin (see §viii.10. Carpathian Bell Beakers).
On the periphery of the Únětice territory, a sample from Untermeitingen (ca. 1600 BC) shows hg. R1b1a1b1a1a-L151 (xR1b1a1b1a1a2-P312), before the shift of power that accompanied the emergence of the Tumulus culture from Upper Danube groups (Allentoft et al. 2015). Samples from the Lech Valley show continued patrilocality, in spite of the steady increase in Neolithic ancestry, with Steppe ancestry dropping from ca. 42% during the Bell Beaker period to ca. 38% during the EBA, and to ca. 26% during the MBA (Mittnik, Massy, et al. 2018).
Scarce samples from the Urnfield culture, all from a north-eastern territory in modern Saxony, near groups of the Lusatian culture, show a mixture of lineages, suggesting continuity with earlier Únětice groups of the area: a sample from Halberstadt (ca. 1085 BC) shows hg. R1a1a1b1a2-Z280 (Lipson et al. 2017), and among the reported haplogroups from the Lichtenstein cave (ca. 1000 BC) there are eight I2a1b2a-L38, one R1b-M343, and two possibly R1a1-M459 (Schilz 2006).
The Hallstatt culture has been traditionally associated with the Proto-Celtic expansion (Chadwick 1970). Two inhumated individuals of the Hallstatt culture from Lovosice, Bohemia (ca. 840–690 BC), hypothesised to correspond to immigrant nobility among cremated individuals, cluster among central European populations, but apparently with some Scythian-like contributions, proper of Balkan populations to the east (de Barros Damgaard, Marchi, et al. 2018). One of them is of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152+, while another sample from Mitterkirchen (ca. 700 BC) shows hg. G2a2b2a1b-L497 (Kiesslich et al. 2004), which supports the origin of Urnfield and especially Hallstatt among southern groups of central Europe.
The Mainz research project of bio-archaeometric identification of mobility has not proven to date a mass migration of Celtic peoples in central Europe ca. 4th–3rd centuries BC, i.e. precisely in a period where textual evidence informs of large migratory movements (Scheeres 2014). La Tène material culture points to far-reaching interregional contacts and cultural transfers (Burmeister 2016), which may suggest that the sociocultural phenomenon associated with the expansion of La Tène culture (and Common Celtic-speaking peoples) is different from previous expansions, and closer to later ones, based on alliances and confederation-like multi-ethnic groups.
Nevertheless, the arrival of Celts in Iberia was likely marked by the increase in Steppe-related ancestry in all sampled Iron Age populations. The best fits for the source population vary between groups, but for Celtiberians from La Hoya in the modern Basque Country region (ca. 400–200 BC), showing the highest relative contribution of a ‘foreign’ source (ca. 35%), it is likely a central European source, and Pre-Iberian and Iberian samples from the north-east show up to 98% of CEU BBC-related ancestry (Olalde et al. 2019). In the British Isles, this expansion probably corresponds to an ‘eastern’ shift observed in the PCA of Roman Iron Age samples (ca. AD 250) from England (Martiniano et al. 2016) compared to previous Chalcolithic and Bronze Age ones (Olalde et al. 2018). At least in Iberia, this admixture is estimated to have occurred likely corresponding with the arrival of the Urnfield tradition.
This arrival of Celts was most likely related to the spread of, among others, late R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 and R1b1a1b1a1a2a-DF27 lineages—shared with central European or northern Italian populations—into Iron Age Britain and Iberia, possibly associated with the expansion of variants involved in lactase persistence and skin depigmentation, in spite of the described general genetic continuity between EBA and modern populations in Ireland and Great Britain (Cassidy 2018). The only reported haplogroup among three sampled Celtiberians is I2a1a1a-M26.
It is unclear which precise R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 subclades may correspond to the expansion of Celts and which ones to Roman peoples, without ancient DNA samples. In fact, I2a1b1a1a-M284 lineages concentrated in Great Britain (with mutational divergence suggesting its foundation ca. 300 BC) provide “some tentative evidence of ancient flow with eastern areas that could support the idea that the La Tène culture was accompanied by some migration” (McEvoy and Bradley 2010).
Similarly, the spread of R1b1a1b1a1a2a1b1a1-M167/SRY2627 (TMRCA ca. 1500 BC), with subclades Z202 and Z206 peaking in modern eastern Iberian populations (Solé-Morata et al. 2017), but also found widespread in France and southern Germany, may represent the expansion of Celtic peoples with these lineages, originally probably associated with the Urnfield or Mailhacien cultures in northern Iberia.
Later samples from north-east Iberian Iron Age, from the Greek colony of Emporion (ca. 500–100 BC), show at least one haplogroup R1b1a1b1a1a2a1b2-L165 (formed ca. 2500 BC, TMRCA ca. 2200 BC), subclade of R1b1a1b1a1a2a1b-S228, from which R1b1a1b1a1a2a1b1a1-M167 ultimately derives; and R1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2+, a subclade of R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 (Olalde et al. 2019). Both attest to an earlier presence in Iberia than the Roman invasion, and thus support their potential arrival with incoming Celts, if not from earlier migrations.