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Únětice culture

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The Únětice culture (ca. 2300-1700 BC) has been cited as a pan-European cultural phenomenon[Kristiansen and Larsson 2005], 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.

As such, it is candidate for a late community connecting a continuum of already scattered North-West Indo-European languages ancestral to Italic, Celtic, Germanic, and to Balto-Slavic, where words were frequently exchanged, sharing a common lexicon and certain regional isoglosses[Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995]. At the same time, strong phonetic differences found early in North-West Indo-European dialects, especially in the compounds with sonorants[Adrados, Bernabé, and Mendoza 2010][Clackson 2007], signal a period of already differentiated but inter-connected communities.

Thought to have evolved from Bell Beaker cultures, the scarce ancient Y-DNA available comes from four samples: one individual from Corded Ware/Proto-Únětice culture of R1b1a-L755 lineage at Łęki Małe ca. 2170 BC[Mathieson et al. 2017], and three from Únětice proper, of typical European hunter gatherer I2-M38 subclades – one ca. 2050 BC from Eulau, and two from Esperstedt dated ca. 2055 BC and 2035 BC[Mathieson et al. 2015].

On the periphery of the Únětice culture territory, haplogroup R1b1a1a2-M269 is found in Gata/Wieselburg (ca. 1765 BC), and haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a-L151 in Untermeitingen ca. 1605 BC[Allentoft et al. 2015].

Ancient DNA samples suggest 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].

Úněticean genetic melting pot strengthens its origin as the vector of cultural diffusion of North-West Indo-European languages, essentially connecting Barbed Wire Beaker cultures from the Low Countries and the Northern Lowlands (and late Nordic Neolithic) – probably speaking languages ancestral to Germanic – with peoples of Southern German cultures, as predecessors of core regions of the Tumulus culture – possibly speaking West Indo-European, i.e. Pre-Italo-Celtic[Mallory 2013].

This suggests that Únětice connected these with eastern cultures like south-eastern European cultures – heirs of Bell Beaker and Carpathian groups – and the eastern Mierzanowice/Nitra culture – heir of Bell Beaker and Corded Ware groups. Therefore, the language ancestral to Balto-Slavic was probably spoken either by the Únětice population, or by eastern cultures that were connected to western Indo-European languages through Únětice.

Bell Beakers and early Únětice represented the first prospectors and metallurgists, travelling and sharing their skills, with Adlerberg and Straubing groups of the Southern German cultures being small local centres[Kristiansen 1987].

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


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