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

Contacts between Bell Beaker and Corded Ware

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Settlement areas of both cultures, the Bell Beaker and the Corded Ware culture, especially in the common territories of central Europe, seemed to remain separated. Available data suggest rejection and aversion, but also some form of social discourse between the groups.

Neighbouring groups of Bell Beaker, Globular Amphora and Corded Ware cultures of east-central Europe show certain similar artefacts, but made of different materials, and with different interpretations, which might signal imitation among culturally different groups. These cultural differences between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures are maintained over vast distances, from east to west Europe[Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2008], potentially suggesting a strong ethnolinguistic difference among groups that were also genetically (in ancestry and haplogroups) heterogeneous.

With the interaction of both groups, Corded Ware burials adapted to Bell Beaker customs, and a decline in Corded Ware remains is found in shared areas.

The pattern observed is of spatial separation followed by partial integration (dissolution of the spatial-cultural divide), suggesting a land capture by the expanding Bell Beaker culture, and also an ethnic dimension based on cultural expressions and physical anthropology[Heyd 2007]. This separation is later observed clearly in the heirs of both cultures: the Danubian Early Bronze Age of Southern German groups, with a Bell Beaker foundation; the Únětice Early Bronze Age, on a Carpathian foundation; and the Mierzanowice/Nitra Early Bronze Age, with origins in the Corded Ware culture[Bertemes and Heyd 2002]. Each of them shows a different ideological resolution to these interactions in the Late Copper Age, and the creation of new social identities.

The regional substrate for many eastern and northern Bell Beaker groups is in many cases formed by late Corded Ware culture groups – with some pottery types persisting in later times, and with individual burials being also used by later settlers. However, in western and southern Bell Beaker territory previous regional substrates do not herald the Bell Beaker groups, with newer settlements using locations different to Late Neolithic sites, and collective graves being reused or substituted by individual graves[Besse 2014].

Tumulus building was identified by Gimbutas as one of the main cultural manifestations of the Kurgan culture (and “Kurgan people”) that spread Indo-European languages during the Neolithic. The practice of mound-building– and single graves – is nevertheless so widespread in time and space that it is hard to associate it with one particular ethnic group[Harding 2011].

copper-age-late-3-bell-beaker.jpg Diachronic map of migrations in central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC[Heyd 2007][Anthony 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Prieto Martínez and Salanova 2015][Fokkens and Nicolis 2012].


  • [Anthony 2007] ^ Anthony, D. 2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • [Bertemes and Heyd 2002] ^ Bertemes, F., and V. Heyd. 2002. Der Übergang Kupferzeit/Frühbronzezeit am Nordwestrand des Karpatenbeckens – kulturgeschichtliche und paläometallurgische Betrachtungen. Edited by Bartelheim.
  • [Besse 2014] ^ Besse, Marie. 2014. Common Ware during the third Millenium BC in Europe. In Similar but Different: Bell Beakers in Europe, edited by J. Czebreszuk. Leiden: Sidestone Press.
  • [Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2008] ^ Czebreszuk, Janusz, and Marzena Szmyt. 2008. What lies behind 'Import' and 'Imitation'? Case Studies from the European Late Neolithic. In Import and Imitation in Archaeology, edited by F. Bertemes and A. Furtwängler. Langenweissbach: Beier & Beran.
  • [Fokkens and Nicolis 2012] ^ Fokkens, Harry, and Franco Nicolis. 2012. Background to Beakers: Inquiries in Regional Cultural Backgrounds of the Bell Beaker Complex. Leiden: Sidestone Press.
  • [Harding 2011] ^ Harding, Anthony. 2011. The tumulus in European prehistory: covering the body, housing the soul. In Burial mounds in the copper and Bronze ages (Central and Eastern Europe – Balkans – Adriatic – Aegean, 4th-2nd millennium B.C.), edited by E. Borgna and S. Müller-Celka. Lyon: Maison de l'Orient.
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  • [Prieto Martínez and Salanova 2015] ^ Prieto Martínez, Maria Pilar, and Laure Salanova. 2015. Concluding remarks. The Bell Beaker Transition: The end of the neolithisation of Europe; the starting point of a new order. In The Bell BeakerTransition in Europe. Mobility and local evolution during the 3rd millenium BC, edited by M. P. P. Martínez and L. Salanova. Oxford & Philadelphia: Oxbow Books.