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

Corded Ware culture

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Corded Ware culture horizons

The first horizon of Corded Ware culture appears in the Early Eneolithic Bubanj-Salcuţa-Krivodol cultural complex and other Old European cultures in the eastern Balkans only sporadically, possibly from influence of the Sredni Stog culture, at the end of the 5th millennium BC (ca. 4200 BC), in territories of autochthonous ceramic forms not associated with the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion. This pottery developed in a western Pontic territory where corded ornament seems correlated with sheep herding. The spread of this pottery is clearly (and almost exclusively) identified with the Coţofeni group in the 2nd Corded Ware horizon, as part of the cultures of the Lower Danube and northern Bulgaria in the 4th millennium and the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. These cultures are connected with movements of steppe-related Cernavodă I society in the Danube delta, to the north into Coţofeni, and south into Ezerovo [Bulatović 2014].

Samples from the Balkans of the late 5th and middle 4th millennium, after the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion, show steppe ancestry (see above). Also, a sample identified as outlier from Deriivka ca. 3500 BC shows both Caucasian hunter-gatherer and farmer ancestry [Mathieson et al. 2017], which illustrates the complexity of human interaction in this western Pontic region between the main (Middle and Late) Indo-European expansions.

The Corded Ware culture territory expanded from the Coţofeni territory to the south during the Eneolithic period, except for the central Balkans, where new steppe elements are noticed during this period. The Usatovo culture, settled in the territory of the Trypillian culture, replaced the Coţofeni culture at the time of the expansion of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture into Central Europe. The spread of this classical period of the Corded Ware culture has been connected to the evolution of late Funnelbeaker culture infiltrated by late Trypillian groups, after which they could have entered into contacts with Yamna herders on the upper Dniester region ca. 2700-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Gimbutas 1977]. However, no previous direct cultural connection has been found in this area with Yamna [Bulatović 2014].

There was a long-ranging connection between the north-west Pontic steppe area and the border of the Forest Zone up to the eastern Baltic area, centred on the Dniester-Bug limes (encompassing the Dniester, Dnieper, and Bug rivers), but also encompassing the areas between the Vistula and the Dnieper (including the Małopolska area), with different connecting routes to the north used by Old European – and especially Trypillian culture – societies influencing Baltic cultures of the steppe, forest-steppe and forest zones for millennia [Klochko and Kośko 2009][Szmyt 2013][Czebreszuk and Szmyt 2004][Kadrow and Zakościelna 1999].

The connection between pre-Caucasian (Maykop) and Late Trypillian cultures that had moved to the left bank of the Dnieper (see above) points not only to Caucasian imports, but to a likely Caucasian immigration in a series of small shifts or ‘shuttle’ movements, possibly with the aim of exchange, trade, spoils of war, borrowing of technological devices, etc. This migration is linked to the creation of “bridge” communities, like the Zhyvotylivska-Volchans’k cultural group, and the Late Trypillian Gordineşti group [Ivanova and Toschev 2015]. These migrations could account for the later steppe-related ancestry found in Corded Ware cultures [Allentoft et al. 2015][Haak et al. 2015][Mathieson et al. 2015], since it is defined by a certain admixture of Eastern European and Caucasian hunter-gatherer ancestry, not found in samples from western Yamna migrants.

The most recent connection of the north Pontic steppe to Central European areas came from Usatovo (which continued the previous Gordineşti group), whose migrants seem to have penetrated in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC northward up the Dniester, South Bug and Dnieper valleys, as Globular Amphorae and Corded Ware cultures expanded to the east beginning ca. 2900 BC, forming the Middle Dnieper culture in the forest-steppe zone around Kiev ca. 2800-2600 BC [Anthony 2007].

Eneolithic forest.jpg

Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC [Anthony 2007][Szmyt 2013][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln. Original file from <https://indo-european.eu/en/maps/eneolithic/>.

On the other hand, while Corded Ware culture research is discussed as a purely Central-European phenomenon, recently obtained dates suggest that the appearance of Corded Ware in central Russia (either of early Fatyanovo or maybe proto-stages) may had begun from 2700-2600 onwards, with eastern influence found in the southern Baltic and Estonia, connecting cultures previously identified as non-Corded Ware to the emergence of the new cultural expansion, with continua proposed between late Comb Ware and Corded Ware pottery. The communication between Forest Zone hunter-gatherers had old roots, and Corded Ware chronology needs further refinement, because Corded Ware was present in the northern Baltic Sea region since ca. 2800 BC [Nordqvist 2016].

The most recent sample from Zvejnieki, dated ca. 2885 BC, just before or during the expansion of the third Corded Ware horizon, clusters quite closely with Yamna samples, revealing a break of the regional population with the samples from a thousand years earlier, which were closer to Eastern European hunger-gatherer ancestry [Mathieson et al. 2017].

R1a1a1b-Z645, split from R1a1a1-M417 ca. 3500 BC, shows a TMRCA of ca. 3000 BC, coinciding with the formation date for mainly-European subclades R1a1a1b1-Z283 and R1a1a1b1a-Z282, and mainly-Asian subclade R1a1a1b2-Z93. 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, where most aDNA samples analysed come from, 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.

Y-DNA samples of haplogroup R1a-M420 (probably R1a1a1-M417) are found in central Corded Ware culture groups [Allentoft et al. 2015][Mathieson et al. 2015][Haak et al. 2008][Mittnik et al. 2017][Saag et al. 2017], with one sample in Bergrheinfeld (ca. 2647), two samples in Eulau (ca. 2600 BC), one sample from Kyndelöse (ca. 2670 BC), seven samples from Esperstedt (one dated ca. 2430 BC and other six ca. 2275 BC), and two from the Battle Axe culture, one from Viby (ca. 2500 BC), and one from Ölsund (ca. 2350 BC). Two samples from Tiefbrunn of haplogroups R-M207 (ca. 2755 BC) and R1b1-L278 (ca. 2725 BC) are of dubious nature – the first could be R1a1a1-M417 or R1b1-L278, the second might correspond to older European hunter-gatherer lineages, or they might be associated with the expansion of Corded Ware cultures from the Balkans. Other non-R-M207 samples from central Corded Ware cultures include the two oldest ones, of IJ and G2a-P15 lineages, from Jagodno ca. 2800 BC [Gworys et al. 2013]; and one of haplogroup P-P295 in Esperstedt from ca. 2275 BC.

In the Baltic and the Forest zone, four samples are dated around 2500 BC: haplogroups R1a1a1b-Z645 and R1a1a1b1-Z283 in Kunila, and two samples of haplogroup R1a1a1b-Z645 in Ardu. These samples together with its previous presence in Usvyatyan culture (ca. 2500 BC) and in Naumovo and Sertaya II [Chekunova et al. 2014], and its continuity in later times suggest that R1a1a1b-Z645 lineages almost fully replaced the previous R1b-M343 lineages in the eastern Baltic around the time of the Corded Ware culture expansion.

The oldest R1a1a1-M417 lineages of Central Europe are found in early Corded Ware groups, while ancient DNA from Neolithic Linear Pottery (ca. 5500–3500 BC) and Globular Amphorae (ca. 3400-2800 BC) cultures have been found to correspond mainly to I2-M438 and G2a-P15 lineages, with no steppe-related ancestry in admixture analyses [Haak et al. 2015][Mathieson et al. 2017]. This raises the possibility of a wide and rapid spread of R1a1a1-M417, and especially R1a1a1b1-Z283 subclades in Europe [Underhill et al. 2015] associated with the expansion of the Corded Ware culture. The diversification of R1a1a1b2-Z93 in the Middle East and South Asia remains more obscure [Underhill et al. 2015]. However, in samples obtained from Estonia it was seen that admixture between Corded Ware culture farmers and Comb Ceramic culture hunter-gatherers may have been limited in males of R1a1a1-M417 lineages. Also, the presence of a genetic component associated with Caucasus hunter-gatherers – also present in Yamna migrants, Eastern hunter-gatherers, and individuals from the Estonian Comb Ceramic culture, means that the expansion of the Corded Ware culture cannot be seen as the sole means for the spread of this genetic component, at least in eastern Europe [Saag et al. 2017].

Mathieson Olalde.jpg

Modified file from recent papers on Bell Beaker and Southeastern European samples: Left: ADMIXTURE clustering analysis with k=8 showing ancient individuals. E/M/MLN, Early/Middle/Middle Late Neolithic; W/E/S/CHG, Western/Eastern/Scandinavian/Caucasus hunter-gatherers[Olalde et al. 2017]. Right: Supervised ADMIXTURE plot, modeling each ancient individual (one per row), as a mixture of populations represented by clusters containing Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (orange), EHG (red) and WHG (blue). Dates indicate approximate range of individuals in each population[Mathieson et al. 2017].

The Corded Ware culture has been argued to practice exogamy – most 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]. Exogamy is described as a well-established practice over a long period of time, and the origin of females has been linked to Neolithic cultures still residing on the higher elevations in the region shared with Corded Ware cultures [Kristiansen et al. 2017]. A violent picture has been proposed for the Corded Ware culture society [Haak et al. 2008], with warrior youth bands with seasonal activities, in a way similar to that documented in the Russian steppe from the Bronze Age onwards [Kristiansen et al. 2017].

Analysis of aDNA has revealed that the plague was a prehistoric disease, associated with the Eurasian steppes, and linked to the Corded Ware culture expansion [Rasmussen et al. 2015][Andrades Valtueña et al. 2017], which connected vast areas in east Europe in a relatively short period. This might have provided part of the ‘push’ for the migration of Corded Ware cultures [Anthony and Brown 2017], and might also account for part of the documented differences in population expansion between Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups, and their demographic consequences.

Copper-age-early-2-corded2.jpg Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC [Anthony 2007][Harrison and Heyd 2007][Sjogren, Price, and Kristiansen 2016][Heyd 2012][Heyd 2014]. See full high-resolution version at <https://indo-european.eu/en/maps/copper-age/>


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