|Dates||circa 3000 BC - circa 2350 BC|
|Preceded by||Baden culture, Globular Amphora culture, Funnelbeaker culture, Narva culture, Pit-Comb Ware culture, Pitted Ware culture, Volosovo culture, Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture, Yamnaya culture|
|Followed by||Bell Beaker culture, Abashevo culture, Sintashta culture, Mierzanowice culture|
The Corded Ware culture comprises a broad archaeological horizon of Europe between ca. 3000 BCE - 2350 BCE, thus from the late Neolithic, through the Copper Age, and ending in the early Bronze Age. Corded Ware culture encompassed a vast area, from the contact zone between the Yamnaya culture and the Corded Ware culture in south Central Europe, to the Rhine on the west and the Volga in the east, occupying parts of Northern Europe, Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The Corded Ware culture is thought to have originated from the westward migration of Yamnaya-related people from the steppe-forest zone into the territory of late Neolithic European cultures such as the Globular Amphora and Funnelbeaker cultures, and is considered to be a likely vector for the spread of many of the Indo-European languages in Europe and Asia.
The term Corded Ware culture (German: Schnurkeramik-Kultur) was first introduced by the German archaeologist Friedrich Klopfleisch in 1883. He named it after cord-like impressions or ornamentation characteristic of its pottery. The term Single Grave culture comes from its burial custom, which consisted of inhumation under tumuli in a crouched position with various artifacts. Battle Axe culture, or Boat Axe culture, is named from its characteristic male grave offering, a stone boat-shaped battle axe.
Corded Ware encompassed most of continental northern Europe from the Rhine on the west to the Volga in the east, including most of modern-day Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, northwestern Romania, northern Ukraine, and the European part of Russia, as well as coastal Norway and the southern portions of Sweden and Finland. In the Late Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age, it encompassed the territory of nearly the entire Balkan Peninsula, where Corded Ware mixed with other steppe elements.
Archaeologists note that Corded Ware was not a "unified culture," as Corded Ware groups inhabiting a vast geographical area from the Rhine to Volga seem to have regionally specific subsistence strategies and economies. There are differences in the material culture and in settlements and society. At the same time, they had several shared elements that are characteristic of all Corded Ware groups, such as their burial practices, pottery with "cord" decoration and unique stone-axes.
The contemporary Bell Beaker culture overlapped with the western extremity of this culture, west of the Elbe, and may have contributed to the pan-European spread of that culture. Although a similar social organization and settlement pattern to the Beaker were adopted, the Corded Ware group lacked the new refinements made possible through trade and communication by sea and rivers.
The origins and dispersal of Corded Ware culture is one of the pivotal unresolved issues of the Indo-European Urheimat problem, and there is a stark division between archaeologists regarding the origins of Corded Ware. The Corded Ware culture has long been regarded as Indo-European, with archaeologists seeing an influence from nomadic pastoral societies of the steppes. Alternatively, some archaeologists believed it developed independently in central Europe.
The Corded Ware culture was once presumed to be the Urheimat of the Proto-Indo-Europeans based on their possession of the horse and wheeled vehicles, apparent warlike propensities, wide area of distribution and rapid intrusive expansion at the assumed time of the dispersal of Indo-European languages. Today this specific idea has lost currency, as the steppe hypothesis is currently the most widely accepted proposal to explain the origins and spread of the Indo-European languages.
Recent genetics studies suggest that the people of the Corded Ware culture share significant levels of ancestry with Yamnaya as a consequence of a supposed "massive migration" from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the people of both cultures may be directly descended from a genetically similar pre-Yamnaya population. Goldberg et al. (2016) found that Neolithic farming migration into Europe "was driven by mass migration of both males and females in roughly equal numbers, perhaps whole families", while Bronze Age Pontic steppe "migration and cultural shift were instead driven by male migration, potentially connected to new technology and conquest." Kristiansen et al. (2017) theorise that the Corded Ware culture originated from male Yamnaya pastoralists, or a closely related population, migrating northwards, and marrying local farmer women, who contributed specific farmer aspects to their culture, which transformed into the Corded ware culture. This culture was carried further into Europe by their offspring.[note 1] Archaeologists such as Furholt and Heyd, however, continue to emphasize the differences both between and within the material cultures of these two groups, as well as emphasizing the problems of over-simplifying these long-term social processes.
The Middle Dnieper culture forms a bridge between the Yamnaya culture and the Corded ware culture. From the Middle Dnieper culture the Corded Ware culture spread both west and east. The eastward migration gave rise to the Fatyanova culture which had a formative influence on the Abashevo culture, which in turn contributed to the proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta culture. Its wide area of distribution indicates rapid expansion at the assumed time of the dispersal of the core (excluding Anatolian and Tocharian) Indo-European languages. In a number of regions Corded Ware appears to herald a new culture and physical type. On most of the immense, continental expanse that it covered, the culture was clearly intrusive, and therefore represents one of the most impressive and revolutionary cultural changes attested by archaeology.
In favour of the view that the culture developed independently was the fact that Corded Ware coincides considerably with the earlier north-central European Funnelbeaker culture (TRB). According to Gimbutas, the Corded Ware culture was preceded by the Globular Amphora culture (3400-2800 BCE), which she regarded to be an Indo-European culture. The Globular Amphora culture stretched from central Europe to the Baltic sea, and emerged from the Funnelbeaker culture.
According to controversial radiocarbon dates, Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in the area that is now Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. The earliest radiocarbon dates for Corded Ware indeed come from Kujawy and Lesser Poland in central and southern Poland and point to the period around 3000 BCE.
However, subsequent review has challenged this perspective, instead pointing out that the wide variation in dating of the Corded Ware, especially the dating of the culture's beginning, is based on individual outlier graves, is not particularly in line with other archaeological data and runs afoul of plateaus in the radiocarbon calibration curve; in the one case where the dating can be clarified with dendrochronology, in Switzerland, Corded Ware is found for only a short period from 2750 BCE to 2400 BCE.  Furthermore, because the short period in Switzerland seems to represent examples of artifacts from all the major sub-periods of the Corded Ware culture elsewhere, some researchers conclude that Corded Ware appeared more or less simultaneously throughout North Central Europe approximately in the early 29th century BCE (around 2900 BCE), in a number of "centers" which subsequently formed their own local networks. Carbon-14 dating of the remaining central European regions shows that Corded Ware appeared after 2880 BCE. According to this theory, it spread to the Lüneburg Heath and then further to the North European Plain, Rhineland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Baltic region and Russia to Moscow, where the culture met with the pastoralists considered indigenous to the steppes.
The Middle Dnieper culture and the Eastern Baltic Corded Ware culture gave rise to the Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture on the upper Volga, which in turn contributed to the Abashevo culture, a predecessor of the proto-Indo-Iranian Sintashta culture.
The Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture may have been a culture with an Indo-European superstratum over a Uralic substratum, and may account for some of the linguistic borrowings identified in the Indo-Uralic thesis. However, according to Häkkinen, the Uralic-Indo-European contacts only start in the Corded Ware period and the Uralic expansion into the Upper Volga region postdates it. Häkkinen accepts Fatyanovo-Balanovo as an early Indo-European culture, but maintains that their substratum (identified with the Volosovo culture) was neither Uralic nor Indo-European. Genetics seems to support Häkkinen.
The prototypal Corded Ware culture, German Schnurkeramikkultur, is found in Central Europe, mainly Germany and Poland, and refers to the characteristic pottery of the era: twisted cord was impressed into the wet clay to create various decorative patterns and motifs. It is known mostly from its burials, and both sexes received the characteristic cord-decorated pottery. Whether made of flax or hemp, they had rope.
Single Grave term refers to a series of late Neolithic communities of the 3rd millennium BCE living in southern Scandinavia, Northern Germany, and the Low Countries that share the practice of single burial, the deceased usually being accompanied by a battle-axe, amber beads, and pottery vessels.
The term Single Grave culture was first introduced by the Danish archaeologist Andreas Peter Madsen in the late 1800s. He found Single Graves to be quite different from the already known dolmens, long barrows and passage graves. In 1898, archaeologist Sophus Müller was first to present a migration-hypothesis stating that previously known dolmens, long barrows, passage graves and newly discovered single graves may represent two completely different groups of people, stating "Single graves are traces of new, from the south coming tribes".
The cultural emphasis on drinking equipment already characteristic of the early indigenous Funnelbeaker culture, synthesized with newly arrived Corded Ware traditions. Especially in the west (Scandinavia and northern Germany), the drinking vessels have a protruding foot and define the Protruding-Foot Beaker culture (PFB) as a subset of the Single Grave culture. The Beaker culture has been proposed to derive from this specific branch of the Corded Ware culture.
The Danish-Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture, or the Boat Axe culture, appeared ca. 2800 BCE and is known from about 3,000 graves from Scania to Uppland and Trøndelag. The "battle-axes" were primarily a status object. There are strong continuities in stone craft traditions, and very little evidence of any type of full-scale migration, least of all a violent one. The old ways were discontinued as the corresponding cultures on the continent changed, and the farmers living in Scandinavia took part in a few of those changes since they belonged to the same network. Settlements on small, separate farmsteads without any defensive protection is also a strong argument against the people living there being aggressors.
About 3000 battle axes have been found, in sites distributed over all of Scandinavia, but they are sparse in Norrland and northern Norway. Less than 100 settlements are known, and their remains are negligible as they are located on continually used farmland, and have consequently been plowed away. Einar Østmo reports sites inside the Arctic Circle in the Lofoten, and as far north as the present city of Tromsø.
The Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture was based on the same agricultural practices as the previous Funnelbeaker culture, but the appearance of metal changed the social system. This is marked by the fact that the Funnelbeaker culture had collective megalithic graves with a great deal of sacrifices to the graves, but the Battle Axe culture has individual graves with individual sacrifices.
A new aspect was given to the culture in 1993, when a death house in Turinge, in Södermanland was excavated. Along the once heavily timbered walls were found the remains of about twenty clay vessels, six work axes and a battle axe, which all came from the last period of the culture. There were also the cremated remains of at least six people. This is the earliest find of cremation in Scandinavia and it shows close contacts with Central Europe.
In the context of the entry of Germanic into the region, Einar Østmo emphasizes that the Atlantic and North Sea coastal regions of Scandinavia, and the circum-Baltic areas were united by a vigorous maritime economy, permitting a far wider geographical spread and a closer cultural unity than interior continental cultures could attain. He points to the widely disseminated number of rock carvings assigned to this era, which display "thousands" of ships. To seafaring cultures like this one, the sea is a highway and not a divider.
The Finnish Battle Axe culture was a mixed cattle-breeder and hunter-gatherer culture, and one of the few in this horizon to provide rich finds from settlements.
There are very few discovered settlements, which led to the traditional view of this culture as exclusively nomadic pastoralists, similar to that of the Yamnaya culture, and the reconstructed culture of the Indo-Europeans as inferred from philology.
However, this view was modified, as some evidence of sedentary farming emerged. Traces of emmer, common wheat and barley were found at a Corded Ware site at Bronocice in south-east Poland. Wheeled vehicles (presumably drawn by oxen) are in evidence, a continuation from the Funnelbeaker culture era.
Cows' milk was used systematically from 3400 BCE onwards in the northern Alpine foreland. Sheep were kept more frequently in the western part of Switzerland due to the stronger Mediterranean influence. Changes in slaughter age and animal size are possibly evidence for sheep being kept for their wool at Corded Ware sites in this region.
Burial occurred in flat graves or below small tumuli in a flexed position; on the continent males lay on their right side, females on the left, with the faces of both oriented to the south. However, in Sweden and also parts of northern Poland the graves were oriented north-south, men lay on their left side and women on the right side - both facing east. Originally, there was probably a wooden construction, since the graves are often positioned in a line. This is in contrast with practices in Denmark where the dead were buried below small mounds with a vertical stratigraphy: the oldest below the ground, the second above this grave, and occasionally even a third burial above those. Other types of burials are the niche-graves of Poland. Grave goods for men typically included a stone battle axe. Pottery in the shape of beakers and other types are the most common burial gifts, generally speaking. These were often decorated with cord, sometimes with incisions and other types of impressions.
The approximately contemporary Beaker culture had similar burial traditions, and together they covered most of Western and Central Europe. The Beaker culture originated around 2800 BCE in the Iberian Peninsula and subsequently extended into Central Europe, where it partly coexisted with the Corded Ware region.
In April 2011, it was reported that an untypical Corded Ware burial had been discovered in a suburb of Prague. The remains, believed to be male, were orientated in the same way as women's burials and were not accompanied by any gender-specific grave goods. Based on this, and the importance usually attached to funeral rites by people from this period, the archaeologists suggested that this was unlikely to be accidental, and conclude that it was likely that this individual "was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual", while media reports heralded the discovery of the world's first "gay caveman". Archaeologists and biological anthropologists criticised media coverage as sensationalist. "If this burial represents a transgendered [sic] individual (as well it could), that doesn't necessarily mean the person had a 'different sexual orientation' and certainly doesn't mean that he would have considered himself (or that his culture would have considered him) 'homosexual,'" anthropologist Kristina Killgrove commented. Other items of criticism were that someone buried in the Copper Age was not a "caveman" and that identifying the sex of skeletal remains is difficult and inexact. Turek notes that there are several examples of Corded Ware graves containing older biological males with typically female grave goods and body orientation. He suggests that "aged men may have decided to 'retire' as women for symbolic and practical reasons." A detailed account of the burial has not yet appeared in scientific literature.
The Corded Ware culture may have played a central role in the spread of the Indo-European languages in Europe during the Copper and Bronze Ages. According to Mallory (1999), the Corded Ware culture may have been "the common prehistoric ancestor of the later Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, and possibly some of the Indo-European languages of Italy." Yet, Mallory (1999) also notes that the Corded Ware can not account for Greek, Illyrian, Thracian and East Italic, which may be derived from Southeast Europe. Mallory (2013) proposes that the Beaker culture was associated with a European branch of Indo-European dialects, termed "North-west Indo-European", spreading northwards from the Alpine regions and ancestral to not only Celtic but equally Italic, Germanic and Balto-Slavic.
According to Anthony (2007), the Corded Ware horizon may have introduced Germanic, Baltic and Slavic into northern Europe. According to Anthony, the Pre-Germanic dialects may have developed in the Usatovo culture in south-eastern Central Europe between the Dniestr and the Vistula between c. 3100 and 2800 BCE, and spread with the Corded Ware culture. Between 3100 and 2800/2600 BCE, a real folk migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers from the Yamnaya culture took place into the Danube Valley, which eventually reached as far as Hungary, where pre-Celtic and pre-Italic may have developed. Slavic and Baltic developed at the middle Dniepr (present-day Ukraine).
Haak et al. (2015) envision a migration from the Yamnaya culture into Germany. Allentoft et al. (2015) envision a migration from the Yamnaya culture towards north-western Europe via Central Europe, and towards the Baltic area and the eastern periphery of the Corded Ware culture via the territory of present-day Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
According to Gimbutas' original theory, the process of "Indo-Europeanization" of Corded Ware (and, later, the rest of Europe) was essentially a cultural transformation, not one of physical type. The Yamnaya migration from Eastern to Central and Western Europe is understood by Gimbutas as a military victory, resulting in the Yamnaya imposing a new administrative system, language and religion upon the indigenous groups.[a][b] The Old Europeans (indigenous groups) had neither a warrior class nor horses, and lived in (probably) theocratic monarchies presided over by a queen-priestess in relatively egalitarian societies,[c] in contrast with the social structure of the Yamnaya-derived cultures that followed them.
David Anthony (2007), in his "revised Steppe hypothesis" proposes that the spread of the Indo-European languages probably did not happen through "chain-type folk migrations," but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political elites, which were emulated by large groups of people, a process which he calls "elite recruitment".[d] Yet, in supplementary information to Haak et al. (2015) Anthony, together with Lazaridis, Haak, Patterson, and Reich, notes that the mass migration of Yamnaya people to northern Europe shows that "the Steppe hypothesis does not require elite dominance to have transmitted Indo-European languages into Europe. Instead, our results show that the languages could have been introduced simply by strength of numbers: via major migration in which both sexes participated."[e]
Linguist Guus Kroonen points out that speakers of Indo-European languages encountered existing populations in Europe that spoke unrelated, non-Indo-European languages when they migrated further into Europe from the Yamnaya culture's steppe zone at the margin of Europe. He focuses on both the effects on Indo-European languages that resulted from this contact and investigation of the pre-existing languages. Relatively little is known about the Pre-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Europe, except for Basque, as the "Indo-Europeanization" of Europe caused a largely unrecorded, massive linguistic extinction event, most likely through language shift. Kroonen's 2015 study purports to show that Pre-Indo-European speech contains a clear Neolithic signature emanating from the Aegean language family and thus patterns with the prehistoric migration of Europe's first farming populations.
Marija Gimbutas, as part of her theory, had already inferred that the Corded Ware culture's intrusion into Scandinavia formed a synthesis with the indigenous people of the Funnelbeaker culture, giving birth to the Proto-Germanic language. According to Edgar Polomé, 30% of the non-Indo-European substratum found in the modern German language derives from non-Indo-European-speakers of Funnelbeaker culture, indigenous to southern Scandinavia. She claimed that when Yamnaya Indo-European speakers came into contact with the indigenous peoples during the 3rd millennium BCE, they came to dominate the local populations yet parts of the indigenous lexicon persisted in the formation of Proto-Germanic, thus giving Proto-Germanic the status of being an "Indo-Europeanized" language. However, more recent linguists have substantially reduced the number of roots claimed to be uniquely Germanic, and more recent treatments of Proto-Germanic tend to reject or simply omit discussion of the Germanic substrate hypothesis, giving little reason to consider Germanic anything but a typical Indo-European dialect with at most minor substrate influence.
Haak et al. (2015) found that a large proportion of the ancestry of the Corded Ware culture's population is similar to that of the Yamnaya culture, tracing the Corded Ware culture's origins to a "massive migration" of the Yamnaya or an earlier (pre-Yamnaya) population from the steppes 4,500 years ago. The DNA of late Neolithic Corded Ware skeletons found in Germany was found to be around 75% similar to DNA from individuals of the Yamnaya culture. Yet, Haak et al. (2015) warned:
We caution that the sampled Yamnaya individuals from Samara might not be directly ancestral to Corded Ware individuals from Germany. It is possible that a more western Yamnaya population, or an earlier (pre-Yamnaya) steppe population may have migrated into central Europe, and future work may uncover more missing links in the chain of transmission of steppe ancestry.-- W. Haak et al., Nature (2015)
The same study estimated a 40-54% ancestral contribution of so-called "steppe ancestry" in the DNA of modern Central & Northern Europeans, and a 20-32% contribution in modern Southern Europeans, excluding Sardinians (7.1% or less), and to a lesser extent Sicilians (11.6% or less). Haak et al. (2015) further found that autosomal DNA tests indicate that westward migration from the steppes was responsible for the introduction of a component of ancestry referred to as "Ancient North Eurasian" admixture into western Europe. "Ancient North Eurasian" is the name given in genetic literature to a component that represents descent from the people of the Mal'ta-Buret' culture or a population closely related to them. The "Ancient North Eurasian" genetic component is visible in tests of the Yamnaya people as well as modern-day Europeans, but not of Western or Central Europeans predating the Corded Ware culture.
Heyd (2017) has cautioned to be careful with drawing too strong conclusions from those genetic similarities between Corded Ware and Yamnaya, noting the small number of samples; the late dates of the Esperstadt graves, which could also have undergone Bell Beaker admixture; the presence of Yamnaya-ancestry in western Europe before the Danube-expansion; and the risks of extrapolating "the results from a handful of individual burials to whole ethnically interpreted populations." Heyd confirms the close connection between Corded Ware and Yamnaya, but also states that "neither a one-to-one translation from Yamnaya to CWC, nor even the 75:25 ratio as claimed (Haak et al. 2015:211) fits the archaeological record."
In an archaeogentic study focusing on late Neolithic and Bronze Age individuals from Bohemia, Papac et al. (2021), which includes Haak and Heyd as co-authors, suggest that the early Corded Ware culture was a "polyethnic" society characterized by genetic, cultural, and linguistic diversity, resulting from the agglomeration of people of the Globular Amphora culture and Yamnaya-related migrants, who had highly differentiated genetic profiles, a different material culture, and probably spoke different languages. 100% of the Bohemian Corded Ware samples found without steppe-derived ancestry were female, indicating that this genetic diversity was a result of Corded Ware males marrying and assimilating local Globular Amphora females. Later Corded Ware individuals of Central Europe were less differentiated genetically. This study also detected ancestry similar to Latvia Middle Neolithic ("Latvia_MN-like"), or Ukraine Neolithic in early Corded Ware individuals, suggesting either a northeast European Eneolithic forest steppe contribution to early CW, partially supported by archaeology, or alternatively a contribution from a hypothetical steppe population carrying this ancestry, which the authors consider less likely. This ancestry made up 5-15% of the early Corded Ware ancestry, depending on the model used.
According to Malmström et al. (2019), neither R1a nor R1b-M269 have been reported among Neolithic populations of central and western Europe, although it was common among earlier hunter gatherers of Eastern Europe. Haak et al. note that their results suggest that these haplogroups "spread into Europe from the East after 3,000 BCE."
The majority of CWC-men carried haplogroup R1a-M417, the remaining ones R1b and I2a. Note that, although related to the Corded Ware population, Yamnaya males mainly carried R1b-Z2103, while R1b-bearing Corded Ware males had R1b-L51, suggesting that Corded Ware culture males cannot be directly patrilineally descended from Yamnaya individuals.[f] Yet, Linderholm et al. (2020) found seven CW males which were narrowed down to either R1b-M269 or R-L11, while Allentoft et al. (2015) report two CW males with R1b, and Fürtwangler et al. (2020) report three CW males with R1b. According to Sjögren et al. (2020), R1b-M269 "is the major lineage associated with the arrival of Steppe ancestry in western Europe after 2500 BC[E]."
Papac et al. (2021) argue that the differences in Y-DNA between early CW and Yamnaya males suggest that the Yamnaya culture did not have a direct role in the origins and expansion of the Corded Ware culture. They found that a majority of early Corded Ware males in Bohemia belonged to R1b-L151, while R1a lineages became predominant over time. The study detected a reduction in male haplogroup diversity over time, reducing from five different lineages in early CW to a single dominant lineage, R1a-M417(xZ645), in late CW. The authors suggest that males of this haplogroup had around 15% more surviving offspring per generation compared to other males, which may have been caused by "selection, social structure, or influx of nonlocal R1a-M417(xZ645) lineages." The sample included one individual ancestral to haplogroup R1b-P312, which is the most common male lineage found in individuals of the Bell Beaker culture.
An overview of reported CW Y-DNA haplogroups:
A 2015 study by Allentoft et al. in Nature found the people of the Corded Ware culture to be genetically similar to the Beaker culture, the Unetice culture and the Nordic Bronze Age.[g] People of the Nordic Bronze Age and Corded Ware show the highest lactose tolerance among Bronze Age Europeans.[h]
The study also found a close genetic relationship between the Corded Ware culture and the Sintashta culture, suggesting that the Sintashta culture emerged as a result of an eastward expansion of Corded Ware peoples. The Sintashta culture is in turn closely genetically related to the Andronovo culture, by which it was succeeded.[i] Many cultural similarities between the Sintashta/Andronovo culture, the Nordic Bronze Age and the people of the Rigveda have been detected.[j]
Narasimhan et al. (2019) found the Sintashta culture, the Potapovka culture, the Andronovo culture and the Srubnaya culture to be closely related to the Corded Ware culture.[k][l] These cultures were found to harbor mixed ancestry from the Yamnaya culture and peoples of the Middle Neolithic of Central Europe. The genetic data suggested that these cultures were ultimately derived of a remigration of Central European peoples with steppe ancestry back into the steppe.[m]