During the past few years we have witnessed a knowledge-revolution in
archaeology, brought about by contributions from ancient DNA and isotopic tracing. It revealed a much more dramatic European prehistory than previously thought, characterized by major migrations 6000 BC (introduction of farming from Anatolia) and 3000 BC (steppe migrations into Europe).
Our research team provided much of this new evidence. In this project we focus in on the remaining big transformations in European Prehistory from the end of the Mesolithic (Hunter-Gatherers) until the Iron Age.
Firstly: we trace the introduction of farming after 4000 BC into northern Europe.
Secondly: we trace movement from the Iberian Peninsula north along the Atlantic coastline of Bell Beaker people, which may have introduced metalworking.
Thirdly: the Bronze Age stands out as a new epoch of extreme connectivity and trade from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia. We trace genetically and strontium wise how this new interconnected world operated.
To achieve our goals, we employ a truly interdisciplinary research design by combining ancient DNA, isotopic tracing, archaeology and historical linguistics to document the full complexity of these historical changes. It will inform us about how new migrating groups interacted with existing populations and in the process created new cultures and languages. Such knowledge is relevant also in the present.
1. Research areas and goals
During the past five years we have witnessed a knowledge-revolution in archaeology, brought about by contributions from ancient DNA research, based on the breakthrough of Next generation sequencing allowing full genomic reconstruction of ancient samples for the first time. It has now become clear that later European prehistory saw three major migratory events that transformed the continent genetically, culturally and economically. The first was the out of Africa peopling of Europe in the Palaeolithic 50.000 years ago, the second the introduction of farming, which originated in migrations from Anatolia into Europe around 6000 BC, one route leading through the Balkans into Central Europe, and one route following the Mediterranean coastline. The third was the steppe migrations into Europe after 3000 BC, which introduced a new more pastoral economy, and profoundly changed the genetic outlook of Europeans, perhaps also their languages.
Although advances in strontium isotopic tracing during the last ten years had prepared archaeology that prehistory was more mobile than had been thought previously, no one was prepared for the results from ancient DNA that dramatic migrations had changed the genetic outlook of Europeans so profoundly during the third millennium BC, and that these changes had a lasting effect until the present. One possible explanation for this major changeover is the recent documentation of plague among the steppe people 3000 BC, which they brought along, and which could also explain a mysterious decline in population prior to the migrations
In the last decades interpretations of later European prehistory had been based on the dogma that no major migrations took place after the introduction of farming, and hence small-scale interaction, and exchange of ideas and technologies were the major drivers of change. The fall of this model leaves European Prehistory in an interpretative vacuum, since we will have to revise our theoretical understanding of social and cultural change. However, there are still major gaps in our knowledge of how changes unfolded since the Mesolithic in temperate Europe.
1.2. Research goals
First research goal
A major goal of this project is to employ results from aDNA on migration at the macro level, and combine it with strontium isotopic tracing of local human mobility and diet, to reinterpret local processes of change. We are helped in this as we can employ data on strontium isotopes of 600 individuals from the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC from the advanced ERC grant of the applicant: The Rise, not yet published, as well as the genomic data from 101 individuals which formed the basis for the breakthrough articles on the steppe migrations and their impact from The Rise project. Our approach, to combine aDNA and strontium isotopic tracing (plus C14) from each sample in the project is so far unique, and it allows us to combine macro and micro events of change for the first time.
Second research goal
As a follow up from The Rise project we decided to focus attention on remaining gaps in our knowledge of European prehistory in order to create a more complete understanding of the big transformations in European Prehistory from the end of the Mesolithic (Hunter-Gatherers) until the Iron Age:
- the introduction of farming into most of northern and western Europe
- the movements from the Iberian Peninsula north along the Atlantic coastline of Bell Beaker people
- the Bronze Age mobility and the end of the Bronze Age unfolded in the Mediterranean.
Third research goal
Our third research goal is to link language change to these major demographic and cultural transformations, as we propose that the formation of culture and language, as processes of interaction, should be closely related, both at the macro and the micro level. Recent advances in historical linguistics in the study of relict language terms in Indo-European languages promise to provide new evidence of prehistoric language and cultural contacts as well as language shifts that can be matched with results from archaeology, genetics and strontium analyses. This is perhaps a more challenging undertaking, but worth taking. Language is central to the transmission of culture and linguistic reconstruction has the potential of unlocking evidence on e.g. kinship systems, dietary customs and the dispersal of technological innovations. In addition, the study of language contact offers evidence on the prehistoric interactions between different population groups. As such, it is necessary for a complete understanding of how culture and language are interrelated.
Fourth research goal
The fourth research goal is to re-theorize and re-calibrate interpretations of how material culture, diet and language are effected by migration, settling down and integration with existing populations. We shall compare these processes for each of our major transformations in European prehistory: the 4th millennium Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in temperate Europe, the third millennium BC steppe migrations, the subsequent Bell Beaker migrations, and the formation of an interconnected world in the Bronze Age. From this we shall deduct possible regularities, and compare them to existing anthropological and historical models of such processes, to form a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of migration, cultural and language change in the past.
1.3. Research Areas
Subsistence economy is one of the fundamental aspects of prehistoric societies. In addition to nourishment, aspects such as health, population density, mobility patterns, and prosperity are conditioned by subsistence. Further, subsistence economy may restrain or facilitate surplus production and/or concentration to certain individuals or groups, i.e. the development of ranked or hierarchical societies. In addition to traditional methods such as pollen analysis, macrofossils and faunal bone, recent years has seen a strong development of direct methods for studying diet through stable isotopic analysis of human skeletal bones. On the individual level, dietary variability may show interesting correlation with sex, age and cultural variables, thus helping the interpretation of results from DNA analysis and isotopic tracing of mobility.
The most established method for isotopic study of diet is measurement of the light stable isotopes δ13C and δ15N in bone or in tooth dentine. The protein collagen is present in the dentine of the tooth root and remodels very little after formation. Isotope measurements of such samples therefore inform us about diet during the formation of the root, i.e., various stages of childhood and adolescence depending on which tooth is analyzed. In this project, we will systematically analyse 13C and 15N isotopes from human bone collagen, as well as 13C from bone apatite in order to study diet and dietary change. These analyses inform on broad food composition, such as input from marine or freshwater protein, importance of C3/C4 plants, input from different levels in the food chain, or vegetable vs animal food sources.
Since the view of human diet from collagen is biased towards protein sources, we need complementary methods to look at the composition of the whole diet. Carbon is also present in the mineral portion of bone and tooth enamel as carbonate and records the aggregate (protein, fats and carbohydrate) value of individual diet (Lee-Thorpe et al 1984). Although there are potential problems with contamination in apatite, it can nonetheless provide substantial insight into the composition of individual diet. Variation in enamel carbonate values can reflect geographic, individual, and/or seasonal fluctuations in the δ13C of dietary
input. Since enamel δ13C is influenced by the whole diet, the difference between collagen and enamel values should be greater in cases where much of non-protein food components are different from protein sources than in cases where they coincide. This is supported by measurements on animals; carnivores tend to have low collagen-enamel spacing (< ca 4-5 ‰) while herbivores show higher differences (Lee-Thorpe et al 1984). The systematic application of this method is novel to this project.
Mobility studies have in recent years increasingly come to rely on the measurement of strontium isotope rations in human bone tissue, preferably tooth enamel. This is a robust method which has proven reliable in many contexts. Strontium is taken up in the enamel during childhood, and gives a signal depending on the local geology. We can therefore get a measure of movement if we compare with the place of burial. The method also allows us to look at patterns in mobility by comparing different categories of people, such as sex, age or archaeological context.
Further, recent method developments in strontium isotopic tracing provide unprecedented possibilities by which past human mobility can be identified. These include high-resolution mobility tracing of single individuals based on strontium isotope analyses of segments of scalp hair and fingernails, geographical provenance investigations in cremated remains through isotopic analyses of the pars petrosa bone, large sampling size strategy at specific well preserved sites in order to recognize different groups within a single community, and multiple sampling of exceptionally well preserved single individuals to reconstruct mobility through their life time.
The aim is to combine the data of geographical provenance with that of genetics, with the purpose of recognizing if changes in cultural diversity correlate with genetic diversity and/or geographical provenance.
The results obtained from archaeology and scientific methods will provide a new framework for understanding the operation of social processes during migration, settling down and integration. We will further be able to trace the formation of new material culture in the process. In all likelihood such changes also included language changes. Here we apply recent innovative methodologies that trace relict terms and words in existing Indo-European languages, which point back to their contacts and hybridization with previously spoken languages. In this way, we may provide clues to processes of language shift, as well as clues to the date and origin of various Indo-European languages.
A major objective of this project is to consider to re-theorize and thus recalibrate interpretations of mobility, culture, language and genetics. We are helped in this daunting task by the recent advanced in genetics, which means that we are now finally in a position where migrations can be documented and identified rather than debated. This has lifted an interpretative burden from archaeology, in much the same way as C14 dating did when it was introduced. The new freedom can instead be invested in properly theorizing and interpreting local processes of migration, integration and consolidation, which has been an underdeveloped field of research. By integrating results from archaeology, isotopic tracing and historical linguistics this will in turn allow us to formulate better-founded models for the interaction of intruding and settled groups, the formation of a new material culture, and consequently also for language dispersals and language change.
The project consists of four sub-projects:
Sub-project 1. The nature of the Mesolithic –Neolithic transition
Sub-project 2. From collective to individuality in western Europe. Investigating the Bell Beaker phenomenon
Sub-project 3. Bronze Age transformations: from Middle to Late Bronze Age and the end of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean
Sub-project 4. Prehistoric languages and language changes
2.1. Sub-project 1. The nature of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
M. Allentoft, K.-G. Sjögren, A. Fischer, P. Bennike, J. Montgomery
The question of the processes involved in this transition has been vividly discussed for a long time. Recent aDNA work has made it increasingly clear that this cultural and economic shift was associated with a genetic shift which can be traced over large areas of Europe, with new genetic types probably originating in the eastern Mediterranean. However, there are still large gaps in the data and several questions remain unanswered. One of the major gaps in our knowledge concerns the genetic structure of the populations living in Europe before the introduction of agriculture. So far, only very few individuals from this period have been analyzed, mainly from northern Europe. Commonly, Mesolithic Europeans have been depicted as genetically homogeneous, in contrast to the genetic variability of the Neolithic populations. This picture rests to a large extent on mtDNA, while the few analyses made on nuclear DNA give indications that the picture may actually be rather different.
Further, the picture of early Neolithic genetic structure is dominated by analyses of individuals from the early Neolithic in central Europe, and needs to be supplemented both temporally and geographically. The present picture of a clear genetic break between Mesolithic and Neolithic populations is partly dependent on biased sampling and comparison between Neolithic groups in central Europe with Mesolithic groups in other areas.
In this subproject, we wish to address some of these shortcomings by integrated study of DNA, diet and mobility, covering hitherto not analysed regions and periods of the European Mesolithic and Neolithic. The samples used for DNA will also be subjected to C14 dating and determination of d13C and d15N ratios in bone collagen, to inform on diet. Tooth enamel or bone apatite from the samples will be used for analysis of Sr and Pb isotopes and apatite d13C. This will give us information about mobility as well as additional information about diet. A particular focus in this subproject will be on the transition process in northern Europe.
2.2. Sub-project 2. From collective to individuality in western Europe. Investigating the Bell Beaker phenomenon
K-G Sjögren, T. D. Price, K. Kristiansen, M. Allentoft
The Neolithic and Chalcolithic of western Europe sees the development of a rich and varied series of monumental and/or collective burial forms, as well as ceremonial complexes. The burials occur in caves, rock cut tombs (hypogeums), megalithic chamber tombs, and non-megalithic monuments. In these, variable numbers of individuals up to more than 300 may be interred. Monumental burial seems to start in the mid-5th millennium, with early examples such as the Passy type monuments in the Paris basin, and continue through the 4th and 3rd millennia in many regions. The use of collective burial monuments seems at present knowledge to reach a peak in the last part of the 4th millennium, a time when these types of monuments were also built in parts of northern and central Europe. This is also the time when massive use of large chambers is indicated, such as the famous site of Chaussee-Tirancourt in the Paris basin, and the recently excavated site at Bury in the same region.
In the period ca 2800-2500 BC to ca 2000 BC, the use of monumental collective graves is complemented by the appearance of a new tradition, the Bell Beaker phenomenon. These are normally single, crouched inhumations in small cemeteries, accompanied by a characteristic set of artefacts including high quality pottery, flint or copper daggers, and archery equipment such as wrist guards. At settlements, such items are also found, but accompanied by less prestigious artefacts, such as household pottery (so-called Begleitkeramik). This kind of burial occurs over a vast area of Western Europe, from Iberia to England and further east also in central Europe. The distribution can be characterized as a patchwork of regional groups, separated by less dense or empty areas. Regarding the formation of the Bell Beaker culture, most researchers now favour an origin in Iberia with a subsequent spread to the north and east, although origins in other areas such as central Europe or the Netherlands have also been suggested.
This western phenomenon in fact has much in common with the partly contemporary Corded Ware, found in central, northern and Eastern Europe. Both complexes are largely defined by burial customs emphasizing individual burial as well as sex and age distinctions, and less emphasis on what may be interpreted as ancestral rites. The archaeological interpretations have also to some extent followed similar paths, although the different archaeological backgrounds also give rise to differences. The most obvious difference is the lack of Neolithic monumental and/or collective burial in most parts of central and Eastern Europe, making the difference to the Corded Ware less dramatic than in Western Europe. In both cases, the new burial customs have been associated with new social forms, such as stronger elites or stronger emphasis on close kinship or individuality, replacing earlier more collective social forms.
It is at present not clear what processes could sustain such a relatively coherent culture over vast areas. The main contenders seem to be either some form of communication network or some form of large scale population movements. To be able to come closer to answering such questions, data on the genetic composition and variability of Bell Beakers populations as well as earlier groups, coupled with data on mobility and diet, are needed. At present, however, such data are largely lacking for Western Europe.
2.3. Sub-project 3. Bronze Age transformations: from Middle to Late Bronze Age and the end of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean
K. Kristiansen, M. Allentoft, K.M. Frei, S. Bergerbrant, S. Sabatini
During the last few years our perception of the Bronze Age has gradually changed due to mounting evidence of long-distance trade networks, bulk trade in copper and tin between the western Mediterranean and Scandinavia, long-distance mobility of individuals, as well as longdistance trade in wool/textiles, amber and glass beads. In short the Bronze Age represents a new level of institutionalized connectivity between societies throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Especially the period 1600-1200/1100 BC stands out as prosperous, during which northern Europe was fully integrated into the commercial trade networks that connected the Mediterranean and temperate Europe, which led to the formation of new forms of identity, new forms of craft specialization, and an increased level of organized violence.
We are able to analyse and characterize human mobility and trade during the early Bronze Age, however, when we enter the Late Bronze Age it becomes increasingly difficult to apply the same analytical techniques, as cremation burials become dominant. Little or no organic material is preserved for aDNA analysis or strontium isotopic tracing. To compensate for this, we apply recent innovations in strontium isotopic tracing of cremations. Thanks to these innovations it is thus now possible to compare inhumation and cremation burials from the Early and Late Bronze Age.
Cremation is the main form of burial in the Late Bronze Age, however a number of individuals are also deposited in bogs, and they will form a genetic reference group for the Late Bronze Age, as we cannot do DNA on cremated bones. For aDNA and for Sr isotopes in order to see if they in any clear way differs from the cremated population.
The project will focus on two key-areas in Europe, Southern Scandinavia and Italy, and the data gathered will be compared to the inhumation results from the European Research Council Advanced Grant Project: The Rise, which has provided data from the same areas during the Early Bronze Age. In both areas, a large number of cremation graves have been unearthed, thus offering unique opportunities with extensive material that has the potential to provide a statistically sound overview of the degree of mobility (or lack of it) during the entire Bronze Age period.
After 1200 BC these groups peripheral to the Mediterranean core area for reasons yet unknown started to migrate towards the centres of civilisation, leading to the downfall of the Mycenaean and Hittite civilizations, and decline in Egypt and the Levant. Critical analyses of the possible causes of these dramatic events question any major population movements, which deserve to be tested genetically.
2.4. Subproject 4. Prehistoric languages and language changes
G. Kroonen, K. Kristiansen
The dominance of the Indo-European languages in Europe is a striking fact of history and immediately raises what has been called “one of the thorniest issues in all of European prehistory”. Though numerous theories on the origin of the Indo-European languages have been formulated, there are currently only two prehistoric events that are considered as likely cultural and technological driving factors behind the spread of Indo-European speech: the spread of farming from Anatolia and the spread of pastoral-nomadism from the Pontic-Caspian Steppes.
The approach presented in this project takes its point of departure in an analysis of language transitions, and the results may have a bearing upon the origin of Indo-European languages, although not a primary goal.
Language spread and language contact
When different Indo-European speaking groups settled Europe, they did not arrive in terra nullius. The carriers of Indo-European speech indubitably encountered existing populations that spoke one or more entirely different, unrelated languages. One of the key moments at understanding the rooting of the Indo-European languages in Europe is the period of initial contact with existing local populations. In order to study this moment, it is vital to investigate the processes of cultural and linguistic exchange that took place in the different regions of Europe following initial settlement, and the way in which they are reflected in the Indo-European vocabularies.
Relatively little is known about the Pre-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Europe, as the Indo-Europeanization of the continent caused a massive linguistic extinction of all previously spoken European languages. Though numerous studies on the original linguistic make-up of Europe exist, the rapid advances in genetic sampling techniques of aDNA now call for a reassessment of the linguistic evidence on the Indo-Europeanization of Europe and the early contacts with non-Indo-European languages.
Isolating Remains of Neolithic Speech
Many of the non-Indo-European terms adopted from a local Neolithic language by Germanic have structurally similar analogues in the other Indo-European branches of Europe, i.e. Celtic, Greek and Latin, suggesting that Europe was at least partly covered by a single Neolithic language (group) from the Balkans to South Scandinavia. Though few important studies are available, a systematic study on the cross-European evidence on this language is yet to be completed. The main objective and challenge of this research project is therefore:
1) to perform a European-wide survey on the Neolithic vocabulary, in order to
2) collect more evidence on the typology, spread and cultural setting of this language, and 3) to compare the result with the archaeological and genetic evidence for the relevant population groups.
The material will be collected from existing Indo-European etymological dictionaries and stored in the Database of Indo-European Agricultural Terminology (http://dieat.inss.sc.ku.dk/display).
Tracing the Linguistic Impact of the Bell Beaker Culture
It is becoming clear on the basis of Sr isotope analyses that the creation of the Bell Beaker horizon was coupled with a considerable degree of mobility. Early finds of Bell Beakers from the Iberian Peninsula suggest that the model for this cultural complex spread from the southwest, thus opening the door for possible linguistic interactions across Western Europe. This potentially sheds new light upon a well-established, yet still enigmatic corpus of purely European isoglosses, i.e. terms without counterparts in the rest of the Indo-European family. Traditionally, these terms have been explained as direct loans from Celtic to Germanic, Germanic or Celtic to Basque, or Basque to Celtic and Germanic. The time frame of the late 3rd millennium is too early, however, to identify individual Indo-European subgroups. A more likely scenario is that different, relatively undiversified Indo-European dialects reconnected to create one of the lingua francas of the Bell Beaker culture. It can thus be hypothesized that the Bell Beaker culture became an important factor at the Indo-Europeanization of West Europe. The objective is to see too what extent this hypothesis can be substantiated by isolating lexical innovations that match the Bell Beaker’s cultural package from the aforementioned Indo-European dialects.
Ladegaard-Pedersen, P. Achilleos, M., Dörflinger, G., Frei, R., Kristiansen, K., Frei, K.M. 2020, A strontium isotope baseline of Cyprus. Assessing the use of soil leachates, plants, groundwater and surface water as proxies for the local range of bioavailable strontium isotope composition, Science of the Total Environment, Volume 708, 15 March 2020, 134714
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Bergerbrant, S. 2019. Transcultural Fostering in the Bronze Age? A case study of grave 4/2 in mound II Abbekås. In Sjögren, A.A., Berg, I., Engström, E., Stenholm, A.-M. H., Jonsson, K., Klevnäs, A., Ljung, C., Qvistström, L. & Zachrisson, T. (eds.), Tidens landskap: Festschrift to Anders Andrén. Stockholm, Stockholm University, Nordic Academic Press: Stockholm, pp 86-88.
Frei, K.M., Bergerbrant, S., Sjögren, K.G., Jørkov, M.L., Lynnerup, N., Harig, L., Allentoft, M.E., Sikora, M., Price, T.D., Frei, R. & Kristiansen, K. 2019, Mapping human mobility in third and second millennia BC Denmark, PlosOne 14(8) e0219850.
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Olsen, B.A., Olander, T., Kristiansen K. (eds.) 2019 Tracing the Indo-europeans. New evidence from archaeology and historical linguistics, Oxbow Books: Oxford.
Rascovan, N., Sjögren, K.-G., Kristiansen, K., Nielsen, R., Willerslev, E., Desnues, C., Rasmussen, S. 2019, Emergence and Spread of Basal Lineages of Yersinia pestis during the Neolithic Decline, Cell 176: 1–11 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2018.11.005
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O'Shea, J.M., Parditka, G., Nicodemus, A., Kristiansen, K., Sjögren K.-G., Paja, L., Pálfi, G. & Milašinović, L. 2019, Social formation and collapse in the Tisza-Maros region: dating the Maros Group and its Late Bronze Age successors, Antiquity 93(369): 604-623.
Schroeder, H., Margaryan, A., Szmyt, M., Theulot, B., Wlodarczak, P., Rasmussen, S., Gopalakrishnan, S., Szczepanek, A., Konopka, T., Jensen, T.Z.T., Witkowska, B., Wilk, S., Przybyła, M.M., Pospieszny, Ł., Sjögren, K.-G., Belka, Z., Olsen, J., Kristiansen, K., Willerslev, E., Frei, K.M., Sikora, M., Johannsen, N.N. & Allentoft, M.E. 2019, Unraveling ancestry, kinship, and violence in a Late Neolithic mass grave
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Iversen, R. & Kroonen, G. 2017. Talking Neolithic: Linguistic and Archaeological Perspectives on How Indo-European Was Implemented in Southern Scandinavia. American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 4, pp. 511-525.
Bergerbrant, S., Kristian, K., Allentoft, M.E., Frei, K.M., Price, T.D., Sjögren, K-G. & Tornberg, A. (2017) Identifying commoners in the Early Bronze Age: burials outside barrows. In New Perspectives on the Bronze Age, eds. Bergerbrant, S., & Wessman, A., Archaeopress Archaeology, Oxford, pp. 37-64.
Klejn, L.S., Haak, W., Lazaridis, I., Patterson, N., Reich, D., Kristiansen, K., Sjögren, K.-G., Allentoft, M., Sikora, M. & Willerslev, E. (2018) Discussion: Are the Origins of Indo-European Languages Explained by the Migration of the Yamnaya Culture to the
West? European Journal of Archaeology 21(1): 3-17.
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4. Conferences, seminars and workshops
Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre Opening Workshop
2-4 April 2019, Copenhaghen Denmark
Cross-Project Interdisciplinary Masterclass: EUROLITHIC & Towards a New European Prehistory
28 February 2019, Center for Geogenetics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
When Archaeology Meets Linguistics and Genetics
2-4 May 2018, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Tales of Bronze Age women
9-10 October 2017 Copenhagen, Denmark