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Corded Ware Culture (c. 3000-2350 BCE)

Quick Facts

  • Also known as the Battle Axe culture or Single Grave culture.
  • Associated with the diffusion of Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic speakers.
  • Blend of cultural elements of the earlier Funnelbeaker culture in the North European Plain with the PIE steppe culture (Yamna).
  • Mobile pastoral economy relying mostly on cattle and occasional cereal cultivation.
  • Regular use of horses and oxe-drawn wagons. Presence of copper and bronze artefacts as well as stone battle-axes.
  • Coarse pottery typically decorated with twisted cord impressions, and sometimes with other types of impressions or incisions. Use of beakers and cups for drinking.
  • The dead were inhumed in flat graves inside a small mound. Bodies were laid on their side with bent knees. Wagons/carts and sacrificed animals were present in graves.
Distribution of the Corded Ware Culture

Historical context of the Unetice culture

Map of early Bronze Age cultures in Europe - Eupedia

Genetic Analysis

Y-DNA & mtDNA

MtDNA frequency in the Corded Ware culture
Hg N1a R0/HV H HV0/V J T1 T2 U2 U3 U4 U5 K I W X
N=71 0 0 15 1 8 4 7 3 0 5 9 10 2 3 3
% 0% 0% 21% 1.5% 11% 5.5% 10% 4% 0% 7% 13% 14.5% 3% 4% 4%

The following mtDNA and Y-DNA samples were tested by Allentoft et al. (2015).

Sample Y-DNA mtDNA Location Date
RISE00 - H5a1 Sope, Estonia ?
RISE1 R1b K1b1a1 Oblaczkovo, Poland 2700 BCE
RISE94 R1a1a1 (M417) K1a2a Viby, Sweden 2550 BCE
RISE431 R1a1a1 T2e Leki Male, Poland 2150 BCE
RISE434 R1a1a1 U4 Tiefbrunn, Germany 2750 BCE
RISE435 - J1b1a1 Tiefbrunn, Germany 2600 BCE
RISE436 R1a1a1 U5b1c2 Tiefbrunn, Germany 2750 BCE
RISE446 R1a1a1 (M417) U5b1c2 Bergrheinfeld, Germany 2650 BCE

The following mtDNA and Y-DNA samples were tested by Haak et al. (2015).

Sample Y-DNA mtDNA Location Date
I0049 - X2b4 Esperstedt, Germany 2350 BCE
I0103 - W6a Esperstedt, Germany 2500 BCE
I0104 R1a1a1 U4b1a1a1 Esperstedt, Germany 2400 BCE
I0106 - T2a1b1 Esperstedt, Germany 2350 BCE

The following mtDNA and Y-DNA samples were tested by Haak et al. (2008), Adler, C.J. (2012), Lee et al. (2012), Brandt et al. (2013) and Brotherton et al. (2013). Note that the samples tested by Lee et al. were reported as belonging to the Bell Beaker culture. However there are good reasons to believe that the Bell Beaker phenomenon was a multicultural trading network rather than an ethnic group. The samples matched in time and place the Corded Ware (until 2350 BCE) or Unetice (from 2300 BCE) cultures. Furthermore, the mtDNA and Y-DNA sequences retrieved were typical of PIE steppe people and are therefore better classified as belonging either to the Corded Ware culture or the Unetice culture.

Samples from Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

  • HV0e
  • H (x4)
  • H1ca1
  • H2a1
  • H4a1
  • H5
  • H6a1a
  • H10e
  • I
  • I1a1 (mtDNA) - R1b1b2 (Y-DNA)
  • J (x3)
  • J1c
  • K
  • K1
  • K1 (mtDNA) - R1a (Y-DNA) (x2)
  • K1 (mtDNA) - R1b (Y-DNA)
  • K1a24a
  • K2a5
  • T1a (x2)
  • T1a1'3 (x2)
  • T2
  • T2b2b
  • T2b4f (x2)
  • T2c
  • U2e
  • U2e2
  • U4 (x2)
  • U4a1
  • U5a (x2)
  • U5a1
  • U5a1a'g (mtDNA) - R1a (Y-DNA)
  • U5a1b1
  • U5b
  • U5b1a'b
  • W5a
  • W6a'b
  • X
  • X2b1'2'3'4'5'6

Samples from Switzerland

  • H
  • H11a (x3)
  • J1c (x2)
  • J2b1a
  • K
  • T2b
  • U2e1

Dodecad K12b admixtures of Corded Ware people

Y-chromosomal DNA and mitochondrial DNA are useful tools to follow prehistoric population migrations. However, as uniparental markers, they have their limitations and do not inform us about the whole genome composition of individuals, which can evolve very differently due to the randomness of chromosomal recombination, natural selection for specific genes, and of course to the fact that some men can have more children with multiple women, especially in the context of highly unequal prehistoric societies. The Dodecad K12b admixture calculator used here gives estimates of the ultimate region of origin of chromosomal segments outside of the X and Y chromosomes. This page provides a description of each K12b component with a distribution map among the present-day population. Average values for various ancient European populations can be found here.

West Corded Ware (Germany)

Sample ID Gedrosia Siberia NW Africa SE Asia Atlantic Med North Europe South Asia East Africa SW Asia East Asia Caucasus Sub-Saharan Africa
I0049 19.04 2.28 0.00 0.00 17.43 55.26 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 4.17 1.82
I0103 21.29 1.01 0.00 0.00 21.57 51.83 0.38 0.27 0.00 0.00 2.90 0.75
I0104 19.42 1.03 0.00 0.00 20.40 51.34 0.00 0.15 0.00 0.15 6.87 0.64
I0106 20.41 1.51 0.00 0.00 17.75 51.27 0.41 0.00 0.00 0.00 7.75 0.89
I1532 15.47 1.03 0.00 0.00 21.82 54.25 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.54 5.53 1.36
I1534 17.53 1.75 0.00 0.00 14.35 59.86 1.43 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.76 1.32
I1536 15.41 1.59 0.00 0.00 19.77 57.88 5.20 0.00 0.00 0.14 0.00 0.00
I1538 17.79 1.16 0.00 0.00 10.92 60.75 0.00 0.00 0.00 2.08 6.13 1.17
I1539 18.25 0.00 1.05 0.40 19.93 54.74 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 5.07 0.57
I1540 7.46 0.00 0.00 0.62 34.49 55.60 1.09 0.22 0.00 0.00 0.53 0.00
I1542 20.77 1.95 0.00 0.00 15.30 57.40 0.00 0.00 2.60 0.00 1.10 0.89
I1544 15.36 0.00 0.00 0.00 13.11 59.13 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 11.59 0.81
RISE434 15.93 0.00 0.00 0.00 23.21 60.04 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.82
RISE435 1.49 0.00 0.00 0.00 21.13 68.03 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 9.36 0.00
RISE436 4.85 0 0 0 33.39 44.75 0 0.03 0 3.08 12.21 1.7
RISE446 10.44 0.00 0.00 0.00 25.54 64.02 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
RISE471 2.99 0.00 0.00 0.00 48.42 32.55 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 16.04 0.00
Western Corded Ware 14.35 0.78 0.06 0.06 22.27 55.22 0.50 0.04 0.15 0.35 5.47 0.75

Northern Corded Ware/Battle-Axe culture (Scandinavia)

Sample ID Gedrosia Siberia NW Africa SE Asia Atlantic Med North Europe South Asia East Africa SW Asia East Asia Caucasus Sub-Saharan Africa
ber2 11.14 1.77 0.00 0.00 23.35 51.06 2.05 0.31 0.00 0.00 8.25 2.08
RISE94 14.87 0.00 0.00 0.00 30.51 52.60 0.29 0.00 0.00 0.00 1.49 0.24
RISE98 10.01 0.00 0.00 0.00 34.38 54.13 0.70 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.76
Battle-Axe culture 12.01 0.59 0.00 0.00 29.41 52.60 1.01 0.10 0.00 0.00 3.25 1.03

Eastern Corded Ware (Poland, Estonia)

Sample ID Gedrosia Siberia NW Africa SE Asia Atlantic Med North Europe South Asia East Africa SW Asia East Asia Caucasus Sub-Saharan Africa
poz44 17.34 1.17 0.00 0.00 13.69 58.69 3.48 0.76 0.00 0.00 4.73 0.15
poz81 26.07 1.99 0.00 0.00 9.07 60.49 0.24 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 2.14
RISE00 9.77 0.27 0.00 0.00 32.00 56.98 0.95 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.02 0.00
RISE1 6.56 0.00 0.00 0.00 17.21 73.38 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 2.85 0.00
East Corded Ware 14.94 0.86 0.00 0.00 17.99 62.39 1.17 0.19 0.00 0.00 1.90 0.57

Comparison with modern populations

Using the average values for each era above and comparing it with the Dodecad K12b averages for modern populations on Vahaduo, the genetic distance between populations can be compared. The smaller the value for the genetic distance, the most similar the population (1 being a perfect match). Under 5 is considered very close, 5 to 10 moderately similar, while over 10 is not genetically similar. There isn't any modern population that fits perfectly either the Western or Eastern Corded Ware modals, but that may be because this culture was so vast and heterogeneous that there simply wasn't just one Corded Ware type. With that in mind, the most similar population to the West Corded Ware modal are Northeast Poles, followed by other Poles, Belarussians and Russians, while the Finns, Karelians and Estonians are the closest to the East Corded Ware. On the other hand, the Battle-Axe culture is fairly close to modern Scandinavians.

Battle-Axe culture

  • Swedes: 7.0
  • Danes : 8.5
  • Norwegians : 8.6
  • Icelanders : 9.0
  • Germans : 9.4
  • Northeast Poles : 10.4
  • Sorbs from Lusatia : 10.7

West Corded Ware

  • Northeast Poles : 10.4
  • Sorbs from Lusatia : 11.3
  • Russians from Oryol and Ryazan : 12.0
  • Mordovians : 12.2
  • Poles : 12.4
  • Belarussians : 12.6
  • Russians from Tver, Smolesnk and Kursk : 12.6
  • Ukrainians : 13.0

East Corded Ware

  • Finns: 12.3
  • Karelians : 13.7
  • Estonians : 14.0
  • North Russians : 14.1
  • Latvians : 14.4
  • Lithuanians : 15.0

Another way to go, instead of comparing ancient averages with modern averages, is to look at the closest individual matches between modern people and ancient Gauls. This analysis was done using MyTrueAncestry.com to compare the genomes of the Corded Ware people from Central Europe and Scandinavia with those of modern Europeans, which showed that the closest match in term of genetic distance were British, Ducth and Danish people, with modern Scots having the small genetic distance.

  • Scottish : 4.8
  • North Dutch : 5.4
  • English : 6.0
  • Danes : 6.1
  • Welsh : 6.4
  • Irish : 6.8
  • North Germans : 6.8
  • Belgians : 7.9
  • Norwegians : 8.4

In contrast, Corded Ware individuals from Estonia were closest to modern Baltic people. This shows that Western and Eastern Corded Ware people were already genetically distinct, if related, people. This is most likely due to the intermingling of the original Steppe invaders with local Neolithic populations. The Eastern Corded Ware was ancestral to Proto-Balto-Slavic speakers, and the Western Corded Ware to Proto-Celto-Germanic people. The Proto-Indo-Iranians originated in the easternmost reaches of the Corded Ware, in the Volga-Ural region of Russia.

It may look surprising that Western Corded Ware people correlate so much with modern populations that are outside that culture's geographic boundaries, like Ireland, Britain or even Belgium. But the explanation is simple. the Western Corded Ware was progressively overtaken by the Unetice culture in central Europe and that new hybrid population migrated to western Europe during the subsequent Bell Beaker period. The Bell Beaker were not really a culture in itself, but rather a vast trade network covering most of western and central Europe.

It is not clear if it is trade or other reasons that incited Proto-Celto-Germanic people of the Western Corded Ware to migrate en masse to western Europe. The fact is that they did, as confirmed by ancient DNA, which shows a near complete replacement of the Neolithic population in the British Isles (the Megalithic people who built Stonehenge, Skara Brae and Newgrange) with newcomers from Central Europe carrying Y-haplogroup R1b-L21 during the Bell Beaker period (2500-1800 BCE in Britain). These Proto-Celts were the descendants of the Western Corded Ware, just as the R1b tribes that remained in southern Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Netherlands would become the Proto-Germanic speakers.

Map of early Bronze Age cultures in Europe - Eupedia

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