Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Unetice Isotopes (Knipper et al, 2015) *Update*

Unetice had at one time been viewed as a chronological development of the Early Bronze Age, basically evolving out of some tentacle or bastard child of the Bell Beaker movement.  However, in a [recent post], Stockhammer et al showed that Unetice stuff is earlier, advanced and alien to its western reaches, which somewhat jives IMO with the 'so-far' DNA (100% I2 Y-dna of elite burials, as opposed to Bell Beaker 100% R1b of diagnostic burials)

I believe Eurogenes has the several genomes somewhere midway between Beakers and Corded folks, which also makes sense if a small number of elites had originally come from Slovenia or thereabouts.  I think sensing this for a while, the authors of this paper are trying to pick through certain grave diagnostic categories and identify immigrant groups.

Unetice Pit Grave [University of Wroclaw]


Now having read it (thanks to Davidski, see link in comments section) I can condense this, although it is a fairly readable and short paper.

The majority of Unetice graves are single, crouched burials in a cemetery.  The deviant graves are sometimes two or several people piled in a grave.  Archaeologists have debated and seek to better understand why some people were grouped in settlement pits.  Are they foreigners, slaves, people who are in someway rejected.  Or possibly, did ordinary Uneticians sometimes prefer these types of burial arrangements?

Fig. 4. Images of the investigated human skeletal remains in situ. A): Karsdorf, Feature 3835; B): Esperstedt, Feature 6128;
C): Esperstedt, Feature 6130; D): Pl€otzkau, Feature 31; E): Pl€otzkau, Feature 30; F): Pl€otzkau, Feature 28; G): Leau, Feature 3001; H): R€ocken, Feature 370; I): R€ocken, Feature 163; J): Serbitz, Clipping of Feature 142 (Photographs: LDA Sachsen-Anhalt and LFA Sachsen). [Color figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at wileyonlinelibrary.com.]
The results seem to indicate that the people buried in settlement pits had a similar diet as the majority, there also being no evidence of violence against them.  From the paper:
There is no indication that being of non-local origin was a major reason for being entombed deviating from the majority of the contemporaneous population.
There is no indication that the inhumations in settlement pits represent a distinct part of the Early Bronze Age society, which stood out by a higher or lower percentage
of nonlocal individuals or contrasting dietary habits including the consumption of larger or smaller shares of animal-derived food or aquatic resources in comparison to normative single burials
In fact, almost all individuals regardless of location or burial seem to be locally born and bred.  Since few of the individuals in this study had the diagnostics of elite Unetice burials, that might be expected. 

The Unetice story may develop into a scale comparable to the Norman caste of England.  By and large, the overwhelming majority of the population is essentially Saxon-Celtic, but a tiny group of sophisticates dominate trade and religion for several hundred years.

Knipper, C., Fragata, M., Nicklisch, N., Siebert, A., Szécsényi-Nagy, A., Hubensack, V., Metzner-Nebelsick, C., Meller, H. and Alt, K. W. (2015), A distinct section of the early bronze age society? Stable isotope investigations of burials in settlement pits and multiple inhumations of the Únětice culture in central germany. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol.. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22892 [Link]



Inhumations in so-called settlement pits and multiple interments are subordinate burial practices of the Early Bronze Age Únětice culture in central Germany (2200–1700/1650 BC). The majority of the Únětice population was entombed as single inhumations in rectangular grave pits with a normative position of the body. The goal of the study was to test archaeological hypotheses that the deviant burials may represent socially distinct or nonlocal individuals.

Materials and Methods

The study comprised up to two teeth and one bone each of 74 human individuals from eight sites and faunal comparative samples. The inhumations included regular, deviant burials in so-called settlement or storage pits, and multiple burials. We investigated radiogenic strontium isotope compositions of tooth enamel (87Sr/86Sr) and light stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen of bone collagen (δ13C, δ15N) aiming at the disclosure of residential changes and dietary patterns.


Site-specific strontium isotope data ranges mirror different geological properties including calcareous bedrock, loess, and glacial till. Independent from burial types, they disclose low portions of nonlocal individuals of up to some 20% at the individual sites. The light stable isotope ratios of burials in settlement pits and rectangular graves overlap widely and indicate highly similar dietary habits.


The analytical results let to conclude that inhumations in settlement pits and multiple burials were two of the manifold burial practices of the Early Bronze Age. The selection criteria of the individuals for the different forms of inhumation remained undisclosed. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  1. Here you go...


  2. Y-DNA I2 would seem suggestive of proto-Germanic.

    1. It'll be interesting when we find out of much of modern I2 actually post-dates the LN within Germany.

    2. "Unetice stuff is earlier, advanced and alien to its western reaches, which somewhat jives IMO with the 'so-far' DNA (100% I2 Y-dna, as opposed to Bell Beaker 100% R1b)."

      This would also tend to suggest that at least on the Y-DNA side that Unetice was not pervasively influenced by the Steppe which is almost all R1a or R1b.

    3. One of the Yamnaya samples from Kalmykia was I2a, and we don't yet have any samples from western Yamnaya.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. BB
      Can u be specific about your hypotheses ?
      There are several different I2 clades - you do realize ?

    6. @Rob,

      There will always be some selection bias in the remains, but 3/3 Uneticians from two cemeteries have different male haplogroups than all of the Beakers to date from within the same region. Statistically significant IMO.

      There is probably no regional genetic change within the Western Unetice, but there's enough of an overlap to suggest at least some sort of minority immigrant group. I think this is what this study may be attempting to ascertain. I'll have to read this isotope paper tomorrow. (BTW, I'd be willing to bet looking at the authors that DNA was also taken along with isotopes. So this paper may be a prelude to another...)

    7. BB
      I very much understand that the Unetice groups all belong to I2; but they in fact belong to very different subclades. That's why I asked you if you're at all familiar with I2 phylogeny

      But thanks for highlighting this paper

  3. Yes
    Thus far sampled Unetice belong to I2c, I2a2, and I22b-L161.
    They each have different initial histories