Saturday, October 12, 2019

Taubertal (update)

Source for Beaker male lineages?

This grave is classified as part of the Corded Ware Culture in the Taubertal, and two paternal lineages are what we have come to expect as the near-exclusive Bell Beaker lineage M269.

That we'd see Beaker lineages in a Corded Ware communities is not surprising; they married well and often.  But to have no meaningful ancestry in line with most Beakers and at this age certainly raises the eyebrows.  Actually, a few things raise the eyebrows.  Apparently, more L51 lineages are on the way that are further East and pretty early.  We'll see.

Update, adding this "Das schnurkeramische Gräberfeld von Lauda-Königshofen im Taubertal"

See Deutschordensmuseum Bad Mergentheim

"Althäuser Hockergrab" from Althausen'

We've seen a lot of jumping to conclusions with previous ancient individuals where there was obvious cultural and genetic admixture.  But if it turns out that we begin seeing more of this in the right contexts and much earlier, then one of the oldest questions regarding the origin of the Beaker phenomenon may have an answer pretty soon. 

(Holger Uwe Schmitt)

See also
"Diet and Mobility in the Corded Ware of Central Europe" Sjogren, Price, Kristiansen, 2015

"The Stone Age Plague and Its Persistence in Eurasia:"


Friday, October 11, 2019

Lech Valley (Update 1)

This post will be updated throughout the weekend.

If you're looking for some eye-poping graphics and a great story, see Haaretz's coverage "Prehistoric Downtown Abbey: Bronze Age Germans had Earliest Known Household Staff" (again Ruth Schuster)

The Lech Valley paper is an intimate, peering-through-the-window experience of Bell Beaker households in a way that borders time travel.

It observes the marriage network that certainly gave the Beaker cultural system access to distant resources and blood allegiance. These marriage patterns can partly explain the ubiquity of the M269 male lineage, especially outside of its own paternal families of origin.

dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo via Newscientist

The research group, which includes Krause and Stockhammer, examined the ancient ancestry in family cemeteries along the Lech River Valley in Southern Bavaria.  They were able to recreate six family trees of about four to five generations (below).

These are country kinfolk with extended family and connections beyond their valley.  We might imagine on several occasions of the year, people for hundreds of miles converged in one place for gambling, barn dancing, athletic contests and religious festivals.  During this time introductions, negotiations, betrothals and weddings might have been arranged.

Sciencenews quotes Phillip Stockhammer, “We were absolutely surprised to find that social inequality was a phenomenon within households rather than between households”.

That inequality existed within Beaker households is not a new idea (Liesau et al, 2015), as many Bell Beaker grave plots or mounds give the impression that some people had greater status and some had less.  In some situations the disparity was considerable enough to invite social degrees interpreted as tenants, servants or slaves.

One of the curious discoveries for the researchers was the well-decorated women who left no genetic descendants within these cemeteries.  

The authors provide a solution that makes a lot of sense in light of Medieval customs and arrangements found in cultures across the world.  That is, 'political' marriages required children born of these unions to eventually move back to their mother's family of origin.  It means (potentially) that sons born to a political wife would grow up to be favored sons in another country, having land, rights and distant, yet trusted connections. 

These particular Lech River sons would eventually head back to their mother's folks in Eastern Germany, Poland or Czechia, where they would be raised by their aunts and uncles.  These boys were the maternal grandsons of landed farmers and craftsmen, particularly during the emerging proto-Unetice. 

Hopefully I can find the complete paper and be able to post more soon...

In the news:
ZME News

Kinship-based social inequality in Bronze Age Europe
Mittnik, A. et al. Science (2019).

See Also,

lechtal glockenbecher

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

More on Battle Axe Folk (Malmstrom et al, 2019)

Battle Axe Culture appears fully within the Corded Ware family system.  

This study clarifies earlier studied samples, and yet again, the two Swedish males from the Battle Axe Culture are R1a.

See also, "DNA study sheds new light on the people of the Neolithic Battle Axe Culture" at PHYS

In the media: 
"New DNA study gives researchers a fasinating look at the Neolithic Battle Axe culture" Ancient-code

The genomic ancestry of the Scandinavian Battle Axe Culture people and their relation to the broader Corded Ware horizon.  Helena Malmström, Torsten Günther, Emma M. Svensson, Anna Juras, Magdalena Fraser, Arielle R. Munters, Łukasz Pospieszny, Mari Tõrv, Jonathan Lindström, Anders Götherström, Jan Storå and Mattias Jakobsson
Published:09 October 2019

The Neolithic period is characterized by major cultural transformations and human migrations, with lasting effects across Europe. To understand the population dynamics in Neolithic Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea area, we investigate the genomes of individuals associated with the Battle Axe Culture (BAC), a Middle Neolithic complex in Scandinavia resembling the continental Corded Ware Culture (CWC). We sequenced 11 individuals (dated to 3330–1665 calibrated before common era (cal BCE)) from modern-day Sweden, Estonia, and Poland to 0.26–3.24× coverage. Three of the individuals were from CWC contexts and two from the central-Swedish BAC burial ‘Bergsgraven’. By analysing these genomes together with the previously published data, we show that the BAC represents a group different from other Neolithic populations in Scandinavia, revealing stratification among cultural groups. Similar to continental CWC, the BAC-associated individuals display ancestry from the Pontic–Caspian steppe herders, as well as smaller components originating from hunter–gatherers and Early Neolithic farmers. Thus, the steppe ancestry seen in these Scandinavian BAC individuals can be explained only by migration into Scandinavia. Furthermore, we highlight the reuse of megalithic tombs of the earlier Funnel Beaker Culture (FBC) by people related to BAC. The BAC groups likely mixed with resident middle Neolithic farmers (e.g. FBC) without substantial contributions from Neolithic foragers.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Human Stature in Prehistoric Europe (Cox et al, 2019)

This new study by Cox, Ruff, Maier and Mathieson aims to rank the variables associated with predicted height, measured height (sitting and standing) and bone mineral density across the European ages. 

The study shows two major shifts in genetic height predisposition.  The first is the transition between the Upper Paleolithic and the L/Mesolithic, in which genetic and measured height decrease dramatically.  There is a substantial rise in genetic/observed height in the post-Neolithic, again reflecting the impact of Steppe Ancestry (to a greater extent in the Northern latitudes).

Genetic and observed height remain fairly well in sync over long periods of time and are mostly reflective of sudden demographic changes.  Sitting height remained fairly well consistent in all periods.

There's some lessons here that may be predictive when it comes to the origins of the Beaker people.  Their height, body mass, brachycephaly, coloration and bone density would suggest a large portion of their ancestry came from a shadowy, northern latitude and a cold-stress climate.

See Allen's Rule and Bergmann's Rule (mentioned in this paper)


The relative contributions of genetics and environment to temporal and geographic variation in human height remain largely unknown. Ancient DNA has identified changes in genetic ancestry over time, but it is not clear whether those changes in ancestry are associated with changes in height. Here, we directly test whether changes over the past 38,000 y in European height predicted using DNA from 1,071 ancient individuals are consistent with changes observed in 1,159 skeletal remains from comparable populations. We show that the observed decrease in height between the Early Upper Paleolithic and the Mesolithic is qualitatively predicted by genetics. Similarly, both skeletal and genetic height remained constant between the Mesolithic and Neolithic and increased between the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Sitting height changes much less than standing height—consistent with genetic predictions—although genetics predicts a small post-Neolithic increase that is not observed in skeletal remains. Geographic variation in stature is also qualitatively consistent with genetic predictions, particularly with respect to latitude. Finally, we hypothesize that an observed decrease in genetic heel bone mineral density in the Neolithic reflects adaptation to the decreased mobility indicated by decreased femoral bending strength. This study provides a model for interpreting phenotypic changes predicted from ancient DNA and demonstrates how they can be combined with phenotypic measurements to understand the relative contribution of genetic and developmentally plastic responses to environmental change.

Samantha L. Cox, Christopher B. Ruff, Robert M. Maier, and Iain Mathieson
  1. Edited by Richard G. Klein, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved September 11, 2019 (received for review June 20, 2019)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Boobs to Bottles (Dunne, 2019)

This paper by Dunne et al, 2019 settles and demonstrates the purpose of clay, pipe-like vessels used in mainland Europe from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

The verdict?  Using lipid analyses and other bottles.

Science baby! Fig 2. From the paper (H. Seidl da Fonseca)

Typically for the first six months of a baby's life they'll be titted and then around the age where they are able to sit up and grasp things they can be weaned to a bottle.  Recently, I saw one of these in a French Bell Beaker mound and then several (similar?) from Late Neolithic Perdigoes in Portugal.

Dunne's pipes all have lipid residue, so when they have ash, what does that mean?  Could these also be used as fire starters or smoking pipes?  I suppose reside analysis can answer for each.

Some groups used a cow's horn for bottling

The study of childhood diet, including breastfeeding and weaning, has important implications for our understanding of infant mortality and fertility in past societies1. Stable isotope analyses of nitrogen from bone collagen and dentine samples of infants have provided information on the timing of weaning2; however, little is known about which foods were consumed by infants in prehistory. The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels—which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm3,4. Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the compound-specific δ13C and Δ13C values of the major fatty acids of residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived from ruminants. This evidence of the foodstuffs that were used to either feed or wean prehistoric infants confirms the importance of milk from domesticated animals for these early communities, and provides information on the infant-feeding behaviours that were practised by prehistoric human groups.


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Beaker Era Crannogs?

Via Nature Magazine,

"This artificial island was built by farmers more than five millennia ago"

Ever heard of a Crannog?  What is that?

The Scottish Crannog Centre

Crannogs are man-made islands found throughout the northern British Isles.  Many of these islets were connected to land by a long pier.  The first were built in the Neolithic and the last of them were built in the Iron Age.

What were they?  Some of them might be lake dwellings for powerful families while others could have been lakeshore temples.  It's thought they may have been important in laying claim to a body of water by actually living on the water.

The Scottish Crannog Center

Bavarian Radio - Glockenbecher

Glockenbecher: Archaologie und Genetik der Jungsteinzeit


Bayern Radio interviews a number of the researchers involved in the genetics and interpretation of the Beaker phenomenon, including Phillip Stockhammer, Harald Meller and a few others.