Text #9368"Corded Ware Culture", in .
The Corded Ware culture (German: Schnurkeramik; French: ceramique cordée; Dutch: snoerbekercultuur; in Middle Europe c. 2900–2450/2350 cal. BC), alternatively characterized as the Battle Axe culture or Single Grave culture, is an enormous European archaeological horizon that begins in the late Neolithic (Stone Age), flourishes through the Copper Age and culminates in the early Bronze Age. Other terms are corded pottery and corded ceramic, the latter being a calque in translations.
The Corded Ware culture is the major north and central European cultural grouping of the Copper Age, stretching from the Netherlands and Switzerland in the west, across southern Scandinavia and Central Europe as far east as the upper Volga (Fatyanovo–Balanovo culture) and middle Dnieper (Middle Dnieper culture). The culture is reflected primarily by its burials, which consisted of inhumation under tumulus with various artifacts (notably battle-axes).
Corded Ware is generally considered to have played a key role in disseminating a form of the Indo-European language ancestral to the Germanic languages, Baltic languages and Slavic languages.
Corded Ware encompassed most of continental northern Europe from the Rhine River on the west, to the Volga River in the east, including most of modern-day Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, northwestern Romania, northern Ukraine, and the European part of Russia, as well as coastal Norway and the southern portions of Sweden and Finland.
The contemporary 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.
It receives its name Corded Ware from the ornamentation of its characteristic pottery, Single Grave from its burial custom, and Battle Axe from its characteristic grave offering to males, a stone battle axe.
The Corded Ware culture has long been regarded as Indo-European because of its lack of settlements (though this is not absolute), which suggested a mobile, pastoral economy, similar to that of the Yamna culture. Its wide area of distribution indicates rapid expansion at the assumed time of the dispersal of Indo-European languages. Indeed the Corded Ware culture was once presumed to be the Urheimat of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, in those early 20th-century theories that derived this homeland from the north European plain. Today this idea has lost currency. An origin for the Indo-Europeans in the Black Sea-Caspian region has been favoured by most linguists in recent times, and is so far supported by the evidence from ancient DNA.
Prior to results from testing ancient DNA from Corded Ware, there was a division between archaeologists who thought that Corded Ware sprang from central Europe alone and those who saw an influence from pastoral societies of the steppes north of the Black Sea. In favour of the first view was the fact that Corded Ware coincides considerably with the earlier north-central European Funnelbeaker culture (TRB). However in other 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 archeology. The degree to which cultural change generally represents immigration is a matter of debate, and such debate has figured strongly in discussions of Corded Ware. It was therefore a suitable test case for resolution by testing ancient DNA. In 2015 researchers reported that, based on the DNA analysis of 69 ancient skeletons from Europe and Russia, there had been a massive migration of Yamna culture people from the North Pontic steppe into Europe about 4,500 years ago. About 75% of the DNA of late Neolithic Corded Ware skeletons found in Germany were the same as the Yamnaya DNA.
Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in area that is now Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. The earliest radiocarbon dates for Corded Ware come from Kujavia and Małopolska in central and southern Poland and point to the period around 3000 BC. (It must be noted that this study is limited to Middle Europe.)[However subsequent RC review has changed the perspective. It now seems that the initial appearance of Corded Ware occurred more or less simultaneously throughout North Central Europe in the early 29th c. BCE /2900->/ in a number of “centers” which subsequently formed their own local networks. Cf. the 2015 Dutch Ph.D. dissertation by Sandra Beckerman] Carbon-14 dating of the remaining central European regions shows that Corded Ware appeared after 2880 BC It spread to the Lüneburger Heide 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.
In the western regions this revolution has been proposed to be a quick, smooth and internal change that occurred at the preceding Funnelbeaker culture, having its origin in the direction of eastern Germany. Whereas in the area of the present Baltic states and Kaliningrad Oblast (former East Prussia), it is seen as an intrusive successor to the southwestern portion of the Narva culture. [Here also archaeological thinking has shifted somewhat. Corded Ware is now everywhere seen as “intrusive”, though not necessarily aggressively so, and coexisting with earlier cultures in many cases].
In summary, Corded Ware does not represent a single monolithic entity, but rather a diffusion of technological and cultural innovations of different, contemporaneous peoples, living in close proximity to each other and leaving different archaeological remains.
There are very few discovered settlements, which led to the traditional view of this culture as exclusively nomadic pastoralists. However, this view was modified, as some evidence of sedentary farming emerged. Traces of Emmer wheat, bread 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 BC 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.
Inhumation 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. While broadly related to the Corded Ware culture, the origins of the Bell-Beaker folk are considerably more obscure, and represent one of the mysteries of European pre-history.
Corded Ware culture
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 culture
General term used to refer to a series of late Neolithic communities of the 3rd millennium BC living in Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the Low Countries that share the practice of single burial under barrows, the deceased usually being accompanied by a battle-axe, amber beads, and pottery vessels. The cultural emphasis on drinking equipment already characteristic of the early Funnelbeaker culture, reappeared with the spread of 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 Bell Beaker culture has been proposed to derive from this specific branch of the Corded Ware culture.
Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture
The Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture, or the Boat Axe culture, appeared ca. 2800 BC and is known from about 3000 graves from Skåne to Uppland and Trøndelag. While Swedish writer Herman Lindqvist has referred to this as the “Age of crushed skulls”, there is no indication that this was an especially violent time, and most of the “crushing” happened post-mortem in the ground. 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 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. Recently also the mixture of this culture with Barbed Wire Beaker culture elements from the west that reached until Sweden in the Late Neolithic, probably ultimately derived from the same Corded Ware stock, has come into the picture.
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 Islands, and as far north as the present city of Tromsø.
The Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture/Boat 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.
Finnish Battle Axe culture
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.
Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo-Balanovo cultures
The eastern outposts of the Corded Ware culture are the Middle Dnieper culture and on the upper Volga, the Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture. The Middle Dnieper culture has very scant remains, but occupies the easiest route into Central and Northern Europe from the steppe. If the association of Battle Axe cultures with Indo-European languages is correct, then Fatyanovo would be 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.