Category Archives: Danubian Neolithic

Hungarian ancient DNA and the origins of Central European Neolithic

Davidski leads me to this interesting article where the Neolithic mtDNA of what is now Hungary is detailed far beyond of what I used to know:

Eszter Banffy, German-Hungarian bioarchaeological research project in the Archaeological Institute of the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungarian Archeology, 2013. Open accessLINK 1, LINK 2
Note: the second link, even if unofficial (Banffy’s page) provides (at least in my browser) with a better formatted PDF.

Most interesting is this map:

previous CE data

The results are roughly similar to those obtained for early Neolithic Germany. For comparison, to the right there is a pie chart I built recently with the German data (plus one Austrian and another Eastern Hungarian samples, which were already known – H and N1a respectively). 

The main difference is the much greater presence of U(xK) in Germany, surely remnant of pre-Neolithic peoples. Otherwise it is quite similar to the West Hungarian pie (consider R* as most likely H, just that untested for the relevant markers). No wonder if we consider that West Hungary (along with nearby areas in Austria, Slovakia and Moravia) is at the origin of the Western Linear Pottery Culture, also known as Danubian Neolithic or LBK. 

However the Eastern Linear Pottery of the Tisza basin is generally understood to be at the origin of LBK itself, being somehow transitional between Starcevo (part of the Red & White Painted Pottery complex, originated at Sesklo) and LBK. And we do see some differences with the Western group, notably the Tisza group has much less H (but more H5), less J and also some less N1a.

Lacking by the moment ancient DNA data from Starcevo, Sesklo and other Balcan Neolithic groups at the origin of European Neolithic, we are limited to speculation but I suspect that the greater amount of haplogroup H was incorporated from pre-Neolithic peoples. After all H has been found in great amounts in Paleolithic Iberia (Portugal, Cantabria and Basque Country) and (to a lesser extent) also in Karelia, what clearly indicates that it was present in the European continent before the agricultural revolution, being the Swabian and Baltic cases (no H found to date) probably exceptional in this aspect. On the other hand H was found but only at low levels in Neolithic Kurdistan (15%, up to 23% incl. R*), suggesting it did not come from West Asia (unlike what is probably the case of K, reaching 53% in the Kurdish tells and never reported in Paleolithic Europe). 

A similar but stranger case may be that of N1a, found to belong to an exclusively European subclade, nowadays very rare. It’s quite plausible that this lineage was restricted to some Central European pockets in the Paleolithic and found occasion for expansion in the Neolithic… only to dramatically recede later on.

It is very worth mentioning that the profile of Eszter Banffy at has a lot of papers (many in Hungarian or German but many others also in English) with focus on Central European and Balcanic Neolithic.

Central European farmers, but also Danish "hunter-gatherers" had domestic pigs

It’s often difficult to discern in the archaeological record wild boar remains from those of domestic pigs. Luckily archaeogenetics can solve the problem, sometimes producing striking results.
Ben Krause-Kyora et al., Use of domesticated pigs by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in northwestern Europe. Nature Communications 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1038/ncomms3348]


Mesolithic populations throughout Europe used diverse resource exploitation strategies that focused heavily on collecting and hunting wild prey. Between 5500 and 4200 cal BC, agriculturalists migrated into northwestern Europe bringing a suite of Neolithic technologies including domesticated animals. Here we investigate to what extent Mesolithic Ertebølle communities in northern Germany had access to domestic pigs, possibly through contact with neighbouring Neolithic agricultural groups. We employ a multidisciplinary approach, applying sequencing of ancient mitochondrial and nuclear DNA (coat colour-coding gene MC1R) as well as traditional and geometric morphometric (molar size and shape) analyses in Sus specimens from 17 Neolithic and Ertebølle sites. Our data from 63 ancient pig specimens show that Ertebølle hunter-gatherers acquired domestic pigs of varying size and coat colour that had both Near Eastern and European mitochondrial DNA ancestry. Our results also reveal that domestic pigs were present in the region ~500 years earlier than previously demonstrated.

The most striking result is surely not the demonstration of pigs being in Central Europe a few centuries than previously confirmed but that Ertebølle hunter-gatherers of Denmark had them as well, quite radically casting doubt on their status as hunter-gatherers and placing them fully in the Neolithic context, even still rather marginal and peripheral. 
Figure 1: Map depicting the location of the archaeological Sus samples from which mtDNA haplotypes were obtained.
Samples were recovered from Neolithic LBK, post-LBK and Mesolithic Ertebølle sites dated between 5500 and 4000 cal BC. Each symbol corresponds to a single sample (triangle, square and circle). Domestic (triangle) and wild (square) pigs discussed in the text are labelled; circles represent Sus specimens of unknown domestication status. The red colour indicates the European haplotypes C and A, and yellow the Near Eastern haplotypes Y1 and Y2.

Revisiting the demographics of Northern and Central Europe in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods

Stimulated by the discussion at another entry, yesterday I made a little graph, almost a mnemonic, on the demographics of Northern European Neolithic and Chalcolithic, based on academic data which I discussed back in 2009.
This is the result:

The very simplified graph is nothing but a version of another one, used in 2009 (and reproduced below), which in turn is an annotated and composite version extracted from two different studies (references also below).
For convenience I have marked the millennia marks at the bottom (meaning 5000, 4000, 3000 and 2000 BCE, from left to right) while the unmarked vertical scale ranks from 0 to 100 (marked by the lowest and highest dots, not the frame, which is actually outside of the graph itself). The dots mark population level at any time as proportion of the maximum (100) in discrete intervals rounded up/down to 10 ppts and taken at intervals of 250 years. Notice that I ignored monuments in the case of Britain, only considering the habitation and other productive sites.
Not sure if it will result useful to you but it did help me to visualize the demographics of Northern Europe in these four millennia of surely dramatic population changes. If you don’t like this version the more detailed original double graph is below, scroll down.
Something quite obvious is that while Danubian Neolithic first caused an important population expansion, it later declined to quite low population levels, maybe because of climatic cooling and the exhaustion of the lands because of poorly developed agricultural techniques. 
This late Danubian collapse lasted for about a millennium, when (1) Funnelbeaker (TRBK) in Denmark, (2) Megalithism in Britain and Denmark especially (later also in parts of Germany) and (3) Kurgan cultures in Poland (later also in Germany and Denmark) seem to have brought with them very notable demographic expansions.
But decline seems to set on again all around at the end of the Chalcolithic period, much more notably in the continent (in Poland the rate of archaeological findings decays to zero!) than in Britain and especially Denmark. 
And now indeed the original “verbose” graph:

And the sources:

The expansion of Neolithic in Europe (synthetic maps)

This is relatively old material (2009) but the resuscitated Spanish-language blog Neolítico de la Península Ibérica has recently discussed and synthesized it. And I am sure that much of what is said in it is of great interest for readers of this blog, beginning with myself. Hence I’m including here some of the maps discussed there because they truly synthesize very well the big picture of European Neolithic as a discontinuous and highly irregular process.
Reference: Jean Pierre Bocquet-Appel, Detection of diffusion and contact zones of early farming in Europe from the space-time distribution of 14C dates. Journal of Archaeological Sciences, 2009. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.11.004]
Firstly a map of “vectors” of Neolithic influences/flows, showing some eight apparent zones of expansion:

The numbers may be misleading. The actual chronological order is (by oldest referenced C14 date, which must be calibrated BCE):
  1. Initial phase (Balcans essentially, roots in Thessaly):
    1. (1) Thessaly c. 7100 BCE → Sesklo culture
    2. (2) Hungary c. 6800 BCE → transition between Balcanic and Danubian Neolithic
  2. Main explosion (with Balcanic roots for both Danubian and Impressed-Cardial cultures but unclear for Megalithism):
    1. (8) West Iberia c. 5900 BCE → Megalithism (the ref. site, Cha de Carvalhal, is a mamoa or tumulus, cairn, usually with a dolmen inside)
    2. (6) Liguria c. 5800 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
    3. (5) SE France c. 5700 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
    4. (3, 4) Bavaria and Luxembourg c. 5400 BCE → Danubian Neolithic
    5. (7) SE Iberia c. 5300 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
  3. Late Atlantic offshoots (Atlantic, North Sea):
    1. (9) Ireland c. 4600  BCE → Megalithism
    2. (10) Scotland c. 4100 BCE → Megalithism
The exact chronology for Southern European Neolithic, very especially in Iberia, where some dates insist on being pre-Cardial, is yet to be properly determined but whatever the case it is older or contemporary from the more popular Danubian Neolithic of Central Europe.
Many details are obviously not addressed here, so always take this kind of general approaches with some caution: the devil is often in the details, and many details are missing here.
Still I do feel that the overall description of the process is quite realistic, notably when we also consider this other map that provides a much more clear cultural contextualization:

1.- expansion centers
2.- contact zones
3.- ecological/cultural barriers
4.- maritime expansion route from West Asia
5.- Painted Pottery Neolithic (Balcans)
6.- Eastern Lineal Pottery (Tisza)
7.- Western Lineal Pottery (Danubian Neolithic, LBK)
8.- Impressed Pottery (Adriatic)
9.- Cardial Pottery (Western Mediterranean)
10.- Adriatic contact zone
11.- Western contact zone
The maps are very educative if nothing else. However particular caution must be warned, not just about the many highly debatable details but very notably on the nature of Eastern European Neolithic, often not well described in these analysis, whose most representative culture is Dniepr-Don (located in the basins of these two rivers in Ukraine and Russia mostly) and whose genesis seems very locally rooted (what is emphasized by the persistence of hunter-gathering even after farming and herding and pottery have been consolidated). This culture was also very influential in its own way (alone or later with/under the maybe related Samara-Khvalynsk culture: proto-Indoeuropeans, whose ultimate origins remain in wait of archaeological work). 

Neolithic wooden wells from Germany

Several wooden wells from Germany have been precisely dated by archaeologists, yielding not only very revealing information from the first farmers of that area (and by extension of all Europe) and their construction techniques but also most valuable paleoclimatic information from the reconstructed and precisely dated tree rings.
Figure 1. Wooden well constructions and Neolithization.
LBK wells from (A) Eythra 1, (B) Eythra 2, (C) Brodau 1, and (D) Altscherbitz. (E) Central European loess distribution [20] with the superimposed phases of expansion of the LBK (lines), based on 14C dates [22],
and the maximum extension of the LBK (light blue) along with the 12
known early Neolithic wells featuring waterlogged wood preservation.

Willy Tegel et al. Early Neolithic Water Wells Reveal the World’s Oldest Wood Architecture. PLoS ONE 2012. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051374]


The European Neolithization ~6000−4000 BC represents a pivotal change in human history when farming spread and the mobile style of life of the hunter-foragers was superseded by the agrarian culture. Permanent settlement structures and agricultural production systems required fundamental innovations in technology, subsistence, and resource utilization. Motivation, course, and timing of this transformation, however, remain debatable. Here we present annually resolved and absolutely dated dendroarchaeological information from four wooden water wells of the early Neolithic period that were excavated in Eastern Germany. A total of 151 oak timbers preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated between 5469 and 5098 BC and reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. The recently discovered water wells enable for the first time a detailed insight into the earliest wood architecture and display the technological capabilities of humans ~7000 years ago. The timbered well constructions made of old oak trees feature an unopened tree-ring archive from which annually resolved and absolutely dated environmental data can be culled. Our results question the principle of continuous evolutionary development in prehistoric technology, and contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions. Early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.

I would not dare to claim as much as they say in the last sentence because we do know of Epipaleolithic carpentry in form of boats and rows as well, and let’s not forget what we know of the Neanderthal carpentry including wooden walls and utensils. But it is later revealed in the conclusions that their intention is more to compare with the Metal Ages than with the Paleolithic:
This study demonstrates that the first farmers were also the first
carpenters, contradicting the common belief that the invention of metal
woodworking tools more than a thousand years later was imperative for
complex timber constructions. Settlers of the early Neolithic time were
able to build sophisticated corner joints and log constructions, which
fulfilled all of the static requirements of massive water well linings.
Their technical skills further imply the existence of complex
constructions for LBK longhouse architecture [35].
But the wells and their techniques are anyhow interesting, very especially because we do not get to see such well preserved ancient pieces of wood but seldom. Both cogged and mortise-and-tenon unions were used in the construction of the wells. 
Figure 5. Basal frame construction of well A.
(A) Wedged tusk tenon joint. (B) 3D laser rendering of the basal frame.

Well A (Eythra, Saxony) not only displays these innovative mortise-and-tenon (wedged variant) joints but the comparison of the age of its timbers with others used in the surrounding area, indicate a settlement of at least one century, suggesting that the villages of the Danubian Neolithic were anything but provisional.

Was the first ever cheese from Poland?

Modern oscypki cheese from Poland
(CC by Pawel Swiegoda)

While today it is maybe France the most famed cheese-making and cheese-eating region on Earth*, we knew very little about cheese-making origins… until now.

Melanie Salque et al., Earliest evidence for cheese making in the sixth millennium bc in northern Europe. Nature 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1038/nature11698]
The introduction of dairying was a critical step in early agriculture, with milk products being rapidly adopted as a major component of the diets of prehistoric farmers and pottery-using late hunter-gatherers1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The processing of milk, particularly the production of cheese, would have been a critical development because it not only allowed the preservation of milk products in a non-perishable and transportable form, but also it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers6, 7, 8, 9, 10. The finding of abundant milk residues in pottery vessels from seventh millennium sites from north-western Anatolia provided the earliest evidence of milk processing, although the exact practice could not be explicitly defined1. Notably, the discovery of potsherds pierced with small holes appear at early Neolithic sites in temperate Europe in the sixth millennium bc and have been interpreted typologically as ‘cheese-strainers’10, although a direct association with milk processing has not yet been demonstrated. Organic residues preserved in pottery vessels have provided direct evidence for early milk use in the Neolithic period in the Near East and south-eastern Europe, north Africa, Denmark and the British Isles, based on the δ13C and Δ13C values of the major fatty acids in milk1, 2, 3, 4. Here we apply the same approach to investigate the function of sieves/strainer vessels, providing direct chemical evidence for their use in milk processing. The presence of abundant milk fat in these specialized vessels, comparable in form to modern cheese strainers11, provides compelling evidence for the vessels having being used to separate fat-rich milk curds from the lactose-containing whey. This new evidence emphasizes the importance of pottery vessels in processing dairy products, particularly in the manufacture of reduced-lactose milk products among lactose-intolerant prehistoric farming communities6, 7.
See also the related article by Niddhi Subamaran at Nature News and the one by Hanna Briggs at BBC News.
The dating for the cheese-making artifacts (holed pots used to press curdled milk, discarding the whey, which is a preliminary step in cheese making) is of similar age as the arrival of Neolithic itself and the first evidences of dairying in Europe and Africa. So I guess that we can conclude that farming arrived to Europe, at least to Central and Northern Europe, together with cattle herding, dairying and cheese-making.
While the potsherds are known to exist elsewhere in Central Europe, the ones analyzed for this paper are specifically from Cuyavia, Poland, which used to be the most Northeastern offshoot of the Danubian Neolithic.

Cuajada or mamia
Just one weak caveat. While Richard Evershed (in the BBC article) asks rhetorically what other milk product could it be? This question is not as trivial as it may look on first sight because there is indeed another such milk product: the cuajada (Spanish name) or mamia (Basque name) which is nothing else but the preliminary product of cheese making (curdled milk) and a much coveted delicatessen when properly made.
But, well, I guess it can be considered a form of cheese… more or less. Also real fully-processed cheese achieves a further purpose: to preserve milk (or rather key parts of it) for delayed consumption and easier transport.


* Actually Greeks eat quite more cheese per capita than the French, but they are the only ones. 


"Late Neolithic" mtDNA from Germany

Wartberg culture pottery (CC by Athinaios)
A new paper on ancient European mtDNA:
Esther J. Lee et al., Collective burials among agro-pastoral societies in later Neolithic Germany: Perspectives from ancient DNA. Science 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.08.037]


Ancient DNA research has focused on the genetic patterns of the earliest farmers during the European Neolithic, especially with regards to the demographic changes in the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. However, genetic data is relatively lacking after this earliest transition period, when societies had fully adapted to new agrarian lifestyles specific to their local environment. During the later central European Neolithic (ca. 3600 – 2800 cal BC), large-scale collective burials and monumental architecture appeared within the landscape of many agricultural societies. This phenomenon has been argued to represent the emergence of a “collective” identity. With the aim of exploring genetic-based relations among individuals collectively buried, we obtained human skeletal remains of nearly 200 individuals from four later Neolithic collective burial sites in Germany: Calden, Odagsen, Großenrode, and Panker. We successfully reproduced reliable mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes from eight Neolithic individuals, which were assigned to haplogroups H, HV0, and X2. Shared haplotypes observed among individuals within Calden and Odagsen suggest genetic relations may have shaped the arrangement of the deceased within later Neolithic agricultural groups.

As the study is pay per view I have no idea yet of the details beyond the abstract. However collective burials means Megalithic or similar (clannic burials), distinct from the original Danubian style, which was individual. This and the dates rather speak of the Early Chalcolithic, rather than Neolithic proper, when the Western Danubian culture of Rössen split into several groups, sometimes influenced by the Funnelbeaker phenomenon and most of them also by the meantime the collective (clannic) burial phenomenon, often in megalithic tombs (dolmens).
For what I could muster Calden, Odagsen and Großenrode belong to the Wartberg culture of Central Germany, while Panker could be from a more northernly location (Deeply Impressed Pottery, Tiefstichkeramik (TSK), culture probably). Wartberg culture is of clear Danubian derivation (via Michelsberg) but with influences from the likely first Western Indoeuropean core of the Baalberge culture; they practiced collective (clannic) burial in both non-megalithic and megalithic tombs (gallery graves) .


After reading the paper, I can add some details to the already mentioned data. The authors successfully sequenced HVS-I plus some standard coding region sites of eight individuals from Panker (1), Calden (4) and Odagsen (3) but none from Großenrode, whose geographical location I inferred correctly above.

The haplogroups are:

  • Wartberg culture:
    • Calden (n=4): H2 (2 individuals, same haplotype), HV0 and X2
    • Odagsen (n=3): H2 and HV0 (2 individuals, same haplotype)
  • TSK (or other Funnelbeaker, also Globular Amphorae):
    • Panker (n=1): H1

While it is not explicitly addressed in the paper, I understand that there is strong likelihood of these HV0 being actually its main subhaplogroup V.

TSK pot (source)

The dominance of H2 and HV0 (V?), as well as the lack of H1, in Wartberg culture individuals is also interesting and may be an ethnic marker. X2 is just a typical Neolithic lineage, surely only arrived to Europe with the Neolithic and has been found often in ancient DNA from Neolithic groups from Central, Northern and Southern Europe.

In turn the northernmost individual, from a more “aboriginal” group arguably, sports the most common European haplogroup today: H1, widespread in Atlantic areas from the Sahara to Finland.

While haplogroup H in general (H* and H6) is now known to have existed among Paleolithic Europeans (link 1, link 2), H1 as such has only been detected with some certainty (as H1b via HVS-1) in Epipaleolithic Portugal (Chandler 2005, reported as H) and, after that, in the Neolithic of Franchti Cave (Greece), Santimamiñe (Basque Country) and Nerja (Andalusia). In the Chalcolithic period H1 is known in Languedoc, Basque Country and Andalusia, as well as in contemporary Kurdistan but this sample of Panker is the first known individual to carry this lineage, now dominant, in Northern Europe.