Category Archives: Germany

Neolithic and Chalcolithic demographics of Western and Northern Europe

Somehow I missed this important study on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic demographics of Europe, as inferred from the archaeological record (h/t Davidski):
Stephen Shennan et al., Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe. Nature Communications 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:doi:10.1038/ncomms3486]


Following its initial arrival in SE Europe 8,500 years ago agriculture spread throughout the continent, changing food production and consumption patterns and increasing population densities. Here we show that, in contrast to the steady population growth usually assumed, the introduction of agriculture into Europe was followed by a boom-and-bust pattern in the density of regional populations. We demonstrate that summed calibrated radiocarbon date distributions and simulation can be used to test the significance of these demographic booms and busts in the context of uncertainty in the radiocarbon date calibration curve and archaeological sampling. We report these results for Central and Northwest Europe between 8,000 and 4,000 cal. BP and investigate the relationship between these patterns and climate. However, we find no evidence to support a relationship. Our results thus suggest that the demographic patterns may have arisen from endogenous causes, although this remains speculative.

The most interesting aspect is maybe that the (apparent) demographic changes are detailed for many regions of Europe, but first let’s see the general outlook for the whole area surveyed (Western and Northern Europe, Iberia excluded):

Figure 2: SCDPD-inferred population density change 10,000–4,000 cal. BP using all radiocarbon dates in the western Europe database.
Colored arrows and their annotations are mine.

I decided that it was important to mark the main cultural episodes for reference.
1st Neolithic refers to Impressed-Cardium and Linear Band Pottery cultures, which arrived almost simultaneously to Germany and France (of the surveyed areas), although the Rhône-Languedoc Neolithic is a few centuries earlier than the arrow, which has been standardized to 7500 BP.
Atlantic Neolithic refers to the quite belated arrival of Neolithic to Britain, Ireland and Northern Europe (standardized at 6000 BP). This process was quickly followed and tightly associated with the widespread cultural phenomenon of Dolmenic Megalithism. It is most interesting that the main deviation from the pattern of regular growth concentrates in this period and is clearly positive.
Corded Ware culture (Indoeuropean consolidation in Central and Northern Europe) affected only to Germany and Denmark-Scania within the surveyed regions. It was followed by a more widespread subcultural phenomenon known as Bell Beaker, which almost invariably cases manifests within pre-existent locally rooted cultures. Neither seems to be correlated with demographic expansions in the general overview.
Now let’s take a look at the regional graphs:

Figure 3: SCDPD-inferred population density change 8,000–4,000 cal. BP for each sub-region.
Colored arrows, excepted the blue ones (which mark the local first Neolithic), are mine and mark general pan-European initial chronologies (not local!) for Megalithism, Corded Ware and Bell Beaker in those regions where they had some clear influence.

Here we can appreciate that:
Atlantic Neolithic and its associated Megalithic phenomenon are clearly related to notable demographic expansions in Ireland, Scotland, South England, Denmark and Scania. Megalithic influence may also be associated with some more irregular growth in South and Central Germany but rather not in France nor West Germany. A contemporary weak and irregular growth in North Germany (Brandenburg, Mecklemburg and Schlewig-Holstein) may be correlated with Funnelbeaker (with roots in Denmark) and the first Kurgan development of Baalberge and successor cultures (with roots in Eastern Europe), which would eventually evolve into Corded Ware.
Corded Ware only seems related to clear demographic growth in Jutland (and less resolutely in Scania). Bell Beaker is only linked with clear demographic growth in Ireland (and much more weakly in South England and Central Germany), while elsewhere it is rather associated with decline.
For the exact extension of the various regions as defined for this study, see fig. 1 (map).
As provisional conclusion, it seems obvious to my eyes that the most important demographic growth processes were the various Neolithic cultures but that the Atlantic Neolithic (and associated Megalithism) was particularly dynamic. In contrast Indoeuropean-associated cultural phenomena had a much weaker impact, with some localized exceptions, and are generally associated with local demographic decline instead, at least judging from the archaeological record.
See also:

Basque and other European origins according to ancient mtDNA

This is a (partly shortened) version of an article I wrote recently in Spanish language for Ama Ata.
For reasons of the variegated methodology used by the various researchers this comparison across time and space has to be simplified. Still it is a valuable insight on the demographic changes produced in the Neolithic and later on in three European regions: Germany, Portugal and the Basque Country. 
As you surely know already, the results of archaeogenetic sequencing in Central Europe have produced quite perplexing results: not just the Neolithic wave seems to have caused major changes but also this one was victim of similarly radical later changes in the demography. Visually:

The first period when we see an mtDNA pool similar to the modern one is already in the Late Bronze Age. However we lack data for all the early and middle Bronze Age and the data of the late Chalcolithic already points to the components of this modern pool being present, albeit in a very fragmented form. If anything there was still excess of L(xR), i.e. N(xR). 
This late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age knot of Central European demographic history is still to be solved. But something we can already say for sure: the Neolithic wave was of dramatic consequences in this region but itself was wiped out by later, still ill understood, secondary waves.
This area is not so well documented, however the data we do have still provide a very interesting sequence of the demographic history of SW or West Iberia. Visually again:

One of the problems here is, quite evidently, that sequencing only the HVS-I region is not at all enough to identify some very important haplogroups, particularly H. We can reasonably think however that most or even all of the R* sequences are actually H.
We see some but not-so-radical changes with the arrival of Neolithic: some apparent decrease of U (halved) and L(xR), a +33% growth of H and first detection of HV0 (probably V). However these changes seem to have been partly countered by Chalcolithic, plausibly by means of blending between first farmers and more purely aboriginal populations. Overall I am very much tempted to think that the arrival of Neolithic to (South and Central) Portugal only caused mild demic changes. 
This fact, together with the extremely high frequencies of haplogroup H and the key role played by SW Iberia in the formation of Dolmenic Megalithism, as well as their pivotal role in Bell Beaker, including the existence of a major civilization (Zambujal, VNSP), the first one ever in Atlantic Europe, makes this area highly suspect as a possible origin for the spread of mtDNA H in Western Europe to the frequencies that we find today (c. 40-50%).
However we have only very limited archaeogenetic data from other Atlantic Megalithic regions and in general from Megalithic burials and it is at least possible that Armorica (Brittany, West France) or Denmark and the nearby Low Germany regions played important roles in this spread, which we see so dramatically exemplified in the German Bell Beaker sample. 
When the finger points to the Moon, the fool looks at the finger. Portugal could be the Moon but it may just be the finger, so I will remain cautious at this stage of research. Whatever the case it does seem to me that Megalithism is a likely source of that excess H (Bell Beaker being just the finger here, almost for sure).
I must add that there seem to be some important demic changes since Chalcolithic in Portugal. Tentatively I will attribute them to the intrusive SW Iberian “horizons” (proto-Tartessian?) and/or the Luso-Celtic invasions of the Iron Age. 
Basque Country
My main aim in all this compilation was, as in a sense in all my diving into prehistoric research for so many years now, to find an answer to the mystery of the origin of Basques and Basque language. 
In the last few years we have been blessed with some important and revealing archaeogenetic research in this area, and therefore I could build also an informative graph for the Basque Country:

Very synthetically, I think that we can see here, much as in Portugal, some not too radical changes with the Neolithic arrival, and then relative stability until present day. This is coherent with the Basque Country not having suffered effective Indoeuropean invasions, unlike Portugal.
However I strongly feel the need to look at the fine detail in the Basque Neolithic transition, because it has some interesting question marks:

Seen as that, it would seem like the Neolithic-induced demic change was more important in Navarre and less in the Western Basque Country. However the two Ebro basin sequences (both Fuente Hoz and Los Cascajos) are very high in U* and low in U5, which is so far the only U subclade sequenced in the Paleolithic of the Basque-Cantabrian area. At this point I do not really know how to interpret this fact nor even what kind of U sublineage is that one.
What I do know is that, on one side, the Biscay-Gipuzkoan area seems to have been initially unaffected by Neolithic demic waves and that the Paternabidea sequence is very very similar to modern day Basque average (and even more in its own sub-region).
It is very possible that the Basque periphery, notably the Ebro banks, suffered more intense demic changes than the core Basque areas of the piedmont. However, when compared with other European regions (very especially Central Europe) the Basque genetic pool seems quite stable since Neolithic times. 
Is Basque language Neolithic?
Even if genetics and language need not to be tightly related, of course, the question of the origin of Basque language and the proposed Vasconic language family, believed to have been spoken in much of Europe at some point in Prehistory, are indeed related to the genetic origin of the Basque people. 
There are four main models for the origin of Basque and Vasconic:
  1. Magdalenian (Paleolithic) origin in the Franco-Cantabrian region some 17-15,000 years ago (incl. possible sub-waves like Tardenoisian/geometric Epipaleolithic).
  2. Neolithic origin.
  3. Megalithic origin.
  4. More or less recent (Iron Age?) arrival, defended by mostly by the fanatics of Indoeuropean continuity. 
We can safely discard #4 only based on archaeology but the genetic aspect seems to add even more weight to this dismissal, after all it is Indoeuropean speaking peoples the ones which show obvious signs of demic change, sometimes very dramatic, not Basques.
Personally, and with due caution, I would also cast doubt on #1, partly because the Vasconic substrate area seems to include strongly many parts of Italy like Sardinia, in principle unaffected by the Magdalenian expansion, and I would also include at least to some extent parts of the Balcans (for example the Ibar river in Kosovo). 
So I am rather inclined for model #2, i.e. that Vasconic was the language family spoken by European Neolithic peoples with roots in Thessaly (pre-Sesklo→Mediterranean Neolithic, proto-Sesklo→Balcano-Danubian Neolithic). I cannot of course exclude a possible re-expansion of some of those languages within the Atlantic Megalithic phenomenon, which I would deem responsible of the expansion of much of mtDNA H up to modern frequencies, however I doubt this one is the source because it is difficult to explain the presence of Vasconic in many pockets in which Megalithism was at best very secondary or did not exist at all (for example most of the Ancient Iberian area, Sardinia, the Balcans, etc.)
So my tentative proposal is that there was a root Vasconic spoken some 9000 years ago in Thessaly (Northern Greece), which split (as per archaeology) in two branches:
  • Southern or Western Vasconic (Impressed-Cardium Pottery and related cultures, including the Megalithic urheimat in Portugal). 
  • Northern or Eastern Vasconic (Red-White Painted Ware in the Balcans and later Linear Pottery in Central Europe).
Basque, ancient Sardinian, Iberian and the hypothetical lingua franca associated to Megalithism would belong to Southern Vasconic. Danubian Neolithic peoples would have spoken Northern Vasconic instead but, as we can see, they were eventually all but wiped out by secondary arrivals from West and East. Even the very Balcanic core areas of Thessaly, Macedonia and Serbia also suffered an invasion early on by peoples with Beige-Black pottery (Vinca-Dimini) surely related to Tell Halaf. So the main survivor to the Metal Ages was Southern (Western) Vasconic, which was then wiped out (excepted Basque) by the Indoeuropean invasions of Celtic and Italic peoples. 
We can still see fossils however. One of my favorite examples is the Latin particle bi- (as in bilateral, bilingual, etc.), which seems derived from Vasconic bi (two, at least in modern Basque) and unrelated to PIE *dwos. Also the English words kill and ill, which seem related to Basque verb hil(-du) (pronounced /hill/ or /ill/ and meaning to die or to kill, depending on how you conjugate it). Again both English terms do not have any apparent PIE origins, although they may derive from proto-Germanic. These are just examples, of course, there seems to be much more to be researched.
Appendix: detail of the data and bibliography: LINK.

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:

Brotherton 2013: cherry-picking the evidence for mtDNA H

Unlike the conceptually akin paper by Fu 2013 (PPV – discussed here), this one is very neatly explained and allows no doubts on how they reached their conclusions. Another thing is to agree with the method being good enough to provide for any conclusions at all. It is still an interesting study on the evolution of mtDNA lineage H in the specific context of the Elba-Saale region of Germany.
Paul Brotherton et al., Neolithic mitochondrial haplogroup H genomes and the genetic origins of Europeans. Nature Communications 2013. Pay per viewLINK. [doi:10.1038/ncomms2656]


Haplogroup H dominates present-day Western European mitochondrial DNA variability (>40%), yet was less common (~19%) among Early Neolithic farmers (~5450 BC) and virtually absent in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Here we investigate this major component of the maternal population history of modern Europeans and sequence 39 complete haplogroup H mitochondrial genomes from ancient human remains. We then compare this ‘real-time’ genetic data with cultural changes taking place between the Early Neolithic (~5450 BC) and Bronze Age (~2200 BC) in Central Europe. Our results reveal that the current diversity and distribution of haplogroup H were largely established by the Mid Neolithic (~4000 BC), but with substantial genetic contributions from subsequent pan-European cultures such as the Bell Beakers expanding out of Iberia in the Late Neolithic (~2800 BC). Dated haplogroup H genomes allow us to reconstruct the recent evolutionary history of haplogroup H and reveal a mutation rate 45% higher than current estimates for human mitochondria.
Let’s deal with the interesting part first and then with their impossible molecular clock speculations. 
All the samples used in this study belong to haplogroup H as you can see in table 1. This does not allow to consider the overall apportion of H in each population, for which we would need to go to the original studies. For example in the region’s LBK samples, H was just some 20% of the total, what alone talks of a population that was not at all like the modern one, never mind N1a. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the Bell Beaker (BBC) samples, where H made up 88% of the total (Adler 2012, discussed here), again non-modern but a possible source of H increase in frequency. 
We must keep in mind all the time that in this study only H is considered, with all the derived pros and cons. 
Maybe the most interesting result is therefore the comparison with modern populations done in fig. 2a:

Figure 2 | Population affinities of select Neolithic cultures. (a) PCA biplot based on the frequencies of 15 hg H sub-haplogroups (component loadings) from 37 present-dayWestern Eurasian and three ancient populations (light blue:Western Europe; dark blue: Central and Eastern Europe; orange; Near East,Caucasus and Anatolia; and pink: ancient samples). Populations are abbreviated as follows: GAL, Galicia; CNT, Cantabria; CAT, Catalonia; GAS, Galicia/Asturia; CAN, Cantabria2; POT, Potes; PAS, Pasiegos; VIZ, Vizcaya; GUI, Guipuzcoa; BMI, Basques; IPNE, Iberian Peninsula Northeast; TUR, Turkey; ARM, Armenia; GEO, Georgia; NWC, Northwest Caucasus; DAG, Dagestan; OSS, Ossetia; SYR, Syria; LBN, Lebanon; JOR, Jordan; ARB, Arabian Peninsula;ARE, Arabian Peninsula2; KBK, Karachay-Balkaria; MKD, Macedonia; VUR, Volga-Ural region; FIN, Finland; EST, Estonia; ESV, Eastern Slavs; SVK, Slovakia; FRA, France; BLK, Balkans; DEU, Germany; AUT, Austria, ROU, Romania; FRM, France Normandy; WIS, Western Isles; CZE, Czech Republic; LBK, Linear pottery culture; BBC, Bell Beaker culture; MNE, Middle Neolithic.

BBC (Bell Beaker) and LBK (Linear Pottery Culture) are clear-cut cultures in this graph. However MNE (Middle Neolithic) is a pooled agglomeration of several not too related cultures from the Late Neolithic and Early and Middle Chalcolithic. So, using the haplogroup vectors (grey), I remapped its unlikely components:

Fig. 2a annotated by Maju: green “MNE” cultures, grey: other cultures. Dotted circles just for reference.

Suddenly the mirage of modernity and homogeneity in MNE’s H collapses, very specially for Salzmünde (2/2 H3) but really also for the other components of the MNE pool: Rössen (directly derived from LBK) appears here as Balcano-Estonian and similar to Bronze Age Sardinia, Schöningen (derived from Rössen) appears Norman French and close to the original LBK pool, the first Kurgan culture in Central Europe, Baalberge, is the only one really close to the MNE dot but its closest modern relatives are NE Iberians (IPNE), while its successor Salzmünde is “hyper-Iberian” much as Bell Beaker after them – however the intermediate Corded Ware, C.W., leans back to the right and appears Catalan.
No conclusions can be inferred from this, for that we’d need to compare whole genetic pools and not just H, which is minority in most ancient samples but for whatever is worth… I made yet another annotated version of this graph:

Fig. 2a annotated by Maju: changes in Central European mtDNA H composition along time (arrows).

I considered here Rössen as different from Schöningen, as Rössen or Epi-Rössen persisted in much of Germany and nearby Alpine areas for long, but feel free to draw or imagine it differently.
Whatever the case the appearance is of gradual “modernization” or “Germanization” of haplogroup H culminating in Baalberge, followed by an “Iberization” of the haplogroup pool in the Middle and Late Chalcolithic, coincident roughly with the expansion of Megalithism and Bell Beaker and just mildly countered by Indoeuropean expansion from the East (Corded Ware, Unetice). Here they mention six Unetice H sequences but, judging on Adler 2012, H was very very rare in this culture at least in the Elbe-Saale area (1/31).
Beyond this I doubt that the paper can provide us with any more enlightenment.
It does provide for some false leads however.
The authors use this Elbe-Saale limited ancient mtDNA evidence to construct a “molecular clock”:

Another major advantage of the temporal calibration points provided by ancient hg H mt genomes is that the data allow a relatively precise estimate of the evolutionary substitution rate for human mtDNA. The temporal dependency of evolutionary rates predicts that rate estimates measured over short timespans will be considerably higher than those using deep fossil calibrations, such as the human/chimpanzee split at ~6 million years.

6 million years?! Where have you been in the last five years, Paul? Ahem…
It doesn’t really matter but it illustrates the reactionary scholastic inertia that plagues the Academia, very especially in the field of population genetics.

What matters is that they continue as follows:

(…) The rate calibrated by the Neolithic and Bronze Age sequences is 2.4 x10⁻⁸ substitutions per site per year (1.7–3.2×10⁻⁸; 95% high posterior density) for the entire mt genome, which is 1.45 (44.5%) higher than current estimates based on the traditional human/chimp split (for example, 1.66 x10 ⁻⁸ for the entire mt genome and 1.26x 10⁻⁸ for the coding region). Consequently, the calibrated ‘Neolithic’ rate infers a considerably younger coalescence date for hg H (10.9–19.1 kya) than those previously reported (19.2–21.4 kya for HVSI, 15.7–22.5 kya for the mt coding region or 14.7–22.6 kya when corrected for purifying selection).

What matters is that by cherry-picking only some sequences of ancient mtDNA H, they are denying themselves (and the rest of us by extension) a realistic calibration of the haplogroup. What happened with the Cantabrian Magdalenian and Epipaleolithic Basque H? What happened with Epipaleolithic Karelian H? Never mind Sunghir’s Gravettian H17’27 or Taforalt’s massive pool of R*-CRS, most likely H1 (Kéfi 2005), which may be more questionable but never rejected without direct negative evidence.
In other words: they are cherry-picking the evidence. They could argue that the Elbe-Saale data was the only one readily available for them to sequence in full or whatever and that therefore the evidence was cherry-picked by Destiny… but that would not justify in any case the arrogance of their conclusions: they should have been much more humble and admit that this evidence is only part of all the ancient mtDNA H (known or suspected), some of which is clearly much older and therefore much more relevant.
I illustrated this problem using their fig. 1a:

Fig. 1a, annotated by Maju.
(Note: one of the “Magdalenian” H* sequences from North Iberia is actually Epipaleolithic, my error)

In orange color I have marked an alternative minimal “molecular clock” extrapolation using the La Chora H6 sequence (Hervella 2006 open access). This is minimal because I’m assuming this sequence to be underived H6, if it’d be derived (what I don’t know), the estimate would be even larger.
I have annotated all the sequences I am aware of ancient confirmed (unquestionable) mtDNA H. There are many more that are very likely, and in many cases older (see maps), but not yet confirmed.
So well, molecular-clock-o-logical pseudoscience again. It’s a pity that otherwise respectable scientists pay tribute to this academic fetish.
The molecular clock hypothesis has never been proven, being a mere statistical construct, and it has many problems particularly in mitochondrial DNA, where branches are dramatically unequal, obeying to either: (a) randomness, (b) differential adaptive fitness or (c) ancient population dynamics (variable drift results depending on population size). I discussed some of that here and also here.

I beg here to population geneticists to be more serious and careful and not try to push their ideas against the available evidence. That is not proper of scientists but belongs to the field of ideological propaganda.

Update: La Chora Magdalenian H6 is probably H6a1, with implications for the age estimate of H.

All known H6 of Iberia and all or most of Western Europe is H6a1, while the “famous” Central Asian H6 (very minor overall) is all H6(xH6a), which is also relatively important in Eastern Europe. See Álvarez Iglesias 2009 (open access), especially Supp. Table 3. H6a(xH6a1) has only been detected so far in Austria (oversampled – I miss data from France again).

Brotherton’s H6 only sample (Corded Ware) is H6a1a. Álvarez Iglesias did not test for this phylogenetic level, hence would show in his data as H6a1 but he did test for H6a1a1, only found precisely in Cantabria.

So the La Chora H6 Magdalenian sequence can be:

  • H6(xH6a): extremely rare in Western Europe modernly
  • H6a: reported in Austria only (modern sample)
  • H6a1: most common in Western Europe and especially North Iberia
  • H6a1a: like Brotherton’s Corded Ware sequence
  • H6a1a1: found only in Cantabria modernly, it seems
  • etc. (PhyloTree allows for some other options)

I already discussed the possible age (using molecular clock theory, calibrated) of H if La Chora H6 would be H6-root. But, considering that H6b and H6c seem to be Eastern European or Central Asian, it seems more reasonable to think it is H6a or downstream of it. What would be the age range of H for the other possible assignations of La Chora’s H6, would it be tested for coding region mutations? Let’s see:

  • If H6a-root: 47,500 to 24,500 years ago (median: 36,000 BP)
  • If H6a1: 73,200 to 34,800 years ago (median: 54,000 BP)

Of course I do not really think that the molecular clock can be easily applied, if at all, to mtDNA, because the rarity of accumulating mutations poses way too many challenges. But if it had to be applied, as Brotherton, Fu, their teams and some amateurs seem to think, then we’d have to test the La Chora and La Pasiega (and Sunghir and others) for coding region mutations in order to have the most valid calibration points.

Otherwise is like the blind man who touched the trunk of an elephant and imagined it was like a snake.


Late Upper Paleolithic fishhooks from Germany

Iván Díaz discusses today at his blog[es] the finding of an array of fishhooks from Wustermark (Brandenburg, Germany) the oldest known ones of Northern Europe.
Bernhardt Gramsch et al., A Palaeolithic fishhook made of ivory and the earliest fishhook tradition in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2013.01.010]


Prehistoric fishhooks have previously been described in northern Europe as being common since the Mesolithic. Here we present a Final Palaeolithic ivory fishhook from the site Wustermark 22 (north-eastern Germany), the raw material of which is about 19,000 years old. Five further fishhooks were discovered in situ at the same site one of which has a calibrated radiocarbon age of about 12,300 years. The tool industries of flint artefacts and bone/antler tools are associated with descendants of the Federmesser-culture and the palynological context indicates a Younger Dryas environment. Wustermark 22 represents the largest collection of Palaeolithic fishhooks so far found at a single European site. A comparison with other sites in Europe, containing Palaeolithic fishhooks suggests that the appearance and development of fishhooks may be associated with a general change in resource availability during the Greenland Interstadial 1 (Bølling/Allerød warming), which is also connected with a change from late Upper Palaeolithic to Final Palaeolithic industries in Northern Central Europe. We conclude that Mesolithic fishhook tradition has its roots in the Final Palaeolithic.

Following Díaz again, it seems that the generalization of these hooks and the corresponding fishing reliance of the economy may be related with the relative warming of the Bolling/Allerod interstadial, in the last centuries of the 15th millennium BP. 
The hooks are worked primarily in wood but also from bone, flint stone, shells, antler or even ivory.
Earlier fishing hooks are known since the Solutrean of SW Europe, where they tended to be rather straight in shape (tied by the middle), gradually evolving towards the characteristic hook shape we all recognize as familiar. Earlier it is believed that fishing, as happens in many cultures, was done primarily with spears and arrows, just like hunting. 
However we know that, in Timor c. 23-16,000 years ago, there were already very well shaped fishing hooks. It is possible that they used them even earlier because their open sea captures date from as earlier as 42,000 BP.

Linguist Jürgen Untermann has died

Surely one of the most important researchers of ancient Iberian languages and also of Italian ones, Jürgen Untermann has left his signature all around the bibliography regarding Iberian, Celtiberian and Italic languages. His life ended on February 7th 2013 at the venerable age of 84.

Source: Ama Ata[es], photo from Diario de Navarra.

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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in death, Germany, Iberia, Italy, linguistics


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.