|Dates||circa 2900 BCE - circa 2350 BCE|
|Preceded by||Narva culture, Funnelbeaker culture, Globular Amphora culture|
|Followed by||Beaker culture, Andronovo culture (derived from Corded Ware culture)|
or Copper Age
|? Stone Age
|? Bronze Age|
The Corded Ware culture (German: Schnurkeramik; French: céramique cordée; Dutch: touwbekercultuur) comprises a broad Indo-European archaeological horizon of Europe between c. 2900 BCE - circa 2350 BCE, thus from the late Neolithic, through the Copper Age, and ending in the early Bronze Age. Corded Ware culture encompassed a vast area, from the Rhine on the west to the Volga in the east, occupying parts of Northern Europe, Central Europe and Eastern Europe.
The Corded Ware was genetically strongly related to the Yamnaya culture, "documenting a massive migration into the heartland of Europe from its eastern periphery," the Eurasiatic steppes. The Corded Ware culture may have disseminated the Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic Indo-European languages. The Corded Ware Culture also shows genetic affinity with the later Sintashta culture, where the proto-Indo-Iranian language may have originated.
The term Corded Ware culture (German: Schnurkeramik-Kultur, Dutch: touwbekercultuur, French: ceramique cordée) was first introduced by the German archaeologist Friedrich Klopfleisch in 1883. He named it after cord-like impressions or ornamentation characteristic of its pottery. The term Single Grave culture comes from its burial custom, which consisted of inhumation under tumuli in a crouched position with various artifacts. Battle Axe culture, or Boat Axe culture, is named from its characteristic grave offering to males, a stone boat-shaped battle axe.
Corded Ware encompassed most of continental northern Europe from the Rhine on the west to the Volga in the east, including most of modern-day Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, northwestern Romania, northern Ukraine, and the European part of Russia, as well as coastal Norway and the southern portions of Sweden and Finland. In the Late Eneolithic/Early Bronze Age, it encompassed the territory of nearly the entire Balkan Peninsula, where corded ware mixed with other steppe elements.
Archaeologists note that Corded Ware was not a "unified culture," as Corded ware groups inhabiting a vast geographical area from the Rhine to Volga seem to have regionally specific subsistence strategies and economies. There are differences in the material culture and in settlements and society. At the same time, they had several shared elements that are characteristic of all Corded Ware groups, such as their burial practices, pottery with "cord" decoration and unique stone-axes.
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.
The origins and dispersal of Corded Ware culture was for a long time one of the pivotal unresolved issues of the Indo-European Urheimat problem. The Corded Ware culture has long been regarded as Indo-European because of its relative lack of settlements compared to preceding cultures, which suggested a mobile, pastoral economy, similar to that of the Yamna culture, and the culture of the Indo-Europeans inferred from philology. 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 based on their possession of the horse and wheeled vehicles, apparent warlike propensities, wide area of distribution and rapid intrusive expansion at the assumed time of the dispersal of Indo-European languages Today this idea has lost currency, as the Kurgan hypothesis is currently the most widely accepted proposal to explain the origins and spread of the Indo-European languages.
Prior to results from testing ancient DNA from Corded Ware graves, which now show that the Corded Ware population was genetically strongly related to the pastoral Yamnaya population of the steppes north of the Black Sea, there was a stark division between archaeologists regarding the origins of Corded Ware. Some archaeologists believed it sprang from central Europe while others saw an influence from nomadic pastoral societies of the steppes. In favour of the first view was the fact that Corded Ware coincides considerably with the earlier north-central European Funnelbeaker culture (TRB). According to Gimbutas, the Corded Ware culture was preceded by the Globular Amphora culture (3400-2800 BCE), which she regarded to be an Indo-European culture. The Globular Amphora culture stretched from central Europe to the Baltic sea, and emerged from the Funnelbeaker culture. 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 archaeology. The degree to which cultural change generally represents immigration were matter of debate, and such debate had figured strongly in discussions of Corded Ware.
According to controversial radiocarbon dates, Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in the area that is now Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. The earliest radiocarbon dates for Corded Ware indeed come from Kujawy and Lesser Poland in central and southern Poland and point to the period around 3000 BCE. However, subsequent review has challenged this perspective, instead pointing out that the wide variation in dating of the Corded Ware, especially the dating of the culture's beginning, is based on individual outlier graves, is not particularly in line with other archaeological data and runs afoul of plateaus in the radiocarbon calibration curve; in the one case where the dating can be clarified with dendrochronology, in Switzerland, Corded Ware is found for only a short period from 2750 BCE to 2400 BCE.  Furthermore, because the short period in Switzerland seems to represent examples of artifacts from all the major sub-periods of the Corded Ware culture elsewhere, some researchers conclude that Corded Ware occurred more or less simultaneously throughout North Central Europe in the early 2900 BCE, in a number of "centers" which subsequently formed their own local networks. Carbon-14 dating of the remaining central European regions shows that Corded Ware appeared after 2880 BCE According to this theory, it spread to the Lüneburg Heath 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. However, the theories that hypothesize an origin of the Corded Ware phenomenon based on continuity with preceding cultures of Western or Central Europe run afoul of newer palaeogenomic data showing that the Corded Ware population had an ancestry derived at least 75% from the Yamnaya population of 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 north-east of Poland, it is seen as an intrusive successor to the southwestern portion of the Narva culture. However, today Corded Ware is now everywhere seen as intrusive, though not necessarily aggressively so, and coexisting with earlier indigenous cultures in many cases.
A Genetic study conducted by Haak et al. (2015) found that a large proportion of the ancestry of the Corded Ware culture's population came from the Yamnaya culture, tracing the Corded Ware culture's origins to migrations of the Yamnaya from the steppes 4,500 years ago. About 75% of the DNA of late Neolithic Corded Ware skeletons found in Germany was a precise match to DNA from individuals of the Yamnaya culture. The same study estimated a 40-54% ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Central & Northern Europeans, and a 20-32% contribution in modern Southern Europeans, excluding Sardinians (7.1% or less), and to a lesser extent Sicilians (11.6% or less).[web 1] Haak et al. also note that their results "suggest" that haplogroups R1b and R1a "spread into Europe from the East after 3,000 BCE."
In terms of phenotypes, Wilde et al. (2014) and Haak et al. (2015) found that the intrusive Yamnaya population, generally inferred to be the first speakers of an Indo-European language in the Corded Ware culture zone, were overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European. These studies also showed that light pigmentation traits had already existed in pre-Indo-European Neolithic Europeans (in both farmers and hunter-gatherers), so long-standing philological attempts to correlate them with the arrival of Indo-Europeans from the steppes were misguided.
Autosomal DNA tests also indicate that the Yamnaya migration from the steppes introduced a component of ancestry referred to as "Ancient North Eurasian" admixture into Europe. "Ancient North Eurasian" is the name given in genetic literature to a component that represents descent from the people of the Mal'ta-Buret' culture or a population closely related to them. The "Ancient North Eurasian" genetic component is visible in tests of the Yamnaya people as well as modern-day Europeans, but not of Western or Central Europeans predating the Corded Ware culture.
Haak et al. (2015) also warned:
We caution that the sampled Yamnaya individuals from Samara might not be directly ancestral to Corded Ware individuals from Germany. It is possible that a more western Yamnaya population, or an earlier (pre-Yamnaya) steppe population may have migrated into central Europe, and future work may uncover more missing links in the chain of transmission of steppe ancestry.-- W. Haak et al., Nature
Goldberg et al. (2016) found that Neolithic farming migration into Europe "was driven by mass migration of both males and females in roughly equal numbers, perhaps whole families" While Bronze Age Pontic steppe "migration and cultural shift were instead driven by male migration, potentially connected to new technology and conquest." 
Furthermore, Allentoft et al. (2015) presents surprising genetic evidence of genetic affinity of the Corded Ware Culture with the later Sintashta culture, suggesting that the "Western" or European Neolithic component of Sintashta and its daughter cultures may have come from the Corded Ware culture.
The Corded Ware culture may have played a central role in the spread of the Indo-European languages in Europe during the Copper and Bronze Ages. According to Mallory, the Corded Ware culture was "the common prehistoric ancestor of the later Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, and possibly some of the Indo-European languages of Italy." Yet, Mallory also notes that the Corded Ware can not account for Greek, Illyrian, Thracian and East Italic, which may be derived from Southeast Europe. According to Anthony, the Corded ware horizon may have introduced Germanic, Baltic and Slavic into northern Europe.
According to Anthony, the Pre-Germanic dialects may have developed in the Usatovo culture in south-eastern Central Europe between the Dniestr and the Vistula at ca. 3,100-2,800 BCE, and spread with the Corded Ware culture. Between 3100-2800/2600 BCE, a real folk migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers from the Yamna-culture took place into the Danube Valley, which eventually reached as far as Hungary, where pre-Celtic and pre-Italic may have developed. Slavic and Baltic developed at the middle Dniepr (present-day Ukraine).
Haak et al. (2015) note that German Corded ware "trace ~75% of their ancestry to the Yamna," envisioning a west-north-west migration from the Yamna culture into Germany. Allentoft et al. (2015) envision a migration from the Yamna culture towards north-western Europe via Central Europe, and towards the Baltic area and the eastern periphery of the Corded ware culture via the territory of present-day Ukraine, White-Russia and Russia.
According to Gimbutas' original theory, the process of "Indo-Europeanization" of Corded Ware (and, later, the rest of Europe) was essentially a cultural transformation, not one of physical type. The Yamnaya migration from Eastern to Central and Western Europe is understood by Gimbutas as a military victory, resulting in the Yamnaya imposing a new administrative system, language and religion upon the indigenous groups.[note 1][note 2] The social organization greatly facilitated the Yamnaya people's effectiveness in war, their patrilineal and patriarchal structure.[note 3] The Old Europeans (indigenous groups) had neither a warrior class nor horses. They lived in (probably) theocratic monarchies presided over by a queen-priestess or were egalitarian society[note 4] This Old European social structure contrasted with the social structure of the Yamnaya-derived cultures that followed them.
David Anthony (2007), in his "revised Steppe hypothesis" proposes that the spread of the Indo-European languages probably did not happen through "chain-type folk migrations," but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political elites, which were emulated by large groups of people,:117 a process which he calls "elite recruitment".[note 5] Yet, in supplementary information to Haak et al. (2015) Anthony, together with Lazaridis, Haak, Patterson, and Reich, notes that the mass migration of Yamna people to northern Europe shows that "the Steppe hypothesis does not require elite dominance to have transmitted Indo-European languages into Europe. Instead, our results show that the languages could have been introduced simply by strength of numbers: via major migration in which both sexes participated."[note 6]
Linguist Guus Kroonen points out that speakers of Indo-European languages encountered existing populations in Europe that spoke unrelated, non-Indo-European languages when they migrated further into Europe from the Yamna culture's steppe zone at the margin of Europe. He focuses on both the effects on Indo-European languages that resulted from this contact and investigation of the pre-existing languages. Relatively little is known about the Pre-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Europe, except for Basque, as the "Indo-Europeanization" of Europe caused a largely unrecorded, massive linguistic extinction event, most likely through language-shift. Guus Kroonen's (2015)  study purports to show that Pre-Indo-European speech contains a clear Neolithic signature emanating from the Aegean language family and thus patterns with the prehistoric migration of Europe's first farming populations.
Marija Gimbutas, as part of her theory, had already inferred that the Corded Ware culture's intrusion into Scandinavia formed a synthesis with the indigenous people of the Funnelbeaker culture, giving birth to the Proto-Germanic language. According to Edgar Polomé, 30% of the non-Indo-European substratum found in modern German derives from non-Indo-European-speakers of Funnelbeaker culture, indigenous to southern Scandinavia. When Yamnaya Indo-European speakers came into contact with the indigenous peoples during the 3rd millennium BCE, they came to dominate the local populations yet parts of the indigenous lexicon persisted in the formation of Proto-Germanic, thus giving Proto-Germanic the status of being an "Indo-Europeanized" language.
In opposition to the invasionist theories proposed by Gimbutas and others, Mario Alinei--in his Paleolithic Continuity Theory-- has supported the continuity of languages in the area of the Corded Ware (as elsewhere in Europe) since the Paleolithic. Based on predecessors such as Yevgeny Yu. Krichevsky and V. Gordon Childe, he stressed the universal character of the innovations generally connected to the people of the Corded Ware (such as a special mixture of farming and nomadic pastoralism, and the patrilineal and patriarchal structures connected to the latter). Nevertheless, Alinei accepted a heightened influence of the migratorial element in the area between the Black Sea and the Pannonian Basin, but emphasized the continuity - "with or without human appositions from the steppes" - of the Funnelbeaker culture via the Globular Amphora culture to the Corded Ware or Battle Axe culture, and the Single Grave culture.
He believes that speakers of Baltic languages may have played an important role in the diffusion of the Corded Ware culture. The main arguments for this pivotal role of the Baltic speakers would be: a) the geographical extent of the Baltic hydronymy in a rectangle spanning from the Vistula to the Russian Oka and the upper Volga; b) the linguistic influence of the Baltic languages in and onto a regional Sprachbund - characterized by polytony[note 7] -, uniting them with most of the Scandinavian and some Low German dialects of the coastal region, as well as with certain Slavic (Northern Kashubian) and Finnic languages (Livonian and Estonian).
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, common 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 BCE 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.
Burial 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. The Beaker culture originated around 2800 BCE in the Iberian Peninsula and subsequently extended into Central Europe, where it partly coexisted with the Corded Ware region.
In April 2011, it was reported that a deviant Corded Ware burial had been discovered in a suburb of Prague. The remains, believed to be male, were orientated in the same way as women's burials and were not accompanied by any gender-specific grave goods. The excavators suggested the grave may have been that of a "member of a so-called third gender, which were people either with different sexual orientation or transsexuals or just people who identified themselves differently from the rest of the society", while media reports heralded the discovery of the world's first "gay caveman". Archaeologists and biological anthropologists criticised media coverage as sensationalist. "If this burial represents a transgendered individual (as well it could), that doesn't necessarily mean the person had a 'different sexual orientation' and certainly doesn't mean that he would have considered himself (or that his culture would have considered him) 'homosexual,'" anthropologist Kristina Killgrove commented. Other items of criticism were that someone buried in the Copper Age was not a "caveman" and that identifying the sex of skeletal remains is difficult and inexact. A detailed account of the burial has not yet appeared in the scientific literature.
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 term refers to a series of late Neolithic communities of the 3rd millennium BCE living in southern Scandinavia, Northern Germany, and the Low Countries that share the practice of single burial, the deceased usually being accompanied by a battle-axe, amber beads, and pottery vessels.
The term Single Grave culture was first introduced by the Danish archaeologist Andreas Peter Madsen in the late 1800s, he found Single Graves to be quite different from the already known dolmens, long barrows and passage graves. In 1898, archaeologist Sophus Müller was first to present a migration-hypothesis stating that previously known dolmens, long barrows, passage graves and newly discovered single graves may represent two completely different groups of people, stating "Single graves are traces of new, from the south coming tribes".
The cultural emphasis on drinking equipment already characteristic of the early indigenous Funnelbeaker culture, synthesized with newly arrived 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 Beaker culture has been proposed to derive from this specific branch of the Corded Ware culture.
The Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture, or the Boat Axe culture, appeared ca. 2800 BCE and is known from about 3000 graves from Scania to Uppland and Trøndelag. 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, 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.
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.
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.