The definition of what, or when, constitutes the Bronze Age differs from region to region, and scholar to scholar. For example, the period after the collapse of the Varna civilization (4000 BC ->) is often seen as a proto-Bronze Age or ‘’Transitional’’ period, with the Bronze Age beginning c. 3000 BC (coincident with the Yamnaya and Ezero culture periods). However, if we take an emerging & stable complexity as hallmarks of a true Bronze Age, then that figure is usually taken as c. 2500 BC for southeastern Europe (c.f. 3000 BC in central-west Anatolia and 22/2000 BC in central Europe). A series of cultural and ideological changes occur during this period, and these would be interesting to look at in concert with what is known from aDNA.
Fig 1. The Final Chalcolithic, post-collapse/ transitional period periods, and their relationship to settlement densities (Weninger & Harper).
I. Europe at 3000-2500 BC
Fig 2. Europe c. 2800 BC (in process).
Yamnaya tumuli in East Central/ Southeastern Europe are found in steppe-like regions in the Alfold & Getan plains, small clusters of Yamnaya-like tumuli are also seen in Thrace, Montenegro and at the Danube bend. In my opinion, as Yamnaya individuals & groups expanded across central Europe, they became the formative element of the Bell Beaker culture. Although there is significant steppe admixture in the central Balkans, the dearth of sampling does not allow definitive answers about Yamnaya’s exact role in the genesis of Balkan & Anatolian Indo-Europeans groups. Another point I might suggest is that the Bulgarian Yamnaya and EMBA barrow groups differ (burial positions, Y-haplogroups) to the Repin-derived easterners. A variety of other cultural groups co-existed in the Balkans in the 3000-2500 BC period, including the Vucedol, Cotofeni, Ezero, and Late Baden. Many of these share similar stylistic elements related to the Boleraz-Cernavoda horizon which followed the collapse of the Varna-Karanovo VI culture.
Moving to northern Europe, the GAC expansion had approached the Pontic steppe and middle Dnieper region, with the Zlota culture in all probability being a syncretic variant of GAC. The Corded Ware began its expansion c. 2700 BC, reaching East Denmark by 2600 BC. Late TRB groups survive to c. 2400 BC.
Along the Danube highway existed several small groups, Horgen, Cham, Rivnac, Goldberg; in France groups like SOM (north), Trielles culture (Mediterranean) , Artenac (Atlantic coast). In Iberia, from c. 3000 BC begins the pre-Beaker Copper Age, with notable horizons such as Los Millares and VSNP, characterised by aggregation of settlement, demographic growth and beginnings of Copper metallurgy. The 3000 BC period in Britain and Ireland is known as ‘’Late Neolithic’’, and is characterised by the building of henges and broad ceramic horizons such as Grooved Ware.
In the Near East and Caucasus region, the 3100-2600 BC period is characterised by the zenith of another expansive culture – the Kura-Araxes. The K-A culture expanded toward the northern Levant and Iran. K-A traits are also seen in Greece, where K-A type andirons, weapons and ceramic influences are conspicuous. The K-A culture also expanded to the North Caucasus, manifest as its Velikent variant. The Uruk collapse occurs c. 3000 BC. At this time, we see that groups of nomads from the K-A culture took-over Arslantepe (eg the works of Pulambi and Frangipani, although they prefer a local evolution), formerly a northern Uruk outpost colony. If the Majkop culture’s wealth depended on its access and control of goods from far and wide regions (esp. Turan and Uruk), then the Uruk collapse and the K-A expansion must have adversely affected it’s access to these prestige goods which were the basis of managing alliegances and loyalties through ‘’gift-giving’’.
Coming full circle, immediately north of late Majkop exists the Novotitorovskaja variant of Yamnaya, characterised by a dense concentration of wagon finds, suggesting that this was some form of a power centre and interaction zone between Majkop and Yamnaya. Caucasian-style copper daggers eventually appear in the steppe zone and diffuse to the Balkans & Carpathian basin, where they begin to be hoarded in great quantities (Ivanova, Kulscar & Szeverenyi). One element of steppe pastoralism might have included the trade of movable goods between the Caucasus and the Balkans.
II) 2500 BC; New colonizations in Greece and Thrace.
Focussing in on the Bronze Age, from c. 2500 BC a profound change occurs in the social dynamic in Thrace and Greece. Initially, a few Anatolian-styled citadels and megaron appear in eastern Thrace. This stimulates the development of the Sveti Kirilovo phase of the (late) Ezero culture 2400 BC, and the region becomes characterised by ‘’frequent & highly visible ..trade, new forms of prestige and status expression’’ (Heyd et al; Ozdogan). Subsquently, the Ezero culture expands territorially, and the formerly symbiotic relationship they enjoyed with Yamnaya communities ends. In fact, Yamnaya-styled burials virtually disappear from the archaeological record in the Balkans. Of course, individuals of steppe-pastoralist origin would continue to arrive to Bulgaria and Hungary, such as the (? proto-Iranic) trader from Merichleri (1600 BC, R1a-Z93), and they did so well into the pre- modern period.
Fig 3. Kanlıgeçit (from http://kirklareliprojesi.org/kanligecit/)
Colonists also appear in eastern Greece and through the Aegean from c. 2500 BC, although their relation to those in Thrace is not clear at present. These ‘’eastern merchants’’ brought a burgeoning trade of textiles, seals, loom weights, adornments, helping to catalyse the emergence of a ‘’civilization’’ (Rahmstorf).
However, the productive trade network becomes disrupted c. 2200/ 2000 BC, not only in Greece, but also in Thrace where colonies like Kanlıgeçit are destroyed or abandoned. The EBA-MBA disruptions were recognised already in the 1950s (eg Mellart), however today even with more studies we don’t have an entirely clear picture. There are significant changes throughout the Mediterranean, such as the destruction or abandonement of many sites in Anatolia. After 2200 BC, the subsequent development between central and western Anatolia go in different ways. In the latter zone, there is a return to more a ”simple” and perhaps pastoralist oriented existence, although this does not seem to be associated with a change of material culture (Massa & Sahoglu). From the Damgaard et al. study, there is no genetic evidence for any shift between the EBA and MBA in central Anatolia, although we would need more samples and more regions to be analysed. Elsewhere in Southern Europe, archaeology suggests some form of expansive event from the (post-Vucedol) Cetina culture in the East Adriatic, directed toward the central Mediterranean and parts of Ionian Greece. In southern Greece, there are destruction levels, settlement decline and the appearance of new ‘’apsidal houses’’, which are of presumed Balkan (? Ezero culture) origin in southern Greece. Ultimately, what emerges is a more militarized culture. but how this is interepreted varies, for example it could be due to the rise of local elites (eg Dickinson), whilst others suggest military conquests from the outside, either north (the Carpathian region and steppe), or south Caucasus (the post-Kura-Arax Markopti culture; Drews). Given that adornments, weapons and chariots can be traded & gifted, the only clear way to discern the process of identity making in groups such as Myceneans and Balkan Tumuli chiefs is via Bio-archeo-cultural modelling.
Fig 4. The warrior burials at grave circle B at Mycenae, with Avila type II spearheads.
Table 1. G25 -based for Bronze Age Balkans.
Table 2. Modelling Myceneans & Minoans.
There are changes also evident in the Carpathian basin from c. 23/2200 BC. As per Fischl et al ‘’Among the most significant changes of the period between 2300 and 2100 BC are the disappearance of Bell Beaker -type material in central Hungary, the reappearance of tell settlements…and the formation of new social networks and identities’’.
III) The Bronze Age in Central and Northern Europe.
The Late Neolithic/Copper Age of C-N Europe (c. 3000-2000 BC) was characterised by the existence of groups such as GAC, TRB, CWC, BB. These differed in their genetic affinities, tempo/ mode of expansion and specific economic profile; yet they overlapped in space and time, and were segmentary societies forged around increasingly patriarchal clan structure. Atlantic Europe differs to central Europe, as the BB expansion was more unilaterally prolific, essentially replacing earlier groups. Part of the BB expansion proceeded back east toward the Danube bend (Csepel group) and south Poland. However, this expansion stopped c. 2200 BC as the emergence of a new, ‘’Bronze Age society’’ became the dominant cultural tempo in central and northern Europe.
For what might be novel information to some readers, it would be fastidious to directly quote important aspects of this phenomenon-
‘’These begin to witness new categories of weapons, prestigious objects of personal adornment, new dress codes, golden/silver drinking cups, exotica, and so on, in sum a package of ultimately south-eastern innovations. All this makes the Early Bronze Age a Europe of emerging complexity and host to the rise of local elites…
And soon, after 2000 BC , these elites were fully established and so became archaeologically visible in their princely graves, hoarding practices, abundance of weapons and jewellery, and monumental burial places (tumuli), settlements (hill forts), and longhouses.’’
How did these new elites create hierarchies and where did they come from ? Is there evidence for new migrations and mobility ? At a genome-wide leve, the population after 2000 BC is the same as that prior – derived from abovementioned groups. Indeed, in most of northern and western Europe, there is a cultural continuity in post-Beaker and epi-Corded groups. We can single out one such post-Beaker group – the north Alpine zone from Switzerland to Austria (known as the ‘’Danubian Bronze Age’’), because it was a cultural & demographic hub for much of central -western Europe. Here: ‘’ The funeral rites indicate that within the Danubian EBA the status of women and men within society and in the belief systems did not differ from those of the LCA [i.e. Bell Beaker period]… The preservation of the highly specific and unique bipolar gendered position of the deceased along a north-south axis in the graves clearly suggests that fundamental aspects of religious beliefs and concepts of the afterlife remained the same as before… It would seem to be a conscious adherence to their forefather’s traditions, contrasting with the more progressive practices of the peoples of the Unětice Culture who deliberately broke with this LCA custom…”
On the other hand, –
‘’One cardinal question, however, still remains: why do we have a much more pronounced cultural break north of the Danube River at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, with new burial customs, for example in the Unětice Culture, rejecting clear gender distinctions, and with a number of new archaeological materials and technological innovations, such as, eventually, metal-casting and tin bronzes. To a certain extent the same actually applies to major parts of Hungary (Nagyrév group)..
In giving themselves new identities, following new belief systems and introducing new technologies, these regions seem to be more progressive. Are these innovations due to a still strong, local non-Bell Beaker element, which is actually stronger than south of the Danube River? Or are they the result of a transfer of people and ideas from the Carpathian Basin, as suggested by the change in inventory from the later Corded Ware local groups in Moravia to the Proto-Unětice graves (Bertemes/Heyd 2oo2)?’’
Unetice culture individuals lie along the BB – CWC genetic cline. However they differs in the pattern of Y-Hg markers. Compared to the uniform Y-haplogroup profiles within groups, there is a broader range of markers (I2c, I2b, G2a, R1b-U106). Some of these point toward an axis of communication between the Nordic zone and the Carpathian basins. The apperance of I1 (found in Hungarian LBK; Nagy 2014) and R1b-U106 (Unetice culture) in the post-Corded Ware period of Scandinavia are also suggestive of possible links, however sample size remains small.
Fig 5. Europe c. 2000 BC, with a focus on central & SEE.
Therefore, the evidence points to some sort of movement of influences and elites from the southeast through northern Europe, embodied in the Unetice culture, which encompassed a large and territorially contiguous zone of north-central Europe for 600 years. The earlier GAC, BB, and CWC groups venerated their male ancestors as idealised warriors through grave ritual as visual reminders over a dispersed landscape. However, the Unetice groups appear to have be complex Chiefdoms, consisting of ”kings” and ”princes” with the earliest professional standing armies, equipped with hallberds and armour (ibid). From c. 1600 BC, new satellite power zones appear beyond the Unetice core, eg. the Nordic Bronze Age, Elp culture and as far as the Wessex culture.
Table 3. G25-based admixture plot for Bronze Age Hungary and Unetice culture samples.
To return to the post-Beaker groups of the west (which kept their own identities), especially those nearby in the north Alpine zone (Swiss – Austria) – ‘’The peoples subsumed under the term Danubian EBA were also bound into much wider contemporary networks, currents, and customs. They drew innovations and ideas from several directions – particularly from the south-east, along the Danube River, and from the south, the Alps and beyond – transforming them through integration into their own cultural norms, and then transmitting them further, to neighbouring regions and other EBA groups and cultures’’ (Heyd et al).
Similarly, the groups of Corded Ware heritage did not remain isolated. In particular, north Carpathian Epi-Corded groups like the Nitra and Mierzanowice began to display increasing complexity, adaptation and (cultural) creolization (Kadrow). These effects might have been quite far -flung, which is perhaps no coincidence that the Sintashta culture also begins to emerge c. 2100 BC.
Although there are some intersting phenomena, I don’t really have a set conclusion, instead the overview hopes to begin an attempt toward analyzing elite mobility/ elite emulation, the making of identities, and emergence of ‘States’.
(NB I have not ventured into Italy, the links of the Polada culture, Italian tumuli, etc, but might address this issue in the future. Similarly, I might try tackle Iberian Beaker & El Agar culture at a later time).
- 2200 BC – Innovation or Evolution? The genesis of the Danubian Early Bronze Age. François Bertemes and Volker Heyd
- Kanlıgeçit – Selimpaşa – Mikhalich and the Question of Anatolian Colonies in Early Bronze Age Southeast Europe. V. Heyd, S. Aydıngün & E. Güldogan.
- Social Structures and Social Evolution among Early-Bronze-Age Communities in South-Eastern Poland. S Kadrow
- Old and New narratives in Hungary around 2200 BC. Fischl, Kiss, Kulcsar, Szeverenyi.
- The Bronze Age in Thrace in Relation to the Emergence of Complex Societies in Anatolia and in the Balkans. M Ozdogan
- The Aegean before and after c. 2200 BC.. Rahmstorf.
- Armies in the Early Bronze Age? An alternative interpretation of Únětice Culture axe hoards. Harald Meller.
- The Geographic Corridor for Rapid Climate Change in Southeast Europe and Ukraine Bernhard Weninger and Thomas Harper.
- Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe. R Drews
- The 4,2 ka BP climactic event in west & central Anatolia: combining palaeoclimactic proxies and archaeological data. Massa, Sahoglu.
- Transition to the Bronze Age: Issues of Continuity and Discontinuity in the First Half of the Third Millennium BC in the Carpathian Basin. Lulcsar & Szeverenyi.
- Stop and go: die Ausbreitung kaukasischer Metallformen in Osteuropa in der ersten Hälfte des 3. Jt. v. Chr.. M Ivanova