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The Corded Ware culture, alternatively characterized as the Battle Axe culture or Single Grave culture is an enormous European archaeological horizon that begins in the late Neolithic (Stone Age), flourishes through the Copper Age and finally culminates in the early Bronze Age, developing in various areas from ca. 3200 BC/2900 BC to ca. 2300 BC/1800 BC. It represents the introduction of metal into Northern Europe.

Corded Ware culture is commonly associated with the Indo-European family of languages.


It encompassed most of continental northern Europe from the Rhine Rivermarker on the west, to the Volga River in the east, including most of modern-day Germanymarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Denmarkmarker, Polandmarker, Lithuaniamarker, Latviamarker, Estoniamarker, Belarusmarker, the Czech Republicmarker, Slovakiamarker, northern Ukrainemarker, western Russiamarker, as well as coastal Norwaymarker and the southern portions of Swedenmarker and Finlandmarker.

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, while Scandinavia and the North European Plain continued their local traditions. Although a similar social organization and settlement pattern to the Beaker were adopted, the Corded Ware group lacked the new refinements made possible through trade and communication by sea and rivers.


It receives its name Corded Ware from the ornamentation of its characteristic pottery, which differed from the earlier Pit-Comb Ware culture, Single Grave from its burial custom, and Battle Axe from its characteristic grave offering to males, a stone battle axe (which was by this time an inefficient weapon but a traditional status symbol).

Origins and development

Corded Ware culture was the culmination of an interaction of opposing tendencies in the area of the North European Plain between Denmark and Kiev, between the extensification in eastern Europe and local sedentism in the west.The Oxford Companion to Archaeology - Edited by Brian M. Fagan, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-507618-4, p89 and p217 - Andrew Sherratt

The traditional view of this pottery representing a series of pan-European migrations from the steppe region of southern Russia has been abandoned. Also, Corded Ware Culture communities are now rather seen as sedentary agriculturalists.[27889] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology - Timothy Darvill, 2002, Corded Ware, p.101, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019-211649-5

Corded Ware ceramic forms in single graves develop earlier in Poland than in western and southern Central Europe. Contemporary development of non-ceramic Corded Ware burial rites in the western parts have been explained as a spread of Corded Ware cultural traits through a wide-spanning communication network rather than through migration, suggesting the existence of an "A-Horizon" in the 28th century BC, to be understood as a number of connecting forms within different regional contexts.

It spread to the Lüneburger Heide and then further to the North European Plain, Rhineland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Baltic region and Russia to Moscow, where the culture met with the pastoralists considered indigenous to the steppes. On most of the immense, continental expanse the culture is clearly intrusive – elsewhere it might have represented a fusion of earlier archaeological cultures or - though nowadays seen as sedentary, being primarily just an agricultural continuation of TRB traditions - one of the most impressive and revolutionary cultural changes attested by archeology.

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.

In the Single Grave area the culture involves a succession of the earlier Funnelbeaker culture. In the area of the present Baltic states and Kaliningrad Oblast (former East Prussia), it is seen as an intrusive successor to the southwestern portion of the Narva culture. Elsewhere, however, particularly in its eastern extent, it is a new presence, not really associated with any earlier local culture.

The characteristic ("A horizon") pattern of Corded Ware culture, involving corded ware pottery, livestock, battleaxes and artefacts representing authority, is attested in pits under low mounds stretching from Jutland to the Northern Bug, to absorb the Funnelbeaker culture (also known as TRB culture) within 200 years and to change the cultural package of Globular Amphora culture, that e.g. combined stone cist graves and paired-ox burials with pottery decorated with the cord impressions characteristic of the steppes. The tendency to use cords during the baking process - also described as a technological improvement - is also attested in some pre-TRB communities, thus increasing the complexity of the converging local developments involved.

In summary, Corded Ware does not represent a single monolithic entity, but rather a diffusion of technological and cultural innovations of different, contemporaneous peoples, living in close proximity to each other and leaving different archaeological remains.


There are very few settlements, but it has been shown that agriculture was practiced, a continuation from the Funnelbeaker culture era, and that some domestic animals were kept. The majority, however, seemed to have followed a fully- or semi-nomadic pastoral way of life. Wheeled vehicles (presumably drawn by oxen) are evidenced. The horse, perhaps-to-probably domesticated, is represented by the tarpan.

There is evidence that oxen were being used and that cows' milk was used systematically from 3400 BC onwards in the northern Alpine foreland. Sheep were kept more frequently in the western part of Switzerlandmarker 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.

In the circum-Baltic and more westwards coastal Scandinavian areas, there is clear evidence of a maritime economy, where the sea has to be seen as a uniting element, much as the Aegean Sea united the Greeks.


Inhumation occurred under flat ground 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. Often decorated with cord, but also incisions and other types of impressions.
The approximately contemporary Beaker culture had similar burial traditions, and together they covered most of Western and Central Europe. While broadly related to the Corded Ware culture, the origins of the Bell-Beaker folk are considerably more obscure, and represent one of the mysteries of European pre-history.


In the 19th century, the Corded Ware culture was pointed to by some researchers as the cultural horizon best fitting the description for the Urheimat (original homeland) of the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, a theory that is largely discarded by modern science in favor of the newer Kurgan hypothesis, Renfrew NDT, PCT and others. Still it is generally held that:

According to the Kurgan hypothesis, the Corded Ware culture was a "kurganized" culture that emerged out of Neolithic Europe. The origin of this "kurganization" or Indo-Europeanization would be the approximately contemporaneous and overlapping Globular Amphora (ca. 3400-2800 BC) and Baden (ca. 3600-2800 BC) cultures, a process described by Marija Gimbutas as the second wave of the Kurgan culture "invasion". See also Germanic substrate hypothesis. In its earlier phase, it was likely a largely non-Indo-European entity, a part of what Gimbutas termed Old Europe. In its subsequent phases, it became progressively more Indo-European in character, and at the end, quite strongly so.

The notion of a material "kurganization" has been called into question by publications mentioning mixed burials with the previous Funnelbeaker culture, suggesting a quick and smooth internal change to Corded Ware within two generations occurring about 2900 BC in Dutch and Danish TRB territory, probably preluded by economic, cultural and religious changes in East Germany. Modern linguists like Frederik Kortlandt pronounced that this is essentially in agreement with views on the separation between Centum and Satem languages at the onset of the satemization process, presumed to have started as early as the fourth millennium BC.

The role of the Corded Ware culture in the history of the Indo-European languages is actively debated. The Corded Ware people are mostly seen as ancestral to Proto-Balto-Slavic in its eastern regions, and to the Centum dialects (i.e. Proto-Germanic, Proto-Celtic and Proto-Italic) in the western parts.


Corded Ware culture

The prototypal Corded Ware culture, German Schnurkeramikkultur is found in Central Europe, mainly Germany and Poland, and refers to the characteristic pottery of the era: wet clay was decoratively incised with cordage, i.e., string. It is known mostly from its burials, and both sexes received the characteristic cord-decorated pottery. Whether made of flax or hemp, they had rope.

Single Grave culture

General term used to refer to a series of late Neolithic communities of the 3rd millennium BC living in Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the Low Countries that share the practice of single burial under barrows, the deceased usually being accompanied by a battle-axe, amber beads, and pottery vessels.The cultural emphasis on drinking equipment already characteristic of the early Funnelbeaker culture, reappeared with the spread of Corded Ware traditions. Especially in the west (Scandinavia and northern Germany), the drinking vessels have a protruding foot and define the Protruding-Foot Beaker culture (PFB) as a subset of the Single Grave culture. The Bell Beaker culture has been proposed to derive from this specific branch of the Corded Ware culture.

Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture

Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture, or the Boat Axe culture, appeared ca. 2800 BC and is known from about 3000 graves from Skåne to Upplandmarker and Trøndelag. While amateur historian Herman Lindquist has referred to this as the "Age of crushed skulls" there is no indication that this was an especially violent time, and most of the "crushing" happened post-mortem in the ground. The "battle-axes" were primarily a status object. There are strong continuities in stone craft traditions, and very little evidence of any type of full-scale migration, least of all a violent one. The old ways were discontinued as the corresponding cultures on the continent changed, and the farmers living in Scandinavia took part in those changes since they belonged to the same network. Settlements on small, separate farmsteads without any defensive protection is also a strong argument against the people living there being aggressors. Recently also the mixture of this culture with Barbed Wire Beaker culture elements from the west that reached until Sweden in the Late Neolithic, probably ultimately derived from the same Corded Ware stock, has come into the picture.

About 3000 battle axes have been found, in sites distributed over all of Scandinavia, but they are sparse in Norrland and northern Norway. Less than 100 settlements are known, and their remains are negligible as they are located on continually used farmland, and have consequently been plowed away. Einar Østmo reports sites inside the Arctic Circle in the Lofoten Islands, and as far north as the present city of Tromsømarker.

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 Södermanlandmarker 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 sea-faring cultures like this one, the sea is a highway and not a divider.

Finnish Battle Axe culture

The Finnish Battle Axe culture was a mixed cattle-breeder and hunter-gatherer culture, and one of the few in this horizon to provide rich finds from settlements.

Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo-Balanovo cultures

Main articles: Middle Dnieper culture and Fatyanovo-Balanovo culture.

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 to prove correct, then Fatyanovo would be a culture with an Indo-European superstrata over a Uralic substrata, and may account for some of the linguistic borrowings identified in the Indo-Uralic thesis.

See also



  • J. P. Mallory, "Corded Ware Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Einar Østmo, "The Indo-European Question: a Norwegian perspective", pp. 23–41, in The Indo-Europeanization of Northern Europe, Martin E. Huld & Karlene Jones-Bley editors, Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 17, Institute for the Study of Man, Washington, DC, 1996.
  • Lindquist, H. Historien om Sverige, 1993.
  • Nationalencyklopedin
  • Schibler, J. 2006. The economy and environment of the 4th and 3rd millennia BC in the northern Alpine foreland based on studies of animal bones. Environmental Archaeology 11(1): 49-64

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