Volume 13 (2010): At the Origins of the Culture of the Balts, pp. 32–36
This paper discusses recently published data on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from Stone Age burials in Lithuania in a broader European context, and data from modern Lithuanians on the basis of recent literature. Several major processes (initial Palaeolithic colonisation, recolonisation after the LGM and Younger Dryas cold relapse, the spread of the Neolithic, and possible small-scale migrations in the Eneolithic age) could have left traces on the modern gene pool. From four Lithuanian samples where data on mtDNA were available, one (Spiginas 4) belonged to haplogroup U4, and three (Donkalnis 1, and Kretuonas 1 and 3) to U5b2. In total, out of 17 individuals from Central and East European non-farming cultures (Mesolithic and Neolithic Ceramic, spanning a period from circa 7800 BC to 2300 BC), a majority of them had mtDNA type ‘U’. An exceptionally high incidence of U5-types (more than 45%) occurs among the modern Saami (Lapps) of northern Scandinavia, perhaps the closest modern European equivalent of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Genetic time estimates based on modern mtDNA have suggested that the U5-type arose by mutation about 50,000 to 40,000 years BP. This age implies that around the glacial maximum 20,000 years BP, U5 types were already present and could have repopulated Central and northern Europe as soon as northern areas were deglaciated. Both western (Franco-Cantabrian) and eastern (Pontic) refugia could be sources of this repopulation. In the recent Lithuanian population, U5 and U4 haplogroups are infrequent. The mtDNA homogeneity observed across modern Europe is a more recent phenomenon, less than 7,000 years old, according to these ancient mtDNA results. We can refer to the third millennium BC, internal European migrations from the Eneolithic that significantly modified the genetic landscape, as a time window little explored by archaeogeneticists. The imprecise chronology of mtDNA mutations should in the first instance be based on audited archaeological sources.
Numerous researchers have stressed significance of tooth wear scoring for evaluation of earlier nutrition patterns and cultural practices. The aim of this study was to evaluate dental occlusal wear in several representative samples. The hypothesis tested was if transition from foraging subsistence to agriculture and later social stratification indeed was reflected by dental wear changes. According to results, the remarkable changes in nutrition patterns in the Baltic region occurred only in the Iron Age, which does not correspond with “classical” Neolithization model. The next substantial change in dental wear patterns is connected with increased social stratification in Late Medieval period.
This article reviews current scientific evidence of food resources exploited in the Lithuanian Stone and Bronze Ages and presents the new direct, biochemical stable isotope evidence. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses were performed on 75 Stone and Bronze Age animal bone samples and 23 human bone samples. We discuss how the obtained values relate to diet and other evidence of diet, compare the obtained values with regional stable isotope data, and consider sociocultural implications.
The paper discusses a rare archaeological and anthropological find – a Late Neolithic grave, found in the year 2000 in Gyvakarai village (Kupiškis region). The site was discovered by chance, when local inhabitants were digging gravel from the slope on the left bank of the Žvikė creek. Radiocarbon dating (two separate samples of bone analysed): 3745±70 bp (right tibia, Ki-9470) and 3710±80 bp (left ulna, Ki-9471) confirmed the initial supposition of Late Neolithic, and actually falls to the very end of this period. The following grave goods associated with the inhumation were found: boat-shaped polished stone axe with shaft-hole; hafted axe, produced from flint of a greyish colour; a blade knife, produced from flint of a greyish colour; a hammer-headed bone (antler?) pin, found among disturbed bones of the burial (to our knowledge this is the first hammer headed pin in Lithuania).
The osteological analysis of the burial revealed that the bones belonged to one fragmentary skeleton. Bone fragments are well preserved, and were from parts of the skull vault, both maxillas, the right side of the mandible, five cervical, twelve thoracic, five lumbar vertebrae, fragments of ribs, the handle of the sternum, both clavicles and scapulae, humeri, ulnae, right radius, right and left hand bones, fragments of both coxal bones, femora, tibias, fibulas and bones of the feet. The skeleton belonged to an adult male that died at the age of 35-45 years. The skull vault was too fragmentary for measurement, visually it can be evaluated as hypermorphic, dolichocranic, with an average or even a broad face. The postcranial skeleton is hypermorphic, with marked muscle insertions. The reconstructed stature is 173-176 cm. Such a massive skeleton is typical of other Lithuanian Corded Ware/Boat Axe culture people, and similar to those found in Estonia, Prussia and later the Fatyanovo people from the Central Russian plain.
This new case forces us to revive the long-lasting discussions about the origins of Indo-Europeans and the Balts. Summarising the current empirical facts and hypotheses based on archaeological, linguistic, anthropological and genetic data, we can find support for both migration and acculturation models. All known Corded Ware/Boat Axe burials in Lithuania are singular, contain individuals of adult/mature age, are associated with a particular set of grave goods and characterised by a very specific phenotype – these facts would support the hypothesis of immigration. However, some facts would also speak for the acculturation hypothesis: probably the adoption of the Indo-European language was earlier, via cultural transfer, and migrants of Kurgan people already found communities with whom they could communicate. However, they left no significant impact on the local anthropological substrate.