(Chapter IV, section 9)


The Corded or Battle-Axe People

The latter part of the Neolithic period in most of north central Europe is marked by the appearance of an enigmatic group of people, who decorated their pottery, while still wet, with cord impressions, and who also placed in their graves perforated stone battle-axes suspiciously like those of the Fatjenovo culture in southern Russia, and others in the Caucasus. These axes, again, have copper parallels in Sumeria. The limits of the country overrun by the Corded people are the Vosges on the west, the Urals on the east, the Baltic on the north, and the Dinaric Alps on the south.49 Although these invaders were partly agricultural, their graves contain weapons rather than hoes, and, in a few cases, bones of horses, probably of a domestic variety.

Their rôle in the economic and political picture of Neolithic Europe remains still in doubt. Although they were equipped for warfare, they did not fight for the love of battle alone. The location of their burying grounds near the sources of natural wealth, such as amber, salt, and later of tin, shows that they were interested in easily traded commodities of small bulk but high value. They may have been Neolithic racketeers extorting their share from the drones, or overlords among peasants, or merely industrious and well-armed peddlers. Whatever their calling, whether peaceful or otherwise, they were destined to influence the later cultures of Europe in considerable degree.

The most typical aggregation of Corded skulls comes from Silesia and Bohemia, whence a series of twenty-nine males may be assembled.50 (See Appendix I, col. 12.) These belong to a very definite, very distinct physical type. The length of the vault is great, well over 190 mm. in most instances; its breadth is slight, yielding the low mean cranial index of 71; and the height is great, considerably exceeding the breadth. Combined with this exaggeratedly long, narrow, and high vault form is usually found a high, relatively steep forehead; stronger browridges and muscular markings than are usual with the Mediterranean types familiar to us in Egypt, Spain, and the Danube; while the face form includes compressed zygomata, low orbits, and a leptorrhine nose. The face heights are probably great, and the mandible is deep and strongly marked, although usually narrow. Unfortunately, in this series, these facial descriptions are much less certain than those of the vault, for few of the crania retain their facial segments. The long bones are heavier and more rugged than those of the smaller Mediterranean varieties, but the stature, ranging between 157 and 170 cm. in ten male examples, reaches the unimpressive mean of 164 cm. In other Corded series, as we shall see later, it is almost always tall.

The Corded crania are larger than any from Egypt, and are metrically very similar to the Elmenteita skulls from East Africa - the two groups could be combined without loss of homogeneity. In Mesopotamia, they may be favorably compared with the three dynastic skulls from Ur, although they are higher vaulted than the other early groups.

There has been much discussion over the origin of the Corded people, and many cradle-areas have been proposed. Childe, despite several objections which he himself raises, prefers to derive them from southern Russia, where the typical cultural elements of the Corded people are found mixed with other factors. The so-called boat-axe, the typical battle-axe form which they used, has relatives all the way to the Caucasus and beyond. And the horse, their use of which in the domestic form is not fully confirmed, since the grave examples might conceivably have been wild ones, was first tamed in Asia or in southern Russia.

On the basis of the physical evidence as well, it is likely that the Corded people came from somewhere north or east of the Black Sea. The fully Neolithic crania from southern Russia which we have just studied include such a type, also seen in the midst of Sergi's Kurgan aggregation. Until better evidence is produced from elsewhere, we are entitled to consider southern Russia the most likely way station from which thre Corded people moved westward.

There is one cautionary remark which must be made here, and that is: there is so far no justifiable reason for assuming that the Corded people were Nordics. Their cranial type, as we know it, does approach one ore more of the forms which we know, in later times, to have been associated with blondism; but it also approaches those of the Iranian plateau and of Ur, which were probably brunet. Let us withhold judgment, therefore, upon Corded soft parts and pigmentation, and view these remains in the more scientific but less lively light of a skeletal type.

This Corded skeletal type is familiar also in Poland, where it is found in the graves of its associated culture; but that country also contains the more usual Danubian type, associated with a Neolithic agricultural economy, and a certain number of brachycephalic and other crania, which have northern affiliations, and which will therefore be dealt with later.51

In southern and western Germany remains of the Corded people are again found, and in comparative abundance. In Saxony and Thuringia they flourished especially, and apparently were more stable here than farther east. Out of ten crania which belong to the Saxo-Thuringian Corded culture,52 four of the seven which can be measured are mesocephalic, and only three dolichocephalic. In the eastern Corded group, the highest index was 75. The three dolichocephals seem to have belonged to the usual type.

The statures of two of them were both 168 cm. The rest of the crania, as far as one can tell, are normal Neolithic Mediterranean examples, which might have had either a Danubian or a North African derivation, or both. The Corded people in the west and south of Germany had settled down, and had combined with Neolithic farmers.

Before we leave this section, let us move still farther west to Baden, to the Early Neolithic cemetery of Altenburg.53 Here, in the center of one of the most brachycephalic regions of Europe today, were buried four male skeletons, the crania of which ranged from 65 to 71 in cranial indices, and two female skulls of 77. The long bones are small, the statures short; the skulls are delicate in appearance and purely Mediterraneran - but remarkable for the narrow vault form of the males. Six other Neolithic male crania, from Wörms, are similar.54 This evidence, while not complete, at least shows that the Corded people, in southern and southwestern Germany, were preceded by an agricultural population of the smaller Mediterranean variety, upon which they superimposed themselves.


49. Childe, V. G., The Danube in Prehistory, pp. 145-160.

50. Reche, O., AFA, vol. 35, 1908, pp. 232-237.
Stocký, A., AnthPr, vol. 7, 1929, pp. 65-78.

51. Lencewicz, Stanislaw, Swiatowit, vol. 10, 1912, pp. 53-64.
Rosinski, B., WArc, vol. 9, 1924-25, pp. 29-50; ACIA, 2me Session, Prague, 1929, pp. 164-174.
Westlawawa, Eleanora, PAn, vol. 9, 1935, pp. 80-84, French résumé, pp. 142-143.

52. Götze, W., JVST, vol. 24, 1936, pp. 91-100.
Heberer, G., JVST, vol. 24, 1936, pp. 82-90.
Strauch, K., MannusZ., vol. 7, 1915, pp. 249-262.

53. Mühlmann, Wm. E., ZFMA, vol. 28, 1939, pp. 244-255.

54. Virchow, R., ZFE, vol. 29, 1897, p. 464.