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Thread: Societal Structure of Ion Age Estonians

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    Societal Structure of Ion Age Estonians

    I have a bit of a personal interest on the topic of the Tarand graves. Which appear during the Late Bronze Age - Merovingian period across the Northern Baltic and seem to have originated on the coast of Estonia.

    While researching this topic, the differences between the Tarands and other Northern European material cultures is abundantly clear. So I have decided to summarize some of said differences here.

    For one, Tarand graves are collective burials. Sometimes individual graves occur together with Tarands in later periods, but this probably reflects contact with neighboring populations. In contrast, Scandinavian and other Baltic burial traditions are very individualistic.

    Secondly, weapons and tools are uncommon in Tarand graves, despite evidence for ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy nearby. This again, is in clear contrast to Scandinavian and (non-Estonian) Baltic burials where weapons and tools are prolific and a sign of status. Marika Mägi suggests this may have something to do with a differing view of the afterlife.

    The consensus seems to be that Iron Age Estonians had a significantly different social structure and religion than their neighbors.

    Something of note, is that very few burials are known in Estonia up until the 11th century. This has been used to argue that Tarands actually represented the elite of their society. While the vast majority the population were buried in a way which left no archaeological trace.

    Their society thus may have been social stratified, but in a way that differed from the rest of the Baltic region. Slaves and free peasants still existed, but with powerful family units holding power at the top, as opposed to a single individual. There also doesn't seem to be much difference in power between genders, Mägi uses this to suggest society could have been matriarchal. Although, other archaeologists may disagree.

    Hillforts appear all over Estonia at the same time the Tarands do. It is possible that these elite families, ruled over a small area, from these fortified positions.

    The picture in Finland was similar during the Iron Age, however Scandinavian influences appear earlier and more prominently. By the 6th century, it appears that the coastal areas of Estonia and Finland had adopted a warrior culture, similar to that in Scandinavia. With individual, sex biased burials, now accompanied by weapons. Although, the Tarand tradition continued, especially in more inland areas.


    Here are some of the sources this information comes from.

    Andres Tvauri
    https://www.academia.edu/2237217/THE...urce=swp_share

    Marika Mägi
    https://www.academia.edu/8416238/M%C...urce=swp_share

    Valter Lang
    https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/...e84/423939.pdf
    Last edited by Zelto; 03-23-2021 at 10:22 PM.

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    Good summary.

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    Here is a recent dissertation on the topic:

    Challenging Old Truths: Viewing Cultural Hybridity from the Perspective of the Tarand-Graves
    Victoria Gottberg - 2020

    Abstract
    A phenomenon during the late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age which in its simplest form could be called ‘a culture of the Baltic Sea’ is an idea which many archaeologists have favoured. However, the term ‘a culture of the Baltic Sea’ is not the most ideal to use when discussing the Baltic Sea during this time in prehistory, as the term is rather simplifying from what would be the more diverse truth. The term entails that there should have been a cultural homogeneity across the Baltic Sea as it most certainly was not.

    This thesis complicates this otherwise simplified term and calls the cultural phenomenon ‘a cultural hybrid of the northern Baltic Sea area’ (i.e. the northern part of the Baltic Sea including its neighbouring gulfs). A cultural hybrid, in this sense, allows there to be cultural differences within an area. These differences are accepted by the people within the cultural hybrid which in turn allow people to live among each other, rather than to become a social obstacle making the people separate into smaller and more homogenous cultural groups. This assumed existence of a cultural hybrid is put to the test as a hypothesis. To answer the hypothesis, the cultural hybrid is studied from the perspective of the tarand-graves (an Estonian originating grave type erected and used around the shores of the northern Baltic Sea area during 500 BC–500 AD) which in turn is interpreted according to ritual practice theory.


    It is interesting that in Sweden, Tarand graves exist alongside other types of burials for centuries. Perhaps indicating peaceful cohabitation, between locals and newcomers from the East Baltic.

    In Sweden, the arrival of Tarand burials also correspond to the appearance of hillforts and Akozino-Malar axes, although only three axes of this type have been found in Estonia. A high frequency of these axes have been found along the Daugava river between their core production centers (Mid Volga; Lake Malaren).


    This still leaves some questions regarding the affiliation Tarand graves have with Akozino-Malar axes. I can't seem to find a literature on this subject though.

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    Regarding the origin of the Tarand graves:

    Here I will be primarily referring to Valter Lang (2016) Early Finnic-Baltic contacts as evidenced by archaeological and linguistic data

    and

    Asko Parapola (2012) Formation of the Indo-European and Uralic (Finno-Ugric) language families in the light of archaeology: Revised and integrated ‘total’ correlations

    During the Late Bronze Age, there was a contact zone between the Netted Ware cultures of the Oka-Volga and the Ananyino culture of the Kama. This formed the reginal variant(s) (or separate cultures) Akozino and Akhmylovo. Parapola connects them with Proto-Finnic.

    Akozino-Akhmylovo "warrior/traders" followed the primary water ways west until they reached the Daugava river. Here, they underwent a period of close contact with Proto-Baltic speakers. According to Lang, this population likely lived in mixed Baltic/Finnic communities, with the elites residing in hill forts and casting bronze rings. This corresponds to roughly 1000-800BC.

    From 800-500BC, the Proto-Finnic population migrated northwards to Estonia. These people were characterized by non-ferrous metallurgy, hillforts and early-Tarand graves. It should be noted however, that these early-Tarands share a lot in common with the earlier Stone-cist graves of coastal Estonia, including their collective nature. Although, the Akozino-Akhmylovo groups from the Volga also practiced 'House of the Dead' burials, reminiscent of the later, typical-Tarand graves.

    My own inferences:
    The aDNA available from the Estonian early-Tarand graves should thus reflect recent migrants from the Daugava river. This potentially explains their close affinity to Bronze Age Balts and their share of Y-hg R1a. They originated from a mixed population, speaking Proto-Finnic.

    From Parapola's description, the initial Akozino-Akhmylovo migration may have been male biased. Conducted primarily for the trade of Akozino-Malar axes. The second migration north to Estonia, would have been more of a clan wide immigration, to the sparsely inhabited lands further north.

    I do not have access to the most recent works by Lang. Perhaps someone like Jaska would be able to say whether the consensus has changed at all in recent years.

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    Waiting for Petri Kallio take on these matters. Due to his works on Gauja etymology and Baltic loanword layers in Finnic, he is my main authority in Baltic - Finnic affairs.
    So, Lang is good (despite somewhat sensational/romantic rings/smiths and what not), but not (yet) a consensus.

    According Kallio there are two layers of Baltic loanwords into Proto-Finnic. One older of Proto Baltic (Balto Slavic) phonetics and another younger is some suspiciously West Baltic-ish dialect. The second probably got picked up already in Baltics, but likely not from Baltic Bronze Age.The first is an open question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parastais View Post
    Waiting for Petri Kallio take on these matters. Due to his works on Gauja etymology and Baltic loanword layers in Finnic, he is my main authority in Baltic - Finnic affairs.
    So, Lang is good (despite somewhat sensational/romantic rings/smiths and what not), but not (yet) a consensus.

    According Kallio there are two layers of Baltic loanwords into Proto-Finnic. One older of Proto Baltic (Balto Slavic) phonetics and another younger is some suspiciously West Baltic-ish dialect. The second probably got picked up already in Baltics, but likely not from Baltic Bronze Age.The first is an open question.
    Parapola (2017) defers to Kallio quite a bit, he is also one of the editors of the paper. So I think he is principally in agreement with Parapola and Lang.
    Finnish vatsa ~ Sanskrit vatsá and the formation of Indo-Iranian and Uralic languages

    If I recall, the earliest Baltic/Balto-Slavic layer is related to a hunter-gatherer subsistence. Probably corresponding to the first quarter of the 2nd millennium BC. This would have to be at the Netted Ware phase.

    The West Baltic layer is strange, but late Bronze Age Netted Ware groups were connected to trade routes reaching quite far west. For example, the Akozino-Malar axe is apparently based off a Lusatian-type axe. I suppose this depends on the age of the second layer.
    Last edited by Zelto; 03-29-2021 at 02:10 AM.

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    “ If I recall, the earliest Baltic/Balto-Slavic layer is related to a hunter-gatherer subsistence.”
    Before Kallio both layers were treated as one layer, therefore I can’t answer the question properly. Nobody has done a follow up systemisation of both layers based on semantics.
    But Lang (I guess based on Junttila? Or someone else) referred to oldest Baltic (both Kallio’s layers together) layer as one of primitive agriculture and I think wood working, however already on the Baltic shores Finnics learned more advanced agriculture from Germanic-ish folk.
    So, I assume (but glad to be corrected) oldest (Balto-Slavic) was already primitive agriculture.

    Edit: North (West) Baltic one would then be dated early AD I imagine, during so called Baltic Golden Age where West Balts (amber gatherers) showed some really rich grave goods

    edit2: I think latest stages of Proto-Finnic went quite into AD, so you dont need to look for very deep history for loanwords of second layer. Also first layer happened after pre-Finnic dialect(s) already were split from other West Uralic, because they are (mostly) not shared with other West Uralics.
    Last edited by parastais; 03-29-2021 at 10:41 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parastais View Post
    Before Kallio both layers were treated as one layer, therefore I can’t answer the question properly. Nobody has done a follow up systemisation of both layers based on semantics.
    But Lang (I guess based on Junttila? Or someone else) referred to oldest Baltic (both Kallio’s layers together) layer as one of primitive agriculture and I think wood working, however already on the Baltic shores Finnics learned more advanced agriculture from Germanic-ish folk.
    So, I assume (but glad to be corrected) oldest (Balto-Slavic) was already primitive agriculture.
    I was referring to Lang (2016) there.
    "One of the earliest groups of Baltic loanwords is obviously that connected with hunting and fishing. There is nothing new in this state-ment but, at the same time, there is no need to date these words to the Stone Age (suggested already in the time of V. Thomsen and E. N. Setälä, see e.g., Moora 1956: 59), as in the mid-Volga and Oka region both the Finno-Ugrian- and Baltic-speaking communities subsisted mainly from hunting and fishing until the end of the Bronze Age".

    Edit: North (West) Baltic one would then be dated early AD I imagine, during so called Baltic Golden Age where West Balts (amber gatherers) showed some really rich grave goods

    edit2: I think latest stages of Proto-Finnic went quite into AD, so you dont need to look for very deep history for loanwords of second layer. Also first layer happened after pre-Finnic dialect(s) already were split from other West Uralic, because they are (mostly) not shared with other West Uralics.
    Got it. I will look for Kallio's work on the West Baltic-Finnic contacts later today. Do you have any good resources on the "Baltic Golden Age"?

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    Also Lang 2916:
    “ Junttila (2012: 275) has already suggested that at least some loans in this list refer to primitive slash and burn agri- culture, while none of the etymologies indicate more developed field cultivation. All loanwords in Finnic referring to fields and ards are of Germanic origin. ”

    And this:
    “ One can conclude that there have been three main stages in the borrowing of Baltic words:
    A – The initial stage in the mid-Volga and Oka regions up to the turn of the 2nd and 1st millennia BC where the Finno-Ugrian- and Baltic- speaking communities lived side by side. The majority of hunting- fishing (except ‘eel’ and ‘salmon’) and at least some agricultural words (except ‘pea’) belong to this period.
    B – The migration period, which most likely lasted two or three centuries (with some later waves as well) and brought along fortified settlements as well as to some extent mixed communities. The main region of contacts during this migration was most likely the Daugava River Valley (Figure 1). This was the main period of borrowings, particularly where the majority of luxury (and perhaps agricultural) loans are concerned.
    C – The period after the Finnic landnam, i.e., the separation and movement of some of the communities further north from the Daugava River around 800 BC and later. This movement put an end to the most intensive contacts with the Proto-Balts and initiated more independent cultural and linguistic developments in coastal regions of Estonia, southwestern Finland, and central Sweden. This did not mean the end of borrowings from the Balts, of course, but from that time onward, borrowing proceeded at a more steady pace. Beginning in the early 1st century, the West Baltic population on the southeastern coast of the

    Baltic Sea became the main partner of the Finnic communities further north, as evidenced by archaeological material.
    Next, I will attempt to characterise the Baltic–Finnic world of forti- fied settlements during the ‘Finnic migration period’ and afterwards.”

    I am not sure though if Kallio linguistic layers have been double checked vs Lang’s A, B and C. C would be that West Baltic one. A would be Balto-Slavic one. B - might come from same phonetics as A did. Or C. There is so much to do for a linguistic student or professor! Come on guys! Work!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelto View Post
    I was referring to Lang (2016) there.
    "One of the earliest groups of Baltic loanwords is obviously that connected with hunting and fishing. There is nothing new in this state-ment but, at the same time, there is no need to date these words to the Stone Age (suggested already in the time of V. Thomsen and E. N. Setälä, see e.g., Moora 1956: 59), as in the mid-Volga and Oka region both the Finno-Ugrian- and Baltic-speaking communities subsisted mainly from hunting and fishing until the end of the Bronze Age".



    Got it. I will look for Kallio's work on the West Baltic-Finnic contacts later today. Do you have any good resources on the "Baltic Golden Age"?
    Baltic Golden Age is after Gimbutas unfortunately but it is still coming up as a term in different other Baltic scientist articles, this is from summary of her Balts, chapter V named The Golden Age:
    “V. The "Golden Age". This age refers to the period from the 2nd to the 5th century A.D., which saw developments in agriculture and local metallurgy in connection with the extensive amber trade, especially with the provinces of the Roman Empire and Free Germany. “

    Will try to check if there is anything else online, in English on subject.

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