War before civilization in Late Neolithic Europe

A new ancient DNA paper, Unraveling ancestry, kinship, and violence in a Late Neolithic mass grave:

We sequenced the genomes of 15 skeletons from a 5,000-y-old mass grave in Poland associated with the Globular Amphora culture. All individuals had been brutally killed by blows to the head, but buried with great care. Genome-wide analyses demonstrate that this was a large extended family and that the people who buried them knew them well: mothers are buried with their children, and siblings next to each other. From a population genetic viewpoint, the individuals are clearly distinct from neighboring Corded Ware groups because of their lack of steppe-related ancestry. Although the reason for the massacre is unknown, it is possible that it was connected with the expansion of Corded Ware groups, which may have resulted in violent conflict.

The context is that these individuals were from the Globular Amphora culture (GAC), which preceded the Corded Ware culture (CWC), which itself was descended from the broad complex of Yamna and Yamna-related cultures of the steppe. The genetics here are not new findings. The GAC culture seemed to be dominated by individuals descended mostly from “Early European Farmers” (EEF), and on a genome-wide level, their broad genetic patterns were almost exactly the same as the Neolithic people of Ireland, thousands of miles to the west.

Genetically, and judging by the pigmentation loci, physically, the GAC’s closest analogs today are probably the people of Sardinia, who have the largest fraction of EEF ancestry among modern Europeans. Because EEF fractions are still rather high in Southern Europe, the late Neolithic people of much of Northern Europe are genetically more similar to modern Southern Europeans than they are to later Northern Europeans who succeeded them.

These later Northern Europeans, the predominant ancestors of modern Northern Europeans, had an ancestral component which comes out of the steppe and forest-steppe zones. In the context of the North European plain the massive replacement of Neolithic European societies by these post-steppe societies in the centuries after 2800 BC happened so quickly and substantially that the genetic differentiation between modern Northern European groups remains very modest (and is due to a combination of substrate admixture, accrued genetic drift, and in some cases later admixture from the east).

Rather than the broader human geographic context, the most fascinating thing about this paper is the granularity they bring to what was clearly some sort of directed violence that may have been genocidal in intent. I will quote extensively from the paper:

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