R-Z18 in Wielbark DNA

What is Wielbark Culture?

The short answer is it’s the Goths and Gepids. It is a material culture from the 1st to 5th century in Northern Poland. In the 5th century, it was replaced by early Slavic culture. The story goes that the Goths moved southeast out of Scandza and set up shop for a few hundred years in what is now Northern Poland. As time went on, they moved further southeast from the Baltic coast, incorporating the Vandals into their culture. It is described as a rapid migration, putting pressure on other tribes in the area. The movement of the Goths is associated with the Marcomannic wars with Rome.

Here is a map from Cambridge.org showing the archeological site that gives the culture its name:

wielbark cemetery map showing the cemetery outline and the position of the site near malbork
Łuczkiewicz, P., Kleemann, J., Jankowski, M., Noryśkiewicz, A. M., Sykuła, M., & Kuzioła, A. (2021). The Goths, the Wielbark Culture and over 100 years of research on the eponymous site. Antiquity95(380), e9. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.14

Who are the Goths?

Based on the writings of Jordanes, the Goths at the time believed they were from an Island, and either the Island is called Scandza or it was part of that area, sometimes called Scandia. It’s all fuzzy and hearsay, with some games of telephone going on for multiple generations because Jordanes is writing in the 6th century, referencing lost historical works and maybe some tribal tradition. At a minimum, they believe they left Scandza for Northern Poland. Given the similarities in naming, people associate them with the Island of Gotland or the area in Southern Sweden called Gotaland. Here’s a map of Gotaland, including the Island of Gotland, lovingly borrowed from Wikipedia:

line drawing of southern sweden showing Gotaland as the southern portion including the Island of Gotland
Götaland. (2023, December 26). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6taland

You may recognize it as the home of the Geats in this map I borrowed of Beowulf’s world and you see Gotland and then southeast of that the Gifths near Wielbark and the Vistula river.

map of beowulfs world

We catch up the Goths in the context of the Roman Empire. The descriptions of them are from the perspective of the Roman world. That leads to a lot of good theories about their origins that are hard to substantiate. What we have going for us in the world of genetics is that they buried some of their dead so we can extract DNA from their bones and get an idea of familial relationships.

Some Baseline Readings

Family Tree DNA estimates that Mr. R-Z18 was born around 2250 BCE in an unknown location. The oldest ancient DNA sample for R-Z18 is Madesø 752 (AKA NEO752), who died between 1864 and 1533 BCE. Roughly 400 to 800 years away from the source. There is a lot of travel time in there.

Madesø 752’s dates span Scandinavia’s late Neolithic and early bronze age. FTDNA places him in the Neolithic cultural group. He was buried in what is now Madesø, Zealand, Denmark. Madesø is a lake, so the burial is probably near the lake.

The next oldest listed by the U106 group is NEO946. His dates are between 1322 and 967 BCE, a little more firmly in the Nordic Bronze Age. NEO946 is listed as buried in Hove Å, Zealand, Denmark. Hove Å is a stream, so the burial is probably near the stream.

Here is my google walking map of those two earliest R-Z18 locations:

walking map from Modeso Denmark to Hove A denmark. Roughly an 18 hour hike.

By the time we pick up NEO946, greater R-U106 had been settled in a broad swath of Northern Europe. Here are selected samples, PNL1 in Plotiště nad Labem, Chechia, is the current oldest U106 sample at roughly 2900 BCE. The second oldest is Rise98 in Lilla Beddinge, part of the same Neolithic culture as the earliest R-Z18 find near Madesø 752. At roughly 2200 BCE Rise98 is close to the suspected age of the birth of R-Z18, but is down a different branch of U106. Then on to the Netherlands and back to Chechia for I13788 in Chouč, Czechia, who would be close in timing to our second oldest R-Z18 man, NEO946.

walking tour from the earliest R-U106 find circa 2900 BCE in modern Chechia to the second oldest Lilla Beddinge Sweden, over to Nord and Zuid Holland and then back to Chechia.

Given the range of R-U106 there are lots of possibilities for an origin for R-Z18. It just happens that the earliest known R-Z18 sample is from Neolithic Denmark, not too far from Lilla Beddinge, Sweden, where there is evidence of R-U106 in a similar time period.

I’m connecting them here with a walking path to illustrate the proximity in space and time between two different branches of R-U106 in the context of that big patch of Northern Europe that R-U106 inhabited.

Lilla Beddinge Sweden to Modeso Denmark walking path.

R-Z18 has been in the neighborhood for roughly 1000 years before we picked it up again in Wielbark DNA studies. Two R-Z18 men and a third R-U106 man (down a different branch) are found in Wielbark graves in the Stolarek et al. 2023 study. Our two R-Z18 men are PCA0485, listed as Pruszcz Gdański 485 at FTDNA, and PCA0531, listed as Czarnówko 531 at FTDNA.

Here is a map of the Wielbark sites in Northern Poland that produced the R-Z18 and R-U106 samples circa 100 to 300 CE. These are the next earliest R-Z18 samples to those found in Denmark roughly 1600 to 1000 years earlier. It is a large gap of time.

Wielbark R-Z18 sites in Northern Poland.

Water is not a Barrier. It is a Road

I am not a sailor, or I would think this stuff would come easier to me. I’ve lived around lakes, rivers and water my whole life and never really picked up a fondness for boats. I wanted to take a look at the currents in the Baltic to get an idea of what would help or hinder a group leaving some Island and heading for the coast of modern Poland. I’m an overly simple person so I have a map that I could understand pretty well, that I have stolen from this publication. From the perspective of the water rather than from the land.

map of baltic currents showing surface currents circulating around the baltic.

The red lines are dominant surface movement currents, and the yellow lines are deep water movement. There is Gotland with a nice path down around southern Sweden and over to Denmark and surface currents that travel back North from the area of the Wielbark grave sites. It seems like Pruszcz Gdański might be a natural place to set up shop for continental trade.

Here is another version of the map that includes the North Sea. Dotted lines are the bottom current, and solid black lines are the surface current. I’ve stolen this map from this recent publication. I’m cherry-picking a less complex image because of my limited understanding, but you get the idea. To a layperson, it looks like nature could help you out. The route may not be straight, but it could be faster.

circulating currents in the baltic and north sea

It looks like Gotland is positioned to be a northern trade hub with a gyre down to the continent and back and easy access to the rest of Sweden and Denmark. You could make a decent loop. If you were tired of some other group being a middleman in Northern Poland, you could attempt to take over some territory in the Southern Baltic to give yourself easy ports..and maybe just keep working your way south and east. Bornholm is another well-positioned Island to take advantage of trade. Again, I’m taking the Goths at their word that they’re from some Scandinavian island. Islands also become overpopulated when they prosper. Another good reason to colonize new areas.

Relevant Studies

I found a couple of studies from Stolarek et al. when I was researching. One is a bit older and focused on matrilinear DNA, and the other is the source for the R-Z18 Y DNA. I want to spend some more time with them and make notes on their conclusions.

2 Comments

  1. Mike I have a quick question I talked to someone on family tree DNA at the Big y, I think it was a Mr woods, anyway,, to make a long story short. I asked him about my sample ZP121, I wanted to get from him a rough estimate of where the geographical region it was born in, and he proceeded to say it was British in origin it wasn’t Anglo it wasn’t Saxon it wasn’t jute it wasn’t Friesian, He said it was born in Southern England before the Germanic invasions,, which makes it ancient Britain,, I’m a bit confused I assumed that our haplagroup was Germanic in origin, I’ll try to send the full transcript to you as soon as I can, anyway if you could like make sense of this it would help a great deal

    • Hi Chris, there are a couple of ancient DNA samples now for ZP121, one was from an Angle from the wash who was autosomally identified as continental northern european. One of the major points of the study was to identify the autosomal DNA of Romano British vs. Angles, Saxons and Jutes and to try to find some geographic locations and matches with peers for the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. They compared our guy with other people from southern scandinavia, germany and the netherlands and our guy Hatherdene 5 was a good match for them circa 400 AD. ZP121 is estimated to have appeared around 200 CE. As a probable Angle, then Denmark makes a compelling source. The second ZP121 ancient sample is Tjaerby 750 who lived around 1000 to 1300 AD in Tjaerby, Randers, Denmark on the north eastern side of the Jutland peninsula. Both men were classified as Medieval but our Angle seems a bit early for that. All of the other CTS12023 ancient samples from Britain called themselves Jutes and showed possible admixture with the Franks as well as continental northern european DNA. One of those men is from a clade below CTS12023 that only contained men from Sweden, now FTDNA shows Denmark and Norway. It’s good to remember that ZP121 isn’t the end point for those ancient samples, that is as far as they looked. The same for the samples left at CTS12023. They were probably further down the tree but maybe not on any branch yet identified.

      It’s possible there was some back migration from someone like Hatherdene 5 to Denmark, but even if Hatherdene 5 was the source of all ZP121 he was also continental northern european, and was most likely from Denmark (assuming his label as an Angle is correct).

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