This page places the bronze age I-L38 skelettons that are found in the Lichtenstein cave in a larger archeological and cultural perspective. These finds also explain why I-L38 is sometimes nicknamed "the Lichtenstein haplogroup".
The I-L38 Nickname
Members of haplogroup I-L38 often are nicknamed ‘Lichtensteiners’ because in 1980, 3000 year old skeletons of 40 individuals were found in the Lichtenstein cave in Osterode am Harz; belonging to 19 men and 21 women. Because the bones were well preserved, DNA could be extracted. Thirteen male individuals can be haplotyped as haplogroup I-L38.
A press release of the HöhlenErlebnisZentrum (this is the Lichtenstein Cave museum in Bad Grund) in 2011 stated that the bones of 20 more individuals were found in the cave. The haplogroup of these samples is not publicly known yet.
Based on the metal and ceramic artefacts the founds in the cave can be dated somewhere between 1000 to 700 BC, thus in the Urnfield period of the Late Bronze Age. The Urnfield culture was spread from West Hungary to the East of France; from the Alps to the North Sea. Local groups mainly can be distinguished by their pottery.
A bronze fibula, a pendant (polished dog’s tooth); a bronze spiral shaped bracelet, pottery and a bronze arrow point:
In the 2011 excavations additional pottery, jewelry, plant remains and animal bones were discovered. Among these, jewelry and buttons, all components of a headdress could be salvaged:
Also "hook spirals" were found, associating the artefacts unquestionable with the Thuringian Unstrut Group (1300/1200 to 800 BC) from around 900 BC. (Flindt, 2008)
These"hook spirals" indicate significant close cultural links with the southern and south-eastern Harz foreland. (also see: http://www.hoehlen-erlebnis-zentrum.de/html/downloads/PM110910.pdf)
In the Late Bronze Age the most important cultures in Germany were the Urnfield culture, the Lausitzer culture and the Nordic Bronze Age. From 1300/1200 to 800 BC the Urnfield culture had spread benorth the Alps and became the dominant culture in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, North-Rhine Westphalia (Lower Rhine Basin) and southern Thuringia. (Probst, 2011)
One of the Urnfield groups in central Germany is named after the Thuringian river Unstrut. From 1300/1200 until 800 BC this “Unstrut” group spread from the river Unstrut to the south Harz. Its core territory was in the Thuringian basin, where the fertile soil suited farming well. The Unstrut-group emerged from the Hügelgräber- culture. (Probst, 2011) This knowledge allows us to speculate about the Middle and Early Bronze Age roots of haplogroup I-L38.
Deepest roots of the Unstrut people
The Middle Bronze Age Hügelgräber culture (1600 until 1300/1200 BC) was spread from eastern France (Alsace) to Hungary (Carpathian basin). It consisted out of local groups with distinct types of ceramics and bronze jewelry:
The people of the Hügelgraber Kultur are thought to be the descendants of Early Bronze Age people who lived in the same regions.(Probst, 2011, p.15) According the German archeologist Dr. Dirk Fabian the first EBA groups in the Rhine, Danube and Elbe/Saale regions appeared around 2400/2200 BC. (Mail Dr. Dirk Fabian, 2009).
Relations to other cultural groups
Archeological artifacts prove that the Unstrut people were not an isolated group. They were influenced by neighboring groups from all directions:
The Unstrut Group, part of the Urnfield culture
The Thuringian connection
The artifacts in the Lichtenstein cave especially point at Thuringian influences:
Unstrut group people built fortified hilltop settlements that are still present at the following hills (Probst, 2011):
Probably the Lichtenstein-individuals also lived near a fortification (burg); the cave is located along an ancient road that connects the Pipinsburg of Osterode with the Thüringer plain. A burg indicates stormy and/or unsafe times but also is an indication of a vivid economy. These locations were centres of trade and craftmenship. (Schilz, 2006).
Sedentary patrilocal clans
Apart from the cultural influences of neighboring groups the I-L38 males of the Lichtenstein cave seem to have lived sedentary lives:
DNA-research concluded that the skeletons belonged to one family clan, spread over 4 to5 generations. The reconstructed family tree looks like this:
The family tree supports the theory that the cave was used as a family burial chamber; it also indicates that cremation was not as common practice in the Urnfield culture as presumed.
In other caves too human bones were found with strong indications to practices of ritual sacrifices. It is known that the Unstrut culture sacrificed human beings and even performed acts of ritual cannibalism. This is the reason why researchers first thought that the bones in the Lichtenstein cave were remains of ritual sacrifice. Closer investigation pointed out that none of the bones showed signs of violence or post-mortem cut ups. Also it is very unlikely that an entire family (young and old) was sacrificed; mostly only young women were sacrificed.
Haplotyping the Lichtenstein individuals (2006)
In 2006, the bones of the 19 male Lichtenstein individuals were haplotyped using 12 Y-STR loci: DYS393, DYS390, DYS19, DYS391, DYS385a, DYS385b, DYS439, DYS389i, DYS392, DYS389ii, DYS437 and DYS438.
STR analysis of the Y-DNA showed that out of the 19 men (according the Cullen Haplogroup I Predictor(http://members.bex.net/jtcullen515/HaploTest.htm ), 13 belonged to haplogroup S23 (ISOGG 2013: I2a2). The Cullen predictor specifies M223 (ISOGG 2013: I2a2a) but does not specify I-L38 (ISOGG 2013: I2a2b). Given the STR values of the Lichtenstein individuals, the outcome S23 can be safely interpreted as I-L38.
These 13 members of haplogroup I-L38 can be assigned to 4 haplotypes: Y1, Y2, Y4 and Y6:
STR haplotypes of 19 male Lichtenstein individuals (Schilz, 2006) * = uncertain
The poor representation of haplotypes Y3 and Y5 suggest that they were foreigners, who married into the Lichtenstein clan.
Felix Schilz (2006)
In 2006 Felix Schilz published his doctoral dissertation: Molekulargenetische Verwandtschaftsanalysen am prähistorischen Skelettkollektiv der Lichtensteinhöhle.
Schilz’ comparison of the STR values of the Lichtenstein individuals to those in the YHRD database (at that time containing 39 000 haplotypes) lead to the hypothesis that the Lichtenstein people belonged to a rare haplotype that possibly only flourished in the region around the cave.
In his doctoral dissertation Schilz concluded:
The hypothesis that I-L38 was a rare haplotype was supported by the found that the Y1 lineage, in 2007, was still present in the surroundings of the cave.
In January 2007, nearly 300 people from the towns surrounding the Lichtenstein cave were haplotyped. Two men were identified with the Y1 lineage. Researchers see this as a proof of a continuous “Y1” family settlement over 100 to 120 generations. (Flindt, 2008)
Since no STR values were published – it is unknown how close the Y1-descendants match the STR values of the ancient Lichtenstein samples.
Stephen Prata (2013)
In 2013, FTDNA I-L38 group member, Stephen Prata calculated that the probability that a descendant would have the same haplotype as his patrilineal ancestor from 100 generations ago is low. .
Probabilities for various genetic distances between a descendant and an ancestor after 100 generations.Chandler's mutation rates for the 12 Lichtenstein STR loci were used. The average genetic distance = 2.10, average mutations = 2.37.
The percentages in the total mutations column were calculated using the Poisson distribution:
The genetic distances were obtained using a simulation rather than an analytic formula. The simulation assumes that up and down mutations are equally likely. This allows for the possibility of a second mutation cancelling the effect of a first, which is why the percent for a 0 genetic distance is greater than the percent for 0 total mutations. If time evolution is taken into consideration, a genetic distance of 2, over a period of 100 generations, is a statistically more likely match than a genetic distance = 0 match.
Mapping Lichtenstein descendants
Thus, I-L38 members with a Lichtenstein genetic distance of 2 have the fairest chance to be direct descendants of the Lichtenstein-clan.
Haplogroup I-L38 samples with genetic distance to the Lichtenstein samples = 2. Bright red balloons represents samples with GD=2 to the Y1 sample; soft red balloons with GD=2 to the Y6 sample.
Even when not all samples with GD=2 descent of the Lichtenstein samples, it becomes clear that the descendants of the Lichtenstein samples spread to all directions.
Assuming that Lichtenstein descendants migrated at the same pace in all directions it is interesting to calculate the center of the geographical spread of this I-L38 clan. To do so the average geographical location of the 4 geographical extremes (Lardal in the north, Abrud in the east, Bâtie Montgascon in the south and Limerick in the west) was calculated. Using this technique Cologne (Köln) appears to be the geographical center of the spread Lichtenstein descendants.
Calculation of the hypothetical center of geographical spread of likely Lichtenstein descendants
When studying the archeological artifacts of the Lichtenstein cave, it becomes clear that the Unstrut group to which the Lichtenstein individuals belonged was part of a larger cultural central German conglomerate.
The Late Bronze Age Unstrut group (1600 til 1300/1200 BC), itself part of the Urnfield culture, developed out of the Middle Bronze Age Hügelgraber culture that emerged out of older Early Bronze Age groups who arrived in the Rhine, Danube and Elbe/Saale regions around 2400/2200 BC.
So it seems that haplogroup I-L38 has its earliest roots in central German Early Bronze Age groups. This time frame also matches with the overall I-L38 MRCA (believed to have lived 4000 years ago).
Looking at the likely descendants of the Lichtenstein individuals Y1 and Y6, they seem to have spread in all directions, a pattern that might be linked to ancient Bronze Age trade routes of copper.
Trade routes in Early Bronze Age (National Geographic, 2004)
During the 2011 excavation, the archaeologists also found a five foot tall, dense backfilled pit, that covered the floor with a thick layer of animal bones with cut and percussion marks. District archaeologist Dr. Stefan Flindt thinks they had a ritual use.