Article | Published:

The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe

Nature volume 555, pages 190196 (08 March 2018) | Download Citation

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 21 March 2018

This article has been updated


From around 2750 to 2500 bc, Bell Beaker pottery became widespread across western and central Europe, before it disappeared between 2200 and 1800 bc. The forces that propelled its expansion are a matter of long-standing debate, and there is support for both cultural diffusion and migration having a role in this process. Here we present genome-wide data from 400 Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age Europeans, including 226 individuals associated with Beaker-complex artefacts. We detected limited genetic affinity between Beaker-complex-associated individuals from Iberia and central Europe, and thus exclude migration as an important mechanism of spread between these two regions. However, migration had a key role in the further dissemination of the Beaker complex. We document this phenomenon most clearly in Britain, where the spread of the Beaker complex introduced high levels of steppe-related ancestry and was associated with the replacement of approximately 90% of Britain’s gene pool within a few hundred years, continuing the east-to-west expansion that had brought steppe-related ancestry into central and northern Europe over the previous centuries.

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Change history

  • 21 March 2018

    Please see accompanying Erratum ( The surname of author Alessandra Modi was incorrectly listed as ‘Mod’. The original Article has been corrected online.


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We thank D. Anthony, J. Koch, I. Mathieson and C. Renfrew for comments; A. Cooper for support from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA; the Bristol Radiocarbon Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility (BRAMS); A. C. Sousa, A. M. Cólliga, L. Loe, C. Roth, E. Carmona Ballesteros, M. Kunst, S.-A. Coupar, M. Giesen, T. Lord, M. Green, A. Chamberlain and G. Drinkall for assistance with samples; E. Willerslev for supporting several co-authors at the Centre for GeoGenetics; the Museo Arqueológico Regional de la Comunidad de Madrid, the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, the Orkney Museum, the Museu Municipal de Torres Vedras, the Great North Museum: Hancock, the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, the Sunderland Museum, the National Museum of Wales, the Duckworth Laboratory, the Wiltshire Museum, the Wells Museum, the Brighton Museum, the Somerset Heritage Museum and the Museum of London for facilitating sample collection. Support for this project was provided by Czech Academy of Sciences grant RVO:67985912; by the Momentum Mobility Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; by the Wellcome Trust (100713/Z/12/Z); by Irish Research Council grant GOIPG/2013/36 to D.F.; by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences (WIN project ‘Times of Upheaval’) to P.W.S., J.K. and A.Mi.; by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences grant M16-0455:1 to K.Kr.; by the National Science Centre, Poland grant DEC-2013/10/E/HS3/00141 to M.Fu.; by Obra Social La Caixa and by a Spanish MINECO grant BFU2015-64699-P to C.L.-F.; by a Spanish MINECO grant HAR2016-77600-P to C.L., P.R. and C.Bl.; by the NSF Archaeometry program BCS-1460369 to D.J.K.; by the NFS Archaeology program BCS-1725067 to D.J.K. and T.Ha.; and by an Allen Discovery Center grant from the Paul Allen Foundation, US National Science Foundation HOMINID grant BCS-1032255, US National Institutes of Health grant GM100233, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to D.R.

Author information

Author notes

    • Ian Armit
    • , Kristian Kristiansen
    • , Ron Pinhasi
    • , Wolfgang Haak
    • , Ian Barnes
    • , Carles Lalueza-Fox
    •  & David Reich

    These authors jointly supervised this work.


  1. Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

    • Iñigo Olalde
    • , Nadin Rohland
    • , Swapan Mallick
    • , Mark Lipson
    • , Iosif Lazaridis
    • , Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht
    • , Matthew Ferry
    • , Eadaoin Harney
    • , Megan Michel
    • , Jonas Oppenheimer
    • , Kristin Stewardson
    •  & David Reich
  2. Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

    • Selina Brace
    • , Thomas Booth
    •  & Ian Barnes
  3. Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen 1350, Denmark

    • Morten E. Allentoft
  4. School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford BD7 1DP, UK

    • Ian Armit
    • , Lindsey Büster
    •  & Laura Castells Navarro
  5. University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg 405 30, Sweden

    • Kristian Kristiansen
    •  & Karl-Göran Sjögren
  6. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142, USA

    • Swapan Mallick
    • , Iosif Lazaridis
    • , Nick Patterson
    •  & David Reich
  7. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

    • Swapan Mallick
    • , Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht
    • , Matthew Ferry
    • , Megan Michel
    • , Jonas Oppenheimer
    • , Kristin Stewardson
    •  & David Reich
  8. Laboratory of Archaeogenetics, Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest 1097, Hungary

    • Anna Szécsényi-Nagy
    •  & Balázs Gusztáv Mende
  9. Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Archaeo- and Palaeogenetics, University of Tübingen, Tübingen 72070, Germany

    • Alissa Mittnik
    •  & Saskia Pfrengle
  10. Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena 07745, Germany.

    • Alissa Mittnik
  11. Department of Human Genetics, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden 2333 ZC, The Netherlands.

    • Eveline Altena
    •  & Peter de Knijff
  12. Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Thomas K. Harper
  13. Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK.

    • Yoan Diekmann
    • , Zuzana Faltyskova
    •  & Mark G. Thomas
  14. Earth Institute, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland.

    • Daniel Fernandes
    • , Olivia Cheronet
    •  & Ron Pinhasi
  15. Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Vienna 1090, Austria

    • Daniel Fernandes
    • , Olivia Cheronet
    •  & Ron Pinhasi
  16. Research Center for Anthropology and Health, Department of Life Science, University of Coimbra, Coimbra 3000-456, Portugal

    • Daniel Fernandes
  17. Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury SP4 6EB, UK

    • Alistair Barclay
    • , Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy
    •  & Jacqueline I. McKinley
  18. Center of Natural and Cultural History of Man, Danube Private University, Krems 3500, Austria

    • Kurt Werner Alt
  19. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Basel University, Basel 4123, Switzerland

    • Kurt Werner Alt
  20. Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science, Basel University, Basel, Switzerland

    • Kurt Werner Alt
  21. Departamento de Prehistoria y Arqueología, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid 28049, Spain

    • Corina Liesau
    • , Patricia Ríos
    • , Concepción Blasco
    •  & Rafael Garrido Pena
  22. ARGEA S.L., Madrid 28011, Spain

    • Jorge Vega Miguel
    •  & Roberto Menduiña García
  23. Área de Prehistoria, Universidad de Murcia, Murcia 30001, Spain

    • Azucena Avilés Fernández
    • , María Haber-Uriarte
    •  & Joaquín Lomba Maurandi
  24. Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest 1097, Hungary.

    • Eszter Bánffy
    • , Gabriella Kulcsár
    • , Viktória Kiss
    •  & Kitti Köhler
  25. Romano-Germanic Commission, German Archaeological Institute, Frankfurt am Main 60325, Germany

    • Eszter Bánffy
  26. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Parma, Parma 43100, Italy

    • Maria Bernabò-Brea
  27. INRAP, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, Buffard 25440, France

    • David Billoin
  28. School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK

    • Clive Bonsall
    •  & Kathleen McSweeney
  29. 10 Merchiston Gardens, Edinburgh EH10 5DD, UK

    • Laura Bonsall
  30. Oxford Archaeology, Oxford OX2 0ES, UK

    • Tim Allen
    • , Gill Hey
    •  & Fraser Brown
  31. Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UU, UK

    • Sophie Carver
    •  & Volker Heyd
  32. BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK

    • Oliver E. Craig
  33. Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, East Kilbride G75 0QF, UK

    • Gordon T. Cook
  34. Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2PG, UK

    • Barry Cunliffe
  35. University of Burgundy, Dijon 21000, France

    • Anthony Denaire
  36. Oxford Archaeology East, Cambridge CB23 8SQ, UK.

    • Natasha Dodwell
    •  & Richard Mortimer
  37. Institute of Archaeology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague 118 01, Czech Republic

    • Michal Ernée
    •  & Miroslav Dobeš
  38. Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0DT, UK

    • Christopher Evans
    • , Benjamin Neil
    •  & Marcus Brittain
  39. Labrys o.p.s., Prague 198 00, Czech Republic.

    • Milan Kuchařík
  40. Museu i Poblat Ibèric de Ca n'Oliver, Cerdanyola del Vallès 08290, Spain.

    • Joan Francès Farré
  41. School of History, Classics & Archaeology, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK

    • Chris Fowler
  42. INRAP, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, Nice 06300, France.

    • Michiel Gazenbeek
  43. Institute of Zoology and Biomedical Research, Jagiellonian University, Kraków 31-007, Poland.

    • Elżbieta Haduch
  44. Great Orme Mines, Great Orme, Llandudno LL30 2XG, UK

    • Nick Jowett
  45. Bristol Radiocarbon Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1UU, UK

    • Timothy Knowles
  46. Institut für Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie und Provinzialrömische Archäologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Munich 80539, Germany

    • Ken Massy
    •  & Philipp W. Stockhammer
  47. INRAP, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, Strasbourg 67100, France

    • Philippe Lefranc
  48. Université Paul-Valéry - Montpellier 3, UMR 5140 ASM, Montpellier 34199, France

    • Olivier Lemercier
  49. INRAP, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, Metz 57063, France

    • Arnaud Lefebvre
  50. UMR 5199, Pacea, équipe A3P, Université de Bordeaux, Talence 33400, France.

    • Arnaud Lefebvre
  51. TRÉBEDE, Patrimonio y Cultura SL, Torres de la Alameda 28813, Spain

    • César Heras Martínez
    •  & Ana Bastida Ramírez
  52. Departamento de Ciencias de la Vida, Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares 28801, Spain.

    • César Heras Martínez
    •  & Virginia Galera Olmo
  53. Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Ciencias Policiales (IUICP), Alcalá de Henares 28801, Spain

    • César Heras Martínez
    •  & Virginia Galera Olmo
  54. Archaeom, Departament de Prehistòria, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Cerdanyola del Vallès 08193, Spain.

    • Tona Majó
  55. Department of Biology, University of Florence, Florence 50121, Italy.

    • Alessandra Modi
    •  & David Caramelli
  56. Salisbury Ltd, Budaörs 2040, Hungary

    • András Czene
  57. Ferenczy Museum Center, Szentendre 2100, Hungary

    • Róbert Patay
  58. Budapest History Museum, Budapest 1014, Hungary

    • Anna Endrődi
  59. Department of Biological Anthropology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest 1117, Hungary

    • Tamás Hajdu
    •  & Tamás Szeniczey
  60. Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest 1083, Hungary

    • Tamás Hajdu
    •  & Zsolt Bernert
  61. Déri Museum, Debrecen 4026, Hungary

    • János Dani
  62. Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh EH9 1SH, UK

    • Maya Hoole
  63. Humanities Institute, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

    • Denise Keating
  64. Department of Anthropology, National Museum, Prague 115 79, Czech Republic

    • Petr Velemínský
  65. Soprintendenza Archeologia belle arti e paesaggio per la città metropolitana di Cagliari e per le province di Oristano e Sud Sardegna, Cagliari 9124, Italy.

    • Francesca Candilio
  66. Physical Anthropology Section, University of Philadelphia Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.

    • Francesca Candilio
  67. Department of Environmental Biology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome 00185, Italy

    • Francesca Candilio
  68. 46 Cuidad Real Street, Parla 28982, Spain

    • Raúl Flores Fernández
  69. Departamento de Prehistoria, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid 28040, Spain

    • Ana-Mercedes Herrero-Corral
  70. Soprintendenza del Mare, Palermo 90133, Italy

    • Sebastiano Tusa
  71. Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, Università di Palermo, Palermo 90133, Italy

    • Emiliano Carnieri
  72. Soprintendenza per i beni culturali e ambientali di Trapani, Trapani 91100, Italy

    • Luigi Lentini
  73. Prima Archeologia del Mediterraneo, Partanna 91028, Italy.

    • Antonella Valenti
  74. Università degli Studi di Palermo, Agrigento 92100, Italy

    • Alessandro Zanini
  75. Archaeological Research Services Ltd, Bakewell DE45 1HB, UK

    • Clive Waddington
  76. Departamento de Prehistoria, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Valladolid, Valladolid 47011, Spain.

    • Germán Delibes
    •  & Elisa Guerra-Doce
  77. Albion Archaeology, Bedford MK42 0AS, UK

    • Mike Luke
  78. Laboratory of Prehistoric Archaeology and Anthropology, Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva 4, Switzerland

    • Jocelyne Desideri
    •  & Marie Besse
  79. General Department of Cultural Heritage Rhineland Palatinate, Department of Archaeology, Mainz 55116, Germany

    • Günter Brücken
  80. Institute of Archaeology, University of Wroclaw, Wrocław 50-137, Poland

    • Mirosław Furmanek
    • , Agata Hałuszko
    •  & Maksym Mackiewicz
  81. Institute of Archaeology, Silesian University in Opava, Opava 746 01, Czech Republic

    • Artur Rapiński
  82. Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QE, UK

    • Stephany Leach
  83. Departament de Prehistòria, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Cerdanyola del Vallès 08193, Spain

    • Ignacio Soriano
    •  & Roberto Risch
  84. Department of Anthropology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 52240, USA

    • Katina T. Lillios
  85. Centro de Arqueologia, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa 1600-214, Portugal

    • João Luís Cardoso
    •  & João Zilhão
  86. Universidade Aberta, Lisboa 1269-001, Portugal

    • João Luís Cardoso
  87. Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London WC1H 0PY, UK

    • Michael Parker Pearson
  88. Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków 31-016, Poland

    • Piotr Włodarczak
  89. Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • T. Douglas Price
  90. University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela 15782, Spain

    • Pilar Prieto
  91. UMR 5204 Laboratoire Edytem, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, Chambéry 73376, France

    • Pierre-Jérôme Rey
  92. Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, Valladolid University, Valladolid 47011, Spain

    • Manuel A. Rojo Guerra
  93. UMR 7268 ADES, CNRS, Aix-Marseille Univ, EFS, Faculté de médecine Nord, Marseille 13015, France

    • Aurore Schmitt
  94. Service archéologique, Conseil Général de la Haute-Savoie, Annecy 74000, France

    • Joël Serralongue
  95. Laboratory of Prehistory, Research Center for Anthropology and Health, Department of Life Science, University of Coimbra, Coimbra 3000-456, Portugal

    • Ana Maria Silva
  96. Institute for History of Medicine and Foreign Languages, First Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague 121 08, Czech Republic

    • Václav Smrčka
  97. ANTEA Bureau d'étude en Archéologie, Habsheim 68440, France

    • Luc Vergnaud
  98. Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats, Barcelona 08010, Spain

    • João Zilhão
  99. Departament d'Història i Arqueologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona 08001, Spain

    • João Zilhão
  100. Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, RLAHA, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

    • Thomas Higham
  101. Department of Anthropology & Institute for Energy and the Environment, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Douglas J. Kennett
  102. Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2333 CC Leiden, The Netherlands

    • Harry Fokkens
  103. Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, Section of Archaeology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki 00014, Finland

    • Volker Heyd
  104. National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, UK

    • Alison Sheridan
  105. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena 07745, Germany

    • Philipp W. Stockhammer
    • , Johannes Krause
    •  & Wolfgang Haak
  106. Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5005, South Australia, Australia

    • Wolfgang Haak
  107. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, CSIC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona 08003, Spain

    • Carles Lalueza-Fox


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S.B., M.E.A., N.R., A.S.-N., A.Mi., N.B., M.Fe., E.Har., M.Mi., J.O., K.S., O.C., D.K., F.C., R.Pi., J.K., W.H., I.B. and D.R. performed or supervised laboratory work. G.T.C. and D.J.K. undertook the radiocarbon dating of a large fraction of samples. I.A., K.Kr., A.B., K.W.A., A.A.F., E.B., M.B.-B., D.B., C.Bl., J.V.M., R.M.G., C.Bo., L.Bo., T.A., L.Bü., S.C., L.C.N., O.E.C., G.T.C., B.C., A.D., K.E.D., N.D., M.E., C.E., M.K., J.F.F., H.F., C.F., M.G., R.G.P., M.H.-U., E.Had., G.H., N.J., T.K., K.Ma., S.P., P.L., O.L., A.L., C.H.M., V.G.O., A.B.R., J.L.M., T.M., J.I.M., K.Mc., B.G.M., A.Mo., G.K., V.K., A.C., R.Pa., A.E., K.Kö., T.Ha., T.S., J.Da., Z.B., M.H., P.V., M.D., F.B., R.F.F., A.-M.H.-C., S.T., E.C., L.L., A.V., A.Z., C.W., G.D., E.G.-D., B.N., M.Br., M.Lu., R.M., J.De., M.Be., G.B., M.Fu., A.H., M.Ma., A.R., S.L., I.S., K.T.L., J.L.C., C.L., M.P.P., P.W., T.D.P., P.P., P.-J.R., P.R., R.R., M.A.R.G., A.Sc., J.S., A.M.S., V.S., L.V., J.Z., D.C., T.Hi., V.H., A.Sh., K.-G.S., P.W.S., R.Pi., J.K., W.H., I.B., C.L.-F. and D.R. assembled archaeological material. I.O., S.M., T.B., A.Mi., E.A., M.Li., I.L., N.P., Y.D., Z.F., D.F., D.J.K., P.d.K., T.K.H., M.G.T. and D.R. analysed data. I.O., C.L.-F. and D.R. wrote the manuscript with input from all co-authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Iñigo Olalde or David Reich.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks C. Renfrew, E. Rhodes, M. Richards and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

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    Life Sciences Reporting Summary

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-5, Supplementary Tables S1-S12 and Supplementary References.

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    Supplementary Data

    This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-5. Supplementary Table 1 shows the ancient individuals included in this study. Supplementary Table 2 contains mitochondrial haplogroup calls for individuals with newly reported data. Supplementary Table 3 contains mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies for relevant ancient populations. Supplementary Table 4 contains Y-chromosome calls for males with newly reported data and Supplementary Table 5 contains the radiocarbon database.

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