R1b and the Bell Beaker Phenomenon

Ancient DNA analysis of two male skeletons from the Late Neolithic Bell Beaker site of Kromsdorf, Germany showed they belonged to Y-DNA haplogroup R1b.[1] More specifically, one skeleton belonged to R1b (M343) with the testing of R1b1a2 (marker M269) having failed and the other skeleton belonged to R1b1a2. Both were ancestral for SNP U106. No other downstream markers were tested. The find is important because it links the widespread Bell Beaker Phenomenon (hereafter BB) with the most frequent Y-DNA haplogroup in modern Western European males. It is also important as R1b has not appeared in any Neolithic or pre-Neolithic ancient DNA to date.


Table 1 as per Lee (2012)



Table 3 as per Lee (2012)


Based on the radiocarbon (14C) dating of short lived material, the current prevailing view is that BB originated in Iberia (2900 BC cal.), with an almost concurrent appearance in southern France and northern Italy.[2] The spread of BB into Northern and Central Europe seems to have occurred somewhat later (~2500 BC). Vander Linden (2012) questioned the use of 14C dating to find the origins of BB, mainly on the grounds that most dates fall within a very narrow time-frame.[3]  He reinforced instead the Dutch Model, which based on typology and burial data, sees BB as an evolution of the Single Grace Culture (Corded Ware) in the lower Rhine. Limited ancient DNA has failed to provide a male genetic link however as Corded Ware skeletons have been found to belong instead to haplogroup R1a1, haplogroup G and possibly haplogroup I. [4] [5]

Based on the homogeneity of STR variance of the three major subclades of P312 (U152, L21 and DF27), and similar modal values for U106 (65 of 67),[6] both P312 and U106 seem to have had a great period of geographic expansion in a relatively short period of time. A second, albeit less frequent, brother clade to L11 is defined by Y chromosome position 3263086 G>A (GRCh37/hg19 Assembly) (unpublished data). The distribution of this group is primarily restricted to Northern Italy and France[6] and is easily spotted in academic studies by way of its off-modal value of DYS426=13. While BB migrations seem to have impacted some areas such as Bavaria  very heavily[7], other areas such as Northern Iberia and Bohemia show very little variability from the preceding non-BB populations [8].

Understanding the dynamics of Bell Beaker population movements and how they shaped the distribution of R1b and its phylogeny should warrant Y-DNA testing of ancient skeletal remains at the subclade level.[9]


1. Lee, E. et al. (2012), Emerging genetic patterns of the European neolithic: Perspectives from a late neolithic bell beaker burial site in Germany, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, online 3 May 2012 ahead of print.

2. Muller J, Van Willigen S, New radiocarbon evidence for European Bell Beakers and the consequences for the diffusion of the Bell Beaker Phenomenon, in Franco Nicolis (ed.), Bell Beakers today: Pottery, people, culture, symbols in prehistoric Europe (2001), pp. 59-75.

3. Vander Linden M, Demography and mobility in North-Western Europe during the third millennium cal. BC, Prescott C. & Glørstad H. (reds.), Becoming European. The transformation of third millennium Europe and the trajectory into the millennium BC (2012). Oxbow Books, Oxford, p. 22.

4. Haak, W.; Brandt, G.; Jong, H. N. d.; Meyer, C.; Ganslmeier, R.; Heyd, V.; Hawkesworth, C.; Pike, A. W. G. et al. (2008), Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (47): 18226–18231, Bibcode 2008PNAS..10518226H, DOI:10.1073/pnas.0807592105, PMC 2587582, PMID 19015520

5. Gworys, B. et al. (2013), Assessment of late Neolithic pastoralist’s life conditions from the Wroclaw-Jagodno site (SW Poland) on the basis of physiological stress markers, Journal of Archaeological Science, online 13 February 2013 ahead of print.

6. Busby G., Brisighelli F., Sanchez-Diz P., Ramos-Luis E., Martinez-Cadenas C., et al. (2012) The peopling of Europe and the cautionary tale of Y chromosome lineage R-M269. Proceedings Biological sciences/The Royal Society 279: 884–892. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1044.

7. Price, T.D., Knipper, C., Grupe, G., Smrcka, V. (2004). Strontium Isotopes and Prehistoric Human Migration: The Bell Beaker Period in Central Europe. European Journal of Archaeology 7, pp.9-39

8. Desidieri, J. (2011) When Beakers Met Bell Beakers, An analysis of dental remains. BAR International Series 2292.
Oxford : Archaeopress 2011.

9. Rocca R., Magoon G., Reynolds D., Krahn T., Tilroe V., et al. (2012) Discovery of Western European R1b1a2 Y Chromosome Variants in 1000 Genomes Project Data: An Online Community Approach. PLoS ONE 7(7): e41634. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041634

24 thoughts on “R1b and the Bell Beaker Phenomenon

  1. Richard Hulan says:

    As you know, I disagree with many of your assumptions, particularly about DF27, and the speculations herein to which they have led you. But that pertains mainly to a few more or less unknowable details, and I applaud the proposal here to get at the resolution of those details via ancient DNA.

    I’ve been unable to reply on the other forum at which you have posted this discussion; maybe WordPress will still recognize me. They assigned me a white and violet quilt avatar, a couple of years ago — in case that pops up. When I get to pick my own, I’m a keelboatman, using a nickname faintly reminiscent of Sten’ka Razin.

  2. Michael Walsh says:

    Thank you for starting this web site.

    I hope that we all can focus on discovery of information and objective analysis and not over-interpret the information availabe or promote a pre-determined hypothesis.


  3. Michael Walsh says:

    Rocca posted,

    DF27 = Maritime Beaker expansion out of Iberia

    U152 & L21 = Reflux expansion from the Alps which would give rise to Italo-Celtic”

    This could well could be, but there is more to the R1b-L11(aka S127) family that is the vast majority of R1b in Central and Western Europe.

    I don’t know the answers, but what do we attribute P312* (P312+ DF27- U152- L21-) to as it had to be in place for the proposes Bell Beaker expansions you cite.

    The other really interesting challenge is what do we attribute U106 to? It’s northern distribution and Germanic language correlation is a little harder to fit in into the picture.

  4. Davidski says:

    Here’s what I wrote at Maju’s blog recently, but keep in mind that R1b isn’t really my area of interest…

    I have a feeling that the high STR variance of Iberian R1b is due to multiple and significant population movements into the peninsula after the Neolithic. Something similar probably happened in South Asia, where the R1a falls under one subclade, R-Z93, but shows unusually high STR diversity.

    Having said that, Iberia is still severely undersampled compared to Northwestern Europe, and we know from archeological, autosomal and now mtDNA data that there was a major out of Iberia episode which affected the genetic structure of all extant Europeans. Indeed, there’s really nothing preventing a scenario in which R1b initially expanded out of Iberia as L11/S127, like with the Bell Beakers, diversified in Western and Central Europe, and then migrated back during the Iron Age as mainly S116 and/or DF27. The late and massive expansion of DF27 across Iberia might have swamped the earlier R1b SNP diversity there.

    If so, I think only heavy sampling of modern Spanish and Portuguese populations, as well as ancient DNA from late Neolithic Iberia, both at a high resolution, will be able to tell us how it all went down.

  5. Richard Hulan says:

    If Anthrogenica would let me post, I’d be more than happy to bat this stuff around with you guys. And if Rich sets up the mechanism for pledging on this site, I’ll pledge.

    I do have a few reservations about what exactly would be proved by testing in one area versus another, but I’m willing to be a good sport about that. Late neolithic Y-DNA from an Iberian Bell Beaker site would be informative, but I see no reason to assume it would be R1b-DF27 (or otherwise match the present population there). Neolithic mtDNA from the same site might match (more or less) mtDNA in the present population there, or elsewhere, but can’t tell us with whom the late potter lady was mating, at the time. Probably we need both kinds of gender-tied DNA, from a site with early maritime Bell Beakers and some alloyed copper, to add much (if we are lucky) to what we already know.

    And, one hopes, to subtract a little of the “from-the-west” hype that keeps trickling into this discussion but derives originally from other, chronologically unrelated sources (including some from the Ice Age, some from the Iron Age, and some from the musings of Celtic scholars whose light veneer of relevant genetic information came from a low-resolution 2006 study in which few of us now place much faith).

    I hope this doesn’t seem grumpy.

  6. Athenid says:

    First of all, please excuse me if my comments seem a bit outdated, and generic in their content. I have not pondered over the question of genetic geenalogy for quite some time. I have found one of the comments left by Davidski interesting. Apparently, there is high STR diversity in haplogroup R1a in India, but this “diversity” is contained in only one subclade. I admit this never occurred to me, as I assumed that high STR diversity was necessarily associated with the geographic origin of a haplogroup.
    Anatolia and Iberia seem to display high STR diversity as far as haplogroup R1b is concerned, but what does it really mean? How do you link both regions?
    I have read that some would see a maritime connection, which seems to me a bit far-fetched, to be honest. On the other hand, it is quite true that R1b is far from dominant in possible points of entry for a westward migration such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. It would be interesting to assess STR diversity in those countries.
    The question I am asking myself is whether R1b is a marker of Indo-European ancestry (the genetic and linguistic link with R1a seem quite incontrovertible), or whether it is something else. In that case, what do we do with the Basque language, which is spoken by a heavily R1b population? Besides, how do you explain the physical differences between two heavily R1b populations such as the British and the Spaniards? There must have been different populations there that predated the arrival of R1B: one closer to other mediterranean populations in Spain, and another closer to haplogroup I maybe, in pre-R1b Britain?
    In any case, I believe that R1b carriers spoke an Indo-European language from the start, and that they did not come back from Central Europe speaking it. Anyway, who would have taught them: R1a carriers? It would be strange that an R1b population spoke languages such as Basque and met an R1a population that spoke a language totally alien to them. The most plausible explanation to me is that what they had in common genetically speaking, they also had in common linguistically speaking. I hope genetic analysis will tell us more, and why not, surprise us!
    I am ready to donate, but I haven’t found anything on your site to do it.

  7. Davidski says:

    I don’t know about the STR diversity of R1b in West Asia, but I do know it has very high SNP diversity there, especially at the base of the R1b haplotree, which is what counts. So R1b definitely originated in West Asia, and the only real mystery is when and how it got to Western Europe.

    A maritime entry isn’t far fetched at all, because groups like the Bell Beakers had strong maritime traditions, and indeed that’s how they colonized the Atlantic fringe of Europe. Heck, they even had trading links with Africa and Asia, because African and Asian elephant ivory has been found at Bell Beaker sites in Iberia.

    It’s a real pity we don’t yet have ancient Y-DNA results from early Bell Beaker and Megalithic remains from southern Portugal and nearby areas of Spain and North Africa. I have a feeling that’s the crucial missing evidence that will finally help to solve the case.

    BTW, I just got a hold of a new paper on R1b (HT35+), which shows that this marker is basically missing from west of Poland, except from Spain and Portugal. If that’s correct, and the Iberian HT35 isn’t Sephardic or Arabian, then that’s a very interesting result IMO.


    • Athenid says:

      The Bell-Beaker culture spread along the Atlantic fringe, and I remember that some connections were found between Afro-Asiatic languages and Celtic languages, which however were not found in other Indo-European languages. Somehow, this seems to imply that Celts arrived in western Europe first, and that they were in contact with pre I.E. populations.It is interesting indeed to note that the Bell-Beaker people were adept at seafaring and obtained products from very far away.

      Thanks to a study by Lacan et al. conducted in 2011, we know that the dominant haplogroups in Catalonia in 5000 B.C. seem to have been G2a and E-V13 (Cardium pottery culture). In 3000 B.C. the same pattern could still be observed in southern France, in Languedoc: 20 paternal lineages were identified as G2a and two as I2a. In 2600 B.C. we have R1a in Eulau in Germany (Corded Ware) and in 2500 we have R1b in Thuringia, again in Germany. It is strange that R1a and R1b woke up at about the same time, isn’t it? Maybe this is not a coincidence.

      Given those facts, of course, it seems difficult to assume that R1b had long been in Iberia (ice age refugium, etc…). If we then assume the contrary, we have two hypotheses: either they came by land, or by sea. If they came by land from Anatolia, or even directly from another part of West Asia, why don’t we find more prevalence for R1b in south eastern Europe? If they came by sea, with basic seafaring technology, how did they replace G2a and E in Iberia? Did they come in a very progressive manner or did they manage to conduct a full-scale invasion? I must admit both hypotheses leave me equally puzzled. To completely replace G2a, they must have had a clear technological edge. What was it? By land, we may assume it was the horse, but by sea? It is as though some crucial information were missing here.

  8. Davidski says:

    Well, it does seem like too much of a coincidence that, as you say, R1a and R1b woke up at about the same time.

    It’s also interesting that these highly mobile late Neolithic/early Bronze Age cultures which invaded and dominated Central Europe came from the opposite ends of the continent; Corded Ware/Single Grave/Unetice from the east, and Bell Beaker from the west.

    If the earliest Bell Beakers from the Atlantic fringe did carry R1b, then how can they be linked to the eastern groups carrying R1a? The only thing I can think of is that they were both Mesolithic survivors, who learned a few new tricks and moved in to snuff out the Neolithic groups in Central Europe. This would go well with the fact that much of Europe become more Mesolithic-like genetically after the Neolithic. In other words, it appears there was revival of Mesolithic ancestry in Europe during the metal ages when Indo-European expansions took place.

    • Athenid says:

      Your hypothesis about mesolithic survivors is very challenging, and indeed it could very well explain why R1b came from the west and R1a came from the east. We know that agriculturalists used the Danube as a highway to enter Europe. In that case, it could mean that G2a or other groups would have split R territory in half, leaving both populations on either side of the continent. That would explain why R lineages represent only about 30% of the Greek paternal lineages, the same being the case in Bulgaria and Romania. The Balkans and Scandinavia, that is a good part of Central Europe, is poorer in R lineages. In Scandinavia, Norway and Denmark have higher levels of R lineages: maybe this has something to do with the seafaring capabilities of Bell-Beaker R1b carriers?

      For the time being, however, we cannot safely assume that R1b carriers lived in the Iberian peninsula at an early stage, because we find G2a in Catalonia in 5000 B.C., and later close by and “en masse” in Languedoc in 3000 B.C.. To sum things up, we still have no evidence that R1b was in the Iberian peninsula before 2500 B.C.. However, a lot of things could have happened between 5000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. in Iberia. If we did have evidence, on the other hand, that could change a lot of things.

      If R1b carriers were mesolithic survivors in Europe, I am wondering also about their technology. If they came into contact with agriculturalists from the Near East and North Africa, they certainly borrowed technology from them, but was the reverse true? It is difficult for me to accept that those mesolitihic survivors, a somewhat besieged population, had state of the art technology.

      The introduction of horse-riding must have been a brutal event for those who did not master it. If R1b and G2a had been in contact for a long time, surely G2a would have adapted or found the innovation interesting. In my opinion, they were taken by surprise and had no time to react or to change their societies. The proof is that their patrilineal lineage has almost disappeared, although it was by far the most numerous in southern Europe, representing maybe 80% of the male lineages, or more. The R1b took a severe toll on that population…

      That already happened in history: the Spaniards entered the New World with three things: the horse, plagues and guns. If R1b and R1a carriers only had two of them at their disposal, that could explain the demise of G2a over a short period of time, especially if they came from both sides of the continent.

      In that respect, the Varna culture is worth taking into account: the first civilization in Europe, quite advanced really, was apparently destroyed by horse-riding invaders in 4100 B.C.. For once, there is archeological evidence of that fact. Who, then, were those horse riders and where did they come from? R1a carriers would of course be ideal candidates. It is very early on, but this could be the very first onslaught.

      I have also read that for some time, archeologists believed that the Bell-Beaker culture was an offspring of the Corded Ware; but that assumption was contradicted by radio-carbon dating. At least, they must have found similarities between the two cultures. That goes along well with genetics and linguistics, since the Corded Ware has been associated with R1a, and the Bell-Beaker is now being associated with R1b…

  9. Michael Walsh says:

    Oh boy. Now we have the identity “Atheind” who says

    “First of all, please excuse me if my comments seem a bit outdated, and generic in their content. I have not pondered over the question of genetic geenalogy for quite some time.”

    For not pondering this for such a long time, Atheind and Daviski have initiated themes that seem very important to them.

    Athenid said “BTW, I just got a hold of a new paper on R1b (HT35+), which shows that this marker is basically missing from west of Poland, except from Spain and Portugal. ”

    “BTW”… By the way? By the way out of no where? Why is “west of Poland” important to whatever agenda?

    Sorry, Richard.

    • Davidski says:

      Actually, I made the comment that R1b (HT35+) seemed to be missing in Europe west of Poland. Why is this important? Well, if true, it means that there was no movement of R1b across the North European Plain from east to west. Looking at all the data in recent weeks, I’d say that Italy was very important for the spread of R1b into Western Europe.

    • Athenid says:

      Please bear with me if I find you a little aggressive, but generally people who resort to rudeness tend to do that because they are overly emotional, and therefore not as objective as they would like to appear.

      Since the beginning you have made very few points, with very few arguments, and your comments are extremely short, consisting mainly in quotes of posts made by others. This is all the more disappointing as you seem to be a native English speaker: if you really want to make a point and if you disagree with my hypotheses (that is all they are) or those of Davidski, then try to do this in a civilised manner: counter my arguments and try to convince me. A little consideration for other posters would be advisable. I did not necessarily share Davidski’s opinions, but he made his points in a rational manner and what he conjectured was always interesting.

      Besides, it is quite enlightening that you mistook Davidski’s arguments for mine: a bit rash, don’t you think? Maybe this rashness can be attributed to the fact that you don’t like my name, which you misspelled: a little fantasy would do you good, instead of judging a book by its cover.

      Now, I believe that something like an invasion probably occurred in Europe. I have given you arguments instead of flashing a string of numbers without any attempt at interpretation. Sorry to be rude in return, but keep computing if you want: others are trying to do a little thinking.

      We have genetic and archeological data that indicate that G2a was dominant in Europe for a very long time and then almost disappeared. Then R1b replaced it altogether. What do you think this is? An epidemic, a natural catastrophe, acculturation, a high sperm count for R1b carriers, or resistance to the plague in the middle-ages as some posited? I doubt that. Frankly, invasion seems more likely. Whether they came from the west or the east is another matter, but the invasion certainly included a lot of R1b carriers. R1a appears in Germany in 2600 B.C. and R1b in 2500 B.C., that is at about the same time and the same place. Do you have information that disconfirms this? Sorry, but this definitely appears to be worth considering. If you have arguments against that, I am ready to read them, and with an open mind. Instead of brushing aside my hypotheses because I used a little humility in the beginning of my posts, you should try to convince others in a kind manner, using facts and giving your sources. If this is beyond your abilities, abstain yourself.

      When one tries to be haughty, one needs to back it up a little.

  10. Mark D says:

    First, thanks Davidski for linking this site on yours, and thanks Richard for starting a site devoted to R1b. I’d be happy to contribute as I myself am R1b (P-312, L176.2, L147.3) and like many are reading all the blogs to learn as much as I can on the subject. I’m a retired attorney and not an academic, but have read all the popular books on population genetics, and am currently reading Professor Cunliffe’s new book, “Britain Begins” which discusses the subject of the above article.

    One question I’ve raised in other blogs is the dearth of aDNA samples from the North African littoral and the possibility that Neolithic migration came across North Africa and up to Iberia across Gibraltar. It seems to me that the North African coast is a lot easier than the many indentations of the Northern Med for sea-faring migrants, which shows in the historic patterns of migrations (Phoenicians, Arabs, etc.) I’m also intrigued by the incidence of R1b in the Maghreb (which of course could be from European admixture) and V-88 in sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly, a lot more study is needed in this area.

  11. Davidski says:

    I think I worked it out. See the update at the bottom of this post…


  12. Michael Walsh says:

    Thanks, David. I need to do some reading on H13a1a but it would be quite interesting to find such a link of an mtDNA subclade with R1b subclades. Do we have any reason to think these people developed boating/navigation skills in the Black Sea?

  13. Davidski says:

    I have no idea if they sailed across the Black Sea or not, but H13a1a definitely shows a trail from the Caucasus to Western Europe across the Mediterranean rather than Central Europe.

    If there’s some H13a1a in Bulgaria and Romania, then perhaps that could be interpreted as a signal of maritime links between the Caucasus and the Balkans?

  14. Richard Rocca says:

    From Roostalu (2009) in regards to Daghestan varieties of …

    “The more frequent clades, characteristic of the European group of populations, are H1, H3, H5a.”

    “The relatively high frequency of H13a1, together with those of H2a4 and H6a, characterizes Daghestan populations, distinguishing them from other northern Caucasus populations.”

    So here we have opposite subclades of H in two different areas…H1 and H3 in Spain and H2, H6 and H13 in Dagestan. In Brotherton (2013) we have H2 appearing in a Unetice sample, H6 appearing in a Corded Ware sample and H13 appearing in a Bell Beaker sample. Needless to say, three flavors of H that are common in Dagestan appearing in three different cultural complexes does not get me excited, and in no way shows an association with any Y halpogroup.

  15. Davidski says:

    Well, H2 doesn’t mean H2a4, and H6 doesn’t mean H6a. But H13a1 does mean H13a1, and it’s one of the rarest subclades of H, and thus a fairly specific marker. Also, today it shows a trail from the Caucasus to Western Europe via the Mediterranean.

    What this suggests is that there were migrations across the sea from somewhere in the Near East which contributed to the genetic structure of modern Southern and Western Europeans and Dagestanis. These migrations possibly came from what is now Dagestan itself, and might have had an impact on modern European Y-DNA.

    Moreover, it’s starting to look like the maritime routes from the East Mediterranean to the Atlantic were well developed during the Bronze Age and perhaps even earlier. So this might have been a source of significant and continuous gene flow into Europe that differed somewhat as the genetic structure of the Near East shifted due to various population expansions and migrations in West Asia.

    In other words, pretty much anything could have arrived in Southern and Western Europe by boat from as far as away as Iran, or perhaps further, during the Neolithic and metal ages.

  16. Richard Rocca says:

    H13a1 has a modern day frequency of 0.005 in Iberia. Still not sure what one sample found in a BB sample in Central Europe has anything to do with any of this.

  17. Davidski says:

    But it was found there.

    So how did this extremely rare East Caucasian haplogroup manage to find itself in a Copper Age sample from Germany linked with maritime Mediterranean origins, and in a Bronze Age sample from Crete again linked with maritime Mediterranean origins? And how did it end up in Iberia and Sardinia?

    We could also add that Bell Beakers and Minoans knew a thing or two about metallurgy. Interestingly, the Caucasus was quite a hub in that respect during the Copper Age, which just happened to be a period of high mobility and massive population shifts across Europe.

    • Richard Rocca says:

      How H13a1 became 0.005 in Iberia is an unanswerable question, but if it had as much importance as its being made out to be, then it should be much higher.

      The Minoans, from the get-go were a Bronze Age culture from 3650 BC. The Bell Beakers from 2900 BC to about 2400 BC were a Copper Age people. Unless the Minoans that landed in Iberia hit their heads on rocks and forgot how to work metals into Bronze for a span of about 700 years, I don’t see the metallurgic link between the two.

      • Davidski says:

        It just means that the ancestors of the Bell Beakers arrived in Iberia before the Minoan civilization was fully developed. So it doesn’t debunk the idea that both of these groups descend from the same east to west population movements across the Mediterranean.

        Indeed, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Minoan mtDNA is closest to the Bronze Age Iberian and Sardinian samples in the “nearest neighbor” table. I’d say that if all the currently available Bell Beaker mtDNA haplotypes were pooled and added to this analysis, they’d be sitting right at the top as well. Interestingly, the Portuguese are third in that table, and Bell Beakers are thought to have expanded from Southern Portugal.


        So it’s pretty clear that we’re looking at late Neolithic movements of people from the East Mediterranean to Sardinia and Iberia, possibly followed by expansions of their descendants from Iberia to Central Europe.

        I suppose we’ll soon find out whether Western Europe’s ancestral R1b lineages were part of these migrations.

  18. Shade Hiker says:

    OK: We can’t explain why Basques have high R1b, but use a nonIE lang. Is there evidence of shared vocab btwn Vasconic & PIE? We have Uralic loans & Uralic has (P)IE loans, from abt 5000BCE. If Vasconic loaned to/from (P)IE w/in 9000-3000BCE & we should find shared topo-/bio-nymns, non-sensical for ‘present’ Basqueland= Basques came from elsewhere too. Does this not make sense?

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