After reading this chapter, students should be able to:
explain what life was like for post-Pleistocene Mesolithic foragers and understand the difference between mobile and complex hunter-gatherers.
describe the transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Europe, including the origin-point for the introduction of farming, and the routes and methods by which people and ideas traveled.
understand the interaction between early agriculturalists and those who continued to hunt and gather, and the conditions under which people chose to change their economies from foraging to farming.
demonstrate knowledge of how metallurgy came to Europe and its impact on society, both as a technology and a social marker.
explain the growth of increasing social and political complexity, and its relation to internal processes within European societies and contact with non-European cultures, including sedentism, wealth accumulation, trade, warfare, and the elite quest for prestige and power.
From Foraging to Farming
Europe by nature is hard to define, due to diverse topography and climate, and the many routes into the region, leading to different cultural trajectories and social forms.
After the Ice: Europe Transformed
At the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, Europe lost its ice cover and rising sea levels transformed flat coastlines into estuaries, inlets, and bays, and a much broader range of plants and animals became available. Mesolithic foraging groups, descendants of Upper Paleolithic peoples, moved into these areas and exploited such rich environments throughout Europe. A well-studied example is the site of Star Carr in England. In some areas, such as south Scandinavia and the Ukraine, environments were so rich that foragers were semi-sedentary, developing complex cultures similar to those of early farmers. Examples include Vasilievka III in Ukraine, Oleneostrovski Mogilnik in Karelia, Moita da Sebastião and Cabeço da Arruda in Portugal, and Skateholm and Vedbaek in Scandinavia. At one time, the European Mesolithic was seen as a dull intermediary period. Today, these ever larger and more complex social groups are seen as rich and diverse societies, who greatly influenced how and when farming was adopted
Farming Comes to Europe
Farming spread to Europe from Southwest Asia where domesticated species originated. A major debate surrounding this development is whether it was people who moved, or only domesticated species and ideas about their use. Genetic studies on modern Europeans indicate that ideas moved farther north than "new" people, and that men moved more frequently northwards than women, but neither trend is absolute. Archaeologically, several routes can be traced, and the form of settlements and "mix" of cultural, social, and economic aspects of the Neolithic that were adopted are variable. Europe can be divided into five zones with regional Neolithic traditions: southeastern; central/western Mediterranean; central Europe; Atlantic Europe; and northern Europe.
The first farming settlements date to c. 6500 BC, possibly founded by colonists from Anatolia settling in east-central Greece. Early farmers occupied light, easily-worked soils. New generations, splitting off to settle the nearest, then next nearest areas of similar soils, may have caused the geographic spread of farming. By 5800 BC farmers had spread to northern Greece, then by 5700 BC into the Balkans.
Southeastern European communities were built in a different way from the agglomerated architecture of Anatolia. Sites such as Argissa in Thessaly and Nea Nikomedeia in Macedonia consisted of separate, small rectangular buildings. The use of clay for building led to the creation of tells throughout southeastern Europe, formed by the collapse and successive rebuilding of long-occupied sites. In Hungary, tells developed 1000 years later, while other regions of Europe with less substantial settlements had none.
Figurines and Evidence for Social Complexity
Early farming communities had a rich material culture, which included painted pottery and figurines of humans, animals, and even houses, providing clues to daily life. Human figurines include genderless and male examples but most are female. The latter were once interpreted as "goddesses" of a pan-European cult, but this idea has largely been abandoned. Some may be fertility deities, but others probably represent living individuals or ancestors. Figurines were sometimes broken, the pieces being distributed in a ritual process called enchainment, by which the pieces symbolically connected the people who possessed them. By the 6th and 5th millennia BC, new settlements in Hungary and the Danube Valley had systematically organized houses within rectangular enclosures. Ceramic and metal craft specialization is obvious in artifact assemblages. Burials were moved to separate cemeteries in the early 5th millennium BC and grave goods reflect increasingly varied social roles. The rich cemetery at Varna is the most important example.
The Introduction of Metals
Copper was first worked in the Neolithic, and the term "Chalcolithic", or "Copper Age" is sometimes used. Uplands provided stone and ore for prestige objects, which were highly sought-after, providing the means of emphasizing the era's increasing social differentiation. Tracing products made of copper is a way of identifying the complex networks of exchange. Evidence for copper mining is seen at sites such as Ai Bunar in southern Bulgaria and Rudna Glava in Serbia.
The Mediterranean Zone
Similar conditions helped facilitate the spread of farming from Greece to the Balkans. Domestic plants and animals arrived in Italy by 6000 BC, perhaps from the Balkans. Here, Mesolithic and Neolithic areas are mutually exclusive, with farmers and foragers co-existing, supporting an "integrationist" model, in which Mesolithic communities adopted ideas and products from nearby farmers. This theory rests on the substantial difference between settlement forms. Over 500 Italian farming sites consist of ditched enclosures containing numerous smaller enclosures, houses, and cobbled hearths for feasting. Cave contexts, suggesting forager adoption of selected Neolithic components, are found at Passo di Corvo, Grotta dell'Uzzo in Italy and the Grotte Gazel and Abri Jean-Cros cave sites in France. An example of an open-air site in France is La Draga.
Early Neolithic sites along the western Mediterranean are characterized by "cardial" pottery, elaborately decorated by impressing a cardium shell into the wet clay before firing. The sites of this farming "cardial culture" were established along a coastal route, perhaps as small seaborne colonizing populations, which later sent out a few individuals to found new settlements further off. Such groups reached southern Iberia by 6000 BC, as seen at the cave sites of Chaves, Coveta del'Or, Cenres, and Cariguela de Piñar, while the La Cocina Mesolithic cave site suggests interaction between farmers and foragers. Before long, farming spread to the interior. Local hunter-gatherers either adopted agriculture or integrated with expanding farming groups.
The Emergence of Social Complexity
Complex societies developed as farming communities took hold. In southern France, large enclosures surrounding rectangular, cobble-filled hearths for communal feasting date to the late 5th millennium BC. The emergence of powerful individuals and the ritual manipulation of their bones, typical in Neolithic Europe, are exemplified at St-Michel-du-Touch. In the later 4th millennium BC, social complexity emerged in Spain, where in this arid environment, those who controlled water supplies may have attained elite status. Stone "tholos" tombs and other megalithic structures, some with rich grave offerings, abound at Los Millares, and are also seen at Almería, Zambujal, and Vila Nova de Säo Pedro
The most notable insight into this era is probably provided by the Iceman, a single individual, preserved beneath an Alpine glacier, along with his clothing, equipment, and possessions which shed light on his health, way of life, travels, and cause of death.
By the late 7th millennium BC, a second, different route spread farming up the Danube Valley and into central Europe. Lepenski Vir exemplifies the change that came to Mesolithic communities as farming groups moved closer. At some sites, hunting and fishing remained important, but during the late 6th and early 5th millennia BC others developed into substantial tells.
The Bandkeramik Culture
In the mid-6th millennium BC, the Linearbandkeramik cultural tradition emerged and spread, first appearing in Hungary and Austria c. 5600 BC, spreading rapidly into the Rhine area by 5300 BC and the Paris basin a century later, and also moving east to Ukraine and Moldavia. The uniform culture strongly suggests "colonizing farmers." Bandkeramik settlements, exemplified at Langweiler, Germany, are characterized by distinctive features: pottery with incised banded decoration, massive longhouses in small forest clearings, polished stone "shoe-last" adzes, single grave burials grouped in cemeteries, and locations near water and easily tilled loess soils Eventually Bandkeramik people came into contact with hunter-gatherer groups. Patterns of violence suggest hostility between neighboring Bandkeramik groups rather than conflict with hunter-gatherers, whose women may have intermarried with them, according to strontium isotope analysis of human skeletons from Bandkeramik cemeteries.
Later Regional Groups
By 5000 BC the Bandkeramik was replaced by regional groups with differing ceramic and house styles that developed in situ. Late in the 5th millennium BC, a new type of ceramic appeared. These funnel-shaped beakers gave their name - Trichterbecher - to a new culture. This phenomenon appears in an interaction zone that shared ideas, materials, and artifacts, especially copper from Serbian sources which reached northern Europe, as seen in the Bygholm hoard in Denmark from around 4000 BC. Denmark has no metal deposits of its own and is far from Serbia; trade networks were thus already extensive. The plow was introduced in the 5th millennium BC, bringing new areas into cultivation. Wooden wheels and ceramic models of wheeled vehicles appear in the 4th millennium BC. Plowing, animal traction, milk, and wool may have been adopted gradually or together in a "secondary products revolution" among European farming societies.
Unlike central-southern Europe, western and northern Europe had dense Mesolithic populations, and farmers and hunters had to co-exist. These Mesolithic communities are categorized as "complex hunter-gatherers," with specialized foraging strategies, semi-sedentary settlements, and evidence of social differentiation. In the Atlantic region, they remained strong for 1000 years after farmers were established nearby.
Atlantic foragers exploited both marine and terrestrial resources. Many sites have shell middens, formed over decades or centuries. Long occupation led to the creation of cemeteries. Scattered human remains, bonfires, and substantial stone graves, such as at Téviec in Brittany, suggest elaborate mortuary rituals. How complex foragers interacted with farming communities has long been debated. Were they absorbed into the farming societies, or did they themselves adopt pottery and domesticates while continuing to pursue their existing lifestyles? One way or the other, by 4500 BC, farming had been adopted across the Atlantic region, and by 4000 BC it had spread to Britain and Ireland.
Megalithic Monuments: the Neolithic Transition
Atlantic Europe is home to many megalithic monuments. One type comprises stone settings, such as circles and avenues. The most famous is England's Stonehenge. Single "menhirs", or standing stones, are also ubiquitous, some carved with symbols. Chambered tombs are another type, consisting of chambers of stone or wood, accessed by a portal or long passage, covered by an earth mound, and filled with burials of hundreds of individuals. Mortuary practices frequently involved the removal, manipulation, and sorting of bones. Gavrinis in Brittany and Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland are elaborate examples, where spiral-carved stones may have been related to shamanic trances involving drug-induced states. Burials often contain polished stone axes, some of imported material. Flint was obtained from mines, for example, at Grimes Graves in England.
In northern Europe, farmers lived near well-established and populous Mesolithic communities stretching from Karelia to Britain. Preservation of organic materials in some wet sites is remarkable, for example at Star Carr in England or Stellmoor in Denmark.
The Ertebølle-Ellerbek and Later Cultures
By the mid-6th millennium BC, southern Scandinavia was occupied by complex hunter-gatherers of the Ertebølle-Ellerbek culture, inhabiting large, permanently occupied coastal settlements like Ertebølle, and smaller, seasonal camps for hunting specific species. Sedentism led to cemeteries, such as Skateholm and Vedbaek, which display social ranking. Contact with farmers is seen in the use of ceramics. Shortly before 4000 BC this culture was replaced by the Trichterbecher farming culture, with whom they had traded with for centuries. Evidence supports continuity of population from Mesolithic to Neolithic, but significant change is seen in diet, from marine to a mixed terrestrial-marine, recoverable through floral and faunal remains, plus analysis of skeletal carbon isotopes. Similar sequences occurred in Lithuania and the eastern Baltic.
Neolithic Burial Practices
Earthen long mounds, covering timber mortuary houses were a type of monument first built at the northern and western margins of the Bandkeramik zone. They may have mimicked the shape of longhouse dwellings, even though the Bandkeramik people did not practice mound burial. Southern Sweden and Denmark have a high density of megalithic tombs built during the 4th millennium BC; similarly, the deposition of offerings in wetlands may have been a Mesolithic tradition. The Boldkilde bodies (c. 3400 BC) anticipate the "bog bodies" of later prehistoric date. Offerings were also made on dry land at megalithic tombs. Feasting and mortuary rituals may have been carried out in the 30 known round enclosures of south Scandinavia: multiple rings of ditches and banks dating to 3400-3150 BC. Broadly similar enclosures, called "causewayed camps," are present in Britain, and central and western Europe. During the 3rd millennium BC, polished stone shaft-hole "battle axes" became important for display and prestige, as did the burial of individuals beneath circular mounds. This break from "communal" burials reflects the growth of individual status, also associated with a new kind of drinking vessel, the corded-ware beaker. Such burials spread across northern Europe.
Toward Complexity: Europe from 2500 BC to The Roman Empire
After the introduction of metallurgy, European societies continued to develop in material culture, size, and social complexity. Some long-term trends affected most groups, but each also displayed important regional social, political, and economic differences. At the end of the 3rd millennium BC, bronze-working stimulated new long-distance trade with distant communities for copper and tin. These networks also carried amber, finished ornaments, and other valuables. These extensive communication routes resulted in similar forms and ideas being present across wide areas. In the early 1st millennium BC, Europe entered the Iron Age. Iron was more abundant so less costly, and came from different sources, so opened new trade routes. Its greater hardness enhanced tools and weapons and facilitated plowing on heavier soils. The Etruscans, Greeks and Phoenicians established the first city-states in the western Mediterranean. Contact between Europe and the Mediterranean is seen in presence of Mediterranean artifacts throughout the region. Mediterranean sources also made the first written references to the Scythians and Celts.
Later Prehistoric Societies in Central and Western Europe
In the mid-3rd millennium BC a distinctive ceramic vessel, the bell beaker, appeared in western and northern Europe. Probably drinking vessels for mead, they are usually found as grave offerings, along with other luxuries, such as copper daggers, gold ornaments, stone archer's wrist-guards.
Beaker Pottery and Metalwork
The beaker assemblage indicates social and cultural changes in Europe, such as a "new internationalism" -- long-distance connections, spreading ideas such as metallurgy and new types of social prestige, for instance bronze daggers and gold ornaments. This tradition is exemplified by the "Amesbury archer" beaker grave in England near Stonehenge. Bone chemistry indicates that the archer spent his childhood in mainland Europe, although he died in England. During the early 2nd millennium BC, the beaker vessel went out of use, but status objects remained. Many of these status markers are depicted in the rock art of Scandinavia and Italy. Exceptionally skilled Danish bronze-workers probably obtained metal in exchange for amber.
Small-scale Settlement and Long-distance Contact
Settlements remained small, but were often long-lived. Over time, villages became more permanent, and developed field systems. Examples of such settlements are Croce del Papa in southern Italy, and Cortaillod-Est in Switzerland. During the Hallstatt Iron Age (700-480 BC) named after the Austrian type-site, political entities emerged, focused on "princely centers" with rich graves in massive burial mounds, such as Vix in Burgundy, France, near hilltop enclosures, such as the Heuneburg in Bavaria. Mediterranean contact is seen in imported Greek and Etruscan prestige grave goods. Archaeologists once theorized that it was primarily this contact that caused Europeans to develop complex political centers; recent interpretations instead put indigenous processes foremost. Early in the 5th century BC, the Hallstatt centers were abandoned, and new sets of richly furnished graves occur further north, associated with a new style, named after the La Tène site in Switzerland. La Tène culture is associated with the peoples referred to as Celts.
Later Prehistoric Societies In Eastern Europe
In eastern Europe, similar long-distance trends and contacts occurred. Ore was mined in the Carpathian range, made into swords, axes, and vessels that displayed individual status, indicating the rise of a warrior elite, and many settlements became fortified. Hungary may have supplied bronze to Scandinavia. Easterly connections to the Russian steppe brought horse-drawn chariots to eastern Europe, and horses became another outlet for displaying wealth and status
After 1300 BC a new ritual spread from eastern to western Europe, with cremation ashes being buried in pottery urns. Cremation became more common even beyond this "Urnfield" culture area, continuing into the 1st millennium BC and the Early Iron Age. Such cemeteries could contain several thousand burials with little status difference, perhaps suggesting common religious beliefs. Some large, rich mound burials were constructed, such as Ockov in Slovakia and Seddin in Germany. Despite uniform burials, elites possessed elaborate bronze helmets and breastplates, probably for display, while heavy-bladed bronze swords were probably used in fighting, echoed in the continued fortification of settlements with ditches, ramparts, or stockades.
The Fortified Site of Biskupin
The Biskupin site in Poland (738/737 BC) was a town of tightly packed timber houses along parallel streets situated on an island for security. A breakwater, a high timber stockade, and a tower show concern with defense, while regularity and order suggest a central authority.
European society at the dawn of history
In southern Europe during the 1st millennium BC the Etruscans, Greeks, and Phoenicians developed urban centers along the western Mediterranean and Black Sea. From here, new concepts and techniques spread to indigenous peoples. Imported products, prized by local elites, might have been diplomatic gifts.
European Societies Beyond the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean impact on Europe should not be seen as a one-way process. The Scythians were a complex society with administrative districts under a king. Elite graves under large mounds known as "kurgans" included sacrifices of horses and strangled servants. Impressive fortified settlements with permanent residences inside are exemplified at Bel'sk near Kharkov. Similar large settlements rose in western and south-central Europe during the last centuries BC, such as the urban-like "oppida" sites, with timber-framed defenses enclosing houses and workshops, exemplified by Manching in Bavaria and Mont Beuvray in eastern France. By the late 2nd century BC, states probably emerged, such as the kingdom of Noricum in Austria, referred to by Classical writers. Polities in central and eastern France minted coins bearing the names of individual rulers and their peoples. The nearby Mediterranean urban zone may have influenced them, yet local people transformed foreign ideas into indigenous forms.
The So-called "Celtic" Societies
Western European societies of the 1st-millennium BC are traditionally labeled "Celtic," from references by Classical writers, although the idea that "Celts" shared a monolithic ethnic identity, language, and art has recently been questioned. Greek writers reported peoples in southern France who decapitated enemies and displayed trophy skulls, and archaeological evidence supports this. The "bog bodies" of northern Europe also match practices described by the Roman historian Tacitus who discussed the sacrificial disposal of wrongdoers. From the 3rd century BC until AD 43, Mediterranean urban societies expanded their territories into Celtic regions, but attempts to expand north of the Rhine and beyond the Danube were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Roman provinces and the territories beyond participated in trade, cultural and technological borrowing, diplomatic exchange, and military action until the Roman Empire dissolved in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Key Site: Star Carr
Key Site: The Varna Cemetery
Key Discovery: The Iceman
Key Site: The Talheim Death Pit
Key Site: The Bandkeramik Settlements at Langweiler, Germany
Key Controversy: Stonehenge: Symbolism and Ceremony
Key Controversy: Rock Art - Representation of Myth or Reality
Key Controversy: Who Were the Celts?
Key Controversy: The Demographic History of Early Postglacial Europe
Key words and terms Chapter 11
Artifacts, materials & technology:
polished stone axes
amber, copper, tin
rock art, cult objects
horse and chariot
Concepts & terms:
selective adoption of Neolithic culture
population replacement, population genetics
Bell Beaker phenomenon
long-distance trade networks
Bandkeramik (LBK) culture
Battle Axe culture
Trichterbecher or Funnel-Beaker culture
Greeks, Etruscans, Phoenicians
Sites & regions:
princely centers, graves
isotope analysis: diet, migration
Structures & features:
chambered tombs, passage graves
field systems, Celtic fields