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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures

 

Bilolissya Tradition (Mesolithic) (Eastern Europe)
c.9000? - 6900? BC

The Upper Palaeolithic and Upper Mesolithic Epigravettian culture was one which emerged in Southern Europe shortly before the Solutrean was succeeded across much of the north by the Magdalenian culture. To its west was the Azilian, with these all forming some of the last of Europe's major Palaeolithic cultures.

On the Eastern European fringe of these advances there appeared a number of more or less contemporaneous Epi-Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic cultures. This mainly took place in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region. Each was somewhat limited in the territory it encompassed (perhaps the first time such varied localisation had appeared), but each used similar chipped-stone forms of industry, and each emerged by transforming local Epigravettian complexes.

The Dryas III-Preboreal period in the north-western Black Sea region was characterised by aridisation - a general drying out and a resultant decrease in plant life. Human groups to the immediate south of this region were part of the Epigravettian-led Bilolissya flint-knapping technology of the early Mesolithic (otherwise referred to as Bilolisye or Bilolisya). This emerged in today's Ukrainian part of the lower Danube region.

Many modern experts have created a number of local Epi-Palaeolithic and/or Mesolithic units in the Eastern European steppe zone which they have raised to the rank of individual archaeological cultures. The main argument against this is that these units are simply localised expressions of the Shan Koba or Kukrek cultures.

As an example of the 'separated cultures' argument, the system which was proposed by V N Stanko consisted of at least three cultures which were directly connected to this Ukrainian steppe zone, these being the Bilolissya, the Tsarinka-Rogalik, and the very similar Grebeniki and Kukrek cultures. Others mention also the Murzak-Koba, Donets, Kobuleti, Darkveti, Zimivikvisk and, a step farther to the north, the Sozh and Pesochniy Riv/Desna cultures.

Single finds which are connected with the Central European lowland area, such as the Yanislavitse culture, can also be traced in the region. The fact should be underlined that, in the many sites in the area including stratified ones for which datable material can be extracted, materials often represent two, and often more than two, of the local archaeological cultures which have been mentioned above.

As if to underline the argument in favour of localised expressions in favour of outright cultures, only one date is available for the Bilolissya, at about 6950 BC. The rest is largely theory. The start date as given here is somewhat approximate as more finds are needed to confirm it. The end date is even more vague and uncertain. The Bilolissya appears to have left no serious impact on later cultures. Instead it is viewed as an infiltration into the Ukrainian steppe, perhaps due to the fading of the Swiderian culture.

Even so, the Bilolissya is regarded as just about the earliest typically-Mesolithic flint-knapping tradition. It seems to have appeared at the Dryas III-Preboreal boundary, in the lower Danube region, as a result of direct migration from Dobrudja (now divided between Bulgaria and Romania) as people followed aurochs, their main hunting species.

These migrants preserved their traditional stone tool kits with their peculiar large trapezes, as well as also preserving their subsistence and livelihood systems in the new territory during the short period of the existence here of their tradition (until the beginning of the Preboreal period around 8000 BC).


Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: Cultural resilience theory as an instrument of modelling human response to global climate change. A case study in the north-western Black Sea region: on the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, Olena Smyntyna (Odesa I I Mechnikov National University, January 2016, and available via ResearchGate), and Topography of Stone Age Sites of the North-West Black Sea Region, Igor Pistruil (Odessa Archaeological Museum, published by Eminak Scientific Quarterly Journal, No 1 (29), 2020), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Mesolithic Settlements of the Ukrainian Steppes: migration as sociocultural response to a changing world, Olena Smyntyna (British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 2456, 93-98, January 2013, and available via ResearchGate), and Mesolithic Period (Science Direct).)

c.9000 BC

The Mesolithic Bilolissya culture is estimated to emerge somewhere close to this date, although so far the number of finds are insufficient to be able to pin this down to something vaguely specific.

Bilolissya culture stone tools
Only one date is available for the Bilolissya flint-knapping culture in the Ukrainian lower Danubian region, at about 6950 BC, despite several tool finds

It enters the western Ukrainian steppe from the lower Danube, perhaps butting up against the hunters of the Anetivka and Shpan. It is one of a series of very localised Eastern European cultures which appear at this time, as conditions improve across Europe. Others also thrive, such as the Kobuleti, Molodova-Kichkine, Tsarinka-Rogalik, Zimivikvisk, and the broader Swiderian.

c.8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer (notably in the Baltics). Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south.

Preboreal hunting lands in Europe
The Preboreal period is a formative stage of the early Holocene which lasted between 9000-4000 BC, one in which the post-glacial world of Northern Europe was warming to temperatures which were very close to those of the twentieth century

 

The Tsarinka-Rogalik tradition or culture emerges in the early Mesolithic period (potentially as part of the Shan Koba), although no direct dates are currently available. The Dryas III-Preboreal period in this region above the Black Sea is characterised by aridisation - a general drying out and a resultant decrease in plant life.

Human groups in the centre of this region, part of the Anetivka late Palaeolithic flint-knapping technology, have been broken up by the changes, forced to disperse to more habitable locations which may also include Shan Koba territory in Crimea.

The people of the Tsarinka are able to move in to make the most of the extra hunting space (perhaps as the less numerous people of the Bilolissya have already done so), while the highly-mobile Anetivka people are themselves quickly developing.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.6900 BC

The end date for the Bilolissya is even more vague and uncertain than its start date. Possibly - but entirely unproven - it fades alongside the Shan Koba around now. The very similar Tsarinka-Rogalik and Shpan continue for another millennium, and the Molodova-Kichkine even longer.

 
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