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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Butovo Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Eastern Europe)
c.9600 - 6000 BC

The crossover between the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic in Europe (and more specifically Northern Europe) took place about a millennium after the wide-ranging Magdalenian had faded. The later Swiderian culture which was so important in this specific instance was centred around modern Poland, with extensions both eastwards and southwards.

On the Eastern European fringe of the Swiderian, and of the Epigravettian which was initially so strong in Southern Europe, there appeared a number of more or less contemporaneous Epi-Palaeolithic (Late Old Stone Age) and early Mesolithic cultures. This mainly took place in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region, but activity was also taking place between the Vistula and the Ural mountains.

The wide-ranging Butovo culture was an Epi-Palaeolithic and Upper Mesolithic (Early New Stone Age) archaeological culture here. Part of the North-Eastern Technocomplex, it emerged around 9600 BC in a Swiderian-dominated Europe which was gradually recovering from the recent glacial maximum.

It dominated territory in north-eastern tundra and river areas of Eastern Europe, beyond today's Baltic states and Finland, north of the Pripet marshes, and stretching towards the Ural mountains. The Veretye culture neighboured it to the west, as did the Kunda. The contemporary Yangelka sat on the other side of the Urals, with this and the nearby Romanovsk-Ilmursin culture displaying similar traits to those of the Butovo.

The culture's formation took place thanks to Swiderian hunter-gatherers who migrated into the region from the south as the post-ice age climate warmed. It consisted of hunter-gatherer communities in the upper Volga catchment of the forest zone in today's western Russia. This vast wooded region would be key in the later development of Uralic-speakers and Indo-Europeans alike.

The Butovo type site sits alongside the Volga, to the north-west of Moscow. Most of the settlements in this largely Mesolithic cultural tradition which emerged at the crossover from the Palaeolithic were located alongside rivers and beside lakes, many of these being relatively temporary post-glacial water bodies. Its rich material culture includes bone harpoon points, flint knives, tanged points, and scrapers. Hunting and fishing provided the subsistence base.

The culture's developmental phases include an early (9600-9100 BC), middle (9100-7300 BC), and late phase (7300-6000 BC). An earlier start date of 10,100 BC has also been suggested, during the Younger Dryas, with Swiderian folk theoretically getting there earlier than is normally accepted.

Once established in their territory, people of the Butovo who occupied areas of the upper Volga found themselves living alongside groups of Ienevo and Resseta people. The relationship between these groups is so far unclear, but the smaller two cultures may have merged into the Butovo over time since, by the Neolithic period, the area was being influenced by the more unified Upper Volga Ceramic group.

Butovo cultural settlements are usually located on dry, sandy sites, including Butovo 1, Prislon 1, and Listvenka 3a. Some settlements were located on contemporary lake shores which were later flooded or swamped, which preserved organic material. The most famous such marsh sites include Dubna (near Moscow), Ivanovskoye and Berendeevo (in the Yaroslavl region), Sahtyš and Podozerskoye (in the Ivanovo region), and Ozerki (in the Tver region).

The Preboreal post-glacial lake system around this region still existed when this culture flourished. Its water levels rose and fell several times over thousands of years. This caused Butovo people to move their places of residence numerous times using tens of sites, some of which have been examined by archaeologists following their uncovering by modern peat farmers.

The Ozerki marsh site is located twenty kilometres from Tver, near the River Shosha which flows into the Volga. People here seem to have had some interaction with the Shigir Idol people on the other aide of the Urals. The Butovo culture proved to be the ancestor to the many subsequent forest region cultures of the Volga and River Oka.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Settlement of the European North: Possible Linguistic Implications, Christian Carpelan, from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: Butovo Culture (Oxford Reference), and Maps of Neolithic & Bronze Age migrations around Europe (Eupedia), and Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and North-Eastern Technocomplex (Indo-Europeans and Uralic Peoples), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and Steppe Ancestry Chronology (Indo-European.eu), and The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016).)

c.9600 - 9500 BC

The Stanovoje 4 camp site which has had to be abandoned due to post-glacial flooding is now re-inhabited by people of the Ienevo culture, a group which is possibly later absorbed by the Butovo people. Another rise in lake levels drives them away within a century and the site remains flooded until about 8500 BC.

Yangelka culural territory in Russia
Yangelka cultural territory on the eastern side of the southern Urals mountain range, not far from the modern border with Kazakhstan

Around 9500 BC the Yangelka culture emerges on the eastern side of the southern Ural mountain region. Its direct neighbour to the west, on the other side of the Ural mountain range, is the Romanovsk-Ilmursin culture. These people practice the same pressure flaking technique, which suggests a similar origin for its people, and also those of the Butovo.

c.9000 - 8300 BC

The oldest Butovo-site artefacts are dated to this period, during the rise in temperatures at the end of the Younger Dryas period and up to the start of the Preboreal period.

c.8500 - 7550 BC

When the Stanovoje 4 site becomes available once more (after flooding around 9500 BC), it is reoccupied by people of the Butovo culture just as the Dnieper-Desna culture is emerging to the south.

Aside from numerous other finds, the site contains bone tips of arrows which are of the Shigir type (while the final, most recent layer at the Stavonoja 4 site contains remains from the later Upper Volga Neolithic culture).

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.8000 BC

The Preboreal period between about 8000-7100 BC sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics and other northern regions. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bear, beaver, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south.

The Butovo's Ozerki 17 site contains a residence which has its earliest layer dated to about this date. Occupation here and around the surrounding settlement continues (probably not continuously) until about 6500 BC.

c.7800 BC

The Ozerki sites date to the early and middle Butovo. A good deal of wood, bone, horn, and hide is uncovered from these by archaeologists. One particularly interesting find is of more Shigir-type arrows. The slats of processed wood allow a date of 7800 BC to be produced for a wealth of middle phase finds.

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

c.7100 BC

The Boreal period (until about 5800 BC) sees the climate continue to warm and become drier. Pine forests decrease, allowing deciduous trees to gain a firmer foothold and become prevalent. The animal population thrives, with red deer, roe deer, and hare increasing considerably.

c.6500 BC

Groups from the northern Butovo and Kunda cultures are migrating southwards to the plains on the eastern side of the River Dnieper to form the Dnieper-Donets I culture, which now flourishes. To make this trek, they are mainly passing directly through the various Dnieper-Desna territories, which implies a degree of cooperation and perhaps adoption.

River Desna, near Chernihiv in Ukraine
The River Desna, a major left-bank tributary of the Dnieper as seen near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, was home to the people of the Dnieper-Desna culture who may have contributed in part to the foundation of the broader Dnieper-Donets I culture

For about the same time period, three human bones are uncovered in the final layer for the Ozerki 17 residence (mentioned for 8000 BC). Their owners are not related to the occupants of the residence and the site itself has recently been submerged by rising water levels (with that water possibly being the cause of the bones being at the top of the archaeological layers, having been shifted).

The nearest contemporary settlement is half a kilometre away. These people primarily eat mushrooms rather than fish from the waterways.

c.6300 BC

The Ivannovskoje 7 site is located thirty kilometres to the north-east of Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, on the shore of a post-glacial lake which later silts up and becomes swampy.

Butovo culture stone tools
These stone tools - fragments of polished slate axes - are dated to the early phase of the Butovo culture and come from the Stanovoje 4 archaeological site

Five cultural layers are found at the site, including one each from the three Butovo phases down to and beyond 6300 BC. The fourth layer belongs to the later Upper Volga Ceramic culture, and the fifth to the even-later Lyalovo Ceramic culture, revealing a continuation of occupation across several periods.

c.6000 BC

Groups from Eastern Europe's Butovo and Northern Europe's Kunda have already migrated southwards to the plains on the eastern side of the River Dnieper to form the Dnieper-Donets I, Azov-Dnieper, and Mariupol cultures. In the forests of the north the Butovo is succeeded by the Volga-Oka cultures.

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