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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Dnieper-Desna Culture (Mesolithic) (Eastern Europe)
c.8500 - 5000 BC
Incorporating the Grensk Culture, Pesotchniy Rov Culture, & Sozh Culture

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 Dnieper-Desna culture emerged during the early Mesolithic period across a great swathe of the middle Russian upland and upper Dnieper. Often truncated simply to 'Desna', it is differentiated by general consensus into smaller units which are labelled the Grensk, Pesotchniy Rov, and Sozh cultures. All three of these were located to the north of the contemporary Darkveti and Zimivikvisk cultures, although the former can only barely be described as contemporary.

The Sozh culture gained its name from the eponymous left-bank tributary of the Dnieper which flows first through Russia, then Gomel, the second largest city in Belarus, and finally Ukraine. The Grensk culture was immediately to the north of the Sozh, while the Pesotchniy Riv (or Pesochniy Riv) was located immediately to its south.

It should be pointed out that many of the region's archaeological sites contain materials which often represent two, and often more than two, of the local archaeological cultures. This includes stratified sites from which datable material can be extracted. Dates for the Desna culture have it emerging around 8500 BC and lasting to about 5000 BC. These dates are of course approximate, and can vary depending upon archaeological findings and interpretations.

This dating and its general location along the Dnieper and its tributary, the Desna, means that it was most likely on the migratory trail for groups from the Butovo and Kunda cultures to the north. Around 6500-6000 BC there seems to have been a movement of Butovo and Kunda people towards the plains on the eastern side of the River Dnieper. There the Dnieper-Donets I culture soon emerged as a key step towards the formation of proto-Indo-Europeans.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by ChatGPT 3.5 (dates and base notes only), 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: The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023), and A problem of the bullet shaped cores: a global perspective, Karol Szymczak (University of Warsaw, 2002, and available via Academia.edu), and 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.8500 BC

The Dnieper-Desna culture emerges during the early Mesolithic period across a great swathe of the middle Russian upland and upper Dnieper which reaches into the northernmost areas of Ukraine. It can be archaeologically differentiated into smaller units which are labelled the Grensk, Pesotchniy Rov, and Sozh cultures.

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.

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.

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

c.6500 BC

Groups from the Butovo and Kunda cultures to the north 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.

c.5000 BC

Eastern Europe's Dnieper-Desna culture fades in its homeland between Ukraine and western Russia. Its direct successor is unclear, but the Kiev-Cherkask may well absorb Pesotchniy Rov aspects, and the broader Dnieper Donets II may suck in the rest.

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