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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Central Europe

The pre-history of Europe is a long and largely uncertain period in which small windows of opportunity to view events can be gained through archaeology. Masses of material are found each year by archaeologists, and a system was long ago needed to help organise all these findings.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right). Archaeological cultures remain the framework for global prehistory.

Europe's earliest cultures which came out of Africa via the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue. These early cultures include transitional ones such as the Bohunician, which covers part of the earliest occupation of modern humans in Europe.

Once the ice had retreated and Europe had become a much more hospitable place, human cultures became increasingly regionalised, or at least confined to areas less expansive than the entirety of Europe. The Magdalenian culture of circa 17,000 to 12,000 BC includes the well-known cave art of Lescaux (in France) and Altamira (in Spain), with the earliest dated sites being in France.

Subsequently, cultural complexity appeared and increased as human populations increased. What had been a single human culture across Europe eventually divided in two which - at least at first - can be equated to Northern Europe and Southern Europe.

In the south the late Palaeolithic Epigravettian culture emerged across much of Italy, the Balkans, and western Ukraine. When this entered the Mesolithic period regional variations had already begun to appear, sparking the start of a series of local cultures in Eastern Europe. The emergence of other localised cultures in Western Europe and Central Europe further complicated the wash of intermixing and intermingling cultures, seemingly starting with the Janislavice.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by David Reich (Harvard Medical School), from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016), and Dietary Change from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages in the Iron Gates, C Bonsall (Lead Author, Cambridge University Press, 18 July 2016).)


King list Janislavice Culture
(c.8200 - 2800 BC)

The Janislavice is believed to have emerged in early Poland during the early to mid-Holocene period, roughly around 8300-7200 BC, before extending into Ukraine.

King list Bell Beaker Culture
(c.2800 - 2300 BC)

The Bell Beaker started out as an horizon rather than a culture, emerging in Iberia before expanding into Germany to meet West Indo-Europeans.

King list Urnfield Culture
(c.1300 - 750 BC)

This is the label which is given to the earliest recognisably proto-Celtic group in Europe, which arose gradually to the north of the Alps.

King list Hallstatt Culture
(c.800 - 450 BC)

This was the first true Celtic culture - a direct continuation of the Urnfield culture - and it was exported outwards into western, southern, and Eastern Europe.

King list La Tène Culture
(c.450 BC - 52 BC)

This 'second wave' of Celts was made up of P-Celtic speakers who very quickly followed the migratory trail to settle in areas which later became known as Gaul.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.