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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Eastern 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 appears and increases 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 which began with the Iron Gates culture in the Balkans and the Shan Koba culture in Crimea, but soon extended into the Caucasus.

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 Iron Gates Culture
(c.13,000 - 6000 BC)

The Iron Gates culture appeared at the very start of the Mesolithic period in Eastern Europe, in the Iron Gates region of today's Romania and Serbia.

King list Shan Koba Culture
(c.13,000 - 5700? BC)

The Shan Koba culture appeared in the Epi-Palaeolithic as it was transitioning into the early Mesolithic, located in the Crimean part of the Black Sea steppe zone.

King list Anetivka Tradition
(c.11,700? - 8000? BC)

Human groups along the centre of the southern Ukrainian coast were part of the Epigravettian-led Anetivka flint-knapping technology of the late Palaeolithic.

King list Caucasus Cultures
(c.11,200 BC)

Just as Eastern Europe blosomed in terms of localised Mesolithic cultures, the Caucasus mountain range also experienced its own wave of cultures.

King list Shpan Culture
(c.10,000 - 6000 BC)

Human groups of the Shpan hunter-gatherer culture survived in Mesolithic southern Ukraine alongside a large array of similar specialised cultures.

King list Tash-Air Culture
(c.10,000 - 5000 BC)

The Tash-Air emerged in Crimea, proceeding from Mesolithic to early Neolithic forager groups before eventually giving way to true Neolithic farming cultures.

King list Butovo Culture
(c.9600 - 6000 BC)

The wide-ranging Butovo culture was part of the North-Eastern Technocomplex, emerging in a Swiderian-dominated Europe as the post-glacial ice retreated.

King list Molodova-Kichkine Culture
(c.9500 - 4500 BC)

Its traditional hunting and gathering economy probably caused the transmigration of part of the Molodova culture from the Middle Dniester to the Crimean foothills.

King list Yangelka Culture
(c.9500 - 6000 BC)

This was a unique culture in its own right, with stone tools which were characterised by obliquely blunted points, but also with several linked cultures to the west.

King list Bilolissya Culture
(c.9000? - 6900? BC)

The Bilolissya appears to have left no serious impact on later cultures, instead being viewed as an infiltration into the Ukrainian steppe.

King list Kizil-Koba (I) Culture
(c.9000 - 6000 BC)

The Kizil-Koba population engaged in a subsistence economy which was based on hunting, fishing, gathering, and very early forms of agriculture.

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