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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Northern 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 north a series of cultures proceeded through the Federmesser, Hamburg, Ahrensburg, Bromme, and Sauveterrian. By that time many more regional variations and localised cultures had emerged in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, and Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds).)


King list Federmesser Culture
(c.14,000 - 8800 BC)

The word 'federmesser' is a German word meaning 'quill knife' to describe the period's characteristic small-backed flint blades in this umbrella culture.

King list Tarnowian & Witowian
(c.14,000 - 8800 BC)

When free of ice and tundra, today's Poland witnessed two Upper Palaeolithic cultures which were part of the greater Federmesser-Gruppen.

King list Hamburg Culture
(c.13,500 - 11,100 BC)

Starting from an initial phase, the Federmesser-related Hamburg culture spread over an area which covered much of Northern Europe.

King list Eastern European Cultures
(c.13,000 BC)

The late Palaeolithic Epigravettian culture sparked the appearance of a series of local cultures during Eastern Europe's Mesolithic period.

King list Ahrensburg & Bromme
(c.12,000 - 9800 BC)

The Hamburg-related Ahrensburg culture lasted just a millennium, while the highly similar Bromme culture prospered almost twice as long.

King list Baltic Cultures
(c.12,000 BC)

Over about fifteen hundred years the ice sheet gradually exposed Lithuania's territory, allowing in humans to hunt there and eventually settle.

King list Swiderian Culture
(c.11,000 - 8200 BC)

In the European north the deer-hunting Swiderian people developed their culture on the post-glacial sand dunes of early Poland.

King list British Isles Cultures
(c.10,000 BC)

As the ice age faded in intensity and the ice receded northwards, anatomically modern human hunter-gatherers reach Britain.

King list Scandinavia Cultures
(c.10,000 BC)

Around 8300 BC the Fosna-Hensbacka culture emerged in Scandinavia, almost the region's earliest native culture apart from the related Komsa in the north.

King list Maglemosian Culture
(c.9000 - 6000 BC)

Across northern and western Europe, most Maglemosian sites represent summer and autumn lakeshore settlements, some with small individual or family hut floors.

King list Poland Cultures
(c.9000 BC)

Poland's early history of archaeological cultures stretches back to a connection with the Tarnowian Palaeolithic period, but contains many later cultures too.

King list Kunda Culture
(c.8500 - 5000 BC)

The term Kunda is used to denote this largely Mesolithic cultural tradition which emerged across Estonia, northern Latvia, and north-western Russia.

King list Central European Cultures
(c.8200 BC)

With the break-up of the Swiderian culture, various daughter cultures began to appear across Central Europe, signifying the formation of a true melting pot of cultures.

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