History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Janislavice Culture (Mesolithic) (Central & Eastern Europe)
c.8200 - 2800 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.

Changes of living space seem to be particularly highly traceable in Ukraine's north-western Polissya region. People of the Swiderian and late Ahrensburg cultures would have found this reindeer-dominated landscape of pine and birch forest to be very familiar, interspersed as it also was with swampy and steppe-like spaces. These hunters and their families transmigrated here several times from what is now Poland, beginning in the Younger Dryas period of about 9000-8000 BC.

Unlike the people of the Bilolissya, these newcomers remained for a longer period of time, until the middle of the Preboreal, around 7500-7200 BC. Throughout this time they preserved their mode of life based on the collective hunting of reindeer. The flint industry of most of their sites displays traditional tool processing traits from both traditions.

People of the Molodova-Kichkine culture migrated from the middle Dniester region to the Crimean foothills during the period at and after the end of the Younger Dryas (and by about 6400 BC) for much the same reason of improved hunting grounds.

Later, at the end of the Proboreal and beginning of the Boreal (around 7100 BC), the same situation can be supposed to be true for the appearance of traditions which belonged to the Komornica and Janislavice (Janisławice in Polish or Yanislavitse in Russian) in the Ukrainian Polissya region. Both cultures are characterised by their hunter-gatherer lifestyles and distinctive flint tools.

The Janislavice is believed to have emerged in Early Poland during the early to mid-Holocene period, roughly around 8300-7200 BC and on the eastern edge of the Maglemosian. Precise start and finish dates can vary slightly depending upon the specific region and archaeological evidence, although the given dates are generally acceptable. Sometimes categorised as the Janislavice technocomplex or the Vistula cycle, the culture was labelled by Stefan K Kozłowski in 1964 for the Janislavice site near Skierniewice.

Flint artefacts were made using local Cretaceous flint which is fairly abundant in the moraine deposits in the south-east of the Kaliningrad oblast, including from the Vishtynetskaya 1 site on the north-western shore of Lake Vistytis. Small flint pebbles have been noted at many places on the modern lake's shoreline.

These flint artefacts have many similar late Mesolithic versions of them in today's neighbouring countries. Characteristic of the Janislavice culture is its single platform cores for blades, and quantities of irregular scrapers, trapezes, narrow scalene triangles, and microburins. Features such as conical blade cores, numerous end scrapers, numerous burins, Stawinoga-type backed pieces, and retouched microblade inserts are specific to the northern Janislavice group, which has enough differences from its southern group (which entered Ukraine) to be labelled a 'Northern Janisławice' culture.

Some finds bear similarities with artefacts from the Neman culture (from 5100 BC), although they appear to have been locally produced. The possibility cannot be excluded that a dune which was suitable for a settlement was visited by people of both cultures but, even if the finds are divided typologically, it is impossible to distinguish a normal artefact assemblage at this site either for the Janislavice or Neman cultures.

This, however, makes it possible to propose a hypothesis in which contact between people of the 'Northern Janislavice' and those of the later Neman occurred at this location and resulted in the formation of the aforementioned assemblages, which have some features of each of them but lack important cultural identifiers such as Wieliszew-type points and tanged points.

If such contact actually did occur then it is is possible to follow the change in hunting weapons, where trapezes and slotted bone points with flint inserts begin to replace traditional arrowheads. However, more finds are needed to resolve this question. The Maksimonys group, long held to be part of the Janislavice along the middle Niemen and Biebrza basins, has been proposed as a culture in its own right due to yet more tool differences appearing there.

As for the southern Janislavice group, single finds which can be connected to the Central European lowland (such as those from the Janislavice) can also be found on the Pontic steppe, displaying some expansion - possibly only short-lived - southwards from the Polissya region. This region hosted various other cultures, including the Sozh and Pesotchniy Riv along the Desna, plus the Zimivikvisk and Darkveti.

The fact should be underlined that, in the many sites in the area including stratified ones for which datable material can be extracted, such finds can often represent two, and often more than two, of the local archaeological cultures.

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), from Mesolithic in Poland. A new approach, Stefan K Kozłowski (Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 1989), 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 Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and Steppe Ancestry Chronology (Indo-European.eu), and The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016), and The new excavation at Vishtynetskaya 1 on Lake Vistytis, Mikhail G Zhilin (Lithuanian Archaeology, 2926, 42:9-24, and available from CEEOL), and Mesolithic Settlements of the Ukrainian Steppes: migration as sociocultural response to a changing world, Olena Smyntyna (January 2013), and The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023), and Radiocarbon Chronology of the Final Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic of Crimea, Ukraine, in the Archaeological and Palaeoecological Contexts, A A Yanevich (Vita Antiqua 11, 2019, Archaeology, Museum & Monument Studies: educational and research aspects, 116-137), and A hunter from 8,000 years ago (Polish Newsweek, 10 January 2014, in Polish).)

c.8200 BC

The Janislavice culture is believed to emerge in what is now Poland, during the early-to-mid-Holocene period and on the eastern edge of the Maglemosian culture, roughly around 8300-7200 BC, seemingly as a descendant of the Swiderian culture.

Swiderian tools
The development of complex projectile weapon systems such as the bow and arrow allowed Swiderian hunters to tackle a variety of new terrestrial species, as well as birds and arboreal game

Around this time the broad swathe of the Swiderian is breaking up into several early Mesolithic descendant cultures, with some of its people to be found in Ukraine's north-western Polissya region. The similar Bilolissya, Molodova-Kichkine, Shan Koba, and Shpan cultures also exist in Ukraine.

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.7200 BC

By this time at least some of the people of the Janislavice and Komornica cultures have followed or absorbed the late Swiderian people in Ukraine's north-western Polissya region. Unlike the people of the Bilolissya, these others have remained in this region since first entering it for its improved hunting and foraging options.

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

Throughout this time they have preserved their mode of life based on the collective hunting of reindeer. The flint industry of most of their sites displays traditional tool processing traits from both early traditions: Swiderian and Ahrensburg.

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.6400 BC

People of the Molodova-Kichkine culture have been migrating from the middle Dniester region to the Crimean foothills thanks to the now-ended Younger Dryas cold snap (and by about 6400 BC) for similar improved hunting grounds to those occupied by the Janislavice hunters.

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.5200 - 5000 BC

On the southern flank of the Janislavice, after several centuries of resistance, a new herding economy is adopted by the Bug-Dniester culture from the Criş culture and its successor, the Cucuteni-Tripolye.

It then diffuses very rapidly across most of the Pontic-Caspian steppe as far east as the Volga and Ural rivers. This revolutionary event transforms not just the economy but also the rituals and politics of the steppe societies which include the pre-proto-Indo-Europeans.

Possibly not coincidentally this shift occurs at the height of Earth's post-glacial thermal maximum, the Atlantic period. This phase lasts between 6000-4000 BC, and is at its warmest during the Late Atlantic (palaeo-climactic zone A3) beginning around 5200 BC.

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

Riverine forests in the steppe valleys contract due to increased levels of warmth and dryness, and grasslands expand. In the forest-steppe uplands, majestic forests of elm, oak, and lime trees spread from the Carpathians to the Urals by 5000 BC.

c.5100 BC

Janislavice people in and around today's Kaliningrad, including the Lake Vistytis area, are using tools which begin to show some differences from those of the same Janislavice culture in north-western Ukraine.

This northern Janislavice group exhibits enough differences to be labelled a 'Northern Janisławice' culture, perhaps through contact with the newly-emergent Neman culture. The Maksimonys group of the middle Niemen and Biebrza basins also shows enough differences to be thought of as a separate culture.

Janislavice culture stone and bone tools
The oldest well-preserved skeleton in Poland was discovered in the grave of a hunter from the Janislavice culture of about 6000 BC, later to be exhibited in Poland as the 'Man from Janisławice' at the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw

c.3000 BC

The long-surviving Janislavice is undergoing a gradual process of disappearance across the fourth and third millennia BC as Neolithic farming practices take hold and the old hunter ways become outmoded.

Janislavice archaeological elements decline to be replaced by new elements which come in from various directions. This can be associated with the Neolithic spread and, more directly, with the Funnelbeaker and Globular Amphora cultures.

c.2800 BC

At an uncertain point around this time (plus or minus a couple of centuries) the Janislavice of Central Europe disappears in favour of the full regional adoption of Neolithic Farmer cultures. The commencement of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) sees the area become part of the Globular Amphora culture.

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