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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Komsa Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Scandinavia)
c.10,000 - 8000 BC

The Epi-Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic Komsa culture emerged in Northern Europe as part of the greater Fosna-Hensbacka. It was distributed along the coast of northern Norway as a northwards extension of the Ahrensberg when hunter-gatherers were able to follow the receding coastal ice sheet. These hunters likely followed the exposed coastline northwards from Doggerland or Jutland.

Known in Norway as the Komsakulturen, it gained its name from Mount Komsa in the Alta region of Finnmark, close to which the remnants of this culture were first discovered. The label was first applied by the Norwegian archaeologist, Anders Nummedal (1867-1944) thanks to discoveries he made in 1925. The identification of Mesolithic artefacts this far north triggered international attention at the time, and Nummedal became a central figure in archaeology.

The original distinction between this culture and Fosna artefacts lay in the former being located inside the Arctic Circle. Today that differentiation is obsolete (and has been since the 1970s), with them being viewed as the same culture but with variations in lithic tool types.

More recent finds in Finnish Lapland were originally thought to demonstrate an inland occupation by people of the Komsa, even though it is generally thought of as a coastal culture. The region is very poorly understood in terms of its archaeology, but the finds are agreed to be post-Swiderian, from a culture which was contemporary with the Komsa's late days. Most likely this was the Kunda or Butovo, or possibly the Veretye.

No doubt able boat-builders, Komsa people lived mainly by seal hunting and fishing. In comparison with the Fosna variant of this joint culture, Komsa stone tools and other implements appear to be relatively crude. This can be (and has been) explained by the lack of good quality flint in northern Norway.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: Norway (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and People, material culture and environment in the north (proceedings of the 22nd Nordic Archaeological Conference, University of Oulu, 18-23 August 2004), and Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and North-Eastern Technocomplex (Indo-Europeans and Uralic Peoples), and Alta Museum.)

c.10,000 BC

The Komsa culture emerges in the Alta region of Finnmark, now a northern part of Norway. Initially thought by archaeologists to be a purely local culture, it is later linked to the Fosna-Hensbacka culture in the south as a northwards expression of that. Hunters have been following the recently deglaciated Norwegian coast to find these 'new' northern lands.

Komsa lithic tools
Anders Nummedal reckoned that the premise of prehistoric human settlements along ancient shorelines also had to be valid in the northern parts of Norway so, in 1925, he arrived in Finnmark to carry out his first excavations in Langfjorden

c.8200 BC

A little over three hundred years after the emergence of the Kunda culture and during the fading of the preceding Swiderian, the waters of the ice-damned Baltic Ice Lake penetrate the region of the Billingen Mountains to form a link with the Atlantic Ocean.

As a result of this sudden levelling of local water levels the Yoldia Sea drops rapidly, by about thirty metres. This retreat is so sudden that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe. It probably also has a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area.

The Komsa culture, though, is located far to the north even of this northern event, and is unlikely to be at all touched by it. Coastal areas of the Kunda itself likely recover relatively quickly.

Map of Scandinavia 9000 BC
This map shows the approximate location of the ice sheet at about 9000 BC, and approximate routes of migration for the first human populations to live here (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.8000 BC

The Komsa culture of Northern Europe has served as an early expression along the coast of northern Norway for the Fosna-Hensbacka culture. That has been flourishing for the past three centuries, and the Komsa now gives way to it.

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