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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Kunden / Kunda Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Northern Europe)
c.8500 - 5000 BC

The Kunda culture (or Kunden) was Northern Europe's first regionally-dominant modern human culture in the Baltics. It emerged during the final centuries of the Swiderian culture as hunter-gatherers pushed northwards from Early Poland, following both the retreating ice and the migrating animals they hunted.

As the Swiderian faded out and other cultures replaced it to the south and west, the Kunda became dominant in the Baltic states and farther north-westwards where it abutted the Suomusjärvi culture. Given finds which show the northwards movement of Swiderian groups to almost fully evacuate the Polish plain, the Kunda and other post-Swiderian groups such as the Butovo have been described by some as being a direct continuation of the Swiderian. Equally, others reject this idea.

The term 'Kunda' is used to denote this largely Mesolithic cultural tradition which emerged at the crossover from the Palaeolithic to spread across Estonia, northern Latvia, and neighbouring regions of north-western Russia into which it expanded as the ice retreated.

The type site is Kunda, which is located in northern Estonia, to the east of the city of Tallinn. The fauna to be found in this region for this period includes elk, brown bear, and beaver. Kunda-type industry comprises tanged points, standard points, and adzes. The stratified site of Narva on Estonia's eastern border has yielded faunal remains of elk, red deer, wild pig, roe deer, brown bear, and seal.

The later Mesolithic period in southern Scandinavia (between about 5500-3000 BC) which abutted the Kunda is characterised by a large series of settlements with well-preserved faunal remains. Considerable inter-site variability has been identified, in terms of the frequency of different species and the season of year in which they were exploited. Various Danish sites are likely to have been large base camps and possibly permanent settlements, located within easy access to coastal, terrestrial, and freshwater resources.

A similar range of sites is found in southern Sweden, with year-round occupation towards the end of the Kunda period. The ice retreat during the Kunda freed up huge swathes of northern land to explore and exploit, and occupation of Scandinavia was likely to be two-pronged: via Denmark and Doggerland in the south and west, and via the Kunda in the east. In and around the Baltic states, north-western Poland, far western Russia, and southern Finland this was succeeded by the Narva culture.

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: Maps of Neolithic & Bronze Age migrations around Europe (Eupedia), and Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and North-Eastern Technocomplex (Indo-Europeans and Uralic Peoples).)

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.

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 - 7100 BC

MapThe Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south (see map link for a view of Europe at this time).

c.7100 - 5800 BC

The Boreal period 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 hares increasing considerably, while the Butovo culture fades.

However, this is the period in which groups from the Butovo and Kunda cultures are migrating southwards to the plains on the eastern side of the River Dnieper to form the Dnieper-Donets I culture, which flourishes from about 6500 BC.

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

To make this trek, they are mainly passing directly through the various Dnieper-Desna territories along the Dnieper and Desna. This implies a degree of cooperation and perhaps adoption, along with the possibility that Dnieper-Desna people are drawn to join the new cultural zone.

c.5800 - 5000 BC

The beginning of the Atlantic period is characterised by a climate which is warmer than that of the present day. New species migrate into the Baltic region, including Baltic aurochs and wild boar, which inhabit forests of broad-leaved trees.

Water chestnuts grow in the many lakes, and the bountiful life draws hunter-gatherers into the area. The warmness fails towards the end of this period, causing the disappearance of aurochs, wild horses, and water chestnuts.

River Desna, near Chernihiv in Ukraine
The River Desna, a major left-bank tributary of the Dnieper as seen near Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, was home to the people of the Dnieper-Desna culture who may have contributed in part to the foundation of the broader Dnieper-Donets I culture

c.5000 BC

Having provided at least some migratory routes for peopling Scandinavia, while also providing part of the admixture for the Dnieper-Donets I, Azov-Dnieper, and Mariupol cultures to the south, the Kunda culture now fades.

It is succeeded in and around the Baltic states, north-western Poland, far western Russia, and southern Finland by the equally influential Narva culture.

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