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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Maglemosian Culture (Mesolithic) (Northern Europe)
c.9000 - 6000 BC

The Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic in Europe (and more specifically Northern Europe) emerged about a millennium after the wide-ranging Magdalenian had faded, and more directly it succeeded the Ahrensburg culture. Succeeding that in turn (around 11,000 BC) were the Swiderian - which was centred around modern Poland - and the Fosna-Hensbacka in Scandinavia.

The Swiderian faded around 8200 BC, but by then the Maglemosian (or Maglemosean) had already emerged across areas of northern and Central Europe. It was largely focussed on Denmark, northern Germany, the lost plains of Doggerland, and eastern Britain. It derived from large elements of the soon-to-appear Sauveterrian, then feeding elements into the later-starting but still contemporary Tardenoisian, but with a strong admixture which was all its own.

Just like preceding cultures, Maglemosian people focused their efforts on hunting red deer, wild cattle, and marine mammals. In fact, on the recently de-glaciated North European Plain, they were able to increase and improve those efforts.

The archaeology for this culture was defined in the Magle Mose bogland area of Zealand, in the Netherlands. Its lithic industry is characterised by the presence of axes, obliquely blunted points, and flints. The presence of microliths and axes serves to differentiate its assemblages from those of the Upper Palaeolithic.

Sites in northern Britain which have Maglemosian characteristics are culturally distinct from local non-Maglemosian lowland sites. Most Maglemosian sites represent summer and autumn lakeshore settlements, some with small individual or nuclear-family hut floors. Both the hunting of forest species such as aurochs, elk, red deer, and roe deer, and the consumption of marine or lacustrine resources such as fish, shellfish, and seals, are reflected in faunal remains and artefacts.

In addition to a stone industry which consists of chipped-core axes and microliths such as lunates and backed bladelets, Maglemosian sites have yielded wooden paddles, net weights, nets, floats, canoes, fishhooks, barbed and notched points and harpoons, and even nutshells due to the excellent organic preservation of wet sites.

FeatureThe culture concluded as the North Sea finished swallowing Doggerland (see feature link). This area still contains much to be discovered but, as it is under deep water aside from a few banks, finding that material is a tricky prospect.

Mesolithic stone tools

Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information 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), and from External Links: Mesolithic Culture of Europe (PDF, Vidya Mitra Integrated E-Content Portal), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu).)

c.9000 BC

As a steadily-improving continuance of the post-glacial Hamburg, Ahrensburg, and Swiderian cultures, the people of the Maglemosian culture increasingly focus their efforts on hunting red deer, wild cattle, and marine mammals.

Cultures in the temperate forests of Europe, such as the Azilian, Montadian, and soon-to-appear Sauveterrian furnish evidence of the deliberate and organised exploitation of forest resources, including acorns, hazelnuts, wild cattle, boar, fallow deer, red deer, and ibex.

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)

By this date, what will become the countries of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, along with Prussia, are all being settled by hunter-gather tribes which all share the same cultural traces, with occupation coming as the ice sheets retreat northwards.

These people belong to two groups, one being the regionally-dominant Swiderian which is now entering the early Baltics while leaving areas of early Poland empty of humans for up to three hundred years. Groups from the early Maglemosian culture eventually intrude to rediscover abandoned Swiderian resources.

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.6150 BC

FeatureAlmost the last vestiges of the Dogger Hills are submerged beneath the rising waters of the North Sea. Hunter-gatherer communities have been living a semi-nomadic life on the sweeping plains of grass which formerly had stretched from the east coast of Britain up to the Shetland Islands and across to Scandinavia (an area known as Doggerland) since the end of the last ice age, around 10,500 BC (see feature link).

They had lived in family groups in huts and had hunted animals such as deer and wild boar until slowly rising water levels had increasingly forced them to retreat to higher ground, land which today forms Britain or continental Europe.

British Isles map about 10,500 BC
The rising water levels began to remake the coastline, from what's seen here around 10,500 BC to the much-reduced coastline of today's British Isles

While initially dated roughly to 6500 BC, more recent archaeology has pinpointed a very precise date of 6150 BC for a disaster which is related to disappearance of Doggerland. This takes the form of a catastrophic tsunami.

By this time, Doggerland is already little more than a mass of islands which are divided by the encroaching North Sea waters. To the north, layers of sand and boulders have built up during the ice age along the coast of Norway, under the water on the edge of the continental shelf.

Professor David Tappin, marine geologist for the British Geological Survey, points to a geological scar on the ocean floor as proof that an earthquake strikes the region, sending a two-hundred mile-long section of sediment (the size of Iceland) crashing down onto the sea floor.

Stregga slide deposits
Deposits which were formed by the Storegga slide and the tsunami it generated are shown in the light grey layer which is bracketed top and bottom by darker grey peat deposits

Now known as the Storegga Slide, the slide displaces millions of tons of sea water to create a massive tsunami which strikes Iceland, Greenland, North America, and also Britain's eastern coastline as far south as the Humber. It wipes out coastal settlements by the score.

c.6000 BC

The Lake Agassiz flood from an ice dam in North America's Archaic Period finishes off Doggerland, sweeping over it as sea levels are subjected to a short but intense period of rapid rising.

The water has been building up in a huge inland lake, trapped by the retreating ice. Now the ice has weakened to the point at which the water can break out, and it empties quickly into the Atlantic. Again, coastal settlements are destroyed, although not with the sudden intensity of the recent tsunami.

Maglemosian marrow-split elk bones in Denmark
Shown here is a deposit of bundled marrow-split elk bones from the LM2 area of Denmark's Maglemosian-period Lundby Mose site

The coastline of Britain and near continental Europe at the end of the Sauveterrian and Maglemosian changes remarkably, with the North Sea meeting the English Channel over the inundated grass plains of Doggerland to make Britain an island.

c.6000 BC

The Maglemosian culture of Northern Europe is ended by the Lake Agassiz ice dam flood and Britain is now isolated from access on foot, cutting it off from all but boat travel. The Kongemose succeeds the Maglemosian in Denmark and the south-western tip of Sweden, while the Janislavice continues on its eastern flank.

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