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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Swiderian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Northern Europe)
c.11,000 - 8200 BC

This crossover between 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. The Swiderian culture (also noted in English as the Sviderian or Swederian) was centred around modern Poland, with a type-site at Świdry Wielkie, in Otwock near the River Swider which is a tributary of the Vistula.

Blade production by pressure technique is a marker of a particular craft tradition which emerged in the Mongolian area around 18,000 BC, during the wide-ranging Solutrean cultural period with which the Swiderian has an indirect relationship. It migrated westwards during the last glacial maximum, reaching the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia in the Mesolithic period.

In the European north the deer-hunting Swiderian people had developed their culture on the post-glacial sand dunes of Early Poland. They later migrated north-eastwards during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition, around the period between the 10,000s BC and the 9000s BC, to follow the retreating ice at the end of the Younger Dryas cold spell and the tundra zone which emerged in its wake.

Swiderian people were central to this transition period. Morphological similarities in the Swiderian's tanged points with those of the subsequent Kunda and Butovo cultures supports this idea of groups migrating northwards at this time. Both these cultures emerged as developed replacements for the Swiderian. Ukrainian archaeologist L Zalizniak asserted that these and other post-Swiderian cultures were virtually continuations of the Swiderian. Others, though, reject this idea.

Three periods can be distinguished. The crude flint blades of the early Swiderian are to be found in the area of Nowy Mlyn in the vicinity of the Holy Cross Mountains (Świętokrzyskie Mountains) of southern-central Poland. The 'Developed Swiderian' appeared with their migrations to the north, with this being characterised by the appearance of tanged blades. The late Swiderian is characterised by blades which have a blunted back.

The 'developed' stage separates the north-western European cultural province (today's Belgium, Netherlands, north-western Germany, Denmark, and Norway) from Near Eastern cultural influence which at this time still embraced Silesia, 'Brandenburgia', Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, central Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea.

Recent radiocarbon dates prove that some Swiderian groups fully evacuated the Polish plain, as is attested by a three hundred year-long gap between the last Palaeolithic occupation and the earliest Mesolithic occupation. The oldest Mesolithic site is at Chwalim in western Silesia which outdates Mesolithic sites in central and north-eastern Poland by about a century and-a-half.

From this it can be seen that the early Mesolithic population progressed inwards from the west after this settlement break, and then gradually migrated towards the east. These new arrivals had not yet located the best local flint materials for their stone assemblages, something which helps to confirm their unfamiliarity with the region.

Many of the earliest Mesolithic sites in Finland are post-Swiderian, including the Ristola site in Lahti and the 'Saarenoja 2' site in Joutseno with their imported flint lithics, as well as the Sujala site in Utsjoki in the province of Lapland. The Sujala materials originated in the Varanger peninsula in northern Norway which may have emerged out of the Fosna-Hensbacka culture. Ultimately the Swiderian did fade and was replaced by the Kunda, the Butovo, and eventually by the Dnieper-Donets culture.

Homo Neanderthalis

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), and Ristola Stone Age Settlement Site (Visit Lahti Lakeland, Finland).)

c.11,000 BC

Europe's relatively short-lived post-Magdalenian culture, the Ahrensburg, fades around 11,000 BC to be succeeded in eastern Central Europe and Eastern Europe by the Swiderian culture (plus possible offshoots in the Ienevo and Resseta cultures). The Bromme survives for longer, but this also eventually fades to leave the local Swiderian dominant.

By this date Northern Europe is settled by proto-Baltic hunter-gather tribes which all share the same cultural traces and belong to two groups - the regionally-dominant Baltic Kunda (Kunden) culture and the Magdalenian-driven Ahrensburg culture (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.9600 BC

It is Swiderian groups which venture eastwards which now create the basis for the Butovo culture of the Volga river system. This culture outlasts the Swiderian by two millennia.

c.9000 BC

During the Magdalenian, around 14,000 BC, the melting northern glaciers had begun to release their combined meltwater in a torrential surge which had flowed south into the Caspian basin. The late ice-age Khvalynian Sea had soon formed to restrict any east-west movement south of the Ural Mountain range.

The Khvalynian Sea had separated already noticeably-different late-glacial forager cultures which have been prospering to the east and west of the range, although by 9000 BC the floodwaters have receded noticeably.

This east-west separation produces a persistent cultural frontier, with western foragers soon being more open to accepting domesticated animals from Neolithic Farmer cultures (from the late sixth millennium BC) while those to the east reject them for much longer.

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

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. Swiderian hunters also enter the Ukraine of the Molodova-Kichkine and Shpan cultures, and the Crimea of the Shan Koba culture in their search for game.

FeatureTraditional scholarly belief has Swiderian hunter-gatherers migrating from the southern Baltics and farther east, but a more recent idea suggests that while this is correct for the Baltics, areas of Finland and northern Scandinavia are also first inhabited via the sweeping grass plains of Doggerland (now under the North Sea - see feature link) and its dominant Federmesser culture, of which the Tarnowian and Witowian are Polish regional expressions.

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

c.8600 BC

The first settlers of Ristola (now in Finland) would seem to arrive around this time (and by 8200 BC at the latest). Their settlement is on the water line, at the far end of a fjord-like bay which extends deep inland. This fjord, the nearby river mouth, and the surrounding forest all provide resources which means less travelling to hunt for them.

Owing to land uplift as the ice melts, the sea gradually recedes so that today the site is over a hundred kilometres inland. Ristola is eventually abandoned even by its early Mesolithic inhabitants. Resettlement only happens much later, at the end of the Mesolithic, and by people of the Corded Ware culture.

c.8200 BC

A little over three hundred years after the emergence of the Kunda culture and during the fading of the 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.

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)

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 and serves to create the basis for today's Baltic Sea.

8200 BC

The Kunda culture is Northern Europe's first regionally-dominant modern human culture in the Baltics. It emerges during the final centuries of the Swiderian to neighbour the Butovo in the upper Volga forest zone as the first regionally-dominant culture of the northern reaches of Eastern Europe. Possibly the lower Volga's Seroglazovka is also related.

The Maglemosian dominates elsewhere, largely across north-western Europe and into Britain. Other cultures replace the Swiderian to the west, while the Bilolissya, Molodova-Kichkine, Shan Koba, and Shpan continue in Ukraine.

The Fosna-Hensbacka flourishes in Scandinavia, while the Janislavice culture emerges in Poland and north-western Ukraine.

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