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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Tarnowian and Witowian Cultures (Upper Palaeolithic / Upper Mesolithic) (Poland)
c.14,000 - 8800 BC

FeatureThe Federmesser name serves as a form of classification for a widely-spread group of similar, contemporary forms of Stone Age technology on the Northern European plain in this period. Examples of these forms of technology can be found across a broad sweep of Europe from coastal Belgium, across northern Germany, and into Poland, and also in Doggerland (see feature link).

The Federmesser, or Federmesser-Gruppen, comes from a German word which means 'quill knife' to describe the period's characteristic small-backed flint blades which were popular alongside large trapezes and obliquely blunted blades. The Federmesser people occupied caves where available, along with open sites where not (or even both together). This Upper Palaeolithic (Late Old Stone Age) archaeological grouping superseded the widespread Magdalenian culture.

Dates given for this grouping seem to vary wildly, starting at about 14,800-12,800 BC and ending around 9800-8800 BC, perhaps hinting at the flexibility of its function as a group umbrella rather than a single specific culture.

The Tarnowian and Witowian (or Witovian) cultures of Tarnów and Witów in Early Poland are also part of the Federmesser group, while the later-starting Hamburg culture also has links. The Federmesser is closely related to the Tjongerian culture, and both have been suggested in some quarters as being part of a more generalised Azilian culture. The Federmesser was eventually succeeded by the Ahrensburg culture which existed alongside it for about three millennia.

Glacier ice retreat

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The (re-) population of northern France between 13,000 and 8000 BP, J-G Rozoy (L G Straus, Trans, Quaternary International, Vol 49j/50, 1998), from Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds, A W R Whittle (Cambridge University Press, 1996), and from External Link: Creswellian & Federmesser (Oxford Reference).)

c.13,000 BC

Hamburg culture, which has links to the Federmesser, now spreads over an area which includes modern northern Germany, Poland, southern Sweden, and Britain (as the Creswellian in the latter), and part of the North Sea (usually known as Doggerland).

Retreating ice sheet
The retreat of the glacial ice sheet allowed first plants and then animals to migrate into the region, closely followed by the first hunter-gatherers

9000s BC

By this date, what will become the countries of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and 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 Kunda culture of the Early Baltics which is a development of the earlier Swiderian culture which is located to the south. The other is the Magdalenian-driven Ahrensburg culture which is located in north-western Germany and Denmark, which probably enriches the Kunda culture.

FeatureTraditional scholarly belief has these hunter-gatherers migrating from the southern Baltics and farther east, but a more recent idea suggests that while this is correct for the Baltics, 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.

Map of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea about 9000 BC
The Baltic Ice Lake on Poland's northern border was entirely cut off from the Atlantic Ocean until the ice began to recede and rising water levels broke through around 8200 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Settlements at Eiguliai and Puvotsiai among others testify to the fact that hunter-gathers are present in Lithuania from as early as the eleventh millennium BC as the ice retreat leaves this land free to be accessed.

c.8800 BC

Dates are highly speculative for this period. Having succeeded the earlier Magdalenian culture, the general Federmesser grouping (and certainly by now the Tarnowian and Witowian) give way to the already-active Ahrensburg culture.

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