Ales Stenar, Sweden's Stonehedge

The earliest remains of modern man in Europe is a 40,000-year-old skull of a teenage boy found in a cave in Romania. In a January 2007 article in Science, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Colorado, reported that they found human teeth, tools, carved ivory and other artifacts , dated to 40,000 to 42,000 years ago, at an archaeological site on the Dom River 400 kilometers south of Moscow. This finding shows that early modern man migrated further north than previously thought.

The second earliest fossils remains of modern man in Europe are a jaw and part of skull found in 2002 (and announced in September 2003) in Pestera cu Oasem a cave in the southwestern Carpathian mountains in Romania. Dated to 34,000 to 36,000 years ago, the specimen has a somewhat primitive jaw bone and large developed molars, leading some scientists to speculate the fossils had come from a cross breed between modern man and Neanderthal man.

It is widely assumed that cold, inhospitable weather prevented modern humans from entering Europe earlier than they did. By 35,000 years they were well established and quickly dominated and replaced Neanderthals that began declining about the same time modern humans arrived. The population shrank a great deal during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago then rebounded. The Ice Age nearly wiped out humans.

Between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago, modern humans left evidence of their presence in cave art in Lascaux cave and Chauvet Cave and other caves in France and Spain. The first sculptures appear around the same time in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Early people cleared forests and set up agricultural communities. In France, slow but steady colonization of the northeastern plains began in 6000 B.C. and the mountain massifs in 2000 B.C.

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Sources of Europeans

A Neolithic tomb in Sweden

Ann Gibbons wrote in Science: “Europeans are the descendants of at least three major migrations of prehistoric people. First, a group of hunter-gatherers arrived in Europe about 37,000 years ago. Then, farmers began migrating from Anatolia (a region including present-day Turkey) into Europe 9000 years ago, but they initially didn’t intermingle much with the local hunter-gatherers because they brought their own families with them. Finally, 5000 to 4800 years ago, nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya swept into Europe. They were an early Bronze Age culture that came from the grasslands, or steppes, of modern-day Russia and Ukraine, bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills and, possibly, Proto-Indo-European, the mysterious ancestral tongue from which all of today’s 400 Indo-European languages spring. They immediately interbred with local Europeans, who were descendants of both the farmers and hunter-gatherers. Within a few hundred years, the Yamnaya contributed to at least half of central Europeans’ genetic ancestry. [Source: Ann Gibbons, Science, February 21, 2017]

According to Popular Archaeology: “Research has shown that, beginning in the seventh millennium B.C., the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway or corridor through which Neolithic culture, including farming and animal husbandry, spread from Anatolia and the Near East. Beginning in the fifth millennium B.C., human populations in the central and eastern Balkans began developing metal-processing technologies, notably that of Copper, into a relatively large-scale industry for the first time in world history. The world’s oldest copper mines, for example, were found by archaeologists near Rudna glava, Serbia and Mechikladenets/Ai bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.” [Source: Popular Archaeology, December 12, 2012 /*/]

Genetic studies by Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, and Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College, London showed that agriculture was brought to Central Europe by immigrant farmers around 7,500 years ago. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers rapidly died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.

First Scandinavian Farmers Were Far More Advanced than We Thought

Farming started in Denmark and southern Sweden about 6,000 years ago. Research has revealed that these early farmers were far more advanced than had been previously thought. According to a study published in PLOS One in 2015, settlers from more developed regions of Central Europe moved to Denmark and Sweden, where they introduced advanced farming practices, sharing their knowledge with local hunter-gatherers over the next 300 years, transforming them into a well-developed agrarian society. [Source:Kristian Sjøgren,, August 17, 2015]

Kristian Sjøgren wrote in In the study, “researchers from England studied cow teeth dated to 3,950 BC from southern Sweden. The teeth show that the early farmers had mastered the cumbersome task of calving at different times of the year, so that milk was available all year round. “It’s very interesting that the farmers of the period were able to manipulate the calving seasons, so all the calves did not come in the spring. This is very hard to do, and would not have taken place if the farmers had not intended to do it,” says Kurt Gron, a researcher from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, UK, and lead-author on the study. “This means that the earliest farmers were highly skilled from the beginning of the Neolithic period, which suggests immigrants were instrumental in bringing pastoral agriculture to the region,” he says.

Neolithic tomb in Sweden

“Lasse Sørensen, a postdoc at the National Museum of Denmark, studies the transition of early Scandinavian society from hunter-gatherers to a culture dominated by farming. He was not involved in the new study, but he describes it as exciting work that is part of a larger discussion of the importance of agriculture for the first farmers. Until now, most researchers believed that early farming was primitive because the farmers held on to many of their hunter-gatherer traditions.

“We know that the first farmers had cows, but we do not know anything about how they managed them, and how much they still had to rely on their ancient hunter-gatherer traditions to hunt and fish,” says Sørensen. “This study points to a very advanced agriculture, and it gives us a whole new understanding of everyday life in a very interesting transition period in Scandinavian history,” he says.

“In the new study, researchers analysed the oxygen isotopes in the teeth of prehistoric cattle from Almhov, in south Sweden. The isotopes are incorporated into teeth when the young cattle drink water and the chemical signal is then preserved. Since the isotopes in their drinking water vary over the course of a year, analysing the isotopes in the cows’ teeth can tell the researchers which season the cow was born in. “This comparison allowed us to conclude that cattle were manipulated by farmers to give birth in multiple seasons,” says Gron.

“Calving in different seasons meant that farmers had access to milk all year round. According to Sørensen, this means that quite early in the Neolithic period farmers already had the techniques to make milk into yogurt or cheese. Otherwise, why would they produce milk all year round? They must also have been able to plan and collect food for the cattle to last the winter — a time when the young calves were especially vulnerable. All these things required buildings, tools, and skills that Danish hunter-gatherers were not able to either invent themselves or learn from others in such a short period. “It is a giant leap from hunter-gathering to farming, and it is so advanced that one cannot imagine that hunter-gatherers could have learned the necessary skills from newcomers or by themselves for that matter,” says Sørensen. “It takes many generations to master these techniques so these farmers must have been outsiders. Their presence has spread over the centuries and become integrated with the local populations of hunter-gatherers, who would have had to spend a lot of time learning about the agricultural techniques and the farming lifestyle,” he says.

“Søren Andersen is an archaeologist and senior scientist at Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, and studies early farming societies. Andersen does not agree that the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers happened so suddenly. He suggests it developed gradually — and contrary to the new study — was not introduced by a sudden influx of large groups of immigrants from the south. He does not believe that the scientists behind the new research have proven adequately that the teeth are actually from 3950 B.C., and not, for example, 200 years later. If the teeth are 200 years younger, then this puts them in a period in which all researchers agree that the agricultural revolution was well established in southern Scandinavia. In which case, it would not be so strange for people to manipulate calving times.

““Before the results can be credible, there must be no doubt that the teeth come from the time that the researchers say they do. I believe, however, this has not been proven,” says Andersen. “In addition, researchers come up with evidence from several settlements to say that it was a widespread phenomenon. I remain sceptical until I see evidence that migrants brought agriculture to southern Scandinavia,” says Andersen. Andersen suggests that the agricultural settlements are located in exactly the same places as the hunter-gatherer settlements once lay. According to him, it is illogical that the new migrants should settle in the exact same places where people already lived. Andersen maintains that the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a farming society happened more gradually.”

DNA Study of Otzi, the Iceman, Provide Insights in European Migration Patterns

The genome of Otzi, the iceman found in the Alps near the Italian-Austrian border in 1991,, produced a surprising result: he was more closely related to present-day Sardinians than he was to present-day Central Europeans that live close to where he was found.. Angela Graefen, a human genetics researcher at the Eurac Institute for the Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, told Reuter. “He is more closely related to modern Sardinian or Corsican populations than, for instance, mainland Italy further to the south.But that doesn’t mean he comes from Sardinia or Corsica. His ancestors were more plausibly from the first wave of migrants from the Near East. The genome group stuck in the isolated regions which were less affected by human migrations, Mediterranean islands but also remote Alpine valleys.” [Source: Michel Rose, Reuters, March 2, 2012]

Tia Ghose wrote in Live Science: “The researchers sequenced only part of the genome, and the results didn’t resolve an underlying question: Did most of the Neolithic people in Central Europe have genetic profiles more characteristic of Sardinia, or had Ötzi’s family recently emigrated from Southern Europe? “Maybe Ötzi was just a tourist, maybe his parents were Sardinian and he decided to move to the Alps,” Sikora said. That would have required Ötzi’s family to travel hundreds of miles, an unlikely prospect, Sikora said. “Five thousand years ago, it’s not really expected that our populations were so mobile,” Sikora told LiveScience. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, November 9, 2012 ||*||]

“To answer that question, Sikora’s team sequenced Ötzi’s entire genome and compared it with those from hundreds of modern-day Europeans, as well as the genomes of a Stone Age hunter-gatherer found in Sweden, a farmer from Sweden, a 7,000-year-old hunter-gatherer iceman found in Iberia, and an Iron Age man found in Bulgaria. The team confirmed that, of modern people, Sardinians are Ötzi’s closest relatives. But among the prehistoric quartet, Ötzi most closely resembled the farmers found in Bulgaria and Sweden, while the Swedish and Iberian hunter-gatherers looked more like present-day Northern Europeans.” ||*||

The findings, reported at the American Society of Human Genetics conference in 2012, “support the theory that farmers, and not just the technology of farming, spread during prehistoric times from the Middle East all the way to Finland. “The idea is that the spread of farming and agriculture, right now we have good evidence that it was also associated with a movement of people and not only technology,” said study co-author Martin Sikora, a geneticist at Stanford University.

“The findings support the notion that people migrating from the Middle East all the way to Northern Europe brought agriculture with them and mixed with the native hunter-gatherers, enabling the population to explode, Sikora said. While the traces of these ancient migrations are largely lost in most of Europe, Sardinian islanders remained more isolated and therefore retain larger genetic traces of those first Neolithic farmers, Sikora said. ||*||

“The findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that farming played a major role in shaping the people of Europe, said Chris Gignoux, a geneticist at the University of California San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. I think it’s really intriguing,” Gignoux said. “The more that people are sequencing these ancient genomes from Europe, that we’re really starting to see the impact of farmers moving into Europe.”“||*||

DNA of Stone-Age Scandinavian Foragers and Farmers Different

Haplogroup I (Y-DNA)

In 2014, Uppsala University reported: “An international team led by researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University reports a breakthrough on understanding the demographic history of Stone-Age humans. A genomic analysis of eleven Stone-Age human remains from Scandinavia revealed that expanding Stone-age farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers and that the hunter-gatherers were historically in lower numbers than the farmers. The study is published today, ahead of print, in the journal Science. [Source: Uppsala University, April 24, 2014 -]

“The transition between a hunting-gathering lifestyle and a farming lifestyle has been debated for a century. As scientists learned to work with DNA from ancient human material, a complete new way to learn about the people in that period opened up. But even so, prehistoric population structure associated with the transition to an agricultural lifestyle in Europe remains poorly understood. "For many of the most interesting questions, DNA-information from people today just doesn't cut it, the best way to learn about ancient history is to analyze direct data — despite the challenges", says Dr. Pontus Skoglund of Uppsala University, now at Harvard University, and one of the lead authors of the study. "We have generated genomic data from the largest number of ancient individuals" says Dr. Helena Malmström of Uppsala University and one of the lead authors. "The eleven Stone-Age human remains were between 5,000 and 7,000 years old and associated with hunter-gatherer or farmer life-styles" says Helena Malmström. -

“Anders Götherström, who led the Stockholm University team, is satisfied with the amount of DNA that they could retrieve. "Not only were we able to generate DNA from several individuals, but we did get a lot of it. In some cases we got the equivalent of draft genomes. A population genomic study on this level with a material of this age has never been done before as far as I know." The material used in the study is from mainland Scandinavia as well as from the Baltic island Gotland, and it comprises of hunter-gatherers from various time periods as well as early farmers. -

“Professor Mattias Jakobsson, who led the Uppsala University team, is intrigued by the results. "Stone-Age hunter-gatherers had much lower genetic diversity than farmers. This suggests that Stone-Age foraging groups were in low numbers compared to farmers", says Mattias Jakobsson. Jan Storå at Stockholm University shares Mattias' fascination. "The low variation in the hunter gatherers may be related to oscillating living conditions likely affecting the population sizes of hunter-gatherers. One of the additional exciting results is the association of the Mesolithic individual to both the roughly contemporaneous individual from Spain but also the association to the Neolithic hunter-gatherers."

“The study confirms that Stone-Age hunter-gatherers and farmers were genetically distinct and that migration spread farming practices across Europe, but the team was able to go even further by demonstrating that the Neolithic farmers had substantial admixture from hunter-gatherers. Surprisingly, the hunter-gatherers from the Baltic Sea displayed no evidence of introgression from farmers. "We see clear evidence that people from hunter-gatherer groups were incorporated into farming groups as they expanded across Europe", says Pontus Skoglund. "This might be clues towards something that happened also when agriculture spread in other parts of the world." "The asymmetric gene-flow shows that the farming groups assimilated hunter-gatherer groups, at least partly", says Mattias Jakobsson. "When we compare Scandinavian to central European farming groups that lived at about the same time, we see greater levels of hunter-gatherer gene-flow into the Scandinavian farming groups."

“This study is part of the recently initiated "Atlas project" - a large-scale genomic investigation of ancient human remains in Scandinavia led by Stockholm and Uppsala Universities and funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences and the Swedish Research Council. The present study brings the first results from the project. "We have only begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge that this project may bring us in the future" says Anders Götherström.” -

Hunter-Gatherers and Immigrant Farmers Lived Together More than 2,000 Years in Germany

Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or were absorbed into the farming population. In a paper published in Science in 2013, researchers described their analysis of DNA and isotopes from human bones found in the ‘Blätterhöhle’ cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried. [Source:, October10, 2013 ==]

According to “The team, led by anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, used stable isotopes to determine their diet, DNA to investigate how they were related, and radiocarbon to establish how old the bones were. “It is commonly assumed that the European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers”, said Dr Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. “But our study shows that the descendants of the first European humans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life, and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering way of life only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought.”

““Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers,” said Professor Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at UCL, and a co-author of the study. “They were the descendants of the first wave of our species to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago. They survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. And now it seems they also survived the initial wave of farmers spreading across Europe from the southeast of the continent.”

“Previous genetic studies by Professors Burger and Thomas showed that agriculture was brought to Central Europe by immigrant farmers around 7,500 years ago. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers rapidly died out or were absorbed into the farming populations. “Although there is some archaeological evidence of interactions between immigrant agriculturalists and local hunter-gatherers, its extent and duration has remained something of a mystery,” said Professor Thomas. “But our study now shows that the hunter-gatherers stayed in close proximity to farmers, had contact with them for thousands of years, and buried their dead in the same cave. “This contact was not without consequences, because hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming communities, while no genetic lines of farmer women have been found in hunter-gatherers”, explained Burger. “This pattern of marriage is known from many studies of human populations in the modern world. Farmer women regarded marrying into hunter-gatherer groups as social demotion.”

“For a long time the team were unable to make sense of the findings. “It was only through the analysis of isotopes in the human remains, performed by our Canadian colleagues, that the pieces of the puzzle began to fit,” states Bollongino. She added: “The results showed that the hunter-gatherers sustained themselves in Central and Northern Europe on a very specialized diet that included fish, among other things, until 5,000 years ago. And what is more, the hunter-gatherers living at the same time as the farmers were genetically more similar to the pre-farming hunter-gatherers than to the contemporaneous farmers.”

“The team also pursued the question of what impact both groups had on the gene pool of modern Europeans. Adam Powell, mathematician and specialist in demographic modeling at the JGU Institute of Anthropology, who obtained his PhD with Professor Thomas at UCL, explained: “While neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers are to be regarded as the sole ancestors of today’s Europeans, it is the mixing of both populations that potentially represents the ancestry of modern-day Europeans.” It seems that the hunter-gatherers’ lifestyle lasted at least until around 5000 years ago in Central Europe. However, some of the prehistoric farmers had hunter-gatherers as ancestors, and their genes are still found in Central Europeans today.

Ale's Stones

5,500-Year-Old Tomb Found near Sweden’s ‘Stonehenge’

In 2012, Swedish archaeologists announced that they had found remains of a 5,500-year-old tomb near Ale’s Stones, a megalithic monument, sometimes described as Scandinavia’s Stonehenge, where, according to myth, the legendary King Ale was buried. The discovery resulted from a geophysical investigation of the area carried out in 2006. [Source: Rossella Lorenzi,, October 2012]

Rossella Lorenzi wrote in “Intrigued by a circular structure measuring about 165 feet in diameter with a rectangular feature in its center, archaeologists of the Swedish National Heritage Board decided to dig a trial trench. “The outer circle was difficult to prove, but we did find vague traces at the spot, possibly imprints of smaller stones,” archaeologist Bengt Söderberg told Discovery News. In the middle, the researchers found “several components” that are evidence of a dolmen, a megalithic portal tomb usually made of two vertical stones supporting a large flat horizonta “The components consisted of imprints of large stones belonging to a central grave chamber, which was surrounded by large stones and a brim of smaller stones,” Söderberg said.

Oriented north-south, the 65- by 26-foot dolmen dated to the Swedish early Neolithic period, about 5,500 years ago. “We also found a blade, a scraper and some flakes of flint. This is not unusual when it comes to this type of graves,” Söderberg said. According to archaeologist Annika Knarrström of the Swedish National Heritage Board, the dolmen was likely “the grave of some local magnate.” “However, we have little data to really tell who was buried there,” Knarrström said.

“The newly discovered dolmen lay just 130 feet from the spectacular Ales Stenar (“Ale’s Stones”), also known as “Sweden’s Stonehenge.” Located near the fishing village of Kåseberga, the structure consists of 59 stones, each weighing up to 4,000 pounds, that appear to form a 220-foot-long ship overlooking the Baltic Sea. Although some researchers argue that the stone formation was assembled 2,500 years ago, during the Scandinavian Bronze Age, most scholars agree that it dates back some 1,400 years, toward the end of the Nordic Iron Age.

“Like Stonehenge, the enigmatic stone ship has raised many theories about its purpose. According to local folklore, it was the final resting place of a legendary leader known as King Ale. Other theories suggest it was an ancient astronomical calendar, a cemetery, or a monument to the Vikings. The newly discovered dolmen might provide new clues on the pre-history of the monument. “Our findings confirm what we have long suspected: Some stone-built monuments might have stood on the ridge long before the Ale’s Stones,” Knarrström said. The older stones, as well as those making the dolmen, were most likely reused to build the stone ship. “This discovery also confirms our belief that the site must have attracted people in all times,” Knarrström said.

Doggerland: Europe's Undersea, Ice-Age Culture

Fisherman working in North Sea primarily off the Dutch coast occasionally dragged up bones and artifacts, many of which appear to have been connected to people that lived during the last Ice Age when sea levels were lower and migrated to higher ground when sea levels rose. Laura Spinney wrote in National Geographic: “When signs of a lost world at the bottom of the North Sea first began to appear, no one wanted to believe them. The evidence started to surface a century and a half ago, when fishermen along the Dutch coast widely adopted a technique called beam trawling. They dragged weighted nets across the seafloor and hoisted them up full of sole, plaice, and other bottom fish. But sometimes an enormous tusk would spill out and clatter onto the deck, or the remains of an aurochs, woolly rhino, or other extinct beast. The fishermen were disturbed by these hints that things were not always as they are. What they could not explain, they threw back into the sea. [Source: Laura Spinney, National Geographic, December 2012]

“Generations later a resourceful amateur paleontologist named Dick Mol persuaded the fishermen to bring him the bones and note the coordinates of where they had found them. In 1985 one captain brought Mol a beautifully preserved human jawbone, complete with worn molars. With his friend, fellow amateur Jan Glimmerveen, Mol had the bone radiocarbon-dated. It turned out to be 9,500 years old, meaning the individual lived during the Mesolithic period, which in northern Europe began at the end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago and lasted until the advent of farming 6,000 years later. “We think it comes from a burial,” says Glimmerveen. “One that has lain undisturbed since that world vanished beneath the waves, about 8,000 years ago.”

“The story of that vanished land begins with the waning of the ice. Eighteen thousand years ago, the seas around northern Europe were some 400 feet lower than today. Britain was not an island but the uninhabited northwest corner of Europe, and between it and the rest of the continent stretched frozen tundra. As the world warmed and the ice receded, deer, aurochs, and wild boar headed northward and westward. The hunters followed. Coming off the uplands of what is now continental Europe, they found themselves in a vast, low-lying plain.

“Archaeologists call that vanished plain Doggerland, after the North Sea sandbank and occasional shipping hazard Dogger Bank. Once thought of as a largely uninhabited land bridge between modern-day continental Europe and Britain—a place on the way to somewhere else—Doggerland is now believed to have been settled by Mesolithic people, probably in large numbers, until they were forced out of it thousands of years later by the relentlessly rising sea. A period of climatic and social upheaval ensued until, by the end of the Mesolithic, Europe had lost a substantial portion of its landmass and looked much as it does today.”

Mapping Doggerland

Laura Spinney wrote in National Geographic: “Many have come to see Doggerland as the key to understanding the Mesolithic in northern Europe, and the Mesolithic, in turn, as a period that holds lessons for us—living as we are through another period of climate change. Thanks to a team of landscape archaeologists at the University of Birmingham led by Vince Gaffney, we now have a good idea of what this lost country looked like. Based on seismic survey data gathered mostly by oil companies prospecting under the North Sea, Gaffney and his colleagues have digitally reconstructed nearly 18,000 square miles of the submerged landscape—an area larger than the Netherlands. [Source: Laura Spinney, National Geographic, December 2012]

“At the university’s IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Centre, which he heads, Gaffney projects images of this terra incognita onto huge, full-color screens. Just off the map, the Rhine and the Thames met and flowed south into the Channel River. Gaffney sweeps a hand across other river systems, comparably large, that we have no names for. In the climate of the day—perhaps a couple of degrees warmer than today—the contours on his screen translate into gently rolling hills, wooded valleys, lush marshes, and lagoons. “It was a paradise for hunter-gatherers,” he says.

“The publication in 2007 of the initial section of this map allowed archaeologists for the first time to “see” the Mesolithic world, even identify likely locations for settlements, with a view to potentially excavating them. The expense of underwater archaeology and the poor visibility in the North Sea have kept those settlements tantalizingly out of reach, at least for now. But the archaeologists have other ways to reveal who the Doggerlanders were, and how they responded to the inexorable creep of the sea into their homeland.”

Doggerland Archaeology

Laura Spinney wrote in National Geographic: “First, there are the treasures brought up in the fishermen’s nets. In addition to the human jawbone, Glimmerveen has accumulated more than a hundred other artifacts—animal bones showing signs of butchery and tools made from bone and antler, among them an ax decorated with a zigzag pattern. Because he has the coordinates of these finds, and because objects on the seabed tend not to move far from where erosion liberates them, he can be confident that many come from a specific area of the southern North Sea that the Dutch call De Stekels (the Spines), characterized by steep seabed ridges. “The site or sites must have been close to a river system,” he says. “Maybe they lived on river dunes.” [Source: Laura Spinney, National Geographic, December 2012]

“Another way to understand the Doggerlanders is to excavate shallow-water or intertidal sites of similar age nearby. In the 1970s and 1980s a site called Tybrind Vig, a few hundred yards off the coast of a Danish island in the Baltic Sea, yielded evidence of a surprisingly advanced late Mesolithic fishing culture, including finely decorated canoe paddles and several long, thin canoes, one of them over 30 feet long. More recently, Harald Lübke, of the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, Germany, and his colleagues have excavated a series of underwater settlements in Wismar Bay, on the German Baltic coast, dating between 8,800 and 5,500 years ago. The sites vividly document the people’s shift in diet from freshwater fish to marine species, as the sea rise transformed their land over centuries from inland lakes surrounded by forests, to reedy marshes, to fjords, and eventually to the open bay there now.

“A similar metamorphosis took place at Goldcliff on the Severn estuary in Wales, where archaeologist Martin Bell from the University of Reading and his team have been excavating for 21 years. In the Mesolithic, a narrow, incised valley initially contained the River Severn. As the sea rose, the river spilled over the valley’s sides and spread out—perhaps within as little as a century—creating the outlines of the modern estuary. At some point the estuary would have been dotted with islands.

“One August day, during an exceptionally low tide at Goldcliff, I followed Bell and his co-workers out across the sucking, streaming mudflats, past huge black trunks of prehistoric oaks lying preserved in the mud. We had less than two hours to work before the tide would pour back in. We arrived at an unremarkable ridge that, 8,000 years ago, formed the edge of an island. A team member blasted it with water from a high-pressure hose, and suddenly a sequence of ancient footprints was thrown into relief—39 in all, made by three or four individuals and heading in both directions along the ridge. “They may have been heading out from their campsite to check their fish traps in a nearby channel,” says Bell.

Doggerland Camps

Mammoth skull found in the North Sea

Laura Spinney wrote in National Geographic: “There were numerous camps in the estuary at any one time, Bell believes, each of which was inhabited by an extended family group of perhaps ten individuals. The camps were not permanently occupied. The oldest one would have been submerged at very high tides, so it’s clear the visitors were seasonal, and that each time they returned they built their camp a little higher up the slope. The remarkable thing is that they kept coming back, over centuries and possibly millennia, finding their way through a landscape that was changing beyond all recognition. They would have witnessed the engulfing and death of the oak forest. “There would have been a time when colossal oak trees were sticking up, dead, through the salt marsh,” says Bell. “It would have been a weird sort of landscape.” [Source: Laura Spinney, National Geographic, December 2012]

“Summer and autumn would have been times of plenty at the coast, with grazing on the marsh attracting wild animals to hunt. There would be good fishing, and hazelnuts and berries in abundance. At other times the groups moved up to higher country, probably following the valleys of the Severn’s tributaries. With only an oral culture, older individuals would have been vital repositories of environmental knowledge, able to read the migration patterns of birds, for example, and so tell their group when the season had come to leave for the coast or head for the highlands—decisions on which their survival depended.

“Finds of much larger concentrations of artifacts suggest that Mesolithic people, like later North American hunter-gatherers, came together for annual social events—possibly in the early autumn, when the seals came in and the salmon were running. In western Britain, these gatherings took place on cliff tops, overlooking sealing grounds. They would have allowed young men and women from localized groups to find mates, and information to be exchanged about other river systems beyond each group’s territory—knowledge that became crucial as the sea continued to disrupt the landscape.

“The most rapid rises of sea level were on the order of three to six feet a century, but because of the variable topography of the land, the flooding would not have been even. In areas as flat as modern-day East Anglia, a six-foot rise could have shifted the coast inland by miles; in hillier places, less. Down in low-lying Doggerland, the rising sea turned inland lakes into estuaries. Gaffney’s digital reconstruction shows that one in particular, the Outer Silver Pit, contains massive sandbanks that could only have been created by fierce tidal currents. At some point the currents would have made it dangerous to cross in a log boat, and eventually, created a permanent barrier to once familiar hunting grounds.”

Doggerland Questions and Theories

Doggerland landscape revealed during an exceptionally low tide

Laura Spinney wrote in National Geographic: “How did Mesolithic hunters, so attuned to the rhythm of the seasons, adapt as their world began to dissolve around them? Jim Leary, an archaeologist with English Heritage, has mined the ethnographic literature for parallels with Inuit and other modern hunter-gatherers confronting climate change. For those who learned to exploit the rising sea, becoming skilled boatbuilders and fishermen, the new resource would have been a boon—for a while. But eventually there would come a tipping point, when the loss of territory offset those rich pickings. Older Mesolithic people, those “storehouses of knowledge,” as Leary calls them, would no longer have been able to read subtle seasonal variations in the landscape and help the group plan accordingly. Cut off from ancestral hunting, fishing, or burial grounds, the people would have felt a profound sense of placelessness, says Leary—“like Inuit whose way back is barred by melting ice floes.” [Source: Laura Spinney, National Geographic, December 2012]

““There would have been huge population shifts,” says Clive Waddington of Derbyshire-based Archaeological Research Services Ltd. “People who were living out in what is now the North Sea would have been displaced very quickly.” Some headed for Britain. At Howick in Northumberland, on the cliffs that run along Britain’s northeast coast and would therefore have been the first hills they saw, his team has found the remains of a dwelling that had been rebuilt three times in a span of 150 years. Among the earliest evidence of a settled lifestyle in Britain, the hut dates from around 7900 B.C. Waddington interprets its repeated habitation as a sign of increasing territoriality: the resident people defending their patch against waves of displaced Doggerlanders.

““We know how important the fishing grounds were for the subsistence of these people,” says Anders Fischer, an archaeologist at the Danish Agency for Culture in Copenhagen. “If each generation saw its best fishing grounds disappear, they would have to find new ones, and that would often be in competition with neighboring groups. In societies of low social complexity, where you have no authorities to handle conflicts, it would probably have ended with violence.”

“Migration, territoriality, conflict: stressful ways of adapting to new circumstances, but adaptations nonetheless. There came a time, however, when the sea exhausted the Doggerlanders’ capacity for survival. Some 8,200 years ago, after millennia of incrementally rising seas, a massive release of meltwater from a giant glacial lake in North America, called Lake Agassiz, caused sea levels to jump by more than two feet. By slowing the circulation of warm water in the North Atlantic, this influx of frigid water triggered a sudden plunge in temperature, causing Doggerland’s coasts—if any remained—to be battered by frigid winds. If that were not enough, around the same time, a landslide on the seafloor off the coast of Norway, called the Storegga slide, triggered a tsunami that flooded the coastlines of northern Europe.

“Was the Storegga tsunami the coup de grâce, or had Doggerland already disappeared beneath the sea? Scientists can’t yet be sure. But they do know that sea-level rise slowed down after that. Then, around 6,000 years ago, a new people from the south arrived on the thickly forested shores of the British Isles. They came in boats, with sheep, cattle, and cereals. Today the living descendants of these early Neolithic farmers, equipped with vastly more sophisticated technology than their Mesolithic counterparts, once again look to a future contending with a rising sea.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, except last picture, from The Guardian

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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