Period Information


Paleolithic Tool Paleolithic tool [10].

The Paleolithic:

Modern humans first entered Europe between 45,000 and 38,000 year ago [1-4] to a landscape that would be unrecognizable today. This was a land of wide-open tundra that was roamed by mammoths and other large ice age animals. These early groups hunted and foraged over large ranges due to the scarcity of resources and shared the landscape with Neanderthals [5], an archaic species of human which had evolved independently and had already lived in Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. It was a time before the glaciers reached their peak extent around 26,000 years ago [6-7], an event called the Last Glacial Maximum which eventually prompted these early human groups to seek refuge at the southern margins of the continent.

The stone tool technology in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic was remarkably uniform. Archaeologists have found stone blades broken off of cores that have been worked in a similar way across the continent [8], which has been interpreted to mean these people shared a common culture over much of Europe, in contrast with the diverse range of the cultures that exist there today. The period starts with an early hunter-gatherer culture called the Aurignacian from around 45,000 years ago which lasted until 30,000 years ago [9]. This was followed by the more developed Gravettian, which in some areas lasted another 13,000 years, while other areas began splintering off into new cultures leading into the Mesolithic.

References:
  1. Conard N, Bolus M, Goldberg P, Munzel S. 2006. The last Neanderthals and the first modern humans in the Swabian Jura. Conard N. (Ed.), When Neanderthals and Modern Humans Met. Kerns Verlag: Tubingen. pp. 305-345.
  2. Higham T, et al. 2012. Testing models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: the radiocarbon chronology of Geissenklosterle. J Hum Evol 62(6):664-76.
  3. Hublin JJ. 2014. The modern human colonization of western Eurasia: when and where? Quat Sci Rev 118: 194-210.
  4. Mellars P. 2006. A new radiocarbon revolution and the dispersal of modern humans in Eurasia. Nature 439(23): 931-935.
  5. Clark PU et al. 2009. The Last Glacial Maximum. Science 325(5941): 710-714.
  6. Verpoorte A. 2009. Limiting factors on early modern human dispersals: the human biogeography of late Pleniglacial Europe. Quat Int 201(1–2):77-85.
  7. Hublin JJ. 2015. The modern human colonization of western Eurasia: when and where? Quat Sci Rev. 118:194–210.
  8. Bar-Yosef O, Kuhn SL. 1999. The Big Deal about Blades: Laminar Technologies and Human Evolution. American Anthropologist. 101: 322–338.Shea JJ. 2013. Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  9. Shea JJ. 2013. Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide.
  10. Acheulean Tool: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=acheulean+tool&title=Special%3ASearch&go=Go#/media/File:Acheulean_tool_from_Syria_(University_of_Zurich)-2.JPG

Mesolithic Mask Mask from Star Carr in England [10].

The Mesolithic:

The Mesolithic in Europe, or the Eneolithic as it is referred to in Eastern Europe was a period of great transitions both in terms of climate and of human geography. It represented a time between the end of the last Ice Age, known as the Paleolithic, around 11,600 years ago and the arrival of farming cultures from the Middle East some 9,000 years ago [1]. The end of the Paleolithic, marked the beginning of the Holocene, a period of warmer temperatures that have lasted until the present day. Temperatures rose rapidly from 11,600 years ago, potentially up to pre-industrial levels by 9,000 years ago [2]. All of this melting ice meant that the oceans swelled, and sea levels rose some 60 meters [3]. The land bridge that once connected North America to Asia disappeared, and the English Channel was formed over land where once hunter-gatherers could freely walk between what is now England and France.

The people of the Mesolithic were the direct descendants of Upper Paleolithic populations and maintained a hunter-gatherer way of life. Not only did these societies have to cope with large shifts in sea levels but also rapidly expanding forests [4]. Where once there was open tundra, there were now vast tracts of woodland, covering large parts of Europe. The transition to forest environments brought major changes in available game, from mammoth, steppe bison, and reindeer to elk, beaver, and bear [5]. The people living in these environments began forming larger groups and without the open plains of the Paleolithic to wander, they began constructing permanent buildings [6-7].

Archaeological data shows that these changing environments meant less mobility and the appearance of more regional cultures, compared with the widely distributed and uniform cultures of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers [8]. Unique artifacts such as the famous antler masks of the Star Carr site began to appear [9]. The technology of these late hunter-gatherers remained focused on stone tools formed into blades and points used for hunting game, working hides, and carving wood.

References:

  1. Greenfield H. 2006. The spatial organization of Early Neolithic settlements in temperate southeastern Europe: a view from Blagotin, Serbia. In: Robertson JDS ElizabethC, Fernandez DeepikaC, Zender MarcU, editors. In Space and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. pp. 69–79.
  2. Taylor, K.C., Mayewski, P.A., Alley, R.B., Brook, E.J., Gow, A.J., Grootes, P.M., et al., 1997. The Holocene- Younger Dryas transition recorded at Summit, Greenland. Science 278: 825-827.
  3. Smith DE, Harrison S, Firth CR, Jordan JT. 2011. The early Holocene sea level rise, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 30(15–16):1846-1860.
  4. Spikins P. 2008. Mesolithic Europe: glimpses of another world. In Bailey G, Spikins P. (eds) Mesolithic Europe. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. pp. 1-17.
  5. Zvelebil M. 2008. Chapter 2. Innovating Hunter-Gatherers: The Mesolithic in the Baltic. In Bailey G, Spikins P. (eds.) Mesolithic Europe. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. pp. 18-59.
  6. Woodman PC. 1985. Mobility in the Mesolithic of northwestern Europe: an alternative explanation. In: Price TD, Brown JA, editors. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers: the emergence of cultural complexity. Academic Press: Orlando. p 325–339.
  7. Price TD. 1987. The Mesolithic of Europe. Journal of World Prehistory 1:225–305.
  8. Rozoy JG. 1989. The revolution of the bowmen in Europe. In Bonsall C, ed. The Mesolithic of Europe. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, Ltd. p 13–28.
  9. Conneller C, Schadla-Hall T. 2003. Beyond Star Carr: The Vale of Pickering in the 10th Millennium BP. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 69: 85-105.
  10. Mask from Star Carr: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=star+carr+deer&title=Special%3ASearch&go=Go#/media/File:Star_Carr_headdress.jpg

Neolithic Stone Tools Neolithic stone tools [9].

The Neolithic:

The development of agriculture, known as the Neolithic period was a technological revolution that not only changed landscapes but also the genetic composition of world populations. Domestication of plants and animals occurred multiple times throughout prehistory and each time led to an increase in population by the mere fact that more people could be fed [1]. Archaeological evidence shows that early farming cultures around the world quickly spread out from their primary centers of origin and replaced the cultures of larger regions, often after interbreeding with the original local populations. This pattern repeated itself for nearly every agricultural source. The wheat-farming cultures that started in Anatolia spread across the entirety of Europe and the Middle East, while the rice-farming cultures that started in present-day China expanded to defined much of the Asian cultural landscape.

It remains unclear why agriculture made such dramatic outward expansions. In Europe two different models have been used to understand how farming spread throughout the continent. The Cultural Diffusion Model proposed that farming spread by cultural adoption by local hunter-gatherers [2] while the Demic Diffusion Model suggested that the incoming famers replaced the local hunter-gatherer populations [3-4]. Recent genetic studies have pointed to a more complex picture than a simple choice between replacement of people or adoption of culture. There is strong genetic evidence for significant migration of farmers out of the Middle East and into Europe. While their increasing numbers and modifications of the landscape likely displaced earlier hunter-gather populations, there is evidence in many areas of cohabitation of the two populations for some time. Ancient DNA evidence shows that ancient hunter-gatherer mixed with these early farming migrants and their genes can be found in modern Europeans today [5].

The farming cultures that arrived in Europe first appeared in an area of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent between 13,000 and 11,500 years ago [6-7]. Neolithic farming reached Southeastern Europe by 9,000 years ago [8].

References:
  1. Bocquet-Appel J-P. 2011. When the World’s Population Took Off: The Springboard of the Neolithic Demographic Transition. Science 333(6042):560-561.
  2. Lukes A, Zvelebil M. 2004. LBK Dialogues: Studies in the Formation of the Linear Pottery Culture. British Archaeological Reports 183205:183–205.
  3. Chikhi L, Nichols RA, Barbujani G, Beaumont MA. 2002. Y genetic data support the Neolithic demic diffusion model. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99:11008-11013.
  4. Lemmen C, Gronenborn D. 2018. The Diffusion of Humans and Cultures in the Course of the Spread of Farming. Diffusive Spreading in Nature, Technology and Society. Springer: New York. pp. 333-349.
  5. Harris EE. 2017. Demic and cultural diffusion in prehistoric Europe in the age of ancient genomes. Evolutionary Anthropology 26(5):228–241.
  6. Pinhasi R, Fort J, Ammerman AJ. 2005. Tracing the origin and spread of agriculture in Europe PLOS Biol., 3 (2005), pp. 2220-2228.
  7. Renfrew C. 2006. Inception of agriculture and rearing in the Middle East. Comptes Rendus Palevol 5(1–2):395-404.
  8. Greenfield H. 2006. The spatial organization of Early Neolithic settlements in temperate southeastern Europe: a view from Blagotin, Serbia. In: Robertson JDS, Elizabeth C, Fernandez Deepika C, Zender Marc U, (eds.) In Space and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. pp. 69–79.

Copper Axe Head Copper Axe Head [9].

The Copper Age:

The late Neolithic was a time of technological change. Farming had reached Southeastern Europe by 9,000 years ago [1] and spread throughout the continent over the next several millennia. While the appearance of agriculture had transformed human societies and the landscape they inhabited, Early Neolithic peoples had still been using technology largely based on stone tools. Copper is a metal that naturally occurs in clumps and small pieces that are relatively pure [2]. Many prehistoric societies found this material and made it into various art objects, but it was not until the Neolithic that people began mining copper ore in an organized manner [3]. Once this process began, copper artifacts began appearing across Europe, taking the form of daggers, pins, pendants, beads and axes, among many other forms. Also known as the Chalcolithic, the Copper Age lasted in Europe from roughly 5,500 to 3,700 years ago.

Europe at the beginning of the Copper Age was a place where people from different cultures moved about, traded, intermarried and fought. Thus, the technological, social, symbolic and economic aspects of earlier societies converged and interacted. It is believed that these conditions are what led to the beginning of the creation of wealth, and therefore economic stratification [4]. There was also an advancement in agricultural technologies and herd management, which allowed people to convert areas with poorer soils into agricultural land [4], irreversibly transforming the landscape.

Towards the end of the Copper Age, there was a massive migration of people belonging to what is known as the Yamnaya culture from the steppes of present-day Russia and Ukraine into Central Europe [5]. The Yamnaya had sophisticated metallurgy and animal herding skills, and horse-riding was an important part of their culture. We know that these incoming migrants interacted with local Neolithic populations and that sometimes these meetings were not always friendly. There is evidence for violence appearing in the archaeological record [6,7]. Despite this, there are also clues that they must have intermarried. Chemical analysis of teeth has shown that many individuals in grave sites across the continent were a mix of locals and foreigners [8] and there were also mixed sets of artifacts sometimes found. This new incoming Yamnaya culture gave rise to the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures that formed in following centuries [9]. Some researchers now believe that they brought with them the early forms of Indo-European languages spoken in Europe today [5].

References:

  1. Greenfield H. 2006. The spatial organization of Early Neolithic settlements in temperate southeastern Europe: a view from Blagotin, Serbia. In: Robertson JDS, Elizabeth C, Fernandez Deepika C, Zender Marc U, (eds.) In Space and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. pp. 69–79.
  2. Maggi R, Pearce M. 2005. Mid fourth-millennium copper mining in Liguria, north-west Italy: the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe. Antiquity 79: 66–77.
  3. Coles JM, Harding AF. 2014. Introduction. In Coles JM, Harding AF (eds.) The Bronze Age in Europe: An Introduction to the Prehistory of Europe c.2000-700 B.C. Routledge: London. pp. 1-20.
  4. Peter B. 2011. How Wealth Happened in Neolithic Central Europe. Journal of World Prehistory, 24: 107-115.
  5. Haak W, Lazaridis I, Patterson N, Rohland N, Mallick S, et al. 2015. Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe. Nature 522: 207-2011.
  6. Harrison R, Herd V, 2007. The Transformation of Europe in the Third Millennium BC: the example of ‘Le Petit-Chasseur I + III’ (Sion, Valais, Switzerland). Praehistorische Zeitschrift, 82: 129-214.
  7. Kristiansen K, Allentoft ME, Frei KM, Iversen R, Johannsen NN, et al. 2017. Re-theorising mobility and the formation of culture and language among the Corded Ware Culture in Europe. Antiquity, 91: 334-347.
  8. Gerling C, Bánffy E, Dani J, Köhler K, Kulcsár G, et al. 2012. Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin: the occupants of a kurgan. Antiquity, 86: 1097-1111.
  9. Copper Axe Head: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=copper+age&title=Special%3ASearch&go=Go#/media/File:Copper_ax,_Copper_Age,_Museum_of_Kladno,_176028.jpg

Bronze age hoard Early Bronze Age hoard [6].

The Bronze Age:

The late Neolithic was a time of technological change. Farming had reached Southeastern Europe by 9,000 years ago [1] and spread throughout the continent over the next several millennia. While the appearance of agriculture had transformed human societies and the landscape they inhabited, Early Neolithic peoples had still been using technology largely based on stone tools. Copper is a metal that naturally occurs in clumps and small pieces that a relatively pure [2]. Many prehistoric societies found this material and made it into various art objects, but it was not until the Neolithic that people began mining copper ore in an organized manner [3]. Once this process began, copper artifacts began appearing across Europe, taking the form of daggers, pins, pendants, beads and axes, among many other forms.

It was not long after Europeans began mining and shaping copper that it was discovered that heating copper and mixing in with tin that a new, much harder metal could be produced. Today we call this metal bronze, and this event marked the dawn of the Bronze Age. Many more tools and weapons appeared, particular in sites found in the Alps, such as the Ringbarren hoards [4-5]. The Alps became a major center for European metal production due to presence of locally available copper.

References:

  1. Greenfield H. 2006. The spatial organization of Early Neolithic settlements in temperate southeastern Europe: a view from Blagotin, Serbia. In: Robertson JDS, Elizabeth C, Fernandez Deepika C, Zender Marc U, (eds.) In Space and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. pp. 69–79.
  2. Maggi R, Pearce M. 2005. Mid fourth-millennium copper mining in Liguria, north-west Italy: the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe. Antiquity 79: 66–77.
  3. Coles JM, Harding AF. 2014. Introduction. In Coles JM, Harding AF (eds.) The Bronze Age in Europe: An Introduction to the Prehistory of Europe c.2000-700 B.C. Routledge: London. pp. 1-20.
  4. Bradley R. 2002. The Past in Prehistoric Societies. London: Routledge.
  5. Höppner B, Bartelhein M, Husijmans M, Krause R, Martinek K, Pernicka E, Schwab R. 2005. Prehistoric copper production in the Inn Valley, Austria, and the earliest copper production in central Europe. Archaeometry 47(2): 293-315.
  6. Bronze Age Hoard: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=bronze+age+hoard&title=Special%3ASearch&go=Go#/media/File:Early_Bronze_Age_hoard.jpg