Donkalnis, Spiginas, and Kretuonas

Overarching period: Mesolithic, 15,000 - 5,500 BP
Carbon dating: 6,720 and 6,240 years old
Donkalnis - 55.81° North, 22.42° East
Spiginas - 55.77° North 22.42° East
Kretuonas - 55.26° North, 26.10° East
Site location country Lithuania
mtDNA haplogroups: U, H
Y haplogroups: I2, R1

Narva Pot Narva Pottery Diagram [25]

The Mesolithic in the Baltic:

The Mesolithic in the Baltic lasted much longer than it did in the rest of Europe. At a time when agriculture had spread rapidly throughout much of the continent most of the peoples of the Baltic region maintained a hunter-gatherer way of life. The adoption of farming eventually did occur but it was much more gradual, owing to the long harsh winters and short summers of the region [10-13]. Farming did not truly take hold until the start of the Bronze Age in the rest of Europe. Artifacts found at Baltic Mesolithic sites has proven there were contacts with agricultural societies in the rest of Europe for much of this period, and that these continued to exist for centuries. Pottery and stone tools associated with the Neolithic in Central Europe began appearing in archaeological sites that belonged to these hunter-gatherers [14].

The Individuals from the Donkalnis, Spiginas, and Kretuonas sites:

The four individuals in this sample, two males and two females, came from three different archaeological sites dating to the Narva Period in the present-day country of Lithuania. Two of the individuals were radiocarbon dated to between 6,720 and 6,240 years old, while the other two were dated by associated artifacts. The Narva Culture lasted from 7,300 to 3,750 years ago and was period of transition between hunter-gatherer Mesolithic societies and the farming cultures of the Neolithic [15]. The period saw the beginnings of some crop use and is known for pottery decorated with comb impression made by hair combs [16]. These sites were all found near lakes, with the Donkalnis and Spiginas burials near Lake Biržulis in Northern Lithuania, and the Kretuonas site near Lake Kretuonas in Eastern Lithuania. These burials included the remains of pottery and flint stone tools.

Genetic analysis of these individuals has found that they were the direct descendant of earlier hunter-gatherers, and were most closely-related to the distinct Eastern hunter-gatherer groups that were present in the area during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic [17]. This contrasts with the pattern found in Central and Western Europe where there was more direct population replacement with the coming of farming cultures. It has been proposed that this continuity of hunter-gatherer genes contributed to the later spread of hunter-gather genes within Europe [18].

The mitochondrial haplogroups of all but one of these eleven individuals belonged to the U and H lineages, which were very common among European hunter-gatherers and can still be found within Europeans in the present day [19, 20]. One individual belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup I, which is a very ancient lineage dating back to the Paleolithic around Iran/Caucuses area, likely having arrived with steppe peoples into Europe [21].

Three of the males, one from each site, belonged to the I2 haplogroup, which is a very ancient lineage found in Europe and West Asia today, and was common in the Mesolithic. It is thought that the I2 haplogroup originated in the Paleolithic [22]. Two males, one from Spiginas and one from Donkalnis belonged to the R1 Y chromosome haplogroup, which has recently origins of around 5,800 years and is associated with the spread of Indo-European languages and Steppe peoples. It is common in Eastern and Central Europe today [23-24].