Prehistory of Northern Europe

Northern Europe, Nordic countries, collective term for the states Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland.

When the glaciers of the last Ice Age melted towards the end of the Younger Paleolithic Age (Upper Palaeolithic), penetrated from around 12,000 BC. First reindeer hunter groups of the Hamburg culture in Jutland. The increasing warming (only interrupted by two short cold phases, dryas periods) and the retreat of the inland ice as far as central Sweden made possible from 10,000 BC onwards. The late Paleolithic hunters and gatherers hunted the large herds of reindeer in all of southern Scandinavia; the groups named after the characteristic projectile tips as stem tip cultures (penknife group, brommekultur, Ahrensburg group, lyngby culture) penetrated as far as southern Sweden (Segebro near Malmö, Lake Finja in northern Skåne); at that time Norway and Finland do not seem to have been settled.

In the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) was in Denmark as well as southern and western Sweden from about 8500 BC. The Maglemose culture, later the Congemose culture (from around 6500 BC) spread. A Mesolithic living space (Vedbaek, Zealand) with a directly adjacent cemetery is evidence of armed conflicts (fatal injury from arrowheads), but also of distinctive burial rituals with numerous grave goods. A similar site with residential huts and a cemetery (also with numerous additions in over 60 graves) is located near Skateholm in southern Sweden. Around 5000 BC The Ertebölle culture originated in the coastal regions of southern Scandinavia, named after a site on the Limfjord, North Jutland; mighty clam heaps, called »Kjökkenmöddinger«, with neighboring storage areas, on which pointed-bottomed clay vessels were found as the oldest evidence of ceramics in Northern Europe, testify to a marine-oriented hunting and gathering economy. At the same time, in some cases also younger, there are several cultural groups of fishermen and hunters who are characterized by microliths, axes made of rock or antlers and which are found in western and southern Norway (Fosna culture), northern Norway (Komsa culture), Finland and the Baltic States (ascola culture, to the municipality of Askola north of Porvoo, Finland; Suomusjärvikultur, to Suomusjärvi, north of Helsinki; Kunda culture). On the Norwegian island of Sørøya west of Hammerfest, the remains of a storage area and small boulders were found. depicting reindeer, whale, moose, birds and people. The Middle Stone Age cultural groups have differed regionally, but especially in the north up to the 3rd millennium BC. Chr. Preserved unmixed (circumpolar hunting and trapping groups). The Nøstvet group, which is widespread in southern Norway, is characterized by specially shaped stone axes which, among other things, quarries on the Bømlo Islands on the west coast.

New Stone Age (Neolithic): Around 4000 BC The bearers of the funnel beaker culture invaded Scandinavia. This culture spread throughout Denmark and in southern and central Sweden (Vråkultur), in Norway it can only be found around Oslo and Trondheim. Their development is particularly evident in the large stone graves ( megalithic graves) that have been used as burial grounds for many generations. In northern and central Sweden as well as in Norway, hunting and fishing cultures with tools and implements made of slate continued to exist at the same time. The funnel beaker culture followed in Jutland and in the south of the Scandinavian Peninsula from around 2800 BC. The individual grave culture and the culture of the dimple ceramics which is only occupied by settlements; from around 2400 the bell beaker culture followed. At the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC The boat ax culture (variant of the individual grave culture) was widespread in Finland, southern Sweden and southern Norway. In Finland this culture was replaced by the Kiukai culture, which is a fusion of the local (older) comb ceramic culture with the boat ax culture. The late Neolithic, characterized by stone box graves with z. Partly especially carefully crafted flint daggers, until the beginning of the Bronze Age was also known as the “dagger age” in Northern Europe.

Bronze Age: According to COUNTRYAAH, the south of Northern Europe was the center of the culture of the Nordic Circle. Hunters and gatherers with Stone Age cultural behavior continued to live in central and northern Sweden and in the mountainous areas of Norway, and Iceland was not yet settled. In interior Finland there was a different Bronze Age culture with ties to the Russian Sejma Turbino culture. From around 1200 BC the Nordic Circle was changed and gradually transformed (transition to cremation) due to the influences of the Central European urn field culture. As clay house urns from Etruria show, intensive long-distance relationships must have existed; Since copper ores were available in Sweden, but they were not used, it can be assumed that the enormous demand for bronze in the Nordic Circle was covered by imports. The Bronze Age mine near Mitterberg (Austria) is assumed to be the region of origin of the copper. What was exported in exchange for it is unclear (amber?).

Iron Age: Around 500 BC A decrease in the abundance of metals and the number of molds can be observed. Celtic influence is noticeable (Gundestrup), but prove z. B. the moor victims ( Hjortspring) the continued life of Nordic-Bronze Age customs. From this time there is evidence of intensive agriculture (Celtic Fields, hook plows); Farms with three-aisled hall houses and entire villages were often relocated due to the deterioration in the quality of the soil through intensive use (migrant settlements).

Around 100 BC The central south of northern Europe was densely populated. There are particularly rich finds from the Danish islands of Gotland and Öland; soon they also contain Roman luxury goods, which in the Roman Empire (0–400 AD) gained similar importance as goods of the Hallstatt culture in the later Bronze Age. During this time Gothic groups emigrated from Sweden (Goths). There is a social differentiation in grave customs: In addition to cremation burials with few gifts, there are also body burials with rich gifts (including imported Roman goods such as bronze and glass vessels, rarely terra sigillata, coins). Roman influence can also be seen in the weapons (short iron thrusting swords in the style of gladius) and in the rich silver jewelry. The runes also appeared for the first time during this period. These cultural relations, supplemented by contacts with Germanic peoples living further south, can be explained partly by trade (furs), partly by the activity of North Germanic warriors as mercenaries in the Roman army. In Norway the Germanic settlement area was extended to the Arctic Circle, in Finland the Germanic settlement took a back seat to a Baltic culture.

Migration period: The settlement density has increased sharply since the 4th century. In the first half of the 6th century a period of unrest emerged in Denmark (refuges, destruction of many farms, numerous hoard finds), which probably went back to wars; Small kingdoms and chiefdoms established themselves, supported by monumental grave structures (e.g. the three “royal hills ” in Altuppsala , Sweden) are documented. Gold (often in the form of East or West Roman solidi and pieces of jewelry) is in circulation in large quantities, but is also used in trading settlements (Mulde variety, on Bornholm) for the production of small ornate gold plates. The Germanic animal style is developed, trade relations and shipping are intensified. Overall, the Migration Period and the Vendel Period (Sweden, 550–800 AD) are considered to be economic and cultural flourishing phases with pronounced influences from and to southern and central Europe, which is even stronger in the following Viking Age.

For geography and history, see the articles on the individual countries.

Prehistory of Northern Europe