After about 4900 b.c. central Europe continued to be occupied by farming peoples descended from the original Linearbandkeramik communities, among them, the Rossen culture of central and southern Germany, the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery culture of eastern Germany and Bohemia, and the Lengyel culture of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. These groups pursued the same general way of life of the Linearbandkeramik farmers through most of the fifth millennium b.c. An important development during this period is exchange, particularly in the form of stone axes, between the farming communities of central Europe and the Mesolithic foragers of southern Scandinavia. Still, for several centuries, the northern frontier of farming did not extend farther than the lowlands of northern Poland and Germany. At this time, the Late Mesolithic Ertebolle-Ellerbek culture flourished along the Baltic coast.


The Mesolithic Ertebolle culture is found c. 54003950 b.c. in the western Baltic area: southern Sweden, Denmark, and northern Germany between the Elbe and the Oder Rivers. Ertebolle is roughly contemporary with Linearbandkeramik and descendant groups farther south. In Schleswig-Holstein the local name is Ellerbek; in Mecklenburg it is the Lietzow group. In Scandinavia Ertebolle is divided into an older aceramic phase, from 5400 to 4600 b.c., and younger phase with pottery, T-shaped antler axes, and imported axes. Shell middens are a characteristic feature of coastal sites in the northern Ertebolle region, where the salinity of the sea was sufficient to support the growth of oysters. Burials appear in greater numbers and with more variety compared with the burials of earlier periods.

Ertebolle Technology. Ertebolle flint technology was based on blades used to produce arrowheads with a transverse edge, end scrapers with a convex edge, and tanged scrapers with a concave edge. There were flat-trimmed flake axes and core axes; core axes with a special edge trim and, in a few cases, polish are characteristic of the final days of the Ertebolle. Antler axes with shaft holes near the burr date from the older Ertebolle, while T-shaped antler axes, in which a shaft hole was drilled through the center of the large antler beam, are characteristic of the younger Ertebolle. T-shaped antler axes have a wide European distribution in fully Neolithic contexts, where they appear earlier than in Ertebolle. Such an axe was found in the oldest layer at Rosen-hof in northern Germany, dating to c. 5100 b.c. In Denmark T-shaped antler axes appear c. 46004500 b.c. Groundstone axes were made of green stone. Numerous wooden artifacts are known from this time period, many examples, such as fences, traps, leisters, dugout canoes, and paddle oars (some decorated in curvilinear designs), relate to fishing. Wooden bowls and spoons also occur. Ornamental beads were made from animal teeth, and bone rings were carved from shoulder blades. Combs were carved from bone as well.

Schematic of changes in material and economic culture between Ertebolle and Early Neolithic Funnel Beaker cultures in Denmark-Scania.

Fig. 1. Schematic of changes in material and economic culture between Ertebolle and Early Neolithic Funnel Beaker cultures in Denmark-Scania.

Two shapes of pottery vessels were common in the Ertebolle; there were shallow, oval bowls presumably used as lamps and pointed-bottom vessels in three sizes—small beakers and medium and large pots used for drinking, cooking, and perhaps storage. Pottery from Schleswig-Holstein (Germany) has been dated on the basis of food remains found in the pots: dates range from 5300-5100 b.c. at Schlammersdorf (site 5) to 4300-4100 b.c. for the youngest Ertebolle examples, at Wangels. The oval lamps date from 4400-4200 b.c., but they also have been found in the context of Funnel Beaker sites at Siggeneben-Sud in Germany. In Denmark Ertebolle pottery appeared c. 4600 b.c.; the youngest pottery is dated to 4250-3870 b.c.

The source of this pottery has been sought in other Mesolithic groups along the Atlantic coast, such as Roucadour in southern France, or in Comb-Ceramic groups in the eastern Baltic, such as the Narva group in Latvia, beginning in 5300-5200 b.c. Only a few examples of imported pottery have been found among the farmers to the south, at such sites as Rosenhof in Schleswig-Holstein, Molln and Hammer in southern Holstein, and Lietzow-Buddelin and Parow (site 4) in Mecklenburg. These sherds could have derived from the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery group. Perforated shoe-last axes were imported from the Linearbandkeramik area, where they were in use for about a millennium. A small group of triangular axes made from exotic stone were imported from the south during the late Ertebolle, together with a few copper axes. The Ertebolle region west of the Great Belt, which is the strait between Zealand and Fyn, is characterized by such artifacts as T-shaped antler axes; bone combs, rings, and disks; bird-bone points; a straight type of harpoon; and a special shape of the pointed bottom of pottery vessels. In the eastern group many bone objects are absent; Limhamn stone axes, a curved type of harpoon and vessels with a different shape of pointed bottom were used. Imported stone axes of the shoe-last type and the late triangular axes are found mainly south of the Baltic and among the eastern Ertebolle peoples.

Ertebolle Settlement Patterns, Settlement Types, and Houses. Ertebolle settlements are concentrated in coastal and riverine environments with good fishing opportunities. Typically, settlements each comprise a large central site occupied more or less continuously year-round and numerous small, seasonal sites both on coasts and along inland freshwater systems. This more permanent form of habitation was made possible by the resource stability provided by fishing using nets and traps. Analyses of carbon 13 in Ertebolle skeletons indicate that marine foods were as big a part of the diet as they are among modern people on Greenland.

Large central sites include settlements with shell middens, such as Bjornsholm, Ertebolle, and Norsminde in northern and eastern Jutland, and sites without middens, such as Smakkerup Huse in Zealand, Tybrind Vig on the island of Funen, Skate-holm in Scania, and Wangels in Schleswig-Holstein. Among the examples of special extraction camps are Aggersund in northern Jutland, where swans were hunted during winter. An inland site, Ringkloster, was used in the winter for hunting wild boar and fur-bearing animals. The coastal site of Olby Lyng was occupied in the fall and winter for the purpose of fishing and hunting migrating porpoises, seals, and certain marine birds. Other sites in the Amose swamp in central Zealand appear to have been smaller summer camps. There seems to have been a pattern of seasonal movement between the coast and inland areas on Zealand. It has been suggested that there was a split between inland and coastal peoples in Schleswig-Holstein. Territories of about 15 kilometers in diameter have been inferred in fjords along the eastern coast of Jutland, and it has been proposed that there were territories some 40 kilometers in diameter on Zealand, based on stylistic differences in the shape of flake axes.

At the settlements, burials are found farthest from the coast and at the highest elevations, sometimes placed between habitations; alternatively, living areas, such as dwellings, hearths, and sites of waste disposal, are located just below burials. Right along the shore there is typically a midden (with or without shells), and immediately offshore would have been the fish traps, dugout canoes, and a dump. On the settlement itself, usually only flint and charcoal are preserved, while the waterlogged dump area contains well-preserved organic remains. Some sites of the Ertebolle culture had round huts with an off-center hearth, such as those at Lol-likhuse (5.5 x 4.0 meters) and at Niva (2.5 x 3.5 meters), both in northern Zealand. In Scania substantial houses have been found at Tagerup (15 x 7 meters) and Skateholm I (10.7 x 6.5 meters). These houses each had one interior row of posts supporting the roof, a slightly sunken floor, and a noncentral hearth.

Ertebolle Burials. Numerous burials are known, especially from the older Ertebolle culture. At Skateholm in southern Scania, burial grounds were found in relation to two Ertebolle settlements; at the older, Skateholm II (5800-4900 b.c.), there were twenty-two burials, and at the younger, Skate-holm I (5300-4800 b.c.), sixty-five burials were located. In addition, eleven graves contained dogs. At Vedbxk-Bogebakken twenty-two women and men of all ages were buried in seventeen graves, which were simple earth-cut, trough-shaped pits.

Burials in the extended supine position are the most common, but at Skateholm some bodies were found lying on their sides, and others were buried in a sitting position in narrow, funnel-shaped pits. Most burials were inhumations, but a few cremations also were found. The dead were buried in their clothes, perhaps wrapped in fur or hides and sometimes in sheets of bark. The men were given knives, daggers, and axes, and the women wore ornaments made from animal teeth. Concentrations of red ochre were found in the head and chest areas. Apart from the ritual activities connected with the ancestors, offerings made in wet places may have been part of the Ertebolle cult. The items deposited typically were shoe-last axes, a few pots, and a stash of beads made from animal teeth.


In Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany, there were traces of agriculture as early as 4700-4600 b.c., suggesting that domesticates were adopted in a late Ertebolle-Ellerbek context. In the Lietzow group of Mecklenburg and Rugen, no agrarian elements appeared during the late Ertebolle. In southern Scandinavia domesticates appear c. 3950 b.c.; only a few finds indicate the presence of domesticates during the final centuries of the Ertebolle culture.

According to Sonke Hartz and colleagues, the adoption of food production in Schleswig-Holstein can been divided into three phases, illustrated by cultural layers at three settlement sites: Rosenhof, Wangles, and Siggeneben-Sud. These phases cover the Ertebolle and the early Funnel Beaker cultures. In phase A (c. 5100-4100 b.c.), evidence of early agriculture among the Ertebolle people is provided by pollen analyses showing deforestation and cereal growing along the Baltic coast from 4770 to 4580 b.c. The earliest cattle bones show up at Rosenhof c. 4700 b.c. Cattle were the only domestic animal apart from dogs, but they represented only 1 to 2 percent of the mammal bones. The material culture and the economy at Rosenhof at this stage are otherwise purely Mesolithic.

For phase B (c. 4100-3900 b.c.), pollen analyses continue to show cereal cultivation. At Wangels crop processing is indicated by quern stones and a charred emmer grain. Livestock was the main meat source, constituting 50 percent of the mammal bone finds; hunting declined. Numerous sheep or goats are present as well. Flint, bone, and antler tools still reflect Ertebolle traditions. The earliest Funnel Beaker pottery is dated from charred food remains to 4100-3800 b.c. at the coastal site of Wangels, the inland site of Bebensee, and Parow (site 4) in Mecklenburg. Types of pottery include slender and wide bowls, flasks, disks, and lugged amphorae (i.e., pottery with decorative knobs or bosses). Stabs below the rim are the main decoration; two vessels have thickened rims. The Rosenhof pottery vessels form the closest parallel to that from Wangels, but similarities can be found in Michels-berg and post-Stroke-Ornamented Pottery groups to the south and early Funnel Beaker examples in eastern Denmark. A drastic change took place in the settlement pattern during phase B, along with increased dependence on farming. Smaller settlement units replaced the large year-round settlements that had been based on hunting of sea and land mammals.

Phase C (3900-3500 b.c.) is exemplified by a pure Funnel Beaker assemblage from Siggeneben-Sud. Pottery types and decoration are similar to those of phase B, but beakers constitute 90 percent of the inventory. The earliest polished flint axes appeared, and typical Ertebolle tool types of flint, bone, and antler disappeared at this time. Domesticated animals, primarily cattle and pigs, made up 60 percent of the small quantity of bones from Sig-geneben-Sud. Some hunting and fishing took place, as evidenced by arrowheads, leister prongs, and a small number of sea mammal bones. Pollen analyses and more charcoal both inland and along the coast indicate the practice of swidden agriculture.

Funnel Beaker Distribution, Dates, and Local Groups. The Funnel Beaker culture was distributed across the North European Plain to the north of the groups that followed the Linearbandkeramik between the Netherlands and the Vistula River valley. The earliest Funnel Beaker radiocarbon date, obtained at Sarnowo in central Poland, was 4400 b.c. Most other dates suggest that the start of the Funnel Beaker was closer to 4000 b.c. In southern Scandinavia the earliest Funnel Beaker stage dates to 3950-3500 b.c., the middle stage to 3500-3200 b.c., and the final stage to 3200-2800 b.c. The oldest Funnel Beaker site, at Akonge in the Amose on Zealand, dates to 3950 b.c.

Pottery is the characteristic element of material culture and included funnel-necked beakers, two-handled or four-handled amphorae, flasks, bowls, and flat clay disks. Decoration of the early pottery usually was limited to a series of stabs below the rim. Large vessels may have thickened rims with finger impressions. Clay disks often have finger impressions on the rim. Later, decoration of the vessel body with vertical incisions became very common. Flint tools of the period comprised flint axes with pointed or thin, butt-end, flat-trimmed daggers; round scrapers; transverse arrowheads; and knives. Flat hammer axes and club heads were made of ground stone. Amber beads and pendants were used as ornaments, and jewelry also was made of small disks and wire spirals. Copper was imported in the form of flat axes with splayed edges.

Vegetation and Agriculture. During the Early Neolithic, 3950-3500 b.c., only small plots were cultivated, using digging sticks to prepare the soil. Charred grain and pottery with grain impressions date to 3780 b.c., but cereal appeared earlier in the pollen diagrams. The oldest domesticated animals date to 3960 b.c.: in Zealand there were cattle at Akonge and sheep or goats at Lollikhuse. Livestock may have been more important than cultivation. Cattle were dominant, followed by pigs; sheep and goats were of minor importance Extensive swidden agriculture and plowing with the primitive ard did not appear before c. 3600 b.c. Until then, wild resources remained an important part of the diet.

Funnel Beaker Settlement. Early Neolithic settlements were relatively small and mobile and were located on light, sandy soils. The habitation was spreading inland at this time, but sites still were located in the vicinity of lakes and streams or on the coast. Settlements, earthen long barrows, and bog deposits reflect the local Early Neolithic community. By about 3600-3200 b.c. a three-tier settlement pattern had been organized around regional centers at causewayed enclosures and surrounded by small communities, each with a settlement, a cluster of megalithic tombs, and bog deposits. This was a period of intense construction of thousands of mega-lithic tombs and numerous enclosures, as well as elaborate sacrifices in the bogs. During the final Funnel Beaker period, 3200-2800 b.c., habitation became concentrated in large settlements. In terms of size, the early settlements covered c. 500-700 square meters, increasing to 4,000 square meters in the middle stage and 20,000-30,000 square meters in the final stage, according to a study from eastern Jutland.

Many sites, such as Muldbjerg and Akonge in Amose, show evidence of continued exploitation of wild resources. The top layers of several Ertebolle shell middens date to the Early Neolithic. At Bjornsholm, northern Jutland, a settlement and a long barrow located adjacent to a shell midden indicate that some coastal sites were more permanent. Limited grain cultivation and livestock supplemented an otherwise Mesolithic lifestyle at this site.

The internal structure of the Funnel Beaker settlements is still uncertain, and preservation of organic remains is rare, except at some riverine and coastal sites. At Mosegarden, eastern Jutland, a settlement of about 500 square meters was preserved beneath an earthen long barrow dating to c. 3900 b.c. The remains include a living area with scattered postholes, perhaps representing two to three huts; a hearth; a dump area; and light debris from artifacts. Structures of small oval houses 10-18 meters long and 4-6 meters wide, with a single row of three to eight central posts, have been found at a few Early Neolithic sites: Bygholm Norremark in Jutland, Ornehus and Skrxppegard on Zealand, Limensgard on Bornholm, and Mossby in Scania. These small longhouses sometimes were supplemented by other types of houses, such as one D-shaped structure from Hanstedgard, Jutland.

Causewayed enclosures were constructed between 3500 and 3100 b.c. in Denmark. A common feature for the twenty-three sites found thus far in Denmark is a system of parallel ditches or ditches combined with palisades enclosing a natural promontory. The enclosures vary in size from 1.6 to 20 hectares. The interior generally is void of finds. Deposits of whole pots, heaps of tools or animal bones, and human skulls or part of skulls represent ritual activities in the ditches. In some places there were traces of fire. The causewayed enclosures have been interpreted as ritual sites serving as regional centers for scattered tribal communities. Activities may have been related to the ancestor cult, as indicated by the human skulls in the ditches. It has been suggested that the interior areas served as temporary repositories for the dead before the skeletons were placed in megalithic tombs.

Funnel Beaker Burials. One type of burial was simple inhumation in the extended supine position, without a mound; these burials sometimes are called "flat graves" or "earth graves" and are possibly a continuation of the Ertebolle tradition, as seen at Dragsholm, northern Zealand. These nonmonu-mental burials continued throughout the Funnel Beaker period, as is evident at Stalmosegard, Zealand. Similar graves have been found in earthen long barrows enclosed by large timber settings or trenches, a new feature appearing at the very beginning of the Funnel Beaker culture over a wide area from Jutland to the Elbe-Saale region in Germany and from Kujavia in Poland to Lower Saxony. In general, trapezoidal earthen mounds are present in the east, in Kujavia and western Pomerania, and rectangular mounds are common in the west, in Lower Saxony; trapezoidal mounds are found in both zones. Ian Hodder has suggested that continental longhouses were the prototype for the long barrows. The nearly contemporary villages of Lengyel longhouses (such as those at Brzesc Kujawski) and Funnel Beaker long barrow cemeteries in Kujavia have been proposed as the possible origins. The already established timber mortuary architecture was translated into megalithic monuments constructed of large boulders during the middle period of the Funnel Beaker culture. Only selected bones were deposited in the megalithic graves; the bodies were skeletonized elsewhere, perhaps at the causewayed enclosures.

Bog Deposits. Wetlands were chosen for deposition of selected items, most often individual pots (or sometimes several pots) with food and occasionally the remains of large ceremonies involving sacrifices of cattle and humans. At Sigersdal, northeastern Zealand, the skeletons of two women, ages sixteen and eighteen, one with a cord around her neck, were found together with a large lugged vessel. The skeletons date to c. 3500 b.c. and may be the oldest human sacrifices in Europe. At Gammellung, Langeland, a votive deposit from the beginning of the Middle Neolithic comprised five oxen, four pigs, one goat, one dog, and three humans. At least two of the oxen and a forty-year-old woman were killed with a violent blow to the head. Bones were split to extract the marrow, indicating that the deposit represented the remains of a large feast. These bog offerings seem to have been part of a fertility cult. Other depositions included such valuables as polished flint axes and amber.


Three explanatory models have been discussed for the introduction of agriculture within the Ertebolle distribution area: immigration by farmers or acculturation of foragers, caused by a food crisis brought on by economic-ecological changes or by socioeconomic competition. In the case of the Linearbandkeramik, the most persuasive argument in favor of immigration is the appearance of a new culture as a "package" different from what had been present earlier. This does not appear to have been the case in northern Europe. In terms of both flint and pottery technology the late Ertebolle and the early Funnel Beaker cultures were very much alike. Such continuity in material culture makes a large-scale migration unlikely, but limited migration by small groups of farmers or assimilation of single individuals might have occurred. Another problem with the migration theory is how to explain what became of the substantial Mesolithic population in the Ertebolle area. Minor differences exist in the skeleton remains from the Ertebolle and Funnel Beaker cultures, but the comparison is made between populations that existed a thousand years apart. Almost no skeletons from the time of the transition to agriculture have been found.

Food Crisis. The logic of the migration hypothesis is, in part, that farming was a more advantageous and superior way of life. This opinion changed under the influence of ethnographical studies in the 1960s that suggested that only minimal labor was required to sustain life as a hunter-gatherer and that the transition to farming would be more demanding. Many ideas have been put forward to explain why the apparently well adapted Ertebolle people would choose to become farmers. It has been proposed that population pressure resulted from a more sedentary lifestyle on the permanently inhabited coastal sites. An increase in inland sites also has been noted, but evidence from the early part of the Neolithic does not support growth in the population.

Ecological changes have been invoked to explain an imbalance between population and resources, especially marine resources. At the same time, regression in sea level may have produced an expansion in beach ridge formations and a decline in shallow-water fishing. Climate changes are cyclically recurrent, however, and apparently did not have adaptational consequences earlier in the Ertebolle period. A unique episode of a decrease in tidal amplitude may have caused a shift from marine to more brackish conditions, as reflected in a corresponding decline in the numbers of oysters seen in shell middens.

The natural reduction in numbers of oysters has been proposed as the cause of the adoption of domesticates as an alternative food source. Oysters allegedly filled a gap in resources in late winter. This explanation does not seem plausible, considering that farming was adopted at the same time in areas without a natural supply of oysters. At the Bjornsholm shell midden in northern Jutland, Neolithic artifacts appear in the oyster layer before a change from oysters to cockles took place. A more brackish environment possibly meant a decline in productivity. Nonetheless, fishing was still important in the Early Neolithic, although the carbon-13 content of Neolithic skeletons confirms a diet based on terrestrial rather than marine resources. Despite the changes, there is no proof of a food crisis during the late Ertebolle period. The most persuasive argument against the food-crisis hypothesis is probably that farming played only a limited role in the subsistence economy during the first several hundred years of the Neolithic within the Ertebolle region.

Socioeconomic Competition. Competition for prestige and power has been posited as the impetus for the introduction of domestic food sources among the Mesolithic Ertebolle people. Exotic and highly desirable goods were exchanged through far-reaching networks. Small societies gained prestige through the value of the exchanged goods. Gift exchange might have taken place during feasts where special foods were served. The Ertebolle people had a tradition 800 to 1,000 years long of exchanging goods with neighboring communities, which is documented by imports of ceramics and axes made of exotic raw materials. Such exchange possibly intensified during the final Ertebolle period, as reflected in such artifacts as jadeite and copper axes. Exotic foods might have been received as prestigious gifts at first, which would explain the imprints of cereal grains in Ertebolle pottery at Loddesborg and Vik in Scania and the remains of cattle at Smakkerup Huse, Zealand.

Through an inflationary process it became more difficult to maintain power and prestige and more advantageous to start producing domesticates for exotic prestige food, such as cereal-based alcoholic beverages and different kinds of meat. Livestock also served as a measure of wealth in its own right. A gradual change then took place toward greater social inequality, more surplus production, increased specialization, and larger capacity to redistribute goods and food.


Local hunter-gatherer groups appear to have adopted agriculture to a limited extent in southern Scandinavia before the major cultural changes that accompanied the arrival of the Linearbandkeramik and the emergence of the Funnel Beaker culture. Domestic foods initially served as a supplement to the Mesolithic diet. A mixed economy lasted for about five hundred years during the early Funnel Beaker period in southern Scandinavia. Continuity in flint and pottery technology and burial rites suggest local development of the Funnel Beaker culture, influenced by the introduction of ideological trends from the south, including new fashions in elite weapons and burial monuments. Perhaps an escalating process of socioeconomic competition led first to the adoption of domesticates and later to a fully agrarian subsistence economy, followed by another wave of major cultural changes in settlement and ritual.

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