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Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie

Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen
Schloss Gottorf
D-24837 Schleswig

Tel. +49/4621 - 813-0
Fax +49/4621 - 813-535

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Pursuing the Pioneers of the North


Wide areas of today’s south-western Baltic region were covered by the margins of the vast Fenno-Scandinavian ice sheet during the Last Glacial Maximum (approx. 26,500-19,000 years ago; Fig. 1).

Abb. 1 Karte von Nordwesteuropa während des letzten glazialen Maximums (Grundkarte: zusammengestellt durch Grimm 2011 nach Boulton u. a. 2001; Bourillet u.a. 2003; Carr u.a. 2006; Clark u. a. 2004; Gupta u. a. 2007; Ivy-Ochs u. a.2006; Lericolais u.a. 2003; Peltier 2005; Wolstedt 1956).

Fig. 1 Map of north-western Europe during the last glacial maximum (base map: compiled by Grimm 2011 according to Boulton u. a. 2001; Bourillet u.a. 2003; Carr u.a. 2006; Clark u. a. 2004; Gupta u. a. 2007; Ivy-Ochs u. a.2006; Lericolais u.a. 2003; Peltier 2005; Woldstedt 1956).

These formed the (younger) moraine landscape of eastern Schleswig-Holstein, Jutland, and the Danish islands in the Baltic Sea. In the areas westwards and southwards adjacent to the glaciers, moraines from previous glaciations were abraded mainly by wind. Deep permafrost was prevailing there and continued to do so in many parts long after the retreat of the Weichselian glaciers. Only with the beginning of the Lateglacial Interstadial (c. 15,000 years ago), a warming phase at the end of the last Ice Age, the permafrost in the south-western Baltic region gradually vanished. In this way the area became habitable and vegetation, fauna, and finally the Palaeolithic hunters and gatherers began to settle the landscape. Yet, significant transformations of this landscape such as isostatic uplifts, subsidence, water inrush, melting ice in the ground (development of kettle holes), sand storms etc. continued until the beginning of our warm stage, the Holocene (c. 11,700 years ago) and repeatedly challenged the human groups. It’s a matter of debate whether the occasionally still extreme climate deteriorations led to the regression of hunter-gatherer groups to regions further south and, consequently, to new pioneer movements to the north after such events. During the climatic amelioration at the beginning of the Holocene and the spread of forest environments, human groups gradually established within territories in the south-western Baltic region. Hunters and gatherers that did not intend to live in a forested area and aimed to keep hunting reindeer in widely spread grounds (cf. had to move further north.

As part of the collaborative research centre (CRC) 1266 “Scales of transformation”, our project B1 “Pioneers of the North: Transitions and transformations in Northern Europe based on high-resolution data (c. 15,000-9,500 BCE)” ( is going to examine these highly mobile groups at the end of the Ice Age and on their way north during the Postglacial. The south-western Baltic region forms the object of the primary stage that we will focus on during the first four years of the CRC programme (June 2016-June 2020; In the next stages to 2024 and to 2028, we will follow these highly mobile groups further north into Scandinavia to continue examining the transformations of the human-environmental interactions of these communities during the considerably more stable Holocene.
Our project is particularly well located at the ZBSA ( since we can develop on previous projects (; and benefit from exchange with thematically similar projects (;; Furthermore, we can incorporate other, long-term projects implemented at the ZBSA (;
The aim of the project is to test the connection of four relevant transformations of the human-environmental interactions to pioneer movements in the first, Lateglacial study area and to generally consider these transformations in the context of the major replacement process of the Palaeolithic by the Mesolithic. Therefore, it is not enough to study the transformation phases.

We have to analyse the developments during the whole Lateglacial to distinguish these transformations from continuously appearing changes. This quickly raises new questions, for instance: What do we know about the development of the Ahrensburgian that spreads over one millennium? In this context, how do we have to understand the appearance and spread of the so-called Long Blade Technology that reflects striking similarities in the flint technology during the final Palaeolithic phase in north-western Europe? We conduct technological analyses on lithic artefacts that inform us about the concepts, methods, and techniques of prehistoric flintknappers to help us approach the above mentioned complexes of questions. Besides the recording of different characteristics on single artefacts, these studies include refitting of artefacts that were knapped from a single nodule (Fig. 2).

Knolle 2a

Beispiel für zusammengepasste Steinartefakte am Beispiel von Funden der Ahrensburger Kultur aus Alt Duvenstedt LA 121: a) Aufsicht; b) Seitenansicht (Fotos: Ludovic Mevel).

Fig. 2 Example of refitted lithic artefacts from the Ahrensburgian site Alt Duvenstedt LA 121: a) top view; b) view from the side (photos: Ludovic Mevel).

Based on this, the modus operandi from the raw material to the tool can be reconstructed that is subject to specific rules transmitted within the group. Comparing sites of different ages, we can observe how this modus operandi changes and when these changes become significant. Accordingly, a master thesis is planned to examine the variability of the Ahrensburgian.

Only with this kind of in-depth analysis of the present archaeological material, we are able to fulfil the assignment of the CRC to compare the different dimensions or scales of transformations. This becomes of further importance since our findings have been hardly preserved through the millennia and, thus, we only know a small number of relevant find regions: These are the Ahrensburg Tunnel Valley, the region at the Itzstedt Lake and at the Lieth Moor in southern Schelswig-Holstein and Alt Duvenstedt and Ahrenshöft in the north of the country. In particular, the three southern regions yielded besides lithic artefacts also organic remains such as bone and antler of hunted animals. Based on these, the subsistence of the hunter-gatherer groups as well as their strategic hunting behaviour can be analysed. In particular, the numerous faunal remains from the Ahrensburg Tunnel Valley allowed the hunting season to be discerned. Moreover, many of these finds were recovered in systematic excavations that allow the artefacts to be considered in a stratigraphic succession. Often pollen were also preserved in the stratigraphy allowing a detailed development of the vegetation to be reconstructed. In addition to those regions from Schleswig-Holstein, we could add a Danish region last year when kettle holes including some Lateglacial material were found during housing development near Horsens. To broaden our picture from these spotlights, we began to survey for further promising find regions using the Palaeodatabase of Palaeolithic finds in Schleswig-Holstein which has been previously developed at the ZBSA ( These regions are going to be tested for their potential of yielding archaeological as well as palaeo-environmental archives.

Besides the region around Horsens in Denmark, we also worked intensely on two exciting find regions from Schleswig-Holstein. Near the Itzstedt Lake in the valley of the upper Rönne river, we could receive two 16 m long sediment cores (Fig. 3) from the deposits of a former water body (

Arbeiten nahe dem Itzstedter See: a) Bohrung; b) Bohrkernserie A (Fotos: Sonja Grimm).


Fig. 3 Work near the Itzstedt Lake: a) Coring; b) Core series A (photos: Sonja Grimm).

This high-resolution, palaeo-environmental archive will be studied in particular by Sascha Krüger in the course of his PhD dissertation ( to investigate the human-environmental interactions in a location very similar to the Ahrensburg Tunnel Valley.

We have looked through the archaeological reports of the Lieth Moor area and combined them with the large corpus of geological surveys. This combination made evident how rich this area is in Lateglacial sites but also showed the many problems and adversities caused by the geological situation (active salt dome, probably a very shallow open water body during the Lateglacial; Fig. 4).

Abb. 4 Karte mit Ausbreitung des Salzstockes und rekonstruierte Lage und Ausdehnung des spätglazialen Sees am Liether Moor (Grafik: ZBSA-GIS/Benjamin Serbe).

Fig. 4 Map showing the extent of the salt dome and the reconstructed location and extent of a Lateglacial lake at Lieth Moor (map: ZBSA-GIS/Benjamin Serbe).

Furthermore, we began to record (Fig. 5; some for the first time) the large amount of artefacts from this area to better understand the transformations around the Lieth Moor.

Abb. 5. Besprechung spätpaläolithischer Steinartefakten von Klein Nordende (Foto: Mara-Julia Weber).

Fig. 5 Discussing Final Palaeolithic artefacts from Klein Nordende/ Lieth Moor (photo: Mara-Julia Weber).

Based on the reduction processes of flint cores, another Master thesis shall test whether the second oldest transformation phase represents a break in the transmission that possibly could indicate a renewed pioneering phase.

Until mid-2020 we want to present syntheses and advance with further research of known regions in addition to surveying for new sites. We expect our project to provide an important impulse for new research into Lateglacial archaeology of northern Germany and Denmark.


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