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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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Transformations of Mesolithic forager societies

Dr. Daniel Groß

The beginning of the Holocene, so approximately 12000 years ago, is marked by a rapid climatic amelioration that led to the reforestation of the North German Plain. In this context, the fauna as well as the living conditions of humans changed, so that they did not primarily hunt reindeer from then on but, among others, changed their subsistence strategies. Roe deer, red deer and wild boar became the main prey, but also fish as well as vegetable resources were exploited.

 Duvensee map

Fig. 1.: In 1777 partts of the former Duvensee were still existing before it was completely drained. Red dots show the different known sites (© ZBSA).

The project “Transitions of specialized foragers” investigates how social transformations during the Mesolithic are reflected in the archaeology and which processes caused them. It is part of the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 Scales of Transformation - Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies" at the Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, which is founded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 2016.
Centre of the attention of the project are analyses of the material culture but also investigations how settlement strategies changed. By this we determine which patterns show diachronically or regionally and which locational factors influenced settlement locations, for instance. Further aspects that are key to the project are subsistence strategies and ways and possibilities of mobility.

Intensive cooperation with other projects of the Collaborative Research Centre investigates which cultural changes can be parallelized with environmental events and which consequences followed from them.

Duvensee findings

Fig. 2: The sites spread over large parts of the Mesolithic but also Neolithic settlements are known (© ZBSA).

Last year, we worked intensively on our first focus region, south-eastern Schleswig-Holstein. Not only had a mapping of all known Mesolithic sites in the region taken place, but also the search for preserved Mesolithic bone artefacts. Especially from areas of the Trave and the Elbe-Lübeck-Canal some finds were found in the archives of the Museum for Archaeology (MfA). We sampled a selection of the pieces and arranged them chronologically using the radiocarbon method. Thus, we were able to assign the pieces, which until now were only coarsely typochronologically dated, to the absolute chronology and thus to the different phases of the Mesolithic. These investigations help us to significantly refine the relatively coarse order of types in the Mesolthic and thus to understand the development of new artefact types.

Furthermore, a large part of our time was used to further process and evaluate the extensive data on the Duvensee bog. Significant progress has been made in particular on a site named "Wohnplatz 11". The evaluation of the excavation plans enabled us to connect the different layers of bark on the site and thus to identify which areas were in use at the same time. In addition, a large number of new radiocarbon samples were selected from this and other sites, filling gaps in the sample series. Results of this are not available yet. The inclusion of the more than 55,000 stone artefacts from Wohnplatz 11 could also be significantly advanced so that further results can be expected in the course of the year.

wooden paddle

Fig. 3: In the 1920s one of the oldest paddles was found during excavations in Duvensee bog  (© MfA).

In addition to work on already excavated material, a small field campaign aimed at better assessing two sites that have become known through surface collections. These were tested with small test trenches to determine whether find bearing layers are still preserved. Unfortunately, the first site did not yield any results, so it can be assumed that the surface  finds from there did not originally come from there. The second site had been known for some time, as the teacher Mr. Stamer had already collected several finds there in the last millennium. Here we wanted to address the question of whether the place completely destroyed by ploughing or if it is in parts still preserved.


Fig. 4: Also other wooden artefacts are preserved as this socket for a flint or antler axe shows (© MfA).

The excavation showed, despite fairly limited dimensions, that structures and original find layers still exist. In the 7 m long sondage trench, a well-worked core axe was found just above a fallen tree or branch. In addition, a striking nest was discovered in a small search hole. This is an accumulation of flint flakes and splinters from artefact production. Charcoal and hazelnut shells from this find concentration allowed dating. It turned out that both situations date to the late Preboreal and may thus come from the same settlement. In August of this year, therefore, a larger area will be opened at the site to check how well the site is still preserved.

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