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Research on the absolute chronology of cultural and topographical developments during the Stone Age in the eastern Baltic region

Dr. Harald Lübke

It is intended, in close cooperation with the Institute for Latvian History (Latvijas vēstures institūts – LVI) and based on methods used for archaeological research into landscapes and the environment, to investigate the cultural and topographical evolution of selected areas of Latvia from the Late Glacial period to the beginning of the Subboreal. The results will then be compared with data already available for the western part of the Baltic Sea area. The primary focus is on how prehistoric man used his environment and how he adapted his socio-economic behaviour to the changing landscape – or how he himself changed the landscape by his behaviour.

For this purpose, it is necessary, on the one hand, to draw up as complete a list as possible of Stone Age sites in the selected research areas, both those already known and those yet to be discovered by new surveys. On the other hand, significant sites with good, well-stratified preservation conditions must be investigated in order to obtain information on the technology, ergology and economy of the Stone-Age cultures. In northern Germany, similar research is currently being carried out on the Duvensee Moor and the Satrupholm Moor, and important results have also been obtained from the now-completed interdisciplinary SINCOS Project.

 Riņņukalns, Vecate pagasts

Fig. 1: The site at Riņņukalns, Vecate pagast, on the southern bank of the River Salaca just below the outflow from Lake Burtniek (Photograph by H. Lübke, ZBSA).

At present, two key regions for further research in Latvia have been agreed with our Latvian colleagues, V. Bērziņš and I. Zagorska:


1. Stone-Age settlements in the valley of the River Salaca in Vidzeme District, northeastern Latvia

The research concentrates mainly on Stone-Age settlements at the point where the River Salaca flows out of Lake Burtniek in northeastern Latvia. These include the site at Riņņukalns, the only known inland shell-midden site in the eastern Baltic region. This site has been known since the early 19th century from the investigations and reports by C. Grewingk, C. Sievers and R. Virchow. Numerous finds from these early investigations still exist, mainly scattered throughout various collections in the Baltic region and also in Germany, but all the related excavation records have unfortunately been lost. Nothing definite can therefore be said about the stratigraphy and exact chronology of this site, which is so important for the history of Stone-Age settlement in this region that has otherwise been thoroughly studied under the direction of I. Zagorska.

Fundplatz Riņņukalns. Vorbereitung zum Tauchgang.

Fig. 2: The site at Riņņukalns. Preparing to dive (Photograph by I. Zagorska, LVI).

A new excavation will examine the preservation of stratified layers by digging limited trenches in the area of earlier excavations and, if necessary, by taking new samples for archaeological and scientific analysis. In preparation for this, geophysical  surveys are planned by the Institute for Earth Sciences of the CAU in Kiel.

During preliminary investigations in 2009 and 2010 by a team of Latvian and German underwater archaeologists, prehistoric animal bones were also discovered for the first time on the bed of the River Salaca, directly in front of the site. These were found lying on the stony riverbed, now covered by up to 50 cm of mud, along the edge of the river where the current flows slowly. In addition, there is evidence of further finds in front of a second site, at Kaunakalns on the bank of the river opposite Riņņukalns.

 Fundplatz Sise, Ziru pagasts. Die Užava durchfließt hier einen frühholzänen Quelltopf, aus dem wahrscheinlich die mesolithischen Geweihartefakte stammen.

Fig. 3: The site at Sise, Ziru pagasts. Here, the River Užava flows through an early Holocene exsurgence, which is probably where the Mesolithic antler artefacts come from (Photograph by H. Lübke, ZBSA).


2. Stone-Age sites in the valley of the River Užava in the District of Kurzeme, Latvia

In this model region, archaeological research into settlement and the landscape is planned in low-lying coastal landscapes that have been influenced by eustatic and isostatic movement in the eastern Baltic region. This is expected to give us a better understanding of the development of Mesolithic cultures following environmental changes on the Baltic coast and in its hinterland. Preliminary investigations were undertaken at the Sise site, where several Mesolithic antler artefacts have been found in the bed of the River Užava since 1928. The aim of the fieldwork conducted by a team of Latvian and German archaeologists under the direction of V. Bērziņš was to verify the origin of these finds and obtain further information on the geological situation during the Quaternary period in this area.

Fundplatz Sise, Ziru pagasts. Leinensicherung eines Forschungstauchers

Fig. 4: The site at Sise, Ziru pagasts. Securing the line of a research diver (Photograph by V. Bērziņš, LVI).

The archaeological underwater exploration, in which both German research divers from the ZBSA and the Latvian underwater archaeologist V. Rains from the Jurmala City Museum took part, revealed that, on the southern outskirts of Sise, the Užava cuts through an early Holocene exsurgence, on the edges of which pre-litorine peat and mud deposits were still preserved. In this exsurgence, further Mesolithic antler artefacts as well as presumably contemporaneous crushed animal bones were discovered.

Fundplatz Sise, Ziru pagasts. Forschungstaucher mit neuem Fundstück

Fig. 5: The site at Sise, Ziru pagasts. Research diver with a new find (Photograph by V. Bērziņš, LVI).

In addition to the underwater investigations, the soil at several places along the river bank was dug into to obtain additional information on the geology of the site. Of particular significance here was the evidence of a pre-litorine accumulation of peat and mud under marine sands from the time of the Litorina transgression.

Fundplatz Sise, Ziru pagasts. Bodenaufschluss am Flussufer der Užava.

Fig. 6: The site at Sise, Ziru pagasts. Soil on the bank of the River Užava. Early Holocene peat and mud sediments under marine sands from the Litorina transgression (Photograph by H. Lübke, ZBSA).

The combined geological and archaeological investigations have provided important new information on the genesis of this archaeological site. Both here and at nearby sites in the valley of the River Užava, scientific and archaeological research will be intensified over the next few years.

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In Cooperation with

Archäologie (Lettland)

Valdis Bērziņš (Projektleitung)
Ilga Zagorska (Projektleitung)
Latvijas vēstures institūts - LVI
(Institut für Lettische Geschichte)

Unterwasserarchäologie (Lettland)

Voldemar Rains
Jūrmalas pilsētas muzejs
(Stadtmuseum Jurmala)


Dr. Harald Stümpel
Prof. Wolfgang Rabbel
Dr. Dennis Wilken
Ercan Erkul
Institut für Geowissenschaften, CAU Kiel

Laimdota Kalniņa
Latvijas Universitate, Ģeogrāfijas un Zemes zinātņu fakultāte (Lettische Universität, Fakultät für Geographie und Geowissenschaften)

Mudīte Rudzīte
Latvijas Universitate, Zooloģijas muzejs (Lettische Universität, Zoologisches Museum)

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