|19 July 2014
Discoveries shed light on Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in Denmark
In 1999 the bones of several elk were excavated from Lundby bog, in the south of Denmark's largest island - Zealand. Archaeologists then dated some of the remains to between 9,400 and 9,300 BCE. Recently, new carbon dating on some of the bones revealed a date between 9,873 and 9,676 BCE - a wider range, and about 400 years earlier.
Kristoffer Buck Pedersen, an archaeologist and chief curator at Museum Southeast Denmark, says that "so far we've not found settlements that are as old as the elk bones, so the identity of the people who put the bones in the bog is something of a mystery."
The way the bones were buried indicates the remains of each animal had been wrapped in a fur.
"Back then people believed that everything in nature had a soul and to ensure balance they gathered the bones from the animals they had eaten and sacrificed them," Pedersen says, adding that ancient people thought animals buried in the bog would be resurrected.
Mikkel Sorensen, an associate professor at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen agrees with that interpretation. "There is a definite selection of the bones buried in the bog and this can clearly be interpreted as a ritual act," says Sorensen, who wasn't a part of the new study.
The archaeologists have not yet learned whether people lived close to the bog, or simply passed by it many times.
An important clue to who buried the elk comes from an axe made from an elk antler found in the bog - a kind of tool known only from the Maglemosean culture that existed between 9,000 and 6,400 BCE.
"There are plenty of settlements in the vicinity of the bog from the Mesolithic period around 12,800 and 3,900 BCE, but none of these settlements are as old as the oldest elk bones," says Pedersen. "We've examined the bog many times and we've not been able to localise any settlements, but we assume they are there - somewhere."
Pedersen explains that finding the settlement may be difficult, because a later settlement in the same place which would hide any traces.
Around the Early Neolithic (circa 4000 to 3500 BCE in this region) technologies came to Denmark from Central Europe, via what is now Germany. During this period, Mesolithic style hunting and fishing continued being practised in parallel with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry.
Most new tool types that characterise the early Neolithic in Denmark were made from local materials and exhibit a smooth evolution from late Mesolithic forms. Among the best known tools that are definitely 'foreign' and of central European origin are the chert 'skolastokser' (shoe-last celts), named after their characteristic shape. This type of axe or adze dates from the period just prior to the Neolithic in Denmark.
A recent find from the current excavation could reinforce a German connection. Archaeologist Soren Anker Sorensen from the Museum Lolland-Falster says that a heavy red-deer antler axe which still contains a small fragment of the original wooden handle, "can not be directly attributed to a German origin from the raw material, but the design of the artefact nevertheless gives an indication of the direction of cultural exchange".
Although antler axes were made throughout the Mesolithic, and continued into the Bronze Age as rarer tools, this unique type of T-shaped antler axe is common only in Jutland and Northern Germany towards the end of the Mesolithic period.
Edited from Past Horizons (24 June 2014), ScienceNordic (1 July 2014)
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