Tybrind Vig: More than Stone Tools


These are two common late Mesolithic flake axes and two really extraordinary large (up to 14 cm long) drills from Tybrind Vig. These artifacts are very typical for the late Ertebølle period in Denmark and Germany. At many Mesolithic sites, stone tools are the only evidence of early human agency, while artifacts from perishable materials have vanished thousands of  years ago. In this respect, Tybrind Vig is an exception.

The site of Tybrind Vig in central Denmark on the west coast of the island of Fyn was discovered in 1975, and excavated under the direction of Søren H. Andersen between 1978 and 1988. Radiocarbon and stratigraphic evidence suggest there was activity on the site at intervals throughout the Ertebølle period (5600–4000 BC; http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/09/the-erteb%c3%b8lle-lifestyle/).

The settlement lies today at a depth of 2-3 m beneath the waters of the Baltic. During the late Mesolithic the site was located on the shoreline of a small estuary but the site submerged during the rise in sea levels since that time. Although the village site has eroded away, the water-logged condition of the midden area has led to excellent preservation, and, as a result, Tybrind Vig has an extraordinary collection of organic (bone, antler, fiber and wooden) artifacts, and an incredible richness of animal and vegetal remains.

Evidence for human action at the site is present at the site for summer, autumn, and winter , making year-round occupation likely. The bones of numerous mammals and fish have been found in the deposits around the site. Seals, porpoises, and even whales were hunted at sea from this site, but it was fish-particularly cod, spur dog, and eel-that were of primary importance in the diet. What sets Tybrind Vig apart from other Ertebølle sites is the range of evidence it provides of coastal fishing practices during the Late Mesolithic.

The archaeological correlates of the four main types of fishing gear used in traditional fisheries – traps/weirs, nets, spears, and hooks – have all been recovered from Tybrind Vig. Made predominantly from organic materials, which would not have survived on the majority of terrestrial sites, they indicate the range of gear operated from a single site for subsistence fishing in the Late Mesolithic. In addition Carbon isotope analysis of both human bone and food residues in pots from the site documented the predominance of marine species in the diet.

A variety of fur-bearing mammals were hunted, induding wildcat, fox, otter, badger, and polecat. In almost every case these fur-bearing animals were represented by articulated clusters of bones, suggesting that they were not eaten but were discarded as whole carcasses. Cutmarks from stone artifacts on the mandibles and skulls of these animal represent the traces of skinning. Fatal fractures on the rear of the skulls represent blows from either the trapper or the traps that captured these animals. Clearly the furs of these animals were of primary importance, perhaps for exchange as well as local use.

Three dugout canoes and a number of paddles were found.  One of these canoes is particularly impressive, hollowed from a lime tree, with a length of 9,5 m. The rear portion of the canoe contains a small fireplace, likely used for attracting eels. This boat could have carried six to eight individuals and their equipment. Canoe paddles of ash from the site have a heart-shaped blade and provide the first evidence in Europe for the decoration of wooden objects. A curvilinear, symmetrical design was cut into the blade of the paddle and filled with a brown coloring material. Finally several pieces of textiles and ropes, woven from threads of plant fiber, provide further evidence of the array of equipment and materials in use during the Mesolithic.

Botanical samples from submerged cultural deposits have provided evidence for the contribution of plants to the subsistence diet of the inhabitants of Tybrind Vig. The food plant remains are represented by the charred fragments of parenchymatous tissue from roots of Beta vulgaris ssp.  maritima (sea beet), fragments of Quercus sp. parenchyma (acorn), and shell fragments of Corylus avellana (hazelnut). The possibility that the grains of Glyceria fluitans (floating sweet grass) and stems of Phragmites australis (reed) were collected for food have been already discussed. In addition to the species identified in the charred remains, an abundance of edible plant seeds and fruits were represented in the waterlogged remains, suggesting that a much broader range of food plants was available in the area.

Suggested Reading: How German Archaeology learned from the Tybrind Vig experience:



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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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