Lateglacial short-time pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia?


These are some of Late-glacial artifacts, found together during the 1940ies in the Hesselager region (Fyn; Denmark). While one artifact resembles a broken Ahrensburg-point, the others are chronological insensitive endscrapers and a burin. Interestingly there are some becs / Bohrers which are made from the same flint- very unusual for any of the late Paleolithic phases (Hamburgian, Brommean, Ahrensburgian, Federmessser) in this region. In addition Hamburgian and Federmesser Ensembles have not been described in the literature from Fyn so far.  Most probable the ensemble belongs into the Ahrensburgian tradition.

Humans respond in a variety of ways to climate and environmental change. They may adapt, migrate, evolve new technologies, or experience breakdowns in their socio-cultural and economic systems. Although environmental change triggered early colonization and retreat; social processes,  traditions and and human decisions play an immense impact on the visible archaeological record.

The area of Lateglacial pioneer human re-colonization of N-Europe stretches from the Netherlands in the west to Poland in the east and from northern Germany across Denmark and southern Sweden to the edge of the Scandinavian ice sheet, which at that time covered most of what is now Norway and Sweden. The  iconic so-called Hamburgian culture of northern Europe is associated with the first movement of hunter-gatherer people into the newly deglaciated, desolate and deserted landscapes of northern Europe sometime during the late Glacial.  Anyhow, the early phase of this complex is restricted to the lowlands of N-Germany and Poland and seems to be not present in Scandinavia.

How did people cope with moving in regions where the details of the resource distribution were unknown and where the nearest relatives were far away? Foragers are known ethnographically to rely on a range of coping strategies including mobility, storage, economic intensification or diversification as well as social networking to handle such challenges.

Housley et al. have suggested that the first human occupants were seasonal visitors arriving several hundred years after the initial spread of vegetation and animals. These pioneer hunting groups were followed a few hundred years later by permanent residents. The almost simultaneous occupation of Britain and southern Scandinavia speaks to the regularity of this colonization process as human groups spread to the north and west from refugia in southern Europe.

Sites at “the margins” of the Hamburgian human ecomene  may  help to evaluate the very early colonization process. Findings of the Hamburgian complex in Scandinavia are notorious rare after 80 years of research and may relate to a short and unsuccessful localisation. Indeed there are no valid arguments to construct continuity with the following Federmesser groups.

In the early 1980s, the first find from the Hamburgian in Scandinavia was excavated at Jels in Sønderjylland (site Jels I).  The site of Slotseng in South Jutland yielded stratified findings from the Hamburgian and later Federmessser complex. A more recent discovery of a Havelte-phase site of the Hamburgian was made in eastern Denmark at Krogsbølle near Nakskov.

With Hamburgian sites being virtually absent in more southerly parts of the British Isles, the newly discovered Havelte-phase Hamburgian site of Howburn Farm in Scotland may indicate one of the rare travel events of late Hamburgian foragers across Doggerland.

The very first Late-glacial pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia can be seen as a series of successes (colonization pulses) and failures (collapse and/or retreat; Riede et al. 2014). In this view, the Hamburgian exploration of Scandinavia and Scotland via Doggerland was probably much shorter than the span of 500-700 years, usually assumed.  Riede suggests that the sparse material from N-Europe probably represents “no more than one human generation and perhaps much less, as little as a few seasons of occupation”. Read his inspiring thoughts (a rare example of combining the archaeological data with different theoretical approaches) in the following publication (via Researchgate):

Suggested reading:

Lateglacial and Postglacial Pioneers in Northern Europe: Edited by Felix Riede, Miikka Tallaavaara. BAR International Series 2599 2014

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