View Full Version : Baltic Prehistory and Early Baltic Cultures

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 03:02 PM
Baltic Prehistory (http://depts.washington.edu/baltic/papers/prehistory.html)

Marisa Hougardy

June 2001

By definition, the period before recorded history is prehistory. However, groups of different areas identify the margins of prehistory differently. To the Baltics, prehistory could be the time before the natives recorded history, which is around the early 16th century, or it could include the time before others recorded information about the Baltics and its inhabitants. All this stated, how does one differentiate between the prehistory of the Baltics, meaning the territory along the Baltic Sea coast, and the group of inhabitants? Knowingly aware of these confusions with the definition of prehistory in the Baltics, to choose a particular time period and limit prehistory to only that interval is difficult; however, as discussing "Baltic prehistory," one must limit the time period to that of before anyone recorded information regarding the Baltic area, including its inhabitants in each subsequent period. Therefore, prehistory in the Baltics begins around 10,000 BC, when the last ice sheets retreated, and continues to the Iron Age around the 5th century AD, when others began to write about the Baltic.

Divisions in prehistory revolve around climatic changes, as well as the changes occurred when a new group of peoples and their culture is introduced in a particular territory. To describe Baltic prehistory, it is best to begin with the Paleolithic period, which lasts, roughly, from 10,000 – 6800 BC. However, the best evidence describing the oldest cultures living in the Baltic lands is evidenced from the Mesolithic period, which lasts from c. 6800-4500 BC. By describing each culture in chronological order from the Paleolithic through the Neolithic (4500-2000 BC), one can grasp the changes from simple to complex cultures and understand the evolution of processes in the Baltic.

Baltic lands prior to inhabitants and the earliest signs of man

Prior to the arrival of the first peoples in the Baltic, the entire Baltic area was covered by an enormous ice cap, which receded from c. 15,000 BC to the Post-Glacial around 6,800 BC. Much of the Baltic territory and Russia was freed from ice during the second stage of the retreat called the Gotiglacial at about 15,000-8,300 BC. The retreat of the ice cap created floral changes, which introduced tundra and cold steppe forms and small patches of birch and pine forests into the area. Some dominant faunal types inhabiting these areas were mammoth, rhinoceros, reindeer, marmot, beaver and musk shrew (Gimbutas 9).

Before the ice age, an early hominid Homo erectus lived in Europe. Following Homo erectus, the typically ice-age neandertals inhabited the area from 70,000 – 30,000 BC. However, before the end of the ice age around 30,000 BC in Europe, the early Neandertal co-existed simulatenously with the Cro-Magnon human, which came in from Asia (Krūmiņš, 52). It is these earliest remains of the Cro-Magnon in the Baltic that archaeologists associate with the first humans in the area.

First cultures in the Baltic


The end of the ice age, approximately 10,000 BC, is seen as the first period of development of Indo-European society in the Baltic area (Krūmiņš 8). During the early stages in the retreat of the last ice sheets, around 10,000-8,000 BC in the area southeast of the Baltic Sea, a reindeer-hunter culture arose (Gimbutas 11). These "reindeer hunters" followed herds of reindeer northward, as herds always stayed near the edge of the receding inland ice, and arrived in East Baltic around 7000 BC. Having already lived in central and western Europe during the early Stone Age, these original Europeans, the Cr?-Magnon men, already possessed an advanced and multifaceted culture (Uustalu 13). The remains of humans of this period were like the Cro-Magnon men and, more importantly, the first people in the Baltic.

Because of the milder climate and the abundance of animals in the forests, hunters no longer followed reindeer, and subsequently remained in the Baltic, where they turned fishermen in order to provide an alternative food source to hunting. However, during this Sub-Arctic climatic period the reindeer was still the dominant animal, as many deposits of grooved reindeer antlers from this period have been found (Gimbutas 25). Moreover, the Late Glacial period introduced a new type of flint technology known as Swiderian, which previously existed between the Oder and upper Volga. This type of flint, characterized by tanged point and elongated scrapers, continued in the Baltic for a prolonged amount of time "as thousands of flints discovered without association in Baltic resemble Swiderian type" (Gimbutas 27-28, fig. 2).

However, no indisputably related physical remains have been found that could be associated with the "reindeer hunters," but a skull accidentally discovered in Kebeliai, western Lithuania, may belong to this period. "This upper part of the skull was massive, dolichocephalic, with strong proclivity of the forehead, prominent and massive brow ridges and a narrow forehead. The traits suffice to show that the Kebeliai man was sapiens, but had Neanderthaloid elements, in other words, was a Neanderthal-sapiens hybrid" (Gimbutas 28). Thus, the excavator associates the dates of this "reindeer hunter" culture on stratagraphic position, assuming that the oldest time limit of the Kebeliai man may reach the Mesolithic (c. 6800-4500). "From this we can deduce that the Kebeliai skull probably belongs to the period between the last glaciation and the Baltic-Boreal culture" (Gimbutas 28).

BALTIC FOREST CULTURE – remnants of the reindeer hunters

When the iceage climate became more temperate around 7500 BC, in the place of reindeer horses arrived. In this Boreal period (6800-5600 BC) that followed, a relatively uniform culture of hunters and fishers extended from the western Baltic to southwestern Finland (Gimbutas 11). Hunters and fishers living in small groups on the banks of streams and lakes remained in the Baltic to hunt elk, the most predominant faunal type (Vasks 15). These hunters and fishers of a identified as a forest culture is known by two names: the Maglemose culture of the western Baltic area and the Kunda culture of the eastern Baltic area (Gimbutas 30).

Exemplary of the Maglemose type is the most ancient burial site in the East Baltic found at Zvejnieki in Latvia near the Burtnieks lake, and dates to around 6300 BC (Vasks 15). From the massivity of the bones, it can be concluded that this human was like that of the Scandinavian type, which belongs with the Maglemose and Ertebeles cultures (Vasks 15). Early and Middle Mesolithic types of bone objects of the Kunda type show influence of the Arensburg-Swidrian culture, but, however, also evidenced new motifs in bone objects that attest to the arrival of new inhabitants (Vasks 17).

This community of "fishermen-hunters" near the lake by Kunda evidences the first traces of human life in Estonia. Their stone age equipment of bone and stone tools dates back to 6500 BC, and it is reasonable to assume that the culture lasted up through 4500 BC until some sort of sudden catastophe dried up the lake. Noteworthy is that this Stone Age equipment resembles contemporary Stone Age tools found in other areas of the Baltic -- "a fact which leads us to the conclusion that the first inhabitants of Estonia probably immigrated from the south" (Uustalu 15). As for archaeological evidence, the only skull of the Kunda type was found in southern Lithuania and is associated with the site material containing bone harpoons, points with flint inserts. This period continued on in hunting-fishing tradition, yet introduced new fishing implements including harpoons, bone points, and fish-hooks (Gimbutas 31; Vasks 16). Moreover, traces of seal hunting indicate that these Boreal hunters in Estonia journeyed to the sea in autumn and spring, since seals approach the coast only at these seasons (Gimbutas 31).

Subsequently, this community of "fishermen-hunters" flourished from around 5600 BC and lasted until about 3400 BC. This period also included a change in climate to warmer -- the atlantic climatic period. The number of oak trees quadrupled, and a new tool complex including spears was introduced (Vasks 19).

COMB-LIKE CERAMICS – Finno-Ugric arrival?

Ceramics arrived in the Baltic in the middle 5th millenium BC, around 4500 BC. Many of the pots were decorated with small comb-like teeth or small indented like ornamenting (Vasks 22). The second half of the 4th millenia BC, from 3400-2300 BC, the climate turned subboreal and a new people entered the Baltic in massive numbers. They were the comb-ceramics pottery tribe, are described by their pottery of comb-like pressing decoration. "The bearers of this ‘comb-ceramics’ culture most likely belonged to the Finno-Ugric race" (Uustalu, 15), and, moreover, the techniques they brought in did not originate in the Baltic, but rather were migrated in (Balodis 39). Exemplary of this culture were the types found at Narva (Vasks 23). Moreover, based on archaeological finds, thre is no direct link between those previous inhabitants and those, who arrived around the mid-5th century BC; distinct anthropological differences existed. "This suggests that around the mid-5th century BC there was a new migration of people into Latvia, people who were characterized by the metisized anthropological type" (Denisova).

During the period of 5000-3000 BC the main source of livelihood included still food-gathering, but at the same time, hunters and fishers became acquainted with the refinement of stone tools and the manufacture of pottery, having been influenced by the diffusion of a food-producing economy from the Danube area (Gimbutas 11). This central European culture of farmers and breeders of domestic animals belong to the Danubian I culture of the early 3rd millenium BC. They presumably converted the northern hunters and fishers to agriculture, from which the people of the southern Baltic area evolved a Neolithic culture of their own (Gimbutas 12).

DANUBIAN (3500-1700 BC)

Stroked Pottery Group

From the period of 3000-1300 BC much Stone Age equipment including hunting and fishing gear and comb-design pottery have been found in Estonia. The first group of Danubian settlement includes the Stroked Pottery Group, whose settlements and graves are characterized by stroke-ornamented pottery, which succeeded the phase of linear pottery and are assumed to belong to the Danubian I survivors. In northeastern central Europe, stroked pottery does not appear in large quantity (Gimbutas 115).

"Globular Amphora culture" -- new people, kurgan elements

Co-existing, and in some cases competing, with previous inhabitants, the Globular Amphora culture spread over the Baltic territory, introducing new burial and religious rites, small rectangular houses, cord impressions and patterns of hanging triangles on pottery, domesticated horses, and fortified hill-top sites. Elements such as the aforementioned are related with one culture, since such characteristics do not migrate separately. However, "the influence of the local culture is an important factor if the culture of the newcomers is not higher, but lower or of a similar level. This is seen in the example of the development of the Globular Amphora" (Gimbutas 151). Therefore, the Globular Amphora culture, adapting themselves to the local environment, were new people, introducing the rudiments of the so-called "corded" pottery culture of the 1800-1700 BC, and continued to incorporate forms of the Globular Amphora complex.

BATTLE-AXE CULTURE -- New people (2000 BC)

Following the Globular Amphora complex in the central and southern Baltic area were the corded pottery and battle-axe complex peoples, who settled in the area extending northward from either the north coast of the Baltic sea or northeastward to central Russia. The most significant feature of this new culture is pottery, which is a common archaeological discovery, and differs greatly from the comb- and pit-marked pottery of the northeastern European hunters and fishers. Distinct characteristics designating this new group of people include burial rites, changes in pottery (fig. 3), and the appearance of boat-shaped stone axes. For example, "cist-graves were disappearing and instead dead were laid on a stone or clay pavement. Globular amphorae proper with high necks and stamped ornamentaion were replaced by forms with narrow necks and small handles" (Gimbutas 153). Boat-axes of stone with a drooping blade called "battle axes" appeared, and are thought to be linked with the religious pattern of these peoples, as the "battle-axes" actually are "cult-axes" and are often linked with the notion of a sky deity (Gimbutas 153).

In the eastern Baltic lands the battle-axe complex prospered around 1500 BC and introduced a new economy. The main source of livelihood of this period is thought to include agriculture, due to finds of wheat grains and flint sickles; clay whorls evidence a production of textiles. Evidence of cattle-rearing, has been found from tombs of this period, which contain bones of cattle and sheep. "It is probable that the immigrants responsible for this new culture also introduced some elementary agriculture into this country, although there is no certain proof of this" (Uustalu 16).

This battle-axe culture is now linked with groups around the upper Volga as well, because the East Baltic groups display the same type of burial rites, axes, and pottery of the new system and religion. Therefore these Battle-Axe peoples, and the subsequent cultural change in northeastern Europe, although similar to the Globular Amphora Survival complex, is explained best as the arrival of a new people, since the archaeological data from the period 2000-1800 BC evidences a change that can be explained by the migration and co-existance of cultural groups (Uustalu 16). As Gimbutas puts it: "It is hard to believe that the stock-breeding and peasant culture in central Russia could have been created by local hunters and fishers who had acquired domesticated animals from some farming community" (Gimbutas 166).

This change in European culture could only have been caused by a migration of people voyaging through the east-west corridor of the open steppes. It is assumed from the archaeological data that this migration was accomplished by the Kurgan people, whose origin most likely is beyond the Black and Caspian seas. "In the course of possibly less than one hundred years the people of southeastern origin occupied an enormous territory in northern Europe (Gimbutas 169). "Their arrival has been connected, by some archaeologists, with the Indo-European migration. This would seem to explain the fact that the older comb-ceramics culture continues to exist side by side with the new elements until, in the end, it assimilates the features of the boat-axe (battle-axe) culture" (Uustalu 16). Besides that, different physical types of people arrived – being more tall-statured with smaller skulls.

BRONZE AGE (1300 BC – 500 AD)

Following the arrival of the first bronze articles, which appeared in the Baltic about 1300 BC, the period is acknowledged as the Bronze Age, which denotes a time rather than a culture. Characteristic of the Bronze Age in Estonia and of other areas of the Baltic is the Gorodistche culture, a society of hill-forts placed on good agricultural lands and trade routes (on large rivers like the Volga, Dvina, Emagjogi) and is evidenced beginning around 1000 BC (Uustalu 17). This culture is thought to have origtinated with Finnish tribes, as they encompassed an area from the Urals to the Baltic.

Moreover, the Bronze Age in Estonia not indicated a change in burial customs. Previously dead were buried without visible mark on the ground, however, at the end of the Bronze Age, the dead were laid on the ground in a stone-slab cist and covered with a cairn, or were cremated, a practice which spread to the northern Baltic. Cremation in Estonia soon became the norm, although the burials never completely ended (Uustalu 17).

From the period of 1300-1100 BC the southern Baltic territory was populated by the Balts, who inhabited a square area: Gdansk harbor-Ventspils-Daugavpils-50 km north of Warsaw (Dunsdorfs 10). We know that Balts inhabited these territories from the modern day Baltic river names that have been kept intact in places, where Balts no longer live. In Smolensk is a tributary Meža, which has its own tributary properly called Laukesa. It is generally accepted that the density of Baltic names shows that the Balts either reached or left more sparsely populated areas. “Water names communicate that the ancestors of the Latvians and the Lithuanians occupied the upper Dnieper region until as late as the first millennium AD and the first centuries of the second milliennium AD" (Bojtar 55). This means that the numbers of water names in current Latvian and Lithuanian areas developed after the end of the first millennium AD, and also hold that there’s no reason to date these names back prior to the first millennium BC.


The preceding information including solid data based on archaeological finds, and interpretations based on placename evidence and geological evidence describes at best prehistory in the Baltic. However, there are gaps in all history, and, likewise, that is the case in prehistory as well. Burial of corpses occurred only twice during the prehistory of the Baltic – in the Neolithic era and in the last part of the Bronze Age. Moreoever, some analyses of cultures are based on very few solid finds archaeologically. Bojtar cites J. Graudonis emphasizing that "we have no anthropological finds from the territories of Latvia between 1500 BC and the first century AD" (Bojtar 47). In reading this piece, one must take into heart that there are and always will be gaps in prehistory, and through more excavating, can a more clear representation of the past be discovered and unveiled.


Balodis, Francis Aleksandrs Senā Latvija. Chicago: Dzimtā zeme, 1956.

In Latvian. Excellent book about archaeological evidence of prehistoric peoples in Latvia. Problem: It focuses mainly on Latvia.

Bojtar, Endre. Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Hungary, Central European University Press, 1999.

In English. This book discusses topics related to antiquity in sections: "How far back does Baltic antiquity reach," " The first references to Balts," and discusses tribes in the Baltic as well as underscores the difficulties in writing about prehistory. It addresses a lot of issues regarding theories of prehistorical significance.

Denisova, Raisa. The most ancient population of Latvia. http://www.vip.lv/hss/denisova.htm. Viewed: May 14, 2001.

Offers a concise overview of prehistory in Latvia.

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. Senie Stāsti. Melbourne, Austrālijas Latvietis, 1955.

In Latvian. Pages 7-13 provide some accounts of earlier actual primary sources.

Gimbutas, Marija Alseikaite, The prehistory of eastern Europe, Cambridge, Mass, Peabody Museum, 1956.

In English. This book has pages of detailed information about the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Copper age cultures in Russia and the Baltic area based on archaeological and artifactual evidence, which would be a primary source in my topic.

Krūmiņš, Andrejs. Mūsu tautas saknes : Kultūrvēsturiski pētījumi . Rīga : Andrejs Krūmiņš, 1998.

In Latvian. This book contains a good overview of European and Latvian prehistory. He often references M. Gimbutiene.

Vasks, Andrejs, B. Vaska, R. Grāvere. Latvijas aizvēsture : 8500. g. pr. Kr.--1200. g. pēc Kr. : eksperimentāls metodisks līdzeklis. Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC, c1997.

In Latvian. Interesting, newer edition book with diagrams of archaeological digs and maps, as well as detailed information.

Uustalu, Evald. The History of Estonian People London, Boreas Pub. Co. [1952]

Overview of prehistory in Estonia.

Bibliography (Useful sources not cited in paper)

6. Saks, Edgar Aestii: an analysis of an ancient European civilization Montreal, 1960

In English. Has a few (10+) pages about Estonian prehistoric peoples. This will be useful to compare to the books I read in Latvian about the Aestii, as I will have two sides to this culture, if my paper does indeed stem towards that idea.

7. Sena Riga : petijumi pilsetas arheologija un vesture [redakcijas kolegija Andris Caune (atbildigais redaktores), Ieva Ose, Andris Celmins Riga : Latvijas vestures instituta apgads, 1998-2000. DK504.928 .S46 1998 v.1

In Latvian. Compilation of articles written by archaeologists (Janis Apals, Ilze Loze. The latter of the two has a work published on the web, which I noted). This book may prove useful as pointing out that Riga is representative of nearby cities of about the same time period, but the book does just focus on one city, and, other than the first couple articles won’t be much useful.

Lithuania : past, culture, present [editor, Saulius Zukas ; authors, E. Aleksandravicius ... et al. ; translators, Vida Urbonavicius, Jonathan Smith] Vilnius : Baltos lankos, c1999

Ilze Loze, INDO-EUROPEANS IN THE EASTERN BALTIC IN THE VIEW OF AN ARCHAEOLOGIST, http:// http://www.vip.lv/hss/loze.htm (accessed on April 4, 2001)

This site features the work of Loze, who seems to have summarized rather well the topic I will be attempting to analyze this quarter: prehistory. Her work is not cited. This poses a problem.

Vasks, Andrejs, THE CULTURAL AND ETHNIC SITUATION IN LATVIA DURING THE EARLY AND MIDDLE IRON AGE (1st - 8th Century AD) http://www.vip.lv/hss/vasks.htm (accessed on April 4, 2001)

Vytautas Straižys and Libertas Klimka Global Lithuanian Net. Cosmology of the Ancient Balts. http://www.lithuanian.net/mitai/cosmos/baltai.htm (accessed April 4, 2001)

This site features a good reference for Baltic prehistory and has itself an enormous reference list.

Geraldine Reinhardt, The Alekseev Manuscript: Chapter VII (continued): Bronze Age in Eurasia http://www.alekseevmanuscript.com/TableofContents.html, (accessed April 4, 2001).

This site contains a referenced speech given by someone, possibly Reinhardt, as the site contains numerous links to parts of this speech (?) regarding the neolithic, mesolithic, paleolithic and later times in Europe.

Anonymous (US Dept. of state), Electronic Research Collection (ERC) web page is an older archived page from the U.S. Department of State web site, http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/bgnotes/eur/estonia94.html (accessed on April 4, 2001).

Site features rough information about Estonia and Estonian history. Not the best site, but, to me, seems rather trustworthy information-wise, although brief.

Estonian National Museum, http://www.erm.ee/pysi/engpages/hyljes.html

Has interesting information about sealing, which I may want to use in my paper.

Journal of Indo-European Studies http://www.dla.utexas.edu/depts/lrc/jies/jies_index/authors.html

"Indo-Europeans between the Baltic and the Black Sea" is just an example of an article I may be interested in. This site holds a table of contents, which references journal articles, I may be able to look up for my paper. The articles, however, are not on the site.

Claes-Christian Elert, The Language of southern Scandinavia in the Bronze Age: Fenno-Ugric, Baltic, Germanic, or ...? http://www.algonet.se/~elert/TheLgSScandinavia_in_BronzeAge.html

This is an abstract of a paper published in Studier i svensk språkhistoria 4 (utg. Patrik Åström), 1997, Institutionen för nordiska språk, Stockholms universitet, 106 91 Stockholm. Alludes to language as a source of information in research.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 03:32 PM
Quite an interesting read. Wanted to ask you: what is your opinion about Belarussians? Their nationalists claim that they are slavinized Balts. In fact they are more Balts than Lithuanians or Latvians, since the latter are mixed with finno-ugric tirbes.


Prodigal Son
Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 03:34 PM
Interesting, but absolutely inadequate from a physical anthropology standpoint. I will translate excerpts from Anthropology of the Balto-Finnish Peoples by Karin Mark and post them here later today.

Prodigal Son
Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 03:35 PM
Their nationalists claim that they are slavinized Balts.

Their nationalists aren't the only ones making that claim. Tatiana Alexeeva seconds the notion that Belarussians represent the imposition of a Slavic superstratum upon a more ancient Baltic sub-stratum.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 04:34 PM
Interesting, but absolutely inadequate from a physical anthropology standpoint. I will translate excerpts from Anthropology of the Balto-Finnish Peoples by Karin Mark and post them here later today.

You are using too strong a term to express your dislike of this article. I think it is very useful.

Prodigal Son
Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 04:36 PM
I think it is very useful.

It's certainly useful and interesting from a historical and archaeological perspective, but tells us next to nothing about the physical anthropology of the region. See here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=5025).

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 04:38 PM
It's certainly useful and interesting from a historical and archaeological perspective, but tells us next to nothing about the physical anthropology of the region. See here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=5025).

You cannot seperate the intricacies of history with your understanding of the evolution of physical types. That is being stupid and ignorant. You have to see everything in context. Your article will also provide an aspect to the discussion, thanks. But don't just deride something you don't like. That is undesirable.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 04:40 PM
I just posted it because of the useful chronology when I see that Kurgans and Corded Ware people are discussed in the anthropology forums.

I look forward to the complimentary contribution about the physical anthropology of the Baltic region.

It's certainly useful and interesting from a historical and archaeological perspective, but tells us next to nothing about the physical anthropology of the region. See here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=5025).

Prodigal Son
Wednesday, October 15th, 2003, 04:42 PM
I just posted it because of the useful chronology when I see that Kurgans and Corded Ware people are discussed in the anthropology forums.

I look forward to the complimentary contribution about the physical anthropology of the Baltic region.

I posted it in a different thread, here (http://www.forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=5025).


P.S. Sorry if my reply to your post appeared rude.

Thursday, October 16th, 2003, 11:24 AM


Raisa Denisova

The first arrival of people in the Eastern Baltic region (and in all of Northern Europe) was dependent upon the Scandinavian glacier. Its very slow retreat occurred as the result of climactic shifts which took place over the course of several millennia and were still ongoing in the late Paleolithic period.

At that time, the Scandinavian glacier still covered a fairly vast territory: the lowlands of Central Europe, Scandinavia, Finland, the Eastern Baltic region, and Northwestern Russia, including the Karelian peninsula and territories to its East. The melting of the Scandinavian glacier is divided into several climactic periods by specialists. The cold Driassian period was replaced two times by warmer periods (Belling and Allerod) which facilitated the gradual retreat and melting of the glacier.

In the population of Latvia and the rest of the Baltic region, the decisive factor was the ancient Europeans who first came into the Central European lowlands from which the glacier had retreated. This territory stretches from the Netherlands to the lower reaches of the Vistula and Niemen rivers and borders the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Further East the territory meets the Pripet basin, as well as the upper Dnieper and Daugava rivers.

During the Driassian period, the ice cover gradually retreated, and a unique world of flora emerged. Plants more commonly found in Arctic territories, the Alps and the continent's steppes -- plants which are tolerant to cold and which love the light -- appeared in the region to create a thick and high grass cover with occasional osieries or miniature birch trees. This ground cover has no analogue in the present-day world. In scientific literature, this Driassian ground cover is called a tundra steppe, and it stretched eastward to the Middle Russian and Valdai hills of Russia. Thanks to the low level of precipitation which was characteristic of the Driassian period, there was very little snow on the tundra steppe during the winter months. Above the snow there was still a high and dry cover of grasses. That led to the appearance of the region's first animals -- reindeer, which had a year-round food supply. The result was that in the latter years of the Ice Age, an ecological niche with a specific set of flora and fauna appeared in the area, and these proved to be appropriate for human inhabitation.

The first humans arrived in the Middle European lowlands in the late Paleolithic period, and over the course of many generations they gradually populated the farthest reaches of Northern Europe, including the Eastern Baltic. Several thousand years passed between the arrival of the first humans in the Middle European lowlands and the arrival of the first residents of the Eastern Baltic. This is particularly true of Latvia and Estonia, although the first humans arrived in southern and especially southeastern Lithuania much earlier than was the case in the rest of the Baltic region.

The first people to arrive in the Middle European tundra steppe (possibly from the West) were reindeer hunters who over the course of many generations had learned specific ways of hunting the beasts and who traveled along with reindeer herds in order to provide themselves with sustenance. As the tundra expanded to Northwestern Russia, the reindeer found fresh grazing grounds, and these were soon conquered by human inhabitants, as well.

In the tundra steppe there were several chronologically successive migrations of humans, and this has been proven through archaeological excavations. In the settlements left behind by ancient residents in Lithuania, for example, specialist R. Rimantiene has found traces of the cultural traditions of the Lingbi, Bromme, Arensburg and Svidrian people. These ancient settlements are found mostly in southeastern Lithuania and are dated to the late Allerod and the late Driassian periods (Rimantiene 1971, 1984). This territory is adjacent to the Pripet basin, where archaeologists have found a large number of settlements with evidence of tool manufacturing technologies typical of the aforementioned periods. Such settlements have also been found near the Upper Dnieper, as well as at the Soża and Desna river valley (these are left bank tributaries to the Dnieper) (Zaliznyak 1979, Kopytin 1979). Of special importance here is the Anosova flint workshop and settlement which has been found near the Upper Dnieper; there, the tool manufacturing technologies were typical of Lingbi and Arensburg traditions (Gurina 1965).

In the very last part of the Paleolithic period, archaeologists have found, there was a migration of people of the Svidrian culture who reached Lithuania and Northwestern Russia. It is usually believed that these people came from Poland. There is another notable school of thought, however, which holds that the Svidrian cultural traditions were actually established in the southeastern part of the Russian plains -- the valley of the Don river where a wealth of late Paleolithic artifacts has been found (Gurina 1965).

Archaeologists have also noted a migration of Maglemosian people during the early Mesolithic period in an eastward direction to the northwestern part of Russia. Testimony of this is provided both by settlements of these tribes which have been found in Lithuania (Rimantiene 1971, 1984) and by the effect which the Maglemosian culture had on the territory which lies adjacent to the southwestern shores of the Oneg lake. In the early Mesolithic period, things were manufactured of bone in a method that was completely identical to that used by Maglemosian people in Denmark at the same time (Oshibkina 1983).

Thus archaeological data indicate that the migration of the Maglemosian people concluded several chronologically successive migrations of late Paleolithic peoples from the West to the East. This suggests that at the end of that period, a genetic fund was being established in populations resident in the territory that is southwest of Latvia -- the Pripet basin and the Upper Dnieper valley. This genetic fund was part of a larger genetic system of late Paleolithic residents in Northern Europe. For that reason, people who settled on lands around the Upper Dnieper and the Upper Daugava during the late Paleolithic period had close genetic links to the most ancient populations of the Middle European lowlands. That could mean that during the Mesolithic period, an anthropologically similar group of peoples lived from the Netherlands in the West to the Middle Russian highlands to the East. Local residents may have been possessed of the morphological elements of ancient Northern European peoples, whose roots were linked to the late Paleolithic populations of Europe.

Even though the Niemen and the Daugava are separated only by a few hundred kilometers of dry land, the territory between the two rivers remained uninhabited for quite a long time. The most ancient settlements in southern Lithuania are some 2,000 years older than the first settlements on the shores of the Daugava. Moreover, the first residents in Latvia arrived not through Lithuania, as would seem logical, but rather from the Southeast, using the Dnieper river and the Upper Daugava for this purpose.

Evidence of this is provided by the fact that the most ancient settlements in Latvia are found mostly in the eastern part of the country -- near the Dviete river, along the Aiviekste river, near Lake Lubāns, and on the shores of the Daugava (at Sēlpils, Ikšķile and Salaspils-Laukskola). In all of these places archaeologists have found various man-made artifacts of bone and horn, as well as nests of flint antiquities which suggest that the earliest populations arrived in Latvia at the very end of the late Paleolithic period (Zagorska 1992).

This early Latvian residents gradually moved across the eastern part of the country and then moved northward into the Lubāns lowlands, the Vidzeme region and Estonia (Jaanits 1990). As was mentioned previously, however, the first residents of Lithuania arrived considerably earlier. Moreover, Lithuania was directly affected by several population migrations from the West in the late Paleolithic period.

Specialists feel that because of these circumstances, two different cultural regions were established in the Baltic during the early Mesolithic period. One conformed to the Niemen Mesolithic culture of Lithuania, while the other involved the Kundian culture in Latvia and Estonia. This cultural division persisted throughout the Stone Age in the Baltic region (Denisova 1994).

Several generations of archaeologists have worked in specifying the genesis of the Kundian culture. Currently specialists are working with a completely new range of archaeological materials from the very last part of the late Paleolithic period (Zagorska 1974) and from the early Mesolithic period (K. Jaanits 1990). The pre-Boreal period is represented through settlements in Estonia (Pulli, Lepakose) and Latvia (Zvejnieki II) (Zagorska 1981, 1992; K. Jaanits 1990). For the first time, archaeologists have also found well-preserved human skeletons (the Zvejnieki burial ground in northern Latvia) which are dated to the Boreal and Atlantic period (Denisova 1994, 1996). These data allow specialists to gain a much better understanding of the genesis of the Kundian culture.

The flint industry at the Pulli, Lepakose and Zvejnieki II settlements bore distinct characteristics of post-Svidrian culture (Zagorskis, Zagorska 1977; Jaanits 1990). The flint artifacts which have been found at these settlements, moreover, are quite similar to artifacts which have been obtained in late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic settlements in northern Belarus. Of particular importance in this respect is an early Mesolithic settlement, Krumpleva, that was found near the Belarussian section of the Upper Daugava (Gurina 1960). Flint objects which were found there are completely identical to the same objects found at the Pulli settlement, and the flint used in both locations is precisely of the same color and quality. These facts have justifiably allowed Dr. K. Jaanits to describe the Krumpleva settlement as a monument to the early phase of the development of Kundian culture and the Daugava river as an important transportation route via which the most ancient populations arrived in Latvia and Estonia (K. Jaanits 1990).

Searching for indications of Kundian culture in the late Paleolithic period, Dr. Jaanits has pointed to two possible conclusions. First of all, distinct post-Svidrian traditions in the Kundian culture can be interpreted as pointing to a direct genetic link with Svidrian culture in Poland. Secondly, characteristics of the Svidrian culture flint artifacts are typical of the late Paleolithic period across a fairly vast section of Eastern Europe (including the Dnieper-Don-Desna, the Volga and the Oka regions). This allows specialists to see roots of the Kundian culture in the late Paleolithic period in Eastern Europe (K. Jaanits 1990).

Unfortunately, no skulls have been found of the late Paleolithic residents who migrated from the Middle European lowlands to the Pripet basin and the regions of the Upper Dnieper and Daugava. Specialists do, however, have anthropological data about the Mesolithic period population of these territories, and these inhabitants can to a certain extent be viewed as successors to the previous populations. This is indirect evidence, to be sure, but it nevertheless allows us to draw some conclusions about the characteristics of residents in the late Paleolithic period.

Our main source of information about the residents of the Mesolithic period and the early Neolithic period in Latvia is the Zvejnieki burial ground (archaeological excavations done by Dr. F. Zagorskis). Approximately 300 Stone Age graves were discovered (Denisova 1975; Zagorskis 1985). The Zvejnieki burial ground is located in northern Latvia, on the northern shore of the Burtnieks lake and approximately 100 kilometers from the early Mesolithic Pulli settlement of Estonia. Along with the burial ground, the Zvejnieki site also boasts Mesolithic and Neolithic settlements (Zvejnieki II and Zvejnieki I respectively).

The most ancient burial sites in the Zvejnieki area can be dated to the end of the Boreal and the beginning of the Atlantic period (6300 - 5800 BC), and archaeologists have found several individual graves. These graves yielded the most ancient skulls which have ever been found in the Baltic region (Denisova 1994, 1996). The people who left individual graves here cannot be linked genetically, because 14C dating indicates that the age of the various graves differs by several hundred years. This means that each person buried at the site can be evaluated separately.

In approximately 5000 BC, people at the Zvejnieki site began to bury their dead systematically, and over the course of some 200 years, a late Mesolithic graveyard was established (Denisova 1996). The people buried here can be seen as a paleopopulation with the succession of several generations that is typical of such populations.

When we look at the most ancient residents of Latvia from an anthropological standpoint, we must remember the anthropological data of Mesolithic and early Neolithic populations in those territories which are adjacent to Latvia. This helps to provide a more objective understanding of the origins of Latvia's most ancient peoples.

Latvia's most ancient inhabitants tended to be large in size, with large skulls, a distinctly oblong head shape, a broad, high face and a distinctly protruding nose (Denisova 1975). Looking at this data in the context of synchronous populations elsewhere in Europe, we can find specific geographic differentials. This is especially true of the facial width of residents, a factor which has great weight in the specification of race (Denisova 1978). Differences in facial width in Europe became particularly distinctive at the beginning of the Atlantic period, when farming was begun in Europe. At this time, facial width distinctly separated morphological forms in Northern Europe from those in the Mediterranean region -- two distinct geographic regions. Massive, broad-faced morphological forms dominated in northern and northeastern Europe, while gracile, narrow-faced forms are found most often in Middle Europe and the continent's southeastern reaches. During the Atlantic period, narrow-faced populations gradually moved in the northerly and northeasterly direction. They reached the Baltic region only during the Bronze Age. For this reason, during the Mesolithic and Neolithic period, people in the Baltic region (and surrounding regions) had broad faces, a fact which affirms their links to the late Paleolithic populations of Europe. This does not by any means suggest, however, that all of the Mesolithic and early Neolithic populations of Northern Europe were identical from the anthropological standpoint. At least two gradations of facial width (135-142 mm in one group and 144-150 in the other) can be found in this territory. Other characteristics for race specification, moreover, suggest that the most ancient residents of Latvia had several different morphological forms.

Within the previously described morphological form that was characteristic of early Mesolithic inhabitants in Latvia, we can find two different anthropological types which must be linked to inhabitants of different backgrounds. One of these anthropological types is characterized by a large skull and a very broad (149 mm) face.

The fact that this broad-faced morphological form was typical of Mesolithic populations is affirmed by the fairly large territory over which this form is found. Anthropologically similar Mesolithic populations have been found in two burial grounds in the northwestern part of Russia. One of them, the Popov burial ground, is found to the East of the Oneg lake (Ošibkina 1994) and contains individual Mesolithic graves. The second is the widely known Olenij Ostrov burial ground, which contains a wide variety of anthropological types (Yakimov 1960). Only some of the individuals found in these burial grounds had massive, distinctly broad-faced morphological forms. Very similar populations of the same background also inhabited the region around the Middle Dnieper river (the Vasiljevka III burial ground) (Gohman 1966) The graves of these inhabitants date back to the very earliest part of the Mesolithic period (8130 - 8000 BC) (Hedges et al 1995), but basically they are representative of the transitional period between the late Paleolithic and the Mesolithic period. The most ancient broad-faced Mesolithic inhabitants have been found near the Middle Dnieper, and it is possible that they had contacts with late Paleolithic inhabitants in the area. In Latvia, too, these inhabitants are among the most ancient (Boreal period). From the anthropological viewpoint, completely similar Mesolithic inhabitants also populated Scandinavia -- Stangenas, Korsor, Vedbaek, Ravnstrup, Koelbjerg (Broste, Jorgensen et al 1956; Asmus 1973).

Naturally the description provided here is incomplete, because the number of skulls which have been found from the Mesolithic period is not very large. Nevertheless it seems that the territory which in the Mesolithic period was populated by distinctly broad-faced individuals can be defined quite specifically. These inhabitants did not disappear over time. Their successors continued to inhabit Eastern Europe in the early Neolithic period, although their territory, possibly, diminished considerably. It is thought, for example, that these people were no longer present in Latvia during the Atlantic period.

During the early Neolithic period, similar residents populated the Upper Volga and Upper Oka, the area in which the Upper Volga culture prevailed (unpublished data by the author). The same anthropological type was also found among early Neolithic residents of the Dnieper-Donetz culture of Ukraine (Gohman 1996;Konduktorova 1973). The large number of skulls found in this region provide a very complete understanding of the anthropological type of the massive, broad-faced (145-153 mm on average) inhabitants of the region, and they allow us to conclude firmly that such inhabitants existed in the Mesolithic and early Neolithic period. It is possible that residents of the same background also continued to populate Denmark (Stasevang, Kolderod, Dojringe) during the same period.

The morphological type described here is quite unique and is easily distinguished from any other type. The very informational nature of this article does not allow me to discuss other anthropologically important characteristics of the distinctly broad-faced populations. Compared to the inhabitants of the Boreal period, however, they had considerably (by 10 mm!) narrower faces, even though the faces were still quite broad (140 mm on average). A second important difference lay in the horizontal profile of the face. It had a crass profile at both facial levels, which unquestionably pointed to a European belonging. These people continued to inhabit ancient fishing territories until the end of the Mesolithic period, but in Latvia, this complex of anthropological characteristics remained characteristic in other times, too. During the Mesolithic period, anthropologically similar peoples inhabited Normandy (Hoedik) (Vallois 1957) and the Middle European lowlands (Vianen, Hengelo, Bottendorf) (G. Asmus 1973). The most ancient similar morphological form was prevalent among inhabitants of France's Madlein culture.

These analogies point to the origins of the Mesolithic period inhabitants of Latvia and to the fact that they arrived in Latvia from the West. Archaeological evidence points to the same facts.

During the Atlantic period, there were two culminations of warmer weather (Khotinsky et al 1991) which were separated by a brief period of considerably cooler weather. In the northwestern part of Russia, this cooler period lasted from 6200 to 6000 BC (Dolukhanov et al 1989). In Latvia, the first warmer period took place from 6600 to 6400 BC and coincided with the transfer from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic period. During this time, the prevalence of broad-leaf trees in Latvia forests increased considerably. Most prevalent was the oak tree; its incidence increased fourfold (Lyevkovskaya 1987).

In the Eastern Baltic region during this time, there were several early Neolithic permanent settlements (Zagorskis 1967; Loze 1988). During the early Neolithic period in the Baltic region, inhabitants began to fashion dishes out of clay. Osa and Zvidze have used 14C dating to conclude that the oldest clay ware was made between 4600 and 4500 BC (Loze 1988).

During the late Mesolithic period, there was a fairly lengthy suspension of new burials in the Zvejnieki burial ground. This suspension began around 4800 BC (during the culmination of transgression?), and the appearance of new graves in the burial ground bean only after a fairly lengthy pause. Sometime between 4500 and 4400 BC, a new and compact group of graves appeared here. Burial traditions which were unlike those of the late Mesolithic period also appeared (Denisova 1994, 1996).

Judging from anthropological data, there was no direct continuity between those communities which left their graves at this location around the mid-5th century BC and the late Mesolithic populations; distinct anthropological differences existed. This suggests that around the mid-5th century BC there was a new migration of people into Latvia, people who were characterized by the metisized anthropological type. An analysis of anthropological elements in these inhabitants points to distinctly eastern components. Skulls of anthropologically similar inhabitants have been found in the Olenij Ostrov Mesolithic burial ground, where some of the buried individuals unquestionably had typical eastern components.

Even though no ceramics have been found in the Zvejnieki burial grounds (mid-5th century BC), there is no reason to doubt that the burial grounds belonged to the early Neolithic period. Evidence of this is given by other early Neolithic graves in the Zvejnieki burial grounds (4500-3000 BC), where there was also no tradition of placing clay pots in people's graves.

Currently available data indicate that the most ancient ceramics in the Baltic region can be found in Latvia. In Neolithic settlements, clay ware has become a very typical discovery. The manufacturing of clay vessels in Lithuania began considerably later -- at the beginning of the 4th century BC. It appears that clay ware came to Scandinavia around the same time.

In the territory around the Baltic region, the most ancient clay vessels have been found in the region which is bordered by the upper Lovate and Daugava rivers. Early Neolithic inhabitants arrived here in the early 5th century BC. It seems that it may well have been from this territory that skills in manufacturing clay vessels may have come specifically from this territory. Several 14C datings indicate that the genesis of the early Neolithic Upper Volga culture occurred at the same time. According to Mikļajevs, the manufacturing technology and ornamentation of the most ancient clay vessels found in the upper Lovate and Daugava region indicates links to the southeastern regions of the Russian plains, where the most ancient early Neolithic culture with clay vessel manufacturing traditions inhabited the area around the upper and middle Don (Miklayev 1995).

To sum up, new facts which have been obtained as the result of archaeological research of the early Mesolithic period in Estonia and Latvia, as well as anthropological data about the most ancient inhabitants of Latvia have allowed specialists to analyze the issue of the most ancient inhabitants of Latvia in a considerably broader context than has been the case until now. Unquestionably, analogous research in neighboring territories has helped to specify the linked events in the late Paleolithic period which later affected the most ancient population of the Latvian territory.

It appears that we can speak with some certainty of two major directions of ancient migration which during the change from the late Paleolithic to the Mesolithic period reached the Upper Daugava. Moving along the river, these ancient people came into Latvia. One of these migration directions moved along the southern shore of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to reach the Pripet basin and the upper Dnieper and Daugava rivers. Movement of populations occurred a number of times over the course of several millennia -- in the late Paleolithic period and in the early Mesolithic period. The second migration wave, it seems, involved the Don river basin, the site of lasting late Paleolithic, Eastern European settlements. As the result of climactic changes, inhabitants moved Northwest along the Dnieper river at the end of the late Paleolithic period. This direction of movement, which appears only at the end of the late Paleolithic period and the early Mesolithic period, almost certainly appeared in the early Neolithic and Aeneolithic period, too. It is possible that even in the Stone Age this direction of movement, the main phase of which involved the Dnieper river but which later also reached the Daugava, played an important role in establishing a communications network between the Baltic and the external world, both to the East and the West.