The Mesolithic Period

History of Denmark between 12500 BC - 5001 BC

The Inhabitation of Denmark

Although the Mesolithic Age was the longest period in Danish history, few traces of it remain. At that time, the area was thinly populated, and the people did not create permanent monuments. Tool making was under constant improvement, and humans regularly had to adjust their lifestyles to adapt to the changing climate, water levels, vegetation and animal life. It is likely that Neanderthals lived in the area that was to become Denmark around 125,000 years ago. Modern humans arrived around 12,000 BC after the Ice Age.

Hundreds of skeletons dating from the Mesolithic Age have been found in Denmark. They tell the story of a people that was much smaller than modern humans. Average heights were 150 centimetres for women and 170 centimetres for men. Average lifespan was much shorter – particularly for women.

Culture Archaeologists categorise their finds dating to the period after the retreat of Ice Age glaciers as belonging to either the Hamburg, Federmesser, Bromme or Ahrensburg Cultures. The finds are primarily objects made of flint, and sporadic finds of bone indicate that reindeer hunting was an important activity. Remains of settlements paint a portrait of small familial groups that moved frequently and carried few possessions.

Much more is known about the cultural practices of the millennia that followed – the Maglemose Culture. Well-preserved finds from bogs have revealed a rich collection of food remains, as well as tools and weapons made of wood, bone and antler. The finds from settlements near bogs and swamps all appear to stem from summer settlements. Where they settled in the winter is uncertain.

During the period of the Kongemose and Ertebølle Cultures, Denmark was covered by thick deciduous forests. People lived along the coast and frequently ventured inland to hunt. The remains of their settlements offer a revealing look into the material and spiritual cultures of the age. Graves dating from the period show that the dead were treated with respect. The presence of grave goods would seem to suggest a belief in life after death. Skeletons also show that arguments could be more than just verbal. Wounds from axes have been seen on the skulls of adult males.

Sunken world

Much of the land once inhabited during the Mesolithic Age is now under water. Retreating Ice Age glaciers caused sea levels to rise by more than 100 metres. During the periods of the Reindeer Hunter and the Maglemose Cultures, Denmark was connected by land to what is now Britain and Sweden. Around 7000 BC, the sea broke through the Great Belt, flooding the Baltic Sea with salt water. Rising seas claimed the land bridge connecting Zealand and Scania around 6500 BC. Rising sea levels continued to alter the landscape all the way up to the early Neolithic.

Modern technology

Mesolithic artefacts are primarily made of flint, which was the most important material available for making knives, arrowheads, awls and axes. Many other items were made of plant material, wood, bone and antler, but only in rare instances have they been preserved.

Bows, spears, boats and dogs were the most important hunting gear. Flint arrowheads were under constant development to make sure they were suited to the changing natural environs. Because of this steady development, archaeologists use changes in the shape of arrowheads to define historical periods.

Boats were also indispensible when fishing. Hooks, spears and fixed traps made of woven branches were also used. Baskets, nets and staffs were all used to help gather shellfish, nuts and edible roots.

Fish for dinner

Bones from wild land animals are normally the most obvious remains archaeologists discover when excavating well-preserved settlements from the Mesolithic Age. In some cases large amounts of hazelnut shells are also found. But, with the help of a microscope, it is possible to see the remains of other types of edible plants and spices, such as raspberries, sea beets and ramson. Coastal settlements are full of oyster shells, mussels or other types of shellfish. But while shellfish only made up a small portion of people's diets, fish, on the other hand, was a staple. Fish bones by the tens of thousands have been uncovered at some of the most well-preserved settlements.

Studies of human bones from the period show that some people ate a varied diet. Seafood – particularly fish – was the most important source of protein for people living in Denmark in the latter millennia of the Mesolithic Age. Mother's milk was the primary source of nutrition for children until about the age of four.

Introduction to agriculture

During the last millennium of the Mesolithic Age, the fisher-hunter-gatherer cultures living in Denmark began to come into contact with agrarian societies that that had grown up along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. The two groups engaged in trade, and their dealings resulted in the introduction of strange new styles of axes. Cattle domestication and farming took longer to establish, but their impact wound up being far more wide-ranging.

Reference: 1001 stories about Denmark

Popular sites founded between 12500 BC and 5001 BC in Denmark

Bøgebakken

Bøgebakken is a Mesolithic cemetery of the Ertebølle culture, one of the oldest known in Denmark. It dates to ca. 6000 BC and contains graves of 22 persons. The cemetery comprises one empty grave, sixteen single burials, two double and one triple burial. Both double burials consist of a female and an infant, perhaps women who died in childbirth. The richest burial of Vedbæk is that of one of the juveni ...
Founded: 6000-4500 BC | Location: Vedbaek, Denmark

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Trinity Sergius Lavra

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a world famous spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. It is the most important working Russian monastery and a residence of the Patriarch. This religious and military complex represents an epitome of the growth of Russian architecture and contains some of that architecture’s finest expressions. It exerted a profound influence on architecture in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe.

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, was founded in 1337 by the monk Sergius of Radonezh. Sergius achieved great prestige as the spiritual adviser of Dmitri Donskoi, Great Prince of Moscow, who received his blessing to the battle of Kulikov of 1380. The monastery started as a little wooden church on Makovets Hill, and then developed and grew stronger through the ages.

Over the centuries a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings and constructions of different dates were established. The whole complex was erected according to the architectural concept of the main church, the Trinity Cathedral (1422), where the relics of St. Sergius may be seen.

In 1476 Pskovian masters built a brick belfry east of the cathedral dedicated to the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. The church combines unique features of early Muscovite and Pskovian architecture. A remarkable feature of this church is a bell tower under its dome without internal interconnection between the belfry and the cathedral itself.

The Cathedral of the Assumption, echoing the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin, was erected between 1559 and 1585. The frescoes of the Assumption Cathedral were painted in 1684. At the north-western corner of the Cathedral, on the site of the western porch, in 1780 a vault containing burials of Tsar Boris Godunov and his family was built.

In the 16th century the monastery was surrounded by 6 meters high and 3,5 meters thick defensive walls, which proved their worth during the 16-month siege by  Polish-Lithuanian invaders during the Time of Trouble. They were later strengthened and expanded.

After the Upheaval of the 17th century a large-scale building programme was launched. At this time new buildings were erected in the north-western part of the monastery, including infirmaries topped with a tented church dedicated to Saints Zosima and Sawatiy of Solovki (1635-1637). Few such churches are still preserved, so this tented church with a unique tiled roof is an important contribution to the Lavra.

In the late 17th century a number of new buildings in Naryshkin (Moscow) Baroque style were added to the monastery.

Following a devastating fire in 1746, when most of the wooden buildings and structures were destroyed, a major reconstruction campaign was launched, during which the appearance of many of the buildings was changed to a more monumental style. At this time one of the tallest Russian belfries (88 meters high) was built.

In the late 18th century, when many church lands were secularized, the chaotic planning of the settlements and suburbs around the monastery was replaced by a regular layout of the streets and quarters. The town of Sergiev Posad was surrounded by traditional ramparts and walls. In the vicinity of the monastery a number of buildings belonging to it were erected: a stable yard, hotels, a hospice, a poorhouse, as well as guest and merchant houses. Major highways leading to the monastery were straightened and marked by establishing entry squares, the overall urban development being oriented towards the centrepiece - the Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra.

In 1993, the Trinity Lavra was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.