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

São Jorge Castle

São Jorge Castle is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of the Portuguese city of Lisbon and Tagus River. The strongly fortified citadel dates from medieval period of Portuguese history, and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.

Although the first fortifications on this hilltop date from the 2nd century BC, archaeological excavations have identified a human presence in the Tagus valley as far back as the 6th century BC. The first fortification was, presumably, erected in 48 BC, when Lisbon was classified as a Roman municipality.

The hill was first used by indigenous Celtic tribes, then by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians as a defensible outpost that was later expropriated by Roman, Suebic, Visigothic, and Moorish peoples. During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim Berber forces, these included the walls or Cerca Moura ("Moorish Encirclement").

Kingdom

In the context of the Christian Reconquista, the castle and the city of Lisbon were freed from Moorish rule in 1147 by Afonso Henriques and northern European knights in the Siege of Lisbon during the Second Crusade; this victory was the only notable success of that failed crusade. According to an oft-repeated legend, the knight Martim Moniz, noticing that one of the doors to the castle was open, prevented the Moors from closing it by throwing his own body into the breach, thus allowing Christian soldiers to enter at the cost of his own life. With the taking of the castle Christian forces were able to maintain the defense of Lisbon until the end of the 12th century.

When Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom in 1255, the castle served as the alcáçova, a fortified residence for Afonso III, in his role as governor. It was extensively renovated around 1300 by King Denis I, transforming the Moorish alcáçova into the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova. Between 1373 and 1375, King Ferdinand I ordered the building of the Cerca Nova or Cerca Fernandina, the walled compound that enclosed the entirety of the castle. The master builders João Fernandes and Vasco Brás were responsible for its construction. This wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls, was designed to encircle previously unprotected parts of the city. Completed in two years, it had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5,400 metres.

The castle and the city resisted the forces of Castile several times during the 14th century (notably in 1373 and in 1383–1384). It was during this period (the late 14th century) that the castle was dedicated to Saint George by King John I, who had married the English princess Philippa of Lancaster. Saint George, the warrior-saint, was normally represented slaying a dragon, and very was popular in both countries.

From this point onward many of the kingdom's records were housed in the Torre de Ulisses, also known as the Torre Albarrã, until the reign of Manuel I. The Portuguese National Archive is still referred to as the Torre do Tombo. Between 1448 and 1451, the master builder was paid several stipends for his work on the palace. These public works continued until 1452, with additional payments being made for labor and materials to convert the building from a fortified castle to a royal residence.

Around the early 16th century, following the construction of the Ribeira Palace beside the Tagus river, the Palace of Alcáçova began to lose its importance. An earthquake occurring in 1531 further damaged the old castle, contributing further to its decay and neglect. In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments in the castle, intending to use it as his official residence. As part of the rebuilding, in 1577 Filippo Terzi demolished one of the towers near the principal facade of the Church of Loreto. However, many of the works were never completed after the young king's apparent death during the Battle of Alcácer Quibir. The following Portuguese dynastic crisis opened the way for sixty years of Spanish rule and the castle was converted into military barracks and a prison. On 30 December 1642, Teodósio de Frias the Younger was appointed master builder to continue the works begun by his father, Luís de Frias, and his grandfather, Teodósio de Frias. This was part of a greater plan by the Spanish forces to recommission the fortification.

However, after Portugal regained its independence following the Portuguese Restoration War, the works were taken over by the Portuguese government. On 6 November 1648, Nicolau de Langres was called upon to take over the design, execution and construction of a new fortification that would surround the Castle of São Jorge and the city walls of Lisbon. In 1650 the military architect Mateus do Couto was named master builder of the project and reconstruction took on a new formality: although the military engineer João Gillot built new walls in 1652, construction again followed Couto's plans between 1657 and 1733. In 1673, the Soldiers' Hospital, dedicated to São João de Deus, was installed on the grounds beside the Rua do Recolhimento. At the end of the 17th century the Recolhimento do Castelo was constructed along the southeast angle of the courtyard, and in 1733, new projects were initiated by master Custódio Vieira.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its continuing decay: apart from the walls of the old castle, the soldier's hospital and the Recolhimento were left in ruins. The necessity of maintaining a supporting military force within the capital city required expansion of the site's role of garrison and presidio. From 1780 to 1807, the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children, was established in the citadel, while soldiers continued to be garrisoned on site. Inspired by the events of the earthquake and the following tsunami, the first geodetic observatory in Portugal was constructed in 1788 at the top of one of the towers of the castle, later referred to as the Torre do Observatório.

Republic

As part of the commemorative celebrations marking the foundation of nationhood and restoration of independence, the government of António de Oliveira Salazar initiated extensive renovations at the site. Most of the incongruous structures added to the castle compound in previous centuries were demolished and there was a partial restoration of the Recolhimento. In addition, on 25 October 1947, a monument dedicated to Afonso Henriques, presented by the city of Porto, of a replica created by Soares dos Reis (in 1887) was installed on the grounds.