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

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Church of Our Lady before Týn

The Church of Our Lady before Týn is a dominant feature of the Old Town of Prague and has been the main church of this part of the city since the 14th century. The church's towers are 80 m high and topped by four small spires.

In the 11th century, this area was occupied by a Romanesque church, which was built there for foreign merchants coming to the nearby Týn Courtyard. Later it was replaced by an early Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn in 1256. Construction of the present church began in the 14th century in the late Gothic style under the influence of Matthias of Arras and later Peter Parler. By the beginning of the 15th century, construction was almost complete; only the towers, the gable and roof were missing. The church was controlled by Hussites for two centuries, including John of Rokycan, future archbishop of Prague, who became the church's vicar in 1427. The roof was completed in the 1450s, while the gable and northern tower were completed shortly thereafter during the reign of George of Poděbrady (1453–1471). His sculpture was placed on the gable, below a huge golden chalice, the symbol of the Hussites. The southern tower was not completed until 1511, under architect Matěj Rejsek.

After the lost Battle of White Mountain (1620) began the era of harsh recatholicisation (part of the Counter-Reformation). Consequently, the sculptures of 'heretic king' George of Poděbrady and the chalice were removed in 1626 and replaced by a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, with a giant halo made from by melting down the chalice. In 1679 the church was struck by lightning, and the subsequent fire heavily damaged the old vault, which was later replaced by a lower baroque vault.

Renovation works carried out in 1876–1895 were later reversed during extensive exterior renovation works in the years 1973–1995. Interior renovation is still in progress.

The northern portal is a wonderful example of Gothic sculpture from the Parler workshop, with a relief depicting the Crucifixion. The main entrance is located on the church's western face, through a narrow passage between the houses in front of the church.

The early baroque altarpiece has paintings by Karel Škréta from around 1649. The oldest pipe organ in Prague stands inside this church. The organ was built in 1673 by Heinrich Mundt and is one of the most representative 17th-century organs in Europe.