Late Neolithic/Copper Age Central Europe

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Brześć Kujawski . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 378

Rondels of the Carpathians . . . . . . . . . . 382

The central European Late Neolithic begins with the appearance of the Lengyel and Rössen cultures around 4800–4700 b.c. and ends with the introduction of bronze metallurgy around 2200 b.c., spanning approximately twenty-five hundred years. Not all archaeologists subscribe to this definition, however. In Hungary the Neolithic is considered to have ended when copper-using societies appeared (4700–4600 b.c.), and a distinct Copper Age, or Chalcolithic, is recognized. These were Neolithic farming and stock-raising societies that used a new metal technology; thus, in this survey, the Copper Age is included in the Late Neolithic.

Since central Europe (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) is a vast area with many geographic and climatic conditions, Neolithic peoples, taking advantage of their own local resources, varied in their economic adaptations: farming, herding, and trading. Their individual cultural developments, of course, were as unique as those of any selection of cultures today. It can be assumed that those cultures that shared traits were linked in some way: language, ethnicity, history, or myth. Owing to this link, several cultures are named for their unique material culture, especially in terms of ceramic types. Hence, we have the "Funnel Beaker," "Globular Amphora," "Corded Ware," and "Bell Beaker" cultures. Other cultures are named after regions or sites they inhabited, for example, Lengyel.

There was considerable cultural homogeneity in house form, settlement organization, and subsistence practice among Early Neolithic farming societies in central Europe. In contrast, the Late Neolithic is a period of increasing cultural diversity and complexity. While there were continuities from the Early Neolithic, changes can be observed in economy, settlement, society, rituals, and beliefs. These adaptations include technological advances, the appearance of settlement hierarchies, the mining of flint, agricultural innovations, and ecological changes. Wagons, simple plows, horse riding, metallurgy, and wool production made their first appearance in central Europe at this time.

The greater number of settlements and larger cemeteries suggest a slight increase in population at the beginning of the period. A few centuries later some regions had population densities that were never achieved during the Early Neolithic. Areas occupied by hunters and gatherers decreased or disappeared as farmers moved into zones previously inhabited by foragers. There is also more evidence of warfare. The Late Neolithic societies exhibited more variation and complexity in social and political organization than was evident in the Early Neolithic. Burial and settlement data suggest that some small, egalitarian societies may have been transformed into those with inherited social inequality. These are perhaps best termed ranked societies or simple chiefdoms, in which status and authority differentiated some individuals or families from others. We base this conclusion on the settlement data and the small number and size of the Funnel Beaker culture (4200–3500 b.c.) burial mounds in Poland. These structures usually contain one or two individuals, and we assume that only high-status persons were selected for interment in these mounds.


For brevity's sake, the range of cultural variation is underemphasized in this survey, and the chronological scheme is simplified. The earliest major Late Neolithic cultures in central Europe were the Lengyel and Rössen. A few hundred years later, the Funnel Beaker (sometimes called, in German, the TRB or Trichterbecher culture) and Tiszapolgár cultures made their appearance. The disappearance of the Lengyel and Rössen cultures, however, does not mean that local populations were replaced or eliminated. Archaeologists have subdivided these cultures into various phases and regional groups. For example, the Funnel Beaker culture in eastern Germany comprises the Baalberge, Salzmünde, Walternienburg, and Bernburg groups. In north-central Poland, the Lengyel-type culture is called the Brześć Kujawski group.

Remains of the Lengyel culture are found in lower Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and northern Croatia, but Funnel Beaker settlements were not limited to central Europe. They existed in Poland, the northwestern Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, lower Austria, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, southern Sweden, and even, to a small extent, southern Norway. In central Europe the earliest Funnel Beaker material dates to c. 4300–4200 b.c., whereas Funnel Beaker settlements in Scandinavia (4100–4000 b.c.) represent the earliest Neolithic occupations in northern Europe. In the latter part of the fourth millennium b.c. different cultures, such as Globular Amphora (3100–2500 b.c.) and Baden (3500–2900 b.c.), start to dominate the central European landscape. Globular Amphora sites are present in eastern Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, and northwestern Ukraine; Baden culture sites occur in Hungary, northwestern Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, eastern Austria, and southern Poland.

A little later, around 3000–2900 b.c., the Corded Ware (also called Single Grave or Battle-Axe) culture spread over an enormous territory, from the Rhine in the west to the upper Volga in the east and from Finland to the Alps. By 2700 b.c. the Bell Beaker culture appeared in western and central Europe, but in some western European countries it is placed in the Early Bronze Age. In some regions of central Europe Late Neolithic cultures overlap geographically and chronologically with one another. For example, the late Lengyel was contemporaneous in northern Poland with the earliest Funnel Beaker.


By 3500–3000 b.c. plows, wagons, copper metallurgy, horse riding, wool production, and the milking of cows, goats, and sheep were present in central Europe. These innovations had repercussions in economy, warfare, transportation, gender relations, and beliefs. When and where these numerous innovations first appeared is the subject of archaeological debate. Dairying may have occurred as early as 5000 b.c. Milk can be consumed sour, fermented, or processed into a wide variety of products, such as cheese; these products evade the problem of lactose intolerance, as little lactose remains in them. Domesticated horses were present in central Europe around 4000 b.c., and by 3500–3000 b.c. people were riding them. Horse riding gave people the ability to cover long distances in a relatively short period of time. Moreover, the riding of horses influenced warfare; riders could plunder or attack communities far away from home.

The first wagons appeared in central Europe around 3500 b.c. At Bronocice in Poland, a vessel incised with wagon motifs was found in a late Funnel Beaker culture pit, which was dated to 3400 b.c. (fig. 1). What was the function of the earliest oxen-pulled wagons? Besides their practical purposes, such as transporting harvested crops, fodder, and firewood, it has been suggested that they had ritual or religious purposes. The first use of simple plows occurred around 4000–3500 b.c., as is indicated by marks found under Funnel Beaker mounds. Even simple ox-drawn plows could turn the earth to a greater depth than could digging sticks, thereby enabling greater crop yields. The plow probably facilitated the expansion of farming from the zones of easily worked soils cultivated during the Early Neolithic. Plows and wagons also represented a laborsaving technology, making many tasks easier and faster. Copper mining and smelting were conducted in the Carpathians by 4500 b.c. The first copper artifacts were made by hammering smelted copper; later, the melted metal was cast into various forms, such as axes with shaft holes.


Lengyel, Rössen, and Funnel Beaker settlement organization included large and small sites. Unlike those of the preceding Early Neolithic period, Lengyel settlements more frequently were located at higher elevations in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Settlement systems in north-central Poland consisted of large residential sites with smaller satellite sites. Large Lengyel settlements, such as Zengövarkony in Hungary, Svodin and Žlkovce in Slovakia, TeȈšetice-Kyjovice in Moravia, and Friebritz and Falkenstein in Austria, range in size from 20 to 30 hectares. Smaller sites had areas of several hectares, for example, Nowa Huta in Poland. The Lengyel and Rössen peoples built trapezoidal longhouses and also rectangular structures. Longhouses were found at the Lengyel sites of Brześć Kujawski and Osłonki in Poland, Jelšovce in Slovakia, Postoloprty in the Czech Republic, and the Rössen site of Inden I in Germany. At Brześć Kujawski approximately fifty houses were excavated. The trapezoidal Lengyel houses range in length from 15 to 40 meters and in width from 6 to 10 meters. Longhouse construction and other domestic needs, such as firewood, required large quantities of wood.

Tiszapolgár culture (4500–4000 b.c.) sites typically are small, 0.5–1.0 hectares. The houses are likewise small, 5–6 meters in length. There is variation, however, in Funnel Beaker settlement patterns in the loess lands of central Europe and on the North European Plain. In southeastern Poland and northwestern Ukraine, small, medium, and large Funnel Beaker sites are found. Some Funnel Beaker settlements, such as Bronocice in Poland, grew in size and complexity. The large sites located at high elevations yield a great variety of archaeological materials and usually are spaced several kilometers from one another. It is possible that they politically dominated the smaller sites in the region. Funnel Beaker house sizes vary. In central Europe we find both large and small rectangular houses constructed of a framework of posts with mud-daubed walls.

Around 3500–3000 b.c. most large settlements disappeared in central Europe. Some archaeologists suggest that war and incursions of pastoralists from eastern Europe contributed to the collapse of large settlements, although local developments, such as ecological changes, also have been proposed. There is very little domestic architectural data from Globular Amphora, Corded Ware, and Bell Beaker sites, in contrast to the wealth of such information from Lengyel and Rössen sites. Most of our information about these cultures comes from burials. Seasonal Globular Amphora settlements were 0.1–0.5 hectares in area, whereas the rare permanent settlements had areas of 1.0 hectare or more and contained a few small square or trapezoidal houses, 10–55 square meters in area.

With the appearance of the Corded Ware culture (2900–2400 b.c.), mound burials started to dominate the landscape, and seasonal camps and rare permanent settlements are also found. Remains of rectangular wooden houses have been discovered in the Bay Coast (Haffküstenkulyur or Rzucewo) Group of the Corded Ware culture along the east Baltic coast, but for other groups we have very poor evidence for any structures. Archaeologists have long speculated about Globular Amphora and Corded Ware identities, using the stylistic attributes of pottery and stone tools to distinguish language and ethnic groups. Some archaeologists have equated these cultures with Indo-European–speaking peoples. Since cultural traits such as burial mounds, cord-ornamented pottery, and battle-axes occur in both the Corded Ware and the Pit Grave (Yamnaya) cultures, some archaeologists believe that the Corded Ware peoples were immigrant descendants from Pit Grave populations in southern Russia and Ukraine.


Lengyel, Rössen, and Funnel Beaker peoples continued to practice a mixed farming economy based on cereals and domestic animals. More upland areas in the loess regions of central Europe were exploited for farming. Wheat was the most important cereal in the diet of Lengyel and Rössen populations, but garden plants, such as lentils and field peas, also were cultivated. The major domestic animals were cattle, pigs, and sheep and goats, but cattle predominate at most sites. People also kept domesticated dogs, and remains of domesticated horses occur after 4000 b.c. Fishing, hunting, and the collecting of wild plants, seeds, and nuts also were practiced. Wild plants were used for food, medicine, and basket making. At some Lengyel sites the bones of wild animals make up 50–60 percent of the faunal sample.

Such simple agriculture must have had its good and bad years, and in the latter years hunting and gathering may have meant the difference between survival and starvation. Wild game supplied the Late Neolithic people with meat as well as raw materials for tools, clothing, and ornaments. It is difficult to demonstrate the role that hunting played in gender and social relations. Possibly, men hunted large animals, such as aurochs, while both sexes and children hunted or snared small game and birds. The killing of aurochs gave the hunter greater prestige than the killing of roe deer.

The importance of herding animals was greater in the economies of the Globular Amphora, Baden, and Corded Ware cultures. Because archaeologists have found only a little settlement data at Globular Amphora and Corded Ware sites, they speculate that these cultures, possibly nomadic, depended chiefly on herds of domesticated animals. However, it is difficult to establish such pastoralism on the basis of archaeological finds. Globular Amphora and Corded Ware burials often contain the remains of domesticated animals, such as cattle and pigs. Since pigs are not herded animals, the high frequency of their finds in the Globular Amphora burials suggests a nonpastoral economy, assuming such frequencies reasonably reflect their day-to-day subsistence significance.

By 4000 b.c. large areas of central Europe had been cleared of forests. In some areas forest steppe environments developed, which may have encouraged more widespread herding of domestic animals. In central Europe cattle and sheep could have been pastured in the spring, summer, and fall, but they would have been stalled and fed during the winter. It is possible that seasonal movement of herds was practiced. Regional Corded Ware groups differed in their economic adaptations. In Switzerland they were mainly agriculturists, whereas along the eastern Baltic coast they depended heavily on seal hunting. In southern Poland they were transhumant herders.


There was extensive exchange of raw materials, manufactured items, and ideas between various Late Neolithic communities. Not all communities were self-sufficient in raw materials, such as flint. For example, in central Europe, Jurassic flint from the Kraków area in Poland, flint from the vicinity of Rügen in Germany, banded flint from the Krzemionki Opatowskie region in Poland, and Świeciechów flint from the Annopol area in Poland were exchanged between the Funnel Beaker settlements. These flint varieties traveled hundreds of kilometers from their geological sources. Lengyel communities traded flint, stone, copper, shells, obsidian, and salt in briquettes, weighing 0.5–1.0 kilograms. Thus, trade allowed communities to obtain products that were not available locally.

Rivers likely were important as trade routes, since land travel was difficult. Copper ornaments, beads, spirals, and disks occur in Lengyel burials. Copper artifacts found in north-central Poland came from sources at least 500 kilometers away in the Carpathians. Such traded artifacts had little utilitarian purpose, but they may have displayed and justified the wealth or social standing of some individuals. Individuals and families did not accumulate them for generations; instead, many were deposited in burials.


The human body requires salt, and it is assumed that the wild meat diets of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic groups supplied sufficient amounts. Reliance by Neolithic farmers on cereals with low salt content made it necessary to add salt to food. The earliest known exploitation of salt was carried out by the Lengyel people, who took it from springs, such as the ones in the Wieliczka region of southeastern Poland. The evidence consists of salt-making vessels and the results of chemical analyses of vessels for traces of salt. In the Saale valley of eastern Germany, some Late Neolithic sites have yielded vessels used in salt making.

The demand for flint products, such as axes for woodworking, warfare, and ritual activities, led to extensive mining of good flint sources, such as Kleinhems in Germany, Mauer in Austria, and Krzemionki Opatowskie in Poland. The latter site was one of the largest mines, producing the banded flint that Funnel Beaker peoples were the first to utilize. The peak period of flint mining here occurred during the Globular Amphora occupation. Approximately a thousand shafts, 4–11 meters deep, extended through an area 4 kilometers long by 30–120 meters wide. Mining tools, such as antler picks and stone hammers, were found in this area. Thousands of flint axes and chisels were produced here. The frequent occurrence of banded flint axes in Globular Amphora burials indicates not only their utilitarian application but also their importance as symbols in the belief system and their value as goods in the social system. Banded flint axes were distributed by exchange as far away as 600 kilometers from Krzemionki Opatowskie.


Evidence for Late Neolithic warfare includes such artifacts as arrowheads and battle-axes, skeletal material bearing signs of inflicted wounds, and fortified settlements. There is more evidence for conflict during this period, since V-section ditches and palisades surrounded numerous settlements, although not all such enclosures were constructed only for defense purposes. Many were multifunctional; they also were used for rituals and ceremonials as well as the keeping of domestic animals. Some sites, such as the one at Makrotřasy in the Czech Republic, may have had astronomical significance.

The construction of enclosures indicates that households and communities cooperated in communal labor. Ditches at Lengyel sites, such as Hluboké Mašůvky in the Czech Republic, Žlkovce in Slovakia, and Falkenstein and Wetzleindorf in Austria, enclosed large areas, 5–12 hectares. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic most fortifications were located within settlements. The extremely large enclosed area, 30 hectares, at Svodin in Slovakia, contained two fortifications belonging to different occupations, while the houses were outside the enclosure.

Burial data suggest that it was men who were involved in fighting. Antler axes and arrowheads, which could have been used as weapons, usually are associated with men's burials, as at Brześć Kujawski in Poland. The hypothesized herding economy of the Corded Ware culture (2900–2400 b.c.) and the presence of battle-axes at their sites are interpreted as evidence for warfare. Herded animals are a mobile resource, and they would have been relatively easy to steal. Cattle raiding may have caused a warlike value system to develop at this time.


The Late Neolithic burial patterns varied widely. The Lengyel, Rössen, and Tiszapolgár peoples buried their dead in cemeteries or in and around their settlements. Lengyel cemeteries were found at Zengövárkony in Hungary, Svodin in Slovakia, and Aszód in Hungary. At Svodin 161 graves were excavated. In other regions, such as Kujavia in Poland, Lengyel burials containing men, women, and children were dispersed within settlements. Ancestors continued to live symbolically in the same settlement, never separated from the living. Most of the dead were buried in flexed positions in pits, with the skeleton oriented east-west, and most graves held a single person. When double burials are found they usually contain a woman and a child. Cremations are rare.

The Funnel Beaker peoples practiced different burial rites. Impressive tombs occur in northern Germany and northern Poland, reminding one of the megalithic tradition. Funnel Beaker burial mounds of the Kujavian type in northern Poland were constructed of stone and earth, with a trapezoidal ground plan and range of 25–150 meters in length, 4–10 meters in width at the broader end, and 3–5 meters in width at the narrower end. Large stones were placed around the perimeter of these mounds, which usually held one or two people. Men and women typically received different mortuary treatment. At the Tiszapolgár cemetery men were buried with flint tools, weapons, and copper tools, and their burials were richer than those of women were. Pottery was associated mainly with women.

There is considerable variation in Globular Amphora burial practices. The most characteristic burials are stone cist graves, 2.5–6.0 meters long and 1.0–2.0 meters wide, dug into the ground with mounds of stone and earth erected over them. There also are graves without stone construction and some lined with wood. In northern Germany existing Funnel Beaker megalithic structures frequently were used for burials. The dead were buried in a contracted position, generally no more than five people to one grave. Completely articulated skeletons are rare; disarticulated individuals are common. It may be that the recently deceased were placed in trees or on scaffolds, and only when the flesh had been removed or had decayed were they interred. The most common grave goods are pottery vessels, flint axes, and animal remains, especially the lower jaws of wild or domesticated pigs.

Corded Ware mortuary sites include mounds and flat (moundless) graves. Some of the flat graves originally may have had mounds that were subsequently destroyed by historic farming activity. A pit would have been dug into the ground and a mound of dirt piled above it. This mound most frequently contained a single skeleton in a contracted position. The builders of Corded Ware mounds emphasized their location in the landscape by selecting the highest local elevations. They presumably stood as symbols of death rituals for many years. Mounds also could have symbolized a community's claim to a landscape or the higher social status of the persons interred in them.


Palaeopathological studies of human skeletons have supplied information about diseases, anomalies, and degenerative processes. At the Tiszapolgár cemetery in Hungary, some skeletons had the following diseases, pathological conditions, and injuries: paralysis of arms, deformation of the skull, osteoporosis, neurosis of the spinal cord, fractures of the spine, head wounds, brain tumors, stiff spine, and arthritis. Among the Tiszapolgár people many disabled or diseased adults survived only through the help of their fellows. Life expectancy of the Tiszapolgár people was roughly thirty years. Of the fifty-four people assigned to the early phase at the Tiszapolgár cemetery, ten had an estimated age of fifty or more; thus a person had an 18.5 percent chance of surviving to age fifty. Half of the children died by the age of twelve. The length of extended adult skeletons averaged 170 centimeters for males and 160 centimeters for females, but the stature of living individuals probably was several centimeters greater.


Most information about ritual behavior is derived from human and animal figurines, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic pottery, burials, and structures that could have served sacred purposes. All Late Neolithic cultures performed various burial rituals. Fired clay figurines, especially of women, are often considered to have been used in rituals. There are many interpretations of figurines. They have been considered educational aids, representations of people or ancestral figures, dolls, or vehicles of healing and magical powers. Human and animal figurines are not numerous in north-central Europe; they are more prevalent in southern regions, such as Hungary.

There are two types of early Lengyel vessels that could have been used in rituals. The first depicted animals and humans figuratively; the second incorporated representations of body parts, such as the nose, on the outer surface of the vessel. Lengyel sites known as rondels, that is, circular ditched enclosures with openings at four opposing points, probably were used for ceremonials. Most information on Globular Amphora and Corded Ware ritual comes from burials. The numerous pig bones in Globular Amphora burials suggest that animals played an important role in mortuary rituals or feasts. Cattle burials also are associated with the Globular Amphora and Baden cultures. These burials may reflect the importance of domestic animals in economy and rituals and as symbols of wealth and social prestige. The drinking of alcoholic beverages, such as beer and mead (produced by fermenting honey and water), probably occurred during ritual activities. Baden pottery types, represented in cups, beakers, and other vessels with handles, reflect the increasing diversity of beverages consumed.

See alsoLong Barrow Cemeteries in Neolithic Europe (vol. 1, part 3); Brześć Kujawski (vol. 1, part 4); Rondels of the Carpathians (vol. 1, part 4); Corded Ware from East to West (vol. 1, part 4).


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Late Neolithic/Copper Age Central Europe

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