Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt
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Mesolithic period

Wooden hunting bow from Barleben (Bördelandkreis).
Wooden hunting bow from Barleben (Bördelandkreis) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).

Around 11,500 years ago, the climate rose in temperature in a few hundred years up to present-day levels. The last ice age ended and a temperate period began that still continues today. The reason for this was the Gulf Stream which now again pushed far into the north Atlantic. The environmental conditions once again changed entirely, as they had done at many previous changes in climate. Sparse stands of trees grew into thick forest, but as the open landscapes of the ice age retreated, so did the great herds of reindeer and horses that had been rich food sources for humans. Once again, humans had to adapt their survival strategies and behaviour; hunters of the tundra now became forest trackers and fishermen. It was the last phase of hunting and gathering in Europe, lasting more than 6,000 years: the so-called Mesolithic period, i.e. the middle stone age.

The forms of the tools used in this period reveal that the technologies of the ice-age predecessors were continued. Scrapers, borers and burins were still made from flint, just as before. There was a steady improvement in the production quality of tiny stone points and other microliths that provided the sharp point on spearheads and, as is now recorded for the first time, also arrowheads. There was an especially wide selection of these objects at a camp site that was probably inhabited for years in the Fiener Bruch (a moor region in the north of Saxony-Anhalt). Bows were now essential for hunts conducted from the cover of thickets, thanks to their accuracy and range. One of the few extant examples was found in this area.

Axes are an entirely new feature, made in various forms and attached to a shaft using deer-antler. They are evidence for a return to an intensive use of wood, as had been the case before, during the climate phase which preceded the ice age. Roe and red deer, and wild boar were now the most important quarry, but these animals only occur in small groups and could find good cover in the lush vegetation. On the other hand, they do not traverse great distances between summer and winter habitat, so it was possible to hunt them year round without having to follow after them continuously. Families and clans were therefore able to remain relatively fixed in one place. In this region, camp sites were mostly on dune-like elevations in well-watered meadowland. The dead were buried there too.

Microliths - Greek for ‘small stones' - are weapon- and tool-points made from worked chips of stone. Examples from the Fiener Bruch (Landkreis Jerichower Land).
Microliths - Greek for ‘small stones' - are weapon- and tool-points made from worked chips of stone. Examples from the Fiener Bruch (Landkreis Jerichower Land) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták)
Axe-blade from Kalbe (Altmarkkreis Salzwedel).
Axe-blade from Kalbe (Altmarkkreis Salzwedel) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).
Deer-antler mount for attaching a shaft to blades (Glindenberg, Bördelandkreis).
Deer-antler mount for attaching a shaft to blades (Glindenberg, Bördelandkreis) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).

In Saxony-Anhalt only three burials from that period have been found; they are the oldest human skeletons in the state. One of these is the grave found in Bad Dürrenberg, of a woman who is believed to be a 'shaman'. Her rich set of grave-goods is entirely unusual and mysterious. Anthropological and archaeological data provide revealing glimpses into her fate. This 25-35-year-old 'special woman', along with a 6- to 12-month-old child, was laid out on a fill of red earth which even now is 30 cm deep. Her burial took place around 9,000-8,600 years ago, isolated in the landscape. The exceptionally rich collection of grave-goods is evidence that the dead woman had a special role in society. A remarkable feature is the enormous variety of animal species present in the grave, which were not all food supplies for the beyond. Ethnographic parallels suggest that many objects may be explained as items used in shamanistic practices. The transition from mobile hunting and gathering to settled farming marks the end of the mesolithic period. The era of the hunters - the way of life that humans pursued the longest - had now come to an end.

A woman buried 8,500 years ago.
A woman buried 8,500 years ago (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Foto: Juraj Lipták).
Grave goods from the "shaman's burial" of Bad Dürrenberg (Saalekreis).
Grave goods from the "shaman's burial" of Bad Dürrenberg (Saalekreis) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt).