Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt
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Neolithic period

Globular bowl of the Linear pottery culture.
Globular bowls, like this one from Eilsleben (Bördelandkreis), were the standard type of pots of the Linear pottery culture ('Linienbandkeramik'). This one shows an especially fine version of the linear style of decoration (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).

The transition from game hunting to agriculture and stock-raising marks the start of the neolithic period, that is, the late stone age. It is the most dramatic change in living habits in human history. In Central Germany it took place from 7,500 to 7,000 years ago. People began to exert control over the environment so that they were less dependent on the food resources available naturally. The new way of life was not an independent development among the peoples in this area. This fundamental shift first occurred around 11,000 years ago in the southern foothills of the Taurus and Zagros mountain ranges, in the present-day border region between Turkey, Iran and Iraq. From there, groups of farmers went in search of new land, reaching south-east Europe within about 2,000 years. After a phase of consolidation, sections of the agricultural communities again had to try their luck abroad. These immigrants arrived in Central Europe in a series of waves from the Danube region of south-east Europe. They brought along in their packs the whole new set of cultural practices: seeds, stock animals, building techniques, pottery, textiles, and polished stone, but also customs and beliefs. Over time, the local hunters, too, adopted the innovative technologies and survival strategies.

The new economy brought with it fundamental changes in behavioural patterns for individuals and society. A life on the move had now become rooted in one place. Permanent settlements were founded, with solid buildings made of timber and earth. The ideology changed too. The fate of the community was now linked intimately to the economic zone it created. Land was declared property, to guarantee a right to the yield from the effort invested. Landownership acquired a value that was well worth fighting for. Inherited land and stock assured provision for one's offspring. Rules for ownership, inheritance, and property disputes defined what was legitimate in society and, ultimately, created its ruling structures. The origins of our present-day standards of value and social order can be traced back to these dramatic changes. A life in one place favoured shorter gaps between births. More numerous offspring, combined with the ability to feed more people per hectare, led to a rise in population. In only a few generations, sections of the population had to move on into neighbouring areas. It took only 100-200 years for groups of farmers to move in stages from the Danube to the Rhine, spreading islands of settlement in the 'sea' of forest. This movement occurred during a climate phase that was warmer than today.

Fragment of an axe from Magdeburg.
Fragment of an axe from Magdeburg, around 6,100-5,700 years before the present. Polished stone tools were an indispensable help in clearing forest and working wood, thanks to their effectiveness in hacking and splitting (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).
Arm-ring made of spondylus shell (Erfurt, Thuringia).
Arm-ring made of spondylus shell (Erfurt, Thuringia). For the people of the Linear Pottery culture, this exotic material probably had elite associations. Around 7500-6800 years before the present (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).
Grave of a man of around 40 years of age, which also contained seven cows, revealing the dead man's prominent social position. Westerhausen (Landkreis Harz), around 5,090-4,850 years before the present (radiocarbon date).
Grave of a man of around 40 years of age, which also contained seven cows, revealing the dead man's prominent social position. Westerhausen (Landkreis Harz), around 5,090-4,850 years before the present (radiocarbon date) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).

In Central Europe, the first farming communities formed a shared civilisation for around 500 years, but then split into distinct cultural groups that can be traced archaeologically through the differences in their material culture - above all, pottery -, in the plans of their buildings, and in their burial practices. On this basis it is possible to map a changing spectrum of cultures that was generated over the next 2,500 years, in the following chronological divisions:

                                                                                                                                                            

Linear ware ('Linienbandkeramik') culture, around 7,500 - 6,800 years ago

Stroke-decorated ware ('Stichbandkeramik') culture, around 6,900- 6,600 years ago

Rössen culture, around 6,600-6,450 years ago

Gatersleben culture, around 6,500-6,000 years ago

Michelsberg culture, around 6,300-5,400 years ago

Baalberg culture, around 6,000-5,400 years ago

Deep-stroke decorated ware ('Tiefstichkeramik') culture, around 5,700-5,350 years ago

Salzmünde culture, around 5,400-5,100 years ago

Walternienburg culture, around 5,350- 5,100 years ago

Elb-Havel culture, around 5,100-4,650 years ago

Bernburg culture, around 5,100-4,650 years ago

Globular amphora culture, around 5,100-4,650 years ago

Corded ware culture, around 4,800-4,100 years ago

Single grave culture, around 4,800-4,300 years ago

Schönfeld culture, around 4,500-4,100 years ago

Bell Beaker culture, around 4,500-4,200 years ago

Golden hair-ring found in the luxurious grave of a 45- to 55-year-old man, Rothenschirmbach (Landkreis Mansfeld-Südharz), around 4.470-4.290 years before the present (radiocarbon date).
The golden hair-ring was found in the luxurious grave of a 45- to 55-year-old man. It is the oldest artifact in gold from Saxony-Anhalt. Rothenschirmbach (Landkreis Mansfeld-Südharz), around 4.470-4.290 years before the present (radiocarbon date) (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).

The first farming communities were organised with few visible differences in social rank. However, the new economy, based on producing and storing, gradually influenced the social structure. A life attached to a particular place favoured the accumulation of individual and community property, which increasingly needed to be protected and managed. Sections of the community established themselves as leaders. Social disparities became more pronounced, creating fixed divisions within the community. A result of this was the desire to legitimise rank and power in the long term through public appearances. Public respect or social rank - awarded, acquired or inherited - were made known through symbolic services by the whole community for certain individuals, through marks of dignity, and through prestige-objects. 'Pomp and circumstance' has always involved objects made mostly from expensive, rare or symbolically significant materials, often produced with great artistry and effort. The first farming cultures of Central Europe had status symbols of this kind, for example exotic jewellery made of mussel shells that was evidently reserved for a limited set of people, no doubt chosen for their economic, spiritual or political power. 50 generations later, a much sharper set of divisions in the farming communities becomes visible in the increasing level of differentiation in burial areas and grave-goods. Around 4500 years ago, the late stone age tribes and clans heralded in the era of metals. Many of the groups came to form cultural communities that stretched across large areas; some were spread across half of Europe in separate scattered areas, like the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures. Innovations from many parts of the continent flooded into Central Europe, and gradually led to the start of independent copper- and gold-working here too. The exchange of ideas and goods led to a process of assimilation of different kinds of civilisation, leading ultimately to the first societies that worked bronze.

The Stone Age Tragedy of Eulau

In 2005, a necropolis around 4,600 years old was found in Eulau near Naumburg (Saxony-Anhalt); there were 12 graves, each of which contained up to four burials. Detailed laboratory analyses showed that all those buried had suffered a violent death. DNA and dental analyses also showed that there were close family relations between the dead, expressed also in the positions of the bodies in the graves, holding each others' hands and with children looking at their parents. The buried from Eulau apparently died during an assault, as all the individuals sustained serious head injuries, wounds from blows and from arrow shots; the father's hands and wrists were broken. The stone age cemetery in Eulau belongs to the so-called Corded Ware period - named from the type of pottery decoration used, made with the imprint of a cord. The families were all buried according to the strict burial rites of the Corded Ware period: with legs contracted, lying on their side, the women with their head toward the east, the men with their head to the west. They are always positioned so that they face towards the south. In the exhibition, three of these graves are shown in an unusual form of presentation - they are exhibited as a block, shown vertically in a wall formed like a triptych.

Burial of mother, child and step-brother, Grave 98, ca. 2811-2697 BC by radiocarbon dating.
Burial of mother, child and step-brother, Grave 98, ca. 2811-2697 BC by radiocarbon dating (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).
Artist's reconstruction of Grave 99, burial of parents and children.
Artist's reconstruction of Grave 99, burial of parents and children (© Karol Schauer).
Burial of parents and children, Grave 99, ca. 2658-2502 BC by radiocarbon dating.
Burial of parents and children, Grave 99, ca. 2658-2502 BC by radiocarbon dating (© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Photo: Juraj Lipták).