|Geographical range||Central Europe|
|Dates||c. 5500 BC — c. 4500 BC|
|Major sites||Langweiler, Bylany, Nitra, Zwenkau, Brunn am Gebirge, Elsloo, Sittard, Lindenthal, Aldenhoven, Flomborn, Rixheim, Rössen, Osłonki|
|Preceded by||Mesolithic Europe, Starčevo–Kőrös–Criș culture|
|Followed by||Hinkelstein culture, Rössen culture, Lengyel culture, Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, Boian culture|
|The Neolithic |
The Linear Pottery culture is a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, flourishing c. 5500–4500 BC. It is abbreviated as LBK (from German: Linearbandkeramik), and is also known as the Linear Band Ware, Linear Ware, Linear Ceramics or Incised Ware culture, and falls within the Danubian I culture of V. Gordon Childe.
The densest evidence for the culture is on the middle Danube, the upper and middle Elbe, and the upper and middle Rhine. It represents a major event in the initial spread of agriculture in Europe. The pottery after which it was named consists of simple cups, bowls, vases, and jugs, without handles, but in a later phase with lugs or pierced lugs, bases, and necks.
Important sites include Nitra in Slovakia; Bylany in the Czech Republic; Langweiler and Zwenkau in Germany; Brunn am Gebirge in Austria; Elsloo, Sittard, Köln-Lindenthal, Aldenhoven, Flomborn, and Rixheim on the Rhine; Lautereck and Hienheim on the upper Danube; and Rössen and Sonderhausen on the middle Elbe. In 2019, two large Rondel complexes were discovered east of the Vistula River near Toruń in Poland.
Two variants of the early Linear Pottery culture are recognized:
Middle and late phases are also defined. In the middle phase, the Early Linear Pottery culture intruded upon the Bug-Dniester culture and began to manufacture musical note pottery. In the late phase, the Stroked Pottery culture moved down the Vistula and Elbe.
A number of cultures ultimately replaced the Linear Pottery culture over its range, but without a one-to-one correspondence between its variants and the replacing cultures. The culture map, instead, is complex. Some of the successor cultures are the Hinkelstein, Großgartach, Rössen, Lengyel, Cucuteni-Trypillian, and Boian-Maritza cultures.
The term "Linear Band Ware" derives from the pottery's decorative technique. The "Band Ware" or Bandkeramik part of it began as an innovation of the German archaeologist, Friedrich Klopfleisch (1831–1898). The earliest generally accepted name in English was the Danubian of V. Gordon Childe. Most names in English are attempts to translate Linearbandkeramik.
Since Starčevo-Körös pottery was earlier than the LBK and was located in a contiguous food-producing region, the early investigators looked for precedents there. Much of the Starčevo-Körös pottery features decorative patterns composed of convolute bands of paint: spirals, converging bands, vertical bands, and so on. The LBK appears to imitate and often improve these convolutions with incised lines; hence the term, linear, to distinguish painted band ware from incised band ware.
The LBK did not begin with this range and only reached it toward the end of its time. It began in regions of densest occupation on the middle Danube (Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary) and spread over about 1,500 km along the rivers in 360 years. The rate of expansion was therefore about 4 km per year, which can hardly be called an invasion or a wave by the standard of current events, but over archaeological time seems especially rapid.
The LBK was concentrated somewhat inland from the coastal areas; i.e., it is not evidenced in Denmark or the northern coastal strips of Germany and Poland, or the coast of the Black Sea in Romania. The northern coastal regions remained occupied by Mesolithic cultures exploiting the then fabulously rich Atlantic salmon runs. There are lighter concentrations of LBK in the Netherlands, such as at Elsloo, Netherlands, with the sites of Darion, Remicourt, Fexhe, or Waremme-Longchamps and at the mouths of the Oder and Vistula. Evidently, the Neolithics and Mesolithics were not excluding each other.
The LBK at maximum extent ranged from about the line of the Seine–Oise (Paris Basin) eastward to the line of the Dnieper, and southward to the line of the upper Danube down to the big bend. An extension ran through the Southern Bug valley, leaped to the valley of the Dniester, and swerved southward from the middle Dniester to the lower Danube in eastern Romania, east of the Carpathians.
A good many C-14 dates have been acquired on the LBK, making possible statistical analyses, which have been performed on different sample groups. One such analysis by Stadler and Lennais sets 68.2% confidence limits at about 5430–5040 BC; that is, 68.2% of possible dates allowed by variation of the major factors that influence measurement, calculation, and calibration fall within that range. The 95.4% confidence interval is 5600–4750 BC.
Data continue to be acquired and therefore any one analysis should be taken as a rough guideline only. Overall, it is probably safe to say that the Linear Pottery culture spanned several hundred years of continental European prehistory in the late sixth and early fifth millennia BC, with local variations. Data from Belgium indicate a late survival of LBK there, as late as 4100 BC.
The Linear Pottery culture is not the only food-producing player on the stage of prehistoric Europe. It has been necessary, therefore, to distinguish between it and the Neolithic, which was most easily done by dividing the Neolithic of Europe into chronological phases. These have varied a great deal. An approximation is:
The last phase is no longer the end of the Neolithic. A "Final Neolithic" has been added to the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. All numbers depend to some extent on the geographic region.
The pottery styles of the LBK allow some division of its window in time. Conceptual schemes have varied somewhat. One is:
The early or earliest Western Linear Pottery culture began conventionally at 5500 BC, possibly as early as 5700 BC, in western Hungary, southern Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It is sometimes called the Central European Linear Pottery (CELP) to distinguish it from the ALP phase of the Eastern Linear Pottery culture. The Hungarians tend to use DVK, Dunántúl Vonaldiszes Kerámia, translated as "Transdanubian Linear Pottery". A number of local styles and phases of ware are defined.
The end of the early phase can be dated to its arrival in the Netherlands at about 5200 BC. The population there was already food-producing to some extent. The early phase went on there, but meanwhile the Music Note Pottery (Notenkopfkeramik) phase of the Middle Linear Band Pottery culture appeared in Austria at about 5200 and moved eastward into Romania and the Ukraine. The late phase, or Stroked Pottery culture (Stichbandkeramik or SBK, 5000–4500 BC) evolved in central Europe and went eastward.
This article includes a brief introduction to some of the features of the Western Linear Pottery culture below.
The Eastern Linear Pottery culture developed in eastern Hungary and Transylvania roughly contemporaneously with, perhaps a few hundred years after, the Transdanubian. The great plain there (Hungarian Alföld) had been occupied by the Starčevo-Körös-Criş culture of "gracile Mediterraneans" from the Balkans as early as 6100 BC. Hertelendi and others give a reevaluated date range of 5860–5330 for the Early Neolithic, 5950–5400 for the Körös. The Körös Culture went as far north as the edge of the upper Tisza and stopped. North of it the Alföld plain and the Bükk Mountains were intensively occupied by Mesolithics thriving on the flint tool trade.
At around 5330 BC, the classical Alföld culture of the LBK appeared to the north of the Körös culture and flourished until about 4940. This time also is the Middle Neolithic. The Alföld culture has been abbreviated ALV from its Hungarian name, Alföldi Vonaldíszes Kerámia, or ALP for Alföld Linear Pottery culture, the earliest variant of the Eastern Linear Pottery culture.
In one view, the AVK came "directly out of" the Körös. The brief, short-ranged Szatmár group on the northern edge of the Körös culture seems transitional. Some place it with the Körös, some with the AVK. The latter's pottery is decorated with white painted bands with incised edges. Körös pottery was painted.
As is presented above, however, no major population movements occurred across the border. The Körös went on into a late phase in its accustomed place, 5770–5230. The late Körös is also called the Proto-Vinča, which was succeeded by the Vinča-Tordo, 5390–4960. There is no necessity to view the Körös and the AVK as closely connected. The AVK economy is somewhat different: it used cattle and swine, both of which occur wild in the region, instead of the sheep of the Balkans and Mediterranean. The percentage of wild animal bones is greater. Barley, millet and lentils were added.
Around 5100 or so, towards the end of the Middle Neolithic, the classical AVK descended into a complex of pronounced local groups called the Szakálhát-Esztár-Bükk, which flourished about 5260–4880:
These are all characterised by finely crafted and decorated ware. The entire group is considered by the majority of the sources listed in this article to have been in the LBK. Before the chronology and many of the sites were known, the Bükk was thought to be a major variant; in fact, Gimbutas at one point believed it to be identical with the Eastern Linear Pottery culture. Since 1991, the predominance of the Alföld has come to light.
The end of the Eastern Linear Pottery culture and the LBK is less certain. The Szakálhát-Esztár-Bükk descended into another Late Neolithic legacy complex, the Tisza-Hérpály-Csöszhalom, which is either not LBK or is transitional from the LBK to the Tiszapolgar, a successor culture.
The origin of the culture must be distinguished from the origin of the people who used it.
The earliest theory of Linear Pottery culture origin is that it came from the Starčevo-Körös culture of Serbia and Hungary. Supporting this view is the fact that the LBK appeared earliest about 5600–5400 BC on the middle Danube in the Starčevo range. Presumably, the expansion northwards of early Starčevo-Körös produced a local variant reaching the upper Tisza that may have well been created by contact with native epi-Paleolithic people. This small group began a new tradition of pottery, substituting engravings for the paintings of the Balkanic cultures.
A site at Brunn am Gebirge just south of Vienna seems to document the transition to LBK. The site was densely settled in a long house pattern around 5550–5200. The lower layers feature Starčevo-type plain pottery, with large number of stone tools made of material from near Lake Balaton, Hungary. Over the time frame, LBK pottery and animal husbandry increased, while the use of stone tools decreased.
A second theory proposes an autochthonous development out of the local Mesolithic cultures. Although the Starčevo-Körös entered southern Hungary about 6000 BC and the LBK spread very rapidly, there appears to be a hiatus of up to 500 years in which a barrier seems to have been in effect. Moreover, the cultivated species of the near and middle eastern Neolithic do not do well over the Linear Pottery culture range. And finally, the Mesolithics in the region prior to the LBK used some domestic species, such as wheat and flax. The La Hoguette culture on the northwest of the LBK range developed their own food production from native plants and animals.
A third theory attributes the start of Linear Pottery to an influence from the Mesolithic cultures of the east European plain. The pottery was used in intensive food gathering.
The rate at which it spread was no faster than the spread of the Neolithic in general. Accordingly, Dolukhanov and others postulate that an impulse from the steppe to the southeast of the barrier stimulated the Mesolithics north of it to innovate their own pottery. This view only accounts for the pottery; presumably, the Mesolithics combined it de novo with local food production, which began to spread very rapidly throughout a range that was already producing some food.
The initial LBK population theory hypothesized that the culture was spread by farmers moving up the Danube practicing slash-and-burn methods. The presence of the Mediterranean sea shell, Spondylus gaederopus, and the similarity of the pottery to gourds, which did not grow in the north, seemed to be evidence of the immigration, as does the genetic evidence cited below. The lands into which they moved were believed untenanted or too sparsely populated by hunter-gatherers to be a significant factor.
The barrier causing the hiatus mentioned above does not have an immediate geographical cause. The Körös culture ended in the middle of the Hungarian plain, and although the climate to the north is colder, the gradient is not so sharp as to form a barrier there.
In 2005, scientists successfully sequenced mtDNA coding region 15997–16409 derived from twenty-four 7,500- to 7,000-year-old human remains associated with the LBK culture. Of those remains, 22 were from locations in Germany near the Harz Mountains and the upper Rhine Valley, while one was from Austria and one from Hungary. The scientists did not reveal the detailed hypervariable segment I (HVSI) sequences for all the samples, but identified that seven of the samples belonged to H or V branch of the mtDNA phylogenetic tree, six belonged to the N1a branch, five belonged to the T branch, four belonged to the K(U8) branch, one belonged to the J branch, and one belonged to the U3 branch. All branches are extant in the current European population, although the K branch was present in roughly twice the percentages as would be found in Europe today (15% vs. 8% now.).
Comparison of the N1a HVSI sequences with sequences of living individuals found three of them to correspond with those of individuals currently living in Europe. Two of the sequences corresponded to ancestral nodes predicted to exist or to have existed on the European branch of the phylogenetic tree. One of the sequences is related to European populations, but with no apparent descendants amongst the modern population. The N1a evidence supports the notion that the descendants of LBK culture have lived in Europe for more than 7,000 years and have become an integral part of the current European population. The lack of mtDNA haplogroup U5 supports the notion that U5 at this time is uniquely associated with mesolithic European cultures.
A 2010 study of ancient DNA suggested the LBK population had affinities to modern-day populations from the Near East and Anatolia, such as an overall prevalence of G2. The study also found some unique features, such as the prevalence of the now-rare Y-haplogroup H2 and mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies.
In a 2017 genetic study published in Nature, the remains of a large number of individuals ascribed to the Linear Pottery Culture was analyzed. Of the samples of Y-DNA extracted, most belonged to G2a and subclades of it. I2 and subclades of it was also common. Other samples of Y-DNA extracted included T1a, CT, and C1a2. The samples of mtDNA extracted were various subclades of T, H, N, U, K, J, X, HV, and V.
The LBK people settled on fluvial terraces and in the proximities of rivers. They were quick to identify regions of fertile loess. On it they raised a distinctive assemblage of crops and associated weeds in small plots, an economy that Gimbutas called a "garden type of civilization". The difference between a crop and a weed in LBK contexts is the frequency. Crop foods are:
Species that are found so rarely as to warrant classification as possible weeds are:
The emmer and the einkorn were sometimes grown as maslin, or mixed crops. The lower-yield einkorn predominates over emmer, which has been attributed to its better resistance to heavy rain. Hemp (Cannabis sativum) and flax (Linum usitatissimum) gave the LBK people the raw material of rope and cloth, which they no doubt manufactured at home as a cottage industry. From poppies (Papaver somniferum), introduced later from the Mediterranean, they may have manufactured palliative medicine.
The LBK people were stock-raisers, as well, with cattle favoured, though goats and swine are also recorded. Like farmers today, they may have used the better grain for themselves and the lower grades for the animals. The ubiquitous dogs are present here too, but scantly. Substantial wild faunal remains are found. The LBK supplemented their diets by hunting deer and wild boar in the open forests of Europe as it was then.
Although no significant population transfers were associated with the start of the LBK, population diffusion along the wetlands of the mature civilisation (about 5200 BC) had levelled the high percentage of the rare gene sequence mentioned above by the late LBK. The population was much greater by then, a phenomenon termed the Neolithic demographic transition (NDT). According to Bocquet-Appel beginning from a stable population of "small connected groups exchanging migrants" among the "hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists" the LBK experienced an increase in birth rate caused by a "reduction in the length of the birth interval". The author hypothesizes a decrease in the weaning period made possible by division of labor. At the end of the LBK, the NDT was over and the population growth disappeared due to an increase in the mortality rate, caused, the author speculates, by new pathogens passed along by increased social contact.
The new population was sedentary up to the capacity of the land, and then the excess population moved to less-inhabited land. An in-depth GIS study by Ebersbach and Schade of an 18-km² region in the wetlands region of Wetterau, Hesse, traces the land use in detail and discovers the limiting factor. In the study region, 82% of the land is suitable for agriculture, 11% for grazing (even though wetland), and 7% steep slopes. The investigators found that the LBK occupied this land for about 400 years. They began with 14 settlements, 53 houses, and 318 people, using the wetlands for cattle pasture. Settlement gradually spread over the wetlands, reaching a maximum of 47 settlements, 122 houses, and 732 people in the late period. At that time, all the available grazing land was in use.
Toward the end, the population suddenly dropped to initial levels, though much of the arable land was still available. The investigators concluded cattle were the main economic interest and available grazing land was the limiting factor in settlement. The Neolithic of the Middle East featured urban concentrations of people subsisting mainly on grain. Beef and dairy products, however, were the mainstay of LBK diet. When the grazing lands were all in use, they moved elsewhere in search of them. As the relatively brief window of the LBK falls roughly in the centre of the Atlantic climate period, a maximum of temperature and rainfall, a conclusion that the spread of wetlands at that time encouraged the growth and spreading of the LBK is to some degree justified.
The tool kit was appropriate to the economy. Flint and obsidian were the main materials used for points and cutting edges. There is no sign of metal. For example, they harvested with sickles manufactured by inserting flint blades into the inside of curved pieces of wood. One tool, the "shoe-last celt", was made of a ground stone chisel blade tied to a handle, with shape and wear showing that they were used as adzes to fell trees and to work wood. Augurs were made of flint points tied to sticks that could be rotated. Scrapers and knives are found in abundance. The use of flint pieces, or microliths, descended from the Mesolithic, while the ground stone is characteristic of the Neolithic.
These materials are evidence both of specialization of labor and commerce. The flint used came from southern Poland; the obsidian came from the Bükk and Tatra mountains. Settlements in those regions specialized in mining and manufacture. The products were exported to all the other LBK regions, which must have had something to trade. This commerce is a strong argument for an ethnic unity between the scattered pockets of the culture.
The unit of residence was the long house, a rectangular structure, 5.5 to 7.0 m wide, of variable length; for example, a house at Bylany was 45 m. Outer walls were wattle-and-daub, sometimes alternating with split logs, with slanted, thatched roofs, supported by rows of poles, three across. The exterior wall of the home was solid and massive, oak posts being preferred. Clay for the daub was dug from pits near the house, which were then used for storage. Extra posts at one end may indicate a partial second story. Some LBK houses were occupied for as long as 30 years.
It is thought that these houses had no windows and only one doorway. The door was located at one end of the house. Internally, the house had one or two partitions creating up to three areas. Interpretations of the use of these areas vary. Working activities might be carried out in the better lit door end, the middle used for sleeping and eating and the end farthest from the door could have been used for grain storage. According to other view, the interior was divided in areas for sleeping, common life and a fenced enclosure at the back end for keeping animals.
Ditches went along part of the outer walls, especially at the enclosed end. Their purpose is not known, but they probably are not defensive works, as they were not much of a defense. More likely, the ditches collected waste water and rain water. A large house with many people and animals would have had to have a drainage system. One can conceive of a smelly end, where the animals and latrines were located, and a domestic end.
Trash was regularly removed and placed in external pits. The waste-producing work, such as hide preparation and flint-working, was done outside the house.
Long houses were gathered into villages of five to eight houses, spaced about 20 m apart, occupying 300–1250 acres. Nearby villages formed settlement cells, some as dense as 20 per 25 km², others as sparse as one per 32 km². This structuring of settlements does not support a view that the LBK population had no social structure, or was anarchic. However, the structure remains obscure and interpretational. One long house may have supported one extended family, but the short lifespan would have precluded more than two generations. The houses required too much labor to be the residences of single families; consequently, communal houses are postulated. Though the known facts are tantalizing, the correct social interpretation of the layout of a long house and the arrangement of villages will have to wait for clearer evidence. At least some villages were fortified for some time with a palisade and outer ditch.
Excavations at Oslonki in Poland revealed a large, fortified settlement (dating to 4300 BC, i. e., Late LBK), covering an area of 4,000 m². Nearly 30 trapezoidal longhouses and over 80 graves make it one of the richest such settlements in archaeological finds from all of central Europe. The rectangular longhouses were between 7 and 45 meters long and between 5 and 7 meters wide. They were built of massive timber posts chinked with wattle and daub mortar.
Easy access to fresh water also would have been mandatory, which is another reason why settlements were in bottom lands near water. A number of wells from the times have been discovered, with a log-cabin type lining constructed one layer at a time as the previous layers sank into the well.
An earlier view saw the Linear Pottery culture as living a "peaceful, unfortified lifestyle". Since then, settlements with palisades and weapon-traumatized bones have been discovered, such as at Herxheim, which, whether the site of a massacre or of a martial ritual, demonstrates, "...systematic violence between groups". Most of the known settlements, however, left no trace of violence. In 2015 a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details the findings of researchers at a site near Schöneck-Kilianstädten, who "found the skeletons of 26 adults and children, who were killed by devastating strikes to the head or arrow wounds. The skull fractures are classic signs of blunt force injuries caused by basic stone age weapons."
Pottery has been found in long houses, as well as in graves. Analysis of the home pottery reveals that each house had its own tradition. The occurrence of pottery primarily in female graves indicates the women of the long house probably made the pottery; in fact, lineages have been defined. Gimbutas goes so far as to assert, "The indirect results indicate an endogamous, matrilocal residence."
As is true of all prehistoric cultures, the details of actual belief systems maintained by the Linear Pottery culture population are poorly understood relative to beliefs and religions of historical periods. The extent to which prehistoric beliefs formed a systematic religious canon is also the subject of some debate. Nevertheless, comparative, detailed, scientific study of cultural artifacts and iconography has led to the proposal of models.
The mother goddess model is the major one applied to the Neolithic of the middle and near east, the civilization of the Aegean and Europe. The iconography was inherited from the Palaeolithic. The Gravettian culture introduced it into the range of the future LBK from western Asia and south Russia. From there, it diffused throughout Europe in the Upper Palaeolithic, which was inhabited by Cro-Magnon man and was responsible for many works of art, such as the Venus of Willendorf.
With the transition to the Neolithic, "the female principle continued to predominate the cultures that had grown up around the mysterious processes of birth and generation." The LBK, therefore, did not bring anything new spiritually to Europe, nor was the cult in any way localized to Europe. It is reflected in the vase paintings, figurines, graves and grave goods, and surviving customs and myths of Europe. In the north, the goddess could manifest herself as the mistress of animals, grain, distaff and loom, household, and life and death.
The works of the noted late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas present a major study of the iconography and surviving beliefs of the European Neolithic, including the Linear Pottery culture. She was able to trace the unity of reproductive themes in cultural objects previously unsuspected of such themes. For example, the burial pits of the Linear Pottery culture, which were lined with stone, clay, or plaster, may have been intended to represent eggs. The deceased returns to the egg, so to speak, there to await rebirth.
The presence of such pits contemporaneously with the burial of women and children under the floors of houses suggests a multiplicity of religious convictions, as does the use of both cremation and inhumation. Some of the figurines are not of females, but are androgynous. Perhaps the beliefs of Europeans of any culture always were complex.
The early Neolithic in Europe featured burials of women and children under the floors of personal residences. Remains of adult males are missing. Probably, Neolithic culture featured sex discrimination in funerary customs, and women and children were important in ideology concerning the home.
Burials beneath the floors of homes continued until about 4000 BC. However, in the Balkans and central Europe, the cemetery also came into use at about 5000 BC. LBK cemeteries contained from 20 to 200 graves arranged in groups that appear to have been based on kinship. Males and females of any age were included. Both cremation and inhumation were practiced. The inhumed were placed in a flexed position in pits lined with stones, plaster, or clay. Cemeteries were close to, but distinct from, residential areas.
The presence of grave goods indicates both a sex and a dominance discrimination. Male graves included stone celts, flint implements, and money or jewelry of Spondylus shells. Female graves contained many of the same artifacts as male graves, but also most of the pottery and containers of ochre. The goods have been interpreted as gifts to the departed or personal possessions.
Only about 30% of the graves have goods. This circumstance has been interpreted as some sort of distinction in dominance, but the exact nature is not known. If the goods were gifts, then some were more honored than others; if they were possessions, then some were wealthier than others.
Below are some relevant links to sites publishing current research or recapitulating recent thinking concerning the Neolithic of Europe. Many of the sites referenced contain links to other sites not mentioned here.
Pre-Pottery Neolithic Pottery Neolithic
|10000||Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
Tell Abu Hureyra
|8000||Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
|Tell Sabi Abyad
|Pre-Pottery Neolithic C
Tell Sabi Abyad
|Chogha Bonut||Teppe Zagheh||Pottery Neolithic|
|Tepe Muhammad Djafar||Tepe Sialk|
|5200||Linear Pottery culture
Hajji Firuz Tepe
|Kul Tepe Jolfa|
|Ubaid 3||Ubaid 3