Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

2014 Edition
| Editors: Claire Smith

European Mesolithic: Geography and Culture

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1998

State of Knowledge and Current Debates


Holocene hunter-gatherers define the European Mesolithic. The beginning of the Mesolithic is marked by the transition from Pleistocene to Holocene, which has been dated to 11,700 cal. BP (Walker et al. 2009). The end of the Mesolithic is marked by the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. There is no firm date for the end of the Mesolithic because agricultural transitions occurred at different times in different regions throughout the continent. This variability, however, is not restricted to the end of the Mesolithic. From subsistence to ritual, the Mesolithic was a period of enormous diversity. The evidence for sociocultural diversity during the Mesolithic was largely due to the increasing diversity of regional landscapes caused by the amelioration of climate during the Early Holocene. The Mesolithic is a very important period for our understanding of humanity because it represents the first evidence for human...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Aaris-Sørensen, K.A., R. Mühldorff & E. Brinch Petersen. 2007. The Scandinavian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.) after the last glacial maximum: time, seasonality, and human exploitation. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(6): 914-923.Google Scholar
  2. Andersen, S.H. 1985. Tybrind Vig. A preliminary report on a submerged Ertebølle settlement on the west coast of Fyn. Journal of Danish Archaeology 4: 52-69.Google Scholar
  3. - 1995. Coastal adaptation and marine exploitation in late Mesolithic Denmark—with special emphasis on the Limfjord region, in A. Fischer (ed.) Man and the sea in the Mesolithic: 41-66. Oxford: Oxbow Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bailey, G. 2007. Time perspectives, palimpsests and the archaeology of time. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26: 198-223.Google Scholar
  5. Barbaza, M. 1999. Les civilisations postglaciaires. La vie dans la grande forêt tempérée. Paris: Éditions la Maison des Roches, Histoire de la France Préhistorique.Google Scholar
  6. Barber, D.C., A. Dyke, C. Hillaire-Marcel, A.E. Jennings, J.T. Andrews, M.W. Kerwin, G. Bilodeau, R. McNeely, J. Southon, M.D. Morehead & J.-M. Gagnon. 1999. Forcing of the cold event of 8,200 years ago by catastrophic drainage of Laurentide lakes. Nature 400: 344-348.Google Scholar
  7. Barton, R.N.E., P.J. Berridge, M.J.C. Walker & R.E. Bevins. 1995. Persistent places in the Mesolithic landscape: an example from the Black Mountain uplands of South Wales. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 61: 81-116.Google Scholar
  8. Benjamin, J., C. Bonsall, C. Pickard & A. Fischer. (ed.) 2011. Submerged prehistory. Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  9. Beugnier, V. 2007. Préhistoire du travail des plantes dans le nord de la Belgique. Le cas du Mésolithique ancien et du Néolithique final en Flandre, in V. Beugnier & P. Crombé (ed.) Plant processing from a prehistoric and ethnographic perspective/Préhistoire et ethnographie du travail des plantes (Proceedings of a workshop at Ghent University (Belgium) November 28, 2006) (British Archaeological Reports International series 1718): 23-40. Oxford: John & Erica Hedges Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. Bicho, N., B. Hockett, J. Haws & W. Belcher. 2000. Hunter-gatherer subsistence at the end of the Pleistocene: preliminary results from Picareiro Cave, Central Portugal. Antiquity 74(3): 500-506.Google Scholar
  11. Bjerck, H.B. 2009. Colonizing seascapes: comparative perspectives on the development of maritime relations in Scandinavia and Patagonia. Arctic Anthropology 46(1-2): 118-31.Google Scholar
  12. Blankholm, H.P. 2008. Southern Scandinavia, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 107-132. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Blockley, S.P.E., C.S. Lane, M. Hardiman, S.O. Rasmussen, I.K. Seierstad, J.P. Steffensen, A. Svensson, A.F. Lotter, C.S. Turney, C. Bronk-Ramsey & INTIMATE Members. 2012. Synchronisation of palaeoenvironmental records over the last 60,000 years, and an extended INTIMATE event stratigraphy to 48,000 b2k. Quaternary Science Reviews 36: 2-10.Google Scholar
  14. Binder, D., A. Collina, R. Guilbert, T. Perrin, & O. Garcia-Puchol. 2012. Pressure-knapping blade production in the north-western Mediterranean region during the seventh millennium cal B.C, in P.M. Desrosiers (ed.) The emergence of pressure blade making: from origin to modern experimentation: 199-217. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Bocherens, H., C. Polet & M. Toussaint. 2007. Palaeodiet of Mesolithic and Neolithic populations of the Meuse Basin (Belgium): evidence from stable isotopes. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 10-27.Google Scholar
  16. Bohncke S.J.P. & W.Z. Hoek. 2007. Multiple oscillations during the Preboreal as recorded in a calcareous gyttja, Kingbeekdal, The Netherlands. Quaternary Science Review 26: 1965-1974.Google Scholar
  17. Bokelmann, K. 1971. Duvensee, ein Wohnplatz des Mesolithikums in Schleswig-Holstein, und die Duvenseegruppe. Offa 28(1): 5-26.Google Scholar
  18. Bonsall, C. 2008. The Mesolithic of the Iron Gates, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 238-279. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Bonsall, C., G. Cook, R. Lennon, D. Harkness, M. Scott, L. Bartosiewicz & K. McSweeney. 2000. Stable isotopes, radiocarbon and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the Iron Gates. Documenta Praehistorica 27: 119-32.Google Scholar
  20. Brinch Petersen, E. 1973. A survey of the Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Denmark, in S.K. Kozlowski (ed.) The Mesolithic in Europe: 77-129. Warsaw: Warsaw University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Cauwe, N. 2001. Skeletons in motion, ancestors in action: Early Mesolithic collective tombs in southern Belgium. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 11(2): 147-163.Google Scholar
  22. Clark, J.G.D. 1971. Excavations at Star Carr. An early Mesolithic site at Seamer near Scarborough, Yorkshire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Conneller, C. 2006. Death, in C. Conneller & G. Warren (ed.) Mesolithic Britain and Ireland: new approaches: 139-164. London: Tempus.Google Scholar
  24. Craig, O.E., M. Forster, S.H. Andersen, E. Koch, P. Crombé, N.J. Milner, B. Stern, G.N. Bailey & C. Heron. 2007. Molecular and isotopic demonstration of the processing of aquatic products in northern European prehistoric pottery. Archeometry 49(1): 135-152.Google Scholar
  25. Crombé, P. 2009. Early pottery in hunter-gatherer societies of western Europe, in P. Jordan & M. Zvelebil (ed.) Ceramics before farming: the dispersal of pottery among prehistoric Eurasian hunter-gatherers: 477-498. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  26. Crombé, P., E. Robinson, M. Van Strydonck & M. Boudin. 2012. Radiocarbon dating of Mesolithic open-air sites in the coversand area of the north-west European plain: problems and prospects. Archaeometry. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2012.00693.x.Google Scholar
  27. David, E. 2003. The contribution of the technological study of bone and antler industry for the definition of the early Maglemose culture, in L. Larsson, H. Kindgren, K. Knutsson, D. Loeffler & A. Akerlund (ed.) Mesolithic on the move: papers presented at the Sixth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Stockholm 2000: 649-657. Oxford: Oxbow Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Deeben, J.1988. The Geldrop sites and the Federmesser occupation of the southern Netherlands, in M. Otte (ed.) De la Loire à l'Oder. Les civilisations du Paléolithique Final dans le Nord-Ouest Européen: (British Archaeological Reports International series 444) 357-398. Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
  29. Dolukhanov, P. 2008. The Mesolithic of European Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 280-301. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Dolukhanov, P., A. Shukurov, D. Gronenborn, D. Sokoloff, V. Timofeev & G. Zaitseva. 2005. The chronology of Neolithic dispersal in central and eastern Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 28(7): 1441-1458.Google Scholar
  31. Edwards, C.J., R. Bollongino, A. Scheu, A. Chamberlain, A. Tresset, J.-D. Vigne, J. F. Baird, G. Larson, S.Y.W. Ho, T.H. Heupink, B. Shapiro, A.R. Freeman, M.G.Thomas, R.-M. Arbogast, B. Arndt, L. Bartosiewicz, N. Benecke, M. Budja, L. Chaix, A.M. Choyke, E. Coqueugniot, H.-J. Döhle, H. Göldner, S. Hartz, D. Helmer, B. Herzig, H. Hongo, M. Mashkour, M. Özdogan, E. Pucher, G. Roth, S. Schade-Lindig, U. Schmölcke, R. Schulting, E. Stephan, H.-P. Uerpmann, I. Vörös, B. Voytek, D.G. Bradley & J. Burger. 2007. Mitochondrial DNA analysis shows a Near Eastern Neolithic origin for domestic cattle and no indication of domestication of European aurochs. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B 274: 1377-1385.Google Scholar
  32. Eronen, M., G. Glückert, L. Hatakka, O. Van de Plassche, J. Van der Plicht & P. Rantala. 2001. Rates of Holocene isostatic uplift and relative sea-level lowering of the Baltic in SW Finland based on studies of isolation contacts. Boreas 30: 17-30.Google Scholar
  33. Fernández, J. & M. Jochim. 2010. The impact of the 8,200 cal. BP climatic event on human mobility strategies during the Iberian Late Mesolithic. Journal of Anthropological Research 66: 39-68.Google Scholar
  34. Fontana, F. 2011. From season to season: a revision of the functional status of Sauveterrian sites in the north eastern sector of the Italian Peninsula and implications for the mobility of human groups. P@lethnologie 3: 291-308.Google Scholar
  35. Gendel, P. 1984. Mesolithic social territories in northwest Europe. (British Archaeological Reports International series 218). Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
  36. Gramsch, B. & K. Kloss. 1989. Excavations near Friesack: an early Mesolithic marshland site in the northern plain of central Europe, in C. Bonsall (ed.) The Mesolithic in Europe: Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium: 313-324. Edinburgh: John Donald.Google Scholar
  37. Grøn, O. 2003. Mesolithic dwelling places in south Scandinavia: their definition and social interpretation. Antiquity 77(298): 685-708.Google Scholar
  38. Gutiérrez-Zugasti, I., S.H. Andersen, A.C. Araújo, C. Dupont, N. Milner & A.M. Monge-Soares. 2011. Shell midden research in Atlantic Europe: state of the art, research problems, and perspectives for the future. Quaternary International 239: 70-85.Google Scholar
  39. Holst, D. 2010. Hazelnut economy of early Holocene hunter-gatherers: a case study from Mesolithic Duvensee, northern Germany. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2871-2880.Google Scholar
  40. Jochim, M. 2011. The Mesolithic, in S. Milisauskas (ed.) European prehistory: a survey, 2nd edn. 125-151. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  41. Kozlowski, S.K. 2009. Thinking Mesolithic. Oxford: Oxbow Press.Google Scholar
  42. Larson, G., K. Dobney, U. Albarella, M. Fang, E. Matisoo-Smith, J. Robins, S. Lowden, H. Finlayson, T. Brand, E. Willerslev, P. Rowley-Conwy, L. Andersson & A. Cooper. 2007. Ancient DNA, pig domestication, and the spread of the Neolithic into Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 15276-15281.Google Scholar
  43. Lidén, K., G. Eriksson, B. Nordqvist, A. Götherström & E. Bendixen. 2004. “The wet and the wild followed by the dry and the tame”—or did they occur at the same time? Diet in Mesolithic-Neolithic southern Sweden. Antiquity 78(299): 23-33.Google Scholar
  44. Louwe Kooijmans, L.P. 1987. Neolithic settlement and subsistence in the wetlands of the Rhine/Meuse Delta of the Netherlands, in J.M. Coles & A.J. Lawson (ed.) European wetlands in prehistory: 227-251. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  45. - 2001a. Hardinxveld-Giessendam De Bruin: een kampplaats uit het Laat Mesolithicum en het begin van de Swifterbant-cultuur (5500-4500 v. Chr.). Amersfoort: Raportage Archeologische Monumentenzorg.Google Scholar
  46. - 2001b. Hardinxveld-Giessendam Polderweg: een mesolithische jachtkamp in het riviergebied (5500-5000 v. Chr.). Amersfoort: Raportage Archeologische Monumentenzorg.Google Scholar
  47. Lozovski, V.M. 1996. Zamostje 2: les derniers chasseurs-pêcheurs préhistoriques de la plaine russe. Treignes: Editions du CEDARC.Google Scholar
  48. Marchand, G., M. Le Goffic & N. Marcoux. 2011. Elusive Mesolithic occupants in the Pont-Glas rockshelter: an analysis of the spatial segmentation of production sequences in relation to the mobility of prehistoric groups in Brittany. Palethnologie 3: 309-329.Google Scholar
  49. Meiklejohn, C. & M. Zvelebil. 1991. Health status of European populations at the agricultural transition and the implications for the adoption of farming, in H. Bush & M. Zvelebil (ed.) Health in past societies: (British Archaeological Reports International series 567) 129-145. Oxford: Archaeopress.Google Scholar
  50. Meiklejohn, C., E. Brinch Petersen & J. Babb. 2009. From single graves to cemeteries: an initial look at chronology in Mesolithic burial practices, in S.B. McCartan, R. Schulting, G. Warren & P. Woodman (ed.) Mesolithic horizons. Papers presented at the Seventh International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Belfast 2005: 639-645. Oxford: Oxbow Press.Google Scholar
  51. Naudinot, N. 2008. Les armatures lithiques tardiglaciaires dans l’ouest de la France (régions Bretagne et Pays de la Loire): proposition d’organisation chrono-culturelle et chaîne opératoire de fabrication. Paléthnologie 1: 1-28.Google Scholar
  52. Newell, R.R., D. Kielmann, T.S. Constandse-Westermann, W:A:B: Van der Sanden & A. Van Gijn. 1990. An inquiry into the ethnic resolution of Mesolithic regional groups. The study of their decorative ornaments in time and space. New York: Brill Academic Publishing.Google Scholar
  53. O’Shea, J. & M. Zvelebil. 1984. Oleneostrovski mogilnik: reconstructing the social and economic organization of prehistoric foragers in northern Russia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 3: 1-40.Google Scholar
  54. Perrin, T., G. Marchand, P. Allard & D. Binder. 2009. Le second Mésolithique d’Europe occidentale: origins et gradient chronologique. Annales de la Fondation Fyssen 24: 160-176.Google Scholar
  55. Pluciennik, M. 2008. The coastal Mesolithic of the European Mediterranean, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 328-356. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Price, T.D. 2000. Europe’s first farmers: an introduction, in T.D. Price (ed.) Europes first farmers: 1-18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Radovanovic, I. 1996. The Iron Gates Mesolithic. Ann Arbor: International Monographs in Prehistory.Google Scholar
  58. Rankama, T. & J. Kankaanpää. 2008. Eastern arrivals in post-glacial Lapland: the Sujala site 10,000 cal BP. Antiquity 82: 884-900.Google Scholar
  59. Robinson, E., M. Van Strydonck, V. Gelorini & P. Crombé. 2013. Radiocarbon chronology and the correlation of hunter-gatherer sociocultural change with abrupt palaeoclimate change: the Middle Mesolithic in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt area of northwest Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 756-763.Google Scholar
  60. Schulting, R.J. & M.P. Richards. 2002. Finding the coastal Mesolithic in southwest Britain: AMS dates and stable isotope results on human remains from Caldey Island, South Wales. Antiquity 76: 1011-1025.Google Scholar
  61. Schulting, R.J., S.M. Blockley, H. Bocherens, D. Drucker, M.P. Richards. 2008. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis on human remains from the early Mesolithic site of La Vergne (Charente-Maritime, France). Journal of Archaeological Science 35(3): 763-772.Google Scholar
  62. Sergant, J., P. Crombé & Y. Perdaen. 2006. The ‘invisible’ hearths: a contribution to the discernment of Mesolithic non-structured hearths. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 999-1007.Google Scholar
  63. Spikins, P. 2008. Mesolithic Europe: glimpses of another world, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 1-17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Sørensen, M. 2012. The arrival and development of pressure blade technology in southern Scandinavia, in P.M. Desrosiers (ed.) The emergence of pressure blade making: from origin to modern experimentation: 237-259. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  65. Straus, L.G. 2008. The Mesolithic of Atlantic Iberia, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 303-327. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Svoboda, J.A. 2008. The Mesolithic of the Middle Danube and Upper Elbe Rivers, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 221-237. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Terberger, T. 2006. The Mesolithic hunter-fisher-gatherers on the Northern German Plain, in K. Møller Hansen & K. Buck Pedersen (ed.) Across the western Baltic. Proceedings of the Conference The Prehistory and Early Medieval Period in the Western Baltic, Vordingborg, Denmark, March 2729, 2003: 111-184. Vordingborg: Sydsjaellands Museum.Google Scholar
  68. Toussaint, M., L. Brou, F. Le Brun-Ricalens & F. Spier. 2009. The Mesolithic site of Heffingen-Loschbour (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg). A yet undescribed human cremation possibly from the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt culture: anthropological, radiometric, and archaeological implications, in P. Crombé, M. Van Strydonck, J. Sergant, M. Boudin & M. Bats (ed.) Chronology and evolution of the Mesolithic in northswest Europe. Proceedings of an international meeting, Brussels, May 30-June 1 2007: 239-260. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  69. Valdeyron N., T. Briand, L. Bouby, A. Henry, R. Khedhaier, B. Marquebielle, H. Martin, A. Thibeau & Bosc-Zanardo. 2011. The Mesolithic site of Les Fieux (Miers, Lot): a hunting camp on the Gramat karst plateau? P@lethnologie 3: 331-341.Google Scholar
  70. Verhart, L.B.M. 1988. Mesolithic barbed points and other implements from Europoort, the Netherlands. Oudheidkundige Mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Leiden 68: 145-194.Google Scholar
  71. - 2008. New developments in the study of the Mesolithic of the low countries, in G. Bailey & P. Spikins (ed.) Mesolithic Europe: 158-181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Verjux, Ch. 2003. The function of the Mesolithic sites in the Paris basin (France). New data, in L. Larsson, H. Kindgren, K. Knutsson, D. Loeffler & A. Akerlund (ed.) Mesolithic on the move: papers presented at the Sixth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Stockholm 2000: 262-268. Oxford: Oxbow Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  73. Waddington, C. 2007. Rethinking Mesolithic settlement and a case study from Howick, in C. Waddington & K. Pedersen (ed.) Mesolithic studies in the North Sea basin and beyond. Proceedings of a conference held at Newcastle in 2003: 101-113. Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  74. Walker, M., S. Johnsen, S.O. Rasmussen, T. Popp, J.-P. Steffensen, P. Gibbard, W. Hoek, J. Lowe, J. Andrews, S. Björck, L.C. Cwynar, K. Hughen, P. Kershaw, B. Kromer, T. Litt, D. J. Lowe, T. Nakagawa, R. Newnham, & J. Schwander. 2009. Formal definition and dating of the GSSP (Global Stratotype Section and Point) for the base of the Holocene using the Greenland NGRIP ice core, and selected auxiliary records. Journal of Quaternary Science 24(1): 3-17.Google Scholar
  75. Warren, G. 2006. Technology, in C. Conneller & G. Warren (ed.) Mesolithic Britain and Ireland: new approaches: 13-34. Stroud: Tempus.Google Scholar
  76. Weninger, B., R. Schulting, M. Bradtmöller, L. Clare, M. Collard, K. Edinburough, J. Hilpert, O. Jöris, M. Niekus, E.J. Rohling & B. Wagner. 2008. The catastrophic final flooding of Doggerland by the Storegga Slide tsunami. Documenta Praehistorica 35: 1-24.Google Scholar
  77. Woodman, P. 1985. Excavations at Mount Sandel 1973-1977 (Northern Ireland Archaeological Monographs 2). Belfast: Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.Google Scholar
  78. Zvelebil, M. 1994. Plant use in the Mesolithic and its implications for the transition to farming. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 60: 95-134.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium