Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
Prehistoric Europe is Europe with human presence but before the start of recorded history, beginning in the Lower Paleolithic. As history progresses, considerable regional irregularities of cultural development emerge and increase. The region of the eastern Mediterranean is, due to its geographic proximity, greatly influenced and inspired by the classical Middle Eastern civilizations, and adopts and develops the earliest systems of communal organization and writing. The Histories of Herodotus (from around 440 BC) is the oldest known European text that seeks to systematically record traditions, public affairs and notable events. In contrast, the European regions furthest away from the ancient centers of civilization tended to be the slowest, regarding acculturation.[clarification needed] In Northern and Eastern Europe in particular, writing and systematic recording was only introduced in the context of Christianization, after 1000 A.D.
Widely dispersed, isolated finds of individual fossils of bone fragments (Atapuerca, Mauer mandible), stone artifacts or assemblages that suggest that during Lower Paleolithic, spanning from 3 million until 300,000 years ago, palaeo-human presence are rare and typically separated by thousands of years. The karstic region of the Atapuerca Mountains in Spain represents the currently earliest known and reliably dated location of residence for more than a single generation and a group of individuals. Prolonged presence has been attested for Homo antecessor (or Homo erectus antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, and Neanderthals).
Homo neanderthalensis emerged in Eurasia between 350,000 and 600,000 years ago as the earliest body of European people, that left behind a substantial tradition, a set of evaluable historic data through rich fossil record in Europe’s limestone caves and a patchwork of occupation sites over large areas, including Mousterian cultural assemblages. Modern humans arrived in Mediterranean Europe during the Upper Paleolithic between 45,000 and 43,000 years ago, and both species occupied a common habitat for several thousand years. Research has so far produced no universally accepted conclusive explanation as to what caused the Neanderthal’s extinction between 40,000 and 28,000 years ago.
Homo sapiens subsequently proceeded to populate the entire continent during the Mesolithic and advanced north, following the retreating ice sheets of the last glacial maximum that spanned between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago. A 2015 publication on ancient European DNA collected from Spain to Russia concluded that the original hunter-gatherer population had assimilated a wave of “farmers” who had arrived from the Near East during the Neolithic about 8,000 years ago.
The Mesolithic era site Lepenski Vir in modern-day Serbia, the earliest documented sedentary community of Europe with permanent buildings as well as monumental art precedes sites previously considered to be the oldest known by many centuries. The community’s year round access to a food surplus prior to the introduction of agriculture was the basis for the sedentary lifestyle However, the earliest record for the adoption of elements of farming can be found in Starčevo, a community with close cultural ties.
Belovode and Pločnik, also in Serbia, is currently the oldest reliably dated copper smelting site in Europe (around 7,000 years ago). Attributed to the Vinča culture, which on the contrary provides no links to the initiation of or a transition to the Chalcolithic or Copper Age.
The process of smelting bronze is an imported technology with debated origins and history of geographic cultural profusion. It established in Europe about 3200 BC in the Aegean and production was centered around Cyprus, the primary source of copper for the Mediterranean for many centuries.
The introduction of metallurgy which initiated unprecedented technological progress has also been linked with the establishment of social stratification and distinction between rich and poor and precious metals as the means to fundamentally control the dynamics of culture and society.
The European Iron Age culture also originates in the East through the absorption of the technological principles obtained from the Hittites about 1200 BC, finally arriving in Northern Europe by 500 BC.
During the Iron Age, Central, Western and most of Eastern Europe gradually entered the historical period. Greek maritime colonization and Roman terrestrial conquest form the basis for the diffusion of literacy in large areas to this day. This tradition continued in an altered form and context for the most remote regions (Greenland and Old Prussians, 13th century) via the universal body of Christian texts, including the incorporation of Eastern European Slavic people and Russia into the Orthodox cultural sphere. Latin and ancient Greek language continued to be the primary and best way to communicate and express ideas in Liberal arts education and the sciences all over Europe until the early modern period.
Lower and Middle Paleolithic Human Presence
The climatic record of the Paleolithic is characterised by the Pleistocene pattern of cyclic warmer and colder periods, including eight major cycles and numerous shorter episodes. The northern maximum of human occupation fluctuated in response to the changing conditions, and successful settlement required constant adaption capabilities and problem solving. Most of Scandinavia, the North European Plain and Russia remained off limits for occupation during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic.
Associated evidence, such as stone tools, artifacts and settlement localities, is more numerous than fossilised remains of the hominin occupants themselves. The simplest pebble tools with a few flakes struck off to create an edge were found in Dmanisi, Georgia, and in Spain at sites in the Guadix-Baza basin and near Atapuerca. The Oldowan tool discoveries, called Mode 1-type assemblages are gradually replaced by a more complex tradition that included a range of hand axes and flake tools, the Acheulean, Mode 2-type assemblages. Both types of tool sets are attributed to Homo erectus, the earliest and for a very long time the only human in Europe and more likely to be found in the southern part of the continent. However, the Acheulean fossil record also links to the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis, particularly its specific lithic tools and handaxes. The presence of Homo heidelbergensis is documented since 600,000 BC in numerous sites in Germany, Great Britain and northern France.
Although palaeoanthropologists generally agree that Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis immigrated to Europe, debates remain about migration routes and the chronology.
The fact that Homo neanderthalensis is found only in a contiguous range of presence in Eurasia and the general acceptance of the Out of Africa hypothesis both suggest that the species has evolved locally. Again, consensus prevails on the matter, but widely debated are origin and evolution patterns. Neanderthal fossil record ranges from Western Europe to the Altai Mountains in Central Asia and the Ural Mountains in the North to the Levant in the South. Unlike its predecessors, they were biologically and culturally adapted to survival in cold environments and successfully extended their range to the glacial environments of Central Europe and the Russian plains. The great number and, in some cases, exceptional state of preservation of Neanderthal fossils and cultural assemblages enablesl researchers to provide a detailed and accurate data on behaviour and culture. Neanderthals are associated with the Mousterian culture (Mode 3), stone tools that first appeared approximately 160,000 years ago.
Homo sapiens arrived in Europe around 45,000 and 43,000 years ago via the Levant and entered the continent through the Danubian corridor, as the fossils at Peștera cu Oase suggest.
After the slow processes of the previous hundreds of thousands of years a turbulent period of Neanderthal–Homo sapiens coexistence demonstrated that cultural evolution had replaced biological evolution as the primary force of adaptation and change in human societies.
Generally-small and widely dispersed fossil sites suggest that Neanderthals lived in less numerous and moresocially-isolated groups than Homo sapiens. Tools and Levallois points are remarkably sophisticated from the outset, but they have a slow rate of variability, and general technological inertia is noticeable during the entire fossil period. Artifacts are of utilitarian nature, and symbolic behavioral traits are undocumented before the arrival of modern humans. The Aurignacian culture, introduced by modern humans is characterized by cut bone or antler points, fine flint blades and bladelets struck from prepared cores, rather than using crude flakes. The oldest examples and subsequent widespread tradition of prehistoric art originate from the Aurignacian.
After more than 100,000 years of uniformity, around 45,000 years ago, the Neanderthal fossil record changed abruptly. The Mousterian had quickly become more versatile and was named the Chatelperronian culture, which signifies the diffusion of Aurignacian elements into Neanderthal culture. Although debated, the fact proved that Neanderthals had, to some extent, adopted the culture of modern Homo sapiens. However, the Neanderthal fossil record completely vanished after 40,000 years BC. Whether Neanderthals were also successful in diffusing their genetic heritage into Europe’s future population or they simply went extinct and, if so, what caused the extinction cannot conclusively be answered.
Around 32,000 years ago, the Gravettian culture appeared in the Crimean Mountains (southern Ukraine). By 24,000 BC, the Solutrean and Gravettian cultures were present in the Aouthwestern Europe. Gravettian technology and culture have been theorised to have come with migrations of people from the Middle East, Anatolia and the Balkans and might be linked with the transitional cultures mentioned earlier since their techniques have some similarities and are both very different from Aurignacian ones but thislle issue is very obscure. The Gravettian also appeared in the Caucasus and Zagros Mountains but soon disappeared from southwestern Europe, with the notable exception of the Mediterranean coasts of Iberia.
The Solutrean culture, extended from northern Spain to southeastern France, includes not only a beautiful stone technology but also the first significant development of cave painting amd the use of the needle and possibly that of the bow and arrow. The more widespread Gravettian culture is no less advanced, at least in artistic terms: sculpture (mainly venuses) is the most outstanding form of creative expression of such peoples.
Around 19,000 BC, Europe witnesses the appearance of a new culture, known as Magdalenian, possibly rooted in the old Aurignacian one, and soon supersedes the Solutrean area and also the Gravettian of Central Europe. However, in Mediterranean Iberia, Italy, the Balkans and Turkey, epi-Gravettian cultures continued to evolve locally.
With the Magdalenian culture, the Paleolithic development in Europe reaches its peak and this is reflected in art, owing to previous traditions of paintings and sculpture.
Around 12,500 BC, the Würm Glacial Age ended. Slowly, through the following millennia, temperatures and sea levels rose, changing the environment of prehistoric people. Ireland and Great Britain become islands, and Scandinavia became separated from the main part of the European Peninsula. (They had all once been connected by a now-submerged region of the continental shelf known as Doggerland.) Nevertheless, the Magdalenian culture persisted until 10,000 BC, when it quickly evolved into two microlithist cultures: Azilian, in Spain and southern France, and Sauveterrian, in northern France and Central Europe. Despite some differences, both cultures shared several traits: the creation of very small stone tools called microliths and the scarcity of figurative art, which seems to have vanished almost completely, which was replaced by abstract decoration of tools.
In the late phase of the epi-Paleolithic period, the Sauveterrean culture evolved into the so-called Tardenoisian and strongly influenced its southern neighbour, clearly replacing it in Mediterranean Spain and Portugal. The recession of the glaciers allowed human colonidation in Northern Europe for the first time. The Maglemosian culture, derived from the Sauveterre-Tardenois culture but with a strong personality, colonised Denmark and the nearby regions, including parts of Britain.
A transition period in the development of human technology between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, the Balkan Mesolithic began around 15,000 years ago. In Western Europe, the Early Mesolithic, or Azilian, began about 14,000 years ago, in the Franco-Cantabrian region of northern Spain and southern France. In other parts of Europe, the Mesolithic began by 11,500 years ago (the beginning Holocene) and ended with the introduction of farming, which, depending on the region, occurred 8,500 to 5,500 years ago.
In areas with limited glacial impact, the term “Epipaleolithic” is sometimes preferred for the period. Regions that experienced greater environmental effects as the Last Glacial Period ended had a much more apparent Mesolithic era that lasted millennia. In Northern Europe, societies were able to live well on rich food supplies from the marshlands, which had been created by the warmer climate. Such conditions produced distinctive human behaviours that are preserved in the material record, such as the Maglemosian and Azilian cultures. Such conditions delayed the coming of the Neolithic to as late as 5,500 years ago in Northern Europe.
As what Vere Gordon Childe termed the “Neolithic Package” (including agriculture, herding, polished stone axes, timber long houses and pottery) spread into Europe, the Mesolithic way of life was marginalised and eventually disappeared. Controversy over the means of that dispersal is discussed below in the Neolithic section. A “Ceramic Mesolithic” can be distinguished between 7,200 and 5,850 years ago and ranged from Southern to Northern Europe.
The European Neolithic is assumed to have arrived from the Near East via Asia Minor, the Mediterranean and the Caucasus. There has been a long discussion between migrationists, who claim that the Near Eastern farmers almost totally displaced the European native hunter-gatherers, and diffusionists, who claim that the process was slow enough to have occurred mostly through cultural transmission. A relationship has been suggested between the spread of agriculture and the diffusion of Indo-European languages, with several models of migrations trying to establish a relationship, like the Anatolian hypothesis, which sets the origin of Indo-European agricultural terminology in Anatolia.
Apparently related with the Anatolian culture of Hacilar, the Greek region of Thessalia was the first place in Europe known to have acquired agriculture, cattle-herding and pottery. The early stages are known as pre-Sesklo culture. The Thessalian Neolithic culture soon evolved into the more coherent culture of Sesklo (8000 BC), which was the origin of the main branches of Neolithic expansion in Europe. Practically all of the Balkan Peninsula was coloniaed in the 6th millennium from there. The expansion, reaching the easternmost Tardenoisian outposts of the upper Tisza, gave birth to the Proto-Linear Pottery culture, a significant modification of the Balkan Neolithic that was the origin of one of the most important branches of European Neolithic: the Danubian group of cultures. In parallel, the coasts of the Adriatic and of southern Italy witnessed the expansion of another Neolithic current with less clear origins.
Settling initially in Dalmatia, the bearers of the Cardium pottery culture may have come from Thessalia (some of the pre-Sesklo settlements show related traits) or even from Lebanon (Byblos). They were sailors, fishermen and sheep and goat herders, and the archaeological findings show that they mixed with natives in most places. Other early Neolithic cultures can be found in Ukraine and Southern Russia, where the epi-Gravettian locals assimilated cultural influxes from beyond the Caucasus (culture of Dniepr-Don and related) and in Andalusia (Spain), where the rare Neolithic of La Almagra Pottery appeared without known origins very early (c. 7800 BC).
This phase, starting 7000 years ago was marked by the consolidation of the Neolithic expansion towards western and northern Europe but also by the rise of a new culture that probably violently occupied most of the Balkans, substituting or subjugating the first Neolithic settlers. That is the culture of Dimini (Thessalia) and the related ones of Vinca-Turdas (Serbia and Romania) and Karanovo III-Veselinovo (Bulgaria and nearby areas), the last one more hybrid than the other two. Meanwhile, the tiny Proto-Linear Pottery culture gavr birth to two very dynamic branches: the Western and Eastern Linear Pottery Cultures. The latter one is basically an extension of the Balkan Neolithic, but the more original western branch expanded quickly, assimilating Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and even large parts of western Ukraine, historical Moldavia, the lowlands of Romania, and regions of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, all in less than 1000 years. With expansion comes diversification and a number of local Danubian cultures start forming at the end of the 5th millennium.
In the Mediterranean, the Cardium pottery fishermen showed no less dynamism and colonised or assimilated all of Italy and the Mediterranean regions of France and Spain. Even in the Atlantic, some groups among the native hunter-gatherers started the slow incorporation of the new technologies. Among them, the most noticeable regions seem to be southwestern Iberia, which was influenced by the Mediterranean but especially by the Andalusian Neolithic, which soon developed the first Megalithic burials (dolmens) and the area around Denmark (Ertebölle culture), influenced by the Danubian complex.
This period occupies the first half of the 6th millennium BC and is rather quiet. The tendencies of the previous period consolidated and so there was a fully-formed Neolithic Europe, with five main cultural regions:
- Danubian cultures: from northern France to western Ukraine. Now split into several local cultures, the most relevant ones being the Romanian branch (Boian culture) that expanded into Bulgaria, the culture of Rössen that was pre-eminent in the west, and the Lengyel culture of Austria and western Hungary, which would have a major role in later periods.
- Mediterranean cultures: from the Adriatic to eastern Spain, including Italy and large portions of France and Switzerland. They were also diversified into several groups.
- The area of Dimini-Vinca: Thessalia, Macedonia and Serbia but extending its influence to parts of the mid-Danubian basin (Tisza, Slavonia) and southern Italy.
- Eastern Europe: basically central and eastern Ukraine and parts of southern Russia and Belarus (Dniepr-Don culture). Apparently, they were the first to domesticate horses though some Paleolithic evidence could disprove it.
- Atlantic Europe: a mosaic of local cultures, some of them still pre-Neolithic, from Portugal to southern Sweden. In around 5800 BC, western France began to incorporate the Megalithic style of burial.
There were also a few independent areas, including Andalusia, southern Greece and the western coasts of the Black Sea (Hamangia culture).
Also known as Copper Age, the European Chalcolithic was a time of changes and confusion. The most relevant fact was the infiltration and the invasion of large parts of the territory by people originating from Central Asia, which is considered by mainstream scholars to be the original Indo-Europeans, but there are again several theories in dispute. Other phenomena are the expansion of Megalithism, the appearance of the first significant economic stratification and the related first known monarchies in the Balkan region.
The economy of the Chalcolithic, even in the regions in which copper is not used yet, was no longer that of peasant communities and tribes: since some materials began to produced in specific locations and distributed to wide regions. Mining of metal and stone was particularly developed in some areas, along with the processing of those materials into valuable goods.
From 5500 to 5000 BC, copper started to be used in the Balkans, and Eastern and Central Europe. However, the key factor could be the use of horses, which would increase mobility. From 5500 BC onwards, Eastern Europe was apparently infiltrated by people originating from beyond the Volga (Yamna culture), creating a plural complex known as Sredny Stog culture, which substituted the previous Dnieper-Donets culture, pushing the natives to migrate northwest to the Baltic and to Denmark, where they mixed with the natives (TRBK A and C). That may be correlated with the linguistic fact of the spread of Indo-European languages, according to the Kurgan hypothesis. Near the end of the period, another branch left many traces in the lower Danube area (culture of Cernavodă I) in what seems to be another invasion.
Meanwhile, the Danubian Lengyel culture absorbs its northern neighbours in the Czech Republic and Poland for some centuries, only to recede in the second half of the period. In Bulgaria and Wallachia (southern Romania), the culture of Boian-Marica evolvef into a monarchy with a clearly-royal cemetery near the coast of the Black Sea. The model seems to have been copied later in the Tiszan region with the culture of Bodrogkeresztur. Labour specialisation, economic stratification and possibly the risk of invasion may have been the reasons behind that development. The influx of early Troy (Troy I) was clear in both the expansion of metallurgy and social organization.
In the western Danubian region (the Rhine and Seine basins), the Michelsberg culture displaced its predecessor, the Rössen culture. Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean basin, several cultures (most notably Chassey in southeastern France and La Lagozza in northern Italy) converged into a functional union of which the most significant characteristic was the distribution network of honey-coloured silex. Despite the unity, the signs of conflicts are clear, as many skeletons show violent injuries. It is the time and area of Ötzi, the famous man found in the Alps. Another significant development of the period is that the Megalithic phenomenon started to spread to most of the Atlantic region, bringing agriculture to some underdeveloped regions there.
This period extends along the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. Most significant was the reorganisation of the Danubians in the powerful Baden culture, which extended more or less to Austria-Hungary. The rest of the Balkans was profoundly restructured after the invasions of the previous period, but, with the exception of the Coțofeni culture, in a mountainous region, they show no eastern (or presumably Indo-European) traits. The new Ezero culture, in Bulgaria, shows the first traits of pseudo-bronze (an alloy of copper with arsenic), as does the first significant Aegean group, the Cycladic culture after 2800 BC.
The supposedly Indo-European groups seem to recede temporarily in Northern Europe and suffered a strong cultural Danubianisation. In East Europe, the peoples beyond the Volga (Yamna culture), surely Indo-Europeans wjo were ancestors of the Iranian Scythians, took over southern Russia and Ukraine. In the Western world, the only sign of unity came from the Megalithic super-culture, which extended from southern Sweden to southern Spain, including large parts of southern Germany as well. However, the Mediterranean and Danubian groupings of the previous period appear to have fragmented into many smaller pieces, some of them apparently backward in technological matters. From 2800 BC, the Danubian Seine-Oise-Marne culture pusheed directly or indirectly southwards and destroyed most of the rich Megalithic culture of western France. After 2600 BC, several phenomena prefigured the changes of the upcoming period:
Large towns with stone walls appeared in two different areas of the Iberian Peninsula: one in the Portuguese region of Estremadura (culture of Vila Nova de Sao Pedro), strongly embedded in the Atlantic Megalithic culture; the other near Almería (southeastern Spain), centred around the large town of Los Millares, of Mediterranean character, probably affected by eastern cultural influxes (tholoi). Despite the many differences, bith civilisations seem have had friendly contact and to productive exchanges. In the area of Dordogne (Aquitaine, France), a new unexpected culture of bowmen appears: the Artenac culture soon takes control of western and even northern France and Belgium. In Poland and nearby regions, the putative Indo-Europeans reorganised and reconsolidated with the culture of the Globular Amphoras. Nevertheless, the influence of many centuries in direct contact with the still-powerful Danubian peoples had greatly modified their culture.
This period extends from 2500 BC to 1800 or 1700 BC, depending on the region. The dates are general for the whole of Europe, and the Aegean area was already fully in the Bronze Age. c. 2500 BC the new Catacomb culture (proto-Cimmerians?), whose origins were obscure but were also Indo-Europeans, displaced the Yamna peoples in the regions north and east of the Black Sea, confining them to their original area east of the Volga. The Catacomb culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provided a link to the East. Some of them infiltrated Poland and may have played a significant but unclear role in the transformation of the culture of the Globular Amphorae into the new Corded Ware culture.
Whatever happened, around 2400 BC, the Corded Ware people replaced their predecessors and expanded to Danubian and Nordic areas of western Germany. One related branch invaded Denmark and southern Sweden (Scandinavian culture of Individual Sepultures), and the mid-Danubian basin, though showing more continuity, had clear traits of new Indo-European elites (Vučedol culture). Simultaneously, in the West, the Artenac peoples reached Belgium. With the partial exception of Vučedol, the Danubian cultures, which had been so buoyant just a few centuries ago, were wiped off the map of Europe. The rest of the period was the story of a mysterious phenomenon: the Beaker people, which seemed to be of a mercantile character and to have preferred being buried according to a very specific, almost invariable, ritual. Nevertheless, out of their original area of western Central Europe, they appeared only within local cultures and so they never invaded and assimilated but went to live among those peoples and kept their way of life, which is why they are believed to be merchants.
The rest of Europe remained mostly unchanged and apparently peaceful. In 2300 BC, the first Beaker Pottery appeared in Bohemia and expanded in many directions but particularly westward, along the Rhone and the seas, reaching the culture of Vila Nova (Portugal) and Catalonia (Spain) as their limits. Simultaneously but unrelatedly, in 2200 BC in the Aegean region, the Cycladic culture decayed and was substituted by the new palatine phase of the Minoan culture of Crete.
The second phase of Beaker Pottery, from 2100 BC onwards, is marked by the displacement of the centre of thevphenomenon to Portugal, within the culture of Vila Nova. The new centre’s influence reached to all of southern and western France but was absent in southern and western Iberia, with the notable exception of Los Millares. After 1900 BC, the centre of the Beaker Pottery returned to Bohemia, and in Iberia, a decentralisation of the phenomenon occurred, with centres in Portugal but also in Los Millares and Ciempozuelos.
Though the use of bronze started much earlier in the Aegean area, 2000 BC can be considered typical for the start of this stage in Europe in general.
- c. 1800 BC, the culture of Los Millares, in Southwestern Spain, was substituted by that of El Argar, fully of the Bronze Age, which may well have been a centralised state.
- c. 1700 BC, the Central European cultures of Unetice, Adlerberg, Straubing and pre-Lausitz started working bronze, a technique that reached them through the Balkans and Danube.
- c. 1600 BC is considered a reasonable date to place the start of Mycenaean Greece, after centuries of infiltration of Indo-European Greeks of an unknown origin.
- c. 1500 BC, most of these Central European cultures were unified in the powerful Tumulus culture. Simultaneously but unrelatedly, the culture of El Argar started Phase B, which sas characterised by a detectable Aegean influence (pithoi burials). About then, it is believed that Minoan Crete fell under the rule of the Mycenaean Greeks.
- Around 1300 BC, the Indo-European cultures of Central Europe, such as Celts, Italics and certainly Illyrians, changed the cultural phase conforming to the expansionist Urnfield culture, starting a quick expansion that brought them to occupy most of the Balkans, Asia Minor, where they destroyed the Hittite Empire (conquering the secret of iron smelting), northeastern Italy, parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, northeastern Spain and southwestern England.
Derivations of the sudden expansion were the Sea Peoples, who attacked Egypt unsuccessfully for some time, including the Philistines (Pelasgians?) and the Dorians, most likely Hellenised members of the group that ended invading Greek itself and destroying the might of Mycene and later Troy.
Simultaneously, around then, the culture of Vila Nova de Sao Pedro, which lasted 1300 years in its urban form, vanishes into a less spectacular one but finally with bronze. The centre of gravity of the Atlantic cultures (the Atlantic Bronze complex) was now displaced towards Great Britain. Also about then, the culture of Villanova, the possible precursor of the Etruscan civilisation, appeared in central Italy, possibly with an Aegean origin.
Though the use of iron was known to the Aegean peoples about 1100 BC, it failed to reached Central Europe before 800 BC, when it gave way to the Hallstatt culture, an Iron Age evolution of the Urnfield culture.
Around then, the Phoenicians, benefitting from the disappearance of the Greek maritime power (Greek Dark Ages) founded their first colony at the entrance of the Atlantic Ocean, in Gadir (modern Cádiz), most likely as a merchant outpost to convey the many mineral resources of Iberia and the British Isles.
Nevertheless, from the 7th century BC onwards, the Greeks recovered their power and started their own colonial expansion, founding Massalia (modern Marseilles) and the Iberian outpost of Emporion (modern Empúries). That occurred only after the Iberians could reconquer Catalonia and the Ebro valley from the Celts, separating physically the Iberian Celts from their continental neighbours.
The second phase of the European Iron Age was defined particularly by the Celtic La Tène culture, which started aroumd 400 BC, followed by a large expansion of the them into the Balkans, the British Isles, where they assimilated druidism, and other regions of France and Italy.
The decline of Celtic power under the expansive pressure of Germanic tribes (originally from Scandinavia and Lower Germany) and the forming of the Roman Empire during the 1st century BC was also that of the end of prehistory, properly speaking; though many regions of Europe remained illiterate and therefore outside written history for many centuries, the boundary must be placed somewhere, and that date, near the start of the calendar, seems to be quite convenient. The remaining is regional prehistory, or, in most cases, protohistory, but no longer European prehistory, as a whole.
Genetic and Linguistic History
The genetic history of Europe has been inferred by observing the patterns of genetic diversity across the continent and in the surrounding areas. Use has been made of both classical genetics and molecular genetics. Analysis of the DNA of the modern population of Europe has mainly been used but use has also been made of ancient DNA.
This analysis has shown that modern man entered Europe from the Near East before the Last Glacial Maximum but retreated to refuges in southern Europe in this cold period. Subsequently, people spread out over the whole continent, with subsequent limited migration from the Near East and Asia.
According to a study in 2017, the early farmers belonged predominantly to the paternal Haplogroup H, which is common in Dravidian speaking people in India, Pakistan and Romania. Haplogroup G-M201 was also found frequently.
The written linguistic record in Europe first begins with the Mycenaean record of early Greek in the Late Bronze Age. Unattested languages spoken in Europe in the Bronze and Iron Ages are the object of reconstruction in the field of historical linguistics, in the case of Europe predominantly Indo-European linguistics.
Indo-European is assumed to have spread from the Pontic steppe at the very beginning of the Bronze Age, reaching Western Europe contemporary with the Beaker culture, after about 5,000 years ago.
Various pre-Indo-European substrates have been postulated, but remain speculative; the “Pelasgian” and “Tyrsenian” substrates of the Mediterranean world, an “Old European” (which may itself have been an early form of Indo-European), a “Vasconic” substrate ancestral to the modern Basque language, or a more widespread presence of early Finno-Ugric languages in northern Europe. An early presence of Indo-European throughout Europe has also been suggested (“Paleolithic Continuity Theory”).
Donald Ringe emphasizes the “great linguistic diversity” which would generally have been predominant in any area inhabited by small-scale, tribal pre-state societies.
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