Prerequisites for the Development of an Agrarian Society: The Early Bronze Age

The Early Bronze Age pottery from the cemetery in the Mound of the Hostages at Tara / Wikimedia Commons

By Dr. Valter Lang / 2007
Professor of Archaeology
University of Tartu


The Early Bronze Age has typically been regarded as the prehistoric period with the fewest number of sites and as a result has been largely neglected by researchers. Why this is the case is not so clear if we look soley at the quantity of sites and finds. However, in terms of the quality of the material culture, the number and significance of the different artefact types and the amount of archaeological research, the Early Bronze Age definitely pales in comparison with other prehistoric periods. Moreover, in contrast with some other archaeological periods, the past twenty-five years since the publication of the last overall review of prehistory in Estonia (Jaanits et al. 1982) have not witnessed any considerable increases in knowledge regarding the Early Bronze Age. But it is important, in the framework of a general treatment of Estonian prehistory, to understand the significance of the Early Bronze Age in regard to the developments in economy, settlement, and society of the following period, the Late Bronze Age. This is because the Late Bronze Age contrasts sharply with the Neolithic in all aspects, at least in northern and western Estonia. The aim of this chapter is to understand the development mechanisms, the driving forces behind the processes, and all of the changes that resulted in the transformation of the Neolithic foraging society (which to some extent already had characteristics of a primitive farming economy in certain regions) into an advanced Late Bronze Age agrarian society in coastal Estonia. Another aspect of the problem at hand is why coastal and inland regions of Estonia failed to reach the same development stage at the same time.

Settlement and Economy

Settlement Sites

A small number of settlements constitute the main presently known sites dating to the Early Bronze Age;[3] no burials or hoards dated to the period have been recorded. Our limited knowledge of the material culture of the period, including pottery, stone and bone artefacts, hinders considerably the identification of settlement sites. It has been assumed that in the second millennium BC people made and used the same ceramics, flint, quartz, bone, and horn items as they did in the Late Neolithic. Thus, the categorization into a particular time period of such artefacts or sites containing them is rather difficult (Jaanits 1982, 130). However, the style of one artefact type – the shaft-hole stone axe – changed considerably during the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age.

The above observation regarding the conservatism of some of the material culture during the second millennium BC seems to be relatively well founded. In the Late Neolithic (3200/3000–1800 BC) three pottery styles – Late Combed Ware, Corded Ware, and Early Textile Ceramics with influences from both – were manufactured in what is today Estonia (Kriiska & Tvauri 2002, 86). At present it is unclear whether some other form of Corded Ware, developed later in time, was still used in the north-eastern Baltics during the second millennium BC. Some sherds have been unearthed from the Ķivutkalns Early Bronze Age flat cemetery on the lower reaches of the Daugava River (Denisova et al. 1985, fig. 34: 9–10), but their origination in an earlier settlement site cannot be ruled out. A bronze sickle from the beginning of the Bronze Age has also been found in the Kivisaare Corded Ware settlement site (see Lang & Kriiska 2001). Hille Jaanusson (1985, 46 f.) claims that Late Corded Ware, in her terminology ‘Villa-type ceramics’, spanned the periods I and II of the Bronze Age. The earliest AMS dates show that a basic form of Textile Ceramics had already emerged by the second quarter of the third millennium BC;[4] however, textile impressions were used to finish pottery in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages, suggesting that this kind of processing method was also used in the intermediate period, that is, in the Early Bronze Age. As for Late Combed Ware, the latest dates come from the end of the Neolithic (see Lang & Kriiska 2001, 92), but it is unknown for how long Combed Ware continued to be manufactured. Nevertheless, one cannot rule out the possibility that the pottery styles characteristic of the Late Neolithic were still manufactured in the Early Bronze Age, at least at the beginning of the period.

On the other hand, it is still unclear when the ceramic styles characteristic of the Late Bronze Age started to develop. The AMS dates for the Asva-style coarse-grained pottery[5] from the Joaorg fortified settlement in Narva indicate the 12th and 11th centuries BC (see below 2.2.1); the so-called Lüganuse-style ceramics emerged at roughly the same time, that is the 12th–9th centuries BC. Some of the Late Corded Ware from the Kivisaare settlement has a rock temper similar in composition to the Asva-style ceramics, which seems to indicate that the items were manufactured in the Early Bronze Age. The composition of the stratigraphically latest sherds of Textile and Corded Ware from the Akali and Kullamägi settlement sites also contained rock temper different from the previous period (Jaanits 1959, 171). As for the above types of ceramics, such composition is characteristic of the Epineolithic.[6] Evidently some ceramics from settlement sites in the Emajõgi River estuary (i.e. Akali and Kullamägi) date from the Early Bronze Age, because stratigraphically they directly followed the Late Neolithic pottery styles (Jaanits 1959, 170 f.). Thus, we have reason to believe that some of the sites commonly dated to the first millennium BC, which revealed Asvaor Lüganuse-style ceramics, may actually originate from an earlier period.

Fig. 3. Settlement sites and isolated bronze artefacts of the Early Bronze Age. (a Late Neolithic settlement site with probable Early Bronze Age habitation, b Early Bronze Age settlement site, c bronze axe, d bronze spearhead, the bronze sickle.) 1 Assaku, 2 Järveküla, 3 Proosa, 4 Pajupea-Aru, 5 Vatku, 6 Ilumäe, 7 Aseri, 8 Riigiküla, 9 Joaorg in Narva, 10 Lelle, 11 Tarbja, 12 Linnanõmme, 13 Raidsaare, 14 Eesnurga, 15 Kivisaare, 16 Äksi, 17 Kullamägi, 18 Akali, 19 Laossina, 20 Valgjärve, 21 Villa, 22 Kääpa, 23 Kaera, 24 Helme, 25 Karksi, 26 Tõstamaa, 27 Muhu (find spot uncertain), 28 Kuninguste, 29 Tahula, 30 Kaarma, 31 Käesla, 32 Loona.

Early Bronze Age settlement sites (Fig. 3) can be divided into two groups based on their cultural and geographic contexts. A quarter of a century ago (Jaanits et al. 1982, 130) archaeologists could only name Early Bronze Age settlement sites that were established in the Neolithic and which supposedly continued to be used later in time. These sites included: Akali and Kullamägi in the Emajõgi River estuary, Villa and Kääpa in south-eastern Estonia, Kivisaare on the northern coast of Lake Võrtsjärv, Joaorg in Narva and Riigiküla in north-eastern Estonia, and Loona and Kuninguste on Saaremaa Island.[7] It was observed that all the settlement sites, usually located near a lake or the mouth of a larger river, contained a small amount of ceramics that typologically originated from the Neolithic, but, considering the above-mentioned factors, could actually have been manufactured during the Early Bronze Age. It must be stressed, however, that until a radiocarbon date has been obtained to support the continuity of life and the use of the ceramic types in the mentioned settlement sites during the Early Bronze Age, their dating to that period remains hypothetical. Archaeologists have not succeeded in uncovering any structures or other concrete evidence to definitively date the above settlement sites.

Laossina II in south-eastern Estonia is perhaps the only recently discovered settlement site that can be included with the previously mentioned sites; unfortunately, it was partly destroyed before formal excavations started. A calibrated radiocarbon date shows that this settlement site on the coast of Lake Pskov was established as early as the second half of the fourth millennium BC, but a small number of ceramics (including Lubāna-type;[8] see Kiristaja 2003, 87, fig. 10: 1–3), perhaps some flint fragments, and a late shaftholestone axe (which was uncovered previously near the settlement site) can be dated to the Early Bronze Age (Aun 2002; Aun & Kiristaja 2003). As only a small part of the settlement has been researched, it remains unknown whether the site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age, or if it was abandoned at some point and was later resettled. The scarcematerial that is available supports the latter possibility, and for this reason the Laossina II settlement site might be treated in the second group of the settlement sites of the Estonian Early Bronze Age as well.

The past decades have, in fact, brought to light new data on some fundamentally different settlement sites. In comparison with the above settlements, the total area of such sites was considerably smaller and the cultural layers were extremely thin and less intensive or seemed to be absent altogether. These settlement sites were no longer located on the shores of large waterbodies, but were situated in places where the arable land and pastures were suitable for primitive farming. One such settlement was located at Assaku near Tallinn and yielded two radiocarbon dates on the borderline between the Stone and Bronze Ages.[9] The findspot of the Järveküla bronze axe, which also revealed some pieces of quartz and pottery sherds with rock-debris temper, was also apparently a small settlement site. In addition, features characteristic of a settlement site such as a fire place, ceramics, flint, and bones were present near the findspots of some late stone axes, for example at Proosa, Kaera, and Linnanõmme. Because these types of features are difficult to discern in the archaeological record, they usually remain unnoticed and unrecorded and are rarely studied. Some of the settlement sites, for example Vatku I or Ilumäe II (Lang 2000a, 65 ff.), may date to either the end of the Neolithic or to the Early Bronze Age.[10]

The Early Bronze Age settlement sites are strikingly similar in character to the type of settlement site that emerged in Estonia during the period of the Corded Ware Culture. This is true not only of the second but also the first group of sites, as the finds of the latter also indicate very small or short-term settlements established at the location of a previous settlement, rather than being continuously settled. This phenomenon is quite common in both Estonia and Finland. Similarly, most Corded Ware settlement sites were very small and their cultural layer was rather thin with few artefacts, including some ceramics and stone and bone items (see Jaanits 1966; Lang 2000a, 62 ff.; Kriiska 2000). Also the fact that some Corded Ware settlement sites are indicated only by a boat axe and some pottery sherds (e.g. Võhma near Rakvere), stresses the similarity between the Corded Ware and Early Bronze Age settlement sites. In addition, the Corded Ware and the Early Bronze Age settlement sites are linked in regard to their geographical locations on the landscape.

The appearance and increasing prevalence of small settlement sites with a thin cultural layer during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age is a phenomenon that can also be seen in several neighbouring areas in the Baltic Sea region. The phenomenon was accompanied everywhere by a settlement shift, in the course of which people increasingly settled in areas suitable for primitive agriculture. At the same time, the older fishing settlements on the shores of larger lakes and rivers were gradually deserted. In Latvia, the Lake Lubāna depression, which was densely populated during the Neolithic (Loze 1979, fig. 2), has served as an example for observing this settlement shift in the archaeological record. During the Early Bronze Age the population gradually moved from the lake to adjacent higher areas covered by glacial till that were more suitable for subsistence farming (Vasks 1994a, 65 ff., fig. 36). Isolated finds such as late shaft-hole stone axes were first and foremost employed to identify use of these higher areas; open settlement sites dating to the Early Bronze Age are only known at places where settlements were already present in the Neolithic. The settlement of new areas during the Early Bronze Age can also be seen on the banks of the Daugava River where previous Neolithic settlement is almost unknown (Vasks 1994a, 67 f.). In Lithuania, small settlement sites with a thin cultural layer had emerged by the Late Neolithic (Rimantienė 1999a). During the Early Bronze Age in Lithuania, a decrease in the use of flint items and the introduction of rock- tempered, striated pottery characteristic of the later fortified settlement sites can be observed (Grigalavičienė 1995, 21; Rimantienė 1999a). Settlement sites in Finland also became considerably smaller in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. However, these new settlements in Finland, particularly inland sites, were often established in areas suitable for foraging subsistence (Lavento 2001, 137 ff.). Early Bronze Age settlement sites are almost unknown in south-western and southern Finland, and dating indicates that most of the sites originated in a later period (Salo 1984, 120). Both Finland and Lithuania witnessed a considerable decrease in the importance and use of flint at the beginning of the Bronze Age (Lavento 2001, 130). Additionally, the absence of large settlement sites and an increase in the number of dispersed settlements can be observed in central Sweden beginning in the Late Neolithic. This is in contrast to southern Sweden and Denmark where the first larger farming villages emerged during the Late Neolithic (Burenhult 1991, 11 ff.).

Fig. 4. Distribution of late stone axes with foreign characteristics (composed by K. Johanson). a rhomboid, b five-cornered, c with recurved butts, d undetermined type.

Thus, the general picture of Bronze Age settlement sites in Estonia is similar to that of our neighbours. Following from this, one can assume that trends in the development of settlements and economy were also rather similar. These commonalities included smaller and obviously more mobile settlement units than previously, and increasing experimentation with farming. In addition to pollen diagrams indicating human manipulation of plants, the above trends are supported by the locations of the new settlement sites, which were characterized by suitable soil rather than waters rich in fish or good hunting grounds. Aside from these similarities, important differences can also be noted in the development of the material culture of the time (see below 1.1.2 and 1.2.2). The common characteristic of sites on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea seems to be a remarkable decrease in the use of flint. Did quartz become more popular than flint in the region during the Bronze Age? Although at present we know of only a few dozen Early Bronze Age settlement sites, more will certainly be discovered in the future, and then perhaps this question can be answered. Detailed fieldwork, which to date has been carried out in only a few areas, and specific strategies are necessary to locate additional sites in the landscape. And because they were typically left behind at or near settlement sites, the locations where late stone axes (fragments and semi-finished products) have been found should be included in such strategies.

Late Stone Axes

Fig. 5. Distribution of simple stone axes (a) and axes of undetermined type (b) (composed by K. Johanson).

The majority of stone axes found in Estonia that date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age are islolated finds, with a few exceptions that were found in settlement sites (Jaanits 1959, 204 f.; Lõugas 1970a, 97; Kriiska & Saluäär 2000, 16 f.). These axes have a simpler morphology (oval, triangular or drop-shaped) than that of boat axes. Some axes, however, have close parallels to ones found in adjacent regions, particularly in Scandinavia. These similarities may indicate contacts between the people of these areas. Estonian late stone axes (other than boat axes and those typologically related to them, which have an earlier date) with foreign characteristics can be divided into several types. Five-cornered axes (with several sub-variants), 30 in number (Figs. 4: b, 6).[11] These types of axes have been distributed across the eastern Baltic region as far north as Finland and are associated with the influence of the central European Lusatian (Lausitz) Culture (Meinander 1954b, 79 f.). This cultural phenomenon, which has its origins in the last quarter of the second millennium BC, mostly belongs to the Late Bronze Age. In Scandinavia, five-cornered axes (over 70) have mostly been found in eastern and southern Sweden, with some in Denmark, but none of them can be dated through the context of their discovery (Baudou 1960, 49 ff., pls. IX–X, map 30).

Rhomboid axes with sharp faces, 12 altogether (Fig. 4: a). These axes have been dated to the later Bronze Age in both Scandinavia and Finland, though this reasoning is based on only a few finds. Some axes of this type have been found in the complexes of periods V–VI in Denmark, and some others discovered in Finland have been dated to the Late Bronze Age according to the context of their discovery, either with respect to changes in sea level or other nearby archaeological sites (Baudou 1960, 50 ff.; Äyräpää 1938, 890 ff.; Meinander 1954b, 70 ff.). The dating of Finnish axes to periods V–VI cannot be seen as definitive, however, because the axes may have been lost in water or the nearby archaeological sites where they might have originated may have been occupied during other periods. Thus, we can only say with certainty that such stone axes were still in use during the Late Bronze Age; we do not know when they were originally manufactured. The few Estonian axes – all isolated finds – cannot help to solve this problem. According to Äyräpää (1938, 893), the rhomboid axes found in Estonia were imported from Scandinavia.


[LEFT]: Fig. 6. Five-cornered stone axes. 1 Holohhalnja at Senno, 2 Krivski at Irboska (AI 3361; 3591).
[RIGHT]: Fig. 7. Stone axes with recurved butts. 1 Hirmuste at Kärla, 2 Asva (AI K91: 49; 3307: 147).

Axes with recurved butts, five in number (Figs. 4: c, 7). With the exception of one, each of these axes is an isolated find. The one axe that was not an isolate was an incomplete specimen, and was found in the lowermost horizon of the cultural layer of the fortified settlement at Asva on Saaremaa Island. According to Evert Baudou (1960, 52), the Asva axe is the only well-dated axe with a recurved butt in northern Europe; its find conditions suggest an association with period IV, at the latest. As stated by Äyräpää (1938, 892), the Estonian axes in question (he knew of only two) were manufactured in Scandinavia or northern Germany.

Some specimens, characterized by long parallel side faces, resemble the axes of Augšzeme type. These were particularly popular in Latvia from the Late Neolithic through the advent of the Iron Age (Graudonis 1967, 83, pl. I: 14; 1989, pl. V: 2, 9, 12; LA, 1974, pl. 14: 2–3; Lietuvos atlasas I, 88 ff., figs. 8: 11, 9: 1–3, 10: 1). Estonian axes of this type (presented among the simple shaft-hole axes in Fig. 5) reflect southern influences.

Fig. 8. Simple shaft-hole stone axes. 1 Villivalla, 2 Kanadeasu, 3 Siisivere, 4 Skamja, 5 Tori (AI 3725; 3744; 3648; 3754; 3650).

Compared to axes mentioned above, simple shaft-hole stone axes were mass-produced, and were mostly made on the spot. Two hundred and twenty eight such axes (plus a number of small fragments) have been found in Estonia so far (Figs. 5, 8). This is a rather small number compared to Latvia where, for example, around 600 axes were discovered in the Daugava River basin alone (Vasks 2003, 28), or in Lithuania where more than 1000 axes were known as of 30 years ago (Juodagalvis 2002), not to mention the thousands of axes found in the counties of central Sweden.[12] The shape of the axes varies everywhere but it is usually rhomboid, oval, triangular or drop-shaped, or something in-between. As all the differences seem to be morphological and not functional, geographical, or chronological, and represent, at least partly, the axe in its final stage of use, then all the axes will be treated as a uniform group. The different sizes and the diversity in the shape of the axes can be explained by the length of time that a particular axe was used and by the number of times an axe was reshaped. Every time a long axe broke (usually) at the hole, where the shaft and axe body are hafted together) it was reshaped and used until it broke again. The continuous reshaping of the axe resulted in a decrease in the height of the axe, as well as modification to its overall shape (Lekberg 2002, figs. 5.4–5.6). The prevailing basic shape of Estonian simple shaft-hole stone axes, which is oval, is believed to have originated from the local sharp oval axes of the Late Neolithic (Jaanits et al. 1982, 118); however, it should be reminded that later simple shafthole axes look basically the same in all the countries of the Baltic Sea region (see e.g. Vasks 2003, fig.; Huurre 1979, fig. p. 86; Østmo 1977, figs. 14–16). It is believed that the simple shaft-hole axes had appeared by the end of the Neolithic, although few have been recovered from Late Neolithic settlement sites in Estonia.[13] So far the only radiocarbon date obtained in relation to such a stone axe comes from a fragment of wood found in the hole of a rhomboid axe discovered at Vaibla. The date obtained from this wood fragment was 3060±85 BP (calibrated date 1430–1210 BC), which is during the Early Bronze Age (Kriiska 1998). The fragments of the late shaft-hole axes uncovered at the fortified settlement sites of Asva and Ridala can be dated to the end of the Early or to the beginning of the Late Bronze Age with more certainty than the axes from other locations.

For how long were stone axes manufactured and used in Estonia? It is clear that, with a few exceptions they are absent in the fortified settlement sites of the coastal zone;[14] thus, the upper limit of production and use would be the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. It is noteworthy that many more stone tools have been unearthed from the fortified settlement sites of both northeastern Lithuania and Latvia.[15] Given that those settlement sites were established in the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, one can assume that the stone items were made and used there rather actively at least until the end of the Bronze Age or even longer.[16] The scarce data presently available suggests that at least in north and west Estonia, active use of stone axes ended sometime earlier, perhaps explaining why considerably fewer axes have been found in Estonia compared to our southern neighbours.[17] So far no exclusively Late Bronze Age and/or Pre-Roman Iron Age settlement sites have been excavated inland (with the exception of the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age layers of some hillforts, but they did not reveal any stone tools); therefore, it is impossible to claim with any certainty whether the use of stone continued through those periods. As for Scandinavia, some researchers claim that the use of simple shaft-hole axes had ceased by the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (Østmo 1977, 175) although some specific forms, such as rhomboid, five-cornered, and axes with recurved butts are rather numerous in the Late Bronze Age material (Baudou 1960, 47 ff.).

Late stone axes have been found in all parts of Estonia (Figs. 4–5); their distribution is somewhat more concentrated in the Lake Võrtsjärv region, the Pärnu River basin, the islands and northern Estonia. The general view is that the Neolithic boat axes in all their varieties were first and foremost ritual, status, and prestige items that served as symbols of power and were often placed in the grave to be used in the afterlife. Simple shaft-hole stone axes, on the other hand, were mainly used for cutting bushes and trees and for the cultivation of the soil (Østmo 1977, 186 ff.; Vasks 2003). Experiments conducted with similar axes showed that they were indeed suitable for cutting, but the traces of wear and tear indicated contact with much heavier materials than wood, for example, with stones that could be found in the ground (Østmo 1977, 186 ff.). Considering the spread of the shaft- hole stone axes mainly in agricultural areas, it seems more likely that they were first and foremost used for soil cultivation (perhaps the first tillage) and deforestation, which involves both cutting down trees and breaking the turf; though other uses cannot, of course, be ruled out. The possibility that some of the axes served as ritual items, as they had previously, and indicated one’s status, prestige, or group identity must also be considered. Examples of such axes include, first and foremost, all the imported axes, ones manufactured more carefully than usual, and axes that could not be used as tools because their shaft holes are too small. I will return to the above-mentioned axes below in connection with the analysis of social behaviour and the trade of prestige items.

Depending on the possible functions of the axes in the past, their findspots may reflect either the place where they were made, a location where they were used, lost or thrown away, or a burial and sacrificial site. It seems that, in contradistinction to the Late Neolithic, stone axes were not used as grave goods during the Early Bronze Age in Estonia. Archival records include some information about stone axes that were reportedly found with bones,[18] but unfortunately these records are vague, amateurish, and have not been verified; thus it is uncertain if the bones were human. Based on available data, it is reasonable to assume that the use of stone axes as grave goods decreased considerably or even disappeared altogether in the second millennium BC,[19] not only in Estonia, but in almost all the countries on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. For example, none of the 268 graves at the Ķivutkalns flat cemetery, located on the lower reaches of the Daugava River, contained stone axes. This is in contrast to a number of axes uncovered from the cultural layer of the settlement site that was established on top of the cemetery (Denisova et al. 1985). Late stone axes have not been recovered from any other known and researched Early Bronze Age graves in Latvia,[20]  Lithuania or Finland. The situation is different to the west of the Baltic Sea, for example in Sweden, in the respect that the late stone axes were indeed put in the grave, but they were, to a greater extent, representatives of an earlier period, that is, the Late Neolithic (2300–1800 BC) (Lekberg 2002, 107). Additionally, stone axes were rarely put in Early Bronze Age stone-cist graves in Sweden (Burenhult 1991, 32) and the custom had disappeared completely in the Late Bronze Age when bronze axes replaced stone axes. On the other hand, regions in Scandinavia do exist, for example in south-eastern Norway, where the majority of the shaft-hole axes were uncovered as isolated finds from lands suitable for cultivation (Østmo 1977, 188 ff.).

As it is highly unlikely that some of the Estonian late shaft-hole stone axes might mark the location of ancient graves in the landscape (see also Johanson 2006), then the only remaining explanation is that they were associated with living areas and sacrifice sites. Per Lekberg (2002), who has extensively researched the late stone axes in Sweden, observed that the stone axes uncovered from votive contexts (hoards) were longer and in better condition than usual, and that some of the axes were even semi-finished products, meaning that relatively new items with high potential use-value were sacrificed. On the other hand, no intact and usable axes were unearthed from the settlement sites – all the artefacts were either fragments or semifinished items. The scarce Estonian material, which includes only fragments of axes uncovered from the settlement sites of Asva, Ridala, Kullamägi, Sangla, and Pada, supports the latter observation. The rather rich material of the fortified settlement sites of Latvia and Lithuania also contained only single almost-intact stone items (cf. Graudonis 1989, pls. V–VI; Volkaitė-Kulikauskienė 1986, figs. 18–19; Grigalavičienė 1986a, figs. 10–12; 1986b, fig. 10; Vasks 1994a, pl. I; 2003). The find circumstances have to be taken into account when studying the meaning of the axes; proximity to existing or past water bodies may indicate sacrifice, and higher and drier findspots may indicate settlement sites. However, Andrejs Vasks (2003) pointed out that the majority of the axes found in higher and drier areas, which are presently arable lands, are also intact; thus, it is difficult to interpret them as indicators of settlement sites. Nor is it plausible that intact axes were simply thrown away, because they were too valuable to be purposefully discarded. Vasks assumes that even the ordinary axes used as tools carried a symbolic, magical meaning in certain contexts, and that they were deliberately left in specific places. The same obviously applies to the Estonian simple shaft-hole stone axes because a considerable proportion of them are intact and usable and many have no traces of wear. According to Kristiina Johanson’s recent studies (2005; 2006), 123 stone axes (14%) out of 820 Neolithic and Bronze Age axes of all types can be connected to settlement sites and 76 axes (9.4%) can be connected to offerings or caches. A considerably large number of stone axes have been repeatedly reused, in both prehistoric and historical times and therefore the location of their discovery cannot reflect their original meaning or use.

Today it is impossible to ascertain the precise ritual meaning of the axes,[21] but considering the circumstances of their discovery it was likely related to land cultivation. In that respect the Early Bronze Age shaft-hole axes can be compared to the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age cup-marked stones – both seem to represent a stone cult focused on fertility, including soil fertility.[22] Cup-marked stones occur mostly in northern and western Estonia, where permanent field systems cultivated with ards were established beginning in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Perhaps the extensive spread of the ard and permanent farming was the reason why the use of simple shaft-hole axes ended sooner in the coastal areas rather than in inland areas, where shifting agriculture and deforestation of virgin land remained important for many centuries. Regions where the axe as a tool for clearing land was used decreased and as a result, there was a respective change in cult objects and rituals.

Pollen Diagrams

In addition to the small number of sites and numerous isolated finds, pollen diagrams of lake and bog sediments may reveal evidence of Early Bronze Age settlement areas. Pollen diagrams showing clear signs of human activity
are considered to be just as reliable as archaeological finds in terms of providing evidence for the existence of a settlement. Moreover, pollen diagrams often reflect human activity, first and foremost in regard to the economy and, in turn, how such activities affected the environment. About 400 pollen diagrams have been drawn up for Estonia, and one tenth of them included an analysis of human impact on the environment. However, only 30 cross-sections are considered to be reliable (diagram reliability being constituted by having over 1000 pollen grains identified per sample and a time frame based on the interpolation of at least three radiocarbon dates) (Poska et al. 2004). As the results of these crosssections are somewhat different,[23] they will be dealt with on a regional basis (Fig. 9).

Clear signs of human activity reshaping the environment were already present in northern Estonia at the beginning of the Neolithic, whereas farming indicators appeared only at the end of the period. The diagrams from Maardu and Saha, located near Tallinn, and the Kahala cross-section provide ample evidence of farming ca. 2200–2000 BC (Veski & Lang 1996a–b; Saarse et al. 1999). The first signs of tillage are rather modest everywhere, but the cleared areas and the richness of plants characteristic of meadows and pastures strongly suggest stock rearing. Signs indicating pastoral farming near the Viitna Lakes are present starting ca. 2200 BC (Saarse 1998). A significant increase in human impacts during the Late Neolithic was followed by a subsequent decline – reforestation began in the Saha, Maardu and Kahala areas, and a marked decrease in the indicators of human impact on the environment were present. This period of decline in activity was dated to ca. 1650–1300 BC in Kahala, in Maardu it spanned from the Early Bronze Age to the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, and the Tondi diagram did not reveal any human impacts from 1300–900 BC (Saarse et al. 1999; Veski & Lang 1996b; Lang & Kimmel 1996). Northern Estonia witnessed an increase in human impacts to the landscape during the transition period to the Late Bronze Age; first in Kahala, after 1300 BC and then in the Tondi, Saha and Maardu areas around 900–700 BC. Interestingly enough, people started to grow grain in Viitna, which is a peripheral area, during what was a decline in such activity in other parts of the region, just before the increase in human impacts noted above. The Viitna diagram dated the presence of barley in the region to 1600 BC, followed by wheat in 1100 BC (Saarse et al. 1998).

The earliest evidence of cereal cultivation in the eastern Estonian pollen diagrams dates to 4000 BC (Poska et al. 2004) and was obtained from the Akali settlement site. The first signs of Neolithic land use were followed by a decrease in all the indicators of human impacts – the proportion of herbs diminished to a minimum and reforestation occurred everywhere (Poska & Saarse 1996). The opening up of the region (i.e. clearing of forests and vegetation for primitive farming) can be observed in the middle of the second millennium BC; the varying amount of microscopic charcoal particles indicates repeated broadcast burning, which may suggest slash-and-burn agriculture (e.g. near the Lake Pikkjärv and Siniallikas Spring, see Pirrus & Rõuk 1988). The Kuremaa and Raigastvere diagrams of the period revealed evidence of farming through the presence of Cerealia pollen (Pirrus & Rõuk 1988; Moe et al. 1992). The period of rather significant human impact was replaced with stagnation, decline and reforestation at the end of the Early Bronze Age. Following this, the beginning of the Late Bronze Age witnessed a revival in human activity; this phenomenon occurred in the Kõrenduse, Pikkjärv, Raigastvere, and Siniallikas areas beginning around 900–700 BC.

Fig. 9. Location of pollen analysed sites mentioned in the text. 1 Tondi, 2 Saha, 3 Maardu, 4 Kahala, 5 Viitna, 6 Siniallikas, 7 Kuremaa, 8 Pikkjärv, 9 Raigastvere, 10 Kõrenduse, 11 Akali, 12 Ala-Pika, 13 Siksali, 14 Tõhela, 15 Velise, 16 Mustjärv, 17 Kaali, 18 Pitkasoo, 19 Vedruka, 20 Karujärv, 21 Kõivasoo.

The landscape started to open up due to human activity in southern Estonia by the Late Neolithic. The cultivation of barley and wheat, the pollen of which was acquired from the sediments at Siksali, was started in the beginning of the Bronze Age (ca. 1700 BC; Laul & Kihno 1999). Both Siksali and Ala-Pika witnessed the decrease in human impacts and the short-term recovery of forests during the middle of the Early Bronze Age (Kihno & Valk 1999). A rather significant revival of human impact at Siksali was dated to ca. 1250–900 BC when several forest fires suggestive of slash-and-burn agriculture occurred; Cerealia pollen is present at Ala-Pika beginning in ca. 1200 BC. Both Siksali and Ala-Pika experienced human impacts to varying degrees until ca. 700–600 BC, which marks the beginning of a new and more powerful revival in human activity (Laul & Kihno 1999; Kihno & Valk 1999).

People had begun to open up the landscape on the islands and in western Estonia by the Early Neolithic. The earliest Cerealia pollen (Avena, Hordeum, and Triticum) obtained from this area dates to 4000–3500 BC and was gathered from various parts of the region – from the bogs of Velise and Mustjärve, and Lake Tõhela in the continental part, and from Kõivasoo on Hiiumaa Island (Veski 1998; Kriiska 2003, tab. 1). The emergence of cereal cultivation in the Pitkasoo and Vedruka areas also dates to about the same time (Poska et al. 1999, 308 f.). After a period of decline, in the middle of the second millennium BC, human impacts and the indicators of cereal and pastoral farming increased and remained continuously stable until the first millennium BC. The beginning of the new rise in human impacts can be dated to ca. 800–600 BC in various regions on Saaremaa Island, for example in the surroundings of Lakes Karujärv and Kaali (Saarse & Königsson 1992); this trend occurred at the same time in other parts of what is today Estonia.

This overview has revealed that the character and extent of human impacts differed in various regions and times. An important characteristic is that the periods of major human impact were rather short and were replaced by periods of decline; decrease in human impact in some places was followed by a rise in other regions. As the pollen diagrams reflect the environmental changes only in the vicinity of sampling sites, the situation seems to indicate considerable instability, at least in regard to the location and use of arable land; settlements in general were likely impermanent. One can assume that people continued to look for better and more suitable places for farming. The character of settlement and economy, and the respective reflections in pollen diagrams, were basically the same in south-western Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania at the time (see Lang 1999a, 367 f.).

The First Landnam

The above-described trends in the character of finds, sites, and the development of settlement and economy, which had begun by the Late Neolithic, are characteristic of a process called the first landnam. Economically, the process involved gradual transition from foraging to subsistence farming and, in terms of settlement history, it resulted in a settlement shift from the coasts of larger water bodies (rivers, lakes and the sea) to places suitable for land cultivation and pastoral farming.[24] Both economic and settlement patterns co-existed in the Late Neolithic, whereas the settlement type based on hunting and gathering alone had almost disappeared by the beginning of the Bronze Age. It would be difficult to explain the absence of large settlement sites on the coasts of water bodies otherwise.

To date, the settlement shifts that occurred during the landnam from the Late Neolithic until the Early Bronze Age have been researched in detail only in northern and southern Estonia. Putting aside the settlement centres of hunters-gatherers at Riigiküla, Kunda, Vihasoo, Jõesuu at Jägala, and in some other places, one can claim that in northern Estonia the settlement located further away from the coast was established during the Corded Ware period (3000–1800 BC). Both the small settlement sites of the period and the findspots of boat axes are usually located near the glint (gliff) zone, in rendzina (Est. loo; Swe. alvar) soils, or in the vicinity, and away from larger water bodies (e.g. Iru, Ilumäe II and IV, Võhma in Kadrina parish). In the morainal inland areas where the soil is thick and difficult to cultivate, the late shaft-hole axes prevail (see Lang 2000a, 75 ff.; 2000b, fig.), although a few (later) boat axes and associated settlement sites (Võhma near Rakvere, and Jõuga) have also been found there. Thus, the first landnam spread from the glint zone inland. The earlier fishing-hunting-gathering centres died out gradually and the permanent settlements on the seacoast disappeared.

Settlements of the Corded Ware period in southern Estonia (see Johanson 2005) continued to be positioned, in many cases, at the same places where previous hunting-gathering settlements were located, for example at Tamula, Kääpa, Villa, Akali, Kullamägi, and on the northern coast of Lake Võrtsjärv. However, new areas better suited for farming had already been put into use by that time (e.g. Madi and Olustvere). Simple shaft-hole axes are rarely uncovered near the old settlement centres of hunter-gatherers; they primarily come from areas that were put into use in the Late Neolithic or even later. This means that the earlier centres were deserted by the beginning of the Bronze Age at the latest. Both boat and simple shaft-hole axes have been uncovered from the flatter parts of the central and southern Estonian rolling country – the Vooremaa, Sakala and Karula uplands, whereas only simple shafthole axes are typically found in the hillier Haanja and Otepää uplands. Thus, the general settlement trend was that first the coasts of large water bodies and the river mouths entering them were deserted, followed by the abandonment of river forks. New settlements were first established in flat areas (predominantly in the foothills), and the heart of the uplands was settled only afterwards, throughout the Bronze Age.

As for both north and south Estonia, one must stress that the areas where the farming settlements would become permanent later (i.e. in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age) were gradually put into use already during the first landnam. Small Early Bronze Age settlement sites with few finds indicate that the sites were used for short periods of time and that a limited number of people inhabited them; the population at such sites likely consisted of single households. The pollen diagrams show that small plots and headlands where mainly wheat and barley were grown (oats were probably considered a weed) were also temporary and only used for brief periods of time. This type of primitive, limited, and mobile slash-and-burn agriculture can be called dispersed cultivation. Definitely it was not the only or the main means of subsistence in the Early Bronze Age. Lake and bog sediments suggest pasture farming (i.e. stock rearing); hunting, fishing and seal hunting in coastal areas was also likely practised. On the other hand, it must be stressed that the increasing need for suitable arable and pasture land was the most important factor influencing the location of and search for new settlement sites. Farming had become such an important activity that in addition to the settlement shift, it was also accompanied by changes in ritual practices. It is reasonable to assume that the simple shaft-hole axe, which was the most important (or maybe the only) tool for deforestation necessary to carry out slash-and-burn type agriculture before the introduction of the ard, became a cult and ritual item.

The first landnam and the transition from hunting and fishing to farming in general was a remarkably long process. It took 2500 years in northern and western Estonia and up to 3500 in central and southern Estonia from the emergence of Cerealia pollen in the diagrams until the establishment of societies where the main means of subsistence was agriculture. The situation is similar in other countries on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea; farming societies were established in Lithuania, Latvia, and Finland during the Late Bronze Age at the earliest, and even then not in all regions (e.g. Antanaitis 2001; Antanaitis-Jacobs & Girininkas 2002; Zvelebil 1993). It took even longer in regions located to the east of Lake Peipsi, for example north-western Russia, where the first evidence of farming came from the Typical Combed Ware Culture period (Königsson & Possnert 1997); agriculture became the main means of subsistence in that region not before the Middle Iron Age. It is commonly held that such a slow transition to farming can be explained by unfavourable climate and the plentitude and availability of alternative resources for hunting and fishing. Both explanations are obviously valid to a certain extent, but they are insufficient for understanding the whole process.

The long and gradual transition period provides indirect evidence that the process involved local populations, not in-migration of farming tribes. The fact that the development of a new dispersed settlement pattern was accompanied by the abandonment of the old settlement centres of hunters-fisher-gatherers, suggests that the occupants of the new areas were local, and supports the above claim (see Lang 2000b). On the other hand, the long transitional period involved a specific type of economy – complex fishing-hunting or the ‘Forest Neolithic’ economy (Zvelebil 1993, 157), which presumably fulfilled the subsistence needs of the small and dispersed population in the best possible way. Based on retrospective calculations (Lang 1990a) the population of Estonia was most likely under 10,000 in the Early Bronze Age, which means that the average population density was approximately one person per five square kilometres.

The transition to farming, which was a much more labour-intensive lifestyle than foraging (Sahlins 1974; Cashdan 1989) and yielded results after a longer period of labor (see Zvelebil 1993 and the literature cited), was not the consequence of economic difficulties (e.g. famine due to the lack of game, fish, seals) as generally thought before. Rather, the transition can be explained by the social needs and behaviour of the society at large, the significant factors here being social competition between the leaders of the society, trade of prestige items, and the manufacturing of grain-based alcoholic drinks to be consumed at (religious) celebrations and upon entering into various alliances (see e.g. Bender 1978; Sahlins 1974, 149 ff.; Jennbert 1988). It can be assumed that the transition to farming, which was the best way to obtain additional resources, was more rapid and complete in regions where the social contacts both within and between the communities were closer and the competition between the leaders was more fierce because of the need to maintain such relations. The small size and low density of the population in Estonian and other areas on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea during the third and second millennia BC explains why the above social needs and behavioural patterns did not develop here, at least not to the same extent as they did in the southern latitudes. It was the crucial absence of the social engine that determined a slower pace of economic growth.

In regard to social and economic developments, and considering the major differences between the coastal and inland areas that emerged during the Late Bronze Age, it is strange that at first glance the Early Bronze Age material gives no indication of the transition to come. The isolated finds of the period, including metal artefacts, are more numerous in southern Estonia. The situation changes, however, if the assumption that stone axes were used over a much longer period inland than in coastal areas proves to be correct; in that case the axes disperse over a greater length of time and the density of finds for each period becomes much lower. The reasons why the developmental trends in the coastal zone proceeded in a different direction become evident only later, at the end of the second millennium BC.

In conclusion, it must be stressed that crucial economic and settlement processes, although slow, took place in what is presently Estonia during the Early Bronze Age. By the Middle Bronze Age the progression of the above processes had reached a plateau in northern and western Estonia as the resources needed for extensive development were gradually exhausted due to the limited availibility of rendzina soils suitable for primitive cultivation. The extensive development continued more than 1000 years later in central and southern Estonia. These regional differences are one of the reasons why the cultural and economic picture was dramatically different in various parts of Estonia during the first millennium BC.

Society and Culture

‘Epineolithic Culturelessness’

As noted, the material culture of the Early Bronze Age was rather meagre; very few settlement sites are known and graves seem to be completely absent. It is not possible to highlight any specific flint, quartz, or bone items characteristic of the era; only stone axes are numerous. As for ceramics, it is known that some forms disappeared and that something new was beginning to evolve, but one cannot distinguish any specific style characteristic of the era or region. Metal was rare and could be found only in the form of imported finished products. Unlike in Latvia and Lithuania, one cannot speak of local metal production in Estonia at that time (see below, 1.2.2). The socalled Epineolithic culturelessness– absence of any expressive archaeological culture – which originated at the end of the Neolithic and deepened during the Early Bronze Age, is a region-specific phenomenon, as the situation in the neighbouring countries differed significantly. A few examples would include the Lubāna-type pottery characteristic of Latvia that flourished in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (Loze 1979), and the Kiukainen-type pottery (Meinander 1954a), as well as other groups of ceramics that followed the latter, including Textile Ceramics that were known in Finland (see Lavento 2001). What was the reason for the absence of any prominent material culture, not only pottery but also flint and bone items, as well as grave sites in Estonia? The rather numerous late and simple shaft-hole axes and all the other finds demonstrate that it cannot be explained simply by the absence of habitation.

One of the reasons for the lack of definitely recognizable archaeological culture could have been a small and highly dispersed population. Low population density did not encourage the exhibition and manifestation of material wealth or social relations due to the lack of social interactions (including competition). As for pottery, a direct link seems to exist between, on the one hand, the quality and richness of ornamentation, and on the other hand, the size and density of settlement units; when the concentration of settlements increased considerably and social communication intensified, people started to pay more attention to small details such as the decoration of ordinary household pottery. The quality of pottery declined when social interactions decreased or when people wanted to disguise their relations (see Braun 1991). It is reasonable to assume that the above also applies to some other manifestations of material culture, first and foremost phenomena of artistic expression.[25] All Neolithic cultures of the eastern Baltic region, which are primarily defined through pottery styles, including the pottery of the Kiukainen and Lubāna types, reflect much larger social units than the single households. The same applies to Late Bronze Age fortified settlement sites and to the hillfort settlements dated to the second half of the first millennium AD, which were characterized by both relatively large populations and varied material culture, especially the array of pottery forms and ornaments.

The absence of a clearly defined culture in Estonia during the Early Bronze Age is illustrative of one of the main concepts in archaeology – the archaeological culture. To briefly summarize, despite serious criticism the early studies, beginning with G. Kossinna and V. G. Childe, tended to associate archaeological cultures with ethnic (language) groups and considered differences in material culture to be the manifestation of ethnic differences (see Lang 2001 and the literature cited). Today it can be claimed that the essential prerequisite for the development of archaeological culture was not ethnic peculiarity but the existence of a sufficiently dense social network. Obviously it is impossible to define what ‘suffiently dense’ means, but it is clear that the single household pattern dominant in Estonia during the Early Bronze Age was insufficient for such interaction and the development of a distinct or expansive archaeological culture. Thus, the difference in cultures was not the manifestation of various ethnic identities, but can be explained by the fact that people living in various regions behave, think, and express their thoughts and artistic preferences differently.

Another issue for consideration is why the larger social communities split into small units during the transition to farming. It was not the case all over the world, but it is characteristic of various regions of northern Europe. Although the Estonian and Scandinavian ethnographic parallels show that slash-and-burn agriculture was a one-family activity, and that even one person could manage it (Manninen 1933, 8; Kortesalmi 1969, 298 f.), it cannot be the reason for the division of communities because a larger number of people working together would have done the work more efficiently. It is the far reaching character of slash-and-burn agriculture that may have favoured the emergence of dispersed settlement; when the soil became exhausted after some years people were forced to look for new plots and, therefore, a small group of people needed a rather large land base. Soils suitable for primitive farming were not found in plots sizeable enough to feed larger groups of people. In addition to the above economic geography-related factors, the driving force behind the development of a dispersed settlement pattern was a gradually deteriorating situation surrounding land ownership concerns. In other words, despite the fact that work was done individually, collective ownership relations had prevailed up to this point in time, and tension over who owned and had the right to use slash-and-burn fields and the grain they yielded arose. Ownership relations have always been significant to the development of farming societies; the larger the social community, the more authority needed to regulate relations within it. As for the single household pattern, the problem was easy to solve as the fields belonged to those who had cleared the land. In the Early Bronze Age this probably meant that the individual had rights of use rather than actual private ownership of the cultivated land, and it is reasonable to assume that after the arable land was deserted it again became communal property. The main trend seems to have been that of a transition from communal ownership to individual, that is, the ownership was transferred from kin groups or tribes to single households.

Low settlement density and small settlement units does not preclude the presence of communication or linking networks between such dispersed populations. Marriage networks, kin relations, the organization of communal events (bigger fishing, hunting and trading trips or religious festivals), political alliances, and a common past and traditions all linked the settlement units within a certain region. Leading social theorists showed long ago that the motor of any social interaction in prehistoric times was the principle of reciprocity (see Sahlins 1974, 191 ff.), which will be discussed below in greater detail. On the other hand, when interpreting the scarce Early Bronze Age material of the region, social stratification and power of chiefs cannot be ignored. The most convincing pieces of evidence for social stratification are imported items that indicated social prestige.

Exchange of Prestige Items

As noted previously, some Estonian stone axes were imported from Scandinavia and the southern Baltic region. Though there was enough local material and know-how to make axes on the spot, items made in remote lands probably gave additional prestige and power to their owners. The social value of metal items was even more significant than that of foreign stone artefacts.

The Earliest Metal Artefacts

No artefacts of copper or gold – the first metals that were taken into use in their pure natural form – have been recovered in Estonia so far. During the European Copper Age, the Neolithic cultural phenomena spread in Estonia as evidenced by the presence of Narva Ceramics, Typical and Late Combed Ware, Corded and Textile Ceramics. Considering that single items made from Uralian copper were unearthed in northern Sweden, northern and eastern Finland, and Karelia (see Halén 1996; Pesonen 1998; Lavento 2001, 119 f.), all of them in the context of the Typical Combed Ware Culture, one cannot rule out that some copper items also circulated through trading networks in what is now Estonia. In Latvia the earliest metal artefacts, although made of bronze, were found in the Zvejnieki Late Neolithic grave No. 277 (Zagorskis 1987).

Fig. 10. Bronze palstave (1) and flanged axes (2–5). 1 Lelle, 2 Raidsaare, 3 Tahula, 4 Kaarma, 5 Äksi (AI 4378; 2513: 89; K10: 1; K98; 2513: 90).

Altogether 14 bronze artefacts dated to the Early Bronze Age are preserved in Estonian museums: 12 axes, one sickle and one spearhead; ornaments are completely absent. In addition to the above items, there is some data regarding two narrow-bladed flanged axes, the provenances of which are unknown. One of them was presumably found on Muhu Island and the other in Valgjärve in south-eastern Estonia (see Lõugas 1970a, 84, note 5). Like the majority of late stone axes, the bronze artefacts are also either isolated finds or of uncertain provenance (Fig. 3).

The 14 axes can be divided into three morphological types. Seven axes belong to the group of flanged axes, six of which represent narrowbladed, ‘high-flanged axes of class C’ as described by Vandkilde (1996, 107 ff., 223) (Fig. 10: 2, 4–5). Such artefacts were manufactured in the southern Scandinavian/northern German cultural area during the Montelius period IB (i.e. 16th century BC). The seventh axe, found at Tahula on Saaremaa Island, and characterized by a wide halberd-like blade and low flanges (Fig. 10: 3), was also likely made in that region, although an East Prussian origin has been suggested (Jaanits et al. 1982, 132). The corresponding axes in East Prussia differ considerably from the Tahula axe, however (cf. Kulikauskas et al. 1961, fig. 53: 1–2). According to Vandkilde (1996, 101 ff., 211), such axes (called ‘waisted flanged axes of Virring type’) were made and used in the Montelius period IA (17th century BC). In the countries that lie to the east of the Baltic Sea, the flanged axes described above are reported only from Estonia; in Finland they are absent (Meinander 1954b, 19), and the corresponding axes in Latvia and Lithuania represent slightly different types (Graudonis 1967, pls. XXIII: 4, 6–7, 9, 11; XXIV: 12–13).

Fig. 11. Socketed axes from Järveküla (1) and Eesnurga (2) (TLM 19855; VM without number; photos: E. Väljal and A. Kriiska).

There are five palstaves (Fig. 10: 1) that belong to a group of axes widely distributed in Scandinavia during Montelius period II (Montelius 1991 [1917], figs. 850–853; Oldeberg 1976, figs. 196, 248). A unique socketed axe from Järveküla (northwestern Estonia), the most beautiful artefact from the Estonian Bronze Age (Fig. 11: 1), still has no exact parallels; it should, however, belong to the group of so-called nordische Streitbeile by Aner (1962, 180 ff., figs. 6–8), and also has rough similarities with some specimens from Södermanland in Sweden (Montelius 1991 [1917], fig. 878; Oldeberg 1976, fig. 2724). Judging by its general proportions, the shape of the blade, and the decoration motifs, the Järveküla axe was most likely made somewhere in Scandinavia during period II of the Montelius. One additional socketed axe was recently found in Eesnurga, central southern Estonia (Fig. 11: 2); it is likely that this relatively long and slender axe was produced in southern Scandinavia at the end of the Early Bronze Age (Lang et al. 2006).

Fig. 12. Spearhead from Muhu (AI 1047).

As all axes found in Estonia appear to originate from west of the Baltic Sea, the sickle from Kivisaare and the spearhead from Muhu Island (Figs. 12–13) demonstrate the different paths of exchange. The former has come from what is today the Ukraine, the latter from the area of the Seima-Turbino Culture near the Ural Mountains (Jaanits et al. 1982, 132). The latter is dated to the 17th–15th centuries BC, but it could even be some centuries older.[26]

Fig. 13. Sickle from Kivisaare (AI 2758: 12).

One can conclude that all of the above-mentioned bronze artefacts were made in the earliest Bronze Age (periods I and II), while there are no specimens known from period III, and new imported goods do not appear again until late in period IV. It seems that the era of relatively active contacts between Estonia and Scandinavia during the Late Neolithic (beginning in the Corded Ware period) and Early Bronze Age was followed by a ‘less active’ period in the last quarter of the second millennium BC. The situation was the opposite in Finland, for example, where the majority of imported metal goods belong to periods II and III, but are almost unknown in period I. In Latvia, too, the Scandinavian influence seems to have become stronger in period III, as one can infer on the basis of both imported goods and multi-layered burial mounds in Reznes, Kalnieši and elsewhere (Lõugas 1985, 53). The number of bronze artefacts from period III is much greater than that of earlier times in both Latvia and Lithuania; this situation may be at least partly explained by the advent of local metalworking.

The Social Context of Imported Items

The movement of artefacts from one area to another reflects the relations, contacts, and interactions – i.e. the communication – between people living in those areas. Judging from the ethnoarchaeological parallels, such communication may have differed greatly in terms of content and social meaning at different times and in different regions. In trying to interpret communication in the final part of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, one must specify the meaning of imported goods, and also consider the comparative ethnoarchaeological evidence.

As is apparent from the data presented above, there are no raw materials – such as flint, amber, or bronze bars (or respective assemblages of broken artefacts) – among the imported objects. The majority of artefacts of foreign origin were mostly finished axes and were made of either stone or bronze. Particularly in the case of bronze axes, researchers have been inclined to stress their importance in the development of economic and labour productivity (Jaanits et al. 1982, 132 ff.). The rarity of such artefacts in Estonia, however, compels one to doubt whether they were used at all in everyday work. Even in the Bronze Age cultural centre of the south-eastern Baltic region, the function of bronze axes, examples of which number in the hundreds, probably did not involve that of practical work (Sidrys & Luchtanas 1999, 170). This theory is augmented by the refined appearance of several bronze objects (the axes from Järveküla and Tahula, and the spearhead from Muhu Island), and particularly by the large number of imported stone axes and other stone implements. It is difficult to imagine how the importation of stone axes could have improved local labour productivity. If metal tools had a noteworthy economic effect in Estonia in the Early Bronze Age, one could also expect the introduction of metalworking technology around the same time. There is still no evidence of local metalworking, however, although the parallels from both Latvia and Lithuania[27] suggest that corresponding workshops may be found in the future when there is greater knowledge of and ability to study Early Bronze Age sites. Instead of economic function, one must keep in mind the component of social prestige when interpreting imported goods of stone and bronze. In other words, the imported artefacts of the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Estonia have nothing to do with economic development or intentional trade, but are instead an indication of social behaviour, first and foremost communication and relationships.

Behind the imported artefacts in question there appears to have been an expression of the phenomenon known as the gift-partnership in the anthropological literature (see Orme 1981, 180 f.), which has much in common with Colin Renfrew’s prestige chain model (1972). The purpose of such communication was not to obtain economic profit, but to establish and maintain friendly relations between both individuals and social groups. The key word here is reciprocity – the basis for the principles of social relations and a driving force in traditional societies around the world. Although anthropologists distinguish between different variations in the type of the reciprocity – i.e. generalized, balanced, or negative reciprocity (Sahlins 1974, 193 ff.) – it is important to state that as every gift presupposes a return gift, it creates a social link, or even a feeling of indebtedness, between the individuals. As specifically asserted by Barbara Bender (1978, 212), the giving of gifts creates obligations. The resulting ever- present economic instability offers many opportunities for leaders to demonstrate their generosity by giving gifts to the commoners, and thus it forms a basis for social stratification and the emergence of leaders surrounded by ‘debtors’.

In this case, however, the mechanisms of exchange and the routes of transport that gifts followed are more important issues to discuss. According to ethno-archaeological parallels, the gifts may have moved either along kinship lines, where the most active communication took place between relatives who lived closer to one another, or through social ranks both within and between the larger communities (Sahlins 1974, 196 ff.). In ranked societies, one can distinguish two levels in the exchange of gifts: one level is based on the principle of reciprocity, and the other on the principle of redistribution. The latter became more common in complex chiefdomlike societies, although here too, it was based on reciprocity being its more organized and centralized expression, which was integrated with leadership-related obligations and duties (Sahlins 1974, 208 ff.). In the case of the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in the eastern Baltic region, we cannot speak of chiefdom-like societies or chiefly redistributions of goods; instead there was a simple reciprocity-based exchange between individuals and neighbouring groups.

The nature of exchange based on the principle of reciprocity could vary considerably, as demonstrated in the anthropological and ethnoarchaeological literature (see Sahlins 1974, 185–275; David & Kramer 2001, 360 ff.; Orme 1981, 180 ff.). Every active member of a society could have a partner in several other groups, and through a series of mutual exchanges of gifts, goods could move over long distances.[28] The final recipient of an artefact probably had no idea where it was made. A classical example of such exchange networks is the kula-circle in the archipelago of Melanesia, where the groups involved exchanged ritual goods by accompaniment ceremonies, in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.[29] The corresponding goods had to move away from the place of manufacture and the original giver; they could not be used in everyday life and work (some of them were even too small for such use) and their value increased with each exchange. The main kula-goods were ornaments, such as necklaces and armbands – usually made solely for the purpose of ceremonial exchange – but there is some evidence that in earlier times the range of goods was greater, also including ceremonial ceramics and polished stone axes (Orme 1981, 185 f.; Johnson 1989, 72 ff.).

Although there is no data about the probable social mechanisms of exchange around the Baltic in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, one can consider that at least those stone axes that could not be used in everyday work (because they were too small or had too narrow a shaft hole) served as ceremonial exchange goods (see Vasks 2003). There is no doubt that many other axes were also exchanged. In the archaeological record, all stone axes of foreign origin can be explained in this manner, because there was no economic reason to exchange them. The range of exchanged items was also undoubtedly greater than that listed above: objects made of organic matter that have not survived, stone axes of simple or universal types (the movement of which is difficult to establish), and of course, bronze luxury items.

In socially ranked societies, the so-called diplomatic exchange of gifts carried out by chiefs was also important, although this was not done for economic benefits but rather with the purpose of establishing and maintaining friendly relations between groups (Orme 1981, 181 ff.). Such an exchange of gifts, based on balanced reciprocity, is a universal and timeless way to establish relations between both the nearest neighbours and distant strangers, and it seems reasonable to assume that the gifts exchanged by chiefs were, on average, more valuable than those exchanged by common people. The latter were also repeatedly exchanged and not used in everyday life; archaeologists usually find them either in graves or in places where they were ultimately deposited or lost (see Lavento 2001, 172 and the literature cited). Estonian metal artefacts from the Early Bronze Age correspond completely to the criteria for prestige items: they do not bear many traces of wear, and although they have not been discovered in graves, they have rarely been found in hoards either; these items would have been considered very valuable goods in the local context.

Although the majority of the Estonian Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age imports originated in southern Scandinavia, this does not necessarily mean that the local people had direct contacts with that area. As mentioned above, prestige items may have passed through many hands by way of repeated exchanges over extremely great distances. Hence, artefacts made in southern Scandinavia could reach what is today Estonia over, for instance, either the southern, western or northern shores, or the islands of the Baltic. However, it still seems possible that, at least in period I of the Bronze Age, the people of Estonia had direct contacts with some areas of Scandinavia, as none of the flanged axes produced there and found in Estonia have been discovered in Finland or in the southernmost part of the eastern Baltic region. At approximately the same time, some connections were also made in the east, as evidenced by a spearhead of Seima-Turbino origin. Imported items (socketed axes) of eastern origin, which are dated to the beginning of the Bronze Age, are also known in Finland (Meinander 1954b, 39 ff.). Thus, metal artefacts made in Scandinavia in period I of the Bronze Age have, in their eastward movement, reached Estonia, but not further; in the same way the artefacts made in the area of the Seima- Turbino Culture have, in their westward movement, reached Estonia and western Finland, but not further.[30] In period II, the pattern of social networks and connections with Scandinavia seems to have been enlarged to include both Finland and Latvia, as can be determined on the basis of the distribution of palstaves. Following this, in period III, Estonia seems to have been almost excluded from such a network; there are no known imported metal goods from that time (except the Eesnurga axe). It is possible that metal artefacts were mostly replaced by stone axes at that time, as the rhomboid axes and those with recurved butts could have such a late date. It is not clear how this kind of change should be interpreted, nor is it clear whether such a change really took place at all.

In determining the boundaries of the region with the most intimate interactions, including the areas of present-day Estonia, the coastal zone of Finland formed the northernmost border. In the south, the Daugava River basin was usually not crossed. It is likely that in the west, the main area of contact was the eastern coast of central Sweden and not the more distant areas in southern Scandinavia.[31] How far to the east contacts reached is more questionable, as the Bronze Age of north-western Russia has not been thoroughly investigated and it is very difficult to draw conclusions on the basis of one single spearhead. It is possible that this spearhead, found on Muhu Island but originating from the Urals, may have entered an exchange system via Finland as well. In principle, we are dealing here with the same area of contacts, which on the basis of material culture becomes much more visible in the Late Bronze Age.

Centre – Periphery Relations

Fig. 14. Baltic Sea region at the outset of the Early Bronze Age. a–c Nordic Bronze Age Culture (a core area, b peripheral zone, and c areas with marginal impact), d–e West Baltic Barrow Culture (d core, e marginal area), f Pre-Lusatian cultures.

An important aspect of the Early Bronze Age social communication networks were the centre–periphery relations. The present treatment is based on a modification of the work of Andrew Sherratt (1993; see Lang 2000a, 28–30). Sherratt has defined the following socio-economic structure at the continental European level, that is, the macro level: centre or core, periphery or hinterland surrounding it, and the margin, which is located even further away. He claims that such a triple-level structure was established when urban settlement with its characteristic division of labour, trade, and consumption developed in the core area (first in Asia Minor and later in the eastern Mediterranean). The towns within this core needed a hinterland from which to obtain raw materials and to market their goods to. Before the development of towns there was a simple two-level structure (core and margin). When the urban centre began to develop it was surrounded by a rather narrow and well-defined hinterland, which could withstand structural changes in the society, ideology, and economy due to its interaction with the centre. As a result the hinterland could become a new centre. The centre and hinterland were dependent on each other, although the dependence was asymmetric; however, the same does not apply to the core and the margin. The influence of the core extended through the hinterland to the borders of the margin, but it did not cause any structural changes there. Sherratt sees a wave-like trend in the historical process where hinterlands become the cores and thus increasingly remote margins become the hinterlands. Long trade routes and extensive trade networks, which influenced the local core areas and singled out the regions to where the hinterland was extended, played a significant role in the process (Sherratt 1993, 8).

It seems, however, that one can also speak of centre–hinterland–margin relationships prior to the establishment of towns. In addition to towns, core areas with much denser settlement, rich archaeological assemblages, and innovative cultural behaviour have also functioned as centres for larger regions. Such core areas inevitably needed to be surrounded with peripheral zones where they could obtain raw materials and other resources for economic development, and where they could market their products. The archaeological material shows that core areas at various stages of development, and with a variety of functions, were linked and dependent on the surrounding areas in one way or another, long before the establishment of towns. However, it is problematical to show the extent and degree of the dependency between the centres and possible hinterlands and their relation to the margin because the material is sketchy and open to different interpretations. It is also difficult to define the interactions between centres at various levels of complexity. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the dynamics of the centre–hinterland–margin relations and their influence on regional developments in both the social and economic spheres, regardless of the presently scarce archaeological data.

Two significant cultural centres, which are important for Estonia, developed in the Baltic Sea region during the Early Bronze Age (Fig. 14). The earlier and larger of the two was located in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany, and the smaller one in what was formerly East Prussia and what is presently north-east Poland and Kaliningrad oblast. During the Early Bronze Age there was a complex chiefdom-like society in southern Scandinavia; the outstanding prehistoric remains of the period are large barrows, numerous hoards of valuables, and abundant and extravagant artefacts. The foreign contacts of the Scandinavian chiefs included, most importantly, central Europe and the Mediterranean. The Scandinavian chiefs tried to imitate the lifestyle of the chiefs in the other regions they had contact with. The above Bronze Age culture extended as far north as central Sweden, and sites and finds become more rare further north. Bronze Age stone graves, although with a somewhat different shape and location in the landscape, are also known in northern Sweden along the Gulf of Bothnia and in the coastal zones of western and south-western Finland. In Sweden and Finland these stone graves (dated by the grave goods) belong to periods II and III, although some archaeologists believe that in Finland they may have been also erected during period IV (Salo 1984, 130). It is reasonable to assume that the stone graves in the Mälaren area and to the north of it, and on the Finnish coast, constituted the northern periphery of the southern centre’s sphere of influence during the Scandinavian Bronze Age. Present-day Estonia was clearly not part of the periphery during the Early Bronze Age, but rather constituted the margin, although interactions in the form of gift- partnerships could have been a regular occurrence.

The cultural centre located on the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea developed somewhat later, not until period III of the Nordic Bronze Age. The core area of this region was within the boundaries of the so-called West Baltic Barrow Culture area, which extended as far north as the western coast of present-day Lithuania, and in the south- west it converged with the Pre-Lusatian cultural region. Metal artefacts, both imported and manufactured on the spot, are less numerous in this cultural centre than in southern Scandinavia; such artefacts are most frequently prestige weapons (axes, but also spearheads, swords, knives, etc.). The find material and barrows indicate that a rather complex chiefdom society, the leaders of which had contacts with southern Scandinavia and central Europe, had evolved on the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Baltic amber, which is believed to have been the main trade item, reached (obviously through numerous exchanges) as far as the Mycenaen Culture in the Mediterranean (Sidrys & Luchtanas 1999, 169 ff., figs. 2–3). Bronze items from the centre located on the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea reached almost as far north as the Daugava River, but to date are completely absent in Estonia and northern Latvia.

An extensive area where metal-processing technology was unknown or only practised on an experimental basis was located next to and between these two Bronze Age cultural centres. This area included Estonia, northern Latvia, and the regions to the north of the Gulf of Finland. Most of the bronze items circulating in the region entered the local communication network, which was based on gift-partnerships, through Sweden; first they probably reached directly Estonia, and later over the Finnish coastal areas. There is reason to assume that the Seima-Turbino bronze first reached Finland along the northern river corridors, entering the local communication network, and only later reaching Estonia. As for the exchange of elite prestige items, the contacts with central Sweden and south-western Finland were the most important for Estonia; both areas are in essentially the same direction when considering the main navigation routes (at least in the case of travel or trade originating in northern Estonia). The inhabitants of Saaremaa Island could have had direct contacts with Gotland, as the archaeological record clearly indicates in the Late Bronze Age. It is obvious that the coast of Finland constituted the periphery of the Scandinavian Bronze Age Culture, whereas present-day Estonia and northern Latvia definitely belonged to the margin. This is why no major structural changes in the society, ideology, or economy that could have been reflected, for instance, in the building of monumental above-ground stone graves and the development of local metal processing, took place in the Early Bronze Age – all this started at a later date.

The stated trends in the development of contacts apply first and foremost to metal artefacts. However, somewhat different relations can be observed in regard to the exchange of stone axes. As for the latter, some of the exchange routes definitely go unnoticed because most axes from the Baltic Sea region looked rather similar, and it is difficult to identify where they may have originated from and travelled to. Rhomboid axes and axes with recurved butts, which were used until periods IV or V, seem to be representative of the same Scandinavian region as most of the bronze items, and thus indicate a continuation of the contacts between the eastern and western coasts of the Baltic Sea, which had begun by the Late Neolithic (see Jaanits 1985).[32] The question remains as to why stone items were still exchanged during the ‘advanced Bronze Age’. However, considering the fact that both bronze and stone axes were gifts with a ceremonial meaning and were not utilitarian tools, the material that they were manufactured from was also probably not important. The five-corned axes also suggest rather close contacts in the direction of the central European Lusatian Culture, probably through the southern Baltic neighbours. The Augšzeme-type stone axes also indicate southern contacts. Stone axes were indeed brought across the Daugava River, but not metal items of southern origin, other than the Kivisaare sickle.


Although the sites dating to the end of the Neolithic and especially the Early Bronze Age, remain poorly known in Estonia, one can still claim that significant changes in society, economy, and settlement occurred during this thousand-year period. We can only speculate about the slow changes that occurred, but such opinions can be derived by comparing data from the Late Neolithic and Late Bronze Age, which have a larger and more diverse amount of material known than does the Early Bronze Age. The changes that took place were protracted, but also inevitable, considering the existing (and everchanging) circumstances. The result was the development of an early agrarian society in the coastal zone by the end of the second millennium BC and inland many centuries later.

The economic essence of the changes was a transition from foraging to farming, although a mixed economy is characteristic of the period as a whole. People had begun to experiment with farming by the Middle Neolithic, and the final conversion took place inland during the first millennium BC. An important development during the final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age was that suitable arable and pasture lands started to determine the location of settlements. Another significant process that accompanied the change in the structure of the economy was the settlement shift, the so-called first landnam. This was the most extensive and important settlement shift between the development of the first settlement network of hunter-gatherers and the urbanization process of the 19th and 20th centuries. During that period, areas that would become the location of farming settlements in the following centuries came into use for the first time. The changes in economy and settlement patterns gave rise to social changes; though it would be even more accurate to say that the above spheres all changed at the same time and influenced each other. The main social change was the split of foraging communities into smaller settlement units, which were probably not bigger than a single household.

The lengthiness of the development processes can be explained by their own inner logic. Sparse settlement pattern consisting of small units was insufficient to create the critical mass needed for a rapid transition to production or development of a new and well-defined material culture. Estonia remained a distant margin for the cultural centres of the Bronze Age located in southern Scandinavia and the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea during the Early Bronze Age. The present data suggests that metal-processing technology was unknown in Estonia; a few bronze items arrived through gift-partnerships and had almost no role in advancing labour productivity. We have no direct data on religion, but it is safe to assume that some elements of the fertility cult started to evolve at this time; stone axes may have been used in rituals related to cultivation and fertilization.


3. Recent research has revealed that the first field systems, and maybe even stone graves, evolved at the end of the Early Bronze Age; they will be dealt with below, in the context of the Late Bronze Age.

4. The dating of carbonized organics taken from the surfaces of the Textile Ceramics has up to now yielded the following results: 4165±90 BP (Loona), 4055±40, 4155±65 BP (Akali), and 4140±70, 3605±40 BP (Kullamägi), (sample numbers Hela-751, 752, 761, 754 and 755 respectively). The calibrated value of the most recent date (1 sigma) spans from 2030 to 1890 BC, which is towards the end of the Stone Age (Kriiska 2005).

5. The main ceramic styles of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages will be in greater detail discussed below.

6. Rock debris of various origins (quartz, feldspars, amphiboles, and mica) is the most common temper in the so- called Finnish Textile Ceramics, the manufacturing of which started much later in Finland than in Estonia, i.e. ca. 1800–1700 BC (Lavento 2001, 48, 106).

7. In addition, the settlement site unearthed under the Kaseküla stone-cist grave of the Late Bronze Age was originally dated to the Early Bronze Age. New excavations have revealed, however, that it was a Late Neolithic settlement site of the Late Combed Ware period (Kriiska et al. 1998).

8. The Lubāna-style ceramics, which are characteristic of the Early Bronze Age in eastern Latvia (Loze 1979), were also unearthed at the settlement sites of Akali and Villa (Kiristaja 2003, 87).

9. The dates were 3480±45 and 3460±35 BP (Tln, without subnumber), the calibrated value is 1880–1690 BC.

10. In addition to the quartz flakes, a flint arrowhead dating from either the Late Neolithic or the Early Bronze Age was uncovered at the Vatku I settlement site. Ilumäe II settlement site revealed Corded Ware and pieces of quartz artefacts; the following radiocarbon date, which seemed somewhat doubtful at first, was obtained: 3506±58 BP, calibrated value 1890–1750 BC (Tln-2215). Taking into account that the Corded Ware might have been used even during the Early Bronze Age, the above date need not be considered too late.

11. The total number of each type of stone axe was calculated by Kristiina Johanson (personal communication).

12. Cederlund (1961, 74) claims that around 5000 simple stone axes have been found in the counties of Uppland, Närke, Västergötland and Östergötland.

13. Two fragments of simple shaft-hole stone axes were unearthed from the Kullamägi settlement site (Jaanits
1959, 204 f., fig. 21: 1–2), but they may be related to settlement of the site during the Bronze Age. In addition, an axe fragment was found in the Lemmetsa I Neolithic settlement site (Kriiska & Saluäär 2000, fig. 3).

14. Five of stone axe fragments (includig one with a recurved butt and two simple shaft-hole axes), two adzes and a fragment of one, a piece of stone bored out from a shaft-hole, and a flint scraper were unearthed from the first (earlier) horizon of the cultural layer at the Asva fortified settlement (Lõugas 1970a, 345); some flint scrapers, a fragment of a stone axe, and a piece of stone bored out from a shaft-hole were found at Ridala; no axes were discovered at Iru but flint and quartz artefacts from the site are most likely connected with the Corded Ware settlement site that was located in the same place earlier. Stone axes are also missing at Kaali. Stone artefacts found at the Joaorg settlement site in Narva can also be connected with the local Neolithic settlement phase.

15. The Ķivutkalns settlement site revealed 98 stone axes or fragments of axes (Graudonis 1989, 21 ff.), Brikuļi 26 axe fragments and 29 adzes (Vasks 1994a, 34), Narkūnai 47 stone items (Volkaitė-Kulikauskienė 1986, 18), Nevieriškė 92 axes and adzes (Grigalavičienė 1986a, 62), and Sokiškiai 20 axes (Grigalavičienė 1986b, 102).

16. In both Latvia and Lithuania there was a sharp decrease in the number of stone tools during the transition to the Iron Age in the second half of the first millennium BC (Graudonis 1967, 84; Vasks 2003, 28; Grigalavičienė 1995, 129).

17. It was previously thought that the use of stone axes ended earlier in northern and western Estonia than in southern Estonia due to a more rapid and complete switch to bronze items (Jaanits et al. 1982, 155).Comparison with Lithuania and Latvia shows that this kind of reasoning is unfounded.

18. For example, an axe from Reiu was found in a high sandy hillock where bones where also unearthed; the same was noted in regard to the axe fragment found in Kisuvere. Bones were also present near the findspots of late stone axes in Karuküla, Kuremaa and Männametsa.

19. One has to mention the late stone axe blank that was recovered from a Late Bronze Age ship grave at Lülle (Lõugas 1970b, fig. 6: 1). The item was found in the stone and soil fill material used to bury the ship, but most likely it does not represent grave goods.

20. Two stone axes unearthed from the barrow at Rēznes present an exception. One of them, a unique two-bladed axe, was uncovered near a cremation, and the other, a simple shaft-hole axe, was the only find in a barrow heap, and it may not be connected with any burial (see Ozols 1969, figs. 22–23).

21. Vasks (2003, 30) pointed out that an axe is not only a tool in Latvian folklore, but it also carries a symbolic, magical meaning ‘[…] where the fate of the axe is taken as being linked to the fate of one’s native land and vice versa. For example, there is a string of folk songs describing how a soldier leaving for a fight hacks an axe into an oak tree. Whoever takes the axe will also take the land. […] In general, in such songs, the axe is associated with decisive, dramatic, and even crisis situations in human life.’ Axes are often related to lightning in folklore (it was believed that axes were found in places where lightning had struck), or in other words, imbued with heavenly powers. The above belief is common in Russia, Scandinavia, Germany, Bulgaria, etc. (Vasks 2003, 30, and the literature cited), and also in Estonia (Johanson 2006).

22. As the tradition of cup-marked stones is almost unknown in Latvia, one can assume that the stone axe cult lasted longer there, and it also explains why many more stone axes are recovered in Latvia. The same seems to also apply to southern Estonia where cup-marked stones are rare, whereas stone axes, especially late forms, are abundant (Johanson 2005). Additionally, it should be noted that there is only a small overlap in the areas where simple shaft-hole axes and cup-marked stones are present in Finland (cf. maps: Meinander 1954a, fig. 44, and Tvauri 1997, fig. 7).

23. The results are not only different in various regions, which is to be expected, but also in different treatments of the results. Thus, some generalizations in general surveys (Poska & Saarse 1996; Poska et al. 1999) fail to correspond with the data presented in the publications of the respective diagrams. In the case of contradictions, the present study prefers the latter, that is, the primary sources.

24. Richard Indreko (1934) was the first to date the beginning of the occupation of lands suitable for farming to the Late Neolithic although his argumentation is only partly valid today.

25. David P. Braun (1991, 367) explains the phenomenon as follows ‘[…] less decorative activity will take place in settings where there are fewer opportunities for actors to try to affect each others’ social perceptions through visual means. Opportunities could be fewer either because (a) there is little interaction going on, (b) there is little chance of things being seen physically in a given setting, (c) the setting is one in which few social tensions come to bear, or (d) the setting is one in which people avoid expressions of social difference.’

27. The Lagaža settlement in Latvia has revealed evidence of bronze casting; the calibrated value of the radiocarbon dates obtained from the cultural layer were 2300–1400 BC. The respective data for Lithuania comes from the Žemaitiškė 2 and Papiškė 4 settlements, which date to 2300–1600 BC (Loze 1979, 79 f., 121; Antanaitis 2001, 11; Lang & Kriiska 2001, 97). Locally made bronze items did not become common in the southern part of the eastern Baltic region until ca. 1300–1100 BC (Sidrys & Luchtanas 1999, 169).

28. Exchange networks, which extended up to 620 kilometres inland, were known in north-eastern Australia, for example (see Cashdan 1989, 43).

29. There is even some data that the partnership relations were handed down from generation to generation (Orme 1981, 183), which could explain also the survival of the communication lines over centuries in northern Europe. The so-called friendship trade between Estonian and Finnish coastal areas was, in principle, the same phenomenon, although in the form known to us it represented a much more advanced custom of trade (see Vilkuna 1964; Troska 1998, 230 ff.).

30. In addition to Estonian example, an early spearhead of Seima-Turbino type is known in Gribžiniai, Lithuania (Tshernykh & Kuzminykh 1989, fig. 45: 6). The four axes uncovered in Finland and two spearheads from the Baltic region represent the products of the above Bronze Age cultural centre, which extended furthest to the west.

31. The metal items dating to the Early Bronze Age have a rather similar shape across the Nordic region, which is why it is difficult to distinguish from what specific region they reached Estonia (for a different view see Lõugas 1985, 53). Presumably, it is reasonable to follow the principle of geographic proximity, whereby the imported items originated from the nearest possible region.

32. In Scandinavia most of the latest stone axes were found in eastern Sweden (Baudou 1960, maps 29–34),
that is, in the region having the closest contacts with the opposite shore of the Baltic Sea.

From The Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Estonia, by Valter Lang