Narva culture

Orfeas Katsoulis | Oct 31, 2023

Table of Content


The Narva culture is a Mesolithic culture extending in time to the Neolithic, with a geographical spread from Nyemen to Ladoga from Estonia in the north through Latvia and Lithuania to Belarus. The first Stone Age ceramic culture in the Baltic Sea region, the Narva culture, evolved from the Kundak culture and was a precursor of the Kamkeramic culture.

The people of the Narva culture had little access to flint and had to trade for it and save on its use. The culture had few flint points and the flint was often reused. The Narva culture used local materials such as bone, horn and mica slate. As evidence of exchange, researchers found pieces of pink flint from the Valdaj Heights and very typical Narva pottery in the Neman culture settlement area, while no Neman culture objects were found among the Narva people. Bones and horns were important materials in the Narva culture. The tools made of bone continued from the predecessor Kundak culture, and leave the best evidence for the continuity of the Narva culture during the Neolithic period.

The livelihood was fishing, hunting and gathering. The main prey was deer and wild boar. Less hunted species were beaver, bear and wild horse. Fur-bearing animals were also hunted, including martens. Ringed and grey seals were caught on the islands and along the coast.

Narva culture is traditionally seen as a hunter-gatherer economy, but the economy changed from exclusively wild resources during its earliest phase to a livestock component during the Middle Neolithic period of Scandinavia. Zvidze in eastern Latvia has 19% domestic animal bones in the soil layer dated to MN A (4540±60 - 4370±80 BC). As for narva sites contemporary with the Scandinavian Early Neolithic, there are data from Šventoji 4B

The largest and richest burial site in the culture has been found in Zvejniek in northern Latvia. There, the burial traditions of the Kanda culture have continued. There are graves with supine, prone and lateral positions. The buried were covered with red ochre that completely covered the body. Working tools, hunting weapons and animal tooth pendants were found in the graves. The dead were usually buried on their backs with few grave goods.

Narva ceramics are similar in their forms and methods of manufacture throughout the cultural period. The Narva culture used two types of vessel, large pointed-bottomed pots, sometimes more round-bottomed and in the shape of half an egg. Low bowls have been found which may have been used as lamps. The decoration is dominated by patterns with shallow pits, drawn lines and impressions with stamps also occur. Sometimes grass was used to scrape the surface. Completely undecorated vessels are also common.

The ceramics have similarities with the ceramics of the Kamkeramic culture but have some special characteristics. One of the most enduring features was the mixing of clay with other organic materials, usually crushed shells. In Estonia, crushed bark and plant parts were used. The ceramics were made of 6-9 cm wide bands of clay that were put together. It was dried and then fired in an open fire. It usually had small decorations around the edge. The vessels were wide and large, often equal in height and width. The bottoms were pointed or rounded and only the very youngest vessel forms had narrow flat bottoms. From the Middle Neolithic onwards, Narva pottery was influenced by, or merged with, ribbon pottery.

The dates of the narva culture from the Zvidze locality in Latvia, a stratified inland locality located in the eastern part of the country, are available in large numbers with results from the Middle Mesolithic to the Middle Neolithic. The dates from the Narva culture span the range 6535±60 - 5320±50 BC. This is a long series of dates and it is fairly certain that the pottery appears before 5300 BC in the Narva culture, and perhaps as early as 5500 BC.

In parts of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and western Russia, the so-called Late Narva culture also existed during the Early Neolithic period. During this phase of the Narva culture there are local variants of Narva ceramics, such as classical Narva, sarnate, piestinia, usviaty, variants which may be different styles or separate local cultural variants. As before, there are two types of vessels, usually lace-bottomed pots and low ceramic lamps. During the Early Neolithic, rock-fired pottery begins to appear. The vessels are often vertically stratified on the surface, the decoration is dominated by ridge stamps and pits. The decoration of the Late Narva pottery is sometimes borrowed from the Eastern funnel beaker culture (simple stamps, notched lines, cross-wires and string decorations). Imported funnel beakers have also been found in Zvidze.

For a long time, archaeologists believed that the first inhabitants of the region were of Finno-Ugric origin who had been pushed northwards by the Bandkeramic culture. In 1931, the Latvian archaeologist Eduard Sturm noted that artefacts found near Lake Zebrus in Latvia were different and possibly belonged to a different archaeological culture. In the early 1950s, settlements along the Narva River were excavated. Lembit Jaanits from Estonia and the Russian archaeologist Nina Gurina arranged the finds with similar artefacts from the eastern Baltic region and described the Narva culture. They both excavated at Riigiküla, a very important settlement site for the Narva culture.

The Narva culture lasted differently in different parts of the cultural area; in Lithuania it lasted throughout the Neolithic period, or about 3,500 years. In Latvia it ended in the middle of the Neolithic period after 2000 years. In Estonia, it lasted only for the Early Neolithic period, or about 1000 years, before being replaced by the Kamkeramic culture that spread north from Karelia. At first it was thought that the Narva culture ended with the intrusion of the Bandkeramic culture, but recent research in Lithuania changed this to the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Narva culture spanned several thousand years and dominated a large area. Archaeologists tried to divide it into different local variants or chronological periods. In Lithuania, two regions can be distinguished, the southern one with influences from the Neman culture, and the western one with more important settlements found in Šventoji.

The discovery of narcotics culture

The 1950s is the decade when archaeological investigations in the Narva area took off. In Narva, hydroelectric power was to be expanded and the Russian N. Gurina began searching for Stone Age remains around Narva. 8 km north of the town of Riigiküla, opposite the Tõrvala site, she discovered first one and then two more Neolithic settlements Riigiküla I-III. Already in 1929 a farmer had found a stone wedge at Riigiküla and in 1938 a ring that had been brought to the local museum. N.Gurina discovered Riigiküla I in 1951, during its excavation Riigiküla II was discovered and in 1952 the third settlement Riigiküla III . She excavated the three settlements from 1951 to 1953. L. Jaanits inspected Riigiküla III in 1957 and in 1958 he carried out minor excavations. Riigiküla was inspected again in 1962, 1970 and 1991. During the 1991 inspection, the cultural layer at Riigiküla IV was examined, and phosphate was investigated.

Riigiküla settlements are located on the northwestern part of a sandy hill formed by the Litorina Sea. Today the settlements are located on the banks of the Narva and Tõrvajõe rivers. Narva pottery, typical chambered pottery and late chambered pottery have been found at all three settlements. Typical chambered pottery predominated at Riigiküla I-II and Narva pottery at Riigiküla III (Gurina, 1967, p. 49).

The cultural layer in settlement I was 40-70 cm thick and 1.2 metres deep where the dwellings had stood. Two dwelling sites were investigated. Both were located parallel to the beach. The northern one was circular with a diameter of 8 m and sunk 30 cm into the sand layer. The centre of the house had a round hearth without stones. At the same level on the eastern side of the building, a grave of an adult male lying on his back was found. No grave goods could be associated with certainty with the grave (Gurina, 1967, p. 22-23). The southern building had an oval ground plan, with a diameter of 6-8 meters. It was also sunk 30 cm into the sand. The southern side of the building had a protrusion that was square (Gurina, 1955, p. 160). Near the western wall was a stoneless hearth about 1 meter in diameter and in its center was discovered a child's skeleton, in an extended supine position. Grave goods may have been fragments of a large vessel of late chambered pottery at the feet and a small scraper. (Gurina, 1967, p. 29).

Two hearths were found outside the dwellings. Numerous finds of arrowheads, scrapers, needles, knives, sharpened stone tools and axes and wedges of slate and horn, arrowheads and fishing spears of bone, pendants and beads made of bird's paw bone (Gurina, 1967, pp123, 138 and 141).

The cultural layer was about 50-60 cm thick. Stones from hearths were found further down in the ground and also some waste pits (Gurina, 1967, p. 16). Flint scrapers, arrowheads and flake cores were discovered along with small quartz tools and slate pendants. Few bone finds were found, a wedge of bone and spiked bone flake (possibly a gadget) (Gurina, 1967, p. 60).

The cultural layer was mostly 70 cm thick but up to 1 meter in places. A submerged hearthstone and some waste pits were excavated. Relatively few stone tools were found, arrowheads and scrapers of local flint of poor quality, plus saw pieces of quartz, horn wedges, axes, bone points and fishing spears together with tooth pendants (Gurina, 1967, p 46). The rarest find was a small elk horn sculpture depicting the neck and head of an elk. The find of the sculpture was discussed in L. Jaanits Jooni kiviaja uskumustest, in Religiooni ja ateismi ajaloost, 1961 (Stone Age Faith in History, Religion and Atheism p. 9).

The site was excavated in 1995 by Aivar Kriiska and the majority of the finds were from the Narva culture, although other finds were also made. The site is described in detail in the work ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS ON THE NEOLITHIC SITE OF RIIGIKÜLA IV

Grouping of culture in Estonia

The narcotics culture is not homogeneous in its area of distribution. The differences are mainly in the pottery and have created several local groups. In Estonia, Jaanits has distinguished three regions: north-eastern Estonia, south-eastern Estonia and Ösel. According to the latest reports from Dagö, this island is to be united with Ösel, forming a local group in the Western Estonian islands. In modelling technique, surface treatment and decoration, the ceramics from the islands are similar to the ceramics from the mainland of Estonia. The distinctive feature of the islands is the mineral admixture in the vessels and deep pits at the mouth edges. The differences between mainland Estonia are relatively small. The common organic admixture consists of either plant material or shells. Chimney print dominates the decoration often as a graduated comb motif. Southeast Estonia differs by having a little more decoration and also a greater proportion of stripes in the decoration.

Kroodi, 15 km from Tallinn on the shore to the outlet of the lake at Maardu was found in 1933. It was test dug by Richard Indreko in 1936 and again by Lembit Jaanits in 1960. 470 finds were collected of stone 82 percent quartz and 11.5 percent flint. Most of them are rejects. There were 9 blades and 37 objects that are secondarily worked, including 29 scrapers, 6 needles and a stickel-scraper and an arrowhead. Sharpened artifacts consist of only one two-bladed stone axe. 18 net sinks are notable. Ceramics in two groups: 42 sherds with mineral admixture and highly polished surface cannot be classified, but 404 sherds are of Narva type. They are mixed with organic material and often cracked where clay bands have joined. They are made of 2 to 17 mm u-shaped strips. The clasts have been stratified and smoothed. Only 4.2% of the sherds are decorated with comb stamps as the dominant motif. Grooves and scratches also occur.

The Vihasoo III site is located on the banks of Loobu jögi near Loksa, it was found in 1995 and investigated in 1995 and 1996. The settlement finds were 561 stone finds, 84.7 percent quartz, 3.0 percent flint and 2.2 percent sandstone. The majority are rejects and 13 leaves. Only 14 are artifacts with secondary processing, all scrapers. A unique find is a long blade knife with an arched head of black flint that does not come from Estonia. The number of pot sherds is 113. The vessels are made of clay with organic admixture. The surface is smoothed or streaked but without ornamentation.

Icha settlement

The settlement is one of the three early Neolithic and five later Neolithic settlements in the wetland of Lake Lubāna. The settlement was discovered by A. Turnis in 1937, when dredging and straightening works of the river Iča were carried out. Until the end of the 1930s, only the Middle Neolithic cultural layer, which had survived in the raised part of the settlement on the left bank of the Iča Vecupe, was discovered. The first archaeological excavations under Eduard Sturm in 1938 and 1939 showed that the hilltop settlement was inhabited during the Middle Neolithic Camceramic culture. Older material was also found in the dredge bank during the excavations. The settlement was located on a Neolithic communication route between the northern part of the Lubān wetland and the lowlands of eastern Latvia.

The settlement is located on the left bank of the Iča Vecupe, which is the Aiviekste - a tributary of the Daugava, flowing from Lake Lubana. The settlement is located between Salas Hill and the former Lake Vēju on the left bank of Iča, which has now drained and dried up. The lake was located 1750 m downstream from the Iča settlement. The river Icha flows from the Latgale highlands, from Lake Čakšu. The river ran 28 km through the Lubana wetland. If you wanted to find earlier traces, you would have to search at lower elevations.

The settlement was inhabited for about three thousand years from the Early Neolithic period 4500 BC and was only completed in the Early Bronze Age. The archaeological excavations resulted in 2,147 recovered fragments of pottery and 516 other finds. The settlement at Icha is an important settlement south of the Early Neolithic Narva culture. At Icha there was also a workshop for processing amber.

The 1964 excavations by Francis Zagorskis covered 16 square metres and concerned only the Cambrian part of the site.

During the archaeological excavations in 1988 and 1989, which were planned for the construction of an embankment on the left bank of the Icha River at the Neolithic settlement of Icha. Archaeological expedition from the LAS Institute of History under the leadership of Ilze Loze excavated a total of 463.5 m². The early and late Neolithic layers were underneath each other. As a result of these excavations, unmixed and absolutely undisturbed Neolithic cultural layers were discovered.

The cultural layer was characterised by good preservation conditions for bones and horns. Two of the Neolithic layers and a layer belonging to the Early Bronze Age could be separated. The Neolithic layers at Icha were formed as a result of intensive settlement by many people. Fragments of treated trees that could possibly be the remains of cranes were found at the younger settlement.

A ruined burial ground. Damaged graves were found in the settlement, including body parts (arms and legs) and parts of the skull (lower and upper jaw). The finds may belong to 7 or even more graves. They were found disturbed throughout the open area of the settlement. They belonged to both men and women. It is possible that the original burial site could have been located in the western part of the settlement. There is evidence for burials of people under the threshold of dwellings or in abandoned and unoccupied dwellings.

A total of 530 worked objects were found: bone and horn tools, slate tools, flint arrowheads, pots and knives, a fragment of a boat paddle, amber ornaments, a fragment of a female figure made of clay and a bone slab with engravings of human faces. The ceramics are represented by fragments of four different types - sherds with the involvement of plant parts and shells, i.e. Early Neolithic scareware, laceware and fabric-printed ceramics, and Early Bronze Age lubana ceramics.

In the Early Neolithic cultural layer exposed at a depth of 1.00-1.27 m in the lower part of the settlement of Icha in an area of 102.5 m², a dwelling had been flooded and had a partially healed 2.80 x 1.00 m hearth. Other early Neolithic hearths from dwellings were also found. Early Neolithic flint tools are represented by early arrowheads, knife-shaped shavings, micro-flakes and needles. Most of the finds belong to bone and horn tools, such as bone chisels and bone axes often made from worked metatarsal bones of large animals. The second most common group of tools was of elk and red deer antlers, which worked with horn branches.

The pottery of the Ischa settlement is characterised by pots with a conically narrow bottom, the clay mixed with crushed shells or plants that have disappeared during firing, leaving a porous pottery. The clay pots were used to store food and water. The decoration on the surface was created mainly by means of a stamp, often a convex short stick, ornaments arranged in horizontal or diagonal rows. Some pots were decorated with convex cuts, sometimes also with bulges.

Zvidze settlement

The settlement is located on the Lubāna plain in Ošupe parish in Smaudžo near Plūdmaļu. The settlement was inhabited for about 3000 years from the Late Mesolithic period from 6500 BC to about 4000 BC in the Neolithic period. The settlement was located on the shore of the then Lake Luban on a moraine slope that now forms a peninsula into what is today a landscape of lower lying marshes. It is an important site for the Mesolithic southern Cantabrian and early Narva cultures. In the Zvidze settlement amber was worked ,where ornaments and buttons and tubular beads were prepared. The oldest human image in Latvia, namely a three-sided bone plate with a schematic human image created, is a beautiful find belonging to the Mesolithic period.

Archaeological excavations of Zvidze started in 1973-1975, continued from 1981 to 1984 and later in 1999 and 2007 with Ilze Loze as the leader. The excavations were carried out in the central part of the settlement on an area of 449 m².

Traces of the settlement in earlier times have been studied at a depth of 1.80-2 metres. In the mud and gravel below, a horn-made báton de commandement (to use the French word) was found. Other horn and bone tools were also found, including three-sided and one-pronged spears of the kundakulture type used for spearing fish. In the settlement, so-called ice axes, horn axes made from the bones of large animals, typical of the Kunda-Lammasmegi settlement, have been found. Flintwork is represented by black flint shavings, scrapers and knives made from them. Wild boar, elk, red deer, brown bear, wild horse, otter and beaver were the prey and dogs the only domestic animals. Pike, perch and pike-perch dominated the fish. Some edible plants were also found, such as hazelnuts, nettles, white and yellow water lilies, as well as raspberries and strawberries.

During the Neolithic period with the Narva culture, three cultural layers were formed that lie above the mud layer on the slope. This period corresponds to the discovery of the long biconical bone arrows and the arrows with adat-shaped ends. Like the Mesolithic ones, these were made from the bones of large animals. Horn tools for skin preparation made of elk horn were also found. Early Neolithic pottery at the Zvidzebo site indicates that the predominant vessel type was straight, S-shaped profiled vessels and vessels with C-profile bellies were also found. The bowls were made round or oblong. A fragmentary human figure with both legs missing was also found. The exchange animals were largely the same as before. Important fish were pike, walleye, catfish and bream. For fishing, fixed trapping devices were used with two rows of barriers between which there was a trap along the shore of Lake Lubāna. The remains of the pine bark islands were also discovered here. These vessels, fixed in a fenced structure, were used to catch pike during their spawning.

In the Narva culture, several finds of animal and human images have been made. The most famous are the three moose costae from Šventoji. Marius Irsenas has described the material in the paper Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic stone age art in Lithunia and its archaeological cultural context.Three rods of the same type have been found at the Olenii Ostrov burial ground in Russian Karelia, and these have been dated to the period from the late 7000 BC to the mid-5000s BC (calibrated).

The Narva culture also used and traded amber, and some hundreds of objects were found in Juodkrantė. Some of these are human images in amber, they are depicted in Marius Irsena's work mentioned above. One of the most famous objects from the culture is a ceremonial staff carved out of horn, representing the head of a moose and found in Šventoji.

Religious interpretations

Marija Gimbutas was born in Lithuania and has written extensively on Baltic prehistory, including The Balts in English in the series Ancient peoples and places. She has become controversial for her theory of ancient Europe and its matriarchal culture. Excavations in the Šventoji settlement uncovered three beautiful ritual bone staffs with moose heads. Such staves may have been used in religious hunting ceremonies. In eastern Lithuania and Latvia, many deer figurines have been found. Assumption by analogy with other myths makes it likely that the Moose Goddess or Deer Goddess had life-giving powers according to a primitive imagination. Even contemporary Advent carols in Lithuania mention the female deer with nine horns.

There is an ongoing discussion whether the ethnicity of the Narva culture was Finno-Ugric or European, before the Indo-Europeans had settled here. It is also unclear how the Narva culture met with the Indo-European Bandkeram culture and the Klotamfora culture, and also how it relates to the formation of the Baltic tribes.

Kalevi Wiik considers the language in the culture to be an early variant of Eastern Finnish.


  1. Narva culture
  2. Narvakulturen
  3. ^ Hallgren, Fredrik (2008). Identitet i praktik- Lokala, regionala och överregionala sociala sammanhang inom nordlig trattbägarkultur. sid. 269. Läst 26 september 2023
  4. ^ Zinkevičius, Zigmas; Luchtanas, Aleksiejus; Česnys, Gintautas (2007). "Papildymai. Narvos kultūra". Tautos kilmė (in Lithuanian). Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas. Archived from the original on 2011-07-22.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Girininkas, Algirdas (2005). "Neolitas". Lietuvos istorija. Akmens amžius ir ankstyvasis metalų laikotarpis (in Lithuanian). Vol. I. Baltos lankos. pp. 120–128. ISBN 9955-584-90-4.
  6. a et b Algirdas Girininkas et Linas Daugnora : "the neolithic in East Lithuania" dans "A Hundred Years of Archaeological Discoveries in Lithuania, Society of the Lithuanian Archeology 2016
  7. a b c Kriiska ja Tvauri 2007, s. 48

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