CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020

B2: Transitions of Specialised Foragers (ca. 9500–5000 BCE)

Principle Investigators: Dr. Harald Lübke, Dr. Ulrich Schmölcke, Dr. John Meadows, Dr. Sönke Hartz
Staff: Dr. Daniel Groß


Research agenda

Workgroup meeting at the Duvenseeer Moor
Fig. 1. Workgroup meeting at the Duvenseeer Moor (© ZBSA).

This project will investigate the interplay of social and environmental transformations during the Early and Mid-Holocene period in Northern Germany with a focus on the increasing influence of humans on the environment. To this end, the available data of several well-investigated micro-regions are used together with additional archaeological and palaeo-ecological field-investigations with a multi-scalar, regional approach, which will explore the relationship of environmental changes, subsistence strategies, changes in social organisation and human impact on the environment.

Minimal invasive sampling of finds from the archive for radiocarbon dating
Fig. 2. Minimal invasive sampling of finds from the archive for radiocarbon dating (© ZBSA).

Transitions of Specialised Foragers

The Early Holocene on the North European Plain was traditionally perceived as a period of stable climatic period with some smaller climatic fluctuations. Among these, only the 8.2 event has been subject to intensive debate about the climatic influence on Mesolithic societies. However, direct evidence for effects on culture were lacking due to inadequate material or possibilities to test them due to the imprecise dating of the existing archaeological, palaeo-biological, and geological chronologies and inadequate connections to environmental proxies. Almost all typo-chronologies for the Mesolithic in the working area have been floating and not assigned to absolute dates and the subsistence spectrum has been understood just very generalized.

The subproject B2: “Transitions of Specialised Foragers” investigates the interplay of social and environmental transformations during the Early and Mid-Holocene period in Northern Germany with a focus on the increasing influence of humans on the environment. We use the available data of several well-investigated micro-regions together with new archaeological and palaeo-ecological field-investigations with a multi-scalar, regional approach, which explores the relationship of environmental changes, subsistence strategies, changes in social organisation and human impact on the environment.


Mesolithic specialized hunter-gatherers were highly efficient and for most parts resilient societies. They did not just respond to ecological changes, but had developed elaborate coping strategies. Their observable response to changes is rather connected to social responses than to environmental pressure. In our studies we could show that early Mesolithic societies seemingly reacted to changing environments by adjusting their coping mechanisms but also incorporated strategies of prey or forest management for maintaining their local supply.

It became clear that a continuous long-term transformation without bigger steps during the course of the Early and Mid-Mesolithic is a by far too simple model. With the increased detail richness and data availability, we understood that internal factors (e.g. territories, ideologies, cultural practises) played a more significant role in Mesolithic forager communities than external aspects (e.g. environmental change). Naturally, both spheres are clearly entangled and interacting with each other and therefore must not be analysed separately.

In our first focus region in south-eastern Schleswig-Holstein we put the typo-chronology on a firm basis while also continuing our research at ancient Lake Duvensee. While we were able to improve the understanding of the palaeo-topography and vegetation though close collaboration with F2 and G2, also the archaeological data base was significantly extended through survey field work including test-pitting of three sites. This led to the discovery of an undisturbed settlement (Duvensee WP 10) from a yet undocumented occupation phase. Hence we are now able to connect the occupation of the small islands at the western border of ancient Lake Duvensee without gaps from the Early Mesolithic to the late Mid-Mesolithic. In addition, it was possible to prove an early Mesolithic site (Lüchow LA 11) with excellent preservation conditions for organic finds in the shore zone at the southwestern edge of the former lake. Until now, such onshore riparian stations delivered at Lake Duvensee only unstratified surface finds without further evaluation potential.

The preservation conditions in Duvensee

Fig. 1: The preservation conditions in Duvensee are still good, as exemplified by this roe deer bone, but endangered by decreasing water levels (© ZBSA).

We did demonstrate how forager populations influenced their environment and – by doing so – initiated unintendedly processes which gradually resulted in transformations in their (hunting, gathering) behaviour and finally in processes of cultural transformations. While this has only been theorized before in our region, we could bring forward empiric data to prove that.

Further data was acquired about in which ways humans transformed and exploited ecosystems for their benefit. The creation of data (palaeobotanical, archaeozoological, stable isotope signals and others) to rate changes and transformations in the Mesolithic has been one of our main tasks as a consequence of the still patchy information available for this period. The new data we produced have vividly shown that the Mesolithic has undergone several transformations of different character with respect to diet, tool types, regionalisation, and interaction routes.

There is not a single transformation during the Mesolithic, but several less obvious transformations in different domains. Understanding their interaction will be a crucial aspect during the second phase of the subproject B2 to be able to distinguish between these with minor and major societal impact. As has been shown simple cause-reaction models have been overestimated for the Mesolithic and inherent transformations. The people have rather already actively, consciously and purposefully transformed their environment but, at the same time, also made profit out of good conditions. For understanding transformations in the Mesolithic it is thus highly demanded to disentangle natural and human influence on the ecosystems before the effect of the different domains is interpretable.

Research activities


The main research objective for 2016 was to setup the research programme and gain an overview of the available data in south-eastern Schleswig-Holstein. In this region we aimed to gain a picture of the Early Holocene occupation.


In 2017 we analysed archived and newly recorded material from south-eastern Schleswig-Holstein and our core area, ancient Lake Duvensee. This was done to reach a fine-grained typo-chronology of the Early Mesolithic, to better understand the Mesolithic landscape and identify possible regions of interest for hunter-gatherers. The three main foci have been:

1. Taking and analysing new samples from Duvensee and SE Schleswig-Holstein archives. To refine the typo-chronological framework and understand occupation patterns at Duvensee bog in detail, over 80 new radiocarbon samples were selected. Searching for new samples helped to better understand archived material from old excavations at different Duvensee sites.

2. New investigation at Duvensee. We excavated two sites not investigated up to now, to obtain dating samples to integrate them in the chronological framework. Through close collaboration with subprojects F3 and G2, we achieved a better understanding the vegetation and lake basin development at Duvensee.

SFB1266 Daniel Groß explains the stratigraphy at the site Duvensee Wohnplatz 10
Fig. 1. Daniel Groß explains the stratigraphy at the site Duvensee Wohnplatz 10 (© ZBSA).

3. Data management. The vast amount of data gained from past excavations was sorted, edited, and reformatted, to allow it to be used more effectively.


In 2018 we broadened our early Mesolithic key region south-eastern Schleswig-Holstein by surveys in the wider area and continued excavations in the Duvensee bog. To get an idea about the potential roaming area, knowledge about the former hydrology is essential, and consequently intensive archive work in the Landesarchiv (the regional State archival institution) with old maps and chronicles was done. We did this for reconstructing the Stecknitz river valley, which connected the ancient Lake Duvensee with the Elbe river valley and has thus been a wide territory that was easily accessible for local prehistoric foragers. Today it is heavily modified by the construction of the Elbe-Lübeck channel about 120 years ago. The investigations had the goal to detect areas within the Stecknitz river valley where early Holocene sediments are potentially preserved and were connected to stray finds of human artefacts from the Mesolithic.

The excavation in Duvensee lasted four weeks and served to check the preservation and the find composition at the site Wohnplatz 10. Besides six different features, we recovered more than 4,000 stone, charcoal and botanical finds. The intensive cooperation with F2 and G2 led to great progress in reconstructing the ancient lake bed and the development of the local vegetation. It is foreseeable that the understanding of the region will be significantly increased by our subproject but the connection of all existing data is still on its way.

SFB1266 The excavation uncovered more than 4,000 findsFig. 2. The excavation uncovered more than 4,000 finds (© ZBSA).

Another relevant part of B2’s work in 2018 is represented by the evaluation and analysis of the material from different Duvensee sites stored in the State Museum for Archaeology. We finished the digitization of over 120 maps and drawings from Duvensee Wohnplatz 11, improved the existing GIS-models and continued the recording of the lithic artefacts so that a connection of finds and plans is finally possible.

Generally, we continued our set work programme and extended our focus region for phase 1 (ancient Lake Duvensee) to the adjacent regions. Sampling and dating several artefacts provided us for the first time with a sound typo-chronology and hence information about the pace and velocity of artefact assemblage and cultural changes in the Early Holocene. The data from the region shows interesting gaps between the different tool types that are contemporaneous with climatic events (Bond event 5 and 6). Consequently, we are now reaching a database that enables us to, for instance, test the impact of the different climatic events on socio-cultural-developments.

SFB1266 one of the dated Mesolithic antler axes from the site TravenhorstFig. 3. One of the dated Mesolithic antler axes from the site Travenhorst (© ZBSA).

In addition to this, we proceeded in the planned focus region for phase 2 (Friesack, Brandenburg) with first investigations on the material of the old excavations from the 1980s headed by B. Gramsch. We carried on our archaeozoological studies and in close cooperation with F4 further radiocarbon, stable isotope and aDNA analyses of human remains from site Friesack 4 to reconstruct Early Mesolithic subsistence strategies. We developed first comparative models on the diversity and transformation of subsistence strategies in the North German Early Mesolithic.

We summarized the investigation results of our former DFG-project „Hohen Viecheln“ (DFG- Projektnummer 271652103), that was a prelude of our actual B2 research, for a final report that will be published in an edited volume in 2019 and used the data for our above mentioned comparative studies on Early Mesolithic sites.


After two successful campaigns in the modern peat bog at the site Duvensee WP 10, 2019 was aiming at finishind our survey work in the area by investigating three different Mesolithic sites with small testpits: Lüchow LA 11 is a lake shore site where we found evidence for hunting and fishing. The dig showed that intact refuse layers are present. In the small excavation we unearthed a completely worked wooden artefact of yet unknown use as well as several indications for intact refuse layers that were located underneath pine roots that must have grown there after the lake level dropped in the early Holocene. Another small test trench was opened at Duvensee WP 2 which is the first site ever excavated at ancient Lake Duvensee. The goal of this research was to investigate if undisturbed layers are still present and to gain new sample material. Clear indications for hunting were found here, too. Lastly, two weeks were spent at Duvensee WP 10. This site was excavated already in 2017 and 2018 and is mostly undisturbed. This year we aimed at comparing archaeological results and the geoRADAR measurements of subproject G2. The dig targeted an area of the site that was interpreted in the geophysical results as a small depression. The interpretation was correct and we found another littoral refuse layer of the site where several animal bones were preserved. With this, we have clear proof that the site was used for hazelnut roasting and hunting.

Apart from the fieldwork we presented our results at several conferences and participated in workshops. Additionally, we worked on the publication of the book “Working at the Sharp End: From bone and antler to Early Mesolithic Life in Europe”.

Documentation of the profile at Duvensee WP 2
Fig. 4. Documentation of the profile at Duvensee WP 2. (© Sigrid Alræk Dugstad)

Deposition of a grinding stone, articulated elk foot bones, and a knapping stone
Fig. 5. Deposition of a grinding stone, articulated elk foot bones, and a knapping stone. (© ZBSA)

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