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The project is funded by the Faculty of Arts, Aarhus University

This project focuses on the first presence of modern humans in southern Scandinavia during the Late Glacial (14,500-14,000 years ago), linked to the so-called Hamburgian culture. A reindeer specialized hunter-gatherer culture, generally understood as reflecting a culture-historical epoch with an unbroken use of the recently deglaciated landscape.

The Hamburgian culture is traditionally divided into an earlier, more eastern ‘classic’ and a later, more north-western ‘Havelte’ phase, and ends abruptly at around 14,000 years ago. Rather than differing substantially in their lithic repertoire or their subsistence economy, however, the two phases of the Hamburgian culture diverge only in their diagnostic projectile point forms. A chronological as well as spatial overlap is also observed, making the basis for, and meaning of, this division of phases somewhat problematic. Currently, no robust answer for this clear yet curious division exists.

The project proposed here therefore seeks novel explanations for the shift from ‘classic’ to ‘Havelte’ and the latter’s sudden disappearance. The hypothesis of the project is that (i) the change from ‘classic’ to ‘Havelte’ was driven by a dispersal process linked to individual decision making, and that (ii) the disappearance of the ‘Havelte’ phase and with it the entire Hamburgian culture, can plausibly be linked to a demographic collapse. The project aims to address these questions by:

  • Using a mixed-method approach to identify the artefactual signatures of individuals in order to quantify and hence qualify the technological and morphological variability inherent in the Hamburgian culture;
  • Deploying ethnographic data on hunter-gatherer demographic collapse as part of quantitative models that reconstruct past population dynamics; 
  • Using climate datasets of the Last Glacial Maximum with the archaeological data of the Hamburgian culture, in order to evaluate the relationship between the archaeological record and climate conditions in time and space and by doing so, construct distribution models for the Hamburgian culture.

The aim of the project is therefore to generate new empirical data through these multi-scalar analytical tracks. If the hypothesis is correct, we will need to significantly re-think how we conceptualize Palaeolithic ‘cultures’ in general, how we see hunter- gatherers adapting to climate change and how vulnerable such groups are to changing climates. This particular and iconic episode of the ‘first immigration’ of people into what is today Denmark may need to be substantially revised. The first papers arising from this project are being published. This project contributes to theme [1] Fundamental Biodiversity Dynamics and theme [4] Interdisciplinary Innovations of BIOCHANGE.

Principal investigator

Felix Riede

Professor School of Culture and Society - Department of Archeology and Heritage Studies

Affiliated staff

Jesper Borre Pedersen

External TAP School of Culture and Society - Department of Archeology and Heritage Studies