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Prehistoric and Ancient Estonia

Mesolithic

Up to the end of the last glaciation, about 10 thousand years B.C., the territory of Estonia was not inhabited by people.

The earliest traces of the presence of people are associated with the Kunda culture (named for the city of Kunda in Estonia). The oldest known settlement is the Pulli settlement, located on the banks of the Pärnu River, near the town of Sindi in southwestern Estonia. It dates from a period of about 9500–9600 B.C. Also connected with the Kunda culture is the Lammasmäe settlement in northern Estonia, dated no later than 8500 B.C. Bone and stone products of the Kunda culture were also found elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Latvia, in the north of Lithuania and in the south of Finland. For the manufacturing of cutting tools they used mainly flint and quartz. According to linguist Paul Ariste, a few words from the language spoken by people during the period of Kunda culture remained in Estonian. One of these words küla (village) indicates, according to Tarmo Kulmar, the presence of a semi-nomadic form of collective life.

Neolithic

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The beginning of the Neolithic was marked by the appearance of the ceramics of the Narva culture, which appears in Estonia at the beginning of 5 thousand B.C. The earliest finds date from around 4900 B.C. The first pottery was made of thick clay, which was mixed with pebbles, shells, or plant stems. Narva-type pottery was found along the entire coast of Estonia and on the islands. Stone and bone products of this culture have a very high similarity with the products of the previous Kunda culture.

Around the beginning of 4 thousand B.C. Pitty-comb pottery culture appears in Estonia (Narva, Valma, Tamula burial grounds). Carriers of the patched-pottery culture were laid in burial figures of animals, birds, snakes and people, carved from bone and amber. Products of this culture are also found in vast neighboring territories, from Northern Finland to East Prussia.

Around the early 1980s. historians have not questioned the Finno-Ugric origin of the tribal cultures of pin-pottery. A number of researchers even claimed that the pre-Uralic language was common in Estonia and Finland since the last glaciation, although this viewpoint did not enjoy the support of the majority. Currently, archaeologists are more cautious about the relationship between languages ​​and phenomena of material culture. According to one hypothesis, the increase in the number of settlements during this period was associated with a general warming of the climate, which caused the development of a producing economy. The language of the hollow-comb ceramics culture is usually called “Pale-European”. Representatives of the comb-pottery culture from the Kudruküla site in Estonia have defined the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1a5-YP1272 and the mitochondrial haplogroup U5b1d1, U4a, U2e1.

Copper Age

The beginning of the late Neolithic – copper age around 2200 B.C. characterized by the emergence of a culture of corded stoneware – battle axes, for which, as the name implies, corded stoneware adornments and well-polished stone “navicular” axes were typical. The availability of agriculture can be judged by the charred grains of wheat on the walls of the vessels of corded stoneware found in the settlement of Ira. According to the analysis of bone remains, attempts were made to domesticate a wild boar.

Specific burial rites are associated with this culture. The body lay on its side, knees pressed to the chest, and one hand was placed under the head. Funerary gifts were usually objects made from the bones of domestic animals.

Bronze Age

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Estonia dates back to about 1800 B.C. At that time, the border between the Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes was forming. The construction of the first fortified settlements began, Asva and Ridala on the island of Saaremaa and Ira in Northern Estonia. The spread of bronze contributed to the development of shipbuilding. There was an exchange of burial customs. A new type of ritual burials spread from Germany to Estonia: burials in stone cysts and burials with cremation were more and more spread along with a small number of burials in the form of a stone boat. 3470–3545 years ago, the Kaali meteorite fell on the island of Saaremaa.

Dorim Iron Age

The Dorim Iron Age began in Estonia around 500 B.C. and lasted until the middle of I century B.C. The earliest iron products were imported, although starting from the 1st century iron was smelted from ore mined in local marshes and lakes. Settlements are usually located in places where the features of the landscape provide opportunities for defense. The appearance of square Celtic fields in Estonia, surrounded by fences, as well as most of the stones with man-made protrusions, allegedly associated with magical rituals to increase grain yields, dates to this time. A new type of grave appears – quadrangular burial mounds. Funerary traditions point to the beginning of social stratification.

Roman Iron Age

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The Roman Iron Age in Estonia dates from approximately 50–450 A.D. Although the territory of the Roman Empire did not reach the coast of the modern Baltic countries, the cultural and economic influence of Rome reached these lands, and this is the reason for the name of the era. In material culture, the era is reflected in the findings of a few Roman coins, a number of jewelry and other products. The abundance of iron artifacts in southern Estonia speaks of close ties with the European continent, while the islands of western and northern Estonia are connected to the continent by sea.

By the end of this period, three tribal (as well as, apparently, dialectal or language) zones were formed: northern, southern and western Estonia (including islands). The population of each of these zones had its own identity, rituals, lifestyle, and cultural characteristics.

The name “Estonia” is probably associated with the Aestian tribe who lived on the shores of the Baltic in the 1st century and were mentioned in “Germany” Tacitus. However, judging by the details mentioned, Tacitus was not talking about the Finno-Ugrians, which include modern Estonians, but about the Baltic tribes that lived in the territory of modern western Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region. In the 13th century Scandinavian sagas, the term “ Estonians ” is already clearly associated with the ancestors of modern Estonians.

Sources:
History of Estonia 2nd Edition. Tõnu Tannberg, Ain Mäesalu, Tõnis Lukas, Mati Laur and Ago Pajur

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