Neolithic and early bronze age

NEOLITHIC, c. 5500 to c. 2300/2200 BC and EARLY BRONZE AGE, c. 2300/2200 – 1600 BC

In the middle of the 6th millennium BC the territory of Poland was populated by tribes coming in from beyond the Carpathian Mountains. These were no longer just hunters and gatherers. Instead, these peoples brought with them a new way of life based on land cultivation and animal husbandry, even if hunting and gathering remained an important source of subsistence for a long time yet to come.

Land under cultivation was deforested by burning the trees. The first farmers tilled the land with wooden hoes; soon, however, in the Middle Neolithic, a primitive colter was invented, facilitating the cultivation of larger stretches of fields located on higher ground. Different kinds of cereals were grown: wheat, barley, millet and possibly rye. The vertical handloom was also already in use (making use of flax and wool).

Animal husbandry developed as well, taking on importance as the population numbers grew and the climate changed to a drier and colder one. Primitive breeds of cattle were kept, as were pigs, goats and sheep. The horse was domesticated in the Late Neolithic.

One of man’s chief achievements in the Neolithic was the manufacture of ceramics. In Polish lands it was handmade and fired in fairly high temperatures, giving relatively durable vessels, used for the preparation and storage of foodstuffs and beverages. Clay crucibles and molds were also used in the emerging copper metallurgy.

Flint and stone processing techniques reached advanced stages of development. Polished battle axes were produced of different kinds of stone and pierced in order to be mounted on handles. Massive flint tools were made, including adzes which were of great importance in agriculture and carpentry. Moreover, blades more than 20 cm long were prepared as material for the production of all kinds of knives, points, sickles and other minor tools. Obsidian, which is volcanic glass, was also processed.

A growing demand for flint prompted the development of mining to extract flint from its rock matrix, either limestone or chalk. The resulting mines can be from a few to several meters deep and they form extensive mining fields, like the ones in Krzemionki and Świeciechów, for example. Flint extraction and processing was in the hands of specialized miners and flintknappers, thus initiating processes of professional task specialization.

A developed trade and the need to move goods and products over long distances stimulated inventions in water and wheel transport. Wheels have been found among Neolithic artifacts and iconographic representations of carts on wheels are also known from this period. Excavations in Poland have brought to light artifacts undoubtedly originating from the Carpathians and Balkans, and even distant Asia Minor. In turn, banded flint from Krzemionki was carried for up to 660 km away from the mines.

A growing population and active relations between different communities led to the emergence of big settlements populated by up to even a few thousand people. New timber buildings constructed on the ground in various carpentry techniques appeared next to the standard sunken huts. The houses were usually accompanied by pits in the ground serving as stores for grain, rubbish dumps, etc.

The material culture which is revealed in excavations, considered in the light of ethnographic parallels, as well as sociological and psychological researches, opens before us a panorama of the rich spiritual life of Neolithic Man. Commonly found human and animal figurines of clay must have served an important role in fertility cults. Funerary rituals are relatively the best known with regard to this period. Large cemeteries appeared in the populated regions. The bodies were inhumed and furnished with grave goods, which included objects of everyday use, such as ceramic vessels, flint tools, weaponry, bone and shell ornaments, even copper artifacts. Earth mounds of different sizes were heaped over the graves and occasionally huge earth-and-stone or earth-and-timber structures were erected (megalithic tombs).
The transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Polish territories is usually assumed to have taken place about 2300–2200 BC. It does not seem to have been connected with any substantial changes in the economy. Animal husbandry supplemented with agriculture continued to predominate. Flint remained the chief raw material for tool production with copper and bronze putting in sporadic appearances, more frequently in the western parts of lands now within Polish territory. Settlements were no longer of the sizes encountered in the 4th millennium BC and they were situated in convenient locations, close to water sources. In the spiritual sphere, there is an obvious cult of the warrior’s ethos, which is translated into distinct gender differentiation in burial rituals.