Stone Age Hunting Megastructure Discovered in Baltic Sea

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A team of archaeologists from Germany has discovered a submerged Stone Age megastructure in the Western Baltic Sea at a water depth of about 21 m. The structure was likely constructed by hunter-gatherer groups more than 10,000 years ago and ultimately drowned around 8,500 years ago; since then, it remained hidden at the seafloor, leading to a pristine preservation that will inspire research on the lifestyle and territorial development in the larger area.

An artist’s reconstruction of the Blinkerwall in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany. Image credit: Michał Grabowski.

The Stone Age megastructure was discovered in the Bay of Mecklenburg, about 10 km northwest off Rerik, Germany.

The stonewall is made of 1,673 individual stones which are usually less than 1 m in height, placed side by side over a distance of 971 m in a way that argues against a natural origin by glacial transport or ice push ridges.

Dubbed Blinkerwall, it was built by hunter-gatherers that roamed the region after the retreat of the Weichselian Ice Sheet.

Running adjacent to the sunken shoreline of a paleolake (or bog), whose youngest phase was dated to 9,143 years ago, the structure was likely used for hunting the Eurasian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).

“At the time, the entire population across northern Europe was likely below 5,000 people,” said Dr. Marcel Bradtmöller, a researcher at the University of Rostock.

“One of their main food sources were herds of reindeer, which migrated seasonally through the sparsely vegetated post-glacial landscape.”

“The wall was probably used to guide the reindeer into a bottleneck between the adjacent lakeshore and the wall, or even into the lake, where the Stone Age hunters could kill them more easily with their weapons.”

Morphology of the southwest-northeast trending ridge that hosts the Blinkerwall and the adjacent mound. Image credit: Geersen et al., doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121.

Morphology of the southwest-northeast trending ridge that hosts the Blinkerwall and the adjacent mound. Image credit: Geersen et al., doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121.

The Blinkerwall represents one of the oldest documented man-made hunting structures on Earth, and ranges among the largest known Stone Age structure in Europe.

“Our investigations indicate that a natural origin of the underwater stonewall as well as a construction in modern times, for instance in connection with submarine cable laying or stone harvesting are not very likely,” said Dr. Jacob Geersen, also from the University of Rostock.

“The methodical arrangement of the many small stones that connect the large, non-moveable boulders, speaks against this.”

Using modern geophysical methods, the researchers created a detailed 3D model of the Blinkerwall and reconstructed the ancient landscape.

The site was also visited and inspected by a team of scientific divers from Rostock University and the State Authority for Culture and Monuments in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania on one occasion.

The dives primarily aimed at assessing the nature of the stonewall and to survey the surrounding seabed for the presence of possible archeological artifacts.

They concentrated on two locations, namely the western end of the structure and a large stone in the center where the Blinkerwall changes direction.

While neither artifacts or dateable organic material was found in the immediate vicinity of the two dive locations, a small timber sample was retrieved from the Holocene sediments about 10 m to the south of the structure.

3D model of a section of the Blinkerwall adjacent to the large boulder at the western end of the wall. Photographs were taken by Philipp Hoy, Rostock University. The scale bar at the top-right edge of the image is 50 cm. Image credit: Geersen et al., doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121.

3D model of a section of the Blinkerwall adjacent to the large boulder at the western end of the wall. Photographs were taken by Philipp Hoy, Rostock University. The scale bar at the top-right edge of the image is 50 cm. Image credit: Geersen et al., doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121.

“Although numerous well-preserved archaeological sites from the Stone Age are known from the Bay of Wismar and along the coast of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, these are located in much shallower water depths and mostly date to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (7,000-2,500 BCE),” said Dr. Jens Auer, a researcher at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Office for Culture and Monument Preservation.

“We have evidence for the existence of comparable stonewalls at other locations in the Mecklenburg Bight. These will be systematically investigated as well,” added Dr. Jens Schneider von Deimling, a researcher at Kiel University.

“Overall, the investigations can make a significant contribution to understanding the life, organization and hunting methods of early Stone Age hunter-gatherers.”

The team’s paper was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Jacob Geersen et al. 2024. A submerged Stone Age hunting architecture from the Western Baltic Sea. PNAS 121 (8): e2312008121; doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121

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