Maritime Hunter-Gatherers in Northern Europe Were Growing Wheat and Barley 5,000 Years Ago

by johnsmith

An international team of archaeologists has unearthed 5,000-year-old grains of barley and wheat at the sites of the Pitted Ware culture in Sweden and the Aland archipelago (Finland). The researchers suggest that these hunter-gatherers adopted cereal cultivation from farmers of the Funnel Beaker culture and brought it to islands beyond the 60th parallel north.

Barley grains from the sites of the Pitted Ware culture. Image credit: Santeri Vanhanen.

Barley grains from the sites of the Pitted Ware culture. Image credit: Santeri Vanhanen.

“The grains found on Aland are proof that the Pitted Ware culture introduced cultivation to places where it had not yet been practiced,” said team member Santeri Vanhanen, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki.

“The 5,000-year-old barley grain from Aland is the oldest grain of cereal ever found in Finland.”

Vanhanen and colleagues also found a handful of barley and wheat grains a few hundred years younger, representing either common wheat or club wheat.

“We also dated one barley grain found in Raseborg, southern Finland,” Vanhanen said.

“This grain and the other earliest grains found in mainland Finland date back some 3,500 years, some 1,500 years behind Aland according to current knowledge.”

In addition to the cereal grains, the archaeologists found hazelnut shells, apple seeds, tuberous roots of lesser celandine and rose hips.

“We find it possible that the Pitted Ware population, which was primarily specialized in marine hunting, continued to grow plants as the practice provided the community with social significance,” Vanhanen said.

“From time to time, an abundance of pig bones are found at Pitted Ware sites, even though pigs were not an important part of their daily nourishment.”

“For instance, the bones of more than 30 pigs were found in a grave located on the island of Gotland.”

“The Pitted Ware people may have held ritual feasts where pigs and cereal products were consumed,” he said.

“It’s not inconceivable that grains might even have been used to brew beer, but the evidence is yet to be found.”

The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.


Santeri Vanhanen et al. 2019. Maritime Hunter-Gatherers Adopt Cultivation at the Farming Extreme of Northern Europe 5000 Years Ago. Scientific Reports 9, article number: 4756; doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-41293-z

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