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The Comb Ceramic culture

3900–1750 BC
  • Culture
    The Comb Ceramic culture
  • Population
    3900 BC about 6000. 2000 BC about 10 000.
  • Fauna
    Koer

At the end of the V millennium and beginning of the IV millennium BC, population migrations took place in the forest zone of Europe, not leaving also the Estonian territory untouched. The Comb Ceramic culture developed, which at its largest extent included contemporary Finland, a part of northern Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, part of Lithuania, Belarus and Western Russia. Similar clay vessels (fig. 1) as well as stone and bone tools began to be manufactured in regions that had differentiated from each other over millennia. Large contact networks emerged, through which amber of limited natural distribution, many varieties of flint, metatuff and in the northern regions also copper as raw material and manufactured goods spread in the entire cultural area (fig. 2). Two stages are differentiated in the Estonian Comb Ceramic culture (3900-1750 BC): typical and late, the boundary being c. 3500 BC, in which until then in a relatively uniform cultural area regionally specific features re-emerged in the making of clay vessels, use of stone, etc. For the last millennium or so, the Comb Ceramic culture coexisted alongside another culture – the Corded Ware culture (2800-2000 BC).

Reconstruction of a Comb Ceramic pot found at the Jägala Jõesuu I settlement site.
Figure 1. Reconstruction of a Comb Ceramic pot found at the Jägala Jõesuu I settlement site. (Photo: Aivar Kriiska).
Objects made from “exotic” materials used by people of the Comb Ceramic culture in Estonia: : 1 – a chisel from Nurmeküla, made from Karelian metatuff, 2 – an amber necklace originating from the west coast of Latvia or Lithuania, found at the Tamula I settlement site, 3 – an arrow head found at the Tamula I settlement site, made from flint from the central region of European Russia, 4 – a ring adornment made from Karelian metatuff.
Figure 2. Objects made from “exotic” materials used by people of the Comb Ceramic culture in Estonia: : 1 – a chisel from Nurmeküla, made from Karelian metatuff, 2 – an amber necklace originating from the west coast of Latvia or Lithuania, found at the Tamula I settlement site, 3 – an arrow head found at the Tamula I settlement site, made from flint from the central region of European Russia, 4 – a ring adornment made from Karelian metatuff. (PäMu 3 A 538 (Bo47), AI 3960:256, AI 3912: 3144, AI 3867:221). Photos: Aivar Kriiska.

People of the Comb Ceramic culture lived mostly on the shores of inland bodies of water or along the coast. Almost a hundred (fig. 3) of their settlement sites, which include both short-term resting places and remnants of hunting and fishing camps as well as village sites, have been discovered in Estonia. Dwellings were above ground, in the coastal regions also with the floor dug slightly underground. Food was procured by fishing, hunting and gathering, the only domesticated animal being the dog. The burial customs of the Comb Ceramic culture were manifold. Most of the people were buried in a way that has left no archaeologically tracable remains. A part of the deceased were, however, inhumed in a supine or crouched position into graves in living areas or their vicinity. So far, the remains of more than thirty individuals of the Comb Ceramic culture have been unearthed. Objects have been found in graves that were placed by the body or attached to clothes. The grave goods as well the entire burial ritual likely had also a religious significance, as did the many animal and human figures made from bone, antler, amber and clay. Often bone and amber figures have been found in burial sites along with adornments made from animal tooth and bone. Pieces of clay figures indicate their deliberate shattering – a religious act – in dwellings and their vicinity. A central social unit for the people producing comb ceramics was presumably a community that was likely bound together by a common territory and kinship or perceived kinship. The population of the Estonian territory at that time was relatively small – it could have estimably reached a maximum of 6000 people in 3900 BC and 2000 BC up to 10,000 people in 2000 BC.

Archaeological excavations at the Jägala Jõesuu V settlement site of the Comb Ceramic culture in 2011.
Figure 3. Archaeological excavations at the Jägala Jõesuu V settlement site of the Comb Ceramic culture in 2011. (Photo: Aivar Kriiska)
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Read more

[dataset] Sikk, K., Kriiska, A., Johanson, K., Sander, K., Vindi, A, 2020. Estonian Stone Age settlement sites: a dataset. Zenodo data.

References

Гурина Н. Н. 1967. Из истории древних племен западных областей СССР (по материалам нарвской экспедиции). (Материалы и иссле дования по археологии СССР 144.) Наука, Ленинград.

Янитс Л. Ю. 1959. Поселения эпохи неолита и раннего металла в приустье р. Эмайыги (Эстонская ССР). Институт истории Академии наук Эстонской ССР, Таллин.

Jaanits, L., Laul, S., Lõugas, V., Tõnisson, E. 1982. Eesti esiajalugu. Eesti Raamat, Tallinn.

Kriiska, A. 2004. Aegade alguses. 15 kirjutist kaugemast minevikust. A. Kriiska, Tallinn.

Kriiska, A. 2015. Foreign materials and artefacts in the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE Estonian Comb Ware complex. – When Gods Spoke. Researches and Reflections on Religious Phenomena and Artefacts. Studia in honorem Tarmo Kulmar. (Studia Orientalia Tartuensia, Series Nova, VI.). (Toim.) P. Espak, M. Läänemets & V. Sazonov. University of Tartu Press, 107–124.

Kriiska, A., Lang, V., Mäesalu, A., Tvauri, A. & Valk H. 2020. Eesti esiajalugu I. Eesti esiajalugu. Tartu Ülikooli ajaloo ja arheoloogia instituut, Tartu.

Tõrv, M. 2016. Persistent Practices. A Multi-Disciplinary Study of Hunter-Gatherer Mortuary Remains from c. 6500–2600 cal. BC, Estonia. (Dissertationes archaeologiae Universitatis Tartuensis, 5.). University of Tartu Press, Tartu.

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