Funnel Beaker Culture - First Farmers of Scandinavia

Where Did the First Farmers of Scandinavia Come From?

Reconstructed Funnel Beaker House, Archeon 2008
Reconstructed Funnel Beaker House, Archeon 2008. Hans Splinter

The Funnel Beaker Culture is the name of the first farming society in northern Europe and Scandinavia. There are several names for this culture and related cultures: Funnel Beaker Culture is abbreviated FBC, but it is also known by its German name Tricherrandbecher or Trichterbecher (abbreviated TRB) and in some academic texts it is simply recorded as Early Neolithic 1. Dates for the TRB/FBC vary depending on the exact region, but the period generally lasted between 4100-2800 calendar years BC (cal BC), and the culture was based in western, central and northern Germany, the eastern Netherlands, southern Scandinavia, and most parts of Poland.

The FBC history is one of a slow transition from a Mesolithic subsistence system based strictly on hunting and gathering to one of full-fledged farming of domesticated wheat, barley, legumes, and herding of domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats.

Distinguishing Traits

The main distinguishing trait for FBC is a pottery form called funnel beaker, a handle-less drinking vessel shaped like a funnel. These were hand-built from local clay and decorated with modeling, stamping, incising, and impressing. Elaborate flint and groundstone axes and jewelry made of amber are also in Funnel Beaker assemblages.

TRB/FBC also brought the first use of the wheel and plow in the region, the production of wool from sheep and goats, and the increased use of animals for specialized tasks. The FBC were also involved in extensive trade outside of the region, for large flint tools from flint mines, and for the latter adoption of other domestic plants (such as poppy) and animals (cattle).

Gradual Adoption

The exact date of the entry of domesticated plants and animals from the near east (via the Balkans) into northern Europe and Scandinavia varies with the region. The first sheep and goats were introduced into northwestern Germany 4,100-4200 cal BC, along with TRB pottery. By 3950 cal BC those traits were introduced into Zealand.

Before the advent of the TRB, the region was occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and, by all appearances, the change from Mesolithic lifeways to Neolithic farming practices was a slow one, with full-time agriculture taking between several decades to nearly 1,000 years to be fully adopted.

The Funnel Beaker culture represents a massive economic shift from almost total dependence on wild resources to a diet based on tended cereals and domestic animals, and it was accompanied by a newly sedentary mode of life in complex settlements, the erection of elaborate monuments, and the use of pottery and polished stone tools. As with the Linearbandkeramic in central Europe, there is some debate about whether the change was caused by migrants into the region or adoption of new techniques by the local Mesolithic people: it was likely a little of both. Farming and sedentism led to population increases and as the FBC societies became more complex they also became socially stratified.

Changing Landuse Practices

One important piece of the TRB/FBC in northern Europe involved a drastic change in land use. The darkly forested woodlands of the region were environmentally impacted by the new farmers expanding their cereal fields and pastured areas and by timber exploitation for building construction.

The most important impact of these was the construction of pasturages.

The use of deep forest for cattle foraging is not unknown and is practiced even today in some places in Britain, but the TRB people in northern Europe and Scandinavia deforested some areas for this purpose. Cattle came to play a prominent role in the switch to permanent farming in the temperate zones: they served as a food storage mechanism, surviving on fodder to produce milk and meat for their humans over the winter.

Plant Use

Cereals used by TRB/FBC were mostly emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and naked barley (Hordeum vulgare) and lesser amounts of free-threshing wheat (T. aestivum/durum/turgidum), einkorn wheat (T. monococcum), and spelt (Triticum spelta). Flax (Linum usitatissimum), peas (Pisum sativum) and other pulses, and poppy (Papaver somniferum) as an oil plant.

Their diets continued to include gathered foods such as hazelnut (Corylus), crab apple (Malus, sloe plums (Prunus spinosa), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), and blackberry (R. frruticosus). Depending on the region, some FBC harvested fat hen (Chenopodium album), acorn (Quercus), water chestnut (Trapa natans), and hawthorn (Crataegus).

Funnel Beaker Life 

The new northern farmers lived in villages made up of small short-term houses made of poles. But there were public structures in the villages, in the form of ditched enclosures. These enclosures were circular to oval systems made up of ditches and banks, and they varied in size and shape but included few buildings within the ditches.

A gradual change in burial customs is in evidence at TRB sites. The earliest forms associated with TRB are substantial burial monuments which were communal burials: they began as individual graves, but were reopened again and again for later burials. Eventually, the wooden supports of the original chambers were replaced with stone, creating impressive passage graves with central chambers and roofs made of glacial boulders, some covered with earth or small stones. Thousands of megalithic tombs were created in this fashion.

Flintbek

The introduction of the wheel into northern Europe and Scandinavia occurred during the FBC. That evidence was found at the archaeological site of Flintbek, located in the Schleswig-Holstein region of northern Germany, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Baltic coast near the town of Kiel.

The site is a cemetery containing at least 88 Neolithic and Bronze Age burials. The overall Flintbek site is that of a long, loosely connected chain of grave mounds, or barrows, approximately 4 km (3 mi) long and .5 km (.3 mi) wide, roughly following a narrow ridge formed by a glacial ground moraine.

The most prominent feature of the site is Flintbek LA 3, a 53x19 m (174-62 ft) mound, surrounded by a curb of boulders. A set of cart tracks were found beneath the most-recent half of the barrow, consisting of a pair of ruts from a wagon fitted with wheels. The tracks (direct-dated to 3650-3335 cal BC) lead from the edge to the center of the mound, ending at the central location of Dolmen IV, the last burial construction at the site. Scholars believe these were laid down by wheels rather than tracks from a drag cart, due to the "wavy" impressions in the longitudinal sections.

A Few Funnel Beaker Sites

  • Poland: Dabki 9
  • Sweden: Almhov
  • Denmark: Havnelev, Lisbjerg-Skole, Sarup
  • Germany: Flintbek, Oldenburg-Danau, Rastorf, Wangels, Wolkenwehe, Triwalk, Albersdorf-Dieksknöll, Huntedorf, Hude, Flögeln-Eekhöltjen
  • Switzerland: Niederwil

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