Chapter III

The Bronze and the Early Iron Age of the Maritime Balts

Around the eighteenth century B.C. the copper industry in the western Carpathian and eastern Alpine zone made remarkable progress, but the metal products of central Europe were not immediately transmitted to the Baltic area. In metallurgy, it remained peripheral, undoubtedly because in the whole region between the Baltic Sea and Russia there are no local sources of copper. The development of the metal culture depended entirely on imports from central Europe to the Baltic Sea area and from the Caucasian and southern Ural metallurgical centers to central Russia.

With the beginning of the European Bronze Age the proto-Baltic sphere became divided into several zones of influence. The western zone, covering eastern Poland, former East Prussia, and western parts of Lithuania and Latvia, was under the influence of the central European metallurgical centre, and throughout the Bronze Age its culture progressed with the same rhythm as in central Europe. In the eastern or continental zone, amid the forests extending from eastern Lithuania and Latvia to the upper Volga basin, the people retained an archaic character, with some influence from their southern neighbours in south Russia. This division continued throughout the remaining prehistoric times: the western Balts, ancestors of the Prussians and Curonians of history, were culturally similar to the people of central Europe — to the culture created by Illyrians and Celts — and to their western neighbours, the Germanic peoples. The eastern Balts were in active contact with the Finno-Ugrians, Cimmerians, proto-Scythians, and early Slavs. Thus the emergence of a vigorous metallurgical centre in


central Europe and of another in the southern Urals caused some differentiation of the material culture, which during Chalcolithic times had been much more uniform.

Amber Trade and the Spread of Metal

Since there were no copper or gold mines in the Baltic area, i what did the Balts barter for metals? What was it that the central Europeans so coveted as to make them want to exchange their goods for it? Why are the bronze hoards concentrated along the Oder and Vistula rivers, and along the Pomeranian and East Prussian coasts? The answer is: amber, the northern gold. It was not just the amber that we moderns use for jewellery; for our forefathers it was a “substance of the sun,” elektron, as the Greeks called it — an electric, shining substance, endowed with mystical powers. As precious as gold, it was sought by both the barbaric north and the civilized south. For the Baltic area it indeed became a magical “metal” — metallum sudaticum, or “exuded metal,” as Tacitus called it — a key to prosperity and a basic link with the rising central European culture and Mycenaean Greece.

There are no written records from the European Bronze Age era relating to amber, but the fanciful tales and myths mentioning this substance which circulated in Greece and Rome in classical times may have originated in the Bronze Age. It is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey: the King’s palace was resplendent in copper, gold, amber, ivory, and silver, and Penelope received a necklace of amber and gold, “like the Sun.”1 The connection of amber with the sun appears in the earliest historic records and the same relationship is certain to have existed during the whole of the Bronze Age.

Amber is the resin of the pine trees which grew some 60 million years ago on the south coast of Fennoscandia, situated above the northwestern point of the peninsula of Samland (55° N. and 19° to 20° E.). The shores with “amber pine” forests sank beneath the sea, emerged, and then again became submerged during subsequent geological ages. The resin petrified


in time and huge masses of it were washed up by the sea on what are now the south-eastern shores of the Baltic and on those of western Jutland. It is still found in deep layers in Sam, land and in Poland. The west of Samland and the north coast of the dune area of Frische Nehrung today supply the greatest quantity of amber. The next most abundant source is the area taking in Kuršių Nerija (Kurische Nehrung) and the Lithuanian and Latvian coasts. Some amber is obtained around the Bay of Danzig and in Pomerania. About 90 per cent of the world’s best amber comes from this south-eastern Baltic area.

Until the seventeenth–sixteenth centuries B.C. export of amber had not reached any great intensity. From the shores of the Baltic coasts amber traveled to western, central, and eastern central Europe; even so, amber amulets in the shape of rings with a hole for suspension, and roughly made beads were still quite rare, and amber was not yet shipped in bulk to the south. Metal finds were extremely scarce in the Baltic area. Bone ornaments, such as pins made in imitation of copper pins current in central Europe, were in use.

The beginnings of a transcontinental amber trade and of the Baltic Bronze Age occurred simultaneously. Amber was demanded by the rising central European Únětician culture and by Middle and Late Helladic Greece. When the Úněticians established their commercial relations with the Mycenaeans some time before or around 1600 B.C., the amber trade rapidly reached an amazing volume.

The central Europeans imported amber from the Balts and from the Germanic peoples in Jutland. It is estimated that at least 80 per cent of the graves of classical Únětice contained amber beads. This culture, dating from c. 1650 to 1550 B.C., was already a true Bronze Age culture, producing an enormous quantity of bronze axes, chisels, daggers, halberds, and ornaments. Globular or somewhat flattened spherical amber beads


are found in women’s and men’s graves and in hoards hidden by the traveling Únětician traders. Some huge hoards consisting of luxurious bronze objects — such as metal-hilted daggers, long and narrow double-axes, metal-shafted or wooden-shafted halberds, neck-rings, C-shaped bracelets, pins and hair-rings, gold wires and earrings, and including amber beads — are found along the lower Vistula and lower Oder rivers leading to the source of amber. This shows that the amber coasts were already known to central European prospectors and that they brought bronze and gold in exchange for amber from the local inhabitants. They paid for it with the most precious bronzes produced in central Europe and with gold ornaments some of which were imported from sources in Ireland. All over the Baltic coast from Jutland to Lithuania bronze and gold items from this period are being found. One of the metal-hilted halberds was discovered as far north as Veliuona in the district of Kaunas, in Lithuania. In the lower Vistula area, along the East Prussian coasts and particularly in the peninsula of Samland, appear bronze daggers, pins, bracelets, hair rings, and other typically Únětician artifacts. This peculiar distribution of earliest bronze objects in the East Baltic area can be explained in no other way than by their having been traded for amber.

Amber beads from the Bronze Age are found in a finished state in northern Poland, East Prussia, and Lithuania. That some work was done on them at the source is shown by considerable quantities of finished, half finished, and broken amber beads found in Juodkrantė on Kuršių Nerija (a narrow strip of land between the Baltic Sea and the Courish Lagoon), in western Lithuania. Another indication is that finished amber beads and pendants were exported to the northern East Baltic countries, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland, to north-western Russia, to Sweden and Norway, and even to eastern Russia and the Middle Urals; these beads and pendants found in the north have the same shape as those in the area of their origin.


Fig. 3. Principal amber routes during the Bronze Age between 1600 and 1200 B.C. The source areas are indicated by cross-batching

From the source area the amber was shipped to the Vistula. From the mouth of this river the route went south, but at the bend of the lower Vistula where it comes close to the Noteć (Netze), tributary of the Warta, the main supply turned westward, using the Warta and the upper Oder; the amber thus reached Silesia, eastern Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, western Slovakia, and lower Austria — the centre of the Únětice culture. From there the amber route continued along the Danube and


the Tisza to the Balkans. One branch went down to Italy. Greece may have been reached via the Adriatic Sea or its coasts (as is suggested by amber beads in western Greece) and also via the central Balkans.

In Greece amber beads appear throughout the Mycenaean period, starting with the earliest group of shaft-graves in Mycenae. Large numbers of spherical flattened beads and spacer beads came from the shaft graves excavated by Schliemann and dated to the period 1580–1510 B.C., and also from a more recently excavated grave circle at Mycenae, dating from a somewhat earlier period. A great many flattened spherical amber beads and spacers are also known from various tholos tombs of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C.

The Baltic amber has a high succinic acid content, from 3 to 8 per cent, which distinguishes it from the amber from other sources. As early as 1885 amber beads from the Mycenaean shaft-graves were chemically analyzed and proved to be of Baltic origin.2 Since then many analyses of subsequently discovered beads in Greece and Italy have shown the same results.

Inter-regional amber trade resulted in some peculiar objects from distant lands reaching the Baltic coasts. Thus, for instance, a statuette representing a Hittite deity of the air or lightning god was discovered in Šernai near Klaipėda in Lithuania.3 It must have come from Syria or Anatolia via Greece in the thirteenth century B.C., since almost the same kind of figurines have been found in Mycenae and Tiryns.

Agriculture and Stock Keeping

While gatherers of amber enjoyed the imported bronzes, the rest of the Baltic population could not afford to have metal tools and ornaments. For a long time metal must have been a luxury. Only flanged axes circulated throughout a larger area. For tilling soil the Balts used stone hoes with a perforation for inserting a haft, which persisted even in the Early Iron Age. A style of hoe developed whose head resembled a snake head. Hence they are called “snake-headed” hoes, or “East Baltic” or


Fig. 9. Baltic snake-headed hoe of stone from Latvia. 1:4

“Lithuanian” hoes, since they are found only in the Baltic area.4 Stone, flint, bone, antler, and wood were basic materials for tools and weapons throughout the period which is labeled Early and Middle Bronze Age in central Europe. A unique and most interesting find — an enclosure for accommodating animals in conjunction with a camp site — made recently in northern Poland south of the lake of Biskupin throws light on how the village community sheltered its animals.5 The enclosure, on an elevation in the middle of flat prairies, was 90 m. in length and 36 to 60 m. in width and surrounded by a ditch, 1.5 m. wide and 1.8 m. deep, and by a small rampart. The fortification had two entrances on the southern side. In the widened parts of the ditch were small huts of the wattle-and-daub type, apparently built for the shepherds. There were also other traces of habitation — fragments of pots, split animal bones, remains offish, fresh-water mussel shells, tools of flint, antler and bone, pieces of ochre, clay net-sinkers and fragments of a bronze pin. The finds indicate a date around 1500 B.C. Among the animal bones were those of cow, sheep, pig, horse (?), dog, deer, roebuck, and aurochs. The enclosure could have held about 500 head of cattle, sheep, and other animals when they were brought in from pasture to be milked, sheared, or the like. The fortifications protected the cows, pigs, and sheep from the attacks of wild animals.

The Western Balts and the Únětice Culture

By following the distribution of Baltic and Únětician pottery types it is possible to draw an approximate line of demarcation between the central European Únětician and the western Baltic cultures. The pottery of these two cultures differed considerably. The Úněticians usually did not decorate their pots, the Balts did so by deep incisions and ridges around the neck: In the fifteenth century B.C. the beakers developed into tulip-shaped pots with several rows of incisions below the neck, and radiating sun motifs in between the incised rows. In northern Poland this pottery is known as “Iwno” type, named after a


cemetery near Szubin.6 Another criterion for determining the boundaries is the difference in grave structures and grave furnishings. Únětician graves, under low barrows, were usually of bath-tub shape and built of stones. The Baltic ones were contained in timber huts or stone cists having stone pavements for floor, the earthen barrow encircled by timber posts. Inhumed bodies were in tree-trunk coffins.

During the Early as well as the Middle Bronze Age, the territory occupied by the Baltic culture had reached its maximal size. In the west, it covered all of Pomerania almost to the mouth of the Oder, and the whole Vistula basin to Silesia in the south-west. During no subsequent age was this culture found so widely; piece by piece it began losing its border lands. At the same time the central European Únětice culture grew progressively in wealth and power, until its influence reached all of continental Europe. Around 1400 B.C. it expanded to the Middle Danube basin and Transylvania, and its military power controlled a great part of the European continent.

Throughout the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. the Baltic culture, while influenced by the central European cultures, did not lose its identity. The grave types and the pottery kept their strong local character, showing that the western Balts in the area of present day northern and eastern Poland were not occupied or destroyed. The trade in amber did not diminish. About 400 sites showing a very uniform type of pottery, stone, and bronze industry are known from the area between Pomerania in the north and Volynia in the south.7 The feature common to these hundreds of sites, mostly located on dunes, is the large tulip-shaped beaker, plain or with horizontal incisions around the neck. This pottery dating from the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. is a development of the pottery of preceding centuries. In Polish literature it is known as the “Trzciniec culture,” after a place name in the district of Lublin.


Until the twelfth century, in spite of central European influences, the Baltic cultural bloc continued without major change. It was not until the second vigorous central European expansion, before and around 1200 B.C., that its culture was greatly affected. Then the entire south-western corner of the area in question — central, eastern, and southern Poland — was apparently occupied by the central Europeans.8

The Classical Baltic Bronze Age

In the Late Bronze Age the Baltic culture became increasingly resistant to and independent of its influential neighbours. Towards the end of the thirteenth century, between eastern Pomerania and the Bay of Riga and as far as the Warsaw region in the south, it began to develop its own characteristic metal culture. Metal ore was imported in greater amounts and local smiths were sufficiently trained to produce new forms of tools, weapons, and ornaments. Axes, pins, bracelets, and other ornaments took on a local character. Typically Baltic are: the graceful long Baltic battle-axes ornamented with horizontal furrows and striations; working axes with a wide, sometimes semicircular edge; pins with spiral heads, and pins with cylindrical horizontal heads. [Plates 4, 5, 6, and 7] These are the most characteristic products in bronze between the thirteenth and eleventh centuries. In the early first millennium B.C. local forms of spearheads and socketed axes were widely used. [Plates 8 and 9] Imports from central Europe, chiefly from the Lausitz area in what is now eastern Germany, continued and, as before, were concentrated in the lower Vistula area and in Samland, that is, in the places vital to the amber trade.


Fig. 10. Distribution of the Baltic culture, and its neighbours, in the Bronze Age. 1, Baltic Bronze Age culture of the western Bolts; 2, Fat’janovo culture (includes “Balanovo” variant of the Early Bronze Age and “Abashevo” of the Middle Bronze Age); 3, Central European Únětice-Tumulus culture; 3a, after the expansion to the middle Danube Plain and Transylvania in the Middle Bronze Age; 4, North Carpathian culture; Bilopotok of the Early Bronze Age, Komarov of the Middle Bronze Age, Vysocko-Bilogrudovka of the Late Bronze Age; 5, North Pontic Bronze Age culture before the Timber-grave expansion; 6, Timber-grave culture (proto-Scythian); 7, Turbino culture


Fig. 11. Distribution of typically Baltic stone and bronze artifacts: 1, flanged axes of the Early Bronze Age; 2, pins with large spiral heads; 3, bronze axes having almost semicircular blades and a concave shaft; 4, battle-axes of “Nortycken” type; 5, snake-headed hoes

The peninsula of Samland has yielded the greatest number of Late Bronze Age finds. From there come founders’ hoards including finished and unfinished bronze specimens and copper ore. One of these huge hoards was discovered at the begin, ring of this century in Littausdorf near Fischhausen; it contained 118 objects: sickles, spearheads, socketed celts, and bracelets. Some were broken, some defective. The sickle types were much the same as those used by the Lusatians in eastern Germany. This may indicate either that the local smiths traveled or that traders from central Europe reached Samland. Commercial relations were carried on also with the Germanic peoples. In the barrows of Samland were found several of the


spearheads and spiked tutuli of southern Scandinavian and northwest German type, and Baltic axes appeared in Denmark and southern Sweden.9

After the destruction of the Mycenaean culture by the central Europeans, the amber trade seems to have diminished, but not stopped. By the ninth century, amber reappeared in the Near East. On the banks of the River Tigris was found an amber statuette of Assurnasirpal, king of Assyria (885–860 B.C.), about 20 cm. high. It was made of Baltic amber, as shown by chemical tests. Whether the amber for this statuette traveled the eastern route, through Russia and the Caucasus, or through central Europe and the Phoenician trade routes in the Mediterranean, is still a matter for conjecture.

Late Bronze Age burial mounds, known from the coastal area and in particular from Samland, were surrounded by two or three stone rings. These barrows had been built over graves which were covered by a hemispherical stone vault. Graves of the thirteenth century B.C. contained inhumed bodies placed in tree-trunk coffins. Some time in the twelfth century inhumation gave place to cremation, whereafter the western Balts cremated their dead throughout the rest of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The custom came from central Europe, as did many other new ideas. As in central Europe, so also in the Baltic area the change was a gradual one; the tomb architecture and grave furnishings remained very much the same. Cremation first appeared in Pomerania and then spread eastward to East Prussia, Lithuania, and southern Latvia.

Barrows are found in groups, sometimes over a hundred in one place. They constitute the chief source of our knowledge of developments during the Late Bronze Age. Unfortunately we cannot form a complete picture in that we lack a cemetery with all the graves excavated. Cemeteries seem to have been located next to the villages, and barrows were placed at random or in a single row. The larger barrows, up to 3 m. high, were


apparently for chieftains or other important members of the community and their families, the smaller ones for the working class. From this particular Bronze Age period some chieftains” graves are known: one comes from the cemetery of Rantau near Fischhausen, in Samland.10 The inhumed man, who lies in an extended position within the coffin, was placed in the centre of a specially prepared platform of stones. He was equipped with a bronze sword. In the Baltic area swords do not appear in such great numbers as in central Europe, and certainly they were a sign of distinction. There were also in this grave a Baltic battle-axe, amber and blue glass beads, as well as a bronze bracelet and a pin. Comparisons of the sword and other specimens with those current in central Europe imply the thirteenth century B.C. The chieftain’s grave was covered by a hemispherical vault of stones, and other people, probably kin to the chieftain for whom the barrow was built, were later buried in the vault. The finds of secondary graves were of later type, and in addition, the barrow contained considerably later stone cist graves dating from the end of the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age. Thus from this barrow we obtain a good sequence of several chronological phases.

In Samland the classical tradition of tomb structure with stone circles and stone vaults was continued for a long period. Similar barrows are found in the whole coastal zone from eastern Pomerania to western Lithuania. In southwestern East Prussia and in southern Latvia mausoleum-like cemeteries have been discovered wherein hundreds of graves are compactly placed one above the other. A good example is the Workeim barrow in the district of Lidzbark Warmiński (former Heilsberg).11 This barrow is only 1.8 m. high and 13 m. in diameter, but it contains about 600 graves. Finds show several successive periods and date the barrow to about 1000–600 B.C. Another “mausoleum” comes from Rezne southwest of Riga.12 This one is 2 m. high and contains over


Fig. 12. Plan and section of a classical Baltic Late Bronze Age barrow, with a central stone vault and stone circles. Rantau near Fischhausen (now Primorsk), Samland. A, chieftain’s grave, thirteenth century B.C.; B-N, twelfth-century graves; O-S, later Bronze and Early Iron Age graves


300 graves dating from the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages. The earliest burials, dating from approximately the thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C., were inhumations; then came cremation burials without urns, dating from the end of the second and the beginning of the first millennium B.C. These were succeeded by cremation graves in small stone cists, dating from the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Early Iron Age, which in turn were followed once more by inhumation graves. The same burial mound was used for hundreds of years. It is possible that each was a family or clan burial vault.

Axes, horses, and oxen served as offerings during the funeral rites. In the Rezne barrow alone, the teeth of horses were found in 128 places. Ritual axes were placed not only in the men’s graves, but in pots or by the wall of the grave.

The Western Balts During the Scythian and Celtic Expansions

Iron appeared in central Europe in the twelfth century B.C., but not until the eighth century did it revolutionize men’s lives; and it was only then that it reached northern Europe. Between the eighth and sixth centuries iron was still extremely rare in the Baltic area, and the general cultural level continued to have almost a pure Bronze Age character. The dividing line at about the end of the eighth century B.C. signifies a change in culture due not so much to technological innovations as to new historical events.

This was the period of the Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area to central Europe. The horsemen who appeared in Rumania, Hungary, and eastern Czechoslovakia, introducing eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves and inhumation rites, must have been proto-Scythians, the successors of the south Russian Timber-Grave culture of the Bronze Age, who constantly pushed towards the west. Before entering central Europe, they conquered the Cimmerians living along the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus, and drove them out. As Assyrian and Greek sources inform us, the Cimmerians fled to the Near


East, while the Scythians attained full domination of the northern Black Sea area. There they acquired much of the Caucasian and Cimmerian cultural legacy and in their spread toward the west they brought with them Ponto-Caucasian cultural elements. These oriental influences appreciably changed the material culture of central Europe.

The Baltic and Germanic cultures in northern Europe remained untouched by the Scythian incursions, but the new cultural elements reached them through continuous commercial relations with central Europe. The Lusatian urnfield culture in eastern Germany and Silesia, which during the Bronze Age had been an integral part of the great central European cultural realm, still persisted in the first centuries of the Early Iron Age. The amber trade was not cut off and the Lusatians continued to be mediators between the amber gatherers and the Hallstatt culture in the eastern Alpine area and, beginning in the seventh century, the Etruscans in Italy. Novelties such as bronze horse-gear comprising bridle-bits, cheek-pieces and ornamental plates, as well as the initial iron objects, were transmitted to the Baltic area by the Lusatians. Again, as during the Bronze Age, hoards and the most richly furnished graves were concentrated in the source area of amber: in the peninsula of Samland and on both sides of the lower Vistula.

The period from the eighth to the beginning of the seventh century B.C. was also for the amber gatherers one of “orientalization,” since in addition to the bronze horse-gear entirely new forms such as large racquet pins, belt hooks ending in two spiral plates, and ring- and wheel-shaped pendants appeared; the prototypes of these objects are to be found in the central Caucasus. South-eastern influences may have reached the Baltic area via Hungary and the Vistula. The metal culture of the western Balts was now remarkably enriched. However, not all of the bronze ornaments or bronze horse-gear were imported; most of them show local style and local manufacture.


Fig. 13. a, Racquet pin; b, bronze pendant; c, amber pendant; d, neck-ring. From Domnicksruh (a, b) and Trulick (c, d), Samland, c. 750-650 B.C. a, b, d 1:2; c 1:1

Graves and hoards also include bronze forms that are not found either in central Europe or in the Ponto-Caucasian area. The shapes of amber beads and pendants increased in variety: round, rectangular, triangular, rhomboid, some with a tri, angular notch cut into either side and with pitted decoration. Typically Baltic — or, more accurately, Prussian or Sambian — were necklaces with large loop ends, which in the burial


mounds of Samland appear together with amber beads, bracelets, pins, and finger-rings.

Metal finds from the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. in Pomerania, East Prussia, and western Lithuania tell of continuing contacts with the Lusatians in central Europe and the Germanic peoples. Many hoards from the Baltic coast between the River Oder and Samland contained weapons, horse-gear, and ornaments identical to those of north-western and central Europe. Germanic trumpet-ended bracelets made of gold were found in East Prussia, and from central Europe swords, colored glass beads, and fine bronze chains. The ornaments favored by the Balts were pins with large spiral heads, spiral arm-rings made of flat bands ornamented with geometric motifs, and neck-rings made of thin round or flattened copper wire decorated with striations or dots.

Trading in amber increased remarkably with the Alpine region, the eastern Adriatic coasts, and Italy providing very good markets. Astonishing quantities of amber beads, and pins threaded with amber, are found in the Hallstatt graves, and in the Etruscan graves of central Italy. Amber has frequently been found in graves along the trade routes leading from its source, namely the central European river-ways, the Vistula,

Fig. 14. a, Pin, b, arm-ring, and c, necklase. From the period 650–500 B.C. a, b, near Tilžė (Tilsit), c, Schlakalken, Samland. 1:3


Oder, and Elbe. The demand for amber for making into jewelry had now reached a second peak following that of the Mycenaean-Únětician period in the middle of the second millennium B.C.

Bronze Age tomb architecture continued virtually unchanged except for the new custom of placing the urn in a small stone cist: above the remains of the pyre a circular platform of head-sized stones was arranged and encircled by a stone ring, and in the centre was placed the pear-shaped urn, encased in a rectangular stone cist built of thin stone slabs. At the front of the cist a pointed tombstone was sometimes erected under which offerings, such as stone axes, are usually found. The cist was surrounded by a round stone wall built of several layers of stones about the size of a human head, or was solidly covered by a stone vault, the tomb itself being encircled with stone circles and covered by an earth-mound. Similar barrows are encountered between eastern Pomerania and western Lithuania, but the most numerous are known from Samland,

Fig. 15. Plan and section of barrow having a stone platform and three stone circles. Kurmaičiai, western Lithuania, sixth–fifth centuries B.C.


Fig. 16. a, Temple ornaments and spiral pendants originally attached to a woolen cap; b, reconstruction. Kurmaičiai near Kretinga, western Lithuania. Istorinis Muziejus, Kaunas

where at least a dozen were systematically excavated at the end of the nineteenth century.13 The cemetery excavated in the forest of Drusken (Druskiai), Samland, dating from the seventh-sixth centuries B.C., revealed barrows encircled by from six to eleven or more rings of stones.14 These barrows, buried as they were for ages under the forest, probably still contain their full quota of stone circles. A barrow revealed during the 1940 excavations in Kurmaičiai in western Lithuania, dating from the sixth–fifth centuries B.C., also shows the popular use of concentric stone circles. The innermost stone ring, 5 m. in diameter, surrounded a round platform paved with stones on which were found an inhumed woman’s grave — furnished with temple ornaments and spirals that originally were attached to a knitted woolen cap — and six urn burials.

Around the end of the seventh and in the sixth centuries B.C., in eastern Pomerania and East Prussia the stone cists were enlarged: leading into the central one was a corridor-like structure which had an entrance in the side of the barrow, enabling all successive family urns to be placed under the same roof.


Fig. 17. House-urn from eastern Pomerania

With the increase of commercial activities, cult influences also appeared. The emergence of house-urns is peculiar to the Elbe-Saale region of central Germany, Bohemia, Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark, and southern Sweden. The Pomeranian urns were rectangular and stood on poles, probably in imitation of real houses. Engraved horizontal lines on the front wall may have portrayed the logs of timber houses. The idea of the house-shape very likely stems from Italy, where such urns are known from the eighth century B.C. The central European, Germanic, and Baltic house urns, which had their own characteristic features, date from a later period, no earlier than the seventh century B.C. In Pomerania the house-urns were not numerous and did not supersede the local type of pear shaped urns.15

Around 600 B.C. there was a new development which also could have come from the south to the north via the amber route, and which had a much more lasting effect on the Baltic


culture. This was the appearance of human features on the cover or neck of pear-shaped urns. The portrayal of the human face became so characteristic a trait of the branch distributed over eastern Pomerania and along the lower Vistula in the sixth and fifth centuries, that it gave its name to the Face-Urn culture.16

At first the human features were only vaguely marked: two small holes on the neck or cover of the urn to suggest the eyes and a lump between the holes for the nose, with another hole below it for the mouth. The objects found with the urns, particularly swan-neck pins, indicate that they were coeval with the Hallstatt C period (c. 650–525 B.C.) in central Europe. These early face-urns, pear-shaped and with a cylindrical neck, were undoubtedly of local manufacture; they are found in typically western Baltic stone cists which housed urns of many members of a family or kin.17 During the fifth century B.C. face-urns attained a classical shape. The face itself had finely worked features while ornaments, weapons, and symbolic scenes were incised over the neck and belly. Their artistic interest apart, the face urns have incised upon them many perishable objects that are not found among the archaeological remains. These are

Fig. 18. Face-urns. Fifth century B.C. a, b, from eastern Pomerania near Danzig; c, from Samland


Fig. 19. Necklase from the district of Poznań. Face-urn period, fifth century B.C.

important in reconstructing women’s and men’s dress, wooden weapons such as shields and spears, wooden wagons, etc., and particularly religious symbols and ritual scenes.

Some of the urns had earrings, made of bronze spirals or of rings on which were suspended glass or amber beads. These were attached to the “ears” — small handles, with perforations, on each side of the pot’s neck. [Plate 11] Necklaces were very frequently represented on female urns by joining horizontal and vertical lines, and in the back joint by a “fretwork” ornament. [Plate 10] These were imitations of broad collar-shaped necklaces which are found in graves of Pomerania and East Prussia. Around the neck the urns sometimes had incised points or an incised ridge which represented an amber or glass bead necklace. On the belly were depicted large pins whose heads were made up of concentric circles. It was also quite usual to show a comb on the left or right side of the belly. No doubt those urns richly decorated with ornaments and combs served for female burials.


The symbolic scenes were chiefly confined to the male urns. All urns had lids in the shape of caps which had a hole in the top and which almost always were decorated with a solar emblem.

The engravings on face-urns can be clearly divided into two groups. To the first belong the almost naturalistic representations of ornaments; to the second, schematized men, horses, wagons, shields, spears, sun discs raised on stelae, fir-tree motifs, semicircles, and other geometric figures. The most interesting symbolic scenes are found on urns from eastern Pomerania and particularly from the area of Gdańsk (Danzig). Their art is of a peculiar local style as is their symbolic “script”; most likely they were a product of one tribal unit. Face-urns in the peninsula of Samland and in western Masuria were most frequently decorated only with geometric patterns and symbolic scenes, without representations of ornaments.

Fig. 20. Solar motifs on face-urn lids from eastern Pomerania

The general character of the symbolism on face-urns is related to that of the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age rock engravings of southern Scandinavia and of the Camonica Valley in northern Italy, as well as to that on bronze vessels, razors, weapons, and clay figures of that period in the area between Italy and northern Europe.

The most frequent motifs are suns represented in many variations on the lids, or raised high on stelae and accompanied


by horses; huge oval shields decorated with lines and dots like the radiating sun and which usually take the central position among other figures; human beings who hold spears and ride horses or four-wheeled wagons drawn by two horses; and two spears separately portrayed. The best examples are on urns from Grabowo and Starogard west of the lower Vistula. Probably the figures pertain to sky and sun deities and their associates, horses, horned animals, axes and spears. The engravings are certainly not realistic representations of hunting scenes or funeral rites.

Fig. 21. Schematic engravings on face-urns; a, man holding two spears; b, man on horseback

The portrayed figures always took the form of line drawings accompanied by dotted lines or diagonal striations. Humans and animals were highly schematized. The men on the Grabowo urn look like gingerbread cookies with outstretched legs and arms, and their heads are circles filled with dots. [Plate 15] The men holding spears are elongated beings with long necks, their arms hardly showing; those on horseback or on a wagon usually have no legs, but they are shown with outstretched arms. Although some of the figures look like nothing more than children’s drawings, others are charmingly graceful. Urns for distinguished persons were probably decorated by the most eminent artists.


Face urns express very well the ancient belief that the deceased continues in his exact image and retains all his characteristics. In the art of face urns we never find a repetition of the same human features, ornaments, or symbols; no two urns are alike. They were made individually according to the dead person’s sex, personal qualities, and social status. This last was a matter of great concern; for example, the urn from Grabowo is exceptional and probably belonged to a chieftain, while others were left undecorated.

Another feature of the Grabowo urn is that the symbolic scenes occupy only about the upper third of the urn, the rest being covered with long vertical lines going down from around the neck and linked with from four to nine diagonal lines. [Plate 15] These lines may represent the stitches of an animal-skin cloak. From this and other urns we may guess that chieftains and other distinguished persons wore well-sewn cloaks, and symbolic scenes could have been stitched on to them.

The existence of skin cloaks and coats is confirmed by actual finds, preserved in bog burials. From the face-urn period the well-preserved body of a girl of twelve to fourteen years was discovered in 1939 at Dröbnitz, near Ostróda (Osterode) in western Masuria (formerly East Prussia) — possibly a sacrificial burial.18 The body was wrapped in a coat made of four sheep skins sewn together, the woolly side against the body. [Plate 16] The seams were very finely stitched, and across the top was a turned hem. The patches on the upper and lower parts and the diagonal seam across the back show that the coat was mended many times. A bone comb (of the same shape as depicted on face-urns) was attached to the coat by a woolen cord. This bog burial is of interest since it shows that in addition to the usual cremation of the dead, sacrificial burials in bogs took place, a practice that is also known from the Germanic culture. In the internal organs of the girl were found the remains of meat, fat, peas, wheat flour, and pollens of the blossoms of wild plants.


Fig. 22. A bone comb found attached by a woolen cord to the sheepskin coat (see Plate 14) from Dröbnitz bog in Masuria (East Prussia)

While the western Balts lived a rather prosperous life during the Face-Urn period, central Europe suffered new attacks from the Scythians. Traces of the Scythian raids dating to the sixth and fifth centuries are found in western and southern Poland, eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the western Ukraine. Over 50 sites are known having typically Scythian arrow-heads, horse-gear, swords, and ornaments. Many Scythian arrowheads have been found in Lusatian strongholds, indicating that the Lusatians were being attacked constantly by the eastern aggressors. The Lusatian strongholds were now in their last stages of survival, and eventually the culture was devastated. The Scythians reached the southern borders of the western Baltic lands, but apparently did not succeed in penetrating farther north. Only a few arrowheads of Scythian type have been found in East Prussia and southern Lithuania, but information is not sufficient yet to draw any inferences. A chain of western Baltic strongholds in northern Poland and in the southern part of East Prussia arose which very probably were built for resisting the southern invaders. Their well-planned fortifications were disposed on the islands and promontories of lakes. The fortified village built on piles on the island of Lake Arys near Pisz (Johannisburg) in East Prussia was encircled by several palisades of wooden stakes.19 Here the houses were not preserved as they were, by inundation, in the Lusatian stronghold at Biskupin whose defence system was similar.

At present we know of about twenty fortified villages along the lower Vistula, and in Masuria and Samland, which have yielded finds dating from the sixth to the fourth or later centuries.20 All were arranged in strategically well-chosen hills,


Fig. 23. Plan of a fortified village. Fifth-fourth centuries B.C. Starzykowe Maĺe, near Susz, northern Poland. 1, traces of timber posts of the houses and of stakes of the palisades; 2, walls (houses) and ditches; 3, stones, 4, hearths; 5, isohypses; 6, limits of the excavated area


surrounded on one or two sides by water. Usually they had earth ramparts 2-3 m. high and about 10 m. wide at the foot, strengthened inside by vertical and horizontal logs, although some had stone walls and additional palisades.

A village of interest, dating from the fifth-fourth centuries and known from the 1929–39 excavations, is located east of the lower Vistula at Starzykowe Male (former Kl. Stärkenau) near Susz (former Rosenberg).21 Comprising eight houses and several other structures presumed to be barns and stables, this village was set on the peninsula, fortified by two ramparts of stones and in front by a number of palisades branching off the main road which was constructed between two rows of wooden piles. The rectangular houses, which had one room and a hearth, were arranged in concentric circles. One house within the inner circle was distinguished by having a long corridor-like antechamber and several hearths. The latter very likely belonged to the headman of the village. The houses were quite small, some measuring 5 × 3 m., some about 8 × 5 m. From this and other excavated sites we see that villages were small, housing probably from 40 to 60 people. In size the Early Iron Age villages resemble those known from the Chalcolithic period, and in plan and character as defence structures, those of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age fortified villages of the central European Urnfield peoples.

The Scythian episode in the northern part of central Europe was of short duration. From the fourth century B.C. Scythian traces no longer appear. To what extent the western Baltic tribes helped to hold back the Scythians, future researches will show; but one fact is already clear: the Face-Urn people, probably taking advantage of the breaking up of Lusatian power by the Scythians, expanded southward. The descendants of the Face-Urn people occupied the whole Vistula basin in Poland and the part of the western Ukraine reaching the upper Dniester in the south.


Fig. 24. Baltic groups during the Early Iron Age (c. 600–400 B.C. and later) based on archaeological finds. 1, the “Face-urn” group of Pomerania and lower Vistula; 1a, the area of expansion of the “Bell-grave” group, successor of the “Face-urn” group, in the fourth and third centuries B.C.; 2, the west Masurian group, probably connected with the later Prussian Galindians; 3, the Sembian-Notangian group; 4, the lower Nemunas, western Latvian group connected with the early Curonians (Kurshians); 5, the east Masurian or Sudovian (Jatvingian) group; 6, the Brushed Pottery group ancestral to Lithuanians, Selians, Lettigallians and Semigallians; 7, the Plain Pottery culture to be identified with the easternmost Bolts; 8, the “Milograd” group of the seventh-sixth centuries B.C. Location of the Scythian farmers, Neuri and Androphagi based on Herodotus

This expansion around 400–300 B.C. brought changes. The fashionable face urns gradually lost their human features and developed into much more simplified versions. Only the depiction of a bead necklace around the neck and the sun symbol on the lid remained from the previously rich decoration


Fig. 25. Pot-covered urn grave from eastern Pomerania. a, grave built of stone slabs; b, pot covering the urn; c, urn

with ornaments and symbolic scenes. In grave pits these simplified pear-shaped urns were covered with a large pot or sometimes with two or three pots stored one above the other. In view of this custom, we talk of the “Bell-Grave” or “Lampshade-Grave” culture. In the fourth century the pot-covered urn burials were still placed in stone cists built of stone slabs, but gradually stone-cist building disappeared and urns with piles of pots on them were only covered with stones. This change in


grave type probably came about because of the spread of the Face-Urn people over the territory of the Lusatians who covered their urns with pots. Some scholars are therefore inclined to consider the pot-covered urn culture as a continuation of, or resulting from a mixture with, the Lusatian culture. However, it is more logical to suppose that the Lusatians merely influenced the Face-Urn culture. The similarity of the urns of the pot-covered urn period to the face-urns is striking whereas there is no genetic relationship to the style of the Lusatian pottery. We can also recognize a very close relationship with the pottery made by other Prussian tribes in East Prussia. The pot-covered urn culture is certainly not an “early east Germanic culture,” as Petersen called it in his otherwise valuable study of 1929 describing the graves and finds in the territory of prewar eastern Germany.22

Fig. 26. Urns in stone cists — “family graves”. Fourth century B.C.; a, from Silesia; b, from eastern Pomerania


The basic monuments of this period are the graves, although traces have been found of over 400 settlements in Poland on river banks, usually on sand dunes, where only pottery sherds and no habitation remains were preserved.23 Frequently found in graves have been bronze or iron pins with “sunflower” or small spiral heads, and later types of swan-neck pins; also bracelets made of iron wire, bronze or iron ear-rings, glass beads, and iron razors and knives. Objects imported from the Celtic Early La Tène, such as iron fibulae and belt clasps found in several pot covered urn burials, suggest that they date from the fourth century B.C. The La Tène fibulae and belt clasps appear in pot-covered urn burials in the upper Dniester area, showing that the southward expansion of the pot-covered urn culture was accomplished by the fourth century.24

At the same time, however, traces of the La Tène culture are found in Silesia. Its influence increased during the subsequent period and signs of the Celtic culture of the third century B.C. are found in southern Poland and the western Ukraine. The southern drive of the pot-covered urn people appears to have been stopped by the Celtic expansion eastward. The Middle La Tène (c. 300–100 B.C.) graves, settlements, and numerous isolated finds in Silesia, west southern Poland, and the southern parts of the western Ukraine all attest their continuous occupation of the area for at least several centuries. During the third and second centuries B.C. the pot-covered urn burials taper off in southern and central Poland, until they finally disappear about the first century B.C.

Meanwhile, the southern Baltic sea coast east of the River Oder had been gradually infiltrated by the Germanic tribes. In the fourth century B.C., sites of the Germanic Jastorf culture with traits relating them to northern Germany occur in the lower Oder area, and during the third century cemeteries of Jastorf character occur in the east as far as the River Persante (Parsęta) in eastern Pomerania.25 The Germanic expansion,


Fig. 27. Barrow encircled and covered by stones with a large stone cist inside housing 27 urns. Grünwalde, near Eylau, East Prussia. Fourth–third centuries B.C.

which caused the complete disappearance of the Lusatian culture in the lower Oder area, reached the borders of the pot-covered urn culture. In the first century B.C., however, cemeteries of the Jastorf culture disappear; instead, eastern Pomerania sees the spread of the so-called “Oksywia complex,” distinguished in its pit-graves by inhumation and, rarely, cremation graves; a characteristic which is held by some scholars to be Gothic, by others Slavic-Venedian. At the time of the birth of Christ and in the first centuries A.D., eastern Pomerania and the lower Vistula area were already occupied by the Goths who came to the Vistula estuary in ships from Scandinavia,


probably looking for better lands and a better climate. Their presence is attested by the written records (Pliny, Strabo, Tacitus, Ptolemy) and by their cemeteries and grave goods which differed from those of the Prussians living east of the Goths.26

While the strongest tribe of the western Baltic bloc which had manifested itself in face and pot-covered urn graves disintegrated due to the Celtic and Gothic expansions, the other Baltic tribes were less touched by outside influences and conservatively preserved the local character. The ancestors of the Sembians, Notangians, and Galindians continued throughout

Fig. 28. a-d, Geometrically decorated Prussian urns from the fourth-third centuries B.C.; e, urn with “eyes”; f, pot within a dish filled with uncremated bird bones


the entire Early Iron Age to build stone cists in which they placed urns of a family or kin, covering them with an earth barrow secured by a stone pavement from above and stone rings around. A classical example of barrows of the fourth or third centuries B.C. comes from Grünwalde (Zielenica) in the former district of Eylau (now Bagratinovsk), south of the peninsula of Samland. Prussian tribes skillfully decorated their pottery with geometric motifs: dotted lines forming rhombs, triangles, zigzags and other patterns. In addition to the geo, metric decoration, the Prussian urns of the fourth and third centuries B.C. preserved some features of the earlier face urns:

Fig. 29. Urns (a, b) and urns standing in a stone-cist family grave (c), from the third–second centuries B.C. Samland


lids in the shape of head-caps, a hole in the cap and two in the neck for the eyes. Engravings of human figures and of houses sometimes occur on the urns from Samland. Usual finds, in addition to pottery, were iron needles, awls, lunular razors, glass and white faience beads. Middle and Late La Tène fibulae were imported and imitated.27 It is of interest that, in marked contrast to the Celtic and Germanic graves, weapons are extremely rare in these Baltic graves. The inland Prussian tribes seem to have lived a rather peaceful life.