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Linearbandkeramik Culture (LBK)

The First Farmers of Europe

By

Reconstructed Linearbandkeramik Farmhouse, Archeon

Reconstructed Linearbandkeramik Farmhouse, Archeon

Hans Splinter
Linearbandkeramik Pottery, University of Jena Collection, Germany

Linearbandkeramik Pottery, University of Jena Collection, Germany

Kleuske

The Linearbandkeramik Culture (also called Bandkeramik or Linear Pottery Ceramic Culture or simply abbreviated LBK) is what German archaeologist F. Klopfleisch called the first true farming communities in central Europe, dated between about 5400 and 4900 BC. Thus, LBK is considered the first Neolithic culture in the European continent.

The word Linearbandkeramik refers to the distinctive banded decoration found on pottery vessels on sites spread throughout central Europe, from south-western Ukraine and Moldova in the east to the Paris Basin in the west. In general, LBK pottery consists of fairly simple bowl forms, made of local clay tempered with organic material, and decorated with curved and rectilinear lines incised in bands. The LBK people are considered the importers of agricultural products and methods, moving the first domesticated animals and plants from the Near East and Central Asia into Europe.

Lifestyles of the LBK

The very earliest LBK sites have loads of pottery sherds with limited evidence of agriculture or stock-breeding. Later LBK sites are characterized by longhouses with rectangular plans, incised pottery, and a blade technology for chipped stone tools. The tools include raw material of high quality flints including a distinctive "chocolate" flint from southern Poland, Rijkholt flint from the Netherlands and traded obsidian.

Domesticated crops used by the LBK culture include emmer and einkorn wheat, crab apple, peas, lentils, flax, linseed, poppies and barley. Domestic animals include cattle, sheep and goats, and occasionally a pig or two.

The LBK lived in small villages along streams or waterways characterized by large longhouses, buildings used for keeping livestock, sheltering people and providing work space. The rectangular longhouses were between 7 and 45 meters long and between 5 and 7 meters wide. They were built of massive timber posts chinked with wattle and daub mortar.

LBK cemeteries are found a short distance away from the villages, and in general are marked by single flexed burials accompanied by grave goods. However, mass burials are known at some sites, and some cemeteries are located within communities.

Chronology of the LBK

The earliest LBK sites are found in the Starcevo-Koros culture of the Hungarian plain, around 5700 BC. From there, the early LBK spreads separately east, north and west.

The LBK reached the Rhine and Neckar valleys of Germany about 5500 BC. The people spread into Alsace and the Rhineland by 5300 BC. By the mid-5th millenium BC, La Hoguette Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and LBK immigrants shared the region and, eventually, only LBK were left.

Linearbandkeramik and Violence

There seems to be considerable evidence that relationships between the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Europe and the LBK migrants were not entirely peaceful. Evidence for violence exists at many LBK village sites. Massacres of whole villages and portions of villages appear to be in evidence at sites such as Talheim, Schletz-Asparn, Herxheim, and Vaihingen. Mutilated remains suggesting cannibalism have been noted at Eilsleben and Ober-Hogern. The westernmost area appears to have the most evidence for violence, with about one-third of the burials showing evidence of traumatic injuries.

Further, there is a fairly high number of LBK villages that evidence some kind of fortification efforts: an enclosing wall, a variety of ditch forms, complex gates. Whether this resulted from direct competition between local hunter-gatherers and competing LBK groups is under investigation; this kind of evidence can only be partly helpful.

However, the presence of violence on Neolithic sites in Europe is under some amount of debate. Some scholars have dismissed the notions of violence, arguing that the burials and the traumatic injuries are evidence of ritual behaviors not inter-group warfare. Some stable isotope studies have noted that some mass burials are of non-local people; some evidence of slavery has also been noted.

Diffusion of Ideas or People?

One of the central debates among scholars about the LBK is whether the people were migrant farmers from the Near East or local hunter-gatherers who adopted the new techniques. Agriculture, animal and plant domestication both, originated in the Near East and Anatolia. The earliest farmers were the Natufians and Pre-Pottery Neolithic groups. Were the LBK people direct descendants of the Natufians or were they others who were taught about the agriculture? Genetic studies suggest that the LBK were genetically separate from the Mesolithic people, arguing for a migration of the LBK people into Europe, at least originally.

LBK Sites

The earliest LBK sites are located in the modern Balkan states about 5700 BC. Over the next few centuries, the sites are found in Austria, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and eastern France.

Sources

See the photo essay on Tracing Hunting to Farming for further information.

A bibliography of the LBK has been assembled for this project.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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