Pitted Ware culture

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For the North-East European culture of similar name, see Pit–Comb Ware culture.

Trindyxa (round stone axe), Gotland, Sweden

The Pitted Ware culture (c. 3200 BC–c. 2300 BC) was a hunter-gatherer culture in southern Scandinavia, mainly along the coasts of Svealand, Götaland, Åland, north-eastern Denmark and southern Norway. Despite its Mesolithic economy, it is by convention classed as Neolithic, since it falls within the period in which farming reached Scandinavia. It was first contemporary and overlapping with the agricultural Funnelbeaker culture, and later with the agricultural Corded Ware culture.[1]


The economy was based on fishing, hunting and gathering of plants. Pitted Ware sites contain bones from elk, deer, beaver, seal, porpoise, and pig. Pig bones found in large quantities on some Pitted Ware sites emanate from wild boar rather than domestic pigs.[2]

Seasonal migration was a feature of life, as with many other hunter-gatherer communities. Pitted Ware communities in Eastern Sweden probably spent most of the year at their main village on the coast, making seasonal forays inland to hunt for pigs and fur-bearing animals and to engage in exchange with farming communities in the interior.[3]

This type of seasonal interaction may explain the unique Alvastra Pile Dwelling in south-western Östergötland, which belongs to the Pitted Ware culture as far as the pottery is concerned, but to the Funnelbeaker culture in tools and weapons.


The repertoire of Pitted Ware tools varied from region to region. In part this variety reflected regional sources of raw materials. However the use of fish-hooks, harpoons, and nets and sinkers was fairly widespread. Tanged arrow heads made from blades of flintstone are abundant on Scandinavia's west coast, and were probably used in the hunting of marine mammals.[4]


A pottery shard showing the characteristic pits, from Uppland, Sweden
A characteristic moose figurine, from Åloppe, Uppland, Sweden

One notable feature of the Pitted Ware Culture is the sheer quantity of shards of pottery on its sites. The culture has been named after the typical ornamentation of its pottery: horizontal rows of pits pressed into the body of the pot before firing.

Though some vessels are flat-bottomed, others are round-based or pointed-based, which would facilitate stable positioning in the soil or on the hearth. In shape and decoration, this ceramic reflects influences from the Comb Ceramic culture (also known as Pit-Comb Ware) of Finland and other parts of north-eastern Europe, established in the sixth and fifth millennia BC.[5]

Small animal figurines were modelled out of clay, as well as bone. These are also similar to the art of the Comb Ware culture. A large number of clay figurines have been found at Jettböle on the island of Åland, including some which combine seal and human features.[6]


Its grave customs are not well known, but Västerbjers on the island of Gotland has produced a large number of grave fields, where the limestone has preserved the graves well. In these graves, archaeologists found skeletons laid on their backs with well-preserved tools in bone and horn. Numerous imported objects testify to good connections with the Scandinavian mainland, Denmark and Germany.


A theory among archaeologists was that the Pitted Ware culture evolved from the Funnelbeaker culture by a process of abandonment of farming for hunting and fishing. However the two populations are genetically distinct. The nineteen Pitted Ware samples from Gotland were dominated by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups U4, U5 and U5a although, because of the low resolution of the tests performed, some haplotypes reported as U4 may actually belong to haplogroup H. By contrast the three Funnelbeaker samples from Gökhem contained no haplogroup U.[7] This is consistent with findings elsewhere in northern Europe of a distinct difference in mtDNA between hunter-gatherers and farmers.[8] Another hunter-gatherer of the Pitted Ware culture (from the Ajvide settlement in Gotland), dated to 2,900 to 2,600 BC, belonged to Y-Haplogroup I-M438[citation needed] (rare in Scandinavia – all new, absent in all other northern populations except ethnic Russians[9][10]). A very low level (5%) of an allele (−13910*T) strongly associated with the ability to consume unprocessed milk at adulthood was found among Pitted Ware Culture individuals in Gotland, Sweden. This frequency is dramatically different from the extant Swedish population (74%).[11]


As the language left no records, its linguistic affiliations are uncertain. It has been suggested that its people spoke a language related to the Uralic languages and provided the unique linguistic features discussed in the Germanic substrate hypothesis.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Marek Zvelebil, Pitted Ware and related cultures of Neolithic Northern Europe, in P. Bogucki and P.J. Crabtree (eds.), Ancient Europe 8000 BC–AD 1000: Encyclopaedia of the Barbarian World, Vol. I The Mesolithic to Copper Age (c. 8000-2000 B.C.) (2004).
  2. ^ Elin Fornander, Gunilla Eriksson and Kerstin Lidén, Wild at heart: Approaching Pitted Ware identity, economy and cosmology through stable isotopes in skeletal material from the Neolithic site Korsnäs in Eastern Central Sweden, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 27, Issue 3, (September 2008), pp. 281–297.
  3. ^ Stig Welinder, Overåda: A Pitted Ware Culture Site in Eastern Sweden, Meddelanden från Lunds Universitets Historiska Museum 1969–1970 (1971): pp. 5–98.
  4. ^ Marek Zvelebil, Pitted Ware and related cultures of Neolithic Northern Europe, in P. Bogucki and P.J. Crabtree (eds.), Ancient Europe 8000 BC–AD 1000: Encyclopaedia of the Barbarian World, Vol. I The Mesolithic to Copper Age (c. 8000-2000 B.C.) (2004).
  5. ^ Åsa M. Larsson, Pots, pits and people, hunter-gatherer pottery traditions in Neolithic Sweden, Chapter 10 in Dragos Gheorghiu (ed.), Early Farmers, Late Foragers and Ceramic Tradition: On the beginning of pottery in the Near East and Europe (2009); Marek Zvelebil, Pitted Ware and related cultures of Neolithic Northern Europe, in P. Bogucki and P.J. Crabtree (eds.), Ancient Europe 8000 BC–AD 1000: Encyclopaedia of the Barbarian World, Vol. I The Mesolithic to Copper Age (c. 8000-2000 B.C.) (2004).
  6. ^ Åsa M. Larsson, Pitted Ware Culture
  7. ^ H. Malmstrom et al, Ancient DNA Reveals Lack of Continuity between Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers and Contemporary Scandinavians, Current Biology, vol. 19 (Nov 2009), pp. 1–5.
  8. ^ Bramanti, B. et al, Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe's First Farmers, Science, (published online 3 September 2009).
  9. ^ https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Haplogroups-found-among-305-Swedish-males-40-O-sterbotten-males-and-38-Saami-males_tbl1_7058887
  10. ^ https://yfull.com/tree/I2/
  11. ^ Malmström, Helena; Linderholm, Anna; Lidén, Kerstin; Storå, Jan; Molnar, Petra; Holmlund, Gunilla; Jakobsson, Mattias; Götherström, Anders (2010). "High frequency of lactose intolerance in a prehistoric hunter-gatherer population in northern Europe". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 10 (1): 89. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-89. ISSN 1471-2148. PMC 2862036. PMID 20353605.