Ancient European History 3500 BCE


The Coming of Farming

Central Europe

The Mediterranean

The Atlantic Cultures

Expansion and Development

Emerging Elites

Further study

The Coming of Farming

Farming had arrived in south east Europe from the Middle East c. 6500 BCE. From there it had spread in two directions, northwards, into the Balkans and westward along the Mediterranean coasts and islands.

Farming seems to have spread into Europe at just over 1 km (0.8 miles) a year, on average. In many places, this process occurred much more slowly. As farming spread northwards, techniques had to be adapted to cooler and wetter climates. New strains of cereal had to be developed to cope with harsher conditions, and cattle and pigs became more prominent in livestock.

Central Europe

In central Europe, in c. 5500 BCE, there developed a new farming culture, whose distinctive features were massive timber-built longhouses and pottery decorated with incised bands – hence the archaeological name for it, the Bandkeramik culture.

Note the imitation of painted bands by incising the edges of the band.
Stroked Ware is shown in the upper left corner.
Reproduced under GPL license

Settlements were sited in forest clearings, and were made up of two or three longhouses each. They farmed the easily-tilled soil of the river valleys, growing crops of cereals, peas and beans. Their cattle and pigs were pastured on the forest margins, and in the forests wild game and plants were available. These settlements lasted for several generations.

This culture spread comparatively swiftly along the river valleys and within a few hundred years came to cover a large area of central Europe, from eastern France to the Ukraine. By 5000 BCE it was fragmenting into more localised cultures, as different settlement patterns emerged and varying styles of pottery evolved. Its offshoots penetrated southern Scandinavia and Russia in the 5th millennium BCE, but here the poor soil and harsh climate delayed the onset of a full agricultural transition for several centuries, and communities continued to sustain themselves by a mix of hunting, foraging, fishing, herding and crop growing.

The Mediterranean

Meanwhile, agriculture had spread right across the Mediterranean from east to west. This may have been the achievement of generations of small groups of farmers, using small boats to colonise new areas, establishing new settlements in suitable places along the coasts. The fact that their material culture changed significantly during this process probably means that this was accomplished in small hops, rather than in a few long journeys. From the coastal enclaves thus settled, farming communities gradually spread inland in Italy, southern France and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Atlantic cultures

In what may well have been an extension of this trans-Mediterranean movement, a new farming culture, originating in what is now southern Spain and Portugal c. 5500 BCE, had spread up western France and into the British Isles by c. 5000 BCE. This culture – or, rather, group of inter-linked cultures, was centred on the Atlantic coast, in all probability carried northwards by seaborne colonists establishing themselves in sites along the coast. There is evidence that, for some time, these new farming communities co-existed with societies of hunter-gatherer-fishermen. The latter may well have been able to form larger and more stable settlements than the usual hunter-gatherer bands, through being able to harvest coastal marine resources as well as land-based plants and animals. This may have enabled them to resist the encroachments of farmers longer.

The distinctive feature of the new Atlantic farming culture, from an archaeologist’s point of view, was the construction of megaliths – stone-built communal burial chambers in Spain and France, large stone circles or avenues in Brittany and southern Britain.

Expansion and development

The farmers of the Atlantic culture spread eastward into France to meet up with the farming cultures from central Europe around 4500 BCE. The whole of Europe except the far north was now dotted with farming villages. Some time during the 5th millennium BCE, the plough spread throughout the European farming zone. This enabled lands with heavier soils to be brought under cultivation, and for the fertility of the soil to be maintained better.

Farming villages became larger and more stable. By 4000 BCE, domestic animals were being used as a source of milk. Some metal was used, and there were considerable copper mines and copper smelting centres, especially in the Balkans. Metal, however, was mainly used for display. Copper was sometimes used for axes, knives and hammers, but these were generally no more efficient than stone tools, and a great deal more expensive to produce. Gold and copper mostly appeared in jewellery and prestige objects.

Emerging elites

Display, however, was becoming more important at this time. In much of Europe, the farming economy had developed to the stage where elites were beginning to emerge. This is seen in increasingly elaborate burials, in which quantities of prestige goods such as metal jewellery and polished stone axes were buried alongside some individuals – a tell-tale sign that high-status leaders were beginning to dominate society.

Linked to this is the appearance of earthen circles, sometimes in several concentric rings, topped by high timber palisades. Originally thought to be for defence purposes, scholars now prefer to see them as ritual centres, possibly serving communities from a wide area. They are particularly common in more northerly areas, and the earliest version of Stonehenge dates to around this time.

Stonehenge is one of the world’s best known megalithic structures.
Taken in 2009 By David Ball –”


Continue reading the history of Europe

Further study

Maps of Ancient Europe

Maps of Europe 3500 BCE

Maps of Europe 2500 BCE

Maps of Europe 1500 BCE

Maps of Europe 1000 BCE

Maps of Europe 500 BCE

Maps of Europe 200 BCE

Maps of Europe 30 BCE

The History of Ancient Europe:

Ancient Europe up to 3500 BCE: The Coming of FarmingCentral EuropeThe MediterraneanThe Atlantic CulturesExpansion and DevelopmentEmerging Elites.

Ancient Europe 3500 BCE- 2500 BCE Temperate Europe; The Indo-Europeans; The HorseMediterranean transformations.

Ancient Europe 2500 BCE – 1500 BCE: Bronze and TradeA Fashion for BeakersThe Indo-European SpeakersConflicts and ChieftainsThe First European Civilizations.

Ancient Europe 1500 BCE – 1000 BCE: The Urnfield cultureCivilization and catastrophe.

Ancient Europe 1000 BC E- 500 BCE: Iron Age EuropeThe Mediterranean City State; Links between north and south.

Ancient Europe 500 BCE – 200 BCE: The CeltsThe Mediterranean EuropeThe rising power of Rome.

Ancient Europe 200 BCE – 30 BCE: The Continuing Rise of RomeTemperate EuropeThe North.

Ancient Europe 30 BCE- 200 CE: Rome, the centre of the worldTemperate EuropeThe Greek EastNon-Roman Europe.

Subscribe for more great content – and remove ads