(Chapter IV, section 12)

Neolithic Scandinavia

Let us next move to the center of the second area of maximum Mesolithic survival—southern Scandinavia. Here the Neolithic cultures and techniques were late in arrival, and survived long enough to attain a considerable complexity, flourishing long after most of the rest of Europe was making common use of metal. The old Ertebølle country of Denmark and southwestern Sweden became the seat of a dense population of successful farmers and cattle breeders, partly derived from the old fishing and hunting stock, and partly from new immigrants who brought with them new ways of living. This part of Scandinavia, in the Sub-Boreal period, which followed the Litorina, and which witnessed the development of the Neolithic, was eminently suited to agriculture and cattle raising, for the climate was drier than at present, and four Fahrenheit degrees warmer in mean annual temperature.84

Neolithic impulses, when they eventually reached Scandinavia, probably no earlier than 2500 B.C., came into this region from more than one direction. It is possible that Danubian influences, transferred through South German mediums, were felt by the Ertebølle moor-dwellers at the beginning, and also that Neolithic cultural movements came directly to Scandinavia from South Russia. However, the first movement which can be traced with certainty was that of the Megalithic immigrants. These came by sea from the south and west, probably for the most part from the British Isles, although some may have come from Brittany as well. They brought with them not only the habit of erecting impressive burial monuments, but also agriculture and animal husbandry, which they may have been the first to introduce as a basic source of food supply, although Neolithic techniques may have come from the east and south before them.

The Megalithic invaders found a strong, settled population of fishermen and hunters, located mostly on the coasts, who apparently did not prevent them from establishing their farms and trading stations. The archaeological record furthermore makes it certain that the aborigines were driven out nor destroyed, but survived to form an important element in the eventual Danish population.

The forms of the abundant megalithic monuments, in combination with weapon types, provide a scale for Neolithic chronology. After a tombless period characterized by round-poled axes, dolmens were built first, followed by passage graves, under specific influence from Brittany via Holland; and by Long Barrows brought, as a trait, from England by sea.

In the later part of the dolmen period and the beginning of the passage grave epoch, a new group invaded Scandinavia from the east and southeast, probably initially attracted by the rich supply of amber in Jutland. These were the so-called Battle-Axe people, who were simply our old friends the Corded people under their alternate name. Their route lay from Holstein up through Schleswig to Jutland, and only later did they reach the Danish archipelago, and Sweden. Having come from Germany, it is doubtful if they represented a pure Corded racial strain; this became less pure through blending with their predecessors in Scandinavia, the Megalithic and Kitchen-Midden peoples. The burial form of the resultant amalgam was the stone cist, a Megalithic-Corded compromise, with the corridor tombs and Battle-Axe single graves as prototypes.

During the entire Neolithic, almost all of Norway, as well as central and northern Sweden, remained in a food-gathering stage of culture, although Neolithic axes and other objects were traded to them from the south. There can be little doubt that to a large extent the northern hunters were direct descendants of Mesolithic, and hence of Late Palaeolithic, man. Many traits of their so-called Arctic culture have survived until recent times.

Without the knowledge of Neolithic movements and continuities provided by the careful work of the Scandinavian archaeologists, and without a previous study of the Neolithic racial situation in other parts of Europe, it would be difficult to interpret the human remains from the Danish and Swedish sites, since this is racially the most complex and most mixed section of the continent. The concept of Scandinavia as the home of a pure Nordic race or of any other single group during the Neolithic is a completely false one.

The total of Neolithic skulls from Scandinavia is well over two hundred;85 of these nearly three-fourths come from Denmark. Only one represents Norway, and this is a heavy-boned specimen, with strong browridges a mesocephalic vault, mesorrhine nose, and low orbits; apparently a partial or complete Mesolithic survival.

In both the Swedish and Danish series, two main, mutually contrasting types are found. One is a very long, quite narrow, cranium of moderate height; with projecting occiput, parallel side walls, moderate browridges a moderately sloping forehead, which is usually quite broad; a moderate upper face height coupled with a narrow breadth; mesoconch orbits of square form sloping downward at the outer corners; and a mesorrhine or leptorrhine nasal aperture. This type of skull, which comprises some thirty-nine per cent of the Swedish series, and five per cent of the Danish, was early recognized by Fürst as a counterpart of the British Long Barrow race, which occurs more frequently in Britain in unmixed form. In the Danish Long Barrow tombs of purely British type, the skull form is also identically British.86 Most of the people of this type in Neolithic Scandinavia must have come by the western sea route around Britain; some, however, may have arrived overland from southern Russia in pre-Corded times.

This Megalithic form is not, however, the only long-headed type discernible among Scandinavian Neolithic long-heads; individual crania of Corded type with longer faces and higher vaults are not uncommon. A mean stature of 172 cm. for the long-headed skeletons87 shows that the racial types involved were tall, taller than either the Long Barrow mean from England or that of the Corded group from Silesia and Bohemia. But this excess of stature cannot be taken to indicate a strong admixture in this type of Palaeolithic long heads, for the dimensions of the vault are not comparable, and the face is very narrow—as with both Megalithic and Corded crania elsewhere.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to follow the progress of these long heads through the different types and stages of Neolithic cultural development. Dolmen burials and those in corridor tombs have been classed together in Denmark—and may be contrasted with profit only with the skeletons from the later cist graves. In both groups there has been much mixture between long- and round-headed forms; a mean cranial index of 77 in each case indicates an intermediate condition. Since the brachycephalic element in each is probably the same, and apparently present in equalS quantities, we may compare the two groups with some validity. The cist-grave crania are higher vaulted, longer and generally larger faced, and longer nosed than the Megalithic ones. In all diverging characters, the cist grave skulls differ from their Megalithic predecessors in a Corded direction. Therefore, we are led to believe that a true Corded racial element did play a perceptible part in the formation of the Neolithic Danish population, and did not appear merely as sporadic individual specimens.

In Sweden, out of twenty-four male crania found in passage graves, only one was brachycephalic; for the most part a pure Long Barrow type is represented.88 In the later cist graves, a much stronger brachycephalic clement had entered. On the whole, the Swedish material runs more strongly to both extremes than that from Denmark (see Appendix I, cols. 18, 19); forty-nine per cent of the Swedish skulls are considered mixtures between the long- and round-headed forms; while in Denmark these total eighty-seven per cent. In Sweden, the round heads are concentrated in Skane, in the southwestern part of the country; in Denmark, they are commonest on the islands of Zealand, Laaland, and Falster. The long-heads were particularly prevalent in central Sweden and in Jutland and the islands of Fünen and Langeland. Brachycephaly, therefore, is centered around the Copenhagen region, and particularly the islands, which would naturally permit the greatest survival of people who derived their sustenance from the sea.

From every standpoint it seems indicated that this brachycephalic element in the population is associated with the preagricultural midden dwellers. Yet we know from our scanty list of Mesolithic remains that the basic element of that time was probably a long-headed, Brünn-like Upper Palaeolithic European survival. Many skulls of large, square-jawed brachycephalic type appeared toward the end of the Mesolithic or beginning of the Neolithic in Denmark and northern Germany. Most of them have been assigned, largely through caution, to the Neolithic rather than to the preceding food-gathering period. Such are the skulls from Kiel, from Plau, from Spandau, and numerous other sites.89

Whatever their date, they resemble the brachycephalic crania of undisputed Neolithic age very closely. The latter, in turn, are sufficiently numerous for accurate racial evaluation. The Danish and Swedish brachycephalic people were tall, with a mean of 168.2 cm.,90 and heavy boned. Their skulls are large, high vaulted, and with lengths greater than those common to most crania of equal index. The browridges are usually heavy, the foreheads often sloping, the lambdoid region is flattened often, the occipital region more rarely. The face is short and wide; the orbits square and moderately low; the nasal skeleton often prominent; the nasal index usually leptorrhine or mesorrhine; the lower jaw heavy, wide and angular. There seems little reason to dispute the conclusion that this type of skull is closely related to that found at Ofnet, Bavaria, in the Mesolithic; and that it is at least strikingly similar to the Upper Palaeolithic brachycephals from Afalou bou Rummel in Algeria, to which the Ofnet crania have already been compared. Individual Scandinavian crania can be matched with others from Afalou.

Brachycephalic crania are not infrequent in the Neolithic graves of central and southern Germany, in which we have already found them mixed with long-headed varieties. The same is also true of Poland. In the southwest, the Danish brachycephalic type, commonly given the name of the site Borreby, is found as far from its apparent center as Belgium, where the three crania of Sclaigneux are probably marginal representatives91 In the absence of further knowledge, one cannot definitely state that this brachycephalic type was the principal one of the Ertebølle kitchen-midden period, or that it was not. But it seems most reasonable to suppose that it was native to southern Germany during most of the Mesolithic, with extensions westward and eastward; and that at some time during the Late Mesolithic or initial Neolithic it filtered into northern Germany and the coastal zone from Belgium to Denmark and southern Sweden where it survived the Megalithic and Corded invasions, and where it is still present today.

It is interesting that in the whole stretch of the European continent in which Neolithic invaders blended culturally with the previous Mesolithic population, from southern France to Sweden, some form of brachycephal should appear. This northern Borreby type is different from the Alpine of France, Switzerland, and Belgium in a number of ways. The vaults are higher, the orbits somewhat lower, the faces larger, the jaws heavier. Whereas the French crania are usually globular, many of the Borreby ones resemble modern planoccipital types in angularity of vault form. The Borreby people, while shorter than their longer-headed companions, were quite tall; the Alpines, frequently taller than theirs, were shorter than the northern brachycephals. One is tempted to interpret the difference partly in terms of the types with which each mixed; a Megalithic and Corded mixture with an Upper Palaeolithic brachycephalic type would have a quite different result from that of a Danubian or Spanish small Mediterranean strain with the latter. In either case, we still may ask: What became of the long-headed Palaeolithic element which accompanied the brachycephals both in western Europe and northern Africa?

But this problem is far from solution; we have established the presence of brachycephals in the earliest Neolithic horizons in various parts of western Europe, in each case in connection with a strong Mesolithic cultural survival. We must await further evidence from the mysterious Mesolithic for an answer.


84 Shetelig, Falk, and Gordon, Scandinavian Archaeology, p. 53. Much of this introductory material is based on their book.

85 Principal sources:
Fürst, C. M., Zur Kraniologie der Schwedischen Steinzeit.
Nielsen, H. A., ANOH, 1905, 1911, 1915.
Retzius A., Crania Suecica.

86 Five crania from Danish Long Barrows.

87 Pearson’s formula, M = 172.4 cm. Nielsen’s figure is 173.4 cm., based on Manouvrier’s tables.

88 Fürst, op. cit.
Retzius, op. cit.

89 Aichel, O., Der deutsche Mensch.

Clarke, J. G., The Mesolithic Age in Northern Europe.

Kossinna, Gustav, Ursprung und Verbreitung der Germanen, MannusB, #6a, 1928.

90 Pearson's formula, 170.7 cm. by Manouvrier’s tables.

91 Virchow, R., AFA, vol. 6, 1873, pp. 85—I 18. In Virchow’s article skull #3 is the subject of a misprint. The length should read 175 mm., the breadth 151 mm.