Aivar Kriiska
University of Tartu, Lossi 3, Tartu 50090, Estonia;

Published: De temporibus antiquissimis ad honorem Lembit Jaanits. Muinasaja teadus, 8. Tallinn 2000, 59–79.


In the past few years many new Corded Ware Culture settlement sites and find assemblages have been found from various parts of Estonia. A number of these have been archaeologically investigated. The author of the current article has had the possibility to excavate the sites of Kõpu I on Hiiumaa and Riigiküla XIV in north-eastern Estonia. These sites have offered some of the largest Corded Ware find collections in Estonia. Palynological analyses of bog and lake sediments have also given many new data. The current article focuses on Corded Ware Culture finds from the lower reaches of the Narva River in north-eastern Estonia, especially on the “culturally pure” Riigiküla XIV settlement. Additionally, the article discusses the dating problems and the economic and settling strategies of the local Corded Ware Culture. Both the topographic position of the Corded Ware Culture settlements and the existence of cereal pollen in sediments indicate agriculture as an important form of their subsistence. The Corded Ware Culture communities were smaller than their contemporary foraging groups. It is quite possible that this was the beginning of single family settlement units. The author believes that the Corded Ware Culture developed in Estonia as a result of external influence.


Viimaste aastate välitöödel on mitmelt poolt Eestist lisandunud nöörkeraamika kultuuri asula- ja leiukohti, millest mitu on ka arheoloogiliselt uuritud. Autoril on olnud võimalus kaevata Hiiumaal Kõpu I ja Kirde-Eestis Riigiküla XIV asulat, saades ühed kõige rikkalikumatest nöörkeraamika leiukollektsioonidest. Rohkesti uusi andmeid on tulnud ka soo- ja järvesetete palünoloogilistel uurimistel. Käesolevas artiklis keskendutakse Kirde-Eesti Narva jõe alamjooksu ala nöörkeraamika kultuuri muististele, eriti “kultuuriliselt puhta” Riigiküla XIV asulakoha materjalile. Sellelt lähtepositsioonilt vaadeldakse ja arutletakse ka Eesti nöörkeraamika kultuuri asustus- ja majandusviisi ning dateeringu üle laiemalt. Nii nöörkeraamika kultuuri muististe topograafiline asend kui ka samasse aega dateeritavate kultuurkõrreliste taimede õietolm setetes osutavad viljelusmajandusele kui olulisele elatusvahendite hankimise vormile. Elatud on ilmselt väiksemates kogukondades, kui see oli tavaks siinsetes püügimajanduslikes kultuurides. Võimalik, et hakkasid kujunema üksikperedest koosnevad asustusüksused. Nöörkeraamika kultuur tekkis autori arvates Eesti alal tugeva välisinnovatsiooni, mitte kohapealse arengu tulemusel.


The essential settlement area in Stone Age north-eastern Estonia was the region of the lower reaches of the Narva River (Fig. 1). In the landscape, it is situated on the plateau of north-eastern Estonia, reaching from the border of the North Estonian Glint to Joaoru in Narva and the coastal shallow north of the town. Over 20 Stone Age settlement sites have been found from this area of about 200 km2.

The lower reaches of the Narva River has been one of the most important places of research in Stone Age archaeology and most of our archaeologists specialised on that period have worked there. In the years 1950 to 1960 the current jubilarian Lembit Jaanits carried out many successful investigations there.

The majority of the finds originate from the foraging cultures of Kunda, Narva and Combed Ware types; some of the sites also include sherds of Corded Ware. A few years ago I found a “pure” Corded Ware Culture settlement site. The results of the investigations on the site and the comparison and analyses of earlier materials are the basis for this article. The only Corded Ware Culture complex omitted from this analyses were the finds from the 1992 and 1996–1997 excavations in the Narva Joaoru Stone and Early Metal Age settlement sites (Jaanits 1994; Nikitjuk 1997a; 1997b), as most of these finds are not deposited in the Narva Museum and have not been adequately published.

Fig. 1. A – Estonia. B – lower reaches of the Narva River.
Drawing by Riina Vesi.


From the position of the Corded Ware Culture, two regions of the lower reaches of the Narva River appear to be of interest: Riigiküla and Narva Joaoru (Fig. 1B). The Riigiküla settlements are situated on the ridge between Narva and Narva-Jõesuu. In the Litorina period the ridge used to form a spit with a lagoon behind it. Currently, fifteen settlement sites have been found from the area (Fig. 2). The majority of these sites belong to the Early Neolithic Narva Culture, but most of other Neolithic cultures in Estonia are also represented there. The area has been repeatedly investigated and archaeological excavations have been carried out on many of the sites (Gurina 1955; 1967; Kriiska 1995b; 1996a; 1996c), making the region the best-surveyed Stone Age micro-area in Estonia. Corded Ware has been found from four settlement sites.

Riigiküla I and II were discovered in 1951 and excavated by Nina Gurina in 1951–1953. In addition to abundant Narva Culture, Typical and Late Combed Ware Culture finds, Gurina found six Corded Ware sherds from the Riigiküla I and five or eight from II settlements respectively (Gurina 1967, 49, 60). The actual number of the sherds is probably bigger. In a brief inspection of the Riigiküla I finds at the Peter the Great Museum of Ethnography and Anthropology in St. Petersburg in October 1998, I distinguished 10 Corded Ware sherds, and most probably there are more.

Fig. 2. Location of Riigiküla Stone Age settlement sites. 1 – sites found in 1998, 2 – sites found in 1996, 3 – sites foundin 1951–1991, 4 – sites found in 1994–1995. Drawing by Riina Vesi.

The Riigiküla IV site was discovered the in 1991 (Kriiska 1995b) and excavated it in 1995. Besides other sherds (mostly Narva type), the site includes 20 Corded Ware sherds, probably originating from one or two vessels (Kriiska 1996a, 416–417).

Riigiküla XIV settlement site was found in May, 1996. The scope of the site, the nature of the cultural layer and its cultural identity were established in the course of an inventory in September, 1996 (Kriiska 1996b). The finds were concentrated on two sites that were a few dozen metres apart and about 8.5–9.5 metres above the current sea level (Fig. 3). Trial pits into the surrounding area gave no finds; a few tiny detrital pieces of bone and charcoal were found from the sand layer.

Excavations were on the site organised in the summer of 1998 (Kriiska 1999). The cultural layer consisted of the upper part of a rufous sand layer with sandstone and some pebbles of granite. Deeper down, the soil fraction became thicker. The finds layer was about 25–30 cm thick and included charcoal and bone debris. A few potsherds came from immediately under the clod. The lower part of the layer included fewer finds than the upper part. The site included no constructions; there were some patches of different colour that went deeper than the cultural layer. The find complex consisted mainly of potsherds, 1728 fragments all together. Other finds include a couple of quartz pieces, a polished-like sandstone and some historic finds from the humus layer.

The Joaoru settlement site is situated in the town of Narva, on a cape-like terrace on the left bank of the Narva River (Fig. 4). The site was discovered in 1953 and investigated by Lembit Jaanits in 1954, 1957, 1960 and 1962–1964 (Jaanits 1959, 94; Jaanits et al., 1982, 43). It is a multi-layered site with Mesolithic, Neolithic, Iron Age and Middle Age settlements. About 50 Corded Ware sherds were found from there.

Fig. 3. The plan of the Riigiküla XIV site.
Drawing by Jana Ratas.


Fig. 4. Narva Joaoru settlement site. Photo by Néa Jäger.

Two boat axes (Karlova and Fatyanovo types) have been found from Narva and the surrounding areas (Jaanits 1973, 68, Fig. 9).


Pottery sherds is the most common type of find in Estonian Corded Ware Culture sites. Items of different material are rarely found. The absence of stone tools, especially small flaking technique tools, is particularly striking. This circumstance cannot be attributed solely to the limited number of excavated sites and the smallness of open areas. The situation appears to be similar in the neighbouring countries: in Finland (Edgren 1984, 75) and also Latvia, as compared to their earlier finds (Vankina 1980; Loze 1992). Thus pottery appears to offer more in the understanding of the origins and development of the Corded Ware Culture than any other type of find.

The 90 rim sherds of the 1728 potsherds from the Riigiküla XIV settlement seem to come from at least 57 different vessels. The vessels have been made of clay mixed with some organic fibrous matter. The organic matter has burned out, but the sherds have specific fine pores and the surfaces often have arch-like lines on them (Fig. 6:1, 4; 7:1–2, 5). In my previous articles I have interpreted these lines as hair impressions and assumed that hair or bristles have been mixed into the clay body (Kriiska 1995a, 100; 1996a, 416). Without ruling out this interpretation, I would consider possible the usage of some vegetal fibre in the Riigiküla IV sherds. Possibly the same plant has been used to make the cord. Mixing this fibre into the clay body might have carried a similar idea like giving some “magic quality” to the vessels. Fibrous organic clay admixture was an original local development in Corded Ware Culture that is rare in potsherds found from neighbouring areas. The existence of hair in Finnish Corded Ware clay body admixtures could be considered an exception (Korkeakoski–Väisänen 1993, 15).

C. 5% of the sherds appeared to have grog (chamotte) as an ingredient. Grog was often been used in Finnish (Edgren 1970, 32) and Swedish (Hulthén 1977, 157) Corded Ware temper as well. There is good evidence of ground potsherds having been puddled into the clay body. The results of the analyses of the Finnish Piikkiö Isohepojoki Lausmäki Corded Ware thin section (Korkeakoski–Väisänen 1993, 16) are especially reliable. There remains the question of why the grog was added? The fired clay definitely increases the refractoriness of new vessels, which probably did not go unnoticed by the Neolithic ceramists. The reason did not have to be purely technological, though; the notion of transferring some magic power of a broken vessel to a new one probably played an important part in the action. Relying on ethno-archaeological evidence, the Swedish archaeologist Birgitta Hulthén (1985, 335) has attributed the grog adding to religious behaviour.

All the vessels have been formed in the coiling technique. Sixteen clearer coil ends of type N, with a wider slanting connection, could be distinguished (Fig. 5).

The surface finish was identifiable on 1557 sherds, the rest were either detrital on both sides or too small. Two different techniques have been used in the surface finish: smoothing and striating. The striae are either weak or strong and in some cases quite wide grassblade impressions can be detected (Fig. 6:5). Both internal and external surfaces have been preserved on 625 sherds. 430 of the sherds (68.8%) have been smoothed both on the in- and outside, 58 (9.3%) striated on both surfaces and 69 (11.0%) striated outside and smoothed internally and 67 (10.7%) smoothed outwardly, striated inside. An almost analogous division occurs among the 931 sherds that have only one preserved surface.

Fig. 5. Clay coil of Corded Ware
pottery from Riigiküla XIV site.
(NLM 12182:428, 796, 850, 528).
Drawing by Jana Ratas.

Of the sherds detrital on the inside, 548 (58.9%) have been smoothed and 93 (10%) striated on the outside. Of the outwardly detrital sherds, 203 (21.8%) have their inside smoothed and 87 (9.3) striated.

Fig. 6. Corded Ware pottery from Riigiküla XIV site (NLM 12182:243, 296, 188/189/1990, 600, 260).
Drawing by Jana Ratas.

142 of the sherds (8.2% of the whole) have been decorated. The ornamentation usually appears to have been on the upper part of the vessel, mostly the neck and the rim. In the latter case the decoration is usually both on the rim (17 sherds) and its protruding border (13 sherds). 50 of the rim sherds (55.6%) have been ornamented and the undecorated ones are mostly small sherds with a detrital outward surface that gives reason to believe that decorated sherds are just poorly represented. The decorations consist mainly of cord impressions (in 55 cases, i.e. 37.4%), grooves (48; 32.7%), shallow pits (23; 15.6%), notches (16; 10.9%) and impressions done with a stick that has cord around it (5; 3.4%). The cord impressions are usually 2–3 mm in width and are disposed in 1 to 6 horizontal lines on the vessel's side wall (38 cases, Fig. 6:1; 7:1), on the rim (9 cases) or both (8; Fig. 6:4). Five sherds have the print of the "corded stick" (Fig. 7:2). The cord had been made of vegetal fibre, possibly nettle. As a textile material, nettle is both tenacious and soft at the same time. The use of nettle cord to produce the Corded Ware impressions is likely, as has been proved by experiments done in Finland (Korkeakoski-Väisänen 1993, 23) and Estonia. In the course of the experiments, nettle cord was manufactured, used on pottery and the results were compared with Corded Ware sherd decorations.

Most of the grooves also appear in horizontal rows (37). The grooves are comparatively wide (2–6 mm) and go quite deep, leaving the surface in relief (Fig. 7:4). Some grooves are disposed in a diagonal spruce-twig motif (11), in some cases zones of diagonal grooves are separated by horizontal grooves (Fig. 7:5). There are no grooves on the rims.

Shallow pits of irregular shape (in many cases forming cat's-paw-shaped impressions; Fig. 6:3) stand on the wall in horizontal lines (Fig. 7:3), or in irregular lines (17 cases); on the rim (3), or on both way together (3; Fig. 6:2).

The notches are often oblong in shape, in some cases triangular and they are disposed either in lines or irregularly over the wall (10) or on the rim (6). One vessel usually includes only one ornament type. There are five exceptions, that combine several decorating types: 1) slanting notches on the protruding border and wide grooves on the neck; 2) wide grooves and notches on the shoulder; 3) pits (finger impressions?) on the protruding border, cord impressions on the neck (Fig. 6:1); 4) cord impressions and “corded stick” impressions on the neck (Fig. 7:1); 5) cord impressions and triangular notches on the neck.

Six sherds have textile impressions on their outer surfaces. The textile has been made in plain tabby weave so that the warp is thinner than the weft; the cloth has been woven on the loom (identified by Jüri Peets on April 12, 1999). This is the first time that textile-impressed pottery has been found belonging to a Corded Ware complex. The idea in itself is not new: Lembit Jaanits determined textile-impressed pottery among the Akali and Kullamäe settlement finds in the Emajõe River delta that in their clay body ingredients and surface finish (including the fibrous impressions on the sherds) and stratigraphy seemed to carry a connection with Corded Ware. Jaanits assumed that both pottery types were manufactured by the same people (Jaanits 1959, 149). There are some rare examples of textile-impressed Corded Ware in Finland (Edgren 1970, 33) and a connection between the styles has been noted in Latvia also (Vankina 1980, 56).

The wall thickness of vessels was determinable after the 606 sherds that had both surfaces preserved. The wall thickness varies from 3 to 15 mm, with about 70% of the sherds being 7 to 8 mm thick. Rim thickness was measured on 39 sherds and it varies from 8 to 23 mm and mostly falls into the interval of 10 to 20 mm.

Corded Ware vessels were of different shape and size. There have been few small vessels found; judging from the rim sherds, about 10 of them altogether. Thin rim sherds are also very rare: there are only 23 sherds with 3 to 5 mm in thickness (i.e. 1.3% of the total number of sherds). Judging by the rim sherds, the orifice diameter of three vessels has been 7, 16 and 17 cm.

Fig. 7. Corded Ware pottery and fragment of a ceramic artefact from Riigiküla XIV site (NLM 12182:833, 283, 593, 619, 672/177/262, 870). Drawing by Jana Ratas.

The rims are often thicker on the sides, forming a protruding border on the outward surface (60 sherds; Fig. 6:1–3; 7:4). In a few cases, the rim widens inwards (2 sherds) or in- and outwards (3 sherds; Fig. 6:4). Sometimes the rim is as thick as the wall (1 sherd; Fig. 7:1) or slightly thinner (3 sherds; Fig. 7:3). The bottoms (24 bottom sherds were found) are flat and with a convex, sometimes protruding transition towards the walls (Fig. 8).

The vessels have evidently been used also for cooking, as the layer of burnt organic matter on 34 sherds (2%) indicates.

A piece of a ceramic artefact made of reddish-white clay tempered with some organic matter was also found from the site (Fig 7:6). It is a peg that is oblong in shape, round in cross-section and 8 to 10 mm in diameter and has three thin grooves all over its perimeter. Ceramic artefacts are known from many Corded Ware Culture sites. For example, pieces of a ceramic axe and a spoon have been found from Finland (Edgren 1984, 77). Additionally, a couple of pieces of burnt clay were found. Their colour and ingredients were similar to the Corded Ware sherds.

Corded Ware from other sites has also been made of clay body tempered with some organic matter. Less often, sand has been added. The Riigiküla IV settlement sherds are 7 to 11 mm thick and the Narva Joaoru sherds 5 to 10 mm thick. The rims are usually thicker than the walls, in a few cases the thickness is equal and the rim forms a protruding border around the orifice. Joaoru rim sherds are 10 to 21 mm thick. The vessels were quite large. The orifice diameter of two Joaoru vessels had been 25 and 31 to 34 cm and the bottom diameter of one of the vessels had been 10 cm.

The diameter seems to have been at its largest near the orifice or slightly beneath; the bottom seems to have been relatively narrow. Two of the Joaoru vessels have a carinate on their necks. The surfaces have mostly been smoothed; some have been striated. Only one of the Riigiküla IV sherds has ornamentation: cord impressions in two horizontal rows (Kriiska 1995a, 95–100; 1996a, 416–417). Of the 10 Riigiküla I Corded Ware sherds determined by the author, six were ornamented.

Fig. 8. Bottom shapes of Corded Ware pottery
from Riigiküla XIV site (NLM 12182:330,
715, 134, 642, 541, 350).
Drawing by Jana Ratas.

Three had a grooved outward surface, two had groove striae in the spruce-twig motive and one had horizontal cord impressions (9 distinguishable lines). 16 of the 47 Corded Ware sherds from Joaoru (34%) were decorated. The ornament is mostly on the vessels’ upper parts, sometimes including the protruding rim border. 90% of the found rim sherds have ornamentation; the percentage among the wall sherds is only 9. The main ornament motifs are grooves (43.8% of the decorated sherds), pits (31.3%), notches (6.3%) and cord impressions (18.8%). The grooves have mostly been incised diagonally, forming one or two zones on the vessel. On three sherds the grooves have been arranged in two opposing zones, thus forming the spruce-twig pattern (Kriiska 1994, 47, 50; 1995a, 95–97).

The pottery sherds from the lower reaches of the Narva River are in most aspects similar to the finds from other parts of Estonia. Similar ornament motifs and patterns have been found from the Villa I settlement with abundant pottery (Kurbel 1975), and also the Akali and Kullamäe settlements (Jaanits 1959).


There are 50 Corded Ware Culture settlement sites and 18 burial sites known from Estonia (Fig. 9). Most of these have been found by chance; the settlements usually in the course of excavations of other antiquities. It is quite possible that some of the pottery sherds found from various sites have not been correctly identified, as the main feature of identification of Corded Ware is its cord ornament. The cord impressions are not always represented. Fibrous impressions on the surfaces seem to be the best possible determinant of Corded Ware, as they are not this abundantly represented in any other pottery type in Estonia.

Traces of Corded Ware Culture settlements are mostly mixed with finds from other periods or intermingled by ploughing. The number of excavation finds is quite small: a few thousand pottery sherds, some stone processing remains and stone tools. The latter includes a few triangular and heart-shaped arrowheads, chisels and scrapers, all of flint (Jaanits 1966, 61–63). In Valma settlement near Lake Võrtsjärv in central Estonia, four Corded Ware Culture stone hearths were found with 4–5 m between them. It is possible that the hearths had been situated in two parallel long houses on the ground (Jaanits et al., 1982, 105–106).

There have been surprisingly many active Corded Ware Culture settlements on the larger Estonian islands as well. Eight settlements, five burial sites and many boat axes have been found from Saaremaa. In addition to stray finds, a burial site on Muhumaa and a settlement on Hiiumaa add to the Corded Ware Culture antiquities on Estonian islands. Other larger Baltic islands seem to lack traces of Corded Ware Culture. From Åland some boat-axes and remains of only three Corded Ware Culture settlements have been found (Asplund 1997, 237). Gotland and Öland also have very few Corded Ware Culture finds (Burenhult 1991, Fig. 119).

The settlement pattern of the Corded Ware Culture people differs compared to that of earlier Stone Age cultures. This circumstance, that has already been pointed out in earlier literature (e.g. Jaanits 1992, 47), has gained further significance with new settlement finds. The choice of settlement location depended on different principles: for example, living in the vicinity of a water body seems to have lost its importance. This tendency is especially appearant on the coastlines of the islands and also mainland Estonia. Most of the settlements in North Estonia were assembled on the Glint (Lang 1996, Fig. 101, 120; Lang & Konsa 1997). In many regions the places that had once been abandoned for having become too far away from the sea, were now re-inhabited. Such were the Mesolithic settlements of Võhma I in Saaremaa (Kriiska 1998, 18) and the Siimussaare settlement in central Estonia (Jaanits 1959, 161), the Early Neolithic settlements in Kõpu, Hiiumaa and Riigiküla on the lower reaches of the Narva River.

Fig. 9. Monuments of the Corded Ware Culture. a – one settlement site or a find assemblage, b – more than one settlement site or find assemblage, c – grave, d – maximum shore-line of the Limnea Sea.
Antiquities mentioned in the text: 1 – Riigiküla, 2 – Narva Joaoru, 3 – Kullamäe, 4 – Akali, 5 – Ihaste, 6 – Siimusaare, 7 – Valma, 8 – Iru, 9 – Kõpu, 10 – Võhma, 11 – Asva.
Drawing by Aivar Kriiska and Jana Ratas.


An analogous situation can be observed in Finland, where it has been considered possible, that the soils that had remained rich in phosphate after previous settlements had resisted afforestation (Edgren 1984, 75) or been covered with vegetation that resulted from human activities (Salo 1997, 34). As the time gap is some thousands of years, the long-time preservation of open landscape does not seem credible. It is possible, though, that these areas had a different kind of forest and were thus very suitable for slash-and-burn agriculture.

In Estonia, there are some Corded Ware Culture settlements that are situated near bigger fresh water bodies: e.g. Narva Joaoru and Riigiküla I and II settlements in north-eastern Estonia. In other parts of the country there are Valma near Lake Võrtsjärv; Ihaste, Akali and Kullamäe on the banks of the River Emajõgi and Iru near the Pirita River.

In North Estonia, the settlements are mostly located on limestone soils; in other parts of the country on sandy soils. The latter are nowadays rarely used for their low fertility and fear of draught (Linkrus 1998, 48). As such, the lands must have been very suitable for Stone Age slash-and-burn fields and pastures as they could be easily cultivated and tended. The settlement pattern proves agriculture and pastoralism to have been the main determinants in the choice of living location and therefore also the important means of subsistence. Without excluding the possibility of agriculture having had some marginal role in Estonia already in earlier periods (e.g. Lang 1995), I consider full time farming to be a phenomenon connected with the appearance of Corded Ware Culture in Estonia.

There is much evidence of agricultural activity from the Corded Ware period in Estonia. The burial sites include bone tools and bones of domestic animals: goats, sheep, pigs and cattle (Jaanits 1992, 48). One Corded Ware sherd with a burnt barley seed on one side (Jaanits 1992, 49) and with a grain impression on another side (Valter Lang, pers. comm.) have been found from the Iru settlement in North Estonia. The appearance of cereal pollen in bog and lake sediments coincides mainly with the Corded Ware Culture period. The oldest barley (Hordeum sp.) pollen grain samples that have been acquired from the Kõivasoo bog in Hiiumaa, wheat (Triticum t.) pollen grain samples that have been acquired from the Turvaste Mustjärve bog in West Estonia and the pollen grain of an unidentified cerealia from Kõrenduse bog in East Estonia both date back to 3900 to 3100 BC (see table 1). The pollen of Avena plants is even 100 years older, but as the type also includes wild gramineae besides cultured oats, there is room for error. There are numerous traces of agricultural activity from a few hundred years later from various parts of Estonian mainland and the islands’ lakes and bogs. Wheat, oats and barley have been grown. Other human activity indicators like the sudden increase in the number of photophilous plants (Chenopodiaceae, Melampyrum, Plantago spp, Polygonum aviculare, Rumex spp etc.) show even greater intensity.

Unfortunately, the Corded Ware Culture settlement sites have not offered representative osteological material. A few burnt bones have been found from the Riigiküla XIV settlement, most of them small and morphologically unidentifiable. In addition to a pigs tooth piece and a birds pipe bone, there are a few fish bones: two pike (Exos lucius), two perch (Perca fluviatilis) and one carp (Cyprinidae) bone (Lõugas 1999). The fish bone finds and the bone fishing spears from the Tika settlement in Saaremaa and Külasema in Muhumaa island indicate that to some extent the Corded Ware Culture people were still indulged in fishing and probably also hunting and gathering. The hazelnut shells found from the cultural layer of the Riigiküla XIV settlement may represent the latter activity.

Table 1. The oldest cerealia in Estonian pollen diagrams

Uncalibrated C14 years BP
Calibrated years BC*
Velise Bog
West Estonia
Avena t.
Hordeum t.
Triticum t.
ca 5200
ca 3600
ca 3200
ca 4000
ca 1900
ca 1600
Veski 1998
Mustjärve Bog
West Estonia
Avena t.
Triticum t.
ca 5000
ca 4700
ca 3800
ca 3500
Veski 1998
Kõivasoo Bog
Hiiumaa Island
Avena t.
ca 5100
ca 3900
ca 3200
et al. 1998
Kõrenduse Bog
East Estonia
(95.4 %)
Pirrus & Rõuk 1988
Pitkasoo Bog
Saaremaa Island
ca 4360±40
(95.4 %)
Königsson & Poska 1998
Maardu Lake
North Estonia
Triticum t.
Avena t.
ca 3800
ca 2400
Veski 1998
Saha Bog
North Estonia
(95.4 %)
Kihno 1996
Vedruka Bog
Saaremaa Island
ca 3700
ca 2100
Poska & Saarse in press
Kahala Lake
North Estonia
ca 3500
ca 1800
Poska & Saarse in press
Kahala Bog
North Estonia
ca 3500
ca 1800
Poska & Saarse in press
Hino Bog
South-east Estonia
Hordeum t.
Triticum t.
ca 3400
ca 1700
Laul & Kihno
Viitna Pikkjärv Lake
North Estonia
Hordeum t.
ca 3300
ca 1600
Saarse et al. 1998
Surusoo Bog
Saaremaa Island
Avena t.
ca 3300
ca 1600
Veski 1996

* The basis of calibrating is OxCal v2.18 cub r. 4cd: 12 prob [chron].

Judging by the smallness of the Corded Ware Culture settlements and burial sites, the Corded Ware people have been considered mobile and their settlements temporary both in Estonia (Jaanits et al., 1982, 106) and the neighbouring countries (Salo 1997, 56). The Riigiküla XIV settlement site finds indicate a relatively long stay. The cultural layer there is quite thick and rich (every excavated square metre gave more than a hundred pottery sherds). The similarity of Late Neolithic and Early Metal Age settlement patterns could probably be interpreted as an indication of sedentary settlement (Lang 1996, 439). Small settlements and burial grounds could also suggest the beginning of single family households that was characteristic to the Bronze and Pre-Roman Iron Age coastal farmers (Lang 1995, 136).

The dating of the Corded Ware Culture antiquities is very uneven due to the current level of research in Estonia. The only reliable radiocarbon date is from Riigiküla XIV: charcoal from the lower part of the cultural layer was dated to 3970±100 14C years old (Ta-2680), that is with a 95.4 % probability 2900–2200 years cal. BC and with a 68.2 % probability 2700–2300 years cal. BC (the bases of calibrating is C.I.O Gronongen Radiocarbon Calibration Program CAL 15, version April 1993).

Most of the pottery sherds found from the multicultural settlements in north-eastern Estonia have come from the upper layers of the settlements (Kriiska 1994, 70; 1996a, 416). The same has been noted for other multicultural antiquities (Jaanits 1954, 357). Judging by the stratigraphy, Corded Ware seems to be later than Typical Combed Ware and partly also Late Combed Ware. The latest 14C date of Late Combed Ware in Estonia comes from the bone matter in the Kudruküla settlement in the lower reaches of the Narva River and belongs to the period of 3600 cal. BC (Lõugas et al., 1996, Tab. III). It is quite clear that by the time of the appearance of fortified Bronze Age settlements, Corded Ware was no longer in use or had changed beyond recognition. The much investigated fortified settlements of Asva and Iru had both been preceded by Corded Ware Culture settlements (Lang 1996, 37; Jaanits et al., 1982, 109). The time gap between the two settlements is unclear. Taking into account the oldest dates of Late Combed Ware Culture and the fortified settlements, we could date the Corded Ware Culture into the period between 3500 to 1500 cal. BC, though the actual duration was probably shorter.

There are four Corded Ware Culture dates from Finland (Edgren 1992, 92). The date of the first appearance goes back to 3200/3000 cal. BC (Salo 1997, 8–9). That is the average taken from a Vanda Jönsas Corded Ware Culture grave. The grave was dated 4420±130 (Hel-1006) (Purhonen 1986, 113), that is with a 95.4 % probability 3550–2650 cal. BC.

Latvia has 11 14C dates of Corded Ware Culture (Loze 1992, Tab.1). The oldest of these comes from the turf of the Eini settlement — 4735±60 (TA-2250), that is with a 95.4% probability 3650–3360 cal. BC. A number of dates come from the Ica and Abora I settlements, the oldest date going back to 4420±80 (TA-2248) — that is with a 95.4% probability 3340–2910 cal. BC (the basis of calibrating is OxCal v2.18 cub.r. 4cd: 12 prob [chron]). Assuming that Corded Ware Culture was simultaneous — in the Stone Age sense of the expression — in the neighbouring areas, we could say that the Corded Ware Culture in Estonia started a few hundred years before 3000 cal. BC.

The Corded Ware Culture differs remarkably from the Late Combed Ware Culture in Estonia. The difference is apparent in every aspect: artefacts, burial customs, economy and settlement patterns. In fact the majority (not to say all) of life domains manifested through material culture do not coincide. All additional data support the view that the Corded Ware Culture did not replace the local Combed Ware Culture, but co-existed beside it. The most recent and reliable dates of Late Combed Ware are from bone materials of the Loona settlement on Saaremaa island and they belong to the period c. 2500 cal. BC (Lõugas et al., 1996, Tab. III).

Corded Ware Culture in Estonia was most probably the result of outward innovative influence. Besides the different material culture, the cereals and the domestic animals were imported. It seems that Estonian Corded Ware Culture in its earliest form developed as a result of strong southern influence that probably included migrants. In time, the culture developed a local form that produced ware made of clay body tempered with some fibrous organic matter and shaped with protruding rim borders; it also produced local stone axe forms. It is hard to tell the extent of the migration, but it is quite likely that during a certain period, there was a continuous influx of people who were more actively in contact with the neighbouring Corded Ware Cultures in the Baltic region than with the local Late Combed Ware communities.

The development of the protruding rim border in Estonian Corded Ware has been interpreted as a Late Combed Ware influence (Jaanits et al., 1982, 109; Kriiska 1995a, 106). Similar features could be detected in rim decorations: the Riigiküla XIV settlement rim sherds are reminiscent of the comb impressions on the Combed Ware rims, but the similarity could be coincidal, though. The lack of comb impression on Estonian Corded Ware could be considered more significant, as the combination is quite common in Sweden, for example (Hulthén 1977). The actual nature of the relationship between the two cultures, the importance of local influence on the Corded Ware Culture and the process that led to the formation of the coastal communities in Estonia that started to bury their dead in stone-cist graves in the Bronze Age, will remain problems unsolved until there are more finds at the archaeologists’ disposal.


The author would like to thank Eldar Efendijev, the director of the Narva Museum; the archaeologists Dr. Valter Lang and lic. Mika Lavento; the palynologists Dr. Leili Saarse, Dr. Siim Veski, lic. Anneli Poska and M.Sc. Kersti Kihno; the drawer Jana Ratas and Riina Vesi; the osteologist Dr. Lembi Lõugas, translator Triinu Mets-Sõmermaa and all the members of the Riigiküla archaeological expedition.


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