Ancient megastructure found in the Baltic Sea may have been used by Stone Age hunters

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A megastructure found in the Baltic Sea could represent one of the oldest known hunting structures from the Stone Age – and could change what is known about the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers around 11,000 years ago.

Researchers and students from the University of Kiel in Germany first encountered the surprising line of stones, which extend about 69 feet (21 meters), during a marine geophysical survey along the seafloor of the Bay of Mecklenburg, about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) off the coast of Kiel. underwater was Rerik, Germany.

The discovery, made aboard the research vessel RV Alkor in fall 2021, revealed a wall made of 1,670 stones that stretched for more than half a mile (1 kilometer). The stones connecting several large boulders were almost perfectly aligned, making it seem unlikely that nature had formed the structure.

After the researchers alerted the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania State Office for Culture and Monument Preservation to their find, an investigation began to find out what structure it might be and how it ended up at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Diving teams and an autonomous underwater vehicle were used to examine the area.

The team concluded that the wall was likely built more than 10,000 years ago by Stone Age communities for reindeer hunting.

A study describing the structure was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our investigations indicate that a natural origin of the underwater stone wall and its construction in modern times, for example in connection with the laying of submarine cables or stone extraction, are not very likely. The methodical arrangement of the many small stones that connect the large, immovable boulders speaks against this,” said lead study author Dr. Jacob Geersen, senior scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Germany, said in a statement.

According to the study, the wall was likely built along the shore of a lake or bog more than 10,000 years ago. At this time the area was abundant in rocks left behind by glaciers that had moved across the landscape.

But studying and dating sunken structures is incredibly difficult, so the research team had to analyze how the region developed to determine the wall’s approximate age. They collected sediment samples, created a 3D model of the wall and virtually reconstructed the landscape in which it was originally built.

After the end of the last ice age about 8,500 years ago, sea levels rose significantly, which would have led to flooding of the wall and large parts of the landscape, according to the study authors.

But almost 11,000 years ago everything was different.

“At this point the total population across northern Europe was probably under 5,000 people. One of their main food sources was reindeer herds that migrated seasonally through the sparsely vegetated post-glacial landscape,” said study co-author Dr. Marcel Bradtmöller, research fellow in prehistory and early history at the University of Rostock in Germany, in a statement. “The wall probably served to channel the reindeer into a bottleneck between the adjacent lakeshore and the wall, or even into the lake, where Stone Age hunters could more easily kill them with their weapons.”

P. Hoy, University of Rostock, model created with Agisoft Metashape by J. Auer, LAKD MV

Researchers have virtually reconstructed what the wall probably looked like during the Stone Age.

The hunter-gatherers used spears, bows and arrows to capture their prey, Bradtmöller said.

A secondary structure may have been used to create the bottleneck, but the research team has not yet found evidence of this, Geersen said. However, it is likely that the hunters led the reindeer into the lake because the animals swam slowly, he said.

And the hunter-gatherer community seemed to realize that the deer would follow the path created by the wall, the researchers said.

“It appears that the animals are attracted to such linear structures and that they prefer to follow the structure rather than try to cross it, even if it is only 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) high,” Geersen said.

The discovery is changing the way researchers think about highly mobile groups like hunter-gatherers, Bradtmöller said. The construction of a massive permanent structure like the wall implies that these regional groups may have been more concentrated in location and territory than previously thought, he said.

The find marks the first Stone Age hunting facility in the Baltic Sea region. But other similar prehistoric hunting structures have been found elsewhere around the world, including in the United States and Greenland, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where researchers have discovered traps known as “desert kites.”

Stone walls and hunting blinds for caribou hunting were previously found at the bottom of Lake Huron in Michigan, discovered at a depth of 98 feet (30 meters). The design and location of the Lake Huron wall, which includes a lakeshore on one side, is most similar to that of the Baltic Sea wall, the study authors said.

Meanwhile, scientists are continuing their investigations in the Baltic Sea with sonar and sounding devices and are planning future dives to search for archaeological finds. Only by combining expertise from areas such as marine geology, geophysics and archeology are such discoveries possible, said Geersen.

Understanding the location of lost structures and artifacts on the seafloor is crucial as demand for offshore areas increases due to tourism and fishing, as well as the construction of pipelines and wind farms, he said. And other undiscovered treasures at the bottom of the Baltic Sea could potentially shed more light on ancient hunter-gatherer communities.

“We have evidence of the existence of comparable stone walls elsewhere in the (Mecklenburg Bight). These are also being systematically examined,” said study co-author Dr. Jens Schneider von Deimling, researcher in the Marine Geophysics and Hydroacoustics working group at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel.


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