World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Swedish pre-history

Article Id: WHEBN0008075886
Reproduction Date:

Title: Swedish pre-history  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of Sweden (800–1521)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Swedish pre-history

Part of a series on the
History of Sweden
Prehistory (12000 BCE–800 CE)
Viking Age (800–1050)
Middle Ages (1050–1397)
Kalmar Union (1397–1521)
Early Vasa era (1521–1611)
Great Power
Emerging Great Power (1611–1648)
Swedish Empire (1648-1718)
Age of Liberty (1718–1772)
Gustavian era (1772–1809)
New constitution & union (1809–1866)
Industrialization (1866–1905)
Early 20th century (1905-1914)
World War I (1914–1918)
Interwar period (1918-1939)
World War II (1939-1945)
Postwar period (1945–1967)
Second half of Cold War (1967–1991)
Post-Cold War (1991–present)
Military history of Sweden
Sweden portal

Scandinavian prehistory began when the Scandinavian peninsula, formerly entirely covered by thick ice, became free of ice at the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 BC. At that time, a hunter gatherer people, the Ahrensburg culture, lived and hunted near the edge of the ice. It took until the 7th millennium BC for forest, wildlife and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to fully colonise the newly available land. In southern Scandinavia, a Maglemosian culture (ca 7500 BC–6000 BC) developed. The Maglemosian people lived in forest and wetland environments using fishing and hunting tools made from wood, bone and flint microliths. A characteristic of the culture are the sharply-edged microliths of flintstone which were used for spear heads and arrowheads. Microliths finds are more sparse from ca 6000 BC and the period is said to transit into the Kongemose culture (ca 6000 BC–ca 5200 BC). The finds from this period are characterised by long flintstone flakes which were used for making the characteristic rhombic arrowheads, scrapers, drills, awls and toothed blades.

The Ertebølle culture (ca 5300 BC–3950 BC) is the name of a hunter-gatherer and fisher culture dating to the end of the Mesolithic period. It was followed by the Funnelbeaker culture (4000–2700 BC) a culture that originated in southern parts of Europe and slowly advanced up through today's Uppland, Sweden. Tribes along the coasts of Svealand, Götaland, Åland, north-eastern Denmark and southern Norway learnt new technologies that became the Pitted Ware culture (3200 BC - 2300 BC).

Around 2800 BC, metal was introduced in Scandinavia in the Corded Ware culture. In much of Scandinavia, a Battle Axe culture became prominent, known from some 3,000 graves. The period 2500 BC – 500 BC also left many visible remains to modern times, most notably the many thousands rock carvings (petroglyphs) in western Sweden at Tanumshede and in Norway at Alta.

A more advanced culture came with the Nordic Bronze Age (ca 1800 BC – 500 BC). It was followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age (5th/4th century BC – 1st century BC) and the Roman Iron Age (ca 1 – 400 AD).

Ice age

The pre-history of Sweden begins at the end of the Pleistocene epoch at the beginning of Holocene epoch, following the last ice age, the Weichselian glaciation. At the end of the ice age, large parts of south and middle Sweden was covered by water.

Parts of Denmark, Scania and the Norwegian coast line were free from ice around 13000 BC, and around 10000 BC the rim of ice was around Dalsland, Västergötland and Östergötland. It wasn't until 7000 BC that all of Svealand and the modern coastal regions of North-eastern Sweden were free of ice, although the land was by then deeply pressed underwater.

In Scandinavia, the time following the ice age begins at circa 9500 BC and is called at first the Yoldia Stage (after the Yoldia Sea, then the Ancylus Stage, after the Ancylus Lake in turn named after Ancylus fluviatilis, a small fresh-water gastropod from this time. By this time, Denmark and Sweden were joined and the "Baltic Sea" of the age was a fresh water lake called the Ancylus Lake. The Ancylus age is followed by formation of the Littorina Sea and the Litorina Stage (named after the Littorina littorea mollusc) at around 6200 BC.

With the first human colonization of this new land (the territory of modern Sweden was partly under water though, and with radically different coastlines) during the Ancylus and Litorina ages begins the Nordic Stone Age. In recent years there have been archaeological finds in caves which strongly suggest human inhabitation of Scandinavia before the Weichsel glaciation, at least 50,000 years ago, presumably by Neanderthals.

Stone age

Upper Paleolithic

Main article: Upper Paleolithic

As the ice receded reindeer grazed on the plains of Denmark and southernmost Sweden. This was the land of the Ahrensburg culture, whose members hunted over territories 100 000 km² vast and lived in teepees on the tundra. On this land there was little forest but arctic white birch and rowan, but the taiga slowly appeared.


Main article: Mesolithic

In the 7th millennium BC, when the reindeer and their hunters had moved for northern Scandinavia, forests had been established in the land. A culture called the Maglemosian culture lived in Denmark and southern Sweden, and north of them, in Norway and most of southern Sweden, the Fosna-Hensbacka culture, who lived mostly along the shores of the thriving forests. Utilizing fire, boats and stone tools enabled these Stone Age inhabitants to survive life in northern Europe. The northern hunter/gatherers followed the herds and the salmon runs, moving south during the winters, moving north again during the summers. These early peoples followed cultural traditions similar to those practised throughout other regions in the far north – areas including modern Finland, Russia, and across the Bering Strait into the northernmost strip of North America (containing portions of today's Alaska and Canada).

During the 6th millennium BC, southern Scandinavia was clad in lush forests of temperate broadleaf and mixed forests. In these forests roamed animals such as aurochs, wisent, moose and red deer. Now, the Kongemose culture lived off these animals. Like their predecessors, they also hunted seals and fished in the rich waters. North of the Kongemose people, lived other hunter-gatherers in most of southern Norway and Sweden, called the Nøstvet and Lihult cultures, descendants of the Fosna and Hensbacka cultures. These cultures still hunted, in the end of the 6th millennium BC when the Kongemose culture was replaced by the Ertebølle culture in the south.


Main article: Neolithic

During the 5th millennium BC, the Ertebølle culture took up pottery from the Linear Pottery culture in the south, whose members had long cultivated the land and kept animals. About 4000 BC South Scandinavia up to River Dalälven in Sweden became part of the Funnelbeaker culture. The Pitted Ware culture then developed along Sweden's east coast as a return to a hunting economy in the mid-4th millennium BC (see the Alvastra pile-dwelling).

It is not known what language these early Scandinavians spoke. It might have been similar to Basque, due to the distribution of the monuments by early megalith builders. Towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, they were overrun by new groups who many scholars think spoke Proto-Indo-European, the Battle-Axe culture. This new people advanced up to Uppland and the Oslofjord, and they probably provided the language that was the ancestor of the modern Scandinavian languages. This new culture was individualistic and patriarchal with the battle axe as a status symbol, and were cattle herders. However, soon a new invention would arrive, that would usher in a time of cultural advance in Scandinavia, the Bronze Age.

Bronze Age

During the Nordic Bronze Age, an advanced civilization manufacturing bronze weapons and bronze and gold jewellery appears in Denmark, parts of Sweden and parts of Norway. It has been assumed that this civilization was founded in amber trade, through contacts with Central European and Mediterranean cultures.

The period 2300-500 BC was the most intensive petroglyph carving period, consisting of carvings of an agricultural nature and depicting warfare, ships, domesticated animals, etc. There has also been found petroglyphs with themes of sexual nature in Bohuslän; these are dated from 800-500 BC.

Iron Age

See also the separate articles on the Pre-Roman Iron Age, the Vendel Age, and the Roman Iron Age

Tacitus (about 98 AD) described a nation called "Suiones" living on an island in Sea. These Suiones had ships that were peculiar because they had a prow in both ends (the shape we recognise as Viking ships). This word Suiones is the same name as Anglo-Saxon Sweon whose country was called Sweoland (Svealand). In Beowulf, this tribe is also called Sweoðeod, from which the name Sweden is derived, and the country has the name Sweorice which is an old Anglo-Saxon form of the present Swedish name for Sweden.

In the 6th century the Ostrogoth Jordanes mentioned a tribe named Suehans which is the same name as Tacitus' Suiones. He also unwittingly described the same tribe by a different name, the Suetidi which is the same as an old name for Sweden, Svíþjóð and the English Sweoðeod.

Several sources, such as Beowulf, Ynglingatal, Ynglinga saga, Saxo Grammaticus and Historia Norwegiae, mention a number of Swedish kings who lived in the 6th century, such as Eadgils, Ohthere and Onela, as well as a number of Geatish kings. Some of these kings were in all likelihood historic kings, although the sources sometimes give contradictory information, such as the death of Ottar. See Mythological kings of Sweden and Semi-legendary kings of Sweden.

In those days the kings were warlords rather than kings as we understand that title today, and what was to become Sweden, Norway and Denmark in a modern sense, were a number of petty kingdoms whose borders changed constantly as the kings killed each other, and had the local assemblies accept them as kings. The politics of these early kingdoms are retold in Beowulf (see e.g. the semi-legendary Swedish-Geatish wars) and the Norse sagas.

One of the most powerful kings was the Swedish king who according to early sources only ruled what is today eastern Svealand. It is unknown when it happened and it probably happened several times, but when sources become more reliable the territories of the Swedish kings include Västergötland and other parts of Götaland. This stage is by some considered to be the beginning of Sweden, as we know it today.

Timeline of Swedish History

Period = from:-8000 till:2006 ImageSize= width:800 height:auto barincrement:21 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal PlotArea = right:80 left:30 bottom:40 top:5 AlignBars = justify

Colors =

    id:bg         value:white
    id:epoch      value:rgb(1,0.9,0.9)
    id:stoneage   value:rgb(1,0.85,0.85)
    id:bronzeage  value:rgb(1,1,0.6)
    id:bronzeage2  value:rgb(0.9,0.9,0.5)
    id:ironage    value:rgb(0.8,1,0.8)
    id:vendelera  value:rgb(0.9,1,0.6)
    id:vikingage  value:rgb(0.9,0.9,0.6)
    id:current    value:rgb(0.9,0.9,0.9)
    id:lightline  value:rgb(0.8,0.8,0.8)
    id:header     value:rgb(0.8,0.8,0.9)
    id:lighttext  value:rgb(0.5,0.5,0.5)
    id:migrations value:rgb(1,0.7,1) 
    id:early      value:rgb(0.7,1,0.7)

BackgroundColors = canvas:bg ScaleMajor = gridcolor:lightline unit:year increment:1000 start:-8000 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:500 start:-8000

BarData =



 width:15 textcolor:black
 bar:epochs color:epoch mark:(line,black)
   from:-8000 till:-7500 shift:(-25,0) text:"Ancylus age"
   from:-7500 till:-4000 text:"Litorina age"
   from:-4000 till:end text:"Post-Litorina age"
 barset:stoneages mark:(line,white)
   color:stoneage from:-8000 till:-1800 text:"Nordic Stone Age"
   color:epoch from:-8000 till:-7000 shift:(-10,0) text:"Upper Paleolithic"
   color:epoch from:-7000 till:-5000 text:"Mesolithic"
   color:epoch from:-5000 till:-1800 text:"Neolithic"
   color:bronzeage from:-1800 till:-600 shift:(-34,0) text:"Nordic Bronze Age"
 bar:bronzeageperiods color:epoch 
   color:bronzeage from:-1800 till:-1500 shift:(-3,0) text:"I"
   color:bronzeage2 from:-1500 till:-1300 shift:(-4,0) text:"II"
   color:bronzeage from:-1300 till:-1100 shift:(-4,0) text:"III"
   color:bronzeage2 from:-1100 till:-900 shift:(-5,0) text:"IV"
   color:bronzeage from:-900 till:-600 shift:(-4,0) text:"V"
   color:bronzeage2 from:-600 till:-500 shift:(-4,0) text:"VI"
   color:ironage from:-600 till:1 shift:(-20,0) text:"Pre-Roman Iron Age"
   color:ironage from:1 till:400  shift:(-15,0)text:"Roman Iron Age"
   color:ironage from:400 till:800  shift:(-15,0)text:"Germanic Iron Age"
   color:vendelera from:550 till:793  shift:(-5,0)text:"Vendel era"
   color:vikingage from:793 till:1066  shift:(-10,0)text:"Viking Age"
   color:migrations from:300 till:900  shift:(-20,0)text:"Migration Period"
   color:early from:800 till:1523  shift:(-25,0) text:"Middle Ages"
   color:early from:1523 till:end  shift:(-15,0) text:"Modern Sweden"

See also



  • Weibull, Curt, 1922: Sveriges och Danmarks äldsta historia - en orientering, CWK Gleerups förlag, Lund.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.