The Mesolithic – around 9500 to 4000 BC

When the climate changed at the end of the Palaeolithic, so did the living conditions for the people settled in Brandenburg. From around 9500 BC, our region entered the so-called Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.

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From the 11th century to the 6th century BC, hunters, fishermen and gatherers lived in the area around Bützsee near Altfriesack (District of Ostprignitz-Ruppin) and in Freisack (District of Havelland). Archaeologists also found numerous traces of settlements in the Malxetal valley between Grötsch und Heinersbrück (District of Spree-Neiße) at the site of a soft coal opencast mine.

Back then, people used spears and bows and arrows to hunt red deer, roe deer and wild boar. They also caught fish with fishing spears, rods and the oldest known fishing nets in the world. Gatherers collected fruits, berries, mushrooms and small animals like snails or tortoises to supplement their diets. They lived in huts made from wooden poles, tree bark, bundles of sticks and reeds that were always built on the banks of lakes or rivers.

New types of tools made from bones, antlers or wood, as well as the first flint axes, added to the objects used by people during the Mesolithic. Characteristic artefacts from this period are geometric, small tools made from flint (so-called microliths) that were used for weapons (e.g. arrowheads) and tools like knives.

From 6000 BC, people gradually shifted from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle. However, some hunter-gatherers in certain areas of Brandenburg continued with their way of life until 3000 B.C.

The Neolithic – around 4000 to 2200 BC

The innovations that transformed life in Brandenburg at the end of the 6th century BC probably came from Central Germany and Silesia: the construction of permanent houses, keeping pets, arable farming, pots made from ceramics and stone grinding. This period is known as the Neolithic, or the New Stone Age.

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At the beginning, the settlements of Neolithic farmers were small islands in the Brandenburg area as many inhabitants still primarily lived a Mesolithic lifestyle. Their traces, particularly remnants of their Linear Pottery Culture (a reference to pottery decorated with pairs of parallel lines in different patterns), can still be found in Havelland, in the area around the village of Jüterbog, and in the Uckermark region around Prenzlau and Angermünde. It was not until around 4000 BC that the hunters, fishers and gatherers transitioned to farming and animal husbandry in the Mark. Archaeologists name this era the “funnelbeaker culture” after the predominant shape of pottery.

What was characteristic for the Neolithic period was the culture of funeral rites, whereby the dead were buried in a crouched position in simple graves. Over time, humans started digging more elaborate graves and protecting them with stones. This led to the development of megalithic tombs made from large stones; in Brandenburg, however, this happened only in the Uckermark and Prignitz areas. Pottery, tools and jewellery also evolved over the Neolithic period. Regional cultural groups characterised by different and sometimes richly ornamented pottery (Havelland culture, Globular Amphora culture, Corded Ware culture, etc.) dominated the landscape of the late Neolithic period. At the end of the 3rd millennium BC, humans learned how to work metal (copper and gold). A new age thus began.

The Bronze Age – 2000 to 800 BC

Humans in Brandenburg had spent millennia working with just stone, bone and wooden tools, until the end of the 3rd millennium BC when a new material emerged that would change human lives forever.

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Humans first learned how to use pure, very soft copper, essentially for jewellery. A harder metal would be needed for weapons and tools. This was achieved by way of an alloy of copper and tin, bronze, which reached our region as of around 2000 BC. Knowledge of bronzeworking came to Central Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean. As mineral resources were not available locally, the raw materials had to be brought in from the south, such as the eastern Alps or the low mountains of southern Germany. Exchange goods in this extensive trade and communication network were likely amber, salt, skins or other natural objects.

Society was changing, too. There were now specialised crafters, and an upper class with a “tribal chief” at its head emerged. We can perhaps see such a chief in the royal tomb of Seddin (Prignitz district). An imposing mound, the specific design of the tomb chamber and the wealth of additional features make this grave stand out from the rest.

During the early Bronze Age, the dead were buried without cremation in a continuation of Neolithic traditions. However, in southern Brandenburg, the Lusatian culture introduced cremation burials as of the mid 2nd millennium BC. In the north, which remained under the influence of what is known as the Nordic Bronze Age, this custom did not arrive until a little later.

Bronze remained the predominant metal for tools, jewellery and weapons until the 8th century BC when it started being replaced by iron.



The Iron Age – 800 to 50 BC

Since the 10th century BC, some objects started being made in a new material, iron. Around 200 years later, humans in Brandenburg also learned how to make objects using this metal. Archaeologists therefore call this the Iron Age.

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This new material had numerous advantages. Iit was significantly stronger than bronze, and therefore more suitable for tools, utensils and weapons. In addition, the raw material required to produce iron, bog iron ore, was available in abundance in Brandenburg, meaning that people no longer had to rely on imports.

The first users of this new metal were humans from the Billendorfer and Göritzer cultures who were still following Bronze Age customs and traditions. They often buried their dead with a wealth of objects such as jewellery, clothing, tools and many earthenware vessels. Food and drink were also left for the departed to help them in the next part of their journey.

In the 6th century BC, a remarkable cultural shift took place over a short period. The Jastorf culture emerged, which would in turn later evolve into Germanic tribes. The links to the eastern Alps were severed during this period. The dead were now buried in a uniform fashion, accompanied by only a little jewellery and some remnants of clothing with no additional pottery. It was not until the end of this era, around the 1st century BC, that a hierarchical society could once again be seen in burial practices.

The next area was characterised in Brandenburg, as elsewhere, by the influence of the Roman Empire.

Roman Empire – 50 BC until 375 AD

Although the area of Brandenburg and the Germanic tribes settled there were not part of the Roman Empire, it still became the focus of Roman historical investigations in the decades around the turn of the century. Contemporary written sources are now increasingly supplementing archaeological remains, allowing further insight into how humans lived.

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This way, we can discover the names of tribes and notable individuals, habits and customs, and general ideas. In our area, it was the Semnone, Lombard and Burgundian tribes that were inherited. The most important source, although controversial, is that of Tacitus at the end of the 1st century AD, “De origine et situ germanorum”, the well-known “Germania”

Numerous Roman objects found their way into Germanic areas, sometimes as spoils of war, but also as gifts, trade objects or pay for mercenaries. In addition to coins, metal vessels, pottery, jewellery, clothing and weapons were left behind. “Organic” goods such as wine, fruit, vegetables, animals and textiles were certainly also present, but these are much harder to recover.

The Germanic peoples lived in byre dwellings, which were homes for both people and animals. There were also sunken pit houses for spinning and weaving, smaller storage structures and numerous well facilities. A little outside of the settlements were more productive areas, such as for iron smelting. These were run on an almost industrial scale, as demonstrated by the hundreds of smelting furnaces discovered for example in Wolkenberg (Spree-Neiße district).

The first migrations started as early as the 3rd century AD, reaching their peak in the Migration Period of the 5th and 6th century.

Migration Period – 375 to 600 AD

Unsettled times set in as the Huns left the steppes of Asia and spread into Central Europe at the end of the 4th century, displacing many tribes from their settled areas. The chain reaction led to an age of mass migration referred to today as the Migration Period. In Brandenburg, however, as shown by the sparse findings during this period, there seems to have been just emigration with no real immigration of foreign peoples.

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Graveyards and settlements continued being used to a certain extent. It took a long time for new habits and customs, such as the burial of bodies rather than cremation, to settle into the area between the Elbe and Oder rivers.

The few findings suggest a close political and cultural link between inhabitants at the time and the powerful Thuringii empire. This can be seen from the skull towers found in graveyards in Ketzin (Havelland district) and Phöben (Potsdam-Middle Mark district). This was a form of artificial skull deformation found in the Thuringii empire which can likely be traced back to Hunnic influences. Some forms of jewellery, such as certain fibulae (robe clasps, e.g., from Waltersdorf, Dahme-Spreewald district) also attest to these connections.


In 531 AD, the Thuringii empire was conquered by the Franks. A few decades later, Frankish kings settled most Germanic peoples outside of the Brandenburg region, west of the Elbe and Unstrut rivers. In the 6th century, a millennia-long consistent settlement thus ended. It was not until after an extensive time without settlements of around 140 years that Slavic peoples started to settle here in the early Middle Ages.

Slavic Period – 600 to 1200 AD

Starting at the end of the 7th century, various Slavic tribes from Eastern Europe settled the areas that had been mostly abandoned by the Germanic tribes. In Havelland, this was the Havelli tribe, whose constructions included an important castle on the Dominsel island of Brandenburg. This major fortification was found through excavations on the current Dominsel island in the city of Brandenburg. In the North Mark lived Ukrani and Linones, and in the South were Sprevani and Lusic.

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In addition to archaeological sources, German, Bohemian and Arabic records and documents speak of the Slavic peoples. This is how we know that the subjugation of the Slavic tribes began in 928/929 with the founding of “Brandenburg”. After the Slavic uprising in 983, however, it took another good 170 years until these Havellian lands finally became part of the German Empire in 1157. This was the central area of what would become the Mark Brandenburg.

The Slavic peoples lived in small settlements. As well as these, there were also castles, including princely residences, such as Lenzen in Prignitz, where the majority of the production work was concentrated. Woodwork in particular, but also bone carving, leather and metalwork as well as glass production were all significantly developed here. Distant trade was handled by Arabian, Jewish or German merchants who brought the first coins to Brandenburg.

The Slavs worshipped various deities in temples and groves. In the city of Brandenburg for example, on the Marienberg hill, a shrine to the three-headed god Triglav was erected. When the bishoprics of Havelberg and Brandenburg were established in the middle of the 10th century, the Christian faith came to Brandenburg for the first time. After the final subjugation of the Slavs, many Germanic migrants flocked to the area. The population of the Marks then developed from them and the local Slavs.

German Middle Ages – 1200 to 1500 AD

In 1157, the Ascanian margrave Albert the Bear and the Archbishop of Magdeburg were finally able to take over the Slavic areas between the Elbe and Oder rivers. They brought with them not only nobles, but also citizens, peasants and crafters from the western German empire to Brandenburg. These people were awarded land, where they founded settlements, castles and cities. In some cases, Slavs were included in these state development projects, and in others, German and Slavic settlements coexisted alongside each other.

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It was not unusual for merchant quarters in Slavic castles to become the heart of future cities. As well as these, a number of new cities, around 120 or so, were also founded from the end of the 12th into the 14th centuries. However, some of these cities were in unsuitable locations and had to be abandoned, as shown by the deserted “Old Town” of Freyenstein (Ostprignitz-Ruppin district). Medieval findings are unearthed in particular from construction projects in city centres. However, excavations in entire villages, that had to be abandoned for major projects such as the Berlin-Brandenburg international airport or in preparation of open-cast lignite mining, also expand our knowledge. In addition to the typical pottery shards, it is not unusual to find wood and leather objects and bone tools. Everyday objects made from metal, as well as timber and boardwalks, are also common findings.

Construction structures and the related archaeological findings provide insight into early life in our cities and villages. They are one of the best ways to understand centuries-old traditions as well as extensive evolutions in the economic and social structures of the Middle Ages.

The Modern Age – 1500 to today

We start talking about the Modern Age as of the start of the 16th century. In many places, written sources, records and plans were lost, due to city-wide fires or other accidents, and due in particular to the destruction caused by World War II. Few such traces existed in general for smaller settlements or villages. This means that the early history of cities and villages can often only be reconstructed through archaeology.

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In this process, investigations in city centres of the early Modern Age, i.e., the 16th and 17th centuries, are particularly important. Foundations and underground vaults, covered roads and marketplaces, city gates and fortifications clarify the image left to us by historical sources. Pottery, tools, wooden and glass objects as well as animal and plant remains of meals offer new insight into the everyday lives of peasants, citizens and crafters.

However, archaeologists do not only study cities and villages. Their excavations also increasingly focus on industrial sites, military outposts and structures from the Third Reich, including concentration and labour camps. In this way, the construction history and infrastructure of concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen can be more accurately traced through findings on the ground. Despite the apparently large amount of written and photographic evidence, including eyewitness reports, archaeological findings can significantly complement and expand our knowledge of this period.



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[Translate to Englisch:] Das Projekt des Archäologischen Landesmuseum Brandenburg wurde gefördert durch das Ministerium für Kultur und Medien
[Translate to Englisch:] Das Projekt des Landesmuseums Brandenburg wurde gefördert
[Translate to Englisch:] Das Projekt des Archäologischen Landesmuseum Brandenburg wurde gefördert durch die Kulturstiftung
[Translate to Englisch:] Das Projekt des Archäologischen Landesmuseum Brandenburg wurde gefördert durch Kultur Gemeinschaften