April 17, 2012

Epipaleolithic paddles found in Danish waters

Paddles are only part of the hoard of objects made of organic materials rescued from what once was an Epipaleolithic settlement of the Ertebølle culture (c. 5400-3900 BCE): undamaged antler axes (right), wooden knife handles and the skull of a dog had also been preserved underwater at that location, with low oxygen levels, just off the coast.

A quite spectacularly preserved paddle:

Video of cleaning a piece of wood at the Moesgård Museum (no sound):

Source: Science Nordic.

Update (Nov 2012):

A new article also at Science Nordic discusses the paddles and how they have marks (three bars at the side) that are similar in concept but different in the detail of the execution. The shape of the paddles is also different.

My intuition wanted to see in this the execution by people connected by culture and maybe even direct family relationship but separated in time. Although not too much, maybe just one century... Just speculating a bit - other interpretations are perfectly possible, of course.


  1. Quite a nice paddle, obviously a mature technology, even at that early date.

  2. Wow! What a find!

    Wouldn't it be amazing if some sort of inscription or symbol could be teased out of one or more of those objects?

  3. Andrew, I am not sure what sort of inscription you would be expecting. This would be expected to be an illiterate culture. Geometric decoration? Animal totems?

  4. I agree that the paddle is a "mature technology". We should not be surprised however as Late Upper Paleolithic peoples of Europe clearly exploited the many resources that offered the sea (which may well be the cause of the Magdalenian demographic explosion) and must have got a quite decent and consolidated boating technology.

    Magdalenians are documented (from tissue) to have eaten plenty of sea mammals used whale barbs for tools, painted alcas (Northern hemisphere's "penguins", now extinct), they had those characteristic proto-harpoons, so similar in concept to historical Inuit ones, which must have been used for fishing and sea hunt (they'd be absurd to use against land animals which don't normally sink nor flee towards the depths). All this (except the proto-harpoons) has been understood only in the last years AFAIK.

    The Ertebølle culture seems rather to descend from the Hamburgian-Ahrensburgian one, less well known and restricted to the lands around the North Sea, as well the now sunk Doggerland but its distribution around the North Sea waters (even if Doggerland was emerged, it was still a marshy peninsula) strongly suggest that these people were also seafarers.

  5. "Paddles are only part of the hoard of objects made of organic materials rescued from what once was an Epipaleolithic settlement of the Ertebølle culture (c. 5400-3900 BCE)"

    Is the find really so surprising? Humans were beginning to get around the islands in the Mediterranean quite easliy by that time. Mind you I understand that the earliest paddle found up till now was just 5600 years ago, also in Denmark. So the find extends the hard evidence back at least a thousand years.

    1. Not so much surprising as impacting. While we know about that more or less (Ertebølle has produced logboats before), the preservation of wood is very unusual and hence it has extra significance for just that reason.

      Also most of us had never seen before an Epipaleolithic paddle. Notice that these people are pre-Neolithic and while, loosely contemporary with the high seas navigators and fishermen of Cardium Pottery in the Mediterranean, they are actually related in blood as in culture with the seal and bison hunters of Late Upper Paleolithic Europe, rather than the goat herders of the south.

      C. 5500 BCE is almost exactly the date of arrival of Neolithic to Western Europe (France, Iberia, Germany...) There is overlap but hardly any connection.

      All of them, Neolithic and Epipaleolithic peoples were working those paddles and other stuff with just the usual Stone Age technological kit, not that different from what Aurignacian people had back in the day for example (no metal tools certainly).

  6. (Sorry DDEden but you have finally been declared spam. You need a psychiatrist, not commenting here).

  7. (Life is easier without trolls who don't respect others' space)


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (your comment may take some time, maybe days or weeks to appear).