Submerged wall may be Europe’s largest Stone Age mammoth structure

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Graphical reconstruction of a stone wall as a hunting structure in a glacial landscape

Michael Grabowski

A low stone wall about a kilometer long has been found 21 meters below the surface of the Baltic Sea near the German coast. The wall is believed to have been built about 11,000 years ago to herd reindeer to places where they could be easily killed, and may be the largest Stone Age megastructure in Europe.

This discovery happened by chance. In 2021, on training practice with student geophysicist jacob gerson The Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemunde in Germany used a multibeam sonar to map the sea floor 10 kilometers off the town of Rerich.

“Later, in the lab, we realized that this was the structure that didn’t look natural,” says Gerson.

So in 2022, he and his colleagues lowered a camera beneath the structure, revealing a row of stones. “It was only when we contacted archaeologists that we realized this could be something important,” says Gerson.

Team members say there is no reason or evidence that any modern structure was built under water at the site Marcel Bradmoeller, an archaeologist at the University of Rostock, Germany. Nor could the team think of any natural process that could create such a structure.

This suggests the wall was built when the area was dry land, meaning it would be between 8,500 and 14,000 years old, says Bradmöller. Before then, the area was covered with ice sheets that destroyed any stone structures, while, later, rising sea levels submerged the area.

This wall runs along what used to be a lake. It consists of about 10 large rocks up to 3 meters wide and weighing several tons, connected by more than 1600 smaller stones, mostly weighing less than 100 kilograms. The stones are placed next to each other rather than on top of each other, and the height of the wall is less than a meter in most places.

All the large stones are found where the wall is crooked. So the team believes that the structure was built by combining larger stones that were too heavy and smaller stones that could be moved.

Bradmöller believes it was probably built by hunter-gatherers known as the Kongemose culture, named after a site in Denmark where artifacts such as stone tools were found.

He says the most likely explanation is that the structure was used to channel reindeer. “At the moment, the hypothesis that fits best is a motivational wall for hunting.”

While these hunter-gatherers are believed to have lived and roamed in small groups, Bradmöller says that when reindeer arrived in the area they may have gathered in large numbers at the lake.

Similar low-lying moths, sometimes called desert kites, have been found in several locations in Africa and the Middle East. beneath the great lakes in North America. Some are up to 5 kilometers long, and it is now widely agreed that they were used for hunting.

Although these walls are usually low enough that animals such as antelope can jump over them, they usually avoid them when running in herds, say Marlies Lombard at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, who have discovered similar structures. “In such circumstances, instead of crossing obstacles such as low fences, they tend to run parallel to them,” she says.

Lombard says many desert kites have two walls in a V-shape to trap animals, but one wall can still be an effective driving line. Bradmöller says one possibility with the newly discovered wall is that it was used to herd reindeer to the lake, where they were hunted from boats.

It’s also possible that there is another wall covered in sediment nearby, says Gerson. He is planning further investigations, including diving, to try to find direct evidence of Stone Age people, but, so far, researchers have failed due to bad weather.

Other experts also agree with his findings. “I think the case is well made for the wall as an artificial structure built to control the movements of migratory reindeer,” says the archaeologist. Geoff Bailey At the University of York in the UK.

“Such discoveries suggest that extensive prehistoric hunting landscapes may have survived in a way previously seen only in the Great Lakes,” says Vincent Gaffney At the University of Bradford in Britain. “This has a huge impact on areas of the coastal shelf that were previously habitable.”

Gerson says modern activities such as trawling, cable-laying and wind farm construction can destroy such sites, so more exploration is needed to find them before they are lost.

Bradmöller says that no other such structure has been discovered in Europe. He thinks that it is possible that many peoples once existed, but that they became extinct due to human activities.

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