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Ancient megastructure discovered in 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 used in the Stone Age – and could change what is known about how hunter-gatherers lived around 11 years ago 000 years.

Researchers and students from the University of Kiel in Germany first discovered the surprising row of stones about 21 meters underwater during a marine geophysical survey along the seabed of Mecklenburg Bay , approximately 9.7 kilometers off the coast of Rerik, Germany.

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

After researchers alerted the State Office for Culture and Monument Preservation of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to their discovery, an investigation began to determine what the structure might be and how it ended up at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Dive teams and an autonomous underwater vehicle were used to survey the site.

The team determined that the wall was likely built by Stone Age communities to hunt reindeer more than 10,000 years ago.

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 as well as construction in modern times, for example in connection with the laying of underwater cables or stone harvesting, are unlikely. The methodical arrangement of the many small stones that connect the large, non-moving boulders goes against this,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Jacob Geersen, senior scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Research on the Baltic Sea in Germany, in a press release.

The wall was likely built more than 10,000 years ago along the shores of a lake or bog, according to the study. Rocks were abundant in the area at the time, left behind by glaciers that had moved across the landscape.

But studying and dating submerged structures is incredibly difficult, so the research team had to analyze the area’s evolution to determine the approximate age of the wall. They collected sediment samples, created a 3D model of the wall and virtually recreated the landscape where it was originally built.

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

But things were different almost 11,000 years ago.

“At that time, the total population of Northern Europe was probably less than 5,000 people. One of their main food sources was reindeer herds, which migrated seasonally across the sparsely vegetated post-glacial landscape,” said study co-author Dr. Marcel Bradtmöller, assistant of research in prehistory and ancient history at the University of Rostock in Germany, in a press release. . “The wall was probably used to guide reindeer to a bottleneck between the adjacent lake shore and the wall, or even into the lake, where Stone Age hunters could kill them more easily 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 would have looked like in the Stone Age.

Hunter-gatherers used spears, bows and arrows to catch their prey, Bradtmöller explained.

A secondary structure may have been used to create the bottleneck, but the research team has yet to find any evidence of this, Geersen said. However, it is likely that the hunters guided the reindeer into the lake because the animals were swimming slowly, he said.

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

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

This discovery changes the way researchers think about highly mobile groups like hunter-gatherers, Bradtmöller said. Building a massive permanent structure like the wall implies that these regional groups may have been more focused on location and territories than previously thought, he said.

This discovery marks the first Stone Age hunting structure in the Baltic Sea region. But other comparable prehistoric hunting structures have been discovered elsewhere in the world, including the United States and Greenland, as well as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where researchers have discovered traps known as “deer traps”. -desert frills”.

Stone walls and hunting blinds built to hunt caribou have previously been discovered at the bottom of Lake Huron, Michigan, at a depth of 98 feet (30 meters). The construction and location of the Lake Huron Wall, which includes a lake shore on one side, is very similar to that of the Baltic Sea Wall, the study authors said.

Meanwhile, scientists continue their research in the Baltic using sonar and survey devices, and plan future dives in search of archaeological finds. Only by combining the expertise of those in fields such as marine geology, geophysics and archeology will such discoveries be possible, Geersen said.

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

“We have evidence of comparable stone walls in other places in (Mecklenburg Bay). These will also be systematically studied,” said study co-author Dr. Jens Schneider von Deimling, a researcher in the Marine Geophysics and Hydroacoustics Group at the University of Kiel, in a statement.

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