Botanical macroremains from Kretuonas and Turlojiskes

Kretuonas is located in eastern Lithuania, at the southern edge of the Aukstaitijos (Highland) National Park around Lake Kretuonas with a modern shoreline diameter of 16.6 km.
The topography of the Neolithic sites Kretuonas 1B (Middle Neolithic with Narva Culture pottery; c. 2900-2100 bc) and Kretuonas 1A (Late Neolithic with Corded Ware pottery; c. 2100-1600 bc) is connected with the fluctuations of the water level of Lake Kretuonas. Peat formation started in the Atlantic period (6510 160 BC).
Turlojiskes is in south-western Lithuania in the Marijampole region. The peaty site dates to the Early Bronze Age, based on the ceramics and one radiocarbon date (1892 BC).
Pottery and polished stone artifacts are the characteristics of the Lithuanian Neolithic, whereas signs of domestication and cultivation are rare or in most cases missing. Artifacts and subsistence economy appear to be a continuation of the previous Mesolithic tradition.

Girininkas describes the subsistence strategy of fishing-hunting-gathering as sufficiently profitable, so that flint blades and sickles were used only in the Late Neolithic, although the inhabitants of Kretuonas seem to have used hoes, round quern stones for grain grinding during Middle Neolithic already (Girininkas 1990).
Red deer was among the dominant wild game (55%), in contrast to elk in western Lithuania. Beside this birds (ducks) were also an important food resource. Fishing was individually and collectively practised. Plant-gathering seems not to be well represented on the sites. The remains of hazelnuts (Corylus avellana) and water chestnut (Trapa natans) were found. In addition, it is assumed that molluscs were used for food, as well as mushrooms, berries, and various edible roots. During Middle Neolithic domestic animals were already known: small cattle, pigs, horses, and dogs (7% of the bones). In Late Neolithic sites the situation did not change much. Generally a protein-dominated diet seems to have existed at Kretuonas 1A and 1B.

The archaeobotanical samples cover the periods of transition to farming in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Lithuania.
A model of a gradual nature of the transition to farming was proposed by Zvelebil and Rowley-Conwy and further developed by Daugnora and Girininkas (quoted in Antanaityte 1999), consisting of three phases: an availability phase, a substitution phase and a consolidation phase.
The availability phase is characterised by foraging with a proportion of domesticates and cultigens of less than 5%. In the substitution phase both strategies, foraging and farming are practised with the participation of livestock and crops up to 50%. The consolidation phase is characterised by farming, although foraging is still practised.
The availability phase seems to have occurred during Early Neolithic in Western Lithuania, the substitution phase in the Middle and Late Neolithic, the consolidation phase - in the Early Bronze Age. By contrast in Eastern Lithuania, the availability phase occurred during the Middle and Late Neolithic, the substitution phase during the Early Bronze Age, the consolidation phase in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age. Lithuanian archaeologists conclude from this model that plant production developed first in western Lithuania, whereas in eastern Lithuania animal husbandry was more prevalent.

The recent archaeobotanical results from the two Lithuanian sites Kretuonas and Turlojiskes confirm the above suggestions.
At Kretuonas 120 samples were taken for macrobotanical analysis since 1997, at Turlojiskes only 46 samples were available.
From this sample set only a few samples were fully analysed from Kretuonas and Turlojiskes, the remaining were scanned for their main species (species list;
zipped Excel file).

At Kretuonas only 30 samples contained seeds in the subsamples, whereas at Turlojiskes almost all the samples had seeds, which were uncarbonized.
Almost all the represented species belong to the wild plants. Only in one sample from Turlojiskes carbonised millet grains (Panicum miliaceum) were preserved (Beside this, no other crops were found at these sites. Broomcorn millet appears rather early in eastern Europe (5th millennium bc; Zohary and Hopf 1993) and is also known from Late Neolithic sites in West Lithuania. Other food plants were raspberry (Rubus idaeus), probable apple tree (Malus sylvestris) and hazelnut (Corylus avellana).

Of the wild species that can be assigned to eco-groups, the wetland plants are most numerous at Turlojiskes. Considering the seed numbers, wetland plants but also ruderals are most abundant.
The picture is much different at Kretuonas. Ruderals, namely are the main ecological category at this site. The samples consisted mainly only of one species: Chenopodium album, which could well be a modern contaminant of the samples. From the 30 subsamples 83% were dominated by this species. Only 3 samples were dominated by seeds from gathered fruits (Rubus idaeus) and hazelnut (Corylus avellana). Beside this the tricarpellate Carex spp. occurred, which were also abundant at Turlojiskes. One single proof of Coniferae tree was provided by the finds of some needle fragments of Picea/Pinus.
With the few counts of other species from Kretuonas (Rumexsp., Galiumsp., Polygonum lapathifolium/persicum, Ranunculussp., Taraxacumsp.) the species spectrum can be described as small and probably contaminated by modern Chenopodium album. The sandy character of the sediment at this site may have been also reason for the taphonomy of the botanical remains.

At Turlojiskes the species spectrum was much larger and less homogeneous.
There were at least 3 different ecological categories represented in the samples (sample composition;
Word zip-file): one category indicating moist conditions with a very high proportion of sedges and other wetland and waterplants (Alisma plantago-aquatica, Typha latifolia, Chara sp., Schoenoplectus lacustris; Fig. 2 - 4) (Turloj 154b, 158b and 122), one indicating moist but more ruderal conditions, with Urtica dioica as the dominant species within the samples (Turloj 139, and 149), and one with the main species (Arenaria serpyllifolia, Chenopodium album) adapted to open vegetation on sandy soils (Turloj 121).
The scanned subsamples similarly participate in the spectrum of ecological categories as already described above for the fully analysed samples.
Most of the subsamples were dominated by species from wetland habitats, followed by those from ruderal habitats. Quite a few were dominated by hazelnut remains.

Disregarding taphonomic problems at the sites Kretuonas and Turlojiskes, the remains represent more likely the natural surrounding than anthropogenically influenced habitats. The inhabitants of the settlements probably still had a subsistence strategy mainly dependent on livestock, hunting and gathering. Only at Turlojiskes we can assume a certain degree of millet cultivation.


Antanaityte, I., 1999, The evolution of farming in Lithuania's Neolithic and Bronze Age and the archaeobotanical evidence. Vilnius: Archaeology Department.

Girininkas, A., 1990, Archeologija Litvy VII: Kretuonas srednij i pozdnij neolit. Vilnius: Mokslas.

Zohary, Daniel, and Maria Hopf, 1993, Domestication of plants in the old world. The origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

back to homepage

last updated 09.08.1999 Simone Riehl