Digitale Geschichte und Historiographie

Environment and settlement location choice in Stone Age Estonia

The location choice of Stone Age settlements has been long considered to be influenced by environmental conditions. Proximity to water and sandy soils are most typical examples of those conditions. The notion of the influence resulted from the evidence from a relatively small amount of sites. During the recent decades the number of known settlements has increased to a level where statistical assessment of relation between environmental characteristics and settlement location choice is possible.

To undertake this task we collected data about known Estonian Stone Age settlements and acquired environmental data of their locations using publicly available geological datasets. We provide univariate descriptive statistics of the distributions of variables describing site conditions and compare them to characteristics generally present in the environment. We experiment with a set of environmental variables including soil type, distance to water and a selection of geomorphometry derivatives of the digital elevation model.

Quantitative assessment confirmed previous observations showing significant effect towards choice of sandy, dry location close to water bodies. The statistical analysis allowed us to assess the effect size of different characteristics. Proximity to water had the largest effect on settlement choice, while soil type was also of considerable importance. Abstract geomorphological variables Topographic Position Index and Topographic Wetness index also inform us about significant effects of surface forms.

Differences of settlement locations during stages of the Stone Age are well observable. The environmental conditions of sites from the pre-pottery Mesolithic follow the general pattern but with the greatest variation. Narva and Comb Ware stage settlement locations preferences are nearly identical to each other showing preference of sandy higher areas near the shoreline and indicating increased site investment. For Corded Ware period a new settlement mode is observable which is not any more directly related to water bodies and can be explained by semi-agrarian subsistence and decreasing dependence on aquatic resources.

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