Oldest megastructure in Europe discovered

Megastructure stones

The Stone Age megastructure consists of closely spaced boulders that form a wall or embankment at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. © Philipp Hoy

The oldest large-scale buildings known to mankind were previously known from the Middle East and the Arabian desert. But now scientists have also discovered a Stone Age megastructure in the Baltic Sea. It is an around 10,000 year old, almost one kilometer long wall made of lined up boulders. Today this structure lies at the bottom of the Mecklenburg Bay, but back then the sea levels were lower. The wall could therefore have helped Ice Age hunters hunt reindeer.

For a long time it was believed that humanity was only able to build large buildings once it became settled and larger, hierarchical societies emerged. Because these required the coordinated cooperation of many individuals. But discoveries such as the stone circles of Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia or miles of wildlife traps in the Arabian desert disprove this. They are already a good 10,000 years old and were built by Stone Age hunters and gatherers. Archaeologists have also discovered similar hunting structures built by Ice Age hunters and gatherers on Greenland and at the bottom of the North American Great Lakes.

Found in the Mecklenburg Bay

But it was still unclear whether there were comparable megastructures in Central Europe. “These structures were usually not preserved in the densely populated center of the European subcontinent,” explain Jacob Geersen from the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Warnemünde and his colleagues. If such buildings have survived, they are mostly in the coastal areas of the North and Baltic Seas. During the last ice age, sea levels were significantly lower than today, meaning that large areas of the seabed were land at the time. One of these areas is the Mecklenburg Bay in the Baltic Sea, which is a maximum of 28 meters deep.

Now Geersen and his colleagues have discovered an unusual structure during a hydroacoustic survey on the eastern edge of the Mecklenburg Bay. It is an elevation almost a kilometer long and about a meter high. This structure, dubbed the “Blinkermauer,” lies around 21 meters deep and ends in the northeast at a hill around eight meters high. “Video recordings of various sections of this wall confirmed that the flashing wall is formed by a sequence of individual stones,” report the researchers. 1,673 smaller and larger boulders are lined up to form a 971 meter long wall.

Stone Age wall as a hunting aid?

“The Blinkermauer represents an extraordinary morphological structure that has never before been documented anywhere in the Baltic Sea,” the scientists state. According to their analyses, the sunken row of stones must be more than 10,000 years old. It was therefore created when this part of the Mecklenburg Bay was not yet flooded. “There are natural processes that can transport stones in this way. But they are very rare and tied to very specific geological circumstances,” explain Geersen and his team.

The researchers therefore believe it is more likely that the Stone Age megastructure was created by human hands. Ice Age hunters and gatherers could therefore have lined up these stones. This is also supported by the fact that the heaviest and largest stones do not appear to be distributed randomly: “The ten heaviest stones are all in the areas where the stone wall changes direction,” say Geersen and his colleagues. It is still unclear what the stone wall was used for at the time. However, the scientists suspect that it served as a hunting aid, similar to the wild animal traps in the Arabian desert. The blinker wall could therefore have diverted herds of reindeer and driven them towards natural obstacles such as a ridge or pond. There the hunters could then kill their prey more easily.

If this is confirmed, this megastructure would be a unique find to date: "The Blinkermauer represents one of the world's oldest examples of man-made hunting architecture - and it could be the oldest man-made megastructure in all of Europe," state Geersen and his colleagues. “This is a truly exciting discovery – not only because of its age, but also because it can help us better understand the lifestyles of early hunter-gatherer communities.”

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2312008121

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