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Section of a Stone Age megastructure in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany. Source: Philipp Hoy/PNAS

Nearly 11,000-Year-Old Megastructure Is Oldest Ever Found in Europe

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The oldest known megastructure built by humans has been found in Europe in the form of a Stone Age wall, almost an entire kilometer in length! Located at a depth of 21 meters (69 feet) in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany, the ‘Blinkerwall’ was found to be stretching along the seafloor, located by accident by scientists operating a multibeam sonar system from a research vessel on a student trip 10 kilometers (6 miles) offshore.

Surveying the Landscape: Underwater Prehistoric Marvel

This megastructure was built almost 11,000 years ago and was likely created by hungry Stone Age ‘reindeer’ hunters, also making it one of the oldest human-made hunting structures on Earth!

This collaborative scientific effort involved researchers from Kiel University, Rostock University, and the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, who conducted a survey along Germany's northern coast. The findings have been published in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the autumn of 2021, aboard the research vessel RV Alkor, the remarkable discovery unfolded as the wall comprising 1,673 individual stones was unveiled. The meticulous arrangement of the boulders suggested a deliberate construction rather than a natural formation. In total, the stones measure a whopping 142 tons!

The researchers subsequently utilized a fleet of ships and submarine drones to gather sonar data to investigate the dimensions and contours of the ancient hidden structure.

“Our investigations indicate that a natural origin of the underwater stonewall as well as a construction in modern times, for instance in connection with submarine cable laying or stone harvesting are not very likely. The methodical arrangement of the many small stones that connect the large, non-moveable boulders, speaks against this,” said lead study author Dr. Jacob Geersen, senior scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research in Germany, in a statement.

Artist’s depiction showing what the wall might have looked like when in use over 10,000 years ago. ( Michał Grabowski/Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde)

Artist’s depiction showing what the wall might have looked like when in use over 10,000 years ago. ( Michał Grabowski/Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde)

Hunter’s Delight: Herding the Reindeer In

The structure, thought to have been built by hunter-gatherers over 10,000 years ago near a lake or marsh, has led to speculation on its purpose. While definitive evidence is unlikely, scientists hypothesize that it may have functioned as a corridor for hunters chasing herds of Eurasian reindeer ( Rangifer tarandus).

The structures, known as drive lanes, are employed to control the direction of animal movement, facilitating their easy containment in a bottleneck for hunting purposes. In the case of Mecklenburg Bight, this bottleneck would likely occur between the wall and the nearby lakeshore, potentially even directing the animals into the lake itself, reports The Heritage Daily.

“When you chase the animals, they follow these structures, they don’t attempt to jump over them. The idea would be to create an artificial bottleneck with a second wall or with the lake shore,” added Geersen.

Researchers speculate the existence of a second wall that ran alongside the Blinkerwall and may be currently embedded in the seafloor sediments. The wall could have alternatively functioned as a fence that herded animals into the nearby lake, making them easy pickings. The hunters used spears and bows and arrows to add the finishing touches.

In fact, the orientation of the wall's topography suggests that it intersected with the biannual migration routes of reindeer across the North German Plain. By funneling these wandering herds into a confined dead-end, Neolithic hunter-gatherers likely found it easier to capture the animals, honing their skills in reindeer hunting.

It is noteworthy that reindeer were the most abundant source of food for these ancient humans, who are thought to have migrated seasonally “through the sparsely vegetated post-glacial landscape”. The construction of such a massive permanent structure like the wall suggests that the regional groups involved may have been more focused on specific locations and territoriality than previously thought.

Rising Sea Levels and Parallel Hunting Structures

Comparable hunting structures have been discovered in various parts of the world. Beneath Lake Huron, one of North America's Great Lakes, lies a 9,000-year-old hunting structure designed to guide caribou into a cul-de-sac formed by a natural cobble pavement. Similar prehistoric hunting structures have been unearthed in Greenland, as well as regions like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where researchers have identified traps referred to as "desert kites", reports CNN.

“We have evidence for the existence of comparable stonewalls at other locations in the (Bay of Mecklenburg). These will be systematically investigated as well,” said study coauthor Dr. Jens Schneider von Deimling, researcher in the Marine Geophysics and Hydroacoustics group at Kiel University.

Tectonic shifts, erosion, and fluctuations in climate, including changes in sea levels and glaciation, have collectively influenced the gradual transformation of Earth's landscape over millennia. As a consequence, many coastal settlements and structures have been submerged by the encroaching sea. However, advancements in technology have now made it feasible to uncover and explore these submerged structures, shedding light on our ancient past.

Rising sea levels, from roughly 8,500 years ago, started a process that would forever submerge these walls, making the information ever-so elusive. During this period, a significant portion of Northern Europe was inundated by rising sea levels. Approximately 8,200 years ago, a catastrophic event occurred when a tsunami triggered by a submarine landslide flooded the landmass connecting Britain to mainland Europe, known as Doggerland.

Top image: Section of a Stone Age megastructure in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany. Source: Philipp Hoy/PNAS

By Sahir Pandey

References

Geersen, J. 2024. A submerged Stone Age hunting architecture from the Western Baltic Sea. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 121 (8). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2312008121.

Hale, T. 2024. Sunken Ruins Of A 10,000-Year-Old Megastructure Found In The Baltic Sea. Available at: https://www.iflscience.com/sunken-ruins-of-a-10000-year-old-megastructure-found-in-the-baltic-sea-72908.

Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde Universität Rostock | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, 2024. Traces of Ice Age hunters discovered in the Baltic Sea. Available at: https://www.io-warnemuende.de/mitteilung/items/spuren-der-eiszeitjaeger-in-der-ostsee-entdeckt.html

Sample, I. 2024. Stone age wall found at bottom of Baltic Sea ‘may be Europe’s oldest megastructure’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2024/feb/12/stone-age-wall-found-at-bottom-of-baltic-sea-may-be-europes-oldest-megastructure.

Strickland, A. 2024. Stone Age megastructure found submerged in the Baltic Sea wasn’t formed by nature, scientists say. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2024/02/12/world/baltic-sea-hunter-gatherer-megastructure-scn/index.html.

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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