Prehistory and protohistory of Poland

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The prehistory and protohistory of Poland is the period from the first appearance of Homo species on the territory of modern-day Poland, to the establishment of the Polish state in the 10th century AD—a span of roughly 500,000 years.

The area of present-day Poland went through the stages of socio-technical development known as the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, while experiencing the climatic shifts of the glacial periods. The best known archeological discovery from the prehistoric period is the Lusatian-culture Biskupin fortified settlement. As ancient civilizations unfolded in southern and western Europe, the cultures of the area of present-day Poland came to be influenced in varying degrees by the civilizations.

Among the peoples that at that time inhabited various parts of Poland were Scythian, Celtic, Germanic, and Baltic tribes. Eventually, in the Middle Ages, the area came to be dominated by Slavic tribes and finally became home to a number of West Slavic Polish tribes that formed small states in the region, beginning in the 8th century.


As with other early periods areas of human history, knowledge of these times is limited, since few written ancient and medieval sources are available; research therefore relies primarily on archeology. Written language came to Poland only after 966 AD, when the ruler of the Polish lands converted to Christianity and educated foreign clerics arrived.[1]

Stone Age

Main article: Stone-Age Poland

Poland's Stone Age is divided into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras.

The Paleolithic era extended from about 500,000 BC to 8,000 BC and is subdivided into periods—the Lower Paleolithic, 500,000 to 350,000 BC; the Middle Paleolithic, 350,000 to 40,000 BC; the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BC; and the Final Paleolithic, 10,000 to 8,000 BC.

The Mesolithic era lasted from 8,000 to 5,500 BC; and the Neolithic, from 5,500 to 2,300 BC.

The Neolithic is subdivided into the Neolithic proper, 5,500 – 2,900 BC; and the Copper Age, 2,900 – 2,300 BC.[2]

Poland's Stone Age lasted 500,000 years and involved three distinct Homo species: Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens (humans). The Stone Age cultures ranged from early human groups with primitive tools, to advanced agricultural and stratified societies that used sophisticated stone tools, built fortified settlements, and developed copper metallurgy.

As elsewhere in Central Europe, Poland's Stone Age cultures passed through stages known as the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic, each of which brought refinements in stone-tool-making techniques. Paleolithic human activities (whose earliest sites are 500,000 years old) were intermittent because of recurring glaciations. A general climate warming and a resulting increase in ecologic diversity were characteristic of the Mesolithic (9,000–8,000 BC).

The Neolithic ushered in the first settled agricultural communities, whose founders had migrated in from the Danube River area, beginning about 5,500 BC. Later the native post-Mesolithic populations would also adopt and further develop the agricultural way of life (between 4,400 and about 2,000 BC).[3]

Bronze and Iron Ages

Poland's Bronze Age comprised Period I, 2,300–1,600 BC; Period II, 1,600–1,350 BC; Period III, 1,350–1,100 BC; Period IV, 1,100–900 BC; and Period V, 900–700 BC. The Early Iron Age included Hallstatt Period C, 700–600 BC, and Hallstatt Period D, 600–450 BC.[2]

Reconstructed Biskupin

Poland's Bronze- and Iron-Age cultures are known mainly from archeological research. Poland's Early Bronze Age cultures began around 2,300-2,400 BC.[4] The Iron Age commenced ca. 700-750 BC.[5] By the beginning of the Common Era, the Iron Age archeological cultures described in the main article no longer existed. Given the absence of written records, the ethnicities and linguistic affiliations of the groups living in Central and Eastern Europe at that time are speculative—there is considerable disagreement. In Poland the Lusatian culture, spanning the Bronze and Iron Ages, became particularly prominent. The most famous archeological discovery from that period is the Biskupin fortified settlement (gród), representing early-Iron-Age Lusatian culture.[6]

Bronze objects were brought to Poland around 2,300 BC from the Carpathian Basin. The native Early Bronze Age that followed was dominated by the innovative Unetice culture in western Poland, and by the conservative Mierzanowice culture in eastern Poland. These were replaced in their respective territories, for the duration of the subsequent Older Bronze Period by the (pre-Lusatian) Tumulus culture and the Trzciniec culture.

Characteristic of the remaining bronze periods were the Urnfield cultures; within their range, skeletal burials had been replaced by cremation throughout much of Europe. In Poland the Lusatian culture settlements dominated the landscape for nearly a thousand years, continuing into the Early Iron Age. A series of Scythian invasions, beginning in the 6th century BC, precipitated the demise of the Lusatian culture. The Hallstatt Period D was a time of expansion for the Pomeranian culture, while the Western Baltic kurgan culture occupied Poland's Masuria-Warmia region.[7][8]


Main article: Poland in Antiquity

The La Tène culture period is subdivided into La Tène A, 450–400 BC; La Tène B, 400–250 BC; La Tène C, 250–150 BC; and La Tène D, 150–0 BC. The period from 200 to 0 BC is also considered to be the younger pre-Roman period. It was followed by the period of Roman influence, whose early stage lasted from 0 to 150 AD, and the late stage from 150 to 375 AD. The period from 375 to 500 AD constitutes the (pre-Slavic) Migration Period.[2]

Peoples belonging to numerous archeological cultures identified with Celtic, Germanic and Baltic tribes inhabited parts of Poland in Antiquity, from about 400 BC to 450-500 AD. Other groups, difficult to identify, were most likely also present, as the ethnic composition of archeological cultures is often poorly recognized. Short of using a written language to any appreciable degree, many of them developed a relatively advanced material culture and social organization, as evidenced by the archeological record, for example by richly furnished, dynastic "princely" graves. Characteristic of this period were high rates of migration, often involving large groups of people.[9]

Celtic peoples established settlements, beginning in the early 4th century BC, mostly in southern Poland, the outer limit of their expansion. With their developed economy and crafts, they exerted a lasting cultural influence (La Tène culture) disproportionate to their small numbers in the region.[10]

Germanic peoples lived in what is now Poland for several centuries, during which many of their tribes also migrated southward and eastward (see Wielbark culture). With the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes came under Roman cultural influence. Some written remarks by Roman authors that are relevant to developments on Polish lands have been preserved; they provide additional insights in conjunction with the archeological record. In the end, as the Roman Empire was nearing its collapse and the nomadic peoples invading from the east destroyed, damaged or destabilized the various Germanic cultures and societies, the Germanic peoples left Eastern and Central Europe for the safer and wealthier southern and western parts of the European continent.[11]

The northeast corner of what is now Poland remained populated by Baltic tribes. They were at the outer limits of any substantial cultural influence from the Roman Empire.[12]


  1. Archeologia Żywa (Living Archeology), special English issue 2005; a publication commissioned by the Centre for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage in Warsaw
  2. 1 2 3 Andrzej Chwalba, ed., Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), Jacek Poleski, p. 8, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1999, ISBN 83-08-02855-1.
  3. Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich and Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2002, ISBN 83-7023-954-4, pp. 8-53.
  4. U źródeł Polski, p. 55, Sławomir Kadrow
  5. U źródeł Polski, p. 68, Bogusław Gediga.
  6. U źródeł Polski, pp. 54-85.
  7. Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), ed. Andrzej Chwalba, pp. 10-11, Jacek Poleski.
  8. U źródeł Polski, pp. 54-83, Sławomir Kadrow, Bogusław Gediga.
  9. U źródeł Polski, pp. 86-121.
  10. U źródeł Polski, pp. 86-93.
  11. U źródeł Polski, pp. 94-115.
  12. U źródeł Polski, pp. 116-119.

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