Prehistoric Europe

See also: European history

Among the world's continents, Europe might be the the one most thoroughly excavated by archaeologists. Prehistory is usually defined as the time before written language, which was at most places in Europe introduced by Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, or Christianity. Even after the introduction of writing to an area, in most cases (the exceptions being mostly the Roman era), only a small elite could write, and as they wrote mostly about themselves, the lives of the "common people" are in a sense "prehistoric" (i.e., there are no writings by or about them and current knowledge about them is from excavations rather than documents) up until quite recently. For some areas and times on the other hand we do have what appears to be writing but still can't make any sense of them. In Europe this is most famously the case for Linear A on Crete. This means that our knowledge of such cultures is the same as if we had no writing at all.

The Nordic countries were covered by an ice sheet until around 10,000 BC, and much of the land was below sea level, so settlements came late; see Vikings and the Old Norse. There is however some remaining evidence of pre-glacial population in Karijoki.

Caves are often mistaken for the regular dwellings of prehistoric people ("cavemen") and while they may have served as shelter, ritual places or even permanent dwellings in some cases, it is more likely that the only reason we have found more and better preserved objects from the Paleolithic in caves is because of their unique climate that conserves things better than a temporary hut made out of mammoth teeth.


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