Comb Ceramic culture

Comb Ceramic culture

:"Pit-Comb Ware culture redirects here. For the contemporary (ca. 3200-2300 BC) Scandinavian culture with a similar name see Pitted Ware culture."The Comb Ceramic Culture or Pit-Comb Ware culture was a northeast European stone age culture. It existed from around 4200 BC to around 2000 BC. The name is derived from the most common type of decoration on its ceramics, which looks like the imprints of a comb.


The distribution of the artifacts found includes Finnmark (Norway) in the north, the Kalix River (Sweden) and the Gulf of Bothnia (Finland) in the west and the Vistula River (Poland) in the south.

In the east the Comb Ceramic pottery of northwestern Russia merges with a continuum of similar ceramic styles ranging towards the Ural mountains.

It would include the Narva culture of Estonia and the Sperrings culture in Finland, among others. They are thought to have been essentially hunter-gatherers, though e.g. the Narva culture in Lithuania shows some evidence of agriculture.

Some of this region was absorbed by the later Corded Ware horizon.


The ceramics consist of large pots that are rounded or pointed below, with a capacity from 40 to 60 litres. The forms of the vessels remained unchanged but the decoration varied.

By dating according to the elevation of land, the ceramics have traditionally (Äyräpää 1930) been divided into the following periods: "early" (Ka I, ca 4200 BC - ca 3300 BC), "typical" (Ka II, ca 3300 BC - ca 2700 BC) and "late Comb Ceramic" (Ka III, ca 2800 BC - ca 2000 BC).

However, calibrated radiocarbon dates for the Comb Ware fragments found e.g. in the Karelian isthmus give a total interval of 5600 BC - 2300 BC ("Geochronometria" Vol. 23, pp 93-99, 2004).

Among the many styles of Pit-Comb ware there is one which makes use of the characteristics of asbestos: Asbestos ware. Other styles are e.g. Pyheensilta, Jäkärlä, Kierikki and Säräisniemi pottery with their respective subdivisions. Sperrings ceramics is the original name given for the "younger early Comb ware" (Ka I:2) found in Finland.


The settlements were located at sea shores or beside lakes and the economy was based on hunting, fishing and the gathering of plants. In Finland, it was a maritime culture which became more and more specialised in hunting seals. The dominant dwelling was probably a teepee of about 30 square meters where some 15 people could live. Graves were dug at the settlements and the dead were covered with red ochre. The typical Comb Ceramic age shows an extensive use of objects made of flint and amber as grave offerings.


The stone tools changed very little over time. They were made of local materials such as slate and quartz. Finds suggest a fairly extensive exchange network: red slate originating from northern Scandinavia, asbestos from Lake Saimaa, green slate from Lake Onega, amber from the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and flint from the Valdai area in northwestern Russia.


The culture was characterised by small figurines of burnt clay and animal heads made of stone. The animal heads usually depict moose and bears and were derived from the art of the Mesolithic. There were also many rock paintings.


It is hypothesized that the Comb Ware people spoke a Uralic language and were predecessors of Finno-Ugric speaking tribes. They are not believed to have spoken an Indo-European language. On the other hand, some toponyms and hydronyms may indicate also a non-Uralic, non-Indo-European language at work in some areas.


*James P. Mallory, "Pit-Comb Ware Culture", "Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture", Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

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