Archaeological culture

An archaeological culture is a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place that may constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society. The connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and does not necessarily relate to real groups of humans in the past. The concept of archaeological culture is fundamental to culture-historical archaeology.


Different cultural groups have material culture items that differ both functionally and aesthetically due to varying cultural and social practices. This notion is observably true on the broadest scales. For example, the equipment associated with the brewing of tea varies greatly across the world. Social relations to material culture often include notions of identity and status.

Advocates of culture-historical archaeology use the notion to argue that sets of material culture can be used to trace ancient groups of people that were either self-identifying societies or ethnic groups. The classic definition of this idea comes from Gordon Childe:

We find certain types of remains – pots, implements, ornaments, burial rites and house forms – constantly recurring together. Such a complex of associated traits we shall call a "cultural group" or just a "culture". We assume that such a complex is the material expression of what today we would call "a people".

— Childe 1929, pp. v–vi

The concept of an archaeological culture was crucial to linking the typological analysis of archaeological evidence to mechanisms that attempted to explain why they change through time. The key explanations favoured by culture-historians were the diffusion of forms from one group to another or the migration of the peoples themselves. A simplistic example of the process might be that if one pottery-type had handles very similar to those of a neighbouring type but decoration similar to a different neighbour, the idea for the two features might have diffused from the neighbours. Conversely, if one pottery-type suddenly replaces a great diversity of pottery types in an entire region, that might be interpreted as a new group migrating in with this new style.

Archaeological cultures were generally equated with separate 'peoples' (ethnic groups or races) leading in some cases to distinct nationalist archaeologies.


Most archaeological cultures are named after either the type artifact or type site that defines the culture. For example, cultures may be named after pottery types such as Linear Pottery Culture or Funnelbeaker culture. More frequently, they are named after the site at which the culture was first defined (not necessarily first found) such as the Halstatt culture or Clovis culture.

Since the term "culture" has many different meanings, scholars have also coined a more specific term "paleo-culture" or paleoculture, as a specific designation for prehistoric cultures.[1]


The use of the term "culture" entered archaeology through 19th-century German ethnography, where the Kultur of tribal groups and rural peasants was distinguished from the Zivilisation of urbanised peoples. In contrast to the broader use of the word that was introduced to English-language anthropology by Edward Burnett Tylor, Kultur was used by German ethnologists to describe the distinctive ways of life of a particular people or Volk, in this sense equivalent to the French civilisation. Works of Kulturgeschichte (culture history) were produced by a number of German scholars, particularly Gustav Klemm, from 1780 onwards, reflecting a growing interest in ethnicity in 19th-century Europe.[2]

The first use of "culture" in an archaeological context was in Christian Thomsen's 1836 work Ledetraad til Nordisk Oldkyndighed (Norwegian: Guide to Northern Antiquity). In the later half of the 19th century archaeologists in Scandinavia and central Europe increasingly made use of the German concept of culture to describe the different groups they distinguished in the archaeological record of particular sites and regions, often alongside and as a synonym of "civilisation".[2] It was not until the 20th century and the works of German prehistorian and fervent nationalist Gustaf Kossinna that the idea of archaeological cultures became central to the discipline. Kossinna saw the archaeological record as a mosaic of clearly defined cultures (or Kultur-Gruppen, culture groups) that were strongly associated with race. He was particularly interested in reconstructing the movements of what he saw as the direct prehistoric ancestors of Germans, Slavs, Celts and other major Indo-European ethnic groups in order to trace the Aryan race to its homeland or urheimat.[3]

The strongly racist character of Kossinna's work meant it had little direct influence outside of Germany at the time (the Nazi Party enthusiastically embraced his theories), or at all after World War II. However, the more general "culture history" approach to archaeology that he began did replace social evolutionism as the dominant paradigm for much of the 20th century. Kossinna's basic concept of the archaeological culture, stripped of its racial aspects, was adopted by Vere Gordon Childe and Franz Boas, at the time the most influential archaeologists in Britain and America respectively. Childe, in particular, was responsible for formulating the definition of archaeological culture that is still largely applies today:[4]

We find certain types of remains - pots, implements, ornaments, burial rites and house forms - constantly recurring together. Such a complex of associated traits we shall call a "cultural group" or just a "culture". We assume that such a complex is the material expression of what today we would call "a people".

— Childe 1929, pp. v–vi

Though he was sceptical about identifying particular ethnicities in the archaeological record and inclined much more to diffusionism than migrationism to explain culture change, Childe and later culture-historical archaeologists, like Kossinna, still equated separate archaeological cultures with separate "peoples".[4] Later archaeologists have questioned the straightforward relationship between material culture and human societies. The definition of archaeological cultures and their relationship to past people has become less clear; in some cases, what was believed to be a monolithic culture is shown by further study to be discrete societies. For example, the Windmill Hill culture now serves as a general label for several different groups that occupied southern Great Britain during the Neolithic. Conversely, some archaeologists have argued that some supposedly distinctive cultures are manifestations of a wider culture, but they show local differences based on environmental factors such as those related to Clactonian man. Conversely, archaeologists may make a distinction between material cultures that actually belonged to a single cultural group. It has been highlighted, for example, that village-dwelling and nomadic Bedouin Arabs have radically different material cultures even if in other respects, they are very similar. In the past, such synchronous findings were often interpreted as representing intrusion by other groups.


  1. ^ Polomé 1982, pp. 287.
  2. ^ a b Trigger 2006, pp. 232–235.
  3. ^ Trigger 2006, pp. 235–241.
  4. ^ a b Trigger 2006, pp. 241–248.


  • Childe, V. Gordon (1929). The Danube in Prehistory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Polomé, Edgar Charles (1982). Language, Society and Paleoculture. Stanford University Press.
  • Trigger, Bruce G. (2006). A history of archaeological thought (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-60049-1.
Bronocice pot

The Bronocice pot, discovered in a village in Gmina Dzialoszyce, Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship, near Nidzica River, Poland, is a ceramic vase incised with the earliest known image of what may be a wheeled vehicle. It was dated by the radiocarbon method to 3635–3370 BC, and is attributed to the Funnelbeaker archaeological culture. Today it is housed in the Archaeological Museum of Kraków (Muzeum Archeologiczne w Krakowie), Poland.

Erligang culture

The Erligang culture (Mandarin: [ɑɻligɑ̃(ŋ)]) is a Bronze Age urban civilization and archaeological culture in China that existed from approximately 1510 to 1460 BC. The primary site, Zhengzhou Shang City, was discovered at Erligang, within the modern city of Zhengzhou, Henan, in 1951.

Fort Walton culture

The Fort Walton culture is the term used by archaeologists for a late prehistoric Native American archaeological culture that flourished in southeastern North America from approximately 1200~1500 CE and is associated with the historic Apalachee people.

Glades culture

The Glades culture is an archaeological culture in southernmost Florida that lasted from about 500 BCE until shortly after European contact. Its area included the Everglades, the Florida Keys, the Atlantic coast of Florida north through present-day Martin County and the Gulf coast north to Marco Island in Collier County. It did not include the area around Lake Okeechobee, which was part of the Belle Glade culture.

Two, or possibly three, areas at the extremities of the cultural area are recognized as variant districts: the Ten Thousand Islands district in southern coastal Collier County and northern Monroe County, the East Okeechobee district in eastern Martin and Palm Beach counties, and, with less certainty, the Florida Keys. At the time of first European contact, the Ten Thousand Islands district was part of the Calusa domain, the East Okeechobee district was occupied by the Jaega tribe, and the area of Broward and Miami-Dade counties was occupied by the Tequesta tribe. The inhabitants of the Florida Keys were called Matecumbes by the Spanish, but it is not clear how distinct they were from the Tequesta.

The Glades culture is defined almost entirely on the basis of pottery. Much of the pottery throughout the Glades culture period was undecorated. It is identified as Glades primarily by the character of the sand and grit included in the clay used to form the pottery. Pots decorated with puncture marks and incisions appeared after 500, but were not very common. Decorated pots disappeared from the record in about 1100. Pots with a new type of incised decoration appeared about 1200 and lasted for about 200 years. Pottery attributed to the St. Johns culture started appearing in the archeological record after that. On the basis of pottery sequences, the Glades culture period is divided into Glades I, 500 BCE to 750 CE, Glades II, 900 to 1200, and Glades III, 1200 to 1513.

Hamangia culture

The Hamangia culture is a Late Neolithic archaeological culture of Dobruja (Romania and Bulgaria) between the Danube and the Black Sea and Muntenia in the south. It is named after the site of Baia-Hamangia, discovered in 1952 along Golovița Lake.

Havelland culture

Havelland culture (German: Havelländische Kultur) was a neolithic archaeological culture in northeastern Germany, centered at Havelland, with contacts to the Globular Amphora culture. It was characterized by cups with handles, amphoras with to handles, and barrels and dishes with carpet-like decorations. The dead were buried unburned. The Havelland people were farmers and breeders.

Körös culture

The Körös culture/Criş culture is a Neolithic archaeological culture in Central Europe that was named after the river Körös in eastern Hungary. The same river has the name Criș in Romania, hence the name Criş culture. The 2 variants of the river name are used for the same archaeological culture in the 2 regions. The Criș culture survived from about 5800 to 5300 BC. It is related to the neighboring Starčevo culture and is included within a larger grouping known as the Starčevo–Körös–Criş culture.

Leon-Jefferson culture

The Leon-Jefferson Culture is the term used by archaeologists for a protohistoric Native American archaeological culture that flourished in southeastern North America from approximately 1500–1704 CE and is associated with the historic Apalachee people. It was located in and named for the present day Leon and Jefferson counties in northern Florida of the Southeastern United States

Mogollon culture

Mogollon culture is an archaeological culture of Native American peoples from Southern New Mexico and Arizona, Northern Sonora and Chihuahua, and Western Texas, a region known as Oasisamerica.The Mogollon culture is one of the major prehistoric Southwestern cultural divisions of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. The culture flourished from the archaic period, c. 200 CE, to either 1450 or 1540 CE, when the Spanish arrived.

Narva culture

Narva culture or eastern Baltic (c. 5300 to 1750 BC) was a European Neolithic archaeological culture found in present-day Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad Oblast (former East Prussia), and adjacent portions of Poland, Belarus and Russia. A successor of the Mesolithic Kunda culture, Narva culture continued up to the start of the Bronze Age. The technology was that of hunter-gatherers. The culture was named after the Narva River in Estonia.

Oksywie culture

The Oksywie culture (ger. Oxhöft-Kultur) was an archaeological culture that existed in the area of modern-day Eastern Pomerania around the lower Vistula river from the 2nd century BC to the early 1st century AD. It is named after the village of Oksywie, now part of the city of Gdynia in northern Poland, where the first archaeological finds typical of this culture were discovered.

Archaeological research during the past recent decades near Pomerania in Poland suggests that the transition of the local component of the Pomeranian culture into the Oksywie culture occurred in the 2nd century BC. A connection with the Rugii has been suggested.Like other cultures of this period, the Oksywie culture related to La Tène cultural characteristics, and possessed traits typically shown from the Baltic cultures. Oksywie culture's ceramics and burial customs indicate strong ties with the Przeworsk culture. Men only had their ashes placed in well made black urns with fine finish and a decorative band around. Their graves were supplied with practical items for the afterlife such as utensils and weapons. Typically buried with the man, this culture would also place swords with one-sided edge, and the graves were often covered or marked by stones. Women's ashes were buried in hollows and supplied with feminine items.


Ozieri (Sardinian: Otieri) is a town and comune of approximatively 11,000 inhabitants in the province of Sassari, northern Sardinia (Italy), in the Logudoro historical region.

Its cathedral of the Immacolata is the episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ozieri.

Ozieri is the centre of the earliest known archaeological culture on Sardinia (known as Ozieri culture).

Poverty Point culture

Poverty Point culture is an archaeological culture that of a prehistoric indigenous peoples who inhabited a portion of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf coast from about 1730 - 1350 BC.Archeologists have identified more than 100 sites as belonging to this mound-builder culture, which also formed a large trading network throughout much of the eastern part of what is now the United States.


The Soanian is a archaeological culture of the Lower Paleolithic in the Siwalik region of the Indian subcontinent. Contemporary to the Acheulean, it is named after the Soan Valley in Pakistan. Soanian sites are found along the Sivalik region in present-day India, Nepal and Pakistan.

Sredny Stog culture

The Sredny Stog culture (Russian: Среднестоговская культура) is a pre-kurgan archaeological culture from the 5th millennium BC. It is named after the Russian term for the Dnieper river islet of today's Seredny Stih, Ukraine, where it was first located. It was situated across the Dnieper river on both its shores, with sporadic settlements to the west and east. One of the best known sites associated with this culture is Dereivka, located on the right bank of the Omelnik, a tributary of the Dnieper, and is the most impressive site within the Sredny Stog culture complex, being about 2,000 square meters in area.

St. Johns culture

The St. Johns culture was an archaeological culture in northeastern Florida, USA that lasted from about 500 BCE (the end of the Archaic period) until shortly after European contact in the 17th century. The St. Johns culture was present along the St. Johns River and its tributaries (including the Oklawaha River, and along the Atlantic coast of Florida from the mouth of the St. Johns River south to a point east of the head of the St. Johns River, near present-day Cocoa Beach, Florida. At the time of first European contact, the St. Johns culture area was inhabited by speakers of the Mocama (or Agua Salada), Agua Fresca and Acuera dialects of the Timucua language and by the Mayacas.

Troyville culture

The Troyville culture is an archaeological culture in areas of Louisiana and Arkansas in the Lower Mississippi valley in the southern United States. It was a Baytown Period culture and lasted from 400 to 700 CE during the Late Woodland period. It was contemporaneous with the Coastal Troyville and Baytown cultures (all three had evolved from the Marksville Hopewellian peoples) and was succeeded by the Coles Creek culture. Where the Baytown peoples built dispersed settlements, the Troyville people instead continued building major earthwork centers.

Trzciniec culture

The Trzciniec culture is a Bronze-Age archaeological culture in Eastern Europe (c. 1900 – 1200 BC). It is sometimes associated with the Komarov neighbouring culture, as the Trzciniec-Komarov culture.

The Trzciniec culture developed from three Corded-Ware-related cultures: Mierzanowicka, Strzyżowska and Iwieńska. These were succeeded by the Lusatian culture, which developed around Łódź.

The areal of the Trzciniec culture corresponds to parts of today's Poland (including Kujawy, Małopolska, Mazowsze, South Podlasie) and western Ukraine. The best known settlements of the Trzciniec culture were in Złota Pińczowskia, Więcławice Świętokrzyskie, Goszyce, and west Bondyrz, close to the kurgans of Guciow. Some of these sites include important treasures containing materials such as ornamental gold and silver like in Stawiszyce and Rawa Mazowiecka.

Inhumation and cremation in a flat grave were important features of Trzciniec culture. Cases of inhumation were discovered in Wolica Nowa, in the form of kurgans. Evidence of kurgan inhumation have been found at Łubna-Jakusy, whereas kurgan cremation has been found at Guciów.


The Vidivarii are described by Jordanes in his Getica as a melting pot of tribes who in the mid-6th century lived at the lower Vistula:

Ad litus oceani, ubi tribus faucibus fluenta Vistulae fluminibus ebibuntur, Vidivarii resident ex diversis nationibus aggregati.

Though differing from the earlier Willenberg culture, some traditions were continued, thus the corresponding archaeological culture is sometimes described as the Vidivarian or widiwar stage of the Willenberg culture. The bearers of the Willenberg culture have been associated with a heterogeneous people comprising Vistula Veneti, Goths, Rugii, and Gepids. One hypothesis, based on the sudden appearance of large amounts of Roman solidi and migrations of other groups after the breakdown of the Hun empire in 453, suggest a partial re-migration of earlier emigrants to their former northern homelands.


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