Pitted Ware culture

For the North-East European culture of similar name, see Pit–Comb Ware culture.
Pitted Ware culture
Geographical rangeSouthern Scandinavia
PeriodMesolithic, Neolithic
Datescirca 3200 BCE – circa 2300 BCE
Preceded by?
Followed byCorded Ware culture

The Pitted Ware culture (c. 3200 BC–c. 2300 BC) was a hunter-gatherer culture in southern Scandinavia, mainly along the coasts of Svealand, Götaland, Åland, north-eastern Denmark and southern Norway. Despite its Mesolithic economy, it is by convention classed as Neolithic, since it falls within the period in which farming reached Scandinavia.

The Pitted Ware culture was at first contemporary and overlapping with the agricultural Funnelbeaker culture, and later with the agricultural Corded Ware culture.[1][a]


Trindyxa (round stone axe), Gotland, Sweden

The economy was based on fishing, hunting and gathering of plants. Pitted Ware sites contain bones from elk, deer, beaver, seal, porpoise, and pig. Pig bones found in large quantities on some Pitted Ware sites emanate from wild boar rather than domestic pigs.[3]

Seasonal migration was a feature of life, as with many other hunter-gatherer communities. Pitted Ware communities in Eastern Sweden probably spent most of the year at their main village on the coast, making seasonal forays inland to hunt for pigs and fur-bearing animals and to engage in exchange with farming communities in the interior.[4]

This type of seasonal interaction may explain the unique Alvastra Pile Dwelling in south-western Östergötland, which belongs to the Pitted Ware culture as far as the pottery is concerned, but to the Funnelbeaker culture in tools and weapons.


A pottery shard showing the characteristic pits, from Uppland, Sweden

The repertoire of Pitted Ware tools varied from region to region. In part this variety reflected regional sources of raw materials. However the use of fish-hooks, harpoons, and nets and sinkers was fairly widespread. Tanged arrow heads made from blades of flintstone are abundant on Scandinavia's west coast, and were probably used in the hunting of marine mammals.[1]


One notable feature of the Pitted Ware Culture is the sheer quantity of shards of pottery on its sites. The culture has been named after the typical ornamentation of its pottery: horizontal rows of pits pressed into the body of the pot before firing.

Though some vessels are flat-bottomed, others are round-based or pointed-based, which would facilitate stable positioning in the soil or on the hearth. In shape and decoration, this ceramic reflects influences from the Comb Ceramic culture (also known as Pit-Comb Ware) of Finland and other parts of north-eastern Europe, established in the sixth and fifth millennia BC.[5][1]

Small animal figurines were modelled out of clay, as well as bone. These are also similar to the art of the Comb Ware culture. A large number of clay figurines have been found at Jettböle on the island of Åland, including some which combine seal and human features.[5]


A characteristic moose figurine, from Åloppe, Uppland, Sweden

Its grave customs are not well known, but Västerbjers on the island of Gotland has produced a large number of grave fields, where the limestone has preserved the graves well. In these graves, archaeologists found skeletons laid on their backs with well-preserved tools in bone and horn. Numerous imported objects testify to good connections with the Scandinavian mainland, Denmark and Germany.


In a genetic study published in Current Biology in September 2009, mtDNA was extracted from seventeen Pitted Ware people from Gotland. Eight individuals belonged to U4 haplotypes, seven belonged to U5 haplotypes, one belonged to K1a1, one belonged to T2b, and one belonged to HV0.[6][7] The results debunked previous theories suggesting that the Pitted Ware were related to the Sami people.[b] On the contrary, Pitted Ware people showed closer genetic kinship to modern Balts.[6]

In a genetic study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology in March 2010, it was discovered that the Pitted Ware possessed a very low level (5%) of an allele (−13910*T) strongly associated with the ability to consume unprocessed milk. This frequency is dramatically different from modern Swedes (74%). Whether the increase of this allele among the Swedes was a result of admixture or natural selection was uncertain.[8]

In a genetic study published in Science in April 2012, an individual from the Pitted Ware culture was examined. The individual was found to have "a genetic profile that is not fully represented by any sampled contemporary population".[9]

In another genetic study published in Science in May 2014, the mtDNA of six individuals ascribed tot he Pitted Ware culture was extracted. Four samples belonged to U4d, one belonged to U, and one belonged to V.[10]

A genetic study published in August 2014 found that Pitted Ware peoples were closely genetically similar to people of the Catacomb culture, who like the Pitted Ware people carried high frequencies of the maternal haplogroups U5 and U4. These lineages are associated with Western Hunter-Gatherers and Eastern Hunter-Gatherers.[11]

In a genetic study published in Nature in September 2014, members of the Pitted Ware culture were determined to largely belong to the Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherer (SHG) cluster.[12]

In a genetic study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B in January 2015, the mtDNA of thirteen PCW individuals from Öland and Gotland was extracted. The four individuals from Öland carried H1f, T2b, K1a1 and U4a1. Of the ten individuals from Gotland, four carried U4, two carried U5 haplotypes, two carried K1a1, and one carried HV0. The results indicated that the Pitted Ware culture was genetically distinct from the Funnelbeaker culture, and closely genetically related to earlier Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Scandinavia and Western Europe.[7]

A genetic study published in Nature Communications in January 2018 indicated genetic continuity between SHGs and the Pitted Ware culture, and found that the Pitted Ware people were genetically distinct from the Funnelbeaker culture.[c]

A 2019 study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B the remains of a Pitted Ware male were analyzed. He was found to the carrying the paternal haplgroup U5b1d2, and probably a subclade of the paternal haplogroup I2. He was estimated to be 25-35 years old and 165-175 cm tall. It was found that the Pitted Ware people only slightly contributed to the gene pool of the Battle Axe culture, who were almost wholly of Western Steppe Herder descent.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In eastern South and Central Sweden the CWC appear alongside the Pitted Ware Culture. While the latter have a clear association with the coast, due to the subsistence focus on fishing and sealing, the settlements and graves from the CWC are often found in the interior, without a direct association with water."[2]
  2. ^ "Population continuity between thePWC and modern Saami can be rejected under all assumedancestral population size combinations."[6]
  3. ^ "Our data support that the Neolithic PWC foragers are largely genetically continuous to SHG, which is congruent with their similarities in subsistence strategies, while continuity between EN TRB and PWC can also be seen in archaeological assemblages and can be attributed to contact between farmers and foragers. Indeed, genetic evidence of admixture between these groups shows that they were not completely isolated from each other but did likely not uphold continuous contact nor intermarry frequently during their prolonged parallel existence in Scandinavia."[2]