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History of Estonia
 
 
 

Early History

The region has been populated since the end of the Late Pleistocene Ice Age, about 10,000 BC. The earliest traces of human settlement in Estonia are connected with the Kunda culture. The early Mesolithic Pulli settlement is located by the Pärnu River. It has been dated to the beginning of the 9th millennium BC. The Kunda Culture received its name from the Lammasmäe settlement site in northern Estonia, which dates from earlier than 8500 BC. Bone and stone artefacts similar to those found at Kunda have been discovered elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Latvia, northern Lithuania and southern Finland. Among minerals, flint and quartz were used the most for making cutting tools.

The beginning of the Neolithic Period is marked by the ceramics of the Narva culture, and appear in Estonia at the beginning of the 5th millennium. The oldest finds date from around 4900 BC. The first pottery was made of thick clay mixed with pebbles, shells or plants. The Narva-type ceramics are found throughout almost the entire Estonian coastal region and on the islands. The stone and bone tools of the era have a notable similarity with the artefacts of the Kunda culture.

The beginning of the Late Neolithic Period about 2200 BC is characterised by the appearance of the Corded Ware culture, pottery with corded decoration and well-polished stone axes. Evidence of agriculture is provided by charred grains of wheat on the wall of a corded-ware vessel found in Iru settlement. Osteological analysis show an attempt was made to domesticate the wild boar.

Specific burial customs were characterised by the dead being laid on their sides with their knees pressed against their breast, one hand under the head. Objects placed into the graves were made of the bones of domesticated animals.

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Estonia is dated to approximately 1800 BC. The development of the borders between the Finnic peoples and the Balts was under way. The first fortified settlements, Asva and Ridala on the island of Saaremaa and Iru in the Northern Estonia began to be built. The development of shipbuilding facilitated the spread of bronze. Changes took place in burial customs, a new type of burial ground spread from Germanic to Estonian areas, stone cist graves and cremation burials became increasingly common aside a small number of boat-shaped stone graves.

About 7th century BC, a big meteorite hit Saaremaa island and created the Kaali craters.

The Pre-Roman Iron Age began in Estonia about 500 BC and lasted until the middle of the 1st century AD. The oldest iron items were imported, although since the 1st century iron was smelted from local marsh and lake ore. Settlement sites were located mostly in places that offered natural protection. Fortresses were built, although used temporarily. The appearance of square Celtic fields surrounded by enclosures in Estonia date from the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The majority of stones with man-made indents, which presumably were connected with magic designed to increase crop fertility, date from this period. A new type of grave, quadrangular burial mounds began to develop. Burial traditions show the clear beginning of social stratification.

The Roman Iron Age in Estonia is roughly dated to between 50 and 450 AD, the era that was affected by the influence of the Roman Empire. In material culture this is reflected by a few Roman coins, some jewellery and artefacts. The abundance of iron artefacts in Southern Estonia speaks of closer mainland ties with southern areas while the islands of western and northern Estonia communicated with their neighbours mainly by sea. By the end of the period three clearly defined tribal dialectical areas: Northern Estonia, Southern Estonia, and Western Estonia including the islands had emerged, the population of each having formed its own understanding of identity.

Early Middle Ages

The name of Estonia occurs first in a form of Aestii in the 1st century AD by Tacitus; however, it might have indicated Baltic tribes living in the area. In the Northern Sagas (9th century) the term started to be used to indicate the Estonians.

Ptolemy, in his Geography III in the middle of the 2nd century AD, mentions the Osilians among other dwellers on the Baltic shore.

According to the 5th-century Roman historian Cassiodorus the people known to Tacitius as the Aestii were the Estonians. The extent of their territory in early medieval times is disputed but the nature of their religion is not. They were known to the Scandinavians as experts in wind-magic, as were the Lapps (known at the time as Finns) in the North. Cassiodorus mentions Estonia in his book V. Letters 1-2 dating from the 6th century.
The Chudes, as mentioned by a monk Nestor in the earliest Russian chronicles, were the Ests or Esthonians.


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