and Bronze Ages
(Tenth to Mid-First Century BC)
During the last Ice Age, melting glaciers stopped for some time at Kernave.
They lay on the north-west and the west of what is now the town of Kernave;
from the northern, eastern and southern sides this place was surrounded
by enormous glacial seas. At the place of the present Kernave was a kind
of peninsula where, on he edge of the glacier, a range of moraine mountains
was formed. The River Proneris flowed in the opposite direction to that
of the present-day Neris.
Twelve thousand years ago a warm period began, floods engraved the hillsides,
gullies were formed, and the newly formed hills later became mounds.
The Proneris changed its direction and became the present-day Neris. Near
Kernave the third terrace was washed away and the second terrace emerged.
Around 9500 to 8000 years ago, the first terrace over the flooded land
near the Neris was formed, on which the first people settled. The first
settlements were established on the southern and south-eastern side of
the Pajauta Valley. The middle pan of the valley was the old bed of the
Neris which was gradually turning into a bog.
The first settlements in the neighborhood of Kernave appeared as early
as 9000 BC, in the Epipaleolithic period. It is believed that they appeared
alongside the Neris from the south-west, from what is now Kaunas. On the
banks of the Nets temporary camps of hunters, gatherers and fishermen
were set up. The climate at that time was quite severe, vegetation was
similar to that of the tundra: grass, dwarf birches, and arctic osiers
not much taller than grass. Unlike the climate of the tundra, he climate
there was dry, and the snowfall in winter was light. The place was home
to reindeer. According to R.Rimantiene, the way of life of people in those
days was very similar to that of present-day reindeer-hunting peoples.
Once the first settlers could
not live a settled lie, they sheltered in quickly-made tents with hearths.
The camps of the first settlers - descendants
of the Paleolithic culture - were found in the Pajauta Valley, near
the Mitkiskiai farmstead, on the first terrace of the Neris, about
a hundred meters from the present-day bank. Flint arrowheads, similar
to leaf-shaped Palaeolithic arrowheads made of darnel, as well as
very big, short and wide scrapers and wide cleavers were found here.
Some of these artifacts are shown in he second display.
In the Middle Stone or Mesolithic Age (8000-5000 BC) the climate got
warmer and the vegetation and fauna became more abundant. Besides hunting,
fishing started to play a more important role.
Since 8000 BC settlers have never left the Pajauta Valley. People lived
on the left bank of the Neris, near the village of Mitkiskiai. Here, Mesolithic
and Neolithic settlements of the Mesolithic Kunda and the Neolithic Nemunas
cultures, and, at Mitkiskes, settlements of the culture of cord-marked
pottery dating back to 2000 BC, were found.
The New Stone or Neolithic Age (4000-2000 BC) determined the further improvement
of manufacture and the appearance of primitive forms of agriculture. Kernave,
Neolithic settlements appeared in the Pajauta Valley, in file pine forest
near the Neris, and in Semeniskes on both sides of the Kernave rivulet.
Settlements we also established near Lake Pragarine and in other places.
Of artifacts of that period, axes, scraper microliths, knives, awls, a
drill, a chisel, a spearhead and arrowheads etc. are on display.
A case-axe in which, using sand and a hollow stone, a hole was
drilled was an important tool in the times when fields were made
by the slash-and-but method of clearing.
The Bronze Age (2000 - 1200 BC) in the Baltic lands began with the
use of bronze, and short afterwards with the adoption of technologies
for its production. Most archaeologists believe that the Balts exchanged
amber, their main treasure which was of great value in other lands,
for bronze tools.
At that time hunting, fishing, and gathering as the main sources of
food were replaced by livestock rearing and agriculture. People started
growing wheat and barley, and began keeping pigs, cattle, and horses.
Interesting information on Bronze Age settlements was obtained in 1985
on the castle hill and in 1989 in the Pajauta Valley near the farmstead
By 2000BC in the Neris basin the first Eastern Baltic culture, that of
incised ceramics, had started to develop.
A whole range of Bronze Age objects is or display: arrowheads, axes, a
pick, and an incised pot.
It sill remains to be decided how many stager the first Eastern Baltic
culture had. The contacts between different carriers of late Neolithic
culture - corded pottery Narva, and partly Finno-Ugric pottery - and their
mutual influence are quite complicated.
Investigations of Castle Hill and the Neris banks show that the chronology
of objects found here corresponds to another mound culture of the Western
Balts that existed in Eastern Prussia (with its early period, the Semba
According to A.Luchtan: "In the last quarter of the second millennium
BC the development of two huge independent cultural blocks - Western and
Eastern Balls - commenced".
Early Iron Age (fifth to first century BC)
The Iron Age is one of the shortest periods in human prehistory. The
dates of the Iron Age vary for different Baltic lands. It is believed
that in Lithuania it lasted from the fifth century BC until the middle
of the 13th century and the formation of the Lithuanian state.
The early Iron Age is closely related to the preceding Bronze Age and
to the culture of incised pottery. This was the most flourishing period
of this culture.
Forte most part, information about the early Iron Age in the Eastern Baltic
lands comes from excavations of mounds. Fortified settlements were usually
built on mounds (Fire Hill in Kernave). Dwellings were pole constructions
with a hearth inside the building. The role of agriculture was still insignificant.
Cattle breeding was the dominant form of agriculture. Iron was only
beginning to spread and only a limited number of iron tools were used.
Archaeologists find many stone axes and bone objects from this period.
It was a time of formation of tribes, cultures, and dialects on the basis
of a common Baltic culture. In about the fifth century BC the Baltic parent
language began to split.
The burial customs of this and later periods are
not very well known. Very few graves from the period have been found,
and most of them are situated along the Baltic coast (the districts
of Klaipeda and Kretinga) where the dead were buried in burial mounds.
These graves contain both cremated and uncremated remains.
We have very little information on burial customs in other parts of
Lithuania. There are several hypotheses concerning the interment of Balts
who lived in the eastern regions and by the Dnepr: burned remains were
scattered on the ground, poured into sacred rivers, or lakes. There are
reports that the deceased were buried in trees (this tradition is known
among Finno-Ugric nations of the Urals). This was how on April 23, 997,
the first missionary, St Albert-Vaitiekus, dared to desecrate a sacred
Prussian wood in Semba.
Graves from this period were found in Kernave in the autumn of 1989.
The burial ground is on the right bank of the Neris, in the Pajauta Valley,
about 90 metres north of the river. This is the site of a former island
that was situated between the present-day Neris and the waterlogged old
river bed. The burial ground was formed on the site of old Stone and Bronze
The burial ground is flat, without traces of barrows. Graves of
three types have been found. The burned bones of some of the deceased
were put into simple pits, other burned bones were put into clearly
arranged stone boxes, yet others were put in urns.
Later, in the first centuries AD, when the place was
no longer used for burial purposes, a settlement was again formed
here. There were settlements here also in the 12th-14th centuries.
The graves are not deep, sometimes the contours can be seen at a depth
of 0.25 centimeters. They are small, only 0.3 to 0.5 meters in diameter.
They were covered with darker ground, under which a small amount of ashes
and burnt bones were found.
There is another group of graves. These graves are bigger. They are about
one meter in diameter and about 0.5 to one meter in depth. They were constructed
using many stones. In one of them 37 pieces of stone were found, its bottom
was also lined with stones. On the bottom were two small heaps of burnt
bones. The burial object was a bronze spiral with 2.5 turns
In 1991 an interesting grave of a twenty five-year-old woman was excavated
(grave No nine, its contents are on display). The contours of the grave
were found to a depth of fifty centimeters. The grave was filled with
grey sandy soil. The length was 210 centimeters; the width about 75 centimeters.
The contours were marked with a stone circle, at the bottom flatter stones
were laid. Between the stones there was something like a burial chamber
110 centimeters in length and 35-40 centimeters in depth. This grave contained
many bones. The only burial object was a bronze pin with a spiral head.
It was made of round bronze wire with a diameter of three millimeters.
Its head was a spiral with a diameter of 41.5 millimeters and seven turns.
The pin lay approximately in the breast area (according to the arrangement
of the burnt bones). It is believed that this burial could belong to the
period of transition from inhumation to cremation. At the end of the Bronze
Age the tradition of inhumation was still prevalent. This grave could
be classified as belonging to the Bronze or Early Iron Age.
The burial objects had no
traces of fire, they were laid on burnt bones.
The third group of graves were burials in urns. One almost intact
urn with remains was found only at a depth of 26 centimeters (on display).
Urns were similar to incised household pottery, but did not contain
any traces of food, i.e. they were designed for burial.
Anthropological investigations show that women were usually buried
in simple pits, and children in urns.
Burials of this kind were less common. As early as 1927 P.Tarasenka
wrote about the existence of this type of burial on the other bank of
the Neris, but a systematic excavation of such graves has never been done.
Since burials from the culture of cord-marked pottery were usually near
the surface, many of them disintegrated or simply cannot be found. Burials
at Kernave and Paveisininkai (the district of Lazdijai) were protected
by layers of development from later periods that formed soon after the
burial sites were abandoned.
The spread of the tradition of cremation varied in different parts of
Lithuania. In central Samogitia and Ziemgala throughout the whole Iron
Age inhumation - the burial of remains without burning - prevailed. In
other parts of Lithuania, especially in eastern Lithuania, cremation grad
ually vanished only under the influence of Christianity, before and after
the conversion to Christianity- Neither in archaeological nor in historic
literature has this process been adequately described, and opinions on
the issue are divided. Information on burial sites from the 13th century
is also scarce. The last burial objects found in burnt graves date back
to the end of the 12th century, and most of the excavated graves are from
the end of the 14th century.
Excavations of the Kernave-Kriveikiskis burial site from the 13th and
14th centuries have been carried out since 1994 and allow us to understand
better the process that resulted in these changes. On the site, as early
as the 13th century, the dead were buried according to Christian traditions
- the head was laid towards the west, the main burial objects were ornaments,
and there were very few household items. This shows that the new burial
traditions took root before Lithuania's conversion to Christianity.
On the third and fourth stands, material from burnt burials from the fifth
to the first century BC, a reconstruction of a burnt burial, and household
articles from this period a represented.
Old Iron Age (first to fourth centuries AD,
of the Roman Period)
This was the Baltic "golden age". After people had learned how to make
Iron from local ironstone, the material culture and every day life started
to change. Iron ore obtained from local bogs was used for making arms
and tools. Iron axes replaced stone and bronze axes. Bone tools were no
longer important. Farming became the main occupation, livestock rearing
was also developing. At that time people in Kernave settled the fertile
Pajauta Valley and founded unfortified settlements close to highland.
A settlement was established also on the former burial site with burnt
In the layer from the first centuries AD the remains of iron
ovens, column-type buildings, and rough and granulated pottery were
found. Corded pottery was rare, it was replaced by rough pottery.
The mounds already had their first fortifications. They were connected
to the settlement by a secret wooden road through a bog - a "medgrinda".
This is the oldest road in Lithuania with a hard surface
Another settlement from the same period to the south-west from Castle
Hill, in a field near the Neris, has survived better. In 1984, at a depth
of 30-35 centimeters, decayed dwellings and farm buildings, pts, column
pits, and remains of stoves for smelting iron from the third and fourth
centuries were found. The area of this unfortified settlement was five
to six hectares.
The walls of the buildings were built of quite thin poles, with a diameter
of five to eight centimeters, driven into the ground in a vertical position.
In the center of one of the buildings was a hearth with a diameter of
1.2 meters and a circle of stones arranged in the form of a horseshoe.
Different artifacts were found inside or near the building. At the hearth
the remains of quite rough pottery, about thirty clay spindles, a clay
ladle, an iron awl, a knife, and a stick-shaped pin were found. In the
building, in an oblong pit, well-preserved pots, some of red clay and
some of day ready for use with an admixture of granite were found. Near
the house, in another pit, a well-preserved furnace for smelting iron
was found. In other settlements signs of iron smelting were also found.
In the occupation layer bones of the hog and other
domestic animals are most common. Although fish scales and bones of
wild animals are also found, the main means of existence was farming
and livestock breeding.
The settlement of ten suffered in spring floods and by about the fifth
century it was deserted.
The first to the fourth centuries are sometimes called the Roman Period.
The first written data on our ancestors comes from this period. The Roman
historian, Cornelius Tacitus, about 98 BC, in his monograph on Germany,
mentions its neighbors the Aestii, who lived near the Baltic Sea. The
Aestii were farmers and amber gatherers.
Amber was popular among the Romans, and merchants exchanged it for glass
enamel, bronze or silver jewellery, and sometimes for utensils or coins.
In the first centuries AD the tradition of wearing jewellery (chains,
bracelets, rings, and ornaments worn on the head) arrived. It is especially
evident in the graves of later times.
Ever-strengthening trade relations with the Roman Empire and its provinces
had their impact also on Kernave. In the Pajauta Valley fragments of imported
glass from the second and third centuries AD, and a Marcus Aurelius silver
denarius coin from 161-162 AD were found.
In the stand devoted to the first to the fourth centuries, pictures of
a field and a wooden plank road, rough pottery, spindles, irons, an awl,
a stick-shaped pin, a scoop for casting iron, a grain grater and a fragment
of imported glass are on display.
In the material culture of the Middle Iron Age no drastic changes occurred.
Farming and cattle rearing were developing, iron tools became more advanced,
and people wore more jewellery.
From the end of the second century the Grooved Ware culture was rapidly
disappearing. In the middle of the first millennium, in the era of great
migrations due to complicated ethnocultural processes, the new East Lithuanian
Mound Culture emerged. Its people were direct ancestors of the Lithuanians.
It was from them that in about the tenth century the Lithuanian nation
In about the middle of the first millennium the inhabitants of Kernave
abandoned the Pajauta Valley and staffed to settle the mounds. This was
prompted by the humid climate and frequent enemy attacks. Three-winged
arrowheads, pierced by the nomadic people from the steppes, could still
be found on Castle Hill.
At that time mounds were still not adequately fortified.
Most of the buildings were small and were built of poles. Remains
have been found on Mindaugas Throne, Castle Hill, and near Lizdeika
On Hearth Mound a strong wooden castle was erected. It is believed
that at that time the centers of the pagan cult were near lakes Pragarine
and Spera. The Mitkiskiai stone, with footmarks, situated on the other
side of the Neris opposite Kernave, was also worshipped.
In the fifth and sixth centuries, due to the increase in the number
of people and stronger relations between communities, the Balts finally
split into separate tribes." Kernave became one of the tribal centers
of eastern Lithuania that later, together with Vilnius and Trakai,
formed in the Neris basin, the kernel from which the Lithuanian nation
In about 1000 AD, in Lithuania and in neighboring countries, further
changes in socio-economic life leading to the formation of the feudal
system took place. The Russian, Polish and Swedish states were established.
The first attempts to Christianize the Baltic tribes were made, and in
l009 the name Lithuania was mentioned for the first time. Wars with the
became more intense.
Trade relations developed and manufacturing techniques became more advanced:
the potter's wheel, the millstone, and the large iron axe were invented.
Houses were built from logs interlocking at the corners, stoves were made
of clay. Ploughshares and sickles came into use. In about the tenth or
eleventh century rye started to spread, and later became the main crop.
All these processes influenced the development of Kernave.
At the foot of the mounds a settlement, a prototype of the city of the
Middle Ages, started to grow. The fortfications were reinforced. However,
no systematic research of the Late Iron Age (800-1250)in Kernave has been
made, therefore this period is presented only fragmentally in the museum.
In order to make more detailed conclusions, further archaeological investigations
Stand six shows household utensils and tools from the fifth to the eighth
centuries from Kernave, as well as jewellery, arms, and material illustrating