The Linear Pottery culture

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Last changed: June 2008

The (western) Linear Pottery culture (LPC) was named for its linear decoration on the pottery. It is the first Neolithic culture in central Europe and it is characterized by agriculture, stockbreeding, typical architecture (houses, enclosures), characteristical stone, flint and bone tools. We may state that it is one of the best-researched prehistoric cultures in all.

Since finds of the LPC can be found in vast regions in central Europe (cf. Distribution), it is almost impossible to outline the complete history of research of this culture in the various countries and with many different researchers. Therefore, we summarize the history of research for the different geographical regions individually (cf. below). According to the large distribution, literature concerned with the LPC is also voluminous.

In contrast to the western LPC we deal with here, there is also a so-called eastern or Alföld LPC which is distributed in the Hungarian lowland (Alföld).


The LPC probably originates in the north of Lake Balaton in Transdanubia and in Zala Megye. Here, it overlaps in its oldest phase with the youngest Starčevo culture. Settlements like Szentgyörgyvölgy-Pityerdomb (Bánffy 2004), Vörs-Máriaaszonysziget (Kalicz/Virág/Biró 1998), Andráshida-Gébárti-tó (Simon 2002), Gellénháza-Városret (Simon 1996), Sármellek, Zalavár, Vonyarcvashegy, Révfülöp, Balatonszepezd and Balatonszentgyörgy (Kalicz 1980, Sági/Törőcsik 1989) yielded pottery which shows late Starčevo traditions but already carries early LPC decoration. It might be placed in between the Starčevo culture on the one hand and the oldest actual LPC on the other hand in terms of chronology.

Already in its oldest phase the LPC can be found in a huge area. In the east, it reaches Ukraine (Kotova 2003), in the west it can be found up to the eastern border of the Rhine, every once in a while even beyond the river. In a more developped phase we find LPC remains in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic as well as in Austria, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Regional LPC specialties of the Danube area

Treatment of the dead

In the LPC we find inhumations, cremations and burials of single skeletal parts. The burials can be found partly on separate cemeteries, partly within settlements and partly at “special” places (caves, enclosures).

The burial pits of the dead on the cemeteries are normally oval (for this and the following cf. e. g. Nieszery 1995; Peschel 1992). The dead were laid down in a crouched position and usually oriented north-east/south-west, however, other orientations do occur. Like on many prehistoric cemeteries, children’s graves are underrepresented. It remains unclear whether they were buried not as deep as the adults so that their graves were rather subject to erosion and soil degradation, or whether they were disposed of differently. As a rule, cremations were dug in not as deep as inhumations, and usually they contain less grave goods. The “empty graves” occuring on some cemeteries which do not contain bones but vessels or vessel fragments might indicate that here the dead were buried at some point in time but were exhumated later and laid down at a different place.

Inhumations and body parts can sometimes be found also within settlements (Veit 1996; Happ 1991). However, cremations have not been found in settlements up to today. It is unclear how we have to interpret these settlement burials, however, we cannot relate them to special sacrificial practices. Every once in a while burials occur within enclosures. The most famous example for this is the enclosure found at Herxheim. Burials were also found in the (filled-up) ditch of the enclosure found at Vaihingen an der Enz.

Body parts were also found in some caves, e. g., in the Hohlestein close to Ederheim, in Hanseles Hohl at Fronhofen and also from the most important cave of the LPC, the Jungfernhöhle (Virgin’s Cave) close to Tiefenellern.

Finally, we have to mention the Talheim common grave (Wahl/König 1988). Here, 34 individuals were excavated which have been slayed at the same point in time. They were killed predominantly while lying down; flat hatchets and adzes were used. The composition of age and sex might indicate that they were kin.

Grave goods in the LPC are extraordinarily rich, concerning the material as well as morphology (Becker in prep.; Nieszery 1995; Bonnardin 2003). Remains from jewellery and costume objects can be found at four different positions of the body. At the head, in the Danube regions especially we found fresh water snails which were worn like a wreath or arranged in rows as the trimming of a piece of clothing or directly in the hair. At the back of the head, bone combs can be found, again in the Danube regions. They might have been part of some sort of hair-do (Nieszery 1995, 196-199). At the neck, remains from necklaces, i. e. pearls from various materials can be found: spondylus, stone, snail shells, human and animal teeth and their imitations as well as protula and dentalia. At the hips, V-shaped and perforated spondylus valves occur which are interpreted as a belt in general. Very rarely, instead of these we find rods made from antler or bone. Finally, we mention bracelets made from spondylus. The use of spondylus is remarkable, since it had to be imported from the Adria or the Aegean and therefore might have had a considerable value (Willms 1985; Siklósi 2004 esp. 9-24).


Important research about LPC settlements was conducted on the Aldenhoven Platte at the Rhine. In long lasting excavations, many LPC locations were analyzed and published in various studies (cf. the locations of Langweiler 2, 3, 8 and 9 as well as Laurenzberg 7, Niedermerz 3 and 4 etc. In summary cf. e. g. Lüning 1997). Here, settlements, enclosures and a cemetery were excavated and analyzed.

Such large-scale research is completely missing for the Danube regions up to today. Single settlements of the oldest LPC are rudimentary better researched (cf. the settlements of Neckenmarkt and Strögen: Lenneis/Lüning 2001; Bicske: Makkay 1987). For the younger phases of the LPC there are more excavations and publications that allow insight into the LPC way of settling in the Danube regions.


We know quite a lot about how houses were built due to the many excavated settlements. According to P. J. R. Modderman (Modderman 1959 and 1970), LPC buildings can be classified into differently sized types; however, due to erosion, they are not always easy to distinguish. The standard ground-plan of an LPC house is rectangular. It is constructed using posts and different kinds of roof beams. Every once in a while, double rows of posts may occur at the outsides. As a rule, the buildings are oriented about north-west/south-east and have four naves. The single naves are subdivided by crosswise rows of posts. Often, the north-western part of the building is surrounded by a ditch at the outside. Finds of burnt wattle-and-daub give evidence as to how the walls were made. Sometimes there is evidence that the wattle-and-daub was decorated (painted decoration was found in Mannheim-Wallstadt, Mannheim-Vogelstang, Schwechat and Hurbanovo: cf. Fries-Knoblach 2009). We know nothing at all about the shape and the number of windows and doors. It is also unknown whether LPC houses had more than one storey. Since LPC houses were built purposefully at hillside situations, O. Rück states that we might have to reconstruct them with their posts wholly or partly raised; as possible reasons for this way of building houses he mentions above-average rainfall as well as windbreak, sun-exposed situation, shorter ways to the fields lying above the settlements et cetera (Rück 2004).

Besides posts that we can attribute to buildings, every LPC settlement comprises different kinds of pits (for an overview with references cf. Birkenhagen 2003, e. g. 144-153). Along the north-western part of the houses, we find long pits at both sides which might have served for clay extraction when building the walls. Sometimes, we find large „pit complexes“ in the settlements whose function is unclear. Some pits might have served as storage pits. All these objects yield the majority of the LPC find material, for after their primary use they were often filled up with refuse. Special structures in this context are so-called “slit pits”. Seen on the plane, they are long and oval and may go down as far as 2 metres beneath the recent surface. In contrast to many other types of pits, there are strikingly few finds in them. Their function is still unclear; they are interpreted as being used for profane (pits used for tanning, for storing meat, traps for wild animals, pits used to couple a windbreak) or for ritual reasons.

The LPC people settled in villages comprised of houses, pits, fences and palisades as well as wells and also ovens and hearths. We do not know how long a house would last. A so-called “house generation” is specified lasting about 25 years, however, LPC houses might remain standing much longer if taken care of. The well-excavated settlement of Bylany in Bohemia proved that the settlemend “moved” in a microregion (e. g. with further references: Pavlů 2000). In any case, fertile loess soils and the vicinity to rivers and lakes were preferred.


After the excavation of a LPC well in Erkelenz-Kückhoven in 1990/1991 which comprised three consecutive wooden well cases, this feature achieved attention (Brunnen 1998). Such structures give information about the carpenters’ craftsmanship and ways of construction, and their filling often yields good possibilities to conduct natural scientific analyses (botany, entomology, dendrochronology. E. g. vessels made from wood and bark, lacings made from bast et cetera were found). Basically wells without such wooden constructions resp. without preserved constructions were found in quite many settlements.


Besides the wells, there are enclosures in the LPC. They are single or multiple circular ditch systems, partly accompanied with posts, which may also occur in other cultures. Enclosures were built starting with the oldest LPC and were still used in the youngest phases of the LPC, even further (for this and the following still pathbreaking: Kaufmann 1997). D. Kaufmann (1997) classified the enclosures according to existing or not-existing structures on the inside into three different types (”Köln-Lindenthal type”, “Darion type”, “Langweiler type”). Every once in a while, inside the enclosures we may find buildings, pits and wells, others, however, are completely empty. The function of these enclosures is unclear. For some of them we may exclude a fortificatorial use since there are many gaps in the course of the ditch and, on the other hand, profiles of the ditches prove that they were not dug off the reel but consist of single, partly overlapping pits with different profiles. Inside the ditches we may find exceptional objects. At this point we mention the most famous of all enclosures: that from Herxheim. In the ditches of this enclosure, many skeletons and body parts, sometimes still combined, sometimes without anatomical connection, and accumulations of skulls were found. Furthermore, pottery vessels and wholly preserved vessels occurred. Body parts were also found in other enclosures. In earlier times they were interpreted as evidence for war; the “Herxheim case”, however, seems to indicate rather a special treatment of the dead.


Beside macroscopic remains of the common cereals (wheat, barley, emmer, wild einkorn) and peas, lenses, beans, hazelnuts, blackthorn and different types of pome as well as flax and poppy seeds (e. g. Kreuz 1990; Lüning 2000), animal bones give evidence of the nutrition. Domestic animals comprise cattle, pig, sheep, goat and dog. Game was hunted for meat but also for fur or to protect herds or crops. The spectrum of species covers aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, lynx, beaver, hare, differend birds and fish (in summary: Lüning 2000).

Find material

The LPC derives its name from the pottery which is partly decorated with incised lines. The shapes are limited: often, we find bowls and dishes, pedestalled vessels (especially in the oldest LPC), flasks and semi-spherical or three-quarter spherical bowls (”Kumpf”, “Bombe”). In the oldest phase of the LPC they usually have a flat bottom; from the second phase on rounded bottoms occur more frequently. In the oldest phase, the pottery is grogged mostly with organic material (chaff), later, people also use sand, gravel, quartz, chamotte et cetera.

The canon of decoration is quite consistent in the oldest phase of the LPC. Either, there are rectilinear motifs such as meanders, triangles or squares, or else curvolinear elements, mainly spirals. Later, the so-called “music-note pottery” develops in large areas of the Danube regions: it is made up of interlaced arcs combined with round dots (”music-notes”). The youngest phase is characterized by pottery decorated in the Šárka style (cf. below) resp. in the style of the Želiezovce group. In the youngest phase of the LPC in the Danube regions, especially in the Želiezovce group, paint is used to decorate the pottery.

Beside vessels, there are also various other clay objects. We mention, e. g., sieves, miniature vessels, spindle-whorls, spoons, ladles, loom and net weights, “altars” (four-footed objects whose function is unclear), clay balls, pearls and discs. Furthermore, there are anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines (idols), vessels and applications (Becker 2007 a; Becker 2007 b).

Flint material comprises many tools and weapons, among them scrapers, retouched pieces, drills, segments, trapezes, arrow-heads, blades, inserts for sickles et cetera (these last mentioned might show traces of use (”Sichelglanz”). E. g. Gronenborn 1997 for the oldest LPC). The raw material is partly local, partly, however, it was obtained from far-distant regions. This is especially striking for the oldest LPC where we find eye-catching Transdanubian radiolarites (Szentgál, Hárskút). People also used Carpathian obsidian, chocolate-coloured flint from Poland, cherts, quartzite, milky quartz and Alpine radiolarites (ibid. 105-119).

Ground stone tools comprise rubbing and grinding stones, runners, hammers, axes, hatchets and adzes (also called “shoe-last celts” due to their shape) made from sandstone, quartzite, granite and amphibolite (cf., e.g., Bicske: Makkay/Starnini/Tulok 1996).

Bone and antler tools were found in almost all settlements, however, often they are analyzed not as consequently as the pottery. We may find points, bone spatulae, chisels and mattocks (Makkay/Starnini/Tulok 1996) as well as fishing hooks, polishing tools and awls (cf. Lenneis 1999).

Chronological relations

Ever since H. Quitta (Quitta 1960), the Starčevo culture was seen as the predecessor of the western LPC. Quitta found parallels concerning special vessel decorations and shapes in both cultures. New research conducted by E. Bánffy and others yielded evidence for a direct transitional phase between the cultures (Bánffy 2004; Kalicz/Virág/Biró 1998; Simon 2002; Sági/Törőcsik 1989). Similarities between the Starčevo culture and the LPC are also visible concerning cultic finds (Becker 2007 a; Becker 2007 b).

However, the origin of the LPC is heatedly discussed like for no other early Neolithic culture. Literature dealing with this topic has grown to be quote voluminous. Basically, it is discussed whether the LPC people immigrated from south-east Europe (migrationists) or whether the autochthonic late Mesolithic population adopted a Neolithic way of life via intermediators (diffusionists) or whether we have to deal with a mix of both models. Pro and contra arguments for these models are based mainly on flint tools, sometimes also on anthropology. The discussion was reignited by a paper written by A. Tillmann in 1993 and is still continuing. Here, we mention in summary the most important authors working in this field: Tillmann 1993; Kind 1998; Gronenborn 1999; Lichardus-Itten/Lichardus 2003; Mateiciucová 2003; Scharl 2004; Prien 2005, 324-338. Finally the question of how the Neolithic spread might remain a “question of faith”. Anthropological analysis, especially the comparison of DNA, might yield new insights, however, large, significant series of investigated graves from the oldest phase of the LPC are lacking as well as late Mesolithic graves.

In the oldest phase of the LPC, the pottery is very similar, even in far-distant regions. E. g., vessels found in Ukraine can be practically exchanged with vessels from the Rhine or Elbe regions, concerning shapes as well as decorations (critically, however: Lenneis 2005). Starting with the second, maybe already with the late earliest phase, the LPC splits into several regional groups which are named according to Europe’s great river systems: Danube, Elbe, Rhein, Seine, Oder and Vistula groups (Lichardus-Itten 1980, 114; Zápotocká 1986). It is a desideratum in research to clearly classify these groups according to the decoration on pottery vessels.

Finally the LPC merges into different succeeding cultures. In Transdanubia follows the Sopot-Bicske phase and afterwards the Lengyel culture which we can also find in Lower Austria, Moravia, south-west Slovakia and Poland. In Bohemia and central Germany, the Stroked Pottery culture develops; in Bavaria, there is likewise the Stroked Pottery culture and then the so-called Oberlauterbach group resp. the south-east Bavarian middle Neolithic (SOB). In south-west Germany, Alsace, west Germany and finally also in southern central Germany we find the cultural complex Hinkelstein-Großgartach-Rössen. In France, the LPC is succeeded by the Villeneuve-St. Germain group, in Belgium by the Blicquy group.

The oldest 14C dates for the first phase of the LPC reach back as far as 5600 cal BC (cf. the unpublished excavations in Brunn, Lower Austria). With its youngest phases, the LPC dates about 5000/4900 cal BC.


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© 2008 Valeska Becker
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