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Edit: I've gotten some answers now, but many of them use Neolithic settlements as examples. I wish I had the archaeological know-how to analyze these settlements' technologies and economies and overlay it onto a Mesolithic setting should it fit the bill, but sadly I don't. I'd be grateful if someone could state whether these kind of settlements are possible with the level of technology I've selected (The Skara Brae suggestion looks the most promising at the moment, but more ideas are always welcome).


The world I'm building right now is not meant to be historically chronologically accurate, so to speak, but rather "plausible" instead. It depicts conflict between a variety of Mesolithic tribes in a place based on what is now Scandinavia.

When I say Mesolithic, though, there are some technological differences between them and real Mesolithic peoples. For example:

  • They use pottery for bowls and other containers
  • There is warfare between communities
  • They build boats made of hide with wooden frames rather than just dugouts
  • They have their own religions

These are all elements that are only confirmed to exist in Neolithic peoples. However, they do not farm crops, make polished weaponry, or have pastoralism.

The last Neolithic element in these otherwise Mesolithic cultures is: some of them build permanent settlements. The earliest permanent settlements not based on agriculture, I believe, are the fishing villages of Neolithic Alaska that relied on the annual salmon run to maintain their permanent habitation.

Similarly, in my world, the permanent settlements are based on fishing. There are some built around rivers for salmon-fishing like the Alaskan ones, while others are found at the seashore, home to fishers and whalers.

Now, my question is: If a community of Mesolithic people were to build a permanent settlement, with permanent buildings, based mainly on fishing, how would they do it? Is this possible with that level of technology and, if it is, what would the structures look like?

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  • $\begingroup$ What is your definition of "permanent"? I bet my hi tech tent would be permanent by their standards, for example. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 28 '18 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Molot A shelter that can be lived in all year round, every year, comfortably. It should be resistant to everyday weathering like rain, snow, wind and hail, and made of something that will not rot in the short-term. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 28 '18 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Also, mesolithic societies did have fishing villages, so why would this question be worldbuilding and not simply a history one? $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 28 '18 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ A note to people who are voting to close this: getting it closed doesn't do anything unless you actually explain why you want it that way. There's no point in just trying to get a question on hold if you don't want it to be changed. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 28 '18 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ This question appeared in the VTR queue and I'm voting to reopen it. Voting to close with the excuse that it's not worldbuilding per the help center, IMHO requires adherence to the rules for closure specifically stated in the HC and not a vague belief in the sentences broadly defining worldbuilding. In other words, this Q was improperly closed. If you disagree with this assessment, indicate the bullet point in the will-be-closed list that supports your choice. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 29 '18 at 13:47
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Skara Brae, an early Neolithic village in the Orkney Islands, is possibly a good model here. It dates back 5,000 years, which sets it partway through Northern Europe's Neolithic period. What is interesting here is that it lasted for quite some time - perhaps up to 500 or 600 years - and was inhabited by people who survived in a number of different ways over the centuries. Here are some key facts:

  • The inhabitants, at various periods, fished, raised cows and sheep, and, possibly, planted some crops, likely later in the village's history.
  • The dwellings are few - so far, only eight houses have been found, although it's possible more exist.
  • The houses themselves were made of stone but also used earth sheltering for additional protection. This may have eased the burden of construction.
  • The inhabitants had advanced tools; they had stone furniture, doors and other amenities. Clearly, the houses were built to last.

I would argue that in terms of architecture and construction, the inhabitants of your village would follow the Skara Brae model, taking advantage of natural features to minimize construction but using stone to provide shelter against wind, snow and cold. This requires a serious choice of location. Many fishing villages utilize bays - in this case, the Bay of Skaill. You therefore need a bay or natural harbor, as well as locally-sourced stone. Assuming the community is small, it is impractical to transport stone any significant distance. Trees would also be ideal, so boats can be made on site, and rebuilt if they are destroyed.

Someone might make the argument that the group could opt for a Neolithic long house composed of timber. I'd argue against this (and the use of wood as a building material), for a couple reasons:

  • These houses could hold 20-30 people, and were usually built in sets. This implies a not-insignificant settlement of perhaps 100 people or more, which would be larger than a village like Skara Brae.
  • The long houses - and wooden buildings of any sort - would require relatively advanced technology in terms of tools and construction, which I doubt your Mesolithic people had.
  • It takes a lot of planning and manpower to build these houses, and it seems inefficient given the level of technology available.

To get an idea of the sort of stone buildings I'm talking about, here's a photograph of Skara Brae, looking across the settlement. The houses were buried by natural conditions long after they were abandoned, but it is still notable that they were small and short, and did use middens for additional shelter.

enter image description here
Image courtesy of Wikipedia user current, under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Additional structures exist outside the complex. Some are still buried; others were destroyed by weather over time.

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If they are familiar with pottery, maybe they would built clay huts or mud brick huts, but that needs a climate hot enough to dry mud bricks.

Around Lake Constance (and some other places too), there are some neolithic stilt-houses built by fishers which are made of wood, I visited them once, they look quite cool, so i would use those.

for more, refer to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic#Shelter

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The biggest hurdle I see to the plausibility of the scenario you put forward is calorific sustainability, you've stated that the groups do not farm or raise stock, Scandinavia is a harsh place to make a living if you do raise crops and domestic animals, getting by on fishing alone would be brutal.

As to form I's expect any permanent buildings in that part of the world to be dry stone, possibly turfed over, probably using either drift wood or whale bone for roof beams where they weren't stone domes like those on Skellis Michael.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually even modern Scandinavia should be able to support small settlements fairly easily. It is only as population density increases that things get difficult. Also during the mesolithic climate was slightly warmer and there were probably lots more fish than today. Current fish stocks are apparently a fraction of what they were before millennia of fishing and few centuries of industrial fishing. So supporting a small settlement with fishing supported by hunting and gathering should be much easier than you think. But nobody knows how much easier, really. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 29 '18 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi My concern is mainly that fishing is usually seasonal, either due to a storm season that keeps fishing boats in harbour or because the main fish source is itself seasonal, like the salmon run. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 29 '18 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Well, many Native American tribes today survive mainly on the salmon run. They catch hundreds of fish during the run, eat some of it fresh, then smoke the rest to last the year. This is also what the first non-farming permanent settlements did. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 30 '18 at 13:17
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Almost all sedentary communities in the Mesolithic period, for example, the Jomon people of Japan, the people who lived on the Baltic Sea coast prior to the Neolithic revolution, and the various totem pole people of the Pacific Northwest such as the Haida people, were coastal fishing communities that supplemented their seafood diets with plants gathered near a coast. Several images of such settlements are shown below:

Some Jomon village images are here:

[enter image description here

enter image description here

A Haida settlements in the Pacific Northwest ca. 1878 (via Wikipedia):

enter image description here

An artist's conception of a Baltic Mesolithic settlement:

enter image description here

Terrestrial hunter-gatherers sometimes assembled in rich hunting grounds on a seasonal basis for a matter of a month or two, but almost never had sedentary communities, because their prey either migrated or would be exhausted by staying in one place for too long. In rare instances, permanent structures were built by these groups as temples or gathering places that were probably inhabited only seasonally, the most famous of which is the late Mesolithic Gobekli Tepe temple in Anatolia, shown at an advanced stage of construction but prior to completion:

enter image description here

Also, where terrestrial hunter-gathers assembled in extended camps in the Mesolithic era, there was also often "proto-farming" in which wild type predecessors of crops (often grains and berries) and animals that would eventually become domesticated (especially bunnies and flightless birds) were actively encouraged and regularly harvested, but neither the plants nor animals experienced the genetic changes that would make them domesticates that were especially well suited to controlled horticulture and herding. Here is an artist's impression of a Natufian (Mesolithic Levantine proto-farming) settlement:

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ And what kind of structures (Do we think) they would have built in these long-term settlements? $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 30 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @SealBoi Updated with images $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke May 30 '18 at 19:22
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fish trap

http://100objects.ie/mesolithic-fish-trap/

It does not look like much: some small, smooth interwoven sticks embedded in the turf from a bog at Clowanstown, in Co. Meath. The bog, however, was once a lake, and the woven sticks are an astonishing survival: part of a conical trap used by early Irish people to scoop fish from the lake or catch them in a weir. Radiocarbon tests date it to between 5210 and 4970 BC. The delicacy of the work has survived the millennia. Nimble hands interlaced young twigs of alder and birch, gathered from the edge of dense woods that covered the land at the time.

The people who made this trap were adept at using what was around them. They made circular, tent-like huts using saplings; they turned flint and chert stones into knives and other tools, but, as the trap suggests, this was as much an age of wood as of stone.

Your Mesolithic fishermen would be based in natural caves near a fishing site: a bend in a small river or a place where a river entered a lake, or maybe a brackish area connecting inland waterways with the sea. They would have augmented and built out the stone caves with wooden structures like this fish trap. They might have brought in fill from the surrounding area to level out interior spaces in the cave, maximizing usable area within.

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