Frank Wiersema is a photographer who is specialized in showing what life must have looked like in various periods in history. Last year, he and Hunebedcentrum teamed up to make a photo series that showed various aspects of life with the Funnelbeaker people (the Hunebed builders). In the summer of 2015 he visited Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen where an international team of experimental archaeologists immersed in a six week living experiment, to live as much as possible the middle stone age life of the hunter-gatherers. Last year the same park hosted the biggest stone age gathering since the stone age. Frank Wiersema took this opportunity to finish his photo series on life in the Mesolithic.
The hunter-gatherers of the middle stone age lived as semi-nomads, building relatively small huts as dwellings. They usually stay at the same place for one season and then travel to a different place to hunt and gather there. This way, they travel between several basecamps, so they don’t need to completely rebuilt their camp every season. A hut usually lasts for roughly ten to fifteen years. Most of the live is lead outdoors. Since gathering food only takes up a few hours every day, there is plenty of leisure time. In the huts, it can be very cozy, spending time at the fire and sharing food. When the Neolithic cultures introduced farming, the Mesolithic societies continued their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Some elements of the farming cultures where adopted, such as pottery, which can be seen in this picture.
Hunter-gatherers get all their food from the wild. Hunting provides only a small part of the diet, most of the food is gathered. Hazelnuts form a stable and reliable source of food, as archaeobotanist Jake Newport is gathering in this picture.
Master flintknapper Morten Kutschera shows the techniques to make specialized tools out of flint. Hitting a flint stone with a hammer stone in exactly the right way can create flakes that are razor sharp and function as arrowheads, knives, axes, scrapers etc.
Hunting is done in small groups, in this case led by camp elder Werner Pfeifer. Different kinds of animals are hunted with specialized weapons that are specifically designed for that type of animal.
Hunter-gatherers operate from different camps that are spread out over a large territory. Usually, there’s one basecamp where the whole community comes together. The hunters go from there to the smaller huntingcamp (roughly a day away from basecamp) to go out hunting from there. Most of the butchering is done on site or at the huntingcamp, so they bring as much as possible only the prepared product back to basecamp (such as the meat, the hides and other usable parts). This way the camp doesn’t get too flee infested and it makes it easier for the hunters to carry everything back.
The skin of the animal is an important resource, for it provides leather for clothes or furs for when it gets cold. Doctor in prehistoric tanning Theresa Kamper scraps the inside of this hide clean, which is the first step of the process of making it into leather.
Nothing of the animal has to go to waste. The guts for instance can be used to make very strong thread. Many of today’s hunter-gatherer societies don’t have a word in their language for work. Things that need to be done (like cleaning guts) can be done in a way that it is fun and the children learn while playing.
Next to hunting and gathering, fishing provides an important part of the diet. The oldest canoe ever found was dug out from a single log. It was found in Pesse in Drenthe and dates from about 10 000 years ago. Jake Newport is fishing with a harpoon with a point made out of bone. Different types of fishing hooks are also known from this period. The funnel is a typical Mesolithic invention and also fishing nets were used.
There is no known example in the world of a culture that did not develop music. It’s a highly important social phenomenon that brings a clan together and maintains bonds. Many musical instruments are usually made from perishable materials, though some flutes have survived that are as old as 40 000 years. No drums have been found from the Mesolithic, but there are sticks found that are most likely used on drums.
The oldest saunas date back 10 000 years ago. A small hut was built with a pit in the middle. Outside the hut, stones are heated in a big pyre for several hours. The hot stones are shoveled into the pit inside the hut, after which the hut is sealed off and water over the hot stones creates steam.
Shaman Miika Vanhapiha from Kuttelo group performs Karhutanssi (Bear Dance) ceremony. The exact nature of the believe system of Mesolithic peoples is unknown. Strong evidence of shamanism is provided by masks made of skull caps of red deer from the excavations at Star Carr in UK. Cave paintings from the Paleolithic (the period before the Mesolithic) show signs of shamanism and from the Neolithic (the period after the Mesolithic) there are also shamanistic ritual objects (like skull masks) found. I find it therefor safe to assume that Mesolithic cultures must have had a form of shamanism, especially since almost all of todays hunter-gatherer societies have a shamanistic believe system.
Frank Wiersema graduated from the Photoacademy Amsterdam in 2010 with illustrational photography. He likes to tell stories and to make life just that bit more interesting than everyday life. During his time at the academy he developed a style characterized by hyper-realism and a keen eye for detail. After his graduation he started applying his type of production to history, a subject-matter that he has been passionate about for most of his life. Through different projects, he built a network of living history and experimental archaeology, enabling him to set up high end productions that picture a detailed and vivid image of everyday life, in a historically correct way.