Stone Age Heritage in Nida – The Five Hills Settlement
When the weather gets warmer, the Curonian Spit attracts more visitors, and most holidaymakers go to Nida. While it is still too cold for swimming, we suggest replacing simple nature walks with a sightseeing tour lasting several hours and getting acquainted with the Stone Age settlement. You will visit two attractions: the location of the settlement itself and the Museum of History of the Curonian Spit, where archaeological finds excavated in the Stone Age settlement in Nida are exhibited.
In order to explore the settlement, you will have to take a short walk between the Smiltyne-Nida highway and the Glider Pilots’ Dune to the forest clearing, located about 1.5 km southwest of Nida. The Museum of History of the Curonian Spit is located on Pamario Street, near the Herman Blode Museum.
Ancient Curonian Spit
The Spit turned into a sandy desert only in the 18th century – the climate was warmer in the Stone Age, dense deciduous forests thrived, and there were plenty of forest goods and fish. Therefore, it is not surprising that this territory was abundantly inhabited, especially in the Late Neolithic period (at the junction of the 3rd and 2nd millenniums BC) – in the 19th century, the wind raging in the dunes of the Spit, which were not covered with foliage at that time, revealed hundreds of settlements from the Stone and Bronze Ages.
The clearest traces of ancient people have been found in the Nida Stone Age settlement. Although now it is nestled at the western foot of the Glider Pilots’ Dune, in ancient times it was located near the shore of the lagoon. People lived here for a long time. Archaeologists discovered several cultural strata, and their findings include Stone Age and Bronze Age artifacts. Expeditions led by Rimutė Rimantienė, who thoroughly explored the seaside, during six seasons surveyed an area of 4,640 square metres – almost the entire territory of the settlement.
Stone Age Settlement in Nida
The Nida settlement consisted of 12 groups of buildings, each containing several square buildings (about 10 m in length, 4-6 m in width) with approximately 300 pole places around which building remains were dug out. Seventy-five indoor fireplaces and an outdoor sacrificial firepit were found. The settlement was quite large, so it’s not surprising that archaeologists could enjoy an impressive number of findings.
More than 100 thousand pot fragments, about 100 stone axes, a variety of scrapers, drills, arrow tips, and flint chisel blades were found. Of course, amber items also were found, including buttons, pendants, flat and tubular beads, and raw amber nuggets. The findings showed that the inhabitants of Nida were mostly engaged in agriculture, but hunting and fishing were also important sources of nutrition: archaeologists identified animal bones, fish shoals, and fishing net weights.
History is Being Rewritten
Several years ago, Gytis Pilišauskas and his archaeological team returned to explore the Nida settlement. Using state-of-the-art technology, they refined the results of previous explorations. Their research shows that the Curonian Spit is older than originally thought, about six thousand years, and people lived here as early as 5,500 years ago. Scientists are questioning the previous theory that earlier the spit was not a continuous strip of land but a row of islands between the lagoon and the sea separated by channels. In their opinion, the Curonian Spit just was twice as narrow as it is today. It also turned out that the Stone Age settlement was covered with sand several times, but unlike in the 17th – 19th centuries, the residents were not looking for a safer new place to live but returned time and again to live in the same place.
Enhanced technologies enable scientists to get a closer look at the past to better understand the life and households of our predecessors. Scientists explore the technologies of ceramics and stone processing, the ancient people’s diet, and other life issues. The fat molecules in the pot fragments are examined – this technique allows scientists to discover what ancient people ate and drank.
Neringa Museum of History
Some of the findings from the Nida settlement are displayed at the Museum of History of the Curonian Spit. Here various crafts and traditions of the Curonian Spit inhabitants, both ancient and more modern, are presented. Old fishing techniques with sailboats, ice fishing on the lagoon, and collecting amber with a landing net from the Baltic Sea are presented in detail. Additionally, visitors can learn about the unique historical local tradition of catching crows for food.
The visit to this museum will provide a more complete picture of how the Stone Age people lived in the Curonian Spit. The residents of Neringa say that the ancient settlement is still more interesting to tourists coming from the West than to Lithuanians. Maybe it’s time to change this mentality? This is our history, after all.