Aivar Kriiska

Published: Coastal Estonia. Recent Advances in Environmental and Cultural History. PACT 51. Rixensart 1996, 359–369.


Investigations of Stone Age settlements found in the lower reaches of the Narva river are summarized. A brief review is given of the finds, the data associated with them and the interdisciplinary way they have been investigated. Ten settlement sites (Lommi I–III, Riigiküla I–IV, Narva Joaoru, Kudruküla and Väiküla) and two places with occasional finds (Siivertsi and Tõrvala) are discussed.

The lower reaches of the Narva River forms an area which, since 1930, has been studied by virtually all Estonian archaeologists who are interested in the Stone Age. The material obtained to date is central to the reconstrution of the Estonian Stone Age and yet the surroundings of Narva have still not been investigated in sufficient detail.


The area of the lower course of the Narva River in north-eastern Estonia is one of the regions central to the reconstruction of the Estonian Stone Age. It has, so far, provided the only remaining settlement site in Estonia with three clearly distinct Mesolithic strata. It has also yielded the only Stone Age fishing net remains and the remains of two Neolithic dwelling houses together with burial sites. Finally it has given its name to an entire Early Neolithic culture: the Narva culture. The region has been studied to various degrees by all researchers of the Estonian Stone Age.

Although a couple of stone axes were already obtained from the lower course of the Narva River in the second half of last century (Simenson, 1922, p. 1; Tallgren, 1922, p. 54) substantial research only began in the 1930's. The occasion was the digging of the main drainage canal in the Siivertsi section of the town of Narva (Fig. 1, no. 2) during the summer of 1930 and the resultant discovery of a bone arrowhead and two long bone points at a depth of 3.4 m (Indreko, 1931, p. 1). The artefacts were presented to the Archaeology Museum of Tartu University by Arnold Soom, Director of the Narva Museum. That October, Richard Indreko made minor test excavations at the site. Sandstone net anchors with the remains of cords and pinebark floats, some bone arrowheads and long pointed bits of bone were recovered at the excavations. These finds were probably part of a net and objects from a boat which sank to the bottom of a lagoon during an accident in the transition period from the Baltic Ancylus Lake to the Litorina Sea (Indreko, 1937a, p. 30; 1937b, p. 5; 1948, p. 94). Paul William Thomson also studied the geological background of the site, made pollen analyses and, together with Teodor Lippmaa, determined the cord material (Indreko, 1932, p. 52 and 56; 1948, p. 94).

New finds were accidentally discovered in 1938 along the Narva River in the course of mining for diatomite. Two bone arrowheds and, a year later, a two arrowheads, a polishing stone and some kind of wooden object were sent, under the direction of K. E. Piias, to the Archaeology Museum of Tartu University from Tõrvala (Fig. 1, no. 6), about 8 km north of Narva on the right bank of the river (Indreko, 1948, p. 91).

Fig. 1. Stone Age sites in the lower reaches of the Narva River. 1 – Narva Joaoru, 2 – Siivertsi, 3 – Riigiküla I–III, 4 – Kudruküla, 5 – Väiküla, 6 – Tõrvala, 7 – Lommi I–III.

In addition, a small snakeshaped horn figure (Fig. 2) was obtained from the same site in 1949 (Moora, 1957, p. 225; L. Jaanits, 1961, p. 22) together with  two bone daggers in 1955 (L. Jaanits, 1959, p. 1). These figures were found about 160–300 m east of the Narva River at a depth of 1.4–1.7 m in the lower diatomite layer (L. Jaanits, 1959, p. 2). Numerous finds of fishing net stones were recovered during the diatomite mining, some of the finds are from the bottom of the Litorina Sea (Indreko, 1948, p. 95) — having probably sunk during fishing. The snake-shaped figure has been considered, above all, to be a water sacrifice (L. Jaanits et al., 1982, p. 47). In 1937 Thomson made a pollen analytical study of the Tõrvala sediments (Thomson, 1937, p. 214–215), as did the Moscow palynologist G. Lissitsyna in 1959 (Lissitsyna, 1961, p. 543). In writing about the Tõrvala finds L.V. Koltsov has used the pollen analytical results of A. Laasi (Koltsov, 1977, p. 129). Lembit Jaanits inspected the Tõrvala site archaeologically in 1958.

The first Stone Age settlement site was discovered in 1939. A border guard found pottery sherds in road gravel transported from the bank of the stream Notika, which flows into the Luga River, near Lommi village (Fig. 1, no. 7) about 8 km east of Narva. The finds ended up in the Narva Museum, and from there were sent to the Archaeological Museum along with further finds and a report by the museum director A. Soom, who inspected the site that same autumn (Soom, 1939). During the summer of 1940, archaeological excavations were carried out by R. Indreko. In the Notika delta he discovered traces of three Neolithic settlements (Lommi I–III) (Indreko, 1940). The object of his excavations was the larger site on the right bank of the Notika stream (settlement III). In 1952 Leningrad archaeologist Nina Gurina excavated the same site (Gurina, 1961, p. 410–412). The material collected on that occasion belongs primarily to the Typical and less to the Late Combed Ware Pottery period. The foundation of the settlement is, however, marked by a few Narva-type pottery sherds (Kriiska, 1994, p. 11). Small tools of good-quality flint were also found (Indreko, 1964, p. 63) and some quartz-scrapers, burins and arrowheads, finely-polished slate wedges, numerous polishing stones and  fragments of clay sculptures (Fig. 3), along with amber beads and pieces of amber.

Fig. 2. Figure of adder made of moose horn found in Tõrvala (AI 4014) (after Harri Moora).

Fig. 3. Typical Combed Ware Pottery sherd (a – AI 3867 : 209) and clay figure fragments (b – AI 3867 : 321,
c – AI 3867 : 247, d – AI 3867 : 310) found in the Lommi III settlement.

The 1950's mark the beginning of more intensive archaeological research. In connection with the construction related to the Narva hydroelectric plant, N. Gurina began searching for Stone Age relicts around Narva. About 8 km north of the town at Riigiküla  (Fig. 1, no. 3), opposite to the Tõrvala site, on the left bank of the Narva River, she detected at first one and later two more Neolithic settlements (Riigiküla I–III). As early as 1929, a local farmer had found a stone wedge at Riigiküla and in 1938, a ring. The artefacts were once again forwarded by A. Soom to the Archaeological Museum. Oskar Saadre inspected the site in 1938, but test excavations were not possible, because the site was situated under a cultivated field. N. Gurina discovered one settlement in 1951 (Riigiküla I), during its excavation yet another (Riigiküla II) and, in 1952, during continued excavations, the third (Riigiküla III) settlement (Gurina, 1955, p. 53). She excavated at all three settlements between 1951 and 1953. L. Jaanits inspected Riigiküla III in 1957 and in 1958 performed minor excavations. Samples for pollen analysis were taken at settlement III in 1959 by Lissitsyna (Lissitsyna, 1961, 540). Riigiküla was also inspected in 1962, 1970 and 1991. During the last inspection, the cultural layer of a settlement IV was determined and phosphate analysis made (K. Jaanits et al., 1991). The excavations are summarized in Table I.


Excavation year
Monuments type
Monuments age
Number of site (Fig. 1)
Siivertsi R. Indreko net remains in former sea bottom Late Mesolithic
Loomi III R. Indreko settlement Neolithic
Riigiküla I N. Gurina settlement
Riigiküla I N. Gurina settlement
Riigiküla II settlement Neolithic
Lommi III settlement Neolithic
Riigiküla III N. Gurina settlement Neolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Riigiküla III L. Jaanits settlement Neolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Narva Joaoru L. Jaanits settlement Late Mesolithic
Kudruküla K. Jaanits settlement Late Neolithic
Kudruküla E. Efendijev settlement Late Neolithic
Narva Joaoru K. Jaanits settlement Neolithic  



The Riigiküla settlements are situated in the north-western part of a sandy ridge — a spit of the Litorina Sea — on the present-day banks of the Narva and Tõrvajõe rivers. Narva-type Pottery, Typical Combed Ware Pottery and Late Combed Ware Pottery have been found at each of the settlements excavated. Typical Combed Ware Pottery prevails at Riigiküla I–II and Narva Pottery at Riigiküla III (Gurina, 1967, p. 49).

The cultural layer of settlement I was 40–70 cm thick, reaching a thickness of 1.2 m in the area of the dwellings. Two dwelling remains were excavated. Both were situated on a line parallel to the river. The outline of the northernmost was circular, with a diameter of about 8 m and sunken 30 cm into the sandy surface. In the center of the building remains was a circular stoneless hearth, situated 35–40 cm above the sandy ground. At the same height, on the eastern side of the building, an adult male skeleton was found buried, laying stretched out on its back. Since the cultural layer of the settlement was covered by soil, it was not possible to distinguish grave goods (Gurina, 1967, p. 22–23). Anthropologically, the skeleton is of Protolapponian-type (Mark, 1975, p. 46). The southernmost dwelling remains had an oval ground plan with a diameter of 6–8 m (Fig. 4). Its base was also sunken about 30 cm into the sandy surface. The southern side of the dwelling had a protruding square area (Gurina, 1955, p. 160). Near the western wall was a stoneless hearth about 1 m in diameter, and in the center a child's skeleton was discovered, again stretched out on its back. Grave goods may have included fragments of a large vessel from the Late Combed Ware Pottery period at the feet and a small scraper (Gurina, 1967, p. 29). The skeleton belongs to the Europoid anthropological type (Mark, 1975, p. 46).

Fig. 4. Remains of a dwelling house from the Riigiküla I settlement (after Nina Gurina).


Two hearths were also found outside the dwellings. A large number of finds were collected: flint arrowheads, scrapers, burins, knives, polishing stones and fragments, axes and wedges of slate and horn, arrowheads and fishing spears of bone, tooth pendants and beads made from the long bones of birds (Gurina, 1967, p. 123, 138 and 141).

The cultural layer of settlement II was, on average, 50–60 cm thick. Hearthstones were found depressed into the ground along with some waste pits (Gurina, 1967, p. 16). Flint scrapers, arrowheads and nuclei were discovered, along with a small quartz tool and slate pendants. Bone finds were few — one wedge and a pointed sherd of long bone (Gurina, 1967, p. 60).

The cultural layer of settlement III was mostly 70 cm thick, but up to 1 m in places. One sunken hearthstone and some waste pits were excavated. Relatively few stone artefacts were found. Arrowheads and scrapers of low-quality local flint were discovered, plus quartz saw bits, horn wedges and axes and bone arrowheads and fishing spears along with some tooth pendants (Gurina, 1967, p. 46). The rarest find is a small sculpture of moose horn resembling a moose head and neck (L. Jaanits, 1961, p. 9).

Stone Age finds were discovered in Joaoru (Fig. 1, no. 1), in the town of Narva, in 1953. News of the finds reached the Institute of History, the Estonian Academy of Sciences, in Tallinn through the director of the Narva Museum and a local history teacher (Faronov, 1953; Zubov, 1953). L. Jaanits made six minor test excavations in Joaoru in 1954. Neolithic finds were stumbled upon below later cultural strata, and Mesolithic finds in the test excavation situated further from the river (L. Jaanits, 1955, p. 179 and 180). Excavations continued in Joaoru in 1957, 1960 and 1962–64 (L. Jaanits, 1965, p. 36–37).

At Joaoru, one Neolithic and three Mesolithic layers were distinguished stratigraphically below the later layers (L. Jaanits et al., 1982, p. 44). The oldest layer (III) was situated directly on the bedrock. The cultural layer contained much charcoal, which gave 14C-datings of 7640±180 BP (TA-53), 7580±300 BP (TA-25) and 7090±230 BP (TA-41) (Ilves et al., 1974, p. 175). The settlement layer has later been covered by a sandy stratum, which increases in thickness towards the river. Upon the latter rests a further cultural layer (II). It is thicker than the previous and richer in finds, and comprised numerous hearths, including an almost square-shaped stone hearth. The II Mesolithic settlement was dated by 14C to 7375±190 BP (TA-52), 6740±250 BP (TA-40) and 6020±120 BP (TA-17) (Ilves et al., 1974, p. 175). This layer is also covered by sand, which is thicker and more extensive than the sandy layers between the cultural layers II and III. The upper Mesolithic layer (I) was slightly thinner than the others and poorer in artefacts. About ten hearths were found, most of them of stone.

In the highest section of the settlement, evidently associated with layer I, the poorly preserved grave of a child was excavated (L. Jaanits et al., 1982, p. 45). This layer was radiogarbon dated to 5820±200 BP (TA-33) and 5300±250 BP (TA-7). Altogether about 1200 different types of objects, most of which are small quartz tools (scrapers, burins and so forth) were found from Mesolithic stratum. Flint was used very little. Bone objects are plentiful, however, mostly as fragments: fishing spears and arrowheads, wedges, awls and daggers etc. (L. Jaanits et al., 1982, p. 47 and 48).

The lower part of the Neolithic stratum contained predominantly Narva-type Pottery. The overlaying part was mostly mixed and included Narva-type Pottery, Typical and Late Combed Ware Pottery and also Early and Late Corded Ware (L. Jaanits, 1965, p. 37; Kriiska, 1994, p. 52–70). Besides pottery, flint and bone arrowheads, fragments of polishing stones, quartz and flint scrapers, slate wedges and an amber pendant were also recovered.

At the end of the 1960's and beginning of the 1970's, a Neolithic settlement was discovered 5 km upstream from the mouth of the Narva River, about 500 m to the southwest, on the left bank of the Kudruküla stream (Fig. 1, no. 4). The cultural layer of the settlement was most probably swept away by a stream and deposited on the bottom of a flat valley-like depression. Eldar Efendijev, director of the Narva Museum, collected finds from Kudruküla during the 1970's and especially in 1979. That same year, L. Jaanits partly inspected the site. Kaarel Jaanits carried out archaeological excavations in Kudruküla in 1980 (K. Jaanits, 1981, p. 385) and E. Efendijev in 1981 (Efendijev, 1983, p. 396).

A very substantial collection has been gathered from this settlement site, comprising abundant bone and horn objects, arrowheads and fishing spears, needles, awls and tooth pendants. Stone articles are few, single flint fragments, arrowheads, scrapers, polishing stones and slate wedges. An amber pendant was also found. Animal bones and single human bones, including some skull fragments, were also obtained from the stratum. The majority of the pottery belongs to the Late Combed Ware Pottery period and a small part to the Typical Combed Ware Pottery period (Kriiska, 1994, p. 10).

In the beginning of the 1980's, members of the Narva scuba diver's club discovered Neolithic finds near Väiküla, in a water depth of about 4 m in the Narva River, 1.5–2 km upstream from the mouth of the river, and 15–20 m from the right bank. In 1983, the discovery site was localized and finds were collected by the direction of E. Efendijev and Valeri Petrenko (Petrenko and Efendijev, 1985, p. 453). So far only 69 Neolithic pottery sherds have been found, one of them is Typical Combed Ware Pottery and the rest are Late Combed Ware Pottery.


The manuscript was translated from Estonian to Englisch by Karl S. Altan, Helsinki and revised by Hille and Valdar Jaanusson, Stockholm.

Aivar Kriiska
Tartu University
Ülikooli 18
EE-2400 TARTU, Estonia
Institute of History
Estonian Academy of Sciences
Rüütli 6
EE-0101 TALLINN, Estonia


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