No matter whether it is a large family, a single household or a shared flat – the social structures in which we live today are diverse and change over the course of our lives. In recent years, there has even been talk of digital nomads, who almost exclusively use digital technologies to do their work and lead a location-independent, multi-local life.

Even at the end of the last glacial period, people in Europe were mobile. In the course of a year, they camped at different sites in a region in order to obtain food and materials. In the CRC 1266, we investigate the effects of this lifestyle on their social interaction.

Pioneers at the end of the Ice Age

At the end of the last glacial period, c.12,700 years BCE, north-western Europe looked different from modern-day Europe. The North Sea coast ran between Scotland and Norway, a wide plain stretched between the island and the continent. It was possible to get to Helgoland with almost dry feet. At this time, the climate changed significantly, i.e. it became warmer and wetter in the northern hemisphere. In the lowlands of northern Europe, grasses and herbs still dominated the flora, because the soils first had to develop again.

At the northern edge of the low mountain ranges, people whose remains archaeologists call Magdalenian, changed their habits or migrated. In the bordering lowlands to the north, people appeared again for the first time after a long period of absence. Their tools, hunting weapons and methods of making them clearly resemble the Magdalenian and are referred to as the Hamburg Culture.

Family idyll on the Seine

Children are running around between tents, and adults are sitting around the campfire. What sounds like a holiday idyll on a campsite describes a scene on the banks of the Seine some 15,900 years ago. Here, in what is now Étiolles, people pitched their tents, built fireplaces, made tools and cut up hunted game. In the vicinity, they found huge flint nodules of excellent quality, the raw material for many of their stone tools.

They were certainly masters in making stone tools, but average products and pieces with many flaws were also found. Apparently, there were unskilled stone knappers involved, probably children and adolescents. At a well-researched fireplace, the ‘master craftsmen’ sat close to the fire, while the ‘journeymen’ sat in the second row, and the ‘apprentices’ huddled along the wall of the tent.

  • A family is working in a tent around one of the fireplaces in Étiolles.

  • The central fireplace and surrounding stone structures after the excavation.

  • Ideal-typical fireplace in Étiolles with reconstructed tent.


  • The current excavation area at Étiolles shows two concentrations of flint artefacts (left and right).

  • Geophysicists from Kiel University are carrying out Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) measurements in Étiolles.

  • Electrical resistivity tomography (ERI) is also used at Étiolles to reveal structures in the ground.

  • This excavation scene in Alt Duvenstedt shows the remains of a flint knapping site.

  • In Ahrenshöft in North Frisia, a fireplace of the Hamburg Culture was excavated.

Family today

Society in miniature

Family is a topic that affects everyone. It exists since birth, allows children to learn social behaviour and contributes to the formation of their identity. In the course of life, each individual takes on different roles within the family. The relationships in a family are not always harmonious, but also have potential for conflict. If there is no family, this often puts a strain on life. In short: family is society in miniature.

At the same time, society also shapes our ideas of family. In Europe, the nuclear family of the western industrialised society replaced the extended family of the agrarian society. In societies with nomadic lifestyles, nuclear families can be found on their own or in larger groups, depending on the season. The social role of the family can also be taken on by persons to whom there is no biological relationship. Patchwork and rainbow families have become more common in recent decades and illustrate the diversity of the family.