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The Pre-Roman Iron Age of Northern Europe (5th/4th - 1st century BC) designates the earliest part of the Iron Age in Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the Netherlands north of the Rhine River. These regions feature many extensive archaeological excavation sites, which have yielded a wealth of artifacts. Objects discovered at the sites suggest that the Pre-Roman Iron Age cultures evolved without a major break out of the Nordic Bronze Age, but that there were strong influences from the Celtic Iron-Age Hallstatt culture in Central Europe. During the 1st century BC, Roman influence began to be felt even in Denmark.
Archaeologists first made the decision to divide the Iron Age into distinct pre-Roman and Roman Iron Ages after Emil Vedel unearthed a number of Iron Age artifacts in 1866 on the island of Bornholm. They did not exhibit the same permeating Roman influence seen in most other artifacts from the early centuries AD, indicating that parts of northern Europe had not yet come into contact with the Romans at the beginning of the Iron Age.
The Iron Age in northern Europe is markedly distinct from the Celtic La Tène culture south of it, whose advanced iron-working technology exerted a considerable influence in the north, when, around 600 BC northern people began to extract bog iron from the ore in peat bogs, a technology acquired from their Central European neighbours. The oldest iron objects found have been needles, but edged tools, swords and sickles, are found as well. Bronze continued to be used during the whole period, but was mostly used for decoration.
Funerary practices continued the Bronze Age tradition of burning the corpses and placing the remains in urns, a characteristic of the Urnfield culture. During the previous centuries, influences from the Central European La Tène culture spread to Scandinavia from north-western Germany, and there are finds from this period from all the provinces of southern Scandinavia. Archaeologists have found swords, shield bosses, spearheads, scissors, sickles, pincers, knives, needles, buckles, kettles, etc. from this time. Bronze continued to be used for torcs and kettles, the style of which were continuous from the Bronze Age. Some of the most prominent finds are the Gundestrup silver cauldron and the Dejbjerg wagons from Jutland, two four-wheeled wagons of wood with bronze parts.
The cultural change that ended the Bronze Age was affected by the expansion of Hallstatt culture from the south and accompanied by a deteriorating climate, which caused a dramatic change in the flora and fauna. In Scandinavia, this period is often called the Findless Age due to the lack of finds. While the finds from Scandinavia are consistent with a loss of population, the southern part of the culture, the Jastorf culture, was in expansion southwards. It consequently appears that the climate change played an important role in the southward expansion of the tribes, considered Germanic, into continental Europe . There are differing schools of thought on the interpretation of geographic spread of cultural innovation, whether new material culture reflects a possibly warlike movement of peoples ("demic diffusion") southwards or whether innovations found at Pre-Roman Iron Age sites represents a more peaceful cultural diffusion. The current view in the Netherlands hold that Iron Age innovations, starting with Hallstatt (800 BC), did not involve intrusions and featured a local development from Bronze Age culture. Another Iron Age nucleus considered to represent a local development is the Wessenstedt culture (800 - 600 BC).
The bearers of this northern Iron Age culture were likely speakers of Germanic languages. The stage of development of this Germanic is not known, although Proto-Germanic has been proposed. The late phase of this period sees the beginnings of the Germanic migrations, starting with the invasions of the Teutons and the Cimbri until their defeat at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae in 102 BC, presaging the more turbulent Roman Iron Age and Age of Migrations.