December 14, 2012

Wanted: volunteer archaeologists to dig Europe's oldest civilization

Tell Yunatsite in Southern Bulgaria was an important settlement of the Chalcolithic, in the context of an advanced culture that was older than Egypt or Troy. The place was settled in the seventh millennium (Neolithic) and destroyed by invaders at the end of the fifth millennium (Chalcolithic, Indoeuropean invasions), briefly resettled only to be evicted once again and left empty for a whole millennium. Later it was reoccupied in the late Bronze Age (Thracians) and continuously inhabited until the Middle Ages (when it may have been evacuated in the context of Slavic invasions). 

In brief: a whole slice of European late prehistory (and a bit of history also). In the words of the researchers:

In the seventh millenium BC the Balkan Peninsula was a gate through which farming, animal husbandry and generally Neolithisation spread to Europe from Anatolia and the Near East. App. 1000 years later in the very beginning of the fifth millennium BC prehistoric population in Central and Eastern Balkans turned known metal-processing technologies into an industry for the first time in human history (The World oldest copper mines are found near Rudna glava, Serbia and Mechi kladenets/Ai bunar near Stara Zagora, Bulgaria). Archaeological evidence shows that in the fifth millennium BC these prehistoric cultures enjoyed a constant raise of population and wealth meanwhile experiencing social stratification due the intensive trade with metal products, salt and other goods with the rest of prehistoric Europe and Asia. These Balkan Copper age cultures had all characteristics of the first civilizations including: the very first urban settlements in Europe (Tell Yunatsite, Durankulak and Provadia in Bulgaria), dense network of settlements, “industrial” proportions of production of goods, esp. metal products and salt, developed trade, distinguished social and professional stratification, pictograms and characters interpreted by some scholars as the World’oldest script (Gradeshnitsa tablet for instance dates back to the sixth or early fifth millennium BC) as well as precious artifacts made of gold, pottery, bone and stone (the World oldest gold treasure found in the Varna Copper age necropolis). This very first civilization in Europe was Pre-Indo-European and emerged for not more a millennium covering large parts of the Balkans, NW Anatolia and Eastern Europe. It collapsed around the end of the fifth millennium under the pressure of both drastic climatic changes and invasion of Early Indo-Europeans. The period of study of this very first civilization in Europe has been quite short - about 40 years have passed, since the excavation of the Varna Copper age necropolis brought to light the first certain evidences about its existence. Nowadays scholars from all over the World are still discovering new facts and adding new data about the “lost” first civilization in Europe.

They are looking for volunteers with an interest in archaeology and decent health for the campaign of summer 2013. Participation provides credits for university students.

More information on the relevant Prehistory and the volunteer program at Balcan Heritage.

2 comments:

  1. "This very first civilization in Europe was Pre-Indo-European"

    Not so sure about this. As I have said many times, the high population density, proliferate population of the West Pontic region surely was able to start something bigger just at the right time.

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    Replies
    1. Well, the mainstream (and only coherent) model is the Kurgan model. Renfrew's model is just a sieve full of wide gaping holes in which nothing makes sense.

      This particular site is actually significant because it shows destruction roughly at the "right" time for the Kurgan model, i.e. when the IE raiders who left wealthy kurgan tombs were plundering the Eastern Balcans and parts of the Mid-Danube, eventually leading to the formation of a new culture which is an almost total break up with the Neolithic ones that precede this catastrophic event: Ezero culture. While Ezero is not technically "kurgan" it does have all the hallmarks of steppary cultural imports, although more related to Dniepr-Don and its partial (mixed) continuity in Sredny-Stog II: burials in extended position with ochre, so different from the burials in flexed position without ochre of the Balcano-Danubian Neolithic cultures.

      For a re-calibrated chronology of Ezero culture (Early Bronze), which is surely quite older than what Wikipedia reflects (older vs. newer calibration methods) see for example: https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/download/4123/3548 (direct PDF download).

      In general we see in the 4th millennium and surrounding centuries the destruction of all or most of the Balcano-Danubian Neolithic and its replacement by Kurgan-related cultures - except West of the Rhine where, after a brief and confusing late expansion, they were replaced by Artenac culture (proto-Basque?), part of a larger Western Megalithic and archer cultural area. Of course they must have left legacy in both genetics and culture but it does look like the conquests were quite radical anyhow, enough to allow for linguistic (and other cultural) replacement. Then of course in some regions (Central Europe) there was also a period of semi-Danubization of the local "Kurganites" (Indoeuropeans) but they still kept their distinct personality and apparent links with the steppe.

      The European (pre-)history after Paleolithic can be roughly divided in three periods:
      1. Neolithic and much of Chalcolithic, dominated by cultures originated in Neolithic Thessaly and/or surrounding areas
      2. Late Chalcolithic and Metal Ages, dominated by Indoeuropeans (until today)

      This is quite obvious for example in the Cosmogony of Hesiod, where the Indoeuropean culture (Olympic gods) only appear at the end of a tripartite sequence. The second layer (Chronos' reign) may be privative of the Balcans (Vinca-Dimini culture, which seems to be a more localized conquest with origins maybe in Syria or Kurdistan). The oldest layer(s) of Gaia, Eros (and secondarily Uranus) may be shared by all cultures of Europe, at least those derived from the Thessalian Neolithic and similar mythologies can be found in Basque traditions for example (but also in Indian Shakti school, plausibly the oldest Hindu tradition, pre-Vedic, or even arguably in the East Asian Daoism, although here it gets a more abstract form, less explicitly sexual and with personal gods).

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