Dr Dušan Borić
Prehistory of north-east Serbia: Survey and excavations
Aim: Diachronic study of changing settlement patterns in the Danube Gorges region and their hinterlands
New fieldwork in the Danube Gorges started in 2004 as part of a collaborative project Prehistory of north-east Serbia between the Departments of Archaeology of University of Cambridge, England and Belgrade University, Serbia. A part of this wider project relating to the Stone Ages has been designed to test the notion of the Mesolithic-Neolithic frontier as a general model as well as its applicability in this regional example, by reference to known Mesolithic settlements on the Danube and largely uninvestigated hinterland areas on the Serbian side of the Danube. Previously, no systematic survey of the hinterland areas of the Danube Gorges was made after the excavation of Mesolithic-Neolithic sites belonging to the Lepenski Vir culture zone. Most of the known sites were primarily situated along a narrow strip of land along the Danube banks investigated as part of the rescue project Đerdap I in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on the hinterland areas of the previously investigated sites allows one to contextualise the existing evidence from this micro-region with other contemporaneous settlements outside the Danube Gorges in the course of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Newly discovered sites in this region also offered a glimpse into the nature of the Palaeolithic occupation of the region.
Funding: NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Archaeology): 35 AMS 14C dates for the project “Dating the Early Mesolithic occupation of the Danube Goges (£12,075); British Academy Small (SG-40967 and -42170) and Large Grant (LG-45589) Programmes (£75,000), DM McDonald Grants and Awards Fund (£26,000), Leverhulme Programme “Changing Beliefs of the Human Body” (£2,000) ORADS (NERC & AHRC): “The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition at Lepenski Vir and Vlasac: Dating architectural changes and the introduction of pottery and domesticates” (51 AMS 14C dates, £17,850), National Science Foundation (USA) High-Risk Research in Archaeology Grant BCS-0442096 (co-PI with Prof. T.D. Price): $25,000. Total: £147,000
Household craft specialization and emergence of metallurgy in the Neolithic Vinča culture of southeast Europe
Vinča Archaeology and Metallurgy Project (VAMP) group. PI Dušan Borić with co-PIs Duško Šljivar (National Museum, Belgrade), Prof. Bryan Hanks (University of Pittsburgh) and Dr Roger Doonan (University of Sheffield).
Aim: The project focuses on questions surrounding the emergence of craft specialization, including early stages of metallurgy, in early agrarian society. The case study chosen relates to the Vinča culture communities of southeast Europe with the earliest currently dated evidence of copper mining and metallurgy in Europe. In particular, we focus on the site of Belovode, eastern Serbia, some 50km away from the Neolithic copper ore mining site of Rudna Glava. Belovode spans the whole duration of the culture history phenomenon known as the Late Neolithic Vinča culture (5400-4500 cal BC). Vinča culture agrarian communities are characterized by new forms of craft production in the form of dark burnished ceramics, a specific style of ceramic figurines, and, importantly, copper metallurgy. Building on the pilot work our team conducted at this site in May 2012, that included geophysical and geochemical surveys and surface collection, in 2013, we aim to expand on the pomising results received thus far by conducting more surface prospection work coupled with excavations of identified burnt house structures as well as areas showing high copper element signal based on geochemcial pXRF readings.
Our work should enable us to specify in more detail aspects of houselhold level craft specialization in relation to metallurgy as well as all other aspects of material culture (ceramics, lithic, ground stone, etc.), and to differentate between likely existence of specialized zones of activities within the Belovode settlement limits. This will be achieved by investigating two different areas of the settlement with identified burnt house features as well as ‘empty' areas with no apparent structures. This phase of research is the first step in developing longer term research dedicated to this period and region which will bring together an international team with expertiese in a range of specializations and provide for the student training, development of modern archaeological standards in Serbian archaeology and the sharing of knowledge.
Funding: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (Gr. no. ICRG-115). $30,000
Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Foragers of Montenegro
PI Dr Emanuela Crisitani with Dr Dušan Borić as the field director and Zvezdana Vušović-Lučić and Dejan Gazivoda as Montenegrin project partners.
Aim: In 2012, a collaborative UK-Montenegrin project was initiated by E. Cristiani (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge) and D. Borić (Cardiff University) as UK representatives in collaboration with D. Gazivoda (Centre for Conservation and Archaeology in Cetinje) and Z. Vušović-Lučić (National Museum and Centre for Culture in Nikšić) as Montenegrin partners. In the course of fieldwork, four previously identified sites surrounding the Nikšić Plain were investigated with test pits. One of the sites, Vrbička Cave, located at 950 masl, provided evidence of Upper Palaeolithic, Epigravettian levels with two phases of occupation possibly dating to the Late Glacial period based on the presence of steeply retouched bladelets and points, thumbnail endscrapers, splintered pieces and one shouldered (à cran) piece. Intriguingly, most of the faunal remains come from marmot (Marmota marmota) and bear clear pattern of butchering cut marks. It is possible that Vrbička Cave might have represented a specialized site for marmot hunting and processing. The evidence from this cave may reflect a process of Late Glacial recolonization and utilization of higher altitude landscapes in the Dinaric Alps.
The aim of the project is to investigate Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene forager adaptations in a diachronic perspective looking at land-use patterns and techno-functional aspects of material culture in the zone between the Eastern Adriatic littoral and the central Balkans in present-day Montenegro. The project has two components: fieldwork and re-examination of old collections, including radiometric dating of osseous materials.
Funding: The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Univeristy of Cambridge and School of History, Archaeology and Religion, Cardiff University. £6,000
Dating the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the Alps
PI Dušan Borić with Dr Emanuela Cristiani (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge) and Analuisa Pedrotti (University of Trento).
Aim: While the chronology of the key Early Mesolithic sequences in the eastern Alps at the sites of Riparo Romagnano and Riparo Gaban is relatively well established, there is much less chronological resolution when it comes to defining the chronological brackets of the Late Mesolithic-Early Neolithic transition. Providing chronological resolution for this period is of key importance in understanding the nature of forager-farmer interactions and transformations in this and similar agriculturally marginal areas of the Alps. Direct dates on positively identified bones of domestic animals from the earliest Neolithic levels at two key multi-layered rock-shelters (Riparo Gaban and Riparo Romagnano) and one open-air site (La Vela di Trento) will be obtained in order to provide a realistic date for the appearance of the first elements of the ‘Neolithic package’.
The aim of the project is to define chronological boundaries of the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic occupation of the Adige Valley, in the Alpine Trentino region of northeast Italy. Several key sites in the Adige Valley make this region representative of the developments in the rest of the Alps during the studied period.
Funding: NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Archaeology): 13 AMS14C dates. £4485
Prehistoric flint sourcing in NW Bulgaria and NE Serbia: Field survey and laboratory analyses
Co-PI: Dr. Maria Gurova (National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences).
Aim: The project focuses on the identification of flint sources, used by prehistoric communities in the areas of northwest Bulgaria and northeast Serbia, by means of field survey and archaeometric analyses (LA-ICP-MS analyses). The chosen study area in the Danube Gorges is the only place in the eastern and central Balkans where one could research diachronic changes due to the existence of sites dated from the Upper Palaeolithic through the Neolithic within the same general area. On the other hand, NW Bulgaria is the most promising place for flint raw material prospecting. After this initial pilot research phase, it is expected that in the future this project will generate enough information in order to expand the research to the northern bank of the Danube, i.e. the areas of present-day southwest Romania as well as to other regions in Bulgaria. The aim of this research will be to reconstruct networks of acquisition of flint raw material along the Danube’s southern bank and in its immediate hinterland within the study area throughout early prehistory. In particular this research will address the question of diachronic changes from the Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period in the study region with regard to the availability of certain types of raw material used by prehistoric populations.
Funding: America for Bulgaria Foundation (High-Risk Research in Archaeology Grant) coordinated by the American Research Center in Sofia and the Filed Museum in Chicago. Total: $29,945
Dating the Early and Middle Copper Age burial evidence in the eastern Carpathian Basin
Aim: The project focuses on the dating of the Early and Middle Copper Age burials from six sites in the eastern Carpathian Basin and should provide a more reliable chronology for defining the Early Copper Age (ECA known by its culture history name Tiszapolgár) and Middle Copper Age (MCA known by its culture history name Bodrogkeresztúr) on the basis of mortuary data across the eastern Carpathian Basin. In addition, this research will provide the first evidence about dietary practices in this region based on the study of stable isotopes. This project is the first part of a larger dating programme. The project has FIVE principle objectives: (i) To provide a reliable chronological framework for the start, duration and the end of the ECA as well as MCA cemeteries in the eastern Carpathian Basin; (ii) To better understand the spatial trends in the spread of ECA and MCA groups across the Carpathian Basin; (iii) To date diagnostic pottery forms/decorations and other typologically, and supposedly chronologically, sensitive artefacts (in particular metal tools and ornaments) that have been defined as the Tiszapolgár (ECA) and Bodrogkeresztúr (MCA) cultures; (iv) To gain a higher precision in estimating the duration of the use of particular cemeteries and a better understanding of spatial dynamics within the cemetery areas; and, (v) To provide stable isotope evidence for dietary patterns of these ECA-MCA populations.
Funding: NERC Radiocarbon Facility (Archaeology): 20 AMS 14C dates. Total: £6,900
The beginnings of copper production in the central Balkans
This AMS dating programme was made possible through the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Dating Service (ORADS) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) of the UK. There were 37 successfully dated contexts out of 44 initially submitted samples on animal and human bones. Additionally, 3 more samples were submitted as replacement samples for those that did not provide enough collagen and all three were subsequently successfully dated. The samples were processed at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit in 2005.
Aside from dating the beginnings of copper mining and metallurgy in the context of the Vinča culture, the new radiometric evidence and its analyses enable a more refined absolute dating of relative chronological phases of the Vinča culture which was previously identified on the basis of pottery typology and stratigraphic sequences. The identification of the exact timing for the cessation of occupations at dated sites is also directly related to the understanding of inter-group dynamics in the mid-fifth millennium BC across the Balkans and the ensuing social and cultural changes in the structuring of Early Copper Age societies.
The obtained dates suggest that the Vinča culture might have utilised copper ores from the earliest phases in the last centuries of the sixth millennium cal. BC. Interest in copper ores for the production of beads for body decoration might have been of much greater antiquity, with roots in the Middle if not Early Neolithic of the Balkans. The aesthetic allure of and social values attached to copper ore beads and pendants might have been closely associated with other elements of the ‘Neolithic package’ originating in the Near East. The knowledge of smelting in the Balkans might have been related to the developments achieved in the control of the pyrotechnological process connected with the production of high-quality dark-burnished ceramic wares that are one of the main trademarks of the Vinča culture (cf. Chapman 2006), as possibly occurred in other regions of the Near East and Europe (cf. Ottaway 2001). A combination of the process of developing such pyrotechnological knowledge, developing social interests and agendas of household- and tell-centered societies with some form of ‘house society’ social organization as well as the proximity of heavily mineralised zones of the central Balkans might all have contributed to metallurgical innovations and the earliest date for smelting activities on the European proper within the Vinča culture context.
Funding: ORADS (NERC & AHRC, 44 AMS 14C dates). Total: £15,400