Prehistory of Southeastern Europe

The prehistory of Southeastern Europe, defined roughly as the territory of the wider Balkan peninsula (including the territories of the modern countries of Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Bulgaria, and European Turkey) covers the period from the Upper Paleolithic, beginning with the presence of Homo sapiens in the area some 44,000 years ago, until the appearance of the first written records in Classical Antiquity, in Greece as early as the 8th century BC.

Human prehistory in Southeastern Europe is conventionally divided into smaller periods, such as Upper Paleolithic, Holocene Mesolithic/Epipaleolithic, Neolithic Revolution, expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans, and Protohistory. The changes between these are gradual. For example, depending on interpretation, protohistory might or might not include Bronze Age Greece (2800–1200 BC),[1] Minoan, Mycenaean, Thracian and Venetic cultures. By one interpretation of the historiography criterion, Southeastern Europe enters protohistory only with Homer (See also Historicity of the Iliad, and Geography of the Odyssey). At any rate, the period ends before Herodotus in the 5th century BC.[2]

Balkan Late Neolithic
Central and Eastern/Southeastern European cultures during the Neolithic


(2,600,000 – 13,000 BP)

Regional Transition to the Upper Paleolithic

(2,600,000 – 50,000 BP)

The earliest evidence of human occupation discovered in the region, in Kozarnika Bulgaria, date from at least 1.4 million years ago.[3]

Lithic flake
Fundamental elements for the technic description of a lithic flake

There is evidence of human presence in the Balkans from the Lower Paleolithic onwards, but the number of sites is limited. According to Douglass W. Bailey:[4]

it is important to recognize that the Balkan Upper Palaeolithic was a long period containing little significant internal change. Thus, regional transition was not as dramatic as in other European regions. Crucial changes that define the earliest emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens are presented at Bacho Kiro at 44,000 BC. The Bulgarian key Palaeolithic caves named Bacho Kiro and Temnata Dupka with early Upper Palaeolithic material correlate that the transition was gradual.

The Palaeolithic period, literally the “Old Stone Age”, is an ancient cultural level of human development characterized by the use of unpolished chipped stone tools. The transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic is directly related to the development of behavioural modernity by hominids around 40,000 years BP. To denote the great significance and degree of change, this dramatic shift from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic is sometimes called the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution.

In the late Pleistocene, various components of the transition–material culture and environmental features (climate, flora, and fauna) indicate continual change, differing from contemporary points in other parts of Europe. The aforementioned aspects leave some doubt that the term Upper Palaeolithic Revolution is appropriate to the Balkans.

In general, continual evolutionary changes are the first crucial characteristic of the transition to the Upper Palaeolithic in the egion. The notion of the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution that has been developed for core European regions is not applicable to the region. What is the reason? This particularly significant moment and its origins are defined and enlightened by other characteristics of the transition to upper Old Stone Age. The environment, climate, flora and fauna corroborate the implications.

Grattoir à museau plat sur lame LARTET
Aurignacian double edged scraper on blade - 3 views of the same object.

During the last interglacial period and the most recent glaciation of the Pleistocene (from 131,000 till 12,000 BP), Europe was very different from the regional glaciation. The glaciations did not affect southeastern Europe to the extent that they did in the northern and central regions. The evidence of forest and steppe indicate the influence was not so drastic; some species of flora and fauna survived only in this part of Europe. The region today still abounds in species endemic only to this part of Europe.

The notion of gradual transition (or evolution) best defines southeastern Europe from about 50,000 BP. In this sense, the material culture and natural environment of the region of the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene were distinct from other parts of Europe. Douglass W. Bailey writes in Balkan Prehistory: Exclusion, Incorporation and Identity: “Less dramatic changes to climate, flora and fauna resulted in less dramatic adaptive, or reactive, developments in material culture.”

Thus, in speaking about southeastern Europe, many classic conceptions and systematizations of human development during the Palaeolithic (and then by implication the Mesolithic) should not be considered correct in all cases. In this regard, the absence of Upper Palaeolithic cave art in the region does not seem to be surprising. Civilisations develop new and distinctive characteristics as they respond to new challenges in their environment.

Upper Palaeolithic

(50,000 – 20,000 BP)
Male Cro-Magnon skull

In 2002, some of the oldest modern human (Homo sapiens sapiens) remains in Europe were discovered in the "Cave With Bones" (Peștera cu Oase), near Anina, Romania.[5] Nicknamed "John of Anina" (Ion din Anina), the remains (the lower jaw) are approximately 37,800 years old.

These are some of Europe’s oldest remains of Homo sapiens, so they are likely to represent the first such people to have entered the continent.[6] According to some researchers, the particular interest of the discovery resides in the fact that it presents a mixture of archaic, early modern human and Neanderthal morphological features,[7] indicating considerable Neanderthal/modern human admixture,[8] which in turn suggests that, upon their arrival in Europe, modern humans met and interbred with Neanderthals. Recent reanalysis of some of these fossils has challenged the view that these remains represent evidence of interbreeding.[9] A second expedition by Erik Trinkaus and Ricardo Rodrigo, discovered further fragments (for example, a skull dated ~36,000, nicknamed "Vasile").

Two human fossil remains found in the Muierii (Peştera Muierilor) and the Cioclovina caves in Romania have been radiocarbon dated using the technique of the accelerator mass spectrometry to the age of ~ 30,000 years BP (see Human fossil bones from the Muierii Cave and the Cioclovina Cave, Romania).

The first skull, scapula and tibia remains were found in 1952 in Baia de Fier, in the Muierii Cave, Gorj County in the Oltenia province, by Constantin Nicolaescu-Plopşor.

In 1941 another skull was found at the Cioclovina Cave near Commune Bosorod, Hunedoara County, in Transylvania. The anthropologist, Francisc Rainer, and the geologist, Ion Th. Simionescu, published a study of this skull.

The physical analysis of these fossils was begun in the summer of the year 2000 by Emilian Alexandrescu, archaeologist at the Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology in Bucharest, and Agata Olariu, physicist at the Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering-Horia Hulubei, Bucharest, where samples were taken. One sample of bone was taken from the skull from Cioclovina; samples were also taken from the scapula and tibia remains from Muierii Cave. The work continued at the University of Lund, AMS group, by Göran Skog, Kristina Stenström and Ragnar Hellborg. The samples of bones were dated by radiocarbon method applied at the AMS system of the Lund University and the results are shown in the analysis bulletin [2] issued on the date 14 December 2001.

The human fossil remains from Muierii Cave, Baia de Fier, have been dated to 30,150 ± 800 years BP, and the skull from the Cioclovina Cave has been dated to 29,000 ± 700 years BP.[10][11][12]


(13,000 – 5,000 BP)
Lepenski Vir Head
Sculpture found at the archaeological site of Lepenski Vir

The Mesolithic period began at the end of the Pleistocene epoch (10th millennium BC) and ended with the Neolithic introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region. According to Douglass W. Bailey:[13]

It is equally important to recognize that the Balkan upper Palaeolithic was a long period containing little significant internal change. The Mesolithic may not have existed in the Balkans for the same reasons that cave art and mobiliary art never appeared: the changes in climate and flora and fauna were gradual and not drastic. (…) Furthermore, one of the reasons that we do not distinguish separate industries in the Balkans as Mesolithic is because the lithic industries of the early Holocene were very firmly of a gradually developing late Palaeolithic tradition

The Mesolithic is the transitional period between the Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gathering existence and the development of farming and pottery production during the Postglacial Neolithic. The duration of the classical Palaeolithic, which lasted until about 10,000 years ago, is applicable to the Balkans. It ended with the Mesolithic (duration is two to four millennia) or, where an early Neolithisation was peculiar to, with the Epipalaeolithic.

In regions with limited glacial impact (e.g. the Balkans), the term Epipalaeolithic is preferable. Regions that experienced less environmental impact during the last ice age have a much less apparent and straightforward change, and occasionally are marked by an absence of sites from the Mesolithic era. See the above Douglass W. Bailey quote.

There is lithic evidence of the Iron Gates mesolithic culture, which is notable for its early urbanization, at Lepenski Vir. Iron Gates mesolithic sites are found in modern Serbia, south-west Romania and Montenegro. At Ostrovul Banului, the Cuina Turcului rock shelter in the Danube gorges and in the nearby caves of Climente, there are finds that people of that time made relatively advanced bone and lithic tools (i.e. end-scrapers, blade lets, and flakes).

The single site with materials related to the Mesolithic era in Bulgaria is Pobíti Kámǎni. There has been no other lithic evidence of this period found in Bulgaria. There is a 4,000-year gap between the latest Upper Palaeolithic material (13,600 BP at Témnata Dupka) and the earliest Neolithic evidence presented at Gǎlǎbnik (the beginning of the 7th millennium BC).

At Odmut in Montenegro there is evidence of human activity in the Mesolithic period. The research on the period has been supplemented with Greek Mesolithic finds, well represented by sites such as Frachthi Cave. Other sites are Theopetra Cave and Sesklo in Thessaly that represent the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic as well as the early Neolithic period. Yet southern and coastal sites in Greece, which contained materials from the Mesolithic, are less known.

Activities began to be concentrated around individual sites where people displayed personal and group identities using various decorations: wearing ornaments and painting their bodies with ochre and hematite. As regards personal identity D. Bailey writes, “Flint-cutting tools as well as time and effort needed to produce such tools testify to the expressions of identity and more flexible combinations of materials, which began to be used in the late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.”

The aforementioned allows us to speculate whether or not there was a period which could be described as Mesolithic in southeastern Europe, rather than an extended Upper Palaeolithic. On the other hand, lack of research in a number of regions, and the fact that many of the sites were close to seashores (It is evident that the current sea level is 100 m higher, and a number of sites were covered by water.) means that the Mesolithic Balkans could be referred to as the Epipalaeolithic Balkans, which might describe better its gradual changes and poorly defined development.

The relative climatic stability in the Balkans, compared to northern and western Europe, enabled continuous settlement in the Balkans. The Balkans therefore may have effectively functioned as an ice-age refuge from which much of Europe, especially eastern Europe, was re-populated.


The Thinker of Hamangia, Neolithic Hamangia culture (c. 5250-4550 BC)

The Balkans were the site of major Neolithic cultures, including Butmir, Vinča, Varna, Karanovo, and Hamangia.

The Vinča culture was an early culture of the Balkans (between the 6th and the 3rd millennium BC), stretching around the course of the Danube in Serbia, Croatia, northern parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Republic of North Macedonia, although traces of it can be found all around the Balkans, parts of Central Europe and in Asia Minor.

"Kurganization" of the eastern Balkans (and the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture adjacent to the north) during the Eneolithic is associated with an early expansion of Indo-Europeans.

Bronze Age

Prehistoric Transylvania Dacia bracelet
Bronze Age gold bracelet, Romania.
(3,500 – 1,100 BC)

The Bronze Age in the Balkans is divided as follows (Boardman p. 166):

  • Early Bronze Age: 20th to 16th centuries BCE
  • Middle Bronze Age: 16th to 14th centuries BCE
  • Late Bronze Age: 14th to 13th centuries BCE

The Bronze Age in the Central and Eastern Balkans begins late, around 1800 BCE. The transition to the Iron Age gradually sets in over the 13th century BCE.

The "East Balkan Complex" (Karanovo VII, Ezero culture) covers all of Thrace. The Bronze Age cultures of the Central and Western Balkans are less clearly delineated and stretch to Pannonia, the Carpathians and into Hungary.

The culture of Mycenaean Greece (1600-1100 BC) offers the first written evidence of the Greek language,[14] Several Mycenaean attributes and achievements were borrowed or held in high regard in later periods.[14] while their religion already included several deities that can also be found in the Olympic Pantheon. Mycenaean Greece was dominated by a warrior elite society and consisted of a network of palace states.[14]

Iron Age

(1,100 BC – 150 AD)
Helmet of Cotofenesti - Front Large by Radu Oltean
The Helmet of Coţofeneşti - a full gold Geto-Dacian helmet dating from the first half of the 4th century BC, currently at the National Museum of Romanian History
Distribution of "Thraco-Cimmerian" finds

After the period that followed the arrival of the Dorians, known as the Greek Dark Ages or Submycenaean Period, the classical Greek culture began to develop in the southern Balkan peninsula, the Aegean islands and the western Asia Minor Greek colonies starting around the 9–8th century (the Geometric Period) and peaking with the 5th century BC Athens democracy.

The Greeks were the first to establish a system of trade routes in the Balkans and, in order to facilitate trade with the natives between 700 BC and 300 BC, they founded several colonies on the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) coast, Asia Minor, Dalmatia etc.

The other peoples of the Balkans organized themselves in large tribal unions such as the Thracian Odrysian kingdom in the Eastern Balkans in the 5th century BC, and the Illyrian kingdom in the Western Balkans from the early 4th century.

Other tribal unions existed in Dacia at least as early as the beginning of the 2nd century BC under King Oroles. The Illyrian tribes were situated in the area corresponding to today's former Yugoslavia and Albania. The name Illyrii was originally used to refer to a people occupying an area centred on Lake Skadar, situated between Albania and Montenegro (see List of ancient tribes in Illyria). The term Illyria was subsequently used by the Greeks and Romans as a generic name to refer to different peoples within a well defined but much greater area.[15]

Hellenistic culture spread throughout the Macedonian Empire created by Alexander the Great from the later 4th century BC. By the end of the 4th century BC Greek language and culture were dominant not only in the Balkans but also around the whole Eastern Mediterranean.

By the 6th century BC the first written sources dealing with the territory north of the Danube appear in Greek sources. By this time the Getae (and later the Daci) had branched out from the Thracian-speaking populations.

See also


  1. ^ "Protohistoric Greece bronze Age - Google Search". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  2. ^ e.g. Thrace in book V.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Balkan prehistory Page 15 By Douglass W. Bailey ISBN 0-415-21597-8
  5. ^ Trinkaus, E., Milota, Ş., Rodrigo, R., Gherase, M., Moldovan, O. (2003), Early Modern Human Cranial remains from the Peştera cu Oase, Romania in Journal of Human Evolution, 45, pp. 245 –253, [1]
  6. ^ João Zilhão, (2006), Neanderthals and Moderns Mixed and It Matters, in Evolutionary Anthropology, 15:183–195, p.185
  7. ^ Trinkaus, E., Moldovan, O., Milota, Ş., Bîlgăr, A., Sarcina, L., Athreya, S., Bailey, S.E., Rodrigo, R., Gherase, M., Hilgham, T., Bronk Ramsey, C., & Van Der Plicht, J. ( 2003), An early modern human from Peştera cu Oase, Romania. Proceedings of the National Acadademy of Science U.S.A., 100(20), pp. 11231–11236
  8. ^ Andrei Soficaru, Adrian Dobo and Erik Trinkaus (2006), Early modern humans from the Peştera Muierii, Baia de Fier, Romania, Proceedings of the National Acadademy of Science U.S.A., 103(46), pp. 17196-17201
  9. ^ Harvati K, Gunz P, Grigorescu D. Cioclovina (Romania): affinities of an early modern European. J Hum Evol. 2007 Dec;53(6):732-46
  10. ^ Olariu A., Alexandrescu E., Skog G., Hellborg R., Stenström K., Faarinen M. and Persson P, Dating of two Palaeolithic human fossil bones from Romania by accelerator mass spectrometry, NIPNE Scientific Reports 2001-202, pag. 82
  11. ^ Olariu A., Skog G., Hellborg R., Stenström K., Faarinen M. and Persson P. and Alexandrescu E., 2003, Dating of two Palaeolithic human fossil bones from Romania by accelerator mass spectrometry,
  12. ^ Olariu A., Stenström K. and Hellborg R. (Eds), 2005, Proceedings of International conference on Applications of High Precision Atomic & Nuclear Methods, 2–6 September 2002, Neptun, Romania, Publishing House of Romanian Academy, Bucharest, ISBN 973-27-1181-7, Dating of two Palaeolithic human fossil bones from Romania by accelerator mass spectrometry, 235-239
  13. ^ Balkan prehistory Page 36 By Douglass W. Bailey ISBN 0-415-21597-8
  14. ^ a b c Castleden, Rodney (2005). The Mycenaeans. London and New York: Routledge. p. 228. ISBN 0-415-36336-5.
  15. ^ The Illyrians. John Wilkes

External links

Chinna (Dardania)

Chinna was an Illyrian settlement located near the White Drin, near the modern-day settlement of Klina.It was settled by the Dardani.

Economy of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture

Throughout most of its existence, the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture was fairly stable. Near the end it began to change from a gift economy to an early form of trade called reciprocity, and introduced the apparent use of barter tokens, an early form of money.

Glasinac culture

The Glasinac culture (Serbo-Croatian: Glasinačka kultura) or Glasinac group (Bosnian: Glasinačka grupa, Serbian: Гласиначка група), was an Iron Age archaeological culture named after the Glasinac locality in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The area of the Glasinac culture included parts of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania as well as entire present-day Montenegro. The culture is associated with the Autariatae, one of the most powerful Illyrian tribes.

Gradeshnitsa tablets

The Gradeshnitsa tablets (Bulgarian: Плочката от Градешница) or plaques are clay artefacts with incised marks. They were unearthed in 1969 near the village of Gradeshnitsa in the Vratsa Province of north-western Bulgaria. Steven Fischer has written that "the current opinion is that these earliest Balkan symbols appear to comprise a decorative or emblematic inventory with no immediate relation to articulate speech." That is, they are neither logographs (whole-word signs depicting one object to be spoken aloud) nor phonographs (signs holding a purely phonetic or sound value)." The tablets are dated to the 5th millennium BC and are currently preserved in the Vratsa Archeological Museum of Bulgaria.

Hamangia culture

The Hamangia culture is a Late Neolithic archaeological culture of Dobruja (Romania and Bulgaria) between the Danube and the Black Sea and Muntenia in the south. It is named after the site of Baia-Hamangia, discovered in 1952 along Golovița Lake.

Neolithic Greece

Neolithic Greece is an archaeological term used to refer to the Neolithic phase of Greek history beginning with the spread of farming to Greece in 7000–6500 BC. During this period, many developments occurred such as the establishment and expansion of a mixed farming and stock-rearing economy, architectural innovations (i.e. "megaron-type" and "Tsangli-type" houses), as well as elaborate art and tool manufacturing. Neolithic Greece is part of the Prehistory of Southeastern Europe.

Ottomány culture

The Ottomány culture, also known as Otomani culture in Romanian, is a local Bronze Age culture (ca. 2100–1600 BC), getting its name from eponymous site near the village of Ottomány located in modern-day Bihor County, Romania.

Peștera Muierilor

Peștera Muierilor, or Peștera Muierii (Romanian for "The Women's Cave", or "The Woman's Cave"), is an elaborate cave system located in the Baia de Fier commune, Gorj County, Romania. It contains abundant cave bear remains, as well as a human skull. The skull is radiocarbon dated to 30,150 ± 800, indication an absolute age between 40,000 and 30,000 BP. It was uncovered in 1952. Alongside similar remains found in Cioclovina Cave (from ca. 29,000 BP), they are among the most ancient early modern humans in Romanian prehistory.

The human skull is that of a woman with obvious anatomically modern human traits, including a high forehead, small jaw and small supraorbital ridges. Despite the tall cranial vault, the occipital bone forms a distinct dome, a trait normally associated with Neanderthals. The largely intact facial bones indicate a woman with "rugged traits". This mosaic of features mirrors that seen in the Peștera cu Oase find, indicating possible Neanderthal admixture or generally robust (archaic) traits (or both). The early date makes the find referable to the early Cro-Magnon group of finds.

On the basis of radiocarbon dating and also the analysis of the archaeological context, some researchers advanced the hypothesis of the association of these bones with Cro-Magnons and the Aurignacian archaeological culture. Others mention the possibility that these findings could belong to a certain regional culture from the Southern Carpathians, from the period of the Final Middle Paleolithic and Early Upper Paleolithic.

Peștera cu Oase

Peștera cu Oase (Romanian pronunciation: [ˈpeʃtera ku ˈo̯ase], meaning "The Cave with Bones") is a system of 12 karstic galleries and chambers located near the city Anina, in the Caraș-Severin county, southwestern Romania, where some of the oldest European early modern human (EEMH) remains, between 37,000 and 42,000 years old, have been found.In 2015 genetics research revealed that the Oase 1 fossil had a recent Neanderthal ancestor, with an estimated 5-11% Neanderthal autosomal DNA. The specimen's 12th chromosome was also 50% Neanderthal.

Prehistoric Albania

Prehistoric Albania, compared to the other regions of the Mediterranean Europe, was relatively lately inhabited by Homo sapiens. The earliest known human settlement dates back to the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 BC in the Kryegjata Valley, near the antique site of Apollonia. Several further Paleolithic sites have been excavated, out of which the most prominent ones are the cave of Konispol (24,700 BC), the flint tools found near Xarrë, the shelters of the Blaz Cave near Urakë and the habitation of Mount Dajt, then during the period of the Mesolithic the aforementioned Kryegjata, Konispol and Gajtan sites represent more developed stone, flint and horn tools. Another important site of the Mesolithic industrial activity is the flint mine of Goranxi that was in operation around 7,000 BC.The excavation project of the prehistoric settlement of Vashtëmi was completed in 2013, and the results thereof confirmed that it was one of the earliest farming sites in Europe, dating back to 6,600 BC, long before the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution would have reached the region. Vashtëmi was situated near the Devoll river feeding the Maliq Lake, a region that became the cradle of the most prominent Neolithic culture of present-day Albania: the Maliq culture. It initially included the settlements of Vashtëmi, Dunavec, Maliq and Podgorie. Their artifacts, pottery and spiritual culture spread through the valleys, and by the end of the Lower Neolithic it covered a sizeable area including the territory of the modern Eastern Albania. The human settlements of the western parts of the present-day country were rather connected to the archaeological cultures of the Adriatic Sea and the Danube valley.

During the Middle Neolithic, 5th-4th millennia BC achievement of a cultural unity was underway, which was represented by the prevailing black and grey polished pottery, four-footed ceramic ritual objects and Mother Earth figurines across the contemporary sites of Dunavec–Maliq, Cakran, Kolsh and Xarrë. This unity became even more evident during the Late Neolithic, due to the more intensive relationships between the settlements that helped the widespread adaptation of the new technological inventions and processing methods (hoe, mill stone, primitive spinning wheel), ceramics painted with two or three colors (typically red and black), featuring elaborated designs and patterns.With the Chalcolithic, in the second half of 3rd millennium BC the first tools made of copper emerged and helped the contemporary man be more efficient in agricultural and industrial activities. The ceramic pottery continued the Neolithic tradition from both typological and technological aspect, yet it adapted some of the methods and patterns of the other cultures on the Balkan Peninsula. At the same time the man of the epoch was witnessing the great Indo-European migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans leaving their homeland in the Eastern European steppes and spreading towards Asia and Europe. Based on the archaeological findings and facts the leading Albanian archaeologist Muzafer Korkuti stated that although these nomadic migrants brought along their culture into the eastern part of the Balkans, yet they were blended with the local indigenous population which by the end of the Copper Age ended up in the formation of an ethnocultural basis of the later Illyrians.

Prehistoric sites in Serbia

The best known cultural archaeological discoveries from the prehistoric period on the territory of modern-day Serbia are the Starčevo and Vinča cultures dating back to 6400–6200 BC.

Serbia's strategic location between two continents has subjected it to invasions by many nations.

Religion and ritual of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture

The study of religion and ritual of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture has provided important insights into the early history of Europe. The Cucuteni-Trypillia culture, which existed in the present-day southeastern European nations of Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine during the Neolithic Age and Copper Age, from approximately 5500 BC to 2750 BC, left behind thousands of settlement ruins containing a wealth of archaeological artifacts attesting to their cultural and technological characteristics. Refer to the main article for a general description of this culture; this article deals with its religious and ritualistic aspects.

Some Cucuteni-Trypillia communities have been found that contain a special building located in the center of the settlement, which archaeologists have identified as sacred sanctuaries. Artifacts have been found inside these sanctuaries, some of them having been intentionally buried in the ground within the structure, that are clearly of a religious nature, and have provided insights into some of the beliefs, and perhaps some of the rituals and structure, of the members of this society. Additionally, artifacts of an apparent religious nature have also been found within many domestic Cucuteni-Trypillia homes.

Many of these artifacts are clay figurines or statues. Archaeologists have identified many of these as fetishes or totems, which are believed to be imbued with powers that can help and protect the people who look after them. These Cucuteni-Trypillia figurines have become known popularly as Goddesses, however, this is actually a misnomer from a scientific point of view. There have been so many of these so-called clay Goddesses discovered in Cucuteni-Trypillia sites that many museums in eastern Europe have a sizeable collection of them, and as a result, they have come to represent one of the more readily-identifiable visual markers of this culture to many people.

Settlements of the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture

The study of the settlements of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture provides important insights into the early history of Europe. The Cucuteni-Trypillia culture, which existed in the present-day southeastern European nations of Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine during the Neolithic Age and Copper Age, from approximately 5500 to 2750 BC, left behind thousands of settlement ruins containing a wealth of archaeological artifacts attesting to their cultural and technological characteristics. Refer to the main article for a general description of this culture; this article deals with its settlements.


Shypyntsi (Ukrainian: Шипинці; Romanian: Şipeniţ), a village in Ukraine, is located within the Kitsman Raion (district) of the Chernivtsi Oblast (province), about 530 kilometers (330 mi) driving distance southwest of Kiev, and about 30 kilometers (19 mi) northwest from the provincial capital of Chernivtsi. Shypyntsi is about 48 kilometers (30 mi) from the Ukrainian/Romanian border, about 64 kilometers (40 mi) from the Ukrainian/Moldovan border, and about 80 kilometers (50 mi) from the city of Suceava, Romania. This village is located on the left bank of the Prut River, amid rolling hills covered with farms and forests, in the region generally known as the Dniester Hills.

To the north of the village are the ancient ruins of a Cucuteni-Trypillian culture settlement, dating back to the 5th Millennium to early 4th Millennium BC. Archaeological excavation began at this site in the late 19th century by a team of Ukrainians: J. Shombathy, R. Kindle, F. Volkov, O. Kandyba and Tatiana Sergeyevna Passek. Houses, earthenware, and ceramic shards were discovered, and in 1938 Kandyba published a collection of images from this site of beautifully decorated pottery.This settlement was part of the Neolithic Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, which lasted from 5100 to 2750 BC, and which had some of the largest communities in the world at the time. The members of this society plowed their farms, raised livestock, hunted and fished, created textiles, and developed a beautiful and highly refined style of pottery with very intricate designs. Their settlements were built in oval or circular layouts, with concentric rows of houses interconnected to form rings around the center of the community, where often a sanctuary building would be found. They left behind a large number of clay figurines, many of which are regarded as Goddess fetishes. For over 2500 years their culture flourished with no evidence left behind that would indicate they experienced warfare. However, at the beginning of the Bronze Age their culture disappeared, the reasons for which are still debated, but possibly as a result of invaders coming from the Steppes to the east.The artifacts taken from the Shypyntsi ruins are kept in museums in Chernivtsi and Vienna.

Starčevo culture

The Starčevo culture, sometimes included within a larger grouping known as the Starčevo–Körös–Criş culture, is an archaeological culture of Southeastern Europe, dating to the Neolithic period between c. 6200 and 4500 BCE.The village of Starčevo, the type site, is located on the north bank of the Danube in Serbia (Vojvodina province), opposite Belgrade. It represents the earliest settled farming society in the area, although hunting and gathering still provided a significant portion of the inhabitants' diet.

Tiszapolgár culture

The Tiszapolgár culture or Tiszapolgár-Româneşti culture (3300–3100 BC) was an Eneolithic archaeological culture of the Great Hungarian Plain, the Banat, Eastern Slovakia and Ukrainian Zakarpattia Oblast in Central Europe.

The type site Tiszapolgár-Basatanya is a locality in northeastern Hungary. It is a continuation of the earlier Neolithic Tisza culture. The type site Româneşti is in the Româneşti-Tomeşti locality, Timiş County, Romania.

Most of the information about the Tiszapolgár culture comes from cemeteries; over 150 individual graves have been being excavated at Tiszapolgár-Basatanya. The pottery is unpainted, but often polished and frequently decorated.

Tărtăria tablets

The Tărtăria tablets /tərtəria/ are three tablets, reportedly discovered in 1961 at a Neolithic site in the village of Tărtăria (about 30 km (19 mi) from Alba Iulia), in Romania.The dating of the tablets is difficult as they cannot be carbon-dated and the stratigraphy is uncertain. A few scientists suppose that they may date to around 5300 BC. Most of the scientists, analysing the signs, are for a much newer age, around 2,750 B.C., maximum 3,300 B.C. (which is the beginning of the period of sumerian proto-writing).The tablets bear incised symbols and have been the subject of considerable controversy among archaeologists, some of whom claimed in the past that the symbols represent the earliest known form of writing in the world. The symbols are thought to be Vinča symbols although some scholars have considered them to be Sumerian. The signs are sumerian proto-cuneiform-like, so quasi-sumerian.

Vinča culture

The Vinča culture, [ʋîːntʃa] also known as Turdaș culture or Turdaș–Vinča culture, was a Neolithic archaeological culture in southeastern Europe, in present-day Serbia and smaller parts of Bulgaria and Romania (particularly Transylvania), dated to the period 5700–4500 BC or 5300–4700/4500 BC. Named for its type site, Vinča-Belo Brdo, a large tell settlement discovered by Serbian archaeologist Miloje Vasić in 1908, it represents the material remains of a prehistoric society mainly distinguished by its settlement pattern and ritual behaviour.

Farming technology first introduced to the region during the First Temperate Neolithic was developed further by the Vinča culture, fuelling a population boom and producing some of the largest settlements in prehistoric Europe. These settlements maintained a high degree of cultural uniformity through the long-distance exchange of ritual items, but were probably not politically unified. Various styles of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines are hallmarks of the culture, as are the Vinča symbols, which some conjecture to be the earliest form of proto-writing. Although not conventionally considered part of the Chalcolithic or "Copper Age", the Vinča culture provides the earliest known example of copper metallurgy.

Vinča symbols

The Vinča symbols, sometimes known as the Danube script, Vinča signs, Vinča script, Vinča–Turdaș script, Old European script, etc., are a set of symbols found upon Neolithic era (6th to 5th millennia BC) artifacts from the Vinča culture of Central Europe and Southeastern Europe. Most historians agree that those symbols are not a writing system, but some kind of private symbols or ornaments. A minority of historians claim that this is the earliest known writing system that has influenced other early writing systems.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.