CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020


C2: The Dynamics of Settlement Concentration Processes and Land-Use in Early Farming Communities of the Northwestern Carpathian Basin



Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Martin Furholt
Staff: Dr. Nils Müller-Scheessel, Dr. Robert Staniuk
 

 

Research agenda

Geomagnetic map of the three Early Neolithic settlements of Vráble
Fig. 1. Geomagnetic map of the three Early Neolithic settlements of Vráble. The pits belonging to houses are marked in red.

This project investigates early sedentary social agglomeration processes in the Carpathian Basin, focussing on the changes associated with social relations, subsistence strategies, mobility and land-use patterns. Through the implementation of archaeological, geophysical and palaeo-ecological methods, it takes a regional approach and concentrates on a comparison of local developments in settlement sites of different size and building density, inner- and inter-site interaction patterns and the dynamics of landscape changes, especially exploring landscape modification by human economic activities.

Preliminary analysis
Fig. 2. Preliminary analysis of the flint and obsidian percentages of houses 131, 132 and 134 of the campaign of 2016.

Results

During the first project phase we were able to conduct excavations in the large early Neolithic (LBK) settlement site of Vráble as well as in the sites of Ulany and Vlkas, two contemporary LBK settlements in the same valley. These excavations provided us with archaeological materials and samples to investigate subsistence and mobility patterns. We conducted systematic surveys and geophysical prospections in a number of LBK settlements along the upper Žitava and its tributaries, in order to better understand the regional context of Vráble. In addition, we conducted a coring program in Vráble to better understand settlement history.

All these investigations enabled us to create a regional chronological framework, based on which we can reconstruct a regional settlement history of agglomeration and dispersion, social solidarity and conflict. We now better understand the reasons for and the social consequences of early agglomeration processes in the valley. Around 5300 BCE first Neolithic farmers settled down in the Žitava valley, and in the two following generations, the whole valley was rapidly filled up. In Vráble the first farm was built around 5250 BCE, after which the settlement steadily grew, at the cost of the other sites in the valley. The reasons for this concentration in Vráble might have to do with an unusual spatially concentrated integration of cereal farming and animal husbandry close to the site, where manuring of the fields by grazing animals shows levels never before reported for LBK sites. This might have resulted in a higher degree of productivity (higher crop yields), being at least one pull-factor in favour of social concentration in Vráble. The peak of this concentration was reached round 5075 BCE when up to 70 contemporaneous farms were concentrated in three spatially separated neighbourhoods. At this time, internal social conflicts seem to have risen, best represented by the erection of a complex enclosure system around one of the three neighbourhoods in order to block contact to the others. Along and in the enclosure ditches, human remains were deposited in a manner indicating rising social inequality. These social tensions were not feasible under the conditions of Neolithic socio-political organization where a certain level of conflict or social inequality would be met by social fission, leading rapidly to the abandonment of the settlement of Vráble around 5000 BCE, and a social re-organization in the whole Žitava valley, in which we see a much more dispersed settlement structure in the following Lengyel period. This historical scenario in the Žitava valley helps us better understand the overall processes leading to the end of LBK type communities all over Central Europe.

Research activities

Practically immediately after the start of the CRC, in the summer of 2016, during a nine-week excavation campaign in the southeast of the three settlements of Vráble, an area of over 2000 square meters was excavated. Plan Kategorien
Fig. 1. Vráble. Excavation area of 2016 with the Neolithic structures. (graphic: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

 

The remains of a total of five Linear Pottery houses were documented and extensive material was recovered for comparative analysis. The house floor plans consisted of the typical rows of three parallel posts and the long pits accompanying the houses. In addition, some truncated cone-shaped pits were also discovered, which presumably served to store supplies, as well as a potential sunken dwelling.

As an outstanding find, an obsidian core was recovered from one of the post holes. Research Activities Obsidian Kern
Fig. 2. Vráble. Obsidian core from a post hole. (drawing: Karin Winter)

Since the post holes are otherwise largely free of finds, it can be assumed that the barely processed core was deliberately deposited in the post hole, either when the house was built or when it was dismantled. Like other obsidian artefacts, the core hints at intensive contacts to Eastern Slovakia, where the raw material is available. This matches with some fragments of so-called "Bükker Keramik", Research Activities Scherbe Bükkler Keramik
Fig. 3. Vráble. Sherd of the so-called "Bükker Keramik". (photo: A. Heitmann)

which were found in some of the features and which also have their centre of distribution in the northeastern part of the Hungarian lowlands and adjacent regions.

Newly incorporated in the spectrum of excavation and documentation methods, a commercially available quadrocopter proved to be of great value: it not only made it possible to record the excavation area from a greater height, Drohnenfoto Research Activities Grabungsfläche
Fig. 4. Vráble. Aerial view of the excavation area from 2017 using a standard quadrocopter. (photo: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

but also accelerated the documentation process of the large exposed areas tremendously, since the serial photographs taken with it are ideally suited for 3D photogrammetry ("Structure from Motion").

Beginning in spring 2017 and in cooperation with the subproject G2 (Geophysics), LBK settlements outside Vráble were visited, inspected and prospected. Prospection Research Activities
Fig. 5. Vlkas. Magnetic prospection of the Linear Pottery settlement. (photo: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

In most cases it was possible to identify the sites known from the literature, if the area was not covered by modern buildings. The size of the settlements could be narrowed down by systematic prospections of three of these sites.

Tanja Funde Research Activities
Fig. 6. Tajna. Finds measured by GPS with contour lines of the find density based on a heat map. (graphic: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

Geophysical surveys at two sites (Úľany, Vlkas) showed that the Linear Pottery houses outside Vráble can also be identified very well on the basis of their long pits.

Vlkas Funde Haeuser Research Activities
Fig. 7. Vlkas. Based on the magnetic measurement reconstructed LBK houses with measured finds (red crosses). (graphic: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

The excavations in 2017 concentrated on two entrance areas of the ditch system surrounding the southwestern settlement. From the presumed main entrance a 50 m long and 2.5 m wide transect to the two nearest houses was excavated. Except for a 3 m deep pit, the transect proved to be free of finds.

The discoveries in the ditch area are spectacular: in and near the entrance areas, the remains of at least 15 human individuals were discovered, testifying to complex burial rituals. Some of the individuals are provided with grave goods and are laid down with the same care as is known from cemeteries belonging to the same period.Skelett Research Activities Bones Knochen komplexe Bestattungsrituale
Fig. 8. Vráble. One of the individuals laid down in a crouched position with grave goods. (photo: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

On other individuals, however, severe bone displacements can be observed, or the individuals are represented only by a few bones, suggesting that they must have laid exposed for some time. This is also manifested by traces of animal gnawing. Finally, on three individuals, the skull was removed completely. Since no cut marks are recognizable on the cervical vertebrae, this must have taken place some time after the deposition of the bodies.

With this complex burial behaviour, Vráble is to be linked with sites such as Herxheim or Asparn-Schletz, which date to the end of the LBK and each show very different options to deal with the dead. The dead in or near the ditch give the ditch system a new dimension of a ritual kind. It is already noticeable that entrances to the other two settlements are missing in the ditch. The function of the complex seems to be closely linked to the ritual treatment of the dead, which further gives the southwestern settlement a unique characteristic.

Accompanying the excavations, an extensive coring program was launched in the southwestern settlement. The aim of this was to extract as much organic material as possible from the long pits that could be dated using the radiocarbon method and thus to narrow down the time of usage of the respective houses. In total, this made it possible to date another seven houses. Three results are particularly decisive for the interpretation of the settlement development of Vráble: First, it is becoming apparent that the three settlements existed more or less at the same time. Secondly, no directional development can be ascertained, i.e. that the housewards acted autonomously within the settlement. And thirdly, the orientation of the houses proves to be time-sensitive, which enables completely new approaches to the interpretation of geomagnetic plans (see below).

In the spring of 2018, the surveys were continued in other Linear Pottery settlements in the upper Žitava valley. In total, an additional five settlement sites could be surveyed completely or partially.

The excavations in summer 2018 took place in two smaller settlements of the Žitava valley: Vlkas and Úľany, in order to gain comparative insights into two sites outside Vráble. The evaluation of the findings is still in progress.

Parallel to the excavations, geophysical prospections were carried out again in cooperation with subproject G2. A total of about 2 square kilometres of Bandkeramik settlement area in the Žitava valley have now been prospected via geomagnetics. Based on the automated analysis of the houses, a reconstruction of the settlement development not only of Vráble but of the entire valley of the Žitava can be carried out (see below).

In addition to LBK houses, anomalies with a clearly younger date were also documented. Of particular relevance for the future phases of the project are the rectangular ground plans of the houses that were recorded on several sites and which are presumably attributable to the local Middle Neolithic (Lengyel), as well as a presumably Early Bronze Age fortification in Maňa. It has exactly the same size as the Early Bronze Age fortification in Hul, which is situated only 2 km southeast. Both probably represent early developmental stages of the Bronze Age fortified settlement of Vráble 'Fidvar' and are thus important reference objects for the planned third phase of subproject C2.

In contrast to previous years with extensive field activities, the year 2019 is marked by the processing of the surveys and excavations in order to be able to fulfil the obligation to publish the results promptly.

In the context of this socio-environmental transformation of the landscape, we could establish the settlement history of Vráble. Zitavatal Hausanzahl Research Activities Siedlungsgeschichte
Fig. 9. Development of the settlements in the Žitava valley based in the orientation of houses. (graphic: N. Müller-Scheeßel)

At the beginning of LBK-settlement in the Žitava valley (5300/5250 BC), Vráble is just one among many other settlements, but from roughly 5200 calBC onwards, the number of its inhabitants steeply inclines, and it does so on the expense of the other settlements in the valley. At its heyday, Vráble comprised probably 50-60 houses, equalling at least 400-500 inhabitants. While other settlements continue to exist until the end of the LBK in the region, they do so on a very modest level. With the end of the LBK around 4900 BC, Vráble is apparently deserted, in contrast to other settlements where a continuity of habitation seems to persist.

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