Excavations on a Copper Age Settlement Mound on the Lower Danube River
Im westlichen Schwarzmeerraum ist im letzten Viertel des 5. Jt. v. Chr. erstmalig eine vollentwickelte Kupferproduktion und, wie die Gräberfelder zeigen, eine stratifizierte Gesellschaft nachweisbar. Die Ausgrabungen in Magura Gorgana bei Pietrele an der Unteren Donau bieten die Chance, die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung in einer Siedlung über mehrere Jahrhunderte ab etwa der Mitte des 5. Jt. v. Chr. zu beleuchten. Damit wird das Aufkommen der Kupfermetallurgie in einen ökonomischen und sozialen Rahmen gestellt. Mehr als 80 Kupferobjekte, die bisher gefunden wurden, zeigen, daß Pietrele in den Austausch, möglicherweise auch die Produktion von Metallobjekten eingebunden war und in den Fernbeziehungen eine wichtige Rolle gespielt haben dürfte.
Măgura Gorgana is the name of a settlement mound located near the present-day village Pietrele in southern Romania (Fig. 1). Situated upon a spur of the lowest riverine terrace in the Danube valley, the tell today has a height of c. seven metres and lies about four metres above the level of the river meadow. The eight-kilometre expanse between the tell and the Danube River is one of the areas that has been drained off for land use since the 1960s. Originally it was a meadow interspersed with many ponds and small water courses.
During the fifth millennium BC the exploitation of copper and extensive production of jewellery and tools made of copper emerged on the eastern Balkan peninsula. Pietrele was part of a supra-regional exchange network between the north Aegean and Walachia, the Black Sea and Oltenia, which is evidenced by the above named artefacts. The site Măgura Gorgana lies at a distance of c. 150 km from the Black Sea and likewise from the renowned cemetery at Varna (Fig. 2), which dates approximately to the same period as the tell and reflects a dynamic development with the formation of distinct social imbalance.
This tell settlement on the Lower Danube offers the opportunity of tracing the development of economic strategies of its inhabitants from c. the mid 5th millennium BC for over a long time span (perhaps 300-500 years). These investigations should contribute towards understanding the developments that led to social differentiation, as seen in Varna.
With the exception of a few small trial trenches made in the 1940s, the settlement history of the tell Pietrele was never a subject of research. Hence, the present excavations are aimed at supplying a solid foundation to the knowledge about cultural relationships on the Lower Danube River during the fifth millennium BC. Together with methods in geomagnetic prospection (Fig. 3), archaeobotany, archaeozoology, anthropology and archaeometry, a comprehensive picture of the economic activities in a settlement during this time on the lower Danube should be attained. A reliable chronology will be set up that is based upon both the stratigraphic evaluation of the finds as well as a dense network of radiocarbon dates (Fig. 4).
The geographically favourable location of the Măgura Gorgana strongly suggests that the excavation will also reveal important information about the tell's far-reaching relations with the Black Sea area as well as with Central Europe. Investigations on the environmental development in the area of Pietrele should throw light upon the natural conditions at the time of its settlement. Reconstruction of the formation of riverine meadows and water networks will provide clues about access of the settlement to the Danube, whose present riverbed lies at a distance of 8 km from the tell.
Two trenches (F and B) excavated in the north and south of the tell's plateau revealed several houses that were erected in consistent orientation. Underneath the collapsed mud walls of the burnt structures lay more than 660 complete or reconstructable vessels in situ. The structures were bordered by 1-2 m wide greyish green earthen strips, which can be interpreted as exterior lanes between the houses. The earth of these lanes contained rubbish (animal bones and shells) and a great amount of small pottery fragments and also defective tools such as broken stone axes, bone points and copper awls. Very importantly, for the first time the presence of air-dried mud buildings was attested in a settlement of the south Romanian Copper Age. Structures were found with walls of compacted clay, 40-60 cm in width, but due to the natural conditions poorly preserved (Fig. 5). These unburnt houses had been cleared out before their collapse, and, thus, noticeably fewer vessels or implements were found in their interior. Extraordinary and perhaps unique so far is the discovery of two looms, which were evidenced by the presence of unfired loom weights of clay (Fig. 6). Until now only concentrations of secondarily burnt loom weights were known, and it cannot be excluded that these might have had another use.
During the excavations in 2006 and 2007 in trench F a burnt two-storied house was revealed and documented (Fig. 7). The wood and clay floor of the upper story, which probably served as a living and sleeping area, had fallen completely upon the ground floor. According to the initial anthropological examination by Dr. J. Wahl, the remains of at least nine individuals were found, who had perished in the conflagration. The inventory on the ground floor was sealed off by the collapse of the house. This circumstance supplies information about the spectrum and number of implements and tools that were used in the domestic household. For example, 26 silex and groundstone axes were recorded (Fig. 15). The presence of two-storied houses has often been postulated for Neolithic settlements in southeastern Europe.
Geomagnetic investigations carried out in 2004 and 2005 made it possible to reconstruct the settlement structure of the tell (Fig. 8). Accordingly, there were four rows of houses in north-south direction, whereby the southernmost row is slightly adjusted to the curve of the hill (Fig. 3). An estimated 28 houses once stood in dense arrangement upon the tell. It was encircled by a ditch of c. five metres' width. Geomagnetic prospection has revealed that the immediate surroundings of the tell were under intensive use as well: Numerous houses also stood at the foot of the tell in the north and southwest. Thus, for at least a certain time the settlement was much larger than hitherto thought. A likely estimate is about 120 houses. Furthermore, a cemetery is located at a short distance to the southwest of the tell.
In 2006 evaluation of a Corona satellite image made in 1967 revealed a circular ditch complex of c. 130 x 170 m in diameter on the uppermost Danube riverine terrace, located some 600 m from the tell. In 2007 geomagnetic prospection of this complex was undertaken by C. Hübner (Firma GGH) (Fig. 9). A structure can be recognised in the west of the outer circle, which might be indicative of some kind of gate. Burnt debris or the after effects of fire can be expected inside the inner circle. The date of the complex is still unclear. The peculiar form of the ditch enclosure, which incorporated the slope of the gully in the north and the terrace bank in the south, suggests a date to the Neolithic or Copper Age and matches similar complexes in Europe that date to this time. As the settlement Măgura Gorgana already began during the Late Neolithic period, an association with the phenomenon of circular ditch enclosures on the middle Danube River is quite conceivable.
Based upon a series of meanwhile 20 14C-dates, the houses excavated thus far can be dated between c. 4400 and 4250 cal. BC (Fig. 4). Following the last conflagration in the 43rd century BC the houses were not rebuilt. In addition to over 660 vessels and reconstructable vessels, more than six tons of or 250,000 sherds were recovered in four excavation campaigns alone. The spectrum of forms and decoration displays a great multiplicity of pots, bowls, beakers and storage vessels, which are either well polished or carry barbotine rustication. Polished bowls and beakers often exhibit exceptional graphite painting (Fig. 10).
Animal bones have a very large component of wild game. The bones of wild boar and fish vertebrae attest the extensive economic use of the river meadows, while bones of deer, wild horse and aurochs illustrate the significance of the high terrace for procuring food. By contrast, the amount of animal bones recovered in the excavation in 2007, after reaching the older layers, displayed a predominance of domestic animals. The excavation had reached a point that manifested far-reaching changes in subsistence strategies by the village inhabitants. Due to the generally favourable conditions for the preservation of charred material, the storage of c. ten kilograms of cereals consisting of naked barley and spelt (wheat) could be retrieved. Preserved remains show that assortments of fruits (raspberries, elder berries etc.) were gathered as well.
The settlement's need for tools is demonstrated by the more than 6000 flint blades, amongst these blades that measure up to c. 30 cm in length, an otherwise great rarity in settlements. The number of small finds is also exceedingly high. Noteworthy are the 370 statuettes in human or animal form. Aside from the spectrum of types that are common in the Gumelniţa culture, there are some very unusual and unique pieces. Among these special note should be given to the clay figures of a tortoise, a wild horse and a dog (Fig. 12). Two completely preserved figurines made of bone were found in relative proximity in the north-south lane in trench B. They both wear a necklace of stone beads, a manner of adornment that is evidenced here for the first time. Further rarities include the clay statuette of a female holding a female child in her arms. A completely preserved stone statuette (Fig. 13), discovered in 2007, underscores the significance of this site. It is the second stone figurine found in Pietrele and, indeed, the third in Romania! Further representations in clay include models of houses, tables and many others. The amount of artefacts made of bone and antler is especially high (Fig. 14). These are by 170 axes made of silex and groundstone (Fig. 15).
Upon the discovery of two looms, even more attention was directed towards the burnt loom weights. A number of weights displayed the impressions of strings that were once used to suspend them. Thus, it is clear that these weights were also secondarily burned in the destructive fire and that originally they were used in an unfired state. Their heaviness was intended, for in the production of linen on the loom the threads must stand under taut tension. Lighter loom weights first appeared with the introduction of woolly sheep in the 4th millennium BC and the production of wool cloth.
The 1288 grinding stones, whetstones and pounders found during the excavation are illustrative of the multifaceted use of stone implements (Fig. 16). Grinding stones were not used only for processing cereals, but for many other organic materials as well, such as roots, nuts and meat, and for non-organic substances such as ochre and graphite. Some whetstones were utilised in woodwork as well. Pounders and rubbers also indicate the importance of stones as tools. Defective grinding stones were reused as supportive bases in the domestic sphere or to stabilise the entrance area into the house. The great number of 188 copper objects (Fig. 17), the discovery of a small golden disc and Spondylus jewellery as well as the above-average quality of the finds support the assumption that Pietrele was integrated in a network of foreign trade and exchange of goods.
Excavations conducted thus far in Pietrele have brought forth results that have changed the picture of settlements of the Copper Age Gumelniţa culture in its essential traits.
A terraced tell complex
All data gained until now indicate that upon the tell itself the southern row of houses stood upon a terrace that was one to three meters lower than the northern row of houses. This situation is of great importance concerning questions about tell architecture.
Excavations revealed unburnt houses recognised for the first time in the area of the Gumelniţa culture, thus providing information about the manner of their construction. It could be determined that the structures were built out of massive clay walls. For the first time houses of the Gumelniţa culture could be excavated in their entirety. It was possible to identify functional areas and to differentiate between economic strategies within households. The evidence of a two-story house must be considered as especially fortunate. Thereby the upper floor represents the living area, while the ground floor served for storage and work activities.
Geomagnetic surveys in the surroundings of the settlement revealed a densely constructed area at the foot of the tell. This context is exceedingly important for the interpretation of the tell, as it shows that the settlement was significantly larger at least during one habitation phase. Thereby, the question arises as to whether this is indicative of social and economic differences between the tell itself and the surrounding flatland settlement.
Indications of specialised households can be recognised in the tell settlement. Three generations of houses in trench F are characterised by hunting and fishing activities. Almost the entire assortment of hunting weapons in Pietrele was found in these houses. By contrast, three generations of houses in trench B are marked by the predominance of installations for the production of textiles.
A central site
The size of the settlement, evidence of different spheres of work and the quality of finds (figurines, metal objects) can be evaluated as indications of a hierarchical settlement system with central sites.
Circular ditch enclosure
Located in a direct distance of only 600 m from the tell, the circular ditch enclosure represents a wholly new and thus far unknown functional element in Late Neolithic and/or Copper Age tells north and south of the Danube River.
Geomagnetic surveys show the probable presence of a cemetery located to the west of the settlement. One drilling brought forth the fragment of a silex blade at a depth of c. 35-40 cm, which suggests the cemetery's date in the "tell period". It can be presumed that the graves located on higher ground were disturbed by erosion.
There is no exaggeration in the statement that Pietrele will occupy an anchor-position in the Copper Age chronology of the Lower Danube. The ceramic sequences are complemented by "closed" contexts in the houses. Especially opportune is the great number of complete vessels. The 14C dates have already supplied new fixed points for the end of the KGK-VI complex. It still remains to clarify whether or not the new and even earlier dates recently attained for Varna can be confirmed in the settlement sequence in Pietrele.
Facit and perspectives
It should be quite recognisable that the investigations in Pietrele thus far has brought forth important results concerning the architecture, settlement structure and subsistence strategies of the Copper Age and, further, provided a firm basis for the chronology. At the same time results of prospection give ground to anticipate that the picture of Copper Age tell settlements as known until now will be revised in some of its principal aspects. The enormous archaeological potential of this site is distinguished by the extraordinarily abundant and qualitative finds, complemented by the cemetery, the outer settlement and the circular ditch enclosure.
(Translation by Dr. Emily Schalk)
Partners in this joint project include: together with the Eurasia Department of the German Archaeological Institute (Prof. Dr. Svend Hansen/Dr. Agathe Reingruber), the Archaeological Institute "Vasile Pârvan" (Prof. Dr. Alexandru Vulpe/PhD cand. Meda Todera) and the Institute of Physical Geography of the University in Frankfurt a.M. (Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wunderlich). Members of the excavation team are Nico Becker (clay spoons), Prof. Dr. Norbert Benecke (archaeozoology), Dr. Irma Berdzenishvili (drawings), Prof. Dr. Ivan Gatsov and Petranka Nedelcheva (flint tools), Cristina Georgescu (restoration), Dr. Jochen Görsdorf (archaeometry), PD Dr. Andreas Hauptmann and Dr. Michael Prange (archaeometallurgy), Jorrit Kelder, M.A. (miniature furniture), Florian Klimscha, M.A. (axes and celts), Ute Koprivc, M.A. (grinding stones), Michael Müller (statuettes), Andrei Mocanu (animal figurines), Dr. Reinder Neef (archaeobotany), Prof. Dr. T. Douglas Price (isotope analyses), Christoph Schröder (miniature vessels), Dr. Baoquan Song (geophysics), Dr. Daniel Spânu (house models), Tilmann Vachta, M.A. (loom weights), PD Dr. Joachim Wahl (anthropology), Heide Wrobel (jewellery) and Petar Zidarov (bone and antler artefacts).
The excavation has been supported by the German Research Foundation since the summer of 2004. In 2006 it was augmented by the financial support of the Ministry of Culture in Bucharest.
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