New Research on the Hungarian Early Neolithic

By Whittle, Alasdair | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

New Research on the Hungarian Early Neolithic


Whittle, Alasdair, Antiquity


The unresolved questions about the beginning of the Neolithic period across Europe still abound (Whittle 1996). How did the phenomenon spread? What indeed was the phenomenon, and was it the same from region to region? Who were the principal actors involved and where did they come from? Were they permanently settled? What impact did they have on their environments? What use did they make of their various subsistence resources? How quickly were changes introduced and why?

One of the most interesting regions for approaching these questions lies in Hungary, in the northern part of the Carpathian basin, and thus between the main mass of the Balkans to the south and the loesslands of central and west Europe to the northwest. On the southern part of the Great Hungarian Plain, along the River Tisza and especially in its tributaries to the east, the Early Neolithic Koros culture (c. 6000-5500 BC) has been extensively investigated by Hungarian researchers since the 1920s, and more recently by Andrew Sherratt (e.g. Sherratt 1982). Abundant known sites cluster along waterways, with rich remains of cultural material and food residues, leaving however generally thin stratigraphies and often enigmatic evidence for permanent structures. After a lull in research, new debates on the beginnnings of the LBK to the northwest and new work by Kalicz and by Banffy on northern Starcevo culture sites between the Drava and Lake Balaton make it timely to return to the Koros area.

A new Anglo-Hungarian micro-regional project has worked in 1998 and 1999, first to survey known Koros occupation sites and find old pollen-bearing river sediments adjacent to them, and then to begin excavation. Near the northern limits of the Koros culture in Co. Bekes at Ecsegfalva, there are several occupations beside an old meander of the Berettyo river, formed in the Pleistocene but converted into still water by continued tectonic depression in the early Holocene (FIGURE 1). Pollen has been recovered from the sediments of the meander and will contribute to environmental reconstruction of the micro-region and perhaps beyond. That this is a very different setting to the large alluvial islands just a few kilometres to the south towards Devavanya indicates what a varied environment this was, likely to have been subjected to different flood regimes and conditions. Geophysical survey of site 23 has shown an occupation about 100 m in extent overall along a levee of the old meander, but separated into two main areas cut by a small channel coming from adjacent backswamps. …

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