The Lepenski Vir Conundrum: Reinterpretation of the Mesolithic and Neolithic Sequences in the Danube Gorges
Boric, Dusan, Antiquity
The Danube Gorges provide the richest archaeological dataset for the study of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in southeast Europe: the transformation of complex hunter-gatherers; the first houses and the development of sedentism; indigenous domestication of animals; mechanisms of culture change in forager-farmer interactions; the development of social and symbolic complexity. Interpretation of the archaeological record at the type site of Lepenski Vir has fuelled intensive debate over dating and the context of Neolithic pottery (Boric 1999; Tringham 2000; Garasanin & Radovanovic 2001).
The Lepenski Vir culture sites are in a geologically complex area of the Danube/Iron Gate gorges (FIGURE 1). The Danube cuts a 130--km route through the southern fringes of the Carpathians, passing the intermittently steep cliffs of four gorges (Atlas 1972; Markovic-Marjanovic 1978) and cataracts, whirlpools and large `cauldrons' formed by intensive erosion of the Danube riverbed. In pre-modern times, there was good fishing supplied by migratory sturgeon, catfish, carp and other species. Rock-shelters and lower terraces of the Danube were the foci of human settlement. The paper addresses the Upper Gorge sites of Lepenski Vir, Padina and Vlasac, although other sites are both downstream and outside the gorges (FIGURE 1). The landscape is critical for frontier models between the foraging populations in the gorges and the surrounding farming communities.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Early Neolithic material culture, buildings and the dating of Lepenski Vir
The key sites of Lepenski Vir and Padina share a number of similar features: trapezoidal dwelling floors with rectangular hearths made of vertical stone slabs placed in the centre of each dwelling. At Padina, the excavator Jovanovic identified the architectural features of trapezoidal dug-in buildings as Early Neolithic (pottery, yellow-spotted/Balkan flint and ground polished stone axes) (Jovanovic 1969; 1987; Boric 1999). By contrast, at Lepenski Vir, Srejovic identified similar architectural features as Mesolithic, by a different interpretation of depositional processes and contexts (Srejovic 1969; 1972; Garasanin & Radovanovic 2001: n 2). Several authors (Jovanovic 1969; Gimbutas 1976; Milisauskas 1978; Tringham 2000) have suggested that the Early Neolithic pottery associated with trapezoidal buildings at Lepenski Vir is not solely intrusive, but stratigraphically and contextually associated with these architectural units. I examined the existing evidence from Lepenski Vir in relation to the neighbouring site of Padina (Boric 1999: 47-55). At Padina, abundant Early Neolithic pottery is clearly associated with trapezoidal buildings in a number of published photographs (FIGURE 2; Jovanovic 1969; 1987). At Lepenski Vir, Srejovic reports that the Early Neolithic pottery found in situ on building floors or between the overlapping floors is intrusive (1968: 86; 1969: 153-4; 1971: 5; 1972: 134).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
I argue that reinterpretation of Lepenski Vir's phasing, and hence deposition of material culture, can only be achieved by reference to topography and construction. Both at Padina (at Sector III) and at Lepenski Vir the dwellings were dug in sandy loess terraced slopes, facing the Danube. On most of the photos, these dwellings seem decontextualized by appearing as pedestalled features (FIGURE 3). At Padina, sections show the stratification of deposits above floors (Jovanovic 1969; Boric 1999), indicating that these buildings were dug 1-1.5 m into the sloping terrace. Similarly section drawings and photos from Lepenski Vir (Srejovic 1967b: profile 1; 1972: Radovanovic 1996a: figures 3.27, 3.17)--such as the section above the floor of House 27 (FIGURE 4)--show the cultural debris infill of a semi-subterranean dwelling. Hence Early Neolithic material culture excavated at Lepenski Vir was deposited in the infill of many trapezoidal buildings during what the excavator considers the `Mesolithic' phases Ia-e and II (Boric 1999: 52). …