Neolithic / Chalcolithic Period Collection
Balkan Neolithic / Chalcolithic

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Balkan Neolithic / Chalcolithic

The NEOLITHIC PERIOD basically embraces a relatively long period of human history, different for each continent or a specific geographic area (even today there are tribes whose level of development is close to that of the Neolithic man). The establishment of the Neolithic way of living in Europe is accomplished in the following sequence in the course of several millenniums:

I. The Balkan Peninsula — up to the mountain Stara planina and its northwest pass Jelezni vrata (2nd half of 7th millennium BC).

II. The remainder of the Balkans, Moldavia, South Ukraine and Transylvania (about the middle of 6th millennium BC).

III. The development of the Early Linear Pottery culture up to the Rhine river (2nd to 3rd quarter of 6th millennium BC).

IV. The development of the culture producing tunnel-shaped cups in the northern part of middle Europe (the end of the 5th millennium BC).

V. Northern Europe and England (end of the 4th millennium BC).

It is assumed that the Neolithic establishment on the Balkans had been accomplished under the influence of the migrating Neolithic population of Anatolia, which had merged itself with the smaller local Mesolithic population. This process continues from the end of 7th millennium BC until the end of 6th millennium BC. The separate phases in the development of the Neolithic cultures in Bulgarian lands have been defined according to the change in the shape of the pottery, to the different manufacturing methods and in the use of different styles for ornamentation. Based on these criteria, Neolithic cultures have been identified for the different parts of the country.

The Early Neolithic in west Bulgaria is represented by the culture known as "West-Bulgarian painted pottery" — defined by J. Gaul. This culture is part of the Central-Balkan ethno-cultural complex which includes the culture found at Starchevo. The ceramic dishes are tulip-shaped, spherical and half-spherical, having a beige to reddish color, burnished surface. Some of the dishes have very thick bases and others have pedestal bases.

The Early Neolithic in Thrace is known as the Karanovo Culture with two basic phases — I and II. Here the leading ceramic forms are also tulip-like tall cups on a hollow stem, spherical pots with a cylindrical neck and cord handles, half-spherical plates and others. The surface of the pottery is red to brown. The following are common: a checkerboard ornament, belts filled with net-like ornaments, hanging triangles and others. In the late stages of the Karanovo Culture, the painted decoration loses its leading role.

The Neolithic Period came to North Bulgaria at a later time. The pottery here during that time has a black or grayish-black polished surface. Typical forms include round or bi-conical bowls and flared-mouth egg-shaped pots with a thickened tall stem. The tall tulip-like bowls and the cylindrical cups are either without any decoration or are covered with zigzag flutes.

In the Late Balkan Neolithic, a significant change in the culture takes place - new shapes appear. The tall cylindrical cup is already modeled with a cylindrical handle. The walls of the water-jugs are straight and perpendicular to the bottom as well as being thick and massive. These changes are best observed in the stages Karanovo III, III/IV. During the last stage of the Late Balkan Neolithic, the development of the shapes of the dishes continues in the stages Karanovo for Thrace, the cultures Kurilo and Topolnitsa for west Bulgaria, Usoe I and II for central and north Bulgaria and Hamandgia for Dobrudja (north-east Bulgaria). The typical designs for Karanovo stage III water-jugs and small legged-dishes disappear. Characteristic specifics are the cone-like, rich decorated forms with cut-in ornaments in the bowls. The profile of the dish changes and becomes sharper.

Anthropomorphic plastic design during the Balkan Neolithic undergoes changes too. In the Early Neolithic, the figurines are very stylistic and of a small size. At the beginning of the Late Neolithic, they are already being modeled in a different manner with the heads being formed together with the neck and conical-shaped extremities, when present.

The seated figurines depict a female with small breasts and lower torso and legs made into a chair. Standing figurines are usually with joined legs. This specific finding is inherited also in the final stage of the Late Neolithic when the legs are often modeled together as a base and the heads of the figurines become more realistic.

The heads of the Late Balkan Neolithic figurines are usually rounded and occasionally, with a raised portion on top as found near Sofia from the Kurilo Culture. The nose is formed with the clay having been pulled out with the fingers in the shape of a beak. As a rule however, realistic images are absent during this time.

An interesting distinction is observed between the different settlement site types, as well. In the region of Thrace, the tell mounds are a typical feature. In west Bulgaria, the Neolithic tells are few and the northern Balkans are typically open sites. In Thrace and West Bulgaria the dominant design in the Neolithic house construction utilized interwoven wooden sticks coated with clay. In Durankulak, situated on an island of rocky soil, there was shortage of trees so houses were constructed of stone.

An interesting part of human life in the Balkan Neolithic Period has been discovered by the excavation of graves. Young individuals are often found under the ground floor of the houses, laying down in dug graves or buried in large pottery. During the Late Neolithic, necropoli appear. The most famous among them is the one next to Durankulak.

At the beginning of the 5th millennium BC, another essential "revolution" had been accomplished in the Balkans and Anatolia — metal came into use with the introduction of copper smelting. This is known as the CHALCOLITHIC PERIOD (literally "copper-stone" age), otherwise known as the COPPER AGE. This specific epoch takes place between the NEOLITHIC and BRONZE AGE as metal is first being incorporated into daily life. It is a unique part of human history to this part of the world and continued simultaneously with the continuation of stone use in these Neolithic societies until the 3rd millennium BC. The invention of bronze marks the end of the CHALCOLITHIC age.

During the beginning of the Chalcolithic Period, copper was fashioned into decorative forms, needles and other small objects. Later, copper was used to make tools such as axes, hammers, and spades used in agriculture. Since copper is a malleable metal, these objects became dull easily. Despite this, the widespread use of copper tools led to an improved efficiency in production and subsequently, an accumulation of surplus. Surplus created premise for the development of trade relationships.

The Balkans are rich in copper deposits. During the Chalcolithic, this metal was mainly exported from the Bulgarian territories, to the inhabitants of the north Black sea coast. Different types of settlements appeared: open-air, pile dwellings, high mountain villages, satellites to the tells and others.

During this time, the gathering of wealth and its concentration at one place led to advanced societies. No site in the Balkans illustrates this better than the amazingly rich Eneolithic necropolis in Varna. This site suggests a new picture for the redistribution of wealth in the Eneolithic Balkan community. Both poor and extremely rich graves are present in the necropolis, which are interpreted as funerals of outstanding representatives of the tribal society — chieftain or priest. Advanced architecture coupled with the use of stone in the houses, as is found in Durankulak, lead scientists to believe that these sites were the earliest signs of the emergence of CIVILIZATION.

by Plamen Milanov