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LEPENSKI VIR ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE FROM 7000 BC
LEPENSKI VIR ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE FROM 7000 BC
Đerdap gorge with its Iron Gate is a center of Đerdap National Park which is on tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage
Lepenski Vir is an important Mesolithic archaeological site located in Serbia in the central Balkan peninsula. It consists of one large settlement with around ten satellite villages. The evidence suggests the first human presence in the locality around 7000 BC with the culture reaching its peak between 5300 BC and 4800 BC. Numerous piscine sculptures and peculiar architecture are testimony to a rich social and religious life led by the inhabitants and the high cultural level of these early Europeans. Lepenski Vir is a Mesolithic site - that means middle stone age, in this case 8 000 years before the present, after the ice had begun to melt from the glaciers which covered so much of the Northern Hemisphere. It is an open air site, not a rock shelter. Lepenski Vir as it was 8 000 years ago, when it was a thriving community on a restricted area on the right bank of the Danube River, in the middle of the Djerdap, the Iron Gates Gorge. Professor Dragoslav Srejović (1931 - 1996) discovered and excavated the sites of Lepenski Vir and Vlasać-- two key settlements for the mesolithic and protoneolithic cultures in south-east Europe.
The main site consists of several archeological phases starting with Proto-Lepenski Vir, then Lepenski Vir Ia-e, Lepenski Vir II and Lepenski Vir III, occupation spanning well over a millennium from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic period. A number of satellite villages belonging to the same culture and time period were discovered in the surrounding area. These additional sites include Hajducka Vodenica, Padina, Vlasac, Ikaona, Kladovska Skela and others. Found artifacts include tools made from stone and bones, remains of houses and numerous sacral objects including unique stone sculptures.
It is assumed that the people of Lepenski Vir culture represent the descendants of the early European population of the hunter gatherer culture from the end of the last ice age. Archeological evidence of human habitation surrounding caves dates back to around 20,000 BC. The first settlement on the low plateau dates back to 7000 BC, a time when the climate became significantly warmer.
The development of the settlement was strongly influenced by the topology of the surrounding area. It sat on a narrow plateau on the banks of the river, squeezed between cliffs and the flow of the Danube. As such it offered only limited resources in terms of food, raw materials and living space. This is reflected in the findings from the earliest layer. Proto-Lepenski Vir represents only a small settlement of maybe just 4 or 5 families with fewer than a hundred inhabitants. The primary food source of the inhabitants was probably fishing. Fishing communities of this type are typical for the wider Danube valley region during this period.
In later periods the problems of overpopulation of the original settlement became evident. At this time important sociological change occurred, a change that makes Lepenski Vir a truly outstanding culture in the Mesolithic era.
Archaeological findings in the surrounding area show evidence of temporary settlements built probably for the purpose of hunting and gathering of food or raw materials. This suggests a complex semi-nomadic economy with managed exploitation of resources in the area not immediately surrounding the village, something remarkable for the traditional view of Mesolithic people of Europe. More complexity in an economy leads to professional specialization and thus to social differentiation.
This is clearly evident in the layout of the Lepenski Vir Ia-e settlement. The village is well planned. All houses are built according to one complex geometric pattern. These remains of houses constitute the distinct Lepenski Vir architecture, one of the important achievements of this culture. The main layout of the village is clearly visible. The dead were buried outside the village in an elaborate cemetery. The only exceptions were apparently a few notable elders who were buried behind the fireplaces in houses, according to a religious ritual.
The complex social structure was dominated by a religious cult which probably served as a binding force for the community and a means of coordination of activity for its members. Numerous sacral objects that were discovered in this layer support this theory. The most remarkable examples are piscine sculptures, unique to the Lepenski Vir culture, which represent one of the first examples of monumental sacral art on European soil.
Lepenski Vir gives us a rare opportunity to observe the gradual transition from the hunter gatherer way of life of early humans to the agricultural economy of the Neolithic. More and more complex social structure influenced the development of planning and self-discipline necessary for agricultural production.
Once agricultural products became a commodity, a new way of life replaced the old social structure. Distinct characteristics of Lepenski Vir culture, its house architecture and fish sculptures, disappeared gradually. Lepenski Vir III is representative of a Neolithic site and is more typical of other sites across a much wider area. The exact mechanism of this transition remains unclear but evidence suggest development through evolution rather than outside invasion.