Settlements of Southern Macedonia and Thessaly in the Neolithic Era

The discoveries of recent years have made known the early Neolithic agricultural culture that existed in the last third of the VII millennium in Southern Macedonia and Thessaly. It is very important that the sequence of stratifications in Sesklo shows that the transition from the pre-Ceramic to the Early Ceramic stage of the Neolithic took place in this settlement gradually, without any break in the line of cultural development. Consequently, there is every reason to believe that the tribes of the pre-Ceramic stage in their subsequent development were the creators of the local early agricultural culture.

Mousterian tools
Mousterian tools

The most complete understanding of the nature of this culture is provided by the studies of the settlement of Nea-Nicomedia (in the lower reaches of the Galiakmon River, near Beroia, South Macedonia), begun in 1961 by English archaeologists G. Clark and R. Rodden. The early layers of this oldest agricultural settlement in Europe are dated by the radiocarbon method around 6230 (150 years).

Judging by preliminary publications, in the oldest phase of the early Neolithic, two settlements were successively replaced in Nea-Nicomedia.

The rectangular houses of the lower layer were built according to the same plan and had a common orientation. The dwellings of the ordinary population had an area of about 8 * 8 m and consisted of one room. These houses were surrounded by a square structure with an area of about 12 * 12 m, which was divided inside by two rows of very thick pillars into three rooms. This central building burned down and was rebuilt according to the old plan. In the layer of the fire under the floor of the restored large house, five female figures made of unbaked clay, two large axes made of green stone, clay vessels in the shape of pumpkins, several clusters of flint tools that had not yet been used (up to 400 plates in each), and many irregular-shaped clay pellets were found. Almost in the center of the settlement, another house with an area of 8 * 11 m was opened. The construction of all the houses was carried out in one way: a number of thick pillars were intertwined with reeds, on top of which the wall was coated with clay. The floors of the rooms were also made of clay, overlapping plaits of leaves, reeds and grasses.

The same construction technique was used in the construction of houses of the second period, the orientation of which, however, was somewhat different from the early one. The houses of the second settlement usually consisted of two rooms: the main, western, had an area of about 8 * 8 m, the second, eastern, almost the same size, but was built much less carefully.

In the strata of the second settlement, female figurines made of clay and the same figurines of sheep and goats, three figures of frogs made of polished green stone, fragments of five anthropomorphic vessels resembling similar dishes from the Near Asian cultures of Hajilar and Hassuna (VII-VI millennia), small rods made of clay and stone, also having analogies, were found in finds from Western Asia.

Stone arrowheads
Stone arrowheads

Pottery in the first settlement is predominantly dark colors with predominant navicular shapes, there are ceramics with a black surface; the ornament is depressed, inlaid or painted. Ceramic products of the second settlement comprise a large number of varieties. Simple ceramics are represented here by monochrome dishes with gray, red, pink and brown surfaces. Painted ceramics were made by painting red on white and white on red or brown. Dishes decorated with ornaments by pressing with a nail were also found here. All this diverse tableware testifies to the great craving of the Early Neolithic population of Nea-Nicomedia for cheerful, bright household items. The types of dishes from Nea-Nicomedia indicate a connection with the Thessalian early Neolithic, as well as contact with the North Balkan Neolithic cultures.

The inhabitants of the village were engaged in both agriculture and animal husbandry. In the strata of the early Neolithic Clark and Rodden found more than 2 thousand grains of wheat, barley, lentils, peas and possibly wild cereals. Nuts were also found. A preliminary analysis of more than 25 thousand fragments of bones showed that the inhabitants of Nea-Nicomedia bred mainly sheep and goats. Cattle and pigs still occupied a small space. The high quality of small stone tools made by the inhabitants of Nea-Nicomedia is very remarkable.

The above materials show that the inhabitants of Nea-Nicomedia moved to a stable sedentary lifestyle by the last third of the VII millennium. The continuous existence of the settlement for many centuries indicates the complete completion of the transition from hunting and gathering life to a productive economy. It is noteworthy that the number of bones of wild animals is significantly inferior to the remains of domesticated goats and sheep. It is also important that the list of cultivated plants is quite diverse. The mentioned circumstances allow us to conclude that the inhabitants of Nea-Nicomedia have long passed the stage of combining hunting and archaic forms of sedentary agriculture, their economy was completely based on agriculture and cattle breeding.

The spiritual life of the tribal community in Nea-Nicomedia was already quite complicated. The figures of frogs made of polished serpentine make it possible to think that the representations of the era of totemism have not yet disappeared in the Early Neolithic period. Judging by the fact that one of the figures had a hole for hanging, these images of ancient sacred animals retained their magical significance and were worn as an amulet. But along with new forms of economic activity, the inhabitants of Nea-Nicomedia also developed new religious norms. The cult of the female deity, the patron of the fertility of fields and herds, on which the life of the people of that time so depended, is developing.

Ideas about the afterlife point to the existence of the concept of the unity of the genus: members of the community were buried between houses inside the ancestral village. Burials were carried out in shallow ground pits, the dead lay in a crouched position, without funeral gifts. This circumstance indicates the absence of ideas about personal ownership even of household items: apparently, the community lived by the laws of collective property that were still inviolable. It is possible that the large building in the center was the repository of industrial and ritual property of the entire village. But already in the second settlement of Nea-Nicomedia, the appearance of seals made of baked clay with a simple pattern carved on still semi-solid clay was witnessed. The introduction of seals into use was probably caused by the appearance of some system of prohibitions and restrictions for some community members imposed by particularly authoritative members of the tribal collective. The presence of seals in Early Neolithic Neocomedia is very important for determining the origin of seals of the entire south of the Balkan Peninsula.

The early agricultural culture of Southern Macedonia at the end of the VII millennium developed in the same direction as the Neolithic civilization of Thessaly. The rich strata of the early (ceramic) Neolithic in Sesklo and some other settlements suggest that the fertile valleys of Macedonia and Thessaly at about the same time became the place of activity of the oldest farmers and pastoralists. Apparently, here one should look for one of the local centers of the emergence of agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle. The discovery of this hearth, which should be called the South Balkan, once again confirms the validity of the theory of the outstanding Russian scientist N. I. Vavilov, who in 1935 named eight independent world centers of origin of the most important cultivated plants, which allowed him to talk about eight ancient main centers of world agriculture. The mountainous subtropical regions of the Balkan Peninsula, especially suitable for the development of agriculture, with their diversity of wild plant and animal species, were the natural material base for the transition of man to a productive economy by domesticating local species from flora and fauna. The polycentrism of the process of the formation of early agricultural civilizations, traced in detail by V. M. Masson on the material of the cultures of the Near East and Central Asia, is now receiving further coverage on the basis of data from the Mediterranean hearth of the origin of cultivated plants. A comparison of the radiocarbon dates of the oldest agricultural crops, made recently by G. Clark, shows that in the period from about 6500 to 5200, the emergence of agricultural settlements in the areas between Iran and Greece occurred in relatively few areas. Clark names the following points from east to west:

Jarmo about 6500

Hassuna is about 6400

Ras Shamra about 6410

Mersin is about 6000

Knossos is about 6100

Hadjilar about 6000

Nea-Nicomedia about 6230

Elateya about 5530

Vrshnik about 4915

V. M. Masson, who studied the early agricultural complexes of the Anterior Asia, believes that we can only talk about two large cultural areas, approximately localized in the western and eastern regions of the Anterior Asia. Within each of the areas there are a number of cultural communities, apparently corresponding to the tribal groups of antiquity. Despite the interaction of these communities in the areas of contact, each of them represented a separate cultural variant.

The similarities and differences between the Neolithic cultures of different regions of the Balkan Peninsula force us to raise the question of the need to study the cultural communities that existed there and their local variants. But even at the current stage of knowledge, it is necessary to reconsider some previously formed ideas about the course of the historical process in Greece.

Thus, the lag in the study of the oldest inhabitants of the Balkan peninsula led to the emergence and widespread dissemination of the theory of the cultural backwardness of Greece in the most ancient epochs, about the immeasurable superiority of the quality and pace of cultural progress of the countries of the ancient East over the movement of tribes that once inhabited Greece. Similar opinions can be found in almost all old and new works devoted to the ancient civilizations of the East. G. Child in 1952 he confidently writes that European prehistory "in its initial stage is mainly a story of imitation of Eastern achievements or, at best, their assimilation. We will learn about the achievements themselves from the archeology of the East." The same thought defines the report of F. Schachermayer in 1958 at the VII International Congress of Classical Archaeology in Rome: "The discovery of the cultures of Jericho, Jarmo, Hassoun and Tell Khalaf firmly established the indisputable superiority of Near Asia in its earliest development over Europe." After opening in 1961 The early Neolithic settlement of farmers in Nea-Nicomedia, dating back to the last third of the VII millennium, the excessive categoricity of the above opinions is obvious. It should be noted that not only the lack of sources prompted a number of Western researchers to tendentious statements about the exceptional superiority of the countries of the Near East over the neighboring regions of the Mediterranean. If Child can be blamed for the seemingly spontaneous exaggeration of the role of the East, generated by the nature of the archaeological material accumulated in his time, then other researchers were guided by other, idealistic in nature motives. A deep belief in the dogmas of religious systems that call the Front East the arena where God created the first man pushes some researchers towards "orientocentrism" in search of a scientific basis for biblical traditions. Naturally, this approach took scientists far away from scientific knowledge of the historical process. The idealistic overestimation of the role of the ancient Front East met with due resistance in the works of Soviet researchers. V. M. Masson, in his fundamental work on the oldest Central Asia, comes to the conclusion about the polycentrism of the process of the formation of the oldest agricultural crops in the regions of the Front Asia, about the absence of signs of cultural unity in them that would allow them to be elevated to a single "protoculture". The addition of ancient agricultural cultures took place in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean in the same epoch, and the transition to settled agriculture was carried out in many centers on the basis of local cultural traditions. Only such an understanding of the process of development of human society, proceeding from a materialistic concept, brings researchers closer to an exhaustive knowledge of the complex and diverse path traversed by human society in remote epochs of unscripted history. The history of Greece in the Neolithic era is still completely unknown, as there are too few sources yet. It can only be noted that even then some areas were less densely populated than Thessaly or Boeotia. So, in Attica, the intensity of life is much weaker. The small number of currently known Neolithic settlements of Attica is undoubtedly the result not only of the poor knowledge of the monuments of this time, but also of the fact that the Neolithic of Attica did not leave any significant traces. Of all the places in Attica where Neolithic ceramics were found, the richest finds were given by the settlement of Nea-Makri near Rafina. It is located on the eastern coast of Attica, which gives reason to assume that this population has connections with the Neolithic inhabitants of the Aegean islands.

It is characteristic that the Athenian Acropolis, among the very few points of Attica, has traces of ancient habitation. The earliest remains date back to the end of the Neolithic era, and at present it is difficult to determine whether this earliest settlement was large. On the southern slope of the Acropolis, Italian archaeologists have found the remains of a Neolithic house and late Neolithic ceramics. On the southern slope, somewhat to the west of the Dionysus Theater, on the highest part, in a natural grotto, painted polychrome Neolithic ceramics were found in large quantities.

Many Neolithic ceramics were found on the northern slopes of the Acropolis, from where fragments of vessels of almost all typical Neolithic groups originate. During the excavations of the American expedition on the Agora, i.e. in the lowland northwest of the Acropolis, magnificent samples of red and gray polished ceramics of Neolithic time were found. All these finds show that the settlement on the site of Athens dates back to the same Neolithic period as in the rest of Greece.

The most complete picture of the historical processes in Central Greece is given by the works of S. Weinberg in the Boeotian Elateia (Drachmapp). This is so far the only tract in Central Greece where life was not interrupted during all the Neolithic periods, approximately from 5500 to 3200 BC. The Weinberg splits revealed the rich and diverse culture of the then inhabitants of Elateia. The researcher managed to trace the development of pottery, changes in the types of dwellings and other features in the daily life of the population. Weinberg's conclusion about the "extraordinary conservatism" in the ceramics of Elateia, which kept the basic shapes of vessels unchanged throughout the Neolithic period, deserves much attention. Such a long existence of the same traditional forms of dishes can be interpreted as evidence of the great stability of the composition of the population in the settlement under consideration.

The process of weapon evolution proceeded more quickly. During the early Neolithic period, the inhabitants of Elateia were armed with slings, for which special clay "stones" were made. Similar objects were found in large numbers in the then settlements of Thessaly. Already at the end of the Middle or at the beginning of the late Neolithic, bows and arrows appeared in Greece, found not only in Elateia, but also in Corinth. Progress in the field of armament also reflected the movement of all social production and the complication of relations within the tribal world of Neolithic Greece. Apparently, the cause of the military conflicts was the struggle for arable land, pastures for livestock. The logical conclusion of this process was the construction of defensive walls around settlements in the Late Neolithic era. A very monumental monument of this kind can be considered the fortified acropolis of Dimini in Thessaly, surrounded by several lines of walls.

The increase in wars is the result of the great changes in public consciousness that were taking place at that time in Greece. Monuments of religious life also reflect the complexity of the ideas of the then inhabitant of the country. So, there were new, specially ritual vessels on four legs, repeating the outlines of a cow's udder. Apparently, cattle have received a special place in the system of religious beliefs.

There is still a lot of uncertainty in the history of Neolithic Greece. One of the most difficult questions is still to clarify the nature of the ties of the country's population with the tribes that lived in the north of the Balkan Peninsula and in neighboring Asia Minor. The struggle between supporters of the theory of migration and scientists who disagree with the concepts of fundamental changes in the composition of the country's population continues to this day. Apparently, new sources are still needed to solve the question of what place in the historical movement should be given to the regroupings of established tribal groups and how effective contacts between neighboring countries could be in these remote times.

The Neolithic era in Greece is characterized by the creation of a high cultural tradition that apparently belonged to fairly stable groups. Based on the great production achievements of this agricultural population, at the end of the IV - first half of the III millennium BC, it became possible to switch to the manufacture of tools from copper.