Chapter Eight
Landscape, Material Culture and Society in the Sokolitsa, Ovcharitsa and Drama microregions – a comparison and synthesis

8.1 Material Culture and Society

In the previous three chapters, I attempted to present the variety of prehistoric archaeological evidence from three small valleys in South East Bulgaria. It is obvious that there are striking similarities, as well as revealing differences. In the following pages, I shall define and attempt to explain the repetitive and diverse patterns of human occupation in the three study microregions.

8.1.1 The similarities

Both the similarities and the differences in the evidence from the study area are going to be discussed according to a similar pair of characteristics – social practices and contacts.

Social practices


Probably the commonest characteristic of the sites is the abundance of fragmented objects. They are made from all types of material (e.g. stone, bone, clay, etc.), have different primary functions and are found in a variety of contexts (e.g. in pits, on dwelling floors and in cultural layers). Only in the Drama microregion has the abundance of sherds and missing parts of figurines received interpretative attention, being considered as the result of deliberate practice (p. 322). An outstanding illustration of the nature of the deliberate fragmentation practice is the several examples of earlier sherds found in a secure later context. Broken objects were laden with specific meaning and then used as communication means in particular social negotiation. One of the best examples for a structured message mediated through fragmented objects is the joint deposition of a base and a lower part of a pithos and a rim and walls from another pithos in a pit in the LCA layers of Galabovo tell (p.171). Another striking example derives from Gudgova tell, where apart from the whole and restorable vessels, fragments from at least 200 vessels with different shape and decoration were found in the LCA layers during the first excavation of the tell. These revealing cases, together with the numerous fragmented objects kept in settlements, as well as the claim of the Drama investigators for missing parts of the figurines, should suggest that the fragmentation and the successive employment of fragments in various social interactions was a deliberate social practice in the study area.

Most often, the fragmented objects were found in a context that reinforced their specific meaning – the context of structured deposition.

Structured deposition

The second commonest practice in all the three study regions is structured deposition. It was documented in different forms throughout the whole occupation sequence, from the Neolithic up to the LBA. Most often, structured deposition was made in pits both in settlement areas and within formal depositional areas. There are cases in which pit deposition precedes the settlement activity (e.g. Gerena flat site); there are cases in which pits are contemporary to the habitation of the sites (e.g. Galabovo tell); and finally, there are cases in which pit digging is the final human activity on the site (e.g. Mednikarovo tell). Despite the differences in the concrete patterns of deposition as well as, perhaps, the differences in the concrete reasons for the deposition, every structured deposition in pits shares one and the same general aim – exchange with an antecedent reality. In the case of pits as initial occupation, it is the virgin soil, while in the case of pits cut into the cultural layer it is the ancestral deposits, which are exchanged with contemporary objects in order to create a specific relationship between the past and the present. The meaning of structured deposition in pits is reinforced in the formal areas for deposition. It is possible that different primary aims of the act of deposition, such as legitimising newcomers’ presence, memorising an important event or devoting fertility gifts, may have deliberately taken place in different places. Given the present state of the data, there is rarely conclusive evidence for such a spatial division.

Very little contextual information is available for specific patterns of pit deposition. In Pit 17 from Polski Gradets pit site, there was a clear North / South division of finds. At the Iskritsa site, one pit (N4) contained only sherds from fine vessels in contrast to the fill in the other pits that contained mixed coarse and fine ware. The importance of the recovery of detailed contextual evidence for all excavation contexts cannot be over-emphasised; with this additional information, a clearer sense of the structural principles guiding pit deposition would be more readily defined (cf. Chapman 2000c).

The other type of structured deposition was deposition in ditches. Such an activity was most probably a common community performance, as it involved joint efforts in the cutting, maintenance and re-filling of the ditch. Therefore, structured deposition in ditches may have been associated with a sequence of target-oriented practices (e.g. burning houses and then deposing the burnt rubble), in which more or less the whole community was taking part, either as a participant or as a witness. From the two cases of structured deposition in ditches in the study area, one was interpreted as deliberate ritual activity (ditches in Drama) and the other was claimed as a settlement activity (Ovcharitsa II). As discussed in section 6.3.3, there are many arguments why such an interpretation for Ovcharitsa II is not convincing. Instead, it is highly probable that the site is a depositional area with a high level of structured discard which continued over a lengthy period of time, perhaps several decades.

Other types of structured deposition, such as burial practices and the deliberate burning of houses, will be discussed in later sections. At this point, the last types to be mentioned are pottery scatters, foundation deposits and the de facto deposition of exotic materials inside containers or in contexts. Examples include the placing of a bead in a vessel arguably imported from the Levant in Galabovo and the placing of non-local stone artifacts in the ditch at Drama- Merdzumekja.

The diversity of archaeological evidence from the study sites has confirmed that structured deposition in various forms and probably meanings was an important social practice from the Neolithic up to end of the LBA.

Burnt houses

The deliberate burning of a house/building for the purposes of celebrating the death of the structure, which in turn enabled the subsequent deposition of its rubble, has been claimed only for the Drama MBA ditch (Lichardus et al. 2001). The abandonment, levelling and burning of the full houses in Drama Merdzumekja, in the Karanovo VI period, was also a deliberate act that was not connected to some hostile invasion. The majority of the investigated sites contains evidence for both controlled fire and for secondary deposition of burnt rubble. Apart from Drama, the most prominent example of deliberate burning is the Iskritsa pit site, where, after a millennium of recurrent structured deposition, the final-phase building was burnt to mark the end of this life cycle of the site. This event coincides, in a broad sense, with the burning of the features in the LCA layers of the Galabovo and Gudgova tells and the above-mentioned abandonment of Merdzumekja tell and probably underpins a crucial moment in the social development in the later prehistory of the study area. The practice of burning features was prevented by the mud-volcano eruption which covered the Iskritsa site but it was continued on the re-occupied tells. It is likely that burnt rubble was distributed from the places of fire on the tells to other places where it was deposited. Such a claim is based on the data from the Mednikarovo tell and the Polski Gradets pit site, both of which contain BA secondary deposits of burnt rubble but lack conclusive evidence for massive on-site fires. The data for the Neolithic practice of deliberate burning is sparse but the evidence from the Mednikarovo tell and the Gerena flat site suggest that it is possible that the concept of killing houses with fire and the subsesequent re-ordering of settlement space may have been developed during the Neolithic period in the study area.

It is beyond question that our modern rationality does not allow us to comprehend in full the particularities of archaeological evidence we find and often archaeologists substitute modern for ancient worldviews (Brück 1999). However, this should not stop the attempt at reconstruction of the social development of the communities we study by inter-relating the variety of available evidence and integrating them into a coherent interpretative framework. For the current study, such an interpretative framework is provided by the concept of the Arena of Social Power which may give an answer to the questions – why, when and what type of social practices were employed by the small communities of the study area.

Structured deposition is connected to both practices - fragmentation and burning houses - since sherds and burnt rubble are found very often in structured deposition context. However, broken objects are also to be found in not necessarily formalized deposits, indicating that fragmentation as a practice has an importance of its own (e.g. a fragment of stone axe may have been kept as a sign of personal enchainment in a house rather than in structured context). The same unconstrained link is valid for structured deposition and burnt houses. The deliberate burning of houses is a form of structured deposition in its own right, based as it is on a performance choreographed in accordance with specific aims. Therefore structured deposition, fragmentation and the burning of houses were independent but closely integrated practices. Most probably fragmentation, structured deposition and the burning of houses on their own and their dynamic link were daily, annual or once-in-a-lifetime practices in the study area. They served routine quotidian purposes but in the same time they were powerful means for the negotiation of social continuity and social change.

The best example for such a temporally and spatially integrated system of social practices is the Merdzumekja tell. This almost fully excavated site provides secure evidence for deliberate formalization of the area where preceding settlement had taken place. There is no evidence for violence or environmental disaster, which means that the abandonment of the settlements was voluntary, and hence most probably related to some social issues. Social practices were not a characteristic only for new settlements; they were also part of the everyday life (e.g. the maintenance of the ditch) or ritual activity (e.g. once the clay pits were exhausted, they were re-filled as an act of homage to the ancestors) of the Merdzumekja occupants.

Given the present state of the data in the Maritsa Iztok study area, such a consistent and repeated proof of successive social practices is missing. There are, however, a few cases of matching patterns that may through some light on the overall social life in the Sokolitsa and Ovcharitsa study regions.

It was pointed out that all more or less securely dated LCA occupational levels ended their life-cycle with fire. The next occupation in the region developed in the EBA1 phase at the enclosure of Ovcharitsa II, together with the first barrows. The burial mounds will be discussed in section 8.1.2 and here only a few comments are made on the role of the Ovcharitsa II site in the settlement development of the microregions.

On several occasions, I have disputed the current interpretation of the site as a settlement and argued that Ovcharitsa II is an enclosed space primarily for a sequence of structured deposition events. It followed a period of break in human occupation, which I would argue was not longer than a generation. An important support for the revised interpretation of Ovcharitsa II is the abandonment and burning of the LCA occupations. Chapman (1993) has argued that settlements constituted domestic arenas, whose abandonment should point to an unresolved social tension within current means of social negotiation. The reasons for such tension may have been the intensification of the process of social differentiation consequent upon moving back into a once-occupied area. This would entail reconciliation, as well as formal denial of the old order, and hence a new type of formal occupation activity. The imitation of houses and settlement activity in Ovcharitsa II, together with the features of structured deposition (the ditch, the chain-dwellings) and the enclosed space itself, employ an array of highly structured contexts, which act to reinforce a particular aim - the legitimization of the return to the region.

The same aim of legitimization is pursued in the numerous examples of exchanges of identity with the ancestors, achieved mainly made by cutting into earlier cultural deposits. Such a practice may have followed a cyclic pattern (e.g. annually) but it also may have taken place at times of increased social tension. A good example of such a critical moment in the social development of a tell was found in square O7 in the 11th BA horizon at the Galabovo tell, where three pits and an infant burial were found in part of a destroyed house. In this case the link between the ancestors and the living is reinforced by the presence of the dead, at a time when the death of the house coincides with the death of an infant and many artefacts.

The cases in which the links between ancestors, the newly-dead and the living are crucial are connected either with possible newcomers or successful households disputing over communal paramountcy. Perhaps, it is not a coincidence that life on the tell has ceased after two (or three) more settlement occupations. The presence of Anatolian imports (AFig.5.1.19c) provides one possible reason for such social tension. Imported objects were brought on the tell either by locals, who thereby gained in status, or by newcomers, whose social distance was a threat to the community. Long-distance specialists/traders who have gained not so much wealth but rather power, specific knowledge and skills may have disputed the paramountcy of the local leader or vice versa – the local leader may have disputed the traders’ abilities and power. The Anatolian interaction was claimed to begin in the tenth BA horizon, and hence may well have triggered social interaction visible in the intensification in structured deposition (Table 5.1.6).

The sites from the three microregions provide evidence for similar social practices through time and space and suggest a long-lasting, dynamic process of social transformation.

The contacts

There are at least four groups of objects defined as such in accordance of their way of coming onto the sites.

The first group contains objects that have come to the sites as a result of hunting, gathering, mining and raw material production. During all of these activities, people have been in constant contact with other people, either in the form of support and co-operative labour or in the form of competition and rivalry. Such interactions have motivated different types of social behaviour (e.g. the trophy display at Gudgova tell) and constitute the basic form of contact - everyday contact.

The second group of objects contains features and things that could be considered as local but which were commonly found over areas much larger than the study area. This is the suite of similar pottery, tools assemblages, ritual objects, etc., in other words, the elements of an "archaeological culture". These similarities in material culture represent, in the terms of the present study, a dynamic social network, in which biological reproduction was dependent on exogamous marriages and for whose successful social reproduction a coherent communication code was vital. The similarity of basic tools shows a shared knowledge of resources, production technologies and skills. It also betokens exchange and transmission of innovations and traditions in time and space, which are only possible in a society with mutual interests in self-sustaining development and successful reproduction. The establishment and (re-)negotiation of social order was made through the total variety of material culture and the contacts between sites within the breeding network were crucial for maintaining the uniformity of this communication means. Resistance to traditions and accepted aspects of the habitus is expressed through major changes in material culture.

The next group of objects, which is the group of similar widespread objects of non-local origin distributed among most of the sites, consists of two main types of artefacts – Spondylus ornaments and lithic tools – both of which were found in a quantity and frequency suggesting regular trading activity. More conclusive evidence is available for the flint tools made from the so-called honey-coloured flint, originating from areas in North East Bulgaria beyond the Stara Planina Mountains (Fig.1.1.1). The latter is not very high but rather wide, covering 50 – 60 km from the start of the Southern foothills to the end of the Northern foothills. The South – North crossing is possible mainly in the summer but cannot easily be crossed even with the current developed network of routes. Long-lasting and recurrent contacts across the mountains between people near the flint sources in North Bulgaria and the Bronze Age communities of the Thracian plain are documented by the discovery of finished tools from north Bulgarian sources at other settlements, such as Ezero (Georgiev et al. 1979). Whether the extraction of raw material, the production of tools and their subsequent distribution was a co-ordinated process is difficult to infer from the present state of investigation. It is also not possible to ascertain whether finished or semi-prepared products were distributed. What is obvious, however, is that flint extraction and production was not a daily activity and, if it was practiced by individuals from each Bronze Age site in the Thracian plain, all of them should have had a specific logistic knowledge as well as specific flint production knowledge. I would suggest that the movement was in the opposite direction and long-distance specialists from areas North of Stara Planina were trading or exchanging finished tools and/or blanks in the Thracian plain.

The same general pattern of distribution is probably valid for the Spondylus ornaments as well. Whether they were from the Black Sea (Todorova 1995, 2002) or from the Mediterranean Sea (Séfériades 1995) and whether they were transported as shells or ready ornaments is still not certain. There is some evidence for possible Spondylus working at one of the tells in North East Bulgaria but the results of the excavations are not published and proper analyses have not yet been completed1[1]. However, the Spondylus shell is not a local resource in the study area and was probably traded by long-distance specialists.

In the present state of research priorities and the types of evidence available in Bulgaria and in the study area, it is difficult to suggest whether there was a widespread exchange equivalent (e.g. type of currency). It is also hard to define what was traded in return for the flints and Spondylus.

Finally, there were either exotic objects or single objects of distant origin. This group of objects includes the obsidian blade in Grave 1 in Gonova mogila, the glaucophane axe from Gudgova tell, the small cup in the child burial in Kajrjaka and several other items. These special objects represent the essence of the link between people and object, people and people and people and places. If these exotic objects were personal belongings that came into the study region with their owner, they most probably were kept as a symbol of the people and places from which the newcomer arrived. This specific message of an object evoking images of people and places is reinforced in the case of possible exchange. In such a case, in addition to the personal biography of the object – having a specific value of its own - another important link is made through the personal enchainment between the person/s who brought the object and the person/s who accepted the object.

These four types of contacts - local, regional, middle-distance and long-distance reveal complex and dynamic links between people, places and objects. The similarity of practices and the trends in contacts a) across the study region, and b) within the single site sequence marks strong evidence for long-lasting and intensive local networks, regularly complemented by the extension of these social networks into long-distance exchange and procurement.

8.1.2 The differences

Social practices

There are two main differences between the Drama microregion on the one hand and the Sokolitsa and Ovcharitsa microregions from the other. The first difference is the very week pattern of accumulation in the Maritsa Iztok study area. By contrast, on the Merdzumekja tell in Drama, house 244 from the Karanovo VI period, with its more than 200 vessels, 40 flint tools and other special finds is a typical example of accumulation. The second important difference is the lack of barrows and any other burial evidence in Drama microregion (except for the MBA grave at Kajrjaka), in contrast to the abundance of mounds in the other two study regions. These differences are due to specific responses that communities in the study microregions have offered to potentially unsettling increases in social differentiation.

The appearance of the barrows should be envisaged in the context of social tensions at the end of the LCA, that have led to the abandonment of the settlements in the study area and to the emergence of entirely new forms of arenas of social power.

The barrows are generally dated to the BA and as the analyses have shown there are some differences in the deposition patterns between the EBA and LBA. The biggest difference is that, in the LBA, the practice of founding new barrows was not very popular (only one new barrow was created during this period) and, instead, the old barrows were re-used alongside the emergence of flat cemeteries. However, it should be pointed out that there is clear spatial continuity that includes LBA re-use of not only barrows but also flat cemeteries located in places with EBA structured deposition. The other difference is that grave good deposition was more common for the LBA burials than for the EBA burials. And finally, red ochre deposition is rare during the LBA in contrast to the EBA, when its deposition is common. These differences could be explained by the development of a common understanding of the display of the mortuary set, that differs from the specific meaning of the burial deposition in the preceding EBA. Such differences may be rooted in the different ways through which people have tried to negotiate similar social issues: during the LBA, the legitimising in the region was performed by burying into existing mounds, rather than by creating new barrows - the preferred practice for a certain period of time during the EBA.

However, it was possible to identify some general patterns of deposition among all the barrows. Although it is not always specified, there are two forms of burial of the body – in pits and on the surface - underlining two different ways of linking the newly-dead with the ancestral place. Of the very few metal objects found in the study area, the majority derives from the mortuary context and represent mainly gold and silver ornaments (e.g. Tcherniova mogila, Kamenna mogila, MIBC3, etc). This is an indication of the developing process of accumulation, in which the display of precious objects is an important means of status negotiation. The reasons for the rarity of copper and bronze grave goods are still unclear. Apart from accumulation, the other social practices documented on the settlements (fragmentation, structured deposition and use of fire) were practised in the mortuary arena as well. Sherds were found in the graves and in the memorial features (trizna). It is possible that the matching parts of the vessels were kept at the settlements but, so far, no such re-fitting investigation has been conducted. The graves themselves are a form of structured deposition, as are the pit deposition in some barrows (e.g., Tcherniova mogila) and the pottery scatters found in the mounds (e.g., Barrow Four). The use of fire in the barrows is documented by the presence of hearths (e.g. MIBC2), bonfires (e.g. Goliamata mogila) and ashes with charcoal (e.g. Ovchartsi barrow). This is important evidence for overall continuity of social practices between the domestic domain of an earlier period (the LCA) and the mortuary domain of a later period (the EBA) and is rarely found in any other part of the Balkans. This pattern of complex similarity is reinforced by the similar ways in which the barrows and the tells grew from smaller, lower monuments to fully-formed, broad and high landscape features. The clearest mortuary example is at Goliamata mogila, where a complex pattern of combined vertical and horizontal growth is found – readily comparable to the way in which tells grow.

A relatively clearer pattern of site development through four different types of deposition (in pits or on the surface, with or without a mound) can be observed in barrows with more than ten graves (Goliamata and Manchova mogili). At the same time, these large barrows do not contain many special finds in comparison to certain other, smaller barrows, such as exotic objects in the graves, feasting or memorial features. On the contrary, the majority of the other barrows that contain up to six graves present different combinations of special features: e.g. in Tcherniova mogila, all of the graves have organic covers. There arises the possibility that large, multi-interment barrows are an alternative to smaller barrows with special mortuary practices or exotic grave goods. The combined evidence from the mortuary domain in Maritsa Iztok represents a dynamic form of interrelation between a specific and a general pattern of deposition. This may indicate the tensions between local kinship group identities and wider regional identities.

There can be a great diversity of deposition patterns within each barrow (e.g., in MIBC3, one of the graves has no grave goods and red ochre, while the other contain red ochre, five vessels and a silver pendant) as well as diversity between all the barrows. Such diversity should be seen in the context of the diverse social and political backgrounds of the mourners celebrating the death of a relative or kinsperson. Apart from being a personal act of devotion, a burial is also an important social act, since the community has lost a member. In such a joint personal and communal act, the reinforcement of such a rite of passage may raise many social issues (e.g., by an old rival or a grateful son, etc.), which ultimately affected the specific practice of deposition. Thus, a commonly agreed standard is followed (e.g. in pit, crouched on left side, with red ochre or any other combination) but, at the same time, a specific (personal) contribution to the deposition may have been made as well (e.g. the covering of the body with pebbles, the offering of a gold pendant or the deposition of ash and charcoal as a memorial rite)

An important additional factor in mortuary practice is the landscape position of the mound. Thus, for example, the two graves in MIBC2 have no grave goods and only one of them has red ochre. But the latter is the only one in the cemetery that has a panoramic view over the Sokolitsa valley and can, conversely, be seen widely from there. Therefore, I would suggest that this a symbolic link between the people buried in the barrow, the people at the funeral and the living who either pass through or live in the Sokolitsa valley. The barrow acts as a visual focus for a potentially long-lasting cultural memory, just as the burial rite itself is a shorter-term focus for the whole community, perhaps symbolized for distant kin by the form of the barrow, and, at the same time, a vital source of memorialisation for close kin. Furthermore, Barrow four and Kurdova mogila, whose graves, as a general pattern, do not contain grave goods and red ochre, are in a special spatial location, which is equally accessible from the two valleys. This is the first time in which equal accessibility from the Sokolitsa and the Ovcharitsa is attested, after a period when the microregion was a zone dominated mainly by barrows. Finally, the same specific barrow location is valid for the Ovchartsi barrow, where recent (summer 2002) unpublished investigations have revealed 15 burials dated to the MBA/LBA (S. Alexandrov, pers. comm.). Therefore, the change from a time in which barrows were the sites with easiest access to a period when there was equal access to the sites from both main valleys was an important development, which can be dated towards the middle and end of the BA.

The specific location of Kurdova mogila is probably related to the collective burial which it contained. There are two possibilities: either the spatial link created by the barrow location is symbolically reinforced by the link between the large number of people buried together or the converse. Perhaps there was a direct relationship between the size of the buried group and the size of the territory readily accessible from the barrow.

Another collective burial lies within MIBC barrow 1 - the only one in the barrow with grave goods but which lacks the pebbles found in the other two graves. The other collective burials are at Goliamata mogila, where there are four pairs. These double burials should be seen in relation to the overall specific depositional pattern at the barrow. The two pairs containing babies are buried in the sterile soil, while the other two are set within the body of the mound. The significance of these two particular collective burials is reinforced by the presence of stelae above one of the babies’ graves and the deposition of ten vessels and an awl in the woman-and-child’s burial. Both depositional patterns are unique in the study area and indicate local kinship patterns of identity.

The last of the collective burials occurs in the LBA cemetery of Polski Gradets. As previously mentioned (p.248-249), the primary data is insufficient for a conclusive interpretation. However, it is sure that collective burial was not a novelty in the region and its appearance at the Polski Gradets pit site should not be envisaged as an exceptional pattern of deposition – rather, a return to ancestral practices which linked the present to the past.

Last but not least is the evidence for an ancestor cult observed in at least three cases – the missing skulls in Aldinova mogila and Grave 27 from Kajrjaka, the missing mandible at the Polski Gradets pit site and the missing hands from the burial in MIBC2. Buchvarov (1999) has summarised the Early Neolithic evidence for missing body parts, including the secondary deposition of mandibles, for the whole of the Balkans. He concluded that this was a deliberate practice aiming at underlining the high status of the deceased. On the basis of evidence from the study area, I should develop further the argument that not only the mandible but also other human bones were taken from the decayed body and were deliberately kept among the living as one of the forms of maintaining relations with the ancestors - another practice which the barrow mortuary zone shared with the domestic arena. I would also claim that such a practice did not stop at the end of the Neolithic but rather developed and continued during the BA, thus confirming the significance of the ancestors’ cult through time – a fact already observed in the settlement arena.

Burial practices in the study area show a tension between the past habitus and what new or divergent social practices were possible in the present. Resistance to past practices may have been effected in the name of different personal or group identities, or through emphasis on new rituals, as a choice of moving away from the past which grounded those communities. Continuity of an ancient habitus linked those communities to the ancestors, with all of the social power created and delivered by such links. What is particularly striking in the study region is the transposition of a wide range of social practices from one social arena – the domestic – in the LCA to a new arena – the mortuary zone – in the EBA. If continuity in basic aspects of the habitus is an indication of strong social continuity through time (cf. Frankel 2000), these elements of continuity at a period of crucial transition in the Balkans are highlighted in a clearer way than in any other microregion in this part of Europe.

The contacts

The lack of formal places for burial disposal in Drama suggests that social tensions in the region were negotiated by using different means. Given the present condition of the data, there are two possibilities that may have substituted for archaeologically visible burial practices. The first one concerns the idea that, insofar as there is no secure evidence for settlement activity during the BA, then the Kalnitsa study area was mainly used for structured deposition of exotic as well as quotidian objects. The second possibility is connected with the first one and concerns the deposition of exotic objects in quantity and variety not paralleled in the other two microregions. However, the second possibility can only be valid if what is published so far from Drama microregion as local BA material reflects the real balance or quantity of finds deposited there. What appears to have occurred is a rejection of a new development in the monumentalisation of the local landscape, in a way which seeks to compete with, or undermine, the ancestral values of those living on tells. The other side of the coin is that this resistance to innovations amounts to maintenance of traditional cultural values in the Kalnitsa valley.

8.2 Landscapes and settlement patterns

8.2.1 Location

The pattern of site location in the study area shows a clear spatial/chronological division. The first human occupation is along the South valley of the Sokolitsa river and such evidence is sparse to the North valley in the Ovcharitsa river. The intensive inhabitation of the Ovcharitsa valley starts at the end of the CA and, in the following 2000 years, is densely settled by numerous barrows, one enclosure and one flat settlement. On the contrary, the Sokolitsa valley comprises mainly Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlements and formal deposition sites. The tell settlements are eventually re-settled towards the end of the EBA. One tell, one formal deposition site and a barrow cemetery are located in the interfluve (the two Polski Gradets sites and MIBC). The tell is first settled before the start of the BA, while the other two sites emerged during the BA. Therefore, there were exceptions to the prevailing pattern of valley occupation throughout the whole prehistoric site sequence in the study area. In the Drama basin, it is important to note the very small number of sites occupied during four millennia of later prehistory.

The differences in elevation of site locations are due to the landscape particularities and there is a tendency for barrows to be situated on prominent places or hills. The undulating environment favoured site locations in generally flat areas or at least areas with not more than 50 steep slopes. There are variations in the aspect, with some preferences to North West and South West.

An important result of the current study is that no constraining link has been identified between settlement location and local soil types. There are various combinations of types and amount of soils around the settlements, which suggests that the subsistence strategies and cultivation technologies practices by prehistoric communities in the study area were flexible and not dependent on a single environmental factor. The most extreme example in this sense is the Polski Gradets tell, which lacks meadow soil up to one km from the site and beyond that point the amount of meadow soil is not sufficient for cultivation. Such a pattern has two important implications. First, smolnitsa and cinnomonic forest soil were suitable as arable soils in both the Copper Age and the Bronze Age and meadow soil was not a prerequisite for cultivation. Secondly, the choice of site location is not predefined by certain environmental variables but is a complex decision based on both social priorities and environmental availabilities. In the present devastated state of the environment in the Maritsa Iztok study area, it is difficult to draw some general conclusions of soil distribution around the sites. However, the available data suggests that, during the Neolithic, the sites are located in areas with both a zonal type of soil distribution (e.g. Klisselika tell) and a patchy type of soil distribution (e.g. Obrutchishte flat site). During the LCA, a tendency is observed towards the zonal type of soil distribution, in this case dominated by meadow soil. During the BA, the tell occupant re-used both patchy and zonal soil distributions, while the new settlers occupied areas that probably had a zonal type of distribution.

There was no hindrance to prehistoric subsistence practices in the study regions from impenetrable forests. The later prehistoric vegetation most probably consisted of mixed decidious woods, which were gradually cut down. The main species were oak and hornbeam, associated with lime, elm and sporadic beech stands. The wet areas favoured the development of moisture-tolerant species such as maple, willow and poplar. Herb and bush communities were also widespread as under-brush. The decrease of forest cover is more obvious at the time of the Bronze Age but the lack of evidence for severe erosion damage in any of the study regions suggest that the forest clearance was a slowly developing, long-lasting process beginning in the Neolithic. In addition, some of the weed species (e.g. sorrel, fat hen, etc.) distributed in the study area are generally connected with human impact. The range of cultivated plants is typical for temperate climatic conditions – several types of wheat and barley, minor distribution of other cereals such as millet and the common occurrence of legumes and weeds, as well as some fruits and nuts. This low-level human impact on local forests is consistent with the population sizes inferred for the tell settlements and also with their associated small-scale subsistence practices.

8.2.2 Logistics

Cost surface analyses have provided important information about the relative distance between sites and produced a general pattern of inter-accessibility, in which easy and rapid access hardly became an issue even in the BA. This is mainly due to the predominant settlement pattern – more dispersed in the Neolithic and the CA, more clustered in the BA. The differences in site densities may have affected the actual time and efforts to reach particular points in the landscape but they have not affected the route tracks used to reach the same particular point.

Logistical network analyses of all the sites have shown a high degree of repetition. The two main routes were along the valleys of the rivers Sokolitsa and Ovcharitsa, which dominated each logistical network. Apart from these main, or permanent, routes, there were small routes between the sites that, depending on the frequency of their appearance in logistical networks, may be divided into primary and secondary routes – the former from the main valleys towards a group of sites, the latter the final paths to individual sites.

There are at least two cases (Goliamata mogila to Iskritsa dwelling site/Iskritsa pit site to Goliamata mogila. and Polski Gradets tell to the adjacent Klisselika and Gudgova tells) in which there are alternatives routes between pairs of sites, suggesting that journeys with different aims may have been undertaken via different paths, i.e. the possibility of round trips.

The permanent routes, the primary and secondary routes and the possibility of round trips are conclusive evidence for the existence of a developed route network. Some of the sites have emerged along already existing routes that connected earlier sites – e.g., all the sites in the Sokolitsa valley are later (i.e., Copper/Bronze Age) than the Neolithic sites on the original Mednikarovo-Klisselika Neolithic route.

Whether or not such paths have existed or have been in use is difficult to claim with certainty. However, the high level of repetition of the tracks is a strong argument that such paths have existed. The use of each particular path by any old and /or new inhabitants of the landscape was probably not decided upon immediately or on a permanent basis but, while walking through the landscape, people have experienced the efforts, time and visibility in reaching certain parts of their own surroundings and have (re)-discovered the paths most relevant to their own communication needs. These paths highlight the social factors of site connections – the people whom walkers would have met on their way or avoided, as much as the views which would have been available or not. Following traditional routes would have led to repeated social encounters, which maintained wider social relations through practices such as enchainment.

8.2.3 Visibility

The viewshed analyses from single sites (summarized in Table 8.2.1) have confirmed that visibility, and therefore also invisibility, were both important factors in site location and site inter-relations. The aim of the present section is to establish the background visibility pattern valid for the Maritsa Iztok area.

Cumulative viewsheds from the sites

As stated above (p.96-97), a cumulative viewshed analysis was performed that united each individual viewshed (n=28) in one common visibility grid. It was used to investigate both the landscape visibility from sites and site intervisibility. The landscape part of the analysis revealed that there is no point in the landscape that is seen from all the sites but rather that as much as 36% of the Maritsa Iztok area is not visible from any of the sites (Table 8.2.2). The maximum number of sites that share visibility over one and the same area is 14 (50%). They see just one out of 22,186 cells in the elevation/visibility grid. This is the hilly area lying between the two Polski Gradets sites. Thirteen sites can see 8 cells and so on in descending order, as shown in the attribute table and legend of the cumulative viewshed of all the sites (CDFig.502). In percentage terms, the figures are as shown on Table 8.2.1. The percentage of common visible areas, from 9 sites upwards up to 14, is less than 1% and it is not included in the table.

Table 8.2.2 Percentage of visible area from the sites
Number of sites 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
% of visible area 2 36 22 14 10 6 4 3.5 2 1.4

This means that the biggest proportion of the landscape seen from any one site is 22% and only one site has such a high visibility.

The results of both type of visibility – intervisibility between contemporary sites and one-way visibility from later to earlier sites are summarized in Fig. 8.2.1. They show that, during the ECA, there was complete site intervisibility (100%), while, during all later periods, the intervisibility between sites was equal to, or less than, 23%. The lowest percentage intervisibility - just 8% - relates to EBA settlements and EBA barrows, in contrast to barrow-to-barrow intervisibility, which reaches a relatively high 19%.

One-way visibility never reached more than 20% of all the sites in any period. From the Late Neolithic up to the LCA, the visibility varies between 14 -19%. A similar percentage for one-way visibility of earlier sites (18%) is valid for EBA settlements, while the EBA barrows have a very low one-way visibility of earlier sites – just 5%.

In summary, the single or shared visibility from the sites over the landscape does not exceed 25% of the whole study area and generally the sites have local, rather than long-distance, landscape visibility.

The pattern of individual site visibility is more dynamic and. Apart from the ECA cases, from all sites in all periods, not more than 1/5 of earlier sites are visible/intervisible from contemporary sites. The visibility factor was most important during the CA, when the percentage of both intervisibility with contemporary sites and visibility to earlier sites was the highest. In contrary, the least visibility over both earlier sites and contemporary settlements characterised barrow location in the EBA.

Fig. 8.2.1 (a) site intervisibility by period; (b) one-way visibility of earlier from later sites, by period

Random point visibility

As stated above (p.96-97), four cumulative viewsheds were taken from a series of random points. Interestingly, the cumulative viewshed from the actual site location shares similar patterns of landscape visibility. The areas most visible from the random points are, in general, also the areas most visible from the sites as well. Therefore, as a whole, site location has not been significantly affected by overall landscape visibility.

No sites are located in the most visible places as shown in the four different sets of random points. For the sake of simplicity and comparability of results, comments are made on the 1000-point random-point viewshed. In the cumulative viewshed conducted for 1000 random points in the landscape, the sites are located in areas less than 20% visible from the random points. This may be interpreted as a pattern in which the sites were located in regions with generally not very good inward visibility. However, the maximum percentage of the visible area from the same 1,000 points is 37%, which means that at least three sites (Goliamata, Manchova and Ovchartsi barrow) are located in an area with relatively high landscape visibility in the context of all possible visible areas in the study region. The largest number of sites, however, falls in area with a relatively low visibility. The visibility of the areas in which the sites are located is given on CDFigs.503-506 and summarized in Table 8.2.3:

Table 8.2.3 Relative visibility of sites from a 1,000 random-point viewshed analysis
Percentage of visible landscape area from 1000 random points Sites located in the same area
0.1 - 3.7 KMBC, Mednikarovo, MIBC1, 3 and 4, Polski Gradets pit site, Ovcharitsa II, Barrow4
3.8 – 7.4 Galabovo tell, Atanasivanova mogila, Iskritsa dwelling site, Klisselika tell, Gudgova tell, Ovcharitsa I, Goliama Detelina flat site, Aldinova, Tcherniova and Taniokoleva barrows
7.5 – 11.1 Obrutchishte, Iskritsa pit site, MIBC2, Polski Gradets tell, Gonova, Malkata and Kurdova barrows
11.2 – 14.8 Goliamata and Manchova barrows
14.9 – 18.5 Ovchartsi barrow

Visibility from paths

The general landscape visibility follows a pattern in which the Southern sites have a panorama over the Southern valley, while the Northern sites can mainly see the Northern valley. This is due to the landscape particularities of the study area and the pattern can be broken down only while walking across the region. It is worth noting that this visual separation could, if desired, be emphasised in a strategy of creating two different cultural worlds, each separate from, or opposed to, the people in the Other world. However, the relatively low static site and landscape visibility is compensated by a very high and repetitive visibility from paths between sites. This is especially valid for the barrows, whose location may have been a result of recurrent journeys during which visible places were spotted for the subsequent location of mortuary sites.

The sequence of landscape and site visibility changes with changing direction of destination (cf. Tilley 1994). Although, for example, the same general areas are visible from the path Galabovo –Iskritsa and Iskritsa – Galabovo, the perception is different while moving from East to West and from West to East. It is likely that these different perception views were structured in a landscape narrative and some specific and important places were monumentalised by site location. The Iskritsa site and MIBC have indicated that there was controlled visibility from some of the paths to the four barrows and to the two parts of the Iskritsa site. Therefore, it is possible that the monuments were constructed by following a specific pattern of access visibility, which should be repeated again and again in each journey to and from a site.

Landscape perception and shifts in static and dynamic visibility were important structuring elements in the inhabitation of the landscape. The silhouettes of tells, houses and barrows most probably were incorporated in a consistent and flexible landscape narrative, constructed and (re)conceptalized by the human dwellers.


The current research was conducted according to some aspects of the contemporary theoretical and methodological framework of British archaeology. It has benefited from the British archaeological traditions of microregional studies and material culture studies, as well as from the insights gained from discourses in social and landscape archaeologies. A contribution to the general methodological diversification in archaeology was made by a vindication of Site Catchment Analysis (SCA) and by the joint application of GIS studies in both landscape and environment.

SCA had lost its analytical potential because a false opposition between the social and the economic was created by the dominant post-processual interpretative fashion in British archaeology in the last two decades. I maintain that SCA is an important method of any settlement pattern study, in which the balance between the number of factors that have constrained and structured the life of the community in consideration is very important.

The GIS technique provides new tools for SCA, which in addition enables the integration of both landscape and environmental analysis, resulting in a multi-faceted reconstruction of the link between the people and their surroundings.

The introduction of the concepts of landscape archaeology and social practices has enabled the recognition of the crucial links between the identity of people, places and objects. The identification of a set of social practices has integrated the Bulgarian evidence in a broader context of human development. It also has contributed to the radical re-interpretation of most of the current explanations of the evidence at the study area.

The majority of these re-interpretations are build upon the existing hypothesis and observations of Bulgarian archaeologists, which, however, were not developed to their full explanatory potential. Such a failure is mainly due to the lack of a sophisticated interpretative framework in Bulgarian archaeology, in which theory, evidence and explanation are integrated in a coherent narrative. In this sense, I believe that the current research has made a breakthrough in filling the interpretative vacuum in Bulgarian archaeology.

The main results of the study can be summarized in three major points.

The reconstruction of past landscapes in the three microregions, together with the reconciled concepts of landscape and environment, have facilitated the reconstruction of past settlement patterns, resource potential and inter-site transport networks in each of the three microregions.

The second major achievement is that, through the evaluation and re-interpretation of site evidence for all settlements and burials, it was possible to make a comparative interpretation of diachronic changes in settlement, society, material culture and landscapes in the three microregions.

Last but not least, the cultural historical interpretative paradigm was challenged by suggesting alternative approaches, in which not the things (and indeed neither the people nor the places) were the major objects of study but rather the mutual dependence and interrelation between these three main components of identity. 

Suggestions for future research 

There are three main directions in which the current study could be developed. The first one is in the development of the social aspects of the study by the integration of more precise contextual data, especially from the poorly published sites (e.g. Ovcharitsa II). Contextual and intra-site analyses should provide evidence for social action, as well as structure, order and diversification through time, thus helping to outline the possible dynamic of social relations that have resulted in the above-documented social change and continuity.

The other major direction lies in taking GIS applications further, as one possible development is the investigation of the visibility from paths, in which the visibility from each segment of change of direction is going to be explored, in order to reconstruct a sequence of views (cf. Tilley 1994) that may have affected the social construction of the landscape. Another application is the extraction of natural pathways at Maritsa Iztok based on a site-free landscape, which involves a target-oriented cooperation with a mathematician and/or related IT specialist. This would give the opportunity to compare the actual and the natural paths and to shed some light on the site location in respect of movement prior to site dwelling.

Finally, in case of any new field investigations, samples for 14-C dating should be taken from both domestic and burial domains in order to justify the relative chronology of the sites. A programme of AMS radiocarbon dating and isotopic dietary analyses of the burials from tells and barrows would provide important new information about changes between the copper Age and Bronze Age.

  1. The Spondylus – ornaments and debris – and the working tools are in display at Omurtag Historical Museum.↩︎

  2. the figures are rounded, rather than exact, values↩︎