Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

Bronze Age Archaeology

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2013 at 4:31 pm
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By Julia Giblin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

The 2013 Bronze Age Körös Off-Tell Archaeology project (BAKOTA) field season ended in June…after six exciting weeks!

This summer I spent six weeks in eastern Hungary, excavating a Bronze Age cemetery with two Quinnipiac students (Lauren Tosti and Justine Tynan) and a large international team of researchers. We had a phenomenal team this season and found 39 graves!

The BAKOTA project is a collaborative archaeological research team that explores social organization, trade, and mobility during the Bronze Age of Eastern Hungary. The team, headed by Dr. Paul Duffy (University of Toronto) and Györgyi Parditka (National Centre for Cultural Heritage, Hungary), brings together specialists and students from around the world who are interesting in reconstructing various aspects of prehistoric human behavior.

Topics of study this season include:

  • Human osteology (the study of morphological characteristics of the human skeletal system – age, sex, pathologies, etc.)
  •  Isotope analysis (the analysis of the chemical composition of human and animal teeth and bones to reconstruct ancient dietary and mobility patterns)
  • Ancient DNA (the analysis of ancient DNA preserved in bone to explore population dynamics – i.e., gene flow, genetic drift)
  • Soil chemistry (the analysis of the chemical composition of soil samples to characterize activity areas, such as trash dumps, animal pens and/or funerary pyres)
  • Residue analysis (the identification and analysis of plant and animal residues preserved in ceramics)
  • Ceramic analysis (petrography: determining the type, quantity, and source of the materials used to make ceramics)
  • Photogrammetry (3-D modeling of graves)
  • Remote sensing (geophysical techniques used to identify anomalies in the soil such as grave pits or house structures)

To learn more about how the project got started check out Dr. Duffy’s webpage.

The focus of excavation this season was on a site called “Békés 103.” The Békés 103 site is located on farmland in southeastern Hungary that is used to grow crops like sunflower and corn. We happen to time our season just right to catch the blooming of the poppies (and various other wild flowers that line the roads and fields in Békés county).

Systematic walking surveys conducted by Hungarian archaeologists identified prehistoric material in the region several years ago; however, in 2004 modern agricultural activity (ploughing) started to pull large clusters of burnt human bone and ceramics to the surface indicating that this area was probably used as a cemetery. A majority of the ceramics identified on the surface were related to the Middle Bronze Age (called Gyulavarsánd) which spans a time period from 1,700 to 1,400 B.C. (so roughly 3,700 – 3,400 years ago). This time period is known for pottery that is decorated with knobs, channeling and spiral designs. Below is a small vessel that we found this season. It was buried next to a larger urn that was used to hold cremated human bone.

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This was an exciting discovery because there are currently no known cemeteries for the Middle Bronze Age for this region of southeastern Hungary (called the Körös region). The BAKOTA team decided that this would be an important site to explore regional variability in mortuary customs during the European Bronze Age. This work is also critical because this material is being destroyed by modern human activities. The Bronze Age time period in Europe, in general, is associated with advances in metallurgy techniques, complex trade networks and the first evidence for social inequalities; however, at the regional scale it is not clear how pervasive these themes really were.

In 2011, the BAKOTA project tested out the potential/preservation of the site using a variety of archaeological techniques, including systematic surface collection, remote sensing and test excavation. Six burials were discovered: five cremation urn burials and one inhumation.

This season, with financial support from the National Science Foundation, we returned and opened up two large areas (“blocks”) as well as several smaller blocks. I was in charge of Block 28 (fondly named “Mega Great Block 28”), an area that was 20 meters long and 4 meters wide. We decided to open up a large block in this area because data collected from the 2011 season (surface collection, remotes sensing and test excavations) indicated that there was a high density of cremation urn burials that were being destroyed by modern activity.

We started by systematically sampling from the “ploughzone” using shovel tests. The ploughzone is the top layer of soil that has been completely disturbed by modern agricultural activity. This layer includes a mixed combination of modern material (metal, plastic, bone, roof tiles, etc) as well as prehistoric artifacts (bone, ceramics, lithics, daub). So even though prehistoric material is found in this layer – the context has been destroyed.

We then removed the ploughzone using a bobcat. Directly underneath the ploughzone we identified several features. These included modern things like trenches/ditches (probably related to agricultural activity) as well as several cremation urn burials. We mapped, took photos and elevations for these features, and then started to excavate!

First we excavated the modern features that cut into the prehistoric cultural layer. You can see some of the parallel trenches in the picture at the beginning of this post. The plastic covers indicate possible burials that would be excavated after the modern features were removed.

Once the modern features had been excavated and documented, we started to excavate the cremation urn burials from the Middle Bronze Age. In general, these burials included a large ceramic vessel (an urn) that included burned human bone. Sometimes these urns were also buried with one or more small vessels.

Once the urns had been pedestalled, mapped, and photo’d they were carefully removed for micro-excavation and sampling in the lab.

This was a special year for me because it was the first time that I brought students with me to the field.

Lauren Tosti and Jusine Tynan were both students in my course “Dirt, Artifacts, and Ideas: Introduction to Archaeology” in the Fall 2012 semester. They were excellent students and expressed interest in archaeological research so I invited them to come to Hungary this summer to participate in the BAKOTA field season. During the Spring 2013 semester we prepared for the field season by meeting once a week in the Center for Anthropological Research at Quinnipiac to discuss readings related to European prehistory and mortuary analysis.

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Both Lauren (right) and Justine (left) received funding from Quinnipiac University to participate in this project. Lauren’s travel to Hungary was generously supported by QU’s Central European Institute. Justine’s research was supported by a Student Research Support Grant provided by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Lauren and Justine arrived in Hungary in May after the school year ended (and Lauren graduated – Yay!). They got right to work on excavation and various types of lab work. Everyone contributes to excavation, documentation, and lab work on a daily basis but Justine and Lauren also took on specific responsibilities that were crucial to the completion of the project.

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