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 Location: South-eastern Europe, Centred on Serbia.  Grid Reference: (Vinca): 44° 49' N. 20° 28' E.

 

      The Vinča Culture: ('Old Europe').

The Vinča culture, also known as Turdaș culture or Turdaș-Vinča culture, is the oldest Neolithic culture in South-eastern Europe, dated to the period 5,500–4,500 BC. (2)

In 1908, the largest prehistoric Neolithic settlement in Europe was discovered in the village of Vinca, just a few miles from the Serbian capital Belgrade, on the shores of the Danube. Vinca was excavated between 1918 and 1934 and was revealed as a civilisation in its own right. Indeed, as early as the 6th millennium BC, three millennia before Dynastic Egypt, the Vinca culture was already a fully fledged civilisation. A typical town consisted of houses with complex architectural layouts and several rooms, built of wood that was covered in mud. The houses sat along streets, thus making Vinca the first urban settlement in Europe, but being far older than the cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt. And the town of Vinca itself was just one of several metropolises, with others at Divostin, Potporanj, Selevac, Plocnik and Predionica.

Archaeologists concluded that “in the 5th and early 4th millennia BC, just before its demise in east-central Europe, 'Old Europeans' had towns with a considerable concentration of population, temples several stories high, a sacred script, spacious houses of four or five rooms, professional ceramicists, weavers, copper and gold metallurgists, and other artisans producing a range of sophisticated goods. A flourishing network of trade routes existed that circulated items such as obsidian, shells, marble, copper, and salt over hundreds of kilometres.”

 

   The Vinča Culture: ('Turdas-Vinca')

The Vinca culture flourished from 5,500 (2) to 3,500 BC (4) on the territories of what is now Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Macedonia. It got its name from the present-day village of Vinca, 10 km east of Belgrade on the Danube river, where over 150 Vinca settlements have been determined. There is no evidence of war or defences in the townships, and it appears that the Vinca were a peaceful society combining low-level agriculture with foraging and trade. They produced the first known European examples of a 'proto'-script and were the first people in the world known to smelt copper. They existed in a similar state for almost 2,000 years, following which they appear to have dispersed around the Mediterranean and Aegean.

Vinča settlements were considerably larger than any other contemporary European culture, in some instances surpassing the cities of the Aegean and early Near Eastern Bronze Age a millennium later. The largest sites, some more than 300,000 square metres may have been home to up to 2,500 people. (2) We are told that they lived in spacious housing and separated their dead in nearby necropolis. They had workshops, which  means skilled labour. They worked with several styles of pottery and had their own particular artistic fingerprint which is seen in both early Cretan and Sumerian cultures, which rose following the demise of the 'Old Europe' heartland.

 

The First European Metallurgists:

Copper working had been in progress in nearby Anatolia (Turkey), for well over 1,000 years before it appeared in Europe (5). One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists therefore, was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe. "This might prove that the Copper Age started in Europe at least 500 years earlier than we thought,". The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal, with copper tools used alongside older stone implements. It is thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in south-east Europe, and earlier in the Middle East.

The discovery of a mine - Europe's oldest - at the nearby Mlava river suggested at the time that Vinca could be Europe's first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Plocnik site. "These latest findings show that the Vinca culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture," said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar of Serbia's National Museum. "They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools."

The metal workshop in Plocnik was a room of some 25 square meters, with walls built out of wood coated with clay. The furnace, built on the outside of the room, featured earthen pipe-like air vents with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a prototype chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire and smoke comes out safely. He said the early metal workers very likely experimented with colourful minerals that caught their eye -- blue azurite, bright green malachite and red cuprite, all containing copper -- as evidenced by malachite traces found on the inside of a pot.

The settlement was destroyed at some point, probably in the first part of the fifth millennium, by a huge fire. (1)

(Prehistoric Metallurgy)

(Prehistoric Mining)

 

The First European Writing:

Various styles of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines are hallmarks of the culture, as are the Vinča symbols, which some conjecture to be an early form of proto-writing

The Tărtăria tablets (below) refers to a group of three tablets, discovered in 1961 by archaeologist Nicolae Vlassa at a Neolithic site in the village of Tărtăria (about 30 km (19 mi) from Alba Iulia), in Romania. Two of the tablets are rectangular and the third is round. They are all small, the round one being only 6 cm (2˝ in) across, and two  - one round and one rectangular - have holes drilled through them. All three have symbols inscribed only on one face

The tablets, dated to around 5,300 BC (2), bear incised symbols - the Vinča symbols - and have been the subject of considerable controversy among archaeologists, some of whom claim that the symbols represent the earliest known form of writing in the world. subsequent radiocarbon dating on the Tărtăria finds pushed the date of the tablets (and therefore of the whole Vinča culture) much further back, to as long ago as 5,500 BC, the time of the early Eridu phase of the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. This finding has reversed our concept of the origin of writing, and it is now believed that the Sumerians inherited a Vinca tradition of 'magical' or 'meaningful' scripture, probably following the collapse of the Vinca homeland c. 3,500 BC.

 

Similar motifs (above) have been found on pots excavated at Gradeshnitsa in Bulgaria, Vinča in Serbia and a number of other locations in the southern Balkans. (2)

 

Full list of Vincan Symbols.

(More about the Origins of Writing)

 

Article: (June 13, 2008): 'Europe’s Oldest Script Found in Bulgaria', 18 May 2005.

'Ancient tablets found in South Bulgaria are written in the oldest European script found ever, German scientists say. The tablets, unearthed near the Southern town of Kardzhali, are nearly 7,000 years old, and bear the ancient script of the Cretan (Minoan) civilization, according to scientists from the University of Heidelberg, who examined the foundings. This is the Cretan writing, also known as Linear A script, which dates back to XV-XIV century B.C. The discovery proves the theory of the Bulgarian archaeologists that the script on the foundings is one of the oldest known to humankind, the archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov announced Wednesday. Ovcharov, who is heading the archaeological expedition in the ancient Perperikon complex near Kardzhali, called the discovery “revolutionary”. It throws a completely different light on Bulgaria’s history, he said in an interview for the National Television'. (3)

 

Vinca Art:

Recent excavations at sites across Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization, the Vinca culture, point to a great degree of sophistication and a taste for art and fashion, archaeologists say. "According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today's girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms," said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic. The Vinca tribe who lived between 5,400 and 4,700 BC in the 120-hectare site at what is now Plocnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy.

"They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment," said Kuzmanovic. The findings suggest an advanced division of labour and organization. Houses had stoves, there were special holes for trash, and the dead were buried in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woollen mats and fur, made clothes of wool, flax and leather and kept animals.

The community was especially fond of children. Artefacts include toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small, clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime. (1)

 

Similarities to Other Cultures.

What we have then is the record of a civilisation that flourished in Europe between 6,000 and 3,500 BC and which appears to have enjoyed a long period of uninterrupted and peaceful living. The 'Old European' Vinca pottery, artefacts and writing all show an immediately noticeable similarity to what was originally thought to be an earlier Ubaid Sumerian influence from the middle east. In addition, the Cycladian/Cretan cultures are suspected of having close close artistic and possibly religious connections with the Vinca. Both of these cultures appeared following the demise of the Old European Heartland, perhaps not so coincidentally, at the same time as several other important civilisations (Egyptian, Indus Valley, Western European, Maltese Etc) appeared in the prehistoric record.

(Map of distribution and styles of Vinca pottery)

The Vinca pottery (above) is almost indistinguishable from Ubaid Sumerian.

Several eminent archaeologists of the time (such as Childe, Hood, Vlassa, Maccay), were convinced that the Vinca had somehow been influenced or 'cradled into being' by the mistaken belief at the time that the Sumerians were the 'Mother race'. However, much to everyone surprise, more recent discoveries of earlier Vinca settlements have shown quite clearly that events must have occurred the other way round as the Old European settlements, along with writing, pottery, metallurgy and 'Ubaid' style art, date to a thousand years before the first Sumerian fingerprint, suggesting remarkably that it was actually a Western European culture that influenced Sumerian development.

(More about the Sumerians)

 

The Vinca sculptures (above) show strong symbolic similarities to later Cretan 'Mother-Goddess' figurines and what might be the earliest representation of an 'Omphalos'.

Other similarities with cultures that followed the Vinca's demise have been noted such as the rise of the so-called Cycladic and Cretan cultures, where the new settlers arrived around 3,200 BC. with identical motifs such as the snake, intertwined with the bird goddess motif, the bee and the butterfly, with the distinctive motif of the double axe, are found both in 'Old Europe' and Crete. But the best evidence is in the writing of Old Europe and the 'Linear A' script of Crete, which are to all intents and purposes identical.

(More about Ancient Greece)
 

Gallery of Images: Vinca Culture.

 

Left: Double-headed figure from Gomolava-Hrtkovci, Serbia. Vinca-Plocnik Culture, Late Mesolithic (5th mill. BC). (Photo Credits: Carlos Mesa) Right: Double-Headed figure, Cayonu, Turkey. Anatolian Culture (6th Millennium BC).

 

Seated Vinca Figurines. (Right) Mother and Child.

 

(Prehistoric Metallurgy)     (Prehistoric Mining)

(The Sumerians)

(Prehistoric Greece)

(Prehistoric Turkey)

(Bosnian Pyramids)

 

References:

1). http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/11/12/us-archaeology-balkans-idUSL0782181520071112?sp=true
2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vin%C4%8Da_culture
3). http://www.romanianhistoryandculture.com/theeuropeancradle.htm
4). http://archaeology.about.com/od/vterms/g/vinca.htm
5). http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/middle_east/cayonu.html

 

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