A new micro-archaeological approach for understanding stages of sedentism in the Balkan Neolithization process

This pilot study aims for new insights into old questions about the origins and dispersal of Neolithic sedentism in the Balkans during the first farming horizon, which is associated with Starčevo. A multifaceted and multi-disciplinary approach summarised as ‘micro-archaeology’ can provide new primary data for interpreting recently excavated settlement remains and their use by early farming communities.

The Neolithic represents a crucial time of immense social, cultural, economic and environmental change in human history, as people move from Mesolithic hunter-gathers to Neolithic settled agricultural communities accompanied by new technological developments and material culture types. In the framework of the NEOTECH project, archaeological, theoretical and archaeometric analyses of lithic and ceramic cultural material at different scales are innovatively combined, crossing modern boundaries in terms of both methodology and physical geography.

Excavation at the Svinjarička Čuka site in the South Morava valley provided much needed new data and chronological resolution for investigating the Serbian early Neolithic. The NEOTECH project focuses on ceramic and lithic technology and raw materials from Svinjarička Čuka, examining these in relation to material excavated from other sites. These data are contextualised within the study of activity zones, domestic structures and pit deposits, alongside the investigation of human-environment interaction, which is reconstructed through geoarchaeological work to reconstruct the palaeo-environmental setting of Svinjarička Čuka and its environs. The fieldwork is conducted in cooperation with the Archaeological Institute in Belgrade and the local Museum of Leskovac. The range of methods in the project produce an innovative and sustainable data-set that can be used to test existing models about the Neolithisation process. It will also enable investigation of the relationship between areas on a broader scale, for example in comparison to the excavated house-based societies in western Anatolia and in the northern Aegean.

However, during data processing the need to further investigate use and function of one settlement feature named as ‘Starčevo hut’ in a holistic and multidisciplinary way arose. This pilot study aims to test the micro-archaeological approach to define different modes of living as summarised in the categories mobility, irregular temporary sedentism, regular semi-mobility and full sedentism by analysing settlement remains.

Therefore, the main questions to be tested in this pilot study are:

  • identification of presumable different activity zones, such as food production, inside/outside area, midden area, storage etc.
  • intensity of use through duration of occupation
  • indicators for regular temporary use, e.g. seasonality (semi-mobility)
  • indicators for irregular temporary use
  • indicators for fully sedentary use

These questions will be tackled in a collaboration of the Prehistory & WANA Archaeology department of the Austrian Archaeological Institute with the HEAS network/University of Vienna between archaeology (B. Horejs) and aDNA in sediments (R. Pinhasi) as well as chronological modelling (T. Higham).


Principal investigator


  • Laura Dietrich
  • Dragana Philipović (Kiel/Belgrade)
  • Jelena Bulatović
  • T. Schroedter (Kiel)
  • Ron Pinhasi (University Vienna, HEAS network)
  • Verena Schuenmann (University Vienna, HEAS network)
  • Tom Higham (University Vienna, HEAS network)