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Tracing the beginnings of sedentary life in the Carpathian Basin. On the formation of the LBK house



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The first sedentary communities appeared in the early 6th millennium bc, with the
arrival of the Körös and Starčevo cultures in the southerly regions of the Carpathian
Basin. However, in the northern areas and in central Europe sedentary life can be
linked to the central European Linear Pottery culture (LBK), emerging around 5550
cal bc (Bánffy and Oross 2010, pp. 260–268). The LBK longhouse of the Neolithic
evolved south of the upper reaches of the Danube and spread to Austria, Moravia,
Bohemia, Poland and Germany in its fully developed form with the earliest LBK
It was earlier believed that longhouses had first been built in the western half of
central Europe because buildings of this type were scarcely known from the Car-
pathian Basin (Mithay 1966; Makkay 1970; Vadász 1971). This picture has changed
profoundly in the light of recent research. Firstly, the excavation of a settlement in
western Transdanubia has produced evidence for sedentary life and the formative
period of the earliest central European Neolithic house type (Bánffy 2000, 2004,
pp. 35–48), meaning that there we now have reliable data on the earliest LBK hous-
es (Stadler 1995, 1999, 2005; Stadler and Kotova 2010). Secondly, the large-scale
salvage excavations in the Balaton region and across Transdanubia have brought to
light the remains of several new settlement sites made up of 45–50 LBK houses ar-
ranged in regular rows (Bánffy and Oross 2009, 2010; Oross and Bánffy 2009; Oross
2004, 2010). The number of LBK houses in Transdanubia has increased tenfold,
with some 300 house plans known from roughly 40 LBK sites. The third advance in
this field of study was made in north-eastern Hungary, where similar longhouses of
the early Alföld LBK, dating from the Szatmár II phase, have been uncovered at the
meeting point of the Hungarian Plain and the mountain region (Domboróczki 1997,
2010b; Domboróczki et al. 2010; Domboróczki and Raczky 2010).
D. Hofmann, J. Smyth (eds.), Tracking the Neolithic House in Europe,
One World Archaeology, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-5289-8_6,
© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
Chapter 6
Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life
in the Carpathian Basin
The Formation of the LBK House
Eszter Bánffy
E. Bánffy ()
Institute of Archaeology, RCH, Hungarian Academy of Sciences,
Országház utca 30, 1014 Budapest, Hungary
According to our present knowledge, the LBK longhouse evolved in the Car-
pathian Basin, specifically in western Hungary. Here, I shall present the new evi-
dence from recently investigated Transdanubian early Neolithic sites on the emer-
gence and spread of LBK longhouses, and a series of arguments as to why I believe
that the cultural development of the early Alföld LBK, hallmarked by the Szatmár
II culture in the north-easterly areas of the Hungarian Plain, had little direct impact
on the spread of the LBK into central Europe. Still, one cannot claim that the late
Körös culture in the Hungarian Plain, the late Criş culture in north-eastern Hungary
and, evolving from the previous two, the Szatmár II culture in the Upper Tisza re-
gion played no role whatsoever in the spread of the LBK into central Europe and the
emergence of the LBK longhouse. We cannot reject the possibility that the origins
of the longhouse should be sought in a larger region incorporating the greater part
of the Carpathian Basin (Kalicz 2010; Whittle 2010b). It is no easy task to review
the beginnings of sedentary life at a time when new advances are made in Neolithic
studies virtually every day. In this chapter, I shall present the currently available
evidence (until late 2010), which strongly points to an origin in Transdanubia.
The archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record, as well as the radiocarbon
dates, indicate that similarly to the earliest sedentary civilisation of central Europe,
the central European longhouse had its origins in the Carpathian Basin. There is
plenty of evidence to support this claim. I have gathered the data substantiating
the claim that the birth of the longhouses can be dated to the late Starčevo period
and that the first genuine LBK longhouses appeared in southern Transdanubia, in
the Drava–Danube–Balaton triangle (Fig. 6.1). In the following, I shall review the
different elements that went into the making of the longhouse: the traditions of the
Early Neolithic immigrants from the Balkans and the elements possibly adopted
from the local forager population, alongside the traits whose origins are unclear at
present and, finally, a possible explanation for why this house type evolved in this
region before spreading across vast areas of Europe, where it survived in barely
changing form over several centuries.
Architecture of the Mid-6th Millennium
in the Carpathian Basin
Little can be said about the layout of the earliest LBK settlements. The single settle-
ment known from the formative LBK period, Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb, was
made up of two houses built 33m apart. Although the small hamlet comprising two
farmsteads built at some distance from each other corresponds to the early LBK
settlements in Germany (Boelicke et al. 1988, 1997), it is unclear to what extent this
settlement on the western fringes of the LBK distribution can be regarded as typical.
The Brunn IIa settlement near Vienna, whose date and finds compare well with the
assemblage from Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb, was made up of rows of close-
ly spaced houses. A similar layout characterised the slightly later, extensive LBK
E. Bánffy
settlements in Transdanubia dating from around 5350 cal bc. The thorough spatial
analysis of the settlements at Balatonszárszó–Kis erdei dűlő and Tolna–Mözs has
shed light on the sequence of house constructions in each row.
LBK houses appear to have been built according to consistent standards from the
very beginning, and these traits remained a constant feature of LBK architecture in
Europe, with only a few minor regional and diachronic variations.
The canonised traits of the LBK houses distributed from sites like Balatonszárszó
to for instance Schwanfeld in Germany already appear in Transdanubia. These were:
an alignment to the north (with the occasional minor deviation), a massive timber
framework of five rows of upright posts, a wattle-and-daub wall (combining wood
and clay), a pitched roof and the long pits ( Längsgruben) flanking the long walls.
Let us review the archaeological record on the buildings from the central Euro-
pean Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic in the Carpathian Basin in order to under-
stand why LBK houses evolved in this region.
Fig. 6.1 Main sites in the study area. 1 Regöly; 2 Kaposhomok; 3 Ecsegfalva; 4 Tiszajenö-
Szárazérpart; 5 Szajol; 6 Szolnok-Szanda; 7 Szakmár-Kisülés; 8 Fajsz-Garadomb; 9 Alsónyék;
10 Szentgyörgyvölgy-Pityerdomb; 11 Brunn/Gebirge; 12 Füzesabony-Gubakút; 13 Mezökövesd;
14 Balatonszárszó; 15 Dunakeszi; 16 Györ-Pápai vám; 17 Almásfüzitö-Foktorok; 18 Kóny; 19
Mosonszentmiklós; 20 Érd; 21 Törökbálint; 22 Biatorbágy; 23 Padina; 24 Vlasac; 25 Lepenski
Vir; 26 Hajdučka Vodenica; 27 Icoana; 28 Ostrovul Corbului; 29 Ostrovul Banului; 30 Cîrcea; 31
Cleanov-Fiera; 32 Schela Cladovei; 33 Porodin; 34 Smilčić; 35 Divostin; 36 Nosa; 37 Ludas; 38
Obrez; 39 Golokut; 40 Blagotin; 41 Zlatara
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
Mesolithic Prelude
The few known sites suggest that the Transdanubian Mesolithic differed little
from the cultural traditions elsewhere in central Europe. The period’s connections
spanned enormous distances, reflected by imports of Transdanubian raw material in
Moravia and Germany from a period predating the Neolithic (Mateiciucová 2004,
2008a, 2008b). One important advance in Mesolithic studies was the discovery of
a Mesolithic site at Regöly in Transdanubia (Bánffy et al. 2007; Eichmann et al.
2010) where the remains of a circular structure were uncovered.
The Mesolithic of the Carpathian Basin was a rather neglected field of research
in the Carpathian Basin, and it was for a long time doubted whether the region
had been occupied at all during the Mesolithic. Several clusters of sites have been
discovered and investigated more recently, and palaeoenvironmental studies, too,
indicate the human manipulation of the environment well before the Neolithic (Gál
et al. 2005; Juhász et al. 2007; Bánffy et al. 2007, 2008). The greatest problem be-
devilling Mesolithic research is the destruction of former sites owing to water-level
fluctuations and the intensive disturbance and intrusions during later periods—most
of the period’s sites in the Balaton region either lie submerged or have completely
perished (Tringham 1973, pp. 551–552; Zvelebil 1986, p. 5; Bánffy 2004, Chap. 9).
One oft-encountered difficulty in central Europe is that Mesolithic sites can eas-
ily go undetected owing to their small size and brief occupation. In the Late Me-
solithic, smaller settlements of equal rank were supplanted by clusters of smaller
seasonal hunting camps around two base camps, probably corresponding to the ma-
jor winter and summer campsites (Rowley-Conwy and Zvelebil 1989, pp. 48–50).
This reflects an incipient sedentary lifestyle and was followed by the emergence of
permanent campsites whose occupants conducted forays in different directions. The
latter roughly corresponds to Alasdair Whittle’s (1996, p. 29, 153, 160) model of ra-
diating mobility from an assumed permanent base camp, which he suggested could
describe the Early Neolithic settlement patterns in the Carpathian Basin. Farther to
the north, Helmut Luley reported a slightly sunken house built around a light timber
framework from Retlager Quellen in Germany (Luley 1992, p. 189). The organic
debris at these sites usually lay scattered all-over the surface. Very often, the exis-
tence of a former building and its form were only indicated by the concentration of
refuse and lithic artefacts on these sites, or the dark soil marks in the sterile sand.
Róbert Kertész has correctly noted that the original depth of the sunken houses is
uncertain owing to erosion (Kertész 1996, p. 21) and that Luley’s (1992, p. 189)
drawing suggests a tent reinforced and damp-proofed by an earth packing around it,
rather than a genuine sunken structure.
Two conclusions can be drawn. First, there is no evidence whatsoever suggest-
ing the existence of pit houses in the Mesolithic, and neither did the period’s mo-
bile lifestyle call for structures of this type (for a different view, cf. Bailey 1999,
pp. 156–160). Second, we know that deep pits were principally dug during the con-
struction of more massive houses and that these were subsequently re-used as refuse
pits. However, the absence of clay extraction pits can probably be taken to imply
E. Bánffy
the lack of buildings with vertical daubed walls. It is possible that small, temporary
campsites or more permanent base camps will be discovered in the future along the
western shoreline of Lake Balaton (perhaps some submerged sites) and among the
Zala Hills.
The Mesolithic settlements in the Danube Gorges and the Lower Danube region
can be divided into several groups and it has been suggested that some survived to
see the arrival of early Vinča groups in the mid-6th millennium bc (Radovanović
1996, p. 39). The assumed three regional groups share a similar architectural tradi-
tion: the semi-sedentary communities occupying the settlements at Padina, Vlasac
and Lepenski Vir by the upper gorges, the sites at Kula and Ostrovul Mare by the
middle gorges, and the settlements at Hajdučka Vodenica, Icoana, Ostrovul Banului,
Schela Cladovei and Ostrovul Corbului by the lower gorges all lived in sunken or
surface-level oval or trapezoidal houses (Radovanović 1996, p. 41, 1994, pp. 95–
97; Jovanović 1987; Boroneanţ 1970). It has been suggested that these groups,
whose subsistence was principally based on fishing, in part or wholly lived on per-
manent settlements and pursued a more-or-less sedentary lifestyle. This may have
been the first step towards food production and social ranking, as in David Harris’
(1977) view—it must be borne in mind, however, that this process was by no means
irreversible (Voytek and Tringham 1989, pp. 495–496).
It would appear that the cultural trajectories in the central and northern Balkans
differed markedly from development in the eastern Balkans, the Bánság, eastern
Hungary and Transylvania, also in respects other than Early Neolithic architec-
ture, and that these differences already appeared in the Late Mesolithic. Janusz K.
Kozłowski also argued for diverse paths of development in the western Balkans
and the eastern regions when he claimed that only cultural impacts from the south
could be identified at the Fiera Cleanov site (Kozłowski 1973, p. 323). For similar
reasons, Dragoslav Srejović distinguished two regions in northern Serbia, each fol-
lowing a separate path of development around the close of the Mesolithic (Srejović
Until fairly recently, the single Mesolithic structure known from Hungary was
the camp site with a single tent structure uncovered at Sződliget in northern Hun-
gary, by the Danube (Gábori 1968). The oval tenting place had a burnt, cracked
surface, its base was supported with stones, and there was both an intra- and extra-
mural hearth. Some two decades ago, evidence for a dense Mesolithic settlement
was identified in the Jászság region lying between the Danube and the Tisza. The
remains of a structure resembling the one from Szödliget were unearthed at Jász-
telek I (Kertész 1996, pp. 5–9). A hearth lay inside the 19m2 large structure, which
had a storage pit filled with shells by its side. One interesting feature of the building
was that its entrance lay in the south, whereas the hearth was located in the northern
The closest parallel to the structure at Jásztelek is the oval house excavated at the
Mesolithic site of Oerlinghausen in the North Rhine-Westphalia province of Ger-
many (Luley 1992, p. 6, 147). The dark, oval soil mark outlining a 5.8 × 5 m struc-
ture in the sterile sand was traversed by a north-west to south-east row of postholes.
Similarly to Jásztelek, the hearth inside the house was also north-south oriented.
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
The Sarching site in Bavaria, located on a sand dune on a terrace on the right bank
of the Danube, lies closer to Transdanubia geographically. The importance of this
site lies in the fact that a row of north-to-south postholes was uncovered in the
round building excavated here (Luley 1992, p. 6, 150). It is possible, then, that the
tradition of aligning houses to cardinal directions, and specifically the north to south
orientation, had appeared as early as the local Mesolithic in central Europe.
It would seem that the Late Mesolithic landscape was dotted with logistic hunting
camps (Jochim 1998, p. 214) and a most diverse range of settlement types occupied
by small communities of around 30 individuals, who established their settlements
along the major rivers and lakes (Gronenborn 1999, p. 130). A similar landscape can
be conceptualised for Transdanubia, and especially for the Balaton Uplands and the
western shoreline of Lake Balaton.
Early Neolithic Antecedents (the Starčevo and Körös
It is perhaps not mere chance that a regional divide resembling that of the Mesolith-
ic (Kozłowski 1973; Tringham 1973; Radovanović 1996) can be noted in the archi-
tectural traditions of surface-level Neolithic buildings during the first centuries of
the 6th millennium bc. The houses in the regions north and north-east of the mouth
of the Morava in the Belgrade area differ markedly from the buildings in the cen-
tral Balkans and to its north-west. Tell settlements are lacking north-east of central
Bulgaria, and the houses themselves are small and have a light timber framework
(Ovčarovo–Platoto, Ovčarovo–Gorata, Poljanica–Platoto, Koprivets; Todorova and
Vajsov 1993, pp. 127–128; Bailey 2000, p. 59). The same tradition can be noted
on the early sites on the Romanian side of the Danube and to its north, reflected by
small houses, generally no larger than 4 × 4 m or 5 × 3 m, found at Ostrovul Golu,
Broneşti, Cleanov–Fiera and Cîrcea–Viaduct, and at the early Criş settlements in
Oltenia and Moldavia (Lazarovici 1979, pp. 25–26; Comşa 1971, pp. 204–205;
Nica 1977, p. 14; Thissen 2000a, pp. 278–279, 2000b; Ursulescu 1984, p. 83; Laz-
arovici and Lazarovici 2006).
Comparable, but larger rectangular post-built houses are known from western
Bulgaria. The length of a repeatedly renewed house uncovered at Slatina near Sofia
was 13m (V. Nikolov 1989a, p. 2). The deep postholes, often measuring 40cm
across, associated with the buildings excavated at Pernik and Galabnik suggest a
heavier timber structure, and similar timber-framed houses with wattle-and-daub
walls had been constructed on the tell settlement of Čavdar (Georgiev 1961, pp. 65–
81). Interestingly, these heavy buildings designed for permanent occupation were
sited in areas that were often flooded and were more suited to herding and hunting
than to arable farming (Dennell 1978, pp. 80–111). Comparable structures have
been reported from three sites near Sofia and from Gradešnica in north-western
Bulgaria (B. Nikolov 1974; V. Nikolov 1989a; Lichter 1993).
E. Bánffy
Vassil Nikolov pointed out that one possible route for the spread of the Neolithic
led through the Struma Valley in western Bulgaria (V. Nikolov 1989a), perhaps
also marking the direction along which tell settlements and larger houses spread
northward. This possibility must by all means be considered even if the record for
the region is patchy, the single better known site being Kovačevo (Démoule 1993;
Démoule and Lichardus-Itten 1994; Perničeva 1990, 1995).
Another potential route towards the northern Balkans running slightly further
west in the Vardar Valley is outlined by the timber-framed buildings uncovered at
Kolsh, the 7m long wattle-and-daub houses found at Porodin and the 8–10m long
post-houses excavated at Anza. The earliest Neolithic houses at the Veluška Tumba
tell settlement were often 11–12m long (Korkuti 1983, 1996, pp. 61–64; Grbić et al.
1960; Gimbutas 1976; Simoska and Sanev 1975). However, the Adriatic coast does
not appear to have been part of the Balkan culture province, as shown by the use of
Cardial ware and the circular buildings of the type found at Smilčić (Batović 1966,
p. 218).
Another boundary marking a divide across architectural traditions and early sed-
entary farming cultures can be sought in central Serbia, reflected for example by the
patterns of house construction in the Körös and Criş cultures. The earliest houses
at Divostin were built according to entirely different traditions than the Starčevo
houses in the south, with most of the 23 houses excavated at this site being smaller
than 10–12m2 (even the largest measuring no more than 3.4 × 2.5 m). These are
small huts compared to the buildings in the south (Bogdanović 1998, p. 36).
Tell settlements are not known from either the western (Starčevo) or the eastern
(Körös–Criş) region. Surface-level post-built houses with daub walls were uncov-
ered at Nosa and Ludas in Serbia, two sites on the Tisza floodplain near the Hungar-
ian border (Garašanin 1960; Brukner 1974, Fig. 25; Szekeres 1967). Small houses
appear to have been the norm on the moderately sized waterfront settlements of the
Körös culture in eastern Hungary (Whittle and Bartosiewicz 2007), located along
the Tisza and its tributaries, and on the Danubian floodplain, sited on levees rising
above the surrounding land and on low terraces (Whittle 2010a, 2010b; Bánffy
2012). The clay model of a house with pitched roof from Röszke (Trogmayer 1966),
and the house plans and the remains of the timber framework brought to light at
Tiszajenö, Szolnok and Szajol in the Middle Tisza region (Selmeczi 1969; Kalicz
and Raczky 1982; Raczky 1976), confirmed earlier views on Körös houses (Kutzián
1944; Banner 1942, 1943; Trogmayer 1966) according to which they were small,
rectangular, surface-level buildings with pitched roofs built around a light timber
frame. The orientation of the houses varied: the best-preserved house plan outlined
by postholes from Tiszajenö was east-to-west oriented, whereas the short side of
the building at Szajol was aligned east-to-west (Raczky 1983, p. 9, Fig. 1). It would
appear that some buildings of the early Alföld LBK (Szatmár II) in the Hungarian
Plain, such as the one uncovered at Polgár–Király-Érpart (Raczky 2006, p. 383),
were similarly aligned east to west, suggesting that the rigorous northward orienta-
tion of the houses characterising the LBK in Transdanubia was not strictly observed
in the Hungarian Plain. The preliminary report on the houses of the Szolnok–Szan-
da settlement describes the six buildings as enclosing a small U-shaped area open
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
towards the river bank. These houses, then, were not aligned in a particular direction
but relative to each other, conforming to the general practice in the Balkans (Kalicz
and Raczky 1982, p. 14).1 Nothing is known about the orientation of the few poorly
preserved house plans excavated on Körös sites in the Danube–Tisza interfluve
(Bognár-Kutzián 1977; Bánffy 2012).
In sum, surface-level, timber-framed, daub-walled, rectangular houses with
pitched roof were typical for the primary Neolithic in the northern Balkans—a
feature shared by the architecture of all three groups. The Körös and Criş houses
were smaller in size, with less wood and more daub used in their construction.
Still, the greatest difference compared to the buildings of the north-western Balkan
and Transdanubian Starčevo culture and to the early LBK is that the houses were
aligned either to a local terrain feature (watercourse, river terrace) or relative to each
other, rather than in a particular direction. Consistent orientation was not practiced.
This is perhaps the most important counter-argument to claims that a northern ori-
entation was not strictly observed because LBK buildings aligned north–north-west
and slightly north-east appeared along the left bank of the Danube a few genera-
tions later. It seems to me that the cultural heritage of the Late Mesolithic and of
the Starčevo culture is not the northern orientation of the houses (although this was
undoubtedly an important part of the heritage), but that the houses were not aligned
relative to each other and/or to a local terrain feature, but were consistently arranged
in rows and aligned in a direction independent of terrain features.
The buildings of the Early Neolithic Starčevo culture in the Voivodina, the Dra-
va and Sava regions and Transdanubia reflect an architectural tradition differing
markedly from that of the Körös–Criş province. The archaeological reports from
the Danube–Tisza interfluve mention burnt daub fragments with twig impres-
sions among the house remains from the Srem (Leković and Padrov 1992) and the
Voivodina (Obrez–Bastine: Brukner 1960a, 1960b; Golokut–Vizić: Petrović 1985a,
1985b). One exception in this respect is the building found near Blagotin, differing
from the other house plans by its small size of 4.7 × 3.4 m and its post-framed struc-
ture (Stanković and Greenfield 1992). The Zlatara–Ruma settlement was occupied
during the late Starčevo, the Starčevo–Vinča transition and the early Vinča period.
Although the report describes the buildings as sunken houses, it also mentions that
the 45 Starčevo and three early Vinča houses were closely spaced and arranged into
rows. The short sides of the small rectangular Vinča houses were aligned to the
north (Leković 1988, p. 109). This is the earliest known instance of a settlement
made up of houses oriented to the north and arranged into rows.
1 The arrangement of the houses around a U-shaped open area has been observed elsewhere, too:
the longhouses uncovered by Piroska Csengeri on the early Alföld LBK settlement near Hejőpapi
in the Upper Tisza region were arranged in a similar manner, leaving a U-shaped area open toward
the waterfront (Pál Raczky, personal communication). Even without forcing the parallel, the ques-
tion arises whether this represents the survival of an architectural tradition of aligning the houses
relative to each other, as observed at Szolnok–Szanda. If this was indeed the case, it highlights
yet another difference in the cultural antecedents of the central European and the Alföld LBK
E. Bánffy
Various structures have been uncovered on eight of the currently known 56
Starčevo settlements in the Srem, most of which are described as pit houses or
sunken buildings resembling the ones from Zlatara (Leković and Padrov 1992,
p. 49). The same holds true for the Starčevo houses in northern Croatia (Minichre-
iter 1992). Although the existence of pit houses was never suggested for Transdanu-
bia, neither are there any professionally excavated buildings from this region (Ka-
licz 1990; Kalicz et al. 2007). It nonetheless seems quite certain that the occupants
of the Starčevo settlements here had lived in surface-level timber-framed houses, at
least judging from the impressive amount of burnt daub fragments brought to light
on these sites. One case in point is the Alsónyék settlement and cemetery, covering
several hectares and located on the boundary between the floodplain on the right
bank of the Danube and the Transdanubian hilly region (Figs. 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 and
6.6). The over 400 features of the Starčevo culture unearthed at this site did not
include a single house: the residential structures had probably been erected on the
higher alluvial terraces rather than the investigated lowland, where the settlement’s
economic activity areas and workshops lay. The amount of burnt daub fragments
with twig impressions runs into tons (Bánffy et al. 2010).
The lack of surface-level houses in some cases has been interpreted as an indica-
tion that the Starčevo communities in the culture’s northern distribution had lived
in pit houses. It is indeed true that the large pit complexes often contained hearths
and that an occasional posthole could also be identified in them. The issue of pit
houses must thus be confronted in any discussion concerning the beginnings of sed-
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
Fig. 6.2 Alsónyék-Bátaszék: pit complex of the Starčevo site. (Evaluation: Bánffy, E., Marton,
T. and Osztás, A.)
Fig. 6.3 Alsónyék-Bátaszék:
piles of burnt daub in second-
ary positions. (Evaluation:
Bánffy, E., Marton, T. and
Osztás, A.)
Fig. 6.4 Alsónyék-Bátaszék:
oven outside a building,
secondarily used for burials.
(Evaluation: Bánffy, E.,
Marton, T. and Osztás, A.)
E. Bánffy
entism because their possible existence was a recurring spectre of Neolithic studies
in south-east Europe during the twentieth century. The debate on pit houses flared
up in the 1950s following the excavations by Vladimir Milojčić and Demetrios
Theokharis in Thessaly (Milojčić 1956; Theokharis 1958); the idea of dwellings
of this type is still entertained by a few prehistorians working in Croatia, Romania
and Hungary (Minichreiter 1990, Fig. 1b–e, 1992, p. 71, Figs. 5, 6, 9, pp. 12–15;
Lazarovici and Maxim 1995; Lichardus-Itten and Lichardus 2004, p. 43, pp. 49–50;
Luca et al. 2008, pp. 328–335; Dani et al. 2006; Lazarovici and Lazarovici 2006).
As a matter of fact, the existence of short-lived pit houses in the earliest phase of
the south-east European Neolithic was initially widely assumed (Tringham 1971,
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
Fig. 6.5 Alsónyék-Bátaszék:
oven outside a building,
secondarily used for burials.
(Evaluation: Bánffy, E., Mar-
ton, T. and Osztás, A.)
Fig. 6.6 Alsónyék-Bátaszék: tubular ovens outside buildings. (Evaluation: Bánffy, E., Marton,
T. and Osztás, A.)
pp. 84–86; Reingruber 2008, with an excellent overview of previous research).
Some scholars regard pit houses as a Mesolithic tradition (Minichreiter 1992,
p. 70). János Makkay argued that pit houses, representing ancestral dwellings, were
adopted from the regions to the north of the Körös–Starčevo distribution (Makkay
1982). He reconstructed a dwelling of this type at Bicske–Galagonyás, one of the
key early LBK sites in Transdanubia. Similar to Kornelija Minichreiter, he too as-
sumed a Mesolithic tradition in the construction of pit houses.
Despite the scanty evidence, it is quite clear that pit houses were alien to the
Mesolithic architecture of central Europe and the Carpathian Basin. In contrast,
the Early Neolithic Starčevo settlements south of the Drava are characterised by
huge, amorphous pits and pit complexes with hearths inside them and, in many
cases, with a series of postholes around them. Pit complexes of this type have also
been unearthed in Hungary. Can we reasonably assume that the Early Neolithic
communities in the southern Balkans lived in surface-level buildings, whereas their
contemporaries north and west of the Danube and the Sava rivers huddled in pit
dwellings? This could hardly have been the case. It seems to me that the pit com-
plexes in question can be better explained by climatic and geographic factors, rather
than cultural traditions.
A more realistic explanation is that in the north-western Balkans, where the cli-
mate was harsher, some of the household activities earlier conducted in the open
house yards, such as cooking and tool manufacture, and perhaps eating, were per-
formed in more sheltered areas (Özdoğan 1997, p. 10), such as in the pits between
the houses. These pits were provided with some sort of protective roofing against
the harsher weather. The ‘two-storied pit-dwelling’ with postholes along its north-
ern side uncovered at Pepelane may have been a pit of this type (Minichreiter 2001).
It is also quite obvious that on sites where there was no need for such pits, only
the remains of open-air hearths are found. This would explain the presence of ‘pit
dwellings’, and future archaeological investigations conducted over extensive areas
will eventually lead to the discovery of surface-level buildings alongside pit dwell-
ings. The series of postholes and some of the long pits found at Zadubravlje can
perhaps be seen as the first indications of the emergence of timber-framed buildings
and Längsgruben (Minichreiter 1993, p. 98, 2001, p. 203, 206).
The findings of recent large-scale excavations call for a critical reassessment of
our earlier views on the Early Neolithic. The earlier record for the Starčevo occupa-
tion in Hungary suggested a pattern of sporadic, small, short-lived settlements (Ka-
licz 1990; Kalicz et al. 2007). A marginal group, differing from the ones in the cul-
ture’s heartland, has been recently identified in the Balaton area (Kalicz et al. 1998;
Simon 2002; Bánffy 2002, 2004; Regenye 2010). Another advance in research on
the Starčevo culture was the discovery and investigation of a Starčevo settlement
near the Danube floodplain between 2007 and 2009, which in itself is larger than all
the earlier ones together (Bánffy et al. 2010). If the excavation of the assumed row
of houses at Alsónyék can be carried out in the next few years, we may discover the
missing link to which much of the circumstantial evidence points, but which can-
not yet be proven: that the LBK longhouse evolved during the late Starčevo period
E. Bánffy
(probably with a cultural contribution from the early Vinča culture) around 5550
cal bc, after the separation of the Körös–Starčevo complex in the western Balkans.
The Emergence of the Central European LBK House
As mentioned in the previous section, it was mistakenly believed for a long time
that the LBK communities in the western half of the Carpathian Basin did not build
longhouses. Another misconception was that the beginning of sedentary life in
the northerly region of the Carpathian Basin was marked by the appearance of the
Bicske–Bíňa phase of the LBK (which was, and still is, often described as the Ältest-
bandkeramik, or ‘earliest LBK’, in German publications, e.g. Lüning 1987, 1988;
Stäuble 1990, 1997). This changed when the earliest, formative LBK phase dating
to around 5550 cal bc could be identified: this phase reflected intensive cultural
influences from the Starčevo culture, especially in pottery (Bánffy 2004, 2009),
while at the same time harking back to Mesolithic traditions regarding the lithic
tool-kit and settlement patterns (Biró 2001, 2002, 2005; Mateiciucová 2008a,
2008b). Eva Lenneis was the first among those studying the Ältestbandkeramik to
accept the existence of the formative phase (Lenneis 2001b). The blend of Balkan
and local traditions, as well as the settlement patterns and subsistence strategies,
seemed to indicate that the eventual outcome of the encounter between the marginal
Starčevo groups migrating to the marshland areas by Lake Balaton (Figs. 6.7 and
6.8) and the local forager groups was uncertain: it was by no means a settled issue
whether the newcomers would assimilate the locals or whether the first farmers
would revert to hunting and fishing, exploiting the diverse food resources offered
by the wetland habitats (Oross and Bánffy 2009).
The only Hungarian site of this phase where house plans have been uncovered is
Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb near Hungary’s western border (Figs. 6.9, 6.10 and
6.11). In view of their size, the long pits flanking them and their northern orienta-
tion, both buildings can be regarded as longhouses. Similar to other house plans
of the early LBK, the remains of postholes could not be identified; however, both
house floors were thickly covered with debris, consisting of burnt daub fragments
carefully smoothed on one side and bearing twig impressions on the other (Bánffy
2000, 2004).
Standing quite far apart, with a distance of 33m between them, the two houses
and the associated outer hearths, workshops, storage pits and refuse pits were appar-
ently contemporaneous in the light of the archaeological evidence. The timbers used
in the roof structure came from oak and beech, reflecting a cool, wet climate. The
hearth found inside one house had a strongly burnt baking plate and rim, indicating
a longer period of use.
The dimensions of the two buildings, calculated from the area enclosed by the
clay extraction pits, were roughly identical: house I measured 8–8.5 × 13–14 m and
house II was 7 × 14–15 m. The houses can thus be assigned to the smallest category
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
130 E. Bánffy
Fig. 6.7 Starčevo and LBK sites in Transdanubia. 1 Babarc; 2 Becsehely-Bükkaljai-dülö;
3 Brunn am Gebirge; 4 Gellénháza-Városrét; 5 Harc-Nyanyapuszta; 6 Medina; 7 Révfülöp; 8
Sármellék; 9 Szentgyörgyvölgy-Pityerdomb; 10 Tapolca-Plébániakert; 11 Tihany-Apáti; 12 Vörs-
Máriaasszonysziget; 13 Zalaegerszeg-Andráshida-Gébárti-tó; 14 Baja-Bajaszentistván-Szlatina;
15 Balatonszárszó-Kis-erdei-dűlő; 16 Balatonszemes-Bagódomb; 17 Becsehely-II-Homokos; 18
Bicske-Galagonyás; 19 Bína; 20 Budapest-Aranyhegyi út; 21 Dunakeszi-Székesdűlő; 22 Fajsz-
Garadomb; 23 Galgahévíz; 24 Hidegség; 25 Ipolydamásd; 26 Milanovce; 27 Neckenmarkt; 28
Szigetszentmiklós; 29 Almásfüzitö-Foktorok; 30 Bajč; 31 Balatonszemes-Szemesi berek; 32 Bala-
tonmagyaród-Kápolnapuszta; 33 Biatorbágy-Tyúkberek; 34 Blatné; 35 Budapest-Békásmegyer;
36 Budapest-Kőérberek-Tóvároslakópark; 37 Čataj; 38 Dvorý nad Žitavou; 39 Győr-Pápai Vám;
40 Iža-Velký Harčaš; 41 Kaposvár-Téglagyár; 42 Káloz-Nagyhörcsök; 43 Keszthely-Dobogó;
44 Keszthely-Zsidi út; 45 Kustánszeg-Lisztessarok; 46 Letkés; 47 Mencshely-Murvagödrök;
in Pieter Modderman’s (1972) threefold classification of central European LBK
houses, the Kleinbauten. This type usually has a single room and often lacks in-
ternal rows of posts (Lenneis 1995, pp. 16–17, 1997, p. 147, 2000, p. 386, 2001a,
pp. 107–112). The closest parallels to the Pityerdomb houses come from Rosen-
burg, Strögen and Brunn/Gebirge–Wolfholz II in Austria (Lenneis et al. 1996; Len-
neis 1995; Stadler 1999, 2005). Clay extraction pits flanking the houses along their
entire length have been reported from Brunn II, and from Schwanfeld, Wang and
Bruchenbrücken in Germany (Lenneis 1995; Stadler 1999; Lüning and Modderman
1982; Lüning 1984, 1987; Stäuble 1997, pp. 5–66). In the light of the above, the
houses at Pityerdomb can be confidently fitted into the architectural sequence of
the earliest LBK horizon in central Europe. A few years ago, several assemblages
resembling the finds from the Pityerdomb settlement were identified at various sites
in the Balaton region which culturally represent the formative LBK phase, reflect-
ing the blend between local foragers and the first farmers arriving from the Balkans
Fig. 6.8 The wetland region around Lake Balaton with sites belonging to the formative LBK
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
48 Mosonszentmiklós-Egyéni-földek; 49 Muraszemenye-Aligvári mező; 50 Patince; 51 Pári-
Altacker; 52 Petrivente-Újkuti-dűlő; 53 Sormás-Török-földek; 54 Sukoró-Tóra-dűlő; 55 Stúrovo;
56 Szécsény-Ültetés; 57 Törökbálint-Dulácska; 58 Želiezovce; 59 Budapest-Óbuda-Nánási út;
60 Dunaújváros; 61 Érd-Hosszú-földek; 62 Győr-Ménfőcsanak-Eperföldek; 63 Harta-Gátőrház;
64 Hegykő; 65 Kóny-Barbacsi-tó; 66 Litér-Papvásárhegy; 67 Mosonszentmiklós-Pál major; 68
(Bánffy 2000, 2004). However, the sites in the Balaton region offer virtually no
information on the period’s houses: for the time being, Pityerdomb remains the only
site offering a glimpse into the houses and settlement layout of the earliest, forma-
tive LBK phase.
Fig. 6.9 Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb: house plans
Fig. 6.10 Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb: reconstructed house
E. Bánffy
Very few buildings resembling the LBK houses unearthed in Germany, Slovakia
and Bohemia were known from Hungary before the 1990s. The salvage excavations
preceding motorway and other large-scale construction projects have brought a wel-
come change. The investigation of extensive areas has brought to light the remains
of countless LBK houses together with the Längsgruben flanking them, enabling
the precise observation and reconstruction of their former timber framework. The
first large LBK settlements were uncovered along the motorway between Budapest
and Vienna (Mosonszentmiklós, Kóny: Egry 2001, 2003), followed by the Alföld
LBK sites along the M3 Motorway in northern Hungary (Füzesabony, Mezőkövesd:
Domboróczki 1997, 2001; Kalicz and Koós 1997) and the ring road around Bu-
dapest (Érd, Törökbálint, Biatorbágy, Dunakeszi: Ottományi 2005; Endrődi 1994;
Endrödi et al. 2005a, 2005b; Horváth 2002a, 2002b; Horváth et al. 2004, p. 34 f,
Fig. 11.1).
The greatest breakthrough came with the exceptionally meticulous investigation
of the Balatonszárszó–Kis-erdei-dűlő site near the M7 Motorway running along
the southern shore of Lake Balaton, where some 50 LBK longhouses were uncov-
ered by Tibor Marton and Krisztián Oross (Figs. 6.12 and 6.13). Established around
5350 cal bc during the Bicske–Bíňa phase, a few generations after the formative
LBK phase, the Balatonszárszó settlement attained its greatest extent during the
late LBK period. A brief transitional phase could also be distinguished between the
early and the late LBK phase (Marton and Oross 2009; Oross 2010). The radiocar-
bon dates confirm the three occupation periods. The sequence of the households
Fig. 6.11 Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb: reconstruction of a formative LBK site
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
and their reconstruction based on the pottery analysis also supports this chronology
(Marton 2008 and Tibor Marton, research in progress), as does the detailed study of
the architectural features (Krisztián Oross, research in progress). The houses of the
Balatonszárszó settlement were oriented to the north, with a few exceptions deviat-
ing to the north–north-east (Oross 2010, Fig. 7.2). Ranging between 6 and 25m,
Fig. 6.12 Balatonszárszó:
LBK house Nr. A18. (Cour-
tesy of Marton and Oross)
Fig. 6.13 Balatonszárszó, site map with different phases of LBK houses. (After Oross and Bánffy
E. Bánffy
their length corresponds to Modderman’s (1972) Kleinbau and Bau types, although
without the internal partitioning characterising the latter and without Modderman’s
Großbau type (Oross 2010, p. 70).
The roof was supported by five longitudinal rows of posts inside the houses. This
trait must be emphasized because it has been suggested that the roof had initially
rested on fewer posts and that the number of longitudinal rows was expanded to
five when the houses became wider (Horváth 2002b; Raczky 2006). This view has
been convincingly challenged by showing that the system of five post rows had
evolved by adding two internal rows of posts, principally designed to ensure a more
stable support for the roof structure rather than to create wider houses (Oross 2009).
LBK houses have also been uncovered on other sites along the motorway travers-
ing central Transdanubia. Their date can be fitted into the sequence established for
the Balatonszárszó settlement (e.g. at Becsehely, Petrivente, Sormás: Barna 2004,
2005; Horváth and Kalicz 2003).
Three phases could be distinguished in the LBK sequence of Transdanubia,
spanning roughly 500 years (5500–5000 cal bc; Oross and Bánffy 2009). Compared
to the situation a few decades ago, when barely any LBK houses were known, cur-
rently there are data on over 300 LBK buildings. It is also clear that the early LBK
buildings in Austria and Germany do not represent the culture’s formative phase,
but are synchronous with the Bicske–Bíňa phase, which corresponds to the earliest
occupation at Balatonszárszó. The buildings from Transdanubia also shed light on
the emergence of LBK architecture and its spread towards the heartland of central
Europe. Research conducted over the past decade has brought to light the remains
of extensive settlements resembling the Balatonszárszó site at Alsónyék, Szemely,
Tolna–Mözs and Versend in southern Transdanubia, previously a blank spot in LBK
studies. Although the evaluation of these sites has barely begun, the preliminary
assessment of the house plans and the finds from Tolna–Mözs and Versend brought
the surprising conclusion that the intensive early Vinča presence north of the Drava
had contributed significantly to LBK architecture (Marton and Oross 2012).
However, these cultural trajectories do not represent the initial period of sed-
entism in the Carpathian Basin, but the period of developed Neolithic settlement
and food production. The cultural differences (including the ones in architectural
traditions) between Transdanubia—part of the central European province—and the
Hungarian Plain in eastern Hungary—part of the exuberant Neolithic world in the
Balkans—survived throughout the 550 years of the Neolithic.
The LBK longhouse survived in a virtually unchanged form across vast regions
of central and western Europe. Smaller changes rooted in internal development can
be detected in Germany until the mid-5th millennium, and local influences can be
distinguished in the regional variants in Bohemia and Poland. In the Neolithic of the
Carpathian Basin, however, at the turn of the 6th–5th millennia bc we witness the
same phenomenon as 500 years earlier, at the beginning of sedentism: the cultural
influences from the northern Balkans spreading across the Danube in southern Hun-
gary and into western Hungary radically transformed the cultural milieu. Although
the Lengyel culture, which evolved on an LBK substratum under Vinča influences,
did not expand across an area as large as that of the former LBK distribution, it did
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
determine Late Neolithic development in the earlier 5th millennium both north-west
and north-east of Transdanubia, in Lower Austria, Moravia, eastern Slovakia and
Little Poland.
Several conclusions concerning the beginning of sedentism can be drawn from the
evidence presented above.
Transdanubia: the Cradle of the LBK Longhouse
The Körös culture and the Alföld LBK had little direct impact on the architecture of
the central European LBK, principally because the eastern branch of the Körös cul-
ture migrated from the mouth of the Morava towards the Maros and Körös rivers,
western Transylvania, the Érmellék region and the Upper Tisza region (attracted
no doubt by the obsidian deposits in the Tokaj Mountains and the north-eastern
Carpathians). The groups advancing northward from the Hungarian Plain and the
groups pressing north-westward from western Transylvania and the Partium region
both played an important role in the formation of the Alföld LBK (Domboróczki
2010a, 2010b; Domboróczki et al. 2010). Their cultural contacts were oriented to
the east, the north-east and the south-east, no doubt with a view to the salt deposits
in Transylvania and near the eastern Carpathians (Chapman et al. 2007; Weller and
Dumitroaia 2005) and also to the flint raw materials available in Carpatho-Ukraine
and the Banat (Mester and Rácz 2010; Biró 1987).
The communities settling in the Hungarian Plain during the later 6th millen-
nium bc maintained physical and cultural contact with Transdanubia and, in a
broader sense, with the Neolithic development in central Europe, through two
areas. One of these lay in the north, around the bend of the Danube, with the
main thoroughfare leading along the Tarna, Zagyva and Galga rivers, through the
Ipoly Valley and the Gödöllő Hills. Before the appearance of the Alföld LBK,
this area was first occupied by the Transdanubian, central European LBK, whose
groups had advanced eastward across the Danube (Torma 1993; Kalicz and Kalicz-
Schreiber 2002; Bánffy and Oross 2010). The origins of the longhouses uncov-
ered at Füzesabony–Gubakút (Domboróczki 1996) and Mezőkövesd–Mocsolyás
( Kalicz and Koós 1997) can be traced to Transdanubia rather than to the architec-
ture of the Körös culture.
The other potential contact area lay in the southern part of the Danube–Tisza
interfluve, where Körös and Starčevo settlements lay within eyesight of each other
on the floodplains extending along the left and right bank of the Danube and in the
forested southern Transdanubian hill region to its west (Bánffy et al. 2010; Bánffy
E. Bánffy
in press). It is not yet fully clear whether the two groups existed synchronously, or
whether the absence of similarities in lifestyles and archaeological material is also
due to a small time lag. Still, the current record suggests that despite their shared
ancestry, the two populations had no contact with each other. In spite of plausible
speculations on the common roots of their languages, a long-lasting survival of
such frontiers is often a sign of a linguistic boundary (Anthony 2007, p. 104). It
can also be surmised that the separation (i.e. no sign of imported wares or similari-
ties in artefact style and lifeways between two groups) was deliberately chosen in
order to stress different identities (Hodder 1982, pp. 204–205). However, there is
one possible reason supported by the analyses of both the Starčevo and the Körös
material along the Sárköz Danube region (Bánffy et al. 2010; Bánffy forthcoming):
that the Körös people who settled along the Danube had arrived not from the south,
but from the south-east, from the dense Körös settlement area in the Maros–Körös
region. For them, the Starčevo groups on the Danube’s right bank were unfamiliar
strangers (Bánffy 2012, in press).
The apparent lack of interaction between the groups and the different orientation
of their cultural contacts precludes the possibility that the Neolithic architecture of
eastern Hungary had served as a model for the LBK longhouse ( pace Meier-Arendt
1989). Even though the longhouse uncovered at Tiszajenő and the remains of a few
other buildings from Nosa, Ludas, Szolnok–Szanda and Szajol (Selmeczi 1969;
Garašanin 1960; Szekeres 1967; Kalicz and Raczky 1982; Raczky 1976, 1977)
were post-framed structures with wattle-and-daub walls, neither their orientation
(diverse in almost each case) nor their shapes and dimensions conformed to the
typical traits of LBK houses. In contrast to the clear rows of Transdanubian LBK
houses, the six house plans excavated at Szolnok–Szanda indicated that the build-
ings all faced the water and enclosed a U-shaped area.
It would appear that the LBK buildings of the Hungarian Plain in eastern Hun-
gary blended various earlier traditions, some of which may have mutually influ-
enced each other (like Körös, Criş and Szatmár II characteristics in the north-
eastern Alföld material). At the same time, the northward and north-eastward ori-
entation of the buildings in the Upper Tisza region cannot be derived from local
tradition, but can be seen as evolving mainly under the influence of Transdanu-
bian LBK groups migrating east of the Danube. This seems to have been the case
even if at present it is impossible to determine the actual extent of the expansion
or the degree to which technologies and customs were adopted through interac-
tion. Be that as it may, the few known Körös house plans suggest that the origins
of the construction techniques and mental templates of the LBK house should be
sought elsewhere.
The purpose of this brief overview on the beginnings of sedentary life was to
clarify the archaeologically documented origins of at least a few elements that make
up the architectural canon of the earliest LBK longhouses. Issues that still need to
be addressed are, firstly, why the central European longhouse happened to evolve
in the western half of the Carpathian Basin during the late Starčevo period, and
secondly how the phenomena described above should be interpreted.
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
Environmental Factors
Environmental factors played a major role in the development outlined above. The
climate of the Carpathian Basin was cooler and wetter than in the Balkans, and the
region was covered by different vegetation. The model of the Central European-
Balkanic Agro-Ecological Barrier (CEBAEB), marking a climatic frontier beyond
which certain elements of the so-called Neolithic package were no longer viable,
and thus causing a halt in the northward advance of the first farming groups from
the Balkans, was introduced a decade ago (Kertész and Sümegi 1999; Sümegi and
Kertész 2001). The expression ‘barrier’ turned out to be not well chosen and as a
consequence gave rise to several misunderstandings. It must be strongly empha-
sized that the CEBAEB was not a divide, but a zone which called for adaptation
in the choice of settlement location, settlement density, subsistence strategies and
house construction, amongst others. As a zone for interaction between the immi-
grant farming communities and the local forager population, it influenced the ensu-
ing development of sedentary, food-producing cultures.
In this sense, the CEBAEB can also be interpreted as a dynamic contact zone
(Fig. 6.14; Bánffy and Sümegi 2012). For the first time, the immigrants from the
Balkans had the possibility (and were also forced) to establish long-term, intensive
contacts with local groups across an extensive area. The location of this contact
zone, running south-west to north-east, and the arena of the assumed interaction
with local groups, by and large correspond to the areas where the earliest LBK
sites and LBK buildings have been discovered and where the possible Mesolithic
elements of LBK architecture could have been adopted (such as alignment in a
particular direction, most often northward, and the assumed southern entrance). A
timber structure more massive than was typical in the south ensured the statical sta-
bility of house walls because walls constructed from pounded daub would not have
been resistant to the heavier precipitation. The use of beech in house construction
(e.g. at Szentgyörgyvölgy–Pityerdomb) also indicates a cool and wet climate. Many
elements of Neolithic architecture and of the typical features of LBK houses were
necessitated by the differing climatic conditions.
Mental Factors
Recourse to the altered climatic conditions and vegetation, however, can hardly
be the single explanation for a previously unencountered phenomenon, namely
the strict architectural canon of the LBK which, together with other elements of
LBK material culture such as pottery, was established in a virtually standardised
form across vast territories of Europe and remained unchanged over several gen-
erations. This unique phenomenon has been examined from many points of view,
with many scholars assuming a shared spiritual legacy behind the exceptional per-
sistence of these traditions (Zvelebil et al. 1992; Hodder 1992, p. 24; Thomas 1996,
E. Bánffy
pp. 102–109, 2008; Whittle 1996, 1997, 2010b). This shared identity would explain
why LBK communities strictly and consistently retained the original forms of mate-
rial culture that had evolved in the Carpathian Basin and Transdanubia.
This assumed phenomenon can be studied from several angles: it can be seen
as an experiment in social control over the unknown in the sense suggested by Ian
Hodder (1990), which would explain the adherence to the canon. This interpretation
implies that in addition to and through the domestication of plants and animals, an
ever-changing society was also ‘domesticated’.
Assuming the validity of this interpretation, the adherence to the strict archi-
tectural canon of house construction served to reaffirm the community’s sense of
identity. This can be conceptualised as a reciprocal process, in which group identity
was strengthened and reaffirmed through the very act of constructing a 25–30m
longhouse, which called for cooperation between several extended families or the
concerted effort of a larger community. Cooperation as a powerful symbolic act
perhaps leaves its mark in the erection of a structure more massive than statically
necessary. The group’s joint labour reinforced the group’s cohesion and identity.
Fig. 6.14 The “Central European-Balkanic Agro-Ecological Barrier” seen as an interaction zone.
(After Bánffy and Sümegi 2012)
6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
The evidence from western Hungary indicates that the prestige of belonging to a
sedentary, food-producing community living in permanent houses was high among
local forager groups (Bánffy 2005). Genuine south-east European clay figurines,
typical in the Starčevo culture, were copied by locals in coarser quality. This sug-
gests that integration into a sedentary lifestyle was as much a question of prestige
as of practical considerations.
The late Starčevo–formative LBK groups of Transdanubia were the first in the
region to begin the transformation of the environment and the creation of a built
environment (Darvill 1997, pp. 4–6). One of the most important outcomes of the
shift to sedentary life, in which the erection of permanent houses played a key role,
was the emergence of new patterns of social thought calling for a reassessment of
humanity’s place in nature and the forging of a new identity.
Closing Remarks
Finally, it must be emphasized that the emergence of a central European architec-
ture during the formative LBK phase was greatly influenced by late Starčevo–early
Vinča traditions. Similarly, the dynamic northward thrust of the Vinča culture along
the Danube may have been one of the reasons for the rapid spread and uniformity
of farming techniques and other elements of the sedentary lifestyle, including LBK
houses, in the Bicske–Bíňa and the contemporaneous Flomborn phase of Germany
in the heartland of central Europe. It is not mere chance that the overwhelming
majority of Transdanubian LBK houses can be dated to the period when the loess
plateaus were colonised, to around 5350 cal bc or later. The LBK population of the
Carpathian Basin became committed to full-scale sedentism and the establishment
of large, permanent settlements made up of orderly house rows. The world of the
Transdanubian LBK was eventually transformed by the northward sweep of a third
cultural wave from the Balkans exhibiting traits of the Vinča culture; this new for-
mation is known as the Lengyel culture.
Acknowledgements I would like to thank Daniela Hofmann and Jessica Smyth for inviting me to
contribute to this volume, and I am grateful for their and an unknown reviewer’s useful comments
on my manuscript.
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6 Tracing the Beginning of Sedentary Life in the Carpathian Basin
... The theory that longhouse orientation reflected the inhabitants' origin is not applicable to the whole area of LBK and post-LBK longhouses. Deliberate house orientation can already be observed in the formative region of Transdanubia prior to the widespread LBK expansion (Bánffy, 2013). Following Bradley's (2001) arguments, prestige artefacts made of Spondylus shell can be employed to highlight the link between LBK farmers and the land of their ancestors, but what we observe is a rather problematic connection with the longhouse setting. ...
... The construction of five longitudinal post rows accompanied by wattle-and-daub walls with flanking pits emerged in the mid-sixth millennium in the melting pot of northern Transdanubia, especially in the region of Lake Balaton (Bánffy & Oross, 2010). Except for the rare evidence from the Vincǎ culture, the identical setting of houses throughout the whole area of distribution is distinctively an LBK attribute (Bánffy, 2013). The solar alignment, or rather the southern orientation of the entrance, might have been an attempt by the occupants of the house to maximize the advantages of sunlight impact. ...
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This article is focused on the deliberate orientation of longhouses observed within the wide area of the Linear Pottery culture (LBK) and succeeding cultures (post-LBK). Spatial analysis is based on the assemblage of 1546 buildings, whose purpose it was to attempt to cover the whole area of longhouse distribution. Despite variability, which considerably increased over time, the alignment of house entrances towards the south or south-east was observed. The widely accepted theory of house alignment towards the ‘ancestral homeland’ is therefore challenged by a new hypothesis, which sees orientation governed by the celestial path of the sun. Using 3D-modelling of light-and-shadow and solar impact, sun alignment is discussed as an integral element of the longhouse concept already present by the time of its genesis. The tendency of aligning longhouse entrances towards the east, which emerged during the LBK expansion westwards, is considered to be a regionally limited pattern, as no analogical shift was observed in the eastern areas of longhouse distribution.
... For a long time it was believed that longhouses were typical only in the western part of the LBK territory because they were scarcely known from the Carpathian Basin. However recent research changed this view (Bánffy 2013;Pyzel 2010: 191). ...
... Based on LBK sites from the Carpathian Basin, some researchers have suggested that LBK people lived in sunken-floored buildings because of climatic conditions (Bánffy 2013;Oross 2004: 65). These large pits were characterized by flat floors associated with hearths and, in many cases, also with a series of post-holes (Bánffy 2013: 125). ...
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Research into the development of LBK villages rarely focuses on those features that can be interpreted as sunken-floored buildings. The aim of this article is to draw attention to the presence of this type of feature and to analyse its significance in the context of village development based on several examples of LBK sites excavated in Małopolska (Lesser Poland). We believe that in many instances analysing the locations of sunken-floored buildings and their diversity in terms of their potential functions can lead to the identification of domestic/kitchen zones that centered around these features. Their location in the vicinity of longhouses, traces of fire, and the presence of pottery sherds and grain remains may indicate that sunkenfloored buildings served as an important additional ancillary space for the residents of longhouses and constituted part of the farmstead.
... The geographical spread of these cultures and of longhouses was throughout Central Europe, from the Paris Basin in the west to Ukraine in the east (Fig. 1). The exact reasons why people started to build such large dwellings are unclear and two interpretive directions are mentioned: environmental and cultural (Bánffy, 2013;Borić, 2008;Hodder, 1990). ...
Many ideas about post-marital residence rules in the society of the first farmers in the European temperate zone (Linear Pottery Culture, ca. 5500–4900 cal BC) have been proposed. The prevailing hypothesis is patrilocality and community exogamy, based on strontium isotope, modern DNA, ancient DNA, linguistic and anthropological evidence. However, presenting several different anthropological models and comparing them with strontium isotope results from two LBK cemeteries (Vedrovice and Nitra), we argue that other post-marital residence rules such as ambilocality, avunculocality, shifting residence or predominant matrilocality were also possible. Arguments set in contradiction to one-sided interpretation of strontium isotope results include a possible practice of polygyny, abduction of young women and non-inhumation burials. A hypothetical model combining patrilocality and matrilocality on different social and geographical levels is proposed.
... Since the 1990s, a rich and diverse literature developed on Neolithic houses, influenced by anthropology and a myriad of Post-Processual approaches, but also developing from fundamental research questions about the origin and spread of the Neolithic (e.g . Hodder 1990;Bánffy 2013). The 'house' as an essentialised concept was critiqued, with its variability across the European Neolithic repeatedly stressed (e.g. ...
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In the Editorial for the special edition on Neolithic Housesholds, we introduce the history of house and household studies in European Neolithic Archaeology and outline the papers in this collection.
Miniature ceramic bottles with perforated handles entered the pottery repertoire of different Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic communities across the south-eastern Prealps, south-western Transdanubia and the Balkans in the 5th millennium BC. It is hypothesised that these small bottles were personal items that could be hung around the neck or waist, possibly to contain cosmetics or for cultic purposes. The aim of this study was to understand the function of 14 of these miniature bottles recovered from sites attributed to the Lasinja Culture in the south-eastern Prealps and the Vinča Culture in the Central Balkans, by analysing the remains of their contents. A multi-method approach was applied using local high-resolution X-ray micro-diffraction (μ-XRD²) and micro-X-ray fluorescence (μ-XRF) to analyse visible residues in eight bottles, and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC–MS) to test the absorbed lipid content in nine of them. The analysis showed that cerussite (lead carbonate) was the main component of the white material found in the bottle from Zgornje Radvanje, Slovenia. In the visible residues found in the bottles from Turnišče and Popava 1, the lead minerals plumbogummite and pyromorphite were identified as crystalline components. The identification of lead-containing minerals in this study coincides with the earliest use of lead in south-eastern Europe (ca. 4400–4300 BCE), as described in Hansen et al. (2019). Lipid analysis identified beeswax as the content of three of the vessels, which, together with the detection of lead minerals found in the same vessels, suggests its use as an organic binder, perhaps to form pigments as previously hypothesised, for cosmetic and/or medicinal purposes. This study represents the first application of multidisciplinary scientific methods on miniature bottles from the Lasinja and Vinča cultures in the south-eastern Prealps and Central Balkans. Significantly, this study pushes back the date for the use of lead-based cosmetic/medicinal products in North Africa and the Near East by more than a millennium, and in Europe by more than two millennia.
This paper focuses on the analysis and identification of two prehistoric lamps from Zgornje Radvanje (NE Slovenia). The analysis of the organic residues and experimental archaeology allowed us to characterize the fuel source and the wick remains of oval-formed ceramic artefacts from the Copper Age settlement. Infrared spectroscopy (ATR IR), GC-MS and GC-C-IRMS were used to study organic compounds in two archaeological samples, with comparative composition data yielding experiments with modern wicks, linseed oil and animal fats. ATR IR showed traces of plant fibres in the sample of charred residues from one of the lamps. A comparably higher frequency of straight-chain compounds with odd numbers of carbon atoms provided the extracted lipids from the ceramics of the second oval-formed ceramic artefact. We interpret these to mean that carbonised organic residues from the inner surface of the ceramic object are the result of smouldering, with the identified residues of plant fibres probably associated with the remnants of the wick. The GC-MS analysis showed a higher frequency of straight-chain compounds with odd numbers of carbon atoms (especially C15:0 fatty acids) together with two double bond positional isomers of C18:1 in the second oval-formed artefact. The presence of C18:2 and C18:3 fatty acids that are typical for linseed oils was also detected. These analysis together with GC-C-IRMS analysis suggest a predominant use of ruminant fat as fuel for lighting possibly in combination with plant oils. Burns similar to those on the original artefact were observed on replicas of the artefact after they were used as lamps.
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The Causewayed enclosures phenomenon has been in the focus of European archaeology since the beginning of the last century. These monuments are amongst the characteristic manifestations of European agricultural prehistory. Since the beginning of the interest in these monuments, there has been extensive discussion of the interpretation of their purpose. The spectrum of hypothetical interpretations of the purpose of these enclosures is very wide. It ranges from their interpretation as strategic military fortifications, fortification of residential areas, through places of exchange and markets to sanctuaries with funerary function and worship of ancestral cult. Although unambiguous interpretation of these structures seems to be rather complicated, we believe that targeted research using a wide range of modern archaeological and natural science methods can at least in a general outline reveal the ways of construction and decline of individual enclosures, as well as the intensity and nature of their use and thereby contribute to the interpretation of their importance to prehistoric society. Moreover, currently the evidence of such enclosures is growing significantly, mainly due to the application of methods of systematic remote sensing of the landscape, which has been developing in the Czech Republic since the early 1990s. Applying this method of prospection has brought a completely new type of archaeological evidence in this respect. In 2015, we launched the project “Proto-Eneolithic ditch enclosures in Bohemia: Interpretation of their purpose and social importance” (GA15-02453S). In the framework of the project, three causewayed enclosures were examined, which we can now securely date to the Proto-Eneolithic Period. These are Chleby (Nymburk District), Kly (Mělník District) and Vrbno (Mělník District). The research in these sites focused on their chronology, way of construction, traces of use, development and decline of the enclosure. Due to the complex nature of the questions that required archaeological as well as pedological and pedochemical procedures, an interdisciplinary research team was created, the core of which was staff of the Department of Archeology of the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen and the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology of Mendel University in Brno. The main objective of the project was therefore to interpret the purpose of causewayed enclosures for the Eneolithic society. The basic question was whether these constructions served as places of religious rituals, funerary practices, worship of ancestral cult, and the extent of sacred and profane activities. Bearing in mind that ritual enclosures are just one form of manifestation of the ritual practices of the Proto-Eneolithic communities, in this book we also pay attention to other evidence of social and spiritual ceremonies. It is primarily a question of the nature of the burial rites and the treatment of the ancestors’ remains. This is related to the use of enclosures and the creation of long barrows as specialized funerary features. Given the indications of the presence of bovine skulls (bucrania) and finds of complete pottery vessels within enclosed areas, we also pay attention to the importance of cattle breeding and bull worship in agricultural communities drinking ceremonies in Eneolithic societies. We will also focus on the nature of Eneolithic ceremonial warfare that was probably also associated with causewayed enclosures.
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This paper presents and evaluates the archaeobotanical and archaeological evidence of plant product storage from Early and Late Neolithic sites in Serbia, southeast Europe. The commonly stated and widely accepted archaeological evidence of storage in the region includes ceramic pots, clay bins and pits. However, as shown in our study, the archaeobotanical evidence does not always support the interpretation of these structures and objects as plant storage containers, as it is often of secondary origin and composed of discarded plant material such as by-products of plant use. On the other hand, the available botanical record points to some other possible ways of storing plant products, such as in perishable containers that do not normally survive archaeologically in this part of the world. Although limited, the combined evidence indicates variability in plant storage practices and solutions within the cultural phenomena associated with the Neolithic Starčevo and Vinča cultures of the region. For instance, plant storage in large clay pots was noted at some of the sites, and in clay bins at others. Also, different structures and features may have been used for storing crop products, whilst wild plants seem to have been kept in perishable and/or small ceramic containers. A further impression is that finds of the same plant (type) in different containers may reflect different stages in processing.
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The Körös Culture represents the beginning of the neolithization process in Southeastern Europe. The expansion of the early Neolithic through the Balkans followed river valleys and reached the Carpathian Basin at the beginning of the 6th millenium BC. For a long time, the expansion of the Körös Culture was thought to have been stopped in the middle of the Tisza valley on the Great Hungarian Plain (Alföld), explained by different historical or palaeoecological causes, while its northeasternmost appearance had reached the Upper Tisza region at Méhtelek. In the last three decades, several sites of the Körös Culture have been discovered along the Tisza river. From the middle of the Miocene onwards, strong volcanic and post-volcanic activities took place in the northeastern part of the Carpathian Basin. Thanks to this, obsidians, opalites, limnic quartzites, geyserites and hydroquartzites were formed in the Tokaj Mountains (north-east Hungary) and in the Vihorlat-Gutinian Ridge Transcarpathia, Ukraine). The richness of the Upper Tisza region in lithic raw materials may have attracted early farming communities in the northeastern part of the Great Hungarian Plain within the framework of their expansion. The aim of the planned research project is to study this problem by combining field investigations with techno-economic analyses of the knapped stone industries of the sites in the region.
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The “Earliest Linear Pottery-Culture” (LPC I) is to be seen as a synonym for the beginning Neolithic in Central Europe and therefore also in Austria. The distribution of this culture was limited by several facts of the natural environment, as its economic base was agriculture and stockbreeding. Traces are only to be found through Austrian territory outside the Alps in altitudes up to 400/450 m, on the best arable soils (mainly on loess base) and in the driest and warmest climatic zones with a clearly defined limit of tolerance. In the last two decades excavations of very different scale have been effected. A short overview is given upon the biggest ones and their main results. The first field researches had been between 1984–1986 within an international investigation project. Their results were analysed in detail and just gone into print. In this article they were presented shortly in a sort of summary. At least an outlook is given on current excavations and other projects.
Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagelifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization. David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony describes his discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding. And he introduces a new approach to linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language. The Horse, the Wheel, and Languagesolves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.