|THE HOUSEHOLDS IN THE CONTEXT OF PREHISTORIC
SOCIAL EVOLUTION IN THE BALKANS (PROBLEMS)
THE HOUSEHOLDS IN THE CONTEXT OF PREHISTORIC SOCIAL EVOLUTION IN THE BALKANS
Academic lecture of Lolita Nikolova, Ph.D. at the High Anthropological School, Chisinau, Moldova on 25 October 2002
(951 visitors [3-31-09])
In light of recent anthropological theories and despite instances of a diverse social organization in European prehistory, we have
enough arguments to insist that the household was the basic elementary social structure in the prehistoric Balkans.
However, when the question of the emergence of the household occurs, the problem became complicated. For the time being, we
have arguments for household structure since Mesolithic in the Balkans. These are the cult-places - villages of Vlasac - Lepenski
Vir culture where the structure of the occupation and the burials indicate that possibly the household had been already initiated to
create diverse social structures at different levels. In this Mesolithic culture the central function of the hearth indicate that in
prehistory the hearth had functional but also strongly symbolic function as a symbols of the family and the household. However, it
should be stressed that there in no reason to believe that the household was primary in the human evolution and emerged with the
emergence of the modern humans. It seems that the initial social evolution was from band towards household, as a higher level of
organization for the human society. Because of the absence of investigations in these directions regarding the Paleolithic societies
in the Balkans, more productive provide the Neolithic records, although the discussion on the above problem could continue at the
end of this lecture.
The history of the earliest Balkan household itself faces two questions:
1. Theoretical, i.e. the problem of the interpretation of the archaeological evidence with respect of the social development
2. Simply archaeological, i.e. the problems of the chronology of the households, the identification of the household traces in the
excavated villages and the level of documentation of these evidence.
The Method of Excavations and Theory
It could happen that most of the energy of the investigator to be spent on archaeological problems, so in many cases the social
reconstruction just generally supplement the given study by using already created models or intuitive considerations. At the same
time, the social theory generally influences the archaeology and especially the household archaeology. Because of these
ideological aspects of the problem, the theory of the household initially developed mainly in the Western European and the
American theoretical studies. It could be illustrated by the method of excavations of the prehistoric villages in the Balkans. Until
1990s in the Balkans dominated the worst in the settlement archaeology method of horizons. The last artificially divided houses
from the found things inside, as well as houses from houses that recently has created some of the biggest problems for the
researchers on Balkan Prehistory. Moreover, the household archaeology concluded in the Balkans the houses did not burnt at one
and the same time in the villages (at least not always) while the horizon archaeology followed the concept of the one-time burnt
villages in all cases.
The conclusion in this case is, that the past settlement archaeology on prehistoric villages lost a big body of information and as a
result the reconstruction of the earliest history of the Balkan village household is one of the most complicated problems.
Culture Sequence and Archaeology of the Households
Another big for the household archaeology problem is the reconstruction of the culture sequence. The development of the
periodization and chronology in Balkan Prehistory influenced the household problems in several directions:
The development of the periodization concerns the evolution, transformation and innovations in the households, as well as its
history. Some instances:
1. The first agricultural-stockbreeding communities in the Balkans for a long time were connected with the colonization from south or
southeast of the bearers of the white-painted pottery. The investigation in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria in the last decades
documented the so-called monochromic horizon that completely or partially preceded the white painted communities.
2. In diachronic aspect, the development of the absolute chronology of the Mesolithic cultures from the Iron Gates indicate that this
culture preceded the village societies of the Early Neolithic and the arguments for the co-existence of mobile and sedentary
communities in the western Lower Danube have become very critical.
3. The development of the chronology of later Neolithic (Karanovo II-III transition) and investigation of the genesis of the Vinca
culture inferred that the change in the pottery was graduate and the social development is connected with the local societies and
4. The documentation of the transition between the Maritsa culture and Karanovo VI culture in Southeast Bulgaria
(Drama-Merdzyumekya) required re-examination of all available chronological data on the genesis of the Karanovo VI - Gumelnita -
Varna complex, and re-consideration of the cultural processes in the period between ca. 4600 and 4500 cal BC.
5. The increased archaeological base on the Final Copper Age (the latest fifth - earlier fourth millennium BC) infer that the social
changes and transformations but not the invasions is more productive explanation model of the cultural process in the Balkans in
the mentioned period.
6. The increased data on the beginning of the Bronze Age indicate dynamic processes of cultural integration and differentiation in
later fourth millennium BC.
7. The complex analysis of the data from earlier third millennium BC allowed constructing chronological horizons that revealed
similar social processes on vast territories of the Balkans related to the initial chiefdoms, etc.
Problems of Interpretations
On the whole, there is extremely rich record base for the household in the prehistoric Balkans. It is another question that in many
cases we need to generalize and to hypothesize processes for distinct periods or phases.
When the problem of the household and social evolution occurs, the topic becomes very complicated. Most of the archaeological
evidence themselves do not reflect directly the social stratification. It is usually presumed on the base of the complex evidence or
most often based on burial data. However, the rich burial itself does not mean increased social stratification. We have instances
from the traditional societies when the social equality was propaganda even in chiefdom societies. The religion also can be a factor
for stimulating social equalizing in the property, land, stock, or even in the things of the everyday life. There could be two neighbor
villages with two different social polities - one based on structured hierarchical society and another structured on dominated
Then, the historic development itself does not mean increasing of the social stratification and there is no reason to believe that a
decreasing of the social stratification could be immediately connected with invasion or straightforward outer factor as a drastic
climatic change. The society keeps inside its system mechanisms for increasing or decreasing of the social equality or stratification.
The development of the household in context of the social evolution requires a contextual analysis. It should be
diachronic-synchronous and it should include as many evidence as possible. At the same time we can argue that there are leading
records by the different case studies and the methods of the case study interpretations are not universal, they are also contextual.
Further we will shortly summarize two case studies on the topic discussed:
- Early Neolithic Case Study: Karanovo I-II households
- Copper Age Case Study: The Social Inequality in the Eastern Balkans
Early Neolithic Case Study: Karanovo I-II Households
(Households and Social Reproduction)
The recent excavations of Karanovo I-II culture levels at the eponymous site revealed a complex of houses documented on the
southern periphery of the tell. D. Bailey has summarized the archaeological documentation as an instance of changes if the
organization of the building environment. Nevertheless, the diachronic comparative analysis allows to interpret the transformation of
the building space in terms of a model of development of the Early Neolithic periphery households on tells. Initially there were two
buildings close each to other, while during the next phase the position and the size of these buildings changed but the same space
was used to have re-built the household property. The culmination of the building space was during the third and the fourth phases
when there was erected a household complex of three and four buildings, which during the sixth phase of the village occupation
reduced again to two buildings, as the building place of the first phase.
Such development of the household building space during the Early Neolithic can be related to the history of the local households,
so the siblings of the first generation continued to occupy the same building space during the followed phases. Having in mind the
radiocarbon chronology of the Karanovo I-II (the first half of the six millennium BC) it can be accepted the figure of twenty or more
generations that lived in one and the same social space during the Early Neolithic. Similar continuity of village occupation was
argued by V. Nikolov and D. Karastoyanova regarding the tradition and the conservatism of the ceramic style of the Karanovo I
culture in the upper Tudzha valley (Kazanluk tell case study). R. Tringham presumes 8 generations for 200 life history of
Opovo-Ugar Bajbuk (Vonca culture).
This case study opens the question between the continuity between generation and the social evolution. As the excavated part
from the village of Karanovo shows, the periods of extending of the households could be followed by periods of its reducing. This
process can be related to the founding of new settlements and new villages, as well as to inner migrations. But the problem could
also social prosperity or social critical problems of the families.
The Early Neolithic society in the Balkans can be attributed to the early complex society, which were societies with initiated social
differentiation. An instance of a house of high status family was excavated at Sofia-Slatina. The size, the interior and the inventory
infers the house belonged possibly to the chief of the village or at least to the highest level social group. The position of the houses
in the Karanovo village and the average size of the houses, as well as the missing of special inventory indicate that the
household(s) documented there belonged to the commoners. Then, for the time being the evidence of Early Neolithic favor
two-layered social structure: commoners and high-status. The absence of numerous burial evidence did not allow us for the time
being to discuss the problem of the age and gender stratification in this society.
It could be expected that in Late Neolithic (Karanovo III - early Boian - early Hamangia - early Vinca, etc.) occurred or developed a
special middle-status social group with concentration of wealth and prosperous households. These groups are difficult to be argued
by the houses excavated for the time being. For instance, the several excavated houses at Nova Zagora village from Karanovo IV
culture have no specific differences. The same is true for Late Copper Age Zaminets site (but the conclusion may differ if we
investigate the inventory). However, during Late Neolithic for the first time occurred the initial evidence of the metal production (for
instance the evidence from Topolnitsa). Also, for the first time we have completely independent cemetery (e.g. Cernica in the lower
Danube basin) where were discovered burials with different inventory.
Copper Age Case Study: The Social Inequality in the Eastern Balkans
Following this general social evolution scheme, we enter one of the most interesting periods of Balkan prehistory - Early Copper
Age (earlier fifth millennium BC). There is an interesting evidence of the distribution of the metal and of the ceramic style. It has
been recently reported that a main resource for the metal finds from Hamangia graves at Durankulak came from Thrace. It should
be stressed the distance between the Durankulak area and Thrace and the fact that Hamangia influence to the south on the
so-called Sava group is very minimal. Then, if we believe in the metallographic analyses, the exchange of early metal between
communities did not influence other important components of the cultural systems such as the ceramic style. This is one of the
biggest differences between the Early Copper Age and the Late Copper Age when in the whole eastern Balkan area was distributed
different variants of the Karanovo VI - Gumelnita - Varna complex. In support of the former tendency, it should be reminded that
according to the recent analyses of the metal from eastern Serbia, the Vinca finds and post- Vinca metal find from Eastern Serbia
had their resource from Northwest Bulgaria. While in the earlier period the ceramics differed in both microregions in later period
there was unification of the ceramic style.
Then, the conclusion follows that there is no straightforward relationship between the metal exchange and the other components of
the cultural system. We may have to expect a period of political development and restructuring toward new systems were involved
different households. This conclusion is important for the social evolution model as that evolution appears to be a result not directly
of the economic changes but of the political changes. And case studies indicates that the political transformations in prehistory
were very complicated, difficult and contradiction process.
Recently Jan Lichardus reconstructed a real drama at Drama-Merdzhumekya tell. According to him, the houses at the Karanovo VI
village were intentionally fired and left with inventory inside. The last was very carefully arranged. And even there was a sort of
sealing of the house before their fire.
The theory of the intentional firing of the houses is popular in the modern Balkan anthropological literature, especially in the works
of Ruth Tringham and Marijana Stevanovich. The last point at least to two reasons: as a measure to eradicate pests, insects, or
disease, or to signify the death of the household head as a symbolic end of the household cycle. The first reason is one of the
causes of the aging of the houses (along with the aging of the interior and architectural structure). The second one can be also
presumed based on some evidence of burials in the houses and having in mind that according to some ethnographic evidence, the
death of the member of the household could be a reason the house to have been abandoned.
However, in case of Drama it seems the record was explained in term of village intentional fire. It should be stressed that fire of the
prehistoric houses in the Balkan villages is typical. Then, any theory for the conflicts between tribes and communities based on the
single evidence of fire is non-founded. It seems that we undervalue the possibility the fire of the house to mark end of social cycle. It
is worth at Drama that among the fired houses was the one with two levels and more than 200 vessels inside. According to Jan
Lichradus, the fine pottery was on the second level while on the ground level was technomic and storage pottery. But there were
two ovens. Then, this house is a possible the home of the chief and the second floor was a guest-room or belonged to the young
generation. In this case of interest is the fact that among the fine pottery was typical Maritsa pottery despite of the newly accepted
and distributed Karanovo VI pottery. Therefore, we can conclude that the pottery was one of the element of the continuity between
the generations and it was left in the house not just because it was out of the new fashion but there was a general social change in
the household or in the village. It should be stressed that this is the only house for which was reported so many vessels. The
statistics of the Late Copper houses from Vinitsa show that of 7 houses, only in 2 were documented more than 15 vessels while in
the rest there were a few and usually of similar type. Then, we can conclude that the archaeological evidence documents in the
different prehistoric villages social household patterns that can be related to the social status and social changes (Drama case
study) or to the household pattern of the so called killing of the houses. In other words, the inventory found in the houses can be
very incomplete record for the household and its social status. It is typical of the Early Bronze Age that the houses were very
carefully cleared of most of the inventory before the fire.
The implication of the observations and statistics to the social evolution model is that the household archaeology defines pattern
that requires a special and careful interpretation. In case of Drama we do not have burial data. But the end of the village there is
possibly result of social changes. The graduate unification of the ceramic style in the Eastern Balkans clearly indicates a political
reorganization and stabilization. In these processes we can expect changes in the household structures. Having in mind that Drama
was on the south periphery of the newly organized cultural systems, where the households definitely practiced intensively
stockbreeding, we may expect transition to stockbreeding and/or moving to the north by involving the families in exchange of
different kinds of goods. As a matter of fact, Strandzha was one of the resources of metal.
Because of absence of lot of evidence for this period, we can analyze the results of the social development in later period of the
Late Copper Age.
The first result is the extreme high concentration of wealth - this is the Varna cemetery, which is an exception and which is not in the
focus of our analysis. For our topic, we can only stress that Varna cemetery was related not only to the Karanovo VI - Gumelnita -
Varna complex, but also to Krivodol - Salcuta - Bubanj complex.
The second result is the emergence of the social inequality between different micro-regions. This conclusions is based on the
comparative analysis of the Vinitsa and Golyamo Delchevo cemeteries that indicate Vinitsa population seems to have higher social
standard despite the burial data do not give complete and direct information about the social status and social standards. The
second instance is Hotnitsa tell in Yantra basin. It was popular in the literature because of the so-called Hotnitsa treasure of golden
finds. The re-excavations shows that such golden objects occur not many but regularly in the houses of the latest Gumelnita
culture. Shortly, it seems that these latest horizons followed the Varna cemetery. However, there are missing such comparative
analyses between villages and possible future analyses in this direction will provide more evidence.
The third result is formation of different social groups in the villages, which unfortunately is very difficult to be analyzed. The houses
for the time being, in most cases have been published without inventory because of the horizon (settlement) archeology, as well as
the instance from Vinitsa shows the houses were intentionally cleared before the fire. Then, we have again to rely on the burial data
and I will leave this point for further consideration after publishing the Durankulak cemetery that might provide new evidence and
referring for the time being to the analyses of John Chapman.
In compare to earlier prehistory, it occurs than neither Vinitsa nor Ovcharovo and Golyamo Delchevo report community house or
chief house. We will presume that in the pattern of the Late Copper Age communities should be some special attention to such
houses. Starting from Early Neolithic we have evidence for community house in the villages (e.g. Rakitovo). Then, it appears the
social evolution during Late Copper Age develop toward formation of big cult centers outside the villages. Possibly Dolnoslav near
Plovdiv was such cult center but unfortunately it was so controversially excavated that we would say for the best for prehistoric
archaeology regarding this site because of missing of funds the excavation could not continue.
According to the preliminary information, a house of chief was documented at Durankulak that was renovated during several stages
of the occupation of the village.
The final episode of the Later Copper Age and Early Bronze Age social models have been discussed in series of my published
studies, then I will continue with discussion and further considerations regarding the above points and including also Later
Prehistory case studies:
1. The prehistoric households are anonymous. And the continuity of the place of the occupation of several generations is not only
case study of the Karanovo I-II site, but also an explanation model for the tell formations and the long-term traditions of the ceramic
styles. We have white painted style about 500 years that was gradually changed by encrusted style and later by graphite style. All
variations were in these simple systems that totally dominate over vast territories. If the house architecture depended on the
geography, climate and natural environment, the ceramic styles indicated household pattern and it appears the Balkan prehistoric
household followed community pattern and there were many variations between the households, but as components of one and the
same systems. These variations can be argued by the comparative analyses of the house pottery, e.g. Vinitsa 2. They can include
variations of the types and/or ornamentation, as well as in the quantity of the vessels.
2. For the time being, it is impossible to argue an inductive social model of evolution in the Balkans. Opposite is true. It is easy to
argue a deductive social model: from egalitarian (Mesolithic) toward early, developed and late complex society (Neolithic and
3. The archaeological complex evidence documents the villages of the communities, the economic activities and cultural pattern.
However, the household archaeology as archaeology of the family (nuclear and extended) is just at the initial stage of development.
The past and recent archeologists usually deal with architecture, with axes, ceramic styles, with types of metal artefacts, with types
of burials. The historian of the household deals with home, interior, archaeologized things in the houses (in other words things that
were left intentionally, things that were burnt intentionally or accidentally, things which were broken and left in the house etc.).
However, in most of the cases in the publications all these artifacts were artificially separated from the home of the family. Then,
dealing with isolated complex records, the household archaeology still rely heavily on the settlement archaeology which is
unfortunately not very productive regarding social models and interpretations. The settlement archaeology defines spatial models
but it should imply the household archaeology methods and techniques.
In conclusion, it can be expected that development of the household archaeology will considerably contribute to the more complex
social models and more detailed social history of the earliest Balkan village and communities.