Direkt zum Inhalt | Direkt zur Navigation

Benutzerspezifische Werkzeuge

Fishing and fowling at the Copper Age tell near Pietrele, Romania (completed)

Dr. Kenneth Ritchie

Investigating the role of specialization and intensification in developing social inequality during the 5th millennium BC


The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding for the project,”Fishing at the Copper Age tell near Pietrele, Romania: investigating the role of specialization and intensification in developing social inequality during the 5th millennium BC” starting June 1st, 2013. The research will focus on traditional zooarchaeological analysis of fish remains to quantify how different species of fishes contributed to the site economy and attempt oxygen isotope analysis of fish otoliths to determine seasonality of fishing. Kenneth Ritchie (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison 2010) will be the principle investigator.

Fundplatz Pietrele, Rumänien

The European Copper Age, beginning in the 5th millennium BC, is important not just as a time when metallurgy came to Europe, but also marks the first clear indications of the advent of social hierarchy and a dramatic expansion of long distance trade or exchange. While attention is often drawn to the impressive ceramics, copper (and occasional gold) artifacts, and figurative art as especially significant aspects of this culture, subsistence and environmental changes are also equally interesting subjects for study. Although the domesticated plants and animals that were introduced in the preceding Neolithic period continue to play a role in subsistence regimes, many Copper Age site assemblages demonstrate a renewed emphasis on wild resources. Using information about which fishes and birds appear in individual contexts, when they were caught, and how they were processed – in conjunction with other classes of material evidence – the project will search for subsistence variability linked to economic specialization at different locations of the tell site Magura Gorgana and compare these results with other Copper Age sites in the region of the Lower Danube.

Annual report 2014

Continuing work on the project for this year focused on additional identification of the fish remains, analysis of the bird remains, and participating with the excavation campaign in the summer to increase the assemblage of both types of bones available for analysis. Analysis of the hand-collected fish remains from the excavations through 2014 is largely complete, providing an impressive assemblage of over 7000 identified specimens. Wels catfish (Siluris glanis) and cyprinids (several species of carp-family fishes) are the most important fishes recorded (at ca. 45% and 42% of the total, respectively), but pike (Esox lucius) at ca. 7.5% and zander (Sander lucioperca) at 4.5% also made significant contributions. Several other fishes such as perch (Perca fluviatilis), sturgeon, and shad (Alosa sp.) are also present. Regression estimates for the catfish suggest an average size of over one meter, with some examples of dramatically larger fish. This would seem to indicate that a major part of the fish contribution to the diet of the people at Pietrele came from catfish. However, preliminary work with some of the materials recovered from wet-sieving has demonstrated the presence of multitudinous bones from very small cyprinids, which raises the question of whether these fishes (which can be caught in huge numbers under the right conditions) might be of greater importance than currently recognized. Works continues on evaluating this hypothesis.

A surprise finding from the fish remains this past year is the recognition of a type of artifact that is new for the Pietrele excavation: pierced catfish vertebrae. So far 16 examples of these vertebrae have been identified and 10 of these are from the first position in the vertebral column. At least one of the pierced vertebrae shows evidence of wear around the edges of the hole, but the precise purpose and meaning of these artifacts is still being evaluated. Only very few other examples of this phenomenon from southeastern Europe from around this period are known, making this collection of special significance.

The bird bone assemblage from Pietrele is impressively large, at over 1130 specimens to date. Of these, 1050 have been identified to at least the family level, and many have been identified to genus or species level. Around 50 different types of birds are present in the assemblage (final identification of some specimens, especially the numerous eagle remains, awaits a visit to another comparative collection that contains some species that are not present in the AZA collection). Of particular note amongst the identified species of birds is the pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). These remains are by far the earliest evidence of this species in Romania during the Holocene, and suggest that the pheasant was actually an indigenous fowl for Romania and not an introduced species as has previously been thought. The seven specimens of pheasant bone (representing at least two different birds) have been identified on the basis of metric and morphological characteristics. In the new year, with the help of Dr. Elena Nikulina, an attempt will be made to confirm these identifications with the help of aDNA analysis. After this will come an attempt to directly date the bones to establish their exact age.

The bird assemblage is dominated by waterfowl, especially the family Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans) which comprise about 50% of the total. Other birds that are associated with water or wetlands and that are present in significant numbers include: cormorants, herons, cranes, storks, and eagles. Together these birds make up the vast majority of the assemblage and this result corresponds well with other evidence indicating that a now absent, but previously vast lake adjacent to the settlement was of fundamental importance to the people who lived there.

Although differences in some classes of material evidence have been noted between the two trenches that are being excavated on the tell (one in the northern part and one in the southern), for the most part the bird assemblages are quite similar. One exception to this is cormorant, with 50 remains identified from the southern trench versus only 8 bones from the more northerly one. The houses in the southern area have been associated with more hunting and fishing activities (based on tool remains and faunal remains), so one intriguing hypothesis is that the greater number of cormorant remains here could be attributed to fishermen actively targeting birds that are seen as competition (a situation that is well-known historically and ethnographically). Further investigations of the specific find contexts of the bones is required to better test this, and other, hypotheses about the manner in which birds participated in the site’s economy.

With a growing assemblage of identified fish and bird bones, coupled with the anticipated start of isotopic analysis of selected bones, the project is ready to move into an exciting phase of producing interpretations about subsistence in the Copper Age at Pietrele and in the surrounding region in the coming year. These data should help us to better understand the incipient social inequality that is seen to accompany the introduction of metallurgy into Europe.


Annual report 2013

The project (which began on June 1st of this year) entails detailed faunal analyses of fish and bird remains from ongoing excavations at the Copper Age (Chalcolithic) tell site of Măgura Gorgana, near Pietrele, in south-central Romania. DAI investigations at this site have produced a hitherto unprecedented wealth of fish and bird bones for this region and period. The ongoing analyses accordingly promise original contributions to our understanding of economic and social aspects of Chalcolithic culture in the lower Danube River valley because of the nature of the site and the number of bones in the assemblage. Furthermore, the planned implementation of an innovative method of isotopic analysis to determine seasonality using fish otoliths will be a first for this region. In addition to the information of archaeological interest, the project will generate data pertaining to animal populations of the 5th millennium BC and environmental conditions in the river floodplain that will be of interest to wildlife biologists, geographers, geologists and other researchers.


Although significant work has already been done regarding the subsistence economy of the Balkan Chalcolithic period, it remains a poorly understood phenomenon. Despite the introduction of domesticated plants and animals centuries earlier during the preceding Neolithic period, hunting and gathering of wild resources continued to play a substantial role. In fact, wild resources apparently increased in importance during the Chalcolithic compared to the Neolithic. Moreover, the interplay between plants, mammals, birds and fish in the diet of these people is largely unknown. These points are important because the technology involved in procuring resources differs between (and within) classes, as does the labor required and the seasonality of production activities and resource availability.


The tell site presents an unparalleled opportunity to examine the economic aspects of Copper Age society in the Lower Danube River Valley. Carefully controlled and well documented excavations starting in 2002 have produced a wealth of data on the tell itself, as well as the surrounding environment of the Danube floodplain and adjacent terraces. Perhaps most importantly, geophysical investigations indicated settlement activity adjacent to the tell proper – a result that has been confirmed by excavations in 2009 - 2013. The opportunity to compare areas on and off the tell offers an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the internal structure of a Balkan Chalcolithic settlement. To this must be added that the well-stratified (and extensively radiocarbon dated) deposits allow examination of changes to patterns of site usage during the approximately 300 year span of Chalcolithic occupation. Moreover, the presence of Late Neolithic components at the site provides the possibility of tracing the cultural processes that led to the transition to the Chalcolithic.


Because of the extensive area of excavation and the general emphasis placed on recovering plant and animal remains, the Pietrele settlement has already produced one of the largest datasets for the study of a Chalcolithic settlement economy in southeastern Europe. Ongoing work by Norbert Benecke with the mammal bones from the site has resulted in the identification of literally thousands of specimens already. Although recovered in substantial numbers at Pietrele, fish and bird bones are only starting to be analyzed in significant numbers. Rectifying this research lacuna is especially critical to our understanding of the economy given the settlement location on the edge of the rich Danube floodplain, where it can be expected that they played a major role. Furthermore, the overall number of sites in southeastern Europe with well-studied Chalcolithic faunal assemblages is still very limited, especially in regards to fish and birds.


Sieving (with water-screening when possible) is of fundamental importance to a complete understanding of the site being investigated. Without full recovery of the bones present, any attempt at interpretation is condemned to biased results. One very important aspect of this project is the emphasis on quantifying the effect of recovery methods on zooarchaeological results. Preliminary work with samples recovered in the summers of 2010-2012 using wet-sieving with 0.5, 2.0, and 4.0 mm mesh-size screens had already demonstrated that small-sized fish and birds were a vital part of the subsistence regime at Pietrele. During the five weeks I was at the excavation in July and August of 2013, approximately 2900 liters of soil from 91different contexts were wet-sieved on-site. Aside from numerous small bones, beads; pendants; copper objects; and other small finds were recovered by these efforts. In addition to the excavation activities, with the help of some of our Romanian workmen ten additional fresh fishes were procured and processed to increase the number of comparative skeletons available.


Although fieldwork is an important component of the project, most of my time has been spent in the AZA – working on identification of the bones that have been recovered from the site and sorting the tiny fish remains from the small fraction of the matrix that was water-sieved in the field. Although much work remains to be done, preliminary results have already begun to demonstrate intriguing differences between various contexts. For example, features 241 and 254 (a midden of freshwater mussel shells in Trench L, an area from the outer settlement off of the tell) have a much higher percentage of cyprinids (carp-family fishes) than the features that have been analyzed from Trenches B and F on the tell. If this tentatively identified pattern continues to hold as additional materials are analyzed, it will be necessary to account for the difference in fish consumption between these areas. Further work is also needed to see if there are differences in the sizes of the fishes and variability in other classes of artifacts. Clearly, much more information about the Copper Age in southeastern Europe awaits discovery.


Unsere Webseite verwendet Cookies. Weitere Informationen. Einverstanden!