Vinča Burials in the Research of Miloje M. Vasić

  • Aleksandar Palavestra Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
  • Monika Milosavljević Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade
Keywords:
history of ideas, archaeological documentation, excavations, graves, Vinča, Middle Ages, archival material

Abstract

Miloje M. Vasić (1869–1956) is considered to be the founding father of Serbian archaeology. This paper directly challenges, as based on detailed archival research, the prevailing view that his excavation of the Vinča archaeological site is a model standard for Serbian archaeology. Instead, Vasić’s handling of the excavation was selective, non-systematic and destructive when viewed today from the perspective of modern practices. Vasić originally gained authority based on the discovery of Vinča, a prehistoric archaeological site that contains layers from the Neolithic to the middle ages. In his zeal to uncover “prehistory”, he deliberately ignored the other archaeological layers present. The most significant example of neglected archaeological remains is his excavations of Vinča’s medieval cemetery where he did not document observations systematically. This prioritization of the importance of one archaeological period over another was reflected in the further development of archaeology in Serbia, so that medieval archaeology was treated as marginal and second-rate compared to others. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to contextualize Vasić’s approach through the methods used in the history of archaeology. The key research question thereof is how Miloje M. Vasić failed to document the burials at the Vinča site, which is the consequent reason why there is little to no documented evidence of them. The theoretical and methodological basis of the analysis is based on the approach of Gavin Lucas who views the creation of the primary field documentation as testimony. Lucas notes that the debate concerning knowledge production had drifted from merely an epistemological issue to a phenomenon centered around archaeological practice. Here the key questions have come to concern the social and material setting of knowledge production and not the objective coherence of the argument. Burials that were noted in Vasić’s documentation are categorized into four groups: 1) unwanted or medieval burials; 2) incidental burials originating from prehistory; 3) an “ossuary” from Vinča containing nine skeletons and 4) imagined multiple cremations based on one found cremation. Therefore, even while documenting several “lateral” prehistoric graves, he entirely omitted any thorough documentation of the medieval cemetery, considering them of less import. If there is any lesson that may be learned from this journey through the history of archaeological practice, it is that archaeological documentation as a form of testimony should be done ethically, adequately and responsibly. It should not be done according to the practices of the “bad science” of its founding-fathers.

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Published
2020-11-06
How to Cite
Palavestra, Aleksandar, and Monika Milosavljević. 2020. “Vinča Burials in the Research of Miloje M. Vasić”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 15 (3), 663–688. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v15i3.2.