Lost in Transition: The problem of early/middle to late Neolithic transition in Yugoslav/Serbian archaeology of the second half of the 20th century

  • Jasna Vuković Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
Keywords:
Neolithic transition, vertical stratigraphy, pottery, hybrids, technological style

Abstract

Numerous Neolithic sites from the territory of modern Serbia and adjacent areas have traditionally been attributed, on the grounds of the archaeological finds, to two “cultures” – Starčevo and Vinča. Their definition and relative-chronological demarcation have been based upon the extreme abundance of pottery finds; unsurprisingly, the issues of transition between “early” and “late” Neolithic have also been treated from the culture-historical point of view, above all according to the qualities of shards. Differing opinions concerning the role of the Central Balkans in the process of transition led to several different solutions to the problem. On one hand, the “Vinča migration” has been postulated, leading to dislocation of the autochthonous population of the Starčevo culture towards north and northwest; this scenario includes conflicts, though some authors suggested peaceful coexistence of the newcomers and the locals. On the other hand, the region of the Central Balkans has been considered as the centre in which the Vinča culture evolved from the Starčevo one, in the internal process. The concept of “Vinčanization” has been introduced, paradoxically used by the proponents of both interpretations: in the first instance in the sense of violent colonization, and in the second one to describe a peaceful transformation without the interference of external influences. The third solution, aiming at compromise, suggests that the Vinča culture is the consequence of migrations as well as diffusion, so the late phases of Starčevo are simultaneous to the earliest Vinča phase. Although the issues of genesis of cultural groups have played the central role in interpretations of prehistoric phenomena, the interpretations are primarily based upon pottery finds. It is worth noting that in the case of the Starčevo – Vinča sequence, the same elements are stressed as crucial arguments of both mutually conflicted positions: “biconization” of shapes, techniques of surface roughening (barbotine), ornamentation execution.             The inadequacies of the traditional archaeological approach to Neolithic transition are particularly apparent in two points: The obligatory emphasis upon typology as the only methodological procedure, resulting in the approach to ceramics as the completely autonomous element, not dependent upon people or social ordering. Defining the “transitory” types also blurs the identification of hybrids – one of the most important elements in understanding the transitory periods; The need to clearly differentiate between Starčevo and Vinča cultures in vertical sequence, and the refusal to consider the possibility that this need not be the case. By the end of 1990s, the issue of the Neolithic transition has been totally neglected, in spite of the fact that extensive field research has been conducted since then and a number of new sites have been identified. On the other hand, the current archaeological approaches treating the variability of archaeological material (pottery) and interpretation based upon the analysis of technological style with the aim to identify social groups, i.e. group identities, would be highly appropriate for the study of transition processes. Pottery is still crucial, but not as a corpus of material with certain typological characteristics, but as a source of information on socially conditioned practices (techniques of production, ways of learning and transferring knowledge), as the consequences of specific traditions. The research into the problem of the Neolithic transition from this angle would offer answers to crucial, but yet unresolved questions.

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Published
2015-09-15
How to Cite
Vuković, Jasna. 2015. “Lost in Transition: The Problem of Early/Middle to Late Neolithic Transition in Yugoslav/Serbian Archaeology of the Second Half of the 20th Century”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 10 (3), 651-73. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v10i3.5.