Prehistoric Balkans

Prehistoric Balkans

Prehistoric Balkans is the period of human presence (including early hominins) before the appearance of Indo-European people, which extended through prehistory, and ended when the first written records appeared between ca. 1500 and 6th century BC [Minoan,Mycenaean ~1500 BC - Thracian,Lemnian,Venetic 6th c.BC] (Protohistory) [There is no stable definition. According to [ Classical World] "Bronze Age Greece (2000-1200 BC) is mainly protohistoric". According to historiography criterion Balkans enter in Protohistory with Herodotus 5th c.BC.(e.g. Thrace in book V) or even before; Homer (Historicity of the Iliad,Geography of the Odyssey)] .


There is evidence of human presence in Balkans from Middle Paleolithic onwards, but the number of sites is limited. According to Douglass W. Bailey [Balkan prehistory [,M1 Page 15] By Douglass W. Bailey ISBN 0415215978] :

Palaeolithic period or literally the “Old Stone Age” is an ancient cultural level of human development, characterized by the use of unpolished chipped stone tools. The transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic is directly related to the appearance of anatomically modern human around 100,000 years BP. This dramatic shift or leap from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic is sometimes called the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution to denote the great significance and degree of change.

According to Douglass W. Bailey, it is “…important to recognize that the Balkan upper Palaeolithic was a long period containing little significant internal change.” Thus, the Balkans transition was not as dramatic as in other European regions. Crucial changes that define the earliest emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens are presented at Bacho Kiro at 44,000 BCE. The Bulgarian key Palaeolithic caves named Bacho Kiro and Temnata Dupka with early Upper Palaeolithic material correlate that the transition was gradual.

In the late Pleistocene the various components of the transition–material culture and environment features (climate, flora, and fauna)–indicate the evidence for the course of a continual change, differing from contemporary points in other parts of Europe. The aforementioned aspects make us have some doubt that the term the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution is appropriate to the Balkans.

In general outline, continual evolutional changes are the first crucial characteristic of the transition to the Upper Palaeolithic in the Balkans. The notion of the Upper Palaeolithic Revolution that has been developed for core European regions is not applicable to the Balkans. What is the reason? This particularly significant moment and its origins are defined and enlightened by other characteristics of the transition to upper Old Stone Age. The environment background–contemporary climate, flora and fauna–corroborate the implications.

During the last interglacial and the most recent glaciation of the Pleistocene (from 131,000 till 12,000 BP) Europe was very different from the Balkans. The glaciations did not affect the southeastern Europe as seriously as they did in the north and centre regions. Existence of forest-steppe and steppe enforces that the influence was not so drastic. Some species of flora and fauna survived only in the Balkans, because of the aforementioned. Nowadays nature of the Balkans abounds in species endemic only to the part of Europe.

The notion of gradual transition (i.e. evolution) best defines the Balkan Europe from about 50,000 BP. In this sense, material culture and natural environment of the Balkans of the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene were distinct from other parts of Europe. Therefore Douglass W. Bailey writes in "Balkan Prehistory: Exclusion, Incorporation and Identity", “Less dramatic changes to climate, flora and fauna resulted in less dramatic adaptive, or reactive, developments in material culture.”

Thus, speaking about the southeastern Europe, many classic conceptions and systematizations of the Palaeolithic (and then as implication of the Mesolithic) human development should not be considered correct in all cases. In this regard the absence of the Upper Palaeolithic cave art in the Balkans does not seem to be surprising. No civilization growth can be without adaptive need to respond successfully to challenges.


The Mesolithic period began at the end of the Pleistocene epoch 10th millennium BC and ended with the Neolithic introduction of farming, the date of which varied in each geographical region. According to Douglass W. Bailey [Balkan prehistory [ Page 36] By Douglass W. Bailey ISBN 0415215978] :

The Mesolithic is the transitional period between the Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gathering existence and the development of farming and pottery production during the Postglacial Neolithic. The duration of the classical Palaeolithic, which lasted until about 10,000 years ago, is applicable to the Balkans. It ended with the Mesolithic (duration is 2–4 millennia) or, where an early Neolithisation was peculiar to, with the Epipalaeolithic.

Regions with limited glacial impact (e.g. the Balkans), the term Epipalaeolithic is more preferable. Regions that experienced less environmental effects during the last ice age have a much less apparent, straightforward, and occasionally marked by an absence of sites Mesolithic era. According to Douglass W. Bailey:

::“…it is equally important to recognize that the Balkan upper Palaeolithic was a long period containing little significant internal change. The ‘Mesolithic’ may not have existed in the Balkans for the same reasons that cave art and mobiliary art never appeared: the changes in climate and flora and fauna were gradual and not drastic. (…) Furthermore, one of the reasons that we do not distinguish separate industries in the Balkans as Mesolithic is because the lithic industries of the early H`olocene were very firmly of a gradually developing late Palaeolithic tradition…”

There is lithic evidence in Serbia, southwestern Romania, and Montenegro. At Ostrovul Banului, the Cuina Turcului rock shelter in the Danube Gorges and in the nearby caves of Climente people make relatively advanced bone and lithic tools (i.e. end-scrapers, blade lets, and flakes). People started to use more often particular places in the landscape. Significant changes that began in long Upper Palaeolithic did take vaster place during Mesolithic.

The single sites represented materials related to Mesolithic in Bulgaria is Pobiti Kamini. There is no another lithic evidence on the period. There is a 4,000-gap between the latest Upper Palaeolithic material (13,600 BP at Temnta Dupka) and the earliest Neolithic evidence presented at Gulubnik (the beginning of the seventh millennium BCE).

At Odmut in Montenegro there is evidence for human activity in the period. The research of the period was supplemented with Greek Mesolithic well presented by sites such as Franchthi. The other sites are Theopara and Sesklo in Thessaly that present Middle and Upper Palaeolithic as well as early Neolithic period. Yet southern and coastal Greece, which contained materials of the Mesolithic, is less know.

Activities began to be concentrated around individual sites within particular places. Furthermore people declared personal and group identities by using various decorations: wearing ornaments and painting their bodies with ochre and hematite. As regards the point of identity Dailey writes, “Flint-cutting tools as well as time and effort needed to produce such tools testify the expressions of identity and more flexible combinations of materials, which began to be used in the late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.”

Thus, on the one hand the aforementioned allow us to think of speculating whether there was Mesolithic in southeastern Europe in the sense as it was with cave art that never appeared. Perhaps there was only the extended Upper Palaeolithic. On the other hand, lack of research in a number regions and the fact that many of the sites are close to the shore (it is evident that the current sea level is 100 m higher; a number of sites was covered by water) makes us describe the time of the Balkan Mesolithic (better called Epipalaeolithic) in the notions of gradual continuity and poor-defined development.

We do see the southeastern Europe during about 2,500 years from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic till the beginning of the Neolithic was short and not distinct, because changing climatic environmental conditions were not drastic.


The Balkans were the site of major Neolithic cultures, including Vincha, Varna, Karanovo, Hamangia.

The Vinča culture was an early culture of the Balkans (between the 6th and the 3rd millennium BC), stretching around the course of Danube in Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia, although traces of it can be found all around the Balkans, parts of Central Europe and Asia Minor.

"Kurganization" of the eastern Balkans (and the Cucuteni culture adjacent to the north) during the Eneolithic is associated with a first expansion of Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Bronze Age

The Bronze Age in the Balkans is divided as follows (Boardman p. 166)
*Early Bronze Age: 20th to 16th centuries BC
*Middle Bronze Age: 16th to 14th centuries BC
*Late Bronze Age: 14th to 13th centuries BC

The Bronze Age in the Central and Eastern Balkans begins late, a Europe, around 1800 BC.The transition to the Iron Age gradually sets in over the 13th century BC.

The "East Balkan Complex" (Karanovo VII, Ezero culture) covers all of Thrace. The Bronze Age cultres of the Central and Western Balkans are less clearly delineated, and stretch to Pannonia, the Carpathians and into Hungary.

Iron Age

After the period that followed the arrival of the Dorians, known as the Greek Dark Ages or the Geometric Period, the classical Greek culture developed in the southern Balkan peninsula, the Aegean islands and the western Asia Minor Greek colonies starting around the 9–8th century and peaking with the 5th century BC Athens democracy.

The Greeks were the first to establish a system of trade routes in the Balkans, and in order to facilitate trade with the natives, between 700 BC and 300 BC they founded several colonies on the Black Sea (Pontus Euxinus) coast, Asia Minor, Dalmatia, Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) etc.

The other peoples of the Balkans organized themselves in large tribal unions, such as the Thracian Odrysian kingdom in the Eastern Balkans, created in the 5th century BC, and the Illyrian kingdom in the Western Balkans, from the early 4th century.

Other tribal unions existed in Dacia at least as early as the beginning of the 2nd century BC under King Oroles. The Illyrian tribes were situated in the area corresponding to today's former Yugoslavia and Albania. The name "Illyrii" was originally used to refer to a people occupying an area centred on Lake Skadar, situated between Albania and Montenegro (= Illyrians proper). The term "Illyria" was subsequently used by the Greeks and Romans as a generic name to refer to different peoples within a well defined but much greater area. [ The Illyrians. John Wilkes]

Hellenistic culture spread throughout the Macedonian Empire created by Alexander the Great from the later 4th century BC. By the end of the 4th century BC Greek language and culture were dominant not only in the Balkans but also around the whole Eastern Mediterranean.



*John Boardman, "The Cambridge Ancient History", Part I: The Prehistory of the Balkans to 1000 BC, Cambridge UniversityPress (1923), ISBN 0521224969.
*Balkan prehistory By Douglass W. Bailey ISBN 0415215978

ee also

*Prehistoric Europe
*Prehistoric Romania
*Prehistoric Greece
*Paleo-Balkans languages

External links

* [ Periodization of Balkan Prehistory ~ 6200 - 1100 BC]
* [ South East Europe pre-history summary to 700BC]
* [ Balkan Prehistory: Exclusion, Incorporation and Identity by Douglass W. Bailey]
* [ The Aegeo-Balkan Prehistory Project]

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