Social inequalities were the end of Vráble

Kiel University’s collaborative research centre 1266 publishes a book about archaeology in the Žitava valley

Around 5000 years ago, the Vráble settlement in the Žitava valley, Slovakia, was a flourishing community where the idea of solidarity was one of the foundations of society at the time. Intensive farming and access to exotic resources resulted in prosperity increasing in a way, however, that caused social inequalities, leading to conflicts and tension in the community. Roughly 5100 years BCE, these conflicts reached boiling point and it was no longer possible to contain them through the power of social solidarity. Individual farms began to move away, Vráble was soon completely abandoned. Archaeologists from Kiel University (CAU), together with colleagues from Slovakia and Norway, have now revealed exactly which factors led to the disintegration of the community at the time of the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK).

“Archaeology in the Žitava valley I: The LBK and Želiezovce settlement site of Vráble” presents the research findings mainly on the Vráble settlement "Veľké Lehemby" and "Fárske" in south Slovakia (5250-4950 cal BCE). It is the product of ongoing international cooperation between the collaborative research centre (CRC) 1266 “Scales of Transformation” at the CAU, the Academy of Sciences in Nitra and the University of Oslo. The book combines research from archaeology, geophysics, geomorphology, zoology, botany and the analysis of stable isotopes.

The archaeologists from the CRC 1266’s research subproject at Kiel University investigated the scales of transformation based on various temporal, spatial and social factors in the project “The dynamics of settlement concentration processes and land-use in early farming communities of the Northwestern Carpathian Basin”. The main objective is to understand how socio-ecological interaction processes affected both the environment as well as the communities by the River Vráble. The first volume on the archaeology of the Žitava valley looks at how the introduction of arable farming, livestock breeding and concentrated settlement building, such as in Vráble, contributed towards social complexity and tension between collective solidarity and internal social divisions, as well as how social conflicts were triggered within early farming communities. The Vráble settlement presents an unusual case study for the researchers in this context, because it was continuously inhabited for around 300 years and it is possible to trace its history in great detail. “Its history is unique in itself, but it also harbours clues for a better understanding of the Central European phenomenon of large enclosed settlements of the later LBK culture, the early Neolithic period in Central Europe and the connection with rituals and violence at the end of these societies,” said Professor Martin Furholt, head of the sub-project CRC 1266 “Scales of Transformation”.

Social complexity, communal solidarity, agricultural productivity, regional exchange networks and internal social conflicts are part of Vráble’s history. The subsistence strategies – so the strategy for ensuring food – in Vráble were based on keeping animals and farming crops, sometimes on the same fields. This combination had a fertilising effect on the fields and led to a considerably higher harvest yield. This success probably also appealed to the neighbouring populations and motivated residents to gather in the settlement, which simultaneously fed a much larger population. Individual farms were in a position to secure and obviously monopolise access to critical resources like obsidian and silex – a sign of emerging social inequalities which was then also apparent in the burial sites.

At the same time, the internal differentiation in parts of the settlement that were detached from each other grew: throughout the course of the archaeological investigations, hundreds of long houses were identified in Vráble which were divided into three spatially separate neighbourhoods. Towards the end of the settlement’s era, a large enclosure – ditches and fences – surrounds one of these neighbourhoods. “This segregation suggests an increase in social tension and internal conflicts. It also represents a clear deviation from the usual, mainly cooperative, communal ways of life of most of the early Neolithic communities”, Furholt explains. Vráble is an excellent case study for archaeologists to investigate questions about the interaction between man and the environment, or social patterns and economic practices. Various partial aspects of these are an element of this book.

More information about the collaborative research centre 1266: www.sfb1266.uni-kiel.de/de/ueber-den-sfb

Original publication:

Martin Furholt, Ivan Cheben, Johannes Müller, Alena Bistáková, Maria Wunderlich & Nils Müller-Scheeßel (2020) Archaeology in the Žitava valley I: The LBK and Želiezovce settlement site of Vráble, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 09. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

 

Dug-up plain, grassy field and cloudy sky in the background.
© M. Furholt, Uni Kiel

A view across the excavation area from 2017.

Two people kneel on the ground, a buried human skeleton between them.
© M. Furholt, Uni Kiel

A headless burial in Vráble is uncovered with the students’ help.

Foto eines bearbeiten Obsidians.
© S. Jagiolla, Uni Kiel

Dieses Obsidian-Artefakt wurde in der Siedlung Vráble gefunden.

Scientific contact:

Prof. Dr. Martin Furholt
CRC 1266 “Scales of Transformation”
Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology
martin.furholt@ufg.uni-kiel.de

 

Press contact:

Dr Franziska Engelbogen
CRC 1266 “Scales of Transformation”
Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology
ffaupel@sfb1266.uni-kiel.de