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Oldest Neolithic settlement found in Vlaho, Macedonia

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Archaeologists have discovered the oldest settlement in Macedonia, dating back to the early Neolithic. A scholarly paper on the Neolithic site at Vlaho near Živojno in the Pelagonia region of Macedonia by the Center for Prehistoric Research has been published in the prestigious archaeological journal Antiquity, published by the University of Cambridge.

The Project Gallery edition of this magazine summarizes the latest findings on this Neolithic settlement, which experts say is of great importance to Macedonian and European archaeology.

– The paper highlights the presence of a dozen trenches mapped at the Vlaho site by geophysical scanning. The results of this research indicate up to thirteen semicircular concentric ditches, which is currently the only such phenomenon in prehistoric Europe. In the space covered by these ditches there are two other parallel ditches that form a rectangular unit that houses the remains of several Neolithic buildings. In addition to this very interesting complex, geophysical scans confirmed two other grabens that were formed independently and which are not currently known if they formed contemporaneously or later, according to the Center for Prehistoric Research.

One of the oldest Neolithic sites in Europe

Judging by radiocarbon analysis, the oldest strata at the Vlaho site date from 6410–6240 BC, making it also one of the oldest Neolithic sites in Europe.

– In this sense, if these dozen semicircular ditches were made in the early Neolithic, which is suggested by the preserved data and material culture, then this makes this site extremely important due to its specific spatial organization, which is not common for the Balkans, but also in a broader sense.

Goce Naumov from the Center for Prehistoric Research in Skopje, together with colleagues from Germany, Italy, Poland, Macedonia and Serbia, studied the early Neolithic settlement of Vlaho, discovered in south-east central Pelagonia.

Vlaho site endangered by coal mining

This monument is threatened with destruction due to intensive coal mining, so archaeologists have been conducting security and rescue work.

– The negligent behavior towards this locality causes damage to its peripheral parts and in particular to the ditches that represent its unique characteristic. Urgent protection of this site and a much louder appeal for its full preservation is therefore required. In this sense, the publication of the latest findings on this unique locality in the prestigious Antiquity magazine will help Vlaho be recognized at international level and provide it with proper scientific treatment and protection. Apart from prominent world scientists, some of whom are involved in the research of Vlaho, international organizations are also becoming aware of its value and specificity, which will initiate its full protection, the Macedonian Center for Prehistoric Research announced.

Explorations have shown that Vlaho was a very large settlement for the Balkans of its time, as evidenced by ceramic fragments found on an area of about six hectares.

In 2021 and 2022, archaeologists dug five 1 x 1 meter exploratory pits and one 10 x 5 meter excavation to find out the site’s stratigraphy. Scientists have found that the thickness of the cultural deposits at one of the sites reaches 1.34 meters and all belong to the Early Neolithic.

In addition to the remains of domesticated plants and animals, ceramic fragments, researchers found the remains of several structures.

To find out the age of the monument, archaeologists turned to accelerator mass spectrometry. They selected samples of charred grain kernels for dating.

The earliest surviving date showed that the settlement was established around 6410–6240 BC. According to researchers, these are to date the oldest evidence of the Neolithic found in Macedonia. In addition, this dating is one of the earliest for the entire Balkans.

According to the Center for Prehistoric Research, the publication of this scientific work in the renowned Antiquity magazine will give a much larger and worldwide confirmation of the Vlaho near Živojno site and its chronological, spatial and cultural peculiarities. The fact that the work is peer-reviewed by the world’s best experts validates the statement, confirms the reliability of the results presented and allows for their thorough inclusion in the studies of numerous researchers. In this way, the importance of this very specific Neolithic settlement and the need for its long-term exploration and protection is highlighted.

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