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Duan Bori

3. Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans

Duan Bori

The reputation, name, and appearance, the worth, the usual measure and weight of a thing originally almost always wrong and arbitrary, thrown over things like a dress and quite foreign to their nature and even to their skin has, through the belief in it and its growth from generation to generation, slowly grown onto and into the thing and has become its very body: what started as appearance in the end nearly always becomes essence and effectively acts as its essence! (Nietzsche 2001, 6970; aphorism 58).

Existing models that consider foraging (Mesolithic) and first farming (Neolithic) societies, their interaction, and coexistence rarely reflect wider discursive problems, such as Orientalism and its dichotomous structure that reproduces binary classifications. Complex historical processes are dichotomized, essentialized and, finally, colonized for the sake of proliferating familiar narratives and hardening the progressive time-arrow. Vocabularies used to describe, narrate, and represent these processes of culture change are unavoidably biased and summoned by (post)colonial analogies; there is little care about the terms we use. Issues about subsistence are still central and many models of culture change rely on social evolutionary stadial schemes. Though this chapter works through these theoretical concerns by looking at the Mesolithic-Neolithic evidence in the Balkans, the discussion is applicable to other regions.

which remain the main sources for intellectual inspiration in prehistoric archaeology), naturalization and analogy remain nave, uncritical and non-reflexive. If prehistoric archaeologists intend to use ethnographic data effectively for their prehistoric case studies, they need to go beyond theoretical proxies, such as frontier interactions, cultural resistance, or acculturation. They need to update and nuance their theoretical foundations and embrace the field of postcolonial studies. In order to shape more original approaches, they must also become intellectual foragers themselves. In order to take account of the ambiguities of the historical transformation that is conventionally designated the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, I intend to go beyond demic diffusion and the frontier model for the Neolithisation of the Balkans. The argument will follow a different conceptualization of identity construction and will require a re-examination of the notions of local knowledge and continuity. First, I will outline the theoretical concerns of Mesolithic and Neolithic labelling and the subsequent modelling of the culture change. Then I will examine the so-called Neolithisation process in the Balkans and focus on an example from the Danube Gorges region.

It is time to shift the focus on subsistence that has long naturalized Mesolithic-Neolithic identities. It is time to abandon the simplistic and reductionist models of social interaction and transformation that emerge from ethnographic analogies. Though the naturalization of past identities and the use of unproblematized analogies have provided safe havens for the archaeology of MesolithicNeolithic studies, in reality they have obstructed theory and discussion. In their borrowings from ethnography and socio-cultural anthropology (i.e. the two disciplines

Essentialist proxies: frontiers, acculturations, resistances

Referring to the conventional labels Mesolithic and Neolithic, one of the editors of this book promised at a conference several years ago, I will try not to use M- and N-words. He promised to buy a drink for anyone who spotted a slip of his tongue. He almost succeeded. Towards the end of his paper the habit of using the terms overwhelmed even his conscious decision to change the well-rooted vocabulary of prehistorians. Regardless of their provisional and arbitrary invention (cf. Lubbock 1865), the terms Mesolithic and Neolithic have become the theoretical currency for debates of

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans Mesolithic-Neolithic archaeologists. Definitions for various uses of these terms have been offered (e.g. Bradley 1998; Price 2000; Thomas 1999; Whittle 1996; Zvelebil and Lillie 2000, 59). Strong criticism of the vagueness of these terms has been voiced as well (e.g. Pluciennik 1998; 1999; 2001; 2002). However, even though we have very different ideas about what the terms mean in different particular contexts, we continue to use these terms as shared proxies and heuristic aids. It would be a mistake to expect to replace Mesolithic and Neolithic with a more nuanced terminology and this is not a goal of this paper. Rather, I will point out theoretical and empirical problems that arise from currently popular models of the culture changes/transformations that occurred during the Mesolithic-Neolithic. Throughout, I will use the term transformation rather than transition as the latter ignores the dynamic nature of the process and suggests an irreversible character for the phenomenon. The idea that Neolithic folk, migrating from the eastern Mediterranean across Europe, were the primary movers of the Neolithisation process and the main cause of the contemporary culture change is well established in European prehistory; it is prominent in the original version of the wave-of-advance model (Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1973; also Renfrew 1987). Migrationists (most recently Lichardus and Lichardus 2003; Perls 2001; van Andel and Runnels 1995) see only the defeat and swift replacement of indigenous populations by advancing waves of farmers. The rise in popularity of hunter-gatherer studies (e.g. Lee and DeVore 1968) challenged this group of models in the 1980s. A new Mesolithic-oriented paradigm gave native Mesolithic/ foraging populations a larger role in the Neolithisation process (e.g. Bogucki 1988; Gregg 1988; Whittle 1996; Zvelebil 1986; 1994; Zvelebil and Lillie 2000). These indigenists give an active role to local forager groups in the process of Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations and they model active interactions among foragers and farmers. These are the availability models of a moving frontier (Zvelebil 1986; Zvelebil and Rowley-Conwy 1986; cf. Dennell 1985). There are important differences between the migrationist and indigenist positions. Mark Pluciennik (1999, 6634; see also Rudebeck 1996) has identified distinct rhetorical tropes for each model: the first group of models has progressive/romantic and modernist undertones while the second group embodies a nostalgic rhetoric trope which, though it downplays progress, retains a social evolutionary character. Envisioning a form of multiculturalism, a more nuanced version of the indigenists model suggests that coexisting Mesolithic and Neolithic communities mixed diverse cultural repertoires to produce newly moulded, hybrid identities (Thomas 1996, 1239). The frontier model is more attentive to the dynamics of contact, interaction and exchanges between essentially different populations; it reconstructs local forager groups


in the progressive advance of farmers which the wave of advance model suggests. The model (e.g. Bogucki 1995, 95) builds on the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner (1893) who referred to the American frontier (i.e. the colonial conquest of Americas Great West, a narrative with overwhelming modernist overtones; cf. Klein 1997). One of Turners most exploited ideas is that frontier expansion and the frontiersmen of Americas West produced American democracy and shaped the character of the American nation. For Turner, the ultimate hero was white, middle class, and male. Turner sought to transfigure folk memory into historical consciousness (Klein 1997, 9). His tale is about an evolving historical consciousness (seen in the form of Hegelian spirit) that mastered nature. For Turner, nature represented wilderness, free land, abundance, barrier, nurturer, a spur of profligacy, the sphere in which the morality develops (Klein 1997, 80). Most revealing is Turners assertion that the frontier is the meeting point of savagery and civilization. In its original context, the frontier thesis was a way to represent this meeting point between nature (without history) and culture (with history). Also important is the frontier models notion of the emptiness of free land: free to occupy and exploit (i.e. free to be inscribed with meaning).
The first ideal of the pioneer was that of conquest. It was his task to fight with nature for the chance to exist. Not as in older countries did this contest take place in a mythical past, told in folk lore and epic. It has been continuous to our own day. Facing each generation of colonists was the unmastered continent. Vast forests blocked the way; mountainous ramparts interposed; desolate, grass-clad prairies, barren oceans of rolling plains, arid deserts, and a fierce race of savages, all had to be met and defeated (F. Turner 1893, cited by Klein 1997, 81).

Though the coding is tacit rather than intentional, similar elements can be found in the frontier model proposed for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformation. A wider underlying discursive formation is at work here. It is useful to examine the connection of the frontier thesis to Orientalism (cf. Said 1978; see also B. Turner 1994; 2001). According to Said, Orientalism is a system of classification that maintains the difference between the West and the Orient (Said 1978; 1993). The Orient is seen as a negative Other: if Orientalism, as Said describes it, has a structure, this resides in its tendency to dichotomize the human continuum into we-they contrasts and to essentialize the resultant other (Clifford 1988, 258). For Said, the cause of this polarization is a western textualization that brings authority and speaks for the Other. Here, in Foucaults sense, knowledge is power (i.e. a specific Western will to power). Polarities can be dynamic/stationary, modern/traditional, progressive/ reactionary, or original/mimetic (B. Turner 2001, 65). To these originary dichotomies one can easily add the polarity of savage hunters/civilized farmers (i.e. foragers/ agriculturalists). Bryan Turner (2001) introduces the


Duan Bori frontier models (which often has a tragic narrative) is the notion of resistance and ultimate subjugation of local cultures. Yet, this uniform and cross-culturally universal interpretation may have alternatives which would have to challenge the taken-for-granted notion of monolithic and unchanging identity.
Stories of cultural contact and change have been structured by a pervasive dichotomy: absorption by the other or resistance to the other. A fear of lost identity, a Puritan taboo on mixing beliefs and bodies, hangs over the process. Yet what if identity is conceived not as a boundary to be maintained but as a nexus of relations and transactions actively engaging a subject? The story or stories of interaction must then be more complex, less linear and teleological. What changes when the subject of history is no longer Western? How do stories of contact, resistance, and assimilation appear from the standpoint of groups in which exchange rather than identity is the fundamental value to be sustained? (Clifford 1988, 344)

notion of axial space in order to conceptualize the polarities that map out these differences and boundaries.
The point of these decisive borders is to rule out what I will call historical porosity, that is the ineluctable nature of leaking boundaries between cultures. Archaeological divisions of space constrain the irritant of leaky spaces, the diffusions of cultural porosity. Orientalism has been, in these terms, a major account of axial space. Disputes about the origins or places of a social movement or culture are disputes about how to draw the boundaries and borders of an axial space (B. Turner 2001, 66).

However, the main issue about the nature of representation that Saids Orientalism provoked has much wider theoretical consequences.
The key theoretical issue raised by Orientalism concerns the status of all forms of thought and representation for dealing with the alien. Can one ultimately escape procedures of dichotomizing, restructuring, and textualizing in the making of interpretative statements about foreign cultures and traditions? (Clifford 1988, 261 original emphasis)

Thus, the representation present in the frontier model of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformation has deep roots in Western power relationships, where power, discourse, and representation of knowledge are inescapably enmeshed. By perpetuating this type of model, historical processes and identities are dichotomized, naturalized and essentialized, for the sake of providing acceptable, forcefully coherent and, most of all, recognizable accounts. The use of these polarized categories and their taken-for-granted nature comes from the same discursive stratum as the colonial conceptualization of the encountered Other which is present through the history of colonial expansion and imperialism. In this way, the disruptive colonization of the past is invoked by archaeological accounts that lack a self-reflective stance over the issue of representation. This Orientalist theatre is a stage with a repeated performance (Clifford 1986: 12); it produces static images (cf. Todorova 1997, 7), lacking temporalization and historization of specificity. To model the dynamics of interaction within culture contact, archaeological frontier models frequently rely on the notion of acculturation (e.g. Zvelebil and Lillie 2000). Acculturation assumes that one group is absorbed by another in the culture contact between two groups as well as in the interaction which takes place through emulations and borrowings. Similar to the genealogy of the frontier thesis, acculturation has frequently been applied in particular (post)colonial contexts, understood as the westernisation of traditional cultures. Similar to the conceptualization of the Orient as passive, acculturated groups are frequently seen as passive recipients of externally imposed cultural values through commodities. Yet what if the adoption of certain items or practices and the abandonment of others may be part of a strategy to maintain group cohesion and identity, rather than an attempt to emulate or become identified with another group? (Moore 1987, 87). Another frequent element of

For prehistorians to develop more nuanced scenarios with regard to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations, it is important to consider alternatives to the constitution of personal and collective identities, a topic widely discussed in the field of post-colonial studies (e.g. Clifford 1986; 1988; Drummond 1981; Fischer 1986) and increasingly in archaeology (e.g. Brck 2001; Rothschild 2003; Schrire 1980; 1984; 1995, 4970; Whittle 1998). Furthermore, for the period of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformation, the construction of individual and collective identities remains strongly linked to a specific subsistence-base and economy. Recently, Pluciennik effectively traced a particular genealogy in the constitution of evolutionary stadial schemes that rely on subsistence as meaningful and useful societal categories (Pluciennik 2001, 742; 2002). Without denying the relevance of Marxist theory in relating the mode of production to a specific social identity, one needs to acknowledge that ones identity may be constructed along multiple lines (Meskell 2001, 199), depending on a particular social context and the values promoted in that context in a particular historical situation. Thus, the unchallenged use of social categories, such as foragers and farmers, cannot do justice to the complexity and particularism of studied historical processes. So far I have outlined some theoretical problems with the current modeling of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations. Now, I turn to the evidence of the MesolithicNeolithic transformations in the Balkans and I address pressing, specific, empirical problems that arise from the habit of applying either the wave-of-advance or the frontier model to the evidence.

Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans: changes and continuities

The scarcity of a pre-Neolithic presence in the Balkans is frequently rehearsed (e.g. Runnels 2001; van Andel and Runnels 1995) and is used as support for the argument

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans of an early Neolithic colonization of the region. Accordingly, sites/regions with evidence of Mesolithicearly Neolithic stratigraphies are seen primarily in terms of forager-farmer interactions (e.g. Budja 1999; Chapman 1994; Tringham 2000; Zvelebil 1994). The best researched case of Mesolithic-Neolithic stratigraphies in southeast Europe is the Danube Gorges where it is difficult to dispute continuities in various aspects of material culture between the Mesolithic and Neolithic, particularly at sites such as Lepenski Vir and Padina. In this section I will survey the main trends of Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations across the Balkans (Fig. 3.1) looking particularly at the significance of local knowledge and radiometric dates as evidence for site/regional continuities. The Danube Gorges example and the existing interpretations of its continuities are then examined. A number of factors affect the discovery and visibility of pre-Neolithic sites across the Balkans. One of the main hindrances is the paucity of detailed surveys that are aimed at locating sites of Mesolithic/Epi-Palaeolithic date. Such limitations result from a neglect of this period that is rooted in the history of the regions archaeology; archaeologists frequently have preferred later periods and have developed survey and research methodologies with those periods in mind (e.g. Galanidou 1996). Furthermore, during the Early Holocene some regions experienced considerable environmental change and physical alteration of the landscape. This is especially true for the floodplain networks of large rivers, such as the Danube, where conditions caused intensive and massive alluvial and erosive processes (e.g. the Pannonian Plains (Borsy 1990) and Dobrogea (Bolomey 1978)). Significant alterations also characterize submerged coastal regions of the Aegean and the Adriatic Seas at the beginning of the Holocene. However, mapping the distribution of known Mesolithic/ Epi-Palaeolithic sites across the Balkans (Fig. 3.1) shows that the region was far from empty, and that the previously postulated low population densities during the Mesolithic may be inaccurate. With a new research impetus in recent years, more sites of the pre-Neolithic age and with Mesolithic-Neolithic stratigraphies have become known; some of these have already been investigated or are presently under investigation. From the distribution map, it is apparent that more sites are situated in coastal/riverine zones.


seen along the axis of coastal/inland Mesolithic sites. For example, in terms of the presence of geometric microliths, there is a difference between coastal Franchthi Cave (Perls 1999; 2001; 2003) and the more inland Theopetra Cave (Adam 1999) in Greece. The use of the micro-burin technique has been noted in the north Adriatic (Grotta dellEdera: Biagi and Voytek 1994) and in the Pannonian Plains (Jsztelek I and Jsberny), in the latter region under the influence of central European technocomplexes (Kertsz 1994; 1996a; 1996b). Geometric microliths are restricted to the Aegean and eastern Adriatic coast but are absent along the Black Sea coast which, on the basis of the lithic material, seems closely related to the Danube Gorges (Gatsov 1989). With the start of the Neolithic in the Balkans, there is a general trend toward the laminarization of blades and the use of a steep retouch, as well as a tendency to use good quality raw material of attractive appearance, such as the yellow-spotted flint from the pre-Balkan platform that most likely originates in the region of Shumen in north-east Bulgaria (Voytek 1987). However, even though there was possibly discontinuous occupation of sites with Mesolithic-Neolithic stratigraphies based on the available radiometric evidence (see below), flint material at a number of these sites from the Mesolithic and early Neolithic levels bears similarities (e.g. Cyclope Cave, early Neolithic sites in the Marmara region, Theopetra Cave, Odmut, Pupi ina Pe ). Although important changes mark the start of the Neolithic (e.g. the need to acquire raw materials over long distances) people still used locally available flint (Pupiina Pe: Miracle 1997) and showed a good knowledge of local sources. At some other sites the processes of manufacture were very similar to preceding methods (Cyclope Cave: Sampson 1998; Sampson et al. 1998).

Absolute dates
In terms of radiometric evidence, some sites were continuously occupied (Konispol Cave, Odmut, Franchthi Cave); others had gaps in the Mesolithic-early Neolithic sequence (Theopetra, Cyclope Cave, Grotta dellEdera, Pupiina Pe: Bori 2002b). Thissen (2000) and Biagi and Spataro (2001) have argued, for Greece and the Mediterranean coastal zone, that this chronological gap is a consequence of the span of occupation in these regions and that such a gap in occupation is evidence for a migration scenario for the start of the Balkan Neolithic. However, radiometric evidence is rather scarce, rarely exceeding a dozen dates covering Mesolithic and early Neolithic strata at any one particular site; new dates from these sites may bridge the gaps between Mesolithic and early Neolithic occupations. Furthermore, it is unclear why Biagi and Spataro (2001) exclude the dates from sites such as Konispol (Harrold et al. 1999; Schuldenrein 1998) or Odmut (see Table 3.1 and Fig. 3.2), where the radiometric series indicate an unbroken continuity in occupation between the two periods.

Across the Balkans, Mesolithic lithic manufacturing bears strong elements of the Epi-Tardigrevettian technocomplex which are characterized by splintered pieces and specific elements of core reduction (Kozowski and Kozowski 1983). This general pattern is coupled with local adaptations and influences coming from other techno-complexes: from Anatolia into the Aegean and from central Europe into the Pannonian Plains. Distinction in relation to the use of particular techniques for lithic manufacturing and of specific tool forms can be


Duan Bori

Figure 3.1 The Balkans sites with the Mesolithic and early Neolithic stratigraphies, Mesolithic sites and two early Neolithic sites with Mesolithic dates. Site/region sources:
Marmara Region: Gatsov and zdoan 1994; zdoan 1997; zdoan and Gatsov 1998. Pobiti Kamani: Gatsov 1989. Cyclope Cave: Sampson 1996; 1998; Sampson et al. 1998; 2003; Moundrea-Agrafioti 2003; Trantalidou 2003; Powell 2003. Theopetra Cave: KyparissiApostolika 1995; 1998; 2000; 2003; Adam 1999; Newton 2003. Franchthi Cave: Jacobsen 1969; 1976; Jacobsen and Farrand 1987; Perls 1990; 1999; 2001; 2003. Klisura 1: Koumouzelis et al. 1996; 2003. Sidari: Sordinas 1969; 2003. Konispol: Schuldenrein 1998; Harrold et al. 1999; in press; Russell 1998. Odmut Cave: Srejovi 1974; Markovi 1974a; 1974b; 1985; Kozowski et al. 1994. Vrua Peina: Djurii 1997. Crvena Stijena: Benac and Brodar 1958; Benac 1975; Mihailovi and Dimitirijevi 1999. Medena Stijena: Mihailovi 1996; 1998; 1999. Jsztelek I and Jsberny I: Kertsz 1994; 1996a; 1996b; Kertsz et al. 1994. Dobrodgea: Bolomey 1978. Pupiina Pe and ebrn Abri: Miracle 1997; 2002; Miracle et al. 2000. Grotta dellEdera: Biagi and Voytek 1994. Danube Gorges and Early Neolithic sites: see the text.

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans Mesolithic and early Neolithic inhabitants knowledge of local landscapes, resources, and communications is important even at sites with discontinuous sequences between the two periods. At Theopetra Cave, KyparissiApostolika (2000, 138) notes that it is unlikely that new colonists at the beginning of the Neolithic would recognise or use the cave location unless they had previous memory and knowledge of the surrounding landscape. Similarly, at Cyclope Cave, early Neolithic inhabitants had a good knowledge of local landscapes and resources, and were skilled in seafaring, similar to earlier Mesolithic inhabitants despite the discontinuous radiometric sequence and significant changes in subsistence (Sampson 1998; Sampson et al. 1998). At face value, the available radiometric evidence and claims for the significance of local knowledge of landscapes, communications and resources suggest a mixed character for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformation; the appropriate metaphor would be a mosaic or patchwork of processes of transformation (cf. Tringham 2000; Whittle et al. 2002). One cannot over-emphasize the fact that much can be gained by shifting our analytical sights from very broad and general scales (i.e. autochthonous vs. allochthonous models of the early Neolithic in Europe) to the smaller scales at which past human decisions and strategies were conceived or implemented (Miracle 1997, 57). Also important are the possible reasons for re-occupying locales in the landscape


at the start of the Neolithic; this recurrent practice may relate to long-term memory and complex processes of the invention of culture (cf. Bori 2002b; Wagner 1980). These examples undermine previous arguments about the wholesale introduction of the Neolithic package and they illuminate the need to seek an alternative route to examine the process. The evidence provides only indirect clues about the nature of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformation. Examples from the Danube Gorges provide a finer insight into shared practices and materialities between the Mesolithic and Neolithic realms.

Exception or clue? The Danube Gorges regional group and beyond

The Danube Gorges region is the case of MesolithicNeolithic continuities in the Balkans par excellence (e.g. Bori 1999; 2002a; 2002b; Bori and Miracle 2004; Boronean 2001; Radovanovi 1996a; Srejovi 1969; 1972). Site locations, radiometric dates, spatial recognition of older features, rectangular stone hearth architecture, elements of portable material culture (e.g. bone, antler and boars tusk tools) as well as subsistence practices underline strong continuities between chronologically distinct Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods (c. 10,0005500 cal BC). However, there is no consensus among researchers over these continuities (or even of the

Stratum IIb IIb IIa IIa IIa Ib Ib Ib Ia Ib Ib Ib Ia/Ib Ib XD

Context description

Lab ID SI-2223

bp 6530 6730 6900 6985 6995 7030 7080 7150 7350 7440 7720 7790 8590 9135 10045

sd 75 160 100 100 100 160 85 100 160 150 85 70 100 80 85

Cal BC 1 sd 5610-5380 5750-5480 5890-5660 5980-5740 5990-5750 6020-5730 6020-5840 6160-5890 6390-6030 6440-6100 6640-6460 6690-6500 7750-7530 8460-8260 9750-9310

Cal BC 2 sd 5620-5320 6000-5350 5990-5620 6030-5660 6060-5660 6250-5600 6160-5740 6230-5800 6500-5800 6600-5950 6800-6350 7000-6450 8000-7450 8560-8210 10200-9250

Attribution Early Neolithic? Early Neolithic? Early Neolithic Early Neolithic Early Neolithic Mesolithic? Mesolithic? Mesolithic? Mesolithic Mesolithic Mesolithic Mesolithic Mesolithic Mesolithic Mesolithic

Primary source

block V, layer 11

Z-412 SI-2222 SI-2217 SI-2219

RC 19: 473

block 1, layer 19

Z-457 SI-2227 SI-2220

RC 19 : 473

block 5, layer 21 block 5, layer 15

Z-413 Z-411 SI-2221 SI-2226

RC 19 : 473 RC 19 : 473

mixed dark and yellow sediment sector III 1, layer 17

SI-2224 SI-2228 SI-2225

Table 3.1 Radiometric dates from Odmut with their context, where applicable (Sources: Srejovi 1974, 5; RC 19 [1977], 473; Markovi 1985; Chapman and Mller 1990, table 1; Gob 1990, 197; Kozowski et al. 1994, 5556).


Duan Bori

Figure 3.2. Calibrated radiometric dates on charcoal from Odmut Cave. Solid bars show 1 s.d.; lines show 2 s.d. Source: Table 1.

stratigraphy and dating of the type-site of Lepenski Vir). Much debate has focused on dating of particular features at these sites to the Mesolithic (i.e. early Neolithic) and on the cultural attribution, continuity and definition of Mesolithic and early Neolithic identities. Regarding the absolute dating and material associations of trapezoidal buildings at Lepenski Vir, a research consensus is being reached. Corrections to the previously flawed understanding of the sites stratigraphy (Bori 1999; 2002a) have been augmented by new radiometric dates (Whittle et al. 2002) and by photographs of early Neolithic pottery on the floors of trapezoidal buildings (Garaanin and Radovanovi 2001). Most of the structures at Lepenski Vir, previously exclusively labelled as Mesolithic were most likely very late in the sequence (possibly dated to c. 6300 cal BC) and their construction continued throughout the early Neolithic occupation of the site (i.e. until 5500 cal BC). However, there remain important differences in the interpretations of the corrected chronology. For instance, Radovanovi defines the complete development of this regional group as the Iron Gates Mesolithic according to the type of economy (Garaanin and Radovanovi 2001;

Radovanovi 1996a). Economy was based on riverine resources and remained largely unchanged during the chronological span of the early Neolithic development (mainly due to the significant absence of domestic stock at least at some of the sites; cf. Dimitrijevi and Bori forthcoming). Many authors have adopted this perspective, postulating a frontier between indigenous Mesolithic societies and incoming farmers present in the surrounding areas (Budja 1999; Chapman 1993; 2000; Tringham 2000; Voytek and Tringham 1989). In this context, the abundant early Neolithic pottery and other material culture characteristics for the period at sites such as Lepenski Vir have been interpreted as the exchange of prestige items and commodities (Radovanovi 1996b; Radovanovi and Voytek 1997) between two genetically and culturally unrelated communities (Chapman 1999; 2000), differentiated primarily on the basis of subsistence strategies. Chapman (1999) even argues that the signs of violence on some skeletons document violent encounters of the Danube Gorges forgers and the surrounding farmers (even though such burials date to before the appearance of the early Neolithic pottery in the Balkans by several centuries, (cf. Cook et al. 2002, table 3).

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans According to this scenario, the forager population in the Danube Gorges was in the end acculturated after several centuries of resistance to the incoming farming lifestyle. This position undermines the historical context of trapezoidal buildings and the practices taking place in these features, it relies on economy as the key definition of a society, and it downplays the complexity of the process of identity construction (cf. Bori 1999; 2002a; in press). Postulations of such differences between foragers and farmers as ideal categories are built on the notion of pure cultures and transplant the familiar narrative of colonial encounters, especially evoking the ideas of frontier, acculturation and resistance. I suggest that Mesolithic identities cannot be clearly distinguished from early Neolithic ones either in the forager context of the sites in the Danube Gorges or in the farming context of early Neolithic settlements across the central Balkans. It is not easy to distinguish the cultural categories of purely Mesolithic from purely Neolithic. Lepenski Vir provides a case-study for examining this


issue, especially in the use of disarticulated human bone as a way of incorporating Mesolithic remains in early Neolithic contexts. This use of human bone also relates to the problem of material social memory and might have been surrounded with various meanings, such as the ancestral apotropaic potency of these remains which could have been understood as relics (cf. Bori 2003). However, I am primarily interested in the idea that material traces from the (Mesolithic) past are part of the (early Neolithic) present at Lepenski Vir.

Burial 7, Lepenski Vir

The clearest examples of the complexity of mortuary rites at Lepenski Vir are Burials 7/I-a and 7/II-b (Srejovi 1967; 1972; Srejovi and Babovi 1983, 136; Stefanovi and Bori in press). Burial 7/I-a is an extended inhumation of an adult man, placed in a burial pit cut through the floor of House 21 (Fig. 3.3). This building is the last of four buildings that overlap and horizontally displace each other (see Bori 2003). The burial may

Figure 3.3 House 21 and Burials 7/I-a and 7/II-b, Lepenski Vir (after Stefanovi and Bori in press, fig. 15).


Duan Bori the two burials and were used to further investigate the possibility that the skulls were from different periods. The value of this method relies on Bonsall et al.s assumption (Bonsall et al. 1997; 2000; Cook et al. 2002) that one can assume that burials with higher d15N values (above +13%) are Mesolithic in date, while those with lower d 15N values (<+13%) are dated to the transformational or early Neolithic phase of occupation (see Bori et al. 2005). Differences in d15N are the results of varying intake of freshwater and migratory Danube fish and its products (e.g. fish roe) and in changes in the importance of other food resources, such as wild game or carnivorous animals (Bori et al. 2005; Grupe et al. 2003). However, these differences cannot be easily translated into a clear-cut Mesolithic-Neolithic subsistence dichotomy since stable isotopes of early Neolithic individuals still indicate a significant reliance on fish remains (see Fig. 3.5). For this separation of Mesolithic and early Neolithic diets to become a more secure dating proxy, many more analyses (with absolute dates) are needed, especially for early Neolithic individuals. In the context of double Burial 7 and keeping in mind the morphological differences of the skulls, it is useful to look at their stable isotope values. Burial 7/II-b has a d15N value of 15.12%, which corresponds to the range of d 15N values of individuals dated to the arbitrarily distinguished Mesolithic and transition phases. On the other hand, the d15N value for Burial 7/I-a is 11.49% which corresponds with the early Neolithic group of burials at Lepenski Vir (cf. Bori et al. in press; Grupe et

have signified the final abandonment of the location. Apart from the extended inhumation inside the burial pit, there was a disarticulated human skull labelled as Burial 7/II-b, placed on the left shoulder of Burial 7/I-a, and facing the deceased. Next to the right side of Burial 7/I-a, an aurochs skull was placed upside-down. Without radiometric dating, one can only speculate about dates for the individuals represented by the two skulls. However, comparison of their morphological features and of their stable isotope values provide some evidence for their date. A comparison of skull morphology reveals that they have very different degrees of robusticity. Thus, the disarticulated skull of Burial 7/II-b has very pronounced eyebrow ridges, which are absent on the skull of Burial 7/I-a (Fig. 3.4). While the 7/IIb skull resembles a group of very robust individuals found at Lepenski Vir, the similarity is even stronger at the sites of Vlasac, Padina and Hajdu ka Vodenica (e.g. Miki 1980; Nemeskri 1969; 1978; Roksandi 1999; 2000; ivanovi 1975a; 1975b; 1975c; 1976; 1979). Some of these robustlooking individuals have been dated to the Mesolithic, between c. 9700 and 7000 cal BC (Bonsall et al. 1997; Bori and Miracle 2004). On the other hand, more gracile skulls found at Lepenski Vir fall within the transformational phase or into the early Neolithic (i.e. between around 64005500 cal BC). It is possible that one could date the detached skull, Burial 7/II-b, to the Mesolithic period and the articulated inhumation, Burial 7/I-a, to the period after 6400 cal BC. Stable isotope values provided dietary signatures for

Figure 3.4. (left) Gracile skull Burial 7/I-a and (right) robust skull Burial 7/II-b, Lepenski Vir.

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans al. 2003; contra Bonsall et al. 2000, 129). On the basis of this information at Lepenski Vir the incorporation of individual bones from older burials (possibly as relics) into burials of individuals during the early Neolithic relates to the occupation of trapezoidal buildings. This Lepenski Vir case suggests profound material links between the two periods: the continuing relevance of Mesolithic materialities during the early Neolithic, in this case human bones. The proof of continuities is also found in the evidence for early Neolithic dwelling at the places of previous Mesolithic occupations or in the use of the same form of rectangular stone hearths (Bori 2003). Furthermore, one is intrigued by the position of the extended inhumation Burial 7/I-a. While the burial in question is most likely dated to the early Neolithic part of the sequence, this type of mortuary rite characterizes the preceding Mesolithic period at this and other sites in the


Danube Gorges. In addition, several other burials at Lepenski Vir cross the assigned Mesolithic/Neolithic categories in a similar way (Bori in press). This example from the Danube Gorges helps us examine whether the mix of Mesolithic and Neolithic in this region is an exception or whether it provides a clue to usually unclear continuities between the periods. Additional evidence from other human burials from two early Neolithic sites in the north Balkans (in the Pannonian Plains, see Fig. 3.1) provides more information.

Pannonian Plains
Surprisingly, two recent radiometric analyses of human bones from the early Neolithic sites of Topole-Ba in Serbia and Maroslele Pana in Hungary (Fig. 3.1) produced dates of Mesolithic age (Whittle et al. 2002).

Figure 3.5 d 13C and d 15N values for securely dated human individuals from different sites in the Danube Gorges. Dates corrected for the freshwater reservoir effect according to Method 2 as described by Cook et al. (2002, 82). All calibrated with OxCal v. 3.4.
LV (Lepenski Vir) = Bonsall et al. 1997, table 3; 2000, table 3; Cook et al. 2002, table 4. V (Vlasac) = Bonsall et al. 1997, table 5; 2000, table 3; Cook et al. 2002, table 5. HV (Hajduka Vodenica) = Bori 2002b, table 4.4; Bori and Miracle 2004. P (Padina) = Bori 2002b, table 4.10; Bori and Miracle 2004. SC (Schela Cladovei) = Bonsall et al. 1997, table 4; 2000, table 3; Cook et al. 2002.


Duan Bori them at these sites. The latter possibility is more likely for Burial 7 from Maroslele Pana (a disarticulated human skull) than for Burial 2 from Topole-Ba, a contracted articulated inhumation. For Burial 2 at Topole-Ba, one could also reconstruct mummifying or wrapping that would have kept the bones articulated for a long period of time and thus have enabled their circulation. There is a clear underlying principle that speaks about a strong relevance of past materialities, significantly in the form of human remains (cf. Bori 2003), regardless of whether the two sites were occupied in the Mesolithic at the time when the two individuals died (and were possibly buried here and the sites then re-occupied at the outset of the early Neolithic), or whether the bones of the old dead were brought from some other place and deposited here in the early Neolithic. The Lepenski Vir disarticulated remains of Mesolithic date, present in an early Neolithic context, and similar evidence from the two other early Neolithic sites are clear examples of Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations, through which identity and belonging are defined through material references to the preceding period. This is not to propose a wholesale transmission of meanings from the (Mesolithic) past into the (early Neolithic) present. Rather, they illuminate long continuities of locally

The first date is OxA-8504 (808555 bp ) from the contracted inhumation Burial 2 at Topole-Ba ; it calibrates to 73106820 cal BC (2 s.d.), almost 1000 years older than a neighbouring dated skeleton found in the same position (i.e. Burial 1 (OxA-8693: 717050 bp, calibrated to 61705910 cal BC, 2.s.d.); see Bori 1999, fig. 28). The other Mesolithic date (OxA-X-922-30; 768070 bp, for a disarticulated human skull, Burial 7, from Maroslele Pana (Whittle et al. in press) which calibrates to 66506410 cal BC (2 s.d.) replaces the less precise date of OxA-9403 (776555 bp). This date is significantly older than those from four other burials at the site (Fig. 3.6) all of which indicate an early Neolithic occupation at around 59005500 cal BC. On the one hand, the two burials of Mesolithic date from the early Neolithic contexts could be statistical outliers with a limited implication for the beginnings of the Early Neolithic across the Balkans. On the other hand, if accepted, they provide new evidence for studying the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations. At present it is unclear whether Topole-Ba and Maroslele Pana were occupied during the Mesolithic period or whether the dated Mesolithic human bones were circulated and kept as relics or heirlooms, perhaps, of groups who brought them from some other place before depositing/burying

Figure 3.6. Early Neolithic features and the AMS dated burials at Maroslele Pana (adopted from Trogmayer 1964, fig. 1; dates after Whittle et al. 2002).

Deconstructing essentialisms: unsettling frontiers of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Balkans grounded habitual practices that were not related to other axes of identity and belonging but which were limited to identity as a practice of belonging and dwelling at these places. Meanings associated with these places pasts might have been transmitted, re-invented and/or significantly altered over the long-term, regardless of various constitutive elements that we define as a coherent and bounded culture/tradition. It is not pure cultural essences that we encounter in these examples from either side of the Mesolithic-Neolithic divide; the examples indicate fluid boundaries between our Mesolithic and Neolithic categorizations. In this respect, the Danube Gorges should not be taken as an exception to the nature of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations; it should be seen as a case study with rich potential for framing more nuanced theoretical arguments, which could inform other regional sequences.


In this paper, I have presented ways to re-consider the porosity of the culture concept, our unnecessary reliance on an Orientalist dichotomy of Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations, and the familiar narratives of structured progress which exist in narratives of frontier models. In opposition to narrow and monolithic visions of cultural identity which dominate current discussions with regard to these periods, I have emphasized the complexity of identity construction. When examined in detail, evidence from Mesolithic and early Neolithic sites suggests mixed processes of cultural transformations and significant variability. The importance of local knowledge undermines arguments that use (dis)continuous sequences as the evidence for and against colonization (i.e. the indigenous scenarios of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transformations). The break with the past in the early Neolithic Balkans is less sharp than usually assumed; this may be a factor of cultural memory in particular locales and practices. Evidence from the region undermines ideas about progressive early Neolithic inscriptions over an empty landscape (as suggested by models of migration) and finds inadequate the modelling of encounters between cultures with supposedly pure essences.

I would like to thank Alasdair Whittle and Douglass Bailey for the possibility to join this publication and Anna Boozer, Nan Rothschild and Lindsay Weiss for providing comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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