BY NELSON CABEJ/*
About 8 thousand years ago the western Balkan was inhabited by a population that had developed its own characteristic culture, representing an independent cultural entity rather than a subregion or reflection of the pioneering civilization of the Near East. This population served as the Mediterranean substrate of the future Illyrian ethnos, whose long historical evolution to the formation of the Albanian people will be the main subject of this work.
When and where the first humans came from to Balkans and Europe in general, is not known with certainty. According to the prevailing opinion, based on an ever-growing snowball of anthropological evidence posits that the modern human race originates in an East African center from which modern humans migrated to spread rapidly over all the continents. But all the human fossils studied as of yet cannot resolve whether the modern human species, Homo sapiens sapiens, rose from an oasis of intelligence in East Africa or it evolved in wider regions of Africa1. Nevertheless, the opinion of some paleontologists on the multifocal origin or south-Asiatic origin of humans should not be ignored.
The modern human species exited Africa about 50-60,000 years ago2 and within a relatively short period of time, they settled Europe and Balkans. It is not known, however, whether they came from the Near East or from the Eurasia. The details of the epic journey of the Homo s. sapiens tribe from East Africa, claiming to become ruler of the world, just after he left the Animal Kingdom, may remain unknown forever. This compells us to start our recount from that point in time when the earliest human fossilized remnants of the western Balkans are dated.
In the peninsula are also discovered traces of the Neanderthal man that lived since the earliest times of the last glacial period (~70-40 thousand years ago), as well as fossilized remains of the modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens, that appeared during the Late Paleolithic period, 50 to 10 thousand years ago. Additionally, in the territory of Western Balkans (Krapin, Croatia) are discovered fossils of more than 80 Neanderthal individuals. During the Late Paleolithic era the territory was populated from east and west, while evidences for immigrations from the south are uncertain. Life in society in Balkans developed since the Paleolithic period3 and Albanian archaeologists have discovered a number of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic settlements4. During the Mesolithic period (11,000-8,000 BC) occurred the brachycranization (skulls becoming shorter and broader) and gracilization (reduction of bone mass), while during the transition to the Neolithic period occurred significant microevolutionary changes, leading to the change of the anthropological type and formation of the Mediterranean anthropological type.
With the beginning of the Neolithic period, the Balkans became homeland of a population of food producers about 1 thousand years before the populations of Central Europe and 2 thousand years before those of the West and North Europe, appearing thus as an integral part of the Mediterranean cultural area and the ancient human civilization5 rather than a reflection of the Near East civilization. Although agricultural crops and animal domesticates that were cultivated in Balkans since the 7th millennium BC, were generally introduced from the East, the native population domesticated the cattle and swine, before they were domesticated in the Near East6. During the Early Neolithic this region, was integral party of the Meditterranean cultural region, which in the prehistory was part of the European cultural complex.
About 8 thousand years ago in human tribes in Western Balkans began a process that led to formation of the pre-IndoEuropian substrate of the Illyrian ethnos.
Archaeological finds in the territory of modern Albania, in Vashtëmi and other sites in Korça district, attest that by the 7th (~6400 BC) millennium Neolithic settlements were founded there. The region thus is among the first to develop agriculture in South Europe. Excavations in the Vashtëmi site led archaeologists to the conclusion that “agriculture was only one part of the subsistence economy, which also included hunting, ﬁshing, and the gathering of wild plant resources”7.
Two cultural complexes developed in western Balkans during the Neolithic era: the Starčevo complex with its characteristic pottery, which emerged around the first half of the 6th millennium BC and the Vinča culture.
Inhabitants of the region of Starčevo complex in Western Balkans cultivated wheat, barley, etc. and from domestic animals they raised mostly sheep, goats and a kind of cattle, but less swines. They produced a series of bone tools for use in farming, hunting, fishing, etc, and made bone ornaments.
Due to the lack of the large tombs in Starčevo, the knowledge on the physical type of the inhabitants of the region is inadequate. However, the small number of the analyzed skeletons indicates that this population represents a mixture of Proto-European with oriental elements8.
In the Adriatic coast of the western Balkans between the 6th and 5th millennium BC developed the Impresso civilization characterized by a pottery with ‘impressions’ or scratching with shells of the bivalve mollusk Cardium edule, which was spread throughout the Mediterranean world, but there is no sufficient reason to believe that the spread may be related to any migrations of this population to other Mediterranean countries. This population lived both in caves and open settlements. In Albania the Impresso culture is represented by archeological finds of the Konispol cave dated immediately after Mesolithic period (the cave seem to have been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic period)9 .
Neolithic population of this period raised mainly sheep, goats and cattle. Later they developed the colored pottery of the Danilo complex, with geometric and spiral motifs. This ceramics was very smooth and with thin walls. The population of this complex was engaged in husbandry, agriculture as well as in hunting.
Skeletons found show that individuals were buried in flexed position, but no tombs or graveyards are found in this region.
During the 6-5th millennium BC in Balkans emerge a few cultural complexes clearly distinct from each other, from which of special interest is that of Vinča (Turdaș) culture in the central region of Balkans and Hvar culture (named after the homonymous island) in the Adriatic coast. The view that the development of these cultures, which are distinct in regard to their pottery and art styles, may be related to the immigration of ethnic groups from the East is refuted from the fact that this would not lead to the factual diversification of Balkan cultures of the time, but to their further uniformization10. For these reasons, the development of the Vinča and Hvar cultures has to be considered normal development of the local cultures, certainly under the influence of the contacts with the Aegean-Anatolian world.
Vinča culture, dated to 5,700-4,500 BC, developed in the Central Balkan. The culture features intense spiritual life reflected in more than one thousand figurines, exceeding the number of figurines found in Aegean Greece, which clearly indicate that at this early period they had created their cults.
Figure 1. (A) A figurine of Vinča culture found near Prishtinë (Kosova), with pictographic signs or symbols of a primitive writing. In T.D. Griffen’s interpretation, the figurine displays the mask face of a bear and the signs on the right bottom from the left to the right symbolize respectively bear, goddess and bird. (B) Arrogant Lady of Vinča. A ~5,000 years old anthropomorphic terracota figurine of the Great Goddess from Vinča (Serbia).
From Griffen, T.B. (2007)11.
According to G.I. Georgiev, the Neolithic culture of Starčevo evolved into the Vinča culture under the influence of internal and external factors in a human society, whose substrate during the whole that period of time remained unchanged. Similarly developed other Balkan cultures of the time, such as the Karanovo culture in Bulgaria and the Sesklo culture in Thessaly (Grece), which evolved into Dimini culture12.
Towards the end of the Neolithic era, the inhabitants of the Western Balkans began to live in small villages. In some cases the villages of this period display features of ancient towns; houses were of rectangular shape in varying sizes and arranged in the form of circles or semicircles. Often these were two-story houses. Great progress was made during this period in the agricultural technology and in animal domestication. With the specialization in ceramic production and the copper and gold metallurgy began the division of labor.
In the Vinča complex between the 6th and 5th millennium BC was invented the “pictographic writing”, which may be the earliest form of pictography in the world, apparently predating the Sumerian pictographic script (in modern Iraq). The Vinča-Turdaș script started at about 5900-5800 BC and flourished until 3500-3300 BC. Its beginning predates by about 2 thousand years the earliest known form of writing13.
According to M.M. Winn (1981), these pictograms represent a primitive way of communication, which he prefers to name ‘prewriting’; they may represent ‘specific notions with magical value” or may be ‘imprecisely defined deities”. This writing system didn’t succeed to rise to the level of true writing. Attempts to relate Vinča writings with pictograms of Troy, Crete and Mesopotamia have been scientifically flawed. Dumitrescu related the disappearance of pictographic writing to the arrival of Indo-European migrants14, but this is not convincing since the pictographic writing disappeared in the Danube basin between the 3300-3000 BC, i.e. before the arrival of the first waves of Indo-European tribes. Let’s remember that even the modern writing developed from the pictographic writing. This occurred in Egypt and Mesopotamia, about 2 thousand years after Vinča pictographic writing by the 4-3rd millennium BC. Only later the pictographic writing was conventionalized in the form of hieroglyphs, which during the following millennia evolved into alphabetic writing15.
Figure . The region where Vinča-Turdaș pictograms are discovered
At a time when the Vinča script was gradually disappearing in the Balkans and Danube regions, the stage was set in the eastern regions of Europe for a unique event that would deeply and decisively affect the demographic, ethnographic and cultural situation in the European continent and Asia, migrations of the Indo-European population in successive waves from the steppes of the eastern corner of Europe toward distant regions in directions of the north, west, and south.
During the Late Neolithic period, by the beginning the 4th millennium BC, in the region between the Caspian Sea, Ural Mountains and Volga rivers developed a primary nucleus of Indo-European population, which, after being stabilized, grew its demographic potential and began a one-thousand year long march towards the west, north and south, starting with the Indo-Europianization of the earlier Sredni Stog culture around the Dnieper River. Around the year 3500-3000 BC the Indo-European ‘kurgan culture’ (from kurgan – a Turkic word for tumuli for graves covered with mounds of earth and stones), appears in the territory of the Usatovo culture, north of Danube in a wide territory of east Romania, Moldova and western Ukraine.
In a latter stage the kurgan culture expanded south of the Danube River to Pannonia and the Balkan Peninsula (2660-2400 BC), including modern Kosova and in a fourth stage it reached southern territories of the Balkan Peninsula.
According to J. Nemeskeri, the inhabitants of these regions at the time belonged to the Mediterranean physical type, comparable to the inhabitants of Khirokitias, Cyprus, of 6,000 BC. Vinča and Hvar cultures, like other Balkan complexes of this period, except for the Aegean region (until 2300-2200 BC), had disappeared, leaving behind only small traces of their culture.
*Librin e Profesor Nelson Cabej ” Epirotes Albanians of Antiquity” mund ta porosisni ne Amazon
- Mayr, E.Populations, Species and Evolution, 1970, p. 394.
- Fu, Q. et al. (2014). Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia. Nature 514, 445–449.
- Georgiev, G.I. (1973). Gjetje prehistorike në Bullgari dhe zhvillimi cultural në Maqedoni dhe Shqipëri prej neolitit deri në periudhën e hershme të bronzit. Studime Historike 1, f. 12.
- Korkuti, M. (1972). A propos de la formation de l’ethnie illyrienne. In Premier colloque des Etudes Illyriennes, Tirana, pp. 55-76.
5. Gimbutas, M. (1972). Neolithic cultures of the Balkan Peninsula. In Aspects of the Balkans: continuity and change. Contributions to the International Balkan Conference held at UCLA, October 23-28, 1969. Ed. H. Birnbaum and S. Vrionis. Mouton, 9-48 ( p. 9).
- Gimbutas, M. (1972). Ibid.
- Allen, S.E. and Gjipali, I. (2014). New Light on the Early Neolithic Period in Albania: The Southern Albania Neolithic Archaeological Project, 2006-2013, pp. 107-119. Internet: http://www.academia.edu/16166415/New_Light_on_the_Early_Neolithic_Period_in_Albania_The_Southern_Albania_Neolithic_Archaeological_Project_SANAP_2006-2013. Retrieved on March 27, 2016.
- Dimitrescu, V. (1958). Peut-on reellement parler d’un “systeme de pre-ecriture” della culture de Vinča? Dacia 1/2 113-118.
- Petruso, K., Korkuti, M., Bejko, L., Bottema, S. et al. (1996). Konispol Cave, Albania: A Preliminary Report on Excavations and Related Studies, 1992-1994. Iliria 26, 183-224.
- Gimbutas, M. (1972). Op. cit. p. 41.
- Griffen, T.B. (2007). Deciphering the Vinča script. Available in Internethttp://www.fanad.net/vincascript.pdf. Retrieved on Feb 19, 2016.
- Georgiev, G.I. (1973). Op. cit. This author believes that “the historical-cultural development of tribes inhabiting this region in older prehistorical times (from Palaeolithic until the Bronze Age) proceeded alongside each other”.
- Merlini, M. (2013). Introduction to the Danube script from the book Neo-Eneolithic Literacy in Southeastern Europe.
- Dimitrescu, V. (1958). Op. cit.
- Russell, B. (1969). History of Western Philosophy. Allen and Unwin, London, f. 25.