Golden Ornament of Prehistory
The site is located six kilometers north of Niš, at the junction of routes connecting the central Balkans to Asia Minor, Thrace and the Aegean world. There are multiple layers of culture on an elevated, spacious and difficult to reach plateau. The oldest and best preserved is that of the early Copper Age (ca. 4300 BC), which belongs to the Bubanj-Hum culture. Several objects and interesting findings have been processed. Particular attention was attracted by this year’s discovery of two fragments of a vessel decorated with gold paint, which is a very rare example

By: NR Pres
Photo: Archeological Institute, Belgrade

In the past two years, several fascinating new archeological findings from the Copper Age, discovered at the site of Velika Humska Čuka near Niš, have been presented at expert meetings.
– The site of Velika Humska Čuka in the center of the Balkans, on the northern periphery of Niš Field, about six kilometers north of Niš, at the natural junction of roads that connect the central Balkans with Thrace, Asia Minor and the Aegean world – explains Alexander Bulatović of the Belgrade Archeological Institute, head of this research, in an interview for National Review. – The site is on a dominant and inaccessible elevation, on a position from which control over most of the area around the present-day city of Niš is possible. From Čuka, the view stretches to Jastrebac and Kopaonik. The northern and northeastern hinterlands are secured by high mountains and deciduous forests, still dense today. Velika Humska Čuka is now on the outskirts of the city, in the suburban village of Hum. In prehistoric times, when this settlement was heavily used, area space of today’s town was probably less habitable and inhospitable. For this reason, there is no reliable data on settlements up to the Roman times from central city areas.
Archaeologically speaking, says Bulatović, the site is multi-layered. The oldest and best preserved cultural stratum dates from the early Copper Age, that is, from around 4300 BC. Extremely favorable location of the site, on a vast plateau of about one hectare, as well as many natural resources in the surrounding area (river, vast arable fields at the foothill, one cave and several rockshelters at the western rim, a large site of flint, one of the basic raw materials for the making of tools and weapons in prehistory), made the site inhabited continuously for nearly 5,000 years: from the 44th century BC to the 4th century AD. On the other hand, it contributed to the older layers being damaged by the younger ones. The greatest damages to prehistoric strata and findings were caused by late antique pits and erosion due to the terrain sinking. The archaeological layer at the site is 0.7 to two meters deep, with natural limestone rock below.


– This site was explored on two occasions, in the 1930s and 1950s, by Adam Oršić Slavetić and academician Milutin Garašanin – Bulatović continues. – Based on these explorations, Garašanin defined the new archeological culture in the Central Balkans at the time and named it after two Niš sites: the Bubanj-Hum culture. After almost half a century, thanks to the then director of the National Museum in Niš, Tatjana Trajković-Filipović and Milorad Stojić from the Archeological Institute, small trial explorations were conducted in 2009. They were an introduction to systematic explorations that started in 2014. The explorations were funded by the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia, the City of Niš and the Niš municipality of Crveni Krst.
In addition to residential and other buildings from the early Copper Age (four houses in total), which are best preserved, the remains of one late Copper Age building were also found at the site (dated at the time 2800–2700), and two buildings from the younger phases of the older Iron Age (5th - 4th century BC). In the latter two, in addition to local pottery, there is evidence of Greek painted pottery, otherwise not so common to find this deep in the Balkan hinterland.
– In addition to the buildings, cultural layers are recorded from all the mentioned periods, as well as from the entire Bronze and Iron Age, including the Celtic period – says Bulatović further. – The remains of four houses dating from the early Copper Age were also explored, of which located on the central plateau dates from 44th–43rd century BC, and the second, on the eastern rim of the plateau, from the 40th–38th century BC. The houses are therefore over six thousand years old. They were all built in the same technique, the walls were made of a wooden structure covered with mud, while the floors were made of compacted earth, which was often covered with a layer of clay one to two centimeters thick. According to the explored remains, the two houses had rectangular bases measuring approximately 5 x 3.5 meters, with north-west orientation. In the older house (44-43 BC) in the central part of the site, the dimensions and orientation of which are not known due to the intense damage caused by a larger Roman building, among others, a copper wedge weighing about 100 grams was found, as one of the oldest copper findings in general. Near the second house, which is undated, but according to the findings and stratigraphy belongs to the early Copper Age, a fragment of the foot of a clay cup with an image of a moving woman (playing or praying) made in red paint was found, also one of the oldest such images on pottery shows in these areas. All the houses were mostly burned, along with the household inventory.


In the latest research, in 2018, a unique ambient was found in the northeastern part of the plateau – says Bulatović. It was then that the remains of a fourth house from the early Eneolithic were recorded: the accumulation of portions of a house wall made of mud with lumber prints, on a partially preserved floor made of compacted earth. The dimensions of the building are unknown, as it was very shallow and was largely destroyed by erosion. However, inside the building, below the wall, two pits were found dug into the floor. They were filled with whole vessels – two were found in the smaller pit, and eight vessels in the larger one, two tarabukas, a lid and an altar. The vessels, items made of bone, stone and baked earth were found throughout the building. One group of fourteen stone tools is interesting, as well as one lid modeled in the shape of a human face. As the object was entering the western profile of the probe, that part of the home was explored in the next campaign (2019). It was better preserved, and it was possible to note that the house had several floor renovations, that is, several stages of renovation of the building, as well as that the outer walls were decorated with vertical and horizontal grooves. The bone from the youngest floor beneath the wall is dated from the 40th–38th century BC, while dates for the oldest phase of the building are yet to be determined.
Of all these findings, certainly the most attractive are those from the youngest phase of the house – explains Bulatović. These are two fragments of vessels decorated with gold. Extremely rare findings, previously registered only at the famous necropolis in Varna, Bulgaria, dating back to about 4500 BC, where dozens of gold objects were also found. Several gold-coated pottery fragments originate from two other contemporaneous sites in Bulgaria, as well as from the nearby site of Bubanj near Niš, but these are mostly old excavations, with an uncertain archeological context and chronological origin of the pottery. The presence of the gold coating on ceramics from Velika Humska Čuka was confirmed by applying XRF method by Tatjana Tripković at the Laboratory of the State Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. A more detailed analysis of the gold coating is planned, probably at ”Vinča” Institute, in order to obtain as much information as possible on the composition of the gold coating, the decoration technique, and perhaps the origin of the gold.
– The stylistic and typological features of all the findings from the mentioned houses indicate a local cultural group of the early Copper Age (the so-called Bubanj-Hum Group I). It is part of a larger cultural complex that at that time stretched from the present-day areas of southwestern Romania to northern Greece (the Bubanj–Salkuca–Krivodol complex) – says Aleksandar Bulatović. – The characteristics of some findings (such as the unusual way of decorating some vessels, asymmetrical organization of ornaments painted in different colors, the lid with a human face, painted image of a woman unusual in these areas, findings of tools made of obsidian...) indicate the intensive contacts of this community with to those from other geographical areas, especially the lower Danube region.


Thanks to trial geomagnetic explorations of the site, conducted by a team from the Faculty of Mining and Geology in Belgrade, headed by Dejan Vučković, in the southeastern part of the site, on an area of ​​only 30 x 30 meters, a larger anomaly was registered. During this year’s excavations, it was found that these were the remains of a house from the early Copper Age. It was also damaged by numerous Roman excavations, but its rectangular base could be reconstructed, with burnt floor made of compacted soil and the remains of walls and house furniture made of baked clay. The outer walls of this house were also decorated with grooves, which, just like the very attractively decorated vessels, speak about a certain sense of aesthetics of the inhabitants of this settlement.


Interestingly, all four houses from the early Copper Age were burned. In two of them numerous pieces of furniture were also found that had not been buried under collapsed walls of the house. Therefore, the possibility that the houses, including the entire household inventory, were intentionally set on fire for ritual purposes, as was the custom in contemporaneous settlements in the lower Danube region, is not rejected.

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