Early Neolithic hoard from Serbia examined

Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen's Institute of Prehistory are working with the Serbian Archaeological Institute in Belgrade to analyze the most comprehensive Early Neolithic hoard ever found. Work on the nearly 8000 year old collection of jewelry and figurines is funded by the Thyssen Foundation.

Early Neolithic hoard from Serbia examined
Belica hoard, two views of a stylized woman (serpentinite) [Credit: Nebosja Boric, Belgrade]
The unique hoard is composed of some 80 objects made of stone, clay and bone. "This collection from Belica, in all its completeness, provides a unique glimpse into the symbols of the earliest farmers and herdsmen in Europe," says Tübingen archaeologist Dr. Raiko Krauss, who heads the German side of the project.

Early Neolithic hoard from Serbia examined
Belica hoard, miniature phallus (serpentinite) [Credit: Nebosja Boric, Belgrade]
The objects include stylized female figures, parts of the human body, as well as miniature axes and abstract figures. Much attention has been given to the rotund female figures of water-smoothed stone given human features by human hands. Were they idols, lucky charms or fertility symbols? Their purpose is unknown.

Early Neolithic hoard from Serbia examined
Belica hoard, two views of a representation of the sickle moon (serpentinite) [Credit: Nebosja Boric, Belgrade]
The stone objects are mainly of serpentinite from an ophiolite belt running some 40km west of the Belica site. The rock was washed out of the mountains and worn smooth by rivers and streams. Neolithic artists then selected the pebbles they wanted from the valleys.

Early Neolithic hoard from Serbia examined
Belica hoard, bone figurine [Credit: Nebosja Boric, Belgrade]
Archaeologists mapped the outline of an Early Neolithic settlement in June of this year using the distribution of finds on the surface as a guide. In the middle, they found the largely undisturbed hoard. Using modern geophysical prospection methods, they were able to bring buried parts of the settlement to light during summer excavations.

"Important finds like this should be prominently displayed in the Serbian National Museum," says Krauss of the hoard. "But the National Museum in Belgrade has been closed since the civil war." So Krauss is working with his Serbian colleagues on an exhibition at the University of Tübingen Museum in Hohentübingen Castle. The modern world will first get to see the Belica hoard there in the winter semester of 2013/14. The hoard, and the results of the current investigation, are to be published in German and Serbian.

Source: Universitaet Tübingen [November 06, 2012]

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