Neolithic agricultural community’s daily life shown in amazing detail in dig at ancient site

The finds at Avgi in Kastoria are far from common. At a site of 3.5 hectares near the Aghia Triada municipality, a 7,500-year-old rural community has been unearthed. Rare miniature vessels the size of a ring, nine fine impressive stamps, 20 human and animal-shaped idols, two bone flutes, ornaments made from shell, amber and malachite, stone tools, bones and horns as well as extremely well-preserved and technically advanced construction remains are just some of the finds discovered. The undreds of finds together constitute a historical archive of a little-known prehistoric period in Greece and the Balkans – the Neolithic period (7000-4000 BC). The site provides important information about the social relationships developed at that time, how settlements were structured, farming and grazing areas, and the new ideological strategies for survival and reproduction that evolved. Archaeologists, geologists, sediment experts, mineralogists and architects have all joined forces to unveil the customs and habits of the inhabitants at Neolithic Avgi. «The 1,200 square meters at the site has brought to light dense and extremely well-preserved construction remains that will allow us to broach subjects such as size, density and usage of building installations and free spaces, as well as preserve the architectural features and other buildings to be used in the immediate future – perhaps in situ – for the partial reconstruction of the excavated Neolithic settlement. This will provide visitors with a pleasant and intelligible archaeological area with activities that will enrich their experience of the practices and technologies used in humankind’s more distant past,» said excavator Georgia Stratouli, who is in charge of the excavation team of specialists and postgraduate students from prehistoric archaeological departments of Greek and foreign universities. Delicate work This year’s research, which resembles the delicate work of a surgeon, has indeed excited many members of the team at Avgi. The excavators have unearthed «sections of a rectangular ground plan and stonework (foundations and upper structures) in at least four buildings measuring from 80 square meters to 30-40 square meters representing two and three construction phases. Wooden poles in various arrangements – in a straight line or diagonally positioned in pairs, driven straight into the soil or into prepared shallow trenches measuring 50 centimeters in width – have revealed the techniques applied by builders at that time. The upright poles were tied to each other so as to create a diagonal wooden skeleton and the space in between was then filled in with thick layers of straw to make the walls. These were then coated with a special mixture of clay, similar to plaster, to protect the building from rain, damp and fluctuations in temperature. All this testifies to the care and attention given to the construction of a building at Avgi. Four to six layers and even the color still survive, as do the floors that were covered in a special clay coating that was often renewed due to wear and tear or for social purposes. «Fine organic remains found on the flooring were examined using a water sieve which revealed large concentrations of plant remains from food, such as grain, pulses and fruit,» the excavator said. The buildings at Avgi also suggest they might have had lofts or even a second floor. There is no doubt that the economic sector was developed. There were local and non-local communication and exchange networks for «the provisioning of exotic primary materials and objects such as beads of amber and malachite or bracelets from the seashell Spondylus gaederopus.» The nine clay stamps are exceptionally beautiful, some large and others small. «They have different linear designs on their surface (e.g. motifs with single or double lines),» Stratouli said, while the miniature vessels that were also discovered are considered to be significant finds. The data archive of the excavation shows that it is «an unusual settlement for prehistoric times in the Balkans, with well-preserved construction remains and imprints on the soil from the falling walls and roofs of the buildings.» When the excavations and the special studies conducted have progressed it might be possible to reconstruct the Avgi buildings and surviving structures in a three-dimensional image. It is also likely that researchers will be able to acquire a better understanding of the social structures, values and identities of the social groups. Therefore, the researchers might be able to find a coded form of language. «We are still at a very early stage,» said the excavator, who did not hide her belief that a great deal will be revealed at Avgi in the future. «We may have discovered practices that had not been found earlier.» The way they built their structures will soon be revealed. The site’s excavation has also unearthed large building structures. The mayor of Aghia Triada, together with the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, is planning undertakings with funding from the European program INTERREG III/Greece-Albania, which will assist in the documentation and showcasing of the finds. It is also hoped that this will generate an «exchange of views and know-how among archaeologists from within the borders of South Korytsas and facilitate visits to prehistoric sites in northwestern Greece and southern Albania, contributing thus to fostering cross-border relations of friendship and cooperation.»