A Serbian Sojourn Day 3 (Part 2) Lepenski Vir ©Sangeeta Venkatesh

From the Golubac Fort, we made our way to Lepenski Vir. I remember reading about it in my Grade 10 History book, and did I ever think I would come to see it some 42 years later?

One of the earliest known human settlements, is the Mesolithic (middle stone age era) archaeological of Lepenski-Vir. The presence of these early Europeans dates back to around 7000 BC, when they first began settling on the banks of the river Danube.

The actual site is some distance away and what we see is the exact reconstruction of the site with all the excavated items placed in the exact way that it was found. The site is protected under a trapezoidal building. As we arrived, we were led to an auditorium, which described the history of the discovery of the site. The actual site was discovered on 30 August 1960, on a piece of land owned by a local farmer, Manojlo Milošević in a village called Boljetin.

Serbian archaeologists led by Dragoslav Srejovic, discovered 136 residential and sacral buildings dating from c. 9500/7200 – c. 5500 BCE.  This discovery was serendipitous as it was found unexpectedly, during the construction of the hydroelectric power plant – Djerdap 1 – which is 78 km away from Lepenski Vir. The first excavations, which started in 1965 CE, went on a couple of months and archaeologists finally dug up the first objects. It was amply understood that the excavation was of a great historical and cultural significance not only for Serbia but the whole world. Indeed, it is referred to as the ‘cradle of Europe’.

There is evidence of a complex, well planned housing system. The houses were arranged in a horseshoe shape that opened into the river. Archaeologists believed that the space in between was used as a meeting place or town square. There seems to be one large central village that probably houses around 100 people. The population must have eventually grown because a few satellite villages came up surrounding the main one. At the site we see, the model of the huts that were constructed by the inhabitants of Lepenski Vir. The huts were trapezoid- shaped whose entrance was turned towards the Danube with rectangular fireplaces built with stone blocks. 

An interesting factor of each house is that they were all equipped with indoor fireplaces that served as a stove to cook food as well as a source of heat. The Lepenski-Vir settlements are important because they give us an insight into the civilization’s transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to an agricultural one.  According to architect, Hristivoje Pavlović, Lepenski Vir could might as well be the first city in Europe. He says that the Lepenians must have possessed a great knowledge of symmetry, geometry, right angles, even the Golden Ratio (1 + Square root of√5)/2, often denoted by the Greek letter ϕ or τ, which is approximately equal to 1.618, as is visible in the exterior and, even more, in the interior of the buildings. There is evidence for cementitious floor construction. The material used for the floors was the local limestone clay, which, when mixed with the animal dung and ash, hardens like a concrete. Because of that, the floors are almost in perfect condition. The clay, a reddish muddy plaster, called lep is still abundant in the region, and hence the region gets its name as Lepenski Vir, which translates to ‘red clay whirlpool’.  

We get to see perfectly carved human faces on stone that have large eyes and fish like mouth and these- archaeologists say- could well be the first art created after ice age.  Numerous human-remains discovered at Lepenski Vir have helped scientists get an idea about the lifestyle, diet, and other habits of the inhabitants. Archaeologists say that the Lepenians were very respectful when it comes to their ancestors and burying practices. In fact, ancestors were buried inside the houses, under the flooring structure.  Isotopic and dental evidence suggest that Mesolithic people prior to 7600 BP (before present), had high protein diets in which the bulk of the protein was derived from riverine food sources.

The skeletons in the picture: one seems to have been buried straight and the other seems to have been buried in a sitting position, with crossed limbs. A third was found buried sleeping on the side.

You can find many clubs and mallets that were discovered at the site too. You can find several research papers on Researchgate, should you want to read more about this Mesolithic civilisation.

After an interesting and enlightening morning, it was time to head back to Belgrade, but not before we played with some resident puppies and looking at some local houses. (see pics below). En route, we stopped at a quaint and small restaurant that served us authentic and the most delicious Serbian food, by the River Danube.

Lunch by the Danube

Research References:

  1. https://www.worldhistory.org/Lepenski_Vir/
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/science/archaeology-europe-migration.html
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337914238_Lepenski_Vir_Chronology_and_Stratigraphy_Revisited
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331907576_Stone_tools_from_Lepenski_Vir

More about the Serbian Sojourn can be found in the following links. Do subscribe/share/give the article a like and look forward to hearing from you.

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