SILT Project Unearths Archaeological Revelations: Remote Sensing Reshapes Late Bronze Age Narratives in the Carpathian Basin!

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Settlement surveys within the SILT Survey In The Lower Tisza Project, spearheaded by Dr. Barry Molloy and the research team have unearthed fascinating complexities in the Early settlement of the Late Bronze Age. Started in 2019, the project’s cutting-edge discoveries were unveiled in a Plos ONE publication on November 10, 2023.

Settlement surveys within the SILT Survey In The Lower Tisza Project, by Dr. Barry Molley
Tumuli (Left) MBA (Centre) and LBA (Right) settlements and cemeteries in topographic perspective (Drawn by Marta Estanqueiro and Caroline Bruyére

The primary mission? To pinpoint settlements boasting unique characteristics through remote exploration techniques like Remote Prospection, data analyzes utilizing the European Space Agency’s SENTINEL-2, and on-site Ground Truthing via small-scale excavations.

A hundred TSG sites, freshly discovered amidst the present-day agricultural lands in Serbia, just west of the Tisza River. Picture a treasure trove mirroring the southern Pannonian plain, spanning a vast 3000 square miles of Central Europe.

Here’s the scoop on the key findings:

  • Societal and Environmental Shake-Ups in the Late Bronze Age (LBA):

Findings challenge the traditional narrative of reduced complexity and depopulation during the Late Bronze Age. This study flips the script, revealing an opposite trend – increased scale, complexity, and density in settlement systems. Remote sensing and pedestrian surveys, small-scale excavations, and new absolute dates shine a spotlight on the occupational history of sites from 1500–1200 BC.

  • Climate Change’s Hand in Late Bronze Age Settlements:

Climate change played a pivotal role in reshaping settlement networks, creating an ecological haven for thriving societies. Think wetlands and minor watercourses. The southern Pannonian Plain takes center stage in this climate change saga, introducing a fresh model for Late Bronze Age societies.

  • Navigating the Transition: Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age:

It was not a collapse but a strategic dance of adaptation and innovation during the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Diverse material culture, varied death- and lifeways elements – it’s a dynamic snapshot of the past. The spotlight shines on settlements like Mošorin-Feudvar, Pančevo-Najeva Ciglana, Zlatica–Omoljica, Foeni, Butin, Židovar, Vatin, and Bugarska Humka, each with its unique story during the Transitional Period.

When we examine the development of social landscapes, it becomes clear that the transition from the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) to the Late Bronze Age (LBA) in the southeast Pannonian Plain wasn’t a passive shift from one system to another. Instead, the adoption of LBA ways of life actively rejected the established MBA regimes. This rejection is evident in various aspects such as material culture, burial practices, the location of cemeteries, design of settlements, interactions between settlements, focal points of activity in the landscape, congregation spaces, and catchment areas.

In the broader context of macroculture, which represents the long-term accumulation of culturally specific habits in a given area, the significant changes during the LBA in the southeast Pannonian Plain can be attributed to several factors. This includes the possibility of a substantial influx of new ideas through migration, the deliberate rejection of old ideas by the existing population, adaptation driven by crises, or a combination of these factors. While many elements of LBA society were influenced by MBA norms and practices, such as pottery craftsmanship, the way these elements were arranged and integrated into the landscape resulted in communities with significantly different structures and ways of life.

Water courses: Tumuli aligned with water channels across the area. The highest concentration is found along the major East-West rivers, and significant alignments conclude in proximity to the megaforts of Gradisˇte Iđosˇ and Sakule.

Aerial image of Mramorak showing water courses, activity areas and site location at base of higher terrace (Photograph and markup by Barry Molloy with thanks to Darja Grosman).

Settlements and Cemeteries:

Late Bronze Age settlements and cemeteries take the stage, revealing the challenges of low surface visibility. Tumuli emerge as crucial players in the LBA social landscape, strategically positioned alongside TSG sites to craft new narratives of landscape, continuity, and legitimacy. The distribution of TSG sites seems strategically planned due to a hierarchical structure rather than random placement. The TSG sites are packed closely together in the area, and most of them are within 5km of another known site (see Fig 10.1). This close proximity, along with the fact that the areas (within a 5km radius) often overlap, indicates that the communities living there were closely connected, probably through family ties and possibly politically. This clustering formed a tight social network that controlled not just the local territory but also the entire region, including resources and communication routes. It shows the presence of a complex political system that organized, managed, and met the needs of communities living in and around different settlements with varying levels of importance and function.

The 1x1m trenches were dug into specific activity zones to determine the depth of cultural layers and extract materials for 14C dating from contexts linked to ceramics beneath the ploughed area. This served as a means to compare the occurrence of ceramics in the topsoil with those observable on the surface. It’s important to note that, due to substantial ploughing at the sites, our dates reflect not the ultimate stage of activity areas but rather the ultimate undisturbed phase of each feature.

Insights into the Carpathian Basin’s Transitional Period:

A paradigm shift in understanding the transitional period from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin. It challenges old-school views and spotlights the Late Bronze Age’s amplified scale, complexity, and density in settlement systems. Climate change and landscape exploitation emerge as key players in shaping societal and settlement dynamics.

Pottery Recovered: Examining the pottery provided insights into the timelines of the earliest TSG sites in both clusters. It suggested that these sites were initially inhabited during the early stages of Late Bronze Age 1 (LBA 1), and there was a notable surge in activity, potentially involving site construction, at the onset of Late Bronze Age 2 (LBA 2). Utilizing both relative and absolute chronologies, it becomes apparent that all TSG sites were likely abandoned in the decades surrounding 1200 BC.

The research team peeled back the layers of time, revealing occupational characteristics in the 1500 to 1200 BC (ca) timeline. They tied these findings to existing chronological data from literature and museums. Google Earth, the unsung hero, used remote sensing to identify candidate sites in Serbia’s agricultural lands, relying on clues like pale soil markings and variations in soil reflectance due to vegetation indicators.

Of course, no mission is without its limitations. Visibility and accessibility biases played their part. Nevertheless, the project’s revelations are nothing short of groundbreaking. It unveils a once-thriving, highly complex society in this region, flourishing briefly before a potential decline triggered by the impacts of climate change. The megafort buildings and long-distance trade hint at the culture’s influential sway. Google Earth emerges as an archaeologist’s trusty companion, unveiling new facets of ancient civilizations in Central Europe. This discovery not only sheds light on Bronze Age societies but emphasizes the crucial role of technology in unraveling our historical tapestry.


Dr. Purnoor Kaur is a journalist at Indo Archaeology Research
Dr. Purnoor Kaur (Journalist)

About the Author

Dr. Purnoor Kaur, MD in Community Medicine from KGMU, is currently pursuing an MA in Journalism and Mass Communication at MUJ. She is passionate for public health and policy research, and brings a wealth of experience in research-based writing. Driven by a commitment to expanding her knowledge base and skills, she actively seeks to understand the intricacies of written work.

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