Gumelniţa Culture in Central and Southern Dobrudja

by Valentina Voinea

Gumelniţa Culture on the Territory of Dobrudja

Photo Album: The Archaeological Site – the Island of "La Ostrov", Năvodari

            The Cultural Complex Kodjadermen-Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI

         The cultural complex of Kodjadermen-Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI developed at the level of the late Eneolithic, after a period of vast material and spiritual transformations. Its evolution was concentric and gradual, as the intensity of the cultural trends decreased from the center towards the peripheral area.  A close look at the genesis area of the Eneolithic material and spiritual culture elements reveals the existence of a north-Thracian focus. We do not deny the role of the uninterrupted local evolution, but we think that the use of new techniques was owed first of all to the cultural trends (“fashion”) coming from the south of the Balkan Peninsula. The direction of these trends is argued also by the slight earliness of the late Eneolithic in the south-Danubian region. The exchanges with northern Thracia did not consist only of simple import pieces: copper and gold pieces, graphitte pottery, but especially clay and bone objects of art prove the intermingling at the level of some overstructure forms.

           The formation of the great cultural complex of Kodjadermen-Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI would not have been possible without the preparing stage of the early Eneolithic: Boian III – IV, Karanovo V, Sava IV, Poljanica IV, Hamangia III – IV, when one notices an intensification of large distance exchanges. The phenomenon was not a singular one; to the north of the Gumelniţa area, over a huge space – from the SE of Transylvania to the west bank of the Niper – the cultural complex of Ariuşd-Cucuteni-Tripolje developed.

             Regional Aspects

         On the territory of Dobrudja, depending on the earlier cultural background and on the favourable geographical position – two access tracks emerged, the Danube and the Black Sea, starting with the late Eneolithic stage, two regional aspects. Along the Danube, in the central and northern area of Dobrudja the Dobrudjan variant emerged, very similar to the north-Danubian one, which can be explained if we take into account the common genesis background – the Boian culture. The dwelling continuity was found best in the tells on the line of the Danube, Hârşova and Atmageaua tătărască, in the caves on the Casimcea Valley (Gura Dobrogei), in the north at Luncaviţa and Sarichioi. Next to the strong Boian traditions, the Dobrudjan variant has preserved also the early Hamangia traditions, visible especially in pottery production.

           In the area of the west-Pontic seashore, on the Burgas – Corbu de Jos segment, the earlier Hamangia-Sava cultural background determined the existence of much better outlined regional differences. The pottery production, the “canons” of clay and bone objects of art, the burial patterns during the Gumelniţa A1 stage (=Varna I) have analogies, reaching identity, during the earlier period. These regional differences were emphasized by the natural conditions and resources specific of the seashore area. At the same time the possibility to communicate by sailing entailed more dynamic exchanges with the communities in the south of the Balkan Peninsula and even in the Aegean-Anatolian space. That is why the peculiarities of the west-Pontic aspect occur also during the Gumelniţa A2 stage, unlike the rest of the Gumelniţa area where the cultural uniformity process blur ever more the regional aspects. Nevertheless, they cannot define a new culture; the construction techniques of the dwellings, those of graphitte pottery production, the types of tools and weapons, but especially the “canons” of art are common with those in the rest of the Gumelniţa area.

           As one analyses these differences in the light of the funerary finds, they seem even more clear-cut, but more often than not an essential fact is ignored. The meer comparison of some artifacts, without analysing the archaeological context of their discovery, sometimes leads to the formulation of erroneous conclusions. The funerary inventory vessels from Varna, Durankulak and Devnia funcitoned as objects of worship, therefore they differ a lot from the common use vessels specific of the Gumelniţa culture: smaller, unevenly fired, richly decorated.

           The shortcomings of archaeological research for the Eneolithic period, in the area of the Romanian seashore favoured the emergence of a theory accepted by many Bulgarian and foreign archaeologists – “the Varna culture”.In the Bulgarian relevant literature the notion evolved from the Varna type” cultural aspect to the ‘Varna culture’, as the presence of the Gumelniţa culture on the territory of Dobrudja has been denied to a larger or smaller extent. The formulation of such hypotheses was based indirectly on the erroneous interpretation in some studies of various Romanian archaeologists. [1] .

           Doina Galbenu has the merit of having researched for the first time the west-Pontic aspect, as she conducted rescue excavations at Costineşti and Constanţa. Even if the ‘Hârşova phase’ proved to be lacking in content, the dating of the finds from the Romanian seashore area to the earliest stage of the west-Pontic aspect was confirmed by later finds. The hypothesis that in the west-Pontic seashore area, between Burgas and Palazu Mare, a regional aspect emerged against the Hamangia background was accepted by most archaeologists. The recent archaeological finds from Corbu de Jos and from the Eneolithic settlement on the “La Ostrov” Island of Lake Taşăul (Năvodari) make possible moving to the north the limit of this regional aspect. We think that this limit cannot be raised higher than Histria, as at Sarichioi a settlement from the Boian-Gumelniţa transition phase was researched.

        The elements considred to be crucial for defining the ‘Varna culture’ are not convincing: the use of pyrolusite for  the verniss and of stone as construction material are elements pertaining to the specific natural conditions (natural deposits and high humidity). The pottery bearing pseudophirnis characterizes especially the early phase, revealing strong Hamangia influences both as regards the firing, shapes and decoration. The only significant differences occur in the funerary field – the one which has best preserved the traditions of the earlier cultural background, Hamangia III – IV. During the final stage of phase A2, as proven by the finds from Goljamo Delcevo and Năvodari, already these elements almost  no longer exist, as those specific of the whole Gumelniţa area prevail. Consequently, the Gumelniţa culture had a unitary evolution over the entire territory of Dobrudja, as it pertains to the material and spiritual patterns of the cultural complex of Kodjadermen-Gumelniţa-Karanovo VI. The penetration of the eastern Cernavoda 1 tribes, against the background of some important climatic transformations [2] , marked the end of the Gumelniţa culture in Dobrudja.


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           Vl. Dumitrescu, La stratigraphie des stations appartenant à la lumière des fouilles d’Atmageaua Tătărască, Istros I, 1934, p. 37-43.

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          H. Todorova, Kdvanoeneolitniiat necropol crai grad Devnia-Varnensko, Izvestiia Varna, VII, 1971, p. 3-40.

          H.Todorova et alii, Goljamo Delcevo, 1975 .

          H. Todorova , Kameno-mednata epoha v Bălgariia, 1986.

          H. Todorova , Eneolit Bolgarii, 1989.

[1] E.Comşa (1977, pp. 66-70) proposes the delimitation of a new ‘Varna culture’ in Dobrudja and in the NE part of Bulgaria. In the following decade the theory was slightly nuanced by lowering the north limit to the Carasu valley. Above this limit the Dobrudjan variant must have emerged by a massive penetration of the transition phase communities, without a Boian IV – Hamangia III symbiosis.

[2] The important climatic transformations from the end of the Eneolithic have been revealed best in the seashore area; the sea transgression phenomenon brought about the flooding of more flourishing settlments near the sea bays (today lakes and sea coasts).