Gumelniţa Culture in West Muntenia

General Considerations Regarding the Multidisciplinary Archaeological Researches on the Neajlov Valley

de Cătălin Bem

The Settlements from the Neajlov Valley
Bucşani I Tell
The Economy of the Settlement
The Last Village from the Bucşani I tell
Pottery. Art objects
Tools. Garments

           The present article is a general presentation of the multidisciplinary researches in the Bucşani microarea (Giurgiu county), laying emphasis on the stratigraphy and the main finds in the Gumelniţa tell of La Pod.

Bucşani I - La pod- north view
Neajlov, Dâmbovnic confluence

           The relevant area is bordered to the south by the confluence between the Neajlov and Dâmbovnic rivers, and to the north by the general curve of 100 m level. The region looks geomorphologically exceptionally well individualized, next to the meadow and the Neajlov terraces between the two natural borders taking part in the outlining of the unitary area and the inter-river between the Neajlov and Dâmbovnic, and the meadow of the latter, approximately 4 km upstream the confluence. In the individualized valley segment (including the Neajlov and Dâmbovnic inter-river and a part of the meadow of the latter) they uncovered, next to the La Pod tell, 11 prehistorical settlements – eight Gumelniţa ones (one of which having for sure an upper layer belonging to what is known as phase B1 of that culture) and three from the Bronze Age (one of which belonging for sure to the Coslogeni cuture).

Fig. 1. Bucşani microarea map.The Roman figures point to the main prehistorical settlements identified. 1. area inhabited in 1950; 2. marshy areas.

           The Settlements from the Neajlov Valley

         Thus we have the situation of some stable Gumelniţa settlements (tells) located about 2 km one from the other. Depending on their being contemporary or not, we might deal with successive rounds with more or less periodical returns to the same place is hard to tell at present. To the south the closest Gumelniţa tell is located about 6 km away, at Clejani, while to the north, seemingly at Vânătorii Mici, on the upper Neajlov, about 15 km from the border of the area under consideration. The tells in this northern area must be linked to what is happening on the Teleorman valley, not to the realities on the middle Neajlov.


           The multidisciplinary archaeological research at Bucşani, started in 1998, is a rescue excavation.

           The team aimed at achieving at least in part a reconstruction of the prehistorical environment, insofar as that can result from the archaeological excavations in the Bucşani I tell - La Pod and from the other investigations in the Bucşani microarea.

Fig. 2. The topo raising of the Bucşani I tell (La Pod) tell. The north is represented by the Y axis (topographic measurements by Cătălin Bem, Dragoş Neamu, Iulian Agapie).

          The stratigraphical data obtained during the research itself and the sedimentological survey provided relevant data on the vertical evolution of the tell. Now we know that the first dwelling ‘layer’, made up of a Neajlov sand bank, belonging to an early Gumelniţa culture period, followed by desertion, proved by the 70 cm of alluvial deposition.

          The intermediate dwelling layer is Gumelniţa B1 this time, the hiatus between the stratigraphy of the ‘settlement’ being, therefore, several centuries old. Between this ‘layer’ and the upper one, also a Gumelniţa B1 one, a new alluvial deposition interrupts a continuous evolution – three independent settlements, at least stratigraphically, that had to bear the consequences of floods that damaged them to a smaller or greater extent.

          The Bucşani II - La Pădure tell (the pastureland at Osebiţi) lies about 2.2 km north of Bucşani 1. The archaeological materials uncovered belong, at least in the case of the upper layer, to the Gumelniţa B1 phase.

          Like Bucşani 1, it belongs to the smaller tell category, with a height of about 2.20 m from the level of the present meadow. If its evolution is similar or at least close to that near the La Pod mound, then the maximum stratigraphical amplitude of the settlement does not exceed 2 m, with chances of going down even under 1.50 m. Also its surface is smaller than the tell 1, as it measures about 2500 m2.

          The Bucşani 3 – La Zgârci tell (La Cărămidărie) lies about 2.3 km to the north, in a straight line, from Bucşani 2, at the entrance to the village of Dealu (fig. 1). It is the largest of the prehistorical settlements in the area – its height reaches 4.10 m from the present meadow. At the same time, its surface, although about a third smaller due to the erosion of the Neajlov river, can be at least 4200 m2.

          The material picked up belongs to a certain extent surely to the Gumelniţa B1 phase – which presupposes that at least the upper layer belongs to it.

Fig. 3. The topo raising of the Bucşani III (La Zgârci). The north is represented by the axis Y (topographic measurements by Cătălin Bem, Adrian Bălăşescu).

          The settlement of Bucşani IV - La Pepinieră lies, in a straight line, about 1 km north of Bucşani 2 and about 1.4 km south of Bucşani III (Fig. 1). It is very small, as the height from the level of the present meadow does not exceed 0.70 m, and the surface is smaller than 1500 m2.

          Unlike the settlements presented previously, this one probably belongs to the Coslogeni culture. Whether there is a Gumelniţa dwelling or not, we cannot know for the time being. The only archaeological materials uncovered by the plough are exclusively from the Bronze Age.

          Undoubtedly, in direct link to it is the settlement of Bucşani V - Pepinieră 2, situated just 300 m East of Bucşani 4, on the present left bank of the Neajlov (Fig. 1), at the base of its upper terrace. The flattening naturally drew the archaeological material so that we were unable to make observations concerning the size of this settlement. It topographic characteristics, however, seem to point to the existence of a single dwelling layer from the Bronze Age.


          Bucşani I Tell

          The best researched, in the case of the Bucşani 1 tell, is the upper layer. Regarding the intermediate and lower ones the data available are relatively scarce, which is directly entailed by a certain stage of the research. For instance, the only data on the lower layer come from the research of the survey (2x2 m) practised in 1998 in the western third of the tell and in sector 9 of the surface α (A) found in the close vicinity of the survey and more vastly investigated during the 2001 campaign.

          The maximum stratigraphical amplitude is 2.86 m, measured from “point 0”. The surface of the tell, about 3000 m2 (calculated for an oval with the diametres of about 64 m east-west and about 55 m north-south), took into account the present base of the mound. The sand bank on which the first village was founded at present is less than  0.50 m high from the level of the present meadow.

          The first dwelling of the sand bank began by the burning of the vegetation – a very fine 2-6 cm ash and coal layer covers the whole surface researched until now.  The only dwelling (Loc 10) uncovered in this first layer has an identifiable surface of at least 32 m2 (researched in the survey from 1998, they found the east third of sector 9). Before raising the dwelling, on the burned layer mentioned, on a sand lens, they deposited the body of a child (less than six months old), crouched on the right with the head approximately to the south. The clay platform covering the skeleton of the child, although thick, was built in a simple way, directly on the ground, without a wooden substruction.

          At least the upper part of the burned adobe representing remains of the fallen burned walls of Loc 10 was damaged after the destruction of the dwelling was damaged by a flood. Drawn by this flood (if not deposited on purpose after the destruction of the dwelling) must be also the Vidra type copper axe uncovered fastened (although with the cut downwards) at the upper part of the burned adobe.

          Later we uncovered a stratigraphical element vertically separating various depositions. It is not out of the question for us to deal with what can be called, keeping the proportions, a “dam”. Its maximum height, detected in the centre of the settlement is just 37 cm. Its slope is, however, an upward one, and,  the vallum must have been higher.

          Built after a flood had damaged the “destruction layer” of Loc 10, the vallum is, in its turn damaged by a new flood, this time, probably of large proportions – the alluvial sediment at the base of the vallum being no thicker than 19 cm.

Common heron (Ardea cinerea)(?) skeleton found of the base flooded level

          Over the entire surface α, N2 (the intermediate dwelling layer of the tell) is characterized by a perfect homogeneity of the sediment. Pieces and even whole pots, numerous fragments of unburned adobe and fireplace plates, and also carbonate concretions mix up in a light grey sand sediment due to the flood, seemingly.

          The first dwelling layer1 has three stratigraphical development areas – the one actually destined for constructions and the outer spaces, in the central area of the tell, the one represented by the domestic waste south and west of the first one, and , last, an almost sterile archaeological area south-east and east of the mound, practically unusable during the last dwelling.

Fig. 4. General plan of the archaeological excavation in the Bucşani I tell-ul (the letters point to the researched surfaces, the dotted lines are the outlines of the six dwellings of the upper layer, the marked area corresponds to the pit of an aurochs deposited at the base of the settlement).

          First, we deal with the central area of the tell where they actually lived, concentrating the seven burned dwellings uncovered (Loc1 = Loc7, Loc2, Loc3, Loc4, Loc9, Loc11 and Loc12) and an annex (Loc5), as well as an outer fireplace (C18). All of them have the long axis oriented approximately E-W or N-S, with a surface ranging from 22 m2 (Loc9) and 77 m2 (loc4).  Two types of dwellings were identified.

The clay platform - Dwelling 9
Detail of a platform (one of the stump of a tree which penetrate the platform) - Dwelling 9
Adobe socle found in the clay "box"

          The first one is the one with the inner space organized somehow (the floor) and with the walls built directly on the ground (Loc2 and Loc3), probably after firing the vegetation beforehand (Loc2). The walls, preserved little in elevation (5-12 cm), not along its whole length, were built in the conventional technique of the timber work – of a wooden resistance structure made up of poles fastened in the ground and a double wattle, first on the horizontal, then on the vertical, everything covered up by a prepared sediment (mixed up with cut cereals). It should be mentioned that this dwelling is one of the two partitioned dwellings (through a wall preserving the passageway between the rooms), and, next to Loc9 and Loc11 it had clay inner structures, except for fireplaces. The inner wall of Loc2 is built differently from the portable outer ones. On the axis of the wall, in this area and the close north vicinity, three human foot prints were preserved, which evidence once again the existence of a spare space.

Model of a dwelling with wooden resistance structure made up of poles fastened in the ground

          The second type of individualized dwelling (Loc1 = Loc7, Loc4, Loc9 and Loc11) is mainly characterized by the existence of a void between the ground and the organized inner space, the platform. In other words, the dwellings of this category were slightly overelevated on a sand and wood sediment pedestal (or only out of wood – Loc1 = Loc7) completed by more or less parallel rows of short pillars (logs), aboveground, placed inside the closed pedestal surface. Loc9, Loc11 and, partly, Loc4 have one more element – the so-called sanitary void, a space obtained by a supplementary excavation of the ground.

Vessels placed on debris after the deliberate destruction of a wall- Dwelling 11
Vessel on the garret (floor) - Dwelling 11

          A technical variant is that of building walls directly on the ground, added to the platform hanging over the “sanitary void” (Loc11). In that case, as no limits imposed by the pedestal existed, the base of the walls of the dwelling exceeds 0.50 m in thickness. Undoubtedly, an exception was imposed by the fact that the dwelling in question had a layer – not a real storey, at least a bridge. The huge amount of vessels (about 100 – of various sizes) uncovered in this space seems to indicate not a dwelling, but an adjoining construction, for storage.

          The second relevant area can be noticed to the south and south-west of the space covered by dwellings (in sectors 17-18 and 26-27). The huge amount of pottery, unusable tool fragments and bone remains point to its prevailingly domestic function.

          To the east we deal with an uninhabited space and unusable as domestic waste storage area therefore, (“clean”), made up of a brown-grey sand sediment, identical with that making up most archaeological depositions forming what we called N1.

Aurochs skeleton (Bos primigenus) as offering at settlement founding

          The bare limit between the inhabited space, occupied by dwellings, and the one almost lacking, at least macroscopically, human remains is marked not only by east, north and west walls of the dwellings or their annexes in this area of the tell, but also a settlement founding pit with an aurochs (Bos primigenius) deposited in it.

Anthropomorphic item (?) deposited in a fireplace
Horn item deposited in a fireplace chime after the Dwelling 2 was rebuilt
Gold jewel (saltaleone) deposited in a fireplace

          In the same context we should mention all the consecration and reconsecration acts found in the case of all the fireplaces and kilns researched in proportion of at least 50% - either when a fireplace or kiln, began to be built or such a burning installation was rebuilt they used to deposit at their bases one or more pieces (silex blades, bone tools, anthropomorphic figurine).


          The Economy of the Settlement

          The fact that almost 40% of the bone remains uncovered in the upper layer of the tell belong to wild mammals does not mean that the dwellers of the last village at Bucşani were hunters, among other things – many are the cases when the hunted animals were either those endangering the physical integrity of the dwellers or their herds (bears, wolves, foxes, wild cats, martens and badgers), or belonging to a category whose bone remains may harm the archaeological excavation (moles, hedgehogs). Large animals were preferred – stags, aurochs, wild horses, wild boars.

          On the other hand, the fact that we failed to uncover cereal seeds or other cultivated plants or fish remains, does not entail that agriculture was not practised (it is anyway proved by at least the dust traces and straw preserved in the adobe) or fishing did not exist.

          Pe de altă parte, faptul că nu am descoperit nici o sămânţă de cereală sau altă plantă cultivată şi nici resturi ihtiologice, nu implică nepracticarea agriculturii (oricum atestată cel puţin de amprentele de pleavă şi paie conservate în chirpici) sau a pescuitului [15] .

          The Gumelniţa community at Bucşani must have included animal breeding among its strategies of getting food. The bred animals are cattle, pigs, sheep and goats (in smaller numbers).


          The Last Village from the Bucşani I tell

         A last mention that should be made is that regarding the end of the last village on the Bucşani1 tell. All the dwellings researched until now (six out of seven) were burned. Before the fire all the houses were deprived of tools – there are extremely few artifacts uncovered in the dwellings and most of them belong to the category of silex discharge waste, which means they are not tools. Most pottery that can be assigned to a dwelling did not lie, as naturally, on the floor, as it was deposited on the remains of the fallen walls. Moreover, there are cases when one can evidence without question the intention to pull down the base of the walls (Loc4 and Loc11) and a sequence of operation with direct link to the fire. After the roof and outer parts of the walls fell down because of the fire, what remained standing was pulled down on purpose when the ruins were still burning (being hot – all the vessels are burned red, which is a sufficient argument), and then over the whole adobe mass small vessels of various sizes were deposited on purpose (and apparently with care as no sign of spreading occurs).

          Besides, all the dwellings researched, with no exception, have two fire centres. While one of them can be usually linked to the inner fireplace area (where a sufficient amount of fuel must have existed), the other one might render the purposefulness more clearly. The special intensity of the fire that took away the six dwellings under research, proven at least  by the vast transformation of the adobe of the walls into slag and by the deformation of the vessels inside the houses, we think that it can be explained by a controlled fire or an extra input of wooden material other than that of the resistance structure, of the platform or roof. As a matter of fact, the clay covered wood cannot burn from a flame, naturally, therefore it cannot produce a very high temperature.



         The pottery complex of the upper layer of Bucşani is extraordinarily unitary.

Painted shards

          The paste used for carrying out the vessels is an extremely sandy one – which leads us to the idea of a direct usage even in a wet state, with no special treatment, of the natural alluvial deposits, which, undoubtedly, were numerous on the bank, in the floodable meadow and in the Neajlov terraces (as a matter of fact, they identified area along the current river course and in its left terrace that might have been clay quarries for the Eneolithic community). The differences existing as regards the quality of the paste of various types of vessels resides in the type of natural deposit used as source of raw matter. Unlike other Gumelniţa settlements, there is no fine pottery. Thus we deal with a paste containing very much fine and medium sand, obviously naturally homogenized which can belong to the category of “intermediate” paste in other settlements. It represents approximately 40-45% of the whole amount of pottery of the first layer at Bucşani. In very few cases (less than 2%) they added in this type of paste, before the modelling, a low amount of dust and/or cut straw. Nevertheless it is hard to believe that the happening played any role in achieving this mixture occurring in the case of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines – that is why we might think of a somehow special function of the pots made out of this type of paste. Under the current stage of researches is, however, difficult to say more. For the time being it is certain that the “intermediate” paste with cereal remains in its composition is used only for making the vessels with large opening, of the type of plates and very large bowls. The forms of vessels manufactured out of this category of paste are small or medium, even if there is a series of large vessels – the whole typological range of pottery from the first layer bears the print of this type of paste. As the sizes of the vessels increase, the percentage of those out of the “intermediate” paste decrease.

          The prevailing paste used for manufacturing about 60% of the total number of vessels from the first layer, is the so-called “rough” one. Usually, the “rough” paste was used for making large globular, pear-shaped or simple-biconical vessels, but there are, for instance, miniature vessels made out of the same material.

          The decoration of the first Bucşani layer belongs to what is known as Gumelniţa B1, as a typological range, represented by incisions and impressions, channellings, art elements and painting. The incised decoration is more often than not unorganized, consisting of uncoherent assemblages of finely incised lines (looking like simple scratches) that make up bands or vaguely triangular or trapezoidal spaces (sometimes totally or partially covered by the red colour) always in association with the artistic decoration. Whenever the incision participates independently in achieving the usually geometric decoration, the lines forming the motifs are profound, not only shallow, as in other situations.

Vessel with incisions
Vessel with imprints

          The artistic decoration is always associated with that incised or imprinted. Skipping some details, we confine ourselves to remarking that, very rarely in other settlements, the artistic decoration out of barbotine does not exist.  The quality of the paste, naturally homogenized, and the non-oxiding burning, made it possible to seal the vessels only by thoroughly polishing their surfaces. Consequently, the barbotine lost its role. What in other Gumelniţa sites was made out of barbotine (especially the so-called slits and knobs) here are made directly out of the paste of the vessel, are organic.

          The channelling, very rarely associated with another decorative element and only with the irregular incision organized in wide bands, is the one characteristic of phase B1 of the Gumelniţa culture – wide (sometimes up to 1.5 cm) and profound, horizontal and very rarely oblique, especially at the upper part of the pear-shaped large vessels. Their surfaces is in all the cases very well evened, even polished.

          The channelling, very rarely associated with another decorative element and only with the irregular incision organized in wide bands, is the one characteristic of phase B1 of the Gumelniţa culture – wide (sometimes up to 1.5 cm) and profound, horizontal and very rarely oblique, especially at the upper part of the pear-shaped large vessels. Their surfaces is in all the cases very well evened, even polished.

Shard painted with white
Shard painted with red and graphite

          The decoration is painted in white, red, black and graphite. The first two are always painted after the firing of the vessels, which entailed a poor preservation of the motifs. The only independent painted motifs are those out of graphite. Black, nonexistent or rarely found in other settlements, is here rather frequent within the painted pottery, but we cannot talk of a true participation in achieving the decoration.

          Art Objects

          All the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are fragmentary. Moreover, most of these fragments were uncovered in the domestic waste areas, which points to a certain post-use treatment, somehow in contradiction with the likely use of figurines, at least of the anthropomorphic ones, as cult objects.

 Fragmentary feminine figurine
Anthropomorphic figurine on the handel vassel

          It should be remarked that most fragments from anthropomorphic figurines bear the traces not of some accidental breaks, but of apparently intentional tearing. At the same time, under the current stage of the analysis, we should mention that the inventory of no dwelling contained art objects, which complies with the almost total lack of inventory other than pottery.

          Besides the absolutely typical artifacts which abound in most Gumelniţa settlements, the clay anthropomorphic figurines include a series of mobile heads, typologically homogeneous and very realistically made. Unfortunately, they uncovered a single fragment from an anthropomorphic vessel of the worshipping type.

          Surprisingly, in the first layer of the Bucşani tell they uncovered a single bone figurine, a type of piece relatively frequent in other sites. The piece in question is at the same time the only figurine discovered in a dwelling (Loc11) – a special dwelling  not only by the occurrence of a bone figurine in its inventory, and also by the huge amount of pottery (over 100 in the 10 m2 under discussion), tools (nonexistent in other dwellings) or by other anthropomorphic elements undiscovered in the areas previously researched.

Bull horns in clay

          The zoomorphic figurines, although realistic and well made, is nevertheless rough and poorly burned, which entails a poor quality.

          Tools. Ornaments

Experimental  Archaeology
Grit stone chisel fixed in handle
Flint tools in wood handles

          The carved lithic material under analysis is special by the numerical composition of the delimited categories. The fact that there is a large number of discharge products leads to the conclusion that the carved lithic material processing took place in the settlement. The large number of rough blades used as tools points to the fact that they were used also as such by the Gumelniţa community.

          The scrapers represent a numerous category of tools included in several lithic inventories; a peculiarity of those uncovered at Bucşani – La Pod is the existence of many square and round scrapers.

Experimental  Archaeology
Flint tools in wood handles

          Another peculiarity of these tools are the sizes of their supports; if the retouched blades have medium metrical characteristics, over 45% of the scrapers were made on long, wide thicker than average supports.

Bone axe
Bone spindle

          Unfortunately, we cannot say much about the pieces of this type belonging to the upper layer of the tell at Bucşani. Except for two horn hoes relatively well preserved (although broken from ancient times because of the usage) and for a few polishers out of sheep or goat ankle bones, all the others are extremely corroded and fragmentary. A few bone awls and chisels or horn retouchers and handles can be taken into consideration. There is also a fragmentary pendant out of wild boar fangs – due to the quality of the material used is the best preserved piece of those made out of hard animal matter.  The degree of preservation of these tools increases as the research depth does – thus, in layer 2 of the tell the quality of the bone material is much higher.

Chisel copper
Impressions of a vegetal fibre on the handle of a copper borer
Copper neddle with rhomboidal flat head

          Surprisingly high is the number of copper artifacts, if we take into account the apparent isolation of the settlement of Bucşani and above all the small sizes of the community there (which determined the stratigraphical accumulation of the last archaeological layer – N1). All that was uncovered outside the dwellings, some of them even in domestic waste spaces. We do not think that we deal with their throwing into the garbage, but, simply, with their loss.

          Their wide range and high number point not only to a prosperous community, but also to one that had remote links. These links are argued also by a handmill fragment out of Dobrudja green schist, but above all by the uncovering of gold “saltaleone” .  This piece, although very small (approximately 1 cm long) throws a new light upon the community of Bucşani. The “saltaleone” was uncovered in a kiln outside dwelling 9, the first one built by the newcomers, deposited in a stratigraphical unit undamaged by the fire. The fact that it is placed stratigraphically between two phase of kiln use, the action of depositing the gold piece can be regarded as a reconsecration of the kiln.  Such manifestations, as mentioned, are found also in the case of other fire “installations” – the deposition of a stag antler tool at the base of the Loc2 fireplace, on the occasion of its rebuilding – of an anthropomorphic clay idol in the case of the Loc3 fireplace and two silex percussion artifacts in the case of Loc9 fireplace.

          The next phases of the multidisciplinary research project in the Bucşani microarea will contribute in a decisive way to the outlining of a complete image upon the life of the inhabitants in this area from the 5th millenium BC.