About the Expedition

Körös Region, Hungary
© W.A. Parkinson
The Vésztő-Mágor Tell Site
© W.A. Parkinson
Vésztő-Mágor Excavation
© W.A. Parkinson
View from a Burial Mound
© W.A. Parkinson
Dr. William A. Parkinson

Since 2010, Dr. Parkinson and his international team of scientists have been studying the Neolithic site of Szeghalom-Kovácshalom in the Körös River Valley of Hungary in order to understand the growth of society and settlements in southeastern Europe. The site is representative of an archaeologically defined group called the Tisza, who lived on the Great Hungarian Plain from about 5000 to 4500 BC.  The most prominent feature of the site is its “tell”—a flat-topped mound that rises up from the landscape like a giant, manmade anthill.

Tell Formation
Composed of accumulated debris and cultural materials, tells developed over time as people built, destroyed, and rebuilt settlements and their defensive walls and ditches in the same location over hundreds or thousands of years. By studying the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom tell and its surroundings, Dr. Parkinson and his team hope to test several theories about why people stopped living in scattered villages and began building these raised, fortified settlements. These theories include:

Environmental Changes: Perhaps people began congregating together and constructing tells in order to share resources and labor during droughts. Alternatively, perhaps tells were founded at the locations where wet marshlands came in contact with farmlands, maximizing the only dry spots in the flooded plain.

Ecological Changes: Perhaps tells indicate that people had altered their environment by exhausting their supply of wood or other resources. Did over-exploitation trigger a change in farming patterns so that tells became a more efficient way of living?

Social Changes: Perhaps competition for resources sparked warfare, spawning the need for greater safety in numbers and the protection provided by a tell's defensive walls. By studying these early tells, Dr. Parkinson hopes to answer questions about their origins and uncover more about the lifestyles of tell dwellers.

Reconstructing Tell Life
Burials have revealed much about how these people died, but relatively little is known about how they lived—their everyday habits, rituals, and more. Using data gathered during his comprehensive archaeological survey, Dr. Parkinson hopes not only to reconstruct the culture of those who once lived in the Great Hungarian Plain, but also to learn more about the dynamic social processes that occur within "tribal" societies. Understanding these processes helps to clarify factors that influenced the emergence of cities, hereditary rulers, bureaucracies, and other aspects of complex societies worldwide.

Ongoing Excavations
Each year as excavations proceed, you can join Dr. Parkinson and meet the people who lived and died inside these early villages. You’ll discover how tells became a stepping stone for society in southeastern Europe, along its pathway of development from scattered farming villages where equality reigned, to centralized cities led by powerful ruling families. And you’ll come to understand the social processes at work, even in our own society, that have made civilization more economically and politically complex over time.

To learn more about Neolithic culture in Hungary and past excavations at the site, explore the stories in "About the Expedition," and be sure to check out Dr. Parkinson's photo galleries, videos, and blogs from the trip.