3. Coming to a Close…

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Körös Region, Hungary
© Dr. Attila Gyucha
Saying Goodbye

“Vigyázz magadra!”
Translation: “Take care of yourself!”  

It was a tearful goodbye, as it always is at the end of each field season. When Marika Csóti said goodbye to us this afternoon, we were all sad to see this season come to an end. Marika has cooked for us and has taken excellent care of us since we first started fieldwork in the farm town of Vésztő in 2000. I've seen her kids grow up, and we've been welcomed into her house on several occasions for holidays and meals over the years. I'm always sad to say goodbye to her, and to another field season (see above photo.) 

I'm now sitting outside at a café in Békéscsaba with my colleagues Rick Yerkes (Ohio State University) and Paul Duffy (University of Michigan). Békéscsaba is the county seat of Békés County, and it has been a long time since I spent some time here. I lived in this town when I conducted my dissertation research in the late 1990s, and I spent several hours each day writing on a prehistoric laptop at this café.

The town has changed a lot in these last ten years. The dirty asphalt road that I used to walk along from the museum (where I worked) to the old Communist apartment block by the railway station (where I lived) is now a beautifully reworked brick pedestrian mall with trees, fountains, and cafés. The town is becoming more urban, and now has more one-stop-shopping stores, such as Tesco and Obi, which detract from the small-town feel of the place but make life much easier for us to buy supplies and field equipment.  

Today, we tidied up the last bits of field work that remained, took our group photo (Photo #1 below), packed up the equipment and finds, and moved everything into the storage facility (raktár) in Békéscsaba. Tomorrow we'll set off for Budapest, where we'll have several meetings with colleagues.

The weather cooperated, and by all measures this field season was a resounding success! We finished the majority of our fieldwork on Saturday and worked through the huge quantity of materials we collected over the last few weeks. The rain began Saturday afternoon, just as we were leaving the field, and made it impossible to get out to the site even in our four-wheel-drive vehicles. It seems we hit a perfect window—just after the snow, but before the spring rains.

Even though we had an abbreviated field season, we managed to collect nearly 30,000 pieces of ceramics (over 300 kilos) and over a thousand lithics (chipped stone and grinding stone artifacts) from about 13 hectares (one hectare is 100x100 m) on and around the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom tell. The Greek geophysical team scanned nearly nine hectares of that area, guided by the results of our surface collections from the plow zone.  

We also began coring into several parts of the settlement to investigate the depths of the cultural levels, which is important for understanding how long different parts of the site were occupied and how intensively they were used. And we also collected GPS data from several square kilometers around the tell, which we'll use to create detailed hydrological and topographic maps that will help us better understand the ancient environment around the site.

As I mentioned in my last dispatch, we've now come to understand the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom tell as just one small part of a much larger settlement complex that includes a very dense settlement to the south and southwest of the tell, as well as large outlying structures to the east, north, and northwest (Photo #2 below.) The dense settlement to the south and southwest of the tell contains several features that appear to be smaller houses contained within yards. These features are surrounded by several other features that may be pits and wells, which indicate an intense habitation of the area.  

The outlying structures, by contrast, seem to be stand-alone longhouses that may have occurred in small clusters with few features in between. These outlying structures, which we can see very clearly on the geophysical maps, are associated with artifact concentrations on the surface that consist mainly of daub (burned wall rubble), stone artifacts, and few ceramics. The lack of ceramics associated with these features make them difficult to date, and without excavation we cannot determine whether they date to a different period of occupation than the dense settlement to the south, or whether they were contemporaneous with the dense settlement and served a different function.  

The data we gathered this season has forced us to reconsider our understanding of how villages were established and grew throughout the Neolithic and Copper Age. As we began our research last month, we thought that the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom tell was a small site that was surrounded by a few other settlements that dated to the same period. We also thought that the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom site was much smaller than the massive tell at Vésztő-Mágor, located about 7 km upstream, which is over four times larger than the tell at Szeghalom (see Photo #3 below.)

After our research this season, we’ve discovered that the sites appear to be much more similar in size than expected, even though they had very different layouts. We're now wondering why two villages that date to the same time period, and which are so close to each other, were organized so differently. To solve this mystery will require additional work in the future—including excavation and more coring—and I invite you to follow along with me and my colleagues each field season as we explore more of the site and share our discoveries with you.

With each future expedition, I’ll be posting photos and videos that will let you experience life in the field and learn more about what we’re finding and how we reconstruct the lives of people who lived so long ago. By learning how early villages on the Great Hungarian Plain were established and developed over time, we'll add a critical piece of knowledge to our anthropological understanding about how small, egalitarian village societies eventually turned into the economically and politically complex state societies that we live in today.

Thanks for following along on our expedition this year, and stay tuned for one more short blog from me after I return home—I’ll be sharing a few more images of the artifacts we found and the insights that we‘ve gained as we begin processing the materials we've brought back from our initial survey of the site.

I look forward to your joining us next year as we begin detailed excavations of the Szeghalom-Kovácshalom tell!  

Viszontlátásra! (Goodbye!)  


© William A. Parkinson
The 2010 Team
© Dr. Paul Duffy
Longhouse Structures
© William A. Parkinson
Layers at Vésztő-Mágor