Multidisciplinary archaeological investigations, including excavations, in the central part of Eastern N. Macedonia
Mustafino (Uzun Mera) and Zletovo (Peshka), N. Macedonia
Ministry of culture of the R.N. Macedonia, Balkan Heritage Foundation, California State University – Dominguez Hills
Project started / Status:
2017 / Ongoing
The Republic of North Macedonia is positioned centrally in the Balkan Peninsula. Until recently, there was only one excavated site representing the Paleolithic. In 2017, the Uzun Mera site was discovered: an open-air site with stone tools scattered over a vast area, in the central part of the Ovche Pole valley. Given the rarity of Paleolithic sites in the country, a wider project was initiated, documenting the site in its environmental, geological, and cultural setting, but also locating other potential sites with more reliable and informative stratigraphic sequences.
The valley is surrounded by small hills. Two high-potential focal points were identified – one at the southwestern edge of the valley (Peshti Gorge), which is part of a longer karstic chain with an abundance of natural caves, and the other is a single rock-shelter (Peshka) in the volcanic hills at the northeastern edge of the valley. One cave in the first location was excavated so far, but it only yielded Copper Age and Medieval remains. The other location, which is part of the field-school, is the Peshka rock-shelter, where excavations began in 2022 and which gave some very promising results.
After five field campaigns, we now know much more about the stone tool assemblage, the stratigraphy and the relative chronology at Uzun Mera. The recovered artefacts date to the Middle Paleolithic, i.e. were part of the Neanderthal tool-kit. They are contained in the top layer of the stratigraphy (together with cobbles of the raw material they are made from), and all the steps of the production sequence are present. There are, however, many important questions still unresolved. One of them is the site formation history. The layer containing artefacts is an alluvial terrace on the left bank of a small river. The river source is in the nearby hills to the north, which are part of an ancient volcanic complex. Obviously, the raw material was transported downhill to their current position. The question is whether the artefacts travelled together with the cobbles, or they were made on-site once the raw material was deposited. Some of the knapping products show signs of transportation, but others do not. Another question is whether there is more than one Paleolithic phase in the assemblage. One or two of the pieces collected during the initial survey suggest that the site was also visited during the Upper Paleolithic, but the question remains unresolved. And here did the raw material originally came from anyway?
To understand the wider context, a key question is: if this open-air site was an area used for raw material procurement and tool production, where did the other economic, social, and cultural activities of these mobile groups take place?
As the project progresses, we expand the excavation area to different locations within the vast area of Uzun Mera, with increasing focus on laboratory analyses and dating of the site. More expansive excavations are under way at the Peshka rock-shelter, as we are yet to reach the Paleolithic layers, currently going through and documenting a wealth of cultural remains from the Copper, Bronze, Iron Age and the Late Antiquity.
Extensive field surveys are taking place in the hills north of the sites, to detect possible sources of the raw material used to make the stone tools. Samples will be analyzed by the Geology department laboratory at the Goce Delchev University in Shtip.
During the excavations at Uzun Mera, soil and quartz samples are being collected for Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) or Thermoluminescence (TL) dating of the layers with artefacts and those immediately under. These measurements will provide chronological frame and the duration of the formation of the layer containing artefacts.
Excavation Directors: Ass. Prof. Darko Stojanovski, PhD in Archaeology – (firstname.lastname@example.org), PI/Director of the excavation project (Goce Delchev University in Shtip, N. Macedonia/Balkan Heritage Foundation), Assoc. Prof. Sarah Lacy, PhD in Anthropology – (email@example.com) Instructor and co-director of the excavation project (California State University Dominguez Hills, LA, USA), Prof. Trajche Nacev, PhD in Archaeology – (firstname.lastname@example.org) Co-director of the excavation project (Goce Delchev University in Shtip, N. Macedonia.
BHF contribution: BHF is contributing significantly to the research project budget. The field school, initiated and organized by the BHF, is a major contributor of field crew members as well. In addition, thanks to their extended collaboration network, the partnership between the Goce Delchev University and the California State University – Dominguez Hills was established, with other international collaborations currently developing.
BHF project partners: Goce Delchev University – Shtip (N. Macedonia), Balkan Heritage Foundation – Sofia (Bulgaria), California State University Dominguez Hills – LA (USA).
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Uzun Mera location:
Peshka cave location: