Institute of Archaeology


The process of Neolithic settlement in Northwestern Romania

The Southeast European early Neolithic is thought to be derived from roots in Central Anatolia, even if the exact nature of the transmission-processes involved is still very unclear. All cultivars and domestic animals of the Starčevo-Körös-Criș complex derive from species native to Western Asia and were presumably brought in by migrating populations.

As the late Mesolithic of the Balkan Peninsula is badly known, the extent of local input, both in terms of knowledge and population is very difficult to gauge.

The Criș-settlements in Northwestern Romania date mainly to the late/latest phase of the Starčevo-Körös-Criș complex (Starčevo-Criş IIIB-IVA, Lazarovici 1984). The Neolithic settlers or the Neolithic ideology in whatever form could have arrived either from the East, via central Transsylvania, with Gura Bacului near Cluj, the oldest Neolithic settlement known in Romania so far, or from the South, following the course of the Tisa (Tisza) river.

Tășnad (Tasnad/Trestenburg) is located on the foothills of the Western Hills (Dealurile de Vest) where they merge into the Great Hungarian Plain to the West, a big flat area that runs from Western Romania to Eastern Austria, almost up to Vienna. It was formed by the Miocene and Pliocene Pannonian Sea that covered most of present day Hungary and parts of Serbia, Croatia and Slovakia.

Today, the Danube Gorge at the Iron Gates forms the only outlet of this vast area. This meant that up to the 18th century, the plain tended to be regularly inundated in spring and summer. Approximately a third of it was covered in swamps and marshes, and the levees of the rivers were the only places dry enough for permanent settlement.

It offered a rich array of aquatic resources and waterfowl. Wild cattle, wild boars, red and roe deer lived in the gallery forests near the rivers, while wild horses, onagers, wolves and lions roamed the drier steppes of the interior.

This environment is very different from the hills to the East, with mainly brown forest soil, almost covered in mixed-oak forest (Ciută 2012). The plain offered new resources, but also needed an adaptation of the farming techniques and domesticates ultimately derived from the much drier environment of eastern Anatolia.

  • How did Neolithic populations adapt to the new environment?
  • How did their economy, social structure and maybe ideology change?

Northwest Romania, on the boundary between these two ecozones, offers a unique chance to find out. Especially the lithic raw materials, coming from different directions, are very helpful for tracing the way cultural traditions were transmitted - and new contacts established.