Hamangia culture


Dobrudzha is the last Neolithised territory on the Balkan Peninsula. The Hamangia culture bearers appear here only towards the end (probably the last quarter) of the 6th millennium BC Against the background of its neighbours, their material culture seems too archaic and lagging behind in almost every area – lack of lamellar technique when handling flint, dug-in or semi dug-in dwellings, significant presence of game and fish in the diet, a small number of ceramic forms used and poor vessel decorations. The Neolithisation of this territory seems to differ considerably from the processes that took place in the southern and western parts of the peninsula earlier. The reasons for the specifics are sought in two directions:

  1. Climate change affecting large areas. During the period 5300-5100 BC the average annual temperatures are rising globally. The wetter climate established in the temperate zone promotes the development of forest communities in the valleys of the Dobrudzha rivers and steppe areas more conducive to sedentary inhabitants (Bozilova, Filipova 1986; Božilova, Tonkov2002; Marinova 2005).
  2. Presence in the area of preneolithic remnants, feeding on hunting, gathering and fishing, which is integrated by the incoming Neolithic colonists (Todorova 2011, 55).

If for the first claim we have a significant amount of pollen and paleoclimatic test results, the second requires DNA analyses that have not yet been performed in the region. Nevertheless, the neolithisation of Dobrudzha has its characteristics and takes place in an area surrounded by an already neolithic population. Perhaps this is also the reason for the much faster pace of development of the early Hamangia population, forced to be rapidly adaptive in order to catch up with its neighbours.

During the first phase of the culture, a small group appears in the region of present-day Durankulak Lake, which settles down on the bank of a highly curved river in a place rich in springs and adjacent to a wetland with alluvial soil suitable for processing. These earliest inhabitants lived in semi dug-in dwellings, covered with plant materials. They did hunting and fishing, but they also did farming and cattle farming. They cultivated single-grained and two-grained wheat, barley, vetch and lentils. The domestic animals are presented by cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. A large proportion of the tools are universal, used for various purposes, with a low proportion of specialised tools. Local, not very high quality raw material was used to make flint products.

The place, although poor in natural resources, is proving to be hospitable enough to feed its inhabitants for many centuries. During the earliest period of their settlement here, the people are gRadually learning to make the most of natural assets and to look for opportunities for rapid economic development. Perhaps the speed of these processes is also influenced by the established religion-ideological system and a clear distinction between the social structure well visible in the burial practices of the inhabitants. The dead are buried in a stretched position with heads to the north in graveyards outside the settlement. Men’s graves are richer, indicating that the patriarchal customs have prevailed in the community. Men are sent to the afterlife with their personal ornaments – bracelets and necklaces. Sometimes skulls from large herbivores – wild donkey, deer, cattle – are also found in graves. They can be both the remains of a funeral feast and hunting trophies of the buried.

The rapid rise of the Hamangia communities may be due to their spread of shells of Mediterranean molluscs – Spondylus, Glycymeris и Dentalium. They are widely sought after for ornamentation and, as it appears, the Hamangia culture bearers are their main distributors in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The high concentration of products from these exotic raw materials in the territory of Dobrudzha suggests that already in the late Neolithic period, a slender system for supplying and connecting with the Aegean Sea was established, most likely based on cabotage shipping. This also explains the settlement of the first Hamangia communities close to the coast, as well as the high concentration during all phases of the culture of settlements on the Black Sea coast.

Idol sculpture from the prehistoric necropolis in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, culture
Hamangia III, V millennium BC

The new progressive way of life and the food production, and not just relying on hunting and gathering, bring demographic growth and prosperity. In the second phase the Hamangia culture bearers began to colonise the territory of Dobrudzha on both the seashore and inland. Although the studies at this point in time are still in their initial phase and the reports are fragmented, it seems that by the end of the Neolithic period, the Hamangia communities settled the entire Dobrudzha Plateau – from the Danube River to the valley of the Batova River. The improvement of the climate made it possible to reclaim previously untreated land and changes the habitat pattern. Suitable for the Hamangia people are no longer only the seashore wetlands, but also the inland Dobrudzha lands. The settlements are not only on flat terraces, but also on steeper slopes of the more heavily cut areas. From dugouts and semi-dugouts, they moved to the construction and living of ground dwellings, built of a stake-wicker structure coated with clay. As the material condition improved, there was also a complication and deepening of the processes in the spiritual sphere. Specific anthropomorphic plastics occur for mass use, the main features of which are the clean lines, the geometry and the modelling of the head as a prism with a triangular cross section. The figurines feature predominantly upright women with broad hips and arms outstretched or placed on the abdomen (Vaysov 1992; Vaysov 1993). As with other early agricultural cultures, they probably embody the Great Mother Goddess, a symbol of fertility. The rare occurrence of male statuettes (Berciu 1960) also seems to represent the cult of ancestors, the clearest expression of which are the traditions in the funeral practices.

In the second phase of the culture Hamangia the dominated posture at the burial also remains stretched out on the back, head north. It is also rare to find women with the same orientation in a constricted position to the left or right. Signs of a funeral feast are increasingly found around the graves, continuing the practice of the heads of large herbivores serving for these purposes. During these feasts, large ceramic vessels with extensively cut decorations were also broken, and sometimes their pieces were also laid in graves. Symbolically, the dead are included in the feasts, with small vessels of food or drink placed over their mouths. The idea of symbolism is clearly evident from the fact that, especially for funerals, smaller copies of real vessels that are poorly baked are prepared (Todorova 2002). The first symbolic graves appear – in them the remains of a dead man are missing. They are designed to soothe the spirit of a member of the community, who died or was deceased away from his relatives.

Ceramic vessels found in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, Hamangia III culture, 5th millennium BC.

The leading role of the male is even more pronounced. It is men’s funerals that are richer, and they reveal a wide variety of jewellery – bracelets from the shell of marine molluscs, necklaces of diverse materials, tools made of polished rock. The malachite beads are becoming increasingly popular, indicating a growing interest in copper. Grandles (unfolding deer fangs) used as beads for necklaces, bracelets and for stitching on clothing and belts are also more common. Perhaps these ornaments emphasize the hunting skills of their owners or are one of the earliest markers of elevated social status.

The expansion of the territory of the culture also intensifies its contacts with the neighbours. Fragments of imported vessels from the areas of the Boyan (Comşa 1978, 17; Berciu 1966, 26) and Usoe cultures were found in the settlements and necropolis. (Slavchev. 2008, 45-48). The raw materials base is enriching. Imported high-quality flint from the Ludogorie region, as well as serpentinite (probably originating in the Rhodopes), is also beginning to appear.

So far, the third phase of the Hamangia culture has been the least studied in Bulgaria and its development summaries are only preliminary in nature. The area of habitation appears to have shrunk from the west as the settlements of the previous phase are abandoned and do not continue to exist. The likely reason for this is pressure from the Boyan culture bearers, the Vidra phase, whose movement along the Danube Valley is clearly expressed from west to east. They gRadually drive out the inhabitants of the Hamangia culture, taking over their habitat. This leads to an internal consolidation of the culture and increasingly pronounced integration processes with their Southern neighbours, the Sava culture bearers living in Longosa. The stormy times have led to changes in the architecture and the urban planning. A search for naturally protected places, allowing a good overview of the surroundings, begins. It was then that the inhabitants of the settlement near today’s Durankulak Lake abandoned their old habitat and built their new homes on the rocky hill, protected from three sides by the turn of the river. The buildings are massive, extensive, with a stone plinth over which walls of clay and wood are erected. The streets between them are straight, paved with stones or tamped clay.

The new age – the Chalcolithic Age – leaves its mark not only on the architecture. Economic changes are beginning and progressively deepening. Agriculture and cattle breeding already play a more significant role. Wheat and barley are the main crops grown (Vaysov et al. 2018, 40) and their yield and, accordingly, stocks are growing significantly. The share of hunting in the feeding of the population is decreasing at the expense of cattle and pig breeding. The last wild donkeys that inhabited the steppe areas of Dobrudzha appear to have been exterminated (Todorova 2011, 67). Fishing, however, still plays an important economic role.

There has also been a strong development in technology. The metallurgy is at the forefront, with the Hamangia cultural bearers playing an essential role in imposing the newly obtained material – copper – in households. Their willingness to use it necessitates their ever closer association with their southern neighbours, through and around the territory of which they pass during their commercial expeditions to procure metal and Mediterranean shells from molluscs. The economy is experiencing specialisation which is becoming ever narrower and populations engaged in specialised production are gRadually being established. This has a positive impact on the quality of the ceramics made. The decorations are processed more precisely and in detail, the tools become more effective. The imports of flint from the Ludogorie increases. The first weapon of close combat appears, the horn battle axe.

The processes noted lead to substantial changes in the society and significant evolution of the public awareness. Although the anthropomorphic plastics do not show any significant changes, the burial practices are undergoing substantial development and illustrate well the construction of a new, chalcolithic socium. The concept of not disrupting the eternal sleep of the deceased seems to be required and graves begin to be marked: with stone slabs – stuck vertically or laid horizontally or with large ceramic fragments. The dominance of posture remains in a straightened position, with heads to the north, but more and more graves of women in constricted position begin to appear. There are also increasing numbers of symbolic graves, as well as triznas. The number of cases of burial with skulls of large grazing animals as gifts is greatly reduced. Although the type of grave inventory does not change, the number of vessels laid at the expense of the tools increases in the complexes. The number of non-inventory graves decreases sharply, which is also an indication of the general prosperity of the population. The jewellery increase quantitatively and become more diverse. The tiara appears as an ornament – from both spondylus and mineral beads. The first richer burials were also discovered, standing out against the background of the more standardized inventory of the more “mass” graves. In society, it seems, warlords, craftsmen, shepherds, farmers are starting to form separate groups. In this “male“ world, the role of the woman is left behind, although the discovery of some richer complexes and especially the grave with idols (grave 626 of the necropolis near the village of Durankulak) point to the preservation of the social importance of women in public life and even, perhaps, their leading role in the practice of cult and religious norms.

Jewelry found in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, Hamangia III culture, 5th millennium BC.

The final, fourth phase of the Hamangia culture is one of the most well-researched territorial and chronological phenomena on the territory of Bulgaria. Although there are still no summary publications on it, the picture of the development of the late Hamangia society, which lived during the Middle Chalcolithic era, can be reconstructed with high reliability and detail.

Significant changes are taking place in the cultural arena. Its bearers were almost entirely driven out of North Dobrudzha by the tribes of the culture Boyan, Spantzov phase. The Hamangia groups inhabit a narrow strip (no more than 40-45 km) along the Black Sea coast. The northern border of their territory runs north to Constanta. In the south, however, their domain extends to the valley of Kamchia and reaches the skirts of Stara Planina Mountains. This expansion in a completely different geographical area in terms of characteristics and diversity is due to the completed intensive integration processes between the Hamangia and Sava cultures. The tribes maintain vibrant contacts with each other, facilitating their dynamic growth and moving to the next, higher stage in their development – entering the period of Late Eneolithic. They are an expression of the global consolidation processes taking place throughout the Balkan Peninsula through the transition from Early to Late Chalcolitic. For a very short period – within no more than one hundred and fifty years (4750-4600 BC) the cultural community living in Longosa and Southern Dobrudzha has developed extremely intensively and is becoming a leading phenomenon in the north-eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula and the forest-step area of Eastern Europe. If, a period ago, it was heavily influenced by its neighbours living in the territories to the north and north-east, towards the end it began to play a major role in the implementation of the interconnections.

A sign of turbulent times and military conflicts is the emergence of various fortification facilities protecting the settlements built in naturally protected areas. A moat and a shaft have been used to fortify the settlement in the Durankulak area near the village of Draganovo (Dimov 2009, 12), with a stone wall – the settlement in the Koriyata area near the town of Suvorovo (Ivanov, Yanchev 1991). Around the settlement mound of Provadia-Solnitzata is built a complex system of moat and wood-clay palisade in which stone walls with bastions are built (Nikolov et al. 2009, 66-71). The ubiquitous buildings are spacious, massive, with stone plinths and thick walls. Above them, the walls were built using various clay and wood techniques (Boyadžiev 2004, 1-6). The more representative buildings were two-storey. Only the Sava settlement mound located on the southernmost border of the cultural arena lacks data on the use of stone in residential construction.

The agriculture has noted an expansion of the range of crops grown for food. In addition to the most common single grain and two-grain wheat and barley, the Hamangia culture bearers also cultivated bare-grain wheat, millet, vetching, lentils, peas and vetch. Hazelnuts, cornel-cherries, plums and wild grapes were collected (Marinova 2008a; Marinova 2008b; Marinova 2008c; Marinova 2009, 104; Slavchev et al. 2018, 38). In domestic animals, the almost double prevalence of cattle over sheep and goat and the poor performance of pigs is noted. Stags, wild boar, deer, rabbits, foxes were hunted (Ninov 2008a; Ninov 2008b; Slavchev et al. 2018, 39), and the game meat was less frequently consumed (Ninov 2008b, 275) – because the importance of hunting in the economy have diminished.

It was only during the last, fourth phase of the Hamangia culture that the flint processing began to be dominated by the wafer technique (Sirakov 2002, 239-241; Anastasova 2008 a; Slavchev, etc. 2017, 38), which had prevailed much earlier among other cultures in the territory of the Central and Eastern Balkans. The likely reason for this “delay“ is that it is at this time that the more intensive supply of Ludogorie high-quality flint to the coast begins. However, it seems that the difficulties in obtaining solid volcanic rock have not been overcome, as stone tools continue to be rare. On the other hand, the construction and use of tools made of bone and antlers continues.

Even though expanded to the south, the Hamangia culture area is limited, on the one hand, by the natural features of this part of the Balkan Peninsula and, on the other, by the neighbouring tribes, among which there is also significant demographic growth. This forces the Hamangia population to look for ways to make the most of the available resources and new ways of developing further. The crafts are beginning to take a clearer look of individual proceedings. In the new territory of the culture Hamangia are documented highly specialized industries – a salt extraction centre in Provadia and a ceramic workshop near Suvorovo. They are the precursors to radical changes in the economy and thus in all spheres of existence.

Tools found in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, Hamangia III culture, 5th millennium BC.

The guiding impulse in this direction is the increasing importance that metallurgy is gaining. During the Middle Chalcolithic period, it developed significantly (Dimitrov 2002, 128, 140-141) and the Hamangia culture bearers emerged as the largest consumers of metal products in the Balkan Peninsula. Their necropolis reveal a large quantity of copper beads, rings and bracelets; as well as the earliest articles of processed gold – beads made from curled strap. It is clear that the Hamangia population is gRadually starting to play a leading role in the emerging metal trade. The emergence and development of the mining and metallurgy is linked to the emergence of highly specialised groups of miners and metallurgists whose work prevents them from spending time and from producing food for their own needs. They exchange the products of their activities for groceries. It appears that the Hamangia culture representatives who have gained experience in the distribution of products from shell of Mediterranean molluscs also fit into this trade niche. Their opportunities in water transport – by sea and on high water rivers – allow them to become a facilitator and organiser of a large-scale and comprehensive trading network. This systematic exchange further provides an incentive for the development of specialised production and intensive inter-tribal contacts on a large territory (Todorova 1986, 165). A good illustration of the new possibilities is the famous Karbunsko Treasure, discovered on the territory of the Precucuten-Tripolie A culture and containing, among other objects, 444 copper products and 270 spondylus ornaments (Sergeyev 1963, 135; Dergachev 1998, 29–43, 45–47), whose origin should be sought in the lands west of the Black Sea coast.

Tools found in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, Hamangia III culture, 5th millennium BC.

The complex relationships that have arisen are radically changing all spheres of the prehistoric communities. The domestic industries that existed until then are turning into crafts. Occupations emerge – the members of the society start individual activities related to different aspects of the economic system. The mass production is starting – the production of uniform or similar products in a series to satisfy the need for similar products by a narrower or wider range of consumers. The beginnings of this system date back to the Neolithic, but it was finally formed during the Copper Age, when the “massification” of production affected not only metallurgy but pottery, weaving, mineral processing, bone production and jewellery from shells of marine molluscs. There is a transition from the individual’s engagement in collective activities to a specialised activity requiring independent work. The overall change is geared towards harnessing the personal skills of each member of the society.

This makes it necessary to coordinate divergent efforts to maximise the community satisfaction. The emergence of specialised production leads to the need to regulate and manage the relationships between the different craftsmen groups. This requires a change in the mechanisms of power previously exercised in the fields of religion, warfare and hunting. Organizing people into groups has previously been associated with temporary – incidental or seasonal – events: like a military crusade, a hunting expedition. The new circumstances also predetermine the emergence of economic control. The concentration of these managerial functions leads to a new significance of the power mechanism. Thus, the high social situation and power in the late Hamangia community are based on the possibility of controlling the circulation of values on the one hand and on the system of rural and interregional connections – that is, on the control of all commercial links, on distribution and on exchange. The representatives of this authority shall be clearly identifiable. They are buried in the richest graves of the necropolis dating back to the final phase of the Hamangia culture. Their high position in the social fabric is marked by a number of indicators – numerous and varied richly decorated ceramic vessels, well-worked and lavish diverse jewellery, ornaments of rare and valuable raw materials – gold, copper, malachite. But perhaps the clearest indication of the power functions is the found battle axe-sceptre in the palm of the buried in grave 3 of the Second Varna necropolis.

Jewelry and Tools found in the Durankulak Archaeological Complex, Hamangia III culture, 5th millennium BC.

Thus, in a relatively short period of existence – of the order of about 600 years – an archaeological culture passes its metamorphosis from an archaic and backward phenomenon to a progressive and leading driver of the economic and social processes in the eastern half of the Balkan Peninsula. However, its development does not end there. The Hamangia culture bearers start the most vivid and highly developed prehistoric European phenomenon – the culture of Varna, within which in the second half of the 5th millennium BC all its achievements will become even more glamorous and give the initial impetus to the first European protocivilisation.

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