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Early Neolithic Settlement at Ilindentsi: Excavation in the Sixth Millenium B.C.E.

Location: Ilindentsi, Strumyani, Bulgaria, Bulgaria

June 15, 2013 to July 14, 2013

Session dates: 
Session 1: 15 - 29 June, 2013 Session 2: 30 June - 14 July, 2013

Application Deadline: 
Saturday, June 1, 2013

Discount for AIA members: 
5% off the regular admission fee.

Program Type

Field school



Balkan Heritage Field School/Foundation, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria), and Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Nanterre (France)

Project Director:

Dr. Malgorzata Grebska-Kulova, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History

Project Description

In the seventh millenium B.C.E. the Balkan Peninsula was a gate through which farming, animal husbandry and generally Neolithisation spread to Europe from Anatolia and the Near East. Central parts of the Balkans were among the most important migration routes during that period. Six Early Neolithic settlements are mapped there, in the Middle Struma River Valley, on the natural road that connects the Eastern Mediterranean with the Central Europe. One of them is the prehistoric site near Ilindentsi. At this site the prehistoric cultural layer lies immediately (10 to 20 cm) under the topsoil humus, which has significantly facilitated the excavation process. During the previous seasons at the site (2004-2009, 2011-2012) archaeologists unearthed mainly Early Neolithic settlement structures and features (remains of dwellings with specific floor construction and under-floor drainage systems and one burnt dwelling with well preserved in situ "kitchen-space" including an oven, grain-store and quern-stone). The culture layer (app. 0,70-1.00 m thick throughout the excavated surface) was rich with artifacts such as white on red painted pottery, anthropomorphic clay figurines, stone and bone tools and jewels all of which are dated to the first half of 6th millenium B.C.E. In 2010 a geomagnetic survey of the site was performed and a geomagnetic map of the site was created. In consequence the excavated area was extended in 2011 and 2012 to search for the reasons for geomagnetic anomalies on the map. In one of these recent dig trenches beside the structures many Middle Neolithic (5600-5400 B.C.E.) artifacts were found which is the first evidence of horizontal stratigraphy at the site.

Scholars assume that the settlement near Ilindentsi was established by groups of people, coming from the earliest and the largest Early Neolithic settlement in the Valley, found near the village of Kovachevo. Thank to the results of a 20-year long Bulgarian-French Excavation Project in Kovachevo there is abundant evidence showing that the first inhabitants of that settlement were people of Anatolian origin. These migration patterns that traced the routes of European Neolithisation had various and complex reasons: increased population, limited environmental resources, climate change etc.

The excavation project at Ilindentsi aims to seek more detailed answers of the following questions, which are important for Balkan and European Prehistory:

  • who were the first European farmers?
  • what made them migrate to Europe?
  • did they find indigenous populations in the Balkans?
  • how did their societies function and develop?
  • how did their everyday life look like?
  • did they keep connections with their Anatolian homeland?
Тhe Early Neolithic Settlement at Ilindentsi - Excavation in the Sixth Millenium BC Project envisions further excavation of the Neolithic structures and their surroundings. Two field school sessions are available in 2013, and each includes following three modules: fieldwork including maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan/ a ground plan/ a cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a level device, and taking photographs at the site; lectures, workshops and field trainings in Prehistoric and Field Archaeology as well as Finds' processing and Documentation and excursions to various cultural and archaeological sites in the region including Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, the medieval town of Melnik and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) (refer to the Course description and Field School agenda!).
Participants who join the two project sessions are going to have a different schedule during the second session, which includes:
  1. (at the weekends) Visits of the towns of Blagoevgrad and Sandanski (a popular Bulgarian SPA resort)
  2. (in the period between both sessions) Optional visit to Kavala, Phillippi and the Aegean coast (Greece);
  3. (in the afternoons) Extra lab work related to the finds processing and documentation and special workshops for:
  • Archaeological Documentation and Illustration of Neolithic Pottery;
  • Ceramic studies - by famous French specialist Dr. Laure Salanova.

All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail and a hard copy on arrival);
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.


Period(s) of Occupation: Early and Middle Balkan Neolithic (6200 - 5500 B.C.E.)

The field school project includes: fieldwork related to excavations of the Early Neolithic (6200-5500 B.C.) settlement of Ilindentsi, Bulgaria; educational course (lectures, workshops and field trainings referring to both excavations' methodology and European Prehistory) as well as excursions to Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, medieval town of Melnik and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site). THE PROJECT IS SUITABLE FOR BOTH BEGINNERS AND ADVANCED IN FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY! Students could obtain up to 9 academic credits upon request. Discounts off the admission fee are available!

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 1 session (two weeks)

Minimum age: 
18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)

Experience required: 
No, but all participants are expected to have some (at least theoretical) background in archaeological field techniques and methods.

Room and Board Arrangements

In rooms with two to four beds (air-conditioning, TV, bathrooms with shower and WC) in the Art Center Ilindentsi. There is also a washing machine available. Participants are not expected to bring any additional equipment, bedclothes or towels. The Art Center consists of: accommodation facilities, kitchen, dining hall, conference room, art gallery, garden and sculpture park. Three meals per day are covered by the admission fee. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted!

Admission fee €1,249 (app. $1,590). Discounts off the admission fee are available in case of: 1) AIA membership; 2) Participation in more than 1 BH project or project session in 2013; 3) Small Groups (two or three people, who participate in a BH project in 2013); 4) Larger Groups (four or more people, who participate in a BH project in 2013).

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria
Number of credits offered New Bulgarian University grants to students 6 credits for participation in 1 project session, and 9 credits for participation in 2 sessions. Transcript is available upon request for an additional tuition fee.
€345/515 for 6/9 credits (for students outside EU). Participants who don't need academic credits, won't be expected to pay for the tuition fee.


Contact Information
Ms. Anna Parmakova - Admissions / Balkan Heritage Field School
204 Sveta Troitsa St.
Stara Zagora, BG-6004
Phone: +359 878 441 251
Recommended Bibliography: 

Boyadzhiev, Y. Early Neolithic Cultures on the Territory of Bulgaria. – In: I. Gatsov, Y. Boyadzhiev (eds.). The first Neolithic Sites in Central/South-East European Transcet, vol. I. Early Neolithic Sites on the Territory of Bulgaria. BAR International Series 2048, 2009, 7-43.

Bojadžiev, J. Absolute Chronology of the Neolithic and Eneolithic Cultures in the Valley of Struma.- In: H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich. G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia,2007, 309-316.

Gimbutas, M. Neolithic Macedonia. As reflected by Excavation at Anza, Southeast Yougoslavia. Monumenta Archeologica 1. Los Angeles, 1976.

Grębska-Kulova, M. and I. Kulov. Prehistorical Sites in the Middle Struma River Valley between the End of the VIIth  mill. BC and the beginning of the Ist Mill. BC.- In: H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich. G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia,2007, 279-296.

Гребска-Кулова, M. Раннонеолитната култура в долината на Средна Струма, Югозападна България (TheEarlyNeolithicCultureintheMiddleStruma(Strymon) RiverValley, South-WesternBulgaria)– in: Праисторически проучвания в България: нови предизвикателства (Prehistoric Research in Bulgaria: NewChallenges). София, 2008, 56-65.(Abstract in English)

Lichardus-Itten, M. and J.-P. Demoule, L. Perničeva, M. Grebska-Kulova, I. Kulov. The site of Kovacevo and the Beginnings of the Neolithic period in Southwestern Bulgaria. The French-Bulgarian excavations 1986-2000. – In: Beiträge zu Jungsteinzeitlichen Forschungen in Bulgarien. Eds.  M. Lichardus-Itten, J. Lichardus, V. Nikolov.Bonn, 2002, 99-158.

Malamidou, D. and D. Kryoneri.  A Neolithic and Early Bronze Settlement in the Lower Strymon Valley.- In: H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich. G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia,2007, 297-308.

Mitrevski, D., Prehistory in Republic of Macedonia-F.Y.R.O.M. – In: D. Grammenos (ed.). Recent Research in the Prehistory of the Balkans. Thessaloniki, 2003, 13-72.

Nikolov, D. Periodization of the Neolithic along the Struma Valley. In: Academia Litterarum Bulgarica.. Thracia XV. In honorem annorium LXX Aleksandri Fol. Serdicae, MMIII, 99-106.

Perlès, C. The Early Neolithic in Greece. The first farming communities in Europe. Cambridge, 2001.

Pernicheva, L. Prehistoric Cultures in the Middle Struma Valley: Neolithic and Eneolithic - In: Prehistoric Bulgaria. Monographs in World Archaeology No 22. Edited by D. Bailey, I. Panayotov, pp. 99-147. Madison Wisconsin 1995: 

Perničeva, L. Prehistory of the Strumešnica valley - In: Śliwa J., Domaradzki, M., (eds.). The lower Strumešnica Valley in prehistoric, ancient and early medieval times. Kraków, 1983, 11-34.

Perničeva, L. and I. Kulov, M. Grebska-Kulova. Early Neolithic House from Bălgarčevo, Blagoevgrad Region (SW Bulgaria). – Archeologia Bulgarica, 2000, 3, 1-10.

Weninger, B. and E. Alram-Stern, E. Bauer, L. Clare, U. Danzeglocke, O. Jöris, C. Kubatzki, G. Rollefson, H. Todorova, T. van Andel. Abrupt Climate Forcing Observed at Early Neolithic Sites in South-East Europe and the Near East. – In: The Struma River Valley in Prehistory. H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich, G. Ivanov (eds.), Sofia 2007, 7-28.

Čochadžiev, S. and V. Genadieva. Contribution to the Study of the Early Neolithic Age in the Struma River Basin. - In: M. Stefanovič, H. Todorova, H. Hauptmann (Hrsg.). James Harvey Gaul in Memoriam 1. Sofia, 1998, 79-89.