Neanderthal Crossroads: Excavations at the Middle Paleolithic Site Uzun Mera 2022 (Balkan Heritage Field School)

COVID-19 NOTICE: Please be sure to reach out to the project contact to find out the status of their upcoming season. Many projects have altered fieldwork plans and the information below may not reflect that.

Location: Shtip, North Macedonia

Season: June 25, 2022 to July 16, 2022

Session Dates: 25 June - 16 July, 2022

Application Deadline: May 15, 2022

Deadline Type: Rolling


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

Program Type:
Field School, Volunteer

RPA Certified:

Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF), Goce Delchev University (North Macedonia), California State University Dominguez Hills (USA), and New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria)

Project Director:
Dig co-directors: Prof. Trajche Nacev & Darko Stojanovski ; Research and field school team: Asst. Prof. Sarah Lacy & Aleta Guadelli

Project Description:

The Republic of North Macedonia is positioned centrally in the Balkan Peninsula. Until recently, Golema Pesht cave was the only 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.

After two field campaigns, we now know much more about the stone tool assemblage, the stratigraphy and the relative chronology at Uzun Mera. The recovered artifacts date to the Middle Paleolithic. 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 artifacts 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 a part of an ancient volcanic complex. Obviously, the raw material was transported downhill to their current position. The question is whether the artifacts traveled together with the cobbles, or were they 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 (or maybe even Mesolithic) 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 this is not enough to make definitive claims.

This field school is an amazing opportunity to:

  • dig at a Paleolithic site in North Macedonia
  • learn about the early human dispersals of Europe and their technology, and prehistoric archaeology approaches and methods for studying the material remains
  • practice basic excavation, surveying, recording geological cave coring techniques on the field
  • develop skills in finds retrieval and processing with a focus on Paleolithic stone-tool technology
  • expand knowledge on Neanderthal culture and the use of interdisciplinary approach (geology, biology, physics etc.) in Neanderthal study
  • visit significant archaeological and historic sites (Roman town Stobi, Byzantine town Bargala, early Medieval monasteries, and the late Medieval fortress and urban core in Skopje)

The field school excavations will start in 2022 and it will focus on the excavations at the Uzun Mera site, helping to resolve some issues of the research project regarding the horizontal stratigraphy of the site and site formation. In addition to this, together with the BHFS students, we will try to determine the wider context of the site and its place in the activity network and mobility pattern of the Neanderthals, by searching for the source of the raw materials they used, and the locations (caves and rock-shelters) where they potentially stayed for prolonged periods of time.


Period(s) of Occupation: Middle Paleolithic

These three weeks are an excellent opportunity for beginners who will be introduced to the methodology and theoretical knowledge needed for engaging in an archaeological excavation of a Prehistoric site.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Three weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: None. A valid Covid-19 certificate is required.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodation: A guest house/hotel located in the town of Shtip – double rooms (twin beds) with toilet/shower in each room. Free use of wi-fi, washing machine, basic leisure, and sports/training equipment. Bed linen and towels are provided. Single room accommodation is possible upon request for an additional charge. The guest house/hotel is in the Downtown, within walking distance to everything essential in Shtip. Meals: Three meals (organic Macedonian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. During the workdays, all meals except breakfast take place in a restaurant close by to the accommodation facilities. The meals during the weekends take place at the same restaurant except for the lunches planned in the excursions or brown bag lunches. This field school can accommodate vegetarians, vegans, and individuals with lactose intolerance. Kosher and gluten-free diets are impossible to accommodate in this location. Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services, and products.

Academic Credit:
New Bulgarian University grants 9 ECTS credits for attending the field school. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. Details: Regulations for Obtaining Transcripts of Records.

Contact Information:

Balkan Heritage Field School

7 Tulovo St. 5th Floor


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Phone: + 359 898681366

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