Neanderthal Crossroads: Excavations at the Middle Paleolithic Site Uzun Mera 2023 (Balkan Heritage Field School)

Location: Shtip, North Macedonia

Season: June 24, 2023 to July 15, 2023

Session Dates: 24 June - 15 July, 2023

Application Deadline: April 9, 2023

Deadline Type: Rolling


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

Program Type:
Field School

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: Darko Stojanovski (PhD in Quaternary and Prehistory), Balkan Heritage Foundation; Associate Professor Sarah Lacey (PhD in Biological Anthropology), California State University Dominguez Hills; Prof. Trajche Nacev (PhD in Archaeology), University of Goce Delchev

Project Description:

The Site and the Excavation Project


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 the country. 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, which documents the site in its environmental, geological, and cultural setting.

After several 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 Palaeolithic. 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 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 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 Palaeolithic (or maybe even Mesolithic) phase in the assemblage. A few of the pieces collected during the initial surveys suggest that the site was also visited during the Upper Palaeolithic. Furthermore, 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? To address some of the unresolved questions, we set out to look for Paleolithic remains in stratified contexts in the wider region. Obvious features to investigate would be some of the caves and rock-shelters at the periphery of the valley.

In 2022, we initiated excavations at the Peshka rock-shelter at the NE edge. During the only campaign so far, we have seen the great archaeological potential of the site, and discovered remains from the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Age, and the Early Medieval period. The stratigraphic sequence goes further down, and we expect to reach early prehistoric layers in the following campaigns.

In summary, the main questions for fieldwork season 2023 would be:

  • What is the site formation history at Uzun Mera (whether the artifacts are in a primary or secondary context?)
  • Is there more than one Paleolithic phase represented in the Uzun Mera assemblage?
  • What was the range of movement of these hominin groups and were they using other features of the surrounding landscape different from the flatlands at the center of the valley?
  • Where is the source for raw-material for stone-tool production, and how far are these products dispersed?
  • Are there Paleolithic levels at the Peshka rock-shelter, and how do they relate to the Uzun Mera assemblage?

Expected results:

  • Techno-typological profile of the Uzun Mera assemblage.
  • Establish the absolute chronology of Uzun Mera and have a better view of the nature of the site (primary or secondary context?).
  • Detect the exact origin of the raw material used for knapping at Uzun Mera.
  • Document the stratigraphy and establish the Paleolithic potential of the Peshka rock-shelter


Period(s) of Occupation: Middle Paleolithic

Major field school topics/activities: Archaeology of the European Middle Paleolithic (300 000 - 45 000 years ago). Human evolution and Neanderthals. Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation, surveying, geological cave coring, processing of finds and samples; Data gathering and processing, interpretation & presentation of results. Archaeological photography and technical drawing. Experimental archaeology. Excursions to significant heritage sites in North Macedonia.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Three weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: No experience required. A medical COVID-19 certificate might be requested from each participant. The participants should have medical insurance including COVID-19 treatment and repatriation. The participants should inform the project staff about any health issues, allergies, and food preferences.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodation: Smestuvanje za studenti - Danilov is located in a quiet residential part of the center of Shtip, within walking distance to everything, offering double rooms (twin beds) with toilet/shower. Free use of wi-fi, washing machine, kitchen. Bed linen and towels are provided. Single room accommodation is possible upon request for additional charge (two single rooms are available on a first-come, first-served basis). Meals: Three meals (organic, local Macedonian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. During the workdays, all meals usually 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.

Contact Information:

Balkan Heritage Field School

7 Tulovo St. 5th Floor


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Phone: +359 988 250 901; +359 898 681 366 (both available on WhatsApp)

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