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Overview - Cluster B - Balkans

Project Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan Peninsula:
Primary Corridor to Europe?

Initial investigation areas:   Jordan, Turkey,
Macedonia, Romania
  Speaker: Prof. Dr. Frank Schäbitz


Fossils of Homo sapiens sapiens indicate an early dispersal of this species into the Near East as early as 90 ka. Following the "Out of Africa II" model of human evolution, the Jordan valley is generally seen as the corridor through which early modern humans spread from Africa through the Levant and into Europe. Furthermore, the region is part of the so-called Fertile Crescent, where evidence of agriculture and human impact can be traced back to about 11,000 years ago. Therefore, the Near East plays a major role in the understanding of two important phases in European Prehistory characterised by human migrations: The dispersal of early Homo sapiens sapiens out of Africa and the spread of agriculture. The first evidence for the presence of Homo sapiens sapiens in Europe is found in Romania and dates to approximately (uncalibrated) 35 ka BP. However, due to the limitations of the anthropological data, only a patchy reconstruction of the routes into Europe has been possible until now and the archaeology of the first groups of Homo sapiens sapiens that entered Europe is still unknown. For both migratory events, the detailed framework of climatic and environmental conditions still requires extensive research.

Within a trajectory of early human migrations the spans from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Balkan Peninsula, these are the gaps that the B Cluster intends to close:

  1. What were the climatic conditions in the area in the Late Quaternary and how didclimatic fluctuation and environmental forcing influence both the dispersal of Modern
    Man and the spread of agriculture into Europe?
  2. What kind of land use patterns were employed by early Homo sapiens sapiens in the Near East, how did they develop through time and what changes in these land use
    patterns allowed the dispersal into European habitats formerly not occupied?
  3. Was there only a single Upper Pleistocene dispersal from Africa into Europe, followed by demographic developments of an essentially homogenous Homo sapiens sapiens
    population, or several migration events, displacing already established groups?

The “Eastern Trajectory” project aims to cover essential segments of possible routes from Africa and the Near East into Europe. In the first project phase, our work will focus on three regions:

  1. The Jordan valley (B1, B3) at the sensitive border between the Mediterranean and Irano-Turanian vegetation zones, where climatic fluctuations probably resulted in
    considerable horizontal and vertical movements of ecozones. Particularly, the highfluctuation climate changes at the end of the Pleistocene coincide with major
    socioeconomic changes (transitions Middle/Upper Palaeolithic – Natufian/Pre-Pottery Neolithic).
  2. The Marmara region and Western Turkey, which are situated in a key position for monitoring the stepwise extension of Neolithic culture from Asia Minor to the Balkans. The area has been settled long before Early Neolithic times and the influence of environmental factors has been subject to rapid and frequent changes. However, the knowledge of the route of Modern Man from Turkey to Europe is still poor; to date, it isnot even possible to determine whether this bridge between the Middle East and Europe was used or not. Palaeoclimatic conditions are archived in sediments of Lake Iznik (B4).
  3. In the Balkans, the oldest European Homo sapiens sapiens fossils known so far were found in Romania. Major excavations in Romania and Ukraine will be supported by surveys and soundings; the sediments in the vicinity of the sites will be interpreted in their palaeoecological context (B1). Backing up the archaeological work, the Late Quaternary climatic and environmental history of the Balkan region will be reconstructed on a sub-millennial time scale by the investigation of sediment records from the lakes Prespa and Dojran (B2) at the Macedonian/Albanian/Greek border. Since the lakes are located in the main tree refugial areas of important central European forest species during the glacial periods, they are considered to have archived sensitively past changes of temperatures and precipitation.

Pre-site surveys at other potential sites for the second phase of the CRC will be carried out, e.g. in the Peloponnesus (Greece) and on the Thracian Plains (Bulgaria, B2) as well as on archaeological sites and sediment profiles in SE Turkey (B1).



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