Amid Albanian Turmoil, Archaeologists Unearth Secrets Of The Stone Age

December 04, 1998

Despite U.S. State Department warnings against unnecessary travel in Albania, a team led by University of Cincinnati and Albanian archaeologists launched a field study about 60 miles south of Tirana in summer 1998. Their quest is to learn more about a Greek colony that flourished at the end of the second century B.C., but the team instead found an unexpected abundance of artifacts left from a possible Neanderthal site.

UC archaeologist Jack L. Davis, co-director of the UC-Albanian team, traveled to Albania last month to report the project's first findings at a two-day conference in Tirana marking the 50th anniversary of the Academy of Science's Institute of Archaeology, UC's partner in the project. Davis and the team began field work in the Apollonia region of Albania in May and June 1998 and will continue work June 15-July 15, 1999.

"We had no idea we would be walking into all this prehistoric evidence," Davis said. "Such a widespread distribution of artifacts from the Stone Age era, in particular, indicates that this area of central Albania has the potential to rank among the larger open air Stone Age sites in Europe. Most Neanderthal and Stone Age sites are inside caves."

Davis views the mission to explore Albania's archaeological history as urgent and opted to launch the field project last summer despite turmoil that has plagued the nation and ethnic fighting on its northern border. Davis plans to survey in the Mallakastra (Fier-Patos-Ballsh) region about a four-hour drive south of Tirana before commercialism and looting interfere with the region's historic remains. His work so far has been funded by the Louise Taft Semple Fund at UC.

The team's 1998 findings in central Albania represent the only documented discovery in Albania in the past 50 years of pre-Neolithic artifacts found lying out in the open rather than inside caves, Davis said, adding it is the first such finding in central Albania.

Davis and project co-director Muzafer Korkuti of the Institute of Archaeology in Tirana led a 14-member team in the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project (MRAP), using an archaeological technique called field surface survey. This approach records and collects artifacts found as team members walk along the ground in rows. Far less expensive than excavation, a survey allows archaeologists to gain an understanding of a larger region over a vast span of time.

The Davis/Korkuti team covered an 1.8-square-mile area. The team identified 15 previously unknown areas with artifacts and designated them sites earmarked for further investigation. The team also investigated the Apollonian settlement area and cemetery.

Two of the sites discovered are Paleolithic (Stone Age), one of which may have served as a Neanderthal home base. Scattered through the region, the team discovered 409 "lithics," or remains of prehistoric tools, including 14 associated with the mid-Paleolithic period (between approximately 200,000 and 35,000 years ago). Most of these 14 stone tools are made using a technique usually associated with the Neanderthals and Levallois.

Another batch of 73 lithics might also be the product of Neanderthals, but the team will not be able to say that with certainty until further investigation next summer.

The abundance of stone tool remnants from the Paleolithic period may help answer questions about the introduction of farming into Europe, Davis said. The Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras spanning from 750,000 to 11,000 years ago represent a time before agriculture began. It was about 8,000 years ago that modern man's relatives in the Neolithic Age are known to have grown crops and domesticated animals. A portion of the tool remnants Davis and Korkuti's team found are Mesolithic, a transitional phase prior to the advent of farming.

Other Albanians on the team included Skender Mucaj of Fier; Lorenc Bejko of Tirana; and Mentor Mustafa, a student at Boston University. In addition to Davis, the rest of the team included Sharon Stocker, UC doctoral student; Michael Galaty of Mississippi State University; John Wallrodt of UC; Charles Watkinson, a British archaeologist; Eberhard Zangger, a German goarchaeologist.

University of Cincinnati

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