The 2012 Season

Geophysical plot, 2009 season, with the mega-structure in the gap in the outer line of burnt houses (source: Archaeological Services, Durham University) Geophysical plot, 2009 season, with the mega-structure in the gap in the outer line of burnt houses (source: Archaeological Services, Durham University)

Following the award of an AHRC Research Grant, as well as the award of a National Geographic Society Research Grant for the excavation of as large burnt structure at Nebelivka, the Project completed a six-week summer season (mid-July - late August 2012). The objectives of the 2012 seasons were as follows:-

The excavation of the Nebelivka ’mega-structure’, involving Total Station 3-D recording of all architectural remains and finds, soil micro-morphological study of daub and soils, and flotation of 100% sample of the soil (general interpretation)

Geophysical prospection of a further 50 ha of the mega-site;

Mechanical coring of 100 burnt structures to recover daub containing charred plant remains;

Intensive, systematic fieldwalking of a further 20 km2 of the Nebelivka hinterland;

Pollen coring in the stream-beds adjacent to the mega-site and in more distant peat-bogs;

Soils investigation of the Nebelivka site and hinterland;

Post-excavation and post-fieldwalking processing of pottery, animal bones and other finds;

The excavation of the Nebelivka mega-structure

Kite photo of excavated mega-structure, 2012 (photo: Mark Houshold) Kite photo of excavated mega-structure, 2012 (photo: Mark Houshold)

The excavation of the largest of the three large structures identified in the geophysical investigations in summer 2009 at Nebelivka (Chapman & Videiko 2011) took place over the summer of 2012. The excavations of this large bi-partite structure – a total of 1200 m2, with 600m2 represented by burnt remains – took a total of 8 weeks, with the Ukrainian side preparing the site by stripping topsoil in Week 0, a joint six-week excavation by a large part of the UK and Ukrainian sides (Weeks 1 – 6) and a final week after the departure of the UK side, conducted solely by the Ukrainian side (Week 7).

General view of trench, with Durham students cleaning a floor surface  (photo: Mikhail Videiko) General view of trench, with Durham students cleaning a floor surface (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The sequence of the mega-structure was divided into four Phases:- Phase 1 – pre-mega-structure; Phase 2 – use of mega-structure; Phase 3 – deposits representing the destruction of the mega-structure; and Phase 4 – the soil fill above the destruction deposits.

Conservation of excavated structures

One of the Project sponsors, Kirovograd Museum, expressed an interest in the display of a fired clay platform in the mega-structure. It was agreed that the Ukrainian team would excavate, consolidate and remove the smallest of the platforms by dividing the platform into four parts and wrapping each quadrant in bandages pre-soaked in a weak plaster solution. The platform was successfully transported to Kirovograd, where it will be displayed from spring 2013.

The interpretation of the mega-structure

Unburnt area: According to the 2009 geophysical investigations, the Eastern half of the mega-structure was defined by linear anomalies suggestive of burnt walls or ditches filled with daub. The removal of the upper 50 – 60cm of soil deposit in this area revealed no traces of internal or external features at all. However, at a depth of 0.50m, traces of linear daub scatters were identified on the South and North sides. Excavation to a greater depth also confirmed no obvious ditch profiles in the excavated sections. There were also no traces of ditches in the Easternmost sector of this area. However, the absence of any traces of ditches adjacent to the daub scatters may have been caused by removal through over-excavation.

A programme of laboratory phosphate analysis is being undertaken by Mr. Ed Treasure to ascertain the extent of phosphate variation both within the unburnt area and between the unburnt area and samples within the burnt mega-structure.

Burnt area: Phase 1: By the end of Week 6, a small number of contexts had been excavated from the pre-mega-structure Phase. However, in Week 7, the Ukrainian team defined three areas of finds concentrations outside the burnt area of the mega-structure: outside the North, East and West walls respectively. However, it is not yet clear whether these finds concentrations belonged to Phase 1 or Phase 2. Targeted AMS dating of animal bones from these finds groups may help to answer this question.

West wall of mega-structure, with fired clay ‘window’ which has fallen out of the wall (photo: Mikhail Videiko) West wall of mega-structure, with fired clay ‘window’ which has fallen out of the wall (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

Burnt area: Phase 2 – the construction of the mega-structure: There is fundamental divergence in interpretation between the two teams concerning this Phase. The Ukrainian side supports one of the two opposing views of Tripillia houses best summarized by Korvin-Piotrovskiy (2012). In this view, Tripillia structures are two-storey log-cabin-style buildings in which there are no vertical posts or beams to support the building. The majority of burnt remains thus derives not from the walls of the building but from the ceiling of the ground floor / floor of the second floor and the fired clay fittings at second-floor level. This view has been expanded into an interpretation of the Nebelivka mega-structure.

View of podium from West (photo: Mikhail Videiko) View of podium from West (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The British side was also puzzled by the scarcity of post-holes in the burnt part of the mega-structure, not least holes for large, weight-bearing posts. Nonetheless, there were so few charcoal and ash deposits in the excavation that there seems to be scant evidence for log-cabin construction. The alternative to a log-cabin style is the use of sleeper beams into which to affix vertical load-bearing timber posts. The large number of daub impressions plotted with the help of the Total Station indicates both rounded timbers (the majority) and squared-off timbers for more precise carpentry. The basic assumption is that linear daub concentrations indicated the place of walls – whether external or internal.

Western part of podium, from North, standing out from the mass of burnt daub (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Western part of podium, from North, standing out from the mass of burnt daub (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The excavation data and the kite photographs of Phase 2 of the mega-structure showed considerable variability in the construction of both external walls and internal divisions. The four external walls were defined by varying densities of daub concentrations. The North wall consisted of a series of narrow daub scatters separated by gaps without significant daub deposits. While part of the West wall revealed clear fired clay ‘slots’ which would have supported vertical beams, other parts consisted of narrow, patchy daub deposits. A major feature – the so-called ‘podium’ – ran along the interior of the South wall for over 10m.

Part of fired clay podium, covered in large sherds (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Part of fired clay podium, covered in large sherds (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The East wall showed a greater concentration of daub, in the middle of which was a dark-fired clay threshold, stretching over 4.50m in length. The Ukrainian side have interpreted massive daub fragments lying inside the East wall threshold as a fired clay superstructure forming the monumental frame of a door. The overall impression of the external ‘walls’ of the mega-structure is one of a building without a continuous vertical division, in which segments in each of the ‘walls’ could have supported a roof. In the British interpretation, it remains doubtful that a roof or roofs covered the whole of the mega-structure. The Ukrainian view is that the entire mega-structure was a two-storey building with an integral roof.

The interior of the mega-structure was as varied as the state of the exterior ‘walls’. The Eastern end is by far the most densely structured, with a series of partitions, including one with a dark-fired clay threshold, which would have formed five or six small ‘rooms’. These spaces could conceivably have been roofed. In comparison with the East end, the Central part had fewer partitions – perhaps two from the South wall and one from the North wall. Its relatively open nature means that it is hard to imagine that the central area was roofed over. The West end differs from the other areas, with an open area stretching towards the equally open Central area and a series of contrasting spaces along the Western wall – a long, thin ‘room’ and two small square rooms. There may have been a lean-to roof covering the rooms linked to the West wall.

Rooms in the Eastern end of the mega-structure, defined by daub lines (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Rooms in the Eastern end of the mega-structure, defined by daub lines (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

Different parts of the interior spaces contained major fired clay features. The single most impressive feature was the fired clay ‘podium’ built along the inside edge of the South wall. The surface of the podium had been raised off the floor to a height estimated to be cca. 0.30m, with a filling to stabilize it. However, sections cut at different places across the podium have revealed marked variation in the construction of this feature, on which both pottery and animal bones had been deposited in the last phase of the podium’s life. The painted upper surface of the podium suggests that it was roofed over.

Platform 46 – the largest platform in the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Platform 46 – the largest platform in the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

In addition, there were at least four fired clay ‘platforms’ of varying sizes. The Ukrainian team suggests that three small areas of ‘fired clay paving’ existed in addition to the four features agreed by both teams. Two platforms were constructed in rooms in the East area, one on the edge of the East area adjoining the fired clay bin and the fourth platform in the West area, just outside the Western row of ‘rooms’. The platforms were built up with two or three layers of fired clay, which were fragmented into the Neolithic equivalent of Roman tesserae by the intense heat of the burning of the mega-structure. It can be argued that the heat of the fire was so intense that it caused cracking of all three layers of fired clay in Platform Context 46.

Small platform in Eastern sector of mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Small platform in Eastern sector of mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

In some areas, the fired clay surfaces had been painted with a red wash. Three different interpretations have been proposed: as ‘altars’, as ‘hearths’ and as ‘platforms’. The notion of ‘altars’ presupposes some ritual function and would be supported by differential concentrations of figurines, or other so-called ritual objects. However, there is no such concentration of ritual finds. The expected evidence to support the notion of ‘hearths’ would be the identification of burnt fired clay fragments, allied to concentrations of charcoal and/or ash close to the features. However, the absence of burning near these features diminishes the likelihood that they were ‘hearths’. The term ‘platform’ is a more neutral term, indicating a proper concern with a feature that is raised from the ground-surface of the mega-structure, on which ritual objects could have been placed for short-term performances - objects which were then removed to other contexts.

The final feature in the interior of the mega-structure is a large fired clay ‘bin’. Careful excavation revealed a long and complex biography of the bin, beginning with the clearing of the area and the creation of low fired clay walls, and ending with the deposition of an upturned grinding stone after the destruction of the mega-structure. The bin was placed in the Central area, close to the largest platform but most probably in an un-covered area. No special deposits had been made in the bin.

Fired clay bin  (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fired clay bin (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The living surface inside the mega-structure also raises complex issues of interpretation. The most convincing areas of fired clay ‘paving’ comprise the four platforms. Much of the daub that covered the living surface of the mega-structure was too irregular to be considered to form a floor. It is therefore possible that, just as we can identify variation if the form of different parts of the mega-structure, so it may be assumed that different kinds of floor covering were used for the different parts of the great building, including stamped earth surfaces for much of the Central area.

One notion not so far been adequately discussed is that the variability in both exterior and interior construction was related to chronological differences. There are several arguments substantiating the notion that Phase 2 contained at least two sub-phases: (a) the multiple sub-phases of some of its principal features (e.g., the podium and Platform Context 46); (b) the long ‘biography’ of the fired clay bin prior to the burning of the mega-structure; and (c) the closure of the door threshold between two ‘rooms’ in the East end with a fired clay step. Only further detailed study of the micro-stratigraphies of the interior and walls of the mega-structure can help us to evaluate the structure’s chronology.

The first of the miniature vessels (eventually comprising a group of 21 pots) emerging from beneath the burnt daub layer (photo: Mikhail Videiko) The first of the miniature vessels (eventually comprising a group of 21 pots) emerging from beneath the burnt daub layer (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
A group of miniature vessels associated with sherds and larger pots (photo: Mikhail Videiko) A group of miniature vessels associated with sherds and larger pots (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The finds associated with the final phase of use of the mega-structure may be divided into three main categories: special deposits, deposits of large, potentially re-fitting sherds and sherd scatters. The former is far rarer than the latter; in fact, before further analysis of the finds, we can be sure of only one major special deposit – a concentration of 20 miniature vessels, with a number of larger pots, in an area of cca. 3 x 3m just to the West of the Western partition of the East end. These miniature vessels may have fallen off a shelf onto a sloping surface outside one of the East end ‘rooms’.

Pottery scatter on top of mass of burnt daub comprising the remains of the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Pottery scatter on top of mass of burnt daub comprising the remains of the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

Burnt area – Phase 3 - the destruction of the mega-structure: There is a fundamental assumption that Tripillia houses have been burnt down deliberately at the end of their lives (Burdo et al. 2013). In the absence of full-scale experimental data, the creation of the heaped mass of fired clay known as ‘ploshchadka’ in Russian is assumed to relate to the burning of the house, in which daub from walls and/or ceilings/floors and/or roof constructions was fired at high temperatures and fell onto the surface, to be fused together to form the ploshchadka.

Fragment of daub with deep impressions of cereal remains (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fragment of daub with deep impressions of cereal remains (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

However, as we have seen already at the mega-structure, the distribution of fired clay daub across the building is by no means continuous nor massive, revealing patches of dense, often vitrified daub, zones of medium density daub with little or no vitrification and areas of low-density daub with no traces of vitrification. The firing temperature of the daub will be investigated by Dr. Natalia Shevchenko but there seems little doubt, even at this preliminary stage of investigations, that there were major variations in the temperature at which different parts of the mega-structure burned down. This may have been a by-product of the conditions of the fire or perhaps the different burning strategies designed to burn different areas in different ways.

Fragment of burnt daub in which an animal bone fragment has been inserted before the construction of the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fragment of burnt daub in which an animal bone fragment has been inserted before the construction of the mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

One significant piece of stratigraphic evidence noted in over ten contexts, including some major features, consisted of the covering of the living surface of the mega-structure with a thin layer of dark soil prior to the first daub destruction deposits. It seems probable that this soil was derived from the local chernozoem A horizon and blew into the mega-structure over a period of time that is currently difficult to assess. The suggestion is that the mega-structure may have been abandoned for a period of time before it was burned down. An even more intriguing question is whether there was more than one phase of burning at the building.

The Ukrainian team has published evidence for the deposition of artifacts – including figurines – at various stages of an abandoned house (summarized in Burdo et al. 2013). The contextual and spatial study of the pottery dating to Phase 3 is still incomplete but such studies should help in an assessment of depositional strategies during and after a house-burning.

In summary, there were three final stages in the biography of the mega-structure: (1) the cessation of social practices inside and perhaps outside the building; (2) a period of as yet unknown duration when the building was not used, allowing the build-up of thin levels of chernozoem-derived soil layers within the mega-structure; and (3) the final burning of the building to produce the ploshchadka.

Burnt area: Phase 4 – after the destruction of the mega-structure: The main characteristic of the period after the burning of the mega-structure was a period of soil formation indicating an absence of cultural activity above where the mega-structure once stood. It will be important to use pollen analysis to verify the level of local activities on what was once the ‘mega-site’ in the late 4th and 3rd millennia BC. One can suppose that this period of soil formation was, at the same time, a period of little local deposition of artifacts or ecofacts.

However, the ploughing of the soil above the mega-site in general, and the mega-structure in particular, was so deep as to leave traces of furrows in the top of the ploshchadka. It is this modern ploughing that has removed a large quantity of Tripillia pottery from its original location and created a large and varied plough-zone ceramic assemblage. The best guess that we can make for the source of this plough-zone assemblage is supposedly near the top of the ploshchadka – a notion that would lend support to Burdo’s view that there was much deposition on the burnt remains of Tripillia houses, viz., on the top of the ploshchadka. The alternative is that much pottery fell from the second floor of the mega-structure onto the growing mass of burnt daub during the course of the destruction by fire.

The spatial analysis of the Phase 4 pottery will doubtless provide some general clues to the origins of this plough-zone assemblage. However, since these sherds were excavated in Week 0, they were not subject to Total Station recording protocols.

In summary, it seems probable that large quantities of Tripillia pottery were placed on, or fell onto, the top of the ploshchadka after the destruction of the building by fire. Over the ensuing millennia, but most probably in the Modern period with the increasing depth of ploughing, the sherds placed on or near the top of the ploshchadka were transformed into a plough-zone assemblage, with the sherds distributed throughout the A horizon between 0.20 – 0.50m in depth.

General interpretation

Gold hair-end ornament, Eastern end of mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Gold hair-end ornament, Eastern end of mega-structure (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
Painted pottery Painted pottery

In summary, the architectural remains of the Nebelivka mega-structure, together with its associated artifact assemblage, pose an intriguing problem of interpretation. Before our excavation, the teams shared an expectation of a large public building with a range of special finds indicating some kind of administrative or ritual central place serving, at the very least, a cluster of houses in the South East part of the mega-site. The size of the structure is not in doubt and the excavated remains provided a close match to the 2009 geophysical plan. However, there was only one part of the mega-structure with anything resembling monumental architectural features – the East threshold with possible monumental wall features. The architectural emphasis on the Eastern end of the mega-structure is heightened by the difference in level between the East threshold and the surface of the unburnt area of at least 50 – 60cm. This means that anyone approaching the mega-structure from the East side would have been confronted by a high, perhaps partly monumental, wall on a stepped slope.

Decorated cooking wares Decorated cooking wares
Fired clay headless miniature figurine with pronounced arms (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fired clay headless miniature figurine with pronounced arms (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The interior of the mega-structure resembles not so much a group of three domestic house-sized features in a row but, rather, a loosely integrated structure which was partly roofed, partly open and with markedly different kinds of local ‘spaces’ – large open areas, small open areas, larger ‘rooms’, smaller ‘rooms’ and ‘box rooms’. Further contextual and spatial analysis of the finds in these spaces is needed before we can understand the function of areas possessing such different qualities. But an overall impression of the finds from the mega-structure is that there are few finds that differ greatly from the ‘typical’ Tripillia house assemblage. The most obvious special find is the group of miniature vessels near the West partition of the East end. There was also the discovery of a tiny gold hair-ornament from one of the smaller ‘rooms’ in the East end – one of the very few gold ornaments from the entire Tripillia – Cucuteni distribution. But the overwhelming mass of finds was ceramic, with a high proportion of fine wares, many with painted decoration. The total of 12 figurines is by no means impressive for such a large structure and the lithic assemblage of both chipped, ground and polished stone tools is small in comparison to other Tripillia house lithic assemblages. The group of over 20 small fired clay cones is perhaps a sign of an administrative practice, while a perforated fired clay plate may have been a gaming board. However, there is little to make the mega-structure stand out from the typical artifact assemblage from a Tripillia house.

Fired clay figurines Fired clay figurines

The principal features of the mega-structure are also similar to the features well known from Tripillia houses – but they are much larger at Nebelivka. Preliminary research suggests that the fired clay bin and the largest platform are the largest examples of their type so far known in the Tripillia group. It would appear that the basic elements of the Tripillia house have been borrowed and adapted to fit the great size of what remains a public building but one without the depositional characteristics of a ritual or administrative centre.

Fired clay tokens, interpreted as gaming pieces (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fired clay tokens, interpreted as gaming pieces (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
Fired clay plates with multiple perforations, interpreted as a gaming board (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Fired clay plates with multiple perforations, interpreted as a gaming board (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

In short, the Nebelivka mega-structure is, in a sense, much more interesting than a ritual centre with all the trappings of a Chalcolithic temple (cf. Parţa: Lazarovici et al. 2001); it is a massive building with hyper-versions of domestic features but with few objects differentiating the building from ‘typical’ Tripillia houses. Those expecting the architectural and artifactual reflections of a hierarchical society with elites ruling over thousands of inhabitants in a Tripillia mega-site will be disappointed. The resultant interpretation of the Nebelivka mega-structure requires a much more subtle model of site depositional practices than we have so far managed to create. There is also the question of the number of sub-phases in Phase 2 – the main occupation phase of the mega-structure. It may also be possible that there was more than a single phase of burning of the building. Much further detailed work on the site records is required before we can come to a satisfactory answer to these questions. What is undeniable is that the mega-structure at Nebelivka was burnt down towards the end of its life, perhaps after a period of time when the building was partially or wholly abandoned. It is possible that an earlier phase of burning precipitated the abandonment of the mega-structure, which was totally destroyed after a period of time.

Geophysical prospection

Geophysical plot, seasons 2009 and 2012 Geophysical plot, seasons 2009 and 2012

Approximately 60ha of geomagnetic survey was completed in summer 2012 season, bringing the total covered to 75 ha, or approximately one-third of the mega-site. No further land was available for survey due to crops. All the survey data has been processed and the resulting greyscale images have been located on a base map with the 2009 survey. Schematic interpretations have been provided, in which we have broadly distinguished between burnt and unburnt structures, as well as probable pits, ditches and palaeo-channels.

The interpretative plot shows a good link between the major concentric rings of houses found in 2009 and in 2012, with two apparent instances of changing alignments created by the prior existence of palaeo-channels. Just as in the 2009 plot, the 2012 investigations showed a further suite of features new to mega-site planning. These newly recognised features include:

Palaeo-channel flanked by house and pit lines, S part of mega-site Palaeo-channel flanked by house and pit lines, S part of mega-site
House groupings, SE part of mega-site, including ‘Nebelivka Square House groupings, SE part of mega-site, including ‘Nebelivka Square

Taken together, these features give a sense of intra-site structuring of a kind not visible when Fletcher (1995) drew his conclusions about the communication-limit and the interaction-limit. This means that, for the first time in the study of Tripillia mega-sites, there is real potential for the identification of neighbourhoods and, therefore, a clearer idea of the spatio-social structure of a mega-site and its organization.

Mechanical coring of burnt structures

Core for House B2 Core for House B2

The coring of a series of Tripillia burnt houses on the Nebelivka mega-site was completed, using a Stitz corer with a Cobra percussion hammer. The coring team of Messrs. Joe Roe and Sean Hamer worked out a modus operandi for the corer, which enabled them to recover 130 cores from a total of 91 houses. The depth of the middle of the burnt daub mass (the ‘ploshchadka’), which produces such a strong geo-magnetic signal, varied from 0.15m to 0.80m below the surface. A search was made for organics in the cored daub samples in the Durham Environmental lab, with little success.

Coring depths of ploschadka Coring depths of ploschadka

Other coring profiles were recovered from the palaeo-channel in the Southern part of the site; the incorporation of Tripillia pottery into the fill of the palaeo-channel at depths of 0.50 – 0.60m confirmed the existence of this palaeo-channel at the time of the occupation of the mega-site.

Intensive systematic fieldwalking

Numbers of sherds collected by field, Nebelivka 2012 fieldwalking season Numbers of sherds collected by field, Nebelivka 2012 fieldwalking season

A total of 23 fields was investigated in summer 2012 by Mr. Nathan Thomas (Archaeological Services) and student members of the Tripillia Project Team. The area covered in the fieldwalking amounted to just over 10 sq. km, completed in 72.5 person-days, at an intensity of 7 person-days per sq. km. A total of over 1,600 sherds and slightly fewer than 100 lithics was recovered. The decision to reduce fieldwalking intensity in comparison with the 120 person-days per sq. km. in 2009 related to the paucity of Tripillia pottery discard in the areas fieldwalked so far. This decision was broadly justified insofar as no major Tripillia scatters and little Tripillia off-site discard were recorded in 2012.

Location of all fields, summer 2012 fieldwalking season Location of all fields, summer 2012 fieldwalking season

Of the 23 fields, three fields (Nos. 5, 6 and 12) produced what could be classed as substantial ‘scatters’, whereas two fields produced no surface finds at all, nine fields produced between 1 and 10 finds, six fields with between 11 and 50 finds and two fields with between 51 and 100 finds. One very large field (Field 8) produced over 200 sherds by dint of an even low-density scatter over the whole area of the field; however, it was not felt that there was a single focus of such finds density to suggest a ‘site’. Only one of the four fields with substantial scatters was in a ‘good’ condition for fieldwalking, while the remaining three fields were in ‘moderate’ condition. The absence of substantial scatters on the three other fields in ‘good’ condition suggests that the state of the fields were not closely related to the visibility of surface finds. The provisional interpretation of these data is that these surface finds denote four ’sites’; a further 17 fields indicated off-site discard in varying degrees.

Field 6, from the air (source: Google Earth 2007)  Field 6, from the air (source: Google Earth 2007)
Field 12, from the South (source: Google Earth 2007) Field 12, from the South (source: Google Earth 2007)


Site 1 (Field 5): a flattish area above a stream bed, either a former terrace or a plateau, with ‘moderate’ conditions for collection. Dense finds covering the core of the site (70m x 120m) in the South West corner, with low-density finds extending a further 120m to the North and North East over 300m. Finds included 251 sherds, stones, slag, some daub and some flint. The pottery can be dated to the Chernyakov culture, dated to the AD 1st – 4th centuries.

Site 2 (Field 6:): a long, flat field bordered on the North by a sinuous stream channel, with ‘good’ conditions for collection. This site has two foci of discard, both 100m x 60m, in the centre and in the South East corner. Low-density finds cover most if the field, forming a site halo extending over 800m x 400m. Finds include 626 sherds, some slag, some animal bone, over 20 flints and several CBMs. The pottery can be dated to the Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age culture, dated to the 7th – 6th centuries BC.

Site 3 (Field 12:): a flat field in a rolling loessland environment, cut by very shallow stream channels, with ‘moderate’ conditions for collection. This site has two foci of high-density material. The first, covering 60m x 100m, was found in the Southern central part of the field. The second was a discontinuous scatter located along the Northern edge of the field, covering 250m x 40m in total with a low pottery density in the middle of the scatter and a rapid fall-off in the density of material around this core. Finds include 179 sherds, one flint and two CBMs. The pottery from both scatters can be dated to the late phase of the Chernyakov culture, dated to the AD 4th century.

The fieldwalking season was characterized by the almost complete absence of Tripillia surface discards. The only exception was the large painted fine ware sherd found in Field 5 (Lat. 48 37 465; Long. 30 34 468). Several Tripillia sherds were also found in Field 19, close to the Northwestern boundary of the mega-site.

Pollen coring

South West Ukraine peat core sampling

In August 2012, we had a successful coring campaign of two peat profiles to be studied for pollen analysis). The potential peat coring sites have been identified at summer 2009 during a pilot field campaign. This season, we re-visited the two prospective sites for a more detailed prospecting to find a suitable place to take a sediment core. An important criterion for the core location was the general geomorphic situation; the location ideally should be sensitive to the Tripillia-time soil erosion. A second criterion was to double-check the coring location to avoid to coring in an area damaged by peat cutting. In this part of Ukraine, peat was used as a local fuel and organic fertilizer for a decade in the Soviet era. In recent times, large-scale peat cutting was abandoned, but local people still occasionally cut peat for different purposes. A careful examination of two sites permitted us to get two peat cores unaffected by recent human activity. In both cases, the peat coring sites were small (about 1 ha), rich fens with a local vegetation dominated by black alder (Alnus glutinosa) trees.

Location of two peat coring sites in relation to the Nebelivka mega-site (source GoogleEarth 2009) Location of two peat coring sites in relation to the Nebelivka mega-site (source GoogleEarth 2009)

The coring was performed with a Dutch Eijkelkamp peat sampler. Peat cores were wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil to protect the peat from contamination by modern materials and to keep natural moisture of peat.

At Lisove/Lysycha Balka (48°47’25.1” N, 31°07’50.3” E), 250 cm of peat with some visible layers of increased mineralization were recovered until the mineral bottom was reached.

At Onopriivka (49°01’41.48” N, 30°40’23.5” E), we obtained 500 cm of peat with well defined mineral layers (traces of erosion). Below the peat, we recovered 170 cm of lacustrine sediments before reaching the mineral bottom. Currently, the Onopriivka core is the longest peat core obtained so far for that part of Ukraine; we expect the sedimentation to cover the middle and late Holocene, including the Tripillia period (4800 - 2800 Cal BC).

The preliminary results from Onopriivka indicate that the diagram covers a large portion of the Holocene, including the Tripillia period, and that the spectra are not dominated by alder, which means that alder carr is quite recent. The regional environment was most likely a forest-steppe; it was never completely forested but there were always natural open landscapes – which was one of the reasons for choosing this place for agricultural colonization. The Loss on Ignition data show a large variability in the mineral content of the peat, which reflects local erosion history. The uppermost mineral layer should, as elsewhere, demonstrate erosion in recent historical times (since the AD 10th century), but there are be traces of the earlier stages of agricultural expansion/fluctuations in the lower parts of the core.

The Nebelivka micro-region

In the other part of the 2012 fieldwork, mineragenic pollen cores were retrieved from the immediate locality of the Tripillian mega-site of Nebelivka with a view to determining human impacts in the immediate vicinity of the Eneolithic occupation here, based upon a hope to find reduced low-energy alluvial deposits where pollen is preserved by virtue of a sub-aqueous situation promoting reduction in Holocene accumulations of sediment within valleys deeply incised in the Pleistocene. Areas topographically suited were determined by field reconnaissance, aided by high-quality 1:10,000-scale maps provided by the Kirovograd Regional Government. The most desirable morphological characteristics include low slope aspect, especially after a break in slope, along a long valley profile and high potential for sediment accumulation based on a high transverse profile. Desired qualities assumed to be operative in the location of the mega-site include most importantly high land-erosion levels within the drainage basin following arable agriculture.

Location of three cores near the Nebelivka mega-site (white oval) (source: GoogleEarth 2009) Location of three cores near the Nebelivka mega-site (white oval) (source: GoogleEarth 2009)

With these parameters in mind, sites P 1-3 in the drainage basin of the Nebel River near the Nebelivka mega-site were identified and cored. The latter operations were achieved with a Cobra-driven, heavy-duty, window sampler-type vibra-corer. Of these, Cores 1 and 3 derive from minor (second- to third-order) drainages to the Nebel River, while Core 2 derives from the main valley, near the confluence of unnamed drainage containing Core P3. Cores achieve a depth of up to 6 metres, ending at the point of contact with underlying weathered granitic regoliths. Sediments may be characterized as reduced muds containing silt and clay particles, with more sand being present in the main valley core P2. Granulometric analysis of P2 reflects a higher energy of depositional environment. Core P1 (6 m deep) lies about 50 m from the Eneolithic site, while P2 (6 m deep) is situated ca. 250 m away. Notably, Core P3 (only 2 m deep) lies close to a much later 80-ha. Cherniakov Culture (early 1st Millennium AD) site.

The depth aspect of the P3 core from a drainage of a scale similar to that of Core P1 might reflect a much later human impact in the immediate locality, with such anthropogenic vectors providing threshold (erosional) conditions for sedimentation down-valley. Possibly, accumulation rates of about 10 cm/century result following achievement of such threshold conditions, but this should be verified by AMS dating of pollen residues.

Laboratory reduction of 20 pollen samples from Cores 1-2 was attempted in Durham University Department of Geography, using standard HF techniques. This produced viable samples in all examined samples from Core P1, and in most samples from Core P2, where pollen concentration is calculated to be ~250K/cc and under 50K/cc. The results of this pilot study are as follows.

Tree taxa typically dominant in Middle Holocene times (esp. Tilia or lime) are especially common at the base of the cores. Pollen of non-arboreal or ‘culture-steppe’ taxa (especially Chenopodiaceae and Artemisia but also Dipsacus: wild teasel) increase rapidly in both sequences. Finds of Triticum, Hordeum and Centaurea cyanus pollen suggest that this decline of tree pollen is due to farming in both spring (wheat) and winter (barley) planting seasons. Some of the Triticum grains from core P1 are very large (up to 50.5 microns under silicone) and may derive from spelt wheat. In these levels, cultivation is 3% based upon the values for cereals only - very high for the Middle Holocene, with plants typical of the culture-steppe most important and low values for mixed-oak woodland of less than 4%. This would suggest that there are many sq. km. were cleared in the Nebelivka micro-region at this time. Seemingly, a recovery of forests can be suggested at Core P2, although the very limited extent of sampling is emphasized here. Nonetheless, pilot results indicate major human impacts in the vicinity of the mega-site, possibly coeval with Nebelivka occupation according relative dating. A further significant presence is noted of non-pollen palynomorphs, including fungal spores of Cercophora at the very base of Core P1, indicating dung, possibly from pastoral land-use, perhaps prior to the main Eneolithic site occupation. Finally, the basal layers of Cores P1 and P2 contain finds of Elatine pollen, in addition to large quantities of Cyperaceae pollen, indicating an aquatic, quasi-lacustrine condition with telmatic margins. Possible water-management indications herein will be examined in future work.

The preliminary results from the sampling of the three cores near the Nebelivka mega-site suggest a dual record, with micro- and meso-regional contrasts of land use at two different orders of magnitude in terms of land area represented in the hydrological pollen catchment. I would assume a 10 percent cereals signal to be reflective of full clearance and cultivation within the 15 km2 drainage above pollen core P1 immediately North of site. Core P2 from the main valley of the Nebel river will reflect the larger land use within a circa 100 km2 land area also North of site. British upland analogues suggest that air pollen will comprise less than 10 percent, so the pollen can then be related at a 90 percent level to a precisely circumscribed land area and be compared to the results of the Nebelivka micro-regions’s fieldwalking data in a precise way.

Soils investigation

The planned visit of the Project’s soil micro-morphologist and soils consultant, Dr. Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, was deferred until the 2013 summer season.

Post-excavation analysis of structures and finds processing

North Wall, grid squares K20-22, prior to digitisation North Wall, grid squares K20-22, prior to digitisation
North Wall, grid squares K20-22, in digitised form North Wall, grid squares K20-22, in digitised form

The recording of features and finds on the mega-structure was developed through a combination of single context descriptions, Total Station 3-D plotting and the drawing of features and daub fragments at 1:20. The preliminary processing of the resulting mass of data has proved challenging but much progress has been made through the efforts of Bisserka Gaydarska, Marco Nebbia and the members of the Nebelivka Lunchtime Digitising Club (Ed Caswell, Ed Treasure, Emily Dutton, Stuart Johnston, Lisa-Elen Meyering, Carmen Parr, Karen Wilson and Lydia Woolway), which met twice per week to digitize the mega-site plans.

The aim of the plan digitization was to create an analytical platform in GIS for future processing and analysis of structural remains and daub fragments. The coding of the building materials differentiated between: (a) destruction daub (from the burning of the mega-structure); (b) vitrified daub (daub fired to a particularly high temperature in the final fire); © construction daub (daub used in the making of permanent features in the mega-structure); (d) clay surfaces (horizontal surfaces the equivalent of carefully levelled floors); (e) pottery; (f) stone; (g) grindstones; (h) charcoal; and (i) other (figurines, clay cones, etc.).

Distribution of animal bones, mega-structure Distribution of animal bones, mega-structure
Distribution of all pottery, mega-structure Distribution of all pottery, mega-structure

After the rectification of the ‘raw’ plans, the plans were digitized in ArcGIS to produce an analytical platform for further research. More general spatial data can also be produced from the Total Station database, including site distributions of figurines, fired clay cones, grindstones, animal bones and any variety of pottery that is required.

The initial single-context recording of the mega-site pottery excavated in Weeks 1 – 6 was completed in the field lab, run by Côme Ponroy and Ed Caswell. The material was then transported to the Institute of Archaeology in Kyiv, where it was prepared for study by the Ukrainian team (Mikhail Videiko, Edvard Ovchinnikov and Julia Ushkova). The Project organised two one-week study session in January and March 2013, in which all of the pottery from Weeks 1 to 6 and almost all of the pottery from Week 0 and Week 7 was recorded on a database, with drawings of all complete profiles, rims, bases and sherds of special interest and photographs of all decorated pieces larger than 2 x 2cm. Two Durham students – Ed Caswell and Sophia Arbeiter – played a vital part in the recording, with the former focussing on vessel shape and spatial distribution of ceramics while the latter researched ceramic decoration.

Team in action, supporting complete, fragmented vesselTeam in action, supporting complete, fragmented vessel
Distribution of sherds by weight (grams) Distribution of sherds by weight (grams)

The majority of sherds are extremely fragmented with 7/8 of the assemblage weighing less than 46 grams and more than half the assemblage less than 15 grams. Few bases were recorded; however, almost 50% of rim sherds represented less than 10% of the total rim. The estimation of minimum number of vessels, based on these highly fragmented rims, produces a maximum of 49 vessels, on the (improbable) assumption that every rim refits with at least one other rim fragment. This is clearly a gross under-estimate and we shall have to develop more nuanced methods for an alternative estimate. A preliminary analysis of the rim data (no. of vessel rims = 577) suggests a predominance of open dishes and plates over bowls and small dishes, with necked vessels in third place and very few other shapes. A study of the sherds’ spatial distribution is currently in progress.

Proportion of rim survival Proportion of rim survival
No. of sherds with external and internal decoration No. of sherds with external and internal decoration
Painted ware Small Find 3208V Painted ware Small Find 3208V
Impressed ware rim, Small Find 3050 Impressed ware rim, Small Find 3050

The majority of sherds shared the same colour on both external and internal surfaces, as well as a similar proportion of internal and external decoration. The proportion of decorated sherds deposited or discarded in the mega-structure reached c. 27 % - a rather higher proportion than in most Tripillia house assemblages. The dominant decorative style was bichrome painting on fine wares (over 90% of all decorated sherds), with impressed decoration almost entirely on coarse wares. However, it appears that the presence of decoration was not predicated on fabric, with both Coarse wares and shell tempered pots having the same likelihood of being decorated as fine wares (31% and 36% respectively). Future studies will focus on the various decorative motifs in relation to the fabric types.

Those interested in joining the field team should contact the PI, Prof. Chapman at