The 2014 season

The Project successfully completed a five-week summer season, running from 14th July to 16th August 2014. The principal objectives of the 2014 season were defined before the season as follows:-

Excavations

The British side, directed by Ms. Patricia Voke, (continued the excavation of the complex pit feature in Sondage 1 until the base of the pit in at least two of the three parts

Base of Southern part of Pit, Sondage 1  (photo: Marco Nebbia) Base of Southern part of Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Marco Nebbia)
Base of Northern part of Pit, Sondage 1  (photo: Marco Nebbia) Base of Northern part of Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Marco Nebbia)
Sherd deposit, Pit, Sondage 1  (photo: Vince Cherubini) Sherd deposit, Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Vince Cherubini)
Sherd deposit, Pit, Sondage 1  (photo: Marco Nebbia) Sherd deposit, Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Marco Nebbia)

As in the 2013 excavations, there had been a series of different fills at the intersection of which had been special deposits.These special deposits were sometimes marked by indices of burning, while ceramic clusters defined other such junctions and striking animal bone deposits were also utilised. The initial interpretation is that the beginning and the end of a fill episode was marked in material ways. A large number of charcoal and animal bone samples for AMS dating has been recovered, providing the opportunity for fine-grained dating of this feature, which could be used as a good example of the biographical approach to cut features (‘pit-biographies’).

General shot of lower part of Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Vince Cherubini) General shot of lower part of Pit, Sondage 1 (photo: Vince Cherubini)

View of ditch across Sonda 4 (photo: Dan Miller) View of ditch across Sonda 4 (photo: Dan Miller)
View of ditch from South East, Sonda 4 (photo: Mikhail Videiko) View of ditch from South East, Sonda 4 (photo: Mikhail Videiko)

The initial excavation of sections across the Northern part of the perimeter ditch (Sonda 4) and its Southern part (Sonda 10) were accomplished by the Ukrainian side using ambitiously large trenches (Sonda 4: 22 x 5m; Sonda 10: 15 x 2m). in both trenches, the geophysical plans proved accurate guides of the location of the ditches but in neither trench were the ditches as deep as had been expected. Trypillia sherds were recorded from the middle and upper fill of the Northern ditch but not in the lowest fill; very few animal bones were recovered from within the ditch. The width of the Northern ditch segment was c. 2m, while there was considerable debate about the depth of the Northern ditch exposure, with different views recorded on Vince Cherubini’s section drawing. While the shallowest depth was believed to be 3m, the deepest ditch line was considered to be closer to 1.50m. Bulk samples from the ditch fill indicated a distinctive habitat which persisted for some time – for example; an open, gradually infilling ditch, mainly dry, but holding significant pockets of moisture, with thick/long grasses and other herbaceous plants, perhaps sparse trees, but in a landscape dominated by short grassland. Thus the debate over whether this shallow ditch contained a palisade has not entirely been settled, although there were no post-holes visible to document this kind of feature. Bruce Albert’s study of the pollen remains from the lower ditch fill may offer further insights into this issue.

Photo of three ditches, Sonda 10 (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Photo of three ditches, Sonda 10 (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
Photo of Southern of three ditches, Sonda 10 (photo: John Chapman) Photo of Southern of three ditches, Sonda 10 (photo: John Chapman)
Sonda 10 was laid out across an area in which three parallel ditch sections were indicated by the geophysical plot. Each ditch was recognizable but their depths were less than the shallowest interpretation of the Northern ditch segment, in no case exceeding 1m in depth. Trypillia sherds were found in the middle fill of the Southernmost ditch and loosely associated with the Northernmost ditch. One animal bone sample was recovered from the Southern ditch section for AMS dating. Bulk soil samples should be informative about these ditches but Bruce Albert’s view, confirmed in the lab., was that they were too shallow for the preservation of pollen.

The interim conclusion is that the shallowness of the ditch in the Northern and Southern areas was not commensurate with a defensive ditch but, rather, a marker of an enclosed space.

The Ukrainian side opened up a cluster of trenches (Sonda 5) over what they took to be an unburnt house located by geophysical prospection in 2013. Using spades to excavate the main deposits, which were almost devoid of daub fragments, the Ukrainian side found much pottery.

General view of pottery clusters, Sonda 5  (photo: John Chapman) General view of pottery clusters, Sonda 5 (photo: John Chapman)

The Ukrainian side examined three features with strong, concentrated magnetic anomalies in the North East part of the mega-site. In the first Sonda (Sonda 7), modern iron-working was found in the upper levels, mixed with Trypillia pottery. In Sonda 8, a pit-like feature containing a high concentration of Trypillia pottery was also a modern feature, with metal finds at a depth of 0.50m. In a historical map of the Nebelivka area, it can be seen that a village street extended Northwards from the main village focus, crossing the Eastern edge of the mega-site. It is believed that the modern pits were associated with this street. Although the prehistoric finds were ‘contaminated’ with recent material, this experience is noteworthy in indicating that we cannot automatically make the assumption that all of the features identified on the mega-site geophysical plot are datable to the Trypillia occupation.

Production structure, Sonda 9  (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Production structure, Sonda 9 (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
Pit next to production structure, Sonda 9  (photo: Mikhail Videiko) Pit next to production structure, Sonda 9 (photo: Mikhail Videiko)
The most successful Ukrainian trench was Sonda 9, in which an enigmatic daub feature was found close to a pit. The daub feature was sub-rectangular, with some granite lumps built into the outside edges of the corners. Three channels some 25 - 30cm in depth and width were built into this feature. Many of the daub fragments had a greenish tinge, marking the greatest concentration of greenish daub on the whole mega-site (e.g., one or two greenish daub fragments would be encountered on test-pits). Dr. Natalie Shevchenko continued to work on the technological analysis of the building materials and pottery and she will be conducting analyses of the greenish daub – perhaps an indication of high firing temperatures? In the post-abandonment phase of this feature, many small sherds were found / had been placed on the upper surface of the feature, as was sometimes the case in the mega-structure (2012 excavations).

On the basis of analogies with a similar structure at Talljanky (2013 – 14 excavations of Dr. A. Korvin-Piotrovsky), the Ukrainian side has interpreted the daub feature as a kiln, although the modus operandi of the feature remains at issue. It is the intention of the Kirovograd Museum (Mr. Slawek Fedorov) to recover the daub feature as an integral object and transport it to Kirovograd for display.

Test pitting

The 2014 strategy for test-pitting built on the successful operation in summer 2013, in which a total of 64 animal bone samples was recovered for AMS dating from 43 test pits, in addition to 25 samples from the larger excavated features. In 2014, test pits were located in the North, South-West and South-East parts of the mega-sites, where few AMS dates had hitherto been run. The overall strategy was to excavate test pits in a transect leading from the outer circuit to the inner radial streets, if possible including in an ‘assembly house’. An exception to this strategy was the attempt to date structures on three sides of the so-called ‘Nebelivka Square’ in the South-East part of the mega-site.

Test Pit 25/4, burnt destruction daub, context 3  (photo: John Chapman) Test Pit 25/4, burnt destruction daub, context 3 (photo: John Chapman)
Test-pit 27/3, living floor, Context 4  (photo: John Chapman) Test-pit 27/3, living floor, Context 4 (photo: John Chapman)

A total of 39 test pits was excavated in 2014, revealing a wide variety of samples of architectural styles and techniques. The location of the test pits on Trypillia houses was, as in 2013, very successful, with only two cases in which no burnt daub was located in the initial 2 x 1m test pit for a supposed burnt house. This year, the survey team located the corner pegs of the 2 x 1m test pit prior to excavation, enabling the exploration of a variety of relationships – centre of house, party wall, corner of house, etc. A detailed analysis of these findings will be very informative for future test-pitting operations. This season, we attempted recording by photogrammetry. After experimenting with conditions of moisture and shade in the test pits, the system worked well. All of the photograms were geo-rectified and digitized by Mr. Joe Roe and Ms. Kate Swinson.

Geo-rectified, digitized plan of Test Pit 24/3, Context 3 (source: Joe Roe) Geo-rectified, digitized plan of Test Pit 24/3, Context 3 (source: Joe Roe)

In the majority of cases, AMS samples were located in the initial 2 x 1m test pit (25 out of 39 cases, or 64%). First extensions (1 x 1m) were required in seven cases, with second extensions of the same size necessary in a further eight cases. After the first screening of animal bone samples (washing and weighing: minimum weight – 1g), it was found that 33 of the 39 test pits had produced animal bone of appropriate weight. The collagen testing of 177 bones weighing more than 1g showed that 85% of the animal bone fragments contained sufficient collagen for AMS dating. The next stage is the selection of the optimal 60 samples for submission for dating to the Oxford Lab. Three out of the five test pits which had not produced animal bone samples have in fact produced charcoal identifiable to species, so there remains a possibility for AMS dating of 35 of the 39 structures sampled in 2014.

Fieldwalking

Site 5 (Field 69), near Sverdlykove  (photo: Kirrily White) Site 5 (Field 69), near Sverdlykove (photo: Kirrily White)
Site 6 (Field 71), near Kam’yaneche  (photo: Kirrily White) Site 6 (Field 71), near Kam’yaneche (photo: Kirrily White)
Site 7 (Field 72), near Kam’yaneche  (photo: Kirrily White) Site 7 (Field 72), near Kam’yaneche (photo: Kirrily White)
Site 8 (Field 62), near Volodymyrivka  (photo: Kirrily White) Site 8 (Field 62), near Volodymyrivka (photo: Kirrily White)

The excellent weather conditions in spring and summer 2014 meant that Ukraine expected a bumper harvest this summer and autumn. While this proved good news for the Nebelivka farmers, it was bad news for the archaeologists! The widespread distribution of crops – in particular sunflowers and soya – prevented all but the most restricted fieldwalking operations. An example of the difficulties was that, in two 1-km-wide transects – one from Nebelivka to Volodimyrivka and the other from Nebelivka to Peregonivka – there was not a single ploughed field available for fieldwalking. Although there had been restrictions on access to ploughed land in 2009, 2012 and 2013, this year’s crops compromised fieldwalking to an unprecedented degree.

Three techniques were used for the identification of sites for ground-truthing: (1) satellite imagery purchased by the Project for Mr. Marco Nebbia; (2) high-quality topographical maps provided by Mr. Valentin Sobchuk (Kirovograd County Council); and (3) on – the – spot road reconnaissance. Although the vast majority of potential sites identified by methods (1) and (2) was located in fields covered by crops, it was possible to assess a small number of potential sites, with the result that five new sites were discovered in Kirovograd County – mostly near Novoarkhangelsk. These sites consisted of:

Site 5: Field 69. A 9 ha promontory approximately 1 km S of the village of Sverdlykove has yielded a vast quantity of pottery on the ground surface. Although the site is quite likely to be bigger than 9 ha, the amount of material defines two phases of occupation: minor discard of c. 20 Trypillia sherds, with phasing yet to be determined, and an intensive Late Iron Age (Chernyakhov group) discard with more than a thousand sherds spread out evenly across the field, suggesting an occupation.

Site 6: Field 71. Just outside the village of Kam’yaneche (SW), a 2.5 ha spread of pottery has been found at the edge of field 71, towards the river valley. The material dates from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age, but the amount is not as significant as for site 5, amounting to a few hundred sherds.

Site 7: Field 72. On the other side of the river from Site 6, a small, dispersed scatter of pottery (less than 1 ha) has been found, with material dating to the Late Iron Age (Chernyakhov group).

Site 8: Field 62. The only site found within the transect between Nebelivka to Volodymyrivka is located 1.5 km SW from the latter. It consist of a small (1 ha) spread of Late Bronze Age pottery along the edge of field 62, towards the river valley.

The Nebelivka Project has provided Mr. Valentin Sobchuk with an advance to fund a three-week October 2014 fieldwalking season, in which Mr. Marco Nebbia will take part, in an attempt to cover a large area of land without crops and fieldwalk potential sites identified in summer 2014. In turn, Mr. Sobchuk is seeking funding for a November 2014 season from the district councils in the Novoarkhangelsk region, while Kirovograd County Council are expected to fund an April 2015 fieldwalking season to cover land not available in autumn 2014. In this way, the Project plans to complete intensive fieldwalking cover within a 5-km radius of the Nebelivka mega-site and begin a programme of more extensive, more targetted coverage of land within a 25-km radius of the Nebelivka mega-site – reaching as far as the next set of mega-sites (Volodimyrivka, Peregonivka).

Environmental sampling

The environmental sampling programme progressed in two ways in the 2014 season: (a) bucket flotation of samples from all excavated features – both major features and test pits; and (b) the collection of samples for pollen analysis from the lowest levels of the Northern ditch segment and the pits in Sondas 4 and 9. Further research is required to investigate the plant impressions on daub from many of the test pits.

Plant impressions on house daub  (photo: John Chapman) Plant impressions on house daub (photo: John Chapman)

The bucket flotation programme processed a total of 280 samples, or 2,100 litres of earth. The sample size of 15 – 20L meant that inter-context comparability of residues may have been compromised with insufficient numbers of, e.g., snail remains and charcoal residues. Nonetheless, the 2014 flotation produced a similar range of results to those found in 2013. This year, all the 2mm+ residues were sorted and catalogued in detail ‘on-site’. Also ¼ of the flot/0.5mm-residue was fully examined, sorted and catalogued, with the remainder to be looked at in the UK.

The principal negative features were the very small numbers of cereal grains – showing a small increase this year but still fewer than a dozen grains for the Project’s four seasons. In this year’s sample, we found one well preserved Triticum monococum grain, four damaged Triticum spelta, two possible Triticum compactum, three very badly damaged unidentified wheat and one damaged possible rye. Cereal chaff was also recovered as one unidentified wheat glume base fragment and one possible rye glume base. Other plant remains included two possible Corylus nut shell fragments, two Brassica sp. seeds and one Rumex sp. seed.

With the exception of the pit in Sonda 2, there was also very small quantities of charcoal, despite the widespread and evident signs of house-burning on a large scale. Over half of the test pit samples contained no charcoal, while none produced more than 0.5g of charcoal. The Project has not yet formulated a satisfactory explanation of these very low charcoal densities.

By contrast, most of the test pit flotation residues contained small quantities of highly comminuted ceramic, daub and bone (whether human or animal is not sure). It seems likely that these were animal bone fragments, introduced into floor deposits as a result of the processing of animal bone through preparation and/or cooking. The larger of the bone fragments will be checked for collagen preservation; if positive, they could be identified in the York ZOOMS test.

The range and frequency of snail species in the flotation residues showed great variation, indicating preferences for a range of different habitats. Snail shell assemblages continue to paint the same picture of a local landscape dominated by grassland, with only sparse light-woodland/woodland-edge species (i.e., a dominance of Vallonia spp. In most samples). Trypillian associated samples are strongly orientated towards short (heavily grazed?) grassland, and this might even be a trend originating prior to the mega-site.

Post-excavation

The recording of pottery, AMS samples and small finds continued throughout the 2014 season, with Ms. Sophia Arbeiter running the lab for the first three weeks and passing this role to Ms. Kirrily White for the last two weeks. Mr. Alex Aflalo was responsible for all of the finds photography in the last two weeks. In addition, all of the photograms from the test pits were georectified and digitized by Mr. Joe Roe and Ms. Kate Swinson.

Painted ware rim sherd (photo: Alex Aflalo) Painted ware rim sherd (photo: Alex Aflalo)
Zoomorphic figurine  (photo: Alex Aflalo) Zoomorphic figurine (photo: Alex Aflalo)

The lab team successfully completed the recording and photography of all of the excavated material, as well as a high proportion of the fieldwalking material. The finds from the multi-period site Field 69 were so numerous and so varied by chronology and ceramic technology that the finds were passed to Mr. Valentin Sobchuk and his Kirovograd team at the end of the season for the completion of the recording period-by-period.

Dish with internally-thickened rim with graphite painted decoration (photo: Bisserka Gaydarska) Dish with internally-thickened rim with graphite painted decoration (photo: Bisserka Gaydarska)

The Nebelivka mega-site is the first site of the Trypillia culture where graphite-painted pottery has been discovered. In the 2012 excavation of the mega-structure, graphite decoration was found on one of the miniature vessels, with an overall lustrous graphite wash on six others. In addition, in one of the Test Pits, the plaster from presumably the inside of the wall was decorated with a graphite wash. This year, one particularly interesting find was a rim sherd from a dish with internally-thickened rim, where the inner rim was decorated with oblique graphite-painted lines. The geological information about graphite sources in Ukraine is rich. Three graphite sources with surface exposures are known in Kirovograd County. The Project visited one source – the well-known open-cast graphite mine at Gajvoron,

General area of surface graphite source, Gajvoron mine, Kirovograd Domain  (photo: John Chapman) General area of surface graphite source, Gajvoron mine, Kirovograd Domain (photo: John Chapman)

where the mining geologists confirmed that graphite would have been available on or near the surface in one area in the past, on a hill overlooking the Southern Bug river . Two other potential sources are known from East of Kirovograd, including the Petrovo source, and the Project plans to collect samples from these sources also. At that point, analyses will be undertaken to clarify the source(s) of the Nebelivka graphite. The vast majority of graphite-painted vessels were produced in the East Balkans (Bulgaria – Romania) in the context of the Karanovo VI – Gumelniţa – Kodzadermen group (Leshtakov 2005).

Complete grinding stone, Nebelivka 2014 Test Pit 26/4, Context 3: red sandstone, length 16cm (photo: Tom Bergquist) Complete grinding stone, Nebelivka 2014 Test Pit 26/4, Context 3: red sandstone, length 16cm (photo: Tom Bergquist)

Mr. Tom Bergquist chose the study of the grinding stones from Nebelivka and Majdanetske for his undergraduate dissertation at Durham. He was able to record and photograph all of the ground stone objects from the 2013 and 2014 seasons while in the Nebelivka lab (Fig. 140). He also managed to record the 2012 ground stone from the mega-structure (2012 excavations) while in the Institute of Archaeology lab, Kyiv. However, the 2009 ground stone finds had been transferred to the basement storage area in the Kyiv Institute and so were not accessible in summer 2014. Mr. Bergquist will make a winter 2014/5 study visit to look at the 2009 finds, as well as the more than 80 ground stone objects from the 1980s excavations at Majdanetske and an as yet unknown number of ground stone finds from the current Ukrainian - German excavations there.

House-building programme

Plan of 1-storey house, Nebelivka reconstruction (plan: Stuart Johnston) Plan of 1-storey house, Nebelivka reconstruction (plan: Stuart Johnston)
Plan of 2-storey house, Nebelivka reconstruction (plan: Stuart Johnston) Plan of 2-storey house, Nebelivka reconstruction (plan: Stuart Johnston)

Mr. Stuart Johnston’s undergraduate dissertation at Durham involved the experimental construction of ‘replica’ Neolithic houses, using materials accessed from Nebelivka and the surrounding area. The plans for two houses – each 4 x 3m in ground-plan, with one a one-storey house and the other a two-storey house – reflected the two different models for Trypillian houses in the literature (Korvin-Piotrovsky et al. 2013; Burdo et al. 2013). The houses would be left over the winter of 2014/5 and burnt down in the spring of 2015, to coincide with the Kirovograd Conference. At a later date, the remains of the two burnt houses will be excavated to identify the principal differences between one- and two-storey houses. To compensate the village for the ‘loss’ of their two new houses, a third house will be constructed in spring 2015. This house will act as a village Exhibition Centre for the display of finds from the village’s mega-site.

Two aspects of the construction should be noted: (1) the use of local materials that would have been available to Neolithic builders (pine timber, hazel withies, thatch, clay, reeds, dairy products); and (2) the use of modern iron and steel tools (saws and chisels) to shape the wood. While these minor compromises were necessary to deliver the construction element of the project within a relatively short time-frame, the principles of experimental archaeology described by John Coles (1973: 15 – 18) were adhered to in the choice of materials and methods, use of modern technology where appropriate, the scope and repeatability of the experiment, the visualisation of ultimate outcomes and uncertainty of success, observations leading to conclusions and not the other way around and the final assessment of the experiment in terms of its reliability.

Students trampling clay for the Nebelivka house reconstructions (photo: Stuart Johnston) Students trampling clay for the Nebelivka house reconstructions (photo: Stuart Johnston)
Students sorting the reeds used in the Nebelivka house reconstructions (photo: Stuart Johnston) Students sorting the reeds used in the Nebelivka house reconstructions (photo: Stuart Johnston)

The processes of gathering materials and constructing these houses has given us valuable insights into the volume of materials required to construct individual dwellings and settlements and the range of environments that were managed or exploited to obtain them. An appreciation was also gained of the complex interpersonal relationships between people and groups necessary for effective and successful cooperation during construction in prehistory. The resulting houses utilized materials from all parts of the Trypillia environment, symbolizing their landscape and integrating so-called ‘resources’ into patterns of daily living.

Mr. Johnston’s success in leading the project through to completion in three weeks was greatly assisted by the collaboration he established between members of the Project Team, the villagers and other Ukrainians – VIad and the two Igors, Chris Charmley and Allie Ames as well as villagers who gathered the hazel withies and the reeds. The construction would also have been impossible without the support and encouragement of Mr. Bobko, the village Mayor. We thank all concerned for this example of Anglo-Ukrainian co-operation in a year that has been difficult for Ukraine.

Reconstructed House 1, Nebelivka (photo: Alex Aflalo) Reconstructed House 1, Nebelivka (photo: Alex Aflalo)
Reconstructed House 2, Nebelivka (photo: Alex Aflalo) Reconstructed House 2, Nebelivka (photo: Alex Aflalo)