The place for which people stopped moving

This locality in eastern Serbia gave birth to the first real civilisation in Europe and the first urban settlement. Actually, seven of them with 136 buildings built between 6.500 and 5.500 BC

Lepenski Vir, foto nebojša mandić
Nebojša Mandić

by Katarina Martić, photo Nebojša Mandić

How did our ancestor live 6.500 years BC? You can find answers to this question in Lepenski Vir, a unique archaeological site located in eastern Serbia near the Ðerdap gorge. It was exactly here that the workers engaged in the construction of the Ðerdap water power plant in 1965 found the remainders of the ancient settlement. Actually, seven of them and 136 buildings built between 6.500 and 5.500 BC. 

Lepenski Vir gave birth to the first authentic civilisation in Europe and to a unique culture! At this place, there happened a transition from nomadic to stationary way of life on Europe soil, the guide Nemanja Žurkić talks to me while we are standing in front of a small remainder of the house built 5.500 BC on this unique site 4.000 square meters wide. This is the very place where the first urban settlement was built in Europe and the first centralized square constructed. 

I am trying to imagine the community of people who were establishing the first statio-nary settlement, designed in advance, with trapezoid-like houses.  Actually, of the same shape as the cliff on the other side of the Danube. 

First builders

They produce/make their tools very precisely, but the crown of Lepenski Vir culture is revealing of the wheat growing what marked a revolution in the Neolithic time. The inhabitants of Lepenski Vir were the first constructors and designers. Their houses included a fireplace, a small shrine and the sculptures made of stone which represented their gods  – ancient mother, the original ancestress being the most famous one – explains Nemanja noting that the first settlers of Lepenski Vir were hunters and gatherers. 

The very culture of Lepenski Vir is around 8.000 years old and is still an enigma for archaeologists bearing in mind that the people were continuously settled in this locality for 2.000 years and during that period experienced an evolutionary cycle from hunters and gatherers to a socially and economically organized community. 

The inhabitants of Lepenski Vir were protected in this area. The Danube in front and the mountains behind, in addition to the abundant source of fish and fruits that enabled them to have long life (for the people of that time, it was the age of 40 whereas the average age lived in Europe was 30). Some lived to the very old age of 60. Besides, they were strong and tall – 172 cm high men and 164 cm high women. In Europe, an average male was 165 cm high whereas an average female was 155 cm high only. The tallest skeleton found in Lepenski Vir was 2.3 meters high, the guide Nemanja is explaining  to me, pointing to the skeletons descovered near the houses. 

They were amicable

All the remainders that have been discovered indicate that the people who lived here were peaceful and had no conflicts. It is best evidenced in the fact that there were no traces of a violent death on any of the 180 skeletons found. 

As they here had almost ideal living conditions and enjoyed the advantages of the Mediterranean climate, in addition to food and water available in excess, the question is – why did they leave after 4.500 years? It is believed that they left in search for more fertile soil needed for cultivation. The fact is that upon their departure no civilisation had lived here before the arrival of Romans. 

One story is too inadequate to describe a thrill felt be the one who at least once visits this site protected as the monument of culture of exceptional importance. It was up to me to describe it and it is up to you to visit it, get back to the past and get familiar with your ancestors.  

The photos of sculptures made a globe tour

Exploring the layer underneath the locality from the Neolithic era in 1967, professor Dragoslav Srejovic discovered the remnants of an older settlement from the Mesolithic period. It was a sensational discovery – the photos of anthropomorphic sculptures and figures carved in an abstract arabesque style. All the sculptures were carved from round sandstone cobbles and had no parallel with any other world known Mesolithic or earlier Neolithic culture. The figures of Lepenski Vir feature something grotesque, even caricature-like. Their facial expression is humanoid, but their round eyes, lips bent downwards and the head with no neck make us recognize them as fish-like river creatures. The oldest monumental figure made of giant Danube cobbles discovered in this locality is the first one that world has ever seen. No doubt that this locality was a central area, a religious sanctuary of the elite of that time, primarily the clergy. Last but not least, by exploring this precious site, we get to know the philosophy of this pre-historic community.

3.4 million Euros invested in rehabilitation

A jewel of culture with the oldest architecture on Europe soil has for decades been left staying under the rotten wooden beams and slate roof boards. Fortunately, a project on protection of Lepenski Vir completed in 2011 has enabled the entire archaeological site to be put under a dome and thus become a complete visiting site. The construction covers 4.000 square meters of the site location and the surrounding area: amphitheatre, exhibits of mobile findings and workshops. It took 40 years for the conservation works to be continued on the site and the museum of artefacts to be established. The presentation also includes a virtual reconstruction of the Neolith village. The works started in 2008 and were support by the Serbian government. The Ministry of Economy and Regional Development invested in the project around 3.4 million Euros.  

What was life of the Lepenski Vir inhabitants like

> Their houses were built of wood with roof covers made of bushy plants. 
> The home area was about 6-20 square meters large
> The oldest house remnants date back to 8.000 BC
> One house inhabited 2-6 people, meaning that their homes were cramped, but warm
> Each house contained a hearth located in the center
> Fish made 70% of their food
> They first were buried in a prone and then in a fetus position


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