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"The Cernavoda III-Boleráz Phenomenon": after 30 years1


Catalogue of sites

     Romanian archaeology still understands an archaeological culture as a structure composed of several elements (type of settlement, funerary practices, pottery forms, decorative techniques and motives, metal objects, stone, bone/antler) which occupy a well defined geographic space. Culture is a "notion which signifies the totality of elements that compose the social, material and spiritual frame, created by man during the course of history" (Babeş 1994). Culture, but in a different notion such as "cultural group, aspect or facies, does have an objective value in itself, in such a measure as it groups and defines, as a structural unity, common manifestations, characteristic of a period and a given space". From here to attributing such a "structural unity" to a people is just a small step: "with great probability an archaeological culture can be the expression of an ethno-linguistic community and, in some cases, can even be attributed to concrete populations attested in historical sources" (Babeş 1994).

     There is also a belief, that the duty of the archaeologist is to "objectively" collect information, to classify it and only afterwards to interpret it. From this point of view, the direct contact with the archaeological material is essential (Roman 2000-2001, 171); a theoretical discussion lacks (for the relationship of Romanian archaeology to history and positivism see: Niculescu 1997; Popovici 1999-2000): what appears self-evident is considered as truth.

     In fact, most of the Romanian archaeologists are excavating, collecting and interpreting the material culture using pre-defined concepts ("archaeological cultures", chronology, "phases", ethnos) as objective realities. The act of interpretation, based on a false familiarity with the archaeological material, is resumed to the "cultural" and chronological diagnosis.

     I'm wondering if the above mentioned approach help us for a better understanding of the material culture.


     An important event, by the value of the contributions and the effort to reunite and order a large quantity of archaeological information, as well as the attempt to fix the unresolved problems of this phenomenon, was the appearance in 2001 of the volume Cernavodă III-Boleráz. Ein vorgeschichtliches Phänomen zwischen dem Oberrhein und der unteren Donau, which presents the papers held at a symposium in 1999. The meaning of this volume is higher, compared to the papers of the meeting, on the same subject, held in Nitra in 1969 and published in 1973 (Symposium über die Entstehung und Chronologie der Badener Kultur). We have the rare chance to evaluate how much opinions from 30 years ago have changed, opinions which are rejected or still sustained today. We may also see if new approaches and different questions have arisen concerning the problems of the "Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon". Do we know the phenomenon better today, than 30 years ago? I shall try to answer this question in the present article, by critically examining the archaeological documents, with special reference to the Lower Danube basin, but also taking into account other areas. I shall try to avoid problems of chronology, since they have thoroughly discussed in the two mentioned volumes and many other studies (Bojadžiev 1992; Bojadžiev 1998; Forenbaher 1993; Görsdorf, Bojadžiev 1996; Mantu 1995; Nikolova 2000).

History of research

     There is an inexactitude in the naming of the period between the end of the Eneolithic and the beginning of the "classical" cultures of the Bronze Age in the basin of the Middle and Lower Danube. In Romanian research the term "transition period from the Eneolithic to the Bronze Age"2 has become entrenched; while the colleagues from former Yugoslavia and Hungary prefer "Middle Eneolithic" or "Late Copper Age"; others, especially in Bulgaria, think that the Bronze Age starts with the appearance of pottery of the Cernavoda III type. It has come to the point, where the same kind of material, with a wide distribution in the Middle and Lower Danube basin, is attributed to different periods (Eneolithic, Transition period, Bronze Age). In the strange theoretical construction named "transition period from the Eneolithic to the Bronze Age", defined and accepted by some Romanian archaeologists, the "Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon" occupies an important place: it marks the beginning of this period.

     Initially the finds from Cernavoda, which were recovered during rescue excavations in 1954-1962, 1967-1968 and 1970, were ascribed to a single culture with three phases (Cernavoda I-III). The earliest (Cernavoda I) belonged to the Late Neolithic, the "Middle Stage" (Cernavoda II) was considered contemporaneous to Horodiştea-Folteşti II, while the "third phase" (Cernavoda III) was thought to last until the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (Berciu 1960, 77). The origin of the culture was sought in the south (indicated by such objects and decorations as: anthropomorphic figurines with mobile head, anchor-shaped clay pendants, channelling) with some elements continuing from the Gumelniţa substratum. The representation of a dagger on the chest of an anthropomorphic figurine discovered in the eponymous site, was regarded as indicating relations to the shaft-graves at Mycenae, whereas the dagger found at the same site was considered to date the layer to the time of the Nitra group of Reinecke periods A2-B1. The Cernavoda culture, whose bearers practiced agriculture and stock-breeding (the horse playing an important role), would thus have a mediterranean character and would date up to the end of Troy VI. The Cernavoda culture also was connected to Ezero (even the term Cernavoda-Ezero sometimes being used), Coţofeni and Schneckenberg (by the cord-decorated pottery), Boleráz and Baden (by the channelled ornaments) (Berciu 1960, 138; Berciu 1964).

     In 1968 the three "phases" of the Cernavoda culture became separate cultures, each individualized typologically and documented in the three excavation sectors of the eponymous site: the finds from area a become the Cernavoda I culture, at b a settlement of the Cernavoda II culture with two cultural layers was studied while sector c had a settlement of five layers of the Cernavoda III culture, which was discovered at other sites as well, such as Slobozia, Dobroteşti, Malu Roşu. The sequence of the former "phases" of the Cernavoda "culture" is also changed, Cernavoda III being older than Cernavoda II (Morintz, Roman 1968, 92-97). In the same year the Celei "aspect" was defined on the basis of finds from excavations at Celei and Siliştioara and was thought to have close ties to the so-called middle phase of the Cernavoda III type finds (Morintz, Roman 1970, 560 note 9). For the "younger stages" of the group or cultural aspect a possible contemporaneity to the Coţofeni culture was not excluded (Morintz, Roman 1970, 561 note 12).

     The 1969 symposium at Nitra succeeded in ordering the problems of dating and cultural attribution and offered a coherent picture of the entire period for a large area (from Germany up to the Dobrudja). After 1969 new archaeological sites, mostly poorly studied by small soundings3 and even less systematically explored ones4 were included in the repertoire of Cernavoda III sites, without changing or detailing the problems of this culture (definition, pottery repertoire, periodization, chronology), as they had been established in 1968 and in further studies (Morintz, Roman 1970; Morintz, Roman 1973; Roman, Németi 1978; Roman 1981). Two facts should be retained: on the one hand the documentation of the Cernavoda III culture in the area of former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and on the other hand, their connection with finds of Boleráz type, considered as a separate cultural group or an early phase of the Baden culture, from the basin of the Middle Danube.

30 years later

     In 1969 the discoveries of Cernavoda III and Boleráz type were discussed in a wider context, centered on the Baden culture, Boleráz being considered the first phase of that culture. There were attempts to establish the Cernavodă III-Boleráz repertoire of pottery in southern Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria (Morintz, Roman 1973; Nemejcová-Pavúková 1973; Ruttkay 1973; Torma 1973); the state of research and the origin of such finds (Nemejcová-Pavúková 1973; Neustupný 1973; Pavelcik 1973; Torma 1973); a periodization of the material from Poland, Moravia, Czech Republic (Kozlowski 1973; Pavelcik 1973; Pleslová-Stiková 1973) or the entire basin of the Middle Danube river and it was tried to define regional variants (Neustupný 1973). A major part of the discussion concentrated on the chronological relationship with other cultures: Funnel Beakers (Trichterbecher), Salzmünde (Behrens 1973; Pavelcik 1973), Funnel Beakers from Tchekhia (Pleslová-Stiková 1973), finds of the Ezero and Ezerovo type in Bulgaria (Merpert, Georgiev 1973; Tonceva 1973) or Usatovo in the north-pontic area (Zbenovich 1973). A large number of studies treated the relationship to cultures of the preceding period: Balaton (Kalicz 1973), Bodrogkeresztúr (Patay 1973), Lengyel, Polgár (Kozlowski 1973), Lasinja (Leben 1973), Lažnany (Šiška 1973), Ludanice and Furchenstichkeramik (Nemejcová-Pavúková 1973; Torma 1973). Some tried to place the phenomenon in a wider chronological and cultural context (Morintz, Roman 1973; Neustupný 1973; Renfrew 1973, Torma 1973), sometimes also making use of radiocarbon dates (Neustupný 1973; Renfrew 1973, Tonceva 1973). R. Hachmann mentions the difference between the Baden culture and Baden pottery in the closing remarks of the volume on the necessity of a cultural theory (Hachmann 1973, 530-533). Generally however, an empirical approach was preferred, collecting and arranging the archaeological material, and attributing it chronologically and culturally. An image of a more or less uniform phenomenon was formed, which occupied a large area, from Germany to the Dobrudja (shown in the map published at the end of this volume), with a certain kind of settlements and funerary practices (known especially from the study of the cemetery at Pilismárot) (Torma 1973) and with a definable ceramic repertoire. The culture is later than Balaton type finds, Lengyel, Lasinja, Bodrogkeresztúr, Lažnany, Furchenstichkeramik and has connections to the final phases of the Funnel Beaker culture (TRB) and the Ezero, Ezerovo and Usatovo groups.

     30 years later the ceramic repertoire is still in discussion (Roman 2001), as are the state of research in Bulgaria (Lichardus, Iliev 2001; Zmeykova 2001), Oltenia (Nica 2001), north-western Romania (Németi 2001), the Ialomiţa and Călăraşi counties (Parnic 2001), Poland (Zápotocky, Zápotocky 2001), the area of former Yugoslavia (Govedarica 2001; Jevtic 2001; Tasic 2001) and Hungary (Bondár 2001); the origin of this phenomenon (Nikolova 2001; Roman 2001) and the relationship with the Aegeo-Anatolian region are still unclear (Alram-Stern 2001; Gabriel 2001; Seferiadés 2001). Also still unresolved are the connections with the anteceding period: with finds from the settlement of Hotnica (Ilčeva 2001), the Cernavoda I culture (Harţuche 2001), Furchenstichkeramik (Pavúk 2001) or Trichterbecher (Pavelcik 2001; Šmid 2001; Zápotocky, Zápotocky 2001). Problems of chronology also occupy an important place, especially concerning some groups defined after 1969, e.g. Orlea-Sadovec (Roman 2001), Junacite or Dubene (Nikolova 2001). New aspects can be seen in a shift of gravity from the discussion of chronology to the publication of new material (Roman 2001; Ruttkay 2001) or the summarising of previously published finds from certain areas (Németi 2001; Nica 2001); a better dating by more radiocarbon dates as well as the appearance of dendrocronological ones (Alram-Stern 2001; de Capitani, Leuzinger 2001; Gabriel 2001; Ilčeva 2001; Kalicz 2001; Matuschik 2001; Nikolova 2001; Stadler 2001); new informations on the funerary practices (Govedarica 2001) and the definition of a Proto-Cernavodă and Protoboleráz "horizon" have been published (Kalicz 2001; Roman 2001). The archaeological materials from various areas have been collected in a more coherent image: a widely spread archaeological phenomenon, a pottery repertoire somewhat better known, a larger number of finds, a specific funerary standard known from a few more sites; new cultural groups and facies (Proto-Cernavoda with the facies Radovanu and Renie II, Protoboleráz). The descriptive aspect still dominates (state of research, repertoires, descriptions of settlement types, houses, graves, pottery forms, relative and absolute chronology), with few critical accents, leaving very little space for interpreting. Basically, how can the spread of an archaeological phenomenon over such a large area be explained? By the intense circulation along the Danube valley (Govedarica 2001), by the appearance of technical innovations (carts) (Maran 2001) or do we simply have to accept a diffusionist explanation by which the phenomenon is due to the spread of channelled pottery from the Middle Danube basin towards the Lower Danube (Nikolova 2001, 245)?


     In 1973 finds of the Boleráz type were included in the first phase of the Baden culture, some links to the Cernavoda III group also being recognized. At present, they occupy a rather ambiguous place, simultaneously being attributed to the first phase of the Baden culture and the "Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon", distributed in the western part of the latter. A border between Boleráz type finds and Cernavoda III ones has formally been fixed along the Tisza river. The unity of the phenomenon is said to be assured by the ceramic repertoire and other objects, especially anthropomorphic figurines with mobile head. The difference consists in the practice of incineration only in the Boleráz area.

     The interpretations of the phenomenon refer to the causes for the distribution, over such a large area, of cultural elements and to explanations for the cultural changes taking place at this time, both from a processualist point of view (stressing the transformation of different economic, social and/or religious systems) and from another, historisizing stance (material culture reflects a certain historical process marked by migrations, movement of populations).

     For P. Roman the Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon is a cultural unity which may reflect an ethno-cultural mixture or uniformization (Roman 1996, 13); representing a stage in the process of indoeuropeanization and the formation of the thracian peoples (Roman 1989, 54). The process of indoeuropeanization is thought to begin in the Late Eneolithic along two lines: "by the assimilation of ethno-cultural elements into the mass of local tribes" and by "the adoption of the balkan-danubian way of life - then the most important centre of culture in Europe - by the bearers of the Cernavoda I culture, who become aboriginalized consequently" (Roman 1981, 24)5 . The following stage of this process is characterized by the "deepening of the process of indoeuropeanization" by "the dispersion of the Cernavodă I communities in the mass of the local Eneolithic ones and by the penetration of some new ethno-cultural groups" (Roman 1981, 29)6. As a consequence of this process there appear "archaeological complexes of the Transition Period to the Bronze Age"7 , the beginning being marked by the Cernavoda III culture (Roman 1981, 30; Roman, Németi 1978, 60). The mobility of "certain groups" could "easily transport cultural achievements" favoring this process (Roman 1981, 31). This "cultural unity" still hides an "ethnic conglomerate" because the funerary rites differ in the Boleráz and Cernavoda III areas (Roman 1981, 31; Roman 1996, 13). P. Roman also explains the mechanism by which this "cultural unity" appears. "North-pontic elements" which "infiltrated" to the south of the Danube acted as a "filter": they accept, filter and transmit "cultural achievements" produced by certain "centers of cultural irradiation" towards the north and northwest (Roman 1981, 32; Roman, Németi 1978, 74).

     P. Roman presents a historic scenario sparked by an incident: the migration of herder populations from the north-pontic steppes. The spread of some objects reflects the expansion or movement of certain communities (Roman 1981, 32). What appears self evident is considered true. Material culture or funerary practices are expressions of ethnoi, tribes, or document migrations, historical incidents connected to the presupposed process of indoeuropeanization, presented in its turn as something self evident, in fact, however, a problem for which several solutions have been proposed, none of the conclusive (see for example Renfrew 1995). For Roman the Cernavoda III "culture" is a passive structure, a "filter" which only accepts, filters and further transmits "cultural achievements" from anatolian centers of "trojan type" or "intermediate" ones (from Thrace). It is a construction which does not stand, even from a chronological point of view: finds of the Cernavoda III type are older than Troy (Maran 1997; Maran 1998; Maran 2001, 734). The "cultures" give birth to other "cultures", just like the "tribes" behind them.

     An historical process is defined, which is determined by two factors: "The movement of population from the north-pontic steppes" and the "continuous cultural waves from the south in a northern direction" (Roman 1973). As in billiard, these factors determine the "scattering towards the Middle Danube of cultural elements called Boleráz there". Each cultural change is, at the same time, an effect of some incident (migration or diffusion process) but also a cause producing further change. An unending chain of relations of causality, whose end is indoeuropeanization and, afterwards, the constitution of the thracian peoples. The end of the Cernavoda III "culture" is explained, of course, by "new southern influx" which "gradually leads to the coţofenization of some areas and the badenization of others" (Roman 1973, 76).

     There are also other attempts to explain this "phenomenon". A. Vulpe refutes the idea of cultural changes caused by migrations. The changes, according to him, appear as "economico-social [transformations] of the old population, by rising importance of stock-breeding against agriculture, a fact which also explains higher mobility of the tribes and the preference for a new type of settlements". These changes probably also reflect "some climate changes and demographic modifications" but could also be the result of "revolutions on the spiritual level, of the religious beliefs". The possibility of some local migrations is not excluded either (Vulpe 1995, 17-18). The "decadence" of metallurgy and pottery during this period reflects a different attitude towards metals and vessels, a consequence of their "rather" more utilitarian function (Vulpe 1997, 38, 43-44).

According to other opinions, the spread of this "phenomenon" over such a large area, was the result of more intense circulation along the Danube valley (Govedarica 2001, 361), due to, or at least supported by, the development of transport in the form of a technical innovation, that was rapidly adopted: wheeled vehicles (Maran 2001). Similarly, what Sherratt named the "traction complex", occupies an important place in the explanation model of the major changes in this period: the relative development of a herding economy and of the system of secondary animal products, the appearance of a warrior elite, "male domination" in the productive system. The "drinking complex" characterizes the warrior elite and is the expression of the formation of hospitality conventions, of connections between huge areas (Sherratt 1997, 380-387).

     In these interpretations, the particularity of the archaeological material is reduced to generalizations concerning "social processes" or of other kinds. Culture is a dynamic system helping human communities to adapt to the surroundings or it is "fossilized" behavior. Cultural change becomes a process of natural selection of the best suited system. Some of these interpretations are general, that is to say, they can be applied to any cultural change from various periods.

"Cultures", "cultural aspects", "complexes" and ceramic styles

     In the Lower Danube basin, the interpretations presented above are based on the archaeological material discovered in 53 sites (pl. 1): 15 settlements and 38 isolated finds ( pl. 2), as a result of rescue excavations (19 sites) and surveys (29 sites) ( pl. 3); only 5 settlements have been studied systematically, another eight only by soundings or rescue excavations ( pl. 4). Archaeological material is known from publications for 12 settlements and 11 isolated finds ( pl. 5). Most of the sites have been published as drawings of 1 to 15 sherds, a few others with somewhat more (20-60 sherds) ( pl. 6). The surroundings are hardly known: the settlements are "disposed" near waters, naturally protected, on terraces (Cernavoda, Dobroteşti, Drama). The houses are badly documented and only mentioned in literature (Drama, Cernavoda, Şimnic), without offering details of construction. Due to the character of research and the way in which material is presented, it is very difficult to establish regional differences. The phenomenon also appears uniformly when mapped, because of a certain perspective on the notion of culture.

     The defining mechanism of an archaeological culture, e.g. Cernavoda III, are simple enough: first the distribution of a ceramic style is sketched by formal analogies, by an inherent process of selection in which only the "culturally" or chronologically ("Leitfossil") relevant types are retained (Franken 1985, 45-46); next, in the thus defined area, the contexts in which such pottery appears are mapped (settlements, funerary contexts, isolated finds) as well as other categories of objects discovered (for example anthropomorphic figurines).

     This theoretical construction can not be interpreted; only the included elements can be described (type of settlement, funerary practices etc.). Discussion is limited to the typology of the objects, especially pottery, from the entire distribution area ("ceramic repertoire" of the "culture"), their variation in different sites usually being the result of chronological stages. Thus new "phases" (e.g. Proto-Cernavoda) or "cultural facies" are defined whenever materials do not fit the picture (e.g. Radovanu and Renie II, with the documentary basis reduced to one settlement and 3 isolated finds from Radovanu) (Roman 2001, 18, pl. 15-16). Discussions concentrate around relative and absolute chronology, the conclusions are general, referring specifically to the "occupations" ("practice" of agriculture, stock-breeding and some handicrafts). The lack of some "manifestations" (especially of graves) from this structure raises questions as to the existence of a "culture". Thus, ceramic styles accompanied by the other elements are "cultures"; the others (which, for example, do not appear in funerary contexts) remain ceramic styles which either await further research in order to attain the characteristics of a culture, or must be included into better (or differently) defined cultures.

     This "unity", defined in such a manner, leads to a reduced understanding of the organisation and social structure of the past. The "cultural" approach would be satisfactory, if the aim of archaeology was only the definition and description of the traits of the "structural entities". It stems from the idea, however contradicted by etnographic examples (Hodder 1978), that the identity of a human group has to be expressed territorially by the traits of the material culture (Shennan 1978). The various associations of cultural traits depend only on the position of the archaeological site in relation to the spatial distribution of certain objects.

     In the traditional approach cultures become uniform distribution areas on maps, which hide the differing dynamics of objects, the exchange network of goods or ideas, and become passive realities which can only be described. Therefore it is necessary to deconstruct the conglomerate of traits which are an archaeological culture into the composing elements (Hodder 1978a, 111; Shennan 1978, 134). Pottery is the defining element of the period discussed here. The Cernavoda III "culture" represents either a single ceramic style, in the measure in which we equate its traits with the Cernavoda III "ceramic repertoire" defined on account of the formal analogies of some pottery types from a certain space, selected according to the criteria of their "cultural" and chronological ("Leitfossil") relevance, or a notion, which in fact hides several pottery styles, that are to be established respecting the typological variation of each archaeological site. The variability in the distribution of a pottery type depends on the model and localisation of the production centre, the hierarchical complexity of the centre and the differences concerning the exchange mechanism (Hodder 1978b, 225-226).

     There are ceramic forms and ornaments, which appear in several sites: the conical bowl, sometimes decorated by channelling on the inside (Cârcea, Locusteni, Radomir, Slobozia, Cernavoda, Drama, Durankulak); the hemispheric bowl (Drama, Radomir, Slobozia); bowls with hemispherical body, cylindrical neck and out-turned rim, sometimes with channelling on the body (Dobroteşti, Şimnic, Malu Roşu, Slobozia, Cernavoda, Radomir); hanging vessels (Dobroteşti, Malu Roşu, Şimnic, Locusteni, Drama); globular pots, sometimes with 2 lugs on the shoulder (Malu Roşu, Şimnic, Locusteni); cups (Slobozia, Malu Roşu, Cernavoda, Dobroteşti). In contrast, some types are documented only in one site each: vessels with high foot and lids (Cârcea); certain cups (Cernavoda).

     Examples of decorative techniques and ornaments are: channelling (Dobroteşti, Şimnic, Malu Roşu, Radomir, Cârcea, Locusteni, Slobozia, Cernavoda, Drama); plastic decoration in the form of a rib on the vessel rim (Cernavoda, Şimnic, Dobroteşti, Drama, Durankulak) or a system of 2-3 ribs under the rim (Durankulak); point-shaped impressions (Drama, Dobroteşti, Durankulak, Cârcea); incised decoration: notches on or under the rim (Slobozia, Dobroteşti, Malu Roşu, Almăjel, Şimnic); spiral motives in the Bratislava style (Dobroteşti, Cârcea, Radomir); "plaited" motives (Cârcea, Dobroteşti, Slobozia, Cernavoda, Drama, Durankulak).

     However, the present state of publication of pottery raises doubts about this uniform image. It is hard to observe the differences on the basis of only 25 complete or reconstructed vessels and almost 400 sherds published as drawings, from which the 60 vessel profiles from Locusteni and others from Durankulak must be subtracted, since they express absolutely nothing. The selection of material for publishing has been done according to the criteria of usefulness for the "cultural and chronological attribution". However, elements in contradiction to the unitary image may be observed; basically they are the differences in the ceramic repertoire of those settlements, which are better represented by published material. At Drama hemispherical bowls with rows of dot-shaped impressions dominate. The site of Cârcea belongs to the Cernavoda III "culture" only because of some fragments of tunnel-shaped lugs, bowls with channelled decoration and a lid in the Bratislava style. Incised pottery with motives that lead to the Coţofeni I "phase" and incised or cord-impression motives with analogies in the Orlea-Sadovec "complex", however, dominate. Zmeykova attempts to illustrate the similarities between pottery forms from Durankulak, Mirovci and the Cernavoda III repertoire, but their differences become rather more evident in the typological table (Zmeykova 2001, 224-234).

     Although pottery should really be studied on a small regional scale in order to identify production centres, the state of research forces us to regard wider areas with the purpose of finding the variety of contexts in which it appears. The Cernavoda III pottery has been connected to the repertoire of the Boleráz group from the middle Danube basin, with a centre of distribution in Transdanubia and south-western Slovakia, however, also well represented in the peripheral zones (Moravia, Tchekhia, Silesia, Little Poland, the northeast of former Yugoslavia, eastern Austria). The connecting elements to the Cernavoda III style are similarities of form for some vessel types (conical bowl, sometimes with channelling inside), channelled decoration, incised ornaments of the Bratislava style, "plaited" motives. The differences, however, are great. The pottery repertoire is much more varied, with a large diversity of forms (cups, jugs, bowls, large vessels), most of them without analogies in the basin of the Lower Danube (for example, compare Morintz, Roman 1973, 269 fig. 5 with Nemejcová-Pavúková 1984, 126-127). There is equilibrium between incised and channelled decoration. Some special forms appear only in basin of the Middle Danube - gynaekomorph vessels, a rhython found at Pilismarót (Torma 1973, 491 fig.. 5/1; 494) and a "pseudo-kernos" with 7 mouths discovered at Mödling-Jennyberg (Pittioni 1954, 199 fig. 132; Ruttkay 1995, 152) - as well as pots with zoomorphic representations (Pilismarót) (Torma 1973, 491 fig. 5/2; 494). While the ceramics in the basin of the Lower Danube come exclusively from settlements, in the Boleráz surroundings pottery was deposited in graves - Pilismarót (Torma 1973), Fonyod (Banner 1956, 28-32, pl. XI-XII), Šošari-Sac, Tolisavac (Govedarica 1997, 150-154), Praga-Bubenec, Praga-Dejvice (Pleslová-Štiková 1973, 397), Zillingtal, St. Margarethen (Ruttkay 1995, 148, 151 pl. 16/1; 157 no. 12), Grub an der March (Hahnel 1993, 82-84, pl. 6) - or in so-called vessel-hoards: Polska Cerekiew (Kozlowski 1973, 170; 172 fig. 3) and Donnerskirchen (Ruttkay 1995, 146, 154). In some cases the Boleráz type pots belong to contexts of a special character. Under one mound at Šošari-Sac, in the northwestern part, a feature was studied, which had a rectangular form and consisted of burnt earth, a 10 cm thick layer of ash, covered by a layer of stones. Several sherds and a feminine human figurine belong to the feature (Govedarica 1997, 150-154). At Kétegyháza, under mound 5, the remains of five fireplaces, arranged in a circle, were studied; on one of them the skeleton of a bovid without skull and without the extremities had been deposited (Ecsedy 1979, 27-28). Even in the frame of the Boleráz style there are regional variants in the distribution of pottery. There is, for example, a Slovak variety differing from the finds from Moravia, characterised by the higher frequency of lugged cups and the pottery decorated with successive impressions (Nemejcová-Pavúková 1973, 300). From north to south marked differences may be observed concerning the presence of cups with funnel-shaped mouth and "collared" vessels.

     In Transylvania this period is considered to be characterised by "phase Coţofeni I" type pottery, the arguments used being typological criteria (analogies with Boleráz type pottery) and stratigraphic ones, but also the association of such pottery with channelled ceramics (Ciugudean 2000, 52-53; Oanţă 2000; see also Roman 2001, 17). The connecting threads between the Boleráz and the Coţofeni I styles are some vessel forms (cups, mugs, sack-shaped pots), the channelled and incised decoration.

     The diversity of the Boleráz style ceramic repertoire in comparison to the Cernavoda III one, far from reflecting a migration from the basin of the Lower to the Middle Danube, rather suggests a relationship of center-periphery. The area of the Boleráz style represents a center from which certain pottery types spread to Transylvania and the basin of the Lower Danube. These types, or ideas connected to given forms or ornaments, are parts of a mechanism of exchange. The quantitative and qualitative presence of specific types in a peripheric zone depends on the distance from the centre. For example, the cups, differentiated typologically and frequent in the Boleráz area, appear in a reduced number in the Coţofeni I style repertoire and occur only sporadically in the basin of the Lower Danube. The same dynamics can be observed for some incised motives. In contrast, the channelled ornaments are more present in the basin of the Lower Danube, in the Cernavoda III style, than in Transylvania. However, we must to take into account for the different states of research in these regions; it is necessary to define the type of pottery production: whether each site produces it's own pottery, sharing the same traditions, or whether specialised centres exist in which each potter produces a limited repertoire of vessels, the association of forms in a given site being by chance, as a function of the exchange mechanisms and local tastes. Unfortunately, the studies concerning the pottery technology are still missing .

     The dominating use of formal analogies in defining "cultural boundaries" has caused an ambiguous position for some regions during this period. Transylvania was long treated as a white patch. Only after the associated discovery of incised pottery of the "Coţofeni I" type with channelled material of Cernavoda III type was this void filled. At present, the Danube valley section between Giurgiu and the Iron Gates, but also north-western Bulgaria, represent a white patch, attempts to filling it being based only on the site of Orlea-Rcarul Mare wăith some Cernavoda III material discovered in surveys and as yet unpublished ( pl. 1) (Morintz, Roman 1969, 63 note 9). Until recently, finds of the "Celei aspect" and the "Orlea-Sadovec" complex were thought to occupy this area, but some elements, such as the occurrence of askoidal cups/jugs of Zimnicea type in the tell at Celei, indicate a later date for these layers (a summary of the Zimnicea type discoveries in Motzoi-Chicideanu, Olteanu 2000, 23-25). The repertoire of the Celei "group" or "aspect" has a reduced material base: 3 settlements (Celei, Locusteni, Siliştioara) and 6 isolated discoveries only mentioned in literature. It is conceivable, that they all belong to the Orlea-Sadovec group, many decorative elements being common to both groups. Besides, the settlement at Locusteni, represented by a single pit, is attributed sometimes to the Celei "aspect", at others to the Orlea-Sadovec "complex". The eponymous settlement, studied systematically on the preserved tell surface (35 x 10 m), is know from two short excavation reports with little published material (Bujor 1967; Nica 1982). The documentation of the Orlea-Sadovec "complex" is similarly thin: 4 settlements (Grojdibodu, Orlea, Kozloduj, Sadovec), one funerary discovery (mound 1 at Tărnava) and 5 isolated finds (Cârna-Măgura Fircanii, Cârna-Nasta, Orlea-Grindul Cremenari, Orlea-site unspecified, Zimnicea). The material from the settlements of Orlea and Sadovec, excavated in limited soundings in 1947 and 1934-1937 respectively, was separated only typologically from a mixed assemblage of many periods. The stratigraphic observations from Grojdibodu and Kozloduj are limited by the restricted area studied and the small amount of material published. The ceramic repertoire of these sites is characterized by some forms (hanging vessels, askoi) and decorative elements (plastic motives of 2-3 ribs under the rims, lentil-shaped applications, cord impressions, a large variety of incised motives) which differ from the Cernavoda III ones. At the present state of research, it is difficult to establish the differences between the Celei and Orlea-Sadovec styles, which occupy the same geographic area ( pl. 7). The differences rather consist of varying quantitative relationships between incised pottery and such with plastic ornaments. The first dominates in the Orlea-Sadovec style, while the proportion is inversed in the Celei style. At Celei both styles are associated beginning from the lower level, but the weight of the Orlea-Sadovec style gradually grows in the following layers. Either there are two ceramic styles in chronological succession, or we have a single style in this restricted area, there being no obligatory reason that every site must have the same proportional representation of the two categories. On account of the state of publication of the material from Celei no better solution can be offered at present.

     There are several possibilities of filling the gap in this region: either we can wait for better documentation of Cernavoda III type pottery (like the above mentioned material from Orlea), or what we now call the Celei and Orlea-Sadovec styles appears during this time and evolves for a longer period afterwards, or we need to look for more elements of the "Coţofeni I" kind in the area, such as, for example, the vessel from Ostrov. However, it is also possible, that a large variety of forms and ornaments come together in this reduced area, which we today classify typologically into different groups (Cernavoda III, Celei, Orlea-Sadovec, Coţofeni I). The association of these styles in some sites (Celei, Cârcea, Locusteni, Bechet) would support such a conclusion.

     The "Cernavodă III-Boleráz phenomenon" is thus still far from reflecting a "cultural unity". The mechanisms of defining this construction are the same as those used to define "cultures". On the basis of "leading fossils (Leitfossilien)" (some ceramic forms, tubular lugs, decoration techniques, a few motives, anthropomorphic figurines), an uniform area was defined on maps and then other elements of the culture were mapped, which could only be described, the only interpretation concerning explanations of the causes why the phenomenon appeared. The wide distribution of some types of vessels creates the impression of a "horizon" which covered an immense space like a blanket. It is forgotten, that this "horizon" also has a chronological "depth". The "Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon", as observed from radiocarbon dates, lasts for a long time. Some pottery centres may have continued producing vessels which were already out of use elsewhere. In a pit from the settlement at Gladnice a bowl decorated in the Bratislava style, typical of Boleráz was associated with pottery, including a sauceboat, from the classical phase of the Baden group (Govedarica 1997, 154 fig. 5; 155). In the "cultural" uniformity of the basin of the Lower and Middle Danube a diversity of pottery centres is hidden. The vessels, which we include in different "types", are products of potters, some more innovative, others more conservative, over a long period of time. In the frame of the same vessel type there are variations depending on the ability of the potter, on the temper used or the firing technique. Franken suggested, that the production stages of vessels should be considered when proposing typologies (Franken 1985, 47).

     Beyond this "cultural unity" several ceramic styles exist, which we conventionally name "Cernavoda III", "Boleráz", "Coţofeni I", "Celei" or "Orlea-Sadovec", but in which we include a large variety of forms and decorative motives which sometimes differ from one site to the next. Basically, what similarities can be found between the material from Cernavoda and that from Mödling? Or between the pottery from Slobozia and the vessels from the deposit at Donnerskirchen?


     Do we know the "Cernavoda III-Boleráz phenomenon" better after 30 years? If the aim of archaeology is to accumulate material and to classify it chronologically and culturally, the answer is positive. Today we do know more about this "phenomenon": the documentary basis has grown, we know more settlements and funerary discoveries, new phases and facies have been defined, the methods of absolute dating offer more information.

     However, if we wish to know who used the objects and in which social context, who produced and who "consumed" the pottery, anything about the production centres and exchange mechanisms, then the response is negative. A vessel can be regarded as a culturally or chronologically diagnostic element, but, if we know its context, it can also obtain a meaning. If we understand material culture as a text with a system of meanings and significance, which must be read (Hodder 1993, 126-128; Shanks, Tilley 1989, 2-4), then the few hundred vessels and sherds known from literature and diagnosed as "Cernavoda III", mostly lacking context, can only be seen as a sum of incoherent words transmitting absolutely nothing. They have been put together only on account of their similar pronunciation.

     In the Romanian archaeological research there is a belief, that the duty of the archaeologist is to "objectively" collect information, to classify it and only afterwards to interpret it. However, there is an interdependence between information and theory. We excavate materials, but also ideas. We perceive, register, classify and publish archaeological information according to theoretically fixed criteria. The theoretical approach to the notion of culture is beginning to appear here too (Curta 2001, 6-35; Niculescu 2000; Vulpe 2002), concerning either the ethnic-material culture relationship, or alternative definitions, from the processualist or post-processualist perspective. Unfortunately, for Romanian archaeology, pottery still means chronology, culture and, too often, ethnos (Ellis 1996, 76-77).


1 Translated from Romanian by N. Boroffka.
2 In Romanian: "perioada de tranzitie de la eneolitic la epoca bronzului".
3 Almăj, Almăjel, Carei, Gornea.
4 Cârcea , Locusteni.
5 "prin asimilarea elementelor etno-culturale infiltrate în masa triburilor locale" and "adoptarea modului de viaţă balcano-dunărean - pe atunci cel mai important centru de cultură din Europa - a purtătorilor culturii Cernavoda I care în cele din urmă vor fi autohtonizaţi"
6"adâncirea procesului de indoeuropenizare"; "dispersarea comunităţilor Cernavodă I în masa celor eneolitice locale şi prin pătrunderea unor noi grupe etno-culturale"
7"complexele arheologice ale perioadei de tranziţie spre epoca bronzului"

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Citation of paper/Citation de l'article

   Sorin OANŢĂ-MARGHITU - "The Cernavoda III-Boleráz Phenomenon": after 30 years, in EA-online, June, 2003 (


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