Advances in Anthropology
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 117-124
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/aa) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/aa.2012.23014
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 117
Mobile and Terrestrial but Firmly Rooted on the River Banks:
Biological Anthropology of Lepenski Vir and the Iron Gates
Department of Anthropology, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada
Received May 13th, 2012; revised June 12th, 2012; accepted June 22nd, 2012
Archaeological interpretation often links both the European Mesolithic and the complexity with reduced
mobility and permanent or semi-permanent settlements. The Iron Gates Gorge (IGG) Mesolithic, on the
banks of the Danube, with substantial formal disposal areas for the dead and canonized architecture, espe-
cially as manifested at the site of Lepenski Vir, fully conforms to this notion. Different aspects of bioar-
chaeological analysis—when evaluated concurrently—offer a counter-intuitive picture: at the time of its
most complex development, the site of Lepenski Vir represented a focal point for a larger, more mobile
hunter-gatherer group that identified with the site, its burials and its smaller resident population. The arti-
cle explores the evidence provided by human skeletal remains and possible reasons behind these contra-
Keywords: Biological Anthropology; Bioarchaeology; Europe; Mesolithic; Lepenski Vir; Mobility;
For a number of reasons—including excavation practices,
resolution of the available documentation and the state of pub-
lication—human skeletal remains represent the most direct
source of information on life and experience of the people who
inhabited the Iron Gates Gorge in the Mesolithic and left behind
impressive artistic achievements, habitation sites and burial
grounds that bear witness to the complex world they created.
Skeletal information—the ultimate material evidence of a life
lived—is rarely fully integrated into archaeological research
(Ogilvie, 2006; Sofaer, 2006), and while bioarchaeological data
are recognized sources of information on diet, health and life-
style (a good overview is provided by Larsen, 2002), the disci-
pline offers little to the current ambition of anthropological
archaeology to understand past societies as living, ever-chang-
ing entities. In the following pages, basing my discussion on
skeletal evidence, I summarize the findings of biological an-
thropology research in its archaeological context and give one
of more plausible pictures of regional developments that led to
the formation of the Mesolithic village of Lepenski Vir at the
time it reaches its fullest artistic and ritual significance. Careful
examination of bioarchaeological data suggests that the Meso-
lithic complex of Lepenski Vir should not be regarded as a
static entity, but rather as a cultural phenomenon that during its
existence experienced continuous change in terms of both its
mobility and its resource base. The pattern that bioarchaeologi-
cal data suggest is counterintuitive: the major artistic and archi-
tectural developments on the site, associated with a specific
locus—the Iron Gates Gorge—and a specific resource—fish—
happens only when the major part of the population no longer
inhabits the riverine sites and no longer subsists largely on fish.
Thus the shift in mobility and economic pattern is not reflected
in the material culture in a straightforward way. Rather, the
burials at Lepenski Vir and the associated material culture
could have represented the process of re-establishing the social
bonds through enacting the past: a repository of social memory
(sensu Van Dyke & Alcock, 2003) and a focal point for group
identity in the times of change.
Although the present study relies on biological data, it does
not proceed through formal hypothesis testing for a number of
reasons: our samples are not unbiased, they are relatively small,
and formal hypothesis testing often precludes more engaged
interpretation (Price, 1995). Most of all, the insights reported in
this paper are a product of years of research, reading and pon-
dering on the “thick” meaning (sensu Carr & Case, 2006;
Geertz, 1967) of the skeletal material in the Iron Gates Gorge;
they are an attempt to discern what the observed patterning can
tell us about the nature of these sites and their inhabitants.
While incomplete and limited, the information embedded in
human osteological material provides some interesting and
unexpected insights into the significance and meaning of the
Lepenski Vir site for its inhabitants and a larger group that
identified itself with the site.
The Iron Gates Gorge Mesolithic
The four Mesolithic sites on the right bank of the Danube—
Padina, Lepenski Vir, Vlasac, Hajdučka Vodenica—(Figure 1)
were characterized by a relatively large number of burials (30
to 140 each) and trapezoidal houses (Babović, 1997; Jovanović,
1966a, 1966b, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1974; Srejović, 1966,
1968, 1969, 1971, 1972), and—in the case of Lepenski Vir—
with elaborate large sculptures often representing fish and other
river beings (Babović & Srejovic, 1981). On a fertile plain
downstream from the gorge, excavations at Schela Cladovei
The map of iron gates gorge with mesolithic and early neolithic sites
(inset shows the Balkan peninsula with the position of the iron gates
unearthed more than 40 Mesolithic burials (Boroneanţ, 1973;
Boroneanţ et al., 1999), while Ajmana and Velesnica, two Neo-
lithic sites contemporaneous with Neolithic components of
Lepenski Vir, were interpreted as showing similarities in archi-
tecture and burial practices with the IGG Mesolithic (Stalio,
1986; Vasić, 1986). Most of the early discussions centered on
the Mesolithic vs. Neolithic nature of the sites. Concurrent with
general developments in Mesolithic archaeology that no longer
viewed this period as a prelude to the Neolithic, a more en-
gaged interpretation of Iron Gates Gorge Mesolithic started to
take shape in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The paradigm change in the 1980s that brought about in-
creased interest in the Mesolithic populations was not the only
reason to shift focus from farmers to indigenous hunter-gath-
erers in studying transition to the Neolithic in the Balkans. The
Mesolithic IGG sites are the only sites in the region where con-
tact between these groups could be traced archaeologically,
through occurrence of items and features traditionally related to
the “Neolithic package” in the Mesolithic context (see Bonsall,
2008; Bonsall et al., 2004, 2008; Borić & Dimitrijević, 2007;
Radovanović, 2006). While 14C dates indicate contemporaneity
of Mesolithic and Neolithic communities outside of the Iron
Gates Gorge (Bonsall et al., 2004, 2008; Garašanin & Rado-
vanović, 2001; Radovanović, 2006; Tasić, 1997), the existing
archaeological record does not offer any straightforward evi-
dence of contact between hunter-gatherers and early food pro-
ducers elsewhere in the region. As Radovanović (2006) pointed
out, the few sites in the Morava valley, all of them Middle Neo-
lithic, may only indicate a possibility of such a contact (the
availability phase of Zvelebil, 1996), since the time of their
occupation overlapped with the Late Mesolithic and Early Neo-
lithic in the nearby Danube Gorges. Skeletal remains spanning
this time period are not known from any other sites in the
vicinity. Apart from the Anzabegovo material further south in
the Skopska dolina, very few skeletal remains of Early Neo-
lithic inhabitants of the Central Balkans are available (Borić,
1999; Stefanović, 2000), leaving us to look for patterns of in-
teraction through comparison of pre- and post-contact archaeo-
logical and bioarchaeological data of the Mesolithic sites in the
There is little doubt in the current literature that an economy
based on domesticated plants and animals was an import into
Gregg, 1988; Van Andel & Runnels, 1995). Even the pig,
which was considered as a locally domesticated species in the
IGG (Bolomey, 1973), was shown to be an import (Boroneanţ
& Dinu, 2006; Dinu, 2006), leaving little doubt that the Neo-
lithic moved into the Balkans as a developed phenomenon.
Whether this movement happened through adoption of agricul-
ture or actual movement of agricultural populations is still de-
bated and unlikely to be resolved in the near future. While none
of the authors excludes the possibility of “fluid boundaries”
(Borić, 2005), dichotomy between foragers and farmers is a
potentially useful and empirically valid analytical tool (Zvelebil
& Rowley-Conwy, 1986). According to Zvelebil and Rowley-
Conwy’s model, a small-scale society would depend on less
than 5% of agricultural products in their diet in the availability
phase due to some form of contact with a farming community;
the substitution phase would include 5% - 50% of domesticates;
and the consolidation phase more than 50%. A statistically
negligible percentage of societies tabulated by Hunn and Wil-
liams (1982) reflected 5% - 50% participation of agricultural
products (substitution phase), implying that this phase is unsta-
ble and probably of a very short duration. According to these
data, small-scale societies would be either hunter-gatherers or
farmers, not likely to exist for any longer period of time in the
intermediary, unstable substitution phase (Rowley-Conwy,
2004; as summarised by Radovanović, 2006). This, of course,
does not mean that societies can practice only one or the other
type of subsistence consistently, or exclusively, but that the
model will classify these societies based on the percentage of
produced food. While classifications are not objective entities,
they are commonly used in analytical procedures as they allow
comparisons between different phenomena. Limited as these
terms are, foragers, farmers, Mesolithic and Neolithic still con-
fer a particular sets of meanings, and are used on a regular basis
even by their most ardent opponents (see Roksandic, 2000a).
The importance of populations practicing agriculture to our
understanding of the dynamics of the Mesolithic groups does
not stem from the notion of the frontier model that emphasizes
resistance and subjugation, as suggested by Borić (2005), but
from the fact that—even when there was no contact or active
recognition—the existence of different subsistence practices in
the same general area would have influenced how these groups
perceived themselves and each other (Radovanović, 2006).
While individual members of either group will not necessarily
base their actions in opposition to the “others”, a number of
parameters in their everyday life would have changed and have
repercussions on their understanding and expression of self.
Thus the contact would have brought about changes and re-
quired a re-evaluation of the cultural norm for the groups in-
volved. Radovanović’s (1996) interpretation of greater ideo-
logical integration thus cannot be understood as “perpetuating
this type of model… for the sake of proving acceptable, force-
fully coherent and most of all recognizable accounts” (Borić,
2005). On the contrary, it provides a flexible framework for
re-evaluation of personal experiences at the time of change. In
this context “Contact” period should be understood as a time
when actual physical contact of foraging and farming commu-
nities in the Balkans was possible, regardless of whether it
happened or what particular form it took (see Roksandic, 2000a).
The Mesolithic period is reserved for the Holocene hunter-
gatherers in the region prior to the possible contact, and Neo-
lithic for the communities whose subsistence relied on more
than 50% of domesticated foods. Thus Mesolithic, Contact and
the Central Balkans (Barker, 1985; Evans & Rasson, 1984;
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Neolithic should be understood as potentially meaningful ana-
Until relatively skeletal material
re of skeletal collections and archaeological
recently, studies of human
om the IGG sites were concerned with individual sites and
conducted primarily within the paradigm of “anthropotypo-
logy” (Mikić, 1981; Nemeskeri, 1969; Nemeskeri & Lengyel,
1978; Nemeskeri & Szathmary, 1978c; Schwidetzky & Mikic
1988; Živanović, 1976, 1979). As discussed elsewhere (Rok-
sandic, 2000a), both Nemeskeri and Mikić were strongly influ-
enced by Srejović’s understanding of the archaeology of the
region, and concerned with origins and in situ genesis of the
IGG population. Regardless of paradigmatic shift and associ-
ated discourse, their data merit re-evaluation and possibly a
Given the natu
ncerns with introduction of agriculture to the region, biodis-
tance studies, which allow us to estimate the level of related-
ness between different populations or individuals, seem to be a
reasonable first step in analyzing population biology of the
region. Two types of data—non-metric and metric—are used to
analyze biodistance in archaeological populations, and there is
a substantial body of literature arguing for their relative validity
(see Buikstra et al., 1990). The following brief overview of
their conceptual and methodological requirements for a non-
specialist stresses the utility of combining these different path-
ways of understanding in building archaeological interpreta-
tions. One could claim, at a very general level of archaeological
inquiry, that the main conceptual difference between these sets
of analyses is that non-metric (discrete, or epigenetic) traits
require archaeologically determined populations as units of
comparison, while metric data analyses use individuals within
the population as units of comparison. Non-metric traits are
threshold characters (De Stefano et al., 1984) expression of
which depends on underlying genetic background (inheritance)
and environmental conditions (nutrition, occupation, climate or
any other factor and combinations of factors). Appearance of
any set of traits in several individuals within a group cannot be
used to argue fort their biological relatedness (Sjøvold, 1977);
the units of analysis have to be pre-set archaeological sub-
populations. The results obtained indicate whether cumulative
traits for a sub-population A are similar or distinct to cumula-
tive traits for a sub-population B, or sub-population C, and so
on. It is critically important for this type of analysis that the
sub-populations compared make “archaeo”-logical sense. The
method works best when comparing large sub-samples or popu-
lations that can be easily distinguished temporally, geographi-
cally, or by their material culture. Graphic representation usu-
ally takes a form of a dendrogram or a multidimensional scaling
plot (Sjøvold, 1984; Wilkinson et al., 1996). While no two
populations will be exactly the same in terms of non-metric
traits expression, close proximity on a dendrogram indicates
relatedness, while a horseshoe pattern on the multidimensional
scaling plot will be indicative of temporal change.
Analysis of non-metric traits (Figures 2(a) and (b
at the IGG Mesolithic/Contact/Neolithic population is best
understood as an initially heterogeneous, single-breeding popula-
tion (Roksandic, 2000a) that changed over more than 2000
years of more or less continuous occupation of the area. This
temporal change is expressed by the Guttman effect (horseshoe
Figure 2. mensional scaling plot and (b) Dendrogram of the MMD
attern) of the multidimensional scaling plot of site/chronology
necessary here. It is quite possible that
s shifts to an individual
values for the site/chronology sub-samples (Adapted from Roksandic,
2000): LVPM = Lepenski Vir Mesolithic; LVC = Lepenski Vir Contact;
LVN = Lepenski Vir Neolithic; HVPC = Hajdučka Vodenica Contact;
VM = Vlasac Mesolithic; VC = Vlasac Contact; FR = Franzhausen, a
Bronze Age site in Austria as an outlier (Wiltschke-Schrotta, 1992).
subgroups. The fact that at the time of the adoption of agricul-
ture in the IGG we cannot perceive any substantial change in
non-metric traits, strongly suggests that there is no abrupt
change in population. Those who already lived in the general
area most likely adopted agricultural practices without any
influx of newcomers. A more pronounced population change
happened at the time of the possible contact (“availability
phase”), rather than at the time of the adoption of domesticates.
This change could have resulted from two or more mutually
non-exclusive processes: an influx of a new population into the
area, and cultural integration over a larger area with an exten-
sion of marriage networks. When the same non-metric data
discussed are represented as a dendrogram (Figure 2(b)) it can
be more clearly observed that Lepenski Vir Contact and Le-
penski Vir Neolithic individuals cluster together, and that they
are removed from both the Mesolithic and the Contact popula-
tions at other sites in the region. The existing archaeological
record shows that the adoption of farming (or husbandry) was
accompanied by the adoption of the Middle Neolithic Starčevo
material culture and burial practices between 5900 BC (Borić &
Dimitrijević, 2007) and 5500 BC (Garašanin & Radovanović,
2001; Srejović, 1972). While it would be easy to interpret this
pattern as an influx of “farmers” into the site of Lepenski Vir at
the time of contact, the general lack of significant differences
between the plotted values among the subgroups, as well as
continuation of Lepenski Vir material culture, requires a less
A cautionary note is
y assignment of individuals into one or the other period,
while based on a thorough review of published and unpublished
documentation, was incorrect. However, when compared to
published dates (Bonsall et al., 2000, 2004, 2008; Borić &
Dimitrijević, 2007; Borić & Miracle, 2004), only one out of 20
available dates was not in accordance with the period assigned
on the basis of its stratigraphic position. Thorough analysis of
unpublished documentation, moreover, brought into serious
question the premature dismissals of Srejović’s interpretation of
stratigraphy at Lepenski Vir (Perić & Nikolić, 2004). The result,
while not conclusive, is encouraging; however, it is still possi-
ble that the picture would be different if absolute dates were
available for each individual skeleton.
When examining metric data, the focu
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 119
ues suggested that, both in
d on neuro-
the unit of analysis. Multivariate statistics allow us to ob-
serve grouping patterns based on relative position of individu-
als on a plot. A re-examination of the available metric data
from the sites, based on published measurements (Mikić, 1981;
Nemeskeri & Szathmary, 1978a, 1978b), is warranted as the
authors used univariate statistics. I re-examined their metric
data with Principal Components Analyses (PCA) and tests of
variance to increase their interpretative potential and compared
them with findings based on the measurements of the postcra-
nial skeleton (Roksandic, 2000a).
In 1978 Nemeskeri and colleag
ood types (Nemeskeri & Lengyel, 1978) and metrics (Ne-
meskeri & Szathmary, 1978a), women were more homoge-
nous than men at Vlasac. While blood type analysis results are
not deemed reliable, my own analysis of non-metric traits indi-
cated that Contact period women in the IGG were less removed
from Mesolithic men and women than Contact men (Roksandic,
2000a). Multivariate analysis of the postcranial data for the
whole series confirmed the pattern (Figure 3), with women
clustering together at one part of the diagram. All of this sug-
gested a possibility of greater homogeneity of women and
therefore a matrilocal residence pattern. However, the analyses
of cranial metrics presented here resulted in a much more com-
plicated picture that does not support this suggestion.
The PCA plot of neurocranial measurements (Figure 4
adicts the statement that the “heterogeneity in absolute mea-
sures and indices is more significant in the case of males than in
the case of females” (Nemeskeri & Szathmary, 1978b: p. 178).
On the first and second principal components, which explain
43% and 34% of the variation, we can observe a substantial
overlap between males and females. A similar pattern is ob-
served with second and third principal components. This ex-
plains why crania and postcrania produced different results in
sex assessment. While male crania are a bit larger (more to-
wards the right side of the diagram on the first component), the
overlap is substantial. Male and female variances for the first
three principal components were compared using a modified
Levene’s test based on the median rather than the mean. The
assumption of normality for the sex-specific distributions of
each principal component was assessed using a Wilks-Shapiro
test prior to formal comparison of male and female variances.
None of the sex-specific distributions deviated significantly
from normality at the α = 0.05 level. None of the comparisons
of male and female variances indicated a significant difference.
Further comparisons based on chronology show that males
clearly separate from females on the second component in the
Mesolithic, and show strong overlap in the Contact period; the
Neolithic sample is too small to allow any meaningful conclu-
sions. Of interest for the Neolithic sample is that it is dispersed
over the whole plot, countering the notion that the Neolithic
group is a very different population (Grupe et al., 2003). This is
important, as the trend we observe in both dietary analyses
where Neolithic skeletons group together, and in the postcranial
skeleton where Neolithic females group together in the lower
range of size variation, could be misleading if taken at face
value. Facial measurements and indices were available only for
Vlasac, and show no significant differences in variance be-
tween males and females, although males can be distinguished
on the basis of the size of mandible and maxilla more readily
than is the case with neurocranial measurements.
Such strong differences between PCA plots base
anial measurements3 and postcranial data require explanation.
Figure 3. sis of the postcranial measurements for the Iron Gates Gorge PCA analy
series. Squares: males; Circles: females; Black squares and circles:
Mesolithic; White with a dot/square in the middle: Contact; White:
Neolithic. Variables included in the analysis: Humerus maximal di-
ameter, Radius anteroposterior diameter, femur maximum diameter of
the head, femur anterior posterior subtrochanteric diameter, femur
medial lateral subtrochanteric diameter.
of neurocranial measurements. Components 2 and 3 that
e can exclude sampling error, as the observed discrepancy
emphasize shape rather than size are presented. Squares: Males; Circles:
Females. Black squares and circles: Mesolithic; White with a dot/
square in the middle: Contact; White: Neolithic; L = Lepenski Vir; V =
Vlasac; Variables included in the analyses are Martin 1, 8, 9, 17, 20 and
26. Based on measurements by Nemeskeri and Szatmary (1978) and
persists when we remove the individuals that do not have cra-
nial measurements from the postcranial PCA plot. It is, there-
fore, most likely that we are dealing with different pressures
affecting cranial and postcranial bones in which postcranial
elements are likely to show greater growth plasticity and sus-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ceptibility to environmental influences than the cranium. While
there are no studies specifically examining the effect changes in
the environment during ontogeny have on cranial size dimor-
phism, increased differences in postcranial size (particularly
long bone lengths) do not necessarily mean that women and
men were fed different diets, more likely men were more ad-
versely affected by suboptimal environments, which results in
reduced size dimorphism (c.f. Nikitovic & Bogin, 2012).
Diet certainly played a sint role not only in skeletal
e questions are no doubt extremely important, if
asticity, but also in our understanding of the Mesolithic/Neo-
lithic interface. Diet and its implications for the mode of change
from gathering to farming have been hotly debated for Western
and Northern Europe (Milner et al., 2004; Richards & Hedges,
1999; Richards & Schulting, 2006) as well as for the Balkans
(Bonsall et al., 1997, 2000; Borić et al., 2004; Grupe et al.,
2003; Radovanović & Voytek, 1997). These vivid discussions
centered on three questions: 1) Was there a shift towards more
terrestrial diet between early and later phases? 2) Were domes-
ticates or wild animal species more responsible for the per-
ceived shift? 3) What were the implications for the adoption of
e ignore them for the time being and concentrate simply on
the patterning of the δ15N and δ13C isotope values for individu-
als (Figure 5), we can perceive substantial differences in the
dietary spectrum between the three examined sites: Lepenski
Vir, Vlasac and Schela Cladovei. Schela Cladovei presents a
very tight cluster of isotope values that match the relatively
tight clustering of absolute dates of most burials, and strongly
canonized burial practices (Boroneanţ, 1973, 1980; Boroneanţ
et al., 1999). Vlasac, with larger number of individuals, greater
Figure 5. of δ15N and δ13C isotope values for Lepenski Vir, Schela
ing diversification of the resources at the site of
Based on discreestimates obtained
Cladovei, and Vlasac; Circles: Lepenski Vir; Black: Mesolithic; White:
Neolithic; White with a black dot: Contact; White with one line: Unde-
termined; Squares: Vlasac; Black: Mesolithic; White with a black squ-
are: Contact; Triangles: Schela Cladovei (all Mesolithic period burials).
time depth, and more varied burial customs, still shows clus-
tering: Mesolithic and Contact diets at this site overlap substan-
tially with slightly more restricted range for the Mesolithic
individuals, where fewer individuals show lower δ13C values.
The Lepenski Vir pattern is the same as that of Vlasac for the
Mesolithic period. Contact and Neolithic individuals show a
significantly different distribution. As already observed by
Bonsall and collaborators (2004), the diet of post-contact indi-
viduals at Lepenski Vir is far more varied than would be ex-
pected for a local sedentary group. Their observation holds true
with inclusion of the additional data set from Borić and col-
leagues (2004). Bonsall and colleagues (2004) proposed a num-
ber of possible explanations: social, environmental and techno-
logical factors that could have induced Lepenski Vir inhabitants
to diversify their resources. Environmental changes accompa-
nied by a restriction of the available territory seem to be
strongly supported by remains of material culture (see Rado-
vanović, 2006 for discussion), with flooding as a major factor
in near abandonment of the area between 6300 and 5900 cal BC,
as suggested by Bonsall and collaborators (2000, 2002). The
exception would be the settlement of Lepenski Vir, where the
duration of the climatic oscillation that brought about wetter
conditions and floods corresponded to the time of construction
of the Lepenski Vir I structures. The floors made of a heavy-
duty mixture of limestone and sand (Ney, 1971), unique in the
whole Iron Gates area, represent Lepenski Vir at its most com-
plex cultural manifestation. Construction of these sturdy floors
at that particular time was interpreted as a protection of struc-
tures from being washed away by flooding (see also Chapman,
2000: p. 195) as was the displacement of the houses further up
slope for both Lepenski Vir and Padina (Radovanović, 1996).
While this scenario is plausible (for a critique see Borić &
Miracle, 2004), it is not critical for our argument here. It is just
one of a number of other intrinsic and extrinsic factors that
could have been responsible for a temporary change in the mo-
epenski Vir as an explanatory mechanism for substantial die-
tary variation, Bonsall and colleagues did not consider another
likely explanation, namely that this site—both as a burial
ground and a focal point—attracted at this time a more dis-
persed group of individuals that identified themselves with
Lepenski Vir. Thus a fully mobile hunter-gatherer population
could have been using this “sedentary/semi-sedentary site” as
focal points for burial of their select dead. This would account
for the appearance at Lepenski Vir site at that time of individu-
als with “exotic” trace element signatures (Boric, 2006). As
both dietary and non-metric traits suggest that population of
Lepenski Vir during Contact times was more divergent from
the preceding Mesolithic population and more variable than at
other IGG sites, this explanation seems to me the most parsi-
pancy between fertility
rough calculation of juvenile/adult ratio (J/A) and mean
childhood mortality (MCM) (Jackes, 2010), Jackes, Meiklejohn
and I demonstrated a strong bias in the post-contact Lepenski
Vir population, not observed in other periods at Lepenski Vir,
or at other sites in the region (Jackes et al., 2008). The burial
population of Lepenski Vir site does not represent an unbiased
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 121
sample of the population that occupied the site. It represents a
select group of individuals, but the selection was not necessa-
rily based on age, sex or any other obvious attribute.
Identification of Lepeite with a special ritual
The initial studypossible by Wen-
Babović, L. (1997). Loc Sanctuaries at Lepen-
B. Cambridge: Cam-
Btline of the Late Epipalaeolithic economy at
Bedges, R. E., Higham, T. F., Pickard, C., &
B 997). Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in
Bal continuities and ruptures: Tradition, social
Bssentialism: Unsettling frontiers of
B(1999). Places that created time in the danube gorges and
nski Vir as a s
le in the landscape of the IGG hunter-gatherers has never
been contested. What I suggest here, on the basis of bioarchae-
ological data, is that Lepenski Vir exerted this special ritual role
at its pinnacle through a combination of limited resident popu-
lation and a much larger non-resident, highly mobile population
that identified with the site as an ancestral place of mythical
and ideological prominence. That this happened at the time
when possible environmental pressures forced them to change
the way of life from a sedentary community with emphasis on
fishing to a more mobile community with emphasis on terres-
trial hunting and gathering is counter-intuitive, but not impos-
sible. The change in itself could have been sufficient to prompt
a more elaborate artistic representation of “the mythical past”.
Coupled with the appearance of a different mode of subsistence
in the relative vicinity, it required a closer examination and
adherence to the “olden ways” and a stronger identity building,
as Srejović (1972) had already indicated. The observation that
people from a larger territory identified themselves sufficiently
with Lepenski Vir to bury their dead in the area with estab-
lished lineage and ancestral significance signals that the site
played an important role in the maintenance of group identity
when the gorges themselves played an insignificant (or reduced)
role in their subsistence. It could be claimed that the site(s)
acquired this special role precisely because the ancestral terri-
tory and associated subsistence strategy and lifestyle were
threatened. The IGG Mesolithic people who were forced at the
time to observe a more mobile hunter-gatherer way of life,
maintained group cohesion and identity by association with
sites and objects that no longer played a role in subsistence, but
increasingly in ideological integration based on ancestral terri-
tory and ancestral myth. This could explain the burst of artistic
activity, and the fact that these symbolic, artistic endeavors
were connected with fish which, while still no doubt included
in the diet, no longer played a critical role in subsistence.
On a final note, archaeology is a discipline between a
ience, and we can hardly hope to “prove” one scenario or
another. It is per force circumstantial and depends on “thick”
interpretation of available data. Biological anthropology, while
firmly based in biological science, suffers no less from the
same problems of interpretation. This paper presents one possi-
ble scenario, indicated by a number of analyses that taken indi-
vidually could not be considered conclusive. When we consider
the length of occupation of the Iron Gates gorge by the same
Mesolithic group, alternating mobility should not be surprising.
Given the nature of archaeological sites, it is relatively rare that
archaeological or bioarchaeological data offer a glimpse into
these changing conditions.
of the material was made
r-Gren grant No. 6250. My sincere gratitude goes to Rastko
Cvekić, Dejana Vlak and Dr. Michael Schillaci for numerous
fruitful discussions and substantial comments on the first draft
of this paper.
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