Cradle of European Civilization is in the Balkans

While working on and researching about a far more complex issue, here is a subject worth all your precious time to learn about. I thought about posting this few days ago while debating the terminology / linguistic origin of naming the Slavic people and it certainly challanges the worldview of all those, who still believe that Sumerians and Mesopotamia were the cradle of European civilization(s).

The highly-developed culture of the people, inhabitating the river Danube valley throughout the flow of this magnificent river, was named as Vinča culture, deriving  its name from the village of Vinča located on the banks of Danube river, only 14 km downstream from Belgrade, where over 150 Vinča settlements have been excavated so far.


There is no evidence of war or defence structures in the towns / settlements and it appears that the Vinča people were a peaceful society, combining low-level agriculture with foraging and trade. They produced the first known European examples of a »proto« script and were the first people in the world known to smelt copper. They existed in a similar state for almost 2,000 years, following which they appear to have dispersed around the Mediterranean and Aegean.


GoebekliTepe map
The earliest known site in the West Asian Cluster that has clear evidence of large scale social cooperation, and therefore can be considered a distant ancestor to civilization — proto-civilization, if you will — is Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Anatolia. Thought to be a ritual center predating even settled agriculture (specifically, Prepottery Neolithic A, or PPNA), the site has impressive megalithic architecture. Let us take this as the point of origin for civilization in the West Asian Cluster — it is our best scientific knowledge as of the present for the origins of our civilization. Several hundred miles west of Göbekli Tepe is Çatal Hüyük, a famous Neolithic site often identified as the first urban settlement on our planet. Çatal Hüyük has been extensively studied, though not fully excavated, and while the life of the people would have been extremely rudimentary by the measures of what we call civilization today, it nevertheless possesses all the essential elements of civilization: an urban settlement supported by agricultural suburbs, with division of labor, art and religion, and trade with neighboring people. Source: 

Another part of the Vinča legacy are curious masks and the most informative costumed figurines depicting women in extremely modern clothes like narrow skirts, and sleeveless upper-body panels, complimented with hip belts, aprons, jewelry, shoes, caps, hairstyles, bracelets, necklaces, and medallions. Since the language of the Vinča people still remains undeciphered, unearthed artifacts constitute the only source of knowledge about this culture.

Vinča settlements were considerably larger then any other contemporary European’s culture, in some instances surpassing size of the cities in the Aegean and early Middle-East Bronze Age from a millennium later in time. The largest sites, some of them measuring more than 300,000 square metres, may have been home to up to 2,500 people.[1] We are told that they lived in spacious housing and separated their dead in nearby necropolis. They had workshops, which  means skilled labour. They worked with several styles of pottery and had their own particular artistic fingerprint, which is seen in both early Cretan and Sumerian cultures that rose following the demise of the Old Europe’s heartland.

The First European Writing

The Tărtăria tablets refers to a group of three tablets, discovered in 1961 by archaeologist Nicolae Vlassa at a Neolithic site in the village of Tărtăria (about 30 km / 19 mi) from Alba Iulia), in Romania[2]. Two of the tablets are rectangular and the third is round. They are all small, the round one being only 6 cm (2½ in) across, and two  – one round and one rectangular – have holes drilled through them. All three have symbols inscribed only on one face : 

The tablets, dated to around 5,300 BC, bear incised symbols – the Vinča symbols – and have been the subject of considerable controversy among archaeologists, some of whom claim that the symbols represent the earliest known form of writing in the world. Subsequent radiocarbon dating on the Tărtăria findings pushed the date of the tablets (and therefore of the whole Vinča culture) much further back, to as far as 5,500 BC, to the time of the early Eridu phase of the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. This finding has reversed our concept of the origin of writing and it is now believed that the Sumerians inherited a Vinča tradition of »magical« or »meaningful« scripture, probably following the decline and collapse of the Vinča homeland around 3,500 BC.

Full list of Vinčian symbols
Full list of Vinčian symbols

The First European Metallurgists

One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe. The site was found at village of Pločnik, Serbia.

The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans’ use of metal, with copper tools used along with older stone implements. It was thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in south-east Europe, and earlier in the Middle East.

The discovery of a mine – Europe’s oldest – at the nearby Mlava river suggests that Vinča could be Europe’s first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Pločnik site. »These latest findings show that the Vinča culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture,« said archaeologist Dušan Šljivar of Serbia’s National Museum. “They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools.”

Metallurgic map of neolitic period
The 5th millenium »polymetallic« map of the Balkans, with the locations of sites, where tin-bronzes, gold, galena / lead and silver were found. MAp is courtesy of prof. Milinković, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade.

The unnamed tribe who lived between 5,400 and 4,700 BC in the 120-hectare site at what is now Pločnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy. Near the settlement, a thermal well might be evidence of Europe’s oldest spa.

»They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment,« said Julka Kuzmanović-Cvetković, a modern-day archeologist.[3]


Pločnik artifact
A Neolithic figurine shows a girl in a short skirt and ornate top, found in the Pločnik archaeological site near the town of Prokuplje in southern Serbia, November 3, 2007. Recent excavations at the site – part of the Vinča culture which was Europe’s biggest prehistoric civilisation – point to a metropolis with a great degree of sophistication and a taste for art and fashion.

Similarities to Other Cultures

What we have then is the record of a civilisation that flourished in Europe between 6,000 and 3,500 BC and which appears to have enjoyed a long period of uninterrupted and peaceful living[4]. The ‘Old European’ Vinča pottery, artefacts and writing all show an immediately noticeable similarity to what was originally thought to be an earlier Ubaid Sumerian influence from the middle east. In addition, the Cycladian/Cretan cultures are suspected of having close close artistic and possibly religious connections with the Vinca. Both of these cultures appeared following the demise of the Old European Heartland, perhaps not so coincidentally, at the same time as several other important civilisations (Egyptian, Indus Valley, Western European, Maltese, etc.) appeared in the prehistoric record.

Several eminent archaeologists of the time (such as Childe, Hood, Vlassa, Maccay), were convinced that the Vinča had somehow been influenced or »cradled into being« by the mistaken belief at the time that the Sumerians were the »Mother race«. However, much to everyone surprise, more recent discoveries of earlier Vinča settlements have shown quite clearly that events must have occurred the other way round as the Old European settlements, along with writing, pottery, metallurgy and »Ubaid« style art, date to a thousand years before the first Sumerian fingerprint, suggesting remarkably that it was actually a Western European culture that influenced Sumerian development.

Here is a short, fact-loaded Youtube video about the Vinča findings and the implications of it, 4m 30s :


[1] John Chapman, “The Vinča culture of south-east Europe: Studies in chronology, economy and society”





3 thoughts on “Cradle of European Civilization is in the Balkans

  1. Wow! Fascinating information. I find the smelting most interesting. My wife and I, sculptors both, recently gave our foundry to a younger artist in Canada. Too old to do that kind of industrial work anymore.

    Much appreciate the kind words at POM. You say it better than I could. I have ideas, but never took writing that seriously, and struggle with spelling and grammar. Oh well. Thanks.


  2. This is fascinating, Vexman, and jives with other reading I am doing, mostly a jumble of dissociated facts right now, but indicating that the fields of paleontology and geology are laden with errors, and that much of what we think we know is simply wrong. Maybe it will assemble into a cohesive body of information in the coming months. Maybe not.


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