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Analysis of settlement space

General idea how the Neolithic settlement at Bylany could look like was published in the year 1966 by B. Soudský – author of the basic Bylany project, in a book focused on general public (Soudský 1966). He corroborated the concept of ‘a cyclic habitation of one settlement space with regular pauses when complex of cognate structures was located in other nearby place.’ This concept was based on theory of cyclic farming that was regarded as a kind of certain basic economic system of the earliest farmers in Central Europe. Similar research projects have been evolved in Europe since the end of 1950’s, mainly in region of Dutch Limburk, and later in German Rhineland. Authors of these projects attempted to form their own hypotheses and interpretations; one was based on idea of certain total shift of settlement space, forming of centres, and creation of regionally diverse models (Modderman 1988: 101) ) while the other presented completely new concept of a Neolithic settlement as a complex of independently developing households (Boelicke - Brandt - Lüning - Zimmermann 1988: 891 - 931).

An up-to-date concept regarding origins of Neolithic population and its history at the site of Bylany has been evaluated at the latest by I. Pavlů (BYLIFE). According to the latest theories evaluating population of the Post-glatial period it is possible to exclude both extreme opinions on Neolithisation of Europe – completely autochthonic development of Post-Mesolithic population and mass wave of colonists. “Instead, it was a long-time process of gradual penetration of small groups composing of only a few families that travelled on relatively small distance.” These groups settled border regions enclosing areas of special interest for the Post-Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and, thus, both groups did not need to interfere each other. Farmers arrived in the region of Kolín – Kutná Hora and Čáslav around the year 5600 B.C. along the Elbe River and then upstream of Vrchlice and Bylanka Streams. Scholars supposed that the site of Bylany was probably settled by second or third generation of new-coming farmers, sometimes around the year 5500 B.C. For a long time it has been proposed that the earliest farmers omitted extensive area around the Doubrava River. This presumption has been considered as possible proof for continuance of original population of hunter-gatherers. However, this opinion has been modified by recent results of archaeological project ‘The beginnings of anthropogenic activities in the Doubrava flood plain’. The first farmers who arrived to this region had to get familiarized with local natural environment. According to opinions of palaeoecologists, the Neolithic landscape was covered with almost continuous forest composing of oaks and other broad-leaved trees. The so-far unsedimentated river valleys without any vegetation formed by original gravel-and-sand surface represent the main difference between the then landscape and the present one. Valleys of water-courses were, thus, easily transit and were natural main communication roads.

How did the Neolithic village look like?

New Guinea

New Guinea
© Steensberg, A. 1986: Man the manipulator. An Ethno-Archaeological Basis for Reconstructing the Past. Copenhagen: The National Museum of Denmark, 71.

The earliest settlement phase at Bylany was represented by three to five structures with scattered form of built-up area. Already since the beginning, the settled space was divided into certain areas of special interest, and their delimitation was respected by several generations. Initially, the village inhabitants were close relatives, and this real descendant line gradually shifted into mythological levels (creation of clans, and probably also tribes?). Individual families managed their land separately, and group cooperation took place only within activities necessary for functioning of the entire village (e.g. during the timber felling). Already during the second Bylany settlement interval new farmhouses were founded also in other parts of the micro-region, and it is highly probable that they were related to the original parent village. Gradually, a settlement space with conglomerate of ceasing and renewing structures arose in Bylany that could be designated as the so-called horizontal tell.


Bylany.com: Pec It seems possible that the farmers from Bylany commemorated original type of dwellings (of probably shelter construction) of their ancestors with clay models of the so-called ovens. However, common type of houses of the entire complex of the Linear Pottery culture is an overground long-house with five rows of posts. An important aspect of these houses is their transversal zoning. In case that the structure had both northern and southern annexes, the dwelling zone was usually concentrated in the central part with characteristic enlargement, respectively omission of post rows or their shift towards the walls. Functional interpretation of northern and southern parts is more complicated. It seems obvious that the southern part played an important role in communication of the inhabitants with their environment, and also the house’s main entrance was placed there. Places on longitudinal axis in more distant parts of the house can be characterized by increasing level of intimacy. That is way stabling of domestic animals in the northern part seems to be improbable. Walls of the houses were wickered and daubed with clay, and the fume exhausted through the roof. It seems probable that little windows were placed in the side walls. Position and various placements of posts in the southern facade clearly show that this part of the house was decorated with huge screen-wall of unambiguously symbolic function. Bylany.com: Kulový dům, Soudský 1966 It seems probable that many activities occurred outside the houses. I. Pavlů supposed that excessive construction length was determined by the need to retire to the houses in case of unfavourable weather. Two houses with attested enclosures represent specific type of dwellings. Unlike previous interpretation of these structures as cattle pens (B. Soudský), up-to-date interpretations stress the act of delimitation of the house against its neighbourhood. Such behaviour is characteristic for higher level of gradually hierarchized society. In contrast to other sites (such as e.g. Vedrovice) no enclosure of the entire settlement space has been attested at Bylany during the Linear Pottery culture. Permanent abandonment and re-foundation of houses within determined residential area represents a characteristic aspect of extensive settlement ranges of the Linear Pottery culture. Previous hypothesis of cyclic farming presumed that the movements were always synchronized, and that the populations travelled on longer distance. However, according to the current state of research it seems more plausible that the houses shifted non-synchronously. Among possible reasons for such handling belongs respect paid to dwellings of the dead ancestors. That means that the most prominent inhabitant, most usually the so-called ‘Big Father’ or Senior, was left after his death in his own dwelling, and the living inhabitants built a new house next to the old one. Other deceased persons might be buried in the already designated ‘House of the Dead’ that after its destruction formally took the form of a large oblong grave. The fact that no cemetery dated to the Linear Pottery culture has been excavated in Bohemia does not contradict this presumption. In recent studies (e.g. M. Midgley), the above-outlined hypothesis is used to explain the emergence of the so-called long barrows of the Bell Beaker culture.

Life on the Neolithic settlement in Bylany involves, in fact, two main aspects:

1) a complex of individual human fates;
2) and fates of various artefacts created by these humans.

Eventhough the legacy is hidden in hardly transparent and complex archaeological contexts, deciphering of development of the village is qualified by creation of the so-called building complexes.Bylany.com: Kulový dům (rekonstrukce, G. Lanze) The building complexes represent ideal reconstructions of original households that involve mutual relations between residential constructions and surrounding pits. It was already (Pavlů 1977, 13) reached to an agreement that a zone of 5 metres in width encircling the house formed part of the so-called working area (range of activities). A ground plot measuring at least 15 metres in width was necessary for foundation of a house construction. Length of the plot can vary according to the demanded length of the house, plus extent of the working area. Formalized description of interrelations between archaeological features that is based on combination of horizontal and vertical stratigraphic analyses is also called external recording. Relative chronology of the settlement micro-region (building phases and settlement horizons) was created on the basis of combination of external recording and chronological analysis of pottery from building complexes.

Village development

In total, 25 construction phases were created on the basis of building complexes sequence, and inner pottery chronology of the village. These sections of changes in the linear decoration techniques on pottery are, however, too abstracted from real changes in the living society. That is way I. Pavlů summarized the original 25 construction phases into several broader time periods. “A row of six time horizons has been defined, each of them always includes several phases. They represent expressions of local history of archaeological finds as correlates of real Prehistorical processes” (BYLIFE). These horizons clearly show in their individual analytic layers identical interruptions of certain short-time consistent development of artefacts (this was attested for the first time on occurrence dynamics of hand-mills, see – Pavlů 1982). The original settlement phases represent artificial periods with common constant persistence of 20 years. The period of 20 years provides relative time scale and also substitutes, in general, one generation of inhabitants, who usually reconstructed the houses. However, these reconstructions have not been mutually synchronized; and, thus, absolute beginning of contemporaneous structures can not be determined. The settlement periods usually cover three to five time units – phases.

The first period

Section F was settled for the first time around the half of the 6th millennium B.C. The number of population was stable, and quality of houses construction was increasing. Gradual transition from the earliest type of houses with lateral grooves and gracile wooden construction to constructions from strong timbers without the lateral grooves can be observed there. In the fourth phase, a house of a quite exceptional construction (No. 2197) that could represent seat of a leading personality appeared for the first time. On the other hand, this house is defined neither spatially nor economically in a distinctive way; and it may, in fact, fulfil the same purposes as the other houses. A strong change in architecture of the village occurred after the fourth phase: it was probably necessary to change the original disposition of ground plots in section F that were already several times built-up.

The second period

The number of population was again stable, and the estimated minimum number of families did not overrun ten units. Quality of constructions decreased, however, rapidly. Similar trend can be observed also in the development of stone industry (ground and flint industry, and hand-mills): first, their quality decreased, and only then increased again. This change can be explained by certain social transformations occurring in the village. These transformations seem to be corroborated also by the earliest occurrence of large common clay-pits (in the eighth phase). They are regarded as an evidence of disturbance of originally strictly personalised home farming. Among indications of this personalised home farming may belong, for example, working areas documented by a pit behind northern wall of the house may.

The third period

The first part of this time interval is characteristic with an intense increase of number of population that was, however, succeeded by its strong decrease. A building with huge construction that is identified as a seat of personality of higher social rank appeared again in the tenth phase when number of inhabitants reached at minimum number of 12 families. Eventhough quality of stone ground industry and hand-mills was decreasing, quality of flint industry increased. This fact can corroborate the presumption of non-utilization of content of this group of archaeological material. Continuity of settlement was disturbed for the first time in the twelfth phase when the settlement space BY1 was almost abandoned. I. Pavlů assumes that in contrast to the terminal abandonment of the site at the end of the Linear Pottery culture that was evincibly caused by cultural change, the situation in the twelfth phase should be explained as a local split. However, he emphasized that there is no evidence elucidating this temporal abandonment. The end of the twelfth settlement phase at Bylany can be synchronized with the development peak of Bohemian Linear Pottery culture that can be documented by e.g. the maximum attestations of the band-filled- with-strokes decoration motive. After that, later forms of Linear Pottery decoration motives were prevailing. Exactly in this period the so-called Želiezovská-group began to develop in Moravia.

The fourth period

At the beginning, an overall resumption of the settlement space at BY1 area was renewed. The thirteenth phase is characteristic with regularly organized built-up area with distances between houses, and their overall arrangement. Again, house of the so-called chief (house No. 41) appeared. In following phases, increasing number of houses is persisting, however, no dwelling belonging to a chief was identified (it can be located in the so-far unexcavated part of the settlement). At the end of the fourth time interval, number of families inhabiting the village decreased. Quality of houses’ construction and stone tools as well varied irregularly during this period. Trend of restricting of individuality of particular houses also continues. Working areas of some houses were limited due to close proximity of other constructions. Long construction pits located along the houses’ walls that were characteristic for previous periods disappeared, and were attested only at houses of exceptional construction. In this case, presence of construction pits only underlines the exceptional role of these houses. Loess was quarried from large (probably common) clay-pits. Furthermore, a grain storage-pit appeared in the fourteenth phase as clear evidence of common shared economic activities.

The fifth period

Minimum number of families exceeded twelve, and a house of the so-called chief was appeared (No. 96 with large pottery storage jar dug in the interior). Number of houses in this interval varied but quality of their construction increased. Again, the quality of hand-mills and ground industry was decreasing while the flint industry quality increased. Mainly the nineteenth interval is characteristic by complicated architecture with several large clay-pits and grain storage pits (similar situation was detected for the fourteenth phase of previous interval). A radio-carbon date 5080 B.C. was determined for the seventeenth phase of this interval.

The sixth interval

Terminal phase of settlement is characterized by globally decreasing trend of all evaluated characteristics. In the beginning, relatively high number of families still inhabited the village, and even the dwelling of the so-called chief with enclosure No. 912 was settled. It is probably the last time when such leading personality was constituted there. The terminal stage is characterized by rapidly decreasing quality of structures, increasing concentration of built-up area, absence of large common large clay-pits, and increasing number of grain storage pits (caused by protective reasons?). Development of the Bylany settlement space ceased during existence of houses Nos. 278 and 277. There is no evidence of catastrophic destruction of the village; more likely circumstantial evidence indicates that the inhabitants left their houses optionally. For a period of approx. 250–300 years the site was uninhabited, and only then – in later phase of the Stroked Pottery culture, new population came here.

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