Archaeologists uncover a previously unknown network of massive European Bronze Age sites

Archaeologists from University College Dublin, in collaboration with colleagues from Serbia and Slovenia, have made a groundbreaking discovery in the heart of Europe. Using satellite images and aerial photography to piece together the prehistoric landscape of the south Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, the research team has uncovered a previously unknown network of massive sites. These sites may hold the key to understanding the emergence of the Bronze Age megaforts, which are considered the largest prehistoric constructions before the Iron Age.

The findings reveal more than 100 sites belonging to a complex society in the Carpathian Basin, forming what is now known as the Tisza Site Group (TSG). These sites, characterized by defensible enclosures, served as a precursor and likely influenced the later construction of the famous hillforts of Europe, designed to protect communities during the Bronze Age.

Lead author Associate Professor Barry Molloy, from UCD School of Archaeology, highlights the significance of the discovery, stating, “Some of the largest sites, we call these mega-forts, have been known for a few years now, such as Gradište Iđoš, Csanádpalota, Sântana, or the mind-blowing Corneşti Iarcuri enclosed by 33km of ditches and eclipsing in size the contemporary citadels and fortifications of the Hittites, Mycenaeans, or Egyptians.”

What sets this discovery apart is the realization that these massive sites did not exist in isolation; instead, they were part of a dense network of closely related and codependent communities. At its peak, the Tisza Site Group likely housed tens of thousands of people in the lower Pannonian region of Central Europe.

The Carpathian Basin, stretching across central and southeast Europe, with the vast Pannonian Plain at its center and the River Danube cutting through it, serves as the backdrop for this archaeological revelation. The TSG sites are concentrated within 5 km of one another, aligned along the river corridor formed by the Tisza and the Danube, indicating a cooperative community spread across various locations.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the research sheds light on the TSG’s role as an important center of innovation in prehistoric Europe, particularly during the height of the Mycenaeans, Hittites, and New Kingdom Egypt around 1500–1200 BC. The interconnected nature of these sites provides new insights into European connections during this pivotal period.

Furthermore, the study suggests that the TSG played a crucial role in disseminating advanced military and earthwork technologies across Europe after their collapse around 1200 BC. This influence helps explain similarities in material culture and iconography across Europe in the later second millennium BC.

Associate Professor Molloy emphasizes the unique aspect of this research, stating, “Our understanding of how their society worked challenges many aspects of European prehistory.” Unlike previous archaeological studies, this research goes beyond identifying isolated sites, offering a comprehensive view of an entire settled landscape, including maps detailing the size, layout, and even the locations of people’s homes within these Bronze Age communities.

However, Molloy underscores that this was not a peaceful era, noting major innovations in warfare and organized violence. The scale of TSG society indicates its relevance and power on a European stage, equipped with advanced defenses at settlements to protect their gains.

Molloy dispels the notion that archaeology is confined to traditional methods, stating, “We employ a barrage of cutting-edge technologies, and in this paper, we relied heavily on imagery from space to discover a previously unknown network of massive sites in the heart of continental Europe—the Carpathian Basin.”

The majority of TSG sites were established between 1600 and 1450 BC, and almost all of them were abandoned en masse around 1200 BC. This coincides with a significant turning point in Old World prehistory, witnessing the collapse of kingdoms, empires, cities, and whole societies across southwest Asia, north Africa, and southern Europe.

The discovery of these new polities provides a fascinating glimpse into their relationships with well-known influential societies, yet it is sobering to witness how they ultimately suffered a similar fate in the wave of crises that struck the wider region around 1200 BC. The research not only enriches our understanding of European prehistory but also highlights the interconnectedness of ancient societies in shaping the course of history.

Source: University College Dublin

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