Archaeologists uncover Europe’s oldest stilt village

Wednesday, August 16, 2023


Beneath the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid, the “Pearl of the Balkans”, scientists have uncovered what may be one of Europe’s earliest sedentary communities, and are trying to solve the mystery of why it sheltered behind a fortress of defensive spikes.

A stretch of the Albanian shore of the lake once hosted a settlement of stilt houses some 8,000 years ago, archaeologists believe, making it the oldest lakeside village in Europe discovered to date.

Radiocarbon dating from the site puts it at between 6000 and 5800 BC.

Archaeologists discover the oldest stilt village in Europe

It is several hundred years older than previously known lake-dwelling sites in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions, said Albert Hafner, a professor of archaeology from Switzerland’s University of Bern.

The most ancient other such villages were discovered in the Italian Alps and date to around 5000 BC, said an expert in European Neolithic lake dwellings.

Hafner and his team of Swiss and Albanian archaeologists have spent the past four years carrying out excavations at Lin on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid, which straddles the mountainous border of North Macedonia and Albania.

The settlement is believed to have been home to between 200 and 500, with houses built on stilts above the lake’s surface or in areas regularly flooded by rising waters.

Fortress of spikes

And it is slowly revealing some astonishing secrets. During a recent dive, archaeologists uncovered evidence suggesting the settlement was fortified with thousands of spiked planks used as defensive barricades.

Researchers estimate that roughly 100,000 spikes were driven into the bottom of the lake off Lin, with Hafner calling the discovery “a real treasure trove for research”.

Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world and has been around for more than a million years.

Assisted by professional divers, archaeologists have been picking through the bottom of the lake often uncovering fossilised fragments of wood and prized pieces of oak.

‘Like a Swiss watch’

Analysis of the tree rings helps the team reconstruct the daily life of the area’s inhabitants providing valuable insights into the climatic and environmental conditions from the period, said Albanian archaeologist Adrian Anastasi.

Oak is like a Swiss watch, very precise, like a calendar, said Hafner.

For the time being, scientists say it is possible to assume that the village relied on agriculture and domesticated livestock for food.

Ilir Gjepali, an Albanian archaeology professor working at the site said that they found various seeds, plants and the bones of wild and domesticated animals.

But it will take another two decades for the site to be fully explored and studied and for final conclusions to be drawn.

According to Anastasi, each excavation trip yields valuable information, enabling the team to piece together a picture of life along Lake Ohrid’s shores thousands of years ago —from the architecture of the dwellings to the structure of their community.

These are key prehistoric sites that are of interest not only to the region but to the whole of southwest Europe, said Hafner.

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