The tell settlement ‘Gomila’ near Uivar lies in the valley of tributaries of the Tisza river. It has been investigated by a joint project by Professor Wolfram Schier, of the Freie Universität Berlin, and Professor Florin Draşovean of the Muzeul Banatului Timişoara, with initial survey in 1998 leading to excavations from 1999–2009. Geophysical caesium survey by Dr Helmut Becker has helped to show that the site consists not only of a large visible tell, with a stratigraphy nearly 4 m deep and an extent of 3 ha, but of an area round about with further evidence of houses and seemingly defined by a series of V-shaped ditches and accompanying inner palisades; the outermost of these is also probably the deepest, well over 2 m deep, and defining the possible limits of a total settlement area some 8–10 ha in extent. The whole layout has been compared to a fried egg, which has an impressive maximum diameter of over 350 m.
The caesium magnetometry survey suggested a dense concentration of burnt houses, concentrically arranged, focused on the tell mound itself, and scattered other examples in the off-tell area within the ditch system. Excavation has confirmed the presence of these burnt houses both on the tell and in the adjacent area, but the deepest cutting in Trench I showed only two horizons of burnt houses, each of them consisting of two successive phases, out of nine Neolithic building levels. The excavators have estimated that up to 3500 houses could have been built through the history of the tell mound, but the excavated results suggest that relatively few were burnt, and the further implication is that there may be numerous unburnt houses off-tell, unfortunately covered by valley deposits and not easily examinable.
This important finding is in line with other recent discoveries in south-east Europe as a whole of the complexity of tell layout. Uivar saw a large, dense concentration of closely set houses, repeated renewed, and packed with evidence of domestic and other activity. Houses were two- or three-roomed, some with upper storeys. Earlier examples were built with heavy timber constructions, but the architecture seems to get lighter through time, probably reflecting the impact on local woodland resources. Excavation in Trench IV showed a succession of ditch recuts, hard to pin down in detail but sufficient to suggest a dynamic sequence for the perimeters of the site to accompany ongoing change on the tell itself.
Other tells are known in the region; one well known example, Parţa, appears to be earlier than Uivar, so it remains to be seen how wide the orbit of such impressive settlement foci was at any one time. Excavation has shown a succession at Uivar from early levels with Szakálhát pottery, with Vinča imports or copies, followed by later phases with pottery in Vinča C1 and C2 styles; some Tiszapolgár features including burials cap the sequence. A suite of existing radiocarbon dates, mainly on charcoal, confirm a broad range from the later sixth to the middle of the fifth millennium cal BC.
The aim of the cooperation with Times of Their Lives is to refine knowledge of the timing and duration of developments at Uivar. An extensive series of short-life samples was selected for dating and modelling in trips to Berlin and Timişoara in early 2013, and a second round is planned for the summer of 2013. Did the fried egg expand or contract through time, or were all its main components contemporary? How long did houses last, and from that, how quickly did a visible tell emerge? Refined chronological models may help to address these central questions with increased precision.
Local Partners: Wolfram Schier, Cornelia Becker, Dragoş Dianconescu, Christoph Menzler and Stefan Suhrbier (Institut für Prähistorische Archäologie, Freien Universität Berlin), and Florin Draşovean (Muzeul Banatului, Timişoara)
UKTeam: Frances Healy, Bisserka Gaydarska, Penny Bickle, Alex Bayliss and Alasdair Whittle