Contrasting subsistence strategies in the Early Iron Age? – New results from the Alföld plain, Hungary, and the Thracian plain, Bulgaria
John Chapman, Enik Magyari & Bisserka Gaydarska Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28.2 (May 2009): 155-187.
What can students of the past do to establish the predominant land-use and settlement practices of populations who leave little or no artefactual discard as a testament to their lifeways? The traditional answer, especially in Eastern Europe, is to invoke often exogenous nomadic pastoralists whose dwelling in perpetuo mobile was based on yurts, minimal local ceramic production and high curation levels of wooden and metal containers. Such a lacuna of understanding settlement structure and environmental impacts typifies Early Iron Age (henceforth ‘EIA’) settlements in both Bulgaria and eastern Hungary – a period when the inception of the use of iron in Central and South-East Europe has a profound effect on the flourishing regional bronze industries of the Late Bronze Age (henceforth ‘LBA’).
The methodological proposal in this paper is the high value of palynological research for subsistence strategies and human impacts in any area with a poor settlement record. This proposal is illustrated by two new lowland pollen diagrams – Ezero, south-east Bulgaria, and Sarló-hát, north-east Hungary – which provide new insights into this research question. In the Thracian valley, there is a disjunction between an area of high arable potential, the small size and short-lived nature of most LBA and EIA settlements and the strong human impact from the LBA and EIA periods in the Ezero diagram. In the Hungarian Plain, the pollen record suggests that, during the LBA–EIA, extensive grazing meadows were established in the alluvial plain, with the inception of woodland clearance on a massive scale from c.800 cal BC, that contradicts the apparent decline in human population in this area. An attempted explanation of these results comprises the exploration of three general positions – the indigenist thesis, the exogenous thesis and the interactionist thesis. Neither of these results fits well with the traditional view of EIA populations as incoming steppe nomadic pastoralists. Instead, this study seeks to explore the tensions between local productivity and the wider exchange networks in which they are entangled.