The favourable natural conditions during the Neolithic, above all, the rivers (Vardar, Treska, Lepenec, Serava and Markova Reka), the lakes (Aračinovo and Katlanovo Lake), marshes, hills and mountainous areas (Vodno and Skopska Crna Gora) made it possible to create a larger number of settlements in the Skopje Valley as part of the Upper Vardar Region of Macedonia.
Skopje is one of the few city centres in the world that can boast of a deep prehistory and archaeological remains 8000 years old. The archaeological site Tumba Madžari is located in the settlement “Metodija Andonov – Čento” on the “Madžari” street in the Municipality of Gazi Baba. It covers an area of 22,685 m² (2,2685 ha).
The archaeological site today is hardly noticeable, since most of its surface is occupied by houses built in the late sixties and during the seventies of the 20th century. Previously, the mound (tumba) in Madžari dominated the surrounding flat field.
The artefacts from this site are one of the columns of archaeological treasure in the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, located in the central city area of Skopje.
RESEARCH BACKGROUND OF TUMBA MADŽARI
The settlement has been known in the literature since 1961/2, when archaeological surveys for the construction of the new highway, were performed. The first archaeological excavations of the site were carried out back in 1978 by the Museum of Macedonia, which confirmed the existence of the Neolithic settlement within the Anzabegovo-Vršnik Cultural Group. Voislav Sanev, archaeologist from the Museum of Macedonia – Skopje, was the head of the first and most extensive excavations carried out from 1978 to 2000.
Archaeological excavations in 2002 continue as a part of the international project between the CNRS from Paris, France, under the leadership of Catherine Commenge, PhD, the Museum of Macedonia under the leadership of Dragiša Zdravkovski, PhD and in cooperation with the Institute of Art History and Archaeology in the Faculty of Philosophy- Skopje. From 2003 to 2005, the French team worked independently. Within the framework of the international project, along with the archaeological excavations, petrographic, geological, paleobotanical, archaeological analyses, as well as time determination of the site, were also made.
The Museum of Macedonia in 2004 continued the excavations under the leadership of Dragiša Zdravkovski, PhD. From 2008 to 2013, archaeological excavations continued under the leadership of Elena Stojanova-Kanzurova, MA.
CHRONOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL CHARACTER OF TUMBA MADŽARI
Tumba Madžari is one of the longest researched archaeological sites from the Middle Neolithic in Macedonia and is chronologically connected to the VI millennium BC.
The oldest cultural layer of Tumba Madžari chronologically corresponds to the Anzabegovo-Vršnik phase I, i.e. from the end of the Early Neolithic period. The second and the third cultural layer corresponds to the Anzabegovo-Vršnik II and III phase, which are synchronous with the Middle Neolithic.
Most of the archaeological material is from the layer of the Middle Neolithic phase, i.e. the Anzabegovo-Vršnik II and III phases. During that period, the settlement experienced its greatest economic and cultural development. The end of the life in the settlement is at final phase Anzabegovo-Vršnik III, at the beginning of the Late Neolithic, recorded by a small numbers of artefacts. A Late Neolithic stratum was not detected for the time being. It might indicate that the settlement was devastated in the 20th century, or abandoned in the prehistoric period.
ARCHITECTURE OF TUMBA MADŽARI
Tumba Madžari is one of the few Neolithic sites in Macedonia that provides a more detailed picture of the architecture, its internal and external organization, as well as the household inventory.
So far, nine closed units – houses have been determined, belonging to III and II cultural horizons, as well as several partially explored houses, which gave a more detailed picture of the architecture. The basic architecture in Tumba Madžari has a residential character, but its sacral and commercial character is also confirmed. The houses are built in the spirit of the traditions of agricultural communities, i.e. using a construction material of wood, clay, earth, reed and straw. The base of the houses is usually rectangular and square, with the exception of two houses, the base of which is reminiscent of the Cyrillic letter “Г”. The dimensions of the houses are from 4.50 x 6 m to 9 x 9 m.
Ceramic altars – models, featuring a house with an “A-frame” roof, are closest to the image of the roof look of the Neolithic houses.
During the archaeological excavations in Tumba Madžari, a sanctuary of public character has not been found so far, which doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. Archaeological finds, such as sculptural zoomorphic representations and the large anthropomorphic head with cult features, point to the possibility of the existence of such a sanctuary. The large number of ceramic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic altars i.e. and other cult objects, much more point to the existence of a certain sacred space within each household.
CERAMIC PRODUCTION IN TUMBA MADŽARI
Tumba Madžari can undoubtedly be included in the rare Neolithic centres of Macedonia where luxurious ceramics, recognizable for the Upper Vardar Region and the larger area, were created and produced.
The excavations revealed ceramic vessels with various shapes, dimensions and quality of processing. Their surface is often filled with ornaments performed with engraving and embossing techniques. By its form they are usually pots, large-sized pithoi, wide-open cone plates, bowls, cups and other types of dishes, as part of the household inventory for preparing food, its storage, and transport.
Special ceramic vessels, known as “askoi”, have specific aesthetic forms which are a characteristic ceramic product in the Middle Neolithic for this archaeological site.
Tumba Madžari is distinctive, especially through elegant bell-shaped goblets and amphorae with specific,“gourd” forms, made of purified clay and baked at high temperature. Special iconography on the amphora surface is the one with organized fields filled with hatched shapes – leafs, which, in archaeological science, is better known as the “vegetable-floral” style of the Anzabegovo-Vršnik cultural group.
The idea of a spiritual and material culture of the Neolithic population inTumba Madžari, is complemented by unusually interesting ceramic finds with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations, so-called “T-amulets” or “bucrania”, items that resemble tables arranged on four or three legs and other ceramic finds.
THE “GREAT MOTHER” (MAGNA MATER) CULT
Social relations in the Neolithic communities, especially within families, were shaped by the interests of community survival and prosperity, awarding the woman a special social status. She was a powerful inspiration to the Neolithic sculptor who wanted to immortalize her spirit, especially her body, by using natural materials (clay, stone, animal bones) in order to express and emphasize basic physical features and gender elements. The role of the woman as a mother was linked with the cult of fertility, i.e. the so-called cult of the “Great Mother” (Magna Mater) Goddess, exemplified by the ceramic representations on sacrificial altars of both cultural groups on the territory of Macedonia. The representation of a woman was dominant in the artistic repertoire of this type of sacrificial altar of the Anzabegovo-Vršnik cultural group. On the other hand, the representation of a house, which was a symbol of the family as a foundation of the social and economic life, was dominant in the Velušina-Porodin cultural group. The iconography of this cult, with a symbiosis of the female body and the house, was unique in its original artistic expression that distinguishes the Macedonian Neolithic from other Neolithic cultures.
The famous ceramic sculpture of the Great Mother, which was discovered as a whole for the first time among the Neolithic settlements in Macedonia, is what makes Tumba Madzari uniquely identifiable in the Great Mother tradition. It is a specific archaeological mark of the site. This impressive form of an altar with a cult purpose was discovered during the excavations of the first house in Tumba Madzari 1981. A similar whole ceramic sculpture was also discovered in house 5 back in 1987. Larger or smaller fragments of such an altar were found in the other houses in Tumba Madzari. According to the first Tumba Madzari researcher, and later confirmed by other researchers, the impression is that the possession of these altars was the desire and obligation of every family. The altar was probably ordered during the building of the house. Their entry into the new building could be interpreted as its “sanctification”.
Anthropomorphic sculptures are numerous in the Neolithic settlement of Tumba Madzari. The number of excavated female figurines is much higher in comparison with male figurines. They are usually made of clay, but there are also examples made of stone or animal bone. It does not exclude the possibility that some of them may have been made of wood. In the modelling of the human body, the Neolithic master showed great skill and emphasized the physical attributes of fertility.
STOCKBREEDING IN TUMBA MADŽARI
Animals have alway been a part of people’s lives. Looking back in time, people hunted animals, tamed them, used them as a source of food, raw material and labour, or they were raised as pets. Some of the animals were respected as deities or as symbols of their communities within the fertile cults, materialized through painted and sculptural forms.
The results of the analyzed archaeological material from the Tumba Madžari do not bounce back from the tendency of the Middle Neolithic sites in Macedonia: in relation to the structure of stockbreeding and representation of hunting as an important source of food and raw materials. The animal’s hunting is still present, but in a smaller proportion compared to the presence of the already reared animals. Most often hunted animals are aurochs (wild cattle), deer and wild boar and rarely, doe, rabbit, wolf… In the archaeological material of Tumba Madžari, individual specimens of birds, fish and shells were recorded. Regarding the very structure of stockbreeding, sheep and goat remain dominant animals, followed by cattle, pig and dog.
ARCHAEOBOTANY IN TUMBA MADŽARI
The knowledge obtained from the modest archaeobotanic seeds and fruits analysed from Tumba Madžari are comparable to the findings of other Neolithic settlements. There are more data of emmer (Triticum dicoccum). Barley grains were also detected (Hordeum vulgare var nudum), pea’s beans (Pisum sativum), walnut residues, various weed sand some Lathirus seeds. Noteworthy is the “cache“ of pulse seeds (Vicia sp.) or “graorica“ (folk term), found in a child burial outside a Neolithic house in Tumba Madžari. Vicia seeds have great economic significance, mainly as fodder for livestock, but they can also be utilised by humans for medical purposes.