This project is included in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans
Project type: Field school & archaeological excavation. Suitable for both beginner and advanced students as well as those interested in Neolithic archaeology of Europe and the Near East. Individual program and task assignments are available to advanced students.
Site: Neolithic settlement near Ilindentsi, southwestern Bulgaria
Project venue: Blagovesta guest-house in the village of Ilindentsi (district of Blagoevgrad), located in the foothills of the majestic Pirin Mountains (UNESCO World Heritage Site), southwestern Bulgaria. It is 3 km/2 mi away from the municipal transport hub Strumyani, which has a train and bus stop and is 150 km/100 mi from the closest airport, in Sofia. The site is within 10-15 min walking distance of the guest house.
Period(s) of occupation: Early and Middle Balkan Neolithic (6000 - 5500/5400 BCE)
Major field school topics/activities: Archaeological Field Techniques and Methods for Excavation and Documentation; Archaeology of the Balkans during the Neolithic Period (with References to the Archaeology of Europe and the Near East); Neolithic Ceramic Studies and Documentation of Neolithic Pottery; Finds' and Samples’ Processing; Excursions to Significant Heritage Sites in Bulgaria and Greece.
Project Partners: Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF), Bulgaria; Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA; Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History; New Bulgarian University; Municipality of Strumyani (Bulgaria).
Dig director and field school coordinator: Dr. Małgorzata Grębska-Kulova (PhD in Archaeology) archaeologist and curator, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History; adjunct professor, Southwestern University, Bulgaria.
Deputy dig director and field school coordinator: Petar Zidarov (PhD candidate), deputy director of the Laboratory for Archaeometry and Experimental Archaeology, New Bulgarian University; PhD student, Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen (Germany).
Two-week session 1: 12 June - 26 June, 2016
Two-week session 2: 26 June - 10 July, 2016
Application deadline: Until the places are filled or latest 10 May, 2016
Minimum length of stay: Two weeks
Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)
Number of field school places available: Maximum 20
Project language: English
Academic credits available: Students who study in Europe can receive up to 12 ECTS credits through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria. Students who study outside Europe can obtain 12 semester credit units (equivalent to 18 quarter units) through IFR’s academic partner, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension. See more details below!
Experience required: No
Special requirements: Participation in the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities. The average summer temperature in the area is 25-35°C/ 77-95°F. Participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weather but should consider also possible rainy, windy and chilly days. They are expected to prepare for the dig by reading at least the BHFS handbook that will be sent by e-mail before the beginning of the project. Participants will use the tools and equipment available at the site and are not expected to bring any additional equipment.
If you are interested in an even more comprehensive experience with Old World Prehistory, please see also the PREHISTORIC PACK (combining 2 to 3 different Balkan Heritage Field School projects)!
During the 7th millennium BCE, the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway through which farming, animal husbandry and generally Neolithisation spread from Anatolia and the Near East to Europe. Central Balkan river valleys (including the Struma River Valley) were among the most important migration routes during that period. Among the six Early Neolithic settlements mapped in the small Middle Struma Valley is the site of Ilindentsi. The site is located on a high terrace at 250-253 m above sea level at the foot of the Pirin Mountains - the third-highest mountain range on the Balkans. The site – with vertical and horizontal stratigraphy – covers an area of almost three hectares, where the prehistoric cultural layer lies immediately under the topsoil (10 to 20 cm). During previous seasons (2004-2009 and 2011-2015) archaeologists and field school students unearthed remains of Early and Middle Neolithic settlement structures and features. Among them are several dwellings, one with stone foundations, another with elaborate floor construction and an under-floor drainage system. A third structure is completely burnt with well-preserved in situ "kitchen-space" including an oven, quern-stone, grain-storage vessel, and a neolithic grave of a new-born baby along with ritual deposit of a piglet placed next to it. Archaeomagnetic study of fired plaster fragments found there revealed dates between 5753-5696 BCE. In the same structure were found numerous microlith drills, small beads and a waste of bead production: evidence for a small Neolithic workshop which produced adornments, probably not only for domestic needs.
Magnetic gradiometer maps of the site revealed the outlines of burnt houses, pits and some interesting linear features. Excavations in 2011-2015 revealed a Neolithic ditch in the north and a Neolithic well structure in the south where the linear features were initially mapped. The cultural layer was rich with artifacts dated to the first half of 6th millennium BCE: white- and red-on-red painted pottery, anthropomorphic figurines, stone and bone tools and esp. jewels (rings, necklace beads, and bracelets).
Although the possibility of acculturation of an indigenous population can not be completely disregarded at this stage, archaeologists assume that the settlement at Ilindentsi was established by a group of people from the neighboring Neolithic settlement of Kovachevo. The latter is the earliest and largest Neolithic settlement found in the Middle Struma Valley. It was established by people of Anatolian origin (culture Hacilar VI-I) in the late seventh millennium BCE. These migration patterns trace the routes of European Neolithisation and indicate multiple origins. Early farmers likely entered Europe for complex and varied reasons: increased population, limited environmental resources, climate change etc.
Archaeological context: The Neolithic settlement at Ilindentsi, Bulgaria corresponds chronologically (6000 - 5500/5400 BC) to other Balkan, Anatolian and Near Eastern sites and cultures such as: Karanovo I (Eastern Balkans), Achilleon (Southern Balkans), Hacilar VI-I, Çatalhöyük West (Anatolia).
The excavation project at Ilindentsi aims to seek more detailed answers to general questions regarding Balkan and European Neolithic Period:
Research at Ilindentsi aims to address these questions. Our goal is not only to explore migration routes and reasons for European Neolithisation but also the type and history of interactions between different Neolithic groups/farming communities in the Balkans, their technology, and their economic and social organization. More site-specific questions concern the continuity/discontinuity of habitation, borders and spatial organization of the settlement through time.
Since 2011 the the BIRTH OF EUROPE Field School Project has been taking place in Ilindentsi. In 2016 it will focus on excavation of the Neolithic structures and pits discovered during the previous seasons and will help archaeologists to address the research questions mentioned above.
Three field school sessions (2 two-week sessions and 1 four-week session) are available every year. Each two-week session provides the following modules: 1. fieldwork, which includes excavation of the Neolithic settlement and structures; practicing basic excavation techniques as well as screening, sifting and flotation; and the development of archaeological field documentation by maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan/ground plan/cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a total station, and taking photographs at the site; 2. lectures, workshops and field training on prehistoric and field archaeology, Neolithic ceramic studies, finds' and samples’ processing and documentation; 3. excursions to the medieval town of Melnik and Rozhen Monastery on 18 June, 2016 and the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) on 2 July, 2016. The four-week field school session is a logical upgrade of a two-week project session. The participants who join the four-week project session will be able to develop even more skills and competences regarding the field work and finds' and samples’ processing; to attend a series of lectures and lab workshops on Neolithic ceramic studies and all the excursions mentioned above in addition to a tour of Sandanski - a popular spa-resort with archaeological remains from Late Antiquity. An optional tour of Kavala, Phillippi and the Aegean coast (Greece) is available to all students on 26-27, June, 2016 for an additional fee. Students participating in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans can visit Greece for free.
Students who are required to prepare field reports and presentations for their universities can receive additional instruction and assistance.
All participants will receive:
The two-week field school sessions provide a minimum of 90 hours of fieldwork, workshops/lab work, lectures/instructions and guided tours as follows:
The four-week field school session provides a minimum of 180 hours of fieldwork, workshops/lab work, lectures/instructions and guided tours. The four-week session incorporates all of the activities of the two-week session in addition to the following:
Arrival and check-in at Blagovesta Guest House, Ilindentsi by 7.00 pm.
8.00 - 10.00 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.
A pick-up may be arranged from the Sofia airport upon request.
Meeting time/point on arrival date: All participants are expected to arrive either at the project venue: Guest House Blagovesta in Ilindentsi by 7:00 pm or at the bus stop in Strumyani by 6:30 pm on the arrival days - from there they will be given a free lift to the guest house in Ilindentsi. The pick-up is scheduled for 6.30 pm on each of the arrival days! Near the bus stop there is a café/restaurant at hotel Karelia. The local train station is some 300 m away.
Morning: Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School, the program partners and the participants. Ice-breaking and orientation.
6.00 - 6.20 am - Breakfast
6.35 am - 1.00 pm - Fieldwork, including instructions and 30 min break*
1.00-4.30 pm - Lunch and siesta break
4.30/5.00 - 8.00 pm - Lectures/Workshops/Lab work/Finds' processing **
8.00-9.00 pm - Dinner
* In cases of rain, the field school program envisions substitute activities including finds' processing workshops and film projections at the guest-house.*
18 June, 2016: Visit to Rozhen Monastery and the medieval town of Melnik: sightseeing and optional wine-tasting. The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
26-27 June, 2016: Optional two-day trip to Philippi, Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece). Students participating in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans can visit Greece for free. The excursion is available for the other students for an additional fee.
2 July, 2016: Visit to Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History.The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
3 July, 2016: Tour of Sandanski: a popular SPA resort with archaeological remains from Late Antiquity, for participants in the four-week session. This excursion is optional for participants in two-week session and is available for an additional fee of 15 EUR.
Participants who attend the four-week session can attend all the tours.
19 June, 2016
26-27 June, 2016 - for participants in the four-week session.
3 July, 2016 - for participants in two-week session 2.
See details about the Optional tour of Kavala, Phillippi and the Aegean coast (Greece) on 26-27 June, 2016!
The BHFS team can assist with the organization of additional leisure activities for participants upon request.
Departure. Check-out by 12.00 pm
A drop-off transfer may be arranged from Ilindentsi to Sofia upon request.
Boyadzhiev, Y. Early Neolithic Cultures on the Territory of Bulgaria. – In: I. Gatsov, Y. Boyadzhiev (eds.). The first Neolithic Sites in Central/South-East European Transect, vol. I. Early Neolithic Sites on the Territory of Bulgaria. BAR International Series 2048, 2009, 7-43.
Bojadžiev, J. Absolute Chronology of the Neolithic and Eneolithic Cultures in the Valley of Struma.- In: H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich. G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia,2007, 309-316.
Gimbutas, M. Neolithic Macedonia. As reflected by Excavation at Anza, Southeast Yougoslavia. Monumenta Archeologica 1. Los Angeles, 1976.
Grant J., S. Gorin and N. Fleming. The Archaeology Coursebook: an introduction to themes, sites, methods and skills. Routledge. 2008
Grębska-Kulova, M. and I. Kulov. Prehistorical Sites in the Middle Struma River Valley between the End of the VIIth mill. BC and the beginning of the Ist Mill. BC.- In: H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich. G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia,2007, 279-296.
Гребска-Кулова, M. Раннонеолитната култура в долината на Средна Струма, Югозападна България (The Early Neolithic Culture in the Middle Struma (Strymon) River Valley, South-Western Bulgaria)– in: Праисторически проучвания в България: нови предизвикателства (Prehistoric Research in Bulgaria: New Challenges). София, 2008, 56-65. (Abstract in English)
Lichardus-Itten, M. and J.-P. Demoule, L. Perničeva, M. Grebska-Kulova, I. Kulov. The site of Kovacevo and the Beginnings of the Neolithic period in Southwestern Bulgaria. The French-Bulgarian excavations 1986-2000. – In: Beiträge zu Jungsteinzeitlichen Forschungen in Bulgarien. Eds. M. Lichardus-Itten, J. Lichardus, V. Nikolov.Bonn, 2002, 99-158.
Malamidou, D. Kryoneri: a Neolithic and Early Bronze Settlement in the Lower Strymon Valley.- In: H. Todorova, Stefanovich, M. and G. Ivanov (eds.). The Struma/Strymon River Valley in Prehistory. In the Steps of James Harvey Gaul, 2. Sofia, 2007, 297-308.
McIntosh, J. Handbook to Life in Prehistoric Europe. New York, 2006.
Mitrevski, D. Prehistory in Republic of Macedonia-F.Y.R.O.M. – In: D. Grammenos (ed.). Recent Research in the Prehistory of the Balkans. Thessaloniki, 2003, 13-72.
Nikolov, D. Periodization of the Neolithic along the Struma Valley. In: Academia Litterarum Bulgarica.. Thracia XV. In honorem annorium LXX Aleksandri Fol. Serdicae, MMIII, 99-106.
Perlès, C. The Early Neolithic in Greece. The first farming communities in Europe. Cambridge, 2001.
Pernicheva, L. Prehistoric Cultures in the Middle Struma Valley: Neolithic and Eneolithic - In: Prehistoric Bulgaria. Monographs in World Archaeology No 22. Edited by D. Bailey, I. Panayotov, pp. 99-147. Madison Wisconsin, 1995.
Perničeva, L. Prehistory of the Strumešnica valley - In: Śliwa J., Domaradzki, M., (eds.). The lower Strumešnica Valley in prehistoric, ancient and early medieval times. Kraków, 1983, 11-34.
Perničeva, L. and I. Kulov, M. Grebska-Kulova. Early Neolithic House from Bălgarčevo, Blagoevgrad Region (SW Bulgaria). – Archeologia Bulgarica, 2000, 3, 1-10
Weninger, B. and E. Alram-Stern, E. Bauer, L. Clare, U. Danzeglocke, O. Jöris, C. Kubatzki, G. Rollefson, H. Todorova, T. van Andel. Abrupt Climate Forcing Observed at Early Neolithic Sites in South-East Europe and the Near East. – In: The Struma River Valley in Prehistory. H. Todorova, M. Stefanovich, G. Ivanov (eds.), Sofia, 2007, 7-28.
Čochadžiev, S. and V. Genadieva. Contribution to the Study of the Early Neolithic Age in the Struma River Basin. - In: M. Stefanovič, H. Todorova, H. Hauptmann (Hrsg.). James Harvey Gaul in Memoriam 1. Sofia, 1998, 79-89.
Project venue: Blagovesta Guest House in the village of Ilindentsi (district of Blagoevgrad), located in the foothills of the majestic Pirin Mountains (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in southwestern Bulgaria. It is 3 km/2 mi away of the municipal transport hub Strumyani, which has a train and bus stop. The excavation site is situated about 1 km away from Blagovesta Guest House. Participants will be expected to walk to the site and back to the guest house during the workdays. The walk takes approximately 15 minutes. All site trenches are protected from the sun by sheds. The site has no running water or electricity nearby but there is a field latrine.
The nearest air terminals: Sofia (Bulgaria, 150 km) and Thessaloniki (Greece, 170 km) - don't forget to check the low-cost flight options!
How to get there? If participants arrive at the Sofia airport, a transfer to the field school venue in Ilindentsi may be arranged by request (please, specify this in your application form!). Individual or group transfer prices may vary, depending on the number of passengers, from 30 to 100 EUR. Participants who individually arrange their travel will be expected to arrive on the arrival day in Strumyani by 6.30 pm. From there (the meeting point is the bus stop in Strumyani) they will be given a free ride to Ilindentsi. Direct bus lines and trains connect the village of Strumyani with the town of Sandanski (bus and train station, 16 km away from Ilindentsi) and the Bulgarian capital Sofia (150 km away from Ilindentsi). Strumyani may also be reached from Thessaloniki (Greece) by either train (stop in Sandanski) or by bus (stop in Strumyani only by request). A detailed travel-info sheet will be provided to enrolled students.
Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria or any of Bulgaria’s neighboring countries for up to 90 days, with the exception of Turkey. However, the Turkish government facilitates tourism by providing the option for obtaining an e-visa at www.evisa.gov.tr/en/. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page.
Accommodation: In comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC) in the Blagovesta Guest House, which also provides cheap laundry services and free Wi-Fi. Participants are not expected to bring any additional equipment, bedclothes or towels. Staying an extra day at the guest house costs 15 EUR. Single rooms in the guest-house are limited but available upon request for the supplement of 120 EUR per week.
*See all accommodation options on our Information page!
Meals: Three meals (Balkan cuisine) per day are provided. Meals usually take place in the guest-house garden. Brown-bag lunches are provided during the excursions and days off. This field school can accommodate vegetarians, vegans and individuals with lactose-intolerance. Kosher and gluten-free restrictions are impossible to accommodate in this location.
*Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!
Free time: Guided visits to the medieval town of Melnik, Rozhen Monastery, the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) as well as the town of Sandanski (a popular spa-resort with archaeological remains from Late Antiquity) are part of the field school program and are covered by the admission fee. The village of Ilindentsi offers great opportunities for mountain hikes in the Pirin Mountains, walks in the Art Center Ilindentsi and wine-tasting of local wines at Kiossev Boutique Wine Cellar.
Extra trips and excursions: The BHFS participants can take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take part in the optional excursion to Philippi, Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece) available to all students for an additional fee. Students participating in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans can visit Greece for free (Please follow the link above for the excursion's details and information on how to join!).
Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, just like Bulgarian citizens, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.
Weather: South-European (Mediterranean) climate with hot summers (30-40° C) dominates in the region. Rainy and chillier days in this season are not unheard of.
What to bring?
Excavation & documentation tools and materials, as well as working gloves are available at the site!
The admission fee is valid only for students who enroll in this field school through the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS). Students wishing to benefit from the advantages of the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans shall enroll through the Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA and pay different admission fees corresponding to the IFR's terms and conditions.
BHFS admission fee includes: Educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project handbook and issue of Certificate of Attendance, administrative costs and excursions included in the field school program plus relevant entrance fees.
The fees in USD are approximate. Please check current exchange rates!
Super Early Bird Admission fee for two-week session is 1104 EUR / app.1159 USD. SAVE 195 EUR / 210 USD
Super Early Bird Admission fee for four-week session is 2208 EUR / app.2329 USD. SAVE 260 EUR / 280 USD
Early Bird Admission fee for two-week session is 1169 EUR / app.1229 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 140 USD
Early Bird Admission fee for four-week session is 2338 EUR / app.2469 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 140 USD
The regular admission fee for two-week session is 1299 EUR / app.1359 USD
The regular admission fee for four-week session is 2468 EUR / app. 2609 USD
*(please check current exchange rates!)
Admission Fee Transfer Options:
- Bank transfer
- Online transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.
For further information contact Admissions Office at: firstname.lastname@example.org!
* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:
* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:
* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:
* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:
NOTE, 5% OF EVERY ADMISSION FEE FOR THIS PROJECT DIRECTLY SUPPORTS THE BALKAN HERITAGE PROTECTION FUND'S ACTIVITIES!