The Birth of Europe - Excavations of the Neolithic Settlement Ilindentsi

Period: Early and Middle Balkan Neolithic (6000-5500 BC)
Code: BEBG.EXC 16
Session 1: 11 June - 25 June, 2016
Session 2: 26 June - 10 July, 2016
Academic credits available: up to 9
Admission fee starting from:

The Project and the Course

General Information

This project is included in the BHF-IFR Program for the Balkans   

Project type: field school & archaeological excavation. The variety of activities and the team's professionalism and flexibility make this project suitable for both beginners and advanced in either Field or Prehistoric Archaeology. Individual program and task assignment are available to advanced students.

Site: Prehistoric settlement near Ilindentsi, Southwestern Bulgaria   

Project VenueBlagovesta guest-house in the village of Ilindentsi (district of Blagoevgrad), located (3 km away from the municipal transport hub Strumyani having a train and bus stop) in the foothills of the majestic Pirin Mountains (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Southwestern Bulgaria. The site is within 10-15 min walking distance from the guest house.   

Period(s) of occupation: Early and Middle Balkan Neolithic (6000 - 5500/5400 BC)      

Collaborating Universities & Institutions: Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF), Bulgaria and Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History; New Bulgarian University; Municipality of Strumyani (Bulgaria)   

Dig director and field school coordinator: Malgorzata Grebska-Kulov (PhD in Archaeology) archaeologist and curator, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History; adjunct professor, SW Uinversity, 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 at Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen (Germany)

Field school session 1: 13 June - 27 June, 2015

Field school session 2: 28 June - 12 July, 2015

Application Deadlines: until the places are filled, or latest 10 May, 2015   

Minimum length of stay: 1 session (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

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 temperatures in the area are 25-38 C or higher. All participants should bring clothes and cosmetics suitable for hot and sunny weather. All participants are expected to prepare for the dig by reading (at least) the BHFS handbook chapter about archaeological excavation techniques and methods (the BHFS e-handbook will be sent by e-mail to all registered students 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 two different Balkan Heritage Field School projects)!

The Site and the Excavation Project

In the seventh millenium BC the Balkan Peninsula was a gate through which farming, animal husbandry and generally Neolithisation spread to Europe from Anatolia and the Near East. Central parts of the Balkans (including the Struma River Valley) were among the most important migration routes during that period. Six Early Neolithic settlements are mapped in the small Middle Struma Valley. One of them is the prehistoric site near Ilindentsi. It is located on a high terrace at 250-253 m above sea-level in the Struma River Valley and at the foot of the Pirin Mountains - the third-highest range on the Balkans. The site (with vertical and horizontal stratigraphy) covers a territory of almost three hectares, where the prehistoric cultural layer surprisingly lies immediately under the topsoil humus (10 to 20 cm). During the previous seasons: 2004-2009 and 2011-2014 archaeologists unearthed there remains of Early and Middle Neolithic settlement structures and features. Among them are several dwellings: one of them with stone foundations, another one with elaborate floor construction and under-floor drainage systems and a third one completely burnt with well preserved in situ "kitchen-space" including an oven, grain-store, quern-stone and what is more two Neolithic grave-pits: of a baby and a piglet and numerous waste pits.The geomagnetic map of the site created in 2010 shows some anomalies (so called Southern and Northern) that are found very intriguing by the the archaeologists. Excavations in 2011-2014 revealed the reasons for these anomalies: a Neolithic ditch and a palisade in the North and a Neolithic well structure in the South. The culture layer (app. 0,70-1.00 m thick throughout the excavated surface) was so far rich with artifacts such as white- and red on red painted pottery, anthropomorphic figurines, stone and bone tools and esp. jewels (rings, necklace beads, bracelets) all of which are dated to the first half of 6th millenium BC (archeomagnetic studies of fired plaster fragments found in one of the dwellings allow us to date its existence as between 5957 - 5689 BC). In the same burnt house's context were found numerous microlite bores and small beads (some of which were disposed as waste) - an evidence for a small Neolithic workshop producing adornments most probably not only for domestic needs.

Although the possibility for acculturation of indigenious population can not be completely disregarded at this stage, scholars assume that the Neolithic settlement near Ilindentsi was established by groups of people, coming from the earliest and the largest Early Neolithic settlement in the Valley, found near the village of Kovachevo. Thank to the results of a 20-year long Bulgarian-French Excavation Project in Kovachevo there is abundant evidence showing that the first inhabitants of that settlement were people of Anatolian origin. These migration patterns that traced the routes of European Neolithisation had various and complex reasons: increased population, limited environmental resources, climate change etc.   

Archaeological context: The Neolithic settlement in 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, Catalhoyuk - Western Tell (Anatolia).



The excavation project at Ilindentsi aims to seek more detailed answers of either general questions regarding Balkan and European Prehistory:

  • who were the first European farmers?
  • what made them migrate to Europe?
  • did they find indigenous populations in the Balkans?
  • how did their societies function and develop?
  • how did their everyday life look like?
  • did they keep connections with their Anatolian homeland?

or more site-related problems such as:

  • how long did people inhabit the Neolithic settlement and are there any interruptions in the settlement history?    
  • were they basically farmers or did they have any other "specialization"?
  • what are the borders of the settlement in the course of time and reasons for horizontal stragraphy?
  • was the ditch and the fence surrounding the entire settlement or one of its parts? Were they to protect humans and domesticated animals from wild animals or other humans?    

The Field School

In 2015 the BIRTH OF EUROPE Field School Project (2011-2017) envisions further excavation of the Neolithic dwellings and their surroundings. Two field school sessions are available every year and each includes the following three modules: fieldwork including excavation of the Neolithic structures, maintaining a field journal on a daily basis, filling context sheets and labels, drawing an elevation plan/ a ground plan/ a cross-section, 3D positioning of finds, taking coordinates with a total station, and taking photographs at the site; lectures, workshops and field training in Prehistoric and Field Archaeology, Finds' Processing and Documentationas well as excursions to the medieval town of Melnik and Rozhen Monastery in the first field school session and to the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the second field school session.

The participants who join the two project sessions (1&2) will be able to develop further their skills and competences regarding the field work and finds processing, gained during the first two-week session and to attend a number of extra lectures, workshops (with an emphasis on Neolithic Ceramic Studies) and all the excursions mentioned above plus tour of Sandanski - a popular SPA resort,keeping archaeological remains from the Late Antiquity.   


All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail and a hard copy on arrival);
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.

The Program

50 astronomical hours of fieldwork per session;

25 astronomical hours of Lectures (L) , Workshops (W), Guided Tours (GT) and Field Instructions & Training (FIT) during the first session:         

  • Emergence of Early Farming in the Near East and Europe: Causes and Consequence (L);
  • The Early Neolithic Site at Ilindentsi and Its Geographic and Cultural Environment (L);
  • From the Field to the Storage: Review of Basic Methods for Uncovering, "First Aid", Consolidation in Situ, Cleaning, Sorting, Labeling, Documenting and Storing Ceramic Artifacts (L);
  • Early Neolithic Pottery in Southwestern Bulgaria (L);
  • Dating Methods for Prehistoric Sites (L);
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Excavation and Documentation (FIT);
  • Use of Tools and Working Techniques (FIT);
  • Introduction to the Field Journal; Contextual Sheets, Log Book and Other Forms (FIT);
  • Three Dimensional Positioning of Finds, Features and Structures (L);
  • How to Use a Total Station? (FIT);
  • Stratigraphy: Horizontal and Vertical (L);      
  • Field Graphic and Photographic Documentation:
    • How to Draw a Ground-plan/elevation-plan/Cross-section Using Scale (FIT);
    • Photography for Archaeologists (FIT);
  • Excavations Preparation. Preliminary Indoor Research (L);
  • Field Reconnaissance Survey. Geophysical (Electrical and Magnetic) Methods in Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey (L);    
  • Excavation completion. Post excavation work and analyses;
  • Finds Processing and Flotation of Soil Samples (W);
  • History and archaeology of Melnik (GT).


Only for students in the two project sessions (1&2)

25 astronomical hours of Lectures (L) , Workshops (W) , Guided Tours (GT) and Field Instructions & Training (FIT) during the second session:

  • Artifact Recording and Illustration: Prehistoric Pottery (W);
  • Technology of Production of Stone and Bone Tools during the Neolithic Period in Europe (L);
  • Introduction to the Neolithic Ceramic Studies - (W series);
  • Standards in Archaeological Reports And Publications (L);
  • Finds Processing and Flotation of Soil Samples (W);
  • History of Rila Monastery (GT);
  • History and archaeology of Sandanski (GT).


  • Fieldwork - expect to perform all types of fieldwork at the site, from digging, vacuum cleaning and brushing to mapping and sampling as well as finds processing along with lab work.
  • Lectures will take place at Hotel Primavera 2 and the site.
  • Workshops will take place at the site.
  • Field instructions and training - will take place at the site.

The Agenda


First day

Arrival at Ilindentsi by 7.00 pm

8.00 - 10.00 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.


A pick-up transfer may be arranged from the Sofia airport upon request.   

Arrival dates: Session 1 - 13 June, 2015; Session 2 – 28 June, 2015

Meeting time/point on arrival date: All participants are expected to arrive either straight 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. 

Second day

Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and collaborating universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breaking and orientation. Lectures.

Day-off for participants, who are attending the two project sessions during the second session.

Work days

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 rare cases of rain, the project program envisions substitute activities including finds processing workshops and film projections at the guest-house.

** Lectures and workshops in the area of Prehistory and Field Archaeology.


The BHFS team could organize/assist organization of various leisure activities for participants during their free time such as hiking, wine-tasting, movies etc.

Mid-session weekends (Saturdays)

The first session’s Saturday: Visit to the Rozhen Monastery and the medieval town of Melnik: sightseeing and optional wine-tasting.

The second session’s Saturday: Visit to the Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History.

Participants who attend the two project sessions will join all the tours.

Mid-session weekends (Sundays)


Visit to Sandanski for participants, who join the two project sessions during the second session.

Last day

Departure. Check-out by 12.00 pm


A drop-off transfer may be arranged from Ilindentsi to Sofia upon request.   

Departure dates: Session 1 - 27 June, 2015; Session 2 - 12 July, 2015

Reading Background   


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 Transcet, 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 Cultureinthe Middle Struma(Strymon) RiverValley, South-WesternBulgaria)– in: Праисторически проучвания в България: нови предизвикателства (Prehistoric Research in Bulgaria: NewChallenges). 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. and 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.

Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities



The nearest air terminals: Sofia (Bulgaria, 150 km) and Thessaloniki (Greece, 170 km) - don't forget checking the low cost flight options! 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 transfers' price may vary depending on number of passengers from 30 to 100 EUR.

How to get there? Participants who arrange individually 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 lift 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 be reached also from Thessaloniki (Greece) by either train (stop in Sandanski) or by bus (stop in Strumyani only by request). 


Accommodation & Meals


Accommodation: in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC) in a local guest house, which also provides a cheap laundry service 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 100 EUR per week. Higher class single-room accommodation is also available at Kiossev Boutique Wine Cellar for the supplement of 180 EUR per week.   

*See all accommodation options on our Information page!


Meals: three meals (fresh, organic Bulgarian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place in the guest-house garden. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Brown-bag-lunches during the excursions and days-off.

*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 & Trips


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,keeping archaeological remains from the 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 could take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take part in the optional excursions to:

1. Philippi, Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece) available only for students in this field school project between the first and the second session on 27-28 June, 2015.

2. Istanbul and Troy (Turkey) on 6-10 June, 2015 available for all BHFS students.   

*Please follow the links above for excursion details and information on how to join!   


Technicalities & Practicalities


Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is necessary to arrange your own 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 dominates in the field school area, making summers hot (30-40 C). Rainy and chilly days in this season are rare but not excluded.

What to bring?

  • A pair of working shoes (sneakers, running shoes) and a pair of comfortable shoes for walking/hiking;
  • Clothing suitable for an outdoor working environment: sun-hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects), including a light raincoat (consider weather conditions - hot and sunny, but rain may fall as well);
  • Medication - only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.   
  • Don’t forget to bring a converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed.
  • A good attitude for work, fun, study and discoveries ;)
  • Excavation & Documentation tools and materials are available at the site.

The Admission Fee   


The Admission fee includes: educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project Handbook, issue of Certificate of Attendance, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and administrative costs.

The price in USD is for orientation. Please check current exchange rates! 


Super Early Bird Special - by November 30, 2014:


Super Early Bird Admission fee for one project session is 1104 EUR / app.1239 USD. SAVE 195 EUR / 220 USD

Super Early Bird Admission fee for for two project sessions is 2208 EUR / app.2479 USD. SAVE 260 EUR / 300 USD


Early Bird Special - from December 1, 2014 until January 31, 2015:


Early Bird Admission fee for one project session is 1169 EUR / app.1309 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 150 USD

Early Bird Admission fee for two project sessions is 2338 EUR / app.2629 USD. SAVE 130 EUR / 150 USD


   Regular admission fee - after January 31, 2015:


The regular admission fee for one session is 1299 EUR / app.1449 USD

The regular admission fee for two project sessions is 2468 EUR / app. 2779 USD (including 5% discount for participation in 2 project sessions!)


*(please check current exchange rates!)    


Admission Fee Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- On-line transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.

For further information contact Admissions Office at: bhfs.admissions@gmail.com!


Discounts off the regular admission fee:


* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in more than 1 BHFS project or project session in 2015. (5% discount is valid for all projects/sessions to be attended).
  2. Membership in the Archaeological Institute of America.

* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in any BHFS project/s in the past.

* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in one project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant)).

* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate together in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant for all projects/ sessions to be attended)).
  2. BHFS alumni, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015. (15% discount is valid only for the second, third etc. project/session to be attended).
  3. BHFS alumni, who participated successfully in at least two sessions of this project in the past.



For more information about scholarships, low-cost flights, hotels, etc. please feel free to contact us or look at our recommended links

Academic Credits   


CREDIT HOURS: New Bulgarian University grants 6 credits to students for participation in one project session and 9 credits for participation in two sessions. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. For details please read the Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records!

Tuition fee: starting from 282 EUR for six ECTF credits




The Birth of Europe - Excavations of the Neolithic Settlement Ilindentsi

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