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.
The excavation started: 2004; The field school started: 2011
Site: Neolithic settlement near Ilindentsi, southwestern Bulgaria
Project venue: 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: Archaeology of the Neolithic period (with references to the archaeology of Europe and the Near East); Excavations of the Neolithic settlement in Ilindentsi; Neolithic ceramic studies and documentation of Neolithic pottery; Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Processing of finds and samples; Excursions to significant heritage sites in Bulgaria and Greece.
BHF partners in this project: Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History; New Bulgarian University; Municipality of Strumyani (Bulgaria) and Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA; .
Dig co-director and field school coordinator: Dr. Małgorzata Grębska-Kulova (PhD in Archaeology) archaeologist and curator, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, Bulgaria.
Dig co-director: Petar Zidarov (PhD candidate), deputy director of the Laboratory for Archaeometry and Experimental Archaeology, New Bulgarian University; PhD student, Eberhard Karls University, Tuebingen (Germany).
Application deadline: Until the places are filled or 10 May, 2018
Minimum length of stay: Two weeks
Field school sessions available:
Minimum age: 18 (16, if the participant is accompanied by an adult family member)
Number of field school places available: Maximum 15
Project language: English
Academic credits available: Students who study in Europe can receive up to 9 ECTS credits through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria. Students who study outside Europe can obtain 8 semester credit units (equivalent to 12 quarter units) through IFR’s academic partner, Connecticut College. See more details below!
Experience required: None for applicants for Session 1 and/or 3. However, applicants for Session 2 are expected to have at least two weeks of archaeological field experience prior to their participation in this session.
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 toiletries 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 wide-ranging experience with Old World Prehistory, please see also the PREHISTORIC PACK (combining 2 to 3 different Balkan Heritage Field School projects)!
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During the 7th millennium BCE, the Balkan Peninsula was a gateway through which farming, animal husbandry and 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 in the Balkans and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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 2011-2017) 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 under-floor drainage systems. A third structure is completely burnt with well preserved in situ "kitchen-space" including an oven, grain-storage pit and a Neolithic grave of a new-born baby. The settlement was protected by a clay coated stone wall and a ditch in the central area and by a wooden palisade along its southern border. 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 map of the site shows two anomalies in the southern and northern parts. Excavations in 2011-2017 revealed a system of concentric trenches around the Neolithic ditch (their purpose remains unclear) and a Neolithic well structure in the south. 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 7th 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:
The ongoing research and field school project at Ilindentsi aim 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 2018, archaeologists and field school participants will take part in further excavation of two Neolithic buildings (one of them holds remains of stone-wall foundations, a rare example of stone architecture in the Neolithic Balkans).
There are three field school sessions (two consecutive two-week sessions and one four-week session) available. Each of them covers the following three 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 findings, taking coordinates with a total station, and taking photographs at the site; 2. lectures, workshops and field training on prehistoric and field archaeology, findings and samples processing and documentation; 3. excursions to the medieval town of Melnik and Rozhen Monastery; the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Sandanski - a popular spa resort with archaeological remains from Late Antiquity; as well as the optional tour of the ancient Philippi (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Aegean coastal town of Kavala, Greece.
Session 1 is an excellent opportunity for beginners who will be introduced to the methodology and theoretical knowledge needed for engaging in an archaeological excavation of a prehistoric settlement, with an emphasis on the archaeology of the Neolithic Balkans and the Near East. The Session 2 is ideal for participants with some (at least two weeks) field experience who will be able to develop more skills and competences regarding the field work as well as findings and samples processing; and to attend workshops on 3D intra-site modelling and documentation/GIS spatial analysis in archaeology as well as Neolithic ceramic studies. Each two-week session includes 10 working days, 1 day for orientation and introduction; 1 day for excursion; and 1 day-off plus arrival & departure day. The Session 3 is a well designed combination of Session 1 and Session 2 with 20 working days, 2 excursion days; 4 days off (one of them with an optional excursion) and plus arrival & departure day.
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 Sessions 1 and 2 provide a minimum of 90 hours and the four-week Session 3 provides a minimum of 180 hours of fieldwork, workshops/lab work, lectures/instructions and guided tours as follows:
SESSIONS 1 and 3:
SESSIONS 2 and 3:
All field school participants can join the optional tour of Phillippi (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece) for an additional fee
Arrival dates for Sessions 1 and 3 - 20 May; for Session 2 - 3 June
Arrival and check-in at Blagovesta Guest House, Ilindentsi by 7.00 pm.
8.00 - 10.00 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.
A shuttle or taxi 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.
6.00 - 6.20 am - Breakfast
6.20 - 6.35 am - Walk to the site
6.35 am - 1.00 pm - Fieldwork, including instructions and 30 min break*
1.00 - 1.15 pm - Walk to the guest-house
1.00-4.00/4.30 pm - Lunch and siesta break
4.00/4.30 - 7.30 pm - Lectures/Workshops/Lab work/Finds' processing **
7.30-8.30 pm - Dinner
* In cases of rain, the field school program provides substitute activities including finds' processing workshops and film projections at the guest-house.
27 May, 3-4 June (only for participants in the four-week Session 3), 10 June, 2018
See details about the optional tour to Greece on 3-4.06.2018!
The BHFS team can assist with the organization of additional leisure activities for participants upon request.
26 May, 2018: Visit to Rozhen Monastery and the medieval town of Melnik: sightseeing and optional wine-tasting. The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
3-4 June, 2018: Optional two-day trip to Philippi (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece). Participation to the excursion is open to all students for an additional fee
9 June, 2018: Visit to Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History. The excursion is covered by the admission fee.
10 June, 2018: Tour of Sandanski: a popular SPA resort with archaeological remains from Late Antiquity.
Participants who attend the Session 3 will be able to attend all the tours!
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 Yugoslavia. 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.
Gurova, M. Bonsall, C. Lithic studies an alternative approach to Neolithization. – Bulgarian e-Journal of Archaeology, vol. 4, 2014, 104-135.
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/ 93 mi) and Thessaloniki (Greece, 170 km/ 105 mi) - don't forget to check the low-cost flight options!
How to get there? If participants arrive at the Sofia airport, a shuttle (only for Sessions 1 and 3) or taxi transfer to the field school venue in Ilindentsi may be arranged by request.
Please, specify this in your application form!. Individual or group transfer taxi prices may vary, depending on the number of passengers, from 30 to 90 EUR. The shuttle fee is 35 EUR per person. 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. 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, WC, TV and AC) in the Blagovesta Guest House, which also provides cheap laundry services and free Wi-Fi. Participants are not expected to bring any additional equipment, bed linens or towels. Staying an extra day at the guest house costs 20 EUR. Single rooms in the guest-house are limited but available upon request for the supplement of 100 EUR per week.
Meals: Three meals (Bulgarian homemade food) per day are covered by the admission fee. 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: 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 (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kavala and the Aegean coast (Greece) available to all students for an additional fee.
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, 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, 86-104°F) 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 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 any two-week session is 1147 EUR/ approx. 1376 USD
Super Early Bird Admission fee for four-week session is 2293 EUR/ approx. 2751 USD
Early Bird Admission fee for two week project session is 1214 EUR/ approx.1456 USD
Early Bird Admission fee for four week project session is 2428 EUR/ approx. 2913 USD
The regular admission fee for two week project session is 1349 EUR / approx.1618 USD
The regular admission fee for four week project session is 2563 EUR/ approx. 3075 USD
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: [email protected]!
* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available for:
* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available for:
* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available for:
* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available for:
NOTE, 5% OF EVERY ADMISSION FEE FOR THIS PROJECT DIRECTLY SUPPORTS THE BALKAN HERITAGE PROTECTION FUND'S ACTIVITIES!