BELGRADE – There existed once very long ago, 7,000 years in fact, a small community on the mountainous Balkans, which discovered the beauty of the world by touching nature! This could be the start of a story about Serbian archeologist Miljana Radivojević about world metallurgy and Serbia as the cradle of that metallurgy, as she told the House of Good News on her return from London.
But Miljana’s road to this scientific truth and her most beautiful archeological fairy tale she wants to tell began a long time before her analytical confirmation that the residents of the Vinča settlements near Belgrade knew about the complex technology of processing metal 7,000 years ago. The road began when Miljana was 15 and was dedicated to the struggle for her dream!
“At the age of fifteen I wrote my first essay for the Petnica Research Station, at an archeology seminar. I was tasked with writing about cooper tools found at the Pločnik site near my hometown of Prokupje and to discuss why they were of the Vinča culture, because their provenance was not yet certain,” Miljana said.
The topic of how and why metal is formed at Vinča has followed her ever since. She began co-operating with the local museum, initially reading literature, and then getting involved in research at Pločnik. Julka Kuzmanović Cvetković, the director of the Toplice Museum in Prokuplje, and archeologist Dušan Šljivar, MSc, of the National Museum in Belgrade, helped her in her work. The team, which helped her when she was just 15, is now at the centre of a large international team in Serbia.
How did your love for archeology start?
She was a real nerd, she says, she loved to learn and always attended extracurricular activities. She was given an essay to write when she was in the eighth grade, went to the museum in Prokuplje, all full of herself, and boldly asked Julka: “I would like to borrow books to write a work of science!” The work dealt with the Caričin Grad locality near Leskovac and Miljana won the first prize.
Later, in secondary school, there was a competition to attend the Petnica Research Centre, to which the application was sent by Julka, already her mentor. Initially she was quite reluctant to go, because there were financial difficulties, but when she went, from day one she understood it would be her calling. From her first steps at Petnica, all the books she read and works she wrote were focused on the Vinča culture, metallurgy and the mystery about its exact age. It followed her during her studies of archeology, she graduated on that subject, began post-graduate studies...However, she reached a point where there was nothing more she could learn about architecture at the faculty, and she wanted to go farther.
From Petnica to London
She learnt via the Internet about the Institute of Archeology at the prestigious University College of London (UCL) and decided to take materials she was working on to the Institute and try and do better technological analyses of artifacts found at Belovode, in eastern Serbia. She learnt about professor Till Rearen, one of the leading world experts in aracheometallurgy, employed at the Institute, sent him an e-mail, wrote that she lacked funding, but explained to him what she wanted. She traveled to London, and after an interview got a position and a scholarship.
With will she performed an analysis of the material (slag) and the die was cast! After that she began conceiving and realising a larger international project.
She says that from the very start she did not want to fall into the trap of looking at the archeological story ‘Serbocentrically’.
This she avoided, she says, by assembling an international team of experts, containing experts with opposing academic opinions, some believing that the Middle East rather than Serbia was the cradle of metallurgy.
”It’s an interesting story about the clash between the two sides, which was done on purpose. It was the political part of me that thought how we could ensure some good discussions and an impartial approach to the research...To put together two sides who think differently, in order to ensure that those who are observing do so with different eyes and try to agree on an interpretation,” she told us.
Why did the People of Vinča Cast Metal Seven Millennia Ago?
Miljana does not seek to emphasise the story about the oldest sources of metallurgy, because it has been confirmed by dates, but to tell a story – how and why the people of that age were more creative and more in touch with nature than is the case now and why it was the people of Vinča who were the first to smelt metal?
She says three sites are being investigated, each of which corresponds to a certain link in the chain of production. One is Jarmovac near Priboj na Limu, mine shafts linked with a Vinča culture settlement, and that should be a miners’ settlement. The site of Belovode near Petrovac and Mlavi, where copper smelting remains were found in the form of slag, is the production segment – the site where metal was produced, and, finally, Pločnik near Prokuplje, where the metal was consumed and re-smelted.
Chain of Production of Metal
This means that there was a chain of production of metal. The said three sites have been identified as the most important and are now being investigated.
The researchers want to discover when human beings smelted metal, what forced them to experiment, what were the rituals surrounding the process, did they dance, sing around the fire, did they assemble in a courtyard, were they impressed by throwing malachite into a fire to produce a green flame and be wonderful for campfire stories.
We are interested in knowing whether women made malachite beads, and men smelted copper? We believe there was a workshop producing malachite beads, because there are a lot of tiny green remains from workings, but there is also another type of malachite which we believe was used for smelting. We haven’t found the ‘grand master’ yet, but we are hoping.
The Magical Green Flame of Malachite
“We believe that there was a hole in the ground lined with ceramic material to keep the heat, and that ore and coal were added, with the use of blowing devices, and the process could last several hours.. Coal would be added constantly, and the malachite emitted a green flame, magical at night,” says Miljana, claiming that people were no less clever and intelligent then than they are now but quite the contrary, much more mobile and willing to experiment with what they found in nature.
“I believe it was a group activity, because more than one set of bellows would be needed to raise the temperature to the 1,100 degrees needed for smelting,” she says.
It’s a fascinating story, because by all of their microscopic analyses, as well as use of standard archeological research methods, the team of experts will try to reach intricate details in order to discover creativity, ideas and the knowledge the people of Vinča had and used.
It is an interesting medley of stories: how the tradition was transmitted, from one generation to the next, between sites, is everything identical or not, were they artisan families who travelled, or who lived in a single village.
“Our research now relies on last year’s archeological probe in which we found remains of the processing of metal, and in the second part we found a facility which could be housing. There are also several pits, scattered vessels and a lot of malachite used for making beads (jewellery) as well another type of malachite, a black and green malachite we believe was used for smelting copper,” Miljana told us.
Serbia in the Focus of the World Archeological Public
Why is this project important for science, Serbia and contemporary humanity?
Miljana told us that the project was important because Serbia was currently in the focus of the archeological public and is beginning to reveal itself academically. Some 500,000 pounds have been set aside for the project, she said.
Miljana’s role is comprehensive – she is the creator of the project, its manager, and its PR.
Her story about how she conceived the project is picturesque. She conceived of a situation in which she had all the money in the world and a possibility of choosing the best experts. She drew circles on a piece of paper and said: “I want this researcher here and that one there,” and was fortunate in having many of those people close to her, while he reached others via acquaintances. All of them agreed to be part of the team very quickly, because they liked the entire idea.
We Should Learn from Our Prehistoric Ancestors
We are used to living in a comfortable material world, alienated from nature; we should learn from our prehistoric ancestors that we should communicate with nature, understand nature, because discovering the world is the beginning of everything we have now and will have in the future, Miljana told us.
Good News – the Biggest Investment in Serbian Archeology
I am trying to place this good news among all the other good news that you hear. This is a brilliant project, primarily because we are bringing in funds. It is important that the money is used to pay workers, local experts. It’s one of the biggest investments ever in Serbian archeology and that is good news, but you also have other good news ... for example the birth of a child ... or Theodore won another medal. There are many nice news, it all depends on the angle from which you view life. For me the metallurgy of Vinča is good news and I am working on it as if it is the most important thing in the world, says Miljana, adding that she expected as the ultimate aim development of cultural tourism, that a workshop is conceived at some archeological interpretations, how metal was once smelted, and for it to be a cultural attraction. For example, it would be great if there were tours for tourists – following the roads of metallurgy, that would attract many foreign visitors.
More about Miljana
Throughout her studies Miljana was a member of the Association of Students of the Philosophical Faculty of Belgrade University (BU), a student pro-rector of BU. She participated in drafting the Law on Higher Education, students’ standard of living, she conceived the project of introducing civilian service at the University, where she managed to get about 3,000 conscript soldiers to teach and hold free classes during their civilian military service...
Source: House of Good News