Tag Archives: archeology

Early Albanian Documents

Author: Edwin Jacques

The earliest evidence of the existence of Albanian-language literature is a written statement by the French Dominican Father Brocardus, then Archbishop of Tivar. In a written report in Latin in 1332 he said, “Although the Arbërs (Albanians) have a language different from Latin, still they have Albanian letters in daily use, as well as in all their books.” From this it becomes evident that the Albanian language was in common use and written with the Latin alphabet at least as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Marin Barleti, the famous historian and biographer of Skanderbeg wrote in his Latin work of 1504 entitled The Siege of Shkodra, “I have recently gotten hold of certain annals — fragments rather than annals — which, based on the legend, speak about the reconstruction rather than the construction of this city. In them we read in the native language that a certain ‘Roza and his sister were the founders of the city of Shkodra’ “. This famous legend of the Rozafat fortress written “in the native language” would have been written not in Latin, but in Albanian. Unfortunately, “all their books” have been lost, either because of the contemporary Stephen Dushan’s determination to eradicate heretical Roman Catholicism from his Orthodox realm, or because of the Ottoman determination to eradicate all evidence of Albanian culture from their domain.

While most written documents in the Albanian language were lost forever, a few did survive outside the country in various archives and libraries. Thus in 1915 the Romanian scholar Nicola Jorga discovered in the Laurentian Library of Florence a circular letter written in 1462 by Pal Engjëll (1416-1470), the Catholic Archbishop of Durrës. Engjëll enjoyed the trust and respect of all Albanians, was a close collaborator of Skanderbeg and frequently traveled abroad as Skanderbeg’s envoy to secure the aid of allies against the Ottomans.

While Engjëll’s text was in Latin, it contained a one-sentence formula in the Albanian language, which Albanian parents could pronounce in baptizing their dying children.

The early text reads, “Un te paghesont pr’ emenit Atit e t’birit e t’ spertit senit.” This is quite similar to the present official Albanian which would be written, “Une të pagezoj për emrin e Atit e të Birit e të Shpirtit të Shenjtë” (I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

This brief sentence is the earliest text written in Albanian which has yet come to light. It was written in Mat, northern Albania, during the heroic resistance of the Albanian people against the onslaughts of the Ottoman armies.

PP 277-278, “THE ALBANIANS: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present” by Edwin E. Jacques, McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, 1995

The World’s Oldest Chess Piece

TIRANA (Reuters) July 26, 2002 – Archaeologists in Albania have found what appears to be Europe’s oldest chessman, suggesting the game was played on the continent 500 years earlier than previously thought, according to a British professor.

The ivory piece was found in the ancient southern Albanian city of Butrint in a Roman palace dated to the fifth or sixth centuries, said archaeology professor Richard Hodges of East Anglia University. “We are wondering if it is a king or a queen because it has a little cross but we are not sure,” Hodges told Reuters by phone.

Chess is believed to have originated in India in the fourth or fifth centuries, and came to Europe via the Silk Road.  Historians believe the game was played by the upper classes throughout Europe by the early 12th century, based on the walrus-ivory chessmen found in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and other pieces from as far as southern Italy.

“However, it now looks as though it was already being played in the central Mediteranean over 500 years earlier,” said Hodges, scientific leader of the Butrint Foundation which supports local archaeologists.

The following is an excerpt:

CHESS NOTES

By Harold Dondis and Patrick Wolff
Globe Correspondents
The Boston Globe, November 25, 2002

Earlier this year, the Institute of World Archaeology, an English non-profit association, reported that it had found an ivory chess piece dated 500 A.D. In ancient times, the city was the site of a Greek colony and later a Roman city, conceivably a crossroads of European civilization.

If true, this little piece of ivory would certainly shake historic chess conceptions as throroughly as recent archaeological data on the human species. The definitive work on the origin of chess is “A History of Chess” by H.R. Murray, a 900-page work that traces in minute detail the asserted creation of the game of chess around 600 A.D. in India. According to Murray, the game of chess passed through Islamic civilization and was introduced into Europe, perhaps through the Iberian Peninsula, as early as the 9th century.

The material assembled by Murray is staggering and surely indicates that the cities built under the Roman Empire, and before it Grecian civilization, knew nothing of chess. So the discovery of a chess piece in Europe dated in the 6th century would be a stunning revelation about the basic history of the game.

The Roman and Greek civilizations extended into the area now known as Albania and Alexander the Great is said to have been born in the region.

But the dramatic disclosure of the chess piece may well have been a broad jump into conclusions by the Institute of World Archaeology. It published a picture of the piece (but not a set of pieces), which could certainly pass for a king or a queen.. It is on a little pedestal, has a bowl-shaped body, calibrated to what looks like a collar and a head with a cross on top.

But Gareth Williams, author of the work “Master Pieces: The Architecture of Chess,” writing in the British magazine Chess, says it is definitely not a chess piece. Butrint, he says, was a relatively small port of the Roman Empire that was important in the struggle for power following the fall of that empire. Williams, a devoted follower of Murray’s work, says the artifact, discovered in a Roman house, stands on five small feet and thus without a flat base would not be convenient as a chess piece. Upright chessmen could not easily be manufactured, he says, and did not appear until the 15th century. He says that chessmen have been misdated on a number of occasions before and that this little creature cannot be a contradiction to all the chess histories in existence.

If Williams is right and the artistic creation is not a chess piece, what is it? A statuette, a tool, an idol, a talisiman? Those Staunton-designed kings and queens standing on our chessboards have a right to know whether their ancestors were active in the Greek and Roman Empires, and will not rest easily until they know.

Harold B.Dondis, Esq. whose award-winning chess column appears twice weekly in The Boston Globe, is a Frosina Founding Member and Clerk of the Frosina Information Network, Inc.

Regional Archaeological Research in Albania: Apollonia and Its Hinterland

Author: Dr. Michael L. Galaty

In May-June of 1998, a team of Albanian and American archaeologists gathered to inaugurate a joint project of regional archaeological study in the vicinity of the ancient city of Apollonia (founded in 588 B.C.), located near the modern-day city of Fier, just above the village of Pojani. Under the direction of Professors Muzafer Korkuti (Instituti Arkeologjik, Tirana), and Jack Davis (University of Cincinnati, USA), the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project’s – MRAP’s – main goal is to survey wide tracts of countryside and inventory all archaeological remains, from the Stone Ages through recent times. Mallakastra provides the ideal environment for archaeological survey work. Because much of the region has not yet undergone extensive industrial or infrastructural development, archaeological sites have not been severly disturbed, as they have in other European countries. The majority of farmers practice traditional forms of agriculture, which preserve topsoil. Consequently, few archaeological sites have disappeared due to soil erosion. Finally, Albanian landowners have graciously allowed access to their fields, pastures, and orchards, in support of MRAP’s scientific endeavors.

In the first season of work, over the course of approximately twelve days, two teams of MRAP archaeologists operated in small valleys to the east of Apollonia, surveying nearly five square kilometers. Referring to topographic maps, team members systematically searched the landscape, pinpointing sites of past human activity, mapping them, and collecting artifact samples. Collected artifacts were returned to Apollonia’s museum to be catalogued and registered in a computer database. At the same time, a MRAP geologist worked to interpret the area’s complex geography. Fieldwork produced surprising and scientifically important results.

Prior to MRAP’s survey, there existed no documented evidence for early Stone Age settlement in Mallakastra. This is in contrast to southern Albania, where there is good evidence, from the vicinity of Saranda for several periods of Stone Age occupation (see the Frosina Infobit by Dr. Karl M. Petruso on Konispol Cave). MRAP collected 400+ chipped stone artifacts, many of which, as it turns out, date to the Middle Paleolithic period (circa 200,000 to 35,000 years before present). Some of these tools were made using a technique, called Levallois, generally associated with Neanderthals. Of special importance, a very large Paleolithic site was discovered, designated Kryegjata B, perhaps the largest of its kind yet located in Albania. Of course, over the coming years, MRAP will continue to investigate the Stone Age archaeology of the Apollonia region.

Middle Paleolithic stone tool from Mallakastra. Drawing by I. Zaloshnija.

Artifacts dating to Albania’s historic periods, during which Apollonia was a bustling colonial city, are quite plentiful. Of great interest to archaeology, the intensity of settlement outside the city’s walls appears to have been heaviest during the Hellenistic (circa 4th-1st centuries B.C.), as opposed to the Classical (circa 6th-4th centuries B.C.), period, the reverse of settlement patterns found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Accounting for this reversal will now be a specific target of MRAP’s future resarch. Might there be an environmental explanation for the increase, through time, in small, scattered farmsteads? an economic explanation? or perhaps the nature of Greek and native Illyrian socio-political interactions changed?

Investigations in Apollonia’s tremendous necropolis may help, in part, to answer some of these questions. This large cemetery incorporates an estimated 400+ tumuli (burial mounds) and potentially thousands of graves. Changes in funeral rites may represent the melding of traditional Illyrian and Greek customs. Another goal of MRAP, therefore, is to produce a digital map of the whole tumulus field, perhaps thereby shedding light on the origins and evolution of this fantastic Apollonian landmark, one monument among many that grace Mallakastra’s archaeological landscape.

In May-June of 1998, a team of Albanian and American archaeologists gathered to inaugurate a joint project of regional archaeological study in the vicinity of the ancient city of Apollonia (founded in 588 B.C.), located near the modern-day city of Fier, just above the village of Pojani. Under the direction of Professors Muzafer Korkuti (Instituti Arkeologjik, Tirana), and Jack Davis (University of Cincinnati, USA), the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project’s – MRAP’s – main goal is to survey wide tracts of countryside and inventory all archaeological remains, from the Stone Ages through recent times. Mallakastra provides the ideal environment for archaeological survey work. Because much of the region has not yet undergone extensive industrial or infrastructural development, archaeological sites have not been severly disturbed, as they have in other European countries. The majority of farmers practice traditional forms of agriculture, which preserve topsoil. Consequently, few archaeological sites have disappeared due to soil erosion. Finally, Albanian landowners have graciously allowed access to their fields, pastures, and orchards, in support of MRAP’s scientific endeavors.

In the first season of work, over the course of approximately twelve days, two teams of MRAP archaeologists operated in small valleys to the east of Apollonia, surveying nearly five square kilometers. Referring to topographic maps, team members systematically searched the landscape, pinpointing sites of past human activity, mapping them, and collecting artifact samples. Collected artifacts were returned to Apollonia’s museum to be catalogued and registered in a computer database. At the same time, a MRAP geologist worked to interpret the area’s complex geography. Fieldwork produced surprising and scientifically important results.

Prior to MRAP’s survey, there existed no documented evidence for early Stone Age settlement in Mallakastra. This is in contrast to southern Albania, where there is good evidence, from the vicinity of Saranda for several periods of Stone Age occupation (see the Frosina Infobit by Dr. Karl M. Petruso on Konispol Cave). MRAP collected 400+ chipped stone artifacts, many of which, as it turns out, date to the Middle Paleolithic period (circa 200,000 to 35,000 years before present). Some of these tools were made using a technique, called Levallois, generally associated with Neanderthals. Of special importance, a very large Paleolithic site was discovered, designated Kryegjata B, perhaps the largest of its kind yet located in Albania. Of course, over the coming years, MRAP will continue to investigate the Stone Age archaeology of the Apollonia region.
Middle Paleolithic stone tool from Mallakastra. Drawing by I. Zaloshnija.

Artifacts dating to Albania’s historic periods, during which Apollonia was a bustling colonial city, are quite plentiful. Of great interest to archaeology, the intensity of settlement outside the city’s walls appears to have been heaviest during the Hellenistic (circa 4th-1st centuries B.C.), as opposed to the Classical (circa 6th-4th centuries B.C.), period, the reverse of settlement patterns found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Accounting for this reversal will now be a specific target of MRAP’s future resarch. Might there be an environmental explanation for the increase, through time, in small, scattered farmsteads? an economic explanation? or perhaps the nature of Greek and native Illyrian socio-political interactions changed?

Investigations in Apollonia’s tremendous necropolis may help, in part, to answer some of these questions. This large cemetery incorporates an estimated 400+ tumuli (burial mounds) and potentially thousands of graves. Changes in funeral rites may represent the melding of traditional Illyrian and Greek customs. Another goal of MRAP, therefore, is to produce a digital map of the whole tumulus field, perhaps thereby shedding light on the origins and evolution of this fantastic Apollonian landmark, one monument among many that grace Mallakastra’s archaeological landscape.

Archaeology of Albania

Author: Dr. Karl M. Petruso, Program in Anthropology, University of Texas at Arlington

Albania is a country rich in ancient history, and this richness is reflected in its surviving archaeological remains. Butrinti, Apollonia, Durrës, and Byllis are a few of the better-known sites of classical antiquity; their temples, theatres, and basilicas have impressed visitors for ages. The farther back into the past one goes, however, the less visible are ancient remains in the landscape. Archaeological reconaissance and excavation carried out early in this century turned up meager evidence for human activity going back into the Stone Age, but the systematic investigation of the nature of the earliest human occupation of Albania has only recently begun.

In 1991 a collaborative excavation project was proposed to the Instituti Arkeologjik in Tiranë by the University of Texas at Arlington. The co-directors of the project, Dr. Muzafer Korkuti and Dr. Karl Petruso, along with a staff of archaeologists and other specialists from several countries, have been investigating an extraordinary cave on the Saraqint ridge northwest of the town of Konispol at the southern tip of the country. In four summers of excavation and study funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the team has uncovered evidence for the crucial economic and cultural change from hunting and gathering to agriculture, which took place in southeastern Europe in the 7th millenium B.C.

While the earliest occupation in the Konispol Cave apparently goes back some 20,000 years into the Paleolithic period (according to our radiocarbon dates), the site was most intensively occupied in the Neolithic, or late Stone Age, from about 6000-2500 B.C. The finds are prosaic, consisting mostly of utilitarian ceramic pottery, chipped stone tools, bones of animals, and carbonized seeds. Reconstructed profile of excavated pot dating to late 6th-early 5th millenia B.C.

The faunal remains are especially copious, and show clearly the transition from hunting (e.g., wild pig, deer, and bovids) to a concentration on sheep and goat, which formed the basis of pastoral nomadism and eventually — along wth wheat and barley, and later olive and grape — a fully mixed farming economy. These livestock and crops still form the economic basis of villages throughout the Mediterranean today; indeed, a local goatherd still uses our cave when we are not on site, as he moves his stock through the hills seeking pasturage for them.

There was sporadic use of the cave in subsequent millenia, including the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (2nd-1st millenia B.C.). From late classical stratigraphic levels (4th-1st centuries B.C.) we have excavated terracota figurines which suggest that the cave was used as a cult site at that time.

These artifacts and organic remains are the fragmentary residue of a cultural context and an economic adaptation to the landscape that was so successful that it has changed very little over the millenia. As our research project now winds down and prepares for final publication, we are confident that we will be able to document the nature of the transition to farming in this part of the Balkans, and thus fill in one more small piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the archaeology of Albania.