The Boian Culture - An Overview

Term Paper, 2011
19 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Abstract

2. Chronology

3. Geography

4. Archaeological record
4.1 Lithic industry
4.2 Architecture
4.3 Burials
4.4 Ceramics

5. Subsistence

7. Conclusion

8. Literature

9. Appendix

1. Abstract

The Boian culture is a middle Neolithic culture originated in the south-east territory of today’s Romania. It is named after the eponym site at Lake Boian in Munteria, Romania. Members of the Boian culture can be considered as one the earliest farmers on European ground. The term Boian culture includes rich decorated pottery, an evolved lithic industry, a changing architecture and a Neolithic subsistence strategy. We´ll face repeated burial rites with grave goods, early metallurgy, bigger settlements than in the previous times and probably signs of social- and gender differentiation. Research on the Boian culture and on the Romanian Neolithic in general comes from many different countries in Europe like Great Britain, France or Germany and is therefore written and published in different languages and influenced by different schools. This paper offers a comprehensive overview of the Boian findings, the history of research and tries to find an answer to the question what the Boian culture stands for on the wide landscape of European Neolithic cultures.

2. Chronology

The middle Neolithic Boian culture emerges from the Dudeşti and Musicalnote pottery culture. The Boian culture is divided into four phases. The first phase is called Bolintineanu named after the eponym site. It dates back 4300 to 4200 BC. The second phase is named after the eponym site of Giuleşti and dates back 4200 to 4300 BC. The third face is called Vidra and dates back 4100 to 4000 BC. The fourth and last phase of the Boian culture is called Spanţov (Călăraşi County) and dates back 4000 to 3500 BC (Peregrine & Ember 2001). This last phase of the Boian culture is also called the transitional phase. It might be interesting to note that the first three phases last for about 500 years and the Spanţov by itself lasts 500 years. Before we take a closer look at the evidence for the dates from above it is crucial to keep in mind that the research on the romanian/danubian prehistory goes back to the 20s and 30s of the 20th century.

D. W. Bailey dates the Boian culture to 4810-4680 BC (Bailey et al. 2002). The later phases of the Boian culture date into the late Neolithic in Romania which is contemporary with the early and middle Chalcolithic in Bulgaria (Ivanova 2008, p. 22). Oddly the widely known Britannica Encyclopedia dates the Boian culture into the 8th - 4th century BC. It seems difficult to get absolute chronological dates for this culture but we can say that it dates back around 5000-3500 BC into the middle and late Balkan Neolithic. Nevertheless some radiocarbon dates are available. Two from Căscioarele (Călăraşi County) 4035 ± 125 BC (BIN-800) and 3620 ± 100 BC (BIN796) and one from the later phases Radovanu (Călăraşi County) which dates back to 3820 ± 100 BC (BIN-1233) (Olariu et al. 2001, p. 15). Lazarovici and Lazarovici published a table of dates for the last phase as well (Fig. 1). Still we are confronted with the ‘aquatic view’ on archaeological cultures (Binford 1962).

3. Geography

The Boian culture is situated in the south-eastern areas of modern Romania along the Danube River. The central distribution area of Boian sites is the historical region of the greater Wallachia plain which covers today´s counties Brăila, București, Buzău, Călăraşi, Giurgiu, Ialomiţa, Ilfov, Prahova and Teleorman. These nine countys represent the central and eastern extend of the greater Wallachia plain and can be regarded as the most important areas of Boian occupations approximately 6000 years ago. I did research on the geographical distribution of excavated Boian sites and it turns out that Călăraşi has the most sites. Also I created a map showing these sites in Romania (Fig. 2). The data layer ones must say seems quite thin and the data is collected from few available publications on the Boian culture and Danubian cultures in general.

In most cases I double checked the exact location of the specific site by comparing maps and information from the publications. Below you find a list of the sites (Tab. 1). As mentioned above the highest concentration of known Boian sites are located north of the Danube River. The clear break at the Bulgarian Border can be explained with the fact that this Neolithic culture a) has a different name in Bulgaria and b) Bulgarians have their own research on the so called Marita culture. That situation is the product of modern day politics and the theoretical focus of scholars in the 20th century in both countries. Therefore the southern extent of the Boian culture or Marita Culture in Bulgaria is not concerned in this paper. Unarguably that leads to certain problems if you are interested in the Stone Age history of Southeast Europe. Back to the geographic data from above first of all the data clearly shows the concentrated distribution of settlements next to water systems. Rivers and lakes are a good choice for Neolithic farmers because of the fertile soil they provide. Interesting is that the plains of Southeast Romania provide usable land overall. It seems quite reasonable that Neolithic farmers like the Members of the Boian culture choose rivers and lakes as their favorable settlement sites because of other reason. Nearby water systems provide marine resources and could even be considered as connections between settlements for trade or other forms of exchange. This idea of Neolithic ‘railroads’ is widely spread in the research of the stone age history of Europe for example in the Linearbandkeramik in Germany. The LBK farmers choose rivers as well for their settlements. Let´s go back to the great Wallachia plain. The biggest cluster of Boian settlements can be found around the area of Călăraşi County north of the Danube River. In 2008 Sergiu Constantine Enea (Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi) published a paper on Neolithic and Aeneolithic gold ornaments in Romania. By examining the Appendix I recognized that there isn´t a single finding of jewelry from the Bolintineanu and Giuleşti phase which is linked to the Boian sites north of the Călăraşi County cluster. This indicates that the Boian culture originates from the Danubian plains or came from the South moving up north into today’s Romanian territory. The northern sites were occupied in the Vidra and Spanţov phase. Even if this idea seems to be quite reasonable we have to note that in Enea´s paper only two sites from the Bolintineanu and Giuleşti phase were mentioned: Sultana-Valea Orbului (Călăraşi County) and Cernica-Tanganul (Ilfov County). One may argue that as the Boian culture progresses and spreads the amount of beads, pendants or rings should go up. Looking at the data it turns out that the highest amounts of beads and other jewelry were found at the phase I and II sites mentioned above.

4. Archaeological record

The archaeological record is the main or maybe the only source we have as prehistoric archaeologists. This paper try’s to focuse on the actuall archaeological record we have of the Boian culture. By taking a look at the lithic industry we will discover indicators of transregional trade. The changing architecture might tell us about a changing way of life. Grave goods like beads, pendants, rings or links give us an insight into social structures. We will also take a look a pottery, figurines and metallurgy. Finally we´ll turn to faunal remains to understand the subsistence strategy the Boian people have used.

4.1 Lithic industry

During the four Boian phases the lithic industry is changing. In the Bolintineanu phase we have microliths and stone tools and by-products of average size like blades, blade segments, scrapers, drills and cores. Same goes for the Giuleşti phase with one exception. During the Giuleşti phase people also build sickleblades. In the third and fourth phase we don´t have microliths anymore but still the ensemble of average sized lithic tools like blades, blade fragments, scrapers, chisels and drills (Kozłowski 1993, p. 170). The Spanţov phase sometimes referred to as the Transitional phase has additional flint tools. In this phase we have triangular points with extended shanks. The absence of microliths may indicate a change in the lithic production technique. Like in every other Neolithic culture we find polished stone tools like adzes, chisels, flat and perforated axes. The Boian people also used bone and antler to make tools like burins, chisels, hoes and perforated bone spatula (Kozłowski 1993, p. 170). The silex they used oriented from the Balkan area and Oltenia which is also known as the smaller Wallachia. That means that the people in the greater Wallachia plains had some form of exchange with neighbor cultures. Polished stone tools are clear indicator of agricultural activity and are a central element in today’s definition of a ‘Neolithic society’.

4.2 Architecture

Trough out its existence the Boian culture underwent certain changes and the way they built their settlements. The first important change might be shift from circular to rectangular structures. In the first two phases the Boian people built subterranean oval shaped huts. Inside those huts fire places were discovered. At the site of Tangâru (Giurgiu County) round huts were found. In Cernica-Tanganul (Ilfov County) oval structures were discovered. One of these oval structures is referred to as a grinder. Oval shaped huts are also known from two sites in Bucharest. These huts from Căţelu and Lacul Floreasca had a dimension of 4.00 x 2.50 m or 3.20 x 2.00 m. Constructions from the Bolintineanu phase have round or oval hearths which were discovered inside and sometimes outside of the buildings. At the site of Coroteni (Vrancea County) only the inside hearths in different circular shapes were found. The first rectangular structures were also discovered within the first phase of Boian occupations. These structures have a rectangular shape with rounded edges and built subterranean (Lazarovici & Lazarovici 2007).

With the end of the Giuleşti phase the Boian culture starts to build rectangular houses. The walls were constructed with a mesh made out of wood and sticks. They then shaped the walls with clay to create solid and isolated houses. Also these houses are not subterranean anymore and had a solid clay floor. Ideas derived from the Behavioral Archaeology framework would question that this lower amount of effort put into the earlier architecture might indicate higher rates of mobility during the Bolintineanu phase. Therefore more fixated structures with solid floors and above-ground construction point towards a more settled community.

One specialty of the Danubian Neolithic is intentional burning. The idea is that people burned down their houses for a symbolic purpose. Supporters argue that during the Neolithic people highly related on fire for making pottery and the first metal objects. Therefore the process of burning isn´t only technical but also has a symbolic meaning. Such ideas may go back to Vere Gordon Childe who supposes 1936 in ‘Man makes himself’ that production routines are likely to be mystified by ancient cultures considering their importance for the community. John Chapman (Durham University) identified the criteria which might indicate intentional burning within the archaeological record. Dragos Gheorghiu (Bucharest National University of Arts) conducted an experimental archaeological approach to learn more about the intentional burning. His results included that some of Chapman´s criteria could be explained without cultural interaction. For example John Chapman argued that special igniting points indicate intentional burning. The experiment showed that these igniting points were created by air dynamics and a) can´t be prevented and b) are the result of physics rather than cultural interaction (Gheorghiu 2009, p. 64). Another the presence of prestigious copper objects important conclusion from the experiment and Spondylus shells in some graves might is of economical nature. Gheorghiu notices that the later architecture with solid floors and walls efforts more work. He concludes that this may indicate changes in the social structure literally speaking of further established social organization (Gheorghiu 2009, p. 65). But still the patterns of occupation show that the Boian culture might have been a semi-mobile society. They settled at flood plains which they used for less intense cultivation of cereals. In an ever changing river environment the landscape changes thus the Boian people reacted with a semi-mobile strategy. The settlement organization was haphazard. The Spanţov phase is important because we can see the first ‘pre-tell’ organization of settlements in some cases becoming the Gumelniţa tells later (Bailey et al. 2002). This culture differs from the Boian, Criş or Dudeşti culture because over time continues used villages grew into ‘monumental tells’ (Howard et al. 2004, p. 273).

4.3 Burials

The people of the Boian culture buried their dead mainly on relatively large cemeteries. At the site of Cernica (Ilfov County) a graveyard with 379 burials was discovered. This Neolithic graveyard is situated on a small peninsula at Lake Cernica. The burial rite at this site included burying the dead in stretched or crouched position. It dates back into the Bolintineanu and the Giuleşti phase and grave goods were found. The grave goods included pendants, rings and beads made out of bone and shells. An amount of eighty round copper beads was found in the graves. Unfortunately the amount of data makes it hard to testify ideas of social differentiation but it is clear that the Boian people treaded their dead in a distinct way. Nevertheless we must note that over two thirds of the graves didn’t have grave goods (Anthony & Chi 2010, p. 104). The absence of grave goods in some graves and be another indicator for social differentiation and therefore possible social stratification (Comsa 1990, p. 108). An overwhelming amount of burials are oriented West and western cardinal directions facing East (Fig. 3). The scholar Stephen Sangeorzan argued 1980 that the orientation towards the sunrise can be linked to a sun cult. This Post-processual idea can be replaced by an idea which considers astronomical and terrestrial aspects. Facing east the buried looked out to Lake Cernica. Statistical analysis by Morintz and Kogălniceanu from the year 2009 showed a relationship between the orientation and the position on the cemetery. With their results they argue that older theories need to be reconsidered. I think at this point it is crucial to point out certain details on the methodology. Kogălniceanu mentions that the reference was missing if the data is for the magnetic north or the terrestrial north. He argues that we can be sure it´s the magnetic north because the measurements where taken with a compass. Another Boian graveyard is situated in the Blind Man´s Valley at Sultana (Călăraşi County). It contains about two hundred burials (Şerbănescu & Soficaru 2006). Excavations in 2003 revealed thirty-seven graves with burials in crouched positions. According to the paper the site dates into the time of the Boian civilization without mentioning the period. In Sergiu Constantine Eneas paper on gold ornaments the site is listed as a phase I and phase II site. Not only the position is different the skeletons are facing West. This is truly inconsistent with ideas of common burial practices within this culture. In twenty-one burials grave goods were discovered. The dead were buried with flint scrapers, blades and chisels. They put beads and bracelets made out of snail shells and seashell into the graves. Some pieces of undecorated pottery were discovered (Şerbănescu 2004).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Boian Culture - An Overview
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel  (Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte)
Neolithikum in Transilvanien
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ISBN (Book)
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Neolithikum, Rumänien
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Patrick Boll (Author), 2011, The Boian Culture - An Overview, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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