From bones, bronzes and sites to society – The European Archaeologist 2016

The European Archaeologist – Issue 48 Spring 2016

From bones, bronzes and sites to society: Multidisciplinary analysis of human mobility and social changes in Bronze Age Hungary (2500–1500 BC) 

by Viktória Kiss, Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academyof Sciences (

Due to its geographical location and to climatic factors, the Carpathian Basin played a central role in prehistoric Europe for millennia. It was a borderland between important regions, and connected other areas of the continent via important geographic information corridors like the Danube. The Bronze Age – following the initial spread of farming in the Neolithic and the great innovations of the Copper Age – was of crucial significance in the shaping of the current cultural make-up of the region. Due to the exchange of the eponymous material, bronze, distant regions linked up with each other.

In a five-year-long (2015–2020) multidisciplinary research project, launched this year in the Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and supported by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Momentum research programme, “From bones, bronzes and sites to society” will study the first thousand years of the Bronze Age (2500–1500 BC). Previously, changes during this period, like the spread of knowledge about bronze metallurgy or the large-scale appearance of ceramic styles, vessel forms or burial types throughout Europe, were usually explained by the arrival of a new population, that is by smaller or greater migrations. This approach has changed recently: new social theories in international research have demonstrated the error of making a simple equation between finds and ethnic groups, or between archaeology and history of events. Due to the archaeological application of increasingly refined scientific methods – scientific dating, palaeopathology, genetics, isotope chemistry and geophysics – we have witnessed a fundamental paradigm change in prehistoric research (Kristiansen 2014; Fischl et al. 2015). However, migration is indeed an important social strategy, often used both individually and by communities to resolve internal conflict and better their situation. A basic question in archaeology is: “who (or what) moved: people, objects or ideas?” Our project sets out to leverage the increasing record of success in archaeogenetics and recent developments in archaeometallurgy to address these questions.

Cooperation of the institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Research Centre for the Humanities, Centre for Energy Research, Wigner Research Centre for Physics, and Institute forn nuclear Research), complemented by wide-ranging collaboration of other institutions, enable the joint work of generations of archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and specialists of natural and life sciences. In the first year of the project we have begun the non-destructive analysis of Bell Beaker (2500–2200 BC) tanged daggers and a halberd using neutron-based methods (promt-gamma activation analysis and time-of-flight neutron diffraction; for an earlier study with the same methods see Kiss et al. 2015), and a pilot study of Middle Bronze Age (2000–1500 BC) gold finds. We are also conducting a complex re-analysis of a Bronze Age burial assemblage from Balatonakali, near Lake Balaton in western Hungary, with radiocarbon dating and bioarchaeological study of the human remains, completed by the analysis of the metal finds (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Metal grave goods from the Bronze Age burial at Balatonakali (western Hungary. © Hámori 2015)

Fig. 1. Metal grave goods from the Bronze Age burial at Balatonakali (western Hungary. © Hámori 2015)

As part of the comparative settlement research, we will analyze the regional characteristics of settlement networks and their changes through time in four micro-regions, in the first year with field surveys in the Benta Valley and in the Kakucs region (see Earle et al. 2013-2014; Kulcsár et al. 2014).

The palaeopathological examination of the general health status and lifestyle of the period’s population, including the traces of Bronze Age warfare and violence, as well as diseases, is also an important element of the project. Our aim is to compare the genetic profile of skeletons found in special pits (“mass graves”, e.g. from Érd: Fig. 2) in settlements and in “traditional” burials within cemeteries in order to establish possible kinship ties and reconstruct their unique histories.

Our expected results will complement the results of similar studies in Europe that target other geographic areas (e.g., Allentoft et al. 2015; Stockhammer et at. 2015), and will contribute significantly to a better understanding of the development of the Bronze Age in Central Europe. Other regional projects are likewise complementary, for example, BAKOTA, BORBAS, and the Social Status of Motherhood in Bronze Age Europe. Ultimately, we envision contributing to broader understandings of human mobility and cross-cultural interactions.

Research team

Archaeology: András Czene, Marietta Csányi, János Dani, Anna Endrődi, Szilvia Fábián, Klára P. Fischl, Gábor Ilon, Viktória Kiss, Gabriella Kulcsár, Eszter Melis, Marcella Nagy, Judit Pásztókai-Szeőke, Róbert Patay, Annamária Priskin, Gábor Serlegi, Ágnes Somogyvári, Géza Szabó, Ildikó Szathmári, Vajk Szeverényi

Physical anthropology, palaeopathology, palaeodemography: Zsolt Bernert, Sándor Évinger, Claudia Gerling, Julia Giblin, Tamás Hajdu, Kitti Köhler, Balázs Gusztáv Mende, Erika Molnár, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Zsuzsanna K. Zoffmann

Archaeozoology: Erika Gál, István Vörös
Radiocarbon dating: Mihály Molnár

Archeometry: Péter Barkóczy, György Káli, Zsolt Kasztovszky, Zoltán Kis, Attila Kreiter, Boglárka Maróti, László Szentmiklósi GIS, geophysical prospection: Gábor Serlegi

Fig. 2. Bronze Age “mass grave” pit burial from Érd, Site 4 (central Hungary. © Ottományi 2008)

Fig. 2. Bronze Age “mass grave” pit burial from Érd, Site 4 (central Hungary. © Ottományi 2008)

Cooperating institutions

Institute of Archaeology, Research Centre for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Wigner Research Centre for Physics, Centre for Energy Research, and Institute for Nuclear Research
of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Department of Anthropology of the Hungarian Natural History Museum
Department of Biological Anthropology of the Eötvös Loránd University
Department of Biological Anthropology of the University of Szeged
University of Miskolc
Budapest Historical Museum
Hungarian National Museum
Gyula Forster National Centre for Cultural Heritage Management
Ferenczy Museum
Wosinsky Mór Museum
Damjanich János Museum
Katona József Museum
Déri Museum
Móra Ferenc Museum
Savaria Museum
Quinnipiac University (Hamden, CT, USA)
Freie Universität Berlin

To learn more about participating scientists and institutions, see the project home page:


Allentoft, M. E., M. Sikora, K-G. Sjögren, et al. 2015. Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia. Nature 522: 167–172.

Earle, T. K., Kiss, V., Szeverényi, V., Kulcsár, G. 2013/2014.: Landscapes of Complexity in Bronze Age Central Europe. TEA 40, Winter 2013/2014: 82–84.

P. Fischl K., V. Kiss, G. Kulcsár and V. Szeverényi, 2015. Old and new narratives for the Carpathian Basin around 2200 BC. In: Meller H, Arz W.H, Jung R, Risch R. (eds.): 2200 BC – A climatic breakdown as a cause for the collapse of the old world? 7th Archaeological Conference of Central Germany. October 23–26, 2014 in Halle (Saale). Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle Band 12/I. Halle (Saale), pp. 503–524.

Kiss, V., Zs. Kasztovszky, Gy. Káli, B. Maróti, Z. Kis, K. Pusztainé Fischl, E. Horváth and G. Szabó, 2015. Non-destructive Analyses of Bronze Artefacts from Bronze Age Hungary using Neutron-based methods. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 38: 685–693.

Kulcsár G., M. Jaeger, V. Kiss, G. Márkus, J. Müller, Á. Pető, G. Serlegi, V. Szeverényi and T. Nicole 2014. The Beginnings of a New Research Program – Kakucs Archaeological Expedition–KEX 1. Hungarian Archaeology E-Journal 2014/4.

Kristiansen, K. 2014. Towards a New Paradigm: The Third Science Revolution and its Possible Consequences in Archaeology (including comments). Current Swedish Archaeology, 22: 11-71.

Stockhammer, P.W., Massy, K., Knipper, C., Friedrich, R., Kromer, B., Lindauer, S., Radosavljevic, J., Witterborn, F., Krause, J. 2015. Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0139705 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139705