The fortified hilltop settlement of Spišský Štvrtok is one of the most significant sites of the earlier prehistory of central Europe. It dates to the transitional period between the Early and the Middle Bronze Age with a cultural affiliation to the Otomani-Füzesabony culture, c. 1700–1500 b.c. The village of Spišský Štvrtok (located in an area called Spišská Nová Ves, which is also a town) is situated on an oblong hill adjacent to a valley in the undulated country of eastern Slovakia at Myšia Hôrka in the Carpathian Basin. The hill rises very steeply on the western side and more gradually on the east, in modern times with a growth of forest. The fortification on the summit, about 625 meters above sea level, comprises about 6,600 square meters with thirty-nine houses and a cult place in addition to a complex system of ramparts, bastions, and ditches. There are two occupation phases: the end phase of the Early Bronze Age and the first phase of the Middle Bronze Age.
The site became known to the scientific community in the 1930s due to still-visible walls and several spectacular surface finds. It was systematically excavated in 1968–1974 under the direction of Dr. J. Vladar from the Archaeological Institute of the Slovakian Academy of Science in Nitra. The site is wholly examined and is in an excellent state of preservation. Vladar has described the excavation results in several small reports while the final report still awaits.
A stone wall encircles the entire settlement except at the gate, which is located at the eastern, more accessible, side. Here the fortification is reinforced with two additional walls and with a broad stone-lined ditch, which may have been water-filled. The intervals between the walls were filled in with gravel probably derived from digging the broad ditch. The latter runs north to south, uninterrupted, along the outer side of the rampart and a wooden bridge presumably existed at the gate.
The walls are built of thin stone slabs, which were brought in from the neighborhood at a distance of 2–3 kilometers. At the base, the rampart had a total width of 7.5 meters. The height is estimated at about 4 meters. Possibly a wooden palisade was erected on the top as a further reinforcement. The entrance to the settlement is flanked by two circular bastions of nearly 6 meters across—probably watchtowers. The gate itself widens considerably toward the outside, probably to make room for a defensive unit of warriors in case the settlement was attacked.
Only a minor part of the area encircled by the fortification was built up. The settlement consisted of stone houses, the foundations of which had been preserved, and streets divided the occupied space. According to the excavator the settlement had a clear bipartite division suggesting the existence of an elite and a broader stratum occupied with crafts. Finds from the craftsmen's quarter indicated the manufacture of a whole series of different products in cloth, stone, pottery, bone, antler, gold, and bronze. Houses inhabited by the privileged part of the population were of a much better quality, were situated in the best-protected part of the stronghold, and contained various treasures. Valuables of weapons and ornaments in bronze and gold had been deposited in chests below the floors. These finer houses were organized in a U shape around a slab-plastered "town square."
Spišský Štvrtok is merely one of several contemporary sites with fortifications known from southeast Slovakia, notably Bárca, Nižná Myšl'a, Streda nad Bodrogom, and Gánovce. Similar sites belonging to the Otomani-Füzesabony culture—and broadly dating to the span 1700–1500 b.c.—exist in adjoining regions of Hungary and Romania. Some settlements were fortified and situated on hilltops, such as the strongholds of Otomani and Saˇlacea in Romania and several of the Slovakian sites. Fortified sites may be situated also in the swampy areas between rivers. Moreover, there are so-called tell settlements with ring walls, such as Tószeg-Laposhalom at the river Tisza on the Hungarian Plain and the nearby tells of Gyulavarsánd and Socodor just across the border in Romania. Large open settlements are also known, apparently without fortifications, but situated in naturally defendable locations.
Fortified settlements also occur in related cultural groupings in nearby southwest Slovakia (Nitriansky Hradok, Mad'arovce, Malé Kosihy, Veselé), Moravia (Blučina, Hradisko, Vĕteřov), and lower Austria (Böheimkirschen). The phenomenon apparently has a wide geographical distribution over
eastern central Europe and the Balkans especially in the period c. 1700–1500 b.c.
Some of the principal paraphernalia of the Bronze Age have roots in the complex cultural mosaic of the Carpathian Basin at the threshold to the Middle Bronze Age. The hillforts were mediators of inventions that passed through this region on their way to central and northern Europe from Eurasia and the Aegean. The spearhead, the sword, the four-spoked wheel, the chariot, and horse management are among these innovations. The first swords appeared in the Carpathian Basin in eastern Hungary and Romania around 1600 b.c.—only one hundred years after the appearance of the bronze spearhead in roughly the same region. Such quality metalwork was in high demand all over central and northern Europe at this time. Exotica such as amber beads were traded in from the north and people of the Otomani-Füzesabony culture made contacts with stratified palace-based societies in early Mycenaean Greece.
Excavations suggest that all these sites should indeed be interpreted as protected centers of crafts and trade. They were probably also residences of local elites, who identified more closely with neighboring elites than with nonelite groupings in their local area. This identification involved more than peaceful communication through networks of alliance and exchange. The frequency of fortified sites, the occurrence of mass graves, the energy invested in ramparts and earthen works, the emphasis on horse culture and bronze weaponry—the entire cultural picture provided by the excavations indicates ongoing rivalries and hostilities between elite groups, probably about the control of valuables, their production, and distribution. Ritual depositions of weapons and ornament at the sites, or near them, probably also connect to the waging of wars. Hoards have been found for instance at Hajdúsámson, Apa, Bárca, Vĕteřov, Böheimkirschen, and Mad'arovce. The central position of these fortified sites, surrounded by satellite villages and hamlets, bears witness to increased inequality and hierarchy: in other words, to an extremely hot social climate. Finally, around 1600–1500 b.c., this volatile social climate gave rise to the emergence of the Tumulus culture, which brought new forms of social conduct, ideology, and personal appearance among the elite. The rapid spread of Tumulus material and immaterial culture across temperate Europe should probably be seen in light of this strategic background of exchange, alliance, and warfare in the Carpathian Basin and around the Middle Danubian region.
See alsoThe Early and Middle Bronze Ages in Central Europe (vol. 2, part 5).
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