The Pusta Reka Research Collaboration was initiated in 2017 between the OREA Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Barbara Horejs) and the Archaeological Institute in Belgrade (Aleksandar Bulatović). The regional focus of this collaboration lays in the Leskovac Basin with an area of c. 1.600 km² and its first permanent settling in Neolithic times, where we are cooperating with the Archaeological Museum of Leskovac. The development of the landscape and usage of the environment through prehistory forms an additional aspect of our investigations, including changes from the early Neolithic until the end of the Bronze Ages. The first systematic survey campaign took place in 2017 and provided new data regarding the prehistory in the region and a first insight into the landscape and the environmental conditions as well as in the potential raw material sources. Extensive and intensive archaeological surveys formed the basis for geophysical surveys and corings in the selected areas. GIS analyses, material studies and radiocarbon dating of core samples have been conducted. Of altogether 20 detected and surveyed prehistoric sites at least five of them revealed results indicating their use in early to middle Neolithic period. The results of the surveys and geological studies have been published already (Brandl – Hautzenberger 2018; Horejs et al. 2018).
The collaborative studies have been awarded with funding by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF project NEOTECH) and the Innovation Fund of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (“Visualising the Unknown Balkans” project). The NEOTECH project aims to shed new light on the Neolithisation process in the central Balkans by analysing the built environment in combination with the potential impact of new social and cultural technologies. The adoption of the two crucial aspects in the region are key – living in house-based communities and integrating new technologies for production of material culture, especially in lithic and ceramic technologies. New primary data from state-of-the-art excavations are planned to be contextualized in the Neolithisation process along one of the main communication routes between the Aegean and the Danube by the Axios-Vardar-Morava River system.
The newly detected site Svinjarička Čuka was selected for the first systematic excavations in the project, where remains of the Starčevo Neolithic and the Metal Ages could have been identified during the surveys. The site is situated on the small-elevated Svinjarička River terrace northeast of the famous Caričin Grad in the Lebane district. The preliminary results demonstrate the occupation of the river terrace in early to middle Neolithic period (Starčevo), in the late Copper Age, in middle to late Bronze Age as well as in the Iron Age and perhaps the Byzantine period.
The excavation results were presented to a broader public at a Media Day with a press conference in September 2018. Additional information was provided to the public during the material study season in the Leskovac Museum in April 2019. Consequently, various reports appeared in print media and TV. Additional information is constantly provided via the OREA social media platforms.
During the state visit of the Austrian President A. Van der Bellen in the Republic of Serbia in October 2018, a network for scientists meeting took place in the Austrian Embassy in Belgrade in the course of the visit. The potential of Austrian-Serbian collaborations in archaeology was recorded and led to a new initiative of the Austrian Embassy dedicated to archaeology and history. A new lecture series about “Archaeology in Modern Era” has been initiated by the ambassador in collaboration with the Austrian Academy of Sciences and various Serbian scientists. The lecture series started successfully in September 2019 and is planned for a year with regular lectures by Serbian and Austrian archaeologists, anthropologists and historians for a broader public.
The interdisciplinary team managed by B. Horejs (OREA) and A. Bulatović (Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade) include postdoctoral experts for raw materials (M. Brandl, OREA), lithics (B. Milić, OREA), ceramics (C. Burke, OREA), archaeobotany (D. Filipović, Kiel University), archaeozoology (J. Bulatović, University of Belgrade), geophysics (C. Meyer, Berlin) and geography (St. Schneider, Osnabrück University). Excavation engineers, technicians and photographers are providing their expertise in fieldwork and material studies (M. Börner, D. Blattner, F. Ostmann, OREA). MA and PhD students (D. Bochatz, OREA and O. Mladenović, Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade) are integrated in the project as well.
- B. Horejs, A. Bulatović, J. Bulatović, M. Brandl, C. Burke, D. Filipović, B. Milić, New insights into the later stage of the Neolithisation process of the central Balkans: First excavations at Svinjarička Čuka 2018, Archaeologia Austriaca 103, 2019, 175–226 .
- B. Horejs, A. Bulatović, B. Milić, O. Mladenović, Austrijsko-srpski projekat Praistorijski pejzaži u regionu Puste reke (Leskovac) - istraživanja 2017. Godine, in I. Bugarski, V. Filipović & N. Gavrilović Vitas (Eds.), Arheologija u Srbiji. Projekti Arheološkog instituta u 2017. Godini, (Arheološki Institut) Beograd 2019, 169–172.
- Б. Хорејш, А. Булатовић, Први резултати археолошких истраживања локалитета Свињаричка Чука код Лебана, Лесковачки зборник LIX, 2019, 45–54.
- B. Horejs, A. Bulatović, C. Meyer, B. Milić, St. Schneider, M. Schlöffel, V. Stevanović, Prehistoric Landscapes of the Pusta Reka region (Leskovac). New investigations along the southern Morava River, Journal of the Serbian Archaeological Society 34, 2018, 23–51.
- M. Brandl, C. Hauzenberger, Geochemical sourcing of lithic raw materials from secondary deposits in south Serbia: Implications for early Neolithic resource management strategies, Archaeologia Austriaca 102, 2018, 55–70.