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26 August 2007
Bronze Age hide-out discovered in Albania

An archaeology team reports that the mountains of northern Albania, perhaps the most remote place left in Europe, have been a hide-out for a surprisingly long time. A leader of the expedition, archaeologist Michael Galaty of Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., reports on this summer's expedition now that he's back from to the Shala Valley in northern Northern Albania's mountains.
     "Some five hundred years ago, people came here fleeing the Ottoman empire. We expected to find what they left behind," Galaty says. Perched on a promontory near the village of Grunas are the remains of walls, which the team initially assumed were from a hideout left over from the 1500's. However, a little digging on a 2006 expedition revealed something wrong with the walls. They were too old and some were made of 'cyclopean' stone, boulders roughly fitted together without any mortar, a style associated with the Bronze-Age Greek Kingdom of Mycenae. Instead of a medieval hidey-hole, the team had unearthed the remains of a fortress from the Bronze Age, some time around 800 BCE, as indicated by a radiocarbon date and the pottery and stone tools left behind there.
     "For whatever reason, it turns out people have been fleeing to this valley for about 3,000 years," Galaty says. The find is particularly interesting for a few reasons, he adds. Around 800 BCE, the shift from Bronze Age to Iron Age had started in the region of Europe north of Greece. The ancient Greeks were emerging from a long Dark Age that had lasted for several centuries and were tangling with Illyrian kingdoms on the Adriatic coast.
     This summer, with help from the National Science Foundation and others, Galaty's team went back to uncover the story of who owned the fortress of Grunas. To their surprise, they uncovered at least five buildings (two of them stone), mud-plastered houses for a more than a dozen people, the foundations of a pair of look-out towers, a gate and huge terraces. Galaty believes a few hundred people likely lived in the fortress, whose age was confirmed by chemical analysis of the pottery shards found in the foundations. "Somebody put in a lot of time and effort to build walls up there," he says, noting the terrace walls were several feet thick and reached more than 15 feet high in places.
     Drilling about 2,000 auger holes in the terraces atop the hilltop, the team determined that people have been leaving behind waste at the site since at least about 1,000 BCE. And they found the terraces were carefully engineered in place, a common practice in the classic Greek world, but unknown in northern Albanian sites. Although the team members are still deciphening who lived in Grunas, much of the pottery they have uncovered appears to originate from farther further south of Albania in the early Iron Age, towards the Illyrian coast.
     
Source: USA Today (20 August 2007)

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