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24 November 2010
World's oldest Copper Age settlement found

A 'sensational' discovery of 75-century-old copper tools in Serbia - up to eight centuries older than what has been found to date - is now compelling scientists to reevaluate existing theories about where and when man began using metal. Axes, hammers, hooks and needles were found interspersed with other artefacts from a settlement that burned down approximately 7,000 years ago at Plocnik, located near Prokuplje and 200 km south of Belgrade.
     The village had existed for some eight centuries before its demise. After a big fire, its unknown inhabitants moved away, but what they left behind points to man's earliest known extraction and shaping of metal. Scientists had previously concluded that the mining, extraction and manipulation of copper began in Asia Minor, spreading from there. With the find in Plocnik, parallel and simultaneous developments of those skills in several places now seem more likely, Ernst Pernicka, an archaeology professor at Germany's Tuebingen University, said.
     The site at Plocnik is believed to cover some 120 hectares and is buried under several metres of soil. Serbian archaeologists have so far exposed three homes, the largest measuring eight by five metres. The layer of earth the home stood upon is still blackened from the scorching heat that destroyed the village. It is unclear what caused the fire, and there has been no damage found that would indicate an outside attack. The huts collapsed in on their contents, with mud bricks and ashes burying all that was inside. Contents include pottery, statues, tools and a worktable.
     Scientists are debating whether the Plocnik village led the world to the Copper Age in the 6th millennium BCE, particularly as remains of primitive copper smelters were recently discovered not far away, close to today's mines and smelters in Majdanpek and Bor.
     Although it remains unclear why a comparatively large quantity of copper tools were found at Plocnik, the head archaeologist on site, Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic, speculated that the village may have been a tool-making or trading centre. "These people were not wild," Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic stressed, indicating fine pieces such as statuettes. "They had finely combed hair and adorned themselves with necklaces." One statue of a woman depicts her wearing some sort of a mini skirt, while others wore long and broad scarves.
     Whatever remains to be found at Ploce and elsewhere, "mankind took a major step toward the modern era" during that time, Pernicka noted.

Edited from Hindustan Times (15 November 2010)

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