Archaeological culture and prehistory: Salcuta-Telish case study

L. Nikolova




                                                                              Salcuta IV - Telish IV pottery from Romania.

                                                                                         Photo: Luca, Roman & Diaconescu

The prehistoric archaeology is one of the most important disciplines to learn about evolution of human society. It provides primary evidence of when and how people began to create and reproduce households, to develop successful strategies for healthy life and to create the wonderful human culture as a synthesis of beauty, interactions with nature and human creativity.

One of the basic categories of prehistoric archaeology is archaeological culture. This is a regional term since the archaeological culture encompasses similar and identical material culture over a specific region during a specific period. The sites can be compact (the typical case) or spread over vast region (e.g. Pit Grave Culture). Archaeological culture requires a diachronic connectivity and presumes territorial connectivity although there are exceptions. As a rule, inner migrations result in a change of the material culture style, so one and the same population can be a barrier of different cultures. It is also presumed in prehistory that identical or very similar culture means a population with one and the same social identity that can be also named ethnicity.

Defining an archaeological culture is a primary and extremely huge responsibility of the professional archaeologists. From global perspectives it is accepted that the local archaeologists have competence and enough academic education for correct recognition of the different archaeological cultures. Although usually based on replication and updates, defining new archaeological culture nowadays means in some cases a new scientific knowledge. However, some “new” cultures unfortunately create theoretical and ethical problems in the contemporary prehistoric archaeology.

One of the lines of scholarly misconducts in prehistoric archaeology is rediscovering or renaming of well-known archaeological cultures. Typical instance is the case with Galatin in historiography: a well known culture (Salcuta IV or Salcuta IV – Telish IV, or Salcuta - Telish) was renamed Galatin by P. Georgieva in her contradicting PhD thesis in later 20th century (see the cited literature by P. Georgieva in Nikolova 1999). There was no single argument for such renaming.

Salcuta IV was first discovered in Oltenia and most data still come from Romania. In Bulgaria the only site with rich settlement and pottery information was Telish, while Galatin provided handful well known from the other sites shards without any stratigraphic context. During the battle of culture naming there was even a rumor that Georgieva imported Sheibenhenkel shards from Telish to make “her culture” more impressive. Curiously, it is a fact that the initial excavations of Galatin conducted by B. Nikolov and H. Todorova did not report Scheibenhenkel shards. On top of everything, as a student P. Georgieva tried to mislead the director of a summer excavation that there was an artifact discovered in a grave of Pit Grave Culture. It was put by her under the head of the buried although with inventory number. Such joke was out of understanding of all other students who accepted the excavations as a scientific laboratory and not a place of game-like practicing of fraud.

Salcuta IV (or Salcuta – Telish) is organically connected with Central Europe, so Northwest Bulgaria is just a periphery of this culture, which is of primary importance for understanding the Final Copper Age period in the Balkans (among the new literature online about Salcuta and Bodrogkeresztur see Luca, Roman & Diaconescu (online), Patroi (online), Thomas (2007-2009)).

Curiously, instead following the scientific line of Balkan prehistoric research, new authors, without proved long-term and in depth knowledge on the region, replicated non-scholarly line of research. Recently, I. Merkyte included Galatin in a complicated chronological table, without any explanation why was chose Galatin. Such accumulation of mistakes creates layers of difficulties to understand Balkan prehistoric archaeology, which is important for so many crossing prehistoric and other humanitarian disciplines. Luckily, after the popular rediscoveries of cultures in Northeast Bulgaria by H. Todorova in later 20th century who had used the Romanian scientific contributions for building cultures and schemes named as “new for science”, Galatin is a rare instance of theoretical misconduct on Balkan prehistory in which usually work serious and respectful archaeologists.

The chronological scheme of I. Merkyte in her 2005 publication also poses other essential questions: How can the replication of mistakes create a long diachronic line of misunderstanding of Balkan prehistory? For instance, it is stated that Sitagroi IV is synchronous with “Galatin” while there are serious in depth researches that clearly show that Sitagroi IV is a typical Early Bronze Age multilevel village founded over the prehistoric mound that followed Salcuta IV – Telish IV. In addition, there is a series of extensive researches that clearly shows that in light of present evidence Early Bronze Age began abt 3600 and there is no Transition period – a term introduced by S. Morintz and P. Roman in considerably early stage of modern understanding of Balkan prehistory. In late 1960s were missing so many rich excavations from different parts of this region that later showed not only continuity in the development of the cultural process but also the mechanism of the cultural and social transformations in later Balkan prehistory. Salcuta IV – Telish IV (or just Salcuta – Telish) is a stage of the Final Copper transformation of the Balkans that included intensive interactions with Central Europe and graduate increasing of this line of contacts together with steppe contacts and possible multidirectional ethnical migrations.

The main fault of the Bulgarian variant of Transition period adopted by H. Todorova is that it ignored the Central European line of interactions and described the changes of the material culture as one direction invasion from the Russian steppe. This hybrid thesis that combined the Romanian term Transition period with the popular Gumbutas’ invasion theory has one of the biggest negative impacts on Balkan prehistory in later 20th century which extension is also the renaming of well-known and well-researched culture Salcuta IV (or Salcuta – Telish). According to online information, Gimbutas – Bulgarian model was replicated in a dissertation by I. Merkyte and also posed a very serious academic question: If a new archaeological material (like Liga and Ezero-Kale) is not a base for a new scientific conclusions by the author, should this material be defended as a PhD dissertation? What is in fact the scientific meaning of the PhD dissertation in archaeology – new theoretical knowledge or applied replicated knowledge? It is really pity in case with Liga, since the publication of the site (Merkyte 2005) shows a very rich material that could be a base for new brilliant scientific theses if it is analyzed in depth. As a matter of fact, as the identical dissertation by P. Georgieva showed in Bulgaria, it is impossible to resolve the problems of transition from late Copper Age to the Final Copper Age and from the Final Copper Age to Early Bronze Age base on limited regional case studies. Only broad regional comparative analyses provide relevant scholarly conclusions (see Nikolova 1999).

The prehistoric chronological scheme is a primary research tool for expression of scholarly knowledge. However, from archaeological perspectives, they need to be well-argued in the text since seeing mixed chronologically cultures or unreasonable renaming create the impression of absence of deep and professional knowledge.


Luca, S.L., Roman, Ch., & Diaconescu, D. (online). Archaeological studies in the Cauce cave (I). Retrieved September 10, 2010 from
Merkyte, I. (2005). Lîga. Copper Age strategies in Bulgaria. Acta Archaeologica 76, 1, 1-193. Acta Archaeologica Supplement 6.
Nikolova, L. (1999). The Balkans in later Prehistroy. Oxford: BAR.
Nikolova, L. (2009). Approach to the archaeology of social change (A Case Study from Balkan Later Prehistory). Retrieved September 10, 2010 from
Patroi, C.N. (online). Ceramica eneolitica de tip Salcuta. Retrieved September 10, 2010 from
Thomas, M. (2007-2009). The Bodrogkeresztur culture. Retrieved September 10, 2010 from

External links:
Merkyte, I. (2009). Transitions in Archaeology: From the Copper Age to the Bronze Age in Southeastern Europe: Liga-Ezero-Kale. Retrieved September 10, 2010 from
Merkyte, I. (2009). Transitions in Archaeology From the Copper Age to the Bronze Age in Southeastern Europe: Liga-Ezero-Kale. Retrieved September 10, 2010 from