2023 summer excavation of the ERC project ‘Yamnaya Impact on Prehistoric Europe’ (YMPACT) took the team for a month to the Hajdúböszörmény District of Hungary, in the heart of the Great Hungarian Plain. The archaeological research was conducted in collaboration with Marianna Bálint from the Hajdúsági Múzeum in Hajdúböszörmény and János Dani from the Déri Múzeum in Debrecen.
A relatively small mound, c. 40 m wide but only 1 m high, at the site of Hajdúböszörmény-Prod, Vidi-zug, was located in the natural reserve zone of the Hortobágy National Park, offering the sight of an authentic steppe landscape. The mound does not stand alone in the flat land but forms a little cluster with a kurgan in Hajdúnánás-Zagolya, 2 km to the north, which was excavated 10 years ago by János, Marianna and Volker Heyd together with many other colleagues and students, and another smaller kurgan excavated last year by Marianna Bálint and her team some 700 m to the south.
Our team focused on the eastern half of the mound, which was already partially excavated in the 1980s and was further damaged by earth work, to gain an understanding of its occupation and stratigraphy. To our surprise, the site revealed occupation for over four millennia and outstanding archaeological heritage, exceeding any expectations. A total number of 37 graves and pits were researched, dating from the 4th millennium BC (still to be confirmed) to the 1st millennium AD.
The Yamnaya grave, the principal target of this year’s excavation, was uncovered close to the original center of the mound towards the end of our field work campaign. It was the grave of a man in his 30s, buried following the typical custom of these steppe communities; laid on his back, with originally raised knees however having fallen to both sides forming a frog fork after decomposition, and hands on the pelvis, west-east oriented. Traces of a proper wooden grave pit cover were not identified. However, we found two flint arrowheads, one next the lower pelvis and the other between the ribs, making us wonder if this individual was shot at and killed.
In the next months, further analyses will provide more information. 14C dates will tell us if we are correct in our assumption of the grave dating late in the Yamnaya sequence and if our understanding of the stratigraphy is correct. Bio-anthropology, ancient DNA, stable isotopes, and bio-marker lipids analyses will tell us more about the ancestry of this man, his diet, activities, and the prehistoric world he lived in.
Our own international team comprised of up to 15 people, with University of Helsinki students, as well as colleagues and journalists working with us and visiting from, besides Finland, Poland, Bulgaria, USA, Italy, Germany, Czechia, and France. But work would have been impossible without our Hungarian partners, numbering similarly, and comprising of several collaborators (including technician and conservator) from the Hajdúsági Múzeum; scientists specialized in nature, botany and soils; and visiting archaeology and anthropology friends, locals and journalists. Thank you everyone for the great work and input!
Local collaborators and volunteers:
YMPACT project members:
Students at UH:
International team members: