The 26th Ljubljana Neolithic Seminar and on celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Study of Archaeology at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana

Eszter Bánffy
HUN-REN RCH Institute of Archaeology
Centre of Excellence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Romano-Germanic Commission – German Archaeological Institute, Research Unit Budapest

Archaeology in Ljubljana has a long history, which is fitting for this gem of a city within the Hapsburg tradition. The capital of Slovenia is located “on the sunny side of the Alps” while at the same time benefitting from an additional air of joy from the Mediterranean. In 2023, the Ljubljana Department of Archaeology celebrated its 100th birthday. This department is doubly meaningful for the EAA, since the first inaugural meeting which defined the vision and the goals of our nascent association took place there in 1994. The Department releases their own journal: Documenta Praehistorica (previously Poročilo o raziskovanju paleolitika, neolitika in eneolitika v Sloveniji). Importantly, since the establishment of the Neolithic Seminars, this annual journal has always contained the papers of the presenters; in 2023 it also celebrated an important milestone: its 50th edition.

Almost three decades ago, renowned expert of prehistoric archaeology in the Ljubljana department Prof. Mihael Budja initiated the Neolithic Seminars. After a gap during the COVID pandemic, the annual conferences were re-established, to the great joy of the international Neolithic community. As per tradition, the 26th Neolithic Seminar at the University of Ljubljana took place in early November (9th-11th). The meeting was opened by the Rector, Prof. Dr. Anton Ramšak and the Vice Dean, Prof. Dr. Sašo Jerše. It was touching to listen to Prof. Jerše’s meaningful scientific paper on the significance of time depth in Walter Benjamin’s concept of messianic time and its implications for archaeology. The talk will be published as an Introduction to the centennial conference volume, which can be considered as exceptional in the history of greetings or short opening speeches.

The tradition of inviting Neolithic researchers from across Europe and beyond has continued. This is, in no small part thanks to Professor Budja’s worldwide network of experts on the archaeology of the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic. With regards to the wider history of the Seminars, it has often happened that several colleagues attend from the wider Eurasian orbit, e.g., from China and Iran, thus highlighting novel dimensions for European Neolithic research. This time, participants included representatives from 13 European countries as well as the USA and one researcher from the Russian Federation (who arrived despite the known current difficulties of acquiring visas, etc. all the way from the capital of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude).

The main theme of the conference was 'Eurasian Neolithics: How Cultures and Societies Evolve and Why It Matters'. The aim of the conference was to discuss the concepts, models and interpretative trajectories of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultural formations. This topic includes the transition to sedentary life (specifically the coevolution of genes and culture), the construction of human niches, neolithization processes, paleogenetic palimpsests, demography, subsistence, environmental and climate fluctuations, chronologies, technologies, settlement patterns, social practises and ideologies on the one hand, and interdisciplinary methodologies and modelling on the other.

Papers were given on site, as well as a few online. Among the papers, the four from Anatolia and northwest Turkey – also involving newly-discovered pre-pottery Neolithic sites with monumental art – were breath-taking. Some papers gave overarching views on the initial and the more developed phases of Neolithic lifeways, social structure and their changes and implications stemming from the comparison of archaeological and bioarchaeological data. The regions encompassed a spot in Siberia and several sites in western Asia, various angles of Europe spanning from the Aegean over the Carpathian Basin to the Baltic and western Central Europe, whereas the farthest geographic venue discussing Neolithic development focused on Britain and Ireland. Temporally, research presented spanned from the 10th to the 4th millennia BCE. This large spatial and temporal spectrum allowed general comparative views and provoked a plethora of questions. But as it is often the case, the discussion continued in the coffee breaks and over the dinner table, raising exciting new research questions and new ideas, as well as opportunities for cooperation in future research.

The 26th Neolithic Seminar was a highlight for all those who are entangled with the widescale (but nonetheless closely related!) themes of the pre-metal phases of prehistory. As already mentioned, each year the conference papers are published in the next issue of the Documenta Praehistorica. Thus, those with an interest in the history and of the results of the Neolithic Seminars can soon follow the state of new research and novel interpretations on the Neolithic transition and the early phases of the Neolithic across Europe, Anatolia and in western Eurasia. Since the Journal is fully open access, earlier issues are also available via the journal’s archive.

All participants thanked the Ljubljana Department of Archaeology—and especially Prof. Budja—for this long-term commitment, hopefully to be continued!

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