Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a nearly 8,000-year-old village built on stilts above a lake in the Balkans. Though they’re still awaiting the results of dating tests, they suspect it may be the oldest known settlement of its kind found in Europe, per Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe.
“It is several hundred years older than previously known lake-dwelling sites in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions,” says excavation leader Albert Hafner, an archaeologist at Switzerland’s University of Bern, to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A team of researchers found the settlement’s underwater remains while excavating a site on the shore of Lake Ohrid near Lin, Albania. In the lake, they came across hundreds of stilts made from tree trunks, which they think once served as the foundations of dwellings and other structures. They also uncovered tens of thousands of wooden spikes that they suspect would have helped fend off unwanted intruders.
The researchers don’t know if the village was originally built above shallower, marshy ground or deeper waters. Today, the underwater stilts are mostly buried under silt. To take samples from the stilts and spikes, archaeologists had to don scuba diving gear and swim down to them.
Based on the age of wooden foundations found on shore nearby, the archaeologists suspect the village dates to around 5800 to 5900 B.C.E. But they’ll have a more definitive answer once they finish their analyses, which include radiocarbon dating and tree ring studies.
At the very least, the settlements in the region are “much older than we expected,” as Hafner says in an interview with Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).
The researchers estimate between 200 and 500 people lived at the site, per AFP. Based on the remains of bones, plants and seeds found there, they probably grew crops and raised livestock for food, while also relying on wild resources.
Their daily life was “probably a permanent struggle for survival,” says Hafner to the FDFA.
“With a mixed economy based on agriculture and animal husbandry, but also including hunting wild animals, fishing and gathering plants and small animals, they tried to be as diversified as possible,” he adds.
Researchers still don’t know why these settlers built their villages on stilts, though this appears to have been a common prehistoric practice throughout Europe. One theory is that building their dwellings above water made it easy for them to get around in canoes, while another holds that living on the water would’ve made the village harder to attack, per Live Science.
No matter the reason, the settlement and its defensive spikes would have taken a lot of time and effort to build.
“To protect themselves in this way, they had to cut down a forest,” Hafner tells AFP.