Excavations at the Prehistoric Burial Tumulus of Lofkënd in Albania in 2006
Excavations continued in the summer of 2006 at the prehistoric burial mound of Lofkënd in Albania as a collaboration of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and the Institute of Archaeology, Academy of Sciences, Tirana, together with the International Center for Albanian Archaeology, co-directed by the Lorenc Bejko, Sarah Morris, and John Papadopoulos. At the end of the 2005 campaign, 62 tombs had been cleared, with a further four uncovered but not excavated. A low-level aerial photograph of the site taken from a paramotor (motored glider) shows the tumulus at the end of the 2005 campaign (Fig. 1). By the conclusion of the 2006 season (June 19 July 28) the total number of tombs discovered in the tumulus stands at 92 (many multiple burials, thus the total number of individuals was considerably more). All of the new burials date to the Early Iron Age (ca. 1100-700 B.C.) and were in the typical flexed position. Although traces of burning were found with several tombs in 2004 and 2005, the first true cremation tombs appeared in 2006. One of the two cremations was deposited beside an inhumation (Fig. 2), presumably in an organic container or cloth that had disintegrated.
The new burials excavated in 2006 yielded a broad array of finds, primarily pottery, including the characteristic local handmade matt-painted pottery of the Early Iron Age (Fig. 3), and items of personal adornment: beads of semi-precious stone, glass compound, and terracotta, as well as many different types of bronze, iron, and bimetallic items of jewelry, including fibulae and dress pins. A pattern seen in earlier seasons was repeated in 2006: the richest burials were consistently those of younger females, several of whom wore bronze diadems around their heads (Fig. 4). The most enigmatic tomb was discovered late in the season, comprising a larger and deeper than normal pit with the bones of several individuals, in total disarray, together with animal bones. This combination was found in no other grave and, more importantly, this one tomb was centrally located in the tumulus and appears to have been the first of all the tombs laid out. By the last day of the season, however, both the tomb pit and the human and animal bone extended to greater depth, so the excavation of this central grave will continue in 2007.
While we hoped to complete the excavation of the tumulus in 2006, and reached bedrock in over three-quarters of the mound, deposits in the southeast section clearly continue. The rest of the tumulus and the baulks will be excavated in 2007. A project to rebuild the tumulus to its original appearance, using locally made mudbricks to reconstruct the baulks, was initiated and will be completed in 2007, along with a plan for providing information on the site for visitors.
Careful excavation of an undisturbed burial tumulus such as Lofkënd provides much new information on the processes of tumulus formation, as well as the role of such a prominent monument in the constructed landscape. Our excavations have revealed much new data on pre- and protohistoric mortuary customs in Albania. They also allow us to undertake a comparison of burial customs with tumuli and other types of cemetery sites from a broader region, drawing on results from all over Albania, as well as neighboring countries.
As in the past, the Lofkënd team was housed at the excavation base on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Apollonia. The 2006 team photograph was taken in the ancient odeion (small indoor theatre) at Apollonia (Fig. 5), prior to a celebration accompanied by Albanian music performed by our talented workmen.