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Oldest Lakeside Settlement in Europe Discovered in Albania

Oldest Lakeside Settlement
Radiocarbon dating from the site puts it at between 6000 and 5800 BC. Credit: Facebook/Edi Rama, Albania’s PM

An ancient lakeside settlement that was discovered recently in southern Albania has been described as the oldest found in Europe.

The settlement of stilt houses was submerged 8,000 years under Lake Ohrid. Radiocarbon dating from the site puts it at between 6000 and 5800 BC.

“It is several hundred years older than previously known lake-dwelling sites in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions,” said Albert Hafner, a professor of archaeology from Switzerland’s University of Bern.

“To our knowledge, it is the oldest in Europe,” he told AFP.

The most ancient other such villages were discovered in the Italian Alps and date to around 5000 BC, said the expert in European Neolithic lake dwellings.

Hafner and his team of Swiss and Albanian archaeologists have spent the past four years carrying out excavations at Lin on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid, which straddles the mountainous border of North Macedonia and Albania.

In July, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama touted the discovery in a Facebook post, hailing its “undisputed historical and archaeological value.”

The oldest lakeside settlement was home to as many as 500 people

The settlement is believed to have been home to between 200 and 500 people, with houses built on stilts above the lake’s surface or in areas regularly flooded by rising waters.

And it is slowly revealing some astonishing secrets.

During a recent dive, archaeologists uncovered evidence suggesting the settlement was fortified with thousands of spiked planks used as defensive barricades.

“To protect themselves in this way, they had to cut down a forest,” said Hafner.

But why did the villagers need to build such extensive fortifications to defend themselves? Archaeologists are still searching for an answer to the elusive question.

Researchers estimate that roughly 100,000 spikes were driven into the bottom of the lake off Lin, with Hafner calling the discovery “a real treasure trove for research.”

It will take another 20 years for archaeologists to fully plumb the depths of the ancient village and draw conclusions from their findings on the stilt houses. They have already been examining the area for four years and have come upon seeds, plants, and the bones of wild and domesticated animals in their time at the site so far.

Oldest Lakeside Settlement
The Albanian side of Lake Ohrid where the ancient settlement was found. Credit: albinfo, CC BY 2.0

Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world and has been around for more than a million years. The underwater excavations have proven to be challenging.

Some of the samples are now being analyzed at Oxford University and are expected to provide meaningful answers about how people lived 8,000 years ago in Europe.

Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes, with a unique aquatic ecosystem of worldwide importance, with more than 200 endemic species.

With a maximum depth of 288 meters (945 ft) and a mean depth of 155 m (509 ft), it is the deepest lake in the Balkans. It covers an area of 358 square kilometers (138 sq mi).

64 percent of Lake Ohrid’s shoreline and 69 percent of its surface area are within North Macedonia, whereas 36 percent of the shoreline and 31 percent of its surface area fall within Albania.

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