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Tumulus Mapping Project

Sylvia Deskaj (PhD Candidate, Anthropology) Related

The tumuli (burial mounds) of northern Albania appeared suddenly on the Shkodër plain around the start of the Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC). The ongoing Projekti Arkeologjikë i Shkodrës (PASH), which is co-directed by Drs. Michael Galaty (Millsaps College) and Lorenc Bejko (University of 

Tirana), has located, identified, and mapped most tumuli throughout the region. These northern Albanian tumuli, when considered within the larger spatial scale of the Balkans, have the potential to help archaeologists better understand the impacts that social interaction and population movement had on their sudden appearance during the Bronze Age. Did the concept of tumulus burial spread as a result of migration, indigenous adoption, or both? Until data generated from other similar contexts are made available, this is something that will be difficult to assess.

Unfortunately, many of the tumuli are in significant danger of being destroyed due to soil mining. In its immediate form, the Tumulus Mapping Project will serve as a digital library through which tumuli in the region will be mapped and information collected for each tumulus will be made available to a wider audience.

Like the plethora of “culture types” commonly used to describe the prehistoric peoples of the Balkans, there are comparatively similar numbers of on-going archaeological projects throughout the region at any given time. Moreover, the results generated from archaeological projects are often published in obscure journals and in languages that are generally inaccessible by the global archaeological community. Although the Tumulus Mapping Project focuses on northern Albanian tumuli as a case study, this project will serve as an example and perhaps repository for other similar Balkan initiatives that seek to archive, store, remember, display, and keep track of the rich data sets collected by archaeologists in the wider region.

Since the PASH project is still accruing survey and excavation data, scholarly publications have not yet occurred. In the meantime, however, these data are perhaps best served in a public sphere – rather than simply living in a field database for the majority of the year. If the survey data from the Shkodër tumuli are made available via the Tumulus Mapping Project, scholars working on similar projects and/or working in the region will be better able to compare their data with that from the PASH project. Moreover, by creating a public space for the cultural heritage aspect of the PASH project, Albanians, cultural heritage scholars, and archaeologists can refer to these rapidly deteriorating tumuli as an example of – and case study for – the importance of preserving the past.