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Reconstruction of ancient stilt houses. Source: Takashi Images / Adobe Stock.

Oldest Stilted Village in Europe Found Underwater Behind Defensive Spikes


A team of underwater excavators diving in Lake Ohrid, between Macedonia and Albania, have discovered an ancient stilted village protected by 100,000 defensive wooden spikes. Built around 8,000-years-ago, this is potentially the oldest stilted village ever discovered in Europe.

Lake Ohrid is situated in the mountainous border of North Macedonia and Albania and its depths hold remarkable archaeological significance spanning over 8 millennia. Now, scientists have uncovered what they think might be one of “Europe’s earliest sedentary communities,” and it was heavily defended.

Lake Ohrid, Albania. Source: 3YES3 / Adobe Stock.

Lake Ohrid, Albania. Source: 3YES3 / Adobe Stock.

The Oldest Lakeside Community In Europe

A report on explains the team of archaeologists believe the Albanian shore of Lake Ohrid was the location of a settlement of stilt houses. It is estimated that between 200 to 500 people inhabited the settlement at any given time, and that it was built between 6,000 and 5,800 BC. If this dating is accurate, then the site represents the oldest lakeside village ever discovered in Europe.

Professor Albert Hafner, an archaeologist from Switzerland’s University of Bern, told AFP that his team of Swiss and Albanian archaeologists spent the past four years excavating at Lin, on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid. He said the village is “several hundred years older than previously known lake-dwelling sites in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions.” In conclusion, Hafner said this suggests the site is “the oldest” of its type in Europe.

A Heavily Defended Archaeological Treasure Trove

According to Professor Ilir Gjepali, an Albanian archaeologist, the team found “seeds, plants, and bones of both wild and domesticated animals.” This leads the researchers to speculate that the villagers survived on fishing, agriculture and rearing domesticated livestock.

At the submerged settlement, the underwater archaeologists also identified fossilized fragments of wood, including “prized pieces of oak.” Albanian archaeologist, Adrian Anastasi, counted tree rings and derived valuable new insights about the climatic and environmental conditions during that period.

The divers also discovered evidence that the settlement was fortified with around “100,000 defensive wooden spikes” that were driven into the bottom of the lake. Hafner said this discovery alone was “a real treasure trove for research.”

Putting The Stilted Village Into Context

Until this discovery upset the apple cart, one of the oldest known stilted villages in Europe, and the world, was the "Stilt House Settlement on the Lake of Zurich," in Switzerland. Built during the Late Bronze Age, around 1100-800 BC, this prehistoric village consists of houses built on stilts over the water. And in Scotland, the Oakbank Crannog in Loch Tay was one of the oldest known stilted houses ever discovered, dating back to around 4000 years ago, during the Bronze Age.

Until this recent discovery on Lake Ohrid, the oldest stilted settlement known to archaeologists was the "Sankt Peter am Wallersee" site in Austria. Dating back to around 3943-3668 BC, during the Neolithic period, the houses in this ancient village were all built on wooden stilts over the water.

Why Water Worlds Were Preferred

Whether in Albania, Austria, Scotland or elsewhere in Europe, stilted settlements provided insights into early agrarian societies' ways of life, architecture, and resource utilization. But what were the key motivators that inspired ancient cultures in Europe to build stilted settlements?

Primarily, they were designed for flood avoidance in areas prone to deluge, but right beside this primary motivator comes defence. Locating settlements over water made them more difficult to attack, because the watery surroundings acted as a natural moat making it harder for outsiders to access the settlement, enhancing the security of the inhabitants.

Bodies of water also provided a ready source of fish and aquatic plants for sustenance, and living on water enabled easier movement of people and goods. However, perhaps the primary reason people constructed stilted settlements was to enhance perceived status and prestige, because building over water held deep cultural and social significance, symbolizing the higher status of the community leaders.

Top image: Reconstruction of ancient stilt houses. Source: Takashi Images / Adobe Stock.

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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