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Dr Miroslav Kočić, Director Of The Dragoslav Srejović Archaeology Centre, University Of Kragujevac; Executive Manager Of The Vinča Belo Brdo Site Remediation Project

And Where Are You From?

And where are you from and where does your family hail from?” This is a question that every “Dinaric” person knows from birth. Of course, this question isn’t merely an indicator of geographic origin, but rather also an array of other information that’s woven into the answer. And almost every Dinaric person knows how to provide an answer containing a lot of knowledge and incredibly detailed descriptions of their personal and family histories. This is a question that I learned to answer before I’d even learned how to walk, like reading Chad Gadya for the Passover Seder “Žarko Spasojev, Spasoje Markov, Marko Mijailov…” and so on, for 15 generations with all locations

Archaeology, particularly in Europe, is often an “affliction” of romantic people, and those who work in this field for such reasons are fascinated by great artworks, construction endeavours and the names and destinies of great people.

However, it was actually the question from the start of this article that led me into archaeology and anthropology, because it caused blistering like a stone in a shoe. Although I dealt with music and the natural sciences in my youth, the question of “where we really come from” kept resounding in my head, especially because that was etched into my subconscious like being carved in marble by the tragic events of the ‘90s, when that question caused people to lose their minds, often in conflicts between people who trace back to the same person by just the 6th generation of their ancestry. That’s why I had to start seeking an answer to that question. ‘Where are we from’ had now gained an additional element: ‘why are we the way we are?’.

That search led me to the University of Pittsburgh, where I enrolled in doctoral studies in the Department of Anthropology on the topic of analysing the emergence of organised violence and social complexity, where I won a National Science Foundation Award for the topic. It then became clear to me that the question of where we’re from had become the most important existing question. Of course, we’re no longer talking about geographical origin, but rather much deeper and more important themes. Where does our need to live in large communities come from? Where does hierarchy come from, and the acceptance of it? Where does our capacity for altruism, but also violence, come from? Answering these questions established the map of the future. Our ability to communicate, which developed over the course of 150,000 years to serve the needs of hunter-gatherer societies, led to the producing of the Bible, the Quran, the Analects of Confucius, the 9th symphony and the internet, but likewise also led to choices that condemned hundreds of societies to collapse and oblivion.

Our vision is to utilise this place where people were inspired 7,000 years ago to create new ideas, technologies and materials in order to inspire new generations to transform the world

Of course, in searching for this answer it became necessary to peel away accumulated layers of historical baggage, with many of the “implicit values” of modern man. I thus began digging deeper, both figuratively and literally, down to the Neolithic layers, where I struck the very foundations of modern society. That might seem like an excessive statement, but by following the postulates laid down by E. Lorenz, an initial set of factors causes all subsequent results. Serendipitously, in our area, on the territory of the central Balkans, one of the most intriguing and well-developed Neolithic cultures flourished during the Neolithic period: the Vinča culture.

In the period between 5300 and 4600 BC, 2,000 years before the construction of the great pyramids of Giza, this culture had already created more than 600 settlements on the territory of present-day Serbia, including towns with several thousand inhabitants, and the first drops of molten copper emerged, adding another set of factors for humanity in the form of metallurgy. The importance of such cultures is recognised by both the office of the Prime Minister of Serbia and the U.S. Embassy, which also provide funds for the remediation of the eponymous site of that culture that named the entire culture: Vinča Belo Brdo. Our vision is to utilise this place where people were inspired 7,000 years ago to create new ideas, technologies and materials in order to inspire new generations to transform the world. At the University of Kragujevac, we are establishing the Dragoslav Srejović Archaeology Centre, which continues to address issues of complex societies in the hope that we will contribute to mapping a better tomorrow, and that the question “where does your family hail from?” will help to answer another question: “where are we going?”.

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