The oldest lakeside settlement ever found in Europe has been discovered beneath the waters of a million-year-old lake in Albania. Dated to around 8,000 years old, the ancient village was built on stilts and once sat above the surface of the lake, while a fortress of wooden spikes surrounded the settlement to protect it from some unknown threat.
Researchers came across the submerged village while carrying out excavations at Lin, on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid. Located on the border with North Macedonia, the mountain lake is believed to be one of the oldest in the world.
Prior to this discovery, a 7,000-year-old lakeside dwelling in the Italian Alps held the record for the oldest find of its kind in Europe. However, radiocarbon dating has indicated that the village beneath Lake Ohrid was constructed between 6000 and 5800 BCE, making it about a millennium older than any other on the continent.
"It is several hundred years older than previously known lake-dwelling sites in the Mediterranean and Alpine regions," Professor Albert Hafner from the University of Bern told AFP. "To our knowledge, it is the oldest in Europe."
According to the researchers, the village was probably home to between 200 and 500 people. Dating all the way back to the Neolithic period, it’s likely that the settlement represented one of the first sedentary communities in Europe.
Why these ancient settlers went to all the trouble of constructing their home on stilts above a lake is something that researchers are currently trying to figure out. "Building their village on stilts was a complex task, very complicated, very difficult, and it's important to understand why these people made this choice," said Adrian Anastasi from the Albanian Institute of Archaeology.
Even more astonishingly, the researchers came across thousands of wooden spikes on the lake floor. They estimate that the village was protected by a ring of about 100,000 of these spikes, each of which was driven into the bottom of the lake.
"To protect themselves in this way, they had to cut down a forest," said Hafner.
It’s currently unclear why the inhabitants of the ancient village felt so threatened or who they were protecting themselves against. The researchers say it will probably take another two decades of studying the site to come up with some answers.