historique-de-la-mission - MAFAK - Mission archéologique franco-albanaise du bassin de Korçë (Albanie) Access content directly

The Franco-Albanian Archaeological Mission of the Korçë Basin (Albania) was created in 1993 under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French School of Athens in partnership with the Archaeological Institute of Tirana, now attached to the Centre for Albanological Studies. Under the joint direction of French and Albanian researchers, it has since been active in the Korçë Basin, a small inland plain with a rich archaeological heritage, especially for prehistoric periods (Neolithic - Iron Age).

Until 2006, the Mission excavated a prehistoric lake dwelling near the village of Sovjan, about 15 km north of the town of Korçë, on the western shore of the former Maliq Lake, which has now dried up. The excavations, which are in the process of being published, have uncovered several levels of settlement, the oldest of which date back to the Early Neolithic (seventh millennium), while the best documented levels form an almost uninterrupted sequence from the end of the Early Bronze Age (end of the third millennium) to the beginning of the Iron Age (around 700 BC), when the site was submerged by the lake waters and definitively abandoned. The Sovjan site is of great interest for several reasons. On one hand, it comprises exceptionally well-preserved remains of Bronze Age wooden buildings; on the other hand, it provides new chronological data in the form of some forty radiocarbon dates and a dendrochronological sequence covering more than four centuries. Furthermore, it is important to mention the remarkable abundance and quality of the archaeological material (ceramics, tools, etc.), as well as the palaeoenvironmental material (fauna, seeds, plants, etc.) collected during excavations and several coring campaigns.

In order to place the Sovjan site in a broader spatio-temporal context, and explore the evolution of the relationship between humans and their environment at a regional and long-term scale, the Mission then extended its research to the entire northern part of the basin, around the former Lake Maliq. This is the PALM programme (Archaeological Prospection of Maliq Palaeo-lake) which carried out seven fieldwork campaigns from 2007 to 2013, the results of which are now being studied for publication. The objective was to draw up a complete archaeological map of settlement in relation to environmental changes (variations in lake level, climate, vegetation, etc.). This intensive prospecting multidisciplinary programme, combined with GIS, covered a total area of 120 km2 and made it possible to locate more than sixty new sites with chronologies ranging from prehistory to the Middle Ages.

Finally, from 2008 to 2011, the Mission excavated another lake dwelling discovered fortuitously near the village of Kallamas, on the edge of the Great Prespa Lake, some 40 km north of Korçë. The site extends over nearly 8 ha, making it the largest prehistoric settlement in Albania. It was settled between the Middle and Late Neolithic (sixth-fifth millennia), two phases absent from the Sovjan sequence. The results of excavations at Kallamas are currently being studied, but have already provided the first series of absolute dates available for these periods in Albania, which makes it possible to finally establish reliable synchronisms with neighbouring cultural areas. They have also shown that the site was a major polished stone blade production centre (axes, adzes), of unparalleled importance in the Balkans. Several hundred of these tools, at all stages of manufacture, have been collected, providing a unique opportunity to undertake a complete technological study of this toolkit. The site is now included in the Prespa National Park area, which is part of a concerted enhancement plan subsidised by the European Union, giving this project a cultural development dimension.

In sum, research carried out by the Mission in the Korçë region over the past 25 years has enhanced our knowledge of the prehistoric cultures that developed in southern Albania, by shedding light on certain hitherto neglected areas such as architecture and technology. It has also elucidated the different stages of material, economic and social development, by detailing the evolution of the absolute chronology of the diverse phases of artisanal production, subsistence modes, etc. Finally, it has traced the long-term history of the relationship between humans and their environment, as well as the evolution of settlement dynamics in a typical micro-region of the Balkans, at the junction between the mountain, the plain and the lake environment.

All of this work has given rise to numerous articles and communications. To date, the Mission has published regular preliminary reports (BCH, Iliria, ArchRep, etc.), detailed archaeological studies and studies of the palaeoenvironment in international highly-ranked journals, conference proceedings, collective works, etc., as well as articles for the general public and 13 posters presented at conferences. It has also given rise to a dozen academic works, some of which are currently in progress (Master degrees and PhDs). The Mission therefore remains very active in disseminating its work among the scientific community.

In addition, the Mission has also granted great importance to the promotion of its activities in various forms. Several mediation actions in primary schools - in Albania as well as in France - at the bilingual Franco-Albanian high school Raqi Qirinxhi in Korçë and at the Alliances françaises in Korçë and Tirana have been organised: archaeological workshops, site visits, bilingual exhibition, conferences, shooting of a documentary film entitled “Sovjan memory of a lake”...

For the general public, a series of trilingual leaflets entitled Discovering the prehistory of the Korçë region was published in 2014 with the release of its first opus devoted to daily life in prehistoric lake villages. On the other hand, at the request of the Prespa National Park administration, a showcase was created in the park pavilion, displaying a selection of archaeological objects from the Kallamas excavations. This is accompanied by a poster explaining the activities of the first inhabitants of the region in relation to the palaeoenvironment.
As a continuation of these promotional and educational activities, the recent work of the Mission was presented at the “Printemps de la Francophonie” 2018 in Tirana and Korçë.

Cécile Oberweiler and Gilles Touchais,
Respectively previous director and former director of MAFAK.