Aleksandar Palavestra

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Aleksandar Palavestra


Aleksandar Palavestra (born in 1956) is professor in the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. His research focusses on theory and history of archaeology, praehistoric archaeology and heraldry. Published books: “Kneževski grobovi starijeg gvozdenog doba na Centralnom Balkanu” (Princely Graves of the Early Iron Age Central Balkans,1984), “Rodoslovne tablice i grbovi srpskih dinastija i vlastele” (Genealogy and Heraldry of the Serbian Dynasties and Nobility; co-authors D. Spasić and D. Mrđenović, 1987), “Praistorijski ćilibar na centralnom i zapadnom Balkanu” (Prehistoric Amber in the Central and Western Balkans, 1993), “The Magic of Amber” (co-author V. Krstić, 2006), “Ilirski grbovnici i drugi heraldički radovi” (Illyrian Armorials and other Heraldic essays, 2010), “Kulturni konteksti arheologije” (Cultural Contexts of Archaeology, 2011).

Opening Conference

The Lost Step. Serbian Culture-Historical Archaeology and the Problem of Continuity

Culture-historical archaeology – the leading paradigm in Europe and Northern America during the first half of the 20th century, became dominant in the Serbian archaeology only after the Second World War. In the development of interpretive styles and archaeological practices in Serbia, locally specific characteristics are apparent, as well as the importance of the dominant individuals and their authority. Its foundation, development and specific traits move along an irregular trajectory, pointing to the shortcomings of the simplified and schematized pattern of linear sequence of paradigms (culture-historical, processual, postprocessual). The Serbian archaeology was in the position to establish some kind of culture-historical interpretive framework comparatively early, by the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the anthropogeographical school of Jovan Cvijić, itself compatible to the German and Austrian anthropological theory of Kulturkreislehre. However, the small archaeological community at the time did not accept the ideas of Cvijić concerning cultural belts/circles, and remained equally uninterested for his justified critique of the idea of deep cultural continuity in the Balkans, running from praehistory to the modern times. This idea of continuity of „the Balkan substrate” was very attractive to archaeologists, ethnologists, linguists, “characterologists” and “ethno-psychologists” in Serbia of the time. The leading Serbian archaeologist of the first half of the 20th century, Miloje Vasić, completely circumvented the concept of culture-historical archaeology, since it did not contribute to his life’s project – the erroneous interpretation of the Neolithic site Vinča as an Aegean Bronze Age settlement or, later in his life, as an Archaic Greek colony. The authority of Vasić suppressed the introduction of culture-historical paradigm, argued for by a small number of Serbian archaeologists (e.g. Miodrag Grbić), as well as some foreign researchers working in Serbia. Due to these circumstances, prior to the World War II, the European and Serbian archaeologies were in the state of polite mutual ignoring. The culture-historical paradigm was finally established only after the war, thanks to the next generation of archaeologists such as Josip Korošec in Slovenia, Alojz Benac in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Milutin Garašanin in Serbia, and was subsequently accepted by many researchers in the Yugoslav and Serbian archaeology. It is characteristic, however, that this local variety remained imbued by the ideas of continuity and the influence of the primordial Balkan deep “substrate”, as the consequence of the legacy of Vasić’s ideas and his years-long mesmerizing influence in Serbian archaeology. An illustrative example of this hybrid form of culture-historical interpretation may be found in the works of Dragoslav Srejović, whose equally imposing authority shaped the new generations of archaeologists in the country. Although not predominant any more, this locally specific form of culture-historical approach is still persistently present in the Serbian archaeology. On the other hand, precisely because of this “lost step” during the first half of the 20th century, during the early 1980s the new paradigms of processual and postprocessual archaeology appeared in Serbia almost simultaneously. Their trajectory, marginal at first, has also been irregular and with varying degree of influence in the discipline. With time, and with the introduction of more recent interpretive approaches, a welcome multivocality and a rich ideational pluralism developed in the Serbian archaeology, avoiding the paradigmatic narrow-mindedness of any theoretical provenance.

Selected publications: