The Körös culture

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Last changed: May 2007

The Körös culture derives its name from the east Hungarian river Körös (German: Kreisch, Romanian: Criş), which flows into the river Tisza not far away from the city of Szarvas. The three headstreams of the river Körös are located in the Romanian Apuseni mountains. They are called Crişul Alb (White Criş), Crişul Negru (Black Criş) and Crişul Repede (Rapid Criş).

First excavations were conducted in the 1930ies by J. Banner, who could not place the finds exactly. The first book in summary about the Körös culture was written by I. Kutzián in 1944 (translated into english in 1947). She systematically cleared the material which was found up to then, placed it in the right context, in chronological respect, and compared it with find material of neighbouring cultures; her book is, up to today, essential for any researcher dealing with the Körös culture. Further excavations in the following decades yielded rich material, which, unfortunately, is scarcely or only preliminarily published.


In contrast to the Starčevo culture, the Körös culture is relatively closely confined. Most places are located along the river Tisza, the northern border lies in the Szolnok region. In the south, remains of the culture can be found up to Szeged. Important places lie around the mouth of the rivers Körös and Maros. It stands out that the Körös culture avoids the boggy regions of the land between the rivers Danube and Tisza.

Treatment of the dead

As for the Starčevo culture, there are only very few graves for the Körös culture, and even fewer are published. They can be found not in separate graveyards, but regularly within settlements. Here, they lie in settlement pits or at their edges (Kutzián 1947, 11). Grave goods are very rare, sometimes bracelets made from the shells of snails or remains of paint are documented (ibid. 12). Because of this scarcity of grave goods it is hard to assign single graves in multilayered settlements to the Körös culture (cf. Makkay 1992, 132-134), unless their stratigraphic position is clear. In Szajol-Felsőföld and Szolnok-Szanda, the dead were found on the floor of a house; they were given diverse tools, pottery vessels and other objects. After the burial of the deceased, the house was burned down (Oravecz 2003, 108).

The scarcity of burials within the Körös culture points to rites in which it is not possible to find the remains of the dead. We may think of cremations without placing the ashes in an urn, of a laying-out of the dead above the earth or of a burial in the water.


Unfortunately, only very few of the many settlements of the Körös culture are published. Therefore, it is difficult to make general statements about the way of settling. Excavated, but unpublished, settlements can be found, e.g., in Röszke-Lúdvár, Gyálarét-Szilágyi-major, Deszk-Olajkút, Méhtelek-Nádas, Szajol-Felsőföld, Szakmár-Kisülés, Öcsöd-Kiritó, Szentpéterszeg-Körtvélyes, Szolnok-Szanda, Szarvas 8, Endrőd 35, Endrőd 39, Dévaványa-Réhelyi-dűlő, Tiszasas-Csillagpart und Tiszaföldvár-Újtemető (Makkay 1996, 36 rem. 5 with further literatur). The settlement of Endrőd-Öregszőlők was published in a preliminary report (Makkay 1992, esp. 130). Here, two houses were found. House 1 was constructed without posts; it was found under partially burned wattle-and-daub. House 2, on the contrary, was constructed with posts and burned down likewise, as is likely due to finds of pieces of burnt wattle-and-daub . Furthermore, some Körös ovens are known, which cannot, however, be related to one of the houses. The ovens were built into the sterile soil and had walls showing signs of fire. Further evidence for houses is known from Hódmezővásárhely. Here, a house constructed with four posts was excavated. The posts slanted to the inside in an angle of 45°. Also, a hearth was found. The ensemble was buried under great pieces of wattle-and-daub (Lichter 1993, 118). Other ground plans of houses are known from Szolnok-Szanda (here, six houses with posts arrayed in two lines; they were found under concentrations of wattle-and-daub; Lichter 1992, 137), Tiszajenő (a post-house with a clayey floor under a layer of debris; Lichter 1992, 138) and Szajol-Felsőföld (the outline of a house with a clayey floor under a layer of burnt material; Lichter 1992, 136).

The settlement of Méhtelek-Nádas is very interesting (Kalicz/Makkay 1977). It is located far away from the actual distributional area of the Körös culture. Remarkably, 80 % of all flint artefacts in Méhtelek were made from obsidian. Therefore, we can assume that the settlement can be viewed in connection with the mining of obsidian.

Almost all Körös culture material was found in big pits, whose original use is unclear. They were used as refuse pits.

Finally, we have to mention structures connected to a ritual sphere, according to J. Makkay (Makkay 1992, 123-124). Those are pits whose content is different from that of “regular” settlement pits. This filling consists of whole vessels, snails, parts of dog skulls, lamps, net weights et cetera. Sometimes, very deep pits can be found, as they occur also in the Starčevo culture.

The settlements of the Körös culture were rather small. Usually they were not far away from water. Animal bones give hints as to what kind of meat was consumed. In Endrőd, which can be a reference for typical Körös culture settlements, 74 % of all animal bones were those of sheep and goat (cf. for this and the following Bökönyi 1992). Besides, bones of cattle were found, pig and dog are quite rare. Game consisted of aurochs, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and wild ass. Furthermore, bones from the following animals were found: wildcat, lynx, marten, badger, fox, wolf, muskrat, hare, various birds (among them stork, egret, duck, goose, crane, partridge et cetera) and fish (carp, catfish, pike).

Find material

In the neighbouring Starčevo culture, painted pottery is very rare, making up only two to five percent; in the Körös culture, it is even rarer. Single painted vessel fragments were found in Szarvas, spots 23 and 56, Endrőd spots 39 and 119, Hódmezővásárhely-Kopáncs-Zsoldos-tanya, Hódmezővásárhely-Kotacpart-Vata-tanya, Maroslele-Pana, Gyoma Fo. 54, Röszke-Lúdvár and Tiszajenő (Makkay 1996, Taf. 9-13, Makkay 1981 and Makkay/Trogmayer 1966). The material consists of fragments painted in white-on-red as well as such ones painted black-on-red.

Unpainted pottery occurs much more often (cf. for the following Makkay 1992, pl. 1-27 and Kutzián 1947, pl. 1-34). Vessel shapes consist of bowls and cups, often made with a short conical or cylindrical foot, or frequently made with mostly four short feet. Furthermore, biconical vessels and vessels with sharply profiled walls, with or without feet, can be found. Flasks have a short or a long neck and can be made with sharply or softly profiled walls. Globular or semi-globular vessels with or without necks, vessels with lugs and ton-shaped vessels also occur. The latter can become as large as 60 cm.

Decoration is incised or applied. We can find surface roughening, finger nail imprints and pinches, “ear” impressions, applied bands (often structured by finger dabs) arranged in zigzags, circles or lines, applied clay buttons et cetera. Especially amazing are applications shaped like humans with raised or lowered arms and animals, mostly those with horns or antlers (cervidae, ovicapridae).

In all settlements, round, “tomato-shaped” or “flower-shaped” clay artefacts can be found (e. g. Sövényháza (today Ópusztaszer): Kutzián 1947, Taf. 1,8.9; Tiszaug-Tópart: ibid. Taf. 7,14.15; in the region of Hódmezővásárhely: Kutzián 1947, Taf. 45). They are interpreted as net weights.

Eventually, we have to mention few zoomorphic and many anthropomorphic clay figurines. The zoomorphic pieces are four-footed, though it is not discernible what kinds of animals they represent (Kutzián 1947, pl. 47,17.18). The anthropomorphic figurines can be divided into two types (Becker in prep.): one type is columnar or ton-shaped (e. g. in Szarvas, spot 23: Makkay 1993, 77 fig. 2,3 and 78 fig. 3,3; Tiszasziget (Ószentiván in former times: Banner/Párducz 1948, 26 fig. 4); and the other type has a body that is defined more accurately, with a columnar head and neck, wide and broad hips and buttocks and short, stumpy legs (e. g. from Röszke: Bánffy/Goldman 2003, 113 fig. 17). They can be easily compared to the figurines of the Starčevo culture. Finally, some anthropomorphic vessels were found (Kalicz 1970, pl. 2-4).

A further special in the Körös culture are three-legged or four-legged “altars” which sometimes themselves carry a little vessel (e. g. Kutzián 1947, pl. 34,7-16 and pl. 35,1-11). Their use is unknown. Sometimes they are interpreted as lamps or vessels with a cultic function (Kutzián 1947, 5-6).

Clay stamp seals (”pintaderas”), spindle whorls, clay rings and clay balls also occur (Kutzián 1947, 8-9).

Only rarely, flint artefacts of Körös-type settlements were analyzed. Remarkably, obsidian was used for making tools; this raw material amounts to 80 % in Méhtelek-Nádas (cf. “settlements”). Blades, scrapers and drills were made from flint.

In Körös culture settlements, stone tools were also found. However, the raw material is hardly ever described. Forms consist of adzes, grinding stones and others (cf. Kutzián 1947, pl. 47).

Typical bone tools in the Körös culture are so-called spatulae. They are spoon-shaped and come in differenzt sizes. Rings, knives, drills, awls and needles were made from bone (Makkay 1990; Makkay 1992, pl. 33; Kutzián 1947, pl. 48); mattocks, picks and axes were also made from antler (Kutzián 1947, pl. 48,5).

Chronological relations

Just like the Starčevo culture, the Körös culture belongs to those cultures making and using painted pottery in the south-east European early Neolithic. Here, we can also mention other cultures that belong to this sphere, e. g. the Criş culture in Romania, the cultural groups Anzabegovo-Vršnik and Veluška-Tumba-Porodin in Macedonia, the west Bulgarian early Neolithic, the Thracian Karanovo I culture and the Greek Proto-Sesklo and Sesklo culture. However, painted pottery is very rare in the Körös culture, unpainted ware occurs more frequently. Unfortunately, most chronological studies concerned with the early Neolithic rely on painted pottery. Since it is so rare in the Körös culture, it is rather difficult to establish a chronological framwork.

Therefore, it is not surprising that up to today there is no classification of chronological aspects in the Körös culture, although we have to bear in mind that white and black painting does occur, so the Körös culture might have occupied the same space of time as the neighboured Starčevo culture, i. e. about 500 to 600 years. Some places yielded new 14C dates (Gyalarét: 6110-5730 BC; Maroslele-Pana: 6440-6230 BC; Röszke-Lúdvár: 5930-5720 BC; Endrőd 39: 6030-5660, 6030-5620, 6200-5550, 5930-5520 BC; Méhtelek: 5810-5620, 5670-5470, 5630-5470 BC etc.; cal. 2 sigma. After Whittle et al. 2005, 351-352).

Within the Körös culture we can find close connections to the Starčevo culture on the one hand; on the other hand, it is connected to places related to the Criş culture by the rivers. It is still difficult to answer where the Körös culture originated. Researchers discuss a formation through immigration or else an autochthonous genesis (cf. Also Starčevo culture, topic “Chronological relations). Around 5600/5500 BC, the eastern Linear Pottery Culture resp. Alföld Linear Pottery Culture emerges on a basis of the latest Körös culture.


E. Bánffy/Gy. Goldman, Neolithic beliefs. In: Hungarian Archaeology at the Turn of the Millenium (Budapest 2003) 112-117.

J. Banner/M. Párducz, Újabb adatok dél-magyarország újabb-kőkorához. Arch. Ért. Ser. 3, 7/9, 1946/48 (1948) 19-41.

V. Becker, Anthropomorphe Plastik der westlichen Linearbandkeramik (in prep.).

S. Bökönyi, The Early Neolithic vertebrate fauna of Endröd 119. In: S. Bökönyi (Hrsg.), Cultural and landscape changes in south-east Hungary I. Reports on the Gyomaendrőd Project (Budapest 1992).

N. Kalicz, Götter aus Ton. Das Neolithikum und die Kupferzeit in Ungarn (Budapest 1970).

N. Kalicz/J. Makkay, Frühneolithische Siedlung in Méhtelek-Nádas. Vorbericht. Mitt. Arch. Inst. Ungar. Akad. 6, 1976 (1977) 13-24 u. Taf. 1-8.

I. Kutzián, The Körös Culture. Dissertationes Pannonicae II. Bd. 23 (Budapest - Leipzig 1944/1947).

C. Lichter, Untersuchungen zu den Bauten des südosteuropäischen Neolithikums und Chalkolithikums. Internat. Arch. 18 (Buch am Erlbach 1993).

J. Makkay, Painted Pottery of the Körös-Starčevo Culture from Szarvas, Site No. 23. Acta Arch. Carpathica 21, 1981, 95-103.

J. Makkay, Knochen-, Geweih- und Eberzahngegenstände der frühneolithischen Körös-Kultur. Commun. Arch. Hungariae 1990, 23-58.

J. Makkay, Theories About the Origin, the Distribution and the End of the Körös Culture. In: L. Tálas (Hrsg.), At the Fringes of Three Worlds. Hunter-Gatherers and Farmers in the Middle Tisza Valley (Szolnok 1996) 35-53 u. 63-70 Taf. 9-16.

J. Makkay, Excavations at the Körös culture settlement of Endrőd-Öregszőlők 119. In: S. Bökönyi (Hrsg.), Cultural and landscape changes in south-east Hungary I. Reports on the Gyomaendrőd Project (Budapest 1992) 121-193.

J. Makkay, Eine prachtvolle Frauenfigur der Körös-Starčevo-Kultur. In: V. Nikolov (Hrsg.), Praistoričeski nachodki i issledvanija. Sbornik v pamet na prof. Georgi I. Georgiev (Sofia 1993) 73-78.

J. Makkay/O. Trogmayer, Die bemalte Keramik der Körös-Gruppe. Móra Ferenc Múz. Évk. 1964/65,1 (1966) 47-58.

H. Oravecz, Neolithic burials in the Tisza region. In: Hungarian Archaeology at the Turn of the Millenium (Budapest 2003) 108-110.

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Further references

J. Banner, Funde der Körös-Kultur von Hódmezővásárhely-Bodzáspart. Acta Arch. Acad. Scien. Hungaricae 4,1-4, 1954, 1-8.

K. T. Bíró, Advances in the study of Early Neolithic lithic materials in Hungary. Antaeus 25, 2002, 119-168.

J. Chapman, From Franchthi to the Tiszazug: two Early Neolithic worlds. In: E. Jerem/P. Raczky, Morgenrot der Kulturen. Frühe Etappen der Menschheitsgeschichte in Mittel- und Südosteuropa. Festschrift für N. Kalicz zum 75. Geburtstag. Archaeolingua 14 (Budapest 2003) 89-108.

L. Domboróczki, A Körös-kultúra északi elterjedési határának problematikája a Tiszaszőlős–Domaháza-pusztán végzett ásatás eredményeinek fényében. Arch. Műhely 2005,2, 5-15.

O. Fogas, A Körös-kultúra újabb kultusztárgyai Nagytőkéről (Csongrad megye). Stud. Arch. 9, 2003, 49-56.

L. A. Horváth/K. H. Simon, Bemerkungen zur Baukunde der Körös-Kultur. Stud. Arch. 10, 2004, 9-24.

N. Kalicz/P. Raczky, Siedlung der Körös-Kultur in Szolnok-Szanda. Antaeus 10/11, 1980/81, 13-24.

R. Kertész/P. Sümegi, Teóriák, kritika és egy modell: Miért állt meg a Körös—Starčevo kultúra terjedése a Kárpát-medence centrumában? Tisicum 11, 1999, 9-24.

J. Makkay, Zur Geschichte der Erforschung der Körös-Starčevo-Kultur und einiger ihrer wichtigsten Probleme. Acta Arch. Acad. Scien. Hungaricae 21, 1969, 13-31.

J. Makkay, “Das Frühe Neolithikum auf der Otzaki Magula” und die Körös-Starčevo-Kultur. Acta Arch. Acad. Scien. Hungaricae 26,1-4, 1974, 131-154.

J. Makkay, Kontakte zwischen der Körös - Starčevo-Kultur und der Linienbandkeramik. Commun. Arch. Hungariae 1987, 15-24.

H. Oravecz, Dévaványa-Barcéi kishalom. A Körös-kultúra fiatalabb (Protovinča) szakaszának telepe és temetkezése. Commun. Arch. Hungariae 1997, 5-25.

P. Sümegi, Early Neolithic man and riparian environment in the Carpathian Basin. In: E. Jerem/P. Raczky, Morgenrot der Kulturen. Frühe Etappen der Menschheitsgeschichte in Mittel- und Südosteuropa. Festschrift für N. Kalicz zum 75. Geburtstag. Archaeolingua 14 (Budapest 2003) 53-60.

P. Sümegi, Findings of Geoarchaeological and Environmental Historical Investigations at the Körös Site of Tiszapüspöki-Karancspart Háromág. Antaeus 27, 2004, 307-342.

Gy. Szakmány/K. Gherdán/E. Starnini, Kora neolitikus kerámia készítés Magyarországon: a Körös és a Starčevo kultúra kerámiáinak összehasonlító archeometriai vizsgálata. Arch. Műhely 2004,1, 28-31.

Gy. Szakmány/E. Starnini, Archaeometric research on the first pottery production in the Carpathian Basin: manufacturing traditions of the Early Neolithic, Körös Culture ceramics. Arch. Műhely 2007,2, 5-19.

O. Trogmayer, A unique Neolithic find from Röszke. In: E. Jerem/P. Raczky, Morgenrot der Kulturen. Frühe Etappen der Menschheitsgeschichte in Mittel- und Südosteuropa. Festschrift für N. Kalicz zum 75. Geburtstag. Archaeolingua 14 (Budapest 2003) 109-114.

I. Vörös, Dévaványa-Barcéi kishalom kora neolitikus állatcsontleletei. Commun. Arch. Hungariae 1997, 31-37.

A. Whittle, Connections in the Körös Culture World: Exchange as an Organising Principle. Antaeus 27, 2004, 17-26.

Zs. K. Zoffmann, A Körös-kultúra kései szakaszának embertani lelete Dévaványa-Barcéi kishalom lelőhelyről. Commun. Arch. Hungariae 1997, 26-30.


© 2006 Valeska Becker
translated 2008 by Valeska Becker
Remarks for copying texts Impressum.

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