The Košt´any culture

Last changed: August 2007

The early Bronze Age Košt´any culture was named after the cemetery of Valalíky-Košt´any, okr. Košice-okolie in east Slovakia. It was only defined as a culture resp. group in the 1960ies by J. Pástor (Pástor 1962, 1965 and 1969). He is responsible for the publication of virtually all locations (cf. also Pástor 1978). Although numerous burials are known, not a single settlement has been excavated up to today (Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 29ff.).


The Košt´any culture is certainly distributed primarily in the Košice Basin. Here, all five big cemeteries are located closely together in one region. Since there are also single graves and single finds which partly cannot be attributed with certainty, cultural remains seem to reach as far as the Poprad Basin, the east Slovakian lowlands and the Hungarian part of the Hornad valley (older graves from Hernádkak). Some researchers attribute the graves found in Nagydobos (Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Megye) to the Košt´any culture which would enlarge the distribution far to the south-east. The mountain regions of the easternmost parts of Slovakia do not belong to the Košt´any culture. The tumuli found here were at first attributed to the Košt´any culture but later defined as a separate cultural group (cf. Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 29f.).

Treatment of the dead

The Košt´any culture was exclusively defined using graves. Of these quite a large amount was found. Besides, the relation between excavated and published graves is very good; however, the quality of these publications is not so good: the pictures of the finds do not allow detailed analyses (esp. Pástor 1969 and 1978). The graves (cf. Catalogue of Graves) can be found, apart from some exceptions, in five big cemeteries in the Košice Basin (Čaňa, Košice, Nižná Myšl´a, Valalíky-Košt´any, Valalíky-Všechsvätych). Of these, only the graves from Nižná Myšl´a are partly or not at all published, however, excavation is still in progress (representative for all preliminary reports: Olexa 2003).

The treatment of the dead comprises single crouched burials in rectangular burial pits which are arranged in groups of irregular rows on the cemeteries. However, we do know of a few graves where two individuals were placed in one burial pit (cf. the list at Novotná/Novotný 1984, 290) or burials with stone constructions (ibid.). These last mentioned can only be found in the Poprad Basin where they are a local specialty not only of the Košt´any but also in the succeeding Füzesabony culture (which corresponds the Slovakian Otomani culture) (Točik/Vlček 1991, 68). Beside inhumations, there is also a small number of symbolical graves (Bátora 1999, 67ff.). Stratigraphic superpositions are rare, but do occur. The space a grave takes is usually not taken again. A single find occurs in the Košice cemetery: after Košt´any graves and a hiatus lasting several hundreds of years, burials are only dug again in the third phase of the Füzesabony culture.

There are no cremations which is the main difference to the southern neighbours Nyírség (incl. Sanislău) and Hatvan. These cultures also differ in terms of grave goods. The graves from the Nyírség and Hatvan cultures contain mainly vessels, whereas in Košt´any graves we find mainly tools, weapons and jewellery and only very little pottery. E. g., in Čaňa only 28 from a total of 162 graves contained pottery. Its amount, however, increases in the younger, southern, part of the cemetery (Pástor 1978, 133). The high amount of stone and bone artefacts (boar’s tusks, arrow heads, stone axes, bone needle et cetera) is worth mentioning; in this respect, Košt´any differs from the succeeding Füzesabony culture. The most important metal forms are daggers, leaf-shaped jewellery and hair rings; worth mentioning are also faience pearls. Every once in a while, horse’s heads were placed into the graves; they are interpreted as meat for the dead (Novotná/Novotný 1984, 291). There seems to be a connection between the equipment of an individual and the depth of the burial pit (Pástor 1978, 132). This points to a decisive social structure in favor of men in whose graves some grave goods are exclusively placed; supposedly there are no typical grave goods for women (Novotná/Novotný 1984, 291; 296).

It is still discussed whether the crouched position can be attributed to different sexes. J. Pastór who published virtually all graves (Pástor 1962; 1965; 1969; 1978) doubts this, but M. Novotná and B. Novotný argue for this. They establish this with individuals lying on their right side and always carrying arrow heads (>men) while individuals lying on their left side sometimes occur together with children (>women. Novotná/Novotný 1984, 290). This would correspond to the Füzsabony cultural system where individuals are moreover oriented according to their sex. In both cultures individuals are oriented as well as west-east/east-west (looking to the south) and north-south/south-north (looking to the east), sometimes even on the same cemetery (Čaňa; Hernádkak). However, there are no anthropological analyses. We should also note that many graves had already been disturbed (in ancient times) at the time when they were found (e. g. 141 of 162 graves in Čaňa). This seems to be a characteristic for graves from this cultural complex and this time (cf. e. g. Nitra or Aunjetitz). It cannot be found so distinctively in the succeeding Füzesabony culture.

There is no direct precursor of the Košt´any culture. However, we can well compare the treatment of the dead with the neighboured, likewise post-Corded Ware cultures Chłopice-Veselé, Mierzanowice and Nitra. Their treatment of the dead is copied almost exactly by the succeeding Füzesabony culture. Even small details (e. g. arm positions) are partly identical.


Since no settlement was found up to today, the people of the Košt´any culture are thought to have been nomad hunters and stockbreeders (Novotná/Novotný 1984). Ergo we cannot draw conclusions about the economy. It is mere speculation to think that since settlements are missing, people did not fetch and produce raw materials and tools (ibid., 296), even more so since important raw materials such as copper ores and obsidian occur locally or in the immediate vicinity. If we were to regard the find material, we could assume that long-distance contacts, especially to the north, west and east, existed. However, E. Schalk exposed some finds classically thought to be imports (faience, dentalia) as local products resp. raw materials (Schalk 1992).

Find material

The culture’s find material comprises totally of grave goods and some single finds. It can be classified into jewellery, weapons, tools, animal bones (meat) and pottery (beside the publications of the cemeteries cf. esp. Novotná/Novotný 1984). The pottery occurs surprisingly rarely, if compared to the Füzesabony culture and the southern neighbours. The shapes (bowls, jugs and various beakers) are varying stronger than those found in the Chłopice-Veselé or the Nitra cultures (Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 32). However, the later big Bronze Age cultures outdo them concerning shapes, but this might be due to the lack of vessels commonly found in settlements. Many types can be compared to the Únětice and Mierzanowice cultures (Machnik 1972; Novotná/Novotný 1984; Schalk 1992), among them four-footed bowls which may be the antetype for the boss-decorated luxury bowls of the Füzesabony culture. Comparable objects can also be found in the Chłopice-Veselé culture. The pottery is almost always undecorated. Many decorated pieces are already representative for the youngest phase of the culture, which is connected to the beginning Otomani-Füzesabony culture. This is due to influences coming from the north-west Romanian Sanislău group and is expressed in pottery decorated with typical impressions and the very small base which is distinctly separated from the wall (Bátora 1998).

Jewellery is made up of pearls (bone, shells/snail shells, clay, faience), boars’ tusks, spiral rolls, hair rings and leaf-shaped jewellery. Especially faience pearls occur in large numbers in graves (e. g. ca. 2000 in Všechsvätych, gr. 49 (Pástor 1978)). Metal jewellery is relatively rare compared to later cultures (partly it was still made from copper). Extremely rare are needles which are important for chronological reasons. Sometimes they were still made from bone (and might have been used as tools). None of these objects are typical only for the Košt´any culture. Just like the vessels, best (and earliest!) comparisons can be found in the cultures in the west and beyond the Carpathian mountains. No piece of jewellery is due to influences from the Otomani-Füzesabony culture. Rather all types already exist; most of them disappear in the course of the first Füzesabony phase (Thomas in prep.). This is also true for weapons and tools: examples made from stone (axes, arrow heads) and antler (axes) are still occurring quite frequently. The only metal tools and weapons are hatchets and daggers. The hatchets are probably Únětice types (Bátora 1998, 21). The largest group in terms of quantity is made up of (stone/flint, mostly obsidian) arrow heads. Their shape is common in the early Bronze Age: the base is concave. The existence of bows and arrows in graves is further underlined by stone arm guards as a grave good (e. g. Čaňa, gr. 96, 128, 156).

Chronological relations

It is lucky in terms of a chronological classifiation that so many graves are known despite of the small number of locations. The chronological classification with three phases was established already in the 1960ies by J. Pástor. It is used till today, with its old nomenclature (proto-Košt´any – classical Košt´any – Košt´any-Otomani), after a modification by A. Točik and J. Vladár (Točik/Vladár 1971). They excluded the east-Slovakian tumuli and defined them as a separate cultural group. Leaf-shaped (Weidenblatt) jewellery is the main type for the older phase, whereas hair rings appear only in the youngest phase (Novotná/Novotný 1984, 291). In this last phase, the number of vessels used as grave goods increases. J. Bátora attributed various phases on cemeteries and vessel types to the chronological phases (Bátora 1981 und 1983). However, this classification is supposedly fictitious, as is stressed by M. Novotná and B. Novotný (Novotná/Novotný 1996, 91). Still, this sequence is established, and E. Schalk also uses it in her book about Hernádkak where she deals with all four big cemeteries (Schalk 1992). The excavations in Nižná Myšl´a further supported the chronology and are especially important for the Košt´any-Otomani horizon (Gašaj 2002). Influences from the Romanian Otomani culture are visible already in the younger part of the second phase (classical Košt´any. Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 32).

Even though it is not possible to name a distinct local cultural predecessor, the Košt´any culture is the youngest representative of the epi-Corded Ware complex. Therefore, its origin probably lies in the regions beyond the Carpathian mountains north and east of Slovakia. In the west and the north there are no direct neighbours due to the topography, however, it is connected to the Polish Mierzanowice and the south-west Slovakian Nitra culture not only in terms of its origin (about Košt´any-Mierzanowice similarities cf. esp. Machnik 1972). All three cultures mentioned are related to the Chłopice-Veselé culture which is supposedly distributed into the Hornad valley in the east (Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 25ff.). All of them have a very similar find material; we specially mention leaf-shaped jewellery as a common find. Vessels decorated with cord impressions are rare in the Košt´any culture, however, they do exist, e. g. in Všechsvätych, gr. 47, or Čaňa, gr. 3, 7 and 54 (Pástor 1978). The Košt´any culture seems to derive from the Chłopice-Veselé culture (Novotná/Novotný 1984, 295). Via this culture, Bell Beaker influences supposedly travelled as far as east Slovakia. These influences can be recognized when we look at arm guards, arrow heads and accompanying pottery (”Begleitkeramik”) (ibid.; Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 25ff.). East of the Košt´any culture we find remains of the east Slovakian tumuli group which was originally seen as the oldest phase of the Košt´any culture. Later, it was defined as a separate group, however, since there are only very few grave goods, they are hard to date; they might be older than the Košt´any culture (Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 23f.; 29ff.).

Direct Košt´any neighbours and neighbours in the south are the Nyírség culture (and with it its younger phase („Sanislău group“), i. e. the beginning Romanian and east Hungarian Otomani culture) and the Hatvan culture. All these belong to a totally different cultural sphere which is true not only for the finds (much stronger defined by pottery than in the Košt´any culture) but also for the treatment of the dead. The small groups of cremations in the Nyírség and Hatvan cultures differ profoundly from the big inhumation cemeteries of the Košt´any culture. That is why the treatment of the dead in the succeeding Füzesabony culture can only be derived from the Košt´any culture.

The end of the culture is affected by a seamless transition to the Otomani-Füzesabony culture, as is hinted at with the name of the third phase („Košt´any-Otomani“). Today, not only Slovakian researchers think that the Košt´any culture played an important role in the genesis of the Füzesabony culture, last not least because the treatment of the dead seems to be near to identical (e. g. Bóna 1992, 26). The Košt´any-Otomani horizon emerges through a cultural impulse of the earliest Otomani-Füzesabony culture in north-west Romania (Sanislău group, contemporaneous with the Romanian phase Otomani II), in east Hungary and (perhaps) the east Slovakian lowlands. This impact is expressed through pottery shapes and decorations. On its base develops the Slovakian Otomani culture (= Füzesabony. Bátora 1998; Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999, 52; Furmánek/Vladár 2001; Novotná/Novotný 1996, 91ff.). The first Füzesabony phase (Thomas in prep.) corresponds at least partially to the Košt´any-Otomani horizon. Lately, Hatvan influences are thought to be likely as well, though they are not clearly definable (e. g. Horvathová 2003).

Graves containing elements of the beginning Otomani-Füzesabony culture can be separated in terms of horizontal stratigraphy on all locations from the Košt´any graves. They are always located at the edges of the particular cemetery (Thomas in prep.). Especially the cemeteries of Čaňa and Nižná Myšl´a, however, have been occupied for a long time continuously which excludes, like the treatment of the dead in all, a radical cultural break. Changes are trackable first of all with the decoration of vessels which increases more and more just like the use of vessels as grave goods. All of a sudden, curvolinear motifs appear. A seamless transition is also proved by many Košt´any types (cf. esp. bone tools and jewellery) which can be found still in the first Füzesabony phase (e. g. Hernádkak). With the early Füzesabony culture, inhumation burials increase spread. The graves from Nagydobos which are partly attributed to the Košt´any culture also belong to this horizon (Bóna 1975, pl. 200). Because of the vessel decoration they cannot be true Košt´any graves despite the leaf-shaped jewellery. Still, we have to stress again the contacts between the Košt´any culture and the Sanislău group. These contacts left their traces already before the begin of the Otomani-Füzesabony culture in both directions. This can be proved by some Sanislău vessels from Ciumeşti (Ordentlich/Kacsó 1970) and as well by a hair ring and the arrow-heads from Berea (Németi 1969).

The Košt´any culture dates into Bz A1 according to the Slovakian chronological system which uses the south German classification by Reinecke. The Košt´any-Otomani phase goes as far as the beginning of phase Bz A2 (Bátora 1998; Furmánek/Veliačik/Vladár 1999; Novotná/Novotný 1996). According to Hungarian chronology, it dates to the early Bronze Age III (Dani 2001). Although radiocarbon dates are missing (for the absolute chronology of the Slovakian Bronze Age cf. esp. Barta 2001), we can date it in between 2200 and 1900 BC.


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© 2007-2009 Matthias Thomas
translated by Valeska Becker
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