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Research project: Kostoperska Karpa Regional Archaeological Project

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Employing a range of multidisciplinary techniques, this joint project between the Universities of Southampton, Oxford and Edinburgh and the Museum of Kumanovo seeks to develop our understanding of site and landscape transformation in the ancient and medieval South Central Balkans over the longue durée. Focusing on the region of Kostoperska Karpa (Mlado Nagoričane, Republic of Macedonia), where at least three major settlements and twenty churches are attested, it combines archival research, satellite imagery analysis, field walking, geophysics and targeted excavation to build a comprehensive framework for interpreting changes in the region’s religious and civic landscape.

North-eastern Macedonia is an important crossroads in the southern Balkans. It has always been both a link – used by Iron Age tribes and advancing Roman forces – between Central Europe and the Aegean, as well as a border region: between the Roman provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia, the later dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia, and eventually the Byzantine and Slavic kingdoms. Despite this, the region’s archaeological remains have received little attention. Only the fortified hilltop sites have been surveyed systematically and although numerous other sites have been identified, few have been excavated. Our understanding of the wider settlement patterns remains limited: no systematic field survey has been undertaken in the Central Balkans, while geophysics has been employed patchily. This project aims to change this. Combining archival research, field walking, satellite analysis, geophysics, and excavation, it will contribute to our understanding of changes in the religious and civic landscape of this region, and the southern Balkans more generally, between the Late Iron Age, Roman and Byzantine periods.

The project concentrates on the region surrounding the volcanic outcrop of Kostoperska Karpa at Mlado Nagoričane, north-east of Kumanovo. This squat, steep-sided hill, 4 km west of the Pčinja river, dominates a landscape of rolling fields and the Roman roads running north-south between Astibos and Naissus and east-west between Scupi and Pautalia. This site must always have been a prominent landmark, but in both the Iron Age and Late Antiquity it also developed into an important settlement and local hub. In the 1980s limited excavation on its summit identified cisterns, a church, and a hypogaeum, thought to be Byzantine in date. On its northern slope a series of ‘Constantinian’ tile-covered tombs were found. Only preliminary reports of these excavations have been published but it is clear they just scratched the surface: during an exploratory visit in 2014, the current project team was able to identify further walls on the summit, traces of terracing and structures to the west of it, as well as a fragment of marble architectural decoration bearing a cross and a cross-inscribed stele, suggesting the settlement extended beyond the hill itself.

Kostoperska Karpa, moreover, sat at the heart of a densely-populated landscape. In the surrounding territory at least two more settlements, a Hellenistic hilltop foundation and a larger Roman/Late Antique site on the banks of the Pčinja, as well as twenty churches, ranging in date from the fourth century to the Turkish period, are known from anecdotal archaeological research and chance finds. The most famous of these churches is the eleventh-century Church of St George at Staro Nagoričane, renowned for its frescoes. Of the character, scale and chronology of the settlements we know almost nothing, while the location of only six of the attested churches has been pinpointed, and of these only two have been partially uncovered

In order to understand the relationship between the known settlements, to locate the other attested sites in the region, and to place all of these sites back into their wider framework, the project is consciously broad in scope. It will focus on an area of roughly 35 km2 centred on Kostoperska Karpa and encompassing various terrains: the plain of the Pčinja, the rolling hills between it and Kostoperska Karpa, and the higher ridges to the west. Exploration and analysis will be conducted using a combination of methods: archival research, satellite imagery analysis, field walking, geophysics and targeted excavation over the period of five years.

March 2015
Geophysics KK
View of the Site
Kostoperska Karpa

Related research groups

Archaeological Prospection Service of Southampton (APSS)
Classical and historical archaeology
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