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The First Kings of Europe: professor explores ancient hierarchies in Field Museum exhibit

Amit Kaushik

Attila Gyucha, assistant professor of archaeology at the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology, and colleagues organized an exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History titled, “The First Kings of Europe”.

Gyucha is the co-curator and leading editor of two books that accompany the exhibition, which runs through Jan. 28, 2024. It can be accessed by discovery or an all-access pass, and showcases more than 700 artifacts, including jewelry, weapons, armor and more from 11 countries in the Balkans and the neighboring region.

These ancient objects illustrate what transformed early farmers into warriors and royals, and how such transformation gave rise to hierarchy and inequalities, changing European societies forever.

The exhibition is a six-year-long, collaborative effort between curators, the Field Museum and 26 museums from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. It is the first of its kind in the world and displays artifacts from the Neolithic to Iron Age (about 8,000 to 2,500 years ago).

It examines cultural hierarchies, specifically how and when power and inequalities became visible in European societies. The artifacts are from a time when southeastern Europe’s small farming communities were transforming into complex societies.

“The story of hierarchy is the story of building power and influence through accumulating wealth, controlling trade, reshaping cultural practices and commanding warfare,” Gyucha said.

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Image: Ceramic altar with goat heads produced by Neolithic farming communities, found in the vicinity of Szeged, Hungary, and date to the middle Neolithic age, 5300-5200 B.C., donated by the Hungarian National Museum, Budapest. (Photo by Ádám Vágó)

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