Tumba Madžari, Skopje’s Neolithic Village

One of several figures of sculpted villagers across the site, offering a glimpse of the place’s bygone era

photography by: george k. 1981/ Flickr

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Once a Yugoslav republic, the nascent country of North Macedonia still strives to define its own separate identity, contending to be the successor of ancient civilizations to the chagrin of a couple of its neighbors. Amidst contentious debates over its claims, one fact remains indisputable – the nation boasts some of Europe’s most ancient archaeological sites, dating back millennia ago. For evidence, look no further than Tumba Madžari, a well-ensconced mound in the outskirts of Skopje, where a reconstructed Neolithic settlement greets occasional visitors who venture way off-the-beaten-path.

Over a prolonged period of time, an unassuming knoll on the rural periphery of the now Macedonian capital served primarily as a pastureland, revealing scant clues about the treasures concealed within its confines. It wasn’t until 1961, when a construction of a nearby motorway entailed extensive earthworks, that the 3-meter-tall hillock turned out to be a Neolithic-era hamlet, better known today as Tumba Madžari.


Following its initial discovery, the site was incessantly encroached by the surrounding village, so much so that in 1978, the Museum of Macedonia conducted a series of protective excavations, aiming to save its precious content from the impending threats. In the wake of this endeavor, the ruins of 6 residential buildings and one shrine along with multiple artifacts were unearthed, all of which suggest that the place belonged to the “Anzabegovo-Vršnik” cultural group.


According to archeologists, the settlement can trace back its origins to the period between 6000 and 4300 BC, culminating somewhere around 5800 – 5200 BC. All houses here featured a rather simple design, comprised of several wooden stakes joined by branches and enclosed by a thick layer of mud and chaff. The structures were then crowned by straw roofs, while the larger ones also included a garret for sleeping and storage.


The somewhat modest architecture is vastly contrasted by the copious knick-knacks salvaged throughout the site, among which are various amphorae, pieces of jewelry, loomweights, flint knives, needles, animal bones and a large plethora of different tools.


A sole item that stood out above the rest and became synonymous with the site was an anthropomorphic sculpture dubbed “The Great Mother”. Fashioned from terracotta and a wooden pole, the mouthless figurine represents a local goddess revered for safeguarding fertility and motherhood.


In 2018, following a decade of reconstruction works, Tumba Madžari was inaugurated as an open-air museum for the first time. Scattered across the hidden site are replicas of the ancient mud houses, accompanied by a smattering of life-size dolls of their long-gone tenants. As nearly all artifacts found here are now on display at the Museum of Macedonia, the reconstructed homes are instead adorned with cloned objects, crafted particularly to be presented on site.