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Migration period in the Carpathian Basin

There are signs of changes in the diet over the course of time, which were mainly characterised by changing proportions of millet and animal foods.

  • Runtime: 01.06.2016 - 31.05.2020
  • Partner: Eötvös Loránd Universität

Mobility and population change in the Carpathian Basin from the 5th to the 7th century AD: Changes in society and identity

The Carpathian Basin is a key region for research into the European Migration Period. Written sources reveal a complex succession of groups from the 5th to 7th centuries AD, including Huns, Avars, Goths, Gepids and Lombards as well as representatives of the earlier Roman-Pannonian and possibly also Byzantine and Slavic populations. The archaeological sources, especially the often very richly decorated cemeteries, also reveal spatial groupings and changes over the course of time.

Participants: Dr. Tivadar Vida, István Koncz, Dr. Szofia Racz, Dr. Katalin Wolff, Dr. Tamás Hajdu, Tamás Szeniczey (Eötvös Loránd Universität Budapest), János G. Ódor (Wosinsky Mór Museum, Szekszárd), Balázs G. Mende (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest), Katalin I. Pap (Savaria MHV Múzeum, Szombathely)

However, these should not be associated in a generalised way with historically recorded population units, as ethno-cultural groups were quite dynamic and flexible. Moreover, the sparse written sources may refer more to the ruling class and military organisations than to communities of women, men and children who were connected in everyday life, and changes in material culture may have been caused by reasons other than the migration of groups of people.

In order to investigate the role of mobility in everyday life and changes in people’s lifestyles during the Migration Period, the German Research Foundation (KN 1130/4-1) and the Hungarian Science Fund OKTA are funding an interdisciplinary German-Hungarian project that combines archaeological finds and feature evaluations with extensive stable isotope analyses. Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen isotope analyses (δ18O) of tooth enamel indicate a non-local origin of individuals, while carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen isotope data (δ15N) reflect dietary habits. Almost 1500 individual analyses were carried out on bones and teeth from over 400 human individuals from six cemeteries as well as on animal reference samples.


While the comparative data for both the strontium and the light stable isotope data reflect the uniformity of the working area in space and time, the analysis results of the human samples show an astonishing variability. Changes in diet over time are apparent, which were mainly determined by changing proportions of millet and animal foods. Changes of residence were also of very different relevance for the people over the period under investigation. The isotope data from the burials of the fifth and sixth centuries, for example, identify a considerable proportion of non-local individuals, whereas these were more of an exception during the 7th century.

The evaluation of the archaeological remains and the results of isotope analyses from the cemetery of Mözs in southern Hungary, which dates back to the 5th century, has been of particular importance to date. More than half of the individuals buried there had artificially deformed skulls due to bandaging during childhood. The custom was common among non-local people with a similar diet and archaeological similarities, such as burial in step or niche graves. However, these people were not part of the founding generation, but only joined the community later and had a lasting influence on it. The cemetery is exemplary of the merging of different cultural traditions and the complexity of historical processes during the Migration Period.

An integrating data analysis to reconstruct the history of the cemetery has been published in the online journal PLoS ONE:

Corina Knipper, István Koncz, János Gábor Ódor, Balázs G. Mende, Zsófia Rácz, Sandra Kraus, Robin van Gyseghem, Ronny Friedrich, Tivadar Vida. 2020. Coalescing traditions – coalescing people: Community formation in Pannonia after the decline of the Roman Empire. PLoS ONE.