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Archeology

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Istria in the Bronze Age
 (1800-1000 B.C.)

At the beginning of the second millenium B.C., important migrations of Indo European tribes from Asia Minor to the Balkans took place. They denote the beginning of a new age in the prehistory of Istria. This is visible in the use of bronze for the manufacture of tools, weapons and jewelry, as well as in new spiritual and cultural values.

In the Bronze Age (1800-1000 B.C.), a new type of settlement appears - the so called gradine, i.e. castles on top of hills, that are fortified and control the surrounding plains. More than 400 points on which this kind of settlement existed have been recorded in Istria, a figure which clearly shows the population density. These ruins differ in size and shape, the bigger ones having two or three rings of protective walls (see map of Istria and ground plans of some such sites on the panel to the right of the entrance), while the smaller ones were not continuously inhabited, however, from time to time they were used as refugee camps (e.g. the Kastel in Medulin that was fortified from the land side only as the remaining three sides were defended by the sea).

PREHISTORIC SITES IN ISTRIA

s cave m hilltop settlement o site on plain l necropolis

  1. Vižula, Medulin
  2. Kašteja, Medulin
  3. Vrčevan, Medulin
  4. Ribarska koliba (near Pula)
  5. Brioni
  6. Pula
  7. Šandalja (near Valtura)
  8. Nesactium (near Valtura)
  9. Kavran
  10. Vrčin
  11. Paravija
  12. Krmedski Novigrad
  13. Kas (near Bale)
  14. Šego (near Rovinj)
  15. Makadanj
  16. Žamnjak
  1. Maklavun
  2. Karastak
  3. Romuald's Cave
  4. Limska gradina
  5. Sv. Anđeo (S. Angelo)
  6. Picugi
  7. Kringa
  8. Beram (Vermo)
  9. Cave (near Srbani)
  10. Nova Vas (nèar Brtonigla)
  11. Kaštel (near Dragonja)
  12. Cingarela
  13. Vešanska Peć
  14. Pulac
  15. Kunci

A special technique was used in wall building. Huge stone blocks were extracted on the very site, so that houses could be built on the terraces thus formed. House walls were of stone and mortar-free up to the height of one metre, above that the construction being of timber and having a straw roof. Plateaus on top of hills were often built on as well. The houses having a rounded ground plan may have laid their roofs made of stone slabs, which is similar in appearance to today's shepherds' field houses (kazuni). It is this similarity in appearance that enhances the possibility of an existing continuity in the building tradition of rural Istria, from the Bronze Age to the 20th century (drawing in showcase I). Rounded houses were found on Pulac above Rijeka, and oblong ones on Kas near Bale and on Makadanj near Rovinj.

The structure on the ridge between Mordele and Sv. Anđelo near Poreč, that was probably used for religious rites, has a rounded ground plan as well (photograph on southern wall, a smaller photograph in showcase I), with walls built of big stone blocks vertically placed. Similar structures are visible on Karastak near Rovinjsko Selo and on Kas near Bale.

Beside these mostly well preserved house and fortification walls, the entrances to the main gradine terraces merit special attention (note photographs and plans on the panel to the right  from the entrance). Such entrances were completely or partially excavated on Kunci near Labin, on Makadanj near Rovinj, on Vrčin and on the Gradina on Brioni Island. Entrances were at first wide and simple but later on were narrowed and generally made harder to penetrate, so as to make the approach to the centre of the settlement more difficult.

As far as population density of these Bronze Age sites is concerned, a certain pattern can be noted, namely, one fortification being in the middle of a group of other ones, and serving as a centre, and not necessarily being the highest or biggest one. This pattern suggests the idea that some kind of tribal communes existed, in which the surrounding sites served as a shield to the central one. Finds of metal objects from this period are scarce and they very rarely appear in graves (daggers, knives, simple jewelry), or on settlement sites (bronze axes, spear heads - showcase IVb). Towards the end of the Bronze Age bracelets with double spiral discs began to appear, as well as bronze spiral pendants (showcase II). In contrast with the small number of metal objects found, many bone objects were found on the Gradina near Brioni Island, on Vrčin, in Nesactium and in Pula (tools for smoothing, for drilling, sewing needles - showcase IIIa, IVa).

Beside these mostly well-preserved house and fortification walls, the entrances to the main hillfort terraces merit special attention. Such entrances were completely or partially excavated on Kunci near Labin, on Makadanj near Rovinj, on Vrčin and on the hillfort on Brioni Island. Entrances were at first wide and simple but later on were narrowed and generally made harder to penetrate, so as to make the approach to the centre of the settlement more difficult.

As far as population density of these Bronze Age sites is concerned, a certain pattern can be noted, namely, one fortification being in the middle of a group of other ones, and serving as a centre, and not necessarily being the highest or biggest one. This pattern suggests the idea that some kind of tribal communes existed, in which the surrounding sites served as a shield to the central one.

Finds of metal objects from this period are scarce and they very rarely appear in graves (daggers, knives, simple jewellery), or on settlement sites (bronze axes, spear heads). Towards the end of the Bronze Age bracelets with double spiral discs began to appear, as well as bronze spiral pendants. In contrast with the small number of metal objects found, many bone objects were found on the hillfort near Brioni Island, on Vrčin, in Nesactium and in Pula (tools for smoothing, for drilling, sewing needles). Many bone, stone or clay weights used in the manufacture of textile were found on Bronze Age sites in Istria.

Many bone, stone or clay weights used in the manufacture of textile were found on Bronze Age sites in Istria. The inhabitants of Istria buried their dead under heaps of stone, either in a sitting position or lying on their sides. Graves were built of big and thin stone slabs, surrounded by low walls which appears to be an imitation of the way houses were built. The circle with the grave in the middle was then covered with stones. Such examples from Žamnjak, Maklavun and Paravija are shown are shown in an exhibition at the Archeaological Museum of Istria. Burial stone heaps are usually situated on top of hills individually, or in groups scattered over the whole hill in Žamnjak, Krmedski Novi Grad, and Šego near Rovinj. They appear mostly near Rovinj and Labin but are also known to appear in the northern parts of Istria, around the river Mirna.

According to the finds from graves some can be dated to the beginning of the Bronze Age. During the Middle Bronze Age a new type of graveyard appears - that with a group of plain graves enclosed within a square low stone wall. Such graveyards, and also one containing but family graves in an enclosure, are on the hillfort on Brioni Island (1400- 1300 B.C.), and the necropolis Vrčin near Vodnjan (1300-1200 B.C.).

Pottery fragments were found in many fireplaces in houses on Makadanj, and with them many pots and cups were reconstructed. In another house many stone mills were found - proof that agriculture was very much present in every day life of the Bronze Age man. 

The character of Bronze Age sites in Istria puts the peninsula into a larger framework of Mediterranean cultures, having links with the lands around the Danube. The inhabitants of Istria in the Bronze Age are called Proto Illyrians.

Nesactium (circa 1,200 B.C. - 177 A.D.) - see The Histri and Nesactium

Source:

  • Boris Baćić, Stefan Mlakar & Branko Marušić, The Archealogical Museum of Istria, Pula, Guide III (Pula 1986), p. 38-41.


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Created: Saturday, July 26, 2003; Last updated: Wednesday, January 02, 2013
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