istrians.gif><strong><font color=

Sandalja Cave (Grotta del Sandalo sul Monte di Danielo)

Latitude: 44° 52 ' 1" North
Longitude: 13° 49' 29" East

Sandalja is a system of fossil caves located some 4 Km northeast of Pula, Istra, Croatia, mainly known because of its important paleontological and paletnological finds dating . In the 1960s, during the exploitation of a limestone quarry within the confines of a state prison that is still in use today, the excavators revealed a system of ancient caves, filled up with strata of ground, stones and fossil bones. The Croatian archeologist M. Malez, then performed an extended exploration of this site during the 1970s.

The avian remains found in the Sandalja I and Sandalja II caves have been the subject of some works by the scientist Mirko Malez (fide Tyrberg, 1998), known as "a pioneer of Croatian speleoarchaeology". The layer d of the former has been attributed to the Gra vettian lithic period (Würm 3) whereas layer E of the latter to the Aurignacian (with a date of 23,540 ± 180 aBP). Both fossil assemblages are characteristic of woodland habitats, although the presence of Lagopus in Sandalja I could be understood as an indicator of a cooler phase, in spite of there not being any record of any northern irruptive taxa in such a large variety of aquatic habitat species.
Sandalja I, cave picture from the year 1961 during the excavation discovery

Sandalja I is characterized by the presence of a bone-breccia infilling in its deepest levels. These strata are very ancient, and even if their dating (mainly based on the faunal remains) is rather uncertain, it is believed to belong to the Villafranchian period (Pleistocene, some 1 to 1.5 million years ago). Sandalja is so far the only discovery testifying to the arrival of Homo sapiens in Istria.

Sandalja I cave remnants after the collapse of the ceiling.

QuickTime VR panorama of the Sandalja cave site  can be download from (large, 2316 KB)

The oldest found tool (chopper) in Sandalja I cave. One of the oldest ever found on the European continent.
Sandalja II, during escavations in the 1962.

Among 1205 identified skeletal remains majority belongs to the amphibian and fresh-water fish taxa in upper levels, while in the lower deposits reptiles are numerous. Among them is the rana graeca, a form that is presently adapted to cool streams. Thus the fauna reflects different microhabitats, but also a short-time climatic and hydrologic changes in the surroundings of the cave. The described fauna is partly allochtonous (fishes imported by animal predators or humans), and partly autochtonous (amphibians and/or reptiles searching for a shelter in the cave).

Blade from the Sandalja II cavee.

Among the others, the archeologists have dug out from the breccia some horses, bison and rhino fossil bones. The splintered bones (for marrow extraction) associated with a couple of choppers (primitive stone tools used by the primeval hominidae), has convinced some authors that this cave reveals one of the earliest human occupations of Europe, as ancient as the Vallonet Cave in France. Should these finds be confirmed, it will provide an interesting hint for the possible routes followed by the Homo Erectus in the colonization of the prehistoric Europe.

Sandalja II, another cave that is near Sandalja I, is mainly famous because of a later but very rich deposit, dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period (some 27,000 years ago). At that time, the Wurm glaciation was underway, and for many thousand years half of our continent was covered by snow and ice; the sea level was much lower, and very likely the marine landscape that in front of Pula today was a wood forest in which primitive man was hunting his prey. In this second cave, the human occupation is clear, and approximately one thousand retouched flints and animal bones were excavated. In Sandalja II was also found a group of 29 people who were from the Upper Paleolithic period. With their skulls smashed (attributed to be violent injuries), they demonstrate that the people of their period were burying their dead.

The avian remains of Sandalja I and II have been the subject of some works by Malez (fide Tyrberg, 1998). The layer D of the former has been attributed to the Gravettian lithic period (Würm 3) whereas the layer E of the latter to the Aurignacian (with a date of 23,540 ± 180 aBP). Both fossil assemblages are characteristic of woodland habitats, although the presence of Lagopus in Sandalja I could be understood as an indicator of a cooler phase, in spite of there not being any record of any northern irruptive taxa in such a large va riety of aquatic habitat species.

The characteristic product of these period are the so-called Aurignacian blades and cores that are an important technological innovation introduced by the newcomers (Homo Sapiens Sapiens), with respect to the previous inhabitants of the middle paleolithic Europe (Homo Sapiens Neandertalensis). Some beautiful flint artifacts that were excavated from this site (and dating to the Epigravettian culture) are on display at the Archeological Museum in Pula. Sandalja II is one of the most interesting prehistoric sites of Croatia, and together with Krapina and Vindija caves (Zagorije Region), provides important testimony on the biological and cultural evolution of our ancestors.

Šandalja (San Daniele)

Sustav više pećina i podzemnih špilja, nazvan po istoimenom kamenolomu Šandalja. U rimsko doba već se na ovom lokalitetu eksploatirao kamen.

Nalazi se na području OKZ "Valtura". Po bogatstvu paleontoloških, paleolitičkihi paleoantropoloških nalaza, koje su pronađene u 9 metara debelim naslagama, ovaj lokalitet zauzima vodeće mjesto na europskom tlu (paleolitik je starije kameno doba koje traje od cca 2.000.000-10.000 godina p.n.e.). Do danas su istražene pećine Šandalja I i II, udaljene jedna od druge svega desetak metara. Akademik Malez pronašao je 1961 i 1962. .godine ostatke sjekutića "homo erectusa" stare 1 milijun godina. Upravo ovi podaci govore o najstarijem pračovjeku Europe. Isto tako je na ovom lokalitetu pronađeno i najstarije udarno oruđe u Europi (kremeni udarač). Danas je lokalitet zarušen, zapušten i ugrožen radom kamenoloma.

Ulaz u pecinu Sandalja I

Ulaz u pećinu Šandalja II
(fotografije: Latinka Janjanin)

Dijelovi unutrašnjosti Šandalje II


Smjernice za očuvanje i valorizaciju: Za špilje Šandalja I i II pokrenuti proceduru zaštite (proglašenja) u kategoriji paleontološkog spomenika prirode sukladno Zakonu o zaštiti prirode. Potrebno ih je valorizirati i istražiti do kraja, te obilježiti putokazima. Također je potrebno urediti i omogućiti pristup navedenom lokalitetu, jer je danas on u potpunosti obrastao u teško prohodnu makiju. Lokalitet pruža ogromnu turističku atrakciju.

Gotovo neprohodna makija ispred spilja Šandalja I i II
(fotografije: Latinka Janjanin)

See also:

  • Occurrence of mammalia relicts at site Sandalja II -


  • Photos and text (edited)
  • Croatian text and color photos -

Main Menu

Created: Saturday, July 19, 2008; Last updated: Friday, March 11, 2016
Copyright © 1998, USA