Balkan Museum - Balkanski Muzej

I will present historical artifact find by myself on different sources
in area of former prehistoric area of Illyricum and present Balkan countries

Stašo Forenbaher i Timothy Kaiser:
Spila Nakovana - Ilirsko svetište na Pelješcu

Knjiga govori o otkricu i istraživanju ilirskog svetišta iz vremena helenizma, te donosi prve interpretacije tog nesvakidašnjeg arheološkog nalazišta. Svetište u Spili kod Nakovane otkriveno je slucajno, prilikom rutinskih arheoloških istraživanja, u ljetu 1999. godine. Zbog sigurnosti tog rijetkog i iznimno dobro ocuvanog nalazišta, otkrice je držano u tajnosti sve do iduce jeseni. U meduvremenu su provedena opsežna arheološka istraživanja koja su dala neobicno vrijedne i efektne rezultate.
Osim nekoliko vrlo kratkih prethodnih izvještaja u strucnoj literaturi, ova je knjiga prvi cjeloviti prikaz tijeka i rezultata istraživanja, i to u obliku pristupacnom širokom citateljstvu. Knjiga je namijenjena svima onima koje zanima drevna prošlost Jadrana. Ilirsko svetište u Spili cini njenu okosnicu, no pricu o svetištu proširena je na niz opcenitih tema vezanih uz vrijeme kada je svetište bilo u funkciji, kao i uz prirodu i svakodnevicu samih arheoloških istraživanja. Tako cilj knjige nije samo predstaviti javnosti jedno zanimljivo arheološko otkrice, vec i iskoristiti tu priliku da se na pristupacan nacin docara što je zapravo arheologija i približi davno vrijeme kojem je svetište pripadalo.

Discovery and exploration of an Illyrian sanctuary on the Peljesac peninsula

by Staso Forenbaher and Timothy Kaiser

Nakovana Cave: An Illyrian Ritual Site!!!

Peljesac folk tale

And there is a place in Nakovana where treasure is buried.

And they say that this treasure will be discovered if John and Mary go together, and when the rooster crows at the eleventh hour, they should gather what is before them, and that will be the treasure.

And they arranged for it once, and they went, but they fell asleep, so that they heard neither the eleventh hour nor the rooster.

Central Dalmatia

The location of Nakovana Cave on Dalmatia's Peljesac peninsula, showing nearby Illyrian sites, Greek colonies, and ancient sea-lanes.


Ever wonder what archaeologists do?


When most people think about archaeologists, the image that most often comes to mind is that of a heroic or eccentric explorer chancing upon the spectacular remains of a distant past.

"What do you see?" asked the companion. And from within King Tutankhamen's dark tomb came the archaeologist's reply, "Wonderful things."

People sometimes think that exciting discoveries about the past, treasures of one kind or another, lie around every corner just waiting to be unearthed by some archaeologist. Among children, "archaeologist" is a popular answer to the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" You'd think that the profession would be jam-packed with enthusiasts.


As it turns out, though, few people ever do become archaeologists. Perhaps that's because it is not a lucrative occupation, or maybe it is because the reality of archaeology is quite different from the stereotype. Most of the work in our profession is not terribly exciting. The romantic image of the archaeologist, who works in some exotic locale under the benevolent sponsorship of a powerful institution or a rich patron, discovering lost civilizations and the like, belongs to the past.

These days, the struggle for funds and administrative work take up as much time as research. Archaeological digs are often found on urban building sites and highway rights-of-way, conducted under the pressure of deadlines and in the shadow of construction machinery.



Fieldwork is followed by finds processing and artifact analysis, tasks that involve endlessly repetitive routine procedures and thousands of hours of sitting in front of a computer. Years often pass before one is able to say something definitive about what one has actually excavated, and the results, not spectacular enough to arouse public attention, will interest only other archaeologists.




However, once in a while someone does get lucky and makes a discovery that resembles a romantic adventure story. In the summer of 1999, when we began our exploration of Nakovana Cave, we had no inkling that only a few meters away lay a hidden chamber of the cave, sealed long ago. Sequestered in this chamber were rich traces of mysterious rituals, which took place there over two thousand years ago.

In this book we relate how, through a combination of our natural curiosity, a professional hunch, and, above all, good luck, we discovered and explored an excellently preserved Illyrian sanctuary from the Hellenistic period, ca. 4th-1st c. BC.

We offer our first interpretations of this extraordinarily rare and valuable site based on analyses of the archaeological evidence we recovered from the cave. Our exploration of the cave sanctuary is now finished for the moment, but analyses of finds continue, and investigations of other archaeological monuments on the Nakovana plateau have only just begun. We are certain that they will yield new information that will augment, and sometimes modify, the answers to the questions that we discuss here.

One thing is certain, however -- Nakovana Cave is a small gem of cultural heritage. It provides us with a unique window into the spiritual world of the Illyrians at a time immediately before this ancient culture was finally incorporated into the Mediterranean world of classical antiquity.

The discovery


It's a hot summer afternoon and our small field crew is going about its routine work, looking for traces of the past. We are digging with small tools, slowly, carefully removing thin layers of dirt from the bottom of a square hole that is almost 3 meters deep; it's what archaeologists call a "test trench."

Only the occasional muffled word, the metallic ring of a trowel scraping against a rock and the rhythmic rattle of our sieves being shaken, disturb the thunderous chirping of the crickets. Luckily, the test trench is located just inside the entrance of a cave, so we are always in the shade, while outside the sun mercilessly bakes the maquis and the rocks. Our cave, known simply as "Spila" ("Cave") is hidden near the top of a rocky ridge that extends from the massive summit of Mt. St. Elias towards the westernmost tip of the Peljesac peninsula.

That day the six of us have unexpected helpers. Tamara and Marko, two school kids from the nearby village of Loviste have joined us out of curiosity. For weeks they've been clamoring to see what we are doing up there in that cave. We'd like them to think that what we're up to is interesting and useful, not just a waste of time and money. That's what most of the villagers must think when they see us returning from the hills each day -- hot, dirty and apparently empty-handed. But our team is really in sync and there is not much that we can give our young helpers to do.



The cave that we are working in is, in fact, a spacious, low rock shelter. It consists of a single hall that is some fifteen meters wide at the opening and about as deep. People used to keep goats here, so they barred the entrance with a dry stone wall, only bits of which are still standing. The ceiling near the entrance is just high enough for a person to stand upright. It gets progressively lower towards the back, until it meets the cave floor, which is covered with large rocks.

We keep telling each other that sometime before the end of the season we should see if there are any interesting archaeological finds hidden in the floor rubble at the back of the cave. Ancient visitors sometimes lost or left their possessions among the rocks near cave walls. With the passage of time, pieces of broken pots and discarded tools would slip between the cracks and stay there, protected from trampling and hidden from souvenir hunters. To an archaeologist, such ancient trash is a precious source of information.

While the rest of us keep digging, Lara decides to keep the teenagers busy by having them remove some of the stones at the back of the rock shelter. We cannot see what they are doing from where we are, nearly 3 meters down at the bottom of the trench. We can only hear dull thumps, the clacking of stone against stone, and snippets of conversation:

"Another potsherd... Bone... No, it's not human; probably it was a sheep or a goat... Nothing much..."

The afternoon is slowly slipping away just like any other afternoon in the field, until we hear Lara's voice call out, "Staso, come and look."

Staso doesn't feel like climbing out of the trench unless it's for a very good reason, so he asks, "What's up?"

"I can't really see," says Lara, "it's dark."


Nakovana Cave: An Illyrian Ritual Site!!!

If you've ever gone spelunking, you'll know that the heart of a cave explorer beats faster at the mention of darkness beyond. Staso was a caver before he was ever an archaeologist so he scrambles out of the trench and sees Lara, or, more precisely, he sees her legs sticking out of a cleft between the stones and the ceiling.

"So, what does it look like?" he asks.

"It's dark and I can't see a thing. It looks like the rock face is right here, but then maybe it isn't, maybe one could crawl deeper inside."

"Are you going to take a look?" Staso asks, secretly hoping that the answer will be no. Sure enough:

"No, you better go yourself if you wish."

Staso takes his headlamp and crawls into the crack Lara has found. His flashlight illuminates a cleft at least two meters wide and no more than 30 centimeters high. Many stalactites drip from its ceiling and stalagmites grow from the ground; they frame a space that looks like the jaws of a shark. The ground slopes off into the darkness.Avoiding the sharp, brittle stalactites, Staso wriggles downward on his belly.

He does not need to mimic a snake for long. After a few meters, the ceiling begins to rise, and he can crawl. A little farther and he can stand up.

A cave chamber, some fifteen meters long, opens in front of him. The simple harmony of its natural architecture catches Staso by surprise. The ceiling consists of a tilted monolithic limestone slab. One end of the slab rests on a vertical wall three meters high, completely covered in stalagmitic crust, while the other end reaches to the ground.

The chamber gets narrower towards the back, and at the far end stands a single, large stalagmite. A spacious corridor continues behind it, disappearing into the darkness, into the bowels of the mountain. Stalagmitic formations are clean and intact. The clayey ground is covered with a thin carbonate crust that crackles with his every step.

Clearly, nobody has been here in a very, very long while.

To discover a new cave channel would in and of itself make any spelunker happy. But, as Staso sorts out his first impressions, he notices something else that makes him exclaim loudly with joy, alone in the dark though he is.


The ground is strewn with many pieces of broken pottery. And not just any pottery! These are not tiny sherds of coarse, handmade prehistoric pots, a common find in many caves around here, but rather they are large pieces of fine, thin-walled, elegantly shaped vessels, decorated with black, red and white paint.

Their style is readily identifiable to any archaeology student: only the ancient Greeks made such pottery in this corner of the world. A new surprise waits at every step: parts of a jug, a miniature amphora half-embedded in stalagmitic crust, several almost complete stemmed cups left in out-of-the-way corners of the chamber. It slowly dawns on Staso that this is really something quite special, and his initial loud cheerfulness gives way to an awed silence.

caveSectionb.jpg (35588 bytes)

How deep was this cave? Carefully stepping between heaps of vessel fragments, Staso passes by the lonely stalagmite and enters the dark corridor behind it. Twenty meters beyond, he reaches a circular-shaped portal. Staso crawls through and lowers himself down a few natural stone steps into another, smaller chamber richly decorated by variously shaped stalagmites and stalagmitic curtains. This is the end of the cave, definitely, with no more holes or cracks to indicate anything beyond.

On his way back, Staso puts a few potsherds in his pocket to show the rest of the crew. By then Staso has already made up his mind that in order to protect the site for the time being no one outside the team should know what is hidden in the cave.

The curious faces of our young visitors are waiting for Staso's return. His half-hour long absence seems suspicious.

"It's tight in there, hard to move about, and there is not too much to see anyway", he lies shamelessly, faking nonchalance.

Staso doesn't know if they believe him, but they ask no more questions, and he decides that it is wisest to keep quiet and go back to work in the trench as if nothing has happened. But the others aren't fooled; they can tell that he is excited.

"What did you find in there?" asks Tim, with a conspiratorial smile.

"Keep digging and don't ask me anything, I'll tell you about it when we get down," Staso answers in a low voice.

When we return to our base in Loviste, the crew assembles in Staso's room. He reports what he's seen at the other end of the narrow passage. When he pulls the potsherds out of his pocket and shows them to Branko, whose specialty is the ancient Greeks in the Adriatic, Branko's eyes sparkle with delight.

He immediately identifies the pottery: these are sherds of Hellenistic finewares from the 3rd or 4th century BC.

When Staso goes on to tell him that he's brought maybe 5% of what he'd seen scattered around the chamber, Branko's face breaks into a broad smile. Continued explorations will soon show that Branko's diagnosis is correct, and Staso's own estimate too modest.

That quiet summer evening, the team gathers around our al fresco dining table near the water's edge at the end of town. We toast our unexpected discovery, and talk for hours about what is to be done.

This is what we decide. Part of the crew should continue to work in the test trench, in part to divert the attention of accidental visitors.


Another, smaller part of the crew should meanwhile systematically collect all surface finds from the interior chamber.

First, we need to produce a precise ground plan of the newly discovered part of the cave, and place a 2-meter-square grid over the whole area. This will allow us to map precisely all surface finds. Information about their spatial distribution will help us greatly when we try to figure out what was going on in the cave more than two millennia ago.

The following days are spent in drawing the ground plan, staking out the grid, recording and collecting the potsherds from the surface. Margaret makes a thorough photographic record of the cave's interior. We pack the finds into labeled plastic bags, and carry them to the base in Loviste, where they are washed and sorted.

By then we have already noticed that the majority of sherds is concentrated around the solitary stalagmite. This pillar of rock upstages all else: not only is it in a prominent position but its shape is unmistakably phallic.


Could it be that we have stumbled across an ancient cult place, where mysterious torch-lit rituals were held? At first we all give it some silent thought, then joke about it in disbelief. Numerous indications, to be discussed in detail in the course of the following chapters, eventually convinced us that indeed we have found a rather special ritual site.

After all the pottery has been cleared from the surface, Tim decides to dig a tiny test trench beside the stalagmite in order to see what might be hiding below the surface.

Another surprise! Tim's test trench, only 30 x 30 cm and 10 cm deep, yields about two and a half kilograms of Hellenistic fineware fragments. In other words, unusually fine archaeological artifacts make up almost a quarter of the mass of the sediment!

We cannot even think about continuing the exploration, since our time and money are running short. Besides, by now it is clear that we are dealing with an extreme rarity, an uncommon site - very likely, a sanctuary - which, thanks to lucky circumstances, has remained undisturbed since it was abandoned over two thousand years ago.

It would be a crime to excavate such a "time capsule" hastily. Careful and thorough exploration requires ample time and money, as well as appropriate technical equipment. Besides, we want to include a few more specialists in our work in order to make it more comprehensive. Therefore, we have no choice other than to re-seal the entrance to the interior, and hope that Spila will remain unmolested until we can arrange to return.

We spend our last day in the field filling up the entrance to the secret chamber, tossing in stones to block the cleft. We take care to return the cave to a convincing approximation of its original appearance. We all agree that the news of our discovery should be confined to a narrow circle of specialists and friends who can be counted on to help us organize and carry out the next campaign. We petition the National Heritage Service of Croatia to register the site as a protected archaeological monument.

The next morning we go our different ways - some of us to the neighboring island of Hvar, others to Split and Zagreb, still others to far away Canada.

[Over the next three years, we excavated virtually the entire hidden chamber and plumbed the antiquity of the cave. That part of the story is told in other chapters of the book.]

When and where was the pottery made?


Just as some car afficionados can name a car's make, model and year of manufacture just by looking at the shape of its lights or fenders, archaeologists can estimate the age of a ceramic vessel by its shape and decoration, and can sometimes even recognize the workshop from which it came.

Among the first vessels to be brought to the sanctuary was a cup decorated by spiral geometric motifs painted in a dark pigment on a light background. The cup was probably made in one of the market towns that the Greeks founded at the head of the Adriatic, in the Po River delta. This style, characteristic of the second half of the 4th century BC, is known as "Alto Adriatico." Another fragment decorated with dark paint on a light background belongs to the same style and period.

Most of the fine vessels belong to the 3rd century BC. So-called "ribbed skyphoi" are especially numerous. These pedestalled cups with two horizontal handles and a glossy black surface decorated with vertical ribs and white- or red-painted designs were mass-produced in the workshops of Greek colonies in southern Italy. Archaeologists first discovered this kind of pottery at Gnathia (today Egnazia), a town between Bari and Brindisi, which is why collectively they are known as "Gnathia ware," although the main center of their production was in fact the city of Taras (today Taranto). Copies of Gnathia ware were produced in many other Greek towns, including Issa on the island of Vis.

Gray cups with relief decoration, made in moulds, belong to the 2nd or 1st century BC. In all likelihood, they were made in the Greek colonies of the Dalmatian islands. A mould for making such cups found at Issa supports this claim.

The vessel that was among the last to be deposited in the sanctuary is a small, coarse jar with the Latin inscription mentioning Ammartus and Heraclidas. It was probably made somewhere in Italy, early in the 1st century BC.

From web page




Copyright C 1952-2005. All rights reserved.  Rudolf Bosnjak.