HILLFORTS, STONE MOUNDS AND CAVES, the western Dubrovnik region
The exhibition has been produced by Dubrovnik Museums, Archaeology Museum.
Hillforts, Stone Mounds and Caves in the Western Dubrovnik Region, with its accompanying catalogue, is the results of archaeological explorations with the area between the Rijeka Dubrovačka Bay to the east, and the Imotica and Bistrina to the west, with the Elaphiti Islands and the state border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) marking the southern and northern boundaries of the region, respectively.
The time period presented here covers mainly the period between the Late Aeneolithic and the end of the Iron Age. Sporadic outings into later periods concern occasional finds made on hillforts and in caves, dating from classical antiquity, the Middle Ages and the modern era.
Hillforts are prehistoric archaeological sites, which were used as permanent or occasional settlements, as fortifications, or for mixed purposes. Setting up settlements at hillforts can be traced back to the period of Indo-European migration, over several migration waves which occurred in the Copper Age (or the Aeneolithic) – evidently a period of important cultural, social and economic changes. Nonetheless, hillforts were used most frequently in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Their ‘end’ began with Roman conquests, after the Roman occupation of this region and establishment of Roman civilization, when settlements were brought down from the hills, and set up in the vicinity of favourable harbours and Roman roads.
Hillforts are usually located on elevated, strategically favourable positions, which could be easily defended. They were erected along natural communication routes, and, if possible, in the vicinity of cultivable land and water sources. To date, 49 hillforts have been identified in the western Dubrovnik region
Within archaeological contexts, stone mounds most often represent prehistoric gravesites, containing graves of one or more deceased. Sometimes they are also elements of fortification systems of settlements protected by ramparts, ritual spaces, or boundary markers. The majority of stone mounds were erected in the vicinity of hillfort sites, by communication routes, above fields, on hilltops, on slopes, on ridge outcrops and at mountain saddles, as well as in wide karst plateaus. In this region, burials under stone mounds can be traced from the end of the High Aeneolithic, through the whole Bronze Age, to the beginning of the Iron Age. This means from the end of the 3rd millennium BC to the end of the 1st millennium BC, over a long period of two thousand years. Burials under stone mounds probably began as a consequence of increasing social differentiation, resulting in massive grave monuments being erected for prominent and important members of prehistoric communities. Thus, their graves were made permanently visible in the environment and became part of the religious memory of the population.
In the beginning, these were surely tribal leaders, priests and other members of prehistoric elites, while in the Iron Age, as the hero cult spread, stone mounds were erected primarily for distinguished warriors. The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue present a total of 706 stone mounds in the western Dubrovnik region.
All that is unknown, dark and secret causes fear and respect – this is still valid today, and it was especially true in earlier periods of history and prehistory, when man’s life was more attuned with nature. Caves certainly belonged to the category of the ‘unknown’, at the same time representing an entrance into Magna mater (the Great Mother), ‘Mother Earth’, in its full and widest possible mythological, sacred, profane and also funeral context. The world of the dead is underground, the souls of the dead are underground, and there is no better link between the two worlds but potholes and caves. Bearing this in mind, it is only logical that, throughout the evolution of mankind and human civilization, caves have been an important segment of life. In the early periods of prehistory, their importance was much higher, and archaeological sites located in caves are our main source of knowledge about the humans of the time. In the area between Osojnik and Imotica, 18 caves have been processed: 14 of these are confirmed archaeological sites, and 4 are potential sites.
Author of exhibition: Domagoj Perkić
Exhibition design: Rašić+Vrabec
The exhibition catalogue is available in the museum shop.