Sunday, 1 November 2015

Gruda Boljevica

In my series of articles about Late Copper - Early Bronze age tumuluses from Montenegro, I already talked about Bjelopavlići tumulus, Mogila na Rake tumulus and Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses. In this post I will talk about Gruda Boljevića tumulus.

Gruda Boljevića tumulus is one of the most interesting and most important archaeological sites of the Montenegrin Late Copper - Early Bronze age. It is also probably one of the most important archaeological sites found recently in Europe. 

Gruda Boljevića tumulus is located in the fertile Zeta valley in the area of the Montenegrian Capital Podgorica.

Tumuli are well known archaeological features in Montenegro, which is why Gruda Boljevića was also assumed to be a prehistoric grave even before the excavation. The local legend says that two wedding parties met and fought and that the victims of this tragic fight were buried under the Gruda Boljevića tumulus. This type of legends is often linked to ancient burial type archaeological sites in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I already wrote about this type of sites in my post about wedding party graveyards. So it was assumed that Gruda Boljevića was one of such ancient burial sites. This assumption was confirmed during building of a house south of the tumulus, when one of many medieval stone cist graves,  which were dug into the original bronze age tumulus was discovered. This is the plan of the Gruda Boljevića tumulus with the locations of the medieval graves in and around the tumulus.

The aforementioned legend and knowledge of the existence of the graves, saved the mound from destruction, which was not the case with other mounds which allegedly existed nearby.

The tumulus had an irregular shape and had a diameter of 24 m. It was clearly recognizable between the existing houses in spite of its moderate height of 1.5 m. Its northwestern part was damaged by the building of a local road. Before the survey the mound was covered with grass. The grave pit was dug in gravel subsoil with an east-west orientation was discovered. On its bottom there were just small fragments of human bones and stone flint found. The deceased was obviously laid out in flexed position, but it is not clear whether on their back or on their side. The profiles shows that initial barrow had a diameter of approximately 10 m and a height of 0,8 m, and was made of red soil,with visible layers of clay in spaces of 20 cm. Above this follow layers of clear red soil, then a layer of red grey soil mixed with gravel, then humus. The prehistoric finds are located in the first barrow or on top of it. Approximately 0.4 m above the northern part/edge of the grave pit, objects of attire were placed. Even higher, 0.7 m above the eastern edge of the grave pit a ceramic set was deposited. Such a stratigraphic position is unique and without parallel in this cultural region. The fact that clay inter beds are disrupted exactly above both find concentrations and that personal belonging are normally placed beside the deceased, stimulated us to look for separate explanations for the grave and the finds above it.

Central grave

The grave pit of the central grave was dug more than 1 meter deep into the gravel substrate of the tumulus. This substantially distinguishes it from other “princely” graves from Montenegro. Such grave pits are typical for the Yamnaya culture, which at the end of the 4th and in the first half of the 3rd millennium dominates a significant part of Eastern Europe. For the Gruda Boljevića tumulus the best parallels can be found in the hinterland of the eastern Adriatic, between present day Albania and Hercegovina. Here, the deceased are normally laid down in a contracted position on their back or on their side, and oriented in an east-west direction. Grave goods are few or absent. Barrows are of moderate dimensions, made of soil and frequently surrounded with band of stones or a stone circle. On the basis of the observed larger pebbles and stone zones it is not impossible that Gruda boljeviča was also surrounded with such a construction, but that it was later destroyed by medieval inhumations. It is not possible to determine whether the stone flint from the grave pit is an actual grave good or a chance intrusion from the filling of the pit. Such artefacts are also reported from the covering layers of some other tumuli, e.g. Mala gruda and Piskovë.

Deposition above the central grave

Considering the good preservation and the completeness of the inventory, its concentration in two groups on a uniform level, the reopening of the grave and the displacement of grave goods is not likely. Objects were therefore found in situ. What is unclear, but a crucial question, is the relation of these finds with the grave below them. Two basic assumptions seem possible: they are connected to this grave and lay above it during or some time after burial. They are not connected to this grave and were deposited only after a considerable period of time. Both hypotheses can be supported with certain arguments. Elements of ritual practices are known from some tumuli, like Mala and Velika Gruda for example. In both cases with these rituals only smaller fragments of ceramics can be connected. Whole pots or other finds placed above the grave are known only from a few concurrent sites (Shtoj, Neusiedl). The find from Gruda Boljevića is exeptional by quantity and composition and exceeds all known examples of ritual enclosures. This and the stratigraphic position indicates that items were not placed above the grave during the burial ceremony as assumed by Govedarica and Baković. If really connected to the grave, then they were added after a certain period, interrupting the layers above the grave. Analogies for such complicated activity are however not known. That is why the second explanation of the situation is more probable namely, that the grave pit and the objects above it are not directly connected. In this case the grave pit represents a primary burial, which by its structure and the absence of grave goods fits well among typical Yamnaya culture graves, while the two concentrations of finds above it are the remains of a later, independent deposit. Comparison with inventories of other princely graves shows considerable similarities in the concentration, allocation and orientation of objects. With extreme caution this can be understood as a sign of another grave. In this case, in the centre of Gruda Boljevića two princes were buried, one above another! Of course, this hypothesis also has some open questions and uncertainties. The most essential is the absence of bones. But if bad preservation of the skeleton in the primary grave and in the central grave of Mala Gruda is taken into consideration, we must allow the possibility of the decomposition of the osteological material due to acidic soil. The second possibility is that it was a burial without a corpse, i.e. a cenotaph. In contrast with other rich “princes” buried in stone cists in a contracted position, the distribution of goods in the alleged secondary grave also allow an extended body position. The difference in the heights of the vessels and parts of attire could be caused by the subsidence of the primary grave pit fill or with the intentional deposition above or near the grave. As seen from the profiles, this grave would be dug into the primary barrow, but the building up of the barrow with an additional layer of soil in the context of this burial is also possible. Secondary graves that express chronological and cultural continuity of the tumuli use are quite a frequent feature in Yamna culture. For our case the most important are examples from neighbouring regions (Pazhok, Cerujë, Shtoj). The third event in the construction of the tumulus is the deposition of the pottery vessel found in the eastern part of the tumulus. Because of scarce data it is not possible to say with certainty when that happened; considering its location out of the centre in the layer of red soil (or on the border between the first and second barrow), this was probably the latest prehistoric activity. Also this vessel was found practically whole, but without any additional features or objects.  Therefore it is unclear if it was ritually placed, randomly discarded, or even used as part of a grave ensemble.

The grave goods found in the Gruda Boljevića tumulus show us that people who built this tumulus belong to the same culture, and I believe the same tribe, clan, as the people who built Bjelopavlići tumulusMogila na Rake tumulus and Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses.

This is the list of all the grave goods found in the Gruda Boljevića tumulus.

The Golden lockrings

This type of jewelry (lockrings made of precious metals) were one of the distinctive elements of the Yamnaya culture and were widespread in Eastern Europe. They are also a typical personal ornament of early Montenegro tumuli. However the lockrings of this particular type with profiled terminals are extremely rare. Apart from Gruda Boljevića, lockrings of this type are known only from Mala nad Velika Gruda tumuluses:

The stone battle axe

In my post about the Irish gold I talked about the mysterious golden cross discs which were found in Ireland and Britain and were all dated to 2400 BC - 2100 BC. I said that it is commonly believed that these ornaments originated in Ireland. In my post about the Mala and Velika Gruda tumuluses I have shown that in fact this type of golden cross discs were made in Montenegro 300 - 400 years before the first such discs appeared in Ireland and Britain. This is the golden cross disc from Mala Gruda tumulus, which was used for making the axe shaft cap:

I also said that there is even older golden cross disc, which was used in the same way like the Mala Gruda one. That other golden cross disc was found in Gruda Boljevića tumulus: 

At the very least these golden cross discs show cultural link between the people who built Mala Gruda and Gruda Boljevića tumuluses. The form and the material from which these discs are made indicates that they are objects with the symbolic status. The way in which the discs are used indicates that they could even have a meaning of insignia. They represent status, and probably also have religious significance and may even be a tribal, clan, family symbol. 

This stone battle axe exceeds ordinary and older examples in elegance and superior craftsmanship. Stone battle axes with elaborate forms and of high quality are popular in the primary regions of the Yamnaya and Catacombe cultures, but because of some closer typological parallels the workshop of the Gruda Boljevića example should be searched for in the region of the western Balkans. The best quality stone battle axes of this type are found in Troy (Hansen 2001, 45, Abb. 35). However all these stone battle axes from the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterannean have the hammer end with the circular profile and biconnically widenned central part. The stone battle axes which are closest to the the Gruda Boljevića axe are the one axe from Lugansk and the axes of the Mihajlovka type (Gimbutas 1965, Fig. 330:1; Kaiser 1997, 105–108, T. 25: 9).

The curved shape is not usual for stone axes but was more common in metal forms. Typologically it is marked by curved shape, expanded blade, fasetted rectangular hamer end and rounded middle part. There are only few metal axes with similar characteristics: Two much cruder examples from Ljubljansko barje, one example from Vošanovac, and one from Bosanska Rača. (Korošec, Korošec 1969, T. 78: 1; Šinkovec 2014, kat. b. 110; Stojić, Jacanović 2008, 55 sl. 41, 315, T. 139: 1; Čović 1957, 249, sl. 8). Unfortunately all these four axes are only partially preserved.

What is interesting is that the oldest metal axe found so far which was discovered in the Vinča culture site Pločnik and was dated to the period between 5500 BCE and 4700 BCE, is of the same type as the Gruda Boljevića axe type.

 The copper dagger

The simple dagger with a triangular blade is badly preserved and corroded. Still some details are visible, like the imprint of the handle around the upper edge and two holes for attaching the handle with rivets. Those were put very close to each other, which opens up the possibility that one of them is the result of an antique repair. The triangular form is quite common and chronologically and geographically widespread. For a more precise determination, analysis of material should be done. It would answer the question of whether the object is made of copper or early bronze, and point to a direction for its origin.

The axe pendant

The shape and different traces on the trapezoidal, perforated pendant of red stone allow two interpretations of its use: as an amulet or as a whetstone. In favour of the first interpretation speaks the small size, careful production and red colour, and in favour of the second are the traces on the surface and a possible combination with the equally small dagger. Of course, there is also the possibility that it had a double purpose: both as an amulet and as a whetstone.

The pottery set

Three aspects should be taken in consideration when analysing the pottery set from the centre of Gruda Boljevića: ornament, forms, and the combination of objects. Also, it must be emphasized that all three vessels are similar in structure and decoration, therefore allowing the hypothesis of simultaneous production – perhaps even especially for burial purposes.Ornament has a decisive role in the cultural determination of Montenegro tumuli. In it we can recognize the “fashion trends” that reach from the Carpathian basin to the Adriatic, but which is not uniform. Obviously in most cases we cannot speak about imports or direct influences, but more likely about local variations that developed in different regions and cultures. The Montenegro material is usually classified as part of the “Adriatic type of Ljubljana culture”, although it has some peculiar features and shapes, which has caused M. Primas to speak of a “facies Kotor”. In fact the “Adriatic” elements are quite rare in the broader region and are always found in layers of local cultures. Their exposure therefore creates an exaggerated impression of cultural unity. The explanation of this pottery is perhaps hidden in its cult purpose. In contrast with settlement layers, where such sherds are rare, all vessels from princely tumuli are decorated in this style. Are they luxury variants used by the upper class or were they produced as funeral vessels with specific symbolism?

The plate

This is the plate from the Mogila na rake tumulus:

The plate found in Gruda Boljevića is almost identical to the one found in Mogila na rake tumulus except for the motif on the plate:

Plates with a fanshaped extension are prominent ceramic grave goods in Montenegrin tumuli, known from Gruda Boljevića, Mala and Velika Gruda, Mogila na Rake, as well as in a destroyed tumulus Rubeži. They are all richly decorated both outside and on the interior, and differ primarily in the base modelling that can be in the form of a low or high foot, sometimes with apertures.

The funnel

The funnel with a decorated exterior and plain interior is a unique find in the assemblages of Montenegrin tumuli and a rare ceramic form also in the wider region. Similar funnel shaped clay artefacts of a different form and function dating from the 3rd millennium BC and the early 2nd millennium BC are known from the Lower Austria, the southern Russian steppe (Black Sea region) and Hungary. Here are the examples from Unter-Mamau, Austria dated to the second millennium BC (1,2) and Kalmykia, Black Sea region Catacombe culture dated to the mid third millennium BC (3).

Here is an example of such funnel from Somogyvár-Vinkovci Culture from Balatonőszöd-Temetői dűlő in Transdanubia, Hungary, which was dated to 2110 BC.

None of these other known funnels are ornamented like the example from Gruda Boljevića and are all younger than the Montenegrian example.

The jug

Jugs with a long handle that connects the rim and shoulder or belly, are a widespread functional form. It should be noted that among such vessels from the princely tombs of Montenegro we can observe different shapes: the high and elegant pitcher from Gruda Boljevića, the small compact one from Mala Gruda, or the asymmetrical Sutomore example. They are, therefore, a popular and longlasting vessel type, produced by various local workshops. The combination of three vessels from Gruda Boljevića for now represents the largest known set. We can compare the pitcher and plate with sets from Mala Gruda and Mogila na rake. 

It is worth mentioning grave 6/15 from Shtoj with the same combination, but with other forms: a smaller jug and conical bowl. The plate/bowl and pitcher are therefore the basic service used in the funeral cult (and possibly everyday life), which is supplemented with funnel in Gruda Boljevića.

The ceramic pot

The ceramic pot is of a simple spherical shape, but with a typical reinforced rim. From Albania to Dalmatia (and beyond) this detail is often found in settlements and is considered to be the characteristic of the late Eneolithic.The cultural significance of this vessel is very interesting. Unlike ceramics from the centre of the tumulus, which are typical grave goods, this pot is characteristic settlement pottery, which allows us to connect the tumulus phase with the corresponding settlement layers.

 Absolute and relative chronology

Radiocarbon dating was done on fragments of bone from the central grave of Gruda Boljevića. the analysis was conducted by laboratories in Kiel, Germany. The results date the time of burial around 3050 BC (3090 - 3044 cal BC). The high dating of skeleton in the central grave actually confirms the hypothesis of a secondary deposit of the finds above it. The C14 sample dated only the primary tomb, while the complex above it should be compared with the dates obtained by analysing samples from the Velika Gruda tumulus. There the central grave with a similar inventory is dated in the period 2800-2700 BC. The final prehistoric activity at the Boljevića Gruda tumulus is the deposition of a ceramic vessel with a reinforced rim. Such ceramics are known from Odmut (layer VI), where it is dated to 3036 - 2754 cal/1σ, while at the Ljubljana marsh settlements such rims are known from about 2500 BC. Absolute dating of the grave with figurines from the Kuće Rakića tumulus also falls at 2500 BC. The presented dates again confirm the possibility of paralleling Adriatic culture with classical Vučedol and EH II, as proposed by Philippe Della Casa and marked as the 2nd phase of the Late Copper Age. In these nearly 500 years of cultural and sociological development we can distinguish at least three different forms of burial. Somewhat surprisingly, in the settlement layers (usually caves) these differences are not visible. According to existing studies and analogies, this is the time when the Odmut VI, Varvara A1, Ravlića Cave IIIa, Hateljska cave III and Nezir cave IV layers are formed. they are attributed to the developed Eneolithic, while simultaneous graves, due to the considerable social differences and the new economy, are often attributed already to the Early Bronze Age.

You can find additional information and detailed description of the tumulus in the article entitled "Podgorica praistorijske humke i srednjovjekovne nekropole Gruda Boljevića".

So at the beginning of this post I said that I believe that Gruda Boljevića tumulus is one of the most important archaeological sites found recently in Europe. The reason why I believe that this tumulus is so important, is because it shows that the dolmen building, golden cross disc making culture which developed in Montenegro in the first half of the third millennium BC, has its direct cultural roots in Yamna culture of the Black Sea steppe. Why is this important?  

I have already shown that the golden cross discs which appear in Ireland and Britain around 2500 BC have their predecessors in golden cross discs from Montenegro which were dated to 2700 BC (Mala Gruda) and some time between 3050 BC and 2700 BC (Gruda Boljevića). Considering that these golden cross discs first appear in Montenegro and then in Ireland and Britain and nowhere else in between suggests that this cultural trait could have been a result of a direct cultural transfer between Montenegro and Ireland and Britain. Irish archaeologists are reluctant to say whether this cultural influence was due to trade or missionary contacts, or whether it was a consequence of a migration of a group people into Ireland. This is because Irish archaeologists don't read pseudo histories like the Irish annals. If they did they would have seen the old Irish annals tell us that right at the time when the metallurgy and the first golden cross discs appear in Ireland, a group of people, a tribe a clan lead by Partholón arrives in Ireland. Partholón and his people are credited with introducing cattle husbandry, plowing, cooking, dwellings, trade, and dividing the island in four and most importantly for this story, they are credited with bringing gold which before them was not used in Ireland. They bring the golden cross discs. But where did Partholón and his people come from? The Irish annals tell us that too. They tell us that Partholón arrived to Ireland from the Balkans via Iberia. The Lebor Gabála Érenn, an 11th-century Christian pseudo-history of Ireland, tells us more. It tells us that Partholón came to the Balkans from the Black Sea steppe, the land where at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC we find Yamna culture...I will talk about this in detail in one of my next posts. 

Montenegrian archaeologists are still hesitant to say whether Yamna cultural influence on Montenegro was due to trade or missionary contacts, or whether it was a consequence of a migration of a group of Yamna people into Montenegro. If only Montenegrian archaeologists read Irish pseudo histories....


  1. I do agree that archaeologists should read Irish pseudo histories! I have found the same thing about Bibical History and the Moses story! Archaeologists go to such lengths (I trained as an archaeologist in Winchester, UK, but I am Irish!)to prove/disprove the Moses story, or at least to put it into some kind of historical context but they miss valuable info by not reading people's stories! People's experiences and stories contain a wealth of information about our history, and is usually a lot less complicated. We should be reading a lot more I feel!!! Great blog!

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words. I find the Irish histories amazing. They have been preserved orally for 4000 years before they were first written down...This shows how resilient cultures and languages can be.

  2. At this time we see a period of massive technological progress: Ploughs drawn by cattle that are able to cultivate heavy soils and proper ships to name but two. The use of ships and cattle as draft animals meant that these Guys could really get about and pursue their quest for metals and ores. The Irish Annals were right. There is precious knowledge in them if only they are looked at in terms of an early bronze age view of life.