Sunday, 8 September 2019

Donja Dolina

Helmet (6th. c. BC) from Sisak, Croatia found in Illyrian warrior grave. Prior to the arrival of the Romans, who gave it the Latin name Siscia, the region was Celtic and Illyrian and the city there was named Segestica or Segesta

Similar helmet, also dated to 7th-6th c BC, was found in 1896, by Ilija Knežević, a peasant from the village of Donja Dolina (Lower valley) located further downstream on Sava river in Bosnia

The discovery of this second helmet led to the discovery of a very important prehistoric industrial and trading centre, which was continuously inhabited from the second half of the second millennium BC until the Roman times.

The Donja Dolina site is located on the right bank of the river Sava, near marshy area full of fish, surrounded by big forests full of game and on the land which is ideal for agriculture. 50km southwest are mountains full of iron ore. Ideal settlement for an Iron Age community

Interestingly, the old Iron Age settlements (there were two, an older and newer one), which were abandoned 2000 years earlier, were found in areas known locally as Velika i Mala Gradina (Big and Small ruined city)...

The old, Late Bronze Age settlement was built on land. But right about the time when the place was settled (1300-1200 BC), a sudden catastrophic climate change made climate much wetter and colder.

This diagram is from my post about ancient salt extraction techniques

The cold and wet period, which increased the river water level, caused frequent floods, made land even more marshy and pretty much completely wiped out agriculture in the area, culminated around 850 BC.

It is around 800 BC when people finally abandoned land life and started living in houses on stilts. The image by Igor Ilijev from his upcoming book about Donja Dolina.

The excavations started in 1896. The settlement was exceptionally well preserved because of the fact that it was covered by thick layers od mud. Pic 1: support substructure. Pic 2: stairs going down to the water level

A very interesting burials were discovered in the settlement. 8 people were buried in wooden coffins in the ground between the stakes which supported the house platforms. None of the people buried under the settlement were warriors

Most of the people were buried in cemeteries located near the settlement. They were either cremated and urns (pic) were placed in shallow graves or their bodies were placed in the ground either directly or in wooden coffins

Most burials had no grave goods apart from food vessels (bowls and cups). These are particularly beautiful examples

However hight status individuals were buried with jewellery, armour and lots of additional grave goods (multiple ceramic vessels). This is a grave of a high status woman buried with her jewellery

Warrior graves contained weapons and food and drink vessels. Here are contents of three warrior graves all dated to 7th-6th c BC. From: The Forgotten Graves from Donja Dolina 

The Donja Dolina was an important trading centre. Goods from as far as Greece in the south, Italy in the west, Bulgaria in the east and Baltic in the north were found in the graves belonging to the people from settlement

The settlement was also an important metallurgical centre. This fibula mould found in one of the graves is of a type found only in Italy at the time, suggesting that this was a grave of an immigrant metalworker

Among many items produced in the Donja Dolina Iron Age settlement, I particularly like this type of bracelets. Are they unique? Anyone seen anything similar from the period 800-400 BC?

Another interesting type of objects found in Donja Dolina Iron Age settlement were bronze "ornamental rods". Up to 10cm long, they are found in graves as components of the funerary ornaments. Anything similar anywhere else? Meaning?

Here is a complete inventory of one of the warrior graves where these ornamental rods (also classified as staffs, even though they are only 10cm long) were found

Most helmets found in the Donja Dolina 7th-6th c BC graves, were made in Macedonia where they were found in princely graves. At that time in Greece, they are found only in sanctuaries, linked with the territory of ancient Macedonia

Among the scattered finds from the cemetery, these two peculiarly shaped clay objects stroke my attention. The size of the objects is less than 10cm. Use unknown. Any ideas? Stamps of sort? For bread maybe?

Another type of objects without good explanation are these sandstone prisms with swastikas engraved on the top and bottom.

Another interesting swastika design was reconstructed from several fragments found at the site

The results of the excavations, were published by Ćiro Truhelka in 1904 in "Der vorgeschichtliche Pfahlbau im Savebette bei Donja Dolina

I like this stamp issued by Bosna i Hercegovina - Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina - Serbian Republic), showing weapons found in Donja Dolina site

To me the most interesting finds from Donja Dolina Iron Age archaeological site are boats. This is the biggest one, 12 meter long oak dugout, currently in Zemaljski muzej Bosne I Hercegovine, Sarajevo

And this is the photo from 1901 showing the lifting of the boat from the site. Were boats like this one used during the early Iron Age for trade transport along Sava river?

And this is the picture showing the smallest boat found in the Early Iron Age settlement Donja Dolina in Bosnia, a miniature model of an oak dugout. Several are found in every house in the settlement. Toys? Or???

What is interesting is that almost identical boats were still used in Donja Dolina in the early 20th century. In the book "Vremeplov: Narodno ribarstvo u Bosni I Hercegovini" we find this fishing boat

I particularly like this picture from the book about the folk fishing from Bosnia, showing three types of dugout boats from Donja Dolina: a) male, b) female, c) front male back female...

The dugout boats are not the only thing which has been in continuous use since the early Iron Age in Donja Dolina. These are stilt houses in which people lived in Donja Dolina in the early 20th c

And finally here is my favourite picture. Women from Donja Dolina, in a "female" boat, coming back home from a bridal party. This could easily be a scene from the Iron Age Donja Dolina...

In the end, here is the link to the report about Donja Dolina Archaeological site published by the commission for preservation of national monuments from Bosnia and Hercegovina from which I translated some excerpts for this post.  


  1. The rods, maybe a pair held a small parchment scroll?

  2. The rods are the bronze part of the bimetal needles. The iron part in most cases corrodated.