Archaeologists in Croatia trade shovels for georadar
Sun May 16, 2004
SINJ, Croatia (AFP) - In search of clues they believe could cast light on 10,000 years of Balkans history, archaeologists working in a key wetland along the Cetina river in southern Croatia have modernized their approach, switching shovels for a georadar.
Children ran in awe around the cart with the georadar as it circled around a village playground pulled by a small four-wheeler. Several meters (feet) beneath the concrete the radar found remains of a medieval church.
"This is the first time that we have access to such sophisticated peace of equipment. It will revolutionize how we can do this sort of work, as we can now do in days what used to take us months before," Vincent Gaffney, director of the University of Birmingham Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, told AFP. The institute is taking part in the archaeological study of the Cetina river valley.
Three-dimensional maps showing seven meters of depth of the surveyed area, produced by radar technology, are used in planning future excavations set to begin next year. While having other applications, such as in geotechnical surveys prior to construction, the georadar is being used in Cetina river valley for the first time by archaeologists in a large-scale research.
As part of preparations that started three years ago it was used to make a transect of the complete length of the valley of some six kilometers (3.5 miles).
"Archaeologists have conducted excavations here in the past 200 years but this is the first time that the valley is being researched systematically," said Ante Milosevic, head of the Museum of Croatian archaeological monuments.
Due to its strategic position, the Cetina river valley was for centuries a major crossroads linking western Europe with Asia, as well as a border area between the Romans and Slavic Croatian tribes, and later Ottoman and Venetian empires.
"This area has the greatest density of findings covering all periods from neolithic onward in the whole of Dalmatia," he said in a reference to Croatia's southern Adriatic region. "It is undoubtably archaeologically the most important area of the western Balkans and all our findings here will provide a good basis for the future surveys." All the artefacts found so far, including dozens of bronze age swords and some 30 Greco-Illyrian helmets, were exceptionally well preserved in the waterlogged area. Archaeologists also found timbers from the series of river-dwelling communities which, unlike in the rest of Europe, continued in Croatia until the 18th century. "This small river in Dalmatia appears almost as important as big European rivers like the Rhine or the Thames with the remarkable set of metalwork comparable to that from those rivers," Gaffney said.
The river appears to have had a spiritual meaning for people of bronze age Cetina culture, one of the first metal using groups spreading from Croatia to Albania. "In this environment water was very important. There are burrows around associated with Cetina culture indicating that the river was probably a source of ritual and spiritual experience," Gaffney said. A large number of swords found appear to have been deliberately thrown into river as part of a ritual. But archaeologists complain that the state should do more to protect the area from looters. So far, according to Milosevic, one third of the findings have been stolen from archaeological sites, ending up in private collections. The valley could also provide archaeologists with the story of life here since neolithic times as the organic material preserved in the wetland also holds a complete environmental record for the region for up to 10,000 years.
"This valley can tell us about the whole environment of the Baklans because it is a time capsule with pollen cores, snails and beatles," Gaffney said.
"Organic material can tell us not just what people did, but which conditions they lived in, what sort of food they ate, diseases they had ..."