Nakovana Cave: An Illyrian Ritual Site. (News & Notes)

By Forenbaher, Staso; Kaiser, Timothy | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Nakovana Cave: An Illyrian Ritual Site. (News & Notes)

Forenbaher, Staso, Kaiser, Timothy, Antiquity

Nakovana Cave overlooks the Adriatic Sea from just below the crest of a high ridge near the strategically important western tip of the Peljesac peninsula, some 100 km north of Dubrovnik on Croatia's Dalmatian coast. A test trench, excavated at the mouth of the cave, yielded evidence of regular visits to the site at least since Early Neolithic times. The cave's cultural deposits are over 3 m thick; they continue down to an as yet undetermined depth and time.

During our excavation season in 1999, we discovered that a spacious, 45-m long cave channel comprising two chambers continued beyond what was presumed to be the end of a relatively deep abri. Its low entrance was sealed by natural accumulation of cave deposits and by intentionally piled-up limestone rocks.

Beyond the blocked entrance, the first chamber was found to contain a very dense surface scatter of Hellenistic potsherds, concentrated around a single large stalagmite. The highly structured character of the evidence and the unusually high quality of the finds alerted us to the possibility that this part of the site may have been used for ritual purposes. Significantly, we found no evidence of disturbance by human visitors post-dating the 1st century BC.

A full-scale excavation, carried out in the summer of 2000, exposed an area of 34 sq.m around the stalagmite. Out of some 8000 potsherds recovered, 73% are from fine Hellenistic ceramic vessels, over a hundred of which are fully reconstructible. They include a number of imports from Greece, Gnathia wares from the Greek possessions in southern Italy, as well as their copies that, like the later `Liburnian' wares, were probably produced more locally, in Greek colonies within Dalmatia. Several special vessels, known from classical writings to have been fashioned expressly for use in offerings, were also recovered. A small number of vessels bear short votive graffiti, scratched in either Greek or Latin.

Most of the vessels are related to drinking and food serving (cups, jugs, plates). Together with faunal remains that point to the preferred consumption of the best cuts of lamb and kid, this suggests ritual feasting. A number of amphorae fragments were recovered, but their spatial distribution differs from those of fineware sherds, reflecting the fact that they were not treated as offerings. They were used, presumably, to bring wine or some other liquid to the cave, and were casually discarded.

All of the imported ceramics were produced between the late 4th and the early 1st centuries BC.

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