Camels in Antiquity: Roman Period Finds from Slovenia
Bartosiewicz, Laszlo, Dirjec, Janez, Antiquity
In what was never intended to be the first article in a series, Morales Muniz et al. (1995) offered a review of dromedary finds from Iberia. A summary of camel remains in Hungary (Bartosiewicz 1996) soon followed. Recently, two additional sites have yielded camel bones, for the first time, in Slovenia. This region between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, served as a corridor connecting the Apennine Peninsula with the Danube Basin. Camel finds from here contribute to the geographical patterning of Roman Period camels in Central Europe (FIGURE 1).
Distinctions between the one-humped dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) and the two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) are instructive in identifying, at least lato sensu, the geographical origins of these animals: present distributions of southern (Arabian/African) dromedary and northern (Central Asian) Bactrian camel overlap in the broader Caspian region (Caucasus and Kazakhstan; Mezhlumian 1988).
Site histories and find circumstances
Characteristically, both sites are located along the Roman road between Aquilea (present-day Italy) and Ljubljana--Emona (Ulbert 1981: 5, Abb. 2). This offers a gross taphonomic explanation for the discovery of these otherwise rare finds. Many beasts of burden, whether used by civilians or the military, were probably buried on the roadside rather than in kitchen middens. Such deposits, however, are of relatively little interest to the archaeologist, since they tend to be heavily disturbed and dispersed. In spite of their scarcity, however, camel finds can contribute multi-faceted information on ancient Roman life.
1 Ajdovscina--Casta lies on a brink of the Vipava river valley in Slovenia, where the road begins to climb through Hrusica--Ad Pirum toward Logatec--Longaticum in the northeast. It was a 1st-2nd-century AD post station, fortified during the 3rd century to become a military outpost. The settlement was abandoned shortly after AD 400, following the AD 394 victory of Theodosius over the usurper Eugenius.
Ajdovscina--Casta was excavated by the Office for the Protection of Natural and Cultural Heritage in Nova Gorica (Slovenia) between 1984 and 1999 under the direction of N. Osmuk. The analysis of animal bones is in progress. Among the numerous animal remains, three teeth from a camel jaw (identified by JD) were found in 1986 and 1992. They came to light from a deposit post-dating fortification work at the settlement around AD 270. Two of the teeth were heavily fragmented, while a first and chipped second molar came to light attached to a left mandible fragment (FIGURE 2).
2 Hrusica--Ad Pirum was a fort located half-way down the Ajdovscina--Casta to Logatec-Longaticum section of the same Roman road. It guarded an important pass through the Julian Alps among the Claustra Alpina Iuliarum, built along the limes between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Military activity in the Eastern Alps had intensified by the end of the 2nd century. The victory of Theodosius marked the end of this fort as well. Medieval finds start occurring in greater numbers at this site from a time after 1200 (Ulbert 1981: 41-2).
Hrusica--Ad Pirum was excavated by the National Museum in Ljubljana and the University of Munich during the 1970s. Apparently, only the most `spectacular' 343 bones were saved in those days. This led to an overrepresentation of resistant teeth (n=110, i.e. 32%), characteristic antler and horn core fragments (n=8, i.e. 2.3%) and measurable bones (n=111, i.e. 32%) in the material. These would be very high proportions for these skeletal parts in ordinary settlement refuse. Fortunately, three camel remains (Bartosiewicz 1999a) also fell within these preferred categories, although there is little direct information on the stratigraphic position, i.e. chronological affiliation of these bones. A lower left canine tooth (FIGURE 3) and an anterior proximal phalanx (FIGURE 4) came to light in Sondage XVII Planum 4, while the precise provenance of a proximal radiocubitus fragment (FIGURE 5) is unknown. …