The ancient Greek necropolis in Croatia dates back to the fourth century AD


Necropolis of Hvar
The remains and jars that have just been found in a necropolis on the Croatian island of Hvar date back to the 5th or 4th century AD, when Greeks living in the Roman Empire lived in the area. Credits: Facebook / Kantharos Hvar

The gardens of a 17th-century Croatian palace were the unlikely setting for the recent discovery of an ancient necropolis, where human remains were found buried in ceramic jars.

Earlier in June, archaeologists unearthed a vast ancient necropolis, or cemetery, which dates back to between the 4th and 5th centuries AD some time before.

The beautiful Croatian island of Hvar has been continuously inhabited since the beginning of the Neolithic period. The Greek colonists were the first to have founded colonies there, as early as 385 BC.

Burial of Pithoi
The giant pithoi, or terracotta amphorae, used as tombs in the recently discovered necropolis on the Croatian island of Hvar. Credit: Facebook / Kantharos

The Roman Empire had control of the region in 219 BC. Several hundred years later, in the 7th century, Slavic peoples fleeing the mainland arrived in Hvar.

Croatia Week, a local media outlet, reported earlier this week that the team of archaeologists discovered the cemetery in the front garden of the Radošević Palace, an imposing 17th century baroque building on the western part of the island.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the archaeological consultancy company called Kantharos Hvar was in charge of the excavations. They have spent the last two months surveying the site following the studies that must be undertaken before they can begin construction of a new library and reading room at the Palace.

Funeral excavations in Hvar
Recent excavations at the necropolis of Hvar in Croatia. Credit: Facebook / Kantharos

Researchers said in an announcement that they had discovered a total of 20 graves in the necropolis, along with the skeletal remains of 32 people, in an area measuring 700 square feet.

During their excavations in the palace gardens, archaeologists also discovered a fragment of a stone wall dating from the 2nd century CE and a city gate which they believe dates from the late 5th century.

Other spectacular finds include amphorae for transporting wine and olive oil, as well as ceramic jugs and lamps, and even glass bottles and vessels. Some coins were also discovered at the site.

Funeral objects from Hvar
Funeral objects found in the necropolis have just been unearthed in Hvar, Croatia. Credit: Facebook / Kantharos

Kantharos says the findings made researchers believe the palace is “the most important and richest site” on the island of Hvar.

RadoÅ¡ević Palace was built between 1670 and 1688, for a wealthy family, according to Ambroz Tudor, who was part of Kantharos’ team in charge of the excavations, in his survey of the site in 2011.

Its ornate stone balconies and “richly decorated front openings” make the structure a stunning example of Baroque architecture on the island, Tudor says.

Burial of Pithoi
A skeleton found buried in an amphora, found in the necropolis of Hvar in Croatia. Credit: Facebook / Kantharos

Experts found graves ranging from simple structures to elaborate buildings that even had theirs with tiles, according to an article in the publication. ARTnews, published this week.

As seen in many necropolises from ancient Greece, the remains of the island of Hvar were exceptionally well preserved, with some of the skeletons buried in large jars, or pithoi, alongside a multitude of grave goods.

A tomb that contained 12 skeletons was completely set in stone. Archaeologists say more research is needed to provide even more detail on funeral customs from the 2nd to 5th centuries, and the team plans to conduct radiocarbon dating on the various layers of human remains, allowing them to determine their dates. accurate.

Amphora Hvar
A perfectly preserved amphora recently discovered in the necropolis of Hvar in Croatia. Credit: Facebook / Kantharos

Kantharos noted in his statement that the successful discoveries on the Croatian island provide new insight into “ceramic production as well as trade relations, through documented imports, some of which were first recorded on the Adriatic”.

Archaeologists, including Eduard Visković, Joško Barbarić, Marko Bibić and Jure Tudor, who worked with Tina Neuhauser Vitaljic, Marine Ugarković and Joseph Barack Perica, also discovered ramparts with a city gate dating from the 5th century AD, and the stone wall which was built in the second century AD.

While the exact age of the people buried inside the pithoi is unknown at this time, researchers say they are not sure exactly why ancient burials were conducted in this way.

Amanda Morrow of Radio France Internationale, describing a similar discovery made on the Mediterranean island of Corsica earlier in 2021, noted that these burials were usually reserved for infants or children.

According to archaeologists, it was not only the Greek people who used such burial practices. Yoav Arbel, an archaeologist who was part of a team that discovered a baby buried in a jar in the Israeli city of Jaffa, told Live Science’s Laura Geggel in December 2020, “You could get down to the practical thing and say that the bodies were so fragile, [maybe] they felt the need to protect him from the environment, even though he died.

“But there is always the interpretation that the potty is almost like a womb, so basically the idea is to send (the) baby back to Mother Earth, or to the symbolic protection of its mother.”

Croatian media Dalmacija Danas states that one of the last finds made during the excavations of Radošević Palace was the 2nd century wall, which was hidden in the deeper layers of the site.

Although archaeologists in charge of the Hvar excavation plan to conduct further research to learn more about local burial customs, their statement notes that their preliminary findings are already providing new insight into ceramic production and trade networks in the area. .

The finds made this month represent the second similar find in Croatia. Archaeologists unearthed a Roman necropolis containing at least 18 tombs in the Croatian port city of Trogir in 2016.

Last year another team discovered two well-preserved 2,000-year-old shipwrecks off Hvar containing amphorae and pottery, placing these sites firmly in the days of Greek colonization.

Pithos burials found all over the ancient Greek world

Pithos burials have even been found as far away from Croatia as the ancient city of Antandros, on the slopes of the Kaz mountains in western Turkey.

In addition to their primary use as giant containers for wine and oil, they are known to have been used as tombs in this particular region since the 6th century BC. Today, locals call them “cubic tombs”.

Professor Gurcan Polat, an archaeologist at the University of Ege who headed the excavations of Antandros, said Hurriyet that the necropolis of Antandros served from the 8th century BC to the 1st century AD. Pitho tombs were among the types of burials found in the area, he said.

“We found two Pitho burials used by the Greeks. Pithos burials are large pottery used to preserve the dead before burial and cremation. But none of them were designed to be used as a grave. They are normally used for storage. But they have been used as graves from time to time, ”he said.

“They were sometimes used as family graves. Two or three members of the same family were buried in these cubes. In one of these graves we found the skeleton of a dog. I think an inhabitant of Antandros loved his dog so much and found this cube while trying to find a place for his body, ”said the professor.


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