A term paper I did for Old World Archaeology
back in 2002, put here just for the record. It
seemed a waste just to keep it in a box. It was
taken off an old MS Word document. I replaced
the original photos of the Vucedol dove and cup,
as the ones I used in the paper were really
I was sort of proud of myself on this paper
in that I tried to do a bit of site catchment
analysis (under "Population, Subsistence, and
Trade"). It was not a topic covered in my
department at my school. I just sorta had to
learn it on the streets. LOL.
I got docked by Dr. Keller for listing the oldest
phase on top in the phase diagram. The oldest
phase should always be listed on the bottom.
Considering that was the second time I had made
that mistake under Dr. Keller I kicked myself
in the ass. Archaeologists can be kinda picky
about that kind of thing.
One final note. Back when I was working on this
Croatia was still reeling from the Homeland Wars.
Fortunately things have settled down considerably
since then and there is more information available,
artifacts are being repatriated to museums, and
there is archaeology being done again. The reason
we study archaeology is not for all the cool artifacts
and megalithic architecture. We study it to learn
more about ourselves as human beings. And the fact
that humans can once again live in peace in Croatia
is the best report that can be given.
VUČEDOL, CROATIA: A LATE COPPER AGE TYPE SITE
The Vučedol complex existed in Eastern Europe between 3000 and 2200 B.C.. It is usually divided into ‘classic’ and ‘late’ periods (Sorić 1988). As one might guess, other breakdowns have been suggested (Dimitrijević 1988). The classic period is represented by a core area located in Slavonia (Vučedol, the type site, as well as Sarvas and earlier phases at Vinkovci), while the late period is regarded as the expansionist period of the complex, represented by later examples of sites located across a wide area – Czechoslovakia (Prag), Austria (Jevišovice), Hungary (Nyiregyahza), as well as other areas of the former Yugoslavia (Mako) and northern Albania (Mala Gruda). In terms of European prehistory, it is classified as Late Copper Age.
Durham (1988) identifies the origins of the Vučedol culture as a fusion of existing local cultures in Slavonia with the ‘second wave’ of peoples out of the eastern steppes. “The Sopot Neolithic basis enriched by elements adopted from the East and the influence of the already formed Kostolac culture, generated the Vučedol culture. The new elements infiltrated deeply into the autochthonous substratum and irrevocably prized it away from the Stone Age” (Durham 1988). This opinion differs from Childe (1958), who sees the Vučedol culture as an extension of the Baden culture. It is unclear whether Durham is making use of newer information, or whether he simply has another opinion. To this it can only be said that there does seem to be at least one short Kostolac phase at the Vučedol type site following the Baden phase.
Elements of the culture seen as a whole would consist of a unique incrusted white-on-black pottery, sophisticated metallurgy featuring a specialized copper axe head, heavy dependence on cattle, the use of 4-wheeled wagons pulled by oxen, and the lack of jewelry artifacts. Like many cultures in Eastern Europe, there is also a strong propensity to build villages on pre-existing sites (tells).
Range of the Vučedol Culture in Classic and Late Phases. (From Vučedol: 3000 Years B.C.)
The Vučedol site has a long prehistory. The earliest assemblage found to date is identified with the Starčevo culture of the early Neolithic. Other phases include the Baden, the Kostolac, the Vinkovci, and the Belegiš complexes.
These dates would make the Vučedol phase roughly contemporaneous with the Eutresis culture in Greece (EH I) or with Troy I in Anatolia (Rutter 1996).
Site Placement and Stratiagraphy
Vučedol is located on the south (right) bank of the Danube, near the modern city of Vukovar, Croatia. Over time, the Danube deposited loess on the right banks of the river, which at this site forms a terrace stretching approximately 15 km out from the river. The resultant loess deposit thus forms a kind of hill that rises steeply 30 m above the river (Forenbaher 1994). The soil is extremely rich. The site is named after a ravine located adjacent to the site.
The site consists of four distinct areas (which might not have been so distinct at the time of the settlement) which rise another 2-5 m above the loess mounds. One of the mound areas is located to the northwest, and is named Karasović’s Vineyard. Most of the site lies south of the ravine, and consists of Streim’s Vineyard, Streim’s Cornfield, and the higher ‘acropolis’ mound of Gradac (Forenbaher 1994). Most recent excavations (those conducted in the 1980s) have concentrated on the last three areas. There is some evidence that external ‘defensive walls’ were located around the site, with the possibility of another internal wall separating Gradac from the surrounding other areas of the village.
The Vucedol site.
There have been significant historical disturbances which have affected the stratiagraphy of the site. The area of Gradac, for example, has shown some serious erosion in one area down to the river. Other areas of the site have been affected by farming in later history, or by trenches dug in warfare. In addition, the tendency of the prehistoric inhabitants to dig pits, fill them in, and then dig new ones has affected the stratiagraphy. Nevertheless, the site is in a relatively good state of preservation (Forenbaher 1994).
At least three definite construction horizons have been excavated for the Vučedol phase of the site. Unfortunately, Forenbaher (1994) does not give individual radiocarbon dates for these construction horizons. As a result, it is unclear whether the general date of 2900-2600 that he gives for the entire phase would fall into the classic or late periods of the culture. But based on location, and the fact that 2600 is about 400 years prior to the end date for the complex as a whole (2200), the site probably represents the classic phase of the complex. (Why was there no late period layer at the site? An interesting but probably unanswerable question.)
Architecture and Cultural Use
Of the three areas of the site located south of the ravine, Gradac is both the smallest (6000 m2) and the least characteristic area of the settlement. Gradac not only is the most centrally located area of the site, but also marks its highest point — for which reason it has sometimes been called the Vučedol ‘acropolis’ (Durham 1988). The site also contains a large structure not represented in other areas of the site, a large “megaron” (Durham 1988) which is approximately three times (16 m x 10 m) the size of other buildings at the site. The structure is often given religious significance, though it could have functioned as a metallurgy building as there was evidence of copper smelting within the building (Forenbaher 1994). The acropolis does not contain as many houses as at Streim’s Vineyard or Streim’s Cornfield, due to limited area. The houses seems to be slightly larger than in the other two areas. Two separate ditches were dug by the inhabitants between the acropolis and the rest of the village.
Streim’s Vineyard and Streim’s Cornfield are much larger areas (see Image 2.]. Excavation evidence has indicated that these two areas were packed with one-room houses, usually about 45 m2, (an average of 100 m2 including the larger structures) constructed only one-half to one meter apart. This distance, however, seems to have varied in certain places due to the location of external pits or oven areas. As Durham notes, the placement of the houses so close to each other, combined with the presence of open hearths, was a source of frequent fires. “After the houses were burnt down they were simply deposited in the pits in order to make room for new dwellings. The pits thus bear witness to fires and the renewal of the settlement” (Durham 1988).
The houses were of the wattle and daub variety, slightly rectangular and with rounded corners. The floors were of well-packed loess, and a narrow area of packed, slanted loess was also put on the outside of the house – probably to run water away from the house (Forenbaher 1994). Where structures had more than one room (such as the “megaron”) rooms were separated by walls that seem, according to post hole evidence, to have run the entire length of the structure at the bottom. How one would get from room to room is unknown. Perhaps it was intended that one could not, but instead each room had its own external entrance. Forenbaher speculates that the rooms could have been accessible through small windows located in the walls, a practice that “would not be unique in Old World prehistory” (Forenbaher 1994).
Each house held a circular hearth set on a slightly elevated mound, usually located in or towards the center of the structure (Durham 1988; Forenbaher 1994). Hooks were often found in the area of the excavated hearth, indicating that pots may have been suspended from the ceiling by some means for cooking (Durman 1988). Household objects found within the structures consist of ceramic fragments of various kinds, including a type of dipping cup for drawing water from a larger vessel. Fragments of grindstones and querns, and donut shaped net weights complete the seemingly frugal appliances found to date (Durham 1988; Forenbaher 1994).
By far one of the most obvious (if not characteristic) features of Vučedol is the existence of a large number of pits, found all over the site both internally within the houses and externally between them. The pits within the houses are fairly small and not deep. The external pits are deep and wine-bottle shaped (vertically). The pits seemed to have had many uses. Undoubtedly some were storage pits, as the presence of carbonized wheat would indicate. External pits were eventually turned to use as middens, though in a very utilitarian way they were also used to depose animal sacrifices and to bury humans. It is thought that the pits were probably covered with wood (Durham 1988). External hearths were used to bake bread (Durham 1988). There may have been other hearths for other purposes, such as ceramics.
There is no evidence to date for extramural burials. Burials seem to have been intramural, but to date very few burials have actually been found – a sum total of 18 human remains found in nine pits. Given the large population of the settlement, and the fact that the phase lasted 300 years, one would think that the prevailing evidence would indicate that extramural burials had to have been practiced. But in this case, one would wonder about the significance of the few intramural burials.
Inside the settlement, the dead were placed in a very utilitarian way in middens (or pits later used as middens) and covered over with dirt. This seems to be the case even with the more rich burials. At Streim’s Vineyard, for example, a grave of a man, five women and a child was excavated. The remains were covered with approximately 40 forty centimeters of charcoal, suggesting that some fire might have been placed on top of the grave. The grave also contained 4670 ceramic shards, as well as 2951 pieces of animal bone (Durham 19888). The shards seem to belong to fine pottery (Forenbaher 1994). The existence of animal bones, however, could have other interpretations other than ritual burial practice, leaving open the possibility that the pit may also have functioned as a midden. As Durham notes, “the pottery alone weighed 154 kilos” (Durham 1988). One would think this is an large amount of pottery for a burial of seven people.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that pits were used to bury sacrificial animals. Bones of dogs and young pigs were found in pits, “placed with bent legs as if in a sleeping position” (Durham 1988). The special placement of the animals indicates a ritual character. But here, as elsewhere, the pits are also used as middens.
Since at least the Mesolithic, humans have in almost all cases shown some form of respect for the dead, a respect that is indicated in burial practices no matter how simple they may be. The placing of the dead in middens, or the creation of a midden on top of a burial, would seem to be a very uncharacteristic form of behavior. But is must be remembered that we are only talking about 18 burials. History has shown that in times of crisis, burials may be performed in ways or in places (such as within a town) not common to the usual practice of a culture. A city under siege, for example, may not have the option of burying its dead extramurally. Perhaps some similar unusual situation pertained at Vučedol.
Metallurgy and Ceramics
The most characteristic metal object of the Vučedol culture is the “Vučedol battle-axe” (Durham 1998b). This axe is widely found throughout various sites associated with the complex. The axe consists of a blade which is flat on top and flaring on the bottom, attached to a circular cylinder that could be connected to a haft. This style should be contrasted against axe-heads of other cultures of the time period, in which the blade flared out both top and bottom. Daggers were also produced. Strangely, almost no jewelry has been associated with the culture. A few golden hair clips associated with the rich grave at Mala Gruda are an exception.
Copper was mined regionally, and as Durham notes the desire to find new sources could have led to the expansion of the complex in its late period (Durham 1988). The copper was commonly mixed with some other metal to counteract brittleness, usually arsenic or antimony (Durham 1988b). Metals were cast using a two-piece clay mold, a new technology for the region (and perhaps new generally?)(Durham 1988). This can be compared with molds from the later Bronze Age, which were often made of stone (Vrdoljak 1995).
The pottery type for the complex is the classic Vučedol incrusted ware. This pottery, as represented in its “full glory” as Durham says, consists of a black foundation ware decorated with white incrustations and red wash. As Durham notes, there is a tendency of the red wash to fade over time, and as such few examples remain (Durham 1988). The white incrustation was made from powdered snail shells mixed with resin, while the red wash is made from hermatite. Patterns on the pottery are generally geometric, although there are often other motifs such as crosses or sun shapes (Durham 1988).
Functionally, we find a wide variety of pottery both in terms of shape and function. There are bowls, pithoi, dual and tripartite vessels, amphors, censers, spoons. Many very fine cups were produced (See Image 4).
Image 4. A cup from Vucedol.
Non-functionally, there are ceramic toys – usually models of boots, wagons, ovens, etc. These tiny models of larger objects are an extremely valuable way – and sometimes the only way – by which archaeologists have come to know the existence of certain artifacts of the culture (the wagon, for example). There is a shard of pottery usually described as being of a “worshiper” with an accompanying symbol that appears very much like a sun symbol. (Examples are culled from photographs in Vučedol: 3000 Years B.C. 1988).
But perhaps the ceramic best known to the world, and one that has practically become a symbol of the Vučedol culture, is the so-called “Dove of Vučedol.” This is a bottle in the shape of a dove, standing upon three legs. (See Image 5.)
Image 5. The Vucedol dove.
In addition to metalwork and ceramics, there is also some decorated bone and bone ware.
Population, Subsistence, and Trade
Although Forenbaher is cautious about estimating population size for the village, the rather uniform and dense placement of household structures at Vučedol would seem to allow for some calculation of population. Using only the land area of Streim’s Vinyard and Streims Cornfield – Gradac was not included as it was “probably not a residential area” (Forenbaher 1994) – and using a median of 100 m2 for each household structure, Forenbaher has estimated that the total number of structures at the site was 285 households. Assuming this is correct, and using a nuclear family of four to five persons per household, the population of Vučedol would have been 1100 to 1500 persons (Forenbaher 1994). “Even if substantial open areas were left within the site, and not all the houses within a single construction horizon were inhabited simultaneously, the population would still have been close to 1000 people.” (Forenbaher 1994)
If the above calculations are correct, Vučedol was a large settlement both for its region, and large even in comparison with some other settlements of its approximate time period. Forenbaher notes that Vučedol would have been almost three times the size of Troy II, and that it is “two to three times larger than that calculated for tells in the Stara Zagora region of Bulgaria …Vučedol is the largest and most complex settlement attributed to the Late Copper Age Vučedol group. It covers an area 3 to 5 times greater in size than other large, stratified settlements of this group (e.g. Sarvas or Vinkovci)” (Forenbaher 1994).
To date, a systematic survey of the surrounding catchment has not been conducted. “One question requiring further research is whether such a large concentrated population could have been maintained by the usual Copper Age subsistence strategies … or whether the existence of exchange mechanisms between the large central and smaller neighboring sites would have been required as additional support.” (Forenbaher 1994)
The site of Vučedol “sits near the middle of a 10 to 30 km wide belt of extremely fertile soil, which extends along the southern bank of the Danube… The soil is chernozem, elevated some 30 m above the river, well aerated, relatively easy to work and extremely fertile” (Forenbaher 2002).
Champion, in his discussion of subsistence patterns in early prehistoric Europe (Champion 1984) indicates that studies conducted by Dennell have produced a fairly consistent crop yield of 400 kg per hectare of farmland for cereal crops such as wheat and barley. Linking these estimates in with information given by Forenbaher with regard to the surrounding catchment would then produce the following result:
400 kg/hectare yield (Champion 1984; Dennell 1978)
100 ha = 1 km2
20 km x 20 km = 400 km2 catchment area (estimated)
400 kg/1 ha x 100 ha/1 km2 x 400 km2 = 16,000,000 kg
16,000,000 kg / 250 kg/person (Champion 1984) = 64,000 persons
Thus, assuming a length of 20 km and average depth of 20 km for the catchment, it is clear that the carrying capacity of this land could have supported a population much greater than even the highest estimate for the population of the village. This figure could represent a Greatest Possible Yield figure. It does not necessarily mean that all of the available land was farmed. Even assuming that the average yield per hectare was even half of that estimated by Dennell, and that half of the fields were allowed to lay follow in any year, the fields surrounding Vučedol still could have supported a population of 16,000. Using a figure of 9 km2 (3 km x 3 km) the total yield of the catchment might have fed as many as 1500 persons, which given spoilage and spillage would be very close to the estimated median population of 1200 for the site. This might very well be called a Minimum Possible Yield figure for carrying capacity in terms of grain alone. It is clear, however, that grain was only part of the total diet of the inhabitants (see below) and may well have comprised only a small portion of the diet.
The above figures (GPY and MPY) suggest two possibilities. One possibility, as was noted above, is that not all of the possible arable land was farmed. As Dennel notes (1978), it is very difficult archeologically to determine how certain available lands were used. In the case of Vucedol, for instance, part of the surrounding catchment could have been used for grazing. On the other hand, it is not impossible that cereal farming was conducted in the closer areas of the catchment, and grazing on the fringes or even in areas outside of the “site exploitation territory” – the area outside of that which is normally exploited by the inhabitants of the site (Dennell 1978). Nevertheless, carbonized wheat found in dwellings and in middens indicates that at least some minimal farming was conducted.
The second possibility is that the area did produce large surpluses. This latter possibility would fit in well with Forenbaher's view of Vučedol as a possible regional center (Forenbaher 1994). As Forenbaher notes, however, only a systematic survey of the area surrounding the settlement, as well as intensive excavation of other sites in the region, would answer the question of overall subsistence and carrying capacity beyond the level of guesswork (Forenbaher 1994).
Surpluses are of no value if there is no one who needs them, that is to say no one to trade with or no valuable goods to be received in return. The transport of grain via 4-wheeled wagon is certainly possible, as is transport by boat along the Danube. Grain could only be traded, however, to a community who did not farm or whose farming was somehow insufficient for their needs. This is generally not the case with communities along the Danube, which blesses each and all equally with fertile soil. But it would not necessarily rule out trade by way of wagon to regions farther inland or by boat to areas very distant along the Danube and its off-shoot rivers (such as the Varda/Morava system south into the southern Balkans and beyond into Greece).
Durham seems convinced (1988) that trade was an integral part of the Vučedol complex. A “great deal of food surplus was amassed by cattle-breeding which resulted in greater possibilities for exchange of goods. As most of the needs of craft production was realized by home production in the settlements, copper ore and copper itself became the main commodity.” It is unclear here whether Durham is talking about trade of grain or meat, or mainly just of copper. One would not think that meat could be traded any long distance unless it was done on the hoof. In any case, the Vučedol complex as a whole seems to have undergone a great expansion between its classic and late periods (Sorić 1988), one that may very well be associated with or accompanied by trade.
Cereal foods, however, were not the only source of food. Meat may actually have constituted the largest portion of the diet, along with fowl and fish, and even some snails found along the river. As Sorić notes (1988), the Vučedol peoples seem to have eaten “well and heartily.”
A breakdown of the percentage of animal bones found at various sites from the Vučedol complex is given by Jurišić (1988).
Cattle — 36.3%
Pig — 20.6
Sheep/Goat — 15.7
Dog — 5.6
Horse — 1.
Deer — 9.0
Wild Ox — 5.0
Boar — 5.0
As Jurišić notes, a full three-quarters of the animals exploited by the Vučedol culture is constituted of domesticated (or herded) animals. This is a much higher ratio than the later Vinkovci complex, where only half of the animals were domesticated and the other half wild. Dog and horse many not have been eaten. Dogs were often given a ritual burial along with pigs, but whether they were used as sacrifices or simply given “honorable” burial cannot be determined. Horses may have been eaten after they outlived their usefulness, but in any case it is unclear exactly what importance the horse had for this culture. Oxen were used for wagons, which may, along with boats, have been the main mode of transportation used above and beyond walking. Because of this, it is assumed that at least some oxen were actually domesticated (the above constitutes Jurišić’s breakdown into domesticated and wild). In any case, the percentages of cattle and pig are high, and given the very high percentage of cattle this complex could very well be termed “cattle-breeders” as Durham has described them (1988). It is assumed here that the individual Vučedol site conforms to the ratios for the complex as a whole – it is the type site – but this is by no means guaranteed.
Forenbaher (2002) also notes that wild fowl and fish bones were found in quantity in the middens. Net weights were found on site, by which “they caught fish with nets…out off river backwaters” (Durham 1988). Used also were harpoons made out of buck horn. Snails may have been eaten (or not), but in any case their shells were ground for use in pottery (Durham 1988).
The above resources, combined with any cereal grains, would have produced a greatly varied diet for the inhabitants. And, though speculative, could have provided opportunity for trade as well.
One final thing should be mentioned with regard to the subsistence strategies of the settlement. As Dennell indicates (1978), various types of economies do not always have to conform to what has usually been associated with them. Hunter-gatherer societies may in fact be sedentary a good or even major portion of the year, depending on the economic means involved and what it takes to procure such. Similarly, sedentary agricultural societies may move seasonally, or spend only a portion of the year at one site. While it is probable that the majority of the inhabitants of Vučedol remained there year round, this does not necessarily mean that all of them did so. The tightly packed housing of the settlement would have left little room for the sheep or goats, let alone cattle. These would have had to have been grazed (or at least fed) outside of the settlement. They probably would not have been grazed near any in-lying farm fields (goats will eat anything, and cattle may trample crops). In this case, they must have been raised outside of the exploitation territory. Similarly, there would have been little room for pigs, either, though these may have been corralled somehow in the catchment area itself, but away from the fields. Since taking animals off to graze a good distance does not usually allow for a return every night, this would mandate that some of the inhabitants might have served as shepherds who spent most of their time away from the village. Thus the settlement should perhaps be seen as one with varying economic means and varying economic roles, with a social structure that probably extended beyond what one could view (or excavate) within the village walls.
The existence of the “megaron”, the location of it on the high ground, the slightly larger houses at Gradac, the ditches between the higher ground and the rest of the village, combined with the existence of at least two rich graves, have led to the conclusion that Vučedol was a stratified society at the chiefdom level (Durham 1998; Forenbaher 1994). With regard to economic roles, see the last paragraph above.
Addenda: Excavation History (Forenbaher 1994)
Champion, Timothy, et al.
1984 Prehistoric Europe. Academic Press: San Diego, 1984.
Childe, V. Gordon.
1958 Dawn of European Civilization, 6th Ed. Knopf: New York, 1958.
1988 “The Vučedol Culture in the Danube, Drava, and Sava Area: Genesis and Classification.” In Vučcedol: 3000 Years B.C. Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jesuitski trg 4, 188.8.131.52. 1988
1978 Early Farming in South Bulgaria from the VII to III Millennia. Oxford, British Archaeological Reports, DAR International Series (Supplementary); 45.
1988 “The Vučedol Culture.” In Vučcedol: 3000 Years B.C. Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jesuitski trg 4, 184.108.40.206. 1988
1988b “Metal in the Vučedol Culture Complex.” In Vučcedol: 3000 Years B.C. Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jesuitski trg 4, 220.127.116.11. 1988
Ehrich, Robert W.
1954 “The Relative Chronology of Southeastern and Central Europe in the Neolithic Period” Relative Chronologies in Old World Archaeology. Ed. Robert W. Ehrich. U of Chicago: 1954.
1994 “The Late Copper Age Architecture at Vučedol, Croatia.” Journal of Field Archaeology 21 (1994): 307-323.
2002 Personal e-mail to Author. 6 November, 2002.
1988 “Prehrana u Vučedolskoj Kulturi.” In Vučcedol: 3000 Years B.C. Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jesuitski trg 4, 18.104.22.168. 1988
Rutter, Jeremy B.
i. 1996-2002 The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean. http://projectsx.dartmouth.edu/history/bronze_age/ Dartmouth U, 1996-2002
1988 “Vučedol, Daybreak of European History.” In Vučcedol: 3000 Years B.C. Muzejski prostor, Zagreb, Jesuitski trg 4, 22.214.171.124. 1988
Vrdoljak, Snježana, and Stašo Forenbaher
1995 “Bronze-casting and Organization of Production at Kalnik-Igrišče (Croatia), Antiquity 69 (1995): 577-582.