Just recently I have found out about a very interesting find in a small cave in Dalmatian Zagora.
The authority on caving in Dalmatia (and Croatia in general), Mr. Tonci Radja told me about his inspection of a small cave few months back. He was originally working on the massive highway construction back in the early 2000s as the chief consultant on caves and caverns that would be found on the route. As our limestone landscape is very porous, it was just a matter of number of pits and wholes that would be found…
Many of them, right on the main construction route were inspected and later filled and covered but this cave looked “promising” to Mr. Radja and he advised on protecting it. And they did such a good job that no one really knows that there is an actual cave right bellow the highway! The entrance is now a concrete block but the cave has been saved.
Since the highway water drain is located near by, during the heavy rains, the excess water managed to get into the cave and started taking away top layers. Mr. Radja, visiting few months back realized that these layers were not something ordinary: he saw pieces of pottery and bones sticking out of washed away dirt… He alerted the authorities and even send one piece of scull to one of the leading archaeologists to get the opinion and dating (still in process).
Since I have an interest in history and archaeology, I wanted to see the cave myself.
The cave is not deep – maybe some 15 – 18 meters or so but that is what can be seen now and we don’t know if it gets much deeper as more serious research is needed. The water from the highway made mess and there are rocks and mud all over: all breaking apart from what used to be much bigger unit or even something that used to be “ground level” or “floor” back in the past. Small fragments of pottery and various bones are clearly visible almost everywhere.
There are very few decorations and the cave looks very modest compared to other caves that have numerous stalactites and stalagmites. The only decorations would be some water “carvings” done on the walls of the cave. Resembling some writings but quite common and quite natural…
But the reason what makes this cave so spectacular is not in the first chamber. We crawled through a narrow opening into another, adjacent chamber. And there it is: almost 6 meters high section of cultural layers (and at least few more under our feet). The flood water broke inside and started washing away whatever it could making mess but also exposing layers that no one saw before. Layer after layer, section after section, millenia after millenia … it is all now exposed. Bones, ceramics, flint stone tools… everything can be seen without even touching or digging.
There are two spectacular cave finds in Europe when it comes to height of cultural layers: one in Spain and one in Montenegro. The one in Montenegro is called the Red cave and is a text book example (literally) of archaeology dig in a cave. The layer in Red cave is cc 35 meters high and it is assumed that people lived there for over 100 000 years. That makes the layers in this cave tell the story of at least 20 000 years of human history! I immediately alerted my friends archaeologists and we are working on getting this cave protected ASAP and to see if there would be some funds to start digging.
Our karst hinterland proves again as a very unique region that was inhabited for a very long time in the history. And while the search for Dalmatian neanderthal people are continuing next month near Benkovac, Mr. Radja may have found something similar. I will be getting more attention to this cave in the future months and hopefully will be able to get some funding to start proper excavation by local archaeologists or at least to get a better idea of the importance of such an unique find.