Rescuing the Bones of Prehistoric Bear and Deer

A year ago, my friend Tonči Radja of “Špiljar” speleology club, informed me of a very curious find in one of the pits of Biokovo. Unlike something he has ever seen, he found complete skeletons of bear and deer at the bottom of one hard to reach pit near Biokovsko selo.

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Snow on Biokovo

To get the bones out and to finance research, we were asked for some funds but had to wait till November to make the donation. It is not a big donation but every little helps in the situation when our economy is struggling. So, after we made a donation, all that was left was to set the date for action!

The day chosen was Sunday, December 10th and we met in Split till the entire crew gathered. It was a good day for practice for younger members of “Špiljar”, too! The pit Zovine is about 60 meters (cc 180 ft) deep with a small lake at the bottom. It is REALLY difficult to find it without a guide!

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Meeting point

The entire terrain is extremely inhospitable and difficult but, at some point in time, people lived even here. At least for some part of the year while there was pasture.

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Abandoned hut

Once we were all the meeting point and everyone who would be going down was ready, we headed into the woods.

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Not exactly a forest but a labyrinth of thin trees and limestone rock formations, deep pits and small amphitheaters. Basically, the terrain is very difficult to move through and you really have to know where you are going and have a local guide to get to the pit.

 

Which is good. As the pit is hard to notice and fairly easy to fall into if coming from a different direction.

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The pit

Once at the location, the group set all the gear and ropes and assigned the roles and sequence who is going first, second…and so on.

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The pit is also great for training young crew so there was a number of beginners with us. There is also a small lake at the bottom and I wish I am able to get down. It did not take long, for the rest of the team, to get to the bottom and soon, the first remains started coming up. There were 5 full bags with bones of both animals quite nicely preserved.

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Next stop was Biokovsko selo where we were supposed to meet with the biologists from the Museum of Natural History of Split.

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Biokovsko selo

This is a tiny hamlet with only few inhabitants left. The traces of hard life are evident everywhere. Closed doors that open rarely.

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And soon we all met in front of our host’s place to show what was found and for biologists to pack it properly and send for analysis and conservation.

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The finds were extraordinary according to biologists! Apparently, at least 10 000 years old but a proper dating and analysis are needed. Quite proud that we enabled this and hope to be able to help even more in the future.

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Deer antlers
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Bear scull and jaw

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It was an exciting day and a proper way to finish this successful operation was to have a small party at our host’s home. It does not go without grilled meat prepared the classic way.

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And it was great to see our host’s pride and joy!

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The sun slowly set behind Biokovo. In this part of Zagora (hinterland), days are short as massive Biokovo casts a long shadow… Shadow that will soon very few notice.

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Wildlife and birding at Neretva River Delta

Recently, we have been invited by the Metković Tourist Board director (Mrs. Magdalena Medar-Ujdur) for an inspection of Metković region and several quite interesting sites that could be included in our tours. Of course, that was a great opportunity to learn more from the locals but also to do some birding  as Neretva river delta is one of the best spots on the Adriatic.

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We started at a small village of Vid where we were exploring the canals of Norin river. The typical boat of the region is called lađa and it is great and spacious for small groups.

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Classic lađa transformed into a tourist boat as several local restaurants are taking guests to different places for lunches or even picking mandarin oranges this region is well known for.

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Other typical vessel is trupica but it is very difficult to ride and only experienced locals are actually using it.

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The canal of Norin river is quite scenic and with lots of reed typical for marshes. Neretva and all it’s tributaries is one of the last big marshes in this part of the World.

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Ancient church of St. Vid
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Norin river

As soon as we moved away from the village, the birds started showing up. First, large flock of Common starling (čvorak in Croatian) started coming out of reed and trees. Silently. Just the noise of their many wings beating out of the reed making everything quite special and almost surreal under the dark and cloudy skies.

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Almost as souls of dead Achaean soldiers from Greek mythology
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This is still “summer” appearance but, winter approaching, starlings will again become recognizably glossy black with satiny highlights speckled with white spots.

Many other species can be seen but we spent only about 40 minutes on the river and that was not nearly enough.

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Wagtail (not sure which one)
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Cormorant flying away

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Little Grebe

And then my “photographer’s dream” came true! Finally I managed to shoot some usable photos of most beautiful Kingfisher.

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Afterwards, we continued to the actual mouth of Neretva.

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Views of Pelješac and the most eastern tip of Hvar island in the distance…

Metković is serious about their bird watching so they have just finished an impressive observatory overlooking one of the most interesting points.

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But we continued to other side of the bay just to learn that there are other birders here and all the way from Germany.

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That’s a proper vehicle for a birder!

More birds we have observed before returning to Metković

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Although Metković itself is not much, the Natural History Museum of Metković is one of the finest in the country and one of the must visit spots if you love nature and animals!

The collection dates to 1952. and is one of the biggest collections of its kind in Europe. It has more than 340 stuffed birds with 218 of the 310 bird species that have been noted in Neretva. Stuffed animals have been added all the way till 1980s although main collection was created between 1948. and 1966. thanks to dr. Dragutin Rucner.

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All sorts of wild life are represented
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A smart way to point out the migrating birds’ species

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Not only birds

Definitely one of the must see museums in Croatia and just a short detour if you are just passing through on your way to/from Dubrovnik. The diversity of Croatian wildlife has been jeopardized in the past decades but seeing it in one place like at Metković Museum of Natural History definitely makes us think about it and makes us work harder on saving and preserving it. And I am going back for more birding!

Megaliths and Secrets of Stolac

It is always a pleasure to go across the border to Hercegovina- a region full of amazing places and sites. Especially when friends organize it and we have Mr. Ante Vujnović as a guide. Ante is a director of Radimlja archaeological park near Stolac and the best person to show us around. He is very dedicated to preserving historical heritage of the region. Hercegovina, although being part of Bosnia and Hercegovina, culturally and historically cannot be separated from Dalmatia despite the borders set by Austrians in the 19th century.

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Austrian monarchy map from 1848

Stolac, due to its troubled past – both recent and distant – offers a variety of unique sites to explore and visit. From the very unique necropolis of Radimlja to the fascinating walls of Daorson and the Stolac fortress.

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Stolac on 1904 postcard

Our first stop and the meeting point is usually Radimlja necropolis. Numerous pages have been written on the stečci monuments and this particular site and you can read more on Radimlja and other historic sites of Stolac region on the official UNESCO web site: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5282/UNESCO

This past year, stećak monuments have been listed with UNESCO as the World Heritage and that includes all the monuments in the region of Balkans – over 70 000 known monuments!

Bosnia and Hercegovina today holds the most of these unique monuments with Radimlja and Boljuni near Stolac being the most decorated ones.

The necropolis did not change much although the Austrian built road going to Stolac split Radimlja in two parts and destroying about 15 – 20 monuments. The landscape has changed significantly and, today, there are several modern buildings and warehouses a bit too close to the necropolis…

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The monuments have been cleaned some years ago loosing that historic patina seen on old photos. Of course, it will form again with time.

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Monuments have various decorations but Radimlja has the greatest number of human figures. Hunting, dancing, fighting… life as it was back in the days when they were carved. Most of the monuments have been carved between 1200s and early 1500s when the Turkish conquest completely changed the life in this part of the world. There is a controversy as some people consider these monuments to be much older but there is no evidence for that and, especially the ones at Radimlja, have been well documented and connected to the local, medieval noble family.

The next stop for our small group was the mysterious Daorson. Actually, quite a bit is known of this place but there is a lot to be discovered as only limited archaeology research was done in a single campaign almost 50 years ago.

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This impressive hill fort was built on a prehistoric fortified settlement which was dated to the early 17/16th century BC and existed to the end of the late Bronze Age: 9/8th century BC. The final destruction of Daorson is dated to mid or second half of the 1st century AD and we know this from the details of the Roman wars against the Delmati tribe that lived here at that time.

Today, Daorson is still very impressive with its unique megalithic walls surrounding what is believed to be the religious center/refuge.

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Besides Ante as a local authority, we had some proper archaeologists with us so we learned a LOT! And learned a lot about the hard-to-see defense structures in front of these massive walls, numerous graves and bases of ancient houses…

Basically, this is what the plan of Daorson looks like:

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By Nova Akropola

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Remains of the Daorson “Pyramid/Temple”

Daorson was built from the rocks from the nearby quarry and we took a short walk north to see what it looks like today.

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One can learn more on Daorson and it’s Hellenistic traditions from this paper (in Croatian): http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/118555

I also found a small piece of pottery just lying on the side looking completely unimportant:

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But, with us, we had Mr. Miro Katić  (of Trogir conservation department) who has a PhD on Hellenistic pottery and immediately attributed this small piece to Pharos colony – a Greek colony from Hvar Island that existed at the same time as Daorson and, obviously, had a strong connections with this area. Connections were numerous and Daorson was a very prosperous community at its heyday.

Next stop: Boljuni
The necropolis in Boljuni numbers 274 stećak tombstones, 92 of which are decorated and 9 of which have epitaphs, making it one of the most interesting necropolis in the area.

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This group of monuments is quite well preserved and with several unique decorations. One of the monuments even depicts some strange monsters/dragons:

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But most have simpler decorations and ornaments.

Boljuni is a very fascinating place well worth visiting when in the area!

And then it was time to finally visit Stolac. This very historic town is known for the impressive fortress on the hill over Bregava river shown below on numerous historic images.

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 Fortress is a bit of a climb but well worth it as the views are stunning and the fortress itself is impressive example of medieval fortifications in this part of the country. The earliest reference to Vidoški fort – as it is called – is in a charter dated 1444, followed by a series of charters up to 1454, as the possession of Stjepan Vukčić Kosača. Stolac became part of the Ottoman sultanate following the Ottoman conquest in 1465. And that changed everything as the introduction of a new religion divided people and that division continues till modern days…

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Inside the fortress, there is still quite a bot of work but, generally, it is in good shape and the effort to preserve is quite visible. This is also a location where Stolačka Tarča is taking place – a medieval fair with emphasis on education and traditions of the region. This event takes place in May.

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Image of Stolačka Tarča

Best description of Stolac today would be: “a sleepy town by Bregava”. It looks very lovely from the Vidoški grad fortress:

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But the walk through the town reveals all the tragedy of the recent war in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Many houses have not been restored and many more, due to emigration from the area, are collapsing. Today, the peace is just on the surface as both Croats and Bosniaks are trying to patch the wounds from the war of the 90s. The scars are still quite deep. Visiting the Podgradska mosque, we were approached by an elderly Bosniak telling us few things about the mosque and the local Muslim traditions.

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Podgradska mosque, 1732

Stolac is a lovely place. Layers upon layers of fascinating history and stunning nature. It should definitely be included when visiting the region as it offers quite a bit for travelers looking for unique and off the beaten path experiences. No matter if it is just a stop en route to inner Bosnia or even en route to Dubrovnik, this is a great stop.

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And we will return. Many more historic places to see and explore deep in beautiful Hercegovina!