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.

jelen09
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!

jelen04
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.

jelen101
Abandoned hut

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

jelen109jelen106

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.

jelen104
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.

jelen108jelen102jelen103

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.

jelen11

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

jelen02
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.

jelen06

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.

jelen107

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.

jelen
Deer antlers
jelen078
Bear scull and jaw

jelen0144jelen13

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.

jelen07

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

jelen05

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.

Advertisements

European Green Lizard

The general opinion is that Europe has no exotic fauna nor exciting wildlife but that is only partially true. Wherever a true lover of nature looks, he or she can find exciting animals. In Mediterranean countries, besides sea life,  the coastal landscape hides several interesting animals and one of the most beautiful ones is definitely European green lizard (Lacerta viridis). There are three very similar species living in Croatia and all three are protected: Lacerta bilineata (Daudin, 1802), Lacerta trilineata (Bedriaga), 1886) and Lacerta viridis (Laurenti,1768)

zelembac001

The local name is zelembać. This beautiful lizard is easily recognized and cannot be mistaken for a different lizard in this area as it looks almost fluorescent!  It is easy to differentiate Balkan green lizard and European green lizard – European green lizard has blue throats while the Balkan one has yellow. Biggest differences are noticeable when the animals are young as all the various colors and stripes are visible at that stage of their lives.

zelembac985
Young Balkan green lizard

Zelembać is a large lizard that can grow up to 16 cm (cc 6,3 ”) but the tail can be twice as long! It is usually seen enjoying sunshine on rocks or lawns, or hiding in the bushes. Or running across the road. It is not a very shy lizard but it does usually stay hidden and will not allow one to approach it too close. Natural predators are birds of pray but also cats. Zelembać is very useful in the fields feeding on snails, bugs, small lizards but also mice.

zelembac005

The females nest about 6 – 20 eggs in really humid and hot places and the lizards mature at the age of two. There can be up to 200 lizards living on one hectare!
The males are easily differentiated from females for the vivid blue color of their throats but they are also bigger and with bigger heads.

zelembac003zelembac002

Although not critically endangered, all three species are protected – the fine is 400 Euros for killing one. There is no real reason for doing so as this is a very useful animal in all habitats.

Hilltop Fortress of Orlić and true abandoned Croatia

Every year, before the holidays, my last post is on one of the forgotten and, for most people, completely lost hilltop fortresses. Not only that winter is the best period for exploring but it is also a time when most of us think of our past year, accomplishments, failures, desires and wishes. It feels natural to visit places where people no longer live. Places that sit abandoned for millenia.

One of those places is Orlić hilltop fortress (or Gradina how it is called locally). These sites are generally atributed to local Liburnian or, commonly known, Illyrian tribes that inhabited these regions before the Roman arrival but also mixed with all later settlers.

orlic001

Gradina Orlić is located just off the old road from Krupa village to Ervenik. Strange thing is that it was not mentioned in any of the numerous books and scripts I had a chance to read. That was a reason more to go to the actual place and see what it is all about.

orlic006

The road is mostly in a good shape until one reaches the path that goes to the foothill of the Orlić Hill. That path is for serious off-road vehicles and for those who don’t mind their cars getting scratched as it is a demanding and slow rocky goat path…

The landscape is rugged but fascinating. The very edge of Dalmatia offers a mixture rocky hillside and desert looking plane filled with small patches of woods and interesting stone walls so characteristic for the region.

orlic002

orlic005

One can see the remains of a large family estate in the foothill called Macure.

The unusual stone walls usually just mark the fertile lands so the plants would not get eaten by goats. Now these shapes are just filled by oak trees and bushes… The hinterland of Zadar and Šibenik, as well as Split, are filled with these unusual shapes even reminding of ancient symbols or some mysterious civilization. With the way our progress and migration to the cities these will become mysterious and unknown “signs” quite soon.

The hilltop fortress is in a lovely position overlooking this impressive valley and having all control of the hillside in the back – towards modern day Knin.

orlic001
Orlić fortress on satelite image

orlic004

The climb is not difficult but it is somewhat demanding due to really rocky terrain. One can easily break a foot or leg in this landscape!

orlic-13

The winter colors are mostly yellow and brown mixed with gray. It is a dramatic change from the lush greens of our spring and summer…

orlic-8

orlic-4

orlic-5
The fallen oak

There is nothing much to see once on the top. The fortress – probably just a refuge, not even a settlement – is now just a pile of rocks.

orlic-12
Both stone walls seen from below

But the place is perfect for listening to the winds of Velebit and enjoying great views. The place is perfect to enjoy solitude.

orlic-10
Great view of hilltop fortress of Trebačnik in the distance
orlic-9
Velebit in the distance

I try never to go back the same way so I continued towards Ervenik. Traces of past war visible at every step…

orlic-20orlic-19orlic-18orlic-16orlic-15

True abandoned Croatia.

This part of the country will probably never be inhabited again. Just like former settlers abandoned Orlić fortress, past villagers left their stone villages after centuries living there just to look for better life somewhere else.

orlic

I usually have at least one more person coming along as it is better to travel in these remote areas with someone who can call for help in case of a need. This time, no one was able to join me so I decided to go on my own. Sometimes, the urge is hard to resist.

orlic-3

orlic-2

One of my goals is to travel every old road in the region. The journey continues!