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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The heritage of Škopljanci

Škopljanci is a tiny hamlet, part of  Radošić village in the Dalmatian hinterland known as Zagora. Just about an hour north of Split, I usually take a scenic drive over Malačka panorama point that makes this drive extra special. Getting to Škopljanci is easy. The hamlet is well marked with signs for traditional Bikijada: a festival of village Olympics combined with bull fighting. To get a better picture of what is happening there on that day (last weekend of May, usually) this is from their web site:

Olympics in numbers

If we 22. edition of Olympics and Bullfights expressed in numbers, could say like this: almost 10.000 visitors, over two hundred contestants, almost two hundred lambs roasted on the spit, few roasted pigs…

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Bull horns in the tavern

So, when we were invited for a tour and talks about possible cooperation, I was really looking forward to learn more. Also, Škopljanci usually wins every list for a great and authentic experience.

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Stone houses preserved

Family Škopljanac has been protecting and renovating their family’s heritage for years now. The 12 old stone houses have been renovated with special care and they are now housing tasting room, smokehouse, large dining room, ethnographic museum, museum of bull…

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Škopljanac family preparing a light tasting of their super, home made goodies

So we took a walk around the estate. Visiting the entire property takes time as it is fairly big and there is plenty to see.

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Zog za buće or Zog for buće in English (bocce ball court)
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Part of the collection at their museum
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Traditional costumes of the region
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Some sort of a ZOO…

There are some treasures to be found!

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A classic!

The place still needs work in making everything more “polished” but, in general, their offer is of high quality as they offer a very good experience and great food.
A bit too oriented to larger groups coming by coach, I still find this place to offer a pretty authentic experience and be sure to visit at the time of the (in)famous bull fights.

More information (and lovely photos) on their website:
http://www.radosic.com/o-nama/?lang=en

Ghost village of Karanovac

Our hinterland hides many secrets and it is my pleasure to keep discovering them. Going places where few have been and making sure many more know about them while preserving our heritage, was one of my goals when I started Secret Dalmatia and this blog. So, it was a pure excitement when I stumbled upon – researching some maps – a small village near Knin but actually, in the middle of nowhere. Hidden deep in the hillside, this small village looked like a perfect place to visit. I invited my friend Domagoj of Dalmatia Explorer and we met just bellow Krčić waterfall in Knin. Some 20 minutes to Otrić and we left our car to join Domagoj in his mighty Land Rover Defender for, what we thought, would be a pleasurable off road drive of some 20 minutes.

Promina behind us
Promina behind us

But we were wrong. The road proved to be quite demanding and we left the car on a clear spot to continue on foot. Actually, what we did not now at that moment, we have just passed the most difficult part of the road. It is always good to spend some time outdoors and in the fresh air  so we did not care about the drive. The weather was cloudy and cool – perfect for a hike!
As soon as we started, we noticed a clear road of quite impressive dimensions and clearly marked with large stones at the edges. That takes an effort and, while it was common for the Roman roads, it was not so much practiced by poor villages of Dalmatia’s hinterland.
There were several abandoned houses along the road.

Abandoned houses
Abandoned houses

This was all abanodned in the past war as this region was the center of the Serbian rebelion. Complex, as our history is, the past war made things even more complicated and many people left their homes. I hate local politics and don’t like discussing it, but it is always sad to see abanodned homes…

Left behind
Left behind
Old stables
Old stables

This stable seems to be in use as it is filled with straw so I assume it could be used by the local hunters for feeding wild game in the winter. We did not spend too much time exploring and we continued up the road as it was still quite a bit to go.

The road
The road

And, after an hour or so of hiking, the first houses appeared.

Karanovci
Karanovac

The village is a total mystery: virtually hidden in the middle of nowhere, away from ANY routes… I did not even know the name till I did some serious research on the maps. There are 3-4 towns with the same name all over the Balkans but there is only one line on this Karanovac in the documents of the Hague tribunal saying that the Croatian army found 6 people living there after they liberated the area. And that is it… Pretty much no one to ask as very few people live in the region and many of them came from Bosnia after this war. Next time I will try to find some people to tell us more.

But for now, all we have is this beautiful harmony in stone silently telling us a story of the people who lived here long time ago…

Abandoned houses
Abandoned houses
There are over 20 stone cottages
There are over 20 stone cottages
Stone covered roofs
Stone covered roofs

Detective work is not easy but we can always make some “educated guesses” based on what we saw.
These folks were mostly cattle and sheep shepherds as saw many stables and some were traditionally living with their cattle in the same buildings. Also, we did not see any gumno which is always located where people did some agriculture. Gumno is traditional threshing floor. They were doing quite well as the road leading to the main roads is very nicely done. There are evidences of someone – probably hunters – still visiting  and some houses have been torched in the past war.

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Karanovac – burned down kitchen

Some rooms are left intact even after they were burned down. And there are numerous details all over the village…

Burned down kitchen
Burned down kitchen
A collection...
A collection…
The owner is long gone
The owner is long gone
Yes, they did have the numbers on the cottages. Before the war
Yes, they did have the numbers on the cottages. Before the war

But the village as a whole is an amazing example of traditional architecture of Dalmatian hinterland and it should definitely be protected and listed as our national heritage. Some initial works should be done to clean and restore everything so it does not collapse to fig trees and blackberry bushes with snakes as it’s only inhabitants. We saw a lot of evidence of wild boar roaming the fields and I am sure other wild animals are visiting often.

Ruins
Ruins
Blackberry bushes
Blackberry bushes
Ancient walls
Ancient walls

 

Stone roof tiles
Stone roof tiles

As the night is coming early in the winer days, we did not spend too much time in the village to soak up the eerie atmosphere, unnatural silence, and winter scents of Dalmatian hinterland. But we will be back. There  is a suspicious  object/construction quite close and I have to see it.

Winter sunset
Winter sunset

And then I get questions on what to do in Croatia/Dalmatia in winter?!
Explore, hike, savor traditional food, enjoy the amazing outdoors, discover Dalmatia’s secrets :))

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