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Archeology
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Overview of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. The core Hallstatt territory (800 B.C.) is shown in solid yellow, the area of influence by 500 B.C. (HaD) in light yellow. The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 B.C.) is shown in solid green, the eventual area of La Tène influence by 50 B.C. in light green. The territories of some major Celtic tribes are labelled.

Istria in the Early Iron Age: Halstadt Period (800 B.C. - 300 B.C.)

The Hallstatt and La Tène cultures originated in what is now southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Halstadt Period

At the beginning of the first millenium B.C., another migration of people from the east provoked a change on the Istrian peninsula. Some of the hilltop settlements were probably destroyed, while on others life continued as before. Finds of bronze weapons, tools and jewellery in settlements are extremly rare, and the existence of iron as a material was not yet established. The biggest changes occurred in the burial rites. After the custom of burying the dead in a contorted position under a heap of stones, cremation came into use and cinerary urns were introduced. Such a cemetery with groups of family tombs is known from Limska Gradina (Castelliere di Leme), and it is not very different in its ground plan from the Upper Bronze Age graveyards on Vrčin or on the gradina [castellliere / kaštelir] on Brioni Island. Stone slabs used in the construction of graves are reminiscent also of Bronze Age customs (Nesactium). A considerable number of Iron Age necropolises were discovered in Istria, with more than 2000 cinerary tombs.

On exhibit at the Archeaological Museum of Pula are finds from 74 tombs on Limska Gradina (Castelliere di Leme). The necropolis is situated inside the settlement on the lower terrace near the wall, and was cut up into zones and divided by stone walls into smaller entities of family tombs, each containing several graves. The funeral pyre (ustrinum) was situated in the immediate proximity. Graves are dated to the period between the 11th and 8th centuries B.C. New pottery forms appear among the finds. Most of the urns are decorated with points and linear geometric patterns with a white incrustation in the grooves. Pots having a high handle and oblique wide grooves on the body were the most numerous. Among the bronze ornamental objects found were spiral pendants, rings, bracelets and needles.

Links with the Italian peninsula strengthen from the 7th century B.C. onwards, and vases of the Venetic and Este cultures begin to appear. Their conical shape and black and red painted ornaments are characteristic for them. 

 
Etruscan urn, Picugi.

Vases from northern Apulia (Daunia) are common on Istrian sites. They have a thin wall and are decorated with geometric patterns. This type of pot was imported by sea routes to Istria even before the 5th century B.C., and was in high demand. The most important finds exemplifying this pottery were made at Nesactium and at Picugi near Poreč (color photo, left). 

On the Picugi site, the Apulian vases imported from central and southern Italy were found together with black, polished pottery. Among them an urn with animal figures (vixen) on the lid and on the handles, must be mentioned. The form of the figures shows a clear Hallstattian influence, while the red paint is an Italic tradition. In one of the graves a bronze conical helmet was used as an urn.

Only a small number of metal objects were found on Picugi, as is the case on other similar sites. Weapons are extremly rare. Bracelets, rings, needles with various forms of heads, pendants and buttons prevail. There is little jade but a lot of glass beads. Clay weights and cylindrical spindles are parts of looms. 

In the Nesactium site some imitations of this imported type of pottery were also found. Pottery from Attica and Corinth in Greece is also found in Istria, imported probably from southern Italy and not directly from Greece (Magna Graecia). The Attic oinochoe with a painted scene showing a qliadriga and warriors, in black on a red background, is probably from around 490 B.C. Much younger are the fragments of the so called Gnathia pottery, imported from southern Italy (4th and 3rd centuries B.C.).

The bronze vases - situlae - used as cinerary urns in graves, are among the most interesting finds of the Iron Age in Istria. For its figural decoration of horizontal friezes, with animals and warriors in procession, they are similar to situlae found in Vače (Slovenia) and in Bologna (Italy). 

Metal objects (bracelets, buckles, needles, pendants) conform with the already known types of the Hallstatt Iron Age culture. Fibulae, which appear in Istria for the first time at the beginning of the Iron Age, evolve into a whole range of types by its end.

The Divgrad settlement (Iron Age castle) produced a clay slab with round holes that has been partly reconstructured. It was found in Nesactium (see illustration) and is thought to have been used for libations, i.e. funerary sacrifices.

There are finds from the cinerary necropolises of Picugi, Pula, Kaštel above the Dragonja river, Nova Vas near Brtonigla, Beram and Osor on exhibit at the Archealogical Museum of Istria (AMI). Three fortified hilltop settlements east of Poreč are called Picugi, and they were surely inhabited in prehistory. 

Two cemeteries with 700 cinerary graves were excavated between 1883 and 1888 on the foot of these hills. The older objects are attributable to the period between the 9th and 5th centuries B. C. The youngest ones can be dated by Middle La Tène fibulae found there, and imported gnathia as well as other south Italic pottery.  The most important finds from this necropolis are cinerary clay urns (see illustration). A variety of forms of local handmade ceramics is evident from the exhibited urns. Urns with incised geometric decoration on their surface and with white paste filling, often have bird motifs in geometric succession. Many small vases with different handle shapes were found on Picugi. They were used in sacrificial rites. The smaller ones were probably toys.

The necropolis of Pula with 450 graves was situated inside the city walls on the eastern hillside. The graves were excavated in three sections, in 1898, 1906-1910, and in 1957. This necropolis can be classified as belonging to the group of the oldest cinerary graveyards in prehistoric Istria. Local pottery found here is somewhat different from that found on other Istrian sites - it is somewhat more conservative in form and decoration development. The most characteristic pottery from here are vases of a similar form and decoration as those found in other necropolises. However, some of them are decorated with the application of zinc flakes. Among the finds from the necropolis at Nova Vas near Buje, the vase with deer figures is the most important. The graves on this site were found alI around the hilltop settlement, and can be dated to the beginning of the Iron Age in Istria.

The necropolis in Beram was situated beneath the second protective wall of the settlement. In the years 1883 and 1884 more then 300 graves were explored, with the majority of the finds ending up in the museums of Trieste and Vienna, while the Archaeological Museum of Istria boasts in its collection but some urns. Clay pots, bronze situlae, cistae and kettles (see illustration) were used as urns. In one tomb ashes were found in a bronze helmet, as in the already-mentioned grave on Picugi. A number of imported vases were found, including two Apulian urns. The graves date from the period between the end of the 8th to the 4th centuries B.C., but younger graves with fibulae from the Some examples of urns and other grave finds illustrate the necropolis of Kaštel above the Dragonja river in northern Istria where 24 graves were excavated between 1954 and 1955. Due to the small number of graves the variety of forms is nonexistent. Along with globular and biconic pots, many situlae-like vases appear. Only new vases were used for burial. The tombs were framed by stone slabs and sometimes they were carved out from the rock proper. The main slab was at the same time the tombstone. The graves are dated to the period between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C.

Finds in graves from Osor, on the island of Cres, belong to the culture of the Liburni. In a tumulus discovered in 1959 seven tombs were found containing objects dating from the 8th and 7th centuries B. C. - a fibula with a jade covering on the arch, a spiral fibula, and a fibula of the Italic type. All of this illustrates the difference in rites and customs among inhabitants of the northern Adriatic sea basin.

The western Hallstatt zone includes:

  • northeastern France - Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Alsace
  • northern Switzerland - Swiss plateau
  • Southern Germany - much of Swabia and Bavaria
  • western Czech Republic - Bohemia
  • western Austria - Vorarlberg, North Tyrol, Salzkammergut
  • northern and central Spain - Galicia, Asturias, Castile

The eastern Hallstatt zone includes:

  • eastern Austria - Lower Austria, Upper Styria
  • eastern Czech Republic - Moravia
  • southwestern Slovakia - Danubian Lowland
  • western Hungary - Little Hungarian Plain
  • eastern Slovenia - Lower Styria
  • northern Croatia - Hrvatsko Zagorje

La Tène Period

Of the many terms defining Celtic culture, La Tène is the one that is most readily used. The name is from the place in Switzerland that the first definite artifacts of a Celtic culture were found. The term is associated with the development of a particular style of artwork, metalwork, goldsmithing, and pottery.

La Tène refers to the spot outside of Lake Neuchatel that, in 1858, receded to a very low level. The result was the exposure of the ribs of some construction. When the area was excavated, the second great period of the development of the Celts was revealed. The finds in the area were of such exquisite beauty, that, at first, it was believed that the area might have been one of a large votive sacrifice. Subsequent excavation of the areas around the lake found even more treasures.

The La Tène eras were divided into three sections, one, two, and three. This is a classification and designation developed by archaeologists that refer to the periods in general, and the remarkable aspects of it. Its dating period begins in the middle of the fifth century BC, and continues until the Roman conquest of Gaul, when its development stopped. Roughly, the periods of La Tène runs as follows: La Tène One, from 600 to 500 BC; La Tène Two from 450 to 100 BC; and La Tène Three from 100 BC until the Roman destruction of the culture.

What La Tène does is define the Celts as a real civilization, one that is differentiated from the rudimentary group of tribal primitive design. The La Tène periods produced grander and more elaborate designs, and some of the greatest artwork of the period.

La Tène featured the complete changeover from cremation to inhumation, or full body, burial. As a result, the period was an archaeologist's dream. The Celtic view of life, and death, was that when a person died, they would be able to pick up from where life ended, and the afterlife began, as though there was no stop in the action. Consequently, many of the possessions of the Celts ended up being buried with them, in a real sense of you can take it with you. Burial sites included weapons, chariots, gold and silver, and household goods. It was through these sites that much of what is known of the Celts has been learned.

What La Tène represented of the Celts was a flourishing, rich civilization. The glory that was Celtica found full flower during this period. The expansion of the Celtic world, and the monopoly that the Celts had on many items, provided them with the riches that allowed them to develop and flourish in the worlds of art and metal working. The constant interaction with other peoples of the world allowed the to cross-fertilize their culture with others, from the Greeks and Romans, to the Germans and the Carthegenians.

Much of the artwork associated with the Celts came from the La Tène period. The elaborate design in the goldworking, such as the torcs, as well as the swirling designs known today as Celtic knotwork, reached their zenith in the La Tène.

It seems that the Celtic migrations never touched the Istrian peninsula during the 4th and 3rd centuries B. C. ArchaeologicaI finds from this period are extremly rare. Some La Tène (Upper Iron Age) fibulae are exhibited among other archaeological material from corresponding sites. However, these are only isolated finds. Apart from fibulae and pottery, Celtic influence can be seen from place names and some names recorded on Roman stone inscriptions.

Sources:

  • Boris Baćić, Stefan Mlakar & Branko Marušić, The Archealogical Museum of Istria, Pula, Guide III (Pula 1986), p. 38-41.
  • La Tène, Copyright,1998-2003 - Brian G Witt - http://www.angelfire.com/wi/THECELTS/laTène.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_T%C3%A8ne_culture
  • La Tène (Istrian) text - The Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Guide III (Pula 1986) Pula 3000, Libar od Grozda (Pula 1997).
  • Timelines - http://www.bosut.net/zupanija/eng/archeological_findings.php

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Created: Thursday, March 07, 2002; Last Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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