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The Vucedol Culture: The Rise of an Iconic Copper Age Culture in Croatia

The Vucedol Culture: The Rise of an Iconic Copper Age Culture in Croatia

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The Vučedol culture is a prehistoric Indo-European culture located in an area covering part of the Pannonian Plain stretching down south into several modern Western Balkans countries. The name of this culture is derived from a place called Vučedol (meaning ‘Wolf’s Valley’), which is located on the western border of present day Croatia, close to its border with Serbia. This site has been identified by archaeologists as one of the major settlements of the Vučedol culture.

An Eneolithic Culture

The Vučedol culture existed between 3000 BC and 2200 BC. This was a period of prehistory referred to as the Eneolithic (also known as the Chalcolithic or the Copper Age), during which copper began to be widely used. The Vučedol culture is particularly notable for their manufacture of arsenic bronze objects. Arsenic bronze is an alloy in which arsenic is added to copper, instead of / in addition to tin, in order to make bronze.

Map of the Vučedol culture.

Map of the Vučedol culture. ( Public Domain )

The Vučedol culture developed from two earlier Eneolithic cultures – the Baden culture, which was located on the Pannonian Plain, and the Kostolac culture, situated in the western part of modern Romania and the northern part of modern Serbia.

Due to their extensive use of copper, the Vučedol culture initially settled close to mountain ranges, where copper deposits could be easily found. As time progressed, Vučedol settlements were established further afield. During the period when the Vučedol culture reached its peak, it had settlements in 14 different modern European countries. Sites once occupied by the Vučedol culture have been found not only in Croatia, but also as far north as the Czech Republic, and as far south as eastern Greece (where a Vučedol settlement is said to have been discovered).

A representation of a Vučedol house.

A representation of a Vučedol house. ( Vučedol Culture Museum )

Artifacts for Interpretation

Our knowledge of the Vučedol culture is derived from the artifacts they left behind, as they are not known to have had a writing system. For example, it has been suggested that there was social stratification within the Vučedol culture. It is possible that, as the production of copper objects was a form of specialized knowledge, the coppersmiths formed a unique class of their own. In addition, it is probable that there was a class of food producers – farmers, hunters, fishermen and gatherers who provided food for the smiths. All this was likely to have been controlled and organized by an elite class that occupied the top tier of the Vučedol hierarchy.

The Vučedol Culture

The Vučedol Culture ( crosci.com)

The Vučedol Dove

In addition to arsenic bronze objects, the Vučedol are known also for their ceramics. The most famous of these is an object known as the Vučedol Dove. This artifact was discovered in 1938 by an archaeologist (one source claims that this was a German archaeologist by the name of R. R. Schmidt, whilst another asserts that the archaeologist was named M. Seper) who was excavating Vučedol.

The Vučedol Dove is about 49.5 cm (19.49 inches) in height, and has been identified as a ritual pot made out of baked clay. There are numerous markings on this piece of ceramic. On its neck, for example, symbols of axes and a necklace can be found. In addition, the wings and chest of this bird are also covered by a distinct set of patterns. Based on these patterns, along with the bird’s crest, this is actually a representation of a domestic pigeon, rather than a dove.

The Vučedol Dove, emblem of the Vučedol culture.

The Vučedol Dove, emblem of the Vučedol culture. ( Croatia.eu)

Another interpretation suggests that the dove is in fact a partridge, and was meant to represent a particular blacksmith / blacksmiths of the Vučedol culture in general. This interpretation considers the fact that the blacksmiths of the Vučedol culture were exposed to arsenic whilst manufacturing the arsenic bronze objects.

One of the negative effects on the human body when it is first exposed to arsenic fumes is the loss of sensation in the legs. This loss would then spread to the rest of the body, finally resulting in death. If a blacksmith got out of his forge in time, he would be able to save his life. Nevertheless, the loss of sensation in his legs would linger for some time.

As for the partridge, the males of this species, whilst defending its nest from predators, would run away and pretend to limp, in the hope that the predator would leave the nest and go after the ‘injured’ bird instead. Thus, the partridge was associated with a blacksmith / the blacksmiths of the Vučedol culture, as both of them limped.

Regardless of how the Vučedol Dove is interpreted, it has become the most recognizable symbol of the Vučedol culture, perhaps even more prominent that the arsenic bronze objects that their blacksmiths produced. In recent years, the Museum of Vučedol Culture was established by the Croatian government, and opened its doors in 2015. The Vučedol Dove is almost certainly one of the museum’s biggest attractions.    

Featured image: Main: Vucedol archaeological site. Inset: Biconic vessel of the Vučedol culture. Archaeological Museum of Zagreb. Photo source: Croatia.eu

By: Wu Mingren

References

ArchDaily, 2013. Vucedol Archaeological Museum / Radionica Arhitekture. [Online]
Available at: http://www.archdaily.com/447003/vucedol-archaeological-museum-radionica-arhitekture

Croatian Science Portal, 2013. The Vučedol Culture. [Online]
Available at: http://crosci.com/the-vucedol-culture.html

croatiaweek, 2015. Museum of Vučedol Culture Opens in Vukovar. [Online]
Available at: http://www.croatiaweek.com/museum-of-vucedol-culture-opens-in-vukovar/

Muzej Vučedolske Kulture, 2015. Vučedol Culture Museum. [Online]
Available at: http://vucedol.hr/en/vucedol-culture-museum/

Slavorum, 2014. Vučedol culture of Eastern Croatia. [Online]
Available at: http://www.slavorum.org/vucedol-culture-of-eastern-croatia/

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