A little bit of real archaeology...
Article published on 28 March 2007

by Irna

Excellent news from Bosnia for the European archaeology: a team, led by Ms. Snjezana Vasilj, Professor of Archaeology in Sarajevo and Mostar Universities, has published the discovery of the first Illyrian boats ever found (en) in Hutovo Blato.

Hutovo Blato

Hutovo Blato, located near Capljina, half-way between Mostar and the Adriatic Coast South of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a marshland in the Neretva valley, made a nature park (en) for the sake of its exceptional wetland fauna and flora (en) (it is particularly a known habitat for migrating swampbirds) [1]. The marshland is connected, by the Krupa river, with the Neretva and the Adriatic sea. The wider region of Hutovo Blato was already known for its rich archeological heritage: ottoman fortress of Gabela (en) [2], medieval urban center of Pocitelj (en), which is on the Tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage (en), important Roman site of Mogorjelo (en) near Capljina, medieval necropolis of Radimlja (en), probably the most important in the country, which contains more than a hundred stecci...

To this natural and cultural wealth of the region is now added a unique archaeological site. The Illyrians (en), settled in the West Balkans (en) since the second millenium before our era, are still not very well known; they left no writings, but only archaeological remains (for instance ruins of fortresses like Varvaria (en) in Croatia or Amantia (en) in Albania), and mentions in Greek and Roman texts. Illyrians are, particularly, frequently mentioned in the ancient sources for their trade, and for their habit of piracy in the Adriatic and Ionian See, using swift boats called lemboi [3], but none of these boats had ever been found. In Hutovo Blato, remains of two of these boats, about 12 meters long and 4 large, and possibly dating from 200 BC [4], have been identified under 8 meters of water, as well as 80 amphora lids and fragments from 30 amphoras with workshop seals that will be analyzed [5].

The excavations are just beginning (eight square meters have till now been explored), and they will require a lot of times and money, however they already reveal interesting questions about the origin of these boats, their connections with the various Illyrian and Greek sites known in the region, and about the trade circuits of the hellenistic time in Adriatic and Balkans. But there is more, the team has identified remains of roman constructions, probably a villa, with an entire roman spear, as well as, in the immediate vicinity, seven much older tombs, dating from the Bronze or Iron Age.

The importance of this discovery was immediately seen by the European archaeologists: the project is already based on international collaboration with archaeological institutions in Croatia (particularly for preservation of the wooden elements, for which a special treatment is needed), and the European Association of Archaeologists has, as declared its Secretary Professor Predrag Novakovic (bs), promised all possible help to Professor Vasilj’s team. More important even, I would say, in regard to the future of archaeology in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the fact that the local authorities seem to have perceived the scientific meaning - and, for the future, the touristic meaning - of this discovery: the federal Minister for Culture Gavrilo Grahovac (bs) pledges his word that the necessary funds for the continuation of the excavations and for the analyzes will be found [6]. He also sees there, as Professor Predrag Novakovic does, the opportunity to urge that Bosnia and Herzegovina signs the Valette Convention (en) that would allow the development of a modern, effective archaeology, as well as scientific cooperation with Europe. It is not by chance that the same request is expressed by a groupe of Bosnian scientists in a open letter to the High Representative of the international community: Bosnia needs means and tools to protect, restore, and emphasize its priceless archaeological heritage, and the Valette Convention is one of these tools.