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Ravlić’s cave, a little-known treasure

Ravlić’s Cave is located high above the spring of the river Tihaljina, on the outskirts of the hamlet of Peć (Peć Mlini) in Drinovci, Grude municipality. Until recently, the term was known only to those with a narrow interest in archaeology, because it is among the most important prehistoric sites, not only in BiH but also in the wider region.

It is believed that the settlement in it was created in the period between the Young Stone Age – Neolithic – and the end of the Early Bronze Age. Favorable living conditions, natural potential for hunting and fishing, drinking water and communication opportunities enabled the inhabitants of prehistoric communities to stay in the cave for a long time. The opening of the Ravlić’s Cave faces south, and it is about 40 meters wide and about five meters high, so during the day enough sunlight penetrates into the interior of the space.

An unusual find

The Cave consists of one larger and one smaller hall. The length of the explored part is 145 meters, and the height varies from 5 to 20 meters. The front part of the cave is exposed to sunlight and heat, so that dry part of the cave space is favorable for a longer stay of people.

In the archaeological research that was conducted in the Cave on several occasions, between 1977 and 1980, material evidence of the appearance of life around 3700 BC was found. Archaeologists from all over former Yugoslavia worked on this extensive task, and the leader of the excavation, Brunislav Marijanović, published a scientific article in the Gazette of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which he described the methods and phases of the excavation, and based on the remains found, a scientific overview of the entire site.

Chipped stone tools, bones, ceramic findings, jewelry, anthropomorphic plastic were found. A child’s skeleton was found as well, which was not in any burial structure, which represents a wider custom in the Mediterranean cult of the dead for the purpose of protecting the settlement and inducing fertility.

As part of the field teaching of the Department of Archeology of the Faculty of Philosophy in Mostar, archaeological excavations were renewed in the period from 2008 to 2010, and among the numerous archaeological findings characteristic of the first phase of research, there was one very rare and unusual find. It’s a pintadera. It is a cylindrical ceramic object about five centimeters long with a diameter of about three centimeters, with a perforated body along the entire length, the surface of which is richly decorated with two spiral coils made using the engraving technique.

Related objects are so far known in the Middle East and South-Eastern Europe and belong to rare acquisitions from Neolithic sites. Until now, a similar find has not been registered within this prehistoric culture. The function, meaning and use of this unusual object is attributed to various forms – from the identification mark of the cave community in communication with other communities, through the imprinter of marks on ceramic vessels and colored decorations on clothing and body, to marking the identity and status position of an individual in the community.

Ritual practice

However, the discovery of fragments of vessels decorated both on the outside and on the inside, which are believed to have had a cult character, speak of the pintadera from Ravlić’s Cave as an instrument used in the ritual practice of the oldest inhabitants of Drinovci. The archaeological material found in the first research campaign was deposited in the National Museum in Sarajevo, and the material from the 2008-2010 campaign is kept in the Archaeological Collection of St. Stephen in Gorica near Grude.

During the excavations, many fireplaces were found, followed by an altar, a structure that was probably used to hang pots over the fire, and the remains of millstones as evidence that the inhabitants were engaged in farming. Hunting and animal husbandry were the main economic branches, while, from the remains of snails and river shells, gathering activity is also evident. It is difficult to say why life in Ravlić’s Cave was interrupted after the Bronze Age, and whether it was interrupted at all. Archaeological research was conducted only on one part of this site, which does not guarantee that there was no life in later periods.

The fact is that huge stone blocks, which fell from the ceiling of the cave, influenced those who lived or wanted to live in it. Later, people occasionally stayed there since the Middle Ages. The last ones who used it were the bandits of this region from the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2019, lighting was installed in the cave, the parking lot, entrance, paths were arranged, and visual signage was installed.

Author: Tarik Dreca