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This summer two IPCAA students, Dan Shoup and I, joined the Korcula Archaeological Research Group (KARG), a consortium of Croatian, American, and Swiss scholars based on the island of Korcula, Croatia. The team operates out of the town of Vela Luka, conducting archaeological research on Korcula and several neighboring islands. Seen from the deck of the Jadrolinija ferry, these islands appear as distinctive piles of limestone rising out of the southern Adriatic. Their physical geography is dramatic: sheltered bays that make ideal anchorages for sailors; narrow terraces for olive trees, gleaned from the rocky hillsides by generations of manual labor; and flat, fertile fields, or polje, surrounded by rugged karst formations.
The earliest coastal evidence for habitation derives from the Palaeolithic period, as attested by the extraordinary site of Vela Spila (literally, the big cave), near the town of Vela Luka on Korcula. During the Neolithic period, this site was instrumental in trans-Adriatic contacts between coastal areas of modern Italy and Croatia. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, the island people built fortification walls on nearly all the most prominent hilltops. Many of these forts, gradine, and burial tumuli, gomile, are still visible as one travels across the island.
It was probably during the sixth century BC that central Dalmatia first attracted Greek colonists. Korcula, which the Greeks called Kerkyra Melaina or Black Corcyraapparently the heavily wooded landscape reminded the settlers of Corcyrahosted a Knidian colony. However, the exact location of this settlement still eludes historians and archaeologists. Likewise, a later fourth-century BC colony established on Korcula by Greeks from the island of Issa (modern Vis) continues to evade detection. The fourth-century Greek foundation of Pharos on the island of Hvar, however, represents one of the best-preserved examples of Greek land division in the Mediterranean. Hvar is also a well-known case study for the application of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software to archaeological problems. The Sanctuary of Diomedes on Palegruza, a small island group far out in the Adriatic, has yielded dedications of pottery that testify to the skill, daring, and piety of ancient navigators.
The local Illyrians fought intermittently with the Greek colonists, and later, in the third through first centuries BC, they put up a stiff resistance to Roman pacification. There are no major Roman cities in the islands to match the ruins of Salona on the mainland, but there are numerous villa rustica sites. Whether these belonged to wealthy Romans or to locals who had made their peace with Rome is an interesting question. In the turbulent third century AD, a few men from Illyria rose through the ranks of the Roman army to attain the imperial purple, among them Diocletian, who retireda singular accomplishment for a Roman emperorto a huge palace and fortress on the Dalmatian coast. The massive walls of his retirement home now enclose the heart of the old town of Split. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, Slavs, Venetians, and Austro-Hungarians also left their marks on the Dalmatian landscape, in the form of palazzi, fortifications, and roads.
The deep waters off the coast are full of shipwrecks, many of which date to Classical antiquity. These wreck sites are marked by hundreds of amphorae that contained wine, oil, and other trade goods. Recently, the Croatian authorities have taken steps to curb illegal wreck diving to prevent looting and permanent damage to the sites.
Seth Button, IPCAA Ph.D. student
Thanks are due to the U-Ms Kelsey Museum and IPCAA for providing travel funding, to Nissan of Switzerland for furnishing the field team with a four-wheel drive vehicle, to the Abteilung für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Universität Zürich, for further financial and logistical support, and to Drs. Bryon Bass and Philippe della Casa.
Copyright © 2003 The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.