Discovery of Ancient Tools Points Towards Long-Lost 17,000-Year-Old European Culture

The first traces of the Paleolithic in the western Herzegovina region

Archeologists excavating a cave in Bosnia and Herzegovina have stumbled across what they believe are the remnants of tools from a previously unknown, 17,000-year-old culture

The new archeological discovery points to the fact that the region was inhabited by humans more than 17,000 years ago.

During exploration of the Ričina Cave, located near Tomislavgrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina, researchers discovered that the cave was a place where 17,000 years ago, ancient humans crafted a number of different tools such as retouched blades, end scrapers, and backed bladelets.

Aerial photograph of the cave and the front plateau. Image Credit: B. Šimunović.
Aerial photograph of the cave and the front plateau. Image Credit: B. Šimunović.

The discovery is hailed as a unique archaeological find in this part of the country.

The discovery has been published in a scientific paper authored by Dr. Dario Vujević from the Department of Archeology at the University of Zadar and Archeologist Stipan Dilber, curator of the Franciscan Museum from Tomislavgrad.

The paper was published in the journal of the Institute of Archeology in Zagreb.

The Ričina spring cave is located in the wider region of the Vrilo hamlet in the vicinity of Tomislavgrad. It is a part of a larger complex, more precisely there are three cave entrances mutually connected with cave channels, created as a consequence of the corrosive activity of a strong underground stream.

The complex and the surrounding region are flooded when there is a high water level in the reservoir.

“The cave complex has already been documented speleologically, and remains of stone tools were noticed by speleologists in one of their visits to the cave,” explained Dr. Dilber.

“This discovery incited archaeological research that resulted in the identification of a place in front of the cave where lithic objects were made.”

The discovery of tool fragments such as blades and other hand-crafted items points towards the existence of human occupation in the area, making the Ričina Cave the first Paleolithic site in the territory of Western Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The thin cultural layer and spatial disposition of the finds imply their secondary position, but the geomorphological characteristics of the terrain indicate that it was the original zone of lithic production,” wrote experts in the study.

“The presence of almost all the phases of the operational sequence (only the collection of raw material is missing) indicates that the entire process of production happened at this spot. Though chronological analyses are unavailable for the time being, typological and technological characteristics, along with the presence of retouched blades, end scrapers and backed bladelets, clearly indicate the Epigravettian culture.”

Until now, it was believed that the first people that inhabited the area were from the Neolithic, but this proves that there were people living here already in the upper Paleolithic.

Dr. Vujević explained that this is an extremely important discovery, and the site itself is of great importance for studying the earliest prehistoric periods of the eastern Adriatic coast.

“The territory of Western Herzegovina has so far remained unknown in this respect.”

“However, logic tells us that this region had to be the connection between continental land and the coast.”

“Now for the first time, we have the opportunity to connect these areas with archaeological sites in the surrounding regions, especially those from the Adriatic coast with which the finding in Ričina shows a great similarity,” explained Vujević.

Further archeological excavations are planned, although it still remains unknown as to when exactly they will start.

“We hope that Elektroprivreda HZHB will recognize the importance of the discovery since it is planning to build a hydroelectric power plant in the area. We hope that this discovery will be taken into account in its plans for spatial management,” Professor Vujević concluded.

University of Zagreb
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