An archaeological team digging at Hvar, Croatia, once home to the ancient Greek island settlement of Pharos, have unearthed a mass Greek communal grave from the fourth century BC. The find is a significant one from a number of perspectives ranging from artifacts found to funerary customs discovered.
AdriaCos, a five-year-long project of the the Croatian Science Foundation, was launched last year by the Institute of Archaeology in Zagreb as a multilayer research project studying the cultural heritage of Hvar, Croatia and the central Adriatic region, reports Archaeology News Network . The Greek communal tomb was found by the project team towards the end of its field research in 2021.
Glass beads from the Hvar, Croatia 4th-century BC grave where six people were cremated. ( Private archive / Free Dalmatia )
Hvar, Croatia Finds: Cremated Remains and Intact Weapons
“When it comes to Pharos, we hoped to find its necropolis, so this year’s field research in the Old Town was largely directed with this goal in mind. As is often the case, just before the end of field research, we found the most interesting find, a Greek tomb in a small pit near the ancient walls, apparently from the 4th century BC, which indicates the possibility of the existence of a necropolis on the south side of the city wall,” said Marina Ugarkovic, research associate at the Institute of Archaeology who heads the project, according to Free Dalmatia .
The tomb represents an important find since it is the only one so far expertly examined from the Greek settlement of Pharos. It contained the cremated remains of the dead along with a number of artifacts, of which an iron sword and a spearhead are the most well preserved. Other artifacts included coins, ceramic fragments, glass beads, and clothing buttons.
“At first glance, our attention was drawn to the extremely well-preserved weapons , as well as the funeral rite of cremation of the deceased. In the context of our research, the cremation of the deceased is highly interesting and rather unexpected, given that it is a practice that was not common for that period and place.”
“The Greeks in Dalmatia, as evidenced by the well-preserved and well-decorated necropolis of Ise on Vis, practised inhumation, the placing of the deceased, for specific rituals, in a tomb or crypt, as did the inhabitants of the Cycladic island of Paros, who founded the settlement of Pharos,” Ugarkovic added. The Pharos tomb, therefore, with its cremated remains offers a particular challenge to the archaeologists.
According to her, tombs are an extremely important source of information about the culture of peoples of the past, given that not only do graves contain material remains and goods but also evidence of the funerary customs and practices.
Dr. Marina Ugarković with the 4th-century Greek sword discovery at the dig site in the Old Town of Hvar, Croatia. ( Joško Šupić / Cropix / Free Dalmatia )
“So, for example, we can find out what the deceased looked like, what they ate, what they suffered from and died from, which is a measure of the demographics and quality of life. This type of symbolic communication, which encouraged social actors to create new relationships for a number of strategic, emotional and practical reasons, can at the same time provide indirect indicators of the dynamics of social identities and various aspects of community development , from eschatological thinking, cultural borrowing, hierarchy and organization. Society, family traditions, economic development and living standards and so on,” she said.
Bioarchaeological analysis established that the grave contained the remains of at least six individuals, four males, a woman, and a child. C14 dating and DNA analysis will provide the period deposition of the remains and will confirm the hypothesis of a communal grave.
The sword found in the grave, which is a one-handed Greek sword with a curved blade , called a kopis, is the best preserved of the artifacts and is currently undergoing a process of cleaning and preservation that will in due course provide detailed information about its manufacturing technology, dating and typology, and origin. Importantly, it is the only example of such a sword from the Croatian part of the Adriatic and, along with the spear, the first ancient weapons to be found in Pharos and the island of Hvar. The placement of the sword as it was found indicated that at least one of the occupants of the grave was a warrior.
Remains of 4th-century Greek pottery found at the Hvar, Croatia dig site. ( Private archive / Free Dalmatia )
Pharos or Hvar: One of the Oldest Towns in Europe
Although Hvar was inhabited continuously since pre-historic times, the colony of Pharos was founded in 385 BC by Greek settlers from the island of Paros in the Aegean Sea. Later, in 219 BC, the island of Hvar passed into Roman hands. Then, in the seventh century AD, Slavs fleeing the mainland settled there. It became a part of Yugoslavia after World War I and of Croatia when Yugoslavia broke up in 1991-92.
Somewhere in this time, Pharos became known by its modern name of Stari Grad, making Stari Grad one of the oldest towns of Europe. Stari Grad Plain, which houses the ruins of stone structures and shows evidence of the agricultural style of the ancient Greeks, is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site .
The archaeologists are thrilled with the find of the grave as many tombs in the city were destroyed in the 19th century as the need for land for cultivation and construction grew. Little is thus known about the funerary rites of the Greeks of Pharos, and the grave can fill a crucial gap. Of course, a single grave cannot offer enough information to generalize from, but the archaeologists hope it points to the existence of a necropolis and more data in the years to come.
Top image: Dr. Marina Ugarković officially displaying the 4th-century BC sword found in a communal grave at the site of the ancient Greek city of Pharos on Hvar. Source: Joško Šupić / Cropix / Free Dalmatia
By Sahir Pandey