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Department of Archaeology


Pupicina Cave project


Changing Paleoenvironments and Hunter-Gatherer Strategies in the Northern Adriatic Basin.


Project Director


Research Aims and Results

This 5-year project (1995--1999) of systematic excavation and testing of limestone caves is investigating variability and change in hunter-gatherer strategies in southeastern Europe from the end of the last ice age to the appearance of farming communities (approximately 13,000--6,000 years Before Present). The primary objectives of the project are to document Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic cultures in the northern Adriatic region (Istria Peninsula, Republic of Croatia) and to situate these activities and strategies in their paleoenvironmental and cultural contexts.

The focus of the project is ongoing, systematic excavations at [Pupicina] Cave. Test excavations at neighboring caves (Vesanska, Vela, Klanjceva, and Sebrn Caves) are providing a framework for studying the prehistoric human ecology of the micro-region (c. 10 sqkm) around Vranja Canyon on the southern and western slopes of Ucka and Cicarija Mountains in northeastern Istria.

Pupicina Cave is a 25m wide by 30m deep, well-lit, triangular cavity in limestone that faces the southeast. Hidden in a narrow, limestone canyon (elevation 220m/sl), it would have been well-placed to take advantage of a variety of microhabitats, perhaps including marshes to the south, riverine woodlands and plains in its immediate vicinity, rolling hills and uplands to the north, and rugged, steep, and montane environments to the east.

Excavations in 1995--96 exposed the upper 3.5 m of a deep sequence of sediments rich in archaeological remains from the Late Upper Palaeolithic (c. 10,600 BP) to the Bronze Age (c. 3300 BP). Late Upper Palaeolithic layers contain small hearths, faunal (mostly bones of red deer, pig, and roe deer), and lithic remains that appear to have been rapidly buried by wind-blown silts. This depositional context suggests fairly brief visits to the cave at a time when climatic conditions were relatively cool and dry compared to climates in the region today. Dramatic increases in the density of lithic artifacts and food waste in the early postglacial (c. 10,000--9,000 BP) suggest that people started to visit the cave more frequently and for longer periods of time. Mesolithic occupants diversified their subsistence strategies by increasing their take of small mammals (e.g. badger and hare), by collecting thousands of edible land snails, and by eating marine shellfish (Mytilus sp.) that would have been moved over 20 kilometres from the coast. Studies of tooth eruption and development on wild boar, roe deer, and red deer jaws suggests hunting during the autumn. Several human finger and toe bones were also found among the animal food refuse in the Mesolithic middens. After a several thousand year hiatus in occupation, there are sparse remains from the Neolithic, followed by a more intensive use of the site during the Bronze Age. The final use of the cave (starting during or after the Bronze Age) is that of domestic animal pen, as indicated by widespread lenses of ash and fine charcoal particles that appear to have formed from burning animal dung across much of the cave surface.

Research goals of current and upcoming field seasons are the exposure of Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic levels over wide areas to study the spatial organization of human activities in Pupicina Cave, and the comparison of Pupicina Cave to broadly contemporaneous sites in the micro-region to better understand human responses to cultural and environmental changes associated with the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and spread of food production


Collaborating Institutions and Project Members

  • Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge: Dr. P. Galanidou.
  • Department of Archaeology, University of Zagreb: Dr. N. Majnaric-Pandzic, S. Vrdoljak, Dr. S. Forenbaher.
  • Archaeological Museum of Istria: Dr. Z. Ujcic.
  • Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts: Dr. M. Paunovic.


Financial Support

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