It was in the late spring of 2015 that we dug again into the layers of Ančnikovo gradišče at Jurišna vas. We were discovering and researching the remains and ruins of what was once a substantial hilltop settlement as part of the project “Rojstvo Evrope/The Birth of Europe”. We will not be bringing up again the reasons why this site was excavated in the first place, for with nearly 30 years of research already having been carried out on this location, it is one of the most researched sites in Slovenia.
The goal of last year’s excavations was the research of the northern part of the settlement. Upon our arrival the terrain was overgrown with young forest. This has forced us to slow down our work at first, since first we had to stubbornly endure and put in some hard graft just to remove all the remains of the trees. The battle against nature resulted in a few torn steel cables, multiple stops to repair chainsaws and other equipment, as well as the occasional outcry, but in the end order was restored as we finally laid down a solid foundation for all the work which was to follow.
Thus we have redefined the northern edge of the settlement, which was enclosed by a wall just like the rest of the hilltop. The fear of the settlement being taken must have been ever present and the inhabitants were not content with the substantial natural fortification offered by the steep terrain in this part. Upon investigation of the walls, hints were revealed which point towards the fortifications having been partially breached and repaired at least once. In order to help secure the settlement during the reparations a wooden palisade was built further uphill.
But the course of the defensive walls was not the only surprise which our recent excavations had in store for us. We came to new conclusions concerning the layout of the settlement itself. Before it was accepted that the buildings were erected adjacent to the fortifications or in their vicinity. Now it has been revealed that on the northern side terraces were cut into the steep terrain and thus wooden structures, which could be likened to some kind of log cabin, were built further inwards. Most of them had been emptied before they were destroyed, which means that the inhabitants have had enough time to take their essential and valuable personal belongings before the settlement faced its destruction.
Our findings and conclusions run as follows: the vast settlement, which according to current estimated encompassed an area of 7000 m2, was built at the end of the 3rd cent. AD, which was a turbulent time for the Roman Empire. The placement of the settlement was well thought out. Thus the settlement sprang up on a hill, which offered a good overview of the Drava plain where the main road between the cities of Emona and Petoviona was to be found, while at the same time it could have been seen from the other hilltop settlements which were forming at this time. This was important since they could inform the surrounding region about impending danger from the site of Ančnikovo gradišče.
It was possible to enter the settlement from the western side, where today lies the reconstruction of a strategically designed entrance. The partially paved path made a sharp bend towards the south just after the entrance and it then led to the central part of the settlement which was encircled by a defensive wall nearly a meter wide. Only on the eastern side was there no need for man made fortifications because of the steep cliffs. The walls were not very wide, so we presume that in order to make maneuvering upon the defenses possible, they had to install some sort of wooden platform or walkway in the upper part of the walls. The building materials for the wall were brought from the surrounding area, since the stone which forms the wall is not to be found on the actual site.
Most of the structures were leaning onto the defensive wall, subsequently most of the activities and life in the settlement was revolving around the area adjacent to the fortifications, but nevertheless some buildings also stood in the central part and on at least two terraces.
The objects found during the excavations confirm the assumptions that there was a smaller army unit present within the settlement which at first watched over the Petoviona – Emona road, but later had to take a stand against the armies that were making their way towards Rome. But other finds indicate that the settlement was also home to craftsmen and the rest of the general population. At first they supplied the soldiery and later, when the valley became the main road for all conquerors heading towards Rome, the local population took to living within the defensive walls with increasing frequency. The inhabitants at that time did, despite hard times, try to maintain a link to the lifestyle which they knew. This can be seen from a diverse selection of finds. It is understandable that everyday objects such cooking pots, knives, farming, yarn spinning and weaving tools prevail. At the same time we can find precious artifacts, which point to an improved standard of living and civilized way of life, such as jewelry made of glass beads, finer glassware and the bronze statues of Mercury and Appollo which were found during earlier excavations.
Despite all the efforts the settlement was abandoned in the second half of the 5th century. The repairs of the defenses and a destruction layer show that the settlement was going through some turbulent times. Large traces of burning leave no other explanation than that the settlement burnt down. Yet because of the lack of siege weapons we can not claim that it was destroyed during a military attack.
Later, somewhere in the 8th or 9th century, the ruined “city” was also used by the Slavs, but at least the finds from the northern part of the settlement show that it was populated only for shorter periods of time.
The area was, after being abandoned as a settlement, sporadically used for agricultural activities up to the present day, when all that remained were ruins which were surrounded by legends about a castle, a knight named Jurič and a snake wearing a crown which guards a treasure. It turns out that the snake was guarding a great treasure which won’t turn us into millionaires, but if we let it can teach us a lot about how people used to live in the space which we still inhabit. Thusly it enriches the cultural image of the place and our lives. And although the snake has already let us dig up much of that treasure, she still kept some for herself. At least for a little while longer.
author of the article: A. J. Berdnik
english translation: Črtomir Harald Lorenčič