Interpreting the structure and meaning of symbolic motifs of the oldest lunar calendar inscribed on a prehistoric ceramic vessel from Velištak, Croatia
The paper presents the interpretation of the structure and meaning of symbolic motifs incised on the prehistoric Hvar culture vessel from Velištak’s site (c. 4900-4700 BC) in the hinterland of the town of Vodice (Dalmatia, Croatia). This vessel is considered by the author to be the oldest lunar calendar of this kind on European soil. The vessel’s structure is explained by four mutually separated areas or circular belts that correspond to the seasons, and the dividing line between them with solstices and equinoxes. The symbols of the circle (Full Moon/lunation), elongated reversed “S” motifs” (days), “male” and “female” triangles (light and darkness), or the top-up and top-down triangles respectively, are interpreted to reveal the conclusion on the ideograms of twelve lunar months on the vessel including the ten absent days to align the lunar year with the solar as well as to Metonic cycle. Additionally, it was demonstrated that the symbolic base of the dual-mode of firing the vessel, oxidation, and reduction, is also inherently aligned with the astronomy of the Moon.
Key words:Late Neolithic, Dalmatia, Hvar culture, Velištak site, astral symbols, lunar calendar
Man’s interest in heaven is as old as mankind. The man felt the need to understand the cycles by observing the rhythmic course of the seasons and the changeable length of day and night, as well as measuring the flow of time. To answer those questions that were crucial to agricultural work, religious practice, social and economic life, people watched the periodic movements of large (shiny) celestial bodies in the sky. It is quite obvious that after the Sun, the most noticeable celestial object on the Moon, which is the only object in the sky that significantly changes its visible form, size, and splendor every day, and this fact has always attracted the human eye and the heart. The narratives of the Moon have a universal character, appearing everywhere in the world since the very beginnings of human prehistory. In front of the eyes of the Neolithic people each month the Moon was strengthened and weakened, creating and dissolving itself, dragging the cycle every time to its end before it began anew: the eternal principle that it is continually born clothed into a subtle garment of an inexplicable mystery. And this is a direct, visible, genuine myth that also attracted the Neolithic Hvar population to the center of the mythical drama. It is not strange that from the earliest times the Moon was an object of worship and adoration -and help in computing times as well.
The word “measurements”, in many languages has the same etymological root of the Moon and is the foundation of many ancient calendars that were “necessary for survival in all types of human society” (Ruggles 2005, X). To measure usually means to record, to make a notational system. However, “the possible existence of a notational system is not in itself evidence for the existence and use of a calendar” (Pásztor 2011).
It is true that, with regard to the interpretation of prehistoric symbolic systems, our knowledge is often unsatisfactory due to the lack of information on the cognitive concepts of the communities which created them, and the processes that caused their acceptance and transmission. Symbolic meanings, of course, are not fixed but depend on certain social, ideological, or contextual circumstances and are subject to spatial and temporal changes and adjustments. It is undeniable that prehistoric symbols are abstract and specific social constructs of ideas and concepts, and that only within the social network that produced them it is possible to reconstruct them as meaningful information. Prehistoricway of thinking was different from the one dominant in our era, and being aware of that difference, means “trying to understand their way of thinking in its own terms rather than trying to make it conform to ours” (Ruggles2005, XII-XIII). That is the reason why we should be careful when trying to reconstruct cognitive processes in the minds of our prehistoric ancestors who created them, in the specific case, of those who argue for the existence of certain astronomical knowledge during the later period of the Neolithic on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea. Otherwise stated, one should not submit to own research enthusiasm and desire to find the necessary correlations rather than to interpret the original archaeological evidence. Such an approach, namely “the examination of the evidence with minds free of wishful thinking and preconceptions” (D’Errico 1989, 117), can save us from an uncritical supporting the projection of what was in the mind of prehistoric ancestors, or more precisely, what they imagined while engraving the symbolic motifs in the object. This is a reliable way to avoid the attraction of a “magnet for sensationalism and uncritical speculation” (Ruggles 2015, VI)present in much of the materials subsumed under the concept of today’s archaeoastronomy.
Although all of this at first glance may seem frustrating for the researcher, the blend of a reliable interdisciplinary positive knowledge applied with the comprehensive insight into the structure, interrelationships, and linkages of the symbols, might be of certain help in determining the symbol’s role or, as it is the case of the Hvar culture vessel, more particularly, its cosmological significance. According to this, one of the aims in this paper was to demonstrate the importance of contextual meaning in the sense that each symbol can be understood only in relation to other symbols and ultimately in the wider context in which those symbols were used. This can be of some help in order to avoid objections usually looking at those motifs as an incidental or mere artistic decoration.
Regarding the calendar from Velištak site, one thing needs to be clarified: the adjective “the oldest” may seem confusing, especially if it is known that the oldest discovered lunar calendar on the European soil, by now, is the one at Warren Field (Scotland), the Mesolithic monument rather than a simple pit alignment dating to the early 8th millennium BC (Gaffney 2013). Unlike that, in this article, the adjective “oldest” does not refer to the alignment and the arrangement of the pits but to the oldest ever found lunar calendar represented on the prehistoric vessel of a significantly later date. In a close connection with the aforementioned, in his research, the author of this article wishes to answer an important question: Were the members of the Late Neolithic Hvar culture skilled in recording their astronomical observations to such a degree that they were capable of making the first European lunar calendar -in fact lunisolar (because of intercalary days represented) -with the structured symbolic motives incised on the surface of the vessel excavated at the Velištak site? Or simply said vice versa: do the symbolic motifs engraved on a concrete vessel of Hvar culture represent the oldest European lunar calendar?
The following presents an in-depth analysis through which the structure and nature of symbolic motifs incised on the surface of the prehistoric vessel were examined. The interpretation of the structure and meaning of the vessel’s symbolic motives is reflected in contemporary, precise astronomical facts about the Moon, which enabled the author to escape, in an interpretative sense, from the abyss of spatial and temporal unbalanced hypotheses.
HVAR CULTURE: VELIŠTAK AND THE VESSEL
The Neolithic in Dalmatia began around 6000 BC and continued to about 4000 BC(Forenbaher, Kaiser and Miracle 2013, 595, 597, 603). It is divided into three phases/cultures: early/Impresso, middle/ Danilo culture, and late/ Hvar culture(Forenbaher, Kaiser and Miracle 2013, 596). The tripartite division of the Neolithic into the phases or cultures is based mostly on decorative styles on ceramic vessels. During almost the entire 5th millennium BC, the pottery prevails in the so-called Hvar style, which was first observed and defined by G. Novak in the caves of the island of Hvar. The population of the late Neolithic, the bearers of Hvar culture, inhabited the area of Dalmatia with the islands and Herzegovina(Forenbaher, Kaiser and Miracle 2013, 601-602; Forenbaher 2014, 50). Archaeological site Velištak is located in Velim valley(fig.1), 12km north of Vodice town. It was discovered in 2007, when systematic archaeological research began, organized by the Šibenik City Musem, and continues today(Podrug 2010, 2014).
Fig. 1: Location of the Late Neolithic village at the site of Velištak in the Velim Valley(Photo by E. Podrug)
It is an open-air settlement with remains of houses, pits, ditches, and other finds typical of Neolithic villages. Based on six 14Cdates obtained by radiocarbon analysis of collected animal and human bones(McClure et al2014, 1027,1029), the settlement at Velištak was founded shortly after the beginning of the Hvar style (probably somewhatbefore4900 BC) and was abandoned two hundred years later. It is the oldest discovered settlement of Hvar culture so far. The pottery of Velištak(fig.2)is characterized by the typical formative and decorative characteristics of early Hvar culture, where fine pots were usually fired in extremely dark shades (dark brown, dark gray, black) and embellished with engraved motifs that were sometimes painted in red.
Fig. 2: Typical pottery of the Late Neolithic Hvar culture from Velištak(Photo by E. Podrug, Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
The vessel that is the subject of this work was discovered on June 14, 2007, in the first year of excavation at Velištak. It was found at the bottom of the pit SJ 23b(fig. 3), broken into fragments. Judging by one radiocarbon-analyzed sample of sheep or goat bone from the pit of SJ 23b fillings, the pot was discarded at some point between 4915 and 4796 BC(McClure et al2014, 1027). Today it is reconstructed and stored in the Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museumunder the inventory number MGŠ 418.
Fig. 3: Velištak, 2014 excavation: pits at the subsoil level with the arrow marking the location of the vessel at the bottom of the pit SJ 23b(Photo by E. Podrug)
According to the standards of pottery classification, it is actually a bowl(fig.4), but it should be noted, an extremely large one in comparison to the average dimensions of Hvar bowls. The height of the container is 20 cm, the diameter of the rim is 28 cm. The upper part of the vessel has almost vertical walls and a cylindrical cross-section. Towards the middle, the bowl begins to spread slightly, and its profile at half of its height reaches the “truncated” shape with a maximum diameter of 31.5 cm. The bottom half of the vessel is semicircular, and the shape of the base (straight or on the ring stalk?) cannot be determined. Namely, at a time when it was dropped to the bottom of the pit, the vessel was not unbroken since there were no segments of its bottom or base found in the pit area, among dozens of its parts.
Fig. 4: The vessel from Velištak (Photo by E. Podrug, Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
The outer surface of the vessel is completely covered with incised ornaments. The motifs were made by carving the lines with a sharp tip tool, typical of fine Hvar style pots. However, after the decoration of the vessel was completed, its outer surface was additionally intensely polished so that the edges of the already shallow cut lines were even more “softened”. This is why motifs are only visible in close proximity. It is not excluded that motifs were originally stronger emphasized by crusted red color, but pigment marks were not recognized. As a matter of fact, the finest pottery of early Hvar culture, which were mostly fired in black tones, brilliantly polished, and decorated with incisions, were frequently painted in red. However, the red color was applied after the firing, so it was not firmly fixed to the wall. Because of this, traces of red pigment paint on Hvar ceramics are only recorded in modest quantities, since the color fails to keep on the walls of pots after being buried in the soil for many millennia. The way in which the decoration is made, as well as the choice of incised motifs, fit into well-known standards of the Hvar potters. It should be emphasized, however, that the ornamental “story” itself, i. e. the division of the entire decorative zone into the belts and the interplay of motifs, do not have equivalent in the so-far known repertoire of the Hvar ceramography.
Fig. 5: Vertical division of the vessel into four parts(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
The outer surface of the vessel is divided into four parts with horizontal lines (fig.5). The upper three have forms of horizontal belts with a length of 97 cm each, and an average height of 4 cm. Looking from the top, the first and the second belts are divided into six rectangular fields, each long between 15 and 18 cm, with the right “rhythm” alternating with the rectangles in the middle of which is incised a circle with rectangles filled with various motifs -the elongated reversed letter “S” with hooked ends (typical Hvar elongated spiral that represents an extremely reduced form of the earlier, far more elaborate Danilo spiral), triangles, “V” signs, the waning Moon. The third belt, however, is conceived differently, as a continuous series of incised reversed S-spirals of the same type, complemented with incised triangles above and below them, as well as six relief projections (so-called “nipples”). The projections are shallow, having a round ground plane, and in three pairs are arranged around the vessels at the level of its largest diameter, that is, at half the height of the vessel. The second and third belts are separated by a double incised line, while the other horizontal lines that divide the belts, as well as vertical lines that divide rectangular fields, are single incised lines. The fourth part of the vessel does not have the shape of a horizontal band, but a hemisphere zone filled with (seemingly disorderly) patterns of triangles, linear and curvilinear lines, as well as”broken” lines. An additional intriguing element of the nature of this vessel is hidden in its chromatic characteristics: the interior of the vessel has a reddish-light brown shade, while its outer surface is completely black, which implies that in the process of the firing of the clay vessel both oxidative and reducing conditions were used. Namely, when the clay pots are fired in oxidizing conditions (with the presence of air in the oven), the clay takes on bright shades, and by reducing the airflow, there is increased smoking which causes the surface of the pots 8to darken. This kind of distinctly black, smudged surface could be achieved in several ways: by interrupting the airflow, then by using moist firewood (due to stronger smoking) at the very end of the firing process and /or covering the container with fine-grained material (e.g. ash, sawdust or manure) during the gradual cooling of a vessel(Rice 1987, 158, 343-345, Spataro 2002, 39, Zlatunić 2017, 41). However, achieving both shades on the same bowl, evenly distributed and without irregular stains, is, at the very least, a demanding task. The chromatic duality of the vessel, therefore, is certainly not accidental and indicates an intention, but also the potter’s skill in achieving this kind of extremely effective contrast between the interior and the exterior with careful and knowledgeable control of atmospheric conditions during the firing and cooling of the vessel.
LUNAR SYMBOLISM IN HVAR CULTURE
In a work from 1958 entitled Neolitsko naselje u Lisičićima kod Konjica (“Neolithic settlement in Lisičići near Konjic”), from the concepts of earthenware excavated in that prehistoric site, which belonged to the so-called the Lisičić’s variant of Hvar culture, Benac draws conclusions about “astral cults”, with the emphasis more specifically about the lunar-solar cult(Benac 1958, 92).In his posthumously published work Religijske predstave prastanovnika južnoslavenskih zemalja (“Religious Concepts of Prehistoric Inhabitants of South Slavic Countries”), it is noted that lunar motifs are “somewhat more often” than solar motifs(Benac 2012, 27). For this reason, Benac finds that the cultural physiognomy of Lisičići is made up of a number of elements that originate from the western Mediterranean, Malta for example and that in their wandering, the inhabitants of Lisičići assimilated some elements of Hvar culture. Unlike him, Batović believes that Hvar and the early Danilo cultural group developed “continuously on the domestic soil from indigenous older cultures through local evolution”(Batović 1970, 26).Ben continues:
If we introduce them as such wanderers, their perceptions of the importance of the Moon changes on the ebb and flow of the tides, and the Sun on the course of movement, are quite normal. On the other hand, without real knowledge of the character of these celestial bodies, they attributed to the Sun and the Moon supernatural divine power. The cult of both bodies is only the consequence of the above circumstances. In this case, agricultural activity did not cause worship of the Sun, but the way of life and, of course, the hunting industry, has produced such cult-religious manifestations. That is why the lunar cult (Selenelatria!) has prevailed.
(Benac 2012, 27-28)
Citing motifs on ceramics, in another publication, he comes to the conclusion that “the crescent moon is the most common symbolic sign” and “often comes in a whole series of such motifs”.One such motif with half-moons and triangles arranged around the top of the vessel imbued with interesting symbolic meaning is depicted in the same publication(Benac 1966, 59-60). Incised ornaments of crescents and triangles are evenly arranged one after another around the openings of such vessel, like a kind of frieze. Interestingly enough, the“horns” of the crescents are turned downward, toward the bottom of the vessel, while the triangles have their peak turned toward the opening and their base toward the bottom.9The Moon (or horns?) depicted on the ceramic fragments of Hvar and Butmir culture is common, and especially soon the sites in Lisičići and Vela spila, the island of Korčula, (Radić 2002, 26).
Referring to the archaeological data pointing to the existence of highly developed maritime communications between the various regions of the prehistoric world, as evidenced by the finds on the Adriatic islands and on both Adriatic coasts, Petrić concludes that during the Late Neolithic period, that is, in the period of Hvar culture, there existed a certain knowledge of astronomy, celestial navigation, and calendars(Petrić 2002, 12). This claim is unsurprising in the light of the fact that much earlier spread of impresso pottery along the coasts and its presence on the islands of the eastern Adriatic, including numerous isolated islets/reefs, is indisputable proof that maritime communication was crucial to this diffusion(Forenbaher and Miracle 2005, 523, Fig.4). The first appearance of impresso ceramic was recorded on the north coast of the Ionian Sea (most probably on the island of Corfu at the Adriatic gate), about 6200 BC, from where it spread to the hinterland (Albania), then by the maritime route to southern Dalmatia and south-east Italy; about 5900 BC to northern Dalmatia and a century and a half later to southern Istria and the hinterland of the eastern Adriatic coast(Forenbaher and Miracle 2005, 519-520, Forenbaher and Miracle 2013, 597). According to dating from the Hvar culture site Velištak, there is no doubt that members of Hvar culture were potentially able to inherit experience from nearly a thousand years of Neolithic navigation in the Adriatic and, accordingly, have the relevant knowledge of astronomy, celestial navigation, and the calendar.Almost as fantastic seems the fact that from the ultra-early Neanderthal expeditions to the beginning of advanced Neolithic trade with obsidian (volcanic glass) on the routefromLipari-to east Adriatic coast, navigation in the Mediterranean has existed for100,000 years(Burić and Težak-Gregl 2015, 56). During the Neolithic and Copper Age of south-eastern Europe the inhabitants
measured time according to nature’s cycles, both for daily life and agrarian-pastoral worship. Numerous devices for keeping and measuring time were utilized: vessels, rock art graffiti, oven models, shallow cultic vessels, cult scene, spindle-whorls, etc. They were reminders of cyclical phenomena in nature (e.g., Moon phases), or of seasonal events (e.g., recording the time span from sowing to harvesting). Measurement of time was associated with systematic observation over a long period notonly of Sun’s apparent movement with regular changes of day and night, but also with changes in the Moon’s changes, movements of other celestial bodies (planets and stars) as well as annual changes in warm and cold weather.
(Lazarovici G, Lazarovici C-M and Merlini 2011, 320)
Today’s already classic of archaeoastronomy, Martin Brennan, an Irish-American researcher of Irish neolithic monuments in the Boyne Valley, recognized the Moon (circles, crescents) and Sun (the circles with rays) directly displayed on megalithic monuments. He thinks that the cycles of the Sun and the Moon provided not imagery that was easily transformed into meaningful symbols but also the basis for the rough calendar, time-reckoning, and direction-finding at night.“Serious astronomy can only begin”, he writes, “when irregularities in the lunar month are recognized and measured”(Brennan 1983, 135). There is no doubt that the bearers of Hvar’s culture from Velištak were “serious astronomers”. For example, they were perfectly acquainted with the incommensurability of the lunar and solar periods, as we shall see soon.10According to Brennan, who has successfully proven the connection of prehistoric symbolic motifs with astronomical observations, the Moon and the wavy line both represent the Moon(Brennan 1983, 137). The diagram on the same page of his book shows the monthly maximum declinations of the Moon in the north and south during the year. Aside from wandering above and below the ecliptic of each month, the Moon’s path is shown upwards and downwards, ascending and descending below the celestial equator during the year. In our example, if we connect with a wavy line only rectangles incised with a circle from the first and second band (or only rectangles not marked by a circle from both bands), we will achieve a curve very similar to that which Brennan depicted on his chart(fig.6). He, with good reason, remembers that in many cultures, the Moon was symbolized by the snake or the dragon because of its movement in the sky, waving above and below the ecliptic of each month(Brennan 1983, 137).
The symbolic link between the Moon and the snake can be seen in the fact that the snake rejects its old skin as the Moon its shadow and constantly renews itself as the Moon does, and both share those powers of renewal. As with the dark Moon the snake disappears -during the winter is dragged into the earth and hibernates until spring when it emerges renewed.
Fig. 6: Moon’s “meanders” on the vessel –the first and the second belt(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
THE LUNAR CALENDAR OF VELIŠTAK
Comparing Paleolithic and Neolithic art, a Hungarian art historian Arnold Hausercomes to the conclusion that in the latter there is a substitution of concrete pictures and forms by signs and symbols, abstractions, and abbreviations, that is, the suppression of direct phenomena and experiences by thought and interpretation, emphasis and exaggeration, distortion and denaturalization. That is why artistic work is no longer purely the representation of a material object, but that of an idea, not merely a reminiscence but also a vision, because the non-sensory and conceptual elements of the artist’s imagination displace the sensory and irrational elements. The result of this is that the picture has gradually changed intopictographical sign language. The geometrical ornamental style that appeared with the Neolithic, according to Hauser, lasted from 5000 to 500 BC, thus becoming an artistic style with the longest life in human history(Hauser 1999, 6-7). It is obvious that the vessel from Velištak, according to its decoration, is close to some elements of geometric style. Some archaeologists refer to the notion of the “power of two” which refers to the general concepts of duplicity, in order to indicate the amplification or progressive duplication, and hence potency and abundance. Particularly interesting is that “two parallel lines constitutes a sign which at times is the central mark on a seal or vase. This bi-line is probably the abstract symbol of the ‘power of two concepts…”(Gimbutas 1987, 28). We find the bi-line incised on the Velištak vessel below the second and at the top of the third band(fig.7).
Fig. 7: Upper part of the vessel, three belts with incised the bi-line(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
Amidst the first two lines (the edge of the vessel and the highlighted double line at the top of the third band), in two bands the six lunations or months are displayed -three in each band. They are represented with a total of six joined rectangles -with around marks for the Moon and the others without that sign or three months in the first and three in the second belt. Next, the third belt is bounded by two lines at the top and one at the bottom where there are six round projections in pairs, 3×2, and ten motifs of the letter“S”, elongated and reversed, with hooked ends and triangles above and below each. In general, the lunar hooked “spirals” (as well as the swastikas) are turned counterclockwise, from right to left. The left turn of the spiral is explained by the Moon’stravel from left to right “but as she grows older and weaker rises every night a little farther to the left” (Graves1999, 436) or by association with the “sun’s winter solstice and also with the moon in lunisolar spiral compositions. The association comes from the anti-clockwise motion that the moon exhibits in its motion and the prominence of the full moon in the winter sky” (Brennan 1983, 197).
Connected to this is the lower part of the vessel with the corresponding symbols placed in somewhat confused manner.The above can be illustrated as follows:
Fig. 8: Partial display of the vessel with the equinoxes, solstices, seasons and corresponding Moon phases(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
Namely, according to symbolic motifs, the vessel is structured from two parts -the first, located between the rim and the prominent double line, and the second part of the container portion below the double line to the bottom of the vessel(fig.8). The first part most likely represents spring and summer, the season between two equinoxes, spring and autumn (the rim of the vessel and the highlighted double line). There is no doubt that this period of the year was of the utmost importance for the Neolithic agriculturists on Velištak because within this period, two major events -sowing and harvest -occur in the crop culture. And the harvest in prehistoric times undoubtedly took place in Velištak. Analysis of the carbonated plant residues showed that the Neolithic inhabitants of the region cultivated emmer, einkorn, and barley(Reed and Podrug 2016, 408).
In comparison, almost identical crop cultivations were discovered in neighboring Bosnian Neolithic sites -Okolište, Kakanj, Obre I, and Obre II. From all layers, 14Cmeasurements were taken. Only two of them proved to be suitable for testing while the others did not have enough collagen. These two trials originate from the second group of strata and can be dated to the 48th century BC (Neolithic site Butmir). Likewise, based on 14Cmeasurement, the beginning of the process of settlement on Obre occurs around 5000 BC(Hofmann et al2009, 129, 156). Both dates fully coincide with the period of Hvar culture at Velištak.
The celebration of the equinoxes was, most likely, common among Neolithic communities, especially the spring, which was often associated symbolically with rebirth after the hard winter period, where the Spring Full Moon may have had an important role in the perception and symbolization of the ritual calendar. This was because the spring Full Moon, or the first visible crescent, marked the beginning of the new year when prescribed rituals were performed to assure renewal, fertility, and the perpetuation of the cycle(Oliveira 2009, 365-6). Judging by the symbolic motifs on the vessel, the Neolithic inhabitants of Velištak were inclined to represent the Full Moon.
It is no less important to note that Full Moon is the key moment for the synodic period, but also the woman’s ovulation cycle, which reflects the earth so that the period of the Full Moon is the culmination of fertility for the agricultural soil. Interpreting the signs on a spindle-whorl from the Neolithic site Dikili Tash (Macedonia, Greece), Merliniconcludes that the periodical and regular events registered by the Moon “worked as a benchmark by which to compare and assess the human procreative cycle, tuning menstruation with the Black/New Moon, and ovulation with the Full Moon”(Lazarovici G, Lazarovici C.-M and Merlini2011, 323). Doubtless, this fact was extraordinarily important to the Neolithic farmer, who was most probably the unknown Velištak’s inhabitant, the one who incised lunar symbols on the outside of the vessel.
Let us now move on with the interpretation of the structure and symbols on the vessel. The first quarter of the moon rises at midday and falls at midnight, the last quarter appears at midnight and vanishes towards the next noon. The last “midnight” quarter whose light fades during the last week of each month and is finally overcome by the New Moon’s three days of darkness, is a complete and true symbol of the darkness representing the night. Namely, after the Full Moon, the illuminated part of the Moon’s face diminishes, and following the setting of the Sun, the Moon is “late” in rising. When it appears from night to night, its right side becomes progressively darker. During the next few days, the Moon attenuates and resembles the form of a sickle, rising closer to the dawn and finally blending into the light of the dawn, introducing the phase known as the Dark Moon.
Fig. 9: “Female” triangle –darkness(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
The “female” top-down triangle -incised over the last Moon quarter, in the second belt of the Velištak vessel(fig.9), accurately transmits the meaning of such a triangle -darkness. Additionally, the symbol indicates that the rectangles in the two belts not marked by a Full Moon circle represent two weeks of decreasing Moon changes. This is the period when the Moon wanes and each day it is increasingly overwhelmed by the darkness of night until it’s final submerging into that darkness.
Fig. 10: “Male” triangle“ -light (Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
By contrast, the growth of the Moon during two weeks from the New to the Full Moon represents a circle cut into the rectangle. That is why the rounded projection (first from the left)in the third belt has a markedly incised “male” triangle (light) with the top facing upwards(fig.10)at the rectangle with one of three incised circles placed in the second belt directly above each of the three pairs of rounded projections.
The symbolism of“male” and “female” triangles has long been recognized in the context of Neolithic symbolism and is closely related to the “V” sign and its variants of reversed and prone letters. Archaeosemiologist M. Merlini often notes the appearance of this sign on the prominent parts of figurines and cult vessels. Its source was buried deep in the Upper Paleolithic, and its historical importance is linked with religious signification generally associated with female features.
“It is one of the oldest signs dating to the geometrical revolution occurring during the Upper Paleolithic, and from 5500 to 3500 BC, dominated the graphic expression of liturgical objects. The angle-shape is often identified as a vulva or an incomplete vulva”.
(Lazarovici G, Lazarovici C-M and Merlini2011, 302)
Describing the symbols of the idol and altar of the Early Neolithic culture Starčevo-Criş, the Romanian archaeologist Lazarovici notes that on these “V” artifacts are the most common form of representation of the feminine sex, as well as the top-down triangle; those which face up are male, symbolically representing fire and flame. On the other side, the combination of 14the two triangles or angles has the meaning of togetherness, fecundation, pollination, fertilization(Lazarovici G 2015, 32).
Fig. 11: “V” signs of female sex in the rectangle representing the darker, decreasing phase of the Moon(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
An identical conclusion is also made by C-M Lazarovici after analyzing the figurines excavated at the Cucuteni-Tripolyecultural sites, part of the last great Eneolithic-Chalcolic complex in Central and South-Eastern Europe. She noticed that in the case of the feminine statuettes the area of the sex is delimited by a triangle with distinctly head down, which in contrast to the masculine figurines, on which the same area is depicted by a triangle with the head up”(Lazarovici C-M 2005, 148).
The similarity of the form and frequency of these triangles/V’sas symbols of different sexual characteristics could possibly suggest that the Hvar community of Velištak communicated with neighboring communities and shared the Neolithic symbolism of nature, was expected to accept similar or identical symbolic imagery from others(fig. 11).
In the first and second belts, both rectangular in shape-the one with a circular mark for the Moon and the other without such a sign-they each denote the days of the Moon’swaxing and waning, one month in total, or exactly 29.5 days according to the lunar calendar(fig.12). This is precisely the time lapsed between the two Full Moons or the period between the two New Moons. It is also possible that the rectangle with the circular mark contains 17 days (14 days of the rising moon + 3 days of the Full Moon). Number 17, otherwise, is widely represented in the lunar symbolism of various Neolithic communities(Brennan 1983, 202-203, Gimbutas 1989, 286-288).
Fig: 12: Two joint rectangles –one month or one lunation (Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
Three pairs of such jointed rectangles in the first, and three pairs in the second belt, give a total of six months. If we add them to the six months out of the third belt -these three pairs of rounded projections-we’ll get twelve months. For simpler counting, we can count only circles and projections and get the same result. Generally, a circle represents what is not a form, as well as that which contains all forms. In addition, this geometric shape is suitable for the image of the celestial bodies as well as their motion(fig.13). Time can be recognized and calculated only because it is repeated, i.e. because it is cyclic. Cycles, unlike the linear time sequence, can be predicted, and repeating cycles reveal the order.
From ancient times in Western ideography the empty circle is a general symbol for the eternal, the endless, that which is without beginning or end. Symbolists consider that both the empty and filled circles belong to the oldest ideograms and have been dated to the period immediately after the emergence of the simplest conventionalized representations of humans and animals found on the walls of prehistoric caves and rock faces(Liungman 2004,229).
Fig. 13: The circle/Full Moon –the rising phase of the Moon(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum
Thus, the Moon requires approximately 29 and a half days to fulfill the period of its changes, and the time of the two periods can be accurately calculated in days when the Full Moon appears at night at the same time 59 days later. These two periods of the Moon are displayed on the Hvar vessel in the third belt, as two rounded projections (fig.14) that are deployed in three groups (3×2 pairs, or 3 x 59days) on a belt (fig.15) that signifies a total of six lunar months or 177 days. It should be noted that couples are exclusively located just below the rectangle with a similar sign –a circle.
Fig. 14: A pair of rounded projections under the rectangle with an incised circle –59 days(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
However, it was not easy to find patterns in those observations of the Moon because many factors were standing in the way. Thus, for example, the average length of a month (synodic period) is not an integral number (of days) or is invariable, but the average amount varies up to 16to 7 hours. The visibility of the moon’s “sickle” (New Moon) over the horizon depends on the time of the new phase of the Moon and the current orientation of the Moon’s trail over the starry background. There are, of course, even atmospheric conditions and varying circumstances which also may delay the actual observation of the “sickle” a day or two later than the day of the New Moon. In many cultures, it is generally considered that the “two months equal somewhat more than 59 days, and certainly less than 60”(McCluskey 2000, 17).
Fig. 15: The third belt, six projections –177 days (Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
A total of six lunations (three in the first and three in the second belt), or months respectively, also give 177 days (6 x 29.5 days). Finally, if we add the months from the first two belts and from the third belt (6 + 6) we will get 12 months or a lunar duration of 354 (177 + 177) days, precisely the lunar year. Unlike the solar calendar, the lunar reflects the perfect synchronization with the Moon’s phases. The first day of each month is always the New Moon, and the middle of the month is always the Full Moon.
Like people today who use lunar calendars and know that an unadjusted calendar is not synchronized with the annual seasons and that, for example, after sixteen years winter will come to replace summer and vice versa(because the lunar is shorter than a solar year for 10 days and 21 hours), the ancient Neolithic inhabitants of Velištak were undoubtedly in possession of this knowledge. As proof of this fact is the ten motifs of the elongated reversed the letter “S”, with the corresponding “male” and “female” triangles above and below, incised on the third belt, which represents a total of ten such motifs. These motifs on the vessel(fig.16), in the third belt, most likely represent the ten days by which it is possible to equalize the lunar and solar year. (Days are also marked in some rectangles of the first and second band but unlike the third band are not uniform and in continuity as well as usually are paired with the various shapes of the “V” symbol.)
Fig. 16: Triangles above and below the motif of the elongated reversed the letter S–one day(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
The shape of the motif is identical to the hooks, so the archaeologists call them the “Hvar hooks”(Čečuk and Radić 2005, 158, Fig.58/4-6,8)or the “spiral hooks”(Benac 1984, 66-67).
The spiral was an important ornament in Dalmatia’s Neolithic and its development can be clearly traced in this areafrom the beginning of the Danilo to the end of the Hvar phase,but:
The ornamental system of the classical stage undergoes a gradual but fundamental disintegration and degeneration The beauty of the former spiral motifs becomes unrecognizable, distorted, and ends up as simplification and the disappearance of the spiral and other more complicated ornamentation.
(Rak 2011, 96)
Certain inconsistencies in the incision of the symbol -as somewhat curved circular lines of equinoxes and solstices, the incompleteness of making elongated motifs, somewhat deformed and twisted triangles, and the like, should in no way challenge the existence and consistency of the lunar calendar of Hvar culture. Such “negligent engravings” on the ceramics of Hvar culture were already observed at other sites(Čečuk and Radić, 2005, 52 Figs.43/2, 45/1,4, 66/1, 4, 7, 67/4,8).
Thus, on the vessel from Velištak, the oldest site of Hvar culture, twelve months or lunations were incised, with a total of 354 days, plus the additional ten days, totaling 364 days, less than a day difference compared to the astronomical or solar year, since the lunar year averages 354.3671 days, while solar 365.2422 days. Although the difference between the days of solar and lunar years is often the number of eleven, there are other examples that help to compute a ten-day difference. For example, in the ancient Jewish Book of Jubilees, there was a reckoning of time as it was before Rabbinic times (before 6th century BC). It states that “it was thought that the solar year consisted of 364 days, so the difference was ten and not eleven, as it would be if the solar year were 365 days”(Snaith 2016, 134).
All of this is symbolically represented on the lunar or, more accurately, lunar with elements of a solar calendar excavated at the site of early Hvar culture at Velištak, a clay pot of almost seven thousand years old. The oldest example of the calendar of this kind ever found in Europe.
Nineteen lunar years of 12 months contain a total of 228 and not 235 months as contained in19 solar years. Thus, if a special lunar month is inserted seven times in every 19 years, the nineteenth lunar and solar years will overlap and end together. This is because 235 lunations (synodic months), or a total of 6939 days and 16.5 hours, corresponding to the number of 19 solar years, or 6939 days and 14.4 hours. The difference is only about 2 hours. In short, ancient people knew that the 19-year cycle would guarantee that every 235 synodic months the Moon would be seen in the same phase on the same day of the solar year. So, every 19 years the lunar phases repeat on the same dates.
We have already seen that in the third belt on the vessel above and below the motif of the elongated reversed the letter “S”, a triangle is cut representing light and darkness, a total of 24 hours. But before proceeding with a further interpretation regarding the number 19 on the vessel, it is important to point out that the third belt is a kind of transformational area. In this belt are united couples of the Moon ideogram for three autumn and three winter months with a further ten days and, as we shall see below, the Metonic cycle as well. However, in this belt -composed of the “visible” and “outer” belts of spring and summer, the seasons with the abundance of light between the two equinoxes –a transformation is taking place so that the summer is transmuted into the autumn, or the liminal dusk, which leads into “invisible” and “inner” winter, the standstill of all life that disappears into the darkness of the earth.
Obviously, “dusk” is an unusually appropriate metaphor for the third belt that represents the transition zone from light to darkness, day to night, life to death … Consequently, it is clear that the concept of seasons on the vessel, in this way, also corresponds completely to the times of the day, so spring-dawn, summer-noon, autumn-dusk, and winter-night.
Let’s go back to lunar calendars with the very important number 19. Apparently surprising, the total sum of triangles below and above the motifs of the elongated reversed S “hooks”, in the third belt of the vessel, does not amount to twenty, as it should be (2×10); on the contrary, it amounts to-19! If it is not the omission of our Neolithic ancestor who incised these symbols on the vessel, then we come to the conclusion that this was done with the intention of highlighting a very meaningful number of a lunar calendar -19. In that case, the days and nights (all triangles) would be transformed into years, because everything is happening in the said “transformative” belt (where, nota bene, everything is possible). Now we have the so-called Metonic cycle, a 19-year cycle that involves adding an intercalary month every two or three years or, to be more precise, the 13th month which would have to be added on seven occasions during the 19-year period, in order to achieve overlapping of the nineteenth lunar and current solar years. It is not necessary to emphasize how important it was to the ancient people to align and adjust the cycles of the lunar years, especially for various social and religious purposes.
The Metonic cycle was named after the Greek astronomer and mathematician Meton of Athens, who, based on his observations, in 432 BC established a regular cycle in which seven months would be intercalated every 19 years, making a period in which 19 years = (19 x 12) + 7 = 235 months(McCluskey 2000, 18).
It is hard to believe that Meton first discovered the cycle since the Jewish calendar based on these numerical sequences was in use before his era. Even older than the Jewish calendar are megaliths in South West England, stone circles that contain 19 upright stones.“One of the most evocative megalithic rings in western Europe”, that is Boscawen-Un in Cornwall, “contains nineteen regularly-spaced stones, a number common to several Land’s End circles”(Burl 2005, 31). The nineteen-year cycle was also known by builders of Irish Neolithic monuments such as Dowth(Brennan 1983, 143).
It seems that the Neolithic community at Velištak was in possession of this knowledge much earlier.
BELOW THE HORIZON
It is not difficult to assume that the Neolithic inhabitants of today’s Velištak looked at the landscape that surrounded them as part of their territory with a limited line of distant horizons and the sky above their heads. The line of the horizons separated their world in which they lived and died, from areas that were unknowable to them, in which the various celestial bodies were being moved, obviously, in a certain order or cycle. The celestial bodies appeared above and disappeared beneath the unreachable line that separated their area from the sky. While events above the horizon were known because Neolithic people gazed out in front of them, events below the horizon could only become the subject of their early speculation and imagination.
The middle section is the widest part of the vessel and encloses its third belt, which, according to the seasons, combines autumn and winter months, i.e. three plus three months, a total of six months, which are represented in the belt with six rounded projections. However, the function of this belt, which is transformative in its nature, is not simply to be a melting pot 19of two seasons, but also to be the horizon above which are the earth and the sky, and below the Neolithic “terra incognita”. Similarly, the uninterrupted horizontal line incised on the Vučedol pottery immediately above the biconicedge
has defined the horizon of the visible edge of the Earth and the Vučedol’s concept of the world began to be conveyed to it. (…) If the first horizontal line already had represented a clear idea of mapping the horizon, then this pattern is a kind of interpretation or a worldview where the largest part of the vessel -a biconical bend (the belly) –makes a separation between the visible and the invisible world, the part that sets to the horizon. The earthly domain is precisely that line that separates the land from the hidden, invisible ocean on the lower, narrowed part of the vessel.
(Durman 2000a, 3-4)
However, the symbolic motifs of the Vučedol ceramics are not only younger than those on the Hvar pottery by more than two thousand years but also belonging to the cosmological symbolic imagination with the predominant Indo-European characteristics, in which “the very common symbolism of the Sun (without any depiction of the Moon) shows the total exclusion of lunar symbolism”(Durman 2000b, 120). Nevertheless, the symbolism of the horizon is inherent in both cultures and undoubtedly points to very ancient origins.
Our ancestors testified that many life forms grow and emerge from the earth, not just plants, and animals, but even the Sun and the Moon appeared to be born from the earth only later to return within it each day and night. It can be assumed that, in their eyes, it seemed that something magical happens in the darkness beneath the earth… a mysterious transformation hidden from the eyes of people.
The moon is born out of darkness and grows to the height of its brilliance and splendor so that, just like humans, it starts to shrink and wither for as long as it does not die and disappear again into the darkness from which it came.
Winter standstill is represented by the twisted and broken shapes on the lower part of the vessel. (fig.17). It is the time of retaining the proliferation, growth, and development, when what was is no more and what will be is not yet …
Fig. 17: Lower part of the vessel –winter(Prehistoric Collection of the Šibenik City Museum)
Nevertheless, no matter how chaotic the winter period, apparently without life, no part of the lower vessel is without the triangle-the potential energy of life curled up in the dark. These triangles are located “under the horizon”, i. e. in the lower part of the vessel (or the world), in the chthonic darkness intersected with the chaotic energies of the long night, and hibernated like beasts in winter sleep in the darkness of their lair. In them pulsate life as in the seed buried in the soil or in the root of the plant, which waits patiently to begin the restoration of nature in the spring. Therefore, the same triangles, male and female, are a sign of conception and birth in this lower belt.
In the end, there is only a small but very important, if not a mythical, detail concerning the vessel -about the double way of firing it. Both the Neolithic firing methods, oxidizing and reducing, each applied to the appropriate portion of the vessel -first with the air for the interior, the bright part, the other deprived of air access to the outer, dark part -fit fully into the Moon’s pattern. Namely, the Moon “lives” in its light phase just like the inner, bright side of the vessel that “breathes” the air during the firing process and dies in its dark phase for three days, becoming dark similar to the outside surface of the vessel that was prevented from”breathing” air. In short, applying both ways of firing with and without air, the vessel fits into the symbolic matrix of the Moon and its phases so that not only the symbolic motifs on the outside of the vessel “explain” the calendar Moon in months and days but also the thermic process of making the outer and inner sides of the vessel “explains” the Moon in its visible (light) and invisible (dark) phase. Thus, there is no part of the vessel -from its making to the 21 motifs incised on it -which does not correspond to the Moon, and hence the vessel is a complete image of the Moon.
To some extent it is possible that this cognition was in the mind of the unknown Neolithic ancestor/ancestress from Velištak, the person who had kneaded the clay, incised the symbols and twice fired the vessel.
Judging by the material remnants, it is undeniable that members of the Late Neolithic Hvarculture have observed astronomical phenomena and recorded them with a sign system. An obvious example of this is the vessel excavated in 2007 at the Velištak site, the subject of this research. By the systematic analysis, it is revealed to be the earliest known prehistoric lunar calendar of this kind ever discovered on European soil. In this sense, various types of signs -rectangles, twisted lines in the form of “V”, full circle, crescent, circular projections, triangles and so-called “Hvar hooks”, or motifs of the elongated reversed the letter “S” –were employed for the purpose of making the prehistoric lunar calendar on the vessel.
The vertical structure of the incised belts on the vessel, from the top to the bottom, signifies the appropriate sequence of seasons from spring to winter, while the horizontally arranged symbolic motifs in the belts represent 12 months of the lunar year supplemented by the ten more days in order to achieve alignment of the lunar with the solar year-an intellectual achievement extremely important for an agricultural community as it was at Velištak at the beginning of the fifth millennium BC.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the holders of this knowledge were in possession of another related knowledge, that of the Metonic cycle, a 19-year cycle that involves adding an intercalary month every two or three years. This cycle is represented by 19 triangles in the third belt from above. Even the modes of firing vessel -oxidizing and reducing –can be linked to the changes of the Moon, although immersed in a certain mythic context of “live” and“dead” Moon.
The author hopes that this work will stimulate interest in Neolithic archaeoastronomy, both in today’s Croatia and in Europe, and that new systematic works from that field will contribute to further interpretation of early cosmological symbolic representations which remain inseparable from our common cultural heritage.
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Writing this text would not have been possible without the help of the Šibenik City Museum and its manager Željko Krnčević, who allowed me an immediate insight into the archaeological finds from the Velištak site in the Museum’s archives and especially the senior curator of the Prehistoric Collection Emil Podrug, with whom I’ve been working together for many years and who has abundantly provided me with the materials necessary for the interpretation of symbolic motifs on the ceramics of Hvar culture, and has helped me extensively with professional descriptions. I am also grateful to Dr. Dragan Roša from the Zagreb Astronomical Observatory for the careful reading of the text and helpful suggestions regarding the astronomy of the Moon. To colleagues Mirko Banjeglav I am thankful for the help in graphic designing the text. For his selfless help, I am deeply grateful to Mike Franey, a long-time friend of mine, who has generously come to my aid and made a great effort in proofreading the text.
Omer Rak rođen je u Šibeniku 1957., dramski je pisac i esejist. Zanosi se prapovijesnim simbolima. Stalno je na putu do mjesta-nemjesta koje nije ni ovdje ni ondje. Glavna mu je briga krpanje potplata.