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Late medieval stećak necropolises of Western Herzegovina


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Vučić, Edita. (2018). Late medieval stećak necropolises of Western Herzegovina. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Archaeology.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij arheologije) [mentor Uglešić, Ante].

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This thesis presents the results of field research conducted on various necropolises of medieval tombstones, also known as stećci, throughout Western Herzegovina, and is the compilation of the author’s findings. The term stećak relates to the medieval tombstone carved on almost whole territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its bordering areas: central and southern parts of Croatia and western parts of Serbia and Montenegro. According to the field research conducted in the 20th century, there are more than 70,000 tombstones on 3,300 necropolises, appearing in the following basic forms: horizontal slabs, blocks, sarcophagus, pillars and crosses. New necropolises have been registered during field research conducted in a past couple of years. In choosing this topic, the author’s aim was to collect as much as possible information on the necropolis in the given area by consulting scientific and professional literature, in which incomplete and inaccurate information were sometimes provided (Arheološki leksikon Bosne i Hercegovine, Tom 3; Stećci, Kataloško-topografski pregled by Š. Bešlagić). The objectives pursued relate to the synthesis of medieval tombstones necropolises found on the territory of city of Široki Brijeg, and Grude, Ljubuški and Posušje municipalities. The largest number of medieval tombstones relates to the forms of slabs and blocks. The author analysed each necropolis and conducted formal typological analyses of the medieval tombstones, its inscriptions and reliefs. In comparison to the data in scientific literature, field research results showed the differences in the number of medieval tombstones necropolises and tombstones as well. Mainly, they are located near by the rivers, fileds, roads that were used in previous archaeological periods, settlements, tumuli, prehistoric ruins and mountain areas. The author noted damages of the tombstones especially in Posušje municipality, but also devastation of several necropolises in Western Herzegovina caused by nature or human interventions. Field research resulted in the observed analogies of tombstones in Široki Brijeg and Mostar, Stolac, Čitluk and Nevesinje areas. The relief motives noted on stećci in Ljubuški municipality are similar to those on the medieval tombstones registered in Vrgorac, Makarska, Ploče and Imotski. The author also registered similarities in typology and iconography of medieval tombstones in Posušje area and tombstones in Imotski, Kupres and Cetina area. Empirical data obtained by field research were used as a basis for questioning the existing paradigms on the topic and presenting a different view on sepulchral practices and rituals of the medieval Bosnia and Herzegovina. The final analyses showed that there are more than 180 necropolises with 2,100 medieval tombstones in Western Herzegovina region, even though there is always possibility to register new necropolises. It is also important to emphasize that Bijača necropolis, located in Ljubuški municipality, is on the UNESCO’s world Heritage list since 2016. Due to the nomination of medieval tombstones necropolises on the UNESCO's world Heritage list, there has been a lot of interest for their scientific valorisation. Scientific discourse on stećci is presented in different disciplines such as archaeology, history, art history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, literature, etc. However, understanding of the iconography and inscriptions on stećci, as well as their cultural context, remained inconclusive. Thereby, there was a need to review the existing interpretations. Contemporary archaeological standards tend to use non-destructive research methods and theory perspective in archaeology leading to different archaeological interpretations. In order to avoid omissions and to obtain data on the necropolis, available non-destructive field research methods, interviews with the local residents, maps and satellite imageries were used. The purpose of this research was to try to understand the medieval sepulchral practices as well as the process of stećak building and the geographic placement of each necropolis in relation to its surroundings. The author also paid more attention to a human perception of space. Interpretation would not be possible without consulting existing literature on the theoretical approach in archaeology, or more precisely archaeological concepts on space and landscape. The aim was to move away from the established forms and patterns of the spatial layout of the necropolis and to point out that selection of burial locations of the deceased was not determined solely by economic-functional parameters (processual archaeology), but that the research should rely more on the context of the emergence of the new burial practice during the Middle Ages and consider the stećak as sculpture in space. New scientific approach have led to knowledge of space/landscape as multidimensional, e.g. understanding that besides geographical dimension, space can be viewed through its ideological, symbolic, religious, social, identity and other dimensions (post processual archaeology). Therefore, the author designed new interpretative framework, according to which, the reliefs and inscriptions on stećci have been viewed as artefacts. Those artefacts were incorporated in the form of medieval tombstones located in space, and as such, they could have ideological, religious, identity, temporal, and symbolic dimensions that are projected on space. It should also be noted that the largest number of relief motifs are crescent, star, solar symbols, different shapes of cross, human figures, heraldic motifs, animals and etc., mainly carved in bas relief. Emphasis is placed on the individuals’ experience of these monumental forms and intrinsically sculptural tombstones, as well as the relevant relationship between these tombstones, the observer and the surrounding landscape. It should not be forgotten that the perception of a human in the modern age is certainly different from that of our medieval ancestors. Exploring the locations of each burial ground in relation to the paths, settlements and natural surrounding environment was essential. The aim was to consider how these communities perceived and interacted with their landscapes, how and why they buried their dead in such specific and, in the edges of fields, in the old used pathways, areas which were difficult to be reached and similar. The tendency of burial on archaeological sites from earlier periods and iconographic repertoire of steċak are interpreted as links to surviving cults and beliefs. Using prehistoric tumuli as their burial sites, medieval populations gave a new symbolic shape to the space. Perhaps they wanted to preserve the remembrance of the deceased, to identify with them, or they aspired to be closer to God and therefore used tumuli that are mainly situated on the elevations, as their burial places. Having regard that the interpretations on Romanic, gothic and byzantine art influences on stećci dominate in contemporary literature, it is necessary to discuss the local artistic expression and to develop new methodologies that would enable new interpretative framework. In the author's opinion, none of those influences should be neglected. Instead they have to be taken into consideration as well as the influences of art and beliefs of prehistoric and later archaeological populations. Findings will certainly not be taken as legitimacy but will be considered as innovation in the study. Presented data are the results of the field research and, in the context of research and research future, constitute an inseparable segment of defining the final interpretation of the spatial location of stećak necropolis of Western Herzegovina. The scientific contribution of the thesis are also the maps of necropolises distribution area and foto documentation obtained during field work. Taking into consideration lack of archaeological excavation of the necropolises in Western Herzegovina as well as anthropological analyses of human remains, certain issues such is wealth, way of life of those buried under the stećak tombstones, health condition, family ties and so on, still remain in question. In the thesis, it had been emphasised that the future of the research lays within interdisciplinary approach and analyses of the archaeological data obtained by the filed research, which, according to the progress of epistemological thought, should be accompanied by theoretical approaches on the archaeology of the 21st century, thus opening the possibility of interpretation at different level.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Western Herzegovina, necropolises, topography, iconography, epitaphs, theoretical archaeology, space, landscape, “human” space, spatial dimensions
Subjects: Archaeology
Departments: Department of Archaeology
Supervisor: Uglešić, Ante
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij arheologije
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2019 12:29
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2019 12:29

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