Imperishable light of the Amber from the Japod necropolises in the Una valley


Zilka Kujundžić Vejzagić


More than 100 years have elapsed since the discovery of the Japod necropolises in the Una valley, south of Bihać. The Jezerine and Ribić necropolises were excavated in the late 19th century (K. Kovačević, P. Mirković 1890: 330-337; V. Radimsky 1892: 301-
310) and another, smaller necropolis in Golubić was systematically excavated in the 1960s (I. Čremošnik 1956: 126-138; B. Raunig 1968: 81-98). The third necropolis is not dealt with here, since the amber artifacts are identical to those from Jezerine. A total of 553 graves were excavated in Jezerine, of which 228 contained skeletons, 298 cinerary urns, 28 cremated remains without urns, and two containing cinerary urns in which the skull of the deceased was laid over the lid. The pre-Roman and early Roman necropolis in Ribić had only six graves with skeletons, 296 containing cinerary urns, and one containing cremated
remains with no urn. V. Radimski (V. Radimsky 1982:301-310; 1893: 37-92; 237-308; 369-466; 575-623) and V. Ćurčić (V.
Ćurčić 1898: 625-656) have written about the findings of the excavations of the Japod necropolises in the Una valley, and many archaeologists have been engaged in analyzing the archaeological material. The fullest scientific treatment is that of Z. Marić,
dating from the 1960s, (Z. Marić 1968: 5-79) while more recently the issue has been seriously addressed by B. Raunig (B. Raunig 2004), while B. Tessmann deals with the Jezerine burial ground as part of her doctoral thesis with new absolute chronological.
There is no doubt that Z. Marić has produced the most complete chronological and cultural definition to date of the archaeological material from these necropolises while, in so doing, stressing that the chronology of the Japod region is a problem not easily solved, given the great many specific features of local significance. Quite simply, Japod material does not readily fit into the formative cultural circles of neighbouring regions, and is characterized by a very pronounced
conservatism, as a result of which some forms survive for a decade or more, or even as much as a century. Despite these remarks by Z. Marić, in this paper we adhere to his relative chronology, while taking a more relaxed position in regard to the absolute chronology, as the author recommends. We have not given a detailed overview of all the archaeological artifacts
made of amber, but have selected those that are typical of certain stages of the burials in the necropolises; these artifacts also vividly illustrate the aesthetic needs and economic strength of the Japod population of the Una valley. By analyzing and tracing these artifacts, century by century, from the distant past right up to the arrival of the Romans in this part of the world, we
have obtained a clear picture of the distinctiveness of the culture, art and religion of the prehistoric world in the Una valley. Japod art is highly diverse in both content and expression, though it belongs almost solely to the applied arts, with the majority of its products consisting of jewellery or associated with clothing (B. Raunig 2004). An overall consideration of the jewellery
in the graves reveals that these are heavy, solid artifacts, even in the case of fine material such as amber: amber beads in necklaces, or combined with bronze in fibulae, have a diameter of 4-5 cm or even more. It can fairly be said that one of the principal features of Japod jewellery is the abundance and diversity of the application of amber. Amber beads, usually left
rough or very simply finished, were used mainly for necklaces and fibulae, but also for bracelets, earrings and pendants. Fibulae were the most common and, for Japod costumes, the most important decorativecum- utilitarian artifacts. This type of jewellery was favoured by the Japods in the Una valley more than anywhere else, and thus came in a wide range of designs;
the Japods wore them as part of their folk costume right up to the time they lost their independence, and even in the first century CE, under Roman rule (R. Drechsler-Bižić 1987). The general characteristics of the amber grave offerings
in the Una valley can be reduced to a few basic observations. In the second stage, it was very unusual to find an amber bead or two in cinerary graves, whereas they were quite common in skeletal graves, usually by the head or around the neck, as worn in
life. Since there are other differences between these two basic types of burial, Z. Marić hypothesizes that the skeletal graves belonged to the female members of the local population and the cinerary graves to the male incomers from Pannonia. In stage three, amber features in greater quantities in cinerary graves as well, although skeletal graves still contain much more
numerous and richer artifacts; only in stage four does the ratio of such artifacts become equal between the two types of burials. During stage five, the number of amber artifacts in cinerary graves increases sharply, and it is from this very period, as already noted, that the two most richly equipped graves date, with the remains of incineration and numerous amber artifacts:
grave 278 from Jezerine and grave 10 from Ribić (Z.Marić 1968:5-79; B. Raunig 2004). We can only guess at the routes by which amber reached the Japods in the Una valley (N. Negroni- Catacchio 1972: 1-18). The highly decorative dark reddish
amber of outstanding quality used to make many of the artifacts found in the graves of the Una valley distinguishes these necropolises from all others of the same period in Europe as a whole. The number of artifacts and, it is fair to say, the coarse workmanship on the amber, suggest that one of the amber routes from the Baltic to the south ran along the Una valley,
and that the Japods were intermediaries in the amber trade as well as using these goods. In the 7th century BC this route could have been of major importance, since this was one of the periods of severe cold that rendered the Po valley unsuitable for trade with the distant Baltic region in the north, passing as it did over the Alps, which were impassable, even over the
lower passes, during periods of extreme cold. During the 4th century BC the Japods in the Una valley came into direct contact with the Celts, who already dominated the cultural stage in much of Europe. There is no doubt that there was considerable trade between these peoples over a long period, and it would be normal for the Celts to control the amber routes, so that
this material reached local Japod workshops by way of exchange, in unworked form (A. Palavestra 1988: 205-217; A. Palavestra, V. Krstić 2006). Another type of amber, of poorer quality, translucent and light yellow in colour, from which the triangular
and trapezoid beads from the later periods of the necropolises in the Una valley were made, undoubtedly came from a different source from the dark red amber. This type of bead is found in considerable quantities in these necropolises in the 1st century BC, at a time when trade from Hellenistic centres was already widespread. The major centres for the amber trade were then in the northern Black Sea regions (B. Srebrodolski 1984). It is interesting to note that forms of triangular amber beads were known as early as the late Mesolithic in the northern regions of Russia (M. Gimbutas 1985). This form was perhaps dictated by
the actual quality of the raw material from various sites in north-eastern Europe (B. Srebrodolski 1984; A. Palavestra 1993). Finally, it can be said that to confirm, at least in part, these observations on the routes by which amber was imported to the Una valley, a serious and wideranging study of the contemporary cultures would be needed, going well beyond their relationships with their immediate neighbours, along with some more detailed observations of historical facts. Espacially interesting is 
their relatios with the Celts and Veneto, which for now remains unclear, which directly affects to the different oppinions about ethnic identity Japodes.


How to Cite
Kujundžić Vejzagić, Z. (2022). Imperishable light of the Amber from the Japod necropolises in the Una valley. Godišnjak Centra Za balkanološka Ispitivanja, (41), 77–96.