Two stratified Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites at Obre, 65 kilometers northwest of Sarajevo in Bosnia, are located on the bank of the Trstionica tributary a few kilometers from the Bosna River, the main prehistoric highway in the western Balkans. Twenty-two radiocarbon dates have established that the sites were occupied between 6230 and 4780 b.c. Obre's position between the Adriatic Sea and the central and eastern Balkans placed it at the center of a long-distance exchange dynamic encompassing the entire Balkan Peninsula and the central Mediterranean.
Two seasons of archaeological research at Obre in the 1960s resulted in excavations totaling 928 square meters at two locations (Obre I and Obre II). The first small-scale excavations took place in 1963–1965; more excavations were completed in 1967–1968 by a joint project of the National Museum of Sarajevo and the University of California at Los Angeles. The principal investigators were Alojz Benac and Marija Gimbutas. The main objective of the research was to establish the genesis and the chronology of the Late Neolithic Butmir culture, and Obre was chosen because of its ideal vertical stratigraphy. Although the first-year fieldwork was intended as a search for the Butmir village cemetery, Early and Middle Neolithic settlements were found instead. As the well-preserved stratified sequence, including the remains of houses, burials, artifacts, and organic materials, was revealed, the importance of Obre as a key site in interpreting the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultural continuum in western Balkans became apparent.
Obre I (dated 6230–5990 to 5300–4900 b.c.) represents the Early and Middle Neolithic chronological sequence and the succession of Starčevo-Impresso and Kakanj cultures. Obre II (dated 5310–4910 to 4780–4440 b.c.), about 250 meters upriver, opened a wider perspective for the study of the genesis of Butmir culture. At its earlier level, Obre II consists of a continuum of Kakanj culture followed by a clear typological break in pottery production and in the pattern of domestic animal exploitation. The pig replaces transhumant animals (sheep and goats) in popularity. Cattle, however, are the primary domesticate throughout each level. The change from seasonal transhumance to more settled patterns of animal husbandry perhaps indicates a shift toward a more intensive economy involving more localized site catchments utilization for general resources. The later levels at Obre II showed no signs of depositional hiatus and represent the sequential phases of Late Neolithic Butmir culture.
The earliest occupation at Obre is believed to have been by populations that paralleled each brother's arrival into the microregion: one population came from the Pannonian Plain on the north, the territory of Starčevo culture, and the other population entered from the Adriatic coast on the south, the territory of Cardium-Impresso culture. Migrations have been traced in overlapping distributions of specific pottery shapes. Starčevo culture was characterized by the altars, three- or four-footed vessels and pottery with incised and painted ornaments and barbotine surface treatment, whereas the pottery of Impresso-Cardium culture was monochrome and had impressed ornaments shaped by the edges of marine shells. In the earliest settlement the complete Neolithic package of domesticated animals (cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs) and the main cultivated cereal crops (emmer and einkorn wheat, field peas, and lentils) was recorded. The earliest radiocarbon date from the site shows the existence of a farming settlement in central Bosnia in about 6230–5990 b.c. (the earliest level at Obre I).
The Middle Neolithic village at Obre I is hypothesized to correlate with the genesis of local Kakanj culture, marked by stylistic changes in pottery: the painted and Cardium-Impresso pottery found at earlier levels disappears, barbotine surface treatment continues, and the use of monochrome ceramic becomes dominant. Rhytons, vessels with four zoomorphic legs supporting a red-painted oval recipient with a large handle fixed to the top of the bowl, replace the altars found at previous levels. Almost identical vessels were found on the Adriatic and Ionian coast, in the Dinaric Alps, and in Thessaly, supporting the idea that rhytons may have been prestige items connected with salt distribution in the Balkans. Evidence indicates that copper was known at this stage of settlement, and the presence of obsidian, probably from Lipari Island, indicates contacts with the central Mediterranean.
The sequential settlement deposit at Obre II was attributed to Late Neolithic Butmir culture. The continuity in the carbon-14 dating sequence and in cultural tradition at Obre has suggested to some researchers that there was a hiatus between Obre I and Obre II. Obre II exhibits a complete disappearance of highly popular pottery forms from the phases represented at Obre I, and the second location offers the sudden appearance of a fine black burnished pottery completely devoid of tempering as well as pottery having a thin red design on black or gray painted ceramics. The sand tempering of the previous period (Obre I) was replaced by the use in the coarser ceramics and for certain polished ware of an intentionally crushed limestone temper. However, the Butmir pottery is characterized by spiral and band-painted and incised ornamental motifs. The most exquisite are globular vases painted with red or black bands and decorated with interconnected spirals, in relief or incised, which are white or red incrusted. Particularly characteristic is the combination of different spiral patterns at Obre II. The heterogeneous stylistic elements and the presence of imports among Obre II artifacts implies intra-Balkan and trans-Adriatic exchange networks and long-distance connections, evidence that may be connected to the change in economy marked by the shift in the composition of the domestic herd toward the less-transhumant animals.
Obre II comprises eight habitation horizons of the Butmir culture embedded in the time span 5310–4910 to 4780–4440 b.c. Architectural remains consisted of solid rectangular aboveground houses; several had apsidal (semicircular) ends and sacrificial structures. Houses were built of massive vertical posts supporting heavy walls of wattle and daub. They were up to 15 meters long, and some were subdivided by an internal clay wall into two rooms. A domed beehive-shaped oven with a clay platform in front and an ash pit, including a pot for collection of ashes, stood by the wall in the middle of the large room. Clusters of clay and wooden containers for storage of grain, together with a variety of pots and loom weights, were also found in the rooms.
Twenty-five human burials were identified within the habitation area at Obre I and II; only two of those were adults. Most of the infant burials were of stillbirths. Infants and children were buried in front of houses in a contracted position; none of their burials showed any remains of a pit, and there were no grave goods found at children's burial places. The adults, by contrast, were buried in a contracted position (crouched body rests on the left [most commonly] or right side) and were accompanied by grave goods such as painted pottery, an altar, and personal ornaments. A small stone mound marked one of the adult burials.
See alsoThe Farming Frontier on the Southern Steppes (vol. 1, part 3).
Benac, Alojz. "Prelazna zona" [The transitional zone]. In Praistorija jugoslavenskih zemalja [The prehistory of Yugoslav countries]. Vol. 2, Neolitsko doba [Neolithic period], pp. 363–470. Centar za balkanološka ispitivanja. Sarajevo: Akademija nauka i umjetnosti Bosne i Hercegovine, 1979.
——. "Obre I: Neolitsko naselje starčevačko-impresso i kakanjske kulture na Raskršu" [Obre I: The Neolithic settlement of Starčevo-Impresso and Kakanj culture at Raskršče]. Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja Bosne i Hercegovine (Arheologija) 27/28 (1973): 5–103.
——. "Obre II: Neolitsko naselje butmirske grupe na Gornjem polju" [Obre II: The Neolithic settlement of Butmir culture at Gornje polje]. Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja Bosne i Hercegovine (Arheologija) 26 (1971): 5–300.
Gimbutas, Marija. "Chronology of Obre I and II." Wissenschaftliche Mitteilungen des Bosnisch-Herzegowinischen Landesmuseums 4, heft A, Archäologie (1974): 15–35.
——. "Conclusions." Wissenschaftliche Mitteilungen ausBosnisch-Herzegowinischen Landesmuseums 4, heft A, Archäologie (1974): 357–358.
Sterud, Eugene L. "Prehistoric Population of the Dinaric Alps: An Investigation of Interregional Interaction." In Social Archaeology: Beyond Subsistence and Dating. Edited by C. L. Redman et al., pp. 381–406. Studies in Archaeology. New York: Academic Press, 1978.