When giving an overview of the archaeological sites in the Škocjan Caves Regional Park and their importance, we have to emphasize the elements that distinguish Škocjan and its immediate surroundings in various archaeological periods. It is therefore appropriate to determine what is that special identity or unique feature that is evidenced by the early human settlement of this area. What is surprising even when superficially reviewing the sites is their large number. On a relatively small area in the immediate vicinity of Škocjan and the entry of the Reka River into the underground, which in the east also includes the area of the fertile Vremska Valley and its surroundings, we can find over 30 archaeological sites, mostly in caves.
Among the numerous sites in this area, some of the most important ones must be mentioned.
Archaeological finds discovered in the Tominčeva Cave and Roška špilja date back to the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age (approximately between 3,000 and 1,700 B.C.). The finds from this cave demand modern evaluation. This holds especially true for the copper axe and dagger with handle from the Tominčeva Cave that are not typical settlement finds characteristic of that period. Such finds occur much more frequently in the wider area of Central Europe compared with the so-called individual (e.g. aquatic) finds that modern archaeological research more commonly links to the sacrificial activities of the Bronze Age. Given the subsequent use of the Tominčeva Cave as a burial site and in the Late Antiquity, evidently as Christian sacral area (evidenced by the discovery of the Christogram dating back to 4 – 5 century A.D.), this is probably no coincidence. The modern understanding of the functional use of the Tominčeva Cave is thus more inclined towards its sacred role from the earliest traces of human inhabitation.
The Velika jama na Prevali or the Mušja jama is a 50-metre deep abyss to the south of the village of Škocjan.
Discovered in the rubble on the bottom of the abyss was an extraordinary quantity of mainly bronze and rare iron artefacts that were for the most part broken, some of them even partly melted due to their exposure to the fire. Of over 1,000 finds, the predominant artefacts are weapons: spearheads, axes, swords, helmets and fragments of bronze vessels have been found in great numbers. They date back to the period between the 8th and 12th centuries B.C., evidently the remnants of sacrificial rites and cult rituals performed above the Mušja jama by the inhabitants of the area. It is believed that some artefacts are of the Mediterranean origin whilst the others are of the Pannonian origin. There was a religious site of trans-regional importance above the Mušja jama in the above-mentioned period. Finds testify to the breadth of its scope, reaching an area stretching from the Pannonia plains to central Italy. The prosperity of the community that inhabited the area of Škocjan and its surroundings is the result of the control it exercised over such an important religious site.
The most important burial site from that period is the one beneath Brežec with 325 urn graves. Older graves from the 10th and 11th centuries B.C. contained iron artefacts (blades, axes), which is proof of the presence of this metal as early as 200 years prior to the widespread use of iron in the Central Europe. Most of the graves beneath Brežec date back to the 8th and 9th centuries B.C. Exceptional funerary goods in men's graves are swords that were only rarely discovered in graves dating from this period. The period of burying the dead beneath Brežec mostly coincides with the age of artefacts discovered in the Mušja jama.
The importance of Škocjan probably decreased during the Iron Age since the indicators of human presence after the 7th century B.C. are rarer. However, life in these parts did not entirely fade away, which is testified to by a grave with a ceramic ribbed situla from Škocjan from the 6th century B.C. and some exceptional finds such as the little treasure hoard from Škocjan, including numerous items of jewellery, such as necklaces, bracelets, pendants and amber beads dating back to 400 B.C., discovered by accident beside the southern wall of the Škocjan hill fort.
The second simultaneous find of exceptional importance was discovered in the Skeletna Cave. On the upper rim of the bronze vessel found in one of the graves, there is an engraved inscription in early Venetian letters .o..s.tiiare.i., which represents the oldest text found in Slovenia. This find ties Škocjan to the Venetian territory of North-East Italy in the 4th century B.C. and is indicative of the early use of writing that was in those times used mainly for cult purposes.
The period of the first millennium B.C. is thus the period marked in Škocjan by exceptional archaeological relics without rival in the territory of Slovenia and far beyond it. We can tie these relics mostly to the cult sphere that was probably the main driving force behind the affluence of the inhabitants of the Škocjan area. The settlement was not interrupted with the onset of the Roman authority in the Škocjan area; however, the archaeological indicators attesting it are much scarcer. Among rare finds, only a few deserve special mention, namely the dedicatory inscription to Emperor Augustus from Škocjan and an early Christian Christogram found in the Tominčeva Cave.
Prepared by: Borut Peric, Samo Šturm
Sources and literature:Turk, P. 2003, Arheologija, Park Škocjanske jame, Monografija, str. 44-44