Photo by Ivan Dorotić & Maja Bosnić / Museum of Apoxymenos

Old But Gold: Five (pre-) historical artefacts you must see

Some of Croatia’s cultural attractions are the oldest in the world and absolutely worth a visit. Here are five (pre-) historical artefacts that culture vultures should not miss!

Apoxyomenos on the island of Lošinj
Apoxyomenos is an ancient Greek bronze statue from the 2nd or 1st century BC, a Hellenistic copy from the 4th century. The 192 cm tall artefact represents an athlete cleaning his body with a scraping tool (the Greek word “Apoxyomenos” translates to “the scraper”). Although it is believed that this particular artistic motif was not uncommon, there are only eight statues left in the world, and none is better preserved than the one on Lošinj. The statue was discovered by a tourist on the bottom of the sea near the island of Lošinj. How did the statue get to the bottom of the sea? Well, presumably it was thrown overboard by a ship crew during bad weather to prevent the ship from sinking. After its recovery in 1999, it underwent a seven year restoration process. Today, Apoxyomenos has its own museum on Lošinj.

Danse Macabre in Beram
The Church of St. Mary of the Rocks, located in the woods near the town of Beram, may be small and isolated but this remoteness has turned out to be a stroke of luck for culture lovers as it has left the valuable late-gothic frescos inside the chapel’s walls largely intact. Most of the paintings, which were all made by Vincent of Kastav, show scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The biggest and most impressive, however, is a version of the “Danse Macabre”, a medieval allegory on the universality of death. In this masterpiece, we see merchants, knights, noblemen and even the pope dance with death. The procession is led by a skeleton playing bagpipe. Danse Macabre paintings were meant to remind people of the fragility of life. The painting at St. Mary of the Rocks is from the 1470s, making it one of the earliest recorded examples of the Danse Macabre!

Vučedol Dove & the oldest European calendar at Vukovar City Museum
The archeological location Vučedol is situated on the bank of the Danube River, about 5 km downstream of Vukovar. It is one of the most important archeological sites of the Eneolithic culture. The settlement flourished between 3000 and 2400 BC and is therefore consistent with the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia, the Old Kingdom in Egypt and the first settlements of Troy. The material culture, especially the production of ceramics, suggests a highly developed civilisation due to its extraordinary technological quality and perfect harmony of form and ornamentation. Perhaps the culture’s most famous legacy is the Vučedol Dove, a 20 cm high, richly decorated cult vessel shaped like a bird. Another famous artefact is the Vučedol Orion, a ceramic pot with a decorative pattern, considered to be the oldest calendar in Europe. Both the Vučedol Dove and Orion are kept at the Vukovar City Museum, along with other important findings and fascinating background information on the Vučedol culture.

Zagreb mummy in the Zagreb Museum of Archaeology
You do not have to travel all the way to Egypt to see a real mummy. In Zagreb’s Museum of Archaeology, you will find the Zagreb mummy, a true world rarity. The mummy and its wrappings were brought to Zagreb from Egypt in the 1860s. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the pieces of cloth the mummy was once wrapped in were covered with strange characters, apparently a text in an unknown language. Eventually, scientists Heinrich Brugsch and Richard Burton (that’s not the one who played Mark Antony in the movie “Cleopatra“) discovered that the mysterious writings were not, as originally assumed, hieroglyphics, but ancient Etruscan. The canvas on which it was written (and which was later used to prepare the mummy) is known today as the “Liber linteus Zagrebiensis” (Linen book of Zagreb). It contains 1,130 words on five subsequent strips and is the longest known text in the Etruscan language. Also, it is the only preserved sample of a linen book from the classical age. However, what the writings actually say and what strips of cloth inscribed with a language by a people of ancient Italy were doing wrapped around a mummy from Egypt, remains a mystery…

Neanderthal remains in the Museum of Neanderthals in Krapina

With a population of only 5,000 people, Krapina is a somewhat tranquil place. However, the small town in the Zagorje region in Northern Croatia is also home to one of the world’s most important archaeological sites regarding Neanderthal man. It all started back in 1899, when the fossil remains of several dozen individuals were found on Hušnjakovo hill in Krapina. The findings turned out to be the largest and richest collection of Neanderthal people collected at a single locality. At the finding place, incorporated in the surrounding countryside of Hušnjakovo, there is now the state-of-the-art Krapina Neanderthal Museum. With its semi-cave, multimedia presentations and several paths connecting the museum with the excavation site itself, the building resembles the habitat of the Neanderthals and takes the visitors back to prehistoric times.