Vucedol Era: When Eastern Croatian Settlements Most Important in All Europe

By 25 October 2019

October 24, 2019 - One of the greatest archaeological treasures of South-East Europe lies on the banks of the Danube in eastern Croatia, as it has for more than 5,000 years. Meet Vucedol. 

Have you heard of Vucedol?

And if you have, do you now what it is exaclty? A town, a village, a region, a culture, a people? 

Perhaps you are like me and had heard of Vudecol, knew that it had something to do with an ancient civilisation close to the Danube, and that there was a museum somewhere out there in eastern Croatia. 

It was time to fill in this embarrassing gap in my knowledge about eastern Croatia, and a visit to the Vucedol Culture Museum was put on the list of our recent HeadOnEast family visit to discover the wonders of Slavonia and surrounding areas last weekend. 

I was stunned by what I found. 

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It turns out that Vucedol is a small settlement these days just south of Vukovar. Located on the Danube, it is a sleepy place, but one which once was among the most important settlements in all Europe with a civilisation s advanced as any in the world. 

The right bank of the River Danube in eastern Croatia was settled by people of the Vučedol culture in the early third millennium B.C. This leading cultural formation between 3000 and 2500 B.C. strongly influenced the other cultures of the time and has left noticeable marks on the entire heritage of Europe. It coexisted with the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia, the building of pyramids in Egypt, and the early layers of Troy. The Vučedolians were the first people to have mastered time—the first culture that made a calendar! The first astronomers to read the secrets of the heavens. It is shameful how little we today know of the images above our heads… Pit 6, which was later re-numbered as Grave 3, was dug 4 meters away from the edge of the lowest floor of the Vučedol culture. In the grave, or rather, tomb, a total of eight bodies were found. Especially noteworthy among the large number of ceramic finds is the terrine, the most artistically decorated one of all those found so far in the Vučedol culture. On the night of 9 March 2889 B.C., having just passed through the Pleiades, the planets Venus and Mars found themselves in conjunction visible from Earth as a close approach or “posture of love”.

Introduction to the film about Vucedol - The Prehistoric Night of Venus and Mars.


If you look at the timeframe of ancient sites, Vucedol does indeed appear to be very advanced.

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A rather excellent museum, the Vucedol Culture Museum opened in 2015 on the banks of the Danube next to some of the Vucedol excavation sites. 

And rather a fascinating little place it is, which has so far been visited by more than 200,000 people, a number that should increase considerably as tourism in the east develops, and should better connections to existing tourism materialise. Vukovar is 6km away, for example, and received tens of thousands of river cruise tourists each year, but almost none make it to Vucedol. 

And they are really missing out, for there are some really FASCINATING things inside, all of which make up part of the Vucedol culture, which I found incredible for its sophistication all those years ago. 

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(All the good photos in this article, including this one, by Romulic & Stojcic)

For Vucedol culture is home to the oldest calendar in Europe, an example of which was found on a pot in nearby Vinkovci, itself the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back 8,300 years. Here are 10 things to know about Vinkovci from a recent TCN visit.  

The Orion calendar is based on the constellation of the stars, as you can see in this brief video above. 

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And there are theories that the stars played a role in the practice of human sacrifice after studying some of the skeletons recovered from the Vucedol site. 

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Given that the height of Vucedol culture was some 5,000 years ago, they seemed to be very advanced for that era looking at the exhibits of findings on display. And it is tantalising indeed to speculate what else is still to be found - only 10% has been excavated so far. 

Among the exhibits is a life-size exhibit of a Vucedol cart, which was pulled by oxen, but much more interesting... 

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 ... was this tiny model, an original. A prototype or kids' toy?

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And there was river transport - these beautiful wooden boats cut from one tree, complete with oars.  

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A reconstruction of a Vucedol house. 

Get more of a feeling from this reconstruction video of the original Vucedol settlements. 

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The museum itself has won awards for its design, and I really liked the layout as we moved between its 19 rooms. 

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And the content kept on coming... 

Another find in Vinkovci, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe - the first example of metal casting.


The copper-founders had a shaman-like status within the community, and they lived away from the main settlements. 

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A relatively recent discovery from last year - the first case of the infamous Croatian chequers, which adorn the national flag and which were seen by billions on the shirts of the heroic Croatian national team during the World Cup Final last summer.  

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I was surprised by the sophistication and vibrancy of Vucedol fashion - remember we are going back 5,000 years. They were the first to have shoes designed for left and right, apparently. 

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And the dresses of the women would not look out of place in traditional Croatian folklore dress today. How cool would it be for a big fashion house today to come up with a Vucedol range inspired by the designs of five millennia ago?  

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And a rather important pot for beer lovers - evidence of beer brewing dating back to 3,000 BC.


Beer was obviously popular in these parts throughout history. That oldest town Vinkovci was the birthplace of no less than two Roman Emperors, once of whom - Valens - was such a beer lover that he earned the nickname of Sabaiarius, or 'Beer Belly.' His legend lives on through the excellent Valens craft beer of Vinkovci, which you can find in the town's Orion bar (named after the oldest calendar in Europe). 

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Included in the exhibits are some of the original scribblings of the early archaeologists, and you can see the famous Vucedol dove, which became a symbol of peace for Vukovar. In actual fact, the latest thinking is that was not a dove, but a partridge, due to the drawings, but also due to the partridge's tendency to limp when protecting its nest - similar to the limping copper-smelting shamans affected by arsenic from the metal. 

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Domestic life in Vucedol. 

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According to our guide, although Vucedol culture is centred in eastern Croatia, it was migratory and there is evidence of it elsewhere in 14 countries. Part of those regional differences is reflected in the pottery. Eastern Croatia is VERY flat and that was reflected in flatter lines in the designs, whereas more mountainous regions had their topography represented on the pottery accordingly.  

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And excavation is ongoing on a limited budget. Some of the supporters of a recent project, above. 

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And while it is mouthwatering to contemplate what more remains to be found, when you combine the riches of the surrounding area, the potential for discovery of one of the most important sites in Europe is surely there. Here is one such post-Vucedol discovery earlier this month near Vinkovci, for example  - an intact Roman chariot with horse.  

As I am far from an authority on the subject, I leave you with some videos from Vucedol, including this one with some of the ongoing excavation. 


A journey back in time with reenactments. 

And Vucedol in 4k and from the air. 

To follow the latest from Vucedol and any new discoveries, follow the dedicated TCN section