Topohilia and the emergence of prehistoric sanctuaries (NW Balkans, 10th – 5th c. BC)

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(Presented at “Rencontres doctorales archéologiques de l’EEPB Bibracte”, Centre archéologique européen du Mont Beuvray, 28 - 30 avril 2015)

In a definition given by geographer Yi Fu Tuan “ Topophilia is the affective bond between people and place or setting “. Even though this concept pertains to an intimate “sense of place” which may seem unattainable by archaeological means, it can be very useful when considering the historical dimension of the emergence of particular places, such as prehistoric ritual areas or sanctuaries.

Several major categories of ritual places can be considered: natural places used for deposition of artefacts (caves, rivers, wet areas), burial places, particular structures within settlements, and finally sanctuaries stricto sensu with enclosed space and a shrine. Each of these categories can be regarded as a particular spatial strategy, resulting in a space with high symbolic charge. Crucially, ritual places normally emerged through long term temporal sequences and, at least before the La Tène period, without an obvious plan from the outset – how are we, then, to understand these « strategies » ?

In the proposed communication several examples of Late Bronze to Early Iron Age ritual places or sanctuaries from the eastern Adriatic area (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia), will be considered. Particular attention will be paid to the temporal dimension, not only in terms of chronology but also in relation to practices of formation and maintenance of collective memory. This perspective enables us to understand better the process of emergence of ritual places (as opposed to a premeditated design). For instance the ritual place at Turska Kosa in Croatia emerged through centuries of ritual activities on a small necropolis. However, such a development was made possible only in accordance with overall spatial strategies which are reflected in the organization of settlements or wider inhabited territories, i.e. certain attachment to fixed places.