Prehistoric Ceramic Sieves in Istria


drawing: R. Zlatunić.



Ten sherds were identified among pottery recovered in the course of an archaeological investigation in 2006 and 2007 of the Sveti Mihovil Bronze Age hillfort site near Bale that are parts of funnel-shaped and conical sieves (strainers). For most of the sherds the exact section of the body of the ceramic sieve they are from cannot be determined. Small parts of the preserved rim of the vessel are visible on only three of the sherds. The dating of finds of strainer sherds is a matter of broad interpretation given that they appear from the early Neolithic to the close of the Eneolithic period. The dating issue is further aggravated at the Sveti Mihovil site due to the already identified mixing of the stratigraphic layers by natural activity and by human activity in the course of the erection of the Bronze Age hillfort settlement.






Finds of Ceramic Sieves in Istria, the Kvarner Bay Area, Dalmatia and Slavonia

 Finds of sieve sherds of this type, along with those from the Sveti Mihovil-Bale site, are also seen in the north and northeast of Istria, at the Pupićina peć, Laganiši and Jačmica sites. In western Istria, at the Zambratija site, four sherds have been identified that are from two conical sieves, one other sherd of an unknown section of the same type of vessel, and two sherds from hemispherical sieves. Several potsherds from sieves have been documented in the area of the Lim hillfort. Outside the bounds of the Istrian peninsula finds of sherds from these strainers have also been identified in the Kvarner Bay area at Vaganačka pećina, in Dalmatia (Danilo-Bitinj), and in Hvar Culture and Nakovana Culture layers at Pokrovnik and Vela spila. Among the sherds recovered in Neolithic layers at the Danilo-Bitinj site are those from likely funnel-shaped or conical sieves and base sherds at the edges of which we see perforated holes, leading us to conclude that they are likely from hemispherical sieves. These kinds of Neolithic sieves of funnel, conical or hemispherical form are also seen at some Neolithic sites in eastern Slavonia and neighbouring Serbia. Given the above-mentioned issue of the mixing of cultural layers we hypothesise for the sherds found at Sveti Mihovil that they likely appeared in the Neolithic period and remained in use through to the end of the Eneolithic period.






Ceramic sieves were likely part of larger vessels used in the processing of milk or to strain beverages produced by the soaking and fermentation of grains or fruits. This is in part corroborated by the reconstruction of a ceramic vessel (from a later period) where we see part of the conical sieve, which served for the processing of dairy products, exhibited at a museum in Perugia.




A reconstruction of a ceramic vessel from the Stazione della Montagna di Cetona site, with interior lugs to accommodate a funnel-shaped or conical sieve, that prevents the outpouring of boiling liquid during dairy product processing. The reconstruction is exhibited at the museum in Perugia (Marović, 2002, 244, Fig. 3)






Earliest Cases of Cheese Making


Zooarchaeological finds indicate that goats and sheep dominated the husbandry of permanently settled Neolithic communities in the north and central Adriatic that engaged in crop and animal cultivation and breeding. Seven to nine litres of fresh sheep, goat or mixed milk was necessary to produce one kilogram of cheese. Cheese was produced after the milking season, which began near the end of spring and into the summer. Milk was kept in ceramic vessels and bowls for the short period that led up to the start of fermentation, which produced a watery fluid (whey) and the coagulated mass (cheese). The cheese was then kept in bags formed of goat or sheep hides. In the course of its further maturation and formation in the hides this oldest of cheeses would acquire an unusual sour or bitter and salty flavour and was similar in structure to modern Greek feta cheese.


Artist's impression of Neolithic sheep milking (drawing: R. Zlatunić, alterations: I. Juričić)


Cheese thus produced was one of the chief sources of protein in the adult Neolithic population and of later prehistoric communities in the eastern Adriatic sphere. This manner of cheese production has been retained in traditional manufacturing in rural parts of the Herzegovina, Zagora and Lika regions.






Cheese made in an animal hide and its appearance.






Dating the Emergence and Dawn of Dairy Processing


A biomolecular analysis of lipids in vessels has shown that dairy production existed in southwest Asia as far back as about 7000 BCE, and from about 6500 to 5500 BCE in central Turkey (Anatolia). In southern Europe, home to the early Neolithic Starčevo-Criş and Köros cultures, the oldest recorded use of dairy products dates to about 5950 to 5500 BCE. On the eastern shores of the Adriatic there are two regions in which we have evidence of the earliest traces of dairy product manufacturing through the analysis of residual milk fats on ceramic vessels. The first area in question is Dalmatia, with the Danilo-Bitinj and Pokrovnik sites dated to the early Neolithic and middle Neolithic periods (the Impressed Ware Culture of the eastern Adriatic and the Danilo Culture) from around 5700 to 5200 BCE, and the other is in neighbouring Slovenia, with the Vlaška Culture at the Mala Triglavca site dated to the period from about 5527 to 5467 BCE.

The following are the types of vessels at the Danilo-Bitinj and Pokrovnik sites on which lipid residues have been identified:

  • Small early Neolithic vessels with impressed zig-zag decoration, vessel mouth diameter < 5 cm,
  • Middle Neolithic Danilo Culture ware: figuline pottery, bowls, rhytons and conical perforated sieves. As cult pottery, rhytons are at times associated with fertility rituals and otherwise with the production of milk and cheese.

The results of DNA analysis of the bones of Neolithic adults in the eastern Adriatic area indicate the presence of intolerance to sugar present in milk, i.e. lactose. The level of lactose in fermented dairy products such as cheese was very low, such that they could be consumed in the adult population, preserved with greater ease and transported across greater distances.






Ceramic sieves as parts of vessels for dairy production (cheese) and for straining various beverages obtained through the soaking and fermentation of fruits and grains appear in Dalmatia in the early Neolithic period. In Istria they see use into the Neolithic and Eneolithic periods.






1. Sveti Mihovil-Bale 2006; Sector I; Trench I; Quadrant C2, SU IIIa; depth: 0.75 m.
Sieve, sherd from the edge and body of the ceramic vessel; AMI-Pula;
Inv. no.: P-31950
Height: 2.3 cm; width: 2.9 cm; rim thickness: 0.9 cm; body thickness: 0.7 cm; weight: 4.07 g.
The sherd from the edge and body of the milk sieve is of handmade ware.






2. Sveti Mihovil-Bale 2006; Sector I; Trench I; Quadrant A1, SU IIIa; depth: 0.75 m.
Sieve, sherd from the edge and body of the ceramic vessel; AMI-Pula;
Inv. no.: P-31952
Height: 4.8 cm; width: 4 cm; body thickness: 1.2 cm; rim thickness: 1.3 cm; weight: 17.3 g.
The sherd from the edge and body of the milk sieve is of handmade ware.





3. Sveti Mihovil-Bale 2006; Sector I; Trench I; Quadrant B2, SU IIIa; depth: 0.75 m.
Sieve, sherd from an unknown part of the body of the ceramic vessel; AMI-Pula;
Inv. no.: P-31953
Height: 3.1 cm; width: 3.7 cm; body thickness: 0.8 cm; weight: 8.72 g.
The sherd from an unknown part of the body of the milk sieve is of handmade ware.






4. Sveti Mihovil-Bale 2006; Sector I; Trench I; Quadrant B2, SU III; depth: 0.55 m.
Sieve, sherd from an unknown part of the body of the ceramic vessel; AMI-Pula;
Inv. no.: P-31954
Height: 2.1 cm; width: 2.8 cm; body thickness: 0.8 cm; weight: 3.71 g.
The sherd from an unknown part of the body of the milk sieve is of handmade ware.






5. Sveti Mihovil-Bale 2006; Sector I; Trench I; Quadrant B2, SU IIIa; depth: 0,75 m
Sieve, sherd from an unknown part of the body of the ceramic vessel; AMI-Pula;
Inv. no.: P-31955
Height: 2 cm; width: 1.5 cm; body thickness: 0.8 cm; weight: 2.23 g.
The sherd from an unknown part of the body of the milk sieve is of handmade ware.






6. Zambratija 2008; underwater archaeological investigation; two joined sherds of a sieve.
Inv. no.: PV-335P
Height: 9.05 cm; thickness; 1.05 cm; mouth diameter: 11.01 cm; weight: 161.92 g.
The sieve is conical or funnel-shaped, with preserved rim and body section. The body of the sieve is covered with minute perforations. Handmade ware.






7. Zambratija 2008; podvodna istraživanja; dva spojena ulomka posude-cjedila .
Inv. br. PV-363P
vis.: 5,19 cm; šir.: 6,34 cm; deb.: 0,63 cm; tež.: 37,95 g.
Cjedilo je cjevastog ili trbušastog oblika, s očuvanim dijelom ruba i tijela. Tijelo cjedila ispunjeno je sitnim perforacijama. Prostoručno je izrađeno.








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Prehistoric Ceramic Sieves in Istria


Carrarina 4, Pula

Window to the Past

4. 6. – 6. 8. 2019.

Exhibition and text author by:

Romuald Zlatunić

 Organizer and publisher:

Archaeological Museum of Istria

For the organizer and publisher:

Darko Komšo

 Editorial Board:

Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design:

Vjeran Juhas


Maja Čuka, Vjeran Juhas, Ida Koncani Uhač, Romuald Zlatunić


Ivo Juričić, Romuald Zlatunić

 Exhibition coordinator:

Monika Petrović

Translation in Italian:

Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation:

Neven Ferenčić

 Croatian language editor:

Dubravka Blaško


Irena Buršić, Adriana Gri Štorga, Darko Komšo,
Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

Print run: 700

Pula, 2019.

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.