The Ceramic Hoard from Vela Peć – The Phenomenon of Prehistoric Hoards

Hoards are, along with settlements and cemeteries, a major category of finds in prehistoric archaeology. Hoards are defined as collections of deliberately deposited artefacts (a hoard may also be comprised of a single find, although the intention of the deposit is difficult to ascertain in these cases) that do not originate from a grave or a habitation context and that are deposited with the intention of subsequent recovery (profane hoards) or as a symbolic act with no intention of future recovery (sacral/votive hoards). Depositing most often implies that the hoard is buried, although in the case of votive hoards the artefacts may be deposited in other ways—thrown in a body of water, for example. Hoards can consist of everyday articles such as household pottery, or may contain valuable artefacts such as swords, jewellery or horse tack. They may be comprised of similar artefacts (for example a hoard of bronze sickles) or different artefacts, and the number of items deposited in a single hoard may range as high as several thousand artefacts. The reasons these artefacts were deposited vary, and are at times difficult to understand from our current perspective. It is, however, thought that they were often buried for security, especially during turbulent periods, when we see a rise in the number of finds of this kind as attested to by hoards left from the antiquity and medieval periods. The same can be presumed for the prehistoric period. Some authors are more inclined to attribute a symbolic significance to the majority of prehistoric hoards, associating them with sacrificial rituals or the offering of articles of particularly high value.

Treasure of Villena, date: 1000 BCE

By Superchilum - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 •

Types of Hoards

Profane hoards are usually divided into several basic categories, these being: workshop hoards, merchant’s hoards, personal hoards and hoards of loot/treasure. Workshop and merchant’s hoards are difficult to distinguish from one another, but the merchant’s hoard, as a rule, consists of new items intended for trade. Workshop hoards are usually associated with the Metal Ages, but may be older, and consist of raw materials for processing and the tools and moulds required for the fabrication of new items. The oldest workshop hoards are from the Palaeolithic period—hoards of stone cores and flakes, i.e. raw material for further preparation. Personal hoards contain fewer items and may consist of various personal items, usually buried for safekeeping.

All hoards other than sacral and votive deposits were buried with the intention that they be recovered at some point in time. Votive hoards also differ by the place in which they are deposited—they may, for example, be simply buried in the ground in a settlement, although they are often placed in selected special locations like caves and deep pits, or the items are thrown into bodies of water (lakes, rivers, marshes). Hoards of this kind often stand out by the special nature of the artefacts, their association with the consumption of foods and beverages and the specific manner in which the items are arranged, i.e. organised. Along with ritual consumption, votive hoards are also associated with the ritual destruction of items prior to their deposition—items are broken, deformed or burned. Small votive hoards may be sacrificial gifts offered by an individual, while a large hoard of diverse items would likely indicate the ritual practice of a community.

Ceramic Hoards

Hoards of pottery are often glossed over in the specialist literature, both because they offer fewer interesting artefacts and due to the problems associated with their identification, i.e. in differentiating them from middens. We know of hoards of this kind dating as far back as the Eneolithic and the number of these deposits and of hoards in general increased in the course of the Bronze Age. We differentiate among ceramic hoards consisting of complete buried vessels, often turned upside down, and those consisting of deliberately broken vessels or only parts of vessels that are, in some cases, arranged in a particular way. If we rule out utilitarian reasons for the burial of vessels and vessels used as grave gifts, we can hypothesise that the reasons for the burial of ceramic ware were often of a symbolic nature and that they were buried with no intention that they be recovered at some future date. Ceramic vessels are often interpreted as the remnants of sacrifices of food or of ritual feasts, when they were buried as a necessary stage of the ritual. In support of this hypothesis are the remnants of food and bones found in some cases along with the deposited vessels.

Ceramic hoard from Vela Peć (in situ)


The Ceramic Hoard at Vela Peć

A context identified as a hoard of pottery was discovered at the Vela Peć site in the Vela Draga canyon near the village of Vranja in the north of the Istrian peninsula at the foothills to the west of the Učka massif. A small pit was discovered in an archaeological layer dated to the Middle and Late Bronze Age (mid and late second millennium BCE) containing a large concentration of pottery, more precisely 384 sherds that were likely laid there at a single occasion and immediately buried. Besides the quantity of finds recovered from this very restricted area, this context is distinct in the manner in which the sherds were deposited—the sections of previously broken vessels appear to have been deliberately laid vertically one atop the other with the base of the vessel facing upwards. The sherds are from fifteen vessels, some of which have been partially reconstructed, and include drinking cups, jugs, bowls and pots. We can assume that these finds were buried permanently, with no intention of subsequent recovery, given their very limited further usefulness, which would indicate that their placement here could have had a deeper, perhaps symbolic significance related to rites that included the ritual consumption of food and drink and the burial of the items used in the ritual in light of their now sacral rather than secular function. The actual reasons and meaning of archaeological finds like these will never be fully revealed or comprehensible to our present perspective, but they do bear witness to a pattern of behaviour that it likely much more common than we imagine and is a reflection of the spiritual lives and creeds of the people of the time.


Ceramic hoard from Vela Peć





1. Ceramic pot with two opposing tab handles, decorated with horseshoe shaped moulded ribs.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44636

Height: 22.5 cm, width: 25 cm, rim diameter: 23 cm, base diameter: 15 cm

2. Shallow and broad ceramic bowl with two opposing handles, interior side of base decorated with three concentric grooves.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44734

Height: 11.5 cm, rim diameter: 44 cm, base diameter: 12 cm

3.Ceramic bowl on low annular foot with two opposing handles.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44735

Height: 10 cm, rim diameter: 25 cm, base diameter: 7.5 cma: 25 cm, promjer dna: 7,5 cm

4. Small ceramic drinking cup decorated with three incised lines.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44737

Height: 5 cm, rim diameter: 8.5 cm, base diameter: 2.5 cm

5. Deep ceramic drinking cup or jug with handle.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44738

Height: 10 cm, rim diameter: 13.5 cm, base diameter: 9 cm

6. Ceramic jug with handle, decorated with three nubs encircled by incised concentric lines and three incised lines

running along the shoulder of the vessel and encircling the handle.

Location (collection): Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula

Inventory no.: P-44739

Height: 11 cm, width: 15 cm, rim diameter: 10 cm




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The Ceramic Hoard from Vela Peć: The Phenomenon of Prehistoric Hoards


Carrarina 4, Pula

Window to the Past  31.7. – 30.9.2018.

Exhibition and text author by: Nikolina Bencetić

Organizer and publisher: Arheološki muzej Istre

For the organizer: Darko Komšo

Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

Photographer: Tanja Draškić Savić

Exhibition coordinator: Monika Petrović

Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation: Neven Ferenčić

Proofs: Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

Print run: 700

Pula, 2018.

Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.