Animal Representations on Ceremonial Objects Found in the Tumulus at Črnolica pri Šentjurju at the Foot of Rifnik
The years 1985 and 1986 saw a rescue excavation by archaeologists from the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, Celje Regional Office, performed on the severely damaged Iron Age tumulus in the village of Črnolica pri Šentjurju. The village lies in the close vicinity of the Rifnik hill, the site of one of the largest known hilltop settlements in Slovenia dating from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. The excavation in Črnolica yielded a stone grave chamber of monumental dimensions, together with fragmented and decontextualised grave goods. These included a large set of quality ceramic vessels,
a considerable number of bronze vessels, glass cups, fibulae, and a horse harness. Of special importance are three bronze items fabricated in Etruria, which carry the protomas of an aquatic bird, horses, and a ram. The burial dates to the Hallstatt C2 period or the second half of the 7th century BC.
Aquatic birds are positioned on all four vertexes of the presentatoio, a special type of vessel presumably used for libation rituals. Comparable items have come to light in the richest graves of the Iron Age aristocracy of Etruria, Latium Vetus and Bologna, and date to the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 7th centuries BC. The aquatic bird sculptures on the presentatoio are stylised, displaying features of the Late Italic Geometric style. This motif marks various Late Bronze and Iron Age items associated with ritual activities in the greater part of Europe, connecting them with prehistoric religious beliefs. While the assumption that they refer to the sun divinisation cult is not proven, they must have signified some prehistoric aspect of the holy or numinous.
The two anthropomorphic legs with an attached horse protoma found in the Črnolica tumulus were reconstructed as a part of a tripod of small dimensions, which can be classified as a member of the so-called horse tripod family, fine products of the Italic Geometric style. However, the Črnolica specimen
differs from the normative form of other horse tripods, offering its own stylistic solutions. Its abstract blend of iconographical features resembles the fantastic and often bizarre monsters of the Orientalising style iconography. If we presume that the equine and anthropomorphic iconography of the Italic horse tripods alludes to a mythological story unknown today, then the tripod from Črnolica deliberately excludes such allusions. Objects with both Geometric and Orientalising style elements are common in the Etruria of the early 7th century BC.
The branched fragment which carries the ram’s head, tending towards naturalism, presumably belonged to a big tripod of Etruscan provenience. The ram is a motif typical of the Italic Orientalising style, which developed under eastern Mediterranean influences. The popular Orientalising iconography was thus copied by local Italic craftsmen, with the result that the figural representation – probably for the first time in the prehistory of this and the neighbouring territories – did not allude to a mythological story but had a purely decorative value.
The Etruscan objects found in the Črnolica tumulus belong to two successive Italic art styles. They were probably not brought to Rifnik at the same time but had gradually accumulated in the settlement by the second half of the 7th century BC, when they were deposited in the richly furnished grave of a local aristocrat. With their zoomorphic iconography, the imports of the Črnolica mound are representatives of the increasing Orientalising impulses from Etruria, which resulted in the formation of the celebrated situla art.
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