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Butmir is oldest and best-known late Stone Age archaeological site in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was discovered as long as 1893,and gave its name to entire cultural group of the late Neolithic in central Bosnia, the Butmir culture. The original spiritual culture of its inhabitants places archaeology of Bosnia and Herzegovina on a par with that in Europe. On the basis of absolute chronology,the assumption is that the settlement was inhabited from 5500 to 4500 BC.
The basis of the prehistoric economy of Butmir was agriculture and animal husbandry .Hunting and fishing ,as well as gathering wild plant foods ,were still an important part of daily life, however. Every activity associated with food processing, using well established processes, was imbued with religious content.
The most pronounced manifestation of the religious beliefs of agricultural communities world-wide is fertility cult. Figurines, predominantly female, and decorative designs on pottery vessels, are clear evidence of the presence of this cult in Butmir. During the time of the classic Butmir culture (Butmir II ), a specific artistic style evolved as regards the shape and decoration of pottery vessels, in which spiral and banded designs are particularly distinctive, while sculpting of figurines reached a high level of artistry. Here, at a particular point in time, in evolution of culture, a nexus of powerful aesthetic and religious sentiment reveal itself.
The Butmir group, named after the well-known site of Butmir near Sarajevo, was the first settlement of the Neolithic Age to be excavated in the Balkans. The results, widely published at the time, were such that for a long time particular importance was attached to this group. However, studies by A. Benac at Nebo in the valley of the river Bila and particularly at Obre II have made possible a more precise evaluation of the group. The excavations at Obre provided a stratigraphic basis for the division of the Butmir group into three phases, all of Late Neolithic.The settlement Obre II, which is not continuous with Obre I, lies in the valley of the Trstionica, a tributary of the Bosna, which is very favourable for agriculture. Pit-dwellings were found in the earliest layer of the settlement.
In Butmir II-III a rectangular house with walls of wattle was discovered. House no. 15 in Butmir II had two rooms with the entrance on the longer side. There was also a calotte-shaped oven with an ash pit and a separate place for grinding corn. In the south-west part of the front room the floor was made of boards, which were presumably used to sleep on. Next to the hearth was another area which was interpreted as a workshop.On the other hand workshops for the working of stone and bone were located outside the house itself. Food was kept inside houses in largish containers or pithoi. Among them are some flat human figures with underlined buttocks and stump-arms. Animal figurines are rare. A fuller range is found at Butmir itself, where there are also some figurines of outstanding realism, particularly their heads. In the Butmir settlement agriculture and stock-breeding were well developed. Obre had oxen, pigs, sheep, goats and more rarely dogs. Bones of wild animals constituted only 14-15 per cent of the total. The use of shells for decoration confirms the connexion of this group with the Adriatic region. Vessels with pointed bases in phase III are typical of the east Bosnian variant of the Vinca group and they most likely suggest direct links with the Adriatic. It has been assumed that these vessels served for carrying salt, which was being transported from the Tuzla basin. The existence of workshops where stone tools were made suggests the possibility that tools were exported to other areas.All this indicates an integrated form of economy.Chronologically the first phase of the Butmir group corresponds with the later stage of the Danilo group, which already belongs to Late Neolithic. On the other hand phase III is connected with the Lisicici Hvar group. It has been pointed out in earlier literature that classical Butmir was synchronous with the Vinca group and in particular with the Vinca-Plocnik phase. New discoveries in all probability point to a connexion between this Butmir phase and Vinca-Turdas II. Today the genesis of the group is a complex question. It is certain that the autochthonous base of the Kakanj group played the first part in its formation and that the elements of the Danilo group in the Adriatic area and of the late Balkano-Anatolian complex were involved. But at the same time it was the Vinca and the Lengyel groups which played the outstanding role. In such an analysis phenomena of the Butmir group are represented as separate components, but in fact a specific regional group formed from these components and was marked by its own typical Butmir pottery.
It was related to the Danilo group, and there were some rhyta. The typically Kakanj pottery continued in use, its main characteristic being vessels with hollow bell-shaped stems. In phase II the Danilo type of pottery was in decline, but one specimen from the Lisicici-Hvar group was discovered. The pottery of the latter group was amply represented in phase III. Yet the fine black pottery of Late Balkano-Anatolian type was characteristic of all phases. It was marked by the use of rippled decoration until phase III, when it declined. Its basic characteristic was 'Butmir ware', mostly of inferior quality (i.e. of earth mixed with grains of sand) and in the main dark in colour; vessels which predominate are globular vases, long-necked vases, conical bowls and bowls with rounded profile, sometimes standing on a low stem (phase II). Pear-shaped vessels, sometimes with long necks, are typical of phase II.
Typical decoration consists of incised motifs of concentric rhomboids, triangles, angular bands done in a pricking technique, simple pricked motifs of burnished patterns of rhomboids.In addition,spirals in the form of the letters S and C and plastic Butmir spirals are all typical of phase I.
This variety in pottery reached its culmination in phase II and is particularly well represented in Butmir itself.However, phase III is characterized by a general degeneration in the technique of decoration and by the loss of the classical spiral motifs it is well represented at the site of Nebo, and at that time a degenerate form of pricked ornamentation, made with an instrument, appeared. Recent excavations have shown that the crusted technique is characteristic of the Butmir group.Figurines are not plentiful at Obre.
The houses were arranged in rows.In layers I and II (Butmir I) the skeletons of eleven children were discovered; they were mostly in a contracted position and were grouped in two definite places.
This suggests the existence of a ritual of child sacrifice. Of flint tools large knives with a sharp retouch and arrow-heads were in evidence from the beginning of phase I. Axes were tongue-shaped,but some in phase II had the shape of a cobbler's last. In phase III bored hammers appear. Awls, daggers, spatulae, fish-hooks and decorative needles were made of bone. Spondylus shells were used for decoration. In addition to coarsely made large vessels with flat, or rarely ring-shaped, bases, painted ware was discovered in phase I.