Zagreb - A Croatian archaeologist claims to have deciphered Europe's oldest calendar from a ceramic pot with a decorative pattern of stars which matches those seen on calendars in Egypt and Sumer.
Archaeologist Aleksandar Durman has dedicated years of research to the pot, which was unearthed in 1978 in an ancient copper smelter in the eastern Croatian town of Vinkovci.
Durman says the earliest calendars appeared around 3000 BC and that he only recently realised the importance of the markings on the pot, which dates from the Vucedol culture around 2600BC.
He says the Stonehenge prehistoric monument in Britain, which is known to be a form of calendar, was finished several hundred years after the pot was made.
Durman discovered that the markings on it appeared to be illustrations of constellations visible in the sky from the 45th parallel.
"Unlike other ancient calendars, usually based on the movements of the moon or the sun, this is an entirely astral calendar," he says.
Durman says that on the planes of eastern Slavonia, people of Vucedol could not find a fixed point on the horizon to observe the sun's movements so they had to rely on the orderly rising and setting of stars to measure time.
He found that each season of the year was represented, in one of the four strips on the pot, by constellations dominating the sky in those months. With comparison to the Sumerian, Egyptian, Indian and other ancient calendars, the constellations were easy to recognise, Durman says.
The markings confirm that the constellation of Orion had a special place in the Vucedol people's view of the world - it essentially heralded the beginning of a new year.
"In the times of the Vucedol culture, Orion's belt, which is the dominant winter constellation, sank under the horizon exactly on March 21, thus marking the spring equinox," Durman says.
The characteristic symbols also decorated hundreds of pieces of pottery of the Vucedol culture - named after an archeological site near the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, about 300km east of Zagreb - displayed in an exhibition in the capital.
The Vucedol culture emerged around 3000BC on the right bank of the River Danube in eastern Croatia among migrants from the subcontinent or present-day Iran.
The people of Vucedol were originally cattle breeders, but with the discovery of copper smelting, their culture began to flourish and later spread throughout central and southeast Europe.
They had a highly-structured society, whose notables were buried with golden jewellery.
The copper worker was an important figure in this shamanist culture, as he was regarded as someone who could reach into the womb of the Earth to take the ore and with his craft interfere in the natural processes.
"A metallurgist had a role of the shaman and was considered as having the ability to control the passage of time, and thus the calendar," Durman says.
The Vucedol people also practised human sacrifice in complicated rituals.
A story of one of these rituals was recorded on a piece of pottery bearing symbols of Mars, Venus and the constellation of Pleiades. The piece was discovered in a grave beside skeletons of a man and a woman in Vucedol in 1985.
The bodies, covered with charcoal, were probably sacrificed after a rare celestial phenomenon involving the passage of Mars and Venus through the Pleiades, researchers led by Durman suggest.
"In shamanist beliefs, Mars and Venus are the most important planets and their followers on the Earth were probably poisoned and buried as some kind of a message," Durman concluded. - Sapa-AFP