Vučedol's Orion

The symbols which serve as links on these web pages come from decoration of a pot discovered during archeological excavation in town Vinkovci, Croatia, towards the end of March 1978. The pot belongs to a prehistoric Vučedol culture, called after the main locality on the Croatian side od the shores of river Danube, some four kilometers south of town Vukovar. The pot was dated to belong to the beginning of the late phase of the Vučedol culture, between 2650-2450 B.C. and was found together with other artefacts indicating it was a storage of a copper smithy. The Vucedol culture itself thrived between 3000 - 2200 B.C.

The meaning of the decorations on this fascinating pot was offered by Dr. Aleksander Durman (Durman, The Vučedol Orion and the Oldest European Calendar, Catalogue of the exhibition, Zagreb, 2000) and presented at exhibitions in Vinkovci, Vukovar and Zagreb. I will only briefly describe the meaning of the symbols found on the pot, and I encourage the interested reader to Durman's work for more details (or at least the catalogue of the exhibitions).

The decorations are divided in four stripes which could be associated with seasons. The first stripe (the on at the bottom), according to Dr. Durman, denotes Spring. The visible quadrants relate to the Sun, the constellation of Orion and the Sun; between these there are "empty" (or generally decorated) squares. The conjecture that the Sun and Orion are depicted on these decorations can, probably, never be proved, as is the case with the whole description of the meaning of the vessel, but it is supported by the fact that at the time of the Vucedol culture, Orion's belt would disappear from the night sky around the date of the spring solstice, and it that way it could be used as a rather accurate way to calculate the end of winter. In addition, the decorations used are highly symbolic but one can make parallels with the actual shape of the Sun and the Orion.

The next ring of decorations is associated with Summer. Dr. Durman relates the quadrants to Pleiades, Cygnus and Cassiopea (again intermittent with "empty" squares), constellations present in the summer sky at the time of the culture (see the pictures and their names below). The third is then the autumn with the constellations of Peliades, Gemini, Pegasus/Pieces, and again Pleiades. Finally, the top row of decorations on the vessel denotes winter with Cassiopea (but in a new orientation, as it is also seen differently on the sky), Pegases/Pieces, Orion, Pleiades, Pegasus and Gemini

This interpretations led Dr. Durman to conjecture that the pot served as a calender, which could have been used to govern the seasonal life of the people's of Vučedol culture. If this is true, this vessel from Vučedol is one of the oldest European calendars (or perhaps the oldest).

I saw the exhibition around the time I started thinking about the cover design of my thesis. Those familiar with the Dutch thesis books will know of the fierce competition to put something interesting, beautiful or, simply, cool on the cover. The story of a pot some 4500 years old that can be interpreted as an evidence of the human wish and endeavor to understand the Universe, to sort out its phenomena and, finally, make use of them, while at the same time producing something that is so useful as a jar for everyday life, and as wonderfully and imaginatively designed (not to mention the fact that it was discovered because they were digging to build an atomic shelter!), astonished me, and offered a way out of my own design problems. There are a lot of similarities between the maker(s) of that vessel and modern astronomers; the topics and methods were different then, but the lust for knowledge did not change.

Cover of my thesis defended on 12.10.2004 at the University of Leinde, The Netherlands.


Last modified: 17 May 2010