A photograph of a dark cave with artificial light highlighting a stalagmite. Surround the image of the cave is a round disc showing sketches of four different zodiac figures found at the site.

The Illyrian sanctuary at Nakovana Cave, Croatia, and symbols of the zodiac found there.

An Illyrian Sanctuary’s Surprise: Europe’s Oldest Zodiac

Exhibition Lecture

Timothy Kaiser

Lakehead University

This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via email to registered participants.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

Investigations at Nakovana Cave, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea from a Dalmatian ridge, revealed undisturbed chambers intentionally sealed more than two thousand years ago. One of these chambers was evidently used by the indigenous Illyrians as a sanctuary. There, Greek finewares were left as offerings before a phallic stalagmite over the course of several centuries. The practice stopped and the sanctuary was sealed at the time of Octavian’s campaign of ethnic cleansing at the end of the 1st c BCE. Among votive deposits of Hellenistic and other pottery, ivory plaques bearing engraved signs of the zodiac encircled the stalagmite. These are the oldest signs of the zodiac yet discovered in Europe. Their discovery and significance are the subjects of this lecture. Intensive post-excavation study of the zodiac plaques has raised as many questions as it has answered.

Timothy Kaiser is Professor of Anthropology at Lakehead University and a Research Associate of the Royal Ontario Museum. Since 1978, he has carried out fieldwork in Southeast Europe, focusing on problems related to the early farming societies and their successors of the middle Danube basin and, since 1990, long-term social-cultural change in the Adriatic. There, Kaiser has co-directed the Adriatic Islands Project, a longitudinal study of human cultural adaptations in the Mediterranean, and the Nakovana Archaeological Project, the excavation and study of an important ritual site of late prehistory. His research has been disseminated through some of the usual scholarly outlets and through exhibitions at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Ritual and Memory: The Ancient Balkans and Beyond is organized in partnership with the Field Museum's First Kings of Europe project and has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

This exhibition at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World is made possible by generous support from Nellie and Robert Gipson and the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional funding provided by The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Foundation and James H. Ottaway Jr.

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 Image: The Illyrian sanctuary at Nakovana Cave, Croatia, and symbols of the zodiac found there.