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The Mount of Giants: The Prehistoric “Tomb” in Gorenje (Obrern)

The growing number of archaeological finds provide evidence of the first traces of human settlement in Kočevska (Gottschee) region. These include the barrow with the dead person’s ash at Gorenje (Obrern) by Stara Cerkev, the so-called giant’s mound or in German Hünenbüchel. It was created by the end of the Hallstatt, i.e. the Late Bronze Age or, in other words, between 1000 and 400 B.C.

The Hallstatt burial mound in Gorenje (Obern) by Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf). Photo: Anja Moric.

From the first archaeological surveying to excavation initiative

Due to the lack of archaeological research in Kočevska region, in 1910, the head of the then Regional Museum for Carniola (the present-day National Museum of Slovenia), Josip Mantuani, PhD, sent his colleague, Jernej Pečnik, to conduct the first archaeological survey. Mr Pečnik reported on soil heap under the forest slope in Gorenje that the locals considered to be a burial mound. The research then came to a standstill for the next 14 years. That is, until 1924, when Mantuani received a message from Josef Eppich, the priest in Stara Cerkev, that he intends to dig up the barrow with the help of voluntary workers, especially teachers and students. In order to avoid possible excavation errors, Mantuani decided to head the works himself, and Professor Deuetling from Munich, was also present.

On the origin of the appellation: from the “Chicken Mount” to the “Mount of Giants”

At the time of the excavation, the barrow had two owners, the ownership was shared by the proprietors Josef Kren and Josef Kresse. People called it the “Hühnerbühel” – i.e. “The Chicken Mound”. In a report that he published in the Newsletter of the Museum Society for Slovenia, Mantuani wrote the following about the appellation given to the barrow: “The expression is undoubtedly very old, therefore it was no longer clear to our generation and a few coming before it what it means and so they have tailored the expression in such a way that it should mean a small hillock where chickens would wander off. The term was originally undoubtedly known as the “Hünenbühel”, i. e. the “Mount of Giants”. The belief that people living in prehistorical times were giants was, as Mantuani notes, generally widespread in the 1920s. However, this can be attributed to the size of barrows that led the inhabitants to conclude that giants were buried in them.

Excavation of the barrow in Gorenje, July 1924. Josip Mantuani with his assistants. Photo: Josef Dornig. Source: Glasnik etnološkega društva za Slovenijo 1924-25.

Excavation and findings

On 23 July 1924, Mantuani’s team undertook the excavations, which lasted four days. On the third day of excavations, archaeologists discovered a grave or a sandy bed with burnt remains of a dead person circled by stones. Together with the circumference, it was 2 m long and 90 cm wide. The ash was not found only at one point, but was strewn all over the sandy bed. In the grave there were no additions, such as clay vessels, tools, weapons or jewellery that would testify to the gender of the deceased and that could help to determine the age of the barrow. The stone circumference determined the orientation of the grave, namely it was oriented so that the dead person’s head would face towards the east and his or her legs towards the west. Often several corpses were buried in the barrows at several levels, yet the barrow in Gorenje only contains a single grave.

The grave was circled by stones. Photo: Josef Dornig, 1924. Source: Gottscheer Kalender 1926, p. 36.

Immediately before the start of the excavations, the barrow measured 21.5 metres in length and 5.9 metres in height with an inclination angle of 25°. Mantuani found that the barrow was taller and steeper at the time of its formation, and its original circumference was approximately three metres smaller.

The barrow today

Today, almost a hundred years after the excavations, the mound is even lower and wider. The area of the mound was arranged some years ago by the villagers of Gorenje. Next to the bench for resting and socializing, an information board was also erected by the Forest Service of the Republic of Slovenia, Regional Department Kočevje.

The information board by the Hallstat barrow in Gorenje. Photo: Anja Moric.
The village of Gorenje from the air. Source: Register of cultural heritage.

– Gottscheer Kalender
– Gottscheer Zeitung
– Register kulturne dediščine. Ministrstvo za kulturo RS.
– Simonič, Ivan. 1971. Zgodovina mesta Kočevja in Kočevske. V 500 let mesta Kočevje.
Velušček, Anton. 2011. Spaha. Založba ZRC.

Do you know the legend about the origin of the oldest church in the Kočevje region? Do you know that there is a bell with a mysterious inscription? More in the article about the Church of the Assumption of Mary in Stara Cerkev.

This post is also available in: Slovenian German

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