Who are the Japods?
One of the greatest treasures of the Una National Park is certainly the Sojenica settlements as well as other objects located in the area of the village of Ripač in the contact zone of the Park. This place is 5 kilometers from the city of Bihać, and due to its geostrategic position, it has become the center of the development of Japod culture. The Japods achieved various cultural achievements in this area, starting with the intensive development of figurines and ending with the construction of Sojenica settlements, which became the main feature of Ripč. Such settlements represent a rare phenomenon not only in the Balkans but also in the whole of Europe, because this type of settlement is mostly characteristic of the area of Northern Europe.
Japods inhabited a large area that included the wider area around the middle course of the Una and the “Una” National Park in Bosnia, today’s Lika and Gorski Kotar in Croatia and Bela Krajina in Slovenia. The development of Japod culture took place, approximately, during the last thousand years of the old era.
The basis of the economy was animal husbandry and agriculture. Japods mainly raised goats, sheep and pigs, cattle and horses, as well as poultry. According to plant remains, the following were cultivated: wheat, rye, barley, oats, then legumes: lentils, broad beans and peas, and collected wild fruits: apples, pears, cherries, dogwood and hazelnuts. The diet repertoire was complemented by hunting (especially roe deer and deer, less wild boar and bear) and fishing on the Una.
Settlements and way of living
Most Japod settlements consist of castles that are positioned on elevated, naturally protected hills. They are characterized by strong stone-earth protective ramparts built using the drywall technique adapted to the configuration of the terrain. Sojenica settlements on the river Una also represent the specificity of Japod’s residential culture. Sojenice are houses built of wood above the water, on oak poles (pylons) driven into the bottom of the river.
Cults and religion
Traces of the spiritual life of the Japods are reflected: in the cult of the dead, the cults of deities, through the symbolic content of some objects of material culture, in the traces of rituals and beliefs, mostly expressed through figurally made or decorated objects. In the cult of the dead, two simultaneous rites are represented: burial and burning, so it is considered that it could be about two components: autochthonous (burial) and about the influence or influx of the population from the field culture area with urns (burning).
Already from the period of its formation, the Japod community shows a fairly high level of social organization. The construction of protective ramparts, the arrangement of dwellings and communication within the limited area of the settlement required the participation of a large population and certain planning, i.e. certain forms of management, especially in larger castles and Sojenik settlements where some kind of proto-urban arrangement can be assumed.
The development of Japod culture included figural design in both applied and monumental form. Artistically shaped or decorated objects can be classified according to material (baked clay, bronze and rare silver, amber and glass, stone) and techniques (carving, appliqué, modeling, casting, stamping), as well as according to the type of figures shown: representations of objects , animal and human figures. Buildings made of clay and stone are characteristic of the Una valley, while they are not found in other areas of Japod for now.
Cultural achievements of Japod
Numerous archaeological sites are located in the area of the village of Ripač, not far from Bihać. Until now, the known figural representations made of baked clay are concentrated in one part of the Japod territory, in the middle course of the Una river, and most of them originate from the Sojenica settlement in Ripč. This versatile cultural development can be explained mainly by the fact that this area was exposed to a large influx of members of foreign ethnic groups. In addition to the appearance of figurines, there is also the appearance of a scattering of certain cultural and religious motifs (deer, hand), and the main directions from which this influence spread are the areas northwest and north of the middle course of the Una river.
Not only is there a development of cult performances expressed in visual form, but the making of jewelry and clothing is also developing, and their autochthonous form helps us to establish the fact that they were created as a result of the activities of the inhabitants of Ripač, but under the influence of earlier creations of this form. It is important to note that the Japods paid great attention to the development of religion, so the findings in the area of Ripč are numerous when it comes to this segment of the life of the then population. Among the many finds, the engraved head of a deer with branched antlers stands out, the representation of this head is perfect because the representation of the neck and other parts of the head is presented in an ideal way. There is also a representation of a snake from Gradina in Ripč, which is found on a fragment of a vessel, with a wavy body, and this is also the only representation on ceramics, while these types of representations with snakes are more numerous on metal and stone objects. In addition to these representations, special attention is paid to the study of terracotta – clay gods. A large number of terracottas, seven of them to be exact, were found in the Ripač settlement in Sojenik, and most of them were located under scaffolding number 3, which was located in the middle of the settlement, so based on the construction method, it is assumed that it had a cult purpose. The terracottas made by the Japods can be divided into two iconographically and chronologically separate groups. Only two belong to the first group, while to the second group belong all other terracottas that emphasize the nudity of the body – naked terracotta, without any marks of clothing. In addition to these findings, pyramidal terracottas with representations of clothing and jewelry were also found in Ripč, as well as a large number of prismatic terracottas found in Ripč together with six other terracottas, and cylindrical terracottas as well as those with hornlike outgrowths.