(***UPDATE Aug 3*** – after the experts of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts looked into all this, there are some preliminary conclusions: the rings are (almost surely) mushroom-made fairy rings, and the pottery shards are Roman! Read more here.)
Well, then …
When we were forced to leave the kite and camera flying alone in the storm above castle Kalec, the fierce winds swayed the camera so much something pretty much unexpected was recorded on one of the photos.
A closer look:
See the circles?
“Fairy rings!”, we thought and decided to go back ASAP – this time with the venerable Rokkaku and with the camera poinitng straight down – to explore those funny circles.
But first, an intermezzo. Surely, the castle Kalec and its surroundings must be enchanted – or, better, haunted. While we narrowly avoided the disaster in the storm last time, this time the winds overwhelmed the kite line – and it snapped.
Rokkaku and Nikon flew magnificently away, and for a moment we thought everything was lost.
It wasn’t. After a mile long flight southwest across the Pivka valley …
… the Picavet rig got entangled in some bushes and we safely retrieved both the camera (unfortunately the battery fell out so no photos ot the untethered flight) and the kite! 🙂
(Yes, we know. Totally our fault and negligence – another stark reminder to take care and regularly replace your kite lines!)
But before the line snapped (and the battery was lost), we got the shots of them circles!
There are aroud ten of them, ranging from 5 to 10 meters in diameter. The kite aerial photos can do only this much, so a third expedition to the place was in order – this time to conduct a survey on foot.
As said before, we were pretty much sure these were so-called fairy rings (Wikipedia) – circles in grass created by mushrooms, with the mycelium growing outwards and either repressing the grass (a negative circle), or supply it with more nutrients, especially nitrogen, so tatit grows higher (a positive circle). BTW, fairy rings are really cool … 🙂
But there was another, much less fairytale-ish and much more exciting possibility.
A replica of a Celtic late Iron Age roundhouse, Wales.
Roundhouses are typical and well-known type of dwellings from Bronze and Iron Age, right up to the Romans. Made on a circular plan, with walls made either of stone or of wooden posts joined by wattle-and-daub panels and a conical thatched roof, they ranged in size from less than 5m in diameter to over 15m. The remains of many Bronze Age roundhouses can still be found scattered across open heathland, as stone ‘hut circles’.
There is just one (haha) problem: no circular dwellings were ever found in Slovenia. Not from the Bronze or Iron Age, not from the Roman times, not from early Slavs. None. Even more, while roundhouses are rather numerous in Brittany and the British Isles, they are pretty rare in the rest of Europe.
So – fairy rings or an Iron Age settlement of roundhouses? One of the main features of fairy rings is that they grow – and are getting wider every year. So we took the aerial photos of the area from the Environmental Atlas of Slovenia that were shot in different years, and compared them:
The rings are barely discernible, but they seem to remain the same through the years. So points down for the fairy rings!
As we walked up to the rings, we noticed that they are almost impossible to see from the ground. The slighty taller – or just a bit more upright-standing – grass was all that delineated the rings, and while the colour of the top of the grass made the ring stand out while observed from the air, one can’t see shit standing among them:
See the ring? Yeah. Here is another one:
This sort of slight difference in vegetation is typical for the fairy rings – and they again seemed more likely. So, to verify our fairy ring hypothesis, we had to get our hands dirty. We carefully removed a small portion of the grass and checked the soil for mushrooms and their mycelium.
There was none.
What we found, however, were loosely packed stones under the ring. And among the stones was this:
A piece of old – really old – pottery; a ceramic vessel, a kind of plate or a saucer.
For what we can see this plate was once about 15-20 cm in diameter. The ware is rather coarse with inclusions, but – as we hear – it can be considered fine if – if! – it is really ancient.
We reached out to the venerable and always helpful Dr. John Wells of West Lothian Archaeology Trust, and he forwarded our photos and description to a real expert in the field. These are his (the expert’s) thoughts:
“They [the rings] could be dwellings, but you usually do not see grass growing within the drip ditches like this. I have only seen it clearly on crop, but the environmental conditions of late may be producing features we have not seen before. I particurlaly like the double ring.”
“This could either be an earlier house with a later built on top of it (or visa versa) or is more industrial, such as a pottery kiln. Furnaces and kiln remains are generally deeper in the ground due to the extraction of the fired materials.”
“I hope everything was recorded archaeologically upon turf removal [hmmmm]. A simple slot trench across one of these features will tell you all you need to know.”
“The pottery recovered looks real and has some form to it. Early forms of pottery from the Bronze Age is generally rough with large inclusions within it, this looks much more refined, suggesting an Iron Age/Romano period? I hasten to add I am not a pottery expert and relying on my own personal experience and knowledge based on the evidence.”
“This is all very interesting and requires a geophysical survey and thorough archaeological examination before digging enters the equation.”
There is more to it. The landscape around this place is full of grooves, ridges, ancient drywalls and barrows, as seen on a LIDAR survey:
LIDAR view of the area.
Some of the barrows nearby
The circles are convenietly close to the spring of the Pivka river.
The Upper Pivka valley otherwise boasts numerous Bronze and Iron Age ‘hill forts’ – there are five of them in the immediate vicinity, less than 3 km away (Gradisce above Knežak, Grmada, Reber, another Gradisce, Velika Obroba and Šilentabor), so the valley was quite populated back then. And there is supposed to be a Roman settlement near castle Kalec.
Yes. This is very interesting – and very exciting! Did we really stumble upon an Iron Age settlement? A couple of thousand years old pottery? And the first roundhouses ever in Slovenia? Whoa! 🙂
But, of course, now is the time to call for the cavalry. We are in touch with some professional archaeologists in Slovenia, and we will definitely report any development of this possibly (hopefully!) exceptional find and the story around it.
Kite aerial photos taken with Nikon 1 J1 on a Great White Delta and a Rokkaku kite.