Novo Brdo (Artanë) Castle. Photo: BIRN

Serbian Authors’ Paper Suspects Ecofacts Were Stolen in Castle’s Restoration

A scientific article published by some Serbian authors raises suspicions that archeological items have been stolen from the medieval Novo Brdo castle in Kosovo during its restoration.

A scientific paper published in the Journal of Archaeological  Science: Reports at the end of 2021 has raised suspicions that archaeological items were stolen from the castle of Novo Brdo (Kalaja e Artanës) during its restoration in 2015 and 2016 by a company from Belgrade.

Kosovo institutions have not yet answered questions about the completion of the work.

The authors recall in the paper that a first round of excavations was carried out at Novo Brdo in 1952 and lasted until 1969. A second one was conducted in 2015 and 2016.

The 2015-2016 restoration work at Novo Brdo Castle was done by Koto, a company from Belgrade which UNESCO commissioned to undertake the work.

Zana Fetiu, advisor to Kosovo’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Hajrulla Ceku, told BIRN that if suspicions of smuggling ecofacts or archaeological materials are confirmed, legal measures will be taken against those held responsible.

“Obviously, this [claim] will not pass by the [ministry] without addressing the legal responsibility of the perpetrators of possibly illegal actions,” she said, “just as the successful implementation or non-implementation of the supervisory duties of our subordinate institutions … in these institutions will be assessed.” 

“We will follow closely whether this development occurred due to negligence or lack of oversight of our institutions that are mandated for such a process. 

“In any case, legal avenues will be followed, not excluding administrative and diplomatic measures, to address the issue,” she added. 

Fetiu said that the restoration project of Novo Brdo Castle had been beset with uncertainties from the start.

The Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, IAK, was ultimately responsible for technical supervision of the restoration of the castle during 2015/16.

Enver Rexha, director of the institute, told BIRN that he was not aware of any ecofacts from Novo Brdo being smuggled to Serbia.

Rexha said the work of Serbian authors in the Journal of Archaeological Science concerns materials that are not important ecofacts.

Rexha recalled that during the latest restoration of the castle no archeological excavation was done. The work focused on cleaning up and disposing of centuries-old fallen material inside the castle, and general conservation.

“All artifacts collected during the cleaning were submitted to the IAK, officially by Koto, though for acceptance of the delivery there is no evidence”.

“IAK has no information about whether artifacts found there during the excavations were sent to Serbia,” he added.

The institute said it had not been notified of the archaeological material mentioned in the article.

The article, titled “Mummified animal skin with tar content from the castle of the late medieval town of Novo Brdo – (Central Balkans)” was written by several authors from several Serbian institutions – the Institute of Archeology, the National Museum from Belgrade, Serbia and the Faculty of Technology, University from Novi Sad.

It is based on findings made during the restoration of Novo Brdo Castle in 2015 and 2016.

Neither the company that carried the restoration work, nor the authors of the paper have responded to inquiries of Prishtina Insight, by the time of the publishing of this article.

In the paper, the authors recalled that the archeological excavations in Novo Brdo were carried out in two main phases, the first from 1952 to 1969, with short breaks.

“The initial study focused mostly on the fortifications of the castle and the lower town and lasted until 1957, while further work focused on the Orthodox Cathedral Church of St Nicholas on the outskirts,” the article noted.

The authors added that explorations in Novo Brdo then continued in 2015 and 2016.

“These resulted in new knowledge about the development of the city in the 14th and 15th centuries and the phenomena that accompany urbanization and daily life in the city. The new campaigns (2015–2016) focused on the castle and the lower town, clearing the remaining ruins and then exploring the buildings and archaeological contexts within these two units,” the article explained.

“During the archeological excavations … in 2015, a unique group consisting of mummified animal skins with preserved hairs, filled with resin material and four smaller pieces of animal skin was discovered,” the article noted.

The medieval town was an important mining settlement in the Central Balkans for the production and distribution of silver ore, it recalled. 

The fortress was built in the late 13th century by king Stephen Uroš II Milutin of Serbia to protect gold, silver, iron and lead mines which were abundant throughout the area. Novo Brdo was also famous for its silver.  At one point the second most important town in Serbia, it was home to a colony of merchants, miners and artisans from Germany and Dubrovnik. The Ottomans conquered it in the 1450s after which it declined.

“The archeological context for the mummified animal skin was the workshop for the production of lead shells, located in the northeast corner of the Great Hall of the castle and can be dated with certainty to the first half of 1455. The findings were initially subjected to macroscopic analysis, which included observations on the method of skin removal and the details of use,” it said.

Koto from Belgrade was selected by the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, to carry out the work in 2015-16, with the approval of local institutions, namely the culture ministry.

But restoration of the castle was followed by irregularities and some notable scandals. In March 2019, part of the facade of the walls collapsed. In 2020, Koto workers were seen using bulldozers while repairing the damage.

Kosovo then stopped further work by Koto and sought further clarification from UNESCO. An indictment was also filed against the company for the mismanaged works.

Damage to the castle is expected to be repaired this year.

Novo Brdo is listed as a Special Protective Zone under Kosovo law. The fortress, situated between the villages of Perlepnice and Krivareke, is today part of the Novo Brdo Municipality.

31/03/2022 - 16:11

31 March 2022 - 16:11

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