The Prehistoric period
The earliest traces of human presence on Croatian soil ate back to the Palaeolithic Age. In Šandalja Cave near Pula, and in Punikve near Ivanec, flints made by pre-Neanderthal people have been found, while the remains of Neanderthal prehistoric humans have been discovered on Hušnjakovo near Krapina. Archaeological finds from the Palaeolithic Age have been discovered in other places throughout Croatia (Vindija, Veternica, etc.).
The Neolithic period (c. 6000 BC – c. 3000 BC) was characterised by the emergence of permanent, organised settlements, and by the production of earthenware and other items. In the Adriatic area, the most significant Neolithic cultures are the Impresso, Danilo and Hvar cultures, and, in the interior, the Sopot and Korenovo cultures, while the major sites where finds have been recovered are Smilčić near Zadar, Danilo near Šibenik, Markova and Grapčeva Caves on Hvar, and others.
Prijelazno razdoblje iz kamenoga u brončano doba, tzv. eneolitik, u kojem započinje obradba i uporaba prvoga metala – bakra, pokriva vučedolska kultura (oko 3000. pr. Kr. – oko 2200. pr. Kr.), nazvana prema lokalitetu Vučedol na obali Dunava kraj Vukovara.
As the Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age, known as the Eneolithic period, in which the first metal – copper – began to be used, the Vučedol culture arose (c. 3000 BC – c. 2200 BC), named after the locality of Vučedol, on the bank of the Danube near Vukovar. In the Bronze Age (c. 2500 BC – c. 800 BC), a period of great ethnic strife and migration, metalwork and techniques for producing bronze items continued to develop. Several cultural groups can be singled out (the Gradina (hillfort) culture in Istria, the Urnfield culture in northern Croatia, the Cetina culture in Dalmatia, etc.), which arose through the symbiosis of earlier cultural traditions and the various influences of strong neighbouring cultures.
The arrival of the systematic production and use of iron tools marked the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 800 BC – early 1st century), during which the first ethnic communities, mostly Illyrian, appeared in the area which is present-day Croatia. Their names were recorded by Greek and Roman writers. They belonged to the Histrians, Iapodes, Liburnians, Delmati, Ardieans, etc., and came under the pronounced influence of Greek and Italic culture, and from the 4th century BC, under the influence of Celtic spiritual and material culture.
Nesactium (Vizače), northeast of Pula, was a prominent centre for the Histrians in the first millennium BC. They continued to live there right up to late antiquity, i.e. the early Christian era. In Nesactium, bronze pails decorated with figures, fragments of jewellery, weapons and ceramics have been found, along with examples of monumental stonework, representing the greatest achievements of prehistoric artistic creativity on Croatian soil.