The Genisis of a Jewel

Looking to Kosovo's NorthWest Corner over central ridge.
(C) M.PERRY (2016) Photo from plane passing over Prishtina area.

Kosovo's Geological journey from the Proterozoic to the prehistoric and beyond. 

Kosovo’s high circles of surrounding mountains, fertile plains and central spine of low rolling hills have been built over eons of geological time. Not only did significant geo-tectonic events define the distinct geographic dominion that is today’s Kosovo but they also laid down the resources that have sustained numerous waves of competing armies and empires with expanding interests. The oldest rocks in Kosovo are concentrated in the North East with scatterings isolated in smaller pockets elsewhere. Their geogenic journey started 1000 – 570 million years ago when the earth was gripped, like a snowball, in the most severe glaciation on geological record. Strata formed by ice and fire would lay down the continental bedrock of Kosovo, only to be drowned out millions of years later.

240 to 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs dominated life on earth, Kosovo was, for the most part, under water. Metallic ores that went on to form such an intriguing part of Kosovo’s human history originated at these times. They are part of rich strip of related rocks that extend from the western Med, across the Alps, Caucasus, Hindu Kush and Tibet all the way to Indonesia. Lead, the metal that went on to fuel Yugoslav car batteries and the roofs of Byzantine Churches and Ottoman Hamams, formed when molten liquids spewed into what would then have been a shallow sea known as the Vardar Ocean. Limestone that today can be bought at the side of the road for making ornamental fountains, developed from the accumulated shells of billions of crustaceans bedded down in warm waters. Later those same shells would metamorphose under great pressure into the marbles that would line the floors of what are today’s state buildings.

Towards the end of the dinosaur era, when mammals first started appearing, the sea that covered Kosovo would retreat as flanking tectonic plates of Africa and India collided with Euro-Asia. Veins of Gold, Zinc, Lead and Silver developed where rocks, brought together by the collision, merged together under great pressure and terrific heat.
The same forces that formed gold would keep pushing to produce mountains; and the consequent Alpine mountain building period would push up Kosovo’s plethora of peaks well beyond today’s 2000m. The circle that is Kosovo had been created, but the people had not arrived; in fact they had not even evolved. They would not appear for another 65,955,000 years.




In the meantime the mountains would be eroded down, by weathering and water, into sediments that would settle to produce rich soils for luxuriant plant growth. Lignite, the fuel that powers 97% of Kosovo’s electrizity generation, was laid down by the accumulation and subsequent decay of this fertile vegetation in sedimentary basins.
The flat lands of Kosovo, created by the constantly changing course of rivers and shallow lakes levelling the landscape, would start to take form. Forests covered the fertile floor but mountaintops would be stripped of soil by a period of glaciation during an ice age we are, technically speaking, still in.

As the ice receded man would arrive in hunter-gathering tribes some 45,000 years ago. By the New Stone Age women were playing a leading role in artistic expression and numerous human shaped terracotta figurines, some represented as pregnant women were being crafted in their hands. The most famous of them all, “The Goddess on the Throne,” has come to represent the place she was found, Prishtina.

Over millennia life carried on in a slow evolution of settlement, farming and increasing sophistication through the Copper, Bronze and Iron ages. By the Iron Age burial mounds indicate hierarchies had developed. Then, in the 1st century AD, Romans, who eventually formed the province of Dardania, conquered the region.

These metallic ages, from copper to Iron, evolved as man turned his hand to shaping and subduing natural ores. Base-metal mining has been a mainstay of the economy ever since, with Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Serbs, Saxons, Turks, French, Britons and modern miners all undertaking extensive extraction. In medieval times a traveller recorded that King Stefan UroŇ° II Milutin kept several silver mines including one at Gracanica. The “third great Balkan Silver long cycle,” (1395 to 1566) would line the coffers not just of his lineage but also of the dynasties’ conquerors – the Ottoman Sultans. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent would mine 11,000 Kg of sliver from Kosovo in a single year. Rich pickings indeed, for an Empire that would rule with steady stealth and careful strategy for nigh on 500 years.

Jewellery from prehistoric bangles, to fine Ottoman earrings is the legacy of man’s inventiveness in the region. The silver and gold mined over millennia can still be seen in the national museum, or in the crafted trinkets and ornaments of the Nemanjic era and Ottoman ages. But, their external beauty belies a deeper conception... when the sea that covered Kosovo had only just receded, when early mammals had just taken their first lung full of air, and veins that glimmered, just like gold, precipitated precious metals out hot fluid rock.

Reproduced from work originally published for Kosovo New Diplomat (2016).

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