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AFP

Two weeks left for 2 000-year-old fort
April 2nd, 2002

Zeljka Bilandzija

Obrezje, Slovenia - This Slovenian border crossing with Croatia, surrounded by picturesque hills, has been a hive of activity recently as archaeologists race against time to inspect a recently discovered ancient Roman military fort. 
The site of the fort, dating from the period of the Emperor Augustus whose reign covering the last 30 years BC, was discovered during a systematic archaeological survey which began last September prior to expanding the existing Obrezje border crossing. 
If the archaeologists who are swarming the site are in a hurry, it is because they have only two weeks left to conclude the excavations. 
'It is no accident that the border is right here' 
The site will be lost in the next few months when construction work starts aimed at expanding the border crossing as part of Slovenia's preparations for European Union membership. 
"In south-eastern Europe, on the territory of a Roman province of Panonia, there are no excavations of Roman forts from this period, which makes it an extremely important site which exceeds national importance," said Philip Mason, a British archaeologist heading a team of 50. 
"Given some extra time we could get most of the site documented and the important structures excavated," he added. 
Similar forts from the Augustan period have so far been found only in Germany, France and Belgium. 
And yet expanding the border crossing is also important, as the former Yugoslav republic prepares to join the EU, which it could do as early as 2004. 
The new border crossing is supposed to replace the one erected hurriedly with Croatia a decade ago, after Slovenia broke away from the former Yugoslavia. 
Once Slovenia joins the EU it will become the EU's outer border with the former Yugoslavia, and will be expected to toughen its border controls to fulfil the requirements of the Schengen accord, which allows freedom of movement within the EU bloc. 
Therefore the archaeological team has but two weeks before the deadline given by the investors, the Slovene government and the DARS motorway company to investigate and record the 210m x 290m site. 
Inside the rectangular fort, which is surrounded by two double ditches, some 200 pits have been discovered. 
It is as yet unclear what some of them were used for, while others are believed to have served either as storage or rubbish pits and contained broken amphoras, drinking vessels and cups. 
Metal tools and pieces of military and horse equipment have also been excavated, while the field just outside the camp revealed a complex of 14 ovens or furnaces that were probably used for iron work. 
The central part of the fort, where presumably the offices of the Roman administration were based, was probably lost during the construction of the border crossing in 1991 or the old road in the 1950s. 
A bronze age cremation cemetery dating from about 900 BC has also been discovered just outside the fort, containing rich findings in the form of pieces of bronze and gold jewellery. 
The archaeologists have also found a number of half-coins typical of military sites along the Roman frontier where soldiers facing the problem of being paid in large denomination coins used to cut them in half to get small change. 
The place was as important a crossing point then in Roman times as it is today, Mason says. 
"It is strategically a very important place and it is no accident that the border is right here," he said. 
"The site is crucial for understanding the early phase of Roman conquest and administration of what is now Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and probably parts of Austria," Mason stressed. 
Some 500 to 1 000 Roman troops stationed here controlled the important roads leading from northern Italy to a very important Panonian center Siscia, which is present-day Sisak in central Croatia, conquered under Augustus. 
Due to its location at the last point before the Sava river valley opens out towards Zagreb and Sisak, the fort also served the Romans in their subsequent conquests of Panonia. 
It is believed that the fort was a center of the early military administration which possibly lasted for a generation before the troops moved eastwards with the new conquests. 
Excavations will continue in the near future on the nearby high terrace where traces of a bronze age settlement have been found just in time before the construction of a shopping center that is planned in the next few years.

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