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Borislav Jovanović

22 June 1930 – 13 November 2015

Appreciation by
Miljana Radivojevic1 & Dragana Antonovic2

1McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK
2Institute of Archaeology, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, Serbia

Borislav Jovanović

The archaeology of the former Yugoslavia lost one of its last titans on 13 November 2015 with the passing of Dr. Borislav Jovanović, an eminent scholar of Balkan prehistoric archaeology, member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and a pioneer of global archaeometallurgical research. Between 1968 and 1986, Jovanović discovered and excavated the world's earliest recorded copper mine at Rudna Glava in eastern Serbia. This mine has recently produced radiocarbon dates that indicate its use from as early as c. 5400 BC. At the time, this discovery challenged the traditional narrative of the diffusion of metallurgy from the Near East to the Balkans, and strengthened the hypothesis on the independent origins of Balkan metallurgy advocated by Colin Renfrew only a few years earlier (Renfrew 1969).

Antiquity was the first international publication on the Vinca culture mining activities at Rudna Glava, which Jovanović published with Barbara Ottaway (Jovanović & Ottaway 1976). The Rudna Glava excavations lasted for almost two decades in collaboration with Ilija Jankovic, Director of the Museum of Mining and Metallurgy in Bor. It brought both Borislav and the archaeology of the former Yugoslavia worldwide academic recognition. This project yielded many international publications, of which a monumental book Metallurgy of the Eneolithic Period in Yugoslavia (Jovanović 1971) served as a seminal reference on the origins of metalworking in the Balkans, and inspired generations of archaeologists to embark on investigations of ancient mining and metallurgical sites in the region.

Rudna Glava was only part of the story. Borislav Jovanović conducted fieldwork on ancient copper mining throughout Serbia, including Rudnik Mountain and Mali Šturac. He also consulted on the recent archaeometallurgical research at the Vinca culture sites of Belovode and Plocnik and in the Kolubara region. Jovanović organised the Ancient Mining and Metallurgy in South East Europe conference in 1990 (Jovanović 1995), at which the results of a provenance study of early Balkan metallurgy were presented for the first time. This research, led by distinguished scholars like Ernst Pernicka and Friedrich Begemann, showed that Rudna Glava ores were not used to make the fifth-millennium BC Chalcolithic metal implements in the Balkans. This was not well received by Jovanović, and although Pernicka participated in research that 20 years later showed the local origins of the Vinca culture metallurgy in the vicinity of the mine of Rudna Glava (Radivojevic et al. 2010), their professional relationship was never resumed.

Borislav Jovanović was a scientist whose scholarship spanned communities from the Mesolithic to the Iron Ages across the Balkan Peninsula. During his fruitful career he led a number of systematic and rescue excavations in Serbia. He achieved notable success in the study of Celtic tribe the Scordisci, which brought him recognition as one of the leading scholars in Celtic archaeology in south-east Europe. He lived and worked in the 'Golden Age' of intellectual giants of Yugoslav archaeology before the start of its disintegration in the 1990s. His contemporaries included Dragoslav Srejovic, Bogdan Brukner, Alojz Benac, Milutin Garašanin and many others. Jovanović's diligent research attracted the attention of the international community, which opened the doors for participation in broader discussions and exchanges on the matters of early mining and metallurgy in Europe, and beyond. He had affiliations with the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, the Romanian Academy of Sciences, and life membership at the Historical Metallurgy Society (UK). He collaborated and corresponded with many great scholars in the field, including Ronnie Tylecote from the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Evgenij Chernykh from the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Upon retirement, Jovanović started Arheometalurgija, a journal dedicated to archaeometallurgical research in Serbia, and continued to participate in decision-making bodies at the Republic Institute for Heritage Protection, Central Institute for Conservation in Belgrade, Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute for Balkan Studies. He entered the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts as a full member in 2009.

Despite a rich academic record in publishing research from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age, Jovanović was always uncomfortable with receiving any kind of praise. In 2006, a group of his colleagues, ourselves included, were preparing a special edition of the Journal of Metallurgy dedicated to his work. Once he discovered our intentions, he asked the journal editors to give up on their plan to dedicate the entire volume to him in addition to asking for withdrawal of an article outlining his achievements in archaeometallurgy. On another occasion, he demanded the cancelling of a Festschrift that was in preparation. His usual response was that his work was not that important, and that he owed everything to his exceptional team.

Although Borislav Jovanović was never a member of the Serbian Department of Archaeology, and hence not part of the teaching system, he raised several generations of excellent archaeologists, many of whom are currently having successful careers in the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada. Those who were fortunate enough, like Dragana Antonovic, to work in the same institution with him, had the pleasure and privilege to often spend time in fruitful and inspiring discussions.

Borislav Jovanović's invincible enthusiasm and passion for archaeology did not leave him until his last days. The last time Miljana Radivojevic saw him, in October 2015, he proudly showed her two publications: the 2013 issue of the Journal of Historical Metallurgy, in which Paul Craddock mentioned Borislav's legacy in early archaeometallurgy in European research (Craddock 2013); and William O'Brien's recent book Prehistoric Copper Mining in Europe, 5500–500 BC (O'Brien 2015). Beaming with pride, he opened the pages to where his work in Rudna Glava was acknowledged. It was, despite all other successful projects he led, his favourite—not because it was his first independent project, but because it was his toughest fight against conventional narratives of the past.

Borislav Jovanović left nothing but the best memories and will be greatly missed for his contagious and perpetual optimism.


  • CRADDOCK, P.T. 2013. Archaeometallurgy 1962–2013: the establishment of a discipline. Journal of Historical Metallurgy 47: 1–12.
  • JOVANOVIĆ, B. 1971. Metallurgy in the Eneolithic period in Yugoslavia. Belgrade: Archaeological Institute.
    – (ed.). 1995. Ancient mining and metallurgy in southeast Europe. Donji Milanovac: Archaeological Institute Belgrade & Museum of Mining and Metallurgy Bor.
  • JOVANOVIĆ, B. & B.S. OTTAWAY. 1976. Copper mining and metallurgy in the Vinca group. Antiquity 50: 104–13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0003598X00070848
  • O'BRIEN, W. 2015. Prehistoric copper mining in Europe: 5000–500 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • RADIVOJEVIĆ, M., TH. REHREN, E. PERNICKA, D. ŠLJIVAR, M. BRAUNS & D. BORIĆ. 2010. On the origins of extractive metallurgy: new evidence from Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2775–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.06.012
  • RENFREW, C. 1969. The autonomy of the south-east European Copper Age. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 35: 12–47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0079497X00013396

Download a comprehensive bibliography of Borislav Jovanović work (PDF file)