About the centre of Ābelene region

Keywords: Ābelene region and its centre, Puncuļeva hillforts, newly discovered Svātiune hillforts I, II
Language: In Latvian

Ābelene region has been mentioned in written sources in the Treaty of 1224, on dividing the Latgallian land Adzele. Historians quite unanimously localise the centre of Ābelene region in Baltinavas Obeļova, where two seemingly chronologically different hillforts and two Latgallian ancient burials are situated.

Aerial laser scanning (LIDAR) has provided new material for localising the centre of Ābelene region. In 2019, not far from Obeļova, two previously unknown hillforts were discovered in Zvonu (Zvanu) hills.

Svātiune Hillfort I rises 10–15 m above its nearest vicinity. The hillfort is encircled by an artificially made terrace approximately 3–4 m below the level of the plateau. On SW side, a levelled, approximately 10 m wide triangle-shaped protuberance has been made between the terrace and the plateau. The hillfort on SE side is connected to Svātiune Hillfort II by a bottle-neck pass. The pass in its narrowest place has been dug over with a ditch, approximately 2 m deep. Cultural layer can be detected all over the plateau measuring about 35 × 25 m.

Svātiune Hillfort II is approximately 15–20 m high marked off hill. About 4 m below the plateau it is encircled by a terrace, approximately 3–4 m wide. Below the first terrace, in the central part of S and E slopes of the hill, there is another terrace, which is approximately 2–3 m wide. Both the terraces mark off a strip of land to SW from the hillfort. Ascent leads upwards along the N slope of the hillfort. The plateau of the hillfort is approximately 30 × 20 m large.

Both Svātiune hillforts are well-fortified, much effort has been made in their construction; both hillforts are part of a single fortification system.

In detecting the centre of Ābelene region, the main fact is that the name of Obeļova village is similar to the old name of the region and hillforts that are situated in the vicinity. Puncuļeva Hillfort, which has been deemed to be the appropriate centre of Ābelene, is situated about 2 km eastwards from Obeļova, and the newly discovered Svātiune hillforts — approximately 1.5 km south-westwards from Obeļova. Marked fortifications of Svātiune hillforts rather suggest that they should be considered as fortifications of the last stage of the hillfort age. Two or more hillforts located close to each other also shows that the place had been an important centre.

In case of Ābelene one can imagine, although not prove, the following sequence of events: at first, only the small Puncuļovas Alotāju hill was populated and used as a hillfort; then, with the increase of population, the central place was occupied for a longer time by Puncuļeva Hillfort with appropriate two burial fields, but the final stage of centrality was marked by fortresslike Svātiune hillforts, where fortifications possibly existed for a comparatively short time. It is possible that Svātiune hillforts were situated in a sacred zone of Ābelene region or even larger territory — beside Svātiune village, lake and Svātais (Svētais — “sacred”) hill.