Plochnik – the settlement of the first European copper miners

In the Slavic-speaking parts of the Balkans, place names like “Ploche” and “Plochnik” are quite prevalent. These names come from the word “plocha,” meaning “plank” or “slab,” and typically indicate locations where flat stones are a notable feature of the landscape. While most of these stones have been shaped by natural forces, some are part of ancient megalithic structures, such as dolmens. An example of this is the Plochata dolmen in Bulgaria.

Plochink, Serbia – the earliest copper workshop in Europe

In Serbia, the toponym “Plochnik” holds particular significance, referring to an esteemed archaeological site recognized as one of the earliest locations in Europe where copper was utilized.

Plochnik is part of the Vinča culture, one of the most advanced Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Europe, known for its remarkable achievements in arts, architecture, and early forms of writing. The artifacts found in Plochnik suggest a community skilled in the smelting and casting of metals, pointing to an early and sophisticated understanding of metallurgy.

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In 2007, this archaeological site uncovered a copper workshop complete with a furnace and copper tools darting to 5,500 BCE, suggesting that the Copper Age in Europe could have begun 500 years or more earlier than previously believed.

People of Plochnik exported their copper as far as Scandinavia

A recent scientific study proved that the copper used in Early Neolithic northern artifacts in Scandinavia (circa 4,100–3,300 BC) predominantly came from ore deposits in Southeastern Europe, particularly Serbian mining areas. For Middle Neolithic artifacts (circa 3,300–2,800 BC), copper sources expanded to include the Slovak Ore Mountains, Serbian mining areas, and the Eastern Alps. By the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (circa 2,300–1,700 BC), the focus shifted to the Slovak Ore Mountains and the Alpine region.

Plochnik – a place of many slabs

It’s intriguing to note that the name “Plochnik” translates to “a place of (many) slabs”. The site, situated on a vast field next to a river, shows no traces of stone slabs. In my view, it seems more plausible that the site’s name, suggestive of “slabs,” actually refers to copper ingots.

Indeed, copper ingots have been produced at this location for thousands of years. They would have been meticulously stored beside a road, where merchants could pick them up for further distribution. For anyone passing by, the settlement of Plochnik would unmistakably be “a place with many slabs”.

The same could be said for the Croatian port of Ploche, which has been an important Illyrian port since time immemorial. More importantly, if this is indeed the case, the original language of the first European copper miners had to be Slavic.

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