History & Culture

We know more about the builders of the oldest stone wall in Poland

Unique stone wall that more than 3.5 thousand years ago protected the villagers who came from the area of the Mediterranean, reveals further secrets to scientists working in Maszkowice (Małopolska). To their surprise, the life within the wall did not differ much from that in other surrounding villages.

The oldest stone wall in the history of the Polish lands, more than 2.5 thousand years older than the monuments of Romanesque architecture, was discovered in 2015 in Maszkowice on Mount Zyndram by researchers from the Jagiellonian University. The find was completely unexpected, although archaeologists had been investigating the place since the beginning of the 20th century.

Meanwhile, last year, archaeologists unearthed a large fragment of monumental stone wall that protected a half hectare settlement more than 3.5 thousand years ago.

"We consulted our findings with a large group of scientists from all over Europe. It turned out that there were no similar structures from this period in Germany, Romania or Hungary" - explained in an interview with PAP Dr. Marcin S. Przybyła from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. - "The closest similarities in architectural solutions can be found in the settlement situated on the peninsula of Istria in northern Croatia" - he added.

The advanced structure was very well thought out. Builders used long stones, so-called "staples" that held the fortification together, connecting the wall facade with its interior. The designer of the wall had to have a lot of experience in building this type of structures - it was not a newcomer\'s experiment - believes the scientist.

Archaeologists are now preparing for the new season of excavations, which this year will take place in July and August. Between seasons, scientists worked on finds discovered during the excavations. This included not only to monuments, but also organic debris.

Particularly informative were archaeobotanical studies (studies of the remains of ancient plants). From the interiors of relics of houses scientists took many kilos of soil, which was subjected to floatation (separating archaeological materials from soil using water and sieves). As a result, scientists discovered the remains grains and seeds, which were analysed microscopically. It was determined that the most cultivated grain was emmer - grain similar to wheat, popular today in the area of the Mediterranean.

"For us it is a hint that the villagers had to develop the valley of the Dunajec, because it\'s the only place where such a demanding grain could be grown" - added the archaeologist. Barley had a much smaller role - perhaps it was fodder grain used as animal feed - the researcher believes. In addition, the analysis showed that the villagers gathered fruit: strawberries and blackthorn.

Scientists were also surprised by the shape of the interior of the settlement. While fortification wall was built in a culturally alien way, houses located inside were no different from those known from this period in Central Europe. "It\'s as if they wanted to highlight their differences clearly to strangers, people from outside the village. What has happened inside was private and adjusted to local ecological conditions" - said Dr. Przybyła.

According to the researcher, within the walls about twenty houses were built, on a square plan of approx. 6 to 6 m. Typical structure was supported on four pillars. Between them the builders placed braid, which was covered with thick layer of clay. Roofs were probably covered with straw or reeds.

Through meticulous research of the remains of one of the houses, the researchers were able to reconstruct the functional division of its interior. For example, at the corners of the house were used to store grain (fragments of large vessels and whole grains were preserved), and in the central part was the furnace (where debris was found in the form of straw and tableware - for example cups and pots), and seeds of wild plants.

Scientists are confident that at least some villagers came from the distant Mediterranean or Adriatic areas - only they had the architectural know-how required to erect stone walls in such a technologically advanced form.

Defended by well-made walls settlement did not last long. The fortifications were built in the years 1750-1690 BC.

"That was when the settlement reached its apogee - only in the beginning of the fortifications fully served their function, and ceramic vessels were at the highest level" - said the archaeologist.

With time, the techniques were forgotten and abandoned by the villagers. Less than a hundred years after its elevation the wall began to crumble and collapse. Archaeologists discovered traces of reconstruction, but it was an "incoherent makeshift work" - said Dr. Przybyła. In his opinion, after several generations the ancient skills of villagers had disappeared.

The settlement was abandoned after more than two hundred years. Scientists do not have the data, which would imply that a disaster or invasion contributed to that situation. After five years people returned to the hill, but that group was totally unrelated to previous inhabitants. Research of archaeologists shows that even in those days the monumental walls were visible in the area. New residents used them to support the outer walls of newly built houses.

This year, archaeologists plan to conduct research in a very large area - the dig will measured 45 m by 10 m. They want to study the younger settlement on Mount Zyndram and reach the crown of the stone wall. In two years they will investigate the corner of the fortification, where during the geophysical survey they discovered a quadrilateral structure. This could be a bastion or a stone gate - another stone structure, which has no counterparts in the Polish lands over 3.5 thousand years ago.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

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