Archaeology in Poland
Biskupin: Polish Archaeology
The most well known site in Polish archaeology is the fortified Bronze and early Iron Age settlement built between 750 and 400 BC near Biskupin, in the north-west of Poland. The ancient settlement site was discovered by a local school teacher in 1933 and during excavations the wooden remains of a fortified settlement were found. Much of the archaeology was found to be in an excellent state of preservation, due to the site's location in water-logged wetland beside a lake. Part of the early Iron age fortified prehistoric lake settlement has now been reconstructed and visitors to the site can see impressive box ramparts with rows of log houses filling the interior. Two rows of Iron Age houses have also been reconstructed, and an interesting permanent exhibition has been established. This exhibition is devoted to the archaeological finds discovered in the area.
The site was excavated from 1934 onwards by a team of archaeologists from nearby Poznan University. The ancient settlement, described as Lusatian, soon became famous in Poland and the site was visited by many prominent Poles. Indeed the excavation soon became part of the Polish national consciousness: a symbol of the achievements of the Slavonic tribes in prehistoric times. Biskupin was and is often referred to as the "Polish Pompeii".
When the Germans occupied parts of Poland in late 1939, Biskupin became part of the Warthegau, an area that was claimed to have been "Germanic" since at least the Iron age. Biskupin was renamed "Urstadt". In 1940, and excavations were resumed under the patronage of Heinrich Himmler by the SS-Ahnenerbe under the supervision of the archaeologist, Hans Schleiff. Two archaeological reports were published by Schleiff describing how Germanic tribes took over and improved the already existing small Lusatian (Lausitz) settlement. Excavations by German archaeologists at the site continued until 1942. After the war excavations were resumed by Polish archaeologists and ended in 1974.
Although the site is now on a lakeside peninsula, archaeology has shown that the ancient settlement was once located on an island in the middle of a lake. This island was encircled by a palisade of more than 25,000 wood stakes driven into the bed of the lake at an angle. Behind these fortifications was a rampart of earth and logs 500 metres long and 6 metres high. Inside these ramparts was a ring road, which encircled 11 parallel streets lined with more than 100 wooden houses. At its peak, Biskupin is believed to have had about 1,200 inhabitants.
Each year the site of the Biskupin archaeological museum transforms itself into the largest archaeological festival in Europe. The experimental archaeology event aims to recreate life in the village during the Bronze and Iron age: fabric is woven; bread is baked from wheat ground on a quern; clay pots are fired; butter is churned and made; iron is smelted using prehistoric methods; weapons such as bows, arrows, and swords are made; and battles are re-enacted. Living archaeology events for both archaeology enthusiasts and professionals are staged annually in May and June, with the main event taking place during the third week of September. Other educational events for people with an interest in history or archaeology are also organised during the summer. These include a megalithic stone age weekend where visitors can try their hand at flint knapping and primitive hunting and fishing techniques. No visit to Poland should be complete without visiting the remarkable Biskupin.
Similar fortified early Iron Age sites have been excavated at nearby Sobiejuchy and Izdebno.
Other notable open-air ethnographic museums (skansens) in Poland:
A Slovinian village in Kluki, near Slupsk in Pomerania (Pommern)
A Kashubian heritage park near Gdansk
A Silesian village skansen in Ochla, near Zielona Gora
A farming and rural life skansen in Bogdaniec, near Gorzow Wlkp
An ethnographic museum in Torun.
Interesting archaeological investigations and excavations taking place in Poland:
The megalithic tombs in Roscin (near Mysliborz) and Mysliborki and Przelewice (near Pyrzyce)
The prehistoric stone circles in Odry, Lupawa, and Siemirowice in Pomerania.
A Goth cemetery dating from the first century near Kowalewko
A Knights Templar Chapel from the 13th century in Rurka
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Biskupin; Polish archaeology or archaeological excavations and sites in Poland. I am an archaeology graduate who has lived in Poland, on and off, for several years.
© Polish Poland 2005
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