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Ostrow Lednicki. Mysterious Island. “Already in the first days we found a silver coin, an arrowhead, belt buckles…”

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Ostrów Lednicki is a special place. Here, instead of stones, moles throw early medieval pottery to the surface. It’s hard for it to be otherwise, because a thousand years ago the island was a connection between the Belvedere Palace and the Katowice Steelworks. The political and economic heart of the Piast state was beating here. This season, archaeologists are trying to find an answer to the question of how Mieszko lived. And it’s not easy at all.

The monotonous humming is the best signal that archaeological research is underway in Lednica Lake. The sound is made by the ejector engine, i.e. a large underwater vacuum cleaner, which archaeologists from the Nicolaus Copernicus University use to move tons of silt. Their work resembles a game of picks. For two seasons, they have been revealing a tangle of beams that lie on top of each other at different angles and on which traces of carpentry work can be seen. Each log is cleaned, equipped with a plate with a number and photographed.

Underwater pieces

– We are trying to unravel this mess – Mateusz Popek from the Nicolaus Copernicus University laughs – We are definitely dealing with a wreck, something here once collapsed into the water. But what this structure was, we do not know yet. It could have been embankments, coastal fortifications and even a marina – the archaeologist speculates and adds that the beams are healthy and samples for dendrochronological research can be cut out of them – Thanks to this, we will know whether it was an investment by Mieszko or rather Chrobry, or maybe at all earlier, he explains.

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The island of Ostrów Lednicki, located on the lake, was a thousand years ago the epicenter of the emerging Polish statehood. Mieszko I, inspired by the imperial architecture, built his stone residence, the so-called palatium, and a church here. In the latter building, some researchers claim, the remains of baptismal pools were discovered. The entire complex was surrounded by an embankment measuring as much as 11 meters in height. Two wooden bridges led to the island from Poznań and Gniezno.

This inconspicuous piece of metal is the fitting of an early medieval knife. A thousand years ago it shone with a golden colorphoto. A. Przybylski

– This season, our excavations are unique, because we conduct them both from land and water – says research manager Andrzej Kowalczyk from the Museum of the First Piasts in Lednica – We established an 18-meter-long excavation that runs from the palace towards the shore. Archaeologists-divers from Toruń work underwater. In this way, we can recognize a piece of the island in a very comprehensive way, the scientist argues.

For now, the exploration of the mysterious underwater structure does not bring sensational finds in the form of swords, spears and axes, for which the Lednica lake is famous. Spoiled submariners complain a bit about repetitive bulk material in the form of broken pots and animal bones. Their land-based trowel colleagues, on the other hand, had more luck.

– Already in the first days we found a silver cross denarius, an arrowhead, iron belt buckles, knives, a knife sheath fitting, a spindle whorl imported from the area of ​​the then Kievan Rus and a temple ring, a typically Slavic ornament – enumerates Ewa Pawlak from the Museum of the First Piasts – It is a set of relics which was to be expected here. However, these are finds from mixed embankment layers, which were made in the 19th century. In addition to early medieval artifacts, we found a button from underpants and a hunting ammunition shell – explains the archaeologist.

Relics of the palace and chapel in Ostrów Lednicki in the mid-nineteenth century. Woodcut by W. ChlebowskaPolona.pl

A house behind the fence

The above-mentioned embankment layers are the remains of the palace’s research by representatives of the Prussian administration and Count Albin Węsierski, who, aware of the importance of this place for Polish history, bought the island from German hands. The 19th century is a time when amateur archaeologists used dynamite to get to ancient strata. Ostrów was also treated brutally.

– Dynamite was not used, but the research was carried out on a whim, destroying or omitting an important context. Besides, even before Węsierski took care of the island, a lot of stone material from the palace and the church was plundered. In the surrounding villages, barns were erected from it, and even used to build a church – says Ewa Pawlak from the Museum of the First Piasts.

The escarpment located in the immediate vicinity of the palace looks in the eyes of a layman on the remains of a defensive embankment. However, it is most likely a heap of loose earth thrown from the inside of the stronghold during pioneer excavations. And here comes the key question: Does this mean that Mieszko and then his son Bolesław did not finish the stronghold’s fortifications?

– One of the concepts assumes that the palace and the chapel were erected on a natural hill surrounded by swamps, additionally surrounded by a palisade, which was supposed to provide defense – says research manager Andrzej Kowalczyk – The lack of an embankment made a powerful stone building visible from a distance, which had considerable prestige significance. But this is just a theory and we want to check how correct it is – adds the archaeologist from the Museum of the First Piasts.

Here, where the archaeologist drawing layers sits, there could already be the interior of the cityphoto. A. Przybylski

Perhaps the rampart did encircle the palatium, but ran closer to the shore? The wooden structures uncovered this season, which are partly on land and partly in water, may be its remains. To be sure, you will have to go down a few more levels and figure out what we are really dealing with. For now, only brown smudges in the ground are visible, forming a checkerboard pattern.

– In the optimal scenario, we should find powerful chests. For their construction, oak trunks with outgrowths were used, from which hooks were formed that held the structure together. This way of erecting embankments was a hallmark of Piast investments – explains Ewa Pawlak and adds that they were often accompanied by pagan rituals – During many excavations, foundling sacrifices in the form of animal heads or jaws are found on hillforts. Mostly horse or pig. This season in Ostrów, we found a pig jaw in the burnt layer. It is difficult to determine whether someone just ate the head or whether it had a cult character, but just in case, we separated it from mass material, tracked it down and drew it – says the archaeologist.

Pig jaw found on geldings. Dinner leftovers or an offering to the gods?photo. A. Przybylski

Mysterious lead and the disappearing road

Archaeologists are assisted by volunteers from the Wielkopolska Exploration and Historical Group Gniazdo. They had already been involved in the museum’s Lednica Project, which consists of methodically combing the fields surrounding the lake with metal detectors. Discovered monuments are geolocated, thanks to which a precise map of their concentration is created, which in turn allows for a better understanding of the specificity of the early medieval and prehistoric settlements around Lednica. This time, the detectorists were invited to the excavation to methodically reveal successive strata and to become better acquainted with the methodology of conducting excavations.

– In addition, they check heaps of excavated earth – says Ewa Pawlak – During manual exploration, small metal artefacts can simply escape our attention, especially since they are often covered with moist earth. There are a lot of pieces of lead coming out of the detector this season. These are usually irregular beakers, less often small discs with holes – says the archaeologist.

What was found during the excavations?TVN24

The discs could function as substitute money and, when strung on a thong, could be used in larger amounts for settlements in everyday transactions. Or be weights to measure the amount of silver needed. In the times of Mieszko, no money was used for settlements, but pure metal. But the actual weights for scales are known to archaeologists and have a slightly different form, barrel-shaped or octahedral, and they have no holes. So that weakens the concept. A large number of lead melts certainly testifies to the production process. But what was made of this metal? Oh, another puzzle. Researchers are also fascinated by where the road surrounding the city ran. There are doubts as to whether what was interpreted as stone cobblestones during earlier research is not really a dragged building material from the palace. Questions are also raised by the nature of the burn recorded on one of the levels.

– It did not necessarily have to be associated with the invasion and burning of the city – says Ewa Pawlak – Let us remember that burning the surface of wooden structures protected them against water penetration. The same was done with wooden water pipes two hundred years ago before they were buried in the ground – explains Pawlak.

Archaeologists during excavations are supported by volunteersphoto. A. Przybylski

Lednica in a new version

Artefacts found during this year’s research will go to the collection of the Museum of the First Piasts in Lednica. They will add to the already rich collection of early medieval items obtained as a result of decades of excavations. From this year, the artifacts can be admired in a fresh arrangement, as the Museum has completed the construction of a new seat. In addition to modern exhibition halls, the facility also tempts visitors with an observation deck, from which there is a breathtaking view of Ostrów. Anyway, you can also get to the island by ferry and see for yourself how archaeologists work.

– This year, on the occasion of World Archeology Day, we invited primary school students and their parents to participate in the excavations. It was a great lesson of living history for them and a lot of emotions, for example when ten-year-old Ignacy unearthed the whorl himself – says Andrzej Kowalczyk from the Museum of the First Piasts.

In this way, museologists not only pass on knowledge, but also teach responsibility for common heritage. Because someone who understands the meaning of an archaeologist’s work will not search for treasures “in the wild” with a detector and will notify the conservator when he finds old bones or pieces of clay vessels during the construction of the garage. This year’s excavations in Ostrów Lednicki will last more or less until the end of July. Visitors can always approach the scientists and find out what just comes out of the ground. Archaeologists will gladly answer. Just don’t ask them about the gold train.

Latticephoto. A. Przybylski

Author:Aleksander Przybylski

Main photo source: photo. A. Przybylski

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