Category Archives: POLAND

Skeleton with bird skull in its mouth identified as a 12-year-old Scandinavian girl from 17th century

Skeleton with bird skull in its mouth identified as 12-year-old Scandinavian girl from 17th century

When long-dead human remains are found buried in unusual circumstances, anthropologists are usually able to piece together why. But the bones of a child that lived just a couple of hundred years ago in Poland are proving to be a bit of a head-scratcher.

The Tunel Wielki Cave is located within Ojców National Park. There are over 400 caves within the area which is also known for its rock formations

In a shallow grave in Tunel Wielki Cave, located in Sąspowska Valley in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, the body of a young child was found buried all alone. The only other human bones in the cave were over 4,500 years old, so it wasn’t a location in regular use for burials.

It’s the only modern human found buried in a cave in the region, archaeologists believe.

But it gets even weirder: the skull of a small bird, a chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), was found in the child’s mouth, and another chaffinch skull was found next to its cheek.

The skeleton is not fresh, exactly. The remains were first discovered 50 years ago during excavations of the caves, but almost all the finds had been placed in storage pretty much immediately without ever having been examined or described.

Archaeologist Małgorzata Kot from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw had embarked on a project to analyse these artefacts when she stumbled upon the remains.

“When we opened another dusty box from an old research project, we found small child’s bones,” she told Science in Poland, a science outreach website run by the Polish government’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

“Their discoverer, professor Waldemar Chmielewski, never published the details of this find, he only included a photograph of it in a book published in the 1980s.”

Dr. Malgorzata Kot came across the mysterious remains while looking through artefacts from old research projects in the storage rooms of the University of Warsaw.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the child was buried in the later half of the 18th century CE, or very early in the 19th century, and died at about the age of 10. Preliminary examination of the bones also suggests that the child was suffering from malnutrition.

As for why it was buried in a cave all by itself, with the heads (or skulls) of chaffinches, that’s still an utter enigma.

“This practice is not known among the ethnologists we have asked for opinions. It remains a mystery why the child was buried in a cave in this way, not in a cemetery in a nearby village,” Kot said.

The bird skulls had already been described in an earlier paper, but the authors had not known that they had been found as part of a human burial, since this burial has never before been described in published research.

“We returned to [the bird] skulls, but the new analysis did not show anything that could at least explain why the chaffinch heads accompanied the child. For example, there are no traces of cuts on the skulls. We only know that these were the remains of adult birds,” Kot said.

This bizarre mystery raises many questions, and unfortunately, there’s a serious hindrance to the team’s quest to find more answers – the child’s skull is missing. It was sent to anthropologists in Wrocław straight after excavation, and no one knows what became of it.

Sadly, the dozens of caves in the Sąspowska Valley have been extremely damaged by humans since the child was interred.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, farmers removed much of the sediment from the caves to use as fertiliser, damaging countless artefacts dating back to at least the Palaeolithic, including human remains and Neanderthal tools.

Industrial exploitation of the caves has been banned for decades, but there’s no telling how much damage had already been done – or if there were any clues that may reveal why these much more recent remains had been buried there and in such a strange way.

The team intends to conduct a more thorough series of DNA tests on the remaining bones to see if it yields any more clues about the child’s tragic end. So it may not be the last we hear of this strange burial.

Spinning Tools Recovered from 2,000-Year-Old Grave in Poland

Spinning Tools Recovered from 2,000-Year-Old Grave in Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered a 2,000-year-old grave containing human remains lying one on top of the other, spindle whorls and the remains of distaffs during barrow excavations in the Sarbia forestry district.

The remains are thought to date back to the Wielbark culture and according to researchers the presence of the weaving materials suggest that the bodies had similar professions. 

Spindle whorls are weights attached to a spindle, they prevent the threads from sliding and maintain the speed of the spin. They have a hole in the middle. They are usually made of clay, less frequently of stone. In both graves, there were also silver, S-shaped clasps, and similar bowls.

Head of the research project Professor Andrzej Michałowski from the Faculty of Archaeology at the Adam Mickiewicz University, attempted to reconstruct the funeral ritual and the reason for finding two burials under the barrow.

He said: “The body of the deceased was already in a wooden boat, which she used to take to cross to the other bank of the river… It seemed as if she was napping after work, dressed in her best robes. Her chest decorated with a rain of beads made of glass, amber and bone… Pendants sparkling in the necklace. The silver sparkle of the S-shaped clasp on her neck.”

During the excavation, the remains of a box placed at her feet were also discovered. 

Michałowski said: “It contained her beloved work tools. A set of professional whorls and two distaffs, so that in the afterlife she would be able to weave the most delicate fog that would move over the valley of the river. Or heavy stormy clouds racing over the edge of the valley… Favourite pins to catch her unruly hair that disrupted her work.”

He added that in his opinion, the spinner’s apprentice attended the funeral and during the ceremony threw a pebble with a carved face outline into the grave (archaeologists found such a pebble during excavations). 

He said: “She missed her. She, too, wanted to go where the Great Spinner went. Touch the threads again together and magic them into the weaving of fabrics.

Since the death of the Master, she knew that she would no longer be able to do this magic with her as before. She saw only one goal… The next day, a fisherman walking towards the river saw a small body floating on the waves.”

After the apparent suicide, the spinner’s apprentice was buried in the same barrow where the Great Spinner had been buried. 

Michałowski said: “For her journey, she received her whorls, reminiscent of flowers or stars hanging on the riverside sky on a summer night, and a small distaff. A small S-shaped clasp glimmered in her burnt remains. A small bowl rested in a dug pit.”

He added: “Only the stone with a face really knows the truth.”

At the site of a new apartment building, a mass burial of 18th century plague victims was discovered.

At the site of a new apartment building, a mass burial of 18th century plague victims was discovered.

An 18th-century cemetery containing the remains of plague victims has been uncovered during an apartment build in northern Poland. The grim discovery was made after builders stumbled upon human remains during work at the site in Mikołajki in the Warmian-Maurian Voivodeship.

The grim discovery was made after builders stumbled upon human remains during work at the site in Mikołajki in the Warmian-Maurian Voivodeship.
The find included two cemeteries, one dating between the 17th -19th century and a second from the 18th century when a plague swept through the Mazurian region.

The find included two cemeteries, one dating between the 17th -19th century and a second from the 18th century when a plague swept through the Mazurian region.

Archaeologist Agnieszka Jaremek vice-president of the Dajna Foundation said: “It is mentioned in sources that there was not enough space in the cemetery by the church and that’s why victims were buried by the road leading to Mrągowo.

“Everything points to the fact that we have uncovered that place.

“Many graves conceal whole families – both adults and children.”

The find included two cemeteries, one dating between the 17th -19th centuries and a second from the 18th century when a plague swept through the Mazurian region.

So far the remains of 100 people have been uncovered in 60 graves.

Known as the Great Northern War plague of 1700–1721, the epidemic swept across what is now northern Poland and other parts of Central Eastern Europe killing hundreds of thousands.

By the time the plague had faded out by December 1709 in the then city of Danzig, around half of its inhabitants had been killed.

After the plague, near to the graves of victims, further dead were buried and burials could have taken place there until the start of the 19th century.

In these graves, archaeologists uncovered items such as buttons.

Joanna Sobolewska, director of the Department for the Protection of Monuments in Olsztyn said that the uncovered human remains would be subjected to tests and anthropological analysis and after the end of tests, they would probably be buried in a communal grave. “The issue of the exact burial place is a question for the future”, she said.

The human remains will now be subjected to tests and anthropological analysis before being buried in a communal grave.

The site also concealed the remains of a Neolithic settlement and during works lasting several weeks, archaeologists from the Dajna Foundation in the name of Jerzy Okulicz-Kozaryn discovered remains from the Roman period.

Archaeologists think it is possible that the site was chosen for a settlement due to its proximity to a lake on one side and flat terrain on the other and according to estimates, the settlement could have occupied an area of 30-50 acres.

The Dajna Foundation’s Jaremek said: “Among the artefacts which we found are elements of ceramic plates as well as a blue glass bead.”

5,000-year-old grave reveals mass murder of Bronze Age family

5,000-year-old grave reveals mass murder of Bronze Age family

Despite the fact that all 15 people discovered in a Bronze Age mass grave in southern Poland were killed by a head blow, their bodies were buried together with great care and consideration.

Genetic evidence now indicates that these people belonged to the same extended family, providing new light on a tumultuous period in European prehistory.

In 2011, a tragic grave near the southern Polish village of Koszyce was found. The remains of 15 men, women, and infants, as well as valuable grave goods, were found in the grave, which was radiocarbon dated to between 2880 and 2776 BCE. Many of the skeletons had sustained serious cranial trauma.

5,000-year-old grave reveals mass murder of Bronze Age family
The grave in Koszyce, southern Poland, holds the remains of 15 people and the grave goods that were buried with them.

The reason for the killings could not be determined, with archaeologists at the time suggesting these individuals were murdered during a raid on their settlement.

To shed more light on this mystery, a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the University of Aarhus, and the Archaeological Museum in Poznan, Poland, conducted a genetic analysis of the remains.

The results, published late last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests all but one of these individuals were closely related, and that the individuals were positioned in the grave according to their kin relationships.

All 15 skulls exhibited fatal cranial fractures. No defensive wounds, such as injuries to the upper limbs, were detected, which suggests these individuals were captured and executed, and not killed in hand-to-hand combat, according to the new study.

Importantly, the new evidence suggests these people, who are associated with the Globular Amphora Culture (a group that lived in central Europe from around 3300 to 2700 BCE), were not genetically related to a neighbouring group known as the Corded Ware Culture. 

The researchers still aren’t sure what happened, but they guess that the killings were territorial in nature. This particular time period marked the transition from the Late Neolithic period to the Bronze Age, as early farmers were developing more complex societies.

But it was also a turbulent and violent time, as European cultures were coming into contact with incoming cultures from the east, including from the Asian steppe. The expansion of the Corded Ware groups may have resulted in this gruesome incident.

“We know from other gravesite discoveries that violent conflicts played out among different cultural groups at this time,” archaeologist Niels Johannsen of Aarhus University said in a University of Copenhagen press release. “However, they have never been as clearly documented as here. All the violence and tragedy aside, our study clearly demonstrates that family unity and care meant a lot for these people, some 5,000 years ago, both in life and in death.”

Indeed, the new genetic analysis identified these 15 individuals as part of a large extended family. Overall, four nuclear families were documented—mothers and children for the most part. The individuals were buried according to family relationships; mothers were buried with their children, and siblings were positioned next to each other.

The oldest individual, for example, was buried alongside her two sons, aged 5 and 15. A woman in her early 30s was buried with her teenage daughter and 5-year-old son. Four boys, all brothers, were laid down next to each other. Clearly, the bodies were buried by someone who knew the deceased.

Importantly, fathers and older male relatives were missing from the grave, “suggesting that it might have been them who buried their kin,” wrote the authors in the new study.

“Our suggestion is that they weren’t at the settlement when the massacre occurred and that they returned later, and subsequently buried their families in a respectful way,” said biologist Morten Allentoft of the University of Copenhagen in a statement.

Only one individual, an adult female, was not genetically related to anyone in the group. However, she was positioned in the grave close to a young man, which suggests “she may have been as close to him in life as she was in death,” wrote the authors.

“The presence of unrelated females and related males in the grave is interesting because it suggests that the community at Koszyce was organized along patrilineal lines of descent, adding to the mounting evidence that this was the dominant form of social organization among Late Neolithic communities in Central Europe,” the authors wrote in the study.

Typically, patrilineal societies are associated with the practice of women marrying outside of their social group and residing with the man’s family (i.e. female exogamy). Several previous studies have suggested that patrilineal domestic arrangements did in fact prevail in several parts of Central Europe during the Late Neolithic, according to the new paper.

A brutal episode from a particularly brutal period in human history. It’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place on Game of Thrones, but unfortunately, this tragedy was all too real.

Bronze Age Burials Found in Sandbox in Poland

Bronze Age Burials Found in Sandbox in Poland

Children playing in a sandpit in southwest Poland discovered human bones inside ancient urns. After local students began digging about with a bucket and shovel just below the pit’s surface in the village of Tuchola arska, the terrible discovery was found.

Bronze Age Burials Found in Sandbox in Poland
The grim discovery was made in the village of Tuchola Żarska after local schoolchildren began digging around with a bucket and spade.

Experts believe the find dates as far back as the Bronze Age and that it comes from the Lusatian culture from around 1100-700 BC.

Local archaeology inspector Marcin Kosowicz said: “While digging in a sandpit, the children came across one or two extensive corpse graves of the Lusatian culture community.

The graves which date back to the Lusatian culture from around 1100-700 BC were found just under the surface of the sand.

“The graves were located very shallowly under the surface of the soil and the overlying sand and for this reason, some of the vessels are fragmented.

“The removal of a considerable part of humus took place during the levelling of the ground for the construction of the playing field with heavy equipment, which could have damaged the vessels.”

He added that the location of the discovery may be linked to an earlier archaeological site nearby which is listed in the provincial heritage protection register.

Kosowicz said: “Due to the fact that its location is marked on a map on a scale of 1:25 000, which is characterised by low precision, it is possible that the grave that the children discovered is closely connected to this site.

“According to local people, a few dozen years ago, during the construction of a pond and a fence on the premises of the neighbouring State Agricultural Farm, bronze artefacts and ceramic vessels were discovered.

“Unfortunately, at this stage, it has not been possible to establish the further fate of these artefacts.”

The Lusatian culture existed in the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age around 1300 BC to 500 BC. The name Lusatia refers to an area in eastern Germany and western Poland.

The Lubusz heritage protection office has said that rescue archaeological excavations will be carried out at the site of the discovery.

Their main aim will be to secure the monuments that have been left behind.

Archaeologists discover the 18th-century wooden road

Archaeologists discover the 18th-century wooden road

Archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved stretch of a late 17th or early 18th-century wooden road in Jarosław, southeastern Poland. At 100 feet long, it is one of the longest wooden roads ever discovered in what is now Poland.

The remains were discovered in February during archaeological exploration of the site of planned sewer work in the historic centre of the city.

The road led to a gate in the city walls opening west towards Kraków. It was part of a 250-mile route connecting Bielsko Biała to Lviv in modern-day Ukraine. It was a dirt road, except for the section inside Jarosław.

Archaeologists discover the 18th-century wooden road
Archaeologists have excavated a wooden road in the town of Jarosław, located in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship of Poland.

The road was 10 feet wide, so must have been one-way traffic only because that was not enough space for two lanes. It was made of timbers mounted on transverse wooden joists. The wood was probably oak and it was very sturdy.

There are no hoof marks or wheel ruts even though it must have been a busy street as Jarosław held one of the largest market fairs in Europe and was a major hub of trade in the region. It was in active use for about 100 years before paved roads were built over it.

Some of the roads have been removed to the Jarosław Museum for conservation and study. Objects found during the removal of the timbers — coins, show leather, nails — will go on display in the museum.

The section still in place will be displayed in situ in the coming months.

The road was laser scanned before removal so a detailed animated model could be made accurate to the millimetre. 

Hoard of silver coins may have been part of historic ransom to save Paris

Hoard of silver coins may have been part of the historic ransom to save Paris

A hoard of silver coins minted in the Carolingian Empire about 1,200 years ago has been unearthed in northeastern Poland and may have been part of a historic ransom to save Paris from a Viking invasion.

Hoard of silver coins may have been part of the historic ransom to save Paris
Only three coins of this type have ever been found before in Poland, which was well beyond the Carolingian realms. Archaeologists suspect they are linked to the Scandinavian trading emporium at Truso.

It’s the first time anyone has found so many Carolingian coins in Poland. Only three such coins — of a distinctive style with Latin inscriptions and a central crucifix — have been found in the country before now.

The Carolingian Empire was founded by the Frankish king Charlemagne — Charles the Great — and spanned much of modern France, Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy in the eighth and ninth centuries. 

Archaeologists think the newfound coins may have come from the Viking trading town of Truso, which was then located near the Baltic coast about 60 miles (100 kilometres) west of the farmer’s field where they were found.

And if the coins did come from Truso, it’s possible that they were part of an immense ransom of gold and silver paid by a Carolingian king to prevent invading Vikings from sacking the city of Paris.

“If a larger number of the coins can be attributed to Paris, then yes, it is possible — and some have already been attributed to Paris,” said Mateusz Bogucki, an archaeologist and coin expert at the University of Warsaw in Poland. But “it is way too early to give such an interpretation,” he told Live Science.

Regardless, the distinctiveness of the coins raises interesting questions about their origins, Bogucki said. At the time the hoard was hidden or lost, the first medieval Polish kingdom had yet to be established, and the Slavic tribes in the region used mainly Arabian silver dirhams paid in exchange for slaves by traders from the Muslim caliphate, based in Baghdad far to the south.

A total of 118 of the Carolingian silver coins, about 1,200 years old, were unearthed in a farmer’s field near the town of Biskupiec in north-east Poland.

Carolingian coins

Metal detectorists discovered the first handful of the coin hoard in November 2020, in a field near the town of Biskupiec.

The finders, who had permission from the provincial government for their activities, stopped any further searching and kept the location secret until experts from the nearby Museum of Ostróda could investigate the find.

By March 2021, archaeologist Luke Szczepanski and his team had unearthed a total of 118 coins from the field — 117 of them minted during the reign of the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious, who ruled from A.D. 814 until 840, and one coin minted during the reign of his son Charles the Bald, who ruled until A.D. 877.

Such coins are extremely rare in Poland, which was well beyond the lands ruled by the Carolingian dynasty. The only three Carolingian coins previously unearthed were found at the archaeological site at Truso, which had been established by Norse traders by the eighth century and was famous for its trade in amber, furs and slaves.

It seems likely that the owner of the hoard of coins found near Biskupiec had obtained them in Truso, Bogucki said, but there is a possibility that they had come from somewhere else and were being taken to Truso for trading. The coins have no marks that show exactly where and when they were minted, but researchers can learn more about their origins by studying characteristics like the shapes of the letters in their Latin inscriptions, he said.

Only three coins of this type have ever been found before in Poland, which was well beyond the Carolingian realms. Archaeologists suspect they are linked to the Scandinavian trading emporium at Truso.

Viking shakedown

The archaeologists aren’t sure how the hoard of silver coins came to be hidden or lost near Biskupiec. The region was probably an uninhabited wilderness at the time, and archaeologists have not found any traces of a nearby settlement, Szczepanski told Science in Poland.

One intriguing possibility, however, is that the coins came from Truso and that they were originally part of a ransom paid by the Carolingian king Charles the Bald to Vikings threatening Paris, his capital city.

Norse raiders frequently attacked the Frankish heartlands of the Carolingian Empire — today’s northern France and western Germany — after the late eighth century. Historical records compiled by monks suggest that in A.D. 845 a large fleet of Viking ships sailed up the Seine and laid siege to Paris, then located on an island in the river.

Charles the Bald reportedly paid the invaders 7,000 livres, or more than 5 tons of silver and gold, to prevent them from sacking the city, Bogucki said, and it’s possible that some of the coins found near Biskupiec were part of that ransom.

Charlemagne was King of the Franks in the late eighth century when his armies conquered most of western Europe. He was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the pope in Rome in A.D. 800; his rule and those of his dynasty are known as the Carolingian Empire, which later became Europe’s Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious succeeded him as emperor in 814, and the empire was divided among Louis’ sons in 840. 

Charles the Bald, one of Louis’ sons, ruled the western kingdoms and became the Carolingian emperor in 875. Portrayals from the time show him with a full head of hair; historians speculate that he may, in fact, have been very hairy and that the nickname was used ironically, or that his “baldness” referred to his initial lack of lands compared with those of his brothers.

Egyptian mummy believed to be of a male priest turns out to be a pregnant woman

Egyptian mummy believed to be of a male priest turns out to be a pregnant woman

According to the AFP, X-rays of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy kept at Poland’s National Museum since 1917 showed the remains of a woman with long, curly hair who died between 26 and 30 weeks pregnant.

Marzena Ozarek-Szilke, an anthropologist at the Warsaw Mummy Project, was examining a CT scan of a mummy at the National Museum in the Polish capital when she spotted something peculiar.

“When I looked at the lesser pelvis of our mummy I was interested in what was inside… I thought I saw a tiny foot,” Ozarek-Szilke said.

Egyptian mummy believed to be of a male priest turns out to be a pregnant woman
X-ray images showed a little foot in the belly of the world’s first pregnant Egyptian mummy

She asked her husband, an archaeologist who also worked on the project, to take a look.

“My husband looked at the picture and as a father of three, he said: ‘Well, that’s a foot’. At that moment … the whole picture started to come together,” Ozarek-Szilke told Reuters.

The mummy came to Poland in the 19th century when the nascent University of Warsaw was creating an antiquities collection. For decades, it was thought the mummy belonged to an ancient Egyptian priest named Hor-Dehuti.

However, in discovery revealed in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Thursday, scientists at the Warsaw Mummy Project said the mummy was in fact a woman in her twenties who was between 26 and 28 weeks pregnant.

The cause of death is not clear, but Ozarek-Szilke said the pregnancy may have had something to do with it.

“It is possible that the pregnancy itself contributed to the death of this woman. Now we have modern medicine, women who are between 20 and 30 weeks pregnant and something happens to the pregnancy, they have a chance to be rescued. It used to be impossible,” she said.

The discovery sheds some light on the little-known role of children in ancient Egypt and the religious beliefs of the time, but also raises many questions, according to Wojciech Ejsmond, co-director of the Warsaw Mummy Project.

“What was the status of this child in the Egyptian religion? Did it have a soul, could it go to the afterlife on its own, could it be reborn in the afterlife… if it was not yet born?”

Ejsmond said scientists would study the mummy further to determine the cause of death and establish why the foetus was left in the body.