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Evidence of pagan funerary rituals found at medieval Polish castle


Archaeologists from Opole discovered evidence of celebrating pagan funerary rituals within the early medieval castle town in Ryczyn (Lower Silesia). "This location of burials is unique" - told PAP Dr. Magdalena Przysiężna-Pizarska.

Evidence of pagan funerary rituals found at medieval Polish castle
Research students of the Institute of History of the University of Opole on one of the mounds in Ryczyn 
[Credit: M. Przysiężna-Pizarska]
According to written sources, Ryczyn was one of the most important castles of the early Piast state in Silesia. Bishops supposedly sought refuge there after the outbreak of the Slavic revolt in the 11th century. Prince Ludwig I of Brest was searching for their burials in Ryczyn in 1390, carrying out the first excavations in Poland.

Archaeologists have been working there since 2004. First they discovered burial mounds. Only further excavations allowed to determine that they were within the fortifications. "The fact that the dead were buried within an early medieval castle town is a real rarity. In this case, a large part of the settlement was a barrow field, which was located next to a small body of water" - told PAP head of excavations, Dr. Magdalena Przysiężna-Pizarska from the Department of Archaeology of the University of Opole.

Cremated bodies were buried in the barrows. "The funeral ceremony was complicated, but based on our research, we can reconstruct the rituals from a thousand years ago" - explained the archaeologist.

Evidence of pagan funerary rituals found at medieval Polish castle
The remains of crematory burial within one of the studied barrows 
[Credit: M. Przysiężna-Pizarska]
The remains of up to seven dead were scattered within each of the mounds. Dr. Przysiężna-Pizarska described a complex ritual: first the dead were incinerated, and their remains placed in ceramic urns, which during the funeral were placed on wooden piles driven into the surface of mounds. Then the vessels were thrown down, broke and their contents spilled. Then the priests covered the remains with a layer of clay or... a board. Thus prepared graves were covered with an additional layer of soil. Interestingly, among the human remains archaeologists also found the bones of animals, including fish - interpreted as a sacrifice.

"Water reservoir located next to mounds certainly had a cult significance - water was drawn from the Oder River, which flowed in the immediate vicinity of the castle town. Our theory was confirmed by this year's discovery of ritually drowned animals" - said the archaeologist.

Researchers had discovered numerous remains of animals before, but they were always ritually dismembered. In this case, they are preserved in their entirety. These were: a young cow and a horse. "Only young animals were sacrificed" - noted the researcher. Animals could have been ritually drowned as a sacrifica in connection with the funeral, which took place on a nearby mound.

Evidence of pagan funerary rituals found at medieval Polish castle
Complete skeletons of a cow and a horse placed probably while celebrating rituals
[Credit: M. Przysiężna-Pizarska]
After several seasons of work, archaeologists have counted seven mounds located in the northern part of the settlement. Mound cemetery functioned between the 10th and 12th centuries, while the second cemetery, located outside the castle town, was active used from the 10th to the beginning of the 15th century. In those times, the early Piast state had already been formally Christianised.

"Burials discovered in the cemetery outside the castle are characterized by religious syncretism. They are very diverse. With time, in parallel to the barrows, inhumations, skeletal graves appeared in the cemetery near the castle. This shows that the burial rituals did not change suddenly, but it was a process lasting many years" - said Dr. Przysiężna-Pizarska.

"In light of the latest research we can dismiss the Dlugosz report that bishops supposedly sought shelter here after the outbreak of the Slavic revolt in the 11th century. Everything indicates that the pagans were strong here as well" - concluded the archaeologist.

The mound necropolis in the settlement was ultimately destroyed at the end of the 14th century by the Dominicans, who established gardens in this area. Later, in the nineteenth century, there were ... beer gardens there.

Source: PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland [August 01, 2016]
TANN

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