28.01.2015 change 28.01.2015

Huge burial site from before 2 thousand years will be analysed by specialists

Tomb of a woman from the 3rd century AD. Photo by Adriana Romańska Tomb of a woman from the 3rd century AD. Photo by Adriana Romańska

The largest necropolis from the Roman period in Karczyn in Kujawy is the object of detailed scientific research. Funds received from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage will allow to complete the analyses, that will determine the diet, kinship and origin of the dead buried in the cemetery.

Excavations in Karczyn were conducted in 2002-2010 by the Archaeological Expedition of the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. From the very beginning, scientists understood that they were dealing with a unique place.

"It turned out that the necropolis existed continuously for over 300 years, from the first to the fourth century AD - told PAP says Adriana Romańska, head of the excavation. - We have found more than 120 burials with very diverse rites".

The biggest surprise for the researchers was finding two gigantic tombs - the largest from this period known to date in Kujawy, which were hailed "princely graves". Both had impressive stone-earth burial chambers, the depth of which exceeded 2 m from the surface of the field today. Archaeologists speculate that originally the tombs were also covered with barrows. Unfortunately, the two structures had already been robbed in prehistory. Surprising for archaeologists were the findings of preliminary anthropological analyses: in one of the tombs, two people were buried: an adult - over 20 years old, and a 14 years old child, and in the second tomb - a 14-15 years old child.

"The presence of juveniles in princely tombs is quite unusual, as is burying more than one person in a princely tomb. Among the 60 known early Roman objects, only in four the remains of more than one individual were discovered" – said Romańska.

The tomb in Karczyn would the fifth grave of this type, and the first in Poland.

The necropolis is also unusual because of the wide variety of funeral rituals, manifestations of which were still visible. In addition to the princely tombs, archaeologists also discovered numerous flat skeletal graves, crematory urn graves (cremated corpses were placed in ceramic urns) and pits (cremated corpses were placed directly into the pits in the ground). There was also a specific "quarter" with group burials, in the literature referred to as layered cemetery.

It is certain that warriors were among those buried in the necropolis. Anthropologists discovered on their bones characteristic changes caused by horseback riding and wielding a sword or spear. Also intriguing was the part of the cemetery, where 12 people had been buried with the burial containing elements foreign in the Polish lands, to which the closest similarities are known from the area of the Black Sea.

The burial site certainly stood out in the landscape and it was an important place in the religion of the ancient community: archaeologists stumbled upon several furnaces, some of which were also cremation sites, place where the bodies were cremated.

The project "Karczyn. Development and publication of materials from bi-ritual cemetery from the Roman period in Kujawy", coordinated by the National Heritage Board will also include conservation of more than 200 monuments. However, the funds will be used primarily to carry out comprehensive bioarchaeological research: aDNA and stable isotopes of strontium, carbon C13 and nitrogen N15. As a result, scientists will reconstruct the diet, kinship and cultural associations of the community whose members had been buried in Karczyn. In addition, specialists will perform the following analyses: palaeobotanical (charcoal and preserved wood fragments), metallographic (to determine the composition of the objects, and perhaps even the origin of metals) and radiocarbon dating. The results will be published at the end of 2015 as a volume in the series "Monumenta Archaeologica Barbarica - Gemina series". The project is carried out at the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

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