An archaeologist at work in a Roman-era necropolis in Poland

Scientists find huge Roman-era burial site in Poland included two 'Princely Graves'

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Archaeologists are working in a huge necropolis in Poland where remains of people who lived from about 100 to 400 A.D. are buried. They have found two gigantic tombs that they call “princely graves,” which had, unfortunately, been robbed. They also found warriors’ graves, graves of people foreign to the region and furnaces for cremation.

An article in Science & Scholarship in Poland calls the necropolis the largest Roman-era burial site in the Karczyn, Kujawy area. Archaeologists have said it is a unique place and will try to determine the people’s diets, kinship and somewhat about their culture.

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

Both of the princely tombs had impressive stone-earth burial chambers, more than 2 yards (2 meters) underground.

Archaeologists speculate the tombs were covered with barrows, which are also known as tumuli. The barrows, if they were there, are now gone.

“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 article states.

They found a number of artifacts in the necropolis.

Tin-coated bronze vessel from the tomb of a third-century woman

Tin-coated bronze vessel from the tomb of a third-century woman ( Adriana Romańska photo )

Romańska said burying juveniles in grand tombs, and burying more than one person in them, is unusual. Of 60 early Roman tombs, only four had the remains of more than one individual, she said. These tombs in Karcyn are the fifth of this type found in Europe, and the first in Poland.

Tomb of a woman from the third century A.D.

Tomb of a woman from the third century A.D. ( Adriana Romańska photo )

The article states:

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 concluded some of the people buried had been soldiers because they saw characteristic signs on their bones caused by horseback riding and wielding a sword or spear.

In addition, 12 people buried with elements foreign to the region may have been 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 article states.

The project, being conducted by the Polish Heritage Board, will preserve 200 monuments in the region. The primary focus, though, will be bioarchaeological research using radiographic techniques.

Scientists will attempt to reconstruct diet, kinship and cultural associations of the people buried in Karczyn. Specialists will do palaeobotanical analyses of charcoal and preserved wood fragments, metallographic analyses to determine composition of the objects and the origin of metals found there, and radiocarbon dating.

Featured image: An archaeologist at work in a Roman-era necropolis in Poland ( Adriana Romańska photo )

By Mark Miller

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