Ancient Polish Megaliths Versus Open-pit Mine? A Question of Coal Verses Cultural Heritage
The earliest historical heritage and cultural identity of many Europeans is threatened – by coal. A year ago, in the forest area of Góry in Eastern Wielkopolska (Poland), a set of 5,500-year-old megalithic tombs were discovered. The Neolithic cemetery has the bad-luck of being located right on top of a brown coal deposit, which a mining company ZE PAK wants to dig out. The planned Ościsłowo open-pit mine would devastate the environment and economy of Wielkopolska region. It now appears that ancient monuments are also at risk.
Will a small mining company destroy cultural heritage older than the Egyptian Pyramids?
The Neolithic tombs in Góry are the best preserved megalithic constructions in this part of Wielkopolska. They may be the last megaliths ever to be discovered in the region, as there are scarcely any places left to search. The tombs are an historical testimony that the well-developed farming culture had existed on the Polish territory one thousand years before the Egyptian Pyramids were being constructed.
Funnelbeaker ceramic vases from Marianowo, a site near Gory where the megalith builders likely lived (Image: Krzysztof Gorczyca, Konin Museum)
Are the Poles ready to sacrifice a priceless piece of European history, barely researched and still full of secrets? Do the short-term profits of one company justify such a sacrifice? The “Foundation Development YES – Open Pit Mines NO” believes that the cultural heritage should be protected from destruction for future generations.
A model of a nearby neolithic burial site with megalithic tombs under construction. (Image: Krzysztof Gorczyca, Konin Museum)
The megalithic tombs have been discovered during a random search with the use of LIDAR technology. On the digitally transformed images the archaeologists can see many objects that are invisible to a human eye in nature. The LIDAR images of entire Poland are available on the Internet, e.g. in Geoportal.gov.pl, on the WMTS layer named ISOK_CIEN.
In the recent months, the archaeologists have conducted non-invasive research of the findings. The earthen mounds of the Góry megaliths are up to 90 meters (295 ft) long and 1.5 meters (5 ft) high and are in very good state. Only the outer stones have been removed through years of farming in the region. The rest is virtually intact. There are 15 tombs in total, including 14 unchambered long-barrows from the Funnelbeaker culture, which was widely spread through Europe around 4300 BC-800 BC, and one tomb built in the early bronze age around 3 thousand years ago, belonging to Lusatian culture.
Funnelbeaker ceramic vases from Marianowo – a site near Gory, where the builders of the megaliths most probably lived (Image: Krzysztof Gorczyca, Konin Museum)
The most recognized European megaliths from the Neolithic era include Grønsalen on the Isle of Man in Denmark, Brú na Bóinne in Newgrange, Ireland, West Kennet Long Barrow in England, La Roche aux Fées and the Carnac Stones in France, the megalithic temples of Malta. Stonehenge is a bit younger and dates back to c.a. 2900 BC and the Great Pyramid of Giza – the first Egyptian pyramid - is believed to have been constructed around 2500 BC - one thousand years after the burial mounds in Góry.
The local people began deconstructing the megaliths around the 19th century, to use the stones for construction. Nobody thought of the historical importance of the tombs at the time and only inconspicuous earthen mounds hidden in the forest have made it to the present. However, this allowed for the interior of the tombs to be preserved in very good shape.
The Góry tombs are currently barely visible in the forest terrain. Image: Leszek Pazderski)
As the Internauts say, “Everyone knew about those tombs all along”. But it turns out that the information about the megaliths had never left the local communities who have lived in the area for generations. The archaeologists found out about the megaliths on their own thanks to LIDAR and the information has since spread among history fans all over Wielkopolska, Kuyavia and Europe.
Will the megalithic tombs become a historical monument?
There are other Funnelbeaker culture elongated tombs near Góry: in Wietrzychowice, Sarnowo and Gaj in the Kuyavian region, as well as in Dolice in Western Pomerania. In Wietrzychowice there is a well maintained cultural park and many activities are organized, bringing tourists and archaeologists from Poland and abroad. It is reasonable to think that similar activity may develop in Góry, if the ancient cemetery is given a chance.
Reconstructed megalithic tomb in Wietrzychowice (50 km to the East of Góry). Credit: Leszek Pazderski
On September 27 th the historical monuments conservation authority has formally begun the procedure to put the Góry megalithic tombs on the protected monuments list. The tombs are temporarily protected from that day onwards – which means the mining company cannot get the permit for the Ościsłowo mine until the procedure is over. The final decision should be issued within a month.
If the historical monuments conservation authority decides that the ancient tombs shall get the protected monument status, then the Ościsłowo mine will not come to life – or at least major changes will have to be introduced to the plan, to leave the ancient cemetery intact. This can happen if the specialists of the historical monuments conservation office care more for cultural heritage than for one small lignite deposit. We count on them to remain independent in their judgement and decisions.
A model of neolithic village and burial site – megalithic tombs under construction. (Image: Krzysztof Gorczyca, Konin Museum)
This very week the decision on the mining company’s EIA permit is supposed to be made. Most probably the application will be rejected, as the mine has a potentially vast negative environmental impact. However, if the decision is positive for ZE PAK, the company will be a step closer to getting a concession for the Ościsłowo mine – unless the protected monument status of the ancient cemetery stops the venture. Will the megalithic tombs win with the mining industry? Right now, it is for the EIA to decide if that choice is ever to be faced.
Top image: Reconstructed megalithic tombs in Wietrzychowice (50 km to the East of Góry). Credit: Leszek Pazderski
By Katarzyna Czupryniak