Development of Advanced Pottery by “Barbarians” Found in Poland
A massive archaeological site in Wrzępia, a tiny village in southern Poland, has been discovered by a team of Polish archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, Jagellonian University, Krakow. The study, called “Projekt Wrzępia,” led to the discovery of 130 pottery kilns dated to the Roman era, making it one of the largest pottery production sites from this period, which dates back to 1,800 years ago.
In an interview on Nauka W Polsce, lead archaeologist Jan Bulas said, “The site in Wrzępia is unique for many reasons. It should be emphasized that in the light of current knowledge, it is not only the largest production site of this type in Poland, but also one of the largest in the entire barbaric Europe of the Roman period. The only comparable place in terms of the number of kilns is a huge production centre in Medieșu Aurit in Romania, where researchers estimate the number kilns at more than 200, also based on magnetic surveys.”
The stone tool that was recently discovered at the ancient Polish pottery kiln site. (Science in Poland)
Polish Pottery Kiln Mega-site Approach and Artifacts
In the same interview, Bulas stated, “Our research shows that only storage vessels with characteristic thickened necks were produced there. These were large vessels up to 50 cm neck diameter and about 70 cm high. The vessels were most likely used for storage - for example of food. There are known discoveries of such vessels dug into the ground, which probably served as pantries." The kilns were used as giant clay ovens for making various pottery items.
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The team used something called a magnetometer on the 12-acre (5 hectare) industrial site, which identifies deeply buried materials without necessarily having to see them. Research and excavation on the site have been underway since the 1990s, when it was first discovered.
As of now, the remains of only two kiln sites have been investigated. The team also collected a lot of interesting material in the form of pottery fragments, a stone tool, and samples of burnt charcoal. The furnaces represent a curious anomaly, namely, that while they are covered with clay, the channels that provided the fuel and air are lined with stones. A furnace of similar architecture and scientific method was discovered at another site in nearby Bessow, Poland in 1998.
Prehistoric earthenware from the Polish Lusatian culture (early Iron Age), part of an exhibit at Sułkowski Castle in Bielsko-Biała, Poland. (Lestath / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Ancient Polish Background: The Vandals and Przeworsk Culture
Between the 3 rd and 5 th century AD, a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals occupied Poland. Their culture and economy were disparagingly and pejoratively referred to as “barbaric” by the Romans. This was an umbrella term, not only reserved for the Vandals, but for any and every people, culture, philosophy and religion that was alien to the warring Romans.
The Vandals were particularly despised because they were fierce fighters, who were renowned and feared for their looting and sacking abilities.
The Vandals are also closely associated with the Przeworsk culture, which developed contemporaneously within the Iron Age archaeological complex. The biggest evidence of the Przeworsk culture are its crematory burials of which only a few have been found. Their burial culture suggests that these were small communities and villages with sparse populations.
The other distinctive feature of the Przeworsk culture is its pottery and metalwork. This is affirmed by Bulas, who notes that “.. the largest previously known site with pottery kilns of the Przeworsk culture is located in Zofipol near Kraków, where about 57 kilns have been found during excavations and geophysical research.”
Przeworsk culture metal artifacts suggest these people weren't barbarians at all! (Silar / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Advanced Pottery and Metallurgy by Barbarians?
The developed nature of both the pottery and metallurgy in the Przeworsk culture is astounding, and one marvels at the Roman propaganda machine that called these people barbarians.
Large iron production centers, the biggest anywhere in Europe from that period, were located in the Świętokrzyskie mountains, along with Masovia and Silesia, all of which are in Poland. Clearly, the “barbarian” economy and culture of ancient Poland was very advanced and not at all barbaric.
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The Polish archaeological team plans to return to the site next year and carry out further research. They are primarily interested in answering two academic questions:
- Were the kilns used over many centuries as a flourishing production center or only over a short period of time?
- If production was carried out on such a large scale, were there any established trading partners or trade routes?
For aspiring historians and archaeologists, and those with a curious bent of mind, the research team created a short documentary clip about their method and findings (see link above). They have also documented their day-to-day progress and everyday findings on their Facebook page.
Top image: An advanced piece of ancient Polish pottery that was made by people who the Romans viewed as backward barbarians. Obviously, these people were anything but barbaric! Source: Science in Poland
By Rudra Bhushan
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