Neolithic Burial Mound Found at Base of Bohemia’s Rip Mountain
Czech archaeologists have discovered and unearthed a 6,000-year-old ancient burial mound in Bohemia, which is among the oldest of its kind found anywhere in Europe. Underneath the mound (or cairn) they uncovered a large burial chamber that contained the skeletal remains of a child. Adding more intrigue to the discovery, the rare Neolithic mound and associated burial were found at the foot of Rip Mountain, which has been recognized as a sacred location in Czech mythology since the 12th century.
The Rip Mountain Burial Mound: Bohemia’s Best Preserved
The burial mound is quite large, measuring 282 feet (86 meters) long and 85 feet (26 meters) wide. At the present time, the mound is just three feet or one meter high, but it would have been much taller in the past. Since it is located in a field, much of its above ground mass might have been dug out by farmers long ago.
The Rip Mountain (or Říp Mountain) burial mound was found by archaeologists from the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen. They estimate it was constructed sometime around the year 3,800 BC, near the end of the Neolithic (late Stone Age) era.
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“This is the best-preserved burial monument of this kind in Bohemia,” archaeology professor and excavation team member Petr Krištuf, told Czech Radio. “We do not know of a similar situation from this period in our territory.”
Professor Petr Krištuf, the lead Czech archaeologist, working at the Rip Mountain burial mound site. At his feet lies the burial of a young child lying on its side in a bent position. (René Volfík / Czech Radio)
As for the child buried there, “obviously it belongs to an important family,” Krištuf said, noting that being entombed in such a location would have been recognized as a great honor. The child’s skeleton was laid on its side in a bent position, in a large pit that contained some type of wooden structure.
While the mound was apparently constructed approximately 6,000 years ago, activity there likely continued there for a long time after that.
“The mound itself has probably been altered several times and served as a ritual site for centuries,” Krištuf said. Buried in front of the eastern side of the mound, the archaeologists excavated hundreds of fragments of ceramic vessels, which may have been buried as offerings or otherwise used in the rituals, Krištuf added.
Czech archaeologists working at the Rip Mountain burial mound site. (René Volfík / Czech Radio)
Revealing a Lost Era on the Plains of Bohemia
Before its discovery, it was not possible to see the mound from ground level. It was only detected through an aerial survey, which sent back pictures of variations in crop growth patterns.
“Crops that grow above archaeological objects, which are buried in a bedrock and filled with more fertile soil, tend to be higher and have a different color,” Krištuf explained. “So when viewed from above or from an airplane, they can delineate the archaeological objects underneath.”
The find was unusual and unexpected. Not because such mounds were rarely built in the area, but because most similar burial sites were destroyed long ago.
“They are mostly located in areas that have been used for agriculture for a long time, and their surface was destroyed by intensive medieval farming and especially modern agricultural cultivation,” Krištuf said. “In this case, the outer shell has been preserved to the height of one meter, which is really unique. I assume it was originally even higher.”
The height of the mound was presumably reduced by farmers ploughing over it, although natural forces of erosion could have played some role in its reduction as well. Fortunately, enough of it was preserved above the surface of the ground to protect what lay beneath.
“We have also been able to capture the grave over which the cairn was built,” Krištuf said. “It is located in this massive one-meter-deep shaft, which is lined with preserved timber, which is also not that common. To our surprise, the big monument was built for a child.”
This mound is an exciting find. But new evidence indicates it is far from unique in the Rip Mountain region. Examining the surrounding area carefully, the Czech archaeologists have been able to identify four other sites close by where the remains of raised burial mounds might be present. Excavations are currently being planned for later this year and next, so the entire ritual landscape around Rip Mountain can be explored more fully
Rip Mountain viewed from the northeast in the summer of 2015. (Lilili42 / CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Legend and Ancient Legacy of Rip Mountain
Rip Mountain is a 1,500-foot (460-meter) high bell-shaped hill that stands alone in the middle of the plains of central Bohemia, in the northcentral section of the Czech Republic. The hill is what remains of an ancient volcano, which is heavily eroded after tens of millions of years of inactivity.
According to a 12th-century legend, the first Slavs to settle in Czech territory region chose to occupy the area around this massive landmark. They did so at the urging of their founding father, Čech, who was one of three brothers responsible for the creation of the various Slavic nations. After completing a long journey as migrants from somewhere in the south, Čech and his followers climbed Rip Mountain to survey the surrounding territory. The founding father immediately recognized the fertile plains of Bohemia as the promised land they’d been searching for.
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"We have a country at our will, here will be our tables always full, enough of wild animals, birds, fishes, bees and hardness against enemies,” Čech allegedly told them. Inspired by their leader’s vision, the people decided to settle there permanently, and in the centuries that followed the Slavs flourished in their new central European homeland.
It is not a huge surprise to discover that the territory around Rip Mountain was considered sacred long before Slavic mythmakers first immortalized it for future generations. The mountain is a unique and singular landmark that rises high above the flat plains around it, creating the impression that it is a special place.
Today, thousands of Czech tourists make the trip up Rip Mountain each year to visit a shrine dedicated to the legacy of Saint George, a fourth-century Greek soldier in the Roman Army who was put to death for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. He is famously known as “St. George the Dragon Slayer.” This image is part of a larger Georgian fresco. (Angel Lahoz / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Excavations under the newly discovered mound have revealed that the soil on the Bohemian plains was exceptionally fertile 6,000 years ago. This would have made it an ideal settling place for Neolithic peoples who’d adopted farming and animal husbandry as a substitute for the old hunting-and-gathering lifestyle.
Today, thousands of Czech tourists make the trip up Rip Mountain each year, to visit a shrine dedicated to the legacy of Saint George, a fourth-century Greek soldier in the Roman Army who was put to death for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. He is famously known as “St. George the Dragon Slayer.” Making this pilgrimage also gives them the chance to enjoy the magnificent view that inspired the legendary founding brothers so many centuries ago. Rip Mountain is what’s left of an ancient, eroded volcano that is central to the Czech nation’s collective sense of identity.
As the most recent archaeological discoveries in the region reveal, people have likely been making some version of this pilgrimage for at least 6,000 years. The most ancient of those pilgrims chose to construct monuments to the deceased on the plains far below, which would have been easy to observe from the top of the sacred hill.
Top image: Rip Mountain in the Bohemian area of the Czech Republic where a Neolithic burial mound, the best preserved one ever in the region, was recently found at the foot of the mountain. Source: Aktron / CC BY-SA 3.0
By Nathan Falde