Biskupin - Archaeological Park, Biskupin
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Biskupin - Archaeological Park

Biskupin

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The defended settlement in Biskupin represents one of the most important discoveries in the history of Polish and European archaeology. In terms of scale, it has no equal among prehistoric sites in Poland, being comparable to Neolithic stilt house sites in Switzerland, or to Pompeii in Italy. Favourable environmental conditions led to the preservation of almost complete timber structures that were once part of a vast settlement. Measured against the fragmentary archaeological remains which are most often found in Poland, Biskupin is in a class of its own. It represents the notion of a compact, fortified stronghold and constitutes an example of proto-urban thinking.

The discovery of this defended settlement not only added to existing knowledge of Poland’s prehistory, but also provided an impulse for the development of methodologies and excavation techniques, as well as the blossoming of subjects such as experimental archaeology. A sizeable proportion of the site remains unexcavated and will be left for future generations to investigate. Biskupin has also played a significant role in generating public interest in Poland’s archaeology and in her history prior to the reign of the Piast dynasty.

The remains of a stronghold dating from the Hallstatt period (700-400 bc), and inhabited by peoples of the Lusatian culture, were discovered in 1933 on an island (now a peninsula) in Lake Biskupin. Archaeological excavations at this site revealed the well-preserved timber foundations of houses, ramparts, streets and other structures, as well as large quantities of pottery, tools and decorative accessories made of iron, bronze and organic materials. The settlement had an oval ground plan and covered approximately 2 hectares. It was located on an island (measuring 190 × 125 m) because of the natural protection this afforded. The island was surrounded by a 3-8-metre-wide breakwater made from oak logs. Several thousand timber stakes were driven diagonally into the ground, creating a breakwater which prevented the lake from flooding and, neutralised the damaging effect of wave action, as well as providing the foundations for a ring of timber-and-earth defences. This rampart was c. 460 m long, c. 3.5 m wide and probably up to 6 m high. Its core consisted of a framework of interlocking oak logs forming three rows of boxes filled with earth. The outer slopes of the rampart were coated with clay to safeguard this defensive structure against fire. Access to the stronghold was provided from the south-east by a 3-metre-wide entrance gate, secured by oak double doors. The gate was most likely surmounted by a wooden tower. An approach road led across the lake to the settlement. This took the form of a jetty supported on timber piles, and measured c. 120 m long and 3 m wide. The stronghold’s internal layout followed a pre-determined, very regular plan. Skirting the inner edge of the rampart was a timber-surfaced perimeter road encircling, and connecting to, a grid of 11 streets. The streets were lined with rows of rectangular houses, all with a similar surface area of around 90 m2. Each house had two or three rooms, with a stone hearth in the main room. The walls of the houses consisted of horizontally laid timbers fitted into slots cut into vertical wooden posts. Excavations at this site indicate that the Biskupin settlement comprised around 105 dwellings. It was home to approximately 1000 inhabitants, who practised crop cultivation, animal husbandry, fishing and a variety of production activities.

Having been destroyed most probably during the course of intertribal conflict, the stronghold was rebuilt only to be abandoned around 55 bc. Despite this, the Biskupin settlement survived, though on a more modest scale. Mentioned in the 1136 Bull of Gniezno, it was ultimately abandoned in the medieval period and eventually forgotten.

General information

  • Type: archaeological monument
  • Chronology: 738 - 400 BC
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Biskupin
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district żniński, commune Gąsawa
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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