The Lower Castle Cavern, Olsztyn
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl
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Caves and caverns are one of the most picturesque landscape features of the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland. Although more than 1800 of such structures have been discovered in the region, very few of them contained actual traces of Stone Age settlement. For the above reason, the Lower Castle Cave is a unique site - one of the oldest archaeological sites in all of the Silesian region. The flint artefacts unearthed inside the cavern are believed to originate from the middle Palaeolithic - the era of the Neanderthal man. It should also be added at this stage that isolated traces of upper Palaeolithic settlement have also been discovered on the site and that the cave has later been adapted for various purposes both during the Middle Ages and the early modern era.

Location and description

The cave is located in the north-western part of the Cracow-Częstochowa Upland, about 400 metres east of the Olsztyn market square in the Częstochowa district. The cave mouth is situated on the northern slope of the Castle Hill, upon which rises the 14th-century Olsztyn castle. The cave mouth can be accessed by walking across the ruins of a late 16th/early 17th-century residential tower. The cave itself is a large subterranean space, its mouth facing the north-east; the length of the cave, at ca. 20 metres, is relatively modest.

History

In the light of the results of archaeological surveys performed, the site can be linked to the middle Palaeolithic, i.e. 300-35 thousand years ago, with a more precise estimate pointing towards the time of the most recent glacial period, i.e. 110-70 thousand years ago. The artefacts found in the cavern are believed to be linked to the so-called Mousterian cultures (Mousterian techno-complex). The cave is believed to have served as a shelter for Neanderthal hunters. Specialists in the field of palaeobotany believe that these primal hunters may have formed relatively large packs of up to 150 individuals, which would then split into smaller teams. Is should also be noted that the nearby Stajnia Cave, located near Mirów, where excavations under the supervision of Mikołaj Urbanowski have been underway since 2006, archaeologists have discovered a few teeth which are believed to have once belonged to representatives of the Homo neanderthalensis species. This has been the very first discovery of Neanderthal remains in the Polish territory. During the period of the middle Palaeolithic, i.e. 300-35 thousand years ago, the Neanderthal was the dominant humanoid species in Europe and Western Asia; however, towards the end of the period in question, it was already being pushed back by the Homo sapiens - the modern human. At this stage, one should also add that a few human tools, dating back to the upper Palaeolithic (ca. 45-12 thousand years ago) have also been unearthed on the site.

The history of the site begins in the mid-14th century, when Casimir the Great completed the construction of the Olsztyn castle. As time went by, the cave itself was converted into an enclosed structure and adapted for use as a utility space, serving, among others, as a smithy with a bloomery. The three-storey residential tower (keep) through which the cavern can be accessed was most likely constructed in the late 16th/early 17th century.

Condition and results of archaeological research

In years 1969-1971, Jerzy Kopacz and Andrzej Skalski conducted excavations inside the cavern. The site stratigraphy was thoroughly analysed, with a few hundred flint artefacts being discovered, believed to originate mostly from the middle Palaeolithic, with some upper Palaeolithic artefacts being present as well. In addition, items originating from the Middle Ages and the early modern period have also been identified. The archaeological survey also led to the discovery of bone fragments of Palaeolithic animals, which have proved valuable to paleozoologists.

The site is accessible all year round. Explorers are advised to bring their own lighting (electric torches or headlamps).

compiled by Michał Bugaj, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Katowice, 03-11-2014.

Bibliography

  • Guerquin B., Zamki w Polsce, Warsaw 1984.
  • Informator Archeologiczny., Informator Archeologiczny. Badania 1971, Warsaw 1972.
  • Kajzer L., Kołodziejski S., Salm J., Leksykon zamków w Polsce, Warsaw 2007.
  • Kopacz J., Stanowisko środkowopaleolityczne w Olsztynie, pow. Częstochowa, Światowit 1975, vol. 34, pp. 71-80.
  • Kopacz J., Badania wykopaliskowe w jaskiniach okolic Częstochowy, [in:] Informator Wojewódzkiego Konserwatora Zabytków Archeologicznych na województwo katowickie za lata 1966-1970, Katowice 1971.
  • Wiśniewski A., Połtowicz-Bobak M., Paleolit, [in:] Tomczak E. (ed.) Archeologia. Górny Śląsk, Katowice 2014, pp. 7-31.

General information

  • Type: Cave
  • Chronology: ok. 110-70 tys. lat temu
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Olsztyn
  • Location: Voivodeship śląskie, district częstochowski, commune Olsztyn
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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