Archaeologists excavating rare but damaged early-Medieval burial mounds near Písek

Early-Medieval burial ground near Písek

Archaeologists are currently excavating an early-Medieval burial ground near the city of Písek in South Bohemia. The sight was partly damaged during the winter, when a wood harvester drove through the wooded area. Similar damage has become quite common in recent years.

Burial mounds are accumulations of earth or stones above an ancient burial site and can contain either a single grave or multiple burials.

The recent discovery of six of them in the woods near Písek is special, because they belong to an unusual time period, Tomáš Hiltscher from Písek’s Prácheň Museum told Czech Radio.

“There are many burial mounds in South Bohemia. However, most date back to the Bronze Age or the Iron Age. It is quite rare to find burial mounds from the early-Medieval period around here.”

Early-Medieval burial ground near Písek | Photo: Petr Kubát,  Czech Radio

Archaeologists were brought to the site relatively recently, after harvesters clearing out the local woodland ran into the burial mounds. The damage was already severe when the excavation team arrived, Tomáš Hiltscher said.

“We have noticed damage among six of the burial mounds. They have been dug through to at least half their depth. That means that most of the burial mounds, around 70 percent, has been destroyed.

“It is all the more sad because they come from a period when they were relatively rare here. We only know about two other mounds from the same period.”

The archaeological team has found what Mr. Hitlscher describes as an “organic spot” in some of the mounds’ profiles. This, he says, are either human remains or graves. Further excavations have also detected several ceramics and, more rarely, metal objects such as knives or buckets.

The archaeologists have been given the green light to conduct a two-year excavation of the area from the site’s owner – the Municipal Woodland Administration of the City of Písek. If the owner had been a private company, the archaeological team says, getting permission would have been much harder.

In fact, according to Jiří Havlice from the National Heritage Institute, the number of archaeological sites damaged by harvesters is growing. He told Czech Radio that this is caused by the largescale cutting of woodland infested by the bark beetle, a parasite that has been causing great damage especially to Czech spruce trees over the past several years.

Early-Medieval burial ground near Písek | Photo: Petr Kubát,  Czech Radio

“Most recently, we detected damage to burial mounds near the village of Hvožďany around the town of Bechyně. The situation here in South Bohemia is actually the worst in the country, not just in terms of the number of sites that have been damaged, but also in the way that they have been disrupted.”

This mass logging effort affects burial mounds, but also other archeologically sensitive sites, such as abandoned medieval villages, forts and old gold panning sites.

To prevent the further destruction of sites in what is one of the archeologically richest regions of Bohemia, the Czech Heritage Institute is currently identifying areas where bark beetle-infested woods are marked out for logging in order to get in contact with the respective companies and thus prevent damage to historical sites.

They are also pointing to problems in current legislation, which obliges owners to begin logging as soon as a bark beetle infestation is identified.

Authors: Tom McEnchroe , Petr Kubát
run audio