Unique Stone Age mound uncovered near the mythical mount of Říp

Petr Krištuf

Czech archaeologists have made a unique discovery near the mythical mount of Říp in Central Bohemia. They have unearthed a Stone Age mound, which ranks among the oldest of its kind in Europe. They also found an exceptionally well-preserved burial chamber, containing the remains of a child and artefacts from about 3,800 B.C.

Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

The mount of Říp plays a key role in Czech mythology. Legend has it that in ancient times, Forefather Czech climbed the mountain, looked out over the surrounding countryside and decided to settle there with his tribe of Slavs.

The picturesque landscape with rolling hills has been intensively inhabited and used by people from prehistoric times to the present, and has become something of a trove of archaeological treasures.

The most recent find, made by archaeologists from the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, is a Neolithic mound of the long barrow type, nearly 90-metre-long and 25-metre-wide, with a burial chamber hidden underneath.

Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

It was discovered thanks to marked differences in crops on aerial photographs, explains Petr Krištuf, one of the members of the research team.

“This is actually a method that has been used in archaeology for several decades. 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 colour. So when viewed from above or from an airplane, they can delineate the archaeological objects underneath.”

Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

Mr. Krištuf says that the discovery of the well-preserved, medieval mound is unprecedented, since most such burial sites in Bohemia have been completely destroyed.

“They are mostly located in areas that have been used for agriculture for a long time, and their surface was destroyed by intensive medieval and especially modern agricultural cultivation.

Remains of a child | Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

“In this case, the outer shell has been preserved to the height of one metre, which is really unique. I assume it was originally even higher.

“We have also been able to capture the grave over which the cairn was built. It is located in this massive one metre 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.”

Researchers from the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen, along with experts from Charles University and the Czech University of Life Sciences, also discovered original black soil from prehistoric times under the mound. Elsewhere in the area, this exceptionally fertile soil has been degraded.

According to archaeologists researching the ritual landscape around Říp, there are at least four other similar sites in the immediate vicinity of the newly discovered cairn. They will be examined later this year and throughout the following year as part of a project supported by the Czech Grant Agency.