Traces of pagan rituals at an Early Medieval ringfort

Early Medieval burial mounds and a Medieval cemetery were found during excavations of the ringfort in Ryczyn, South-western Poland. The ringfort was one of the most important strongholds in Silesia of the early times of the kingdom of the Piast dynasty. It is where the Christian bishops sought refuge after a pagan uprising in 11th century.

Archaeologists from University of Opole working at the site since 2004 discovered burial mounds, which later turned out to be located within the boundaries of the fortifications. This forms a very peculiar case where the dead are buried in a pagan tradition within an Early Medieval ringfort. It may be evidence of pagan and Christian communities and traditions functioning simultaneously.

Excavations at the site (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)
Excavations at the site (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)

Up to seven cremated individuals were deposited in pottery urns within each of the mound. The remains were scattered as the pottery was smashed and afterwards covered with a layer of dirt, clay or wood. Among the human remains bones of animals such as cows, horses and fish were also found. The necropolis was destroyed in 14th century by Dominican monks who turned the area in a garden. Later in 19th century another form of gardens was erected at the site – beer gardens.

A cow's and horse's skeletons deposited within the mound (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)
A cow’s and horse’s skeletons deposited within the mound (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)

Except the burial mounds, dated back to 10th-12th century a later necropolis was found, outside the ringfort. It functioned between 10th and 15th century in the times when the kingdom of the Piast dynasty was already christened. The burials within this have the form of inhumations. They are said to function simultaneously to the pagan burials within the mounds.  This points to a long lasting process of shifting traditions in the community, as said by dr Magdalena Przysiężna-Pizarska, the archaeologist leading the dig.

Remains of cremation burials with a mound (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)
Remains of cremation burials with a mound (by M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)

(after Nauka w Polsce & M. Przysiężna-Pizarska)

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