Largest Roman period necropolis in Poland to undergo detailed research

Excavation at necropolis. Image: Adriana Romańska

Excavation at necropolis. Image: Adriana Romańska

The largest necropolis in Poland dating to the Roman period can be found in Karczyn, Kujawy (north central Poland). Thanks to a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, specialists are now able to carry out detailed scientific research to determine diet, kinship and origin of the dead.

Excavations in Karczyn were carried out between 2002-2010 by the Archaeological Expedition of the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

It turned out that the necropolis existed continuously for over 300 years, from the first to the fourth century AD. We have found more than 120 burials with very diverse rites“, said Adriana Romańska, excavation director.

Princely graves

The biggest surprise for the researchers was the discovery of two gigantic tombs (the largest known to date in Kujawy from this particular period), which they described as “princely graves”. Both had impressive stone-earth 2m deep burial chambers, and the archaeologists believe that the tombs may also have been covered with mounds, but unfortunately the two structures had been robbed in prehistory. In one of the tombs, two people were buried: an adult – over 20 years old, along with a 14 year old, and in the second tomb – a 14-15 year old.

The presence of juveniles in princely tombs is quite unusual, as is burying more than one person. Among the 60 known early Roman types, only four contained the remains of more than one individual” – said Romańska. The tomb in Karczyn would be only the fifth grave of this type, and the first in Poland the archaeologist explained.

Wide variety of funeral rites

The necropolis is also unusual because of the wide variety of funeral rites observed. In addition to the “princely tombs” there were graves with skeletal remains, cremation urn graves (cremated corpses were placed in ceramic urns) and pits (cremated corpses were placed directly into pits). In one area there were also group burial lairs.

Warrior grave. Image: Adriana Romańska

Warrior grave. Image: Adriana Romańska

It is certain that warriors were also among those buried in the necropolis. The bones of some of the dead had characteristic changes caused by horseback riding and wielding a sword or spear. Also intriguing was a part of the cemetery, where 12 people may not have been local, but from around the Black Sea region.

The project “Karczyn. Development and publication of materials from bi-ritual cemetery from the Roman period in Kujawy”, coordinated by the National Heritage Board will also include conservation of more than 200 monuments. However, the funds will be used primarily to carry out comprehensive bioarchaeological research: a DNA and stable isotopes of strontium, carbon C13 and nitrogen N15. As a result, scientists will reconstruct the diet, kinship and cultural associations of the community whose members had been buried in Karczyn. In addition, specialists will perform the following analyses: palaeobotanical (charcoal and preserved wood fragments), metallographic (to determine the composition of the objects, and perhaps even the origin of metals) and radiocarbon dating. The results will be published at the end of 2015 as a volume in the series “Monumenta Archaeologica Barbarica – Gemina series”. The project is carried out at the Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

Science and Scholarship in Poland