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Biskupin (Poland)

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The Reconstructed Fort at Biskupin, Poland

The Reconstructed Fort at Biskupin, Poland

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Definition:

Biskupin is a fortified settlement in Poland, located on an island in the Warta River Valley in central Poland. Biskupin was occupied between the Late Bronze and early Iron ages, and archaeologists have associated the hill fort with the Lausitz (Late Bronze age) and Hallstatt C (Early Iron Age) cultures.

Pottery recovered from the site has been assigned to the cultures known as Hallstatt C and D, with initial occupation possibly as early as 800 BC. At about 500 BC, Biskupin was a walled settlement of about 800-1,000 people. Similar structures have been found elsewhere in Poland, leading researchers to define a "Biskupin Type" village, based on the formation of the settlement: a tightly packed, planned settlement encircled by a fortification wall.

Biskupin's Plan

Biskupin is quite fairly famous, because its preservation allowed the reconstruction of a detailed and virtually complete plan of the timber-built, lakeside stockade, surrounding a planned village.

The interior planned settlement was set into thirteen parallel rows of densely packed-together buildings, residential structures, separated by corduroy timber roads. The 105 houses in Biskupin were packed so closely together that there was only one roof to every three to ten houses. The settlement filled every possible space within the fortification, with no open area for gatherings.

Ring Roads and Society

Around the settlement was a ring road, an internal street that ran around the inside of a rampart. That rampart was essentially a wall, 550 meters (~1,640 feet) in circumference and about 3.5 m (~11.5 ft) wide and 3 meters (~10 ft) high. The rampart was constructed by the occupants using a series of wooden boxes filled with dirt and stones.

This plan and location on the island made Biskupin dependent on agriculture from the mainland, although craft activities did take place within Biskupin's wall. Scholars indicate that the plan itself demonstrates social order of some sort, but evidence of ranking or social stratification is sparse at Biskupin. What social conditions would have created such a situation is a question of some scholarly debate, although some (such as Marciniak) have suggested a strong coercive power must have been at work.

Archaeology

Known as the "Polish Pompeii," Biskupin was discovered in the 1930s and excavated by Jozef Kostrzewsk of Poznan University from 1934 to the onset of World War II. Its remarkable preservation has led to the reconstruction of some of the buildings, which are now open to the public. Buildings which have been rebuilt include the rampart, gateway, and several of the internal residences.

Biskupin is also important to archaeological history, in that Kostrzewski pioneered a range of techniques, including balloon photography to document the extensive excavations, and the construction of a protective caisson to keep the site adequately dry during excavation.

Survey of the surrounding area in the early 21st century (Harding and colleagues) has revealed several other similarly dated hillforts, including Sobiejuchy, Smuszewo, and Izdebno. Smuszewo and Izdebno exhibit regular rows of houses filling an entire enclosed area, similar to Biskupin, while Sobiejuchy was larger and less densely packed. Sobiejuchy lies only 14 kilometers (~8.5 miles) from Biskupin and they very likely were in contact.

Tourism

Biskupin is a very important tourist destination in Poland, with archaeological festivals held every summer. Interviews of the festival-goers were held in the summer of 2009, to discover how important it was that the reconstruction and the various activities (fights, dances, handicrafts) be "authentic" and what that meant for them. Nowacki (2011) reported a weak association between perception of authenticity and satisfaction, oddly enough.

Sources

This glossary entry is part of the About.com Guide to Hill Forts, the European Iron Age and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Cunliffe B. 1998. Iron Age Societies in Western Europe and Beyond, 800-1400 BC. Prehistoric Europe: An Illustrated History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p 336-372.

Harding A, and Raczkowski W. 2010. Living on the lake in the Iron Age: new results from aerial photographs, geophysical survey and dendrochronology on sites of Biskupin type. Antiquity 84(324):386–404.

Henneberg M, and Ostoja-Zagórski J. 1984. Use of a General Ecological Model for the Reconstruction of Prehistoric Economy: The Hallstatt Period Culture of Northwestern Poland. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 3(1):41-78.

Marciniak A. 2008. Europe, Central and Eastern. In: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 1199-1210.

Nowacki M. 2011. The Authenticity of Perception of the Visitors to the Archaeological Festival at Biskupin. Journal of Tourism and Services (Prague) 3:23-39.

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