A giant, 5,000-year-old complex of long carts and stone-lined tombs was discovered in Poland after archaeologists investigated crop lines in a field they saw in a satellite photo.
Archaeologists began researching a rural site near the town of Dębiany, about 50 kilometers northeast of Krakow, more than two years ago. They have now discovered seven Neolithic tombs, as well as the remains of an early medieval fortress and a Bronze Age burial of two horses. But the full extent of the ancient cemetery is not yet known.
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Archaeologists now think it consists of a dozen embankments, between 40 and 50 meters long, made of earthworks, stones and palisades of wooden pillars that have now rotted. They consider it a relic of the prehistoric settlement of people from the Neolithic funnels, named after the recognizable pottery they made and which are believed to have been the first farmers in Europe.
“The Megalithic Cemetery in Debian is one of the largest and most interesting sites of its kind in Central Europe,” archaeologists Marcin Przybyła and Jan Bulas said in a Live Science email. “It gives us remarkable information about the funeral customs of the funnel culture.”
Discovery via satellite
Bulas, an independent archaeologist from Krakow, first noticed that the straight lines visible in the satellite photograph of the field – the result of subtle differences in crop growth – could be caused by the underground remains of a four-sided structure.
Bulas and Przybyła visited the site and used magnetic gradiometers to measure tiny variations of the Earth magnetic field and discover where the underlying soil has been disturbed in the past.
The four-sided shape that Bulas saw in the satellite photograph turned out to be an early medieval fortress and moat from the ninth and tenth centuries, before the first Polish kingdom was established in 1025.
But excavations in 2019 and 2020 also revealed Neolithic long mines, thought to be about 5,500 years old, and which the medieval fortress unknowingly built.
Although they have now eroded into the landscape, the log cabins used to be much larger, Przybyła told Science in Poland. They were made by accumulating earth above a central tomb lined with stone, and reinforced with palisades of wooden pillars; the pillars were now rotten and only traces of their holes remained.
Researchers have not yet found skeletal remains in the central tombs, but have found traces of Neolithic burials in the earth embankments that surrounded them, Przybyła said.
Przybyła and Bulas told Live Science that an archeological team also recently discovered a grave at the site where two horses were buried next to each other, along with part of the bridle. They gave this tomb in the middle of the Bronze Age in the region, about 3,500 years ago.
People from the funnel out of the glass
The funnel people who built the ancient ramparts near Dębiany spread throughout Central Europe from about 4100 BC.
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It is believed that these are farmers who migrated to the region from today’s Spain and France, and who are the descendants of people who migrated from the Balkans, where they adopted earlier agricultural practices from the Middle East.
Archaeologists have discovered long cemeteries in tombs made by funnel people in other parts of Poland, as well as in Germany and southern Scandinavia. One of the most famous is hidden in a forest in the central Polish region of Kujawy – huge mounds are sometimes called Polish pyramids.
But it is believed that the ancient cemetery near Dębiany could be one of the largest foundry glass complexes ever found, Przybyła said.
Archaeologists plan to continue their excavations to learn more about Neolithic huts and tombs, as well as the remains of a medieval fortress and moat that first drew them to the site.
So far, archaeologists have found no evidence that the fortress was permanently inhabited – they think it may have been a military camp – and no similar buildings have been found in Poland.
Przybyła and Bulas said it was a “unique discovery” that would help them study the fortification techniques used during the ninth and tenth centuries, which was a turbulent time in Polish history.
Originally posted on Live Science.