Biskupin

Żnin, Poland

The archaeological open-air museum Biskupin is a life-size model of an Iron Age fortified settlement in Poland. When first discovered it was thought to be early evidence of Slavic settlement but archaeologists later confirmed it belonged to the Biskupin group of the Lusatian culture. The settlement belongs to the Hallstatt C and D periods (early Iron Age, 800-650 BC and 650-475 BC).

In 1933 Polish archaeologists discovered remains of a Bronze Age fort or settlement in Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), the discovery became famous overnight. The site soon became part of Polish national consciousness, the symbol of achievements of the Slavonic forebears in prehistoric times. It was called the 'Polish Pompeii' or 'Polish Herculaneum'. The existence of a prehistoric fortress, 70 km from the German border, was used to show that the prehistoric 'Poles' had held their own against foreign invaders and plunderers as early as the Iron Age. Biskupin came to feature in paintings and popular novels.

When the Germans occupied Poland in the autumn of 1939, Biskupin was renamed 'Urstädt'. In 1940, excavations were resumed by the SS-Ahnenerbe until 1942. When Germans were forced to retreat they flooded the site hoping to destroy it, but—ironically—it led to very good preservation of the ancient timbers. Excavations were resumed by Polish archaeologists after the war and continued until 1974.

There are two settlement periods at Biskupin, which was located in the middle of a lake but is now situated on a peninsula, that follow each other without hiatus. Both settlements were laid out on a rectangular grid with eleven streets that are three meters wide. The older settlement from early Iron Age was established on a slightly wet island of over 2 hectares and consisted of ca. 100 oak and pine log-houses that are of similar layout and measure ca. 8 x 10 m each. They consisted of two chambers and an open entrance-area.These houses were designed to accommodate 10–12 persons. An open hearth was located in the centre of the biggest room. There are no larger houses that could indicate social stratification. Because of the damp, boggy ground the streets were covered with wooden planks.

The settlement was surrounded by a tall wooden wall, or palisade, set on a rampart made up of both wood and earth. The rampart was constructed of oak trunks that form boxes filled with earth. The rampart is more than 450 m long and accompanied by a wooden breakwater in the lake. 6000–8000 m³ of wood have been used in the construction of the rampart.

In 1936 the first life-size model (open-air museum) was built on the peninsula, but it was intentionally destroyed by retreating Germans near the end of World War II. After the war it was rebuilt, and the ramparts and one full street with houses on both sides were also added.

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Biskupin, Żnin, Poland
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Founded: 800-475 BC
Category: Museums in Poland

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