PREHISTORY OF GDAŃSK POMERANIA

Prehistory of Gdańsk PomeraniaThe exhibition presents the oldest history of Gdańsk Pomerania and is the most important permanent exposition in the Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk. It brings forth a separate and specific character of local prehistoric populations. The exhibition was made possible through long-standing archaeological research led by the Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk. Notably, a range of exhibition pieces were procured from benefactors, who cooperate with the institution.

The Naturalists' House
(HQ of The Archaeological Museum in Gdańsk)

Mariacka Street 25/26

 

 

 

THE STONE AGE AND THE EARLY BRONZE AGE
(10 000 – 1200 BCE)

The most elementary factor determining the existence of the oldest dwellers of Gdańsk Pomerania, as well as other regions, was climate. The presence of a large Scandinavian glacier during the Pleistocene epoch was a major influence on the territory of Northern Europe.

During colder periods, when the glacier moved South, the existence of humans was impossible. It was after the glacier receded did the climate warm up enough to allow groups of hunters to venture out to Gdańsk Pomerania in search of game.

The oldest traces of human presence come from the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, from the Upper Palaeolithic period.

The groups that inhabited Gdańsk Pomerania between the 8th and 5th centuries BCE were groups of specialized hunters and gatherers, living a nomadic lifestyle. Research performed at campsites of these communities have shown large quantities of flint stone tools used for processing leather and wood, as well as various types of weapons necessary for hunting forest game.

Essentially, a breakthrough in the history of settlements in the discussed region took place in the beginning of the Neolithic, spanning the time between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE when the Southern farming population migrated here. Thanks to the knowledge in cultivating the earth as well as raising animals, these communities could establish permanent dwelling settlements. The oldest settlement of this type is represented by the population connected to the Danube cultural circles, also known as the Linear Pottery culture. Richly decorated clay pottery, numerous flint stone tools as well as farming relics were found on sites located in the Starogard Lake Region.

While presenting the history of the pioneering farming settlement, it is important to emphasize that the settling of Gdańsk Pomerania took place between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. During this period, an expansive population appeared with a significantly universal economy – the Funnelbeaker culture. Thanks to research conducted on settlements in which these communities dwelled, it is now known that the basic food source was composed of products of farming, secondly, breeding cattle, pigs and sheep, as well as hunting for wild animals and gathering of forest fruit. The mentioned population formed a characteristic material and spiritual culture, which resulted in rich ornamentation used on clay vessels. The most typical pottery were the funnel beakers, usually decorated just under the edge with rows of lines and zigzags. The ornamentation motifs were closely connected to beliefs and tradition practiced by the people of the Funnelbeaker culture in nearly all of Northern and Central Europe.

At the end of the Neolithic, a maritime-based economy population appeared and settled in the Gulf of Gdańsk. The basis for their existence was the exploitation of the natural seaside environment. Settlements located near water allowed for an intense lifestyle of hunting seals and porpoises, as well as fishing. This people, known as the Rzucewo culture, had already achieved abilities characteristic for the Neolithic such as smoothening of stone tools or modelling of clay pottery. The processing of local amber played a major role in this economy. Elements crafted with this resource can be found within the settlements of the Gulf of Gdańsk, as well as at sites of different cultures, which in turn indicated that it could have been an object of trade.

A new period in the prehistory of Gdańsk Pomerania takes place around 1700 – 1500 BCE – the Bronze Age. Population migrated from Southern Poland with objects made out of bronze at their disposal. It should be assumed that this people represented a higher level of social and economic organization. This is displayed through the presence of specific bronze items, most notably the staff-dagger which was the symbol of power, for example, of a chieftain of a tribe. Gdańsk Pomerania was still, for the most part, inhabited by people with a typically Neolithic economy, which is the reason behind the slower process of acceptance of co-optation of newer culture patterns. It was in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE when the full bloom of the Bronze Age took place with full socio-economic consequences in the form of the development of the Lusatian culture.

GDAŃSK POMERANIA DURING THE TURN OF THE BRONZE AND IRON AGES

From the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th period of the Bronze Age, a local group of the Lusatian culture formed to become known as the Eastern-Pomeranian group or the Kashubian group.

Most of the identified sites are found in the Western regions of the Gulf of Gdańsk, by the seaside, by the lakes Żarnowiec and Raduńskie as well as by the Vistula River, Łeba and Bukowina. Besides settlements built on land, some were established on stilts (ex. Góra – Orle in gmina Wejherowo, Uniradze in gmina Stężyca).

Animal husbandry and farming played a large part in the Lusatian culture’s economy. The most commonly bred animals were sheep, goats and cows, pigs and, in smaller amounts, horses. Farmers of the time essentially planted wheat millet, barley and flax. Furthermore, fishing developed near large reservoirs. Hunting dominated in the forests. Some engaged in gathering.

In terms of crafting, pottery and founding saw major development, and blacksmithing evolved in the beginning of the Iron Age. Pottery was made by hand without using the potter’s wheel. Large storage vessels were modelled to store supplies of food, kitchen crockery, as well as smaller biconical-shaped pots, bowls, cups, jugs, flat discs used as coasters, and strainers.

The Kashubian group’s population of the Lusatian culture dominated techniques in processing bronze, which was used to produce decorations by using founding and hammering. The items created were: necklaces, bracelets, pendants, rings, epaulettes and clasps, and of tools: mainly axes and, in fewer quantities, knives and sickles. Toilet accessories were also produced: pincers, razors; as well as weapons: spearheads, arrowheads. A large foundry, dated the beginning of the Iron Age, was found in Juszkowo, gmina Pruszcz Gdański.

Multiple cluster findings, called the bronze treasures, were identified to originate from the end of the Bronze Age and are composed of both local and imported items, which serves as evidence of extensive trading contacts of the habitants of Gdańsk Pomerania with other groups of Lusatian culture settled in neighbouring lands. Other contacts include the Baltic people living in Sambia, dwellers of Germany and Scandinavia as well as people of Southern Europe.

The discussed society at the time had a common custom of burning their dead on a pyre, whose remains together with sparse metal gifts and accompanying ceramics were put into graves in both burial mound and flat cemeteries. The most impressive cemeteries are of the kurgan type, of which the best-preserved is the necropolis Siemirowice, gmina Cewice, counting over 120 kurgans, some mounds measuring up to 20m in diameter.

Flat graves became common in cemeteries towards the end of the Bronze Age, most of them were of the cinerary urn type, surrounded by stones. These burials are dated to originate from the Hallstatt period of the Wielka Wieś phase C (Wielka Wieś – Władysławowo). The Wielka Wieś phase is connected to the manifestation of numerous house urns around Gdańsk Pomerania.

According to the beliefs of the Lusatian culture, a major role was played by the cult of the power of nature with the dominant sun cult.

GDAŃSK POMERANIA AT THE BEGINNING OF THE EARLY IRON AGE

In the second half of the last millennia BCE, in Eastern and Middle Pomerania, between the Parsęta and Vistula Rivers as well as the Baltic Sea and Noteć River, a new archaeological culture called the Pomeranian culture formed (other names for this culture: Box Burial Culture, Eastern-Pomeranian Culture, Wejherowo-Krotoszyńska Culture). Despite certain differences, it was a continuation of the previously-developing Kashubian Group of the Lusatian culture.

In this time, Pomerania saw a significant increase in settlement both in the seaside belt as well as the midland terrains. More than half of the known sites of Pomerania’s Pomeranian culture were found in the Kashubian Lake Region.

The basis of economy for the tribes of the Pomeranian culture was animal husbandry and agriculture. Land cultivation most probably took place by use of animals, as evidence shows traces of tillage besides findings of tools such as a wooden coulter. The reared animals were sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses and dogs. The sowed grains: millet, wheat, barley and rye, other plants grown were flax, peas and beans. Additional activities included fishing, hunting and gathering. This is further proven by grain seeds and remains of animal bones, both bred and hunted, found on-site at the settlements.

Certain areas of production reached a particularly high level, especially pottery and founding, as well as processing of iron, amber, bones and wood. The ceramics with a special purpose were the face urns used only for funerary purposes. The vessels were globular and biconical with a high cylindrical neck adorned with elements characteristic of a human face. The surfaces of the pots were adorned with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic depictions with a symbolic meaning.

In regards to pottery used within the household, it is important to mention storage vessels with large openings with or without ears, ovoid forms, conical bowls, jugs, mugs and strainers. The clay was worked by hand without the use of a potter’s wheel. An overwhelming amount of ceramics is decorated with geometrical, floral and lifestyle motifs, often obtained by using the incrustation technique.

Founding in bronze reached a high level with the dominant decoration that is the breastplate. This period also saw a mass production of jewellery: earrings, pendants, pins. Amber beads discovered on over one hundred sites show the important role of amber working. Bone articles are much fewer.

Both land and water transport played a major part in Pomeranian culture. Illustrations of carts are known from cinerary urns. A fragment of a wooden cart wheel was found. A dugout boat workshop was uncovered in Luzino, gmina Luzino. The same boat type is known from Pomorskie-Orle Mountain.

The inhabitants of Gdańsk Pomerania in the last centuries BCE traded with peoples both closer and further. Among the discovered imported items, the most numerous are glass beads hung up on the earrings of the face urns, accompanied by cowry shells from the Black Sea. An especially precious and luxurious imported item is a bronze bucket, a so-called situla from Grabowo, gmina Nowa Karczma.

Exploration of a significant amount of cemeteries used by the population of the Pomerania culture allows for a recreation of funerary rites. On average, cemeteries were composed of several tens of graves, most of which were box graves built with stone slabs and containing several to a dozen cinerary urns (sometimes up to 200 – just like the grave from Olszówka) often thought of as familial burials. Kurgan graves are rarely seen. The so-called “podkloszowy” graves (cloche) are few in number. Anthropological investigation showed that the average life expectancy of a woman was approximately 27, and of a man approximately 36 years.

In regards to beliefs, the cult of natural phenomena and the ancestral cult were widespread.

THE END OF PREHISTORY IN EASTERN POMERANIA
Early Pre-Roman Empire Period (beginning of 2nd century BCE – beginning 1st century CE)
Roman Empire Influence Period (1st - 4th century CE)
Great Migration of Peoples Period (end of 4th century – between 5th/6th centuries CE)

The beginning of the 2nd century CE saw considerable changes in Eastern Pomerania in regards to the geography of settlements, changes which can primarily be traced through placement of cemeteries. Most of the population clustered in the low-regions surrounding the lower Vistula River as well as the belt of seaside lowlands. The highlands of the Kashubian Lake Region were significantly depopulated at the time.

In comparison to the early Iron Age, there came a change in the predominant funerary rituals. In the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE (the Oksywie culture), remains were burned on a pyre and buried in a pit or in urns. The deceased were equipped with iron pins, belt buckles, small accessories (scissors, razors, needles, spindle whorls), and men with ritually bent and destroyed weapons. The ceramics of the Oksywie culture is composed of meticulously executed, smooth-walled vessels, at times adorned with an engraving symbolic in character. These pots were produced without using the potter’s wheel. The most well-known cemeteries from this culture were investigated in Rumia and Pruszcz Gdański.

In the beginning of the Roman Empire Influence period (the first decades of the 1st century CE), the archaeological culture of the peoples of Eastern Pomerania underwent yet another change. The mechanism of this process is still not entirely known. It is thought that the new cultural unit – the Wielbark culture – is the work of the same population which had created the Oksywie culture prior. The same cemeteries were still utilized, however, the funerary ritual changed. Alongside cremated burials new , so-called skeletal burials appear, in which non-cremated remains were laid to rest. Most of the iron tools as well as all weapons disappear as accessories. Instead of these items, the dominant accompanying objects are: pins (fibula), bracelets, necklaces of amber and glass beads, metal parts of belts and other decorations. The most common metal is bronze. Sometimes pieces made of silver or gold make an appearance. A particular wealth in burials from the second half of the 2nd and the beginnings of the 3rd centuries, from the period called the “Wielbark Baroque”, can be seen. There are not many ceramic vessels. In skeletal burials they played the role of grave offerings. In cremated burials they had at times been used as urns. The pottery is different from the early ceramics of the Oksywie culture, however, they are still solely moulded by hand without the utilization of the potter’s wheel.

The Pomeranian population participated in far-reaching trade with the provinces of the Roman Empire. At the turning point of the eras, imported bronze vessels started appearing. In the first centuries the Common Era, the amount of imported items increases. They are composed of metal, glass, clay vessels (so-called terra sigillata), pins, decorative accessories and coins. In 1st - 2nd centuries CE, the most important contact was the contact with Danubian provinces (Noricum, Panonia) as well as Italia along the so-called Amber Road which led through the Moravian Gate and into terrains of today’s Poland and to the Gulf of Gdańsk.

Later, when Italia fell economically and the centrum of the Empire moved from Rome to Constantinople, the trail running along the Vistula and Bug rivers to the Black Sea gained significance. Contacts were maintained through the Baltic Sea via sea routes.

The centre in today’s Pruszcz Gdański played a prominent role in trading at the time, thanks to a favourable location at the meeting point of land and sea routes it boasted the same significance as Gdańsk would a dozen centuries later. From the area of Pruszcz alone, many richly-equipped burials from the Wielbark culture are known.

In the second half of the 1st century, the highland terrains of Kashubian Lake Region were settled once again. A group of cemeteries belonging to the Wielbark culture appeared there. The graves are both crematory burials as well as skeletal, and the items accompanying them are not different from ones found in Pruszcz’s surrounding areas. The burial constructions are distinguishable thanks to specific forms. Kurgans, burial steles and, most of all, the famous stone circles. These elements, reminiscent of forms known at the same time in Southern Sweden, were brought to Pomerania as a direct result of migration of a Scandinavian people called the Goths.

Throughout the duration of the 3rd century CE the population inhabiting the lake region disperses. From written sources we now know that in this time the Goths travelled south-east and reappeared in the regions of the coasts of the Black Sea.

In the 3rd – 4th centuries CE, the settlements were still agglomerated on the lands in Pruszcz Gdański, however, at this time another centre took on a more important role – in the region of Elbląg, on the eastern side of the Vistula estuary. The latest graves in the Pruszcz cemeteries derive from the early phases of the Great Migration of Peoples (end of 4th – mid-5th centuries CE). Treasures of late-roman coins from times of emperor Anastasius (491-518) are the last materials from the period directly before the arrival of the Slavic people to Pomerania in the beginning of early Middle Ages.

Settlements from the end of Prehistory are less distinguishable than cemeteries. They took on a form of open estates. Buildings were erected above ground as irregular structures on stilts which were accompanied by recessed structures (pithouses, pits) devoted to farming purposes. A so-called production area can be distinguished within the settlements, where all remnants of furnaces and kilns connected to acquiring iron, firing of lime and charcoal as well as acquisition of other products required by the economy of the then people.

The elementary source of upkeep was cultivation of wheats and animal husbandry. Farming saw a certain development thanks to borrowing from the Celts iron harvesting tools (sickles, scythes) and rotating stone querns for producing flour. Animal husbandry played a more significant role in barren, rocky terrains of the Kashubian Lake Region.

A settlement discovered in Jastarnia deserves attention as it is quite certain that because of its location on the Hel Peninsula, its habitants partook in fishing. At the same time, this is information that the population of Pomerania in this time were vested with certain ability in sea navigation, which is further confirmed by archaeological finds indicating the contact with tribes dwelling on the islands of Bornholm, Oland and Gotland in Southern Sweden.

GDAŃSK POMERANIA IN EARLY MIDDLE AGES

The name “Pomerania”, in written sources from the 11th century, indicates a land “by the sea”, similar to a triangle in shape (Otto from Bamberg) . It is more probable that the name itself was formed and spread by foreigners rather than inhabitants of these lands. Settlements and centres of power of the organized tribes (ex. near Gdańsk, the regions around Starogard and Tczew by the lower Vistula river) formed from the 7th to the 10th centuries, to finally take on a shape of separate feudal duchies. Their rulers were not creators or advocates of unity and autonomy of the country then named “Pomerania”. Quite the contrary, “Pomeranian” dukes were a constant factor conductive to the division of this region into more or less autonomous duchies. In the 13th century this led to the distinction of two main parts called Eastern Pomerania (Upper) with a capital in Gdańsk, otherwise known as Gdańsk Pomerania, and Western Pomerania (Lower) adjacent to the Oder river.

In Poland, the general name “Pomerania” and “Pomeranians” most probably formed in the times of Mieszko I, who incorporated the seaside country into the Piast state. In 997, the Baptism of Poland was carried out by St. Adalbert, the bishop of Prague, allowing the duke to strengthen the relationship between the Polans’ state and Gdańsk Pomerania. In mid-11th century, these lands gained autonomy for a short time, however, in the beginning of the 12th century they were once again incorporated into Poland by Bolesław Wrymouth, who consistently realized the maritime politics of the Piasts. It was at that time that a castellany was formed in Gdańsk Pomerania, important settlements, which performed the roles of defensive, administrative and judiciary centres. At the end of the 12th century lesser local rulers who, for the most part, probably came from old tribe dynasties, subordinates to the dukes of Poland, still resided there.

This bond started loosening after the death of Bolesław Wrymouth when the crisis of central power enabled the local dynasty to become independent and conduct autonomous politics.

The aforementioned events led to changes in society, economy and culture of Gdańsk Pomerania. The natural conditions and noteworthy location on the political map bound it with countless strings with the circle of Baltic lands: Greater Poland, Kuyavia and Chełmno land. Not much can be said about it based on information written by foreign travellers and chroniclers, sparse until the 11th century (among others Ibrahim ibn Yaqub), slightly more generous from the 13th century (among others Gallus Anonymus, Herbord), enriched by first documents written by local clergymen. This furthermore enhances the feeling of pricelessness of pronunciation of particular historic documents – archaeological monuments discovered in places of old settlements, boroughs and cemeteries, enriching knowledge about almost all aspects of life in those times.

Stabilisation of settlement in entire Pomerania ensued throughout the 7th and 8th centuries. However, not much is known about the appearance of first settlements due to a small amount of traces left in the earth after small and impermanent dwelling and agricultural buildings. The chroniclers of the time did not give them much attention, focusing instead on describing defensive boroughs and large urban settlements. There were many, especially in areas with better soil, on riversides (mainly Vistula, Wierzyca, Radunia, Reda rivers), by lakesides, rarely on terrains of old primeval forests. They were typically widespread as single homesteads deprived of close neighbours. In time, some settlements grew to become several to a dozen and, at timesa tens of houses, which were erected in a regular fashion, on a circular or oval plan (ex. Luzino, Reda, Stężyca, Juszkowo and others). From the second half of the 12th century onwards together with development of state organization and the formation of large estates, the process of merging of these settlements into larger aggregations started, slowly changing into regular built villages.

Increasing prosperity and rivalry for grasslands, grazing lands, ponds and lakes, forced individual familial and neighbouring communities to form places of defence where one could have sought shelter from outside dangers, and which were simultaneously headquarters of local elders. The entire region of Gdańsk Pomerania, including Chełmno Land, saw the sporadic emergence of the first of this type of gords at the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries. Their number started increasing gradually in the 9th and 10th centuries (ex. Sopot, Otomin, Lubiszewo, Luzino, Pelplin-Maciejewo, Sobieńczyce, Nowe Polaszki, Garczyn, Junkrowy, Będargowo, etc.). Primarily, they served at strongholds, blocking important trade routes and passages between lakes, marshes, river mouths and as seats of administrative power and worship. They were established in marshy valleys, on lake islands, lake escarpments, peninsulas protruding into lakes, or other naturally favourable places. They were usually organized on a circular or oval plan, tens or even more than one hundred metres in diameter, and their most significant element was the rampart.

As time went by, the embankments were reinforced by a solid construction composing of wooden logs, arranged crosswise interchangeably as well as lengthwise, additionally filled with soil and often times with rocks. On the top rested a crown in the form of ex. a tight-knit palisade. These embankments measured more than a dozen metres at the base and often stood up to more than 10 metres tall. Within these walls were a few sparse buildings. The buildings were comprised of rooms for the crew situated by the outer wall of the fortification. In the middle was an empty square, which at times solely housed a well and pits for storing grains.

As a consequence of political changes, especially in the 10th and 11th centuries, many of them were abandoned and fell into ruin. New gords formed in better locations with particular military or economic significance, growing and attracting new settlement (ex. Gdańsk, Tczew, Ciepłe, Chmielno, Gorzędziej, Owidz, Topolno, Waćmierek Junkrowy-Skarszewy and others). A representative of power resided there, later a duke or his agent ruling over the entire region. At times, parts of the gord would be assigned to a different purpose and need in the form of another embankment, while the base embankments would be equipped with additional hook-ended logs.

Gradually, on the outside of these ramparts, numerous settlements would form, taking on a form of the so-called near-gord settlements (gathering not only farmers, but people searching for other means of living, fishermen, craftsmen, traders), which in time formed a wreath around the embankments, connecting with the towering gord above them into one defensive and economical assemblage, referred to as an early-medieval city. Along with the increase in population, urban development became more compact. The use of precious land, especially within the fortifications, was utilized more intensely. Initially, the wooden buildings were placed loosely and chaotically. Gradually, however, enclosures of this type would make way for more closely-built spaces, house next to house, with more regular planning (ex. Gniew, Starogard, Tczew and others).

The basis of existence for the population of Gdańsk Pomerania was agriculture, husbandry and fishing. An additional food source was provided by hunting, honey hunting, fruit-growing. Simultaneously, other forms of activities developed, such as: carpentry, pottery, metallurgy, blacksmithing, crafting of bone, antlers and leather, wheelwright workshops, boat building, spinning, weaving, cobbler, stonemasonry, amber processing and others. With the development of social division of work, these activities distinguished themselves gradually in craftsmanship, and with it trade.

The main land route of Gdańsk Pomerania for trade was the so-called via mercatorum leading from the South of Poland to the West through Greater Poland, Kuyavia, Świecie, Gniew to Gdańsk, and by water – the Vistula river. Numerous trade routes of local relevance related to them. The places for exchange of agricultural produce and other country products for raw materials and crafted items were early-medieval cities. Far-reaching trade took place with Arabian countries, Rus, Prussia, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. In exchange for amber, slaves and fruit of the forest, luxurious glass ornaments, silver, silk cloth, pieces of armour and coins (until the 9th century Arabian, and later eastern-, northern- and southern-European) were received. Barter as a form of trade dominated for a long time and only in the second half of the 11th century did the more numerous Polish coins make monetary economy possible.

Testimony to the increased wealth of Pomeranians are plentiful group findings known as treasures, which are precious resources like amber, or finished stone and metal craft, ex. tools, decorations, coins.

Cemeteries are an interesting source of knowledge, based on which shifts in worship can be captured, as an example: moving away from cremation to skeletal burials, abandonment of kurgan stone and earth graves and generalisation of graves containing flat coffins. Offerings laid in them are composed of pottery, decorations, tools and weapons, and complete the picture of material culture of the people. Both the type and form of objects created in the early Middle Ages indicate a rather high level of technical advancement in production as well as a large sensitivity to aesthetics of the early medieval population.

 

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