The anthropomorphic sculpture hewn in stone, called the stone baba, were characteristic early-medieval artefacts from the lands where Prussians dwelled. A dozen of these statues are known, found mainly in tribal regions of the Pomesanians and Barts. The name of these sculptures in Polish – baba – is derived from languages of the steppe peoples, where it meant ancestor, forefather, etc.
The primitively-made statues from Prussian regions were shorter than living people. They represented men, often with moustaches and beards. Most of the sculptures possessed engraved drinking horns, at times also a weapon and elements of clothing. The analysis of the imagery of swords, spears or necklaces, indicate that the statues were created approximately in the 11th – 12th centuries. It is thought that their appearance on Prussian lands should be connected with Viking influences, and the prototype should be searched for on the steppes of south-eastern Europe. The stone baba were undoubtedly connected to sacrum. They most probably represented honoured warriors or priests, from whom the living expected protection or mediation in contacts with the nether world or gods.
After the conquest of the Prussian lands by the Teutonic Knights at the end of the 13th century, the old sculptures were used as boundary stones, but probably also as symbols of pagan “Saracens” in knights’ games. The anthropomorphic statues were integrated into the folklore of past Prussian lands. In light of folk tales, the baba were supposed to be humans who, for their sins and transgressions, got turned into stone.
Along with the development of modern Museology and Conservation, the significance of the baba were discovered and the decision to protect them was made. In the second half of the eighties of the 19th century, Hugo Conwentz, the director of the West Prussia Provincial Museum, decided to bring four statues from the then Sucha county to Gdańsk. They were stood in the front garden of the museum at Rzeźnicka Street. Luckily, they survived the destruction of Gdańsk in 1945 and, finally, in 1963, they came to rest on Długie Pobrzeże.
THE GAŁDOWO/JĘDRYCHOWO BABA
An anthropomorphic early-medieval sacral sculpture from Prussian Pomesania. It depicts an honoured ancestor or a deity. Initially, the statue was much taller. On the weathered surface of the sculpture an outline of the left hand can be identified, holding a staff, club or a mace, and below the upper part of a sword. A drinking horn is visible. In the twenties of the 20th century, the eyes were still marked.
The human-lookalike stone was mentioned in 1401 in Teutonic documents as a Holy Stone (Heiligen Stein). It was treated as a boundary stone between the villages of Gałdowo and Jędrychowo in the Iława county. In 1887 it was brought to Gdańsk.
THE SUSZ/RÓŻNOWO/BRONOWO BABA
An anthropomorphic early-medieval sacral sculpture from Prussian Pomesania. It depicts an honoured ancestor or a deity. The eyes, nose and lips are barely visible on the eroded surface of the head. The pointed shape of the head may indicate a conical helmet. The hands are visible – perhaps the left hand held a staff or club at some point in time. Above the right hand is the symbol of the drinking horn, executed in a different style than other engravings on the statue.
The statue stood at the meeting point of the borders of three villages Susz, Różnowo and Bronowo in Iława county. In 1887 it was brought to Gdańsk.
THE SUSZ/NIPKOWIE BABA
An anthropomorphic early-medieval sacral sculpture from Prussian Pomesania. It depicts an honoured ancestor or a deity. The statue possesses clear engravings of facial features – eyes, nose, lips, moustache and beard. The right hand has an indicated drinking horn, the left has a sword “hung” over it.
This statue stood by the Suskie Lake, at the border of two villages of Susz and Nipkowie in the Iława county. Shortly after 1889, it was brought to Gdańsk.
In the local folklore, the sculpture was called a Monk (Mönch), and close to its resting location was the Monk’s Inn (Mönchkrug).
THE MÓZGOWO/LASECZNO BABA
An anthropomorphic early-medieval sacral sculpture from Prussian Pomesania. It depicts an honoured ancestor or a deity. Among the other so-called baba, this particular one possesses the most developed engravings of the surface. Besides the details of the face and hands, a drinking horn, necklace, spear with a characteristic spearhead and a club, mace or shaman staff can be seen. A circular shield is probably marked on the back. Furthermore, on the sides are engravings of a sword and a figure with hands folded in a praying gesture.
From “distant times” onwards, the statue stood on the border of the villages of Mózgowo and Laseczno in the Iława county. In 1889 it was taken down from a small mound called Kaninchenberg (Rabbit Hill) and brought to Gdańsk.
The sculpture was called the Blasphemer (Gotteslästerer) of the Blasphemer from Mózgowo (Gotteslästerer aus Mosgau). In light of folk tales, it was a rich landowner who got angry at God for rain during harvest. He was hit by lightning and turned into stone in such a way that he could only blink his “glass-like” eyes. The wife of the man, in a letter, asked the emperor what she should do with her petrified husband. The ruler advised a burial, but in no way did the statue allow itself to be buried. Brought off the field, it miraculously came back to its spot. The emperor did not agree to surround the sculpture with a fence so as to allow it to be treated as a memorial, for one that blasphemes against God should not be admired. The statue was then left in the field as admonishment.
Text: dr Jerzy Marek Łapo – historian, archaeologist, ethnographer, culture expert