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Along the Amber Route: Biskupin

The Iron Age settlement consisted of the fort, strategically located on a peninsula jutting into a lake, and the houses in the village that served it. Discovered by Polish archaeologists in 1933, it was soon acclaimed as the ‘Polish Pompeii’. Because of the waterlogged conditions, much of the timber had survived. Dendrochronology has since shown that the oak was felled between 747 and 722 bc, although there was evidence of occupation as early as the Mesolithic and as late as the early Middle Ages. Its extensive trading connections were attested by bronze fibulae, silver-tin belt clasps, amber and glass beads, spinning whorls and iron knives.

The site rapidly became an arena for competing nationalisms. The Polish government hailed it as evidence of the achievements of prehistoric Slavs, but after the Germans occupied Poland in 1939, Biskupin was renamed Urstädt and attributed to ancient Germanic people. Since the time of the Kaisers, there had been a growing tendency among German archaeologists to interpret prehistoric remains as proof of a longstanding Teutonic presence in the contested lands of the East. Once the Nazis took power, this became the only permitted interpretation. A foundation for the study of prehistory – revealingly called Ahnenerbe (the legacy of our ancestors) – was set up under the supervision of the SS. The aim was clear: the function of archaeology in the Third Reich was to provide historical justification for its territorial claims. In 1940, excavations were resumed by the Ahnenerbe, and continued until 1942. When the Germans were forced to retreat, they flooded the site with the intention of obliterating all evidence of it, though ironically the inundation actually helped to preserve the ancient timbers.

From Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schüler

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C.J. Schüler

C.J. Schüler