Fortified Settlements or Ceremonial Sites: New Evidence from Bylany, Czechoslovakia

By Midgley, M. S.; Pavlu, I. et al. | Antiquity, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Fortified Settlements or Ceremonial Sites: New Evidence from Bylany, Czechoslovakia


Midgley, M. S., Pavlu, I., Rulf, J., Zapotocka, M., Antiquity


Introduction

The Bohemian site of Bylany, near Kutna Hora, is well known in archaeological literature on account of its Neolithic, especially Linearbandkeramik (LBK) settlement (Bylany 1). Initially, the investigations of the Neolithic settlement here were conceived on a grand scale using the then rare open-area excavations. In the late 1960s the disadvantages of vast find material pertaining only to one site were highlighted and it also became evident that the site was too large for total excavation. Moreover, the question of the displacement of Neolithic settlement initiated investigation further afield -- taking into consideration the entire micro-region centred on the Bylanka river (Soudsky 1966; Soudsky and Pavlu 1972).

Being subject to natural erosion -- exacerbated by modern agricultural activities -- the micro-region of Bylany, however, represents a very fragile landscape. For this reason a different strategy was developed in the 1970s and 1980s which combined surface prospection, extensive mapping, sample excavation, geophysical survey and, recently, also aerial photography, with the objective of carrying out non-destructive research and causing the least damage to this fragile area (Pavlu 1982; Rulf 1983, 1989; Pavlu et al. 1986). As a result of this strategy, investigations in the immediate vicinity of Bylany revealed the presence of sites with other than residential function, namely the Stichbandkeramik (SBK) cemeteries (Zapotocka 1981) and a circular enclosure, a Rondel (Zapotocka 1983). The bi-ritual cemetery near Miskovice, comprising inhumations and cremations, is contemporary with the Rondel (SBK IVa phase); contemporary settlement traces were also noted in the area west of the Rondel. It is these later Neolithic finds and their spatial and temporal relationship that are the subject of current investigations at Bylany.

Results of current investigations

In the 1991 season the most important feature of the investigation was the Rondel, and a total of 2175 sq. m of continuous area in its southern part was excavated. The Rondel, originally identified through geophysical survey, consists of two concentric, slightly irregular ditches (115 m and 90 m in diameter) with four entrances oriented on the cardinal points. Thus, in comparison with the known contemporary Rondels, the Bylany structure falls into the category of medium-sized sites. Moreover, a geophysical survey carried out in the spring of 1992 confirmed the presence of a third ditch, about 75 m from the enclosure, which appears to run concentrically to the Rondel and must therefore be considered an integral element of the overall design.

The inner ditch of the Rondel is the larger of the two (3 m wide and 2.6 m deep) while the outer ditch is both narrower (2.5 m) and shallower (2.2 m deep at maximum). Three roughly concentric internal palisades were discovered 1 m, 2.5 m and 6.5 m respectively inside the inner ditch; a fourth, very poorly preserved palisade, which most probably also belongs to this complex system, was situated 20 m inside the inner ditch. Within the area delimited by the 3rd and 4th palisades over 100 post-holes were also excavated.

The only traces of habitation are documented by one house complex belonging to the earliest LBK. The house was delineated by typical outer trenches, a group of post-holes and the accompanying pits; the Rondel construction was clearly superimposed on the house. Additionally, a substantial number of SBK and LBK storage pits (individual or in groups), as well as three ovens, were encountered. There are two clear stratigraphies to show that the Bylany 4 area was used during the Stichbandkeramik both prior to the construction of the Rondel ditches and also after the use of the Rondel came to an end.

Discussion

Both of the Rondel ditches are V-shaped, with conspicuously narrowing bottoms cut into the bedrock. Neither of the sections revealed any evidence of re-cutting or cleaning of the ditches nor traces of specific use of individual segments. …

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Fortified Settlements or Ceremonial Sites: New Evidence from Bylany, Czechoslovakia
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