Relics of a Przeworsk Culture Cemetery in Błonie, Warsaw West County
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Muzeum Starożytnego Hutnictwa Mazowieckiego im. S. Woydy
Publication date: 2020-01-28
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2019;LXX(70):225–238
In the middle of April 1969, an urn cremation grave from the Roman Period (Fig. 2) was discovered by accident in Błonie, now Warsaw West County (Fig. 1). Several days later, a rescue excavation was carried out in the area of the find, during which four trenches with a total surface area of 130 square metres were opened. Another burial from the Roman Period, two settlement features from the Neolithic and the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, and three modern graves were registered within their limits (Fig. 3). In 1974, 1985, and 2015, fieldwalking surveys took place in the vicinity of the site. The material discovered at this time was interpreted as traces of a multicultural settlement and, in the Roman Period, also a place of iron production. These assumptions were confirmed by excavations that took place in recent years and were prompted by the intense residential development in the area of the site. However, no Przeworsk Culture graves were found during the excavations. The accidently discovered grave 1 is an urn cremation burial of an individual at the age of infans II/iuvenis. In addition to burnt bones, an iron axe (Fig. 4:1), fragments of a melted glass vessel (Fig. 5), and pieces of a burnt multilayer antler comb (Fig. 4:2) were found inside the urn. The clay vessel that served as a cinerary urn was made on a potter’s wheel (Fig. 4:3). Specimens of similar morphology are known from other Przeworsk Culture sites occupied in the Late Roman Period. The closest analogies, both territorially and stylistically, come from sites located not far from Błonie, on the Middle and Lower Bzura River. The iron axe corresponds to the Żarnowiec type. Objects of a similar shape are found in different parts of barbarian Europe, where they are dated within the range of the Late Roman Period. The slender specimen from Błonie, with a rectangular shaft-hole, finds its best parallels in the territory of the Przeworsk Culture in central Poland. It is not easy to date grave 1 based on local artefact forms. The destroyed glass vessel is the most problematic. The better preserved fragments suggest that it was a mould-blown cup decorated with vertical and fairly shallow grooves (Fig. 5). I am not aware of any such specimen found in the territory of Poland. The most similar vessels are found mainly at Roman cemeteries in the area of present-day Cologne, where they were also most likely made. They are usually dated to the 4th century AD. They are quite diverse – some differ from the specimen from Błonie by having narrower grooves; all have concave bottoms. Out of these specimens, the closest analogies are finds from the vicinity of Hambach, Lkr. Düren (Fig. 6:1), Cologne-Neußer Straße (Fig. 6:2), and Krefeld-Gellep, Lkr. Krefeld (Fig. 6:3), characterised by grooves of a similar size. Vessels with vertically ribbed bodies could have also been made in other regions, e.g. in the late Roman (phases C2–C3) glass workshop in Komarìv, Černìvcì Province, on the Dniester River. Unfortunately, we do not know of any glasses from that workshop that are decorated in the same manner as the preserved fragment from Błonie. In conclusion, grave 1 from Błonie should be dated to no earlier than phase C2, and most probably to phases C2–D. Grave 4 (Fig. 7) is a destroyed urn burial. Burnt bones of a child at the age of infans I, sherds of two smaller clay vessels, and a lump of melted glass were found inside the urn. Burnt bones, a fragment of a glass bead, and a spindle whorl (Fig. 7:1), all scattered by ploughing, were found within a 25 cm radius of the urn. The clay vessels found in grave 4 (Fig. 7:2–4) are forms typical of the Przeworsk Culture. They appear in phase B2 and are most often encountered in assemblages from the Late Roman Period. The assemblage from Błonie should most probably be dated to that later stage. The cemetery in Błonie together with neighbouring settlements formed a settlement complex (Fig. 1). A settlement, located several hundred metres to the east and registered at site AZP 57-63/1, was in use at the same time. The complex is a part of the Przeworsk Culture settlement cluster, where signs of intense iron production have been registered (The Mazovian Centre of Metallurgy). Only a small number of cemeteries is known from this region, which led to a theory that local iron production was isolated to the settlement base usually placed within the Przeworsk Culture settlement clusters situated several dozen kilometres to the west, on the Lower and Middle Bzura River. However, this hypothesis resulted from research focused on examination of the local metallurgy. Over a dozen cemeteries are known from the area of the metallurgical centre; they are usually poorly explored and unpublished. An analysis of the material from these sites is necessary to better understand the character of the local settlement of the Przeworsk Culture population. The cemetery in Błonie is also relevant to another research aspect, i.e. the nature of the late Roman settlement of the Przeworsk Culture in the area in question. In light of established findings, at the end of the Early Roman Period and the beginning of the Late Roman Period, the local settlement structures underwent a kind of regression, which is believed to be associated with a decline in large-scale iron production. The results of the latest archaeological research only partly support these findings. Some of the settlements were in fact abandoned at the beginning of the Late Roman Period. On the other hand, the well-examined sites founded near the end of the Early Roman Period do not demonstrate symptoms of a settlement crisis in phases C and D. What is different is the nature of these sites, as they do not show signs of the intense metallurgical activity known from the Early Roman Period.