Archaeologists looking for ceramics 60 years ago today stumbled upon priceless treasure trove instead

To mark the 60th anniversary of one of the most valuable hoards of treasure ever found in Europe, TFN’s Nick Westerby travelled to Toruń to find out more about the stash and where it came from. Kalbar/TFN

While stories of secret tunnels and deathbed confessions about gold trains, the amber room, and looted art make for exhilarating adventures, the treasure discovered 60 years ago today in the village of Skrwilna has a very real history.

The trove was found during the third day of archaeological work in an early medieval stronghold at the site 80 km east of Toruń.

Kalbar/TFN

Kalbar/TFN

Among the items, which collectively weighed 2 kgs of gold and about 5 kgs of silver, were jewellery including four bracelets, four rings, six chains and more chains which were incomplete, pearls, gems and a pendant.Kalbar/TFN

Among the items, which collectively weighed 2 kgs of gold and about 5 kgs of silver, were jewellery including four bracelets, four rings, six chains and more chains which were incomplete, pearls, gems and a pendant.

There were also household items including candlesticks, spoons and a bowl and jug used for washing hands.

The buried items belonged to Polish nobility and were hidden to prevent them from being plundered during the Swedish Deluge which started in 1655 and lasted five years.

Kalbar/TFN

The buried items belonged to Polish nobility and were hidden to prevent them from being plundered during the Swedish Deluge which started in 1655 and lasted five years.Kalbar/TFN

The closest action to the site occurred in March 1657 but it is unclear if the items were buried for safe keeping before or after the military clashes near Toruń.

Lead archaeologist at the time, Professor Jadwiga Chudziakowa, said: “I immediately thought it might be some kind of treasure. What we saw during the next few moments exceeded our wildest expectations.

The treasure had belonged to members of the Piwo family, specifically Stanisław Piwo and his wife Zofia Magdalena.Kalbar/TFN

“Treasure consisting of gold jewellery and silver items had been placed in a wooden box, which was now completely rotten, with only a heavily rusted iron lock remaining.

“Roots of the trees and shrubs grew into the gold chains and jewellery, entwined silver items and would not let go of the works of art which they had guarded for several centuries.”

The team were on an educational exercise looking for ceramics but had no idea that they were set to unearth such a find.

Kalbar/TFN

The owners were identified by their coat of arms on the spoons, Rogala and Prawdzic, as well as their initials on some of the items.Kalbar/TFN

The treasure had belonged to members of the Piwo family, specifically Stanisław Piwo and his wife Zofia Magdalena.

They were identified by their coat of arms on the spoons, Rogala and Prawdzic, as well as their initials on some of the items.

Szymon Stenka, assistant professor at the Department of Polish and European Art at District Museum in Toruń told TFN: “It is a very important find for Poland because of the fantastic work by Polish craftsmen.”Kalbar/TFN

Szymon Stenka, assistant professor at the Department of Polish and European Art at District Museum in Toruń told TFN: “This figure of fortune is definitely the most valuable piece, we could even say that it is priceless as there isn’t another museum that has such a piece in their collection.”

The stunning and delicate bejewelled piece of art would have been worn on a pendant by its owner. Encrusted with emeralds and rubies the mesmerising mermaid centrepiece has increasingly intricate details the closer you look at it.

Stenka continued: “It is a very important find for Poland because of the fantastic work by Polish craftsmen. There are of course some imports from Germany but the other pieces are from  Toruń, Płock and also Brodnica.”

Intricate chain links and embedded emeralds would have been powerful display of the wearer’s wealth.Kalbar/TFN

The 17th-century items produced by the goldsmith from Brodnica are some of the only items to have survived from the craftsman, making them extremely rare and valuable.

The intricate chain links and embedded emeralds would have been powerful display of wealth from the wearer.

The silver bowl and jug made in Augsburg by Zofia’s father for her is one of the more striking finds. Cherubim, flowers, shells and swirls are used in the decorative imagery.

This stunning and delicate bejewelled piece of art would have been worn on a pendant by its owner. Encrusted with emeralds and rubies, it is the most precious piece in the collection.Kalbar/TFN

Stenka told TFN: “These spoons were the normal soup spoons for them, they are beautifully decorated on the back in great detail but these spoons would have been used daily.

“The great detail actually let us know who the owners were, on the spoon, on the goblet and candlesticks. ”