Dig you believe it: archaeologist excavates massive ancient town he discovered as a teenager

The floor pan of a house dating back some 7,000 years. Marcin Dziewanowski

An archaeologist is excavating a seven-thousand-year-old settlement he discovered by accident when he was a teenager.

Marcin Dziewanowski, now a PhD candidate in archaeology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, has nurtured an enduring passion for the prehistoric settlement since discovering the existence of the site in Mierzyn near Szczecin in the north-west of Poland

At the age of 15, he told the local media, he spotted pottery fragments when walking the fields in Mierzyn. In another tell-tale sign of an ancient settlement, the soil was discoloured in places, indicating the presence of wells or walls under the ground.

With the area slated for residential development, Dziewanowski faced a race against time but he finally uncovered the settlement, and it has proven to be more impressive perhaps than even he imagined. Rows of over 20-square-metre houses cover as much as seven hectares, matching the size of some medieval cities. It also means that the population of Mierzyn was larger 7,000 years ago than it is today.

Part of the long-lost civilisation. Dziewanowski first suspected something lay buried there when he found fragments of pottery when he was teenager.Marcin Dziewanowski

“Imagine this, we have a forest but within 100 years there is a whole network of settlements covering an area of seven hectares, which was bigger than some medieval cities,” Dziewanowski told the Radio Szczecin.

In addition to the remains of houses, which were of an impressive size for the period, there was also evidence of the people who lived in them including pottery, stone tool fragments, animal bones and the remains of plant food and pole holes.

Dated to 5,100- 4,900 (Linear Pottery Culture) and 4,650- 4,500 BC (Rössen Culture), the settlement belongs to the early Neolithic era in Central Europe. Neolithic, from the Greek for New Stone Age, means the period that saw the introduction of settled life and farming but not yet the development of metalworking on a large scale.

The site has produced large amounts of pottery fragment from the Linear Pottery Culture, which flourished for a thousand years between the Baltic and the Danube, and from its successor, the Rössen culture. 

The archaeologists had to move quickly because the area has been earmarked for development. Marcin Dziewanowski / Facebook

Recent studies of human DNA material recovered from 22 sites associated with the Linear Pottery Culture in Germany and Austria found that these people were ancestors of the modern Europeans: as much as 15 percent of western European genomes appear to come from these people. 

Dziewanowski told TFN: “The first farmers to settle in Mierzyn is the largest number in the Lower Odra region - let's say the early Neolithic capital of the region. In one of the settlements from around 5,000 BC, people came from the south with the first pottery, grains, houses, polished tools and the idea of villages.

“The ancient inhabitants of Mierzyn were immigrants from the southern regions of Middle Europe who brought with them superior agricultural technology, animal husbandry, and displacing earlier bands of hunter-gatherers that would have previously inhabited the area. In these times they were like aliens as the style of life they had was unknown here.

"What is really exiting, around 4,600 in the same place settled people who previously lived somewhere between the Rhine and the Elbe River, but in one pit I found pottery that suggest that there were some from the south (Silesia, Czech). In the same village lived people of different cultures, from different regions of Middle Europe.

"In general, this is one of the most interesting Neolithic sitse, because it is one of the best preserved and it wasn't destroyed by later culters in the Bronze Age or Iron Age."

The excavations have been carried out with financial support from the Marine Technical Services in Mierzyn.