No roundel like home: new research helps unlock the secrets of ancient roundel

Digging up the past. Researches unearth the secrets of the Nowe Objezierze site. Marcin Bielecki/PAP

New research has shed light on the age and functions of a mysterious 7,000-year old roundel, a Neolithic circular place of worship that was only found in 2015.

Located in Nowe Objezierze near Cedynia, north-western Poland the structure was first discovered by paraglider Norbert Pająk in 2015. Independently of his finding, the remains of the structure were spotted in June 2016 by archaeologist Marcin Dziewanowski, who was browsing satellite imagery available on Google Maps. 

From above, the contours of the enclosure were so clear that they looked like the crop circles made by aliens in science fiction movies.

Since 2017, scientists from Gdańsk, Szczecin, Warsaw and Poznań have been conducting research in the area. By using carbon dating researchers from Szczecin University discovered it was built around 4800 BC and was in use for 200-250 years. The circular structure has a diameter of 110 meters and consists of four ditches and three palisades, and had three gates leading to the centre.

What the roundel may have looked like in its prime.Anna Cebula/Facebook

Doctor Agnieszka Matuszewska from Szczecin University told PAP: "In the excavation established within the west gate we found the remains of four ditches. Their depth was from 1.3 to almost 2 metres. Similarly at the two other gates we also found remnants of the triple palisade." 

The scale of the structure points to massive effort of the people who built it and cared for it. 

There are around 130 Neolithic enclosures of this kind in Europe, mostly in Germany and the Czech Republic. In Poland, they can be found near Biskupin, Bodzów and Oława. Roundels had a special meaning for the communities that built them – they were places of worship tied to the movements of the planet and ritualistically connected to cosmic forces the people at time may have believed in. 

Looking like crop circles the remains of the roundel was first spotted by a paraglider in 2015.Anna Cebula/Facebook

The assumption is based on the geographical directions between the central point of the object and the gates most likely determined by the observations of the sky and stars.

Apart from sacred functions, roundels were also a place of gathering for Neolithic communities, as indicated by other finds made at the Nowe Objezierze site. Archaeologists found 472 fragments of bones, almost 1,000 pieces of ceramics, as well as flint and stone objects, shells, dye (ocher) and a fragment of quartzite.

Almost 1,000 pieces of ceramics, as well as flint and stone objects, shells, dye (ocher) and a fragment of quartzite have been dug up.Marcin Bielecki/PAP

Still, what baffled the researchers was the time when the roundel was in use. Professor Lech Czerniak from Gdańsk University commented: "In itself, it is quite sensational, given the fact that it coincides with the dating of buildings located on the Danube, considered the oldest. Nevertheless, it seems important to establish that the four trenches surrounding the central square of the facility probably did not function simultaneously, but every few dozen years, a new ditch with a larger diameter was dug up.”

The circular structure has a diameter of 110 meters and consists of four ditches and three palisades.Marcin Bielecki/PAP

Prof. Czerniak noted, that establishing the exact dates of when the ditches were dug will allow the researchers to recreate a “ritualistic calendar” of the community. At that time, the preliterate populace would celebrate their most important holidays once every few years in a very intense manner. Living in settlements around the round enclosure (the remains of one have already been discovered) and focusing on farming and raising cattle, they only rarely had the chance to break their daily routine with a celebration.