Remains of children found buried under road could belong to first ever Poles
The bodies of Polish children from the early middle ages have been found during archaeological work at a road junction in the northern city of Bydgoszcz.
Archaeologists have dated the discovery from the 10th to the 12th centuries. If the earlier date is correct, the remains could be those of some of the first children to ever have been called Polish.
The state of Poland was established under the rules of Duke Mieszko I, whose reign began sometime before 963 and continued until his death in 992.
The bodies were discovered just one metre underground on a section of grass between two roads on Zbożowy Rynek street in the city. The discovery came to light during archaeological work before the planned widening of the road.
Over a dozen graves containing small children have been counted so far. Other graves contain ornaments from the period, including a knife with a bone or horn handle, a ring and women’s decorative rings worn around the head.
All the people were buried in wooden coffins. The wood has not survived, but the archaeologists have confirmed its presence by outlines that survived.
According to archaeologist Anna Retkowska, who is carrying out work at the site, the find is a surprise.
“We did not expect that we would unveil early medieval burials in the green belt at Zbożowy Rynek,” she said. “We found the buried remains of children, including very tiny children, as well as adults.”
The discovery brings with it unsolved mysteries. Retkowska said that the way the bones are arranged is puzzling as some of them appear to have been moved.
She said: “We do not know why. In one case the skull was unnaturally turned with the face to the earth. In another, the shoulder bone was detached from the skeleton and placed next to it.
“We also uncovered a skeleton without the leg from the knee to the foot. I wonder if the person could have had a serious accident.”
Another surprise is that the bodies were lying just one metre underground in such a busy junction of the city.
Retkowska said: “The burials have been preserved because the area was not built-up in the 18th and 19th century.
“In the 1970s, when the street surface was changed, they were not affected either.”
The archaeologists were able to date the graves by decorative items worn by those who were buried. By the skull of one of the people they found temple rings which were early medieval decorations worn by Slavic women in the shape of an open ring, often with a characteristic curly tip. They were worn from the 10th to the 12th century and made of bronze, lead, silver, gold or tin.
Around this time, Bydgoszcz was a fishing settlement called Bydgozcya. It became an important stronghold on the Vistula trade route.
The stronghold of Bydgoszcz was built between 1037 and 1053 during the reign of Casimir I the Restorer.
An old Polish road was also discovered at the site, reinforced on the sides with large wooden logs, which are now visible. The road probably towards the Kujawska Gate on today's Długa Street.
“The stone cobbles leading to the current Długa Street were reinforced with wooden logs,” explained Retkowska.
The discovery is the latest interesting archaeological find during the road works in the area.
In February this year, during work before the demolition of the tenement house at 4 Zbożowy Rynek, archaeologists found the remains of another cemetery from the 16th and 17th centuries.