Hundreds of Neanderthal tools found beneath Olsztyn castle

Over 200 Neanderthal flint tools crafted 40,000 years ago were discovered by archaeologists in a cave beneath the castle of Olsztyn in Silesia province.

Built in late 12th century, the castle was owned by many powerful warriors and considered by the Polish King Kazimierz the Great as one of the most fortified strongholds in Poland; however, the cave found at the lower castle had been occupied much earlier by Neanderthal people.

“It turns out that the cave served not only as a renaissance castle pantry. Earlier, it had been used by Neanderthals as a hideout, something evidenced by over 200 tools that we have discovered,” said Mikołaj Urbanowski, head of the excavation mission of the “Nature and Human” Foundation.

Mr Urbanowski said that the discovered tools date back to times when Homo sapiens neanderthalensis lived next to Homo sapiens sapiens. Knives and curry-combs were found among the tools - a serendipitous discovery of the archaeologists whose primary task was to tidy up the cave after research conducted several dozen years ago.

A pillar, a carcass and a mysterious smile of fortune

The breakthrough was made in July when the team chanced upon a previously unrecorded fragment of a massive pillar that supported the cave’s ceiling and the lower castle. The several-dozen-meters-tall pillar was joinned with a meter-thick wall closing off the cave. Being bound together with clay, the wall’s stones were arranged in a very similar way to the pattern according to which the upper castle’s tower was constructed.

Archaeologists say that both the pillar and the wall date back to the earliest days of the castle in the 13th century. “The pillar builders were concerned about the castle’s stability due to the cave being located underneath it. For this reason, they decided to buttress the ceiling and support the walls of the upper castle,” said Mr Urbanowski.

A year ago, the archaeologists discovered a 15th-century furnace used for smelting bronze. “Placing a furnace that emitted a huge amount of heat and toxic fumes in a cave is a peculiarity at least on a Polish scale,” said Mr Urbanowski, adding “perhaps someone was interested in keeping the furnace away from the eyes of passers-by, especially if it was used for illegal ends such as forging coins.”

The mystery is rendered even more obscure by a skeleton of a young dog found beneath the furnace – possibly evidence of bronze workers’ superstitions. “The offering, whose roots should be traced back to pagan times, was supposed to render the melting process fortunate. Although the metalworkers were skilled, intuition and a smile of fortune played a big role,” said the archaeologist.