Neolithic enclosures in Poland may be older than expected: archaeologists

The latest research on the mysterious circular ditches discovered last year near the central Polish city of Toruń make the archeologists rethink the scale of the neolithic earthworks and raise questions about the structures’ age.

Consisting of circular 3 metres-wide and 2 metres-deep ditches, the two structures were discovered in 2019 by Mateusz Sosnowski of the Archeology Institute of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and Jerzy Czerniec of the Archeology and Ethnology Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.

The archaeologists discovered two approximately circular constructs located about 5 km apart, each having the diameter of around 85 m. Each of the enclosures consists of three ditches with a shared central point.

Known as roundels, the ditches are of purpose still obscure to the modern-day researchers. The structures are mostly interpreted as having served a cultic purpose. It is believed that the ditches were dug by tens of people equipped with bone diggers.

There is more than one reason that makes the discovery particularly unique. Firstly, roundels had not been reported east of the Vistula River until the discovery near Toruń was made. This extends the area where such structures were raised.

Secondly, this year’s research revealed that “most of the pieces of earthenware that we found belonged to the Incised Linear Pottery culture. This came as a surprise for us because until now it has been believed that roundels had been raised by later communities such as those belonging to the Stroke-ornamented ware culture,” Mr Sosnowski explains.

The archaeologist adds that “these roundels were most probably raised in place of a former settlement, however, it must not be ruled out that this structure is actually older than we have assumed. More light will be shed on this matter once specialised analyses are carried out.”

Dating as far back as to 5500 BC, the Linear Pottery culture is a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, most densely evidenced on the middle Danube, the upper and middle Elbe, and the upper and middle Rhine.

It represents a major event in the initial spread of agriculture in Europe. The pottery after which it was named consists of simple cups, bowls, vases, and jugs, without handles, but in a later phase with lugs or pierced lugs, bases, and necks.

Roundels are emblematic structures of the Linear Pottery culture and one of the oldest examples of monumental architecture of Europe. Surrounded not just by concentric ditches but also by palisades, apart from their cultic functions they might have also provided shelter against hostilities. Out of 130 roundels that have been discovered so far, one-third are located in Austria, 10 in Poland and the rest in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany.