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    Medieval Metallic Objects Show Alchemical Mastery In Poland

    Another amazing medieval discovery has been made in eastern Europe. This time, hundreds of medieval objects were unearthed in east-central Poland. The discovery was made when excavators were preparing for new gas works in the village of Poniaty Wielkie, Poland. Here, Polish archaeologists found the remains of an ancient alchemical workshop containing over 200 metal and ceramic objects. But more important were the ancient production remnants that were also found at the site including furnaces, wells and rubbish pits. Each artifact reveals “the economic development of the medieval settlement,” according to Polish Police . Some of these medieval objects are unique and will likely tell us more about the people who made them and what they were used for and by whom.

    Golden hoop earrings, gilded spurs, and other decorative metal medieval objects were unearthed at the Polish site of Poniaty Wielkie. (PAP)Golden hoop earrings, gilded spurs, and other decorative metal medieval objects were unearthed at the Polish site of Poniaty Wielkie. (PAP)

    Golden hoop earrings, gilded spurs, and other decorative metal medieval objects were unearthed at the Polish site of Poniaty Wielkie. ( PAP)

    Poniaty Wielkie: A Center Of Mediaeval European Trade

    Dating from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries AD, the metallic hoard included a lead plate featuring a human face with a decorative design, and another person’s face cast in a copper alloy. The later artifact was punctured with small holes and the researchers at the site think it was used as a belt buckle. The belt buckle it is thought to have come from nomadic tribes of the Euro-Asiatic border territories. It is also thought that some of the artifacts originated in areas east of Poland, including Rus, the 9th century AD east Slavic gangster state.

    Face crafted in copper alloy(Left) and lead plate (right). (PAP)

    Face crafted in copper alloy(Left) and lead plate (right). ( PAP)

    Jakub Affelski was the lead excavator of the excavation project and he said the settlement could have functioned “as a metallurgical center that produced items for the nearby towns of Nasielsk and Pułtusk which is made evident by fragments of slags and metal products.” Among the metal artifacts were numerous seals that showed that this settlement was involved in “large-scale trade across the region.”

    The History Of Polish Metal Work Is Long And Colorful

    This first metal workers of Poland emerged in the Early Bronze Age around 2300–2400 BC and they developed their craft throughout the Iron Age. It is unclear where these people originally came from, or what language they might have spoken. However, the people in Poland who spanned the Bronze and Iron Ages are known as the “Lusatian people.” The most famous Lusatian Polish site from the dawn of the Bronze Age period is the “ Biskupin” fortified settlement located on the peninsula of Lake (Jezioro) Biskupińskie, which is about 124 miles (200 km) south of where the medieval objects were recently found beneath Poniaty Wielkie.

    A reconstruction of the Biskupin fortified settlement where Polish metal work first got started. (I, Ludek / CC BY-SA 3.0)

    A reconstruction of the Biskupin fortified settlement where Polish metal work first got started. (I, Ludek / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

    According to Visitorun, Biskupin became one of the best known archaeological sites in central Europe after its discovery in 1933 by Walenty Szwajcer (Schweitzer), a local schoolmaster. He saw timbers protruding from the water, which led to the discovery of 2700-year-old fortified settlement that was originally located on an island about 656 feet (200 meters) from the shore. It was enclosed by a palisade of sharpened stakes driven into the ground at an angle, to repel invaders.

    Entered by a single entrance in the southwestern sector that was protected by a gate tower with massive twin gates, the village comprised around 100 wooden homes measuring roughly 681 square feet (80 square meters) in size. Each home was divided into two parts, a vestibule and a main living chamber, and equipped with family size beds built for up to 10 persons. It was here that archaeologists in the 1970s discovered metal-working remains. This made this little village the traditional home of metallic alchemy in Poland and the birth place of the skills required to make the 200-piece mediaeval hoard of objects recently discovered in Poniaty Wielkie.

    Poland’s most famous medieval alchemist, Michael Sendivogius, who pioneered metal working after the abandonment of Poniaty Wielkie, where the recent hoard of medieval objects was found. (Jan Matejko / Public domain)

    Poland’s most famous medieval alchemist, Michael Sendivogius, who pioneered metal working after the abandonment of Poniaty Wielkie, where the recent hoard of medieval objects was found. (Jan Matejko / Public domain )

    Polish Alchemists At The Centre Of Science

    During the 11th to 15th centuries AD, cultures across medieval Poland were heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which lasted until the Polish Renaissance . It may never be known who exactly lived in the early metal workshop of Poniaty Wielkie. But soon after the site was abandoned, Michael Sendivogius or ” Michał Sędziwój” (2 February 1566 – 1636 AD), became known as the leading Polish alchemist for his expertise related to melting, smelting and purifying metals .

    In addition to being an alchemist, Sendivogius was also a well-known philosopher and a medical doctor. This forefather of chemistry developed new methods of purifying and making metals, acids and many other chemical compounds.

    However, Sendivogius is best remembered for suspecting that air was a powerful life-giving and enhancing substance some 170 years before Scheele’s discovery of oxygen. Sendivogius said air (oxygen) was the “food of life,” and he believed it was created by heating potassium nitrate or saltpeter. And his so-called “ central nitre ” played a central position in Sendivogius’ theory of everything.

    Top image: Just a few of the metal medieval objects found recently in Poland in the village of Poniaty Wielkie.      Source: PAP

    By Ashley Cowie

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