Archaeologists discover settlements of megalithic tomb builders

Villages where 5,500 years ago the builders of the so-called Kuyavian tombs lived were discovered by archaeologists thanks to the use of drones. The settlements at that time were small, inhabited by up to 10 families who lived in light, wooden structures.

Megalithic tombs of the Kuyavian type (this term comes from the Kuyavia region in Northern Poland, where the majority of these structures have been discovered) are considered to be among the largest sepulchral structures erected in prehistoric Poland.

Kuyavian tombs were erected in the 4th millennium BC. They were built in the shape of an elongated triangle and surrounded with large stone blocks. Their base was 6 to 15 metres wide, up to 150 metres long and 3 metres high. The elite were usually buried individually under the elongated mounds.

“We examined a total of 160 square kilometres of the area around the tombs. We have managed to discover over 150 settlements from the period when these monumental structures were created,” said Dr Piotr Papiernik, research project manager at the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Łódź.

Archaeologists used a wide range of non-invasive methods including surface surveys and aerial photos which were taken with the use of a drone. At the same time, soil, geological and geomorphological studies were carried out. This allowed them to find individual houses as well as larger settlement networks.

“All this allowed us to indicate with certainty the places where people lived at the time when the megalithic tombs were erected. The villages were small, inhabited by up to 10 families who lived in light, wooden structures. They occupied an area of ​​1-1.5 hectares. The buildings were 25-35 metres squared, each occupied by one family,” said Dr Papiernik.

The archaeologist specified that in the vicinity of one group of Kuyavian tombs there were more settlements. The tombs were the focal point of the settlement microregion. According to him, this indicates that the inhabitants of several villages were building one large tomb.

Experts also examined the pollen of plants in the vicinity of the then villages that were collected from old lakes. It turned out that the degree of deforestation around them was not as high as assumed. The locals most likely focused on livestock (mostly cattle) rather than agriculture.

The next goal for archaeologists is to discover where the mass cemeteries in the area are, where thousands of ordinary people are buried.

The research conducted so far has been financed from various sources, mainly from the programme of the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport, which runs the National Heritage Institute and the museum's own funds, as well as from the support of the Professor Konrad Jażdżewski Archaeological Research Foundation.