Burnt Teutonic fortress near Poland’s lake Lichtajny


The remains of a burnt Teutonic fortress near lake Lichtajny (Warmia and Mazury) have been discovered by Warsaw archaeologists. It is evidence of fights with pagan Prussians during the first Teutonic colonization said Prof. Zbigniew Kobyliński.

Burnt Teutonic fortress near Poland's lake Lichtajny
Remains of Teutonic structures discovered in Lichtajny [Credit: M. Żurek]

The structure discovered near lake Lichtajny was “a kind of a wooden castle” in which the outer walls of timber, partially sunk into the ground buildings, also formed the line of defensive walls. In order to better protect them against the weather and fire they were covered with clay. The buildings had dimensions of 4 x 5,3 m and were dug 1.2 m into the ground, said Prof. Zbigniew Kobyliński from the Institute of Archaeology of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw.

The structure studied by archaeologists probably functioned in approx. the mid-thirteenth century.

“We do not know many similar examples of such early structures built by the Teutonic Knights. Traces of wooden fortifications from the same period were discovered a few years ago in Elbląg”, noted Prof. Kobyliński. According to archaeologists, the relics in Elbląg were building blocks of the fortress preliminarily dated to mid-thirteenth century – the time of founding of the city by the Provincial Master Hermann von Balk.

Prof. Kobyliński added that in Chełmno Land and in Pomesania there are known Teutonic castles built of wood and earth, which predate the stone castles. The fortifications discovered in Lichtajny, however, are clearly different from them. According to the researchers it was a temporary structure, intended only for the period of conquering local tribes. A very small number of finds indicated short-term use of this structure.

Archaeologists had found part of the structure in 2015. This year, they continued studies in the National Programme for the Development of Humanities project “Catalogue of the strongholds of Warmia and Mazury”, led by Prof. Zbigniew Kobyliński. Excavations were supervised by Dr. Magdalena Żurek of the Institute of Archaeology, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. Scientists were convinced that it was worth digging by the reports in pre-war German literature, which hinted to the presence of a castle.

“This place is indeed special topographically – a peninsula cutting into the lake with a clear elevation with a flat top, evidently artificially flattened, which promised interesting discoveries”, added Prof. Kobyliński.

Before archaeologists entered the area, non-invasive tests had been conducted – those that did not require to drive a shovel into the ground. Researchers used a magnetic method which allowed to detect the existence of underground “strong linear anomalies”, suggesting the presence of burnt wooden structures. This work was conducted by Tomasz Herbich from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS and Dr. Fabian Welc from the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. As a result, archaeologists could later dig more in accurately determined locations. In all the places they discovered a large number of burnt wood beams, in a few cases – with traces of processing and pug.

Prof. Kobyliński suspects that the apparent destruction should be associated with the fights with the Prussians. It can not be excluded that the buildings were surrounded by an additional palisade or perhaps even a wood and earth embankment. In modern times, however, the hill was levelled, removing traces of such structures, the scientist added.

Source: PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland [September 27, 2016]