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Field School 2020

Slavia Field School in Mortuary Archaeology, Ryczyn, Poland

The Ryczyn forest holds a mystery. A thousand years ago a powerful fortress was erected here, for many centuries it was a home and shelter for generations of Slavs inhabiting these lands. The Piasts used it as an important defence of their new state, guarding both the Oder River crossing and the passing trade routes. Archaeological research indicates that three villages developed in the vicinity of the fort. Based on traces of iron-producing metallurgic workshops, it is clear that the villages performed important economic functions. The soil is filled with ceramic fragments, as well as iron, bronze, lead, silver, bone, antler, and stone artefacts. For almost four hundred years, this place won glory during wartime and enjoyed prosperity during peace for thousands of inhabitants. With the passage of centuries, the lives and deaths of its inhabitants have been forgotten. Today, the remains of past splendours are evidenced by a number of archaeological sites known as the Ryczyn Archaeological Complex.

The Slavia Field School in Mortuary Archaeology invites anthropology and archaeology students to join our quest into the past of the early medieval Ryczyn and its people. We offer both undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to gain or to master their practical skills in bioarchaeology, archaeology, and human osteology through participating in the Slavia excavations at the early medieval cemetery in Ryczyn.

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The burial ground, located near the stronghold, has so far revealed a number of inhumations following the Christian rite with extended bodies oriented east-west. The little-known and unexplored cemetery dates back to the 11th century AD. It contains skeletons of both sexes and a variety of ages, all preserved in a very good state. Some individuals bear traces of heavy trauma — clearly a result of warfare and a testimony to Ryczyn's turbulent history. The most recent burials date back to the 14th century and mark the demise of the necropolis.

Ryczyn is frequently mentioned in a variety of medieval sources written over the course of more than three centuries. The first mention refers to the year 1093 AD and can be found in the Bohemian Chronicles of Komas. According to the chronicler, Ryczyn was burnt down by the Bohemian prince Bretislaus II around 1093, during his invasion of Poland. The Ryczyn fortress was subsequently rebuilt and became one of the key strongholds in Silesia. In 1103, it successfully withstood the attacks of the joint forces of Borivoj, Duke of Bohemia, and Svatopluk of Olomouc, as well as the invasion of the German king Heinrich V during the Polish-German war of 1109.

The Slavia Field School in Mortuary Archaeology in Ryczyn welcomes all students wishing to gain practical experience in excavating human remains as well as in other aspects of mortuary archaeology. The project aims at the exploration and documentation of an interesting and valuable archaeological site, the preservation of which is currently threatened by forestry maintenance. The development of the early Polish state and the ensuing centralization of power caused profound social and economic changes among local Slavic tribal communities. Bioarchaeological evidence obtained from human remains and their funerary context is expected to provide perspectives on how this change affected Ryczyn's local population dynamics, health and lifestyle patterns at the onset of the feudal system in early Poland. We hope you will help us take up the task of discovering and preserving that which will otherwise be lost to time.

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