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Ryczyn Archaeological Complex

Ryczyn is located in a nature conservation area between two modern cities: Oława and Brzeg in the Lower Silesia (Dolny Śląsk) region of Poland. Here, in the vicinity of the Oder River, a number of medieval (10th–15th century) archaeological sites have been recorded. These remains of early medieval settlements are often collectively referred to as the Ryczyn Archaeological Complex. The Complex includes two hillforts of different sizes: the larger one marked as Site 1 and the smaller one marked as Site 2. In the proximity of the big stronghold, the remains of three open settlements were recorded and named Sites 3, 4, and 5 respectively. An inhumation cemetery has been recorded as Site 6 of the Complex.

Site 1 — the remains of a ring-wall stronghold, 150 m in diameter. Today, the remains of defensive walls range between 2–5 meters in height. The fortress was built in the 980s, making Ryczyn an important point in the defence system of the Piast dynasty's state. It was reinforced with a moat, 5–10 meters wide. Archaeological excavations revealed evidence for the levelling of the original rampart around the 1030s, following the fall of the early Piast state. The defensive walls visible today were piled up in the later Middle Ages, some time between the 14th and 15th centuries.

Reconstruction of the stronghold from the 10th/11th century (S. Moździoch)

Site 2 — small hillfort, conical in shape, 15 m in diameter, surrounded by a double ditch. This archaeological structure dates back to the end of the 10th century. The stronghold was in fact a watchtower located closer to the Oder River and intended to monitor its banks. It was abandoned by the beginning of the 13th century.

A romantic vision of the watchtower, by an unknown author

Site 3, 4, and 5 — settlements. The open settlements outside the walls of the Ryczyn stronghold have undergone very little archaeological exploration. Field reconnaissance revealed a large number of early medieval broken clay pottery, animal bones, iron artefacts (mainly weapons including axes, knives, and spears) as well as numerous iron nails, fishing hooks, and other small artefacts made of stone, bone, and clay. All of the findings are clear evidence of intensive dwelling in the area. These villages were likely settled not only by peasants and fishermen, but also by craftsmen, including blacksmiths, potters, and other small traders.

Site 6 — inhumation cemetery, situated south-west of the larger stronghold. It dates back to between the 10th and 15th centuries. Preliminary archaeological investigations showed the burial ground to exhibit features of religious syncretism, manifested by funerary rites including both cremation and inhumation. While the inhumations follow the Christian rite with extended bodies oriented east-west, the cremations represent the remnants of the indigenous religion and rituals. The skeletons of both sexes and a variety of age categories are preserved in a very good state. Coins, amulets made of quartz crystal, animal skulls (horse, dog, pig), and iron bowls are among the grave goods. Early medieval remains of both inhumation and cremation practices in a single burial ground are exceptionally rare in Poland and indicate an undisturbed and gradual transition from an old belief system to Christianity.

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