Mazury (Pologne): Six medieval bridge crossings discovered

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

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Photo by A. Pydyn

As many as six unknown bridge crossings from the Middle Ages, with well- preserved structural elements, have been discovered in the lakes of the Iławskie Lake District by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.

"We conducted surveys of several selected areas located on different lakes. However, the effort has resulted in spectacular finds. In addition to numerous, sometimes well- preserved monuments, we have found complex wooden structures, most of which are the remains of bridge crossings" - explained Dr. Andrzej Pydyn of the Nicolaus Copernicus University, responsible for the project implementation. 

The underwater "digs", requiring special attention and resources, continued for more than two months. Researchers found the first bridges in lake Łodygowo during the first days of work. These crossings were mentioned as early as the nineteenth-century archival sources. Remains of piles could be seen at very low water of the basin. However, only the recent studies allowed for their precise location and drawing and photographic documentation. Dendrochronological dating performed by Prof. Tomasz Ważny of the Nicolaus Copernicus University suggests that one of the bridges leading to the so-called Barrow Island was built or was repaired in 1333.

" However, both this bridge and the one leading to the opposite shore, could function already in the first half of the twelfth century or even earlier, as indicated by historical material" - added the archaeologist. 

That island, despite its small size, according to the researchers had to be an important centre of rule or worship, as it had been connected with the mainland by two bridge crossings with a length of almost 200 meters each. These bridges were designed so that their outposts were located in the vicinity of the town gate. 

Four more bridge crossings have been found in the lake Jeziorak and its arms. Preliminary analysis of historical material and dendrochronological dating, consisting of counting the annual growth rings of trees, suggest that discovered bridges come from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. 

"The oldest one is the bridge crossing the isthmus separating the lakes Płaskie and Jeziorak, major part of which was built of timber harvested in the years 1055/1056. This was an important part of the communication route leading into Prussia" - described Dr. Pydyn. 

The research project also allowed to precisely locate the bridge leading to the north end of the Wielka Żuława island. According to dendrochronological dating, this crossing was built in the years 1268-1269. However, varied archaeological material suggests that the site remained in use for over the next several centuries, as evidenced by further rows of piles. "It seems likely that the construction of the bridge was related to the functioning of the island castle examined in previous archeology studies" - believes head of the expedition.

It is highly probable that another, smaller bridge crossing connected the island Kobiecak, located in the northern part of Jeziorak, with the mainland. "We have stumbled upon the rubble of wooden structures. GPR survey of sediments located below the bottom has also shown interesting anomalies" - added the archaeologist. 

The project is implemented jointly with the Institute of Archaeology of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, and supported by the Warsaw branch of the Scientific Association of Polish Archaeologists. Studies are possible with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in the programme Cultural and Priority Heritage - Protection of Archaeological Sites. 

The grant led by Prof. Przemysław Urbańczyk - "Non-destructive comprehensive survey of archaeological resources of the bottom of lakes and coastal areas in selected basins in the Iławskie Lake District in the underwater archaeological image of Poland" - is the largest project of this type carried out in Polish inland waters.

 polma2.png Photo by A. Pydyn