Ancient copper smelting furnaces discovered near Apollonia Pontica

Ceramic kilns for smelting copper ore dating to the second half of the 6th century BC have been discovered in the ancient Greek city of Apollonia Pontica near the Black Sea town of Sozopol (Sozopolis) in southeast Bulgaria.

Ancient copper smelting furnaces discovered near Apollonia Pontica
Several kilns have been found at the site of the ancient copper mine near Apollonia Pontica,
today’s Sozopol on the Black Sea coast in Southeast Bulgaria [Credit: Darik Burgas]

The kilns were found close to an ancient copper mine in an area known as Medni Rid (Copper Ridge) by a team of Bulgarian and German archaeologists led by Petar Leshtakov and Krasimir Nikov.

“The [kilns] demonstrate the highly developed and specialized organization of copper ore extraction and processing within the very mine,” says Dimitar Nedev, Director of the Sozopol Museum of Archaeology.

The digs started as rescue excavations in October 2018 after tree logging trucks compromised the terrain, Nedev reveals.

“This discovery is of extreme significance for Bulgarian archaeology, and perhaps one of the major archaeological events of 2018,” the local museum director said.

The discovery marks the first time ancient metallurgy furnaces have been found near Bulgaria’s Sozopol but outside the immediate territory of the ancient polis.

Amphorae and other pottery imported from the Greek islands of Chios and Samos recovered at the site indicate that copper ore extraction and processing began shortly after the founding of Apollonia Pontica in the early seventh century BC.

The furnaces were found on the northern slope of  ‘Copper Ridge’, and are two types: the first was used for ‘frying’, that is, removing the sulfur from the copper ore concentrate; the second type were the melting kilns.

The copper ore in ‘Copper Ridge’ was extracted in an open-air mine, without shafts or tunnels, with a diametre of about 1.2 kilometres.

The researchers believe they have also identified three more groups of kilns in the area, and are hopeful of locating the miners’ camp.

Source: Archaeology in Bulgaria [November 02, 2018]

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Medieval castle discovered in Poland’s Żelechów

We wanted to discover another Malbork, and we found… Biskupin, say discoverers of the late medieval castle in Żelechów (Mazowieckie). It was the seat of the noble Ciołek family; its wooden elements have been preserved to this day.

Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: M. Legut-Pintal

The search for the castle in Żelechów lasted several years. Historians knew from a few mentions that there used to be a stronghold in this area in the Middle Ages. Now — thanks to the use of air laser scanning and other methods that do not even require driving the blade into the ground — they precisely located the lost structure. It is located north-west of the Żelechów market square, near fishponds.

“We knew that the castle existed, although information about its location, size and construction was not preserved anywhere”, says the archaeological project leader Wojciech Bis from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS.

The historian involved in the project, Michał Zbieranowski from the Institute of History PAS emphasizes that the castle was the seat of the Ciołek family. “Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of information about it, because written sources were burned at the end of World War II”, he adds.
In previous years, researchers located remains of the structure. Small scale excavations started last year, but only this year`s digs brought surprising results. “We wanted to discover another Malbork, and we found… another Biskupin”, says Zbieranowski.

Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: P. Cembrzyński
Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: W. Bis

This, of course, is not a reference to the age of the castle (which is about 2,200 years younger than the one in Biskupin) — but to the material from which it was built.

Scientists previously believed that there were massive brick or stone remains of the object’s foundations underground. That conclusion was based on the results of geophysical research. But excavations revealed something else. “It turned out that the complex was not surrounded by a wall, only a rampart reinforced with stone structures. Many elements of wooden buildings have been exposed. They are very well preserved, especially the foundations of some houses around the castle’s court. This is due to the high level of ground water, which it makes our work difficult, but preserves organic material”, says Bis.

The preserved elements include door seats, beams forming external walls and traces of fixing boards to internal walls.

“Oak beams have been preserved so well that you can get the impression that it is a modern structure”, emphasises Zbieranowski. Expert analysis allowed to precisely determine the age of wood used for construction — it comes from approx. 1466.

Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: W. Bis
Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: W. Bis

“When we imagine a ‘castle’, we see a stronghold made of stone or bricks, but they were not always made of these materials! In the Middle Ages, wood-and-earth fortifications worked equally well. In the case of Mazowsze, it was easy to obtain very durable oak wood, which was easily accessible in that area”, says Bis.

Thanks to the latest research, we now know that the seat of the Ciołek family had a regular, four-sided shape. Over time, it was expanded and enlarged. At first it was an object about 50 by 50 meters, later — 85 by 90 meters. Defences of the fortress included a wide, wet moat surrounding the whole complex. For now, archaeologists have carried out excavations in a small area. Although most of the structures within the fort were built of wood, in one place the researchers also found massive stone foundations.

“These could be the remains of a brick mansion of the owner of this fort”, Bis suggests.

Stove tiles are among the objects that indicate that the fortress had wealthy inhabitants. Various and decorated tiles indicate that there were least several furnaces in the living quarters. Similar monuments are known from other mansions of nobles. “Tiles with similar ornamentation are known from Podlasie, from the court of King Sigismund II Augustus in Knyszyn, as well as the castle in Tykocin”, says Bis.

Medieval castle discovered in Poland's Żelechów
Credit: W. Bis

The castle was not lucky. It was probably founded shortly aster 1450, but it was probably abandoned already in the beginning of the 16th century. According to the scientists, feuds between the magnates contributed to this. The seat of the Ciołek family was temporarily taken over by Feliks from Zielanka.

“We have uncovered numerous traces of burning, burnt fragments of vessels, and even a cannonball. These could be traces of attempts to take back the castle by the Ciołeks. We hope that the excavations planned for the next years will shed new light on this issue”, adds Zbieranowski.

Researchers also hope that their work will help change the image of this region of Mazowsze in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period. Until now, probably due to the shortage of written sources and the lack of archaeological research, it was generally believed that only a few people lived in this area at that time. Meanwhile, the preliminary field survey researchers shows that there may be at least several similar, unknown and fortified residences from this period in this area.

Author: Szymon Zdziebłowski | Source: PAP – Science in Poland [November 02, 2018]

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