Biskupin Archaeological Museum

Wiesław Zajączkowski

Biskupin Archaeological Museum

Biskupin 17 88-410 Gąsowa Poland

The Museum awarded for the development of a sustainable system for the conservation of waterlogged timber, and for the interpretation and presentation of one of the most important archaeological sites and open air museums in Central Europe.

1. Description of the heritage.

Biskupin fortified settlement of bronze and iron age Lusatian Culture was discovered in 1933. From next year, until break of World War II, there were organized on a vast scale excavations on the site, combined with interdisciplinary studies which put forward Biskupin project like anyone in the history of Polish Archaeology. Archaeological excavations were halted in Biskupin in 1974 because of prehistoric wood deterioration process and rising conservation problems. Biskupin excavations were directed before WWII by prof. Joacute;zef Kostrzewski and after the war by his assistant prof. Zdzisław Rajewski. The relics of the fortified settlement have been dated by dendrochronological methods on half of VIIIth c. BC. They were examined by archaeologists almost on a full scale, it means only 25% of the site 2 hectares area waits for future archaeologists generations. Biskupin is a unique example of wetland archaeology site well reserved in bog conditions and remaining as heritage of population of Central Europe urn field culture on the break of bronze and iron age. Biskupin became for Polish archaeology a significant step forward in methodology, documentation process, conservation methods, cooperation with auxiliary sciences, archaeology by experiment and popularization as well.

Museum pavilion during rebuilding activity - new roof works (author Mariusz Kazik)

The fame of Biskupin excavations has become one of recognizable icons of Polish history of XXth century. The site has got its place in schoolbooks and has been awarded by our former president Lech Wałęsa as national History Monument. Biskupin Museum is member of WARP (Wetland Archaeology Research Project) and EXARC (European Exchange on Archaeological Research and Communication) and has been in close contact for years other European archaeological reserves as well as with university archaeology institutes in Poland and abroad. Biskupin Museum plays its role not only as archaeological museum and reserve but also as scientific institute - with on-site conservation project, place for international conferences and workshops and intensive didactic and interdisciplinary studies activity. For 14 years Biskupin Museum, together with the Institute of Archaeology of Warsaw University, has been organizing during 9 days in September an Archaeological Festival, which attracts 70-90 thousand visitors desired to know prehistoric and medieval crafts as well as spiritual culture, too.

2. State of conservation before the project commenced.

Conservation activity on the site were carried out from the first excavation season in 1934. Wooden remains were first covered by reed and moss then treated by salt and hot paraffin. After the WWII there were practiced different preservation methods - phenolon resins and at last polyglycols. The most painful conservation problems appears in preserving wooden remains in situ, that is why recently in Biskupin only a small fragment of prehistoric wooden constructions of the settlement are shown to the public, the rest is covered by wet conditions under constant monitoring system. The reconstructions of the fortified settlement - the first ones introduced before WWII - also deteriorate in harsh climate conditions and need conservation care, too. Archaeological Wood Conservation Laboratory of Biskupin Museum develops all modern necessary methods joined with wet wood preservation.

3. Scope of the project - conservation, rebuilding and reconstruction of the chosen objects within Biskupin Archaeological Museum.

Biskupin entrance tower and defence wall new reconstructions close to completion state (author Mariusz Kazik)

The main aim of the project has been protection of cultural heritage by halting the deterioration process and renewing the reconstructions complex as well as creation of modern back area of the reserve. The project consisted of 3 main elements; - new reconstructions of part of the prehistoric fortified settlement, placed on Biskupin Lake peninsula, - modernization of museum pavilion and communication routes, - finishing and accomplishing of new conservation laboratory. Before the mentioned was realized, in years 2004-2006 there were accomplished in Biskupin the following projects - environmental monitoring at Biskupin, creating stands for archaeology by experiment, reconstruction of natural green area.

New reconstructions of part of the prehistoric settlement appeared absolutely in right time, because 30 years old reconstructions complex became used and did danger to visitors. Architectural project of new reconstructions was based on former experience, it means two rows of huts follow the old layout, but with better executed interior, and the only visible change is recognized in the entrance tower shape, but generally this popular icon of Polish culture has not lost its known image. Oak and pine timber, preserved by pitch and tar, was used for building purposes and most of building activity was realized by ancient building techniques with use of replicas of prehistoric tools. Recently the reconstructions complex is safe to visitors and able to serve with didactic, popular scientific, experimental archaeology and exhibition activity.

Modernization of museum pavilion and communication routes was a great challenge. We made our mind to enlarge the seasonal exhibition area up to 300 square meters as well as to add some rooms for storage and technicians activity. The roof of the pavilion has been completely changed from a flat one to two-sloped, covered by lake reed of 1200 square meters space. Wooden planks were used for covering a part of the pavilion inner and outer walls. Communication routes, especially between the museum pavilion and conservation lab, are hardened well to be convenient also for disabled persons. Finishing and accomplishing of new conservation laboratory, settled close to the Museum parking place, made a proper possibilities for conservation activity, and there is extra addition - guest rooms and new conference hall. It is worth to mention that new conservation laboratory is a part of big complex consisting artifacts store-room occupying an independent building, another building with guest rooms and workshops, and another unit with vacuum method basins for conservation purposes and ecological central heating station.

Let us know to sum up the project effects with mention on the monitoring activity, experimental archaeology and green area arrangement.

A unique system has recently been developed for monitoring changes (groundwater levels, oxygen circulation, micro-fauna and funghi) that could affect the ancient timber remains conserved in their waterlogged deposits. Laboratory facilities for wood conservation were upgraded with cutting-edge technology to ensure research progress and continued conservation of the remains, both in situ and indoors. The deteriorating wooden rampart, gate and two rows of huts (dwellings) were thoroughly reconstructed, in line with requirements for visitor safety and disabled access. The exhibition hall was enlarged and fully redesigned in the regional style to accommodate large exhibitions, and fitted with central heating powered by renewable energy. Native tree species were planted on the grounds to reconstruct the original landscape. Finally, experimental archaeology sites were established, thereby encouraging public participation through interactive workshops on stone-tool making, iron smelting, weaving, wood tar and pitch producing, pottery, making bronze ornaments etc. A major contribution to conservation practice, the project has also promoted public awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage in Biskupin which has been given a new lease of life for the enjoyment of generations to come. Biskupin - with over 70 years old history of research and social activity - ought to brave in modern times with a proper care of ancient legacy.


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