In 1997, just eight years after the Velvet Revolution, when Czechs were making up for lost time and looking into the future, one man - archeologist Radomír Tichý - was busy looking back. Like the rest of his countrymen he was now fully able to realize his dreams, but those had little to do with mobile phones, DVDs and exotic holidays. Mr. Tichý and his colleagues at Hradec Králové University aimed to recreate history by building an open air museum from the early Stone Age to the late Metal Age.
A year later he set about building it with a group of archeology students near the town of Všestary – painstakingly creating the only open air museum of its kind in the Czech Republic. The “prehistoric village” as it is called in Czech takes visitors back to another world in which they can get a glimpse of life as it was 5,000 years ago.
Radomír Tichý explains what’s in store for visiting students:
“It is a small village of just three houses built in different styles –one “sunk into the ground” with a thickly thatched roof reaching the ground, another resembling a thatched log house and a third constructed slightly differently. There’s a well and everything else that the inhabitants would have used in their daily life – a bread oven, stone chipping and wood chopping sites, cabin implements, an open fireplace and so on. When a group of students come to visit they can handle the objects and try their hand at using stone axes, grinding wheat by hand or working a field with wooden instruments. It is a very exciting way of learning about history.”
Visiting the open air-museum certainly beats poring over textbooks and over the past ten years the village has attracted thousands of school children and students.
“We are making a wooden fence as they would have built it around Stone Age settlements.”
“We are sharpening a stone – this is how people made wooden axes in those days.”
“At school we only learn about the Stone Age from textbooks, but here we can get a close up look at the practical aspects of life as it was then.”
The open air museum is already a big success, but as far as the archeological team at Hradec Králové University is concerned it is only the first step to a much bigger project – an archeological “park” that would combine an open air museum with a hi-tech exposition in an enclosed building - creating an education centre that would be open to the public daily.
"You know our biggest problem with this project over the past ten years was that we wanted to make it more widely accessible but were limited by so many factors. Foremost by the weather because schools would book a guided tour well in advance and on a rainy day it made things very difficult. Also there was no home-base for our employees here. So we could not open it to the public except on special occasions. And finally it would be good if we were able to exhibit preserved archeological remains in situ – so we are very happy to have the chance to realize our archeological park project.”
The “park” project involves expanding the open air museum to include livestock, an archeological dig for children, and several more thatched houses. Close by archeologists envisage a modern three-floor building financed from regional funds and co-sponsored by the EU to the tune of 40 million crowns. Building work is to start in the autumn and Radomír Tichý has a clear idea of what it’s going to look like when its doors open to the public in 2012.
“The building will have two wings – one with a big projection hall where we can screen films or give lectures –and the other will be for exhibits. It will have three floors –the first floor will be the “underground floor” – exhibiting caves with engravings, mining shafts, graves and burial rituals and items uncovered during excavation work. The second floor will illustrate life in the Stone Age - what the settlements looked like, how they functioned, the development of agriculture and trade. And the third floor will be devoted to the prehistoric age – to the different periods and their stages of development.”
The exposition and open air museum will be administered and maintained by the archeological team at Hradec Králové University together with students for whom it should serve as an open air laboratory. The Hradec team are extremely proud of the project but Radomir Tichý readily admits that none of this would have come about without the help of archeologists and open air museums in Western Europe.
“It is only fair to say that we have gained a lot of experience and valuable information from colleagues in Western Europe. Over the past ten years we have paid regular visits to open air museums in France and Belgium where we were able to see how they function and what they offer visitors. This is where we got our first lessons in experimental archeology.”
Once the extended museum reopens in September of 2012, it is expected to attract some 30,000 visitors a year, not just school excursions but members of the general public and foreign visitors who fancy a day trip to the Stone Age.