Prague Castle floor renovation yields hoard of historic artefacts

If you can imagine a group of scientists in the 25th century going through the cushions of your couch, and excitedly labelling your loose change and lost socks, then you can get some idea of what has been going on in Prague Castle for over the last few months. Taking advantage of the restoration of a floor in a main hall, archaeologists sifting through the backfill have stumbled upon a hoard of items of everyday use - that are now historical treasures.

Vladislav Hall is the largest of the ceremonial areas of Prague Castle’s medieval section. At various points it has served as the coronation and throne room of Czech monarchs, a parliamentary assembly hall, a ballroom, a marketplace, and since 1918 as the venue for the most important state events, such as the parliamentary presidential election. In short, a lot of people have come and gone through this room since it was built at the time Columbus was looking for India. The items that fell out of those people’s pockets or slipped off their fingers over the centuries were swept into cracks in the floor, leaving a diverse snapshot of day-to-day life to be found almost half a millennium later. Josef Matiášek of the Institute of Archaeology took me through the find.

“Our excavations were made in Vladislav Hall and we found a lot of artefacts from the 16th or 17th century. The rubble filling was extremely dry so we were able to find a lot of paper artefacts. For example we found a large collection of cards, some old prints and handwritten pieces. We expected to find a lot of things, but not so much. It’s a unique find in its scale.”

A great many of the items are renaissance forms of things one might find under a rug today: coins, buttons, crumbs, broken glass, spoons and playing cards. A great many others however are true testaments to a bygone age: leaves of baroque calendars used to wrap food in for example, or a “dream book” kept on hand to interpret the night’s dreams against the day’s events. And other items still attest to the permanence of human nature, such as a little cut-out frog and king and damsel for what was probably a children’s game, and doodles of lions (or severe-looking bearded men) left by some bored scribe. Josef Matiášek again:

“We also found for example a sundial which is very small; it’s about seven centimetres long, it’s made of wood. We also found some pieces of jewellery, for example a renaissance ring. What’s also interesting are these Marian talismans, also made from paper. We also found some imports, for example a pipe from Holland, made in Gouda, and it’s one of the earliest pipes in Europe.”

For the Archaeological Institute the work is just beginning as they prepare to restore the items made of cloth and paper, and for many months to come, the work of sifting through the backfill to uncover even the smallest treasures will go on.