Excavation sites in Czech Republic

23-12-2003

Welcome to Czech Science. Today we'll hear the third instalment in our short series on Czech archaeology. Over the last millennia, many peoples lived and left their mark on what is now the Czech Republic. Charles University Professor Jan Bouzek will tell us about interesting sites and excavations in this country and also about recent cases in which insensitive construction work destroyed priceless monuments forever.

Traces of Celtic fortified settlement in ZbraslavTraces of Celtic fortified settlement in Zbraslav "Well, ninety-five percent are rescue excavations in the cities where there are many buildings and subterranean garages and where there is most of the building activity. The other part are rescue excavations in the country, motorways, pipelines and so on. And only very few are the traditional kind, systematic, especially planned excavations."

During those rescue excavations - where archaeological objects are "rescued" before the diggers move in - entire villages from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were unearthed in the last few years.

"One of the largest was, for example, on the Prague airport which was being enlarged. There is a very nice Bronze Age village which was nearly completely excavated. Of course, there were some bad examples because they [developers] refused to give any money for excavations and construction works went on. It was one of the big international supermarkets which destroyed several settlements in this country."

Jan Bouzek started his career in North Bohemia excavating around opencast coal mines. He says seeing the heavy diggers with ten-metre-wide scoops destroying precious archaeological sites filled him with a feeling of hopelessness.

"Another disaster was here in Prague. It was a house on the Wenceslas Square which belonged once to the personal doctor of Emperor Rudolph II. It had a 16th century dispensary in the cellar - the only which existed in the world with glass and other bottles from all parts of the world. Two thirds were destroyed. After that it was stopped and excavations were carried out and even the remains made a nice exhibition which travelled around the world."

That regrettable case, however, was helpful in that some investors now set aside a certain amount of money for excavation works before they begin construction in historic locations.

Over the centuries, many tribes inhabited this country or passed through it, leaving behind traces of their presence. Those include the Celts, Illyrians, Romans, some Germanic tribes and the Avars and more recently the Jews. It was the Slavs who settled here permanently in the 6th century AD and to this day form the majority of the population of the Czech Republic.

23-12-2003