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Reassessment of the Radim – Pod lipou cemetery

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Introduction

During our research in 2023, we came across Píč’s old descriptions of a surprisingly well-preserved grave from the locality Radim u Kolína – Pod lipou, which Píč dated to the early Christian era, literally to the early 12th century (Píč 1893: 437). The amount of preserved organic matter piqued our curiosity in this grave. It was obvious at first glance that the metal elements of the grave do not correspond to the so-called hillfort period (600-1200 AD) and that the proposed dating is based on a methodology that cannot stand in the 21st century.

In the following short article, we want to reject the theory that the Pod lipou (literally “Under the lime tree”) cemetery chronologically belongs to the Early Middle Ages. This step is important because the cemetery has repeatedly appeared in the literature in the last hundred years as an early medieval monument related to the functioning of the adjacent early medieval stronghold and its hinterland. For example, Dvořák (1936: 107, 146-7), Kudrnáč (1963: 188) and Spěšná (2009: 32-3, 121) did so. Šolle (1966: 166, 279; 1981: 12; 1982: 199) even merged the Pod lipou site with the adjacent Dlabačova cihelna (literally “Dlabač’s brickyard”) site, which yielded demonstrable early medieval finds – an axe and a spear (Schránil 1925: 188; Šolle 1966: Fig. 57a). Březinová (1997: 163) included textile finds from the grave in her assessment of early medieval textiles and assigned the grave to the 10th century. Kalina (2010: 11) used the position of buttons in graves in his work on so-called gombíky buttons. It is also important to mention that the Pod lipou location was included in the Encyclopedia of Slavic archeology in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (Lutovský 2001: 279). Without our intervention, there could be further uncritical adoption of this established dating in the future.

The position of Radim near Kolín on the map of Central Europe.


Pič’s publications

In the spring of 1893, the administrator of the Lichtenstein estate, Jan Waněk (1842 – 1927), a member of so-called Píč’s group (see Sklenář 1993), gave an order to dig up the earthen embankment standing next to the last Radim house by the road leading towards Plaňany. An old linden tree spread over the embankment. While excavating clay for composting, workers came across skeletons that were stored in wooden coffins. Well-known professor Píč was informed of the discovery and arrived at the site on Maundy Thursday March 30 1893 to help uncover and open the coffins.

Portraits of J. L. Píč (left) and J. Waněk (right). Source: Sklenář 1993: Tab. I-II.

The first grave, discovered before Píč’s arrival on the southeastern tip of the embankment, contained a complete skeleton with a “strongly brachycephalic skull“. The second body was located in a coffin made of thick wood, theoretically hollowed out, covered with a board that was nailed with iron nails. The head of the deceased faced W or SW, legs E or SE; the body was lying on its back, with the arms along the torso, “the skull was brachycephalic“. The grave lacked goods. Let Píč himself speak about the third grave:

Behind this grave on the west side lay a new grave: a similar coffin made of strong wood, covered with a board attached by iron nails. When the coffin was unearthed, we went to remove the top board. We found a skeleton regularly placed in an east-west position, lying on the back, legs outstretched, shoulder bones in line with the body, elbows crossed over the chest. The bones were covered in places by pieces of cloth of a double kind: one thicker formed the undergarment, the other thinner came from the upper garment, as it lay in places on the under cloth; the upper fabric retained its dark green colour in places, the colour faded in the under fabric, but it may have been green as well. A buckle was found near the right leg, consisting of a thin bronze arc of a rectangular shape with a bar in the middle, so that the belt was still preserved; maybe the dress was tied above the knee with a belt. At the left hip we found three hollow bronze buttons, in a row from top to bottom, with a strap threaded through the eyelets; a trace of green cloth preserved on the eyelets indicated that the eyelets of the buttons were pushed through the cloth and attached from below by passing through a cord. Under the right arm there are three buttons of the same shape, obliquely placed, but crushed; one button was found at the top center of the breast, about where the collarbones diverge. The skeleton’s head rested under the trunk of a linden tree; and we had to cut off two massive roots near the body itself, and only then did I extricate the encased skull from under the trunk of the root. On the skull, almost all the chestnut-coloured hair is preserved, in places still curling; the hairstyle can be partly recognized in the way that the braid is placed over the middle of the head in the way that rural girls still wear here.” (Píč 1894: 52-3; Píč 1893-1895: 436-7).

Skull with hairstyle from Radim. Source: Píč 1909: Fig. 32.

In addition to the articles, Píč briefly mentioned the grave in the book Antiques of the Czech land (Píč 1909: 79, 94, 173, 152, 170):

Mr. Waňek and I found under an ancient linden tree near Radim in a hollowed-out coffin the entire girl’s hairstyle: dark chestnut-coloured hair on the girl’s brachycephalic skull combed into two braids, which were then wrapped on both sides on the top of the head (…), in the way that rural girls wear here until this day.“

“(…) in the grave near Radim, triples of buttons were also used to decorate the robe below the shoulder and above the knee.

“(…) in a similar coffin under a linden tree in Radim, there were also pieces of woolen cloth, namely thicker from the undergarment, thinner from the upper garment, or better, from the draped scarf (…).“

In the graves, a trace of clothing was found only in a female grave under an ancient linden tree near Radim, consisting of a garment made of a thicker woven woolen cloth, greenish in color, which was tied at the neck with a bronze hollow button and decorated under the right arm and above the knee with a row of three bronze hollow buttons, which were not sewn, but inserted through the fabric with an eyelet and caught underneath with a thong threaded through three eyes; in the position near the knees, a buckle-li fitting was also found, the purpose of which is not clear. On the top of the robe, the remains of a thin woolen fabric were found, forming something like a scarf or veil draped over the head and flowing down the body to the calves (…).“

For that reason, the grave in Radim is also interesting, found under an ancient linden tree in a trough-like coffin, where there were traces of greenish thicker material of the undergarment on the skeleton, and on it pieces of fine material also greenish, coming from a fine veil or scarf draped over both sides of the head flowing freely down to the knees, as we see on Carolingian miniatures (…).“

Belt buckle from Radim. Source: Píč 1893-1895: 436; 1909: 97-8.

Buttons from Radim. Source: Píč 1893-1895: 436.

Píč determined the dating of the cemetery in a most unusual way (Píč 1893-1895: 437):

The dating of the skeleton is determined on the one hand by the linden tree planted above the head of the grave, which the oldest witnesses in their nineties still know in its current form, and which, just because it is located in such a dry place, I would estimate to be well over half a thousand years old, on the other hand by the buttons that have been found several times in skeleton graves, like in Veleliby along with S-shaped earrings; we can therefore place the female grave under the linden tree of Radim back to the time of the princes, perhaps sometime at the beginning of the 12th century.

It should be noted that Píč’s interpretation was soon taken over by other publications, with the author participating in some of them. Specifically speaking of Inventory of Historical and Artistic Monuments in the Kingdom of Bohemia (Mádl 1897: 89), Prehistoric Skulls in Bohemia from the Collection of the Museum of the Kingdom of Bohemia (Hellich 1899: 226-7) and Guide to the Collections of the Museum of the Kingdom of Bohemia in Prague (Museum of the Kingdom of Bohemia 1905: 75- 6). The latter work mentions that both the skull and the woolen pieces were situated in the collections of the National Museum in Prague. As evidenced by an interview with the curator of the National Museum Jiří Košta, the objects are not in the collections of the Department of Prehistory and Ancient Antiquity, so the only possibility remains that they belong to the collection of the Department of Older Czech History.

Textile finds from Radim. Source: Píč 1909: Obr. 77.


Criticism

The central point of our criticism, from which the following ideas develop, is the significant typological distance of the metal component of the Radim grave from the early medieval objects. The oval buckle had an axis that bisected its inner space and around which a leather strap was wrapped. Buckles of this type are not common in early medieval Bohemia (Profantová 2015: 121), they become common in the High Middle Ages (Fingerlin 1971: 177-187; Krabath 2001: 132-145), and typologically the closest parallels are known from the 15th-18th centuries (see Whitehead 1996). Metal buckles in early medieval female graves are rare (e.g. Welander 1987). Since it is known that the buckle was found at the knee of the deceased, it can be expected that it was attached to the garter that held the shoe or rather the stocking (so-called knee buckle). For garters, buckles of these shapes came into vogue in the 17th century and persisted into the following century (e.g. White 2009).

An example of a 17th century female garters.
Source: Jan Steen : Wine is a Mocker, 1663/1664.

A total of seven buttons were stored in the grave, which were functionally used as clothing fasteners. Such a number exceeds the number of buttons in Great Moravian graves, in which up to six pieces of this jewellery appear in exceptional cases (Kostelníková 1973: 39). The buttons are asymmetrical, which distinguishes them from the majority of production of early medieval gombíky buttons (see Krupičková 2022). The overall shape could be called convex with a small protrusion at the top. This anatomy corresponds to some so-called arsenbronze buttons that were produced in the 17th and 18th centuries (Homann 2013; Omelka et al. 2018). Comparable buttons date back to the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe (Bailey 2004: 39; Read 2005: 116-7).

When assessing the Radim grave, it is extremely important to compare it with the grave from Ralsko-Židlov, which contained the skeleton of a medium-robust person aged 14-17 years of unknown sex, an iron folding knife, a lead bead and twenty brass “jingle-bells” in the chest area on the remains of clothing. This grave was published by Turek as a nomadic 7th-8th century grave in 1958 (Turek 1958: 127-8), but a more recent revision showed that it is an early modern grave with a radiocarbon dating of 1698±120 (Peša – Jenč 2004). The photo of the jingle-bells, which Petr Jenč kindly sent us, shows that they are convex buttons with a small protrusion at the top, i.e. objects analogous to Radim finds.

The strap stretched through the loops of Radim buttons is an extraordinary find in Bohemia, as organic components are not normally preserved. From the Early Middle Ages, an identical system, where the loops are inserted into the fabric and then threaded by a cord, is known from caftans, specifically from the Old Hungarian grave Kenézlő 21 (Jósa 1914: 330; Réka 2015: 161). Evidence of a similar solution is known from grave Дн-4 from Gnězdovo, where the edge of the caftan is edged with a narrow silk ribbon to which buttons are sewn (Orfinskaja 2018: Fig. 22). Threading the straps through the loops is also known from early modern coats (e.g. Grupa 2022: 87). Therefore, it appears to be a long-term practice that pursues a firm fixation and minimal loss of valuable buttons.

The identification of the garment is not easy and we are depending on Píč’s description, according to which one button was located between the collarbones in the middle of the body, three buttons on the right armpit and three buttons on the left hip. In our opinion, these positions were not original. Rather, the seven buttons were spaced from the neck to the pelvis in a single line running down the center of the body, and during degradation the parts of the garment separated from each other to opposite sides. Similar clothing contradicts the current understanding of early medieval women’s clothing (Vlasatý 2023). In the case of dating to the early modern period, it would perhaps be possible to accept the idea that the find represents a bodice made of coarse wool, fastened with seven buttons. Clothing of this kind appears in Flemish and Italian portrait iconography of the 16th and 17th centuries and are rarely preserved (e.g. Pietsch – Stolleis 2008). It must be added that in contemporary scenes depicting rural families, buttoned clothing is essentially absent; they are a sign of the bourgeoisie.

The finer fabric that Píč describes was supposed to form the outer layer and cover the space from head to knees. Veils of this or greater length are known to us from the iconography of the late 16th century (e.g. Yale, Beinecke MS 457) and were to be used in the following century (Bond 2021). Of course, the possibility that the outer fabric was only a light blanket making up the equipment of the grave cannot be completely ruled out either.

Dating to the 12th century, as proposed by Píč, is also complicated by the fact that there are no objects typical of late hillfort period (950-1200 AD) women’s graves in the Czech Republic. We mean ceramics, beads, rings, coins, knives, jingle-bells, earrings (cf. e.g. Galuška et al. 2018; Šikulová 1959).

An example of the use of a buttoned dress and a long veil in the 1570s.
Source: Yale, Beinecke MS 457, f. 19, 28.

Preserved hair is a truly extraordinary phenomenon in the Early Middle Ages. From the period 400-1000 AD, there are only three Scandinavian graves with preserved curls – in all cases the hair was cut and had a special function in the burial ritual (Arwill-Nordbladh 2016). The most interesting example is a grave from Skopintull, Sweden from the 10th century, where a lock of hazel-brown hair 30-35 cm long was placed at the bottom of the urn together with the ashes of two people and many animals. The oldest find of hair from Finland is a knot-like hairstyle from grave 20/2016 from the Ravattula site and is dated to the 12th century (Riikonen – Ruohonen 2021). In the Central European area, we cannot fail to mention the braid from the grave in Pomeranian Uniradz from the 11th century, which was wrapped with woolen yarn and weighted with a large amber bead (Delekta 1935). A lock of chestnut-brown hair was also found in the female mound 7 of the Stěbořice cemetery (Kouřil – Tymonová 2013: 43). A large part of a braid with an attached coin from the 8th century was found in Moščevaja Balka in the North Caucasus (Jerusalimskaja 2012: 73, Fig. 42b). As the last from the Early Middle Ages, let us mention the small remains of the hair of a man thrown into the marshes near Bernuthsfeld in northern Germany in the 8th century (Püschel et al. 2019: 121). Finds of hair are not common even in the following centuries. About 15 cm long, shorn hair wrapped in two-coloured checkered cloth was discovered in a female bog grave found near Peiting in Bavaria, which is dated to the 13th-14th centuries (Haas-Gebhard et al. 2009). An example of hair from the 16th and 17th centuries, which were previously dated to the Early Middle Ages, is illustrated by a female skull from the town of Haan (Grütter et al. 2015: 153). As all hair finds have a brown colour, it should be added that this fact may be influenced by postmortem processes and the environment.

A hairstyle consisting of two braids that form a crown at the the top of the head has a rich tradition in Europe. In the Early Middle Ages, a similar hairstyle was found in the tomb of Queen Bathilda from the 2nd half of the 7th century, where the hair is wrapped in a silk ribbon (Laporte 2012: 140-1). However, they are also known from the 15th (e.g. Paris, BnF, Français 12420, 93r), 16th (e.g. Jacopo Bassano : The Way to Calvary) and 17th centuries (e.g. Werner van den Valckert : A Man Cutting Tobacco). Píč himself states that similar hairstyles were worn at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Examples of crown braids from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Left: Jacopo Bassano : The Way to Calvary, 1544/5.
Center: Joachim Beuckelaer : Market scene, 1563.
Right: Werner van den Valckert : A Man Cutting Tobacco, first half of 17th century.

The manner of burial of the deceased is no less remarkable. The entire burial ground is not located near the church, which could also lead Píč to be included in the Early Middle Ages. Since the High Middle Ages, cemeteries have usually been located in close proximity to the church, as shown by the analysis of medieval cemeteries from Chrudim, Pardubice and Kolín regions (Frolík 2017). Unbaptized children, travelers, delinquents, suicides, persons accused of witchcraft and vampirism, ethnic and religious minorities (non-believers, Romani) are usually buried outside church cemeteries. In 15th-17th century, however, this custom does not always apply, due to more complex religious conditions, the funeral rite unified until that time changes, and non-interim burials are also created far from churches (Unger 2002: 47). At the same time, we have to take into account the fact that Píč omitted: apparently there was not a single stone sacral building in Radim until 1891/2, as shown by the missing church in the First Military Mapping (Josephinian Land Survey). Registers of residents of Radim, which date back to 1661, show the use of the church in neighbouring Dobřichov.

If we want to use a historical record, the Englishman Fynes Moryson states at the end of the 16th century that “if a traveling Protestant dies in a Catholic country like Italy or Spain, his body does not rest in a cemetery, but is buried somewhere along the way” (Unger 2002: 41-2). From the middle of the 17th century, there are documented complaints from Slovak parishes “about burials under a tree or in a field” (Králíková 2007: 123).

Placing a body in a hollow chest is a very unusual phenomenon that is usually associated with prehistoric times (Čech – Černý 1996; Pleinerová 1960) and the early historical period (e.g. Krumphanzlová 2013: 19-22; Němec 1964). According to contemporary literature, this custom ends in the High Middle Ages in Bohemia and is replaced by coffins made out of boards (see Králíková 2007). In the Alpine countries, Latvia and Russia, however, burial in hollow coffins survives until the modern age (Stránská 1963: 272; Zimmermann 1992). In the territory of Bohemia, this grave is so unusual that, in the case of dating to the early modern period, we can cautiously label it as a potential burial of a member of an ethnic or religious minority of foreign origin. Alternatively, we can theoretically consider whether a hollowed-out storage chest was used for burial. Hands crossed on the chest is a position that we do not know from early medieval Bohemia and which appears from the 13th century, more abundantly in the 14th-19th centuries (Frolík 2017: 195-6; Králíková 2007: 39-41).

In conclusion, we must comment on Píč’s curious dating of the grave using an estimate of the age of the tree that covered the grave. The linden tree is not included in Chadt-Ševetínský’s book Old and memorable trees in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (1913), so we expect that the tree was already destroyed at the time of writing in connection with earth mining in the 1890s, or the author did not find it old enough. In any case, modern and significantly more accurate estimates and exact measurements show that traditional estimates of tree age were greatly overestimated, even by hundreds of years. For example, the Kotel linden, whose age Chadt-Ševetínský estimated at the beginning of the 20th century to be 1100 years old (Chadt-Ševetínský 1913: 167), was estimated to be around 900 years old at the beginning of the 21st century (Němec 2003: 120). Similarly, the age of the Tatobity linden, previously estimated at 1000 years, was re-evaluated at 500 years (Chadt-Ševetínský 1913: 168; Němec 2003: 126). Vejda’s linden in Pastviny was estimated to be 850 years old a hundred years ago, currently 600 years old (Chadt-Ševetínský 1913: 168; Němec 2003: 142-3). However, in some cases, older estimates meet newer ones, as is the case, for example, with Lukas’ linden in Telecí (Chadt-Ševetínský 1913: 168; Němec 2003: 147). If Píč estimates the age of the Radim linden to be “well over half a thousand years”, the actual age could be as much as several centuries lower.


Conclusion

In 1893, a remarkably well-preserved grave was discovered in Radim, which is still uncritically dated to the Early Middle Ages. With regard to the significant corpus of early medieval finds that were discovered in the 20th and early 21st centuries, the Radim grave needs to be re-evaluated. It does not contain any objects typical of the 12th century. In fact, there are strong indications leading to a dating of the 16th-18th centuries. We indicated that this dating is not contradicted by the clothing component, the hairstyle, the way the grave was furnished, or its regional context. We believe that the Radim grave may be chronologically close to the grave from Ralsko-Židlov, which was previously considered to be early medieval, but the radiocarbon analysis corrected the dating (1698±120).

Our proposal should be understood as a theory to be verified by scholars with early modern expertise. Since organic matter is not commonly found in Bohemian early modern graves, the change in dating does not diminish the importance of the Radim grave. If our assumption is to be confirmed and additional knowledge obtained, it will be necessary to physically locate the objects in the collections of the National Museum of Prague.


Acknowledgment

We would like to thank the following researchers for consultations: Monika Baráková, Monika Černá-Feyfrlíková (Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague), Thomas Betts, Petr Jenč (Regional Museum and Gallery, Česká Lípa), Kristián Jócsik (Nitra University), Jiří Košta (National Museum, Prague), Naďa Profantová (Archaeological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague), Szymon Szymala (Alania Workshop). Thank you!

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