MARIUSZ BŁOŃSKI, KAZIMIERZ PACUSKI, JAKUB WRZOSEK

GRAVE FROM GNATY-LEWISKI. CONTRIBUTION TO RESEARCH ON EARLY MEDIEVAL INHUMATION CEMETERIES IN MASOVIA

Summary

     In 2006, human skeletal remains were found loose in a sand excavation pit at the locality of Gnaty-Lewiski, Winnica commune, Pułtusk district in the mazowiekie viovodeship. The pit was located on a small rise (now leveled) in the vicinity of an archaeological site, which had been identified provisionally as a settlement trace of late medieval date (Fig. 1).

Fig1      Salvage excavations carried out on the spot in 2007 (Figs 2-4) uncovered a grave pit containing the lower half of a skeleton of a young woman (lower limbs, pelvis, fragmentarily preserved digits). A skull was found loose in the sand next to the grave. The orientation of the skeleton was to the northwest. The age of the individual was estimated anthropologically at 18-21 years (Ł.M. Stanaszek 2009). A silver ring was recorded on one of the digits of the hand. Traces of green discoloration on the skull suggested the presence of copper-alloy head ornaments.

Fig2Fig3Fig4      An assemblage of 40 potsherds, including 6 prehistoric pieces, 16 of Early Medieval date and 18 fragments of wheel-made pots, mostly of 15th -16th c. date (but also later), was recorded from the surface, the humus layer and a feature adjoining the grave.
     The Gnaty-Lewiski grave must be considered as part of an Early Medieval inhumation cemetery located on the site. The existence of a prehistoric cremation burial ground on the same spot is suggested by reminiscences of human bones and clay pots being found during road works carried out near the sand pit (local residents spoke of “bones in pots” and “dark spots on the ground”). The assemblage of prehistoric sherds found near the grave included two vessel rims (Fig. 5a,b) and four non-diagnostic body fragments. Four of these sherds (Fig. 5a-c) can be assigned to the Early Iron Age, while two non-diagnostic fragments can be of pre-Roman and period of Roman influence date. The finds are inconclusive as evidence for the existence of a prehistoric cremation burial ground at Gnaty-Lewiski, because cremation was the preferred form of burial in the Early Iron age, in the pre-Roman and Roman times as well in the earliest phases of the Middle Ages. The rite has been evidenced sporadically in inhumation cemeteries with graves with stone settings from northern Masovia.

Fig5      The Gnaty-Lewiski grave is to be dated generally from the middle of the 11th to the first half of the 13th c. The lower borderline date corresponds to the appearance of inhumation burials in northern Masovia, which current research on both, flat cemeteries and cemeteries with stone settings places around the middle of the 11th c. A terminus ante quem for the discovered grave is the disappearance of outside-church cemeteries and the emergence of parish churches with their own graveyards. The foundation of a parish church in nearby Winnica is dated to the first half of the 13th c.; from that date on presumably the knightly classes from the Gnaty-Lewiski area would have buried their dead there.
     The silver ring found in Gnaty-Lewiski grave (Fig. 6; Table 1) is not helpful in precise dating of the grave, as similar jewelry from the region of the northwestern Slavs is attributed to a broad time horizon from the end of the 10th through the 13th c. The Early Medieval pottery from the vicinity of the grave is also dated broadly from the first half of the 10th through the 13th c.

Fig6      No stone structures of any kind were noted at Gnaty-Lewiski, making it impossible to specify whether it was flat cemetery or cemetery with stone settings or else whether it combined the two forms.
     The Gnaty-Lewiski grave belongs to one of four Early Medieval inhumation cemeteries excavated in the southern parts of the Ciechanów Upland (Fig. 7). Data for altogether 15 church cemeteries and non-church cemeteries has been collected in the region. The number of inhumation burials here is considerably less than in the neighboring Płońsk Upland and partly the Raciąż Plain to the west, and the northern part of the Ciechanów Upland where a concentration of cemeteries with stone settings has been recorded.

Fig7      Apart from the Gnaty-Lewiski cemetery in the southern part of the Ciechanów Upland, there existed cemeteries with stone settings in Kościesze, Świercze-Koty commune, and probably Malczyn near Nasielsk. Burial grounds with graves of unknown type were situated at Gotardy and Kęsy-Wypychy, Gzy commune, Gutków and Łopacin, Sońsk commune, most likely also at Kacice, Pułtusk commune (10th c. sword found there; members of the local population informed about finding “human remains” and iron and pottery artifacts there).
     The above listed cemeteries are all at a similar distance from Gnaty-Lewiski: Kęsy-Wypychy about 6.5 km away, the others about 11-13 km away. Only the flat cemetery in Kleszew was situated farther away (about 19 km).
     One should add church cemeteries to this list of Early Medieval inhumation burials in the southern part of the Ciechanów Upland. One such cemetery founded in the first half of the 13th c. was discovered near the stronghold (Castle Hill) in Pułtusk. Inhumation cemeteries were also attached to the parish churches of 11th – 12th c. date in Nasielsk and Sierock, and the 13th c. churches in Winnica, Zegrze and Dzierżenin. The Early Medieval cemetery in Nasielsk has yet to be located. The stronghold in this locality was raised just after the middle of the 9th c.; it existed in modified form through the second half of the 13th c. The settlement in its vicinity is of much older date, going back to at least the 7th c. A cemetery of uncertain chronology was found in Chmielewo, about 5 km north of the stronghold in Nasielsk.
     The southern part of the Ciechanów Upland is where the cemeteries with the graves with stone settings and flat cemeteries mingle. Even if the cemeteries with graves of uncertain type here were actually cemeteries with the graves with stone settings, the region would still be characterized by a lesser share of cemeteries of this kind compared to the regions of Płońsk Upland and the upper Orzyc river basin.
     The Early Medieval grave from Gnaty-Lewiski was situated about 10 km from the Nasielsk stronghold and about 13 km from the Castle Hill in Pułtusk. The border between these territories followed the division between the Wkra and Narew river watersheds.
     It remains to be ascertained which settlements the Gnaty-Lewiski cemetery serviced. Ground surveys in the region (AZP 48-65) have yielded only one trace of settlement in the Early Medieval period, located 2 km from the said cemetery.
     According to written sources, the church in Winnica was founded probably by the Płock bishops in the first quarter of the 13th c., possibly even before 1217. The parish in Winnica has been evidenced for 1377, including all the minor-knights' settlements north of Winnica and to the west and northwest of Pułtusk, on the borderland of the episcopal estates centered in Pułtusk and the knights' estates around ducal Nasielsk. Winnica can be presumed to have grown into a local administrative center for the episcopal properties, including a country manor where bishop and his retinue stayed when moving from the capital in Płock to the most important of the episcopal strongholds in Pułtusk.
     The Gnaty settlement near Winnica, initially called Częstowojewice, occurs in sources from the first half of the 14th c. In 1425, Grzymka (that is, Grzymisława), daughter of Racibor, inheriting from her father, testified before Prince Janusz I that Falisław and his sons Wojciech and Gnat paid 46 threescore of grosz for her share of the Gnaty estate, otherwise known as Częstowojewice. Therefore, the settlement already had more than one owner. It belonged to the knightly family of the Łada, established in Masovia for several generations, who could have resided in Częstowojewice-Gnaty for ages, inheriting shares of the settlement. In the 16th c., Gnaty comprised a number of hamlets with their own names: -Lewiszki, -Częstki, -Szczerbaki, -Wawrzyki, -Zarazy. These hamlets belonged to the small gentry who did not own peasants, but worked the land with their own hands. The Gnatowski family sealing themselves with the Łada coat-of-arms lived in this region also in later times, upholding the old traditions of small gentry descended from the earlier minor knighthood.
     Heraldic attribution can be useful in connecting members of the knighthood with the nearest strongholds in the region. The heraldry, which was established already by the first half of the 14th c., points to a link between the Łada family of minor knighthood and the settlement in the Sulnikowo region where the property of the Pułtusk official (tribunus) Bogusz was located. According to a ducal document of 1257, this property was given to the Płock bishop and it can be assumed that the region was the place of residence of minor-knights assigned to the defense of the Pułtusk stronghold. Therefore, the knights from Częstowojewice-Gnaty can be considered as part of the knighthood subjected to the bishop of Płock.
     The discovery of the grave at Gnaty-Lewiski places in an interesting light the issue of the continuity of knightly settlement from the times of the Piast rulers through the Modern Age. Close to two hundred years in the history of the settlement near Gnaty-Lewiski (from the abandonment of the isolated cemetery in the early 13th c. through the end of the 14th c.) finds no reflection either in written or archaeological sources. It is thus impossible to be sure that the Częstowojewice-Gnaty settlement was inhabited by the ancestors of a family using the Łada coat-of-arms at the time that the dead started being buried in the local cemetery. Even so, it is a very likely conjecture. Masovia is characterized by the presence of cemeteries with rich graves with stone settings, it was densely populated by members of the lesser knighthood, later minor gentry, especially of the poorer sort. The coexistence noted between a numerous Masovian knighthood and cemeteries with stone settings has been linked to a warrior class known to have existed in the so-called state of Miecław, which functioned briefly (before 1047) in Masovia after the fall of the so-called first Piast monarchy. In Polish territory, the Early Medieval custom of burying the dead in richly furnished cemeteries with graves with stone settings has been interpreted among others as proof of the presence of Varego-Ruthenian warriors sent from Ruthenia to help Prince Kazimierz deal with Miecław's rebellion. Subsequently, these warriors would have been settled in northern Masovia. People following this specific burial rite were only part of the population of Masovia. From the second half of the 11th c., outside church cemeteries with the graves with stone-settings coexisted with flat cemeteries, by the 12th c. at least, also with the church cemeteries. In these necropolis mostly the local populations (also warrior class) where buried.
     Archeology, history and anthropology still have a place in the study of the Early Medieval inhumation cemeteries in Masovia as well the origin and continuity of the population inhabiting this region of Poland. Genetic research has also much to contribute in this field.

Keywords: Early Middle Ages, Masovia, Ciechanów Upland, inhumation grave, inhumation cemetery, knightly settlement

Translated by Iwona Zych

Adresy Autorów:

Mgr Mariusz Błoński
Zakład Archeologii Mazowsza i Podlasia
Instytut Archeologii i Etnologii PAN
al. Solidarności 105
00-140 Warszawa

Dr Kazimierz Pacuski
Słowni Geograficzno-Historyczny Mazowsza w Średniowieczu
Zakład Atlasu Historycznego
Instytut Historii PAN
ul. Rynek Starego Miasta 29/31
00-272 Warszawa

Mgr Jakub Wrzosek
Dział Archeologii
Krajowy Ośrodek Badań i Dokumentacji Zabytków
ul. Szeroki Dunaj 5
00-272 Warszawa