Konguta: an exciting ancient settlement found in SE Estonia
Archived Articles 29 Sep 2008 EL (Estonian Life)EWR
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First assessment of a pre-Christian village

A bulldozer digging a gravel path has unearthed an archaeological site that is probably at least 2,000 years old in the cultural layer of the Alt-Laari settlement near today’s Annekoru in Konguta vald, Tartumaa; finds are being carbon tested.

Archaeologist Heiki Valk thinks that he has found something extraordinary. Preliminary assessments, based on rich finding of potshards excavated at the Alt-Laari dig, indicate that it is very likely that there was continual human permanent human settlement from the Bronze Age until 500 years ago.

Valk says that the history of Alt Laari is long. The evidence indicates that settlements at Alt-Laari and Erumäe hill forts had been in existence for over 1500 years by the time that flimsy coin-like metal fragments (possibly from a sword or key) were left there during the age of the Tartu bishops.

‘This is South Estonia’s earliest known permanent farming settlement and it was inhabited until the end of the middle ages’ said Valk and thanked his friend Tõnno Jonuksit, for inviting him to the dig. The expert remarked that a plough recovered from the first half metre of soil indicated a rich spot for objects connected with the vital functions of an ancient Estonian settlement.

Talking patterns

The primeval valley of Kavilda (or Soova) is 15 km from Tartu and 100 m from the main road. It’s the biggest valley in the county of Tartumaa with the river Kavilda flowing through it. Anti Lillak, who is leading the dig on the east edge, says that potshards found at Alt-Laari weigh up to a kilo.

‘Usually we find single pieces, so this unusually large horde leads us to conclude that pottery was made and used for a very long period.’

This Autumn Lillak will be digging and sifting 5 cubic metres of ground, roughly around a thousandth of the site - the settlement was more than a hectare in size. Until the end of the Middle Ages, Alt-Laari contained about 10 farms gathered in a cluster of villages.

A more important indication of long term Bronze Age settlement is found on the bigger pot shards decorated at random with striped patterns. It is known that pottery with this striped surface began to be made 500 – 1500 years ago.

The amount of houses excavated in the brief time allowed for research gives an impression of the number of people who lived in the settlement - over 10 house foundations made of wood and stone have been found.

Work in the laboratory

Anti Lillak says that the dig material has yet to be sorted, therefore the age of the finds is not known. They have been sent off to a laboratory for further assessment using carbon dating using the radioactive isotope C14 –it can assess the age of large organic substances to within a half-century.

The settlement on the borders of the Kavilda primeval valley does not come as a great surprise. Alt-Laari was first excavated in 1927 by archaeologist Harri Moora (1900-1968) of Tartu University. He found stones, animal bones and evidence of hearths and believed that the site dated from the second half of the first century AD. The first written records of the Kavilda fort date back to 1495. Next to the site of the fort is Kiigemäe hill, with a swing and a hearth for St. John's Eve fires, long a favourite place for festivities. The valley's widest (0,5 km) and deepest (40 m) stretch is near Kiigemägi. The slopes of the hill contain about two hundred caves. According to legend the caves were inhabited either by knights, barons or satanic creatures. In reality the local people kept their potatoes, grain and vegetables there. At the foot of the Kavilda hill fort is the Maiorg valley with, on it’s south edge, Erumäe fort (known to the locals as Eeromäe fort). The fort was destroyed by fire in the late middle ages. 12th and 13th century fortresses there were excavated soon after the Alt-Laari dig by Heiki Valk. For a web site made by Konguta children go to http://kodukoht.konguta.ee/maa...

The current excavations accumulated their own 100 m defensive wall - a great earthwork built by a numerous workforce. “It was a well organised community” archaeologist Heiki Valk commented.

By Martin Pau, Tartu Postimees, September 12, 2008. Translated and edited by Hilary Bird.
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