Research of medieval non-agrarian landscape

Our research in the methodological framework of landscape archaeology is focused on dynamic development of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands in the Middle Ages. This vast territory is a typical representative of the group of old Hercynian-Variscan crystalline uplands (Mittelgebirge), which occupy an extensive area in Central Europe. In terms of climate-vegetative indicators and synanthropy, these territories count among peripheries, whereupon they were intensively colonised in medieval times. Therefore we find here unique evidence of the crucial formative process of European cultural landscape. The study is a combination of archaeological, archival, archaeobotanical and geoscientific research, which results in a multi-layered evidence of the dynamical and long-time process of medieval colonisation, deforestation and exploitation of raw materials in the heart and on the periphery of the Přemyslid state. The research is targeted at settlement areas of various type, but also at landscape relics of ore mining and defunct ore-preparation and metallurgical plants. Their testimony is supplemented by the study of floodplain stratigraphies providing the key off-site data. Relics of medieval forest stands, which are preserved thanks to permanent anaerobic conditions and water stagnation, also were successfully identified and explored. It is a research field, whose interdisciplinary approach fills the gaps in Central European archaeological and historical environmental research.

An eloquent example of the impact of silver ore mining on the form and structure of medieval settlement in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands is represented by mining and metallurgical facilities. The impact is manifested as a rapid increase in new mining, ore-preparation and metallurgical plants in the landscape. In parallel, many settlements of these work communities also emerged and were densely populated while the production of precious metals has flourished at the end of the Přemyslid era. The most significant mining centres were connected with financial interests of the then elites from among urban patricians playing the roles of mining entrepreneurs or officials. Among the goals of the study therefore is the analysis of indicators of their prosperity and centrality.

Among archaeological indicators are, for example, the extent of the area, length of its existence, number and equipment of dwellings, the level of development of production and settlement infrastructure. In written sources we count among these indicators the data on chapels or churches, hospices etc. By combining these two approaches we can contribute to the knowledge of life and function of proto-industrial non-agrarian centres and to the context of their impact on transformation of medieval settlement network.

This proto-industrial component of medieval population was mobile, variable and temporarily instable. Directly or indirectly, for example by an increased consumption of not its own agricultural production, it represented to a considerable extent a foreign impact, particularly demanding of exploitation of natural resources of all kinds.

In the central part of Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, where the historical exploitation of precious metals was unique even in Central European context, we potentially know of ten areas with a perspective of further research. Their study offers an entirely new view onto the functions of medieval cultural landscape.

Assoc. Prof. Mgr. Petr Hrubý, Ph.D.

Contact person

Office: bud. T/123
Kounicova 67a
602 00 Brno

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