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Seal piston of Prussian general recovered from lake in Lubanowo

A seal piston, which belonged to Prussian general Friedrich Wilhelm von Steinwehr, was unearthed by underwater archaeologists during research of a lake in Lubanowo. Its owner was identified half an hour after the discovery. “This is a living touch of history,” said research leader Prof Bartosz Kontny. Underwater archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology at
Published: August 25, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 20:52
Seal piston of Prussian general recovered from lake in Lubanowo

A seal piston, which belonged to Prussian general Friedrich Wilhelm von Steinwehr, was unearthed by underwater archaeologists during research of a lake in Lubanowo. Its owner was identified half an hour after the discovery. “This is a living touch of history,” said research leader Prof Bartosz Kontny.

Underwater archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw have been conducting research in the lake in Lubanowo since 2015. So far they have fished out several hundred relics. People have been sinking many different objects, mainly weapons, in the reservoir for about two thousand years. Scientists assume that this was done during religious rituals. Interestingly, such practices were revived in the early Middle Ages (as evidenced by subsequent discoveries) – in the area under study, regular Christianisation began in the 12th century.

This year, in July and August, scientists focused on exploring the bottom of the southern part of the lake. According to information provided to the Polish Press Agency by the head of the excavations, Prof. Bartosz Kontny from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, half of the littoral zone of the reservoir has been explored so far. Several dozen relics from various periods have been excavated this year. A brass seal piston several centimetres long attracted particular attention of the scientists. Archaeologists came across it very close to the shoreline.

Just half an hour after the discovery, we knew who the object belonged to. It is a living touch of history. It was General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steinwehr (1733-1809). He spent the last years of his life in an estate about 40 km away from the lake. Perhaps while fishing or strolling around the lake, he lost this object, which was certainly important to him,” Professor Kontny speculates. As the scientist explains, the piston could have been used to seal e.g. correspondence.

Underwater archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw have been conducting research in the lake in Lubanowo since 2015. So far they have fished out several hundred relics. People have been sinking many different objects, mainly weapons, in the reservoir for about two thousand years. Scientists assume that this was done during religious rituals. Interestingly, such practices were revived in the early Middle Ages (as evidenced by subsequent discoveries) – in the area under study, regular Christianisation began in the 12th century.

Another research season in Lubanowo Lake has come to an end!
[English below!]
This year’s research has brought unexpected a…

Posted by Underwater Archaeology Expedition Institute of Archaeology UW on Thursday, July 30, 2020

Von Steinwehr was a remarkable figure. As a Prussian general he commanded, among other things, a 40th infantry regiment. He served in various campaigns and lived to receive a high pension – 1,200 thalers in gold – says Prof. Kontny. It is known that the military man died in Berlin in 1809, but he was to stay there only temporarily.

Another interesting find of this year is a hollow-boat (a boat made of a grooved tree trunk), over 3 m long. Only its fragment was sticking out of the very silted up bottom in this part of the lake. Archaeologists did not excavate it from the water reservoir, because it is very fragile and delicate, but they secured it properly. Besides, according to experts, such relics are best kept in an aquatic environment. After being excavated, such vessels should be placed in special tubs, where water is gradually replaced with a preservative preparation. This conservation process is very complex and takes many years. Few institutions in Poland undertake such a task.

For the time being, scientists have taken a sample which will help them determine the age of the hollow vessel. Prof. Kontny reckons that it comes from the period of Roman influences, which means that it is about 2 thousand years old. At that time people used to drown many objects in the lake during religious rituals. The age of the vessel can be proved by the shell of a vessel from that period that rested inside the hollow vessel.

For the time being we have to wait for the results of specialist analyses. It is worth noting, however, that hollow vessels from the period of Roman influence are rare in Central Europe. Only a few have been found so far. There are definitely more such discoveries from the Middle Ages or Bronze Age,” says the scientist. The technology of making them did not change much over the centuries, so the decisive factor will be the physicochemical research, thanks to which it will be known when the tree from which the hollow vessel was made was cut down.

This year’s research was more demanding than in previous years, as the underwater archaeologists focused on a very silted-up part of the lake. Searching for artefacts was therefore difficult, but thanks to a new device – the proton magnetometer – it was possible to detect artefacts even deeper under the silt.

Although the summer is hot, the water on the surface is about 23 degrees Celsius, and deeper down the temperature is even lower. That’s why after a few hours of diving we came to the surface willingly because we were quite cold,” the scientist recalls.

After being analysed, conserved and processed, the excavated objects will go to the Museum of the Myśliborski Lake District in Myślibórz.

Photo: Bartosz Kontny

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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