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Neolithic settlement found

But lack of funds and plans for construction quell hopes for exhibit of prehistoric site

Posted: April 18, 2007

By Lisa Nuch Venbrux

The Liberec region in north Bohemia is proud of its cultural attractions. Dozens of sites, from castle ruins to glass museums, are prominently promoted on its regional Web page.

If archaeologist Petr Brestanovsky had his way, another site would be added to this list. But the Czech Republic’s spotty record preserving archaeological sites could mean his vision of an open-air museum, exhibiting the region’s newly discovered prehistoric settlement, may not come to pass. And a dearth of money and political will to fully explore the site could leave its treasures buried indefinitely.

Brestanovsky’s dream of an archaeological park began early April during a routine excavation in the small town of Příšovice, roughly 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside Prague. There, in a 4-hectare (10-acre) stretch of land between a highway and railroad tracks, Brestanovsky’s team discovered scores of houses and objects belonging to a civilization from some 6,500 years ago.

“We are at the very beginning right now,” Brestanovsky says, but, despite surveying just 15 percent of the area, he and his team have already uncovered 150–200 objects. These include knives, scrapers, metal objects and pottery from the Neolithic period. The most exciting aspect of the find, according to the archaeologist, are circular huts 4–8 meters in diameter that would have been used for small families.

Though many such villages have been found in the Czech Republic, Brestanovsky, who has worked in the region for 10 years, says this find is special. “The last time we had some research going on was in the 1990s, in Maškov …where there was a large house found for more families.” He says the smaller houses found in Příšovice are a “huge step” from what was found in Maškov.

Less than ideal

Industry trumped agriculture in the intervening millennia since Celts and the first agriculturists used that land. Now, an auto-parts factory is slated to be built in the same place.

Jan Van Geet, CEO of Belgian industrial building company VGP, acquired the land two years ago for an undisclosed but “substantial” sum. He says he was “very surprised” about the find.

After getting all the necessary permits for beginning the factory’s construction, Van Geet funded an archaeological survey, which Czech law requires. It was then the investor learned of the artifacts buried beneath the soil, and he delayed plans for construction until research could be carried out.

“There are no harsh feelings between us and the archaeologists,” Van Geet emphasizes. “People should have respect for the cultural findings below the land.”

The construction delay may only last a few weeks. The company will go ahead with building after making plans to protect the artifacts — some of which would remain under the soil.

“It seems to be a very nice find, but we will cover it up with a very large piece of land so that it can be another 6,000 years under the ground without being harmed,” Van Geet says. “If it were a find like the pyramids in Giza, then I would say we will do something else.”

Brestanovsky says Van Geet’s plans for the site are not ideal, even with the company’s proposed methods of conservation such as topsoil or a concrete crust. But the site’s future could be worse. “Things are fragile, so trucks moving and bumping above may crush it, but it is still better than if there were excavators digging up underground garages and destroying the whole site completely.”

Dim prospects

As of now, Brestanovsky and his colleagues will explore and research the site, and some significant artifacts will be extracted before construction of the auto-parts facility begins. These plans would change only if the state or another entity bought the land, an outcome considered unlikely by nearly all parties involved.

For one, Antonín Lízner, the mayor of Příšovice, is not considering buying the land. He says town residents generally do not consider such cultural finds beneficial. “Logically they fear restrictions in what they can actually do with their property.” Furthermore, VGP’s plans would also create jobs in the town, he says.

A Liberec region spokesperson would not comment on the region’s plans, while the Culture Ministry had not responded to The Prague Post by press time. Taken together, the prospects of preserving the site as an open-air museum look dim.

“Realistically, the regional government will not have the money to buy the plot off [and] the Culture Ministry will not provide any money for us,” Brestanovsky admits. Despite the regional government earmarking increasing amounts of money for archaeological research, Brestanovsky says the country’s commitment to archaeology is weak. “In the past some things were destroyed, not taken care of. … Here in the Czech Republic, we don’t really know how to protect and preserve these sites and monuments.”

On this point, Van Geet agrees. “The government should make more money available for them. That’s why all these things are in the press, because, in the end, it’s all about frustrations.”

— Naďa Černá contributed to this report.

By Lisa Nuch Venbrux

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