Czech towns and settlements began in the Middle Ages 200 years earlier than most written records indicate, putting the beginnings of the cultural settlement of Czech territory on the same level as Western Europe, according to a new study by a Czech team of scientists.
The study, conducted by Czech archaeologists, statisticians and geographers, was published in the prestigious Journal of Archaeological Science, which is the most important scientific journal for archeology in the world.
The main author of the study, Václav Fanta, from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, explained that when researchers want to determine the age of a town or village, there are two approaches they can use, one which involves determining when the village was first mentioned in written sources and the other is to use the results of archaeological research.
It is generally known that dating events based on written sources is highly unreliable as there is an obvious delay between the foundation of a village and the first written records about it.
“All this has been known for a long time, however, nobody has ever compared these two dating methods on a large sample. We managed to obtain archaeological data from about 530 towns and villages, which we compared with written sources and examined how the two differ,” said Fanta, admitting that archaeological data is naturally available only for a limited number of settlements.
The authors of the study found that, on average, the difference between the actual foundation of a settlement and the first written records about it could be up to 250 years, however, this applies only to the settlements from the 10th century.
As time goes by, the difference between the date of the first written reference and the actual formation of a settlement decreases. In the case of settlements dated archaeologically to the 16th century, the probability of such a “delay” drops to 25 percent, and it usually does not exceed 50 to 100 years. However, we can fully trust the written sources from the 17th century on.
The study, therefore, shows that our perception of a cultural settlement’s history is distorted and influenced by the presence of chronicler in the region.
“It was also one of the main reasons why we started our research. Its results show that we really need to perceive history comprehensively and not just based on written records,” Fanta added.
According to archaeologist Jaromír Beneš, a co-author of the study, it is generally assumed among historians that the main part of the medieval transformation, associated with colonization and the emergence of cultural settlements, began to take place in the Czech Republic only during the 13th century.
“However, our evidence suggests that it all started about 200 years before. This means that, timewise, the beginning of the cultural transformation of the medieval landscape is almost identical to the beginning of the same process in Western Europe,” Beneš concluded.