Archaeologists discover a bronze belt accessory referencing an unknown pagan cult in Central Europe. An extraordinary find was made by archaeologists from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Masaryk University in the town of Lány, near Breclav in the Czech Republic. It’s a bronze belt from the 8th century AD featuring a depiction of a snake devouring a creature resembling a frog.

The battle against a dragon or snake is a fundamental motif in the cosmogonic myth of world creation. The interaction between the frog and the snake can also be associated with fertility cults. Artifacts with identical representations have been identified in various locations in Central Europe, separated by hundreds of kilometers. They demonstrate the existence of an hitherto unknown pagan cult that linked populations of different origins in the early Middle Ages.

When the belt accessory with the motif of a snake devouring a frog was discovered with the help of metal detectors in the locality of South Moravia, near Breclav, we initially thought it was a unique find with a distinctive decoration. However, we later found that almost identical artifacts had also been discovered in Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia. I realized that we were on the trail of a pagan cult previously unknown, connecting different regions of Central Europe in the early Middle Ages, before the arrival of Christianity. Therefore, we organized an international scientific team to study the findings in detail, explains Jiří Macháček, director of the Institute of Archaeology and Museology at the Faculty of Arts at MU, already famous for the discovery of an animal rib with an inscription in ancient Germanic runes.

The motif of a snake or serpent devouring its victim appears in Germanic, Avar, and Slavic mythology. It was an important and universally understood ideogram. Today, we no longer understand its exact meaning, but in the early Middle Ages, it connected the different peoples living in Central Europe on a spiritual level, adds Jiří Macháček.

According to archaeologists, the discovery in Lány belongs to the group of so-called Avar belts, produced in Central Europe in the 7th and 8th centuries AD and part of the attire of the Avars, originally a nomadic people who settled in the Carpathian Basin, i.e., in the area of present-day Hungary. Their fashion was also adopted by neighboring peoples, such as the Slavs.

Researchers used the most modern methods to analyze the metallurgy of Lány and other similar findings, including X-ray fluorescence analysis (EDXRF), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), lead isotope analysis, and 3D digital morphometry.

Stefan Eichert of the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Natural History Museum of Vienna) conducted a material and technological analysis that revealed that most of these bronze accessories were heavily gilded and were manufactured by casting in a mold called “lost wax” using a wax model.

Ernst Pernicka of the University of Tübingen, through a chemical analysis of the lead isotopes contained in the bronze alloy, identified a common source of copper from which all the discovered accessories were made. It is the first time that it has been established that the copper used for the production of Avar bronzes was extracted in the Slovak Ore Mountains. Morphometric analysis based on three-dimensional digital models, conducted by Vojtěch Nosek of Masaryk University, suggests that some of the accessories came from the same workshop or derived from a common model.

Archaeologists from Masaryk University published an article on the discovery in one of the world’s most important archaeological journals, the Journal of Archaeological Science. The research was conducted at the site thanks to the EXPRO project, funded by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic.


Sources

Vydává Masarykova univerzita | Jiří Macháček, Stefan Eichert, Vojtěch Nosek, Ernst Pernicka, Copper-alloy belt fittings and elite networking in Early Medieval Central Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 161, January 2024, 105895. doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2023.105895


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