In Moravia, where the Paleolithic civilization lived 30,000 years ago, there is today a futuristic archeopark park. A journey through history, with a famous Venus and an innovative architecture
Latitude: 48 degrees, 52 minutes and 38 seconds North. Longitude: 16 degrees, 40 minutes and 29 seconds East. These are the exact coordinates of a unique place in the world that reveals part of the origins of the civilization. If inserted in a GPS device, the marker will magically indicate South Moravia, between the city of Brno and the Austrian border. More precisely, it will take you to the Archeopark of Pavlov. It’s the protected natural area of Pálava, on the banks of a large lake formed by the waters of Thaya, a tributary of the Moldava. Less than three kilometers to the west we find the city of Dolní Věstonice, a world-famous archaeological site.
The Archeopark is the custodian of a part of human history, animal life and the course of events this planet went through in the last thirty thousand years. Therefore, it starts from the period known as the Upper Paleolithic, in which human beings already morphologically evolved, the homo sapiens, spread across the planet. However, before discovering what the area is preserving, we need to know the history of the site set in a recent era, with all its misfortunes and fortunes.
Various findings of ancient relics and artifacts have been reported here since the second half of the seventeenth century, on an ideal soil for agriculture and farming. Evidence of an archaic civilization, these objects were almost always destined for the private collections of wealthy aristocrats, who bought them without classifying or cataloging them.
Things changed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Professor Karel Absolon, creator of the Moravian Paleontological Foundation, began his excavations on the site with a different approach: his desire was to find and rebuild, recompose and bring to light the history of this place, discovering the reasons behind the high number of fossils and artifacts present in this area. In 1928, at the initiative of Absolon himself, the findings brought to life an exhibition called “Anthropos”. It drew the attention of researchers, scholars and the public opinion as a whole to the ancient civilization of Pálava.
The history reveals parallel facts, and when it came to the German occupation, even the Nazis knew the importance of Dolní Věstonice and Pavlov, sending a team of archaeologists ready to continue the research. The excavations continued, the findings increased and the collection in Brno, the main city, extended, while other unique pieces were instead kept in the castle of Mikulov. However, when the conflict came to an end, and the liberation from Nazism became a reality, the castle paid dearly for the price of freedom, being involved in a fire. Some relics were lost, but fortunately the meticulous work of the research team made it possible to find all the cataloged discoveries, with descriptions and images, allowing nowadays technology to make identical replicas.
After the war, the site remained still a focus point and the researches were taken over by the Archaeological Institute, later incorporated in the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1995, several areas were reopened for excavations, as the technological development allowed more accurate and in-depth researches. The findings continued and so did the exhibitions in Mikulov and Brno. However, there was a high desire to bring vitality to the area where the park now stands.
And here we are, in the first years of this millennium, when the idea of a museum exhibition held right in the undergrounds is born. It is an incredible idea that allowed the opening of the Archeopark in Pavlov in 2016. Result of an excavation, the structure looks futuristic with the utmost respect for the surrounding environment. Dominated by the ruins of the Děvičky castle, imposing on the opposite hill, the museum seen from the outside reveals only some structures with particular architecture. Once inside the museum, the excavations seem to greet the visitor, welcoming him in the time machine and projecting him tens and thousands of years back in time, to the moment when mammoth hunters were living in these parts.
In the large area we note the attention to details during construction. What seems like chimneys from the outside are actually openings through which the light pours in and illuminates the various display cases. Guardian of objects and history, the gallery reveals all the past of the place. We can find original pieces, but also reproductions because some relics would deteriorate too much if exposed to air and light. However, we almost do not notice any difference from the originals.
Once inside the exhibition space, a spontaneous question may rise: why did a group of humans settle in this area thirty thousand years ago? They settled here because they found water, shelter and a lot of animals to hunt. In fact, the exhibition displays several objects used in capturing the animals. There were bisons, bears, reindeers, tigers and rhinos. But the most sensational discovery came precisely during the excavations for the construction: large bones, trunks and fibulas were found along the wall on the other side of the entrance. History says that such findings already occurred in the past, and these large bones generated legends about this place, known as the crib and home of giants. But with nowadays methods and experiences there was no room for doubt: what they found were mammoth bones. The large proboscidean animals with long tusks and thick fur that disappeared about four thousand years ago shared this place in Southern Moravia with the residing homo sapiens. The findings of these remains led the park managers to incorporate this discovery in the rest of the gallery, creating an additional room dedicated to protecting and making the excavations visible, and thus keeping them alive and real. We can notice the containment structure and the work of the archaeologists, which combine perfectly with fossils and Paleolithic findings. The room maintains a suitable climate to keep the findings in the best conditions possible, with a controlled temperature that does not exceed 15 degrees and a humidity rate of 95%. The mix of antiquity, science, technology and communication is exploited to the best, as well due to a light show useful for leaving the excavation in the dark for as long as necessary. The museum space was created by the team of architect Radko Květ with such a care that allowed the structure to be awarded the prestigious Building of the Year 2016 award, certifying the attention with which various findings are presented to the public.
The study behind the development of the Archeopark allowed to highlight one of the most important items of the entire exhibition: the “Venus of Věstonice”. We can admire only a replica in Pavlov as the original is protected and available to the public eye only occasionally. May it be an original or a replica, when we look at this small statue representing a female nude we get the impression of being in front of a living object, yet used, even though it dates back to 29 to 25 thousand years ago.
iscovered in 1925 and found broken in two pieces and then reconstructed, this sculpture has a digital imprint (visible only through specific tests) of a child estimated to have been between 7 and 15-years-old and who lived during the Upper Paleolithic. However, what is incredible is that Venus is the oldest ceramic artifact found so far in the history of humanity. This means that we cannot admire an older item in the entire world: a unique collection of history, archeology, art and design that can be admired only here.
In addition to its crown-jewels – and not all of them are revealed – the gallery houses many other relics, mainly photographic ones and connected to the rest of the elements. Everything is surrounded by a helpful and well-trained staff, and by a structure able of creating a unique and emotional climate. A complete and modern exhibition, but a thirty thousand years old one.
by Mattia D’Arienzo