Sunday, August 23, 2015

Survey of 1410 Battlefield

Archaeologists probe the terrain of the 1410
Battle of Grunwald [Credit: PAP/Tomasz Waszczuk]
TANN 'Archaeologists probe medieval battlefield in Poland', 20th August 2015. The Battle of Grunwald (Tannenburg) July 1410 is regarded as one of the seminal clashes of the medieval era, with the Teutonic Order defeated by a Polish-Lithuanian alliance commanded by King of Poland Władysław Jagiello. An international team of archaeologists is now examining the site.
Dr. Piotr Nowakowski, head of the archaeological and historical department at the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald, has told Polish Radio that the area has yet to be thoroughly explored by archaeologists. He noted that during probes made in the 1980s, researchers only had the use of shovels and their own hands. During the current action, participants are equipped with metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar (GPR). “With these devices, you can explore a larger area in a short time,” Nowakowski said. Besides Poles, archaeologists from Denmark, Norway and Great Britain are taking part. This year, the team is trying to survey terrain where it is believed that the Teutonic Knights camped. In 2014, during a probe that covered another area, a number of small metal objects, pieces of armour and horseshoes were discovered. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reality Behind the "Nazi Gold Train" Hype

German Castle Somewhere in Poland
There are a load of reports going around at the moment about the discovery using GPR of a 150 metre train buried 70 metres down somewhere near Walbrzych. It is said to contain the legendary gold of Wrocław (Breslau) and cultural property. Fine. The only problem is that people have been looking for, and thinking they've "found" this rumoured train since the later 1940s. When I worked in the Ministry of Culture, three separate such matters ended up one after the other on my desk (and we learnt that another separate one was being handled - I would say illegally - by the Ministry of Internal Affairs). All four of them came to nothing. A mirage. It seems to me that there is a link here with local folklore (in this formerly German region) of the 'buried treasures in caves' topos. The legend has deep roots, but in my processing of the three on my desk I went quite deeply into the historical basis for the story on the basis of the relevant literature and documents, and my conclusion was that all the 'reports' and 'sightings' of this train in the 1940s and subsequently were as dubious a piece of unsubstantiated storymaking as the next.  Possibly some had been deliberately planted for political reasons.   There is material (money and cultural property) missing from Breslau banks and collections, but I don't think it is buried in any mystical underground train.  But it would be nice to be proven wrong.

Local reports are suggesting the site in question is a branch line shown on pre-War maps to the north of Lubichow (50°50'16.37"N 16°20'3.33"E). If so, the finders' claim to have found a train buried here "70 m down" must be wrong, as GPR in such substrate can only penetrate 15-20 m. (but then the difference between the top of the hill and the railway line  here is 30-50m).

UPDATE 31st August 2015
At a news conference Tomasz Smolarz, the Voivoda of Lower Silesia pours cold water on the claim, the documentation which the president of Wałbrych has passed on to him does not confirm this find, consisting as it does of "merely a few - hardly legible - maps" [I presume bad copies of old maps]. He makes no mention of any radar plots or other instrumental records of any investigations. As usual, more people are coming forward to say it was "they" who "discovered the train" and making unsupported accusations of claim-jumping.

Meanwhile, there may be consequences for the hapless General Conservator of Historical Monuments (GKZ) Piotr Żuchowski who - astonishingly - announced he'd seen the proof of the existence of the train and was "99% sure it exists". Such a statement - which some might say lies outside the competence of this office - has led to the prosecutor being informed, interestingly by our old friends the metal detecting 'Fundacja Thesaurus', who are demanding his dismissal for unprofessional conduct and spreading false information. After all, he only has to go to the archives of the office he runs to find my reports on the three matters I handled (exactly the same lunatic claims) and my analysis of why the whole lot simply have no basis in any verifiable material. But then, what happens in heritage is generally this, out go the old teams, in come new (and there have been half a dozen - and utterly dramatic - changes in the GKZ since my days there), and all the old paperwork is put in boxes and buried in some dark cellar. The right hand does not know what the left has been doing. There is no gold train here.

UPDATED UPDATE 5th September 2015
The men who claim to have made this find are named as Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, sand they a appeared on Polish TV claiming that they do have "irrefutable proof" that it exists, and that it is not in a tunnel but "buried underground". Hmmm. Mr Koper read - with some difficulty it seems - a statement prepared in Polish by their lawyer(s) which was internally inconsistent and mainly addressed what the press had been saying about them.They say they have firm proof that it is there and what it is, and several sentences later that they will use their own equipment to identify the site and whether there is something there.
Andreas Richter, left, and Piotr Koper, centre,
gave a statement to Polish channel TVP

Here's their website: XYZ Spółka Cywilna Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter . According to this (trans.) "the XYZ partnership in engaged in subsoil investigations in terms of exploration of tunnels, cellars, the [finding of] metals and any other objects underground". For this they announce that they use a GPR made by the German firm KS-Analysis, model FMCW model KS-700 (Frequency-Modulated Continuous-Wave). For metal detecting they use a Lorenz Detecting Systems, model Lorenz Deepmax x6 (which interestingly is an obsolete model- replaced by the DEEPMAX - Z1-DL).

The webpage showing the shaft tagged 'Gold Train'
Here are some georadar plots purporting to show a "shaft" which contains the "Gold Train" (see tag at bottom of page) and one showing a tunnel (no gold train mentioned here). OK, so how do you drive an armoured train vertically down a shaft fifty metres deep? More to the point, only two waggons would fit vertically in such a "shaft", so we can forget the story that this train is "150 metres long". Of course - since any digging is not likely to take place (this is Poland folks, minus 20 in the winter) until spring, treasure hunting firm XYZ gets some nice free publicity until then - and the (as I expect) the revelation that there is nothing there.

There is a legal problem here if we consider this as cultural property. By Polish law, both the original survey and any later one and (especially) digging done by these two require them to have a permit, and the issue of that is dependent on them having certain qualifications which it is my guess they do not have. Their idea that they can just go out and dig it up themselves for their sponsors' money, unfortunately cannot be accommodated by the existing law. It will be interesting to see how that one is resolved.

UPDATE 6th September
Hmmm. We are, after all dealing with metal detectorists. So it will be no surprise then that yesterday their nascent website showed a colourful picture of a shaft with something at the bottom and the tag "gold train". Today the tag has disappeared and the page is labelled "Badanie NIE przedstawia pociągu". Yeah, well when you stop playing childish games and get your act together, gentlemen, do let us know when you have something to show...