Iron Age horse harness found by accident is oldest in CEE, say archaeologists

Iron Age horse harness found by accident is oldest in CEE, say archaeologists

Complete 2,500-Year-Old Scythian Harness Discovered in Poland

After forgetting to turn off his metal detector, an archaeologist made a surprising discovery in Poland.

The accidental discovery uncovered complete Iron Age harness which is 2,500 years old, also a rare axe . The findings provide a glimpse in Central Europe into the Iron Age in the sixth century BC.


Detail of bronze Scythian harness discovered near Mała Nieszawka in Poland.
Detail of bronze Scythian harness discovered near Mała Nieszawka in Poland.

Arkadiusz Kurij, who investigated the Mała Nieszawka region with members of the WELES Historical and Exploration Group in Cierpice near Toruń, near the Vistula River, made amazing finds.

Science in Poland reports that he came back to the meeting point after he “searched a nearby hill, as his metal detector still turned on, started to beep.” He immediately knew that he had found something was very significant, and he contacted the authorities concerned.

The Scythian harness discovered in Mała Nieszawka in Poland appears to be complete, and only a small part, which was probably made of wood, is missing.

He “carefully reburied the site to cover up evidence of digging should anybody with less noble intent happen upon it,” according to The History Blog .

Discovery is First of Its Kind in Central and Eastern Europe

Archaeologists came and examined the site, which was on a sandy hill and found a harness made of bronze sheets and wire. Although it was a complete harness, a small part was missing.

This was probably because it was made of wood and had long since decayed in the earth. Dr. Jacek Gackowski of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń told Science in Poland that it “is the first find of this type in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Based on a preliminary analysis, the objects had been wrapped in burdock leaves and “folded into a leather bag,” reports Earth Chronicles . The artifact consists of several pieces that were linked by rings to form the harness.

According to Science in Poland , Gackowski stated that the “preserved artefacts indicate that the bridle was very decorative, as evidenced also by the numerous tubular and ring-shaped harness parts made of sheet metal and wire.” It appears that the harness had not been lost but had been deliberately buried.

Evidence of Scythian Nomads Making Inroads in the Area

Based on the design of the harness it most likely was Scythian in origin. These were a war-like Iranian speaking people who dominated the Eurasian Steppe . They were possibly making inroads in the area in the 6 th century BC, when it was occupied by the people of the Lusatian culture.

The Lusatians were very important in the Baltic amber and metal trade. It is known that they were often in conflict with the Scythians.

In the past, several Scythian weapons and artifacts have been found in the general area. It is possible that the nomads arrived in the area through the Moravian Gates, a pass in what is now Czechoslovakia.

Science in Poland reports Gackowski as saying that the finds indicate some “dramatic events that could have occurred between the local population and culturally alien, horse-riding visitors from far away.”

But That’s Not All. Nomad’s Axe Found Too!

Apart from the Scythian harness, the archaeologists also found a locally-produced axe. It is of a type known as a socketed axe. Wojciech Sosnowski, who works in the Office for Monument Protection, told Science in Poland that “it is difficult to answer why or how the axe was in the bag.”

The harness and the axe may have been hidden during a period of conflict or migration. The heavy items may have been buried as they could have been slowing down a horse.

It seems likely that whoever buried the valuable items intended to return and retrieve them at some point but was unable to do so. They would likely have been re-used. It is assumed that the Synthian harness would have been re-melted and used in the manufacture of other items.

The harness and the axe have been removed and they will be analyzed by an interdisciplinary team. Their efforts may reveal more Iron Age secrets. In Science in Poland , Sosnowski explains that these studies will allow experts “among other things, to determine the exact time when the treasure was buried.”

Thanks to the accidental find by the archaeologist and his metal detector , the harness is expected to eventually go on display in a local museum.