Witold Hensel – the creator of Polish medieval archaeology

Zofia Kurnatowska

Abstract


It was during Witold Hensel’s studies at the University of Poznań and the first years of his working at the Poznań University right before the Second World War when his interests and the main trends of his scientific career were crystallized. It was only just when the medieval archaeology in Poland, as the result of some spectacular discoveries in the main centres of the first Piasts’ State, namely in Gniezno and Poznań, was developing. At the same time in the Poznań Centre an interdisciplinary cooperation between humanities (ethnography and history) and natural sciences started. Comparative studies were also widely carried, supported by intensive international contacts. Witold Hensel, a young archaeologist at that time, was an active participant of them. As the sum of all that, it was nobody else but Witold Hensel who in 1946, not long after the WWII was over, formulated a new research project, met with enthusiasm by other scientists, to celebrate the first millennium of the rise of the Polish State, which was soon to come. It was the first so widely planned interdisciplinary project in humanities (and it is worth mentioning that palaeobilogists were also involved) and the obtained results were immense. For the Polish medieval archaeology it was the time of a huge increase in terms of appearance and development of institutions and methodology as well as in number of scientists interested in the subject. It all led to some sort of “outflow” of the members of the Polish archaeological school to the West-European countries (Italy, France and further on also to some others) what, to a large extent, gave the basis for some studies carried on in the field in those areas. The other Witold Hensel’s research trends, later on followed by a huge number of his students, were concerned with settlement studies based on detailed inventarisation and publication of archaeological sources, as well as comparative studies carried out on a large scale. The latter were fulfilled by Witold Hensel not only in his scientific publications (especially some editions of “Słowiańszczyzna wczesnośredniowieczna” (Early medieval Slav lands). He also created and edited a new interdisciplinary periodical titled “Slavia Antiqua”, which was his attempt to continue ideas formulated by specialists of different Slavic disciplines already before the war. Above all however, there was his active participation in foundation of the International Union of Slavic Archaeology. The Union, by its congresses and symposia as well as publications, positively influenced studies in medieval archaeology in general.


Keywords


medieval archaeology; interdisciplinary research; comparative studies

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