Description of activities
Kernavė Archaeological Site, situated in the valley of the River Neris in eastern Lithuania, provides evidence of human settlements spanning here from 10
millennia. Covering an area of 194.4 hectares, the property contains archaeological evidence of ancient land use from the late Palaeolithic Period to the Middle Ages. It comprises a complex ensemble of archaeological elements, including the medieval town of Kernavė, a unique complex of impressive hill forts, unfortified settlements, burial sites and other archaeological, historical and cultural monuments.
Kernavė is the only place in Baltic States with 5 hill forts at the same area. It is located 35 km from Vilnius on the upper terrace of Neris river. The town was first mentioned in 1279 as a feudal settlement of craftsmen and merchants. It was the most important economical and political centres of Lithuanian state, often named as the location of the old capital of Lithuania. After 700 years, in 1979, following the slippage of the hillside, professional archaeological excavations began, that are now being continued every year. These researches revealed the old disappeared culture, civilization and the most important periods of Lithuanian prehistory. During these, almost 40 years of researches, archaeologists found out that the earliest evidence of human occupation in Kernavė dates back to the late Palaeolithic age and stays permanently inhabited until the Middle Ages. The settlement patterns and the impressive hill-forts represent outstanding examples of the development of such types of structures and the history of their use in the pre-Christian era. Medieval Kernavė residents paid homage to a great many forces that controlled their daily lives and agricultural activities. They used to decorate their jewellery, clothes and other belongings with pagan symbols and ornaments. Evidence of pantheistic and Christian funeral traditions was also found in Kernavė. They used to bury their loved ones in urns, burial mounds and grounds, full of grave goods. Grave goods can be regarded as a sacrifice intended for the benefit of the deceased in the afterlife. Cremation was used, as it was believed that soul separation from the body can be done through the fire rituals. Also, inhumation emerged in Kernavė, so both burial customs existed at the same period. Since time immemorial Kernavė residents believed in laws of nature and prayed for many gods of Lithuanian pantheon. They lived without any religious restrictions, until the 12th century, when Roman Catholic popes opened a “Northern Crusade” against Lithuania and other European pagan nations. As the dukes of Lithuania extended their dominion eastwards, the influence of the Slavic states and Eastern Orthodox Christianity on pagan culture increased. The traces of this influence can be found in Kernavė through Slavic jewellery and symbols, used in their personal possessions. Lithuania, and Kernavė was surrounded by Christianity. It was a matter of time before pantheists in Baltic region would be baptized by force and Kernavė, as one of the most important pagan settlements in Baltic region, was one of the main targets. Town was attacked by crusaders several times during this period. Unfortunately, in 1390, while Kernavė defenders were retreating from their enemy, they burned the wooden castles and deserted the valley. Inhabitants moved on the upper terrace of the river, in the present location of the settlement. Eventually the silts of the Neris River covered the town remains and the old capital of Lithuania sank into oblivion. The site of the old medieval town still contains untouched cultural layers from the end of the 14th century, which made it possible to reconstruct the urban framework of the city and restore the fragments of everyday life of the inhabitants.