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JU archaeologists discover the forgotten stories of World War I

JU archaeologists discover the forgotten stories of World War I

The Polish-Slovakian borderland in Subcarpathia is full of traces of First World War battles fought between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in 1914-1915. Hundreds of deteriorating military installations from this area remained unstudied until recently, when researchers from the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology started to uncover the secrets of the long forgotten past.

The project Karpackie Epizody Wielkiej Wojny (Carpathian Episodes of the Great War) covers a vast area of historical battlefields ranging from Beskid on Czeremcha pass to Kiczera ridge, which witnessed bloody fighting between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops in late 1914 and early 1915.

Since 2015, researchers from the JU Institute of Archaeology have been documenting the remains of battles, bringing back memories of the tragic events of the earliest stage of the Great War, whose traces are hidden in Subcarpathian forests. In the light of sparse historical information about these events, the archaeologists decided to undertake a large-scale effort to retrace them, including detailed archival research, studies from the field of oral history, as well as extensive archaeological fieldwork. Hundreds of field fortifications built by the combatants provide great prospects for investigating the battles.

The research conducted so far has revealed a large number of trenches, built according to the Austro-Hungarian principles of the art of war, as well as communication lines, artillery positions, machine gun nests, and remains of dugouts serving as command posts, ammunition dumps, or shelters for common soldiers, who could take some rest under the roofs made of heavy logs covered with earth.

The researchers are creating 3D digital models of all the studied military installations. They will be used to create a catalogue of earthen/wooden fortifications used during the campaign. Besides, the JU archaeologists are going to catalogue war cemeteries in the area.

“This year we have focused on creating a photo documentation and description of several cemeteries located next to the mountain trail between Komańcza and Beskid on Czeremcha pass. These sites were created ad hoc, either during the fighting, or just after it subsided and included graves of both Austro-Hungarian and Russian soldiers”, says archaeologist Agnieszka Ochał-Czarnowicz, explaining that such a practice was common during the First World War, when fallen combatants from opposing sides were often treated like brothers worthy of equal respect. The research team has suggested new locations of possible burial sites, based on the presence of remains of earth or stone mounds next to the battlefields.

“Only after surveying these sites with a ground penetrating radar and conducting excavation works we will be able to tell if there are any bodies of soldiers actually buried there. This is one of our future goals”, says Ms. Ochał-Czarnowicz.

So far, the researchers have managed not only to locate and record dozens of sites, but also to find a lot of priceless documents crucial for reconstructing what happened during the battles, such as battle telegrams and reports, military orders for each day, as well as maps showing troop positions, found in the Austrian State Archives in Vienna.

The researchers hope that the sites will be recognised as monuments in near future. Their goals include establishing an educational trail that would contribute to raising social awareness related to the First World War in the Carpathians.

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