Finding our way to the site had not been an easy task. Earlier in the month, Dana and I had driven south trying to follow the map that Dr. Podborsky had drawn. Even a lifelong Moravian resident was not familiar with all the country roads–and the archaeological site was nestled in a field. Combined ingenuity and a large does of intuition finally got us there. So when we took the other artists, we had a fairly good idea about where to go.
25 August 1998
The gang convened at the tram stop near Dana’s house. Eva, Irma, Dana, and Vlasta rode with me. Ema brought a car full of friends. Ola was not up to the trip–knee giving her trouble. Silva, too busy to participate, wished us well.
Off we go, another dreary day. Babi leti (Indian summer, although it translates into hag summer) had passed. Dana had driven the previous day to Velke Merizice and Bites and was happy to be a passenger. Irma translated for me.
I know the women were amazed as I wound my way off the main road to Znojmo through small villages and then struck off into the forest and fields. Ema was worried about her car’s muffler dragging as we careened over ruts, gravel and dirt roads. I know the “tin can,” as I affectionately dubbed my rented Skoda, would be just fine.
Ludvik put the barking Threshold Guardian away. We all fussed over the goat and fed her tasty leaves. Before we went into the museum, the women examined the bushes and plants growing at the edge of the forest, smelling leaves, tasting berries and commenting on their healing properties. Once inside the museum, cameras began flashing, and we became a flock of twittering birds examining the objects on display. Everything was accessible for handling and close inspection. We oohed and aahed and poked. Here was a treasure of artifacts that had been excavated RIGHT HERE! There were reproductions of the important goddess figurines not only from this site, but from other sites nearby. There were stone implements, bone needles, exquisite pottery both resotred and in pieces. Three ancient civilizations were represented.
Archaeologists have an insatiable urge to try to duplicate the technology of the people they study. Dr. Kovarnik was no exception and he organized a series of experiments for visitors to play with. There was a seashell with ground red ochre and a paintbrush made from animal hair tied to a stick. So we professional artists tried out skill at painting pottery with the intricate geometric patterns that the Neolithic people painted with that crude tool. Of course, our efforts were a poor second.
Photos documented how some students felled a large tree using the Neolithic stone axe on display. Outside the museum building is a model of a kiln. It is a simple affair–a mound with three chambers: two for clay to be fired and one large one underneath those in the which the woods burns. Temperatures of up to 1000′ F, quite hot enough to fire the local clay can be reached. A model of the rondel depicted how the houses storage silos, and trash pits were arranged around the sacred space. When we exhausted our curiosity in this treasure trove, we walked into the field, stopping to peek into the Neolithic house reconstructed at the side of the road.
I showed the women how pottery shards are still easily visible in the tilled soil. Our walk became a treasure hunt. Was this a piece of pottery from 7000 years ago, or a broken dish form the farmer’s lunch 50 years ago? Doesn’t that sharp edge look as if someone chipped it? Oh dear, I think I can see the tracings of a design on this piece of pottery. By the time we arrived at the summer excavation site, everyone had a handful of magic harvested from the field.
Once inside the archaeological precinct, a hush fell. Our chatter stopped as we looked at the carefully plotted ground. Students from the University had been working here until the unseasonably cold wind and rain drove them home. Weather here is as formidable as the ferocious Doberman at the gate. Red and white stakes with grid numbers remained, identifying the areas of study. Small holes had been dug. Looking for graves, or pottery? On the wall of one ditch, the layers of earth clearly showed even our untrained eyes that there had been many civilizations on this land. A pottery piece jutted out of the earth near the cross trench–white, probably not very old. In another pit, a bone protruded. Its diameter suggested that it was a large animal’s bone. A cow? An ox?
The cold wind told us it was time to go move. Silently, we trudged back to the place where we would make our installation. Each of us was deep in her own place, thinking about? I concentrated on the profound silence of the earth balanced by the noise of the wind as it clutched at my light jacket. The smell was that of moist earth after a rain. Not quite clean, not quite dusty. No seedlings appeared, yet we knew that seeds had been sown in our imagination that day.