On the pages of a medical book from 1669, Jan Ferdinand Hertod of Todtenfeld described a discovery by Mikulov stonemasons, who from one of the caves below Turold hill carried out a tremendous femur belonging to an antediluvian rhinoceros.
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This was the first surviving documentation of the treasures that lie beneath the surface of the earth here and is a testament to the rich ancient history of the region.
The oldest art in Europe
For treasure hunters, Pálava is the promised land. Surprising discoveries abound at almost every step. Generations of local farmers could have told about how they often brought home small relics from the ancient past when cultivating the fields. The biggest surprise, however, was waiting in store for the team of archaeologists led by Karel Absolon one summer day in 1925. In the remains of a fire pit near the village of Dolní Věstonice, they found a small ceramic sculpture of a woman, which soon became a worldwide sensation.
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Photos: 1. Věstonice Venus; 2. Doll or puppet; 3. Face of a woman (© British Museum)
As was shown during further scientific research, the Věstonice Venus is the oldest ceramic sculpture of a human figure ever found and is one of the oldest examples in the world of artistic creation of this kind. Together with other findings in the area, it showed that the mammoth hunters who settled here during the last ice age, about 29,000 to 25,000 years ago, were not just hunters who had to fight hard every day for their own survival, but were driven toward artistic creation and the spiritual, through we may never know what the ancient artist had in mind and why the statue was made. Today, the Věstonice Venus is in the collection of the Anthropos Institute of the Moravian Museum in Brno. Its value was determined by American antiquarians in 2004 to be $40 million. Its historical value is incalculable, and it belongs to the world’s most valuable artistic heritage, as evidenced, for example, by the British Museum’s exhibition Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind.
Why did the 10th Roman Legion cross the Danube?
Another mystery which is still waiting to be solved is found a bit farther, in the municipality of Mušov. Since the 1920s, the story is gradually being uncovered of the 10th Roman Legion, Legio X Gemina Pia Fidelis, which established a fortified settlement around the hill Hradisko, at that time deep in barbarian territory, 80 kilometres as the crow flies from the Roman Vindobona. Today, we still don’t know why precisely here, but according to one theory the encampment may have been connected with Marcus Aurelius’ desire to create a new province north of the Danube, and the locality near Mušov could have been the starting point for Roman military expeditions into the neighbouring barbarian territory, and perhaps Roman occupation authorities may even have been located here. This is suggested by the unearthing of a military camp and also luxuriously furnished residential buildings with underfloor heating, which were probably used as accommodations by prominent personalities, along with several workshops and examples of craftwork.
You can go to the top of Hradisko, from where there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and perhaps try to put yourself in the shoes of a Roman commander, who, in a time of unrest, planned to encamp with his army in an area densely populated by Germanic inhabitants. Or go to the Mikulov Chateau is search of artefacts left behind by the Romans. You will find bricks with the stamp of the Legio X Gemina, weapons, and magnificently decorated armour, which perhaps once belonged to one of the high-ranking officers of the 10th Roman Legion at Hradisko.
Roman military encampments in the Czech Republic