Archaeology at Lisov

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By David Strachan, Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust

The programme included contributing to an Iron Age roundhouse reconstruction at Lišov village museum, and visit to a series of rock cut basins at Dunince, allegedly built by the Roman army for bathing. Archaeology also featured in two other aspects of the visit:

Lišov cave houses

In the area there are around 350 caves structures cut into exposed bedrock, with around 300 wine cellars and around 50 dwellings, although more continue to be discovered. Little is known of when caves were first occupied, but most reached final development in the 19th century with many being occupied into the early 20th. Some have later buildings attached which are still occupied and whereby the cave is retained as a cellar.

Caves are an unusual monument form, not being ‘built’ or ‘constructed’ but carved in the solid from exposed bedrock through removal of material, in effect quarrying. At many of the rural caves at Lišov the retrieved material removed as rubble and dumped downslope to create a terrace in front of the cave entrances, while in the nearby village of Brhlovce the stone is cut in blocks for use as a building material.

Areas above the cave houses are cleared to bedrock and drainage channels cut either side of the caved area to avoid water penetration and when occupied the cave roof is kept clear of vegetation/soil for this reason. Most caves have indication of some structure built in front of an attached to the cave facade, to protect the entrance from rain. The internal lay out of the cave often consists of a central kitchen and living quarters with a byre on one side and a wine cellar on the other side, with windows through the facade where possible and required. In many instances final development of the site involves a building added to the facade with continued use of the cave.

A recent terrace deposit above possible archaeological potential


  • Understanding the early development of these structures is problematic as their reductive nature removes evidence of previous remains as the cave dwelling interior expands over time.
  • Many of the rural sites are now very overgrown with a tree-bearing woodland soil which is creating erosion of the carved structure below and in some instances this deterioration has been rapid.
  • None of the sites appear to be recognised in local or national heritage designations, despite their local and regional value.
  • It’s not clear what literature exists in terms of cave studies (journals, reports etc).
  • It’s not clear whether the sites appear in national/local heritage records, and if so what level of data exists for each site.


  • Conservation of the structures is required and would include removal of soils and vegetation and the reinstatement of drainage and air flow through the caves.
  • LIDAR could help to find new sites across and add to existing known distribution.
  • Laser scanning could provide rapid survey of interiors, both as the basis of interpretation and recording eroding examples before they are lost.
  • Archaeological excavation could target the terrace areas, but also the wider environs in order to provide some context for the sites in terms of land management (tracks, boundaries, enclosures etc).
  • Accessing archaeological material from earlier phases of occupation could be challenging as they will be deposited at the bottom of the terraces.
  • There is also considerable potential for supporting historical research, oral history work etc.
  • Archaeological work is licenced in Slovakia – potential to encourage academic interest, undergraduates etc?

Fossa Giganteum

Near Lišov is a c200km long linear monument, part of a massive network of similar sites stretching from the Czech Republic to the Black Sea. This section near Lišov runs approximately North-South and was once thought to be defensive, however a number of theories have been proposed to explain its massive construction. They are thought to be Neolithic and their relationship to tributaries of the Danube, and the Danube itself appear to be important. The monument is reminiscent of the Cleaven Dyke, Perth and Kinross, a complex earthwork comprising a pair of parallel ditches (c.45-5om apart), with a central bank, running for 1.8km through woodland and for a further 350m as a cropmark. The central bank which is between 1m and 2m high and about 9m broad, appears to consist of conjoined dumps, and the ditch, where visible as a cropmark, appears to be made up of linked segments. Once thought to be a Roman military defence, however excavation has demonstrated that it is a Neolithic cursus monument with an elongated bank barrow dating to c.4,000BC (Barclay et al 1995).

Two stretches near Lišov were visited. The first consisted of a central earth bank with a ditch on either side, the distance between each of the ditches being around 16m. The bank was c5-7m wide and survived to up to c3m in height. At points fragments of burnt clay were visible on the surface. The second section consisted of a stone bank of similar dimensions to the earthen bank and contained large areas of vitrification.

The scale of these massive constructions suggest a repetitive communal cultural activity over a long period as has been suggested for the Cleaven Dyke, involving annual events in which building stretches of the fossa was a key part. It may also explain the vitrified material as a result of large-scale social gatherings whereby burning of the monument was also a feature.

The fossa survive in woodland and appear to often be built along ridges with ground sloping off on either side, they also appear to be influenced by rivers, either running parallel to them or directed towards important bends, such as at Esztergom. Condition of the stretches visit appeared in stable condition although the stone bank has clearly seen informal excavation, perhaps looking for vitrified material, which could compromise stratified archaeology within the bank if it exists (for example timber voids).

There appears to have been very limited archaeological excavation of the fossa to date. Central government funding and university research interest is focussing currently on high status settlements such as the fort/oppida of Bojná, where large-scale excavations began in 2011. As a result there is considerable scope for research on a variety of levels.

Fossa Giganteum: stretch of earth bank with ditches
Fossa Giganteum: stretch of stone bank

Research opportunities:

  • A database of basic survey information would provide the basis of a comparative study of different stretches of the fossa (material, whether earth or stone, width/height of bank, presence/absence of ditches and their dimensions). More detailed topographical study could confirm the extent of the site and possibly detail of construction. In particular this should aim to focus on evidence of phased construction (as at Cleaven Dyke).
  • LIDAR (if available) could provide a rapid method of mapping out the monuments at small-scale.
  • GIS study of the monuments, in particular their relationship to topography and river bodies would provide context to the sites, which is now compromised by their survival in woodland.
  • An archaeological section across the bank and ditches would provide evidence of dating and construction, and could take the form of community archaeology, or a student training exercise.
  • A pollen core to provide a record of palaeo-environmental change should capture the impact of such large-scale construction and give economic context.

Barclay, G and Maxwell, G 1998 The Cleaven Dyke and Littleour: Monuments in the Neolithic of Tayside. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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