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Fallen Water Levels Reveal 400-year-old Polish Artifacts

9/19/2012 9:14:21 AM

Motor boats are trapped in the dry Praski Port on the Vistula river, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. The water level of Polish rivers fell down drastically due to lack of rain for weeks, causing water supply problems in the south of the country. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Record-low water levels in Poland's Vistula River have revealed a huge cache of elaborate marble stonework that sank four centuries ago.

Archaeologists believe the stonework was looted from Poland's rulers by 17th-century Swedish invaders, who loaded it onto barges to transport home. Researchers knew about the artifacts but were unable to excavate them because they were under several feet of water.

"The drought helped us a lot because what had been lying underneath is now at the surface," said Hubert Kowalski, deputy director of the University of Warsaw Museum, which is leading the effort to retrieve the marble stonework.

Knowledge about what happened four centuries ago had been sketchy.

"Now we have evidence, the best material evidence of the Swedish invasion so far," Kowalski said.

The Vistula, Poland's longest river, is at its lowest level since regular records began 200 years ago because of sparse rainfall over the past several months.

Falling water levels have also revealed relics from World War II in Warsaw, including unexploded ordnance and Jewish gravestones, which will be delivered to the Jewish Historical Institute.

Kowalski said 10 tons of stonework has been excavated but that much more is likely to be found.

Once the masonry has been removed from the riverbed and cataloged, it will be delivered to Warsaw's Royal Castle, one of the sites that historians believe was looted (Dagmara Leszkowicz, Reuters, Sept. 17). -- RE

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