O przewłokach raz jeszcze /Once more on the Subject of Portages/

Ewelina Siemianowska


According to a handful of researchers who have explored the problem of portages, they have been present in almost every time period and in almost every place, but the interest they have garnered is disproportionate to the role they used to play. Scarce source information on them is surely an important factor here, and a similar situation can be seen in the Polish historiography, which – due to the very poor source base (written records, place names) – is basically limited to two examples: the alleged Ślesin portage and the system of portages on the Polish-Ruthenian borderland. Meanwhile, as Andrew Sherratt argued, the portages were “a simple but powerful idea:” in a situation where rivers and reservoirs determined directions themselves, portages – comprising the landborne part of primarily waterway routes – offered a more “flexible” way of using these connections. Such a combination (both waterand land-based) type of communication is considered to be characteristic of the early stages of transport systems development, which has not always been recognised in the literature, where the importance of water communication is particularly highlighted in the context of prehistoric and early historic societies. Portages stimulated settlement (contact points, break in transportation), and therefore, in the absence of other preconditions, settlement analysis including habitational, economic, spiritual and communicational spheres of human activity should be treated as the main identification factors of these communication amenities. Only the results of such an extensive research can indicate not only the locations of presumed portages, but also their local and supra-local significance. It seems that they are usually wrongly linked to long-distance routes. Recently conducted archaeological research and settlement studies based on them allow to suggest the presence of such communication solutions near several sites (Żołte, Parsęcko, West Pomeranian Voivodeship; Pawłówek, Kuyavian- Pomeranian Voivodeship) which could be also localised on the frontiers of the so- -called Baltic zone functioned from 9th to 11th century.

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