In the mid-nineteenth century, the Cracow academic circles put forward a new idea concerning archaeological cartography, namely to create a system of symbols with the aim of standardising archaeological maps. This local initiative, thanks to the international academic networks, in the timespan of just 20 years was transformed into a pan-European one.
Józef Łepkowski (1826–1894), who first proposed to standardise the archaeological cartographic symbols, was a member of the Department of Archaeology and Fine Arts of the Cracow Learned Society. Already at a meeting of the Department of Archaeology and Fine Arts in 1851, while reporting on his archaeological trip to the area near Nowy Sącz in the Carpathians, Łepkowski pointed out the need to mark archaeological features on maps. Following the mid-19th-century criteria he had in mind not only archaeological finds and relics, but also works of art and architecture. He proposed to design a system of symbols and colours to denote various categories of finds as well as their chronology. The report published by the department in 1852 mentioned the map Łepkowski was drawing.
In 1869, Łepkowski’s idea was presented by Aleksander Przezdziecki (1814–1871) at the International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Copenhagen. International academic congresses, attended also by Polish scholars and amateurs, played a significant role in the development of archaeology in Europe. They provided an opportunity to share opinions and discuss recent archaeological or anthropological findings. Przezdziecki’s report on the Copenhagen congress presented at a meeting of the Department of Archaeology and Fine Arts inspired the Cracow Learned Society to appoint a committee – with Przezdziecki as its chairman, Łepkowski, a painter and art historian Władysław Łuszczkiewicz (1828–1900) and a social and economic activist, Jan Marceli Jawornicki (1813–1895) – to design the symbols for various categories of finds shown on the maps. It was decided that the system of symbols would be presented at the fifth International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Bologna in 1871.
The 1871 congress was attended by about 240 scholars, including Italians, Frenchmen, Danes, Swedes, Belgians, Swisses, Spaniards, Dutchmen, Germans, and Poles (registered as citizens of Germany or Russia). It was accompanied by an exhibition; the participants also visited excavations in the field. In Bologna, Przezdziecki presented the archaeological map and discussed the system of cartographical symbols devised at the Department of Archaeology and Fine Arts of the Cracow Learned Society. He pointed out that previous archaeological maps had two main flaws: a complex set of signs marking prehistoric or historic features and their application limited to certain regions. Przezdziecki presented the map in the following words: ‘I have the honour to present at the congress a map of the Polish lands. The map, covering the main rivers, mountains and major cities, was designed as a prototype of the planned archaeological maps. The names of places known for excavations have been added here in ink; the excavations themselves have been marked with the mnemonic signs in colours corresponding to the periods, which the archaeological finds belong to’.
The participants of the Bologna congress took an interest in Przezdziecki’s presentation and appointed a special international committee to work on the project, with Przezdziecki as its chairman, Émile Carthailhac (1845–1921), a French prehistorian, Hans Olof Hildebrand (1842–1913), one of the founding fathers of Swedish archaeology, and several other European researchers. After Przezdziecki had died in December 1871, his position in the committee was taken over by Ernest Chantre (1843–1924), a French archaeologist and anthropologist. Chantre introduced some changes and additions to the system devised by the Cracow scholars. The symbols he proposed were approved at the International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Stockholm in 1874.
Meanwhile, in the early 1870s, the Cracow academic circles underwent some important transformations. In 1872, the Cracow Learned Society was transformed into the Academy of Learning. The Department of Archaeology and Fine Arts, where the system of the standardised symbols had been drawn up, was taken over by the newly founded Committee for Art History and the Archaeological and Anthropological Committees of the Academy of Learning. Józef Łepkowski, a professor at the Jagiellonian University at that time, chaired the Archaeological Committee since 1873. Right after his appointment, the Committee decided to make an archaeological map of the Polish territory and Łepkowski was put in charge of this project. Its outcome, a map of the Vistula Basin, was presented and discussed at the International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Pest in September 1876. After the congress, the map returned to Cracow and entered the collections of the Cabinet of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University. Later, it was displayed at the International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Lisbon in 1881, together with other archaeological maps drawn up by a Polish archaeologist, Gotfryd Ossowski (1835–1897).
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