ČSOP unlocks medieval corduroy trackway in Oder floodplain

Within the context of the NET4GAS Closer to Nature programme, the hiking public was presented today with the preserved remains of a medieval corduroy trackway in the floodplain of the Oder River near Nový Jičín, the site having been made accessible by members of the local Studénka chapter of the Czech Union for Nature Conservation (ČSOP). Ever since this trackway was first discovered, which is unique among European findings, local conservationists have been contributing to piecing its story together.

In 1997, floods revealed a segment of a row of mighty logs laid parallel to one another, which had been buried beneath the Oder riverbank under two meters of soil. Local conservationists were intrigued, and they put their heads together with scientists from Mendel University in Brno and archaeologists from the National Heritage Institute to find out more. The results of the dendrological analysis surprised everyone: for the most part, the submerged logs were the trunks of fir trees that had grown between the 11th and 12th century. These tree trunks, along with a large quantity of fir cone fragments and the seeds of other woody plants, survived in this particular spot thanks to their sudden submersion in mud and the high level of groundwater, which preserved them in excellent condition. The structural elements, to the extent that they could be identified, showed that the researchers were dealing with an authentic medieval corduroy trackway – that is to say, a kind of road or footpath through bogs and marshlands made of logs laid perpendicular to the direction of travel.

One mystery remains: Why did the course of the trackway need to be kept near Petřvaldík, even at the price of necessitating expensive repairs, and was not simply rerouted when the original track became submerged (as was customary at the time)? “We can only speculate what the answer might be: this road must have been of great importance, presumably being a zemská stezka (i.e. a medieval trade route), which copied the much older Amber Road, a trade route that had connected the north of Europe with the south. That road traversed the then comfortably negotiable gravel floodplain of the Oder. Rerouting was not feasible, presumably because the trackway served a nearby destination that is unknown to us today – maybe a tried and tested ford to safely cross the river, or a major junction, or a stronghold,” explains Ivan Bartoš of the Studénka chapter of the ČSOP.

The discovery aligns nicely with established historical facts: in the 12th and 13th century, north Moravian territory was being settled on a massive scale, which undoubtedly required the restoration and maintenance of long-distance trade routes. The extensive uprooting of forestland and the establishment of new fields for growing crops in the Beskydy foothills and the Oder highlands led to erosion and floods, which deposited soil in the river plain and eventually buried the corduroy road. Working in reverse, the recent flood and accompanying erosion of the riverbank again revealed the old trackway, offering us a glimpse of the secrets held by the Oder plain under layers upon layers of earth.

The corduroy trackway is found approx. 250 m to the west of the bus stop Petřvald, Petřvaldík, Garáže ČSAD, not far from the footbridge across the Oder (GPS: 49.7231392N, 18.1308036E). This is the 91st site made accessible within the NET4GAS Closer to Nature programme – a programme through which the company NET4GAS has been supporting nature conservation projects across the entire Czech Republic for the past twelve years and counting.

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Corduroy Trackway near Petřvaldík in the Trip Tips section

ČSOP unlocks medieval corduroy trackway in Oder floodplain