A mysterious tree at Lopaičiai

Time travel study visit to Pagan Lithuania, a land still abundant in mystery

The following text is the impressions and memories from a study trip to Lithuania that took place in May 2022, as experienced by researcher Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay, Linnaeus University.

Arriving on Monday evening was an experience in itself. Clear skies, approaching Palanga the impressive long-stretched sand beaches of Samogitia had me totally enchanted, even before touching ground. The first evening was spent on the Curonian Spit, with a wonderful walk in “The hill of witches” where our guide gave us an interesting introduction to Lithuanian mythology, aided by fantastic wooden sculptures driving the narrative. One of the highlights was probably “the gate to hell”, where none of us even dared to enter. In a wonderful but mosquito-infested post-dinner walk, Arvydas, our Lithuanian guide, took us through some parts of the history of “Amber bay”. The dramatic sand dune topography in combination with some really old and charismatic forests made my night. The genius of the wooden sculptures as narrators in “the hill of witches”, was here complemented by some innovative ways of activating visitor’s senses, such as hearing, to appreciate the environs in new and compelling ways. As an archaeologist, a highlight from the walk through amber bay was “the Hollow of sins” (Griekyné) and the story of a huge sacred Linden tree, unfortunately no longer existent. The adjacent wetland immediately caught my archaeological attention and set my imagination at work.

Tuesday morning started with a ride to Lopaičiai. Starting with a proper Fika, we had another wonderful walk through a beautiful forest, again with some really interesting places from an archaeological perspective. A pile of boulders, locally termed “the dolmen“ (which to me implies something really old and exciting), was accompanied by several large hollows, “kettles” (sw. dödisgrop), where stories were told of offerings and sacrifices in ancient times. Again, my archaeological mind struggled with a desire to investigate these really interesting places. On our way back, we stopped by “the dolmen” and had a more proper look at it. What at first glance looked like just a pile of boulders, in fact looked like some rather substantial construction, possibly a neolithic megalithic tomb, to which later had been added numerous large and smaller boulders. Interestingly, inside “the chamber” numerous modern objects could be seen that testified this place is currently used as a sacred place. Among the objects we could see were candles, a large rock crystal and a decorated amber disc, the latter noticeably influenced by original neolithic artifacts of the same kind but clearly modern.

After the interesting encounter with the boulders at “the dolmen”, we made our way to the spring to fill our bottles. Great place, and great water. The wooden infrastructure at this site, however, was in desperate need of tending. A lasting impression from the visit at Lopaičiai was the seemingly large importance in the sacred landscape of Lithuania of stones, large and small and preferably with some individual characteristics, such as peculiar shapes or markings, be it man made or not. In the afternoon, we were introduced to Zemaitija National park and some fantastic views, followed by a fika and some bee-watching at our project partner Daivas place. After that, some more beautiful forest walking, this time at the Sacrifice hill of Mikytai. The importance of peculiar stones to the sacred landscape of Lithuania was emphasized here as well, and again some interesting places of archaeological potential in connection to the sacred landscape were noted. The evening was ended at Baltic Mythology park, were the wonderful wooden sculpture narrative technology was again being used. Dinner was enjoyed back in Klaipeda, at a restaurant just next to the hotel. Great food and many impressions to digest.

Wednesday morning, we went to "Birutés Parkas“ and Birute hill, which was an amazing setting. The park itself was monumental, and the hill with a small chapel was well worth the climb. Aiste, the organizer of the study visit and project partner, told us about the ancient sanctuary that had been present on the top of the hill, where the chapel was now located. After the climb, Fika was held down at the Amber museum, where some souvenirs and books were purchased. After fika we went to Sventoji, a place that for me as an archaeologist has a special resonance, acknowledged for its wealth of Neolithic settlements. Although we could not visit any of these places, for me it was a pleasure just to get close by and experience the surroundings. The target for our visit at Sventoji was the Samogitian Sanctuary, were modern wooden sculptured pillars were erected to echo the ancient sanctuary once present on Birute hill that we visited earlier the same day.

Our journey was coming to an end, and as we closed the car doors at the Samogitian sanctuary the rain finally started to fall. Blessed with fantastic weather for almost the whole time, we now headed for our last meal before heading for the airport. A bit surprisingly, but wonderful nonetheless, we ended up at a Bikers place with all black interiors and mirrors in the ceiling. My “Biker burger” was delicious. Thank you all for a wonderful stay! Hope to be back sometime soon.

Woman by a big tree
Project leader Lali is enchanted by a mysterious tree at Lopaičiai. Jurkiene, A., EUCC.
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Two men in the forest
Archaeologists Ludvig and Nick are thrilled to find evidence of current sacrifices (here amber amulet) at a dolmen in Lopaičiai. Lindell, L., Lnu.
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A man and a woman in the forest
Tour organizer Aiste and our enthusiastic Lopaičiai guide Kazimieras, by sacred stones. Lindell, L., Lnu.
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People in the forest
The time traveling researchers (from Sweden, Lithuania, Denmark/Mexico) in the beautiful Baltic Mythology park. Arvydas
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