Kernavė Archaeological Site

The Kernavė Archaeological Site gives an exceptional testimony to the evolution of human settlements in the Baltic region over a period of 10 millennia. Being one of the largest (194 ha) archaeological open-air sites it has presented numerous archaeological findings. The landscape has been shaped from the late Palaeolithic Period to the Middle Ages. The Site has exceptional evidence of pantheistic and Christian funeral traditions. The preserved traces of ancient land use and the five impressive hill forts of Kernavė represent all the stages of Baltic settlements, the evolution of fortification, and the system of defence. In the 13th and 14th century Kernavė became a significant economic-political centre of the State of Lithuania. The Kernavė Archaeological Site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004. In 2011 the Site was inscribed on the List of Cultural Property under Enhanced Protection.

Kernavė is an area of unique archaeological and historical value. In 2004 the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thus recognising the importance of the area according to two value criteria for UNESCO heritage sites:

- as a site which presents an exceptional testimony to the evolution of human settlements in the Baltic region in Europe over the period of some 10 millennia. The site has exceptional evidence of the contact of Pagan and Christian funeral traditions;

- as an object with settlement patterns and the impressive hill forts representing oustanding examples of the development of such types of structures and the history of their use in the prie-Christian era.

The State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė is comprised of:

- the territory of reserve (194, 4 hectares) with cultural heritage objects (valuables) and an open-air exposition;

- the Archaeological and Historical Museum with collection of artifacts and exposition.

The State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė was established in order to protect territorial complex of cultural heritage objects, and also to investigate, supervise, exploit and maintain the originality of the site. These aims are actualized by the Administration of the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė.

Kernavė is a land that represents the primeval past of Lithuania. On the picturesque bank of the River Neris in the centre of the amphitheatre of the Pajauta Valley stand five hill forts, by where our ancestors have settled, lived and been buried since time immemorial. The landscape formed in the course of history, numerous archaeological finds testify to the historical processess and cultures, wich have existed in the area for 11,000 years. Thriving at times, stagnant at others, life in Kernavė never ground to a halt. The cultural heritage of the last pagan country in Europe – the remains of ancient capital of Lithuania – lies hidden under a layer of deposits.

Visitors are invited to reveal the secrets of the past centuries safeguarded by the Pajauta Valley, climb the hill forts and feel the magic allure of the past. 

Consistent archaeological investigations started in the area almost 30 years ago. The results of scientific investigations allowed to disclose the main prehistorical and early historical stages of this unique archaeological site, extended our knowledge about one of the most significant process in the history of Lithuania and Europe – the transformation of a pagan community into a Christian one.

The traces of the first settlers (hunters of the Late Paleolithic), such a flint arrowheads of the Swiderian culture discovered in the pajauta Valley, are dated back to 9000 BC. The warmer climate and the convenient plate for habitation determined that from 8th millenium BC people did not leave the Pajauta Valley. The heritage of the first culture of the Eastern Balts – the brushed Pottery Culture, that emerged in the last quarter of the 2nd millenium BC – survived here. These were the settlements and the first widely explored burial ground of this culture in the territory of Lithuania. From the first centuries AD, also called „golden age“ of Baltic cultures, the first defensive fortifications were built on the hill forts. The development of Kernavė accelerated in the middle of the first millennium AD, and by the 13th century it had become one of the leading towns of Lithuania. In written sources Kernavė was first mentioned in 1279 in the Rhymed Livonian Chronicle and Herman Wartberge‘s Chronicle as a land of Grand Duke Traidenis (1269-1282). Kernavė of that time was a large feudal centre with the Grand Duke castle on the Aukuras hill fort, defensive fortifications on the Mindaugas Throne and Lizdeika hill forts, craftsmen and merchant quarters in the Pajauta Valley. After the attack of Teutonic Order in 1390, wooden castles and old Kernavė town were burnt down. Eventually, the silt of Neris River covered the remains of medieval town in the Pajauta Valley and ancient capital of Lithuania passed into silence for a long ages.

It was not until 600 years later that archaeologists discovered old Kernavė. Investigations continue.

Thousands of people arrive to Kernavė and to the events to get acquainted with the heritage of material and spiritual culture, to approach the origin of the nation and the state. Once a year, in early July the traditional festival „Days of Live Archaeology in Kernavė“ takes place. Visitors can get acquainted with prehistorical and early medieval crafts, warfare and music, displayed by the masters from Lithuania and neighbouring European countries. During the festival, visitors have a possibility to travel hundreds and thousands years to the past. They can try making pots by hand or on potter‘s wheel, shooting from the bow, minting coins, riding horses, and also taste ancient foods.

Stepping over the treshold of the time enables us to discover the link between past and present and futurity.

In the shortest summer night people have gathered around a fire by altar in the Pajauta Valley to celebrate the Midsummer Day – Rasos Feast. While still under the Soviets, students revived old pagan rituals held on the summer solstide, which fostered an interest in the national heritage and was a means of resistance to the regime. Now, same as before, on June 23 people accompany westering sun, dance and sing around large campfires, girls throw flower garlands into the Neris, young couples look for a flowering fern. Rituals are preceded on the sunset and the sunrise.