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In the Path of the Past in Pest

by Bent Holm Nielsen, Project Director, OTV France

Major archaeological finds during the construction of the Csepel plant.
Construction of the currently largest European Union funded wastewater treatment plant in Budapest encounters past history on the construction site.
The site of the Csepel WWTP was previously inhabited by Bronze- and Arpad age civilisations.

The Csepel WWTP project in Budapest is now well under way and construction activities are in full swing. The project is constructed by a consortium consisting of Veolia Water Systems represented by OTV France and partners Degremont in a process group and Hungarian partners Hidépítő and Alterra as civil constructors. The name of the consortium is Csepel 2005 FH Consortium.

The contract entails construction of a new WWTP for the City of Budapest in Hungary and includes a 4 year operations obligation. The plant will treat 350,000 m3/day of wastewater as average daily flow and up to a maximum of 900,000 m3/day as peak flow. The plant will serve 1.5 million people in central Budapest and will discharge treated water the Danube river in full conformance with EU regulations.

To meet the environmental demands for a plant located in an urban setting in Budapest (the capitol of Hungary), special care is taken to construct a facility which will have a minimum impact on its surroundings. The process tanks are covered and no foul odours are released to the surrounding area. The visual impact of the plant is mitigated by a compact structure covered with a green roof and creative landscaping shields the facility from sight.

The Csepel contract includes a requirement for conducting an archaeological survey in way of the process structures in order not to destroy potential buried artefacts. This survey was conducted by Budapest Historical Museum assisted by the Csepel 2005 FH Consortium. The archaeological survey was started in May of 2006 and concluded in June of 2007.

The excavations revealed various very important findings and objects from several archaeological ages. Unfortunately, in many cases the archaeological layers had been destroyed due to the terrain disturbances and other activities over the last century. However, the significant findings, which were discovered in the undisturbed areas, may partially modify our former knowledge concerning the history of Carpathian Basin and Budapest, and may provide us with new guidelines for future archaeological researches.


Ludenice people
Especially valuable findings dating back for a period of four thousand years have been explored on the territory of a Bronze Age settlement. In the region of Budapest only a few traces of “Ludenice people” have been found so far; this population lived at the end of middle Copper Age (4th millennium B.C.) and was named in the archaeological literature by the place of first findings of similar type. The relatively great number of their settlements, excavated in the area of Csepel Wastewater Treatment Plant, is therefore very important: several burial places and pits filled with their communal waste have been excavated there.

Bell-pot people
Named by the characteristic shape and ornamentation of their pots, the population of “bell-pot people” appeared in the Carpathian Basin at the turn of 3rd and 2nd millennium B.C.; they emigrated from the Vienna Basin and the Czech and Moravian regions and then settled along the Danube and its influent rivers. The layers of findings are located densely on both sides of Csepel Island, from Tököl up to the Northern point of the island on the Western side, and from Szigetszentmiklós up to Hollandi Street on the Eastern side.
As observed during the excavations on Csepel Island and in other areas of Budapest, the villages of this population of timber houses were located mainly on hill shoulders close to the riverside.
This population, inhabiting almost all of Europe, developed as an independent cultural group due to their contacts with the local people in Hungary. Now the European archaeological literature refers to these findings as to those of “bell-pot people of Csepel group”. Mainly, urnal tombs have been found during the excavations carried out in the area of Csepel Wastewater Treatment Plant. The characteristic pots of that era, vessels of bell shape and of red colour, decorated with stripes and sigils, were found in the tombs in addition to the flat quadruped dishes occasionally decorated on their edges and surfaces, as well as crocks, small jars and trays which were used for storing the sacrificial meal and beverage offerings. The chiselled-stone plate bracers, also specific for this population and used for archery, were found. Buttons and balls made of bone as well as knives and arrow-heads made of stone, copper saxes and bronze earrings and spirals were discovered, as well.
Nearly thirty terrain objects were explored during the excavations in the area of Csepel Wastewater Treatment Plant. All belong to the late period of the so-called Nagyrév culture of Southern origin (beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C). The discovered findings are: potteries of everyday use, covers, clay spoons, grinding stones, stone saxes, moldings and stone tools.

The Celts
During their migration in the Iron Age, the Celts reached the Carpathian Basin in the fifth century B.C. As far as we know, they settled from the 3rd to 2nd century B.C. and they created a uniform Celtic community in the territory of Hungary after finishing their invasions in the Balkans. Their presence became finally persistent from the 1st century B.C.
Therefore, the cemetery, consisting of more than 70 graves and excavated in the area of the wastewater treatment plant, has a very great significance. The diverse rituals of funerals, i.e. incinerations and skeletons, and the findings in the graves proved that the Celts had settled here in the 4th century B.C., i.e. much earlier than we supposed. Weapons (iron swords, pikes, knives, iron and bronze carriers of weapons and iron parts of shields), jewelry (ankle-rings and bracelets made of bronze and silver; fibulae, necklaces made of bonze, silver and iron; amulets; chiseled rings with symmetric ornaments and with bird imageries; amber; glass of diverse colors and shapes; coral pearls) and ceramic potteries were found in the cemetery, where graves of men, women and children were excavated. The archeologists discovered an outstanding piece of art in Csepel, a handmade two-handled pot, where each handle is formed like a human.
Based on the objects found in the graves it is believed that the concerned period covers about two hundred years. There are some objects among them, which are of the same age as the earliest findings of Celtic origin are, and which had been discovered in Hungary. Nevertheless, the transparent glass pearls of amphora, rhombus and ungula shapes as well as the necklaces made of coral and fashioned individually by each link are to be mentioned as the objects which appeared for the first time in the Carpathian Basin in that period, and which prove the existence of commercial relations of Celtic inhabitants with the North-Italian region.

Magna Insula
In the Middle Ages, Csepel Island was also called as Great Island, i.e. Magna Insula. Due to its favorable geographical location, Csepel Island has had a very important role in the history of Hungary since Árpád’s conquest. After conquering the country, Prince Árpád appointed Csepel Island as his summer residence and he was dwelling there each year from spring to autumn. In addition, the stud-stable of the Prince was also kept there.
As far as it can be known from other findings, the everyday activities of the people living in the Arpadian Age were carried out outside their houses. When excavating the area, the archeologists found several outdoor furnaces, fire-places and series of large furnaces (a row of baking ovens connected with a common ash pit). Based on the great number of millstone fragments, the spindle buttons and the ceramic pot fragments, all found in the ash pits, the archeologists are able to determine what kind of activities were carried out in this area.
At first sight, the ceramic findings can be dated to the 11-12 centuries A.C. This is confirmed by a coin, which was found when the archeologists demolished the furnace of one of the houses, and which had been minted under the reign of King Aba Sámuel (1041 – 44 A.C.).

In total more than 500 archaeological artifacts were found during survey of the area of the Csepel WWTP.

The most important result of the Living Danube project - which has other elements apart from this WWTP construction - will be that by 2010, 95% of the capital's wastewater will be discharged after biological treatment into the Danube, as opposed to the current amount of 40%.

It is hoped that now displaced fish species, such as the sturgeon and other indigenous fish will again return to this section of the Danube River as a result of the major projects now underway in Budapest - just as they did when Arpad and his bronze age predecessors roamed the shores of Csepel Island.


Article written with kind assistance of
Mr. Laszlo Horvath, Budapest Historical Museum
Ms. Orsolya Lautenbach, Csepel 2005 FH Consortium
Ms. Dezi Kocsis, OTV Hungary Kft.