Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Arresting Nesting (Or One Big Bird)

I'm a pretty big guy, and that's a pretty big nest.

I think Daisy and I discovered a pterodactyl's nest on a hike the other day.

We live in the small village of Černý Vůl, west of Prague. One of our neighboring villages is called Únětice, which connects to Černý Vůl via a lovely walking/cycling path.

Few outside its own inhabitants have ever heard of Černý Vůl, but some of you out there probably know all about Únětice. I did not know this myself until I moved out here, but Únětice is the name of a historical culture of humans dating to the Bronze Age -- around 2300 to 1600 BC.

Únětice culture is noted for its various metal objects, such as daggers and flat axes and flint arrowheads and bracelets.

Why Únětice? Well, according to the village's own multilingual website, it's attributable to the excavations, in 1879, of more than 50 graves from the late Bronze Age that were found on a barren hill overlooking what is now the village. The work was performed by a local doctor and amateur archaeologist by the name of Čeněk Rýzner.

Somewhere in this landscape is where the Bronze Age graves were discovered. The rocky outcropping that houses the nest can be seen in the upper right.

One notable feature of Únětice culture is that graves, for the first time, were set up in definite rows, just as they are today. The Únětice website notes that "Úněticians were the last people in prehistoric times to bury their dead in the fetal position in a coffin hollowed out from a single piece of wood. Unětice graves are also unusual as they often contain more than one body, these are probably family graves, very rare in prehistoric cultures."

Fascinating stuff. And to think I had once thought that all Únětice had going for it was a cozy little pub with cheap beer and good food.

Anyway, Daisy and I went on a short hike on Sunday, and decided to climb to the top of the hill where the graves were excavated. I'd been up there on my bike before, but hadn't noticed any marker or sign indicating the historic site.

We ended up climbing to the top of the rocky bluff, on a rough, steep path of loose rock and dirt. At the top, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside, and a nest.

A very large nest.

Situated on the outermost section of rock. Constructed of one- to two-meter length sections of straight twigs.

We saw no gargantuan birds flying nearby, and the nest, on closer inspection, revealed not a single feather or eggshells or any other signs of habitation, like droppings.

Was it a joke? A prank pulled by local teens?

I can only say that the nest looked authentic to me, and that it would have taken some serious commitment to the joke to lug all those twigs up there and arrange them into something that could pass as a real nest.

If it was real, what kind of bird would live in such a large nest? A friend says it may have been a stork's nest.

Daisy's father, Paul, an avid bird-watcher, suspects it's a raptor's nest and probably that of a falcon.

"They often nest on rocky outcroppings like the one you climbed," he says, "and don't build much of a nest structure, which also is consistent with your pictures. American kestrels are cavity nesters, so I suspect Eurasian kestrels are, too. It may have been a larger falcon, but I'm not sure whether any are likely to breed where you are. I think the nest may have been abandoned or never completed. With no feathers and droppings, it clearly was never used."

I'm fascinated by this nest, and if anyone has any thoughts about the topic, drop me a line, please.

We never did find any historical markers pointing the way to the excavation site in Únětice. But if you have an afternoon, I recommend a hike in this area. Park near the restaurant Koliba in Roztoky and take the path toward Únětice.

At the very least, check out Únětice's website. It's very cool, and in English, German, Dutch, and Czech.

The view of Únětice from the top of the rocky bluff.

This cemetery in Únětice is one of the most well-tended and colorful I've ever seen. It also proves that Úněticians continue to bury their dead in rows.


  1. Grant, do you want to compete with Daniken? Be a practical journalist! Let's think first about an owl, hawk, white-tailed eagle, or stork.

  2. The history of this whole area of Northwest Prague is quite interesting. It's full of sites of religious importance for the different peoples that lived here.

  3. I'm beginning to learn that fact, Pivni Filosof. It's fascinating.

  4. Very fascinating.
    Actually, the meadow I can see from my home office window is believed to have been the site of a, probably mythical, battle between Lučany and Czechs. The story says that 20,000 warriors took part in it. The Czechs were victorious, but their hero, Čestmír died, to be buried, according to legend, in Erz, a forest that I can also see from the same window.

  5. Nice, tidy, neat, straight, and organized. ;-D

    The genealogists among their descendants will thank them profusely! ;-D

  6. Czech scientists have recently discovered the existence of the once-thought-extinct central bohemian condor... No no, sorry.

    According to the Mayor of Únětice, Vladimír Vytiska, it is the remnants of a photo shoot by the famous Czech photographer, Jan Pohribný. Some time before our ever-exploring Grant stumbled across this puzzle, Pohribný had constructed the nest and shot it along with an appropriately placed infant to create the image of (the Czech / English) shared expression, 'leaving the nest.' So there we have it, no mysterious pterodactyl, simply a child leaving home...

    Upon looking at Pohribný's website he appears to enjoy combining nature shots with surreal imagery, several of which were shot around Únětice.

    Two mysteries down, but alas I am afraid I can not help you with oversize adult scooter phenomenon.


    James z Roztok

  7. Wow. The mystery is finally solved. Thanks for the fine detective work, James! I'll have to do a separate posting on this answer. It's just too crazy. And I would love to see the photo that Pohribny took. I don't think he's posted it yet.