Colourful Renaissance tiles have been unearthed at the site of a ruined castle in Żelechów, eastern Poland. These ceramic tiles are known as cocklestoves and come from a masonry heater, which uses masonry (like bricks) or ceramics to retain and radiate heat from the furnace within. Painted with enamels, the several hundred fragments of tiles carry a range of designs, including plants, animals, griffins, human figures, and coats of arms. They bear some similarity to tiles from the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków, pointing to a shared style enjoyed by the elites in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The next step of the research, says Wojciech Bis of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, who directs the project, is to try to reconstruct the stove tiles, hopefully combining them into larger fragments.
The site was identified using airborne laser scanning in a marshy and overgrown area, before geophysical survey and then the start of excavations in 2017. A wooden manor house in use in the 16th century (whose remains are preserved thanks to the wet conditions) was identified in 2018; excavations in 2022 continued exploring the building, where the stove come from. Fragments of ceramic vessels, cooking utensils, and bones of pigs and oxen with cut marks have also been found, offering a glimpse of the feasting that went on.
The castle, once belonging to the noble house of Ciołek, was first mentioned in historical sources in the late 15th century. By the first half of the 16th century, texts reflect that it had both a residential and defensive function, but by 1515 it was no longer being used as a residence by the Ciołek family. It was thought to have been destroyed in the 17th or 18th centuries as it no longer appears in records of this period. Using dendrochronology, study of coins, and historical records, Bis and his team have dated the stronghold to the 15th-17th century.
Much of the wood found at the site has been burned, indicating that a large part of the complex was destroyed by fire. According to Bis, a family quarrel mentioned in the written sources may have led to the fire, though another possible cause is the Swedish military campaigns in the mid 17th century.