Bronze Age settlements, church bells and small castles

Interview with 100-year-old archaeologist Pál Patay

MúzeumCafé 46.

Pál Patay’s research was mainly undertaken in two places: underground and in church towers. He was in quest of Bronze Age cemeteries, ancient Sarmatian fortress remains and early medieval earthworks, and he climbed 1300 church towers in order to compile a database of Hungary’s cast-iron bells. What could prove unceasing zeal for work better than the fact that on his 80th birthday he was still working full-time at the National Museum. Last December he became the first person in the institute’s history to reach the age of 100. Pál Patay recalls how from a landowner he became Nógrád’s first archaeologist, and how politics impeded one of the most important international archaeological organisations from holding its congress in Budapest. Pál Patay gained a degree as an agricultural engineer, but later turned to archaeology. His great-grandfather’s cousin was Ágoston Kubinyi, director of the National Museum whose brother, Ferenc Kubinyi, was involved in the first excavations in Hungary. In 1855 his great-grandfather, Gábor Prónay, published the first work relating to ethnography, Sketches of the Life of People in the Hungarian Homeland, in Hungarian, German and French editions. His grandfather was a member of the Hungarian Archaeological Association, and it was from his superb library that Pál Patay first learnt about the subject. He enrolled at the university in Pest in 1933, choosing archaeology as his major and art history and ancient history as minor subjects. In 1949 he was assigned a post as an archaeologist and museum specialist in Balassagyarmat, then in 1957 he moved to the National Museum. The bell database, comprising 16,000 items, can be found in the Foundry Museum and has been published under the title Corpus Campanarum.