Archaeologists in Sweden have unearthed a once-in-a-lifetime trove of jewelry dating back an estimated 1,000 years to the Viking Age. Despite their age, the pieces are in near-pristine condition and look like they’re “almost completely new,” says Maria Lingström, one of the archaeologists who made the find, in a statement.
Researchers with the National Historical Museums in Sweden were digging at a Viking Age settlement in Viggbyholm, a neighborhood north of Stockholm, when they stumbled upon a small ceramic pot tucked beneath the remnants of a building’s wooden floors. Inside, they found eight torque-style neck rings, one finger ring, two pearls and two arm rings. They also found a linen pouch that contained 12 coin pendants (which are coins used as jewelry).
Archaeologists sent the jewelry pieces to Acta Konserveringscentrum, a conservation company in Stockholm, for cleaning.
“This is something you probably only experience once in a lifetime,” says Lingström in the statement. “When I started to carefully remove the neck rings one by one, I had this extraordinary feeling of, ‘They just keep coming and coming.’”
The researchers believe people lived at the settlement for several hundred years, starting around 400 C.E. through the Viking Age (800-1050) and into the early Middle Ages. So far, they’ve discovered more than 20 houses and buildings at the site, as well as an array of other artifacts, including amulet rings and arrows.
Though the researchers were surprised and delighted to find all of the jewelry, they were particularly interested in the 12 coins. Some originated in Europe—probably from regions like Bohemia, Bavaria and England—while others were Arabic coins called dirhams.
Coin-makers minted one of the European coins in Rouen, a city in Normandy, France, sometime during the tenth century. Until now, researchers only knew of this rare coin’s existence from drawings in an 18th-century book.
Taken together, the coins suggest that people living in Scandinavia during the Viking Age participated in wide-reaching trade and made far-flung connections.
Researchers don’t know why the historic owners chose to hide the jewelry, though they say people have a tendency to bury valuable items underground during periods of unrest or tumult. The team will need to conduct further research to determine if that’s the case, or if something else triggered the burial of such a precious cache of belongings.