Archaeologists in Finland have unearthed a graveyard, an iron sword and other artifacts that date back roughly 1,000 years.
Over the summer, a landowner stumbled upon the site when he was installing geothermal pipes on his property in the small town of Salo. After a rainy day, he noticed something strange sticking out of the ground and decided to investigate.
He pulled out a rusty but intact iron sword with a bent blade, a straight hilt and an oval pommel. The landowner alerted Juha Ruohonen, an archaeologist at Finland’s University of Turku, who called in Sanna Saunaluoma, an archaeologist at the Turku Museum Center.
Thinking the site would yield more discoveries, the researchers decided to continue excavating. And they were right: They found human bones, clothing remnants and something they suspect to be a wooden coffin.
They also uncovered an elaborately decorated leather belt, which a statement from the University of Turku described as “remarkable,” per Google Translate. Attached to the partially preserved leather, they found 30 square bronze rings and cross-shaped pendants, as well as a buckle, strap dividers and several animal head buckles.
They say all of these artifacts belonged to one grave, which is particularly interesting because “archaeological textiles related to men’s graves are very rare,” per the statement.
As they continued to scour the area, they discovered eight graves, which they suspect are part of a much larger mortuary cemetery. All told, the researchers say the site could hold dozens—or even hundreds—of graves. The burials discovered so far appear to follow Christian customs.
Radiocarbon dating is currently underway. The researchers suspect the bones and artifacts date to between 1050 and 1150 C.E., a period they call the Crusader era.
During this time, the Swedes supposedly brought Christianity to Finland in an event known as the First Swedish Crusade. However, “no corroborating archaeological data” exists for this event, which first appears in written records in the late 13th century, writes Heritage Daily. “Academics debate whether this crusade actually took place.” The discoveries could help shed new light on this mysterious period in Finland’s religious history.
The graves and artifacts were found beside a medieval stone church, which experts thought had been established in the 15th century. However, the new finds suggest there was a “much earlier church organization” in the area than they previously assumed, per the statement.
“The observation can be considered very significant from a research point of view, as mortuary cemeteries from the time of the Crusades are clearly less known in Finland than cremation cemeteries that preceded them in time,” per the statement. “So far, this is also the only confirmed burial burial dating to the end of the Iron Age from the Salon or Uskelanjoki valley.”
Looking ahead, the researchers say they will continue working at the site and analyzing their discoveries until at least 2024.