Sandpipers as grave gifts in the Early Middle Ages

sandpiperSandpipers as grave gifts in the Early Middle Ages

Prumtnel, Wietske

Pierstna, Theunis


Abstract: This note summarizes some intriguing published observations of bones of small Calidris sandpipers in the graves of two cremated women in the early medieval cemetery at Oosterbeintum (AD 400-750) and in the grave of a cremated adult in the cemetery Dokkum-Berg Sion (AD 500-700), Friesland, the Netherlands. The cremated persons belonged to the human population living on the extensive saltmarshes bordering intenidal flats. The 25 bones represent at least one Duntin Calidris alpina and five Little Stints Calidris minuta. Similar findings of waders in East-Central-Swedish cremation graves from the same time suggest that coastal populations in several pans of northern Europe gave these birds to the death, perhaps for ritualistic reasons related to body or soul.

Most of us may think that the love for waders in the metaphysical rather than the physical, sense is a modern phenomenon. However, recent reports in the Dutch and Swedish archaeological literature suggest that sandpiper may have carried greater importance than that of food alone. Body parts (especially wings) of small sandpipers and other waterbirds were cremated or buried with people that lived on the salt marshes in the northern Netherlands in the early Middle Ages (AD 400-1000). In this note we summarize and discuss these intriguing finds for an audience other than archaeologists.

Click here to read this article from the INTERNATIONAL WADER STUDY GROUP BULLETIN

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