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Early Medieval graveyard discovered

Archaeologists in Germany have discovered 110 graves dating back to the sixth and seventh centuries. Their finds include gold and bronze objects, along with a decapitated horse.

The early medieval burials were found in the city of Knittlingen, in southwestern Germany. Previous finds were made here in 1920 and 1984, and new research began in August of 2020 as part of a new residential development.

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Most of the 110 graves were buried in rows, but some of the elite individuals were buried in a circular pit. The grave structures ranged from simple burials to wooden grave chambers – only the last bits of wood were preserved. Some of the deceased were buried in wooden coffins.

Drone photo of a section of the cemetery showing the circular ditch (approx 10 meters in diameter) Source: State Office for Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council / ArchaeoBW

The people of the Knittlinger settlement were buried in their traditional costumes according to the early medieval custom. Although the burials were often robbed in the early Middle Ages, numerous non-organic jewelry components such as pearl necklaces, fibulae (clasps), earrings and arm rings as well as belt hangers with decorative discs, and everyday items such as knives and combs were recovered from the graves of women and girls. Parts of the weapons (swords, lances, shields and arrowheads) came from the male burials. Ceramic vessels and bronze bowls were also added to the graves of both men and women, which probably contained food – in them were found animal bones and eggshells.

Filigree gold disc brooch from a woman’s burial in the early 7th century; (3.6 centimeters in diameter) Source: State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Regional Council of Stuttgart / A. Furan

“Despite their fragmentation due to the ancient robbery, the finds give indications of the social status of the dead,” explains Folke Damminger, the lead archaeologist. The burials from the second half of the sixth century include a woman with am almost complete fibula outfits typical of its time. A gold disc brooch worn individually from a somewhat younger grave, on the other hand, heralds the fashion of the seventh century. Some of the men’s graves identified the deceased as cavalrymen. A decapitated horse was buried in the vicinity of one of these burials.

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Male grave from the first half of the 7th century. The deceased was buried with a spathe (double-edged sword) and lance (not in the picture). Source: State Office for Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council / F. Damminger

The accessory ensembles of the late seventh century, on the other hand, looked somewhat more modest. It is not known whether this is due to a decline in prosperity or to a change in the staging of the funerals of the local elites.

The research also found even older items. “As was to be expected due to the location of Knittlingen in a fertile landscape of old settlements, the investigations also revealed individual prehistoric, i.e. Stone Age, findings,” Damminger adds. “The few ceramic fragments that have been recovered point to a Neolithic period, around 5000 to 4500 BC.

A bronze decorative disk from a belt hanger from a woman’s burial from the 7th century. Source: State Office for Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council / A. Furan

The archaeological research is being carried by the State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) in the Stuttgart Regional Council with ArchaeoBW. The skeletons as well as the other finds are recovered and brought to the central archive in Rastatt. The excavation is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2022.

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Top Image: Burial of a decapitated horse. Photo courtesy State Office for Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council / Folke Damminger

 

 

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