On the Swedish island of Oland, the ruins of ancient stone forts rise up above the frigid Baltic Sea. The climate here can be absolutely brutal, with bitter temperatures and the raw winds coming in off the sea. It can be a hard place to live at any time. It’s not just the weather that’s intense. The history of this place is also wrought with turmoil. Let’s see How Ancient Skeleton Graveyard Found in Sweden and the story behind it.
Ancient Skeleton Graveyard Found in Sweden
The island has played a central role in the region’s history, and you can still see over a dozen ancient forts there that predate the Vikings. One of these forts is called Sandby Borg, and it dates from the fifth century. This was the era just before the Vikings. It was a dangerous time.
So you can imagine that living in one of these would have provided a greater measure of security for the people. The port is classified as what we now call a ringfort. Basically, it was a fortified settlement, meaning entire communities lived behind the stone walls.
In 2011, a group of archaeologists from Linnaeus University and the local Kalmar County Museum are conducting a full scale excavation in order to find out what may lie below the soil. Shortly after their work begins, they discover a human tooth and then a jawbone. Then suddenly two skeletal feet sticking up out of the soil makes them realize that this is not going to be your average dig.
The initial excavation yields 26 skeletons almost all intact, their bones exposed to the light for the first time in over a thousand years. 26 bodies. That’s astonishing, especially considering the people lived here. So it’s not a place where they would have buried their dead. So what could have happened to them?
This fort was in use in the fifth century. Around the same period as the Justinian plague was ravaging Europe. This horrific disease killed up to 50 million people worldwide, which was about half the global population of the time. This part of Scandinavia was not spared the ravages of the disease. If 2 to 300 people were living here all at once, it’s likely that they were all packed together like sardines, living in somewhat unsanitary conditions.
If it was densely populated and there was an outbreak, conditions would have been ripe for a disease like the plague to spread. So could this be what killed them? Archaeologists working the site discover more bodies lying in strange positions on top of each other. They find one skeleton of an adolescent lying with his feet across the midsection of another grown man in another area.
The body of an elderly man is found lying across the central hearth of a house. His pelvis is charred with the rest of his body has been spared the flames. Because only part of his skeleton is burnt. It means that his soft tissue was present and intact when he fell across the fire and he would have either been dead or unconscious when he did so.
If they died of disease, they wouldn’t have ended up like this. Maybe they would have been found in their beds or maybe buried or properly cremated. But these skeletons seem to be lying in the same contorted positions they died in some 1500 years ago. So if it wasn’t disease that killed these poor people, could it have been something else?
A battle, perhaps. Archaeologists examine the skeletons, looking for any signs of what might have happened to them. Some of their heads have been smashed with a blunt object, while others show signs of sharp force trauma to their heads, to their shoulders and to their hips. What the archaeologists noticed is that these wounds have all been efficiently distributed. That means that the attackers have targeted the same place on their bodies and done so to full effect.
The evidence of trauma doesn’t seem consistent with a fight. Usually if there’s been a battle, then you’d see fractures on people’s arms from trying to block the blows, as well as more facial trauma than we see here. Also, some of the skeletons exhibit trauma on their sides and backs, meaning that some of them were likely attacked from behind.
This seems a lot darker than was initially thought. These archaeologists are quite literally standing on top of an ancient murder site. Both the positions of the bodies and the specific signs of trauma point to this act being carried out by a large group attacking simultaneously and ensuring that none of the victims could defend themselves. So if it wasn’t a battle between two opponents, maybe this tragedy was the result of a robbery.
With a population of 2 to 300. A fort this size would have contained a lot of valuables, such as gold and animals within its walls, making it a target for marauding thieves. Searching for clues. The archaeologists make some astonishing finds. They unearth five separate deposits of some exquisite, gilded silver brooches.
These were used as a means to fasten one’s tunic around the neckline, but they could also be used to denote status. These brooches would have definitely been valuable. So if this was a robbery, it would have made no sense to not steal them. The archaeologists also find silver attachments for necklaces, cowry shells and glass beads. Jewelry like this is something you would want to keep.
There were also plenty of bones from domestic animals like sheep and dogs. This doesn’t really add up if it’s a robbery. You take what is available and they didn’t take valuable jewelry or animals. Why not? Looking at the massacre site at Sandby Borg, the archaeologists are struck by the fact that not a single victim was ever buried. Neither immediately nor long after the massacre. This is Strange. Why did no one ever bury these bodies?
I mean, ever. No one touched this place after the massacre. The team considers the burial customs of the time. Pre Viking burials in the region were usually comprised of bodies placed in stone and wood lined graves or in pits covered with stone slabs. A proper burial would have been considered an essential rite, one that all men, women and children would have needed in order to access the afterlife.
According to the beliefs of the time. If a body remained unburied, he or she would remain stranded in this world, neither dead nor alive, with no place to go and no grave for their community to pay homage to. Maybe this way they’re destroyed not only physically, but perhaps more importantly, spiritually as well. As archaeologists pore over the bodies, they make a peculiar discovery in one of the skulls.
Inside the mouth of the old man who had fallen across the fire. They find teeth, sheeps, teeth. Four of them. What are sheeps teeth doing inside a man’s mouth? Someone must have placed them there. But why? They come across something known as Charon’s Obol, which was common practice at the time. When people died, their relatives sometimes placed a coin in their mouth, symbolizing the payment that they would need to pay the ferryman when crossing the river from the world of the living into the world of the dead.
So instead of coins to help the poor man cross over to the afterlife, the killers placed sheeps teeth there. This would be a sign of ultimate humiliation. He would have gone like a beggar to the ferryman with nothing to show for his life but sheeps teeth. For someone to do something like this, they would really need to be filled with anger or maybe desperate ambition.
Puzzled by this question. The team continues to dig and discover a cache of beautiful gold coins, but. On closer inspection, they realize that these aren’t just any gold coins. They’re what’s known as Solidi Roman coins that are minted far away in the Roman Empire. This is potentially a huge clue. It means that this community, or more likely the entire island of Ireland, had a link with the Roman Empire. So this is the story of Ancient Skeleton Graveyard Found in Sweden.
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