Jönköping County Museum

An ancient grave site bore more than the ancient remains archaeologists were expecting. Swedish archaeologists were excavating a 12th century grave when they discovered around 170 silver coins buried in the grave. The excavation occurred near the site of an old church in the Swedish island of Visingsö. The grave is believed to have belonged to a man between 20 and 25 years of age, with the coins dating from 1150 to 1180 AD. Project manager Anna Ödéen described what led to the discovery in a statement. “My colleague Kristina Jansson and I found two skeletons in the shaft where the wires were to be laid. We cleaned out the bones from the buried to get an idea of ​​what the graves looked like.” The pair quickly found there was more to the discovery. “All of a sudden three silver coins appeared! We soon realized that many more were lying close to the buried person’s left foot.”

The coins are known as “bracteates,” jewelry made from thin metal in the shape of a coin. The find is unusual as it was an uncommon practice for Christians to be buried with worldly belongings. “It is rare that finds are made in Christian graves, that custom belongs to prehistoric times and that makes the Visingsö find special,” said the Jönköping County Museum after announcing the find. “The find is very special, partly because there are few similar finds from the time period, partly because some of the coins are completely unknown from before.” “It is a completely sensational find that will change the early medieval coin history in Götaland and shed light on a period that is largely completely unknown,” said Eeva Jonsson of the Royal Coin Cabinet.

Aside from the coins, the excavation also uncovered 24 graves and 20 hearths. 20 graves were found outside the churchyard, making them “unhallowed,” meaning that those individuals were those buried without an “honorable burial.” “During parts of our history, someone who committed suicide could not be given what the church called ‘an honorable burial’ and the same was true for unbaptized children and serious criminals…However, it turned out that it was not just one grave, but many more. All lay in the same direction, well aligned with each other, and at the same depth. It was therefore an organized burial site, where they should also have had a marking above ground,” said Ödéen at a press release.

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