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One of the rare amber rings found in a 1,000-year-old grave in Poland. Source: Jerzy Sikora

1,000-Year-Old Chamber Burial on Polish Island Reveals Rare Treasures

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A 1,000-year-old grave on a remote island in northern Poland has been found to be richly furnished with grave goods, some of them extremely rare. Two amber rings, a bronze bowl, an iron knife in a leather holder and bronze buckles were found in the grave of a man near the village of Ostrowite, who lived between the 11th and 12th centuries, reports The First News .

This is not the first time that ancient burials have been unearthed at the site at Ostrowite, which lies in Poland’s Pomeranian Voivodeship. Two burials with bronze bowls were found earlier, one in 2007 by a farmer working in his field and another by archaeologists in 2010. As fragments of bronze bowls continued to be found throughout the site, archaeologists decided to work with volunteer teams with metal detectors to pinpoint where to dig for other graves in 2020 and 2021.

In 2020 they discovered an east-west orientated grave (Tomb 80) with a bronze bowl at the legs of a dead man. According to The History Blog , only men were buried with bronze bowls in the Middle Ages in Poland. The latest grave found at the site (Tomb 81) in 2021 was furnished not only with a bronze bowl, thus indicating that it had a male interred in it, but with many more expensive items.  This, along with its size, has led archaeologists to conclude that it is the grave of a local Pomeranian elite.

The latest grave found at the site was furnished not only with a bronze bowl, thus indicating that it had a male interred in it, but with many more expensive items such as two amber rings. (Jerzy Sikora)

The latest grave found at the site was furnished not only with a bronze bowl, thus indicating that it had a male interred in it, but with many more expensive items such as two amber rings. (Jerzy Sikora )

Tomb 81 and Its Treasure

Dr. Jerzy Sikora from the University of Łódź, who has been leading the excavations at Ostrowite for years, said: “The deceased was most likely a representative of one of the local Pomeranian elites.”

Measuring 9.7 feet (3 meters) in length and 5 feet (1.5 meters) in width, the grave is larger than the average bronze bowl graves in the area (8x3 feet or 2.4x0.9 meters), which also suggests it is an elite grave. While the material it was constructed from hasn’t survived, its shape and size indicate that it was a wooden chamber grave built like a large chest or a small house.

A chamber grave is a kind of tomb found in ancient cultures across the world and when used for an individual burial, is believed to signify a higher status for the deceased than an ordinary grave.

The bronze bowl was found at the foot of the dead man, with two fragments of wood resting on top of it. Archaeologists don’t attribute any funerary significance to the pieces of wood and believe they have fallen in from the wooden roof of the tomb. Other organic remnants found on the bowl and its underside include traces of textile and leather, probably from the man’s clothing and shoes, preserved by the copper oxide of the bowl.

The bronze bowl was found at the foot of the dead man. (Jerzy Sikora)

The bronze bowl was found at the foot of the dead man . ( Jerzy Sikora )

The Rare Amber Rings

Also found inside the grave were two amber finger rings. One ring was found where the fingers of the right hand, which haven’t survived, would have been. The other is on a finger of the left hand on the other side of the body. Amber rings are not commonly found in graves and finding two in one grave is very unusual. The First News says, quoting Dr. Sikora,

“What is remarkable is the fact that there are two almost identical rings symmetrically located in relation to the axis of the body. And added to that, they are from amber. The situation is unique. I don’t know of any similar burials.”

Two almost identical rings were symmetrically located in relation to the axis of the body. (Jerzy Sikora)

Two almost identical rings were symmetrically located in relation to the axis of the body. ( Jerzy Sikora )

Another artifact recovered from the grave was an iron knife in a leather sheath with bronze fittings. The sheath also has organic textile remnants on its surface. The organic remains on both the bowl and knife sheath will be analyzed. Two coin fragments were also found in the grave.

A Christian Burial

Archaeologists believe that the person was Christian because he was interred and not consigned to flames. The east-west orientation of the body also points to a Christian burial. Dr. Sikora said that in the absence of written sources, it is difficult to ascertain whether the region was already under the influence of the Piast dynasty. The Piasts were the first dynasty of monarchs in Poland and they ruled between 930 and 1370 AD.

According to The First News , Dr. Sikora said, “Ostrowite, where the newest discovery was made, was an important, but local centre of rule, which functioned from the 11th to the 14th century. It was quite a developed residential complex with a settlement on a nearby island, which, at least until around 1160, was joined together with the bank with the help of a wooden bridge, but it is almost certain that it was already functioning earlier.”

Given that bronze bowl fragments have been found all over the Ostrowite site ever since the first grave was accidentally found there in 2007, it is hoped that archaeologists will soon discover more exciting material remains to piece together the story of this early medieval settlement.

The discovery was made on an island near the village of Ostrowite in northern Poland. (Jerzy Sikora)

The discovery was made on an island near the village of Ostrowite in northern Poland. ( Jerzy Sikora )

Top Image: One of the rare amber rings found in a 1,000-year-old grave in Poland. Source: Jerzy Sikora

By Sahir Pandey

References

Konopka, B. 2022 . Island grave reveals 1,000-year-old treasure trove of ‘elite’ jewellery including a solid amber ring . Available at: https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/island-grave-reveals-1000-year-old-treasure-trove-of-elite-jewellery-including-a-solid-amber-ring-27088.

The History Blog. 2022. Medieval Pomerian elite burial with bronze bowl, amber rings found in Poland . Available at: http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/63047.

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