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Graves of Slavic Warlords

Badger Digs Up Graves of Slavic Warlords

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A badger living in the countryside near the town of Stolpe in Germany has uncovered a remarkable site: the 12th-century burial ground of eight people, two of whom were Slavic warlords.

Archaeologists sometimes spend years planning digs, studying historical references, maps and manuscripts, and carefully excavating an area to uncover treasures. But the latest discovery was made by a common mammal which often infuriates gardeners by digging up a prized vegie patch.

Two sculptors who live in the area had been watching a badger digging a large den. Upon closer examination, they noticed a pelvic bone inside the sett (den). "We pushed a camera into the badger's sett and took photos by remote control," Hendrikje Ring, one of the sculptors said. "We found pieces of jewellery, retrieved them and contacted the authorities."

The area was then excavated by archaeologists who found the graves of eight people. One warlord was buried with a two-edged sword and a large bronze bowl at his feet. Such bowls were used for washing hands before a meal and its presence in the grave indicates the individual belonged to the upper class. The same warrior also wore an elegant bronze belt buckle in the shape of an omega, with the head of a stylized snake at each end. Scars and bone breaks suggest that he had sustained war injuries and had also fallen from a horse.

Another grave held the skeleton of a woman with a coin in her mouth. According to ancient religious beliefs, people were often buried with coins to pay a ferryman to transport them across the river that separated the living world from the realm of the dead.

The finding of the medieval graves relate to a place and time of conflict between heathen Slavic tribes and Christians. The pre-Christian Slavs believed in a hierarchy of gods and spirits, some benevolent and others malevolent, which governed every aspect of their lives and required the expenditure of much effort through private and public worship and ritual. The ancient Slavic religion was quite naturalistic and, in contrast to Christianity, contained no doctrine, creeds, or scriptures and did not require any system of specific conduct. As elsewhere when paganism encountered Christianity it fiercely resisted but was eventually overtaken.

By April Holloway

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