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Archaeologists discovered an ancient Bohemian buckle during their excavations. Here it can be seen after conservation, with textile remnants visible on the head. Source: H. Březinová, R Černochová / Institute of Archaeology of the ASCR

Bohemian Grave Yields Rare and Fascinating Artifacts

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Archaeologists in the Czech Republic have published their findings of a 1,600-year-old grave site discovered in 2019 in what was once eastern Bohemia. If the six graves found, five had already become victim to the vulturous grave robbers, but one belonged to a woman and was found intact with a series of unexpected artifacts.

Unearthing 1,600-Year-Old Grave Treasures

A team of archaeologists working for the Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové,  Czech Republic  in 2019 found a  burial site  that contained six graves of people who likely perished in the late 5th century. In addition to the skeletons, one of the graves was loaded with a profusion of intriguing artifacts, some of which were quite valuable. After many months of careful analysis and cataloging, the archaeologists recently released  the results of their initial study  of these 1,600-year-old  treasures, and of the skeletal remains they accompanied.

Unfortunately, five of the six graves had been thoroughly looted by ancient grave robbers. But miraculously, one of the graves had been left largely untouched. It was determined that this grave contained the skeleton of a woman who was between the ages of 35 and 50 when she died. It was inside this burial plot that  the archaeologists struck gold , both figuratively and literally.

Among the most notable artifacts recovered from the woman’s grave were four silver clasps or buckles, which were inlaid with gold and studded with a mixture of semi-precious stones. They also found an elaborate headdress decorated with multiple gold discs. Two of the clasps had textiles still attached, which the archaeologists believed belonged to the clothing the woman had been dressed in when she was buried in one instance, and to a large cloth or coat she had been covered with before being interred in the other.

The Bohemian buckle was discovered during excavations by a team of archaeologists from the Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové. (Pavel Horník / Institute of Archaeology of the ASCR)

The Bohemian buckle was discovered during excavations by a team of archaeologists from the Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové. (Pavel Horník /  Institute of Archaeology of the ASCR )

Artifacts from Another Era

The other items in the woman’s burial plot were prosaic objects reserved for daily practical use. They included a ceramic pot used for cooking meat (revealed by testing that found traces of embedded fats and acids), a comb made from bone, some glass beads, and an iron knife. Presumably, all these items held some meaning to her and seemed appropriate to include in her burial cache, despite their lack of apparent value. The woman’s body was buried inside a log chamber. Interestingly, the body of an unidentified small animal (a pet?) was found entombed beside her.

It is not known if the silver and gold clasps and headdress were used by the woman when she was alive, or if they had some ceremonial purpose and were reserved for after death. Either way, their adornment with gold and gems suggests the woman may have enjoyed some degree of prominence in her life. Or perhaps they were the only truly valuable items she owned, and her loved ones wanted to make sure she could carry them with her on her long journey into the afterlife.

The Bohemian woman’s grave also contained some everyday objects which allow a window onto life in another era, including this ceramic vessel used for cooking meat. (Romilda Tengeriová / Masaryk University)

The Bohemian woman’s grave also contained some everyday objects which allow a window onto life in another era, including this ceramic vessel used for cooking meat. (Romilda Tengeriová /  Masaryk University )

Further Testing Will Reveal More about Fifth Century Bohemian Life

The preliminary results obtained by the archaeologists revealed a few noteworthy details about the life and lifestyle of the Bohemian woman and her companions. All of the skeletons were in the 16 to 55 age range, which suggests this may have been a family burial plot and that living to 50 and beyond was the equivalent of reaching old age in 5th century central Europe.

In the skeletal remains of one individual there were signs of cancer in the skull and pelvis, and in another differences in the shape of the leg bones indicated that muscle mass was carried asymmetrically, which is consistent with the person having suffered a stroke. Some of the skeletons also showed signs of arthritis. All of the above indicates that the health problems 5th century men and women encountered were not much different than the medical situations people cope with today.

To uncover more details about the people in the  burial plots, the archaeologists plan to conduct  radiocarbon dating  tests, along with a  DNA analysis  and other types of chemical testing procedures. Through the data accumulated, they hope to be able to learn more about the deceased individuals’ ethnic identities and family relationships, about their migration and movement patterns, as well as their dietary habits and their evolution over time.

In Search of Lost Peoples and Hidden Legacies

If radiocarbon dating confirms the individuals buried in these  graves in eastern  Bohemia were interred in the late 5 th century, it would mean they most likely belonged to one of the groups of  Suebic people  who occupied the region at that time. The Suebic Lombards in particular were predominant in  Bohemia until the mid-to-late 6th century, when they began migrating to the west (they were destined to make their biggest impact on the Italian peninsula). It was only after the  Lombards left that the Slavic peoples arrived, beginning an occupancy of the region that would prove to be permanent.

Further study of the artifacts and the skeletons unearthed by Czech archaeologists could reveal much more about what life was like for the occupants of central Europe in the first millennium. Because of migration, most of the descendants of those people are now living elsewhere. But as this latest finding shows, traces of their presence in  Bohemia still remain, either waiting to be discovered or already discovered and waiting to be properly interpreted and understood.

Top image: Archaeologists discovered an ancient Bohemian buckle during their excavations. Here it can be seen after conservation, with textile remnants visible on the head. Source: H. Březinová, R Černochová /  Institute of Archaeology of the ASCR

By Nathan Falde

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