Buried Face Down with a Bag of Coins: Mysterious 17th Century Grave Discovered in Switzerland
An unexpected discovery awaited workers as they began to build a new underground garage near a cemetery wall in the Swiss town of Schüpfen: the subsoil was full of human skeletons. They were actually warned that something like this could happen because it was known that the plot of land was used as a burial ground in the Middle Ages. In fact, archaeologists located up to 342 bodies at the site dating from the 8th-17th centuries.
But the Spanish newspaper ABC explains that neither workers nor researchers were prepared to discover the remains of a man who was placed face down in his grave a little away from the other burials. They found a knife and the remains of a bag or purse alongside his skeleton. In addition, 24 corroded coins which form a single compact block of metal, were discovered.
The surprised specialists have developed various hypotheses in an attempt to explain the man’s strange burial position. Some believe that the burial had to be done in a hurry, leaving no time to prepare the body. If the body had been washed, as was customary by that time, the bag would have been removed. Is it possible that this man died from an infectious disease - requiring his immediate burial?
24 coins have been identified in this corroded metal block which was found with the human remains. (ABC/Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern)
Coins are a great source of valuable information. Therefore, archaeologists examined the deceased’s bag, which was placed under his chest, in more detail: the passing of the years had caused the leather to decompose and corroded the coins to form a single solid and compact block. The experts wanted to observe the coins individually, but they are extremely brittle and could not be separated without turning to dust.
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"The block of coins is not very big, but it absorbs a lot of energy, so we needed a very powerful X-ray source," Mathieu Plamondon, a specialist from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) explained. [Via ABC]
Thus, the scientific team resorted to using a computer tomograph X-ray which has the kind of power that was needed and a powerful high-resolution detector - capable of resolutions in the micrometer range, even with samples of dimensions up to 10 cm (3.94 inches). They were able to identify 24 coins: some with a seal on just one side and others on both sides. They were even able to observe that some of the coins were made of two different metals - some with an alloy of copper and silver. One, however, was minted in pure silver. Despite the severe corrosion, it was also possible to see images in relief and the text of individual coins.
Due to the corrosion of the coins, the scientific team resorted to using a computer tomograph X-ray which has the kind of power that was needed and a powerful high-resolution detector. (ABC/Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern)
Of the coins that had the year of manufacture recorded on them, the most recent are from 1629, so the man must have been buried after that date.
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"He may have been a traveling merchant, as we have found coins from different regions. Overall, the coins are actually only a small sum. There is nothing in the bag of a value equivalent to, say, a hundred francs today,” explained Christian Weiss, numismatic expert who works for the Archaeological Service of the Swiss canton of Bern.
It is also considered unlikely that someone took the most valuable coins and left those of a lower value, which rules out murder associated with robbery. However, it does not exclude other reasons for a possible murder, such as revenge. In the end, the researchers are still wondering if they may someday discover the reason why the man was buried in such a strange position.
Top Image: Photo of the skeleton that was recently discovered of a man who was buried face down in 17th century Switzerland. (ABC/Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern)
By Mariló T. A.
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es and has been translated with permission.