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12th century Crusader sword and a part of the scabbard found in a geothermal pipe trench, Salo, Finland.   Source: Riikka Saarinen / Turku Museum Center/University of Turku

12th Century Crusader Sword Sheds Light on Christianity in Finland

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In the southwestern town of Salo in Finland, a fabulous discovery has emerged, with the potential to reshape experts' understanding of the history of Christianity in Finland. A landowner in Finland, while supervising excavations on his property, stumbled upon a graveyard, an iron sword, and a collection of grave goods believed to originate from Finland's 12th century Crusader Era! This marks the first, verified finding of a burial site originating from the conclusion of the Iron Age in the Salonjoki river valley.

The scabbard of the Crusader sword, along with fragments from the blade of another sword, were also found in the fray, along with human bones, potential remnants of the coffin, and a substantial quantity of iron object fragments. The most remarkable of the finds within the collection is a leather belt adorned with bronze beads, according to a press release by the University of Turku.

Perttel's medieval stone church in Salonjokilaakso. The found Crusade-era mortuary is located in the yard of the house on the left. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku)

Perttel's medieval stone church in Salonjokilaakso. The found Crusade-era mortuary is located in the yard of the house on the left. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku)

Crusader Sword and Belt: Beautiful Remnants

The landowner reached out to Juha Ruohonen, an archaeology professor at the University of Turku. Without delay, Professor Ruohonen contacted Sanna Saunaluoma, the archaeologist in charge of the Salo region at the Turku Museum Center. The very next day, Saunaluoma conducted an inspection visit to the site.

“The sword is a crusader (1050–1150 AD) type with a bar-like, straight hilt and three-sided, plump, oval pommel. The sword was delivered to the conservation unit of the museum center, from where it was transferred to the Museum Office after X-ray imaging,” says Ruohonen.

The leather belt is a treasure trove within itself: thirty square bronze beads intricately embellished with rosette patterns. It also included several cross-shaped pendants, a buckle, numerous animal head fittings, as well as belt dividers.

One of the rosette-patterned bronze ornaments from the Hela belt. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku, archaeology)

One of the rosette-patterned bronze ornaments from the Hela belt. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku, archaeology)

While the leather components of the belt have endured partially, there are also numerous fabric remnants that are linked to the clothing of the deceased, preserved alongside the bronze adornments, explained Ruohonen. Archaeological textile in men’s graves is a rarity, which makes this find even more exciting, reports Arkeonews.

Medieval Stone Church: Changing the Timeline of Christianity in Finland?

The graves were unearthed near a medieval stone church. The deceased individuals were interred with Christian customs, and as Ruohonen points out, the site's proximity to this church suggests the existence of a much earlier ecclesiastical presence in the area, challenging previous assumptions. The establishment of the Pertteli parish church had previously been dated to the 15th century.

A grave pattern located on the wall of the pipe trench. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku, Archaeology)

A grave pattern located on the wall of the pipe trench. (Juha Ruohonen / University of Turku, Archaeology)

This discovery has the potential to shed light on Finland's Crusader Era. Around 1150 AD, the First Swedish Crusade introduced Christianity to Finland, although there is no archaeological evidence of these early encounters, with the first written records emerging in the 13th century. Many scholars have regarded it as a myth.

Given that certain regions of Finland were already Christianized by the 12th century, it remains uncertain whether the Crusade had any impact on the region where the graveyard was found, or even if it genuinely occurred. Nonetheless, archaeologists anticipate that this discovery will provide valuable insights and answers to these historical questions, reports The Heritage Daily.

“The observation can be considered very significant from a research point of view, because cremation cemeteries from the time of the Crusades are clearly less known in Finland than cremation cemeteries that preceded them in time. So far, this is also the only confirmed burials dating to the end of the Iron Age from the Salon or Uskelanjoki valley. Also notable, is the fact that the deceased have been buried in the cemetery with Christian customs,” as per the press release.

Research on these discoveries is set to continue, with ongoing investigations expected to extend at least until the early months of 2024. To establish precise dating, radiocarbon analysis is being conducted on the recovered bone samples. For now, the leather belt and a knife sheath are undergoing X-ray examination, further analysis, and conservation efforts, as we learn more.

Top image: 12th century Crusader sword and a part of the scabbard found in a geothermal pipe trench, Salo, Finland.   Source: Riikka Saarinen / Turku Museum Center/University of Turku

By Sahir Pandey

References

Altuntas, L. 2023.  Crusade period grave field and a sword discovered in Finland. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/crusade-period-grave-field-and-a-sword-discovered-in-finland/.

Aton, F. 2023.  Crusader Era Cemetery and Sword Discovered in Finlandhttps://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/crusader-era-cemetery-sword-discovered-finland-1234682759/.

Johnson, C. 2023.  Excavations In Finland Just Unearthed A Sword And Graveyard From The Crusader Era. Available at: https://allthatsinteresting.com/crusader-graveyard-finland.

Milligan, M. 2023.  ARCHAEOLOGISTS FIND CRUSADER ERA CEMETERY AND SWORD. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2023/10/archaeologists-find-crusader-era-cemetery-and-sword/148881.

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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