Double Medieval child burial, one Pagan, one Christian, mystifies German researchers
Archaeologists say the circumstances of the death and double burial of two little children who died in Medieval Frankfurt, Germany, will probably never be known. One of the children had an apparently royal Merovingian, Christian burial, and the other a pagan Scandinavian burial. The children were honored many years after their death by careful placement of a royal chapel around their grave.
Their remains were found in 1992, and archaeologists are just now releasing the results of the scientific examination of the bodies and gravesite. The team announced the children were buried sometime between 700 and 730 AD. The grave is in a priest’s residence, the priory of a tiny church at what later would become the Frankfurt Cathedral in the 1300s.
The west tower of the Frankfurt Imperial Cathedral, under which were interred two Medieval children, one with a Christian burial the other a pagan burial. (Photo by :edelecs/ Wikimedia Commons )
In 855 a palace chapel at the site built by King Louis II was aligned exactly with the grave, leading the researchers to conclude the children were honored long after their deaths. It may have been an accident of design, but the children’s graves were also aligned with the Frankfurt Cathedral, which was built in the 1200s.
The research team, led by Professor Egan Wamers of the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum, published the results of their findings in a book. The book is in German and is available for sale .
The Local, a German newspaper, reports Wamers as saying the researchers don’t know why the children were honored in this way with the burial and the later architectural consideration given their grave.
The floor plan of the Frankfurt Cathedral, showing in dark red near the center the building where the children’s remains were buried. (Graphic by the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum)
“One can assume they played a significant role in this aristocratic class in Frankfurt,” he said. “... We know of a number of these Adelsheiligen [noble saints] in the early Middle Ages. Educated, high-class people had easier access to saintly status.”
The girl’s high status was clearly evident by the clothing she was dressed in, including a tunic and shawl; and jewelry for her ears, fingers, arms, neck and chest made of gold, silver, bronze and precious stones.
The other child had a necklace that was a copy of a Scandinavian amulet. That and the fact that the cremated remains were mixed with bear bones show close ties between northern Europe and the Germanic tribes. These ties, The Local says, had been developing in the 7 th century AD.
While archaeologists have been excavating in Frankfurt for many years, the medieval history of the city remains a mystery. This photo, which shows the first city walls, was taken in 1906. ( Wikimedia Commons )
It is possible the two children had been promised to each other for marriage, Wamers said. But he added that researchers can only speculate about this strange burial. This is the first burial ever found in Frankfurt from before Charlemagne’s Great Synod of 794 AD. Wamers said it is unlikely the world will ever know the circumstances of the deaths and burial of the two children.
The settlement of Franconofurd, as it was known, was important from at least the time of the Roman Empire. Frankish kings held itinerant court and built on the hilltop site, which was on an important trade route with north-south and east-west axes.
The archaeology and therefore the lives of the early medieval people of Franconofurd are wrapped in mystery. Archaeologists intend to dig around the cathedral complex where there was once a royal palace. They hope to find worked precious metal, especially from the 9 th and 10 th centuries.
"We have very few high-value finds, like Carolingian swords or graves of men, almost nothing in Frankfurt made of metal that could give us more information about what was going on here,” Wamers said.
Featured image: Main: The west tower of the Frankfurt Imperial Cathedral, under which were interred two Medieval children, one with a Christian burial the other a pagan burial. ( Wikipedia). Inset: An artist's impression of how the girl found buried under the cathedral might have looked. Image: Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt.
By Mark Miller