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Huge Hoard of 1000-year-old Yotvingian Weapons Unearthed in Poland

Huge Hoard of 1000-year-old Yotvingian Weapons Unearthed in Poland

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Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of ancient weapons at a cemetery site in the Suwałki region of eastern Poland.

Dating back around 1,000 years, archaeologists have recovered over 500 swords, spears and knives that once belonged to a long-disappeared tribe of ancient Poland - the Baltic Yotvingians. With strong cultural ties with the Lithuanians and Prussians, the Yotvingians arrived in the Suwałki region in mid-first millennium AD and inhabited territories that now straddle Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.

A Very Unusual Ancient Cemetery

It is known the Yotvingians spoke a language related to Old Prussian before they were eventually absorbed into the larger Slavic and Germanic groups surrounding them. Regarded as great hunters and famed for their warrior culture, the team of archaeologists are describing the location of the new discoveries as “the biggest Yotvingian cemetery from the early Middle Ages .”

Jerzy Siemaszko is an archaeologist from the Suwałki District Museum , and he told reporters that the area is very rich in Yotvingian culture and rituals. According to a report in Poland In , the weapons were discovered in a “very unusual crematory cemetery” where the remains of funeral pyres were dumped along with gifts for the dead in a layer about 20-30 centimeters (8-12 inches) beneath the surface of the ground.

Close-up image of Yotvingian spearheads unearthed at the site in Suwałki, Poland. (Jakub Mikołajczuk / Suwalki Muzeum)

Close-up image of Yotvingian spearheads unearthed at the site in Suwałki, Poland. (Jakub Mikołajczuk / Suwalki Muzeum )

The Teutonic Termination of Yotvingians

In the 5th century BC, Herodotus recorded the ‘Neuri Νευροί’ as a warrior tribe living beyond the Scythian cultivators, and this coincides with the Yotvingian linguistic territory of the Narew River. It is also recorded that in AD 944, during the treaty between the  Kievan Rus ', Prince Igor and the emperor of the Byzantine Empire , the Yotvingians were hired by the Kievan ruler to serve as mercenaries.

In another historic treaty, this time with the Teutonic Knights in 1260, the region inhabited by the Yotvingian was called ‘terre Getuizintarum’ and this ancient culture was finally eradicated by the Teutonic Knights by 1283. However, an 1860s census by the clergy of the Belarus Grodno revealed as many as 30,929 inhabitants still identified with ancient Yatviags.

Map showing the territory of the Yotvingians and other Baltic tribes c. 1200. (MapMaster / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Map showing the territory of the Yotvingians and other Baltic tribes c. 1200. (MapMaster / CC BY-SA 3.0  )

The ‘Most Valuable’… Ever Discovered

The head of the Suwałki District Museum, Jerzy Brzozowski, told Poland In that this discovery was a “truly priceless” cache of jewelry, arms and tools, which were all found in a small area of only 100 cubic meters. Jerzy Siemaszko, another archaeologist from the Suwałki Regional Museum, added that the team of scientists excavated “over 500 artifacts”, which together represents “the most valuable early-medieval cemetery of the Yotvingian culture ever discovered.”

In fact, the find is so important that the archaeologists will not disclose the specific location. They informed press that “tomb raiders” had pillaged the ancient necropolis before they got to it, and they estimate that up to 1000 artifacts were stolen. They are, however, planning a large exhibition in 2020 to showcase the newly discovered artifacts.

What is it With All This Tomb Robbing?

It was only five weeks ago Ancient Origins wrote a news piece about archaeologists in Poland discovering a Germanic warrior’s hoard at a 2,000-year-old burial site, alongside cremation urns and 12 burial pits, dating back to the first century BC, near Kostrzyn (to the east of Poland’s modern-day border with Germany). The team of archaeologists from the  Kostrzyn Fortress Museum  were forced to keep the precise location of the cemetery private, as they were also concerned about illegal treasure hunters raiding the site.

Spearheads, helmets and other items found at the Germanic burial site in Kostrzyn, Poland, earlier this year. (Tempelburg Historical and Cultural Association and Kostrzyn Fortress Museum)

Spearheads, helmets and other items found at the Germanic burial site in Kostrzyn, Poland, earlier this year. (Tempelburg Historical and Cultural Association and  Kostrzyn Fortress Museum

Maybe the most famous case of grave robbing is told in a November 2019 History.com article, when in 1978 two men were charged with having stolen the corpse of the revered film actor Sir Charles Chaplin from a cemetery in the Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, located in the hills above Lake Geneva, near Lausanne, Switzerland.

Chaplin’s widow, Oona, received a ransom demand of $600,000, and after a five-week investigation police arrested two auto mechanics – Roman Wardas (of Poland) and Gantscho Ganev (of Bulgaria), who on May 17 th, 1978 disclosed the whereabouts of Chaplin’s body. It was crudely reburied in a cornfield about one mile from the Chaplin family home in Corsier. Subsequently, the famous comedian’s remains were buried in a concrete grave to prevent future theft attempts, which is something archaeologists could consider to deter modern grave robbers.

Top image:  Yotvingian swords and spearheads unearthed at the site in Suwałki, Poland. Source: Jakub Mikołajczuk / Suwalki Muzeum

By Ashley Cowie

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