An iron sword, a leather belt, and eight graves found in the southwestern town of Salo may redefine what experts know about the history of Christianity in Finland.
A landowner in Finland recently came across a stunning find while overseeing excavations on his property: a graveyard, an iron sword, and numerous other grave goods likely dating to the country’s 12th-century Crusader Era.
The unnamed man was having geothermal pipes installed on his land in the town of Salo, which required workers to dig a large trench. After a day of rain in August, the property owner noticed a piece of iron sticking out of one of the excavated mounds of dirt — and pulled out an entire sword.
He called Juha Ruohonen, an archaeology instructor at the University of Turku, who reported the discovery to the Turku Museum Center. In September, Ruohonen began further excavating the site, uncovering a trove of medieval history that is completely changing what historians know about Christianity in Finland.
The sword itself is rusty but whole, with a straight hilt and an oval pommel atop its bent blade. Archaeologists also found its scabbard and fragments from what may be the blade of another sword.
Then, they unearthed eight graves — and they believe there are more. In fact, the pattern along the trench suggests there may be as many as 200 graves in the vicinity.
The human remains were found in wooden coffins, and researchers are carrying out radiocarbon dating on the bones to confirm their age. However, archaeologists currently believe the site dates between 1050 and 1150 C.E.
“This is the first definite discovery of a burial ground dating from the end of the Iron Age in the Salon or Uskelanjoki valley,” the University of Turku announced in a press release.
The 900-year-old sword wasn’t the only astonishing artifact that archaeologists found in the graves, however. One of the bodies had been buried with a leather belt that held 30 bronze pendants with rosette patterns as well as several cross-shaped pendants.
Per the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Ruohonen noted, “The whole belt also included a buckle, several end tips, animal-head decorations, and strap dividers. The leather parts of the belt were fully preserved. In addition, the bronze ornaments still show plenty of fragments of attached fabric, remnants of the clothing of the deceased.”
The University of Turku explained that it’s “very rare” to find archaeological textiles in men’s graves. Researchers at the Turku Museum Center now plan to carry out X-rays on the belt to learn more about it.
But while the sword and the belt promise to offer up new insight into Finnish history, it’s the graveyard that may change everything experts know about Christianity in the country.
The graves were unearthed near a church, and the deceased were buried with Christian customs. Ruohonen noted, “The location of the site, in the immediate vicinity of a medieval stone church, can be considered as evidence of a much earlier church organization in the area than previously believed. It had been thought that Pertteli parish church was established… in the 15th century.”
Indeed, this discovery may help historians untangle the mystery of Finland’s Crusader Era. Around 1150 C.E., Swedes are said to have brought Christianity to Finland in what’s known as the First Swedish Crusade. However, there is no archaeological evidence of these encounters, and the first written records of the venture are from the 13th century. Many academics believe it was a myth.
Parts of Finland were already Christianized by the 12th century, so it’s unclear whether the Crusade had any impact on the region in which the graveyard was found — if it even took place — but archaeologists hope that this discovery will help answer more questions.
“The observation can be considered very significant from a research point of view,” noted the university, “as mortuary cemeteries from the time of the Crusades are clearly less known in Finland than cremation cemeteries that preceded them in time.”
For now, experts will continue to carry out research on the site and the artifacts discovered within until at least early 2024.
After reading about the Crusade-era sword and graveyard unearthed in Finland, discover the 4,400-year-old staff shaped like a snake that archaeologists found in the country. Then, learn about the Bronze Age sword discovered on the Spanish island of Mallorca.