The Grave Is Now Open
[WED JUN 14 2017; B2-B3; ’Hauta auki,’ Sanna Heinonen]
* In 2013, the grave of a swordsman was found in Janakkala, creating a small sensation in the world of museums.
* Now, archeologists from Stockholm are figuring out the diet of the 14th century man, studying the teeth and the pieces of stomach found in the grave.
* The remains of the swordsman are on display for a year at the Museum Centre Vapriikki.
”My father, I have visited the Underworld. Our ancestors spoke to me, they fear the future, that none will come to visit them and bring them offerings. They will starve and wither away, and will not be able to help us, and this will be the curse of our bloodline.
Thus, they bade me to retrieve the sword and a handful of earth from the old cemetery, and here they are. I went to gather them just last night, when the moon was full.
You must also take the other sword, your hereditary sword passed down from your own grandfather. Then, it will not matter that you are buried in accordance with the demands of the priests, with no cremation.”
These were the words of the swordsman’s fictitious daughter at her father’s grave in the Museum Centre Vapriikki. The story devised by archeologist Kreetta Lesell seeks answers to the mystery of the grave. The treasures found in the grave, and the mysteries behind them, are for the first time on public display.
However, let us go back to October 2013. The time when a group of metal detector enthusiasts Kanta-Hämeen menneisyyden etsijät (Seekers of the Past of Kanta-Häme), gathered on the fields of Hyvikkälä, detectors in hand.
They detected a concentration of findings, including a piece of a spearhead, an iron axe, and a cauldron handle. Under these items they found yet another: a 20-centimeter piece of a sword blade.
The findings were immediately reported to the Finnish National Board of Antiquities, from which people came down to the site the very next day.
Surprisingly, the grave contained two swords on top of each other. The other sword was visibly much older than the other.
The pair of swords lay on top of the coffin, on the right side of the deceased. Radiocarbon dating reveals the swordsman to have died around the year 1300. By that point, Christian burial customs had already largely taken over in Finland, but in Häme, there was still some resistance.
The longer, 120 centimeter sword is dated to the end of the Crusades. However, the other sword is dated all the way to the Viking Age, around 950-1050. It is a mystery why both swords were buried with the man. Perhaps he was taught to require extra protection in the afterlife.
The older sword had marks caused by intense heat, so it had clearly been burned before. Stones and burned pieces of bone had also been put on top of the grave. The deceased was not cremated, which is contradictory to Viking customs.
The grave is made peculiar by the fact that it is a mix of Christian and paganistic burial customs.
In the museum exhibition, the swordsman is called the last pagan of Häme. It is clear that the area of Häme was slow to accept Christianity. Perhaps this burial is a sign of persistent paganism.
– This finding is such a unique one because the grave is so well preserved. There are so few graves that are in a condition to be properly studied, says archeologist Lesell.
Now the swordsman is being studied in the archeological laboratory of Stockholm University.
– We’re hoping that the DNA and isotope tests will reveal the contents of his stomach, for example. It is possible to learn that by studying the stomach and the teeth. If we do get such results, it will further increase the value of the finding.
The results could be a long time off, Lesell is unable to evaluate how long it will be.
After the exhibition, the swords will return to the Board of Antiquities.
– It would be great to display the swords near their home, but it would require exactly the right conditions to preserve them, ponders Lesell.
The Janakkala swords are currently on display in Tampere at the Vapriikki Museum Centre’s Birckala 1017 exhibition. The exhibition will last at least until autumn 2018.