Grave of a heavily armed warrior

This man was buried around 1,300 years ago along with his impressive arsenal of weapons. © Christoph Bassler, City of Ingelheim

Unfortunately, grave robbers have often rummaged and looted everything - but not in this case: in Ingelheim am Rhein, archaeologists came across the untouched grave of a man from the mysterious Merovingian period. As they report, it was obviously a warrior: he was buried around 1,300 years ago with his impressive arsenal of weapons. The find provides insights into the equipment and burial methods in the era of the “Dark Ages,” say the experts.

The city of Ingelheim am Rhein is particularly famous for its connection with Charlemagne: around the year 800, the emperor from the Carolingian family had a palatinate built in this place - a complex of buildings in which he temporarily resided during his tours through his empire . The impressive remains of this complex can be viewed today and the Kaiserpfalz Research Center has been specially established to ensure their preservation and further study. Since 2015, an excavation team from the facility has been exploring archaeological traces in Ingelheim that date from the time before the expansion into the Imperial Palace. It is a burial ground in the area of ​​the Rotweinstrasse, which dates back to the Merovingian era. It extended from the 5th century to the year 751 and thus covered the turbulent transition period from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages.

What the grave robbers missed

As the Kaiserpfalz Research Center reports, the excavations on Rotweinstraße uncovered numerous graves that had already been looted in the Middle Ages. The robbers stole everything valuable, including metal objects, and ransacked the resting places. But then the team finally came across the burial with the finding number 447. “When the edge of a shield boss came to light, it was not clear at first whether it belonged to one of the disturbed graves or to one that had not yet been discovered,” reports excavation manager Christoph Bassler from the Kaiserpfalz Research Center. “So we continued to dig carefully until it was clear: Between two robbed burials, we actually discovered a completely untouched grave that the grave robbers had overlooked for some reason,” said the archaeologist.

The investigations revealed that this is the resting place of a 30 to 40 year old man. The close-fitting and slightly upward-drawn shoulders of the skeleton - the so-called coffin posture - prove that the deceased was once buried in a wooden coffin, of which nothing remains. As it turned out, the medieval grave robbers had missed out on a big haul. Because the man was buried with an impressive arsenal of weapons.

The most impressive addition was a so-called spatha, a double-edged sword, which was placed next to the dead man's right arm. “The length of the spathe blade is around 75 centimeters, the entire sword including the hilt and pommel is around 93 centimeters long,” reports Bassler. “The blade is even slightly flexible, which indicates an exceptionally good state of preservation,” says the early medieval expert happily. Other metal elements that belonged to the sword have also been preserved: parts of the bronze scabbard as well as fragments of the suspension and the belt.

Martially equipped

The dead man was also equipped with a heavy, short cutting sword - a so-called broadsax, of which the blade and the bronze rivets of the scabbard were discovered. The heavy armament was rounded off by a massive knife and a lance, the tip of which has at least been preserved. Along with the shield, the deceased had virtually every weapon in use at the time, with the exception of a bow. So far, stylistic features such as the flat shield boss with a wide edge and the massive sax point to the 7th century, writes the Imperial Palatinate Research Center.

According to the equipment, the deceased was probably a warrior. But he was not a professional soldier in the modern sense, because there was no standing army in the early Middle Ages, the experts explain. Instead, every free man had to follow his leader when called to battle. He had to provide his own equipment. The impressive weaponry therefore suggests that its owner was correspondingly wealthy during his lifetime. Another interesting aspect of the grave is that everything is still there as it was placed around 1,300 years ago. The experts say that the find provides evidence of burial customs in the Merovingian period.

As the Kaiserpfalz Research Center finally reports, all finds are currently being cleaned and examined in more detail. There may still be silver inlays, so-called inlays, hidden under the layers of rust on the weapons. Such details could make it possible to narrow down the date of the grave even further. In addition, analyzes of the human remains should provide clues as to what caused the man's death. Given the equipment, a combat injury seems conceivable. The responsible department head of Ingelheim am Rhein, Eveline Breyer, is also pleased about the discovery and hopes for further interesting findings: “This extraordinary find could help us to better understand the oldest society in Ingelheim,” says Breyer.

Source: Kaiserpfalz Research Center

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