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Fragments of 100 Viking swords unearthed at 2 findspots in N Estonia

BC, Tallinn, 30.09.2019.Print version

Archaeologists have discovered fragments of about a hundred Viking swords, constituting the biggest find of Viking swords in Estonia to date, in two finds unearthed in a coastal area of North Estonia at the end of last year, informed LETA/BNS.


The two finds located not far from each other were discovered in a coastal area of North Estonia, in the territory of the ancient Estonian county of Ravala, late last fall. 


Mauri Kiudsoo, archaeologist and keeper of the archaeological research collection of Tallinn University, told  that the two finds located just 80 meters apart date from the middle of the 10th century and are in great probability cenotaphs -- grave markers dedicated to people buried elsewhere.


The finds consisted of dozens and dozens of items, mostly fragments of swords, but also a few spearheads. 


The reason why the finds unearthed on the north coast of Ravala do not contain whole swords according to Kiudsoo lies in the burial customs of the time. Namely, it is characteristic of finds of the territory of Estonia from that period that weapons were put into the grave as grave goods in "killed" form, that is, broken or rendered unusable in another manner.


Kiudsoo added that a big number of fragments is characteristic of Viking-era weapon finds in Estonia. 


While the Ravala finds constitute the biggest find of Viking-era weapon fragments in Estonia, more important according to Kiudsoo is the fact that the grips of the swords allow us to determine more precisely when exactly different types of swords were in use in the territory of Estonia and also to specify the period of use of H-shaped double-edged swords in Estonia. 


Archaeologists in northern Europe use the typology of the Viking sword by Norwegian researcher Jan Petersen, which uses capital letters to designate the type of grip and a number to designate the sub-type. Of type H sword, the most common grip type of the Viking era, over 700 units have been found in northern Europe and tens of fragments of swords of that type were contained in the Ravala find. 


Kiudsoo observed that by 1991, eight more or less intact type H swords and about 20 fragments of such swords had been discovered in Estonia. By now, the number of such swords or sword fragments found here has risen to about one hundred. The overwhelming majority of the Estonian finds have come to light on the country's North Coast, which lies by the most important  remote trade route of the Viking era. 


"Type H double-edged sword can be called a symbol of the Viking era," Kiudsoo said.


The Ravala finds also contain some fragments of type E and type V swords, which are less common.


Speaking of type V swords, slightly over one hundred such swords have been found across Europe, including seven in Estonia. Type E swords, of which some 150 have been found in northern Europe, Russia and Ukraine, are represented by one "killed" sword found at Pussi and grip fragments of five more swords in the Estonian find material to date. The fragments of at least four swords of that type were discovered at the Ravala findspots and it is possible that this number will increase in the course of conservation, Kiudsoo said.


According to Kiudsoo, the Ravala finds allow to specify when type H swords, the most common sword type of the Viking era, were used in Estonia. In Scandinavia, Finland and Russia swords of that type were in use equally in the 9th and 10th centuries. Based on the Estonian find material to date, it could be concluded that type H swords were in use here mainly in the first half of the 9th century.


Type V swords were in use in the 10th century, and according to several researchers rather in the second half of that century. Type E swords were in use at the end of the ninth century and in the 10th century. 


Since the Ravala finds date from the middle of the 10th century and contain numerous fragments of type E and type V swords in addition to fragments of type H swords, these finds for the first time prove that type H swords were in use in the territory of Estonia also in the 10th century, Kuidsoo said.    

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