People living around Gulf of Finland had close links 800 years ago

The lord of Kukruse probably spoke Northern Estonian, but his vocabulary may have been intertwined with loan words from the Votian language.
The lord of Kukruse probably spoke Northern Estonian, but his vocabulary may have been intertwined with loan words from the Votian language. Source: University of Tartu

Bones and antiquities found in the village of Kukruse suggest that the people of Northern Estonia and those living on the southern coast of Finland had close trade connections with each other, as long as 800 years ago, ERR's Novaator portal reports.

When researching archaeological material, each individual detail determines the overall picture. In order to see the whole, it is not only important to determine how the finds are situated in the ground in relation to each other, but also what the purpose and the usage of these ancient objects was, what was the human genetic code and how society functioned. These elements help us better understand the activities people were engaged with, the life they were living, their worldview and their self-perception.

Language plays an important role in shaping our way of thinking. The world around us also affects our language. Language is the basis for understanding each other, connecting people living far apart. The study of languages ​​spoken in the past is based on historical written sources and on oral tradition that has been passed down to us. So we know that the village of Kukruse was originally called Kuckarus.

But what was the language spoken among the Kukruse people? We know Kukruse is geographically located in northeastern Estonia, and in the 12th-13th centuries, around the time Kukruse people lived, who carried a similar material culture and probably spoke a similar northern Estonian language lived further to the west of the village of Kukruse.

To the east of Kukruse village, however, a lot of archeological material typical of Votian culture has been found, which is why it can be assumed that the Votian language was spoken there. More objects similar to the western finds were found in Kukruse cemetery, but also some Votian-like objects. Therefore, it can be assumed that the village was bordering between two language groups.

Apparently, Kukruse people spoke northern Estonian, but their vocabulary may have been intertwined with loan words from the Votian language. Did they distinguish between two different languages? What is certain, however, is that their language was rich - the material finds at the cemetery are abundant, and all these objects of their material culture had to have a word assigned to them!

To make sense of the lives of people who have lived in the past just a few details are not enough; it is also necessary to grasp the entire socio-cultural background and their value-system. Genetic data allows us to determine several early migration patters: For example, the movement of Finno-Ugric people from their origins in the Ural Mountains to the Baltic Sea. We can see from the remains of the man from Kukruse that in his veins flowed both the blood of hunter-gatherers and Baltic Finns.

Stable isotopes analysis of bones and of fat molecules found on cooking pots help to recreate their diets and daily lives. In the case of the lord of Kukruse finding and also other men excavated from the cemetery, what becomes evident that fish was an important part of their diet.

However, the village of Kukruse was not a fishing village. Their life as farmers  is also confirmed by the food of Kukruse women that consisted primarily of land products such as milk and porridge. Thus, the role that Kukruse men played in their village took them on frequent expeditions, where the most easily available food was fish.

According to one theory, the men of Kukruse crossed the Gulf on the southern coast of Finland in search of trade partners. This means that they crossed the bay with items of interest to the people of the other side or brought something of their liking back.

The discovered puzzle pieces help to put together a portrait of the young man of Kukruse. Knowing that there were similar finds in cemeteries across Estonia, we can talk about the history of peoples of Estonia based on the example of the Kukruse man.

This is not just the story of the man of Kukruse or the village of Kukruse. The individual knowledge gaps that emerged from archeology, archaeological chemistry, genetics and linguistics help to capture the whole picture of the past more accurately; but honestly, they also raise a number of new questions.

The new questions raised by the research are on the one hand a research pain, but on the other a research pleasure.

If we knew everything about the past, there would be nothing left to discover.

The approximately 800-year-old Kukruse Cemetery was discovered in 2009 in the village of the same name, during the construction of the Tallinn-Narva highway section.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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