Jõelähtme gravestone yields riddle of indecipherable text

The mystery Jõelähtme headstone.
The mystery Jõelähtme headstone. Source: ERR

A tombstone inscribed with a number of indecipherable symbols at a church in Jõelähtme, near Tallinn, has had archaeology enthusiasts scratching their heads, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Monday. The headstone may date from any time between the late 16th century and the 18th century, and may have marked the resting place of a turncoat Russian soldier.

Adding to the mystery is the apparent fact the gravestone (pictured) was later used to support a table.

While the theory has started spreading via the mass media that the symbols represent an earlier type of Estonian writing, perhaps the original script, experts consider this unlikely, AK reported.

Historian Ivar Leimus told AK that: "There are characters on it which seem to be in two languages. First of all, they resemble Cyrillic, albeit that kind of sloppily hand-written archaic Cyrillic. Second, there is at least one word written clearly in Latin, and that word is ANNO, meaning year."

The headstone is likely made of local limestone. There was likely an encircled cross on top of the stone, as its edge has been preserved.

"Pieces of 'wheeled crosses' are still found in the church gardens in the Pae area," construction archaeologist Villu Kadakas said (Pae is the Estonian word for limestone – ed.).

"You can find these inside churchyards. In this case, the headstone comes from the floor of an auxiliary building. There will likely be more and more of them, and you can certainly search for such stones and their strange inscriptions," he went on.

The headstone had emerged in the course of normal gardening work in the churchyard, when it started to appear from under the sod.

There used to be a barn on the site where the stone was found, meaning it probably used as a floor stone for the barn at one point.

Margus Kirja, a Jõelähtme parish clergyman, said: "We have a map from the middle of the 19th century, and on this map it can be seen that the barn belonging to the old church is turned at a right angle towards the parochial house and lay along the point from where this stone appeared."

The stone probably dates from the 16th or 17th century and was likely originally erected to mark the grave of a Russian soldier, AK reported.

"Such stones were made for those Russian soldiers who, for some reason or occasion, had changed sides, when we assume that this stone is from the 16th-17th century. But it could be from a time, given this ANNO is written with such "n"-letters that resemble somewhat of a renaissance font, dating from the end of the 16th century. or the first half of the 17th century," Leimus said..

Although the find has already caused a lot of talk and various theories both in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe, according to archaeologists, it must be taken into account that the full truth and what the "Da Vinci Code"-like characters etched in stone may really mean is likely never to be known.

The original AK segment (in Estonian) is here.

Conflicts in the region during the period in question included the Livonian War (1558–1583), the Polish–Swedish wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the Great Northern War  (1700–1721).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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