Tallinn archaeological dig yields finds up to 1,500 years old

Some of the finds from the Realkool dig.
Some of the finds from the Realkool dig. Source: ERR

A fascinating haul of artifacts found within a 1,500 square-meter plot of land and covering a swathe of Tallinn's history several centuries long is now being wrapped up.

Archaeologist Rivo Bernotas noted the wealth of finds is now petering out, after excavating to a depth of three meters.

"We've reached the natural soil layer. Strata related to human activity and of archaeological interest will no longer be emerging," Bernotas told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" earlier this week.

In any case, thousands of items have been found during the course of the work, at a site adjacent to the Tallinn Secondary School of Science (Tallinna Realkool) on G. Otsa.

"Material work is still ongoing. At the moment, it seems that the total number of finds could be over 10,000," Bernotas said.

This number did not surprise the archaeological team – the Mündriku development dig in Kalamaja a few years ago yielded around 45,000 artifacts, Bernotas noted – and the Realkool site had not been excavated before.

"If more than 1,500 square meters right in the center of Tallinn are dug up, it is impossible that nothing will be found there," Bernotas noted.

Riho Bernotas talking to Ringvaade. Source: ERR

Some of the finds dated back to the migration period in Estonia (450AD-550AD) and included a 1,500-year-old fibula, a clothing fastener, which was also found during the excavations.

Similar objects have been found in Northern Estonia before, but this is a first for Tallinn, Bernotas noted.

Wooden items dating to the Middle Ages have also turned up, preserved in manure, funnily enough.

Other finds included a very well-preserved vessel dating from the second half of the 16th century. "Often the pots reach us only in fragments, but we managed to get this specimen intact," Bernotas noted.

The site also yielded plenty of artifacts from the period of Swedish rule, which in Northern Estonia lasted from the mid-16th century to the early 18th century, and is often referred to retrospectively as the "Good old Swedish times."

One of the most striking of these items "depicts Maria Eleonora, the wife of the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf," Bernotas said.

"Following the death of Gustav II Adolf in 1632, somewhat of a cult of personality began to spread. There are pictures of both the king himself and his consorts to be found on all kinds of objects, for instance even on candle wick trimmers."

Overall, one of the most valuable dimensions of the project has been its shedding light on the human geography of the period.

"We have been able to study a medieval suburban block on such a large scale. I guess this cannot be done on such a large scale in the center of Tallinn again, so it has provided some great information on how people have lived and acted," Bernotas added.

Once the experts have finished with the artifacts, they are to be added to the Old Town Institute of History's (Ajaloo Instituut) archaeology collection, Bernotas said.

The original "Ringvaade" slot is here, for footage of some of the artifacts.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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