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From a bronze axe to treasure: A selection of colorful archeological finds from 2023

Bronze axe found in Saaremaa.
Bronze axe found in Saaremaa. Source: Photograph from the expert analysis.

The ground in Estonia gave up several exciting finds again last year, among them a unique bronze axe, clumps of iron and a treasure of coins.

1. Bronze axe from Läägi Village, Saaremaa

A bronze axe was unearthed in the small village of Läägi on the island of Saaremaa. Socketed axes sporting such vertical rectangular grooves have been found in many places in Scandinavia, while 35 such finds have been registered in Estonia. Archeologist Valter Lang said that the Läägi axe represents a type of socketed axe common in southern Sweden and Denmark, also in southern Norway and northern Germany to a lesser extent.

There are three types of such axes, with the Läägi find representing the earliest form with straight grooves. It is believed to be from 1100-1900 BC.

The axe is the first and so far only such find in countries on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Because there are virtually no such finds in central Sweden and the coast of Gotland, it works to prove direct links between people in Saaremaa and southern Scandinavia.

2. A gold-plated silver stud from eastern Valga

A medieval decorative stud was found during a dig in the city of Valga in the spring of 2023. While most decorative studs of the medieval and early modern eras found in Estonia were made from cheap nonferrous metal – copper or various copper alloys – the stud in question is made of 97-percent pure silver with its front side gold-plated. That is what makes the find special.

Church finds tell us that such gilded silver decorations were used to adorn statues of saints, altar textiles and probably clerical robes. Erki Russow, one of the authors of the expert analysis, suggested it is possible the stud's central flower motif may symbolize the Virgin Mary.

But the size and modest symbolic value of the find means it could rather be associated with a secular rather than religious environment. The Valga stud could be from a church textile, while it may just as easily have been a part of a wealthier lady's wardrobe. It is probably impossible to know for sure.

3. Silver seal from eastern Valga

The same dig in the spring of 2023 unearthed a finely crafted medieval seal, with a diameter of 34 millimeters and weighing 30 grams, made of almost pure silver, 94.22 percent.

Silver is rather a rare material for medieval seals. A Danish analysis from a few decades ago found that out of 450 medieval seals studied, 85 percent were made of bronze, 13 percent of tin, 1 percent of silver and the remaining 1 percent from other materials.

The shape of the seal is also quite unique. While the back of a medieval seal usually has a small loop or a chessmen-like grip, in this case the grip on the back is hinged and folded onto the seal. So far, only one seal with such a handle has been found in Estonia, and they are very rare elsewhere as well.

The Valga seal belonged to Friedrich van der Rope. The Rope family history in Livonia goes back to the Christianization of the region. The local branch of the family was started by Bishop Albert von Buxhoeveden's older brother Theodoricus. It is possible Friedrich lost the seal during a stay in the Laatsi Manor, while traveling or during a meeting in the town of Valga. As a central location in Livonia, Valga often hosted the Livonian Diet in the 15th century.

4. Rahkla iron clumps

Rahkla Village in Lääne-Viru County yielded a few new finds in April of 2023. During a search for the site of the Battle of Rakvere, 23 Hanseatic bowls from the 12-13th centuries were found, while another treasure was unearthed nearby.

It was made up of five clumps of iron to be traded, which speak of local iron production and trade. Iron started to be made from local ore as far as 2,000 years ago in Estonia, with the peak of local iron production arriving in the 11-14th centuries. The Rahkla iron clumps are from the latter period. Virumaa (consisting of the modern Ida-Viru and Lääne-Viru counties) is especially well-known for quantities of traded iron (found in Varha, Aa, Voorepera, Alulinna), while individual pieces have been found in Metsamägara, Kestla and Sompa.

Clumps of iron from Lääne-Viru County. Source: Silver Jääger

5. Lahavere treasure

Jõgeva County also revealed a grand treasure last year. The treasure in question was found in two parts, with the first discovered back in 2022. In all, the hoard is made up of 232 coins from the late Viking period and three from the medieval and early modern eras. A number of other ancient artefacts were found next to the coins.

The distribution of the coins is as follows: seven Islamic dirhams, two Byzantine miliaresions, 76 German dinars, one Bohemian mint, 49 English pennies, seven Danish and one Swedish coin and six coins by Anglo-Saxon kings. The treasure's earliest more or less confidently dateable coin is a B.M.C II type penny of Norman king Willian II, which were minted between the early 1090s to the middle of the decade (1090-1095).

The most important coin in the treasure is from Minden, Germany (pictured). Only one other example of this anonymous dinar has been found and even that with half-illegible and distorted markings. The Lahavere coin, on the other hand, is impeccably preserved and fully legible, reading MINDACIVITAS on the front and S-PETR-VS on the back side.

The Minden coin from the Jõgeva County treasure hoard. Source: Photograph from the expert analysis

6. Roman coin from Põhja Village ion Harju County.

A few days before 2023 drew to a close, a Roman copper coin was found in the village of Põhja in Harju County. While one can quite easily stumble on Roman coins in England or the Mediterranean region, they are rather rare in Estonia and constitute important historical finds. Roman coins have been found in Northern and Western Estonia where they seem to have been associated with the coast and waterways.

The more precise nature of the find as well as its age are still being analyzed.

A Roman coin found in Harju County. Source: Founder's photograph

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Editor: Jaan-Juhan Oidermaa, Marcus Turovski

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