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Archaeologists Find Pre-Viking Ship Burial

Excavations in Salme
Excavations in Salme Source: Photo: ERR

Another ship burial discovered this year in the village of Salme may turn out to be a pre-viking era battleground burial, an unparalleled find in Europe. So far, 16 skeletons of men killed in battle have been discovered on the site.

There is no doubt that a fierce struggle took place some 1,250 years ago near what is now the village of Salme on the island of Saaremaa, said Jüri Peets, professor of archaeology at Tallinn University. "Our estimate is 30 casualties, plus the same amount of injured. The skeletons bear sword marks. This shows the battle took place on land - you can't reach the enemy with a sword from a boat. There were also arrowheads found in the skeletons and in a shield."

The remains of the men-at-arms have been preserved as if by a miracle - at some point, three cable pipes were laid straight through the hull, narrowly missing the ancient treasure.

Such a mass grave of warriors from that period has never before been discovered anywhere in Europe. This, and the large amount of artifacts found, make the discovery exceptional, said Peets.

The foreign warriors were buried with their belongings. For example, the findings included a gilded bronze sword handle. The archaeologists plan to extract a tooth from one of the skulls and submit it to a DNA-analysis to find out where the unwelcome visitors might have arrived from.

The estimated length of the ship is 18 meters and the width 3.5 meters. The excavations will continue next year by the village schoolhouse, where the bow of the ship is expected to be.

In 2008, a smaller ship with an estimated length of 10 meters was discovered during excavations in Salme.

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