Medieval weapon chest found on Gribshunden

The exploration of the wreck of the 15th century Danish royal warship Gribshunden has uncovered a unique late medieval weapons chest. It is a zeuglade, an ammunition storage and production toolbox that we know from illustrations around that time often accompanied armies on battlefields.

Gribshunden sank in the Blekinge archipelago after a fire broke out when it was anchored off the Baltic coast of southern Sweden in 1495. The royal flagship was carrying King Hans of Denmark and Norway, but he and his retinue had already disembarked on their way to meet with the regent of Sweden when the ship caught fire. About 100 German mercenaries were still on board and went down with the ship. The zeuglade was likely theirs.

The wreck was discovered in 1971 by scuba divers, but archaeologists didn’t begin to explore the site until 30 years later. The cold Baltic waters had preserved the organic remains of the ship and its cargo in good condition. In 2002, it was identified as the Gribshunden by its unusually large size, carvel construction and heavy armaments. Dendrochronological analysis and radiocarbon dating of the timbers confirmed the identification. The ship made international news in 2015 when the dramatic figurehead was raised from the seabed.

Excavations have been ongoing for more than two decades. The weapon chest was first spotted by archaeologists exploring the wreck in 2019. They returned to the spot in 2023 to document it thoroughly with new high-resolution photos and create a 3D photogrammetry model of the chest. It is approximately 2.3 feet long by one feet wide and is located on the port side of the bow. There is a corrosion crust on the surface and the contents are also heavily corroded, but archaeologists were able to distinguish sharp flint pieces from canister shot ammunition, two elongated pieces of lead plate with holes on the side and three stone molds to manufacture lead bullets of different calibers for handheld firearms and arquebuses. Small cylindrical objects in the chest are believed to be the remnants of crucibles, powder chambers and/or cartridges.

Here’s an illustration of a zeuglade in action on the battlefield from Diebold Schilling’s Amtliche Berner Chronik, Vol. 1, the three-volume official chronicle of Bern completed in 1483. The chest contains paper cartridges and balls to load the arquebuses the infantrymen are shooting.

This illustration from a ca. 1500 combat and warfare manual by German knight Ludwig VI von Eyb shows different types of arquebuses and their corresponding ammunition in a zeuglade.

The work to reconstruct the Gripen/Griphund has been going on since 2013. Right now the efforts are focused on the superstructure. In his doctoral thesis, Rolf Warming is also working on clarifying the ship’s combat capabilities and the role of the soldiers on board.

“The ship is an important piece of the puzzle in the ‘military revolution at sea’ in early modern times where the primary tactic shifted from close combat to the difficult naval artillery. The ship will therefore also be compared with other important warships to understand the development, for example Mars (1564) and Vasa (1628),” says Rolf Warming.

170 silver bracteates found in medieval grave

Archaeologists have discovered a hoard of silver bracteates from the 12th century in a grave at the Brahekyrkan church in Visingsö, southern Sweden. It is rare to find extensive grave goods in Christian graves, and large numbers of coins have been found in only a handful of burials from the period. What makes this find unique is that some of these coins are completely unknown on the archaeological record.

The county museum archaeologists were overseeing the installation of the church’s new geothermal heating system in mid-March of this year when a skeleton was discovered in a shaft where wiring was to be laid. Three coins were found underneath the skeletal remains after they were removed, and then more appeared close to the left foot of the individual. Ultimately a total of about 170 silver bracteates (minted on one side only) dating to between 1150 and 1180 were unearthed from the grave. There were also a small number of Gotland coins (minted on both sides). The precise number is not yet known because some of the bracteates and coins are stuck together and they are so thin it’s hard to tell how many of them are in these little stacks.

Examination of the bones suggest the deceased was an adult man between 20 and 25 years of age. The grave was outside the medieval church wall, about 100 feet north of it, so at first archaeologists thought the deceased might be someone who had not been allowed to be buried in the consecrated grounds within the church walls, for example someone who died by suicide, unbaptized or unshriven.

However, after the recovery of the skeleton and the coins, archaeologists went on to find another 24 graves in that same shaft. All of them were laid to rest in the same orientation, aligned with each other and buried at the same depth. This was not a casual buried of one or two people outside the consecrated boundaries. This was an organized burial ground, and likely had markers above ground. None of the other burials had grave goods of any kind, let alone hundreds of silver coins.

In addition to the burials, the archaeologists uncovered more than 20 ancient hearths. Hearths have been found in the area before. A previous survey in 2005 uncovered three hearths dating to the Roman Iron Age (50-400 A.D.). The newly-discovered hearths haven’t been dated yet, but are likely from the same period.

The skeletal remains have not all been removed, only the ones that would run the risk of being interfered with during the laying of the wires. They will be examined and then respectfully reinterred. The silver bracteates/coins will be treated by conservators. They will be cleaned, and if it’s possible to do without damage, the groups that are stuck together will be separated.

Remains of 10th c. baptismal font of Ottonian rulers found

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a quatrefoil-shaped baptismal font from the 10th century in the collegiate church of St. Servatii in Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is the oldest quatrefoil baptismal font north of the Alps, and was likely used in the baptism of Ottonian dynasty rulers and family members.

The base of the font emerged in an excavation of the crypt of the church where members of the Ottonian dynasty, kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors (919-1024), were buried. Parts of the crypt predate the current collegiate church which was built in the 11th-12th century, and archaeologists with the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology of Saxony-Anhalt (LDA) have been exploring the 10th century crypt to research, document, stabilize and preserve the structures underground built in the earliest period of development of the church.

The quatrefoil shape was cut into the sandstone in the center of the room. Its walls are lined with plaster, fragments of an earlier floor used as bedding for the font.

The room in which the baptismal font originally stood must have been the lay room of a sacred building. It is ruled out that there was a palatium (prestigious residential building) on ​​site at this time. The baptismal font belonged to a church and also dates from the oldest decades of the Stiftsberg’s medieval history in the Ottonian period, about which little is known so far.

Although the places and dates of death of members of the ruling families are mentioned more frequently in contemporary written sources, information on baptism has actually not survived. This means that the present archaeological find is also an extremely rare structural evidence of the sacrament of baptism, which is important in Christianity and promises the hope of salvation. According to the Roman-Germanic pontifical in the 10th century, unlike today, baptism took place once a year, on Holy Saturday, as a collective baptism of infants or small children by immersion. The candidates for baptism were immersed in the water in the shape of a cross, in the present case in the direction of the quatrefoils, with their heads facing first to the east, then to the north and finally to the south. The baptismal formula “I baptize you in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” was spoken. The ceremony was carried out by candlelight and incense and was accompanied by liturgical songs and litanies. A few days later, on the Saturday before White Sunday (the first Sunday after Easter), the baptismal garment was finally removed again and the water was drained from the pool.

It is conceivable that Duke Henry I of Bavaria (born around 922, died in 955), who attempted to kill his brother, King Otto the Great, in an attack in Quedlinburg at Easter in 941, was baptized at the uncovered location. Mathilde (born 955, died 999), the daughter of Emperor Otto the Great and Empress Adelheid and the first abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey, as well as Adelheid I (born 977; died 1044 in Quedlinburg), the next abbess and daughter of the imperial couple, could also be here Otto II and the Byzantine Theophanu received the first and fundamental sacrament at this point.

Mathilde, born in 955 and died in 999, not only was baptized in the crypt, but was buried there too. Her lead coffin with a gabled roof is in the crypt next to the coffins of her grandparents, including her grandmother and namesake who founded the abbey.

Rare medieval belt loop found in Poland

A rare medieval belt loop used to hang keys or a purse has been discovered near Kamień Pomorski in northwestern Poland. It is one of only about 15 of this type of belt loop known, and the only one of them found in Poland. It was discovered by metal detectorist Damian Tomczyk scanning the area with the approval of local heritage authorities.

The bronze figure is 2.2 inches high and depicts an anthropomorphic figure with hands on hips forming circular divots on the side of the torso. Diagonal, horizontal and vertical cuts on the surface of the chest and waist convey the draping of a tunic typical of the Late Gothic period. A triangular cutout separates the two legs that appear to be clad in hose. The figure stands on a rounded shape with a hole where keys or an alms purse or pouch would have hung. A belt would be threaded through an open rectangular mount on the back.

This type of belt loop was produced in southern Germany, created by Bavarian craftsmen probably in Nuremberg which was a center of bronze work since the 14th century. Indeed, of the surviving examples, 12 of them were found in Germany, most of them in Bavaria.

The finder has donated the artifact to the Kamień Land History Museum which has two late medieval bronze belt loops in its collection, one of them with the similar cross-hatched garment and arm holes. This newly-discovered example is larger and in better condition.

1,000-year-old bone skate found in Czech Republic

Archaeologists have discovered a 1,000-year-old bone skate in the basement of a house in the central Moravian city of Přerov, Czech Republic. The skate was made of animal bone, likely the metacarpal (shin bone) of a horse. Fragments of pottery found around the blade date it to the 10th or 11th century.

Archaeologists from the Comenius Museum made the discovery during a rescue excavation in the Upper Square of the city. At the time when the skate was made, the Upper Square area was on a hill overlooking the left bank of the Bečva River. There wasn’t a city of Přerov yet, but rather an agglomeration of small settlements dotting the branches of the Bečva. The Upper Square was first a fortified square and then a fortress built by Polish King Boleslav the Brave after his conquest of Moravia in 1003.

Archaeologist Zdeněk Schenk:

“The object has a specific shape. On one side, it is curved into a tip which has a hole drilled in it and there is another hole at the back. They were used to thread a strap through, which was used to attach the skate to a shoe or to a wooden sledge.”

The hole was pierced through the end of the lower end of the metacarpal that connected to the phalanx bone (ie, the toe). The surface of the bone is still polished after a thousand years, suggesting it saw significant use. It is small so was worn by someone with petite feet, perhaps a woman or child. It could also have been mounted under a transport sled instead of a shoe.

“Rather than skating, they would shuffle along the frozen surface with the help of a stick or two. They would also attach the blades to sledges to carry a load of goods across the frozen water.”

Similar ice skates made from animal bones have been found in other parts of central and northwestern Europe. They typically date to around the same time — 10th or 11th century. Far older examples dating back 3,500 years have been found in China.

The bone skate will go on display at the Comenius Museum in Přerov Castle.