Two amber rings, a bronze bowl and an iron knife in a leather sheath with bronze fittings were found in the grave of a man from the turn of the 11th and 12th century, which archaeologists discovered in Ostrowite (Pomerania). In their opinion, he was a representative of the elite of the time.
Archaeologists decided to start excavations at the burial site because in previous years, thanks to a metal detector, they found many fragments of bronze bowls nearby. They were right – in 2021, an elite grave was discovered there, which was identified as number 81. It was distinguished from other graves discovered at this site earlier by its size and rich furnishings.
“The deceased was most likely a representative of the local, Pomeranian elite,” the DSc said in an interview with Science in Poland portal.
Jerzy Sikora from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Łódź, who has been directing the research in Ostrowite for several years. The deceased was placed in a wooden structure of a burial chamber, resembling a very spacious box or small house. This type of burial, associated with early medieval elites, is referred to by archaeologists as chambered. The fact that the buried person was a Christian is supported by the fact that he was not incinerated after death. Besides, the body was arranged on an east-west axis, which was also a custom practised by Christians.
The rank of a tomb is indicated not only by its size but also by its furnishings. Archaeologists noted that the deceased had two amber rings one for each of the hands’ fingers.
“Here the striking fact is that these are two – virtually identical – rings, symmetrically placed concerning the body axis. And it’s amber. The situation is unique. I know of no similar burial,” the archaeologist stressed.
When asked about the meaning of this jewellery, he indicated that in this case they were probably related to the symbolism of power.
“Amber can be associated with either brokering the trade in this raw material or with control over local deposits. In the modern period amber was mined in the Chojnice region,” he pointed out.
Besides, in the grave, in the feet of the deceased, was a bowl made of bronze. Fragments of wood lay inside the bowl. Most likely, these were the remains of the lid of the coffin, which collapsed due to the pressure of the layers of earth and the processes of decomposition. The deceased also had an iron knife in a leather sheath with bronze fittings and two pieces of coins. On the surface of the bowl and the sheath of the knife, archaeologists noticed fragments of fabrics or their prints. These will be subjected to specialist analysis to clarify their origin. Under the bowl, on the other hand, there were small fragments of leather – most probably remains of the deceased’s shoes, preserved thanks to the preservative effect of copper oxides.
This is not the first burial of this type discovered in Ostrowite. Several similar graves have been traced nearby in previous years, as well as many bronze bowl fragments, thanks to the use of metal detectors. It looks like there were more graves in the area because they must have been ripped up or otherwise destroyed.
The discovered tomb did not surprise the archaeologists. As Sikora explained, in Pomerania there are known elite burials from the 11th and 12th century, often chambered, also with weapons, which can be associated with the developing stratum of the local state elite. Similar tombs are known, among others, from Usadel and Uznamia in Mecklenburg in modern Germany, or Cedynia in Poland.
Were the inhabitants of the settlement at that time already under the influence of the Piast dynasty developing in the south? According to DSc Sikora, this question cannot be easily answered due to the small number of written sources from the period and their content.
“For the Piasts, it was probably their sphere of influence. And at the same time, a large part of Gall Anonim’s chronicle is filled with descriptions of fights with the Pomeranians, so probably the Pomeranians themselves did not necessarily always recognize this supremacy” – he stressed.
He added that in the twelfth century two states had been established in Pomerania, the West Pomeranian Griffins, dependent on Boleslaus III the Wry-mouthed and Christianised by Otto of Bamberg, and the East Pomeranian Samborides, dependent on Polish dukes, also probably from the times of Boleslaus the Wry-mouthed.
DSc Sikora notes that an important role in the project was played by volunteers associated with the Raciąż Village Development Association, Ostroga Exploration Association from Tuchola and the Pałumika Historical Association. “Without their experience in detector work, it would not have been possible to achieve such results,” he pointed out.
Ostrowite, where the latest discovery was made, was an important but local centre of power that functioned from the 11th to the 14th century.
“It was quite an extensive settlement complex with a settlement on a nearby island, which, at least from about 1160, was connected to the shore by a wooden bridge, but most likely had been functioning earlier,” DSc Sikora described.
Parallel research on the island in Ostrowite was supported by the authorities of the Chojnice commune thanks to the agreement signed with the University of Łódź.
There were also two cemeteries on the eastern shore of the lake. Trade was an important aspect of the functioning of the settlement, which is evidenced by the archaeologists’ previous finds, including about 20 weights plates for scales, coins (including Western European, mainly Saxon, as well as numerous imitations) testifying to the exchange and several imported items, such as bronze bowls. The found objects indicate trade with the areas of Pomerania, Greater Poland, but also Scandinavia, Western Europe or Rus.