Badger Unearths Medieval Graves in Germany

A badger living near a farm in Germany picked an interesting spot to build its den: directly on top of a 12th century burial site that included two lords and a warrior. The people living on the farm began to suspect something after the badger tossed out a pelvic bone. A human pelvic bone.

The two men living on the farm, Lars Wilhelm and Hendrikje Ring, are sculptors who also happen to be amateur archaeologists. They were about to exhibit some of their work near the den when they noticed the human remains.

"It wasn't exactly surprising to us because a whole field of ancient graves had been found on the other side of the road in the 1960s," said Ring when speaking to Spiegel Online. "So we pushed a camera into the badger's sett and took photos by remote control. We found pieces of jewellery, retrieved them and contacted the authorities."

Further excavations revealed a sword, bronze bowls, an ornate belt buckle, and the skeletal remains of eight people — including two Slavic chieftains. The site is located in the town of Stolpe in Brandenburg, about 46 miles (75 km) from Berlin.

Needless to say, the tomb-raiding badger never returned. "This doesn't make him an archaeologist but he's the one who discovered it." The find was made last autumn, but the news was only made public this past week.

The two lords were found with bronze bowls at their feet (likely used to wash hands before dining), indicating their place among the social elite.

One of the skeletons was a warrior. His body exhibited multiple sword and lance wounds (including healed marks from sword strikes on his skull) and a healed fracture (he may have fallen off his horse at one point). The warrior, who was about 40 when he died, was lain to rest beside his double-edged sword.

David Crossland from Der Spiegel explains the historical significance of the (badger's) discovery:

At the time of the burial, Slavic tribal dominance in the Brandenburg region was already on the wane as the Franks were pushing in from the west and the Poles from the east. The burial site is also significant because it was heathen, while much of the surrounding area had already converted to Christianity, said archaeologists.

One of the two lords is believed to have had his sword removed. Such grave robbery may be a sign of the upheaval at the time, said Kersting. "It's interesting because it could mean this happened at a time when social structures were collapsing," said Kersting.

"If someone went to this grave and opened it in full view of the local castle and took out the sword — that's a sign that something's not working anymore. It highlights the time of upheaval when the rule of the Slavic tribes was coming to an end."

The skeleton of a woman, probably his wife, lay next to him. "She had a coin in her mouth in accordance with the ancient rite to pay the ferryman for the passage over the Styx into the realm of the dead."

[Spiegel Online; image: KDamian/Shutterstock]