Archaeologists Discover Decapitated Horse Next To Its Rider In Elite Merovingian Warrior Cemetery

A team of archaeologists has discovered a decapitated horse next to its rider, as well as a trove of jewellery and weapons, in a cemetery where elite Merovingian nobles and warriors were buried.

The Merovingians were a Frankish dynasty that ruled from the middle of the 5th century until 751 AD, uniting all of the Franks and the northern Gaulish Romans into their kingdom, as the Roman Empire crumbled.

Their territory roughly encompassed much of modern-day France, stretching eastward into what are now parts of Germany and Switzerland.

Knittlingen, ‘Im Bergfeld’, burial of a decapitated horse. (State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Stuttgart Regional Council, F. Damminger/Newsflash)

The team of archaeologists had been working in the town of Knittlingen, which is located in the southern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, examining over 110 graves in a cemetery that was reserved for members of the local Merovingian elite.

The Regional Council of Stuttgart has been overseeing excavations at the archaeological dig site since August. It said in a statement obtained by Newsflash: “The grave structures ranged from simple burials to wooden grave chambers – only the last remains of wood were preserved. Some of the deceased were buried in wooden coffins.”

Dr Folke Damminger, the State Office for Monument Preservation officer in charge of the area, said that the discoveries provide key indications regarding the social status of the deceased.

Male grave from the first half of the 7th century where the deceased was buried with a spathe (double-edged sword) and lance. (State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Stuttgart Regional Council, F. Damminger/Newsflash)

The Regional Council of Stuttgart said in its statement: “The deceased of the Knittlinger settlement community were buried in their traditional costumes according to the early medieval custom.

“Although the burials were often robbed in the early Middle Ages, numerous non-organic jewellery components such as pearl necklaces, fibulas (clasps), earrings and arm rings as well as belt hangers with decorative discs, everyday utensils (knives, combs) and objects with amulet character could be recovered from the graves of women and girls.”

The experts uncovered numerous treasures, including swords and shields. The statement said: “Parts of the weapons equipment (swords, lances, shields and arrowheads) together with the associated belts come from the male burials. Ceramic vessels added regardless of gender and age of the dead probably contained food additions.”

Knittlingen, ‘Im Bergfeld’ – Filigree gold disc brooch from a woman’s burial in the early 7th century. (State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Stuttgart Regional Council, F. Damminger/Newsflash)

The archaeologists were able to determine this, as the vessels contained egg shells and bones.

The archaeologists also reported finding a decapitated horse buried near an elite Merovingian rider, with the Regional Council of Stuttgart saying in its statement: “The comparatively rich burials in the second half of the sixth century are noteworthy in Knittlingen.

“One woman was buried with almost complete fibula outfits typical of the time. On the other hand, a gold disc brooch worn individually from a somewhat younger grave heralds the fashion of the seventh century. Some of the men’s graves identified the deceased as cavalrymen.

Section of the cemetery where inside the circular ditch, the pit of a robbed, originally richly furnished men’s burial can be seen. (State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in the Stuttgart Regional Council, F. Damminger/Newsflash)

“A decapitated horse was buried in the vicinity of one of these burials. Bronze bowls testify to table manners based on the courtly model.”

The artefacts and the skeletons have been secured for further study, with the excavation expected to be completed in early 2022.

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