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Finland’s 1,000-year old unknown swordsman may have met a violent end

Researchers speculate that an ancient swordsman unearthed in Hyvikkälä, Janakkala in southern Finland, may have suffered a violent death. Initial investigations into the remains of the apparent warrior have revealed two skull injuries.

Tutkija mittaa ristiretkiajan ruumishautalöytöä marraskuun alussa 2013 Janakkalassa
Researchers examine the grave of the unknown swordsman in early November. Image: Simo Vanhatalo / Museovirasto

Finland’s National Board of Antiquities has completed preliminary investigations into the remains discovered last November in what is thought to be a medieval grave. Researchers have performed tomographic scans on the so-called ancient swordsman, which involve imaging through sections of the skull.

The scans show that the man may have met a violent end, said researcher Simo Vanhatalo of the National Board of Antiquities. The investigations found evidence of two skull injuries, one of which may have been fatal.

“The deceased had a small incision at the back of the skull, which may have been caused by some kind of sharp object, but the wound later healed. Behind the ear there is a round hole which looks like it was inflicted by a spiked object. However this is still to be confirmed,” Vanhatalo noted.

“Naturally we would immediately wonder if the man was the victim of violence or if he died in battle,” he added.

Researchers speculate that a violent demise might also suggest that the swordsman was extremely fit while he lived.

“The teeth are in very good condition and there is a high level of calcium left in the skull. In other words, the deceased was well fed. More in-depth research will then reveal whether he had any diseases or other health issues. It could well be that the deceased really was a swordsman and had been in battle,” Vanhatalo said, adding that the swordsman’s well-nourished body indicates that he was a wealthy individual.

Vanhatalo noted that the structure of the man’s skull might also allow researchers to work out his features and reconstruct what he might have looked like.

Window into the Crusade Era

Researchers will complete carbon dating tests on the items found in the swordsman’s grave, allowing them to more precisely estimate when he died, and possibly his age.

Some bone samples have been sent for carbon dating. Carbon fragments found near the face have also been studied.

The swordsman, as he has come to be known, was found by hobbyists in the field in Hyvikkälä, in the Hämeenlinna region in early November. Swords found in the grave appear to be a rare historical find, and authorities originally speculated that the burial site dated back to the crusade era.

“It’s very exciting when two different branches of science come together. In other words, when history and archaeology meet. We just need the patience to wait for the results of the dating tests. Another interesting link is the Christian burial method,” Vanhatalo added.

”I’m keen to find out whether this will be placed in first or the second (Swedish) crusades, which came to the Häme region. The first targeted southwest Finland. This find could shed light on how we can understand the events of the crusades in each region. That’s what I’d like to know,” the researcher concluded.

Watch: Researchers gently remove one of the swords found in the grave

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