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Mysterious find may rewrite Finnish history

A fragment of a unique and mysterious silver plaque discovered in South Karelia may force historians to rethink some of Finland's early Iron Age history. As of yet, the cultural context of the find has not been explained.

Rautjärveltä löydetty hopeapala.
The silver fragment found at Rautjärvi. Image: Etelä-Karjalan museo

Hobbyists sweeping fields and roadsides with metal detectors in the areas of Rautjärvi and Ruokolahi in South Karelia have recently turned up some rare finds.

Most recently, the South Karelia Museum in Lappeenranta was given a silver plaque that so far has defied explanation.

"Its ornamentation is derived from the island of Gotland, which in itself of not strange in Finland. But no other object like this one has ever been found in Finland," says the museum’s Jukka Luoto.

Luoto has been in contact with experts in Sweden about the artefact, but no information about it has been forthcoming from there either.

"Studies of the plaque are continuing, and we are seeking how it relates to this area's history," Luoto continues.

Two finds

The silver plaque was discovered by a hobbyist making a sweep of a field with a metal detector at Rautjärvi. Another find has also been reported in the same area.

According to Jukka Luoto, locals discover several items ever year that can be dated to the prehistoric Iron Age period. Once found, they are turned over to the South Karelia Museum and from there on to the National Museum.

"I will be meeting with the discoverer on Monday to evaluate this latest find. We will see if he can keep it or if it will go into the national collection," Luoto explains.

There is such a wealth of artefacts being found that some of the pages of South Karelian, perhaps Finnish history as a whole, may have to be rewritten.

A thousand years past

Few of the discoveries by local hobbyists are tools such as axes or sickles. Most are jewellery.

"These finds are changing the time scale of habitation. The oldest finds are from the middle of the Merovingian era of the Iron Age, that is between 600-800 AD. Most are from the Viking age, about 200 years later. We can ponder if the present people of South Karelia were living in this landscape then," Luoto points out.

According to Luoto, the traditional view has been that the area was inhabited by the Sami people who later moved northwards as the ancestors of the present Finns migrated into the region.

"But, this will certainly be studied in more detail in coming decades. These finds speak at least of outside contacts."

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