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1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years


For the past four years, an archaeological team has been busy researching a grave site dating from the 6th and 7th centuries in the Klein Broek nature reserve in Elversele, East Flanders, Belgium. This happened during the Sigma works against flooding of the Durme. They found more than 50 Merovingian graves. The Merovingians were probably farmers and cattle-breeders who lived in the area around Elversele, Temse. 


1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years
Archaeologists working at the site [Credit : Monument Vandekerckhove nv, Bert Mestdagh]

Merovingian graves have also been found before, but it happens less and less, says Archaeologist Bert Mestdagh from Monument Vandekerckhove: "Certainly for modern archaeology this is something very special. The nice thing about these graves is that they are not just people who have been buried, but there is all kinds of stuff. The men are buried with weapons like swords and shields. The women are buried with lots of jewellery, amulets and colourful beads. Sometimes there are also cloaks and pins, which sometimes had gold and stones embedded in them."




The archaeologists who worked on the site were particularly delighted when they discovered this. "That almost jumps out of the ground when you open it", says Mestdagh enthusiastically. Little has remained of the bodies themselves because the sandy soil is very acidic: "At best, some soil discolouration. In most cases, the coffin is still clearly visible, and very occasionally we find pieces of teeth. But how the body was positioned, we can mainly deduce from what we find with the body remains."


1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years
Jewelled clasp [Credit : Monument Vandekerckhove nv, Bert Mestdagh]

The jewellery and weapons allowed the archaeologists to deduce whether a man or a woman was buried there. "That's how we also know that there were about as many men as women buried there. You could also see from the size of the coffins that there were at least four children among them." Some of the jewellery showed that there was trade with foreign countries at that time: "We know from one piece that it was made in the Near East and there were also a few from Northern Europe."


1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years
Fibula [Credit : Monument Vandekerckhove nv, Bert Mestdagh]

Trading with foreign countries was not uncommon then, says Mestdagh: "Of the Roman period (before the 6th century) it is generally accepted that there were distant contacts. About the early Middle Ages (from 500 to 1,000 AD), people used to think that this was a backward period in that respect, but graves like this one show that it was anything but."




The jewellery and weapons suggest that the Merovingians in that region were wealthy people, but that is not necessarily so, says Mestdagh: "We think they were farmers who lived in a farmyard, but were better at trading, so they could buy more things than they actually needed. And they could apparently spare them and put them in the graves."


1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years
Double burial [Credit : Monument Vandekerckhove nv, Bert Mestdagh]

Mestdagh thinks that the objects may have been placed in the graves to propitiate the ancestors in the afterlife. And most of the beads are still in perfect condition. "They could go straight into a museum display case, so to speak." The metal objects - such as certain weapons - are of varying quality, he says: "Some lance tips of spears are perfectly preserved. Not much remains of swords."


1,400-year-old Merovingian burial site in East Flanders completed after 4 years
Belt Buckle [Credit : Monument Vandekerckhove nv, Bert Mestdagh]

All finds go to the Waasland Heritage Depot in Sint-Niklaas. The research, which was commissioned by De Vlaamse Waterweg nv over the past four years, has been completed with a final report. "It could be that this will now be cast in an exhibition, we'll see when," says Mestdagh.


Source: VRT NWS [trsl. TANN; January 12, 2022]



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