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6th century grave of 12 year old girl found in Basel

During the construction work for the expansion of the district heating network in the neighbourhoods around Wettsteinplatz in Basel, several early medieval graves, including a richly furnished girl's grave, came to light. The current excavations thus provide exciting and new insights into the history of the Basel district.

6th century grave of 12 year old girl found in Basel
Archaeologists monitor Wettsteinplatz excavation [Credit: Philippe Saurbeck,
Archaeological Soil Research]

Several early medieval graves have already come to light since construction work began in June 2021. As all the graves have been disturbed to a greater or lesser extent by recent interventions, it has mostly only been possible to recover individual bones. However, when the grave of an approximately 12-year-old girl was uncovered, it became apparent that an extraordinary number of grave goods had been preserved, including an iron pocket buckle, an iron belt buckle with gold inlays and, above all, numerous beads. In order to be able to uncover the finds without pressure of time, the entire area was recovered as a block. In this way, the objects could be uncovered, documented and subsequently conserved under optimal conditions and with the greatest care. 

To the great surprise of the excavation team, over 350 glass and amber beads came to light. What is extraordinary is not only the large number, but also the fascinating variety of types, shapes and colours. Among other things, segmental beads with inlaid gold and silver foil testify to a particularly high level of craftsmanship. It can be assumed that the beads were not placed in the grave individually, but possibly belonged to a complex bead collar or once formed several necklaces. It is also conceivable that individual beads were sewn onto the garment or a small bag. Thanks to the burial objects, the girl's grave can be dated to the 6th century.

6th century grave of 12 year old girl found in Basel
Selection of beads from the grave of a 12-year-old girl dating to the 6th century
[Credit: Philippe Saurbeck, Archaeological Soil Research]

At the current stage of work, there are already indications of further grave findings. The discovery and careful documentation of the early medieval graves are of particular importance. Since no written sources exist for the period of the Early Middle Ages, they are the only witnesses to the settlement of Kleinbasel during this historical period.

In addition to the graves, the excavations to date have also revealed numerous remains of the medieval and modern buildings in Kleinbasel. For example, the foundations of the Riehen Gate, built in the 13th century as part of the city's fortifications, were uncovered. The gate and its outworks were demolished in 1864 in the course of the city expansion. In addition, various remains of the medieval water supply were uncovered, including a presumably high medieval water well and a canal from the late Middle Ages that supplied the population of Kleinbasel with water. 

6th century grave of 12 year old girl found in Basel
Iron belt buckle with gold inlay [Credit: Philippe Saurbeck, Archaeological Soil Research]

The water came from the so-called Riehenteich, which was built in the middle of the 13th century. The canal was primarily used to supply water and hydropower to businesses and mills located in Kleinbasel. The excavations brought to light the remains of a "Lohstampfe" and a building documented as a mill from 1312 and as a saw from 1422. The tanning mill was used to grind spruce and oak bark. The resulting "tan", which contained a lot of tannic acid, was then used for the tanning of animal skins. Both the saw and the stamp were driven by a water wheel.

The investigations accompanying the construction work are expected to last until autumn 2022, so we can expect further new and exciting insights into the history of Kleinbasel.

Source: Archaeologie Online [trsl. TANN; March 29, 2022]

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