Once belonging to Denmark, Halmstad was founded on Sweden's southwest coast in 1307. Currently, one of its main squares, Lilla Torg, is being significantly renovated and relandscaped.
Before this happens, Johan Klange and a team of fellow archeologists attached to the local Halland Museum of Cultural History have been given a time slot to explore the space, an urban dig that has so far produced a huge surprise: a well-preserved medieval sword.
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Hiding in plain sight
Johan talks to The Viking Herald about the current investigation, usefully providing the historical background for reference:
"Lilla Torg is a town square in Halmstad, where excavations are being conducted as the municipality repurposes it to make it a more suitable place for city life."
"The last large renovation of the square took place in 1932, when the council sought to level its uneven cobblestoned surface."
"As it turned out, this was due to large stone structures hidden beneath it, belonging to a Franciscan friary from the late Middle Ages."
In 1932, the north long side of the church building was found, but since the church was under the part of the square not being rebuilt, its remains have mostly stayed untouched underground until now.
"Local knowledge about the remains had slipped into oblivion after the late 1700s, when the last building belonging to the friary was demolished, so the discovery of the remains seemingly came as a complete surprise."
"Most of the friary's buildings except the church were excavated during that excavation. In addition to the friary buildings, 255 skeletons of buried individuals were excavated."
The excavation site surrounds what was once Sankta Anna's Church.
"The Franciscan friary of Halmstad was founded in 1494 and was active until 1531, when it was closed by local inhabitants due to the Reformation."
"At that point, the friary consisted of a large complex of buildings, including a church and a cloister. Written sources indicate that the church was active as early as 1500, but the building process continued until 1503."
"At some point after the Reformation, the buildings set apart from the west wing of the friary were torn down. People were still being buried within the cloister area of the friary for at least a century after its closure."
"The remaining west wing of the friary became a storage building for artillery in 1614 and remained so until it was replaced by new buildings with the same function in the 1700s."
The unearthing of a medieval sword in Sweden, buried alongside its owner, provides rare physical evidence of the high status and martial traditions of the Scandinavian nobility. Photo: Halland Museum of Cultural History
Buried with his longsword
"Until now, our excavation has uncovered the remains of 60 buried individuals, mainly found inside the cloister area."
"The graves seem mainly to be from the period after the closure of the friary, as there is demolition debris in the backfill of nearly all of those graves."
"Excavations have also been conducted inside the friary church, revealing a smaller number of well-ordered graves, probably dating to the 30 years when the friary was active."
"The most substantial find, and so far the only grave containing any finds apart from coffin nails, is the grave containing a Late Medieval longsword."
"The sword is at least 140cm long with inlaid crosses on its blade. The individual buried with the sword was 190cm tall."
"In order to be buried with a sword in the southern part of the church just outside of the chancel, they most likely belonged to the higher echelons of society."
"In Sweden, we know of about 30 swords found in churches, with about the same number discovered in Denmark, so these are rare finds."
"To find them in situ is even more unusual. There are a couple of examples where the buried individual has been identified. In all cases, the individuals were members of the high nobility."
"The continued analysis of the skeletal remains will likely reveal more interesting results, and the hope is that the continued excavations will answer questions about the activities in the area during the period after the closing of the friary."
The excavations should continue throughout this spring.
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