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CAIRNS OF THE DEAD

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Forgotten monuments of Northern Sweden

The larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns from NW. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

The larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns from NW. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Carl L. Thunberg
Carl L. Thunberg is a Swedish archaeologist and historian, born in Stockholm 1963, with master’s degrees completed at the Universities of Gothenburg and Uppsala. His two main areas of specialisation are ancient Scandinavian monuments and the transitional period between the Viking Age and the Nordic Middle Ages. Academia Page

The Spir Mountain cairns are located near to the Swedish city of Örnsköldsvik in Norrland. These two exceptionally well preserved Early Bronze Age cairns are arguably the finest examples of this region, and aesthetically, they are equal to the best prehistoric monuments that Sweden has to offer.

The Spir Mountain; the view in a southeasterly direction. Photo by Carl L. Thunberg 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Forgotten monuments in a wild landscape

Norrland’s ancient monuments are often – in comparison to southern Sweden – relatively inaccessible, and to reach these particular examples one must climb a rugged mountain covered with pine trees.

In the main, the information concerning the most northerly Swedish prehistoric sites is outdated, and was brought together in the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g. Ekdahl 1827-1830; Sidenbladh 1864, 1867, 1868; Olsson 1911, 1914). However, these inventories are often the only references available, as can be seen from the FMIS system of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Monuments to the dead

Map over the Spir Mountain (Spirberget) with the cairns marked. Through the FMIS system by Carl L. Thunberg 2015-02-28. (CC BY-NC)

The vast majority of the cairns appear to have been built as monuments to the dead, mainly during the southern Scandinavian Bronze Age; circa 1800-500 BC. They occupy prominent positions overlooking the surrounding area, and some researchers speculate that they had a function as tribal markers for family group territories (Baudou 1959, 1968; Burenhult et al 1999).

Unlike the cairns from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age which appear to contain cremation burials, the Early Bronze Age examples like one of the Spir Mountain cairns (RAÄ Grundsunda 109:1), have internal burial chambers with cists containing skeletal remains, accompanied by various grave goods. In some cases the cairns have been used repeatedly, and have been expanded out from their original structures (ibid).

Many of the cairns were constructed near or overlooking what was once the sea shore; some 30-50 metres above present sea level (ibid), and it is interesting to note that Spir Mountain had once been an island within a bay during the Bronze Age.

Norrland’s coastal cairn-zone is usually considered to extend from northern Uppland to Piteå in Norrbotten, a distance of about 860 kilometres. The coastal cairn-zone in Ångermanland is particularly rich, and includes about 700 registered sites.

Carl L. Thunberg by the larger of the Spir Mountain Cairns. Photo Sven Käll 2014-06-26. (CC BY-NC)

Two remarkable structures

During the investigations of prehistoric sites in Ångermanland, the project reached the Spir Mountain and its cairns in 2013. The first visit was an overwhelming experience, standing before two remarkable structures of dry stone masonry with spectacular views across the surrounding landscape. The larger of the cairns (13m in diameter) is exceptionally well preserved, and almost perfectly circular. The stone required for construction must have required an immense investment of labour. The smaller cairn is just to the east and is 6m in diameter.

There are few known settlements that can be associated with the coastal cairns, but it is likely that the area’s inhabitants must have had an economy based on fishing and seal hunting (Baudou 1968). In Västernorrland there are cairns dating from the Earlier Bronze Age through to the Iron Age, with some still in use as late as the Viking Age, long after the tradition disappeared in many other places in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia (Baudou 1959, 1968; George & Vinberg 2006).

Although the groups of coastal cairns in Norrland, with their contextual continuity, must represent the cultural remnants of a resident population, until further modern research takes place in this landscape it is difficult to fully interpret the sites and identify the cultures that created them.


Link to map and satellite photoshttp://www.hitta.se/karta/partner?s=014c725f

Link to the archaeological search engine of FMIS: http://www.fmis.raa.se/cocoon/fornsok/search.html

Link to the RAÄ page for Carl L. Thunberg and the Spirmountain Cairns: http://www.raa.se/aktuellt/vara-evenemang/arkeologidagen/till-arrangemangen/angermanland/spirbergsrosena-en-majestatisk-fornlamningsplats-i-ornskoldsvik/

Link to Carl L. Thunberg’s Academia.edu page: http://gu-se.academia.edu/CarlLThunberg

References

  • Baudou, E. 1959. Till frågan om de norrländska kuströsenas datering. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1959): 161-176. KVHAA.
  • Baudou, E. 1968. Forntida bebyggelse i Ångermanlands kustland. Arkeologiska undersökningar av ångermanländska kuströsen. Arkiv för norrländsk hembygdsforskning XVII. Härnösand.
  • Burenhult, G (ed.). 1999. Arkeologi i Norden. Bokförlaget Natur & Kultur. Stockholm.
  • George, O. & Vinberg, A. 2006. Arkeologisk undersökning av gravröse vid Älandsfjärden. Rapport 2006:10. Länsmuseet Västernorrland & RAÄ. Härnösand.
  • Ekdahl, N. J. 1827-1830. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Academien om de Wettenskapliga Forskningsresor, som blifvit företagna åren 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830 i Norrland … (etc). Antikvarisk-topografiska arkivet: N. J. Ekdahls samlingar.
  • Olsson, E. 1911. Berättelse öfver arkeologiska undersökningar i Ångermanland. KVHAA.
  • Olsson, E. 1914. Översikt av de fasta fornlämningarna i Ångermanland. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1914): 49-80. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1864. Några fornminnen i Norra Ångermanland, antecknade sommaren 1864 av Karl Sidenbladh Phil.stud.Norrl. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1867. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Akademin om de antikvariska undersökningar gjorda under 1867. KVHAA.
  • Sidenbladh, K. 1868. Fornlemningar i Ångermanland och Medelpad 1864-1868. KVHAA.

VIKING BOAR AND MEAD

Venison with mead, haunches of boar and the occasional bowl of RISOTTO: The surprisingly tasty treats enjoyed by the Vikings revealed

  • Jesper Lynge, 44, from Aalborg is attempting to revive Viking food
  • Says they used spices and lots of vegetables as well as roast meat
  • ‘Beserke’ warriors would eat anything – including magic mushrooms
  • Others had considerably more refined tastes and loved barley risotto 

Jesper Lynge, 44, is a chef on a mission. But it’s not the pursuit of the perfect foie gras or uncovering the world’s tastiest oysters that gets him going. Instead, his passion is for Viking food.

Based at the picturesque Lindholm Høje just outside Aalborg in northern Denmark, Lynge, a red-haired giant of a man, looks every inch the beserker – and has learned to cook like one too.

But don’t expect charred cuts, industrial quantities of schnapps and barrels of pickled herring. The Vikings, says Lynge, not only loved spices, they were partial to a bowl of risotto too.

Man on a mission: Chef Jesper Lynge is attempting to revive Viking cuisine from his Aalborg restaurant

Man on a mission: Chef Jesper Lynge is attempting to revive Viking cuisine from his Aalborg restaurant

‘The menu during the Viking period was decided by the season, as they needed to take use of the available ingredients,’ he explains.

‘Lots of the food that is fashionable today is similar to what they ate. They ate lots of root vegetables, cabbage and lots of different types of wheat and corn – definitely not just meat.’

Indeed, so adept were the Vikings at preparing vegetables, many of the techniques they pioneered are still in use today, notably the method of fermenting cabbage used to make sauerkraut.

They also, says Lynge, liked a sweet and sour supper, combining savoury game meat such as venison with sauces made from foraged berries.

Nevertheless, not every part of the Viking menu sounds quite so tasty. ‘There was one sort of warrior called berserkere [beserkers] who would eat anything,’ he concedes.

‘These types of warriors were very special. They would have eaten everything they could get their hands on, including psychedelic mushrooms.’

Tasty: Despite their ferocious reputation, Mr Lynge says Vikings loved vegetables - and barley risotto

Tasty: Despite their ferocious reputation, Mr Lynge says Vikings loved vegetables – and barley risotto

Feast: Roast boar and venison were feast day favourites and awaited warriors in Valhalla

Feast: Roast boar and venison were feast day favourites and awaited warriors in Valhalla

Luckily for visitors to Lynge’s Viking themed restaurant, there are no magic mushrooms on the menu, although there are plenty of unusual herbs, many of which he grows himself.

There’s also ‘festive’ wild boar and ‘barleyotto’ – an early version of the classic Italian dish made with barley grains.

Fish, mostly taken from the icy North Sea waters off the Aalborg coast, is also a highlight, although this being Denmark, much of it is herring.

‘We do not use any ingredients that weren’t available for the Vikings,’ insists Lynge. ‘Many of the techniques they used, we do too.’

Lynge, who himself bears more than a little resemblance to the beserkers of years gone by, is certainly in the right place.

Denmark is famous for its Viking past and Aalborg, with its network of fjords, sandy bays and concealed islets, is no exception.

Further north is Skagen – known to the terrified English as ‘The Scaw’ – which, despite its picture perfect modern face, was, during the Viking period, the ideal jumping off point for raids on the Norfolk coast.

Lindholm Høje, where Lynge’s Viking eatery is based, was itself a Dark Ages settlement and was once directly on the coast, although the passing centuries have left it landlocked.

A cluster of what initially look like stone circles, it is in fact a burial ground where clan chieftains and slaves alike were buried with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance.

They were also buried with jewels, tools and crucially – for Lynge at least – their cooking implements, all of which have helped him build up a picture of the Viking menu.

It was, with its vegetables and grains, a varied one and one that was enlivened considerably once the Vikings worked out a route to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where they proved enthusiastic customers at the city’s many spice markets.

‘They travelled to Constantinople regularly,’ explains Lynge. ‘It all began with Halfdan Skallesmækker, who travelled there and brought home a lot of fine spices.

Delicious: This sweetheart cabbage and berry salad (recipe below) is a Viking classic

Delicious: This sweetheart cabbage and berry salad (recipe below) is a Viking classic

Food fit for Thor: Venison with ham and mead (recipe below) was another warrior favourite

Food fit for Thor: Venison with ham and mead (recipe below) was another warrior favourite

Remnant: Mr Lynge's restaurant is based at Lindholm Høje, an important Viking site in north Jutland

Remnant: Mr Lynge’s restaurant is based at Lindholm Høje, an important Viking site in north Jutland

THE BEARSKIN-CLAD WARRIORS WHO MENACED BRITAIN

Fiery portents, a dragon seen streaking across the Northumbrian sky and whirlwinds lashing the coast could mean only one thing to the fearful Anglo-Saxons watching the heavens in 793 – doom was imminent.

And doom duly came in the shape of the Vikings, who between 793 and 1066 were a hazardous part of life for the Anglo-Saxons.

Beginning with the Lindisfarne attack, their power and influence grew and by 849, the year King Alfred the Great was born, they held much of the north and east.

Although King Alfred managed to halt their advance, raids didn’t cease until after the Norman Conquest.

And while the Vikings may be gone from British shores, their influence does live on in our culinary traditions as well as the English language.

Beserk, which means murderous rage, comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘beserker’ or clad in bear-skin – an early term used to describe the Vikings.

Other words inherited from the Vikings include the days of the week, most famously Thursday – or Thor’s Day.

‘This was the Viking’s first encounter with exotic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, ginger and black pepper.’

The Danes first encounter also proved to be the British people’s first encounter, as Lynge enthusiastically points out.

‘In the Nordic countries and in England, the same spices are still used today. Among other things, English blood sausage contains many of these spices, and you will also find them in Scottish haggis and Christmas cakes.

‘In Denmark, there’s a popular Christmas biscuit called the pebbernød, which can be traced all the way back to the year 1200.

‘At Christmas, it is tradition to make pebernød and another biscuit called brunkager, both of which contain variations on these warm spices, which is also the case with many British Christmas cakes.’

Spices, risotto and sauerkraut aren’t the only culinary traditions passed down by the Vikings, however.

Porridge too was a Viking favourite as was the classic roast dinner, although the beserkers, unsurprisingly, preferred Danish pork to British beef.

‘The pig is one of the most festive animals that were present in the Viking time,’ says Lynge. ‘This is evident in the mythology, most notably in the story of Frej – the god of fertility.

‘His transport animal is not a horse; it is a wild boar. Today, the ultimate Nordic feast dish is still roast pork. Or the Christmas ham.’

Like their neighbours, the Vikings were also fond of game and, come feast days, would tuck into Valhalla style banquets based on venison, poultry and even songbirds.

‘They also had rabbit, hare, birds and ducks,’ says Lynge. ‘They weren’t too bothered about what sort of bird they were eating. A bird was a bird.’

All change: Picturesque Aalborg is now a lively modern city but was once a Viking settlement

All change: Picturesque Aalborg is now a lively modern city but was once a Viking settlement

Remote: North Jutland's network of pretty bays and winding fjords made it the perfect haunt for Vikings

Remote: North Jutland’s network of pretty bays and winding fjords made it the perfect haunt for Vikings

The Skaw: Now a pretty fishing port, Skagen was once a jumping off point for Viking raids on England

The Skaw: Now a pretty fishing port, Skagen was once a jumping off point for Viking raids on England

Ancestors: According to Mr Lynge, 80 per cent of English people boast Scandinavian genes

Ancestors: According to Mr Lynge, 80 per cent of English people boast Scandinavian genes

While Lynge is yet to cook any songbirds, he does think the Vikings deserve more credit for their culinary traditions, many of which still influence modern British, Danish and Swedish dishes.

‘There’s a common cultural heritage,’ he explains. ‘Much of northern European culture has its roots in the Viking Age.

‘The British might talk about the Vikings attacking and being violent and that might be true, but 80 per cent of English people have Viking genes. In that sense, we are one common people.’

Nevertheless, the Viking menu certainly helped fuel the raiders, even if stories of mass schnapps sessions prior to battle are nothing more than a myth.

‘What made the Vikings such great and feared warriors was their perception of heaven and the afterlife,’ says Lynge.

‘They were not afraid of dying and they were especially not afraid of dying in a battle. Just imagine fighting against a big man, who believes that if he dies while he is giving his best in a battle, then he will be sent on to an eternal party.’

And with spiced venison and perfectly cooked roast boar on the party menu, you hardly blame them for looking forward to it.

FANCY EATING LIKE A VIKING? JESPER LYNGE REVEALS HOW IT’S DONE

Roast boar might have been the Vikings’ party food of choice but venison was almost as popular, as Jesper’s delicious recipe proves. Here’s how cooking like a Viking is done:

VENISON WITH MEAD AND MUSHROOMS

One venison filet

Four slices of mature ham or good bacon

250g butter

Handful of fresh mushrooms

300ml cream

200ml mead

Check the fillet for tendons and remove. Cut the meat into four pieces and wrap each one in a slice of ham, fixing it in place with a tooth pick.

Clean the mushrooms and slice or chop them. Next, brown 50g butter in a frying pan, then add the meat and cook to medium. Remove from the pan and cover with a paper towel and leave to rest while you make the gravy.

Place 100g of butter in your pan and let it brown. Fry your mushroom until they take on some colour. Next, add the mead and let it reduce by a third before adding the cream. Reduce again by two thirds, before removing the pan from the heat and stirring in the rest of the butter.

Serve the meat in the pan and grin along with the Norse gods as you enjoy it.

BAKED BABY BEETROOTS 

1kg baby beetroots

100g butter

100g honey

Peel the beetroots and dry them. Melt the butter and honey in a frying pan, then add the beetroots, covering them completely in the mixture.

Bake the beetroots for approximately 45 minutes at 175 degrees. Check and turn the beetroots regularly.

SWEETHEART CABBAGE SALAD

400g sweetheart cabbage

Eight baby leeks or  one large one

One pear

A dash of apple cider vinegar

Small handful of blackberries and blueberries

3tbsp rapeseed oil

Sprinkling of chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the sweetheart cabbage into 5mm slices and place in a large serving bowl.

Cut the pear into thin slices, add the parsley and drizzle both with apple cider vinegar before throwing all of it over the cabbage with the blackberries and blueberries.

Fry the leek in rapeseed oil with a pinch of salt until the edges turn brown and add to the salad as a topping

All dishes serve four

For more information on Aalborg, Skagen and North Jutland, see visitdenmark.co.uk 

IVAN’S BLADE?

Sure look like it would have been a beautiful thing when new. The inscription is incredible…

Could rare sword have belonged to Ivan the Terrible?

By Anna Liesowska and Derek Lambie
21 November 2014

Intrigue over how German-made 12th century blade, adorned in Sweden, reached Siberia.

The scientists would be keen to hear from European experts who could throw more light on its origins. Picture: The Siberian Times

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets. The weapon was unearthed by accident  in 1975 and remains the only weapon of its kind ever found in Siberia.

An exciting new theory has now emerged that it could have belonged to Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and came from the royal armoury as a gift at the time of the conquest of Siberia. The hypothesis, twinning an infamous Russian ruler and a revered battle hero, could turn it into one of the most interesting archaeological finds in Siberian history, though for now much remains uncertain.

What Siberian experts are sure about is that the beautifully engraved weapon was originally made in central Europe, and most likely in the Rhine basin of Germany before going to the Swedish mainland, or the island of Gotland, to be adorned with an ornate silver handle and Norse ruse pattern.

The scientists would be keen to hear from European experts who could throw more light on its origins.

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.


The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.


The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.

The blade was made in the Rhine basin of Germany in late 12th or early 13th century. Pictures: The Siberian Times

‘Both sides of the blade have ‘rune’ inscription which was abbreviated’, said archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin, the man who led the excavation – in Vengerovo district – which found the weapon. ‘The style of calligraphy proves that it was made by people with knowledge of advanced epigraphic writing techniques’.

Russia’s leading experts at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg decoded the Latin wording on the one metre long blade.

The main inscription reads: N[omine] M[atris] N[ostri] S[alva]t[ORis] Et[eRni] D[omini] S[alvatoRis] E[teRni], with an additional one on the same side of the blade saying C[hRis]t[us] Ih[esus] C[hRis]t[us]. This means:’In the name of the mother of our saviour eternal, eternal Lord and Saviour. Christ Jesus Christ.’

The inscription on the reverse side is harder to read, but the first word  ‘NOMENE’ – clearly seen –  helps reconstruct the rest as ‘N[omine] O[mnipotentis]. M[ateR]. E[teRni] N[omin]e’, which means ‘In the name of the Almighty. The Mother of God. In the name of Eternal’.

There has been widespread debate about how the sword ended up in Russia, with assumptions it was either carried along a trade route, or taken as a spoil of war from skirmishes in the region. In one of the hypothesis, Academician Molodin has suggested the blade –  currently stored in the collections of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk – could have been taken from Ivan the Terrible’s armoury and brought to Siberia by the legendary warrior Ivan Koltso, ahead of the conquest of the region.

It was during Ivan’s reign in the late 16th century that Russia started large scale exploration and colonisation of Siberia. Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich was hired to take on the Tatar forces under Khan Kuchum and Murza Karachi and lead the eastward expansion of the empire, with the sword a possible gift from the Kremlin.

The sword was uncovered at the base of a tree in the Baraba forest-steppe, less than three kilometres from where it is thought Koltso, Yermak’s closest ally, died in battle. He was declared hero in February 1583, with church bells ringing out in Moscow, when it was announced he and Yermak had taken the capital of the Siberian Khanate, Kashlyk. But his new-found celebrity status did not last long, and he was killed with 40 men during an ambush 18 months later.

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.

‘It was as if it just dscended from some knights’ fairytale’. Pictures: The Siberian Times


Molodin puts a health warning on his new theory but says: ‘Imagine the last battle of the Cossack detachment headed by Ivan Koltso. The attack was unexpected. Picture someone immediately being killed by a treacherous stab in the back, and someone else grabbing a sword to fight the advancing Tatars.

‘They are unequal forces and the Cossacks are trying to break through the crowds of enemies, but the ranks of the fighters are melting rapidly. Ivan strikes not one opponent. In his hands, the glittering giant sword, a gift from the Russian Tsar.

‘In desperation Ivan and a few survivors of the Cossacks literally hack their way to their waiting horses.

‘Ivan’s leg is already in the stirrup and he is racing on the steppe, with his horse taking him further from the bloody battle. Behind him they chase, with arrows flying. And then, suddenly, the sword falls out of the hands of the hero and drops to the ground under a young birch tree.

‘I am not sure that I am right, imagining all this, but the legend is really beautiful.’

He told Science First Hand magazine: ‘I must note that none of the scientists mentioned it, perhaps because they didn’t take it seriously. The only person who really liked that theory was (noted) Academician (Alexei) Okladnikov.  He even mentioned it in one of his last works.

‘The hypnotise looks so brave and even fantastical that these days it is unlikely that I would mention it in a scientific work. But on the other hand, it does look very beautiful, plus life can often be more incredible than anything fantastical.

‘Even now when I am writing this I believe that we should not exclude the version that the sword could have got to Baraba together with Yermak’s squadrons. Despite his Cossacks having sabres and firearms, they were still using swords. So it was quite possible they were using them during that trip’.

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.

Vyacheslav Molodin: ‘Life can often be more incredible than anything fantastical’. Picture: The Siberian Times

It was during the summer of 1975 that Molodin, then a young archaeologist, had been working on the banks of the River Om with a group of students from Omsk and Novosibirsk. Their aim was to study the settlements and cemeteries of the Bronze Age, with a focus on group burials.

At a separate site another group of students had been excavating near a large birch tree, but were under instruction from Molodin not to go near it, certain that no one was buried there. However, Alexander Lipatov, the head of the excavation team, disobeyed the brief and stumbled upon what they thought was a rusty scythe just five centimetres under the grass. As they dug further it became apparent it was a large sword.

Mr Molodin told The Siberian Times: ‘The sword wasn’t hidden deliberately, or ‘buried’. It was lying at a depth of 3-5 cm, right under the soil near the birth tree which was close to an old road. I remember the moment we found it as if it was yesterday.

‘We were not supposed to work in the area where we found the sword. It was one of my younger colleagues Alexander Lipatov who decided to ‘prolong’ the excavation site towards a big birch tree. I remember getting annoyed when I saw it – the area along the birch tree roots was visibly very hard to dig, while my estimates were that the burial mound was not stretching as far as the tree, so there was no point to clear up that space anyway.

‘I expressed my reservations about it to Alexander, and he accepted them, but said that he was nervous about making a mistake in defining the site’s borders and decided to go a bit further ‘just in case’.

‘If it wasn’t for his ‘mistake’ we would have never found the sword.

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.


The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.


The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.

‘It was incredibly well-preserved, yet I was scared to raise it from the ground’. Pictures: The Siberian Times

‘It was close to lunch time when I was suddenly asked to come to that plot of land near the birch tree to ‘check up some piece of iron’, as they said. ‘Most likely it would be a scythe’, I thought to myself as I walked towards the site where they found it.

‘Looking back, I see how it was a pure stroke of luck. Every man in our expedition longed to take it and hold it his hands, it was an incredible piece of armament’.

Mr Molodin told Science First Hand magazine: ‘Carefully and slowly we cleaned the soil off, uncovering a strip of iron, which was wider at one end, and narrower at the other. It took us an hour to clear the soil completely to see a massive sword, about a metre long with a typical iron hilt of medieval knight’s swords with a clearly expressed crossbar guard and tripartite pommel.

‘It was incredibly well-preserved, yet I was scared to raise it from the ground. I was scared it would fall into pieces in my hands.

‘Finally I put my thin bladed knife underneath the sword and raised it… You know, I’ve seen swords like this in museums and in scientific books, but it was my first time ever to hold it in my hands. It was as if it just descended from some knights’ fairytale.

‘I slowly twisted it, noting sparkles of silver on the guard and blade. It was so well preserved that you could in fact use it in the battle almost straight away. Others took to look at the find, too.

‘Finally like a water through rushing through a dam, the shock of realising what we’ve just found broke through and we began talking all at the same time. I can’t describe the feeling of surprise and excitement.

‘How did it get here, in the heart of the Western Siberia, this clearly so European looking medieval sword? How did it preserve so well? Where did it come from? ‘

The medieval sword was discovered buried under a tree in Novosibirsk region, and scientists are keen to unlock its secrets.

‘Every man in our expedition longed to take it and hold it his hands, it was an incredible piece of armament’. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Swords such as these were not typical in Russia or across Asia, and it was more similar to those widely used by European knights. After extensive research on ancient weapons, Vyacheslav Molodin prepared a report on his findings and concluded it was from Europe and dated to the late 12th or early 13th century.

Questions as to how the sword reached Russia from Sweden have been asked since 1976, with the first theory that it was carried during trade missions.

According to Arab historians, in the middle of the 12th century there was an ancient northern path through Russia to the River Ob, called the ‘Zyryanskaya road’ or ‘Russky tes’. Over the centuries archaeologists have found a treasure trove of coins, silver vessels and medieval jewellery in the Urals and lower reaches of the Ob, having travelled from the west.

The downside to this theory is that the steppe, where the sword was found, is separated from the lower and middle Ob by hundreds of kilometres of rugged forests and swamps. Others have argued the weapon could easily have travelled east as a result of bartering, or as a spoil of war from skirmishes between the Turkic people of the steppe and the nomadic Urgic population of the Siberian taiga.

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