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Medieval Europeans regularly opened graves, not to plunder them

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Hundreds of tombs dating from the fifth to the seventh century AD in an area stretching from Transylvania to England were opened as part of regular mortuary customs in order to remove objects, move bodies around, and even add a dog. at the funeral, according to new research published in the journal Antiquity.

At 10 to 15 graves, legs were removed from the dead or their skulls twisted around, indicating that the living were worried about the dead walking again, said lead author Alison Klevns, an archaeologist and researcher at the University of Stockholm, for CNN.

On one occasion, a dog was added to the grave, which Klevns said was a “very unusual example” that demonstrated that people wanted to please the dead individual.

“What we have is another dimension of the burial practices of this period,” she said.

The research brought together data from five archaeologists working in different parts of Europe.

Most of what we know about the early medieval period came from the study of these cemeteries, Klevens added.

“Usually they (grave diggers) treat graves and bodies inside them with complete carelessness,” she said, but practice has found that the dead and their grave items remained important even after they were buried.

Periods of reopening a grave can range anywhere from a few months to several decades after the person was buried, Klevns said. Occasionally, graves were reopened more than once.

While looting graves is thought of as a negative action, Klevns said the reopening of burial sites was “socially positive”.

The grave robbers were probably not responsible because the objects removed from the graves were not selected based on their value, the researchers concluded.

Brokers and swords can be taken, while very valuable items such as gold or silver necklace pendants can be left behind, experts said.

The research is the result of a joint effort between Klevnas and four other archaeologists, who combined their data to give a better idea of ​​the large-scale reopening of the tombs over a wide geographical area, detailing more that a thousand graves reopened in dozens of cemeteries.

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“The habit of reopening spread to Western Europe from the late 6th century and peaked in the 7th century,” said Astrid Noterman, an archaeologist and postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm University who studied 40 affected areas in France. north, said in a press release.

“In most areas, it takes place in the 7th century later, so many cemeteries have a final burial stage without reopening.”

Klevns told CNN she now wants to examine why people buried items with the dead and the meanings of different types of grave goods.

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