Archaeological excavations ahead of work to expand heating pipes in Kleinbasel, the Rhine port and industrial area of Basel in Switzerland, has uncovered fifteen graves dating back to the early medieval period. Some of these ancient burials included numerous and valuable artifacts. The highlight of these a beautiful gold robe clasp.
Medieval Gold Brooch Dating Back 1,400 years
This medieval gold brooch, known as a fibula, was found within the grave of a 20-year-old woman who lived in the 7th century. It was found in November by staff from Archaeological Soil Research in the Riehentorstrasse, Rebgasse area.
The team reported that 17 studs of blue glass and green garnet decorated the surface of the clasp once upon a time, a fact which indicates her exalted social status. In fact, the archaeologists postulate that her family likely owned property in the rural hinterland of Kleinbasel roughly 1,400 years ago.
The presence of a medieval burial ground at this site has been known since the 19th century, with a rescue archaeology excavation being carried out in the area prior to the installation of new utility pipes. The woman in question had her grave and skeleton accidentally crushed during construction work in the 20th century, but at the time the gold brooch remained undiscovered, reports Archaeologie.
The beautiful gold brooch dates back about 1,400 years. (Philippe Saurbeck / Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel-Stadt )
A Beautiful Brooch for a Beautiful Woman?
The medieval gold disc brooch was made from a non-ferrous metal base plate topped with gold. The disc was inlaid with green garnet gemstones and blue glass, adorned with gold wire filigree. It most likely held a cloak around the woman’s neck, which is now unfortunately lost. This kind of brooch, also known as disc fibulae, was used in the earlier part of the Middle Ages around Europe. They are considered the most common style of Anglo-Saxon brooch.
The brooch was likely serving a closure for a coat, with outstanding filigree craftsmanship. Filigree is an ornamental work of finely layered gold or silver, which is then delicately traced. Worked upon by an early medieval goldsmith, it has a base plate made of non-ferrous metal, with a gold cover on it. It’s been decorated with overlaid filigree of gold wire and inlays of blue glass and light green garnet. It was after this that the gemstones were glued in.
An early medieval child’s grave was discovered along with silver artifacts and fittings. (Adrian Jost / Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel-Stadt )
A Burial Place for the Elite
It’s not just the gold brooch which was indicative of her high social status – after all, her upper body was decorated with other pieces of jewelry including a whopping 160 pearls, beads of glass, amethyst, and amber, all sewn onto the now absent cloak. There was also a leather strap with an extremely large amber pendant, as well as small metal crosses.
Even her belt was indicative of a wealthy person – made as it was of iron with a silver-inlaid tongue. The belt had a hanger attached to it with multiple Roman coins, metal objects, and a comb made of bone. “It appears to be a hotspot, a special place where particularly wealthy people were buried,” said Basel cantonal archaeologist Guido Lassau, in an exchange with swissinfo.ch.
Other finds include a girl’s grave with a gold-inlaid belt buckle, 380 pearls, and a large silver inlaid belt fitting in another child’s grave , with scissors and a comb. Lassau commented that the burial ground was definitely denser than previously assumed.
A man buried within an early medieval stone cist grave showed evidence of serious injury to his face thanks to a sword blow. (Philippe Saurbeck / Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel-Stadt )
Due Diligence and Professionalism Helped Unveil Medieval Secrets
Not all the finds were preserved with their vanity and social status intact. The skeleton of one man showed signs of massive injuries, clearly the product of a violent blow to the face with a sword. He had even lost a significant portion of his upper jaw.
That the injury had healed helped archaeologists understand the prevailing medical knowledge during the Middle Ages . An era often labelled the Dark Ages, these kinds of details have helped archaeologists to understand this complex period in European history slightly better.
The professional archaeological supervision and due diligence conducted by the excavators and workers of the current pipe laying work allowed the remains of the elite woman to be recovered and documented, along with her gold brooch and accompanying artifacts. The authorities plan to resume excavations in January 2023 as well as organize a public exhibition to display the finds for the public.
Top image: The beautifully crafted golden brooch was discovered within a 7th century grave in Switzerland. Source: Philippe Saurbeck / Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel-Stadt
By Sahir Pandey