Archaeologists Discover Skeletons of Children and Adults in Viking-Era Tombs

Swedish archaeologists have discovered seven Viking-era tombs in the ancient town of Sigtuna.

While the Viking Age, which began around 800 A.D. and ended around 1050 A.D., was relatively short-lived, according to Sweden's official website, it cast a long shadow over European history. Famous for their seafaring capabilities, Scandinavian warriors sailed far and wide in search of countries to raid, earning a reputation for incredible ruthlessness in the process. By the 11th century, however, most Swedish Vikings had abandoned traditional pagan beliefs for Christianity, according to the website.

Believed to date to the 900s, the tombs were built around the same time Sigtuna, which is located roughly 23 miles northwest of Stockholm was founded, according to Nine News. They contain the skeletal remains of eight people, four adults and four children, according to Live Science. Two of the children are suspected to have been infant twins who died during or shortly after birth, project manager Johan Runer said. Runer is employed by Uppdrag arkeologi, the company that oversaw the excavations.

Pointing to the fact the babies were "very small" and "of seemingly the exact same age," Runer and his colleagues hypothesize they were the "tragic result of a late miscarriage," Live Science reported. They will be analyzed further in the fall.

Pointing to several features of the tombs, Runer speculated they represent "some of the very oldest Christian burials in the city," he told Nine News. For one, the skeletons were interred in the earth, not cremated, as was customary among local people at that time. However, the archaeologists also found charcoal deposits and several caskets that bore evidence of fire damage—phenomena that "are rather common in Christian Viking period graves, but previously rather rare in Sigtuna," Runer told Live Science.

Lending additional credence to Runer's theory was the fact several of the tombs bore stone structures that were characteristic of Christian burials during the Viking Age. Four were weighed down with cairns, one of which was also surrounded by a cist, or stones arranged in a square shape, according to Live Science. Many of the tombs also contained contemporary artifacts. One, for example, held what Runer described as "a beautifully ornate bone comb" in a case; another contained a "leather belt containing fittings of iron and silver-gilt copper alloy," he said. The occupant of the latter had "silver coins" in his mouth at the time of discovery. This, Runer said, "is a rather common practice for Viking period Christian burials in middle Sweden."

The tombs were discovered in April and excavated in May, according to Live Science.

People handle a reconstructed Viking longship.
People handle a reconstructed Viking longship. Swedish archaeologists recently discovered seven Viking-era tombs in the ancient town of Sigtuna. MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/AFP/Getty Images