Human remains found in a 1,000-year-old cemetery were ceremonially adorned with buckets on their feet and rings around their necks, archaeologists discovered, say reports.
The mass grave holding over 107 skeletons in what is believed to be a pagan-era cemetery were discovered near Kyiv, Ukraine.
The mysterious burial site provided a glimpse into the Dark Ages, the 1,000 years of European history between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance.
Axes swords spears jewelry bracelets food offerings such as chicken and eggshells were found alongside bones.
Researchers Vsevolod Ivakin and Vyacheslav Baranov, who led the excavation, described the weapons typical for Kyivan Rus and northeastern Europe.
An altar made of stone found on the site may have been for early Christian or pagan rituals.
Ivakin and Baranov presented their findings at the Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting in Chicago in early January, Live Science reported.
The researchers said the graveyard contained both male and female skeletons, but that only females were adorned with elaborate neck rings, which “were apparently a kind of social marker,” said Ivakin and Baranov, per Live Science.
The wooden buckets on the feet found in some of the male graves — which may have been part of funerary rituals — are reminiscent of 11th-century Prussian cremation and Pomeranian and Masovian inhumation cemeteries of military elites, the Independent reports.
Live Science reported that some artifacts were similar to the ones found in Baltics. Volodymyr the Great ruled territories that extended to the Baltics.
The discoveries speak of a shift in religious beliefs in Ukrainian history, and to the advent of Christianity in Eastern Europe.
Baranov told Business Insider that the findings date back to the late Viking Age, a period during which the territory of Ukraine was involved in common North European processes.
He said the findings “correspond well with the pan-European historical processes in Europe, and once again show the importance of studying the pan-European history as a whole and European peoples in the general context.”
He added that the nature of such a small and closed group was rare for its time.
At the time of the cemetery’s use, the people of the Ukraine region were undergoing a conversion to Christianity, most notably documented by the baptism of Volodymyr the Great around 987, when he converted from his ancient pagan beliefs.
The archaeology project in Ukraine started in 2017. The war did not stop the research in 2022 or 2023. Baranov told BI that several of the regular members of the expedition had already been killed in battle and that others were on the frontlines after being mobilized. This has hampered the excavation.
The research, which is currently underway, involves a collaboration of several research centres, funded by other organisations and the German Research Foundation.