15 000 medieval items uncovered during excavations on Kalamaja plot

Archeologists conducting excavations at a plot in the Kalamaja district of Tallinn have found about 15 000 medieval items so far, representing the biggest number of medieval finds ever uncovered at a single location in Estonia.

The discovery is extraordinary in that the material dates from a narrow time period.

According to Rivo Bernotas, the archeologist in charge of the excavations that started at the Vaike-Patarei 1/Jahu 6 plot this spring, said that an area of approximately one thousand square meters has been excavated by now and another as much remains to be explored. The material originates in a cultural layer about 90 centimeters thick. The absence of elements of built structures inside the layer indicates that the layer formed as a result of filling a low-lying land area with soil and debris brought from the Old City.

According to Bernotas, the finds indicate that the soil used to elevate the ground was brought from the site of a demolished religious building and a shoemaker's or a leatherware maker's workshop. The area was apparently taken into use in the first half of the 16th century.

Archeologist Erki Russow, senior researcher at Tallinn University, said that while also bigger numbers of finds have been uncovered during some excavations in Estonia earlier, such as approximately 21,000 items on the Tartu maantee 1 plot in Tallinn and a record 28,700 items in Hansakvartal in Tartu, those items were uncovered in a larger area and dated from a long period of time from the medieval time up to the recent past. Most of the material found at the Kalamaja plot dates from the final decades of the 15th century, which can be described as the heyday of medieval Tallinn, according to Bernotas. The newest of the coins found in the layer is a penny minted during the tenure of Johannes II Bertkow as bishop of Tartu (1473–1485).

Bernotas said that the finds uncovered in Kalamaja are extremely exciting and of utmost importance for the research of the medieval material culture of Tallinn.

"The plot contains everything that we should be finding in the Old City, but don't," he said. "These finds offer us an insight into the material culture of one period," said Russow.

Russow highlighted a small ivory figurine of Christ in Glory on Judgment Day from the 15th century as one of the top finds yielded by the Kalamaja site to date, which is rare also in the European context.

Altogether 25 medieval pilgrim badges have been found at the site already, compared with 20 such badges found across Estonia to date.

Bernotas described also a 15th century fragment of a glass window depicting a musician and a ring depicting what is believed to be a mythical creature bearing elements of the style of 14th-15th century Gothic art as very unique among the finds.

The other items found include chess pieces, dice, including the first ever bone die from the 14th-15th century found in Estonia, arrowheads, cannon balls, pieces of ceramics, various tools, axes, knives, writing instruments, pieces of ornament, and similar.

Excavations on the remaining one thousand square meters of the plot will continue through the summer.

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