Cemetery next to a medieval church in Elham, Kent (England)
In the early Middle Ages (450 - 800 AD), dead people were often buried with valuable items such as jewellery, weapons and earthenware pots. Martine van Haperen discovered that the people who reopened the graves certainly did not take everything. They mainly took the objects with an important symbolic significance, such as swords and shields from the male graves and jewellery from female graves. These were possibly viewed as the carriers of mythical and ancestral powers.
The archaeologist from Leiden University investigated more than 1300 graves from 11 mediaeval cemeteries in the Netherlands and Belgium. More than 40 percent of the graves had been reopened. According to Van Haperen, this probably happened when the cemeteries were still in use and in half of the cases, this was even within a single generation after the funeral.
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