Four headless horses found in a raided royal grave have had archaeologists puzzled for years since they were found in Germany.
The horses are part of an elaborate ancient gravesite, believed to be that of a Merovingian prince, that has been painstakingly restored by a team in Saarland, Germany.
The headless horses are believed to have been part of a hybrid Pagan-Christian burial that was raided by medieval graverobbers.
The bones were dug up during excavations at the “Homerich” in Reinheim in 2007 that found a large aristocratic burial mound where they were sacrificed over the body of their former owner, dating back to the Merovingian Empire of the 7th century.
Archaeologist at the Regional Office for the Preservation of Monuments Dr Constanze Hopken told Real Press that the bones were repositioned and documented using precise photogrammetry of the excavation which meant that the restoration went smoothly.
Dr Hopken said: “The grave of Reinheim is unique with four horses plus two dogs, but as a phenomenon, it fits into a whole group of burials with dog and horse offerings.”
The bones were painstakingly put back together during a months-long restoration workshop by the expert assistance of two veterinarians, an animal osteopath and a horse rider.
Dr Hopken said: “The horses were between 1.3 and 1.45 metres tall (4.2 to 4.7feet) ; they were geldings, each at least 4 years old; horse 1 and 2 were considerably older. The dogs were probably female and at least 2 years old (at the best reproduction age); they were over 60 centimetres (2 feet) tall.
“At the burial the animals were led one after the other to or into the pit and killed there: first horse 4, the smallest with rather short legs, then the next bigger horse 2, then horse 1 and finally the biggest horse 3.
“It is not clear why the horses were beheaded: perhaps the heads were displayed on poles next to the grave to show the richness of the grave. But ritual reasons are also possible.”
The grave was sadly raided during the middle ages, but archaeologists have found that the horses belonged to a very high profile individual, believed to be a prince.
Dr Hopken said: “It was a person who was socially very high in society. Given the age and condition of the horses and the hunting dogs, one can assume that they were well trained.”
The centre of the grave originally contained the body of a man whose bones have since eroded, along with his armour, sword and shield.
Dr Hopken explained: “The Merovingians were Christians but they gave their dead their possessions from this world to be used in the hereafter, so that the dead could lead a similar life there as well.
“One can only expect such a sumptuous gift from a very high-ranking personality who wanted to present himself accordingly in the hereafter.”
The Merovingians (480-720 AD) were the first people of the Franks.
The most successful Merovingian leader was Clovis, who ruled from 482 to 511, creating an empire that, despite being divided several times lasted centuries.
The bones will now go on display to the public for the first time at the state capital, Saarbruecken, as part of the Mon Tresor exhibition that opens at the Saarland Museum for Pre- and Early History on 11th October.
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Story By: Les Steed, Sub-Editor: Joe Golder, Agency: Real Press
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