People living in Europe some 1,400 years ago had a custom of reopening graves and removing some objects for no apparent reason.
A team of researchers is looking into the mystery.
“The practice of reopening and manipulating graves soon after burial, traditionally described — and dismissed — as ‘robbing,’ is documented at cemeteries from Transylvania to southern England,” they wrote.
In the study, they reanalyzed formerly excavated cemeteries from five European areas.
They discovered that, sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries A.D., people often opened graves and removed objects for other reasons than grave robbery.
Alison Klevnäs, a researcher from the Stockholm University and the study’s lead author, stated:
“They made a careful selection of possessions to remove, especially taking brooches from women and swords from men, but they left behind lots of valuables, even precious metal objects, including necklace pendants of gold or silver.”
The researchers also discovered that numerous of the items that were taken from the graves were in bad condition, mainly the swords, and would have had no real economic or practical value.
The team wrote that their results suggest that burials were most frequently being opened within a generation of internment, and sometimes even less.
They also mentioned that the most frequent time frame for reopening was after soft tissue decayed but before the wooden container collapsed or became filled with sediment.
As it takes just a few years for bodies to rot usually, Klevnäs mentioned in a mail to Live Science that the graves were opened “very soon after burial.”
The fact that swords and brooches were usually taken suggests some sort of symbolic reason, according to the team.