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12 December 2022

The first aDNA results of Saaremaa’s 13th-14th century burials are here!

The first samples were mainly taken from the cemetery at the former Karja manor, but also some from burials in the Loona manor cemetery and the Valjala churchyard.

Although it would ideally be a good idea to analyse all the deceased for a comprehensive analysis, some preliminary results can already be pointed out. The first and most important result seems to be that next of kin could be found in only one of the analysed burials. Thus, these were not strictly the burials of a single nuclear family. Only in the Karja cemetery was a man aged 25-35 buried with a daughter who had died under the age of 2.

Among the burials in Karja, two women of foreign origin have so far been found, one from present-day Finland or its eastern neighbouring area, the other from Scandinavia (or Western Europe in general). Both of them were buried either together or within a very short period between 1222 and 1266. The possible Scandinavian woman did not carry any surviving jewellery like most of the other women buried next to the Karja manor, but her clothing had a small amount of bronze ornamentation. Perhaps this was a woman from Sweden or Denmark who adapted to the local culture, but was buried without contributions, which was customary for Scandinavian Christians at the time?

In fact, in the same cemetery, there was another slightly foreign woman, wearing either Semgal or Vedic jewellery, and who was also genetically a little different from the usual coastal Estonian. She was buried close to a local man. Perhaps he was the woman’s husband? We will never know for sure, although according to the radiocarbon dating, the woman and the man were buried in broadly the same decade in the mid-13th century. The woman had died between the ages of 35 and 45. A distant maternal relative of the man was also buried 4 m away.

In the same Karja cemetery, three adjacent graves from the first half of the 13th century were found in which adult males were buried, but they were also not close relatives.

A 3D reconstruction of one of them – a man who died between the ages of 20 and 30 in Karja XV – will be completed in the spring.

As expected, most of the islanders were fair-skinned and light-eyed, with only one woman having brown eyes.

Kristiina Tambets, Professor of Archaeogenomics at the Institute of Genomics of the University of Tartu, will talk about the initial results of the genetic samples taken on Osiliana’s order and much more about genetics on the 13th December at 18:30 in the courtyard of Kuressaare Castle, in the Vahtkonna House.

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