Karja cemetery

Graves in Karja burial site.

During construction works near the Karja manor in 1949, 18 skeletons with old artifacts were discovered. As it turned out, the construction works cut into an ancient cemetery that archaeologist Aita Kustin started to excavate in 1955. By this time, part of the cemetery was already under the building that was raised there later, but fortunately, it was still possible to excavate most of the burial site. The original size of the cemetery was approx. 400 m2.


During the archaeological excavations, they found altogether 34 skeletons, but according to Kustin, it seems likely that actually up to 70 people had been buried there. All the dead were placed into the grave with their heads towards the west and many graves had remnants of coffins, all indicating the custom of Christian burial. In the middle of the cemetery was an empty area with no skeletons that may have been occupied once by a wooden chapel. Based on the artifacts and coins found in many graves, Karja cemetery is dated to the 13-14th centuries.


The dead buried there were Christians. Its location in the middle of arable lands and right next to the later manor house opens the door to the assumption that it might have been a small Christian cemetery close to a private church or chapel. Plentiful artifacts of local origin indicate Estonian landholders-vassals to whom the nearby manor used to belong.

Burial of a 40-50-year old woman.
Silver arm-rings from the burial of pregnant 35-45-year old woman.
Bells from the burial of 1,5-2-year old child.

Artifacts, especially the jewelry was mostly found in female graves, whereas the male ones had seldom some items with them. We can only talk about metal items since they have survived through 600-700 years. Even if there were fine fabrics and clothing with embroidery or fur, these materials don’t survive for that long. Nevertheless, some pieces of textile were found in the Karja cemetery as well, attached to decorative elements made of metal which helped to preserve the textile – some of the buried had clothing decorated with bronze spirals and rings. This sort of decoration was characteristic of female aprons and shawls. Some women had been decorated with dress pins or chain arrangements locked upon the shoulders with penannular brooches, some had rings on their fingers and many had a knife on their belt or in their casket. Most of the jewelry and clothing decorated with bronze elements wasn’t on the dead but placed inside the coffin and under the body. The most common grave good for males was a knife, which at times was inside a bronze-lined scabbard and connected to the belt with a chain of iron links. The belt itself was fitted with a bronze or iron buckle.


Out of the 34 skeletons, 13 belonged to males, 10 to women, and 11 to children. 6 women and 2 males had died at the age of 35-50, and 3 women and 6 males at over the age of 50, which by the standards of these days was already a ripe old age. 4 males had died at the age of 25-35. The medium height of the males was 167.4 cm, but three males were over 170 cm high. The medium height of females was 157.4 cm.

Nuga üle 40-aasta vanuse mehe matusest.
Rinnakee 35-45-aaasta vanuse naise matusest.

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