Skeleton with bird skull in its mouth identified as 12-year-old Scandinavian girl from 17th century
A skeleton found in a cave with a bird’s skull in its mouth and another next to its cheek has been identified as belonging to a 12-year-old Scandinavian girl from the 17th century.
Archaeologists, who rediscovered the skeleton while rummaging through old artefacts, believe the girl with a chaffinch head in her mouth had come over with an army of invaders during the 1655 Swedish Deluge, a mid-17th century invasion and occupation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Discovered 50 years ago, the grisly find has only now wielded results following detailed analysis and genetic research.
Dr. Małgorzata Kot from the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw said: “This was not typical archaeological research. We had to apply a wide range of research methods to reach this conclusion. This was detective work.”
Through genetic research, the history sleuths were able to establish that the girl was not Polish, with radiocarbon dating eventually determining that the death took place sometime between 1750 and 1850 AD.
To try and understand the significance of the bird skull, researchers then searched for similar funeral rituals from the period in Scandinavia.
Dr. Kot said: “Our Finnish colleague, Dr. Frog, pointed out that birds symbolized the soul's journey after death. But burials with bird heads are not known from North East Scandinavia.”
Michał Wojenka from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków added: “We started to look for circumstances, in which ‘people from the north’ could end up near Ojców in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“The time of the Swedish Deluge is certainly in the foreground here, during which the invaders took and manned the Ojców castle in 1655.”
According to historical sources, in the Swedish garrison on Wawel there were 3,000 soldiers, mainly Fins. These troops reached Małopolska in autumn, the same time as the birds are thought to have died.
The researchers say that some soldiers from the garrison were stationed in the castle in Ojców, near Cave Tunel Wielki.
Dr. Wojenka said: “We often imagine that only a regular army entered Poland during the Swedish Deluge, but according to the contemporary reports there were also many women and children in the camps.
“That was also the case of the Swedish garrison at the castle in Ojców.”
Although mystery still surrounds how the girl died, analysis of her bones suggest that she did not have an easy life, with her bone growth, known as Harris lines, showing she suffered from severe malnutrition and hunger.
Dr. Wojenka said: “We have squeezed the available analyses like a lemon to obtain as much information as possible. We are 95 percent certain that our version of events is correct.”