Sword at his side, the so-called Young Warrior (left) is among the thousand-year-old discoveries in a newfound cemetery in Poland, a new study says.
The burial ground holds not only a hoard of precious objects but also hints of human sacrifice—and several dozen graves of a mysterious people with links to both the Vikings and the rulers of the founding states of eastern Europe.
(Related: "'Thor's Hammer' Found in Viking Grave.")
Researchers are especially intrigued by the Young Warrior, who died a violent death in his 20s. The man's jaw is fractured, his skull laced with cut marks. The sword provides further evidence of a martial life.
Objects in the warrior's grave suggest he had ties to one of the region's earliest Slavic monarchs, said the project leader Andrzej Buko, head of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
But the north-south orientation of the man's body is a Scandinavian custom. Slavic graves were oriented east-west, Buko says.
Buried just below the Young Warrior—probably at the same time, Buko said—is a woman in her early 20s who may have met a similarly violent end. Though evidence is scanty, Buko guesses she was killed to be buried with the man, "because it's very hard to suppose she died at the same moment as the warrior."
Alongside the warrior is a second woman (right), also in her early 20s. The timing of her death is unclear.
Archaeologists stumbled upon the cemetery, which dates to the late 10th and early 11th centuries, after surveying a highway-construction site near the village of Bodzia, roughly 90 miles (150 kilometers) northwest of Warsaw. The find is reported in this month's issue of the journal Antiquity.
"The best discoveries are not planned, and so it was in this case," Buko said. "Among many other things, we discovered this marvelous cemetery."