Black woman’s skull found in medieval burial ground in Bohemia

Czech archaeologists have made an unusual discovery while excavating an early medieval burial ground near Tetín castle in Central Bohemia. Among the human remains buried there was a skull which they believe may have belonged to a woman of African origin.

The origins of Tetín castle are estimated to range as far back as the 9th or 10th century. It is here that historians believe Saint Ludmila, the grandmother of Bohemia’s patron Saint Wenceslas, was murdered in 921.

As such, Tetín has already been a target of archaeological research. Now, experts analysing the human remains found in an early medieval burial ground near the town’s Church of St. Catherine believe they have made an unusual discovery. Anthropologist Pavel Kubálek says that one of the skeletal remains may have belonged to a black woman.

“She has a much wider nose opening, the nasal bones are markedly shorter and wider when compared to those of the common population. According to classical anthropology, this skull carries signs of African origin.”

There are also signs on the skull showing that the individual was suffering from a chronic nasal infection, which the archaeological team believes may be further evidence of the skeleton belonging to someone who was not originally from the region. The woman’s age is estimated to have been between 40 to 50 years old.

Tetín Castle | Photo: Martin Pecka,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

The team published its findings earlier this month in the journal of Archaeology in Central Bohemia (Archeologie ve středních Čechách), and firmly believes that the bones belong to the medieval burial ground. Just what exactly an African woman was doing in Medieval Bohemia is unknown, but Mr. Kubálek says that this could be evidence of closer contacts between the regions in Central Europe and the wider world at the time.

“This person could have been part of a diplomatic mission, or of a wedding escort.”

To confirm their theory, the archaeologists have called for a DNA analysis of the remains. If proven true, the discovery would be unique in the territory of Bohemia. However, the archaeological team points out that skeletons found in common burial grounds are not usually subject to this level of analysis. Therefore, there could be other such cases out there that are not known.

In total, the burial ground has revealed the remains of three other adults and three children. Three of these skeletons show signs of suffering from meningitis. The site was discovered in the early months of 2021 after a water pipe accident. Burials in the area began around the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries.