Czech archaeologists discover unique bronze buckle from early Middle Ages

A bronze belt buckle from early Middle Ages, depicting a snake devouring a frog-like creatur

Czech archaeologists have announced a unique discovery. A team of experts from Brno have unearthed a bronze belt buckle from the early Middle Ages, depicting a snake devouring a frog-like creature. The find could shed more light on people’s spiritual life in the pre-Christian era, of which we know very little.

The extraordinary discovery of a bronze belt buckle dating back to the eighth century was made by archaeologists from Masaryk University in Brno near the town of Břeclav in South Moravia. It is the same site where an animal rib with an inscription engraved in ancient Germanic runes was recently discovered.

Jiří Macháček, who heads the university’s archaeology and museology department, says such ornaments were worn by the elites in the early Middle Ages in east central Europe:

Jiří Macháček | Photo: Jitka Janů,  Masaryk University Brno

“It was a part of a costume worn by the Avars, the nomadic people settled in the Carpathian basin, in today’s Hungary. However, it was also worn by neighbouring nations or groups of people. It was a very interesting discovery for us because we came across this Avar belt while excavating a settlement of early Slavs.”

The belt depicts a snake devouring a frog-like creature, a motif which is common for Germanic, Avar as well as Slavic mythology and which is most likely associated with the myth of the world’s creation or the fertility cult.

Nearly identical belt buckles have already been discovered in other parts of Central Europe, hundreds of kilometres apart. It suggests the motif must have played a crucial role in the religious and spiritual life of the people living in this part of the world in early Middle Ages, says Mr. Macháček:

““The problem is that we know very little about the pre-Christian religion among the Germanic people and the Slavic people. We have nearly no written sources about it. We believe that this scene of the fighting snake could be connected with the pre-Christian religion of the people of central Europe. Therefore, such archaeological discoveries could be very important to the discussion about the religion of these people before Christianity.”

Nearly identical belt buckles have already been discovered in other parts of Central Europe  (A - Lány  (Czech Republic),  B - Zsámbék  (Hungary),  C - Iffelsdorf  (Germany)) | Photo: Masaryk University Brno

Immediately upon making the discovery, scientists from Brno teamed up with colleagues from the other countries, where similar finds have been made, says Mr. Macháček:

“We organized an international team of experts who try to analyse all the specimen we have — there are altogether five of them. Using very special methods, they try to identify the origin of such ornaments, for example by lead isotope analysis or scanning electron microscopy. This way, we may be able to say if they were perhaps produced in the same workshop and then distributed all over central Europe.”

The international team of scientists have published their findings in the prestigious Journal of Archaeological Science. In the future they would like to make the unique early medieval artefact available for the public to see.

Author: Ruth Fraňková
run audio