For whatever reason, the ancient dead seem to be rolling in their graves, due to the amount of strange burial news that keeps rolling in. While headless corpses and scenes of ancient torture make for interesting bedtime reading, less macabre archeological finds are no less intriguing. Just this week, Swiss archaeologists were called to a construction site in the Swiss commune of Windisch when workers came across a puzzling find while digging for a new residential and commercial complex: buried in the ground beneath the Windisch city streets was an earthenware urn filled with ancient Roman artifacts. While discoveries of Roman artifacts and ruins are common in this area of Switzerland, it’s the contents of the urn that have left historians and archaeologists baffled over the meaning of this odd burial.

The urn contained twenty-two lamps, each containing a bronze coin.

The urn itself is a typical example of cookware Roman soldiers would have used during the height of the Roman legion camp Vindonissa, built roughly where Windisch is situated today. Inside the urn, however, were twenty-two simple Roman earthenware lamps each containing a carefully placed bronze coin. The urn also contained burned animal bones which showed signs of being burned after the flesh was stripped from them.

The lamps were carefully arranged within the urn.

According to Swiss news outlet The Local, the presence of the coins - one for each lamp - indicates some sort of mysterious symbolic gesture or activity. Canton Aargau archaeologist Georg Matter told The Local that archaeologists are speculating that this unique combination of artifacts implies some sort of ritual:

What astonished us was the quantity and the combination of coins and lamps. We suspect this is a ritual burial. The intentions behind this burial are puzzling at the moment.

The lamps are decorated with depictions of the moon goddess Luna, various animals, gladiator scenes, and even typical scenes of Roman erotica. The coins have been dated to roughly A.D. 66-67. The Roman camp Vindonissa was active until around A.D. 100, implying that this burial was likely the work of Roman soldiers.

The ruins of an ampitheatre at Vindonissa.

Could this have been some sort of protective ritual? An offering to the moon goddess for safety? Until other similar discoveries are made, this burial is likely to remain a mystery.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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