Viešvilė I cemetery: a source of knowledge about Skalvians society
In Viešvilė (Wischwill) I and III cemeteries on the right bank of the Nemunas, during the Viking Age (the 9th/10th through the 12th century), Scalvians living in a neighbouring non-fortifed settlement used to bury their fellow tribespeople. The settlement was localised about 350 m east of the cemeteries, on the right bank of the Viešvilė River, at its conﬂuence with the old Nemunas riverbed. Scalvians were a Western Balt tribe who in the 9th to the 13th century lived on both sides of the lower reaches of the Nemunas, lower of the Šešupė estuary, i.e. in southestern Lithuania and in the present area of Tilžė (Tilsit, presently Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Region, Russian Federation). The Viešvilė I and III cemeteries were strongly destroyed by economic activities, which made it difcult to decide exactly what social relationships at the time accounted for burying some of the community members on the hill, which at the time of the cemetery use was undoubtedly a prominent part of the landscape, and some others, on a small hill. An analysis of the available material suggested that those were representatives of the Scalvian military elite who were buried in the Viešvilė I cemetery. On the hill, 17 cremations and six children’s inhumations were discovered. The burnt bones of the deceased were deposited in extended oval-shaped pits (sizes 147x47–350x120 cm), usually placed in a compact pile in a certain part of the grave. The grave gods were neatly arranged on the burnt bones, only the smaller ones were intermixed amongst them. The weapons and the horse as well as rider-related grave goods were usually deposited separately from the decorations or working tools. All the cremations, based on the anthropologist conclusions and the fnds, belonged to men. Among the discovered grave goods, artefacts typical of the male sex predominated. In eight cremations, horses were cremated together with the deceased. Moreover, next to abundant decorations and household items, unusually large numbers of weapons were found, and they were found in all the cremations. Some deceased males were buried with four or fve spears, some with two, and in one grave, with as many as six swords. The trend was observed that, in as many as 80% of the cremations in that cemetery, a man was buried with a woman or a child. Perhaps it revealed burial rituals typical of Scalvians and certain social relationships between the deceased individuals. The fact could also witness frequent military clashes or epidemic diseases. The grave goods found in the graves (inlaid spearheads, swords) demonstrated trade relationships with the Balt tribes from the Samland and Scandinavia. The cremations contained some unique fnds, such as natural size bronze spindles and hammer- or axe-shaped belt pendants which by their shape were close to the amulets found in Scandinavia, i.e. Thor‘s axes. Analogues to the aforementioned artefacts can be found nearby in another Scalvian cemetery of Linkūnai (Linkuhnen, presently Rževskojė, Kaliningrad Region, Russian Federation).
The jewellery, weapons, and other items from both cemeteries joined the abundance of imported fnds found in the lower reaches of the Nemunas and supported the claims of the signifcance of the region at the time of the Migration Period and Viking Age.