A rare item was buried with an early-medieval woman: a metal folding chair.

A rare item was buried with an early-medieval woman: a metal folding chair.

A rare item was buried with an early-medieval woman: a metal folding chair.
In medieval times, the 1,400-year-old iron folding chair was a symbol of power and status.

Coins, weapons, jewels, and other valuables are frequently discovered in the ancient burials of notable people, but archaeologists recently discovered a truly unique grave good: a metal folding chair.

The medieval chair, made of iron, measures approximately 28 by 18 inches (70 by 45 centimeters) when folded and was discovered last month in Endsee, a village in southeastern Germany, by a team of archaeologists from the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection (BLfD).

According to Hubert Fehr, an archaeologist with the BLfD, the chair dates to around A.D. 600 and was associated with the burial of a woman in her 40s or 50s.

“While it’s too early after the excavation to know the woman’s identity,” Fehr said, “we do know she was of high social status, as evidenced by the grave goods found at the burial site.”

Although only the metal portion of the chair has survived, he believes it was made of other materials such as wood and leather. An X-ray of the chair may reveal more information about its construction.

“The chair’s iron is covered in corrosion layers, and sometimes within those layers you’ll find parts of wood and leather that have survived,” he explained.

Although only the metal portion of the chair has survived, he believes it was made of other materials such as wood and leather. An X-ray of the chair may reveal more information about its construction.

A rare item was buried with an early-medieval woman: a metal folding chair.
The burial was dated to A.D. 600 using a millefiori glass bead.

In general, chair burials are extremely rare, with only one other known burial in Germany; 29 early-medieval grave sites in Europe have chair burials, but only six are made of iron. Because these seats were frequently made of organic materials like wood, ivory, leather, or fabric, the only surviving elements are frequently the nails that held them together or the metal frames.

According to a translated statement, researchers regard the chairs as “special gifts” because of their rarity and symbolism (opens in new tab).

“During antiquity, [the folding chair] had a very specific symbolic meaning and was used as an insignia or sign of power for bishops, priests, officers, and others with high social ranking, which were often men in patriarchal Germany,” Fehr explained. “Amazingly, the majority of chair burials discovered are associated with female graves, indicating that women were also linked to this general language of symbols associated with signs of power.”

Other grave goods found at the site included a pearl necklace with small, multicolored glass beads draped around the skeleton’s neck; a belt with multiple brooches; a spindle whorl used to hand-spin yarn; and an animal bone, possibly from a cow rib, that served as a meat offering.

Finally, a large glass bead with a millefiori pattern, which means it was speckled with different colors of glass fused together, assisted archaeologists in determining the date of the burial.

“Most beads were made of glass during that time period, but styles changed quickly in terms of color and shape,” he explained. “Yellow was widely used around the year 600.”

Researchers also discovered a man’s burial next to the woman’s. According to the statement, the man was buried with a full set of weapons, including a lance, shield, and spade; a leg comb most likely used for grooming sheep; and a waist belt with a bronze buckle and belt pouch.

The researchers intend to X-ray the chair soon to see if it contains any information about the woman’s identity or the chair’s construction.

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