Tuulingumäe tarand - grave at Tõnija

In the years 1995 - 1997 archaeological excavations under the guidance of archaeologist M. Mägi took place at the Tuulingumäe ("Windmill Hill") tarand - grave which is situated at Tõnija village near Valjala. The excavations were financed by the Saaremaa Museum, the Valjala Municipal Government, the Estonian Institute of History, the State Board of Antiquities and the fund "Estonian Archaeology", organized by Gordon and Mary Snow in England. The finds of the excavations were stored in the Saaremaa Museum.

A tarand grave (the area of the digging was 139 m²), consisting of four tarands, was unearthed. The size of the tarands was 6 x 2 m on average, they were oriented from the south - east to the north - west. Tarands III and IV were the oldest, Tarands I and II were built after them.

Plenty of human bones and grave goods, some of them valuable items imported from the south - eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, dating to the 4th and 5th century, were found in Tarand II.
Under Tarand I which contained almost no finds an earlier grave from the turn of the era was found. Mainly animal bones and potsherds and only a few human bones were found in Tarand IV. Some funerals could be dated as late as the 7th and 8th centuries.

Although most of the human bones found in the grave were unburnt, the archaeologists could not find any skeletons in the correct anatomical order: various finds, human and animal bones were scattered throughout the stones used to make the graves. Each skeleton was represented by selected parts only. Almost all of the burnt human bones were pieces of skulls. In the opinion of archaeologists and osteologists, secondary burials could have taken place here. All in all the bones of 32 people could be differentiated - both men and women, most of them having died between the ages 18 to 35.

Nearly one - third of the buried were children. Research of the bone material allowed scientists to draw some conclusions about the diseases and health situation of those buried (lack of iron in the organism, thinness of bones, osteoma, occurrence of caries, bone fractures). The primary diet of the inhabitants was grain, but domestic animals were also raised: pigs, oxen, sheep and goats; they also hunted and fished for their food. As for the remains of domestic animals, it is interesting to note that the oldest known bones of a cat in Estonia were found there as well.

The people buried in Tuulingumäe apparently lived in a big farm situated nearby. To the end of the Viking Age they held a prominent position in the community. In the 12th century a new centre was developing in Valjala; we can therefore assume that the superior status of this locally important family declied in this period. Scarce written data and occasional finds testify to the continuation of settlement in the vicinity of Tuulingumäe.

"Yearbook of Saaremaa Museum"