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18th Century Burials Excavated by KU Archaeologists on the Site of the Former St. John’s Church

Since August 2021, the team of archaeologists of the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archeology of Klaipėda University, led by dr. Raimonda Nabažaitė, have been carrying out archaeological excavations on the site of the former St. John’s Church of Klaipėda, demolished after the Second World War (1946–1947). The archaeologists report they have come to the most significant stage of excavations: they discovered the burials under the church.

After the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania had decided to declare the reconstruction of the church as a project of national significance, in 2020, archaeological excavations started on the site of the church tower and the V-part of the building (up to the top of the foundations). This year, the excavations continue on the same site, completely unearthing the foundations and excavating the graves there. The excavations are carried out by the team of the Institute of Baltic Region History and Archeology, Klaipėda University, led by dr. Raimonda Nabažaitė. They were initiated by the Evangelical Lutheran Parish of the City of Klaipėda in cooperation with Klaipėda City Municipality and the Centre for Cultural Infrastructure.

The team leader dr. Raimonda Nabažaitė says that the most valuable part of the present stage of excavations is the discovered burials. 57 graves have already been found. The dead were buried both in the churchyard and inside the church. Most of the graves were modest; the most ornate part of the coffins were metal handles. One exceptional coffin should be noted, the top of which was decorated with cloth. Some of the dead were buried with grave goods, such as coins placed in the areas of the head, chest, and legs; moreover, a female skeleton with earrings was found in one grave. The tomb of a mother and a child should be noted separately. Based on the discovered coins, the tombs date back to the first half of the 18th century.

All the discovered skeletons will soon be taken out and transported to Vilnius for anthropological studies in order to determine the age, sex, and possible pathologies of the dead. There, the remains will be kept and await reburial. They are likely to lie down under the foundations of the restored church.

In addition to the church horizon, the remnants of the build-up before the fire of 1678 were reached. After excavating them, the work will continue to the bottom of the foundations of the church tower, and architectural and structural surveys will be carried out. Upon their completion, the site will be ready for the church restoration.