STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Archaeologists have discovered an Iron Age temple at an ancient burial site outside the Swedish capital, saying it is the first of its kind found in Scandinavia.
The burial ground, with more than 200 graves, was unearthed in the early 1980s at Aaby, 25 miles south of Stockholm, when construction work was planned in the region.
But the temple and 30 more graves were found only last week, after two months of renewed excavations prompted by plans to build apartments and a parking lot in the area.
The temple, dating from between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200, is shaped like a pentagon, measuring 46 feet across, said Roger Blidmo of the private excavation company Arkeologikonsult, whose team found the remains. They include a doorway covered with flat stones and marks of corner holes that once supported pillars.
The shape and size of the building indicate it was a place of worship or sacrificial offering, Blidmo said, a theory supported by the fact that no graves were found inside the construction or in an area directly outside the doorway.
"I don't think people would have built such a firm construction over a single grave, even for a chief," Blidmo said.
Iron Age burial buildings have been found in Denmark, but none resembles the pentagon near Stockholm, he said.
Ulla Lund from Copenhagen University in Denmark, who did not participate in the excavation, said the shape of the construction implies it was a temple or religious building.
"It sounds totally unique," she said. "There are no temples or religious constructions from this period anywhere in Scandinavia."
Blidmo wants the temple reconstructed on-site. "We have to preserve it, or it will be washed away by rain," he said.
However, that would mean scrapping the other construction plans.
Neither the municipality nor the landowner has decided what to do, said Daniel Forsblom at Seniorbostaeder, which owns the property. If they decide to go ahead with developing it, construction would not begin until next year, he said.
During the Iron Age, considered to be about 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000 in Scandinavia, the area around Stockholm was very prosperous. Villagers kept livestock and traded hides with the Roman Empire.
"This (temple) is probably influenced by Rome," Blidmo said. "The construction style diverges sharply from the normal way of building during that period in Scandinavia."
Similar temple finds have been made in Germany and England, he said.