Archeologists have uncovered the scene of a very violent battle that took place in Denmark 2000 years ago. The site is littered with skeletons of both adult and children who appear to have engaged in a huge fight before dying.
The mass grave is located in the small East Jutland town of Alken. Skeletons show that 13-year-old children fought alongside adult men, and after death, their bodies were ripped to pieces by hungry animals.
Bones of the dead were cleaned as part of religious ceremony
There was also evidence that the bodies of the deceased were further treated violently by the enemy. One of the most shocking finds for the scientist was uncovering four pelvic bones mounted on a stick.
"A very strange feeling descended on the excavation when we found them. It clearly shows acts that when you think about them, really makes your hairs bristle," says Mads Kähler Holst, director at the Moesgaard Museum and lead-author on the study.
"It became very quiet at the excavation that day," says excavation leader and co-author Ejvind Hertz from Museum Skanderborg, Denmark. So far more than 2,095 bones and fragments have been collected at Alken Enge but only a fraction of the site has been explored.
Archeologists responsible for the dig suspect they might find between 380 and 1000 human remains buried in the cold earth. But finding the bones is only the beginning of unraveling the mystery of this violent battle.
Violence spread across Europe in the first century CE
The bones have been dated to show they originate from a large event early in the first century CE. It was around this time that researchers know there was an upsurge in violence across Europe.
But details of exactly who was fighting the battle or why remain a mystery. “There are no Roman written sources in Scandinavia that can tell us what happened,” says Hertz.
They have ruled out the idea that it was a battle between Romans and Germanic forces. At the moment there isn’t evidence that the skeletons belonged to people coming from the South of Europe and the scientists' best guess at this time is it was local Scandinavians fighting tribes possibly from the Alps.
Evidence of the battle site was originally uncovered in 2012 but work has continued since then with major breakthroughs like the pierced pelvic bones. “We have found a wooden stick bearing the pelvic bones of four different men.
In addition, we have unearthed bundles of bones, bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls. Our studies reveal that a violent sequel took place after the fallen warriors had lain on the battlefield for around six months,” relates Project Manager Mads Kähler Holst from Aarhus University.
The ritualistic nature of the pierced bones leads the archaeologists to assume that the act was part of a larger religious ceremony an that the flesh from the bones may have been removed first before being spike then tossed into the lake. “Most of the bones we find here are spread out over the lake bed seemingly at random, but the new finds have suddenly given us a clear impression of what actually happened.
This applies in particular to the four pelvic bones. They must have been threaded onto the stick after the flesh was cleaned from the skeletons,” explains Field Director Ejvind Hertz from Skanderborg Museum. Work will continue at the site funded by the Carlsberg Foundation.