The first skull excavated from the site, with a mortal wound caused by a spear or an arrow. Photo: Curator Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum

The first skull excavated from the site, with a mortal wound caused by a spear or an arrow. Photo: Curator Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum

In an archeological dig in the Danish bog Alken Enge wetlands lies the remains of an army long dead. There scientists recently uncovered hundreds of skeletons, some presenting clear evidence of a violent death, along with a slew of shields, armors, spears or axes. Researchers are still trying to determine the soldiers’ identities, places of origin, and the reason for which they were met with such a dramatic finale.

A lot of blogs and news outlets that have reported the findings seem to all blindly title the whole event as an “army sent for sacrifice”. With all due respect, this sounds preposterous. Now, the bodies were identified as being 2,000 years old, coincidentally or not around the time of Christ. Needless to say, these were dark times, especially in the wild north of Europe, where pagan rituals were abundant. The main hypothesis is that the skeletons belonged to a tribe which lost a battle, and the winning side gathered the prisoners, sacrificed them and then threw them in what used to be lake – today’s bog and wetlands.

“It’s clear that this must have been a quite far-reaching and dramatic event that must have had profound effect on the society of the time,” explains Project Manager Mads Kähler Holst, professor of archaeology at Aarhus University, in a statement.

A fractured skull lies among the remains of hundreds of warriors in a Danish bog. Credit: Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum;

A fractured skull lies among the remains of hundreds of warriors in a Danish bog. Credit: Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum;

In the death pit, Holst and his team have found fractured skulls, hacked-off thigh bones and a colorful assortment of ancient weapons. Remember, although they call it the Iron Age, iron and especially crafted iron, was an extremely valuable commodity. If, indeed, they were sacrificed, why leave the bodies with the weapons and armor attached? Was this a sign of respect for a well fought, brave battle? These are the viking forefathers we’re talking about, so this possibility doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  Personally, not buying it.

 A very well-preserved iron axe with shaft. Photo: Rikke Larsson Photo/Media Depatment Moesgaard Museum;

A very well-preserved iron axe with shaft. Photo: Rikke Larsson Photo/Media Depatment Moesgaard Museum;

Still, much more needs to be discovered.  The mass grave is so immense that the researchers gave up on trying to excavate it all, focusing instead on smaller digs that will allow them to recreate a picture of the larger landscape and the horrific events that transpired some 2,000 years ago.

“We’ve done small test digs at different places in a 40-hectare (100-acre) wetlands area, and new finds keep emerging,” Ejvind Hertz of Skanderborg Museum, who is directing the dig, said.

If by chance or not, you’re in Denmark at the moment, know that the site is open for visitors.  Tours run on Thursdays.

 

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