Tuesday, September 18, 2012

bog finds

An entire army sacrificed in a bog

August 22, 2012 - 06:11

Archaeologists have found skeletal remains of an entire army in an ancient mass grave in Denmark. The bones confirm reports from written sources of shocking Teutonic massacres.

The excavation revealed a very special object – and axe, complete with a shaft, which is very rare. (Photo: Moesgård Museum and Aarhus University)
A Danish bog has been harbouring a terrifying secret for thousands of years.
Archaeologists have spent all summer excavating a small sample of what has turned out to be a mass grave containing skeletal remains from more than 1,000 warriors, who were killed in battle some 2,000 years ago.
“We found a lot more human bones than we had expected,” says Ejvind Hertz, curator at Skanderborg Museum.
The discovery of the many Iron Age bones has attracted international attention, partly because the body parts are macabre per se, but also because the bones are surprisingly well preserved. Furthermore, the find confirms a Roman source’s description of the Teutons’ atrocious war practices.
The site is located in the Alken Enge wetlands near Lake Mossø on the Jutland peninsula.
Bones reveal wounds from weapons
Some 2,000 years ago, the Alken warriors are thought to have been sacrificed to some gods, which we’re not very familiar with today.
At this early stage, we can see that the bones have bite marks on them, and parts of the joints have been gnawed off. So there’s no doubt that predators have been in contact with the body parts.”
Ejvind Hertz, curator at Skanderborg Museum
The bones ended up in the bog at a time when it wasn’t a bog; rather, it was a small basin by Lake Mossø, created by a tongue of land jutting into the lake.
The archaeologists have so far only excavated an area of 80-90 square metres, although the site stretches over an area of 3,600 square metres.
Excavations in wetlands are very expensive, since water needs to be constantly pumped out. Also, the finds are so densely concentrated that it takes a long time to get through all the layers.
The area that has so far been excavated contained bone fragments from around 240 men aged between 13 and 45. The men’s bones are marked by melee weapons such as swords and axes.
Meadow filled with dead warriors
The unexcavated basin in the bog stretches over a huge area covering almost 40 hectare and is believed to contain the remains of more than 1,000 warriors.
When asked how the archaeologists can tell that this many warriors are buried there, Hertz says: “We know that people who cut peat here in the 19th and 20th centuries found bone fragments. We’ve also made test excavations in the basin.”
This is the first time that something like this has been found in northern Europe.
Ejvind Hertz, curator at Skanderborg Museum
The archaeologists did not find complete skeletons, only skeletal parts. They can see that the bog contains many different individuals, since humans have, for instance, only one left thighbone.
Dead warriors were left to rot on the battlefield
The army beneath the bog may have been defeated and killed in a battlefield located far away from Alken Wetlands.
Hertz says that if this were the case, it must have been a massive logistical task for Iron Age people to transport the bones to the lake.
The researchers cannot say how this may have come about or where the battle took place. Many of the archaeological finds in the area stem from armies that came from afar.
But in principle, the battlefield may have been located right next to the sacrificial site. The sacrifice, however, occurred long after the battle.
“The bones have been sacrificed months or even years after the warriors were killed. We won’t know until the bones have been carefully analysed,” says the curator.
The bones are completely fresh. Some DNA has been preserved, so we can get a good profile of what Iron Age man looked like. An anthropological analysis of the bones will provide us with a picture of their diet and their physical appearance.
Ejvind Hertz, curator at Skanderborg Museum
“At this early stage, we can see that the bones have bite marks on them, and parts of the joints have been gnawed off. So there’s no doubt that predators have been in contact with the body parts.”
Finds confirm tales of brutal warfare
The marks from the predators’ bite indicate that the dead warriors were left to die and rot on the battlefield, without anyone bothering to bury or even remove the bodies.
This confirms parts of what a Roman source wrote about war practices among Northern Europeans in the period around the time of the birth of Christ.
One of the greatest historians of the Roman Empire, Tacitus (56 AD – 120 AD) described the aftermath of the Roman’s famous defeat in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD.
“In the middle of the plain, bones lay either spread out or heaped, depending on whether they had fled or resisted. Next to the bones lay bits of spears and horse limbs, and there were also human heads nailed to trees. In the nearby groves were barbarian altars in which they had sacrificed tribunes and centurions of the first rank,” Tacitus wrote in his Annals.
We also know from sources that when the Teutons won a battle, they killed off all the surviving enemies, except for the few who managed to run back to their home and tell of their defeat.
Very few weapons found in the grave


The sacrificed army was discovered in an area which has turned out to be brimming with archaeological treasures.
Here archaeologists have found around 15,000 objects – mainly weapons sacrifices from the Iron Age. But carbon 14 analyses have revealed that none of these finds could have been weapons belonging to the sacrificed army in Alken.
The archaeologists cannot determine the nationality of the slain warriors because they have found very few remains of weapons in the grave.
Among the numerous bone fragments, they have only found a few arrowheads, the remains of a shield and a very well preserved axe, complete with a shaft, which is very rare.
An invaluable source of info about Iron Age man
The bones are nevertheless invaluable: “This is the first time that something like this has been found in northern Europe,” says Hertz.
The conditions for preservation in the Alken wetlands have been optimal, i.e. the atmosphere has been oxygen-free.
“The bones are completely fresh,” he says. “Some DNA has been preserved, so we can get a good profile of what Iron Age man looked like. An anthropological analysis of the bones will provide us with a picture of their diet and their physical appearance.”
The researchers are nearing the completion of the current excavation project. In the coming months, they will be analysing the many bones together with international experts,
The project, titled ‘The army and post-war rituals in the Iron Age – warriors sacrificed in the bog at Alken Enge in Illerup Ådal’ is a collaboration between archaeologists and geologists at Skanderborg Museum, Moesgård Museum and Aarhus University.
Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk
Translated by
Dann Vinther

Read the rest of the article at Science Nordic.

 So what do we learn from disturbing the graves of bold and great warriors?  Well, they still have a role to play in the modern world.  By examining the cut marks on the bones, we learn a LOT about techniques, styles and what kind of armour they would have worn.  Also, the battle wounds can tell us a lot about how well trained and what effect that training may have had on their eventual demise.  (thats what interests me of course)  How would one go about doing that?
      Well, it is possible for instance to tell the difference between a cut made when the warrior was alive as opposed to an indignity after death.  You can tell if it was sawn or chopped for instance...a saw would likely be after the fight, and a surgeon might have been involved.   The direction of the cut on the bone is easily determined.  A preponderance of broken and cut left collar bones would mean an army is a sucker for overhead strikes for instance...you would be able to know whether the weapon was an axe, a pole axe, a club or a sword.   You would also if you were VERY good, might be able to tell if the blow happened after the weapon had glanced off a helmet.  The battle of Townton, for instance, has many skeletons with almost no chest wounds.  Heavy padded leather jacks (what we still call "jackets") and helmets would have prevented the arrow storm from being effective, though the helmets didn't seem to slow a battle axe much.  At Townton, the just kept on hitting the guy in the face.  Makes one wonder if the professionals at Townton were like the terminator, they just kept on coming and coming.  At Wisby, they were more workmanlike...leg shot first, then come back a little later and finish him off with an axe to the head.  (we know they were professionals at Townton by the healed sword wounds they all had and we know the Wisby crew were amatures because the wounds were all "beginner's mistakes".)

Anyway, I left you all with about two hours of links to peruse.  What is important about these links is that this is science...archaeology and forensics.  This is not what we surmise, or think happened....this is what actually happened. 
       From this we can learn a lot.  Why are there no arrow wounds in the Townton skeleteons, though the battle site is covered with them?  Why were the ears and noses brutally hacked off?  What role did the Marshal (the guy with the hammer pick) play in the drama? These links go a long way to answer these questions.

bibliography...not linked above.
written in bone...Smithsonian
soft tissue analysis 
skeletal analysis of Townton


  1. Wow. I like your analysis of the skill level of the fallen guys. However, I am most intrigued by that axe - how big is it? It looks a little... Danish, which would push the date for the axe-in-two-hands back by something like seven hundred years (though I believe the ancient Greeks had them).

  2. And, of course, I guess you've just seen this: