Analysis of ancient human bones found in Denmark reveals that a large-scale battle among barbarian populations happened in northern Europe in the first century A.D.
The discovery also disclosed an after-battle ritual that involved the victorious tribes dismembering the bodies and bones of the defeated rivals for several months before discarding them at a nearby lake.
The bones were discovered in archeological excavations at Alken Enge, Jutland, Denmark. The location is a 75-hectare of wetland area.
The team, led by archeologist Mads Kähler Holst of Aarhus University in Denmark, uncovered the remains of 82 individuals. An estimate based on the distribution of the bones, however, suggested that the total number of the warriors was at 380. They were all males who are predominantly adult.
If the team's estimation is accurate, their finding could be the largest archeological evidence of prehistoric battle in northern Europe that pitted Germanic tribes among each other.
Thousands Of Human Bones
The battle took place at the peak of the Roman Empire's expansion toward Europe. The team, however, noted that while Roman armies fought against barbarian Germanic tribes across Europe during the first century A.D., these armies failed to reach lands as far north as southern Scandinavia. This meant that the battle from which these human bones were acquired only involved the barbarian populations.
The human bones showed markings that they were systematically stripped from the human bodies which they belonged to. Fragments of hip bones were found threaded onto a stick. Some of the bones contained scars indicating that animals gnawed on them for a period of six months to a year before they were discarded in the lake. Their skulls also bear signs of heavy crushing and pounding.
"The trauma is also consistent with what we could expect from an encounter with a well-equipped Germanic army," Holst said.
Some of the bones appeared to belong to warriors as young as 13 years old.
"The relative absence of traces of healed sharp force trauma suggests that they had relatively little previous battle experience," the team wrote in their research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Barbarian-on-barbarian Large Scale War
Peter Bogucki, an archeologist from the Princeton University and author of the Barbarians agreed to the conclusion presented by Holst and his team.
Bogucki was not involved in the study but nevertheless agreed that the battle was "barbarian-on-barbarian." He reiterated that the conflict which transpired among the Germanic armies may not be related to the Roman Empire's attempt to colonize the barbarian areas south of Scandinavia.
Bogucki further noted that a previous discovery of ancient sacrificial weapons south of Scandinavia only suggested that barbarian tribes were merely comprised of 80 individuals.
"If [Holt's team's] estimates are correct, these armies may have been several times larger," he highlighted.
As for the supposed post-battle ritual, Bogucki described it as an act of creating a "collective memory of the event."