Ancient remains of entire army found at Alken Enge were desecrated in post-war rituals
In 2009, a dramatic discovery was made in the Alken Enge wetlands at Skanderbord in Denmark – the skeletal remains of an entire army of Iron Age warriors who had been slaughtered and tossed into the bog around 2,000 years ago. This was gruesome enough in itself, but a report published in Phys.org has revealed that it was in fact much worse. The findings of a new study show that the bodies of the soldiers were brutally desecrated in post-war rituals before being cast into the lake.
For the last two years, archaeologists and experts from Aarhus University, Skanderborg Museum and Moesgaard Museum, have continued excavations and worked to piece together the events that took place that fateful day in which more than 1,000 warriors met their end. What they discovered was unexpected.
"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," said Project Manager Mads Kähler Holst from Aarhus University.
Four pelvic bones on a stick are shown. Credit: Peter Jensen, Aarhus University
In what the researchers believe formed part of a religious ritual in preparation for offering the remains as a sacrifice, the bodies of the warriors were entirely defleshed, the bones sorted, and in some cases, they were threaded onto sticks. The pile of remains were then tossed into water, along with the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that probably contained food sacrifices.
"It seems that this was a holy site for a pagan religion – a sacred grove – where the victorious conclusion of major battles was marked by the ritual presentation and destruction of the bones of the vanquished warriors," said Holst.
Thighbones from the dead warriors. Credit: Skanderborg Museum
The battles near Alken Enge were waged during the 1 st century AD when the Romans clashed with Germanic tribes. Historical records kept by the Romans describe macabre rituals practiced by the Germanic peoples on the bodies of their vanquished enemies, but this is the first time that direct evidence supporting the description has been found.
Featured image: Skulls are scattered around thighbones and joints in the great mass grave at Alken. Photo: Skanderborg Museum