Archaeologists Discover Tollense Battle Was Actually A Massacre
Archaeologists in Germany are rewriting history by proving that Europe's oldest battle in the German Tollense Valley was actually Europe’s oldest massacre. The Tollense battlefield is a Bronze Age archaeological site located in northern Germany at the edge of the Mecklenburg Lake District. Dated to around 3,250 years ago, Tollense has been known as the site of Europe's oldest battle since about 2007. But now archaeologists believe that the Tollense battle site wasn’t a traditional battlefield but the site of an ambush in which 1,400 merchants traveling through the region were massacred. And this means that the Tollense battle was actually Europe’s oldest massacre.
The Tollense Battle Becomes Europe’s Oldest Massacre
In 1996, a violently broken human arm bone was discovered at the site of the so-called Tollense battle in Germany, near today's border with Poland, and about 80 miles north of Berlin. An amateur archaeologist found the smashed body part protruding from the steep bank of the Tollense River river. A flint arrowhead was embedded in the bone.
The Tollense river valley near the town of Burow, Germany looks peaceful, but this was the site of the so-called Tollense battle which is now known to be Europe’s oldest massacre site. (Botaurus-stellaris / Public domain )
In excavations in 2007, archaeologists unearthed 140 skeletons and remains of military equipment, including bronze spearheads, flint and bronze arrowheads and wooden clubs at the Tollense battle site. At that time, it was concluded that Tollense was an enormous battlefield, as well as Europe’s oldest battlefield. As late as 2017, Professor Thomas Terberger told Live Science about the Tollense battle site saying it was one of “the biggest and most brutal battles fought in the Bronze Age.”
The bones of the dead found at the Tollense battle site, which is now known to be Europe’s oldest massacre site. ( State Office for Culture and Preservation Meckleburg-Vorpommern )
However, a more recent analysis by Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist for the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, suggests that up to “1,400 people died at the site.” But they weren’t tattooed, bearskin wearing, weapon wielding Bronze Age Germanic warriors, but, rather, a group of merchants who were ambushed and looted before they were “ruthlessly slain.” This rewrites history and the required description from the “Tollense battle location” to the “Tollense massacre,” making it Europe’s oldest massacre.
Travelling Merchants Likely Killed With Wooden Clubs
The latest research study of the Tollense battle site completely rewrites traditional interpretations, which suggested a tribal territorial feud had unfolded over the control of a bridge over a river near the Baltic Sea.
One of the skulls found at Europe’s oldest massacre site in Germany. Note how the skull has been smashed in, likely with a deadly wooden club. ( State Office for Culture and Preservation Meckleburg-Vorpommern )
The new study suggests that a group of bandits had robbed and then “mercilessly slaughtered… a group of diverse vendors passing through the region, likely to set up a market, and some were travelling in a large caravan.”
Europe’s oldest massacre shares similarities with the haunting and unforgettably violent Episode 4, Season 6 of The Walking Dead . In this episode, one group of survivalists ambushed another, and their leader systematically smashed in the skulls of the victims with a baseball bat.
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Among the weapons found at the Tollense battlefield was an ash wood club “in the shape of a baseball bat” and another "mallet shaped stick,” made from a sloe bush (Prunus spinosa) branch . Today, both species of wood are still prized for their elasticity and strength.
Some of the wooden clubs and bats found at the Tollense site, now known as Europe’s oldest massacre. ( State Office for Culture and Preservation Meckleburg-Vorpommern )
Speaking of the murderers’ particular choice of weapon, the researchers told The Daily Mail that similar wooden clubs are sometimes found in north German bogs, for example at Wiesmoor and Berumerfehn. They added there “is no doubt these hammer-like, wooden weapons could cause heavy lesions,” hence the Walking Dead reference.
Introducing The Site Of Europe’s Oldest Massacre
Archaeologists were initially puzzled when they discovered that the 1,200 buried bodies that have so far been recovered from the Tollense battlefield site included the corpses of women and children.
According to The Times , when the researchers re-analyzed the bones’ isotopic structures they identified signs of extreme stress on their lower spine and legs. This led Dr Jantzen to conclude that the murder victims were either a group of merchants or tradespeople, or their slaves, who had spent a lifetime carrying around heavy loads.
Putting the scale of this Bronze Age massacre into a more modern historical context, one might draw parallels with the Alamo. On the morning of March 6, 1836, General Santa Anna recaptured the Alamo ending a 13-day siege that claimed from 1,000 to 1,600 Mexican soldiers. Europe’s oldest massacre had a death count similar to the Alamo.
It is remarkable how quickly archaeologists were able to “understand” that what was viewed as Europe’s old battlefield was in fact a completely different encounter between two groups, the bandits and the travelling merchants. Now we know that the Tollense battle or the Tollense battlefield is actually the location of Europe’s oldest massacre, at least until an older slaughter scene is found.
Top image: Skulls and weapon found at the Tollense battle site, which is now thought to be Europe’s oldest massacre site. Source: State Office for Culture and Preservation Meckleburg-Vorpommern
By Ashley Cowie