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One of the eight dog skeletons were found next to three tethering stakes.

Iron Age Sacrificial Site with Human and Canine Remains Discovered in Denmark

Archaeologists in Denmark have unearthed a well-preserved Iron Age village, along with the remains of one human and eight dogs lying next to tethering stakes in a nearby peat bog.  The circumstances of the discovery suggest that the human and animals were sacrificed and then laid in the peat pits as offerings to the gods.

The Local reports that the findings were made at an archaeological dig at Skødstrup, north of Aarhus in Denmark. The remains of the human and canines was found just 200 meters from another bog site that has yielded numerous archaeological discoveries since the 1800s, including Iron Age swords, lances, shields, a wooden phallus, burnt human bones, and the remains of thirteen dogs. The weapons date back to around 300 BC, while the human and animal remains date to between 250 and 275 AD.

“We expected great things of the excavations because a settlement, a burial ground as well as extensive offerings and sacrifices in the bogs around Skødstrup have previously been found,” said Per Mandrup, an archaeologist at Moesgaard Museum and the excavation’s director [via The Local]. “But these new discoveries more than live up to our expectations and the finding of a human skeleton is the crowning touch”. 

The human remains belonged to a woman who died in her 20s. The skull was missing from the skeleton.

The human skeleton belonged to a woman in her twenties.
The human skeleton belonged to a woman in her twenties. Photo: Jacob Due/Moesgaard Museum

The Iron Age village consists of dwelling foundations and cobbled streets.  Nearby is a burial ground and the sacrificial bogs.

“It gives us a unique insight into the life of Iron Age people in war and in peace, and not least a glimpse into their religious universe,” Mandrup said [via The Local].

An Iron Age road.

An Iron Age road. Photo: Jacob Due/Moesgaard Museum

Substantial evidence suggests that during the early Iron Age, bogs were used for making offerings to the gods, including human and animal sacrifices, weapons, and other treasures. Many of the human remains recovered from these bogs have been remarkably well preserved thanks to the acidic, oxygen-free conditions in the peat bogs, which keeps organic material intact. One of the more phenomenal discoveries was  Tollund Man , a 4 th century man found in Denmark, whose face is as preserved as the day he died. The look upon his face is calm and peaceful, as though looking upon a sleeping man. Like many others, Tollund Man had been sacrificed as part of an Iron Age ritual.

he well-preserved face of Tollund Man.

The well-preserved face of Tollund Man. Image source:  Wikipedia

Over the past centuries, the remains of more than 500 men, women, and children have been unearthed during peat cutting activities in north-western Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. The majority date back to between 800 BC and 200 AD. No one knows for sure who these people were and how they ended up in the bogs, but it seems that most bodies are not just the remains of unlucky people who fell in after losing their way as many of them display signs of violent deaths.

Funerary customs of the time and region involved cremation of the bodies, so the fact that some were found intentionally placed in the peat bog, and were often accompanied by votive items, suggest that these were not normal burials and may indicate sacrifice. For instance, Tollund Man was found with a noose still around his neck but with no other injuries and it appears he had been carefully placed in the bog – his eyes and mouth had been closed and his body placed in a sleeping position – something that wouldn’t have happened if he were a common criminal.

The Tollund Man as he appears today.

The Tollund Man as he appears today. Photo credit:  Tollundman.dk

Archaeologists have acknowledged that, while research provides new insights into bog bodies, there are still many more questions than answers. As Lotte Hedeager, an expert in Iron Age archaeology at the University of Oslo in Norway, said:

"We will never be able to uncover the perception of life and death of those individuals 2,000 years ago. That remains a true secret of the bogs."

Around 30 bog bodies are housed in museums in Denmark, where scientists have worked for decades trying to unravel the mystery of who these people were, how they died, and why. The remains of the human found at Skødstrup have now been sent to Moesgaard Museum for further analysis.

Featured image: One of the eight dog skeletons were found next to three tethering stakes. Photo: Jacob Due/Moesgaard Museum

By April Holloway

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