Archaeology

Iron Age Mass Grave Excavated in Denmark



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Archaeologists have reopened mass graves in Denmark to excavate the bones of fallen warriors which date back 2,000 years to the time of Christ, according to a Reuters report featured on MSNBC.

The burial site - a peat bog outside the Danish village of Alken on the Jutland Peninsula - was first discovered in 2009, with the bones of around 200 humans, some as young as 13. The skeletons of the Iron Age warriors were covered in cuts and slashes which suggested they had met a violent end. Now, archaeologists from Aarhus University are reopening the site to find new clues about their fate and to learn more about the Germanic tribes that lived on the very fringes of the Roman Empire.

Mads Kahler Holst suggested to Reuters that the conflict which resulted in the warriors' deaths would have been related to the expansion of the Roman Empire in the early Roman Iron Age. Although the Roman Empire never progressed as far north as Denmark, expansion into Germany was cited as the probably cause of the violence, although the furthest reach of the Empire was several hundred miles south of the Alken peat bog grave. It's unclear whether the killers and victims were local to the Jutland Peninsula or foreign, although Holst suggested he expects they were local.

It is thought that the warriors may have been defeated warriors, killed as part of some kind of sacrifical offering, their bodies then being tossed into the nearby lake where they have lain undisturbed and preserved for two thousand years. Although unusual, this kind of mass grave of sacrificed warriors has been seen before, in Celtic sites in France dating a few hundred years before that of the current dig.

Holst expects to discover a great deal about the level of military organisation in northern Europe during this period, and the archaeologists have also been excited by the extent to which the warriors' bones have been preserved by the peat, making DNA analysis possible. Skanderborg Museum's archaeological curator Ejvind Hertz suggested that as DNA from the locals at the time would not be that different to Scandinavian people's DNA today, any significant differences, could point to the involvement in the conflict of foreign military forces from southern Europe.

Archaeologists and historians look forward to the results of the dig in order to gain new insights into life in Europe beyond the Roman Empire's sphere of influence during the Iron Age.

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