Ancient history has spoken of battles that drew blood, broke bones and left many to perish. Silver screens have been painted with depictions of ancient warriors in the grit of combat. While moviegoers flee to their imaginations to dream of what it was like to be in the midst of ancient history, archeologist excavate the very grounds on which war took place. At the Alken Enge site in Denmark, crushed skulls and pierced pelvic bones are bringing the stories of ancient history back to life.
Project Manager Dr. Mads Holst says the studies show that possible religious acts were performed on the bodies of fallen warriors long after they had died. The theory is that bodies were not buried immediately after battle, but were left to rot for six months before they were butchered and used in some kind of ceremony. Scrape marks indicated that the flesh of the carcasses were stripped from their bones which were then thrown into the lake.
In 2012, archeologists had uncovered the skeletons of an ancient army that perished around the same time as the birth of Christ. This was the period in which the Roman Empire began to advance into Germanic tribal lands. Before the findings of 2014, it was believed that the remains on the Alken Enge site were so badly battered because of the intensity of battle they endured. The uncovered bones could not tell the exact history of the skeletons, but recent excavations showed that the bodies of these men were most likely desecrated in ancient pagan rituals.
Holst now theorizes that the bones were actually presented and destroyed by the victors of the battle to mark the defeat of their enemy. There have been descriptions recorded in history of such practices amongst Germanic warriors. Tacitus, an ancient historian, described a site where a Roman legion once found altars made to slaughter captives. He also recorded bleached bones in small piles, human skulls nailed to trees and broken weapons from the combat that had taken place. The description of the site supports the findings of Denmark’s holy graveyard.
According to Holst, the battle that took place at the site was most likely intertribal and not between Roman and Germanic warriors. Although Romans were in contest with Teutonic tribesmen at the time, some local groups may have been trying to escape north. This could have created discourse amongst groups and led to a violent clash.
The act of ritualistic collecting and arranging of bones, points to the possibility that the grounds were a holy site, making this Denmark’s first holy site to contain remains from religious practice. The objects found by archeologist include crushed skulls, stacks of bones, animal remains and uncovered sacrificial offerings of pottery. One piece that held specific interest was a wooden stick strung to hold four different pelvic bones. Another indicator that the sorting of bones was a deliberate and ritualistic act.
These finding are still only a small portion of what could possibly be excavated on the site. The ancient history of the bones and those who went into battle will continue to be pieced together. Archeologist do not believe they will be able to uncover all of the remains, but will continue to conduct small digs to help tell the story.
By Kamille Dawkins