Researchers working near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland have unearthed a rather gruesome artifact dating back to the First Century A.D. — a wooden stick bearing the pelvic bones of four fallen warriors.
The Iron Age battles waged near Alken Enge took place in Northern Europe as a result of the Roman Empire's northward expansion, which put pressure on the Germanic tribes. This resulted in wars between the Romans and the Germanic tribes, and between the Germanic people themselves.
Back in 2012, Danish archaeologists uncovered the bones of an entire army whose approximately 200 warriors had been thrown into the bogs after losing an engagement around 1 AD. In the digs since, they've also found a skull with a hole in the back from a projectile or spear, a thighbone cut in half, and numerous other bones and weapons.
This year's excavation is proving no less interesting or macabre. The discovery of four human pelvic bones on a stake, along with bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls, have the archaeologists searching for an explanation. But the grim artifacts are likely the remnants of a religious act.
Researcher Peter Jensen created this 3D animation of the artifact shown in situ:
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The remains of the fallen were gathered together and all the flesh was cleaned from the bones, which were then sorted and brutally desecrated before being cast into the lake. The warriors' bones are mixed with the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that probably contained food sacrifices.
"We are fairly sure that this was a religious act. 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," adds Mads Kähler Holst.
Geological studies have revealed that back in the Iron Age, the finds were thrown into the water from the end of a tongue of land that stretched out into Mossø lake, which was much larger back then than it is today.
"Most of the bones we find here are spread out over the lake bed seemingly at random, but the new finds have suddenly given us a clear impression of what actually happened. This applies in particular to the four pelvic bones.
The archaeologists suspect that the bones were threaded onto the stick after the flesh was cleaned from the skeletons.
Images: Peter Jensen, Aarhus University