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Mads Kähler Holst

Governing martial traditions: Post-conflict ritual sites in Iron Age Northern Europe (200 BC–AD 200)

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Iron Age martial ritual sites constitute some of the richest archaeological evidence that violence and mass behavior not only became increasingly a part of the political reality in the Iron Age, but that it subsequently began to permeate the religious sphere. Of particular interest are the post-conflict ritual sanctuaries of Northern Gaul and the war bogs of Scandinavia, both of which display the remains of violent conflicts with exceptional amounts of (often mutilated) weapon paraphernalia and/or human remains. The purpose of this paper is to examine the linkage between these two traditions in the period 200 BC–AD 200. It is based on a new compilation of 80 sites with post-conflict ritual practices from this period. We suggest that the significant latitude in the combination of different martial practices and elements points both to local customs and to supra-regional links. This pattern is explained by the existence of a partly shared symbolic reservoir of symbols and practices. Dependent on differing ritual governance structures, different patterns come about in the archaeological record. In this respect, post-conflict sites represent largely self-organized settings associated with large-scale conflicts, assembled groups, and high-arousal group behavior. They thus differ from governing structures at community or family group level. This approach gives post-conflict rituals a new and more central role in the development and upholding of ritual traditions across Iron Age Northern Europe.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • Governance, Post-conflict sites, Martial sanctuaries, Wetlands, Iron Age, Alken Enge, Rituals, Human sacrifice

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