Direct evidence of a large Northern European Roman period martial event and postbattle corpse manipulation

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New archaeological excavations at Alken Enge, Jutland, Denmark, have revealed a comprehensive assemblage of disarticulated human remains within a 75-ha wetland area. A minimum of 82 individuals have been uncovered. Based on the distribution, the total population is estimated to be greater than 380 individuals, exclusively male and predominantly adult. The chronological radiocarbon evidence of the human bones indicates that they belong to a single, large event in the early first century AD. The bones show a high frequency of unhealed trauma from sharp-edged weapons, which, together with finds of military equipment, suggests that the find is of martial character. Taphonomic traces indicate that the bones were exposed to animal gnawing for a period of between 6 mo and 1 y before being deposited in the lake. Furthermore, the find situations, including collections of bones, ossa coxae threaded onto a stick, and cuts and scraping marks, provide evidence of the systematic treatment of the human corpses after the time of exposure. The finds are interpreted as the remains of an organized and possibly ritually embedded clearing of a battlefield, including the physical manipulation of the partly skeletonized bones of the deceased fighters and subsequent deposition in the lake. The date places the finds in the context of the Germanic region at the peak of the Roman expansion northward and provides the earliest direct archaeological evidence of large-scale conflict among the Germanic populations and a demonstration of hitherto unrecognized postbattle practices.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume115
Issue23
Pages (from-to)5920-5925
Number of pages6
ISSN0027-8424
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2018

    Research areas

  • Alken Enge, Jutland, Roman period, Iron Age warfare, postbattle ritual, ALKEN ENGE, DENMARK, AGE, BONES, LANDSCAPE

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