In the meadows of Alken, Denmark, archaeologists made a wonderful discovering in a bog. The bodies of what appeared to be an entire army of soldiers dating back some 2,000 years ago. More than two hundred ancient warriors’ skeletons were unearthed in the excavations held in 2009. It was also found a small number of spearheads, shields, clubs, and axes, and scientists have been studying them ever since, trying to piece together the final moments of these warriors.
The archaeological works took place in an area close to Jutland’s Lake in Denmark, and it was very hard to unearth the bodies because they were some two meters below the surface of the thick bog. It appears that the low-oxygen content of the water had delayed decomposition so the bones were still in a well-preserved state.
The human remains, which have been found to belong to males between the ages of roughly 13 and 45, date to a time in which the Roman Empire had extended its northern border some 185 miles south of Alken. This expansion resulted in unrest, skirmishes between Romans and Germanic tribes, and increased militarization of local peoples, leading researchers to believe that the men had died in battle and their bodies dumped in the bog. It is true that their bones revealed traumatic injuries such as slices, cuts, and blows from sword, axes, and other weapons.
Ever since this discovery, archaeologists have been working to find out who these victims were and what the sequence of events led to such a gruesome ending for these warriors. Based on latest findings, some scholars now believe that the bodies of the victims underwent complex post-war rituals before being cast into the bog more or less 6 months after their deaths.
Several sacrificial sites of a different nature had been observed in nearby areas, leading to the suggestion that ritualistic activity was commonplace in the region at the time. For instance, one site known as Forley Nymolle was believed to be an area of daily rituals in which the inhabitants made offerings of pottery, wooden objects, and various stone collections. Archaeologists and other experts maintain that one of the wooden objects recovered at the site is a goddess figurine, and perhaps may have been the deity that they were making offerings to.
But there were even more clues leading scientists to believe that the Alken Wetlands was a location for complex sacrificial events. Among the Alken Enge remains, archaeologists found a wooden stick threaded through the pelvic bones of four different men. More proves that after these warriors’ death, a violent sequel took place.
Researchers believe that these facts may have formed part of a religious ritual in preparation for offering the remains as a sacrifice, the bodies of the warriors were entirely defleshed, the bones sorted, and in some cases, they were threaded onto sticks. The pile of remains was then tossed into the water, along with the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that probably contained food sacrifices. This indicates that this place was certainly a holy site for the germanic pagan religion.
The buried army at Alken Enge are not the first set of human remains to have been found in this specific area. The Illerup River which runs into Lake Mosso is well known for its store of human bones along with other finds such as the world-renowned offering of weapons near Fuglsang Forest.
Archaeologists have not been able to determine the nationality of the slaughtered warriors based on the objects found alongside them, as very few weapons were found at the site and radiocarbon dating on those that were found has revealed that they could not have belonged to the buried army. However, some DNA has been preserved, so we can get a good profile of what Iron Age man looked like. An anthropological analysis of the bones will provide us with a picture of their diet and their physical appearance. It is also hoped that the DNA analysis may help to reveal who the soldiers were and where they came from.