Warriors' Bones Reveal Bizarre Iron Age Rituals

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The bones of dozens of Iron Age warriors found in Denmark were collected and ritually mutilated after spending months on the battlefield, archaeologists say.

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At least six months after the soldiers died, their bones were collected, scraped of remaining flesh, sorted and dumped in a lake. Some were handled in a truly bizarre manner; for instance, four pelvises were found strung on a stick.

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"We think it's a kind of ritual closure of the war," said Mads Kähler Holst, project manager at the dig and head of the department of archaeology at the Moesgård Museum in Denmark. The victors seem to have carried out their gruesome work on a spit of land extending into the lake where the bones were dumped, the researchers said. [See Photos of the Mutilated Iron Age Skeletons]

The site of the boneyard is in East Jutland, in a wetland area known as Alken Enge. Drainage work and peat digging have been turning up ancient human remains in this bog for decades, Holst told Live Science.

Formal excavation of the site finds it to be a mass grave dating back about 2,000 years, to the transition from B.C. to A.D. At the time, the area was about 186 miles (300 kilometers) north of the farthest reach of the Roman Empire, Holst said, and would have been occupied by Germanic tribes.

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Archaeologists have turned up at least 60 skeletonsor parts of skeletons in what used to be the bed of Lake Mossø at the site. The lake still exists, but it's smaller than it was 2,000 years ago. The 60 catalogued remains don't include bones found previously — or the many more skeletons archaeologists expect to discover.

"We have trenches going through different areas, so we know we are only touching on a small part of what is actually there," Holst said.