Bones Reveal Bizarre Iron Age Rituals: Page 2

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Most of the bones are found disarticulated from one another, and many bear the marks of the battlefield: trauma from swords, spears and axes. Spearheads, an ax, the tip of a sword and shields have also been found at the site, Holst said. All of the bodies are male.

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All of the evidence points to a straightforward defeat in battle. But the bones also bear strange marks of tampering after the soldiers' death.

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First, many have been gnawed by animals, including large predators such as wolves, dogs and badgers, Holst said. The species present and amount of scavenging suggest the bodies stayed out in the open for at least six months to a year, he said.

After this time, someone collected the corpses and sorted at least some of the bones by type. Marks of cutting and scraping suggest the bones were separated deliberately, and that they had any remaining flesh removed. Animal sacrifices and ceramic pots mixed in with the remains suggest some sort of religious ritual, Holst said. Along with the pelvises strung like beads on a stick, there is evidence that leg bones and thighbones were sorted, too, he said.

From a land spit extending into what was then the lake, the ancient people conducted these rituals and then dumped the bones. Holst and his colleagues know nothing for sure about the victors and the slaughtered, but they suspect that the winners had a geographical attachment to the area, given that they were around long enough to conduct these rituals. There are examples of ritual treatment of defeated enemies in what is now France, Switzerland and England in the centuries prior to this find, Holst said, but nothing like it has ever been seen in Denmark or the surrounding areas.

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The delay in disposing of the bodies could have been part of the ritual, Holst said. Or, perhaps the battle was part of a longer war, and the winners did not return to the bones until the conflict was over, Holst added.

The findings were announced July 28 by Aarhus University. This season's excavation at the site will continue until Aug. 8.

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