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13 July 2009
Danish students uncover hundreds of Iron Age remains

There was a sensational find when Århus archaeology students uncovered the bones of around 200 bodies dating from the Iron Age. What was supposed to be a simple three week long research exercise for archaeology students at the University of Aarhus developed into a unique excavation project. Remains of more than 200 bodies have been found at the dig site near Skanderborg in Jutland (Denmark) dating from around 2,000 years ago.
     The Illerup River Valley was a deep lake measuring about 10 hectares during the Iron Age and archaeology digs have established that it was used as a major sacrificial site during that period. The area, which is a popular location for archaeologists, is now a mixture of bog and meadow, much of which is subject to conservation laws.
     The student dig began on 20 June and almost immediately began turning up human remains. "This was a defeated army that was sacrificed to the lake at the time. The majority of remains are large arm and leg bones, skulls, shoulder blades and pelvises," said Ejvind Hertz, curator from Skanderborg Museum and excavation leader. According to Hertz, the 200 victims found so far are just a small fragment of what lies in the area, which has only been partially excavated, and estimates suggest that the figure could run to well over one thousand.
     The valley was first drained in 1950 and subsequently studied intensely by archaeology teams between 1975 and 1985, when around 15,000 weapons and military objects were discovered. Hertz said the latest find is unique as it is unusual to find the bones of sacrificial victims without their weapons. Hertz believes the new discovery points to the river valley being used as a major sacrificial site. "You could consider the Illerup river valley as a central holy place. There was one god that victims were sacrificed to and another god further along the valley that received sacrificed weapons."
     The excavation was extended to four weeks and archaeologists are in the process of removing the bodies. Hertz said they hope the dig will act as a preliminary survey for a much larger, extensive excavation in the future.

Source: The Copenhagen Post Online (9 July 2009)

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