|25 November 2017
Clues to fighters on Europe's oldest known battlefield
Ancient weapons and human bones had been found in river sediment around the Tollense Valley in northeastern Germany from the 1980s, but not until 2007 was any systematic exploration begun. Since then archaeologists have unearthed a battlefield dating to 1250 BCE along the banks of the river, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin. Finds include the skeletons of 140 people, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 40, among the remains of military equipment and the bones of horses.
Archaeologists had previously lacked evidence of large battlefields from the Bronze Age in Europe, despite all the metal swords, hill forts, depictions of violence, and scarred human skeletons from this period.
Thomas Terberger, of the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage, and one of the German archaeologists who launched the excavation, says his team is now sure they're looking at a true battlefield: "We are very confident that the human remains are more or less lying in the position where they died."
What's been found so far probably represents only a fraction of the carnage, Terberger adds, as the winning side likely looted weapons from the fallen enemies and recovered most of their dead comrades for a more respectful burial. Terberger estimates more than 2,000 people might have been involved in the fight. "This is beyond the local scale of a conflict," he says.
Terberger and his colleagues conducted chemical analyses of the skeletons, looking for elements such as strontium, lead, and oxygen and carbon isotopes. Results show that there was a large, diverse group involved, and suggest many came from the south - southern Germany and central Europe - an interpretation which agrees with some of the finds; Central European-style arrowheads and dress pins.
The warriors' chemical profile also closely resembles the slain soldiers found in a nearby mass grave at Wittstock created in 1636 during the Thirty Years War, which could actually have some relevance for the Bronze Age. Archaeologists know from historical accounts that there were mercenary soldiers from all over Europe fighting at Wittstock. If the fighters at Tollense had similar origins, it could mean they were professionals.
The river was important for north-south trade, and an amazing concentration of artifacts including gold rings and jewelry have been found in the valley. The battle took place around a narrow part in the river where there was a wooden trackway dating to 1900 BCE.
The time around 1,300 BCE in Central Eurpoe was marked by cultural upheaval, as new ideologies were arriving from the Mediterranean. "It's not by accident that our battlefield site is dating to this period of time," Terberger concludes.
Edited from LiveScience (23 October 2017), Newsweek (24 October 2017)
Share this webpage: