From the Copenhagen Post:
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 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.
‘It is very unusual as there has been no other find of this size before in Western Europe,’ Hertz told The Copenhagen Post.
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.
So what does this have to do with the Romans? Possibly nothing … but Roman items have been found in the Illerup River Valley before. An interesting article on past finds there includes these tantalizing paragraphs:
Prior to the offering, items were deliberately spoilt. Swords were broken across and shields smashed. The round items are shield bosses, torn out of the wooden shields and then deformed by cuts and blows.
Part of the ceremony involved destroying the weapons and equipment. Next, the remnants were gathered into bundles, which were wrapped in various forms of cloth – military cloaks, for example. The bundles were then carried out onto the lake in boats and thrown overboard. These bundles have been found all over the bed of the lake, which was 250 meters wide and 400 meters long.
During the course of 18 years (spread over two periods), these ancient bundles and their contents of swords, spears, lances, shields, knives, combs, Roman silver coins, bridles, tools and much more were recovered one by one after having spent as much 1,800 years in the sediment of the lake. The finds were brought to the Moesgård Museum, preserved, described, sorted, and then compared with similar material from as far afield as the Black Sea, Scotland, Africa and the Arctic.
The Illerup finds are exceptional, because of both their sheer quantity and their condition. The alkaline nature of the soil has preserved iron so well that two hundred Roman swords, for example, could be used today had they not been ceremoniously broken and bent prior to being cast into the lake.
Two hundred Roman swords! That’s pretty strong evidence of some major arms dealing in antiquity … let’s hope they do some DNA tests on the bones to try and get a handle on national origins …