New archaeological excavations at Alken Enge, Jutland, in Denmark have revealed a comprehensive assemblage of disarticulated human remains within a 75-ha. wetland area. A minimum of 82 individuals have been uncovered. Based on the distribution, the total population is estimated to be greater than 380 individuals, exclusively male and predominantly adult. The chronological radiocarbon evidence of the human bones indicates that they belong to a single, large event in the early first century AD.

The bones show a high frequency of unhealed trauma from sharp-edged weapons, which, together with finds of military equipment, suggests that the find is of martial character. Taphonomic traces indicate that the bones were exposed to animal gnawing for a period of between six months and one year before being deposited in the lake. Furthermore, the find situations including collections of bones, ossa coxae threaded onto a stick, and cuts and scraping marks provide evidence of the systematic collection and treatment of the human corpses after the time of exposure.

The finds are interpreted as the remains of an organised and possibly ritually embedded clearing of a battlefield, including the physical manipulation of the partly skeletonised bones of the deceased fighters and subsequent deposition in the lake. The date places the finds in the context of the Germanic region at the peak of the Roman expansion northward and provides both the earliest direct archaeological evidence of large-scale conflict among the Germanic populations and and a demonstration of hitherto unrecognized post-battle practices.


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Data access

The archaeological, geological and anthropological findings at the Alken Enge excavations were recorded directly to an online database. The repository includes descriptive as well as 2D and 3D spatial data and analysis reports. Subsequent iterations of data model and visualization capabilities are continuously published as part of the Archaeo Framework. The Alken Enge Database is made available at www.alkenenge.dk under the Open Database License. Any rights in individual contents of the database are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Photos and illustrations