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April 2, 2013

Bones from time of Christ reveal a brutal history

(Continued)

The remains in the bog "are all young males," said Aarhus University archaeologist Mads Holst, leader of the excavation team from the university and Denmark's Skanderborg and Moesgard museums. "There is quite a lot of weapon damage on them, and none of the wounds were healed. Some were dead already when they were thrown into the lake, and we can see there were animals gnawing on the bones. One of the things we are investigating now is whether they all died of battle wounds, or were executed after the battle. We suspect both."

Holst said Danes have been digging peat and finding bones and artifacts at the Alken Bog, which is located in present-day Denmark, for at least a century. Peat is compressed plant material used as fuel in stoves and fireplaces. Because it is wet and oxygen-free, it provides ideal conditions for preserving human remains.

Archaeologists in the 1950s and early 1960s found a large concentration of human bones preserved below the water table, but Holst said scientists ignored the find at first because of the spectacular discovery nearby of an enormous deposit of Roman weapons. These dated to A.D. 200, but other artifacts at that site, known as Illerup, suggested that the weapons' owners were invaders from Scandinavia who carried Roman equipment. Illerup, Holst said, "tells you something about arms trafficking at the time."

The Alken bog dead, by contrast, were buried with typically German iron axes, spears and wooden clubs. They were Germans with German weapons.

Archaeologist Tina Thurston of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York, described the European Iron Age at the time of the early Roman Empire as "a very cosmopolitan period," with "a lot of contact" between the Romans and the various German tribes. "A lot of these guys became mercenaries" for Rome, she added, and "it would come as no surprise" that some Germans warriors "would have Roman equipment."

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