23 May 2011

Old, Unhappy, Far-off Things, and Battles Long Ago

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Human remains of Bronze Age began turning up along the banks of the Tollense River, near Neubrandenburg on the Mecklenburg plain north of Berlin, in 1997.

More than 2000 bones representing the skeletal remains of 90 individuals, along with war clubs and the remains of horses, have been found, providing evidence of a battle fought here around 1250 B.C.

An article appearing in this month’s Antiquity (behind subscription screen) reports:

Chance discoveries of weapons, horse bones and human skeletal remains along the banks of the River Tollense led to a campaign of research which has identified them as the debris from a Bronze Age battle. The resources of war included horses, arrowheads and wooden clubs, and the dead had suffered blows indicating face-to-face combat. This surprisingly modern and decidedly vicious struggle took place over the swampy braided streams of the river in an area of settled, possibly coveted, territory. Washed along by the current, the bodies and weapons came to rest on a single alluvial surface.

The archaeological investigation does not seem to have turned up any metal weapons. Perhaps, metal swords and spear points were so valuable in the region in that period that they would have been carefully recovered at the time of the battle. The wooden weapons found, some examples described as resembling a baseball bat and a polo mallet, must have been used by common tribesmen, insufficiently wealthy to arm themselves with swords. History records pagan Baltic tribesmen from Samogitia going into battle against the Teutonic knights as late as the time of the battle of Grunwald in 1410 A.D. armed with knotted oaken war clubs in which flints had been embedded.

Who was fighting and what the conflict was all about are completely unknown, but the German researchers estimate that at least 200 men must have been killed in the course of a single action.

BBC story

Spiegel German-language article

Spiegel photo slide-show

3:42 German-language video

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