When it comes to architectural endeavors, most historians are quite impressed by the massive monumental works across Europe by the turn of the 4th millennium BC. But late Bronze Age in Europe also might have brought forth its own saga of warfare in mass scale. At least that is what a huge battlefield in Germany (by banks of the Tollense River, near the Baltic Sea) from 3,250 years ago suggests. Yielding evidences of slaughter and warfare, archaeologists have found ancient specimens that range from wooden clubs, spears to bronze-made arrowheads and knives (and even swords). But the most conclusive evidence of this Bronze Age massacre obviously comes from the flurry of humans remains scattered across the battlefield. Just to put things into perspective, researchers believe that they have only uncovered around 2-3 percent of this battlefield, and this tiny area alone has led to grisly discovery of over 130 humans, mostly in the age group of 20-30. To that end, the archaeologists have hypothesized that the encounter alone could have involved over 4,000 participants.
In terms of date, the battlefield harks back to circa 1250 BC when Germanic inhabitants had yet not formulated any uniform system of writing (thus eschewing any documented record of the fighting). Interestingly, the expansive site in itself was discovered way back in 1996 when an amateur accidentally identified an arm bone sticking out from the muddy river bank. The arm was found to be punctured by an arrow head made of flint. And on further expert assessments, researchers have been able to salvage periodic evidences of a large-scale o the proximate area. These range from bones (like injured skulls) to weapons (like a 73-cm long club) – all of which date from 1250 BC.
Finally from 2009 to 2015, a collaborative effort from researchers at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation and the University of Greifswald, yielded yet more objects that allude to the gruesome battle. And beyond human remains and assortment of weapons, the experts were surprised by the discovery of horse bones, thus suggesting the use of the animal in this mass-scale encounter (possibly as cavalry). Furthermore, another striking insight revealed how the humans were not from any particular location; rather the ‘fighters’ came from various parts of Europe, including Poland, Holland, Scandinavia and Southern Europe. As co-director of the excavation Thomas Terberger, who is also an archaeologist at the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage in Hannover, said (to Science Mag) –
They weren’t farmer-soldiers who went out every few years to brawl. These are professional fighters.
This statement is deduced by the standardized nature of the weapons and armor equipment that were found in the field. Pertaining to the latter part, the discovery of armor by itself suggests the rise of a warrior class who were trained in the art of warfare and using specialized equipment. Now of course, from the historical perspective, there are literary evidences of so-called ‘epic’ battles from circa 13th century BC, but most of these encounters mirror the growth of civilizations and their political spheres in the Near-East and Greece. However this time around, researchers have found direct archaeological evidence of a large-scale conflict, and that too from an area (i.e., Northern Europe) that was relatively ‘backward’ when it came to contemporary cultural and political institutions. University College Dublin archaeologist Barry Molloy, made it clear –
When it comes to the Bronze Age, we’ve been missing a smoking gun, where we have a battlefield and dead people and weapons all together. This is that smoking gun. Even in Egypt, despite hearing many tales of war, we never find such substantial archaeological evidence of its participants and victims.
Intriguingly enough, there also seems to be a date-oriented significance relating to 13th century BC. As we mentioned before, the turn of the 4th millennium BC saw the construction of huge monuments across Europe, ranging from the Stonehenge in Britain to the Dolice megalithic tombs in Poland. Likewise in 13th century BC, the increasing scale of warfare and over-arching political affairs seemed to have swept through many parts of the world, including the eclipse of the Mycenaean Greeks, the invasion of Egypt by the ‘sea-people’, and this unnamed yet massive battle in Northern Europe. Unfortunately, the researchers are still not sure about the exact circumstance that led to such a large-scale encounter – a massive battle in Europe that was almost forgotten due to lack of written records.
Source: ScienceMag / All Images Credit: Landesamt Für Kultur Und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern