Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities in Germany

Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities in Germany

Europe’s Oldest Battlefield Yields Clues to Fighters’ Identities in Germany

This was one of the greatest and most brutal battles in the Bronze Age. Archaeologists have now shed new light on the mysterious people who fought in the Tollense Valley 3,250 years ago.

After decomposition, the bones were somewhat jumbled by the movement of the river.

A study of the skeletons at the site in north-eastern Germany shows that more than 2,000 people were involved in the on battle. And although experts have yet to find out exactly where the fighters were from, a DNA analysis indicates that it was a large and diverse community of non-local warriors ..

The reason for the war on the oldest battlefield in Europe remains unclear. After the 1980s, several pieces of evidence of a battle was been found, including daggers, knives, and skeletons, at on-site river sediment.

In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank with a flint arrowhead embedded in one end of the bone.

A skull with a bronze arrowhead in it was found at the Tollense site.

A systematic exploration of the site began in 2007, after archaeologists unearthed an enormous battlefield, as well as 140 skeletons and remains of military equipment.

These included wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. Now, archaeologists from the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage have analysed the remains to learn more about the people who fought in the battle.

Accoridng to Science, in the Bronze Age, Northern Europe was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. They believe the battle was of a scale up until then, completely unknown north of the Alps. 

It suggests more organisation and violence in the area than once thought. Speaking to Live Science, Professor Thomas Terberger, one of the archaeologists working on the excavation, said: ‘We are very confident that the human remains are more or less lying in the position where they died.’

While 140 skeletons have been found, Professor Terberger said that this is likely only a fraction of the men involved. He estimates that more than 2,000 people were involved in the battle.

He said: ‘This is beyond the local scale of a conflict,’ suggesting that the battle went beyond neighbours.

To understand more about the fighters, the researchers conducted a chemical analysis of the skeletons, looking for elements like strontium, which can leave a geographically specific signature in bones.

While the results showed that the fighters were a large, diverse group of non-locals, the archaeologists were unable to pinpoint specifically where they were from.

An analysis of the skeletons at the site in north-eastern Germany suggests that more than 2,000 people were involved in the battle

The analysis did suggest that many of the fighters came from the south – either southern Germany or Central Europe – a find that was in line with many pieces of evidence found at the site, including Central-European arrowheads and pins.

The fighters closely resembled the slain soldiers discovered in a nearby mass grave at Wittstock, dating back to 1636. While this is more recent than the battle at Tollense, Professor Terberger believes it could have some important parallels for the Bronze Age.

In the battle at Wittstock, soldiers were known to come from all over Europe. If the fighters at Tollense were also multi-ethnic, it might mean ‘these were warriors who were trained as warriors’, rather than locals, according to Professor Terberger.

One key question that remains to be answered is the motivation behind the battle. The researchers now hope to look to the wider landscape near the battlefield to look for answers.

The Tollense River was known to be an important route for north-south trade, and the battle took place beside a bridge connecting two sides of the river. Professor Terberger said: ‘It was probably an important crossing in the landscape.’ The time when the battle took place was also right in the middle of a huge cultural shift in Central Europe, as people arrived from the Mediterranean.

Professor Terberger added: ‘It’s not by accident that our battlefield site is dating to this period of time.’

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