Archaeologists Strike Gold at the Site of a Mysterious 5th-Century Massacre

Archaeologists Strike Gold at the Site of a Mysterious 5th-Century Massacre

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Archaeologists Strike Gold at the Site of a Mysterious 5th-Century Massacre

Researchers who combine the horror story of a 5th century massacre off Sweden’s coast have a new component to add to their story–a gold coin and ring. But does this additional dimension give further insight into or contribute to the mystery of the source behind the indescribable violence?

In 2010, in the ancient crime scene of Sandby Borg on the island of Öland, partially buried bodies emerged. Since then, over 1,500 years ago, archeologists have sought to explain what happened at the site.

Aerial view of excavation site
Aerial view of excavation site

Ars Technia reports that the attack was so massive that archaeologists have only been able to estimate the number of deaths – it’s in the hundreds.

Some of these brutal massacres indicate that the Roman practice of burying soldiers with coins in their mouths was morbidly reversed. Alternatively, people at Sandby Borg were found with goat and sheep in their mouths. The project leader Helena Victor said these individuals had “humiliation worse than death.”

In 2013, Ancient Origins reported that archaeologists were able to create a frightening “snapshot” of what happened at the site through their discovery of two bodies of people lying next to the door of one of the huts.

They were evidently slaughtered while trying to escape their attackers. Helene Wilhelmson, a researcher who specializes in the study of bones at Sweden’s Lund University said,

Helena Victor echoed this in her recent discussion with The Local “The bodies are lying as they were left, so there were no burials and it’s a moment frozen in time.” This suggests that the attack was sudden and brutal.

The recently uncovered coin confirms a previous hypothesis that inhabitants of the island were in contact with the Roman Empire. According to The Local, Emperor Valentinian III, who ruled between AD 425 and 455 is depicted on one side of the coin.

The coin recently unearthed at Sandby Borg
The coin recently unearthed at Sandby Borg

The recent find isn’t the first uncovering of treasure at the site, Atlas Obscura mentions that “silver brooches and bells, gold rings, and beads made of amber, glass, and cowrie shells” have all been previously found.

That’s uncommon. Why wasn’t the site looted? Researchers suggest it may have become taboo to return to the location following the tragic event.

Even the livestock was locked up and left to die – bizarre for a time when the scarce island resources would have been highly valued.

The unearthing of two gold rings added a new element of mystery to the site. Their size suggests they were made to fit a woman’s finger, yet no female skeletons have been successfully identified at the site to date. Discussing this find, Helena Victor said .

And now researchers are suggesting it may have been that wealth which incited the massacre at Sandby Borg. Not for theft, but perhaps because the wealthy inhabitants were seen as a threat due to their affluence and influence. We may never know for certain.

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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.

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