The Sandby Borg Massacre: Interpersonal Violence and the Demography of the Dead

The Sandby Borg Massacre: Interpersonal Violence and the Demography of the Dead

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The Sandby Borg Massacre: Interpersonal Violence and the Demography of the Dead

By Clara Alfsdotter and Anna Kjellström

European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 22:2 (2019)

Abstract: During excavations of the Iron Age ringfort of Sandby borg (AD 400–550), the remains of twenty-six unburied bodies were encountered inside and outside the buildings. The skeletons and the archaeological record indicate that after the individuals had died the ringfort was deserted. An osteological investigation and trauma analysis were conducted according to standard anthropological protocols.

The osteological analysis identified only men, but individuals of all ages were represented. Eight individuals (31 per cent) showed evidence of perimortem trauma that was sharp, blunt, and penetrating, consistent with interpersonal violence. The location of the bodies and the trauma pattern appear to indicate a massacre rather than a battle. The ‘efficient trauma’ distribution (i.e. minimal but effective violence), the fact that the bodies were not manipulated, combined with the archaeological context, suggest that the perpetrators were numerous and that the assault was carried out effectively. The contemporary sociopolitical situation was seemingly turbulent and the suggested motive behind the massacre was to gain power and control.

Introduction: The timespan between AD 400 and 550, the so-called Migration period when the Roman empire was declining, is considered a period of social instability and political turmoil in Europe. The regions north of the Rhine and Danube were populated by various tribes, the tribes of Scandinavia each being ruled by a few elites as a result of growing social differentiation. While the written sources are few, archaeological records document widespread contact with the continent.

Top Image: Sandby borg ringfort seen from the west. Note the structure of erratic boulders that surrounds the western perimeter of the fort. Photo by Sebastian Jakobsson / Wikimedia Commons

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