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

  • Clara Alfsdotter (a1) and Anna Kjellström (a2)
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.

Les restes de 26 personnes dépourvues de sépultures ont été découverts dans les fouilles de l'enclos fortifié de Sandby Borg (datant de l’âge du Fer, 400–550 apr. J.-C.), aussi bien à l'extérieur qu’à l'intérieur de leurs maisons. Les squelettes ainsi que les données archéologiques indiquent que le site a été abandonné après la mort de ces individus. L’étude des ossements humains et une analyse des traumatismes subis a suivi les protocoles établis en anthropologie physique. L'examen des ossements n'a identifié que des sujets mâles ; en revanche, toutes les classes d’âge étaient représentées. Huit individus (31 pour cent de l'ensemble) présentaient des signes de traumatisme périmortem de divers types (lésions causées par des instruments tranchants, contondants ou pénétrants) que l'on peut interpréter comme indices de violence interpersonnelle. La position des corps et la configuration des traumatismes laissent penser à un massacre plutôt qu’à une bataille. La manière « efficace » d'infliger une blessure (c'est-à-dire en usant de violence de manière économique mais fatale), le fait que les cadavres n'ont pas été manipulés et le contexte archéologique suggèrent que les responsables étaient nombreux et que leur assaut a été mené avec efficacité. La situation sociopolitique de l’époque était instable, ce qui nous amène à proposer que le motif de l'attaque fût l'obtention du pouvoir et du contrôle. (Translation by Madeleine Hummler)

Während der Ausgrabungen der eisenzeitlichen Ringwallanlage von Sandby borg (400–550 n. Chr.) sind die Überreste von 26 unbestatteten Menschen innerhalb und außerhalb der Häuser zutage gekommen. Die Skelette und die archäologischen Angaben deuten darauf hin, dass die Ringwallsiedlung nach dem Tod dieser Menschen aufgegeben worden ist. Die Untersuchung der Knochen und die Analyse der Traumata folgten die anerkannten Protokolle der biologischen Anthropologie. Die osteologische Auswertung hat nur Männer identifiziert aber alle Altersstufen waren vertreten. Acht Individuen (31 Prozent der Sammlung) hatten tödliche Verletzungen (perimortem Trauma), die von verschiedenen, scharfen, stumpfen und penetrierenden Gegenständen verursacht worden sind. Die Lage der Leichen und die Struktur der Traumata lassen eher auf ein Massaker als auf eine Schlacht schließen. Die Verteilung von „effizienten” Verletzungen (wo Gewalt spärlich aber effektiv angewendet wurde), die Tatsache, dass man die Leichen nicht nachträglich manipuliert hatte, und die archäologischen Angaben deuten darauf hin, dass die Täter zahlreich waren und dass der Angriff effektiv war. Die damalige soziopolitische Situation war offensichtlich unbeständig, was uns darauf schließen lässt, dass die Übernahme der Macht und Kontrolle der Grund für das Massaker war. (Translation by Madeleine Hummler)

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