Bronze Age Battle May Rewrite History of War in Europe

Thousands fought in Germany's Tollense Valley
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2016 7:00 PM CDT
More than 3,000 years ago, thousands of warriors clashed on the banks of the Tollense River in Germany.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – Ten thousand human bones excavated from Germany's Tollense Valley over the last six years tell the story of a Bronze Age battle that's surprising archaeologists. The bones of more than 100 men, along with remains of five horses and various weapons, comprise the first evidence of trained warriors in large-scale warfare in Northern Europe more than 3,000 years ago, Science magazine reports. "For a long time we didn’t really believe in war in [Bronze Age European] prehistory," says archaeologist Svend Hansen. Northern Europeans back then were farmers and traders living on farmsteads without many neighbors, much like parts of agrarian Europe today, experts say—so any fight was likely a local skirmish. But these bones, preserved by bogs in northern Germany, show that thousands of men fought in a battle about 3,200 years ago and many came from hundreds of miles away.

"This is not a bunch of local idiots," said geneticist Joachim Burger after DNA analysis revealed the warriors' far-flung origins. "It's a highly diverse population." Some speculate that bands of warriors assembled to fight for a common cause, reports PRI. So what were they fighting about? Maybe one group pushed another back along a bridge or causeway thought to cross the valley at the time. It was also a tumultuous era, with the Mycenaean civilization collapsing in Greece, Egypt battling "Sea People" from distant lands, and northern Europe soon becoming home to fortified settlements. "Tollense fits into a period when we have increased warfare everywhere," says an archaeologist in Denmark. "It could be the first evidence of a turning point in social organization and warfare in Europe." (Meanwhile, a huge discovery about Vikings just came from space.)

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