"In most cases where human remains have been found in connection with … scenes of brutal violence, the bodies have been buried in mass graves. This is not the case at Sandby borg," write the authors of a new study published in the journal Antiquity. The Swedish site, found on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, was a once-thriving village that in the mid-fifth century was wiped out by attackers—who left the bodies to decompose where they fell. The Guardian reports that after excavations over three years, just 10% of Sandby borg, located within the walls of a ring fort, has been uncovered. Archaeologists had been warned treasure seekers were messing with the site, and for good reason: Roman gold coins, silver hair pieces, and glass beads have been found, likely left behind because they were hidden, and "no one lived who knew of them and could recover them," archaeologist Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay tells Live Science.
But the more noteworthy finds were those of a more gruesome nature. Papmehl-Dufay says no oral or written history of the massacre survived, but the 26 bodies thus far uncovered do tell a tale. The archaeologists believe there were a "large number" of attackers who struck "simultaneously in several houses, and that several of the victims were not in a position to defend themselves." In one case, the remains of an elderly man were found with a smashed skull and charred pelvic bones, likely the result of him falling into an open fire after taking the blow to the head. Papmehl-Dufay says the island was home to at least 15 forts (Archaeology.com notes "borg" means "fort") at the time, and speculates that "another elite group on the island, possibly connected to another fort," may have been behind the attack. (Archaeologists say they found proof of a massacre on Dutch soil by Julius Caesar.)