Slaughter at the bridge

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Science  25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280, pp. 1384-1389
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6280.1384

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About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea. The confrontation can't be found in any history books—the written word didn't become common in these parts for another 2000 years—but this was no skirmish between local clans. Thousands of warriors came together in a brutal struggle, likely fought on a single day, using weapons crafted from wood, flint, and bronze, a metal then the height of military technology. Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. They have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads, as well as the remains of more than 100 men. The scale of the carnage in Germany's Tollense Valley suggests more organization—and more violence—than archaeologists had expected, especially in what was long considered a Bronze Age backwater. The well-preserved bones and artifacts add detail to this picture, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.

  • * Lübstorf, Germany; Andrew Curry is a freelance writer based in Berlin.