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“There’s nothing to compare it to.” It may even be the earliest direct evidence—with weapons and warriors together—of a battle this size anywhere in the ancient world.

Northern Europe in the Bronze Age was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. But Tollense’s scale suggests more organization—and more violence—than once thought.

Inside, pale winter light illuminates dozens of skulls arranged on shelves and tables.

In the center of the room, long leg bones and short ribs lie in serried ranks on tables; more remains are stored in cardboard boxes stacked on metal shelves reaching almost to the ceiling.

The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B. E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Archaeologists think the bodies landed or were dumped in shallow ponds, where the motion of the water mixed up bones from different individuals. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people.Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads.They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men.“Even in Egypt, despite hearing many tales of war, we never find such substantial archaeological evidence of its participants and victims,” UCD’s Molloy says.In Bronze Age Europe, even the historical accounts of war were lacking, and all investigators had to go on were weapons in ceremonial burials and a handful of mass graves with unmistakable evidence of violence, such as decapitated bodies or arrowheads embedded in bones.

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