A mass grave of axe-hacked bones from men, women and children has lain concealed beneath the earth’s surface of the island of Samsø since 1289, when Marsk Stig and his warriors supposedly sailed the Danish coasts, plundering outposts of King Erik Klipping.
The find by archaeologists of the National Museum has given life to the centuries-old story of how nobleman Stig Andersen Hvide, known as 'Marsk (Marshall) Stig', led a revolt by a group of landowners against the king in the late 13th century, allying themselves with Norwegian King Erik the Priesthater.
Besides plundering, Marsk Stig and his rebels are also known for being convicted of killing King Erik Klipping at Finderup and putting counterfeit coins into circulation to cripple the Danish economy.
An almanac from 1289 compiled by the Archbishop of Lund details the event at the settlement of Gammel Brattingsborg on the island of Samsø, which lies in the Kattegat strait between Zealand and Jutland. Marsk Stig's forces allegedly attacked the fort and killed all the town's inhabitants, including its children.
The skeletons of families were found at the site of a former church yard, where archaeologists say the bodies seem to have been thrown into the common grave.
'We'll never know for certain what happened because there are a lot of mass graves around,' Nils Engberg of the National Museum told MetroXpress newspaper. 'But we can clearly see the difference between Christian burial sites and the graves where these bodies were buried in groups. Some of the skeletons, for example, have their heads bowed down.'
Archaeologists say that may indicate that the victims huddled together protectively before being killed.
The excavation will continue through next week, after which the pits will be refilled and the site will become a horse grazing area again.