Archaeologists discovered a horrifying discovery at a historic fort known as Sandby borg on an island off the coast of Sweden. The scene preserved, frozen in time, was an entire town of people slain by an unknown group of attackers. Skeletons were discovered slain in old passageways and entrances, all in postures that suggested they were caught completely off guard.
It appeared to be proof of the most coordinated, clean hit in history. The obvious answer is Vikings, but the villagers would have seen them arriving on boats. Archaeologists also discovered numerous expensive jewelry and riches that would have been plundered by invading Vikings. Historians are now left wondering, “Who wiped out an entire community so abruptly and suddenly?” And why weren’t they interested in the jewelry?
The Sandby Fort Massacre Is Discovered
After hearing about treasure hunters destroying the archaeological site, archaeologists visited an island off the coast of Sweden in 2010. Locals urged them to avoid the green mound that previously housed an ancient hamlet. When they started digging, they discovered one skeleton, then another, and then another. Four goat’s teeth were jammed into one’s open mouth. Nine bodies were discovered in one residence. They did not die in a typical way, such as in a natural disaster or disease. They were all brutally assassinated!
Researchers disclosed further facts about the massacre in the April 2018 issue of the journal Antiquity, suggesting that it may have occurred for political reasons rather than theft.
Sandby Borg’s Massacre
The villagers of Sandby borg went about their business as usual on a typical day in the fifth century. People ate herring for lunch or tended the hearth in this affluent settlement on the island of Land, off Sweden’s south-east coast. Then tragedy struck.
Unknown intruders attacked the ringfort’s stone walls. They killed its occupants where they stood once inside. Those that ran down the street or tried to flee their homes were arrested and executed. More than a dozen persons were killed in total. One of them was an elderly man who fell into an open fireplace after sustaining a crushing hit to the head. Another was a baby who was only a few months old. For eons, their bodies remained where they had fallen, unburied by their assailants and allowed to rot.
The residences had been closed down, and the area had been abandoned. It was not looted after the murders, and neighbors on the heavily populated island did not interfere with the site’s preservation. As a result, archaeologists believe the location was considered taboo for years following the attack. Sandby borg became a shallow grave as the turf walls of its buildings crumbled, with bones hidden mere inches below the surface.
They discovered five distinct jewelry stashes from residences in the fort’s heart. Silver brooches and bells, gold rings, and amber and glass beads are among the treasures. Cowrie shell bits were even drilled and placed as a necklace. The deposits were not distributed at random. Each one was buried directly inside a house’s doorway, to the left of the entrance. Researchers assume that the fort’s women buried their riches in predetermined locations.
The majority of the skeletons discovered in the Sandby borg ringfort indicated that people were attacked from behind or on the side. The victims also lacked defensive wounds on their arms, implying that the struggle was more of an execution than a combat.
So far, the crew has excavated less than 10% of the site and examined only a subset of the 53 buildings. They believe there are still hundreds of remains to be discovered. However, they have learned about the ringfort’s residents as a result of their investigation.
When Was Sandby Borg Constructed?
The Sandby borg, which was built approximately 400 AD, ringed an area the size of a football field. The site is one of more than a dozen comparable “borgs,” or forts, built on land during the Migration Period, a turbulent period in Europe that began in the fourth century AD and hastened the fall of the Roman Empire.
The forts served as safe havens in the event of a siege or surprise attack, and could be reached in a matter of minutes at a dead run from nearby farms. Sandby borg’s 15-foot-high ramparts formerly guarded 53 dwellings and their food storage. Sandby Fort’s walls now encompass a flat stretch of grass and aren’t even tall enough to break the fierce winds.
Land must have been a dangerous and potentially scary place to live, with a seemingly boundless coastline for seaborne pirates to land on and no natural barriers to slow attacks down. Even now, the island can be odd and foreboding. It is flat, windswept, and barren, despite being twenty times the size of Manhattan. Nonetheless, none of this has deterred people from settling there. Human occupancy dates back millennia, and the island is still littered with Bronze Age burial mounds and Viking runestones.