Geomorphological setting of a sacred landscape: Iron age post battle deposition of human remains at Alken Enge, Denmark

Niels Emil Søe, Bent Vad Odgaard, Ejvind Hertz , Mads Kähler Holst, Søren Munch Kristiansen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The Illerup Valley in Denmark contains several large‐scale Iron Age (first to fifth century A.D.) ritual depositions associated with warfare among Germanic groups. The oldest deliberate deposition consisted of human bones and is dated to the first to fifth decade A.D. It is hypothesized that this first deposition initiated a ritual tradition and made the valley sacred to later generations. To understand the choice of the first location, we have reconstructed the landscape setting of the last millennia. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating formed the basis of the chronostratigraphy, while sedimentary processes and development were evaluated from profiles and boreholes. We found that the human remains were deposited in a small paleolake Alken Enge, isolated from the large Lake Mossø by a spit system during the last centuries B.C. The spits had prograded across the lake and formed a land bridge between the two sides of the valley with a potential strong connective‐strategic value. The spits were overwashed during storm surges in the period before the first ritual depositions were made, and a conspicuous landform with white sandy beaches must have been clearly visible to the prehistoric community. Thus, it can be speculated that this landscape combination was important for the location of a large ritual.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)521-533
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2017

Cite this