Slaughter at the bridge: Uncovering a colossal Bronze Age battle
March 24, 2016 8:02 PM   Subscribe

 
Interesting!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:10 PM on March 24, 2016


Wow, this battle took place during the time of the Mycenean collapse and the rise of the Sea Peoples? What the hell happened in Europe and the Near East?
posted by infinitewindow at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


War is technology. It is a learned art. We have painting and sculpture, at high levels of skill, that predates the earliest known battlefield by more than 15 thousand years. We have a horizon for war, and an earliest known battlefield, and it is less than 15kYBP. Fifteen Thousand Years before Present. Archers were dueling it out and then killing camp-followers (women and children) with stone-tipped arrows at that time... but at no time earlier that we can find.

Yes, chimpanzees know war as instinct, as do ants. Humans are neither, and we must rely on archaeology, here. We have paint-kits more than a hundred thousand years old. We have no battlefield older than the one at the base of the Nile river valley, fifteen thousand years back. And let me tell you, Archaeologists and Historians and Academic Military Theorists all love them some battlefields, and are very good at finding them.

War is technology. All technology goes obsolete at some point.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2016 [33 favorites]


If anyone asks, I was visiting my cousins over at the Ness of Brodgar.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:22 PM on March 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow, this battle took place during the time of the Mycenean collapse and the rise of the Sea Peoples? What the hell happened in Europe and the Near East?

You know, I was just thinking that in the context of what's going on in the Middle East and Africa. A collapse in one area turns its inhabitants into refugees, who form gangs, that become small armies, and the chaos just keeps spreading and spreading.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:32 PM on March 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


What an amazing find.
posted by rtha at 8:37 PM on March 24, 2016


Isn't this how the Night Watch and Day Watch were founded?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:54 PM on March 24, 2016 [21 favorites]


Shaka, when the walls fell.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:21 PM on March 24, 2016 [15 favorites]


Same as it ever was, eh?
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:32 PM on March 24, 2016


We have always been at war with the Baltic Sea clans.

Look for the upcoming book on the subject, 3200 Years of Clubbin'.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Archeologists can confirm that the Rakstanti are a bunch of cattle-raiding assholes.
posted by nom de poop at 10:13 PM on March 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm thinking about if I was talking to the ordinary people who lived nearby and heard about this, and I was like, "Hey what was this all about?" And they can't believe they're talking to someone who didn't know what this was all about.
posted by bleep at 10:30 PM on March 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


war is the last technology, proved by the silence of space.
posted by prambutan at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


War never changes.
posted by dazed_one at 11:50 PM on March 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Every time I think about just how much of human time on earth is completely unrecorded except in the archaeology, it makes my head hurt. And that's just for homo sapiens sapiens. It's entirely too much or me to consider our ancestor species.

So much we'll just never know. I don't know how historians in the field handle just not knowing.

Then I read an article like this and basically spend half an hour with my jaw hanging open learning fascinating stuff and I kind of get it. But man is it ever frustrating not to know the details. Who were these people? Why were they fighting? Who won? What did the sky look like that day? What became of them and their tribes? Kingdoms? What would they think of our world? Argh, so frustrating.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:06 AM on March 25, 2016 [31 favorites]


Look on my wars, ye mighty, and despair.
posted by Segundus at 12:14 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


‘“This is not a bunch of local idiots,” says University of Mainz geneticist Joachim Burger. “It’s a highly diverse bunch of idiots population.”’
posted by misteraitch at 12:27 AM on March 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


War is technology.

By the same criterion, kindergarten is technology.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:48 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would bet that the raise of farming gave rise to war. At that time the entirety of human kind, roughly equal to the number of people currently living in Britain, had the entire planet to themselves. I think that the farming lifestyle is the only one that would tie you to the land in a way that could justify wholesale organized murder to preserve it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:38 AM on March 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Would I give up here for obselence of war?

In a heart beat.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:48 AM on March 25, 2016


I would bet that the rise of farming gave rise to war.

I would bet that war came with hunting and gathering, that, indeed, war is the oldest of professions and we were red in tooth and claw before the first flint was napped.
posted by y2karl at 3:49 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a fascinating discovery.
posted by y2karl at 4:00 AM on March 25, 2016


war
posted by infini at 4:34 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would love read the Turtledove version of this battle and its context.
posted by infini at 4:35 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Totally fascinating find, which reminds me of the theory that the Illiad and Odyssey actually take place in the Baltic
posted by mumimor at 4:44 AM on March 25, 2016 [12 favorites]


Anyone interested in the wider implications of this might want to seek out a copy of The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory, by French anthropologists Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:07 AM on March 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Happy Dave: "So much we'll just never know. I don't know how historians in the field handle just not knowing. "

Honestly, speaking as one archaeologist, the massive amount that we'll never know is simultaneously depressing and freeing. Depressing because, as you say, there's so much we'll never have a single solitary clue about -- and so much moreso if you are interested in the histories of non-literate or non-western societies. But freeing, too, because in some cases when you're trying to come up with hypotheses about a past society's people, you've got almost no bounds. What was the climate like? What were the raw materials available? What was the flora and fauna like? Right, that's all the firm-ish data you've got. Now go think ...!
posted by barnacles at 5:09 AM on March 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


Agriculture certainly enabled the population density and degrees of specialization this battle seems to show. An interesting coincidence since the Baltic, warmed by the Gulf Stream, is about the northernmost latitude where such ancient agriculture could succeed. If indeed there were mercenaries and soldiers of fortune involved that implies some sort of prize or reward for their efforts. It could have been something as simple as the bridge itself. Perhaps it was some sort choke point for trade and whoever controlled it could exact tolls and tributes. Fascinating stuff to speculate upon...
posted by jim in austin at 5:23 AM on March 25, 2016


I don't know much about these armies, but I can already tell that both sides were certain God was on theirs.
posted by panglos at 6:29 AM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


What the hell happened in Europe and the Near East?

Late Bronze Age Collapse.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:31 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about these armies, but I can already tell that both sides were certain God was on theirs.

What does it mean for God to be on your side in a polytheistic setting where each side has its own diverse pantheon?
posted by wotsac at 6:36 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


You believe in your own gods, plus your enemies gods, but also that they're gods are crap.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:39 AM on March 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hige sceal þē heardra, heorte þē cēnre,
mōd sceal þē māre, þē ūre mægen lytlað.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:40 AM on March 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of the recent find of a 10 000 years ago mass killing. Not the same scale obviously.
posted by juiceCake at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”
posted by thelonius at 7:01 AM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


> I'm thinking about if I was talking to the ordinary people who lived nearby and heard about this, and I was like, "Hey what was this all about?" And they can't believe they're talking to someone who didn't know what this was all about.

"Now tell us what 'twas all about,"
Young Peterkin, he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks up
With wonder-waiting eyes;
"Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for."

"It was the English," Kaspar cried,
"Who put the French to rout;
But what they fought each other for
I could not well make out;
But everybody said," quoth he,
"That 'twas a famous victory.

"My father lived at Blenheim then,
Yon little stream hard by;
They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
And he was forced to fly;
So with his wife and child he fled,
Nor had he where to rest his head.

"With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then,
And new-born baby died;
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.

"They said it was a shocking sight
After the field was won;
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory."
posted by languagehat at 7:22 AM on March 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


No war for amber!
posted by ocschwar at 7:31 AM on March 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Incidentally, for anyone who might be curious, Tollense has the stress on the second syllable (To-LEN-zə [tɔˈlɛnzə]).
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I want a cloth print or wall paper of that lead photograph!
posted by Oyéah at 9:38 AM on March 25, 2016


Wow, this battle took place during the time of the Mycenean collapse and the rise of the Sea Peoples? What the hell happened in Europe and the Near East?

One guess is a massive drought - (Egypt (and others) have record of sending the Hittites grain to relieve a drought) that had to do with the North Atlantic Oscillation. The NAO weirded the rains, there was a drought in the eastern Med, the peoples migrated, and the migrations had knock-on effects all the way to Egypt. I desperately want the Black Sea flood to have a hand in this, but dates don't match up.

Still, climate change that leads to mass migration that leads to general societal collapse.
Spooky, eh?
posted by eclectist at 9:44 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Paging Bernard von Cornwell.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:14 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their arras to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood...
posted by Oyéah at 10:31 AM on March 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


They say a bridge once spanned these banks, long ago. You can see the old abutments on either side. Anyhow, for now it's easier to cross at the ford a few hundred meters downstream, but you must go down this narrow trail into the ravine, and follow the pathway along the river. Steep banks make this traverse dangerous during the rains, because the flood waters cover the trail, but it's a good enough trek at other times.

Two thousand warriors from the north meet two thousand warriors from the south in a bottleneck near where the old bridge used to be; some archers from either side loose arrows across the ravine, to drive the other archers away. Or they shoot down upon the fighters when they can distinguish their men from the others; best is to shoot the war chiefs--they are on horseback. They come together on slippery bank of the little river like so many ants. Once into the ravine there is no place to go but toward the noise--screaming, grunting, groaning of men, thuds and smacks of weapons. Bodies begin to fall. Clubs hover a moment, then drive downward in a blur. Knives and spears flash, and at close range plunge in quick parries, or gut-wrenching arcs. Arrows are loosed at point-blank range, but the archer never has time for a second shot. Teeth, elbows, knees. Bloody dirt, bloody mud, and bloody water drifting in the slow current of the little river mixes with the sluggish waters of the swamp downstream from the ancient abutments. Some bodies already are floating downstream, lodging briefly in water plants before sinking out of sight. This little ravine is where you find the gates of glory.

Later on camp followers pick up weapons, arm bands, hair clasps, jewelry from the dead or almost dead. Some of the warriors have already slipped beneath the waters of the swamp, may their spirits be released. Their bodies will retain their trappings when their sprits rise and travel to the place warriors go. Warriors do what warriors do. Let the gods dwell on the why. In the stories of their tribes, these Heroes will live forever!--or at least for as long as their names are remembered.

Stench from the dead hovers over this place for months. The bridge will not be rebuilt anytime soon. A new ford is established a bit further downstream. A few miles to the west, villagers tell the story of a time when two armies met at the ravine, and made a great battle. No, they don't know the names, but some of them came from the tribes of the south, and others came, maybe, from the north. Floods cover the bones. A bridge is built. Nobody goes near the swamp any more. Some say ghosts live in the ravine.
posted by mule98J at 12:19 PM on March 25, 2016 [21 favorites]


*storytelling around the campfire goes back as long if not further*
posted by infini at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


The timing is pretty fascinating. It makes perfect sense that the same collapse that sent waves of 'Sea Peoples' west to raid would have sent waves of people on foot doing the same kind of raiding, but I'd never seen evidence of it before. So are the relatively small numbers of northern-plain resident people evidence that this was the (relative) locals gathering to stand off the advancing locusts, or were they just locals that had been impressed into service into two different 'Land Peoples' armies that were disputing over victim territory?

The number of professional warriors in the group suggests the latter, but you can also a picture a scenario where the local were victorious and thus recovered most of their dead for burial.
posted by tavella at 1:08 PM on March 25, 2016


How crazy is it that it took the invention of bronze a thousand years to make it from one place to another...
posted by chisel at 2:34 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Looks like things really kicked off between the ultras of Tollense Valley FC and the Schwerin Town Casuals.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


War is technology.

But it usually takes a war or two for the tactics to catch up to the technology.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:15 PM on March 25, 2016


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