Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

19 Warfare, Rituals, and Mass Graves:
An Introduction

HENRIK THRANE

This section comprises three articles presenting archaeological and osteological material plus a broader article on the treatment of prisoners of war or what are presumed to be such persons. They may not be POWs in the proper sense of the word – i.e., male fighters – but rather hostages or persons captured in connection with other conflicts (ancient POWs; cp. Gelb 1973).

The notion that the physical act of violence leaves traces such as traumata which may still be recognised centuries after the lethal event is relevant to all of these persons. This in itself is not as simple as it may sound given that there are many ways of maltreating and killing people and animals without leaving traces on the skeletal parts of the corpse. Recent atrocities may be listed that involved inflicting maximal harm on the soft parts of the body, and the wellpreserved bog bodies of the north European Bronze and Early Iron Age were normally strangled rather than killed by having their throat cut. Other gory details may be found in Miranda Green’s article. Even well-preserved bones do not lend themselves immediately to the study of pre-mortal lesions. The pathologist has to know what to look for and be able to distinguish between the kind of violent treatment that interests us here and other marks such as from the dissection of a corpse in connection with culturally required complex burial rites – for instance, in the Neolithic – or from conditions preventing a timely and normal burial in sacred ground such as with Norse Christians under Arctic conditions (Jørgensen 2001), among whom high-ranking persons were even salted or boiled before being transported to their final resting place. Elsewhere similar cases may have existed in contexts which we do not understand (Hansen 1995: 125ff, 162ff, 254ff).

-275-

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