5th-century massacre site uncovered by archaeologists

Archaeologists working on the Swedish island of Öland have uncovered evidence showing dozens of men were massacred about 1,500 years ago.

Sandby borg archaeological site – photo courtesy Kalmar Lans Museum

In an article published this week in the journal Antiquity, a team of archaeologists from Kalmar Lans Museum revealed their findings from Sandby borg, where an early medieval fortified settlement existed. They have so far uncovered 26 bodies, all males, who were apparently killed in an attack and then left unburied in their homes and on the streets.

Many of the individuals had trauma wounds to the face and body, with a couple also having been burned. The article notes:

The fact that many of the individuals were left unburied inside the ringfort indicates that nobody came back to tend the dead. Several scenarios are possible: all the inhabitants may have been killed; some may have been killed and others abducted; or some may have fled but were unable or unwilling to return. The evidence suggests that no survivors or neighbours could, or wanted to, enter the site after the massacre.

In the early Middle Ages the island of Öland was a relatively prosperous area, with at least 15 ringforts located there. However, no written evidence of this massacre survives.

The archeaologists have been working on this site since 2011, and their work has gradually revealed the extent of the event which took place 1,500 years ago. In these videos Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay and Clara Alfsdotter offer more details about Sandby borg:

The article “A moment frozen in time: evidence of a late fifth-century massacre at Sandby borg” is now published in Antiquity and is available through Open Access. Click here to read it.

You can also learn more about the archaeological work on the Sandby borg website or by following them on Twitter @sandbyborg

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!