Evidence of horse sacrifices at ancient Swedish monument

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An artist's image of the monument at Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, in its heyday, 1500 years ago. Image: Gote Goransson
An artist’s image of the monument at Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, in its heyday, 1500 years ago. Image: Gote Goransson

The remains of sacrificed animals, including horses, have been unearthed by Swedish archaeologists at the site of a massive recently unearthed monument.

The line of the poles is clearly visible in the centre of this aerial image. Photo: www.flygfoto.com
The line of the poles is clearly visible in the centre of this aerial image. Photo: www.flygfoto.com

The monument, which dates from about 1500 years ago, was found in Gamla Uppsala in central Sweden, just a few hundred metres from well documented royal burual mounds.

It was unearthed by archaeologists ahead of the construction of a railway line.

The monument, from the Swedish Iron Age, comprised two long rows of upright wooden poles. One row was nearly a kilometre long and comprised 144 pillars. The other was at least 500 meters long.

“This is an extraordinary monument,” said project manager Lena Beronius-Jörpeland, an archaeologist with the country’s National Heritage Board.

It may have been some form of territorial marking or of religious significance, he said.

“We know that Gamla Uppsala was the centre of a pre-Christian cult. We believe that the wooden poles have been high, perhaps upwards of eight to ten feet. They’ve been seen from afar and possibly flanked a path toward Gamla Uppsala.”

Little evidence remains of the poles, except for the large and deep pits with stone contents.

In some of the pits, the archaeologists found some remnants of the posts and several of them contained animal bones, indicating that sacrifices were made. The remains comprised horses, cows and pigs. In one pit, the skeleton of a puppy was found.

Archaeologist Jonas Wikborg inspects one of the pits. Photo: Kristina Ekero Eriksson
Archaeologist Jonas Wikborg inspects one of the pits. Photo: Kristina Ekero Eriksson

“We know of very few similar monuments in Scandinavia,” Beronius-Jörpeland said, adding that this was the largest found to date.

Gamla Uppsala has long been known for its impressive burial mounds from around 600 AD. The centre had important functions of religion, justice, commerce and crafts during the Iron Age.

The precise purpose of the monument and who built it have yet to be determined. Archaeologists are also unclear at this stage what links, if any, the monument had to the nearby burial mounds.

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