1,200-year-old murder mystery – dozens of bodies found in ancient well

April Holloway | Ancient Origins | January 4, 2013

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a mass grave at the bottom of a 1,200-year-old well in the town of Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy, France.  It appears the discovery relates to the massacre of a civilian population, although the reason is not yet known.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The researchers discovered approximately twenty to thirty bodies of men, women and children, which were dumped in the bottom of a small well, and found encased in a layer of mud about 3 metres thick. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the remains date back to the 8th-10th centuries AD. It is hoped that more precise dating will soon clarify the timing of the event that took place.

A number of theories have already been put forward to account for the finding.  First, during the period of the Carolingian Empire (800–888 CE), Burgundy had ceased to be an independent kingdom. It had been dismantled and annexed to Austrasia (the northeastern portion of the Kingdom of the Merovingian Franks).  The Carolingian Empire had a terrible war of succession between the three sons; Louis the Pious: Lothaire, the legitimate successor, Charles the Bald and Louis the German. On the 25th June 841, the Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye (only 25 km north of Entrains) saw tens of thousands of combatants fall on the battlefield. It is possible that this village could have been a victim of abuse by any one of the armies present, or fell victim to a group of fleeing combatants.

Secondly, researchers believe the discovery could be linked to the Vikings.  In the later decades of the 9th century the area was subject to repeated Viking invasions as attested by chronicles.

Finally, archaeologists have not discounted the possibility that it was not a massacre but an epidemic. A paleo-pathological study may reveal either traces of disease or defensive injuries.

The complexity of this grave made it difficult to dig in situ and so the layers and skeletons were modelled in 3D by the Captair Society using a high accuracy photogrammetric survey which will allow a full reconstruction of the well and perhaps help solve the mystery of the massacre. The video can be viewed here.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT Ancient Origins

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