Archaeologists uncovered a buried massacre in Spain. Bodies were frozen in time in the exact spots where they died.

  • The Spanish village of La Hoya was destroyed in a brutal massacre sometime between 350 and 200 BCE.
  • A new analysis of skeleton remains shows that men, women, and children were all victims in the killing.
  • Some of the villagers were wounded in conflict. Others were likely burned inside their homes.
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The remains archaeologists have unearthed in northern Spain aren't for the faint of heart: Skeletons of men, women, and children were frozen in time in the exact spots they died, their limbs scattered.

The millennia-old village of La Hoya didn't come to a peaceful end. Researchers already knew that a brutal massacre wiped out the site's last inhabitants. Archaeologists have been excavating the village since 1973.

Although only 15% has been unearthed so far, new findings continue to offer clues about how the attack transpired — and who the victims were. Recently, a team set out to analyze 13 skeletons recovered from the site. Their results, published in the journal Antiquity on Thursday, show that the remains belonged to nine adults, two adolescents, a 3-year-old child, and a 6-month-old infant.

The new analysis paints a violent picture of the village's destruction. Examinations of the bones suggest attackers likely used bladed metal weapons such as swords or axes to annihilate villagers. Two of the victims, a 30-year-old male and teenage girl, had their arms amputated. The girl's forearm was found several feet from her body, suggesting she survived the dismemberment long enough to walk away from her attacker before either losing consciousness or getting struck again.

Her arm was discovered with a chain of bracelets still around the wrist. 

There was also evidence that at least one victim, a 35-year-old man, confronted his attacker head-on.

"One male suffered multiple frontal injuries, suggesting that he was facing his attacker," Dr. Fernández-Crespo, the lead author of the research, said in a statement. "This individual was decapitated but the skull was not recovered, and may have been taken as a trophy."

The man was left lying in the street near the village's main square.

Other skeletons were charred from extensive fires that took down buildings, the study found. Those who didn't die in the street were likely burned inside their homes.

Many personal belongings were also found on-site — a sign that no one survived to reclaim them.

"We can conclude that the aim of the attackers was the total destruction of La Hoya," the researchers said in a statement.

Had the village not been attacked, the skeletons likely wouldn't have been preserved, since La Hoya villagers usually cremated their dead.

An attack over coveted land

The attack probably didn't come out of nowhere: La Hoya was a coveted location during the Iron Age, around the late 3rd century BCE, thanks to its fertile land and proximity to the nearby Cantabrian and Mediterranean regions.

At its zenith, the 1,500-person village was relatively urbanized, with paved sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. It was even surrounded by defensive walls to guard against invaders.

That means the group that destroyed the site must have been a large and well-organized. Since the Romans hadn't arrived in the region yet, the researchers think the attackers must have been fellow Spaniards who wanted control of the land.

The remains, they wrote, showed evidence of "a surprise attack, resulting in the indiscriminate and brutal killing of helpless or unresisting people."

Scant archaeological evidence previously gave the impression that the region was less violent during the Iron Age, but the massacre is a sign that vicious conflict was occurring in Spain at that time. The site is a reminder, the researchers said, that warfare affects entire communities — not just those engaged in battle.

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