Illerup Ådal

Illerup Ådal was a wet and boggy valley in 1950, and a longish lake 2000 year ago. When the area was drained in 1950, first discoveries were made - and it has never quite stopped ever since. The conditions were excellent - a lot of artifacts including swords in near perfect conditions were found. Many are shown in the Moesgard museum not too far from Illerup.
A first systematic dig took place in 1956; 1200 artifacts were discovered in an area of about 750 m2. Between 1975 - 1985 an area of about 40.000 m2 was investigated in 11 major campaigns , yielding about 15.000 objects.
In 2009 Illerup Ådal made major headlines in the archaeological community: Remains of at least 200 dead warriors were found, just about 2 km from one of the places of major weapon sacrifices.
Here goes the "sacrificed weapons were brought back form successful business trips" hypothesis!
Not much seems to have been published about the mass grave. It appears that the (mostly young) men came from Norway and were killed on the battle field, left to rot for a while, with the remains eventually "sacrificed", i.e. thrown into the bog. A lot more bones are waiting for discovery (up to 1000 men is the guess). This mass murder, in line with the quaint old customs of the time ("vae victis"; woe to the vanquished ones), took place around 50 AD, long before the first known weapon sacrifice.
We need to wait for what else will come up, and how this new discovery will change the present viewpoint about Danish bog sacrifices.
The findings from Illerup up to 1985 have been published in a book series called "Illerup Ådal". Volumes 11 and 12 deal with the swords (and have been used heavily by me). Other volumes deal with spear and lance points, personal belongings (comb, tools, ...), show-off items (golden / silver horse gear, shield buckles, sword sheaths and handles, ...), shields, bows and arrows, axes, jewelry, coins, ....
Four major and apparently unrelated places (A,B, C and D) have been found where deposits were made; the time scale ranges from 200 AD - 500 AD. The first three places have some special characteristics:
  • Place A: All over the bog. Large amount of stuff; sunk in the middle of the old lake from a boat. Items "killed", i.e. ritually destroyed but not burnt. Only one large deposit; early C1b: i.e. around 210 AD. Besides weapons, we have gold, silver, spear shafts, shield boards, ropes, cords, leather, textiles tools, wooden vessels, spoons, beads, four horses and a cow. Dendrochronology of the shield boards shows that the deposition was soon after 205 AD, the last coin found was minted in 187 AD.
  • Place B: Small area at the south shore of the ancient lake. "Killed" items were pitched into the lake from the shore; not burnt. Somewhat later than place A / C1b: let's say 225 AD. Partially mixed up with place A
  • Place C: East of place C. "Killed" and burnt items were pitched into the lake from the shore. Around C3 - D1, i.e. around 375 AD.
  • Place D: More recently found. Sacrifices from D1, i.e. around 450 AD.
What has been found? Here is a statistic
Item Place A Place A+B Place B Place C Place D
Swords - 146 - 79 -
Lance points 366 149 132 98 4
Spear points 410 63 108 79 1
Shield buckles - 387 - 43 -
Horse gear 10 - - - -
Knifes » 340 - - » 25 1
Spear and lance points outnumberd everything by far; just like in Nydam or other places. Here is what they look like:
Spear and lance points from Nydam
Lance (top) and spear (bottom) points
Large picture
Source: Photographed at the Landesmuseum Schleswig
From the personal belongings found together with the metal artifacts it could be deduced that the objects originated in South Norway / Sveden. Maybe the proto Vikings there felt the urge for a bit of adventure every now and then and went on boat trips to their southern neighbors, sometimes without return ticket.
Interestingly, the spear, lances shields etc, were made in Scandinavia while most of the swords, as well as many sword sheaths and belts, were imported from the Roman empire. Most swords were pattern welded, some displayed the complex chevrons and palmette patterns. I have dealt with that in detail in another module.
  A lot if not most of the IIlerup Adal findings are shown in the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. The link leads to the critical museum guide where you can read in detail why I liked that museum a lot but was not always happy about details. The picture below gives a taste treat.
Display Illerup Adal swords Moesgaard museum
Display of Illerup Adal finds in the Moesgaard Museum
Source: Photographed in the Moesgaard museum, 2015

With frame With frame as PDF

go to Books and Other Major Sources

go to First Iron Swords - Provenance Problems

go to Critical Museum Guide: Dresden

go to Critical Museum Guide: Landesmuseum Schleswig-Holstein in Schleswig, Germany

go to Critical Museum Guide: Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus; Denmark

go to Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung"

go to Nydam

go to Danish Bog Sacrifices

go to Large Pictures 1

go to "Damascene" Patterns

go to 11.3.2 More to Pattern Welding

go to Large Pictures chapter 11.4

go to Large Pictures 2 - Chapter 11.3

go to Illerup Swords with Special Patterns

go to Northern Sword Types of the First Millennium

go to Additional Pictures

go to Old Sagas, Heroes and Swords

go to 11.3.4 Metallography of Pattern Welded Swords

go to Large Pictures II

go to Large Pictures III

go to Theoderic's "Thank You" letter

go to Additional Pictures chapter 11.4

go to Large Pictures 3

© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)