The first clue that a dark story lurked in an Iron Age site in Sandby Borg, Sweden, came in 2010. Archaeologists discovered many intact pits filled with jewelry and other valuables. The mystery deepened a year later when the team from Kalmar County Museum returned to this fortified village on the island of Öland and found human remains.
Over the next few years, 26 bodies were exhumed at Sandby Borg, a windswept place along a beach. The placement of the corpses and forensic evidence all pointed to a cold conclusion: One day at the end of the fifth century, a mass murder occurred at Sandby Borg. Its victims, including children, were surprised, murdered and left where they fell. The team is trying to reconstruct what happened here more than 1500 years ago by working with these clues.
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The narrow island of Öland is located off the east coast of Sweden about 250 km south of the capital Stockholm. It is a land of pine forests, grasslands and beaches that are meandering by the relentless wind outside the Baltic Sea.
Sandby Borg is just one of dozens of Iron Age ring forts that dot Öland. Slightly larger than an acre enclosed by an oval wall, the contour of which is visible today. Archaeologists believe that this wall once stood more than 16 feet high and protected 53 homes inside.