Archaeologists have discovered a massacre buried in Spain. The bodies were frozen in time in the exact places where they died.

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The remains that archaeologists have discovered in northern Spain are not for the faint of heart: skeletons of men, women and children have been frozen in time in the exact spot where they died, their scattered limbs.

The thousand-year-old village of La Hoya did not end peacefully. Researchers already knew that a brutal massacre had wiped out the last inhabitants of the site. Archaeologists have been excavating the village since 1973.

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

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

An amputated right hand, still with their bracelets.
Teresa Fernández-Crespo / Antiquity Publications Ltd

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

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

A skeleton at the La Hoya colony.
Armando Llanos / Antiquity Publications Ltd

“A man suffered multiple frontal injuries, suggesting he was facing his attacker,” Dr. Fernández-Crespo, lead researcher, said in a statement. “This individual was beheaded but the skull was not recovered and may have been taken as a trophy. ”

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

Other skeletons were charred from large-scale fires that destroyed buildings, according to the study. Those who did not die on the streets were probably burned inside their homes.

Many personal effects were also found there – a sign that no one survived to retrieve them.

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

If the village had not been attacked, the skeletons probably would not have been preserved, as the villagers of La Hoya usually cremated their dead.

An attack on coveted land

The attack probably did not come from nowhere: La Hoya was a coveted location during the Iron Age, towards the end of the 3rd century BCE, thanks to its fertile lands and proximity to the neighboring regions of Cantabria and the Mediterranean.

At its peak, the village of 1,500 inhabitants was relatively urbanized, with paved sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. It was even surrounded by defensive walls to protect itself from invaders.

This means that the group that destroyed the site must have been a large and well organized one. Since the Romans had not yet arrived in the area, researchers believe 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 murder of defenseless or unresisting people.”

Sparse archaeological evidence previously gave the impression that the area was less violent in the Iron Age, but the massacre is a sign that a vicious conflict was unfolding in Spain at that time. The site is a reminder, researchers say, that war affects entire communities – not just those engaged in battle.

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