Brutal medieval attack as warriors axe-split face recreated 660 years later

A warrior's face has been recreated, complete with the gruesome wound he received during one of medieval Europe's most notorious battles.

Experts have reconstructed the soldier's face 660 years on after his skull was found in a mass grave on the Swedish island of Gotland, just outside the medieval city of Visby.

The town is known as one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Scandinavia, and it was there that an experienced Danish army massacred their enemy – a counter-offensive made up of badly-armed peasants, many of them children or the elderly, archaeologists have determined.

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It is thought the defenders lost 1,800 of their 2,000-strong army.

One of those who lost his life was the warrior, whose face was "split open" with an axe.

His mouth was smashed with the weapon and he also received additional wounds above his left eye and on his cheekbone, which historians believe were caused by a pole weapon.

Brazilian graphics expert Cicero Moraes wanted to see the warrior brought back to life and has created a digital interface version of the soldier, which has since been published in the 3D computer graphics journal.

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Moraes said: "Once the skull was ready, a series of soft tissue thickness markers were spread across the skull.

"These markers, roughly speaking, indicate the skin boundaries in some regions of the face.

"To complement the data, we imported a CT scan of a living donor and deformed the bones and soft tissue from the CT scan to match the face being approximated.

"With the basic face defined, we finalised the approximation and generated the most scientific image, in shades of gray, with eyes closed and without hair."

The image is just a guess at what the soldier may have looked like – things like the size of his nose, mouth and eyes and the colour of his hair and skin cannot be determined accurately by looking at the skull.

Historians are also unsure whether it was the blow from the axe that ultimately killed the warrior – although his wounds did seem severe.

Moraes said: “It is difficult to estimate this with the skull alone.

“But surely such an injury would not be an easy thing to treat, considering the year and the reality at the time it was inflicted.”

For Moraes, the image is more than just a way of understanding the past – it also brings to light the cruel realities of war, particularly in a time when conflict is happening across the world.

"These images are quite impactful," he added.

"Today we have several conflicts happening in the world and we usually observe the scenes from afar, having no idea what happens to the combatants.

"Imagine how it is for those who receive such violence."

This battle prompted the citizens of Visby to surrender, and the victorious King Valdemar IV claimed the island of Gotland as part of his kingdom.

Sweden and Denmark both claimed the island belonged to them until the Second Treaty of Brömsebro was signed in 1645 after Denmark lost in the Torstenson War, or Hannibal War, a two-year conflict that came at the end of the infamous Thirty Years' War.

Five mass graves have been found outside of Visby since 1905, when the first archaeological dig took place in the area.

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