A 7,000-year-old tomb filled with headless skeletons has been found in Slovakia.
The remains of 38 people, all headless except one child, were unearthed.
Heads may have been severed in a brutal act of war or by priests to honor the dead.
Archaeologists have discovered a 7,000-year-old mass grave in Slovakia containing 38 skeletons, all but one decapitated.
The remains were found in the Vrá ble-Vèlke Lehemby site in Slovakia, one of the largest settlements of the European Neolithic period.
Early research shows that the heads were deliberately removed after death, an author of the study told Insider. Only the skull of one skeleton, belonging to a child younger than 6 years old, was intact.
Archaeologists are now trying to understand why the heads were removed in such a methodical way. Is it a warning, a funeral, or a way to honor the dead?
a clean finish
These headless bodies distinguish themselves from traditional burials in the same area, said anthropologist Katharina Fuchs, who worked on the excavation at the University of Kiel in Germany.
Early observation of the remains suggests that the beheadings were likely intentional, he said in an interview with Insider. In corpses well preserved enough to still have observable neck bones, the first vertebra directly below the skull was intact, he said.
This shows that the heads were cut off with very sharp tools rather than being cut off during the war.
“When you are severely decapitated with a sword or an ax, as in the Middle Ages, you see cut marks in the neck areas, as well as crushed vertebrae,” he said.
This is possible because people in the area have access to obsidian, which is a razor-sharp rock when broken.
Project leader Martin Furholt, professor of prehistory and social archeology at Kiel University, told Insider in an email that it was unclear whether the head was removed before or after death.
There are several reports that Neolithic people decapitated corpses after they died and took their heads with them.
“People often kept these heads in their homes or left them elsewhere,” Furholt said.
An act of war or a human sacrifice?
It’s entirely possible to remove these heads as an act of violent war or deterrence, Fuchs said.
“There’s a scenario for this killing, like taking heads as trophies and putting them on bars,” he said.
“We can’t ignore that.”
After all, although these are sophisticated farming communities, evidence suggests they can be wild.
There are two other important mass graves in the area, Talheim and Herxheim.
The remains of 34 men, women and children at the Talheim facility in Germany tell the story of a brutal conflict. The victims are believed to have been slaughtered by a neighboring village and left to rot.
Also at the Herxheim facility in Germany, at least 450 people were found completely dismembered in a trench with cut marks on their bones and skulls. This indicates that the meat was cut from the bones before the bodies were placed in the pit. A 2009 study suggested that this could be evidence of ritual cannibalism, but this hypothesis has been rejected by some who view this site as a large necropolis.
Furholt said that neolithic people may also have thought that bodies had magical powers and that their bodies helped strengthen the strength of the railings.
“In fact, many Neolithic ditches surrounding settlements all over Europe show deposits of dead human bodies or body parts,” he said, citing the deposition at the Herxheim site as an example.
Vráble-Vèlke Lehemby consisted of three settlements located between 5,250 BC and 4,950 BC.
The larger of these settlements, on the far right in the picture above, was heavily fortified.
Pallisades surrounded the settlement. A moat with the mass grave stretched about a mile long around the village.
An unexpected discovery
These were not the first headless bodies found in the ditch. Several other headless skeletons had been uncovered during previous excavations, but these were much less common and interspersed with more normal burials.
This is why the discovery of such a large headless body mass was a complete surprise, Fuchs said.
There may be even more corpses in the tomb. Fuchs said they should stop digging because they are limited to excavations that take a little over five weeks. However, the bones found on the edge of the tomb indicate that the tomb was carried further than they found.
Archaeologist Maria Wunderlich of the University of Kiel, who worked on the excavation, said: “There are many possibilities and it’s important to stay open to new insights and ideas. But it’s indisputable that this find has so far been absolutely unique for the European Neolithic.” I said.
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