Mass Grave Reveals Prehistoric Warfare in Ancient European Farming Community

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Shattered skulls and shin bones of 7000-year-old skeletons may point to torture and mutilation not previously observed in early Neolithic Linear Pottery culture.

The chance discovery of a mass grave crammed with the battered skeletons of ancient Europeans has shed light on the lethal violence that tore through one of the continent’s earliest farming communities.

“This is a classic case where we find the ‘hardware’: the skeletal remains, the artefacts, everything that is durable we can find in the graves. But the ‘software’: what people were thinking, why they were doing things, what their mindset was at this time, of course was not preserved.”

In 2006, archaeologists were called in after road builders in Germany uncovered a narrow ditch filled with human bones as they worked at a site in Schöneck-Kilianstädten, 20km north-east of Frankfurt.

They have now identified the remains as belonging to a 7000-year-old group of early farmers who were part of the Linear Pottery culture, which gained its name from the group’s distinctive style of ceramic decoration.

In the seven metre-long, V-shaped pit, researchers found the skeletons of 26 adults and children, who were killed by devastating strikes to the head or arrow wounds. The skull fractures are classic signs of blunt force injuries caused by basic stone age weapons.

A fractured adult shin bone from the mass grave, which could indicate torture or posthumous mutilation. Photograph: Christian Meyer

A fractured adult shin bone from the mass grave, which could indicate torture or posthumous mutilation. Photograph: Christian Meyer

Along with close-quarter fighting, attackers used bows and arrows to ambush their neighbours. Two arrowheads made of animal bone were found in the soil stuck to the skeletons. They are thought to have been inside the bodies when they were placed in the pit.

More than half of the individuals had their legs broken in acts of apparent torture or posthumous mutilation. The smashed-in shin bones could represent a new form of violent torture not seen before in the group.

[Read the full text here, at The Guardian]

In the Linear Pottery culture, each person was given their own grave within a cemetery, the body carefully arranged and often buried with grave goods such as pottery and other possessions. By contrast, in the mass grave the bodies lay scattered.

Christian Meyer, an archaeologist who led the study at the University of Mainz, believes the attackers meant to terrorise others and demonstrate that they could annihilate an entire village. The site of the mass grave, which dates back to about 5000BC, is located near an ancient border between different communities, where conflict was likely.

“On one hand you are curious about finding out more about this, but also shocked to see what people can do to each other,” he said. Details of the study are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the 1980s, a number of similar mass graves were found in Talheim, Germany, and Asparn, Austria. The latest grim discovery bolsters evidence for prehistoric warfare in the final years of the culture, and points to torture and mutilation not recorded before….(read more)

The Guardian


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