Stone Age people had their bones broken and their flesh torn apart shortly after death

Stone Age people had their bones broken and their flesh torn apart shortly after death

Imagine that an acquaintance died and you had to quickly prepare the skeleton for the funeral. With sharp flint tools.

This is apparently what happened to about 30 people who lived and died in northern Spain 6,000 years ago.

In a new study, researchers excavated two graves and found bone remains with cut marks and fractures shortly after death. They have been found in two types of graves called stake graves and corridor graves.

What are spikes and trenches?

The stake is usually built of four or five large stone blocks with a large stone cap placed on top. The floor is often stone or sand. The burial chamber was surrounded by a circular or rectangular mound of earth, bordered by stones.

The passage tomb usually consisted of one room. It is built of large stone blocks that are often roughly hewn. A low corridor leads to the room. The entire facility is covered with a mound or mound. The rooms are usually large and rectangular.

Source: The Great Norwegian Dictionary

The remains are only of selected and larger bones. All remains were buried together, regardless of who they came from.

Spanish cemeteries are an example of the differences in burial rituals in previous cultures. Bones bearing signs of similar treatment have been found in several places in Europe.

– It is beginning to look as if this was once the norm, rather than our modern Christian understanding of burial, as Niels H. Andersen, senior researcher at the Mosgaard Museum in Denmark.

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He read the study to the Danish online newspaper

The legs were quickly skinned and broken

The temperatures and soil conditions of the northern Spanish regions where the excavations took place preserve the bones well. So the researchers had a good overview of the results.

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– No complete skeleton was found at the excavation sites, but a group of larger bones of different people who were buried in a healthy condition were found, notes Niels H. Andersen.

The assemblage consists of, among other things, 1,380 bones from 14 individuals at one excavation site and bones from 13 individuals at another site.

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Marks such as cuts and fractures on certain parts of the bones show that the bones were completely cleaned and reprocessed shortly after the time of death.

Not all bones were buried, only large bones, such as femurs and skulls.

This may have been part of common burial rituals, as those buried died at different times and at different ages.

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– Perhaps we can also say that it was not cannibalism. There are usually cut marks on the bone when all the meat is broken down, which is something we don't see here, Andersen says.

Marks on the bones indicate that the flesh was scraped off shortly after death, but not cut. There are also traces of blows to the middle of the legs with heavy tools, sufficient to break them. (Illustration: IJOA/Francisco Tapiaz Lopez)

More common than you might think

Although this treatment may seem brutal to us Norwegians, there are examples of it in Denmark as well.

In a stake near Ølstykke, the bones of three people who were in the same mound were excavated.

At Slagels, the buried bones of two individuals were found, weathered and bearing bite marks from foxes and mice.

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– This suggests that the bones were then processed in such a way that they were lying outside before burial in the chambers, but of course not in such a way that the fox could escape, says Niels H. Andersen.

Similar forms of burial in spikes and passage graves are also known elsewhere in the world.

In Tibet, a form of burial called cloud burial is still used, in which the body is divided and placed so that vultures can exhume it.

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Compared to this and the Danish examples, the Spanish bones stand out. They did not survive and were treated and buried shortly after death.

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I do not know why

Researchers still have no explanation for why the dead in northern Spain are buried in this way.

There are many ways to treat the dead around the world.

  • According to the Iranian Zoroastrian religion, the body must be cleaned, the clothes must be cut with tools, and then it is burned. The body is placed on a tower for eagles.
  • In South Korea, cremation ashes are shaped into small pearls in several colors. It can be placed in a bowl or glass vase at home.
  • Some peoples in Madagascar open the graves every few years to change the burial clothes of the deceased and dance with them to the tunes of music. New generations hear stories about the lives of the dead, and the corpses are told about the conditions of the new children.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

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Niels H. Andersen wonders whether the removal of the body and fragments depersonalized the deceased and made him fit for communal, rather than individual, burial.

– It is believed that it was appropriate in the Stone Age, when our ancestors had to learn to live together and be full-time farmers, for the deceased to become part of a collective whole by sharing the grave with others in the afterlife.

It is a long way from our concept of individual funerals, where we are concerned with the death of the individual.

This idea may have distorted our understanding of who was buried in the cairns and how it happened.

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One of the well-known explanations is that the stakes were not built without a president, prince, or important person standing behind them, and that they were only buried there, as Andersen explains.

– This also happened, but only in the Bronze Age and later. The earlier wedge tombs resemble those in Spain.

Many Danish stake and passage graves were excavated many years ago, when the idea of ​​a main burial was popular in archaeology.

But new research could change the picture of how our ancestors cared for the dead.

– It would have been interesting and useful for us here at home to look at the excavated stake bones for signs of post-processing using the clever methods used by Spanish colleagues, says Andersen.


© Translated by Trine Andreasen . is reading Original status on here.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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