Execution, or the work of skull hunters? They found a mass grave with headless bodies in Slovakia
Archaeologists made a unique discovery near Nitra, Slovakia. At the site of a large Neolithic settlement, they found a mass grave with thirty-eight bodies. But the find had one catch – except for one child’s remains, all the skeletons were missing their heads. Now experts are finding out why. According to some theories, the death of people from the grave could have been very cruel.
Click to enlarge
Near the Slovak town of Vráble, Slovak and German archaeologists jointly uncovered a mass grave from the Early Stone Age with the skeletons of thirty-eight people. All but one victim were missing their skulls.
| Photo: courtesy of the Archaeological Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, I. Cheben
Did they execute them? Was it a ritual? Were grave robbers in office? Such questions are now being asked by archaeologists who last year examined an area near the Slovak town of Vráble near Nitra. In the fall of last year, they uncovered a mass grave with the remains of thirty-eight people in a place where in the younger stone age it was a unique settlement due to its size. All but one small child were missing their heads. Why there were no skulls in the burial site is still a mystery.
They found a vampire in Poland. She was buried with a sickle around her neck to prevent her from reviving
Archaeologists have found graves in the area before, but this mass one was a surprise for them. “The bodies were originally lying in different positions – on their backs, on their stomachs, on their sides, some in a frog-like position. A common feature is that those buried at the bottom of the trench were missing their heads. We found only one child’s skull and one part of the jaw,” said archaeologist Zuzana Hukeľová from the Institute of Archeology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences shortly after the find.
Now the scientists continue the ant work in the laboratories. They have to reveal not only the reason why the skeletons lost their skulls, but also how the burial site was created – whether all the buried were buried in the ground at the same time and died at the same time, or the number of corpses in the grave increased gradually. “Several individual bones pushed out of the anatomical position of the body in the grave suggest that it may have become more complex with the time of deposition. It is possible that already ossified bodies were pushed into the middle of the trench to make room for new ones,” suggested anthropologist Katharina Fuchs from the University of Kiel in Germany. German archaeologists have been working with Slovak colleagues at the site for the seventh season.
Near the Slovak town of Vráble, Slovak and German archaeologists jointly uncovered a mass grave from the Early Stone Age with the skeletons of thirty-eight people. All but one victim were missing their skullsSource: with permission, Dr. Till Kühl, Institute for Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology/Kiel University
But of course the missing heads are the biggest mystery. “The grave may be the result of a massacre in the form of human sacrifice, perhaps in connection with magical or religious rituals. But combat clashes could also play a role, for example the conflict between the communities that inhabited the given villages. Or these people fell victim to skull hunters. Perhaps it was a special funeral ritual that has nothing to do with violence during life. There are so many options. We need to remain open to new perspectives and ideas. What is indisputable is that this find is absolutely unique on a Neolithic scale in Europe,” said Maria Wunderlichová, head of the project for the German side.
A unique site
The small town of Vráble, home to approximately eight and a half thousand inhabitants, is an archaeological paradise. The area was already inhabited in the Stone Age. Due to its size, the Veľké Lehemby site there is an archaeological unique. “313 houses in three neighboring villages were identified. At one time, up to eighty dwellings were inhabited, which is an exceptional population density for the time,” outlines the website of the University of Kiel.
The necropolis in Peru is terrifying. Mummies still have skin and hair after a thousand years
The three villages spread over approximately fifty hectares – to give you an idea, this is roughly the size of eleven Wenceslas Squares in Prague. “In the final stage of operation, one of the areas was fortified with a ditch with six entrances to the settlement, which was doubled by a palisade, which was absolutely exceptional in Central Europe at the time,” added Ivan Cheben, head of archaeological research for the Slovak side.
Illustration of the appearance of the original settlement near the Slovak town of Vráble from the Stone Age. In the southwest of the area, archaeologists have now found a mass grave in which the skeletons were missing skullsSource: with permission, Karin Winter, Institute for Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology/Kiel University
Archaeologists have been investigating the site for a long time, the unique discovery of a mass grave with skeletons without skulls was made last fall. Paradoxically, while the discovery of skeletons without skulls represents a mystery and therefore a great research challenge for scientists, for the same reason their current and subsequent research will be much more demanding than in other cases. “In mass graves, we usually base the identification of the individual on the research of the skull, so this find represents a particularly challenging situation during excavations,” explained German scientist Martin Furholt.
Victims of a ritual or a war crime?
Archaeologists think that mainly young people could have been buried there. But everything can be confirmed or refuted only by further research in laboratories.
The most important thing for scientists is to gather as much information as possible about the dead. “Other questions are, were they relatives, or is there a kinship relationship between them and the previously found remains from Vrábl? Were they locals or immigrants from far away? How did they eat?,” the Kiel University website outlines what the experts will have to find out in the laboratories.
Archaeologists have found the graves of ancient Roman headless men. No one knows why they were beheaded
For this, Slovak and German scientists want to use, for example, DNA analysis, the radiocarbon dating method (using it to determine the age of the examined material) or the analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen (used to determine information about the nutrition of individuals).
Experts hope that at the end of the research, using various scientific methods, they will be able to estimate how the buried headless people died and why they are missing this particular body part. “In some skeletons, the first cervical vertebra is preserved, which indicates a careful removal of the head rather than a violent and merciless beheading – but these are very preliminary observations that we need to confirm with further research,” added Fuchs.