8000-year old underwater burial site reveals human skulls mounted on poles

February 19, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Phys.org report
Anterior view of crania F296 showing well-preserved facial bones. Photograph: Sara Gummesson. Credit: Antiquity (2018). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2017.210

A team of researchers with Stockholm University and the Cultural Heritage Foundation has uncovered the remains of a number of Mesolithic people in an underwater grave in a part of what is now Sweden. In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, the group describes the site where the remains were found, the condition of the remains and also offer some possible explanations for the means by which the remains found their way to the underwater burial site.

People living during the Mesolithic were hunter-gatherers, the researchers note, which is why the burial site and its contents are so surprising. At the time of its use, the burial site would have been at a shallow lake bottom covered with tightly packed stones upon which the of humans had been laid. The remains were all skulls, save for one infant. The adult skulls (except one) were missing jawbones, and at least two of the skulls showed evidence of a stick thrust through the opening at the base through the top of the skull—normally associated with posting a to scare enemies. But hunter-gatherers were not known for posting skulls or engaging in gruesome funeral rituals. Instead, they were known for disposing of their dead in simple, respectful ways.

The gravesite was found in what is now southern Sweden, near an archaeological site known as Kanaljorden. Archeologists have been working at the site since 2009, but it was not until 2011 that the human remains were found—until that time, researchers had been finding animal remains. To date, the researchers have found the remains of 11 adults. In another surprise, the team discovered that all of the adult skulls bore signs of trauma—each had been whacked in the head multiple times. But the trauma was inflicted differently depending on gender. The males were hit on top or near the front of the head, while the females were typically hit from behind. None of the wounds appeared life-threatening, however, though without the rest of the corpse, it was impossible to identify what had killed them.

Cranium F318 with wooden stake. Photograph: Fredrik Hallgren. Credit: Antiquity (2018). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2017.210

The researchers are unable to offer an explanation for what they have found at the site, though they suggest it was possible the victims had died or been killed elsewhere and then transported to the . Possibly because they were considered exceptional in some way.

Explore further: Skulls suggest Romans in London enjoyed human blood sports

More information: Sara Gummesson et al. Keep your head high: skulls on stakes and cranial trauma in Mesolithic Sweden, Antiquity (2018). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2017.210

The socio-cultural behaviour of Scandinavian Mesolithic hunter-gatherers has been difficult to understand due to the dearth of sites thus far investigated. Recent excavations at Kanaljorden in Sweden, however, have revealed disarticulated human crania intentionally placed at the bottom of a former lake. The adult crania exhibited antemortem blunt force trauma patterns differentiated by sex that were probably the result of interpersonal violence; the remains of wooden stakes were recovered inside two crania, indicating that they had been mounted. Taphonomic factors suggest that the human bodies were manipulated prior to deposition. This unique site challenges our understanding of the handling of the dead during the European Mesolithic.

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3 / 5 (4) Feb 19, 2018
Maybe it's a translation issue?

Some Modern(?) Hunter-Gatherers have been seen to act a certain way. So why jump to the assumption all H-Gs will act that way? And what is happening when we are not observing Modern H-G groups?

And, there certainly is a dearth of data and even less confirmed evidence for common assumptions about people who are time-shrouded mysteries to us.

The assumption I am nimbly leaping to? Is that these were victims of an enemy band. Their remains recaptured and given a respectful burial by their surviving kinfolk.

Any other speculations? This is the outlet for your imagination.
not rated yet Feb 19, 2018
"Instead, they were known for disposing of their dead in simple, respectful ways."

-Well maybe the skulls were from a neighboring enemy tribe??

Captured, executed, mounted as a warning or taunt
Thorium Boy
not rated yet Feb 20, 2018
They'll never solve this one. They could be sacrifices, they could be enemies, they could be honored dead.
3 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2018
Perhaps this belief of water immersion was to allow the spirit to stay in the netherworld and not to interfere with the living. This ancient belief is much more common that our historians acknowledge. The long history of Egyptian civilization allows a determinate date for this belief in Ka and ba. It began with the OLD KINGDOM and was not present before. Elaborate rituals were followed to allow the Ka and the ba to be united in the otherworld. A spirit allowed to become attached to the living world was dangerous as it kept trying to complete its worldly goals by interfering with the living.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2018
I think you all came up with some pretty good ideas.

That immersion hypothesis reminded me of another speculation I have pondered.

Throughout most of history there have been many myths about water spirits and monsters. I'd guess to try to scare the kids from accidental drowning.

But also, when you consider the lifestyle of most people throughout history? Drowning someone had the advantage of not leaving a bloody mess all over your clothes.

For women, before the pharmaceutical industry made dangerous drugs and poisons commonly available?

Suicide by drowning would have been the most reliable means for women. And considering the bleak lives they endured? I can certainly sympathize with their plight. Their need to have control of their deaths, as they never had control of their lives.
2 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2018
The Toraja in Indonesia enjoy digging up their relatives during Ma'nene, putting some nice clothes on them, and chilling.. pre-scientific societies engaged in all sorts of irrational fun, there is little beyond guesswork here.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2018
...."there is little beyond guesswork here."....

Exactly, sirdumpalot. What evidence exists in thin to nil. But we all enjoy wildly speculating and loudly pontificating upon a dearth of verifiable facts.

And for crazy death rites? Check out "The American Way of Death" or the film "The Loved One".

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