A Slovak-German team of archaeologists researching one of the largest Central European Stone Age settlements in Vráble have unearthed the remains of three dozen people who may have been killed in cult ceremonies.
The researchers have been working on the 50-hectare site, which dates to approximately 5250-4950 BC., over the past seven years and say they have unearthed many interesting finds during the time.
But their most recent discovery turned out to be one of the most grisly so far as they identified the remains of almost three dozen people who may have died a horrible death.
Experts from the Institute of Archaeology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) and Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel said they had previously found skeletons on the site, but that this find was very different.
"In a ditch near one of the entrances, we discovered a mass of human bones, from which we managed to identify at least 35 skeletons,” explains anthropologist Zuzana Hukeľová from the SAV, adding that several original fractures were already visible during the excavation.
“The bodies originally lay in various positions – on their backs, on their stomachs, on their sides, some in a frog-like position. A common feature is, as with the previous uncovered skeletons, that the buried individuals at the bottom of the ditch are missing their heads. We found only one child's skull and one part of a sled.”
Initial findings suggest that many of the dead are juveniles.
Further tests are to be carried out to establish whether they were individuals who died separately, victims of an epidemic, or killed as part of cult ceremonies.
They will also look for any genetic links between them, and whether the heads were forcibly removed or separation occurred only after decomposition of the body.
"Only then will we be able to answer several questions about the social categorisation of the [site's] inhabitants, probably also about the emerging social inequality in the conditions of early agricultural societies, and perhaps even reconstruct the functioning or the causes of the demise of this vast settlement," the director of the archaeological institute Matej Ruttkay said.
The researchers said some of their other findings about the settlement have been exceptional.
"In the final stage of operation, one of the areas was fortified with a moat with six entrances to the settlement, which was doubled by a palisade. This was absolutely exceptional in Central Europe at that time,” explains Ivan Cheben, head of archaeological research at SAV. “We also confirmed the presence of more than 300 longhouses through a detailed geophysical survey. It is possible that 50 to 70 houses could have been used at the same time in the individual stages of the settlement's functioning.”