Artist’s representation of the triple burial of Dolni Vestonice

The Mysterious Prehistoric Triple Burial of Dolni Vestonice

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Twenty-five thousand years ago, three teenagers were laid to rest in a common grave, near a village called Dolni Vestonice in the Czech province of Moravia. Their bodies had been manipulated such that one individual had been placed face down, while the individual on the left had his hand placed over the middle skeleton’s pelvic area, which had been covered in red ochre. What could it all mean?

Dolni Vestonice is an Upper Paleolithic site located near the modern town of Brno in the region of Moravia, which is situated in the eastern part of what is today the Czech Republic. Based on radiocarbon dating of the human remains and charcoal recovered from the site, Dolní Věstonice was found to have been occupied around 30,000 years ago. Dolní Věstonice has provided archaeologists with a large amount of information about the Upper Paleolithic in that region of the world, as numerous archaeologically interesting finds have been made there. Amongst these are the remains of kilns and numerous ceramic figurines, the remains of dwellings, and several burials, including an enigmatic grave known as the ‘Triple Burial’. These burials offer us a glimpse into the funerary practices of the people of that region during the Upper Paleolithic.  

Reconstruction of the triple tomb of Dolní Věstonice in the Czech Republic.

Reconstruction of the triple tomb of Dolní Věstonice in the Czech Republic. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dolní Věstonice is recorded to have been discovered in 1922, and was excavated during the first half of the 20th century. A second excavation, which functioned as a salvage operation, was undertaken during 1980. It was during this excavation that the Triple Burial was discovered. Following the discovery of the burial, a specialist was summoned, and the remains exhumed. Based on analyses of the skeletons, it was determined that they belonged to teenagers. Two of the individuals were determined to be males, whilst the third one has been conventionally regarded as a female.

Sitemap of Dolní Věstonice.

Sitemap of Dolní Věstonice. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Burial Positions

The female skeleton was found to have been placed between the two male ones. Analyses of her bones have revealed a marked left curvature of the spine, as well several other skeletal anomalies, indicating that she had been a cripple during her lifetime. By contrast, it has been suggested that the two males accompanying her were healthy individuals, and died in the prime of their lives.

The burial position of these individuals was somewhat unusual, most notably in that the hands of the male on the left were placed on the middle skeleton’s pelvic area, which was covered in red ochre. This individual was also found to be lying on his back, with his face towards the female. As for the male on the right, he was discovered to be lying on his stomach, facing away from the female, though his left arm was linked to hers.     

Burial position of the 3 induvial.

Burial position of the 3 induvial. (Image Source)

As for grave goods, it has been reported that both men had necklaces of pierced canine teeth and ivory on their heads. Additionally, the male on the left had worn some kind of painted mask. Red ochre was also found to have been applied onto the heads of all three individuals. Most puzzling perhaps was the discovery of the remains of a thick wooden pole that was thrust up the coccyx and through the hip of the male on the left. This suggests that he might have had an unnatural death.

Burial Interpretations

Several interpretations of the burial have been offered since it was discovered. For example, it has been suggested that the female may have died during childbirth. According to this scenario, the male on the left was a medicine-man (due to the mask he was wearing), whilst the other male was her husband. As these men were held responsible for her death, they followed her into the afterlife. Another suggestion is that the skeletons belonged to a young queen and two consorts.

Yet another interpretation is made with the assumption that homosexuality was accepted as normal by the people of Dolní Věstonice. This interpretation suggests that the female in the middle was actually a male, and that he was having a homosexual relationship with the male on the right. The male on the left might, for one reason or another, decided to humiliate the middle individual, causing him to commit suicide. As a result the male on the right commits suicide out of grief. Finally, the male on the left is executed by the community for what he had done.

Until now, no firm conclusions have been drawn regarding the mysterious Ice Age triple burial. Researchers can only speculate as to what the ancient inhabitants of Dolni Vestonice had intended when they buried the three teenagers over 25,000 years ago. 

Featured image: Artist’s representation of the triple burial of Dolni Vestonice (anthropology.net)

By Wu Mingren

References

Ancient-Wisdom, 2016. Dolni Věstonice. [Online]
Available at: http://www.ancient-wisdom.com/czechdolnivestonice.htm

Hirst, K. K., 2016. Dolní Vestonice (Czech Republic). [Online]
Available at: http://archaeology.about.com/od/dterms/g/dolnivestonice.htm

Hitchcock, D., 2014. Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov burials, including the triple burial. [Online]
Available at: http://donsmaps.com/tripleburial.html

O'Donovan, C., 2016. The Burial Tableau of Dolní Vestonice. [Online]
Available at: http://www.connellodonovan.com/dolni.html

Owen, J., 2007. Human Sacrifice Clues Found in European Stone Age Burials. [Online]
Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/05/070530-sacrifice-burial_2.html

Comments

I think this suggests a belief in reincarnation. The woman's womb is emphasized, both by the red ochre (perhaps symbolizing blood) as well as by her burial mate's hand on her pelvis. Since the color red could be associated with blood, and it's placement on a woman's pelvis could further suggest menstrual blood, then elements of fertility and birth are present in the funereal ritual. To connect birth/fertility with death (since it is a burial ground, after all) may be a symbolic nod to the cycles of birth and death in the human experience.

But what about reincarnation? The same red ochre is placed on the pates of all three individuals. If the red ochre does symbolize blood, and is associated with the blood of menses/childbirth, then maybe placing the symbolic 'blood' on the heads of all three suggest that the next phase of their spiritual process is a birthing. All babies are born within the blood and viscera of the woman's body, and (for the most part) enter the world head-first.

The hand is actually placed below the plevis in exactly the area where males genitals would be and the middle skeleton for some reason has not been definitely identified as female or male... I have read a few accounts of this and they all state the hand is placed on the womb and this is clearly not the case just google the burial and see other photographs to confirm this yourself.

Which individual is actually on the left? Our left or their left? I realize the artist rendition and the museum piece probably didn't want to actually show a stick up one of their asses, but a little clarification would be nice.

Just a prehistoric love triangle. The two males were friends or relatives. The male facing down was having an affair with the female, the mask indicates his deception, and the entwined arms indicate he was trying to lead her further astray. The ochre indicates blood from a rape/miscarriage or childbirth death. Their heads were anointed with ochre to indicate a violent three-way assault. If the male facing downward is the one with the stick inserted, that is confirmation that he is the perpetrator of wrongdoing/infidelity.

I think profiling each of their DNA might/will shed more light on the relationship between them. They may be three members of the same family who died from disease.

I think they were all from the same tribe .and possibly they died on hunting and gathering expedition and were buried together, as for the guy on the left with his hand on the lady pelvis he might possibly have been her brother and they place it there to show this or may be he was her partner and the lad who is impaled by the timber pole could have died trying to protect them.I think that who ever murder them, the other members of the tribe would not bury them together and if it was 25.000 years ago didn't some tribes cannibalise members of the tribe that are condemned to death.

Quite a stretch there to work in homosexuality.

Homosexuality was perhaps more accepted back then than today.  We know nothing about that culture and their mores.  Homosexuality was not regarded as a vice until Moses.

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Thank you for reminding some that 25,000 yrs ago laws against ones sexuality weren't in the same vein as the absurd notion and comment about "working it in." There was no commandment from above, nor a burning bush, or tablet that decided man's ill gotten fate if he didn't follow it. The mere idea that these people helped and supported one another, clearly when one was limited in what they could add to the whole of their tribe is indeed what makes us human.

I think the point being made was that it seems wholly random to assume that the burial revolves around a homosexual love triangle.

I think I have a better interpretation, both the man on the left (the one with his hand on the womans pelvis) and the woman (individual in the middle) were having some sort of extra-marital affair, while probably the man on the right was the husband and knew about this but did nothing or didn't know and commited suicide when he found out.
This might indicate why all 3 of them were placed in the same grave.
The lovers were executed for audltery, and the husband did something non honourable, probably he was also part of it... so he either behaved cowardly (ignoring or suicide) and was buried with the non honourable people or he was also one of them...
About the red ocher being on all of them heads and also on the womans pelvis is quite misleading, since if they behaved bad they would not be chosen to be reborn and thus (If I'm not wrong) placing red ocher on their heads is a smbol of passage through the womb during reincarnation if they are selected to be reborn.
About the red ocher being on all of them heads and also on the womans pelvis is quite misleading, since if they behaved bad they would not be chosen to be reborn and thus (If I'm not wrong) placing red ocher on their heads is a sT
BUT there is also red ocher on the womans pelvis, and the left man's right hand, symbolizing probably birth or pregnancy.
Confusing....

I think the dating is way off. Red Ochre was used much later in burials during the neolithic about 5,000 years ago. And if there were ceramic figurines in the burial, then ceramics weren't used until much later in the neolithic.

I study archeology in Brno and we were on a field trip in Dolni Vestonice. What I remember from the study is that the gender of the individual in the middle was actually unknown. Both skeletons on the sides are male, however the skeleton in the middle show both male and female signs therefore it was hard to specify the gender. Howewer latest DNA samples show that it is infact a male and that the man on the right side was most likely his sibling.

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