Ancient child skulls  gifts for Bronze Age lake gods

Ancient child skulls may have been gifts for Bronze Age lake gods

(Read the article on one page)

A new study published in the journal Antiquity has revealed that a number of Bronze Age child skulls discovered around the perimeter of ancient settlements in Switzerland and Germany show signs of violent death. According to a report in Live Science , the children’s skulls may have been offered as gifts for the local lake gods.

Dring the 1970s and 1980s, archaeologists discovered a series of ancient settlements dotted along Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany.  Excavations at these sites revealed more than 160 dwellings, along with hunting tools, ceramics, and other artifacts dating back to between 3,800 and 2,600 years ago.

The villages would have been set up close to the lakes to provide ready access to fresh water, along with fish for eating, and reeds for weaving. However, the Bronze Age lake dwellers also regularly faced flooding. Archaeological evidence shows that houses were built on stilts or wooden foundations and that homes were moved further away when lake levels rose, before being returned again after they receded.

It is well-known that Bronze Age societies made sacrifices to appease their gods. Offerings were made by either burying the sacrifice in the ground or placing it in water. It was important that the right type of gift was sacrificed in the right way and in the right place. Water appears to have been an important place to make offerings, perhaps due the belief that water was an important doorway to the supernatural.  Archaeological discoveries, such as the bog bodies of Lindow Man and Tollund Man , show that humans also sometimes formed part of these offerings.

This brings us back to the Bronze Age lake settlements of Switzerland and Germany. In addition to the discovery of numerous ancient artifacts, researchers also found many children’s skulls encircling the perimeter of the villages. Many of these skulls had been placed there long after their initial burial, at a time when the settlements experienced the worst inundation from rising lake levels.

In the current study, researchers from Basel University in Switzerland examined some of the skulls and found evidence of violent death including axe blows and other head traumas. Study co-author Benjamin Jennings suggests that the injuries do not have the uniformity associated with sacrifice or ritual killing, and it is more likely they were killed in warfare. Nevertheless, the circumstances of the burials suggest the skulls may have been offered after death as gifts to the lake gods to ward off flooding, as they had been intentionally placed at the high-water mark of the floodwaters.

"Across Europe as a whole there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged," Jennings told Live Science.

The results provide further insights into Bronze Age culture, revealing new information about how they treated their dead, and religious beliefs and rituals associated with natural calamities.

Featured image: An illustration of Bronze-Age lake dwellers in Switzerland and Germany, who may have buried children's skulls at the perimeter of their settlements as gifts to lake gods to ward off flooding. Credit: Benjamin Jennings et al, Antiquity 2014

By April Holloway


angieblackmon's picture

i know it still happens, but i hate the idea of children fighting in a war. it does make me wonder why the basically outlined the village like that. it must have made some sort of difference at the time.

love, light and blessings


Justbod's picture

Really interesting article particularly in relation to 'bog bodies.' Thank you!

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature:




Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Technology

The four-handled tureen adorned with dragons, birds and spikes
Chinese archaeologists have discovered ritual tureen and “soup bowls” next to a badly decomposed body in a Zhou dynasty-era tomb. Among the remains there were also uncovered two wine vessels, which experts suggest were probably used as part of the funerary rituals.

Ancient Places

Healing Temple of Aesculapius (Asklepios) by Robert Thom
In the ancient world, many cultures built elaborate temple complexes dedicated to their healer gods - Imhotep in Egypt and Asklepios in Greece for example. These gods were recognized as having the power to cure supplicants from a variety of ailments within sleep and sacred dreams. Those who desired healing might travel many hundreds of miles to reach such a temple

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article