Top ten grisly discoveries in archaeology for 2013
Archaeologists sometimes face the same gruesome discoveries that forensic scientists deal with today, having to unravel the stories behind brutal murders, sacrifices and other dark rituals. Here are some of the most grisly discoveries of this year.
Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the remains of a decapitated warrior at the foot of El Tlatoani hill in Morelos, Mexico, dating back to the Late classic Period (350-600AD). The burial of the warrior was found during a dig at the lower part of the mountain. Researchers identified the inferior extremities and the cervical vertebrae with traces of cuts, which indicate decapitation. Experts believe that, based on the qualities of the clothes he was wearing and the location of his burial, the individual was probably a member of the elite of Tlayacapense society. However, it also looks like he was a warrior since his skull showed signs of having being hit by the tip of an arrow years before his death.
Chersonesos is an ancient city on the Crimean peninsula, which was founded by Greek colonists at the end of the 6th century BC. The area was once used to cultivate crops to create food for the Greek cities but it also went through many conquests - according to archaeologists, a large percentage of the inhabitants were killed by invaders. In a grisly discovery, archaeologists discovered the skeletons of a number of the city's inhabitants lying just forty centimetres below the surface in between the house remains of ancient Crimea. Associate professor Vladimir Stolba of the Department of Culture and Society of the Aarhus University of Denmark, said that archaeologists were witnessing a 2,300-year-old murder scene in which a family was mercilessly slaughtered inside their house.
Archaeologists in Portsmouth, UK, have discovered a Roman well buried just a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant. The well was filled with coins, a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, Roman god of the sea, and eight dog skeletons. Experts believe the dogs were dropped down the well as a sacrifice to the gods. The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight. While it is the first discovery of its kind in the region, evidence of dog sacrifice dating back to ancient times is quite common and it took many ritual forms.
A study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science revealed that a set of Viking graves uncovered in Norway in the early 1980s contained the remains of sacrificed slaves. The remains of ten ancient people were found in Flakstad, Norway, buried in multiple graves, with some of the graves holding two or three bodies and four of the bodies had been decapitated. The graves had been partly damaged by modern farming and only contained a few artefacts such as an amber bead, some animal bones and a few knives. The Vikings have a reputation as fierce, sea-faring raiders who raided and conquered large territories beginning in the eight century AD, capturing slaves along the way. Slaves were used for hard labour on farms and large agricultural properties, while women were used as domestic claves or as sex slaves, bearing children who would grow up in servitude of their Master.
The brain tissue of a Bronze Age human has survived for more than 4,000 years, offering archaeologists hope that more ancient brain specimens may be recovered which could pave the way to the study of health in prehistoric times. The remains were discovered in Seyitömer Höyük, a Bronze Age settlement in western Turkey. It is believed that an earthquake flattened the settlement and buried its inhabitants before a fire spread through the rubble. The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment would have helped to prevent tissue breakdown. The brain is one of the oldest preserved brains ever found. Being able to study a preserved brain enables scientists to piece together the individual’s last hours and may also reveal any diseases or pathological conditions such as tumours and haemorrhaging.
A study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science revealed that the ancient Moche civilization regularly engaged in the ritual killing of war prisoners who were killed, displayed, and later swept into pits. The findings contradict a widely held belief that the sacrificed victims were elite members of their society. The Moche was a mysterious civilization who ruled the northern coast of Peru approximately two thousand years ago. They built huge pyramids made of millions of mud bricks and created an extensive network of aqueducts which enabled them to irrigate crops in their dry desert location. They were pioneers of metal working techniques like gilding and soldering, which enabled them to created extraordinarily intricate jewellery and artefacts. But their society also revolved around war, violence and ritualistic human sacrifice as depicted on their murals.
Swedish archaeologists discovered the remains of a brutal massacre in which peaceful town’s people were mercilessly slaughtered approximately 1,500 years ago. The violent attack took place on the island of Öland, just off the Swedish coast. The circumstances surrounding the massacre are currently unknown but researchers and scientists are trying to unravel the story. The bodies of five of the town’s residents have been unearthed among the ruins of one of the huts. Two were found lying next to the door as if they had been slaughtered as they tried desperately to escape. “I think they were ambushed in some way and people were running into the house trying to kill them and they didn't have a chance,” said Helene Wilhelmson, a researcher who specializes in the study of bones at Sweden's Lund University. “'It's more of a frozen moment than you normally see in archaeology… Something terrible happened, and everything just stopped.
A team of researchers made a gruesome discovery in a man-made cave in the ancient Maya city of Uxul in Campeche (Mexico). Scientists from the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn stumbled upon a mass grave in which the victims buried there had been decapitated and dismembered. A total of 24 skeletons ranging in age from 18 to 42 were recovered in the 32 square meter artificial cave that had formerly been used as a water reservoir. They were dated to be around 1,400-years-old. All of the remains showed signs of a violent death – skulls were scattered around the cave with the majority of lower jaws separated from the heads. Legs and hands had also been removed, and many showed hatchet marks on the cervical vertebra, which is an indication of decapitation. In addition, numerous skulls show signs of cutting with sharp objects, which might originate from stone hatchets. While the last hours of these unfortunate individuals have been determined, what has not yet been solved is who they were and why there were so mercilessly slaughtered.
In a discovery that would send shivers up your spine, archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History discovered the first ever shrine dedicated to Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death, along with remains of human sacrifice victims. The National Institute have called the discovery the ‘Temple of Skulls’ because on the west and north walls, they found two niches containing human skulls and four femurs in each one. On top of the temple, dated to the 14th century, they found two ceramic heads and an effigy of the god of the dead. They also found more than 300 fragments of skeletal remains, indicating that human sacrifices were performed on top of the temple.
Nearly a decade ago, a group of cave explorers stumbled upon a large collection of Neanderthal remains in the El Sidrón cave system in north western Spain. In new research presented to the Royal Society in London, scientists have revealed the grisly truth of how these Neanderthals died and what happened next. Using modern forensics techniques, including DNA analysis, the researchers found that twelve Neanderthals, all from the same family, including three adult females, three adult males, three teenage boys and three children 2-9 years old, were all butchered and then eaten. The scientists found that the bones had been stripped of meat and cracked open to extract the marrow. The skulls were opened to eat the brains and tongues.
By John Black