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Hunnic burial Poland

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In 2018, archaeologists made a significant discovery in the village of Czulice near Krakow, Poland. Led by Jakub Niebylski of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the team unearthed a 1,600-year-old double burial containing the remains of two young boys. This discovery, detailed in the June issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, provides some of the earliest evidence of Hunnic presence in Europe and represents the oldest known Hunnic burial in Poland. 

The grave contained numerous artifacts, including gold and silver trinkets, an iron knife, a clay pot, and the remains of various animals. Notably, one of the boys exhibited an artificially deformed skull, a practice common among Hunnic elites. 

The analysis of these remains sheds light on the funerary practices and social structures of the Huns, nomadic warriors from Central Asia who terrorized Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries under their leader, Attila the Hun. 

One of the burials at the site.

One of the burials at the site. (Jakub M. Niebylski/Journal of Archaeological Science) 

Analyzing the Remains 

The research team employed advanced techniques such as computerized tomography (CT) scans, X-rays, and isotopic and ancient DNA analyses to study the remains. These analyses revealed intriguing details about the boys' origins and the circumstances of their burial. 

The first child, aged between 7 and 9 years old, was of Central and Eastern European descent. His bones were remarkably smooth, suggesting that his body had been cooked before burial. This unusual funerary rite indicates the complexity and diversity of burial practices among the Huns and their associates. 

The second boy, aged between 8 and 9 years old, had ancestry linking him to nomadic groups from present-day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. His skull had been intentionally deformed since infancy, a practice used by the Hunnic aristocracy to signify social status. Lesions in his eye sockets suggested he suffered from a chronic disease, possibly anemia, which may have contributed to his early death. 



A map of the excavation site as well as images of the burial.  (Jakub Niebylski/Journal of Archaeological Science) 

Social Implications and Burial Practices 

The positioning and treatment of the bodies in the grave offer fascinating insights into the social dynamics of the time. The European boy was buried face down, with his head initially positioned opposite the Hunnic boy's head. However, at some point, his skull was moved to his legs, suggesting subsequent interference with the grave. 

The presence of grave goods with the Hunnic boy, and their absence with the European boy, hints at a disparity in social status. The isotopic analysis indicated both boys had diets rich in protein, reflecting similar living conditions despite their differing origins. This could suggest that the European boy might have served the Hunnic boy, possibly as a companion or servant. 

Historical Significance and Broader Context 

This burial site is a crucial piece of evidence in understanding the extent of the Huns' reach and influence in Europe. According to Hyun Jin Kim, a professor of Classics at the University of Melbourne, the practice of cranial deformation, adopted from Central Asian tribes like the Alans, was a distinguishing feature of the Hunnic elite. The discovery of such practices in southern Poland provides strong evidence of the Huns' presence and their cultural influences in the region. 

Despite the detailed findings, much about the burial remains enigmatic. As Anita Szczepanek, co-author of the study, noted, the lack of written records from the Huns complicates the task of fully understanding their funerary customs and the exact relationship between the two boys. It is possible they were strangers, and the reasons for their shared burial remain speculative. 

This discovery not only enriches our understanding of Hunnic culture and their interactions with European populations but also highlights the complex social structures and burial practices of early medieval nomadic societies. The Czulice burial site stands as a testament to the Huns' far-reaching influence and the intricate tapestry of ancient European history. 

Top image: Facial reconstructions of the two boys who were found buried at the excavation site Source: Marta Barszcz/Journal of Archaeological Science 

Gary Manners's picture


Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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