Neolithic Skeleton “Lovingly Buried” in Fetal Position
A “lovingly” buried Neolithic skeleton is offering archaeologists new insights on burial practices 4,500-years ago.
The gravesite is located in the idyllic German countryside at Uckermark, a rural county around 60 miles (96.56 km) northeast of Berlin. It contained the remains of a woman who had been carefully buried in a north-facing fetal position with her back to the Sun. Because bodies found in other graves across Neolithic Europe have been found in this position, the archaeologists suspect this was possibly a shared burial practice that they say reached as far away as Scotland.
This Neolithic skeleton of a woman was found buried in the fetal position in Germany. (Image: Archaeros)
A Woman “Lovingly Laid” in The Fetal Position
A Newsweek article explains how Dr. Philipp Roskoschinski and a team of archaeologists from the private archaeology company Archaeros discovered the roughly 4,500-year-old remains of the woman. He believes the Neolithic skeleton was buried in a simple but “lovingly made gravesite.” And Roskoschinski said in an interview with Tagespeigel he has “never found anything like this.”
The most interesting aspect of this burial is that the woman’s remains were positioned in what is now one of the oldest documented fetal burial postures in Europe; with her legs and arms bent into shape she had been rolled onto her right side to face north. And because this particular position was also found in a 5,000-year-old burial on the Scottish island of Tiree , the researchers speculate that “some kind of shared practice” was existent in the many disparate populations across Europe, according to a report in the Daily Mail .
The 5,000-year-old Tiree skeleton was also buried in the fetal position. ( The Hunterian )
Testing the Neolithic Skeleton for Lifestyle Choices and Dietary Deficiencies
A lack of any artifacts at the grave site is greatly restricting what can be deduced about the Neolithic woman's life, but what is known for sure is that the “site was lovingly surrounded by field-stones.” In the Newsweek report Roskoschinski said there are still “more questions than answers” for the Uckermark gravesite. He also commented on how hardly any clues exist to tell them what sort of life the woman might have led.
The next step for the team is to conduct DNA analysis on the Neolithic skeleton’s remains in an effort to learn more about the woman’s lifestyle. A series of genetic tests might reveal any health conditions the woman might have had. For example, they'll examine teeth samples to learn about her diet to try and learn more about her lifestyle and, potentially, her social standing within the community which buried her.
Archaeologists say the Neolithic skeleton was “lovingly buried.” ( Philipp Roskoschinski/Archaeros )
In the comparative burial on the Scottish Island of Tiree, similar testing revealed that the deceased had suffered rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, most often caused by a lack of sunlight. In this instance archaeologists speculated that the woman may have been forced to stay indoors for most of her life, “perhaps indicative of a special religious role.”
Fetal Position Burials of the Ancient World
Burials in the fetal position are not restricted to Neolithic Europe and many Native American cultures buried their dead in this way as well. According to Britannica, they were also “sometimes in baskets or clay urns, with knees under the chin and the body neatly tied into a death bundle.” The ancient people who inhabited North Carolina prior to European settlement built vast funerary mounds which are ascribed to the Mississippian, or Temple Mound Builder, culture (1000-1500 AD).
In Town Creek Indian Mound , in Montgomery County, a restored temple mound complex includes a native burial mound which was reserved for the elite. Amidst hoards of pottery, weavings, beads, pipes, mica, and carved stone artifacts, the remains of community leaders were discovered in the fetal position facing east.
And also in the ancient East, in some parts of southern China, according to Facts and Figures , bodies were “buried for seven to ten years and then exhumed by a bone specialist,” who reconstructed the skeletons and colored the large bones with red dye (signifying blood) and wrapped smaller bones in red paper bundles. The skeletons were then “bent into a fetal position” and all the bones were placed in a large pot, which was reburied in a permanent tomb.
Leaving Just as One Arrived Here
In Tibetan Buddhism, Stupa burials and cremations are reserved for high lamas and sky burials assured the deceased's spirit, or soul, exited the body to be reincarnated into another life cycle. After death the deceased were left untouched for three days while monks chanted around the corpse, and on the day before the sky burial the corpses were cleaned and wrapped in white cloths and “positioned in a fetal position, the same position in which the person had been born,” according to Travel China Guide .
- Sky Burial: Tibet’s Ancient Tradition for Honoring the Dead
- The Bizarre Phenomenon of Coffin Births
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Vultures waiting at a sky burial ceremony site in Yarchen Gar village, Sichuan province, China. (think4photop /Adobe Stock)
The corpses were then offered to vultures, the Dakinis, the Tibetan equivalent of angels, who tore them apart and delivered their souls to back to the wheel of life and death.
Returning to the “lovingly” buried Neolithic woman discovered in Germany, in the fetal position, perhaps she too was an ancient ruler or wise woman of the herbs. This woman may have been buried in the fetal position to assure her soul returned to the afterlife in the same orderly way that it had come into this world, similar to what is seen in cultures in ancient North America, China, Tibet, and India.
Top Image: DNA analysis will be conducted on the remains of the woman who lived during the Neolithic period. Source: Twitter/ Robert Ide
By Ashley Cowie