Cut-marked and broken human bones are a recurrent feature of Magdalenian (~17-12,000 years BP, uncalibrated dates) European sites. Human remains at Gough’s Cave (UK) have been modified as part of a Magdalenian mortuary ritual that combined the intensive processing of entire corpses to extract edible tissues and the modification of skulls to produce skull-cups. A human radius from Gough’s Cave shows evidence of cut marks, percussion damage and human tooth marks, indicative of cannibalism, as well as a set of unusual zig-zagging incisions on the lateral side of the diaphysis. These latter incisions cannot be unambiguously associated with filleting of muscles. We compared the macro- and micro-morphological characteristics of these marks to over 300 filleting marks on human and non-human remains and to approximately 120 engraved incisions observed on two artefacts from Gough’s Cave. The new macro- and micro-morphometric analyses of the marks, as well as further comparisons with French Middle Magdalenian engraved artefacts, suggest that these modifications are the result of intentional engraving. The engraved motif comfortably fits within a Magdalenian pattern of design; what is exceptional in this case, however, is the choice of raw material (human bone) and the cannibalistic context in which it was produced. The sequence of the manipulations suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, implying a complex ritualistic funerary behaviour that has never before been recognized for the Palaeolithic period.
Tall guys and fat ladies: Grimaldi’s Upper Paleolithic burials and figurines in an historical perspective
- Journal of anthropological sciences = Rivista di antropologia : JASS / Istituto italiano di antropologia
- Published over 5 years ago
The importance of the Grimaldi complex of caves and rock shelters is twofold: scientific and historical. Scientifically, it is one of the major Upper Paleolithic sites, considering the variety of mobiliary and parietal art, the number of single and multiple burials and associated grave goods, and the abundant lithic and fauna remains. Historically, the documentation of activity that took place in this site starting from the second half of the 19 th century and the studies carried out on the materials that have been recovered in the decades between 1870s-1910s, provide instructive examples of methods and goals of Paleolithic archeology and anthropology of the epoch. This paper combines the scientific and the historic interest of the site through a chronicle of the events that took place during the period of the most sensational discoveries, i.e. beginning with the identification in 1872 of the first Upper Paleolithic burial and ending with the results of the excavations carried out in 1901 at Grotte des Enfants published in four volumes a few years later. The paper discusses early interpretations and modern views on the different findings and documents changes in perspectives and goals of paleoanthropological research in over a century, raising some of the major issues of contemporary Upper Paleolithic studies.
Apotropaic observances-traditional practices intended to prevent evil-were not uncommon in post-medieval Poland, and included specific treatment of the dead for those considered at risk for becoming vampires. Excavations at the Drawsko 1 cemetery (17th-18th c. AD) have revealed multiple examples (n = 6) of such deviant burials amidst hundreds of normative interments. While historic records describe the many potential reasons why some were more susceptible to vampirism than others, no study has attempted to discern differences in social identity between individuals within standard and deviant burials using biogeochemical analyses of human skeletal remains. The hypothesis that the individuals selected for apotropaic burial rites were non-local immigrants whose geographic origins differed from the local community was tested using radiogenic strontium isotope ratios from archaeological dental enamel. 87Sr/86Sr ratios ( = 0.7112±0.0006, 1σ) from the permanent molars of 60 individuals reflect a predominantly local population, with all individuals interred as potential vampires exhibiting local strontium isotope ratios. These data indicate that those targeted for apotropaic practices were not migrants to the region, but instead, represented local individuals whose social identity or manner of death marked them with suspicion in some other way. Cholera epidemics that swept across much of Eastern Europe during the 17th century may provide one alternate explanation as to the reason behind these apotropaic mortuary customs, as the first person to die from an infectious disease outbreak was presumed more likely to return from the dead as a vampire.
The first objective of this study is to examine temporal patterns in ancient dog burials in the Lake Baikal region of Eastern Siberia. The second objective is to determine if the practice of dog burial here can be correlated with patterns in human subsistence practices, in particular a reliance on terrestrial mammals. Direct radiocarbon dating of a suite of the region’s dog remains indicates that these animals were given burial only during periods in which human burials were common. Dog burials of any kind were most common during the Early Neolithic (∼7-8000 B.P.), and rare during all other time periods. Further, only foraging groups seem to have buried canids in this region, as pastoralist habitation sites and cemeteries generally lack dog interments, with the exception of sacrificed animals. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data indicate that dogs were only buried where and when human diets were relatively rich in aquatic foods, which here most likely included river and lake fish and Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica). Generally, human and dog diets appear to have been similar across the study subregions, and this is important for interpreting their radiocarbon dates, and comparing them to those obtained on the region’s human remains, both of which likely carry a freshwater old carbon bias. Slight offsets were observed in the isotope values of dogs and humans in our samples, particularly where both have diets rich in aquatic fauna. This may result from dietary differences between people and their dogs, perhaps due to consuming fish of different sizes, or even different tissues from the same aquatic fauna. This paper also provides a first glimpse of the DNA of ancient canids in Northeast Asia.
Safely burying Ebola infected individuals is acknowledged to be important for controlling Ebola epidemics and was a major component of the 2013-2016 West Africa Ebola response. Yet, in order to understand the impact of safe burial programs it is necessary to elucidate the role of unsafe burials in sustaining chains of Ebola transmission and how the risk posed by activities surrounding unsafe burials, including care provided at home prior to death, vary with human behavior and geography.
Variation in burial location and treatment is often observed in the prehistoric archaeological record, but its interpretation is usually highly ambiguous. Biomolecular approaches provide the means of addressing this variability in a way not previously possible, linking the lives of individuals to their funerary treatment. Here, we undertake stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses on a substantial sample of 166 individuals from a series of broadly contemporary Late Neolithic/ Early Chalcolithic (3500 to 2900 cal BC) mortuary monuments (El Sotillo, Alto de la Huesera, Chabola de la Hechicera and Longar) and caves (Las Yurdinas II, Los Husos I and Peña Larga) within a very spatially restricted area of north-central Spain, with sites separated by no more than 10 km on average. This spatial and temporal proximity allows us to focus on the question at the appropriate scale of analysis, avoiding confounding variables such as environmental change, diachronic trends in the subsistence economy, etc. The results demonstrate a statistically significant difference in human δ13C values between those interred in caves and those placed in monuments. The difference appears to be correlated with fine-grained environmental factors (elevation/ temperature/ precipitation), suggesting that use of the landscape was being divided at a very local scale. The reasons for this partitioning may involve differential social status (e.g. those interred in caves may be of lower standing with more restricted access to the valley’s arable resources) or economic specialization (e.g. upland herding vs. valley farming) within the same community or, alternatively, different populations performing different funerary practices and following distinct subsistence economies in some respect. Our results contribute to a better understanding of the development of social differentiation and community specialisation on the scale of the immediate lived landscape.
An insufficient number of archaeological surveys has been carried out to date on Harappan Civilization cemeteries. One case in point is the necropolis at Rakhigarhi site (Haryana, India), one of the largest cities of the Harappan Civilization, where most burials within the cemetery remained uninvestigated. Over the course of the past three seasons (2013 to 2016), we therefore conducted excavations in an attempt to remedy this data shortfall. In brief, we found different kinds of graves co-existing within the Rakhigarhi cemetery in varying proportions. Primary interment was most common, followed by the use of secondary, symbolic, and unused (empty) graves. Within the first category, the atypical burials appear to have been elaborately prepared. Prone-positioned internments also attracted our attention. Since those individuals are not likely to have been social deviants, it is necessary to reconsider our pre-conceptions about such prone-position burials in archaeology, at least in the context of the Harappan Civilization. The data presented in this report, albeit insufficient to provide a complete understanding of Harappan Civilization cemeteries, nevertheless does present new and significant information on the mortuary practices and anthropological features at that time. Indeed, the range of different kinds of burials at the Rakhigarhi cemetery do appear indicative of the differences in mortuary rituals seen within Harappan societies, therefore providing a vivid glimpse of how these people respected their dead.
Isotopic investigations of two cemetery populations from the Corded Ware Culture in southern Germany reveal new information on the dating of these graves, human diet during this period, and individual mobility. Corded Ware Culture was present across much of temperate Europe ca. 2800-2200 cal. BC and is represented by distinctive artifacts and burial practices. Corded Ware was strongly influenced by the Yamnaya Culture that arose in the steppes of eastern Europe and western Eurasia after 3000 BC, as indicated by recent aDNA research. However, the development of CW on different chronological and spatial scales has to be evaluated. Examination of the CW burials from southern Germany supports an argument for substantial human mobility in this period. Several burials from gravefields and larger samples from two large cemeteries at Lauda-Königshofen “Wöllerspfad” and at Bergheinfeld “Hühnerberg” contributed the human remains for our study of bone and tooth enamel from the Corded Ware Culture. Our results suggest that Corded Ware groups in this region at least were subsisting on a mix of plant and animal foods and were highly mobile, especially the women. We interpret this as indicating a pattern of female exogamy, involving different groups with differing economic strategies.
With graveyards and cemeteries globally being increasingly designated as full, there is a growing need to identify unmarked burial positions to find burial space or exhume and re-inter if necessary. In some countries, for example the U.S. and U.K., burial sites are not usually re-used; however, most graveyard and cemetery records do not have maps of positions. One non-invasive detection method is near-surface geophysics, but there has been a lack of research to-date on optimal methods and/or equipment configuration. This paper presents three case studies in contrasting burial environments, soil types, burial styles and ages in the U.K. Geophysical survey results reveal unmarked burials could be effectively identified from these case studies that were not uniform or predicted using 225 MHz frequency antennae GPR 2D 0.5 m spaced profiles. Bulk ground electrical surveys, rarely used for unmarked burials, revealed 1 m probe spacings were optimal compared to 0.5 m, with datasets needing 3D detrending to reveal burial positions. Results were variable depending upon soil type; in very coarse soils GPR was optimal; whereas resistivity was optimal in clay-rich soils and both were optimal in sandy and black earth soils. Archaeological excavations revealed unmarked burials, extra/missing individuals from parish records and a variety of burial styles from isolated, brick-lined, to vertically stacked individuals. Study results, evidence unmarked burial targets were significantly different from clandestine burials of murder victims which are used as analogues.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published almost 7 years ago
The bouffia Bonneval at La Chapelle-aux-Saints is well known for the discovery of the first secure Neandertal burial in the early 20th century. However, the intentionality of the burial remains an issue of some debate. Here, we present the results of a 12-y fieldwork project, along with a taphonomic analysis of the human remains, designed to assess the funerary context of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neandertal. We have established the anthropogenic nature of the burial pit and underlined the taphonomic evidence of a rapid burial of the body. These multiple lines of evidence support the hypothesis of an intentional burial. Finally, the discovery of skeletal elements belonging to the original La Chapelle aux Saints 1 individual, two additional young individuals, and a second adult in the bouffia Bonneval highlights a more complex site-formation history than previously proposed.