Signs of pre­his­toric mas­sacre found


Sci­en­tists say they have found rare ev­i­dence of a pre­his­toric mas­sacre in Europe af­ter dis­cov­er­ing a 7,000-year-old mass grave with skele­tal re­mains from some of the con­ti­nent’s first farm­ers bear­ing ter­ri­ble wounds.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists who painstak­ingly ex­am­ined the bones of some 26 men, women and chil­dren buried in the Stone Age grave site at Schoe­neck-Kil­ianstaedten, near Frank­furt, say they found blunt force marks to the head, arrow wounds and de­lib­er­ate ef­forts to smash at least half of the vic­tims’ shins — ei­ther to stop them from run­ning away or as a grim mes­sage to sur­vivors.

“It was ei­ther tor­ture or mu­ti­la­tion. We can’t say for sure whether the vic­tims were still alive,” said Chris­tian Meyer, one of the au­thors of the study pub­lished Mon­day in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

Meyer said the find­ings from Schoe­neck-Kil­ianstaedten bol­ster the­o­ries put for­ward af­ter the ear­lier dis­cov­ery of two other grave sites in Ger­many and Aus­tria. At all three sites, the vic­tims and the per­pe­tra­tors ap­peared to have been from the Lin­ear­band­keramik — or LBK — cul­ture, a farm­ing peo­ple who ar­rived in cen­tral Europe about 5,500 B.C. Their name de­rives from the Ger­man phrase for “lin­ear band ce­ram­ics,” a ref­er­ence to the style of their pot­tery.

In­trigu­ingly, the sites have all been dated to­ward the end of the LBK’s 600-year pres­ence, sug­gest­ing that mem­bers of this cul­ture — which is thought to have de­vel­oped in what is now Hungary and spread along the Danube River — may have turned on each other.

“It’s about find­ing pat­terns. One mass grave was spec­tac­u­lar, but it was just a sin­gle grave. But when sev­eral such sites are found from the same pe­riod, then a pat­tern emerges,” said Meyer.

In their ar­ti­cle, the au­thors sug­gested that “the new ev­i­dence ... in con­junc­tion with pre­vi­ous re­sults, in­di­cates that mas­sacres of en­tire com­mu­ni­ties were not iso­lated oc­cur­rences but rather were fre­quent

fea­tures of the last phases of the LBK.”

‘Egre­gious break­ing of legs’

Chris Scarre, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Durham, Eng­land, who wasn’t in­volved in the study, said its con­clu­sions seemed well sup­ported by the ev­i­dence.

“What is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing is the level of vi­o­lence. Not just the sup­pres­sion of a ri­val com­mu­nity — if that is what it was — but the egre­gious and sys­tem­atic break­ing of the lower legs,” said Scarre. “It sug­gests the use of terror tac­tics as part of this in­ter-com­mu­nity vi­o­lence.”

Meyer, an an­thro­pol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Mainz, Ger­many, said no­body can say for sure what prompted the killings so long af­ter the fact. But it’s pos­si­ble to put for­ward the­o­ries, based on what’s known about the LBK cul­ture and the con­di­tions they faced. For ex­am­ple, the end of LBK cul­ture co­in­cided with a pe­riod of cli­mate change.

“The LBK pop­u­la­tion had ex­panded con­sid­er­ably, and this in­creases the po­ten­tial for con­flict,” said Meyer. “Also, the LBK were farm­ers, they set­tled. So un­like hunter gath­er­ers, who could move away to avoid con­flict, these peo­ple couldn’t just es­cape. Add to this the fact that there may have been a pe­riod of drought that con­strained re­sources, caus­ing con­flicts to erupt.”

Meyer said the the­ory of con­flict be­tween dif­fer­ent groups within the LBK is sup­ported by the ex­is­tence of an ap­par­ent an­cient bor­der near the Schoe­neck­Kil­ianstaedten site. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have found that flint was traded on ei­ther side of the di­vide but not nec­es­sar­ily across it — sug­gest­ing the two groups did not see each other as kin, he said.

The at­tack­ers, how­ever, spared some mem­bers of the group, with vic­tims skewed to­ward young chil­dren, adult men and older women.

“It’s likely that the young women, who are miss­ing in the grave, were kid­napped by the at­tack­ers,” said Meyer.


An im­age pro­vided on Mon­day, Aug. 17 shows the frac­tured skull of a roughly eight-year-old child, dis­cov­ered in a 7,000-year-old mass grave.

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