Archaeologist Found Mysterious Neolithic burial pit full of amputated arms in France

Archaeologist Found Mysterious Neolithic burial pit full of amputated arms in France

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About 6,000 years ago in France some hostiles in an apparent act of warfare and trophy-taking killed a Team of adults and children, amputated their arms and buried the limbs in a circular pit underneath some other Corps.

It was a common practice to bury people in circular pits at the time in a large area of Europe, but this gruesome case stand out from the rest as the only one with violence done to those buried.

The site is located just outside of Strasbourg, and the Bodies were found in one of the 300 ancient “silos” that were once used to store grains and other foodstuffs.

The silos were stored within a defense wall that pointed towards “a troubled time, a period of insecurity”, explained specialists.

The gruesome discovery tells the story of a devastating massacre that was likely carried out by “furious ritualized warriors,” according to Philippe Lefranc, a specialist on the period for Inrap.

It was a group from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) that Found the remains of the massacre, dated to 6,000 years ago.

Thousands of years ago, it was customary among cultivating communities across Central and Western Europe for bodies to be buried in these circular pits.

The discovery at the pit, called Pit 124, however, suggests that people butchered in raids were buried in the same way.

A Neolithic axe from France
A Neolithic axe from France

These were not peaceful burials in Pit 124. Evidence recommends that the victims were executed together, likely by a stone axe, and then dumped in the silo, Stated by Dr. Fanny Chenal, an archaeologist from Inrap working on the discovery. The Group all exhibited multiple injuries to their legs, hands, ribs, pelvis, and skulls.

Altogether, there were remains of 10 individuals: five adult skeletons and one adolescent skeleton and 4 arms from unrelated individuals.

Carbon dating demonstrated the bones are between 5,500 and 6,000 years old. The arms that the bodies were placed on were hacked off as “war trophies.”

One of the arms belonged to a young teen, aged 12-16 years age. Dr. Chenal believes that the people belonged to the same social group.

This phenomenon of taking arms as war trophies is seen not only in Pit 124, as well as in a nearby pit, called Pit 157, that was found in Bergheim in 2012, said Lefranc.

“A lot of things are comparable [between the two pits].” said Dr. Chenal. Pit 157 is about 6.5 foot (two meter) deep circular pit and was Discovered by archaeologists from Antea Archéologie in Habsheim and the universities of Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

In a paper published year ago about the Bergheim burial, experts claimed the gruesome discovery tells the story of a devastating raid on a settlement in eastern France that may have wiped out an entire family.

“This astounding discovery confirms the hypothesis of war trophies proposed for Bergheim and sign very violent acts, probably in relation durring Neolithic wars.” Dr. Chenal said.

The discovery has major implications for researchers, as Dr. Chenal explained, “For a long time, Neolithic societies were considered relatively egalitarian and peaceful.” She said,“However since several years a lot of research has shown that it was not the case.”

Supported by new evidence, Dr. Chenal trusts that war was actually common in Neolithic times and, while there is no reasonable evidence of this in France, there is proof in Germany from the same time period.

At the same time, there is already debate about whether the circular pits, the silos, were remnants of storage pits and repurposed for individuals not deemed worthy of a grander burial, or were utilized for high-ranking people.

A photo and a drawing of the skeletons in a layer above the layer that contained the amputated human arms
A photo and a drawing of the skeletons in a layer above the layer that contained the amputated human arms

The pits that contain more than one People and were clearly not an execution burial, for example, suggest that the person buried was of a higher social status — they would have been covered with slaves or relatives who were killed in order to be buried with the important person. Another theory suggests that the pits were utilized for human sacrifices.

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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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