Stone age women in Europe were buried alive with legs tied in ritual sacrifices

Sacrificial killing method likely rite related to agriculture, scientists say

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 11 April 2024 11:01 BST
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Murdering sacrificial victims by tying their necks to their legs bent behind their backs may have been a “cultural phenomenon” in late Stone Age Europe, a new study of bodies uncovered in France suggests.

Archaeologists unearthed the bodies of two women who were likely sacrificed between 4000 and 3500 BC at a Neolithic tomb in France.

Researchers scoured existing studies for similar cases of unusual burial practices in Stone Age Europe with abnormally positioned bodies.

They came across more studies of three women in a burial tomb in the Middle Neolithic gathering site of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, France.

The positions of the human remains at the site suggested two of the three women were murdered through homicidal ligature strangulation and positional asphyxia.

One woman’s position suggests she may have been buried while still alive.

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The finding suggests individuals were deliberately killed first by tying them up in a manner called “incaprettamento” – with their necks to their legs bent behind their backs – and then by burying them likely when they were still alive.

While it is clear that the women’s deaths were certainly violent, archaeologists sought more evidence to determine whether the scene was related to a larger-scale Neolithic tradition, likely linked to agricultural practices.

They then assessed existing anthropological and archaeological literature and found reports from 14 sites across Eastern Europe to Catalonia of similar burials.

Overall, researchers found 20 cases in total that bore similarities to what happened to the two women uncovered in France.

View taken from the upper part of the 255 storage pit showing the three skeletons, with one individual in a central position (Woman 256 1) and the other two placed under the overhang of the wall (Woman 2 and Woman 3) (Ludes et al., Sci. Adv. 10, eadl3374 (2024))

The earliest example of this method of killing sacrificial victims was dated to 5400-4800 BCE, suggesting forced positional asphyxia persisted as a technique for over 2,000 years.

“This cultural phenomenon could have diversified in Central Europe and structured itself at different rates for almost two millennia before culminating in the late Middle Neolithic,” scientists concluded.

The method of killing likely originated as a sacrificial custom before the advent of agriculture, later being used for human sacrifices linked to farming in the Neolithic period, researchers suspect.

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