Category Archives: WORLD

Four Families Detected in Late Neolithic Burial in Poland whose Bodies Were Buried with Care

Four Families Detected in Late Neolithic Burial in Poland whose Bodies Were Buried with Care


Archaeologists found the remains of 15 people who were murdered about 5,000 years ago during the late Neolithic. Here’s what they may have looked like at the time of burial.

When 15 of them were brutally murdered — killed by vicious blows to the head— in what is now Poland about 5,000 years ago, an extended family met a grim end. But although these victims were violently killed, a new study shows that anyone who buried them did so carefully, placing mothers side by side with children and siblings.

In other words, it was far from random to place bodies in this burial. The burial shows “children next to parents, brothers next to each other[ and] the oldest person near the center,” said study co-lead researcher Niels Nørkjær Johannsen, a professor at Aarhus University’s Department of Archeology and Heritage Studies in Denmark.

Archaeologists learned about the late Neolithic burial during the construction of a sewage system in 2011, near the town of Koszyce in southern Poland.

The grave in Koszyce, southern Poland, holds the remains of 15 people and the grave goods that were buried with them.
The grave in Koszyce, southern Poland, holds the remains of 15 people and the grave goods that were buried with them.

This is far from the first large grave filled with ruthlessly murdered victims from the Neolithic; the remains of 9 brutally murdered people dating to 7,000 years ago are buried in Halberstadt, Germany, and 26 murdered individuals are buried in a 7,000-year-old “death pit” at Schöneck-Kilianstädten, Germany.

But the newly described burial is unique because the individuals were related to one another and weren’t buried haphazardly, according to a genetic analysis on the remains.”We are dealing with what you might call an extended family.

“We were able to show that there are four nuclear families present and emphasized in the burial, but these individuals are also related to one another across these nuclear families — for example, being cousins.”

The genetic analysis also revealed that the group, which was part of the Globular Amphora culture (named for their globular-shaped pots), had one male lineage and six female lineages, “indicating that the women were marrying from neighboring groups into this community where the males were closely related,” Johannsen noted.

It’s impossible to know who buried the victims, but whoever did wasn’t a stranger. “It is clear that lots of effort has gone into this [burial] and the people who buried them knew the deceased very well,” Johannsen said.


This graphic shows how the Neolithic victims were buried and how they are related to one another, according to a genetic analysis.

Even so, it’s interesting that these 15 people were buried together, rather than separately.”Perhaps the people who buried them were in a hurry?” Johannsen said. “But they nonetheless took care to bury individuals next to their closest family and also equipped the dead with funerary gifts, such as ceramic amphorae [jugs], flint tools, amber and bone ornaments.”

The burial doesn’t hold the remains of any of the family’s fathers, so maybe the victims were massacred when the fathers were away, Johannsen said. “[Perhaps] they returned later, found their families brutally killed and subsequently buried their families in a respectful way.”The massacre is tragic, but unsurprising given the time period.

During the late Neolithic, European cultures were being heavily transformed by groups migrating from the steppes, to the east. “We do not know who was responsible for this massacre, but it is easy to imagine that the demographic and cultural turmoil of this period somehow precipitated violent territorial clashes,” Johannsen said.

The finding is remarkably similar to 4,600-year-old burials from the Corded Ware culture (named for their corded pottery designs) found near Eulau, Germany. At that site, “violently killed people were also carefully buried according to their familial relationships,” said Christian Meyer, a researcher at OsteoARC, Germany, who was not involved in the study but who has worked on several other sites of Neolithic mass violence.

If anything, the Koszyce burial “is further evidence that lethal mass-violence events occurred at times throughout the Neolithic of Europe,” Meyer said. “These events could be catastrophic for the targeted communities, which were apparently built upon overlapping social and biological kinship ties.

“However, while the researchers of the new study call the Koszyce finding a “mass grave,” Meyer said he sees it differently. “The people were buried very carefully, received grave goods and were positioned according to their immediate kinship ties,” he said. “We should maybe call this a large ‘multiple burials’ rather than a ‘mass grave,'” in which bodies are typically buried in a disorganized heap.

Source: archaeology.org

Ivar the Boneless | Viking Leader & Commander of Great Heathen Army who Conquered Much of England

Ivar the Boneless | Viking Leader & Commander of Great Heathen Army who Conquered Much of England

Starting with the 793 AD attack on Lindisfarne’s island monastery, Viking raids on England had become almost routine, but this changed for the worse in 865 AD, and the English faced what they called “The Great Heathen Army.”

This was an invasion force of 1000,s of Norse warriors, most of them from Denmark, but others from Norway, Sweden, and Ireland, and under the command of Ivar the Boneless and his brothers, Halfdan and Ubba, who had made their names in Ireland fighting for Olaf the White, ruler of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin, in the 850s.

England in the 9th century was divided between four major Anglo-Saxon kingdoms — Northumbria in the north, Mercia in the middle of the country, East Anglia in the east, and Wessex covering much of the south.

By the time of Ivar’s end sometime after 870, Viking territory in England, called “the Danelaw”, covered the bulk of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia.

“Hyngwar”, Ivar’s name as it appears in Harley MS 2278, a 15th century Middle English manuscript.
“Hyngwar”, Ivar’s name as it appears in Harley MS 2278, a 15th century Middle English manuscript

Norse influence stretched from the River Tees to the River Thames, shaping the language, culture, and geography of the north and east of the country. This was down to the leadership of a warrior chief who struggled to walk, but according to legend had to be carried into battle on an upturned shield.

The kingdom of Ivar (outlined in red) and the territories paying him tribute (outlined in purple).
The kingdom of Ivar (outlined in red) and the territories paying him tribute (outlined in purple).

According to Norse mythology, Ivar the Boneless was born with “only cartilage was where bone should have been, but otherwise, he grew tall and handsome and in wisdom, he was the best of their children.” His father was said to be Ragnar Lodbrok, the main character in the first 4 seasons of Vikings, and as punishment for forcing himself on the mother, the sorceress (or völva) Aslaug, their child was cursed with deformity.

Lothbrocus and his sons Ivar and Ubba. 15th century miniature in Harley MS 2278, folio 39r.
Lothbrocus and his sons Ivar and Ubba. 15th century miniature in Harley MS 2278, folio 39r.

Many believe Ragnar, who is played by Travis Fimmel in the show, to be a fictional character. He’s a sort of every(North)man narrator who is used in order to contextualize important events in Viking history. It’s a way of binding together folk tales and oral histories from different regions, eras, and traditions as the Norse world expanded through exploration and conquest.

Some modern theories are that Ivar could have suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), that he was double jointed, or that rather than being literally boneless, there’s a line in the 13th century saga Ragnarssona þáttr (Tale of Ragnar’s Sons) that suggests it may be a euphemism for his impotence.

The sagas offer more noble and heroic reasons for the invasion by the Great Heathen Army, suggesting that Ivar the Boneless and his brothers were simply avenging the betrayal and killing of Ragnar by the lowborn King Ælla of Northumbria, but that’s most likely an attempt to retrospectively give the invaders a more noble motive than mere plunder.

A modern artist’s interpretation of the reputed execution of Ragnar Lodbrok

Even if Ragnar were a real historical figure, it doesn’t seem hugely likely that Ælla kept a pit of venomous snakes to have his captives thrown into like a supervillain, especially given there are no species of snake in the British Isles that are lethal to humans. It’s much more plausible that the “betrayal” and the snake pit are allegories, as Ælla was regarded by his peers as a usurper, who had displaced the true king, Osberht, giving Norse storytellers a convenient bad guy for their own tales.

The Great Heathen Army did, however, turn on Ælla of Northumbria first. Landing in East Anglia to little resistance, they marched north to capture York in 866. This would be the capital of their new English domain. Ælla, and his predecessor Osberht, faced the greater threat together and were killed in battle near York in March 867 and replaced with a puppet king, Ecgberht I, who accepted Viking rule of the territory taken by Ivar the Boneless.

A map of the routes taken by the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 878.
A map of the routes taken by the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 878. 

The sagas give different, more poetic interpretations of these events. They claim that Ivar went to broker peace with Ælla and took York from him using his greater cunning. Asking for compensation from the King of Northumbria for the murder of his father, Ivar said he would take whatever land he could cover with a piece of ox hide.Ælla, thinking his opponent could do little harm with a patch of Northumbria, agreed.

Ivar then cut the leather into thin strips that he could stretch around a parcel of land big enough to settle the city of York. (As York had already been an important Roman and then Anglo-Saxon city, this is most likely nonsense.)

Having subdued their northern neighbors, the Great Heathen Army then turned west and south and invaded the Kingdom of Mercia and then, eventually — after buying time with a peace treaty he had no intention of honoring — the Kingdom of East Anglia. King Edmund of East Anglia was defeated in battle and according to Anglo-Saxon sources is done away with for refusing to turn his back on Christianity.

While his kin launched an ultimately unsuccessful invasion of the Kingdom of Wessex, Ivar the Boneless returned to Ireland and joined his old ally Olaf the White in a raid on Dumbarton, the capital of the Celtic (or Brythonic) Kingdom of Strathclyde on the west coast of Scotland. Returning to Dublin in triumph with loot and slaves, Ivar the Boneless died sometime after 870, with one source giving the date as 873.

Silver penny of Æthelred I, King of Wessex (865–871)

Silver penny of Æthelred I, King of Wessex (865–871)

“The Norwegian king […] died of sudden hideous disease,” recorded the 11th-century Fragmentary Annals of Ireland cheerfully. “Thus it pleased God.”

Some historians believe that it may have been a result of his deteriorating condition, but until an archaeologist stumbles across his distorted bones buried beneath an unassuming Irish hillside, there’s simply too little detail and too much mythology to know for certain. What we do know, is in fewer than ten years Ivar the Boneless left a mark on history that can still be seen in Norse place names, dialect words, folklore, and on our TV screens.

Inside The Mysterious Gobekli Tepe, The Oldest Temple In The World

Inside The Mysterious Gobekli Tepe, The Oldest Temple In The World

More than 200 carved stone pillars, carefully arranged in tightly packed circles, stood proudly on the Göbekli Tepe hill in southeastern Anatolia (modern Turkey).

This ancient stone circle, thought to be a Neolithic temple, is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge and much more complex. This is the site some historians call the twentieth century’s most important archeological find and the first temple in the world.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Göbekli Tepe was first discovered in 1994 by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute. The area around the site had long been earmarked for further investigation, as its dome-shaped hill bore all the signs of a “tell”, a mound created as a result of the deposits of ancient settlements.

Schmidt quickly realized that the site at Göbekli Tepe was far more significant than the medieval burial site hypothesized by earlier archaeologists. In an interview with Andrew Curry for Smithsonian Magazine, Schmidt explained that it didn’t take his team long to uncover the first series of stone megaliths, close to the surface.

Digging deeper, the archaeologists unearthed more pillars, decorated with elaborately carved figures. These immense standing stones were arranged in circles and would have supported additional huge stone blocks, some of which weighed more than 10 tons.

Erecting these stone pillars and placing such heavy blocks on top of them would have required an immense feat of engineering. Yet the site was constructed in 9,500 BC, thousands of years before the development of written language and agriculture, and well before human beings began to develop permanent settlements and cities.

Pillar 2 from Enclosure A (Layer III) with low reliefs of what are believed to be a bull, fox, and crane. 

“This is the first human-built holy place,” said Schmidt. The archaeologists were able to date Göbekli Tepe by comparing weapons and tools found at the site to similar objects from the 10th millennium BC, and their hypotheses were later confirmed by partial radiocarbon dating.

Pillar 27 from Enclosure C (Layer III) with the sculpture of a predatory animal
Pillar 27 from Enclosure C (Layer III) with the sculpture of a predatory animal

The team found no traces of human settlement around the site: no remains of houses, ovens or trenches for rubbish. Instead, they found many animal bones within the temple, which bore the signs of having been butchered and cooked. All of the animal bones excavated came from local game, predominately gazelle, boar, sheep, deer and wild fowl, which suggests that the people who made and used the site were nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Pillar with the sculpture of a fox.

The discovery of Göbekli Tepe has major implications for our understanding of the way in which early human societies developed. Traditional scholars have long maintained that the development of sophisticated human society was contingent on the transition from a hunter-gatherer to agrarian way of life.

According to this narrative, it was only once humans had developed permanent settlements and systems of agriculture and farming that they were able to have the time, organization and resources to develop temples and complicated social structures.

Although this theory has been challenged by archaeologists and anthropologists in recent decades, the discovery of Göbekli Tepe finally provides hard evidence to support an alternative point of view. Nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies in Anatolia constructed large, complex temples before they developed agricultural practices and formed permanently settled communities.

View of excavations at Göbekli Tepe site. 

Indeed, according to Smithsonian Magazine, in the 1,000 years following the construction of the temple, permanent settlements do appear in other parts of Anatolia and northern Syria, providing some of the earliest evidence for the cultivation of wheat crops and the domestication of cattle. It is possible that the construction of the temple at Göbekli Tepe was actually the precursor for human settlement and agriculture, not the other way around.

Archaeological work in Göbekli Tepe

However, the specific function of the site at Göbekli Tepe remains a mystery. Until his death in 2014, Schmidt remained convinced that it was an important religious temple, and his view is supported by the elaborate carvings on the pillars. These include images of scorpions, lions, snakes, and vultures, a collection of symbols that are associated with religion, death and the afterlife in other ancient cultures of the Near East.

The site could also have been used as a place for political gatherings or cultural celebrations, but Schmidt argued that it was more likely to have been a burial place for renowned hunters.

An archaeologist finds 100’s of silver artifacts from the reign of Viking ruler Harald Bluetooth

An archaeologist unearths 100’s of silver artifacts from the reign of Viking ruler Harald Bluetooth, including 1,000-year-old coins, rings, and a Thor’s hammer

Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls, and bracelets are among treasures unearthed from the time of a legendary Viking ruler. Clues to the location of the haul were first discovered by two amateur archaeologists, a 13-year-old boy and his teacher.

The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find.

Further investigation revealed a trove believed to date to the era of King Harald Gormsson, who reigned from around 958 to 986 AD. Better known as ‘Harald Bluetooth’, his name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its Swedish creators Ericsson. King Harald is also credited with unifying Denmark and introducing Christianity to the Scandinavian nation.

Researchers said that around 100 silver coins from the collection (pictured) are probably from the reign of Bluetooth, who was the king of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.
Researchers said that around 100 silver coins from the collection (pictured) are probably from the reign of Bluetooth, who was the king of what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

Experts uncovered the collection on the German Baltic island of Rügen, after a single coin was found in a field near the village of Schaprode by Rene Schoen and his student Luca Malaschnitschenko in January.

The state’s archaeology office then became involved, digging an exploratory trench covering 400 square metres (4,300 square feet).

This revealed the  entire treasure, which was recovered by experts last weekend. Researchers said that around 100 silver coins of the roughly 600 are probably from the reign of Bluetooth.

The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find (pictured)
The pair were looking for valuables using metal detectors when they chanced upon what they thought was a worthless piece of aluminium. Upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, and alerted experts to the find (pictured)

He ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway. Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found.

This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,’  lead archaeologist Michael Schirren told German news agency DPA.

The oldest coin found in the trove is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 AD while the most recent is a penny dating to 983 AD.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania where he died in 987.‘We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,’ archaeologist Detlef Jantzen added.

Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart.

He was the son of Gorm the Old, the first significant figure in a new royal line centred at Jelling, in North Jutland. The Trelleborg type of fortifications, built in a circular shape with a rampart and four gateways, date from his reign.

Better known as 'Harald Bluetooth', the Danish King's name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its creators Ericsson. Mr Schoen digs out a silver necklace
Better known as ‘Harald Bluetooth’, the Danish King’s name lives on in the wireless technology standard named in his honour by its creators Ericsson. Mr Schoen digs out a silver necklace

A total of five are known to exist, located in modern Denmark and the south of Sweden. The expansion begun by Bluetooth in Norway was continued by his son Sweyn I, whose war with his father marked Harald’s last years.

After Sweyn conquered England in 1013 AD, his son Canute ruled over a great Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom that included parts of Sweden. 

Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart. This aerial shot, taken by a drone, shows archaeologists searching for more treasure
Bluetooth, a Viking-born king turned his back on old Norse religion, but was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart. This aerial shot, taken by a drone, shows archaeologists searching for more treasure

Traces of Siberian Genes Detected in Some Northern Europeans

Traces of Siberian Genes Detected in Some Northern Europeans

Stone cist graves from the Bronze Age in Northern Estonia
Stone cist graves from the Bronze Age in Northern Estonia

According to a fascinating new study combining genetics, archeology, and linguistics, Northern Europeans who speak Uralic languages such as Estonian and Finnish can thank ancient migrating Siberian populations for their dialects.

The majority of Europeans can trace their origins back to several ancestral populations, namely indigenous European hunter-gathers, early farmers from Anatolia (now Turkey), and Eurasian Steppe herders. European speakers of Uralic languages, such as Estonians and Finns, have DNA from ancient Siberians, which is unique among European populations.

The commingling of migrating Siberians with northern Europeans likely happened as some point within the last 5,000 years, but scientists have struggled to put a more precise date on it.

In the journal Current Biology, a research team led by archaeogeneticist Lehti Saag from the University of Tartu in Estonia has published new research that appears to finally answer this unresolved question.

By combining genetics with archaeology and linguistics, the team has shown that Uralic language speakers reached the Baltic at the beginning of the Iron Age some 2,500 years ago. What’s more, the migrating Siberians brought more than just their language with them—they also brought their DNA, the traces of which can still be seen in northern European populations.

For the study, Saag and her colleagues extracted ancient DNA from the teeth of 56 individuals who lived between 3,200 to 400 years ago, of which 33 provided samples robust enough for a DNA analysis.

The remains were pulled from Estonian Late Bronze Age graves dating to about 1200 to 400 BC and pre-Roman Iron Age graves dating back to between 800 BC and 50 BC.

“Studying ancient DNA makes it possible to pinpoint the moment in time when the genetic components that we see in modern populations reached the area since, instead of predicting past events based on modern genomes, we are analyzing the DNA of individuals who actually lived in a particular time in the past,” explained Saag in a press release.

Results of the analysis showed that Siberians reached the eastern Baltic no later than around 2,500 years ago.“We show that a component of possibly Siberian ancestry was added to the gene pool of the Eastern Baltic during the Bronze to Iron Age transition at the latest,” wrote the authors in the study. “Notably, the Bronze to Iron Age transition period also coincides with the hypothesized arrival of westernmost Uralic (Finnic) languages in the Eastern Baltic, supporting the idea that the spread of these languages was mediated by… migrants from the east.”

The transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age coincides with the diversification and arrival time of Finnic languages in the Eastern Baltic proposed by linguists, so it’s “possible that the people who brought Siberian ancestry to the region also brought Uralic languages with them,” said Saag in the press release. Archaeological evidence suggests the Siberians took a southwestern route to the Baltics, traveling through the Volga-Ural region.

Intriguingly, and consistent with other research, the analysis found that migrating Siberians introduced the genetic variants for light eyes, hair, and skin, along with an intolerance to lactose—characteristics that are still present in modern northern Europeans.

These traits can now be traced back to the Bronze Age in the eastern Baltic. As the authors noted in the study, the finding is “in line with previous suggestions that light skin pigmentation alleles [genetic variants] reached high frequencies in Europe only recently.”

Saag said her team’s research is significant because it’s a great example of where the field of studying the human past is moving. Insights from different fields, in this case archaeology, linguistics, and genetics, is “put together to gain as clear of a picture of the past as possible,” she said.

The paper is also significant in that the researchers “pinpoint the arrival of a 4th ancestry component in the Eastern Baltic,” one that’s “on top of European hunter-gatherer, Anatolian farmer, and Steppe pastoralist ancestry present all over Europe” which now separates most of the Uralic speakers in Europe from most of the other European populations, Saag said.

Looking ahead, Saag would like to study Iron Age migrations in more detail and conduct genetic analyses of individuals living during the medieval time period.

Cache of Roman Coins Found in Eastern England

Cache of Roman Coins Found in Eastern England

The largest haul of Roman coins from the early 4th Century AD ever found in Britain has been unearthed near Sleaford by 2 metal detector enthusiasts.

The discovery was made near Rauceby village after years of painfully searching the area by the detectors.

Archaeologists found the coin hoard had been buried in a stone lined hole in what is suggested to have been a ritual burial.
Archaeologists found the coin hoard had been buried in a stone lined hole in what is suggested to have been a ritual burial.

The hoard, which consists of more than 3,000 copper alloy coins, many of which are historically unique, is now being considered by the British Museum and is considered to be of major international importance.

The coins have today (Friday) officially been declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 at Lincoln Coroner’s Court. Finder Rob Jones, a 59 year old engineering teacher from Lincoln, and his friend Craig Paul, a 32 year old planner from Woodhall Spa, were speechless when they made the discovery in July 2017.

Rob said: “Our metal detectors started making signal noises, prompting us to dig down and have a look.” “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve found a few things before, but absolutely nothing on this scale. I was totally amazed.

Finding the coins was the ultimate experience that we will never forget.”It’s an incredibly humbling experience knowing that when you discover something like this, the last time someone touched it was nearly 2,000 years ago! I was completely flabbergasted!

Experts from the British Museum are now examining the hugely significant hoard of Roman coins.
Experts from the British Museum are now examining the hugely significant hoard of Roman coins.

“A full investigation of the site was then undertaken by Craig, Dr Adam Daubney, archaeologist at Lincolnshire County Council and Sam Bromage from the University of Sheffield. During the excavation another hoard of 10 coins was found.

Craig commented: “It was fantastic to join the excavation to see Adam and Sam in action. To be there and see the pot appear out of the ground was really something. I never expected that there would be a second smaller hoard – that was just a bonus and really got us asking questions!”Dr Daubney said: “The coins were found in a ceramic pot, which was buried in the centre of a large oval pit – lined with quarried limestone.

What we found during the excavation suggests to me that the hoard was not put in the ground in secret, but rather was perhaps a ceremonial or votive offering. The Rauceby hoard is giving us further evidence for so-called ‘ritual’ hoarding in Roman Britain.”

Dr Eleanor Ghey, Curator of Iron Age and Roman Coin Hoards at the British Museum, added: “At the time of the burial of the hoard around AD 307, the Roman Empire was increasingly decentralised and Britain was once again in the spotlight following the death of the emperor Constantius in York.

Roman coins had begun to be minted in London for the first time. As the largest fully recorded find of this date from Britain, it has great importance for the study of this coinage and the archaeology of Lincolnshire.”

Paul Cope-Faulkner Archaeology Senior Manager at Heritage Lincolnshire added: “It is an exciting discovery and furthers our understanding of how important the area around Sleaford was in the closing days of the Roman empire.

Although we may never know why such a huge number of coins were collected together, it is possible that they were some form of offering to a temple, as many of the coins were not overly valuable in themselves.”I must also congratulate the two detectorists for reporting the hoard and allowing archaeologists to examine it so that the story of Roman Rauceby and Sleaford can be told.”

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.
Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.

The largest child sacrifice on record took place after a torrential rainfall, when about 140 children and 200 young llamas likely had their hearts ripped out by the ancient Chimú culture in A.D. 1450, in what is now Peru.

The reason for the sacrifice, however, remains a mystery, according to a new study. Even so, the scientists of the study have several ideas. For instance, heavy rainfall and flooding from that year’s El Niño weather pattern may have prompted Chimú leaders to order the sacrifice, but without more evidence, we’ll likely never know the real reason, said study co-researcher John Verano, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Study lead researcher Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor in archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, Peru, learned about the sacrificial site in 2011 after a father approached him while he was doing fieldwork on another project.

The father described a nearby dune with bones poking out of it. The father said, “Look, my kids are bringing bones back every day, and I’m tired of it,” said Verano, who later joined the project in 2014. Once at the dune, Prieto immediately realized that the site had archaeological significance, and he and his colleagues have been working on it since, excavating and studying the human and llama (Lama glama) remains at the site, known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas.

“It’s the largest child sacrifice event in the archaeological record anywhere in the world,” Verano said. “And it’s the largest sacrifice with llamas in South America. There’s nothing like this anywhere else.

“Who were the victims?

The site holds the remains of at least 137 boys and girls and 200 llamas. Many of the children and the llamas had cut marks on their sterna, or breastbones, as well as displaced ribs, suggesting that their chests had been cut open, perhaps to extract the heart, the researchers wrote in the study.

The children ranged in age from 5 to 14 and were generally in good health, according to an analysis of their bones and teeth. These youngsters were wrapped in cotton shrouds and buried either on their backs with extended legs, on their backs with flexed legs or and resting on one side with flexed legs.

Many were buried in groups of three and placed from youngest to oldest. Some had red cinnabar paint (a natural form of mercury) on their faces, and others, especially the older children, wore cotton headdresses.

The llamas were either laid next to or on top of the children’s bodies. In many cases, llamas of different colors (brown and beige) were buried together, but facing different directions. Also buried at the site, near the children’s remains, were the bodies of two women and a man.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
These adults do not have cut marks on their sterna, suggesting their hearts weren’t removed. Rather, one woman likely died from a blow to the back of the head and another suffered from blunt force trauma to her face. The man had rib fractures, but it wasn’t clear whether these injuries happened before or after death, possibly due to the weight of the rocks that were placed over his body, the researchers said.

The children weren’t buried with any discernible offerings, but the researchers did find a pair of ceramic jars and wooden paddles on the edge of the site, next to a single llama.

What happened?

The Chimú culture dominated a large part of the Peruvian coast from the 11th to 15th century. It thrived, in part, because of its intensive agriculture; the Chimú watered their crops and livestock with a sophisticated web of hydraulic canals, the researchers wrote in the study.

This area is typically dry, drizzling only a few times a year. But it’s possible an extreme El Niño event, when warm water evaporates from the southern Pacific and falls as torrential rain on Peru’s coast, caused havoc in the society, not only flooding the Chimú’s lands but also driving away or killing marine life off the coast, Verano said.

Evidence shows that when the children and llamas were sacrificed, the area was sodden with water, even capturing human and animal footprints in the muck that still exist today. It’s unclear why this particular site, located almost 1,150 feet (350 meters) from the coast about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the city of Chan Chan, was chosen for the sacrifice, but researchers have some idea for why the children were chosen.

Children are often seen as innocent beings who aren’t yet full members of society, and thus might be viewed as appropriate gifts or messengers to the gods, Verano said. Moreover, these children were not all locals. Some of the children had experienced head shaping, and an analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element) in their remains showed that these kids came from different regions and ethnic groups within the Chimú state, the researchers found.

It’s unclear why their hearts were removed, but “worldwide, everyone is aware that the heart is a very dynamic organ,” Verano said. “You can feel and hear it beating. It’s very vital. If you take the heart out, a lot of blood comes out and the person dies.”Today, some people in the Peruvian highlands and Bolivia still remove the hearts from sacrificed llamas, Verano noted.

Sometimes the removed heart is burned and the animal’s blood gets splashed on places like mines, a measure thought to protect the workers within. However, it’s unknown how the Chimú viewed and treated hearts in antiquity, Verano said. The children’s remains are now safely stored by Peru’s Ministry of Culture, and the researchers have submitted permits so they can continue to study them, Verano said.

The discovery shows “the importance of preserving cultural patrimony and archaeological material,” Verano said. “If we had had not dug this, it would probably be destroyed now by a housing and urban expansion. So we’ve saved a little chapter of prehistory.”The study is “an incredible insight into the ritual and sacrificial practices of the Chimú kingdom,” said Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who has worked as a South American archaeologist for more than 25 years.

He added that while human sacrifice is reviled in our modern society, “we have to remember that the Chimú had a very different world view than Westerners today. They also had very different concepts about death and the role each person plays in the cosmos,” Williams, who was not involved with the study. Given that the sacrifice may have been in response to devastating floods, “perhaps the victims went willingly as messengers to their gods, or perhaps Chimú society believed this was the only way to save more people from destruction,” Williams said.

The Roman ‘Brexit’: how life in Britain changed after 409AD

The Roman ‘Brexit’: how life in Britain changed after 409AD

For Mainland Britain, leaving a major political body is nothing new. The island slipped from the control of the Roman Empire in 409AD, more than 350 years after the Roman conquest of 43AD.

Like the present Brexit, the process of this secession and its practical impacts in the early years of the 5th century on the population of Britain remain undefined.

As with the UK and Brussels, Britain had always been a mixed blessing for Rome. In around 415AD, St Jerome called the island “fertile in tyrants” (meaning usurpers) and late Roman writers portrayed a succession of rebellions in Britain, usually instigated by the army – many of whom would have been born in the province.

Around 407AD, the latest usurper, Constantine III, left Britain, taking the remaining elements of the army with him. The late Roman writer, Zosimus, then wrote that the pressure of Barbarian invaders obliged the British to throw off Roman rule and live “no longer subject to Roman laws but as they themselves pleased”, a phrase guaranteed to warm the heart of any Brexiteer.

This episode, around 409AD, seems to have been the end of the Roman government in Britain. No “Romans” left, beyond the small number of soldiers who went to the continent to fight with Constantine III. Instead, the end of Roman Britain was, like the proposed present Brexit, a change in a relationship with a distant administration. But how did this change actually affect the people who lived in the island? And what were the consequences?

Roman life disappearing

One of the remarkable things about the first decades of the 5th century was the apparent speed with which the things we associate with Roman life disappeared.

The use of coins seems to have been an early casualty. Coins were always supplied by Rome to do the things that the Roman government cared about, such as pay the army. The latest coins to be sent to Britain in any number stopped in 402AD.

Coin use may have continued in places for some years after, using older coins, but there was no real attempt to introduce local copies or substitutes (as sometimes happened elsewhere). This suggests there was no demand for small change or faith in the value of base metal coinage.

Industrial pottery manufacture (widespread in the 4th century) also vanished by about 420AD, while villas, some of which had achieved a peak of grandeur in the 4th century, were abandoned as luxury residences. Towns had already undergone dramatic changes, with monumental public buildings often abandoned from the 3rd century onwards, but signs of urban life vanish almost entirely after about 420AD.

The forts of Hadrian’s Wall, beset by what the 6th-century writer Gildas termed“loathsome hordes of Scots and Picts”, seemingly turned from Roman garrisons into bases of local leaders and militias.

Many archaeologists have argued that the change was more drawn out and less dramatic than I’ve described. Equally, our own views of what is and isn’t “Roman” may not coincide with those held by people living during the 5th century.

The notion of what was “Roman” was as complicated as “Britishness” is today. It’s also clear that many aspects of Mediterranean Roman life such as towns and monumental building never really took off in Britain to the extent that they did elsewhere in the empire and much of what we consider to be “Roman” never saw much enthusiasm across large parts of Britain. Nonetheless, we can be fairly certain that people quickly lost interest in things like coins, mosaics, villas, towns, and tableware.

Hadrian’s wall.

What came next

Although external forces such as Barbarian invasion are often blamed for the end of Roman Britain, part of the answer may lie in changes to the way that people living in Britain viewed themselves. During the 5th century once Britain was no longer part of the Roman Empire, new forms of dress, buildings, pottery and burial rapidly appeared, particularly in the east of Britain.

This may be partly associated with the coming of the “Germanic” immigrants from across the North Sea whose impacts are so bemoaned by writers such as Gildas. However, the change was so widespread that the existing population must also have adopted such novelties as well.

Paradoxically, in western Britain, at places like Tintagel, people who had never shown much interest in Mediterranean life began in the 5th and 6th centuries to behave in ways that were more “Roman”. They used inscriptions on stone and imported wine, tablewares (and presumably perishable goods like silk) from the eastern Mediterranean. For these people, “being Roman” (perhaps associated with Christianity) assumed a new importance, as a way of expressing their difference from those in the east who they associated with “Germanic” incomers.

Archaeology suggests that late Roman Britain saw the same challenges to personal and group identities that the current Brexit debate stirs today. There can surely be little doubt that, had they lived in the 5th century, those who now identify as Leavers and Remainers would have debated the impact of foreign immigration and the merits of staying in the Roman Empire with equal passion. We must hope that some of the more dramatic changes of the 5th century, such as the disappearance of urban life and a monetary economy, do not find their 21st-century equivalents.