Prehistoric Anatolians removed flesh from bones to ease transition to death

Prehistoric Anatolians removed flesh from bones to ease transition to death

New research suggests that people in a Stone Age village in Turkey cut the flesh off the bones and skulls of several people who were dying or had just died then painted and/or plastered the bones and buried them with turtle carapaces and animal heads and horns. A researcher studying the skeletons said several of the bodies had been scalped. He concluded the cut marks on the bones of 10 people out of 281 skeletons he studied were not from wounding but defleshing. He says cannibalism was unlikely.

Defleshing was a way to help the dead person make the transition from life to death. Cut marks on bones indicating defleshing had taken place have been found worldwide, but because in most cases the people died before there was record-keeping, researchers have had to puzzle out why people would do this to corpses.

In February Ancient-Origins reported on archaeologists studying a cave in southeast Italy with defleshed remains of people who died 7,500 years ago. Archaeologists said they are the first known cases in New Stone Age Europe of people scraping the flesh off people’s bones after death. The researchers ruled out cannibalism or other violence as a cause of death. A February 2-15 article in the journal Antiquity details the cutting and scraping with stone tools of these incomplete skeletons in Scaloria Cave from 5500 to 5200 BC.

“Bone and flesh is one of the most distinctive binary oppositions,” writes Yilmaz Selim Erdal of Hacettepe University in Ankara, in a paper about his research in the European Journal of Archaeology . “In Anatolia, there is a saying that ‘Eti senin, kemiği benim’ (‘meat is yours, bone is mine’). In this phrase, bone reflects both lineage and life.”

In the 2000s, archaeologists excavated more than 800 skeletons at a Neolithic village at Körtik Tepe in Diyarbakir Province in Turkey in preparation for construction of a dam. Erdal studied the skeletons of 281 people and found that nine or 10 had cut marks indicating defleshing on their crania and other bones. He also found bones had been painted and plastered.

Graves from Körtik Tepe Pof 8,000 to 7,000 BC showed burials underneath houses; plastering of skeleton with cut marks on the skull. PNA layers; and grave goods, including beads, axes and stone bowls. (Photo: Körtik photo archive/ European Journal of Archaeology )

Archaeologists found a settlement first inhabited around 10400 to 9250 BC, though there are signs people were living in the area 20,000 years ago or longer. (The ruins of a medieval village are also at the site). The people of Körtik Tepe were hunter-gatherer-fisher people who stayed in one place and ate entirely wild plants, animals and fish. That is, they had not done any domestication of plants or animals or agriculture. It is one of the earliest sites of sedentary hunter-gatherers, according to

Their houses were circular, from 2.3 to 3.8 meters (7.5 to 12.5 feet), with hard-earth floors and rubble walls with various types of roofing material. They also had silos and what Erdal calls public buildings, though he doesn’t say what their purpose was; perhaps feasting.

The site of Körtik Tepe on the west bank of the Tigris River has been under excavation since 2000. (Photo by

They buried the bodies of their deceased under floors, close to walls or in the spaces between buildings. Burial goods in this village are considered richer and more advanced than other contemporaneous villages’ stuff and tell a lot about their society:

Even though burials without any objects were encountered, a significant number of the corpses were buried with grave goods of varying quality and quantity. Among these grave goods are beads (numbering in the thousands) made of stone, shell, and bone; obsidian and flint tools; grinding stones, axes, pestles, beads, bone tools, mortars; decorated or simple stone bowls; stone and bone plaques and amulets; [fishing] net weights, etc. On the basis of the use-wear observed on the objects and other discoveries from the settlement, it was suggested that the objects, the majority of which were recovered from burials, were also used in daily life. In addition, there are some instances of a complete turtle carapace being placed around the skulls and graves encircled with animal heads and horns, as well as other finds that represent unique cases with respect to the burial customs. The grave goods display similarities to those from many other PPN [pre-pottery Neolithic] settlements …

Archaeologists have found stone tools and axes, beads made from many substances, stone bowls and other objects. (Photo by Kö

Erdal explained that the Dayak people of Borneo believe that when a body has fully decomposed and has clean bones, the soul has completed its journey and finally reached the ancestral land.

“Cremation and burial accelerate the disposal of the body. Defleshing can likewise be considered as an acceleration process. Hence, the underlying rationale for these post-depositional treatments can be understood as speeding up the process of joining the ancestors or making the deceased person leave this world for good. The archaeological evidence of secondary burials, removal of the heads, plastering of skulls, painting bones, and plastering skeletons in the PPN settlements of the Middle East indicate that the defleshing process, or at least the decomposition of the body, had an important place in a belief system. Defleshing might be interpreted in terms of the completion of death, while preserving the clean bone played an important part in Neolithic communities’ rituals,” Erdal explained.

Similary, the authors of the paper on the cut skeletons in Italy wrote that defleshing may have been “the final termination of a prolonged, intimate interaction between living and dead: the end to mourning.”

Featured image: Grave from Körtik Tepe 8,000 to 7,000 BC showed plastering of skeleton with cut marks on the bones. (Photo: Körtik photo archive/European Journal of Archaeology)

By Mark Miller

Taphonomic phenomena are grouped into two phases: biostratinomy events that occur between death of the organism and the burial, and diagenesis events that occur after the burial. [1] Since Efremov's definition, taphonomy has expanded to include the fossilization of organic and inorganic materials through both cultural and environmental influences.

This is a multidisciplinary concept and is used in slightly different contexts throughout different fields of study. Fields that employ the concept of taphonomy include:

There are five main stages of taphonomy: disarticulation, dispersal, accumulation, fossilization, and mechanical alteration. [4] The first stage, disarticulation, occurs as the organism decays and the bones are no longer held together by the flesh and tendons of the organism. Dispersal is the separation of pieces of an organism caused by natural events (i.e. floods, scavengers etc.). Accumulation occurs when there is a buildup of organic and/or inorganic materials in one location (scavengers or human behavior). When mineral rich groundwater permeates organic materials and fills the empty spaces, a fossil is formed. The final stage of taphonomy is mechanical alteration these are the processes that physically alter the remains (i.e. freeze-thaw, compaction, transport, burial). [5] It should be added that these "stages" are not only successive, they interplay. For example, chemical changes occur at every stage of the process, because of bacteria. "Changes" begin as soon as the death of the organism: enzymes are released that destroy the organic contents of the tissues, and mineralised tissues such as bone, enamel and dentin are a mixture of organic and mineral components. Moreover, most often the organism (vegetal or animal) is dead because it has been "killed" by a predator. The digestion modifies the composition of the flesh, but also that of the bones. [6] [7]

Taphonomy has undergone an explosion of interest since the 1980s, [9] with research focusing on certain areas.

    , biogeochemical, and larger-scale controls on the preservation of different tissue types in particular, exceptional preservation in Konzervat-lagerstätten. Covered within this field is the dominance of biological versus physical agents in the destruction of remains from all major taxonomic groups (plants, invertebrates, vertebrates).
  • Processes that concentrate biological remains especially the degree to which different types of assemblages reflect the species composition and abundance of source faunas and floras.
  • Actualistic taphonomy uses the present to understand past taphonomic events. This is often done through controlled experiments, [10] such as the role microbes play in fossilization, [11] the effects of mammalian carnivores on bone, [12] or the burial of bone in a water flume. [8] Computer modeling is also used to explain taphonomic events. [8][13]
  • The spatio-temporal resolution [clarification needed] and ecological fidelity [clarification needed] of species assemblages, particularly the relatively minor role of out-of-habitat transport contrasted with the major effects of time-averaging. [clarification needed]
  • The outlines of megabiases in the fossil record, including the evolution of new bauplans and behavioral capabilities, and by broad-scale changes in climate, tectonics, and geochemistry of Earth surface systems.
  • The Mars Science Laboratory mission objectives evolved from assessment of ancient Mars habitability to developing predictive models on taphonomy. [clarification needed] [14]

Paleontology Edit

One motivation behind taphonomy is to understand biases present in the fossil record better. Fossils are ubiquitous in sedimentary rocks, yet paleontologists cannot draw the most accurate conclusions about the lives and ecology of the fossilized organisms without knowing about the processes involved in their fossilization. For example, if a fossil assemblage contains more of one type of fossil than another, one can infer either that the organism was present in greater numbers, or that its remains were more resistant to decomposition.

During the late twentieth century, taphonomic data began to be applied to other paleontological subfields such as paleobiology, paleoceanography, ichnology (the study of trace fossils) and biostratigraphy. By coming to understand the oceanographic and ethological implications of observed taphonomic patterns, paleontologists have been able to provide new and meaningful interpretations and correlations that would have otherwise remained obscure in the fossil record.

Forensic science Edit

Forensic taphonomy is a relatively new field that has increased in popularity in the past 15 years. It is a subfield of forensic anthropology focusing specifically on how taphonomic forces have altered criminal evidence. [15]

There are two different branches of forensic taphonomy: biotaphonomy and geotaphonomy. Biotaphonomy looks at how the decomposition and/or destruction of the organism has happened. The main factors that affect this branch are categorized into three groups: environmental factors external variables, individual factors factors from the organism itself (i.e. body size, age, etc.), and cultural factors factors specific to any cultural behaviors that would affect the decomposition (burial practices). Geotaphonomy studies how the burial practices and the burial itself affects the surrounding environment. This includes soil disturbances and tool marks from digging the grave, disruption of plant growth and soil pH from the decomposing body, and the alteration of the land and water drainage from introducing an unnatural mass to the area. [16]

This field is extremely important because it helps scientists use the taphonomic profile to help determine what happened to the remains at the time of death (perimortem) and after death (postmortem). This can make a huge difference when considering what can be used as evidence in a criminal investigation. [17]

Environmental archaeology Edit

Archaeologists study taphonomic processes in order to determine how plant and animal (including human) remains accumulate and differentially preserve within archaeological sites. Environmental archaeology is a multidisciplinary field of study that focuses on understanding the past relationships between groups and their environments. The main subfields of environmental archaeology include zooarchaeology, paleobotany, and geoarchaeology. Taphonomy allows specialists to identify what artifacts or remains encountered before and after initial burial. Zooarchaeology, a focus within environmental archaeology investigates taphonomic processes on animal remains. The processes most commonly identified within zooarchaeology include thermal alteration (burns), cut marks, worked bone, and gnaw marks. [18] Thermally altered bone indicate the use of fire and animal processing. Cut marks and worked bone can inform zooarchaeologists on tool use or food processing. [19] When there is little to no written record, taphonomy allows environmental archaeologists to better comprehend the ways in which a group interacted with their surrounding environments and inhabitants.

The field of environmental archaeology provides crucial information for attempting to understand the resilience of past societies and the great impacts that environmental shifts can have on a population. Knowledge gained from the past through these studies can be used to inform present and future decisions for human-environment interactions.

Because of the very select processes that cause preservation, not all organisms have the same chance of being preserved. Any factor that affects the likelihood that an organism is preserved as a fossil is a potential source of bias. It is thus arguably the most important goal of taphonomy to identify the scope of such biases such that they can be quantified to allow correct interpretations of the relative abundances of organisms that make up a fossil biota. [20] Some of the most common sources of bias are listed below.

Physical attributes of the organism itself Edit

This perhaps represents the biggest source of bias in the fossil record. First and foremost, organisms that contain hard parts have a far greater chance of being represented in the fossil record than organisms consisting of soft tissue only. As a result, animals with bones or shells are overrepresented in the fossil record, and many plants are only represented by pollen or spores that have hard walls. Soft-bodied organisms may form 30% to 100% of the biota, but most fossil assemblages preserve none of this unseen diversity, which may exclude groups such as fungi and entire animal phyla from the fossil record. Many animals that moult, on the other hand, are overrepresented, as one animal may leave multiple fossils due to its discarded body parts. Among plants, wind-pollinated species produce so much more pollen than animal-pollinated species, the former being overrepresented relative to the latter. [ citation needed ]

Characteristics of the habitat Edit

Most fossils form in conditions where material is deposited to the bottom of water bodies. Especially shallow sea coasts produce large amounts of fossils, so organisms living in such conditions have a much higher chance of being preserved as fossils than organisms living in non-depositing conditions. In continental environments, fossilization is especially likely in small lakes that gradually fill in with organic and inorganic material and especially in peat-accumulating wetlands. The organisms of such habitats are therefore overrepresented in the fossil record. [ citation needed ]

Mixing of fossils from different places Edit

A sedimentary deposit may have experienced a mixing of noncontemporaneous remains within single sedimentary units via physical or biological processes i.e. a deposit could be ripped up and redeposited elsewhere, meaning that a deposit may contain a large number of fossils from another place (an allochthonous deposit, as opposed to the usual autochthonous). Thus, a question that is often asked of fossil deposits is to what extent does the fossil deposit record the true biota that originally lived there? Many fossils are obviously autochthonous, such as rooted fossils like crinoids, [ clarification needed ] and many fossils are intrinsically obviously allochthonous, such as the presence of photoautotrophic plankton in a benthic deposit that must have sunk to be deposited. A fossil deposit may thus become biased towards exotic species (i.e. species not endemic to that area) when the sedimentology is dominated by gravity-driven surges, such as mudslides, or may become biased if there are very few endemic organisms to be preserved. This is a particular problem in palynology. [ citation needed ]

Temporal resolution Edit

Because population turnover rates of individual taxa are much less than net rates of sediment accumulation, the biological remains of successive, noncontemporaneous populations of organisms may be admixed within a single bed, known as time-averaging. Because of the slow and episodic nature of the geologic record, two apparently contemporaneous fossils may have actually lived centuries, or even millennia, apart. Moreover, the degree of time-averaging in an assemblage may vary. The degree varies on many factors, such as tissue type, the habitat, the frequency of burial events and exhumation events, and the depth of bioturbation within the sedimentary column relative to net sediment accumulation rates. Like biases in spatial fidelity, there is a bias towards organisms that can survive reworking events, such as shells. An example of a more ideal deposit with respect to time-averaging bias would be a volcanic ash deposit, which captures an entire biota caught in the wrong place at the wrong time (e.g. the Silurian Herefordshire lagerstätte).

Gaps in time series Edit

The geological record is very discontinuous, and deposition is episodic at all scales. At the largest scale, a sedimentological high-stand period may mean that no deposition may occur for millions of years and, in fact, erosion of the deposit may occur. Such a hiatus is called an unconformity. Conversely, a catastrophic event such as a mudslide may overrepresent a time period. At a shorter scale, scouring processes such as the formation of ripples and dunes and the passing of turbidity currents may cause layers to be removed. Thus the fossil record is biased towards periods of greatest sedimentation periods of time that have less sedimentation are consequently less well represented in the fossil record. [ citation needed ]

A related problem is the slow changes that occur in the depositional environment of an area a deposit may experience periods of poor preservation due to, for example, a lack of biomineralizing elements. This causes the taphonomic or diagenetic obliteration of fossils, producing gaps and condensation of the record. [ citation needed ]

Consistency in preservation over geologic time Edit

Major shifts in intrinsic and extrinsic properties of organisms, including morphology and behaviour in relation to other organisms or shifts in the global environment, can cause secular or long-term cyclic changes in preservation (megabias). [ citation needed ]

Human biases Edit

Much of the incompleteness of the fossil record is due to the fact that only a small amount of rock is ever exposed at the surface of the Earth, and not even most of that has been explored. Our fossil record relies on the small amount of exploration that has been done on this. Unfortunately, paleontologists as humans can be very biased in their methods of collection a bias that must be identified. Potential sources of bias include,

Prehistoric Anatolians removed flesh from bones to ease transition to death - History

by Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 1997, 1999 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

Special update as of April 1999: LATE-BREAKING ADVANCES IN PALEOPATHOLOGICAL AGE- ESTIMATION TECHNIQUES have suggested that studies based on earlier techniques (as in the paper discussed here) may underestimate the age at death of older individuals and overestimate that of younger individuals. It's possible the range of estimation errors involved could be substantial. Thus, the profile of age- distribution results in compilation studies like the one discussed below may be flattened or compressed with respect to

On the other hand, however, this consideration does not affect the "relative age," so to speak, of comparisons between age at death of different skeletal specimens, as summarized here, nor does it materially impact inferences about health status as indicated by skeletal data. Thus, for that reason, the results presented here still remain of considerable interest in the comparison of ages/ health status of late Paleolithic peoples vs. the Neolithic agricultural peoples who followed them. At a later date, updated information may be provided to supplement this report concerning estimated age- at-death figures.

How does the health/ longevity of late Paleolithic hunters- gatherers compare with that of the Neolithic farmers who succeeded them? Periodically one will hear it stated in online discussion forums devoted to raw foods and vegetarianism that Paleolithic peoples only lived to be 25 (or 30, or 35) years, or whatever age. (The lack of exactitude in such figures illustrates how substantiating one's "scientific facts" is not usually a very highly emphasized value in these forums.) The intended point usually being that those terribly debauched flesh-eating cavemen-- and women, presumably-- were not living very long due to their consumption of meat.

As is often the case with such "facts," however, if one looks at the documented sources, one sees a different picture. Here we present a summary of a classic paper on the health and longevity of late Paleolithic (pre-agricultural) and Neolithic (early agricultural) people. [ Source: Angel, (1984) "Health as a crucial factor in the changes from hunting to developed farming in the eastern Mediterranean." In: Cohen, Armelagos, (eds.) (1984) Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture (proceedings of a conference held in 1982). Orlando: Academic Press. (pp. 51-73)]

Note that these figures come from studies in the field of "paleopathology" (investigation of health, disease, and death from archaeological study of skeletons) of remains in the eastern Mediterranean (defined in Angel's paper to also include Greece and western Turkey), an area where a more continuous data sample is available from ancient times. Due to the unavoidable spottiness of the archaeological record in general, however, samples from the Balkans, the Ukraine, North Africa, and Israel were included for the earliest (Paleolithic and Mesolithic) periods. While the populations in the region were not always directly descended from one another, focusing the study within the eastern Mediterranean minimizes bias in the data due to genetic change over time.

The table below is adapted and condensed considerably from Angel's full table included in the above paper. Angel comments on the indicators given in the table below that archaeologically, lifespan is the simplest indicator of overall health. Growth and nutrition status can be generally indicated by skull base height, pelvic inlet depth index, and adult stature-- the latter two of which are shown here in addition to lifespan.


Pelvic Inlet Depth Index
% (higher is better)

Fem. 30,000 to 9,000 B.C. ("Late Paleolithic" times, i.e., roughly 50/50 plant/animal diet-- according to latest figures available elsewhere.)

30.0 9,000 to 7,000 B.C. ("Mesolithic" transition period from Paleolithic to some agricultural products.)

31.3 7,000 to 5,000 B.C. ("Early Neolithic," i.e., agriculture first spreads widely: As diet becomes more agricultural, it also becomes more vegetarian in character-- relatively much less meat at roughly 10% of the diet, and much more plant food, much of which was grain- based.)

29.8 5,000 to 3,000 B.C. ("Late Neolithic," i.e., the transition is mostly complete.)

29.2 3,000 to 2,000 B.C. ("Early Bronze" period)

29.4 2,000 B.C. and following ("Middle People")

31.4 Circa 1,450 B.C. ("Bronze Kings")

36.1 1,450 to 1,150 B.C. ("Late Bronze")

32.6 1,150 to 650 B.C. ("Early Iron")

30.9 650 to 300 B.C. ("Classic")

36.8 300 B.C. to 120 A.D. ("Hellenistic")

38.0 120 to 600 A.D. ("Imperial Roman")

31.1 Byzantine Constantinople

37.3 1400 to 1800 A.D. ("Baroque")

28.5 1800 to 1920 A.D. ("Romantic")

38.4 "Modern U.S. White" (1980-ish presumably)

One can see from the above data that things are rarely as clear-cut as dietary purists would like them to be. For any period in time, there is good and there is bad.

The main thing to note here about the short average lifespans compared to modern times is that the major causes are thought to have been "occupational hazards," i.e., accidents, trauma, etc., stresses of nomadism, and so forth. It is not always clear how strongly other conclusions can be drawn about the effect of diet from these figures, but all other things being equal--

    Median longevity decreased slightly during the first several millennia after the introduction of agricultural foods during which plant foods became a greater part of the diet, and meat a lesser part, than previously. This would seem to indicate that meat/protein consumption itself would not have been the factor responsible for decreased longevity (since less of it was being eaten after the late Paleolithic).

Other interesting tidbits on diet and health from Angel's paper relating to the Paleolithic/ Neolithic transition:

    In prehistoric times (which would include Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods in the table above), human infant mortality was 20-30%. (For wild animals, the figure is 60-80%.) Few people lived much past the end of their fertile reproductive period.

Given this animal food source for critical skeletal-building minerals--which would normally also be reflected in good values for skull base height, pelvic inlet depth, and adult stature--the poor mineral status reflected in these measurements points to part of the explanation as the effect of continued phytate intake from grains, a substance which binds minerals preventing efficient absorption.

Angel sums up the Paleolithic- to- Neolithic- and- beyond transition as

Disease effects were minor in the Upper [Late] Paleolithic except for trauma. In postglacially hot areas, porotic hyperostosis [indicative of anemia] increased in Mesolithic and reached high frequencies in Neolithic to Middle Bronze times. [Reminder note: The end of the last Ice Age and the consequent melting of glaciers which occurred at the cusp of the Paleolithic/Neolithic transition caused a rise in sea level, with a consequent increase in malaria in affected inland areas which became marshy as a result.] Apparently this resulted mainly from thalassemias, since children show it in long bones as well as their skulls. But porotic hyperostosis in adults had other causes too, probably from iron deficiency from hookworm, amebiasis, or phytate, effect of any of the malarias. The thalassemias necessarily imply falciparum malaria. This disease may be one direct cause of short stature.

The other pressure limiting stature and probably also fertility in early and developing farming times was deficiency of protein and of iron and zinc from ingestion of too much phytic acid [e.g., from grains] in the diet. In addition, new diseases including epidemics emerged as population increased, indicated by an increase of enamel arrest lines in Middle Bronze Age samples.

We can conclude that farmers were less healthy than hunters, at least until Classical to Roman times. [Due to the difficulty in disentangling all relevant factors, as Angel explains a bit earlier] [w]e cannot state exactly how much less healthy they were, however, or exactly how or why.

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The Harrell Site

Click images to enlarge

In contrast to the sweeping warfare implied in the evidence from the desert Southwest, most of the violent prehistoric deaths in the southern Plains, including Texas, appear to be the result of relatively small-scale raids.

On removing the bones, in the earth below were skeleton hands—seemingly Burial 23 clasped the hand of Burial 22. George Fox, 1938.

How the mandibles, or jawbones, of the dead were treated at the Harrell site indicated a more ritualized pattern, clearly not a phenomenon of weathering or nature.

Violence was clearly afoot in prehistoric Texas and neighboring regions some 1100 years ago and for centuries thereafter. We don't fully understand the nature of the conflicts, the triggering causes, or what carried the hostile impulse across the southern Plains and far south into central and coastal Texas. What we do know about this seemingly abrupt behavioral shift comes chiefly from graves. In small cemeteries of this time period, archeologists have found widespread evidence of killing and tell-tale evidence of the instrument of death—arrows tipped with small stone points—within the graves or even embedded in the skeletal remains. Some skeletons show more horrifying signs of violence—crushed skulls, decapitation, and missing limbs. Taken together, this evidence shows that during a three- or four-century span between about A.D. 900 and 1200-1300 killing and violence were widespread across prehistoric Texas, a pattern that is also seen in the Southwest in the A.D. 1200s and 1300s.

While humans have been killing one another throughout recorded history and probably the entire span of prehistory, direct evidence of violence is not seen at most Native American sites in Texas. Aside from burned houses, which may or may not have been intentionally set afire in anger, the only way we can spot violence in the archeological record is through studying human remains. Analyses of human remains found in other areas of Texas, especially in the central coastal plains, suggest that violence began to increase during Late Archaic times about 2000-3000 years ago. While we will never know what triggered individual episodes, increasing violence is generally thought to reflect increasing competition for resources brought about by population increase sometimes coupled with deteriorating climatic conditions that forced people to intrude into the territories of others. This is a plausible big-picture explanation for what happened in the southern Plains in Late Prehistoric times.

One of the most obvious changes that distinguishes the Late Prehistoric way of life from the longstanding, earlier Archaic pattern is a change in weaponry systems, from the ancient spear-throwing device called an atlatl, to the bow and arrow. Researchers believe this transition occurred gradually, beginning with the "self" or simple bow (not recurved), and that hunting peoples may have used both types of weapons for some period of time. While Plains Indians apparently adopted the bow and arrow well before the time of Christ, south of the Red River the transition to the bow and arrow did not occur until after A.D. 500. By the 1200s a more powerful type of bow, the recurved bow, began to be used. But other lifeway changes were probably more fundamental. The introduction of pottery making allowed people to more easily create containers and cooking vessels that could be exposed directly to fire, thus changing (and improving) the way certain foods were prepared. Even more important was the spread of agriculture, which gradually allowed (or forced) people to stay in one place for longer periods.

These changes were neither simultaneous nor uniform across the southern Plains. But as the societies were transformed from old ways of life to new, violence became widespread, particularly during the period between about A.D. 900 and 1300. At Southwestern pueblos, there is indication of all-out warfare or large-scale killing during the A.D. 1200s and 1300s. Archeologists in New Mexico and Arizona have studied the ruins of large defensively fortified pueblos that had been burned to the ground. At pueblo sites such as Techado Springs in west-central New Mexico, there were piles of unburied skeletons—many of them young women—apparently laying as they fell during an attack or massacre hundreds of years ago. In some Southwest sites, victims had been scalped, and in others, body parts had been taken, perhaps as war trophies.

Across the southern Plains, the scale of violence that occured during this time may have been more extreme than archeologists previously thought. Archeologist Doug Boyd believes there is ample evidence of devastating raids and attacks, mutilations, and the taking of body parts as trophies in the burial data. Although Boyd notes that southern Plains populations may have been lower than in the Pueblo world, "intertribal warfare was every bit as important and destructive."

Arrow Points among the Graves

At the Harrell site, the signs of violence were unmistakable. In the small cemetery overlooking the Brazos River, skeletons bearing signs of arrow wounds (or with points lying nearby) were found within three or possibly four mass graves. According to the very cautious field analyst's description, arrow points in one of the mass burials were found "in such positions as to suggest death from wounds." His notes continue:

The skeleton of B19 had an arrowpoint lying between the ulna and radius of the right arm and a second point lay between the ribs. In the section of the backbone, B-20 had a point protruding from the spinal column it entered from the left side, slightly forward of the spine and when found, protruded from the back at a slight angle downward.

Perhaps the group burials, or mass graves, were a hasty means of interment of several individuals who had been killed in a conflict with outsiders. But, in haste or not, the care shown for the dead is evident in how some of the graves were arranged. In the largest group interment (shown in the top photo, burials 19-23), two young men, their bodies flexed, had been arranged to face a small child who lay between them (burials 21-23). One of the adults—his pelvis pierced by an arrow tip—appeared to clasp the hand of the child who, archeologists noted, had a badly crushed skull. Another two individuals, also victims of arrow wounds, were laid close together in "spoon fashion," their knees drawn up and almost interlocked. Finally, the entire grave had been covered over with large limestone slabs, grinding slabs, and smaller rocks.

Nearby, a second slab-covered grave (burials 27-29) held the incomplete remains of three individuals who had been placed in the grave in similarly close fashion. Investigators discovered an arrow point lying roughly in the area of what would be the central man's lung or spine area, or possibly the arm of the adjacent individual. Five other arrow points, described as long, narrow, and thin (Scallorn type), and a number of mussel shells, some used as tools, were found among the skeletal remains of the other two individuals.

Another possible mass grave held the remains of perhaps six individuals, their body parts layered atop one another in a puzzling arrangement. One individual and a child (represented primarily by skulls and leg bones) lay in a flexed position beside another burial (represented by only a skull.) Resting atop the thigh area of the two flexed skeletons were the leg bones of another individual, and lying over the shoulder area were two more sets of legs from yet other individuals. Although some might speculate that the elements laying on top might have been intrusive later burials, archeologist Fox noted the alignments of the higher bones: "Either these bones were placed with extreme care so as to have them in correct position, or the limbs were yet in flesh when buried."

During excavations in the area (Excavation 3, which also included the hearth field), investigators uncovered the remains of 32 individuals in all. Although the depths of the graves varied, they all were within the upper deposits and apparently formed a series dug in from the same surface, suggesting a burial ground in continuous use by the same peoples. Few of the graves intruded into one another—possible evidence that the cemetery was a designated place and that the grave locations were marked or well remembered. The tight grouping also suggests that the graves are roughly contemporaneous and probably occurred within a few generations.

Beyond that, however, the interments varied radically: while 16 graves contained only one individual, four bore the multiple interments discussed above. Another grave—a likely reburial—was compressed into what is termed a "bundle burial." It is likely that this individual died elsewhere and the bones were brought back to the Harrell site sometime thereafter. Other graves had stone coverings, a few may even have been placed into a slab-line enclosure or box-like cist. In one, an older woman (Burial 26) had been placed in an unusual position with legs extended and upper body bent forward over the legs. The remains were in poor condition and a number of elements were missing. Against the top of the skull, excavators found what they termed a bone awl (likely a hairpin). Although the grave was just southeast of the mass burials numbered 19-23, it was several inches higher than the others, and Fox was uncertain whether it was related to the same burial event.

Archeologists studying the human remains at the cemetery noted that the skeletons, as a group, were poorly preserved they could not determine whether this was due to ordinary decomposition alone. There are several indications that bodies or skeletons were dismembered or buried in an already fragmented condition. In five, there was no sign of the skull two others contained merely skull fragments one had several teeth and a few bone fragments several others contained only sections of leg bones. In four, the skulls had been carefully placed crown down, presumably after they were no longer connected to the spine. Archeologist Fox wrote that the inverted skulls were "so definitely in position that the theory that a settling of the overlapping earth displaced the skulls is untenable."

How the mandibles, or jawbones, of the dead were treated at the Harrell site indicated a more ritualized pattern, clearly not a phenomenon of weathering or nature. In six graves, jawbones were absent even though the skull was otherwise well preserved in several others the jaws had been removed and placed in the grave separately. In another, more bizarre instance, the lower mandible appeared to have been turned around and set in place inside the skull.

Displacement and removal of mandibles in burials, whether a ritual among the aggressors or the families of the aggrieved, has been fairly widely documented in other cemetery sites across the region. Based on absence of mandibles in graves from the Abilene area and farther west, early avocational archeologist Cyrus Ray speculated that the jaws might have been "war trophies." There is evidence for this type of practice in the East Texas area as well.

Enigmatic cut marks on several of the Harrell skulls have raised the possibility that the individuals may have been scalped. Both Drs. Michael Collins and Darrell Creel, who briefly examined the specimens under less than ideal light, found the marks possibly to be suggestive of scalping but altogether inconclusive. A more-thorough examination is needed to fully understand and interpret the condition of the skeletal remains from the site.

Funerary Objects

Throughout the cemetery, there were only scant signs of what archeologists term "offerings" or funerary objects, the special items sometimes placed with the dead. Even then, the investigators could not be sure whether the items had been worn by the individual, were embedded in the body, or were laid into the grave with the body. As lead investigator Fox describes their placement:

The grave offerings were very few but with three exceptions, doubt is entertained as to their being purposely interred with the body. Within one grave, a bone awl stood against a skull. In another, a small scraper lay beneath the pelvic bone. In a third, two points, well made, were close to an arm bone, in such a position as to indicate the two arrows buried with the dead.

And further:
A bone bead was beneath the central portion of one grave with two mussel shells, nested, not far away… In another grave, about 12 inches from the bones, a mussel shell was erect in the clay, standing on its pointed end. In yet another, the mussel shell was set on edge….

At the north end of the cemetery, Fox recorded a number of possible post-hole stains in the area of several graves with very incomplete skeletal remains. The stains were in groups or clusters several appeared aligned in rough arcs. Although neither Hughes nor Krieger addressed these features, it is possible they may represent the supports for some sort of mortuary structures or part of a larger building.

Mesolithic The 'Middle Stone Age'. See 'The Chronology of the Stone Age'.

There are few complete human skeletons found during the Mesolithic, which suggests there were few burials or other methods of disposing of the dead which would leave a trace. Barry Cunliffe thinks excarnation The removal of a body's flesh (defleshing) by either natural or human means, leaving only the bones. (defleshing) was probably frequently practised, which could account for this rarity. His opinion is backed up by the number of human remains found in shell middens (waste heaps) across the world, including in the Scottish Isles. The discoveries of these bones, which are usually only small bones or pieces of bone, have led many to believe they show signs of cannibalism, with the waste simply being disposed of. There are a number of other Mesolithic human bones that have been found in places such as Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Valley in Somerset (dating from about 14700 BP, rather than Cheddar Man, whom we will discuss shortly), which show clear signs of butchery. This doesn't mean that Mesolithic peoples practised casual or nutritional cannibalism. It might just as easily show some form of ritual disposal. Whatever the reason, it seems clear that certain ways Mesolithic people dealt with their dead are very different from how we deal with the dead today.

The skull of Cheddar Man, with the clearly visible hole above the eye socket.

Not all ways of dealing with the Mesolithic dead were as foreign to us as defleshing, nor was the Mesolithic entirely without burials. One of the few complete skeletons of the Mesolithic, and Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, is that of Cheddar Man, found at Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Valley. He died in about 7150 BCE, when he was still in his twenties. Newspaper headlines state that he died violently, as there is a hole in his skull, but this was probably caused by bone disease or sinus infection, which would have been painful and may have killed him in the end. Another cave in the Cheddar area is Aveline's Hole in which the remains of about 70 people were found, most disarticulated Where bones are separated at the joints. but two placed whole. They all died between 8400 BCE and 8200 BCE and include men, women and children. Seven pieces of fossil ammonite were placed by the head of one, and the presence of animal teeth suggests that some of the bodies may have been adorned. In addition, red ochre was found at the site. Sadly, most of the collection was lost to German bombs in World War Two making it difficult to study them further. All we can say is that funerary customs in the Mesolithic could be complex and sophisticated.


The Celtic world spanned the British Isles as well as most of what is now France and even some parts of Germany. The earliest Celtic culture is referred to as the Urnfield culture, so named because they were cremated and then buried in urns.

As the Bronze and Iron ages progressed, Hallstatt culture developed, followed La Tene culture, both of which show the roots of the burial practices of the Celts.

Both the Hallstatt and La Tene traded with Greece and buried their dead with personal items, some very valuable, obtained through this trade.

The Hallstatt culture laid their dead out in carts with earthly valuables and even food, then had a large feast in honor of the dead. A place for the deceased was laid out, and songs and poems, called elegies, were sung in their honor.

Often, the body would be burned after the feast, and the remains would be placed in urns and buried. Afterward, friends and family would memorialize the dead by placing a stone at the site.

Over the years, these built up into grave markers called cairns. Most of these practices continued in Celtic culture even through the Roman occupation, although eventually, only warriors were buried in carts.

10 Answers 10

I have read that in the real Europe there was an industry developed around preparing relics from passed away bodies.

Usually the bodies were washed, boiled and the flesh (now cooked) was separated from the bones which could be then distributed among the "customers" (usually churches and sanctuaries worshiping saints).

Your people might use a similar approach.

Carrion Beetles! Carrion beetles are fairly widespread through the temperate regions, and are very good at cleaning bones (in fact, some research labs use carrion beetles for this very purpose!). In addition, this could tie into the mythology of it, where the flesh goes on to nurture new life. (As a side note, this would probably lead to carrion beetles being spiritually important too).

You describe an ossuary.

So what you need is a temporary grave.

An ossuary is a chest, box, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary ("os" is "bone" in Latin[1]). The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is.

I saw a TV article on the catacombs of Paris that described these temporary burials. My recollection is that the cemetery used for this was such that the bodies decayed very quickly. I could imagine this might be so if the decomposers in the soil were fed a steady diet of dead folks. Soil pH might play a role too.

In any case the temporarily buried are out of sight (and smell) but not out of mind. Once the flesh has decayed the bones can move to your temple.

As someone who has skeletonized many animals for museums insects are your best bet. We use dermestid beetles, they are kinda finicky critters. Other insects like ants and maggots work just as well for your purposes.

Bug boxes which prevent larger scavengers are often used outside letting the local scavenger insects do the work. Ours are plastic but you can make something out of wicker, ceramic, or wood just as easily. What you are making is a container that lets insects in but keeps out larger scavengers like rodents which will gnaw bones.

Sometimes we will boil a carcass first to take must of the soft tissue off, but if you are not doing it as an industrial process, just letting ants eat it all is fine. You do have to watch out for termites which will burrow through the bone. Cutting off most of the soft tissue first speeds up the process, but again it is not vital.

Here is a great dirty jobs video of the process.

degreasing the bones for storage is a good idea (soak in soap or low concentration peroxide) but not vital, time will do nearly as good a job as long as you clean them once and a while to prevent mold.

what about sky burial? though i dont know is there a big carrion bird that can eat whole bone though in europe, so maybe the crow or other small flying carrion can suffice to left the bone intact, at least majority part of it.

you can also build tower to place the corpse there to make it out of human contact live bellow and not spreading the miasma if no mountain, and not necessary for you to grind the bone like some of this culture do if you want to keep the bone intact.

Sky burial (Tibetan: བྱ་གཏོར་, Wylie: bya gtor, lit. "bird-scattered"1) is a funeral practice in which a human corpse is placed on a mountaintop to decompose while exposed to the elements or to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially carrion birds. It is a specific type of the general practice of excarnation. It is practiced in the region of Tibet and the Chinese provinces and autonomous regions of Qinghai, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia, as well as in Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of India such as Sikkim and Zanskar.2 The locations of preparation and sky burial are understood in the Vajrayana Buddhist traditions as charnel grounds.

Vajrayana iconography

The tradition and custom of the jhator afforded Traditional Tibetan medicine and thangka iconography with a particular insight into the interior workings of the human body. Pieces of the human skeleton were employed in ritual tools such as the skullcup, thigh-bone trumpet.

The 'symbolic bone ornaments' (Skt: aṣṭhiamudrā Tib: rus pa'i rgyanl phyag rgya) are also known as "mudra" or 'seals'. The Hevajra Tantra identifies the Symbolic Bone Ornaments with the Five Wisdoms and Jamgon Kongtrul in his commentary to the Hevajra Tantra explains this further.[22]

also here excarnation some copy paste method to defleshing maybe it can help (some contain burial and cremation method though).

Other methods

From the pattern of marks on some human bones at prehistoric sites, researchers have inferred that members of the community removed the flesh from the bones as part of its burial practices.[5]

Neolithic farmers living in Tavoliere, Italy, over 7000 years ago practiced ritual defleshing of the dead. Light cut marks suggest that the bones were defleshed up to a year after death. The bones were deposited in Scaloria Cave and, when excavated, were mixed with animal bones, broken pottery and stone tools.[6]

In the Middle Ages, excarnation was practised by European cultures as a way to preserve the bones when the deceased was of high status or had died some distance from home. One notable example of a person who underwent excarnation following death was Christopher Columbus[citation needed]. The American Revolutionary War general, Anthony Wayne, also underwent a form of excarnation.[7] A practice known as mos teutonicus, or active excarnation, was a German custom. The bodies were broken down differently than solely defleshing, they were cut up and boiled in either wine, water, or vinegar.[8]

In modern Japan, where cremation is predominant, it is common for close relatives of the deceased to transfer, using special chopsticks, the remaining bones from the ashes to a special jar in which they will be interred. However, in ancient Japanese society, prior to the introduction of Buddhism and the funerary practice of cremation, the corpse was exposed in a manner very similar to the Tibetan sky burial. The Kalash people of Pakistan until recently (mid 1980s) practiced above ground burial in large wooden coffins called Bahg'a were the dead were laid with all their best belongings in cemeteries called Madokjal or place of many coffins. This tradition had been dying off with the last being the burial of a shaman in 1985, until the burial in 2016 of Batakeen of Anish village Bumburet. The Bali Aga people of Trunyan village on Lake Batur in Bali practice customs found no where else on the island, these are the mountain Balianese and they practice Animistic traditions that predate the arrival of Hinduism in Bali. The burial custom here is for the bodies to be laid on the ground and left to decompose, with a cloth cover or a bamboo cage . Once the decomposition is complete the bones are placed on a stair shaped altar 500 feet to the north. A large banyan tree called the taru menyan literally called the nice smelling tree is thought to take away bad smells . Pre-contact Hawaiians ritually defleshed the bones of high-ranking nobles (ali'i) so that they could be interred in reliquaries for later veneration. The remains of Captain Cook, who the Hawaiians had believed to be the god Lono, were treated this way after his death. The Moriori people of the Chatham Islands (now part of New Zealand) placed their dead in a sitting position in the sand dunes looking out to sea others were strapped to young trees in the forest. In time, the tree grew into and through the bones, making them one.

Following the excarnation process, many societies retrieved the bones for burial.[citation needed]

Defleshing during the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages in Europe, defleshing was a mortuary procedure used mainly to prepare human remains for transport over long distances. The practice was used only for nobility. It involved removing skin, muscles, and organs from a body, leaving only the bones. In this procedure, the head, arms, and legs were detached from the body. The process left telltale cuts on the bones.

King Saint Louis IX of France is said to have been defleshed by boiling his corpse until the flesh separated from the bones. This was intended to preserve his bones, to avoid decaying of the remains during their return to France from the Eighth Crusade, and to provide relics. The process is known as mos Teutonicus.[9]

The Selk'nam Genocide.

These newcomers developed a great part of the land of Tierra del Fuego as large estancias (sheep ranches), depriving the natives of their ancestral hunting areas. Selk'nam, who considered the sheep herds to be game rather than private property (which they did not have as a concept) hunted the sheep. The ranch owners considered this to be poaching:

They paid armed groups or militia to hunt down and kill the Selk'nam, in what is now called the Selk'nam Genocide.

To receive their bounty, such groups had to bring back the ears of victims.


Alejandro Cañas estimated that in 1896 there was a population of 3,000 Selk'nam. Martín Gusinde, an Austrian priest and ethnologist who studied them in the early 20th century, wrote in 1919 that only 279 Selk'nam remained. In 1945 the Salesian missionary, Lorenzo Massa, counted 25. In May 1974 Ángela Loij, the last full-blood Selk'nam, died.

Even worst, after yet another atrocity against humanity, the Albinos have substituted Mongol natives (like below) for Black paleoamericans. So by appearance, the people are still there - if you don't know who or what you are looking at.

Spoken language is merely agreed upon sounds: and Written language is merely agreed upon symbols, therefore..

When you control both material and media - as Albinos do: you can call a Mouse an Elephant, and as long as you maintain power and control: everyone seeing a Mouse will call it an Elephant, and an Elephant will be called a Mouse.

Then there are all of those studies by White scientists declaring that crural and brachial indices prove that White people are "Cold Adapted". Here is a typical one:

NOTE: The crural index is the ratio of thigh length to leg length. The Brachial index is the ratio of upper arm and lower arm.

Brachial and crural indices of European late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic humans by TW Holliday Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118, USA. QUOTE: "The somewhat paradoxical retention of "tropical" indices in the context of more "cold-adapted" limb length is best explained as evidence for Replacement in the European Late Pleistocene, followed by gradual cold adaptation in glacial Europe.

All of that scientific sounding nonsense has one purpose, to explain away "White Skin". It's not Albinism, White people are "Cold Adapted" they say. Well here are some people, who together with the people of Tierra del Fuego, really are "Cold Adapted".

University of Illinois at Chicago - HUMAN ECOLOGY AND HUMAN ADAPTABILITY - III. Cold Tolerance (Harrison p 457).

BLACK SKINNED (my comment) Australian Aborigines can sleep without shelter or clothing at near freezing temperatures. This means that, while sleeping conditions cold enough to raise the metabolic heat production of Europeans by 15%, Australian Aborigines remain at basal metabolic levels. Their skin temperatures fall, too, thus decreasing heat loss.

Elaborate skull remains found in South America, man was decapitated after death

Many different countries, old and new, have entertained various kinds of religious beliefs and rituals. Whether the people are civilized or closed off from the outside world, each culture has, and had extensive religious beliefs.

Take the ancient Mexican people – they had been known for religious sacrifices designed to please their gods. Another culture that happened to do grisly rituals to please their gods was in Brazil.

Remains were found in a cave called Lapa do Santo in Lagoa Santa, Brazil. Anthropologists who were on this dig certainly weren’t ready for this particular discovery. Although they are rather used to digging up remains and analyzing them extensively, they were not ready for this grisly find.

The experts had discovered what they believe is the oldest case of ritualistic beheading. This find is even the first-ever found in the Americas.

On further analysis of the remains, it was found that they date back to nearly 9,000 years ago. The skull was unearthed along with a pair of amputated hands. Anthropologists had found the head with the amputated hands placed in opposite directions on the face.

9,000-year-old decapitated skull Source:Andre Strauss/PLoS one

There was evidence of cut marks that had suggested the flesh had been removed from the bones before the body was buried.

The researchers on the dig believe that the remains will help them study about the particular origins of the decapitation practices which eventually became widespread throughout all of South America. The people there were known as Tupinamba and had been recognized for collecting heads as war trophies.

Other people who collected heads, the Arara Indians, had used them as musical instruments rather than trophies. Another culture who used heads was the Chmiu culture in Peru. They had collected the decapitated heads after using the people as human sacrifices.

After further analyzing the skull, researchers found that the head had once belonged to a younger man who had been a member of the humans who inhabited the cave, rather than an enemy. Study of the hand placement on the skull suggested that the beheading and positioning had all been a part of a ritual or ceremony.

There had been smaller cuts on the skull which suggested that the soft skin around the skull had been cut away from the bone before burial.

Researchers on the dig are still unsure as to why the man’s head was removed, especially since he was a part of the tribe. The experts believe that the head could have been removed after the man had died.

The lead researcher on the dig, Dr. Andre Strauss, had written that the ritualistic decapitation had shown them the early sophistication of death rituals among the hunter-gatherer people. He added that the find from Lapa do Santo has allowed the researchers to see just how far back the practice of decapitation has gone in South America.

He even went as far as explaining that geographically, the find expands the known range of the practice to be more than 1,240 miles. This shows that during the early Holocene period, it was not a ritual that was restricted to only the western part of South America, as was previously thought.

Before these remains were found, it was thought that the earliest case of decapitation in South America had happened in the Peruvian Andes, dating to about 3,000 years ago. The oldest known case found in North America was in Florida and dated to around 6,990 to 8,120 years old.

Lapa do Santo is believed to have been occupied by humans nearly 12,000 years ago. Artifacts found in the general area, such as stone tools and animal bones, had suggested that the prehistoric hunter-gatherers had used the area for some time.

Back in 2007, the anthropologists found the skull, jaw, and the first six vertebra of the neck, along with the young man’s two severed hands, in a shallow pit in the cave. The pit had been covered by limestone slabs, which suggests that the head and other body parts were carefully buried.

The hands were cut from the rest of the man’s body and were then placed, with the palms down, over his face. The left hand had been pointed up on the right side of the face, with the right hand pointing down on the left side of the face.

Describing the Tupinambás Source:Wikipedia/public domain

Another researcher on the dig, Domingo Carlos Salazar-Garcia, said that the decapitation seems like it was not a violent act. He added that a look at the chemical analysis of the strontium isotopes indicates that the man was not an outsider to this particular group. This means that he had not been a defeated enemy, but merely a member of the community.

Some of the other remains found in the Lagoa Santa area are actually quite different than this particular find, often having been buried in a manner much simpler than this young man’s burial. The researchers on the excavation stated that early humans in South America had rather complex burial rituals.

They had written that the remains didn’t reveal any drill holes or an enlargement which would indicate that it was a trophy head. Researchers also added that the way the hands were carefully arranged had been a way to publicly display the remains. It could have also been arranged that way to “enhance social cohesion”.

Tombs and Tombstones

Regular burial of the dead in tombs was customary even in prehistoric times as a manifestation of the beginnings of religious ritual, both among nomads and among settled peoples. In the Neolithic period, deceased tribal heads were regarded as family or tribal totems as attested by clay skulls, with human features, found at Jericho (Kenyon, in bibl.). In the Chalcolithic period it was customary to bury the bones in dry ossuaries after the flesh had disintegrated. There were various forms of ossuaries. Sometimes human features were engraved on the front of the ossuary. ⫎meteries of ossuaries were found mainly on the coastal strip of Ereẓ Israel. Death was viewed as a transition to a different world, where life was continued. The dead and their departed spirits were thought of as powerful, incomprehensible forces threatening the living with a limitless capacity for harm or for good. It was thus customary to place offerings of food and drink in special vessels, which were then buried in the tomb together with the corpse. For example, a platter with a lamb's head upon it has been found in a tomb at Afulah. Gifts given to the dead, either for their use or to propitiate them, were the items most highly prized by the person during his lifetime. Thus, during the Middle Canaanite period it was customary to "kill" the sword of the deceased after its owner's death by bending it and making it useless. During the Late Canaanite period, a man's war horse and chariot were symbolic of his noble status. It was therefore customary to bury a nobleman's weapons and horse with him. In a number of graves at Beth-Eglaim (Tell-⯺jūl) horses are buried with their riders (Petrie, in bibl.). Burial customs were the most important aspect of the early Egyptian cultic practices. These customs accompanied the death of the king-gods, nobles, and upper classes. The monumental architecture of the Egyptian burial cities, the mummification of the kings, and the embalming of sacred animals, all developed around the Egyptian burial cult (Dawson, in bibl.). Such practices were employed in the great, powerful, and stable kingdoms and in Mesopotamia, though they were not found among the tribes who arrived in Palestine with the wave of ethnic wanderings, during the patriarchal period of the second millennium B.C.E. These wandering tribes did, however, continue the practice of burying various offerings together with their dead, as was customary from the Early Canaanite period on.

During the time of the Patriarchs, when there was a change from tribal wanderings to permanent settlement, a new element was added to the burial customs. A permanent grave site was purchased in the vicinity of the settlement which was a significant indication of permanent settlement. Herein lies the importance of Abraham's purchase of a family tomb (Gen. 23:4). Jacob's request that he be buried at this place rather than in Egypt may be understood against this background (Gen. 47:29). Joseph's burial in Shechem in the land of his ancestors (Josh. 24:32) must be seen as part of the process of Exodus from Egypt and the conquest and settlement of Palestine. This identification of the patriarchal tomb with the Promised Land may be discerned in Nehemiah's remark to the Persian king from whom he requested permission to go to Palestine to rebuild its ruins: "… the place of my father's sepulchers lies waste…" (Neh. 2:3). For a long period of time, from the Patriarchs until the establishment of the monarchy, it was customary to bury the dead in a family plot (Heb. bet ʾavotam) in an effort to maintain contact with the place (e.g., Judg. 2:9 I Sam. 25:1).

During the period of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, sepulchers for kings and nobles were established: Ȫnd they buried him [Uzziah] with his fathers in the burial field which belonged to the kings" (II Chron. 26:23). Special mention should be made of the discovery of an engraved tablet bearing the name of Uzziah king of Judah. The tablet cannot be the original one which marked the grave, since its script and its general form are of the Second Temple period. It appears that for various reasons the king's bones were transferred during this period. Noblemen and officers also merited lavish burial. The prophet, fighting the corrupt nobility, denigrates the elegant tombs, hewn out of the rocks (Isa. 22:16). The carving of tombs in elevated places is reminiscent of the grave sites above the Kidron Brook in Jerusalem (Avigad, in bibl.). A number of hewn graves dating to the period of the kings have been found at this location. The most striking of them is a hewn tomb, upon whose lintel appears a dedication to some person who held an administrative position: "…who was over the household." The name of this person ends with the syllable yhw. Conceivably, it may be the same Shebna (Shebaniahu) mentioned in Isaiah 22:16 [15]. Another tomb from the same period is the one called "the grave of Pharaoh's daughter." This tomb is cut from rock into the shape of a cube. It has a small entrance and contains the remains of a striking structure, perhaps pyramidal, on its roof. During certain periods grave markers or tombstones were part of the grave itself (Gen. 35:20). The most luxurious graves from this period found, for example, at Achzib, are hewn according to Phoenician design. The burial cave has a vaulted ceiling, cut as much as 10 m. (33 ft.) deep into the rock. At its end is a catafalque hewn out of rock, upon which the corpse was placed. In order to elevate the head of the corpse, a stone was placed beneath it, or a projection shaped like a raised pillow was left on the catafalque. As a result of the custom of burying items of value from the deceased's lifetime along with him, there arose a class of grave robbers in the Ancient East. To prevent such incursions, complicated grave sealing techniques were developed, along with difficult entrance and exit passages from the interior of the tombs. In many instances it was customary to warn grave robbers against entering. The tomb of "… yhw who was over the household" (mentioned above) contains the inscription: Ȭursed be he who opens this." This is similar to the inscriptions common in the Second Temple Period, which contained the name of the deceased and a warning not to open the grave.

Thousands of tombs have been unearthed and investigated during the years of archaeological activities in Israel. Several characteristic grave types have been found:

(1) A communal grave within a cave from the Middle Canaanite period, like one found at Jericho. Dozens of skeletons were found in the cave as well as the offerings buried there (Garstang, in bibl.). In this case, a household or family used a natural cave, which served it for several generations. This type of mausoleum, consisting of some land and a cave, was no doubt the kind acquired by Abraham from Ephron the Hittite near Hebron, when he came to settle permanently in Palestine. The patriarchal sepulcher remained traditional among the people even as late as Herod's time. Among his massive building projects throughout the land, he constructed a Roman-style monument over the patriarchal tomb in Hebron. This monument was intended as an architectural marker of the site and its sanctity.

(2) During the same Middle Canaanite period pit burials were common. For this purpose either natural caves were used or circular or rectangular pits were dug out of the earth to a depth of one to 2 m. (3𠄶 ft.). The walls of the pit contained the burial niches into which were placed the bodies and the offerings. Each niche would be sealed with a single large stone, and the central pit would be filled in up to ground level, thus preventing any approach to the graves themselves.

(3) In addition to family graves, individual tombs have been found. These too contain gifts to accompany the deceased to his new life. Generally, these gifts were eating and drinking utensils, jewelry, personal seals, etc. The finds from tombs are many and variegated, and by their nature are better preserved than finds from the usual, exposed ancient sites.

(4) Among the graves unearthed from the Late Canaanite period are pit tombs, of the style of the prior period, both of family as well as of individual types and simple inhumations. Graves from this period have been found at Tell Abu Hawām (Hamilton, in bibl.), Achzib, and elsewhere. Special attention was given to the manner in which the body was placed in the grave. Generally, the hands were folded and the legs stretched out. The custom of burying gifts with the dead continued into the Late Canaanite period. Offerings in these graves are either local or imported implements.

(5) At the end of this period another form of burial appears. The corpse is placed into two large ossuaries, or jugs, whose necks have been removed, so that the bodies of the jugs enclose the corpse from the feet up and from the head down. These graves, too, contain offerings and weapons that served the deceased during his lifetime.

(6) At the end of the second millennium B.C.E., with the advent of the Philistines in the land, sites with Philistine population, such as Beth-Shean, exhibit different burial methods. The corpse was provided with a clay coffin, longer than the body. The coffin had a cover near the head, decorated with human features. Such decoration was intended to symbolize the personality of the deceased. The engraved hats and diadems resemble the headdress of the Philistines portrayed on ancient Egyptian monuments (Dothan, in bibl.).

(7) A large quantity of graves, including pit tombs, burial caves, rock-hewn tombs, and individual grave sites, from the Israelite period, have been found at Megiddo, Hazor, Beth-Shean, and other sites. The offerings placed in these graves are usually pottery vessels, such as jars and flasks, some of them imported, as well as jewelry and seals.

(8) The Israelite II and the Persian periods reveal tombs hewn into caves with ledges provided for the corpses, known mainly from the Shephelah and the coastal strip. Tombs of Phoenician style are especially to be found in the Athlit area (Hamilton, in bibl.). These are in the shape of a four-sided pit hewn into the hard rock, with ladderlike sockets for hands and feet, to be used in climbing down the pit. At the bottom of the pit there are one or more hewn openings to the burial niches themselves. These are sealed with large stones. The entrance pit itself is filled with earth and stones to block off the entrance to the graves.

(9) With the close of the Persian period and the beginning of the Hellenistic, the most common form of grave consisted of rock tombs, with raised shelves or ledges, or troughs resembling coffins, near the walls. The typical cave ceiling of this period is in the form of a large camel hump, as in the case of a grave found at Marissah. The walls and ceiling of this grave are decorated with drawings. A tomb of similar design has been found at Nazareth.


W.R. Dawson, in: JEA, 13 (1927), pl. 18, 40� W.M.F. Petrie, Beth Pelet I (1930), passim A. Rowe, The Topography and History of Beth Shan (1930), pl. 37, 39 R.W. Hamilton, Excavation at Tell Abu Hawām (1935) M. Werbrouck, Les pleureuses dans lɾgypte ancienne (1938) J. Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past (1946), 353� J. Garstang, The Story of Jericho (1948) A.G. Barrois, Manuel dɺrchéologie biblique, 2 (1953), 274� N. Avigad, Maẓ𞤾vot Kedumot beNa𞉚l Kidron (1954), 9ff. K. Kenyon, Digging up Jericho (1957), 95�, 194�, 233�, 665 T. Dothan, The Philistines and their Material Culture (1967) D. Ussishkin, in: Qadmoniot, 2 (1970), 25�. SECOND TEMPLE AND TALMUD PERIODS: N. Avigad, in: Sefer Yerushalayim, 1 (1956), 320�. IN ART: N. Avigad, Maẓ𞤾vot Kedumot be-Na𞉚l Kidron (1954) I. Pinkerfeld, Bi-Shevilei Ommanut Yehudit (1957) M. Gruenwald, Portugiesengraeber auf deutscher Erde (1902) D. Henrique de Castro, Keur van Grafsteenen… Ouderkerk aan den Amstel (Dutch and Ger. 1883) A. Grotte, Alte schlesische Judenfriedhoefe (1927) M. Balaban, Die Judenstadt von Lublin (1919) A. Levy, Juedische Grabmalkunst in Osteuropa (n.d.) O. Muneles and M. Vitimkôvá, Starý židovský hᖛitov v Praze (1955) M. Levy, Der alte israelitische Friedhof zu Worms am Rhein (1913) M. Diamant, Juedische Volkskunst (1937) L.A. Mayer, Bibliography of Jewish Art (1967), index I.S. Emmanuel, Precious Stones of the Jews of Cura๺o (1957) Cantera y Burgos et al., Las Inscripciones Hebraicas de Espa༚ (1955) E.R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols … (13 vols, 1953�) Roth, Art, index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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Stuck to the shore? Investigating prehistoric hunter-gatherer subsistence, mobility and territoriality in a Mediterranean coastal landscape through isotope analyses on marine mollusc shell carbonates and human bone collagen

Subsistence and mobility strategies of hunter-gatherers in the Mediterranean Basin during the transition from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene have been the object of few studies, even though its karst coastal regions have high densities of prehistoric sites. One such area is the territory of the Conca d’Oro in NW Sicily, which has numerous sites with faunal remains testifying to economies mainly based on hunting of terrestrial ungulates and on the regular consumption of molluscs. This paper presents results from the study of faunal remains from cave sites occupied by hunter-gatherers in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, and of isotope analyses on shells of marine molluscs collected for food and on collagen from the bones of the hunter-gatherers buried in these caves. The mollusc assemblages are dominated by inter-tidal rocky shore species of the genera Patella and Osilinus, which from 16 to 9 kyrs cal BP were the principal marine resources exploited by the hunter-gatherers of the Conca d’Oro. Oxygen isotope analyses on shells of Osilinus turbinatus show that in the late Pleistocene the exploitation of marine molluscs at the Addaura caves, relatively close to the shoreline, was restricted to late autumn and winter, while at Grotta Niscemi, which is further inland, these resources were exploited less intensively but for longer in the year, from autumn to the early spring. The data from the shells (both isotope and biometrical) suggest that late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers spent the coldest months of the year close to the coast, moving inland in late spring and for the summer. In the early Holocene, by contrast, marine molluscs were exploited longer during the year, attesting to a change in mobility strategies and, probably, frequent moves within more restricted territories. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes in human bone collagen from Grotta Addaura Caprara and Grotta della Molara show that marine foods were marginal in the diets of both late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherers. Overall, the data indicate that the territory of the Conca d’Oro hunter-gatherers probably extended from the coastal plain to the upland areas during the late Pleistocene, but became more restricted in the early Holocene. This model might have broader application to hunter-gatherer settlement systems in other karst coastal areas of the Mediterranean.

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