Evidence of torture and mutilation from Neolithic mass grave

Severe injuries inflicted either shortly before or after death: Cranial injury on a child between 3 to 5 years of age (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

Severe injuries inflicted either shortly before or after death: Cranial injury on a child between 3 to 5 years of age (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

Recent analysis of the circa 7000-year-old mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten (Germany) by researcher of the Universities of Basel and Mainz show that victims were tortured, murdered and deliberately mutilated.

The findings are published in the journal PNAS.

To what degree conflicts and wars featured in the early Neolithic (5600 to 4900 B.C.), and especially in the so-called Linear Pottery culture (in German, Linearbandkeramik, LBK), is a disputed theme in research. It is particularly unclear whether social tensions were responsible for the termination of this era. So far two other mass graves from this period were known to stem from armed conflicts (Talheim, Germany, and Asparn/Schletz, Austria).

The mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten, a massacre site discovered in 2006 shows that the prehistoric attackers used unprecedented violence against their victims. The researchers examined and analysed the bones of at least 26, mainly male, adults and children – most of them exhibiting severe injuries.

Shin fracture (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

Shin fracture (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

Torture and mutilation

Besides various types of (bone) injuries caused by arrows, they also found many cases of massive damage to the head, face and teeth, some inflicted on the victims shorty before or after their death. In addition, the attackers systematically broke their victims’ legs, pointing to torture and deliberate mutilation. Only few female remains were found, which further indicates that women were not actively involved in the fighting and that they were possibly abducted by the attackers.

The authors of the study thus presume that such massacres were not isolated occurrences but represented frequent features of the early Central European Neolithic period.

Cranial injury on an 8-year-old child (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

Cranial injury on an 8-year-old child (Fig. PNAS, University of Basel)

The researchers thus suggest that the goal of this massive and systematic violence may have been the annihilation of entire communities. The research team was led by Prof. Kurt W. Alt, former Head of the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz and guest lecturer at the University of Basel since 2014.