Just recently, archaeologists found a mass grave in Northern Spain. They found almost 50 bodies from the same close community, who lived there almost 6,000 years ago. So far, they have discovered 47 adults and children buried in the tomb over a hundred-year period, which suggests that they grew up in the region where they were buried.
The discovery of the bodies reveal that these Stone Age settlers were possibly the first people to introduce new burial rituals in Europe.
Among the international team of researchers, the University of Valladolid analyzed the remains uncovered in the Neolithic tomb at Alto de Reinoso, which lies right outside of the city of Burgos, Northern Spain.
Taking DNA from the skeletal remains and analyzing it gave archaeologists and researchers an idea of who the people were, what they ate, and what kind of diseases they had. They were also able to tell who they were from the layout of the tomb and what rituals they introduced to the region.
After studying the bodies further, they believe that the people had suffered from degenerative joint diseases and had signs of healed fractures in their bones. It is believed that these people likely farmed cereal crops and could have also been sheep and goat breeders.
Looking at the tomb and how it was arranged shows a shift from other graves found during the same time. These people made tombs much like people do today – they built large permanent stone memorials for the dead.
The building of these large stone structures shows archaeologists that people remembered the dead by building these time-consuming stone structures. Headstones first appeared in Spain, Portugal, and France before the practice spread through Europe. This means that early Spanish settlers were among the first groups to bring the new form of burials to the region.
One of the researchers on the case said that where the tomb once stood, a monument was put there in memory of the people’s ancestors. It is now a permanent presence. The tomb was also made of three layers. In the deepest layer there were bones of six people who were probably closely related. Some of those family members were actually buried side-by-side. The middle layer of the tomb contains bodies that date back to those in the deepest layer. However, something strange was found during the dig.
The skeletons in the second layer showed signs of disturbances such as missing bones, especially the skulls. The researchers believe that the missing skulls indicates a shift in burial customs. The bones were removed most likely for rituals. Then the top layer was probably laid during the Bronze Age, dating to around 1,700 BC.
Although these are just conclusions and the assumptions of the researchers, they believe that the Neolithic societies commemorated the death of their loved ones, contrary to what was previously thought, especially, when they consider how these people used rituals associated with burials.
One of the researchers, Professor Kurt Alt, is writing a book on the discovery. He said that all of the extensive data the team found such as lifestyle, demographics, health status, etc., point to the dead being from a sedentary farming population.
Another grave found in France is quite similar and the people buried there were massacred. There was a circular pit containing seven people that were placed on a bed of severed arms. The grave dates back to about 6,000 years ago and is giving archaeologists new information to study.
Experts believe that there was a devastating raid on a settlement in eastern France in Bergheim, which may have wiped out an entire family – it is they who are buried in the grave. They even believe the attackers took the arms of some of the family members as trophies. Before killing the people, they most likely tortured the victims.
One of the skulls was a partial skull of a child. The skull was found on a bed of seven amputated arms. It is believed there were two men, one woman, and four children in the family. Experts believe that the arms were hacked off by hand axes. Some of the remains were even chopped into pieces.